Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Setting the stage

Okay, so I’ve bragged about my ability to pull this setting together.  Let’s see how this can happen.  First, let’s set the scene.
In the year 271 AD, The Roman legions pull out of Dacia for the last time.  This province contains the lands that would become Transylvania and Wallachia, both are words any scholar should know infinitely well in connection with Vlad Dracule in the 1400s.
The population was instantly depopulated of anyone who could leave.  The wealthy, the fit, and the numerous Roman citizens. 
Those left behind spoke Romanian, a highly Latin-inspired language.  For centuries it remained unwritten, until the deepening faith from the Greek Orthodox Church gave them the Greek alphabet.  Much of this culture took to the hills and deep woods of Transylvania, eschewing the cities and trade routes dependent on the rivers, and hid themselves there.
Wave after wave of invaders passed through the old province of Dacia, drawn by the immense gold and silver wealth in the mountains and the promises of taking (but never holding) better, wealthier land.
By 271 AD, those with landed titles might be pulling out, but they are unlikely to simply leave all that they own and know in the province.  The Roman army has already pulled out before in 260 AD, reinvesting itself into this province when political and military winds changed again in their favour.  It is still possible that the nobles could dig in their heels hoping for such a reversal, though it never comes.  
In any case, they would hardly risk their necks when cheap bondsmen could do the job for them, which leads to a key fiction – that the nobles are themselves safe, but paying handsomely for adventures to return to the villages and villas where treasures wealthy and sentimental were left behind, where minor advantages against the invaders can still be obtained by spies and scare-tactics.
Who’s in charge?
In Dacia, very few leaders can be found.  Lucius Domitius Aurelianus (Aurelian) is the nominal emperor, and he has bigger concerns protecting Italy from Gauls and Zenobians.  He orders all civilian and military leaders back to the Danube frontier, making the Governor of Moesia the closest person to appeal to in cases of urgent need.  And he would not have more than city watches and his own personal guards, as every other fighting man at arms is now in Aurelian’s service.
This leads us to the question of who’s in charge of the invaders.  For the most part, we are talking about Goths, most likely Visigoths, but that is unclear.  The distinction between Visigoth and Ostrogoth becomes politically relevant a hundred years from now.  Other barbarian invaders included the Alamanni (the All-men), and the Vandals, who together would remain a dangerous force to be reckoned with throughout the next century.  These fractions German speakers have a fragile unity.
For our puposes, we can refer to the invaders as Goths.  I do this for numerous good reasons, chief among which is that I’m still picturing a gaming universe where the Player Characters need an enemy to build their strategies around.  Our inability to inclusively identify the invaders, moreover, naturally mirrors the Romans themselves, who give us all of our sources.  But we do know something of early Germanic cultures, at least enough to build their motivations as enemies.  Their chief god is Woten, who in Nordic traditions is Odin, a one-eyed, sorcerer god who is known as Lord of the Rings, mainly due to the magical ring on his finger, that once a day, duplicates itself.  Rings are powerful symbols of wealth for northmen, for Norse, German, and English alike.  They also can represent bonds and oaths, such as our modern Wedding Rings.  Where Woten binds his infinite servants into alliances with gift rings from his magical ring, we can apply this self same model to the Goths with ease; masters held power for so long as gifts, especially rings, were plentiful.  When they become scarce, Ringlords were expected to find more wealth.  This creates a lot of bottom-up pressure on Ringlords to lead their followers to battle with the wealthy and the weak, and increasingly that perfectly describes the Romans. 
I love this idea for more gaming centric ideas, anyway.  Making the Goths wealth hungry is only historical; making them “ring-hungry” turns the whole pyramid of Gothic warriors into a loose association of treasure seekers, indeed, adventurers.  They are excellent opponents for adventurers, indeed a mirror image and everything the civilized world hates of adventurers.  And you’ve just taking a contract to go back into Transylvania looking for lost treasures.  How exactly are you any different?  That question can be on the lips of every merchant, soldier, guard, and patron NPC in the game, pressuring player characters to be on their best behavior, most of the time anyway.
Dracul = Dragon – the; Vlad the II was a member of the Order of the Dragon who distinguished himself mightily in battle with the Turks.  Vlad II was named “The Dragon” or Dracul (Dracule?).  The word has an interesting double entendre with “The Devil.”  Vlad Tepes the III took the name and slew any of his Wallachian nobles who might oppose his claim to the name, earning it indeed.
-        ulea in Romanian means “the son of,” and so his title may well mean “The Son of the Devil Dragon.”
The last name Tepes is pronounced [tse – pesh].

Monday, 25 June 2012

Outline for a project: Castlevania in the Pre-Dracula Period

Inspiration: Castlevania, where I have just acquired two more gems in the series.  Konami has mostly filled its quota for Castlevanias.  Now writing over its storied history again with Lords of Shadow, it seems as though the lore of the series is again set to change, not always for the better.

Outline: I wonder if the deep story of Castlevania, itself grown from Bram Stoker’s Dracula, could be directed to grow the other way – indeed to move through time to some era before Vlad Dracule of Transylvania.  Searching back through the mists of time within that region, we find other stories that prove fertile for the backdrop of more conflict and hostility, and ultimately more opportunities for a Lord of Darkness like Dracula to take shape.

Constants:  Death is an immortal, and has compatible names under both the Greek pantheon (Tanatos) and Roman pantheon (Mors, Letum).  In Castlevania, especially Lament of Innocence, Death is directly responsible for the creation of Dracula, who in every game refers to himself as the Lord of Darkness, or more recently, I think as recently as Order of Ecclesia, Lord of Shadow.  Death is a significant presence in the gaming lore, and survives Dracula, challenging Soma Cruz and Julius Belmont some 30 years after the Old Whip Cracker “defeated” Dracula for the last time, in the Daemon Castle War in 1999. 

This requires explanation, as Death is in all depictions subservient to Dracula.  Given that Death essentially made his own master in Lament of Innocence, it could be argued that Dracula is needed for a plan; Death is still an immortal without him, and was around before him and will be around after him, but requires a Dark Lord for whatever specific achievement that we haven’t seen yet.  Mathias Cronfist becomes Dracula, even commits to a war against God, but Death is still very much the power behind him.

This “war against God” also broaches the religious challenge; go far enough into Transylvania’s history and Christian God is unknown.  How does this project surmount, or at least acknowledge the needs of the existing lore and the God who is paramount in all its medieval forms?  While this might seem a puzzle, in fact it is an opportunity: having a surplus of competing cults is not a problem, it is an opportunity, indeed a chance to interact with the audience (should I say player?) on a deeper level than just “There’s pure evil or there, go and get him!”

I loved Order of Ecclesia for its single greatest protagonist, standing head and shoulders above every last Belmont.  By the time she leisurely strolls through the gates of the Daemon Castle Dracula, she has been stripped of emotions, confronted and killed her best friend, been betrayed and exposed the betrayal of her master and teacher, and stood contemplating a life of nothing, except the Order`s stated mission to battle Dracula with the might of the Glyphs.  There are no Belmonts, no other heroes coming to save you.  Shannoa can toughen up and tackle the Castle head on, or turn and run, admitting failure, indeed that it was all for nothing.  Contemplating the considerable challenge ahead of her, ahead of you, can prove daunting, even considering Shannoa`s already quite familiar with adventuring. That connection I find deeper than any other in the series, and, if possible, I would love greatly to replicate it in this project.  To me, that means creating a deep world for the audience to interact and connect with, and giving them license to explore it at length, long before letting them into the gates of the Akumajo.  That also means building out the people, the languages, the superstitions, in Latin the religi, and in that expression, the systems of belief, the religions, that dominate them.  I confess to just a hint of desire to copy and emulate Tolkien, even in this endeavour.

This brings me to the question of when this shall happen.  I could set the whole story a generation or two before Vlad Dracule, but that would be a wasted opportunity, a story that falls altogether too close to the original.  I could set in the ancient prehistory, or Bronze Age, of Transylvania, but we know altogether very little about this period, and a great deal of that is circumspection.  I’ve studied long and hard enough in the period at the end of the Roman world that I feel pretty confident building such a story, and that the upheavals of that age could easily frame a backdrop for a story about a Lord of Evil.  I can get into greater details next time, but for now, let me just build this case in a quick summary:

The Legions of Rome withdraw from Transylvania (not for the last time), and the aristocrats take fright at the reported advances of Goths.  Adventurers are gathered to collect intelligence, and they stumble upon the keys to summoning Daemon Castle, and the great treasures within.  Death, the immortal, awakens, and decides that one of their number is exactly what he needs to make the Castle’s presence permanent, and further a quest of his own.