The Fanatasy Role-Playing Game of Medieval Germany
Darklands is set in the late Middle Ages from 1400 to 1499 (the 15th Century AD). This is an era of noble knights and rapacious warlords, of universal Catholicism and three competing Popes, of superstitious peasants and rich merchant princes, of soaring castles and dark forests. Above all, the Middle Ages was that half-millennium of time when Europe reorganized itself into new kingdoms out of the wreckage of the Roman Empire and the chaos of the Dark Ages. It is an era of relative stability before the accelerating changes that ultimately formed modern Europe.
Until 400 AD Europe was part of the Roman Empire, at first barbarian hinterlands, then sophisticated and thriving provinces, and finally overrun by new barbarians from Eastern Europe and the Russian steppes. Throughout the Dark Ages (circa 500-1000) various kingdoms rose and fell, including Charlemagne's Empire (800-814). Around 1000 AD Europe stabilized into a recognizable form. Most historians find this a convenient dividing line between the "Dark Ages" and the "Middle Ages."
Medieval Europe was an era where religion and culture changed very slowly. So slowly, in fact, that most people expected no change at all. The Church was universal, society was feudal, and a man's place in the world was ordained by birth. Noblemen owned the land. They were trained warriors with expensive equipment. Peasants were protected by nobles, worked the land, and rarely were free to leave it. Small cities and towns held craftsmen, fairs for traveling merchants, and other facilities too costly or specialized for each hamlet. Even politics changed slowly. Almost every locale had a king or emperor (except the northern Italian city-states), but they were constrained or sometimes controlled by their nobles. Despite all the wars, marriages and treaties, the general political boundaries in 1050 AD were similar to those of 1450 AD.
Of course, no entity is entirely static. By the 1400s (the century of Darklands) European and international trade was commonplace, along with banking. After the vast population loss due to the Black Death in the late 1300s, cities were growing. Monetary wealth was at least as important as noble landholdings, to the ruin of many minor nobles. The Renaissance was blooming in Italy, and from there gradually penetrating throughout Europe. At the end of the century (in 1492) explorers would discover a new world. With hindsight historians can see the foundations of medieval society crumbling, but few people at the time understood this. For them, it was simply a time of uncertainty and danger.
Germany did not exist as a nation until 1870. However, a wide part of medieval Europe spoke the German language, or at least was colonized and ruled by Germans. Historians sometimes call this region "Greater Germany." Of course, German was not the only language. In Bohemia and along the Polish border some peasants spoke Slavic tongues, and throughout Europe the church and intellectual institutions used Latin.
In the 15th Century, Greater Germany was the Holy Roman Empire. To be crowned Emperor, a noble must first be elected "King of the Germans." The Empire originated with Charlemagne in AD 800, who ruled all of modern Europe except southern Italy and Britain. However, various political disasters and upheavals had reduced the Empire to just its German lands, including those eastern territories colonized by Germans at the expense of the native Poles, Czechs, and other Slavic peoples.
The Holy Roman Empire was surrounded by other kingdoms. To the east was strong, expansionistic Poland. They were reconquering their homeland from the Teutonic Knights, slowly pushing westward. Down the Danube (Donau in German) River lay Hungary, whose nobles were active participants in Imperial politics, and vice versa. Northern Italy was a patchwork of warring city-states. Switzerland was unifying itself with innovative armies of citizen-soldiers who were developing a reputation as the most formidable fighters in Europe. To the west was the Duchy of Burgundy, ostensibly subject to the King of France, but actually a rich, powerful and independent kingdom including modern Holland, Belgium, and the lands west of the Rhine all the way to Switzerland. Along the Baltic Sea was the Kingdom of Denmark, ostensibly united with Norway and Sweden; but this weak union was gradually dissolving.
Greater Germany was a land of contrasts. Population was dense along the four great rivers of the realm: the Rhine, the Danube, the Elbe and the Oder. Of these, the Rhineland was the most sophisticated, with much of its population concentrated in or around many large, old cities. The Danubian plains had some of the best farmlands anywhere in western Europe, plus a variety of useful trade connections to northern Italy or into the Balkans. The Elbe led to highlands and mountains rich in ore and legend. The Oder formed the eastern border, ruled and heavily colonized by Germans, although in the more remote villages and forest hamlets Poles and Slavs still spoke their native language and probably worshipped the old gods.
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