Welp…I dropped a line to the gaming group with a few of the ideas I had and they bit on the one I hadn’t expected, but kinda hoped they would.
The setting is an alternate Earth where the various pantheons are around, their monstrous progeny are present, and magic is real. Instead of the mid to late medieval period that seems the equivalent for most Dungeons & Dragons games, we are going with Late Antiquity/Early Middle Ages.
So far, I’ve worked out that we are going to be near the end of the fourth century, when the waves of nomads started washing west into Roman territory, each wave running away from something worse behind them. But instead of Vandals, Visigoths, Ostraogths, Huns, Franks, and the like, I’m some replacing these groups with the typical bad guy races from D&D. These people and critters are running from something terrible coming out of the Central Asian steppes and are finding Rome and Constantinople ripe for the picking.
Some of the main playable races of the Players’ Handbook will move to NPC races — the gnomes, dragonborn, and half-orcs (especially the latter) wont’ work for the setting. Humans are the main race, of course, but elves — predominantly from Hibernia and Britannia, and from the Galician areas of Hispania but present everywhere; halflings — for us the descendents of humans and dwarves, and dwarves (the Nordic sort) are commonly found throughout Northern Europe. Tiefling and Aasimar will be playable, but I haven’t worked out exactly what I’m doing with them yet, other than they will be connected to the monotheism and Zoroastrianism coming out of Judea and the Sassanid Empire.
Orcs are getting rolled into trolls; they are a creation of Tolkein and I’m trying to strip a lot of the Lord of the Rings influences for the campaign. Angles and demons work in the setting — I’m tying them to the tiefling and aasimar angle, coming out of the monotheistic regions. The mythic creatures of the Norse, Celtic, Urgo-Finnish, Russian, and the Greco-Roman pantheons will be around.
Now I have to figure out what is pushing the influx of people from Asia.
As to the Europe of this period, the Roman Empire is technically still around. Garrisons keep the peace here and there, but the influx of warlike tribes and creatures is breaking the Prefecture of Gaul into personal fiefdoms. This is made worse by the coloni system, the precursor for the feudal system. The Goth Wars have shattered the aqueduct systems and agriculture is collapsing. High taxes, weak bureaucracy and military, and banditry are crushing trade. It’s all falling apart.
This shift also means that the players will find themselves having to work up some decent backgrounds for their characters. This is probably going to require a night or two of character generation.
This combination of more realistic alternate history and classical mythologies has me actually interested in running fantasy for the first time in decades. Best of all, half my game prep is done for me — hello, bookshelf! Hello, class notes! (I’m glad the university stuck me with teaching all those Early Western Civ classes, now…) Need some maps? Google up some period maps, or raid my library.