Saturday, January 2, 2021

Ten Things for Your Game Based on Archaeology

Archaeology Magazine is the only magazine I actually have a subscription for. As a student of history and religious studies and someone interested in the humanities and social sciences more generally, I just think it is good to stay up to date on discoveries and findings. Also, as a worldbuilder and TTRPG referee, I love to plumb things like that for cool ideas for games and settings. So hey, I had an idea when I got the January/February 2021 issue of Archaeology and saw that it featured an article with the top 10 archaeological discoveries of the year (along with an Additional top 10 archaeological discoveries of the previous decade more generally). I thought it could be a great idea to take those 10 archaeological discoveries from the past year that the AIA chose and make game content inspired (sometimes loosely, sometimes more closely) by them! So uh, here is that I guess!

Feline mummies from Saqqara

Eternal Tomb of the House of the Temple
(Discovery of large cache of priestly mummies in Saqqara, Egypt)
A slowly slanting tight shaft descends in the side of a cliff-face, a tomb from thousands of years ago dedicated to a longstanding (and now long forgotten) dynasty of high priests in the temple of a cat god. Roughly 60 mummified priests are entombed in the shaft, with each tomb marked with the priest's name and a long carven representation of the family line following the wall ever deeper into the rock. The oldest patriarchs of the family are toward the front of the shaft, while the younger priests are deeper in, due to the shaft being steadily expanded over the generations. Each little corpse-niche has statues of gods (both the cat god and a long forgotten god of death) and numerous mummified cats (some even having mummified lion cubs). The shaft is only wide enough to fit one person, who will likely have to squat in the tight area, and the deeper tombs of newer priests are protected by ever more sophisticated hazards, as the tomb builders grew more careful of tomb robbery since the shrines of the older priests were constantly being burgled.

Wand of Accurate Assessment of Age
(Development of new technique of radiocarbon dating by Richard Evershed of the University of Bristol)
Although called a wand, this device is actually in the shape of a handheld cuboid with a handle, made out of a black brittle material. It features a small dial that can be turned between two options, one marked with a small horizontal line and the other with an open eye, along with a crystal screen. When the dial is turned to the open eye, an eerie bluish glow emits from the front of the cuboid, and after a turn of being focused on an object it will return an accurate age in the form of a range of years in the past. This will only work on organic material or objects that have organic material in them; the wand is useless at detecting the age of stone bricks, although activating it to assess the age of something inorganic will still use a charge. It is very fragile, and if the character falls there is a 3 in 6 chance that it breaks.

The Family That Goes A-Viking Together Stays Together
(The largest ever study of viking DNA)
A regular presence in the seasonal raids of coastal settlements are the Olevs, a family of raiders who all accompany each other in crossing the sea for plunder. They are headed by Hrefgar Olev, a pale man with dark hair and dark eyes, and his shieldmaiden wife Siinna of the Land of the Elk. Their sons and daughters are a motley crew of warriors, all black of hair and of eye, and often they will bring a new daughter or son from their homeland on the seasonal voyage. The wife and husband and their older offspring are very experienced in the many rivers of the land, and often this family acts on its own separate from the other sea raiders. They have little respect for those who wantonly and cruelly kill, and may even be willing to ally themselves with locals depending on the circumstance. It is important to remember though: they are only a fleeting seasonal presence, and their family comes before all else.

Three Men Forced Together by Cruel Circumstance
(Discovery and detailed analysis of the remains of the first three African slaves in Mexico City)
The three men did not know each other in their now distant homeland, now together in the great city of the greatest and most terrible emperor in the world. This city floats on the lake like a lily pad, dominated by ancient temples and tombs and homes of the nobility, and the three men confusedly found this great city of the greatest and most terrible emperor to be ruled by a people very different from those who walk its streets and live in its homes. Under cover of the smoky night the three men speak in the tongue of their homeland, their sharp filed teeth and blinking eyes and gesturing hands the only things moving in the dark. They drew a plan to escape their master, that friar with the loose skin and the friends dressed like metal crabs, and dart off into the ruins in the hills on the shore of the lake. The three men, once strangers, are friends of cruel circumstance, in the ruins of a once great empire under metal clad foot.
A Hittite monument with Luwian hieroglyphs
(not the real stela of Hartapu though)

The City of Hartapu the Inconquerable
(The translation of a Luwian royal inscription in southern Turkey that points to an untouched Iron Age city)
There is a city that none can find. All that is known of it comes from the great pillars of its imposing king, stone stela declaring the victories and glories of Hartapu the Inconquerable, the Great King of a city he built by his own hand with the will of the gods. The countryside, the hills and mountains and plains and sands, is dotted with these markers of a tyrant long gone, pointing in their own ways to the site of the ancient city, said to be dominated by its glorious temple and the palace of Hartapu, supposedly made of basalt and gold. Hartapu's great wealth came from his conquest of a rich land to his north, and the city of his provenance was built on the backs of those conquered people... if the city is ever found and its buried streets ever plumbed, bones and coin alike would likely be found strewn about.

Shrine of the Wolf Brothers
(Discovery of a possible shrine to Romulus in Rome, at the site of his supposed death)
The ancient twin forefathers of the great city are interred in a small and unassuming shrine at the heart of town, right before the forum. As the city has grown and declined, this shrine has stayed much the same... its walls of rough hewn stone, its twin stone sarcophagi of the brothers of the wolf within, flanking the shrine proper. Arenas and hippodromes and grand bath houses have loomed large in the city, but today they are without attendant, without fanfare. Even the ancient forum is largely empty of the echoing argument which filled it in days long gone. And yet, the small shrine of the wolf brothers remains. Its red-robed attendant lights the fires and tends to the sarcophagi of the forefathers, forever on watch, forever one with the shrine. The great city is great no more, but its heart still beats.

The Bird of Desire
(A 13,500 year old sculpture of a song bird from Henan, China is the earliest work of 3D art from east Asia)
The small carven image of a bird, a songbird in vague outline alone, has exchanged hands innumerable times since it was first shaped by careful human hands in long forgotten days. It is not something one would expect to see in the gilded abode of a king, and yet it has been thus. The subtle curves of the bird's head, its wide tail feathers, its slightly slanted form of a foot, these little details draw the eye and draw the heart to them. None know who it was that made this bird, but all know who owned it before them, for its small pale shape exerted such a force upon their mind that they felt the compulsion to snatch it up. It is even said that a nomad king of the grasslands once killed his way across the heartland of empire to get the little thing in his grasp, returning home with only his very own horse as the rest of his men had lost their lives in the attempt. But, it is as they say: beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder.
An incised Mississippian shell ornament
(not from Dyar mound in Georgia, also not from the time period being discussed below lol)

Desperate Rites to Save That Which has Been Sundered
(An accurate re-dating of charcoal at Dyar mound in Georgia reveals that religious rites were maintained there long after the decline of the population from European diseases)
Plague has raged through the land for generations, with its true cause uncertain... the people of the valley to the west assert that it is the fault of the men in the silvery shell like a crab that brought it when they passed through their homeland years ago, but the priests upon the mound care not for causes, they care only for the cessation of suffering. They will continue the rites of the forefathers and the rituals of the woodland atop their mound, in desperate pleading attempts to appease the forces which bear down upon them, just as their fathers and mothers did and their fathers' fathers and mothers' mothers before them. The priests are open to anything to help bring an end to the suffering, but either way they will continue the burning of charcoal and the performing of the proper rites atop the mound.

A New Temple to the Gods, Built by Happy Hands
(The oldest and largest Maya ceremonial structure has been discovered in the state of Tabasco, Mexico, seemingly built without threat of force due to the lack of art depicting leadership figures)
The great priests of the stars above have determined themselves to the construction of the grandest temple yet, a temple which could very well be a town, a temple which will stretch away from the worshiper in neverending expanse. Eager to bring glory and beauty to the land, the people of the surrounding countryside and towns have set to work cutting rough stone blocks and great basketfuls of loose earth, a whole city of workers eagerly setting to work. One of the most prominent coordinators is a woman by the name of Itzamutul, her nose and lips pierced by colorful stones and clad in a grand garb, who studies the stars at night and coordinates the laying of stones and carving of statuary. She would be very open to receiving any kind of assistance that one could offer.

All Haile the Sygne of the Redd Lyon!
(Uncovering of the first permanent theatrical playhouse in London)
The Red Lion is a grand playhouse for actors of all types, where fine shows are put on and even finer sums are made on the art thereof! Its proprietor always takes a grand portion of all proceeds from performances, but mayhaps those prancing upon the stage may make some coin as well. This could very well be a place for adventurers and expeditionists to spend some coin or perhaps make some coin, experiences recounted upon the stage for all the see and hear and, perhaps, to pelt with fruit as well. The Red Lion is, unfortunately, constantly afearing of collapse for the uncertain and shoddy carpentry of its beams and construction, but the proceeds of performances are naught to allay those difficulties.


  1. The Wand of Accurate Assessment of Age!!

    Great post, I too love plundering (pun intended) archaeological stuff for gaming inspiration.

  2. The Three Men Forced Together by Cruel Circumstance was really good. I loved that. May have to add the Olevs to a game!