Monday, May 4, 2020

Inherent Conflict in Mesomergos

An RPG setting should feel always on the brink of some great change, ideally several. While Mesomergos is influenced by German and Chinese bronze ages, I also want to bring the political turmoil of Weimar Germany, Warring States China, and the dolorous times of Arthuriana.
Urnfield culture group. Illustrated by Angus McBride

The political base of Mesomergos is the Palatial system. Petty kings and queens called Oathkeepers keep palaces as centers for importing supplies and surround their cities with farmers to keep from starving. This is kind of feudal but also totally desperate. Farming requires a knowledge of weather and communion with land that I will consider basically magical. Tradition, more than law, keeps order.

Tradition is breaking down. Every inhabited area has its own privileged partisan group, with several invisibly waiting to supplant them. It is assumed that every partisan group is at war with every other partisan group, and occasionally riots against the authority of the local Oathkeeper.

There used to be an emperor who commanded seemingly endless officers of the peace, but that time has passed. There are no police or soldiers in Mesomergos. That means no "city guard" groups to segregate NPCs into the combatant and non-combatant role. Every able-bodied person is expected to contribute to the peace of the land.

If someone violates an Oathkeeper's laws or a community's standard, it is up to one of three groups to bring justice:

  1. the members of that community, subject to the partisan justice of the local partisan group
  2. one of the Oathkeeper's martial servants, called a Sworn. There might be twenty of these per city.
  3. the Brotherhood of Messengers, whose claim to enforcing justice is incidental to their ability to reliably travel.
Knight Lady by Brooks Kim

The many gods of this world are tutelary gods, but none have claimed dominion of this marginal borderland. Still, gods are worshiped here and through the use of gigre, moral commandments compound. Those who slay a host after sharing wine with them incur the wrath of gods, no matter how pressing or how good their reason may be.

Social roles are likewise restrictive. Men cover their face; women never do. The harsh enforcement of role and place push people to make impossible decisions when the simple traditional law conflicts with mortal realities. Generally, those in power fail to reckon with the differences between people, whether it is the fundamental distance of species or the myriad minds of variety in ability and expression. Children become adults when they choose to cover or bare their faces, and this decision will affect marriage and prospects. Lepers and eunuchs are ostracized, even as they sustain vital social roles. Golems are exploited for labor and divergently-minded folk deemed defective. It is a system with no designer, unlike our own world in many ways but alike in caprice.

Foreign factions disdain the exertion of governing Mesomergos but are constantly obliged to intervene in its affairs, all to protect the vital flow of resources through its twin rivers. The seat of the emperor is broken, and no puppets can be raised to replace him while the land roils with curse and tumult. So they prevail upon their neighbors at the edge of Mesomergos to keep the minerals flowing, with veiled threat of force.

Where mortals seldom go, goblins hide. These creatures-- faeries, fey, gnomes, sprites-- follow a strange law of promise and word. They embrace the goblin dichotomy of Labyrinth, in which a goblin can be a hideous puppet or a David Bowie. Their uniting feature is that their power comes from their adherence to otherworldly rules. The success or failure in facing the gremlin is the ability to understand and turn back these rules.

by thorxoxlarsen on instagram

The Sworn

All of this explains why, in cursed times such as these, civilization will barely extend past the walls of a city. The seat of the Emperor was a foreign-created position, the product of wealthier lands which needed to lend the force needed to centralize power. An army is a levy of people you can't afford to lose-- farmers, shepherds, loggers-- led by your family and guard. But you rely on foreign goods-- vitally, your redsmiths need copper from the west and tin from the east. How can an Oathkeeper cut through the obvious Mandate of Hell that all must fall to ruin?

The default assumption of a game set in Mesomergos is that the PCs are Sworn, at least nominally in service to some Oathkeeper. This is a social role, and it also implies that they know enough about wildcraft to hunt for food, make camps, and make fire-- a rare skill in Mesomergos. Sworn come from all walks of life and can plausibly belong to any class or race. They are defined by their ability and willingness to go on quests, which gives a ready excuse for many kinds of adventure. It also brings them into contact with the highest of the high and the lowest of the low, embedding them in the social structure and creating great opportunities to roleplay as participants in society, whose capacity for violence is tempered by their duty.

The impossibility of Following the Rules is the main theme of Mesomergos, reinforced at every point. Any scenario can come to the pinch where a PC Must do two incompatible things, and they struggle to figure out a way to avoid their fate. It puts the onus on them to solve a problem and often incur some terrible penalty.



  1. Certainly sounds fascinating, even follows the oft-spoken of aesthetics of ruin/collapse. Id look into the many collapses and anarchies of pre-ptolemaic egypt as well, its very similar to the histories of bronze age china that you seem to be aiming for. And a minor thing, unless you are super attached to the name, Mergos may be a better title, its a bit less of a mouthful haha

    1. Thanks for the tip! I'm dreadfully ignorant about Egyptian history, so would be unlikely to make that connection on my own.