Mankind’s early Eurasian history on Verdan resembles events on Earth relatively closely up until around the Age of Discovery. Yes, Verdan has some magic, and even relatively minor magic has an impact – but where fewer children died of minor illnesses, contraceptive charms meant fewer were born. Where genuinely functioning curses were hurled at rulers, capable court magicians countered them. People sometimes escaped tidal waves thanks to timely magical warnings, but sometimes perished in fires resulting from mistaken sorceries. Life was a little easier and more comfortable – but the broad course of history barely changed (even if events which were mythical on Earth were often quite literal on Verdan) despite the thousand of details which did.
Yes, that’s pretty weird, even if it is a common conceit of alternate histories and historical fantasies. While it’s true enough that a few small changes to history might have little effect on the overall outcome, you can never know when one small change might build and build, echoing down the chains of causality. With tens of thousands of such changes, some guiding force must be influencing the course of evolution and history to keep things even vaguely on track.
The players may or may not find out what that is eventually, but it is currently centered on a particular site near the Mediterranean – and is the reason why the Mediterranean Sea is relatively safe to sail upon compared to the rest of the worlds seas and oceans.
On Earth, as their resources, technologies, and organizational systems improved, the peoples of Europe began the Age of Discovery – using the seas as highways of exploration. While earlier migrations and voyages had been made, taking human colonists to distant islands such as Tahiti or making contact with far-flung lands like the expeditions of Admiral Zheng He, such things had never become routine – and so their impact at “home” was generally limited to the exchange of a few ideas here and there. Before the industrial revolution exploratory cultures generally did not have the resources or sufficient advantages to impose their will across any great oceanic distance. Even the ruthless military organization of Imperial Rome much preferred to stick with land routes when it could.
Building upon a foundation of industrial production, military might, and social organization that considerably outstripped the institutions of the rest of the world, and driven by a search for trade routes and new markets, the Age of Discovery changed that; European explorers circumnavigated the world, charted it’s major landmasses, and dominated vast areas. Colonial Empires poured wealth back into Europe, and trade burgeoned.
On Verdan venturing more than a few miles beyond the coast places a vessel in terrible peril. While inland seas are usually survivable, only madmen, visionaries, and stormlost mariners brave the open seas beyond the continental shelves. Such individuals occasionally return with tales of fantastic creatures and lands, but the vast majority simply vanish without a trace. Enormous stretches of Verdan – including much of the Americas, New Zealand, Greenland, Iceland, most oceanic islands and island chains, and possibly Australia – remain untouched and unexplored to this day. While Verdan’s “Age of Exploration” was, and is, driven by the same basic factors until very recently it was primarily land-based, and focused on the interiors and more distant reaches of Africa and Asia.
Interestingly enough, from an earthly point of view, the lands, creatures, and cultures become increasingly exotic as one moves further and further away from the Mediterranean basin.
Currently the great European powers mostly believe themselves inherently superior to the rest of the world (adhering to the General Characteristics of Victorian Settings). They include…
England: While the English Channel and much of the North Sea is relatively safe as far as the seas of Verdan go, that’s a lot less safe than it might be. With naval power more or less out of the question, England has developed a long tradition of aerial travel.
OK, admittedly that’s mostly the use of hot-air balloons and minor spells to push them the way you want to go – but English balloonists established a close relationship with the peoples of Ireland, and kept up a regular trade with France and Spain. With relatively little need for defense spending, England has built up it’s industries quite impressively.
With the recent development of powered lighter-than-air craft, and improvements in lightweight structural elements, lifting gases, and other technologies, England has become the worlds first air power – and has used that advantage, and it’s industrial might, to support and help expand troubled regimes in Africa (most notably in Egypt and southwards), China, India, and even Japan – rapidly converting Egypt and India into client-states, China into an ally, and opening limited relationships with the isolationist isles of Japan. Even now, the Queen’s aerial fleet is ranging further and further afield, and may soon circumnavigate the globe.
The Germanic Empire: Under the rule of the Kaiser, the Germanic Empire is a heavily militaristic state – ruthless and pragmatic and with formidable industries (even if they ARE a bit heavily focused on weapons). Until relatively recently it’s energies were absorbed by internal troubles, but over the last twenty years it has come to see the rapid worldwide expansion of the other major European powers as a serious military menace – and has embarked on both a campaign of sabotaging it’s rivals projects and expanding itself, both into Asia (which has brought it into conflict with Russia and it’s Bogatars) and into the middle east. The Kaiser is now hurriedly attempting to adopt – and, if possible, improve on – England’s aerial technologies.
Imperial France under the Napoleonic Line is theoretically a constitutional republic, but that is more fiction than fact since the Napoleons essentially dominate the government, regardless of legal theories. France has currently extended it’s influence over Spain (effectively a client-state) and around much of the Mediterranean, linking it’s colonies with both ocean travel via the (relatively safe) Mediterranean and via aerial transport. While it is, as yet, no match for England’s aerial fleets, it is rapidly developing the necessary techniques and retains a great deal of political influence across Europe.
Russia under the Tsar is entangled with territorial disputes and border conflicts with the Germanic Empire, but – being well behind on the industrial and organizational fronts – has definitely been coming off second-best. Still, Russia has plenty of unexplored territory to fall back on – and has a good deal of influence in the far east. Russia is attempting to import modern technologies, but – at least for the moment – is mostly relying on it’s Bogatars for defense.
The Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary is mostly focused on internal politics and on its delicate balance of power with the Ottoman Empire.
The Ottoman Empire is trying to pull itself out of past centuries by it’s bootstraps – attempting to modernize it’s society, legal system, production base, military, and pretty much everything else within a few short decades. If it’s heroic effort succeeds it may once again become a major power – regaining the prominence that it held for centuries. If it fails, it may be time for the Ottoman Empire to finally fade into history.
Sweden (which currently controls Norway as well) is currently undergoing a religious revival of sorts, rumored to be fueled by some contact with the legendary realm of Hyperborea.
In any case, the recent discovery of the New World – and all it’s reported wonders – has opened an entirely new front in the European colonial competition.
- Verdan Arcanis – Basic Magic (ruscumag.wordpress.com)