Why Dark Earth?
Dark Earth is built on a simple concept: what if all mythology were real, and it all existed at the same time?
We decided to highlight key themes we felt were unexplored in D&D. Larger-than-life Chosen heroes from the world’s different mythologies travelling to other cultures via a Waystone Network in an history on a world with similar geography to our own. The concept, however, has pretty deep roots in gaming history.
Throughout its history, D&D has modeled its fantasy worlds on unique and interesting concepts. Time and time again, however, those worlds have featured analogs of our world’s myths. From Greyhawk to the Forgotten Realms, versions of Roman, Egyptian, Arthurian England, Norse, Chinese, Japanese, Sumerian, African, South American and other cultures’ myths have been appropriated and shaped to meet the authors’ needs. Players in those worlds always seemed to enjoy the mixing of those cultural analogs even if in the real world many of them were never contemporaneous with one another. The problem the creators of Dark Earth had with this was that something always rang false. There were no Pharaohs, no Vikings, no Centurions; no Zeus, no Thor, no Amaterasu, no Brigit; no Kali, no Shiva, no Thunderbird; Mulhorand, Chult and the Duchy of Geoff were never going to be Egypt, the Aztec Empire nor England no matter how hard they tried to be. Your character was never going to be able to have a statue next to Hercules’ in the Parthenon, or have his saga told at a blot in Uppsala, or written in calligraphy and presented to the Ming Emperor. No death poem written before a battle would be burnt at a shrine to the kami in the aftermath of a heroic battle in the shadow of Mount Fuji.
So we decided to do this using the actual Earth as the setting. The biggest hurdle we faced when explaining this was the difference in real-world time periods in the rise of the respective cultures’ mythologies: the Aztecs didn’t reach their peak until around X, while the Egyptians reached their peak around Y—long before the Romans did in Z, when they effectively replaced Egyptian mythology.
Our answer was: if the gods were real, and their nature eternal and infinite, there was no reason that they could not have brought these cultures to the heights of their power relatively contemporaneously to one another. We tied the gods to the rough geographical boundaries of their cultures, presumed a “gentleman’s agreement” between the pantheons where those regions our DMs chose to run wouldn’t conflict, absorb, or colonize where they did historically. As well, the cultures all developed to the individual technological and cultural points where they match the sort of visions DMs and players have of what a Viking berserker, Aztec warrior, Japanese samurai, or English knight might be, mixed with D&D equipment.
It works out a bit odd, but the best analogy we’ve come up with so far is something akin to the way timezones work in the real world. Imagine our start date (for Season 3, that’s 1005 Ab Urbe Condita—after the founding of the Roman Empire; roughly 250 A.D. in real world time.) as Greenwich Mean Time or GMT. When you’re in Norse lands, you’ve travelled to the equivalent of 966 A.D.. In the Aztec Empire, it’s about 1400 A.D.. In Egypt, it’s about 3331 After Unification and in Japan it’s roughly 1550 A.D.. But if you physically traveled from one place to another, it’d still be the same year; there’s just no unified calendar or timeline in use, since the Gregorian calendar hasn’t been adopted.
Which brings us to another point about Dark Earth. We don’t utilize Judeo-Christian or Islamic religions in our depiction of Dark Earth. These religions have entirely too much potential to offend our players and DMs, and this is not something we wish to do. If our depictions of Hindu, Buddhist, Shinto or other similar religions offend, we apologize profusely.
We hope you enjoy the world we’ve created!