Stone Age Adventures: What Can You Do in a No-Magic RPG?

Loren SmallBorn from Ice, Deep Dive, Game Dev, Game DevelopmentLeave a Comment

Two stone age hunters are surprised by a charging Megafauna Elk

Without Magic, What Kind of Adventures Can an RPG Offer?

When we think of roleplaying games, our minds often drift to realms brimming with magic, mythical beasts, and arcane mysteries, and Stone Age adventures don’t really seem to fit. These fantastical elements have become almost synonymous with the RPG genre, setting a certain expectation for what these games entail. Venturing into a setting like Born from Ice, a prehistoric Stone Age world stripped of magical elements, might initially seem like a drastic departure from the norm. It begs the question: in a world where spells and sorcery are absent, what do players and their characters actually do?

Crafting the Stone Age Narrative: The Essence of Adventure

In Born from Ice, we encourage Game Masters (GMs) to center adventures around significant events rather than the routine of daily prehistoric life.

In the day-to-day life of this era, routines would have been largely dictated by the immediate needs of the group and the season’s demands. This would involve a cyclical pattern of activities like foraging for plants and fruits, hunting wildlife for food, crafting essential tools and weapons, constructing shelters, or migrating to more resource-abundant areas. While these activities were vital for the sustenance and survival of early humans, they may not inherently provide the kind of thrilling adventure and narrative depth that roleplaying games are known for.

However, by shifting the focus to major events, critical needs, or unique challenges, we bring a dynamic structure to the gameplay. This shift is what sets the players apart in the world of Born from Ice. Instead of just surviving, characters find themselves at the heart of pivotal moments. These significant events and needs interrupt the otherwise routine existence, transforming the mundane into the extraordinary.

This approach does more than just change the narrative; it alters the very tone of the game. Characters are not merely participants in their world; they become the driving force behind stories of courage, wisdom, and strength. They are not just responding to their environment; they are shaping it with their actions and decisions. By focusing on these larger-than-life events and critical turning points, the game transcends the basic struggle for survival and enters the realm of Stone Age adventures and heroism.

So, what types of events can change the course of our hero’s lives?

Confronting the Elements: Environmental and Weather Challenges

One of the core aspects of Stone Age life is the struggle against the elements. Weather and environmental conditions are not just backdrops but active, sometimes antagonistic characters in your story. A sudden blizzard, a rampaging wildfire, or a relentless drought can become catalysts for adventure.

Imagine a scenario where your clan must move to new lands due to a prolonged freeze that has killed off the game. The journey is perilous, filled with unknown dangers, rival tribes, and perhaps encounters with strange, ancient creatures.

Tribal Tensions: Conflicts and Alliances

Inter-tribal dynamics offer a rich vein of narrative possibilities. A conflict with another tribe over hunting grounds, a dispute that leads to war, or the forging of an alliance through marriage or mutual benefit can all serve as central plots or side stories in your campaign.

A campaign could revolve around the intricacies of tribal politics, negotiations, and even espionage. Characters may need to undertake diplomatic missions, spy on rival tribes, or engage in skirmishes and full-blown battles.

The Call of the Wild: Hostile Creatures and Primeval Beasts

In a world where fantastical beasts do not exist, the focus turns to the awe-inspiring and often terrifying creatures that once roamed our earth. Mammoths, saber-toothed cats, giant bears – these are the monsters that populate Stone Age adventures.

Hunting a mammoth is not just a quest; it’s an epic undertaking that requires planning, bravery, and skill. Alternatively, defending your clan from a pack of dire wolves or a prowling cave bear can create suspenseful, edge-of-your-seat play sessions.

Personal Journeys: Revenge, Rites of Passage, and Shamanic Visions

Stone age adventurers hike through the mountainous wilderness

In Born from Ice, while grand narratives and epic quests certainly have their place, the essence of truly memorable adventures often lies in the personal journeys of the characters. By infusing personal motivations and individual backstories into the campaign, GMs can create deeply immersive and emotionally engaging experiences for players.

The Quest for Revenge

Consider a character driven by the desire for revenge. This motivation can be a powerful narrative engine. Perhaps their family was wronged by a rival tribe, or they seek justice for a fallen comrade. This personal vendetta can lead to an entire adventure, filled with tracking the antagonist, navigating tribal politics, and maybe even moral dilemmas about the nature of revenge and justice. Such a storyline can provide a deep, character-focused experience, resonating with themes of loss, retribution, and redemption.

Coming of Age: The Rite of Passage

In many tribal cultures, coming of age and rites of passage are significant life events. Imagine a group of young tribe members, each with their unique aspirations and fears, embarking on a journey to prove their worth to the tribe. This rite of passage could involve a daunting quest, such as retrieving a sacred object, surviving in the wilderness, or facing a fearsome creature. This not only tests their physical abilities but also their mental resilience and character, marking their transition from youth to adulthood.

Visions of the Shaman

In a world without magic, the dreams and visions of a tribal shaman can hold immense sway and mystery. Suppose the shaman begins to experience vivid dreams that foretell impending doom or promise great fortune. Investigating these dreams can lead the party on a mystical journey, exploring sacred sites, deciphering cryptic messages, and perhaps even questioning the nature of destiny and the spirits.

Unraveling Tribal Legends and Lore

Every tribe has its legends and lore, stories passed down through generations that hold wisdom, warnings, and sometimes hidden truths. What if there’s a legend of a long-lost artifact that promises great power, or a tale of a mythical creature whose defeat will bring honor to the tribe? The characters might embark on a quest to uncover these mysteries, driven by curiosity, a desire to prove themselves, or the need to secure a cure for a malady afflicting their tribe.

A Spiritual Quest

In a setting deeply rooted in animism and spirituality, the will of the spirits can be an influential factor. A character or the entire group might believe that they are destined to undertake a specific task – such as hunting a rare creature or finding a unique item – to gain the favor of the spirits or avert misfortune. This belief can set them on a path filled with challenges, moral quandaries, and opportunities for profound character growth.

The Social Fabric: Gatherings, Hunts, and Trade

Social events like a gathering of tribes or a grand hunt can serve as the setting for both grand and intimate narratives. A gathering is an opportunity for characters to engage in social intrigue, form new alliances, or even find love. A hunt, especially one that goes awry, can test the characters’ survival skills, courage, and camaraderie.

Trade brings an opportunity to explore the wider world of the Stone Age, adventures presenting themselves through travel and the very earliest of human commerce. Characters could be part of a trading contingent, journeying across vast landscapes, encountering different tribes, and facing the challenges of long-distance travel in a harsh world.

The Struggle for Survival: The Heart of Stone Age Campaigns

Survival is an ever-present theme. Characters need to gather resources, craft tools, build shelters, and defend their clan from the dangers of the world. These survival elements provide a constant backdrop to the narrative and can often be the main driving force behind a campaign.

Adventure Path: Guiding the Stone Age Journey

Recognizing that running no-magic, Stone Age adventures will be a new experience for almost everyone, we’ve decided that part of our Kickstarter campaign includes the creation of a level 1-20 Adventure Path. We will also have tons of tools in the Core Book for GM’s that will show how to run a fully fleshed-out Stone Age campaign, providing tools, plots, NPCs, and events needed to create a rich and engaging prehistoric world.

A non-magic Stone Age adventure in Born from Ice is far from mundane. It’s a world rich with storytelling potential, where the raw, primal forces of nature, the complexities of early human societies, and the sheer struggle for survival create adventures that are as thrilling and engaging as any high-fantasy setting.

If this type of game sounds exciting, please follow our Kickstarter page! Clicking the “Notify me on launch” button will help us have the strongest launch possible!