I was reading an article about primitive humans gettin’ busy (yeah, I’m street like that) with Neanderthals. Apparently, we did share the planet with a few other homo sapiens – maybe not as exotic as sharing it with elves, dwarves and halflings (well, maybe halflings), but it makes me think again about the fun of running a game with neanderthals and other “humanoids”, especially if you smash it together with an REH-style Atlantean age of fantastic adventures and ancient civilizations. Imagine an ancient, pre-ice age Europe swarming with prehistoric beasts and powerful stone age (maybe even Flintstone-style) civilizations that are antecedents to the known ancient civilizations of Europe. Naturally, we’re going to bend reality a bit to make this work.
First, let’s look at our players:
You probably know these guys. Just use whatever rules you would normally use for humans in your favorite system.
For our purposes, we’ll say the humans are the new kids on the block, moving in from Africa, so they’re going to take the roll of nomadic raiders and conquerors, a’ la the Huns or Mongols. Maybe they ride swift hill ponies, and use stone-tipped spears and arrows and stone axes in combat. Assume that stone weapons do one dice-type less of damage than metal versions – so spears do 1d6, hand axes 1d4 and short bows/arrows 1d4.
Armor in this setting is simple enough anyhow, but for humans it probably consists of furs (AC +1) or cured hide armor (AC +2). Maybe they use wicker shields as well.
If you use something like “favored classes”, maybe these humans favor the barbarian class.
Neanderthals are close kin to human beings. In our setting, they are the high tech stone users, building cities of stone (again, Flintstone-style) and building primordial empires (maybe on the bones of pre-human civilizations like those of the ophidians and elder things). Since we’re used to Neanderthals being depicted as the “dumb cousins”, I like the idea of them being the most civilized people in the game, with a well-organized chieftain system, armies, organized religion (probably druids, but clerics would be cool as well), etc. Of course, the greatest of the Neanderthal kingdoms should be in the Neander valley – this is their Carolingian Empire – imagine how cool their Roland would be!
(Oh – what about theme-ing the Neanderthal city-states off of different stones – the Sapphire City, the Emerald City (well, maybe not that one), the Obsidian City, etc.)
You can probably use the dwarf racial abilities for your Neanderthals, making them tough guys who are hard to kill and who have expertise when working with stone and delving into cave systems. Neanderthal males stand 5.5 feet tall, females 5 feet tall.
Neanderthals have the same basic weapons as human beings, but also have armor that uses horn and bone in its construction (AC +3).
If you use favored classes, neanderthals probably favor the fighter class.
Homo erectus appear to have been slightly more primitive hominids than the early humans and Neanderthals. They are hunter-gatherers who use primitive tools and rely more on brawn than brains, and could therefore be an analog for half-orcs in the game (without the mixed parentage). Since homo erectus is more primitive and “close to nature”, you could use the druid as their favored class.
Otherwise, they might make good brigands and pirates, sniping at the edges of Neanderthal civilization without any real ability to conquer it. Heck, maybe the Neanderthal legions use homo erectus and hobbit (see below) auxiliaries as scouts and light infantry in their battles with the orcs and hobgoblins.
So they weren’t discovered in Europe – how do you do cave man fantasy gaming without including the recently discovered ‘hobbits’? And I’d call them hobbits too! The hobbits are small humanoids, maybe a bit harrier than the humans and neanderthals, who dwell in thick woodlands in burrows. You can use the traditional halfling racial abilities for the the hobbits. They stood about 3 to 4 feet tall and used stone tools – probably on par with the humans.
The hobbits (well, as near as they can figure – remember, they might not really be a separate species) lived on an island with giant rats, Komodo dragons, elephants (stegodons) and giant lizards – they’re totally D&D, and must have been pretty slick little operators to survive. You might want to change their favored class, if you use such things, to ranger.
Indonesia produces all the best hominid fossils! Meganthropus is the opposite of the hobbits – giant humanoids who were probably also related to homo erectus. Since we don’t have elves in this setting (unless we do – see below), they might make a good additional race. Meganthropus stood about 8 feet tall and is probably best represented with the half-ogre race (whichever version you prefer). They would be about as advanced as homo erectus and the hobbits, and probably rely on their great strength more than tools. If you use favored classes in your game, fighter or barbarian probably works for meganthropus.
If you really need to have “elves” in your game, I’d suggest replacing them with ophidians, or even just using them as-is – beautiful fey creatures who are shepherding the humanoids on their way to civilization.
Weapons do a bit less damage in this campaign, but there is less Armor to go around, so things should probably even out in that regard. To keep fighters and clerics (and paladins and whatever else you use) the “most armored” classes in the game, maybe restrict the other classes that can use armor to nothing more than furs (AC +1), no shields.
Spellbooks might not make sense, though scrolls consisting of stone tablets or animal hides are fine. In place of spellbooks, you could equip the magic-users with the aforementioned animal hides (one hide per spell, regardless of the spell’s level) or they could carve runes into staves and use them for memorization. Really, as long as the possibility of magic-users being without one’s source of spells is still present, you’re probably okay.
If you’re feeling gonzo, insert dinosaurs along with the prehistoric mammals, and of course use all of them as mounts.
Now – evil humanoids. They’re still there, of course. Gnolls and their hyaenodons, kobolds worming their way through the earth, goblins hiding in the woods, orcs and hobgoblins giving the early humans a run for their money. Do I even need to mention the lizard men and troglodytes? (And yeah, if your lizard men don’t look a lot like Sleestaks, you’re just not getting the point!) Heck, maybe you could re-cast all of the “evil humanoids” as having dinosaur features – T-Rex hobgoblins, triceratops orcs, ‘raptor goblins, etc.
Most of the mythological creatures are appropriate – after all, many were born from the blood of the “mother of monsters”. Dragons are great, bulettes and ankhegs are perfect, and a setting like this just begs for packs of blink dogs and worgs. A few metal-based monsters – rust monsters, iron golems, giant robots – should be avoided unless they are remnants of the ancient ophidians found in the mega-dungeons they have left behind.
Oh, and also this …
So, find your inner Frazetta and get primitive!