The Lexicon (1985)

Bard Games started out as a partnership between three friends who wanted to make system-agnostic supplements for RPGs (read: for D&D). The first publication was The Compleat Alchemist, which provided guidelines for an alchemist player class, which for the time was a radical departure for what folks expected from a playable character. Two more Compleats followed — Adventurer and Spell-Caster. These three books eventually formed the basis of The Arcanum, a D&D-esque RPG system set in Atlantis. I posted about that an age ago, the cover has a big old pentagram on it, so it got some attention from the Bible thumpers. The Arcanum rulebook was followed by this, The Lexicon (1985), which establishes the entirety of the antediluvian world.

This is a massive undertaking for 128 pages and draws from all sorts of Bronze age cultures, as well as some that are legendary or fictional — Cimmeria is in the mix, for instance, as is Avalon, anachronistically. The presence of real world cultures almost never reflects the historical record — they’re all a little strange, to reflect that this is a world is mythic and outside of history. Does it trade in stereotype? A bit, but I mostly feel like the result is transformative, in the same way as Glorantha — everything is mixed enough that, again, it feels intentionally fantastic. This is helped along by the presence of decidedly non-human cultures like Yeti, Jotun and mer-people.

The cover art clues you into the most interesting bit — the vast majority of the world is arranged around commerce and trade. There are plenty of tensions on the local level between incompatible cultural factions, but large scale warfare is not the norm. It is interesting to have an RPG world the focuses on cultural exploration, especially at this moment in time.

Even if you have no intention of playing in the world as presented, the amount of detail here is alarming. You can dig in and find plenty to use in your own world.

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