Late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age ACKS

My Barbarian Conqueror King (BCK) setting for ACKS is much more primitive in scope than the implied late Roman Empire/Dark Ages default setting of ACKS. While there were large empires in its past (Serpentmen, Lizardmen and Sakkara), their technology, with the exception of the long-extinct (or so most people think) Serpentmen, was relatively primitive. At the current time civilization is restricted to relatively small city-states.

Culturally speaking, the BCK setting is inspired by the late Bronze Age/early Iron Age civilizations of the Near East, approximately similar to about 1,500-1,000 BCE in our world (but with dinosaurs and magic!). I’m thinking about using similar assumptions for technology as well.

So what should I be on the lookout for in regard to technology, agriculture and other elements of the setting for such a primitive setting?

The late Bronze Age wasn't really all that "primitive" compared to the late Iron Age. This was the Middle Assyrian era, a notably advanced and learned empire which conquered many of its neighbours. So while there were places which were little more than city-states based on the palace economy, there were also nation-spanning empires.

Let us not forget there was a "Bronze Dark Ages" (c1200-1150BC), after which there was much retrenchment and a lengthy recovery of what was lost, occurring in the middle of the period you're drawing inspiration from. Technological change in antiquity was pretty slow, especially because trade and industry weren't highly valued by kings and aristocrats, except where they had war-applications.

As far as war goes, the notion that iron is intrinsically superior to bronze is one of those RPG myths. Well-worked bronze (like that of the Chinese) is better than iron and even lower grades of steel for armour and weapons. What caused the demise of bronze was the limited availablity of tin, the other key component in its manufacture.

What you will notice compared to medieval sorts of settings is less armour around generally (most warriors rely on a shield for protection) and shorter blades. The spear is the king of the battlefield.

For the former, I'd highly recommend adding more detail to shields and making them more important. For example in my historical game (set in 300BC), I did this:

Item Defense Bonus Athletics Penalty Cost Enc
Cloak-wrapped forearm +1AC vs one-handed melee      
Buckler +1AC vs melee and thrown   5dr Item
Small shield +1AC vs melee and thrown, 2AC vs missiles   10dr 1 stone
Medium shield +2AC vs melee and thrown, 3 AC vs missiles -1 50dr 2 stone
Large shield +3AC vs melee and thrown, 5AC vs missiles -2 100dr 3 stone

Furthermore, lamellar is likely the heaviest armour available, mail doesn't exist, and I'd double or even triple the costs of all armour.

The galley and the chariot are the mark of kingship, though Large galleys are the largest available and rare.

The big thing that iron brought was its abundance. The sizes of armies greatly expanded because weapons were cheaper. Technologically, this goes for bows, as well. Composite bows were things that kinds gave to other kings as gifts, if they could get one made.

This is a cool resource, though only the first few chapters are relevant.

From a technological/economic/political standpoint, tin deposits will be a major factor, since copper is relatively abundant, but tin is much more scarce. Without tin, one is restricted to copper instead of bronze, which works perfectly well for decorative purposes, but is poor for tool use. The powerful empires will tend to have three things in close proximity: a plain for farming, a tin mine, and a coast adequate for sailing from. The first provides sufficiency, the second a critical strategic resource, and the third the ability to trade. A copper mine is nice but not strictly essential (copper can be traded for more easily than tin). Wood will also be necessary, both for building ships and for the fires needed to smelt metal. Again, this can be traded for, but it would be nice to have locally if possible.

Arsenic could also substitute for tin, since arsenic bronzes are similar physically to tin bronzes - around 3000 BCE Crete, the Western Mediterranean, and Egypt used arsenic bronzes, while Anatolia used both arsenic and tin bronzes. This may be where the “lame smith” came from, since slow accumulation of arsenic from smoke in body tissues causes nerve damage, particularly in the limbs. has an interesting article about tin mining about 60 miles north of Tarsus, in what is now Turkey, where archaeologists recovered over 50,000 stone tools used in processing tin ore to make bronze.

Thanks for the info and especially the links and tables!

Anyhow, I’m thinking about an early iron age technology level in order not to deviate too much from the ACKS rules. Still, this is quite different from ACKS defaults - for example, chariots would probably rule the day, and armour would be much more limited in many cases (here the shield rules come in handy).

The oldest archaeologically recovered suits of lamellar date to 433 BCE, from a dig at Sui-Hsien, China. That would be around the time of the Achaemenid Empire in the Near East, the La Tene Culture in Central Europe, or the late Etruscan League/early Roman Republic in Italy. Individual scales have been recovered of Assyrian armor, but without sufficient context to tell whether they were true lamellar or simpler scale armor.

I’d say that Lamellar would be the heaviest armour available in this setting, though most barbarian lands won’t have the skill to produce it (so it’ll be available, say, only in Class III markets or better).

I’d remove mail altogether as well as plate. Most if not all barding, too.

I think it’s also worth increasing the cost of armour, as well as restricting its general availability.

I agree. Usually you’ll get metal armour at the large cities (Class III or better) at double cost; otherwise you’ll have to do with leather, studded/hide and shields.

mail and Plate would be only Magic Items left over from the Serpentmen of old. But they might even have higher technology in store (as artefacts).

Also, I’ll need rules for chariots, especially the heavy iron ones…