Hey everyone! It’s been a while, and I can no longer edit the original post. As such, here is an updated version of the post that incorporates much of the material provided by you all. It’s also reformatted in a way that has been more helpful to me in game prep and conceptualizing. Thank you so much for the comments and insights!
Weapons: Weapons are crafted from bone, stone, copper, and bronze. Common weapons include spears, short bows, axes, clubs and cudgels, short swords, slings, knives and daggers, staves, sickles, javelins, nets, and blow guns.
Armor: Armor is crafted from animal hides (leather, included the hides of crocodiles and rhino), copper, and bronze. The most common armors are copper helms and studded cloaks, shields of numerous shapes, linen corselets, and the like. Particularly wealthy individuals or organizations might have “scale” armor (hoplite panoply), bronze breastplates, grieves, and bracers, but this style of play is rife with nearly naked warriors who survive by their wits.
Items: A wide variety of items, from art to tools, are created with wood, clay, stone, and metals. Pottery is especially popular, as is weaving and painting with natural dyes. There is extensive use of levers in developed areas.
Agriculture: Extremely sophisticated irrigation systems exist (probably no plumbing)
Fuel: Fuel sources include flint, animal fats, and other natural oils.
Medicine: Well established use of bandages and natural remedies such as honey for wound treatment. Cauterization also exists, as do numerous questionable surgeries, incisions, and so on. Some knowledge of how infections spread can be traced back to Thucydides in Greece, who noted that the plague of Athens spread from infected individuals.
Travel: There are crude roads in many places, but much of the world is wild and disconnected. When traveling, it is often on foot. Horse barding does not yet exist, so supplies and goods must be carted on the back of work animals. Chariots, however, do exist. Sea travel does exist. Navigation is often done by reading the sky and using landmarks.
Writing: Some written language exists, especially among the erudite and elite. It is carved into clay tablets and pots, written upon animal skins and cheap cloth works. Papyrus with natural inks harvested from animals such as squid and octopus may be used by the wealthy in particularly dry environments. Much of language is oral or pictorial, though. Most people are illiterate, but this doesn’t mean they are stupid.
Personal Security: Locks are exclusive to the elite, if they exist at all. However, many ancient world societies developed various ways to secure their homes. For example, building doors might be reinforced with barricading apparatus called fox locks (heavy wood or metal beams angled against the door and braced in indentations in the floor and walls).
Fire: Fire is important. The dark is scary, and dangerous.
The Big Picture: The world is not well explored, superstition is rampant, the natural world is explained and understood through the lens of the gods. City-states containing a few towns and many villages are common, and are often ruled by a small subsection of the elite. Great cities might have armies in the hundreds or more, and war is a way of life for the elite. There are countless nomadic groups who have yet to turn to agriculture and laying down roots.
Religion: There are temples (ziggurats, pyramids) to the various gods, most of which exist within the few great cities. Most villages do now have temples, and instead have a single priest, shaman, or spiritual leader. Human and animal sacrifices and animal worship are common, as are rituals that would be strange to our modern eyes. Polytheism is the standard, and the gods are often cruel and capricious. They have all of man’s moral failings, because man and the gods are very importantly linked.
Population: Large cities might range in the thousands, but perhaps no more than 10,000 in any one. Towns and villages had far fewer residents, and populations were sometimes quite volatile (disease, birth, war, raiders, and so on).
Business: Most towns and villages have an inn or two. They have a few private rooms, but most pay to sleep on the floor. Signs and advertisements would only exist in some places, as many people are still illiterate. Many businesses would focus on providing goods and services in exchange for other goods and services.
Wealth: Wealth is most commonly represented by amber, beads and shells, spices, jewels and gems, silks, ivory, lumps of metal, art, land and property, livestock, and slaves. Coins might exist, as seen in Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and other areas, and are likely made of copper, silver, and gold. Tin, if available for use in making bronze, would probably be reserved for weapons, armor, and tools. (My suggestion, simply for the sake of genre emulation, would be to shy away from coinage and focus on other forms of wealth)
Counting: Most people can make markings to count, even those that are illiterate. As such, and per above, coinage can exist.
Lodging: Most travelers, if no inn exists, would stay with a family or in a communal hall. Adventurers would do well to make connections and build relationships with the inhabitants of different areas if they want to achieve Rest.
Law: This is a mostly lawless time when a good spear arm and a golden tongue to justify it are of great use. Codified laws do exist, especially in advanced areas, but these are exceptions to the rule. In some places, the king or pharaoh’s word was law. Model laws after your favorite ancient world civilization.
Rivers: Rivers are exceptionally important, as are other water supplies. Rivers allow for very quick travel.
Other: Waste removal might be done by throwing it along the roads or burying it in the dirt. Rain and flooding could be dealt with through trenches. Festivals, ceremonies, and rituals can and should be closely related to things such as natural events (eclipses, the seasons, famine and drought, for example).
Remember, these people are only one step removed from the late stone age. It isn’t just their tools that are primitive. Attitudes, behavior, laws, skills, sense of place and belonging in the world, and the dangerous of an ancient ecology each present new and unique challenges as compared to a standard medieval European setting.
The adventures the player characters set upon are likely personal, local, and focused on people, things, and places they care about. These games should be, in my humble opinion, very much about the player characters and their world. Most of their adversaries are probably human foes, animals, the environment, and the schemes of the gods. We might also consider sorcerers, demons, and unspeakable horrors for fantasy elements. Whether you choose to go high fantasy/magic or sword and sorcery is up to you. Lean into the deified mythic elements, or keep it focused on mud and eldritch things.
And finally, this outline is not necessarily historically accurate. It does not represent a specific bronze age, or a specific location in our real world. These are guides to make play in a bronze themed game unique – nothing more, nothing less.
This post will likely be updated again in the future. Game on!