So, this has been sitting in my draft queue since I made the post about The Three Musketeers. Sat down and banged it out today.
Something people often overlook in the tabletop RPG hobby is just how long the Middle Ages actually lasted. I’m a fan of the Late middle Ages, myself. It’s an era of upheaval. Society went into a woodchipper and came out in a shape much grander, but that woodchipper itself is ideally suited for adventuring into the ruins of the lost Empire (and its decadent holdout, somnolent in opiatic and truly Oriental splendors) than the low-level skirmishes of centuries past or the industrialized wars of the future.
The era brought the Hundred, Thirty, and many other Years’ Wars, the true birth of the gun, of the flowering of arts outside the walls of monasteries for the first time in a dozen generations. Lines of communication shortened drastically, and (as always) people found out that just because you can make yourself understood twice as fast and twice as clearly, it doesn’t mean that someone won’t want to stab you over it. The only true pillar of society for a good millenium – Mother Church – was unceremoniously kicked out from under nearly everyone. Sure, there had been heresy and even schisms, anti-popes, &cetera. But now the Church of Rome began to realize that it was going to have to do more than trust in God and Princes to protect herself. Then there were the great plagues, increasing both the mobility and the value of the grunt peasant through scarcity, the rise of towns against the fracturing nobility.
Everywhere you look in the histories, there’s shreds of things you can turn into adventures. Paganism is still close enough to the surface that it can break through in all kinds of fucked-up ways. A village in the hills (fine, barrows) chock-full with cannibal halflings was still a too-close-for-comfort nightmare in my family in the 1800’s – imagine what it would have been like 200 years or more earlier, with dipshit foreign invaders trampling all over the sacred places pissing off the locals. And Hell, if all other inspiration fails literally everyone, from the Pope down to tiny shithole cities on the edge of the Baltic, was hiring mercenaries and dispatching King’s Men off on missions of intrigue and/or copious amounts of murder and burnings.
Playing in the historical sandbox makes it easy to build a character and his motivations. Granted, there’s a lot of baggage that carries through to the modern era (remind me to tell you sometime about how the Peace of Westphalia is the real reason global climate change is a problem). And sure, you can offend people, but a quick talk and any level of adulthood at the table mean it’s not a real issue in-play. No matter how many words you put into your made-up world’s background, when you can say “He’s a French Huguenot on the run, who once served as a Dragoon but escaped during Queen Catherine’s purges, now looking for work in Bavaria”… just look at the motivations on the character, and what that puts in your DM’s pocket. Make it clear to your players that this is funtime, that you’re not putting their religion on trial..
..and that they need to be able to put aside their egos for the characters’ tonight.
But that “baggage” notwithstanding, using the real world allows a few less-obvious things that make your life as a DM much, much easier. Major public figures of the late 16th and early 17th centuries are famous enough that you can name-check them for atmosphere, while still obscure enough that their motives and character are not only questionable but positively murky. The average player’s historical knowledge is pretty sketchy on a good day, and a 20 or even 50-year anachronism for the sake of story (there’s a good example in that 3 Musketeers post) doesn’t hurt immersion. Richelieu sending the PCs to undermine this upstart Cromwell fellow? Sure!
Same goes for battles, let alone wars, and you can make one up that sounds damned convincing. How many people do you know that actually understand the impact of the Battle of Hochstedt, who won, or even the war in which it was fought? (You’d think the War of Spanish succession would involve combatants from Spain, but.. yeah.)
Or, for that matter, her..
And then, of course, Solomon Kane. Because really, he’s up there with Van Helsing on the “Greatest Clerics Ever” list.
In conclusion: Great style, turbulent politics, pimping buckles on your shit, and everyone’s fuzzy memory on the details but familiarity with the broad strokes makes this a perfect era for the local murderhobos.
Poste Scriptorum: If you want more sexy, sexy 17th-century armor/clothing pics, go to this blog, it’s frigging delicious. Clothing porn ho!
Edit: Not a lady. Mea maxima culpa.