Friday, April 13, 2012

Launching the Colonial Hex Crawl

After a positive reception to Monday's post on a 'colonial hex crawl', I started sketching out the ideas this week for it, and I'm really warming to the idea as a mini-project.

I like hex crawls that involve mostly human encounters, because of the wide open possibilities for negotiation and parley in lieu of fight, fight, fight.  The American wilds in the early 17th century had a scattering of frontier forts and trading posts of the Dutch and French, colonies for the Dutch, English, and Swedish, and larger French settlements in Quebec and Montreal.  The native Algonquin and Iroquois populations are both allies and antagonists, and the two nations themselves were made of tribes that competed with each other.  I'm envisioning a wilderness where common encounters could involve patrols of soldiers associated with a fort; fur trappers; traders and merchants; natives of many types - farmers, hunters, traders, and warriors; various Christian missionaries - English Protestant or French Catholic.

The frontier suggests a portable alternate to the gold piece economy - animal furs and pelts were the major currency between Europeans and the natives.  There are plenty of sources that lay out the value of beaver pelts vis-à-vis common goods.  Returning home with stacks of pelts instead of gold pieces and gems is flavorful.

It's easy to map standard classes to period archetypes - fighters and specialists are soldiers, hunters, trappers, outdoorsman, and native guides; clerics are missionaries or native shaman; magic users represent witches, warlocks, and hermetic scholars that have engaged with the dark powers.  (They should probably stay away from Plymouth, or Salem.)  I don’t have strong opinions on the demi human classes, yet, but will probably make them Old World rarities or isolated throwbacks.

Okay, great, I have an idea to make an early modern period work as a frontier hex crawl - what makes it over the top?

The exciting bit is to create an American horror mythos that works for the older period - something like Lovecraft's New England or Ramsey Campbell's Severn Valley, but set in 1630 and heavily flavored with Native American folklore.  The mundane challenges of foreign nationals and hostile natives contrasts with exploring the wilderness and discovering slumbering monsters and awful gods.  Meanwhile, the colonists and traders themselves bring their own civilized horrors with them - the curses of vampirism or lycanthropy cross the ocean with the colonists, escaping into the wilds and preying on peoples not accustomed to dealing with them.  Those two themes - "modern" people encountering ancient horrors in the wilds, and "native" people dealing with the blight of civilization - that's what makes it really interesting for me.

*The awesome Wendigo interpretation is by Monkey Paw on deviant art