Lately I've been looking at criteria for a good D&D setting because I knew I had a few ideas kicking around, and I wanted a structure for looking at the opportunities objectively. I'm intrigued by the idea of a D&D setting in the early modern period, but when bouncing the settings up against the things that make a regular D&D setting great, some issues emerge. Let me know if you agree.
Here's the check list I'm using to see how well the setting match the needs of the game. Some of the items involve what adventurers do or need, some are institutionalized in D&D's mechanics:
Adventures and Frontiers, Autonomy, Dungeons, XP for Gold, Treasure and Magic Items, Classes and Levels, NPC Classes and Levels, Alignment, High Magic, Humanoids and Monsters, The End Game, Demi-Humans, Clerical Magic, Vancian Magic
There should be no problem with adventures, frontiers, player autonomy, or even placing dungeons in the early modern age; the big change you notice is they need to be more remote or isolated. XP for gold might seem a bit fishy - in an age with nation states, would private individuals amass vast fortunes through sacking old ruins? I just have to stop and remember Spanish galleons loaded with treasure, and I can see the XP for gold mechanic still working out in early modern.
Regular D&D tends to assume that high level characters become rulers, there's a correlation between battlefield prowess and domain rulership. History is littered with guys like William the Conqueror, Alexander the Great, Charlemagne, Julius Caesar, and so on, that had great personal power which translated into careers of conquest and political power. That paradigm, which works so well for D&D games at tech levels of the Medieval period, Dark Ages, or Antiquity, seems to break down in the post-Renaissance world. I'm sure one of the talented students of history out there could explain what changed that diminished the political role of the battlefield hero.
You can argue a D&D game in early modern needs to be somewhat low magic, otherwise you have the problem of magic warping the setting. Humanoids and monsters are rare or nonexistent, for the same reasons. But doing an "alternate earth" with humanoid races mixed in with humanity would be pretty interesting - perhaps take an approach like Trey's Weird Adventures. But I'd avoid a high magic setting with a Renaissance or later level of technology - I've seen that before, and it looks like Mystara, or perhaps Eberron.
There you go - take a game like BX D&D, reduce the amount of magic, make monsters rare, and remove the traditional end-game, and you end up with a view of D&D like Jim's LOTFP. Funny stuff. The only other major adaptation to is to swap the gold standard for something fitting to the age, like the silver standard used in LOTFP. Now that LOTFP will have an upcoming firearms supplement, it's the perfect fit for one of these campaigns.
This is a bit of an odd post, as I started by wondering what needed to change for D&D in early modern, and it became clear LOTFP is already there. However, how do you feel about ditching the traditional view of domain rulership and conquest for sliding D&D play into a setting themed against a later age? I've always like knowing there's an "end-game" out there, where D&D crosses over into a different style of play and there's a natural point for retiring characters.
Referring back to an old poll here at the Lich House, only 23% of the readership at the time were concerned that their campaigns supported a high level end-game: Beedo's hierarchy of campaign needs and then the associated poll results.