I've been casting around lately for an early modern setting that would work for D&D, something with guns and flashing blades. My recent interest in distilling the essence of a good campaign setting has been bent towards this goal, and further evidenced by some of my recent ideas such as the "Colonial Hexcrawl" or "Goblins of the Spanish Main". Fear not for the Black City, it trundles towards playtesting, hopefully as soon as after our next Cthulhu scenarios (unless the players clamor for more of the AD&D game first). But since I'm tossing things against the wall, here’s another early modern setting kicking around the cranium: a sprawling Gothic ruin I call "Harrow Home".
When the fires of the auto-da-fé burned across Europe, witches and warlocks gathered in the highlands of dread Albion to escape the noose and pyre. The cellars and dungeon beneath the old manse were greatly extended downward into the earth, giving these foul necromancers solitude far from the prying eyes of the church. In time, fewer and fewer visit were made to the little villages beyond the moors, and Harrow Home fell into disrepair. But the old manor was never truly abandoned.
100 years have passed, and the castle manor has tumbled into ruin. But the moorland surrounding the fallen manse has an ill reputation. Shepherds go missing on the moors, and travelers disappear by night. Dark deals are consummated at lonely cross-roads, and it's not uncommon for a hunter or farmer to discover a new cave entrance where none existed, with a reek that seems to come from the pits of hell itself.
The dungeons and caverns beneath Harrow Home draw inspiration from gothic horror and place it in the early modern setting. Source materials would include the tales of Edgar Allen Poe, Lovecraft's story "The Festival", and the classic black and white horror films of the 1930's. The byzantine politics and tortuous relationships of the wizards living beneath Harrow Home recall classic D&D adventures like Castle Amber, Tegel Manor, or Mervyn Peake's excellent novel, Gormenghast. I might even watch Clive Barker's Nightbreed again.
The back story of occult characters and families retreating to the haunted moors of Elizabethan England provides a fiction to populate the depths of Harrow Home with ghoul cults and witch's covens, servants of the mummy, soul-jumping body thieves, devil worshipers, degenerate serpent people left over from Pictish times, and perhaps even the odd vampire from the Old Country or a mad scientist bent on re-animating the dead. What's not to love about it?
Next up, I think I'll match a few of these ideas up against my 'criteria for a good campaign' and see which one has the most promise.
*Image is Slain's Castle from here, with a simple sepia filter applied