I've had a setting project on and off for over a year now called the Black City - most long time readers have come across Black City posts, I'm sure - and I'm expecting to send some adventurers into the Black City sometime in the next few weeks, hopefully after we wrap up the current Cthulhu scenario. The Black City is a mix of Vikings and science-fantasy and Lovecraftian aliens in the frozen north. It's got plenty of weird stuff, but one thing I miss is the classic gothic horror elements that don't quite fit. Furthermore, I've been searching for something that would work well in the 17th century (1620's or so) as an early modern setting for D&D style adventures, but with a splash of guns and rapiers instead of heavy plate and battle axes. So while the Black City moves into active play, I'm about ready to add a second project to the queue where ideas that don't fit into the Black City campaign have a place to go. If my Black City pace is any indication, this next setting will be ready to play around 2014 (kidding, I hope).
The early modern has a different set of challenges than the microcosmic "points of light" trope in a purely fantastic setting. It's a populous age with more long distance travel and potentially less space for monsters; depending on the approach, it likely requires more than hastily sketching out the home town village and the local dungeon filled with orcs and goblins. I'm going to step through some of the ideas I've been considering and point out my view of the challenges. Maybe even the dear readers can help me choose.
Library of De La Torre
The idea here was that a famous adventurer in the mold of Solomon Kane has recently passed away, bequeathing a library or journal to the party at the start of the campaign. During his career, this adventurer had explored dungeons and tombs and combated horrors in the dark corners of Europe, but much of the treasure was still left behind.
The library is a platform to do an info-dump, seeding a target rich environment, since the players would get leads to various adventuring sites right at the campaign start and could engage in a highly player-driven campaign. Contrasted to the typical micro-sandbox, I was calling it a "wide area sandbox".
Would require wide-area maps of 17th century Europe created, high level background on many areas of Europe during the 30 years war, and systems to facilitate mundane travel, staying at inns, and so on, including how to keep travel interesting. Too much historical research is a risk. A dozen or so one-page dungeons for distant adventuring sites would be needed.
Colonial Hex Crawl
Reading some accounts of Dutch New York and French-Canadian fur traders from Montreal got me thinking how early 17th century America was basically a dangerous hex crawl to the European explorers. The concept here would be to sketch out a few Dutch settlements and trading posts as home bases, and build a sprawling hex crawl that covers New York through the Great Lakes - a blend of wilderness and Iroquois and Algonquin territory and competing nations and traders.
American folklore and mythology is underrepresented in gaming materials and there's a great chance here to build out a horror mythology in the new world similar to Lovecraft or Stephen King, just placed much earlier in the country's history. Plus I live right in the area these days.
Hex crawling can be inherently dull. The exploration challenges of traveling by canoe, portaging from river to river or past waterfalls, camping, seeking out new settlements for trade and negotiation, seem much more exciting in my head than I think they would play out on the table; there's great risk here in building a campaign solely around such a hex crawl. Meanwhile, traditional dungeons would be unusual in the new world - although I can envision some strange cave complexes like in the story, The Mound.
Telecanter has been putting up a lot of interesting travel "mini-games" for creating resource challenges during a hex crawl, and small systems like that could be created to make basic travel by canoe a little more interesting than purely narrative.
Goblins of the Spanish Main
This idea started as an example of how a non-standard setting (in this case, island hopping during the age of piracy) could be adjusted to fit the tropes of D&D despite the assumptions of the game. It got some interest in the comments and ways were identified to manage a few of the problems with being part of a ship's crew, so I'm bringing it back here for more discussion.
D&D never has enough pirates. Or ninjas.
I've given zero thought to placing a megadungeon in the Caribbean, although going with a 'lost Atlantis' angle might be interesting, or making it related to the fantastic ruins and mythology of Mesoamerica (or both). Systems to support the swashbuckling flavor could be developed - shipboard combat and swinging on ropes, fighting in the rigging, that kind of stuff.
Harrow Home Manor
Harrow Home is a crumbling manse on the Yorkshire moors, on a remote heath of northeast England. It's the center of a small gothic sandbox in England (as opposed to placing it in Transylvania or central Europe) and the dungeons would be home to factions of treacherous wizards and undead sorcerers competing over arcane lore. An ancient sleeping god akin to one of Lovecraft's "great old ones" slumbers beneath the moors, awaiting the time it's reawakened by the cultists to spread death and madness across the world.
This is the closest to the traditional D&D sandbox - a limited sized region, a small set of villages, abbeys, and coastal towns, and a rugged interior surrounding the titular megadungeon ruin. What makes this megadungeon "different" is the number of treacherous, insane, wizards and cultists that haunt the cavern depths beneath the old ruins, drawing inspiration from Edgar Allan Poe, Lovecraft, CAS, and similar authors.
D&D is fairly well-suited for this type of setting, I don't see any major issues.
So there you have it - those are the different ideas bouncing around Beedo's head. The funny thing is, none of these are exclusive - I could develop my own vision of a "Gothic 17th Century" and place all four of these campaign ideas in the same world over time - so it's really just a question of what to develop first. Someone on the LOTFP message board mentioned that War Hammer Fantasy uses a dark/fantastic version of early modern Europe, so I'm thinking I should check that out some time for ideas as well - they recommended WFRP 1E.
Seems like a good time for a poll, too - which of these settings would be interesting to read about? Or drop a note in the comments. Thanks!