Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Building the York 1630 Campaign

Events moved quickly after the new Lamentations of the Flame Princess game last week.  The players had their successful one-shot delve into the Tower of the Stargazer, declared, "By Jove, this OSR style of gaming is quite a rare flavor", and continued "Bartender, I'll have another.  No, bring the whole bottle, let's make it a full campaign!"

Spoilers may follow.  I don't believe any of my players follow my blog, but in case any do - you might want to stop reading if you don't want to know how the sausage gets made… or how the whiskey is distilled?  I should get my metaphors straight.

In daily life I'm a busy corporate minion, so I knew I'd be stitching together a handful of adventure modules into a loose setting rather than relying on home brew.  For a Lamentations campaign that hits on the classic notes, the centerpiece would be Death Frost Doom and its aftermath.  There are many potential outcomes from it that can send your campaign into a different direction, like a zombie apocalypse or a plague of vampires, and I recently re-watched The Strain and Fear the Walking Dead, so I am here for any and all of it.  

Earlier in the summer I read a book called The Blazing World: A New History of Revolutionary England (Jonathon Healey) so I had a sense of the politics, tensions, and domestic concerns in England between 1620 and 1630 and the transition from King James to Charles.  I picked York because it seems like an interesting northern city with old medieval walls and streets, perched on the edge of several large wilderness areas - including the Yorkshire moors, which seem like they could serve well for hosting haunted places and the odd lair.

In no particular order then, here are the kinds of things I did to get ready for campaigning.  I found a handful of maps online of early modern York that would work as a city map, at least until I convert one in a mapping tool.  I created a random name generator so I could quickly name NPCs and characters on the fly, and also a campaign events generator to populate the calendar with upcoming events that happen in the wider world - wars, and rumors of war.  I made a calendar, too - strict time records and all that.

I created a list of some 40-50 random names of interesting sounding businesses, so I could improvise as required when the players went shopping - I use the name list to pluck a name, pluck a shop name off the shop list, and use another random generator with personality quirks for a suggestion of an NPC's personality.  I built these tools in Excel years ago with random numbers and vlookups, and just update them from campaign to campaign to simplify prep.

I don't have a map of England yet - I've used Google maps to familiarize with the area, but eventually I want to make something with hexes that can be shown to the players for overland travel.  Someone pointed me at a Cambridge collection of period-appropriate John Speed maps; they are amazing, but possibly too detailed and busy for game purposes - we'll see where I land.

In the first game, the players' patron was a local gangster named William Brewer.  He's going to stick around  as an important supporting character as we shift to a campaign mode.  His tavern, the Brabbage, will be a hub for rumors and future plot hooks, and I came up with a handful of things to introduce in the game session so the players have options.  Thinking back to the game session, I introduced plot hooks related to The God That Crawls, The Grinding Gear, Bee-Ware!, Magic Eater, and Strict Time Records Must Be Kept.  Not bad for a single session.  A game based in England will feature many of the Kelvin Green LOTFP titles, as they involve unusual locales and villages that work well in a sandbox.

Here's something obvious to me, though - LOTFP needs an adventure database!  After the current slew of books, the publisher is approaching 100 titles (the last printed title is numbered LOTFP00105, but there are a few skips and reprints in those numbers).  Some are targeted at a fantasy setting, while others are more tightly bound to Earth history and real world locations.  There are adventures set in England, in Scandinavia, in Europe - such as France, Italy, and Germany-based adventures.  Don't get me started on the time periods - many assume a 1630's era, but I've seen one-offs that are set in earlier or later time periods.  Most of them target low levels, although there are a few outliers.  Then there's the taste factor, which ones are "all ages" vs "extreme content".  It's fine to have such an eclectic catalog but a searchable database with attributes would make a referee's life much easier to find useful adventures.  Since I doubt someone will see this humble plea and produce a searchable LOTFP database, maybe it's something I'll put together as I continue the "quixotic quest to review every LOTFP adventure out there…"  I digress.

Besides needing a map of England, I also want to identify several secret societies to round out the campaign prep.  Characters with extraordinary powers, like clerics and magic users, in an otherwise mundane world, would exist on the fringes or keep their status hidden.  There might be cabals of magic users vying for power in the shadows, or a small collection of monster hunters that still fight the good fight in the name of the divine.  Call of Cthulhu is full of these kinds of groups, like the Theron Marks Society, the Brotherhood of the Beast, or the Silver Twilight.  Lastly, I'm also thinking about making some period-appropriate encounter tables for the countryside - who doesn't love a giant random encounter table?  If some kind soul already knows of a Thirty Years' War random table, I would be grateful for a pointer.

Hope you enjoyed reading about the process, and maybe even got some ideas you can use in your own games.  I'll get last game session written up next.


  1. Have you thought about incorporating Dark Albion or The Midderlands?

    1. I've looked at the maps - it might be crazy, but I was thinking hexes at 6 miles per hex, and the Albion maps are a lot more scaled out. Midderlands seems to cover only a small area.

  2. I have some LotFP products but I agree the mass of publications is overwhelming. If you put together that database I'd be exceedingly grateful!

  3. This is the time my masters thesis was written on. English Radical Political Thought: Reformation to Restoration.

    A secret society beyond the actual various non-conformist religious groupings might be those interested in decoding the language of Angles or reconstructing the original language of Eden before the Tower of Babel. This was an active pursuit of some occultists and Jesuits, I always wanted to add it into one of my historical games with a dash of Foucault's Pendulum and Club Dumas.

    Some British occultists and natural philosophers at the time:
    * John Dee
    * Edward Kelley
    * Thomas Vaughan
    * Robert Child
    * John Gaule
    * Robert Fludd
    * Nicholas Culpeper
    * William Lilly
    * Sir Thomas Browne

    1. Didn't John Dee and Kelley create the idea of the Enochian language, or at least try and codify earlier thoughts? I agree that would be a great pursuit for mages of this time period. I loved the 9th Gate and could see those influences (Club Dumas) working their way in too. Thanks for dropping the ideas.

    2. Dee and Kelley used a piece of obsidian to communicate with angles and transcribe Enochian IIRC.

      There was a who movement to try to retrace languages back to to the original language that was split with the fall of The Tower of Babble, some folks thought that this was the same as the Angelic language. Linguistics as a scholarly pursuit was just taking baby steps at this point, it was in the 1630s that a Dutchman recognized that Sanskrit, Persian, Greek, Latin, and most European languages were related. The Jesuit Athanasius Kircher then tried to synchronize this and other sciences with the Bible. Kircher and other Jesuits also attempted to reconstruct the original Lingua Humana. Recognizing that Basque was unrelated to European languages, and that Micmac had similar words, yet they were separated by great distances, they must be closely related to the original Lingua Humana. Apparently Basque and Micmac share a number of loan words for trade goods and animals due to trading connects dating to the around 1500, though some French scholars claim that the Basques had begun whaling off of Newfoundland around 1380.

      So to tie things in to York, the Basque were sailing from Spain with it's rich history of Roman, Jewish, and Islamic mysticism; sailing to North America and trading with Natives who the could possibly be the descendants of folks who had contact with the Vikings. They were then returning and selling their whale oil in London.

      I ran a LOTFP game about a dozen years ago based around:
      * Arthur Machen The White People
      * Lovecraft The Rats In The Walls
      * Longfellow The Skeleton in Amour
      * Americas Stonehenge in Salem NH
      * The Viking Tower in Newport RI
      * "Viking" and "Phoenician" carvings on Dighton Rock

      Basically 1630s Puritans delved in places that the Wampanoag told them not to and discovered the cannibalistic descendants of Vikings who worshiped and elder idiot god who was brought to the New World by Phoenicians fleeing the destruction of Carthage...

      sorry for the long reply!

    3. Horrible Old Man, I meant to compliment you on the awesomeness of the New World LOTFP campaign idea. It's been something I've kicked around (mentally) for a long time but couldn't get comfortable. The idea of a dungeon "brought" to the new world via Viking explorers (in the North) or the Spanish (in the south) isn't an angle I'd considered, but has a lot of potential.

  4. This is actually my neck of the woods, I'm excited to hear about the horrible/eldritch things your players inflict on it. You've got barrows, black dogs, all sorts of fun stuff. A bit west of York is Almscliffe Crag, which has one of those 'entries to the fairy world' stories attached to it.

    1. Thanks for the tip, Ben. One of the players is an old world elf come to Britain to discover where the brethren went, and opening a path to Elfland will be one of his long time goals. Now he'll have have a reason for being in York - Almscliffe Crag!

    2. Oh, one more thing, if you’re still looking for organisations: I’ve been on and off planning an Esoteric Enterprises game for a while, set in the same rough area during the modern day, and one of the factions I have planned is based on the Wakemen/Hornblowers of Ripon (tiny technically-city northwest of York). In actuality, it’s one of those fossilised offices allegedly dating back to the 800’s, where a man in a rather extravagant cloak blows a horn at the hour corners of the marketplace to announce curfew, but I have them set up as monster hunters connected to Ripon’s cathedral - still keeping the longcoats, hats, and (magical?) horn blowing, of course.

    3. I'll have to look into the Hornblowers of Ripon. My players just went through Harrogate and Ripon last game session, and may end up retreating back to Ripon to heal and recover. I was treating it like a cathedral village and minster in 1630 but I like the quirky legend of a maybe-not-wholly mundane warden.

  5. You might want to consider the Yorkshire Dales to the west of York too. This is a hilly area, larger than the Yorkshire Moors, sparsely populated, with the civilised areas (tiny hamlets for the most part, with some larger villages and small towns), strung out along rivers and sheep-farming being the main source of income. There are lot of limestone caverns, which you don't get in the Moors. In the middle ages, there were some major monasteries and castles here that by 1630 would have been abandoned and falling into disrepair. Away from the villages, the terrain is hilly and rocky moorland (heather and bracken), scrubland and woodland. It becomes more mountainous and less populated the further north-west you go (i.e. the further away from York).

    Google image search "Yorkshire Dales walks", "Yorkshire Dales castles" or "Yorkshire Dales caves".