Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A Bullet for Cromwell, Part 2; or, Just Where Are We, Anyways?

My grandmother passed away today, so I don't know whether this is going to be horribly disjointed or not.  It's not that I don't mourn her, or am so callous as to write about silly elf games at such a time, but given her steady mental deterioration over the last decade, and that she'd lost all ability to remember family, carry on conversations, or play the piano (and she was without a doubt a world class pianist in her day), I see her passing more as a release then as a thing of sorrow.

To business, then.

I've been going back and forth with a gentleman on Google+ in the Worldbuilding community as I develop this setting, and I've just been consistently blown away by the information he's been coming up with and the way he's been spinning and building off my ideas and encouraging me to build off of his in turn.  He was kind enough to do some research into gunpowder manufacture during the early modern period and came up with some interesting stuff:

Pew pew pew.  
I've dated the Cataclysm to late 1649 (and I have specific reasons for doing so; I don't know that I'll spell them out here right away because I don't want anyone going into the game knowing why Hell is spilling over into the British Isles.  I want that to be a mystery for them), and around this time there were maybe 8-10 powder mills in Britain, most of them newly sprung up to try and meet the demands of the English Civil War; 15-20 years earlier, there was one powder mill.  None of these were in Ireland or Scotland; instead, they were in Coventry, Leicester, Stafford, Northampton, Oxford, Bristol, Chester, Shrewsbury, and Worcester.

To determine if any of these are particularly close to the starting point of my campaign sandbox, I need to figure out where exactly in England my little fictional village of Wyrhill is located.  I was actually considering this on my lunch break at work today, and decided I like the idea of putting Wyrhill in Cornwall.

You've got copper and tin mines, as well as clay/ceramic production.  So there's local industry that can likely survive the collapse of central national authority and maintain some degree of trade.

You've got religious tension -- Cornwall was strongly Catholic and put up a great deal of resistance to English Protestantism, the Dissolution of the Monasteries and the institution of the English Book of Common Prayer.  Remembering back to the class I took on Early Modern England in college supplemented by a refresher course of Wikipedia, I would think, even a century after the Prayer Book Rebellion, that with the collapse of central authority it wouldn't take long for a degree of back-sliding into Catholicism to take place.
You've got political tension -- Cornwall was staunchly Royalist during the English Civil War and remained a bastion of Royalist sentiment pretty much right up to the end of the war -- or, in this reality, the Cataclysm.  While some might think the incursion of monsters and demons into the English Civil War might make people put aside their political and religious differences and band together against the orcs/zombies/demon hordes, I've internalized far too many of George A. Romero's films to accept that.  If anything, I think the sudden arrival of orcs/zombies/demons would exacerbate the divisions in this society; while in actual play it would be presented in a more nuanced fashion, at the very least high-ranking Roundheads would be blaming the Cavaliers for the presence of orcs, while top-tier Cavaliers would say the same of the Roundheads.  I see it as inflaming religious tensions between Catholicism and Protestantism/Anglicanism as well.

It's waterfront property -- a lot of the monsters I've been generating using the Random Esoteric Creature
Generator have been at least semi-aquatic.  This also opens the opportunity for adventures involving smugglers running goods from mainland Europe into England using Penzance as a port (and oh, how I love Gilbert and Sullivan...) from which to operate a black market.

Also, Cornwall figures prominently into Arthurian legend - and if there's ever a time for Arthur to return and save England, now's it.

So Cornwall looks like a really promising place to locate my sandbox; lots of natural resources, lots of political/religious/ethnic tensions I can draw on to generate adventures and use as (additional) reasons for conflict between the various bandit kings and petty warlords of the region, and a pre-existing mythology I can work into the rumors PCs will hear as they wander around being murderhoboes.

So how close is that to any of the powder mills existing in England during this time? Not terribly.  It looks like Bristol is probably the closest, and that's still a considerable hike.  Google Maps says the distance from Truro (the only city in Cornwall) to Bristol is 155 miles on foot.  My 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons DMG gives an unencumbered man the ability to average 30 miles of walking a day; it'll take that guy five days and some change to cover that distance.  That's a lot of time in which wandering monsters, brigands, etc. might show up to terrorize a party of travelers.

So I'm thinking most adventurers out of Wyrhill won't have really ready access to gunpowder on a regular basis.  What stores of gunpowder there are in Wyrhill are probably pretty tightly regulated by the local petty tyrant, doled out to his personal favorites and those taking up missions explicitly on his behalf.  And certainly the sort of missions that would be on his behalf would include making the trip to Bristol to collect more when his supply runs low.

For those not being gifted full powderhorns by Lord Giles, ranged combat will be fought largely with good ol' English longbows.  Anachronistic? Not really.  Per Wikipedia:

Longbows remained in use until around the 16th century, when advances in firearms made gunpowder weapons a significant factor in warfare and such units as arquebusiers and grenadiers began appearing. Before the English Civil War, a pamphlet by William Neade entitled The Double-Armed Man advocated that soldiers be trained in both the longbow and pike; this advice was followed only by a few town militias. The last recorded use of bows in an English battle seems to have been a skirmish at Bridgnorth, in October 1642, during the Civil War, when an impromptu town militia proved effective against un-armoured musketeers.[45] Longbowmen remained a feature of the Royalist Army, but were not used by the Roundheads.

So there's definitely a precedent for longbows to remain in use, even without an orc/zombie/demon horde making it that much harder to get to whatever quantity of gunpowder is still being made.

In fact, I think with limited access to gunpowder the Once-Green and Pleasant Land might see a return to more medieval forms of combat; with the likelihood of a peasant pulling a trigger and punching a hole in it with a lead sphere greatly reduced, heavy metal armor might start to come back into vogue, and the armored knight might see a renaissance.

I can picture it now; some ten-foot tall slobbering horror is helping itself to a pen's worth of pigs when an adventuring party rides up, appraising the scene.  Fighters and Thieves raise Arquebuses to their shoulders; the mages draw pistols from under their robes.  The beast is peppered with lead shot, gore streaming from a dozen minor wounds.  As it drops the half-gnawed sow it had been crouching over and lurches around to address this threat, with the clatter of hooves an armored knight bears down upon it, spearing the beast through the belly on his lance before laying in with a spiked flail.

There's more I want to say about the intersection between gunpowder and monsters in a Weird Fantasy world, but this post is already overlong and probably underfocused, and I need to get up early for work in the morning, so I'll save it for Part 3.

1 comment:

  1. I think this is a fascinating idea for a setting. I know enough about the period to take a good guess as to why 1649 might see an apocalypse kick off, and that provides some fascinating ideas to play with about the nature of the change and how that relates to politics and religion.

    In terms of reverting to older weapons, I imagine that's something that would delight many of the traditionalists on the side of the Cavaliers, who would have loved to crack out their granddad's old jousting armour and go trample some peasants. For the Parliamentarian New Model Army, which had recently been reformed on a centralised basis using the latest military techniques, this could either be a huge setback or a challenge their skilled officers would rise to meet. After all, Cromwell was a big fan of the close order cavalry charge.