Category Archives: History

The Immortal Seven

In preparing for the Horn & Crown campaign arc, I’ve been doing research on many of the power players in King William’s Court.  And while not exclusive to them, it certainly means doing the work researching the Immortal Seven.  I’ve already picked a few of these personages to play a prominent background role in the new story arc, but I like to have a more complete picture of the time.  There is much more to these men than what is included in the profiles below, but in the interests of the campaign my notes focus on the period of 1689 and 1690, leading up to the Battle of Boyne in the Summer of 1690.

The following information has been culled from Wikipedia (naturally) and a few other sources throughout the internet.



The Immortal Seven were the seven individuals who put their name to the formal letter of invitation sent on the 30th of June, 1688, to William of Orange requesting that he make the necessary preparations to depose James II.  Together they represented a broad selection of the highest level of English society, sufficient to convince William of Orange that he would enjoy a suitably wide degree of support from across the country.

On the afternoon of the 30th June 1688 seven men sat down to put their names to a formal letter of invitation to William of Orange.

“…the people are so generally dissatisfied with the present conduct of the government in relation to their religion, liberties and properties (all which have been greatly invaded), and they are in such expectation of their prospects being daily worse, that Your Highness may be assured there are nineteen parts of twenty of the people throughout the kingdom who are desirous of a change.”

None of the seven were so foolish as to actually sign their names to the invitation itself, but rather identified themselves by a secret code, a two digit number (that follows their names below).  The letter was duly carried to the Netherlands by Arthur Herbert, the Earl of Torrington (discreetly referred to as Mr H within the letter) and had the desired effect as William of Orange ordered the necessary military and naval preparations for his invasion of Britain.

All seven of these gentlemen received their due rewards when William of Orange and his wife Mary became settled in as William and Mary.

These seven men were thereafter known as the Immortal Seven:

  • The Earl of Devonshire, William Cavendish (24)
    • Whig; House of Commons from 1661 to 1684
      • leader of the anti-court and anti-Catholic party
    • Age: 50
    • son of William Cavendish, 3rd Earl of Devonshire
      • inherited his father’s peerage as Earl of Devonshire
    • one of the wealthiest landowners in the country
    • After the revolution, Cavendish is a leading Whig, serving as William’s Lord Steward
  • The Lord Lumley, Richard Lumley (29)
    • Age: 40
    • The Lumleys were an ancient family from the north of England
    • son of John Lumley; grandson of Richard Lumley, 1st Viscount Lumley
    • played a prominent part in the suppression of the rebellion of the Duke of Monmouth
      • personally responsible (according to John Evelyn) for Monmouth’s arrest
    • wife: Frances Jones, daughter of Sir Henry Jones of Oxford
    • Secured Newcastle for William in December 1688
    • appointed by William in rapid succession (1689-90) as a Gentleman of the Bedchamber, a member of the Privy Council, Colonel of the 1st Troop of Horse Guards, Viscount Lumley of Lumley Castle, Lord Lieutenant of Northumberland and Lord Lieutenant of Durham
      • Lumley is created Earl of Scarbrough on 15 April 1690
  • The Earl of Danby, Thomas Osborne (27)
    • Tory
    • Age: 58
    • Impeached and disgraced member of Parliament with nearly no supporters he could rely on
      • Spent nearly five years in the Tower of London following his impeachment
      • A number of pamphlets asserting his complicity in the Popish Plot, and even accusing him of the murder of Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey, were published in 1679 and 1680
    • following his imprisonment and release, returned to the House of Lords as a leader in the Tory party
    • Driven to opposition by King James’ attacks on Protestantism
    • Thought that William would not claim the crown
      • Supported the succession of Mary
      • This met with little support
        • rejected both by William and by Mary herself
      • voted against the regency and joined with Halifax and the Commons in declaring the prince and princess joint sovereigns.
    • April 1689 created Marquess of Carmarthen
    • made lord-lieutenant of the three ridings of Yorkshire
    • greatly disliked by the Whigs
      • given the nickname the “White” marquess in allusion to his sickly appearance
    • February 1689: appointed to the post of Lord President of the Council
      • could not conceal his vexation and disappointment
      • increased by the appointment of Halifax as Lord Privy Seal (Treasurer Position that he had held before his disgrace).
        • The antagonism between the “black” and the “white” marquess revived in all its bitterness.
      • retired to the country and was seldom present at the council.
      • In June and July, motions were made in Parliament for his removal
    • In 1690: Halifax’s retires in 1690
    • Once again again acquired the post of Lord Treasurer
    • In 1690, appointed Mary’s chief advisor
  • The Earl of Shrewsbury, Charles Talbot (25)
    • Age: 30
    • crossed to Holland to join William
      • contributed towards defraying the expenses of the projected invasion
      • landed with him in England in November 1688 during the Glorious Revolution
    • appointed Secretary of State for the Southern Department
    • 1690: resigned from office when the Tories gained control of Parliament
    • There is evidence that he had made overtures to the Jacobites after his resignation
      • in correspondence with James at his court in exile at Saint Germains
      • some evidence that these relations were entered upon with William’s full connivance
      • Others claim Shrewsbury was unaware of the King’s knowledge and toleration which would explain the terrified letters he was in the habit of penning to him.
      • Regardless, although often presented with evidence against him, William affected to have no suspicion of Shrewsbury’s loyalty
  • The Bishop of London, Henry Compton (31)
    • Tory
    • Age: 58
    • important figure about London
    • a successful botanist
    • Published:
      • several theological works
      • the Life of Donna Olympia Maladichini (1667)
        • translated from Italian
        • governed the Church during the time of Pope Innocent X (1644 to 1655)
      • the Jesuits’ Intrigues (1669)
        • translated from French
      • A book on the Invisible World and the supernatural
        • published under a pseudonym
    • liberal in his views about Protestants; strong bias against Catholics
    • February 1685: Lost his seat in the council and position as Dean of the Chapel Royal on the accession of James II
    • suspended by James’s Court of High Commission in mid-1686.
      • for his firmness in refusing to suspend John Sharp
        • rector of St Giles’s-in-the-Fields
        • anti-papal preaching had rendered him obnoxious to the king
      • The suspension was lifted in September 1688, two days before the High Commission was abolished
    • embraced the cause of William and Mary,
      • performed the ceremony of their coronation
      • his old position was restored to him
      • Appointed to the Privy Council; serves as an advisor to the King and Queen of England, an office that he has had before
      • chosen as one of the commissioners for revising the liturgy

The Witch Hunter Adventures, The Legion Cycle and its predecessor, A Child’s Game, establish Henry Compton as a major figure in London and someone the cadre is likely to interact with.  This information is reprinted from those sources.

  •  though not a Witch Hunter, he is a friend of the Stalwarts of St. Christopher
    • the original text establishes his connection with Brotherhood of Ashen Cross, which doesn’t make a lot of sense given his prejudices and biases against Catholics.  The Stalwarts have roots in Anglicanism and makes much more sense.
  • concerned about a number of supernatural threats that seemed to be moving into the area, along with London’s new growth.
    • Particularly concerned that many of these new evils seem to be using London as a gateway to the New World.
  • Captain Edward Russell (35)
    • Whig
    • Age: 37
    • elected Whig Member of Parliament for Launceston
    • 1689: appointed Treasurer of the Navy in 1689.
    • May 1689: Promoted directly to full admiral
      • Russell took command in the Channel
      • HMS Duke
      • enforced a blockade of France
    • lived at Chippenham Park in Cambridgeshire
      • re-modelled the manor house and greatly extended Chippenham Park
      • dominates the parish to the south of the village
    • March 1690: elected Member of Parliament for Portsmouth in the general election in March 1690.
    • Spring 1690: conveyed Maria Anna of Neuburg, Charles II of Spain’s future consort, from Flushing to Coruna
    • June 1690: becomes a Lord Commissioner of the Admiralty on the Admiralty board led by the Earl of Pembroke
    • July 1690: promoted to Admiral of the Fleet following the debacle at the Battle of Beachy Head
      • Admiral the Earl of Torrinton fell out of favor
    • December 1690: became Commander-in-Chief of the Navy.
      • He was fully engaged in providing naval support for the Williamite War in Ireland until the war ended in October 1691
  • Henry Sidney (33)
    • Whig
    • Age: 49
    • Often dismissed as a mere flunkey and court favorite, nevertheless a expert Statesman,
      • an adroitness for manipulating men
    • 1679: entered Parliament
    • 1688: employed by nephew, the 2nd Earl of Sunderland, Robert Spencer to negotiate with William of Orange
    • one of the signatories to, and the actual author of, the cipher sent to the Prince calling for the Glorious Revolution.
    • created Baron Milton and Viscount Sidney by William

A Day of Feasting

I had planned on posting this at a bit more relevant date, but small children with bronchitis derailed that dream.  But I think it’s too cool not to discuss.

As I’ve mentioned before, one of the cool things about running a real world inspired setting (in our case, late-17th century Europe) is that you occasionally stumble over some really cool things that can inspire fantastic adventure ideas.

One of the PCs in my witch hunter game is a Jesuit priest from an estranged order in Spain.  So one of the first things I did, in addition to assembling a working calendar including lunar cycles and events (werewolves, yo!) was to include as many obscure Catholic holidays as I could.  All the more obscure because I’m not Catholic.  So as the cadre traveled from Frankfurt to Polch for their latest adventure, they stumbled right across November 30th: St. Andrew’s Day.

Have you ever heard of St. Andrew’s Day?  Of course you have.  It’s just me, living in my bubble.  But indulge me please, because if I had spent five minutes reading the wiki entry instead of just dotting the date down on a calendar and moving on to bigger and better things, I would have proved my worth as a GM.

Saint Andrew is the patron saint of Cyprus, Scotland, Greece, Romania, Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (that’s a mouthful!), San Andres Island, Colombia and Saint Andrew, Barbados.  November 30th is a feasting day (or night, in Germany) dedicated to him.

Now, the very fact that a decent chunk of Eastern Europe loves St. Andrew should send up all sorts of red flags.  But me?  Bubble.  So let’s journey through the glory that is the modern day Cliff-Notes of Everything, shall we?  Let’s just skip over the drunken Scots and get right to those red blooded Romanians, yes?

One of the elements that came from the Roman and Thracian celebrations concerned wolves. During this night, wolves are allowed to eat all the animals they want. It is said that they can speak, too, but anyone that hears them will soon die.

Ok, if you can’t spin a one night game session out of that, you might as well just give it up, right?  But it doesn’t stop there.

The best known tradition connected to this night concerns matrimony and premonitory dreams. Single girls must put under their pillow a branch of sweet basil. If someone takes the plants in their dreams, that means the girl will marry soon.

So basically its an Incubus’ holiday.  In fact, the whole night before St. Andrew’s Day throughout a sizable chunk of Europe is all about dreaming up husbands and matchmaking.  Back to Romania…

it is customary for young women to put 41 grains of wheat beneath their pillow before they go to sleep, and if they dream that someone is coming to steal their grains that means that they are going to get married next year. Also in some other parts of the country the young women light a candle from the Easter and bring it, at midnight, to a fountain. They ask St. Andrew to let them glimpse their future husband.

So there you have it.  Talking wolves that denote terrible omens (the Romanian version of England’s Black Dog) and dream magic.  What more could you ask for in a day?  The Witch Hunters think they are in the clear because they survived Halloween?  Are those poor sorry fools in for a surprise.

If nothing else, St. Andrew’s Day gives you the opportunity to build a Thanksgiving themed adventure for your European-centric characters, albeit with wolves instead of turkeys, but is that really a negative?  Let’s brainstorm a few adventure hooks:

  • Manwolves retain their human intelligence and capabilities on St. Andrew’s Eve.  Many meet in cabals on that night to discuss terms of territory.
  • Incarnate werewolves are especially vulnerable on St. Andrew’s Eve.  If the night falls on the full moon, they may not use their Infectious Personality Power.  If killed under these circumstances, they are permanently destroyed.  This is well known to the Crusaders Inviolate as well as the Unseen Hunt.  Unfortunately, it’s also well known to the Incarnates, who make a special point to go to ground during the last week of November.
  • On any encounter with wolves on St. Andrew’s Eve, roll a d10 for each Witch Hunter.  On a 1 or 2, the wolf speaks to the character.  This speech is only heard by the character in question, and forecasts his doom in the next coming year.  The character receives the Cursed Flaw and may not be rid of it until a year has passed.  The player should be encouraged to avoid wolves on that night thereafter.
  • A noble family is cursed and haunted by an incubus.  Each St. Andrew’s Eve, it returns to the family estate, stalking the grounds in the form of a monstrous wolf.  It invades the sleep of a daughter and feeds upon her essence, leaving the girl to wane and die in the coming months.  So far, the family has lost three daughters of five.  The lord has outlawed celebrations of St. Andrew in his lands, hoping that by somehow that will break the curse.  The incubus is but a tool, however, as the curse was laid by a powerful witch who lives in the forests nearby.  Her son was cut down by the lord and his men while on a hunting party some three years ago.  So now, she takes one of his children each year.  The incubus delivers a fragment of the dying daughter’s essence to the witch each year, which she is working into a rite that will usher in an even darker fate to the lord and his family once the fifth daughter is dead.  Twist: the fourth and fifth daughters are twins who have come of age this year.  Either one or both could be targeted by the demon.
  • As the witch hunters pass through a town, a young woman recognizes one of them from her prophetic dream.  She and her friends are excited, for they believe that the vision granted by St. Andrew is coming true.  If the witch hunter spurns her advances, she is heartbroken.  One of her friends advises her to pay a visit to an isolated pagan priestess, who secretly has ties to the Sisterhood of the Dark Coven or is an old adversary of one of the witch hunters with a score to settle.  She gives the girl a love potion…

I’m sure you can come up with more.  That’s what the comments section is for.




Blood Moon

Ok, so this post is a few days short of being really timely.  But I’m going to try to make up for that in utility.  Sunday night, those of us here in the US and elsewhere got to catch a glimpse of total lunar eclipse that many have been calling a Blood Moon.  Sounds pedestrian enough.  When I saw a headline about it on a news site, I pretty much wrote it off as just that.  After all, it doesn’t take much these days for some religious (or not) group, no matter how mainstream, to associate some natural phenomenon with the end times.

So what is a “blood moon” exactly?  Its apparently a fairly contemporary construct.  According to EarthSky:

…two Christian pastors, Mark Blitz and John Hagee, used the term Blood Moon to apply to the full moons of the ongoing tetrad – four successive total lunar eclipses, with no partial lunar eclipses in between, each of which is separated from the other by six lunar months (six full moons) – in 2014 and 2015. John Hagee appears to have popularized the term in his 2013 book Four Blood Moons: Something is About to Change.

And so while lunar eclipses are nothing new, and not even particularly uncommon, this lunar tetrad is especially significant because of the timing of two Jewish holidays:

The April 2014 and April 2015 total lunar eclipses align with the feast of Passover. The October 2014 and September 2015 total lunar eclipses align with the feast of Tabernacles.

All this makes for an interesting witches brew of inspiration for any supernatural rpg, including Witch Hunter.  One of the first things I did when putting together my game was create a calendar of October, 1689 and beyond and included the lunar schedule.

But while the circumstances of this particular phenomenon are pretty uncommon, the whole blood red moon is just part of the package when it comes to a total lunar eclipse:

The full moon nearly always appears coppery red during a total lunar eclipse. That’s because the dispersed light from all the Earth’s sunrises and sunsets falls on the face of the moon at mid-eclipse. Thus the term blood moon can be and probably is applied to any and all total lunar eclipses.

So this morning, I stole a few moments to ponder how one might incorporate the “Blood Moon” into Witch Hunter.  You could easily transpose this

Lunar Eclipses of the 17th Century

Wikipedia has an extensive collection of data here, but unless realism is the bedrock of your game we can get plenty of mileage just out of the dates.  Here’s a list that would be relevant to the Witch Hunter rpg, with tentatively begins in the year 1689.

Total Lunar Eclipses
Year Dates
1689 Jun 16 Dec 10
1693 Jan 22 Jul 17
1696 May 16 Nov 9

Full Moons and Folklore

The whole lunar cycle is suffused with superstition and folklore.  Every full moon has a name, coinciding with the season and date.  Most of these have religious, even if only pagan, significance.  You can find a complete listing here, but assuming a Witch Hunter game set in the northern hemisphere (either Europe or the North American colonies), here is a relevant list.

Full moon names by season (Northern or Southern Hemisphere):
After the winter solstice:
January: Old Moon (Moon After Yule)
February: Snow Moon (Hunger Moon, Wolf Moon)
March: Sap Moon (Crow Moon, Lenten Moon)

After the spring equinox:
April: Grass Moon (Egg Moon)
May: Planting Moon (Milk Moon)
June: Rose Moon (Flower Moon, Strawberry Moon)

After the summer solstice:
July: Thunder Moon (Hay Moon)
August: Green Corn Moon (Grain Moon)
September: Fruit Moon (Harvest Moon)

After the autumnal equinox:
October: Harvest Moon (Hunter’s Moon)
November: Hunter’s Moon (Frosty Moon, Beaver Moon)
December: Moon Before Yule (Long Night Moon)

Supernatural Effects of a Blood Moon

Most superstitions about lunar eclipses have to do with consumption, war, and change.  Rather than make things easy on your players, when a Blood Moon comes up, roll 1d10 on the table below for a supernatural effect:

  1. Manwolves, lycanthropes, or any threat with the Mystical Limitation (Moon) Price ignores any wound penalties during the eclipse.
  2. All Witchcraft or Diabolism skill rolls receive a +4d bonus during the eclipse; the Mastery of any Diabolism or Witchcraft rite is reduced by 2.
  3. All portals into the Middle Kingdoms of the Invisible World all lead to the same location during the eclipse; this particular location may only ever be reached during a Blood Moon.
  4. Threats with the Carnivate Power receive double the usual free successes for consuming living mortals during the course of the eclipse.
  5. Anyone with a Damnation score of 5 or more who performs a sinful act during the Blood Moon becomes a helpless shell for a dameon for the remainder of the eclipse (see Daemons of Loscar, The Legion Cycle).
  6. Lycanthropy does not function. A manwolf who consumes the right dosage of wolfsbane during the eclipse is cured of the curse.
  7. All Threats gain the Weakness or Repulsion (Gongs, bells, or cacophonic noise) Price for the duration of the eclipse.
  8. All Threats (or characters) with the Contracted Soul Price are free of their infernal obligations for the duration of the eclipse.
  9. Devout and sincere prayer for no less than a full uninterrupted hour during the course of the eclipse will remove 1 point of Damnation.
  10. All players roll 1d10; on a roll of 1 or 2, the player may either exchange his or her background power for another (with GM approval) or may gain the Skilled Talent for free.
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Tripping over History (or Salt Mummies Must Die!)

One of the things about running a game set in the real world, even a slightly alternate version as with Witch Hunter, sometimes you have to trip over something to realize it’s there.

Last week, in the run up to the kickstarter for The Thin Blue Line: A Detroit Police Story, Jason Marker, the writer/publisher, posted a scenario/encounter based around the haunting of the salt mines beneath Detroit.

Now first, holy crap Detroit used to be a salt mine?  Who knew?!

Ok, put your hands down, jackasses.  Doesn’t matter, salt mines beneath a city that won’t exist for a couple centuries doesn’t really help me with my Witch Hunter game.  But hey!  Salt people!  Creepy dehydrating mummies!  I can work with that.  I just need a different location.

So, one google search later and PRESTO!  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you…the Wiedliczka Salt Mines of Southern Poland.

You want some details?  Of course you do!

  • Built in the 13th century, these mines produced table salt until 2007!
  • It was one of the primary sources of income for the Polish crown until 1772.
  • One of the Royal Salt Mines maintained by the Zupy Krokowskie Salt Mining Company, whose headquarters is a CASTLE in…Wiedliczka!
  • The mines are 1,073 feet deep and 178 (!!!) miles long.
  • The mines contain dozens of statues and chapels carved out of the rock salt by the miners.
  • The mines include a freakin’ underground lake.  How much more can this place scream dungeoncrawl?!?!

But there’s MORE.  A legend and lost treasure built in:

[Princess Kinga] was about to be married to Boleslaw V the Chaste, the Prince of Krakow. As part of her dowry, she asked her father for a lump of salt, since salt was prizeworthy in Poland. Her father, King Bela, took her to a salt mine in Máramaros. She threw her engagement ring from Bolesław in one of the shafts before leaving for Poland. On arriving in Kraków, she asked the miners to dig a deep pit until they come upon a rock. The people found a lump of salt in there and when they split it in two, discovered the princess’s ring. Kinga had thus become the patron saint of salt miners in and around the Polish capital.

Now if this were your bog standard fantasy world, sure you’d probably cook this up in an afternoon.  But this is the real deal!  You can still visit the place!  You can buy souvenirs at the gift shop!  No comment if it is still the bulwark of the Polish economy, though that answer may lie in a joke book from the 70’s.  So yeah, this is a prime example of tripping over something you never knew existed, and would never have even imagined existing if you hadn’t gone looking for it.

As it is, you can find a handy list of world salt mines on wikipedia. But few of these have the same gamer allure of Wiedliczka.

Now.  For those of you who have yawned through this history lesson, here are salt people for Witch Hunter!

Salt People (Lieutenant)

Fear Rating: 3
Hell’s Favor: 2
Pace: 2
Initiative: Reflexes 4d
Melee: 6d Claws (+6 damage)
Ranged: None
Defenses: Avoidance: 3; Discipline: 3; Fortitude: 4
Armor: 2 (flesh infused and hardened by salt)
Health Track: 6/6/6
Talents: Burst of Speed, Disorienting Strike, Night Vision, Slam
Fundamental Power/Price: Burrow/Lair
Additional Powers/Prices:
• Iron Body / Obvious Appearance
• Sap Ability (Toughness) / Weakness (Water)
Suggested Skills:
9d: Command (Intimidation), Endurance
8d: Stealth
6d: Notice
4d: Reflexes

Salt People (Minion)

Threat Rating: 2
Fear Rating: 3
Pace: 2
Special Attacks: Claws (+4/+4) (Dehydrating Touch)
Talents: Burst of Speed, Disorienting Strike, Night Vision
• Burrow / Lair
• Sap Ability (Toughness: Dehydrating Touch) / Weakness (Water)
Skills: Command (Intimidate) +6, Endurance +7, Stealth +5

Description: Salt People stand roughly as tall as a grown man, but have a crouched, hunchbacked posture that makes them appear much shorter. They have thin, twisted limbs, emaciated faces with sunken cheeks, a withered slit for a mouth, and sparkling silver eyes. Their bodies are covered in powdered salt, which they shed with every step, and their thick white skin is completely hairless. Whether salt people are actually the restless spirits of dead miners or some creature native to the mines is unknown.

Dramatics: These creatures move with a slow, shuffling gait most of the time, but are capable of intense bursts of speed over short distances. They can also burrow through the walls of the salt mine, and even through soil, allowing some of them to surface throughout the surrounding community.  When attacking, a Salt Person uses wild punches and powerful body blows to pummel its opponent. In addition to the damage caused by the physical assault, the creature’s touch absorbs the water in a target’s body, causing immediate, debilitating dehydration. Salt People rarely fight to the death, and on those rare occasions where one has been captured or killed, their bodies melt quickly into the Earth, leaving only a salty residue behind. They hate light and loud noises, and usually flee into the darkness or burrow into the sand rather than fight. When cornered, spooked, or if flight is otherwise not an option, a Salt Person attacks quickly and viciously, attempting to overwhelm or kill its target quickly so that it may flee.

Once again, thanks to Jason Marker for the original concept.

History is a Rabbit Hole

“You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.”
— Morpheus, The Matrix

History is a damn rabbit hole.  The deeper you go, the more warrens you find, the easier it is to get lost.  This is probably one of the toughest (for me anyway) parts of GMing a historical roleplaying game, even an alt-history one.

One of the responsibilities you feel as a GM is to impart to your players a sense of “being there.” That’s not terribly difficult when you are working with a fantasy world.  In that sense, all the important details of the place are right there in your imagination.  But a real place?  At a real moment in history?  How deep do you want to go?

The correct answer is just deep enough to satisfy your players.  But knowing when you’ve hit that point can be tough, and genre requirements don’t always help.  Do my players really care who the Mayor of London was in 1689?  In a swashbuckling game, quite possibly since rubbing shoulders with the nobility is a staple of the genre.  Do they need to know how many seats there were on the city council of Strasbourg?  Probably not, but its very helpful for you, the GM, to know what city councilmen (and women) were called and what social-strata they came from.

Do the players care what district of town the tanneries were common in?  Probably not.  They just want to be able to buy a nice suit of leather armor or a scabbard for that fancy magical sword.  You, the GM, want to be able to say, “ok, so your character heads out to” X district, which is home to X social class, where you are also likely to find Y and Z.

That sense of verisimilitude.  That’s part of your job.  And you want to do it well.  But doing it well at the expense of the meat and potatoes of your game?  I hear a lot of GMs say: only develop what you are going to use.  The same truth applies to creating the historical setting.  If your Call of Cthulhu game will forever be based out of Nineteenth century London, you have every reason to dig deep.  But if London is just another layover on the campaign map, then you only need to focus on the big ticket items.

One of the most useful nuggets of city/town creation for RPGs came out of the old Cook-edition D&D Expert set.  When you create a town, start with the places your PCs are going to want to visit: a temple, a market, the thieves guild, a tavern, an inn.  With a historical game, there is the temptation to wander much farther afield and include a bunch of stuff the players will never care about in a million years.  Because dammit it was there!

This is something I wrestle with all the time, and I don’t come out on the “just enough” side very often.  Because *I* want to know what that 7th century guard tower that dates back to Roman times has to do with the market district.  Even if it’s nothing more than window dressing.

Stupid rabbits!

Here’s what I propose to you budding GMs who want to try your hand at historical RPGs (or old hands who, like me, all to easily wind up chasing your tail looking for historical minutiae): instead of a whole bunch of locations and corresponding details, create a handful of colorful scenes that you can toss at your players when they go wandering the city streets.  Just local color: the dense accent of the fishmonger plying his wares on the wharf, a group of citizens harassing some social pariah while the city watch stands idly by, the smell of the food venders in the marketplace.  Those sorts of scenes are far more likely to make your city come alive than knowing the minute details of a seventh century guard tower.

But go easy on yourself.  I mean, it shouldn’t be THAT hard to find a floor plan of that tower on Google Images, right?