Monday, July 11, 2011

1800 - American Empires

I swear I wasn't looking for another project. It's just that I'm a history guy - majored in it in college - and this idea has just worked it's way into my imagination. 1800 is a pretty interesting time in American history - even an alternate history - and couched as it is between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War it gets less attention that it probably should.

So, what is 1800 - American Empires going to be? At its heart, a homage to old school RPGs and the greatest school video game ever conceived - The Oregon Trail.

Simple RPG based around wilderness exploration, so old school logistics looms large (i.e. how much gunpowder should you pack for a 6 months - 2 year foray into the wilderness?)

Four classes - scout (man vs. nature), soldier (man vs. man), venturer (does the caller and mapper) and magician (with three "traditions" - free mason, missionary and shaman/witch, each with their own small list of usable spells). I'm going to go with the Space Princess concept here of three-tiered classes based on what you want to play rather than "start and level 1 and work your way up". If you start young (a lieutenant, for example), you begin with more luck. If you start old (a colonel), you begin with no luck and have to rely on skill. Major discoveries and acts of heroism can earn anyone luck.

Rules for exploration and combat - wilderness exploration rules adapted from an early issue of NOD, combat from old versions of "the original fantasy RPG"

A few set hex encounters (major settlements, mostly) + a BIG set of random exploration tables based on the different environments. That way, every campaign will present a different American interior, complete with what you would expect (Native American settlements, herds of buffalo, droughts and blizzards, new rivers, diseases and mishaps), things our forefathers thought they might discover (Welsh indians, cities of gold, mammoths, a Northwest Passage) and things they never imagined (griffons and storm giants in the Rocky Mountains, bulettes on the Great Plains).

A big list of monsters, including many from Native American folklore and some of the "fearsome critters" of lumberjack folklore. I'll probably also throw in some stats for actual and fictional personalities of the time - Daniel Boone, Natty Bumppo, Johnny Appleseed and Black Hawk, for example.

Settlement rules - what we in the old school would call "domain rules" - establishing forts, attracting settlers, defending the fort from other proto-Empires. Mass combat rules will probably be adapted from Swords and Wizardry to keep them simple.

So, that's the basic idea. An old school RPG that swaps out the mega-dungeon for a mega-wilderness, with enough heft that one could spin it into other directions - maybe a spy mission in New Spain, fighting night hags in Salem or helping in the Free Mason's conspiracy to actually unite the independent states of America into a single nation.


  1. Good grief, man, don't you ever sleep? Looks like another winner, by the way :)

  2. Dude, I'll buy it just based on this. AWESOME. I've thought about something like this before, and I'll play it if you write it!

  3. I still think you must have retro-cloned yourself. :)

  4. Matt, this is a great idea! I'm a history buff myself, especially forgotten history that gets lost inbetween the major wars.

  5. Now cut this out! I haven't even reviewed the Supers game you did & now this! Damn it! You have to stop conceiving of such awesome stuff!

  6. What can I say - I have a problem and I need help!

  7. Just as a voice of criticism, while I would accept a game with magical powers as late as the 1600's, I feel that it would feel really out of place in the 1800's. The quest of Invention is just getting rolling by the middle of the 1800's, and there are just so many THINGS that exist that are so tech driven. You have Trains, Machine Guns, Dynamite, Automobiles, Telegraph, Radio, Ironclad Ships, Blimps, so on and so on.

    It just seems really late to be hitting fantasy archetypes. Now, that doesn't mean I wouldn't mind seeing a game *with* magic. Your concept sounds similar in approach I took with a Colonial America game (About 1500's) that I concepted a long time ago. Just that unless you want your game to feel more like Deadlands than Frontier America, I'd be leaving the magic out.

  8. This sounds excellent. I'd buy it, and I'd love to play in it or run it.

    kensan-oni: Personally, I disagree. This is the era that gave us The Long-Lost Friend, William Blake, and Eliphas Lévi. Magic is very much a part of the nineteenth century. I might emphasize the conflict between the Enlightenment and the Romantic movement.

  9. Man, that sounds really cool. At the pace you are creating stuff, I'm developing quite a backlog of books I need to purchase... :)

  10. Don't worry - as long as print-on-demand exists, my books will always be in print. No hurry.


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