Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Thirty Years Campaign

Taking of Breisach by Jusepe Leonardo | via Wikipedia

As the land of the Brothers Grimm, Germany seems an obvious inspiration for a fantasy campaign. Castles, tiny kingdoms (or marks, or duchies, or palatinates, etc.), dark woods, tall mountains, Germanic mythology … it all works.

Dungeons & Dragons (or whatever version you prefer), though, has at its heart the idea of the fantasy apocalypse. Adventurers combing through the ruins of ancient civilizations for wealth and fighting the monsters that now control these ruins and wastelands to make the world safe for civilization. Medieval Germany might not be the best place to set a fantasy apocalypse … but how about Germany during the Thirty Years War?

Round about 1618, Catholicism and Protestantism decided to have it out, and Germany was unfortunate enough to be located between the largely Protestant north and the largely Catholic south. As the war dragged on, religion became less of a factor, and the struggle between the Hapsburgs and Bourbons took center stage. Whatever the opposing sides, the German states took the brunt of it. Thousands died from war, famine and disease. Death, war, famine and disease – sounds like the apocalypse to me. Towards the end of the war, witch hunting came into vogue.

A landscape with travellers ambushed outside a small town by Sebastian Vrancx | via Wikipedia

So what do we have? A once prosperous country ravaged by war, disease and famine. Lots of ruins, foreboding landscapes, etc. With all that disease and death, the undead are a natural. Undead that spawn by killing make a great stand-in for plagues. You’re in Germany, so all sorts of fey and dragons make sense. As human civilization retreats, the monsters begin expanding their ranges. You have two formerly Lawful Good religions that have probably become Lawful Neutral (at best) clashing over matters of liturgy and ritual, and opening the doors to Chaos. The goblins have retaken the woodlands! Hobgoblin mercenaries are plundering the countryside! Ruins! Treasure! D&D!

For characters, you can bring in dwarfs from the Alps and elves from the Black Forest, or you can just focus on humans. Germans sure (though German was still a nebulous term – think Saxons and Bavarians and such instead), but the war was also fought by Swedes (led by Adolphus Gustavus), Danes, Bohemians, the French, Lowlanders, Prussians, Transylvanians, the Spanish, the Italians, Scots, Croats, Czechs, Poles, Hungarians, Lithuanians, Austrians … plenty of variety for human characters.

Batalla de Rocroi (1643) por Augusto Ferrer-Dalmau | via Wikipedia

Fighters can be modeled on Halberdiers or Pikemen or, best of all, zweihander-armed landesknechts. Paladins would be great in a setting like this, and Rangers are perfect guides through the wilderness. Most of the armor we're used to would work fine in this setting. The Thirty Years War also has muskets, pistols and cannon. Oh – and Cyrano de Bergerac!

Clerics can be Catholic or Protestant (and may represent the good members left in those religions, on the hunt for relics to save or destroy) or they can be anti-clerics sewing discontent in the name of Chaos. Jewish clerics would make interesting characters, for sure. Druids could be complicated, and would probably be better modeled as wise women or cunning men from the countryside, or followers of primitive Christianity trying to get back to the basics of life. Cardinal Richelieu is a participant in the wars – wouldn’t he make an interesting patron for a French cleric?

Magic-users could be learned alchemists and pseudo-scientists, or they could be those witches the bishops were hunting down.

Thieves and assassins are naturals in a setting like this – the assassins working for the different political factions, the thieves just being normal folks who have lost everything and had to turn to robbery to support themselves.

So, how about a campaign set in the depths of a fantasy-style Thirty Years War? Bold adventurers delve into ruins in search of loot or holy relics (or both) and battle roving bands of brigands, mercenary companies and the monsters that are emerging from the edges of the empire. Sometimes the adventurers retreat into France or Italy or England to rest, buy supplies and hire retainers. As the campaign continues, they become powers in their own right, rubbing shoulders with kings and princes and generals, and eventually joining in the famous battles of the war – what a great excuse to drag out Chainmail and its fantasy supplement! Maybe the Erlking of the Alps is planning to join the war with his dwarves and elves and trolls and giants? The possibilities are many.

Soldiers plundering a farm during the thirty years' war by Sebastian Vrancx | via Wikipedia


  1. My impression of Lamentations of the Flame Princess and the LotFP adventures I've read is that the default setting is roughly the 30 Years' War, especially Better Than Any Man, which is explicitly set around Karlstadt during Gustavus Adolphus's advance in 1631.

    1. Raggi does exceptional stuff, and from the artwork I've seen it does appear to come from this time period.

  2. I don't know, maybe directly after the war would be better - a shaky peace, a devastated landscape, with adventuring types to reclaim destroyed villages from remaining evils and/or the wilderness (Domaingame?)... would be a little more positive vibe as campaign.

  3. I'm already sharing towards using the Abrahmic God in my next campaign. Putting it in fantasy medieval Germany seems like a good fit. I'm going to bookmark this. It's a good idea.

  4. I've done this; it works very well.

  5. I would love to see a fantasy seting based on 30 year war, with spanish, holly roman empire, french, english, swedish, danish etc factions (or fantasy counterparts). You have a lot of posibilities. So many fronts to fight, so many factions to choose….. and you can give diferent kinds of magic resources to any group. Maybe, the danish could reutilice ancient norse pagan magic, or the transilvanian principate could have real vampires in its army. Or the Turks could have arab nights style magic (traping and sumonin dijinn)


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