Historical Resources for Running a Campaign in 17th Century England and Europe

I am working on a campaign setting based in 17th century England and potentially continental Europe.

This period attracts me because it’s a bridge between the superstition of the renaissance and medieval periods overlapping with institutions and conflicts directly relevant to many of us today. There’s enough historical records to plausibly sketch settings and enough ambiguity for emergent play.

My objective is to self-educate on historical context sufficiently to pass the sniff test with an average Old School Essentials session participant (harder than you’d think). I've been delayed a bit by the cyber attack on the British Library, which really is a priceless treasure. That said, I've been able to find a lot of academic, primary source and cultural information on the time period.

Research objectives

  • Locate contemporaneous map resources to figure out how the world is structured.
  • Gather accessible academic articles with specific flavor and detail that makes immersion possible. Get weather, economic and crop information, prices etc...
  • Obtain enough information about pre-early modern times, Roman, Norman, allow players to engage with deeper past mysteries.
  • Identify opportunities to modify and situate existing modules in this setting.

Decisions I'm working through

  • Where to land on continuum of “vibes-only” vs. crunchy simulation
  • How much am I going to emphasize plausibility vs fun? Is plausibility fun?
  • Selecting firearms rules to graft on to OSE.
  • Six mile hexes vs. other map types and travel formats.
  • Demi-humans? Probably not.
  • Choosing the year to insert the players.

What I've done so far

I've chosen to focus on two geographic areas - England's 17th Century Fens and the island's southwestern peninsula encompassing Devonshire and Cornwall. These areas are fairly densely populated but still have enough wilderness for players to operate within. The coastal and estuarial nature of these regions also offers a lot of opportunity to rapidly move players around on a "transit system" while slowing them down as they move internally. There was also a lot of Roman and Norman activity and prehistoric human activity in these areas. This presents opportunities for adding in layers (bog body zombies, barrow wights, treasure hoards etc...)

After writing up a setting for the Fens based on Niklas Wistedt's Four Tower Bridge, I've changed course and selected Plymouth (England) and the Dartmoor to focus on. I think they offer a better blend of urban, coastal and wilderness options. I suspect I will look at Holland as well given its connections and the stunning maps of Amsterdam available from the period and the trade connectivity between Amsterdam and Plymouth.

General Resources:

  • Yale MOOC on Early Modern England:
  • "The Blazing World" by Jonathan Healey, "Devil-Land" by Claire Jackson, "The World Turned Upside Down" by Christopher Hill


Plymouth and the Southwestern Peninsula:

Lincolnshire, Norfolk, and Cambridgeshire (Fens):

Economic and Historical Context:

Scotland (Honorable Mention):