Monday, June 4, 2018

The 1600s, Lamentations and the Nympharium

It's an irony--or maybe just an incongruity--that, though Lamentations of the Flame Princess and I have had a long and mutually-beneficial RPG-publishing relationship, LotFP is officially set in the 17th Century and like none of my ideas are 17th Century ideas. We usually fudge it a little and compromise somewhere, or work in a way to get from canonical LotFP land to the Vornwelt.

The project I'm working on now--tentatively titled "Violence In The Nympharium"--for LotFP  has me looking pretty hard at the 17th Century because it involves a lot of locations and time travel as a basic element. It's going to be impossible to do without actually paying attention, much as I do hate paying attention.

So the basic thing is: wtf is the 17th century?

Well, basically: pirates.

That is, it's the golden age of piracy and most other members of the adventuring class (like musketeers) look kind of piratey--at least in Europe. Even on land people had big feathers on their hats and skinny swords. Boats looked cool, including galleons and the sleek, triangular-rigged xebecs. 

The visual artists were getting as good at getting materials to do what they wanted as they ever would be, it was the Baroque era: Velasquez, Vermeer, Willem Kalf, Bernini, Finelli, Rembrandt.  The British, as always, were a little behind in painting...

...but they did have the tail end of Shakespeare and then Milton writing Paradise Lost.

Louis XIV was in France being as fancy as fancy has ever been, tumblr fave Julie d'Aubigny was being about as badass a bisexual opera singer/duellist/nunfucker/arsonist as you could ever ask for, and most of the famous occultists are French. The Lesser Key of Solomon--the most well-known grimoire--is compiled.
Western Europe is as Europey as it is ever going to get right now. Go back much further and its barbarism and armor and nobody even wears wigs, go forward and suddenly people start being impressed by the industriousness of Americans and having real pants.

The big downside is the whole Reformation thing which makes reading history around this time really really boring. Like you get ahold of something that sounds pretty exciting like The Defenestration of Prague and look it up and it's Catholic this and Protestant that and before you know it you're asleep between your Norman Davies and your Geoffrey Parker.

In India style was--so far as I can tell--within a stone's throw of the extremely stylish late medieval as exemplified in the paintings of Bihzad. You could still see war elephants, which is dope, plus a lot of bright fabrics, baggy pants, and pointy shoes. The thugee cult of assassins still roamed the land, though, contra Indiana Jones, not in sinister matching robes -sadface-.

Likewise looking sharp were North Africa and much of the Islamic world. The Ottoman turks were near the maximum extent of their power with very big turbans. They probably have the most D&Dable architecture around now, with lots of Islamic cultures producing big flat-sided, ornate stone buildings with a lot of geometry and niches and taking up a lot of space (as opposed to Europe where--under the appalling influence of humanism--even the grandest public buildings have largely abandoned otherworldly monumentality to take on the fluted, pointy-roofed, comfortably-grooved appearance we play games to not have to think about).

Parts of northern Africa--like Coptic Ethiopia--are still operating out of cool medieval buildings, like castles and stuff.

Japan is perfect right about now: the Tokugawa shogunate has just begun, samurai are everywhere and there's still ninjas. (The big ninja book was written during this period.) Also Japan had English, Spanish and Portuguese traders reporting back home.

In southeast asia they're in the very early stages of colonialism, and the locals are still building mindblowing temples and palaces.

In Russia there's a lot of peasant riots and sashes and funny fur hats and a "Time of Troubles". So kind of the usual.

The non-Muslim, non-Christian parts of Africa are very poorly recorded around this time and in many kingdoms the 17th century still counts as "legendary". This is after the fall of the city of Great Zimbabwe which means something like "big stone house" and would have been eminently dungeonable (sigh) but there are sites like Kami which are like little Zimbabwes. A lot of guesswork surrounds what people there might've worn, lived in, or killed each other with in these areas and a lot of sources seem to just throw up their hands when it comes to magic and folk beliefs due to the wide variety. The most interesting and non-boring-stereotype-reinforcing path seems to be looking at current belief and working back off that. So like digging out the Robert Farris Thompson again.

China has kind of the opposite problem: so much history I have real trouble keeping it straight. We are in the Ming-Qing transition, but the general rule with China seems to be (1) if you can kill someone with it they've tried it from rockets to trained cheetahs and (2) all previous eras of Chinese history exist in China at all times.

The Americas have a lot of feathers and pilgrim hats going on and can fuck off. I'm not doing it and Australia seems to be mostly Dutch people poking at it while native Australians ignore or kill them. 

Experience tells me that lots of people who read this blog are hard-eyed library-devouring history types with actual degrees to whom this will all seem very basic, but if you're reading and can think of some book, resource or image that makes some underappreciated part of the 17th C seem interesting, we're all ears.



Spymaster said...

Have you read the Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson?

It is absurdly long but very well written and has a kind of manic baroque excess to the whole thing. The genre varies depending on the character followed in any given section, but the parts about "Halfcock Jack" are a fabulous picaresque in which he gets involved in wars, piracy, treasure hunting, conspiracies, assassinations, secret societies and so on. Very DnD-able, I'd say.

賈尼 said...

> if you're reading and can think of some book, resource or image
> that makes some underappreciated part of the 17th C seem
> interesting, we're all ears.

May I suggest Mr Selden’s Map of China: The Spice Trade, a Lost Chart and the South China Sea by Timothy Brook (Profile Books)? Plenty of adventure ideas in terms of people swindling or killing others just to get their hands on a MAP. How old school is that? Plus stuff about the Portuguese and the English in Japan.

Rushputin said...

Seconding this recommendation. It’s looooooong, but uses that length to avoid Stephenson’s usual difficulties with endings. It’s _incredibly_ interesting and covers quite a bit of the world at the time (but focuses mostly on England.

Headless Horse Archer (Premier) said...

Just a tiny note, but I'm sure you're aware of Cyrano de Bergerac, the Rostand play about the big-nosed duellist writing letters. The play was written in the late 19th century, but the actual Cyrano, the person on whom the character was based, lived 1619-1655, so totally 17th century. And the monologue about his imaginary trip to the Moon in, IIRC, Act III, was based on a book the real guy wrote.

Jesús Chavero said...

I found quite interesting for roleplaying the history of this island in the XVIIth century:

Ben Massey said...

Nathaniel's Nutmeg is a good pop-history book about the British and the Dutch being horrible in the Moluccas over spice in the early 1600’s. It’s been ages since I read it, I can’t quite remember how in depth it was, but I do remember some good bits about how absurdly valuable nutmeg was.

Ray Otus said...

I'm reading Shogun again right now. It essentially begins in 1600 and covers bad European hygiene, Protestants (English/Dutch) vs. Catholics (Spanish/Portugese), Japanese feudal culture, Japanese castes, etc. Pretty good read despite some 70s style sexism and such. (Nothing too egregious or inaccurate.)

Zzarchov said...

The Mayans are still about for all but the last couple years of the 17th century, which is an interesting clash of eras.

Dogstar said...

I recommend the Musket and the Cross it's North America so, what you've decided to ignore. But, this focus is the French in what would become Canada and the British in New England leading up to but, not quite getting to the French and Indian war. It does have bunch of Catholic/Protestant stuff but, it's a fascinating read. Also, for some context of how the 17th ended up as it was is Antwerp: the golden age by Leon Voet. It's 16th century but, shows life and events that weren't so different in the 17th century. Plus tons of beautiful tipped in plates. It's an expensive book but, can be had through interlibrary loan.

Dogstar said...

Another book recommendation is Port Royal by Michael Pawson. On the topic of Pirates. The 17th is less about Pirates as privateers. The Golden Age of Piracy was really the early 18th century and occurred because peace broke out and all the privateering licenses we're revoked.

Roger G-S said...

Well, you've got all these actual planeswalkers who had to publish their travelogues in the guide of "satirical utopias" -- viz., Bacon, Kircher and "Blazin' Meg" Cavendish.

mattruane said...


As a professional historian, I'll give you two general knowledge books that are both informative and decent reads, and a third, more scholarly book.

Ian Mortimer, The Time Traveler's Guide to Restoration Britain, Pegasus, 2017
-it is a great book about clothing, health care, food, etc. Extremely game-able material within;

Angus Konstam, The History of Pirates, The Lyons Press, 2002
-pretty much the dean of pirates and pirate history (along with David Cordingly) this book is very popular history, but still solid place to start with lots of art and images withing the paperback version

The more scholarly work:
Adrian Tinniswood, By Permission of Heaven: The True Story of the Great Fire of London, Penguin, 2003
-extremely readable narrative history of the Great Fire of London and its aftermath, including the rebuilding of London.

If you want more suggested works, let me know.

Luka said...

Don't know how underappreciated these are, but I think they're interesting:

Venice, the dungeon-on-water, was at the end of its three hundred year long decline, but still not in the 18th century. They were also fighting and then at peace with everyone, mostly on water - the pope, Uskok pirate colonies, Ottomans, Barbary corsairs, Austria, ...

Some other interesting places are the post-siege Malta and its system of forts under Hospitallers, Portuguese forts built from south Asian temple remains, Iran, which was arguably at its peak (and resisting the Ottomans) and the Philippines, where the local muslims have been already making spike pits and macheteing the Spanish invaders in the jungle for a hundred years (and some times Chinese did it too).

In Munster a baker and a taylor took over the city and established an anabaptist utopia, authorities pulled a Waco on them, it all turns into a totalitarian communist martial state, where all doors in the city are ordered to remain open at all times and polygamy becomes mandatory. Carlin has a cool Hardcore History episode on it.

Luka said...

Oh and since time travel was mentioned; the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers was established in London in this period.

Zak Sabbath said...

1. Thanks everyone!

2. For some reason google's not notifying me of comments so I didn't realize these were here til just now

Zak Sabbath said...

@ G. B. Veras

On a comment you made over here (not about me, not about this blog, doesn't matter who the target is) you assumed motive:

It's not ok to do that, anywhere, ever, to anyone and it doesn't help any RPG discussion. So until there's a public apology for that, you won't be allowed to comment here.

Casmarius said...

The Scottish Enlightenment, and all of the wonderful gameable and world impacting bits that came from that have roots in the 17th century. Union with England happened in 1707 and that really kicked things off.

How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe's Poorest Nation Created Our World & Everything in It
by Arthur Herman is a fun read about the nuts and bolts of how that went down.

Bearded-Devil said...

Have you seen The Blazing World, the 1666 proto-science-fiction utopian romance/self-insert-fic by the scientist, noblewoman, and fashionista Maragret Cavendish? It's unbelievably weird, densely written and sort of all-over-the-place, and it's got talking bears and submarines and cosmic conquest, and a lot of quasi-Hobbesian political philosophy. It can be a bit of a tough read but the sheer manic splurge of ideas and images is cool.

Black Vulmea said...

I'm going to respectfully disagree about "Pirates" - piracy through much of the century was largely the province of privateer fleets, and extensions of that whole Cathoic-v-Protestant confessional thing, though you definitely want to check out the life and exploits of François l'Olonnais. Also, the Mediterranean: Barbary corsairs and Kights of St John galleys are still fighting the Crusades, and a Franco-Sabaudian duke, Carlo Gonzaga, wants to wage war against the Ottoman Turks so he can claim his rightful crown as the I-shit-you-not Byzantine Emperor.

You may want to look at French musketeers and English cavaliers, as privateers are are more like seaborne versions of these guys, and to that end I'm going to strongly recommend Warrior Pursuits by Brian Sandberg - it's one of those books which reminds me that real-life is often too unbelievable to ever make the cut as fiction. Visually, look at Jacques Callot's woodcuts; he reminds me of DJ Barr's original "classic" Traveller illustrations in that they aren't romanticized images of this world, rather more like cartoons that capture a slice of life.

The Thirty Years War - yeah, more of that Catholic-Protestant confessional bullshit - is shocking in its cruelty, apostasy, profligacy, and profound absurdity, which means you need The Adventures of Simplicius Simplicissimus.

jonnie said...

In 1625 in Moscow the host powerfull Cleric of the land (Patriarch Filaret, aka Fedor Nikitich Romanov) throw a Grand Ball and Bride Show to find a (second) wife to his son (and Tzar) Michael I. A real actual bride show. Later, Ilya Repin painted thats show.

In italy we have three big trial. Giordano "you are more afraid to burn me than i am to get burnt by you" Bruno is burned at stake in the first day of the century. Tommaso "please dont burn me im crazy" Campanella live 27 years in prison. Galileo "dont burn me i'll never do it again" Galileo la set Free- and do it again.

Zak Sabbath said...

@jonathan newell
I've never heard of that! sounds interesting

@Black Vulmea
What are you disagreeing about? And, of course, I know Callot he's linked in this very entry.

Dogstar said...

Ditto on Simplicissimus.

Dr. Vector said...

The line between alchemy and science was razor-thin to nonexistent especially early in the 17th century, and there were few channels for money to support research so a lot of it was done by well-off people in their spare time, which leads to D&Dable stuff like:
- members of the Royal Society casting horoscopes and spells to try to show commoners that magic didn't actually work (there's a whole conspiracy-based campaign right there);
- legit scientists and mathematicians encoding their discoveries as anagrams which might then be sent to colleagues or even published widely, not to share the discovery, but to claim priority if someone else published the un-encoded discovery first -- Galileo did this (good excuse to put an encoded message in the players' hands);
- in lieu of museums, people assembled private cabinets of curiosities to show off to friends, colleagues, and houseguests at parties -- for game hooks that might mean being hired to go get some weird thing for someone's collection, or raiding someone's collection to retrieve some weird thing, etc;
- loads of interest in the occult by the intelligentsia because science hadn't matured enough for people to be certain that alchemy wouldn't pan out eventually -- Isaac Newton spent a good chunk of his later life on Biblical prophecies and alchemy -- that seems like a good bridge from (pseudo)historical Europe to D&D.

Arturs said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Arturs said...

since someone mentioned François l'Olonnais above, that reminds me ofExquemelin's History of the Buccaneers of America

very influential book for me as a kid, contains possibly biographical accounts of his adventures as a buccanier, and accounts of some of the most famous pirates of the time, and their raids, which countrary to popular beliefs were mostly on land.

can not really vouch for the english version since i read it in Latvian, it was written old form with a lot of disused verbs, which i found fascinating. not sure how it holds up in english tho

Al Sotack said...

Lieutenant Nun!

Cullen said...

I think the Protestant/Catholic divide in the 17th C. is pretty interesting, though i understand that people's aesthetics differ.

The Thirty Years War devastated Germany from 1618 to 1648, leaving Germany depopulated and violent, and implying the possibility for fantasy games of secret wizards using undead or elementals to wage war against their "heretical" enemies. And the Imperial (Catholic) general Wallenstein was rumored to have such sensitive hearing that he had all the dogs put to death in a city he conquered just to have quiet.

Meanwhile, the Eighty Years War in the Netherlands between the Habsburg Spanish government and the Protestant rebels in the Netherlands led to confrontations where Protestants ground the Host (communion wafers) under their heels in cathedrals in front of Catholic Spanish knights to provoke them to violence.

Furthermore, the 17th C. is a little late for the crazy Protestant stuff from the Reformation, but some Protestant rebels were called things like Dreamers, or Blood Brothers, and advocated radical changes to society and marriage ... like the Muenster Rebellion, where the Anabaptist rebels took control of the city and married off ALL women in town to men in their own movement, regardless of polygamy. (I might be misremembering details, but there were weird sects that showed up during the Reformation)

Alas, I don't have any good books to read for this info ... maybe "Oedipus and the Devil" (1994) by Lyndal Roper, though that deals with the 16th, not the 17th C. Still, it's not hard to imagine weird semi-Protestant sects holding on with crazy ideas in the 17th C. of Fantasy Europe.

Josh said...

Speaking of Stephenson, those looking for something a little less academic and a little more inspirational may get a lot of use from Cimarronin, a comic set in the multi-cultural political wranglings in 17th century South America.

Shawn Kilburn said...

I feel like you can't go wrong with The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart by Jesse Bullington, a more wretched pair of murderhobos you'll never find. Also highly recommended by the same author: The Enterprise of Death and The Folly of the World.

Ah hell, just realized these aren't set in the 17th century. I'll recommend them anyway.