The Witchfinders – Setting

England, the autumn of 1645.

The country has been at civil war for the past three years. The warring parties are the Parliamentarians (Roundheads), and the Royalists (Cavaliers). The specifics of the battles and the politics involved aren’t that important, but if you want to know more, click here.

England has also been involved in Continental Europe, where war has raged for the better part of three decades. More about that here. However, since the start of the ongoing conflict between King Charles I and Parliament, England has pretty much withdrawn from the European theatres of war.

Suffice to say, most English fighting-men are likely to have had their fair share of wars, both against the French, and on domestic soil.

Religion is a big deal in this era’s England. Even though the root of the civil war is basically political (e.g. about the power of the King versus that of Parliament), one of the underlying themes was religion. The Church of England was still a relatively new institution, and many of Parliamentarians were protestant fundamentalist, who were mightily offended by the King marrying a Catholic foreigner. The rise of the puritan ethos would eventually lead to the establishment of a puritan England, and the nigh total abolishment of Catholicism.

One of the side-effects of this religious conflict was the renewal of witch-hunts across the country; Warfare, and the resulting poverty, famine, and disease were fertile ground for fundamentalist religious ideas. The Devil and his witches were easy to placate as scape-goats, as were pretty much any who were not of similar, puritan ilk (Catholics, Jews, foreigners, university students and professors, what have you). The Witchfinders of this era ranged from the pious and the devout clergy, to the more profane magistrates and judges. One also needs to bear in mind, that since the existence of Witchcraft, Devil-Worship, Demonology, etc. were a well-known fact, and not just superstition, Witchcraft was a matter of secular, not religious law. And of course (man being man), there were among the Witchfinders those, that had no interest whatsoever in saving the Souls of Men and Battling the Forces of Evil, as much as pure personal gain, money, and power. More on early modern era witch-hunts here.

It is possible to create a character, who isn’t human. However, the elves, dwarves, and halflings of this setting aren’t your usual fantasy staples. Also, they are much rarer than in most other fantasy settings. Here are some ideas about incorporating demi-humans into the setting:

  • Dwarves are a race of humans. They are degenerate hill-folk, possibly of pictish stock, who live in the northernmost parts of the country. These “dwarves” are shorter than your average anglo-saxon, but not dwarf-short. Rather they average at around 5′, have swarthy skin, heavy brows, sloping heads, thick limbs, bow-legs, and are covered in coarse, black hair. Beard is common, but not universal. These people are commonly referred to as picts, hill-folk, or hill-men.
  • Halflings are also humans, albeit not an ethnicity as much as humans suffering from one of several medical disorders, that cause dwarfism. Halflings in this setting are commonly referred to as midgets.
  • Elves are essentially humans, who have been touched by the wyrd. They might have the blood of something supernatural coursing through their veins, or they might have been raised someplace, where the chaotic energies of the wyld places have been particularly strong. People who might be called “gifted”, or who’d be described as “elfin”, “fey-like”, or “waif-like” are common examples of the elves of this setting. True elves, e.g. the faerie are much too alien to be player characters. Elves are commonly targeted for witch-hunts, so one might be advised not to flaunt their magical knacks or otherwordly nature openly, especially not in the presence of pious witch-finders.
  • I’m planning on setting the starting point of the campaign somewhere in Norfolk. It is a large, and rather sparsely populated county in the east of England, commonly considered a rural backwater populated by simple country bumpkins. Even today, there is a (possibly allegorical) saying among the medical professionals in England: Normal for Norfolk. It is a derogatory term describing someone of low intellect or mental deficiency.

    When reading these posts one needs to bear in mind, that the goal is to create a setting for Weird Fantasy Role-Playing, not 100% historical accuracy. Therefore, some simplifications have and will be done. In other words, I don’t care if the the King really got his arse handed to him at the Battle of Bollocks. The civil war, the religious strife, and all that josh is just the backdrop. What’s of greater importance is what the Players do, and how historical events, places, and persons would make the greatest contribution to telling Weird Fantasy stories set in this era.

    To my players possibly reading this blog: What kind of stuff would you like me to write about next?

    One response to “The Witchfinders – Setting

    1. There’s something I’m wondering about with all this.

      What is the relationship Magic/Witchcraft?

      Are all magic users witches or devil worshipper? Are they still playable? Since elves are, I suppose they are, but how does it work in that world?

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