How would you create an ACKS version of Elizabethan England?

I've had this idea kicking around my head (and my blog) for several years of a horror-themed dungeon populated by feuding, Machiavellian wizards and sorcerers beneath the foreboding and barren moors.  If you're familar with some of the BX classics, it idea draws inspiration from Castle Amber and The Principalities of Glantri, two of my all time favorites from the 80's, along with literary inspirations like Poe, and Lovecraft.  (I finished a Master's program last year, so this year it's back to serious gaming).

You might think something like LOTFP would be ideal, but I actually think the content in ACKS on modeling magical research, libraries, experimentation, and undeath, provides a better framework for figuring out what all these evil wizards and warlocks are doing down there in the depths - why they need monster parts from distant places, and rare books and reagents.  Although the milieu is ostensibly Elizabethan England, it's a near-Earth version where portals to faerie still exist, and monsters lurk in the dark corners of the world.

Practically speaking, how would you go about creating 16th century England as ACKS domains?  There are probably population estimates for 16th century London (either online or cleverly contained in books), and maybe they exist for the broader countryside, too.  Starting with population could be a bottoms up approach.  I'm sure there are maps of classic English counties, and you could treat each one as an Earldom(?), and go from there (kind of top down).  Historical accuracy is less important than a gameable interepretation.

Anyway, I'm about to start research and the thinking part, and figured I'd check in to see if anyone has done a similar project or has suggestions on moving forward.

Hmm. The "wilderness full of monsters" thing would be highly disruptive for such a setting. Maybe come up with some reason why monsters don't usually interact with the "civilised" world - perhaps have an entire parallel plane inhabited by constantly warring beastmen and such, and have connections between the two worlds be rare and fairly easily guarded?

I see your point - I'm not worried about the wilderness sandbox portions and wandering monsters.  I'll be able to populate the sandbox region with plenty of ruins, hollow hills, and out of the way lairs.  The gothic moors could have the occasional wandering ghost, banshee, vampire, werewolf, or similar denizen of the horror tale (along with bandits, highwaymen, and plenty of bad people).  The moorlands (Yorkshire area) is where I'd do a 6-mile-per-hex regional map, and do a 24-mile domain level map for the rest of the island.

I'm more concerned about fantasy England as a domain, and what kind of approaches folks have done (or advice) on modeling a quasi-historical setting, top down or bottoms up, how much detail did you do, that kind of stuff.

I have not done anything like that.  I suppose taking the whole population and getting highest level ACKS characters and their numbers would be the first thing I'd do.  Parceling out those high levels would take some period knowledge I don't have - how powerful are the old feudal titles, and what income do they actually have at this point?  I don't know!  Compared to, say, cabinet members and leading members of parliament, and new wealth from business and privateering.  Elizabeth herself as an active ruler would come out pretty high level after domain income, which may seem like a quirk in hit dice, but stil one I'd run with.

Beedo, do you have the issue of Axioms that deals with separating land ownership from rulership, and with creating senates/parliaments? I think you'd want to use that! It should give you a lot of the tools you'd want to have for modeling Historic England. It also has a lot of information on the assumptions of the economic system, which you can then use with any handy historical data to make the numbers match.


There would be a good number of conflicts available at this time, some of which may need to be handled more delicately than others:
1. Religion. Not just the ever-present Catholic/Protestant divide, but also the Moderate/Puritan divide within the Protestant camp. Note too the Act of Uniformity 1558, whereby all people must attend (an approved) church once per week or pay a fine of 12 pence per offense.
2. Politics. While to an extent tied to religion, England faced hostility from almost everyone at this time - Spain, France, and Scotland in particular. Spain was more Catholic than the Pope and became more and more displeased at English piracy. France had its own religious turmoil, along with a history of conflict with England. Scotland always had border reivers, and while James was actually done a favor by the execution of his mother, he had to appear outraged for the sake of support from the lesser nobles.
3. Economics. Elizabethan England was poor and the standard of living declined during her reign. The Statute of Artificers 1563 set upper limits on the wages of craftsmen, and when poor harvests in the 1590s caused inflation, real incomes declined. This was also the time of land enclosure, which caused riots as land previously held in common and used for communal grazing was fenced in by landowners and used for private benefit. The wealth of the landowner grew at the expense of the entire village.
4. Laws. Tied in to economics, vagabonds (which would include adventurers) were criminals. If caught, they were to have a hole burned through their right ear; if caught again, they were executed. This was in part a response to the population explosion of Elizabeth's reign (population went from ~3 million to ~4 million), which had led to high unemployment. Healthy, armed wanderers were seen as a threat to stability and thus criminalized.

Elizabethan England had five noble ranks - Duke, Marquis, Earl, Viscount, and Baron (until the execution of the Duke of Norfolk, at which point it had four). In the 1590s, there was one Marquis (Winchester), eighteen Earls, two Viscounts (Montagu and Howard of Brindon), and thirty-seven Barons. Less than 60 people held titles, but annual incomes varied greatly. In the 1580s, the Earl of Northumberland had incomes of around 4,600 pounds per year. Thomas Wilson estimated that Earls and above had annual incomes around 5,000 pounds and the Viscounts and Barons around 3,000 pounds. Gentry "should" have an income of at least 500 pounds in the south and 300 pounds in the north; in practice it varied from 100 pounds for gentry renting out poor lands to at least 4,000 pounds for wealthy knights such as Sir John Harington (later Lord Harington). Some lawyers are rich - Sir Nicholas Bacon left lands that earned 4,000 pounds per year (along with cash and silver worth 4,450 pounds), but even he was a piker compared to the money that Sir Edward Coke earned (12,000 to 14,000 pounds per year). They're a bit of an exception, and the typical earnings are around 100 pounds per year.

@ Alex - I did some preliminary reading on Elizabethan government, and the ACKS systems for Senates (covering Parliament, and perhaps even bureaucracies like the Council of the North and Council of the Marches) will work well; so will separating land ownership from governorship.  Thanks for the heads up on Axioms; of course I have them, but mentally I applied them to antiquity and forgot they'd work well for early modern, too.

@ The Dark - thanks for the detailed breakdown on nobles, titles, and incomes - it makes a complex realm like England seem manageable.  I'm not sure how pounds will match up to gold pieces, but I can use the ACKS defaults and the numbers you suggested proportionally.  I'll probably use default values for currency and just apply historical sounding coin names, like penny, shilling, crown, and guinea.  I like the issue with vagabonds and the countryside; in this alternatve version of England, I could see unchartered adventurers having to dodge the law as vagabonds, while chartered adventuring parties operate almost like privateers with letters of marque, sharing some of their salvage profits with the crown as taxes.

I've had a lot of drive-time with ACKS as a retro-clone running various adventures, but this will be my first time modeling a large realm as part of the background development.

While I have a very clear idea on how I want the large dungeon to feel (a mix of Glantri, Castle Amber, and horror), and I have clear ideas on the sandbox area and various plots and threats, I still have to commit to whether an actual 'faux-historical' approach is better than just creating an 'inspired by history' setting whole cloth.  I like the idea of being able to draw on real-world details, but fret about getting sucked into too much minutiae.  For instance, trade routes between major cities and counties... easy enough to roll or pick from the ACKS charts and then describe the economy, but it represents a potential deep rabbit hole if you chase historicity unless you're really familar with goods and markets of the period.

FWIW, I'm working in Central Europe right now, east edge of the HRE, though a bit earlier in time - mid 1400s or so. Gunpowder and witches sort of thing.

As part of that, I'm developing a system by which I can automagically produce a hex map showing elevation and terrain for the entire globe or sections thereof  in hex sizes very approximate to 24 miles, 6 miles, and 1.5 miles, averaged out of data (for elevation at least) accurate to about a 2000 foot resolution.

When you think you're ready for a map, let me know. I can produce the elevation map more-or-less on demand, and in a few weeks or so (maybe two months...) should have the terrain data settled out and producable. I'd like to see someone else try and work with this mess so I can see what should be improved upon.

As far as a gamable approximation of England, you might be able to start off with Dark Albion (Rose Wars) and progess things from there - while I've never checked up on it I expect it's accurate in broad strokes for it's own time period, and should at least bootstrap you to the point where you can see what happened to X County after the Rose Wars. (and it could only benefit from having ACKS applied to it) It'd at least give you a starting point for either deeper research or a placeholder for future work.



Koewn - Wow, a programmatic way to make 24 mile hex maps of the real world with elevation?  That's like dirty talk for gamers and map lovers or something.  Whew.  Is my office getting warmer all of a sudden, or is that just me?

Kidding aside, that's an awesome project, and I hope it goes well for you.  I'd definitely be interested in seeing when you get to England.  I haven't picked up Dark Albion; I've heard it's good, but I'm cautious about it pulling me in a direction...

My initial plan is to develop a 24-mile-hex political map of Elizabethan England of major counties, probably a simple black and white.  I'll use that to set up domains at the county level and establish just major landowners and/or governors.  That way I only need to further develop the intra-county politics if the game moves in that direction, keeping the initial development light.  From an ACKS perspective, the county level will have Earls and/or Archbishops for the House of Lords, which drives the Parliament (Senate) rules and some England-level politics.  It's a manageable number of rulers.

The 6-mile-hex regional map of the Moorlands will include the terrain and adventure sites and local towns, villages, and hamlets.

Koewn: I have to second Beedo's "wow, that sure is sexy" here.  That project sounds incredibly useful.  I've seen some Hexographer maps that try to reproduce real-world regions, but they lack elevation data and don't come in the variety of handy sizes.

I don't suppose your system does North America?  I'm working up an ACKS Dwimmermount campaign that has a generous portion of Gamma World mixed into the background, because Dwimmermount is already halfway there and I always loved Expedition to the Barrier Peaks.  Right now I'm using a GIMP'd Google Map of North America flooded to 60 meters above sea level and some topographical maps showing the starting area at a finer scale, but no hexes yet.  

There's a ~1200CE map of Europe at 50 km (30 mi) scale at this page.

For the United States, an forum thread has some nice maps. There's also a reproduction of the map of Meriga from Gamma World here.

The system does the globe, subtracting data above ~83 deg N and...60 something S, just below South America. The terrain data is being sourced out of the various SRTM efforts (the Space Shuttle doing radar topography) so that's where I bound my map.

I can't make a hex map of the entire globe at once, however, for various geometrical reasons (though it's probably a problem I could eventually overcome, it would be a butterfly style map). North America is doable. It'd be interesting to see my results versus a Gamma World map, I'd be real curious if folks had been taking into account the curvature of the geoid at that scale.

I'll swing back by on this once I've got my terrain data set and I'm happy with what I produced for my own campaign.

Tkanks Keown for the offer and The Dark for the pointer, I am greatful to you both.

I'd seen the hexographer version and have soft plans to flood it to 60 m, per Alex Timgle's map-flooding app at,-101.6015&z=13&m=60, but was thinking Koewn might have a shortcut to spare me fiddling with all that coastline.  It's entirely possible my players would wind up on a boat in the Gulf of Missisippi at some point, and that Arkansas makes some crinkly fjords

Might have known that someone would have gotten there ahead of me:  Hat tip to Shiro

It's 100 mile hexes so doesn't obviate the need to work up smaller scales in hexographer, but the coast is within spitting distance.

Oddly, I swear I never read the linked article, but I've likewise raised up sunken continents like he did.