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Important Elements of a 17th Century City ?


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I am currently designing a 17th century French city for a swashbuckling setting based upon the

Flashing Blades RPG by Fantasy Games Unlimited.

Since this city will be the focus of the setting, I would like to describe it in some detail, including

the important buildings (city hall, cathedral, guards barracks, etc.), the important organizations

(church, guilds, etc.) and the influential personalities, as well as the villages of the surrounding

area ruled by the city.

In short, it will be a typical roleplaying game city description. However, it may well be that this

kind of description could be improved, and therefore I would very much like to know whether

there are any elements of such descriptions that normally tend to be neglected.

In other words: Is there anything you usually miss in such descriptions, and which I should in-

clude in my little project ?

Thank you. :)

"Mind like parachute, function only when open."

(Charlie Chan)

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I'm also tinkering with a 17th century setting where most of the action would be in England and the Netherlands. I'm trying to collect comments by foreign visitors to various English and Dutch cities so that I can find elements that are notably English or Dutch about those cities, hence the reliance on what foreign visitors thought was worth mentioning. You might try looking at foreigners' comments about French cities to try to capture what was "notably French" in them.

Just a thought.


My avatar is the personal glyph of Siyaj K'ak' a.k.a. "Smoking Frog."

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The 17th Century was very much a time of transition. So big cities (London, Paris) tended to be much like their medieval/fantasy counterparts (palace keep, concentric walls, slums teeming with thieves and beggars, etc.) in many respects. Things were changing, however. You had the development of permanent theater buildings (The Globe, The Paris Opera House) as opposed to the on-the-fly performances of earlier times. The king's armory added an arsenal where gunpowder was manufactured and stored (no smoking, please!). Kings set up public hospitals, which was as much a measure to get the poor off the streets as to treat the sick. Seventeenth Century hospitals were a combination emergency room, end-of-life hospice, poor/work house, and mental ward. Sewers were slow in coming but gradually replaced the muck trench in the center of the street (although people still emptied their chamber pots into the street from overhead windows). The old guilds were still around but so were the offices of the new venture capitalists, eager to fund voyages to the Far East or the New World if you could persuade them there's profit to be had. The Dutch developed banking in the modern sense, where you could deposit and invest your money relatively safely and get letters of credit. Stately cathedrals still dominated the skyline, but assorted Protestant meeting houses were springing up everywhere, their loud song services designed to compete with the Mass. Another late development was the evolution of the palace guard into modern police and fire departments, although police science remained pretty rudimentary for another century or so.

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This may sound mundane...but I'd include taverns/meeting-places (w/ their political bent) and universities....and churches/cathedrals...along w/ their NPCs. Don't forget the merchants and guilds. It was a time of turmoil, thus great adventuring. But religious and political strife was common. If it was in a 'hot-bed' area, even moreso. If in one of the tamer areas, certainly ex-pats met and conspired.

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Put in travellers' descriptions for arrival. Take each of the major roads into town and the docks and write a one-paragraph description how the city looks from that perspective -- what landmarks are seen, what does the gate look like, how busy is the road, what assails the senses once inside the gate.

Bathalians, the newest UberVillians!

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Thank you all very much, a lot of excellent ideas. ;t)

You might try looking at foreigners' comments about French cities to try to capture what was "notably French" in them.

I will do that, it should not be difficult to find something by, for example, some German noble

visiting Paris. In fact, I think there is even something in Grimmelshausen's novel Simplicissimus

from and about the time of the Thirty Years War.

Having the sewers mapped out might be good.

A good point, the sewers could indeed become important.

The 17th Century was very much a time of transition. ...

Thank you very much for this overview.

...but I'd include taverns/meeting-places (w/ their political bent) ...

This is something I did not think of, but you are of course right. Taverns were meeting places

of political "factions", and therefore had a political bent.

Put in travellers' descriptions for arrival.

A very good idea, thank you for it.

As for the system, I am not yet sure whether I will use Flashing Blades or convert it to either

BRP or Hollow Earth Expedition - the latter would be easier, and the setting is similar enough

to pulp to use that system. On the other hand, Flashing Blades has so many excellent ideas

that might get lost in a conversion ...

I think I will complete a "generic" version of the setting and a few very short adventures and

then test which system covers the intended "feel" of the setting best.

"Mind like parachute, function only when open."

(Charlie Chan)

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By the way, this is a first sketch of the city's plan. :)

The city, called Avennio, is (very losely) based on an alternate history of Avignon and the sur-

rounding area, one where the city remained a part of the Holy Roman Empire and was not

sold to the Popes.

Therefore it is now an Imperial Free City as an enclave in southern France, which should pro-

vide a lot of opportunities for adventures aimed at keeping the city independent and preven-

ting its conquest by France - quite challenging, because the war between France and the Habs-

burg dynasty in the Empire and Spain is already on the horizon in 1625 when the campaign will

start ...


"Mind like parachute, function only when open."

(Charlie Chan)

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You may want to use Provençal rather than French if you're modelling it on Avignon: Santa Magdalena, Sant Francesc, Palais Bauç.

I would like to do it, but my French is very bad (enough to drive a Spanish cow mad ...) and my

Provencal nonexistent. So, in order to stay at least somewhat consistent, I probably have to use

French, because I do not understand enough French to research all the Provencal words that I

would need for the setting - at least I was unable to find any good English or German sources

for Provencal words. :(

"Mind like parachute, function only when open."

(Charlie Chan)

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I will gladly translate for you.

Thank you very much for your offer. :)

However, I think I would end up with words I do not really understand and do

not know how to pronounce correctly, and they would be even more "alien" for

the players, who would play characters who have this language as their mother


As much as I would like to use the right language for this setting, I am afraid

that using it badly and without even a minimal knowledge of it would damage

the "feel" of the game, and that some French is about as far as I can go with

a foreign language for this setting.

"Mind like parachute, function only when open."

(Charlie Chan)

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  • 1 month later...
  • 6 months later...

This is one of about half a dozen partially finished pseudo-historical setting pro-

jects on my shelve. I was not satisfied with what I had at the time, so I put it

on ice and hope to return to it when I have some more convincing ideas for it,

including a better system than the mix of BRP and Flashing Blades I was working

on (and also players potentially interested in this setting).

"Mind like parachute, function only when open."

(Charlie Chan)

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Maybe Interplanetary, when it comes out, could be mined for material for a straight swashbuckling game in BRP?

I was originally hoping (and waiting) for the Pirates supplement for BRP that had

been announced quite a while ago, but then suddenly disappeared from my radar

screen - it would have been most welcome for two of my other partially finished

settings, too.

As far as I understand it, Interplanetary could have some very useful material on

combat, but I would still need either a supplement or a sudden inspiration for ac-

ceptable seafaring rules. While I can mostly "handwave" such rules for my other

pseudo-historical settings (e.g. the Thule setting), a true swashbuckling setting

would need such rules.

So I am still hoping that the Pirates setting will reappear somewhere in the not all

too far future ...

"Mind like parachute, function only when open."

(Charlie Chan)

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