Saturday, February 14, 2009

William Tecumseh Sherman: Witch Hunter


I recently purchased Ken Burns' landmark PBS documentary on the American Civil War. It was expensive (especially since I've been unemployed recently) but worth it. I've always been interested in the Civil War - my grandfather's farm was near the Shiloh battlefield in western Tennessee, and we visited there almost every year. But it wasn't until recently that I became almost obsessed with it. The Burns documentary features frequent interviews with Shelby Foote, who I found eloquent and charming in his descriptions of the war. He was very charismatic and told interesting anecdotes that gave the participants a human quality I could relate to. So when I learned Foote wrote a massive three-volume history of the Civil War I had to read it. I'm halfway through the first volume right now and it's among the best books I've ever read, fiction or non-fiction.

Anyway, I'm simultaneously deep into a WFRP campaign and I recently purchased the new Career Compendium. So many of those careers could easily fit into a non-medieval/Renaissance context, even without tweaking. And since Games Workshop now has a "Warhammer Historical" line for its miniatures games, it seems only a small extrapolation to do a "historical" version of the RGP.

In fact, I had just toyed with (but pushed to the back burner) a long-term campaign set in the Elizabethan Age called Swords Against Satan. This was originally inspired by the Savage World of Solomon Kane game from Pinnacle, but I very quickly realized there's probably no set of rules better suited to the "real" Old World than WFRP. All you have to do is take out (or tweak) the magic. A Kislevite Kossar becomes a Russian Cossack. An Estalian Diestro becomes a Spanish Bravo. With just a few omissions and name changes, WFRP is perfect for the Elizabethan Age, and with a bit more tweaking, it's good for hundreds of years in either direction.

These thoughts quickly led me to consider a Civil War one-shot using WFRP. But as soon as this thought formed, the possibility of taking it further, turning it into an alternate history, perhaps one where supernatural things or monsters do exist, overwhelmed me. I'm not saying I'd go so far as to posit Rebel cavalry on dragons (but wyverns? Maybe!). But it's not too hard to imagine that weird, backwoods voodoo practices in Louisiana might not translate into some sort of battlefield advantage. At the very least, I can imagine a magical adviser to General Beauregard, for example. From there, I began to imagine Union Witch-Hunters. The more I thought about it, the more I liked it.

Of course, this is not entirely original. I believe Harry Turtledove has written some alternate history about the Civil War, and Orson Scott Card's Alvin Maker books have some similar ideas. PEG's Deadlands line is similar, too (but not as subtle as what I imagine). Nevertheless, it's something I've been contemplating.

As a "proof of concept" I took a picture of Union General William Tecumseh Sherman and grafted him with an early photo of the new Solomon Kane movie. The guy looks like a witch-hunter to me.

I'll share more about this as it develops.

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