1830’s horror

Ah, October, when an old man’s fancies turn towards horror films.

AMC has been running a series of classic Hammer Horror films every Friday this month (with more to come), and watching those great old Dracula movies made me think that there seems to be an untapped venue for horror gaming. Europe of the 1830’s, particularly central and eastern Europe.

It’s got a lot going for it. The Napoleonic Wars are less than two decades gone by, leaving a lot of veterans and the scars of war across the landscape. The classic Frankenstein takes place during the very period. Goethe’s Dr. Faust is placed then and there. The real-life inspiration for the Hunchbank of Notre Dame lived during that time. The era predates Dracula by a few decades, but the Hammer tradition certainly doesn’t make such distinctions, and that’s certainly as valid a tradition to drawn from as any.

It’s a time before Charles Darwin drove the stake into the corpse of medieval credulity. The American and French Revolutions have undermined the myth of the divine right of kings, but the stories of ghosts and spooks still hold sway in places removed from the salons of post-Enlightenment Paris.

And it has that classic Hammer aesthetic. Tall hats, greatcoats, standing collars and cravats… Womens’ gowns show a bit of cleavage, hair styles are all elaborate curls, but powdered wigs are still to be found among the Old Nobility.

I think it’s got a lot of potential, for the aesthetic if nothing else.

Written by 

Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

10 thoughts on “1830’s horror

  1. I've been thinking of some historical and semi-alternate history setting, not as far back as the 1830s, but during the 1920 where WW I never occurred. The story is not about politics or why the Great War never occurred, but it is a place where some of the Hammer movies and the original Universal horror movies are "real," a place where people use 1920s technology, fashionable people wear 1920s clothing but boarder guards and police and what not still dress and act like soldiers in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It is just about the aesthetics.

  2. I've been watching the Hammer Films as well. I absolutely love them and their setting. What I like about this particular brand of horror is that, by today's standards, it isn't a gore-fest. Much of its 'horror' comes from mood and tension- not cheap scares. I'd love to play in this kind of setting- but horror is always a bit hard to pull off in an RPG, unless you have players who are willing to allow themselves to really get 'into' the setting.

  3. I would also suggest a couple of similar retro periods: The English civil war period (around 1640) is ideal. Just think of all those Puritan Witchthunters with their tall hats; the ghost-haunted battlefield, rapacious troops Dragoons, trachery, lust and executions.

    Perfect.

    Example number two: the time of the French-Indian wars for much the same reason, save the tall hats become tricrorns, whole families burnt at the stake, superstition and mysterious native american tribes and their animist spirituality. It worked for Brotherhood of the Wolf. It'll work for your game too.

  4. I'm also in love with the era and that hammer horror aesthetic. And with Halloween coming up, I'm looking forward to my annual ritual of watching Sleeping Hollow while carving jack-o-lanterns. Sleepy Hollow is 30 years earlier than the 1830s, but it still has a great Hammer vibe.

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