The Swedes have come,
Have taken everything,
Have smashed in the windows,
Have taken away the lead,
Have made bullets from it
And shot the peasants
-Song of the Swedes -1625
The Thirty Years War was a period of prolonged conflict in Central Europe which ranks amongst the most destructive in history and certainly amongst the worst in Europe. The fighting was mainly the result of attempts by the Hapsburg dynasty to solidify its control over the territories of the Holy Roman Empire, including centralising political authority with the Emperor and suppressing various forms of Protestant Christianity in favour of Romanism. The consequent revolts spiralled into a series of conflicts that dragged in most of the nations of Europe (not to mention Britain and the Ottomans) and lasted from 1618 to 1648, leaving millions dead - the average being somewhere between 25% and 40% of the pre-war population depending on sources, with over 75% dead in some areas1. Some historians blame the humble potato for the prolonged character of the war - without it, they claim, agricultural collapse would have been harder and faster and the core combatants would have been unable to maintain their war effort.
Warfare in this period varied from the pseudo-medieval to the early modern - there were plenty of people shooting at each other with bows, even if the headline warfare tended to be more of the pike-and-shot variety, and by the end of the war the early fundaments of line infantry were starting to appear. As mass warfare was really taking off in this era, but logistics were still to be (re)invented an army tended to be something like a horde of locusts - an almost unstoppable force of nature which devastated everything in its path in search of food, drink, money, clothing and anything else it might need or want. Being in the path of one was potentially deadly, and following in its wake liable to be horrifying. Also, poorly organised armies with little logistic structure tended to leave all sorts of miscreants scattered in their wake - bands of deserters, survivors of defeated armies, discharged units and those simply cut off from their force without support could all prove to be sources of trouble.
As befits a conflict with a distinctly civil character and a strong religious undertone, this was a war of great cruelty, many atrocities and all sorts of satellite hate. One of the notable spin offs was a widespread paranoia about witchcraft and a series of witch hunting epidemics, generally characterised by the torture and judicial murder of large numbers of people, most of them more or less innocent.
The Thirty Years War at "The Other Wiki".
Game and Story Use
- An era with a large number of states (some of them very small) in all-out conflict with one another is liable to spawn adventures very easily … and not all of them to do with the main conflict; with the Emperor away at war, all sorts of people are liable to use his absence as an excuse to get up to all sorts of things.
- The whole witch finding thing … might turn out to have something behind it. Perhaps the sheer horror of the conflict attracted all sorts of supernatural horrors to feed off it (and, in turn, was made worse by their presence) leading to outbreaks of demonic possession and all sorts of people may have struck poorly advised pacts with dark powers out of desperation, a desire for revenge or simply out of seeing the behaviour of allegedly religious people and assuming that the alternative would have to be better.
- And naturally some of the most enthusiastic witch-finders are likely to have been witches themselves using their elevated positions as an opportunity to commit atrocities, blaspheme and discredit the idea of opposing witchcraft.
- The schizo-tech aspect is also fun - bearing in mind the total nature of the war in progress, all sorts of stuff could be brought out of storage. As noted, the main armies are all about pike and shot by people in munition plate and buff coats (or similar things), but local skirmishing could involve all sorts of things swung by people in things as primitive as scale armour.