I moved up to the North East of England about 18 months ago for a work. It's an area of the country I'd never been to before and, to be frank, I'd never had much intention of visiting. If you're not from the North East of England you tend to forget it exists. It's not on the way to anywhere. The cities are small, mostly poor, and isolated from other conurbations by swathes of sparsely populated countryside full of defunct, slowly de-populating former mining villages. Now and again you watch Match of the Day and the highlights of a Newcastle game come on and you might think to yourself, "Oh yeah, Newcastle. That's a city and it exists." But otherwise it doesn't occupy much of a space in the national psyche. Unless you're a fan of brown ale.
Which is a bit of a shame, because this corner of the country (well, Northumberland anyway) has a lot to offer - incredible scenery, beautiful little market towns and picturesque villages, castles by the dozen, Roman ruins, great local cuisine, hidden treasures like Holy Island - and ought to be a complete tourist trap. Though on the other hand, a large part of me quite likes the feeling of living in one of Britain's best-kept secrets.
I do a lot of hiking and today as I was walking around I started thinking about running a game of D&D incorporating the things that are typical elements of the Northumberland countryside. The game wouldn't be set in actual Northumberland, but would be strongly inspired by it - imbued with it. What might these things be?
- Sheep. Northumberland is hilly, wild, barren. It's sheep country. In this game of D&D, "orcs" would be gangly sheep-headed humanoids carrying weapons of stone and possessing cruel, ovine eyes with long, horizontal pupils that would remain horribly emotionless as their owner skinned you alive.
- Gorse. You see a lot of gorse bushes when out hiking. Impenetrably thick and totally unforgiving: hardy survivors of the plant world. In Northumberland D&D, "goblins" would be little people made of wiry, spiny, bitter, nasty, gorse. Waiting in the scrub motionless for hour after hour, day after day, week after week, for a lonely traveller to come by....
- Wind. Northumberland must surely be England's windiest county. It comes barrelling down from the North Sea bringing the Arctic air with it to chill the very land itself right down to its roots. D&D Northumberland is a place of wind spirits - air elementals, sylphs, tempests, etc.
- Ghosts. The border between Scotland and England is soaked in blood thanks to century on century of war, border raids, feuds, cattle-rustling and unpunished murder. Northumberland D&D would not have 'Scotland' and 'England' but it would have layer upon layer of violent history - and the ghosts that history had bequeathed.
- Clerics. Northumberland is sometimes called the "cradle of Christianity" because it is where Christianity first took root in England. Again, Northumberland D&D wouldn't have 'Christianity' but it would have an overabundance of abbeys, monasteries, shrines and other holy places, full of monks singing strange chants and scratching with ink-and-quill in scrolls and weighty tomes for hour after hour by candlelight. At theme might be the conversion of unbelievers to a revolutionary new religion - or the resistance to it.