1625-ish

In the GDC postmortem of Darkest Dungeon, one of the audience questions asked was what time the game took place in, and the response was anywhere from 500 to 1800 AD. This was weird to me, because the actual answer is roughly 1625. Now, the Darkest Dungeon guy does point to a few anachronisms that are way off from 1625, namely the generally Pictish vibe of the Hellion and the very 18th century look of the Highwayman, but both of these are matters of fashion, not tech. Fashion is wholly independent from tech, so declaring that woad paint is back in style doesn’t mean you can’t say your game takes place in 1625 anymore than putting Lovecraftian abominations somewhere in the general vicinity of Switzerland. We don’t even have any trouble calling Morrowind a medieval setting despite the fact that it doesn’t even particularly resemble anything from the real world.

Whether or not your highwaymen have knee-length coats and wear scarves isn’t ultimately that important to your setting, and you can make those kinds of choices based purely on what looks cool. No, when we ask what time things take place in, we’re talking about what technologies are available, because that changes what characters can actually do in the setting. So what tech do we see in Darkest Dungeon?

Well, we have the Arbalest and the Crusader, who use a crossbow and a set of full plate armor, respectively. So, clearly these technologies have not fully faded from use. On the other hand, they’re not necessarily state of the art, either, because the Hamlet’s damned adventurers are just whoever’s able and willing, rather than being the elite fighting force of a mighty empire or otherwise someone who’d be riding the bleeding edge of military technology. The Arbalest and the Crusader do put an upward limit on the time period, though, because crossbows and plate armor are difficult to maintain and won’t remain in use once they’ve become fully obsolete because no one will go to the effort of maintaining them. Plate armor isn’t in use today, and crossbows only in very narrow niches, because they’ve fallen so far off the tech curve that they’re no longer worth the trouble of building or maintaining at all (on the other hand, things like the Houndmaster’s truncheon are timeless, because they’re easy to make in any era). So, the crossbow and plate armor might be old news, but they can’t be too far out of date in the time period when Darkest Dungeon takes place. This fits the 1625 date. Plate armor and crossbows alike are beginning to be phased out as muskets become more common, but plenty of armies still employ both because they have a bunch lying around, and muskets haven’t yet become so common that plate armor is useless on the field, nor common enough that every soldier will have access to one and thus not bother maintaining their old crossbow.

The other end is what the most recent technology looks like, and this is where one anachronism does crop up, sort of. The Highwayman’s flintlock pistol exists in 1625, but it’s state of the art, unlike in the 18th century millieu he’s clearly pulled from where it’s become commonplace. Flintlock pistols are cavalry weapons from the era of ubiquitous gunpowder warfare, used because aiming a musket on a trotting horse is a fool’s errand, and if your accuracy is going to be so awful as to make the weapon only effective from a couple of yards away, you may as well save yourself some room and bring a pistol instead of a full-on musket. In an era before gunpowder weaponry had become ubiquitous, having a ranged weapon wasn’t as big of a concern, so if you can’t use a musket from horseback, you’d just stick with a lance. While 1625 had invented both pistols and flintlocks and could make flintlock pistols and sometimes even did, it wasn’t a common military weapon and it’s really weird that something theoretically possible but with no battlefield role (and therefore very uncommon) somehow ended up in the hands of a common bandit. Some of the enemy bandits also have pistols, so apparently they’re common amongst brigands.

But so far as anachronisms go, “it’s 1625 and for some reason local bandits have state of the art tech” isn’t all that bad considering that the game was apparently designed with the niche of “between 500 and 1800” in mind as its time period. So next time someone asks what time period Darkest Dungeon takes place in, you can tell them: About 1625.

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