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View Full Version : [Historical Gaming] What’s your perfect premise?



Kiero
2014-11-11, 07:04 AM
I like historical games, and there isn’t enough discussion about them (outside of the more general discussion about history in that thread). So the best way to remedy that situation is to start a conversation about them. Let’s imagine the scenario. Your group have asked you to run a straight historical game for them; that means no magic, no fantasy elements like non-human races, just the real world. If it makes your idea of a pitch easier, this might be a limited run of, say, 12 sessions, rather than something that will run on and on.

What would your approach to the settled history, as far as we know it, be? Would you aim for a strict adherence to a sequence of events? Focus on taking license with the gaps in what we know for certain and stretching the less credible sources? Treat it as alternate history from the moment play starts? Something else?

What premise would you choose to run? Where and when in the world would it take place? Are there any particular events/movements/cultures/historical people you’d want to involve?

Who would the player characters be (I mean in general terms such as “mercenaries serving the king’s advisor”)? How closely would you stick to our understanding of restrictions around social class, religion, gender and so on?

What system might you choose, and why would it be well-suited to the premise you intend? What alterations or house rules would you apply to make it fit better?

Grinner
2014-11-11, 07:10 AM
I'd shy away from anything pertaining to well-documented history. Otherwise, it just invites complaint.

I would look for something with enough of a grey area to work with. Maybe a Western?

veti
2014-11-11, 02:36 PM
I ran a game once (unfortunately, only briefly) set in 16th-century Antwerp. I used the closest thing that exists to a "map" of the city at that time (a view sketched by artists climbing up the tallest church towers and drawing what they could see below them), and placed all the real historical persons I could find documented (very, very few...), then basically made up the rest like any other campaign setting.

History was rolling their way - there's a revolution in the brewing, and the Spanish are coming to put it down. There's not much the players can do to avert that. The purpose of the game was to see how well they could shepherd their own little interests (one PC was a merchant, one was an abbot, and so on) through that turbulence. I didn't expect them to substantially alter the course of history, but if they could come up with a realistic way of doing it I wouldn't have stopped them.

Need_A_Life
2014-11-11, 04:10 PM
As for adhering to actual history, I'd go with "history as best I understand it... but if that dude wasn't actually a governor for another 2 years, then chalk it up to me not being a historian" and note that if the players do something that would obviously have an impact (say, slaughter influential historical figures before they did what we remember them for), the in-game history will change to reflect that.

As for the premises? I might go for the crusades; starting the characters off as regular folks, criminals and pious people conscripted into the service of some lord who sends off some people to fight for Christendom to look good; a game focused more on the long (foot) journey down towards Jerusalem, what they leave behind, how blistered and hurting their feet become and so on.
I would get to get a good "travel guide" feel of them travelling further than most people at the time did in a life-time, a journey where disease, exhaustion and bad feet present a greater threat than the enemy they've been told to fight (for a reason they might not even have been told of). Hell, considering that more than one crusade never even reached its intended battlefield, I could see the notion of having either the "army" disperse or the characters running off as a good starting point for a second part of a story.

Nagash
2014-11-11, 05:09 PM
I never ran a strict historical setting. But if i did I think I would focus on it being more about basic survival against harsh elements and challenges and set it way way back. Like the last ice age back, or maybe set it in north america a thousand years ago.

Something like that so i dont need to worry too much about bumping into well documented history and big hungry predators are still a believable challenge and threat.

The_Werebear
2014-11-11, 05:30 PM
I love historical setups for gaming, but I have never run one that's been straight historical. The first one I ran was in Classical Greece set between the Persian Wars and the Peloponnisian War. While I didn't have actual spellcasters (3.5 DnD), I included mythological beasts, magic items, and bribing deities with offers of sacrifice to get boosts and benefits. I also counted the Iliad and Odyssey as direct historical fact rather than myth and legend. It went pretty well, even if it eventually turned into a sequence of "Have the Athenian lie to it. If that fails, throw the Macedonian barbarian at it. If that fails, bribe the gods until it goes away. If that fails, try lying again."

The second, much shorter game I ran was a system test for a friends custom system. The two players were in 1750's America where they discovered that they were related to the crew of an undead pirate, and he was calling in their service. The setting was as close as I could come to perfectly accurate, minus the ghosts, curses, and occasional zombie plagues.

I am about to follow up with a sequel to the Greek Campaign in which the party is retiring Roman Legionaries being given a chunk of land on the Rhine to colonize. That'll be fun.

My Ideal game for as close to historically accurate as possible would be an alternate history (basically, keep the setting and people historically accurate, but include one turning point) where the diversion point was George Washington, instead of quelling the mutiny of his officers near the end of the Revolution, agreed with their points and stormed Philadelphia to displace congress as "Consul" of America. I'd love to run it, but I'm the only person at my table who knows enough about the revolution to get the full benefit of it.

Ninjadeadbeard
2014-11-11, 05:40 PM
What would your approach to the settled history, as far as we know it, be? Would you aim for a strict adherence to a sequence of events? Focus on taking license with the gaps in what we know for certain and stretching the less credible sources? Treat it as alternate history from the moment play starts? Something else?

Oh, there's no way any game I run will be anything but Alt-History. I might intend for that to be the case, and I may plan to prevent shenanigans with my players...but they'll do it. I will end up with a couple of dead Popes, Kings, and literary giants. If we're crusading, they will sack Rome. If they're dodging spies in WWI France they'll track down and murder Hitler. If they're cavemen, one of them will invent the internal combustion engine.

So I don't worry about it. I just enjoy the ride.


What premise would you choose to run? Where and when in the world would it take place? Are there any particular events/movements/cultures/historical people you’d want to involve?

The Crusades sounded neat, as would settling the Americas or going a-Viking off the coast of Ireland. The Thirty Year's War is also nice, as would be WWI.


Who would the player characters be (I mean in general terms such as “mercenaries serving the king’s advisor”)? How closely would you stick to our understanding of restrictions around social class, religion, gender and so on?

A Cadre of Crusading Knights, a cell of German Spies, a boatfull of Vikings, a group of escaped Roman slaves, a Pirate Crew, a group of settlers...


What system might you choose, and why would it be well-suited to the premise you intend? What alterations or house rules would you apply to make it fit better?

I have yet to find an appropriate RL-Simulation game. Probably one of the Fuzon d10 systems? Cut the magic from Artesia and you've basically got my ideal "Realistic" RPG. 5e DnD if everyone promised to not cast spells, or fluffed it as actual work ("I didn't cast Create Food and Water! I spent an hour scouring the forest around our campsite and found some berries and a brook".).


My Ideal game for as close to historically accurate as possible would be an alternate history (basically, keep the setting and people historically accurate, but include one turning point) where the diversion point was George Washington, instead of quelling the mutiny of his officers near the end of the Revolution, agreed with their points and stormed Philadelphia to displace congress as "Consul" of America. I'd love to run it, but I'm the only person at my table who knows enough about the revolution to get the full benefit of it.

Educate them!!! This is too good of an idea to shelve!!!

blacklight101
2014-11-11, 06:20 PM
As for the premises? I might go for the crusades; starting the characters off as regular folks, criminals and pious people conscripted into the service of some lord who sends off some people to fight for Christendom to look good; a game focused more on the long (foot) journey down towards Jerusalem, what they leave behind, how blistered and hurting their feet become and so on.
I would get to get a good "travel guide" feel of them travelling further than most people at the time did in a life-time, a journey where disease, exhaustion and bad feet present a greater threat than the enemy they've been told to fight (for a reason they might not even have been told of). Hell, considering that more than one crusade never even reached its intended battlefield, I could see the notion of having either the "army" disperse or the characters running off as a good starting point for a second part of a story.


This sounds particularly awesome.

Jay R
2014-11-12, 11:29 AM
I'd be on the frontiers of society, where there is less official structure to come to your aid. Exploring Africa, the early American West, any coast where there are Viking raids, etc.

My most recent historical game was sent in the 1620s. Richelieu sent a party to the Caribbean to investigate Spanish claims of French cow-hunters ("boucan-hunters") on Cuba raiding the Spanish villages. I didn't tell them that these raiders were the original buccaneers, and I was sending them to the start of the age of Caribbean piracy.

NichG
2014-11-12, 11:42 AM
Whatever I'd run, it'd definitely be alt-history from the starting point.

I think it'd be amusing to run a game where it's not immediately clear to the players when/where in history the game is taking place. Start from the context of a place with a different calendar than Europe and little contact, so the players won't recognize the particular era just by ear. Then start having events happen that reveal the era to the players a few games in.

So e.g. the players are warriors in the Aztec empire, dealing with local politics and wars, etc. Then suddenly Spain arrives mid-game. Or maybe a slightly less telegraphed one would be to do something in Asia around the time of the emergence of Genghis Khan.

Another fun thing to do would be to do a historical game where there's lots of stuff that seems like it's going to drive history off the rails at least in the minor details - the PCs witness some famous historical figure gets assassinated before his time. But then have history seem to go straight on - there's a coverup of the death, a body double, secret societies and mysticism get involved, etc; maybe even prophecies of 'the true history' and things like that. Have things culminate in an opportunity for the PCs to decide to stop history from getting derailed, or to divert it even further from the normal course.

fusilier
2014-11-13, 09:35 PM
I've run a couple of straight history games. I just avoid placing the characters in a position to influence major events. The history provides the setting and major events that occur in the world.

I played with the history a little, but in subtle ways. For example in one adventure the party was searching for a lost work by Aristotle. They thought they had found it, but it turned out to be a "palimpsest" (the parchment had been scraped down and something else written over it -- sometimes you can make out pieces of the original writing though). The work was an actual lost work by Aristotle, but fragments do survive.

Beleriphon
2014-11-13, 09:56 PM
I like historical games, but I'd play them either completely gonzo and let the players create alternate history, or do them like Assassins Creed and let the players make the real history behind the events.

Milodiah
2014-11-13, 10:16 PM
Historical gaming and my group don't work out well together. (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?380254-I-think-I-broke-history-guys)

I'm a Call of Cthulhu person, so of course the 1920s is par for the course. Though I've always wanted to do something in the Age of High Imperialism, 1870-1914ish...going into darkest Africa as described by Joseph Conrad, trying to conquer/civilize/colonize the poor natives, etc. And as mentioned before, I am a Call of Cthulhu person, so it will probably end in horrible horrible things. The Cthulhu Invictus setting in the early Roman Empire is very interesting as well.

Only problem is I can't exactly expect my players to be fully in-character for this kind of thing. For example, one published scenario in the basic Call of Cthulhu 6e book, Dead Man Stomp, is best run with PCs who are casually racist white people, as is to be expected in 1920s New Orleans. That's something that most people would obviously like to avoid simply due to the awkwardness of even play-acting at it, historical as it may be. I'm one of the people who got bent out of shape with that publisher trying to bowdlerize Huckleberry Finn, but I'd still feel uncomfortable playing an overt, slur-throwingly racist character.

Not to mention the little things, like how the players interpreted someone talking about continental drift in 1917 as a visionary rather than a complete nutter (I'll point out the party were all geologically-inclined characters, including an archaeologist and an actual geologist). Of course it's slightly silly for me to hope my players have the same level of absurd and mostly-useless historical knowledge as me...and since my players would have to do almost as much setting research for Rome during the reign of Claudius as they would for the Forgotten Realms, I generally stick to either homebrewed (and slightly closer to real history but that's not saying much) D&D settings or Delta Green, which I run as set in the far off year of 2004.

(Oh wait, that's a whole decade ago now. Oh God, I'm old...)

Mark Hall
2014-11-14, 12:01 AM
Probably like to do a series with the Viking colonization of Vinland. I'm familiar with the Nordic parts, and would love to learn more about the Vinlandish... plus, it would let me play with my pet theory about why the Vinlandish natives attacked the Northmen.

Kesnit
2014-11-14, 06:04 AM
I'm running a Vampire: the Requiem game set in mid-14th Century London. Neither my players nor I are historians by any means, so the world is made up the way we want it, based loosely on life at that time. Until just now, I'd never bothered to look to see who was even the king. (Edward III.) Looking now, I see how many historical inaccuracies I've made, but my players neither know nor care.