D&D General D&Difying History

Why can't we also talk about the realities of history that some people might want to address in their games? That seems like a perfectly valid topic to discuss as well.
The "reality" of history is you are trying piece together an incomplete picture based on a bunch of unreliable narrators. It's hard enough to know what is really going on in the present. For the past, it's impossible.
 

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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Can’t we just talk about cool points in history that might make good mini campaign settings… there are plenty of them.

Why can't we also talk about the realities of history that some people might want to address in their games? That seems like a perfectly valid topic to discuss as well.

Folks, both discussions can happen, just so long as you allow them to happen. What you cannot do is continue to insist that there's only one discussion, and it has to be yours.

Make separate threads. Make them (+) threads, so folks know what is on topic, and what isn't. Problem solved.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
Sometime I wanna SCA, sometimes I wanna LARP. I rarely want to commit to graduate-level coursework.

I like my historic TTRPGs to be like the SCA. An attempt to re-enact a period of history, but not taking yourself too seriously.

In terms of what to include in the game in terms of things that are uncomfortable today, I guess I like to address them very moderately, just like I do with my kitchen sink fantasy. There is a lot of fading to black, hand waiving things people may not be comfortable playing through, etc. You have to know you group, regardless of how inspired or not the game is by real-life history.

I think in many eras, I would look to set up the players as an outcast or otherwise idiosyncratic group. Rather than play one historic group that was opposed to another for cultural, religious, or racial reasons, I'd have the party play a mixed group that has to deal with the realities of antagonism, repression, distrust, etc. from multiple sides. Why would such a mixed group come together? Greater threat? They're pirates? Or they are part of a mixed community because as much awful stuff you will encounter in history, their have always been more diversity and interconnection than our general impressions would have us believe.

You can treat historical TTRPGs with a nod to modern sensibilities partly because there have been periods and locations and groups who would still be radical by our current standards in terms of gender, religion, race, etc.

Or just have a group of modern people find themselves traveling back in time and having to navigate the issues of that period with their modern sensibilities. That could be interesting.

At the same time, playing one real historical group fighting against an enemy based on another historical group can be touchy, but doesn't have to be off limits. I mean, I'm not banning my son from playing Ghosts of Tsushima. I'm less comfortable with FPS games based on modern locations and events, but I don't default to demonizing those who play them.

Yeah, I'm mixing LARP, historical re-enactment, and video games with TTRPGs, but the same questions and challenges apply to all formats I think.
 

The "reality" of history is you are trying piece together an incomplete picture based on a bunch of unreliable narrators. It's hard enough to know what is really going on in the present. For the past, it's impossible.
This my be a bit of a side trek but in my experience as a player one of the golden missed parts of both homebrew and official lore is 'unreliable history'

in one homebrew world I made I had 3 different stories about the woman that founded a dynasty of rich merchants. All three of the main suggested she was a Beauty with brains who took over her father's failing farm and turned it into a shipping empire, and all admitted that not only did she make this powerful trading company from nothing, but she also opened a string of bars and orphanages. 1) though was that she was born a mannish brute and made a deal for beauty with (insert 1 of the 3 PHB warlock patrons, cause I had 3 variants of this) 2) was that she was really a cross between a vampire and a succubus and wasn't the daughter but the lover who KILLED the farmer and took his land to build her power base including seducing many powerful people (financial, nobility and adventurer) to do things for her but she HAD to open up the orphanages because to keep her youth and beauty she needed to bath in the blood of children monthly. and 3) that she WAS a warlock patron(a fey), that the farmer sold his soul to and the barging was miss worded so even though his name and 'family' was going to be success he didn't live to see it.
Some variants said she actually faked her death from time to time and 'inherated' the business' as a daughter or grand daughter. For a few levels (and like 5 or 6 months real time a few years game time) I dropped hints over and over and got the party thinking she was the BBEG of the campaign... a lich/vampire/something.
when I introduced a teenage scion of the family that was a 2nd level warlock and had features similar (but not exact) to her great great grandmothers description they KNEW for sure she was the BBEG... When they realized she was just a kid they were confused until one player put it all together- "Wait, she grew up on a farm, made some good choices got lucky and made a ton of money and people who didn't like that spread nasty rumors that made the history books... was she even a warlock?"
and no, this was the first person in the family to become an adventuring class
 

Ixal

Hero
This my be a bit of a side trek but in my experience as a player one of the golden missed parts of both homebrew and official lore is 'unreliable history'
Let me side trek that side trek.
This is a very good example of a big, but not often talked about problem when making historic rpg settings.
The use of modern economics.

Our global free market is a very modern invention and in history the economy worked much differently.
Your ability to earn money was often tied to your station through taxes. In many cases the only reason a pesant even needed money was to pay taxes as the lord decreed he wants to be paid in coin and not chicken.
Most farmers did not work to make money, that will be taxed anyway, but only to feed his family and to have a small reserve to trade away for favors which was how he would "pay" for the things he really needs.

Even trade worked very differently. Yes there were some very rich traders out there like the Fuggers, but trade was very specialized because transporting goods was hard and without fast communication only worthwhile for goods you know that will sell. No matter how shrewed someone was a normal farm (not plantation) would not make one rich as even if you somehow produced much more than what you needed, you could neither transport the rest very far (thus limiting the number of people you could sell too), nor could you store it without refrigeration. And even if someone had money, without social standing he would not be allowed to start a business.

Even the understanding of trade was different. Nearly globally merchants were seen as exploitive and technically had one of the lowest social standings because people thought that goods had an absolut value and buying them below the price and selling them for more was exploitation.
 
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Reynard

Legend
I think generally speaking that telling various real world nationalities that they aren't human might not sit well?
I don't know any Saxons. And frankly neither does anyone else, because they are a defunct culture that was subsumed into a number of modern cultures. Spoiler: picts aren't scots, either.

Frankly I'm a little surprised to see you respond this way.
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
I used to plan history-inspired campaigns dividing the races into different cultures... But these days my philosophy has changed. I think you can have established historic cultures without forcing a race on them.

For example, I think the California Gold Rush is a fascinating time in history that I would enjoy basing a Weird West D&D campaign on. But rather than saying "Americans are Dwarves, English are Halflings, Chinese are Elves" or whatever (I picked these totally arbitrarily... other than the Halflings 😁 ), I think I would let players pick whatever race and culture they want. Why wouldn't there be Dragonborn immigrants coming to California from South America, Russia, etc? And Dragonborn belonging to California native peoples (Ohlone, Miwok, etc)?
 

Micah Sweet

Legend
I used to plan history-inspired campaigns dividing the races into different cultures... But these days my philosophy has changed. I think you can have established historic cultures without forcing a race on them.

For example, I think the California Gold Rush is a fascinating time in history that I would enjoy basing a Weird West D&D campaign on. But rather than saying "Americans are Dwarves, English are Halflings, Chinese are Elves" or whatever (I picked these totally arbitrarily... other than the Halflings 😁 ), I think I would let players pick whatever race and culture they want. Why wouldn't there be Dragonborn immigrants coming to California from South America, Russia, etc? And Dragonborn belonging to California native peoples (Ohlone, Miwok, etc)?
Sure, but that does imply that every culture is an eclectic mixture of D&D races. That doesn't work for everyone either.
 


billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him)
I don't know any Saxons. And frankly neither does anyone else, because they are a defunct culture that was subsumed into a number of modern cultures. Spoiler: picts aren't scots, either.

Frankly I'm a little surprised to see you respond this way.
Well, let's unpack it.
A lot of what's going on in non-human race descriptions in D&D come from objections of using the same kinds of dehumanizing descriptions as have been used historically to dehumanize other races. There is no literal analog between those non-human D&D races and actual real-world races - just a similarity in description (brutish, savage, primitive, etc).

But the idea of making a historically campaign in which the role of a human culture, one that may have been assimilated into an amalgam culture but still has living descendants, is replaced with orcs or hobgoblins or elves or whatever is literally dehumanizing them within the context of your campaign.

I'm not saying that you're not free to reimagine history any way you want. But you probably shouldn't be surprised at Morrus's response.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
I don't know any Saxons. And frankly neither does anyone else, because they are a defunct culture that was subsumed into a number of modern cultures. Spoiler: picts aren't scots, either.

Frankly I'm a little surprised to see you respond this way.
Frankly, I’m a little surprised that you’re surprised. Surprise!
 

Micah Sweet

Legend
Well, let's unpack it.
A lot of what's going on in non-human race descriptions in D&D come from objections of using the same kinds of dehumanizing descriptions as have been used historically to dehumanize other races. There is no literal analog between those non-human D&D races and actual real-world races - just a similarity in description (brutish, savage, primitive, etc).

But the idea of making a historically campaign in which the role of a human culture, one that may have been assimilated into an amalgam culture but still has living descendants, is replaced with orcs or hobgoblins or elves or whatever is literally dehumanizing them within the context of your campaign.

I'm not saying that you're not free to reimagine history any way you want. But you probably shouldn't be surprised at Morrus's response.
Of course, that means the only choice is to not use nonhuman heritages at all in that game.
 

billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him)
Of course, that means the only choice is to not use nonhuman heritages at all in that game.
Or don’t use them as a whole replacement for a historical culture. Can you have orcs and dwarves among human Saxons and participating in Saxon culture? You sure could without dehumanizing the Saxons. You can also have them as separate enclaves with their own game-unique cultures in historical geography by adding them to the human cultures present and that would also be without dehumanizing any human cultures.
 

Micah Sweet

Legend
Or don’t use them as a whole replacement for a historical culture. Can you have orcs and dwarves among human Saxons and participating in Saxon culture? You sure could without dehumanizing the Saxons. You can also have them as separate enclaves with their own game-unique cultures in historical geography by adding them to the human cultures present and that would also be without dehumanizing any human cultures.
So all cultures become eclectic mixes of different heritages? That is one way to go. Your other suggestion is better, but it does mean that your historical cultures are going to need to accommodate several new neighbors.
 



TheSword

Legend
One potentially interesting idea would be to take a point or fact from history that you find interesting. Confound it, and explain why historians hundreds of years later have got the wrong idea.

It’s obviously a fantasy equivalent but we see this a lot in the Witcher series of books. A fairytale that we know IRL is found to be a misunderstanding of actual events in the story.

For instance perhaps Hadrian’s Wall isn’t there for the reasons we thought it was. It’s a barrier stopping the magic of an ice queen. Or maybe the Danes were leaving Denmark not because population growth but because of some horrendous creature, or dark cult. Why did the Druids commit human sacrifice and evil what were the Beltane fire really for.

Even if you want to take the magic out, you could have plausible reasons that nevertheless would confound modern historians.
 
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Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
So all cultures become eclectic mixes of different heritages? That is one way to go. Your other suggestion is better, but it does mean that your historical cultures are going to need to accommodate several new neighbors.

Historic cultures alreadydid that for us - thats why the Germanic dwarfs live under the mountains, Elfs live in the Fae realm and little folk stay hidden in the deep forest. Goliath was from a family of giants recruited by the Phillistine army. Lots of Ogres living in castles in France too. And who knows how many Shifters, Tieflings, Dhampirs, Haglings, or other human passing creatures lived among the humans of Europe
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
One potentially interesting idea would be to take a point or fact from history that you find interesting. Confound it, and explain why historians hundreds of years later have got the wrong idea.

It’s obviously a fantasy equivalent but we see this a lot in the Witcher series of books. A fairytale that we know IRL is found to be a misunderstanding of actual events in the story.

For instance perhaps Hadrian’s Wall isn’t there for the reasons we thought it was. It’s a barrier stopping the magic of an ice queen. Or maybe the Danes were leaving Denmark not because population growth but because of some horrendous creature, or dark cult. Why did the Druids commit human sacrifice and evil what were the Beltane fire really for.

Even if you want to take the magic out, you could have plausible reasons that nevertheless would confound modern historians.
This reminds me of a Dresden Files game I played in set in San Francisco. It was fun to take the quirks and history of SF and come up with magical explanations. For example, south of San Francisco is a town called Colma that is full of graveyards. In real history, real estate was such a premium in San Francisco that they dug up most of the graveyards and moved them down to Colma. In our game, Colma provided a magical barrier between SF and the South Bay. San Francisco is surrounded on three sides by water; Colma, with its many protective souls, provided the final barrier.
 

Micah Sweet

Legend
Historic cultures alreadydid that for us - thats why the Germanic dwarfs live under the mountains, Elfs live in the Fae realm and little folk stay hidden in the deep forest. Goliath was from a family of giants recruited by the Phillistine army. Lots of Ogres living in castles in France too. And who knows how many Shifters, Tieflings, Dhampirs, Haglings, or other human passing creatures lived among the humans of Europe
But those races wouldn't be PCs in that world, at least not in a way that lets them easily interface with human cultures.
 

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