(+) Gaming in historical settings and dealing with values of the era

In historical setting, when values are different from our own

  • I expect the players to adhere to it and actively engage in the behavior of the period

    Votes: 11 15.1%
  • I expect the players to adhere to it "superficially" and try to keep it in the background

    Votes: 30 41.1%
  • I expect the players to ignore it and kill things and take their stuff anyway

    Votes: 11 15.1%
  • I make possible for the players to fight it and stand up for their values

    Votes: 44 60.3%
  • I will integrate these values in the campaign as part of the narrative

    Votes: 28 38.4%
  • I will have PCs face social consequences when they deviate from era behaviour in public

    Votes: 32 43.8%
  • I will try to keep it in the background even when NPCs are concerned

    Votes: 13 17.8%
  • I will ignore it totally

    Votes: 16 21.9%


Foggy Bottom Campaign Setting Fan
This question was inspired by @Enevhar Aldarion's post in another thread, which was much more general in scope.

Enevhar Aldarion said:
I would not care how non-racist a person may actually be in real life, if they choose to play a racist character, I will be very not cool with that and likely not continue in that game. Even if it is with non-human races. The old tropes of the elf-hating dwarf and dwarf-hating elf got really old 30-40 years ago and there is no room for that beyond the obvious meta-jokes making fun of those old tropes. And with the reforming of various evil non-human species, it is probably time for the old tropes of the orc-hating dwarf, etc to be retired.

The OP was about importing tropes into fantasy settings, but sometimes it's not a choice, like in historical settings.

I'd like to know how do you deal with the difference in values between the group's social consensus and the real values of the setting or, at least, the perceived values of the setting (as seen through the lens of the group's knowledge of the era) when it comes to gaming gaming in historical settings or quasi historical settings (generally "historical X, plus a slight dose of magic"). [note that if the inclusion of a slight modification to an historical settting changes the way you deal with it, I'd be glad to hear about it as well.

Part of the appeal to me of historical settings is trying to get a "feel" of a period. And I think we can agree that not all places and times shared modern values on political, social and religious questions and so on, all divisive topics. This is a + thread because I'd like it not to devolve on whether behavior X or Y is bad. For example, discussing how to deal with the nice questgiver who happen to be an official from a real-life culture whose job involve doing human sacrifices is good, but discussion whether human sacrifices is justified or not isn't in the scope of this thread.

I am afraid of providing more examples but I hope it will be clear enough without them. I am interested in how everyone is dealing with it at their tables.

[For me, if everyone is agreeing on an historical setting, reading will be required from all and NPCs will expect people to behave appropriately in the context of the setting. It can be "faded to black" if particularly gross, though]. In term of the PC opposing anything, they can, they are PC (much like a fantasy Hermione can oppose house elves mistreatment), but it might not be easier than any other endeaviour.
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I'm not seeing this thread going much better than other others, even with the +.

If I have a historical game, it is likely historical fantasy. There may be groups that trade and own slaves, but it would generally be portrayed in a negative way. The modern views of slavery slant the story and actions of the players to the PCs. So it would not be the norm and more something the bad guys engage in. Thus opening them up to the murder-hobos.


Now you're infected by the Musical Doodle
I'd say it depends on the specific issue and how much it affects the players. Say, if it's slavery or human sacrifice, then you could reasonably keep it as an element if none of the PCs or related NPCs are slaves/sacrifices themselves, it's just a part of the setting that they can choose to engage with or not.

Compared to, say, racism against the Orc player or sexism against the female character, those things will shape the player's relationships a lot, so I wouldn't go for it unless the player wants to explore that kind of thing.

I'd definitely let them fight against it either way, maybe work with them as to why they'd be against it when it's a socially acceptable thing in general.


I expect things we view as bad today to not be held up as being good. So if the characters do them they shouldn't portray it as good. If they do it a lot happily they shouldn't portray themselves as good.


I'd bring it up with the players prior to the game starting. Like in the planning stage; there's no point planning a game around features X, Y, and Z if the players do no want to engage with X, Y, Z. Even if features X, Y, and Z are historically accurate, even if the PCs would get to oppose X, Y, and Z, if any players are "nope, I get too much of that *!#$ in real life, not having it my happy fantasy game" then X, Y, and Z will not happen.

The feel of a period can frequently be invoked by simple, surface things like clothes, available tech, visuals. Zeppelins and biplanes over a steam-punk London says a lot about a setting. Sometimes all we want is veneer of other times over our modern world.

For myself: I don't mind bringing up historical wrongs in my games, but I will present them as wrong as a DM and oppose them as a PC.

My answers will differ widely depending on the direction and themes of the game, as set out in discussion with my group in Session Zero.

For example, Beyond the Fence, Below the Grave has several scenarios that involve slaves in Norse society. If the players I have available aren't interested in engaging with this kind of matter, I'll run something else for them.


CR 1/8
I used to feel that a historical setting should be played straight, warts and all; and that players should try to stick to that. I thought that was an avenue to some sort of deep insight into... stuff and things. Or something.

Eventually, though, I asked myself "Why?" and I couldn't really figure out what exactly I hoped to gain by playing out racism or human sacrifice or whatever. And the fact that those topics are so distasteful to me means that even pretending to be legitimately "learning" about them in the game ends up being a chore for the soul, not entertainment. But I game for enjoyment, not self-flagellation, so again that question: "Why?"

So now I aim to keep those things in the background. And if/when they do come up, they're presented as the evils that they are, societal diseases to be actively fought and fixed, not simply acknowledged as "that's just how the history was."

If I really want to explore those topics, imo, it's much more effective and honest to just read the history or historical fiction by a qualified author. Someone with a lived experience or other genuine insight is a far better teacher for me on those topics than a table of random D&D gamers.

@Galandris To add to the original thoughts, In game systems that have an Alignment, I never play "Evil" characters and I do not play in groups that do Evil-themed campaigns, nor do I allow Evil-aligned PCs in games I run, so a lot of historic stuff would end up being just in the background and ignored or actively fought against by the PC party.


Not your screen monkey (he/him)
Part of the fun of a historical campaign is playing someone you’re not even if not morally upstanding by today’s standards, and even if operating in an environment that is dark and brutish. Players don’t need to play complete bastards, but I want them to honestly interact with the environment, warts and all.


I have no problem with a person playing a character whose nation has been at war/betrayed/passed over by or with another nation. With all the prejudice, distrust and dislike this brings with it.

I also have no problem with a PC playing the character that ignores that past and forms a strong relationship with the traditional enemy. Championing the idea that barriers can be mended and they can be the hope of a nation. I just don’t expect it.

I don’t believe there is an immoral or moral way to play a character in this respect. It just comes down to personal choice and what a person thinks would make an interesting story.

When I run in a historical setting, I set the expectations clearly. For example:

This game will be set in 18th century London, and characters are expected to behave as people of that time did, with the exception of racism, misogyny and gender preference biases. Those biases and behaviors exist and this is not an alternative reality where they did not, but as a GM they will not be featured, and characters should not act in ways that support these behaviors.

I am aware that this is sweeping the issue under the rug; I understand that it can be seen as erasing historical injustices. In theater and in writing, I encourage and support the exploration and highlighting of these important topics, but my experience has been that it is extremely rare for a roleplaying group to do a good job of doing so. I'm open to others doing so, but I don't feel I personally can do a good enough job.


Remember as well that values may not be as easily thought of "x is okay now, but was bad in the past" etc. Human progress along ethical and value lines has not been linear in the slightest. This is why LGBTQIA+ people have to continue to fight for their rights; not only in places where those rights are not granted or allowed, but also to ensure there is no rollback, as has happened in the past.

My approach to be, if, say, I were to do Celtic or early Ireland, would be:

  • to investigate the general moral differences between now and then
  • decide what would simply be too awful or too stupid to actually play around with, and use something actually moral and sane
  • then investigate and think about the differences, particularly around culture, that might be interesting to explore
  • then I would consider whether that would be interesting for the players to interact with in their character, and also to react with to NPCs


I'll start off by saying that you don't bring anything to the table that makes the game uncomfortable or not fun for the players. And try not to disallow character concepts in the name of preserving historical "accuracy." You will often be surprised at just how much certain marginalized people were able to accomplish despite having the deck stacked against them.

I don't run a lot of historical games (Deadlands is not a historical game), but the one I do run most frequently would be Call of Cthulhu set in the United States during the 1920s and 1930s. And in case you're unware, this era is widely considered the nadir of race relations in the US. I wouldn't feel comfortable running a campaign set during the era where I completely ignored the rampant racism, sexism, homophobia, etc., etc. But at the same time I wouldn't have player characters constantly having to deal with those kinds of issues every day.

I ran a Trail of Cthulhu game set in New York during the 1930s. As part of their investigation, the PCs tracked down the person who contacted the police about a missing women he found on the grounds of the construction job he was working. This worker was a black man, and during the course of their interview they asked him why he fled the scene before authorities arrived. He answered, "I'm from Georgia originally. And where I'm from, a Negro found in the vicinity of a nude white woman is not long for this world." I liked this scene because it established a few things: It made it clear to the PCs that the 1930s were not the same as 2016. And that this construction worker was a good man willing to risk his own well being to help a stranger in distress (he fled the scene but he made sure the missing women got the help she needed first).

There are some things I won't do. I typically won't use racial slurs, in part, because it makes me uncomfortable and I'm sure nobody else at the table wants to hear them. It may be realistic, but it most decidedly would not be fun for anyone of us. I might have the PCs run up against someone who is racist or sexist, but not all the time and I won't allow it to get in the way of their character participating in the game.


Its kinda impossible to run a historic (and not just history inspired) game and apply modern values to it. Can't have a campaign in ancient Rome without slavery.
Sure, the PCs can all be oddball abolitionist in an era where there was hardly any support for that, but in the end that becomes the central plot point no matter what you planned because the PCs simply stick out.

Like with any other campaign I expect some buy-in from the players, and for historic games that includes historic morality.


Its kinda impossible to run a historic (and not just history inspired) game and apply modern values to it. Can't have a campaign in ancient Rome without slavery.
Hell, you could have a character talk about how great it is being a free man, the lengths to which he would go to remain free, while owning, or at least the state owning, slaves. Congratulations, you're a Spartan. People are interesting.

Its kinda impossible to run a historic (and not just history inspired) game and apply modern values to it. Can't have a campaign in ancient Rome without slavery.
Sure, the PCs can all be oddball abolitionist in an era where there was hardly any support for that, but in the end that becomes the central plot point no matter what you planned because the PCs simply stick out.

Like with any other campaign I expect some buy-in from the players, and for historic games that includes historic morality.
I think it's valid for players to talk about modern values.

How much the characters apply those values in game? Your groups' mileage will vary depending on what you all agree to.

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