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(+) 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%

  • Total voters
    73

ardoughter

Hero
Supporter
Ya know! I know enough history to be dangerous but I am not sure that I know enough history to survive a social encounter with a Spanish Hidalgo in command of a Tercio in 1635 or his German or Swedish counterpart. Nor am I sure I remember enough of my catechism to avoid being labelled a heretic by either Catholics or Protestants, of the period.
Most people I have ever gamed with do not have enough social history to pull off any kind of deep historical accuracy in any period more than 100 years back (including myself)
So enforcing social norms of the past is not something I am going to do.

Not saying anything against those that do.
 

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Lanefan

Victoria Rules
"Expect the players to ..." is stronger than I'd put it, in that I'll not enforce anything if they decide to play their PCs against type.

The background and narrative, however, are going to reflect the setting, even if it's only a pop-culture version; and non-Human species are going to have their own ways of doing things. So yeah, if you're in my faux-Roman or faux-Athenian lands where slavery is an accepted part of life then if you-as-PC want to fight slavery at the cultural level it'll be a serious uphill battle. Also in the faux-Roman lands: if you're non-Human and not either a slave (common), a diplomat (rare), or specifically under a citizen's protection (rare) then at best you won't be there for long. The narrative and setting write-ups reflect this; and if you insist on (for example) taking a non-Human PC into the Roman lands after being well-warned in the fiction that it's a bad idea then so be it.

Not every realm is like this, of course: for example the faux-Norse, the faux-Gauls, the faux-Normans, and most Hobbit lands will take in pretty much anyone of any kindred species provided the newcomers are a) peaceful-ish and b) of decent intentions.
 

Eltab

Lord of the Hidden Layer
Historical societies will have their non-modern systems, but the DM is not required to rub the players' noses in it. Yes it is there if the players ask - and they can decide to 'be the light' or try to oppose the darkness - but for the NPCs that is their normal and unremarkable.

If the players show interest in changing the sociology, you can always introduce an NPC influenced by a historical figure who was thinking along the same lines. Ex: Patricius of Brittania (better known to history as St. Patrick) during the Fall of the Roman Empire era.
 

Teo Twawki

Coffee ruminator
:rolleyes:

You wouldn't happen to be a football / soccer player, would you?
Not at all. But many of the football rivalries of my former nation are still steeped in the insular myopic ideology that caused the violence. But there are just as many cross-ethnic friendships and bonds.

I was referring to my experience with gamers of color in the USA. And of special note is the context of Call of Cthulhu, Lovecraft's staggering racism, and the historical racism of the USA. There's plenty of blogs, podcasts, and YouTube videos from communities of color expressing the exact same thing I did. If it bothers you so much, take it up with them.
Spin-doctor kind of way of squirming out of what you actually said to what you claim to have meant. And telling me to take up with others what you said. Then delete it as I typed this response. As if you knew that wasn't a valid argument. I'll pass on the "staggering" comment as the racism expressed in fiction and correspondence is miniscule compared to the lynching, rape, murder, and world war spawned by more overtly expressed racism of the time. But that's another story.

I sit at our regular game table with at least two "persons of color" in the US--myself being a third as I've lived a dozen places in the States for 20+ years and am often taken to be of various ethnicities which I am not; is there need to clarify gender and religious diversity as well? There's a trans/Mormon among us!--who both understand firsthand the historical turpitude of racism in the US. One of these two is a self-described "res-born Indian" (does that term bother you? it doesn't him). His family has an oral history that journeys back to a generational grandmother who sat with Meriwether Lewis when treaties were forged between their nations. Lot of good that did. His go-to CoC character is a white female federal agent who, despite the gender biases she would have faced to get where she is occupationally, still internally battles with the racism and phobias she--the character--grew up being taught. It provides many rich role-playing opportunities that usually impart "real-life" learning moments. I also cross-gender and -nationality with most characters, often playing a former US military guy who, contrary to my own life-experience, enjoys shooting people first and asking questions later. We don't feel there would be much to role-playing if we only played characters resembling ourselves and our own ethnic and ideological backgrounds.

It doesn't bother me at all what you said, it's the smug certainty of how and why you said it. And that is compounded by the privileged rationalization that you claim to know what's best for others without understanding a damn thing first-hand about other experiences. If you feel playing historical authenticity is terrible--that's fine for you. Doing so doesn't mean it's a terrible choice for others to make. Voicing that you know better than them makes you exactly the same as those who categorically pre-judge others for a variety of reasons.

Just because blogs and podcasts from YouTube communities claim something, doesn't make it true. How many of them have stepped away from their computers and cultural judgements to experience something more of the world first-hand? Some, most likely, but far more sit where they are and assume that alone is valid qualification to speak of things beyond their knowledge and experience. 71 million people can claim the same falsehood is truth but that doesn't make their indignation factual real. What it does do is feed false ideology into furthering own self-righteousness. And so forth and so on.

That sucks. I'm glad you survived.
Understatement, indeed. You have no idea what it takes to live through such atrocity. And you shouldn't. No one should be forced to make the kind of decisions it takes to survive a slaughter conducted by people who are so self-certain of their ideas they'd act in such a manner.
One side effect of surviving such a thing is it makes seeing judgement cast from comfortable places all too evident. The bravery of being out of range.

And it makes playing a game or reading/writing fiction about it quite enlightening, cathartic, educational, and quite naughty word fun.
Fiction and games are a relatively space position from which to examine matters and events and ideas that would otherwise be dangerous to get near. But from your perspective--by your own words--for others to do so is a terrible idea.

It may be a terrible for you at your game table. It isn't a terrible idea for many others.
 

Some years ago I was running a short lived Pulp Action adventure game. It started in French Tunisia in 1930. My wife, who is rather well educated in matters of colonialism, played a character who was the daughter of a a French colonial administrator and a Tunisia independence activist/freedom fighter. (We assume the parents met when they were young and passionate and they later split as the political differences became irreconcilable.)

My wife was really only interested in having long discussions between her character and their parents about the wrongs of colonialism. She didn't really sit in on the main sessions and we did one on one sessions where we discussed the "merits" of the colonial occupation of Tunisia. I'm there trying to play a dedicated, well intentioned pro-colonialist on one hand and a Tunisian freedom fighter on the other and trying to keep up with my wife's much better educated arguments. Was not a fun.
 

One thing I always keep in mind is that PCs are most likely extraordinary people that buck the trends of the time.

For example there were female samurai in some clans (called Onna-Bugeisha, one was even an empress), there were groups of people that hated slavery even while it was going on, etc.

So if I was running a historical game, then past values would be present at least as a surface level, but there is no reason the PCs or individual NPCs they cross would have to hold those values.
 

pemerton

Legend
Generally most people including most GMs don't have a good grasp of the values of a particular historical era, certainly not one prior to living memory.
I'd be honestly curious to see some real-play examples of truly historically accurate play. Do gamers who hew closely to the attitudes of the time in a historical campaign really do so?
I feel that @S'mon's comment is accurate.

The late Australian historian Inga Clendinnen wrote a good essay about the relationship between history (the discipline) and historical fiction. The essay itself is paywalled, but the letters are not. From one of them:

When I was about two-thirds through my teaching career, I convinced myself that most undergraduates, when they start learning history, don’t really believe in the distinct reality of the past. Without concentrated effort and without trained or self-trained imagination, it is often too hard to comprehend the existence of human beings through long periods of time different from our own. A proper intellectual grasp of remoteness and of distance, whether of time or space, is difficult enough in itself. It is something which began to be attempted by the mass of educated people in the nineteenth century. Taking on board the lived experience of human beings fundamentally like – but also fundamentally unlike – oneself in such faraway circumstances is even harder. The task of teaching and of writing history is to persuade students and readers that the past is equally real with the present. . . .

Clendinnen is an historian of unusual ability, and her essay is a crucial reminder of what the discipline at its best stands for. The past, as she says, is a very strange place. Understanding it in anything like a satisfactory way calls not only for prodigious quantities of accurate information. It also depends on sustained and rigorous imaginative effort. It requires a difficult balance between sympathy and detachment, and, on top of that (as Clendinnen makes beautifully clear), an understanding that there are some aspects of the human experience which it is impossible to penetrate. . . .

The strangeness and self-sufficiency of the past is nowhere more obvious than in the conversations its inhabitants had with each other, free of any sense that their remote descendants might be listening in. Similarly, the intricate difficulty of writing well about the past is nowhere more painful than when we try to decode what we hear, especially when there are two or more voices in play.​

Another describes what it means

to do history: to constantly reconcile judging the past from our own present values and empathising with people from another age; to understand how historical interpretations change over time; and to consider different points of view.​

RPGing is fiction, and often tropish fiction at that. At it's best it can involve imaginative projection into the circumstances of another. But I don't think it normally has the disciplined attention to "prodigious quantities of accurate information" and the disciplined "balance between sympathy and detachment", the reconciliation of "judging . . . from our own present values [with] empathising with people from another age" that would enable it to generate genuine understanding of the past.
 

Galandris

Foggy Bottom Campaign Setting Fan
I feel that @S'mon's comment is accurate.

The late Australian historian Inga Clendinnen wrote a good essay about the relationship between history (the discipline) and historical fiction. The essay itself is paywalled, but the letters are not. From one of them:

When I was about two-thirds through my teaching career, I convinced myself that most undergraduates, when they start learning history, don’t really believe in the distinct reality of the past. Without concentrated effort and without trained or self-trained imagination, it is often too hard to comprehend the existence of human beings through long periods of time different from our own. A proper intellectual grasp of remoteness and of distance, whether of time or space, is difficult enough in itself. It is something which began to be attempted by the mass of educated people in the nineteenth century. Taking on board the lived experience of human beings fundamentally like – but also fundamentally unlike – oneself in such faraway circumstances is even harder. The task of teaching and of writing history is to persuade students and readers that the past is equally real with the present. . . .​
Clendinnen is an historian of unusual ability, and her essay is a crucial reminder of what the discipline at its best stands for. The past, as she says, is a very strange place. Understanding it in anything like a satisfactory way calls not only for prodigious quantities of accurate information. It also depends on sustained and rigorous imaginative effort. It requires a difficult balance between sympathy and detachment, and, on top of that (as Clendinnen makes beautifully clear), an understanding that there are some aspects of the human experience which it is impossible to penetrate. . . .​
The strangeness and self-sufficiency of the past is nowhere more obvious than in the conversations its inhabitants had with each other, free of any sense that their remote descendants might be listening in. Similarly, the intricate difficulty of writing well about the past is nowhere more painful than when we try to decode what we hear, especially when there are two or more voices in play.​

Another describes what it means

to do history: to constantly reconcile judging the past from our own present values and empathising with people from another age; to understand how historical interpretations change over time; and to consider different points of view.​

RPGing is fiction, and often tropish fiction at that. At it's best it can involve imaginative projection into the circumstances of another. But I don't think it normally has the disciplined attention to "prodigious quantities of accurate information" and the disciplined "balance between sympathy and detachment", the reconciliation of "judging . . . from our own present values [with] empathising with people from another age" that would enable it to generate genuine understanding of the past.
While I sgree it won't come from RPGs but is instead a prerequisite to, I also feel the same difficulties would rise when doing fantasy gaming. I doubt a Waterdeep cleric would be "closer" than an Edo samurai in his worldview.
 

pemerton

Legend
While I sgree it won't come from RPGs but is instead a prerequisite to, I also feel the same difficulties would rise when doing fantasy gaming. I doubt a Waterdeep cleric would be "closer" than an Edo samurai in his worldview.
Absolutely! Imagined fictional worlds only have plausibility, in my view, when they are not really imaginary at all - I'm thinking here, despite all their difference, of REH and JRRT.

Genuinely fantastic fantasy worlds - eg Earthsea, or the Dying Earth - are just framing devices (Earthsea) or expository ones (Dying Earth). The idea that we could work out what is genuine for (say) a Waterdeep cleric is (in my view) total nonsense!
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
I understand why some folks would not want those ugly and systemic issues to come up in a game that is ostensibly "fun," but fun is a nebulous and expansive and idiosyncratic thing. For me, I'd have a hard time engaging in a setting (historical or not - but esp. the former) that did not have some element of the range of things from crappy to tragic that I know the world to have.

If I am playing a WW2-era and themed game, for example, I'd expect that anti-Semitism and toxic eugenics would have some role in the setting because of when and where it takes place. That said, I would also expect that neither I or the other players would play Nazis or collaborators - however, I can also imagine playing a spy in that setting that has to tolerate awful things to not blow their cover and hopefully achieve some greater good. I can also understand why someone would not want to play that but sometimes I also feel that playing with that erasure is a greater problem.

For example, one of my biggest criticisms of Captain America: The First Avenger which spends at least half the movie in a WW2 army setting (before transforming into a kind of retro sci-fi thing) without once mentioning that the US Army was segregated at the time! Later, when they rescue captives, Cap puts his Howling Commandos together and Gabe Jones who is black is part of the team, no one says anything and I find that erasure kinda offensive. The movie misses its chance to have someone object to Gabe, and then Captain America voices his explicit support for the "Double V" campaign (Victory in Europe and Victory at home for Black Americans getting equality), thus both giving a nod to "historical accuracy" while making Cap actually heroic in his positions compared to the time.

When I run a game in such a setting, I also remind players that the "of their time" claim about old racists or sexists or whatever is a fallacious excuse, since plenty of people in those times knew those things were wrong - including the very people who were the targets of those policies and attitudes - even if the common standard attitude is gross to us now. So not only should you not feel the need to be a bigot to be "accurate," but you should explicitly not be and can still be accurate.
 
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S'mon

Legend
I remember liking the Captain America film but thinking at the time that the MCU clearly was not very close to the real world, even in 1941. It certainly looked like MCU 1940s USA had integrated military units. It was clearly an idealised comic book version of real world USA.
 



dragoner

Dying in Chargen
It is all just fantasy, and no scorecard; history is just a theme, and looked at through a lens of who is saying what, trying to import their own meaning to it.
 
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el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Marvel/Disney is selling fantasy, not history.

And I think selling a fantasy version of a historical period that erases its context while also wanting to claim its more heroic values is dangerous. I have similar feelings about how they swapped out Nazis for Hydra ("They are so bad even Nazis hate them!") as to have plausible deniability through disassociating Hydra merchandise they want to sell from its fascist roots. I feel some kind of way about Star Wars fans who are really into the Empire.
 

Argyle King

Legend
I find it interesting that so many people look back at history and automatically assume they would be the "hero" in those situations.

I mean, yeah... most people do want to see themselves as good. But I'm not sure that the actual reality is that most of us would be when placed in situations which we now have the luxury of looking back upon from the distance of time.
 

Haiku Elvis

Explorer
And I think selling a fantasy version of a historical period that erases its context while also wanting to claim its more heroic values is dangerous. I have similar feelings about how they swapped out Nazis for Hydra ("They are so bad even Nazis hate them!") as to have plausible deniability through disassociating Hydra merchandise they want to sell from its fascist roots. I feel some kind of way about Star Wars fans who are really into the Empire.
While I'm not against sanitized versions of history for the purpose of fun and frolicks in; to let you just enjoy playing a game with the fun bits. I do agree with you it can whitewash things that shouldn't be whitewashed.
It's a bit like when I'm checking movie ratings for my 10 year old and all the ones with blood in have a higher rating that he's not supposed to see and those that have no blood and suffering are supposed to be fine for him to watch.
But I don't think having his first lesson of (cinematic) violence being it's all clean and fun with no messy consequences is really the right lesson.
Sometimes you need to learn things are painful and bad.
 

Haiku Elvis

Explorer
And I think selling a fantasy version of a historical period that erases its context while also wanting to claim its more heroic values is dangerous. I have similar feelings about how they swapped out Nazis for Hydra ("They are so bad even Nazis hate them!") as to have plausible deniability through disassociating Hydra merchandise they want to sell from its fascist roots. I feel some kind of way about Star Wars fans who are really into the Empire.
Actually I just remembered a (possibly) more pertinent example.
Sparta was a superstitious, slave state run by brutal racial supremacists but because they came up with a few good quips and someone made them look cool in a movie we now have groups of guys on stag dos dressing up as Spartans on pub crawls.
It would be like in the future people going for a night out in full SS regalia saying "well it was a long time ago and they did know how to design a cool trenchcoat!"
 

Argyle King

Legend
Actually I just remembered a (possibly) more pertinent example.
Sparta was a superstitious, slave state run by brutal racial supremacists but because they came up with a few good quips and someone made them look cool in a movie we now have groups of guys on stag dos dressing up as Spartans on pub crawls.
It would be like in the future people going for a night out in full SS regalia saying "well it was a long time ago and they did know how to design a cool trenchcoat!"

Arguably, we kinda do that already.

More than a few companies which are seen as high-fashion today had deep ties with Nazi Germany.

Similarly, Subaru wasn't making compact cars for soccer moms at the time.
 

MGibster

Legend
While I sgree it won't come from RPGs but is instead a prerequisite to, I also feel the same difficulties would rise when doing fantasy gaming. I doubt a Waterdeep cleric would be "closer" than an Edo samurai in his worldview.
D&D has always struck me as having very modern liberal values including free speech, freedom of religion, and a high degree of individuality. i.e. The values many Americans say they have directly translates into playing good characters in most D&D settings.

For example, one of my biggest criticisms of Captain America: The First Avenger which spends at least half the movie in a WW2 army setting (before transforming into a kind of retro sci-fi thing) without once mentioning that the US Army was segregated at the time! Later, when they rescue captives, Cap puts his Howling Commandos together and Gabe Jones who is black is part of the team, no one says anything and I find that erasure kinda offensive.
The closest example I can think of is one scene where someone questions the Japanese-American's presence. I think they ask him where he's from (as if he didn't belong with them) and he answers that he's from somewhere in California. But, yeah, I was a bit disappointed that we didn't stick with the Nazis as the bad guys and it appeared as though the US Army was not segregated in this time line.

When I run a game in such a setting, I also remind players that the "of their time" claim about old racists or sexists or whatever is a fallacious excuse, since plenty of people in those times knew those things were wrong - including the very people who were the targets of those policies and attitudes - even if the common standard attitude is gross to us now. So not only should you not feel the need to be a bigot to be "accurate," but you should explicitly not be and can still be accurate.
Oh, yeah. Even in the 19th century here in the United States, we had some "crazy" religious people who were not only against slavery but actually believed all men were equal before God. And in my experience, most players have no desire to actually play characters who are strongly bigoted. They're not going to play characters who complain about black children going to the same school as their children or moving into the neighborhood.

Sparta was a superstitious, slave state run by brutal racial supremacists but because they came up with a few good quips and someone made them look cool in a movie we now have groups of guys on stag dos dressing up as Spartans on pub crawls.
It would be like in the future people going for a night out in full SS regalia saying "well it was a long time ago and they did know how to design a cool trenchcoat!"
That's probably because none of us identify as Helots. Let's face it, there are some fairly monstrous groups/people who get off lightly because so much time has passed that a lot of us just don't care. Look at how much pirates are romanticized these days despite largely being made up of murderers, rapist, and thieves.
 

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