(+) 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%


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MGibster

Legend
I interpreted the thread title to refer primarily to non-fantasy settings.
I have to agree with Umbran here, very few games are played that do not feature fantastical elements such as magic, super science, or something like that. There are a variety of Call of Cthulhu settings including the 1920s, 1890s, 2020s, Rome, the Middle Ages, etc., etc. but while they all have fantastical elements none of them are fantasy settings.

And there's plenty of stuff in ancient worlds we don't bother putting in our games, but that shaped the histories in question - like disease! Smallpox caused such devastation in Imperial Rome that they had to change the laws to adjust for population loss.
Verisimilitude. Most of us don't think about disease so we don't miss it when it's not there. I could certainly have a not-Rome setting without slavery but I don't think I could set a Call of Cthulhu campaign in Rome circa 32 CE and just say there's no such things as slaves. It would take me right out of the setting. We might as well go play D&D at that point.
 

aramis erak

Legend
But how does a group really do this? How do you really drop modern sensibilities, and know you're doing it "authentically"? How does that play out at a table?
It's easy enough to say "Yeah, slavery exists" or "Yeah, people are racist", but then just sort of gloss over it except in special circumstances like when the barkeep says "We don't serve their kind here" or whatever. How does that get truly integrated into PCs' worldviews so it's a part of the game? I mean, beyond the handwavy stuff we already tend to do in a fantasy game?

And if a table is not really doing it "authentically", then what exactly are they doing, and why?

edit for grammar.
Simply put: players decide to actually role play. Either by using reference to mechanics (as in Pendragon with it's trait and passion system), or by doing a bit of study (as in historical Japan as a setting, or Europe in Ars Magica).

For many players, it's as easy as giving them a list of significant role elements for the setting. Players actually interested in historical settings also tend to do some research.

It's no different than trying to play one of the aliens from the Classic Traveller Alien Modules... the key points are elucidated, and the group interpolates from there. It may not be 100% right to the authorial intent, but it is a challenge to do, and some players thrive on that challenge.

Historical RP may not be 100% accurate, but it can create compelling stories that a modern politically corrrect setting doesn't. It can create challenges that force players outside of the modern mindset, and allows them to understand history better.

I'll take an example I used to use in the classroom:
Lay out the tables in the shape of a longship. Students then crowd in. List what they have - their seax, shield, armor, a couple tunics and trousers, an axe or longsword, a blanket and/or cloak, maybe a lantern, maybe a game, maybe some crafting tools. Then ask them to think of spending the next two weeks in this space. Invariably, someone asks about the bathroom... have them figure it out. Most very quickly come to the idea of "hanging the booty over the side!" (D, grade 5)...
Provide the circumstances, and the kids will come up with what are often the correct historical solutions. Questions like cooking, fresh water, sleeping, even problems in the crew, and entertainment.
When they come up with a non-period solution, explain the tech limit and/or social limit, and see if they can work around that...
It's a form of role play, but not a roleplaying game, but it's the same kind of issue. A well read GM and a curious group of players or students, and one can come to understand a lot more of the past.
 

pemerton

Legend
Years ago when watching the movie adaptation of Uberto Ecco's In the Name of the Rose, there's a scene where some monks were debating over whether or not Jesus Christ owned his own robes. To modern ears, even among religious people, this sounds ridiculous.
There's a respectable position in the history of ideas that regards that debate - instigated by the Franciscans - as the origin of modern legal notions of rights.
 

aramis erak

Legend
If you are one of the few who are doing that, playing a strictly historical game with no fantastic elements, my comments may not apply. I'm okay with that.
In most historical periods, the denizens beliefs included the real presence of the supernatural. Not having it present in setting can be just as wrong as adding it.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Verisimilitude. Most of us don't think about disease so we don't miss it when it's not there. I could certainly have a not-Rome setting without slavery but I don't think I could set a Call of Cthulhu campaign in Rome circa 32 CE and just say there's no such things as slaves. It would take me right out of the setting. We might as well go play D&D at that point.

So, you lay the core of it there - most of us don't think about disease.

If the setting element is not going to be a focus of play, then you can probably remove it, and nobody will think about it, because it isn't relevant. If none of the PCs are slaves, or own slaves, then you could play an entire game in Rome simply referring to "servants" without referencing the legal status of those individuals, and most folks probably wouldn't think twice about it.

While grappling with a Great Old One, you should be thoroughly distracted from the legal status of the handmaids of the Senator's wife. If you aren't, maybe there's something else wrong, hey what?
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
Verisimilitude. Most of us don't think about disease so we don't miss it when it's not there. I could certainly have a not-Rome setting without slavery but I don't think I could set a Call of Cthulhu campaign in Rome circa 32 CE and just say there's no such things as slaves. It would take me right out of the setting. We might as well go play D&D at that point.
On the subject of disease, there are definitely time periods and settings that, if I were basing a campaign in them, I'd be including notable disease events. I'm not entirely sure I'd trot out the 1e DMG's disease/parasitic infection checks... but you never know.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
In most historical periods, the denizens beliefs included the real presence of the supernatural. Not having it present in setting can be just as wrong as adding it.

Belief in a thing is not the same as that thing actually being present.

Folks can have superstitions all the want. That's different from actually having a vampire on the Imperial Throne.
 

MGibster

Legend
So the argument, "It would ruin verisimilitude to leave out X" just means "I really want X".
I saw an interview with Larry Hama, who is best known as the primary writer on Marvel's GI Joe line of comics in the 1980s and created the biographical sketches for characters that found their ways into the file cards on the backs of the action figures sold by Hasbro, where he referred to the cartoon series as "morally bankrupt." His problem was that the cartoon series depicted violence where nobody really got hurt. Pilots ejected just before enemy missiles hit their aircraft, instead of firing bullets all firearms shot laser beams, and ultimately nobody really got hurt. Contrast that with the comic book where people died and sometimes important people died. I still remember the death of Kwinn the Eskimo and the funeral Snake Eyes' funeral for his friend in a subsequent issue.

From my perspective, flat out ignoring slavery, sexism, racism, etc., etc. in historical settings is morally bankrupt. One of the reasons Disney's Song of the South isn't shown these days is because it ignores the reality of black Americans in the South (there are other reasons of course). And the time period is a bit ambiguous in regards to whether this was the Antebellum South or Reconstruction era. Like I said earlier in this thread, I do tend to tone down the racism and many other isms when I run a Call of Cthulhu game sent in the 1930s to make sure the game is fun. There's language I just don't use and I don't bludgeon PCs over the head with barriers that making the game not-so-fun. But I can't bring myself to ignore in its entirety the bigotry that existed at the time.
 

Ixal

Adventurer
You totally can. All those slaves are now... low-wage menial workers. Barely earning enough to get by, they cannot put together a stake large enough to change their lot in life. Poof, you're done.
Yes done. You transformed a historic setting into a fantasy one by completely changing the social order, the politics of that time and removed notable characters like Spartacus.
 

MGibster

Legend
Folks can have superstitions all the want. That's different from actually having a vampire on the Imperial Throne.
And this brings up something I'm loathed to do in a historical setting. I don't mind supernatural critters taking advantage of disasters or the evils that men inflict other others, but I don't like making them responsible for the creation of those evils.
 

J.Quondam

CR 1/8
Simply put: players decide to actually role play. Either by using reference to mechanics (as in Pendragon with it's trait and passion system), or by doing a bit of study (as in historical Japan as a setting, or Europe in Ars Magica).

For many players, it's as easy as giving them a list of significant role elements for the setting. Players actually interested in historical settings also tend to do some research.

It's no different than trying to play one of the aliens from the Classic Traveller Alien Modules... the key points are elucidated, and the group interpolates from there. It may not be 100% right to the authorial intent, but it is a challenge to do, and some players thrive on that challenge.

Historical RP may not be 100% accurate, but it can create compelling stories that a modern politically corrrect setting doesn't. It can create challenges that force players outside of the modern mindset, and allows them to understand history better.
I understand that research and really thinking through the ramifications are paramount for a historical setting. But I also notice your example was neither an RPG, nor addresses the sort of distasteful topics that really form the core of this discussion.

My real question is not about curiosities like using the toilet, but rather things that go beyond mere "political incorrectness" like full-on racism, causal genocide, women as property. How does that stuff play out at the table, aside from just saying that "Yeah, that's how it is". Aside from the mechanics that facilitate "roleplay" of such historical social elements, how does it really get integrated into PCs, and what do they really add? It's one thing to role some dice to deal with some random opponent because "us versus them!" But it's quite another to really delve into the headspace of bigotry and "otherism."

I'm genuinely interested in this, because part of me wants to see real value in RPing that in a game context. But for the life of me I can't see how that even looks at a table, much less any other upside that can't be had simply by researching about.

edit: Perhaps a simpler way to ask this is along the lines of what differentiates RP of slavery, etc, in, eg, the Underdark or the Giants; from the RP of slavery, etc, in ancient Rome or antebellum Deep South US?


edit: spelling
 
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pemerton

Legend
In the mid-90s I did a year long unit of Roman Law. The two main things I remember are (i) that one of the students turned up to the exam wearing a toga, and (ii) that the exam was just like a regular law exam except the scenario asked me to advise Cassius (? I don't remember the names anymore) as to his liability for his slave knocking over an amphora in the market place, spilling its contents and having its lid roll along and cause more loss to someone else.

I did my best to apply the law I'd learned, which included the liability of an owner for loss caused by their slave. I didn't spend any time worrying about the injustice of the Roman law of persons.

Around the same time I was GMing a Rolemaster campaign set in Greyhawk. In our game we assumed that Roman-style slavery existed in the Great Kingdom. One of the players had, as backstory for his PC, that he had been born into slavery but had subsequently been able to purchase his freedom. One of that PC's goals was to establish himself, socially, as a prominent member of society. Another was to work towards the abolition of slavery in the Great Kingdom. A different PC was an established member of the upper classes and a former senior military official. My recollection is hazy, but I know that the PC owned an out-of-town villa that was his "base", and I think we took for granted that he had servants who, presumably, were slaves. Many of the PCs in that game would clash from time to time, but I can't remember if those two PCs ever clashed over the particular issue of owning slaves.

For what it's worth, I like Finley's book Ancient Slavery and Modern Ideology.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
And this brings up something I'm loathed to do in a historical setting. I don't mind supernatural critters taking advantage of disasters or the evils that men inflict other others, but I don't like making them responsible for the creation of those evils.

So, Rome had, like, 70 emperors. Pick one that wasn't otherwise noteworthy for the evils of the Empire, and make them the vampire.
 

MGibster

Legend
So, Rome had, like, 70 emperors. Pick one that wasn't otherwise noteworthy for the evils of the Empire, and make them the vampire.
My apologies, I wasn't picking on you or calling out your vampire example in particular. It just reminded me of some rather unfortunate games that put supernatural elements behind the reasons for some heinous behavior in the past (and present in one case).
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Yes done. You transformed a historic setting into a fantasy one by completely changing the social order, the politics of that time and removed notable characters like Spartacus.

You seem to be ignoring the fact that there's still an underclass with no real socio-economic power that can revolt in this scenario. I'm just making them not legal property. Being legal property is not the only reason to revolt, you know.

But even so, I don't really care if I've gotten rid of Spartacus. While it is known he existed, clear historical information about him is hard to come by. The historical accuracy of any depiction in your game is going to be questionable. And we don't want the game to be the story of Spartacus anyway - it should be the story of the PCs, who, I presume, are not all Spartacus.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
My apologies, I wasn't picking on you or calling out your vampire example in particular. It just reminded me of some rather unfortunate games that put supernatural elements behind the reasons for some heinous behavior in the past (and present in one case).

I know some of those. I don't have a problem when some evil of the world is from supernatural elements - I mean, if there were none, then... you should probably leave the supernatural things alone, as they aren't hurting anyone, right?

When seemingly most of the evil in the world is from the supernatural, though, yeah, that's a problem.
 

aramis erak

Legend
Belief in a thing is not the same as that thing actually being present.

Folks can have superstitions all the want. That's different from actually having a vampire on the Imperial Throne.
It is often more likely to produce period behavior when period beliefs are at least potential encounters in setting.
I know some of those. I don't have a problem when some evil of the world is from supernatural elements - I mean, if there were none, then... you should probably leave the supernatural things alone, as they aren't hurting anyone, right?

When seemingly most of the evil in the world is from the supernatural, though, yeah, that's a problem.
Until relatively recently, most of the world blamed almost all evil on the supernatural. One of the side effects of the Reformation was a strong decrease in blaming the Devil for everything wrong within Europe, and putting an emphasis on human accountability.

That's probably the most alien part of historical and quasi-historical settings to the modern mind.
 
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Ixal

Adventurer
You seem to be ignoring the fact that there's still an underclass with no real socio-economic power that can revolt in this scenario. I'm just making them not legal property. Being legal property is not the only reason to revolt, you know.

But even so, I don't really care if I've gotten rid of Spartacus. While it is known he existed, clear historical information about him is hard to come by. The historical accuracy of any depiction in your game is going to be questionable. And we don't want the game to be the story of Spartacus anyway - it should be the story of the PCs, who, I presume, are not all Spartacus.
And you are ignoring that the effects of slavery goes far beyond the ability to revolt. It was a sign and source of wealth and a big drive for all the wars Rome waged.
Removing slavery from any historic setting where it was extensively practised would alter the setting so much that it would defeat the entire purpose of having a historic setting in the first place.
 

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