(+) 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%

Eltab

Lord of the Hidden Layer
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.
Black Death engulfs Medieval Europe, the PCs are in its path, and that section of the 1e DMG gets some actual use.

(That kind of campaign ceased being interesting to me ... just under two years ago now. We have to IRL a distorted variant.)
 

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pemerton

Legend
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.
What is the reason for using a historical setting?

Very few historical settings sourcebooks that I have read engage in any sophisticated fashion with the social and economic dynamics of the period they are concerned with. I can't imagine that a sourcebook for ancient Rome would really explain why Rome became a slave society of the sort that it did. So the reason for using that setting typically won't be to try and model the social processes that produce mass slavery.

The following counterfactual is probably true, though also a bit vacuous: Rome would have been different from how it was had it not been a slave society. True, because being a slave society is a key feature of the actual social and economic reality of Rome; a bit vacuous, because if we think away such core elements of the society, in what sense are we really thinking about ancient Rome at all?

But who is qualified to assess in what way Rome would have been different? Only a handful of professional historians, and they don't all agree. (As I said, I like Finley's book. But presumably the targets of his criticism don't like it as much as I do!)

If someone wants to play an "ancient Roman" RPG, and what they're really interested in is the politics between Emperors and generals, or whether an infantry-based empire can resist the incursions of horse-mounted nomads, then I don't think backgrounding the issue of slavery is going to distort their game, or render it "pointless", in any obvious fashion.
 

MGibster

Legend
Don't forget the oh so succulent "arguing historical minutiae" that can derail whole sessions, isn't that great?
This is also a problem in settings with tons of fans and a lot of material. Star Wars, Star Trek, Warhammer 40k, BattleTech, etc., etc. I tend to roll with it and just let the GM take us wherever we need to go.
 

dragoner

solisrpg.com
This is also a problem in settings with tons of fans and a lot of material. Star Wars, Star Trek, Warhammer 40k, BattleTech, etc., etc. I tend to roll with it and just let the GM take us wherever we need to go.
Yes, it is, and I have had that happen also, people wanting to argue a bit of lore, usually in a rules lawyer-ish fashion to get away with something. As a player I'll let it slide as well, though as a GM, or watching other players, it is also hot dogging, trying to grab the limelight, and be some center of attention, which is another way to derail the game.
 

MGibster

Legend
Very few historical settings sourcebooks that I have read engage in any sophisticated fashion with the social and economic dynamics of the period they are concerned with. I can't imagine that a sourcebook for ancient Rome would really explain why Rome became a slave society of the sort that it did. So the reason for using that setting typically won't be to try and model the social processes that produce mass slavery.
I'm not sure many role playing games engage anything in a sophisticated fashion. That never stopped me from dealing with serious subjects from time to time though.

If someone wants to play an "ancient Roman" RPG, and what they're really interested in is the politics between Emperors and generals, or whether an infantry-based empire can resist the incursions of horse-mounted nomads, then I don't think backgrounding the issue of slavery is going to distort their game, or render it "pointless", in any obvious fashion.
You use the word backgrounding here but you're replying to someone who specifically said:
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.
I would say that removing is a little different from backgrounding. If I were running a campaign in ancient Rome, slavery would be in the background in that I typically wouldn't focus on it. But if they're at a market, I might mention that they see citizens, foreigners, and slaves. I'd probably have slaves as NPCs they could interact with. I might even have a PC who is a slave as I have a few players who I think would be down with such a thing.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
It is often more likely to produce period behavior when period beliefs are at least potential encounters in setting.

Yeah, well, I was making the point that believing that Poseidon controls the ocean is rather different from there being an actual Poseidon who actually controls the oceans.

But, to take your point - if you are more likely to produce "period behavior", then you want to consider what period behavior you want to encourage in the PCs. That rather loops back to the issues the OP raises.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I would say that removing is a little different from backgrounding. If I were running a campaign in ancient Rome, slavery would be in the background in that I typically wouldn't focus on it.

You have just re-invented "lines and veils".
 

By the way, I'll add that I wouldn't personally mind the inclusion of historically accurate slavery in a Roman-era RPG. But if doing so would lessen the fun for somebody in my group, I'd be just as happy without it.
 

So what? I mean, there's probably going to be all sorts of things in the game they didn't have in the actual history - magic, monsters, and stuff, right? Few are playing games with no fantastical elements. So, the game's going to seriously deviate from history regardless.

True. But making the worlds non-horrible mandates certain additional fantastical or anachronistic elements. Most of the societal horrors and abuses of the past weren't arbitrary, they served some purpose and disappeared when technology made them redundant. If meat is ever phased out of the average person's diet it won't be because of animal rights activists, it'll be because of Impossible Foods. And it's possible that decades or centuries down the line automation and AI will make all labor unnecessary, and I guarantee you that after that day comes people will look back on the 40 hour work week with the same disgust with which we view serfdom.

An ancient people or country that didn't make moral compromises would, in the absence of some magical or technological workaround, be at a significant disadvantage against rivals who were willing to embrace the power of the dark side, and might not even be able to handle their own internal issues.

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?

It'e Call of Cthulhu in this scenario. If you're grappling with a Great Old One you've already lost. Grappling with their cult, however, is a place where considerations such as this could conceivably come up.
 

Argyle King

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.

That's [strictly historical] what I understood the thread title to mean as well.

If some fantasy elements are added, I believe that touches of reality and verisimilitude are still important in a fantasy setting. However, what exactly the setting looks like will highly vary depending upon how much it deviates from the baseline history.

Obviously, if you're using an alternate version of history for a setting, the social norms of that setting needn't be historically accurate.

Personally, I think it would make for a more interesting setting to explore how introduction of an a-historical element might interact with the historical setting.

What's the world like if Carthage defeats Rome? Does "western" culture have more of an African influence rather than a Greco-Roman one? Do the countries of England, France, and Spain still evolve or would other powers emerge to make the process of sailing west to America occur much differently?

What's World War II like if (similar to Hellboy) magic and supernatural elements are introduced?

How do the dynamics of slavery change in a world with multiple sapient species of humanoids? How does that then change the American Civil War?

By all means, each table can -and should- make choices for what game/setting/campaign to play based upon what's comfortable for the group at said table. In no way would I ever expect someone to spend (what should be) their leisure time sitting at table at which they feel uncomfortable, offended, or in some other way morally maligned.

At the same time, I do not see anything inherently wrong in exploring the potential social warts of a setting as a source for adventure rather than ignoring that the warts exist.

Sometimes, even with magic, wizards, and dragons; a few touches of reality can enhance the fantasy experience.
 

Every period of history has horrible things going on, to include our own. If you were running a modern-day gritty campaign in a major city, would you excise all references to homelessness, drug addiction, gang violence, etc?

The tribulations of a historical period and its social flaws are, IMO, useful plot devices and challenges. After all, purely fantasy settings general have the threat of war or actual war, banditry, raiding, piracy, terrorist-like plotting of cults and deranged wizards (or even things like the Ruinous Powers in WH or the Shadow of the Demon Prince), and so forth.
 


pemerton

Legend
Some of the discussion in this thread seems to rest on a premise that the contemporary world is "non-horrible". I think the first step to serious historical RPGing is to put that premise under scrutiny.

Conversely, if people are working with a partial or even mythical version of the contemporary world, what is the objection to doing so in a game set in other eras?
 

Some of the discussion in this thread seems to rest on a premise that the contemporary world is "non-horrible".

Contemporary America anyway, and not counting the [date redacted] incident at the beginning of the year.

And like I said, history will eventually sing a different tune years to decades from now when Impossible Burger style foods replace meat, and then an even more different tune decades to centuries from now when technology makes the need for work obsolete.
 

pemerton

Legend
Contemporary America anyway
Where are most garments purchased in the US manufactured?

In the same way that someone might play a RPG set in the US without addressing that question, so it seems to me that someone might play an Ancient Roman RPG without delving very far into the details of the Roman processes of production (including slavery).
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Every period of history has horrible things going on, to include our own. If you were running a modern-day gritty campaign in a major city, would you excise all references to homelessness, drug addiction, gang violence, etc?

I think this question carries a heavy assumption, based in the word "excise".

Did Ford Motor Company excise all reference to microwave ovens in their pickup truck ads? No, because they never made such reference in the first place! Similarly, if you never happen to mention a drug-addicted person, because no such person was relevant to play, you aren't "excising" them, because they haven't existed in your fiction.

The world is a very, very large place. There is no way that one GM is going to directly mention everything that exists. Even the most floridly speaking GMs will draw at best a minimal sketch of the fullness of a world. Some things will be left out.

So, we are quibbling over which cherry-picking to do.

The tribulations of a historical period and its social flaws are, IMO, useful plot devices and challenges. After all, purely fantasy settings general have the threat of war or actual war, banditry, raiding, piracy, terrorist-like plotting of cults and deranged wizards (or even things like the Ruinous Powers in WH or the Shadow of the Demon Prince), and so forth.

Sure. And maybe you're thinking that we are talking about making worlds sweetness and light. I don't think that's an accurate view. We are, I think, talking about avoiding gratuitous inclusion of such flaws. We are talkign about making what is inluded a considered choice for specific reasons and goals.

If you really want to use an element, make it a theme, a central element of your game's resulting story, that's fine. But if you don't, you have a choice - include it, or not reference it.

Like, you're running a historical game in Rome. You want to include slaves? Okay. And prostitution? Sure, prostitution existed, so, it is there, right?

But are you going to specifically raise the point that much or most prostitution in Ancient Rome wasn't consensual? That, sex-slaves were common, and in some periods women who were found guilty of adultery could be forced into prostitution? Or do you figure your players are going to not want to engage with sex slavery, and not want that particular tidbit shoved in their faces when they joke about their characters going to a brothel in your gritty game? Note that going to brothels was a normal thing, expected behavior, if not done too often. Highly placed Romans* didn't think twice about it.

But will your players actually play that, knowing that every act of going to a brothel in game includes committing rape? Is it really a good thing if they do?

Our tables are not full of detailed historians aware of this. They won't know unless we tell them. So, we have a choice, tell them, or not. If not... well, now we are away from all-or-nothing discussion. We are admitting that there are some lines we won't cross, and we are merely quibbling over where we draw lines, and why.

For those of you who are tempted to say you don't draw lines, let me tell you about some larpers I know, from the "Nordic schools". These folks play by what they call a "two-week rule" - any harm done to another player that heals in two weeks is okay. That's PLAYER, not character. To them, it is okay to give another player a bloody nose, or a black eye, or bash heads against walls, so long as you don't give the a concussion or break the bone. Wounds that don't need stitches are okay, too. Broken furniture is fine. If your characters fight, the players fight and punch each other, and none of it "light contact sparring" stuff. Just don't send anyone to the hospital. All in the name of "verisimilitude", "being real", "gritty", "emotional truth", and all that. Same reasons folks are talking about here.

But, I doubt most of you are saying, "Well, actual injuries are historical, so..." Instead, you draw a line, and aren't having your players actually fight in your game rooms.





*I specify "highly placed Romans" as a bit of a pushback on the "this was the accepted norm of society" fiction. It was the accepted norm of people who made the laws. Slavery was not accepted by the slaves, or you'd not have had Spartacus with an army of 100K people at his back. Forced prostitution was not okay to those who were the prostitutes - only the customers.
 
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J.Quondam

CR 1/8
What's the perceived benefit of playing in a historical setting which doesn't use anything from the chosen time period versus playing in a fantasy/fictional setting?
Wouldn't a better/fairer a better question, "What's the perceived benefit of playing in a historical setting which doesn't use select elements from the chosen time period versus playing in a fantasy/fictional setting?"
 

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