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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

gamerprinter

Adventurer
I published a Japanese Horror setting, based on feudal Japan, though it wasn't really Japan - rather the Kaidan setting of Japanese Horror (PFRPG), but I designed to be like real Japan, in that feudal Japan was a police state, a social caste system was in place (and is less mutable in the setting, than in reality), movement from province to province was heavily controlled, very few people have actual money, and everybody is taxed 60% or higher. Though in reality, Japan was a male dominated society, Kaidan didn't emphasize that so much, though there are a lot of ghosts of abused women. Still the setting does utilize the fact that outsiders are considered comparable to the lowest social caste - Kaidan isn't a very welcoming society. I designed it, and I ran games using it, I never actually played in it.

I don't think I've ever played a game where somebody's character was actively trying to be racist, and that's in 44 years of gaming. I'm not saying that someone's actions could or couldn't be viewed as prejudicial, but openly racist - I've never witnessed that.
 

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pemerton

Legend
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?
In this reply, I'm glossing "anything" as closer to "certain salient elements".

I think there are two main answers: people like the colour (be that togas and chariots, or longships and axes, or whatever else); and people like the verisimilitude.
 

smetzger

Explorer
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?

You get something like the Xena and Hercules TV series.
Easy way to make your own setting and easy for players to understand it.
Maps, weather, moon cycles, calendar, food, architecture, and tech level all baked in and you don't have to invent them whole cloth or read a bunch of FR or Greyhawk to understand it.
 

Galandris

Foggy Bottom Campaign Setting Fan
I interpreted the thread title to refer primarily to non-fantasy settings.
Indeed. I wouldn't pitch a game with magic and monsters as an "historical game" anymore than I would pitch a Harry Potter campaign as "you'll play students in a 1990 UK boarding school".
 

Galandris

Foggy Bottom Campaign Setting Fan
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.
I remarked on the striking fact that 18 out of 19 children in a family tree reached the age of 15 in a world without healing magic. The GM made a Jedi Mind Trick gesture we do to invoke Suspension of Disbelief.

I agree that Rome without slaves would be jarring. Spartacus the Union leader raising an army of... workers dissatisfied with their better dental coverage benefits?
 
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Argyle King

Legend
In this reply, I'm glossing "anything" as closer to "certain salient elements".

I think there are two main answers: people like the colour (be that togas and chariots, or longships and axes, or whatever else); and people like the verisimilitude.

You get something like the Xena and Hercules TV series.
Easy way to make your own setting and easy for players to understand it.
Maps, weather, moon cycles, calendar, food, architecture, and tech level all baked in and you don't have to invent them whole cloth or read a bunch of FR or Greyhawk to understand it.


Fair points.

When I originally started participating in the thread, I had misunderstood the title to mean something leaning more toward the historical and not as much toward the fictional.

As the thread grows, I'm curious where something like Banestorm would fit into this discussion.

It's a fantasy setting but heavily influenced by things from our actual history.
 

Galandris

Foggy Bottom Campaign Setting Fan
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.

If you believe Poseidon is controlling the sea, that's a historical setting.

If maybe, perhaps, Poseidon's priest blessing is useful to your ship (at most x-files) it's a fantasy setting with historical trapping. It could count as historical as long as the supernatural is reasonably low-key (and by this I mean extremely).

If you can play a priest of Poseidon and call a storm, it's Theros.
 
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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?"

There isn't much benefit. You start ripping out the things that made that period what it was, you end up with very little.

Say you're running a CoC campaign in 1931 Chicago, but you decide to drop the Great Depression and Prohibition. What you end up with is a setting whose only real tie to the era is the city map.

It is the backdrop that makes a setting what it is, particularly in historical settings. Sure, a handful of investigators are not going to be dealing with the economic issues of the Depression, or have any impact upon the throes of Prohibition, but both events will have effects that impact the PCs in their day-to-day operations.
 

MGibster

Legend
I remarked on the striking fact that 18 out of 19 children in a family tree reached the age of 15 in a world without healing magic. The GM made a Jedi Mind Trick gesture we do to invoke Suspension of Disbelief.
I know John Adams considered him and Abigail to be very fortunate that all of their children survived childhood and this was in the latter half of the 1700s. I like to throw out nice little details like that in my games. Not enough to overwhelm the players, but just enough so they know they're not in 2021. In Call of Cthulhu, I remind players that most people still don't have telephones and most people that do don't have private lines. Sometimes it's fun to introduce something unexpected, like electricity in the wild west, because they actually had electricity in the late 19th century.
 


J.Quondam

CR 1/8
There isn't much benefit. You start ripping out the things that made that period what it was, you end up with very little.

Say you're running a CoC campaign in 1931 Chicago, but you decide to drop the Great Depression and Prohibition. What you end up with is a setting whose only real tie to the era is the city map.

It is the backdrop that makes a setting what it is, particularly in historical settings. Sure, a handful of investigators are not going to be dealing with the economic issues of the Depression, or have any impact upon the throes of Prohibition, but both events will have effects that impact the PCs in their day-to-day operations.
Sure, I can't argue that. Removing the Depression and Prohibition from a 1930s CoC game fundamentally changes the atmosphere and nature of the conflicts available. No speakeasies or tommyguns or Packards or breadlines.

But obviously there's a wide spectrum of other aspects of the era that arguably can be dropped without impacting a game setting. What if we drop the racism? "Interesting, complicated social interactions" are well and good, but there are plenty of other pits in the human soul to mine for conflict. What 1930s scenarios need racism to work, rather than deriving just from conflicts of corruption, gang violence, or impoverishment of the times? I mean, I can think of some (Lovecraft certainly could!), but why would I run or play that, in either a fantasy game or in a straight historical setting?

Unless the purpose of game is to educate or confront,* it just seems like these exclusionary sorts of issues end up as mostly ignored background material, dice penalties, and/or an occasional dubiously "realistic" RP encounter. And if that's the case, why bother?



* e.g., I understand that the Harlem Unbound campaign setting for CoC explicitly aims to subvert Lovecraft's racism in the genre.
 

MGibster

Legend
What 1930s scenarios need racism to work, rather than deriving just from conflicts of corruption, gang violence, or impoverishment of the times? I mean, I can think of some (Lovecraft certainly could!), but why would I run or play that, in either a fantasy game or in a straight historical setting?
When I run a Call of Cthlhu campaign, I like to have the cultist motivated by the same things that motivates people in the real world and they turn to the Mythos to achieve those goals. So I avoid cults trying to end the world or summoning creatures just for the sake of summoning creatures. I've been working on and off on a 1920s campaign set in Providence, Rhode Island where the Investigators would be members of or individuals connected to the mob. One of the central conflicts in this campaign will be between the Mustache Petes and the Young Turks. In real life, the Mustache Petes were older Sicilian members of the mafia who wanted to stick to the old ways, refusing to work with Jews, the Irish, or other ethnic gangs as well as avoid peddling drugs. The Young Turks (folks like Lucky Luciano), were those who thought it was crazy to leave millions of dollars on the table when everyone could make mad money by working together. By 1931, the Young Turks killed many of the Mustache Petes and the modern mob as we know it, or at least something resembling the modern mob, was formed.

I really couldn't set up that campaign without the bigotry of the Mustache Petes. Oh, I suppose I could change some of the motivations for the Mustache Petes if I really wanted to. But I don't want to. I think it works as it stands.
 

What if we drop the racism? "Interesting, complicated social interactions" are well and good, but there are plenty of other pits in the human soul to mine for conflict.
You could, although that was a huge part of 1930s Chicago, the national headquarters of the KKK at the time.

It would also rob the GM of a variety of very useful situations. Say it is known that there was a black witness to an incident: how are white investigators going to get cooperation? Perhaps an influential member of the black community offers to help in return for a quid pro favor? Say, the investigation of an entirely unrelated murder that CPD is ignoring?

Do the PCs have to be racist? Of course not, and in the above situation, are quite the opposite. A good GM doesn't throw away rich sources of setting flavor and plot hooks. A good relationship (hard-earned) with the black community could give the PCs access to the gossip network of household staff and cleaners, an extremely valuable source of clues and intelligence. Said relationship could draw the suspicion and ire of the Klan down on the PCs: still more incidents to play out. Establishing positive relationships with NPCs inevitably draws the PCs into the NPC's struggles, which adds still more plot hooks that come naturally and make the setting feel alive. Just as importantly, it puts the origin of the PCs' trials and tribulations in their own decisions, which gives the campaign a very personal feel.

Most RPG campaigns revolve around conflict and crisis resolution. So the last thing a GM would want to do is to deliberately reduce the conflicts and crises inherent in a setting.
 

???

Is somebody advocating for that?
Umbran seems to be advocating for that.
Indeed. I wouldn't pitch a game with magic and monsters as an "historical game" anymore than I would pitch a Harry Potter campaign as "you'll play students in a 1990 UK boarding school".
There are large portions of what is labeled history that are known only from transmitted tales that include monsters, magic, and even divine interventions... See also the Norse before the 12th C, the Cornish, Welsh, and Breton cultures before Rome, Wales and Breton Cymry in the 4th to 7th centuries, portions of Greek and Roman histories...

St Patrick/Padraig is a documented historical figure... but the histories include him chasing the snakes out of Ireland. And that before him there were snakes in Ireland. The evidence says that the reptile snakes were out thousands of years before Padraig was born.

Similar issues can be found in many texts that were (and often still are) used for historical takes on the places... but Historians generally just ignore the fantastic elements.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
You get something like the Xena and Hercules TV series.
Which is about the level of historical (in)accuracy I'm fine with.

I'm not at the game for a history lesson, I'm there to have fun; and over-the-top pop-culture versions of history work great for this! :)

The ten-word summary for my own campaign goes something like: "Mr. Tolkein, may I introduce you to Xena, Warrior Princess."
 

Indeed. I wouldn't pitch a game with magic and monsters as an "historical game" anymore than I would pitch a Harry Potter campaign as "you'll play students in a 1990 UK boarding school".

Speaking as a middle class American, I personally found the UK boarding school angle to be the most alien and bizarre part of that series

Fhe magic is pretty standard fantasy fare, but I don't really have a refrence for boarding schools.
 
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Galandris

Foggy Bottom Campaign Setting Fan
Fair points.

When I originally started participating in the thread, I had misunderstood the title to mean something leaning more toward the historical and not as much toward the fictional.

As the thread grows, I'm curious where something like Banestorm would fit into this discussion.

It's a fantasy setting but heavily influenced by things from our actual history.

From what I read, Banestorm is a world where magical storms pick up whole area from other worlds and deposit them in the game world. So you could have Waterdeep deposited next to historical Rome. I wouldn't count the setting as historical, though I find the premise quite interesting in terms of conflicts that would arise. I'd more interested to play into the period around the banestorm that centuries later.

(TBH, historical Rome would certainly starve to death quickly and be a quite depressing setting to play in, though maybe actually securing food was the goal of the campaign... mmm... and at the same time the roman priests would discover that their ritual suddenly actually do something. Heavily fantasy but interesting nonetheless).
 

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