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HISTORICAL CAMPAIGNS

Thought it might be cool to start a general history RPG thread. How do you approach running a game set in real world history? Any times and places you think are particularly well suited to RPG adventures? Recommended books, primary sources, breakdowns and historical atlases?
 

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pogre

Legend
I have used Savage Worlds for historical campaigns.

I ran a campaign where the players were agents of Vespasian during the time of the 4 emperors.

I was influenced by the historical fiction of Robert Fabri and numerous Roman Imperial Histories.
 

TerraDave

5ever
So my screen name and avatar...

GURPS sourcebooks are very good and are useful even with other RPGs. I have so many of those.

GURPs as a rules systems makes sense, though it is pretty crunchy. Savage Worlds is also good, and would defiantly allow for a more action oriented/pulpy feel.

There is also Call of Cthulhu or World of Darkness if you want to add those elements, and they also have good historical support (though you will need to find things from past editions). CoC is defiantly my favourite RPG set in the "real world".

Or you could come up with a parallel fantasy earth and run Gygaxian D&D in it. Which is of course what I did for many years.
 

MGibster

Legend
One of my favorite games to run is Call of Cthulhu which is traditionally set in the 1920s very often in the United States. I enjoy the era because it's at once so familiar to players but still very different in a lot of was. But here's how I approach running games in historical settings.

  1. Tone down the institutional racism and sexism. It's no fun for the players if their characters can't fully participate in the adventure or they have to listen to derogatory language. I don't fully ignore it in my campaigns, but don't let it get in the way of fun.
  2. History is full of people who buck social norms. Try not to pigeonhole characters into narrow roles as defined by the norms of the time period.
 

I've run many historical campaigns. Just about any time period holds fascinating aspects once researched. One of the more useful tools I have found is to goole 'events in the year...', which will lead to sites which detail the events of any particular year.

I personally don't use GURPs because the information they provide is generic, and very often has been subject to interpretation; they also tend to ignore the more controversial events of a given period. IMO, if you are going to go historical, take advantage of it.

Aside from the annual timelines, Wikipedia is good for a general overview, and will quickly (and for free) will point the GM into scores of interesting situations. History is filled with circumstances that are far beyond what RPG writers will come up with.
 

One of my favorite games to run is Call of Cthulhu which is traditionally set in the 1920s very often in the United States. I enjoy the era because it's at once so familiar to players but still very different in a lot of was. But here's how I approach running games in historical settings.

  1. Tone down the institutional racism and sexism. It's no fun for the players if their characters can't fully participate in the adventure or they have to listen to derogatory language. I don't fully ignore it in my campaigns, but don't let it get in the way of fun.
  2. History is full of people who buck social norms. Try not to pigeonhole characters into narrow roles as defined by the norms of the time period.

To each his own, but this is exactly the opposite of what I recommend.

The biases of a given period make up much of what a period is; to strip it away immediately removes the historical aspect of the setting. More importantly, it eliminates a deep well of roleplaying activity.

For example, I recently ran an occult campaign in Mexico during their civil war. The PCs included a Chinese immigrant and a Native American. That period is very interesting because under the thick layer of civil war were very complex issues involving Mexico's growing Chinese population, the role of Native American groups (a key factor in the conduct of the war itself), the large population of former Negro slaves from the USA and Cuba, the appearance of Mormon colonies, and others.

The thing about institutional racism is that it creates subcultures which are impenetrable by the majority, and which touch all aspects of the majority's interactions. The PCs quickly discovered that while their non-Mexican PCs couldn't share service with the Anglos in many business establishments, those same PCs were welcome in their own ethnic communities, where information was obtainable that would be impossible or at least extremely difficult to secure by other means. Theses sub-classes provided cooks, busboys, cleaners, and all the other services to the majority establishment, and out of self-defense they kept their eyes and ears open, and shared amongst themselves information (and gossip) that often was invaluable to the PCs' investigation.
 

aco175

Legend
An old 3e Dragon Magazine had a section on a Robin Hood campaign which I always wanted to run. A 3 Musketeers campaign would also be fun, but needs better rules on guns and using less armor. You can also throw in the other Dumas books like Count of Monte Cristo and Man in the Iron Mask.

A lot of movies seem to bring some ideas as well. The more recent King Arthur movie with Clive Owen was good with the twist of a falling Rome and the tribal conflicts.
 

MGibster

Legend
To each his own, but this is exactly the opposite of what I recommend.

The biases of a given period make up much of what a period is; to strip it away immediately removes the historical aspect of the setting. More importantly, it eliminates a deep well of roleplaying activity.
I'm of the mind that we all don't like the same things and that's okay. If this is something you and your group are comfortable with then I say more power to you. If y'all are having fun then you're doing it right. I do agree that there is a deep wellspring of role playing possible.
 

John Dallman

Explorer
I like historical and semi-historical games a lot, and I've played them under GURPS. Any such game tends to become a secret- or alternate-history game, because PCs have a way of changing things, even when they aren't trying to. The most successful, by far, is an occult WWII game that has been running for 16 years. There's an article about it in issue 2 of The Path of Cunning.
 

Thought it might be cool to start a general history RPG thread. How do you approach running a game set in real world history? Any times and places you think are particularly well suited to RPG adventures? Recommended books, primary sources, breakdowns and historical atlases?
Depends upon the Era and the genre.
I'd not use GURPS for anything even vaguely humorous; hell, I'd not use gurps for anything these days.

My House Rules for running Historical settings (including alt-hist settings and fantasy-history, like Pendragon, Ars Magica, and Vaesen)
  1. Actual history ends the moment a PC takes their first action.
  2. When practical, actual history comes to pass unless PC's actions dictate otherwise.
  3. Since players will use historical knowledge, dates and times should vary slightly from known
  4. Historical tech spread slower than most people realize.
  5. If players do something that would be a faux pas, let them renege after being informed why. (I do this for unusual fantasy settings, too.
One of my current campaigns is historical - kind of - Vaesen. My group is in 1825... they have a "camera".. big nasty mess, makes very poor daguerreotypes, based upon leaked info. Can also be used as a Camera Obscura for drawing scenes. THey keep it, carry it, and, across 3 adventures, have used it once, to photocopy a document.... Because it takes an hour to use.

They're proud of having it. And happy it gave them the document... but they missed that it was the same handwriting as the other document. (I made handouts. I've downloaded a half-dozen hand-fonts.) And they are vaguely aware that it's about 5 years too soon for one in Sweden.

The other thing that is important is that the PCs are people of their time, and players need to buy into this. If they're doing something that would be inappropriate, give them a chance to renege on it, or go ahead if it is intentionally out of norm. I do this for certain fantasy settings, too, like L5R, and for both Trek and Star Wars.

THere's also the psychological effect of "I'm not the big hero, so why should I play?" Which is why points 1 and 2 are important - I'm even good with replacing the main cast if the players are up for it. I had one Pendragon game where, of the 7 players 5 were table knights, and one managed to prevent the issue with Lancelot and Guinevere (by beating Lance to the rescue...). If history changes from the first play action, it avoids the "I'm not the hero" to a degree.
 

Depends upon the Era and the genre.
I'd not use GURPS for anything even vaguely humorous; hell, I'd not use gurps for anything these days.

My House Rules for running Historical settings (including alt-hist settings and fantasy-history, like Pendragon, Ars Magica, and Vaesen)
  1. Actual history ends the moment a PC takes their first action.
  2. When practical, actual history comes to pass unless PC's actions dictate otherwise.
  3. Since players will use historical knowledge, dates and times should vary slightly from known
  4. Historical tech spread slower than most people realize.
  5. If players do something that would be a faux pas, let them renege after being informed why. (I do this for unusual fantasy settings, too.
One of my current campaigns is historical - kind of - Vaesen. My group is in 1825... they have a "camera".. big nasty mess, makes very poor daguerreotypes, based upon leaked info. Can also be used as a Camera Obscura for drawing scenes. THey keep it, carry it, and, across 3 adventures, have used it once, to photocopy a document.... Because it takes an hour to use.

They're proud of having it. And happy it gave them the document... but they missed that it was the same handwriting as the other document. (I made handouts. I've downloaded a half-dozen hand-fonts.) And they are vaguely aware that it's about 5 years too soon for one in Sweden.

The other thing that is important is that the PCs are people of their time, and players need to buy into this. If they're doing something that would be inappropriate, give them a chance to renege on it, or go ahead if it is intentionally out of norm. I do this for certain fantasy settings, too, like L5R, and for both Trek and Star Wars.

THere's also the psychological effect of "I'm not the big hero, so why should I play?" Which is why points 1 and 2 are important - I'm even good with replacing the main cast if the players are up for it. I had one Pendragon game where, of the 7 players 5 were table knights, and one managed to prevent the issue with Lancelot and Guinevere (by beating Lance to the rescue...). If history changes from the first play action, it avoids the "I'm not the hero" to a degree.

Brilliant!

My players never consider themselves heroes*, and I never put them into positions where they can affect world events, so #1 and #3 are not big issues for me.

On a side note, I recently ran a campaign set in 1889, and discovered that period catalogues are available as free pdfs online (really free, not 'file-share' free).

#5 is crucial. And, as you noted, it applies to any setting of depth, historical or otherwise. As I always like to point out, their PCs have knowledge the players do not, and a big one of those is social norms.

* = They operate off four basic principles: spite, greed, petty-mindedness, and irrational affections for inconsequential NPCs.
 
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MGibster

Legend
And folks, if you want to run an historical campaign set in the current city you live in there are a wealth of resources you're likely to find at your local library. I'm talking maps, city directories with lists of businesses and addresses, and of course we can't forget newspapers. You don't need to go overboard, if I run a campaign set in Little Rock 1927 nobody is going to know the difference which corner of 9th and Broadway I place Bethel African Methodist Episcopal church. But these are tools you can use to make your setting come alive.
 

Bluenose

Adventurer
What rules set I'd use would depend on the focus of the game. A game about trying to advance your status as petty nobles in the court of Louis XIII is going to want more rules about social status, fashion, relationships and factions and less on hitting enemies with an axe; a game about Viking warriors going off on voyages will probably want more rules on sailing, using an axe and how to plunder effectively.

Saying that, I've played a few historical campaigns and mostly I've used Runequest or more recently Mythras. At various times there have been historical sourcebooks for those systems (Vikings and Land of Ninja for RQ2 are the oldest, TDM have got a series of semi-historical ones for Mythras including appropriate magic for the cultures if you want it). I once used Heroquest for a game of Roman senate politics in the late Republic, through to the rise of Emperor Pompeius and his death at the head of his legions fighting the mighty Parthian-Egyptian alliance - events that are familiar, I'm sure, to all students of ancient history. And if you count Call of Cthulhu as historical then I've played that a bit too.
 

Bilharzia

Fish Priest
I've run a few Mythic Earth adventures using Mythras, and I'm a few months into a Mythic Britain campaign, using the supplement of the same name, which started with the "Waterlands" adventure, an excellent Celtic mystery-horror scenario set in the fens of the north east coast of England. Mythic Britain is set around 500 CE and is more of a Bernard Cornwell style than Excalibur, even though Arthur, Merlin and Morgana are knocking around this time though as dark ages Celts. British druidism is represented using the animism magic system, with the Annwn otherworld being accessible to druids (only) and magic the province of spirits. Early Christians can venerate saints but only very rarely successfully call on Miracles.

Looking forward to Bronze Age Mythic Babylon (during Hammurabi) which is looking very good, due out sometime in 2021.
 

I would like something about myths from Middle Orient in the Jahiliyyah ("age of ignorance"), the pre-islamic age with the Sumerian, Akkadians, Mesopotamian, Babylonians pantheons.
 


Thought it might be cool to start a general history RPG thread. How do you approach running a game set in real world history? Any times and places you think are particularly well suited to RPG adventures? Recommended books, primary sources, breakdowns and historical atlases?

I ran a year long campaign about 20 years ago that was set roughly during the 3rd crusade.

I used the "green book" AD&D Historic Reference series for it.

I really, really wish they'd made an equivalent work for 3e, or even later editions. Getting D&D away from pseudo-historic gaming was a real weakness of later editions, IMO.
 


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