Historical periods, Problematic Elements, Gameplay, and Fun

Reynard

Legend
Supporter
NOTE: let's see if we can keep this civil, even if we have to discuss some stuff that isn't necessarily pleasant.
I just finished a wonderful Great Courses lecture series called "Rome and the Barbarians" and am following it up with "The Vikings" -- both by Dr. Kenneth Harl. He is a great lecturer, very knowledgable as well as compelling. I recommend him to anyone.

Anyway, it makes me want to run a historical campaign set in the tumultuous "dark ages" after the fall of the Roman Empire but before the Middle Ages really got settled. But, in so doing there is no way to be both historically accurate and eliminate problematic elements. As an example, Vikings were both noble warriors that cared about their homes and families, and raiders, pillagers and slavers that descended on settlements like so many orcs.

So what do we do with that?

You could make a campaign in which the PCs are Celts and Germanics fighting the encroachment of Rome, casting them as the heroes, but you still have to deal with the human sacrifice and the slavery. Crusaders represent obvious problems, but so do the Arabs of the time. Can you use the invasions of the Mongols thoughtfully? If you want to play in the mythical age of Arthur, what do you do with the blatant classicism.

So my question really boils down to this: The history of human civilization is complex and in most cases we don't actually have unbiased sources for that history. but it is also rife with opportunity for adventure (especially if you include a dash of the mythology that dominated the pre-modern era). So what do we do as modern audiences, with the problematic realities of history as a setting for RPG play?

NOTE2: I realize that most of the above is written with a Eurocentric view and I understand that is based on my upbringing and preferences, but I think it still holds no matter where you shift the story to. The day before Cortez landed, the Aztec rulership were child sacrificing imperialists who crushed any opposition and dominated their ethnic neighbors. The day after, they were the victims of European expansion. There is no culture in the history of our world that has expanded without engaging in problematic behavior.
 

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Cadence

Legend
Supporter
What makes historically accurate - obviously no magic but is it diseases and infections killing lots of people, combat giving wounds like real life, and lots of different dialects and languages?

What game system are you thinking?
 

Reynard

Legend
Supporter
What makes historically accurate - obviously no magic but is it diseases and infections killing lots of people, combat giving wounds like real life, and lots of different dialects and languages?

What game system are you thinking?
I am specifically thinking of cultures and historical events. I am not necessarily thinking of games that inherently embrace "realism" in the way you are describing -- mostly because I don't think it matters much. there are plenty of examples of great warriors dying of fever, as well as wounded champions living on for years afterward. Dying of dysentery is hardly the point. As such, the game system doesn't matter for what I am talking about. You might play a historical game in WHFRP1E and expect to die of the rot in one level, or play the same game in D&D and expect to be an epic hero. None of that impacts whether Vikings sold Slavs to the Arabs.
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
I am specifically thinking of cultures and historical events. I am not necessarily thinking of games that inherently embrace "realism" in the way you are describing -- mostly because I don't think it matters much. there are plenty of examples of great warriors dying of fever, as well as wounded champions living on for years afterward. Dying of dysentery is hardly the point. As such, the game system doesn't matter for what I am talking about. You might play a historical game in WHFRP1E and expect to die of the rot in one level, or play the same game in D&D and expect to be an epic hero. None of that impacts whether Vikings sold Slavs to the Arabs.

A game playing epic leaders and folks lucky enough to avoid disease and an unlucky sword blow feels like a thing; if someone wasn't in that group we probably wouldn't read about them in the histories, so that makes sense. And I guess it might be hard to have a fun game without setting it up for the players to be special in that way.

It's not really so historic in the sense I was thinking of though if it has epic heroes in the D&D sense, or has any actual magic.

I'm not sure what kind of answer to give to "how do I get into playing a person who does awful things but is still the protagonist and doesn't worry about the bad stuff he's doing". Is there advice on that in the parts of VtM about playing the Sabbat, or is there a GTA type RPG that talks about playing the less than upstanding? While the settings are totally wrong for what you want, whatever answers they have might be helpful for what you're trying to navigate.

In any case, I'm interested to keep reading even if I have nothing to add.
 

A lot of that stuff, slavery, classism, human sacrifice, I'd probably just run it as it is, unless someone had a specific complaint. The ancient world was not a nice place, I think most people going into a game set there know this. Like Dark Sun back in the day, that never really messed with any of us. Or Conan, which I'm getting ready to run soon.

Where I would personally have an issue would be racism in a more modern context. Say, running a game set in the 1920s in America. That's a trigger to me, but at the same time...that's what the world was like. Am I doing a disservice to the people who suffered through it by not depicting it honestly?
 
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Well, one way to look at it is that the modern conception of nation states with established ethical principles used in formulation didn’t exist. Everything in the smaller nations is tribal or cultural. You may not agree with or like what your people are doing, but they are YOUR PEOPLE, and everyone else is out to take land and loot and lives from YOUR PEOPLE. The world is a lot less civilized, and foreigners have no rights as they are not part of your tribe (language group, kingdom, it’s still more tribal than we are accustomed to). Thus, good becomes oriented towards survival of YOUR PEOPLE (sorry for repeated capitalization, but trying to emphasize it while using phone), and evil are the foreigners trying to take from them.

It doesn’t erase the values dissonance, but helps frame it in such a way that you can still have some fun and recognize that things aren’t capital G Good, while still allowing for drama through maintaining loyalty to the tribe. Remember as well, Dante Alighieri had traitors reserved for the worst punishments because of that sort of tribal (or feudal) loyalty.
 

Jahydin

Hero
So what do we do as modern audiences, with the problematic realities of history as a setting for RPG play?
I mean, that comes down to personal opinion. It's your creation, so you get to decide. Then whoever you play with can decide what they feel comfortable with. From there you either compromise or tell them gently this isn't the game for them.
 

Reynard

Legend
Supporter
I mean, that comes down to personal opinion. It's your creation, so you get to decide. Then whoever you play with can decide what they feel comfortable with. From there you either compromise or tell them gently this isn't the game for them.
I wasn't asking for advice, I was curious what YOU would do.
 


Reynard

Legend
Supporter
Oh, maybe change your question form "we" to "you" then?
I honestly don't know what you mean. I asked what you would do, pretty directly. I didn't ask what you thought I should do. The question is: what would you, running this game, do in regards to historical unpleasantness?
 

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