Historical periods, Problematic Elements, Gameplay, and Fun

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Sorry, the original post read something like:

"I was watching cooking videos on how to make a Cuban sandwich, but there were a lot of problematic ingredients. You know, like pulled pork and ham. I'm really hungry for a Cuban though. What sandwich should we make?

If only! There's already a thread to help with that!

Blue Orange

Gone to Texas
It really winds up depending on the sensitivities of your table. You don't want to do anything your players will find traumatizing, but if none of them have huge problems with this you could play it as it was (or at least as far as you know the way it was, which of course is probably not accurate given the limited sources). History is quite brutal, but D&D is combat related and usually involves killing lots of monsters. If you know a player has a specific sensitivity like slavery or racism, you could avoid those subjects...or if it's European-African racism that's the problem, for example, focus on 'racism' between Goths and Romans, for example, who would be considered separate 'races' in that time; you could even invert Nazi stereotypes about German superiority for sneering Roman snobs ("blond hair and blue eyes--so ugly!"). Most of history involves large amounts of slavery and conflict between ethnic groups (and if they're not fighting over blood, they're fighting over money or religion).

You could also make a Fantasy Counterpart Culture, what with a fallen empire like the Great Kingdom of Aerdy, Netheril (this one fell literally), or Ergoth as was done in various D&D supplements. File off the serial numbers so nothing hits too close to home for anyone and you can have all the viking raids you want. Play up the social limitations of the not-Vikings--you have a clan to keep happy with your raiding, and if you don't bring back enough booty you're in trouble. The 'barbarians' had their own rules they had to live by, after all.

If nothing else it's worth remembering that our age's own values may be looked on poorly in a few hundred years. "All that sensitivity and they did nothing to stop climate change and now we're all living on canoes and raiding the ruins of the skyscrapers between floods!"


So what do we do with that?
It really depends on the setting. If I were to run a game set in ancient Rome, wealthy characters would almost certainly own slaves, and, heck, a PC might actually be a slave. And if you don't think a slave might be fun to play, think of the character Posca from the HBO series Rome. Posca was a slave of Caesar's, but in game terms he had a lot of autonomy and was involved in various intrigues and skullduggery rather than menial servitude.

Admittedly I tend to downplay the more unpleasant aspects of historical games. When running Call of Cthulhu games set in the United States of the 1920s and 30s, I tend to downplay the racial animosity which existed. You're simply not going to hear me use certain words and I'm not going to prevent black characters from being able to participate in all aspects of the scenario for example. If I ran a game where the PCs were part of a raiding culture (Vikings, Mongolians, etc., etc.) we're not going to be dealing with sexual assault that often accompanied looting and razing.

So what I'd do is include the historical unpleasantness in the game even if I downplayed some of it for the sake of having a fun game.


You could also realize that nothing you do today has any effect on the past so depicting slavery in a historic setting does not hurt anyone. And that one of the interesting things of playing in a historic setting is immersing yourself into that historic period.
By staying true to history you might have have your players learn some history.

You would be hard pressed to find any period of history in which bigotry, cruelty and oppression are not normalized towards some segment of the population. You can certainly feel free to downplay or ignore these elements if that is what will make your table comfortable. A frank discussion during campaign planning is a good idea. I don't think it is all or nothing. GMs should be mindful that what they may be comfortable with may not be the case for everyone.

However, most important to make clear is this: Unless this is a class exercise, you have no moral obligation to maintain historical accuracy. Your moral obligation is for everyone at the table to act with mutual respect for each other, full stop.


He'll flip ya...Flip ya for real...
I like reading history and I like seeing dramatic series and films about it. Most my gaming is in places that never existed. Sure, they will pull from places that did exist to make their fantastic future. I guess its contextual in why im going somewhere or doing something. I know the folks at HBO were going to do a series about a fictional universe where the South won the American Civil war. While im sure it would have ben an interesting thought exercise, they decided it was better to not do it. So, like HBO, im going to think about what im setting out to do and if human sacrifice and slavery are completely necessary, I'll have to decide if thats something I have to do or not. Nice thing about fictional made up places is I don't have to go there to make them interesting if I dont want to.

My take is that if I want historical accuracy, I'm going to read a history book. If I want to have fun playing a game, I don't need to have problematic elements to experience immersion in the setting. Just like I didn't need the 1e Parasitic Infection Table to feel like I was in a quasi-medieval setting.

Committed Hero

I play a lot of Call of Cthulhu, which centers warty historical periods (1920s, 1890s, and others) and centers an utterly vile historical person (H.P. Lovecraft), but I prize player safety, player inclusion, and having fun around the table infinitely more than historical accuracy. Playing in the historical USA I would only include a few disapproving looks about women dressed in any way the time period wouldn't like, but not include NPCs spouting sexism at women characters. I've kicked players for RPing the sexism of the 1920s. It has absolutely no place at my tables. Historical accuracy be damned. This applies to racism and all other kinds of bigotry. The people at the table are more important. This is a game. Not a historical reenactment with textbooks open to make sure we get everything exactly right. I do my best to make things historically accurate outside of the social expectations. And I've discovered quite a few weird bits of history as a result.

Harlem Unbound addresses this issue better than I would have thought it could be answered. Horror games may actually use quotidian evils to their advantage.

If you play regularly with the kinds of people who have pedantic issues with the shortcuts taken to emulate history, make them write a sourcebook.

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