Historical settings


  • Admin

    To avoid further distractions from the original thread this came up let's discuss this in more detail (and, hopefully, constructively).

    How would you do historical settings justice? In the context of this let's assume it's anything before WW2, just so that things were different enough in terms of international or local politics, technological levels, social structures and the such.

    Let's also exclude 'pure' fantasy settings only loosely based on real life. Steampunk Victorian Age, medieval fantasy, etc would be outside of scope; we'd be discussing setups that seek to at least approximate if not achieve a degree of accuracy for the depicted setting.

    For example:

    • Just how much historical accuracy should be the goal?

    • How/do you inform/educate your players on such very broad fields of knowledge?

    • How much leeway should you allow characters in terms of their personalities compared to the times (liberals in conservative settings, racists, inventors pushing the boundaries of anachronism, etc).

    • Would you allow history to be altered by the players' actions?

    Add your own too, this is just a few things from the top of my head.

    Discuss!


  • Pitcrew

    I think frankly if you are doing Historical Accuracy, that should probably be the focus of the game. It should be for people who specifically want to explore themes in a certain time period.

    I think what you DON'T want is people who want to just play Sexy Emma Frost or Brujah Biker with a different skin.



  • @kanye-qwest said in Historical settings:

    I think frankly if you are doing Historical Accuracy, that should probably be the focus of the game. It should be for people who specifically want to explore themes in a certain time period.

    I concur, but I think the same of any game that strays away from contemporaneity.

    I have a lot of ideas for settings, but blessedly little time to realize them.



  • Most of your questions depend entirely on what you intend on using the historical setting for, in my view. Is this going to be a full-bodied 'experience' for your players, or are there some certain key attributes of the historical period you want to explore?

    If one is aiming for the former, then the foundational nature of the period's societal situation must be given more than a casual glance over the newspaper. People in those times are the way they are in no small part due to the frictions and biases the societal goings on. In most cases, extreme representations are entirely harmful: nobody wants to be called names every single time they step out their front door. But at the same time, one cannot simply ignore the entire societal situation as that would be simply disingenuous. A balance must be struck between playability and accuracy.

    While it's true that PCs are generally the exceptions to every conventional rule, it's important to temper this with dashes of realism. PCs that, using simple bigotry as an example, are overly friendly to the 'wrong sort' of people would likely face a backlash from the unwashed NPC masses. If this backlash doesn't exist or doesn't impact PCs in any meaningful way, then the history you're trying to explore will remain in the background being useless and thus the purpose of setting your game in a historical era is lost.

    In most cases, the strictly historical games would be a niche market to begin with, generally restricted in interest to those with an already present desire to explore such a period or those that have a desire to learn and to do so on their own. So very little education should be necessary beyond perhaps referencing inspirational materials and jotting down a few paragraphs of background for the particular period you are exploring. If you want to make the game open to a wider audience, then perhaps some information on demographics and their lifestyles, common occurrences, and the like with a list of favourite source materials for the period - as anyone wanting to make a truly historical game would likely have some in mind.



  • If one wishes simply to utilise some key facets of a particular period, be it 1930s gangsters, then one needn't concern themselves too heavily with societal mores outside of those explored by that particular genre; in this case, alcohol, corruption, organised crime, and the like. Other matters less consequential to the stories you desire to tell can be left to the wayside as needed.

    These sorts of games would, given their historical vagueness, would enable more 'modern' social mores to come into play with the PCs as they wish, and it should be heavily noted where historical reality ends and where fictional handwavey history begins. Historical organised crime, fantasy-style race relations for instance.


  • Pitcrew

    I'm a firm believer in Hollywood Historical Accuracy when it comes to historical games.

    Mostly, I think that the vast majority of players aren't going to do the research to portray "proper" social mores, even if there's a page on the wiki describing them. So trying to go "full historical" is just setting Staff (and the few players totally into "real historical accuracy") up for disappointment.

    That being said, I still think that a single page on the wiki (or maybe 2-3 tops) with "differences from modern life" would be a great idea. Cover social structures, technology levels, and any majorly different things from modern life ("people talk a good game about sexual propriety in public, but behind closed doors, things are craaaazy" for a Victorian game, for instance).

    While the PCs are of course going to stand out from the masses of NPCs, I still think that PCs who publicly flout common standards should get pushback from NPCs, and that this pushback should matter (want to lead a public faction? Don't tell society as a whole that they're wrong). Then again, I think that NPCs should pushback against non-thematic actions no matter the setting.

    I think whether you allow history to be altered depends on the type of game you want to run. If the historical setting is the most important part of the game, then I would only allow minor changes to be made. If there's another part of the setting that's more important than the history, I would allow more sizable changes to be made -- as long as there's a good history page to catch new players up. Either way, the players should be able to make some change to the setting, even if only on a local scale, or else why are they playing?



  • @seraphim73 This is all, seemingly, working from the idea that a game must appeal to the widest audience. Which it doesn't. I'd argue that if you're going for Hollywood Historical Accuracy, you're safest approaching a period that doesn't... directly impact modern society as much. Hollywood Medieval vs Hollywood 1940s, for instance. But if you go for the latter, be very very narrow in what location and exact themes you want to explore to enable you to massage out the distasteful parts without diminishing the impact of those parts on fairly recent history.



  • @seraphim73 I don’t think “Hollywood” is an adequate framing adjective for a game, because it could mean anything from Band of Brothers (highly accurate without being a documentary) to Inglorious Basterds (total fantasy) to Kellys Heroes (vaguely plausible but not meant to be taken seriously) and a dozen other levels in between.


  • Pitcrew

    @tinuviel I don't think I'm looking at the widest possible audience, just like... more than a dozen players. I may be underestimating the audience for a hard historical game, but I'm pretty certain that if one existed it would a) be very small (which is not necessarily a bad thing) and b) be filled with arguments about what's actually historically accurate (which is not a bad thing if everyone digs it, but usually is a bad thing).

    @faraday I agree that you absolutely need to define your setting, including how "Hollywood" it is. Just saying "Hollywood history" isn't enough for exactly the reason you mention. And I think that there is room for semi-wide-audience (like, more than 20 players) games at every point across the spectrum you mentioned (Band of Brothers would have to be more like TGG, and I would adore playing on a game like that, but I think that's the "hardest" end of Hollywood history that I think is feasible).

    So a game's mission statement might be something like: "A paranormal game set just behind combat lines in WWII France, The Darkest Day (alternatively, A Bridge Too Dark) explores the terror and thrill of combat and war from a paranormal perspective. Werewolves, Vampires, and Fae stand alongside mortal heroes in a view of history similar to Fury, Enemy at the Gates, and Defiance."

    I would take that to mean that it's less realistic than Band of Brothers, but a lot closer than Kelly's Heroes. Sidenote, I'm not huge of paranormal games, but I would play the hell out of that one.



  • @seraphim73 Super in-depth historical would probably be best for an online tabletop rather than a MU.

    I think the only thing that really matters in any historically set game is that you don't erase the history of actual people. Downplay some stuff that doesn't fit, sure, but just erasing it wholesale to make you feel better? Pick another period.

    ETA: By 'actual people' I mean people that we can actually and easily link ourselves directly to. People who's story directly impacts our own. Black folks in the 20s (per the example in the other thread), Aboriginal people, etc.



  • I also think we discussed the sticky thorns of bigotry in historical settings in the IC Discrimination thread awhile back. I can absolutely understand folks not wanting to deal with that in pretendy fun-time games, but I'm genuinely at a loss as to how you would do a "historical" game without it. Alt-history, sure - and I'm all for that. Westworld type fantasy? Go for it. But I don't know how you'd do a western that's allegedly set in the real (or even Hollywoodized) Old West and just act like women are equal and the Civil War and all its aftermath just never happened.


  • Pitcrew

    @faraday I mean there many ways. There's speculative fiction, historical fantasy, alt history...I am just not sure any of them are a GREAT idea when you are introducing a wide swath of rando players.



  • @kanye-qwest I mean, those are strictly ahistorical. That's kind of the point.



  • @kanye-qwest said in Historical settings:

    @faraday I mean there many ways. There's speculative fiction, historical fantasy, alt history...I am just not sure any of them are a GREAT idea when you are introducing a wide swath of rando players.

    Yes, I listed alt-history and historical fantasy as alternatives to historical settings. I was not counting those as "historical" games because they are not beholden to the actual historical setting.

    I don't think too many folks are looking for a super-accurate documentary. But there's a difference between "we're not going to make our heroes die of dysentery" and "we're going to act like nobody ever dies of dysentery in this setting". One is "Hollywood Historical". The other is just fantasy. Accuracy is a range of grays, not black and white.


  • Admin

    @faraday said in Historical settings:

    @seraphim73 I don’t think “Hollywood” is an adequate framing adjective for a game, because it could mean anything from Band of Brothers (highly accurate without being a documentary) to Inglorious Basterds (total fantasy) to Kellys Heroes (vaguely plausible but not meant to be taken seriously) and a dozen other levels in between.

    All 'Hollywood' means to me is that we shouldn't let gameplay get bogged down in unnecessary details. The game oughtn't be about the minutiae of history but about characters, plots, pace - all the usual elements of good storytelling.

    An easy example is clothing. It should be fine if someone describes themselves in a fashion that's not quite from that exact period, or require materials that wouldn't get used for another thirty years, etc because they want to wear a fancy dress or cool suit. If it wouldn't raise eyebrows in a TV show it should be fine for a MUSH; sure, don't put Air Jordans on your WW1 veteran with PTSD but it's probably okay to wear a hat that'd only get popularized during the Prohibition era.

    That's what I mean by it, at least. Others' takes may vary.


  • Pitcrew

    @arkandel But then you get into the Tudors issue, where the showrunners decided "putting Henry in tights, slippers, skirts, and a giant codpiece and slathering Anne in gothy clown whore pancake make-up doesn't really convey 'sexy Humanist rock star king' or 'irresistible beauty' to modern audiences, even though it totes would have at the time."

    I'm with @Tinuviel that online TT is a better venue for historical-historical settings than an open MUSH.



  • @arkandel said in Historical settings:

    All 'Hollywood' means to me is that we shouldn't let gameplay get bogged down in unnecessary details.

    Unfortunately the decision as to what is unnecessary isn't going to be an easy one. Anyone desiring to make any kind of historical or pseudo-historical game is likely to be exceptionally interested in the period - probably to a weirdly specific degree.



  • @arkandel said in Historical settings:

    All 'Hollywood' means to me is that we shouldn't let gameplay get bogged down in unnecessary details. The game oughtn't be about the minutiae of history but about characters, plots, pace - all the usual elements of good storytelling.

    Like @Tinuviel said - I think that's a fine philosophy, but the devil's in the details. "Sure I'll just pop on the stagecoach to go to my cousin's wedding down in Texas" is a perfectly fine story to one person and a "ZOMG that makes absolutely no sense in historical context" bugaboo to the next person.

    Don't get me wrong - I enjoy historical settings. My first real game was Maddock (Western), I ran Sweetwater Crossing (Western) and played/staffed on TGG (WWI/WWII) so... that's my jam. But like others have said, on an open MU environment it can be a real PITA trying to juggle different expectations.



  • In... many cases the actual setting itself is secondary to the prevalent themes of the setting-like-genre. You can take those themes and use them in another setting just fine, or with a modicum of work.

    Space western, anyone? Dystopian 30s-style Gangsters?

    You can have the themes you want in your own original creation, without having to worry about any of the uncomfortable or complicated historical baggage.


  • Admin

    I think that's a fine philosophy, but the devil's in the details. "Sure I'll just pop on the stagecoach to go to my cousin's wedding down in Texas" is a perfectly fine story to one person and a "ZOMG that makes absolutely no sense in historical context" bugaboo to the next person.

    Of course, but let me quote myself:

    @arkandel said in Historical settings:

    All 'Hollywood' means to me is that we shouldn't let gameplay get bogged down in unnecessary details. The game oughtn't be about the minutiae of history but about characters, plots, pace - all the usual elements of good storytelling.
    Obviously (?) each game runner needs to know where their line is and draw it in no uncertain terms. Again to me geography and transportation, as great factors as they've historically been, should only present occasional hiccups to people's ability to RP.

    So in your example it's not so much that I'd have that stagecoach fly through hundreds of miles overnight to let your PC go to her cousin's wedding, but I'd do my damnest so that's never a necessary logistical nightmare to handle. It's why I highly recommend single-city games rather than ones set in a sprawling world where characters need to travel extensively - it's because they then isolate themselves from the rest of the playerbase.


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