Saturday, November 14, 2009

Back in the Day...

I have a question for you Gentle Readers. As gamers, what do y'all think about games with historical settings? I'm not talking something like Iron Kingdoms or some general Steampunk setting that is historic-ish, but a game set in a real historical era. For example, I'm currently ginning up two games that take place in the past. One is a super hero/super-spy mash-up that takes place in the early 60s during the height of the Cold War. Another, using All Flesh Must Be Eaten and C.J.Carella's elegant little Uni-System, is a series of zombie adventures that take place in the Pacific Theater during WWII. Another prime example is Call of Cthluhu's 20s era setting, which allows players to play during the time when Lovecraft was actually writing.

So, let me know. What do you like about historical settings? What do you dislike? Do you, like 'ol Hank Ford, believe history is bunk? Curious Jason is curious.


Anonymous said...

I think the only trouble I have with historical settings is the lack of background. Most of the gamers I game with are pretty smart. But our history education is pre-1600s. Later periods aren't something we've studied, so trying to set games in those eras without considerable background means we either wing it as we go or we study like crazy before the sessions ever begin.

Phalanx said...

Well, I certainly had a blast in your "special" game hunting down secret Soviet superweapons, Jason. There is definitely something compelling to me about WWII- and Cold War-era games. I guess that's one of the reasons I absolutely loved Metal Gear Solid 3, with its "this is what really happened" take on that period.

Like most things in gaming, it comes down to verisimilitude. To do a historical setting right, I think the writer and/or GM has to have enough knowledge of both the time period and the selected locale to present a credible story.

In my work on Sol System, much of the writing I've done thus far has been creating the "alternative history" to the setting. Thus, I've had to study pre-1900s Russia to gauge how things might have been different if the Bolsheviks hadn't come to power, experimental space weapons design to see what the great powers in the Cold War thought might happen with weaponization, the global history of rocketry to see how a worldwide space race might have gone, etc...

If you can make your reader or your players believe in the universe you show them, you've done your job.

Anonymous said...

I think sooner or later older gamers end up delving into real history (and real world mythology) for the sake of the games they play. And I think a love of history, like a love of mythology, is a bit of a prerequisite for most gamers, or at least the era of gamers to which I belong (80s kids). We did a lot of dark ages and Viking era roleplay, Callof Cthulhu in the 20s, the 1890s and the modern era, and psionic and superhero gaming can be greatly enhanced by historical research.


Zephyr -- a superhero webcomic in prose

Anthropos Editor said...

I clicked on a little pic in Twitter and ended up on your blog. Awesome work and congrats on the Warhammer 40K writing!

Oddly enough, we're imagining a superhero/superspy genre-twist set in the Cold War as well. I actually got the idea while admiring some 60s-era graphic design work in an Urban Outfitters store. I said to myself, "What kind of game could we write that would require us to use this style of design?" The answer came kinda quickly. Then again, we write "Alternative Histories" so we'll probably make the date much later than the 60s and say "As if the Cold War never ended...." or something.

Yeah, verisimilitude is the key. Can people feel that there is a consistent world. The problem historical game writers have is that they just assume too much from their readers. They feel that a "real" world is already written and needs less detail, artwork, description, etc. from the game writers. It's usually a cop out genre for that reason. I'm glad I know anthropology and philosophy enough to believe there is no singular, shared world that we call history. Writing a historical game would require MORE work, not less. You have to be creative and craft an entire world, but at the same time hold yourself accountable to canonical histories. Tough.

Also, I'm from Michigan! Glad to see some are still making a life in Detroit. I spent much time in Detroit, though more with a girlfriend in Ferndale and Royal Oak. Still, from one who only gets back every other year, just wanted to say I miss the old place.