GMing From The History Book

GMing From The History Book

Bringing realism to your D&D Campaign can help everyone escape reality.

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Great article. I love pulling pieces from my history books and knitting them together to make a campaign world. For example, Medieval Cairo had a neighbourhood-style setup, where a few houses and businesses all fronted onto the same alley, which connected to a major street. In times of trouble (siege, civic unrest, etc.) Each 'cluster' would barricade off their alley, turning the city into a hundred little villages. It's a completely logical, human idea that adds a ton of flavour.

Twenty minutes of iTunes or Spotify and you've built a period-appropriate jazz soundtrack for your players shoot up gin joints in Chicago or investigate Punk clubs in 1970s Detroit.

You might want to rephrase that sentence (unless I'm failing to understand it).

"And there's nothing to say Spanish Conquistadores never ran across Lovecraftrian horrors while trying to find cities of gold in South America."

I actually used this in a three-part Cthulu game (first time using CoC, the other two with Dread) centered around a Chichen Itza knockoff. They played as Conquistadores the first time, modern archelogists the second, then a flashback to the original Maya who built the temple to contain the Old One. Looking at ancient South American art, it's easy to see horrifying monsters that might indicate some otherworldly influence.

This are good tips not just for D&D but for writing in general.

As a GM and a historian I actually end up using history as the background for most of my campaigns.

I ended up using 17th century Germany as a basis for a campaign. There was low-tech firearms, but most people relied on melee weapons. Things went awry when the party ended up using fire as a weapon and blowing up black powder stores.

Also a Call of Cthulhu game set during the Sepoy rebellions in India would be awesome.

Absolutely loved this article. It's actually making me want to pick up a game called Götterdämmerung(Swedish RPG published by RiotMinds in 2005) again...
The rules were a pain in the ass but the setting and premise was pretty cool. Mystery/Horror RPG set in 18th Century Europe. It's a real shame the rules were such a pain, because it had alot of promise for interesting stories. I think it also didn't help that my group just wasn't that interested, especially when there were kobolds to clobber and treasure to be stolen. But any rulesystem where I need to grab a calculator to figure out a simple to-hit with a gun, well...

I think I'll just settle for making a GURPS or FATE adventure based on my old campaign-notes. The group are all deserters from the War of Polish Succession(circa halfway through the way) who're trying to make their way to Scotland where one of the characters has a friend willing to take them in.
Naturally, on the way things to wrong and they have to use their heads to solve various chunk-sized mysteries to pay their fare, get shelter and so on.

I really think there needs to be more games like that personally... I mean there are quite a few games technically set in history, so I guess another problem lies with players and GMs not taking advantage of it but, still.

Anyway.
Thanks for this article! Gave me some great inspiration for a couple projects I'm doing.

Commissar Sae:
I ended up using 17th century Germany as a basis for a campaign. There was low-tech firearms, but most people relied on melee weapons. Things went awry when the party ended up using fire as a weapon and blowing up black powder stores.

This is why I like WHFRP V1 and to an extent V2, it's basically already done the work for you. It's quite a lot easier to get into the heads of characters & npcs and the general working of the world when it feels so close to our own history, about which there is a wealth of information.

Thank you very much! These reminders and hints for new perspectives are always the most valuable resources for keeping my GM'ing fresh. :)

Small typo; it's Umberto Eco, not Uberto.

Great article! I'll make good use of these tips since I've recently started DM'ing for my friends (we're all new to D&D).

Once, many many years ago (around 20), I ran a campaign set in the late bronze age/ early iron age mediterranean. The campaign was based around a reel Greek colony called Pithekousai on an island off the coast of Italy. It dealt with hidden treasure and pirates. Pithekousai translates into English as Monkey Island. You can steal from anywhere if you are smart.

I would recommend reading a few books on the bronze mediterranean and middle east. Most people are familiar with Egypt or Babylon but you there are plenty of other cultures which aren't mainstream, about which a wealth of knowledge exist. The Hittites are not very well know but due the clay tablets surviving we know huge amounts about them. For instance, the last Hittite emperor was a 60ish general who had overthrown his nephew and complained about his sore feet all the time.

Thunderous Cacophony:

Twenty minutes of iTunes or Spotify and you've built a period-appropriate jazz soundtrack for your players shoot up gin joints in Chicago or investigate Punk clubs in 1970s Detroit.

You might want to rephrase that sentence (unless I'm failing to understand it).

You missed the Ramones smooth jazz album, you must get it. It was released about the same time as Leonard Cohen's comedy album.

Most of this is really common sense stuff but its nice to see it all in one place.

I love the attention to detail P&P RPG's get in Crit Intel.

The last D&D campaign I did was in the Ebberon setting. Our Dungeon master was a thespian and did so many cool voices for the characters. He wanted many of the central city hubs to shy away from traditional old victorian England and instead have a more Irish and Scottish vibe. He cited Dublin as a particular inspiration.

I agree with the poster above me as well. Mediterranean setting is awesome for an ancient mysteries campaign setting. Two cities that offer lots of back story for settings (Troy and Atlantis). Atlantis being even more interesting due to it being in the writings of Plato.

PuckFuppet:
Most of this is really common sense stuff but its nice to see it all in one place.

Eh, common sense is sadly not that common so, just as well someone wrote it down :D.
Personally, I'd honestly never thought of using Woodstock as a setting. Did have a Cyberpunk-campaign loosely based on Vietnam though...

I must admit that although I am a student of history and a GM, I newer thought of pulling historical events out of their native setting for RPGs. Woodstock in particular is a hidden gem. While the grimdark future of only war (and so on) in Dark Heresy might seem a strange place for Woodstock, it makes for an intriguing environment for the inquisitorial acolytes to blunder in. A place where heretics might hide in plain view, and where the group's "shoot first"-policy might be challenged.

Great article. The last part was something my old GM definitely did not understand. If I chose to play a female character in a historical setting, it was nothing but a huge detriment that I got absolutely jack shit out of, to the point that I just refused to play them anymore. Anything but the 1990s-present, sci-fi, or fantasy? Nope, playing a dude. None of his NPCs would take me seriously, I wasn't allowed to do anything at all or have any fun because "no one would let a woman do that", but on the other hand, the second any character of mine tried to exploit these sexist stereotypes by batting her eyelashes or feigning ignorance about something, his NPCs wouldn't buy it for a second. One moment, I was a pretty little empty head, the next a devious mastermind! Fan-fucking-tastic.

Now that I'm the GM, at least, I've learned from his mistakes. If someone wants to play a minority or a woman in a racist/homophobic/sexist/etc setting, I use it both ways: yes, being discriminated against sucks ass, but on the flipside, maybe being gay your character has heard through his friends in their (necessarily) secretive group that a certain official is also gay, and he can choose to flirt with him/put pressure on him/call for solidarity in a way the straight characters couldn't. Maybe your female character is constantly being patronized, but on the flip side, doesn't have to do or is excused from some of the dirtier/harder jobs the male members of the party must take on and can use that extra time for research. Sure, maybe it's harder for her to go out at night like the men, but it's easier for her to do so during they day - they're all at their jobs while she can go out whenever she likes so long as she's back in time to cook dinner. Maybe your ethnic minority character has to struggle to gain respect, but at the same time, has a tightly-knit community backing him or her to call upon that they others couldn't.

Fantastic article.
And well timed given that tomorrow is the second session for our group playing Mage Noir, set in LA in 1948.

Zykon TheLich:

Commissar Sae:
I ended up using 17th century Germany as a basis for a campaign. There was low-tech firearms, but most people relied on melee weapons. Things went awry when the party ended up using fire as a weapon and blowing up black powder stores.

This is why I like WHFRP V1 and to an extent V2, it's basically already done the work for you. It's quite a lot easier to get into the heads of characters & npcs and the general working of the world when it feels so close to our own history, about which there is a wealth of information.

You're a good man, Charlie Brown. WFRP is my favorite system.

By the way, what makes you say 1e is better at that than 2e?

Ftaghn To You Too:
You're a good man, Charlie Brown. WFRP is my favorite system.

By the way, what makes you say 1e is better at that than 2e?

It's primarily the way it's illustrated, but also the written adventures and supplementary material as well as changes to the Warhammer world wrought by GW themselves.

1st ed had a less fantastical feel to it, I could pretty much picture it all in a Grimm's Faery Tale version of the Holy Roman Empire, it's the same as our world but there's some weird shit out there in the places men rarely tread. A lot of V1 felt like it was written by history buffs with a sideline interest in fantasy RPGs. Which it pretty much was.

V2 on the other hand had daemons and beastmen wrecking the place almost from the get go (thanks, Storm of Chaos). Essentially it felt like the emphasis had drifted towards traditional sword n sorcery "epic monster slaying" and being totally awesome adventuring hero's rather than searching the filthy back streets of Marienburg to give Karl Wangfrotter a beating for selling you that crate of cheap rotgut as high quality Estalian wine. V2 Felt like it was written by people who liked DnD style fantasy but wanted to set it in the warhammer world.

I like V2, the system irons out virtually all the kinks from V1 and has a great magic system, unlike V1, and some of the supplemental material was truly great (Sigmar's Heirs, Tome of Salvation and Tome of Corruption get a special mention), but overall it had a less down to earth feel.

Hear, hear! While old familiar scenarios are always an option, it's never a bad idea to attempt to take things in new directions. Even if your campaign is set in a decidedly different universe, sci-fi or fantasy, real history is always an excellent place to get some material.

Now, this is slightly difference, since it's LARPing as opposed to pen-and-paper, but I remember a very interesting LARP-scenario in my home town a while ago. Down by the docks, there's an old navy destroyed repurpoused as a floating museum ship, and a group of players that wanted to roleplay Battlestar Galactica in an immersive enviroment got to rent the ship for a few days, and carry out their campaign there. I do think it's interesting, the whole thing with finding fitting and practical locales for the sort of roleplay you're doing.

Given most of the games I have been a player in have had, what feels to me, to be a heavy-handed dose of realism, it is good to read articles like this.

Though my games open with "It is Tuesday afternoon, what are you doing?"

 

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