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History Gaming from Scratch 
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Post History Gaming from Scratch
A number of people have expressed an interest in discussing historical gaming, myself included. I thought get the ball rolling with a question that's been on my mind. Although I'm framing this discussion in terms of creating a new game, I think the answers could easily be applicable to creating a campaign by modifying an existing ruleset, generic or otherwise.

The inspiration behind the discussion comes from a lecture on ancient Greece I was listening to, and the discussion of where the Homeric epics fit into history. (they've been placed anywhere from about 1100 to 800 BC). The lecturer compares Homer to what we know of Mycenaean history and lists some things Homer said that match Mycenaean history (bronze weapons, use of chariots, mention of specific occupied settlements), and other things that don't match (cremation of the dead, literacy, certain weapon descriptions, and the nature of kings and queens). He specifically described how the nature of kings differed.

These differences got me to thinking about campaigns and games, and how you could chose to emphasize one aspect over another by altering the rules subsystems. A Homeric game could have very different subsystems from a Mycenaean game, even though they'd both be Bronze Age Greece.

What I'd like to get some insight into is: When starting from a blank slate, how do you decide which aspects of a historical period you want to emphasize, and how do you go from identifying those aspects to creating subsystems.

I'd like to avoid discussing specific resolution mechanics for the moment. Lets just work on the level of 'measurements'.

For instance, in Clash's Outremer Game, he felt it was important to measure cultural differences. He turned that into a bonus system. The game Agon identified the concept of 'competition' as important, and developed a complex system of challenge, reward, and reputation to bring this to the fore. Suppose you wanted to create a historical, post-Roman Britain game - how would you go about identifying what's important and turning that into systems.

I know this topic is a little airy fairy, but I'm not sure how else to get it started. I'm hoping that some of you will start talking about your experiences, how you decided what was important for specific things you've done, and from there more concrete questions will develop.

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Mon May 09, 2011 2:39 pm
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Post Re: History Gaming from Scratch
Hi Thalaba!

That's an odd question to ask - how do you decide - because the decision itself is, for me at least, subconcious. Something about the setting just sits up and says "I'm IMPORTANT!". With my Napoleonic games, it was the interplay between Honor and Practicality, and the hunger for Notice - honest ambition, which was held to be a good thing. With OHMAS, it was the enlightened autocratism of Elizabeth and the Tudors in general, which suggested to me that everyone who is anyone is some how, some way working for the Queen; and that they would naturally be working for the GOOD of England, because without question the Queen is both good and wise. With Outremer, it's the interplay of cultures and religions in a region where they meet head on. One keys on those things, and brings them to the fore, so the players are encouraged to live in that mindset. I prefer encouraging and enticing to coercing players, so my choices tend to be something along the lines of "Act in this way, and you have a bonus" as opposed to "You cannot act in this other way!".

-clash

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Mon May 09, 2011 3:27 pm
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Post Re: History Gaming from Scratch
Thalaba wrote:
When starting from a blank slate, how do you decide which aspects of a historical period you want to emphasize, and how do you go from identifying those aspects to creating subsystems?


I think you simply pick what things about the period speak to you most clearly. In my own case, for the Samurai game I'm working on, it was a matter of finding something to conceptually hang the game on. I knew I wanted my game to be about 1) samurai with a strong sense of bushido and 2) dueling.
Then I found Dokkodo by Miyamoto Musashi and BAM! I had my framework.

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Mon May 09, 2011 4:14 pm
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Post Re: History Gaming from Scratch
We did a whole episode on historical gaming, great stuff.

I think the question isn't really answered by saying "well, I just use the stuff I really really like", I think it's more "how do you decide what you really really like". Nobody expects us to use the historical stuff we find boring or pointless.

The things I like to dig into are where there are strong societal conflicts over important values. In other words, I wouldn't really care about honor in Napoleonic France (to use an example from earlier in the thread) unless there were people in the setting who thought that honor was a crock of shit or a waste of time.

I did a steampunk/horror Victorian-era game set in Paris that pushed the conflict between the "proper" role of men and women and the "passionate" expression in radical politics and art. This was a real conflict at work in the real world in that time and place. It helped the players identify with the characters and their dilemmas, big time.


Mon May 09, 2011 5:45 pm
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Post Re: History Gaming from Scratch
JDCorley wrote:
I think the question isn't really answered by saying "well, I just use the stuff I really really like", I think it's more "how do you decide what you really really like". Nobody expects us to use the historical stuff we find boring or pointless.


Yes, exactly. Pete Nash, who wrote Rome for BRP and Vikings for MRQ2 once mentioned experiencing a kind of 'exponential history effect'. He found that the more he read, the more cool stuff he wanted to include until it was out of control. He ended up removing a lot of material.

I'm assuming, then, that once you start researching a time period, you'll find a lot of poignant themes that you'd like to include in a game or campaign. But you probably can't turn all of that stuff into meaningful mechanics - so you narrow it down. In Outremer, for instance, Clash already identified a meeting of cultures as a theme. Just brainstorming, we would come up with more a number of things we might want to explore in this game: knights and honour; pageantry and jousting; trade and wealth; harsh environments; multiple languages; competing religions and prophets; mythology; demons and angels; siege combat; and many more. We then have to decide how many of these are worth trying to work into the mechanics of the game - what's worth measuring? Are honour, pride, showmanship, and piety all worth measuring? Do we need to measure them different for Christians, Muslims, and Jews? Do we need jousting and siege rules? Do we measure money, wealth, or buying power? This seems like a lot to defer to just instinct.

Next, lets assume you picked a theme you really like. One I could see working in the Outremer scenario is the theme of Guilt-Society vs. Shame-Society - especially given that the conflict between the Catholics and the Arabs would be very strong in this setting. How do you go about deciding how to represent such abstract qualities as guilt or shame mechanically? If you don't do it mechanically, how to do convey the importance of it to the readers/players?

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Mon May 09, 2011 7:18 pm
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Post Re: History Gaming from Scratch
Virtually all roleplaying games have mechanical support for themes (regular 8th grade English definition of "theme" here) like this, because RPGs include characters, who are the greatest method ever developed in literature, film or RPGs for the exploration of those qualities. Just use characters. Well, "just use characters" is kind of bad advice in a way, because it's quite challenging to have good, varied characters and play them well.


Tue May 10, 2011 3:07 am
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Post Re: History Gaming from Scratch
Thalaba wrote:
What I'd like to get some insight into is: When starting from a blank slate, how do you decide which aspects of a historical period you want to emphasize, and how do you go from identifying those aspects to creating subsystems.


For me it just naturally emerges during the campaign or my players kinda off latch on to certain aspects that interest them during the pregame discussions phase. And since I'm just glad that something caught their attention, I work from there. Certain conflicts just scream out but sometimes like in my WW2 campaign, certain themes/conflicts arise out of the research of the period - black fighter pilots - that are just not so obvious.

Regards,
David R

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Tue May 10, 2011 7:16 am
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Post Re: History Gaming from Scratch
I agree 100% with JD here - the chargen section is always the biggest section in my games, because character generation is the simplest and least obtrusive way for a designer to reinforce the setting, constructing chargen in such a way that the characters that result fit the setting.

-clash

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Tue May 10, 2011 12:26 pm
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Post Re: History Gaming from Scratch
Thalaba wrote:
Yes, exactly. Pete Nash, who wrote Rome for BRP and Vikings for MRQ2 once mentioned experiencing a kind of 'exponential history effect'. He found that the more he read, the more cool stuff he wanted to include until it was out of control. He ended up removing a lot of material.

This, precisely, was my experience in writing Roma Imperious.

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Tue May 10, 2011 8:31 pm
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Post Re: History Gaming from Scratch
Third on the character gen thing,

I'd be interested in knowing what that lecture you referenced in the OP Thalaba. Specifically I want to know what evidence is cited in regards to the views on Kingship and the mortuary practices of the time.

BTW, if i were going to do a historical game it would be something set in the Aegean and the surrounding area around the time of the 4.2 event and the subsequent rise of Crete or maybe something set in Iberia during the Last Glacial Maximum.


Tue May 10, 2011 8:59 pm
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