Thursday, December 4, 2014

Easy Historical Gaming

Brendan asked a question yesterday about running historical games.  Historical research is time consuming and has the potential to deplete all your time in a futile pursuit of veracity.  I'm assuming the game is about something other than the major events of the period - it's just using the period as a backdrop.  Horror scenarios, exploration or ruins, or investigative gaming set in a historical period fits the mold.  If that's all true, here's how I approach campaign preparation for a new historical period.

First, I try to find a good map online.  Quite often you can find a modern map, perhaps from a history book, that shows the campaign area during the period in question - major settlements, borders, that kind of stuff.  Modern maps are good for terrain and can be superimposed with the period map.  I develop notes about the settlement and period about as deep as you can pick up off of Wikipedia articles and similar survey level resources.  I care about demographics, major industries, and a bit on political allegiance and similar factors.

The important research for me is around the texture of daily life - what are the narrative bits that are going to create a good picture of the era for the players?  Things like the type of food and drink in taverns (assuming there are taverns), what are beds like, what's the normal clothing of the time, names of currency and coins, days of the week, names of ordinary people, that kind of stuff.  Pretty much all of the juicy details you're not actually going to find in a history text book are what's actually important for an RPG experience.  This is where all the research energy goes.

Luckily, we live in a time where historians and researchers are concentrating on this type of historical period writing!  You can usually find titles along the lines of A Day in the Life of Ancient XYZ and put all those rich details of the setting at your fingertips.  A lot of books for kids take this approach as well, since they prioritize creating an experience for the young reader over bland recitation of facts.  Don't be afraid to raid the kid's section of the library.  Then it's just a matter of finding a good calendar, a list of common names of the period (and building a name generator to make names on the fly) and you're cleared for take off.