Let’s face it: we’ve seen it all.
Fantasy to sci-fi, steampunk to dieselpunk (to pioneerpunk more recently), shades of the same old races, tropes and conflicts, whether it’s as vintage as Tolkien or as trendy as GRRM, role-playing games have been giving us the opportunity of escaping our reality and taking refuge in galaxies far far away, parallel universes and alternative realities.
And some (if not most of those) are really great, and we love them… But….
Our own reality can give us such a variety of role-playing opportunities that it dwarfs any fictional universe created by any company for any given game… Alright, that’s a hyperbole, maybe not galaxy-wide Battletech universes, but you get the point.
Here are 5 reasons why you would want to role-play within the confines of our planet’s history:
I. A wealth of choices
If evolution has taught us one thing, it’s that this planet (and the human species too after a point) has gone through so many phases it would take you a good long while to get a story arc done and dusted within each of them.
Whether you’re into prehistory and you’d like to see what (literally) first world problems were like back then, or wanting to bear the banners of your liege into the battles of the Dark Ages, there’s bound to be a choice for every taste and preference.
Granted, not many systems have tackled these periods for sources - which is why we’re writing this in the first place - but couple the internet (which I’m told holds a fair amount of knowledge) with a generic system like FATE or Cortex Plus and you’ve got yourself an early Egyptian pyramid-building campaign! Call it Tetriskhamun.
II. It’s easy to relate to
Sometimes it can be hard for people to really get into character when the foes they’re facing are overflowing with teeth, scales, speaking the Elder Tongue and spewing poisonous mucus out of their nasal cavities… I need to keep that in mind for my next reptilian campaign…
Some people have a tendency to love the hell out of real-life movies and books because of the ability to make an easy connection with the periods and characters they portray – I’m told these people are called “my wife” among others, and have this preference because they feel like they may end up facing some of the issues these pieces deal with. If they’re to be believed...
Realising that you’re immersed in an exact moment of times passed (or present), and that you know that these were real people, dealing with real problems and facing real consequences (for real!) can greatly benefit not only atmosphere and relevance, but the ability to identify with someone who may well have been your (Alexander the) great-great-great-great-great-great… great-great-peepaw.
III. Educational value
I know, I know, learning is boring, but think about your childhood for a bit if you will… We all liked playing, right? And we all had all these games and toys that taught us certain things without us even realising it.
Part of that was that we didn’t know any better, but also the fact that we were playing while learning (learn to play and play to learn… or some other witty quip).
The same thing can be gained from a historical role-playing campaign.
I’m usually overburdened with a vivid imagination and have come to realise that, were I to be taught about ancient times via some form of role-playing or another, not only would I have more easily remembered all the dates and names my teachers were throwing at me, but I would probably keep fond memories of the badass times we had planning Caesar’s assassination…
IV. Total badassdom!
Sure, you may have killed a dragon while impregnating a dozen wenches and distilling an essence of awesome that cured hunger in the land of Fantasilvania or something, that’s badass, but are you “Mad Jack” Churchill badass?
You know, the guy who landed on a beach in Norway playing his bagpipes under enemy fire, then threw a grenade and lunged into battle with his trusty bow-and-longsword. Also the one British soldier to get a bow-and-arrow kill in WWII. No, seriously, he got medals and everything – a real-life hero… And a basket case. Imagine being able to go back to those times and "March of the Cameron Men" your way alongside Mad Jack and his lot – find yourself a GM worth their salt and you’ll be able to even smell the enemy’s fear. Or their tears. Their tears for fear.
Hear them shout. Shout and let it all out...
History is filled with countless examples of heroism and balls-to-the wall insanity without which the world we know today might have been an entirely different place altogether. Which brings us to…
V. The “what if?” aspect
Ah yes, That niggling question at the back of our heads… What if Columbus hadn’t “discovered” America? What if we hadn’t made it to the Moon? What if Vlad the Impaler hadn’t had a blood-sucking reputation? Could that have prevented the Twilight movies? I doubt it, but I digress…
No one said anything about adhering to history 100%.
As many (if not most or all) of you will know, a GM seldom reaches the conclusion of a fully-planned-out campaign by the avenues they laid out prior to the campaign’s start. Any seasoned party will definitely – if unintentionally – try to derail any plans and make the story their own.
That’s the beauty of this history aspect: send the players back in time, have them go to Linz in the early 1900s and choose whether or not to save a small child from being crushed to death by some freak accident or other. A child named Adolf for example…
The possibilities here are endless, and the players could opt to help history run its course or aid in turning it on its head in such a way that even Darwin wouldn’t know where it all started.
I hope your appetite has been whetted by this shortlist of pros when it comes to playing historical figures, I know where (and when) I’m throwing my players next…
“A rift through time and space opens as you fell the beast… You are all pulled within it, your senses exploding with sight and sound, your bodies strained to their utter limits as you traverse the vortex… Now. Do your characters speak any French perchance?”
Writer, gamer, and - provided he's got the time for it - loving husband, Costin does not rule out sacrifices to the Great Old Ones in order to get into the gaming industry. He's been roleplaying for the better part of 6 years, but has been a joker, gamer and storyteller for as long as he can remember.
His greatest pride is once improvising a 4-way argument between a grave digger, a dyslexic man, an adopted child and a sheep, all by himself. That moment is also the closest he's ever come to giving himself a roleplaying aneurysm... thus far.
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.