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I have some players who are requesting that I write some historical adventures. However, I am having a bit of a hard time keeping things historically accurate while still allowing there to be things to do. I don't want to bend the truth too much, but I also want to keep it interesting.

Does anyone have any advice on this? Can I pick some less "actiony" historical events (such as the Titanic) and still have them be interesting, or would sticking to stuff that is more dynamic help?

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up vote 11 down vote accepted

The first thing is: you don't actually want historical accuracy. For example, you probably don't care how food is preserved or how people relieve themselves. You want historical verisimilitude.

I know this sounds like a quibble! But it makes your life so much easier. You don't need to be accurate. You just need to throw about a few interesting details.

And you don't need many details to add atmosphere. Usually, Wikipedia is all you need. Take a random example: let's say I want to write a scenario in medieval Paris. Now, I don't know anything about medieval Paris. But this Wikipedia article talks about the Black Death and Catholic-inspired violence. That's OK. That's all I need to give some colour.

And that means: yes, you can pick less "actiony" historical events. Your example of the Titanic is perfect. Set any scenario on board the Titanic and throw in a few historical details: a map, a menu, some details of etiquette. Use that as a backdrop to any scenario. Try a murder mystery, a horror story, a ghost story, anyway. All the historical detail fades into the background. It adds depth to the setting.

I hope this doesn't sound flippant. What I really mean is: don't worry too much about historical accuracy. It's important, in historical scenarios, that you play around with the history. Concentrate on the scenario, use the history as background/inspiration, and the game will work well.

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+1 I could not have said it better myself. If you try too hard to add historical accuracy your plot/adventure will fall apart while being bogged down in facts. Like @Graham said, the feel is what is important, that's what your players are going to play off of, not the facts themselves. This really is a perfect answer to this question. That said, don't even get me started on Wikipedia and its attempts at historical accuracy... –  GPierce Jun 18 '11 at 3:36
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  1. Do your research. If you're writing for your own group, you only need as much accuracy as they need to believe the historical setting. However, if you're going to publish, you need a modicum of historical accuracy.

  2. Verisimilitude is key. And there are two edges. One is that you only need enough right to get past the average purchaser's willing suspension of disbelief. The other is that not everything accurate is believed. A historical adventure involving sabotaging the 1880 census' tabulation computer, for example, is historically plausible, but will break many people's verisimilitude since few are aware that it was mechanically tabulated.

  3. Develop the needed details, and ONLY the needed details.
    If writing a bank robbery in 1864, talk about the bank, the town, about the 1-legged veteran who lives across the street... but don't talk about the train system (tho perhaps about the train schedule for this town), nor about the war in general, nor about the emancipation of the slaves.

    Also, keep the details included manageable.
    Don't list the thickness of the glass and safe... just give the armor values. Don't list the individual people invested in the bank... just list how much is in the safe and drawers.

  4. Most historical adventures are telling a story. So, if involving historical figures, make certain you know their stories, and that adding in yours doesn't make theirs impossible, unless your intent is to derail history. (Which said, some historical adventures of that type are great fun.)

  5. Double check your illos. If you have visual control, make certain you check for visual details to match. If a weapon is listed, make certain it was available in the year specified. Get the style of tie right. Don't let your artist put stirrups on your 6th century horses in Gaul.

Some good resources to start with:

  • The Timelines of History
  • Wikipedia
  • Any other encyclopedia.
  • If recent enough in the timeframe, catalogs and magazine adverts are excellent for "what people of the time believed."

  • Any pictorial histories you can find in the library.

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ahem… You appear to have bullet-pointed your paragraphs and paragraphed your bullet points. >.> –  SevenSidedDie Jun 18 '11 at 15:25
    
Intentionally. I actually meant to number those paras, not bullet them, but was tired, and in VBB mindset... –  aramis Jun 19 '11 at 9:55
    
This looks better. My inner editor can sit down now. –  SevenSidedDie Jun 19 '11 at 16:51
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