Jan 16, 2012

My Megadungeon Was Vietnam

I'd like to hear from those in my readership who have played a historical game and not had it be one of the following: Imperial Rome, Charlemagne's empire, medieval Britain or France, the Napoleonic Wars, the Victorian Era, England or America in the interbellum period, WW2.

Lately, I've been noticing how repetitious historical settings are, and it's been driving me nuts. I think it's one of the things that keeps me away from running historical games. I used to love running Revised Recon I was younger (14-15 IIRC), because the Vietnam War was this strange foreign war I knew very little about, which really contributed to the unfamiliarity and strangeness of the whole thing as a setting both for me and the players. It meant the PCs really were stumbling around in the dark like real GIs might've been, but also that I wasn't really constrained by the need to be particularly true to life like I might feel now.Vietnam became this giant outdoor jungle deathtrap dungeon, with the PCs blowing up, being impaled on punji sticks, blowing up again, being dismembered by shrapnel, blowing up yet again, and so on. Recon's quick character generation helped, though we sped it along by just writing different names at the top of the same character sheets most of the time.

A session would start with me rolling on Recon's mission tables, which would then lead to a short descriptive set up, and then hours and hours of carnage. Nobody was really glib about the violence, but when you're playing guys in a jungle war with no oversight you don't exactly hold back. I only sort of understood the rank table, so I declared someone was the "Sergeant Guy" in charge of each "Quest" - sometimes the PCs would shoot one another to death to determine who got to be "Sergeant Guy". After a while, whoever was in charge would die, and someone else would appoint themselves in charge, or we would forget about the whole thing.

I'm surprised in hindsight at how good the tables and book were at equipping a 14 year old Canadian kid to run Vietnam War games, teaching me the appropriate terms for everything and suggesting tons and tons of well-thought out ideas. Quests included stopping a shipment of anti-armour rockets being transported in construction equipment across the Cambodian border on the Ho Chi Minh trail (I could not have pointed to Cambodia on a map at 14, I also had no idea who Ho Chi Ming was), guarding the owner of a rubber plantation while a revolutionary acting troupe who were suspected of being VC assassins toured the area, securing a captured NVA bunker, etc. This was all Erick Wujcik, my job was mainly to supply the explosions and roll the dice.

Since then, I haven't done a ton of historical gaming (though I have done some, I'm not a jerk). I've considered it from time to time, but the requests are always for the periods that I listed above, and which I've gotten thoroughly sick of after reading and reading and reading both for gaming and purely for the sake of learning about them. Really, if I were to go back to historical gaming, I'd like to get into some of history's less popular periods. The Byzantine Anatolian frontier, the Indo-Bactrian kingdoms (A few year ago, I played in a short lived Iron Heroes game online set in the Kabul during the reign of Melander/Milarepa and nearly played in a Burning Wheel game IRL set further south in northern India during the same period), Khitan during the Song-period, or the Conquistador phase of American colonisation (thus Emern). All of these are hybrid frontier cultures, which I personally tend to find easier to play in.

The nature of a hybrid frontier culture is that things are fluid and unfixed. So instead of expecting people to memorise De Ceremoniis, you get to say "I'm a rough and tough Armenian from the Caucasus, and though I may be Byzantine or something, I can't remember and don't give a shit. Where's my gold and girls, bro?" Frontiers have a way of drawing precisely the people who have the least invested in and the least interest in, the way things are, while throwing cultural contrasts in sharp relief as different ethnic groups mix with one another. I find them more playable than any other real world situation. More on this idea some other time.

In the mean time, as I said, I'm curious about all the uncommon and unusual eras your historical games have been set in. Comment it up, folks!