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PostPosted: Mon Apr 30, 2012 8:47 am    Post subject: The balancing act of Historical fantasy RPGs Reply with quote
As someone who is a fan of RPGs and also accurate History how would you balance fantasy and fiction such as subtly plays upon mythology, superstitions, folk tales and ghost stories and elements of the Jidaigeki and chanbara genres seen in fiction and film with the Historical and realistic? Such as going into vivid detail of society, customs, clothing, laws etc. All the while dispelling the myths and romanticised outlooks of samurai code and separate societies and factions of so called 'ninja'.

How is one to elegantly show the distinction between fantasy and History while still making it feel natural or one with the setting?

I have always wanted to try my hand at creating something of this ilk, not only because of my enjoyment of RPGs but because it could potentially if done right enlighten and spark a interest to a audience who otherwise have only been party to the brainwashed hollywood and westernised version of samurai culture time and time again.

What are peoples thoughts?

Kind regards,

Harry
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PostPosted: Mon Apr 30, 2012 1:16 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
If you've seen plenty of Jidaigeki, Taiga, Chanbara etc. by Japanese produced for a Japanese audience, then you already know that they frequently take a lighthearted and creative view of "historical accuracy." Wink Revisionism is frequent, and fun!

To lend authenticity, I would make things as historically accurateas possible in matters of dress, architecture, furniture, heraldry, and the political and social background of the period in which you set your game, and use plotlines plausible within that time & place.

However, if you're developing this in the hopes that it might become popular, you also have to "give the people what they want." Which means, if a few naughty shrine maidens or badass ninja sneak in there as "fan service" or plot device, nobody'll sue you.

Bear in mind that the market share who are Asian Studies PhD's is very, very small. I'm frequently amused to see the posts of some of the most historically rigorous people on this board, freely admitting to enjoying as entertainment some of the silliest stuff ever made. I doubt it

You can have plenty of fantasy elements while maintaining authenticity if you rigorously mine the mythology, superstitions, and religious beliefs current for your characters and situations. Be on guard against anachronisms! These kill "suspension" of disbelief dead in the water.

I hope this helps,

Owarikenshi
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PostPosted: Mon Apr 30, 2012 2:13 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
The biggest problem I think any of us has is when things that are not accurate are represented as such. I enjoy playing Shogun: Total War II very much, but I have to acknowledge that it's a game, not a simulation. Unless you have a very linear gaming model (ie, a single chain of events in a story pattern), you're not going to recreate history. With that in mind, I would almost rather a game like STW use non-historical daimyo names, because then it's a blank slate. I can play however I want, and whatever happens, I'm not comparing it to "history".
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PostPosted: Mon Apr 30, 2012 3:31 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
There are a lot of RPG game systems that combine a realistic world with fantasy action-one of the titles that does this most successfully is “The Call Of Cthulhu” which mixes various time periods and places (including Japan) with the Lovecraft mythos of otherworldly and hellish creatures.

Systems that do this well have several things in common:

1) The most important thing in a game rooted in a realistic world is to not let your player characters exceed the limits of human potential. A skilled swordsman in a real world game still shouldn’t be able to slaughter 10 armed opponents without breaking a sweat. A Buddhist priest shouldn’t be shooting fireballs from their fingertips. Thieves shouldn’t be ‘using the force’ to sneak past guards. The more powerful characters are, the more the game becomes an exercise in killing foes and inventing superpowered enemies to present a challenge for them. Having characters that are realistic human beings will find them using their brains more, enjoying the atmosphere of the game world, and resolving situations as they would have done in real life. Instead of killing all 300 of the evil lord’s retainers themselves, characters should gather proof of his crime and enlist the aid of the Shogunate in bringing him down-and then insisting on being part of the raid. Luck should usually be with the players in any questionable situation, but if they do something stupid and reckless, they should be made to pay the price and not rely on massive muscle and spectacular magic to bail them out.

2) Since supernatural beings were part and parcel of medieval Japan (at least in the minds of the people who lived then), there’s no problem in using them in a campaign. But they should be fairly rare-nothing like the “Yokai Monsters” films. Figuring out the reasons behind the appearance of a single onryo (vengeful ghost) and then trying to come up with an appropriate way to dispel them is more than enough for one play session. Don’t swamp the players with creatures-keep them special. Magic or magical artifacts used by the players should be ritual or ceremony based and of limited use or effect-and usually it shouldn’t be made clear if it worked or if benefits were just random chance (like a storm showing up out of nowhere to scatter an army).

3) Interaction with historical characters should be limited, and for purposes of your campaign you could go with more realistic versions of any you choose to use. For example, instead of the noble, philosophical warrior Miyamoto Musashi is usually presented as, present him as he was in life-basically a dirty, bad-tempered homeless thug. I’d also keep any Western characters or culture to a minimum.

4) Likewise, don’t let your players have the ability to change history. Instead of rescuing Nobunaga at Honno-ji, maybe have them receive the news of his death there and think back to the time when they rescued him from an earlier attempt on his life.

5) Every game needs naughty shrine maidens or less-than-chaste Buddhist nuns. They just do. Having colorful and recurring NPC’s in general will not only make the game more fun to play, but also act as specialists and advisors for the PC’s-not to mention being good story hooks. What would Wise Shogun Yoshimune do without the Megumi Firehouse acting as a weirdness magnet? How would Brick McBurly get into mischief week after week without Koyori’s troublesome relatives coming to him with their problems?

But concentrating on presenting a realistic game world, making your characters accountable for their actions, and not letting them be supermen will go a long way towards making the setting and experience paramount-and not just an exercise in killing bad guys and monsters. If you can, watch a few chanbara weekly TV series (not movies)-they concentrate much more on character development and day-to-day life. “Mito Komon” is great for this sort of thing, since the basic premise (Mito Komon and his two retainers travel the country incognito looking to right wrongs) is an RPG game all on its own (and actually was-see the entry on "Shibaiyuugi: Mito Komon" in this thread).
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PostPosted: Mon Apr 30, 2012 7:25 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
Tatsunoshi says it all far better than I could. Let me just poke my head in to offer my support for his suggestions.

Also, Usagi Yojimbo, while it looks cartoony and features anthropomorphic animals, is actually a pretty good source, I think, for inspiration for stories. Usagi sometimes gets tied up with historical events, or with the supernatural, but for the most part, it's bandits bothering a tiny rural village, or a corrupt governor, or a corrupt priest... small things, on a small scale, that are very reasonable to reality. And, yes, Usagi is an amazing swordsman, defeating tens of foes and only rarely getting seriously injured; but he doesn't fly through the air or throw fireballs or anything. I think having player-characters on the scale of Usagi - someone who's good at what he does, but who is more or less essentially a nobody, a wandering ronin who just sort of deals with whatever problems he comes across, acting on a very local level, and not on a national stage - could help to lend realism to a campaign, and to help the suspension of disbelief.

All of that said, I think that the "balance" between fantasy and historical accuracy can be however you want it to be. Personally, I find more down-on-the-ground sort of campaigns to be more fun, but at the same time, I'm not sure anyone's interested in roleplaying the realities of the lack of indoor plumbing back in those days, if you get my drift. Gritty, but not too filthy... And if you and your players want it to be more fantastic, with more supernatural elements, go for it. As long as everyone's having fun, that's what's important.
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PostPosted: Mon Apr 30, 2012 8:27 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
Owarikenshi wrote:
To lend authenticity, I would make things as historically accurateas possible in matters of dress, architecture, furniture, heraldry, and the political and social background of the period in which you set your game, and use plotlines plausible within that time & place.


This is exactly what I was thinking of doing for the groundwork and building blocks of maintaing a historically authentic setting to it's relevant period.

A good example of this is the RPG Qin: The Warring States. Although the player characters and the play style of the game can lend it self to the Wuxia genre of Fiction and Film it still portrays a well researched backdrop of the period. It has a detailed and comprehensive list from subjects on morality, social conventions, dress customs and health to things such as Legalism, Mohism and Confucianism.

In regards to magic in the setting, although it is exactly that it's still based on the philosophical and scientific mindsets of the time.

I think this approach enables the players who are engaging in the RPG to have fun while at the same time being able to make the distinction between fact and fiction and all the while learning something about that particular periods History and hopefully making oneself want to learn more about it.

However in regards to a Historical Japanese 'fantasy' game it's slightly trickier as a lot of misconceptions have arisen from the popular figure that is the samurai, hence why I came here for guidance.

Thank you for all your replies and thoughts/suggestions! I will get round to addressing them individually when I get the chance later on today and work out how to multi-quote ha.

Kind regards,

Harry
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PostPosted: Mon Apr 30, 2012 9:03 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
If you haven't done so already, I suggest you get ahold of the RPG Sourcebook "Sengoku" by Tony Bryant. It'll give you all the info you need on clothing, gear, customs, character types, and virtually any sort of information you need to create a believable game world.
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PostPosted: Mon Apr 30, 2012 10:05 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
Tatsunoshi wrote:
If you haven't done so already, I suggest you get ahold of the RPG Sourcebook "Sengoku" by Tony Bryant. It'll give you all the info you need on clothing, gear, customs, character types, and virtually any sort of information you need to create a believable game world.


I know of this game line but I heard they did a supplement on shinobi which was bogus and reinforced all the inaccuracies and misconceptions that have come before. So didn't know whether to approach it or not?
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PostPosted: Mon Apr 30, 2012 10:18 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
Get the main book but skip the supplements. Tony didn't have anything to do with the follow-ups like the Shinobi book and they tend to be largely fantasy.
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PostPosted: Mon Apr 30, 2012 10:26 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
Noted. Thanks for the clarification. Out of interest does Tony frequent these forums? Be nice to get his perspective on game design and what not...
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PostPosted: Tue May 01, 2012 1:03 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
HarryJJ wrote:
Out of interest does Tony frequent these forums? Be nice to get his perspective on game design and what not...


He did in the 'old days' but sadly not anymore. He sometimes pops up on the SA's Yahoo group and the Asian War Yahoo group.
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PostPosted: Tue May 01, 2012 6:12 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
Tatsunoshi wrote:
HarryJJ wrote:
Out of interest does Tony frequent these forums? Be nice to get his perspective on game design and what not...


He did in the 'old days' but sadly not anymore. He sometimes pops up on the SA's Yahoo group and the Asian War Yahoo group.


I've had a recent report that he's alive and well. More information than that, I cannot divulge.
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PostPosted: Tue May 01, 2012 9:55 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
Forgot all about the Sengoku book. Just ordered it and thanks for the tip.
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PostPosted: Tue May 01, 2012 9:57 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
Tatsunoshi wrote:

3) Interaction with historical characters should be limited, and for purposes of your campaign you could go with more realistic versions of any you choose to use. For example, instead of the noble, philosophical warrior Miyamoto Musashi is usually presented as, present him as he was in life-basically a dirty, bad-tempered homeless thug. I’d also keep any Western characters or culture to a minimum.


Is this definitely the case now regarding Miyamoto Musashi? I remember a discussion going on about this on these boards, some people were getting a little riled up on the subject.
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PostPosted: Tue May 01, 2012 10:04 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
Tatsunoshi wrote:
4) Likewise, don’t let your players have the ability to change history. Instead of rescuing Nobunaga at Honno-ji, maybe have them receive the news of his death there and think back to the time when they rescued him from an earlier attempt on his life.


This is the only part of your post that I have to disagree with. If players want to have more of a impact upon the period and I think they should have the option available to them to change the course of History. Otherwise things will feel shoehorned and they will feel more like spectators rather than being able to fully interact within the setting.
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PostPosted: Tue May 01, 2012 10:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
HarryJJ wrote:


Is this definitely the case now regarding Miyamoto Musashi? I remember a discussion going on about this on these boards, some people were getting a little riled up on the subject.


Nothing is ever as good or as bad as it seems, nor is any person as noble or as evil, as brilliant or as stupid as we make them out to be. Miyamoto wrote a treatise on sword fighting that included heavy doses of profound philosophy, was friends with important thinkers of his day, founded his own school of swordsmanship, produced notable works of sculpture and painting, and won enough individual combats to become an instructor to important people. He also reputedly had an aversion to bathing, was irascible at best, allegedly won some of his most "famous" fights through means that would be considered underhanded today, was consistently on the losing side n any battle he fought in, and was for a long time more notable as an artist than as any paragon of samurai virtue. Any opinion of him is reflective of that person's individual values.

For myself, I find him incredibly boring. So he was good with swords and could make art...I don't get the "so what" about him. However, I would be very interested in any game/dramatization context that portrayed Musashi as a cantankerous, smelly, conniving baddie for the simple reason that it's DIFFERENT, and hero worship is so monotonous. Man's shortcomings make for infinitely more interesting plot twists.
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PostPosted: Wed May 02, 2012 1:29 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
HarryJJ wrote:
This is the only part of your post that I have to disagree with. If players want to have more of a impact upon the period and I think they should have the option available to them to change the course of History. Otherwise things will feel shoehorned and they will feel more like spectators rather than being able to fully interact within the setting.


Obviously, you have to go with what you feel will work best. But allowing your players to change history will basically drive a stake into the 'realistic atmosphere' of your game after the very first occurrence. If Nobunaga isn't killed at Honno-ji, what would the Japan that comes after look like? It likely would be very different, good or bad. It might be much the same-it's impossible to say, but it wouldn't be the Edo period Japan everyone knows. So the game world you're working hard to build no longer has any basis. Changing history is why most 'samurai' RPG games take place in an alternate world (like 'Five Rings') or a country that's like Japan but yet not Japan (Bushido). There, you can truly do anything and not be constrained by history. But being able to change major historical events pretty much kills the atmosphere of a 'realistic' game. It also puts your players on the fast track to becoming supermen. Like Meth said, a realistic campaign is likely best played out on a local level and using the stage of history as a backdrop. Still, it all boils down to what you and your group want.
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PostPosted: Wed May 02, 2012 1:46 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
To add to that, you COULD develop an alternate reality game, like for instance the goal is to reach Honnoji in time, and if you do, you save Nobunaga. But if you do that, you either have to A. make that the end goal of the game, and end things there, or B. pick ONE alternate reality storyline post-Honnoji and follow it. As I said before, you'll have to keep a very linear storyline--otherwise, there are just way too many variables to sort out to make your game playable. Frankly, we have no idea what Nobunaga would have done had he lived beyond Honnoji, because he didn't. You can presume 1st order changes (would have conquered Shikoku, Hideyoshi's negotiated truce with the Mori would have held, the alliance with the Hojo would have been okay, for the time being) but anything beyond that is 2nd order speculation, and the further away you get from reality, the higher the number of permutations you have. With the Mori and Chosogabe pacified and the Hojo on his side, would he have then been conquering Kyushu and Tohoku? We could guess that, but who knows if the Hojo would have liked that status quo, or another subordinate wouldn't have chafed at Nobunaga's harshness? Let's say he subdues the rest of Japan, by whatever means--would he have turned to Korea and China like Hideyoshi? Perhaps...but considering much of the reason Hideyoshi did so is to occupy restless daimyo that he had tenuous control over, would Nobunaga have the same sort of weak control and need to do that? And what of the Portuguese he was so friendly with up until his death? How do they figure in?

We have no idea. Literally, none. Any speculation is pure fantasy, and while an amusing exercise, any answer is as good as any other. It doesn't mean you couldn't do a post-Honnoji scenario where Nobunaga lives, but you'd have to be very careful about setting the parameters of it. Personally, I kind of like the old Nobunaga's Ambition model, where 1582 comes and goes and Nobunaga's still taking castles/provinces if you're playing him. It kind of ignores the whole Honnoji thing, until you get to recent versions of it. You're not really recreating history, you're just playing a game with historical characters and starting points. And that's all pretty much anyone can ask for unless you make it very, very linear.
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PostPosted: Tue May 08, 2012 11:49 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
Tatsunoshi wrote:
HarryJJ wrote:
This is the only part of your post that I have to disagree with. If players want to have more of a impact upon the period and I think they should have the option available to them to change the course of History. Otherwise things will feel shoehorned and they will feel more like spectators rather than being able to fully interact within the setting.


Obviously, you have to go with what you feel will work best. But allowing your players to change history will basically drive a stake into the 'realistic atmosphere' of your game after the very first occurrence. If Nobunaga isn't killed at Honno-ji, what would the Japan that comes after look like? It likely would be very different, good or bad. It might be much the same-it's impossible to say, but it wouldn't be the Edo period Japan everyone knows. So the game world you're working hard to build no longer has any basis. Changing history is why most 'samurai' RPG games take place in an alternate world (like 'Five Rings') or a country that's like Japan but yet not Japan (Bushido). There, you can truly do anything and not be constrained by history. But being able to change major historical events pretty much kills the atmosphere of a 'realistic' game. It also puts your players on the fast track to becoming supermen. Like Meth said, a realistic campaign is likely best played out on a local level and using the stage of history as a backdrop. Still, it all boils down to what you and your group want.



Didn't realise there were new posts.

Ok good points here and maybe adventures and campaigns should be centered around a more confined or local level but with the examples of historical events during the Sengoku era, with such focus on conquest and dominance there would be a appeal to have the option of running a style of game that has the players having more influence on the greater politics of the time. How does the Sengoku RPG and Shogun: Total War II handle this? ltdomer98 said in a earlier post that Shogun used non-historical daimyo names..

I think I should of been clearer in my first post, this is more about creating a supplement for the gaming community then deciding on what my individual gaming group are looking for. Again maybe I'm getting torn between wanting a very authentic backdrop as Owarikenshi suggests and accurate historical events.

Edit: The more I look back at the posts detailing the problems arising from having the option to change or steer History on such a massive scale I agree it's a area best left untouched. If I was to include player interaction with Key Historical figures then apart from presenting them as they really were (or as close as) I would provide ample advice and warning to GM's when using them.


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PostPosted: Tue May 08, 2012 12:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
ltdomer98 wrote:
To add to that, you COULD develop an alternate reality game, like for instance the goal is to reach Honnoji in time, and if you do, you save Nobunaga. But if you do that, you either have to A. make that the end goal of the game, and end things there, or B. pick ONE alternate reality storyline post-Honnoji and follow it. As I said before, you'll have to keep a very linear storyline--otherwise, there are just way too many variables to sort out to make your game playable. Frankly, we have no idea what Nobunaga would have done had he lived beyond Honnoji, because he didn't. You can presume 1st order changes (would have conquered Shikoku, Hideyoshi's negotiated truce with the Mori would have held, the alliance with the Hojo would have been okay, for the time being) but anything beyond that is 2nd order speculation, and the further away you get from reality, the higher the number of permutations you have. With the Mori and Chosogabe pacified and the Hojo on his side, would he have then been conquering Kyushu and Tohoku? We could guess that, but who knows if the Hojo would have liked that status quo, or another subordinate wouldn't have chafed at Nobunaga's harshness? Let's say he subdues the rest of Japan, by whatever means--would he have turned to Korea and China like Hideyoshi? Perhaps...but considering much of the reason Hideyoshi did so is to occupy restless daimyo that he had tenuous control over, would Nobunaga have the same sort of weak control and need to do that? And what of the Portuguese he was so friendly with up until his death? How do they figure in?

We have no idea. Literally, none. Any speculation is pure fantasy, and while an amusing exercise, any answer is as good as any other. It doesn't mean you couldn't do a post-Honnoji scenario where Nobunaga lives, but you'd have to be very careful about setting the parameters of it. Personally, I kind of like the old Nobunaga's Ambition model, where 1582 comes and goes and Nobunaga's still taking castles/provinces if you're playing him. It kind of ignores the whole Honnoji thing, until you get to recent versions of it. You're not really recreating history, you're just playing a game with historical characters and starting points. And that's all pretty much anyone can ask for unless you make it very, very linear.


Good possible examples and yes as far as role-playing games goes I think trying to recreate historical events with no possible avenue for things to take a different direction is disheartening for the players for if they can't fully interact with the world they are in then they are simply spectators with no say. Again thats if they are playing a 'high level campaign where they should be able to have a say.
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PostPosted: Tue May 08, 2012 6:43 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
HarryJJ wrote:
How does the Sengoku RPG and Shogun: Total War II handle this?


Shogun Total War II is more of a military strategy/tactics game than an RPG, but yes, it does use a lot of fictional daimyo names. Even when it uses historical names, the characters are generic. They all start out as blank slates, and you choose the direction of their training and skills as they gain experience. So Uesugi Kenshin doesn't begin as 'The God of War' and depending on your choices can end up as a womanizer who avoids battle and specializes in building a strong economy. How far they progress is largely up to the player's skills, and the direction they progress in is up to the player's individual preference. The Total War series really isn't very historically accurate, especially some of the expansions like Rise of the Samurai and Fall of the Samurai.

As I recall, the Sengoku RPG gives players direction for running any type of campaign. There are guidelines given for running realistic campaigns as well as ones where players can shoot lighting out of their ass and monsters are everywhere. While Tony is a stickler for historical accuracy where it's appropriate, he was also the editor of The Dragon magazine so he's comfortable with fantasy campaigns as well.
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PostPosted: Tue May 08, 2012 7:43 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
Tatsunoshi wrote:
As I recall, the Sengoku RPG gives players direction for running any type of campaign. There are guidelines given for running realistic campaigns as well as ones where players can shoot lighting out of their ass and monsters are everywhere.


To be clear, you mean the actual book role playing game, and not the computer game of the same name. Sengoku the computer game does not have tactical combat at all, which is the only reason I didn't completely switch over to playing that instead of STWII.
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