"So what do you actually do with all this information I give you?"
Clio is trying to find out about roleplaying again. I patiently explain what we do and she nods in an understanding kind of way before asking again how I use what she tells me. It's a question some of my readers have been asking as well, and so to answer it I've put together a description of how I'd go about starting a historical campaign.
Step one is choosing the period. This largely boils down to personal taste, what your players want and which periods they're comfortable with. Since my players are currently fed up with gothic horror, political intrigue and most games with a ":" in the middle of the title I'm going to shift the scene a bit.
I want action, I want drama and I want something a long way from the modern world. There are plenty of options; perhaps something set in the Roman Empire with the players part of an army entering unknown barbarian lands, maybe a game in the Napoleonic era after the manner of the excellent 'Sharp'books, or something in the Caribbean involving pirates (see my first column) In the end though I've decided to settle on one of my personal favourites, the Crusades, and more specifically the third crusade in which Richard the Lionheart and Saladin fought out one of the most dramatic conflicts of all time - with the holy city of Jerusalem as their prize.
So, now I've got a period its time to do some research. At this point I'm looking to get a general understanding of what went on, in the hope that I'll pick up some good plot ideas along the way.
So, after trawling through a library for suitable books I've assembled a brief summary of the war and the main players. It looks a bit like this.
By now I'm having all kinds of ideas. Wouldn't it be great if one of the players had been present at the Battle of Hattin, defending the king, that would make a great prelude. Others could have accompanied Richard across the ocean from England, an adventure in itself. In a game with such religious overtones a priest would be a good character to have around, or maybe one of the Knights Templar. Less devout types were also present, there was no shortage of mercenaries present during the war.
And what happened to the True Cross? Following the siege of Acre Saladin was unable to return it to Richard and after that it was lost to history. Perhaps the players could be despatched to search for it after the siege, journeying into territory overrun with bandits and where the loyalties of the inhabitants were unknown to either side.
Major NPCs for the game are obvious. For the players not to encounter Richard and Saladin at some stage would be a travesty. A few other characters stand out as interesting as well, Balien of Ibelin earned a reputation as a man of great honour for his conduct, while the tragic figure of king Guy would be interesting. (Guy was a dreadful king who came to the throne through a palace coup. Only after Hattin did he start to behave in a manner befitting a king).
On the Muslim side Taki ed Din, Saladin's ambitious and uncontrollable nephew stands out, along with Beha ed Din, Saladin's adviser, biographer and Judge of the Army. Finally the presence of the Assassins and their leader Sinan, the old man of the mountain, cannot be overlooked.
Very little is known about the Assassins, but they did engender a lot of fear during the period. Indeed they are widely blamed for the death of Conrad of Montferrat in the closing months of the war, only a few days after it had been decided that he would be the new king of Jerusalem. (albeit in a Kingdom that did not include Jerusalem) As with so much in history the truth about Conrad's death isn't known and never will be - making it a great plot hook. Perhaps the players could end up having to kill Conrad themselves?
Well, plenty of stuff there to work with. I've also got to choose a system for the game. I want my players to be important, powerful types. I also want combat to be a part of the game, and I want it to be dangerous and 'realistic', no Feng Shui style stunts here.
Rolemaster, while great for combat is probably a little too cumbersome for the game I have in mind. The Storyteller system is probably too simplistic. I have a soft spot for Call of Cthulhu's straightforward, but deadly system, and I also like its more mature cousin the RuneQuest System. In the end I think I'll use the RuneQuest rules, but probably with some modifications to the character generation rules. I may also have to tinker with the combat system before I'm happy with it.
There's still a lot of work to do, but by now I know which blanks need filling in. I should pad out my knowledge of what life was like at the time, perhaps read some biographies of major figures and get myself a decent map of the area.
Clio is looking annoyed.
"You've barely spoken to me for a whole column", she says. Never mind (I reply), you'll get plenty to say next month, when I plan to look at what historians call their primary sources. The actual evidence that they use to draw their conclusions, and how roleplayers can put it to work in their games.
Until next century,
What do you think?