Monday, March 25, 2013

Adapting History: Colonial America

"The Spirit of '76" by Archibald Willard
Our real world history is rife with interesting places and periods that are just begging to be adapted to the table-top. Some of these periods, like the Middle Ages and World War II, have seen numerous adaptations while others have sadly remain either untouched or horribly neglected.

One period that I believe GMs and designers should pay more attention to is Colonial America and the American Revolution. Both periods, oddly enough, would make a great fit for a dark fantasy game.

The numerous colonies and the untamed wilderness that lies not to far from the border fits the "Points of Light" campaign concept rather perfectly. The characters could be explorers hired by the colony leaders to tame the wilderness in the name of England (or whichever country controls the colony) and defeat the strange monstrosities that inhabit the shadows of the New World, they could be Native Americans who are doing what they can to protect their homeland and way of life from the ever-expanding colonies, or they could be immigrants from the Old World who have traveled to the Colonies to either start a new life or have new adventures. The possibilities are numerous.

The addition of magic and monsters would also make for some interesting situations in the game. For example, let's say the adventurers are traveling and they stop in a small town to replenish their supplies. This town, known as Salem, discovers one of the adventurers is a magic-user and they manage to capture him or her. Now, the rest of his friends must come up with a way to save their friend while he or she does their best to argue why they are not a witch and shouldn't be hung or burned at the stake.

If you decide to set the game at the start of the American Revolution, you could have the characters get mixed up with the revolutionaries and have to fight the British, who might just be dabbling in the dark arts to insure their victory against the rebellious colonists. On the flip side, you could have the Colonists asking the adventurers to find a number of artifacts left by the Native Americans that could give them just enough of an edge to defeat the British army and win their independence.

If I was going to adapt Colonial America for use as a setting for a fantasy game, I would have to make a few house rules. First, I would limit players to playing only human characters so I don't have to try and shoehorn the demi-human races into the setting. If I was using a new game such as Pathfinder, I would probably limit the classes as well. For example, I would most likely ban monks, ninja, and samurai since it would make very little sense for these Eastern-flavored classes to be in the Colonies. I'd also probably implement the Slow experience track so characters would gain power much more slowly and I'd add a level cap so I could keep to the level of power that I would feel more comfortable with.

What other periods of time do you feel are sadly neglected by game designers and GMs? Which would you like to see adapted for the table?