GM Advice: Use history to build your fantasy world up
So, let’s say that you’re wanting run a game. The genre? Well, it doesn’t matter that much, but this suggestion likely tends to work better for heroic science fiction and fantasy stories. The idea? Go through famous historical conflicts to find seeds for how to structure your world.
Okay, let’s say you don’t even know that much about historical conflicts. I mean, I don’t. The good news (I guess) is that there are a bunch of them. I mean a bunch. If you want some ideas, let’s just start with this list on Wikipedia of historical conflicts in Europe alone. I can’t even begin to count the number of conflicts there. Well, honestly, I could. I don’t care to. But it’s a lot. So, I’m going to click one and see where it takes me in modeling a believable threat in my fantasy world. I click on ‘War of the Malcontents’ from 1827 mostly because it has a rad name and I know literally nothing about it. Sadly, this page is in Spanish and the automatic translation is… lacking. Instead, I go with the Salt War of 1540. This article is, thankfully, in a language I can read, so let’s see what we have here. The important thing, when you are looking at historical conflicts, is that you should look for the overarching themes, not the historical figures themselves, by and large. I’m a fan of basically taking the setup of the war and then playing to see what happens from there. I’m not that interested in how the Salt War ends, just how it begins. Okay, from my reading it looks like we have a previously free state (Perugia) who was subsumed by a larger entity (the Papal States) 170 years prior. As time went on, various Popes tried to cut the autonomy of this new state, which is never something that sits well. There wasn’t enough food, but the Pope decided to levy a new salt tax anyway. As an aside, if you ever need a reason for people to lash out, use taxes. So, an uprising began. Apparently it was short, but that doesn’t matter for our purposes. We have the beginnings of a compelling roleplaying game story or campaign. You have a smaller country who used to be free now under the control of a larger kingdom who is not necessarily evil, but just wants this territory to respect its authority. The people are, presumably, suffering and can no longer afford salt (presumably largely used for food storage at the time, vital for living through winters and whatnot). So, as part of this smaller state, what do your players do regarding the situation? Maybe they ignore it. Players do that sometime. But, if they engage, we have an interesting, believable dynamic that can result in an interesting conflict going forward.