Skip to main content

Why GURPS Historicals?

The advent of a new Hot Spots volume has reminded me of a question which comes up from time to time: Why buy an historical GURPS book when you can just look up stuff on the web?  It's not just potential customers who ask this. It's a question which keeps the GURPS editorial staff up at night. Not surprisingly, I have a multi-part answer to that question:

1) The premise of the question is flawed. Contrary to what some might think, not everything is on the web. Some material is, obviously ("China is over there.  Farther. Little to the left. Up. There."), but certainly not all or even most. The depth of research in GURPS historicals is frequently such that the authors have to pick up dusty old books and page through things which haven't been digitized and exposed to the web for free nor are they likely to be any time soon, or to hit up journals and new books which are still behind paywalls or are undigitized and available only through libraries. You can Google for information on the historical topic, but you'll never find everything you get in a GURPS book on the web, or even from readily available and non-specialist books.

2) Being on the web doesn't make it right. Although easily available sources can give you a decent overview of a subject, individual facts can be suspect. For example, if you do a web search on the origins of paper, just about every source attributes the invention of paper to a Chinese emperor at the dawn of the second century AD. Although that's a widely held traditional belief, much deeper digging into less accessible sources puts the invention of paper at some point in the first century BC. Some topics are more prone to error than others; on-line accounts of historical weapons and armor, for example, are often full of breathless exaggerations and poor scholarship repeated as articles of faith.

3) There's also GURPS content. If you're playing GURPS, presumably you'll need GURPS stats at some point. Some is likely available (What's the top speed of an Albanian Z-22 fighter jet produced during the Cold War? About how big is a Hanseatic man-o-war?) or can be easily generated (for example, HP for any item follows from weight; if you know how big that man-o-war is, you can get hit points), but some stats require a bit of thought and judgement by someone who knows GURPS rules.  What's the DR of that Hanseatic ship, and how much damage does the Z-22's 26mm cannon do? The GURPS author takes care of that for you.

4) Even for non-game-stat information which is available on-line, there are important functions of filtering and anticipation. GURPS authors don't just find information and hurl it at you. Believe it or not, there's considerable thought about what is and isn't included. Writing sourcebooks for historical games is a strange mix of technological, political, military, economic, and cultural history which you're unlikely to find in other fields (Some come close; there are writers' guides for historical periods to aid the author of, say, neo-Austen Gothic novels and Sherlock Holmes pastiches, but they tend to lack sufficient coverage of hitting people to be really useful for RPGs). Authors go through diverse sources for information particularly relevant to composing adventures and putting players into the mindset of natives to a place and time period. Hot Spots: Renaissance Florence could have presented extended summaries of various literary works, but it didn't. Instead, it spent pages on describing what PCs would be likely to eat, what people would be likely to wear, what people they might meet would talk about, what they'd do for fun, and other stuff they'd need to know if they were living there. You're paying for the work of doing the research, getting what you need, taking out what you don't, and getting it into a neat, edited package instead of spending countless hours doing background instead of working on specific adventures and, dare I say, actually playing.


StevenWarble said…
I have never questioned the value of GURPS Historicals. I love for someone else to read through the history books and pull out the important, interesting and playable parts for me. I wish more GURPS Hot Spots and other Historical articles would come out.

Popular posts from this blog

Writing GURPS Adventures

Someone over on the forum asked for advice on writing adventures for GURPS. Or more specifically, in context, writing GURPS adventures with an eye towards publication by SJ Games, which is a very different animal. Whatever method and structure you have for writing up adventures for your own use is, of course, the best and you should use it for your own purposes. But we're talking about commerce here, not just art, so this should be thought of as advice on how to do business with a particular publisher, not generally useful advice on how to write adventures.

I need to start by defining a term. SJ Games means something specific by "adventure." As the wish list uses the word, an adventure has a plot, or at least something plot-like in it. It presents a specific problem to solve through a progression of encounters. They are not sandboxes. Sandbox-style adventures, with their multiplicity of possible PC objectives, are, in the terminology of the wish list, locations. There ar…

Alea Iacta Est

Devices to ensure fair play in dice games go back a long way. The Greeks and Romans used devices like internally-ridged dice cups to make sure game players couldn't unfairly control the spin and roll of the dice.

And, of course, they invented the dice tower. The earliest known dice tower is a 4th century item found near Cologne.

I started playing with a 3d-printed implementation of it a while back, forgot, was reminded of it, and finally got around to finishing.

It's not a perfect implementation. It lacks the pine cones of the original (not included in the picture above), nor the little bells, nor the dolphins, but those can be added easily. It isn't hinged like the original (Lightweight PLA hinges? Nah.). And the steps appear to go up a bit higher in the original. Still, it gets the job done and looks reasonably Roman.

And for anyone interested in making their own, I've put the files on Thingiverse.

Writing Historical RPGs, Doing Diversity

For a few years now, I've been seeing things like this and reading pieces elsewhere about apparent conflicts between historical accuracy in historical or pseudo-historical fantasy games and issues of deep interest to some parts (and some potential parts) of the modern gaming audience. I tend to write things which are both connected to history and are written to enable the fantasies of modern people, some of whom have a specific interest in not reproducing problematic parts of the past and present in their recreations, so it's something which touches on stuff that I do. And I think I tend to move and write in circles where this tends not to get much thought or attention even though I write for a game which makes accuracy a priority, so while none of this is new to people who grapple with these issues regularly, I'm thinking maybe I should say something about it to get it into spaces where I work.

So, how do I approach the demands of both accuracy and diversity in the stuff …