Users Guide: The Historical Genre

The following article is a continuation of the Genres in Gaming series of articles written to help players and GMs determine which games are available within the genres they want to play. The lists of systems contained throughout or by no means exhaustive. All game systems are listed within the sub-genre as I understand from the knowledge I have. If they are improperly categorized, please post a comment further explaining what the sub-genre should be and why.

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Historical is not just a setting for it is a setting and the way in which the mechanics are developed around that setting or how the setting affects the people, places, or background of the system as a whole. With this in mind, Alternate History sits at a crossroads between the Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror genres by tying them together in interesting new ways and placing this grouping within a Historical setting and building many of the mechanics around this setting and how it affects the different genres.

(True) Historical

True Historical based systems or settings stick to the facts (or as close to them as possible) and attempt to make the game feel as realistic as possible.  This is often done through a pain-staking amount of research into the lives and events of the people within that time period. The background of the setting tries to perfectly mimic historical facts while the mechanics try to replicate how life was lived or how day-to-day events occurred.  Equipment must match that of the times along with minute details like currency, travel methods, communication, and even how people dressed.

These ideas are always dependent upon the historical reference being recreated.  Some things become less important while other things become not important at all.  Military tactics in a Civil War game may be a lesser point of concern while in a World War II game they become quite important.  Each setting will be unique in what becomes important and what doesn’t have an in-game effect.  But as you may find, a fully fleshed-out Historical system could cover all aspects of that period while a simple sourcebook or supplement only offers the most important.  I will not be distinguishing between these two.

The following systems are representative of (True) Historical and may have numerous published supplements. Each one is noted as the game system, game setting (where applicable), publisher, and historical period displayed as: System – Setting (Publisher) Historical Period.

  • Aces & Eights (Kenzer and Company) Western
  • GURPS – Various (Steve Jackson Games) Various
  • Gunslingers and Gamblers (FJ Gaming) Western
  • Privateers and Pirates (FJ Gaming) Pirates
  • Behind Enemy Lines (Out-of-Print) World War II
  • Boot Hill (Out-of-Print) Western
  • Bushido (Out-of-Print) Feudal Japan
  • Gangbusters (Out-of-Print) Prohibition

Alternate History

The Alternate History sub-genre is more flexible in its nature than the (True) Historical sub-genre.  While the focus of the setting and some of the mechanics may revolve around the specific historical reference, many of the facts have been altered in a way to bring other sub-genres into that historical reference.  The result is a truly unique experience with a look at a history that never was or could have been.  But the historical aspects of the setting still remain true to the game (examples being places, events, or specific people) but their resulting decisions or outcome could be changed in many ways creating a new way of explaining the events.

Like all historical settings, Alternate History games are often well researched for historical accuracy even though the end result is a mish-mash of ideas that the GM and players bring to the table.  This allows the players to feel as though they are stepping into this time but have been given something miraculous that wasn’t normally there.  Or the setting could take stories and fairy tales of the time and turn them into something real.  Whatever the changes may be, the result is a multitude of new experiences to be had.

The following systems are representative of Alternate History and may have numerous published supplements. Each one is noted as the game system, game setting (where applicable), publisher, historical period, and incorporated sub-genres displayed as: System – Setting (Publisher) Historical Period | Sub-Genre.

Ancient History

Probably the most rarely found is the Ancient History aspect of the Historical genre.  This could be true Ancient History or it could be Alternate Ancient History.  Whichever it is, the historical aspects are set in a much older time period than that of the previous two.  I would consider Ancient history to be anything before the Early Middle Ages (Dark Ages) before the decline of the Western Roman Empire.

The basic principles of the two previously mentioned sub-genres ring true here as well, the setting is just much older and less may be known of the historical facts. To make things easier, I’m combining all true and alternate Ancient History game systems and settings into a single sub-genre.

The following systems are representative of Ancient History and may have numerous published supplements. Each one is noted as the game system, game setting (where applicable), publisher, historical period, and incorporated sub-genres displayed as: System – Setting (Publisher) Historical Period | Sub-Genre.

Stay tuned for the continuation of the Genres in Gaming series of articles as I delve into the Pulp genre.

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