Tuesday, February 02, 2010

A World lit by only by Fear! Part 2: Roleplaying in the Dark Ages

From some comments I made in replying to a post on the Yog-Sothoth forums I've elaborated out some thoughts about playing Call of Cthulhu in the Dark Ages and tried to also make more general comments about setting RPG in that historical era.

The question that was asked:
Hi, I'm new to the site but have played CoC in the past. My current roleplay group don't and are more comfortable in the vein of 'kick-the-door-down' DnD, which is fine but I don't want them to be too comfortable. I'd like to introduce them to CoC and think, since they normally wander around fantasy realms, that they will be more receptive to an introduction via CDA. Do you think this is reasonable or would you recommend that I go with the classic CoC setting for a first time group?

My Reply:
Mmm, as a veteran of both CoC and DnD I suppose I've got relevant views on this. Main thoughts are:
  1. CoC is much more lethal than D&D (indeed like most BRP based games
  2. CDA is pretty historical (as are most CoC games) so magic is not massively common and groups can't rely on healing to patch them up
  3. In the CDA setting people would believe in Elves, Dwarves, Ogres, etc. so having them appear doesn't 'break' the setting as such.
  4. CDA creatures are not easy to overcome via the kick in the door style, but that applies just as much to classic CoC.
  5. By setting in a different era like the 1920s it might make the players think about trying different things than their usual style while a Dark Ages setting may lead them towards DnDisms
  6. Are your players interested in history and this era as that will help a lot for using the setting and roleplay?

More general thoughts
Expanding upon these thoughts for more general Dark Ages roleplaying rather than specific Call of Cthulhu I've come up with the following ideas:
  1. For a historical setting real working magic has to be rare, but there is a common belief in magic among the population. Users of magic need to worry about being killed as witches or warlocks if they reveal their powers so will normally be very discreet.
  2. Healing will largely have to be natural healing therefore slow and if you really want to be historical the risk of wounds getting infected needs to be considered. Remember that in most periods even during wartime disease and injuries have been much greater killers than combat. There is a need to counterbalance with the enjoyment of a game as the party falling victim at random to smallpox or similar would tend to put a damper on their enjoyment.
  3. Social class will be important and characters will need to obey the conventions of the era so members of the first estate (the clergy) will be deferred to by most other characters, at least in public.
  4. The large monasteries are the main centres of learning in most cases and the site of what libraries that tend to exist.
  5. There is unlikely to be large amounts of actual coin around for money as many transactions in villages would be barter and even travelling merchants would often use this, e.g. to obtain food and accommodation they might well pay in goods rather than cash. This means D&D style hoards of coins should be rare, though not totally unknown, and gold or silver could often be found as jewellery or sword hilts, etc like this one found in the UK.

In the near future I'm going to add an annotated bibliography for the period that can help you find further information and reviews of the CoCDA quickstart rules and main rules.

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