Ian’s Awesome RPG is set to start in a couple of weeks at my library. (For a view from in the thick of things, check out iarpg.blogspot.com.) We’ve gone back to the 19th century as our setting (at least our nominal starting place, since time travel looks to figure heavily in the plot). One of the reasons for that is that I started out by suggesting that we could put together more than one genre, as in the new movie Cowboys and Aliens – and then gave various examples in the format “Cowboys and _______”, e.g. Cowboys and Zombies, Cowboys and Russian Mafia, etc., and the Cowboys part stuck.
The other main reason that the time period stuck is that we had such a good time with it two years ago (some of those sessions are detailed on this blog – look for entries from the summer of 2009). And part of the reason that it was so fun is that playing in a historical setting can be an immersive experience – if you want to know what was actually going on back then, and you want to bring it into the game, you only need to look as far as Wikipedia. Even more compelling is the idea of bringing in historical figures, whether obscure or famous – the famous ones are a good hook, but everyone quickly comes to understand that most of these NPCs have a story, and that these stranger-than-fiction stories are true. It makes it more interesting because different parts of people’s brains are engaged by these “true life” story elements.
Of course, we fiddle with the timeline. The game will be set in the 1880s, but if a certain inventor’s work on a “death ray” didn’t happen until the 20th century, who’s going to complain if we move that up a little?
Finally, the coincidences that happen for the gamemaster are really interesting when you have a historical setting. I’ll be looking something up for a reference question, or for my own knowledge, and I’ll see something that relates to the game. Just now, an image from the movie The Goodbye Girl came into my head, and I wanted to read about Richard Dreyfuss, so I looked him up on Wikipedia. Found out that when he was growing up he thought himself to be related to Alfred Dreyfus, he of the Dreyfus Affair of 1894. No, I didn’t know anything about the Dreyfus Affair before today. But he’s sure as heck going to appear in the game.