Monday, October 14, 2013

HoTHF: Providing Historical Information

Writing a roleplaying game set in a historical era sure does make you grateful to libraries. I'm also quite lucky at the moment as all of my libraries are going on a One Card System so I can do inter-library loans with greater ease and can return such books to whichever library I choose. Very handy.

While there are plenty of web-sites around, I've found that they never give you the dirty details like books do. It tends to be overviews again and again and again, though the BBC web-site has a nice collection of written anecdotes from folks who lived through World War II so that has been pretty helpful in coming up with those little touches that will make the whole thing more interesting.

I have read a lot and researched a lot and have gotten to the point where I can comfortably write whole paragraphs on various subjects without having to go over my notes every time. Sure, I always double check my facts but thus far my double checks have largely been confirmations of what I had already thought was true.

The less fun part is massaging enough information into the core book to allow players and Game Wardens (aka Game Masters) can comfortably enjoy scenarios that have that Home Front feel without forcing them all to slog through dozens of books themselves. Now I'm not saying that my 15 - 20 pages of setting material is equivalent to dozens of books. Not at all. But it's a comfortable start and right now I need to ensuring that my overviews need to allow gamers to have a historically accurate core upon which they can hang all kinds of adlibs, improvisations and out-and-out fakery. There's nothing wrong with deciding that YOUR version of the Home Front has some anachronistic detail but it is important to know a few core details, such as the blackout, rationing and bombing raids, because without those details you're not really playing the British Home Front.

I'm up to the stage of cramming all kinds of juicy details into 20 pages of text in a way that gets across plenty of information without making it all list-like or boring. Since some people won't want to read twenty pages of anything and others only really want to read the rules, I've come up with a few different ways of making the information more accessible.

Firstly, I've included sub-headings so that people can get a clue about those facts just by flicking through the pages: Air Raid Precautions, Black Out, Air Raid Shelters, Blitz, Farming & Victory Gardens, Make Do & Mend, Censorship & Propaganda. Just reading these sub-headings point out a few of the essential differences of war life.

Secondly, I've included a paragraph of up to 120 words written in the style of a young widow musing in her diary about that particular topic. This is to serve those people prefer getting their information in a more friendly 'fiction' style or who might like some information on how people from that era might have viewed the situation.

Thirdly, I've included up to five paragraphs (generally four) that give out factual information about the topic at hand in a way that both gives a good sense of context for the topic and delivers a lot of information without being boring and list-like.

Finally, I will be including a few newspaper-style comic book strips and informative pictures for those who can't be bothered reading but might look at a picture.

Here's an example of a topic (minus any pictures)


What passes for a crime these days is appalling! Sell food without coupons to someone alleging to have been bombed out? Criminal! Blackout curtains fall loose due to a nearby bomb? For shame! At least the profiteers and the fraudsters deserve to be hit by the law. What about the rest of us? They should be focusing their efforts on looters, bag snatchers, and those rather rough looking fellows waiting in air raid shelters to take you for what you’re worth. And selling hooch as genuine liquor! It’s one thing for someone to go blind due to foolishly purchasing hooch on purpose but it’s hardly fair if it can happen to anyone without warning.

The war created whole new areas of criminality and reinforced the old ones. Thieves stole handbags in shelters, looted bombed (or abandoned) buildings and sold what they stole on the black market. Prostitutes found themselves in high demand among sailors. Killers hid bodies among the rubble of bombed buildings in the full knowledge that the coroners likely wouldn’t look at them. Fraudsters and conmen found new insecurities to exploit and more money to embezzle.

Gangs of youths (termed blackout gangs) would assault people in the streets or demand passersby hand over cash and jewellery under the cover of the blackout. The Italian mafia were soon interned, paving the way for other gangs to step into control. Jewel thieves drove their cars alongside jewellers’ stores, smashing windows and grabbing everything off the display windows as they go.

It was a time of high crime but it was also a time when the average person could find themselves arrested and fined for something they hadn’t known was illegal. Such as a man who was fined for smoking a cigarette outside during the blackout. Or the rescue worker who was arrested for taking a half empty bottle of liquor from the rubble of a bombed building and passed it around his helpers after a particularly gruelling night only to be arrested for looting.

Food wastage became a crime. Buying or selling rationed items without coupons was a crime. Forgetting to put up blackout curtains was a crime. Being so depressing that you spreading information bad for morale was a crime. It was easier than ever to become a criminal in World War II.

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