On this Memorial Day weekend, I'm confident some gentle readers will stir themselves to check the computer. Here in Canada we had last Monday off. Since we never had a Civil War, it was necessary to venerate a dead English Monarch in order to give ourselves an excuse to sleep in on a Monday in May. Dead monarchs, as it happens, produce less patriotic rhetoric in their wake than do the ends of brutal conflicts - but then, they cost much, much less.
All my campaigns begin in the year 1650. The long-running campaign has just started into January, 1653, but I did just start another separate two weeks ago for some friends who had never had a chance to play D&D. My reasons for picking that year are varied, and have much to do with there being colonies in the New World, with the restoration of Portugal to independence, the rise of the Dutch and the relative stability of India and China. India in the last thousand years has never been really stable, but the Moghuls were at the height of their power and the boundaries in the north at least were set. In China the Manchu Dynasty has been in power for all of 6 years, ending a thirty year war of conquest that deposed the Mings.
In Europe, the Thirty Years War has only just come to an end. As a comparison for violence, passion, bumbling generals and destruction, it was a civil war that compares well with the American Civil War, the end of which brought about the establishment of today's holiday. The German war lasted much longer, but only because it was a series of conflicts taking place in different parts of central Europe, all revolving around a similar motif - the justification to plunder those not of one's own chosen religious belief.
Specifically, Catholics plundering Protestants, Protestants plundering Catholics, and everyone plundering the Jews (the last was standard practice up until 60 years ago).
At various points between 1618 and 1648 various adventuring states or independent 'generals' raised armies and marched out to put right the question of whose religion was most just - proving in the process that religion is a wonderful justification for greed, gluttony, lust and wrath. These invasions are today called 'Interventions.'
Except for brief periods of the warring period, there were no 'fronts' as we understand them in modern warfare. Certain cities or towns were entered repeatedly by various forces identifying as Protestant or Catholic, either of which were prepared to execute citizens in the interest of accumulating gold or power. Anything you can imagine your D&D players not being allowed to do was done abundantly. The destruction amounted to 2,000 castles, 18,000 villages and 1,500 towns in Germany alone. The treaty ending the war was signed on October 24. I could not find a holiday associated with it.
My choice in running the years after the war, rather than during it, allows for an understanding of tolerance towards religion in my campaign. I quite like clerics. Unlike many who are made uncomfortable by the injection of religion in a campaign, I enjoy the various aspects of social counsel and networking that clerics have available. And I did not want to force a given religion on my players. There is some intolerance that remains, but Europe did not fight another war on religion (nationalism became the rage) and the burning of heretics fell off. So if a player wanted to play some religion that was very unpopular, it was possible in that enlightened age as they remained discrete.
Moreover, the need for reconstruction - in China as well - provides lots of opportunity for players who wish to be upwardly mobile to move into desolated areas such as Brandenburg or Bohemia.
Why it should matter that a particular period in history is suitable for my campaign must seem strange to some people. After all, it is fantasy, why not simply rework the circumstances to fit exactly what I want? I think in answer to that I must say that I am not capable of reproducing out of my mind the complexity and value added to my campaign by real historical sources. By having a set period, and adhering to that period, my campaign is aided by the thousands of letters, details, crises, diplomatic events and circumstances which were naturally produced by that time. Any given part of the world can be examined for my benefit to see who is fighting whom, what they are fighting over and what is the likely result - enabling me to present these details to the players as though they are current affairs. And if my players choose to pick up a book or two about the time period and learn themselves, I am flexible enough to change my perspective to suit what they have learned. I would rather allow a third-party source (even when offered to me by a player) to set the course of events than to rely on my own 20th century habits.
If the gentle reader can understand, I am not varied enough in my experience, nor varied enough in my imagination, to account for all the parts of the world that exist in my world. But books and accounts that exist ARE. But I am not enough of an investigator to read all those accounts myself, so I welcome others who are willing to pitch in and help, even if that means changing a long-held belief about how a particular aspect of my world works ... if the written accounts of the period prove me wrong.
Is it not a better system when the basis for that system does not rest in the hands of a single individual?
But I had better address a likely contention, namely this post here, specifically with reference to the words, "I decide." Of the rules that I lay out, as described on that post, this that I have described on this post is one. It is a rule that I myself adhere to that relevant material from the time period in question must - within certain D&D established premises - must be accorded respect. It is my world ... and it is the greater world too, which I do respect, and bend my world towards. Provide me the document, and I will see what I can do. It can be frustrating for me ... but it is ultimately rewarding, too, since I learn every time it happens.
I leave the American gentle reader with this postscript: that while it is understandable to celebrate the strength and beauty of one's country, the devastation wrought by war is something that should encourage tolerance, and not intolerance. The men who established the recognition of this day in 1865 had only just seen the results of partisanship taken to its logical conclusion - the systematic murder of brother against brother and father against son that is war. The continued identification with any set of beliefs without an open mind can lead to no other event. Thus, on this day, in remembering that men died for your country, please remember also that they would have much rather have lived for their country, and that living would have been made possible with less certainty about how any one group has the right to rule over any other group.