The last time we met in this column, I introduced you to a few published settings that fit the mold of interesting and unique match-ups of genres or themes. This installment is going to present one original settings of mine that follows that idea and serves as examples of boundary stretching gaming.
The first is one that I have mentioned before and it is one that some of you reading have played in a time or two. My “Napoleonic Space” campaign, at its core, mixes two of my favorite things — history and science fiction. But it goes even further with the introduction of alternate history, a particularly retro style of sci-fi, some sprinkles of steampunk & flintpunk, and even a few bits stolen from other settings. It has been running for over fifteen years mostly at conventions and is approaching forty episodes.
In this setting, I lay out the essential historical events and personages but modify them slightly — although I am not adverse to pulling from a different era now and then when an idea is just too cool. For example, I have left both the Borgia and Medici families still active in my setting’s version of Italy even though both already had faded by this point in real history. For another example, I have brought Rasputin into my Russia-equivalent way earlier than he actually existed. (He also is a demonic-ish alien entity from deep within Jump Space, but that’s a whole other article’s worth of content.)
The technology is restricted to a very gritty and primitive sci-fi level with a lot hewing closely to a Jules Verne-esque approach. Spaceships are a lot like submarines in look, feel and layout but are pretty big otherwise. They have no laser weapons (although the biggest capital warships do have a single spinal-mounted ion cannon) and instead have launchers hurling unguided missiles at enemy vessels in keeping with the spirit of the historical era. And personal weapons follow the pistol-and-saber vibe of the era with hand blasters and vibroswords.
All of the socio-political elements of that historical period are front and center. The high amount of warfare during the real Napoleonic Era more than takes care of the action needed for an RPG but the interpersonal and international tensions provide the reason for it all. Often, those particular themes come into play within a group of player characters with some believing in the continuation of royal rule while others push for the collective role of self-determination. And the less than unified opinions within each of those camps has provided the basis for a key section of the campaign’s run as the Royalists fought a shadow war over exactly which royal family should hold ultimate dominion.
Even though the this campaign is based on history, it is not beholden to it or restricted by it. The players do have a marked influence in how things progress. Admittedly, this influence can be a bit haphazard as the roster changed between the convention-based game sessions but that adds to the challenge and the fun. In a recent section of the campaign, the players ultimately wrapped up the French campaign into Egypt successfully and in remarkably short time. This is in complete contradiction of the historical record as the real campaign technically was a failure and lasted for a couple of years. In a previous series of adventures, they wrapped up the Napoleon’s First Italian Campaign a bit earlier than in real life and also with an even more successful outcome. (They also removed my campaign’s Borgia pope and helped replace him with a new Medici pope while also setting up a very cool future storyline.)
The success and long lifespan of this setting is owed to the innovative elements within it. History can be fun but also a bit dry for some but the color from “alternative” events, people and things really brings out the fun part. The feel and vibe brought by the various science fiction elements of all stripes keep things exciting, interesting and as far from stodgy history as one can imagine. It is successes like this that makes the effort of mixing genres and themes so worthwhile and valuable.
In our next installment, I’ll talk about another boundary-pushing campaign idea that I have been working but not brought to a table yet.