Saturday, March 28, 2015

History is Not Boring: Cool Stories That..

Something that I posted on the GH Forums, but I thought I'd mirror it here as it's kinda cool:

History is not Boring: Cool Stories That Actually Happened (Probably)

A common argument I hear in favor of fantasy literature and games is that real history is boring. I will here defend that not only is history not boring, but it is actually more interesting than anything we could come up with. One need only look at A Song of Ice and Fire to pick out the historical inspirations - Hadrian's Wall, the Protestant Reformation, the Angles conquest (really? he called them Andals, of all things), even the landscape of Westeros is basically the British isles with Ireland turned sideways. The list goes on.

So here I will begin posting really cool people and events from history, either to inspire your own game as a historical pursuit or to take the ideas, stories, and elements for use in your own fantasy adaptations.

To get us started, some cool stuff from more or less own period:

Cesare Borgia
A Spaniard and an Italian, son of a Pope, ex-cardinal (first person to ever resign the office!) who becomes a condottieri (soldier), commands the papal armies, eventually carves out his own state and is ultimately cast from power by a series of betrayals and political machinations. An excellent tale of passion, ambition, assassination, and political intrigue. The Showtime Borgias isn't terrible either, even if it starts quite slowly.

Hernán Cortés
Another Spaniard who goes from being a relative nobody (born of lesser nobility) to carve a bloody mark in the history books. Explorer, soldier, military captain. Brilliant politician that successfully forges alliances among natives in order to bring down an empire.

Sir Kenelm Digby
English courtier, diplomat, natural philosopher, alchemist, fencer. Born not only Catholic, but the son of one of the Gunpowder Plotters, he still manages to gain enough favor at court to land a seat in the Royal Academy, later becomes a privateer, captures spanish, dutch, and flemish ships. Gets involved in the civil war, fights quite a few duels.. guy is absolutely fascinating.

Johannes Liechtenauer
Mysterious fight-master who was active sometime in the 14th century. Most of the later fight-masters trace their own "school" back to him in some way. Even with the limited information we have, he's worth reading on. The mind immediately wants to cast this wandering yoda-like elderly sword-saint traveling through the German countryside.

Hans Talhoffer
Professional swordsman turned Fight-master that eventually founds and becomes grandmaster of an entire German school of fencing. True renaissance man who was also studied a number of academic subjects throughout his life.

Swordsmen Cultures and Organizations
Brotherhood of St. Mark
15th century German fencing guild. Talhoffer may have actually founded it. Some really cool information on the way fencing guilds functioned. The article also mentions rivalry with other fencing guilds - the Lukasbruder (Brotherhood of Saint Luke) and the Federfechter. Immediately, I want to run a game about rival fencing guilds and the bloody conflicts between students vying for position within their own guild, and defending the honor and prowess of their guild through battle with its rivals.

Spanish Sword and Buckler men, originally a troop type invented by the Italians. High risk, high reward troop types that become popular as adventurers and mercenaries, including following Cortes into the New World.

Arguably some of the most famous mercenaries from the Renaissance period, known for their colorful clothing and - perhaps most famously - their massive two-handed swords.

Also known as the "Spanish Third," they were the first modern, professional volunteer army. While Landsknecht certainly get a lot of attention, the culture and lifestyle of the Tercio is fascinating.

"Soldiers serving in the tercios were proud and extremely cautious men when it came to their personal honour. So much so, that they would die before staining their reputation as soldiers."

"Such an obsession for matters of honour and reputation would provoke numerous duels, which, added to the soldiers' fierceness on the battlefield, earned the tercios a quarrelsome reputation. When fighting together with allies or tercios from different nationalities, it was common that the Spanish ones demanded the most decisive, dangerous or important positions in combat, in order to defend their reputation. In fact, the Spanish army was the only one at the time which had to include punishments for those who dared to break formation due to eagerness for fighting or to distinguish themselves in the face of the enemy."

I will come back and add more over time, but seriously - history is fascinating. 


  1. Very interesting! I had not heard of the Rodeleros or Tercios.

    I always say, History is not boring, it only has teachers and textbook authors who make it boring.

    Who could make up the story of Napolean? A boy from Corsica becomes Europe's greatest general, ruler and self-crowned Emperor of France, gets deposed and returns to power for the hundred days.

    Henry the 8th and his eight wives are what most people know. The image we have of him as fat is from later in his life. But as a young man, he could leap into the saddle in full armor, and was a competent scholar for the time.

    I was born after the Berlin Wall went up, and never dreamed that it would come down in my lifetime. The interplay of so many people, cultures, events, and more leads to things we can't seem to predict until it happens and we trace it back.

    Connections that we can only see in retrospect, it seems amazing to us that no one else could see all the pieces.