Friday, March 18, 2011

Open Friday: Historical Campaigns

Outside of Call of Cthulhu campaigns set in the 1920s, I haven't run a historical RPG campaign in some time and it's something I often think would be fun.

So, for today's question: if you could do so, what sort of historical campaign would you like to run? For bonus points, tell me what would likely make it different from another historical campaign run by someone else in the same time period?

60 comments:

  1. Something set during the French Revolution, but with hedge magic.

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  2. I'd love to run a campaign inspired by Gene Wolfe's "Latro in the Mist" which is set in Ancient Greece.

    The protagonist has amnesia and no long-term memory due to a head injury sustained on the battlefield. He must record his life each day into a scroll which he reads each morning. (The novel is a fictional translation of the scroll.) The scroll follows his journey, guided by gods at war that seek to help or hinder him, to seek healing and recover his lost life.

    The head injury allows Latro to perceive (we think - it could all be delusion!) the ancient gods, spirits, monsters and sorcery that others live with daily but can only accept on faith.

    This is the ultimate D&D/historical fantasy series. Highly recommended!

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  3. I have had much luck getting any responses here recently but I'll join in anyway.

    When you say historical, you mean any period setting? I don't think of Call of Cthulhu as historical per se, since it's not often 'about' the 1920's but 'about' investigating the cults of nameless horrors from beyond.

    That said I've run British Superheroes in the late 19th century, a Western featuring a singing cowboy, a masked man and a Native American shaman, numerous Ars Magica campaigns set in the 12th century (mostly in England, Cornwall and Wales) and my Wizard of Oz campaign which switched between the Land Over the Rainbow and the United States circa 1910-1920.

    What made it mine? I really don't think anyone else is going to post about Supers 1889 or running a Wizard of Oz game.

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  4. 17th Century swashbuckling adventure, with Lovecraftian/Howardian overtones. I'd try to include some maritime adventures in it if I could and I would have lots of intrigue.

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  5. I love settings which are based in history but add a fantastic twist. During your recent paean to *Runequest*, I was remembering the "Fantasy Earth" mentioned briefly in Avalon Hill's revision of the game, which I always wanted to see further developed. (Ah, to know more of the villainous Clovis!)

    I ran a GURPS campaign set in a fantastic version of late Republican Rome, partially inspired by the medieval legend cycle of Virgil the Necromancer, who came to be the party's patron. The adventurers eventually found out about the ancient and still ongoing secret conflict between the Minoidoi (ancient biological engineers who created minotaurs, centaurs, etc.) and the Ylphoi (hideously powerful animal-totem spirits who had masqueraded as the Egyptian gods). So, there was enough weird stuff that it wasn't just your typical sword-and-sandal fare.

    I'd *like* to run a campaign set in Renaissance France, in which the characters are king's musketeers who have to cope with a massive contagious undead invasion of the European mainland after the king takes too much mummy dust as medicine. It'd be a bit like *The Walking Dead* meets *The Three Musketeers*. Ghosts, rarer than skeletons and zombies, would be well-nigh invulnerable to conventional weapons, but highly fragile to "ghost shot" made from silver ground to powder and soaked in holy water.

    I've also thought about a Depression-era campaign in which Faeries returned to the world in the 1920s, adding to the disruption which caused the economic downfall. They bought up various parcels of land, and have established themselves alongside mortal states. Charles Lindbergh is an avowed anti-Faery politician, since fairy coaches have squelched trans-Atlantic aviation by taking up mail contracts, leaving airplanes only for crazy hobbyists. Fairy products, most based on illusion, are well-received by an impoverished public, even as members of the Unseelie Court plot with Aryan nationalists in Germany.... It'd be sort of *Indiana Jones* meets "Goblin Market."

    I've also considered a World War I campaign in which the heroes, after entering a druidic circle in a French forest, find themselves living parallel lives in a fantasy world while they sleep -- somewhat like H.G. Wells' short story "A Dream of Armageddon." Action would shift between the dreary Great War in our world and an analogous magical-medieval conflict in the other realm, with actions in each affecting the other.

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  6. Ah, a topic close to my heart. I'd love to run a purely historical game one day. No magic, no monsters, no Lovecraft Mythos. Just fellow humans and the evils they do. I think strictly historical, "realistic" campaigns are fairly rare, probably because they're harder to pull off effectively. Of course, if there was a TPK, I wouldn't hesitate to send them to Riverworld, so I guess it would cease to be strictly historical at that point...

    Another differentiation would be the fact that I'd likely choose a setting/period most people wouldn't be familiar with. 16th-century Russia, or the time of the Teutonic Crusades.

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  7. I would like to run a game that takes place in 1950's, where brave men of science defend the American Way of Life against giant mutated bugs, alien invaders and the ever-present Communist threat.

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  8. For any "historic" campaign, I have a strong desire to skip the details. I'd rather do "American Revolution, with the same tech, language, political situation and culture, but totally made-up names for people, geographical features, and territories."

    The period I'm fixated on right now, and the one where I'd be most likely to keep 90% of the names (even if I change some of the historical events) is the 1950s. With commies and aliens.

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  9. Hah! Cross-posted with Wheggi!

    You will want to see the "atomic" tag on my blog, Wheggi. Especially when it starts to expand Real Soon Now.

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  10. Watching Pan's Labyrinth inspired a campaign set during the Spanish Revolutionary War using Changeling: The Lost and New World of Darkness ruleset. The players were kidnapped as children and return to the real world to see the state of their country. Using their powers they help spearhead the revolution while coping with their own personal problems. The took off but never went anywhere because we were unfamiliar with the ruleset.

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  11. I would set it in late dark ages Europe. No magic. one player who would aspire to lead mercenary armies at the beck and call of great powers. Similar to the lyonese series by Dorothy dunnett.

    I would use the man to man rules from CHAINMAIL.

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  12. I'd like to do some spy stuff in the late 50's. Basically, invoking the spirit of Ian Fleming's Bond novels using Top Secret rules. Tough, noir-ish stuff with a bit of flair.

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  13. I recently found my copies of Top Secret SI and have been rereading them. Sadly, the Cold War is now a forgotten (or never known) historical period for many, so I guess even doing that would count.

    But I'm considering transplanting the game to London in the 1880s or so for clashes with sinister, bomb-throwing anarchists a la Joseph Conrad and jaunts to Afghanistan and Persia to battle Russians in the Great Game for dominance Central Asia. Might even throw Jack the Ripper in there for more villanous, period flavor. Who wouldn't want a campaign with Saucy Jack as an evil enforcer for dastardly anarchists trying to overthrow Queen and Country?

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  14. I ran a Second Edition AD&D game set in the Age of Exploration, with North America as a typical fantasy world dominated in the eastern forests by a magically powerful elven empire, in Central America by the remnants of the Yuan-Ti and their lizard man soldiers, on the Great Plains by centaur tribes, in the Rockies by dwarves, and dragons pretty much dividing up everything else.

    The players never made it past the Caribbean's merfolk kingdoms, though one of them did take mermaid to wife.

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  15. I have always wanted to run a campaign set during the Roman Empire, or, during a Mythic Greece era. A friend of mine is running a 3.5 campaign set in 950 AD Carpathia with some magical elements and that's been a lot of fun.

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  16. A friend of mine introduced me to "Legacy", wich was, basically, "Highlander-the RPG" with serial numbers filed off. Our characters were supposed to begin in the XVIth century and evolve until noadays. Except for the whole "I can't die unless beheaded", there was no magic and the point was to evolve and adapt to the different times.
    Alas, the campaign didn't last (damn gamer ADD!)

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  17. Campaign where players take roles of Anjala conspiracy officers, alternate history where independent Finland might be born in 1788.

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  18. For non-fantasy historical I'd do the first years of the East India Companies. It's got everything; seaborne adventures of discovery, evil employers, people turning native to warn the Japanese of the impending threat, island cults, Chinese pirates and mafia, and the original spices-that-must-flow. The PCs are officers on a ship negotiating, trading, and warring against the other companies. I can just see them enacting something like the Ambonya Massacre on their rivals but getting to seriously question (and maybe derail) the whole enterprise when confronted with the genocide in the Bandas. Giles Milton's popular histories are practically novelizations - highly recommended.

    For semi-historical low-fantasy I'd move the time frame up 50-80 years: the Companies are filling in the holes in their maps/networks. This time the PCs are natives - I'd get the players to invent the details of their home island Korad style. They have a unique resource: they can contact and bargain with nature spirits for magical effects. The game opens with the first arrival of the Dutch or English, who want to use the spirits for their own imperial ends.

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  20. I'd run a paratemporal campaign where The Empire Never Ended, possibly including some Burroughs, Borges, Conrad and Lewis along with the PKD.

    I'm also enamoured of finding the potential for noir-ish situations in historical contexts; my current favourite is Manzikert-era Constantinople.

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  21. And then there's the 50s to 70s. I want to take le Carré-inspired characters and put them in classic B-movie plots, Hammer Horror films or Quatermass serials (which, really, are both):

    Smiley's People Who Wouldn't Die
    The Crawling Brain Who Came In From The Cold
    Tinker, Tailor, Robot, Spy
    The Honourable Schoolboy Experiment

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  22. I ran two historical campaigns in 19th century England and 18th century America under the rubric "Compromise and Conceit" (my blog name). They incorporated lots of demon summoning and magic. The 18th century campaign was set during the French and Indian war, and the PCs got to kill Washington.

    I want to extend this campaign setting to the Greek War of Independence (early 19th century), when the Romantic School of Magic started; in this case the PCs would meet (and maybe kill?) Byron.

    I also have sketched out an idea for a horror/magic campaign in a Svalbard Whaling Station, and I'm interested in running a murder mystery/horror campaign in Meiji era Japan.

    Historical campaigns rock.

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  23. I ran a four year GURPS Second World War campaign. The players were Razvedchiki (Soviet Reconaissance troops) tasked with assisting partisans behind enemy lines. No magic, no FX of any sort - it was the finest gaming experience I have ever had.

    I have a second campaign (currently on hiatus) set in Spain in 1809. Again no magic, no FX. The players are British officers in an infantry regiment all climbing the greasy pole of promotion, while trying to marry well and have a good time.

    Both games in involve comparatively little combat by rpg standards - and the latter a great deal of in character eating and drinking.

    The King, God bless him!

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  24. I have run very fun campaigns with AD&D2e's HR historial supplements.
    The historical supplements of Green Ronin are also quite good (in particular the New Testament.)

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  25. A couple years ago I ran a game at GenCon set in the late 19th century inspired by the works of Jules Verne. I suppose these days you'd call what I was running steam punk, but back then I don't think I would have recognized the word. I thought of it simply as historical sci-fi.

    I always wanted to run a Cthulhu/horror game set in Boston just prior to the revolutionary war. I thought it might be fun to have the players all play Brits stationed there. Tension would already be high before even introducing any supernatural elements.

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  26. I'd like to run a Roman Empire game, set in Britain during the last years of occupation. I'd throw in a few non-historical elements, a touch of weird fantasy or horror to make it different but without going over-board (was thinking werewolves and druids).

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  27. Time: circa 1350 C.E.

    Place: West Africa, Mali Empire, Timbuktu

    "The Mali Empire or Mandingo Empire or Manden Kurufa was a West African empire of the Mandinka from c. 1230 to c. 1600. The empire was founded by Sundiata Keita and became renowned for the wealth of its rulers, especially Mansa Musa I. The Mali Empire had many profound cultural influences on West Africa, allowing the spread of its language, laws and customs along the Niger River. The Mali empire extended over a large area and consisted of numerous vassal kingdoms and provinces."
    --wikipedia.org/wiki/Mali_Empire

    "After a shift in trading routes, Timbuktu flourished from the trade in salt, gold, ivory and slaves...In its Golden Age, the town's numerous Islamic scholars and extensive trading network made for a lively book trade: together with the campuses of the Sankore madrassah, an Islamic university, this established Timbuktu as a scholarly centre in Africa."
    --wikipedia.org/wiki/Timbuktu

    Peculiarities: Common Weak Magic, Secret Strong Magic

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  28. Myself, I've run a lot of victorian games, mainly in a setting described in a nutshell as Men in Black but with faerie tales creatures and magic. Also victorian superheroes (gotta finish that setting sometime soon!).

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  30. I've wanted to do something with the Byzantium
    Empire for a longtime and it's grand city of Constantinople, which in some ways, was even more grand then Rome. Also, an espionage game set in the Napoleonic age would be lot of fun and one day I'd like to do a Civil War era campaign with a "Spaghetti Western" twist to it such as" The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly". BRP would probably be my system for choice.

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  31. Maelstrom!

    I'd love to see a game set against the backdrop of Scottish Wars of Independence.

    Court intrigue, bandit fighting, large set pieces, spying, travel, trade.

    Maelstrom's "Witchcraft" approach to Magic is very apt for this kind of thing, it's very low-level, and could constantly carry the threat of death just for using it.

    The possibility of envoys being sent from the Scottish palace to London, for example, and fascinates me.

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  32. I don't know if I could do a strictly historical campaign: the desire to throw in magic and/or horror and alter events would make it more of an alternate history. Still...

    --Roman Republic at the time of the Punic Wars, with Carthage as a real force for evil.

    --Late Roman Britain, with the players trying to establish a secure independent state after the Roman withdrawal.

    --English Civil War, with magical and diabolic conspiracies in the background.

    I'm sure there are others, but that's off the top of my head.

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  33. Personally, I would run Japan at the the point of transition to the Tokugawa era. The flavor I would weave in would be a campaign focus/presence of the Japanese Christian community that got wiped out when the Japanese decided to purge themselves of all foreign influence. It would also allow me to experiment with various mass combat systems when characters wanted to get involved in historic battles...

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  34. I would like to do some adventures (with intrigue, action and mass battles) in the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Empire.

    But I would like to play (as character) in the Late Roman Empire (the Huns, the Goths, general Aetius...) but without magic or supernatural elements.

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  35. I still dream of doing my campaign in an alternative version of Mesopotamia where the gods and demons are real. I've given it a lot more thought lately - given my building of a Sumerian DBA army and my thoughts to how to put players into the middle of mass combat.

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  36. After thinking about it, I have actually done quite a bit of historical role playing. Boot Hill, Gangbusters, and Top Secret were mainstays during high school. We also played Pirates and Plunder (wonderfully crunchy system by Yaquinto)and Behind Enemy Lines, though much less frequently. In college, I played in a short but fun game of Bushido. More recently, I've ran Savage Worlds with Thrilling Tales (pulp '30s) and Solomon Kane.

    @by the sword - Solomon Kane covers exactly what you're looking for.

    @Chepe - Those are some pretty kick ass ideas!

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  37. The crew and passengers of a Type A Free Trader after they misjumped to World War 2 Earth and the jump drive burned out.

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  38. The Boxer Rebellion. What's not to like: mystical kung fu monks rise up against the European oppressors who have coerced the Empress into letting them ruin the country with their opium trade, seizure of lands, and religious conversion. Palace intrigue in the Forbidden City as the Dowager Empress joins forces with the Boxers and the young Prince calls for capitulation; monks, bandits, and pirates joining forces to sabotage British ships and ambush troop patrols; battles between rifle-wielding soldiers and chi gong-imbued monks with bulletproof skin... so much fun.

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  39. If you consider CoC historical, then I'd say Arthurian Legend is something I've always wanted to play. I'm 25 sessions into a Pendragon campaign right now, so I guess I'm living my dream!

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  40. I'm thinking Arturo Perez-Reverte's Captain Alatriste would make for a fun swashbuckler (1620s Spain.)

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  41. I'd like to run an adventure that begins like a sequel to Gone With the Wind and eventually becomes The War of the Worlds. Maybe with Gotham by Gaslight Batman thrown in.

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  42. I'd fancy doing a campaign based upon the Turkish siege of Vienna that took place in 1529. It was a major confrontation between the forces of the East and the West, and marked the point at which the forces of the Ottoman Empire were beaten out of Western Europe.

    My plan for the campaign would involve it not only being a major conflict between two civilisations, but also a conflict between two philosophies - that of modern European thought and that of Eastern mysticism. Throw in a bit of anomalous clockwork technology courtesy of Leonardo da Vinci and let things go.

    I've got as far as selecting systems for it as well. WFRP 1e/2e would capture the style, although BRP would do nicely as well.

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  43. I've always wanted to do a mesoamerican campaign. About the time the aliens showed up to show them how to build pyramids, grow corn, mine gold, and play soccer with human heads.

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  44. I would love to do a Old Western style campaign, somehow mixing "Wild, Wild, West", "Briscoe County Jr" and "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen".

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  45. I want to and will run a Norse type game. I've also always wanted to do a Native American quest based on the Eastern tribes like the Shawnee or Iroquois.

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  46. I'd love to run/play in an American Revolutionary War espionage campaign.

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  47. I ran a longish CoC campaign centered on late 60's San Francisco... some Mythos elements but also lots of the actual weirdness of the time... the Manson family, The Process Church Of The Final Judgement, Anton La Vey, The Zodiac Killer... more than enough messiahs and lunatics and social upheavals to go around.

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  48. @ Arcadian- you could combine the Viking and Indian games and still stay historical (probably).

    For me 17th Century France. But I don't really know enough to run it properly.

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  49. I would like to run an alternate-history colonial America campaign with Indians, vikings, witches, and so on.

    I would love to design an alternate history WWII campaign where the Nazis conquer space with Werner von Braun/Chesley Bonestell spaceships, and the Allies are in a frantic race to catch up. Space: 1947!

    Also would love to play in a strictly historical commandos/rangers/OSS WWII campaign, with a GM who really knows his stuff.

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  50. @Chepe I would love to play in any of those, awesome! Do you have a blog?

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  51. Based on my experiences trying to play and run historical-themed campaigns, years back, I wouldn't - too many historical purist killjoy players.

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  52. Almost everything I do is historical because stealing from history makes campaign creation that much easier.

    One game that I'd like to run would be a low-fantasy Tim Powers-esque campaign concerning a pilgrimage to Jerusalem during the Crusade era. The characters could be knights, priests, guides, etc. The very real hazards of the Pilgrim's Road, coupled with desert spirits, djinni, and competing Byzantine and Arabic magics, would make for an interesting trip.

    I'd probably use HarnMaster for the system to get the realism of combat down. This would not be a game of dragon-slaying, but survival and getting your charges safely to Jerusalem.

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  53. Dark Ages Iberian Peninsula: the D&Dest setting in the world!
    Think about it: the crude, Germanic-Christian kingdoms of the north engaged in a long struggle versus the refined islamic "taifas" in the sud; a bloody frontier trespased by brigands, mercenaries and merchants-adventurers; fanatic african warrior-monks, knights, arab magicians and huris... With the bakground of a sparsely pupulated and rugged land, littered with the remains of celts, iberians, carthagineans, greeks, romans, name it. A grim and gritty game, full of violence, black magic and sinister creatures of folklore.

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  54. Falchodas: Secrets of the Ancient World

    Begins in Roman Britain circa 117 a.d. during the largest Pictish revolts. A small group of (Roman) players survives the ambush of Legio IX (Hispania) and must make their way back to Eboracum (York) to warn their countrymen.

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  55. A medieval Chinese police procedural set in the Tang Dynasty (Law & Order: Chang'an). Not based directly on Van Gulik's Judge Dee, but rather on his sources, with all of the supernatural elements intact.

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  56. @hüth
    Thanks for the link! Some great stuff there.

    Have you played Trail of Dee?

    Another great source is Paul Mason's Outlaws of the Water Margin (http://www.tcp-ip.or.jp/~panurge/). Sadly it's unfinished, but Mason was obsessed with replicating Song era China.

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  57. Victoriana (1870's) where (low level) magic actually works, thus Temple of the Golden Dawn acolytes may actually be casting spells (or are they just deluded?). A mystery/supernatural/paranormal campaign. Cubicle 7 has a line of products that are similar but has actual Elves and Dwarves running around which is too jarring for me (though some strange bloodlines may be in order). Kim Newman has some short stories along these lines too.
    http://www.johnnyalucard.com/fiction.html

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  58. Have you played Trail of Dee?

    No, but at some point I hope to playtest a similar Dark Ages GUMSHOE skillset...

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