During my initial gaming years I was always looking for ideas on how to incorporate nonfiction events into my games. The vast number of sessions we played were based on the fantasy genre. At the time finding ways to add real events was difficult. I realize now, that was because my life experience and education was still young. As time passed I became more aware of the resources available to add realism to our adventures.
Roleplaying games give individuals the opportunity to explore many facets of life. A player can take on the personality of someone opposite themselves. They can try to play their own self, but that was rarely done in my groups. Most players looked to play someone fantastic or heroic. It seemed only natural to find events and people in real life to model their characters after. Back to the dilemma of the fantasy genre and nonfiction. I know that people have their own ideas about what constitutes fantasy and nonfiction. There are numerous belief systems in our world and none of them are held as truth by every person. So how do you incorporate this into your game?
With my group it was witchcraft that I added to the fantasy genre. I was able to take the belief system, people and places of witchcraft and drop it into the game. There is much research that has been done on the subject. The magical and mystical elements of witchcraft satisfied the fantasy part of the game. The places, people, persecution, religions and trials provided the realism. I could place the characters in almost any time in history from early BCE to present. They could be part of a Druid class practicing the craft or running from the Inquisition in Europe.
The reasoning for trying to add real world events and persons into the game was to add credibility. As a player you can imagine casting a cursing spell on a religious figure in your home brewed world. Now try to imagine casting the same spell on Bishop Nicholas under the orders of Roman Emperor Diocletian around 300 CE. The later becomes even more fantastic as it could be believed, especially by a player who’s mind is open to possibilities. Even though none of us were around at the time, history helps paint the picture. After history is added to the game the obscure areas are filled in with our imagination.
As a GM or player you can add any event or person in history to add to your adventures. All of us can more easily buy into the story if smells of truth. You may even find that your history was more interesting than what was in the book.