Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Retcon

I received my copy of Osprey Publishing's French Musketeer 1622-1775 before I went on vacation. I don't want to get into a review of the book; I suck as a reviewer and I don't enjoy writing them. I've enjoyed many of René Chartrand other books for Osprey, but I don't feel this was his best effort. It's not an easy subject, with so much myth entwined with a paucity of historical records, particularly of the early years of the King's Musketeers. Still, I noticed a number of contradictions of information gleaned from other, seemingly reliable sources as well as a couple of confirmed errors. Overall, for me the book lacks the depth and breadth of other titles in the Warrior series, such as Matchlock Musketeer and Ironsides.

That said, it contains much that is worthwhile for anyone interested in the period and for gamers who want to present a more historically rich depiction of the King's Musketeers in their swashbuckling campaign. Frex, I worked in the duty of a King's Musketeer to be the first soldier to receive the king's orders in the morning and the last to receive them at night for our newly-promoted ensign when we played last weekend.

Unfortunately for me, my depiction of the Musketeers so far also took a couple of hits.

I started working in earnest on Le Ballet de l'Acier, my Flashing Blades campaign, about four-and-a-half years ago. I've consulted more books and websites than I can remember. My personal library of books on 17th century Europe is somewhere around a hundred volumes at this point, and that doesn't include another score read while hunkered down in library stacks at local universities. The number of websites I've visited in that time, in English and in French, easily doubles that number. Even with this vast collection of history at my fingertips, the reality is that none one of these sources truly contains all of the information for which I searched. My knowledge of the period was assembled piecemeal, from many different narratives, some popular history, some academic history, some fictional.

In some cases, I deliberately put aside history. Frex, Louis XIII didn't name himself captain of the King's Musketeers until 1627, as Mon Chartrand notes in his book, but I elected to make him captain, and the commanding officer captain-lieutenant, from the units founding in 1622 instead. In other instances, I allowed the fictional history of cape-and-sword authors, most notably Alexandre Dumas, to override the historical narrative; thus, fictional versions of d'Artagnan, Tréville, et al. replace their historical counterparts as they did in The Three Musketeers. This is one of the reasons I warn visitors to my campaign wiki at Obsidian Portal that the site is alt-history.

Of the places where my campaign and that tiny sliver of the historical record with which I'm personally familiar diverge, up to this point nothing that's taken place in the campaign itself required a specific retcon; either the action conformed to the known history or to my campaign specific alt-history. That is, until I read about the Garde du dedans du Louvre.

The maison militaire - the military units of the royal household - were divided into the Garde du dedans du Louvre, who stood guard over the king's person inside royal palaces and residences, and the Garde du dehors du Louvre, who stood watch outside of those same residences. The Garde du dedans du Louvre consisted of the Gardes du Corps, the Cent-Suisses, the Gardes de la Porte, and some constabulary foot soldiers armed with polearms. The King's Musketeers were assigned to the Garde du dehors du Louvre.

This directly contradicted information I presented to the players a couple of years back, when the campaign first got rolling; the King's Musketeers were assigned to the interior of the Louvre, while other units were posted to the exterior. It actually played a role in the actions, as the characters sought to smuggle the duchesse de Chevreuse and a wounded Lord Holland into the royal palace.

So, I can completely ignore a trivial historical fact, or I can attempt some sort of retcon to bring the events of the campaign in line with newly-learned period details. The fact that this distinction between guards serving on the inside versus the outside of a royal palace already came up in actual play should tell you that this is the kind of detail I appreciate as a referee, for situations and challenges it creates for the players and their characters. I'm loathe to toss out such a historical tidbit. This means I can choose to assign my earlier explanation to the campaign's alt-history - of course the King's Musketeers serve in the Garde du dedans du Louvre! - or I can decide it was a special situation, perhaps, or that the Musketeers were assigned to the Garde du dehors du Louvre after the events of the campaign took place, say in the year that the adventurers were abroad following their exile from Paris.

I haven't decided which way I want to go as yet; the adventurers just returned to court, and while I'm sure this is likely to come up again in actual play, it's one of those things I can kick down the road a bit, as I have options on how I can handle it should it crop up as I anticipate.

Over the years, I've heard gamers express the opinion that they wouldn't be willing to run historical roleplaying games for fear of getting something 'wrong.' The fact is, I get things 'wrong' all the time, sometimes in broad strokes, sometimes in niggling little bits like whether the King's Musketeers stood guard inside or outside the Louvre. While I firmly believe there's no substitute for putting in the research when preparing and running a historical roleplaying game campaign, being too afraid to risk making a mistake should never be an excuse to avoid running historical campaigns, nor is it likely to be a showstopper unless you let it become one.

3 comments:

  1. The silly thing about worrying about "getting it wrong" is that that attitude is based on the fallacy of looking at history as an objective fact. Anyone with a degree in history can tell you that, even though history is spoken of as if it were set in stone, it's really just an inferred narrative constructed from whatever small fragmentary percentage of documents and archival material has survived from the past. Even established facts (like the different types of Louvre guards) have plenty of wiggle room. How many positions or tasks at one's own job get shifted onto people who aren't technically responsible for them on paper? Bob might be an accountant, but he also volunteers to drop off the office's trash at the local dump on his way home every Friday, because it's on the way and he's got a truck. If that fact isn't recorded, then all history will know him as is Bob the accountant--his job description says nothing about making runs to the dump. If it's not written down somewhere, we have no way of knowing what really went on, and that actually gives the historical GM quite a bit of license for hand-waving small things, like musketeers guarding the king's person inside the Louvre.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I also subscribe to the Rashomon School of Historical Epistemology. We really have no idea of what exactly went on in the Palais de l'Élysée of Nicolas Sarkozy -- not to mention the Louvre of Louis XIII!

    I think you nailed it when you spoke of presenting a more historically "rich" depiction rather than a more historically "ACCURATE" depiction. For me, history provides immeasurable richness and depth and interconnectivity to a RPG setting. As far as accuracy goes, as long as I'm not including anything that violates the "feel" of the age, or that is utterly improbable (e.g. a uranium enrichment centrifuge in the basement of Louis XIV's Versailles), I'm OK.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I am in 100% agreement with you on this Mike. Rather than doing all my research up front, I prefer doing much of my research as I go. As a result sometimes I get it wrong. Recently my reading on the Hapsburgs and the Holy Roman Empire led to the patron of one PC, the Conrad D'Einartzhausen Archduke DeMainz (from the Flashing Blades adventure The Man Behind the Mask, being retconned to Conrad D'Einartzhausen Landgrave de Barr and Duc DeMainz. Not being a Hapsburg he isn't going to be an Archduke.

    ReplyDelete