R P G A M E R . C O M   -   E D I T O R I A L S

Fight Like a Brave

Mike "JuMeSyn" Moehnke

RPG's stray into historical territory from time to time. Shadow Hearts is the primary example I'm thinking of, but many other titles set their events around an historic setting e.g. the Castlevania titles being all set in the real world (sort of). There is a fine scenario just awaiting a quality title set in its environs, and I'm gonna outline it. The setting: American Indians versus the Americans who sought to exterminate them.

There are certain misconceptions to be alleviated in making a title with this setting. Scalping is a concept that would probably repel potential players, but knowing that it was far more likely to be practiced by the ostensibly "civilized" Americans (because bounties were paid on Indian scalps by merchants) puts this into perspective. The notion of Indians as "savages" is also a complete anachronism. The tribes living in what became the United States (and Canada, and the rest of the western hemisphere) represented a great diversity of peoples based upon where they were living. Wherever it made sense to do so, they farmed and lived in one area instead of hunting and gathering. And they were frequently appalled at how brutal the British/Americans were in their combat practices. "Settlers" crossing the continent were not constantly assaulted by roving bands of Indians, when those Indians were usually more concerned with surviving on what had been left to them by the American government. And the Native Americans did not live in a "wilderness" that needed to be "tamed" by intrepid white explorers, not when the Indians had already settled that land themselves and the whites took it over.

As to the setting working in an RPG, what we have here is a collection of peoples (pick your tribe - Choctaw, Algonquin, Seminole, Sioux, Apache; I'm generalizing so as not to make this into a gigantic history lesson) fighting the attempts of a gigantic enemy to throw them out of their ancestral lands and kill as many as possible. The tale of the United States' expansion looks a lot different when the Indians' perspective is used, doesn't it? The onset of white settlers in the western hemisphere would not have been possible without a gigantic plague that killed between 90 and 95% of all the natives it hit, and they never had a chance to reestablish themselves with the constant pressure applied by white "settlers," who not coincidentally kept sowing disease among the tribes they sought to supplant in order to keep them weak. When Indians tried to live among the whites, their successes were greeted as cause for whites to take them over. When Indians stayed out of white-controlled lands, they were subject to whatever measures the government considered necessary to remove them from land white people might want. And any attempt to preserve themselves by trying to fight was an excuse for the US Army to march in and beat them into submission, with noncombatant deaths greeted enthusiastically by a white culture that usually agreed with General Sherman's statement that "The only good Indian is a dead Indian."

Clearly, unless we want to play through a game with a real downer of an ending, some alternative history must be employed in having Indians be the protagonists. But fighting against a numerically superior opponent with a small party in an effort to stop extermination seems pretty compatible with an RPG's ethos. Magic and shamans played roles in tribal societies, there is a good variety of weapons to choose from, the geography can stretch around most of the North American continent (head for Canada to evade the US Army!), and a moving story could be concocted around this notion. Of course it would infuriate all the people who don't like to remember anything bad the United States ever did, but what the U.S. did to the Indians was praised by Hitler. That would seem ample reason enough to give an alternate scenario to what really happened.

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