Resources for Historical Campaigns

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My particular interest in history tends to relate more to the daily lives of average people than "great men" or "big events."

Several years ago I stumbled across a book made up of excerpts from Victorian diaries by people of various social classes (one chapter each). The most intriguing part was reading about how they entertained themselves. I was struck by how much time many of the urban ones seemed to spend taking walks in parks, going to hear lectures, seeing plays, and doing other things outside the house during the weekday. I guess I assumed that most of that would have been weekend activity, but quite a number of them seemed to go home, eat dinner, and then go wandering about.
That kind of material is also what you need in RPGs. "Who the ruler was" merits a note, for certain, along with his personal qualities... but what you need to know is law enforcement&judges, inheritance, land ownership/economic activity, trade, entertainment&sport, sex&marriage&familial relations (which might or might not be the same thing), diplomacy, spying, war organisation, status of warriors, superstitions&religion, food&food production, medicine, upbringing&professional training, matters of honour/face.

I mean, PCs kill and rob an NPC. How is the setting going to react? Who might be unexpectedly offended? How would that impact the perpetrators?
PCs have to learn what war plans a neighbouring duchy has. Who would be priv(v)y? If you ask the wrong people, they might tell you there are no such plans...while they were in full swing, unbeknownst to your interlocutors.

Hence why I recommend setting materials focusing on those things. In the case of Medieval Europe (Central and Northern, especially) I'd recommend Streets of the fencing master, while for Southern Europe, Aquelarre is excellent.
Similarly, for China, I'd recommend Qin: the Warring States, GURPS: China and Brendan's Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate (barring some small anachronisms and changes, because it is a fantasy setting).
Some RPG books really miss the mark by a wide margin there, and the tendency is especially bad in fantasy. That's part of why even two GMs running the same fantasy setting would come with widely divergent interpretations, IMO.
This is a redux of a post I made on another forum way back in 2008
(with a few new additions)

One argument I have heard many, many times from people who don't like low fantasy, is that they don't want a boring game about some peasant who has fleas and dies of the plague anonymously at age 27. They want to be a hero, someone remarkable, someone who transcended the mundane. Most of all they don't want to be anything like reality, which for some of us is like the life of Dilbert. We don't want to play Dilbert in the Dungeon.

Well, if you prefer high fantasy that is ok, but as someone who enjoys history, I wanted to point out that there are rather quite a few remarkable real people from history who had adventures seldom matched in any Fantasy Novel, DnD game, or all the WoW games ever played, and they were a long way from Dilbert. In fact, many of the people on this list were IMO greater warriors than Conan, wiser than King Arthur, and more ruthless and intrepid than Elric.

In my opinion at least. Here are just a few examples mostly from from Europe and the Middle East:

Warriors, Bandits, Pirates, Rebels, Explorers, Mercenaries, Conquerors
These are the 'B' players, most are not household names (at least in the US) though some are quite well known in their own parts of the world. Not kings or emperors in most cases, but people from the middle or even lower ranks of society who rose to achieve greatness. I put an estimated alignment next to each entry, for greatness in this context does not necessarily equate with virtue, so if you are looking for someone you might sympathize with or find interesting, maybe that will help. Some of these people were good, some are thoroughly evil, most are neither or both.

Criteria: Traveled to exotic lands, lived a life of adventure, conquered great nations, triumphed against impossible odds, lived a long time despite constant danger, displayed multiple talents, demonstrated phenomenal skill as a warrior or military leader (often clearly the best in their generation), showed remarkable pluck, humor and / or creativity, broke tradition and pioneered new innovations.

Most important: regardless of where they started in life, these people transcended expectations and the limitations of their position, and went far beyond the achievements of their peers.

Artemisia of Halicarnassus (aka Artemisia I of Caria), 5th Century BC
Greek queen, tyrant, naval commander, political advisor. A female pirate queen who fought on the wrong side of the battle of Salamis and escaped to fight another day
Artemisia I of Caria - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Xenophon, 431-355 BC (96 years old)
Greek soldier, mercenary, author, historian, tactician, philosopher, and horse whisperer. Fought his way out of deepest Persia with 10,000 Greek Mercenaries and lived to tell the tale
Xenophon - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Viriathus the Lusitani, 180 BC – 139 BC (59 years old)
Celtic warrior, guerilla leader, rebel - confounder of the Roman Empire

Viriathus - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Spartacus, 120 BC – 70 BC (50 years old)
Roman gladiator, slave, rebel, bandit, warrior - pain the Roman Empires ass

Spartacus - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Josephus (aka Flavius Josephus), 37 – 100 AD (63 years old)
Hebrew guerilla, warrior, Roman collaborator, author, historian, math whiz
Josephus - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Charles Martel, 686 – 741 AD (55 years old)
Frankish aristocrat, warlord, general, victor at the pivotal battle of Tours
Charles Martel - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

"And in the shock of the battle the men of the North seemed like a sea that cannot be moved. Firmly they stood, one close to another, forming as it were a bulwark of ice; and with great blows of their swords they hewed down the Arabs. Drawn up in a band around their chief, the people of the Austrasians [sic] carried all before them. Their tireless hands drove their swords down to the breasts of the foe."

Pelayo of Asturias, 690-737 AD (47 years old)
Visigoth nobleman, Spanish guerilla leader, founder of the Kingdom of Asturias
Pelayo - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Bjorn Ironside (aka Björn Järnsida ), 9th Century AD
Swedish chieftain / jarl, resourceful pirate leader, Viking, warrior
Björn Ironside - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Gange-Rolf (aka Rollo of Normandy, aka Ganger Rolf, aka Hrólfr Rögnvaldsson and
Göngu-Hrólfr), 860-932 AD (72 years old) N
Norse Viking, pirate, bandit, soldier, duke of Rouen, founder of Normandy
Rollo - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Egil Skallagrimsson, 910-990 AD (80 years old)
Norse Viking, poet, sorcerer, skald, pirate, duelist, slayer of Berzerkers
Egill SkallagrÃ:smile:msson - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

"Egil is the great anti-hero of Icelandic literature, known for breaking his oaths, killing for trifles, and practicing sorcery. Many historians consider Egil to be one of the deadliest men that ever lived in bladed combat- several accounts tell of him slaughtering as many as 20 or more armed men single-handedly, and even dispatching a feared berserker with relative ease. In spite of this, he was considered a great healer, and his saga tells of him curing a girl who had been ill for quite some time where all other efforts had proven futile."

Doge Enrico Dandolo, 1107-1205 AD (98 years old)
Blind Doge (ruler) of Venice, crusader, military adventurer, conqueror of Byzantium at age 90
Enrico Dandolo - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

William Marshal, 1146-1219 AD (73 years old)
English soldier, knight, first earl of Pembroke
William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Alexander Nevsky, 1220-1263 AD (43 years old)
Swedish –Russian prince, warlord, soldier, and statesman
Alexander Nevsky - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Roger de Flor (Aka Roger von Blum),1266-1306 AD (40 years old)
German Templar, pirate, Byzantine Caesar, leader of the Catalan Grand Company
Roger de Flor - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

James Douglas (aka "The Black Douglas"), 1286- 1330 AD
Scottish knight, guerilla, rebel, and bandit (44 years old)
Earl of Douglas - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Jeanne De Clisson
Female Pirate and Breton rebel, scourge of the French Navy
"Jeanne de Clisson, enraged and bewildered over her husband's execution, swore revenge on the King, and Charles de Blois in particular. She sold off the remnants of the Clisson lands to raise money, whereupon she bought three warships, and the aid of many of the lords and people of Brittany to ensure their independence.
The ships that Clisson purchased were painted all black on her command, and the sails dyed red. The 'Black Fleet' took to the waters and began hunting down and destroying the ships of King Philip VI, and were merciless with the crews. But Clisson would always leave two or three of Philip's sailors alive, so that the message would get back to the King that the "Lioness of Brittany" had struck once again. Jeanne and her fleet also assisted in keeping the English Channel free of French warships, and it is very likely that as a privateer she had a hand in keeping supplies available to the English forces for the Battle of Crécy in 1346. When King Philip VI died in 1350, it was not the end to Jeanne's revenge. She continued to wreak havoc among French shipping, and it was reported that she took particular joy in hunting down and capturing the ships of French noblemen, as long as they were aboard. She would then personally behead the aristocrats with an axe, tossing their lifeless bodies overboard."
Jeanne de Clisson - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Bertrand du Guesclin, (aka 'The Eagle of Brittany')1320-1380 AD
Breton knight and French military commander (60 years old)
Bertrand du Guesclin - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Sir John Hawkwood, 1320-1394 AD (74 years old)
English mercenary leader, longowman, condottieri captain, leader of the 'White Company'
John Hawkwood - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Jan Žižka, 1360-1424 AD (64 years old)
Czech soldier, Hussite military leader, military innovator and rebel
Jan Žižka - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Fiore dei Liberi 1350-1409 (59 years old)
Fencing master, duelist, courtier. Famous for writing fight books, and for instructing several noblemen involved in juduciial combats (successfully). He notes that he fought and survived six duels himself, while traveling and learning the art of fencing)

Gottfried "Götz" von Berlichingen 1480-1561 (aged 81)
German Free Imperial Knight, robber knight, peasant rebellion leader, known for having a mechanical arm made after his hand was severed. He wrote a wild memoir of all his adventures and misdeeds which has now at last been translated into English (in at least two versions that I know of). Also renowned for telling an enemy warlord to "lick my a********e" when the latter demanded surrender

Leo of Rozmital
1425-1486 (61 years old)
Czech noble, knight, commander of a two year expedition around Europe
His mission included 40 Czech knights and one German burgher (also a knight). One Czech knight and the burgher from Nuremberg both wrote memoirs of their incredible trip around Europe over two years. The trip was a knightly tournament tour, and a peace overture on behalf of the Czech heretic knight-king George of Podiebrady, but also secretly an attempt to create an EU type organization in Europe centuries before it's time. Both memoirs are translated creating a Roshomon type effect and a truly fascinating read.

Afanasy Nikitin (???? - 1472)
Russian explorer who reached all the way to India in 1460-1470s

Braccio da Montone, 1368-1424 AD (56 years old)
Italian aristocrat, prince of Capua, condottieri, and military innovator
Braccio da Montone - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

John Hunyadi, 1387-1456 AD (58 years old)
Vlach aristocrat, Capitan-general and regent of Hungary, War Leader and rebel, nemesis of the Ottoman Empire ~ article "John Hunyadi"

Skanderbeg aka Gjergj Kastrioti, 1405-1468 (63 years old)
Albanian nobleman, Ottoman war leader, Albanian rebel, guerilla leader, warrior
Skanderbeg - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Hans Talhoffer 1410-1482 (age 72)
German hit man, mercenary, fencing master, courtier. Hans Talhoffer rose from relative obscurity to reacdh a relatively prominent posiition as a courtier to various princely ranked nobles. Early in life he worked as a 'hetzrüden' for the Free City of Nuremberg, and was accused of murdering a knight (who was probably a robber knight) and was caught by the man's brother, but managed to get out of trouble. He went on to write several well regarded 'fightbooks' and 'kriegsbooks' (books fencing and warfare) which he sold to princes.

Zacharias de Ghisolfi (mid to late 15th Century)
Genoese-Jewish warlord of the Crimea. Soldier, banker explorer and expedition leader. He led his people (iwho inclided Italians, Greeks, Crimean Goths, Slavs and Tartars) to safety from Crimea after the Ottoman takeover in 1480

Pierre Terrail, aka seigneur de Bayard1473-1524 (51 years old)
French knight, military leader. Arguably the most famous knight ever
Pierre Terrail, seigneur de Bayard - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Grutte Pier (aka Pier Gerlofs Donia)1480-1520 (40 years old)
Frisian Pirate, revolutionary
Pier Gerlofs Donia - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Bernal Diaz, 1492-1584 AD (92 years old)
Spanish conquistador, soldier, author. Wrote a gripping memoir (think lord of the rings meets Cormac McCarthy) which is translated into English and other languages
Bernal DÃ:smile:az del Castillo - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Ascanio della Corgna 1516-1571 (age 55)
Italian noble, condotierri, duelist, naval commander. He was famous for winning mutliple personal duels with swords, but also fought at (and survived!) the epic siege of Malta and was one of the commanders at the also epic battle of Lepanto.

John of Austria, (aka Don Juan) 1547 – 1578 AD (31 years old)
Austrian noble, admiral
John of Austria - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

William Adams, 1564-1620 AD (56 years old)
English samurai, shipwright, pilot, navigator, sailor - navigated to Japan and became a Samurai
William Adams (sailor) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Miyamoto Musashi, 1584 – 1645 AD (61 years old)
Japanese samurai, duelist, fencing master, author, artist and philosopher
Miyamoto Musashi - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Sir Kenelm Digby, 1603-1665 AD (62 years old)
English gentleman, privateer, scientist, alchemist, Catholic activist, author, duelist
Kenelm Digby - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Extraordinary Street Fight of Sir Kenelm Digby

Henry Morgan, 1635 – 1688 AD (53 years old)
English / Welsh soldier / sailor, pirate / Buccaneer / Privateer
Henry Morgan - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Julie d'Aubigny (aka "La Maupin"), 1670-1707 AD (37 years old)
French aristocrat, swordswoman, duelist, storyteller, outlaw and opera singer. July admittedly didn't live too long but her candle burned bright.
Julie d'Aubigny - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Donald McBane, circa 1670 ? -1730 AD ? (60 years old) CN
Scottish adventurer, fencing master, soldier, pimp, tobacco spinner et al
History : The Expert Swordsman : The Royal Scots - The Royal Regiment

Runners Up

Aud the Deep-Minded, 834-900 AD LG
Norse noblewoman, one of the founding settlers of Iceland
Aud the Deep-Minded - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Ahmad ibn Fadlan, 10th Century AD LN
Arab writer, diplomat and very wide traveler who voyaged throughout Europe among other places
Ahmad ibn Fadlan - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Bohemond I of Antioch, 1058 – 1111 AD CN
Sicilian /Norman Crusader, Prince of Taranto and later Antioch
Bohemond I of Antioch - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Freydís Eiríksdóttir, 11th Century AD CE
Norse explorer, warrior, pioneer, killer
FreydÃ:smile:s EirÃ:smile:ksdóttir - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Usamah ibn Munqidh, 1095-1188
Arab Knight, historian, politician, and diplomat. Wrote a fantastic memoir which is translated into English and many other languages.
Usamah ibn Munqidh - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Sir John Reresby, 1634 – 1689 AD
English English politician, author, duelist and gentleman
Sir John Reresby, 2nd Baronet - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Sir John Reresby: Seventeenth-Century Scrapper

Villains and Monsters
Don't think real life villains could be as scary as monsters in the fiend folio? Check out a few of these historical characters.

Gilles de Rais, 1404-1440 AD
French aristocrat, soldier, and serial killer.
Gilles de Rais - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Cesare Borgia, 1475-1507 AD
Spanish-Italian aristocrat, condottiero (soldier), statesman, killer
Cesare Borgia - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Benvenuto Cellini 1500-1571
Genius Renaissance goldsmith, artist, incredibly good sniper, admitted necromancer and multiple murderer (according to his own memoir)

Caravaggio 1571- 1610
Genius Baroque painter and multiple murderer / maybe serial killer

Stube Peter (aka Peter Stump) (??- 1589 AD)
German serial killer and alleged werewolf
Peter Stumpp - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Elizabeth Báthory, (aka "the Blood Countess") 1560-1614 AD
Hungarian countess, sadist and serial killer
Elizabeth Báthory - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Beast of Gevaudan 1767
Man eating wolf or werewolf
Beast of Gévaudan - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Semi - Historical (we knew they existed, but most stories about them are really legends)

Pytheas of Massalia, 380-310 BC (70 years old) N
Greek merchant, geographer, and explorer. He wrote a book of his travels but we only have excerpts quoted by other Classical authors.
Pytheas - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
'Discovered' British Isles ('pretania') and "Thule"

Ragnar Lodbrok
Ragnar Lodbrok - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Viking Shield -maiden and pirate, possible the coolest female warrior who ever lived

"....With a measure of vitality at odds with her tender frame, roused the mettle of the faltering soldiery by a splendid exhibition of bravery. She flew round the rear of the unprepared enemy in a circling maneuver and carried the panic which had been felt by the allies into the camp of their adversaries".
Ragnar's Saga
Lathgertha - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Semi - Mythological / Quasi- Historical figures

William Tell, 14th Century

Swiss archer, rebel, guerilla leader
William Tell - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Hiawatha, 15th Century AD
Haudenosaunee (aka Iroquois) chieftain, warrior, statesman, and orator
Hiawatha - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Sawney Bean, 16th Century AD
Scottish bandit and cannibal
Sawney Bean - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A Few Historical Alchemists and Wizards
(I just got started on these, this is only a tiny random sampling mostly some Arab and Persian alchemist I'd been researching, there are several dozen fascinating characters from the European renaissance alone)

Archimedes of Syracuse 287-212 BC (age 75)
Archimedes - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Heron of Alexandria 10- 70 AD (age 60)
Hero of Alexandria - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Jabir Ibn Hayyan, 721 – 815 AD (age 94)
Persian alchemist, pharmacist, physician, astronomer, physicist and philosopher, known as 'Geber' in the West.
Geber - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Al Kindi, 801-873 AD (age 72)
Arab scientist, philosopher, mathematician, physician, and musician, also known by the Latinised version of his name Alkindus to the Western world. Al-Kindi was the first of the Muslim peripatetic philosophers, and is best known for his efforts to introduce Greek philosophy to the Arab world
Al-Kindi - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Al Razi, 865-925 AD (age 60)
Extremely influential Persian Alchemist and Scholar, robot maker etc.
Muhammad ibn Zakariya ar-Razi - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Avicenna, (aka Ibn Sina aka "ibn Abd Allāh ibn Sīnā") 980-1037 AD (aged 57)
Persian polymath and the foremost physician and Islamic philosopher of his time. He was also an astronomer, chemist, geologist, Hafiz, logician, mathematician, physicist, poet, psychologist, scientist, Sheikh, soldier, statesman and Islamic theologian.
Avicenna - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Ibn Rushd, 1126-1198 (aged 72)
Extremely influential Moorish philosopher and physician
Averroes - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Hassan I Sabbah 1050-1124 AD (aged 74)
Persian Assassin Cult leader and founder of the Ismaili Shia sect of Islam
Hassan-i Sabbah - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Omar Khayyám 1048-1131 AD (aged 83)
Persian poet, mathematician, philosopher and astronomer
Omar Khayyám - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Hildegard von Bingen 1098-1179 (aged 81)
A Benedictine abbess living in Germany in the 12th Century, Hildegard was a writer, musical composer and mystic. She was considered to be one of the key pioneers of Natural history and the German tradition of treatises of flora called kreuterbuch a nuance of the tradition of Pliny's Naturalis Historia. She created (or according to Hildegard, channeled) one of the first of a series of the unique angelic alphabets which were used in later centuries by practitioners of the esoteric arts. Hildegard routinely claimed to be ignorant due to being a woman, but she also invented (or channeled, as she claimed) a secret language with which to communicate with her fellow nuns, and continued to publish important scholarly work through her life

Roger Bacon 1219-1292 (aged 73)
A thirteenth Century English Franciscan friar who became one of the first advocates of empiricism, and a leading pioneer in optics, geometry, alchemy, astronomy, grammar and mathematics. He was the first European known to have written the formula for gunpowder, and his work on optics influenced the development of the first eyeglasses in Italy. He also dabbled in the esoteric and was widely believed to have created an automaton called the brazen head which could answer questions like an oracle. He edited and released a copy of the Secretum Secretorum, wrote several minor works on alchemy and also covered alchemy and astrology in his Opus Majus. On the other hand, he advocated the use of experiments to debunk necromancy and dismissed many forms of magic as superstition or natural phenomena.

Raymon Lull 1232-1316 (age 84)
A Catalan scholar of the 13th-14th Century who became a Franciscan Tertiary, known as an important mathematician, an author, and an inventor. Raymond Lull was a major influence in Latin Alchemy and like the anonymous Pseudo Geber, he worked out many theoretical concepts from the Muslim Alchemists and described reliable methods to produce results in the lab. He also did important work in political science (including mathematical analysis of elections) in cyphers and theoretical mathematics considered among the key precursors to information science or computer science. He also wrote on Natural Magic and Celestial Magic, and both during and after his lifetime it was debated whether he was a saint or a heretic.

Giovanni Fontana (aka Johannes de Fontana) 1395-1455 (age 60 )
A 15th Century scholar, physician and military engineer. He was an expert in mnemonics and cryptography, and wrote two significant treatises, Bellicorum instrumentorum liber, an important manual of military engineering, and Secretum de thesauro experimentorum ymaginationis hominum (Secret of the treasure-room of experiments in man's imagination), on cyphers, mnemonics and magic.

His war-manual included giant clockwork 'war-automata' such as his infamous fire witch (see Automata), and important passages on hydraulic systems, pneumatics, naval weaponry, and alchemy. In a famous incident in 1430, a witness who saw a torpedo he invented being tested at Padua accused him of being a magus and suggested the torpedo was powered by demons. Giovanni dismissed the idea with contempt, pointing out that the weapon relied purely on natural phenomena (compressed air), and it was only the ignorance of the witness that made it seem magical.

Barbara of Cili 1392-1451 (age 59)
Slovenian / German / Czech queen, noblewoman, alchemist, sorcerer. There is a first hand account of her many tricks of alchemy, she also stars as the central figure in the hilarious off-color anomymous anthology 'Waggish Tales of the Czechs'

Dr Faustus 1480-1541 (age 61)
The real-life inspiration for the famous play. A scholar, professor, accused rapist, and admitted necromancer

Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa
1486-1535 (age 49)
German scholar, lawyer, author, fencer, mercenary, sorcerer, defender of accused witches, open critic of anti-semitism. Author of perhaps the most important, magisterial work of Renaissance esotericism, "Three Books of Occult Philosophy"

Judah Loew ben Bezalel, (aka "the Maharal of Prague") 1529-1605 AD (age 76)
Jewish rabbi, philosopher, mystic, Talmudic scholar and creator of the Golem
Judah Loew ben Bezalel - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Giordano Bruno 1558 - 1600 (age 42)
Giordano Bruno - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Italian. Either a subtle philosopher, astronomer and scientist before his time, or a heretical demon worshiper and necromancer, depending on who you believe. Burned at the stake for writing among other works, the infamous "De Umbris Idearum" (aka 'Shadow of Ideas') and Lo Spaccio de la Bestia Trionfante (The Expulsion of the Triumphant Beast, 1584) and De gl' Heroici Furori (On Heroic Frenzies, 1585).
One argument I have heard many, many times from people who don't like low fantasy, is that they don't want a boring game about some peasant who has fleas and dies of the plague anonymously at age 27. They want to be a hero, someone remarkable, someone who transcended the mundane. Most of all they don't want to be anything like reality, which for some of us is like the life of Dilbert. We don't want to play Dilbert in the Dungeon.

My reaction being, granted, "Because, of course, the ONLY alternative to Conan is "Dilbert in the Dungeon," and there couldn't possibly be any middle ground." I've heard that argument myself over the years. Suggestions to that sort that becoming legendary heroes involves earning it often run flat: they want to go from zero to hero in ten seconds.
There's nothing wrong with starting as Conan:thumbsup:!

There's nothing wrong with NOT starting as Conan, either:shade:.
Yeah it's partly just a matter of taste. I've never got into the really high powered type of gaming, I was always inspired by the original REH Conan. He was tough, but often barely getting by. Or say, Jack Vance's Cugel the Clever etc. But I've had friends describe very high powered games that sounded quite interesting, complex. Full of intrigue and difficult challenges, interesting characters and settings.

There is some range in the real world too. Some of those people from the list started out as nobodies and rose to at least semi-greatness. Others were born to privilege and / or with natural talents, and did more or less as one would expect. Some were born with talent and social advantages but did horrible things.

Most superhero genres though I find kind of boring, and same for most 'vampires as super-heroes' type genres. It's just been a bit oversaturated for me. I think as both a player and a GM, I lean toward the grittier, more real-feeling situations and characters. More like the characters from Alien or Aliens. Or maybe, Blade Runner. But I also quite enjoyed (the first) Guardians of the Galaxy. It's probably beyond my skills as a GM to run a game in that kind of setting but it seems like it might be fun as a player.

The idea of this list of historic characters is to give you some options that you could tailor to a Call of Cthulhu or OSR type game, OR to a Space Opera or high fantasy etc. game. Many of those individuals could fit into both types, and others.
Ancient East Asian Maps: The collection features rubbings of Song dynasty maps steles, Ming local maps on silk, a magnificent Edo manuscript copy of Matteo Ricci's world map mounted on a folded screen, monumental maps of the Qing empire and highly pictorial manuscript maps of Taiwan and Inner Mongolia
Some pretty interesting images to do with mining in the 16th Century, from an Austrian mining book printed in 1556

Two miners looking at ore




Exploring with an oil lamp


Testing depth with a plumb line

Making accurate measurements so the shaft is strait

Some tools of the trade

This is a water powered double bellows / forge, and a water powered trip hammer, all driven by the same wheel

These are ingots coming out of a bloomery or smelter


That little oil lamp, by the way, is probably the most likely means of illumination for dungeon, cave, mine etc. exploring in your pseudo medieval world. Torches are not good for that role, candles are good but mostly used inside, and lanterns would be pretty expensive back in your quasi-medieval setting. Your basic oil lamp was the go-to method
In much of the medieval period, there appears to have been almost no human habitation in the higher peaks and valleys of many of the mountain ranges. Starting in the 13th and 14th Centuries, small numbers of prospectors began to venture into some of these areas and explore for valuable metals, gemstones, salt, and medicinal plants. Many of the early prospectors into the higher peaks of the mountains in Central Europe in the late middle ages appear to have come from outside the region. The Germans referred to them as "Welsh" "Venetian" or "Wahles" - all three terms referring to people who spoke Romance languages, or sometimes just foreign dialects. The Czechs and Poles referred to similar foreign prospectors who arrived in Silesia in the vicinity of the haunted "Giant Mountains" as "Walloons". Many of these prospectors appear to have been Italian, in particular Venetian. Some were Flemish, some may have been from Swizterland or Austria or Spain. I'm working on a little video about those people right now.

Some of these prospectors left behind little booklets, which the Germans called "Wahles books' and the Czechs called "Walloon Books". Several have survived, though they are a bit hard to translate, being partially written in cypher and partly in alchemical argot or terms of art for miners or metallurgists, or herbalists (as many of them were also prospecting for valuable plants used in herbal medicines).

There are translated excerpts from these though and they are pretty interesting if you are curious about life in these times, or the history of mining. Some of these work pretty well as adventure hooks for RPG games, in my opinion.

These are excerpts from "Wahlen books" which were posted by a German folklorist with a website called "Sunken Castles, Evil Poodles":


"Forms and colors of the gold grains as described by Sebastian Berso in his Wahles-Book. 1) Many gold grains are red, like rusting iron; 2) many are like garnets, dark, transparent; 3) many are smoothly spherical; 4) many are like peas; 5) many are like beans; 6) many are like pitch, but are also good."

"Of the Fichtelsee[1] Giovanni Carnero (a Venetian) as well as Joh. Schott write: This lake can be found in the lands of the Markgrave[2], high up in the wetlands, and its bottom could not be found even at 40 fathoms.[3] If someone dug into the ground at the top of the mountain to a depth of a span,[4] they would find remarkably green stones. If they were heated with embers, they would turn red, and when they were put next to silver, then both of these stones would turn to pure gold of a kind undiscovered by all mankind until now.

As a side note, the same Venetian claims that gold lies on many mountains in the Fichtelgebirge like stone heaps on the ground."

"Luchsburg near Wunsiedel.[5] This mountain area near Wunsiedel in the Fichtelberg region is located at an unreachable, terrible height[6]. Within this area there are old mine entrances and underground tunnels, and within them gold and silver can be found. This is near the old castles which used to be the abodes of the robber knights of the House of von Losburg, from which the mountain derives its name[7].

Outside of one of the castles, on the right side from the main gate looking outwards, there is an old underground chamber or cellar within the earth. Before it lies a very large stone, and within it is a very large iron chest with an incredible treasure of gold, silver, and jewels. This lies on top of a square copper cauldron, which is full with a variety of Guilder coins[8] and is one ell high and two ells wide[9]. Within there are also a golden crown and beautiful jewels with gems, which the lords of the von Losburg line once stole from a king and buried there when the castle was destroyed. For those who want to search for it should look beneath the stairs. A foursquare hole can be found there in which the treasure can be found, and for this reason the steps of the stairs must be broken off from the uppermost to the lowest one at the base of the stairs. It is best to retrieve the treasure on Epiphany Sunday[10]. Probatum est. Carnero.[11] I for my part hold that if this were to be true, that if there had ever been such a treasure here, then Carnero and his accomplices would have stolen it a long time ago and at the very least broken up the stairs. Thus, committing to such an effort would be pointless."

"Kössein, a stream which flows into the Trebenitz near Redwitz[12], has its source at a strong well. Within are blackish grains, some as large as a pea and some smaller. The well-head throws these up into the air like sand in its center due to the force of the outflow. No one knows of them, but they contain a lot of gold. After it is cleaned, a third of the material is dissolved, and if the rest is carried to a goldsmith they will pay nine Reichstalers for the pound. Carnero. In August of the year 1699 a farmer led me to this site who assured me that the Waloonish bearers of heckling combs and mousetraps had been seen there many times. I actually did find an old tin pan next to those grains, but how valuable they really were I cannot say."

Source: Zapf, L. Der Sagenkreis des Fichtelgebirges: Mythe und Geschichte. 1873, p. 98ff.

This is a Polish tourism article with some more information specifically about the prospectors in The Giant Mountains in Silesia, who became kind of quasi-pagan herbalists, worshiping the local mountain deity "Krakonos" aka "Herr Johann".


A rather fairy-tale esque panorama of the gold mining town of Leipzig, Silesia (today Poland) by Mathias Gerung, 1536
More ancient maps:

Found via OpenCulture:
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