Wednesday, June 06, 2012


"All right, fellas... let's go and say a prayer for a boy who couldn't run as fast as I could."
-Father Jerry, Angels with Dirty Faces

I'm running a role playing game set in 1938, starting out as a pulp action game that will morph into a golden age superhero campaign. As part of my research I did a lot of studying of "current" events then, such as what movies and radio were popular, what books were selling, what was going on around the world, what slang was being used, and so on.

Thankfully I've read a lot of pulp and mystery fiction from the time period and am quite familiar with the era, so it wasn't a terrible burden to catch up. And the internet has plenty of resources such as timelines, slang guides, and so on to help learn the time period.

But something I came up with to help the players was a list of current events to help put the time period in context. My idea was to give them the tools to aid in placing their imagination in that era, so I came up with a sort of time line. Except to make it fit and make sense, I indicated the years as if they were current.

So assuming this year was 1938, if something happened in 1927, that would be 11 years ago. in our time, that would be 2001. By doing this I think it helps put things in their proper place. Its a bit abstract to say the Great War (what we call WWI) ended in 1920, but to say it ended 19 years ago in 1995 makes it more understandable. That's just after the fall of the Berlin wall, in President Clinton's first term. Coolio had just released "Gangsta's Paradise," The first Toy Story movie came out and Pierce Brosnan debuted as James Bond. The OJ Simpson trial took place, and Yahoo was founded in Santa Clara, California.

So someone your age would have that recent a memory of the events around the end of WW1, for example, that you have of the mid 90s. Here's what the rest of the timeline looks like:
-27 years (1985) – April 15th: Titanic sinks, killing hundreds despite being considered unsinkable and the latest modern technology.
-24 years (1988) – June 28th: Archduke Ferdinand shot, starting the Great War.
-22 years (1990) – April 2nd: The US becomes involved in the Great War.
-19 years (1993) – November 11th: Germany signs armistice, bringing the Great War to an end. The full treaty is not signed until June of the following year.
-18 years (1994) – October 28th: Congress signs the 18th amendment
-17 years (1995): – January 17th: Prohibition begins, outlawing the manufacture and sales of any alcohol in the United States.
-17 years (1995) – August 26th: Congress passes the 19th amendment, granting women the vote.
-10 years (2002) – October 29th: Black Tuesday when the New York Stock Exchange crashes, with investors losing $14 billion dollars
-9 years (2003) – August 6th: Supreme Court Justice Joseph F. Crater walks around a corner in New York City and vanishes without a trace.
-9 years (2003) – Protests and riots against British rule take place all year.
-9 years (2003) – January 1st: The Empire State Building is completed.
-9 years (2003) – October 26th: Japan invades Manchuria.
-8 years (2004) – March 3rd: “The Star Spangled Banner” becomes the national anthem.
-7 years (2005) – May 3rd: Al Capone is sentenced to 10 years in prison for tax evasion.
-6 years (2006) – January 30th: Hitler is elected Chancellor of Germany.
-6 years (2006) – March 24th: Hitler given supreme powers by the Reichstag.
-6 years (2006) – December 5th: Congress passes the 18th amendment, ending prohibition.
-5 years (2007) – May 23rd: Bonny and Clyde are killed in a police ambush.
-5 years (2007) – July 6th: John Dillinger is gunned down by police outside a movie theater.
-4 years (2008) – August 2nd: German president Hindenberg dies, and Hitler assumes that office as well, declaring himself Reichsfuhrer.
-3 years (2009) – July 17th: Spanish Civil War begins
-3 years (2009) – October 9th: The Boulder Dam is completed (renamed Hoover dam in 1937).
-3 years (2009) – December 10th: King Edward VIII abdicates the throne of England.
-2 years (2010) – May 27th: The Golden Gate Bridge is completed in San Francisco.
-1 year (2011) – March 13th: Germany annexes Austria unopposed.
-1 year (2011) – October 1 Germans occupy the Sudetenland without opposition by Czechs
-1 year (2011) – November 9th: assassination of German envoy to Paris triggers burning and looting of homes and shops owned by German Jews. Called “Kristallnacht), Jews are fined $400,000,000 and rounded up for special “ghettos.”
-1 year (2011) – December 8th: Germany launches the Graf Zeppelin, an enormous “aircraft carrier” ship
What struck me as I worked this up is how many of the events of this time period were so pivotal and incredible. Mind you I left a few out (spoiler: such as the Hindenburg disaster, for instance) so that our heroes can be involved in them, but this is the bulk of them. This is the time period The King's Speech took place in. This was when many of the greatest public works projects in American history took place.

They built the Hoover Dam, the Empire State Building, and the Golden Gate bridge back then without unions, without computers or lasers, without much in the way of safety guidelines. This was the time period between two of the most horrific and destructive wars in human memory, a short gasp of breath between the carnage. It was the great depression, and yet somehow so much was accomplished.

Oh, the popular media of that day? Bringing Up Baby, Angels With Dirty Faces, The Adventures of Robin Hood, and Holiday.

Literature included Edgar Rice Burroughs - Tarzan and the Forbidden City, Agatha Christie - Appointment with Death, C. S. Lewis - Out of the Silent Planet, and Ayn Rand - Anthem.

On the radio, The Shadow was popular, Edward R. Murrow did his first radio broadcast, the soap opera Woman in White began, Information Please! was very popular, and Blair of the Mounties thrilled audiences.

In music, Al Donahue sang "Jeepers Creepers", Artie Shaw released "Begin the Beguine," The Andrews Sisters sang "Bei Mir Bist Do Shoen," and Benny Goodman played "Don't Be That Way."

And FDR was taxing and spending the depression into lasting even longer and getting even worse.

Some things just keep coming around.

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