Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental

I am currently working on a UFO conspiracy RPG one-shot inspired by TV series like X-Files and Dark Skies and computer games like the XCOM series (including The Bureau). One of the premises of the setting is that aliens really did crash in Roswell in 1947 and that there really is a government committee called Majestic-12 that deals with the extraterrestrial threat. A secret organization called XCOM is the long arm of Majestic, fighting the aliens, recovering alien artifacts and covering up the truth.

In the last few weeks I did a lot of research on UFOlogy and stumbled upon a whole plethora of alleged real cases that I could use as inspiration for the game. The big question is now whether I should use the actual names of the people involved in these cases or make up new names? If I keep the names of the actual people the game might feel a bit more real, but I am not sure if I should mix fantasy in reality in this way.

Having the players interview Betty and Barney Hill, the couple who claimed to have been abducted by aliens, actually sounds like a cool idea, but on the other hand it’s also a bit weird. During their line of work, the players might irregularly meet with famous politicians (perhaps even the president), high-ranking military officers, famous scientists etc., and it would add a level of believability to the scenario if these people are from the history books than from my imagination. But is this the right thing to do? What is your stance on this issue? Am I overthinking the whole affair? Do you sneak in real people into your game? Please share your thoughts below.


Michael Wolf is a German games designer and enthusiast best known for his English language role-playing games blog, Stargazer's World, and for creating the free rules-light medieval fantasy adventure game Warrior, Rogue & Mage. He has also worked as an English translator on the German-language Dungeonslayers role-playing game and was part of its editorial team. In addition to his work on Warrior, Rogue & Mage and Dungeonslayers, he has created several self-published games and also performed layout services and published other independent role-playing games such as A Wanderer's Romance, Badass, and the Wyrm System derivative Resolute, Adventurer & Genius, all released through his imprint Stargazer Games. Professionally, he works as a video technician and information technologies specialist. Stargazer's World was started by Michael in August 2008.

4 thoughts on “Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental”

  1. Definitely go for the real persons and names, it will make the game so much more fun. In my big “Cthulhu in Weimar” campaign I used lots of historical peoples as NPCs, from Max Planck to Ernst Gennat and Alfred Hugenberg. That gave the game great flavour and the players were always thrilled that some of these people actually lived. 🙂

    I just made sure to keep to major antagonists fictitious, to keep the players’ freedom to change their fate without changing history.

  2. I don’t see why it matters one way or the other whether or not you include the names of people that your players have never heard of, like people from obscure alien encounter stories. On the other hand I feel like you should absolutely use the real person when it comes to famous figures like the president or head of the FBI.

  3. A lot of historical figures are almost fictional characters unto themselves for the purposes of storytelling. If you bring Winston Churchill into a game people are going to expect a certain type of behaviour and certain manners from him, and though these expectations are built largely on myth drawn from other fictional accounts rather than the actual person I don’t see a problem with using them in your narrative. They are almost mythological characters, and you wouldn’t think twice about using Thor in a game where it is appropriate. Same principle, I think. Your Churchill is obviously not the same as the real-world Churchill, but that in no way should affect your ability to use him as a character and/or plot device in your game.

    In games based on the real world adding real world historical figures help make the setting feel more familiar. The only real problem I could forsee is with really controversial figures or to some extent people who are still alive, as then you might risk offending any players you may have who have strong viewpoints on the matter. But otherwise, I see no problem.

    When it comes to non-famous people like the UFO-case you mentioned above I don’t think it matters at all what you call them. Players are unlikely to have ever known about the people in the first place and if they have their role in your game is likely not going to change if you call them by different names. In that case just do what seems most aesthetically pleasing to you, I say.

  4. The big problem I can see is if any of your players know the names they might know what is going to happen, or it might cause immersion breaking.

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