So you’ve made your world. You’ve populated it with a cast of interesting characters, and given it a rich history. So now, as you sit down to play for the first time in your setting, the question becomes do you tell your players this history?
History is a necessary evil for any setting. If the world has no history, it will end up feeling bland and without depth. It shows the craft and thought put into your world. It makes the cities and ruins more significant and it can give the events of the game more impact. A battle in a shrine with a thousand year history is far more interesting than a battle in some nameless shrine. An exposition session, where you tell the players of the history of your world, can be a great time. It gives you the chance to flew your storytelling muscles and tantalize your players with hints of artifacts and ruins they’ll encounter. It can really enhance your game.
But what about the opposite? What if you tell your players nothing and let them discover the history on their own in the confines of the game? This can be just as fun. That nameless shrine in the woods can be just a nameless shrine, or it can be significant in ways the players have to discover. The lich with the weird name, maybe they discover him in some ancient tome, turns out he’s the rightful king of the country. This is the kind of writing you can’t do when you give your players the entire history. And you give the players a reason to take the history skill (and use it).
Personally, I like to take a middle road approach to history. You know I enjoy feeding my players false information, and the histories of my worlds are no exceptions. An old adage states that history is written by the victors. But history can also be forgotten, erased, and altered. That aforementioned nameless shrine, if my players encounter it, it’s nameless because someone wants it to be nameless. That lich? Wrong side of a losing war and his enemy tried to destroy him completely. If my players roll history, they’ll also have to take into account the source of their knowledge. Real history is full of authors embellishing or altering accounts to favor those in power, why should the history of my world be any different. Why shouldn’t my players have to deal with the same half remembered oral traditions and metaphorical myths that plague modern historians?
So, when the time comes for you to approach history in your game, keep these things in mind. You can give your players everything, nothing, or some amalgamation of the two, but the most important thing is what you want to do.