A Redoubt of Stars: Background Information
Essays by Dave Bryant
Playing Grey Thaler, Earl of Cera and Count of Maerora
The cultural template used as a base for Tempus—the world sponsoring the small, growing colony on Cera—is medieval Europe, especially England, of the late thirteenth century, though elements from throughout the Middle Ages are considered fair game. To that end, I have done some research into the period and put together some essays examining various facets of life in a feudal culture as well as pertinent information on the milieu of the Redoubt. The essays are presented more or less thematically, with general background on medieval society first, followed by more specific discussions of the milieu of the Redoubt itself.
A feudal culture seems to arise in the wake of the collapse of an all-encompassing central authority and the infrastructure it represents: in historical Europe, the Roman Empire crumbled into the Dark Ages; in historical Japan, the emperors power declined, leading to the Warring States period; and in the Redoubt, the predecessor culture that built the gate network withdrew and sealed off that part of it. Suddenly, local populations are left easy prey to bandits, raiders, anarchy, and other depredations. Into the power vacuum step strongmen, warriors willing to attach themselves to specific areas, protecting and governing them, in exchange for virtual ownership of the lands and everything—and, often, everyone—in them.
Wealth is land and goods; money is rare at best and credit is entirely unknown. A disdain for mere coin and the traffic in it eventually proves the old orders undoing when a new merchant social class, itself often despised by the lords, gradually realizes that commerce and liquid assets represent a way around the traditional ideas of affluence, one open to any bold and canny enough to exploit them successfully. The nobility withers over centuries into irrelevance in the face of an intellectual, philosophical, and artistic renaissance powered by the new mercantilism.
Manor and Fief: The Building Blocks of Feudal Power
The manor is the basic unit of medieval civilization. On paper, an ideal manor consists of the local lords or administrators residence—the actual manor house itself, which may be a villa, a keep, or a castle—one or more villages, common pasturage, perhaps a stream or river, some woodland, and most importantly two sets of fields divided into long, thin strips, which are cultivated alternately using crop rotation. Part of each set is the demesne or home farm cultivated on behalf of the lord himself; the bulk is held by the peasantry for their use. All is worked in common by the peasants.
A manor may be as small as a hundred acres or as large as several thousand, but most seem to run about five hundred to fifteen hundred acres. A barons single fief, his barony, usually consists of roughly fifteen to twenty-five manors totalling as much as forty thousand acres. Ten to forty manors may make up a fief belonging to an earl, ranging in overall size up to sixty thousand acres. His earldom as a whole consists of two or more fiefs covering amongst them fifty thousand acres or more; earldoms larger than one hundred thousand acres are not uncommon.
One manor within a fief, usually the largest, richest, or most strategically located, serves as the seat of the the fief. It is there that the fiefs castle or keep and its town or city, if any, is located, and from there that the fief is administered. A baron usually has a keep, while an earl generally has a castle at the seat of his earldom and a keep in the seat of each of his other fiefs. The earl will hold personally his largest or richest fief from the castle; the others are held in his name by officials called constables.
Any other manor within a fief may be owned in fee simple by a clan or run in the lords name by an official—a bailiff or a reeve. Not all clan-owned manors will belong to the same clan, and some clans may own manors in more than one fief. In most cases, clans will own a third to a half (or even more) of the manors, and bailiffs will run most of the rest. Reeves usually run a relatively small percentage of the manors, but that is not always the case; the proportions may vary widely.
Castle and Keep: A Lords House, Property, and People
Castles and keeps are concrete representations of the independence of feudal lords—a freedom the guild, the crown, and especially the treaty nations would be at pains to quash in any form on Cera. The reason for that symbolism, a castles ability to withstand assault, would be anathema to the treaty nations, who twisted any arms they could to get written into the treaty a provision forbidding castle-building. Instead, the earls manor house is built as a lightly fortified Roman-style villa designed to resist mobs, but not trained soldiers.
Who does what in a lords castle or keep, and what kind of secondary characters there might be of interest to the players? Below is a list of offices, their duties, and a brief discussion of what this means on Cera. Offices that Ceran nobles are likely to have are in boldface; offices theyre likely not to have are in italics.
The seneschal is the senior and most important official; he performs the duties of a landlord and business manager on behalf of his lord—collecting and tracking rents and monies, overseeing maintenance, dealing with the residents of the lords holdings, and so forth. Rents, by the way, are much more likely to be paid in goods, usually foodstuffs, than in cash. Greys seneschal deals with Maeroras mayor and its guilds on a daily basis.
The chatelain is something like a head butler, managing the household, overseeing the domestic servants, balancing the budget, and handling other internal affairs—if the lord is unmarried. Otherwise, the lady is in charge, and the chatelains role would be analogous to that of a naval captains in relation to an admiral. For the nobles of Cera, the chatelain is probably more of a generalist than in more developed fiefs, which demand large, specialized staffs.
Under the chatelain are a host of offices, each of which usually heads its own staff, though on Cera theyre likely to have at best one or two assistants. . . .
The almaner deals with the closest thing to social services a medieval lord provides; he gathers up leftover food and the like and distributes it to the local poor, though on Cera the underclass probably hasnt had time really to get started yet, and so the chatelain likely handles what little alms-giving there is.
Grey relies on the towns baker(s) rather than maintain one of his own; the counts may or may not.
A barber would be especially important to furries, who may call them grooms or something of the sort.
Most noble households probably dont have full-time brewers on staff, but since Cera probably imports all its wines, they may make do with meads, ciders, and beers instead—remember, dont drink the water!
The carter is in charge of carts and hauling.
Most lordly houses probably dont maintain their own chiurgeons—physicians—but Grey at least feels having one around is useful when one lives on the frontier.
Gardener (under him, a beekeeper)
The women of the household—wives, daughters, and so on—and the children perform all the miscellaneous chores, like sewing, embroidery, weaving, other maids duties, and assisting at cooking, gardening, and whatever else needs to be done.
The porter is essentially the equivalent of head stevedore; he also secures the house for the night.
On Cera, too new to have mature vinyards, all the wines will be imported and therefore very expensive for the foreseeable future, so while having a vintner around is unlikely, a cellarer is virtually a necessity.
Roughly equal to the chatelain in importance are the masters. . . .
The master saddler on Cera probably handles all the leatherworking for a noble in addition to horse tack.
The master forester functions almost exactly like a chief park ranger, managing the woods and wild lands of the fief, catching poachers and so on; hes the only commoner normally allowed to hunt on his own behalf, rather than assisting in a secondary role on a nobles hunt.
The master of the hunt attends to all the planning for the aforementioned hunts; under him are the master of the hawk, who tends the lords falcons and other hunting birds, and the master of the hounds, who tends the lords hunting dogs.
The master of the horse runs the stables and tends the palfreys—riding horses—and war horses, though the Ceran nobles probably dont need or want the expense of the latter; Grey has sold off his own war horse.
The armorer normally makes and repairs armor and thats pretty much all; most nobles cant afford to keep one around full-time. Cera being a frontier, however, Grey has one on staff who maintains not only his troops armor, but their weapons as well.
The herald, of course, is the house diplomat; he handles protocol, conducts negotiations—especially on the battlefield—keeps track of whos whom and what their devices (coats of arms) are, and so on. Note that heralds enjoy a sort of diplomatic immunity: killing a herald, especially under flag of truce, is one of the gravest war crimes one can commit. (Of course, sometimes this works better in theory than in practice.) Since the position by its nature demands literacy, and nobles are often illiterate, heralds frequently acts as scribes and secretaries as well.
A troubador is very handy to have around—medieval PR men as well as entertainers. Other entertainers would be important too, especially in a frontier setting. Note, incidentally, that while most of the positions listed belong to retainers of a lord, heralds and troubadours are free agents, roughly equivalent to modern contractors, and if dissatisfied often can seek employment elsewhere.
The Common Folk
The majority of a manors population is made up of serfs; most of the rest is rural free folk. Any urban population will be found in the holders seat, in the castle or keep or in a small village near or around it. The only exception to this is the seat of a fief that contains a significant town or city: up to half of the manors population might be concentrated in a town and even more in a city. The seemingly vast agricultural holdings and growing rural populations of the Cera fiefs are absolutely necessary if the colony is not to starve to death, since with medieval technology and economics it would be effectively impossible to feed everyone via shipments through the gate.
Feudal census methods, when a census is conducted at all, usually count families rather than individuals. Depending on the size and habitability of a fief, some four hundred to twelve hundred families may live scattered among the various manors, which, aside from the largest and richest, usually are inhabited by a few dozen families each. On the average, a family consists of four to five individuals, including children. A manors total population is usually a few hundred, and a fiefs population is generally two thousand to twenty-five hundred, though a large or prosperous fief may count several thousand.
The sole reason for a feudal lord (or king) to sponsor any census is revenue—the income to the lord generated by the economic activity of his holdings. Though expressed in monetary terms, that is purely for convenience; much of a feudal economy is barter or trade in goods, and in any given transaction, it may be that no coin changes hands at all. Much of the income represented by cash-value figures is not liquid, and may be foodstuffs, materials, finished or unfinished goods, or the like. (As a rule of thumb for the sake of comparison, assume that a fief generates 88 pennies per year per family for the lord.)
Fealty, Allegiance, and Subinfeudation
A baron owes fealty—allegiance expressed as a contractual agreement—to a greater lord or to the king directly. An earl will be liege to one or more barons, and owes his fealty to the king. Some manors within a fief may not owe fealty directly to the fiefs lord; instead, their fealty may be to another manor, which in turn may owe it to the lord. For a few manors, this may be carried two or three steps of fealty, or subinfeudation, down from the lord.
For the purposes of the Redoubt, read count in place of baron. The earl of Cera is liege to the other seven nobles of the colony, either directly, or possibly through an intermediate lord—for instance, if one or two barons owe fealty to Count Kalathaesin, who in turn is beholden to Earl Thaler. Personally, I encourage such subinfeudations, since they would provide more grist for political jockeying as lords attempt to play the allegiance game. (Note, incidentally, that earl was originally an English title, and count was a continental title, both of them meaning exactly the same rank in historical Europe.)
Recommended Sizes and Subinfeudations for Cera
Earl Thalers possessions: two fiefs, one of 43,590 acres (Maerora) and one of 24,270 acres (Zeemarsch), for a total of some 67,680 acres (106 square miles), making him Earl of Cera and Count of Maerora. The larger fief includes the town of Maerora, the earls villa, and the gate to Tempus. County Maerora is broken into thirty-three manors, and its population consists of roughly four hundred thirty families of serfs and forty-five of rural freemen; about one hundred families of urban freemen make up Maerora town and the earls household (including eight knights bachelor). Zeemarsch fronts on the ocean and includes a small harbor village and villa housing the fiefs constable. It is made up of fifteen manors, and is inhabited by about two hundred forty families of serfs, twenty-five of rural freemen, and another fifteen of urban freemen, the last making up the fishing and harbor village and the constables household (including four knights bachelor). These populations are roughly half what similar holdings on Tempus support, since the Cera colony is brand new and still growing—except for Maerora town (and the earls house) itself, which is a full-size town of four hundred fifty people. This is something of an ongoing headache for Grey, since any hiccup in the colonys economy could spell starvation or other disaster in the town.
Count Kalathaesins possessions: County Sparkle, in the range of 30,000 to 35,000 acres (47-55 sq. mi.), broken into fourteen to sixteen manors, relatively few of them owned by clans—most are administered by bailiffs or reeves, reflecting Kalathaesins preference for avoiding external entanglements as much as is practical. The population is made up of three hundred to three hundred fifty families of serfs, thirty to thirty-five families of rural freemen, and twenty to twenty-five families of urban freemen in and around the counts keep. Military capacity rests in four to six knights bachelor, one to two men at arms, and six to ten common soldiers. Again, the populations are smaller than one might expect on Tempus, though the urban population is slightly larger proportionally because of Sparkles extensive mining operations.
Count Whitespars possessions: County Elysia, in the same size range as Sparkle, though perhaps broken into more, smaller manors. (Fifteen to twenty-five seems to be the rule of thumb, regardless of a baronys or countys size.) It is likely that a much higher proportion of these are owned by clans than in Sparkle. Rural population ranges are probably similar to those of Sparkle, though the urban population is likely fifteen to twenty families instead. Military capability is also similar to Sparkles.
The Churchs possessions: Perhaps not surprisingly, the bishop of the churchs holdings on Cera is perhaps the fourth most powerful man on Cera. Even so, his bishopric is relatively small, probably 25,000 to 30,000 acres (39-47 sq. mi.), with a population of two hundred fifty to three hundred families of serfs, twenty-five to thirty families of rural freemen, and ten to fifteen of urban freemen. As well, two to four manors contain abbeys, at least one of which is for female clergy. Instead of common soldiers and knights bachelor, however, military power rests in two to four manors containing chapter houses of knightly religious orders, and a handful of men at arms.
Of the other, less powerful fiefs, one may be similar in size and rural population to the bishopric; the others trail along behind it demographically and geographically. A couple could be in the 20,000- to 25,000-acre range (31-39 sq. mi.), with two hundred to two hundred fifty families of serfs, twenty to twenty-five rural free families, and ten to fifteen urban families. Another couple could be 18,000 to 20,000 acres (28-31 sq. mi.), with one hundred fifty to two hundred families of serfs, fifteen to twenty of rural freemen, and five to ten of urban freemen. Each probably has three to five knights bachelor, one to two men at arms, and five to eight common soldiers. All population and military figures given are consistent with the half-size populations given for the earls and Kalathaesins fiefs.
I suggest that the major subinfeudation of the Cera colony work as follows:
- The earl of Cera owes fealty to the king of Tempus
- The bishop and the counts of Sparkle and Elysia owe fealty to the earl of Cera
- The two largest baronies owe fealty to the count of Sparkle and the three smallest baronies owe fealty to the count of Elysia
Knights and Soldiers: Feudal Military Power
Standing military forces in a feudal society are generally very small, since in peacetime they represent a significant unproductive drain on the economy. In time of war, they may be supplemented by peasant levies, nearly always of poor quality, or by mercenaries, which are of variable quality. Moreover, the Cera treaty, in addition to restricting fortifications, places other limits on local military capabilities; high-tech weapons such as firearms are forbidden, siege engines, even those simple enough to be built by medieval technology, are prohibited, and miltary forces are severely restricted.
Knights swear fealty to a lord, fighting under his banner and in return being fed and housed. The terms of fealty will specify clearly the number of days of service per year that the knight owes the lord, as well as other provisions. A fully developed barony generally has at any given time a half-dozen to a dozen knights, owing some sixty to one hundred twenty days of service each; a similarly well-established earldom will have a couple of dozen or more knights, scattered among the major fiefs seats. If the oath of fealty allows, some knights may in lieu of part or all of their service pay their liege cash—scutage—to hire mercenaries to fight in their place.
In addition, a fief will have as permanent garrison a few men at arms and several common soldiers, depending on its size and wealth. Men at arms are well-equipped long-service professionals; common soldiers have basic training and equipment. The former include among other types serjeants and captains. A serjeant is as good as any competent knight and probably wealthy enough to afford good equipment—just not a nobleman. He is, however, usually permitted to ride into battle, a rare concession on the part of a social class jealous of its prerogatives. A captain is the leader of a company, regardless of the size of that company—whether it is a dozen men or hundreds—and he might be a noble or a wealthy commoner.
Each treaty nation is permitted or even required to deploy a company of footsoldiers to its embassy on Cera, perhaps accompanied by a contingent of archers and a small force of knights (which is synonymous with cavalry in medieval warfare). The ostensible reason for this is to help the (relatively) small kingdom of Tempus to keep the peace in its distant colony. The real reason is to act as a trip-wire force—preventing the other nations from getting too greedy and making a grab for the pie, while also acting as an advance guard if that nation decides to make such a grab itself. As a result, they probably all represent the cream of their respective nations forces. Tempus, of course, was permitted its own share of soldiery.
The Earl of Ceras Own Housecarles
Grey Thalers personal body of troops is unusally large and well-disciplined, especially for the young and growing colony on Cera. It numbers fifty: the captain, his lieutenant (assistant) and four watches, each of ten men and headed by a serjeant and his assistant. Each of the five men at arms is armored in mail and normally carries a short sword; in addition, the captain carries a baton painted with the earls livery that will serve as a short truncheon if need be and each serjeant carries a mace. If the situation calls for it, these men may be mounted. The Captain of the Housecarles, Rory Galenson, is an old, trusted buddy from Greys knight-bachelor days, a talented, intelligent, and loyal commoner who in many ways sees eye to eye with his lord and friend.
The common soldiers wear brigandine jackets over padded leather gambesons and trews and normally carry short swords and one or two other weapons, depending on their duties. All the men are trained and equipped with long swords, staffs, halbreds, and crossbows; the staffs are shod with iron and have hooks at one end to hold a lantern on. Over the armor, each wears a gray tabard with a small version of Greys heraldic device sewn like a patch onto the left breast; the captain and serjeants wear fancier, more elaborate tabards with large renditions of the device embroidered into them front and back.
Grey employs the housecarles in several different ways: they act as the town guard, they escort shipments to and from the gate, they hunt for themselves and for his household—a rare and special privilege!—and in general act as his eyes and ears and a visible reminder of his presence and authority as well as guarding his person and property.
Other Ceran Forces
Aside from the housecarles, Grey has available roughly a dozen knights bachelor under his direct command. (The counts and barons probably have three to six each as well.) Needless to say, they are petty noblemen, but though some of them may be prideful, they probably arent terribly high-ranking if theyre effectively exiled to Cera. Each of them has one or two squires, one or two pages, one or two men at arms (if they were rich theyd have more, but if they were rich they wouldnt be on Cera), and four to six miscellaneous servants. All told, each knight adds about a dozen people, on the average, to the population of his lords household.
Most of the other nobles probably have little other standing military strength at all aside from a few knights, a man at arms or two, and a handful of common soldiers. The total standing military forces of Cera are small: the nobles, perhaps forty-five to fifty knights, and one hundred fifty to three hundred professional troops, for a total of two hundred to three hundred fifty men under arms in time of peace. In time of war, the colony as a whole could muster perhaps a thousand low-quality peasant levies to supplement this, doubling that number in dire emergency, to protect a total population numbering some twelve thousand, spread across four hundred square miles.
The skill and quality of each of the men of war may vary from mediocre to excellent, and may have little or nothing to do with rank. Captain Galenson, for instance, is certainly among the best two or three percent, despite his age and commoner status, while the earl himself probably rates in the top ten percent and Count Kalathaesin may not fall into the top fifty percent. All the earls housecarles are of at least good quality, which may well skew the curve of quality represented by Ceran professional troops. (While it is not necessary to state in detail the level of skill possessed by a given character, an informal approximation of the sort mentioned above is useful to give players a feel for that characters prowess.)
A Womans Place Is in the House
The popular notion of a medieval womans place in her society—subservient and retiring—is not, on the whole, inaccurate, but like many commonly held notions of history, its only part of the story. Peasant women share the backbreaking fieldwork with the men, and the woman of the house at every social level manages the internal affairs of that house, a considerable and sometimes crucial responsibility, especially when her management spells the difference between sufficiency and starvation.
Preserving and storing food, brewing beer, and keeping the books (assuming the house is fortunate enough to have significant tallies) are some of the less well-known aspects of this responsibility. Though even women of means generally receive little formal education, they often learn quite a lot in order to fulfill what to a modern mind would be a surprising range of roles.
This is especially true for a noblewoman, who is expected to manage what could be a large, busy, and prosperous household, even when her husband is present. When he is absent, as he usually is—often off fighting or held prisoner or even dead of that fighting—she is the boss. While no woman can gain land or title in her own right, the only exception being the occasional queen or empress, she can and often does end up acting as de facto lord, sometimes for decades. Hersendis of Vendomois in France was sole manager of the family estates for twenty years while her husband was off in the Holy Land.
Medieval warfare consists mostly of small skirmishes resulting in few casualties, but those skirmishes rage constantly, generating large numbers of widows, often with interesting results. For instance, in Spain, France, and Germany, women bought, sold, and transferred property. Here are some other examples, from A History of Western Civilization:
Gertrude, labeled Saxonys almighty widow by the chornicler Ekkehard of Aaura, took a leading role in the conspiracies against the emperor Henry V. Sophia, wife of Berthold of Zohringer, assisted her brother Henry the Proud with eight hundred knights at the siege of Falkenstein in 1129. And Eilika Billung, the widow of Count Otto of Ballenstadt, built a castle at Burgwerben on the Saale River and, as advocate of the monastery of Goseck, removed one abbot and selected his successor. From her castle at Bernburg, the countess Eilika was also reputed to ravage the countryside.
Still, it is true that medieval women are, as the cliché goes, second-class citizens (a word little used in the centuries between the disintegration of the Roman Empire and the founding of the United States). Marriage is a case in point; the classic stereotype of arranged marriages, though somewhat exaggerated, certainly brings home the frequently ironclad situations faced by young girls of nobility. Wealthy commoners often aspire to improving their status by marrying daughters into the nobility; poor commoners might be a little freer to choose, but their choices are often woefully limited.
Many marriages, especially in the upper reaches of society, involve a girl of sixteen and a man in his thirties or even a widower in his forties or fifties. Because of the peculiarites of title and inheritance, while a noble father lives, his sons cannot wed or hold, which creates massive pressures within a family and partly explains the frequent age gap between husband and wife.
There are few honorable alternatives for high-born women aside from the church; certainly apprenticeship is unthinkable. If a young girl is reluctant to opt for the clergy, her elders often make her attend a childbirth, a traumatic experience given her youth and the less than ideal conditions of a medieval birthing bed. A disproportionate percentage of nuns, like their male counterparts in the clergy, are of the upper classes as a result.
Given the nature of the Redoubt, both in context and as a role-playing environment, it is perhaps for the best to soften the harsh lot faced not only by women but by men as well. An ancient tradition of equality probably lingers from the predecessor civilization, allowing for slightly more freedom of movement socially and professionally for both sexes. A craftwoman or female soldier might arouse comment or grumbling or even strident protest, but probably not lynch mobs. In like fashion, a son of nobility being regarded a figurative youth, unable to marry or hold until his father dies, would likely be far less rigid.
Sink or Swim: Medieval Law, Crime, and Punishment
The methods used today to enforce the law simply did not exist or were only in their very earliest stages in the Middle Ages. Gaols or dungeons were not used as a form of criminal punishment the way prisons are in the modern world; more often they were reserved for political prisoners and hostages that were not well regarded, or as temporary holding cells for criminals whose fate had not yet been decided. At that time, the usual practice was some sort of corporal punishment—much of it the very sort of thing the Founding Fathers had in mind when they used the phrase cruel and unusual.
Obviously, the severest punishments, reserved for capital crimes like treason, involved execution, either with or without torture first, depending on the nature of the crime. Beheading with a sword was considered more merciful than with an axe, since the sword was usually sharper and easier to handle, thereby resulting in cleaner, swifter, and therefore less painful decapitations. Some beheadings required more than one blow, the results of which will be left to the readers imagination. Hanging was particularly nasty, since the hangmans noose designed to kill the victim quickly by severing the spine would not be invented until long afterward. Instead, a hanged individual would suffocate slowly and painfully. (And, by the way, such people are not hung. They are in fact hanged, another peculiarity of English.)
Less severe crimes would merit branding or maiming—notably thievery, burglary, and the like. The location of the brand would be determined by the severity of the crime: the worse the charge, the more visible the brand. (For instance, a relatively minor punishment would be to brand the chest, which could easily be hidden with a shirt.) Maiming frequently involved removing the offending part: the hand of a thief, for example.
The least crimes would garner exile, shunning, ridicule, or other social punishments, perhaps involving the stocks or a cage set in a square or other public place. And regardless of the magnitude of the crime, recompensing the victim(s) could be tacked on as well, and some punishments might be combined—perhaps a brand on the forehead and exile, for instance, for a commoner convicted of speaking out against the local lord.
How was guilt decided? Well, this was a period when kings and lords were increasingly dissatisfied with the ancient Germanic custom of trial by ordeal, which they regarded as irrational and not a good method of getting results. The ordeal, of course, was the classic duck-them-in-the-lake method. Water was considered a pure substance, and would reject the foul or unclean, so if the accused floated, he or she was guilty. Since in this manner God determined innocence or guilt, a priest of course had to be present to sanctify the event.
Eventually the church forbade the participation of priests, which largely abolished such trials. At the same time in England and France, royal judicial systems were gradually filtering into use. A sort of supreme court was established in Paris that would hear disputes appealed from feudal courts, establishing the overall supremacy of royal justice as the law of the land.
In England, local sheriffs would summon accusing juries—the ancestor of the modern grand jury—conduct inquests, and assemble lists of known and suspected criminals, to which the juries would swear. The lists would be presented to the circuit judges from London, riding their circuits annually and setting up court in the counties under their jurisdiction. Where sat a royal judge, there sat the kings justice. The judges gradually adopted trial by a jury of twelve gude men and tru, though acceptance was slow owing to most commoners greater confidence in the judgment of God than in that of twelve ordinary people.
Still, though, these developments laid the foundation of the modern nation-state, since they made crime no longer a matter of personal grudge or vendetta, but an offense against the crown and therefore the nation itself. Grey is strongly interested in establishing a Ceran arm of the royal judicial system for a number of reasons: it takes some of the pressure off him, allowing him to turn his attention to other matters; it reinforces royal authority, especially in a manner well regarded by the people; and, for good measure, he sincerely believes in its merits.
And what kind of people run afoul of the kings judges? For the most part, thieves and brigands—which to the medieval mind includes rebels. Murder and rape, while serious, were not considered quite as important as they are today. The popular stereotype of the thieves guild arises from the fact that, in the absence of organized policing in the modern sense, lone thieves, if identified by bystanders, rarely survived the resulting mobs. To increase their survivability, then, they tended to form cliques and groups, and usually operated with lookouts. Also, most tended to have cover occupations that were considered legitimate. Even suspected criminals would usually attempt to keep up appearances, and other folk still usually referred to such people by that occupation.
Ye Olde Thees and Thous—Medieval English
[Y]ou know what English is? The results of the efforts of Norman men at arms to make dates with Saxon barmaids [ . . . ] and no more legitimate than any of the other results.
—H. Beam Piper, Fuzzy Sapiens, 1964
Probably the best way to absorb the idiom of the Middle Ages is to read an annotated copy of Geoffrey Chaucers Canterbury Tales. Of course, attempting to duplicate faithfully that idiom in role-playing is neither necessary nor desirable—far better to go lightly, flavoring dialog with turns of phrase and word choice, than to lay it on too thickly, resulting in a heavy-handed, overwrought feel. With that in mind, here are a few snippets of history and linguistics to help spice characters speech.
As implied in the opening quote, medieval English was a mishmash of Saxon, Norman, Danish, and Roman influences, and hadnt yet shaken out a lot of those influences, some of which were only a couple of centuries old. Spelling was not yet standardized, for instance; the same word might be spelled several different ways in the same manuscript.
Even some of the sounds represented by certain letters was not the same. The most notable example is y, which at that time was often pronounced th. This explains ye as in ye olde shoppe, which was pronounced the, just as it is today—but the spelling has drifted. In the same manner, ye has also mutated into thee, but oddly, thou retained the spelling you and changed pronunciation instead.
Speaking of thou and thee—grammatically, the former is used as the subject of a sentence or phrase, and the latter as the object of a sentence or phrase: Thou shalt give it unto me or I shall give it unto thee are correct; Thee shall give it unto me or I shall give it unto thou are incorrect. Nowadays, its popular to use thee and thou in period dialog to indicate a degree of formality lacking in you, and for the purposes of the Redoubt (which is, after all, not an exact duplicate of historical medieval society) is probably not a bad idea.
Another oddity is OK or okay. Historically, its only existed roughly since Revolutionary times, and started out as a uniquely American idiom, though it can be found all over the world today. Whether to use it is a matter of personal preference, though I tend to avoid it, finding it a bit jarring in a medieval context.
Providing a complete vocabulary is a bit beyond the scope of this essay, but finding such a vocabulary is recommended; some charming and surprising results can come out of judicious use of archaic words and phrases, as long as they are still clear to the modern reader. Arms and armor in particular have a jargon all their own that has been somewhat obscured by more recent scholarly terms—chainmail, for instance, is a modern linguistic invention; the term used at the time was simply mail.
Every Man a King, Every Home a Castle
Many English words had very different meanings in the Middle Ages than they do today. In most cases, this semantic drift can be traced to a single root cause: the desire of commoners to affect the trappings of nobility, which figured strongly in British culture from the Northern Renaissance through the Victorian era. Occasionally this variance has caused mildly inappropriate character reactions or confusion during play, so here is a brief overview of some words original meanings.
Today, gentleman simply means a pleasant or upright fellow, or is used in polite conversation to refer to any adult male. But to a feudal mind, the word describes only a man of noble—or gentle—birth. In other words, gentle and noble are synonymous terms. In a similar fashion, a lady is a woman of gentle birth; that term would never be used in reference to a commoner, except perhaps in a sarcastic or ironic manner.
The modern concept of a wedding, with all its pomp and ceremony—and expense!—traces back to weddings among the peerage. (Commoners marrying often involved little or no ritual.) The best man was much more than a figurehead; he was expected to take the grooms place in the event of the latters incapacity or absence, a not inconsiderable duty in an age of arranged marriages, frequent disease, and constant warfare. Likewise, when the (presumably) happy couple produced offspring, the appointing of godparents was a much more serious affair, since they were expected to take in the child or children should he, she, or they be orphaned.
Religion and the Church in the Redoubt
God created all the worlds of the heavens and breathed life into the creatures that lived on them. They worlds were grand and wondrous, but they were silent save for the calls of the animals, which were without meaning. There were none to look upon His works and to carry them on, so He went among the animals and offered each one last gift. Most refused, being content with their simple lives, but some few desired more, and these accepted. And so God lifted them to stand upright, to free their hands to work and their eyes to see the horizon, and breathed souls into them.
The new peoples multiplied and spread across the land, gazing about in wonder and praising God, and then to the myriad worlds. But the worlds grew distant and quarrelsome and fell from grace as they began to war upon one another. God, in His anger, sundered the worlds, ending the war and punishing the people, and will reunite them only when the folk again live in grace and faith.
Thats the short form of the creation and redemption story central to the primary religion on Tempus. In general, its tenets, outlook, and overall tone are similar to the medieval Christian church in its less harsh and rigid forms. There are some significant differences, of course. What defines a person centers more on the spark of intelligence—the soul—and less on physical appearance, which can be expected of a culture made up of such varied-looking folk. While eternal punishment is a notable fixture, it is not as predominant. There is no messiah figure, whether past or future. Saints and angels arent quite as important, and the latter dont have specific forms; when they appear, they take whatever physical form is appropriate.
The people of the Redoubt are descended from pockets of relic populations that could not or would not be evacuated when that region of the gate network was in the process of being cut off. In the hardscrabble life that followed, stories of their true origins took on the patina of myth and legend, fading from living memory and being warped and exaggerated and romanticized over the course of time. And, of course, whatever religion existed in the old way of life lingered on, itself mutating and even being forgotten to some degree as well.
The church that administers the faith—Via Astra, the way to the stars—is organized somewhat like the Christian church. The colony of Cera is the Via Astras newest diocese the newly appointed bishop of which also holds a significant barony-size fief in the name of the Church. A diocese—or, if very large, an archdiocese run by an archbishop—is named for the cathedral town; the term cathedral simply designates an ecclesiastical administrative center. (The modern use of the word stems from the fact that, in medieval Europe, cities competed to erect the grandest structures to house those centers and their attached churches.) Each manor within a fief is served by a local parish church.
There would be small churches (free-standing buildings) or chapels (consecrated places of worship within larger buildings) in every manor house, village, or other location deemed appropriate—maybe near the mouths of mine shafts, for instance. Within the churchs lands, there would be two or three abbeys and two to four knightly chapter houses, each run by a religious order—perhaps the same one, perhaps different ones, some specific to male and female clergy. Only males, however, can be priests, and must be celibate unless they are married. However, the church prefers to promote to higher ranks unmarried or widowed men, since ecclesiastical affairs require so much time and attention at those exalted levels.
It has not yet been decided whether a central authority figure like the Catholic pope administers the Via Astra, but I recommend against it, favoring instead a more decentralized organization. This makes the Church more vulnerable to political manipulation by the king or nobility, a potentially useful plot element, gives it a more grassroots flavor that seems more in keeping with the spirit of the Redoubt, and allows for more flexibility when different players make statements or assumptions that may not entirely jibe.
Reproduction and Offspring in the Redoubt
Unless otherwise noted, any given couple, both of whom are the same species or type, has a roughly equal chance of conceiving as would a human couple under the same circumstances. But what happens when a dissimilar couple mates? Humans, many furred folk, and certain other peoples, which together make up a large part of the Redoubts population, are closely related, though slightly different from one another; conception is possible, but less likely as the similarity between the two decreases. (This may well be the result of ancient magical or technological meddling, long before the Redoubt was isolated from the rest of the universe.) Each level of taxonomic classification that separates the mates patterns cuts in half the chances of conceiving, all else being equal. To put it another way. . . .
|Same . . .||Compatibility||Example
|Species||1||wolf-wolf (Canis lupus-Canis lupus)
|Genus||1/2||wolf-coyote (Canis lupus-Canis latrans)
|Family||1/4||wolf-fox (both in family Canidae)
|Order||1/8||wolf-cat (both in order Carnivora)
|Subclass||1/16||wolf-rabbit (both in subclass Eutheria [placentals])
|Class||1/32||wolf-kangaroo (both in class Mammalia)
|Subphylum||1/64||wolf-bird (both in subphylum Vertebrata)
Like scalies, avians, and the like, exotics (humanoid dragons, for instance) probably should be regarded as being a subphylum cross with humans, furries, and just about everyone else—if they are compatible at all, that is. Speaking of humans, no furry would be more compatible than 1/8 (order Primates, which includes among other things apes, monkeys, and lemurs) or less compatible than 1/32 (class Mammalia). All of the most popular furry patterns would be 1/16 compatible, though. Some mention should probably be made in character and cultural write-ups of compatibility profile(s), even if its nothing more than they are typical furries or they are true aliens and cannot interbreed with others.
Now then . . . the next logical question is: what do the kids look like? Well, pattern is dictated by a specific gene complex, much like hair or eye color. In other words, the child of a wolf and a fox is a wolf or a fox, not a melding of the two—though occasional exceptions, like any accident of heredity, can and do occur. Other traits are inherited from either parent or both, as usual: She has your eyes and my scalp hair, for example.
Grey Thaler, Earl of Cera and Count of Maerora
Grey is the third and youngest child of the Thaler family, which holds a large mountainous duchy on Tempus known as the Alpenthal. His elder brother, Raven, inherited the title of duke upon the death of his father a year or two before the start of play, and rules it ably and fairly from the old family castle of Thalerburg, above the moderately large trade town of Thalerstadt in the Schnellwasserthal—a river port and the crossroads of several overland routes running through mountain passes. His sister, Snow, is the lady of a small but important vassal barony bordering the Alpenthal, through which runs a major road leading to Thalerstadt; though the marriage is politically advantageous, it is also, happily, one of love as well.
Physically lightly built and unlikely to accede to the duchy, Grey turned to more intellectual pursuits early on—though in somewhat lackadaisical fashion, not having a strong tutor or a circle of close friends to focus his interests and concentration. His skill at arms, initially indifferent at best, did improve somewhat during his twenties, which he spent as a knight bachelor, like most younger sons of the nobility. (From that English custom, incidentally, comes the modern use of the term bachelor to describe an unmarried man.)
Then he fell madly in love with and married an ambitious young vixen of a nouveau riche mercantile family determined to win respectability through marriage and other connections to the peerage. A shrewd and superbly manipulative woman, she played him skillfully until, after a few years, it became obvious he did not share her drive to climb the ladder and, in fact, wasnt even a terribly good rung on that ladder. A few months before the start of play, she divorced Grey . . . messily and with every effort to humiliate him. At about the same time, the crown, in its infinite wisdom, selected the emotionally battered wolf to head the newly created earldom of Cera. How much this dubious honor owes to his ex-wifes machinations is anyones guess.
In any event, Grey is an interesting choice. Born to a noble family enjoying good relations with its subjects, brought up near a cosmopolitan city, and broadened by youthful studies and years of travel in distant lands, he lacks the arrogance and haughtiness that characterize many of his peers. He is also deeply religious, and believes firmly in noblesse oblige and in the dignity, and the equality before God, of every thinking creature—radical, perhaps even dangerous ideas in the eyes of many of his fellows.
Since he is now a lord in his own right, he has his own arms. They are a fairly simple device derived from his familys, with some alteration, of course. Its blazoned as Sable, a winged beast-wolf rampant, argent. In plain English, that means a black field, on which is a fully animal wolf with wings in the classic heraldic-animal rearing position facing to the viewers left, colored silver. Thats why his livery is black and silver, or sable and argent, to be heraldic about it.
Now Grey Thaler finds himself in the cauldron, the guild, the crown, the treaty nations, and the difficulties of a restive population and a half-completed infrastructure riding on his tired shoulders, fully aware that hes been sent to Cera to fail—and quite possibly to die in the failing. His only chance, in his eyes, is to succeed, whatever the odds.
Alpenspräche: the Thalers Native Tongue
In the language spoken throughout the Alpenthal and its environs, based on German for purposes of play, all the aforementioned names have very different pronunciations—or may even have been translated into English. A brief table of names and pronunciations is below.
|Alpen||ALL-pen||mountains||Derived from alp, a mountain meadow|
|Alpenspräche||ALL-pen-shpreh-cheh*||mountain-speak||* Formally, the ch sound in German is formed as if one is about to spit, though in most accents this has softened to more of a sh sound|
|Grau||like growl without the final l||gray||Greys given name in his native language|
|Kolkrabe||coalk-RAH-bay||raven||Greys brothers given name in his native language|
|Rabe||RAH-bay||raven||Greys brothers nickname, used only by family and close friends|
|Schnee||shnay||snow||Greys sisters given name in her native language|
|Schnellwasser||SHNEL-vah-sir||fast water||The primary river draining the Alpenthal, navigable through much of the duchy; the name comes from its origins high in the mountains, where it passes over frequent rapids and falls|
|Schnellwasserthal||SHNEL-vah-sir-tall||fast-water valley||The largest and most important valley of the Alpenthal, through which runs the River Schnellwasser|
|Thaler||TALL-er||of the valley||The name of the family ruling the duchy of the Alpenthal; as a common word, applied to a person or thing that comes from a valley|
|Thalerburg||TALL-er-berg||castle of the valley||The large and ancient Thaler family stronghold, built on a tall hill overlooking Thalerstadt and the River Schnellwasser|
|Thalerstadt||TALL-er-shtaht||city of the valley||The Alpenthals principal city, spread out at the foot of the Thalerburg, and a trade city of respectable size and cosmopolitanism|
The Royal Family of Tempus
King Robard III is a tall, thin black dragon in his late fifties, with pale, almost fluorescent eyes. In his prime, he was a notable warrior, all steel cable and polished jet, and a wencher, siring a few bastards here and there along the way. Now, in his twilight years, he is thin and leathery, though not loose or wrinkly, and suffers from the early stages of an STD that makes him photosensitive and increasingly mentally disturbed. He can be nihilistic, sociopathic, or simply forgetful by turns, though as yet he is still mostly lucid. (He is, however, ethnocentric, favoring dragons, which is how Russeya secured his current appointment relatively easily.)
He is fond of intrigue and machinations, viewing them as real-life counterparts to the chess and gambling he has enjoyed since his youth; as the years pass, his court becomes more and more Byzantine. Even in his saner moments, he can be autocratic and ruthless, unconsciously self-centered. He thinks well of those willing to take risks, one reason the guild was able to obtain his blessing and support for the Ceran venture.
His advisors urge him to get a divorce, but he is bored with the whole affair. He doesnt even care about his bloodline, and harbors a detached interest in watching the kingdom slip gradually into chaos as he ages and dies. He abhors the light, and is ominous and dark; shadows seem to clutch him. Some speculate in whispers that hes made a pact with evil or something of the sort.
Queen Elspeth is a small, stooped, tired ermine in her forties, as frequently pregnant as her compatibility with her husband permits and nearly always miscarrying. She is a tragic figure, cast aside and ridiculed or ignored by the rest of the nobles at large, faded and brown like a sepia picture, a far cry from the wide-eyed, spirited but dutiful daughter of nobility she was thirty years ago. Hers is purely a marriage of political advantage, one that has not panned out for her family, which still holds a minor, unimportant scrap of land far from the capital. A rumor persists that the kings indifference toward her is due in part to the lack of male draconic heirs produced by this union, but privately she has long despaired of bearing any such, and could not even summon up the energy to be a good mother to her only child.
Princess Lily is the sole legitimate child of the king (and queen). She takes after her mother physically, though in her youth—late teens—she is not as stooped. Whatever spirit she may once have had has been utterly crushed by her domineering father and smothering circumstance; she is now a pale, almost ghostly non-entity, biddable and pathetically vague in a shell-shocked fashion. She may not be terribly bright, though it is difficult to tell one way or the other, since she tends not to speak unless spoken to, and even then limits her soft, husked replies to a bare, often somewhat spacey minimum. She is almost certainly destined for a marriage very much like her mothers, pawned off like a tournament cup to a favored nobleman. Ω
A History of Western Civilization by McKay, Hill, and Buckler. Houghton Mifflin Co., copyright 1979.
Encyclopedia Harnica issues seven and eight by Crossby, Dalgliesh, and Gibson. Columbia Games Inc., copyright 1984.
Thanks also to Eric Elliott and Baron Engel for their invaluable assistance and libraries.
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