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creativehum

Greg Stafford, Le Morte D'Arthur, and Arthur as Myth

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Hello All, 

A question for people who might have links, references, or talked to Greg about these matters specifically. 

Since the first edition of King Arthur Pendragon the game has used Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur as it's bedrock. A text of both gritty, grounded textures ("and therewith Sir Arthur ran to him, and smote him on the helm, that his sword went unto his teeth, and the knight sank down to the earth dead") but also of magic, faith, and supernatural wonders.

When Greg spoke of RPGs in panels or interviews he constantly speaks of RPGs as a portal for myth. For example, he addresses the matter in this GenCon panel with Ken Hite as he discusses The Great Pendragon Campagin, and a second panel with Stafford, Hite, and Lillian Cohen-Moore about Gaming as Mythic Exploration.

In the second linked panel Greg said:

Quote

Greg: I have a couple of games that draw heavily on mythology. I’ll start with Pendragon first. King Arthur is one of the best-known heroes in the western world. I’ve heard he’s the second best-selling character after Jesus and Yayweh. But, those are part of the King Arthur myth as well. My purpose in creating Pendragon was to make that mythology come alive. One of the characteristics of mythology is that it’s abstract. It’s not always real. It deals with idealism while there is a physical aspect of it, like the Midgard Serpent. At the same time, the ideals of chivalry are an important thing. That’s a legend. A myth. And King Arthur’s the manifestation of it. So, I wanted to make sure that the game had that manifestation of it in the play. You can have it as part of the background, but there’s no reason to do it if it doesn’t reward your character. 

I wanted the mythical themes to reward your character. So, if you’re chivalrous, I had to make up a system that quantifies chivalry. But, if you meet those quantities, then you get the Chivalry Bonus. But, the legend is more than that. It’s about knights and castles and the Holy Grail and all of those things, so I had to create the system to integrate those in a game system way without alienating the system or the setting. It’s generally agreed to be a pretty good resolution to those problems

The transcripts for both interviews are great (thank you for whoever did them!)

But I want to follow up and ask are there any sources where Greg discusses at greater length Arthur as Myth, or King Arthur Pendragon as myth at the gaming table? Or works of Arthur as Mythology that Greg used or referenced.

I'm especially curious as to anything @sirlarkins might be able to add here.

Thanks all!

Edited by creativehum

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2 hours ago, creativehum said:

But I want to follow up and ask are there any sources where Greg discusses at greater length Arthur as Myth, or King Arthur Pendragon as myth at the gaming table? Or works of Arthur as Mythology that Greg used or referenced.

As far as I know (and I'm happy to be proven wrong), there's no central point of reference for this. Just scattered transcripts, interviews, articles, designer's notes, etc.

That being said, I know that Greg thought very highly of The Once and Future King as well. He wrote (in an unpublished manuscript): "This modern rendition of Malory's works is a great source for detailed information about the Middle Ages, as well as being perhaps the most readable modern version of the legend. If you read only one book, this is the one I recommend. It combines medieval lore with the story in a delicious mix of literature. It has my favorite versions of King Arthur and Mordred (a real rotter.)"

He was also fond of Mary Stewart's "Merlin Trilogy" and Idylls of the Queen by Phyllis Ann Karr. There were a ton more, of course. @jeffjerwin or @Morien might have more to add.

One day I'd like to collate his writings and sources into a single work. One day...

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Gawain and the Green Knight was clearly an influence. Steinbeck's attempt another. All these are in the suggested reading list at the end of the 5.2 edition, with his comments; you should look there.

We discussed Sir Kay using Karr's novel as a point of reference.

And of course in film Excalibur was one of his favorites.

Greg's Arthuriad is in some ways less opaque than his Glorantha, as his entry into it was through texts we can all access, not a trove of his own texts. Don't imagine that he has necessarily a secret key that contradicts the many stories - his genius was in collation: the key links between his preferred books are I think vigor, emotional honesty, and poetry in the broad sense, i.e., beautiful, symbolically resonant narrative.

I think therefore Arthurian legend is a myth he loves not necessarily as coming out of his personal interrogation of myth and spirituality like Glorantha but loving it entire (something outside of us and him but also including us) in its contradictory, many-layered whole. Like a friend versus one's child or one's self.

Greg's Arthur is the Middle English hero, not the flawed French version. So is his Gawaine (even more so!). His Lancelot, though less clearly, is probably rooted in White, as is much of his Merlin. The key here is love. Love of the flawed heroes and their human-ness in a world which remains vibrant.

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51 minutes ago, jeffjerwin said:

Greg's Arthuriad is in some ways less opaque than his Glorantha, as his entry into it was through texts we can all access, not a trove of his own texts. Don't imagine that he has necessarily a secret key that contradicts the many stories - his genius was in collation: the key links between his preferred books are I think vigor, emotional honesty, and poetry in the broad sense, i.e., beautiful, symbolically resonant narrative.

Greg had a single volume of Mallory's book, he went through it and underlined all the passion and trait contests. He then wrote the matching Pendragon contests in the margin - Love god, Chaste/Lustful, etc. I only saw it once - in 1994. It was like the secret of playing Pendragon in a book.

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9 hours ago, creativehum said:

But I want to follow up and ask are there any sources where Greg discusses at greater length Arthur as Myth, or King Arthur Pendragon as myth at the gaming table? Or works of Arthur as Mythology that Greg used or referenced.

I'd also recommend his Quora answers, they are a great insight: https://www.quora.com/profile/Greg-Stafford-7

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Thank you for the replies!

To be clear: I'm familiar with the reading lists in KAP. (I started playing back in 1990 with KAP 3rd.) I've read a good share of the books, many of them because of that reading list.) Interesting, the list has thinned since third edition!

The books on the current list are either books of non-fiction about feudal society or (apart from Malory) more recent tellings of the Arthurian tales. None of them approach the stories with the kind of analysis we might expect to find, say, in someone like Joseph Campbell.* That is the kind of thing I was asking about.

But I think Jeff's response really nails it down: the tales are right there, he thinks they are of value, the game is method to interact with the tales.... volition!.. myth at the table!

_____

* I'm curious now what Greg thought of Joseph Campbell!

Edited by creativehum

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Just to add to the already excellent answers... Greg was adamant that HRB, as much as possible, was the true history of KAP Britain, not a garbled fable mixing myth and history. 

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3 hours ago, David Scott said:

Greg had a single volume of Mallory's book, he went through it and underlined all the passion and trait contests. He then wrote the matching Pendragon contests in the margin - Love god, Chaste/Lustful, etc. I only saw it once - in 1994. It was like the secret of playing Pendragon in a book.

Following up on this, I'm in the back half of reading Le Morte D'Arhtur right now, and it is amazing to me how much the KAP rules are built to mimic the tale well beyond even the perfect rules for Traits.

There are so many incidents from the book that seem lifted straight from the rules in motion: a Passion roll that lets a knight return from apparent defeat to a vital victor, critical hits, the reflexive combat rules, the damage rules, the rules for getting knocked off a horse, the reach for religious or chivalrous traits and the same ambitions befouled by a need to avenge family members, feuds that last generations, and many small.

What is amazing (and Greg talked about this in one of the panels I linked to above) a Player need not have read Le Morte D'Arthur to end up enacting scenes in the game that might come straight out of a passage from Le Morte D'Arthur. Simply by engaging with the rules all sorts of events will unfold directly from the book.

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1 hour ago, Morien said:

Just to add to the already excellent answers... Greg was adamant that HRB, as much as possible, was the true history of KAP Britain, not a garbled fable mixing myth and history. 

Can you unpack this for me a bit. After sorting out what "HRB" stands for (Historia Regum Britanniae) I did a little research and discovered it begins with Athena guiding Brutus to Britain where he defeats giants and clears the land for human civilization.

I'm not contradicting, you, only trying to understand: It certainly seems like myth and history mixing here? Or do you mean something else?

Edited by creativehum

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6 hours ago, creativehum said:

The books on the current list are either books of non-fiction about feudal society or (apart from Malory) more recent tellings of the Arthurian tales. None of them approach the stories with the kind of analysis we might expect to find, say, in someone like Joseph Campbell.* That is the kind of thing I was asking about.

At the end of Knights Adventurous, there is a double page of Greg Stafford explaining what he thought of Joseph Campbell and the arthurian mythos.

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2 hours ago, creativehum said:

Can you unpack this for me a bit. After sorting out what "HRB" stands for (Historia Regum Britanniae) I did a little research and discovered it begins with Athena guiding Brutus to Britain where he defeats giants and clears the land for human civilization.

I'm not contradicting, you, only trying to understand: It certainly seems like myth and history mixing here? Or do you mean something else?

The HRB is a alleged historical account of the rulers of Britian, that modern scholars mostly discount. While the majority of it is about Kings other than Arthur, Book VI deals with the the departure of the Romans (c.410) and how Arthur's grandfather Constatin became High King; how he was murdered; how Constatin's eldest son also became High King and also was murdered;how his brother Aurelius and Uther were were brought to their uncle in Brittany and raised there; how King Vortigern became high King, etc. The majority of the HRB (Books VI-XII) is really a telling of the King Arthur story, and one that predates Mallory's account by several centuries.It's possibly also the first thirteen account of Merlin in the form that we know him as today. 

So in addition to being a version of the tale that predates the French sources, the HRB is  very interesting for giving a solid backstory for Arthur, and in a fairly coherent and chronological fashion that is hard to find in early sources. Most other versions of the tale start with Uther as King or with tale of Vortigern's tower, and Aurelius avenging his relatives and becoming High King. The timeline of events in the HRB are the foundation for much of the timelines used in Pendragon, especially for the early periods, and it is the underlying foundation for the expanded timeline in the Book of Sires too.

It's worth a read, and most translations (the original was in Latin) are actually easier to follow than La Morte D'Arthur. There are differences between it and the later versions (it predates Lancelot for starters)but most of the characters are reconginable and similar to the ones we all know. 

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3 hours ago, creativehum said:

I'm not contradicting, you, only trying to understand: It certainly seems like myth and history mixing here? Or do you mean something else?

In our world, HRB is definitely pseudo-historical, with some stuff that can be correlated with real history. The further back you go, the more of a fairytale it is.

However, when it comes to KAP, HRB is (at least mostly) true up to where Malory takes over. Some adjustments were necessary for consistency; for instance in HRB Gorlois is the one who is helping Uther win at Mt. Damen. However, this would conflict with the way he and Uther have been presented in GPC (and Book of Uther), where Gorlois is NOT at Mt. Damen and it is Merlin who counsels the Britons to rally and attack. Hence, Gorlois is absent in that battle in KAP.

Anyway, the point is that Britons ARE Trojan exiles. They DID fight Giants for Britain. Caesar did have to do three trips to Britain instead of just two. King Arviragus did beat back the Roman invasion of Emperor Claudius, and the Romans didn't take control of the whole island (minus Caledonia) until during Severus (Septimus). You can see this in the Chronology appendix of Book of Sires.

And like Atgxtg said, Vortigern and the coming of the Saxons is pretty much based on HRB, with some Anglo-Saxon Chronicles mixed in.

Edited by Morien

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6 hours ago, Tizun Thane said:

At the end of Knights Adventurous, there is a double page of Greg Stafford explaining what he thought of Joseph Campbell and the arthurian mythos.

I forgot all about bout that! I'll be looking at that over breakfast! Thanks!

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5 hours ago, Morien said:

However, when it comes to KAP, HRB is (at least mostly) true up to where Malory takes over.

Without doubt HRB forms the historical spine for KAP and GPC. (In GPC the first information the Referee should share with the PCs is that Brutus came and cleared Giants!)

So thank you for this information. What I wanted to do was sort out the phrasing of your first post.

9 hours ago, Morien said:

Greg was adamant that HRB, as much as possible, was the true history of KAP Britain, not a garbled fable mixing myth and history. 

Even if HRB serves as the spine of KAP "history" it certainly seems to me to be a garbled fable of mixing myth and history. 

If HRB is not such a garbled mix, could you offer up an example of something that is a garbled mix of this kind? To provide clarity through conter example?

Again, I may be missing the main thrust of your point by misreading what you meant in your first post. If so I apologize.

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@Tizun Thane, thank you again. Just read the Designer's Notes from Knights Adventurous. I read it years ago, forgot about it, but it was still floating around in my brain. 

Exactly what was looking for!

Certainly collecting Greg's Designer's Notes from various books might be a solid addition to the Pendragon Resource Site!

Edited by creativehum

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What he means is that, as far as Pendragon goes, the HRB is the true history, even when it contradicts what we know to be real events. For instance, Magnus Maximus/Macsen Wledig leaves Britian and fights to become Emperor of Rome, whereas in the real world he is defeated. Brutus comes to Britian, when in real history he didn't. Uther's brother is Aurelius Ambroisu instead of Ambrosius Aurelianus. Whatever the HRB says, happens the way it says, except in the few places where Pendragon shifts the timeline a little, such as the reigns of Constatin and Vortigern.

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28 minutes ago, Atgxtg said:

What he means is that, as far as Pendragon goes, the HRB is the true history, even when it contradicts what we know to be real events.

Exactly. Thanks for the assist!

19 minutes ago, creativehum said:

Sorry for the confusion.

No worries. :)

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2 hours ago, Atgxtg said:

What he means is that, as far as Pendragon goes, the HRB is the true history, even when it contradicts what we know to be real events. For instance, Magnus Maximus/Macsen Wledig leaves Britian and fights to become Emperor of Rome, whereas in the real world he is defeated. Brutus comes to Britian, when in real history he didn't. Uther's brother is Aurelius Ambroisu instead of Ambrosius Aurelianus. Whatever the HRB says, happens the way it says, except in the few places where Pendragon shifts the timeline a little, such as the reigns of Constatin and Vortigern.

Well, if you want to get technical, Maximus was (one of) the legally recognized emperor(s) for three years in the real world. The short answer is his claim was recognized after he killed Gratian, but he only held authority in Gaul, Britain, and Hispania and had to recognize the authority of the other two emperors in their portions of the empire. Then he tried to overthrow Valentinian II as well, at which point Theodosius decided he had had enough and obliterated Maximus.

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Before we roll off into a big side discussion about history....

Here is a passage from the Designer's Notes from Knights Adventurous

Quote

Players of Pendragon have a unique chance to interact with myth and legend. Joseph Campbell keeps saying that modern people must find a way to interact with mythology, and find their own private mythology to help them through life. Unfortunately, he doesn’t quite tell us how to do this. I have found a few ways that I can interact with myth, but I am convinced that my particular explorations are not always appropriate for other people—not everyone, for instance, needs to fast for days in the desert to interact with mythology; or to go a work shop on exploring Men's Mythology. But I have found one method to interact with myth: Pendragon.

This is the kind of discussion and subject matter I was looking for when I started the thread. Also, the rest of the Designer's Notes is really interesting!

Finally, I had forgotten about how much compelling material was inside Knights Adventurous. (Many people will be familiar with the material from the 4th edition, which, for the most part, was a stapling together of KAP 3rd and Knights Adventurous, with the magic system added on top.)

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6 hours ago, creativehum said:

Certainly collecting Greg's Designer's Notes from various books might be a solid addition to the Pendragon Resource Site!

While I'd love to do that - the PDFs of these products are still on sale in our store https://www.chaosium.com/knights-adventurous-pdf/

However - In a strange twist of fate, Neil made the Designers Notes one of the preview pages!

Click through to the page, under the main picture it says "see 8 more Pictures", it's the last one. Open the picture in a new tab to view it.

If you don't own this, it's very handy reference - Personally I still use the Grand Events chapter as it contains:

  • Visits to Court (not in 5.2 but likely elsewhere)
  • Feasts (shorter than reading The book of feasts (apologies @sirlarkins)
  • Tournaments (more detailed than 5.2)
  • Hunting (in the 5.2 intro game, but this is more detailed)

I printed it out from the PDF and use it in my games.

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4 hours ago, jmberry1s said:

Well, if you want to get technical, Maximus was (one of) the legally recognized emperor(s) for three years in the real world. The short answer is his claim was recognized after he killed Gratian, but he only held authority in Gaul, Britain, and Hispania and had to recognize the authority of the other two emperors in their portions of the empire. Then he tried to overthrow Valentinian II as well, at which point Theodosius decided he had had enough and obliterated Maximus.

Yes, but in the Arthurian Legend he was the father of Aldornius and Constatin, and thus an ancestor to Arthur, and the one that legitimizes Arthur's right to rule.

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If you are following up on any of the reading material mentioned in the KA Designers notes. just be aware that Robert Moor is actually Robert L More different from Robert Moor:

King, Warrior, Magician, Lover: Rediscovering the Archetypes of the Mature Masculine https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00EXOFDXI/

(Just bought the kindle version for 99p)

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