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Possible order of precedence for feasts. Warning: long!

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Preamble: I’m still working on my houserules for modifying the Book of Feasts.

I wanted something more historically accurate and grounded in primary sources than my earlier vague “the GM should assign an appropriate default position.”  Something that would reflect the way in which people in the Middle Ages actually thought about this.  COVID makes the research tricky, because my local university library is shut and I’m dependent on what I can access online.  But here goes...

The main (almost exclusive) source on which I’m basing this is John Russell’s Boke of Nurture (which sounds rather like a new Pendragon release...)  This is from about 1450, so it is late in the medieval period.  But it at least corresponds to the world that Malory knew, so if you’re foregrounding Malory as the “main” source for your game, it would make some sense as a way to get at how he might have imagined the world of the stories.   It would be reasonable in Pendragon to make it looser and more slipshod earlier on, and more fixed and restrictive towards the end of the game.  Plus, some positions won’t exist early on — the mayor of London has been discussed here already, and before Oxford and Cambridge are founded, there is no need to take account of people with degrees.

At any rate it is a medieval account of where people should sit at feasts.

Some of this draws on commentary on Russell in the 19th century edition to which I had access — very possibly dated, but also useful, because it’s from a time when concerns with precedence were still a significant aspect of British society, and so is interested in clarifying the nitty-gritty of how things are supposed to work.

I’m not an expert, so it’s very possibly that I have misunderstood Russell on some point.  Correction will be welcomed.  Also, it is an obvious consideration that normative “how-to” texts like Russell are often not entirely accurate from a descriptive perspective, and liable to construct ideal models of how things “should” work.  Indeed, there is at least one place in Russell where it looks very much as if he’s warning people against doing something precisely because people do in fact do that thing all the time.  From a Pendragon perspective, that sort of normative idealization is not necessarily a problem, of course — it’s similar to how the game draws on idealized views of courtly love.

Anyway, what follows is what I came up with.


Intro.:   The following system has been modified to fit Pendragon’s pseudo-historical setting and extensively abbreviated.   (Russell has a lot of different entries, some of them for positions that don’t exist in Pendragon or at any rate are unlikely to come up.  If anyone wants to know where to seat a lesser baron of the exchequer, which is to say a puisné judge, John Russell has you covered.)

A) Russell seems to be thinking in terms of a five groups, which I will call “classes,” to which people at feasts may belong.  I have listed them in the next section.  All other things being equal, you do not eat seated with people of a different class.  In fact, Russell seems to think that you should never be seated outside your class.

But for Pendragon purposes, Glory should be an equalizer — a sufficiently glorious knight “sits at the high table at every court except Camelot.”  I’m using Tizun Thane’s suggestion of flipping the mechanical role of Glory and APP, so that Glory affects seating and APP determines number of cards.  But alternatively, if one prefers to stick closer to the Book of Feasts, APP could be the equalizer.  At any rate, there should be a roll that allows you to move up (or on a fumble, down), even if Russell would be very cross with us.

B ) Order within a class matters, but it does not seem to be as important to Russell (who in fact seems to semi-ignore it in the last class).  For Russell, the key point is that you need to be seated with your peers.

C) However, you do need to be attentive to differences between people of theoretically the same rank, and these confront the person arranging a feast with great difficulties.   Blood is more important than livelihood (income).  (That Russell stresses this so much is almost certainly a sign that it was not always the case in reality.)  See below for how this would affect player knights.

One could in principle reduce the contest of “winning” the feast to a contest between people of equivalent rank — that is, one is not trying to be the most notable guest at the feast tout court, but the most notable person of knightly rank.  No matter what, no-one expects you to compete with the Count of Wherever (unless you are a Count of Wherever).

D) Russell assigns a lady to the higher of her father’s rank and her husband’s rank.  Russell articulates this rule for ladies of royal blood, but it is easiest to suppose that it applies generally.  Women can marry up; they are not degraded by marrying down.  It would follow that a husband and wife will be separated if he is of lower rank, although Russell does not comment specifically on this.


The five classes: 

* marks something that I have inserted or changed significantly, either in content or in order, or both, or have made a perhaps questionable interpretation of what I think Russell means.

RC = Roman Christian; BC = British Christian; P = Pagan.  Obviously, Russell only thinks in terms of the first.  It may not be the case that a court recognizes the status of religious who are not of that court’s religion.  Decisions about where pagan religious rank are fairly arbitrary: I put druids and enchantresses with the knights largely because it seemed most interesting for gaming purposes to have them seated with the PKs.

I’ve assumed that abbesses rank the same as abbots, although Russell does not specifically address this.

Class I: Royalty and higher.

The Pope (who has no peer); emperor; High King*; king; cardinal; prince (son of a king); archbishops (RC); the Lady of the Lake (P)*; archdruid (P)*; great titled nobles of royal blood*

Class II: Great nobles, not of royal blood.

Dukes*; diocesan bishops (RC); earls.

Class III: Lesser nobles and their peers.

Barons; abbots/abbesses (BC)*; suffragan bishops (RC); mitred abbots/abbesses (RC); the mayor of London

Class IV: Knights and their peers.

Prior of a cathedral (RC); unmitred abbot/abbess (RC); household knights of the king*; prior (RC); dean (RC); archdeacon (RC); enchantresses (P)*; druids (P)*; knights (see below);  squires of the body of the king*; doctors of divinity.

Knights: Since player knights will normally be measuring themselves against other untitled knights, the internal ranking of knights is particularly important.  The most important factor is “blood,” nobility of birth — how noble, and how ancient the nobility of the knight’s forebears.  Of course, great families generally look after their own with lands as well, but even if a knight is poor, a noble ancestry is supposed to outweigh that deficiency.

Within knights with equivalent “blood” (e.g. the default player vassal knights of Salisbury, who can all be assumed to be about as noble as one another), it is “livelihood,“ i.e. income, that differentiates one knight from another.  Household knights, who have no income of their own, therefore would rank below all landed knights, except perhaps if they are well-remunerated officers — as long as they were not of more noble ancestry.

I would add the detail (not drawn from Russell) that people shou;d judge your income from how you live — if a knight makes enough from other sources (e.g. plunder) that they can maintain themselves at a higher level, then that becomes that knight’s livelihood as far as the general opinion is concerned.  This won’t be enough to make anyone think that a vassal knight with a single manor is the equivalent of an estate holder — people aren’t idiots — but a Rich knight with a single manor will be ranked above another vassal knight with a single manor who is not maintaining himself at that level.  This is a place where APP, Fashion, jewellery, etc. could be worked back in, if someone wanted.

Class V: Esquires and their peers.

Esquires*; squires*; doctors of law; former mayors of London; masters of arts; other religious*; king’s bodyguard*; merchants and franklins.


Possible application to the Book of Feasts:

1) The highest-ranking Class present defines the class that is Above the Salt.  The next highest Class that is present defines Near the Salt.  All remaining Classes are Below the Salt for purposes of Geniality (although in fact they may be seated separately), except for Class V, which defines On the Floor.  (People in Class V are not necessarily literally on the floor, although they may be.)

2) Almost all of the time, a player knight is Below the Salt, and for a knight who is not titled, there is never any shame in this.   It is always insulting to dine with Class V (“On the Floor”) if you are of knightly rank, especially since that can mean dining with commoners.

3). It should also matter to a knight (Modest/Proud rolls or something similar) if someone from a lower Class is allowed to dine with them or if someone of equivalent rank within their own Class accepts better seating when the knight is not honored.

4) And it should definitely matter if there is a seating error within the knights, and a knight who should rank lower (first by birth, second by livelihood) is given more honorable seating.  For Pendragon purposes, however, there’s a qualifier: this should not apply if the preferred knight is of significantly higher Glory.  It makes sense in Pendragon that an Unproven knight might defer without shame to a Respected knight, a Respected knight to a Notable one, and so on.

5) There is fertile ground here for Courtesy and Stewardship rolls.  It is quite possible that someone is insulted when they should not be, because they have made a mistake about the ranking, or vice versa, fails to notice when they should feel insulted, and only discover later on that they have been judged negatively for putting up with it.  Also Intrigue rolls, for obvious reasons.

Edited by Voord 99
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On 8/14/2020 at 3:45 PM, Voord 99 said:

But for Pendragon purposes, Glory should be an equalizer — a sufficiently glorious knight “sits at the high table at every court except Camelot.”  I’m using Tizun Thane’s suggestion of flipping the mechanical role of Glory and APP, so that Glory affects seating and APP determines number of cards.  But alternatively, if one prefers to stick closer to the Book of Feasts, APP could be the equalizer.  At any rate, there should be a roll that allows you to move up (or on a fumble, down), even if Russell would be very cross with us.

I am honored, dear Sir ;)

I was thinking like you about social status during a long time. But I thought the rules are written with the assumption that the PKs are minors vassal knights, at the the court of their count.

You could deal with status with bonus/malus at the first roll. A baron should have a +5, a count +10, duke +15 and a king automatically seated at the high table.

Furthermore, at the court of the high king (Arthur/Uther), you may apply a malus of a -5 for vassal knights because it's much more difficult to shine with some so much noble people to seat.

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On 8/24/2020 at 11:33 AM, Tizun Thane said:

I was thinking like you about social status during a long time. But I thought the rules are written with the assumption that the PKs are minors vassal knights, at the the court of their count.

I think It might well be the case that this is the default assumption - that you’re in a situation in which the PCs aren’t socially outshined by more important people.  Pretty much all the cards assume that the only relevant other people present are other knights, and ladies of indeterminate rank, aside from the host.

I think one problem is that the rules do cover different kinds of feasts, including royal ones.  Also, I think that in practice the time when a GM is likely to want to haul the Book of Feasts out is at one of the scripted feasts in the GPC, a lot of which are either hosted by the king, or at least attended by the king with a lot of famous people present.  Which is why the Book of Feasts is a great idea!  Something for player characters to do on scripted occasions to break up the GM describing things that they’re witnessing.  And I think the goals of making APP valuable and providing an arena at which lady characters can be active and achieve things are both worthwhile.

I think, in many ways, the difficulty is that the contest to win the feast is mechanically tied to your seating, which produces an incentive to tie that, in turn, to APP. Everything that I’ve been reading  - including some passages in the Book of Feasts - suggests to me that where you sat was supposed to be fixed by your rank.  You could read off the hierarchy of society from looking around the room.  There were tricky situations, and disputes, but they were about how different people ranked, not how glamorous they were.  

(Disclaimer: my reading hasn’t been exhaustive, and it’s been harder to pin down specifics than I had hoped.)

Your idea of having APP affect card draws instead solves a lot of the problem, because being able to choose which card you use is a powerful advantage.  Arguably it’s a better mechanical way to achieve the expressed intent of the rules — that good-looking people have better things happen to them.  So I am definitely going to use that, no matter what else.

But I wonder if there’s a case for going further and simply eliminating seating entirely as a factor in the contest.  Unless the GM wants to have you seated in the wrong place as a story point, the assumption could be that you are seated correctly, and no-one thinks well or badly of you because of it.  It is how things should be.

You could keep most of the existing rules as mechanics: a successful APP roll is +1 Geniality/round, etc.  You just break the narrative link, so that the roll doesn’t represent where you sit, it represents the overall impression that you made on the gathering.  The only thing that would need to change is that, on a critical, you could draw cards as well as getting +2 Geniality/round.  But, you know, drawing cards is the part of the BoF rules that everyone seems to like — it’s certainly the part that I think is the most enjoyable — so why not extend it to everyone?

I’m assuming that one would have a less generous Glory award than 10xGeniality, as obviously a high-APP character could really rack up the Geniality with 2 per round plus a choice of cards.  Also, If I went with this option, I think I would probably go with APP + Glory/1000 for the roll, so that Glory does have some effect.

Edited by Voord 99
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