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Anarchy: Some GMing advice

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(I posted this on the Nocturnal forums in 2015, but seems appropriate to repost it here. The links, unfortunately, won't work.)


Whilst I started this thread to mainly say a few words about my own experiences and preferences in GMing the Anarchy Period, feel free to chime in with your own views. :)

Like I said in this thread:
Anarchy is a very interesting period and it gives a lot of scope for the PKs to do their own things. It can be pretty overwhelming to a new GM and even to the more experienced ones, too!

So, here are some of my own thoughts & opinions, which hopefully help with that confusion.


Let me start with the one thing that I, personally, find to be a common mistake (of which I am guilty myself):
Don't overuse the Sauvage Forest during Anarchy.

What do I mean by that?
I mean that during the Anarchy, the PKs are the main players in Salisbury. They are unlikely to get that chance ever again in the campaign, so don't waste precious game time gallivanting off to the Sauvage Forest! Furthermore, the Anarchy is supposed to be a dangerous time. Is it really a proper time for the knights to go treasure-hunting and adventuring in an enchanted forest famous for getting whole counties cut off from the world while Saxons might raid any moment? No, I don't think so.

Thus, in my opinion, Sauvage Forest would be much better saved until the start of the Conquest Period: 519 - 524. Now, the big Saxon wars are over (with a couple of local flare-ups), the Kingdom is at peace. Now there is plenty of time to adventure, and the Enchantment of Britain has been released by Sir Balin with the Dolorous Stroke. So the mystical nature of the Sauvage Forest is much better suited for this period, in my opinion, and allowing the PKs to do the classical Arthurian knight-errantry of riding around and looking for adventure.

So, at best, your players and you yourself will miss out on the defining opportunity of the Anarchy; at worst, you are dragging your players kicking and screaming to adventures whilst they'd rather stay at Salisbury and play politics.


By this I mean that not all Anarchy is equal, and it is good to prepare yourself to it.

Year 495

The Big Crash. This is when everything is in the air. Who is in charge? Who is following who? Most of the barons are dead, and the situation is ripe for the usurpers. However, situation will shake itself out quickly. Within weeks, SOMEONE would be issuing commands from the castles and so forth, imposing some kind of order. Now, it might not be the same guy as before, or even if it is, he might not be following the orders from the rightful heir, or he might even have killed he rightful heir. But the point is, there would be someone, and people would be choosing their sides, at least in the small scale: a single manor knight would have no hope in hell alone, so he would find someone to swear allegiance to, in return of protection. An estate holder might try going at it alone: 5+ knights and possibly a fortified caput major might keep Saxon raiders at bay, and maybe even provide a bit too tough a nut to chew for the neighbors, too. A real castle would be even better, of course, but you'll still need some knights in order to protect the lands around it, or you will starve.

Now that I think about this, this is another point where I think GPC could have done better. With the whole land in chaos, there is not really time for state funerals. If there is time for state funerals, then the situation isn't nearly as bad.

Anyway, the point is, the rest of the year 495 would be the small-scale consolidation, on the castle/county level. And if you wish to play with that, you probably should prepare another session after St Albans, even though it breaks the rule of thumb of having one session per game year.

Year 496

So maybe you didn't manage to convince everyone to join up last year? This would be a good year to start looking at anyone you might stomp and get back in line. Any independent lordlings around in their castles? Usurpers looking for legitimacy to keep their ill-gotten gains? Might try to get them to join Salisbury or try to conquer them. Of course, the arrival of Cerdic with his Gewessi to Hantonne will add more urgency to this.

In our campaign, I chose this year to launch the Rydychan Usurpers - extended scenario. It makes perfect sense: the usurping brothers would have grabbed control of Rydychan in the chaos of 495. Why would the Countess of Rydychan & Ulfius (now recovered from his wounds from St Albans) wait longer than necessary to take it back? There is another advantage to this: the years 496 - 498 are relatively boring for Salisbury, so getting the PKs busy in helping a neighbor and a future ally (it can be hoped) makes perfect sense. Most of the Saxons would be more busy extorting their closer neighbors, so hopefully there wouldn't be that many raids, either, especially if Salisbury is paying tribute.

I also tried playing up Cerdic as a rather civilized man (for a Saxon King) and had him emphasizing his legitimate right for High Kingship (via Vortigern) and being a man who could bring peace between the Cymri and the Saxons. The Pks didn't quite fall for it, but it would have been an interesting campaign if they had. :)

Years 497 - 499: Cornwall Ascendant

Assuming that the PKs manage to wrap up Rydychan soon enough, they can start worrying about Cornwall's advance and decide what to do about it. Also, in the east, Essex is gobbling up counties.

This should be the time that the PKs should get seriously busy about alliance building, rather than be gallivanting in Forest Sauvage and getting Lost in the Woods.

Year 500: Crisis point

Essex has absorbed Huntingdon and Hertford, so they are riding high on their success. They don't do anything in GPC this year, which means it is for you to decide... In our campaign, I made them invade Salisbury since Salisbury hadn't been paying tribute to Essex since 496, but you could easily have them just raid or attack Silchester instead (especially if Ulfius and Salisbury are allied).

Cornwall is attacking Dorset, depriving Salisbury the help of a potential ally, if Essex is attacking Salisbury.

Years 501 - 504: Darkening skies with a ray of hope?

Why are Angles attacking Huntingdon and Hertford and Essex is doing nothing? In our campaign, this is explained by Essex getting its ass kicked in 500 by Silchester-Salisbury-Cornwall coalition and Silchester taking those two counties over in late 500. But otherwise, this event makes little sense: why would you help a Saxon vassal defend against Angles?

Anyway, as far as the phase goes, the pressure is mounting on Salisbury and Silchester, with the Saxons demanding more tribute and knights to help in their wars.

Meanwhile, the New Cymric Hope, Nanteleod, is widening his powerbase in Cambria and Northern Logres. Definitely someone the PKs might contact for help, if they are still independent.

Years 505 - 507: Nanteleod Ascendant

Nanteleod is kicking major ass during these years, and the unification of Logres looks possible. Nanteleod for the High King!

PKs would probably be involved in Nanteleod's campaigns and hence busy.

Years 508 - 509

These years should be really bad. Nanteleod dead, his coalition army shattering, no one able to take command (and I'd have Ulfius and Corneus quarreling over London to ensure they don't take up Nanteleod's mantle... also, Corneus dies in 509, IIRC). Saxons, Saxons everywhere, and not a High King in sight. I'd have year 509 filled with Saxon raids and invasions, too. This explains why the Lords of Logres are getting desperate to get a new King, even if it means figuring out that sword in the stone in London.

Years 510 - 513

Technically already Boy King Period, but it actually follows up from the Anarchy... Why do the Saxons stop raiding in 510? One would expect that they would have a field day with the Cymric armies busy fighting one another elsewhere. Well, I tried to think about this a bit in this thread:

Add a bit of tribute payments for Aelle, and you can see why he would prefer to sit back and let the Cymri kill one another, while he focuses getting his own 'house' in order by beating Essex and Anglia. Better to not give the Cymri a reason to unify: as soon as Lot kills this 'King Arthur', his coalition of Rebel Kings will splinter back into Anarchy.


In GPC's system, only idiots pay tribute: you lower your Standard of Living by one level straightaway, while a raid probably does nothing. See my answer in this thread to how to use Tribute with BotE -system:

I probably would have Lethargic Saxons to start with: they are busy with their neighbors rather than Salisbury, with Wessex a bit of an exception but perhaps Cerdic is still hoping to convince Salisbury to join him. But I'd have them up the tribute in 500 - 504 to 2 Lots and act more belligerent. This will ratchet up the tension nicely, I think. After getting beaten by Nanteleod in 505, they probably would be licking their wounds in for a while in 506, but with Nanteleod distracted by Cornwall (and a secret alliance with Cornwall) they'd be actively raiding again in 507.
(And here is the thing about the Saxon tribute from that other thread:)
"How would you work tribute into the BotE system?"

The rules in GPC regarding tribute are BRUTAL. £3 per manor means that you'd rather risk the Saxons raiding you, since those raids have actually very little impact on your actual harvest. Usually, there is either no effect or drops you to Poor, but that is where you are ending if you DO pay, so why pay? Better to take your chances. Worse, the implication in GPC is that not every 'defaulted tribute' results in a Raid, at least not from first, so you are looking at a certain drop of £3 if you pay, versus a probable drop of nothing if you don't pay. It is a foolish choice to pay in that system.

Using 'vanilla' BotE, I'd be tempted to make it 2 Lots per tribute. This means you can afford the first one (just lose the Discretionary Funds), the second one drops you to Poor and the third one drops you to Impoverished, if you are a £10 manor knight (ordinary maintenance) rather than an estate holder (rich maintenance, as default). This matches the INTENT of the GPC rules: -1 maintenance step per tribute (except we are now giving the first one as a loss of DF).

The problem with 3 Lots per tribute is that a Raid causes 3 Lots, and you probably can fix one of those straight away. So you are only taking a 2 Lot hit per Raid. Sure, a Pillage might cause 5 -> 4 Lots (two of which are long-term), but not all the Saxons are Pillaging you every year straight away, as mentioned in the previous. On the other hand, -1 Lot in vanilla BotE has less teeth. The players will happily pay single and even double tribute, and just lose the DF. Sure, annoying in itself, but very little else. So they won't feel the sting until the triple tribute, which is very rare, and even then only drop one level.

In our house-ruled BotE, we don't use Lots and I don't let the players reduce the upkeep of the staff. Instead, they'll have to pay the money themselves from DF and loot, or from squeezing the peasants. Thus, I have reduced the tribute to mere -£1 per manor per tribute, because otherwise it is too much (these are, in effect, £6 manors since all the money needs to come from the knight's own funds). This tallies nicely with the Raid damage, which for us is -£2. So paying every year is a better choice than getting raided every other year. This makes it an actual choice: shall we risk getting raided or shall we pay this small fee that is constantly bleeding us and strengthening the Saxons? When do we say 'enough'?

To summarize, the perceived damage if you don't pay has to be in balance with the payment.
Lethargic Saxons, letting the Grudge Score tick up (raids are rare): -1 Lot tribute
Belligerent Saxons, not paying is almost a certain Raid or worse: -2 Lot tribute
Zerg Saxons, not paying means a full scale invasion: -3 Lot tribute

In our campaign, the PKs are paying Wessex and Sussex off, but not Kent and Essex (after one time). Essex raided after two skipped payments, causing Pillaging damage to the manors that their river-borne attack reached (which on whole Salisbury scale would have been closer to a Raid). After the next two skipped payments, whilst Essex was busy conquering its neighbors, Essex came back with a full invasion since obviously the Raid wasn't enough to teach the lesson. Kent has so far been too busy with Sussex to bother them apart from a couple of demands for knights and tribute.
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1 hour ago, Morien said:

I also tried playing up Cerdic as a rather civilized man (for a Saxon King) and had him emphasizing his legitimate right for High Kingship (via Vortigern) and being a man who could bring peace between the Cymri and the Saxons. The Pks didn't quite fall for it, but it would have been an interesting campaign if they had. :)

This is the track I also used.  Cerdic is half-Cymri. He is rightfully a noble and as a Saxon King, can prove direct Lineage to Vortigern.  I had his forces used cavalry, although only a few fought that way.  He always was using diplomacy with Salisbury and the players did agree to trade agreements.  Of course, they did not trust him and eventually it fell apart, but the campaign was almost going to go YPMV in a major way.

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Good stuff. 

I agree with the idea that Cerdic isn't all bad. He is proud, and he is also Vortigern's son, so his lineage works against him, and he appears as the worst of combination. 

As far as the Saxons inaction during 510-513 I think they were just willing to sit back and let the Brits kill each other off. Then they could just roll over the survivors of the conflict. 


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Unfortunately for me the players have a big reason to be going into the Forest Sauvage. One of my players had a female knight who had an affair with Madoc. In order to keep things good for Arther's return, I put a version of the Changeling adventure in wherein their son be kidnapped by a meddling magician trying to get some of that pendragon blood and now hiding in the Forest Sauvage (this will eventually result in him being transformed into an Eagle.)

But of course, with an actual possible heir out there that they have some leads on, it's not something they can afford to ignore.

That being said I've got my own twist on some of the Anarchy conflicts, that being that the female knight also has two bastard daughters from Madoc of about marriageable age. Cerdic's already tried to offer a pairing between her eldest and Cyrnic (something they very nearly accepted before it became all too clear that Cerdic is no better in character than his father Vortigern.) and her refusal led to Cynric attempting to invade Salisbury. (Fortunately, they had enough Libra for mercenaries to even the numbers and Wessex was a little unprepared for player marshall's famous hatred for Saxons swaying the battle results. But Cynric's aleady developed a hatred for the guy himself, so round two may not go so well for the Player Knights if they're not careful.)

I'm planning on Mark to come forward as another "suitor", to try and claim a Pendragon bride by force, and afterwards Nanteleod (or possibly his son, the guy's kind of on the old side to be without heirs.) to try and cement the alliance he's building (Before he's also inevitably killed.)

It's going decently thus far, but I do see that the Forest may risk crowding out the politics. I may see if I can wrap it up in a few sessions and leave the other adventures for later after the enchantment formally begins.

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On 5/24/2019 at 5:59 PM, Atgxtg said:

As far as the Saxons inaction during 510-513 I think they were just willing to sit back and let the Brits kill each other off. Then they could just roll over the survivors of the conflict. 


It is always assumed that the Saxons are a unified front, but they are not. they each fight eachother as much as they fight the Cymri I think.  It is only around 513 that Aelle is able to get them to accept him as the bretwalda. And I think that only happened because of Arthur unifying the Cymri. 

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8 minutes ago, Cornelius said:

It is always assumed that the Saxons are a unified front, but they are not. they each fight eachother as much as they fight the Cymri I think.  It is only around 513 that Aelle is able to get them to accept him as the bretwalda. And I think that only happened because of Arthur unifying the Cymri. 

Yeah, thats because they not all Saxons. There are Saxons, but also Angles, Jutes, Danes, Frisians, etc. In fact it was "infighting" amongst the various Saxons tribes that drove many of them from their homelands and into Britain. The Huns "helped" as well.

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