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Sir Carter

Will The Real King Stand up

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Hi All

As a amateur historian and a gamer i find often the paths will cross. This is the case with the Arthurian legend. I enjoy fantasy RPGs and Historical wargames. And I enjoy researching the period to. As with everything Arthurian nothing is ever clear cut, and the Jury is still out as if there was ever a real Arthur. As the Early Dark Ages is primarily my favourite period I found I end up with 3 Arthur's. The first is very historically based and doesn't really have an Arthur or any of the Knights, Round Table, Merlin etc and focuses on the Saxons, Angles and Jutes that raided Britain in the early 5th-6th century as well as Picts, Welsh and Irish. A good example would be GMTs Games Pendragon

The 2nd is also set in the 5th-6th Century's but it has Arthur and his knights along with Merlin and others. Fighting the Saxons lead by the likes of Hengist and Horsa. It also has Picts and Irish raiders and the traitor Vortigern. 

Finally the 3rd is Pendragon all history is thrown out of the window, its got Knights in Shining armour, Merlin the Wizard, Mordred and everything else Medieval 14th Century will allow and includes Faerie lore as well.

I find with these 3 levels of play and style I cover all I want from the Stories of Arthur.

For Fiction I read T.H.Whites "Once and Future King" and Bernard Cornwalls "Winter King Trilogy" Plus historical stuff to.

Is there anyone else who likes to look into the other aspects of Arthurian lore Historical or otherwise ??      .   

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Interestingly I started out... err, in the mid-80s when it was fashionable... interested in the so-called 'historical Arthur' and went from there into preferring the literary Arthur; the realism in my games is the realism of the medieval period, not of post-Roman Britain. I did run a 'historical' Pendragon game about twenty years ago but it was definitely your second example. Much of the detail in Arthurian legend comes from transferring events and stories from the Middle Ages backwards into the mythical past, where they can be fictionalized (and also avoid political consequences - the do-nothing Arthur is a critique of several historical kings).

Truthfully, I am very fond of Morgan and Merlin and Lancelot and Guinevere and Tristram and Isolt, and none of these people, if they existed at all (Tristram has the best claim for it) lived in the same places and at the same time, so a rigorously 'historical' Arthurian campaign is only vaguely 'Arthurian' in terms of our expectations. The glory of the Arthurian epic is more in the imaginations behind it rather than 'facts'.

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Book of Sires tries to cover the nuts and bolts of the history that Greg preferred. You will notice there is lots of room for the Fae, high level romance and quests, and the dirty, nitty fighting if that is your cup of tea.  So, I find that Pendragon can very well fit each of the three styles you postulate.

I have played in all three types of campaigns. I liked parts of each. They were memorable.

 

 

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10 hours ago, Sir Carter said:

Is there anyone else who likes to look into the other aspects of Arthurian lore Historical or otherwise ?

I think that is probably quite common amongst us KAP enthusiasts. :)

Unlike something like D&D, KAP is reasonably well grounded in the real world, in a sense that the society in BoU/BotW is clearly Norman-Angevin one of high middle ages. And as Jeff pointed out, many of the literary sources mirror their contemporary medieval world, too. So by studying history, one will also gain a better understanding how things might work in KAP, too.

That being said, there is absolutely no requirement to do any of that, either. One can simply play KAP as a string of knightly adventures and be happy. Whatever floats one's boat.

Personally, I prefer the medieval King Arthur with a pinch of magic. The Dark Ages King Arthur is so far removed from chivalry and questing that it is not 'King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table' anymore for me. Not to say that it couldn't be very interesting campaign, just that like Jeff said, it would be almost unrecognisable by the modern players.

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Yes I agree for Pendragon the Medieval Arthur is a must, I don't think I will bother using Pendragon for any of the historical themes. And as you rightly say just a touch of magic. It has to be High Medieval and Knights of the Round Table. The Historical stuff I think I will leave for my wargaming interests

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The tone of the sub Roman Arthur just doesn't fit with Pendragon. The 5th-6th  century  Arthur is a world in collapse, with Arthur desperately trying to hold back the incoming tide of Saxons. The rules are written with the 15th century  idealised version of chivalry in mind, not the grim dark last stand of the Britons. The historic Arthur, if there is one, should be a setting for BRP rather than trying to get Pendragon to fit.

Edited by albinoboo
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1 hour ago, albinoboo said:

The tone of the sub Roman Arthur just doesn't fit with Pendragon. The 5th-6th  century  Arthur is a word in collapse, with Arthur desperately trying to hold back the incoming tide of Saxons. The rules are written with the 15th century  idealised version of chivalry in mind, not the grim dark last stand of the Britons. The historic Arthur, if there is one, should be a setting for BRP rather than trying to get Pendragon to fit.

I  could not agree more. Pendragon is the epitome of the classic view of Arthur and his knight set in a world of chivalry and romance, magic and fantasy. I don't think I would want to use it either as a historical version  

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On 7/14/2019 at 6:00 PM, albinoboo said:

The tone of the sub Roman Arthur just doesn't fit with Pendragon. The 5th-6th  century  Arthur is a world in collapse, with Arthur desperately trying to hold back the incoming tide of Saxons. The rules are written with the 15th century  idealised version of chivalry in mind, not the grim dark last stand of the Britons. The historic Arthur, if there is one, should be a setting for BRP rather than trying to get Pendragon to fit.

I disagree. KAP1 certainly seemed to follow a sub-Roman view too, with a lot more Roman Names in use and Cadbury Castle as Camelot, and why the Romans as a people and military force continue to exist in the game. I think Pendragon could (and has) worked out fine for such a campaign. I think Greg's shift in empahsis from KAP1 to KAP 3/4 was becuase of his love of Mallory's work.

KAP5 seemed to be shifting thing further towards a more feudal,  Norman Britain with more of the dark and gritty historical stuff coming back, even if it was from a later period of history.

 

Personally, I'm for starting the campaign more Roman-post Roman in flavor and having the culture evolve through the Periods.

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47 minutes ago, Atgxtg said:

I disagree. KAP1 certainly seemed to follow a sub-Roman view too, with a lot more Roman Names in use and Cadbury Castle as Camelot, and why the Romans as a people and military force continue to exist in the game. I think Pendragon could (and has) worked out fine for such a campaign. I think Greg's shift in empahsis from KAP1 to KAP 3/4 was becuase of his love of Mallory's work.

KAP5 seemed to be shifting thing further towards a more feudal,  Norman Britain with more of the dark and gritty historical stuff coming back, even if it was from a later period of history.

 

Personally, I'm for starting the campaign more Roman-post Roman in flavor and having the culture evolve through the Periods.

I was refering to the real sub-Roman era. For instance, the Roman settlement of Cirencester. In 410 the city was a thriving town with a large forum to  a few houses on the site of the amphitheatre by 440.  Even though Saxon expansion was halted for 40 years, outside of the far North England, urban populations collaspsed. The country was reduced to a patch work of petty warlords and when the Justinian plague hit perhaps as much as 30% of the population died. 

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21 minutes ago, albinoboo said:

I was refering to the real sub-Roman era. For instance, the Roman settlement of Cirencester. In 410 the city was a thriving town with a large forum to  a few houses on the site of the amphitheatre by 440.  Even though Saxon expansion was halted for 40 years, outside of the far North England, urban populations collaspsed. The country was reduced to a patch work of petty warlords and when the Justinian plague hit perhaps as much as 30% of the population died. 

Yeah, but I think that could play out just fine in a pseudo-historical Arthurian game. One of the nice things about Pendragon is that we have so much to work with. We have information, both historical and mythical from sources both modern and back at least 15 centuries to work with. It mostly comes down to just what sort of King Arthur and campaign the GM and players want. Quite a lot of the Arthurian lore is really optional. For example , you don't need Lancelot or the illicit romance. A campaign set around a group of Roman Equites/Cataphracti defending the remnants of Roman Britain could be an excellent Arthurian campaign.

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1 hour ago, albinoboo said:

I was refering to the real sub-Roman era. For instance, the Roman settlement of Cirencester. In 410 the city was a thriving town with a large forum to  a few houses on the site of the amphitheatre by 440.  Even though Saxon expansion was halted for 40 years, outside of the far North England, urban populations collaspsed. The country was reduced to a patch work of petty warlords and when the Justinian plague hit perhaps as much as 30% of the population died. 

Just an FYI... regarding the collapse of cities, this viewpoint is not considered as hard and fast as it was even just a few years ago. Many sites in recent digs show some evidence of a switch from stone to more perishable materials for building (read wood). 

As far as the Plague of Justinian is concerned... I'd pull the timeline forward, so that the Plague hits after the Lonazep Tounament (not a big shift), so that the beginning of the decline and the plague track each other... as does the fragmentation and fall of the countryside to the Saxons after.

SDLeary

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1 hour ago, Atgxtg said:

Yeah, but I think that could play out just fine in a pseudo-historical Arthurian game. One of the nice things about Pendragon is that we have so much to work with. We have information, both historical and mythical from sources both modern and back at least 15 centuries to work with. It mostly comes down to just what sort of King Arthur and campaign the GM and players want. Quite a lot of the Arthurian lore is really optional. For example , you don't need Lancelot or the illicit romance. A campaign set around a group of Roman Equites/Cataphracti defending the remnants of Roman Britain could be an excellent Arthurian campaign.

"The Great Purge of the Shelves" has been underway, and I came across my Jack Whyte novels. Needless to say, I've had the thought of a campaign starting with The Great Conspiracy running through my brain.

SDLeary

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1 hour ago, SDLeary said:

As far as the Plague of Justinian is concerned... I'd pull the timeline forward, so that the Plague hits after the Lonazep Tounament (not a big shift), so that the beginning of the decline and the plague track each other... as does the fragmentation and fall of the countryside to the Saxons after.

In the Post-Vulgate the decline is linked directly to the Grail Quest and how it tears the Round Table apart, so in that regard the pestilence works well with an earlier date. The Post-Vulgate Quest itself (and the Perlesvaus) seems to show a countryside with many robber barons and ruins. There is also the synchronization of the timeline to the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, with the Yellow Plague being the 'Black Death' event. The subsequent mystical period of the Lollards and Richard II (and the second flowering of Middle English Arthurian romances) might then follow as the Grail Period. We all know the Downfall is the War of the Roses (this in fact was probably Malory's conscious sense of it).

 

PS. Regarding illicit romance in a 'historical setting', well, the Tristan and the Dairmait and Grainne stories are pre-chivalric in origin (and a very old concept, really), so one could run a bunch of post-Roman cavalry or a warrior band and keep the whole sleeping with the chieftain's wife plot without making it 'romantic' per se. Of course it might be Moderatus (Mordred) rather than Lancelot.

Edited by jeffjerwin
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3 hours ago, SDLeary said:

Just an FYI... regarding the collapse of cities, this viewpoint is not considered as hard and fast as it was even just a few years ago. Many sites in recent digs show some evidence of a switch from stone to more perishable materials for building (read wood). 

As far as the Plague of Justinian is concerned... I'd pull the timeline forward, so that the Plague hits after the Lonazep Tounament (not a big shift), so that the beginning of the decline and the plague track each other... as does the fragmentation and fall of the countryside to the Saxons after.

SDLeary

In the case of Cirencester, the unburied bodies lying in the street is a bit of give away that the place was, in effect, abandoned.   I know wood was used in some areas like Wroxter but even then 33 wooden structures dont make up a city of 15,000 that it was under Roman rule. Even the place was abandoned by the 670s 

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Reading the "Kings of Britain" is still one of my favorite things to do and it inspired all of my rediscovery of Pendragon RPG so I would definitely be approaching it from that "feel".

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Mallory’s “The Death of Arthur” has usually been my go-to version of events although I’ve enjoyed more “historical” interpretations such as “The Silver Chalice” and Mary Stewart’s Merlin series.  Arthur starts out as the brash young hero, fighting giants and leading his troops to teach the (Byzantine) Roman emperor to show some respect.  Then he becomes a background character in his own novel while Tramtrist struts his stuff as the Lone Ranger of the Old West(ern East Anglia?).  Who was that masked knight anyway?  While the adultery and civil war denouement is depressing and avoidable you understand why folks made the choices they did and they manage to have some exciting adventures along the way:  And to be fair, Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot spend decades trying to straighten out their characters and relationships.  That’s what makes the end so tragic;  you’ve got people in their 60s ultimately deciding to act like 15-year-olds and it destroys everything they have worked for.

Oh, love Mary Stewart but Mordred is still the bad guy.  Go earn your own kingdom, slacker!

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On 7/19/2019 at 6:49 AM, Atgxtg said:

KAP5 seemed to be shifting thing further towards a more feudal,  Norman Britain with more of the dark and gritty historical stuff coming back, even if it was from a later period of history.

I think the KAP 5 core rules explore this tone and style and history... but that is in part beacuse the core rules start at a specific time in "Arthurian History" (air-quotes used on purpose.)

If you follow through the GPC however, you'll end up with all all the flavor and romance that KAP 3rd celebrated. 

Stafford lists Mallory as the primary influence and inspiration of every edition of the game. And Mallory's world of Arthur is always a mix of the mundane concern of knights (broken tacks and sword strokes into the skull and "to the teeth") with all sorts of miracles and romance. This tension is also part of the core mechanics (in the Traits) and in GPC's course of history from grim and dangerous to all sorts of magic and ahistorical customs.

I think Stafford stitched this aspect of Mallory's work into the game and the GPC at every level. Even when one style of "history"/Romance dominates one of the Phases, the mix and tension of mundane and miraculous, historical and ideal, and grim and Romantic is always there.

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I think there is still a shift towards using more Mallory over time. Back in KAP1 Greg used Cadbury Castle for Camelot, more in keeping with historical Arthur per knowledge  at the time. With KAP3 Greg shifted to using Mallory as his primary source,and followed Mallory on more things. 

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1 hour ago, Atgxtg said:

I think there is still a shift towards using more Mallory over time. Back in KAP1 Greg used Cadbury Castle for Camelot, more in keeping with historical Arthur per knowledge  at the time. With KAP3 Greg shifted to using Mallory as his primary source,and followed Mallory on more things. 

Listen, this isn't a big deal. And I want you to play the kind of game you want to play. So I'm not trying to provoke any kind of argument. Simply point out some things for folks who might be coming into KAP cold.

Back in KAP1 the text refers to Camelot, not Cadbury. The word Cadbury does not appear in either the core rules or the Book of Nobles. I'm not saying there wasn't another product at the time that referred to Cadbury, or a discussion or mailing the Greg got involved with didn't refer to Cadbury. But in the texts themselves Camelot is used. 

The references in KAP1 almost all fictional references. 

This is the second paragraph of KAP1's Player's Book

Quote

The game world of King Arthur Pendragon (hereafter known as Pendragon) is a place of high chivalry and glittering armor. Based on the pioneering works of Chretien de Troyes, the French Vulgate texts, and Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, it is a land where jousting and romance are the common sports and killing enemies is daily work. In this arena Christian virtues struggle to vanquish savage passions and worldly motives. Characters are clothed in noble court fashions, and equipped with medieval customs and morals.

In the Bibliography only a couple of the books might be considered "historical" (Geoffrey of Monmouth's The History of the Kings of BritainThe Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Gildas's De Excidio Brittaniae, and Nennius's Historia Brittonum.) The other books are all straight up fiction.

Of Le Morte D'Arthur Stafford notes: "Malory’s book is the basic text for the Pendragon campaign."

The fact is, the text, the ideas, and the overall ethos of the game is barely changed from KAP1 to KAP3.

The game has always been about the legends of Arthur and his knights as portrayed within literature. And a lot of the literature is grounded in concrete details of history and fact. (Mallory was a knight, after all, and brings that to bear on his book.) And as I pointed out above, that tension between the mundane and the ideal is a vital feature of the game. (Stafford talks about this at length in the Designer Notes -- though it was made explicit in the text of earlier editions of the game as well.)

The focus of the game from the beginning has been on the literature and the legends of Mallory. It is what the Traits and Passions are all about (built straight out of moments from Le Morte D'Arthur) as well as all the ahistorical details that support the setting built into every edition.

Now I know a lot of people want more history in their Pendragon game. And certainly Greg and others moved in that direction with a lot more expanded details about history and daily life minutia in many of the KAP5 supplements. And it is great that these materials are there to support that.

But the text of KAP1 suggests that the game is, and always was, at it heart, about emulating the fictional legends found in the tales.

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The location of Camelot is Cadbury on the poster map that came with the 1st edition, to clarify things a little. There are also more 'historical' references in the (original) Pendragon Campaign book. Morris' Age of Arthur (now very outdated) was a crucial source for the 3rd edition in particular. Hence there was a certain amount of 'historical Arthur' floating behind all the Malory.

 

edit: also the names of the cities of Britain were Latin on the poster map, not English: Ratae instead of Leicester, for instance.

Edited by jeffjerwin

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Again, and without doubt, it makes perfect sense to mix up the historical along with the fictional sources. (And thank you for the reference. I was certain Atgxtg must have seen it somewhere in a KAP product.)

What we're talking about, however, is the proportion of "historical" vs. Mallory.

I just reviewed the text of KAP1... and the notion that it somehow emphasized history over fictional sources (specifically Le Morte D'Arthur) and that the game line shifted more toward Mallory over time is simply not supported by the actual words found in the core rules of KAP1.

The fact that several historical points are stitched into other products is part of the fun of this kind of project, of course. (But also note the details found for Camelot in the KAP1's Book of Nobels. The castle is of a size that would render the notion anything historical is going on in the setting out of bounds.)

A few references to ground the game in our actual world (a thing most fantasy RPGs never have to do!) hardly makes the focus of the game historical.

The fact remains that the glosses in both KAP1's Player's Book and Gamemaster's Book are stuffed with passages from Le Morte D'Arthur used to explain the game, the game's world, and the spirit of intended play.

Edited by creativehum

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So, I stumbled across "The Historic King Arthur: Authenticating the Celtic Hero of Post-Roman Britain" (Frank D. Reno) again. And read the bits on fitting the timeline together, again. Interesting stuff. 

At any rate, we know Greg stretched the timing of the GPC such that you could run one adventure a year and it would more or less line up with several touchpoints. I'm curious where that timeline could be best telescoped in order to fit something more on the order the above book, with the key dates being:

440 - Hengest's landing (second advent of Saxons)

453 - Aelle's landing (third advent of Saxons)

495 or 497 - Cerdic the West Saxon King landing

497 - Badon

518 - Camlann, between Saxons and Arthur primarily

I'm not sure that I'll even attempt to use such compression (which would create a dark ages Arthur overlapping with Ambrosius for sure), but this is what the book suggests.

 

--Khanwulf

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4 hours ago, jeffjerwin said:

The location of Camelot is Cadbury on the poster map that came with the 1st edition, to clarify things a little. There are also more 'historical' references in the (original) Pendragon Campaign book. Morris' Age of Arthur (now very outdated) was a crucial source for the 3rd edition in particular. Hence there was a certain amount of 'historical Arthur' floating behind all the Malory.

 

edit: also the names of the cities of Britain were Latin on the poster map, not English: Ratae instead of Leicester, for instance.

Thanks. I was going to note that, but have been having keyboard issues.

 

4 hours ago, creativehum said:

Again, and without doubt, it makes perfect sense to mix up the historical along with the fictional sources. (And thank you for the reference. I was certain Atgxtg must have seen it somewhere in a KAP product.)

What we're talking about, however, is the proportion of "historical" vs. Mallory.

I just reviewed the text of KAP1... and the notion that it somehow emphasized history over fictional sources (specifically Le Morte D'Arthur) and that the game line shifted more toward Mallory over time is simply not supported by the actual words found in the core rules of KAP1.

I never said that it emphasized historical sources over fictional ones,only that overtime the game has shifted to placing more emphasis on Mallory and on a medieval Arthur. Cadbury/Camleot shifting to Winchester/Camelot and from Latin to Saxon place names being one noticeable example - at least if you got the KAP1 map. ;)

 

Oh, and no argument here, just noting some of the many minor changes that have occurred over the years. Another interesting one is how Greg made Excalibur the Sword in the Stone/Uther's Sword in the GPC when they were differernt sword before. Greg even went to the trouble of writing an article to explain that they were different swords! 

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4 hours ago, seneschal said:

Hey, if there's chocolate associated with that Cadbury, I'll follow your lead all over the British Isles!

Yes indeed, several types.  Take your Pict.

Edited by Atgxtg
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