Virtue and Vice: For Those Whom “Alignments” Just Don’t Fit Anymore

In the same manner as “attributes” are used in various guises and forms across the gamut in TRPG’s to describe the physical and spiritual faculties, capacities, and abilities of the character, there are aspects of the personality that are conspicuous in the absence almost universally across the board. Because it is a roleplaying game, those aspects of the personality that might be described by scores are often ignored in the belief that the players are perfectly capable of seeing to them and playing whatever their character concept is in regards to personality with great depth and dispatch and perfect consistency. This is sometimes true, but perhaps not so much the rest of the time. Many characters come off as nothing but opportunists with very little in the way of moral compass or compunctions towards maintaining any sort of personal code of conduct. The shopworn concepts of Law, Chaos and Neutrality in combination with Good and Evil that are so common as measuring sticks of morality in RPG’s are used more as a means of codifying this often amoral behavior. 

We need some means of describing the actual spirit and qualities of personality of the character, on which the characters’ behavior in play has a direct effect.

These tired old axes of Good and Evil, Law and Chaos, just are not sufficient to address the need for having some sort of moral compass to show where the PC’s actions are taking him spiritually, and say very little about the character’s habits of behavior and personality. They certainly have absolutely NOTHING in common with the morality or moral compass of the people of the period of the game. This is sad and more than a bit mystifying, considering that the people of the medieval period have provided us with the perfect tools for this task.

In 410 ad. Aurelius Clemens Prudentius wrote the epic poem “Psychomachia” (“Contest of the Soul“), which involved the battle of good “Virtues” against evil “Vices”. The intense popularity of this work in the period seized the imaginations of the people. It gave them a map by which good religion could be followed in everyday life and helped to spread the concept of the holy Virtues extolled by the Church throughout all of Europe. The Virtues and Vices became the measuring sticks, aspects or traits of character that were more important than any other to the people of the time. Both principles, Virtue and Vice, each have seven aspects, perfectly balanced, one against the other as follows.

VIRTUE

VICE

Chastity

Lust

Temperance

Gluttony

Charity

Greed

Diligence

Sloth

Patience

Wrath

Kindness

Envy

Humility

Pride

These are the points on which each character’s behavior are noted, these are the qualities that define his personality, qualities of integrity and honor (or lack thereof), to his fellow denizens of the gameworld. Virtue and Vice were fixtures in the teachings of the Church and the awareness of the people of the era. In the theology of the medieval period, Virtue and Vice are the centerpieces of character. Virtue refers to excellence, an active habit essentially of expressing goodness, with Vice as its foil. Vice denotes the absence of that excellence of character, an active habit essentially of expressing the darker characteristics, by way of contrast. There was hardly a wealthy hall or castle without its series of tapestries imported from the peerless artisans of the Low Countries depicting the Virtues and Vices.

Virtue and Vice are pivotal to RoM roleplaying.

Of the Virtues listed above, the most highly touted and valued by genteel pious followers of the Church in the period of the game are the four cardinal Virtues: Prudence, Temperance, Justice, and Fortitude, on which hinge a righteous life. The Virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity are the “theological” Virtues, chosen because even when practiced in the extreme, they do not contribute to Vice. To these were commonly added Patience and Humility in the period. The GM may include or ignore these two as he sees fit.

To mold one’s self in the images of the Virtues makes a character more pleasing to the Light, protecting him from the temptations of the world, and can over the course of time affect a character’s reputation in society in a very positive way.

The most reprehensible traits in the eyes of theologians of the Church in the period of the game are the Vices, the Seven Deadly Sins. These are Pride, Greed, Lust, Anger, Gluttony, Envy, and Sloth. While they are opposite to the Seven Heavenly Virtues in principle, they are not the direct opposites of the Virtues in fact, although there is a countering Virtue for each Vice. 

Virtues

Chastity is the balancing force and Virtue to the Vice of Lust. It is purity, knowledge, honesty and wisdom. It requires one to abstain from sexual conduct according to one’s state in life. In this regard, its practice promotes courtly love and the ideal of romantic friendship, cleanliness through cultivated good health and hygiene, and is maintained by refraining from intoxicants (no matter their form or nature). Intoxication is an abandonment of Virtue and general and most likely Chastity in particular. To be honest with oneself, one’s family, one’s friends, and to all of humanity, the avoidance of all that is unclean, is to be chaste. It embraces moral wholesomeness and the achievement of purity of thought through education and betterment. The ability to refrain from being distracted and influenced by hostility, temptation or corruption is embodied in Chastity.

Temperance is the corresponding Virtue to counter the Vice of Gluttony. It is the ability to show caution and self restraint when engaging in any activity in which one might indulge or over-indulge, such as drink, sweets or food in general, swings of mood, heights of passion, spending money in luxury, and so on. Moderation should be shown in all things, self-restraint in all potential indulgences. This applies to display and acquisitiveness of wealth, consumption of food and/or alcohol, feelings and expressions of emotion (high AND low), and so on. Awareness, a constant mindfulness of others and one’s surroundings and practicing the deferment of gratification are both aspects of Temperance. Proper moderation between self-interest and public-interest, against the rights and needs of others all require Temperance. It is also prudence, or the ability to constantly look ahead to weigh the probable results of one’s actions, to judge between actions with regard to what is appropriate at a given time. As such, justice is an aspect of Temperance. To be Just one must act with a sense of honor, fairness, and good reason. To do justice to another, as in a proper depiction or appreciation without reservation or embellishment.

This virtue is marked by the ability to keep confidences, show discretion, husband resources, and exercise economy of action. It is shown in wariness out of consideration for the social and moral consequences of one’s actions. It is expressed in circumspection, caution, and rather a docile nature. Insofar as justice is involved, it is marked by due reward returned in regards to treatment rendered by others, a sense of equity and moral rightness – that the punishment should be tailored to the crime.

Charity is the corresponding Virtue to counter the Vice of Avarice or Greed. It is generosity and embodies a concern with the provision of help or relief for the needy, such as alms for the poor, orphans, widows, victims of disaster, and the like. These charitable acts are merely outward expressions, however, of feelings of benevolence, goodwill, or affection for one’s’ fellow beings. It encompasses a certain lenience, an indulgence, or simply forbearance in judging others, a definite inclination towards mercy, a feeling of brotherly love, a suffusing benevolence in general. Charity is Love, the greatest of the three theological Virtues, in the sense of an unlimited loving kindness towards all others. It is held to be the ultimate perfection of the human spirit, because it both glorifies and reflects the very nature of deity. Such love can be self-sacrificial. The love embodied in Charity, “caritas“, is distinguished by its origin – being divinely infused into the soul – and by it’s residing in the will rather than dwelling among the emotions, although it may stir up any number of emotions. As long as one has Charity, he cannot be lost.

Diligence is the balancing force and Virtue to the Vice of Sloth. It is a decisive work ethic, the ability to be zealous but careful by nature in one’s actions and work, the capability of NOT giving up. Budgeting one’s time and monitoring one’s own activities to guard against laziness are tools for maintaining Diligence. Dedication and steadfastness in belief are aspects of it, but there is more to it – not only the will to sustain and maintain one’s effort but to uphold one’s convictions at all times, especially when no one else is watching. It is persistence, resolve and integrity, consistently high ethics, rectitude and fortitude, as well. This aspect marks, in a word, a character’s guts, his strength of will and HRT, his ability to face and withstand trials, privation, and suffering with courage, to show endurance in pain and suffering or under trials and adversity. Courage is the prime expression of fortitude – courage in the face of danger or hardship to act or make the hard decisions, strength of will to suffer trials or privation without complaint, resistance to despair, fear, uncertainty, and intimidation and an ability to confront them – in a word, “heart”. Diligence is the basis of the knightly virtue of ardimen.

Being faithful to promises, no matter how big or small they may be shows courage in Diligence.

Patience is the corresponding Virtue to counter the Vice of Wrath or Anger. It provides the character with the capacity for calm endurance in suffering or the forbearance of something, some one, or a given trial of emotional endurance over time, generally without complaint. Having Patience indicates a capacity for tolerance and understanding when dealing with others and their foibles or Vices. It is exercising the will to try again and again to reach those who seem not to or unable to hear one’s message and a gentle moderation of any impulse to antagonism and especially to hostility. A will to do no harm is required to truly exercise Patience, an avoidance of all violence to any sentient being or life form. It is the will to create and /or preserve a sense of peaceful stability and community, the ability to forgive and to show mercy to others, to resolve any and all conflicts and injustice peacefully.

Those whose Patience scores grow quite high should give some thought to the violence done lower animals orders, and moderate their consumption of meat accordingly. Whether a failure to do so will affect the Patience score are up to the GM’s discretion, but such a failure (or “excess”) will likely put a cap on the Patience score a character may reach.

Kindness is the balancing force and Virtue to the Vice of Envy. It can be, in part, an expression of Charity, and/or consist of compassion giving rise to an active desire to alleviate another’s suffering, and friendship for its own sake, without any compensatory advantage. Kindness is expressed in empathy and in trusting without prejudice or resentment. Kindness is an unconditional love, voluntary and without a hint of bias or spite. Having a positive outlook and cheerful demeanor are marks of kindness that often inspire kindness in others. Like a smile, Kindness can be contagious.

Humility is the corresponding Virtue to counter the Vice of Pride. Humility lies in modesty, in meekness, in lack of pride – although not to the detriment of one’s own essential sense of self-worth. The humble are retiring, reserved listeners first, self-abasing or -effacing, and they lack pretense or brash assertiveness. They are selfless and think of others long before themselves. Those who possess this Virtue are generally aware of their shortcomings and freely acknowledge their imperfections. When they look in the mirror they see every wart and wrinkle, and they know that in looking overlong or overmuch lies the path to Vanity. A predisposition to self-examination and a tendency of charity toward people with whom one disagrees are both marks of humility. The courage of the heart in Diligence necessary to undertake tasks which are difficult, tedious and especially those which are necessary but unglamorous or base in nature, and to accept any sacrifices involved with grace shows Humility. Reverence for those who have wisdom, not glorifying one’s own self vainly, especially at the expense of others, but giving credit where it is due rather than glorifying one’s self all show Humility, as do showing respect to those who selflessly teach in love and for all fellow living beings in general.

Vices

Lust or Lechery describes excessive love of others, passions or desires to gratify any want, need or sense, being obsessive in thoughts or desires. By its unrestrained excess the Lust renders love and devotion to the Light as secondary. Chastity and purity or contentment are the means by which Lust is defeated. Lust is typified by an overwhelming desire or craving; excessive unrestrained desire, esp. but by no means limited to sexual; inordinate and/or obsessive or immoderate pleasure, delight, or relish in anything. Any overwhelming desire or craving may be an avenue down which one may lust. While usually referred to in a sexual vein, Lust can be any excessive unrestrained desire. Any pleasure, desire, delight, or relish when taken to an obsessive level may be a Lust. Giving in to Lust can lead to sociological compulsions and/or transgressions including addictions, in the sexual vein to which Lust is usually relegated, it can manifest as adultery, bestiality, rape, and incest.

Gluttony is the countering Vice for the Virtue of Temperance, and may also be defeated through abstinence. It is a sin of excess, generally viewed as concerning food, but encompassing any inordinate capacity for indulging in the consumption of anything or stimulation of any sense (“glutton for punishment”). It is typified by over-indulgence and over-consumption of anything to the point of waste, especially insofar as by taking more than is needed, one thus withholds it from the needy.

The difference between Lust and Gluttony is that one is the inordinate desire for gratification, desire or passion, and the other is the inordinate capacity to indulge in something once obtained.

Greed or Avarice, also known as Covetousness, is the countering Vice for the Virtue of Charity or generosity. It is a sin of excess, a craving, to wish for something excessively and culpably, Greedy and acquisitive regardless of any detriment to others or any overriding need on their part, acquisitive to an extreme degree, even to the point of “More is better” regardless of consequence.

Greed is more of a blanket term however. It can describe many types of behavior motivated by Greed, including disloyalty, deliberate betrayal, or treason, especially when committed for personal gain, in return for a bribe, for example. Scavenging and hoarding of materials or objects are acts of Greed, and Greed can inspire theft and robbery, especially by means of violence, trickery, or manipulation of authority, including simony, (profiting from soliciting goods on holy ground, within the actual confines of a church).

Those afflicted with Covetousness have a great craving to acquire things, “more is better.” It is a wish to have and to possess to the point of excess and overriding blame.

Sloth is the corresponding Vice to counter the Virtue of Diligence, a complete lack of zeal, and the failure to make good use of even one’s own native talents and gifts, the gifts of the Light. Indeed, diligence is the means whereby Sloth is defeated. It is also called the sin of sadness, of discouragement or despair, manifesting in the affliction known as “Accidia” – that is, melancholy, apathy, depression, and joylessness or world-weariness. Joylessness is a refusal to enjoy the goodness of the Light, weariness of the world a rejection of the world created by the Light. Sadness is described as a feeling of dissatisfaction or discontent that causes unhappiness with one’s situation – thus, an impulse to break the Chain of Being.

The theologians describe sloth as the failure to love the Light with all one’s heart, all one’s mind and all one’s soul, also described as the “middle sin”, the only error characterized by an absence or insufficiency of love.

Wrath, Anger or Rage is the countering Vice for the Virtue of Patience. It is typified as a persistent and unrelenting rage, inordinate and uncontrolled wrath or ire, an extreme and lasting displeasure or hostility, angst, grief, or worry over any creature or being, situation, or thing. It is marked by an unwillingness to let such feelings go and move past them, even to the point of its impacting upon themselves destructively, wishing to do evil or harm to others, even to the point of violence – assault and/or murder. It can be expressed by impatience, revenge, or vigilantism. Also any punitive desires beyond justice, as in spite and the will to pursue vengeance even to violence beyond that allowed by law. Indeed, suicide is deemed as the ultimate tragic expression of wrath directed inwardly, a final rejection of the Light.

Envy is the countering Vice for the Virtue of Kindness. It lies in casting one’s eye upon another with malice, malevolence, resentment and discontent aroused by their desirable qualities, accomplishments or possessions, Envy is an insatiable desire or drive, like Greed, but applies more generally than Greed. Those possessed of Envy resent that some one else has something they want or perceive themselves to be lacking or needing, and wish the other person to be deprived of it, even should they themselves subsequently attain it.

Pride is the countering Vice for the Virtue of Humility. It is the original and most serious of the seven deadly sins, and the source from which the others arise. It embodies an excessive love of self, an over-weaning sense of self-worth, an over-inflated sense of one’s own importance, intrinsic value, or the magnitude of one’s dignity. Vanity is the darling Vice of Pride. Pride lies in taking over-abundant pleasure and satisfaction in one’s own work, possessions, station, and especially one’s achievements. Commonly manifests as conceit or arrogance, narcissism or physical vanity, and vainglory – being boastful through unwarranted pride in one’s accomplishments or qualities.

 

Foibles

Within the majority of the Virtues’ and Vices’ descriptions are a number of aspects from which a certain mode of character behavior can be drawn. These are marked as “Foibles”. These are character quirks that can confine the expression of some or all of a particular Virtue or Vice’s expression to a much narrower field. A Foible can define the manner and mode of behavior in which the character most frequently expresses the influence of the Virtue or Vice from which it is derived, according to its description.

At the player’s option, the character can be given a score in a Foible under a Virtue or Vice for which he also has a score.

The score allotted to the Foible can be equal to or less than the score in the Virtue or Vice under which it is taken.

The character may have no more than one (1) Foible for any given Virtue or Vice.

Not all of the score a character has for a given Virtue or Vice must be allotted to its Foible, although doing so limits the character’s exposure to the influence of the Virtue or Vice from which it is derived during game play.

When a Virtue or Vice is increased, its Foible (as applicable) MAY be increased by the same amount at the player’s option,

BUT when a Virtue or Vice is increased due to a Foible’s direct influence, the Foible score MUST be increased also, at the same time.

No Foible score is ever higher than the score in the Virtue or Vice from which it is derived.

In the event that the character does something shady and loses a point of Virtue, or does something beneficent and loses a point in a Vice, any Foibles scores that were equal must also be reduced. If the Virtue or Vice score should go up again, the Foible score can likewise be increased.

IF the score of the Foible is less than that in the Virtue or Vice, the difference between those scores defines the amount of that Virtue or Vice the character must deal with in general circumstances. This can be an advantage in some ways, giving the effect of the Virtue or Vice in general less impact, but also a hindrance, as the Foible defines the character’s behavior more narrowly.

Temperance Foibles

Conservative The character always hedges his bets in making sure that he has something left for later. He always has a couple extra pence tucked away, a little bit food, and an extra blanket, a spare set of clothing, etc. He just calls it being prepared, everyone else will probably just think him a packrat.

Just embodies a sense of the rightness of things, a sense of equity and ingrained fairness in all his dealings. As this character is dealt with by others, so he deals with them in return.

Law-Abiding indicates that the character follows the law to the letter and will not stray a single toe over the line even when the chips are down, unless the player makes a successful check versus the level taken in this Foible.

Pristine Honor is a sense of high honor most noblemen aspire to but rarely approach, much less actually achieve. Every challenge or foe faced casts a reflection on not only the character’s own but the entire family’s honor. Every threat to life, liberty, wealth, and/or property but most especially to name and reputation, must be met and faced down, or the family loses face.

This trait can be a great burden to the player.

Resist Not Evil is a Foible that doesn’t obscure or warp the character’s vision but rather drives him, once he observes a person exhibiting overriding qualities of low character, to begins the process of disassociating himself from having anything to do with that person further. They will no longer exist within his world. He will turn away from them without hearing them, accept no gifts from them, and will require a check vs. the level taken in this Foible even to respond to violence offered so he may defend himself. He does not lend the Darkness his strength by dignifying it with battle or opposition, but goes about doing good works and seeking out those who do the same so as to strengthen the Light.

Charity Foibles

Magnanimous Provides the character with a particular nobility of spirit, making him forgiving, generous of mind towards others, will not think ill of people until they prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that they are bent on unabashedly working ill on others without regret.

Open-handed Makes the character especially generous. The character will need to make a check to be able to keep from giving charity to those who appeal in need, even harder when charity is actually requested of him. This quality is expressed in largesse especially among the noble. The character will have to resist the impulse to make a gift of anything he owns that has been openly admired by another. He will literally give away the cloak or shirt on his back, the shoes off his feet, etc. to the less fortunate who have naught.

Merciful Imbues the character with a particular tenderness of heart that requires a successful check be made versus the level taken in this Foible before he may resist granting forgiveness or mercy for wrongs done them when their opponents or enemies ask it of them.

Diligence Foibles

Confidante Indicates that the character holds the confidences of others especially dear and cannot reveal them to anyone else, regardless of how well trusted, without first making a successful check versus the level taken in this Foible, regardless of the circumstances.

Ironclad Word indicates the character sees his word as his bond. He would sooner die than break his sworn word. The player will have to make a check versus the level taken to be able to violate his oath, whether given under duress or not.

This trait can be a great burden to the player and so is worth a DP refund equal to the level taken.

This trait is not available to those with below average HRT, and is NOT available to practitioners of magick, due to the fact that it is redundant to the magickal constraints to this effect under which they live already, as a feature of their training in the Ars Magicka.

Lion Heart The character is courageous in the face of all challenges and hardships and will add the level taken in this Foible to his A V for all checks versus privation or pain. A separate and successful check versus this Foible are required before the character will allow a single sign of discomfort or complaint to escape him. When faced with an opponent he believes it is possible for him to best, he must make a successful check against this Foible as well in order to back down when challenged.

Private Counsel The character keeps his thoughts to himself. If he has a confidante, it is probably a priest, and he avails himself of the man’s services under the seal of the confessional for his own protection.

Patience Foibles

Dedication embodies the character resolve in life, his standards of excellence and his uncompromising nature when it comes to pursuing the causes he takes to heart. It affects the degree to which he will fuss over the works of his craft to ensure the best quality of which he is capable. When things don’t seem to add up he will track down clues to discover why because he must, he is driven. When it comes to pet theories the character are like a dog with a bone until he makes a successful check versus the level he has in this Foible. Dedication can be applied to every area of the character’s life, it can certainly affect other Foibles he may have. In situations where Dedication overlaps another Foible, their levels should be added, should the character try to act contrary to the course they would dictate.

Humility Foibles

Modest the character will not toot his own horn regarding his own talents and abilities or accomplishments without first making a check versus the level taken to overcome this foible, and then will only do so upon being asked point blank. In response he will then reply only to the specific inquiry made, without embellishment or speaking of related items. The nature of such a character precludes it except in direct answer to direct questions. The bearer of this foible will abhor any high reputation that might become attached to his name by his deeds, and Fame are the last thing he will seek, especially at high level.

Gentility makes the character of a mind and spirit incapable of expressing bitter or harsh remarks about or towards others, or recriminating them for their poor treatment of others, without first making a successful check versus the level taken in this Foible. The character must accept with equanimity any treatment, however harsh or unkind, with grace and forbearance, all the while treating everyone with honor and dignity, regardless of social class or station. This is a TRUE gentility of spirit.

Lust Foibles

Lascivious is a very sensuous person with an erotic preoccupation. They cannot resist (without a successful check versus the level taken in this Foible) making sexual innuendos or even outright coarse comments when the opportunity presents itself to them. They lust after everyone who attracts their eye and will make no secret of the fact, indeed will do everything in their power to see their physical desires fulfilled.

Gluttony Foibles

Addictive Taste When faced with the offer or opportunity to indulge in the particular taste to which the character is addicted, a successful check must be made versus the level taken in this Foible in order to resist indulging. This addictive taste may take the form of wine, sweets as in hard candy or sweets as in pastry or cakes, or fruit, blood meats cooked rare, a recreational drug, but it can also take the form of a tactile addiction such as an inordinate fondness for the feel of velvet, or of silk. At half the normal DP refund, the player can narrow the addiction down so that it is only the character’s particular favorite to which this weakness extends, rich dry red wines in the French style (cabernet blends), semidry whites in the German style (Rieslings), lemon drops, éclairs of the finest quality, trifles of the freshest fruit and finest brandy, roasted young lamb spiced with cloves and garlic and cinnamon served rare, hashish or opium, the plushest velvet produced by the city most famous for it but only when etched (cut) in delicate patterns and of the deepest garnet color, silken cloth of the softest satin texture and sheen but only in the richest color of golden topaz.

The difference between Lust and Gluttony lies in the fact that Lust can be satisfied. Only the exhausting of personal resources to afford an addiction or the local resources for satisfying it will stop the Glutton, who is understandably disappointed as a result.

Greed Foibles

Tightwad requires the character to make a successful check versus the level take] in this Foible before he may spend any of his hard-won monies on anything not considered bare subsistence. He aregrudge the secondhand clothes seller his price, and even the poor rag picker, will eat porridge and gruel, the meanest foods and clothing for the least amount of money, and shelter where he may so he doesn’t have to pay if he doesn’t own his own place. He will have to win a contest against his Foible before he can make anyone a gift of any of his hard-won possessions, even for his own true love, before he may leave a tip or even use gifts or money to grease the wheels of bureaucracy to achieve his aims. The character will have no shame about this, and short of bullying and threats (which will only provide a bonus the his AV to overcoming the Foible at that instance) will not be impressed by anything anyone has to say about this character flaw.

Conniver/Hustler is a character who always has a scheme or plan to get rich quick, to succeed in business, marry well, find a treasure, rescue a princess or the kingdom, and thereby set themselves up for life due to the rewards or the gratitude of others. He always has his eye on what the other guy has and how to get it for himself. A character with this Foible must make a successful check versus the level taken in this Foible in order to be motivated to do anything for which he doesn’t have an angle by which to benefit in some way by either monetary gain or material comforts.

Suspicious expresses the character’s lack of faith or trust in his fellow man, his basic belief that just because he values the things his acquisitive nature has driven him to collect, others must want them as well. Every person approaching him is treated to the same “bottom line” treatment : what do they want from him? Everybody wants something, most likely something he has worked hard to acquire. It will take a successful check versus the level taken in this Foible to suppress this suspicion and operate on some other basis.

Sloth Foibles

Conscienceless reflects the fact that the character has no remorse, no guilt or conscience, no concern for what is right or wrong. He simply cannot rouse himself to care for the consequences of his acts so he does what he wants, to whomever he wants, whenever he wants. When anyone stands in the way of such a character doing just as he pleases he will calmly try to find a way around it, and failing that he will do his best to remove the impediment, and failing that he will very likely react like a child, with explosive, unreasoning anger. At the player’s option, especially at higher levels, the character may even be incapable of understanding how anything he wants or does is wrong and when he is punished by anyone for it insists on his right to have done just as he did. Punishment, again. brings out only his anger.

Accidia (or Acedia), also called “worldly sadness” this is a fault condemned by the Light. All should rejoice in the blessings and mercies of the Light, not linger in sadness and woe for the tragedies about them that they have no power to change. As Hamlet’s long mourning for his father’s passing and insistence on wearing funeral black, long after the event showed “a will most retrograde to Heaven,” so those bearing accidia wallow in sorrow over the wickedness and grief of the world about them, ignoring the glory of the Light, to the peril of their soul.

Wrath Foibles

High Choler indicates that when the character’s ire is provoked, anytime frustrations mount, he is refused or denied what he seeks, a successful check are required versus the level taken in this Foible or the character will strike out at the object of his rage with the nearest weapon, or leap to pound with fists or grapple (as appropriate to the character) for (HRT + Foible level) pulses, or until restrained or diverted (GM’s discretion).

Short Fuse Whenever any criticism or slight or insult is offered the character, a successful check versus the level taken in this Foible must be made to avoid falling into an anger response.

Vindictive whenever the character’s ire is up, for so long as he remains provoked, the character will have to make a successful d100 check vs. the level of the foible or take a moment to avail himself of any opportunity to do his fellow man (or woman) an evil turn, a slight, an injury, in word or deed that presents itself.

Envy Foibles

User indicates that the only or overriding interest the character will have in others is in so far as they can be of use to him, what they represent to him in the way 01 resources to be tapped. One of the most common tactics for a character with this Foible is to find someone he doesn’t have to pay to take care of the menial drudgery of everyday life, cooking, cleaning, washing, mending, etc. This sort 01 character feels the world owes him a living and feels little, if any, connection with others, and thus has no guilt over treating people this way, even those who may love him or be in love with him. It is very easy for observers to note how such a character operates, to see them swing from cold to warm in social relations once it comes to light that someone once dismissed may have some valuable knowledge or assets, after all.

For such a character to respond with true feeling of the heart in any situation requires a successful check versus the level taken with this Foible.

Pride Foibles

Calling Card/Trademark is a mark the character carries and distributes to make sure that everyone knows not only who he is but where he has been. He cannot stand to be taken for granted or glossed over. Such characters have a particular style, a way they do things or approach things. It may be the wearing of a particular style of gloves, or shoes, scarves, or liripipes on their hats, sashes, the wearing of feathers of a certain type (peacock? ostrich?) or a fondness for a particular color (winter white accented with blazing rubies), or a certain style of dress, such as hose and short cote hardie, or houpelandes with wide angel wing sleeves, or the like. It may be that the character always has a pipe in hand or mouth, but never lit, or wears a particularly fine sword but has never been known to have drawn it, always has a cup of wine in hand (sweet red, the latest vintage). Whatever the calling card is, it identifies the character, and could give the character away should he be trying to travel incognito, and especially if he is in disguise.

Flashy/Garish/Ostentatious characters have no sense of taste or style in the conventional sense. They prefer bright clashing colors and warring patterns, overdone accents, all glitter and flash. Such characters have a great tendency to be insecure the higher the Foible’s level. Their very clothing shouts “Look at me!! Look at me!!”

At higher levels the meaning goes a little deeper, and this Foible indicates that they are people of no depth and no substance. The character becomes all about display and appearances, putting one’s self on display, and how one’s actions appear, who the “right people” to associate with are, how one’s words might be received, always “on stage” difficult at best to determine what is the real substance and heart of such a character.

Self Righteous is a character who can do no ·wrong. He typically pulls others down to lift himself up. If his methods achieve his ends, he has no moral qualms as to whether they were justified. “Kill them all and God will know His own” was a phrase uttered by just such a character. If the bath water is inimical to his goals, he couldn’t care less for the baby sitting in it when he pitches it out. And bringing such a character’s flaws or mistakes to his attention, or trying to drag morality into the issue (when it obviously has no place) will only earn his disdain, ire, or enmity, depending on the persistence with which it is pursued, and the character’s ability to successfully overcome this Foible.

Vain Glory is the Foible of the glory hound, constantly seeking ways to build his reputation and social prestige, to win glory in fabulous conquests as a benefactor especially to those who can do him the most good, but also with the specific goal of being able to crow about his achievements and trade on this reputation. This is the Foible of the character with too great a sense 0″f his own honor and worth. He is certainly not above taking credit for others’ ideas after they prove successful. Failing to overcome the level he has in this Foible, every threat to name and reputation must be met and overcome, or he loses face.

Arrogant/High-Handed makes the character prone to make unilateral decisions for everyone in his company, and act on them generally without consulting anyone else, regardless of the fact that his decisions affect all in the party. This character knows all too well that the sun rises and sets over him. This is not an aspect of his life that requires discussion, it simply IS, and he accepts it. Pride is the cornerstone of the character of such a person.

Blustering Windbag is a character who always has something to say, who never, hesitates to bellow to see the man in charge when he doesn’t get everything he wants or thinks he is entitled to. He has an overblown sense of his own importance, thinks everyone should just KNOW who he is and how important, has a great penchant for creating scenes in public and for being very loud to embarrass others into cooperating with him.

Busy Body is a Foible that can easily get on people’s nerves, but can be great fur to play. Such characters are always lurking about trying to find ways to insert themselves into everyone else’s conversations, usually by asking for more information on a point in a conversation in which they were not included to begin with. They have a bad habit of button-holing people and playing twenty questions with them, trying to wheedle every little bit of not only useful information but also background from people. The character will require a successful check versus the level taken in this Foible in order to avoid inserting themselves in conversations or asking impertinent questions. They have an insatiable curiosity, not necessarily with the highest of aims, and absolutely no clue that their attentions are usually most unwelcomed. The character’s Pride would never allow them to admit that their attentions are unwonted, and they will generally take great exception to others shutting them down and turning away from them, which i1 usually the only effective means of diverting a Busy Body. The usual reaction if these cases is the obligatory “Well, I never … ” and stalking off in a huff (their favorite mode of transportation).

 

Virtue & Vice in Play

When do the Virtues actually affect roleplay and the flow of the game? That is essentially up to the GM to decide, BUT he must keep the nature of each in mind, especially when he is writing adventures. He can plan encounters that intentionally bring one or the other set of qualities directly into play, and make a note of it to remind himself when planning the evening’s play.

The uses of Virtue and Vice in roleplaying the characters are the greatest challenge for the GM during play. It means he must keep on his toes, ever watchful for moral crises and opportunities to bring Virtue and Vice into play. This is a very important piece of the medieval flavor of the game, however, and so much more rewarding to make the extra effort to utilize it. The fact that moral situations are sometimes completely subjective makes this a little difficult to referee from time to time, BUT it can also be very rewarding in the end, making the players more aware of their own characters’ personalities and the medieval-ness of the gameworld around them. The GM must keep an open mind and be willing to listen to the players. Very few situations are so black and white, although many of the situations that bring the Virtues and Vices into play are VERY obvious, and can be planned for by the GM.

If the players favor the channeling of the Virtue and Vice scores into the Foibles, that actually makes the GM’s job a bit easier, and is in fact a tactic he should choose to use with his NPC’s as well, when he has the chance. These narrow the focus and make hitting the character’s psychological buttons and testing his resolve and mettle easier mechanically while reducing the specific incidences where it comes into play directly.

The Virtue and Vice scores should rise and fall according to nature of the character’s actions during play (GM’s discretion).

Actions which truly illustrate the spirit of a Vice increase the corresponding Vice score, putting the character’s feet on that path and making that influence a little harder to resist the next time Temptation appears to test him again. In the same vein, acts which truly embody the spirit of a Virtue raise the corresponding Virtue score, making resisting the corresponding Vice easier (as applicable, not all Virtues have an opposing Vice) and doing the “right thing” harder to walk away from.

A score in a Virtue can be increased through inordinate or exemplary behavior proving the character’s worthiness (GM’s discretion), but they can be lost as well, and scores in Vice accumulated due to indulgence. As a spiritually-based practice, the uses to which magick is put have a direct and immediate effect on the character’s scores in Virtue and Vice. In addition, there are a number of different sources of “mortal mana” that are available for the casting of magicks. The use of a number of these (Death Mana, Blood Mana, Carnal Mana, etc.) have a direct impact on either Virtue or Vice every time they are tapped.

The higher the score in a Virtue or Vice, the stronger the Virtue or Vice is and the harder it is to take action in violation of it, as that Virtue or Vice over time grows to show a habit of action that can grow over time until it is considered a cornerstone of the character’s psychological make-up, ingrained in his spirit. The actual rating relative to the character’s willpower determines how strong that influence is within the character.

IF the character is ever tempted in roleplay by a situation on which a Virtue has direct bearing, or finds himself in a crisis of conscience tempted by Vice, and the d100 check against the influence is failed (Virtue) or made (Vice), the character loses one point from that Virtue score (the score can never fall below zero) or, in more serious circumstances, the player required to add one point to the appropriate Vice score AND reduce the opposing Virtue, whichever deemed most appropriate (GM’s discretion).

To give the GM a baseline, anytime a PC goes out of his way to either perform an act showing his concentration on and attention to a particular Virtue (the GM must make a judgment call which, as a few of them overlap and some actions and situations may involve more than one) the GM makes a check on d100 vs. the PC’s willpower, plus (current score in applicable Virtue).

The character’s own ego is an obstacle here.

IF the check is successful, the GM should raise the score in the applicable Virtue by one (1). If not, it remains as it was. This is all about intent. If the GM feels that the act was sincere at heart and not made for mechanical reasons by the player so as to raise a Virtue score, the roll might be skipped and the score simply raised, or the roll might be fudged to the same effect.

When a character pursues and/or indulges Vice, the situation is resolved in the same manner, but the d100 check is a HRT att. mod. check vs. the PC’s own conscience + (current score in applicable Vice).

The PC’s own conscience is an obstacle here.

When a PC is faced with the temptation towards a Vice and folds without a second thought and indulges himself, without even asking to make a willpower check because he is not sure if the PC would resist it, the GM should make a note of it. This requires a judgment call on the GM’s part, determined by the magnitude of the temptation and the current score in the Vice (if any), whether the score should be increased by one (1). The higher the score, the greater the temptation must be and the greater the number of occasions for Vice already faced before the GM should increase the score.

One thing to make note of is the great importance of INaction on a character’s part when confronted with a great need he is equipped and able to redress but averts his gaze and walks on by, or in the face of an act of great cruelty or monstrous neglect to, once again, look away and walk on by. These refusals to act should have an equal effect on the characters’ Vice scores.

The quality of a Virtue is increased in the same manner, by committing acts that are consonant with one of the Virtues, BUT those common acts that are executed in the simplest possible manner, especially in giving alms should count for little. Money is the cheapest way to pay. Devotion of time and personal energy and skills to the welfare of others is a much better yardstick for the GM to use. To give away something that means little is worth little, to give away something precious means a great deal. True acts of Virtue are performed in passing, casually and without a second thought for the loss incurred in giving, and without having been asked, and for those from whom the PC stands to gain nothing in return, not patronage or service or any other advantage and to those who need it most.

True acts of Vice are committed in passing, done coolly and casually and without a second thought, in spite of cries of protest of any who suffer from the act, and from whom the PC stands in no danger of reprisal, even indirectly, from which act the PC stands to gain no reward or advantage, against those who are as close to innocent as they may be and least deserving of such treatment.

Committing an act of cold blooded murder against a defenseless foe, innocent or not so, should automatically raise one of the Vice scores. Mass murder, especially against defenseless innocents should raise Vice by anywhere from 2 to 6 points – or more depending on the total! It was not uncommon in war for every soul in a conquered town to be put to the sword, or every man and male child, thousands at once. Those wielding the swords should suffer an increase in Vice for their deeds, BUT the one giving the order should be marked out as having the greatest cruelty, the least compassion.

The Virtues and Vices establish general modes of behavior, but there are situations in the game that can occur which are highly charged emotionally and the characters’ reactions to them should have a direct effect on Vice and Virtue – what a PC does to an arch-enemy when he finally has him alone and at his mercy may well show his qualities of either Vice or Virtue.

A score should similarly be reduced when a situation requires a Vice or Virtue check and the PC makes the check successfully to resist the impulse. In the same manner in which the scores are built, they should not be so easily knocked down again, however. The GM should use the same method by which they were built in reverse.

In this way the scores fluctuate over time. A character can slide into Shadow and even Darkness, but ALWAYS has the ability to redeem himself through choosing to mend his ways and doing his best to resist Vice and commit himself to a Virtuous life.

Roleplaying the Virtue and Vice scores can pose a bit of a challenge. Having a rating in a Virtue or Vice places certain constraints on the player to portray his character in a certain way under certain circumstances where a given Virtue or Vice in which he has built a score comes into play. These constraints are the result of the manner in which the player has already played the character, however, so it really is only becomes a means of making sure that the player remains true to character as the player has already established his personality in play.

Making multiple Virtues a focus of the character is encouraged, as it weakens the constraints placed on the player in his roleplaying of the character, but the player stands warned that Virtue and Vice scores may require successful Contested HRT Rolls be made against them if the player does not play them true (GM’s discretion). This may result in the need for the player to modify his character’s actions to coincide with what those scores indicate as far as the quality of the character’s personality/spirit. This is always subject to debate between the character and the GM, but both parties are advised to keep in mind that this is a tool for aiding in the portrayal of a character consistent with his established patterns of behavior, BUT it is NOT a club with which to beat the player, either. The degree to which a failed or successful roll affects the behavior of a character is ALWAYS up to interpretation.

While tracking the individual Virtues and Vices is useful as a reflection of the manner in which the PC’s are being played and bring some additional consistency into their portrayal in roleplay, a general score in Light and Darkness is also very helpful for Mystic characters and their sensitivities to these spiritual vibrations, and also in dealing with Spirits and spirit-creatures of Light and Darkness. These two general scores are equal to the sum of the scores accumulated in the Virtues and Vices, respectively.

When the over-all Virtue score is 2x the character’s Vice score or greater AND the over-all Vice score is 7 (+1 per 10 years of age) or less (to a maximum of 13), the character is said to Walk in the Light.

When the over-all Vice score is 2x the character’s Virtue score or greater AND the over-all Virtue score is 7 (+1 per 10 years of age) or less (to a maximum of 13), the character is said to Walk in the Darkness.

Everyone else in between is said to Walk in Shadow, some being more Dark than others and some more Light, but all have the capacity to either find the Light or get lost in Shadow and then Darkness. Even from the deathbed in Darkness one might still find redemption, BUT no one with a Vice score greater than 13 can ever be truly said to fully Walk in the Light, just as no one who has a Virtue score greater than 13 can ever be said to be wholly lost to the outermost Darkness.

Where the GM is running a game where the PC’s have some sort of score for Honor or some other form of Reputation, the overall Vice and Virtue scores should have a direct effect – insofar as the actions that resulted in the characters achieving those scores have become a matter of public record and note. High scores in Virtue or Vice give the character a certain “vibe”, so to speak, that can affect the way in which strangers react when first meeting him (Encounter Reactions, or the analogue in the GM’s game), either positively (Virtue) or negatively (Vice). If the character has the skills for concealing his true nature and intent, he can certainly maintain a pleasant public face and reputation, even rise to great prominence, especially if the character was possessed of a measure of physical attractiveness and native charm. Such skills might allow the PC to counteract the effects a high Vice score would otherwise bring Encounter Reactions (or the like) down into less favorable territory.

Once the acts that reveal a darker nature become known, it is all downhill, as was the case for the Marquise de Merteuil when her perfidy and scandalous manipulations became a matter of public knowledge with the release of her letters to the Vicomte de Valmont, who had been her accomplice, after she engineered the Vicomte’s death, in the film “Dangerous Liaisons” (1988). The final scene shows the utter destruction of her reputation and humiliation as she is shouted and cat-called by the entire audience at the opera house into fleeing.

Stumbled across Some Excellent Discussions of the Players’ Parts in the Game – Sharing them was Mandatory IMHO

Some of the best advice for players I’ve ever read.

http://lookrobot.co.uk/2013/06/20/11-ways-to-be-a-better-roleplayer/

More in the same vein by the same author. Starts a bit high-brow, but gets to the meat of the matter quickly enough. VERY good insights.

http://lookrobot.co.uk/2013/06/23/stanislavski-vs-brecht-in-tabletop-roleplaying/

and some wonderful discussion and additional thoughts in the same vein.

http://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?693153-11-ways-to-be-a-better-roleplayer

Banishing the Darkness

This is pretty directly related to yesterday’s discussion of realism. I guess I didn’t get it all out of my system.

In old-school tabletop RPG’s, the GM’s having to ask who held the light and where that person stood in the “marching order” (another old school concept) was always an acknowledged requirement because subterranean environments are by their very nature cloaked in utterly impenetrable darkness. This practice, of course, led to the advent of all kinds of ingenious ways for securing a light source without occupying a hand with the task. Attempting to keep a low profile while carry a light to avoid tripping on uneven footing was always considered a prudent goal, too. It is more than a little tough to make any attempt at stealth with a light hanging from the horns of one’s helmet – something akin to wearing a target in the dark when traversing the lair of dangerous beasts or foes. Just TRY to see past the glare – and so much for peripheral vision!

It should, of course, be standard operating procedure for a PC who is holding a light source to automatically be spotted by on-lookers out there in the darkness – assuming they are not also carrying a light-source of their own.

There goes the element of surprise.

A character either gets to see where he is going, or he gets to have stealth and the element of surprise, not both. They are mutually exclusive except through the application of appropriately designed magicks. Coming across a light-activated trap suddenly makes keeping track of who had the light and where they were standing or located in the marching order very important. In the dark underground in some deadly labyrinth, who is carrying the light(s) and where they are standing relative to the rest of the partyshould always be important, however.

Unfortunately, this quite reasonable assumption and practice has given rise to the incredible and ludicrous position that, quite to the contrary, most underground locales used for adventure sites should be or are automatically assumed to be lit by some form of light source rather than leaving the PC’s mired in the natural perpetual darkness that normally shrouds those environs.

Dealing with darkness, natural or otherwise, may be considered an annoyance or irritation by some, but that attitude shows a complete disregard for the true nature of the obstacle. True Stygian darkness, where one’s hand is not even visible in front of one’s own face, was a fact of life commonly encountered by those of the medieval and earlier eras. It was an almost palpable force that perpetuated primal fears of the unknown and unseen from earliest times that persist in our subconscious even into the modern era. It is part and parcel of the atmosphere of a cavern or “dungeon crawl”. It is the quintessence of an archetypal exploration of the unknown.

This intolerance also shows a total inability to shed the condescension and arrogance of the modern perspective towards the technological challenges of playing in a medieval milieu. Darkness underground and after sunset is a fact of life without fire or magick to drive it away. Inconvenient? Oh, well. Those who label the simple facts of the predominantly rural medieval life this way commonly strive to apply modern standards of not only convenience but comfort and bring corresponding means to accomplish those goals into the game. These are the sorts who consider taking their Winnebago© to an RV park to be “camping”. Hopefully they create Wizards or one of their ilk so they can accomplish that for themselves, or perhaps choose a different milieu to play in, one which features the modern conveniences and comforts they refuse to do without.

Whether they are able to wrap their heads around it or not, the lack of modern innovations in a period RPG setting is part and parcel of the charm of such a game. The point of playing a medieval fantasy game, or any other period one would hope, is to experience life in that period!

Some have gone so far as to stipulate that many labyrinths or “dungeons” (regardless of the actual nature or purpose of the structure, simply that it be subterranean, in spite of the actual meaning of the term) in which adventures may occur, and even natural caverns, are always to be illuminated to some degree, since only a few “monsters” in residence within (regardless of their true nature) are actually equipped for and comfortable with living in true darkness. That presumes, of course, that someone does indeed live there, or that they stay there for periods of time sufficient for them to install the more home-like amenities like candle stands or torch cressets.

These “dungeons” are often illuminated by great oil-filled braziers or stone channels that burn continuously (presumably replenished periodically with oil from some central point), or with torches in (perhaps) less travelled areas. These make sense but require maintenance by residents, or resident caretakers at the very least. These must be accounted for if there is to be any rhyme or reason to the setting.

Some GM’s might stipulate torches to which some sort of ghostly glowing balefire is affixed that never ceases to burn but without ever consuming the torches, requiring no maintenance at all, or even globes of light that drift through the air like Will-o-wykes for the sole purpose of providing illumination whither they wander, and others still might employ ceiling panels magically imbued with light – so very like the modern mind to try and recreate the look of suspended fluorescent lighting.

While it is not too much of a stretch to stipulate that natural caverns might be filled with phosphorescent fungi or lichen, or even phosphorescent wandering critters like slugs or centipedes, or the like, to say that each and every one of them IS so just stretches belief too far for disbelief to be suspended any longer.

To postulate extraordinary mineral veins that glimmer in the dark is clever, but making them commonplace is not. Employing streams of glowing lava begs the question of just how hot is that environment, but the occurrence of eerie aurora-like ghostly veils of glowing balefire undulating high above a cavern floor should be rare in the extreme if natural, or put there for the sake of daily convenience by some resident Wizard or other of that ilk – if he is still in residence and that was a priority for him. Perhaps he is dead now, though, and he spent a piece of his life force long ago to make that dweomer permanent for the convenience of those who would visit the location long after he passed into Spirit.

Well maybe.

It could happen!

Maybe his tomb is there and he wants to entice the adventurous to seek him out … maybe in death he still needs or wants something from them …

This general line of thought, of not being willing to suffer the inconvenience of dealing with the darkness, no doubt comes from the same movement in game design philosophy that decided to get rid of all the parts of roleplaying games that were ‘un-fun’. Those would be all the nitty-gritty bits of life in the mundane world we all have to deal with every day which they didn’t want to be bothered with in their gaming. A pity they couldn’t tax themselves to come up with a way to represent the ‘un-fun’ parts in a way that was less onerous in game terms instead of wasting their time coming up with ways to get around them that are so painfully transparent.

What is so terribly wrong with the (quintessential, stereotypical) idea of a dank, DARK castle interior, or underground places simply being naturally dark, and a Knave asking a fellow adventurer “Oi, be a luv ‘n bring that light over ‘ere so’s I can see, would ye?” when he has a lock to pick or a trap to disarm?

The idea of making a constant light available so everyone can see is the most pernicious of attempts at “leveling” the playing field in gaming when the playing field was never intended to be “level” in the first place. All the races are different. They are SUPPOSED to be different. The playing field is NOT supposed to be “level” for all characters in all aspects. It is SUPPOSED to be better for some in certain ways and for others in different ways, and humans are the standard because they just outnumber everyone else and don’t really have any special abilities in any way. They have none of the penalties the others suffer, either, which balance what benefits the others receive. Strengths are supposed to be balanced with weaknesses so every one’s advantage is relative, they are “equivalent”. Trying to make all the characters equal in all ways is senseless pandering. Individual strengths and weaknesses are what make each character unique. Just like the Real World.

Some ignore the need for light sources until it becomes important in the game – the same with food and water, sadly enough. As long as the characters carry some sort of light source and some amount of food and water it is simply assumed that they use them and replenish them at every opportunity, even when they say nothing in regards to doing so during play. That might be alright, for the most part, if an understanding is reached with the GM beforehand, UNLESS no attention is paid to how much they buy and how long it has been since they replenished. Some only make a point of tracking such things when they become an issue related to the action or plot in the game – such as when the PCs become stranded in a desert or on a deserted atoll. Suddenly, keeping track of food and water becomes important. What if they don’t have enough? But they muddle through because they are the PC’s, and once they reach civilization again it is assumed they replenish their supplies (providing they have the coin for it), once more ready to travel.

But how much did they buy and how long can it last?

The Role of Realism

No matter how many times Swords & Sorcery roleplaying games are called “fantasy”, the GM should by no means delude himself or allow the players to con him into allowing just anything to happen on a whim. In order for the fantasy of which that genré of TRPG consists to not only survive but flourish, it must have the depth and atmosphere of believability required to draw the players in and engage their attentions and imaginations. In doing so the GM must be careful about how far and in what directions he stretches their belief, or challenges their dis-belief, as the case may be.

Every GM no doubt has a slew of ideas for his medieval fantasy gameworld but, unless he wants to detail every stick and boulder in the world as the PC’s go, he must have something broader on which to hang it all. These are the basics the GM takes from the Real World, the common experience shared by all the players, that he can rely on and does not have to provide for them. Everyone who roleplays needs to find something that at least feels familiar in the gameworld, a point of reference just to be able to begin to relate to it, and then to the events that unfold in the course of the game within it. These are borrowed from the Real World. Grass and leaves are green, and green plants need sunlight. Gravity makes water seek the lowest level it can find and follow slopes to the lowest ground, and also makes things fall down when dropped, or when living beings trip, and land after they have been thrown. Thus, rain and all other precipitation basically fall down from the skies, blown about by the wind as they fall. People, PC’s and NPC’s, need air to breathe and water to drink, and food to sustain them. These are all basic facts with which the players are familiar, and which they expect to find working normally according to their experience in the gameworld, if not consciously looked for, then at least subconsciously.

These things form the baseline of conditions common to all fantasy worlds, and convey the essence of the value of realism.

Cutting loose and running wild in a fantasy RPG is only one of its uses, NOT its sole function. Any GM who denies the value of imbuing some details, a touch of realism,  in the environment, who glosses over it all in play and takes the easiest and simplest route at every turn through the mechanics, is basically denying himself and his players of a great deal of the fun to be had from it. As the final authority in his own gameworld, the GM can sidestep, ignore, or “house-rule” anything in these books that he doesn’t like or agree with, including the assumed and accepted basics mentioned above. However, changing any of these can have far-reaching and even unwonted consequences and can take some real getting used to by the players. In short, doing so is generally more trouble than it is worth.

The use of the term realism is NOT intended to imply a simulation, however. That would require modeling events by the use of complex mathematical equations and would be ultimately tedious and require an advanced degree in physics, geometry, trigonometry, calculus, computers, and the like. What brings the fantasy world to life and the events and characters in it is verisimilitude. That is a realistic approximation of what the players expect, the appearance that all is functioning as it is supposed to be. It applies to the way in which familiar things are used and acted upon, and in turn act upon other creatures, beings and objects, and even unfamiliar things acting in expected or “normal” ways according to the natures attributed to them by the GM’s description(s). It means that, when a young and relatively inexperienced character and a more knowledgeable, skillful and experienced character fall from a 100ft. cliff as the rocks on the lip crumble and give way, they BOTH are more than likely going to die unless the force of magick is brought to bear to mitigate the situation in some way for them, whether to dampen the damage they actually suffer, or to slow their rate of fall so there is no dangerous and sudden impact, or the site on which they actually impact has been softened to a point where it absorbs enough the impact to mitigate most of the damage, if not all, and so on. If they don’t suffer the same fate from the same threat to life and limb, how is that believable? What should differentiate a young and relatively inexperienced character from a more knowledgeable, skillful and experienced character is just that, their knowledge and experience, the frequency of success each of them enjoys, especially against stiffer challenges. In many games this just isn’t the case.

Some would argue that fantasy, the Swords & Sorcery genré in specific, is pure fantasy, based solely on myth and make-believe and the insistence on realism and logic in such an arena simply cannot be applied in conventional terms. This is silly, if not actually laughable, and at the same time a little sad. In the first breath, history is pillaged mercilessly (the ultimate source of all realism) while writing primarily medieval or Bronze Age-based Swords & Sorcery fantasy games, and yet when such creations hit the market, all ties to the Real World and the legacy of historic fact and rich cultures they have plundered are emphatically denied. At the same time, these creations are billed as medieval fantasy games, despite the fact that only what was most familiar or attractive was borrowed, especially in the case of armor, weapons, and fashion, put together higgledy-piggledy, mixing periods without even acknowledging the fact, without regard for the confusion such a practice sows and perpetuates, and without proposing any sort of reasoning why these things should all be found in use together at the same time. Very few take the time or trouble to acknowledge the traditions they borrow from, when there is absolutely nothing wrong in doing so.

The myths, legends, and folklore that have come down to the present through the historical record are the seeds from which the Swords & Sorcery genré grew, so it is the most natural, valid, and logical source for material to create such games. It can be used as is, turned all about any way at all, even twisted about just so, until it no longer even resembles what it started out as, BUT the writers should at least give a nod somewhere to the source of their inspiration for the readers’ benefit.

The people of the medieval period, as in those prior and following, believed in all things magickal. Their legacy of folklore concerning magick is extremely rich, and also rather clear as to the divisions and classifications of magick, and its effects. The folklore, fairytales and popular literature, legends, and myths provide sources for additional color for the magickal arts and the effects that could be achieved with them, which can now be clearly seen in the descriptions of the magicks provided for use in this game.

A player’s or GM’s view on magick in the here and now of today is irrelevant, the fact of the matter is that the people of the period on which this genré of TRPG is based did. It is their writings of their perceptions that have been taken and presented as the basis for medieval roleplay, as they always should have been. The availability and authenticity of the information the historical sources provide is what “realism” or verisimilitude in play is about. As it happens, this also adds to the vibrancy and depth of the fantasy roleplaying experience and makes the suspension of disbelief required to play in the first place that much easier to achieve. This is certainly a strong source of better, richer, more eminently satisfying inspiration for admittedly medieval Swords & Sorcery fantasy play than the rehashes, in which so many simply feed off of and recycle what has gone before, and the baseless fancies and musings of any of the writers of this all-too-disjointed and too-often misguided modern era. How such a wealth of knowledge, such a rich resource, could have been ignored so consistently for so long by so many is a confounding conundrum.

It has been argued that using a historic basis is mutually exclusive to the very concept of a fantasy game. This is patently false, or there would never have arisen the historic fiction genré – and what is fiction but a form of fantasy, one of its many faces. History is not somehow inviolable or sacred, to be protected from being taken and run with by authors in their literary works, or similarly in roleplaying games. A GM could easily use an accurate Real World map and a history book and dictate at which point in history his alternate universe Earth departed from the known stream of Real World history. He could just as easily use the history of the period as an accurate guide providing all the major events to create a backdrop, running adventures and campaigns that have no effect on national politics or other major events – or perhaps eventually allowing them to and at that point departing from recorded history. The historic record can be used creatively for gaming in a number of ways. The fact is, fact is stranger than fiction, and often the scenarios that can be unearthed from the history books are better than any fiction the GM could come up with on his own. And using the historic record does NOT automatically make the game a simulation of the period rather than a roleplaying game. Of course, when the GM is following the historic record closely for any reason, he might not want the players to know, or they might read ahead and arm themselves with unwarranted knowledge of the future. On the other hand, players who are steeped with an intimate knowledge of the period rivaling their characters’ own have the tools for doing some excellent roleplaying.

Unfortunately, there is a school of thought regarding roleplaying that goes so far as to suggest that those who want representative simulations of social or political events, armed combat, or anything else for that matter, or even a certain amount of verisimilitude thereof in the roleplaying games, their hobby, ought to go and do the real thing, instead. This is pompous arrogance of the most pernicious and pugnacious stripe. The entire point behind roleplay as recreation is to go places and do things as fictional characters in a fictional setting that as real people in the Real World, we never would or could in real life, if only for safety’s sake. It is the ultimate pastime for the “armchair quarterback”-types. Telling roleplayers that if they want things to be realistic, want to have a bit of realism in their games, they should go and adventure for real and put their health and lives at risk for real is flippant, irresponsible, and just plain mean-spirited – and all because the people who treat roleplaying as a hobby rather than “just a game” want a few more details in their play, to sharpen and brighten the images of their fantasy games in their minds. In most instances all these people really want is a bit more color throughout and a little sharper focus here and there, especially in their roleplaying with the NPC’s, but also in their battles, too, if it isn’t too much trouble. Just because it is “make believe”, nothing more than an extended conversation based on “Let’s Pretend” and “What if …”, does not mean that the people who play it have no right to expect or even want their games to meet the level of quality of their own fantasies and share their native sophistication, whether they are “true hobbyists” or not.

The undeniable spirit or concept of realism in fantasy roleplay is neither an ephemeral specter, nor merely some childish “bugaboo”, as it has been called in the past. The perennial nature of the issue precludes its being such. In point of fact, the longer one plays (medieval) fantasy roleplaying games, the more strongly lack of realism is felt. In the hobby of roleplaying, those who scoff and say “It’s only a game – get a life” are completely missing the big picture. Yes, each roleplaying game is just that, a game, BUT all roleplaying games taken as a group also comprise a hobby and many people find or choose those from among them which are their favorites. These individual games then become the players hobby specifically, by extension and prolonged attention and play. Those who scoff and ignore the perennial issues like realism in the effects of the rules in action, and especially in the source material, do more than the initial disservice to the games and the players – they weaken the hobby as a whole. All those who game and eventually come ‘round to acknowledge it as their hobby (that they are hooked and just can’t leave it alone for more than a week or two) eventually understand that they feel much more strongly about roleplaying than they do about other sorts of more conventional games, especially board games (for which they may well also have a taste). The added depth of play created or at least contributed to by some degree of attention to realism is an important part of the hobby of roleplaying.