GMing 101: The Art of Description, Bringing the Fantasy to Life

One of the most important features of the roleplaying game is the descriptions by which the GM brings the adventures and the gameworld itself to life for the players.  For the gameworld to be believable to the players, the GM must be able to paint a vivid picture of it in words across their minds, their imaginations. The quality of the GM’s descriptions generally depend on the GM’s grasp of the language, to start with, but can easily be improved  (as desired) by the application of method. It is too easy to lose control over the language and let what was supposed to have been a clear verbal illustration of a setting or situation devolve into confusion in the heat of the moment.  The more the GM gets caught up in the excitement of the moment, the more likely this is to happen, even if he is a college English professor. It can be difficult to keep descriptions concise and accurate and still make use of the adjectives and details that provide them with richness and color, that bring them to life in the players’ minds.

Many people, especially those new to the office of GM, have difficulty painting the images of the scenes they see in their minds’ eyes in words to which the players can all relate, especially when the GM is very excited. This phenomenon becomes even more acute when the GM is working with an original adventure of his own crafting. He is commonly much more attached to it, and thus feels more strongly about it, because it is his creation. Obviously, the goal is to bring the image in the players’ own minds as close to that in the GM’s mind as he may with mere words, to get them as excited and involved in the dramatic medieval fantasy he is trying to create for them.

With practice, anyone can learn the art of colorful and concise description. It need not be an onerous task, but it take a conscious effort. A pocket thesaurus can help the GM find new words while jotting down notes for the various scenes he anticipates running, while he is preparing, and a pocket dictionary is always handy just to be sure the words mean what they appear to mean in the thesaurus, when unsure. A regular method for approaching and composing descriptions during play can also be a great help.

In providing the descriptions of the characters’ settings, mood and  NPC’s in the gameworld, word choice will be very important. Some people think that using a wide variety of synonyms is the best way to spice up their descriptions to provide the color mentioned in this passage. This is true, and a worthy tool for the purpose, BUT only to a point. There are other tools which will help at least as much. When the GM starts using a string of synonyms all in reference to the same specific place or item, it can actually lead to utter disaster – indescribable confusion of the “@&*!%∂Î!!#@**!!!” sort. Whatever word the GM chooses to use a noun to indicate a particular place or item, he should stick with it. He can use a synonym for it in the next instance when another of the same kind of place or item occurs, but again will need to stick with that particular noun when referring to it. In making decisions regarding word choice in this way, the GM must be aware of the subtle shades of meaning in each when he uses them. The GM can inadvertently imply that something is either greater than or less than he intends in the perceptions of the players, or he may use a word which means something entirely different than the players think it does. The worst of the words that can be misunderstood in this fashion are door, gate, doorway, gateway, portal, valve, or the group consisting of antechamber, room, closet, chamber, bower, hall, vault, cyst, passage, hallway and tunnel. The GM must make it his business to acquaint himself with the subtle (and some not so subtle) differences between these.

A door can be any old door, anywhere, made for nearly any purpose, but generally just of a size to be comfortable for the passage of the average or slightly larger than average members of the race of which the builder was, or the one for whom the door way built (c. 7ft. tall x 3ft. wide). A gate implies some sort of guard or bulwark, something thick and heavy which should be closed at sundown with the beginning of the curfew against knaves and brigands, hung in the passage of a gatehouse fortification, or as part of a curtain wall. they can be split in the middle to open either one or both as a pair, or they can be a single panel pulled upwards in one piece or open via a side hinge like a conventional door. If the GM intends an ornate door composed of wrought-iron, or even one of plain bars, he will have to give a more complete description of the “gate”. Doorway and gateway imply spaces cut through a wall or fortification to allow traffic to pass through, but in which the door or gate is currently open or in which the door or gate was never intended to be hung to impede or limit that traffic. A portal can be any one of these – door or doorway, gate or gateway, but should be reserved for those of particularly grand size or ornamentation, and should especially be applied to the grand main entrances of cathedrals with their carven murals and enormous doors. Valves only come in pairs, and together they fill gateways or portals of truly awesome dimensions. They are generally very heavy, made of stone, metal, or are at least metal-clad, and are of such great weight that they are difficult, if not impossible, for a man to move even one valve of a pair alone, without mechanical assistance.

A room can be just any old room, anywhere, but if you call a room a closet, the players will no doubt assume it is a) rather small, and b) used for some sort of storage, regardless of the GM’s intent merely to emphasize its small size. An ante chamber can be virtually any small to medium-sized room, but must have another door letting on to a larger, grander chamber of some sort, whether it stands between a chamber and the hallway, or between two such chambers. There, it seems impossible to even discuss the topic of shaded meanings without using some of them. A chamber implies a larger, grander space than just the average room, in breadth and depth, at least, if not in height. A hall or Great Hall is grander still, and generally implies an oblong space generally larger than the average modern house, usually two to three storeys high, but open from floor to rafters. Vaults, on the other hand, tend to be rather low-ceilinged and made of stone, and found on the cellar level of a house, manor, hall, or castle, not always buried as basements are in modern times in northern climes. Vault can also refer to the assemblage of cut stones that form the ribs of arches supporting the ceiling of such a place, “vaulting” indicating a whole system of arches supported by regularly spaced structural pillars supporting the ceiling of some place like parts of the catacombs of Rome or a great edifice such as a cathedral. A vice is a terrible personal habit, yes, but a Vice is a sort of behavior which can imperil one’s soul if not guarded against, and lead to Shadows and thence to becoming lost in Darkness, BUT a vice is also a spiral staircase, generally narrow and buried in the wall of a building or tower, and usually winding upwards in a clockwise direction to make it easier to defend for the majority of (right-handed) Warriors. Cysts are generally relatively small room-like spaces dug in the ground, usually circular, and used for the purposes of burial, usually reached via a small hole in the center of the (sometimes domed or vaulted) ceiling or in a wall, reached by a narrow well or tunnel.

In addition, tunnels are generally passageways driven through the ground or under some hill or mountain in order to make the route between A and B as close to a straight line as may be. They can be rough-hewn, like a mine or faced with finely cut and fitted, or even polished, stones. They are NOT found in the interiors of buildings, though they may run underground between or beneath them. Corridor, passageway, and hallway are all much more forgiving than any of the previous terms., although the last should generally be avoided because of the likelihood of its being shortened in the fashion of its modern usage. On a ship these should be referred to as gangways.

Many gamers have become used to the idea of adventurers running about in subterranean labyrinths which, for the sake of convenience over the years of having played medieval fantasy games, have been named “dungeons”. The word “dungeon” comes directly into the English language from the French word “donjon”, brought over the Channel by the Normans. It properly refers only to the main stone tower or “keep” of a castle, and then only to the strong cellar or basement level with its thick stone walls where captives and hostages were held prisoner. The cellar or dungeon level of the keep is properly at least partially buried under the surrounding topography, or cut into the bedrock when the castle is built on a rugged mountain peak or rocky crest or escarpment, and was historically used for a number of purposes, chief among these being storage. These cellar chambers, or cells, may or may not have window embrasures cut in their walls to let in air and light, depending on how deep in the earth they are buried, and whether or not they face the castle’s approach. Curtain walls and batters (the outward angled bases of walls) facing the approach and thus open to enemy attack will not have any windows cut in them for the simple sake of security.

In some castles, the cellars will sometimes be divided to provide space for the kitchens closest to the food stores, that they would not have to be hauled so far  to be put to use. The heavy doors with locks were originally intended to protect the very valuable goods stored within, but this also made them perfect for locking away malefactors following sentencing, or suspected miscreants awaiting trial, convenient to the castle lord’s hall where his court baron would render judgement over him. Of course such dire accommodations for imprisonment were only for the common folk and the poor. Those with the money to pay the bribes could be provided with better accommodations, perhaps in a tower chamber where a few simple furnishings and a proper bed or cot, as opposed to the moldering, vermin-ridden pile of straw the less well-to-do suffered with. If the prisoner’s social class and station warranted it, he or she might be allowed a valet or maid, and certainly a more satisfactory quality of food and drink than the gruel and water served the common rabble, and fuel and blankets with which to keep warm.

While the cellar levels of the lord’s hall and mural towers of the castle were commonly connected to one another via a system of underground tunnels, this doesn’t exactly make for a labyrinth of the style commonly depicted in the maps used by those who publish adventures for medieval roleplaying games. Some would argue that the subterranean labyrinth has an ancient and venerable heritage in the great maze inhabited by the Minotaur, the Bull of Minos, reputed to have lain beneath the palace of Minos on the island of Crete, but this was deep beneath the palace and NOT a part of the cellars of the palace themselves, and as such is NOT properly called a “dungeon”, as some would insist.

As discussed in Chapter 1. (Part II?), it is recommended that the GM say what he means, if only for the ease of good quality communication and to ease the potential for frustration among any novice players. The GM should only call an adventure setting a dungeon when the PC’s have entered some palace or castle or other similar stone towered and walled citadel and descended into the dark cellar regions and also wants to evoke a sense of dark, dank, and musty smells, and images of stocks, pillories, and even torture devices to accompany the pitiable moans and pathetic cries of sick and malnourished prisoners drifting out from behind locked doors.

While they certainly can become the lair of a foe and a really neat place to explore in the ruins of an old tumble-down castle, the value of an actual dungeon in and of itself, apart from the castle, is strictly limited. The cellars and dungeon of an occupied castle, on the other hand, would provide space for a foe to hide and make his lair unbeknownst to his host, with ample stores to raid close at hand, especially considering the storage aspect of that level of the building. Due to the maze-like ambience it can acquire with great boxes and bales and pots and stacks of goods piled up everywhere with only meandering paths threading along between and around them, the cellars moreso than the actual dungeon area of a castle will lend itself better to this use. All that would be needed is a tunnel to provide secret access and escape from it.

The trackless pillared halls, cisterns, cysts, tunnels and chambers beneath Rome are called catacombs, not dungeons, and the convoluted network of drainage tunnels that connect with the catacombs here and there and the crypts and cellars of the churches  and great houses of the city really are little more than just sewers, while the 270 miles of tunnels running under the city of Paris are the remains of an ancient mine.

All of these are amazing places one might go adventuring, and not a dungeon in the lot.

Regardless of the fact that these places are all found underground, beneath castle, town, cathedral and church, reducing the word “dungeon” to a generic term does nothing to remind the players of the actual nature of the place in which the characters find themselves or how they came to be there. If they are in a crypt, call it that, remind them of the bones and tattered remnants of ancient winding sheets under their feet which they are scattering with every step, of the niches bearing the bones of the dead in the walls all about them, festooned with cobwebs and covered in dust. If they are in a sewer, the GM needs to say so, remind the players of the fact that the characters are ankle or knee-deep (or deeper) in a noisome slurry of gook that does not bear close examination if one wishes to keep one’s lunch down.

When it comes to providing descriptions, words are not the only tool in the GM’s toolbox. By using visual aids in play, the GM has another means of adding a great deal of color and more of a sense of reality to the medieval fantasy gameworld. If the GM is an artist, he can draw pictures, otherwise he can collect postcards and photographs from his own and other peoples’ trips, off the internet, from history books and travel magazines for settings that fit his needs, and also to find pictures of people that fit his ideas of what the NPC’s look like. This can be a real step-saver, but the GM should guard against it becoming a crutch. regardless of the fact that a “picture is worth a thousand words”, it is be a very short step from saving time to short-changing the players by denying them the impact of the GM’s verbal descriptions. Visual and verbal descriptions should be used side by side. How are the players supposed to know which words the pictures are worth. They are just pictures. The GM’s words are still necessary to breathe vitality into those dead two-dimensional images, providing the players with their meaning in the context of his gameworld.

In addition to the physical settings, the GM must set the mood for every significant situation and setting as the PC’s approach it. Scents and odors, environmental noises like the intermittent “plick-plock” of dripping water, or the gradually increasing rush and roar of rough waters as rapids or waterfalls are approached, the ancient of ancient trees in the forest as the wind moves among them, or of lake-top sheets of ice under stress, the rustling of dry autumn leaves or the soughing of a gentle breeze through trees in leaf , the soft moan of the wind through bleak and lonely places, ghostly strains of music just on the edge of hearing (when appropriate), phantom whispers, ghostly caresses in the mist or fog, and all sorts of other pieces of atmosphere must be considered. Lighting, like a cloud suddenly passing before the sun and casting all in shadow momentarily when the name of the Darkness is invoked by the fearful followers of the Light, even out of an otherwise cloudless sky, makes for great drama, as do sudden shafts of sunlight spearing down through the shadows to illuminate important sites as the PC’s approach them. This is important to mood, and marks the place in play where the players should really quiet down and start to pay close attention. The soft susurrus of a gentle rain fall should dampen the mood so they can imagine themselves trudging through it, with marked grimness if it is  also chilly. After “setting the stage” in this way, as it were, the GM should give only a brief visual description as the characters approach, carefully revealing only what the characters can see. If the weather is poor, the GM might be justified in describing for them only what the players say they are specifically inspecting, otherwise it might be pretty safe to assume they are hunkered down in the saddle with their hoods up against the weather, looking down at the road in front of them. Looking up or out is just going to get them wetter. The players will have to weigh the value of more in-depth description.

Once the characters arrive at a location, particularly after they have just opened the door to a room, the GM should only give a cursory run down of the general nature and major contents of the space beyond, and that only to the character opening the door, and perhaps the next character behind him, who can look over his shoulder (relative heights permitting). The GM should always be very aware of the limitations of the ambient light, or the light source carried by the PC’s when providing a visual description of the surroundings, especially when they are wandering around in the dark, outside at the dark of the moon or before or after moonrise or moonset, in some dark, dank cellar or donjon, or in some lightless subterranean labyrinth.

The GM should always start with the area closest to the character and immediately in front of them as far as contents, then move on to the area beyond that, then the right wall, and then the left, always being brief, touching on the high points, listing features in their most basic terms, i.e., major pieces of furniture, doors, windows, archways, alcoves – but only those that are readily visible – also any significant wall coverings like tapestries, wainscot paneling, frescoes, or the like.

The reaction(s) of any living creatures or beings occupying a location just opened or entered, whether great hall, service passage (hallway), courtyard, bower or broom closet, should take priority over any further description of the setting, especially when they pose a threat or known danger to the PC’s. The description should be reduced down to the fact that it is either a large room, cave or chamber with either a high or low ceiling when it is occupied by an object, creature, or being readily identifiable as an immediate threat or danger to the characters, unless the area entered is rather large and the threat or danger is far enough away for the PC’s to react should it decide suddenly to attack. This will give the characters enough time to absorb some additional information about the setting, as discussed on first arrival, above. Of course, drawing weapons and readying shields, etc. would probably be the wiser course of action as the foe launches itself down the length of the area at them.

In tactical situations and moments before incipient battles, when danger looms immediate, are the only times the GM can get away with “less”. All the players need to know in order to respond to these situations by way of description is the nature of the threat, its position relative to their own, and the general nature and rough configuration of the setting lying between them and immediately around that (if anything significant is there). Details should only be divulged as the situation progresses and the PC’s have a chance to take a closer look, here and there.

Engagement in battle should eliminate any further description of the location for the PC’s benefit except for providing specific details of the characters’ locations as they move about the setting, those things falling within an (AWA)-ft. radius of each character, so long as they are not located within the arc described by the Rt. Rear Flank, Rear, and Lt. Rear Flank, where the character cannot see unless he turns around.

Conversations with the occupant(s) of an area the PC’s enter will allow a more detailed description of major features, especially as the PC’s proceed into the space. The PC’s may have to enter and approach to a more comfortable proximity for conversation if the space is large enough. Still, studying the surroundings while trying to carry on a conversation may make it hard to follow. Each character will have to decide which he will be more intent on, the surroundings or the NPC with which the party is conversing. If the PC’s are paying more attention to the environment than their conversation, it is likely he will get annoyed at being treated so rudely, bringing any conversation to a screeching halt. The conversation might be passed off from one character to the next while the others study the area, if the players have the presence of mind to try such a tactic. On the other hand, the NPC might be interested only in talking to one or two of the PC’s leaving the rest free to wander around and look. In the case of sleeping guards or guardian beast(s), the characters will be free to roam about and inspect the setting, BUT Padfoot skills or an extraordinary AGL score will likely be required in order to do so without waking them.

Of course, if bound in sleep by magick or rendered unconscious rather than sleeping, no such precautions will be necessary.

The GM should avoid giving any details of the design motifs or materials until the players state they are taking the time to look more closely and carefully (especially in the case of those with good vision – high AWA  scores), or that they are actually moving into the chamber or area to take a closer look. This is the initial examination phase. At this point things “seem” to be or “appear” to be as described, as only their most obvious attributes are discernable. Being somewhat vague is perfectly acceptable, but the GM must avoid misleading the players, especially when the PC’s move in for closer examination. The GM may start out by mentioning that there “appear to be two doors in this room aside from the one on whose threshold you are standing …”, when in fact, one of those doors is a fake, nailed to its frame and laid flush against the masonry wall running behind it, to draw attention away from any number of other doors which have been hidden from sight by being made to conform to the architectural details of the chamber’s design and décor, awaiting a much closer and more careful examination of the walls to discover. Doors, windows, archways or alcoves, perhaps allowing access to a “vice” or staircase, and other similar features can just as easily lie hidden behind some large arras hanging from the ceiling as a decorative piece of deception, only evident once a curious character has pulled it away from the wall to see what is behind it.

When the characters are alone and/or otherwise left to their own devices to poke around and explore will be the time the GM should encourage the players to ask questions about their surroundings and take the time to answer them fully. During this phase of play, the GM must make sure that the players understand that detailed descriptions and any probing tenor of their questions indicate a physical probing and searching actions on the part of the characters, by implication. Whenever the divulging of certain specific information in response to a particular PC question cannot have been obtained in any other way except through an action on the part of the character which remains implied but has not been verbally allowed, usually involving contact with the thing examined, it will be the GM’s responsibility to make sure that the player understands that he is implying that the character is performing that act even though he has not said so, and agrees that it is indeed what he wants to do. This understanding must be established first, before the information is divulged. This is of VITAL importance where tricks and traps of some sort (regardless of whether mundane or magickal in nature) are involved, attached to the object or feature examined and about which the detailed information has been requested.

Contact with it on the part of the PC must be established first.

By seeking to verify the character’s actions, the GM actually provides the PC with the opportunity to back up a half-second and perhaps check for traps, if he is trained as a Huntsman or Draughlatch or Roberdsman, or call another character over to do so for him, and perhaps ask that those who have the arcane knowledge to do so check for the presence of magick, if the character cannot do so himself.

This procedure saves the GM from unintentionally tipping his hand by tripping the trap or springing the surprise on the PC(s) under the presumption of the character’s action, then having to recant it when the player protests. This results in the players being given an unfair advantage, basically rendering the trick/trap useless and the time that went into developing it wasted. Telling the players to disregard what has been inadvertently revealed because their characters do not know the danger that awaits them is absurd.

The game takes place in the imaginations of the players, who now know.

The player in question can claim he never stated the action nor intended to, in spite of the implication in the question, he didn’t understand the situation properly. In the interest of fairness, the players’ understanding of the relationship between the environment and their characters is what must be established in any situation where those characters are in danger, especially when the effect of that danger hinges on a specific sort of action on the PCs’ part(s).

Sleeping guards and guardians rousing suddenly from sleep, and similar NPC’s or beasts lying in wait hoping to leap out upon the PC’s with the advantage of Surprise will allow the PC’s to proceed into the setting and explore it at their own pace, up to a point. That point will be the arrival at the spot deemed most effective for those in hiding to spring forth from cover and attack as many as they can reach at that point. However, the details of planning and executing ambushes, the stalking habits of beasts and how to emulate them in play, how to determine the timing and even whether or not they will attack (if the PC’s are too numerous, they might not) are all provided in the Bestiary.

When providing a description of the characters’ foes, regardless of their type, the GM must be careful not to give the game away. When it is time for a NPC foe to strike at one of the PC’s, the GM must never say “Bitsy the Knave thrusts with her misericorde at your Warrior, Ethan Thudnblunder, piercing his padded armor and sticking him in the Thigh.” How is Ethan supposed to know a) that the girl’s name is Bitsy, and b) that she is a Knave? And if poor Bitsy was already known to the PC’s but clad in a disguise to make her appear as a man in the first place, the GM would really have blown it. “Bitsy the Knave?! But I thought she was dead!” Oh, well. Not any more. This sort of lapse is only acceptable when the PC’s can see their foes clearly for who they are and already know with whom they are dealing, when the PC’s recognize the foe for having been faced with him a time or two before. This just isn’t that likely to be the case if the PC’s are new to the game world in the beginning of their first adventure, or in the beginning of any adventure when the NPC has only just been introduced.

In the same vein, when the PC’s are being attacked in the middle of the night by some ravening beast(s), the GM must not say “Three were-wolves come leaping into the circle of firelight, one of them taking a swipe at each of you with their vicious claws …” when the were-wolves are in full-wolf form. Sure, they may be a little bigger than the average wolf, and a little meaner, but how are the C’s going to be able to tell the difference between them and common mundane wolves, or that perennial favorite the “Dire Wolf”, especially at first glance in the middle of the night and by flickering firelight? Highly unlikely! A character of one of the magick-wielding trades might sense the magickal aura about them, know for sure if he touched one or one touched him, or if he took the time to perform a Divination – while in the middle of battle. The fact that their weapons of common steel didn’t affect them would be a fairly big clue, at least revealing the fact that they are supernatural in nature. Another clue might be the fact that they will fight together, maybe even in formation as a team, and will respond to the advice or instructions shouted between the PC’s to foil their plans, indicating they understand the spoken word and thus possess an unusual intelligence.

For the sake of clarity, the GM must finish with one thing before he starts another. If the GM starts with “There is a door in one wall …” and gives some dimensions, then continues “and another door in the next wall …” and mixes in some more dimensions or a little description (perhaps it is a fancy decorated door of some kind) and then continues with “There is also a scrivener’s stand and a tall joinery stool against one wall and a tapestry beside the door in the next wall …” and keeps going with “Oh, and a set of crimson velvet curtains swagged on either side of the fresco on the next wall …” he should not be surprised if he gets a response like “Hey, wait a minute – there are five walls? Is the room pentagonal in shape?” or simply “Hunh?” from the players. The GM should start with the features and objects in one area and finish with that area before moving on to the next, and be sure to let the players know the direction in which he is moving about the room as he is giving the description. This is where having a standard method comes in handy. Stick with the format that is most comfortable. Starting right in front of the PC’s, middle distance, then farthest, then moving around the perimeter from the right counterclockwise around the room, or vice versa, or perimeter first and then the middle ground, as desired. Of course, when there is some astounding feature, some fixture, object, creature or being that is grandly huge or large and monstrously ornate and which obviously dominates the space or comprises an obvious focus of the room’s design and décor, the GM should make a point of describing that first. This is no doubt where all eyes will first be drawn.

If the GM takes the process described here and breaks it down into an outline format from which he never departs, despite the fact that this can aid him in making his notes in preparation for the game, he also runs the risk of making the descriptions sound stale and “canned” or contrived even when they are original. The GM must always try to make the game sound fresh, lively and even urgent.

A Few Words About Character Mortality & Realms of Myth

Unlike some other Swords & Sorcery roleplaying games, the options for bringing a dead character back to the world of the living are limited in RoM and are among the most rare and difficult magicks to find (being of the greatest Sphere of Power) and then learn. To make matters worse, most such magicks have only a small window of time in which they can be attempted before death becomes truly incontrovertible. The old stand-by of “resurrection” just isn’t very likely to be an option. That such an act of deific grace and intervention should have become so common in so many gamers’ medieval fantasy game worlds simply boggles the mind.

In writing Realms of Myth, I took a step back to look at the whole issue of mortality and especially the prevalence of resurrecting characters in the hobby. I couldn’t help but come to the conclusion that, in the case of resurrection, such events are so incredibly huge in magnitude as to be the sort of thing that religious cults are spontaneously formed around, just like the Real World. Securing the resurrection of a dead PC, or even NPC for that matter, cannot be a service one goes to the gods to be performed on demand, much less command, not even by a holy Mystic anointed by the gods Themselves, and certainly not for any character who has not taken the time during his life to cultivate the STRONGEST ties of faith to a religion whose teachings he has adhered to faithfully and followed after the fashion of a Mystic, like a saint. Reducing resurrection to a simple mercantile transaction – rekindling of life in return for mere coin, no matter how large the sum – is nothing short of a travesty of the whole concept, the ultimate devaluing and disrespect for such an extraordinary gift. 

If the GM expects the players to believe in his world enough to game there for any extended period of time, life must be shown to be far too precious a gift to squander. Death must remain and be shown to be a deterrent to foolishness, meant to lend caution and prudence to the PCs’ actions.

IF the GM does have some PC spontaneously resurrected, it could perhaps be for a short duration only, in acknowledgement of his exemplary life and service to the gods, and only for the purpose of tying up loose ends, perhaps only for as long as needed to finish the adventure (or at most the current storyline of the campaign) in which he met his demise – or the following one, provided it is of the nature of “bringing the Bad Guy to justice who killed me” sort. Afterwards, the character should be gathered up again by a host of spirits of his god(s) and ascend (or descend, as the case may be) to his final reward. Resurrection is just too great a power to wield and a gift to be given away. It certainly shouldn’t be something the PC’s do for one another at will. It is an ability that should rightfully remain reserved for the gods (GM’s) use alone. And allowing such a service to become commonplace, even if administered by the hands of the gods, destroys the players’ respect for Death as a consequence of their characters’ actions, and compromises the respect for the gods. As if one resurrection were not a grand enough gift of the god(s) the first time, the very concept of having characters being brought back to life over and over again by the gods just doesn’t make sense – beyond that, it boggles the mind … again. The hubris in asking the gods to send someone back over and again who just can’t seem to keep himself among the living is just TOO enormous.

The gods should never be so easily tapped for favors of ANY kind, much less those of that magnitude, not even by Mystics.

Familiarity breeds contempt.

Characters who are sure of their return from death usually fall prey to arrogance and foolhardiness. They may even come to expect to be resurrected after they die.

To make matters worse, the trend in characters in more modern RPG’s tends towards amped-up dynamos with portfolios of astounding and dangerous powers and abilities, obviously heroes in their own right from the get-go, head and shoulders above the commoners who surround them. This stands in stark contrast to the characters of the older games played by those of us who grew up with the hobby, which always started out as little more (very little) than average folk with nothing more than a simple desire to make something of themselves

In the old-school games, we all merely aspired to being heroes and, more importantly, many of us died valiantly trying along the way. We recognized that the world was a wide and dangerous place we had to explore and get to know. There were many foes far greater than us that we had to walk carefully around, biding our time until we had earned the skill and power necessary to face them. In our fights, when faced with inescapable death, we made our deaths count for something. Our characters were us, the underdogs, the most popular kind of heroes once we finally arrived, for we came from the same place as everyone else in the gameworld around us. We were their hope, perhaps the hope and inspiration of their children.

The characters in the more modern games commonly start play in a state noticeably above the common people around them. In some cases they are practically godlings by comparison, able to do simply awesome things. They never walked in fear into ruin, cave or dungeon dank knowing they might never come out alive. They are just so powerful right out of the box than the mainstay foes of the old games, the orcs, goblins and kobolds and other fantasy races, and especially such common but deadly Real World beasts as lions, tigers and bears (oh, my!!), are just too weak for them to bother with. By their reputations alone they attract henchmen to deal with such trivial annoyances. The old-school characters we played back in the day had a healthy respect for death and a sense of their own mortality that the newer generation just doesn’t – or just barely, in any event.

IF the characters are dropping like flies so regularly that such a holy and mystical service becomes necessary to save the players from constantly having to dive back into the PG to generate new characters, something is wrong with the way the game is being run. RoM was specifically written to give the characters a very real fighting chance from the get-go. In such circumstances either the players are doing incredibly stupid things with their characters, or the GM is killing characters off on purpose, or is completely unable to find the balance point in challenges for the character, despite the advice contained in the pages of his GHB’s, some combination thereof. There isn’t much the GM can do about foolish characters except hope they will learn to act more prudently and wisely, but the GM himself has a duty to only test the mettle of the characters in play, and to do so without actually killing them. The PC’s should not ever need such an extreme remedy as resurrection except as a result of their own folly, and foolish and/or arrogant characters shouldn’t even be candidates for such noble dispensation from the gods as resurrection in the first place.

Even the effects and availability of magickal healing have been limited  and the most complete and total of restorations removed to the highest Spheres of magick to preserve the dangers of battle. When the characters put their health at risk, no matter how worthy the cause, there must be consequences to their actions, and these should be very real and debilitating. The risks must be commensurate to the goals pursued. The ready possibility of being brought back from the dead or back from death’s doorstep, being instantaneously healed without even a residual scratch from even mortal wounds or maiming on demand, robs the players of any sense of their characters’ mortality, and with it, any sense of the weight of the consequences of their actions.

Having a character in the party who is a member of one of the magick-wielding trades has been deliberately made insufficient by design to provide the party members with protection for life and limb. To provide for those needs, such a character must be versed specifically in the magicks necessary to affect wounds and healing, yes, but those are best used in conjunction with one of the mundane healer trades, most notably Barber, Surgeon or Physician. Only then is he really equipped to work on the party’s behalf to aid his fellow PC’s to quickly recover from injury, to assess their wounds after battle to identify the most dangerously wounded, so they might survive what would otherwise be mortal wounds, or crippling or maiming blows, suffered when the characters aren’t quite quick enough on the uptake to get out of danger or in polishing off their enemies in battle. With the proper skills, a magick-wielder can lessen the severity of wounds, spreading them among generous, noble-hearted compatriots (or perhaps livestock) so they are more easily borne, and perhaps even to prevent later death from infection and creeping rot by keeping them clean, and also accelerating the rate of healing. All these magickal skills have limits, too, especially time limits in the cases of the more powerful magicks, hedging them ‘round. What are the PC’s to do when the one stumbling around Stunned from being hit or  lying on the ground senseless and mortally wounded, or unconscious from a blow to the head, is himself their healer-magician, no help to anyone, and with other party members lying direly wounded, as well? With the nearest reliable, skilled healer or magick-wielder in a village a day away, or in a town a week’s travel beyond that, what can they do? Moving the wounded may kill them.

This is all a part of the way in which the abilities and capabilities of the characters and the game system itself have been balanced, and should in no way be tampered with or altered. These facts and conditions are intended to give the PC’s pause, to give them a healthy respect for their characters and their limitations, especially their states of health and eventual mortality. Even the elfs, immortal by dint of their close bond with Spirit, unlimited in years and immune to common mortal disease, can still die, and do so more permanently in the mortal realm than any of the races of Man bearing true mortal blood. With a little caution and prudent judgement on the part of the players the magicks shouldn’t be needed to prolong the characters’ lives, but are there to provide more of a safety net to be used on occasion at need, OR to give the character’s an edge in recovery so they can come back at their foes more quickly than is likely to be expected of them.

The various healing magicks generally also carry aspects that can be used for attack in battle, but their primary purpose in the game is to be a safety net so the PC’s feel safe or confident enough go ahead and try something a little reckless now and then in the pursuit of adventure, engage in some flamboyant swashbuckling, rush headlong into battle like the heroes they are supposed to be! Safety nets can break when used over and over, however. If the PC’s get carried away with taking needless risks out of hubris acquired from surviving too many rough scrapes, they are likely to find out just what the limits of their own safety nets are.

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.

A Word about Character Names

Although a name is not necessary to generate a character and is not really required for a character until he is actually brought into play, the name chosen for a character makes an impression on those he meets and says something to the other players about the character, even if only on a gut level. Having a character name, even if only in part, going into the character generation process may actually help guide the player’s hand from time to time as he goes through it. Many of the names chosen for roleplaying characters embody the essence of the character, exemplifying who and what he is, or they can be made amusing by the use of irony in contrast, as in the naming of Robin Hood’s rather large associate “Little” John.

The same standards and approach discussed for PC names should be observed by the GM when determining the name of a NPC, as well.

Family names, or “surnames”, while in common general usage among the people of the period of the game (particularly in towns), will be hit-or-miss in regards to the source from which they are taken, whether origins or trade or parents’ names. Many surnames were taken from the trade practiced (“Tailor”, “Smith”, “Walker”, “Tinker”, “Tiler” (Tyler), “Cooper”, etc.) and would change with the trade practiced from one generation to the next, or would simply be made up of the father’s name with the suffix “-son” attached. One of the most common identifiers attached to a name as a form of “surname” was the village or town of origins, but generally only when a person has travelled out of the district in which he and his family are known, to distinguish him from those of the same name who are local. The player can always go to the GM to get a list of place names for the area he plans the first adventure to take place in to put to this use.

Sobriquets are often used to distinguish father and son who bear the same name, especially “the Elder” and “the Younger”, or between siblings with the same name, but any appellation might be used to distinguish one from another who has no sobriquet at all in the same family, or who has a different sobriquet. The practice of naming more than one child after the father is often followed by parents trying to insure that at least one child survives to carry the father’s or mother’s name on, to give it again to the next generation. These sobriquets also tend to be very descriptive or convey an impression.

Sobriquets such as “Longshanks” like the sample character, Bictric; “Ill-rede” (bad counsel); “Dragon-” or “Dwarf-” or “Elf-Friend”; “Even Handed”; “Foe Cleaver”; “Arm Strong” or “Strong Bow”; “the Bloody”; “the Swift”; “the Just”; “the Red” (-haired, or “Rufus”); “the Unready”; “the Fair”; “the Gold” (-haired); “the Good”; “the Insouciant”; “Wind Rider” or “Lightning Rider”; “of the Long Sand”; “the Lucky” or “the Hapless”; “the Bastard”, or the like. The adoption of surnames for general use was a means to aid in identification of citizens on the tax rolls, and an acknowledgement here of the practice followed in the period of the game.

It will not be uncommon, either to see a name bearing both surname and sobriquet, in an effort to assure that there will be no confusion over identity.

Naming can be key in establishing the medieval-fantasy flavor of the identity of the character, so the player should be as free and creative as he likes in coming up with a name. BUT the player should keep in mind that “Destrier Strongbow” is not a very appropriate name for a quiet, scholarly Wizard or delicate Courtier who quakes at the thought of physical violence or the possibility of being hurt, unless the character’s father was a great Warrior of renown who had originally pinned great hopes of his son following in his footsteps, and the player wants to disarm those meeting him and get them laughing at him when they find out his name, leading them into underestimating him. Then it becomes a useful joke. Perhaps the character will be a prideful coward, and when he gains the strength in skill and knowledge that comes with advancing in his trade he will be a force with which to be reckoned and his name will no longer be a joke.

A character can always be set up to fulfill the promise of a name this way, in ways never imagined by his parents and siblings. Of course, for the simple respect of his fellow Warriors, a huge strapping lad who wades into rank upon rank of foeswith gusto who is named Wendel Milquetoaste by his parents would probably give himself a more appropriate professional name at the end of his apprenticeship, or amend his given name by trading the surname for a sobriquet like “Deathstalker” or “Doomslayer”, for example.

The following roster of names has been provided for the player’s reference because truth is always stranger than fiction, and there are some really great and strange actual period names included. The more common and popular of these will be readily available. Some are hold-overs from the Anglo-Saxon period and others are French imports brought by the Norman conquerors. The player should keep in mind the fact that England was a melting pot, historically, with Celtic roots, the influence of Roman-brought Latin scholarship, Anglo-Saxon remnants, and Norman French traditions. While the names included reflect these varied heritages, they are NOT divided according to their cultural heritage. These can be discerned fairly readily in most instances, though.

Period Men’s Names

Aethel(h)ard, Aethelstan, Aidan, Aimar, Aethelward, Aethelwold, Aethulwulf, Adalbert, Alastair, Albert, Aethelbeorht,

Aldred, Ealdred, Alan, Aleyn (Alain), Aldwyn, Aelfrede (“elf counsel”, Alfred), Algar, Alger, Aelfgar, Alured, Alwin, Alvar,

Aelfhere, Alvin, Alwine, Aldwine, Aelfwine, Aethelwine, Alexander, Alix, Ambrosius, Angus, Andrew, Ansculf, Anthony

Archibald, Arcenbaldus, Arlebaldus, Arlaund, Arley, Arnold, Artur, Artor, Arcturus, Arthur, Aubrey, Aulay, Austen, Austin,

Austyn, Osten, Ostin, Augustin(e), Aylmer, Aethelmaer, Baldwin, Bartholomew, Barnabas, Basil, Bede, Bedivere, Bennet,

Benedict, Bertram, Berwyn, Bern(h)ard, Bevis, Bictric, Blair, Blei, Bors, Brandon, Brian, Burton, Canute, Cerdic, Charibert,

Charles, Chad (Cead), Ceadd(a), Clarence, Clement, Colin, Conrad, Constantine, Crispin(ius), Darryl, Donald, Dunstan,

Edmund, Edwin, Eadwine, Elmvi, Emeric, Ethel(h)ard, Ethelbert (-beorht), Ethelstan, Ethelward, Ethelwold, Ethelwulf,

Eubolo, Eudo, Eudes, Eustace, Finn, Felix, Frederick, Gafiot, Galahad, Gaheris, Gareth, Gaston, Gawain(e), Giric, Geoffrey,

George, Gerard, Gerhard, Gerald, Gervaise (Jarvis), Geraint, Gilber(t), Godwin, Greash, Guillot, Guala, Harduin, Harvey, Haymo,

Hamelin, Henry, Hengest, Hereward, Horsa, Hugh, Harold, Harry, Honorius, Hilarious, Humphrey, Hubert, Humbert, Idhel,

Irwin, Ivanhoe, Isambert, Jack, Jacob, James, Jasper, John, Julius, Kenneth, Kenric, Kendric, Kerrick, Cynric, La(u)ncelot,

Lamorak, Lawrence, Lewes, Lewis (Louis), Leofric, Levric, Lionel, Logan, Lucien, Malcolm, Matthew, Michael, Milton, Morgan,

Morcant, Murdoch, Morton, Nathan, Nicholas, Noel, Ogier, Oliver, Odin, Olvinus, Ulwinus, Osbern, Osbert, Oswiu, Offa, Osric,

Orlando, Owen, Pandulph, Pelayo, Peregrine (-inus), Peryn, Percival(e), Peter, Piers, Philip, Picot, Ranulph, Ralph, Rory,

Raymond, Reginald, Richard, Robert, Robin, Roger, Roland, Roderick, Rede (“counsel”, Reed), Reinhold, Reynold, Seymor,

Saebert, Siward, Simon, Sheldon, Sherman, Stephen, Tasso, Thaddeus, Theobald, Theodore(-ic), Theodosius, Thomas, Todd,

Tristan, Vergil, Vortigern, Walter, Waswic, Wat, Wigstan, Wayne, Wilhelm, William

Period Women’s Names

Adelicia, Aiglentine, Ada, Adeliz(a), Adelina, Agnes, Alys, Alis (Alice), Alais, Aelis, Alicia, Aldgith(a), Aldreda, Alida, Alina, Althea,

Annes, Annys (Annis), Annibel, Amabel, Amanda, Amy (Ami), Amice, Amisia, Anabel(-la), Annora, Arabella, Araminta, Ariel,

Arnburga, Auda, Aurelia, Aurora, Averil, Aver(h)ilda, Barbara(-y), Basilia(-ie), Beatris(-ice, -ix), Belle, Berengaria, Blancheflor,

Brian(n)a, Bridget, Bryony, Catherine, Kate, Katherine, Cecily, Céciles, Celestine, Clementine, Clare (Clair), Clarissa, Clot(h)ilda,

Chita, Charlotte, Darla, Daisy, Daphne, Delphine, Drusilla, Dulcine(-a), Dorothea, E(a)dith, E(a)thelbalda, Ethel, Ever(h)ild(a),

Everhildis, Eleanor, Elizabeth, (E)Liz(a), Emma, Bess(ie), Beth, Lisbeth, Lisa (Liza), Eade, Emma, Emmota, Erembourc,

Eremine(-a), Emmeline(-a), Ermingard, Etheldreda, Evageline, Ferne, Fiona, Flora, Florabel, Georgina, Githa, Gretchen,

Gwenburga, Gwendolyn, Gwenhwyfar (Jennifer), Guibourc, Heather, Hellisent, Helen, Helga, Hermengart, Hestia, Hildegard,

Honor(i)a, Iris, Isabel(la), Isabeau, Ida, Ismay, Isolde, Ingoberg, Jacquette, Jeanette, Joan, Julia, Juliette, Juliana, Karensa(-za),

Kimbra, Leonora, Lea, Leda, (O)Livia, Laurel(ea), Louvaine, Louvenia, Lyla, Lyrabel, Mabel, Magota, Margaret, Margery,

Marjory, Marie, Mary, Mat(h)ilda(-is), Maud(e), Maurine, Millicent, Morgaine, Morganna, Morgause, Or(i)abel, Ottilie(-is),

Pansy, Philomena, Plaisance, Plectrude, Rose, Ros(a)lynn, Rosamund(a) (“rosy mouth/lips”), Scarlet, Sidony(-ie),

Sigrid, Sophia, Tamsin, Tansy, Theodora, Theodosia, Tyne, Ursula, Valeria, Viola, Violet, Wanda, Winifred, Wilhelmina,

Willamina, Ydain, Yvain, Ygraine

The Language of the Medieval Fantasy Gameworld

The language of the medieval period of the game can provide an interesting avenue to be explored during play. Period language can be very colorful or just downright odd, and the use of a few phrases here and there during play can be quite a bit of fun. Adapting some of the language forms to a character’s speech during a game can greatly enhance the air of fantasy that surrounds a gaming session. The player might start with a single catch-phrase for his character, such as “Yea, verily!” or “Hail and well met!” or “Good morrow” or “In sooth, …”, or an oath like “Burning Spears of Light!”, and build from there, throwing in a “Hold, vartlet!” or “Gadzooks!” or “’Zounds!” here and there. Simply changing the pronouns “you” and “your” for “thee”, “thou”, “thy” and “thine” for a posh (noble or wealthy) character, rolling the “r” as is done in the romance languages, all can instantly change the air and enhance the period feeling of one’s roleplaying.

The following glossary presents a great many archaic turns of phrase and vocabulary, most of them Shakespearean but some earlier, with their meanings, to help the player get into the mood of the period. Shakespearean is about as early as the jargon still remains understandable, in large part, and what passes for “period” for the wide majority of fans of the milieu.

Glossary of Period Vocabulary

Period Term Definition

affrighted = “frightened”

alack, alas = an exclamation or interjection of woe similar to “Woe is me”

an = “if”, as in “I would have done, an he swore me to it.” for “I would have done it, if he had made me swear to do it”

anon = “later” in the sense of “presently”, “momentarily” or “shortly”, as in “I will start shaking anon, my fear has not arrived yet.” for “I will start shaking presently, as soon as I become afraid”

armed, in arms = clad in armor, regardless of whether those so described are bearing weapons or not

armed at all points = dressed and ready for battle or tourney

armed to all rights = completely armed and fully equipped, ready for war

arrant = “notorious”, not to be confused with “errant”

arras = a tapestry hanging, named for the great city of weavers called Arras, in the Low Countries, where the great majority of the finest in quality among their kind were woven

art = “are”, as in “Why art thou come?”

assay = to set out to accomplish a task

ay, aye = “yes”, the first pronounced as the letter “a”, the second as the letter “i”

beauteous rare sight = a person or thing of astounding beauty

behoove = to be to one’s advantage, to be necessary, fit, or proper, as in “It behooves thee to learn of the pitfalls along the path thou wouldst tread”

betwixt = “between”, often contracted as simply “ ‘twixt”

bodkin = a small, double-edged dagger-shaped knife, so named for the common Renaissance ladies’ practice of concealing them in their bodices of their gowns

blackguard = a person of no honor or morals, pronounced “BLAG-gerd”

bring an action at law = to file suit in the courts

caitiff = one who is puny, sickly, poor, miserable, unfortunate and wretched; (later) a base and mean, wicked and cowardly and/or despicable person

cannikin = a small, can-like, handle-less drinking cup

certes = “certainly”

chaffer, haggle = to bargain, to argue the price of goods or services so as to bring it down

charlatan = one who makes unwarranted claims in selling goods and/or services, such as a vendor of quack remedies, prating on in public so as to gather a crowd, imposturing or having pretensions to great skill, ability, or knowledge he does not have; a “Trickster” or confidence-man

choler = “anger”

churl = a surly laborer or servant-type, sometimes used as an insult, depending on context; from the Nordic “ceorl”

clepe = to call, to name

clod-pate = block-head, dolt, slow or stupid; also “clod-poll”, “clot-pate” or “clot-poll”

cloth-eared = hard of hearing

cloth-head(-ed) = thick-headed, slow, stupid; also “clot-head” or “logger-head”, see clod-pate

comely = physically attractive

commonalty = the combined mass of the free and landbound peasantry; a collective term generally used by nobles and royalty, the clergy, and affluent townsmen – not unkindly meant

craven = “cowardly”

curmudgeon (in period) = a grasping, avaricious person, a miser

doggebold = hired muscle, a bully-lad and lackey; “dog-bold”, or ‘bold dog’ with no more brains than an animal, who bares its teeth on its master’s behalf, generally used as an insult

doth = “does”, formal speech of the upper class

doughty = tough and strong, as in “a most doughty warrior”

drab = a woman of easy virtue, or to associate with such women, as in “He drabs about in most unseemly fashion”

ere = “before”, as in “… ere long”, or “… ere thou dost leave this place”

fetching = physically attractive

fie = either “to heck with it” or “for shame”, as in “Fie on’t! Ah, Fie!!”, or “Fie, sir, fie! She trusted thee!”

flagon = a large, round-bellied pitcher with a narrow neck flaring out at the rim, with a thumb-tabbed lid hinged at the top of the handle in the same fashion as the lid on a German stein, with a standard capacity of 2 quarts and common throughout medieval Europe

fordoes = “ruins” or “dooms”, as in “In so doing, he fordoes himself”

fortnight = a period of time of two weeks in duration

futter = a coarse commoner’s (farmer’s) term for physical intercourse

gadzooks = an exclamation or interjection, a “minced oath” used in polite company when stronger language is intended but giving offense must be avoided; a contraction and corruption of “God’s hooks” referring to the nails from the cross, an offensive blasphemy

garderobe = “toilet”, also called the “Jakes”, “Necessarium” or “Reredorter”

gift = to give a present, as in “I gifted it her” or “See how he doth gift me with my every passing fancy”

go forth = when one must go to a particular place it is more proper to ‘go forth’ to that place, as in “Yea, and I did go forth to that place”

gramercy = either “thank you” or an exclamation of joy or surprise

hail = either praise, a greeting, origins, or to indicate good health, depending on context, as in “All hail his Lordship!” or  “Hail and well met, my friend!” or “Whence dost thou hail?” or “He is a hail and a hearty one”

hence = “away”, as in “Get thee hence!”

henceforth = from this point in time forward

hither = “here”, as in “Bring it hither” or the phrase “hither and yon” (here and there)

hold = either “stop” or “still”, as in “Hold, vartlet!” or “Hold thy tongue!”

huzzah = an exclamation of approval commonly used by audiences and crowds in the same manner as “Bravo!”, pronounced “huzz-AH!”

is’t = a common Shakespearean contraction for “is it”

jack = a common mug of shaped, sealed leather, prepared in the same manner as cuerbully

jackanapes = one who clowns about and carries on like a monkey for the amusement of others; a corruption of “Jack-of-Naples”, a slang term given to the [performing] monkeys and apes popularly available in that city in the period of the game

knave = a thief, a person of low morals and no honor

lemman = female lover, mistress, but in the sense that the man has none other besides her

‘lest = “unless”, as in “… ‘lest it come back to haunt thee”

“Let us away” = a proposition from one in a group for all included to depart for some other place

lief = “rather”, as in “I’d as lief  we’d not come hither”

list’ = a common Shakespearean contraction for “listen”

losel, lousel =  “louse”

lout = simple bumpkin, certainly unsophisticated, perhaps even a bit slow-witted;  a somewhat disparaging or condescending term generally used to describe those from simple rural origins, especially when first arriving in a more urban setting

make haste = to hurry or to command another to do so

matter = an issue or point of debate or contention, as in A: “What is the matter?” B: “The matter ’twixt whom?”

mileway (MILE-way) = the smallest unit of time counted by medieval folk prior to the invention and widespread use of the mechanical clock; the generally accepted period of time it takes the average man to walk a mile, used especially by craftsmen to time the lengths of their beer breaks during the workday

miscreant = an unbeliever, holder of a false or unorthodox religious belief, a heretic or infidel, thus, a depraved, base and vicious person

mislike = doesn’t like, as in “It mislikes me greatly” for “It doesn’t please me at all”; the object of the dislike is the subject of the verb, rather than the object

moble(d) (MOB-uhl) = to wrap the head as in a veil or hood, hooded or veiled

mountebank = a charlatan, a confidence man, a boastful and unscrupulous pretender, a man of false pretenses and airs, trickery or buffoonery; a trickster

muddy-mettled = slow of wit, slow on the up-take, dense or stupid

nay = “no”

ne’er = “never”

niggardly = “stingy”

o’er = “over”

office = in administration, including government positions, the list or scope of one’s duties and responsibilities are referred to as one’s “office” and, as those duties and responsibilities may be many in number the term may be used in the same context in the plural, and the exercise of them also referred to as exercising one’s offices; also, in telling time, any one of the eight times each day (every three hours) the churches ring the bells marking the time of day and calling to prayer the members of the clergy when they perform their offices of prayer, called “Prime”; “Tierce”; “Sext“; “Nones”; “Vespers”; “Compline”; “Matins”; and “Lauds”; these are based on the division of the hours of daylight and darkness into 12 equal portions, regardless of the time of year, rather than according to mechanically timed hours by which one can count the lengthening and shortening of the daylight hours and darkness with the changing of the seasons; see also “Time in the Medieval World”

oft’ = “often”

parley = to discuss or negotiate, but not in the same manner as chaffering or haggling, much more refined after the fashion of courtiers and diplomats and noble opponents at war

passing strange = something confusing or beyond immediate comprehension, particularly used when the facts surrounding some event or persons actions or behavior do not make sense or jibe with what is already known of them

pate, poll = “head”

picaroon = a rogue, a thief, a brigand; a pirate or his ship

points = the laces or things attached to a piece of clothing, such as a doublet or ladies bodice or garment of padded armor, which enable another piece of clothing or especially plate armor to be tied on, thus securing it in place particularly for wear in battle, also in the case of sleeves, which often changed style faster than the basic styles of the rest of the clothing; also the metal fittings used to bind and protect the ends of these laces or thongs from fraying with wear and make them easier to thread through holes

prate = to speak in empty boasts, to tell meaningless or untrue tales, to chatter or babble without meaning, to talk much without saying anything of importance; the speech of people who prate on this way is referred to as “prattle”

puissant = highly skilled, masterful

rede = advice or counsel, pronounced as “reed”

riband = “ribbon”

sally forth = to rally and make a concentrated effort, or simply to depart a place on a quest, errand or other purpose; arising from the ‘sally port’ in a castle gatehouse which allows the besieged to strike out at their adversaries from a hidden or protected portal, thus outflanking the foe

seemly = “proper” or “dignified”, in keeping with the common, socially accepted ideas and standards of propriety and respectability

set his cap for = one who is determined to get something or achieve some goal or prize “sets his cap” for it

sith = “since’

small-clothes = underclothes, underwear

smite = to strike a blow; past tense “smote”, also “smitten”

smitten = to be in love or infatuated with another

sommat = “somewhat”, but used in the meaning of “something

sooth = “truth”, as in “In sooth, I know not” for “In truth, I don’t know”

sore hawk = in falconry, the proper term for a young hawk, distinguishable by the fact that he will not have achieved the full growth of his adult plumage

spurn = “reject”, carrying also a connotation of ridicule

-st, -est = a modifying word ending, commonly reserved for use on verbs in the formal speech of the upper classes, as in “Canst thou not?”, “Givest thou it unto me”, “Dost thou truly think it?” or “whither goest thou?”

stew = a brothel, from the practice of prostitutes hanging about in public Roman-style bathhouses, some of which remained in service from that era while others of the same sort were built new in the period of the game

strumpet = a loose young woman

succor = aid, help, to give relief to, used as both a noun and a verb

swain = “lover” or “admirer”, but the latter also carrying a romantic connotation

take my leave = a phrase indicating one’s intent to leave, used especially when in the presence of social superiors phrased as a question when requesting permission to leave or to “withdraw” from their presence

tankard = a large straight-sided, mug-like pitcher with a thumb-tabbed lid hinged at the top of the handle in the same fashion as the lid on a German stein, with a standard capacity of 1 quart and common throughout medieval Europe

tatterdemallion = a ragged person, a ragamuffin; from the French for a wearer of tattered mail, indicating a poor, ill-kept man

thou, thee, thine = the various permutations of the pronoun “you” and the possessive “yours”, as in “Thou hast the right of it” or “I have gifted it unto thee” and “It shall be thine in perpetuity, henceforth”

tiercel = in falconry, the proper name for a male falcon, only the females are properly called “falcons”

truepenny = a name for an honest person, arising from the practice of sealing business deals and concords or agreements and contracts with the exchange of a penny of good faith

tup = a coarse commoner’s (farmer’s) term for physical intercourse

turn one’s head = to be in love or infatuated with another, to be so affected is to have one’s “head turned”

twelvemonth = a year

unseemly = “undignified”, inappropriate, beneath the standards of commonly socially accepted behavior, propriety and respectability

usurp = to take away from another, to deprive and deny the rightful owner, especially in the case of ownership of property (moveable and/or real), position, rank, or office, rights, privileges, or powers

vartlet = a man of no honor, a criminal, a blackguard

verily = “truly”, as in “Verily, he did answer it me” or “Yea, verily, brother!”

vex = to trouble, annoy, irritate or anger; those so affected may simply be “vexed” or they may be “sorely vexed”

want, wants, wanting = “lack”, “lacks”, “lacking”, as in “how dost thou find it wanting, sir?” or “It wants for even simple reason!” or “How dost thou want so and yet live?”

well met = a greeting, the equivalent of  “good to see you” or “how fortunate to see you again”, as in “Hail and well met, my friend!”

whence = from where, as in “Whence hast thou come?”

wherefore = “why”, as in the line from Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” : “Wherefore art thou Romeo? Forswear thy father and refuse thy name …” in which she wants to know why Romeo must be a member of the family warring with her own, begging him to turn his back on his family

whither = “to where”, as in “Whither goest thou?”

ye = “you”, pronounced “yee”

yea = “yes”, pronounced “yay”

yon, yonder = “over there”, usually accompanied by some gesture of direction

‘zounds = an exclamation or interjection, a “minced oath” used in polite company when stronger language is intended but giving offense must be avoided; a contraction and corruption of “God’s wounds” referring to the wounds inflicted on the Christ, an offensive blasphemy


Of course, this glossary is far from complete, but it is a good enough place from which a player can start. If the player enjoys sorting out archaic phrases and vocabulary, the words of Chaucer and Shakespeare are readily available, although Shakespeare is 100+ years later than the period proposed for the game. The true middle or old english of the 1300’s and earlier is rather contorted and difficult to puzzle out without formal study, however.

The player should at least try to avoid the more blatant uses of modern language and vocabulary during game play. The wealthy commoners who will likely look down their noses at those characters who are socially below them should not be called “snobs” – they have or wear “lofty airs”. Those who act in a snobbish or high-handed manner, especially when their right to do so is rather limited, are “uppity”, or “getting above their station”, or worse, “putting on airs”. To say such a thing of a working-class commoner without reason is cause for a fight, and likely cause for a fight even if it is true. The odd things that happen in a character’s life aren’t “weird”, they are “passing strange” – a “weird” is a person’s doom, and when it comes upon him it haunts and drives him and cannot be avoided, usually ending in death. It is an archaic term even in the period of the game, much more readily understood and accepted by those who follow the Olde Ways of the Green Lords. The dazzling mosaic on the wall is not great “art”, an “art” is a craft or trade which may or may not be represented by a guild, or one of the fields of study of magick, all of which may also be referred to as “mysteries” – or “art” may be a conjugation of the verb “to be”. “Dude” is right out.

For the most part, even if the player doesn’t wish to play with the language in this way, the fewer modern anachronisms that creep into play and the fewer the comments made that don’t fit into the context of the game, the smoother the game the flow and the more vivid it will be for all involved.

Player Social Skills vs. Character Social Skills

This is a topic that bears some discussion. While it is framed in the context of the Realms of Myth rules, the argument can be applied to any number of similar RPG’s that codify social skills and the impact of the character’s personality on the NPC’s of the gameworld.

Unfortunately, the knowledge and ability represented by the Presence skills in RoM are tied closely to the basics of the point of roleplay, social interaction and its uses in influencing the actions of other characters, primarily NPC’s. These skills represent polish and guile and facility with language, knowledge of fine manners in some cases, and the ability to provide a false front, even to lie with grace as coolly as a cube of ice – just exactly the sorts of things that a player is expected to be able to portray in his roleplay according the basic nature of the game.

These  types of skills are included in the array of established, defined skills for a couple reasons, generally. One is to allow the PC to exercise a level of influence that his character may learn over time to exert but which the player may well never achieve, try he ever so hard. These skills reflect the fact that it is perfectly possible (and very common) for a player to play a character either more or less attractive according to his BTY score than he is as a person in the Real World, but in regards to the personality and social skills of his character, and for the same reasons. It is part and parcel of the fantasy of the game.

In addition, these scores provide an aid and a guide to the GM in determining the extent of the effect of those skills when they are used on his NPC’s, to provide him with the means to provide an “accurate” (believable and gratifying to the player) illustration of the effects of the application of the PC’s skills and talent on his NPC’s in regards to social skills, persuasiveness, drawing NPC’s out casually into conversation, putting them at ease and getting them to reveal more superficial secrets and/or gossip.

These scores and SL’s are primarily provided as tools for the GM’s use in determining the outcomes of various social situations where the he might otherwise have no help at all. They provide a focus to offset the vast numbers of NPC’s he must deal with, and also injects a little bit of impartiality and distance between the GM and his creations so that they act in manners that are internally consistent with their own characters. In short, it gives them something of a life of their own. They act as pawns of Fate rather than puppets driven solely by the GM.

Some players may take the inclusion of a defined skill covering such things as a license to ignore or completely forego any attempt to actually characterize and portray the use of such knowledge and abilities through roleplaying. This cannot be condoned. These types of skills are NEVER intended to be a substitute for roleplaying, by any means, regardless of the game in which they are encountered. HOWEVER, many players may have no such potentially formidable interpersonal social skills themselves, and/or at least not to the degree that is implied by the possession of this suite of skills that may reach 30 or 40 in level, nor may they be possessed of the same physical allure and beauty that increases the effectiveness of these skills. HOWEVER, the GM MUST insist that every player hoping to exercise or especially to cultivate the Presence skills try his best to accomplish what he seeks by making use of any above average character CHM and/or BTY through his roleplaying, carefully choosing his words, being conscious of his manner and approach.

As the referee, the GM must judge how sincere an effort is being made by the player to do so, and the player must be aware that it is indeed the GM’s place in the game to do so. If he is not convinced that the effort is not being sincerely made by the player, he is perfectly justified in lowering the character’s effective AV for the exercise by a degree he believes reflects this fact (GM’s discretion). On the other hand, if the player’s effort in roleplaying the situation is particularly clever and convincing, so that it seems to outshine the character’s actual SL, a bonus might be granted to the AV for that particular d100 check for the skill’s use.

The process of making Encounter Reactions with humanoid NPC’s involve the same CHM and BTY and Presence skills, and should be refereed by the GM in the same manner, applying the same standards.

The PCs’ status as heroes, or as at least heroic characters in capacity of ability, knowledge and skill is why people like to play them. Naturally, they possess faculties that are the same as the players’, BUT they are commonly better. It is not fair to the player or character to bind him to the roleplaying capabilities of the player, PROVIDED the player is doing his best to portray in his roleplaying the skill or ability in use to the best of his abilities (assuming that the character is, in fact better than the player). The player’s ability to roleplay is also tested when the character’s resources are much poorer than the player himself.  The GM may withhold SP’s when the player does not adhere to the constraints of the character he is playing.

Some might argue that the same concept applies in spirit to the Perception skills, as well, but that is patently silly. How can the player’s perceptions have anything to do with those of the character? The situation is not even comparable to the dilemma that occurs in regards to the Presence skills. AWA checks are simply the means used by the GM to determine whether the character(s) have discerned something that is difficult to perceive, regardless of the sense to which it pertains, to let him know whether concealed information, the presence of foes, etc., should be revealed.

In regards to Savvy, the NPC’s face is NOT the GM’s face, and so the player has no opportunity to try to read what might be there in the GM’s judgement for his character to see, not to mention that fact that the character has the capacity to FAR outstrip a player’s native talent in regards that skill over the life of the game or that particular’s character’s career.

On the Other Hand …

As stated, RoM has attributes and hard scores that ostensibly measure aspects of the PCs’ personalities. SPT, HRT do this to a certain extent. In play, however, such statistics are sometimes also used to determine the effects of such aspects of the characters’ personalities as CHM, specifically to judge or measure how susceptible to seduction a character is. The Presence skills are an important part of RoM. They invite the character to use them and, in doing so, to expand the arenas in which the player would normally roleplay, and provide the opportunity for those character attributes and skills to actually outstrip those attributes that the player may have himself in that regard, as previously mentioned. BYTY has a direct impact in this case, also.

When playing in situations involving those attributes and skills, however, the GM may be tempted to use those attributes and skills against a PC to trap a player into making a roll based on one of those “personality statistics” in order to determine whether or not they are seduced by someone – or, worse yet, only allowing the PC to provide the DV and making the roll himself, on behalf of an NPC who has the active part in the situation (when clearly it should be a Contested Roll).

Even if a player has given his character statistics that would seem to indicate that he is highly seducible, it is still a bad idea to force a player to roll dice in order to see if their character succumbs. Maybe that character did start out a “seducible” character, and maybe he should have expected to be easily seduced as a result, BUT forcing a player to allow his character to sleep with some NPC because of a dice roll is getting WAY too personal, and might even be violating the player’s character persona in that player’s view. Presence skills should ONLY ever be pressed this far in this direction if the player gives his permission. And that does NOT mean in a grudging half-hearted way. This is an area where the GM definitely needs to exercise some sensitivity.

If the GM finds that the player will not follow through in the decisions the character would make based on the way in which the player built that character’s statistics, especially in regards to following a pattern the player himself has set, especially when the decision would be an obvious one for the character in question and everyone at the table knows it, then the GM should remind him that his character’s decisions aren’t reflecting his “personality” according to patterns and facts already established, especially if the problem persists. IF the mistake was inadvertent, the player did not know he was going to have this difficulty, the GM might sit down with him and go through a little re-design work on the character to make it more accurately reflect the persona being portrayed, perhaps bending the background to better support it.

The bottom line is, unless (obviously) the player has explicitly granted his permission, the GM should never make the decision of how a character acts especially in a sexual manner, so as to rob the player of his character. That is what is most important in this situation. Likewise, the GM should never use the dice in such a way as to rob the player. That is nothing but a cheap dodge – hiding behind the mechanics of the game system.

Game Balance in RPG’s

This is for the benefit of the GM’s/DM’s (etc.) out there, or perhaps for those players toying with the idea of organizing a game of their own.

The GM must be aware of the fact that the same attributes of games paced too quickly or slowly as discussed under the heading “Style, Pacing & Balance” in regards to the action in the game will also apply to players whose characters are not provided with the opportunities they need to advance in power and renown at a decent pace over the course of the game. Pacing also applies to the rate at which the characters’ accomplishments and personal fortunes mature and are challenged.

It is notable that trade and skill progression is not mentioned here as an element of pacing and balance. That is due to the fact that in regards to trades and skills of all types, including magick, progression is geared directly to character use. The character that progresses in a trade or skill with great speed until he outshines all others can only do so in response to assiduous attention to it and use of it. The greater SL’s are his reward for doing so, and rightly so. A character’s progression in his various trades and skills may in some cases be a measure of how motivated the player is to find opportunities for his character to exercise them. Less motivated players mean less motivated characters and slower rates of progression in trades and skills.

Those characters who adventure a great deal but fail to see any appreciable profit from it can be a source of great frustration or even boredom for the players, just as surely as any single adventure or campaign that is paced too slowly. While their characters may well be going places, seeing things, meeting people, doing things, sampling the spice of life, swept up in a whirlwind of adventure without time to even take a breath between, the players may quickly take note of any failure to increase in skill, ability and power, to attain the heights of reputation, fame, affluence or notoriety, which should accrue as the fruits of their labors, the reward for risking their necks in the first place.

On the other side of the coin, those character that are granted booty, lands, titles, fame, reputation, raw political and/or physical power are far too soon forced to go abroad seeking bigger and badder foes, higher thrills, more bang for their buck, or penny or shilling as the case may be. Such characters rise to dizzying heights too quickly to become acclimated, never having a chance to stop and appreciate what they have before them, always on to the next, bigger, better thing, drunk with power and simply running amok. They soon come to believe their own press and the sycophants that gather about them, becoming strutting peacocks scorning and disparaging all they see as beneath them.

Those players whose characters never seem to profit from their life of adventure, even in the SL’s of skills (progression in which is based on their usage, and relatively timely and even swift at lower SL’s), get bored and may seek out another game to join. Those players who end up with super-charged hemi-, demi-, semi-gods generally either get disgusted at having everything handed to them and quit in favor of some more moderately run game, or just keep climbing until they either finally die from facing that inevitable bigger fish in the sea or they become masters of all they survey, all challenges exhausted – which again results in boredom.

Becoming bored with the lack of further challenges, they are all too likely to go seek out a more tightly controlled game.

Whether too fast or too slow, when the players get bored of what they are experiencing of the game, they may well assume that their experience with it is all the game has to offer, and that is not fair to the players and certainly not giving the game a fair chance. When the players are new to RPG’s in general, the GM runs the risk of such an experience driving the players away from the hobby completely. The one less-than-stellar experience they might have had can color their opinion of all games of that type from that time onward. It is simply the way people are wired.

The bottom line in game balance is that reward must be commensurate to risk, and if the characters only face a part of the risk they should only enjoy a part of the rewards, unless their avoidance of the full measure of the risk is due to their own unanticipated cleverness, in which case the GM should be more generous.