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.