Sunday, February 15, 2009

Hungarian Horse Archer

The current Holy Roman Emperor, Sigismund, is also King of Hungary and Hungarian troops are a core part of his forces even in German lands. In addition to the traditional noble heavy cavalry, found everywhere in Europe, the Kings "Banderium" contained many light horse of a lesser rank. There were drawn from the landed peasantry and were equipped with bows or crossbows in addition to their melee arms. Royal proclamations proscribed their inclusion in the supporting lances accompanying Knights provided for royal service against the Turk where they were a much needed counter to the eastern style light horse. The horse archers that joined the Banderium of Sigismund in Germany formed a tight community while in foreign lands.


Animal handling, Fieldcraft, Melee arms, Ranged arms, +1 LP

Secret Masteries

Horse Archer (Ranged arms (Bow) Mastery) The horseman is skilled in swift archery tactics and gains +5 to order rolls whenever movement is split to make a shot on the move, whether afoot or mounted.

Rain of arrows (Ranged arms (Bow) Grand Mastery) The horse archer has achieved the pinnacle of the skirmisher's art, able to pepper enemy troops at range with arrows fired thick enough to darken the sky. The horseman may shoot two arrows at once, at one or two targets, using a a single accuracy roll (as if shooting a single arrow) . This ability may be combined with split movement.

Regional Background: Kingdom of Hungary

Languages: German, Hungarian

The Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund currently holds the crown of Hungary. While often hampered by the will of his nobles or rebels elsewhere in the Empire, in Hungary he is supreme and able to both freely enact his policies and draw on the lands soldiers for his campaigns. The majority of the Hungarian people are descendents of the Magyar horsemen, related to the horde of Atilla, who raided Christian Europe before their ruler converted in 1000 AD. A significant minority are Germanic Saxon settlers. A large proportion of the soldiery of this land are light horsemen and horse archers. With the advances of the Turk, Hungary is now one of the frontiers of Christendom in the east. St Margaret is the Patron Saint of Hungary.

Abilities: +1 Talent Animal Handling, Ranged Arms

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Social System V: Those who choose not to conform

Those that want to be independent need to pay close attention to kinship, social status and religion as well as the law. If you don't then whatever passes for law enforcement (here in the 15th Century it is the Lord's, Town's or Bishop's men at arms) will physically subdue you and bring you to trial. The 15th Century is not big on the prison system, so unless imprisonment serves a political or religious end, the exits from imprisonment are either banishment from the jurisdiction, a very quick and public death or possibly acquittal.

The more central and public a place you have in social life, the more you must conform to all social expectations. The degree to which anything you do challenges the social order determines the likelihood that something bad will be done to you. The three principles for successfully not conforming are: 1. Don't get caught or keep your activities as far away from proper society as possible. 2. "Facts" are open to interpretation and quite a game goes into determining what counts and what doesn't. If you want to not conform, find a convenient way to to let people permit it so that even if they "really know" you are up to no good, they have a good excuse to let it go. 3. Violence speaks, as long as you can avoid anyone bigger and stronger, you can get away with anything. However, Christendom can, and often does, work as one to crush specific targets, so you better pay attention to number 2. as well.

As noted above, the price for not paying attention to kinship is probably only social disapproval and perhaps the odd beating. Unfortunately bloodlines reproduce themselves and a family grudge or feud can and usually does wait around until it gets a chance to do something more tangible to your or your descendants.

Social status is more serious, essentially, you will be made to conform immediately and everyone has a strong material and religious interest in maintaining the social order. You must understand, that just because the social order is not so good for most people two factors prevent it's overturn: 1. people fear change 2. more importantly, few people have nothing to lose and the way in which our 15th Century society works gives everyone right down the chain the opportunity to "lord it over someone else". If anyone has any ability or power to achieve anything at all, they have by definition such a stake in keeping things the way that they are, that they will work to ensure that the outcome of any social interaction reinforces this social order.

Religion is the most serious of all. The worst thing that could happen to an individual is to come under religious sanction. Not only will this lead to all of the bad things that happen when you do not conform to the demands of social status, but the strong ability of religion to motivate, will lead everyone to go out of their way to do these bad things and more. People take religion seriously, there is a widespread sense of religious danger, both the personal danger of damnation and the danger to society as a whole through consequences of Gods anger. If you offend a religious requirement, you will be marked out as cursed and curses can be contagious. If you hold some position in society, you will now be close to losing it as you have created opportunity for rivals to game against you. So you must be wondering why the Church doesn't just rule everything?

In the eternal story of the struggle between Emperors and the Popes, there is a lesson to be learnt: One intelligent and powerful Emperor so offended the Pope in their conflicts that he was excommunicated. His rivals the Electors and the great nobles took advantage of the opportunity to gather enough support to have the Emperor deposed. However, the Emperor walked barefoot in the snow, accompanied by his wife and children, to the house in the Alps where the Pope was trying hard to be out of reach. When he reached the door, he humbly knelt down in the cold snow outside and begged the Pope to come out and forgive him. The Pope had no choice but to do so and the Emperor had defeated the Pope once more.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Social System IV: Religion

On one level religion is about beliefs, ideas and truths, but that's not what really makes it so potent in the 15th Century. What makes it potent is not the power of it's ideas to sway people or the fervor of it's adherents, these are not a given or inherent characteristic of Christianity, it is the way in which religious things that people do are a embedded into every part of life.

Obviously God created the world, set the laws of nature and of men, sent forth the prophets, then Jesus and finally gave the Church his authority on earth. More than that though, when you are born you are ritually baptised into the church, every meal is probably prayed over, your name will partially incorporate a Saint's. Through your life there will be Saint's and prayers for all activities, most places will have some religious connection, the major festivals will be religious, all in authority will claim that their position is derived from God, every week (or some regular cycle) there will be community church as well as other ritual things that people dos like confession, when you are married it will be religious. Most literary works will have a strong religious and miraculous component, intellectual activity will be couched in religious terms. And then, when you die, there will be a ritual for that to, it goes without saying that all your life you have looked to religion to order your thoughts on what lies beyond the point of death.

What makes religion so potent is that since it is everywhere, pretty much all social activity reproduces (modifying it in the process) and reinforces it's important role in some way. The secret insidious element of it's durability is that even if the actual things done by those in religious power are frequently obviously bad and and the divinely ordained natural order is only leading to a life of suffering, the individual is led by the religious things that they do (and Church teaching) to focus on a settling of accounts in the world beyond and conforming to the divine will in this one. The key agent in ensuring that the religious things that people do produce the "right" type of Christian society is of course the organisation known as the "Church". The first objective of any organisation is to reproduce itself. The Church, controlling as it does most religious ideas and all the important religious things people do, as well as possessing direct targeted punishments like excommunication or charge of heresy, has a formidable (though bounded) ability to shape society. Even your own thoughts and private actions are not beyond it's control, the church has a ritual to deal to those too: you will attend confession where you will (on risk of eternal damnation after all) truthfully confess and subject yourself to punishment, for most, even performing such an act of submission can profoundly shape their actions.

For all that, it is religion or Christianity that holds European culture together. It is the common factor throughout society, it provides a common language, common literature, considerable intellectual contributions and much comfort to people. The ideas found in Christianity motivate people to great selfless acts of kindness and giving, to defend the weaker in society, to care for the sick, to care for those who are neither kin nor friends. The Catholic church itself works to mitigate against the violence underpinning European society by promoting truces amongst Christians as well as peace and law. Most of all, the Church with all it's religious things for people to do and teaching about everything in the world offers the hope of eternal salvation for the people of Europe and simple and clear way to make sense of the world. Despite growing calls for reform both amongst the faithful and amongst bishops (not to mention amongst heretics), the Church remains the only game in town for true redemption. However, the foundations are definitely crumbling.

Here in the 15th Century Sacrum Romanum Imperium, Religion also "works". You may not like the Church, but you do believe that God acts in the world, that Saints provide aid if petitioned and that Churchmen and women have special access to direct theses for your good or ill.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Social System III: Social Status

Despite the anachronistic tendency to try and find "democracy" and "egalitarianism" in all sorts of places in the 15th Century, life is profoundly unfair. Those lucky enough to be born into the right station have it a whole lot better than those that aren't. Better access to resources, education and greater freedom of opportunity. The clearest distinctions were noble/commoner and man/woman. Simply put, nobles had ability to exploit the wealth and work of others lower down the food chain and enjoyed legal and customary privileges versus commoners. Likewise women were largely excluded (there were exceptions) from "public" life and were confined to certain roles, these roles differed according to their social station. Whatever their station, women do not enjoy all of the legal and customary protections that men do.

There is literally a "great chain of being" from high right down to low. Since God ordained it and it is thus a law of nature, any who oppose this order must be a little odd, if not outright dangerous. Still, as with the caveat at the start, there might be many ways to effectively step outside the restrictions of social status. However, you only can because people let you.

Despite life's profound unfairness, there is scope for social mobility, though not as much as you might think. Over generations, a family line might move from peasant, to wealthy peasant to peasant with tenants, to village leader, to knight, to manorial lord and then get lucky enough to get noticed and given some really big minor title by your overlord. In any one lifetime, you will not move much above your current station, those who had previously been above you will find this literally offensive and will oppose it with every fibre of their being. Though the church is often held up as a channel for advancement if you were blessed with intelligence and the right contacts, there is a suspiciously high (ie nigh universal) incidence of nobles in the ranks of the Saints, Church positions of abbot, bishop or above and even in those who get do intellectual, preaching and teaching work. Internally, the church as an organisation is heavily socially stratified with those who enter it being sorted into occupations based on their status. These occupations will, in addition to being more or less enjoyable and worthwhile of themselves, have different (or no) prospects for further advancement.

However, if you don't have social status of your own, you can always ride on someone else's coat-tails. They might let you because you are kin (see 'Kinship') or because you are useful in some way. Patronage is part of what holds society together, the powerful give benefits (offices, money, titles, gloves and so on) to those below them in return for service and so it continues down the chain reinforcing loyalties between lord and master. Patronage is not just socially beneficial, it is socially expected and if not performed, the offender will be punished in some way. However it works out in a given situation, any individual might come to enjoy quite a comfortable life full of opportunities and even a lot of power and freedom from the consequences of their actions, as long as their patron remains powerful. That's good for the patron, as their underlings know that sometimes literally their whole world depends on their Patrons success.

Here it is important to understand that this is a violent society. Not only are the nobles essentially just the biggest gangs in town and the key characteristic of males of the noble class is their possession of training and specialist equipment for warfare, those in charge do not claim any monopoly on violence. That's right, you are not going to hear anyone say "don't take the law into your own hands" here in the 15th Century. As long as your violence doesn't impact on their immediate interests, no one in power will be concerned if a group or individual chooses to mete out their own justice. Those on the top of the social order are there because they can fight to stay there, with so many gradations in the Medieval hierarchy, ultimately what is keeping "those beneath us" subordinate to their "betters" is force, and intimidation.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Social System II: Kinship

The Sacrum Romanum Imperium Germnicus has no provision for the common care of all, no old people's homes, no public hospitals, no unemployment benefits, often even scant Inns to be found. However, everyone is part of an extended family network, they have blood ties to groups of individuals that might have representatives scattered across the Empire, even beyond. Even in small communities, these families form sub-networks of their own. Blood ties are simple, clear and they count. They have been a key part of Germanic society since long before Christianity or the Roman empire and custom and social expectation placed a heavy weight on issues of kinship.

Firstly for inheritance of property and titles; Though Primogeniture (inheritance of the whole estate to the first born male or if no males the eldest female) was not a German custom, your parentage has to be clear and legitimate for you to have any customary or legal claim to any inheritance. For this reason, women must not have sex outside of marriage (it's fine for men as it does not create legal or customary inheritance issues), if they did, parentage would be unclear and it would create uncertainty. Uncertainty creates opportunity for "contests" to take place and there are all manner of greedy relatives and grasping overlords just waiting for the chance to take someone's inheritance. Here particularly kinship can be a liability, if a potential successor's legitimacy was in doubt or the main family line died without heir, a whole slew of contenders might be able to stake a claim, drawing in their allies and other kin. For all that, bastard sons did get inheritances from their fathers (lucky thing for the sons of churchmen), as they are kin and that matters a lot.

Secondly and more importantly, kinship counts for mutual aid, protection and trust. If an individual falls upon hard times their family will likely aid them, both from feelings of affection and through social obligation. This was especially important if someone has to deal with a new land or locality where they do not have a network of friends and contacts and might lack appropriate ability to access local entitlements. Here kin provides a link and a safe point for aid and introduction to a new social world, as well as a place to stay until you get a something of your own. Of course, the utility of this varies according to how far afield you kin tend to be spread, but it's fair to say that kin networks go where they were needed. This was afterall a key motive for colonisation by traders and political marriages amongst nobles. If injury or even death were the type of misfortune that befell a person, kin are still able to "help" after the fact, by providing systematic revenge, never harm someone with strong and violent kinsfolk.

Lastly and most elementally, kinship provides a clear guide to identity and belonging. It is relatively simple stable and obvious. It provides a way to simply order the world in relation to yourself. People will give a reputation, character and personality to your kinship group and that will inevitably colour how they see you as a member of it. If you don't have goals of your own, take on your father's goals, your uncle's goals or the goals of your noble house. Even if you do have goals of your own, tough, there is considerable social and familial pressure to work in your families interests. However, kinship is really a genuine plus, individuals can choose to ignore any obligations and all they usually really risk is social disapproval and gossip.

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Social System: Preamble

It is a basic principle of my games that what exactly takes place is up to the players. Since the setting is 'fully interactive', they need not ever pick up dice and simply bypass the rules entirely through careful thought (or random ideas) and simply describing what they want to do. While that won't wash for combat, we can and do go entire game sessions with players contributing heavily but never picking up their dice. What follows in this four part feature is (I hope) some useful insights into how the social worlds of the Sacrum Romanum Imperium actually function.

The Social System:

Whatever your station or birth, the three most important things in every persons' lives were kinship, social status and religion. Everyone needs food, shelter and companionship, though many deprive themselves of these for religious ends and thousands of peasants accept that they will starve to death each year. But once these simple needs are satisfied all must consider where they stand in relation to their kinfolk, their "betters" and "those beneath them" and most importantly of all, where they might stand when they come before God at judgment day... So, whatever else goes on your character sheet, have at least a brief answer to questions about these pillars of medieval identity. Still, there are those that Choose not to conform.

But first the caveat (or the first rule for looking at social interactions):

Lots of things might potentially count or be important to the matter at hand, what in fact is important only becomes "certain" (ie it's a "made up" thing) after the matter is resolved. Before that it is a kind of game or power play (often involving force) to see which elements count. After that, most involved have a stake (for one reason or another) in at least publicly accepting a version of events that legitimates what took place.... So just as there is no actual calculus to determine how kinship, social status and religion should be weighted in relation to one another, it's actually up in the air how, for instance, a legitimate female cousin's rights should be weighed against a much loved and useful bastard son. The three elements matter, how exactly they matter in any one case is open to contest.

The caveat needs to be considered in light of the "zeroeth" rule for looking at social interactions, watch what the do, not what they say about it.The Caveat cuts both ways, when trying to influence individuals, you should work to maximise uncertainty (say by giving them some reason to believe that others, possibly their superiors or kin, may take an interest in what happens) to create opportunities for outcomes which that individual might not have otherwise countenanced. then it's just strategy, try and make considerations that favour you matter the most in the interaction.