If you want to think medieval [...] Seek endarkenment.
May 12, 2018 6:00 PM   Subscribe

Skerples writes about elf games (D&D and all similar games), often with the goal of bringing the real strangeness of history to your games, and some of those history posts may be of interest even to folks who are not interested in Dungeons and Dragons. When elf gaming blogger and designer Patrick Stuart (previously) wrote a review of Barbara Tuchman's (author of The Guns of August) A Distant Mirror, Skerples responded with a (title source) post about how to better understand the medieval mindset that anyone, gamer or non-gamer, might find interesting.

Recently Skeples wrote a four part series on David Hackett Fischer's Albion's Seed, which are ostensibly posts in search of gameable ideas but are mostly just an interesting breakdown of the book, with very little to do with elfgames except at the end.

Part 1: The Puritans
Part 2: The Cavaliers
Part 3: The Quakers
Part 4: The Borderers

For those of you actually here for gaming content, Skerples is also a fan of Metafilter favorite Janelle Shane's neural networks. They have created several posts of interesting stuff from those, such as 1d10,000 D&D Names and 1d50 Discount Spells (previously) (spells written in the GLOG format). They are good at tables in general, such as:

1d100 Baronial Grievances
1d100 Peasant Grievances
1d100 Actually Medieval Professions
1d500 Biological Mutations
1d500 Supernatural Mutations
1d500 Backstories to Inflict on Your Characters

Skerples has also written a series about how to very easily run Giant Mecha games of "old school" D&D, a dungeon meant to teach new players how to play fantasy adventure games in the old school style (which also serves as a good example of how to design dungeons in said style), what happens if your PCs eat any of the creatures in the 1977 AD&D 1st Edition Monster Manual and any of the creatures in Patrick Stuart's (and also Scrap Princess's) Veins of the Earth (multiple links there), and also an entirely free hexcrawl set in the aforementioned Veins of the Earth!

Skerples has a mostly up to date index of their blog.
posted by Caduceus (13 comments total) 75 users marked this as a favorite
 
Justice is a modern conceit.
Um.

Well, that's ahistorical as all hell. Am I missing a joke?
posted by inconstant at 7:50 PM on May 12 [4 favorites]


This is so fascinating. Thanks for the find!
posted by blahblahblah at 8:04 PM on May 12 [1 favorite]


Some of this is right, but some of it is far wrong.

Foreigners. I can read about far-away places in a book... Anyway, forget all that. Ignorance and fear all around.

You could read about far-away places in books then too. And go on pilgrimages, or war, or a trading mission. A university town like Paris attracted people from around Europe; we talk about the Latin Quarter because Latin was used as an interlanguage.

The Theory of the Mind. Forget the subconscious.

This is complete bull. C.S. Lewis wrote a whole book, The Allegory of Love, about the medieval theory of mind, which was quite as complex as Freud's.

Rationalism is a very modern invention

And Aristotle, Augustine, and Thomas Aquinas didn't exist? It wasn't all impulsive stabbing.

Medieval life could be awfully brutal, yes. (We agree on the greatness of Tuchmann.) Though honestly, 20th century life could be awfully brutal too, outside a few favored enclaves.

He's right about the inequality, of course. But if you're a peasant, you're not likely to join a dungeon expedition anyway.

Also, if you're here for the gaming... medieval Europe was not the only place in the world, and it wasn't all quite as barbaric as Europe was.
posted by zompist at 8:12 PM on May 12 [11 favorites]


So I just got the Veins of the Earth book suggested in the thread (PDF was a lot cheaper than the book) and it is flat-out amazing. One of the most fascinating role playing supplements I have ever read, though I will never play it. So many awesome ideas. Take a look at the anglerlich, an inter dimensional monster that eats heroic souls (or their experience points) but first develops the heroes itself through an fake evil villain it dangles into regular space, as described:

“When your players encounter one, all they will know is that they have met someone totally evil who really really pisses them off. It doesn't have to be a Liche. To create an Anglerlich lure, imagine the kind of villain you usually invent, then create a slightly more shit version of that. A bit flatter , a bit less well thought out, a bit more incoherent. The fish is not quite as smart as you, but it knows just as much. Like the Referee it is outside reality . You can use your meta-knowledge to make someone who will provoke both players and characters to heroics; that is what the fish is doing after all.

But remember the tube of grey flesh that puppets the lure. That is something players can notice. And remember the Lure has a slightly different fictional signature than the rest of the game you make. Whatever kind of game you run, it's a little ‘off'.

In gonzo games it's a little too serious and dramatic, in serious games it's a little too cheap and cartoony . And remember its plans make no real sense. The players, and characters, should be able to work out something is up.”
posted by blahblahblah at 8:30 PM on May 12 [6 favorites]


So I just got the Veins of the Earth book suggested in the thread (PDF was a lot cheaper than the book) and it is flat-out amazing. One of the most fascinating role playing supplements I have ever read, though I will never play it.

Not long after Veins came out, Jason Shotlis' Operation Unfathomable presented a somewhat different kind of Underdark; a little less artsy and a little more gonzo, probably (IMO) a little more playable. I'm also partial to DCC's take, Journey to the Center of Aerreth. The best part is that you don't have to choose - elements of each of them can be recombined however one pleases. Although each has its differences, they are all going for a very weird and pulpy vibe. Hell, you could probably stick some Zork in there.

Stuart's Deep Carbon Observatory is actually a good launching point for Underdark expeditions based on the titular ruins being left behind by some kind of alluded-to underground empire. It's also one of the best adventures ever written, so that's a plus.
posted by Edgewise at 8:49 PM on May 12 [5 favorites]


The stupidity Patrick Stuart criticises (a fatally stupid but ‘glorious’ attack during a battle) doesn’t seem particularly medieval to me. Military history up to the present is full of that kind of thing.
posted by Segundus at 12:45 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]


The tables are gold, and I can't wait to inflict them on my players.

"68. Thropy. You become a deranged one-eyed swan by the light of the full moon."
posted by Mogur at 4:37 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]


I'm just kind of happy that someone else has clearly seen Skerples being sold in stores somewhere.
posted by kyrademon at 10:26 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]


Hello blahblahblah,

Sorry, not sure how this site works, just signed up. Hello everyone! Thanks for the kind words.

"Some of this is right, but some of it is far wrong."
Yup, sounds about right. The curse of writing medieval history posts for elfgames is that you can never include the level of nuance required. However, the things you're listing as wrong are probably defensible.

"You could read about far-away places in books then too. And go on pilgrimages, or war, or a trading mission. "
Absolutely. However, you've got to remember that I'm trying to provide a single unified guideline for a 800+ years of history and most of a continent. For some people, long-distance travel was routine. I'm actually working on a new post about it, focusing on Jewish travelers in the 12th century. For most people , travel was not viable, and foreign lands were utterly mysterious. Travelogues existed but, again, were not widely available in any thing _close_ to a modern sense.

"This is complete bull. C.S. Lewis wrote a whole book, The Allegory of Love, about the medieval theory of mind, which was quite as complex as Freud's."
And it's been heavily criticized ever since.

" And Aristotle, Augustine, and Thomas Aquinas didn't exist? It wasn't all impulsive stabbing."
Of course not, but what percentage of the population read them, let alone acted on them? Plenty of deeply educated nobles did terrible, impulsive, irrational things despite reading The Consolation of Philosophy in their spare time.

The post is designed to present a primer to people who are approaching medieval life from a background of Disney movies and bits of half-remembered history classes.
posted by Skerples at 11:32 AM on May 13 [13 favorites]


Ooh, fun! I rarely get to play these days, but I think I'm going to use the mutations table on the next RPG getaway with the guys (each atumn we eat, drink and play RPGs from our youth at a more-or-less secluded cabin. Haven't seen any serial killers or supernatural phenomena there yet, unfortunately).
posted by Harald74 at 1:09 PM on May 13


I figured eating gelatinous cube would be bad, but it is real bad. Don't sub for tofu.

Justice is a modern conceit.

Construed as we think of it, with concepts of equal rights and due process and the rule of law, yeah. I'm no medieval scholar but I would suppose their idea of justice was mostly Christian, like Dante's idea of sinners seeking their natural place. Remember that Plato was lost, in the West, so no Republic.
posted by thelonius at 2:14 PM on May 13 [2 favorites]


Oh yes, and I actually have a book you can pay for, if you want to support this kind of thing. It's called Kidnap the Archpriest. It's a heist module about stealing the pope. Beautiful art, good advice, and lots of info on writing and designing heists.
posted by Skerples at 3:53 PM on May 13 [3 favorites]


Ironically, if there's an extent to which this take on the medieval mind is reductive and exaggerated, that actually makes it all the more tempting as a basis for fantasy roleplay... ! :P
posted by Drexen at 5:24 AM on May 15


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