Friday, 11 August 2017

The Forest of Dean: An Outlaw Campaign During the Anarchy of England

To start with this campaign idea owes a lot of credit to an unusual sourcebook.  Robin Hood for the Rolemaster RPG.  The book is a resource for the Rolemaster RPG that primarily focuses on playing Outlaws during the Norman rule of England.  Covering from the rule of William the Conqueror to the death of John Lackland.  The book gives a great deal of information on running games in this time period and provides two example campaigns.  One is called Robin i' the Hood and is essentially the standard fare of the legend.  Set during the Prince John's rule while his brother Richard the Lionheart is away on crusade.  I personally didn't care for this campaign, because it has the player's playing second fiddle to Robin and his band.  What piqued my interest the most was the other setting offered. The Forest of Dean, set during the Anarchy of England.
The aforementioned book.

For those of you not familiar with English medieval History.  The Anarchy is the time during which Stephen of Blois, Count of Boulogne a powerful nobleman in France, Normandy and England.  Seized control of the English Throne from his cousin Empress Maude, daughter of King Henry the First.  Overall the time is referred to as the Anarchy, during which nobles warred with one another to either support their preferred candidate or simply to line their own pockets during the chaos.  It went on for the better part of 19 years, without anything resembling law and order.  As such the English living under their Norman oppressors suffered greatly.  (If you've ever read the Cadfael Chronicles or seen the TV show with Derek Jacobi this is the time it takes place in).  It is a time during which the common people are in great need of heroes.  That's where the players come in.

They are outlaws, men declared by the King's justice to be outside the protection of the laws of the land.  Any man may kill them and it will not be considered murder.  If they are captured they will face the very sentence that drove them into outlawry in the first place.  Only a royal pardon can remove the brand of being outlawed.  With the country embroiled in Civil War (contradiction of terms) they'll have to decide which claimant to the throne they want to back (if any).  Will they prey upon their fellow Englishman or will they fight against Norman tyranny, (wait for the cliche) by robbing from the rich to give to the poor.

Getting Down to the Brass Tacks

Ordinarily I wouldn't try to run a campaign like this using a D20 system.  Today I've been taken by a sort of madness and have decided to go against my better judgement.  This game will be using a low-magic variant of either the Pathfinder Ruleset or D&D 5E.  A lot of what I write in this post will be geared towards Pathfinder (because I actually own the Core Books for that system), but could easily be used for D&D 5E.  The reason I'm thinking of running this as low-magic campaign set in our Middle Ages (rather than a straight historical one) is to appeal to wider variety of players.  D20 systems are usually what most Role-players start out on, as such most understand the concept of rolling a d20 and adding a modifier.  Personally I've always found magic too overused and relied on in role-playing games.  The problem is you can't appeal to a wide variety of players if you remove magic entirely.  Magic (and other fantasy elements) are a big part of why people play these games.  I'll be listing below some necessary changes that will have to be made to system to run my vision of this game. 

One of the candidates for this game's system.
The other contender.

Races: Sorry to say we won't be playing anything but boring old humans in this game.  To fit in with the setting of Medieval England.  In place of Race the characters' cultures will be playing a more prominent role in this campaign.  Chances are the players will be playing one of the following three cultures.  Anglo-Saxon, Norman and Welsh.  Saxon characters will most likely be in the majority with Welsh characters being a close second.  As the campaign is set around the Forest of Dean (which in turn is close to Monmouth, Gloucester and Hereford) which is close to the Welsh Border.  Norman characters will be rare as a Norman could only be outlawed for a crime against the King.  When it comes to starting Languages the players will get their native tongue (English for Saxons, Welsh for the Welsh and French for the Normans).  If they have a high Intelligence they may get additional languages from the following list.  English, Welsh, French, Flemish, Cornish, Gaelic and Latin.  By default the characters are illiterate in any language they speak.  

Classes: The allowed classes would include.  Barbarian, Bard, Druid, Fighter, Ranger, Rogue and Sorcerer.  The Barbarian, Fighter and Rogue are right at home in the setting, (Barbarians are just really a variant of Fighters that relies more on determination and emotion, rather than martial skill).  Bards, Druids, Rangers and Sorcerers will fit in with some minor adjustment.  Adjusting for a Low-Magic setting.  Paladins and Clerics would be be somewhat out of place in a band of outlaws.  (Also I don't want to even try to begin to stat up the Judeo-Christian God for this game.  On account of all the controversy that would inspire).  While the Wizard relies too much on the written word to fit into the setting.

 A Note on Currency: Instead of the GP-SP-CP scale that role-players are so used to this game will use the period appropriate currency.  Of the Penny-Shilling-Pound, which converts roughly like this.
Penny = 1 SP (Silver Piece) = 1/12th of a Shilling, 1/240th of a Pound
Shilling = 1 GP (Gold Piece) = 12 Pennies, 1/20th of a Pound
Pound = 2 PP (Platinum Piece) = 240 Pennies, 20 Shillings
As a note the Pound and Shilling don't really exist (outside of an accountants ledge).  With that out of the way let's move onto our next order of business.
A period penny minted under the rule of King Stephen.
The characters are going to be seeing a lot of these.

Available Weapons

Simple Light Melee Weapons
Dagger = 1 Shilling, a common weapon used by noble and commoner alike.  Most use it as an eating utensil.  This can also be used to represent smaller versions of the Seax knife that the Saxons get their name from.  
Mace, light = 5 Shillings
Sickle = 6 Shillings

Simple One-Handed Melee Weapons
Club = 0
Mace, heavy = 12 Shillings
Shortspear = 1 Shilling

Simple Two-Handed Melee Weapons
Longspear = 5 Shillings
Quarterstaff = 0
Spear = 2 Shillings
Grounds for excommunication.

Simple Ranged Weapons
Crossbow, heavy = 2 1/2 Pounds
Bolts, crossbow (10) = 1 Shilling
Crossbow, light = 1 3/4 Pounds, the Pope has banned the use of crossbows against fellow Christians.  The price indicates how hard it is to get your hands on one.
Javelin = 1 Shilling
Sling = 0
Bullets, sling (10) = 1 penny

Martial Light Melee Weapons
Axe, throwing = 8 shillings (throwing axes have fallen out of favour since the age of the Vikings.  Plus they're difficult to make and balance right, the price reflects this).
Hand axe = 6 Shillings, another tool turned into a weapon.
Sword short = 10 Shillings (or a long knife depending on who you ask).

Martial One-Handed Melee Weapons
Battle axe = 10 Shillings, an axe designed with intent of actually killing people.
Long Sword = 15 Shillings, a sign of status.  Anyone not of noble birth caught with one will have some explaining to do.  The only proper sword available in the time period.
Falchion = 10 Shillings, commonly used by Hunters and Foresters.  The two handed version hasn't been invented yet so use the stats for a Scimitar.

Martial Ranged Weapons
Longbow = 3 3/4 Pounds, historians are still debating whether the English Longbow existed prior the
An English Longbow, we're still not sure if they're period accurate.
14th Century.  There are several instances of the Normans in England and their Welsh neighbours using Archers in combat.  The Normans using them in the way traditionally depicted in Hollywood battles.  While the Welsh preferred to use Archers in ambush, guerrilla tactics.  It is recorded that during the Norman invasion of Wales, Welsh archers inflicted many casualties.  It is not known whether they used Bows equivalent to the later English Longbow or if it was more like the Shortbow. I've included both types, for the sake of convenience.  It is unlikely any player characters would ever purchase a bow (more likely they'd craft it themselves), if they come into possession of one they'll do their damnedest to take care of it.  The price is meant to reflect the amount of time and skill it takes to craft a good bow.
Arrows (20) = 1 Shilling
Shortbow = 1 1/2 Pounds

An example of a Norman Kite Shield, the kind used
primarily by knights.

Available Armour

Light Armour
Padded Armour = 5 Shillings 
Leather Armour = 10 Shillings 
Studded Leather Armour = 1 1/4 Pounds 
Chain Shirt = 5 Pounds, meant to represent only a hauberk.  

Medium Armour
Hide = 15 Shillings 
Scale Mail = 2 1/2 Pounds 
Chainmail = 7 1/2 Pounds, meant to represent a full suit of mail. 

Shield, light wooden = 3 Shillings 
Shield, heavy wooden = 7 Shillings 
Shield, kite = 1 1/4 Pounds
Most shields of the period are constructed of a combination of steel (in some cases iron) and wood.  Wood serves as the primary component in most cases though.  In the case of the Kite Shield it primarily constructed of leather over a wooden frame.

Combat System

To get the right feel for this campaign, there would have to be some adjustments to the combat system.  Fortunately I've found a system that works for what I'm going for.  It's called Die Stygian Jackal.  It was originally intended for D&D 3.0 games set in the Robert E. Howard's Hyborian Age.  Having read it I find it works for the gritty combat (with a pinch of swashbuckling) that I'm going for.  I also like how Armour is handled under the new system, where it now serves as damage reduction.  Rather than a chance to hit, and the amount of damaged reduced is randomized.  To represent whether the attacker hits a weak spot in the armour or not.  I also like the reduced Hit Points, as it makes combat a lot more deadly.  While at the same time making it possible to one-hit a character of higher level (on a lucky crit).  One nitpick I have against the system is how it determines the Defense Class that replaces Armour Class.  They base it on Hit Dice (which makes the Barbarian the most skilled at defence) which I don't think makes sense.  So I would have to make some adjustments to that.  These rules should be easy to port over to either Pathfinder or D&D 5th Edition.  You can find the mentioned system here

Notes on Magic 

This is a Low-Magic campaign set in an actual historical period.  There are no dragons and users of magic are rare.  If magic appears it is very subtle (it doesn't take the form of fireballs conjured out of thin air).  Clerics can't perform minor miracles in the name of their deity.  Instances of that happening are rare (that's why they're called miracles), the same goes for Paladins who are just Fighters that've been told that God is on their side.  The means with which to craft magic items have all but vanished from this world.  If the characters ever encounter a magic item or a miracle.  It will either be very minor or a very important plot point.  

There are also no fantastic monsters, like dragons (they've been dead for centuries at this point) outside of stories.  Some notable exceptions being ghosts and fairies that haunt abandoned ruins throughout England.  Even then these creatures are more meant to be puzzles to figure out than, a source of XP for killing.  

I hear a lot of you saying "If there are no magic items, what are the players supposed to spend their ill-gotten gains on?"  Four options have presented themselves to me.  
  1.  At the time the campaign takes place, there is a custom in place called Murdrum.  Essentially if a Norman is killed on a lord's land, the Lord must do everything in his power.  To bring the murderer to justice within five days, or be forced to pay a fine.  If a culprit can't be found (or arranged) the lord will have to put the squeeze on his vassals to pay the fine.  Often the peasants living on this land will bear the full brunt of this taxation.  This means that Saxons within areas where the players have killed Normans, might be less likely to aid the PCs (they might even sell them out, in hopes of abating the taxation).  The PCs would be able to get around this by doling out their spoils among the common people.  In areas where they've killed Normans, thus making it possible for the peasants to pay the taxes.  This way the peasants would be more willing to hide the PCs, than if they just kill Normans and do nothing about the consequences to the peasants.  
  2. If the characters decide to back one of the claimants to the throne.  (Especially if it's Empress Maude).  They can donate the money to their preferred candidate's war fund.  (Think of it as an investment towards that pardon, that you're hoping for).  
  3. In the chaos of Civil War the players might decide they like the idea of becoming nobility.  They could seize lands from their "rightful" owners.  They can then use the money they've amassed from robbing tax collectors, to invest in the infrastructure of their newfound lands.  (A ferry here, a new castle there).  
  4. For those of you still itching to have a better weapon or a better suit of armour.  I present to you  the Masterwork Rules from the Black Company RPG by Green Ronin.  You can get a weapon with a little extra oomph or armour with a little bit of extra protection.  Just by paying some extra money and waiting a little longer for the blacksmith to forge it.  You can find these rules re-printed here.
On the subject of PC spell casters, I would use the limited magic rules for Pathfinder.  (Found here).  It's my understanding that D&D 5th Edition has rules for running Low-Magic Campaigns in one of their core books.  I would also probably go through the Spell List and do some pruning.  Taking out those spells that are inappropriate for the setting.  

In Conclusion

This has been an interesting post to write.  Ordinarily I don't think to use D20 systems when I run games.  It was fun to work with a system that's outside my usual tastes.  I think if handled a certain way the system could be used to run a very fun low-magic Historical Campaign.  Let me know what you think in the comments below.  Be sure to +1 and re-share.  Until my next post, have a nice day and may the dice be ever in your favour. 
What the campaign would like if I used the Toon System.