Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Monks of War by Desmond Seward

Amazon had this puppy on sale a while ago and I picked it up. I'm not deep into it yet but some of the writing already strikes me as 'RPG' style.

"Those who stayed in Palestine were adventurers, mainly French, with nothing to go back to, and the state they created reflected the feudalism of their own land." (pg. 24).

"When the first king of Jerusalem, Baldwin I, died in 118 the land was still in wretched disorder, infested with criminals; with some justice Latin Syria has been compared to a medieval Botany Bay. Many Franks had been sent on the crusade as penance for atrocious offenses such as rape and murder, and they reverted to their unpleasant habitis." (pg 29)

"Huges de Payens was no mere adventuerer but lord of the castle of Martigny in Burgundy...Hugues arrived in Syria in 115, and by 118 had become a self-appointed protector of pilgrims...This ragged eccentric persuaded seven knights, also from northern France, to help him, all taking a solemn oath before the patriarch to protect pilgrims and observe poverty, chasity and obedience.... (pg 30).

Right here I see a few scenarios playing out as it may apply to RPGs.

The first is that adventurers in and of themselves may not be the most loved individuals in any setting. They are bringers of chaos where they go. After all, they are wanderers. They are roaming the land gods above knowing exactly what it is they seek. Several adventures, like Death Frost Doom, have dire consequences if the party fails at what their doing. In many home campaigns, I've used an ancient unearthed evil bit a time or two myself where the party has to put the genie back into the bottle.

Next, there are potentially two types of campaigns at the root here. The one is a glorious age of evil and neutral characters running around the countryside taking what they will and abusing the lands as their wont.

The second is a group of characters who take it upon themselves to cure this plague ridden land of these foul vermin that infest it. So that the common folk may move about more freely.

Depending on the group and the efforts involved and how into one scenario over the other the Game Master is in, either one could be entertaining.

With the bandit angle, the real problem is going to be the long term legs of things. In level based games, merely performing hit and run tactics on groups of peasants, the occassional knight errant, and fighting for living space with the other inhabitants of whatever bad lands the players inhabit, won't cut it at the higher levels of the campaign.

But if the players want to take root and possess power, it shouldn't. I'm not hard core old school or anything, but in older editions, hiting namel evel and constructing your castle gave players the things that adventurers tend not to have; roots. Now they have to go out and hunt bandits. Now they have to scourge the countryside just to protect their own men and loyal factions.

It's something that no matter how awesome and powerful latter foes in an epic campaign may be, is a failure of 3rd and 4th edition on some level.  It's not that you can't do these things in either edition. It's not even that there aren't ways of providing rules for it. It's just so not the focus of the game. I don't know if that makes sense but I'm sure with a good GM and a good group, it's not going to be a problem, even for a long term game that makes it to higher levels.

Perhaps being on the frontier, these adventurers new castle attracts all the worst sort of attention starting with giants and moving it's way up the food chain to dragons and demons? Maybe they built their castle right on something like the Hellmouth from Buffy the Vampire Slayer? While 3rd and 4th ed scale to various degrees upward, the problem to me is that they don't scale 'downward' in terms of what the players can do and what they're expected to do.

Anyway, Monks of War is written in an easy to read manner and brings out all sorts of campaign suggestions right ouf of the box.