I've been enjoying Bernard Cornwell's tale of Wessex here and the second book in the series is well written, entertaining, and would make a great summer movie if they decided to go the high action route or an solid HBO series to take the place of Rome or Spartacus.
I'll be discussing some of the material from the book through quotes so if you'd like to avoid spoilers, read no further.
"In the winter, while I was mewed up in Werham as one of the hostages given to Guthrum, a new law had been passed in Wessex, a law which decreed that no man other than the royal bodyguards was to draw a weapon in the presence of the king."
The hero of the tale, Uhtred, is a Saxon who is more Dane than Saxon. His loyalties are often tested. He has friends on both sides of the conflict. His king, Alfred the Great, doesn't like him, but needs him. Alfred is able to play him like a fiddle though, thanks to things like the above, where Uthred breaks a law or falls into a law based trap. These things limit Uthred's options and make him more likely to do what Alfred wants.
In looking at motivations for characters in the game, if the GM and players discuss what their motivations will be ahead of time and that the 'theme' if you will, is that their patron is often well intentioned but a hard man, then they should be prepared to deal with those consequences. The GM needs to play it consistently though and allow that relationship to grow. Its okay to have a patron that doesn't necessarily appreciate everything that you do, but one that blatantly ignores it or lies about it will not be served long.
""I hate him," he went on, "and now you owe me a favour, Uthred."
Just as Alfred plays Uthred like an instrument, there are those who don't like Alfred the Great who seek to ally themselves with Uthred just because of that. Actions have reactions no matter what the time period or setting. The social rules that are inherent to people generally push certain behaviors and if someone sees a person they don't like lording it over someone else, they tend to have sympathy or at least, see an opportunity to ally or use that person who also suffers under their shared nemesis.
"The tall man beside Odda the Younger was named Steapa. Steapa Snotor, men caleld him, or Steapa the Clever... he's dumb as an ox.'"
Here we have two names. The first has the Younger attached to it to distinguish family members. The second has an 'earned' name if you will. Its one of those ironic names like John the Big when talking about a short man. Nick names and descriptors can help flesh out characters and provide some clues as to their talents, or lack of talents.
"And they say more Danish ships arrive every day. They're in Lundene, they're in the Humber, they're in the Gewaesc." He scowled. "More ships, more men and Alfred's building churches!"
Priorities vary from person to person. In the series, Alfred is often described as being fill of piety almost to the point of ignoring the reality of the situations that surround him. But, and this is an important but, belief is a powerful factor in the human make up. Even today, in the year 2011, people who worship the same god will kill each other over the smaller differences their own brand of that religion follows. This isn't something limited to Muslim killing Muslim as Christians have proven throughout history and again recently. Belief is something men find worth dying for and worth killing for.
And the other but here? In a fantasy game, that might very well be a worth while pursuit. In many fantasy settings, like the Forgotten Realms and Greyhawk, despite the 'lack' of the deities direct interference in the world, almost everyone knows that they are real and indeed, in certain time lines of the Forgotten Realms, not worshipping a deity is a damning process. Faith and piety go a long way in a setting where the gods are real.
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