Monday, December 23, 2013

Armies of Medieval Burgundy 1364-1477

Written by Nicholas Michael with color plates by G  A Embleton, the Armies of Medieval Burgundy 1364-1477 is a short 40 page look at a country in a time period that isn't necessarily associated with the guns and cannons that the book discusses in depth.

On one hand, the book says "look, it's a small kingdom that had a rapid rise and a rapid disintegration." Few things speak to me and say, "ah, player characters and their silly antics" as much as the rise and fall of nations.  For the time period, we have Philip the Bold, John the Fearless, Philip the Good, and Charles the Bold, known as the Valois Dukes.  The use of descriptive titles on personal names is something that most players would be familiar with although few would be so tame.

In the case of Burgundy, that is very apparent from the start as the author notes they are surrounded by enemies and split in four. I can see a group following a similar methodology as each player may have different ideas.

Another bit that may make this one an odd duck, is that this book has been in print on and off since 1983. The Osprey series has changed quite a bit in that time and often has more historical information to it.

On the other hand, the book discusses the use of cannons and guns a bit. In doing so, it continues to reinforce my feelings that guns are very underrepresented in most fantasy games that have a medieval basis as their core. If your setting has full plate, it probably needs cannons.

One of the key pieces of text amuses me a bit not because it's out of place, but because it showcases that things happen alongside each other until one is proven clearly the superior. In this instance, we have Philip the Bold commissioning the brothers Jacques and Roland of Majorca to cast large-caliber cannon from 1368-1390. During that time frame, other books in the series will point out say, English Lowbowmen and their utility even as in further days, those like Benjamin Franlkin bemoan the lack of such skilled troops in their own ranks.

The color plates by G A Embleton include the one on the cover. If you enjoy that picture of a knight, the other interior ones are well worth study. These illustrations include various men-at-arms of the time including a few members of Philip the Bold's army from 1363 on color plate A, or a mason, gunner, and archer under Jean de Vergy, the Marshal of Burgundy at the siege of Vellexon on plate B. This is an interesting picture because it shows the mason and gunner in close cooperation working to cast cannon balls while the archer looks on as defense.

On plate C, Philip the Good, the Duke of Burgundy looking much like a knight of Warhammer's Bretonnia. The gentleman of the court surrounding him, as well as the trumpeter though ,are all dressed in white, providing a nice contrast to the multiple colors that make up Philip's own coat of arms and armor.

Another picture that could almost come from a modern Warhammer book, but for the Empire, is on plate E, the Artillery of the 1470's, where a Bombard with a master gunner is preparing to fire as a gunner with serpentine works on various matters of paperwork with gun powder and boxes and cannons beneath him.

In contrast, plate G showcases the Men of the ordinances and includes... well, let's not call them mundane, but a crossbowman, a pikeman, a coustillier, and another crossbowman while on plate H we have more men of the ordinances, including a handgunner, mounted archer, and another longbowmen.

These illustrations serve to showcase the mundane and military use of men of arms of various weapons in military formation and use as opposed to the relatively rogue nature of player's characters who are often masters of various weapons. It's a good instance to showcase that while guns are in use, that those who are skilled with their ware, such as longbow men and mounted archers, are still in demand and still useful.

Such times can showcase that skilled characters, like those of the players, can still make huge changes. That they can challenge the status quota.  Long term mind you, those changes may be irrelevant but could belong to a group of specialist. This would make the characters similar to those who, in super hero settings, like Green Arrow or Hawkeye, continue to use long bows despite the rampant use of guns and other technology that makes the average bowman look silly in contrast.

In the end, I thought Armies of Medieval Burgundy benefited from the various pieces of art drawn from historical sources as well as G A Embleton's skilled hand but the writing seemed... I don't want to say off, but focused a bit too much on the weapons and artillery of the time as opposed to learning anything much of medieval Burgundy itself.