Saturday, January 18, 2014

English Longbowman 1330-1515

English Longbowman 1330-1515, written by Clive Bartlett and illustrated by Gerry Embleton, is one of the Osprey Publishing Warrior series that has seen print on and off through the years. Strangely, the book is currently out of print and I didn't see a Kindle version available from Amazon.

I tend to enjoy this smaller book by Osprey because they tend to have great artist, and the writers tend to put a lot of diverse information, not all of it necessarily with laser like focus on the actual subject but of the time period itself.

The front cover is a combination of pieces from the interior with the left side archer being one of two archers in the actual picture in the book, and the equipment on the right being roughly half a page worth of equipment from a two-page spread of archer equipment in the interior. If you enjoy the cover, you'll appreciate the interior. Gerry Embleton has a nice 'realistic' style.

Gerry does several internal illustrations that bring to life the subject matter in a wide variety of scenes. In one, the archers are practicing their craft. In another, English Longbowmen are fighting their German allies. According to the plate information, this happened from time to time because the German forces wouldn't listen to anyone else.

In another one, soldiers catch a bowyer making bows after dark. And this is forbidden because quality may suffer. In the dark ages before modern electricity, working in the dark was not conducive to quality materials and goods. As these were weapons made for war, it was vital that they be at their highest quality.

The other nice thing is that Gerry also does several internal black and white illustrations. These help further provide details on what archers wore, such as different hats and boots. It provides the reader with an idea of the variety to be found in even these old times.

In terms of roleplaying games, there are often things that spring to mind when reading these books that I try to make a note of to add to my rpgs.

For example, a big part of the potential pay for any English Longbowman, is in plunder and prisoners. Of the plunder, a certain percent is supposed to be kicked up the chain of command, and then higher until it gets to the king. Of the prisoners, depending on that status, the soldier may ransom them back, or they may have to give them to the higher ranking officers for a flat reward.

That part there had adventurers written all over it. I can easily see a group of adventurers capturing a high placed noble. A person of such rank and prestige that they should give him over to their superiors but in many games I've witnessed, player's greed tends to make them take chances that might not always be the wisest. There are all sorts of possibilities in terms of what can they do with such a person, how do they keep him under lock and key? How do they keep him safe? How do they keep others from discovering him?

This doesn't count just regular plunder. One of the notes in the book is that one of the greatest achievements during the wars with France was the movement of so much French wealth back to England. It notes that most wives and households of soldiers had some part of France's wealth decorating it ranging from fur coats and tables to plates and of course, jewelry.

For other role playing bits, there is good old superstition always at work. Soldiers and their commanders would carry certain tokens around with them in order to guarantee victory or survival. One English commander is reputed to have "carried a good-luck token for the whole army in the shape of the banner of St. Cuthbert." Nothing like seeing historical characters and those that have been incorporated into the game's founding meet like that. The Banner of St. Cuthbert might even be a real magic item.

Another interest facet of archers, is that they didn't have a lot of quivers doing on. They often kept the arrows pushed through their belt or in a sack. Gives different opportunities for belts to have abilities that they might not normally be associated with.

One of the problems though when looking at books like this, is they tend to focus on the type of soldier as part of an army. In most role playing games, the players are usually controlling one character at a time. But it does provide you with some ideas if you're running a war. For example, the archers, while not as heavily armed or armored as other soldiers, often found behind staked ground. This prevented knights from charging them. Little details like that can go a long way.

If you're playing an archer like character, from his own experience, he might know to make use of terrain so that the enemy has a harder time getting to him.

Even when it comes to naming conventions, the 'longbow' is called a warbow because they were constructed in mass quantities for wartime and used in wars. It might not change the equipment in the Player's Handbook for example, but if the players start talking about the qualities of their warbows as opposed to longbows, it gives them a more personalized touch.

One thing the book notes, is the importance of having a 'higher' allegiance. It mentions this not as die hard fanatics or anything of that nature, but the willingness to stand and die down to a man for a cause. It assumes a chain of loyalty ranging from the common soldier to his commander, from his commander up the chain of command to the king, and then even to the land itself, to England. This patriotism could be a trait for characters or loyalty to their allies and friends or to the king. Providing characters hooks to the setting can be easy if they are willing to have their characters invest in something outside of themselves.