Wolves in the Wilds

It seems to have been an incredibly long time since I last had a chance to sit down and do any work on the Langobard RPG. However, having floated the idea before, that a play-test should occur at the 2017 IMC in July, guilt and the need to do some more gamification has been nipping at my heels. I’ve started putting together a scenario to test the rules and setting (assuming two to four willing victims, I mean play-testers, can be found for a few hours dice-based merriment). Whether or not the fact that I am now issuing a blogpost on wolves has any relation to that scenario, I surely could not comment…

Wolves are specifically named in only one clause of the Lombard Edictus of 643 CE, that is in Rothari No. 335. The wolf in the clause is incidental, as the law focuses on  a somewhat complex socio-legal situation in which a wolf kills some animal belonging to one man, but then another man taking advantage of the situation, comes along, skins the animal and hides the remains. Should the deed of the second man then be found out through a proditor [informant], then a composition of twelve solidi is owed to the wolf-hunted and opportunistically-skinned animal’s former owner.

As a plot hook, then, the contents of Rothari No. 335 are promising, suggesting at the very least the materials for a sub-plot or solo quest for a single character, if not the kins of event that could escalate into a much larger story. Similarly, the clause is interesting for its implications for black letter legalism. What happens if the predator is some animal other than a wolf, or else is unidentifiable, or is the wolf emblematic for any wild animal, or even the forces of the wild as a whole? Is this a literary wolf more than a legal one? What happens if the hiding of the remains, sans skins, is uncovered by the animal’s original owner or the local legal officials, rather than at the hands of an (I presume, third-party) informant?

The question of what happens if the opportunistic skinner does not hide the evidence of their crime? Here, the law-code does provide an answer: Rothari no. 336 addresses the skinning of an animal by somebody who does not own it, after the animal has died in a river or some other place. This time, no mention is made about hiding the remains nor about the perpetrator’s deeds being uncovered by a proditor. And yet, the composition due here remains twelve solidi. It would seem then that, despite the wolf-clause’s emphasis on the stealthy mode of the act, the actual crime is the skinning of somebody else’s incidentally killed beast. These can be further contrasted with Rothari No. 313, which sets a penalty for hiding another person’s animal (whether it is dead or wounded) at six solidi. That is to say, half the composition due should the skin be taken as well.

All this though is taking us away from wolves and gamification. Before reining in the focus entirely, however, there is another clause i should like to mention: Rothari no. 309. Here attention is extended to ‘wild animals’ as a whole, and the clause addresses liability when one person injures an animal and it then goes on to injure another person or damage their property. Wolves are not explicitly named, and it seems fair to say from the context that this includes any animal which is hunted, whether for sport, food and skins/furs, or perhaps even for the good of the community. The limit of liability is set at as long as that person or their dogs pursues the injured beast, with the hunter paying composition for damage or death as if they had inflicted it directly themselves. But immediately after they have turned away from the hunt, their liability is relinquished. Conversely, a clause soon after (Rothari No. 314) states that an injured wild animal (the clause names a stag explicitly first, before encompassing the situation with a general ‘or other animal’) that is no longer being pursued belongs to the person who injured it for up to twenty-four hours from the moment which they relinquished their pursuit.

Again, I digress from my point, but i cannot help but think that these clauses provide inspiring materials for plot and settings! What i am really using them for here, though, is to justify creating non-player character (NPC) wolf units. (I also think the general comments on ‘other animals’ permit the consideration of creatures such as bears, that are not explicitly stated in the law-code, but that is a consideration for another day). What is required here is some consideration of the wolf as an animal, and as an NPC/encounter in an RPG.

Perhaps the most alluring, instantly occurring option is to make the wolf the slavering nemesis of humanity that folklore so often presents it as. For gamification reasons, having a wolf (or a pack of wolves) as an easily to hand combat encounter is certainly a ready-made event for a storytelling session. And of course, with the statistics (that will be) given in the Bestiary section of the rules, that can easily be implemented.

However, as with any antagonistic character introduced into the story, making sure they have a compelling motive for attacking the characters is fundamental. That clause mentioned previously outlines one such grounds: an injured animal made violent through its agony. A long, harsh winter and the threat of starvation will of course also lead wolves to stray closer to human settlements, and may even be enough to turn them into people-eaters. The classic approach to enemies within a role-play game setting simply does not work: wolves will not fight to the death without good reason (such as being cornered, or the aforementioned desperation fostered by impending starvation). For the most part, though, their concerns are self-preservation, and flight and caution should take a notable role.

In practice, wolves tend to focus their hunting on larger, hoofed animals when available, or smaller game otherwise. The fact that our Langobard farmers are engaged in the rearing of pigs, goats, cattle and horses (and not to forget the mention of domesticated deer in Rothari No. 316) clearly brings human and wolf into conflict, but perhaps we as storytellers can avoid the trope of the wolf as human nemesis. One game mechanism employed to discourage this approach in Langobard RPG is that development points or ‘dp’ (the expenditure of which being use to improve the skills and other such traits) are not awarded simply for killing, but for characterisation, participation, achieving notable goals, and engaging with the source materials.

Eurasian wolves, which I assume are the species found in and around Lombard Italy, although I need to research this in more detail, like their cousins the grey wolf, tend to hunt in packs when their is larger game to be brought down, or alone when the prey is smaller. That most wolf encounters in the game will be around the edges of Langobardic agricultural society presupposes then that while a lone wolf might be encountered, a pack is more likely. Likewise, most wolves probably will be encountered in story in conflict with humans in one way or another.

From an initial search on wolf behaviour, I learn that eurasian wolf packs tend to be slightly smaller than grey wolf packs, but I have not yet uncovered specific numbers. For the grey wolves, a pack averages four to nine members, sometimes as many as fifteen. Larger packs are occasionally known, but if the numbers reach as high as thirty they will soon split into two packs, each carving out its own territory.

For a pack of wolves in Lombard Italy, then, we can hazard a randomised size of 1d6+2 members (that is one six-sided dice ‘d6’ plus two, or three to eight in all) while a large pack might have 1d6+9 wolves, or 10-15 in all. Of those wolves, there will be the breeding and leading alpha male and female, who might have a litter of up to six (so, 1d6) cubs in a given year. Male and female wolves are ordered in their own hierarchies within the pack, and all work together to feed, raise and protect the young.

Eurasian wolves, like grey wolves, tend to be larger further north and smaller to the south. Clearly Lombard Italy is to the south, so smaller instances of wolfkind might be expected, but I am uncertain as to how – or indeed if – this changes in regions such as the north of the Langobard regnum, where the terrain extends into the Alps.

For game purposes, a wolf has a number of numerical traits measured on the same scale as a human character. These are likewise used in the arbitration system in the same manner, as and when Host, circumstances and story require. The main traits a wolf possesses are the skills for athleticsbrawling (bite, claws)dodgehuntingleadershipnotice and stealth, as well as the weaponry of their body (fangs and claws), and the natural armour of their fur, and their overall wounds and injuries. As these traits have originally been designed to convey human capabilities and technology, the Host may need to imagine and apply appropriate modifiers such as a bonus to hearing or scent based notice rolls and a penalty to vision based ones, or a bonus for a running based athletics attempt, but (severe) penalties for say climbing or dancing!

Click here to open a pdf of the first-draft of the Bestiary page for Wolves.

 

Character Names

The basic structure of the ‘table-top’ or ‘pen and paper’ roleplay game is, for the uninitiated, a small group of (usually) some three to seven people. One of those players hosts the story, they are the ‘narrator’, ‘games-master’ (or ‘GM’), ‘storyteller’ or similar appellation depending on the system (I prefer ‘host’) and they are responsible for leading the story, portraying incidental characters and arbitrating disputes. Meanwhile, each of the other players in the group portrays a single character, one of the protagonists around whom the story revolves. It’s on the characters of this larger group that I mostly want to focus on here.

Each of these main players has, effectively, a first-person presence within the story. As such, the name of the character they are portraying is central to their identity in the story. It’s also difficult to get right. Finding a name for a character often proves to be difficult, and although it is usually one of the first entries on the character sheet, most players tend to leave it to by the very last thing they decide. I’ve seen more than one game start only to be immediately disrupted by at least one player suddenly remembering they haven’t found a name yet. Similarly, it’s easy for a player to opt for a name that is silly, and which can disrupt the feel of the story, throwing the players out of the setting each time it is addressed. I confess myself to having had an Arthurian knight called ‘Sir Real’, in a game of Pendragon when I was in my teens.

For the Langobard RPG we need the names to be applicable to the Lombard setting. Ideally, the names would be derived from the Edictus Rothari itself, and from the additions made by later Lombard kings. This, however, leads to three problems that I wish to explore here.

Firstly, only a few names are actually mentioned in the laws, and with the exception of the notary Ansoald tasked in the final clause of the Edictus (Rothari No. 388) with producing each copy of the law-book or ensuring that it was an accurate copy), most of the names are the kings or other ancestors. In addition to Rothair, the kings who issued later legislation comprise Grimouald, Liutprand, Ratchis and Aistulf.

The prologue to the Edictus includes two lists of names, the first naming sixteen previous Lombard kings, and with Rothair being the seventeenth. The earlier parts of the list are undoubtedly mythical, but it is worth reproducing the names here as there are twenty-four in all: Agilmund from the family of Gugingus, Lamisio, Leth, Geldehoc son of Leth, Godehoc son of Geldehoc, Claffo son of Geldehoc, Tato son of Claffo and mention also of Winigis another son of Claffo, The next king named is Wacho son of Winigis, then Waltari, Audoin of the family of Gausus, Alboin son of Audoin, who led the Langobards into Italy, Clef of the family of Beleos, Authari son of Clef, Agilulf Turingus of the family of Anawas, Adalwald son of Agilulf, and Arioald of the family of Caupus. Finally in the kings’ list, Rothair is named as the son of Nanding of the family of Harodus.

The next list then expands on Rothair’s paternal ancestry, beginning with his father Nanding and then going back through his paternal grandfather and great-fathers through another eleven names: Nozuni, Nozu, Alamund, Alaman, Hilzo, Weilo, Weo, Frocho, Facho, Mammo and finally Obthora.

The laws, then, contain forty-one names in all. Not a bad number, but it leads us to the second of the problems I mentioned at the outset. These names (even Ansoald), must have resonated in Lombard society, and formed a cornerstone of establishing a Langobardic ethnic identity within a historical and mythical setting. Whether or not individuals knew that some of the names were mythic rather than strictly historical, of course, is irrelevant. On the one hand, then these names would have been very well known, and using them might be confusing – especially with Alboin, Rothair and the other kings who legislated. On the other hand, and I have not pursued this as a prosopographical line of academic research, presumably their fame meant that people were more likely to name their children after them, just as children in the modern day frequently get named after which ever celebrity is popular at the time of their birth. This point, then, is more of a context and situation to consider, rather than a real problem.

The third problem, however, is the most serious, and accordingly I have left it to last. Each of the names given in the Edictus is male (and also of high class in Lombard society). The Langobard RPG, however, is intended to allow the creation of both male and female characters and from all classes of Lombard society. I’m planning to do a separate post on ‘class and gender’, and how the laws explicitly sought to create and reinforce these identity roles, in the near future, so I won’t say too much about that here. The point I wish to make here is that to find suitable names for characters we are going to have to look more widely than the scope of the Lombard laws.

Thankfully, there are a number of other contemporary texts and documents that can be consulted, both written from within Lombard society and from outside looking in or back on to it. The most notable of these must be Paul the Deacon’s History of the Lombards (that is the Historia langobardorum). Similarly, charters and other documents also survive, and digital editions of many are available for download as pdfs from the dMGH.

Two other resources that I have found particularly useful (when making the previous posts in which I took the nascent combat system out for a ride) and would like to reiterate are Nicoletta Francovich-Onesti, ‘The Lombard Names of Early Medieval Tuscany’, available via academia.edu and the Dictionary of Medieval Names from European Sources, edited by Sara L. Uckelman. Uckleman’s project includes names from a variety of early medieval sources, but does not have (yet?) a search option to refine by the location or date, but is still fun and informative to search through by hand.

The Francovich-Onesti paper considers names as likely signifiers for ethnic origins, whether Langobard, Roman or mixed. While the Edictus primarily addresses Langobards, occasional mention is also made of Romans, so both sets are of use. For convenience, and to balance out the glut of male names above, I will finish this post by extracting some of the female names present in the Francovich-Onesti article (following her convention, Roman elements in the names are in italics, and for convenience I’ve put the ones that are partially or entirely langobardic in bold): Adalperga, Aliperga, Alitruda, Alpuli, Alpergula, Altiperga, Anstruda, Anstrualda, Astruelda, Auderada, Auria, Aurula , Beninato, Boniperga, Bonosula, Ermilinda, Geipergula, Ghiserada, Ghittia, Liutpergula, Luciperga, Lucipergula, Maricindula, Marciula, Maura, Muntia, Plaita (?), Rachiperga, Radalperga, Rattruda, Sindiperga, Sisula, Sunderada, Teudiperga and Willerada

In the Langobard RPG, Name’ then will be one of the main non-numerical traits within the section containing the fundamental elements of the Character identity. deciding on a name for a new character can be daunting, but I hope that the information here and the suggestions for further reading will be of use!

Impending Violence II: wounds and armour

I decided to split this post into two parts, as I may have got a little carried away with setting the scene previously and got a little verbose. It also felt like a good, natural place to pause before, having introduced the arbitration system, for dicepools and difficulty, interpretation of ordinary and opposed rolls, as well as going through the character sheet and setting up a couple of proxies to beat seven shades of shi…omething from each other 😉

Just to refresh your memory, and to make a few tweaks, we have Adroald, an impoverished merchant freeman of middling years armed with a lance/spear and dressed in threadbare tunic and hose, while Banco son of Causeradi, is a one-eyed, nineteen years’ old, freeman with a sword in hand. For convenience, I’ve put their character sheets below, again. I’m going to tweak things a bit and retcon onto Banco a leather jerkin, a pair of stout leather boots, and carrying a shield in the other hand, so that we can explore the effects of armour as well. You probably guessed that I gamed the dice rolls in the previous post (yeah, I’m rail-roading my, um, self) so as to demonstrate the specific rules in question.

To calculate the outcome of a (successful) attack, determination of a number of things are required:

  • Firstly, whether the blow fell, comprising one roll for the attack and another for the defence (the opposed roll discussed in part I),
  • Secondly, where on the body the blow fell; while the mechanics for this are optional, this can be up to two dice rolls (discussed here), and
  • Finally, the severity of injury caused, which takes into account the means of attack and any relevant armour.

In all, this could mean as many as four separate dice rolls for the attacker and a further two for the defender. I can hear the gears of the story and narrative flow crunching and grinding to a halt. The methods employed to counter this are obviously to get rid of as many dice rolls as possible. One approach taken was to make the basic assumption for location allow that if a player aims for a specific body part (head, chest, hips, arms, legs, hands or feet) then this bestows neither positive nor negative modifier. I forgot this when I wrote part I of this post, and gave Banco a -1d6 modifier for the ‘called shot’ when he fired his second to fourth arrows, and only Adroald’s head was showing. In practice, I feel that that was the right call, and will probably tweak the rules so that aiming at the chest, hips, arms or legs is neutrally weighted, while specifically aiming for the head, hands or feet requires a penalty.

Rather than having another set of rolls to be made to determine the extent of the injury inflicted (before armour), I want to make this related to the main skill roll. As the system currently stands we have four wounds of increasing severity, and I added a fifth level in which minimal ill-effect was caused, a ‘Minor Wound’ that includes temporary inconveniences such as being winded, knocked to the ground, a nosebleed, scratch or a bruise. Injuries that will heal of their own accord, and won’t cause any ill-effect to the character after a few moments.

The five levels of wound then are:

Minor Wound, an insignificant injury, that will heal of its own causes no lasting ill-effect beyond the moment it is inflicted

Ordinary Wound, that will most likely heal within a few weeks

Severe Wound that may heal within a few months

Permanent Wound, in which part of the body is cut off or paralysed, and may result in a specific Injury trait.

Fatal Wound, from which the character (almost certainly) dies soon after receiving.

Each weapon has a basic damage rating, for brawling this will be ‘Minor Wound’, while most other weapons will be set at ‘Ordinary Wound’ (or ‘Severe Wound’ for very heavy duty pieces). If the attacking player succeeds with a basic success, this is the type of wound that gets inflicted. However, the severity of the wound is increased by one level for each ‘6’ rolled in the player’s attack, but decreased by one level for each ‘6’ that the defending player rolled.

If the wound is to hit an area of the body that is covered by armour, then the defending player rolls the dicepool of that, and for a basic success (total of 6 or greater) reduces the damage by one severity level, and reduces it by a further severity level for each dice showing a ‘6’ as before. However, each flaw (that is each dice showing a ‘1’) indicates damage to the armour, which the player should keep track of. For every three (3) flaws accrued the effectivity of the armour gets reduced by one point, until it becomes broken an ineffective.

Adroald has only threadbare clothing, so gains no armour bonus. Conversely, Banco son of Causeradi is wearing leather boots and a leather jerkin, which means that the latter protects his chest and hips, the former his left foot and right foot. Each of these areas, then, has an armour rating, which for leather will be 1d6, so if the blow lands there he has extra defence, while his hands, arms, legs and head are undefended.

Banco is also carrying a shield, which means he can use the shield skill to defend himself. This is simply used as an ordinary skill, except that as the shield is fundamentally a thing to hide behind, hiding behind it should usually be relatively easy (unless game circumstances contradict this, an attack from behind, say) and the Host will normally add a +1d6 modifier to the roll. As with the armour, flaws will contribute to the shield.

There doesn’t seem to be anything else that needs to be outlined here, so, (finally), to battle!


Banco came swiftly down the slope towards the wagon, shield and sword in hand. His rage was growing, but his mind was clear enough to formulate a plan when Adroald stepped out from behind the wagon. The older man held the spear competently in both hands, its point levelled towards his assailant’s chest. Adroald used the back of the wagon to cover his flank, hoping for a chance to take advantage of Banco’s reduced field of vision.

With a sudden yell, Banco increased his pace, swinging the shield to drive the point of the spear away from him, seeking to get within its reach so he could swing the sword towards its former owner. At the same time, Adroald waited for the last moment, then crouched low against the wagon, lowered the spear point beneath the shield rim, below the hem of the leather jerkin aiming for a leg.

 


In rules terms then we have an opposed roll, in which each player is trying to use multiple skills simultaneously. Banco is using the shield (1 + 1d6 for the innate difficulty bonus) to knock away the spear, while making a duelling (1) attack with the sword, and using athletics (2) as he’s running and trying to manoeuvre himself within the range of Adroald’s spear. Adroald is using lance (1) to aim and attack with the spear and dodge (1) to evade the blow. The rules for using multiple skills are pretty straightforward: only one trait of each type can be used in a roll, so if two or more skills are being used simultaneously or are equally applicable, then use the one with the lowest value. The Host should also factor the complexity of performing multiple actions simultaneously into the difficulty rating. As both Adroald’s skills are at level one, his base roll is 1d6. and the Host decides the difficulty should be ‘tricky’, which bestows no further penalty or bonus to the dicepool. Banco has, in practice, one skill at level one and two at level two, so his base roll is also 1d6. The Host is tempted to say that as two further skills are being employed, the modifier should be ‘difficult’ (-1d6), but feels like the fact that Banco is moving should be taken as a part of the overall situation, especially as he is a ‘master’ of athletics. The Host decides to set the difficulty rating also at ‘tricky’. So each player rolls 1d6.

You know, I don’t actually need to rail road this now, I’m going to actually roll it… I got a ‘6’ or a good success for Adroald, and a ‘2’ or a failure for Banco.


Banco lunged in, swinging the shield at the spear tip even as it began to dip. The shield ploughed through the area where the shaft of the merchant’s spear had been a mere fraction of a second before. But there was nothing to resist his blow, and he almost lost his balance. The swing of his sword lost its timing and went wide long before he was even close enough to cut flesh, as a burst of pain flared in his right leg. The merchant had dropped to one knee, skilfully lowering the spear point, so his aim shifted from leather-clad chest to exposed ‘lagi’, the thigh. The spear point cut through flesh and muscle, causing a gout of blood to spray out and Banco to yell in pain. The horse, already spooked by the battle, startled, and tried to rear on tis hind legs against the weight of the yoke and wagon. Then, it began to move rapidly as it could, dragging the wagon away from the fighting pair.

Banco staggered backwards, testing the weight on his leg and hobbling, even as another surge of fury enlivened his body and drove the pain from his awareness. He lunged forward with a yell, closing the distance between them as he swung the shield like a club at his adversary. Adroald was already trying to dodge back out the way, to get distance enough to bring the spear point to bear once more.

 


The ‘6’ rolled for Banco’s attack, increases the severity of the damage inflicted from the default rating of an Ordinary Wound by one level to being a Severe Wound. That gets marked on the character sheet, by filling out the entirety of one of the wound slots in pencil. The Host concludes that the femoral artery hasn’t been severed nor have any of the muscles of tendons, but this wound will still be a significant hindrance, especially in the short run. Despite this, Banco’s next action is a shield roll, so 2d6 from the skill rating and the bonus 1d6 for the item itself, and with no further modifier as the Host decides that taking all circumstances into account (ill effects of the wound, being off balance, etc.) that the overall circumstances are ‘tricky’. Meanwhile Adroald is simply trying to dodge back and regain ground, though the now moving wagon is making this tricky, giving him a total dicepool of 1d6.

I rolled a good success for Banco (‘6’ and a ‘4’), and a failure for Adroald (a ‘3’).

 


Adroald tried to scramble back from his crouching position and regain his feet, even Banco lunged forward. The shield swung towards him, an inescapable bludgeon. He was too slow, and Banco roared with satisfaction and excitement, as the wood crunched forcibly into the flesh of Adroald’s shoulder. Adroald yelled, almost dropping the spear as his fingers went numb, but then just managing to keep his hold. He sought to raise the spear and to lunge once more at his attacker, even as Banco swung the sword down at him in a follow up strike.

 


Adroald has no armour and rolled no ‘6’s in his defence, while Banco rolled a success with a total of 10, and including one ‘6’. The normal severity of the wound for a blow from the shield, a Minor Wound, is raised by one level to an Ordinary Wound – severe bruising that should heal within a few weeks. It gets marked on Adroald’s character sheet by filling in half of a wound slot in pencil.

The next two attacks are duelling for Banco and lance for Adroald, again in an opposed roll. The Host judges each to be ‘fair’, and so 2d6 are rolled by each: a good success with a ‘6’ and a ‘4’ for Adroald, and a failure of a ‘4’ and a ‘1’ (a flaw) for Banco. The Host presupposes that Adroald’s successful attack strikes Banco in the chest, while Banco’s armour roll of 1d6 comes up a successful ‘6’.

 


The swing of Banco’s sword went wide, missing Adroald. His weight went heavily onto his injured leg, causing white pain to flare through him. At the same moment the lunge of Adroald’s spear caught into his side, the thick leather slowing the point and lessening the impact of the blow. Still, it was enough that a spasm pulsed through Banco’s hand right hand and the sword fell to the ground. Keeping the spear levelled at Banco’s chest, Adroald got to his feet, and pushed the injured youth firmly away from the fallen sword.

“Leave, boy” he growled, “you’re bested”.

Banco nodded, clutching at his wounded and bleeding thigh with his free hand, the other hand trying to edge the shield between the spear point and his chest. He took a step back, a little nervous, then another while Adroald watched him. When the distance between them was enough, Adroald glanced over his shoulder, and saw where the horse and wagon had drawn to a halt a few dozen paces away. He didn’t turn

“Go to your gastald, Banco son of Causeradi, and tell him what you’ve done”. Adroald called across the gap between them. Banco had paused, his face white from pain and blood loss, but he nodded again. Adroald shouted again, even as he climbed onto wagon and took up the reigns, never once taking his eye from his injured assailant. “I’ll go to mine too. And we’ll settle this soon before the judge”.


Overall, I would say that this rules test has been a success. A few things to be tweaked have arisen, of course, either for the mechanics or for how I’ve instinctively implemented the rules and arbitration system:

  • I already emended the ‘called shots’ details in the progress of writing this post, making the hands, feet and head be a -1d6 called shot, while aiming for the chest, hips, legs and arms counts as a normal.

  • I found that my tendency was to shift the normal assessment of difficulty to ‘tricky’, despite the underlying presumption that the most ordinarily introduced situation should have a +1d6 modifier. I may add ‘Ordinary’ in to the difficulty scale at the +1d6 level, raise ‘fair’ to +2d6 and make ‘easy’ +3d6.

 

  • The arbitration system for armour itself seemed to work well. However, I chose the armour rating for the leather items of 1d6 almost at random: I had the assumption that leather would be 1d6, mail 3d6. Through the course of writing I felt this was too low for the leather, and that I should raise it to 2d6 instead. However, I think the 1d6 then could be given to thick clothing such as good quality linen, winter woolens, or furs. However, having mail have only a single d6 more than leather does not feel right to me, so I would likewise raise that to 4d6.

  • The auto bonus for the shield worked well, certainly for a small or regular shield. A larger shield might be 2d6, but here, as with the specific details of the armour as inventory, I’m out of my sphere of knowledge, and I shall need to spend some time reading up on Lombard arms and armour.

 

  • The need to keep track of where the injuries fall for lesser wounds as well as permanent ones is becoming apparent. Using the example from the play test, the severe wound to Banco’s leg might take a few months to heal. During that time, I think it should provide a temporary negative modifier to related skills so Banco trying to use say the athletics skill to run on that leg should be hindered. As such, tying the wounds explicitly to the body parts for recoverable injuries as well as permanent seems feasible. However, I’m not yet certain how to implement this.

I hope you’ve had a great winter, and this pair of posts have entertained, The Langobard RPG is definitely coming together, and the completion of the core rules (that is character and arbitration) draws ever nearer. See you soon.

Impending Violence I: arbitration and setting the scene

Somewhere in what is now Northern Italy,
a late-summer’s day in the 650s CE

A stout horse with shaggy brown hair and measuring some thirteen hands trudged along a winding mud track, dragging along a half-laden wagon behind it. The driver was a man of middling years, named Adroald. His face and exposed arms weather-beaten from long hours on the road, and with streaks of grey in his hair and beard. He was a low ranking, landless freeman of the sort of social status whose widrigild, his worth should he be killed, would be set three-quarters of a century later at 150 solidi by a law of Liutprand in the twelfth year of his reign (No. 62, 724 CE). He was also a merchant, bordering on impoverished and his clothes running to threadbare, his bow old, arrows crooked and the lance that lay in the wagon back rickety to say the least. He had not always been so unfortunate, had been doing well even, but a legal case a few years back had turned sour, and erupted into violence. The aftermath had left him owing nearly all his wealth in compensation. A few more solidi to pay and he would have been enslaved and turned over to his victim, instead he remained free if poor.

The winding trackway they followed bisected the land into two parts. above them to the north were rising hills, land of poorer quality that hosted a smattering of ageing trees and served as pasture for goats and the herders who watched over them. Beyond those hills loomed the peaks of the alps, their tips snow free and bathed in the afternoon light of the late summer sun. The lower lands to the south held a promiscuous mix of crops, grains growing amidst olive trees and vines, all maturing well as harvest time drew nearer daily. The merchant breathed deeply, savouring the late summer weather until the horse picked up on his languid mood and slowed; its attention wilfully turned from its labours to a spray of yellowing grass that sprouted by the wayside. Recalling the goods that were languishing in the wagon back, his hands grew suddenly sweaty as he thought of the profit to be made. Perhaps this trip would be the one to fill his coffers once more? He flicked the reins impatiently, urging the beast onwards.

The horse suddenly nickered uncertainly, and it pawed the ground. Its eyes narrowed and its ears pointed forwards, directed towards a copse of trees that stood somewhat ahead of them, on the uphill side of their dried out and muddy path. Adroald glanced over, squinting as he scanned the boughs and undergrowth for the source of the disturbance…


My intentions in this blog post are to have some fun. As well as to put some of what I’ve been developing for the Langobard RPG into context, and to playtest some of the combat and arbitration rules. I guess it’s also become a festive present for you, dear readers, with the timing that the pieces are coming into place: merry xmas, have some bloodshed, violence and gore 😉

There’s still a lot to be done, of course, and the rules outlined and explored here are provisional rather than final. Since the last post I’ve anticipated some elements that will be done in the near future and re-worked a few minor details already present. Below is an outline of the character sheet as it currently stands, filled out to describe Aldroad from my setting the scene at the outset. (As an aside, I got the name, and others I’ll use in this blogpost, from Nicoletta Francovich Onesti, ‘The Lombard Names of Early Medieval Tuscany’, available via academia.edu. Another useful resource will be the Dictionary of Medieval Names from European Sources, edited by Sara L. Uckelman.

I’ve ghosted out the segments of the character sheet that haven’t been discussed in a blog post yet, although some are more speculative than others – the it where it says inventory is little more than a place holder, while I have a blogpost partially written for the two new motivations of ‘pride’ and ‘shame’. I’ve pretty much arbitrarily decided to let starting characters have seven (7) points in all to be distributed between the Motivations, while the Skills have ten (10) at level 1 (learner) and two (2) at level 2 (master).

npc-adroald-merchant-dec2016

Starting Character: Adroald

So let us consider the basic arbitration system, before turning back to what Adroald should attempt next. When a character wishes to attempt an action based on one of their skills, the underlying number of six-sided dice (or ‘#d6’) that they roll (their ‘dicepool’) is equal to the numerical value of the appropriate trait. The total number of d6 in the dicepool will be further modified by a difficulty rating determined by the Host of the story (elsewhere termed the ‘storyteller’, ‘gamesmaster’ or ‘GM’, and so forth, depending on the RPG system) to reflect the overall complexity of the task in question, environmental conditions, and so forth. Four main levels of difficulty are anticipated, although extreme circumstances may cause the Host to extend further beyond these as appropriate. The main modifiers to be used are given below, with a ‘fair’ difficulty being the most common.

Difficulty

  • Easy                 +2d6
  • Fair                  +1d6
  • Tricky              –
  • Difficult           -1d6

 

Lets put that in relation to the situation we left Adroald in. He’s trying to spot what has disturbed is horse, but without too much concern, his thoughts are elsewhere, particularly on getting his goods to market. The main skill he’ll be rolling for is notice, for which he has a trait rating of ‘1’. The Host determines that all things considered, the difficulty of the situation is pretty much equal, or ‘fair’, and bestows +1d6 modifier to the dicepool. Adroald’s player, then, rolls 2d6 (that is two six-sided dice), and manages to throw a ‘1’ and a ‘4’. So what does this mean?

 

Interpretation of the dice-roll runs as follows:

  • If the sum of all the dice is equal to 6 or higher than whatever was being attempted has been accomplished, a success – albeit with the most basic of proficiency.
  • For each dice that actually shows a ‘6’ however, the qualitative degree of success increases, through (1) good, (2) brilliant, (3) excellent and (4) outstanding, while (5) or more is deemed as near to perfect as could be imagined.
  • Conversely, if the sum of the dice is equal to five or less, then whatever has been attempted is a failure.
  • Regardless of the outcome, though, for each dice that shows a ‘1’ a flaw is added into the outcome, determined by the Host to suit the situation.

 

For Adroald’s attempt to scan his surroundings, the sum of his 2d6 roll is ‘5’. This means that his attempt is a failure: whatever spooked his horse has escaped his notice. Moreover, because one die shows a ‘1’ a flaw has crept into the attempt too:


 

Adroald glanced around, his forehead furrowed as he squinted and scowled towards the trees. He cast his eyes back and forth, while the horse snorted its discomfort. There was nothing there, he decided, his thoughts already turning back to regaining his lost wealth. With a shrug he flicked the reins sharply, and with a snort and a creak of the wagon’s wheels the horse grudgingly picked up its pace once more.

The whistling sound of an arrow cut suddenly through the air. Adroald whipped his head round, taken by surprise and flinched back as the shaft arced passed a hair’s breadth from his face. A red hot sting on his face, made him wonder if blood had been drawn even as he yelled in surprise. Looking round to see the source of attack, he was already flinging himself from the wagon as another arrow arced through the air towards him.

It missed by a span wider than his arms, and thunked into the trunk of an olive-tree further down the slope. Struggling back to his feet, Adroald crouched behind the wagon side, while the horse snorted with fear and pawed anxiously at the ground. Cautiously he raised his head to see if he could spot his assailant or reach his own weapons. His eyes were barely above the edge, when another arrow shot towards him, this one much closer. There was no way he could reach his own bow, he concluded, but the lance in the wagon back was just in reach. His assailant would surely run out of arrows soon, then it would be time to level the field. He crept to the back of the wagon, and peered cautiously over once more.

The next arrow came low, smacking into a sack in the back of the wagon and causing Adroald to duck back down once more, but not before his hand had grasped the shaft of his spear. Silence fell. Cautiously, Adroald peered round the back of the wagon towards the copse. Even as he did so, an enraged yell suddenly filled the air. His assailant was already halfway between the trees and the wagon, a sword now held in one hand. Seeing that his approach had been spotted, the attacker broke into a run, a grimace of fury twisting his all to familiar features. Banco, son of Causeradi, five years had passed and he was no longer a boy. But there was no mistaking his features, nor the scarred face and missing eye. The eye that Adroald had cost him.

 

A short while earlier

Banco sat well in his saddle, despite the sullen thoughts that weighed him down as he rode through barely familiar lands. He glowered at the passing hills, farmland and the occasional enslaved fieldworkers that he passed through his one good eye. The other socket was empty, a livid scar running onto his cheek from the cut that had cost him his eye. A court case some five years back between his father and a merchant, Adroald, who despite being a freeman was as dishonest as they came. When the case had come to blows, he had lost the eye on Adroald’s sword, a boy of fourteen years leaping to the defence of his ungrateful father. The sword that took his eye hung at his side now, it had been given to his father as part of the composition for his son’s eye, and his father had in turn given it to him.

At nineteen years old, Banco had grown strong, channelling his resentment into anger and proficiency at arms. There would be chance enough to use those skills in his life, he knew, but for now his now aged and sickening father treated him as a messenger who could take care of himself. His current chore particularly rankled; he was returning from arranging the transfer of a swathe of fertile land to a monastic foundation to the south. It might be for the good of old Causeradi’s soul, but it was putting further strain on the already stretched inheritance that he and his four half-brothers would receive. As a natural, but not legitimate son Banco’s portion would already be lesser, and hid father had squandered much wealth on pleasures when he was younger and now on the church as he grew sick and began to fret for his life.

But what made this chore so especially onerous, was that the land whose transfer he had just helped arrange, had been part of the settlement for his own eye. He fumed at the cruelty and unfairness of it all.

On the winding trackway ahead of him he noticed a merchant’s wagon, plodding along at a steady pace. It had been give years, but the face and figure of the man steering it had become etched into his mind. Resentment flared into anger, and casting his good eye over the surrounding landscape, a plan for vengeance unfurled.

He rode the horse at a gallop over the crest of the hill, scattering goats in all directions and causing their herder to run after them. From behind a stunted tree that grew atop of the hill he watched the steady progression of the wagon. If he rode down now he might be spotted too early, but there was a copse of trees close to the path. He could tether the horse here sneak down unnoticed and launch his ambush from there.

Sword at his side and bow and quiver in his hands he made his way unseen the trees, concealed himself and strung the bow. Nocking an arrow he took the best aim he could with his one good eye and waited for Adroald to draw nearer. A minute stretched slowly passed, as the wagon crept nearer.

The summer breeze must have carried his scent to the draft horse because it suddenly shied, looked around and then narrowed its gaze fearfully towards his hiding place and snorted. Adroald looked up, squinting to see the source of alarm. Unwilling to risk losing his advantage, Banco loosed the arrow even as the merchant turned his attention away. The arrow sped past, grazing his foe’s cheek perhaps, but a wasted shot in all. He nocked and fired the second arrow quickly as he could, it cut through the air where Adroald had been sitting a second before – but the startled merchant was already flinging himself from the wagon with a yelp.

The next arrow ready, he waited until Adroald peeked his head over the wagon side and shot once more, even as the merchant reached for his own bow. The arrow went high, but it clsoer this time. He nocked and aimed once more, waiting for the head to peek over the top. A movement form the corner of his eye caught his attention, and he realised that Adroald had moved towards the back of the wagon, and was reaching in for something. He shfited his aim and shot hastily, the arrow went low, colliding into one of the sacks in the back of the wagon and causing the Adroald to skitter back into safety once more. As soon as the arrow was loosed though, Banco dropped his bow, drew his sword and hurried down the slope towards his waiting enemy. Vengeance would be his, was the only thought in his enraged mind, even as Adroald stepped out from behind the wagon, a long spear held competently in his hands.

 


 

npc-banco-one-eyed-freeman-dec2016

Starting Character: Banco son of Causeradi

Banco is created in a similar fashion to Adroald, it is simply that the traits and points have been spent differently. Note, though, that the same number of points have been spent. With both characters in play and, I hope a suitable narrative background to explain why we are about to make them beat seven shades of something from each other, it’s time to go deeper into the game mechanics.

Banco fired four arrows in total and I want first to consider them from his perspective, or at least the perspective of his (imagined) player. For each of the shots we are assuming a separate diceroll (depending on the nature of the group, the Host might be able to group together into one roll or automatically arbitrate the outcome of a few). What matters here, though, is that we have a one-eyed man attempting to shoot a bow at a semi-concealed target, who keeps popping up in different places, and sometimes actively tries to evade the incoming attack.

Looking at Banco’s character sheet you will see that he has one point in the archery skill, he’s trained to the extent of being pretty good, a competent learner. His base roll in this situation then is 1d6. However, being one-eyed makes it harder for him to judge the distance, and that is adding in a -1d6 modifier, so effectively his skill has been cancelled out by the specific relevance of his disability to the situation. For Banco, everything will come down to the difficulty modifier and, as an element of that, whether he has a chance to aim and prepare.

Banco’s first arrow is initially aimed, but loosed a little hastily and at a greater range than he desired, as he becomes apprehensive that he has been rumbled. Conversely, Adroald is sat in the open and has dismissed the uneasiness as a figment of his imagination, or of his horse’s anyway. The Host sums this together and decides that the difficulty for this should make it an Easy shot: +2d6. Adroald has no defence in this situation, he’s effectively a sitting duck. We already know from the narrative above that the arrow missed, that’s because Banco (or rather, his player) rolled a ‘2’ and a ‘3’, which makes ‘5’ in all. No specific flaws, but nevertheless a failure. Taking into account the two characters involved in this situation, in game it would probably have played out something like: Adroald’s player declares intent to scan the surroundings for what disturbed his horse (the Notice roll), So Banco fearing that he has been rumbled decides to launch his attack early. In practice Adroald fails to spot the ambush, and Banco’s too-hasty shot misses. The host decides to turn the flaw that Adroald’s player rolled (the die with a ‘1’), into a minor wound, in which, while it misses its target, the arrow comes just close enough to sting and draw a drop of blood. The injury has no lasting effect on the game mechanics for the character, but it imparts a tangible edge of drama into the story.

The second shot came quickly after the first, so there’s barely any time for preparation. On the other hand, Adroald is still exposed in the open. (An alternate approach the Host could have taken would have been to have let the flaw from the notice roll manifest as several seconds of frozen surprise and indecision after the attack). The Host judges this to be of ‘fair’ difficulty, so therefore the roll is 1d6: and a ‘6’ is rolled. Now, this should be a ‘good’ success, but Adroald was already flinging himself out the way. As such an opposed roll is introduced into the play.

The Host calls for an Athletics roll from Adroald’s player. Adroald has a skill rating of 2, and the Host judges the situation again to be ‘fair’. The player rolls 3d6, and gets a ‘3’ a ‘4’ and a ‘6’. A total of 13, with the ‘6’ raising it from a basic to a good success. In practice, both players have been successful, so the outcomes have to be compared. As both players rolled the same number of ‘6’s (that is one apeice), comparison changes to the highest total number rolled: in this case Banco has a total value of ‘13’ against Adroald’s far lower ‘6’. The Host decides that Banco’s arrows goes perfectly where aimed, but by the time it reached there Adroald’s evasive athleticism had already propelled him over the wagon side to safety.

 

Opposed Successes

  • greatest number of ‘6’s wins, on a tie
  • greatest total rolled wins, on a tie
  • least number of ‘1’s rolled wins, on a tie,
  • character taking the defensive role wins.

 

The third arrow gives Adroald the chance to prepare his shot once more: he is aimed and ready. The Host might have given this a difficult rating of ‘Easy’, but taking into account the fact that the merchant is hiding behind the wagon he decides that Banco has to make a called shot, discussed in a previous post. Aiming specifically for Adroald’s head reduces the dicepool by -1d6, and Banco’s player is again rolling 1d6. A ‘4’ this time and the arrow misses, but it is enough to cause Adroald’s player to flinch back. The Host decides that no dodge roll is needed for Adroald here, saving the fraction of time and distraction from the story that making the dice roll would have cost. (If Banco’s roll had been a success, then the Host would have asked for dodge (1d6 in this case) at fair difficulty, so 2d6 in all). In practice, Adroald flinches away and Banco misses.

 

The fourth arrow aims to a different place, as Adroald has moved. Banco’s preparation is therefore negated, and the difficulty is simply fair: 1d6 again. A ‘5’ and another failure. Adroald’s player has stated that he is going to try and get the spear/lance on his next peek (athletics), and the Host calls it as a tricky difficulty, causing no further change to the dicepool: so 2d6 in total. With a ‘6’ and a ‘2’, Adroald has a good success, he evades the arrow with ease, flinching as it thuds into the back of the wagon this time, even as he snatches up his spear, and prepares to wait out Banco’s remaining arrows.

 

While Banco still has an arrow remaining, he’s realised that his plan to rely on archery was not so strong. Moreover, his misses are stoking his resentment and rage. The Host calls for a Motivations roll against Fury (Aistan) with a fair difficulty: 2d6 in all. A roll of a ‘3’ and a ‘4’, or ‘7’ in all, makes for a basic success. Remeber, this means that the emotion has been successful, not Banco’s control resistance to it. The rage wells up in Banco’s heart. Flinging aside the bow he draws the sword and rushes down the hill towards the wagon, bursting into an enraged run when the merchant rounds the back of the wagon, spear levelled and ready.

 

To be continued…

Swineherds & Builders …or some trait revisions

So, there’s still a lot to be done on the various traits for the character sheet. Some bits haven’t been looked at yet, and even the parts that have been discussed in previous posts are at most tentative. Considering the Skills, I’m not sure that the Language one really works, and the Boatbuilding one feels too specific, (in the case of the latter I think my background in maritime archaeology convinced me to push the implications of the laws on ferrymen a little too far for the requirements of the game. Excuses, excuses…). Similarly, the combat, damage and wounds sections still need a lot of tweaking (when I started writing this post, I thought it would be a stylised run-through of the combat system in action, but some asides that I meant to deal with quickly became a whole discussion that I thought was worth pursuing in it’s own right).

Despite these shortcomings, I spent an enjoyable evening earlier in the week drafting out a rough character sheet based on what I’ve previously discussed or loosely anticipated. It currently looks like this (Figure 1):

langobardrpg-charactersheet-snapshotFigure 1: draft Character Sheet, v. 1

I posted it on twitter which led to some positive feedback and triggered a good discussion. Three points in particular got raised, however, two of which need addressing (the third was a lamentation that the game was about Lombards not Merovingians. To which I more than hinted that, if this project goes well, I hope eventually to make expansions covering others of the leges barbarorum). Firstly, @ape_astronaut asked if the trait levels for the Motivations were pre-set. As the character sheet currently stands, the first level for each has been permanently written into the character. In rules terms this equates to a minimum chance of the emotion being triggered in a situation appropriate to it, as for the emotion to be triggered the player would have to roll a ‘6’ on the one six-sided die that that trait level represents. Values of ‘2’ to ‘5’ would mean no overwhelming response, while a ‘1’ would denote an un-emotional, ‘flat’ reaction. as it were. As such, this would mean that every emotion is latently experienceable. And there I have a bit of an issue. Yes, these are meant to be flaws, traits that enrich the characterisation and role-playing by presenting a foil to the (potentially and sometimes overly) logical and impassionate instructions of the player. On the other, some people simply do not feel some of these motivations, and by forcing their inclusion, it may make a player uncomfortable or unable to relate to that fundamental nature of their character. Much as role-playing is about embodying the other, and much as this game is pedagogical and embedded in the materials of the Lombard Laws, it should also be fun for all the players involved.

Another point to be considered is that if the situation encountered is to be likely to trigger an emotional response, then the host (‘storyteller’, ‘games master’, ‘GM’, or whatever term you like) will be likely to add further dice to the dicepool as a modifier anyway. as such, the maximum level for this trait can be significantly removed, and emotion/motivation can be set more closely into the gaming. While a multilevel trait could be of use, I’m tempted to bring it on the character sheet to a binary level of the character being either prone to that emotion or not. In that case, at character creation, the player would choose, say, two or three (3) of the six that their character was particularly prone to. Theoretically, if a player wanted to set one motivation to be nullified, it could be stuck through (and an additional one of the remaining traits selected for character balance), in that situation the character would remove one die (or all dice) from the dicepool set for a specific emotional situation by the host. That way, for instance, by striking out ‘lust’ an asexual character could effectively be produced.

The second issue that rose on the twitter discussion, was that @tlecaque noting the trait layout being a little too reminiscent of White Wolf’s system. I had considered the approach of colouring in the dots to be more universal than that, but think I might have led myself astray form having spent so much time gaming in their system. My arbitration engine is different to theirs, but I can see that the layout will need reworking. As I’ve been independently considering reducing the maximum trait level this might be easier to make more individual. One reason for reframing the skill levels is based on Rothari Nos 135 and 136 that lay out the composition due for killing herders of different animals, swine herds in the former clause and goatherds, cattle herds and oxherds, in the latter. Both make a distinction between two levels of experience: learners (discipuli) and their master (magister). These, of course, represent people rather than actual competency, and the skills of one magister in relation to another might not be comparable, any more than one discipulus compared to another. Nevertheless, it does lend itself to a simple mechanic, and the system could be brought down to having only two skill levels (plus a zero-level for no experience).

   0 – no knowledge

   1 – learner (discipulus)

   2 -.master (magister)

For making the arbitration engine itself work well, I think a third level would be useful. There’s nothing in the laws though that really justifies that. For mechanics alone, the learner level could be split into two levels, what might in different circumstances be considered ‘novice’ and ‘journeyman’ levels, but as noted there is nothing in the laws to support that. The other option is to split the master level into two parts. Here perhaps the laws could perhaps just about be interpreted in favour of this, although I feel I am opening myself to accusations of sophistry and choplogic. My argument is basically that Rothari No. 135 when setting the compositions for the killing of swineherds, gives a praetium [that is ‘worth’] of 50 solidi for a swineherd who is a master and has two [or more] learners under him. This implies to me that a swineherd could be a master with only one (or even no) learners under him. The clause concludes by stating that the praetium of a lesser swineherd is 25 solidi. I have previously read this value to be referring to the aforementioned learners. But on reanalysis for this post, I’m not entirely convinced. Perhaps the trainee swineherds should be considered under the details of the preceding clause, Rothari No. 134, that sets a composition of sixteen solidi for an enslaved field worker subordinate to an enslaved tenant field worker. I’m not really convinced by this argument however, and think it may just be wishful thinking to justify a specific gamification of the laws that I want to see. The other clause on killing herders sets a composition of twenty solidi for a master oxherd, cattle herd or goatherd, and then specifies that for one of the learners the value should be sixteen solidi. As this value is the same as for the enslaved subordinate, it seems clear that the learners were being specifically considered. Considering the relative financial difference in value between the master swineherd (with more than two learners) at 50 solidi, and the master goatherd, oxherd or cattle herd, at 20 solidi, the difference in value between a lesser swineherd, at 25 solidi, and the other learners at 16 solidi, more likely reflects the relative worth attributed to these two occupations. I seem, then, to have almost disproven my own sophistry, although I think the point in Rotahri No. 135 about being a master AND having more than two learners, still leaves space to consider a lesser master – who might be considered financially equal to a learner.

A second possible option for multiple layers of mastery comes in Rothari Nos 144 and 145. These clauses address negligence and culpability in injuries or deaths on building sites. They specifically address master builders from Como who have been hired to lead a building project. On the one hand this legislation may simply be an instance of the details of a specific case involving master builders form Como that had come before Rothair and his advisors and that then became enshrined into a slightly more generalised law. On the other hand, it may be that the training and skill of master builders from Como was particularly noted, enough for the legislators to use them as a key example for exploring culpability and negligence when a master was hired from outside, rather than an enslaved worker belonging directly to a given freeman. Presumably, most freemen didn’t do enough building to justify training and keeping a master builder of their own, and a master builder needed to travel around to get enough work. Again, then, it feels like I am pushing the implications of the clauses beyond their limits to imagine that there were ordinary level master builders that might be found locally, and advanced extra snazzy level master builders, such as those from Como, who might be hired in for a particularly significant project.

The question then remains, one level of mastery or two? Despite the nagging feeling that I ought to find a way to justify three (active) skill levels in total, and despite the uncertainty in the laws, I feel that the source-material really lends itself to having only two levels. There seem to be two obvious ways to mark the trait level on the character sheet. The first is to have the trait heading for each followed by a space to input text, such as: archery (……………) the player would then leave it blank for untrained, or write either discipulus/learner for level one or Magister/master for level two. Those options could even be pre-set into the character sheet with the player then circling each level as it became appropriate. My problem with this is primarily aesthetic, as I feel it makes the character sheet too crowded, especially the latter version.

Instead, I am currently thinking that remaining with a dots system might still be the most appropriate. As this has been reduced from four to two trait levels, it already feels more like it is its own thing. The difference of competency signified by the two levels is far greater, and I feel that having the trait marks be of different sizes reflects that somewhat. When the character is a learner of some skill the player fills in the smaller dot, when a master, the larger gets filled also. The revised – but still very much a draft – character sheet then might look like this (Figure 2):

langobardrpg-charactersheet-v2-snapshot

Figure 2: draft Character Sheet, v. 2

There’s still much more to be done, and I don’t feel quite ready yet to upload a pdf of the character sheet itself for download and use. But that moment is definitely getting closer! Likewise, I won’t update the main pages on Character to take these changes into account just yet, as they are still being mulled over.

 

Wounds II: Where the Blow Falls

Having previously created some combat skills for the Langobard RPG and tentatively outlined the first parts of a health trait with varying degrees of injury from minor bruising and scratches through breaking bones, severing limbs, gouging eyes, to instant fatality. This is still very much a work in progress, but for today I want today to focus on how to determine where on the victim’s body an injury occurs. Other gaming systems out there in the world have approached this problem from a variety of angles. These can be split into four main approaches, I think:

  1. Each character simply has an arbitrary, numerical health trait. If enough points of damage are accumulated the character dies, but specific location on the body are not taken into account.
  2. The attacking player states the specific details of the attack their character will make,
  3. The Host narrates the damage based on the story circumstances
  4. A random outcome is determine by rolling dice (or similar) against a pre-determined table.

 In practice these are not exclusive, and a given approach might combine any or even all of them. The injury tariffs of the Edictus Rothari appear to make the first option an unsuitable approach for the gamification of the laws. After all, the injuries in the laws are detailed enough to give a specific composition for severing even the little toe (two solidi for a freeman, one solidus for an aldius (the elusive Lombard social class of the ‘half free’) or an enslaved domestic worker, or else half a solidus for an enslaved agricultural worker, see Rothari Nos 73, 100 and 124, respectively). However, these are serious wounds when the digit (or sensory organ, limb, etc), are actually severed. Wounds that will probably heal are not given in relation to a specific location on the body. For example, broken bones are not mentioned with the sole exception of the skull (Rothari No. 47, in the case of a freeman), and, although it is not mentioned explicitly in the law-code, this singling out may reflect the potential for inflicting brain damage. Other lesser injuries on the head are also mentioned, with the preceding clause, Rothari No. 46, having outlined blows to the scalp in which the skin is cut. Other clauses address injuries in a non-localised fashion, and I think it is worth quoting Rothari Nos 43 in full here (per Fischer-Drew’s translation, The Lombard Laws, pp. 60-61).

  1. “He who, in the course of a sudden quarrel, strikes a freeman and causes him some injury or wound, shall pay to him three solidi as composition for one blow, six solidi for two blows, nine solidi for three blows, twelve solidi for four blows. If, however, more blows were suffered, the blows [in excess of four] are not to be counted and the injured man must be content”.

As an aside, the fact that the Lombard laws count only up to four non-specific wounds., might justify an argument that each character should only have four health slots. The argument is a bit tenuous, however, as the clause does imagine that a person might be hit more than that, but only that further composition isn’t given for them. Likewise, if the health is limited to four such wounds, would the game mechanics imply that the character died on receiving a fifth? Much to consider.

Some of the content of Rothari No. 43 is then reiterated in the following clause, although the direction changes to emphasise the specific location of an injury. Again quoting from Fischer Drew’s translation in The Lombard Laws in full (p. 61):

  1. “He who hits another man with his fist shall pay him three solidi as composition. He who strikes another on the ear shall pay six solidi”.

The clause following this, Rothari No. 45, demands that once composition has been paid the faida, that is the ‘feud’, between the two parties is to end, before leading into the specific head wounds mentioned previously. In gamifying the laws, these clauses suggest the validity of a general health trait when the injury is at a level that can feasibly be healed. Depending on the degree of damage we only need to know the localisation of the wound to the following extent:

Minor (bruising)               head, ear, arm or generally elsewhere on the body

Ordinary (cuts)                 scalp or (not explicitly stated) generally elsewhere on the body. Some other cuts which heal are also mentioned, in particular the face, nose, ear, arms

Severe (broken bones)       head (skull), or (not explicitly stated) generally elsewhere on the body

Permanent (amputation)    specific area of body (some parts not mentioned, e.g. no mention of back, genitals, buttocks, neck, or internal organs)

Note that the injuries listed here aren’t exhaustive, especially in terms of severity. that’s for another post (in the near future, I hope). That said, the Edictus also legislates for blows that knock out one or more teeth, and distinguishes between the front teeth ‘those that appear when smiling’ and the jaw teeth (at twenty solidi and sixteen solidi, respectively for a freeman, Rothari Nos 52 and 53). while the injury is undeniably permanent, I find it hard to equate the knocking out of a tooth as a permanent wound like severing a hand or gouging out an eye. I assume that in terms of force, knocking out a tooth might be closer to breaking a bone, and that for the Severe wound knowing if the blow landed on the mouth might also be applicable. Could the Jaw Teeth, Front Teeth and Lips, all covered in different clauses, be grouped together as the mouth, and the actual area injured then be determined from the severity of the damage inflicted?

Whether or not a simple health trait is applicable in part, it clearly does not cover all situations that the Lombard laws and the Langobard RPG game engine itself might require. The second option from the list given at the outset, that the player dictate their intentions, works fine and theory, but requires some self-restraint and awareness of the bigger picture on the player’s behalf. Regardless of how good a role-player they might be, it is easy to get carried away in the heat of the moment! It is for this reason, after all, that the game engine is a part of the role play game, otherwise it would simply be improvisational theatre, without the rules for constraining and arbitrating the system. Nevertheless, player input into the storytelling and directing the actions of their characters is vital, it just sometimes needs to be channelled. That leads directly to the third option, although in practice all routes taken in the game should filter through and be synthesised by the Host (or storyteller), if only as a means of narrating the story. I’ll return to this point again, but for now I want to think about the fourth option, randomising the part of the body hit.

The arbitration engine for using skills in Langobard RPG is already based on six-sided dice (or ‘#d6’, where the # denotes the number of dice that are rolled). These have the advantage of being far more easily available than their myriad cousins (from four-sided to twenty-sided and beyond), which might be more accessible for a group of players whose focus is more on historians approaching the Lombard laws from a different perspective, than an experienced, regular roleplay gaming group trying out a new setting. The latter are welcome, of course, I consider myself to be one of them!

Depending on how you approach the injury tariffs, a different number of main areas of the body are addressed in the Edictus. These comprise the Head, Chest, Hips, Arms and Legs. The Hands and Feet might also be included here, if they not considered as subdivisions of arms and legs. As mentioned previously, some of these are further subdivided, some areas of the body are not discussed (genitals, buttocks, back, neck, tongue, internal organs), and no specific distinction is made between left and right for the arms, hands, legs and feet. For gamification purposes, we would probably need to further divide arms and legs to include left and right. Subdivisions of the hands include the Thumb and each Finger, while those of the feet include each of the five Toes. We can probably also include the ‘back’ as part of the Chest, and the buttocks and perhaps also genitals as part of the Hips. Subdivisions of the head that are specifically mentioned include the Ears, Eyes, Face, Front Teeth, Jaw Teeth, Lips, Nose, Scalp and Skull, with wounds of varying degrees of significance. A damage table to include all of the parts listed in this paragraph would therefore need about fifty entries (more if each individual tooth was to be represented) Stepping back to consider the broader areas that were outlined to begin with, but keeping the lefts and rights, that gives eleven areas in total. A random roll of 2d6 (that is the sum of two six-sided dice) gives a value of between ‘2’ and ‘12’, or eleven possible values in total, but with some being more likely to occur than others. That is to say, there are six chances out of thirty-six of rolling a ‘7’, while rolling a ‘12’ or a ‘2’ are equally least-likely with a one in thirty-six chance apiece. This would mean that should the area of the body to be affected be determined in this way, then the body parts may need to be assigned according to their likelihood of being hit, as the largest part of the body, assigning the ‘7’ to the chest would make sense. Alternatively, the significance of the body part might require to be matched qualitatively to the figure in question. As noted, the chances of rolling a ‘2’ or a ‘12’ on 2d6 are identical, but there is something emotive and instinctually positive about rolling two ‘6’s, while rolling a pair of ‘1’s has the inverse feeling. Assigning the ‘12’ to the head, and thus the vaunted ‘headshot’ would therefore make sense. The numbers in parenthesis assigned to each of the areas of the body on the chart, make some attempt to distribute these values. (Note, this isn’t a perfect distribution. I feel that it prioritises the right hand (two in thirty-six chance, with one of the dice having to show a ‘6’) over the left hand (three in thirty-six chance, possible without a ‘6’). This might be fine for those of us who are right-handed, but seems a bit unfair for left-handers. I could change it to ‘Dominant Hand’ and ‘Non-Dominant Hand’, but what about ambidextrous characters? Someone is bound to make such a character, and probably sooner rather than later if the tingling in my ‘min-max sense’ can be trusted. I’ll leave it as left and right for now, but will come back to this).

body-location-table-general-2d6

In the instance that the roll indicated a hand or foot was hit, a further roll of 1d6 could be made to determine exactly where:

(6)        Entire Hand or Foot

(5)        Thumb or Big Toe

(4)        Index Finger or Second Toe

(3)        Middle Finger or Third Toe

(2)        Ring Finger of Fourth Toe

(1)        Little Finger or Little Toe

 A similar sub-division could be considered for the various parts of the head. If lefts and rights for eyes and ears, and upper and lower for lips are taken into account, but scalp and skull are taken as one area differentiated in rules terms by the degree of injury inflicted, then again eleven broad areas are denoted. As such a further 2d6 roll to determine where on the head a blow landed might be a feasible way of determining the exact damage. While the hands and feet had a sixth option to say, the entire piece, I think we can argue that this is not really required for the head. The specific areas cover the entirety of the head (actually, apart from the neck, and the tongue. I’ll go back now and edit those into my lists of exceptions above; it’ll be like you never knew I overlooked them…), and a permanent amputation wound that took the entire head would be a fatal wound anyway (which is the next level of severity up on the damage scale), so is a moot point. These eleven parts can again be organised then according to the likelihood of being hitting, or significance of the wound. Again, the right/left dominant/non-dominant issue will arise, in this case with eyes and ears. The ordering of them for now in relation to the numbers is pretty haphazard, and like with the overall body I will undoubtedly reassess and revise as required. Possibly ordering them on a third axis, in relation to the extent of composition awarded for each. Provisionally, the parts of the head correlated to the sum of 2d6 might comprise:

(12)      right eye

(11)      left eye

(10)      right ear

(9)        left ear

(8)        face

(7)        scalp

(6)        nose

(5)        front teeth

(4)        jaw teeth

(3)        upper lip

(2)        lower lip

 In theory, then, these tables can be rolled against to randomly determine exactly where on the body a successful blow falls. Consider two people caught up in a brawl, a scandalum or disturbance in the laws. The player behind one states that they will punch the other in the nose, while the other attempts and fails to dodge. The blow connects and inflicts a wound, but where on the body? The player rolls 2d6 against the first table, resulting in a pair of ‘1’s, added together that makes ‘2’ or the ‘left foot’. A second roll of 1d6 made on the hands and feet table results in a ‘3’; the intended bop on the nose ultimately connects with… the third toe. This, to me, seems problematic. A punch to the face, no matter how well or badly executed, shouldn’t break a toe, at least not directly, and certainly not as a probable, repeatable outcome. An outcome like that should be the result of atypical quirks of the world. Nevertheless, while some gaming groups prefer to ground these matters in the narrative, and let the Host and logic of the story situation arbitrate the outcome, other groups prefer to leave more in the randomised chance of the game mechanics. My personal preference, as I’m sure is apparent from previous posts, is for the former, but in practice neither is superior to the other. A gamification of the Lombard laws (or any RPG, for that matter) needs to cater to both tastes, and let individual groups find the personal balance between storytelling and game mechanics.

One possible means of uniting the two threads, is the ‘called shot’. That is the rules assume a typical attack is simply a swing at a person, with the attacker happy to hit anywhere. In such a case, if the attack was successful a randomised roll for where the blow actually connects is fairer. The player just wanted to hit their foe, but on success the injury had to occur somewhere. Conversely, in the previous example, the player stated they were going to punch the other character in the face. Through storytelling and player agency the attack has already been aimed. A called shot, basically increases the difficulty of the skill roll, to represent the increased difficulty of what is being attempted. In the game engine being created here for Langobard RPG, increased difficulty is represented by removing d6 from the dicepool for the skill at hand before the roll is made. To aim for a part of the body on the first table, in our example the ‘head’, under ordinary circumstances, might bestow a -1d6 penalty. should the player wish to further refine that through the next table, and specify the nose, then that might require an additional -1d6 penalty, so -2d6 in total. In this way, the sheer number of dice that could theoretically have been rolled is reduced, the players need only detract from the storytelling for the skill roll itself, and the mechanism incorporates and reflects the player choice more closely. Of course, if the victim manages to successfully defend themselves, at least in part, then the Host might determine that the blow still connects but not where the attacker intended. In some cases a randomised roll might still be suitable, in others the situation might present its own solution – if the victim defends from a solid, well-aimed punch to the nose by raising an arm to block the attack, then it seems fairer for the Host to arbitrate that the blow landed on said arm, rather than calling for another set of randomised rolls and risking the absurdity of that punch connecting with a toe or similar.

Another note on weapon skills…

(trigger warning for brief discussion of animal abuse and violence causing miscarriages)

 

So, this is just a short update (yes – Langobard RPG is still in progress, I promise!). I have a half a blog post written on wounds and injuries, that I will finalise and get online at some point soon. Hopefully. It’s been proving a complicated area, and may need to be broken down into a number of posts, before I can distil a viable mechanism for the game. We shall see.

What I want to talk about today is another clause of Rothair’s, No. 330. Somehow this one managed to slip my notice when I was hunting down hints and allusions to specific weapons for the previous discussion on combative skills. This clause outlines the situation where a man kills a dog in self-defence. It’s part of a longer, related set of clauses addressing killing and inflicting various injuries against animals, in particular dogs, cows and horses, running from Rothari No. 328 to No. 341. Interestingly, informatively, and sickeningly, in the middle of this collection of laws on violence against animals is a clause addressing violence against an enslaved woman which causes her to miscarry (No. 334). The enslaved woman is effectively discussed as another animal, and this is made explicit if we contrast the composition due for causing the miscarriage, 3 solidi, with that set for the same injury made against a freewoman in Rothari No. 75: half her praetium or worth, which is either half of 1200 solidi, if the composition for killing a freewoman in Rothari Nos 200 and 201 are followed, or if in this case she were to be judged as if she were one of her brothers or near male-relatives, and following the values outlined almost a century later by Liutprand, half of 150 solidi if un-landed, or half of 300 solidi if landed (per Liutprand No. 62). This is digressing wildly from my point, however. I’ll return to this theme in a future post, examining Lombard ‘social classes’, ‘gender’ and ‘age’ (and perhaps also the ‘ethnic’ division of ‘native Lombard’ vs ‘Roman’, which appears very occasionally in the laws), and then gamifying these as traits for the RPG. I originally thought I’d do one post for each, but I’m not actually sure that they can be meaningfully separated and an intersectional assessment of the ways in which they interact. I’m still digressing.

The actual point I want to make here in this blog post is that, as with the injuries, killing and violence discussed in the injury tariffs previously discussed, most of these clauses on injuring, mutilating and killing animals do not mention a specific weapon. It is the fact of the injury or killing that matters, not the means. Rothari No. 330 is the exception to this. The clause acknowledges that a dog might well attack a person, and in turn that person might injure or kill the animal in self-defence. Interestingly, the clause outlines the kind of weapons that might be used, a ‘staff’, ‘broad-sword’, or ‘any other weapon which is held in the hand’, per Katherine Fischer-Drew’s translation (The Lombard Laws, p. 116). The law then reiterates that the weapon must ‘simply’ be a ‘staff or medium-sized sword’, and that in such a case of self-defence the perpetrator owes no compensation. There is perhaps a hint in this that the use of a larger weapon might suggest the attack on the animal was pre-meditated, rather than self-defence. And the law then follows with an explicit statement that should the person claiming to be defending themselves have thrown their weapon and killed the dog, then they must replace the killed animal. A single-fold restitution. The law-givers are not explicit in their motivation here, but it seems, and I have written the above discussion with this assumption in mind, that they are trying to discern intent, perhaps from the type of weapon, but more definitely from the manner in which it was deployed. This makes for some interesting points to discuss and explore in story-telling sessions, and it also leads to potentially two or three more skills being added: staff, sword (or broadsword), and perhaps also throw.

Each of these possible skills as the situation currently stands is quietly assumed to be part of a broader umbrella skill: Throw is a part of Athletics, Staff of Brawling and Sword of Duelling. It seems to me that removing Sword from Duelling, would in turn leave the Duelling skill feeling very empty. I accept that other weapons might of course be used by a freeman in the camfio or some other hand to hand melee combat, but I can’t help but feel that sword is the main one. I feel that making Sword an independent skill would necessitate the removal of Duelling from the list of Skills. However, at the same time there is still no real justification in the laws for adding in other edged and pointed weapons, such as daggers into the game. An argument could, perhaps, be made for adding Axe as a skill, on account of laws addressing the felling of trees – whether generally felling a tree (Rothari Nos 300-02), because the tree was a boundary marker (Rothari Nos 238-39), or in the case when a person is killed by the falling tree (Rothari No. 138). Again, though, axes are not specifically mentioned in these clauses, so the excuse to add it to the laws is based on inference instead. Moreover, the axe as a direct weapon in its own right is not referred to even indirectly. My hunch then, is that sword (nor axe) should not be made explicit in the skills.

I think a similar argument may apply for not removing the Staff from the Brawling skill. In this instance, of course, the staff is not effectively defining brawling, as bludgeoning instruments have been seconded in alongside the various forms of unarmed combat. A staff is not, to my knowledge, a particularly distinctive Lombard form of weapon, and certainly doesn’t have the iconic, ritualised cultural significance of the lance. So far, then, this post is effectively arguing that although I have found passing but nevertheless direct mention of two more weapons in the Edictus Rothari, the arguments to include either do not feel quite compelling enough to outweigh the arguments against changing the already established mechanism and status quo. But is that prioritising the gamification that has already been done over the implications of the laws, which elsewhere I have opted at times to be a touch free with? This isn’t a question I can answer at this moment, but it is something I am reflecting on and will continue to reflect on. certainly ‘(broad)sword’ and ‘staff’ (along with ‘spear’ and ‘bow and arrow’, naturally) will definitely be added into the weaponry section of the game, when I get to that point. For now, though, they will remain quietly included within the scope of more general skills.

Throw, on the other hand, I think can now be justified as a separate Skill from Athletics. Previously I was already on the line of indecision and opted for including it within that broader skill. Adding this to the myriad other examples of throwing in the laws though, makes it seem to me that this activity is distinct enough to merit its very own trait. Marahworfin, or the crime of throwing a person from a horse, however, will still remain a part of Brawling!