This set of traits comprises a self-contained area of the character sheet. Essentially, it represents the main emotional/behavioural impulses of the character. Needless to say, the full scope of human feeling cannot be reduced into a game mechanic; even if it could, the question would still be how would that help a game as a whole? And how would it further the specific aims of Langobard RPG to gamify the Lombard laws?
To answer the first question, we need to address what role emotions take in a role play game in general. Often they are, it seems to me, at least, a bit of additional colour to round out the character and settings, and maybe earn a few ‘experience points’ for exploring and presenting an appropriate reaction to an intense situation. This approach can be particularly noticeable in puzzle and adventure type games, where the character is an avatar for the player’s intellect and the aims of the story are to progress through an epic plot, logically countering the various hurdles that are met along the way. If we consider that Langobard RPG, being based on a set of laws, is ideally placed for running ‘whodunnit’ types of stories, then perhaps emotions should be used just to add narrative colour here as well.
There is another type of RPG that is more emotionally driven, I know them primarily in their gothic forms – Kult, Call of Cthulhu, Vampire, to namedrop some of my favourites. Here there are still puzzles to solve, but the emotions and impulses play a stronger role. The trait values come into play more often, sometimes just guiding the player how to portray their character on a moment to moment basis. Conversely, when a player is ignoring the weight of their character’s situation the Host can call for a diceroll against a relevant trait and let the emotions take centre stage. Sometimes the character might override the emotion, a steady hand despite the stress, other times it wells up and the player and character override their best interests. Although not for everyone, in some of the best games I’ve participated in their have been moments when the emotions have been deemed so strong that the Host announces the ‘red mist’ coming over a character’s vision. A last image of reaching out to grab something and then darkness. The character then woke up shattered and confused, a hole in their memory and with consequences to face. Good times.
Langobard RPG isn’t just about solving mysteries set in the early medieval laws of the Lombards. It’s also about exploring those laws and, dare I say it, breaking them. It may be a touch overused, but I can imagine a rather fun plot in which a group of local Lombard officials are investigating a ‘morth’, that is a murder or more specifically a killing in which the killer has attempted to conceal evidence of the act or their identity (Rothair No. 14), that was perpetrated by one of them. In such a story, emotions can and should run high.
So, which emotions or motivations are most relevant? And perhaps equally important, what can we ground in our source text? Conveniently, the laws offer some good starting points.
‘Aistan’ or sometimes ‘haistan’ is translated by Katherine Fischer-Drew to mean ‘a state of rage’ or ‘with hostile spirit’, ideal for our purposes! It appears in a number of clauses, most notably Rothair No. 277 which outlines a fine of 20 solidi should a man commit the crime of ‘hoberos’ – breaking into another’s courtyard’ in such an enflamed state. The following clause (No. 278), incidentally, is one of those which is infamous for Lombard misogyny and attempts to strictly define socio-legal binary (or, um, quaternary? if we intersect the free vs enslaved dimension) gender roles – it states that a woman cannot commit hoberos as ‘it is foolish to think that a woman, free or slave, could commit a forceful act with arms as if she were a man’ (trans. Fisher-Drew, p. 108).
So, anyway, now we’re all in a state of aistan ourselves, lets poke that wasps’ nest with a stick a bit more. What are the gamification implications for this? The laws state that it can’t be imagined that a woman could commit violence with arms, but don’t actually state that she cannot be in a state of aistan. Nevertheless, each of the acts committed under aistan that are discussed in the laws appear to have a male perpetrator. I’ll come back to those shortly. Regarding aistan and women: do we make a game mechanic that states female characters cannot have the aistan trait? This seems inappropriate to say the least! The laws seek to present a normalised, binary (or four way) set of gender identities with such laboured force that it seems to me apparent that this was something they were trying to construct actively for the Lombard communities. This is something I need to read and research into more, academically speaking, but for now I’ve tried to leave it open in the RPG. Most usefully here, setting this within a provides an opportunity to explore various approaches to it.
Another manifestation of aistan comes in Rothair Nos 146 and 149, a pair of clauses addressing wilful arson. Here the first clause discusses burning another man’s house, the latter a mill, ‘in aisto animo’ – in an enraged state, but translated more metaphorically by Fisher-Drew as ‘with evil intent’, and again, simply, as ‘deliberately’ (pp. 75-76). The term then is clearly quite adaptable, covering a range from deliberately or maliciously committing a crime through to an impassioned or enraged state. We make use of the emotive, state of fury here for the game, but keep the wilfulness in mind. The trait will be named on the character sheet as Fury (aistan), giving the Lombardic word for the emotive state under a (hopefully convenient) modern English heading. The emotive force of aistan becomes apparent in the next two examples, which conveniently also introduce other motivations that we can inflict upon our Lombard characters.
‘Arga’, or ‘cowardice’, appears in Rothair No. 381. The clause addresses a man who accuses another man of being a coward, and then divides the response into one of two options. The first is that it was said in a state of aistan, at which point the accuser can publicly admit that he knows the accused not to be a coward and pay a fine of 12 solidi to compensate for the insult. Alternatively, if he stands by the accusation even after his anger has settled, then it has to be proven via a judicial duel. Cowardice (arga), then, is a serious accusation for Lombard men at least. There seems to be no comment in the laws on if women are cowardly, or accused of being so; reading between the lines, the sense is that it is not a cause for ‘imputing shame’, and may even be an expected behaviour.
The next clause echoes the ideas in the one previously discussed, but actually occurs at a point much earlier in the Edictus Rothari (No. 198). Here it still addresses accusations made by a man in a state of aistan, but the victim here is a woman or girl. With, sadly, predictable misogyny, the accusations are that the woman in question is a ‘witch/vampire’ or a ‘harlot’. Should the accuser back down and admit it was only a claim made in aistan, then the composition for the insult is 20 solidi. If, after calming down, he sticks by his accusation then he must prove it in judicial duel (camfio) against her guardian. The question here is can we turn the accusations into motivations for her behaviour? For the witch/vampire option I cannot quite put my finger on an emotional underpinning that would be widespread enough to make it a useful, general trait on the character sheet. The accusation of being a harlot, however, could be usefully spread to a general comment on lechery or at least the strength of libido. A swathe of clauses preceding Rothari No. 198 also address various aspects of sexual activity, including a clause on fornication (No. 189), another on adultery (196), and the case where a free girl runs off with an enslaved man (No. 193). A number of clauses also address sexual violence with the rape and forced marriage of free women covered in Nos 186-87, and the rape of aldia (that is ‘half free’), freed women and enslaved women, in Nos 205-07 respectively. The motivations for any of these acts, forced or consensual, are not specifically outlined in the laws, but it seems fair to establish Lust as a trait for the RPG.
The laws on theft do not explicitly outline a motivation for the perpetrator to steal, aside from in Rothari No. 256 where there is a hint that the act might have been committed by an enslaved person in flight. Desperation to survive, however, does not seem like a general, underlying emotion of the type that would settle as a normal trait. Instead it seems, to me, to be better suited for the type of motivation that arises when a specific situation demands it. No. 257 turns attention to a folk-free woman (presumably a freed woman?) who commits theft. The compensation due here is the same as for any theft, to return nine times the value of the goods that were taken, but the point is also made that ‘shame’ should be ‘reflected on her who did this disgraceful deed’ (trans. Fisher-Drew, p. 103). Shame in this sense does not seem to be an emotional/motivational trait to included here either, although possibly it could become a comparable trait to health on the character sheet, a reputation rating that can be damaged or redeemed as the story progresses. As shame seems only to apply to free and freed women, however, working out how to fit it into the game mechanics may take some pondering. For now I’m going to put this to one side and reflect on this. The emotive, motivation trait I have been edging towards here in this paragraph instead is Greed. It’s not really outlined as the motivation in the laws, but desperation aside, it seems to be a fair trait to include. It may also underlie other clauses, for example where people despoil the dead (Rothari Nos 15-16).
The last motivation that I wish to consider takes a different approach to those previously discussed: Piety. While religious motivation is not discussed in any of the laws directly, it appears in the prologues of any of the codes as a motivation for promulgating laws and seeking the good order of society. This may appear to be grasping at straws, somewhat, but I rather feel it fits the overall theme of the game and the early medieval setting! The overlap between legal officials and clergy is also often significant also. If we expand the focus beyond the Lombards for a moment, to England, I am reminded of an incident I heard discussed regarding a monk of Abingdon. The monk had a mistress but one day, moved by his piety, decided to make things right, by killing her and disposing of her body in the river Thames. Hardly an inspiring story – and one that I need to pursue the details of to get the full story, as I am recounting it you, dear reader, as anecdote – but hopefully one that suggests piety as a multi-faceted motivation to direct the actions of both out heroes and our villains.
The Motivation traits to be (provisionally) included onthe character sheet, then comprise:
- Cowardice (arga)
- Fury (aistan)
Katherine Fisher-Drew, trans., The Lombard Laws (Cinnaminson, NJ: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1973)
As you may have guessed from the lack of updates recently, things have been abit busy on my side. Nonetheless, I’ll try and add a page into the Character section on this new trait type as soon as I can!