Skills of Athleticism and Combat (and, um, Farming and Hunting)

As with the skills of furtiveness which I discussed in my first post on the Langobard RPG, athleticism and combat offers the opportunity to go into very fine detail with a range of specific skills (throwing, running, climbing, swimming, axe, sword, knife, archery, etc), or to simply address these areas in broad strokes (athletics, combat). A third route, of course, lies somewhere in between with broad categories of physical skill outlined alongside a smaller number of specific ones where it seems appropriate. Thinking while I’m writing and, ‘fessing up, admitting that this is usually my preference in a game, I’m instinctively angling towards the third option.  Still, as this project is about the gamification of the Lombard laws, it’s best to begin with the source material.

The Edictus Rothari (643 CE) is generally quite vague when it comes to addressing specific weapons. For the lawgivers it does not really matter whether you one person attacked another with a sword or axe, what matters is the extent of injury inflicted (as well as the gender and social standing of victim and perpetrator). Rothari Nos 307 and 308, for instance, respectively address the culpability of the person who lends his weapons to another, knowing he will commit some evil deed with them, and the one who has their weaponry taken and used without the owner’s knowledge or consent. Jumping forward a century to the laws of the Lombard king Aistulf (750 CE), details are given of the expected arms and armour different men should have.  Aistulf No. 2 states that all men who can afford it should have at the very least a coat of mail. The lesser men (minores homine) who can afford it should have a horse, shield and lance. If a man cannot afford a horse, then he should at least have a shield and a quiver (presumably standing for the accoutrements of archery as a whole). Again, though, the specific details of weaponry are skipped over for wealthy men, the clause simply notes that a man owning more than seven manses (a parcel of land with a hut on it, home to one of the higher ranking of slaves the eponymous massarius with a praetium of 20 solidi) should have a coat of mail, the other military equipment and horses, plural. A wealthier man still should have all the remaining armament: Lombard men? You can have it all.

The next clause, Aistulf No. 3, makes the same provisions but directly addressing merchants, whose wealth would be in money (pecunias) not land. While the focus here is presumably to ensure that different types of material wealth are acknowledged, the possibility that (at least some) merchants did not think that they ought to be spending their wealth on arms and armour. Perhaps because they considered themselves as traders not fighters, or perhaps we should be considering adding a Miserly trait to the list of Motivations discussed in the previous post. More to the immediate point, we have grounds here for named weapon skills of Archery and Lance, and an athletic skill of Horse-Riding. We should probably also consider a Shield skill as well. The other weapons (swords, axes and who knows what) remain nebulous.

Returning to Rothair and the mid-seventh century, it is still worth taking a closer look at weaponry and the means of inflicting injury. Perhaps beyond the scope of what we are discussing here, especially as, unlike some of the other early medieval law-codes, the Lombard laws do not address poisoned arrows, Rothari Nos 139-42 address poisoning as a crime. Specific types of poison are again not mentioned; it could as easily be herbs or mushrooms as the arsenic left over from smelting silver ore. Nor does it seem to be an inheritance from the Roman Law, and as echoed in the Visigothic law-code, where poisoning is seen as a particularly heinous mode of killing. Instead, the focus seems to be on the class and gender opportunities for poisoning in contrast to weaponry which was (socially and legally, at least) restricted to (free) men. However, I’ve an article under review on this very subject, so I’ll say no more for now.

Rothari No. 34 is specific in its details about the weapons used. It outlines a fine of 20 solidi (on top of the usual composition for killings and injuries) for a person who, in anger (another instance of the aisten discussed in the previous post), shoots an arrow or hurls a lance into another persons’ courtyard. In terms of skills, then, here we can suggest, again, one for Archery and either or both of Lance (again) or Throw. What do we do for the assortment of other weapons a Lombard might employ? My instinct here is to stick with the laws, and use a general hand to hand armed fighting skill. Any of ‘weaponry’, melee’ or ‘combat’ could easily be feasible titles, but my mind keeps getting drawn to the camfio: ‘judicial combat’. Rothari No. 368 is written under the rubric of ‘de camfionibus’, which Fisher-Drew translates as ‘on duelling’. Now the clause itself is not focused on the weapons and fighting, but instead on prohibiting the secret carrying of ‘witch’s herbs’ (herbas quod ad maleficias) or other such items intended to give the participant an edge.  The camfio, of course, is an ordeal by combat (comparable to the Anglo-Saxon ordeal of hot iron, for instance), used to determine the guilt or innocence of a party in a judicial case. Duelling, however, can also represent melee combat as a whole, when performed without the legal framework, and may make an appropriate skill name to here. Certainly, it appropriate for specific edged weapons like swords, knives and axes, although perhaps less so for blows from a cudgel or stout stick.

Another facet of hand to hand combat is unarmed fighting. This appears a bit more often in the laws, with specific reference to beating people. An interesting pairing on this can be found at almost either end of the Edictus Rothari, with No. 43 addressing hitting a freeman and causing injury and outlining a fine of 3 solidi per blow up to the fourth blow, but further hits not to be counted. However, if the fighting is freeman on freeman, then the compensation of the specific injury tariffs should be used instead (No. 45). At the other end of the Edictus Rothari, No. 382 outlines a compensation of six solidi should somebody hit a freeman and cause him to fall down, providing that no other injury is inflicted. Should the freeman be hit and he not fall down, and no injury is inflicted either, then a composition of three solidi is due. Tentatively, this skill of unarmed combat could be called ‘beating’, but I’m not happy with that. Partly because it sounds tacky, and partly because unarmed combat is far more than just beating people: six solidi are also due in composition, should the freeman be dragged by his hair or beard (No. 383), but should this be done to an aldius (that is ‘half-free’ man) or an enslaved man who works in the household or field, then composition is due as for one blow. Another important clause on unarmed combat is Rothari No. 30, which addresses the crime of marahworfin – intentionally throwing a freeman from his horse to the ground. the composition here is eighty solidi, plus whatever is judged for injuries that the victim sustained. Marahworfin, a beautifully specific crime. The pulling of hair and beards, and throwing of people from horses reflects a broader set of unarmed combat than just beating, although perhaps ‘wrestling’ is too specific. My suggestion here is to use what I have seen and used in other RPGs: brawling.

However, it should also be noted that many of the clauses when addressing the various beatings, are not quite clear whether that does with fists alone, or if something like a stout stick or cudgel might have been used instead. I propose that the main combat skills then be divided into the following:

  • Archery – for bows and arrows
  • Brawling – unarmed combat and blunt instruments
  • Duelling – swords, knifes and other such pointy/edged weapons
  • Lance – use of a spear like weapon. I assume this can be done mounted or unmounted, as well as jabbed or thrown, I really need to learn more about Lombard military techniques!

In addition to the combative weaponry, there is also the defensive skill of using a shield. I’m relatively certain that a shield can be smacked into an enemy in combat and used as weapon too, but in such a case that would seem to come equally under the brawling skill and might therefore require the use of two skills, as discussed in the rules in the arbitration page (under dicepool). Another defensive skill that needs to be included is the ability to evade a blow, to dodge. There is no specific mention of anything like this in the laws, but I think it may need to be added for the game mechanics as a whole. For gamification purposes, I would suggest that ‘parrying’ or ‘blocking’ with a weapon, I think, comes under the brawling or duelling skills, depending on the weapon type used. Tentatively, then these two defensive skills may be added:

  • Dodge
  • Shield

Turning attention to athleticism, there are a range of things a body might do, but the laws do not address all of them directly or indirectly. Horse-riding and throwing things have already been mentioned, as has Dodge if you think it belongs better here. Digging (up corpses) and throwing (them out of the graves) is mentioned in a clause on crapworfin or grave breaking (Rothari No 15), and a range of other agricultural labour is referred to throughout the laws: particularly tree-felling (Nos 238-39 and 300-02) and digging up boundary markers (Nos 236-37), cutting wood (No. 283), as well as ploughing and reaping (Nos 354-56). There is some hint about boating (that could be taken as rowing or sailing), in clauses addressing ferrymen who knowingly help a fugitive cross a river (Rothari Nos 265-68), and if we want to stretch the scope of interpretation, well, that fugitive is on the ‘run’. Another aspect that could be included here is hunting- Other athletic things not so explicitly mentioned might include swimming, climbing, jumping, lifting heavy objects and so forth. I tell a lie, I just found a clause on a man who ‘enters or leaps into another man’s garden for the purpose of committing a theft’ in Rothari No. 284. (Incidentally, the fine is six solidi – but if he is retrieving his own property and does no damage, then he is not guilty).

Where does this leave us then? I would say with a patchy set of physical skills, some more closely related than others. My hunch here is to group things together where possible, but keep the skills that add the distinctive feel of the laws in where needed. As such, I propose the following skills:

  • Athletics – for the general activities like running, jumping, climbing, swimming, throwing and weight lifting,
  • Boating – as a specific skill for rowing, sailing and navigating
  • Farm-work – for the digging, and tree-felling and wood cutting, the ploughing, sowing, reaping, and threshing, and also for herding and other such outdoor agricultural activities.
  • Horse-riding – for rising horses
  • Hunting – for the wilderness lore, tracking and so forth involved

In all, then, this blog post covers a wide range of activities and laws, and adds a further eleven skills to the character sheet. Langobard RPG is getting close to being play-testable, and I hope to get these details added onto the website shortly! (and yes, I still need to add the motivations on, should I add miserly?)


2 thoughts on “Skills of Athleticism and Combat (and, um, Farming and Hunting)

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