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):


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.



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