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 athletics, brawling (bite, claws), dodge, hunting, leadership, notice 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!