This project is an experiment in gamifying early medieval culture, as a means of presenting and exploring the laws of the Lombards (or langobards) promulgated in a number of phases between 643 and 755 CE, as well as other related texts. The project is intended to combine two of my interests: my work as an academic researcher on early medieval laws and law-books, focusing in particular on the Lombards, and my hobby of role-play gaming, which I have enjoyed since my teenage years.
I first outlined the idea of making a role-play game based on the Lombard laws in a post on my other, academic blog. Details of the conversation that inspired it and my initial thoughts on the subject can be found in this post. I’ve been gently mulling the idea over in the months since then, and have decided it is time to begin. Rather than producing the entire game first and then releasing it to the wild, I have decided that the better option would be to record the development process as I go along, make bits available as they appear, and update them as required. As such, blog posts will detail my thought processes going into specific areas, be they game mechanics, cultural or both. As self-contained bits of the project become available, I’ll make dedicated pages on this blog for them, and make them available for download as pdfs.
If you find yourself wondering what a ‘roleplay game’ (or ‘RPG’) in general actually is, then allow me to rehash the highlights from my other post which I linked previously. A table-top RPG is essentially an act of interactive theatre in which the players are themselves (usually) the audience. The group of players normally comprises between three and six people in all, although more is possible. One player narrates and arbitrates the story, and depending on the game may variously be referred to as the ‘Storyteller’, ‘Chair’, ‘Host’, ‘Dungeon-Master’ (or, ‘DM’) or, perhaps most commonly the ‘Games-Master’ (‘GM’). I’m going to use ‘Host’ throughout this website and project, as it’s my preferred term.
Each of the other players portrays a single, major character within the story: one of its protagonists. Rather than being a fully improvisational form of theatre, in which the players can act out the role of their respective characters without restraint, each character is defined as a series of traits defining who they are, what they know and their relative chances of success or failure when attempting to perform any given action. Many of these traits are qualitative and act as hooks to direct the player’s imagination and shape the way in which they role-play the character. An RPG, however, is also a game, and the storytelling is set in an arbitration system that combines quantitative values for traits identifying the characters chances of success or failure at a given task, with randomly generated numbers. By having the same categories of quantitative traits shared across each character, but at varying levels to represent their personal abilities, the character’s potential for success or failure are defined.
In role-play gaming a standardised proforma is used, a ‘character sheet’ on which the respective traits and values are organised and recorded. As the story progresses the character will use their skills, and may therefore improve them. These developments are also recorded on the character sheet. The character menu at the top of this website will, as the project progresses, lead to a page with a blank pdf copy of the Langobard RPG character sheet available for download, as well as instructions for completing it and creating a starting character.
The Host of the story, then, is surrounded by a group of players, each portraying a single protagonist of the story. The Host’s duty is to narrate that story, and arbitrate the outcome of events either with quick judgement calls or by identifying which of the quantitative traits should be rolled against, as the situation demands. The Host, then, frames the story; outlining and arbitrating events while letting the players explore the world and their material.
I’m hoping that I will learn as much, if not more, than any potential players do, as evaluating and gamifying the material leads me to address early medieval law and culture from a different perspective than my usual academic approach. I’m publishing the entire thing under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, so that it can be shared and used as required… hopefully for both teaching and pleasure!
Langobard RPG doesn’t currently have a dedicated Twitter account (although updates are posted at my personal account @booksoflaw). However, announcement and discussion is made under the hashtag #LangobardRPG.