OSR: The Secret of Steam Hill, Session 3 & 4

Last session, everyone died.

The next fall, Baron Leroux summoned his knight Tschan, an old soldier and a weasel-ling, to court. Tschana was extremely poor, but he did hold a grant of a farm, and he had two tenant farmers working the land for him. He nominated one of them, Cazael, as his squire, as he could find no one better, and Cazael had served in the War with him. Cazael was a spider-ling fighter.

Side note: in this setting, spider-lings are the racial "tolerated outcast" group. They fill the same role, worldbuilding-wise, as Jews in medieval France. They worship the Authority, but outside of the Church. They lend money and charge interest, making them vital to commerce and widely despised. They also weave and sell silk, making them rich, and they prefer webbed, close-knit communities for protection. It is rumoured that they eat babies. Plus, they're drider-like things with black furr and glass eyes. Ick. In most cities, they travel only at noon. A spiderling travelling at night will be hunted by the mob.

Cazael, who is not rich, can't spin silk, doesn't lend money, and is too ignorant to worry about religious doctrine, really gets the short end of the stick. All the prejudice, none of the benefits. Rural spiderlings have it tough.

Baron Leroux also sent his spymaster, "Jack the Elf", real name unknown, to assist the party, and Jack brought along his confidante and sometime burglar, Slugsworth. As a hermaphrodite-of-the-night, Slugsworth was accustomed to strange dealing in the dead of the night. Slugsworth's 135 slug-children (ranging from thumb-sized to cat-sized) would remain and "work" on Tschana's farm.

The final member of the party was the Baron's weather-wizard, Tabanus, who was sent along to deal with any "wizard business" and to keep the spymaster in line. The Baron was confident in his weather-wizard's abilities, even though Tabanus constantly protested that they could not control the weather, fire lighting bolts from their fingers, or do anything else the Baron demanded.

The Baron informed the mismatched and surly group that they were being sent on a dangerous mission. A former knight of the Order of the Speckled Hen, a certain "Gilesworth", had betrayed his oath and become a "bandit, raider, thief, plunderer, and for all I know a heathen despot," in the mountains. The party would travel from Leroux to Eldestone, pass by the great city, spend the night in the village of Bogrest, then travel to the monastery of St. Simon. From there, they would take the only road west and upwards to Lost Pass, then travel north through uncharted territory in the treacherous mountains. All told, a journey of 60 miles. The Baron refused to buy them horses.

The journey to Bogrest was uneventful. While in town, the party managed to collapse the ramshackle gambling parlour of Tito the Toadling, but otherwise caused no trouble. On the road, Jack was cursed by an astonishingly ugly beggar (who then flew away on a broomstick) to know ill luck for not giving her coins. Later, the party found a mysterious blessed fountain that seemed to indicated, via a crown of salt on the elf, that the only way to lift the curse was so sacrifice a bull on top of a mountain. The party was heading for the mountains anyway; this didn't seem to onerous. Cazael maintained that "pig grease behind the ears, twice a day" was a traditional family remedy for curses. Jack was not convinced.

Side note: the curse gives Jack the Elf -2 to his Save each day, to a minimum of 1 (so there is always a chance to succeed). Also, both the curse-giving witch and the curse-revealing fountain were randomly generated roadside events.

The party approached the Monastery of St. Simon late in the day, with the sun already half set. The stone halls of the monastery sat atop a smooth, nearly perfectly round hill, with a small village at its base. Taking the quickest and most direct route, the PCs made directly for the monastery and - they hoped - a safe place to rest for the night.

Abandoned Lake, Artem Demura
The courtyard of the monastery was deserted and ransacked. Doors had been tossed from their hinges, outbuildings shattered, and monks slaughtered and left in bloody heaps. Tschana examined their wounds and, startled, retreated in fear. The monks had been crushed by some sort of snipping instrument, as if a giant pair of shears had snipped off limbs or cracked ribs. The party made various protective signs against evil and entered the monastery itself. Above them, from the belltower, they could hear the faint thump and clang of the bell blowing in the wind.

It seemed as if the monks had been attacked in the middle of their evening meal, not more than a few hours before the party arrived. They found no survivors, but Slugsworth pocketed a few silver candlesticks and icons. After searching the ransacked cells and kitchens, the party finally decided to approach the ominous belltower. While climbing the rickety stairs, they were ambushed from above by three hideous ant-creatures!

Side note: Ant-lings are well know in the setting as industrious, sensible, organized, and really weird people. They happily pay taxes, go to war, and show up at church, so nobody bothers them, but their community-fortress-hills are not welcoming places for outsiders.

The ant-lings seemed to be feral or insane. They did not speak, but attacked with their sharp jaws and scrabbling legs. White tufts of fungus emerged from their eye sockets. The party, trapped on a narrow staircase, began to fight. Tschana and his loyal squire Cazael swung their swords wildly but bravely. Jack blasted one ant with a magic missile and finished it off with a dagger. Tabanus securely attached itself to the rickety stairs with a rope and then tried to climb down. Tragically, Tabanus slipped and fell, jerking painfully to a stop 1' above the floor. The fall was just enough to tug the already rickety stairs from the wall. The party slid, screamed, clawed for height, and tried to evade their doom.

By some miracle, they emerged from the rubble mostly unharmed, and finished off the now-trapped fungus-addled ants. Tabanus had been mashed but not killed, and was propped in a corner to nurse a severe head wound while the party explored. Finding no other threats except for a mysterious trap door in the floor, they beat a hasty retreat to the courtyard and set up a fortified camp, walling themselves in with tables and bits of stone.

After a sleepless night, interrupted by the distant buzz of insect wings, the party prepared to investigate the trap door. They reasoned that any surviving monks might be in the catacombs... along with any valuable treasures. While Tschana would never stoop to looting a holy place, the rest of the party had no qualms about redistributing wealth as the occasion arose.

The party opened the trap door and were startled to find a wizard inside. They rapidly interrogated the confused and extremely worried hawkling. According to the wizard's testimony, she had arrived at the monastery during the evening meal and just before the ambush. The monks had hidden her in the trap door where, to her shame, she'd fallen asleep. One of the main perks of being a Garden Wizard, Swainson explained, was the ability to sleep anywhere.

Baron Ellimure, protector of this region, had sent her to solve a "wizard problem" the monks were having. He hadn't shown her the letter and the monks had died to a horrible ant-creature ambush before explaining their troubles. Swainson hadn't even explored the catacombs. But now that the party had arrived, with their torches and swords and clear expertise at this sort of thing, she felt confident that three wizards together - plus assistants - could solve any sort of "wizard problem." The rest of the party wasn't sure, but agreed to explore the catacombs.

It was, as expected, a disaster.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Players, stop reading here.

This mini-dungeon was based on Michael Prescott's two-page dungeon "The Full Dark Stone", but with a few adaptations and twists. I thought I'd narrate it Jason Thompson style.
Map by Michael Prescott. Edited slightly by me.
1. After looting a few reliquaries, the party finds a collapsed wall in the catacombs. The enter to find a broken magic circle and some strange carvings of humans offering gems to a robed snake-man. Cazael touches a fake gem, sets off an ancient snake-man burglar alarm. No damage but everyone is spooked.

2. Party follows a carved path to a workshop. Meets the last surviving monk, Brother Talbot. Talbot is happy the party has arrived, warns them not to touch the Dark Stone or to panic when they see the "strange inhabitants" of the dungeon - automated skeleton constructs. Party meets one, does not panic. Talbot has an active forge. Purpose is uncertain. Seems suspicious.

3. Investigating the flooded path to the left, the party finds only silt, decay, and deep water.

4. Party is ambushed by two storm-seals (fat grey floating beasts, cross between a seal and a pufferfish, that belch miniature lighting elementals). Fight does not go well. Cazael hits both Slugsworth and Tabanus with sword. Party retreats down the stairs (not up, map was redrawn).

5. Tschana runs down stairs first, nearly runs into the Dark Stone but stops half an inch away. Jack follows, hits Tschana in the back. Knight's consciousness transfers to an automated skeleton construct. Content with new life and form, Tschana begins mining happily.

6. Dragging unconscious body of the knight, the party explores the stone area, then climbs stairs to mine. Dark Stone is determined to be very magical, possibly quite dangerous. Definitely a problem for wizards.

7. Party sees skeleton construct digging. Construct mistakes shiny fork in Tabanus' hand for a gem. Party gathers around to watch the struggle, is less amused when the flyling wizard takes a pickaxe to the forehead (survives, barely). Construct smashed, head (full of gems) saved for later. Party retreats back down stairs.

8. Party decides to try an experiment. Pushes body of Tschana into the Dark Stone. First attempt, nothing, except the unconscious knight gains consistency of jelly, retains form. Second attempt works. Tschana is confused by new texture but accepts it.

While party celebrates, Tabanus decides to poke the stone with a fork. Is instantly mutated horribly. Gains an extra leg, all fingers turn to forks, and starts glowing red. Then orange. Then yellow. Other wizards realize what is happening, scream, run. Rest of party follows, leaving Tabanus behind.

Side note: Tabanus' player had the worst luck. Rolled 3x on the Mutation table: "new limb (leg)", "any item held duplicates, replacing fingers", and "glows a colour." Player selected "octarine" as the colour they begin to glow. Octarine is the colour of magic, and corrupts and twists whatever it touches. It's a very bad colour.

9. Party flees up stairs. While fleeing Cazael is hit by a random bolt of magic from the Dark Stone. Survives, but turns invisible. Is carrying the party's only light source. Confusion results.

Tabanus, worried, pokes the Stone again. Is teleported to the forge room at the top of the stairs (the room the party is fleeing towards). Scares the hell out of Brother Talbot. Is now glowing purple.

Swainson is the first into the room. Sees Tabanus, screams again, runs back down stairs pushing Jack with her, just as Tabanus turns octarine.

I. Jack the Elf is not affected by the brief glimpse of the light
II. Brother Talbot catches on fire
III. The forge fire begins to glow blue and whistles hymns
IV. Swainson mutates. Her feathers are now iridescent and shiny (+1 Charisma)
V. Tabanus evaporates from reality in an explosion of magic
VI. An Angel of Death appears and begins pursuing the party

Side note: Everything octarine light touches must Save each round or be affected by a random mutation or a random spell. A random spell is also cast in the area each round the light source persists. So in one round: Jack saved, Brother Talbot got hit by burning hands, Swainson mutated, Tabanus... I didn't really bother rolling, to be honest, and a random Summon spell went off, calling down an Angel.

10. Party flees into the dark. Cazael becomes partially visible (from the waist up). Spotting the Angel of Death, he decides to fall on his face and pray, reasoning that the devout will be spared. Tschana does the same. Slugsworth flees into the dark and is not seen again by the party. Swainson and Jack keep running, navigating correctly by memory.

11. Cazael is spared or overlooked by the Angel, but Tschana, afraid of the Angel's raised scythe, dives through its legs and enters the Waiting Room of Death, a floating island full of hideous shriveled creatures. This is where things that need to wait until the End of Days to be judged are stored. Tschana resigns himself to his fate.

Side note: praying didn't actually work, according to the rolls, but the Angel went after the knight for (presumably) mysterious religious reasons. Diving through the Angel of Death's robed legs was a very weird plan.

After a few minutes, Cazael opens one eye, begins searching for his master Tschana. Finding nothing, retreats to surface.

Epilogue: Jack and Swainson ran all the way to the village without stopping or looking back. They sought shelter in the local manor-knight's stone walled house, telling half-truths about their terrible experience. Cazael arrives an hour later, is mistaken for a beggar, and then for a ghost. His lower half is still invisible.

Slugsworth is still in the dungeon somewhere.


Monster Menu-All Part 2: Veins of the Earth Edition: PDF Version

Exciting news! David Shugars (nthdecree.blogspot.com) has helpfully turned my Monster Menu-All of Veins of the Earth into a set of beautiful PDFs. Lungfungus (melancholiesandmirth.blogspot.com) did the art.

For those of you just tuning in:

-"Monster Menu-All"s
are posts I'm writing that take all the creatures in a book, divide them by flavour and effect, and give random tables and neat little rules for some of them.

-"Veins of the Earth" is an award-winning book written by Patrick Stuart (falsemachine.blogspot.com) and illustrated by Scrap Princess (monstermanualsewnfrompants.blogspot.com). It's been accurately described as a "pitch-black brick of why caves hate you". You should read it. I think it's very good.

Anyway, here are two free PDFs!

MMA2: Veins of the Earth Edition (Fancy PDF)

MMA2: Veins of the Earth Edition (Printer-Friendly PDF)



Titulus Regius

I couldn't find a good modern adaptation of this singularly unique, useful, and controversial text online, so I decided to make one. It seemed timely. The original is fairly readable, but spelling and grammar vary widely. The "rigorously modernized" text keeps the sense of the original, but not the highly repetitive and formalized language. It is a non-academic adaptation, intended for a casual reader. The original is well worth reading though. Also, if you aren't familiar with the famous Shakespeare play, or the history of Richard III, this essay might be a good place to start.

There is no gameable content in this post, but I will probably reference this text in future articles on laws, kings, schemes, parliaments, witchcraft, marriages, and people trying to claim legitimacy despite widespread unpopularity.

Rous Roll, Richard III and Family. John Rous, d.1492. Contemporary with Richard's life.

Heavily Abridged

To: Prince Richard
From: Parliament

Things used to be better. Then some lousy people ruled England and things were terrible.

King Edward the Third married two women and also ruined everything. Therefore his children are illegitimate.

Also the King's brother was a traitor. Therefore, his children are illegitimate too.

Prince Richard is the only person left. He's very nice. We therefore ask him to become king.

Also, since you people are ignorant, we are going to remind you that Parliament definitely has that power.
No complaining allowed. Prince Richard is now King Richard the Third. We are also making Prince Richard's son his heir.


Prince Richard

Full Text, Rigorously Modernized

To the High and Mighty Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester.

Please read this petition of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons of this Realm of England, and give your assent. Everyone would appreciate it.

In the past England was peaceful, prosperous, honorable, and tranquil. The Kings reigning followed the advice and counsel of certain Lords Spiritual and Temporal and other sensible people. They loved God, sought justice, and obeyed the law. The land prospered. England was loved by our charitable neighbors and feared by our malicious enemies. The land was honourably defended with great and glorious victories. Trade flourished, so that both merchants, artificers, and the poor prospered. No one knew poverty.

But then the rulers of this land began to follow the advice of insolent, vicious, and greedy people, and spurned the advice of good, virtuous, and prudent counselors. They delighted in adulation and flattery. The prosperity of the land decreased daily. Joy turned to misery; prosperity to adversity. The laws of God and man were broken, and the land fell into misery and desolation. We, Parliament, must correct this with all due haste.

Among other things, the late King Edward IV "married" - ungraciously and under false pretenses, as all England knows - Elizabeth, formerly the wife of Sir John Grey, and later called the Queen of England. In those times the order of the world was perverted. The laws of God and God's church, the laws of nature, and the laws, liberties, and customs of England - to which every Englishman is heir - were broken, subverted, and held in contempt. The land was ruled by whim and pleasure, fear and dread, with all laws broken and despised; all this caused murders, extortions, and oppressions, chiefly of the poor and helpless. No man was sure of his life, his land, his livelihood, or his wife, his daughter, his servant, and every good maiden and woman stood in dread to be ravished and befouled. And besides this, all Englishmen know of the discords, civil battles, and effusion of christian men's blood in that time. And also, we must consider that the "marriage" between King Edward and Elizabeth Grey was made with great presumption, without the knowledge or assent of the lords of the land, and also - as everyone knows - by sorcery and witchcraft committed by Elizabeth and her mother Jaquette, Duchess of Bedford. (If required, the case will be proved later, at a convenient time and place.) We must consider also that the "marriage" was made privately and secretly, without reading the banns, in a private chamber in an unconsecrated building, and not openly in the face of the church, after the law of God's church and the custom of the church of England. We must also consider that, before the "marriage" and a long time afterwards, King Edward was already married to Dame Elanor Butler, daughter of the old Earl of Shrewsbury.

Since these things are true, as we have said they are true, it follows that King Edward and Elizabeth lived together sinfully and in damnable adultery, against the law of God and of his church. It is therefore unsurprising that the sovereign ruler of the land, being of such an ungodly disposition, provoked the ire and indignation of God and caused the troubles we have listed above. Evidently, the children of such a king must be bastards, unable to claim any inheritance, by the laws and customs of England.

We must also consider that, in the 17th year of the reign of King Edward IV, the Three Estates of the Realm were assembled in a Parliament held at Westminster. By an act of that Parliament, George, Duke of Clarence, brother to the late King Edward, was convicted of  high treason. All of his children were disinherited and barred from any claim to the crown and royal dignity of the realm.

We also consider that you, Prince Richard, are the undoubted son and heir of the late Richard, Duke of York. At this time, considering the premises noted above, there is no other living person but you who may claim the crown and royal dignity by way of inheritance. We also consider that you were born in this land, and for that reason, as we see it,  you are more naturally inclined to the prosperity and common benefit of the realm. All Three Estates have certain knowledge of your birth and ancestry. We also consider your great wit, prudence, justice, princely courage, and memorable acts in diverse battles in the defense of the realm, and also the nobleness and excellence of  your birth and blood (as you are descended from the three most royal houses in Christendom: England, France, and Spain.)

Therefore, we, desiring peace, tranquility, and public good, and the restoration of the land to its previous state of honourable prosperity, and remembering your great prudence, justice, princely courage, and excellent virtue, have chosen you, high and mighty Prince, as our King and Sovereign Lord, etc. And we humbly desire, pray, and require your noble grace that, according to this election of the Three Estates, and by your true inheritance,  you will accept the crown and royal dignity. In case you do so, we promise to serve and assist your Highness as true and faithful subjects, and to live and die with you in this matter and in every other just quarrel. We would rather put our lives in peril and jeopardy of death than live in such thraldom and oppression as before, when we were oppressed and inured by extortions and new impositions against the laws of God and man, the liberty, old policy, and laws of the realm. May our Lord God, King of all Kings, by whose infinite goodness and eternal providence all things been governed in this world, lighten your soul, and grant you grace to do, in all matters, His will, to the common benefit of the realm. After great clouds, troubles, storms and tempests, the Son of Justice and of Grace may shine upon us, to the comfort and gladness of all true Englishmen.

The right, title, and estate of our sovereign lord King Richard III, is just and lawfully grounded upon the laws of God and of nature, and also upon the ancient laws and laudable customs of this realm. All people learned in the law and custom of the land agree.

Yet nevertheless, we must consider that most people in this land are not sufficiently learned in the aforesaid laws and customs. The truth and right of the matter may be hidden and not clearly known to all people, and thereby put in doubt. Experience has shown us that Parliament is of such authority, and the people of this land of such a disposition, that the declaration of any right or truth made by the Three Estates may quiet men's minds and remove all occasion for doubt and seditious language.

Therefore, at the request and by assent of the Three Estates of this Realm - the Lords Spiritual and Temporal and Commons - assembled in this present Parliament, by authority of the same, be it pronounced, decreed, and declared that our sovereign lord the King was, and is, undoubtedly the King of England, by right of consanguinity and inheritance, and by lawful election, consecration, and coronation. By our assent and authority, be it ordained, enacted and established that the crown and royal dignity of the realm, and the inheritance of the same, rest and abide in the person of the king during his life, and, after his decease, in his heirs. We also declare that the High and Excellent Prince Edward, son of the King, is his heir apparent, to succeed and to have the crown and royal dignity, to have them after the decease of our sovereign lord the King, and for this inheritance to pass to him and to his lawfully begotten heirs.


OSR: Annulments, Divorces, and Secrets

Annulments seem to be a hot topic right now. He's a very rough summary of how to use annulments in your medieval-ish games. The notes are based on 10th-14th century France, England, Germany, and Italy, with some notes cribbed from Henry VIII (because he holds the all-time record for annulment chicanery, I believe. Post rivals in the comments.)
Also, just in case, this article has nothing to do with my personal beliefs on any of the topics listed. I hope that's obvious. I'm trying to present a gameable medieval worldview, not lecture people.

You Cannot Have A Square Circle

Divorce, as we know it now, was not an option in the medieval European worldview. To the church, marriage was a sacrament, even if the biblical realities of divorce said otherwise. They understood that it might be better for some married couples to live apart, but actually breaking a marriage would be an impossibility in terms, like un-baptizing a child.

However, the church recognized that marriages could be annulled. If I sell you a bridge I don't own, then the sale is void. If I purchase a horse that turns out to be a goat on stilts, I can claim my money back. An annulment says "We, the church, made a mistake in the paperwork. It turns out, for X reason, your marriage was illegal to start with. Since it couldn't have happened, we can rewind the clock and start over."

The married couple reverted to their previous legal status. Women did not become widows, and retained any property (from jewelry to provinces) that they owned before the marriage. 

Any children from an annulled marriage were still legitimate in every sense. Generally, the father retained legal custody over them, and they could not inherit their mother's property. 

Terms and Conditions

Some of the more interesting reasons a marriage could be annulled.
HENRY: You know what a mesnie is? It's a train, an entourage. It's made of soldiers, cooks and clerics, wagons, barrows, linen, treasure, chickens, butts of wine and spices. I've been all night making one.
ALAIS: What for?
HENRY: We're off to Rome to see the Pope.
ALAIS: He's excommunicated you again.
HENRY: He's going to set me free. I'm having Elanor annulled. The nation will be shocked to learn our marriage wasn't consummated. 
-The Lion in Winter, James Goldman. Elanor, by this point, had borne Henry many fractious children.


One of the most famous and useful reasons for annulment was consanguinity. Marriage within the fourth degree of consanguinity (or seventh in some periods) was forbidden. If a peasant unknowingly married their second cousin or something and lived happily ever after, nobody really cared. For noble families, whose bloodlines were publicized and scrutinized carefully, a Papal Dispensation was required. The Pope did not personally approve every single dispensation (he had people for that), but they were issued in his name, and he could very easily stall or expedite the process for political purposes.

Marrying near relatives who were not related to you by blood (affinity) was also forbidden. For example, a man could not marry his late brother's wife without dispensation.

Example: Elanor of Aquitaine's first marriage to Louis VII, King of France, was annulled on the grounds of consanguinity. The annulment was one of the greatest diplomatic blunders in an age of blunders. Elanor, her valuable province intact, immediately remarried Henry II, then Duke of Normandy, and later King of England and a great deal else besides. Incidentally, Elanor was even more closely related to Henry than she had been to Louis.
Side note: Wikipedia states that the marriage was annulled because Elanor failed to provide Louis with sons after fifteen years of marriage. Most historians I trust take a different view, and point out that Elanor's willful, spirited, even playful nature was frankly incompatible with Louis' dour, self-tormented, and monkish outlook on life... and the joys of the flesh. He had to be tricked into bed with her more than once (thought he Wikipedia article states the reverse. Oh well.)

And the quote given above probably didn't happen. Henry never did annul his marriage to Elanor; the result would have been a colossal disaster.


A formal ceremony and recognition by the church were not all that a marriage required. Consummation - the physical act - was mandatory. If it could not be performed for one reason or another (illness, impotence, unwillingness, shocking ugliness, a long crusade away from home, or merely a hasty decision later reversed), the marriage could be annulled. The old laws of the Lombards gives the newlyweds a 2-year window to consummate the marriage, after which it is automatically annulled.

Generally, the church refused to annul marriages for this reason if the couple had children. Children imply that someone was getting busy, and if it wasn't the married couple, it was probably grounds for adultery.

Simulation of Consent

A medieval "shotgun wedding" could be annulled on the grounds that one or both parties were compelled into accepting the arrangement, provided evidence of threats or coercion could be presented. Not liking your partner, or fearing them, wasn't enough - there had to be actual threats, and you had to be willing to accept the consequences of telling the world about them.

Previous Marriages or Betrothals

Canon law on the subject changed regularly, but previous (non-annulled) marriages, or betrothals (seriously promising to marry someone) could be grounds for an annulment. Betrothals were a sort of holy contract, almost as serious as the marriage itself, with their own rituals, and in theory could not be broken easily.

Religious Objections

Both parties needed to be in good standing with the church (not excommunicated, unbaptized, or actively practicing heathen sorcery). They could not have taken holy orders. The priest performing the ceremony needed to be valid and properly appointed. All these issues could be made into grounds for annulment. If a bishop's appointment was disputed, it could be argued that a marriage he presided over was also invalid, although the chaos this caused made it more of a threat than an actual practice.

Adultery and Other Crimes

Annulment is a recognition that a marriage was never valid. Crimes within a valid marriage do not dissolve the marriage (including attempted murder, adultery, etc.), but may end with the death of one of the parties.

This could be politically inconvenient. A king could divorce his wife by accusing her of adultery (and fabricating evidence, if required), but adultery often carried the death penalty. Her vassals and family might rebel, he might be made to look like a cuckold and a fool, and the paternity of his children would instantly and forever be in doubt. Their legitimacy could remain, or they could become illegitimate, depending on the results of the court case.

The reverse case, where a wife accused a husband of being unfaithful, rarely occurred, although it could lead to honor-based disputes as the wife's family might consider it an insult.

Gameable Content

Because this is theoretically a gaming blog.

1. A local baron wants to annul his marriage on the grounds of consanguinity. A wealthy widow has recently come under his protection, and he needs to marry her as soon as possible. The PCs are hired to take his letter to the holy city by the fastest (and most dangerous) route and ensure the church grants the annulment, by any means necessary. Plot twist: the baron's wife's family objects, of course, and will probably be in hot pursuit with a letter of their own... and some good sharp swords.

2. While drunkenly carousing in a city, one of the PCs wakes up in a compromising position. They have been framed for adultery in a royal bedchamber. The PC will be tried the next morning and executed, along with the queen, in one week. The king's men thought they'd found the perfect stooge. However:

1. The PC is part of a noble family who will furiously object to the hasty trial. The king has created a diplomatic fracas without intending to, and unraveling it may plunge his kingdom into war.
2. The PC escapes (of course) and a massive conspiracy is implicated. Dozens of nobles will die, or enact plots of their own. Every faction claims the PC for a martyr, an agent, or a leader.
3. The king's men messed up; the PC is of an incompatible gender or position in society for the case to be plausible. The king will be a laughingstock unless a switch is performed.
4. The entire case is so blatantly unjust, and the king so utterly repugnant, that rebellion and treason are morally justified. The PCs will take care of the rest. Chaos ensues. The queen takes the throne as regent for her infant son and promptly loses half the kingdom.
5. The queen falls in love with the PC while in prison and writes long romantic songs about the two of them dying together. If the PC is executed, their legend of betrayal, imprisonment, and love will become immortal.
6. Turns out, it was all a bizarre test of loyalty or something. The king wanted to see what would happen. The trial is called off. The PC is released or given a special mission, having "proved themselves" in an unspecified way. Or the queen is revealed to be a serpent-man infiltrator in disguise, and the PC is lauded as a hero. Or the queen is revealed to be the king in disguise, and the PC is paid a truly enormous bribe to never speak of their deeply confusing experience.
3. The PCs are asked by a noble lady to break into a monastery and plant a sealed scroll in the archives. The seal is easy to open. The scroll reveals that the king's brother, the noble lady's husband, took holy orders at the monastery (from a now-deceased abbot). Since he never renounced his vows, the marriage is void. One week after they complete their mission, all hell breaks loose in the kingdom. Plot twist: the scroll isn't a forgery. The noble lady stole it back from her husband.

4. The PCs are asked to intimidate a newly appointed bishop into admitting to a long list of past crimes, from sodomy to trading horses without a license. The bishop just married two people against the consent of their families (allowable, but foolish), and needs to be deposed in a way that also annuls the marriage. If he admits he was never ordained, the marriage will be annulled. Plot twist: the newlyweds have also paid the PCs to protect the bishop or smuggle him to safety.

5. While raiding an ancient tomb, the PCs find a holy book from the very dawn of the church that clearly states conditions for divorce. It is signed by irrefutable authorities. It is an invaluable relic, a priceless artifact, and it will probably split the church in half. Sensible people will want to burn it. Plot twist: demons put it there for fun.

6. The PCs are contacted by a wealthy noble. He is having trouble consummating his marriage. By local custom, he has two years to do his duty, and his wife (and her family) are growing impatient. If the PCs can help, they will be well rewarded, both financially and politically. The PCs are sent to find:
1. A rare herb that only grows in an implausibly dangerous forest.
2. The horn of a mythical animal.
3. Fermented meat from a rare species of crab.
4. A mind-wizard capable of forcing the body into compliance with the mind's desires.
5. An extra-strength love potion, transported in a lead-lined cask and stored on ice. Beware the fumes.
6. A very wise old woman who is legendary for treating such cases with soothing words and therapy. 

And the real reason he can't fulfill his vows:

1. Young, inexperienced, neurotic. Medieval Woody Allen on a bad day. It's not hopeless, but he's likely to botch any plan in hilarious ways.
2. Bats for the other team. He makes actual Richard the Lionheart look like legendary Richard the Lionheart. In short, it's hopeless. The PCs may need to get inventive.
3. Hideous. Either he's ugly and knows it, or his wife is, or they both are. It's less of a crisis of looks and more a crisis of self-image. An Elf Wizard might be able to help.
4. Embarrassing Injury. The noble stepped behind a horse in his youth and, as a result, was slightly mangled. He really needs a powerful restoration spell or healing potion. The mission is their cover.
5. Total ignorance. They are both utterly oblivious as to the actions required, and far too pure-minded and embarrassed to ask their families. The PCs, as outsiders and disreputable people, might be safe to ask... but not directly. The mission is just an excuse to talk with them.
6. It's all a clever ploy to marry his true love. All he needs to do is stall for a few more weeks. The PCs will distract his wife's family.

Secret Annulments and Secret Marriages

Didn't exist.*

*Medieval life, especially among the nobility, was public. Everything a powerful noble did or said was part of the public sphere. This could lead to trouble, but it was also vitally important. Events needed to be witnessed. If history is all the things that are memorable, then you want all your vassals and friends to remember things that you did, commanded, and said. If an event wasn't memorable then it didn't happen.

So let's say a king wants to secretly annul his marriage. He could, in theory, write a secret letter to the Pope. If the Pope was sufficiently pliable, a secret annulment could be sent back, although it would take some skill to sneak through the papal bureaucracy.

Then the king wishes to secretly marry another woman. In a hidden chapel, with the minimum number of witnesses (who are sworn to silence), the ceremony is performed.

What's changed? Absolutely nothing, in the eyes of the world. But the moment it's publicized - and it would have to be, to gain any benefit from it - all hell is going to break loose.

First, the moment the king's first marriage was annulled, his former wife's property reverted back to her. In some areas, she regained independent legal status. In others, she passed back into the care of her family. In either case, the king has no claim to anything she owned before the marriage, from jewelry to provinces to levied armies from those provinces. Formerly, the king held them legally, but after the secret annulment, his hold on them was illegal... and a damn good cause for war.

Second, both parties had to consent to an annulment, so the king had to also inform his wife. If she objected, he could force her to agree one way or another, but she could inform her followers and family and start a public dispute, dragging the whole thing into the open. If she agreed to the annulment, and agreed to keep it secret, then she would betray her family and her property (by allowing the king to hold it when he had no right to it) and give up her children into the king's custody.

Third, the annulment doesn't change the order of succession. Any children are still legitimate. Typically, this is a good thing... but it's worth noting.

Fourth, the annulment and marriage are both suspicious and may be declared invalid or forgeries. Doing things secretly in the medieval world is seen as a kind of crime.

Fifth, the king's new wife's family or vassals may object to her marriage. The seriousness of their objections will vary case to case. If the woman was in the legal care of her family, then the marriage is illegal and is instantly annulled - she can't sign in her own right, but has to be given away. If the woman was in the legal care of the king (in some systems, a widow or a woman with no family could appeal directly to the king for protection), or did not have a legal guardian, then there's no issue.

Sixth, the king can't claim his new wife's property, wealth, or vassals without publicizing her marriage.

Seventh, any children he has by his new wife will be considered illegitimate. Even if he publicized the marriage after the fact, the children will be seen as suspicious. Rival claimants - and there are always rival claimants - will have a fantastic excuse to change the order of succession.

The entire point of a medieval wedding is to get everyone to recognize the bond, the alliance, the transfer of title and land, and the legitimacy of any children. Get married in secret, sure, but publicize it ASAP later. If you die from a surfeit of lampreys, palfreys, hammers, etc. before you publicize it, then, for all intents and purposes, it didn't happen, even if someone did write it down in a book.


OSR: Tomb of the Serpent Kings 3.0

Version 3 of my "tutorial" dungeon is up.This update isn't as significant as the jump from 1.0 to 2.0, but it's still important. The entire document was edited and reformatted by the incredibly helpful David Shugars (nthdecree.blogspot.com). Go check out his stuff! Overall, I'd say the dungeon is now more readable and easy to use in a hundred small but vital ways.

And, once again, it's still free!

Tomb of the Serpent Kings v3.0 PDF

New on the left, old on the right
Or bookmark the Megapost for quick reference in the future. It also explains what the heck is going on, if you're new here.


What I Read On My Vacation

I like taking holidays to isolated, internet-free areas and reading a book a day. Speed-reading is handy. There are always too many good books to read.

This post is not directly related to gaming, but I hope there's interesting stuff in it anyway. It's a glimpse of what I do for fun, if left to my own devices.

Through the medium of books, we are shown and taught the way of repentance, for we gain wisodm and continence from the written word. Books are like rivers that water the whole earth; they are the springs of wisdom. For books have an immeasurable depth; by them we are consoled in sorrow.
-Primary Chronicle, Medieval Russia's Epics, Chronicles, and Tales

Just stop lying you fucking fool. Stop making shit up...Are we better off that you lied? What if you had just related what you saw written down, and what your friend told you, and whatever your other sources were and had just given us that, straight. Would we know more? We would have had the history of a story and instead we got the story of our history.
-Patrick Stuart, reviewing The History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth

Book 1: Medieval Culture and Society

David Herlihy
410 pages
Published by: Harper Torchbooks

This book is a collection of translated source texts on all aspects of medieval life. I own better (or better commented) translations of some of the texts, but there were a few others, particularly the town charters, that were worth picking up. My copy is full of notes saying "write blog post on this" or "summarize this".

Recommendation: it's interesting, but not useful to most people. If you're vaguely interested in the middle ages, it's great diverse holiday reading.

Ivan the Terrible Killing His Son, Ilya Repin

Book 2: Medieval Russia's Epics, Chronicles, and Tales

Serge A Zenkovsky
524 pages
Published by: Penguin

Another collection of texts, but this time, there are long explanatory essays attached to each text and to each section. I'm delighted that I found this book, as I was almost completely ignorant of some of the areas it covers. Norwich's "Byzantium" series covered some of the topics, but from a very different perspective. He neglected to mention the legend of Oleg's land-based naval attack on Constantinople, for example. The monastic tales are fascinating. The poetry seems to be well translated (even if there are a few grammatical oddities in the essays). 

Plus, there are lovely passages, such as this one, where an ailing Tsar reminds his children of his past exploits (and rolls on the Death and Dismemberment Table)
Two buffaloes tossed me and my horse on their horns; a stag once gored me;  one moose stamped on me, and another tossed me with his antlers; a boar once tore my sword from my thigh; a bear on one occasion bit my knee; and another wild beast jumped on my hip and threw my horse with me. But Got preserved me unharmed. I fell many times from my horse, fractured my skull twice, and in  my youth injured my arms and legs when I did not reck of my life or spare my head.
-Vladimir Monomakh, Instructions to His Children
I'm also going to write a post (at some point) on the Battle of the Kalka River, the Mongols, and what an invasion feels like, and how to use it in an RPG.

I also want to write a post on Afansy Nikitin's journey. Patrick Stuart has already reviewed the story of an arab sent as an ambassador to the Bulgars. This is almost the opposite; Afansy is just a normal Russian trader who got robbed, got lost, and spent years wandering the world. His travelogue is palpably tragic and distressed, but it's also full of useful gameable ideas. You can download a translation here, but the translation in Medieval Russia keeps in all the... interesting bits. The linked version is bowdlerized.

Recommendation: worth reading if you're interested in history. A fantastic reference volume.

Book 3: League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Alan Moore & Kevin O'Niell

Graphic novel, page count not given
Published by: Vertigo

I wanted to reread the book, particularly Hyde's sections, in the context of this essay. Conclusions: still not sure. Probably best to move on.

Members of the Permanent Court of Arbitration, established at The Hague in 1899

Book 4: The Proud Tower 

Barbara W. Tuchman
588 pages
Published by: Ballantine Books

If you've been following this blog for a while, you'll know I'm a huge fan of Tuchman's work. This book is part of her WWI series, and, as expected, it's astonishingly good. It's a collection of essays, but the essays are so skillfully linked that the seams are invisible. It's pure high-octane brain fuel.

And my god, her use of quotations. I never get the sense that she's quoting something out of context. Every time I dig into the source texts, I find that she's chosen the perfect line to reflect the sentiment or intent of the original piece. Nobody's words are twisted to fit her narrative. No one is quoted for effect. It's beautiful. Read Tuchman for study like you'd read Dickens for character.

Recommendation: Read this book. If you're at a used book store and you see something written by Tuchman, buy it, and I promise you'll enjoy it, even if history "isn't your thing."

Selections from my notes on The Proud Tower:
"Tuchman often writes paragraphs that start with a sudden, explosive declaration, then jump backwards to fill in the background. The initial declaration draws you in and makes you want to race ahead to find out how such a thing could happen. It's a great device, and it's used sparingly, so it doesn't feel click-bait-y."
"Tuchman's descriptions: a physical sketch, and a few anectotes or quotes to establish character
Gibbon's descriptions: a very loose physical sketch, and a moral judgement."

While reading her chapter on Germany and Strauss, I scribbled "Can we learn more about an era by studying the works that are popular only during that era but are forgotten afterwards than by studying works that are popular in that era and afterwards (timeless classics)? Wagner vs his imitators." And I'm not sure where I want to go with that thought.

"Extraordinary that Kipling could write the Recessional in 1897 and The Gods of the Copybook Headings in 1919 but somehow also write The White Man's Burden in 1899." I then added, six days later, "fucking poets" in the margin.

"Churchill said*, 'democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried,' but reading about the 'democracy' that first elected him, I'm not sure he really has the authority to claim a damn thing about democracy."

*he technically didn't, but I didn't remember that while writing my notes.

And then, in what appears to be a drunken scrawl, "Kaiser Wilhelm II on Twitter, by god!"

Book 5: 1066 and All That

W. C. Sellar and R. J. Yeatman 
116 pages
Published by: Folio Society (yeah, I got a fancy version!)

Hilarious, of course. The easiest way to test your knowledge of history is to read 1066 and see if you get all the jokes in the relevant section.

But it also has good worldbuilding advice. History is the bits of Stuff that Happened that are Memorable. History happens in Waves. Everything and everyone Memorable is either Good, Bad, or Experimental. Apply these principles to your setting.

Recommendation: excellent if you're from the UK, pretty funny if you're from the Commonwealth and have a background in history, nearly incomprehensible elsewhere.

Book 6: Eyrbyggja Saga

Herman Palsson & Paul Edwards
176 pages
Published by: Penguin

Late medieval Icelandic fiction, but damn good stuff. Locations are real, situations and people probably aren't. Ghosts, feuds, fights, cunning schemes, character development, and story hooks all over the place. The main actions of the saga take place in ~3 6-mile hexes.

Recommendation: if you like modern historical fiction, you'll really like this. If you're doing any kind of community building in your RPGs, this book is full of useful content and situations. The translation is very clear and very readable.

Book 7: The Hero with a Thousand Faces

Joseph Campbell
389 pages
Published by: Princeton University Press

I bought this book thinking it would be a bridge between Frazer and Lucas. It wasn't.

Frazer writes clearly, with a hint of dry wit and a few touches of sentimentality. Campbell writes like a stage magician. He huffs and puffs and throws words around. He uses all the worst tropes of his Freud-addled age. He quotes to disguise gaps in his theory. He abridges myths, drops inconvenient details, skips entire sections, and then handwaves with "as you can see" and "this is just one example" and other tricks of the huckster-historian's trade.

I mean, is it really surprising that classically-trained English and American mythologists, reading translations and glosses prepared by other classically-trained English and American mythologists, find overlapping segments of Greek myths everywhere? Are these present in the text, or in the translators?

I got so fed up that, to keep myself interested, I started translating the myths from
overwrought Freudian blather into overwrought Marxian blather. I'm happy to report that I've discovered just as much "deep hidden meaning" by this method as Campbell ever found by using Jung and Freud. "The golden ball represents Capital, while the 'repulsive' frog is, of course, the oppressed but virtuous worker..."

Recommendation: skip it. If you want comparative mythology and don't care about accuracy, read the Golden Bough. If you care, read a modern work on the subject. If you want to learn about Star Wars, read the article I linked to above. This one's going back to the bookstore ASAP.

Book 7: Elanor of Aquitaine

Demond Seward
264 pages
Publisher: Pegasus

I love reading books about one of my favorite eras. Seward does a decent job, but he has a few flaws. He starts each chapter with a quote from an unrelated source or two (Anthony and Cleopatra, etc.) that is semi-related to what he considers Elanor's character to be. It's irritating. Don't quote other people out of context to make a point about a completely unrelated event. It cheapens the book and removes any chance of the author remaining neutral. Seward is also critical of some sources but blindly follows others, even when they are dubious and should be treated with more caution.

Nevertheless, the book is a good introduction to the era. I'd watch The Lion in Winter first.

Selections from my notes on Elanor of Aquitaine:

"Lots of good material on illegal castle building."

"Seward is firmly on the side of Richard I being a homosexual, and actually backs it up with proof and quotes... but he was writing in '78, and his views come across as a bit limited these days. Still, good proof that you can play whatever character you want if you're either very rich and powerful or very poor and completely powerless."

"There's also evidence (which Seward, once again, treats as absolute fact) that Richard I died as a result of a hapless farmer finding a hoard of gold in the ground. The gold got confiscated immediately by the farmer's lord, and then by the local count, but the count refused to give it to Richard. Richard besieged his castle, caught a crossbow bolt in the neck, and died. More evidence I was right on how Taxes should work."

 Still Reading

-Ryuutama (it's good!)
-The Nibelungenlied (it's not Wagner, and I'd write a comparative essay, but literally thousands of people have got there first. Instead, listen to Anna Russel.

-The Jew in the Medieval World, Jacom Rader Marcus (haven't started)