RP Primer

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A Guide to Medieval Life and Roleplaying in Battlemaster


There are many facets of medieval life which are easily overlooked in what can often be the very competitive atmosphere of Battlemaster. This primer exists to fill in a few of the blanks about how things were in medieval society.

As Battlemaster's "medieval" setting is fairly loosely defined, this primer will try and avoid overly specific examples or anecdotes. Most of the information here is based on Western European history between the eleventh and fifteenth centuries.

1. Nobles are to Commoners as Commoners are to Donkeys

Blood is everything. The idea of 'elevating' a mere commoner to a noble was disgusting to many, and this was an extremely rare act, reserved for people who had done tremendous service to the Crown. It became more common in the early Renaissance (when commoners could be rich and influential and not just serfs), but even then, the older your family, the more respect you warranted.

Treating a commoner as though they were the same species as a noble was absolutely unheard of. There were no civil rights, no 'all men created equal.' The entire fabric of Feudal society was based on hierarchy.

That's not to say that, as a noble, you should treat all commoners like dirt and be cruel to them. Rather, a noble might think of a peasant as he thinks of his horse: a useful piece of property that should be taken care of (when convenient), because it is better for everyone when the property is happy and well-fed.

Just as a noble is a breed apart from a commoner, royalty is a breed apart from a noble. More on this later.

2. Even poor nobles were rich, and there is always a Pecking Order

In a typical Medieval town of a couple thousand, there might be a total of a couple dozen peasants who owned weapons of any quality (excluding the garrison, the sheriff, and his sergeants-at-arms). A suit of armor was worth several years of a peasant's income. To dress above your station was considered a grievous insult, but a rare one, because hardly anyone could afford to do it. This manifested itself in different ways: certain expensive dyes (such as purple) might be reserved only for Royalty.

Simply owning your own armor, sword, and horse makes you a noble to be reckoned with, even if that's the bottom of the social ladder in BM terms.

More wealthy nobles (region lords, and especially Dukes or rulers) had hundreds or even thousands of servants. Access to these nobles by lesser nobles was rare. Only the foremost knights of a county would have regular access to their lord, and regular access to a sovereign was even more rare -- even wealthy and influential nobles had to negotiate an often byzantine system of Royal Secretaries (themselves nobles) and influence-brokers.

Obviously, in BM, we want to foster RP and communication and it'd be silly to refuse to write to another noble because of their rank -- but remember that, when you are dealing with a noble above your own character's station, courtesy is paramount even if you don't get along. Spats between knights and nobles rarely spilled out into the public (that would be a scandal! but it happened) and everyone preferred to rely on intrigue and politics. Plausible deniability was everything.

3. The Royal We (Pluralis Majestatis)

Monarchs were without peer in terms of social, political, and economic rank. The Royal We was used as a token of respect, but it also had a very literal meaning. Kings were more than simply a noble who had been crowned; they became the personification of their realm and embodied it in all things. The King of England was not just (for example) Edward III du Plantagenet, but also England itself. This is the source of many social conventions as well as legal ones, e.g. 'an attack upon the King is an attack upon England itself.'

Forms of address were equally important lower on the social ladder. The Duke of Norfolk was considered to "be" Norfolk much in the same manner as the King "was" England, and (in some cases) particularly influential nobles of high station would get away with using the Royal We themselves. But even if they did not, it was customary to refer to landed nobles by their highest title.

For example, if John Smith becomes the Baron of Semon, he should properly be referred to as "Baron Semon" or "My Lord of Semon." To refer to him as "John" or even "Baron Smith" would be considered extremely personal and informal.

4. Forms of Address

Nobles were very particular about protocol. It was a critical piece in the structure of their society, even though it may seem a little silly (to us, today) to insist upon proper address. Even in private, only nobles who were very close friends would drop formal modes of address.

Proper protocol was something that one could study for a lifetime and still not master. It was (and still is) quite complicated, and so it's probably not a good idea to insist on every last detail in BM. Nonetheless, detail makes it a bit more fun, a bit more sincere, and you'll earn more drooling sycophant points with your liege if you know how to talk to him or her.

As you will see below, first names were almost never used in address. It would cause quite a stir to say "Count James" or "Duke Luyten" (even though that's what we're accustomed to in BM).

Inferior versus Social Equal

With some titles, it was customary to address a noble of superior status in one form, and a noble of equal status in another. It could be seen as a polite gesture to use the superior form when addressing an equal, but it could also be seen as patronizing. Nobles were finicky animals.

Not using the Proper Form

Mistakes and slips of the tongue were commonplace and often overlooked.

Purposefully dropping a title or honorific, or (even worse) substituting a lower one was considered a grievous insult.

Kings and Queens (and other rulers)

Kings and Queens often styled themselves more or less however they wanted to. Some Kings changed their "style" several times throughout their reign. Some Kings simply used "King" and were referred to as "Your Grace" (like Dukes, though the title of "Duke" itself didn't enter into popular usage until the 1300s, with a couple exceptions) or "Your Highness." Henry VIII, well past the "medieval ages", was actually the first English monarch to use "Majesty" as a mode of address.

Here are just some examples:

  • Edward III, by the Grace of God, King of England, France, Ireland, and Wales
  • Henry the Eighth, by the Grace of God, King of England, France and Lord of Ireland
  • Henry the Eighth, by the Grace of God, King of England and France, Defender of the Faith and Lord of Ireland
  • Henry the Eighth, by the Grace of God, King of England and France, Defender of the Faith, Lord of Ireland and of the Church of England in Earth Supreme Head (Henry VIII re-styled himself fairly often.)
  • Victoria by the Grace of God Queen of the Britains, Defender of the Faith

In BM terms, it's usually a good idea to use "Majesty" or "Highness" or "Grace" and then find out what the local custom is. Most Kings and Queens in BM probably don't get too bent out of shape about their "style."

Chancellors, Prime Ministers, and Pontifexes are largely made-up Feudal ranks (or else they existed, but not as they do in BM). A Prime Minister might be "Your Excellency" while a Pontifex might be "Your Eminence," but there is no standard mode of address. That doesn't mean you should call them "Hey, Bob!" -- rather, just find out what what their "style" is (or if they have one at all.)


(example: Colasan, surname Moncrieff)

A Duke's formal title is "His Grace the Duke of Colasan" and the superior, formal address is "His Grace" or (to him) "Your Grace." The equal form of address is simply "Duke." The Duke's sovereign, a very close friend, or a relative might address him simply as "Colasan," which would be considered extremely familiar.

A Duke's formal salutation would be "My Lord Duke," while a Duchess' would simply be "Madam."

Relatives of a Duke

This section would become unbearably long (or unbearably longer, depending on your persuasion) if it listed all the possible relations to every title. Here are a few modes of address for people related to a Duke -- most of them apply identically to lesser titles.

A Duke's Mother would be Her Grace, the Dowager Duchess of Colasan (or Her Grace <name>, the Dowager Duchess of Colasan) A Duke's Son would simply be Lord Moncrieff (this is simplified from historical address, in which an eldest son would inherit a lesser title from the parent; as BM has no inheritance, all children are presumed to be "younger sons.") A Lesser Noble's Son would be The Right Honorable <First Name> Moncrieff.

Marquesses (Marquis)

(example: Azarons, surname Devon)

A Marquess is styled "The Most Honorable The Marquess of Azarons" (yes, two "the") and he is formally addressed as "Lord Azarons" (and then "my lord" thereafter). He could also be addressed simply as "Azarons," though this would be considered far more familiar and informal.

A female Marquess is a Marchioness.

The English use "Marquess" while the French use "Marquis." Marquis is probably a little more universally recognized (based on my scientific survey of "seems to me.")

Counts and Barons

"Count" is a French title (Comte), as is Viscount (Vicomte); England had no Counts (though it did pick up a small number of Viscounts along the way) they were instead refered to as Barons.

It is almost identical to Marquis, except that, instead of "The Most Honorable," a Count is "The Right Honorable."

A Baron shares most forms of address with a Count, and is also "The Right Honorable."

5. Holding Court and Noble Pastimes

In Battlemaster, holding court is a bureaucratic and legal affair in which you set things in your region in order. Game-wise, it's very important, but RP-wise, that is only a fraction of what nobles really did when they held court.

Most nobles did not spend their entire lives fighting. Being a noble was about enjoying your privileges, and Court was the place where you did that. Every major noble had his own court, and lesser nobles would gravitate towards greater nobles' courts, seeking employment, favor, or just a good party.

Rulers and influential nobles who had their own courts usually entertained the nobles who were a part of it. Banquets, dances, great hunts, cards, intrigue, affairs -- anything that could pass the time. Nobles were really the idle rich of their day.

A genuine, in-character court is probably the most under-utilized RP tool in Battlemaster.

What Nobles Did for Fun

Here's what they didn't do: hang around in bars.

On the field or during tournaments, each noble had (at a minimum) his own tent; higher ranked nobles would have fairly extravagant tents or guest quarters at the host's castle if there was one nearby.

Most of the socializing nobles did actually took place during court sessions. In some courts, that partying would resemble tavern behavior -- fancy wenches, boozing, or crude jokes. In other courts, such behavior was unthinkable.

A knight or very minor noble might mingle with commoners to some extent; Medieval spymasters and intrigue-mongers would associate with all kinds of people to further their own ends, but they generally paid for such things in a loss of social standing, since any ongoing association with commoners was regarded as dirty.

Nobles spent most of their free time either at court, out hunting, going to war, raising their families, or spending their money and living well. There are a lot of ways to waste fortunes, and nobles thought of most of them. So can you.

6. Medieval Justice

There is a tendency in Battlemaster to skew perceptions of law and order towards a very modern, egalitarian sense of justice. Medieval justice had very little to do with our sense of justice today, both in theory and in application. This appeared both in the division between noble ("high") justice and commoner ("low") justice and even in how both of those were administered within their respective spheres.

The basic idea is that high justice had more in common with what we think of as justice today, in that you were at least treated like a person with a certain set of rights and the possibility of defending yourself, while low justice was closer to being sent to the principal's office. In criminal matters, commoners were entirely at the mercy of the local sheriff. In civil matters, the local magistrate might actually have an interest in a fair outcome of a business or personal dispute, or else he might simply respond to bribes or else pressure from a noble with an interest in the case.

Under very few circumstances could a commoner ever be a party to high justice, and no noble would ever submit to low justice. Consequently, it was pretty much impossible for a noble to commit a crime against a commoner. This started changing in the 1500s and on through the renaissance as people of common birth gained power and even nobility (and the lines between high and low otherwise began to blur), but during the High Medieval era, a nobleman could strike a peasant, sleep with his daughter, take his cow, or whatever else he desired. Doing so repeatedly and on a large scale was usually not desirable -- while any single transgression could and would easily be overlooked, a noble who habitually went around sampling the locals' daughters or burning down houses was like to be punished by his liege or the crown on the purely practical basis that such blatant and repeated malevolence threatened the feudal compact between serf and noble and between nobles themselves.

This was less the case during wartime, when invading armies would habitually help themselves to anything of value and the local food stores. There were exceptions -- Henry V notoriously forbade his soldiers from looting of any kind during his campaigns in France, and any army that intended to occupy and control the land through which it was traveling had a vested interest in preserving it. For the most part, though, even the Church only objected to serious mistreatment of the locals at the hands of invading armies.

In general, nobles were simply very hardened to certain realities of their lives: peasants were a different, lower breed of human, typically less valuable and more plentiful than a good warhorse, and a certain degree of what we would consider cruelty was blase. That's not to say that we are required to play our characters that way -- Battlemaster punishes a Judge for dipping into nobles' pockets or for executing them far more than is historically correct, but these and other gameplay issues are what makes Battlemaster something other than a straightforward medieval simulator (and unapologetically so).

7. Roleplaying your Character

Do's and Don'ts

  • Do think about what each of your characters' opinions are on issues that matter to nobles: hierarchy (do I like the stability and consistency of a Monarchy, or the intrigue of a Republic?), noble conduct (do I look down on nobles who act like idiots or peasants?), ambition (how far am I willing to go to get ahead?), religion (should the Church interfere with politics, and if so, to what extent?)
  • Don't have your character adopt a position on an issue that is so far away from the medieval norm that it forces everyone else to react harshly (e.g. "peasants and nobles are all humans and should be treated like equals"). This is a form of powerplaying -- it is appropriate (and even necessary) much of the time to take a contrary position to some or even most other nobles in your realm, but be sure it is something that a real noble, who has a lot to lose and values his reputation as much as his life, would gamble on.
  • Do develop your NPCs. Even lesser nobles had dozens of servants: squires, pages, scribes, concubines, mistresses, stablehands, bodyguards, craftsmen, tailors, scouts, and on and on. Pick one or two of these and develop a relationship between your character and the NPC. Such RP is often a way to make "everyday" noble behavior a little more interesting, as well as to expose your character to RP with other characters -- even if your noble doesn't necessarily hang out with certain other nobles, your servants might hang out with theirs.
  • Don't make your character or your NPCs good at everything and invincible. Flaws and foibles make for good reading -- even if your character is a powerful nobleman, nobody cares about a great noble walking around, doing great things all the time. We have to identify with each character we read about, or else we won't read.
  • Do distinguish your characters from each other. It is not necessary to make them complete opposites -- Battlemaster is rife with family feuds and the like -- but you should give them personality traits such that they immediately stand out from one another. One of the worst things that can happen to you in BM is if your characters get pigeonholed as simply being appendages of you (the player) and nothing more. BM is a competitive game and everybody wants to get ahead, but every time you place "winning" the game ahead of your own characters' desires and attitudes, not only is your enjoyment of the game lessened (you won't notice it right away, but it will happen), but other players will see that you're after a numerical victory (honor, prestige, gold) and not simply having a good time.
  • Don't RP other peoples' characters for them. This is a form of "powerplaying" and happens when, for example, you RP something with a serious effect on another character without their permission. If you are going to hit another noble over the head, steal his purse, sleep with his wife, or otherwise do anything that has more than a passing consequence, either get their permission, or have the game back you up (i.e. if you've just won a duel, then you can certainly RP winning the duel, but you should still work out the specifics of how the duel went with the other player). For example, even if I've just won a duel, I'm not going to RP that the other noble was an awful swordsman and didn't stand a chance unless I've cleared it with his player first.
  • Do always be courteous OOCly, even to people your character hates. In fact, it's often a good idea to send an OOC note to another player and to let them know that you enjoy the IC rivalry -- it is easy to read in to RP and events on BM, and sometimes we all need a reminder that it's just a game.
  • Don't sprinkle in OOC remarks in your RP. Label OOC messages with the OOC tag. IC and OOC do not get along.
  • Do be aware of how feudalism influences your character. One of the best conflicts that is built in to BM is the vassal/suzerain relationship. A knight is almost always most loyal to his direct overlord (this is one of the reasons for the "pecking order" on your character's status screen, i.e. "knight of X" and THEN "member of <duchy" and THEN "member of <realm>"). Your lord puts gold in your pocket. You use that gold to pay your serfs. Your serfs work your land and feed your family. Interrupt that chain with significant consequences, even if they aren't coded, "game" consequences. It is OK to be loyal to your ruler or to a lord two levels up (i.e. your lord's lord), particularly if your own lord is a raving lunatic, but even then, your character does so at his own risk. There is really no more serious matter under feudal law than breaking the vassal/liege lord contract.
  • Don't be vulgar. Some nobles acted more "noble" than others, but the great majority of nobles acted decently in public. Behind closed doors, they may have cursed like sailors -- but being a noble was often about plotting intrigues and working quietly, behind the scenes, rather than announcing to the world that you think another noble is a moron or a poop-face.
  • Do make every effort to see things as your character would see them. Your character doesn't think "okay, it's three turns from Ozrat to Colasan" -- he thinks in terms of miles, or hours, or days. He doesn't think in terms of CS; he just knows how many soldiers he commands and how well trained they are. He doesn't think in terms of honor and prestige as literal values; he thinks of them as abstract concepts. He doesn't think of morale and equipment damage as numbers; he walks among his soldiers (or not) and notices their mood and their readiness (or not).
  • Don't look at things in game terms in your RP. No-one would ever refer to a lopsided war as "4 on 1" or even "4 realms against one realm." No-one would've referred to the Thirty Years' War as "five realms fighting." A realm is a huge, sovereign thing with moving parts and byzantine complexity. It is not a sports team, or even a group of 10-100 people all working to the same end -- it has tens of thousands of people, intrigue, politics -- it has life. Alliances were tremendously complex things that were thrown away as quickly as they were formed (the number of treaties from the Medieval and Renaissance eras in which both parties agreed to "everlasting peace" was fairly ridiculous).

Writing a Successful RP

Given Battlemaster's structure, a single "RP Event" (let's call it a "snippet") needs to do several things in order to succeed. Let's consider, first, that a "successful" RP snippet...

  • Is actually read from start to finish by a majority of people in your realm and/or on the RP list
  • Shows off some element of your character that is dramatically interesting, funny, or both
  • Doesn't make anyone angry at you OOCly (ICly is to be expected!)

It's a credit to Battlemaster's players that most RP out there is legitimately not bad. The depressing truth is that "not bad" won't get read unless it's only a few sentences long, and you can't do too much in a few sentences. Once you've established an audience, then you can take some liberties with the following conventions -- but as they say, you gotta know the rules before you can break 'em.

This section assumes you're already familiar with the Do's and Don't's above and relates specifically to writing one, self-contained RP snippet, rather than generally "how to RP your character."

Writing tips:

  • Use proper spelling and grammar. English isn't everybody's first language in BM and people are usually quite tolerant of that, but BM is a written medium. Poor spelling and grammar make it hard to read what you're writing and is the written equivalent of mumbling while speaking. Nobody wants to be a grammar nazi and so it's entirely possible that you will never get called out for poor spelling or grammar -- but that doesn't mean it isn't affecting you. Firefox (http://getfirefox.com) includes a built-in spell checker that checks your spelling as you type. This is an excellent aide to using correct spelling in your writing. The default dictionary is American English rather than the preferred British English, but you'll get a better response if your writing is correct American English than if it's just plain wrong.
  • Figure out what event is driving your RP. You do not need an in-game event (a battle, a succession, a secession, an appointment, etc.) to RP about, though they're the easiest engines for RP when they do happen. Think about an everyday occurrence (troop inspection, chatting with NPC subordinates, paperwork, NPC family members driving you crazy) and use that to "set the stage" even if something more momentous is the actual subject of the RP.
  • You should be able to classify every paragraph of your RP as either drama or comedy (or both, but be careful with that). This is a simplification, but an important one.
  • Get to the point and hook your readers in the first few sentences. You don't have 20 episodes of 47 minutes apiece to develop plot and character. Your readers have the attention span of the average Internet surfer and they won't give you more time than that unless you give them a realy good reason to do so.
  • Don't dress up your RP with ASCII (i.e. ~*~*~*~*~ THE PALACE ~*~*~*~*~*). Your RP will be good enough on its own without any extra clothes on! Likewise, avoid extraneous, semi-legitimate internet punctuation, e.g. using /slashes for emphasis/ or *asterisks when things are important*. These are okay periodically, but eight out of ten times, the context of a phrase will indicate where emphasis should be already. If it doesn't, try to say it more clearly.
  • Length: keep it short and to the point. Longer RP is OK if every sentence is really contributing something. Look over what you've written and see if you can remove a sentence or two without changing the meaning or making it less dramatic or funny.
  • Cliche #1 to avoid: Boozing it up in pubs. Nobles did not booze it up in pubs like university students. Young knights might've frequented fancy drinking establishments with other young knights, but stay on the safe side of your noble's nobility and avoid this scenario entirely.
  • Cliche #2 to avoid: Superhero battle performance, e.g. "After personally dispatching his fifty-fourth foe, Count Bob wiped his brow and ate some beef jerky." Foibles are more entertaining to read about than invincible characters. Make your character human.
  • Be brave. Nobody does all of this all the time - not even the pros. The best way to get better at RP is to do it. BM is not a writer's circle -- asking for feedback is liable to get you a mixed bag. But look over what you've written in the past (the RP list is good for this, since it's all archived) and think about what you might do differently next time.