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RPG in the Fourteenth Century


Where I Got the Heraldry for Pendragon

When I was preparing the first edition of Pendragon I was desperately looking for any broad source of Arthurian coats of arms. I was working closely at that time with the wonderful and regrettably short-lived magazine Avalon to Camelot. The publisher, Freya Reeves Lambides, recommended that I contact Helmut Nikel, the Curator of Arms and Armor at the Metropolitan Museum. I was shy at first but then thought, “How many people will ever call him to ask about the arms of Sir Pericivale anyway?”

He was easy to talk to and just as happy as I was to talk about Arthurian heraldry. He was soft spoken and, to me at 30, old and wise. He knew the arms by heart of each knight I named. Finally he asked what I was doing, which I explained. “Interesting,” he said with a tone that carried the “whatever that means” intonation, but he continued, “I’ll send you a copy of the document.” Which he did. That was a listing of the d’Armagnac Armorial, a medieval listing of the 150 knights of the Round Table, with their coats of arms. That is the document that I used for the arms in the game. I cannot find a copy of that document on line. (Please contact me if you know of one!) Winchester Round Tab

This particular armorial is remarkably similar to several others contemporary with it. It was from Armagnac, a region in southern France that was a buffer zone between French and English territories (Guyenne). It seems likely this was from the 14th century, that is, the Hundred Years War.

This was a terrible period to live in France, and every Frenchman had Hate English at 25, and every Englishman has Contempt for French at 20.

Nonetheless, acts of courtesy across the lines of combatants occurred. Sure, they were rare and they were flourishes by rich men who could afford such theatrics. But these foes were also feudal, and in the manner f such times today’s enemy is tomorrow’s boon ally. Hared is not so much personal as corporate. Lancelot Arms

Plenty of evidence exists to show that one or more of England’s King Edwards engaged in huge tournaments that were spectacles and were called Round Tables. Personally, I think the Round Table now hanging in the Great Hall in Winchester was a prop for such exercises.

I have no problem whatsoever seeing young Edward the III, flush with victory over his mother and her lover, ordering this built for his entertainment. “Let them all talk about their round tables, but here we will hold the Round Table, the real one!” And of course everyone laughed in agreement, and now we still have that old table up there.

Worth stressing for us Pendragon players is that these guys back there, were ROLE PLAYING BEING KNIGHTS OF KING ARTHUR! Well, of course, it was a little bit tougher than we do. They used sticks, and horses—woah, they’re big!—and swords. So a little bit tougher.

But Role playing! What if it was also a LARP and everyone had a list of objectives to achieve before he week end was over! “Kiss the Queen’s handmaiden,” and “Challenge Sir Palomides to a joust,” and “Make everyone think you have a secret admirer you love as much as you love your horse.” And of course there would be Merlin, who’s the Chamberlain with a handful of 4x5 cards with magic spells he had to read and if he can read it all before someone pushed him down then the spell works.

CONCLUSION: I think the armorials were drawn up for roleplaying. It was only fitting to use them in Pendragon!

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