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The Extended Family

Karl Rybaltowski asks

One of my players posed a question, one that I had no clue how to answer, though I've pored over the book for some time now. The "Other Lineage Men" of the family - what is it they do? They're not knights, but they're members of the knight's family, and so not commoners. Some may have joined the clergy, and others may just be hangers-on, but when you get so many of them (in one player's case, 13; in another's, 18), how can some variety be injected? Will they all just either be monks or worthless sycophants?

Ah yes, those useless sons. Always a problem for nobility! 13 and 18 sounds extraordinarily high! But so what, Pendragon is about extraordinary people

One of my players started writing in these family members as trappers and traders, but those are decidedly commoner-type jobs, so I am loath to accept such a situation.

You are correct here. They could do those jobs, but they will lose their status as nobles and essentially be written out of the family.

However, I don't want to ignore this aspect of character and family creation, as it would allow the players to get some detail for these men, instead of making them abstract fighters or minions in blind service to the players (which, of course, I am trying to avoid).

Please note that Pendragon Book of Knights & Ladies addresses this to some extent. I will synopsize the most salient points here.

First, a knight’s family generally has one knight in it: the oldest son. (Well, maybe two if the father is still alive when the son is knighted.) Think of the title as something specific to be inherited. It isn’t split up between the heirs—in fact, in general the entire patrimony is not split up. Everything goes to the oldest son (with something set aside for the eldest daughter as well.)

From Knights & Ladies, page 14:
“The scheme here follows the traditional pattern of “Heir, Spare and Prayer” for the sons. That is, the eldest son is the designated heir, following the tradition (which became law) of primogeniture; i.e. the oldest son inherits everything. But accidents do happen, and so nobles want to have a spare, in case the elder son dies. The second son is trained as a knight as well, and if possible, receives knighthood if all conditions are met. And thus with the mundane world taken care of, influence from the heavenly realm is covered by son number three, the prayer, who would be slated for the church, and trained as a cleric rather than knight.

But what about those others? Well, for daughters they are all married off to families that are wanted as allies. The sons become esquires.

From Knights & Ladies, page 38:
Esquire: An Esquire is a nobleman who has not been knighted. The term “Squire” in Pendragon, always indicates a squire-in-training, who will become a knight. An esquire differs from a squire only in that he has reached his age of majority, and that he is not going to become a knight.

Esquires in Play
All squires start young and learn as they serve. The most familiar ones are knights-in-training, and they serve a knight until reaching the age of majority. Upon reaching majority, they squire become knights. However, all the requirements (see section I-7, below) must first be met. If any of those conditions are not met then the squires won’t be knighted. They are adults, but remain squires, and are called esquires to differentiate them from the underage squires.
Esquires are the lowest class of nobles, usually being the sons of noblemen who were trained as squires, but who did not go the next step and become knights.
Other reasons that a man remains an esquire could include: he is of common blood; he does not qualify because no position as knight is available; he hasn’t the proper equipment; he has no income; he simply wishes to remain in service to his knight, or just doesn’t want to become a knight.
Regardless, an esquire still has to do something to survive. Typical options include:
Continue to assist to his knight. Many knights would like this because they retain an experienced assistant. Indeed, genuine friendship can form between a knight and his squire (each of them within the bounds of his class, of course).
Find a job. Becoming a manor steward or bailiff, a herald, the keeper of mews, chief hunter, or some other office for a manor or other holding is an honorable, respected, and fairly stable way of life.
Become a mercenary (sergeant). Many live this way, earning money when war is in season and paying for a place to live when not working. It might be possible to capture knightly armor, or even save enough pay to buy some. It is conceivable, though extremely rare, that a sergeant may make enough money to give a gift to a nobleman and receive in turn a gifted or granted estate to (finally) support his knighthood.
Marry well. Perhaps this way, he can get the income to provide for being a knight.
Finally, knights who could qualify for knighthood sometimes want to avoid their knightly duty. Being a knight is dangerous and expensive, and some heirs want to avoid that way of life. Nonetheless, they want to retain their other inherited privileges, such as owning and tending a fief. Around 535 or so King Arthur creates the method to do this. The landholder instead pays an annual fee called scutage (“shield fee”). The standard annual rate is £10/year.

So there it is. Those other men in the family strive to become esquires, either as valued officers on an estate or as mounted sergeantry for hire.

What if they can’t do that? Well, they are still nobles, but remember that one must maintain himself at the proper social level to retain that class. An esquire who is broke will slide down the social scale and his family, if he has one, will revert to commoner status. They disappear from the family tree.

What I’d like to do

I have been compiling notes on this for some time now. If I ever get the thing done you’ll be able to trace your entire patrilineal family through that “Family History.”

Two big problem that I ran into are:
trying to take the history to cover knights from outside of Salisbury. This is something that I need to do myself.
trying to compile a huge list of possible events for a longer, extended “Family Events Table.” The few that are in the rule book (page 110) quickly pale in interest, even during ordinary play. But if you have any suggested contributions to this, please feel free to write them down and send them to me. Some that are already on the list include: dies of disease, killed by monster, killed by bandits, goes questing and doesn’t return, dies of overeating, dies from a riding accident, dies from a natural disaster (rainfall, landslide, tree fall, fire), and others.

I’d like to solicit anyone’s contributions to this project. Please, if you have suggestions just send them to me at and I’ll consider them all. I will do my best to keep track of all contributors to give proper credit if the extended list ever appears…

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