Hello, everyone! I hope that everyone is well—not to mention busily preparing for our upcoming Winter event at the beginning of November. As you go about your preparations, and maybe brush up on some lore and mechanics information about the game, I also hope that you take a few moments to consider some “reflections” that I have written down in light of a couple of observations that I (and others) made during the past event. Please know that everything that follows is intended to be a constructive, helpful commentary and, ideally, should clarify areas of potential confusion for all of our participants, including staff. There are a few requests that I will make of everyone, but not without also providing some suggestions for role-playing “sticky situations” or solving possible problems. Please take them for what they are—nothing more or less.
That said, and without further ado, my reflections.
Rendering the Feudal Society
One of the aspects of Éras that comes up most often in PELs is the world’s set-up; that is, the feudal society. Many participants have asked for clarification and further guidance about this. It makes sense. We live in America, and most or all of us have grown up internalizing the notion of equality regardless of circumstance, as well as the possibility for upward mobility through continued effort. The practical realities of a feudal society are extremely unfamiliar, and some of the ideologies at the heart of the system can be hard to embrace. So I have tried, below, to put together a “crash course” on feudalism as well as a few specific recommendations to keep in mind as you navigate the world of Éras:
- Feudalism is a very tricky and complex system because it involves so many different parts of society, and its values and privileges are not always clear. At its core, however, it is important to remember that it is not a system of equality—the nobility have one set of privileges and corresponding responsibilities, while the commoners (a catch-all word that refers to both artisans and peasants) have another, completely different set of privileges and responsibilities.
- Some of you may protest at this. What responsibilities do the nobles have, when it seems like all they do is enjoy their privileges? And what privileges do the commoners have, when it seems like all they do is work? you might ask. The simplest answer is this: The nobles must define and defend the laws of the kingdom, developing strong leadership qualities in order to rule effectively and to protect both their vassals and their lands. There is a great deal of pressure in knowing that not just one, but hundreds of people are relying on you for their safety, well-being, and continued prosperity. By contrast, the commoners enjoy the military and economic protections of the nobility, are always able to seek out the aid of the nobility, and need not concern themselves with the drudgeries of governance or politics on a grander scale. There is great comfort in knowing that a lord is bound by oath to take care of you during hard times, no matter what.
- It is important to realize that, although the two social classes are not equal, they are bound together into a symbiotic relationship—neither could survive without the other unless some massive societal restructuring took place, and both classes know this. Keep in mind, too, that both classes are essentially pledged to a life of service; in the feudal society, your life is not necessarily your own, no matter if you are a commoner or a noble. It is considered a form of societal and personal grace not merely to know this, but to accept or even embrace it.
- Thus, even though both classes are fundamentally different, individuals within each class can and should take pride in the fact that they are performing a kind of service that the other could not—and that, because of that, society may continue to function.
- This is the groundwork, then, for the fact that the nobility is supposed to behave graciously and respectfully toward commoners: the commoners provide the nobility with their food, clothing, and wares, and free their time from mundane work so that they may educate themselves to become better rulers and warriors. In the meantime, however, commoners are expected to show due respect to the nobility, because the nobility are so much more highly educated and wield so much economic and military power. (I read once, during my preliminary research for the game, that “no single foot soldier or archer could stand up to any one knight.” This is an extremely powerful illustration of the respective roles that the different classes are expected to occupy in society—in this case, during war. A knight was, for all intents and purposes, the medieval equivalent of a tank. That the responsibility was reserved for a noble is telling, as is the fact that commoners were not expected to compare.)
So, what is the best way to go about role-playing all of this?
The easiest, most expressive way of role-playing the feudal society is simply to address other characters properly. In general:
- Across the noble/commoner divide, it would be considered rudely familiar to address anyone by first name unless explicitly invited to do so—from both ends of the spectrum. Thus, Lady Mary Black would never just start referring to Alice Farmer as “Alice.” Instead, it would be a mark of cordiality or respect to call her “Mistress Farmer.” Likewise, Alice would never casually refer to the noblewoman as “Lady Mary”; she would address her as “Lady Black” until instructed otherwise. Such permissions may be as simply expressed as, “Please, call me Lady Mary.”
- The most common “universal” honorifics are as follows—
A noble whose specific title you do not know: “My lord” or “my lady,” as in, “My lady Black, may I offer you something to drink?” or “Are you acquainted with my lady Black?”
A commoner whose rank or title you do not know: “Mistress” or “Mister,” as in, “Mistress Farmer, you look quite dashing today” or “Mister Ackworth is our local barrister.” Please note that these two honorifics are used to differentiate commoners from squires, who are of course addressed as “Miss” or “Master.”
- It is ideal to address a person, no matter what their social class, according to any titles or ranks they might hold. Thus, if you know that John Danford is a knight, you would refer to him as “Sir [John] Danford.” Similarly, if you know that a foot soldier is a corporal, you would refer to her as “Corporal [Alice] Farmer.” This guideline falls through in cases where the use of a title might render the address ridiculous, as in “Forester Forester,” which I mention only because we actually have a case of that right now. In that scenario, an acceptable alternative would be “Mistress Forester,” or—with permission—“Forester Lexa.”
- Within one’s own social class, it is acceptable to disperse with formality and skip immediately to a first-name basis unless explicitly informed otherwise. Thus, Lady Mary Black would simply refer to Sir John Danford as “John” upon their introduction, and Alice Farmer would call Roger Ackworth “Roger.”
Note that this is trickier for nobles, because they must be more aware of ranks, so as not to offend nobles of a higher standing than they. Thus, while Lady Mary Black might well be on a first-name basis with Sir John, she would never dream of calling Count Geoffrey Lyon “Geoffrey,” unless she were deliberately trying to provoke him, or to imply something about the nature of their relationship. By contrast, Count Geoffrey Lyon would be perfectly within his rights to refer to Lady Mary Black by her first-name—but even then, such practice could be seen as belittlement under the wrong circumstances.
- Even within one’s own social class, it is sometimes a good idea to refrain from showing undue friendliness. Our young Alice Farmer, then, might choose to refer to elderly Isabella Glazier as “Mistress Glazier” out of respect for her age and experience. Alternately, if Alice Farmer has a rather icy relationship with Ralph Cooper, she might call him “Mister Cooper” to indicate that there is no fondness between them. There are many iterations of this, some of which are culturally-based (take Blacknalleers, for example), and you should feel free to adjust your form of address to suit the circumstances as well as your character’s personality.
- Finally, it is advisable to differentiate between siblings or individuals with the same last name by using their full names, so that you might refer to both “Mistress Alice Farmer” and “Mistress Margery Farmer” without anyone becoming confused.
Admittedly, it can all be a little bit complex, but take from it what you will and know that these guidelines can always be “fudged” as necessary. And remember—if you’re really lost or unsure, it is quite courteous to just ask somebody what they would like to be called and have done with the uncertainty once and for all!
A secondary way of rendering the feudal society is via actions and reactions. In general:
- When a noble enters a room, seated commoners should rise out of respect; the noble, in turn, should acknowledge them and make sure to give them leave to sit back down. This guideline can and should be constricted in social situations that would render the action so inconvenient as to be impractical, as in the tavern, which people enter and exit all the time. Instead of rising when any noble enters, then, commoners might elect to rise only when a person of great consequence—for instance, Count Henry Marcheford—enters the tavern. It is also possible to rise only if a noble approaches you specifically, or comes over to sit at your table.
- Anyone, noble or commoner, who notices a great lord or lady enter the tavern, is encouraged to call out something like, “All rise!” to call attention to that person. At this point it would be a grave discourtesy not to rise out of respect.
- If a noble of higher rank greets you by name or approaches you to begin a conversation, it is expected that you would bow to that person. Likewise, if you seek to strike up a conversation with a noble of higher rank, a bow accompanied by some small courtesy such as, “If I may, I would beg a word of you,” or “If it please you, I wish to speak with you” would be standard. Another conversational courtesy to bear in mind is, “May I speak freely?” or “May I have your permission to speak?” While carrying on the conversation, the person of lower rank especially would be expected to remain attentive and avoid unduly interrupting; and it is considered good etiquette to bow once again upon dismissal.
- Nobles might, if they so choose, observe small gallantries amongst themselves, including but not limited to kissing someone’s hand, granting a favor, or wearing a favor; but these behaviors would never be extended to commoners, at least not seriously.
And finally, because we have gotten a lot of questions about precedence and ranking specifically regarding the military and internal government of Ravensgate, the official rundown is this:
- Within the bounds of his lands, orders issued by the Count of Marcheford supersede all other commands except those issued by his direct superiors, or anyone of higher rank within the Orders of the White Lotus or the Silver Fern.
- In local military matters, including the defense of the town, the decisions of the local military personnel—including knights, royal mages, squires, soldiers, and the forester—take precedence over the orders of any civilian, even nobles.
- Orders issued by any person holding the rank of Brigadier or higher within the Orders of the White Lotus or Silver Fern supersede the commands of all landed knights or royal mages as well as those of the local forester or soldiers of the Watch.
- The forester and the soldiers of the Watch are to heed and obey the commands of any landed knight or royal mage who has sworn, by oath of fealty, loyalty to House Marcheford.
- Local squires are welcome to offer their advice and skill to the local forester, and the local forester may choose whether or not to accept them. In entering into this partnership, the squires agree to abide by the orders and commands of the forester. If an imprisoned noble should request to be held in accordance with his or her standing and the forester should have no objection, the forester may remand custody of the prisoner over to a squire or squires, if they agree to guard the prisoner faithfully until such time as the prisoner’s formal trial.
- Local squires are permitted to capture known a criminal and hold him or her under their own personal guard until such time as the criminal’s formal trial, or until such time as the squires can turn the criminal in for a previously-advertised bounty. Should the squires require the aid of the forester or any soldier of the Watch prior to the trial or the collection of the bounty, however, the criminal is thereafter considered to be in the custody of the Watch. Should any criminal escape and elude recapture while under the personal guard of a squire, that squire shall be required to pay whatever fine would have been levied upon the escaped criminal if that criminal had been sentenced properly. In the event of a murderer’s escape, the squire will be required to pay the equivalent of a major fine whose value shall be set by the forester.
- The soldiers of the Watch are to heed and obey the commands of the forester, in keeping with their internal titles and rankings.
All of the discussion about titles and so on brings me to my next reflection:
Attention to Terminology / Integrity of the Game-world
At the fall event, I heard a few things that made me wince inwardly: Someone referred to the plant incarnation as a druid. Another person spoke enthusiastically about werewolves, because it was a full moon, and vampires, because they’re vampires, I guess. A slew of participants stopped referring to “the Knight’s Stand” and started referring to “the guard house.”
I don’t want to sound as though I’m nitpicking (although, all right, I’m totally nitpicking)—but hear me out regardless. The reason that these lapses of terminology concerned me is because they represent more than just a slip in diction; they represent a lapse in thought and approach, and in doing so threaten the integrity of the game-world that we are all trying so hard to create and maintain.
For example, take the plant monster. Yes, outwardly there may be some basic similarities between this creature and the mythical druid which is commonly depicted in other fantasy novels and worlds. But the key fact is: They are not the same. Moreover, they are not the same because we have deliberately designed them not to be the same. The problem with assuming that they are one and the same, then, is because it encourages you to assume that you already know what is going on, what something is, what its purpose or behavior or outlook is—except, at Éras, you might be wrong. And in cutting yourself off from the drive to question and explore, you might miss out on something really cool. On top of that, you might influence other people to adopt your terminology and, thereby, your assumptions—and they might miss out on something cool too. It’s definitely a domino effect, and it’s for that reason that falling back on the familiar tropes, archetypes, and terminology of the fantasy genre at large can be so problematic.
What’s at stake in issue of “the guard house” as opposed to “the Knight’s Stand,” by contrast, is a loss of place. One of the things that I think resonates strongly with the participants at our game is that it has a sense of realism that is deeply rooted in the specificity of place: of the Silver Raven tavern, of the town of Ravensgate, of county Marcheford and Braelin and the universe of Éras at large. But if we allow ourselves to strip away these details, no matter how small or insignificant they may be, I feel as though it becomes that much easier to forget that we are in Ravensgate and start thinking more along the lines of being in “just another game.” Just another fantasy world.
My insistence on calling places by their proper names, then, and in referring steadfastly to “the Ravensgate Watch” or calling the members of the Watch “soldiers” or “watchmen” rather than the less official/more generic “town guard” or “guardsmen” is because I want to preserve the details of the game’s place. Maybe it’s a little crazy, but I hope that you feel the same way too.
And finally, as regards werewolves, vampires, elves, dwarves, liches, fairies, and all manner of other fantasy creatures—simply put, they just aren’t part of Éras. Don’t get me wrong; I think Tolkien is great, I enjoy playing D&D, and I love all the old folktales that are out there. And I’ll be the first to admit that we have in fact drawn from mythological sources to help shape our world, because how can we reasonably escape those influences entirely? But we have purposefully shied away from the most famous of the creatures in the stories—partly for the reasons that I mentioned during my discussion of the plant monster versus druid issue, but mostly because they just don’t match the aesthetic of our game-world.
I hope that the frankness of this reflection will help to eliminate these types of references, but just in case it doesn’t, I have a solution in mind. I don’t like the idea of breaking game any further than these references will already have done; so instead, I encourage anyone hearing mention of famous fantasy creatures to respond in-game with a variation of the following: “What, you still believe in those old fairy stories?”
And finally, the last and shortest reflection in the series:
The Importance of Taking Calls
This is just a reminder, based on some reports that came out of staff center after certain larger-scale encounters: If you get hit with a skill call, please take it. If you don’t know what it means, please clarify with the person who hit you. If you’re not sure if the skill call landed or not, please ask whoever it was that tried to hit you. Thanks!