A Setting for Symmoira
by Jasper McChesney
Two days ago you were sitting around a table, playing a game with a bunch of friends. Your ace fighter pilot's plane had just gotten shot all to pieces when everyone decided to call it a night; besides, Bob had to get up early for an interview the next day. But before everyone left, one of your other friends brought out a strange new game book hed found in little used book store. It looked pretty old, and really nicely bound, though he hadnt paid much for it. Everyone looked over the thing, impressed, but since it was in French or something, no one really knew what it was about. Cool, said Bob, looks like fantasy maybe.
Everyone went home, and back to their jobs (and school), awaiting next weeks game. It was earlier todayat least you think it was todaythat you began to feel lightheaded. Walking down the sidewalk on your lunch break, you felt your head spin more, and your vision blur. You thought you heard drums, or maybe hoof beats, but the city doesnt use mounted police. Then suddenly you collapse, but instead of seeing blackness, a bright blue light stares into you. Though it seems like ages, you probably stared back at it for only a moment. When you awoke, it was in this cold damp field. One of the other players in your weekly game lies sprawled across the grass some twenty feet away, in his hand that weird book he brought in. Now you heard hoof beats again, youre sure of it, and theyre getting closer.
Our Medieval Fate is a setting for the Symmoira role-playing system. In it, you play yourself, as does everyone else at the table. You awake in a world not your own: like the Connecticut Yankee in King Arthurs Court, you find yourself a thousand years in the past, in the midst of the Middle Ages. You and your friends are now alone, with no obvious way to get back home. Will you die in this strange and brutal place, or find a way to survive? How will you influence this place that knows nothing of jet planes or electricity? And if you gain power, to what use will you put it? Essentially, OMF is about trying to survive in the medieval world and finding out what a modem person might accomplish there.
Our Medieval Fate is a work in progress, and will be updated and expanded as my time and creativity permit. If youd like to contribute to it in any way, dont hesitate to .
In Our Medieval Fate, you and your friends must attempt to recreate yourself as characters using the Symmoira rules. You can use either the balanced or freeform system, but I would generally suggest freeform. If you use balanced method, use 3 points for attributes, 8 points for abilities, and 25 control points per session. OMF uses the core trades set of attributes. When assigning abilities, only list those abilities that will be somehow relevant to living in the Middle Ages. How to fix a computer, for instance, wont be of any use. Here are the most useful abilities youre likely to use:
- Fist Fighting
- Medieval Law
- Medieval Religion
- Medieval Society
Also note that many of the above abilities should be interpreted in the context of how they will need to be performed in the Middle Ages. For instance, knowledge of modern farming, in the sense of pesticides and genetically modified crops, is not very helpful, so the abilitys rating should be quite low. In fact, most of your abilities will be fairly low, since few people do the things that were common back then.
If you have any other traditional sorts of skills like leatherworking, or have managed to study medieval swordplay somewhere, be sure to include those. You can also spend points on other skills which are decidedly modern but which you think you can make work (like chemistry). Obviously, if youre a fanatical medievalist, youll find yourself at a distinct advantage. If one or two players have far more abilities than the others, then you may with to use the balanced method of character creation.
Regardless of which method you choose, you shouldnt design your alternate self entirely by yourself. After youve laid down tentative choices, present your character to the group. They should then modify it to make it more accurate, if possible, since were often poor judges of ourselves! Obviously this works best if you know your group quite well: if youre complete strangers, you should skip this step.
If your group wants, it can eschew the normal practice creating a character based on yourself. Instead make any sort of ordinary person, paying attention to whatever abilities he has which might be relevant to life in the Middle Ages. Its often interesting to see what different kinds of people might be able to accomplish in another time period. You should still discuss the characters with your group as usual though, and they might object to you playing the worlds foremost Medieval reenactor...but on the other hand, a whole troupe of Medievalists, often arrogant and less knowledgabel than they might think, might be fun too. (No offense is intended to Medievalists, your author very nearly is one.)
In Our Medieval Fate, control points are called Modernity, and represent various beliefs of the modern visitors: individualism, technology, inovation, and so on. Obviously, Modernity is only appropriate for characters from certain (western) cultures, but that is this games presumed audience. Characters get 25 points of Modernity per session. Modernity should be used particularly when the character does something that would be out of character for a Medieval person, but can be used for anything.
You can bring with you into the Middle Ages anything you might reasonably be carrying at some point in an ordinary day. This easily includes pen and paper, pocket knife, glasses, and so on. Theres no need to pay points for these kinds of items. If you want something like a bicycle though, that will. Most modern items should be one to two points. You may wish to require a roll in order to judge whether a character happened to be holding some particular useful item when he was teleported through time: this should be a straight roll with a basic chance of 10, modified by advantage and likelihood as usual.
- The characters can speak the local language, albeit not perfectly: they will be marked as outsiders of some kind. Some locals may guess that they are better educated than normal peasants however, and they may be able to pass as students, monks, or businessmen initially. As time goes by, they will pick up the language better, and it should be assumed that theres no significant barrier. Most characters still wont know Latin however, which is important for administrative and religious work.
- The characters will just manage to scrape by and not die most of the time. Outcomes that would outright kill a character have a -8 penalty to likelihood. Characters can still become sick, wounded, and near-starved, but theyll probably survive it.
- Inventiveness. The character are going to be able to invent all kinds of things, based on their knowledge of modern technology. Any outcome that involves a mechanical invention gets a +3 bonus.
- Inoffensive. Especially at first, the characters will stick out like sore thumbs. However, even if someone is suspicious of them, they will not be shunned totally, and even if someone important becomes angry with them, he will give them some leeway and not imprison and exile them. Any outcome in which the characters strange nature would cause them trouble is at a -3 penalty.
- Pick up Skills. Characters will have an uncanny ability to pick up local crafts and customs, especially those unbecoming their class (like court manners, riding, and warfare, which are all abilities they may gain as the game progresses). Any crisis involving learning such a skill gets a +2.
There are many possible ways to play with Our Medieval Fate. Your group can make it as strictly accurate as you can, or move closer to Medievals own idealized versions of their world; you can make the struggle to survive be very hard and the focus of play, or you can wave away petty concerns like comfort and plentiful food, and instead focus on the characters ability to influence the world around them; you may end up with characters who must choose a Medieval life that best suits them, or characters who are able to forge their own way, carving out a modern niche for themselves. You may wish to discuss some of these options beforehand, but many can simply come out as you play.
The First Few Days
When the characters first arrive in a strange land, they will be faced with great difficulties. Of course, they must first realize where they are, probably after seeing some knights clash together, or some simple peasant steadings. Once that dawns on them, theyll need to plan their short term survival: chance are they dont have any substantial amount of food on them, and no easy way to buy more. Modern coins may not be accepted (they would have to find a major town and a money-changer to have even a chance) so they will have to either pawn other items (if they can find a buyer), do work for someone (very hard to set up), or live off the land for a time, possibly poaching or stealing as necessary. Although most players will probably not be interested in havnig their alternate selves become highwaymen, this is also a possibility.
Surviving off the land is not easy, but quite possibyl easier than attemptign to interact with suspicious locals. Work as simple manual laborers is probably the best to hope for initially.
As time goes on, the characters will have to insinuate themselves into the local community, slowly gaining the peoples trustor they can pack their bags and move on to somewhere new. Chances are they wont have begun their journey near a city. Travelling to one can be a good idea, since cities have more opportunities for work and are less suspicious of outsiders, but they have their dangers too, and are more expensive ot live in.
Eventually the characters will begin to carve out some kind of acceptable niche for themselves, in which they can survive reasonably well. Now comes the big question: what now? There are roughyl three majro paths that the players can take the game in:
The characters set themselves as local protectors, bandits, or a religious sect. They acquire a house or build a fort to protect themselves from prying eyes, and set out to improve the local area and/or to simply increase their own power. This power might be militaristic, economic, or something else entirely. They might actually start a new cult.
The major challenges of this approach are working with locals, gaining resources, and then executing various schemes that must carefully be thought up. The charactes must keep their operations somewhat secret to avoid getting undue attention.
In the end, they probably will be noticed however, and then major confrontation with a guild, a lord, or the church are nearly inevitable. Surviving such a conforntation may just buy more time until the next. To truly becomes accepted in the Medieval world then becoms the real hurdle.
The characters aim to integrate themselves into Medieval society, and thus make the best lives for themselves as possible. Since life in the Middle Ages is hard for the vast majorioty of people, the characters will almost certaily want to be more than just peasantsthough even becomnig situated as a peasant is not simple. They will probably want to become merchants or craftsmen so they may live comfortably. If they happen to be in one of the republican city-states of Italy, they may even be able to rise into public office. Alternately, they may set their sites on rulership and power immediately, in which case they may try to pass themselves off as magicians and thereby become advisors to some monarch.
All the avenues to power and respect within Medieval Society are difficult, and especially hazardous for outsiders. The characters must constantly be putting on a show in order to convince powerful men that they mean no harm, that they can be trusted, and maybe that they are needed. They will have to start small, and work their way up. They will constantly be planning things, and using their modern know-how to engineer whatever advantage they can.
The largest conflicts on this path also come from attracting too much attention. Although new craftsman in a large city may go unnoticed for a time, the guild will soon take an interest; so too will rivals of all sorts, who will be only to keen to expose the characters as the outsiders that they are. If the characters decide to dabble in politics, there come even more ambitious people to deal with.
The characters dont accept that they cant go home again, and this remains at the forefront of all their thinking: they have to get back, now. They will try to investigate their own circumstances in an attempt to locate whatever power brough them back, and some means of getting back. To this end, they will be unlikely to settle down, and might isntead travel the countryside, searching out wise men, libraries of knowledge, and sacred places: anything that might help them.
There are two options within this path. The first is that escape is indeed possible. The characters need only piece together the mystery by talking to right people, and overcoming the intervening challenges, in order to finall go back to where they belong.
The other option is that the situation is actually hopeless: they cant go home. They might search for a hundred years, but no one in the Middle Ages knows anything about how they got here. This is obviously a more negative option, but it is also a highly interesting one since it raises the question: how long do you keep looking? Some characters may want to give up the search after years of fruitless toil: they may want to pursue one of the other paths. Other characters may stubbonly refuse to accept their situation, and scorn the thought of integrating. These more stubborn characters may eventually be convinced by their friends to settle down, but they will always keep looking, using whatever spare time and money they have. What becomes of the different characters, based on their outlook, is thus the central theme of play.
This is an optional aspect to OMF and may be used at your groups discretion. With it, the items that the characters bring back in time with themselves become specialessentially magicalas a result of the journey. They become extremely durable, perhaps nearly unbreakable, and all of their usul functions are acentuated against the Medieval backgrop. Ordinary spectacles allow their wearer to have eagle eyes or perhaps to see at night or through fog. A pencil never runs out of lead and writes beautiful cligraphy. A calculator, extrodinary enough on its own, never runs out of batteries. A pendant makes its wearer more attractive to everyone around him.
For any item a character might have, make it even more powerfulthough if it is already out of the ordinary in the Middle Ages, merely make it tougher and long-lasting. Some object might even be transmuted after the journey, so that they take on a shape more appropriate to their greater powers: a pen knight might become a magic sword, or a hat an emblazoned helm.
There are two ways to use these rules. In the first way, plaeyrs decide what they want their equipment to do when they make their characters, and pay points according to their abilities. Each player should probably get another 5 to 10 points to spend for this purpose. Alternately, the equipment can be bought as ordinary equipment (as described in the character creation section of this supplement), and its powers defined during the game itself (during crises). In this case, no further points need be spent.
A further option your group has when decidign how realistic to make your Medieval world is the inclusion of magic. While the real world was replete with hucksters, self-proclaimed sags, and underground alchemists who never produced anything, your world could alter history, and allow all those grand ideas to be real, including alchemy, astronomy, and various black arts. You might also allow members of the church to exercise divine powers of exorcism, and the existence of supernatural entities like sprites and fairies.
If you do include magic, your characters may eventually come to know something of it, and even become genuine practitioners. In this case, they should purchase appropriate abilities for what they can do.
This little supplement cant give you everything you need to run a game set in a realistic Medieval world. For that I advise turning to various well written books and other resources that cover the period. Here are a few which might be useful and which are fairly accessible:
- Magic in the Middle Ages, Richard Kiekhefer. Cambridge: Cambridge Unviersity Press, 1989.
- Life in a Medieval Village, Frances and Joseph Gies. New York: Harper Collins, 1990.
- Life in a Medieval Castle, Frances and Joseph Gies. New York: Harper Collins, 1975.
- English Weapons & Warfare: 449-1660, AVB Norman and Don Pottinger. New York: Doset Press, 1966.
- The Commercial Revolution of the Middle Ages: 950-1350, Robert S. Lopez. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976.
- The Medieval Machine: The Industrial Revolution of the Middle Ages, Jean Gimpel. New York: Penguin Book, 1976.