Sunday, 19 June 2016

Game-related historical snippets

I'm reading a lot of history resources at the moment (slowly, as I need to keep a notebook on hand) and in my typical fashion this is a bit all over the place although mainly focussed on the dark ages early medieval period.

I've also at the strength of this intro at Ex Urbe started watching Borgia: Faith and Fear. That intro is fascinating in its own right (a couple of highlights: pink was for poor people, Vikings loved clown trousers), if anything after that the TV series itself is a bit of a disappointment although still worth watching. The main problem with the series is that the writing seems really clunky - characters spend an awful lot of time describing recent events to one another - but when I can overlook that it's very worthwhile for the scenery and mood.

The scenery because it's a good reminder how much more modern the Renaissance was, and hence WFRP is, than the vanilla pseudo-medieval RPG setting. Think palaces not castles - on which note, having also just watched Sam Willis' The Silk Road series, it's worth adding that the Doge's Palace in Venice is also in-period as far as WFRP is concerned.

The mood because it's great to see the cardinals being incredibly corrupt and self-serving while at the same time being devout and god-fearing (this is also a lesson I'm hoping to take on board from the Robert Low I've been reading recently, of having characters be properly influenced by their religious beliefs). Borgia is at times teaching me things I was just as happy not knowing - I'd dimly heard of the Breaking wheel in the past, I now have a much more gut-level appreciation of it thanks to the beginning of the second episode. I don't think there's anything gameable in that, but it always good to be reminded of other sorts of grim for the grim-dark.

On the early medieval side of things I'm struggling slightly to get my bearings. Thanks to Monty Python we know that in many ways the Romans were quite sophisticated, then you had the Dark Ages and then 1066 and all that. The general sweep of the period is quite easy to pick up but the day-to-day, which seems to me essential in a game setting sense, much less so.

A couple of interesting (to me, at least), and related snippets so far concern the development of agriculture. At the start of the period the two-field system was used for agriculture, but was relatively fragile leading to lower surpluses and more frequent famines. The three field system, which apparently was first used in the Loire region in the 8th century, seems to have spread slowly and erratically (both systems were in use in England in the 14th century). But the greater yields from and robustness of the latter not only reduced the likelihood of famine but in addition produced surpluses which in turn made horses more "affordable". Also the horse collar doesn't make its way to Europe until after 900AD so prior to that yoked oxen were the main source of power for ploughing and so on. Over the next few hundred years horses (being more powerful, faster, and having greater endurance) made agriculture still more efficient and made day-to-day existence less precarious.

So, oxen and famines it is!

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