Thinking about a Baltic Crusade Campaign

I’ve been playing rpg’s for 30+ years, so when I think of running a campaign set during the Baltic Crusade, I mentally run through the gaming source books that I’ve collected over the years. What one(s) should I use?

The first book that comes to mind is Dark Ages Europe (White Wolf Publishing, 2002). It is system specific, but light on system statistics. It is also a little light on detailed information. It would be invaluable if we were planning a Dark Ages Vampire game, but since we’re aiming for a Dark Ages Mage campaign, it’s shine dulls. It has decent if not detailed maps – a single half-page for Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and the Baltic countries – that doesn’t even mention Lithuania or Latvia.

Next up is Mythic Europe (White Wolf Publishing, 1992), the setting for Ars Magica 3rd Edition. This book is beautifully illustrated, with some incredible interior art by Eric Hotz and William O’Connor. Unfortunately, the book doesn’t cover the area in question, much, and only offers a few asides to the area in question. However, tucked away in the second chapter under the heading “Teutonic Order”, is this little gem:

“A military order associated with the Teutonic knights is that of the Brethren of the Sword, founded by the Bishop of Riga in 1204 to fight the pagans of Finland. By 1237 the Brothers are decimated, losing more than half their number in battles with the pagans. They eventually merge with the Teutonic order, but retain their own leadership under the Hochmeister of the Teutonic order, (p. 40”).

Now that is interesting. Finland is one of the areas untouched by Ars Magica, never finding its way into a source book in any edition. Dark Ages Europe mentions it as “The Free State”, pages 150 – 152. Is there traction there for a game? The Kalevala sits on my shelf; I’ve never made it deeper than the third chapter and setting a game in medieval Finland would certainly motivate me to read more.

Speaking of Ars Magica, the 4th edition supplement The Dragon and the Bear (Trident Inc., 1999) focuses on medieval Russia, Poland, and the Baltic coast. It has beautiful maps, one of which details the Baltic Coast, and several pages of information on the Baltic Crusade. It drops a few names, Bishop Albert of Buxtehude, William of Modena, and Abbot Baldwin of Alba, which serve as a nice foothold for further research, and I find all three names in the index of Eric Christiansen’s The Northern Crusades (Penguin Books, 1997), another book I’ve read the first three or so chapters of and hope to finish some day. This project might help.

. . . . .

This post has taken a while to write. Between paragraphs I’ve cooked dinner (sausage, potatoes, and sauerkraut), eaten it with my son Aug, done the dishes (accompanied by T. Rex’s “Electric Warrior”, and taken out the compost. Thus engaged, I kept wondering how I’m going to run this campaign. I’m not big on black and white campaigns; this dude is the bad guy, these dudes are also bad guys, they have no redeeming qualities, these other dudes are the good guys, you get the idea. The Star Wars campaign, no thanks. I like shades of grey. I like good guys and bad guys on both sides of the equation. To further the analogy, storm troopers who joined the Empire to support their families – clones can have families, right? – and rebel alliance guys that sell dope and joined up to break the law. Essentially, it keeps the players guessing. But since this campaign is tailor made for my sonny-boy, maybe I’ll stick to black and white. The native pagans, peaceful, living in harmony, sniffing buttercups and riding unicorns, and the evil Teutonic army spreading slaughter and woe with fire and steel. Keeps it simple that way, and if the Brothers of the Sword get wiped out, I can put my son’s character on the winning side. The eventual winning side, that is.

Finally, I don’t like pagan/Christian split that a Baltic Crusade inevitably includes, and I’d like to dance around the specifics of the religious differences. This is a game about wizards, not religions. The knights were Christians, although their actions don’t sound Christian by any stretch of the imagination, and the natives were pagan, whatever that means because I don’t think there is a lot of accurate information on pagan Baltic religion, and while it was similar to a general Slavic pagan religion, even that is vague and interpreted from inaccurate sources. Christian and pagan are loaded words, and I’d rather do with out them if I can. Pagan is derived from the Latin, “paganus”, which means “country dweller”. I like that. The country people’s religion. I’ll have to find a word to replace Christian as well. I’ll come up with one, but it’s late, and I promised Aug a game of RoboRally before bed.

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7 Responses to Thinking about a Baltic Crusade Campaign

  1. Mark Galeotti says:

    It’s a fascinating time and topic. I’d self-interestedly also note Mythic Russia (http://mythicrussia.wordpress.com), which has a chapter on the Teutonic Knights, and more altruistically there is also Paolo Guccione’s fine Crusaders of the Amber Coast (http://www.alephtargames.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&catid=39%3Ahistorical&id=48%3Acrusaders-of-the-amber-coast&Itemid=59).

    • Matt Ryan says:

      Thanks Mark,

      I have Mythic Russia – wonderful information about medieval Constantinople, by the way – and did wonder if it included information on the Baltic Coast. I’ll look at it tonight. I hadn’t heard of Crusaders of the Amber Coast and will have to look into that.

  2. Galdric says:

    I found Crusaders of the Amber Coast (http://www.alephtargames.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&catid=39%3Ahistorical&id=48%3Acrusaders-of-the-amber-coast&Itemid=59) quite interesting. It’s for Basic Roleplaying System and has a few crunch/rules sections, but it also includes tons of really useful information about the Baltic area, as well as some cool ideas (and hedgie traditions?) that can be easily adapted to an Ars saga.

    • Matt Ryan says:

      Two mentions of a game I hadn’t heard of! Suddenly the blogging pays off. I’ve Mythic Iceland, another book that uses Chaosium’s Basic Roleplaying System (which is what I think you are referring to), and is incredibly well done.

  3. mikemonaco says:

    Well one way to skirt the real world religions thing is to just make the Teutonic order belong to a universal/structured church with the serial numbers filed off. I used a “Norse Catholic Church” (idea stolen from Rolang’s Creeping Doom, I think) where Odin = father, Thor = son, Yddrassil = holy spirit, er, tree and just give the saints nordic names, which come to think of it really fits the Teutonic order well. The tau cross is Thor’s hammer. The pagans are anyone not in the NCC … just “orthodox” and “unorthodox”. Done. 🙂

  4. So Aug is . . . sheesh a teenager. Wowow.

    So–what are the play sessions you envision? Really, what are the conflicts about? Skulking, slaying, diplomacizing, wizardry (and what are those conflicts–collecting, burning, puzzling, creating)? I suggest picking a system based on how enjoyably it resolves the conflicts that will be most central to every day play at the table.

    • Matt Ryan says:

      Mario!

      Nice to hear from you. We should catch up. Call me. Do you still have the number? You must be at least a 10th level lawyer by now.

      Aug (and I) always appreciated the treats you used to bring to game night. I know we disagreed “at the table”, and I can be a crappy GM sometimes, but I have the fondest memories of gaming with you, and have often missed your presence.

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