Yes, But What Kind of Baltic Crusade Campaign?

As I narrow this down, thanks to those that replied to an earlier post, I imagine the type of stories I want to play with Aug, whose character has yet to be created. It helps me to think about what I don’t want to do, stories I don’t necessarily want to start.

While I like story conflict, and think the Baltic Crusade – or more accurately I should say the Livonian Crusade – will provide wagon loads of military conflict, I don’t want to tell war stories. I don’t want to play a session that throws a group of German crusaders against a group of Livonian warriors in a pitched battle. That might be fun to game, but I’d do it as a strategic battle with cardboard counters, hex paper, and pencil stubs with worn out erasers, using the original Chainmail rules or TSR’s bulkier Battlesystem (I have both the first edition boxed sex and the second edition soft-cover supplement). The nice thing about this approach is that neither Aug nor I know much about the area’s history, so it’s not going to throw us off if the Brethren of the Sword win the Battle of Saule or if Alexander Nevsky loses at Lake Peipus. We still get the same thing, a war-torn landscape.

I’m reading Richard Monaco’s The Final Quest, the third in his Parsival series. The book’s action happens after the big fight between Arthur and the evil knight Clinschor, with England ripped apart and suffering, it’s social structure upended from invading Vikings and Saxons. Parsival, Lohengrin, and Broaditch (an invented peasant not found in Wolfram Von Eschenbach’s original poem, as far as I know) struggle for survival, a simple meal is a victory. Certainly influenced by my reading, I don’t want to tell stories so grim; I don’t want to tell Grimm stories, either. I like the idea of a land devastated by military violence, but rather than bask in the narrative horror of cannibalism, primitive warlords, and starvation, I’d rather focus on rebuilding a damaged environment. The nice twist would be if both wizards of the Old Faith (Aug’s player character) and some wizards of the New Faith (see me artfully dance around Christianity and Baltic paganism by merely calling them the New Faith and the Old Faith – not too clever really because the damn mythic fellowship is called Followers of the Old Faith and it’s a simple step from that to the New Faith, whatever) both tried to heal the land and its people, primarily by rebuilding the magic sites damaged from the crusades.

Dark Ages: Mage has magic sites, which I assume are like Ars Magica’s magic regiones and auras (neither of which I feel like explaining). I don’t know for sure if they are, but will in a couple hours after I’ve reheated and consumed tonight’s meal of sausages and boiled potatoes, and stuck my nose back in the core rule book. My thought is that these area are polluted by violence, and Aug’s wizard’s task will be diagnosing the exact nature of the damage and repairing it. This could manifest in a variety of ways: ghosts that need to be placated, a polluted spring that needs to be detoxified, or a demented magic bear that needs to be pacified. We’ll see where tonight’s reading will lead me.

Finally, I’m often struck by the dichotomy of my participation in real-life peace protests, my fondness for medieval history, which is often violent, and my love of sword-and-sorcery-type role-playing games. As I write about how much fun it might be to play a game set in the ravages of the Livonian Crusade, I can’t imagine the actual horror of such an event, and my heart and prayers go out to the thousands of people who actually have to live under a cloud of violence, those in Kiev, those in Yemen, those in Afghanistan. I don’t have a solution for this juxtaposition.

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4 Responses to Yes, But What Kind of Baltic Crusade Campaign?

  1. Andrew Gronosky says:

    Matt, I appreciate your interest in the Baltic Crusade, but if you are anxious about using real-world religions then I am puzzled why you picked a Crusade of all conflicts. Similarly, if you want a black-and-white conflict for August’s game, then why are you looking at real-world history as your basis?

    • Matt Ryan says:

      Hi Andrew, two fair questions. The second first, and it’s a simple answer: I like history. I like reading the source material, in translation of course, and an area’s myths and legends. I liked researching tribunal books and then using the fun bits and bobs as inspiration for my writing. I thought about a fantasy campaign, maybe something in the ravaged lands of Furyondy in Greyhawk for example, but I when I started to read some old Greyhawk material I immediately lost interest in the idea. Medieval fantasy is derivative of medieval history, and I’ve always found the actual history and legends fantastically compelling, with a level of bizarre humanity that is lacking from fantasy campaigns. Now Aug, on the other hand, just wants to play “a cool wizard who can cast spells”, so the history angle is really for me rather than him.

      I picked the crusade because Dark Ages: Mage is set during the early to mid 13th century, when the crusade happened. He said that he thought a Baltic wizard sounded cool, so I mentally jumped to the crusade period. I don’t have to, and thank you for your question. I’m looking for books about Baltic myths and legends, so maybe a different time period will work better. I don’t know anything about Baltic paganism, and I’m eager to learn more.

      Keep in mind that I’m sharing early stage planning thoughts, and like anything, the final product may look completely different than the first draft. 🙂

  2. mikemonaco says:

    I almost started reading one of those Parsival books, but figured I’d probably never find copies of the other books in the series (I’d picked up a copy at a library book sale mainly because the author has my last name).
    I’m another one who loves wargames and military history (esp. ancient/medieval) but participate in antiwar protests. But I don’t really see a conflict there, any more than someone who reads about ‘true crime’ or serial killers and would not commit the crimes themselves. Heck, even HG Wells, inventor of modern recreational wargaming, hoped his “Little Wars” would dissuade people from real war. (On the other hand there are some very pro-war/militant folks in wargaming too, I try not to discuss politics with wargamers at the few gathers/cons I’ve attended!)

    • Matt Ryan says:

      thanks for your thoughts, Mike. The first two, “Parsival” and “The Grail War” are easy to find. I actually have two copies of “The Grail War” and I’d happily send one to you. It’s taken me quite some time to find the third and the fourth. I’ll hopefully finish the third tonight, Monaco has be on the edge of my seat, and I keep wanting to skim ahead to see what happens, rather than slowing down and letting the tale unfold.

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