Thursday, December 31, 2009

Map of Gwent Uch Coed

Since some of you have asked for a specific map of the area, this is it! I hope you can see all the details--if not, I'll be happy to email you a copy of the picture, which is decently large....

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Character Generation

Cymbrian characters must establish a name and a family history. Many of the following names have specific meanings in Welsh. Some go back to the time of Roman Britain:

Male Names: Aeron, Alwyn, Aneurin, Arthfael, Arthrfyw, Arwel, Athrwys, Berwyn, Bleddyn, Bran, Brangu, Brangui, Briafel, Briog, Brochfael, Brychan, Bryn, Brynmor, Bychan, Cadbad, Cadfael, Cadfan, Cadog, Cadwallon, Cadwalldr, Cadwgon, Caradog, Celyn, Cledwyn, Clodri, Clodwal, Coemannus, Corbaleng, Corbyn, Cunedda, Cunedog, Cynal, Cynan, Cyndaf, Cyndeyrn, Cynfarch, Cynfelyn, Cyngen, Cynlas, Cyny, Cynyog, Cyrys, Dafydd, Dai, Daduidog, Dewydd, Dinogad, Drystan, Dyfrig, Dyfnwal, Dyfnwallon, Dylan, Edern, Eifion, Einion, Elisedd, Emlyn, Emrys, Enabarr, Eoghan, Ercwlff, Eudaf, Eurig, Folant, Froechan (Irish), Gareth, Gereint, Gethin, Glaw, Goronmy, Grippiud, Gwendobar, Gwidol, Gwyllog, Gwyn, Gwynfael, Gwynnhoedl, Gwri, Gwriad, Gwrthefyr, Heddwyn, Heilyn, Hywell, Iago, Iain, Ial, Icorigas, Idnerth, Idwal, Ifan, Ifor, Illtyd, Ioan, Iorwerth, Islwyn, Ithel, Llagrach, Llynmael, Llywelyn, Llywernog, Llywrch, Madoc, Mael, Maelgwn, Magusenos, Maqqas-Deceddas (Irish), Maqqas-Treni (Irish), Meirion, Meredydd, Merfyn, Morcant, Morgan, Meurig, Peredwr, Pyr, Pwyll, Qennoindagnas (Irish), Owain, Padrig, Pryderi, Rhiagad, Rhiwallon, Rhos, Rhodri, Rhydderch, Rhys, Sawyl, Seisyll, Talfryn, Taliesin, Teyrn, Teyrnfal, Teyrnog, Trahaearn, Tudwal, Twdr, Twdrig, Uthair

Female Names: Aderyn, Aeronwen, Aeronwy, Afanan, Angharad, Aranrhod, Barita, Bethan, Blodeuyn, Blodwen, Bodicca, Braith, Branwen, Briallen, Cadi, Caron, Carys, Ceinwen, Ceridwen, Cerys, Cunoarda, Cunobinda, Delyth, Deryn, Dilwen, Eiluned, Eilwen, Eira, Eirian, Eirlys, Eirwen, Eleri, Eluned, Enid, Esyllt, Eurddolad, Eurwen, Ffion, Glenys, Guenhwyfar, Gwawr, Gwendolen, Gwenfrewi, Gwerica, Gwertyll, Haf, Heledd, Heulwen, Llewella, Mairwen, Meinir, Morgan, Morgause, Morwenna, Myfanwy, Nerys, Nia, Olwen, Paderau, Rhian, Rhiannon, Rhonwen, Seren, Sian, Sioned, Tegan, Tegwen, Tesni

Patronymics: Cymbrians include their fathers, and sometimes their grandfathers and beyond when they recite their names. For men, this is indicated by the prefix “ap,” while for women it is indicated by the prefix “ferch.” Thus, a Cymbrian man may call himself Ifor ap Cynan, whereas a woman will call herself Eira ferch Twdr. On rare occasions, a woman may style herself the daughter of a mother, as with Meinir ferch Aderyn. To identify your maternal descent is very old-fashioned or even reactionary in Cymbrian society.

Family: Determine the size of your family by rolling for your father’s side first:

Grandfather (0-1): This is your paternal grandfather. A roll of zero means he is dead. If he is alive, he is the head of the family. His specific role in the kingdom can be determined in consultation with the Game Master.
Grandmother (0-1): This is your paternal grandmother. A roll of zero means she is dead. If she is alive, determine her function in the family in consultation with the Game Master.
Great Uncles (0-3): These are your father’s uncles. A roll of zero means that they are all dead. If they are alive, you can determine their character in consultation with the Game Master.
Great Aunts (0-3): These are your father’s aunts. A roll of zero means that they are all dead.
Father (1): Your father is still alive. When he dies, you will share his land with your siblings.
Mother (1): There is a 20% chance your mother is dead. For every sibling, the chance goes up—22% with one sibling, 26% with two siblings, 34% with three siblings, and 50% with four siblings. If your mother is dead, there is a 20% chance your father has remarried, which increases the fewer number of siblings you have—22% with four siblings, 26% with three siblings, 34% with two siblings, and 50% with one sibling.
Uncles (0-3): A roll of zero means that your uncles are all dead. These are only the uncles on your father’s side.
Aunts (1-4): These are your father’s sisters, all members of your own clan. They may be married outside to men of another clan, or they may be in the church. If they are married, their children do not count as members of your clan, although they will still be your cousins
Siblings (1-4): If your father has remarried, roll for extra siblings. If you already have four siblings, your father’s new wife will have produced 0-1 more. With three siblings, she will have produced 0-2. With two siblings, she will have produced 1-3. With one sibling she will have produced 1-4. Determine the chance of your stepmother’s death as above
Cousins (2-12): These include all cousins, male and female, from your father’s side of the family, even those who are not clan. 40% will be male, 60% female.
2nd Cousins (2-16): These include only your father’s cousins. Ratio of male to female determined as with cousins above.
3rd Cousins (6-36): These are the sons and daughters of your father’s cousins. Ratio of male to female is determined as with cousins above.
Pencenedl: The head of the clan is chosen from the uchelwrs of the clan, generally from the oldest and most experienced clan members.

Foster Family: Since the Cymbrians practice fosterage, you will need to develop your foster family as well.

Repeat the process for grandparents, great aunts and uncles, aunts, uncles, cousins, 2nd cousins, and 3rd cousins for your foster (generally your mother’s) family. Your foster family will regard you as a sister-son.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Races of Men

Danes: The Danes are a loose confederation of tribes ruling over many of the islands in the Baltic Sea, as well as the peninsula of Jutland (modern Denmark) and the Kingdom of Skane. They are a sea-faring folk, struggling with Franks and their Frisian allies for control of the Baltic and the lucrative river route to the City of Byzantium (or Miklagaard as the Danes call it). Danish heroes are celebrated in many poems recited in the eastern kingdoms of the Saxons, particularly East Anglia and Northumbria.

Eriuish: The men of Eriu are the last remaining people of pure Celtic heritage. They speak a form of the Celtic language called Goidelic, rather than the Brythonic spoken in the Cymbrian kingdoms. The Eriuish have descendants throughout the Cymbrian kingdoms, especially in Gwynedd and Dyfed. In the north of Britain, the Skotti are descendants of the Eriuish, as are the men of the Kingdom of Dalriada. Supposedly the entire island of Eriu is governed by an overking from a fortress at Tara, the Mound of Kings. Famous saints include St. Patrick and St. Columba.

Franks: The Frankish kingdoms are founded on the ruins of what was once the Imperial province of Gaul. These kingdoms are traditionally centered on the important cities of Rheims, Orléans, Paris and Soissons, but the most important regional divisions are between Neustria (in the west), Burgundy (in the south central region), and Austrasia (in the east). The Franks are named for the throwing axe they typically use before entering battle (the francisca). They are a strange and violent people. A Frank will murder his cousin or even brother over a plot of land, but at the same time tirelessly pursue vengeance against a stranger who has harmed that cousin or brother.

Frisians: The Frisians are a coastal people whose cities are to be found north of the Franks near the area of modern Holland. They are an ancient sea-faring people who have traditionally controlled the Baltic shipping lanes and the North Sea. Although these people hold their pagan traditions dearly, they are the allies of the Franks, and closely related to them.

Geats: Hygelac and Beowulf are the most famous heroes of this Scandinavian people, allies of the Danes. Their homeland is on the southern tip of the Scandinavian peninsula, where the Danes support them as a buffer against the Swedes in the east. Proud and warlike pagans, they can often be found on Danish and Frisian ships serving as mercenaries.

Jutes: Formerly the strongest tribe on the peninsula of Jutland (modern Denmark), the identity of the Jutes has been lost through attrition and absorption by other people. Their famous leaders Hengist and Horsa were among the early leaders of the Saxon confederation in Britain. Their descendants remain in the Kingdom of Kent and the Isle of Wight (now controlled by the Kingdom of Wessex).

Picti: Perhaps the remnants of a pre-Celtic race in Britain, the Picts were named by the Romans for their woad body paint. They are a small, dark people, living now in the far north of Britain.
Skotti: Descendants of Eriuish raiders in north Britain, the Skotti have spread across many kingdoms of the Old North. There they struggle with the Picts for control of the rugged, windswept highlands.

Women Characters

Women in Dark Age Britain, while having to deal with some limitations and social preconceptions, come from a long history of spiritual and temporal power. In Imperial times, warrior women like Boudicca and Cartimandua commanded their own troops against the Romans. Tales tells of the fierce Queen Scáthach of Skye, who is said to have presided over a whole academy of women warriors and who taught the arts of war to the Eruish hero Cú Chulainn from her hall at Dún Scáith, the Fort of Shadows. Throughout the Dark Ages, Viking women were able to fight alongside their men when necessary and even officially take on the obligation of blood feud when the men of the family have all been killed.

Women are known for their magical powers as well. Saxon women use pagan incantations and rituals to ensure healthy childbirth and conception, not to mention amulets made of plants to cure illness or bone dice for auguries. That aura of power that surrounds the “wise woman” also surrounds the nuns in their priories, reputed healers with great spiritual powers. Cymbrian legends tell of goddess-sorceresses like the fabled Rhiannon the Lady of Horses, or Arianrhod the Lady of the Silver Wheel.

Players who take on the roles of women characters will generally be warriors or scouts (with the skills of woodsman characters). Women will be less accepted into the bardic fraternity or among the scops, but they might learn these skills if they are the daughters of a Pencerdd or if they have been encouraged by some rogue Harper. Due to the impediments to official advancement, the female bard or scop does not have the same abilities as her male counterpart. But she may begin either with more developed fighting skills (since she will have to fight in a man’s world), knowledge of healing or charms, or even sorcery.

Encountered as NPCs, women may be hedge witches or wise women. There are some priories famous for their healing, which may be helpful after characters have been in prolonged combat. Characters may encounter secret pagan priestesses, or powerful sorceresses.

But most encounters will be with normal women engaged in the tasks that occupy most women of the time. Throughout the Dark Ages, women are locked in the time-honored and important task of spinning and weaving. Every great estate has its gynaeceum, where the women spin, dye, and weave cloth for cloaks, banners, and tapestries. Even the humble bondsman’s wife is rarely without her spool in hand as she spins the day away. One of the greatest gifts that can be bestowed upon a guest is cloth from the household looms. Whether intricate or homespun, it represents the best care the women of the house can give. It is always an honor. In certain extraordinary circumstances, there may even be magic in the web of it.

In an earthier, but still vitally important setting, women are skilled brewers. To commend the ale or the mead of a house is to commend its women workers—and it is polite to do so. In both Cymbrian and Saxon houses, the cups are filled by the women, often the women who have made the drink they serve.

Female PCs are assumed not to come with such skills; they have chosen a different path from that of the ordinary woman of the Dark Ages. For that reason they may be looked upon with mistrust, pity, or envy. They will never quite fit in. But like the Saxon character among Cymbrians, or the Briton among Saxons, the female character can sometimes move in a world that is closed to her male companions. Because of that, she may be an invaluable addition to an all-male party.

Developing Saxon Characters

Like Cymbrians, Saxons inhabit a world governed by a warrior aristocracy. Players begin as free Saxons, who may either be thegns in the service of a lord, monks who work to convert the heathen or reclaim backsliders, or travelling poets (scops) who make their living going from court to court.

The most prominent thegns (pronounced “thanes”) in the service or a lord are given lands and office, but the lands revert to the lord on the death of the thegn rather than being passed along to his sons. So unlike Cymbrians, who squabble with their siblings over inheritance while defending their clan lands against encroachments by outsiders, Saxons attempt to distinguish themselves by their service and look to their lords for reward.

Landed thegns live in modest households, together with the members of their immediate family. But they sometimes attend their lords in the hall, leaving their households in the care of stewards. Above the general mass of thegns are the ealdormen who see to the King’s interests in regions remote from direct royal supervision. Some of the ealdormen are themselves great thegns closely connected to the King. Others are drawn from the King’s immediate family. Still others have been drawn from some of the subjugated under-kings and rule as sovereigns in their own lands. Players who begin as thegns all serve a King, a Sub-King, or an Ealdorman.


Like the Cymbrians, Saxons regard kinship as a sacred tie. The family structure is clannish, but the clan is denoted by the suffix “ingas” attached to the eponymous founder of the kin. Thus the descendants of a chieftain named Hrothulf may be called Hrolfings. But only the most important kin-groups, of royal or of once-royal blood, are so named. Others simply announce their names and that of their fathers.

There are advantages and disadvantages of being associated with a known kin-group. On the one hand, royal ancestry makes it easier to advance. On the other hand, it attracts the unwelcome attention of the other kings in power who will find any pretext to eliminate a rival.

Background and Skills

Saxon warriors are an elite caste distinct from the vast majority of freemen and bondsmen who manage and work the land, learn crafts, or contribute to village life. For that reason, Saxon warriors do not come with backgrounds as farmers or herdsmen. Instead, they have a broad range of weapons they can wield, and skills in such tactics as the charge, the shield wall, defense works, and siege. The monk can read and write, and has a knowledge of religion. Some are skilled in folk charms that protect against elves, trolls, and other faerie folk; others are secret practitioners of magic. Still others, through singular holiness and devotion, may be saints who can cure diseases, lameness, or blindness, and even raise the dead. The Saxon scop (pronounced “shop”) is a class similar to the Cymbrian bard. He is well-versed in folklore and religion, and has a deep knowledge of the spirit world.

There is no Saxon equivalent to the Cymbrian woodsman class. Saxon warriors fear the woods, while to the religious the woods are an emblem of the pagan past. Forestry, trapping, and tracking are skills that are more likely to be found among either the humbler classes of free Saxons or outlaws and brigands.

Saxon Society

One of the most prominent aspects of Saxon society is storytelling. The stories are filled with characters who repeatedly demonstrate the common Saxon traits of pride, loyalty, generosity, and vengeance.


Everywhere among the Saxons, whether the lord’s hall, the minster, or the hearth-fires of the peasant’s home, stories and storytellers are central to Saxon culture. The scops—professional poets who travel from place to place—are the most revered storytellers. But even the meanest swineherd can tell a tale.

Much storytelling takes place in the hall. A scop may begin the process, but when the harp is passed around each warrior takes a turn. The most important aspect of storytelling is in the performance. Good performance involves use of kennings, two-word compounds that cleverly describe something else, and darkly humorous understatement. Instead of saying “Hrothulf stabbed Horga,” one might say, “Hrothulf made battle-music, swung his sword, opened that bone-box. Horga took scant delight doling out that treasure!”


Particularly if the story is a personal one, storytelling leads naturally to boasting. The young thegns are expected to boast of their prowess (and later to prove it). In the same vein, rival thegns are expected to undercut the boasting of their fellows, in the sense of good-natured hazing to establish dominance. If Godric boasts that he will follow his lord fearlessly into battle, another thegn might say, “Godric? Are you not that Godric we all heard of, who fought with Byrhthelm at Wihtburh? You were by when Cedric caught Cynwald, slit open his stomach. But they say you’d little stomach of your own for that sight—did you not relinquish your ring-giver’s riches, cast his costly mead on the cold earth, give up gobbets! Your valor availed not to hold back the vomit. Your boasts echo in the hall, but in battle you belch!”

Boasting contests establish a hierarchy among the warriors just as surely as contests of strength or arms. No Saxon wishes to be outdone in boasting, but in serious contests the only final response to a challenge is to prove your words by deeds. Thus Beowulf responds most fully to Unferth’s taunts by wrestling with Grendel in the hall, and ripping out the monster’s arm.


The loyalty a Saxon warrior owes to his lord is the fabled cornerstone of the society. Once the thegn has pledged his service to a lord, he is expected to serve that lord until death. That does not preclude going out to seek fame—with his lord’s blessing of course—as Beowulf does when he leaves Hygelac to offer his services to Hrothgar. But when a thegn follows his lord into battle, he is expected to go on fighting if his lord has been slain. He must either avenge his lord’s death, or die trying. It is considered the height of shame and dishonor to survive your lord after losing a battle. Because of the dread of such dishonor, Saxon war-bands are given liberal bonuses to morale in combat.


Lords, for their part, are expected to deal generously with their thegns. They must lead them to victory in battle, and reward them with an appropriate share of the spoils. As the thegns become experienced, they may also be given lands and titles. A penurious lord may lose the bonuses to morale typical of the Saxon war-band. But at the same time, a generous lord will inspire even greater loyalty.

Exchanging treasure is the most central feature of life in the hall. Treasure is dispensed by the lord, in accordance with custom and desert. But perceived inequities are subject to criticism (never directed at the lord), in the form of boasting and challenge: “How great the riches that Rogwald receives! In the battle-lord’s eyes, the fighter finds favor. Alas that my eyes see things not so easily. Busy with battle, I beheld not his deeds!” It is not a good idea, however, to protest too frequently.


The emphasis in Saxon society on loyalty that extends beyond death, together with the dread of being dishonored, leads to a highly vengeful society. Saxons embrace feuding and vengeance with savage joy.

Saxon warriors who witness the death of their lord on the battlefield will go to all lengths to avenge him, and they are not too particular about who falls under their sword. Their behavior when seeking revenge is irrational, and sated only by blood. The call to vengeance, in fact, is almost religious in its forms. The warrior seeking vengeance approaches his immediate superior in a ritual way and in view of everyone in the hall.

Nor is vengeance confined to the “guilty” generation. A wrong perpetrated in the time of one’s father, or one’s grandfather, or even in some cases of one’s remote ancestors, will enflame the Saxon desire for vengeance when given ritual form.

Living Conditions

Most Saxons live in villages owing feorm, a render of food and other commodities like wool and leather that is collected at the royal vills scattered throughout the kingdom. Prominent thegns who have been given land appropriate to their rank may also have small halls of their own near the villages, sometimes connected to the estate of important officials like ealdormen.

The vills are built for convenience and for collecting the feorm. But the great halls are another matter—expertly build of timber by the finest craftsmen, they are the center of royal life and the playground of the King’s war-band, or comitatus, comprised mostly of the numerous untested thegns who are eager to display their talents and earn rewards. If the Cymbrian neuadd functions as an exclusive finishing school for bonheddigs in the teulu, the Saxon hall is like a competitive military academy for these ambitious young thegns. Drinking contests, ritualized boasting, and storytelling are the rule in a Saxon hall. Each one of these tests the mettle of the young thegn.

The Saxon hall is divided, like the Cymbrian neuadd, into an upper and a lower section. The lower part of the hall is reserved mostly for the King’s thegns. Benches and tables lining the sides of the hall surround a central fire pit. At night, the benches become bunks for the King’s men to sleep. At the far end of the hall, stairs ascend to the higher section. In the place of precedence are the senior members of the comitatus, together with the most important visitors to the hall, including bishops, abbots, and ealdormen.

The most important ritual of the hall is the dispensing of treasure, a formal sign of the value the King sets on his thegns. The King is often called “Treasure-Giver” or “Ring Lord” as an indication of this function of his office. The atmosphere is celebratory but also formal and controlled. Strict lords do not allow the casual looting of conquered territories. The treasure is gathered in the hall and dispensed by the lord in the sight of all.

The great hall is also the location for the meeting of the King’s Witan, the Council comprised of the “wise men” of the realm. These include bishops and archbishops, abbots, ealdormen, and thegns. The Witan advises the King on the greatest matters of the Kingdom. They also choose a new King when the old has died or abdicated, although such “choice” is often little more than a formal acceptance of the successor the King has named.

In addition to his thegns, the King supports all of the other expected members of his court, including the chaplain, scribes, scops and a host of servants like cupbearers, woodmen, grooms, and pot boys.

Saxon Law

Saxon law is both local and customary. At the most local level justice is meted out in a general assembly of the people called a folk moot. Twelve prominent local men are chosen to act as judges, and speakers are chosen for their memory of law and custom. The moot is held in a customary place atop a hill; there is sometimes a hall there, but often the moot takes place outdoors, with tents used in the rain. Peddlers and local merchants travel for miles to attend and do business at the folk moot.

The plaintiff calls the defendant to the moot hill, swears an oath, and then names several of the judges to hear the case; the defendant may challenge the judges chosen if they are biased, have committed any crimes elsewhere, or are otherwise unsuitable. The plaintiff then brings witnesses and presents the case to the judges. The defendant responds by taking an oath and calling witnesses of his own. The judges do not resolve the case but merely make sure that the case is judged by the laws of the region. Once both sides have been presented, the case is turned over for judgment to a group of arbitrators agreed on by both parties.

In cases of serious crime, like manslaughter, disfigurement, or rape, the charges are brought by the lord of the victim, thegn or ealdorman, who is responsible for seeking the wergild (blood-price) of the victim. Crimes like treachery, deliberate murder, and arson are punishable by death and forfeiture of goods.

All Saxons except for the King’s thegns are subject to the law of the folk moot. Those thegns who serve the King directly are responsible to no one but him, and may claim the right to be judged in the court of the King alone. But even though they may not be judged at the folk moot, the King’s thegns can and do act as local judges.

Saxon Religion

The Saxons are a people on fire with religious zeal. They see their conquest of Britain in terms of a real divine mandate. Coming from a pagan warrior ethos, they celebrate the God of Battles, Lord of Hosts, who drives their military successes and blesses his chosen people with fruitfulness and lordship over all of Britain. For them, the spreading of enlightenment and religious truth coincides easily with the rise of Saxon power.

At the same time, they are fearful of the avenging ire of the pagan gods whom they have abandoned. The scops are forbidden from reciting the tales of the ancient gods—Woden and Thunor and Tiwaz and Frigga—but those gods lurk in the minds of every Saxon. And they still acknowledge the terrifying power of the world connected with those gods, the world of elves and trolls and all bad breeds as the Beowulf poet describes it. So for the Saxons, the landscape of religion pits the luminous glow of the Church against the dim twilight of the otherworld. Those who are strong in faith may be able to hold that world at bay, and others may be able to pacify it for a time, but the one thing they cannot do is make that world disappear.

Consecrated ground and daylight lessen the power of the old gods. Priests routinely practice charms to keep the faerie world away from the world of men. But in the end, it is the doom of all men to fail, and their works to crumble with them. Saxons accept that with stoicism.

Much of the Saxon Church has a monastic character. The monastery has a similar communal purpose to the hall. Indeed, bishops and abbots and priests are given land by the King just as if they were his own retainers. The relationship of monks to abbot is similar to that of thegns to lord. This is, again, unlike the Cymbrian monasteries which are really collections of individual monastic cells giving considerable private time for reflection, prayer, and study. The Saxon monastery is altogether a social institution.

The monasteries mostly perform the work of copying books, and characters can find sages and scholars there with wide-ranging knowledge. Saxon monks, like their counterparts in Cymbria, have no special abilities in spell-casting, though some may have learned magic from their extensive reading. If so, they keep their knowledge quiet. Saints, who work miracles out of their own holiness, are a different matter. They live apart from the law of monastery or hall, trusting only to God.

The reverence with which the Saxons view the Church, however, does not always prevent them from plundering the monasteries when the need arises. This is particularly true of Cymbrian monasteries, but holds for monasteries in rival Saxon kingdoms and even, in extreme circumstances, to monasteries close to home. Kings still look on land grants to the Church in the same way that they regard land grants to their thegns, and the death of an abbot or a bishop is sometimes an excuse for the King to reclaim those lands. He does so with the aid of the comitatus, and the warriors are not always gentle in the measures they take to reclaim it. Routinely abbeys seal their charters with terrible curses on future Kings who try to revoke them. But the best way to ensure survival is to keep both bishopric and monastery in the hands of the royal family. The death of an abbot or bishop is therefore often followed by the reinstatement of a close relative of the King as the new abbot or bishop.


In addition to the pastimes of hunting and falconry, Saxons very frequently engage in weapon contests, while the lower orders of society enjoy wrestling matches. Horse fighting and bear baiting are popular with those who can afford such sport. Saxons also enjoy dancing and physical sports. In the hall and among the warriors there are still ritual dances performed by armed men, either naked or clad in animal skins. These dances have a pagan history in the Cult of Woden but continue to be practiced when there are no priests around to disapprove. Other pastimes include board games, dice, and chess. All Saxons have some skill in music, and they are fond of the Riddle Game. Many of these forms of recreation can be enjoyed during downtime in the hall, at folk moots, or even during the gatherings of the Witan. Skill in some of these forms of recreation enhances the reputation of young warriors.


Even more than Cymbrian society, Saxon society is organized for war. Young warriors are kept on short leashes by their lords, and one index of the success of the comitatus is level of its discipline.

The comitatus will sometimes be supported by a general muster in the kingdom. The general levy falls under the purview of the ealdorman, who with the aid of the landed thegns recruits among the most able-bodied men of the region. The ealdormen are responsible for providing a fixed number of men for the general levy, and each landed thegn is expected to provide one man for the levy as well.

The Scop

Like the Cymbrian bards, scops have their own system of training and advancement. A scop may take service with thegn, ealdorman, or king, but he is not part of the official network of the kingdom. He is trained by a master, and is part of an altogether older network.

The Saxon scop is really an official of the old pagan religion. Traditionally subject to the priesthood, he is a repository of traditional lore. In his repertoire is the recitation of the stories of gods and heroes, of the beginning of the world and the Children of Yngwaz, the first man. All this he has been forbidden to sing by the Church. Some scops therefore have gone underground, as it were, singing among the common folk who still respect the gods. Others, such as the celebrated Theorweald son of Ceawlin in East Anglia, well-known for his recitation of the Beowulf poem, have found ways to refit the traditional stories in the language of the Church.

Cymbrian Society

The most prominent characteristics of Cymbrians include their sense of status, their reputation, and the laws of hospitality.


While for practical purposes there are differences between poor farmers who are concerned with their lands and members of the King’s teulu, all free Cymbrians are equal in theory. The importance of royal favor and status varies from kingdom to kingdom. In some kingdoms, like Gwynedd, the teulu and royal bards command the greatest status in the land. But in other kingdoms, like Gwent, local power is strong and even the King must be mindful of clan and Pen Cenedl.

The free Cymbrian is superior to the bondsmen (aillt), the foreigner (alltud), and the slave. The aillts, like serfs, are bound to the land, and owe labor and rent to some great landlord like a king or abbot. Alltuds can live in the Cymbrian kingdom if they are attached to an uchelwr. Like the aillts, they mostly work the land; but alltuds can also function as servants or even serve as bodyguards and soldiers. Slaves are at the bottom of the social hierarchy. They are uncommon since the Church frowns on the practice of slavery; but some slaves still remain, captured in war and generally loyal to their masters. Spartacus-like revolts simply do not occur to Cymbrian slaves, and many would die to protect their masters.

Status is particularly important to the householder. Every man who has his own homestead is master of it, and deference must be paid when entering. Cymbrians of fastidious breeding recognize those rights even among the aillts, and due deference to the mastery of aillt or alltud in his own home often buys his loyalty.


Cymbrians are highly conscious of their own reputations, and take steps to safeguard it. Reputation will quickly spread in the kin-group simply by word of mouth. But another important aspect of reputation is shaped by the voices of the bards.
Bards can make or destroy a reputation simply with their stories and poetry. For that reason, it is always a good idea to treat a bard well—if a travelling bard is paid one iota less than he feels he is worth, he will begin to destroy a man’s reputation for generosity. Other assaults can be made on courage or honesty.

Reputation is so important among the Cymbrians that a seriously weakened reputation will result in penalties applied to skills, healing, and even combat and magic. This reflects the despair felt by the man who is so maligned. In serious instances, characters may die as a result of bards speaking ill of them.

On the other hand, a heightened reputation will result in more favorable reactions to the character that may be reflected in offices and honors awarded to the character, the likelihood of attracting followers, or supporters in legal and social situations.


Hospitality is expected in Cymbrian society. Free Cymbrians take in other free Cymbrians; pilgrims find shelter within monasteries. There are no real inns or special lodgings for travelers, so even merchants must find shelter among the people.
Hospitality is guided by practicality, of course. A poor farmer may tell a group of 10 mounted warriors that he lacks the facility to put them up, and it would be the utmost form of discourtesy to even ask (thus resulting in a blow to one’s reputation). Members of the King’s teulu, however, can expect to be harbored for a certain time throughout the year.

Visiting bards constitute a special case. Uchelwrs (and only uchelwrs) are allowed to keep a harp in their halls for traveling bards. The bard is looked after, and in return he entertains his host and shares news. The travelling bard is the chief source for news of what is stirring in the far corners of the kingdom and beyond.
Needless to say, guests are expected to behave in hospitable ways with their hosts. Sleeping with the host’s wife, daughters, slaves, or any women of the household is an egregious breach of hospitality, and carries with it some serious legal penalties (not to mention practical dangers). Guests are not supposed to overstay their welcome.

Living Conditions

Society in the Dark Ages is essentially agrarian; at least in Britain, there is no real city life. Bonheddigs grow up on farmsteads which are relatively isolated from each other rather than grouped together in a village pattern.

Each farmstead consists of 5-8 buildings and is governed by the residing uchelwr. If adult bonheddigs live there, they may have their own households nearby, though they do not have their own lands. The farmstead also includes servants and slaves. Each farmstead is self-sufficient and includes a storehouse and a granary; there may be a lumber mill or smithy nearby. In the more civilized areas, the buildings are rectangular; but in remote locations far from Imperial influence, the old-fashioned roundhouse still remains. Often the farmsteads are enclosed by a wooden or a palisade wall, more to keep out animals and opportunistic raiders than for serious defense. Close kin dwell in farmsteads nearby while the more remote kin live a little farther off.

1-3 of these farmsteads forms a free “tref,” or “hamlet.” A group of 13 free trefs are responsible mostly for food rent to an overlord (usually the King). This normally takes the form of a special feast twice per year, when the King visits (once in summer, once in winter). Given the patterns of settlement, those 13 free trefs are generally comprised of 1-3 clans.

Distinct from the free trefs are the bond trefs, small communities of aillts who owe work as well as food rent to their overlords. The bond tref is a small, self-sufficient farming collective. A group of these trefs is centered on a single neuadd, a hall which is the location of the llys, or court. Nearby is the maerdref, the administrative center of the group. The maerdref also functions as a local marketplace, visited by all the nearby free Cymbri as well to trade cattle and grain. The bond trefs are immediately distinguishable as such due to their more social character.

Cymbrian Law

Cymbrian justice is locally administered. The local uchelwr administers justice to all under his roof, even the aillts and alltuds living on his land. Disputes between uchelwrs of a single clan are resolved by the Pen Cenedl. Disputes between uchelwrs of different clans are referred to a royal court which meets at irregular intervals and in which the King is assisted by prominent free men chosen from the area. Even the King is bound by his own justice—for this court adjudicates disputes between King and uchelwr also, and does not always find in the royal favor.

By far the most serious matters to be adjudicated in these courts are matters involving galanas and the blood feud. Each person within a kin-group has a blood-price (galanas) in case he should be killed. It does not matter whether the death was accidental or deliberate with regard to payment itself, although circumstances alter how much is owed. Every member of a kin-group found responsible for the death of a member of another clan, up to the fifth generation, must contribute to paying galanas.

Failure to pay so much as a single penny can result in a blood feud, in which the offended clan may wipe out every member of the opposing clan with impunity. Blood-feud is so extreme that it will be avoided if at all possible, even by strong and belligerent clans. At the same time, the galanas is so costly that clan members who involve their relatives in the payment are subject to the most severe reprimands within the clan. This system of shame and danger is meant to prevent the killing of others except in extreme and justifiable circumstances. It has the added effect of making murder in secret a time-honored way of resolving disputes.

Cymbrian Religion

Cymbrians are Christians, but their style of Christianity is Celtic, highly individual, attuned to the natural world, and subsuming earlier religious traditions. The most typically Cymbrian religious figure is the holy hermit—even monasteries are more collections of individual cells than real Benedictine-style monastic communities. Monasteries are centers of learning, often with their own holy relics that have the power to heal supplicants of true faith. Solitary hermits are good sources of information and may have powers that are either helpful or baneful to player characters.

All Cymbrians revere the saints, some of whom come from their ancient pagan past. The most loved is Saint Brigid, the Lady of Light who was supposed to have brought to men the arts of poetry, war, and smithying. She is kept alive in every Cymbrian household in the tradition of the hearth fire. She is also supposed to have powers of healing and resurrection. Other important saints, like Saint Dyfed, Saint Cadoc, and Saint Tathiw, lived in historical times working miracles of healing and raising the dead. Player characters who take on the role of saints may find a visitation from one of these saints to be a prequel to their own saintly history.

Some more shadowy figures suggest the memory of the gods. Govannon, the god of smiths, is still much revered in stories. Arawn and Gwyn ap Nudd are mythical other-worldly hunters, in the tradition of Cernunnos, the Horned God. The worship of Saint Dwynwen, Patron Saint of Lovers, recalls folk rituals surrounding the Flower Maiden who was transformed into an owl for her misdeeds by the Enchanter Gwydyon. Mothers tell stories about Ceredwen the Hag to frighten stubborn or unruly children into obedience.

The mingling of Christian and pagan traditions in particular affects the way that Cymbrians look at holy places. In a sense, the whole world is magic, imbued with strange powers. And every Christian holy place has a pagan tradition associated with it as well. Cymbrians are aware of the mystical powers of a place when they visit it. In traditional fantasy games, players visit temples to pay for healing and more religious supplies. In the Cymbrian kingdoms, they visit shrines and holy places where they sacrifice and pray for blessing, buying vials of holy water or blood, drinking from holy wells, kissing bones and relics.

Hunting and Recreation

Cymbrians are avid hunters. Uchelwrs are proud of their dogs, and the richest among them have their own masters of the hunt. The most frequent animals hunted are boar and stag. Wolf and bear are also hunted, but mostly for business, not sport.

Cymbrian kings have their own hunt masters, special officials who see to their kennels and organize the royal hunts. The King hunts throughout his kingdom, and nothing is more exciting for local bonheddigs than the coming of the King’s Hunt. The royal hounds are kenneled at the expense of locals, and there is much feasting and celebration.

The King’s Hunt brings with it a flurry of activity. Young men who have newly come into their majority are brought before the King in a special ceremony. That ceremony is followed by games and contests. Those who show special promise might be invited to train as apprentice warriors in the King’s teulu, a great honor. Marriages are solemnized, and officially recognized by the royal court (which also collects the marriage fee). Holy men are brought forth to bless horses, hounds, and hunters. The King presides in person over a special court to hear grievances and grant special boons.


Like all Dark Age kingdoms, Cymbrian society is organized for warfare. Although the Church seeks to establish the so-called “peace of God” on earth, warfare is not only an honorable occupation among the Cymbrians; it is a cherished way of life.

Ritualized fighting between Cymbrians is one way in which young warriors establish dominance. Often those fighting rituals spill over into other occupations. Fighting over grazing rights is not uncommon, and young tribesmen between 16 and 21 are almost expected to thieve sheep, goats, pigs, cattle, and horses. When such conflicts turn lethal, blood feud can result.

Sometimes allied clans will band together to raid the sheepfolds and barns of the clans in a neighboring kingdom. Lethal combat, again, is avoided if at all possible, but protracted raiding between the clans of two kingdoms can result in larger skirmishes and even war between the kingdoms.

The most promising field of action for an eager young Cymbrian fighter is the King’s Teulu. This personal bodyguard is supported by the King. They live in the neuadd, the royal hall. They are given arms, armor, and a mount. They accompany the King (or the Penteulu) wherever he goes. Smaller bodyguards serve the Queen and some of the greater uchelwrs.

In addition to the Teulu, the King can call upon a general muster of free Cymbrians for six weeks of each year. The natural resistance of the clans to this general muster is modified by the presence, throughout the kingdom, of uchelwrs who have formerly been in the King’s Teulu. Sometimes the fiercest members of the general muster are the grand old warriors of 60-odd winters who wish to ride with their King one more time.

The lord’s hall, or neuadd, is hierarchically arranged. The King’s neuadd is divided into upper and lower sections. In the upper sections sit the King’s officers, including the Captain of the Guard (Penteulu), the King’s Harper (Bardd Teulu), and the Chamberlain (Gwas Ystafell). The King’s smith holds a place of honor right beside the Court Priest (Offeiriad Teulu). The lower section of the King’s hall is occupied by the chaotic mob of the Teulu itself.

The Teulu is maintained partly by the King’s lands, but mostly by the plunder it takes when it attacks the neighboring kingdoms. In return for their maintenance by the King, members of the Teulu are expected to show loyalty to the death.

The Bardic Fraternity

While bards certainly hunt for patrons as a way of sustaining themselves, the fellowship of bards in the Cymbrian kingdoms is not established as a branch of the government but is rather a self-governing body independent of the King.

The Chief Bard in any region is known as the Pencerdd. The Pencerdd is allowed to take on apprentices and grant them the rights to declaim known poems and compose their own. Players who wish to learn the craft of the bard become cerddorion. The apprentice cerddwr is called a clerwr; those who have been admitted into the bardic order are called prydydd. A bard can earn a post of teuluwr, or household bard; the highest position held by the household bard is the Bardd Teulu of the King or the Bardd Ystafell (Bard of the Chamber) of the Queen. But others may find patronage among the uchelwrs.

The Bardd Teulu of the King accompanies the warriors on their expedition, singing a traditional song of Cymbrian independence as they go into battle, recounting their deeds, and if necessary composing elegies for those who have fallen. The independent Pencerdd does not have any obligation to the King or his followers; but a Pencerdd will often travel to a court that is visiting a region, and if he does so the Bardd Teulu must yield to him in precedence.

Developing Cymbrian Characters

Players begin as bonheddigs—free Cymbrians who have not yet come into their patrimony (inherited their lands on the death of father and grandfather). Bonheddigs have a wide variety of backgrounds and skills available to them—some may be skilled hunters and foresters; others who have had a monastic education may be more prepared for public life; still others may have become smiths or bards. But all are members of a family and clan.

The head of each family is known as an uchelwr or “notable person.” Uchelwrs are bonheddigs who have inherited lands and become the heads of their families from the death of father and grandfather. Bonheddigs may forego the life of an uchelwr if they don’t care to manage estates and family affairs. Uchelwrs are in a practical sense below the King in status, but technically each is the lord of his estate. They may be the king’s tributaries, but in their own halls, they are as absolute as he is. Some may even maintain a small number of armed followers, although that may be seen as a challenge to the King.

Just as the uchelwr is head of the family, the Pen Cenedl (Chief of Kin) is head of the clan. This office is elected—combining skill in diplomacy, trade, husbandry, and fighting—and it usually goes to one of the senior uchelwrs of the clan. The Pen Cenedl speaks for the clan to the outside world, representing the clan especially in councils with the King. The Pen Cenedl does not hold other offices in the kingdom.

At the top of the social ladder is the King (“Bright Lord” or “Breyr”). The King manages the realm, acting as a principle judge in matters of dispute between uchelwrs, seeing to the defense of the borders, and at times expanding those borders through conquest. He maintains an armed bodyguard known as a teulu.

Kinsmen, Clan, and Foster Family

It is recommended that bonheddig characters all begin as members of the same clan. Since inheritance rules stipulate land is to be equally shared among all surviving sons (including bastard sons) to the third generation, brothers tend to be hostile to each other while first cousins are serious rivals. Third cousins do not share a patrimony, however, and hence can be allies within the clan.

In addition to their family and clan status, starting players should consider their alliances outside of the clan. Cymbrians practice a system of fosterage, in which young children are sent to be raised by foster parents, usually outside the clan. The children remain with their foster parents until the age of 14 (for the boys) or 12 (for the girls) when they are returned. A young Cymbrian has closer emotional ties with his foster parents, and often knows them better than he knows his own immediate family.

Background and Skills

There are several different starting “classes” for a player to choose from. The woodsman is a ranger-like class combining some of the characteristics of traditional fighters and thieves. They are skilled trackers, and also adept at concealment, silent movement, and setting or detecting snares and pits. The warrior is a skilled horseman, with a broad array of weapons and good combat abilities. The bard also combines some fighting skill with deep knowledge of culture and history. They are well versed in lineage and lore, able to recite from memory long genealogies as well as something of history and folklore. Spell-casters are most commonly encountered as NPCs, whether Enchanters, Saints, Hedge Wizards, or Necromancers. PCs can always learn magic, and may even become potent spell-casters themselves. But development of magical powers is something that happens during the campaign and not as part of the general character background.

Character “class” should not be thought of in the traditional way as an almost guild-based profession, but rather as an index of the character’s identity and a way of charting future development. The “class” of the character is rooted in his experiences; but there is no reason a warrior character should not, at some later time, become a wizard, or a saint.

A Note on Cymbrian Names

Cymbrians are proud of their lineage, and unfold that lineage when introducing themselves. This is most often the case in reciting their parents and grandparents, where the prefix “ap” is used in the same way as “mc” for the Eruish and “mac” for the Skotti.

Sometimes very formal or ambitious Cymbrians will attach their names to stories—“I am Rhys ap Yfor ap Llywarch, third son of the Celi Mawr, Penteulu of Athrwys Breyr Gwent, Ergyng, and Ewyas, Overlord of Glywysing and Scourge of Brycheiniog.” Cymbrians will tailor their introduction to their audience and to their own interests; with enough at stake, simple introductions can turn into epic recitation.