Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Feudal System

Greatly, one of the things about Feudalism, especially the English System, is that it has been romanticized.  The tales of King Arthur, Grimm's Fairy Tales (although Cinder-Ella is an ancient tale that was adapted around the life of a Noblewoman), and various fantastic works and paintings and even the Romanticizing of the Society of Creative Anachronism.

Although it was an interesting time.  Even to re-enact; there are some things about the Feudal System that is often glossed over in Hollywood movies, fairy tales, and Arthurian stories.  It's the fact that the Feudal System is anathema to Freedom and Scientific Progress.

The one system the Shadow Government of the U.S.A. wants us to return to is the Feudal System. 
Albeit modified around Socialism.  To understand where we are going, we need to understand where we've been.  In studying for this week's adventures of the PCs in Grummond Cave, I needed a base where they can go to resupply if needed.  I chose the hamlet of Wodfeld; which is produced by 0one Games and sold through various outlets -- including Iron Crown Enterprises and Your Games Now.  However, the PCs have seen the good and are expecting the good of the Feudal System, I think its time to introduce the Bad.

The Feudal System, in Collusion with the Church of Medieval times, suppressed learning and literacy. The Church kept all the knowledge of science to itself, and promulgated fallacies that are largely disproved today.  The Feudal System also placed humankind into at least three different social castes, with some divided further.

They are

Those who War: which included the Nobility.  Knights, Princes, Lords, Earls, Barons, Marque's, and Kings.  Those who pray: included the priests of the Church as well as the monks.  And those who toil: which includes everyone else.

During Medieval Times, there was incessant warfare.  No body knew what year it was.  The best inventions of the day was the waterwheel and the windmill.  Knowledge of the Gastrophetes, the Ballistae, the Scorpion, and other inventions were lost.  Basic knowledge of Art and Science was lost too.  There were no steam engines, no robots, no computers, nothing of the Wonders of Archimedes or the Helenic Age.  The only relic of the forgotten Helenic Age that was produced in quantity was the Astrolabe -- an invention of Hypatia of Alexandria.

The Medieval Period was marked by a very powerful Dark Age.  There were no prophets, no apostles, no evangelists, no Seventy, no ministers, no deacons, no teachers, and no high priests, or patriarchs.  Kings ruled by Divine Right, something that would be tested against the Church by King Henry VIII (Henry Tudor II?). The system was unjust, since it give a lot of rights to the nobility and the priestly caste.  The people on the bottom had problems.

The Feudal System didn't truly break down until the Crusades of Europe against the "Saracens."  The Crusades was the beginning of the break down, and who would have known that the Pope at the time was contributing to the destruction of his system?

However, the Feudal System was lent a heavy blow during the Black Plague.  When the Black Plague struck Europe, everyone -- Christians, Jews, and Pagans alike; cried for deliverance and a "Restitution" of their world.

After the first and second waves of the plague, however, things did turn upside down. What the people didn't realize that when you ask for a restitution of your world -- YOU GET IT!  Although it took a full generation, through Danse Macabre generation, the Renaissance started as Indian artists and their intelligentsia migrated into Italy to escape oppression.  Although it really ended in during the American Revolution -- the Feudal System broke down.  After all, the Black Plague killed one third of the Population of Europe.  And not one class of people were spared.  The black plague killed villein, freeman, merchant, nobles, kings, and priests.

Not too soon was the Discovery* of America, the colonizing of the New World, the First Revival in the Colonies, the second Revival; and the hundreds of inventions and rediscovered science of the Helenic Age.  We have a lot to be thankful for.  The Medieval system is a terrible system to be under.  If you were born a free man or a noble, you had privileges.  However, even nobles were vassals to someone else.

Villeiny vs. Freedom

There was two distinctions in the lower classes from the nobility, and that was being a Villein or a Freeman.  A villein -- from which our word villain comes from -- is essentially a man in serfdom or more properly, in slavery.  The legal definition of villein depends on a number of points.  If all of them were true, you'd be considered a villein.  The children of villeins are villeins by birth.  That's just the way it is. Villeins were to perform labor services, apparently without limit.  They also couldn't marry without paying a merchet tax.  Women in villeiny that were caught in fornication had to pay a fine known as the leyrwite. During the Middle Ages, about a tenth of the population of the countryside engaged in illicit sex, simply because they can't afford to get married, which is tragic (marriage shouldn't be taxed, even in the real world, but it is). Villeins can be sold by their lord to other freemen.  Anything they own is considered their lord's property, and they hold their land only at his whim.  Villeins can be evicted from their land by their lord without apparent warning.  Villeiny is one of the bad things about the Middle Ages.

Repressed Opportunity to Learn

The Second bad thing about the Middle Ages is the repressed opportunity to learn.  Who ever controlled the government at that time (the Pope?) felt that knowledge was power so they repressed learning.  By repressing learning, they could control the masses.  If the masses are kept in ignorance, it makes it better to control them.  For almost a thousand years, the Church kept a monopoly on freedom and taught the masses through medieval friezes and morality plays.  However, progress was made, with Guttenberg inventing the Printing Press, the Church's monopoly on Learning was broken.  It took one printing press, one expedition to China, and one religious Reformation to break the stranglehold of the Church on Learning.  Repression of Learning is another bad thing about the Middle Ages.

Incessant Warfare

King Henry V at the Battle of Agincourt, 1415
By John Gilbert (1817–97)[see page for license], via Wikimedia Commons

 Warfare was incessant in the Middle Ages.  Well, actually, its incessant now.  War was once a religious ceremony of mass missionary work and evangelizing of a people that didn't believe in your religion.  In the Middle Ages, as now, Warfare is fought for economic and political reasons.  However, war was regulated by the Church.  The purpose for the Church to regulate war was to protect the lives and property of the non-combatants in the war.  At least, I believe given the power of the Roman Catholic Church, that the Church wanted to reduce the collateral damage of War in Europe.  However, it doesn't reduce the human impact.  War, after all, is used to reduce the population of human beings in Medieval Europe.  And most everywhere else.

Feudalism in Roleplaying Games

Most Roleplaying games, like Dungeons and Dragons, Rolemaster, the Palladium Roleplaying Game RuneQuest, and Pendragon; assume a Medieval Fantasy gaming environment.  The Fantasy of being a knight that saves the princess and slays the dragon is a very powerful one.  Especially since you have Tolkien's stories to work off of and the imagination of many other fantasy authors. Most fantasy worlds do not really explain how feudal systems work.  The best works to get started on this subject, of recreating a realistic medieval environment for your games are King Arthur Pendragon for the Nobility side of the Feudal System, Harn: A Real Fantasy World by Columbia Games, Ars Magica, and the Ars Magica supplement Heirs to Merlin to show the other sides of the feudal system.

And there are a lot of books you can go to and read up on Feudal Europe.  However, if Feudal Europe isn't something you don't want to portray to your players, there are several other settings you can use.  Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, the Celts, Biblical Palestine (i.e. the Kingdoms of Israel), and the forgotten Age of Seventy Nations.  There is also the time of the 3 Musketeers, the time of the Scarlet Pimpernel, Zorro, etc.  There are endless other settings you can use for Roleplaying fodder.

But note, brave is the GM that lifts the veil of Feudalism and shows it to his players.  In all of its glory -- both ugly and beauty.  The Medieval World is well documented in History, a lot of historians have written about the Medieval World.  You can get anything on that time period from recipes to eating menus to military history.  Go to the Library, surf the web, there is a wealth of information for the GM/DM use in his games.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If the feudal system suppressed learning and literacy, why were there over 80 universities in Europe by the close of the middle ages?

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