Fantasy Wargaming, cover to cover (VIII)

Two shorter chapters today.

Chapter III: The book of physiologus (or, “Oh God! It’s a thesaurus!”)*

This chapter is meant to explain the origins of the fabulous beasts and monsters to found later on in the rules (heraldry and bestiaries, for the most part, plus the literary sources).

In one sentence, though, it will probably alienate most old-school D&D players and fans of weird literature: “It seems a pity, in view of the broad and splendid medieval tetralogical tradition, to throw it all over for feeble coinages in the Clark Ashton Smith vein, or to attach real names to shoddy travesties of the creatures they originally designated.”

Of course, D&D and T&T both utilize both weird coinages and traditional monsters. In fact, I’ve seen at least one solidly heraldric beasts in the 1e Monster Manual mocked as stupid puns on other web sites (Sea lions).

In fact the monsters are discussed very briefly and in general terms. More attention is paid to the undead, and to elves, dwarfs, and trolls. Vampyres, for example, do not turn into bats, and are not undead in FW, as those parts of the legend formed later than the periods covered.

Chapter IV: Mortal combat (or, “A poignard in your codpiece”)

The weapons of 600-1500 CE are discussed briefly, and I wonder who is the audience for this…apparently the author thinks it is possible that someone with no, or faulty, knowledge of these things may be reading. The items covered pretty much confirm that the setting is really England. One thing I’ve always loved about this chapter is a great weapon chart, really one of the best I’ve seen apart from being very incomplete. This is pretty much exactly how I imagine every weapon depicted. There is also a brief explanation of how “sword-breaker” parrying daggers work in FW, which is an odd place to stash the rules, so far before anything else. But this also reinforces my sense that these early chapters are neither filler nor merely background.

Armor is discussed next, and again we get a decent overview. After that, a section on the organization a medieval army, which I would generally agree with, although my sense is that the “en herse” formation used by English armies is still a disputed issue, while the writer choose one interpretation and presents it as the only one. I don’t know that I’d want them to get into the argument but for wargamers this is a little surprising.

Then, a section on castles and sieges and this is part is really very good too, if brief. The plans of three typical castles are given, and while the whole chapter is very Anglo-centric, it has a lot of good information for the newbie. The chapter concludes with a glossary of arms & armor terms, which seems thrown in for no good reason. Most of the terms specify parts of plate armor. I wonder if this isn’t just cribbed from an art museum pamphlet. I guess it doesn’t hurt, and may be useful for people doing further research, but I don’t think many of these terms come up anywhere else in the text.

*The alternative title is a quote from the parody Bored of the Rings.  The chapter was written by N. J. Lowe, who has been kind enough to answer some emails from me about FW.  He wasn’t thrilled with the “alternate title” given his chapter by Galloway, but confirms it was his intent to add some humor and appear less stodgy.  Prof. Lowe also tells me that the lamented lack of footnotes was intentional as the writers were afraid the whole thing was looking too academic.  I’ll summarize what I’ve learned from Prof. Lowe in a later post.

Published in: on August 2, 2010 at 10:00 am  Comments (5)  
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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I am continuing to adore this series. What do you think of Chapter IV’s usefulness if someone wanted to set there game specifically three years before Magna Carta or in the middle of the Anarchy? Is there enough hard data to make useful equipment choices?

    • Well, the “Warrior table” lists typical troops for circa 1100 and circa 1300 (I’m not sure when “the Anarchy” is!), which would certainly give you appropriate arms and armor. The “background” chapter on weapons also gives some chronology.

      As far as other equipment, the sort list given is from the “High Middle Ages” which would certainly include the 1200s. So you’d be reasonably set.

  2. I thought the Anarchy was a common term for the 12th century conflict between Stephen and Matilda. Maybe I’m wrong.

    • Sorry! It is fact be common; my English history is pretty weak!

      I also just realized I answered as if you were asking about the rules chapter. Anyway the more useful info is there in the rules, I think. But whatever you do, get a copy of this book. There are venomous sheep, and if they or something else kills you, there are rules for determining how long you spend in purgatory, or if you go to hell or heaven or even become a saint!

  3. […] writing, my recollection is that we were each assigned chapters to write (mine was the rather minor ch. 3), to which we also provided the associated basic material for the rules, which Bruce (and possibly […]

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