Tuesday, 22 March 2016

The Drain

This is just my experience as an over-thinking introvert and not every single DM will be able to relate, but I'm sure that not a few find the task absolutely exhausting.
After every session, my voice and nerves are shot. I've just spoken nonstop for five hours, which is more than speaking than I do all week in total. I try to be concise, of course, for the benefit of the players, but I often end up giving long answers to questions and anyway must provide quite a lot of description and information just to move the game along. This isn't difficult if I psyche myself up to it with lots of espresso and the music of Arany Zoltan, but when it's all over I feel like a sponge that's been wrung out.
It precludes doing much else on weekends, and especially anything having to do with human contact. Even speaking to my wife doesn't come easily, but she understands and tolerates my monosyllabic responses at times like this. Socialising is out of the question.
For example, I have a neighbourhood obligation on Sunday nights which I'm inclined to cancel on the days we play, even though it's several hours after the session has ended.
I bought a house in a village in Japan, where neighbours are closely knit and expected to all do their part in the community. The man who lives across the creek could hear me practising the flute in the morning and decided that, for the upcoming lion dance that takes place around the district next month, I could apply my efforts to the traditional Japanese transverse flute. All the non-elderly men in the village participate. It would have been bad form to refuse, so each Sunday evening I faithfully show up to practise from the hours of six to nine, which in actuality amounts more to drinking beer and engaging in that sort of crude banter normally known as 'guy talk'. This past weekend we prepared the straw sandals we have to wear, and practised for a total of five minutes the entire night. Such is human relations.
Doing this after D&D, however, would amount to an overdose of humanity. Normally, it takes at least as many hours to recover from playing as I've spent playing.
The thing is, the event is coming soon and the men want to get in as much practise as possible. I'm going to attempt doing both this coming Sunday. Needless to say, I'm looking forward to D&D more than to practice.
It's worth it, of course. Introverts are capable of being as jovial and boisterous as extraverts; we just need a long time to recover afterwards. I'm not sure I'll get that this time. It will be interesting to see what condition I'm in by Monday.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

The Party's Current Predicament

This is a continuation of last week's post about the legal system, primarily to give the party some additional background information that would come in the course of conversation with those 'agents of the law' in whose care the party now find themselves.
It was asked, when one of the party interrogated certain villagers about the foresters and received the answer that they hadn't had anything to do with the foresters hoped they never would, why this was. It may be helpful to remember that in the modern world, poor people in any urban ghetto would answer the same about the police.
The king's foresters are there to catch and punish commoners with the temerity to poach. The king owns the forests and decides who can hunt there. He might hunt with his own party, or grant limited hunting rights to those he favours, or grant a local lord 'full warren', which is tantamount to giving that lord his own private forest. Other than that, no one is legally allowed to hunt there. Catching smaller game, such as birds and coneys, would likely result in a mere fine, but killing anything large, such as a deer, is punishable by hanging.
All of this is not merely because the king is greedy and cruel. (He is, but that's rather beside the point.) This is an integral part of the medieval English legal system, and is in place because the scarcity of food in general makes it a status symbol, with big game at the top. The bulk of commoners' sustainance comes from what they can produce themselves, which is mostly grain, with a three- to six-fold yield on seed the best they can hope. Civilisation is surviving by a very slender margin.
Currently, the foresters have sheltered the party in the cylindrical keep where they take their meals and watch over the woods from a high place when they're not out patroling. The foresters are sympathetic to adventurers because adventurers can perform a public service that legal and resource constraints preclude the foresters doing themselves: Hunting down and getting rid of outlaws. The foresters would certainly appreciate this, and offer the party a place to recover spend the night.
They would not, however, be likely to spare any food if the party happen to run short of rations at this point. The continuous cold snap that still delays the onset of spring weather has meant that the fields have barely thawed, preventing farmers from plowing them, and preventing what few seeds they have planted from growing. People are living on their grain stores, with crafty merchants hording supplies and illegally speculating on the prices. The town authorities are insisting on the prices set by the Assize of Bread and Ale, which means many bakers cannot afford enough wheat for their product. Tension has been mounting in town as the bakers threaten to go on strike, which would bring activity to a halt across the countryside.
When we left the party, they had just found their way through the wilderness and back toward the foresters' tower--they had got lost during the night, but in daylight the paladin's trained bird was able to spot the tower from above and guide the party to it--after a sleepless vigil huddled around a fire without shelter. The party sagely concluded that the outlaws wouldn't venture into the woods to track them in temperatures that cold, and were able to keep a fire blazing and not actually freeze to death, but they will have frostbite. They will have lost some HP because of it. (And get XP for the loss. Perhaps they'll consider purchasing gloves, overcoats, blankets, bedrolls and a tent--or perhaps they won't, considering how much the encumbrance would slow their travel; at any rate, they will have learnt something from it.)
Now it remains for the party to determine their next move. For the moment, they are safe, and could probably make use of the foresters' shelter and fire for several days before being asked to leave; but they will be hungry, and supplies are dwindling.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Law Enforcement

In our last session, the party came up against a troupe of outlaws who had seized control of a village and were using it as their headquarters to waylay, rob and murder travelers. The party received information from the king's foresters who, recognising them as adventurers, advised them that they would be within their legal right to apprehend the outlaws, the implication being that there would be no legal repercussions if the party went so far as to slay them and claim their property, even without waiting for the coroner to arrive. In this context the sentence, 'We're not officers of the law' was uttered, and so it seems some background on the way the law is enforced in our campaign world is in order.
There aren't 'officers of the law'. The closest thing medieval England has to a police force is the town watch, a handful of men who do their best to stay awake through the night and take appropriate action in emergency situations. There are only a few of them to patrol an entire big town, and they're responsible not only for making rounds to check for burglary and violence, but also to watch for fires and look out over the town walls in case of an invading army. For the rest of the time and for all other purposes, and for every purpose in the case of rural areas, communities are responsible for their own 'policing'.
Each free male, on reaching the age of twelve, is required to be sworn into a tithing, a group of ten households headed by a chief tithing man; the tithing reciprocally enforces obedience to the law among its members. If someone in the tithing is accused of a crime, the rest of the tithing is responsible for bringing him to justice (perhaps turning him in to the local bailiff or gaoler, or to the lord's retainers if they live on a manor). If they fail to do, they stand to be fined for more than they can afford to lose.
On a manor, disputes and trials are overseen by the manor court, in which the lord is often judge and jury with the power to execute those found guilty. Death by hanging is the most popular punishment--with drowning typically preferred if the accused is female--for all sorts of offenses from theft to murder. The only other common punishments are fines and being placed in the stocks. Incarceration is very rare, and grisly punishments like burning at the stake or being drawn and quartered are reserved mainly for extreme cases of religious heresy and high treason, respectively.
In a town, there are usually one or more magistrates, men of good standing selected by the king to act as judges in criminal matters.
Fines for such things as starting a fight vary by locality, always with heavier fines for drawing blood. In any case, anyone who witnesses an act of violence or theft is expected to raise the hue and cry, a signal to all in the vicinity to rush to help apprehend the perpetrator. The sound, whether made vocally or with the aid of some instrument, would be known and recognised by all who live in the area. There is a fine for failing to raise the hue and cry, as there is for failing to respond to it. All free men keep some form of arms depending on their status and what they can afford; they are required by law to be able to defend themselves and their country as well as arrest criminals when necessary.
In cases where the accused remain at large, they are generally given three chances to appear in court. If they fail to appear, they are declared outlaws the fourth time and can legally be beheaded on sight.
A complication that allows many criminals, particularly criminal bands, to remain at large and unpunished, is the practice of maintenance, whereby lords protect their criminal retainers. Our trial session gave the party a taste of this system when a knight hired them to investigate a different group of bandits; the knight was on a quest to make maintenance illegal. As it stands, the law is very selectively enforced, with those who lack political power keenly aware of their position; and corruption is rife.
The question was asked why the foresters themselves don't carry out justice, or at least help the party and claim part of the reward. The answer is that the king has appointed them to patrol his forest and hang poachers, not to risk their lives confronting dangerous bands of outlaws. Even if they wanted to join the party, the king would not be pleased if they abandoned their duties to do--and the political consequences would be particularly messy if the outlaws are under a lord's protection.
Finally, to expand on the foresters' mention of not needing to wait for the coroner: The coroner (from the Latin corona, 'crown') is an officer of the king who is supposed to be present before justice can be carried out. The coroner's duty is to assess the value of man's assests to determine what portion of his property should go to the king. As common law already allows for the lord or householder to claim the belongings of anyone who dies on his property, and death sentences pronounced on manor courts already ensure that the lord of the manor will receive the man's best beast, the coroner is necessary to make sure the king gets his due. When outlaws are apprehended, citizens are supposed to wait a maximum of forty days for the coroner to arrive, but this is often flouted when the situation is extreme.
Thus, the party are currently in that most coveted position of adventurers: They can kill people and take their stuff.