The Green Children of Woolpit Wednesday, Jan 7 2009 

In which our intrepid hero delves into Suffolk folklore.

Late last month, over at Kobold Quarterly, John Ling wrote a short (but excellent) article on the legend of the Green Children of Woolpit, Suffolk, complete with d20 writeups. Ling cites his sources here; they’re a good primer for anyone interested in the story.

The Green Children have fascinated me ever since I first heard about them, many years ago. One of my favourite sources for English folklore, Westwood and Simpson’s The Lore of the Land has this to say about the strange couple:

The story [of the Green Children] was first told by the chronicler Ralph of Coggeshall, writing at the monastery of Coggeshall, Essex, in about 1210. He says that, ‘within living memory’, a boy and a girl whose skins were green were found near the mouth of one of the pits at ‘St Mary’s of the Wolf-pits‘. The villagers who found them could not understand what they said, and so took them to the house of their lord of the manor, Sir Richard de Calne.

The family name refers to the town of Calne, Wiltshire, most recently a centre for crop circle activity. But Calne is some 250km away from Woolpit.

However, this list of prebendaries of Chiswick, London, mentions a Nigel de Calne, one-time Lord High Treasurer to Kings Henry I and Stephen, and second Bishop of Ely, Cambridgeshire.

Nigel spent his early years studying at Laon, famed birthplace of Bertha Broadfoot, Charlemagne’s mother. Nigel studied under renowned theologian Anselm of Laon, and his contemporaries included the future Bishop of Hereford, Archbishops of Canterbury and Rouen—and possibly even the legendary Peter Abelard himself.

Some sources claim that Nigel and Alexander, third Bishop of Lincoln, were brothers; others suggest that they were merely cousins. Nonetheless, Alexander is credited as the patron of Geoffrey of Monmouth; amongst other books, Alexander commissioned Geoffrey to write The Prophecies of Merlin, the first record of the half-demon wizard outside the Welsh tongue.

Nigel’s son, Richard FitzNeal, also a Chiswick prebendary, would go on to become Lord High Treasurer to Henry II and Richard I, Stephen’s successors. He also served as Dean of Lincoln—an important administrative post under Alexander—and eventually as Bishop of London until his death in 1198.

(Nigel’s other son, William of Ely, succeeded Richard as Lord High Treasurer.)

No word on whether Richard FitzNeal was granted lands near Woolpit, although history places him in Ely, a mere 55km from Woolpit, in the early stages of his life. On the other hand, at least we’re in the right century; indeed, some commentators place the Woolpit tale early in Henry II’s reign.

An interesting family, to say the least, and very well-connected. If Richard FitzNeal and Sir Richard de Calne were one and the same, then what undisclosed uses might Richard have had for the Green Children? If nothing else, uncle Alexander would’ve found them quite intriguing…

The Lore of the Land continues:

At first, the children wept inconsolably and refused all food, until on seeing some freshly cut beans they made signs to show they would like some. For a long time, they would eat nothing else, and the boy soon languished and died. The girl, however, throve, gradually losing her green colouring, and remained many years in Sir Richard’s household, albeit somewhat lascivious (‘as I have frequently heard from him and his family’).

Perhaps Richard complained of the girl’s lasciviousness—or maybe he was boasting?

The girl told them that she came from a land where the sun never shone and everyone was green. She and her brother had been following their flocks when they came on a cavern, and, hearing the sound of bells from within, followed it and eventually emerged into daylight. They had lain stunned by the brightness for some while before the villagers found them.

Some versions of the tale suggest that the bells rang out from nearby Bury St Edmunds, which has its own fairy tales (again, from The Lore of the Land):

There wus a farmer, right a long time ago, that wus, an he had a lot o’ wate [wheat]… An he huld [hurled] all his wate in a barn, of a hape he did! but that hape got lesser and lesser… So off of his bed he got, one moanlight night, an he hid hiself hind the oud lanetew [lean-to], where he could see that’s barn’s doors; and when the clock struck twelve, if he din see right a lot of little tiddy frairies. O lork! how they did run—they was little bits o’ things, as big as mice, an they had little blue caoots and yaller breeches an little red caps on thar hids with long tassels hangin down behind. An they run right up to that barn’s door. An if that barn door dint open right wide of that self. An lopperty lop! over the throssold [threshold] they all hulled [hurled] themselves. Well, when the farmer see they wus all in, he kum nigher and nigher… An he see all they little frairies; they danced round an round, an then they all ketched up an air [ear] o’ wate, an kopt [threw] it over their little shoulders, they did. But at the last there come right a dear little frairie that was soo small that could hardly lift that air o’ wate, and that kep saying as that walked—

‘Oh, how I do twait [sweat],
A carrying o’ this air o’ wate.

An when that kum to the throssold, that kount [couldn’t] git over no how, an that farmer he retched out his hand an he caught a houd o’ that poooare thing, an that shruck out, ‘Brother Mike! Brother Mike!’ as loud as that coud. But the farmer he kopt that inter his hat, an he took that home for his children; he tied that to the kitchen winder. But that poooare little thing, that wont ate nothin, an that poyned away and died.

No one said that the Green Children’s flock consisted of mere sheep, and although the girl was named Agnes in some tales, who’s to say the boy wasn’t named Michael?

Incidentally, the source (above) which names the girl as Agnes also suggests she married a man in either King’s Lynn or Lavenham (both towns in Suffolk), and that after her first husband died, she may have married Richard de Barre—but then the account quickly dismisses the latter possibility.

However, as Archdeacon of Ely, and Chancellor to Henry II, it’s almost unthinkable that de Barre wouldn’t be acquainted with Nigel de Calne, Richard FitzNeal and their extended family. Richard could easily have introduced Agnes to her future husband.

Other towns and villages in the vicinity of Woolpit have stories of their own. The hamlet of Dagworth is the site of one of the earliest remaining changeling tales, also attributed in The Lore of the Land to Ralph of Coggeshall:

[I]n the time of King Richard a fantasticus spiritus haunted Dagworth Castle, home of the lord of the manor, Osbern of Bradwell. She spoke to its inhabitants in the voice of a child one year old and said she was called Malekin. She was a human child who had been stolen by the fairies from a cornfield while her mother worked. She had already lived with the fairies for a term of seven years, and after another seven would be allowed to return to the human world. She would speak to the servants ‘according to the idiom of the region’, that is, in the Suffolk dialect, but when she talked to the priest, with whom she discussed the Scriptures, spoke in Latin.

Malekin was invisible, although she could be both heard and felt. Only one person in the castle had ever seen her, and that was a servant girl with whom she had become friends. This girl used to put out food for her and often asked Malekin to appear. Malekin finally agreed to do so provided the girl promised neither to touch nor try to catch her. The girl said later that Malekin looked like a tiny child dressed in a white linen tunic.

One can only guess that this was a fairy glamour, and that Malekin’s true form would appear if the mien were dispelled by touch.

Interestingly, another version of this story suggests that Malekin was male—and that he was born in Lavenham.

Nearby Stowmarket was also plagued by fairies, known in the local dialect as feriers, ferishers or farrisees. (Note that this version of the Woolpit tale claims that the current Earl Ferrers is one of Agnes’ descendants. What’s in a name?)

The Lore of the Land reports the following account, from a woman of almost 80, quoted in the 1844 History of Stowmarket:

Her father was a leather breeches maker and her mother having had a baby (either herself or her sister, she forgets which) was lying asleep some weeks after her confinement in bed with her husband and the infant by her side. She woke in the night, it was dimmish light, and missed the babe. Uttering an exclamation of fear, lest the fairies… should have taken the child, she jumped out of bed, and there sure enough a number of the little sandy things had got the baby at the foot of the bed and were undressing it. They fled away through a hole in the floor, laughing as if they shrieked, and snatching up her child, on examination she found that they had laid all the pins head to head as they took them out of the dress. For months afterwards she always slept with the child between herself and husband, and used carefully to pin it by its bed clothes to the pillow and sheets that it might not be snatched hastily away.

John Aubrey apparently wrote also of the uniquely sandy-haired fairies of Stowmarket:

The fairy wore yellow satin shoes, was clothed in a long green coat girt about by a golden belt, and had sandy hair and complexion.

The History of Stowmarket contains further accounts:

S— living for 30 years at the cottages in the hop ground on the Bury road coming home one night 20 years since, in the meadow now a hop ground, not far from three ashen trees in very bright moon-light saw the fairies. There might be a dozen of them, the biggest about three feet high, and small ones like dolls. Their dresses sparkled as if with spangles like the girls at shows at Stow fair, they were moving round hand in hand in a ring, no noise from them. They seemed light and shadowy… I passed on, saying, the Lord have mercy on me, but them must be the fairies… I looked after them when I got over the style, and they were there, just the same moving round and round. I ran home and called three women to come back with me and see them. But when we got to the place they were all gone. I could not make out any particular things about their faces. I might be 40 yards from them, and I did not like to stop and stare at them. I was quite sober at the time.

Another account from same book, presumably also sober, as it was given by a parish clerk:

Fairies frequented several houses in Tavern Street about 80 to 100 years since. They never appeared as long as any one was about. People used to lie hid to see them, and some have seen them. Once in particular by a wood-stack up near the brick-yard there was a large company of them dancing, singing, and playing music together. They were very small people, quite little creatures, and very merry. But as soon as they saw any body they all vanished away. In the house after they had fled, on going upstairs sparks of fire as bright as stars used to appear under the feet of the persons who disturbed them.

Fornham All Saints even has its own mermaid (from History and Antiquities of Hengrave, quoted, again, in The Lore of the Land):

The Mermaid pits are said to derive their name from the story of a love-sick maid, who perished there:

‘Now there spreaden a rumour that everish night,
The (pitts) ihaunted been by many a sprite,
The miller avoucheth and all thereabout,
That they full oft hearen the hellish rout.’ […]

The fragment of story about the ‘love-sick maid’ is tantalizing: we are left uncertain as to whether this is simply the usual tale of a betrayed girl drowning herself and thereafter haunting the pool or river where she died, or whether she was thought of as turning into one of the cruel and vindictive freshwater mermaids that inhabit pits and pools in East Anglia.

These mermaids are described either as long-armed beasts with long, green tresses and hooked talons, or as beautiful women, differentiable only by their webbed feet. But both share strong, homicidal impulses and cannibalistic urges.

Before we get too far off track, we should hearken back to the Woolpit tale:

William of Newburgh, a monastery in Yorkshire, also tells the story, which he may have got in the main from Ralph, as they sometimes exchanged material. However, he includes details not mentioned in Ralph’s version of events, dating the appearance of the Green Children to the reign of King Stephen (1135-54), and saying that, when they emerged from the cave, they found themselves among reapers getting in the harvest. Both children learned to speak English, and they said that they came from St Martin’s Land, where the people were Christians, and the sun never shone there, though not far off, on the far side of a broad river, they could see ‘a certain luminous country’.

Numerous explanations have been given for ‘St Martin’s Land’, including an enclave of Flemish weavers in the nearby village of Fornham St Martin (a couple of kilometres or so from Fornham All Saints).

But what if there’s another possibility; hell, if we’re going to lend credence to stories of wanton, green Christians from beneath the earth, then why not broaden our horizons just that little bit farther?

The Catholic Encyclopedia lists two St Martins, the first being Pope St Martin I, and the other St Martin of Tours. Martin I is a relatively obscure pope, born near Rome in the 7th Century and dying in exile in the Crimea, at the behest of Byzantine Emperor Constans.

Martin of Tours, however, is far better known in western Europe. St Martin’s feast day, Martinmas, November 11, traditionally marked the beginning of Advent. A half of Martin’s cloak became a prized relic of the Carolingian Dynasty. And legend credits Martin with bringing chenin blanc grapes to France and teaching vignerons to prune their vines.

He’s a patron saint of soldiers, and is regarded both as one of the mediaeval period’s most popular saints, and one of France’s greatest—presumably, in part, for his association with viticulture.

Martin was born in the 4th Century in the Roman province of Pannonia Prima. From the 9th Century onwards, the area was home to the Kingdom of Hungary, which converted to Christianity soon after it was established.

Surely, Hungarian, unrelated as it is to most other European languages, would be pretty much unintelligible to the people of mediaeval Suffolk? And is it not possible, as in the case of Viganella, Italy, that a small village at the bottom of a Carpathian valley might be deprived of sunlight for a good part of the year?

Even if the Green Children did not hail from Hungary, we know from the story of Malekin that some fairies can speak Latin and that they may know Scripture—why not hagiography as well? And even if they knew nothing of St Martin’s early life, how many common, 12th-Century men could gainsay the Children’s tale?

Truth departs meekly when the wee folk are about.


    Monster Manuals IV and V Saturday, Mar 29 2008 

    In which our intrepid hero compares a couple of recent purchases.

    With the release of 4e only a couple of months away, the savvier local games stores are starting to discount a lot of their D&D3.5 stock. I’ve taken this opportunity to catch up on a few hardbacks I’d missed.

    Although they’re not exactly new, they’re new to me, and I’d like to air some thoughts about them. On the top of the pile are Monster Manual IV and Monster Manual V.

    Firstly, however—this is something that’s bothered me for years about (A)D&D—why is it whenever anyone comes up with a cool concept for an undead encounter, they have to go and stat it up as a completely new monster?

    If you can do ghosts as templates with variable powers, how difficult would it be for other types? It seems to me that you could get away lumping incorporeal undead together, and merely have a handful of iconic corporeal types: shambling corpses (skeletons/zombies), ghouls, vampires, liches, flesh golems and other composite undead (why are they constructs in the first place?), and animated body parts.

    (And whilst I’m at it, why have fey gotten such short shrift in 3e/3.5? Were they deliberately condemned to their niche as short-lived punching bags to briefly annoy PCs?)

    But to the products at hand…

    Monster Manual IV seriously lacks cool. Clockroaches are cute, as are Skiurids (death squirrels from the Plane of Shadow!), Spawn of Tiamat and Zerns, but there really isn’t much in Monster Manual IV that makes my eyes light up, not like, say, Fiend Folio or Monster Manual II.

    The whole book seems as if an overworked design team just didn’t have their hearts in it, filling pages to meet a deadline so they could continue other projects they they all had more interest in.

    Case in point: the Lolth-touched template. It makes the base creature a bit tougher, a bit stealthier and changes its alignment to chaotic evil. It does not, however, endow it with any additional Lolthy flavour, and seriously, you’d expect a servant of the Demon Queen of Spiders to at least have some sort of themed abilities. Not so.

    Many other entries are simply statted-out humanoids with class levels. If WotC RPG R&D figure that GMs need fully statted-out NPCs in case of emergency, then they should release an updated 3.5-edition Enemies and Allies. On the other hand, if you’re incapable of adding class levels to a humanoid, or you couldn’t be bothered statting up NPCs before the game, then you probably shouldn’t be GMing D&D in the first place.

    Monster Manual V does, however, pick up the pace. Dalmosh, the Abyssal caretaker of the Flesh Mountains, simply oozes coolness all over the page. Dragons of the Great Game and the Mind Flayers of Thoon (think illithids meet the Far Realm) are both very cool as well, if somewhat verbose. God-blooded Creatures aren’t too shabby, and neither are Shaedlings (aside from the pretentious spelling), Tirbanas or Ushemoi.

    There are still some lame monsters in there, but they don’t dominate the book. Although there are some simple class-level adds, the designers showed a lot more restraint this time around, and they also held back on the Monster Manual III-style sample encounters.

    Again, Monster Manual V doesn’t quite rank up there with Fiend Folio for sheer mace-to-the-head coolness, but at least it’s adequate. It feels like the designers put more effort in this time, and I’m happier with my cash expenditure as a result.

    In short, if you’re only going to buy one of the later Monster Manuals, get Monster Manual V; sadly, Monster Manual IV is only really for completists like myself.

      I’m a Suboptimal Character Build! Wednesday, Mar 26 2008 

      In which our intrepid hero discovers what type of intrepid hero he might be.

      This is interesting—I figured my Strength and Intelligence would be higher, and I’d always pictured myself as a low-level rogue, with lots of ranks in generally non-roguish skills. On the other hand, sorcerers rock.

      I Am A: Chaotic Good Human Sorcerer (5th Level)

      Ability Scores:

      Chaotic Good A chaotic good character acts as his conscience directs him with little regard for what others expect of him. He makes his own way, but he’s kind and benevolent. He believes in goodness and right but has little use for laws and regulations. He hates it when people try to intimidate others and tell them what to do. He follows his own moral compass, which, although good, may not agree with that of society. Chaotic good is the best alignment you can be because it combines a good heart with a free spirit. However, chaotic good can be a dangerous alignment because it disrupts the order of society and punishes those who do well for themselves.

      Humans are the most adaptable of the common races. Short generations and a penchant for migration and conquest have made them physically diverse as well. Humans are often unorthodox in their dress, sporting unusual hairstyles, fanciful clothes, tattoos, and the like.

      Sorcerers are arcane spellcasters who manipulate magic energy with imagination and talent rather than studious discipline. They have no books, no mentors, no theories just raw power that they direct at will. Sorcerers know fewer spells than wizards do and acquire them more slowly, but they can cast individual spells more often and have no need to prepare their incantations ahead of time. Also unlike wizards, sorcerers cannot specialize in a school of magic. Since sorcerers gain their powers without undergoing the years of rigorous study that wizards go through, they have more time to learn fighting skills and are proficient with simple weapons. Charisma is very important for sorcerers; the higher their value in this ability, the higher the spell level they can cast.

      Find out What Kind of Dungeons and Dragons Character Would You Be?, courtesy of Easydamus (e-mail)

      Still, with that sort of Charisma score, I should probably consider multiclassing soon. Pity I’m not the cleric type…

        Gamerly Thoughts Tuesday, Mar 25 2008 

        In which our intrepid hero tries to convince his dear readers that his thoughts have touched upon roleplaying numerous times in the past four months.

        One of the downsides of gallivanting about the country is that I get behind on my blog reading. I’m slowly catching up again, though, and I’m only trailing the rest of the world by about three weeks.

        I’m up to the part where everyone stops celebrating GM’s Day and word of Gary Gygax’s passing starts to filter across the Net. Ouch.

        At the time, I dedicated a Facebook album of photos of Tasmania’s Newdegate Cave to Gygax’s memory—the AD&D1e “D” series really sparked a lifelong interest in caverns that I’ve really only just been able to indulge.

        I never had the opportunity to meet Gygax, and I can’t think of anyone I know (off the top of my head) who met him either. Nonetheless, the man had an enormous impact on my life and although I failed to keep up with his efforts in recent years, there will remain a Gygax-shaped hole in my heart for a long time to come.

        Whilst replying to this entry on game designer Charles Rice’s blog, I realised that I haven’t posted a roleplaying-related post myself since last November. (Coincidentally, it was this review of five of Rice’s products.)

        Which is not to say that I haven’t been writing them—just that I haven’t pulled finger and actually gotten them finished. Sorta like that whole WoAdWriMo thing.

        Part of the problem is that I haven’t gamed in some time, so the whole subject of gaming lacks a certain immediacy. For about a year, I’ve been on the cusp of moving interstate, hampered mostly by family concerns and the slowest probate solicitor ever to drag his feet across the face of the Earth. Consequently, I’ve hesitated to start a new game, aware that I might have to start packing at any moment.

        Which sucks, because I’ve been itching to run parties through Masks of Nyarlathotep, an epic mashup of campaigns from both editions of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, the Freeport Trilogy, Pathfinder: Rise of the Runelords and an experimental D&D sandbox game based on homebrew conversions of Chaosium’s excellent Lovecraft Country supplements. And perhaps even playtest the aforementioned, very, very late WoAdWriMo entry—once I get it finished of course.

        Frankly, Mim K/W and I are fed up with waiting, and we’re moving to Tasmania in 4-6 weeks, regardless. In North American terms, it’s like a move from New York to Halifax, Nova Scotia.

        I’d love to game remotely with friends staying behind in Sydney, but Skype—whilst it supports conference calls and video calls—doesn’t support video conferencing. When I’m at my peak, my GMing repertoire incorporates all sorts of theatrics, including facial expressions; voice-only or text-only games, as far as I’m concerned, amputate any nuance of performance down to a stump.

        So I guess I’ll have to find a new group. Randal Graves’ climactic speech from Clerks II comes to mind.

        In the interim, however, D&D4e will come out. I’ve deliberately stayed out of all the supposition and hype, only taking in what I’ve heard on the D&D Podcast. For the moment, I’ll buy the three core books when they come out, but I’ll otherwise reserve judgement until I’ve seen what all the hoopla is about.

        If I can’t find a group playing 4e, or I just don’t like the system, then I doubt that I’ll buy more products. And I’m yet to be convinced that the $USD120-180/year online component will be a worthwhile investment in any case.

        (Hell, at this stage, I’m not even entirely certain I’d be up to GMing 3e/3.5 again—it just got too slow and cumbersome for its own good.)

        On the other hand, I watch FFG‘s newfound stewardship over Warhammer FRP and Dark Heresy with mounting interest…

          Gaming History Wednesday, Nov 14 2007 

          In which our intrepid hero reviews Vigilance Press’ Clash series of PDF roleplaying supplements.

          I think I first became aware of Vigilance Press through the regular d20 Community updates on ENWorld. It caught my eye particularly because of its emphasis on the one genre that seems largely neglected throughout 3e‘s run: historical gaming.

          It’s easy to find high fantasy campaigns for D&D—they’re pretty much its bread and butter—but for a game that branded itself as “mediaeval fantasy” back in the day, historical gaming has been left largely by the wayside. There are outstanding exceptions, of course (David Chart’s Medieval Player’s Manual, Avalanche Press‘ notoriously cheesecake-covered books and a few thinly-veiled fantasy adventures from Monkey God Enterprises come to mind), but the field has been largely neglected.

          I’ve been fairly reluctant to enter the PDF market (as I much prefer hardcopy books), but I recently decided to give it a go, a decision no doubt influenced by the arrival of a brand spanking-new debit card in the mail.

          I’ve been a loyal lurker at Vigilance founder Charles Rice’s blog for a while. Much of Rice’s creative output is actually for d20 Modern variants—another genre which I feel has suffered unwarranted neglect—but occasionally, he strays into more mainstream fantasy and short historical pieces, such as his current collection of Clash PDFs.

          The first, Clash of Arms: Cavalry, weighs in at a modest 11 pages. It begins with the Cavalryman core class (a reworking of the Fighter class from D&D), with variants for heavy cavalry, light cavalry and horse archers. Rice does a good job of defining these variants through their tactical uses on the battlefield, and further differentiates them through their class abilities.

          The following section (which might have been better placed at the beginning) details cavalry-related technology, equipment and tactics from the ancient, classical and mediaeval eras. Unfortunately, Rice attempts this in just over a page, and I think this section could’ve used some more detail.

          Different cultures used their cavalry in different ways, and it would’ve been nice to see a treatment of the Mongols (whose revolutionary use of cavalry still inspire manoeuvre warfare tacticians to this day) and Carthaginian, Parthian and Indian elephantry.

          A discussion of later periods would also have been interesting. Despite the challenges created by the introduction of primitive firearms, the horse still had a significant battlefield role as late as the Palestine campaign of World War I, and even briefly saw (ineffectual) use during the German invasion of Poland in World War II.

          I’m not saying that all this span of time should be within the scope of a short PDF, but the point is that cavalry continued to be useful even after the introduction of black powder. Considering that firearms have lurked on the periphery of D&D since AD&D2, and feature not only in Forgotten Realms but a number of third-party campaign worlds, a short section on the historical impact of gunpowder upon cavalry wouldn’t have been out of place.

          Maybe Rice could cover this in a future Clash of Arms instalment.

          Next, Cavalry details cavalry-related equipment, such as riding tackle and chariots. Rice does an excellent job at examining each in turn, although it might’ve flowed slightly better if the chariot had been given its own section.

          That said, the D&D Core Rules gloss over riding tackle, although each part—from the bridle to stirrups—play an important role in a rider’s ability to control their mount. Clash of Arms: Cavalry covers this admirably, explaining the bonuses and penalties related to each item (or the lack thereof). The only other thing I could ask for here is mention of the humble horseshoe.

          Last is a section on horse quality. I know that horse quality doesn’t exactly sound thrilling, but believe me, if you’re otherwise hesitant to spend $USD2.25 on a PDF, you’ll get your money’s worth in this section alone.

          Why? In a mere 2½ pages, Rice transforms the horse from a poor man’s bag of holding or boots of speed into an actual character. As any horse rider can tell you, horses sometimes have complex personalities, and subtleties of their condition can have marked effects on how they perform in the field.

          Granted, Rice isn’t the first to do this—I recall a Dragon article from the mists of time, and a section in the AD&D2 DMG—but he does it exceedingly well. The horse is elevated from a line item on an equipment list to an integral part of any party which makes use of the noble beast.

          In Clash of Arms: Cavalry, Rice mentions that the cost of the horse largely limited its use to the wealthy, so it’s only natural that the next in the series should be Clash of Kings: Nobility.

          The second Clash PDF opens with the Courtier core class, a PC-playable version of the Aristocrat NPC class from the DMG. Again, Rice isn’t the first to do this (Green Ronin’s Noble’s Handbook and the Rokugan hardback’s Courtier class are examples), but he puts his own stamp on the enterprise.

          Like the Cavalryman in Clash of Arms: Cavalry, the Courtier class has three different specialties, in this case, the Leader, the Intriguer and the Rake. These can be mixed and matched, but each exemplifies an iconic theme of courtly tales: the great warrior, leading his countrymen on the battlefield (like Henry V); the scheming, manipulative backstabber (like the Marquise de Merteuil in Dangerous Liaisons); or the swashbuckling rogue (like The Three Musketeers).

          Notably, the Courtier’s abilities make extensive use of a literal Divine Right, something which I’ve yet to see in other adaptations. Given that Divine Right (here called the Great Chain of Being), along with force of arms, is what historically kept the nobility at the top tier of society, it’s both surprising that no one else thought of making it an integral part of D&D nobility, and gratifying that Rice did.

          A short section on the British (more correctly, English) system of mediaeval peerage rounds out the 7-page PDF. Aside from a cut-and-paste error regarding baronial holdings, this part is handled well, considering its brevity.

          Were Vigilance Press to produce a more substantial insight into the nobility, however, later developments such as the introduction of the baronetcy, and stratification of the knightly class would also be welcome here, as would be an explanation of what it actually means to be a prince. Subjects such as etiquette, precedence and heraldry would probably be a little too complex and involved to feature in great length, but a summary of other systems of nobility would be nice, too.

          The aforementioned cut-and-paste error notwithstanding, Clash of Kings: Nobility suffers only from its brevity and Anglocentricity. At $USD1.50, it’s impossible to fault it on price, and Rice’s treatment of the Courtier makes the PDF well worth the investment.

          And speaking of investment, the third in this series of PDFs is Clash of Kings: Guilds and Money. In fact, it was this product that initially spurred my interest in the entire series; as a perusal of some of my past blog entries show, mediaeval economics and fabrication of goods are two particular areas of my historical-gaming interest.

          Like its forebears, Clash of Kings: Guilds and Money begins with a new core class, in this case, the Guildsman. A combination of craftsman and merchant (there are streams for each), the Guildsman represents a PC-playable version of the Expert NPC class from the DMG.

          One thing that stood out immediately as I read the class description was the selection of weapons and armour available to the Guildsman. These characters gain proficiency with simple and martial weapons, light and medium armour, and all shields except for the tower shield.

          I think that this is perhaps a little too much; it’s hard to imagine that the local seamstress might comfortably wade into battle with a battle axe in one hand and a spiked shield in the other, clad from head to toe in chainmail. Whilst the yeomanry did contribute a large number of troops to mediaeval wars, I think it’s better to model this through multiclassing.

          I also suspect that the Maker’s Affinity class ability, which allows a Guildsman bonuses for the use of items, could potentially be open to abuse. Essentially, he (or she) receives unnamed bonuses—which stack—based on the quality of their items and their familiarity with their manufacture.

          Although implied, Clash of Kings: Guilds and Money does not explicitly state that Guildsmen must specialise in a particular field, and so, it might be possible to gain not only bonuses to hit and to the Max Dex of their armour, but also multiple bonuses to Move Silently by wearing soft shoes and a cloak that doesn’t rustle much, etc.

          On the upside, however, the Guildsman class takes into account various grades of masterwork items, and the importance of social interaction to merchants. There is a slight error in the merchant’s Master Haggler ability, but in general, class abilities are handled well.

          This is followed by an extensive discussion of the role of guilds in mediaeval society (particularly in England) and is marred, perhaps, only by the repetition of information on Dick Whittington (of cat fame) which was included in the Guildsman class description as an example of a notable guildsman from history.

          It also goes into some depth regarding mercantile relationships with crown, peer and clergy, but unfortunately, fails to address the interaction of the growing mercantile class with the common man. The Ciompi Revolt of 1378 is one example from history, but there are countless others, as merchants often benefited from the peasants’ labours and hardships.

          Clash of Kings: Guilds and Money ends with an examination of mediaeval English coinage (pounds, shillings and pence), with the standard Gold Piece set at a value of one shilling. A list of basic equipment follows, with prices in £/s/d.

          Whilst it provides this list, and a basic conversion rate, beyond mentioning the average annual common wage of £2 10s, it does little to address the greater value (and comparative rarity) of coinage in history, compared to most D&D campaigns. Pegging the gp at 1s (rather than £1) does some good in this respect, but even a masterwork suit of chainmail (worth 300gp, or £15) is pocket-change for any adventurer above 1st level in most campaigns.

          At 12 pages, Clash of Kings: Guilds and Money is the equal-longest of the series thus far, but with its occasional editorial deficiencies and omissions with regard to economics and the peasantry, it’s sadly the weakest of the five. Then again, at $USD2.25, it would be unreasonable to expect the definitive work on mediaeval mercantilism.

          Clash of History: Witch Trials marks a departure from the purely historical, in that it deals with arcane magic.

          Personally, I don’t have a huge problem with this, as far as historicity is concerned—the existence of divine magic (at least to the extent that it appears in D&D) would have had more far-reaching implications. Atheism, agnosticism and secular humanism would have been less likely to come about, and heterodox versions of major religions would be difficult to defend in the face of demonstrable divine power… unless, of course, the heresiarchs of our history had also been able to demonstrate their divine favour.

          And if the polytheistic cultures of the classical era had been able to do the same, then all bets are off for a monotheistic Judaism, Christianity or Islam.

          On the other hand, small isolated pockets of arcane casters would only have reinforced the paranoia of the so-called Burning Times. They were pretty paranoid times anyway, so I guess that little would change in that respect.

          But I digress.

          Clash of History: Witch Trials begins with a description of the Witch core class, a variant of the Sorcerer class from the PHB. It takes a rather modern view of the witch, with White and Black paths diverging at 5th level.

          The White path focuses mainly on healing, whereas the Black path is the more traditional evil witch, dispensing curses and the like. The nature of these powers depends on alignment: good and/or lawful Witches become White, evil and/or chaotic become Black, and true neutral are left up to GM fiat.

          Interestingly, the background text for the Witch states that such people come about only through a nonconformity (voluntary or not) with society—reinforced by the exclusion of Profession as a class skill—and that such nonconformity attracts the attention of the supernatural forces which grant them their powers. Witches perform the ceremonial role of priests and priestesses, although their powers are not directly granted by their deities; instead, they are learnt from other minions.

          There’s a copy-and-paste error with one of the White Witch’s healing abilities—which replicates the Paladin’s lay on hands—but it’s nothing major. More confusingly, the Abilities section implies that Int determines save DC for Witch spells, but the Spells section of the class abilities states that Cha is responsible instead.

          The following part of Clash of History: Witch Trials details the Witches’ archnemesis: the Inquisitor. Perhaps influenced by Warhammer FRP, inquisitor prestige classes abound in third-party D&D supplements. At least here, though, Rice puts them into context.

          Unlike most of its counterparts, Rice’s Inquisitor is not interested in smiting the foes of his faith on the battlefield, but is solely focused on extracting the truth from suspected witches, heretics and the like. In this respect, it’s much closer to history: generally, inquisitors operated on restrained prisoners, people brought to them for their presumed crimes. Its abilities are nothing flashy; it does what it does, and does it well.

          There are only a couple of minor problems that I have with the Inquisitor. Firstly, I would add an alignment prerequisite: as an enforcer of canon law, the Inquisitor should probably be of Lawful alignment. Then again, some Inquisitors were noted for their bloodthirsty zeal, cowing commoner and noble alike with their Papal authority.

          Secondly—and this holds for the Witch as well—its class abilities are untyped. In a purely historical, nonmagical campaign, you needn’t differentiate whether an ability is extraordinary, spell-like or supernatural, but once you introduce magic and spell resistance, it does become an issue.

          The penultimate section of Clash of History: Witch Trials is a history of European witch scares, complete with a summary of the Malleus Maleficarum and a chronology spanning from pre-1000 to 1792, with a mention of the “Satanic Panic” of the 1980s. It’s brief, but it’s good, solid history.

          The final page gives a few suggestions as to how to integrate this all into a campaign. Unlike the other PDFs in this series, its contents aren’t a given: every campaign has merchants and soldiers and nobles, but it’s not every one where the world is turned on its head by the very religious institution which forms the backbone of the realm.

          All in all, Clash of History: Witch Trials is competent but not especially bold. At $USD2.25, it’s a solid buy. I would’ve liked a bit more of a framework for the Church and for clerical magic in a mediaeval campaign, but there’s only so much you can fit into 11 pages.

          The most recent offering in the series is Clash of Arms: Infantry, released just this last month. A companion volume to Clash of Arms: Cavalry, it examines the role of the lowly foot-soldier.

          In many ways, this is the toughest ground the Clash series has faced so far. The neglect of horse riders in D&D has its roots in the tradition of dungeoneering; foot-soldiers are the default Fighters, and much of the class’ development has catered solely to this role.

          Therefore, Infantry is not merely attempting to fill a neglected niche, but tread well-worn ground in such a way as to distinguish itself from what has gone before. At the same time, however, it must be balanced against the extant Fighter class.

          Like its predecessors, the Infantryman class presents a number of different streams: Archer, Command, Man-at-Arms, Scout, Skirmisher and Spearman.

          The Archer’s abilities include indirect fire—and it’s hard to see why this isn’t already a long-established part of the D&D corpus—as well as accelerated bow specialisation and rules for infected arrowheads. (This last, however, might better have been handled by existing rules for disease.)

          The Command stream, as its name suggests, focuses on control of troops, granting commanded forces rerolls on failed saves, increased overland speed, and the ability to retreat without suffering attacks of opportunity.

          The Man-at-Arms’ abilities negate penalties from medium or heavy armour, and allow attack and damage bonuses whilst charging.

          The Scout is, essentially, a Rogue of a martial bent, with sneak attack and stealth abilities. The Skirmisher, on the other hand, relies on mobility and speed, rather than heavy armour, to protect him.

          Lastly, the Spearman, who long-time readers would know particularly sparks my interest. The Spearman’s abilities revolve around aptitude with the spear (or polearm) and shield, almost always in the context of formation fighting.

          Then again, the Infantryman class is not ideally suited to individual combat; his abilities work far better in concert with other Infantrymen. This makes it ideally suited to single-class PC parties; sole combatants are perhaps better modelled with the core Fighter class.

          A very comprehensive treatment of the Craft (fortification) skill follows the Infantryman class. D&D lacks rules for temporary fortifications, and Infantry steps in to fill this void admirably. So admirably, in fact, that an Engineer stream may have been a worthwhile addition to the Infantryman.

          The PDF ends with an examination of three famous battles (Hastings, Arsuf and Agincourt) in which infantry played a decisive role. Rice recounts these battles in depth.

          I do have an issue with the inclusion of Hastings, however. Although it featured the Saxon Huscarls—whom Rice rightly names as one of the most feared infantry units in Europe, and whose survivors later formed the core of the Byzantine Varangian Guard—I don’t feel that it qualifies as a particularly decisive use of infantry. Although their position and their shield wall protected initially protected them from Norman missile fire, the Saxon fyrd‘s lack of discipline in pursuit of Norman cavalry contributed eventually to the defeat of Harold Godwinson and the end of Saxon reign in England.

          A far better example—in my humble opinion—would have been the Battle of Bannockburn, wherein Robert the Bruce used cunning, terrain and massed spear to defeat Edward II’s far superior forces, and secure the future of an independent Scotland.

          That aside, Infantry presents a good study of the foot-soldier, and adequately shows that organised infantry has long been neglected in D&D—until now. At $USD2.25 and 11½ pages, it represents the same good value as its predecessors.

          Taken in their totality, the Clash series has its flaws, but many of those flaws are simply due to the brevity of PDFs of the Phil Reed paradigm—it’s simply not possible to go into depth in less than a dozen pages. Others are editorial issues, a plague sadly common to many products in the hobby.

          Despite their flaws, there also are moments of utter brilliance in the Clash series, and there’s more usable material therein than in many single works priced at $USD30 or more. I heartily recommend snaffling up the five, should you get the chance.

          I, for one, look forward to future instalments.

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