Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Monstrous Discussions: What is an Orc?

What is an Orc?

I am in the middle of my Paladin series blog, and I am getting ready to wrap up that series very shortly. However, before I can complete that series, I must take a side step over to this topic. Some of my readers may see where I am going with this. So with out further delay, let’s get into it.

What is an Orc? I think the answer is a bit subjective, and I can see how it can vary from DM to DM. However, I want to give some historical perspective, and then give my own personal take on them. I think there are some common themes that run throughout, and I want to discuss that at some length.

From the first ed MM:
“Orcs are cruel and hate living things in general, but they particularly hate elves and will always attack them in preference to other creatures. They take slaves for work, food, and entertainment (torture, etc) but not elves whom they kill immediately.”

From the 2nd ed MM:
“Orcs are a species of aggressive mammalian carnivores that band together in tribes and survive by hunting and raiding. Orcs believe that in order to survive they must expand their territory, and so they are constantly involved in wars against many enemies: humans, elves, dwarves, goblins, and other orc tribes.”

From the 3rd ed MM:
“Orcs are aggressive humanoids that raid, pillage, and battle other creatures. They have a hatred of elves and dwarves that began generations ago, and often kill such creatures on sight…..Orcs believe that to survive, they must conquer as much territory as possible, which puts them at odds with all intelligent creatures that live near them.”

From Paizo’s Classic Monsters Revisited:
“Mad marauders in the dark of night, these terrors descend on the unsuspecting and leave naught but slaughter in their wake…..Orcs are aggressive, brutish humanoids that exist by strength of their arms and sinews. They are the cockroaches of the humanoid races….The orc is the antithesis of civilized man…Never be mistaken: They’re not men, they’re monsters.”

From the New Tokien Companion:
“….believed to be themselves descended from the Quendi, for their sires, it was said, had been abducted by Melkor and twisted and corrupted into this new race: evil, filled with his dark will, cannibalistic and cruel.”

From Wikipedia:
“Orc is a word used to refer to various races of tough and warlike humanoid creatures in various fantasy settings, appearing originally in the stories of Middle-earth written by J. R. R. Tolkien and derivative fictions. Orcs are often portrayed as misshapen humanoids with brutal, warmongering, sadistic, yet cowardly tendencies, although some settings and writers describe them as a proud warrior race with a strong sense of honor.”

From Warcraft (source – Wikipedia):
“In the Warcraft computer game series Orcs are depicted as more ethically and socially complex than in most renditions. The great Orcish race is a savage but noble society made of shamanistic and fierce warriors.”

I included a number of sources to get a full range of opinions on what is an orc. I believe that the term (not necessarily the idea) first came from Tolkien, who took ideas from Old English and a variety of other old European languages and came up with the term. For the purposes of this discussion, I will consider the good professor as the official origin of the term. I believe that Gary Gygax took the term right from Tolkien and imported it directly in the D&D. While I have heard Gary's comments that Tolkien’s works had nothing to do with the creation of the game, I will take that with a grain of salt.

In looking over the list, the definitions vary from monster to noble yet savage humanoids. Clearly in the creation of the term orc, Tolkien had in mind a monster that was a twisted creation of the elf, which would explain the hatred of their founding. I think that this is important to note, that in the creation of the term, orc was meant to imply a warlike humanoid, descended from the elves. Elves in Tolkien’s world were fair and beautiful creatures. They first the first born, and they were the fairest of the children of Eru. In other words, the orc was not a natural creation by the creator, but rather a corruption of what was fair, beautiful and natural.

As I have stated in my earlier blog on the minotaur, I am not a fan of watering down the historic concepts of monsters. There is something about going back to the roots of the mythology that provides an authenticity, which one can rest upon. I agree that sometimes the redemption story of traditional villains resonates well with us, but they should be the outlying exception, not a general rule of thumb.

When I look over the various definitions, I see that first ed MM was very much in line with Tolkien. The 2nd edition started to water down the definition. By bringing in the term “mammalian,” it feels like the orcs are more neanderthalic tribes, rather than a corruption of nature. Third edition feels like it is moving back towards the original definition by bringing back the concept of a hatred for elves, and that they raid and pillage. I like the way that the third edition states, “…puts them at odds with all intelligent creatures.” This denotes a fundamental disagreement that can only have one outcome. Moving on to Paizo’s Classic Monsters Revisited, they have pulled out all the stops in describing the orc. They have separated the Orc from man (by with they mean all intelligent life forms), by calling them monsters, cockroaches and mad marauders. There is no doubt that these are the villains of the game, and to be more specific, they are monstrous villains. These are the monsters that mothers warn their children about. This is very strong imagery, on the nature of the orc.

Dropping down to the WoW game, the orc is now a noble savage. This leaves me cold. This feels like a watering down of the concept, and creating a grey space in which to comment on social injustices. By using the term noble savage, the image of the American Indian is called up, and that leaves a bad taste in my mouth. A noble savage has a totally different visualization, than a mad marauder or a cockroach. I could easily put some of the heroes of pulp fantasy into this category of noble savage. The term savage calls forth an image of wildness, not monstrous. Coupling this with the term noble, gives the savage honor. I just finished reading Almuric, and I could easily put the hero, Esau Cairn, in the category of savage noble. He calls forth the idea of a primitive, raw force that does know honor, and can act boldly for a greater good. There is something raw in Esau Cairn that resonates well with the reader, and harkens us back to an earlier untamed time, but that still can be called good. This is not where I want my villains to live.

Clearly, in my game, my orcs are villainous. They are monsters of the night. They are not natural, but a perverse creation of what was once fair and good. They are blight to all intelligent life, and I love the comparison to the cockroach. In the film, Fellowship of the Ring, there is a scene in Maria in which the orcs are crawling down the massive columns, and this is specifically done to link the image of the orc to a cockroach. Make no mistake about it, this is a direct statement on the identity of the orc.

While some may like their villains to be misunderstood, I think that this waters down the intrinsic alignment that is in the game. With the alignment system that is in the game, there is a calling to pick a side. One is not to be neutrally generic. The characters are not just thugs that are one step away from being villains, but rather they are called to understand the innate foulness of the creatures they face, and they need to be ready to answer the call, in order to drive out such filth when ever they encounter it.

To conclude, I opened up this topic to provide a discussion on what is an orc. I think it is important to understand where the monsters in the campaign line up in the big scheme of things. I am going to follow up on this point in my subsequent blogs on the paladin, as we wrap up that discussion.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Review: A4 In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords

This is the last review of the Slave Lord modules. After this review I will turn my attention to some of the newer modules, but I wanted to start with classics first, and these seemed appropriate to review first, as these were the first of many modules that I have bought over the past 25+ years of gaming.


This was the fourth in a four part Gencon tournament that was held around 1980. The results of this were published in the form of the modules A1-A4. The final published module included the tournament version plus some additional material to give it a bit more content than just a tournament module. I included the basic outline in my first review, so I will not repeat it here, but suffice to say that this module follows the same basic outline as the first module. The links to the first three reviews can be found here (A1), here (A2), and here (A3).


The module is a little different to the basic layout of the time, with only one dungeon level, and large outdoor island encounter area. The main maps are printed on the inner covers with a 32 page book that includes the encounters write ups, new monsters, and some pregenerated characters that were used in the tournament. The module also includes a single page with four tactical encounter maps (2 on each side). The inside front cover has the dungeon level, and the back cover has the maps of the Isle of the Slave Lords showing the lava fields from the volcano. The new monsters included were the cave fisher, magman, myconid, and the sandling; all of which would see a full write up in the later MM2 that was produced several years later. The module includes the relatively new feature of the read aloud box text. When looking at the layout of this module in relation to the others at the time, I would say that it is no better or worse than the others, and it is very similar in quality to the others in the series.


This module also has more art work than the first two of the series. The overall quality of the art is the same as the others in the series, and is very representative of the black and white artwork of the period.


The previous module ended with the characters being captured, and this module picks up with characters in the dungeon caves below the island with very little in the way of equipment. As the module states, this is designed to test the players, not the characters. The initial starting point is a small cavern with four tunnels leading out. There are three exits out of the dungeon, and the players will have to choose wisely to succeed. Once they do make it out, they face an erupting volcano, burning forests, and lava fields, in addition to finding their gear and defeating the Slave Lords.

Key features

There are a couple of features that this module provides that I am going to list out below:
1. Player challenging dungeon. Numerous challenges for the players and success really is about winning as a player, not as a character.

2. Erupting volcano along with a burning islands, adds an additional element of atmosphere.

3. Final showdown with the Slave Lords. If the DM sets this up right, this can be a very satisfying encounter for the characters

4. Conclusion for the mini AP that consists of the four modules.

Final notes

Overall, this is a very interesting concept for a dungeon. In my previous review of A3, I stated that the DM needs to give the players a heads up on what’s coming, otherwise there could be a bit of a misalignment of expectations. Players tend to get emotionally attached to their characters and their stuff, so to see this get ripped away from them, could lead to trouble. Players that can set this aside and tackle this dungeon for what it is, and can find this to be a very enjoyable challenge.

Looking over the series once can easily claim that this is one of the first adventure path modules, as the four modules link very close with each other. The later module, Scourge of the Slavelords, does precisely that, and adds additional content for a better fit.

I do like this module, but I have to say that I like A1 and A2 a little better. There will be folks out there that will say that A4 is the best of the bunch as it test the mettle of the players more than the others do. The encounters in this one are carefully constructed as to provide meaningful challenges to an unarmed party. I can see how players can become frustrated with this module, as they have to be very resourceful to succeed. In that regard, this module has a very old school feel to it. I would say that it is similar in concept to the Tomb of Horrors, but not nearly as hard or as unforgiving as that one.

Rating: 3 Dragons (on a scale of 5)

As a final comment, I really do like the series. There are flaws in the limitation of the tournament designs, and the modules tend to be straight forward, as do all of the tournament modules, due to the time considerations of tournament play. I clearly understand that point of view, and there is merit in that criticism. I do agree that I do not think that these are the best series ever produced (those will be for a future review), but these are still very good, and worthy of a play through.

Overall Series Rating: 3.5 Dragons (on a scale of 5)

News Flash!

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Now back to our regularly scheduled programing :)

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Paladin (Part 3E): The King and his Knights

Initially I was planning on summarizing only the key characters in the Arthurian legends and keep it to one blog post. However, it did not seem right to me to keep my listing to just a few knights, as there were quite a few that had significant roles to play in the greater mythos. In fact, I would go on to say that depending on which version of the story one reads, the different knights play a larger or smaller role depending on what the writer is trying to illustrate. In my previous blogs, I have tried to keep the summaries at a high level that is in keeping with the most common understanding of their part in the legends.

For this blog, I am going to hit on what I consider to be the most important six knights in the legend. I am sure that there are readers out there that have their favorites and would be more than willing to quibble with me on my selection, and that is fine with me. If everyone agreed on every topic, there would not be much enjoyment in the passion of the debate. This is perhaps why I enjoy discussing sports so much, as before the game is play, no one really knows what is going to happen, but I digress. In addition to the summaries for the knights, I will also include my brief commentary on the knights in question; in order to better illustrate what is significant about that knight in the large myth cycle.

King Arthur was the son of Uther Pendragon and Igraine. He was raised by Ector, and at a tournament in London pulled Excalibur from the stone and became King of the Brits. Following a successful campaign against the rebel kings, he united the kingdom and married Guinevere. He then proceeded to create the Round Table of knights to celebrate chivalry and the code of knighthood, with Lancelot as his champion. Unfortunately, Lancelot’s affair with the queen destroyed all that he had created and led to civil war. With his attention diverted, Mordred seized the throne, which ultimately led to the Battle of Camlann, where they both perish.

Commentary: King Arthur is ultimately the tragic hero of the myth cycle. He starts with such promise, and then falls as the kingdom is divided by war. There is much hope at the beginning of his reign. The rebel kings are defeated and they come to terms with him. The noble ideals of the round table are put into place. One can not be but optimistic about such a beginning. I tend to think of him as a King David of sorts, in that David had a humble beginning, but then falters as he gets older. There is a great line spoken by Merlin in Excalibur that I think has special meaning here:

And look upon this moment. Savor it! Rejoice with great gladness! Great gladness! Remember it always, for you are joined by it. You are One, under the stars. Remember it well, then... this night, this great victory. So that in the years ahead, you can say, 'I was there that night, with Arthur, the King!' For it is the doom of men that they forget.

And forget they did. There is a cycle here that is repeated in tragic literature. It starts with the grace of humble beginning, which is followed by extreme confidence that encroaches to arrogance that is ultimately the downfall of kings. In Homer this is the hubris of heroes, and in this tale it is no different. In Malory’s tale, Arthur represents the ideal of the royal monarchy and medieval institutions, but that ideal can not hold up under the weight of reality and will eventual succumb to corruption and incompetence which will be its downfall.

Sir Lancelot was generally considered to be the greatest of King Arthur's knights and plays a significant part in many of Arthur's victories. He was most famous for his affair with Arthur's wife Guinevere and the role he played in the search for the Holy Grail. In addition, he was also the father of Galahad. Prior to the quest for the Grail, Lancelot was seduced by Elaine, daughter of the Fisher King, into believing that she was Guinevere, and he sleeps with her, with the end result being the birth of Galahad. When he realized what had happened, Lancelot lost himself and was exiled from the court for many years. Upon his return to court, Lancelot took part in the Grail Quest with Perceval and Galahad, though as an adulterer, he was only allowed a glimpse of the Grail itself. It was instead his son, Galahad, who achieved the Grail. Ultimately, Lancelot's affair with Guinevere was the destructive force of the kingdom, resulting in the death of Gawain's brothers, the estrangement of Lancelot and Gawain, and Mordred's betrayal of King Arthur.

Commentary: Lancelot is the other tragic hero in this story. He is blessed with the strength and valor that can not be matched in battle, and he wins glory and fame for himself. An obvious comparison in this regard can be made to Achilles, as they are both unbeatable in battle. In Lancelot’s case, it is not battle that does him in, but it is in the adulterous affair with the Queen, which can only end badly. For the first part of the story, he does control his lust, but he does not hold out, and it only becomes a matter of time before the opportunistic take advantage of this flaw in his armour. His fate is sealed with his first kiss, and betrayal follows shortly there after. A tragic finish to what should have been the shinning example of Camelot.

Sir Galahad was the son of Lancelot and is renowned for his gallantry and purity. He was the knight that successfully completed the Quest of the Holy Grail.

Commentary: In contrast to both King Arthur and Lancelot is Galahad. Galahad does represent the best of the best in terms of knightly character. He his beyond reproaches, and reaches a piety that borders on the divine. It is easy to look at Galahad as ultimate example of the Paladin, and I agree, but it is ultimately an unplayable paladin, which I will expand upon in my upcoming blogs. Galahad represents more than just an ideal of knighthood. He is the persona of Christ, complete with his ascension into heaven upon complete of the Grail Quest. He is the shinning beacon that opposes (and sometimes repulses) the tarnished characters of the rest of the knights. Clearly one can point to Galahad and declare victory for the ideals of the Round Table, but I would have to say nay, he is the extreme example of why it will not work, and why the hubris of man cannot be made righteous by lofty ideals. One can argue that Galahad specifically did not associate with the knights, as if he did, his purity would become tarnished as well. When I first read The Once and Future King, one of my first thoughts was, “Why do the knights hate him so.” That was a very interesting observation, as I think deep down inside the other knights had judged themselves, and found that they had come up short on the scale, and to be in his presence was a harsh reminder of how far short of the goal they were. To sum it up, Galahad was not human, but rather divine.

Sir Percival was the son of Pellinore, and was most famous for his involvement in the Quest for the Holy Grail.

Commentary: In my mind, Percival is a ‘tweener character. He did not gain glory in physical battle, but he was the companion that made it to the Holy Grail, and was witness to the glory that was Galahad. He is the bridge between the noble Galahad and the other knights. In some versions, Percival was the one that found the Grail. In this scenario, the flawed character or Percival (flawed in comparison to Galahad) is allowed to touch that which is holy, which is symbolic of the Christian themes of the salvation of our flawed condition. There is much hope in this symbolism. Yet, to me, it feels right to have Galahad be the Grail hero, even though it casts doubt on our own ability to save ourselves. Between Galahad and Percival, the Christian themes burst out, and serve as the contrasts to the fading pagan religions. This ultimately is the victory of Christianity, as Merlin, who represents the old ways, was not able go on the quest for the holy relic, and thus had not chance for victory.

Sir Tristan was the main character of the Tristan and Isolde story. He was the nephew of King Mark of Cornwall, sent to fetch Isolde back from Ireland to wed the king. However, he and Isolde accidentally consume a love potion while en route and fall helplessly in love. The pair undergo numerous trials that test their secret affair. He was frequently cited as the second best knight behind Lancelot.

Commentary: In Malory’s work, Tristan has a whole section devoted to the tale. To be honest, it has a bit of a Romeo and Juliet feel to it. Two star crossed lovers, unable to make right their situation, as King Mark stands right in the way. In essence, this is a mini version of the Arthur-Guinevere-Lancelot triangle, without the dire consequences that would come out of that doomed situation.

Sir Mordred was Arthur's illegitimate son by his half sister Morgause. He was the main villain of the Arthurian legends and considered to be the destroyer of the kingdom. His end came at the Battle of Camlann, where both he and Arthur perish.

Commentary: Mordred is the villain of the story, and what a villain he makes. He is a backstabber, an opportunist, and a destroyer of kingdoms. He is the architect of destruction. When it comes to villainy, what is not to like about Mordred. Even in his birth, he is illegitimate, which sings to what is to come. In some of the tales, he is watered down, and that strikes me as a bit anti-climatic. With a tale this large, we need a villain that is up to the part. The best part about tragedy is that the heroes have set it up. All it needs is a little push that the house of cards that is Camelot comes crumbling down. In the end, this is the statement on the medieval institutions of royal lineage. It can not hold up over time, and will end in failure as sustained system of government. However romantic the tale of a young knight pulling out Excalibur from the stone is, and there is a definitely an epic feel to that story, the buzz saw of reality will always rip away the dreams from practicality. Mordred, in this case, is that saw.
Paladin Series Summary
For ease of reading, I will provide the links to all the blogs in the series:

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Paladin (Part 3D): The Knights of the Round Table (con't)

Continuing on with the listing of the important Knights of the Round Table.

Sir Morholt was an Irish warrior who demanded tribute from King Mark of Cornwall until he was slain by Tristan, Mark's nephew and defender.

Sir Palamedes was the son of King Esclabor, brother to Safir and Segwarides. He was a Saracen pagan who converted to Christianity later in his life, and his love for Isolde, brought him into frequent conflict with Tristan. They would eventually reconcile, but share a love-hate relationship through most of the story. Malory has Palamedes and Safir joining Lancelot after the affair with the Queen was exposed, and accompanied Lancelot to France, where Palamedes was made Duke of Provence.

Sir Pelleas was the son of a poor vavasour who seeked after the love of the high-born maiden, Arcade. Though he won her a golden circlet in a tournament, she spurned him and refused to see him. Gawain witnessed Pelleas's humiliation and vowed to help him by going to Arcade wearing Pelleas's armor, pretending to have killed him. Once in her confidences, Gawain plans to woo Arcade on behalf of Pelleas, delivering her to him. Instead, Gawain fell for Arcade himself. When Gawain did not return with the maiden, Pelleas goes out and found them in bed together. Pelleas cannot bring himself to kill them, and left his sword between them in their bed and returned home. The next morning, Arcade recognized the sword and Gawain remembered his promise. Gawain convinced Arcade to love Pelleas and arranged for them to meet, and the pair subsequently get married. In Malory’s tale, Gawain left the maiden (who in this version is called Ettarde) after the incident with the sword. Nimue, one of the Ladies of the Lake, came upon Pelleas, heard his story, and fell in love with him herself. She took vengeance on Ettarde by magic, enchanting her to fall in love with Pelleas as deeply as he loved her. Pelleas, whose love has now turned to hate, spurns Ettarde, and she died of sorrow. Nimue and Pelleas would eventually get married.

King Pellinore was the king of Listenoise. Son of King Pellam, he was most famous for his endless hunt of the Questing Beast, which he was tracking when King Arthur first met him. Pellinore defeated Arthur after three jousts, which led Arthur to praise Pellinore’s skill, and they would be become good friends afterwards. Pellinore had many legitimate and illegitimate children, most notably Tor, Aglovale, Lamorak, Dornar, and Percival.

Sir Sagramore appeared in almost all the legends, although his characterization varies from story to story. In Malory's version Sagramore's prowess varied from situation to situation, and he usually served to lose jousts to better knights, but at times he was a valiant fighter.

Sir Safir was the brother of Palamedes, and he was a courageous and loyal knight. After the affair between Lancelot and Guinevere was exposed, Safir joined Lancelot's side in the ensuing civil war, where he followed Lancelot to Gaul. It was shortly there afterwards, Safir was made Duke of Landok.

Sir Segwarides was a brother of Palamedes and a liegeman of King Mark. In Malory, Tristan had a brief affair with Segwarides' wife, and wounded the knight after being discovered. Tristan later encountered Segwarides on the Isle of Servage, where Segwardies forgave Tristan, and made Segwarides Lord of Servage. In the end, Sir Segwarides was killed during the rescue attempt of Guinevere from the stake.

Sir Tor was brother to Aglovale, Lamorak, Dornar, and Percival. Tor distinguished himself at the wedding feast of Arthur and Guinevere when he took up the quest to retrieve a mysterious white brachet hound that had come into the court. Tor and his brother Aglovale were among the knights charged with defending the execution of Guinevere, where they both died during the rescue.

King Uriens was one of the rebel kings that initially oppose Arthur, but upon their defeat they become Arthur’s allies and vassals. He was always said to be the father of Ywain, and many texts gave him a second son, Ywain the Bastard, fathered on his seneschal's wife.

Sir Ywain was the son of King Uriens and Mogan le Fay. Ywain appeared in all the cyclical accounts such as the Vulgate Cycle, the Post-Vulgate Cycle, and Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur. His importance was indicated by his close friendship with Gawain and he was one of the last knights to die before Arthur.

Sir Ywain the Bastard was also son of King Uriens the wife of his seneschal. He is often confused with his half brother Sir Ywain, after whom he was named. He was considered a hearty and sensible warrior. His death came at the hands of his cousin Gawain, ironically during the Quest for the Holy Grail. The two met, disguised by their armor, and decide to joust. Ywain was mortally wounded and it was not until Gawain takes him to a hermitage for his last rites that he realized he has killed his own cousin.

Next up the final 6 Knights.
Paladin Series Summary
For ease of reading, I will provide the links to all the blogs in the series:
Part 1A

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Paladin (Part 3C) – The Knights of the Round Table (con’t)

Continuing on with the listing of the important Knights of the Round Table.

Sir Galehaut (Lord of the Distant Isles) was an ambitious, towering figure of a man, and he emerged to challenge King Arthur for possession of his entire realm. In the ensuing battles it was clear that Galehaut’s forces were more than capable of defeating Arthur’s. However, Galehaut’s respect for the King’s Champion, Lancelot, was so great that he renounced certain victory and surrendered to Arthur. Lancelot accepted his companionship and the two become very close there after.

Sir Gareth was the son of Lot and of Morgause, King Arthur's sister, as well as brother to Gawain, Gaheris, Agravaine, and half brother of Mordred. Gareth came to Camelot in disguise as a kitchen boy and was set to work by Kay. Gareth was the knight that went to the aid of Lynette, to save her sister Lyonesse, from the Red Knight of the Red Lands. Along the way Gareth defeated numerous knights including Sir Perarde (the Black Knight), Sir Pertolope, (the Green Knight), Sir Perymones (the Puce Knight), and Sir Persaunte (the Indigo Knight). When he finally arrived at Lyonesse's castle, he defeated the Red Knight (Sir Ironside) and married Lyonesse. Unfortunately, he was one of the knights killed by Lancelot during the rescue of Guinevere.

Sir Gawain was King Arthur's nephew (son of Arthur's sister Morgause ) and was one of a select number of Round Table members to be referred to as the greatest knight. Gawain is often portrayed as a formidable but brash warrior, fiercely loyal to his king and family. On the Grail quest, his intentions were always the purest, but he was unable to use God's grace to see the error in his ways. Gawain was unsuccessful in his attempt to stop his brothers Agravaine and Mordred from plotting to destroy Lancelot and Guinevere. When Guinevere was sentenced to burn at the stake and Arthur deployed his best knights to guard the execution, but Gawain refused to take part in the deed even though his brothers would be there. But when Lancelot returned to rescue Guinevere, a battle between Lancelot's and Arthur's knights ensues and Gawain's brothers, except for Mordred, were killed. This turned his friendship with Lancelot into hatred, and his desire for vengeance caused him to draw Arthur into a war with Lancelot in France. In the king's absence, Mordred usurped the throne, and forced the Britons to return to Britain. Gawain was mortally wounded in battle against Mordred's armies, and wrote to Lancelot apologizing for his actions and asking for him to come to Britain to help defeat Mordred.

Sir Gingalain was the son of Sir Gawain by Blanchemal, a fay that Gawain met in the forest. Ginalain realized his desire to be a knight after he found the body of a knight in the forest and traveled to King Arthur's court to be knighted as Sir Le Bel Inconnu. After he was knighted, a messenger arrived requesting aid for the Princess of Wales, Blonde Esmerée, who was under siege by the powerful enchanter, Mabon. Gingalain rescued the Welsh princess and out of gratitude, she offered herself to him in marriage. Prior to completing this rescue mission, Gingalain encounted several adventures, among which was his defeat of Malgier le Gris, an unwanted suitor who wished to wed Pucelle aux Blanches Mains, mistress of Ile d'Or, and in certain versions, an enchantress. Pucelleis was grateful for the rescue and in gratitude, she offered Gingalain marriage along with her lands. They planned to marry, but Gingalain left to complete his rescue of the Welsh princess. He would later return to Pucelle to apologise for his abrupt departure. Following this, King Arthur held a tournament with the intent to lure Gingalain back to court, and to steer his decision of marriage more towards the newly crowned Queen of Wales. In joining the tournament, Gingalain would have to forfeit his love for Pucelle and never see her again. He decided to join the tournament regardless of the sacrifices he would have to make. Pucelle aided him with her powers, and she transported him out of her castle with a horse, a squire, and armour in order to join the tournament. Gingalain, under social pressure, eventually married the Welsh queen and later discovered that Gawain was his father.

Sir Griflet was cousin to Sir Lucan and Sir Bedivere, and he was one of Arthur's chief advisors throughout his career. In Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, Griflet was one of the knights killed defending Guinevere's execution when the queen was rescued by Lancelot.

King Hoel was a legendary king of Brittany and one of the oldest characters associated with Arthurian legend. He was the son of King Budic of Brittany, and served as one of King Arthur's vassals and loyal allies. In one account, Hoel was Arthur's staunch ally, a Breton kinsman who came to his aid in Britain to help quell the revolts that arose after the young king's coronation. He proved himself to be a capable general and a respected ruler. When Arthur returned to Britain to fight his traitorous nephew Mordred, he left Hoel in charge of Gaul.

Sir Kay was Sir Ector's son and King Arthur's foster brother. He would later become seneschal to King Arthur. In most accounts, Kay's father Ector adopted the infant Arthur after Merlin took him away from his birth parents, Uther and Igraine. Ector raised him and Kay as brothers, but Arthur's parentage was revealed when he drew Excalibur at a tournament in London. Arthur, serving as squire to the newly-knighted Kay, loses his brother's sword and used Excalibur to replace it. Kay showed his characteristic opportunism when he tried to claim it was he that pulled the sword from the stone, making him the true King of the Britons, but he he later admited it was Arthur.

Sir Lamorak was the son of King Pellinore, who was one of King Arthur's earliest allies. Lamorak was known for his strength and fiery temper, and fought off thirty knights on at least two occasions. Some sources claim that Lamorak was Arthur's third best knight, behind only Lancelot and Tristan. Lamorak’s doom is the affair with Lot's widow Morgause. Gaheris caught the lovers together while Morgause was staying at Gawain's estate, and he promptly beheaded her, but lets the unarmed Lamorak go. Eventually, Lomarak was ambushed by Gawain, Gaheris, Agravaine, and Mordred, with Mordred delivering the killing blow.

King Leodegrance was Guinevere's father and keeper of the Round Table. Leodegrance had served Uther Pendragon, King Arthur's biological father and regnal predecessor, and was entrusted with the keeping of the Round Table at Uther's death. When Guinevere married Arthur, Leodegrance gave the young king the table as a wedding present.

Sir Lionel was the younger son of King Bors of Gaunnes (or Gaul) and brother of Bors the Younger. While travelling with Lancelot as a young man, Lionel was captured by the rogue knight Turquine, who whipped him with briars and threw him in the dungeon. The scenario repeated itself later while he was on the Quest for the Holy Grail, where he proved very unworthy of the blessed object by trying to kill his brother for not rescuing him. Bors had seen Lionel getting beaten and led away, but had to make a decision to save either him or a young girl being dragged in the opposite direction. He saved the girl, and thought that Lionel was dead. But Lionel escaped, and attacked Bors the next time they met. Bors proveed himself worthy of the Grail when he refused to fight back, and Lionel killed a religious hermit and Sir Calogrenant, when they tried to protect Bors from his wrath. Before he can strike his brother, however, God intervened and immobilized him. Lionel and the rest of his family follow Lancelot into exile when the affair with Guinevere was exposed. Lionel participated in the battles against Arthur's forces, and became King of Gaunnes.

Sir Lucan was the son of Duke Corneus, brother to Sir Bedivere and cousin to Sir Griflet. He was also the butler of King Arthur, and was supposed to have been in charge of the royal court, along with Bedivere the Marshal and Kay the Seneschal. In most accounts of Arthur's death, Lucan is one of the last knights at the king's side at the Battle of Camlann, and he was usually the last to die after he helps Arthur off the battlefield after he battles Mordred.

Sir Maleagant was a villain from Arthurian legend, and his infamy came as the abductor of Guinevere.
Paladin Series Summary
For ease of reading, I will provide the links to all the blogs in the series:

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!

To all my readers, have a wonderful Merry Christmas!

Today & tomorrow will be a bit slow due to the Christmas activities. I hope to resume blogging again on Friday!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Paladin (Part 3B) – The Knights of the Round Table

In my last blog, I gave an overview of the Arthurian myths, and what I thought were the more important elements of the story. In today’s installment, I am just going to list out the more important knights and try to give a statement or two about each of them. There are probably hundreds of knights that I could list out, but I am going to try to keep the list centered on the more important (famous) knights. Originally, I had visions of doing this in one blog, but that vision quickly faded, as I started to review the list. In order to keep the blog readable, I will review the knights in several installments (probably 3-4 entries), saving the most important knights for last.

Sir Aglovale de Galis was the eldest legitimate son of King Pellinore. Aglovale was not the impressive knight that his brothers Lamorak and Percival were, but his valor was unquestioned. It was Aglovale who first brought Percival to Camelot to be knighted. In the Vulgate Cycle, Aglovale died accidentally at Gawain's hand during the Quest for the Holy Grail, but in Malory he and his brother Tor were among the knights charged with defending the execution of Guinevere, and they were killed when Lancelot and his men rescued the queen.

Sir Agravain (Agravaine) was a nephew of King Arthur and was the second son of King Lot and Morgause, full brother to Gawain, Gaheris and Gareth. His half-brother and most frequent associate in the Post-Vulgate Cycle was Mordred. His mother's parents were Gorlois and Igraine; she was a sister of Elaine and Morgan le Fay and maternal half-sister to King Arthur. Agravain was described as handsome and a capable fighter, but unlike his heroic brothers Gawain and Gareth, Agravain had a reputation for malice and villainy. It was Agravain and Morded that exposed Guinevere's affair with Lancelot.

Sir Bedivere was the Knight who returned Excalibur to the Lady of the Lake. He served as King Arthur's marshal and was frequently associated with Sir Kay. Bedivere, was one of the earliest characters associated with King Arthur.

King Bors was the uncle of Lancelot and Hector de Maris. He married Evaine, the sister of Ban's wife Elaine, and had two sons, Bors the Younger and Lionel. Ban and Bors became Arthur's early allies in his fight against the rebel kings in Britain, and he vowed to help them against their enemy Claudas, who had been threatening their lands.

Sir Bors the Younger was always portrayed as one of the Round Table's finest knights, but his real glory came on the Grail Quest, where he proved himself worthy enough to witness the Grail's mysteries along with Lancelot, Galahad, and Percival.

Sir Caradoc was a member of the Round Table during Uther Pendragon's time, but he joined other kings in rebellion when Arthur took the throne. He was eventually reconciled with the young king and became one of his most trusted allies.

Sir Calogrenant was an excellent knight, but he died during the Grail Quest while trying to keep Sir Lionel from killing his own brother, Bors.

Sir Constantine was the son of Cador of Cornwall. Constantine fought in the Battle of Camlann and was the one that Arthur passed the crown to before being taken to Avalon.

Sir Dagonet was the court jester, and a knight. In some versions of the story he was merely a buffoon who has been knighted as a joke, while in others he was actually a valiant warrior.

Sir Daniel was a formidable knight that Arthur welcomes to the Round Table after he defeated several knights including Percival and Gawain.

Sir Dinadan was a close friend of Tristan, and was known for his good humor and joking nature. Unlike most other the knights in Arthurian mythos, Dinadan prefered to avoid fights and considered courtly love a waste of time, though he was a brave fighter when he needed to be.

Sir Ector was Arthur's foster father and Sir Kay's father. When Arthur pulled Excalibur from the stone he and Sir Kay were the first to swear loyalty to the new king.

Sir Hector de Maris was the half-brother of Lancelot and the natural son of King Ban of Benwick and the Lady de Maris. Hector participated in the Grail Quest, but he was one of the many knights who proved unworthy of achieving the Grail. When Lancelot was caught in his affair with Guinevere, Hector stood by his brother and left the court with him. He participated in the battle to rescue the queen at her execution, and in the defense of the Joyous Guard. He joined Lancelot in France when they were expelled from Arthur's kingdom, and he helped defeat the army led by Mordred's sons after the Battle of Camlann.

Sir Elyan was the son of Sir Bors. He was an excellent knight and he helped his cousin Lancelot rescue Guinevere after their affair was exposed, and joined him in exile.

Sir Gaheris was the son of Morgause and King Lot. In Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, Gaheris was squire to his elder brother Gawain before being knighted himself, and helped moderate Gawain's fiery temper. He participated in the murders of King Pellinore (his father's slayer), Morgause (his mother) and Sir Lamorak (his mother’s lover). In Malory’s version, Lamorak was greater than any knight, with the exception of Lancelot and Tristram, and this act of revenge was deemed cowardly and a blot on the Orkney brothers' honor. When Arthur discovered that Gaheris was Morgause' slayer, Gaheris was ejected from court. Gaheris was killed accidentally by Lancelot during the rescue of Guinevere. Gawain's fury at this outrage was terrible and the resulting feud destroyed the Round Table. Gaheris was often little more than a supporting character to his brothers Gawain and Gareth, with the murder of Morgause being the only exception, leading modern authors, such as T. H. White, to give the act to Agravain instead. It is possible that Gaheris and Gareth were the same character in origin, as their names the in French sources, are easy to confuse and adventures ascribed to the brothers are often interchangeable.
Paladin Series Summary
For ease of reading, I will provide the links to all the blogs in the series:
Part 1A

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Paladin (Part 3A) – Arthurian Mythos

I initially started this series with Roland and Charlemagne, so it seems only fitting that I also include commentary on the Arthurian Mythos. While the myths are a bit different, there are some common themes which I will build upon in part 4 of my blog. I am not going to dig into the actual history King Arthur, but rather I am going to stick to the literary history, as I think this will be more appropriate to the general discussion on the Paladin.

Prior to the publish of Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur in 1485, the themes and stories varied from text to text, with no formal tie between any of them. With Le Morte d'Arthur, a common canon was established. Below is the high level summary with the different sections called out. I am not going to go through each of them at this point, although that could be a topic for a future blog.
Summary - Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur

Book I: "From the Marriage of King Uther unto King Arthur that Reigned After Him and Did Many Battles" (Caxton I-IV)
Book II: "The Noble Tale Between King Arthur and Lucius the Emperor of Rome" (Caxton V)
Book III: "The Noble Tale of Sir Launcelot Du Lac" (Caxton VI)
Book IV: "The Tale of Sir Gareth of Orkney" (Caxton VII)
Book V: "The First and the Second Book of Sir Tristrams de Lione" (Caxton VIII-XII)
Book VI: “The Noble Tale of the Sangreal” (Caxton XIII-XVII)
Book VII: "Sir Launcelot and Queen Gwenyvere" (Caxton XVIII-XIX)
Book VIII: "The Death of Arthur" (Caxton XX-XXI)

Without a doubt, the unification of theme and stories was the biggest contribution of Malory. After this work was published, and number of other works (I will include films, novels, short stories, and poems in this definition) followed, building on the framework that Malory had established. I think it is fair to say that some are better than others and that some hold to the central myth better than others. I suspect that everyone has their favorite post- Le Morte d'Arthur, work that they are passionate about. I will not even attempt to list all the works that followed, as that could fill a small library. Once and Future King is one of my favorite novel versions, and Excalibur is by far my favorite film version. I will also say that I hold a special place for the musical Camelot, and I am a fan of both Richard Burton and Richard Harris. As an aside, I saw the Richard Harris version live and met him afterwards as he was getting into limo, but that is another story altogether.

In my opinion, any follow on work to Malory, that attempts to tackle the Arthurian Mythos, needs to address the following:

1. The birth of Arthur and the legitimacy of his blood line
2. Merlin
3. Excalibur
4. Lancelot & Guinevere
5. The Quest for the Holy Grail
6. Sir Tristan and the Belle Isolde
7. Christianity and Pagan religions (the rise of one and the fall of the other)
8. Mordred and the downfall of Arthur
9. Camelot & the Round Table of Knights*

There are perhaps other tales that one could quibble that should be included, but I think these are the main stories that make up the Arthurian mythos.

No discussion of this topic would be complete without some commentary on the themes of overall story. While each sub-story has its own theme, I would sum up the story as the legitimacy of medieval government and noble embodiment of chivalric codes, while lofty in proposition, will always end poorly with the failure of man to live up to the standard. I realize that there is a lot ties up in that statement, and it could lead to a fair amount of discussion, but I think that captures the essence of the story.

As a final thought, the inscription on Arthur’s gave is: HIC JACET ARTURUS REX QUONDAM REXQUE FUTURUS, or "Here lies Arthur, the Once and Future King," provides considerable food for thought. Is it a message of hope, or a statement on the inevitable downfall of medieval institutions? As the eternal optimist, I do think there is a bit of hope in the statement, but I do recognize the themes contained within, are rather pessimistic in nature.
*Late Edit
I wrote this blog in the morning, and I found that Brian over at The Silver Key, wrote up a very similar post to mine earlier in the year (May). In his blog entry, he also has a list that is very similar to my list. After reading through his blog, I added Camelot & the Round Table of Knights as I agree with him, and I do think this is fundamental to the story. It is interesting to compare our write ups, which is why I have added this paragraph to the end of mine. His thoughts on the topic are very similar to my own, and he also likes both Excalibur and The Once and Future King.

Next up

This blog served as a bit of background and set up for my next installment, which will center on the Knights of the Round Table.
Paladin Series Summary
For ease of reading, I will provide the links to all the blogs in the series:

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Review: A3 Assault on the Aerie of the Slave Lords

I am in the process of reviewing all four of the Slave Lord modules, and this represents installment #3. These have special nostalgic value to me as there were the first modules I bought, so I am starting with these four modules first before going to other products.


This was the third in a four part Gencon tournament that was held around 1980. The results of this were published in the form of the modules A1-A4. The final published module included the tournament version plus some additional material to give it a bit more content than just a tournament module. I included the basic outline in my first review, so I will not repeat it here, but suffice to say that this module follows the same basic outline as the first module. The links to the first two reviews can be found here (A1) and here (A2).


The module is very similar to the basic layout of the time, with a dungeon level, followed by a city/urban environment, concluding with the final dungeon. The main maps are printed on the inner covers with a 28 page book that includes the encounters write ups, a new monster, and some pregenerated characters that were used in the tournament. The module also includes a players’ handout of Suderham, along with a tactical map reference page, which has four tactical encounter details. The back cover of the booklet includes two maps of the Isle of the Slave Lords – an overhead view and a cross section cutaway view. The new monster included was the storoper, which would see a full write up in the later MM2 that was produced several years later. The module includes the relatively new feature of the read aloud box text. When looking at the layout of this module in relation to the others at the time, I would say that it is no better or worse than the others, and it is very similar in quality to the others in the series.


Compared to the other modules in the series, this one has quite a bit of artwork. The overall quality this module is the same as the others in the series, and is very representative of the artwork of the period.


Following the trail of the Slave Lords leads the characters into the Drachensgrab Mountains searching for the hidden city of the Slave Lords. The characters find a secret cave complex that leads to the Isle of the Slave Lords. On the isle, the characters enter the city of Suderham and find a secret sewer entrance, which is believed to lead to the Slaver’s stronghold. Unfortunately for the characters, the only thing that awaits them is capture, and the end game will be played out in A4 – In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords.

Key features

There are a couple of features that this module provides that I am going to list out below:

1. The fully mapped out city of Sunderham, complete with a players’ handout map. I think this is the biggest feature of the adventure. There are 68 encounter areas, which the module provides a basic outline for.

2. The mapped out Isle of the Slave Lords.

Final notes

This is an interesting module that serves as the transition from a traditional dungeon crawl to the non-traditional dungeon crawl that will be found in A4. Even though this is not the biggest module in terms of page count, this module does cover quite a bit of territory. The module includes two single level dungeons, but the primary adventure area is the city of Suderham, which in my opinion, the city is the most interesting aspect of the module. All the city areas are listed out, but there is plenty of room for the DM to add to. I found the dungeon levels to be mediocre. They are both small at nine major encounters in each. While a couple of the encounters are interesting, overall they are nothing to write home about. The minotaur in the sewer complex is probably my favorite encounter of the bunch. There are two opportunities that I think the authors missed out on. For the first one, I am a bit disappointed that the authors did not provide a map and a write up for Drachen Keep that is found on the isle. The module is written so that it forces the characters through the city and into the sewers, so while the keep is not a major element of the module, it would have been more interesting to include it in the write-up. I also wish that the authors included a strategic map of the Drachengrab Mountains, which would have been easy to include a one page copy from the Greyhawk map. While there exists the possibility for a substantial amount of overland adventuring, this will need to be fleshed out by the DM.

I do need to mention that the entire point of the module is for the characters to be captured at the end of the module, in order to start up the next module. This form of railroading is sure to incite the ire of players as they may feel that this is a very heavy handed plot device, and I am inclined to agree. The end definitely has a no win feel to it, which the characters may not appreciate. I think if a DM is running this, some forewarning is required, so that expectations are set ahead of time. This could prevent disappointment or worse at the end of the module.

Overall, I still give the module a thumbs up, but it is not nearly as strong as the first two.

Rating: 3 Dragons (on a scale of 5)

Misc stuff

As some of my readers might know, I just arrived back to the States from China on Thursday evening, which is why my blogs have been a bit slow these past couple of days. I will be in the US for the holidays, and then back to China for another 6 months, when I return back to the US for good. My LiveJournal blog has a number of entries on the craziness that is in China.

Last night I had a chance to catch up with my old gaming group. They are using the Pathfinder Beta rules to play through the Rise of the Runelords AP. They have finished off the first module and are just starting the second module. Since not everyone could make it to yesterday's session, it turned into a small party, complete with the obligatory white elephant gift exchange. After that we played two rounds of Fluxx which is a fun little card game. The first round was with the Monty Python deck, and the second was with the zombie deck. I found the Monty Python deck to be outrageously funny. By the time I hit the rack, it was about 2am, and my daughter was up at 5am ready to go. Kids with jet lag can be a bit brutal.

For this weekend, I will continue my with my weekend reviews on the Slave Lord series and post A3 today. Tomorrow, I will return to the Paladin blog, which I hope to finish this week.
As a final note, I am going back through my blog and updating the labels and the links in order to provide a bit more organization to my blog.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Paladin (Part 2B): Historical Knightly Orders

"[A Templar Knight] is truly a fearless knight, and secure on every side, for his soul is protected by the armor of faith, just as his body is protected by the armor of steel. He is thus doubly-armed, and need fear neither demons nor men."
Bernard de Clairvaux, c. 1135, De Laude Novae Militae—In Praise of the New Knighthood
This is an amazing quote, and I will be referencing it again, as I think this is the embodiment of the paladin.

Before jumping across the pond to hit on the Arthurian mythos, I thought I would spend a moment or two to summarized several historical knightly orders. I picked these three for several reasons:

1. They are perhaps the most well known of the knightly orders
2. They existed at about the same time, and there were interactions between the three groups
3. They were endorsed/sponsered by the church, which I find very interesting, and I will expand upon that in the next sections
4. They are perhaps the closest real world example of the paladin concept .
I. The Knights Templar

The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon (Latin: Pauperes commilitones Christi Templique Solomonici), commonly known as the Knights Templar or the Order of the Temple (French: Ordre du Temple or Templiers), were among the most famous of the Western Christian military orders. The organization existed for approximately two centuries in the Middle Ages, founded in the aftermath of the First Crusade of 1096, with its original purpose to ensure the safety of the many Christians who made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem after its conquest.

Officially endorsed by the Roman Catholic Church around 1129, the Order became a favored charity throughout Christendom, and grew rapidly in membership and power. Templar knights, in their distinctive white mantles with red cross, were among the most skilled fighting units of the Crusades. Non-combatant members of the Order managed a large economic infrastructure throughout Christendom, innovating financial techniques that were an early form of banking, and building many fortifications across Europe and the Holy Land.

The Templars' existence was tied closely to the Crusades; when the Holy Land was lost, support for the Order faded. Rumors about the Templars' secret initiation ceremony created mistrust, and King Philip IV of France, deeply in debt to the Order, took advantage of the situation. In 1307, many of the Order's members in France were arrested, tortured into giving false confessions, and then burned at the stake. Under pressure from King Philip, Pope Clement V disbanded the Order in 1312. The abrupt disappearance of a major part of the European infrastructure gave rise to speculation and legends, which have kept the "Templar" name alive into the modern day.
Coat of Arms
The Templars were famous for their white surcoats with a red cross.

II. Knights Hospitaller

The Knights Hospitaller were Knights of the Order of Saint John the Hospitaller who were also known by such names as Knights of Rhodes, Knights of Malta, Cavaliers of Malta, and Order of St John of Jerusalem. The Hospitallers grew out of a brotherhood for the care of sick pilgrims in a hospital at Jerusalem following the First Crusade in 1100 AD.

The History of the Knights Hospitaller can be dated back 600AD when Abbot Probus was commissioned by Pope Gregory the Great to build a hospital in Jerusalem to treat and care for Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land. In 1005 Jerusalem was taken by the Turcomans, who came from the kingdom of ancient Persia. 3000 Christians were massacred and the remaining Christians were treated so badly that throughout Christendom people were stirred to fight in crusades. The hospital was destroyed during the battle for Jerusalem. In 1023, merchants from Italy were given permission by the Caliph Ali az-Zahir of Egypt to rebuild the hospital in Jerusalem. The new hospital was built and served by the monks of the Benedictine Order during the First Crusade. The monastic hospitaller order was founded following the First Crusade by the Blessed Gerard, Gerard acquired territory and revenues for his order throughout the Kingdom of Jerusalem and in Europe. His successor was Raymond du Puy de Provence who established a new Hospital near to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

Many knights joined the organization, which soon proved to be very useful in defending the Holy Land. The Hospitallers orders built many castles in Syria, the remains of which still impress the beholder. They established numerous branches in Europe and, by presents and legacies, acquired vast wealth. These orders of religious knights, much like the Vatican today, ended up having their own states, the Hospitallers the island of Rhodes then later Malta. The Knights Templar order was disbanded in the fourteenth century, but the Hospitalers continued to fight valiantly against the Turks long after the close of the crusading movement but can be said to have come to an end following their ejection from Malta by Napoleon.
Coat of Arms

The Hospitaller Knights were distinguished by wearing a black surcoat with a white cross.

III. Teutonic Knights

The Order of the Teutonic Knights of St. Mary's Hospital in Jerusalem (Latin: Ordo domus Sancte Marie Theutonicorum Ierosolimitanorum), or for short the Teutonic Order is a German Roman Catholic religious order. It was formed to aid Christians on their pilgrimages to the Holy Land and to establish hospitals to care for the sick and injured. Its members have commonly been known as the Teutonic Knights, since they were also called on to aid as a crusading military order during the Middle Ages and much of the modern era. The membership was always small and whenever the need arose, volunteers or mercenaries arrived for military duties.

Formed at the end of the 12th century in Acre, Palestine, the medieval Order played an important role in Outremer, controlling the port tolls of Acre. After Christian forces were defeated in the Middle East, the Order moved to Transylvania in 1211 to help defend Hungary against the Cumans. They were expelled in 1225 after allegedly attempting to place themselves under Papal instead of Hungarian sovereignty.

Following the Golden Bull of Rimini, Grand Master Hermann von Salza and Duke Konrad I of Masovia made a joint invasion of Prussia in 1230 to Christianise the Baltic Old Prussians in the Northern Crusades. The knights were then accused of cheating Polish rule and creating an independent monastic state. The Order lost its main purpose in Europe, when the neighbouring country of Lithuania accepted Christianity. Once established in Prussia, the Order became involved in campaigns against its Christian neighbours, the Kingdom of Poland, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and the Novgorod Republic (after assimilating the Livonian Order). The Teutonic Knights had a strong economic base, hired mercenaries from throughout Europe to augment their feudal levies, and became a naval power in the Baltic Sea.

In 1410, a Polish-Lithuanian army decisively defeated the Order and broke its military power at the Battle of Grunwald (Tannenberg). In 1515 at Vienna the emperor made marriage- inheritance arrangements with Sigismund I of Poland-Lithuania. Thereafter the empire failed to aid the Teutonic Order Grand Master against the same. Thus the Order steadily declined until 1525 when Grand Master Albert of Brandenburg resigned and converted to Lutheranism to become Duke of Prussia. The Grand Masters continued to preside over the Order's considerable holdings in Germany and elsewhere until 1809, when Napoleon Bonaparte ordered its dissolution and the Order lost its last secular holdings. The Order continued to exist, headed by Habsburgs through World War I and was outlawed by Hitler in 1938. After 1945 they resumed and today operate primarily with charitable aims in Central Europe.

Coat of Arms
The Knights wore white surcoats with a black cross. A cross pattée was sometimes used as their coat of arms; this image was later used for military decoration and insignia by the Kingdom of Prussia and Germany as the Iron Cross.
Paladin Series Summary
For ease of reading, I will provide the links to all the blogs in the series:

The Paladin (Part 2A): A Historical Review

I am going to take a step back from the first part of my paladin review and hit on some of the literary history. I probably should have started with this entry and then move over to The Song of Roland. In any event, I will be following up this section with the Arthur mythos and contrast it with the Roland/Charlemagne mythos. I think it is interesting to compare and contrast the Matters of France with the Matters of Britain, and I will take this one step further to apply it to the D&D character class.

Original usage

The paladins, sometimes known as the Twelve Peers, were the foremost warriors of Charlemagne's court, according to the literary cycle known as the Matter of France. They first appear in the early chansons de geste such as The Song of Roland, where they represent Christian martial valor against the Saracen hordes. The paladins and their associated exploits are largely later fictional inventions, with some basis on historical Frankish retainers of the 8th century and events such as the Battle of Roncevaux Pass and the confrontation of the Frankish Empire with Umayyad Al-Andalus in the Marca Hispanica.

The Twelve Peers

The Twelve Peers were Charlemagne's elite paladins or knights - the corps d'elite. The Twelve Peers were sort of like Arthur's Knights of the Round Table. According to all tales, Roland was the leader of the Twelve Peers. Roland was the Charlemagne's best paladin, as well as the king's nephew. Each paladin was a formidable warrior. And each peer has a companion to fight alongside him. Roland had Oliver as his companion. So in the time of battle they fought in pair. It is not so much to defend each back, as to kill as many of their enemies, matching the prowess of their companion. For a knight or paladin, courage and glory are paramount to them. The Twelve Peers commanded Charlemagne's first division in the army. They were the crack troop and advance-guard, meant to spearhead in any attack of a battle. This division is numbered twenty-thousand strongs. However, in the Chanson de Roland, through the ill-advice treachery of Roland's stepfather, Ganelon, the division of the Twelve Peers were to serve as the rearguard of Charlemagne's army at Rencesvals, where they were destroyed by numerically superior Saracen army.


The earliest recorded instance of the word paladin in the English language dates to 1592, in a poem by Samuel Daniel. It entered English through the Middle French word palladin or paladin, which itself derived from the Italian paladino. All these words for Charlemagne's Twelve Peers likely descend ultimately from the Latin palatinus through the Old French palatin. The Latin palatinus referred to an official of the Roman Emperor connected to the imperial palace on the Palatine Hill; over time this word came to refer to other high-level officials in the imperial and royal courts. The word palatine, appearing in various European countries in the medieval and modern eras, has the same derivation.
By the 13th century words referring specifically to Charlemagne's peers began appearing in European languages; the earliest is the Italian paladino. Modern French has paladin, Spanish has paladín or paladino (reflecting alternate derivations from the French and Italian), while German has paladin. By extension "paladin" has come to refer to any chivalrous hero such as King Arthur's Knights of the Round Table.


In their earliest appearances the paladins were not the companions of Charlemagne, but of his vassal Roland. This Roland is based on the historical figure Hroudland, who is mentioned by Charlemagne's biographer Einhard as a Lord of the Breton March who died in the Battle of Roncevaux Pass; nothing else of him is known. By the end of the 12th century the paladins were increasingly thought of as an association reporting to the king after the fashion of the Round Table; the earliest romance to portray them in this way is Fierabras, dating to around 1170. The names of the twelve paladins vary from romance to romance, and often more than twelve are named. The number is popular because it resembles the Twelve Apostles – giving the king the position of Jesus not out of arrogance, but as a reminder of his holy mission as ruler. All Carolingian paladin stories feature paladins by the names of Roland and Oliver; other recurring characters are Archbishop Turpin, Ogier the Dane, Huon of Bordeaux, Fierabras, Renaud de Montauban, and Ganelon. Tales of the paladins once rivaled the stories of King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table in popularity.

The paladins figure into many chansons de geste and other tales associated with Charlemagne. In the above-mentioned Fierabras, they retrieve holy relics stolen from Rome by the Saracen giant Fierabras and convert him to Christianity and recruit him to their ranks. In Le Pèlerinage de Charlemagne they accompany their king on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and Constantinople in order to outdo the Byzantine Emperor Hugo. However, their greatest moments come in The Song of Roland, which depicts their defense of Charlemagne's army against the Saracens of Al-Andalus, and their deaths at the Battle of Roncevaux Pass due to the treachery of Ganelon. The Song of Roland lists the twelve paladins as Roland, Charlemagne's nephew and the chief hero among the paladins; Oliver, Roland's friend and strongest ally; and Gérin, Gérier, Bérengier, Otton, Samson, Engelier, Ivon, Ivoire, Anséis, Girard. Other characters elsewhere considered one of the twelve appear in the Song, such as Archbishop Turpin and Ogier the Dane.

The Italian Renaissance authors Matteo Maria Boiardo and Ludovico Ariosto, whose works were once as widely read and respected as William Shakespeare's, contributed prominently to the literary and poetical reworking of the tales of the epic deeds of the paladins. Their works, Orlando Innamorato and Orlando Furioso, send the paladins on even more fantastic adventures than their predecessors. They list the paladins quite differently, but keep the number at twelve. Boiardo and Ariosto's paladins are Orlando, Charlemagne's nephew and the chief hero among the paladins; Oliver, the rival to Roland; Ferumbras (Fierabras), the Saracen who became a Christian; Astolpho, descended from Charles Martel and cousin to Orlando; Ogier the Dane; Ganelon the betrayer, who appears in Canto XXXII of the Inferno by Dante Alighieri; Rinaldo (Renaud de Montauban); Malagigi (Maugris), a sorcerer; Florismart, a friend to Orlando; Guy de Bourgogne; Namo (Naimon or Namus), Duke of Bavaria, Charlemagne's trusted adviser; and Otuel, another converted Saracen.

The Celtic revival of the 1880s benefited the Arthurian material and encouraged its reworking and recirculation. No such aura of latter-day romance could assist the Charlemagne material, which remained strongly Christian and triumphant in its presentation in contrast to the melancholy of the ultimate failure of the Arthurian heroes, and their ambiguous position at the transition from Celtic paganism to Christianity. As a result, contemporary readers know Arthur and his Camelot well while hearing little of the paladins of Charlemagne, who once enjoyed similar renown.
Paladin Series Summary
For ease of reading, I will provide the links to all the blogs in the series:

The Paladin - Interlude #1

I must make something of a confession on this. My original idea was really to post a rant about how paladins are perceived, how they are played, and then offer my own opinions on this. However, this little rant exploded into a full blown analysis of the class, along with historical and literary commentary. Clearly I can not even begin to do this in 1 blog, let alone 2 or 3. At the moment, I am thinking that this analysis will be divided up into 4 sections (which will probably expand, but this is the current plan):

1. Song of Roland
2. Historical Review
3. Arthurian Mythos
4. Application in game play

As one can tell, not only do I like the class concept of the paladin, but I am very intrigued by the history involved. The paladin carries with it a colorful history and literary tradition, which I think separates it from the other classes. I think this is one of the reasons that initially attracted me to D&D. In a sense, D&D allowed me to go back to an earlier darker time, when valiant knights once walked the lands defeating dragons and rescuing fair maidens. The paladin class is an embodiment of this ideal. I know this may sound a bit corny, but something in this really resonates with me. It is as if D&D has its own call to adventure and asks us to create our own epic, not just read about someone else's adventure. I think this is the key strength of the game.

It has been said that heroes come in many shapes and sizes, but my favorite ones wear shiny plate armour with a colorful coat of arms!
Paladin Series Summary
For ease of reading, I will provide the links to all the blogs in the series:
Part 1A