This article originally appeared in Pyramid #16
Published by White Rose Publishing
Designed by Lisa J. Steele
So you want to run a medieval campaign. A bit more realistic that usual; less of the elves and high magic, more of the starving peasants and lordly plotting. Maybe you're starting a GURPS Middle Ages campaign. Or you want a really solid background for your Ars Magica game. Or maybe you're designing your own fantasy world, and you'd like a bit more information on how the ordinary people earned a living.
Well, there are hundreds of books out there Ð you can find them on the shelves of any decent library. But there are so many of them, and sifting out what's useful for a role-playing game is a big job. Thankfully, someone's done if for you.
Medieval France is a 286-page sourcebook on (you guessed it) Medieval France. Lisa J. Steele has drawn together information from a vast number of sources to create probably the most complete picture of a medieval kingdom ever produced for role-playing purposes. The book begins with Geography, describing the land and how people got about in it.
Then follows a history of France, from the fall of the Roman Empire up to 1500 A.D.; who was plotting against who, why the peasants were revolting, who was organizing crusades, and why. There's a wealth of heroes and villains here (mostly villains, it must be said!).
Society comes next, with a detailed description of the workings of the feudal society, from the poorest of peasants to the royal household. It describes the lives of ordinary adventuring folk. For instance, the river traders used to makes their own boats, and float with the current down the river, trading on the way. When they got to the sea, they broke up their boats and sold the wood, then walked back upstream, spending their profits. There are tales of students looting shops and getting killed by a lynch mob; gruesome stories of the persecution of heretics; you name it, it's there. The details of everyday life in this chapter are particularly interesting - what people ate, what they wore, how they built their houses (and cathedrals!). Medieval warfare is described, as well as what a tournament was really like. There's a section on French Jews, and a section on Women in Medieval France, for those women feeling that there would be little adventurous for them to do in a realistic campaign (there's lots!).
After that is a section on the Legends of Medieval France, from the Charlemagne Cycle to local legends of the lost city of Is and a knight who found out his wife was a werewolf.
The largest section of the book, and the one most useful and normally least accessible to a GM, is the Locations section. France is divided into regions, each with a map, and an overview of the region (climate, politics, rulers, etc.) followed by a listing of all the towns and cities in the area and anything noteworthy about them. Major towns and cities have maps, too. Entries range from small villages (a couple of lines) to Paris, which has seven pages to itself, with descriptions of the different quarters, what life was like there, and a double-page map. This is the sort of information which normally takes three or four books and days of research just to find out about one town. Here there are nearly 200 pages, ready and waiting for the eager GM. (Fans of HarnWorld will love it!)
The book finishes off with some useful snippets; a Timeline, a guide to French pronunciation, lists of Medieval French personal names, weights and measures, an extensive bibliography, and a comprehensive index. The book has the detail and accuracy of a historical text, but is written from the perspective and point of view of a roleplayer, with a view to inspiring adventures.
A word of warning - if you're expecting a glossily packaged product, you'll be disappointed. The book is simply bound in colored card (though the bird's-eye-view drawing of medieval Paris is rather striking). The interior illustrations (mostly of historical buildings) are adequate, but not always very well reproduced. Where this book wins is on the quality of the writing, the depth of coverage of the subject, and the sheer quantity of material present. And there are no stats at all, so you can use it with any system. White Rose is planning a new medieval role-playing game due at the end of the 1995 called Tapestry, and they also have a Medieval University sourcebook and a Crusader Kingdoms sourcebook in the pipeline too.
If the quality is as good as this, they ought to be a must for anyone seriously interested in medieval roleplaying, whether fantasy or historical.
- Ken & Jo Walton
Article publication date: December 1, 1995
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