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John's Player's RP thoughts part two: inspiration for Roleplaying Knights

Discussion in 'UO White Stag Inn' started by John Knighthawke, May 17, 2019 at 8:42 PM.

  1. John Knighthawke

    John Knighthawke Journeyman

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    You might've heard a nasty rumor., that goes something like this....


    The myths of Knights and Knighthood are frauds and lies. Real Knights were vile, evil people – hypocrites who oppressed peasants. Chivalry never really existed, or if it did, it mostly was about class warfare – the upper class against the rest of us. Knightly skill in battle was also a lie – they won by ferocity, not skill. Medieval fantasies of noble Knights are just that: fantasies at best, lies at worst. You see this view of Knights all over the place, from the “Medieval Lives” documentary series to “Game of Thrones.”

    I must admit there's some truth to this rumor. Therefore, despite the Knight's iconic status in fantasy, you might feel hesitant to roleplay a Knight in UO. After all you have other options for good guy archetypes. So why bother with Knights?


    Well...I was pleased to learn, after extensive reading, that the old myths and legends are also partly true. We've over-compensated over the years. Knights and Chivalry were real. Gallantry, honor, battlefield prowess, loyalty, all were real. Knightly combat was as much as or more about skill than mere ferocity. Knights did oppress peasants, but also felt they owed those same peasants their protection and their best efforts to be responsible rulers. (The Medieval mind didn't see the contradiction.)


    You need not apologize for playing a Knight, you need not feel hypocritical for utilizing this important fantasy archetype. This article seeks to provide some food for thought for those of you who choose to do just that.


    So let's start at the beginning....What is a Knight.

    “Knight” is a European term, but many other ancient or Medieval cultures (India, Japan, Mexico, Middle East, Rome, etc.) had something very similar. Through my reading I've identified some common elements among all these groups and, as it turns out, a lot of those common elements make good RP inspiration. (Please note that when you do you're own historical reading you'll find that not all writers agree with me on what these common elements are, or if they exist at all.)

    --Knights, first and foremost, were elite warriors. Fighting and killing was their job, and they were good at it.


    --Knights were are official in some way. They were authorized and certified to fight and kill by some authority like a government, a church, or something like that. Or, they WERE that authority. (Outlaw and Knight are different fantasy archetypes, though of course you may have one that becomes the other.)


    --Knights tried very hard to follow a code of conduct that incorporated loyalty, honor, and battlefield prowess.


    --The complex web of competing loyalties and values in the Knights' culture could be difficult to navigate, and sometimes one value had to be placed over another.


    Elite Warrior:


    In a UO context this might just mean that your character is better than the NPCs, so I'm not saying that only the very best players with the very best characters should bother trying to be Knights. Even among Knights some were better than others, and that's ok. (Though I do encourage you to push your and your Knightly character's abilities.)

    Everything I've read suggests that being an elite warrior was part of the Knights' collective self-identity. Therefore, your character's relationship to the battlefield prowess expected of Knights might be important to his or her character and might lead to some interesting roleplay opportunities. Further, in real life, Knightly belief in their own prowess led some to indiscipline and foolishness on the battlefield – and a sense of Pride that might, in UO put them in stark contrast to the Virtue of Humility.


    Official:


    Some body, group, or power gave your Knight his or her the right to be one – something like the Crown itself, or a Church, or a town, or a territory. Your Knight might be a servant of some higher authority, or might actually BE that higher authority – you should work out which one.


    Here are some good examples, from both fantasy and history, of Knights bound to serve a higher authority.

    --Charlemagne's Paladins (fantasy)


    --Housecarls of Anglo-Saxon England (history)


    --Mamluks of the Medieval Middle East (history – indeed these warriors legally were slaves)


    --Dupre the Paladin (fantasy – seemed good to have a UO example)

    And here are some good examples, from both fantasy and history, of Knights who WERE that higher authority.


    --King Arthur (fantasy)


    --King Richard “The Lion Heart” (history)


    --Queen Dawn (fantasy – seemed good to have a UO example)


    --The Kshatriya of India (history)

    What authority conferred your character's Knighthood? Why, by who, how, and under what circumstances was this done? Is it hereditary? Was your character Knighted in battle? By another Knight? By a King? Was there a ceremony? Is your Knight not a Knight yet, but rather a Squire or Apprentice? Does your knight have political or religious power or authority in his or her own right? Or is he or she a servant? Does whatever power that conferred your Knight's authority still exist?

    Code of Conduct:


    In Europe this was called “Chivalry.” Other cultures had different names for the Knightly code of conduct, but they all had some common threads: honor, loyalty, and battlefield prowess. In Europe Chivalry was never formally codified, but many Knights wrote their own manuals – and what exactly the rules of Chivalry were was hotly debated. (Conquistadors used to use Chivalry to justify their suppression of the native peoples of the Americas – their critics in Europe used Chivalry to criticize them.)


    Honor in this context means about the same thing that it does in UO, fittingly enough: When you possess it, all may rely on your every word. When Knights say they'll kill you they'll try hard to do it. If they say they won't kill you, they'll try hard to avoid it. (But, please, do not test their patience.) (In one real life incident, a Knight who had vowed never to take up arms against a certain enemy to lead his men into battle unarmed and unarmored, waving a flag. He was cut down by the initial gun barrage and arrow storm.)


    Loyalty in this context usually means loyalty to whatever authority it is that conferred Knighthood upon the Knight, and loyalty to the broader set of principles or ideas which help to define the Knight's character as a Knight. Sometimes it also can mean loyalty to other things – a lover or spouse, for example. The people. The land. Long-forgotten vows of revenge. As you can see, it can be shockingly easy for these loyalties to come into conflict.

    Finally, battlefield prowess: in theory it should be extremely important to your Knight's identity that he or she is a good warrior. Maybe even a great one. Sometimes Knights' belief in themselves and their prowess could lead to what in UO terms we would call the Sin of Pride. This of course sets up a conflict with the Virtue of Humility, and the Virtue of Honesty as well. Anyone remember “Ultima 4: Quest of the Avatar?” What was the correct answer when someone asked you if you were the “most valiant of souls?” What answer might your Knight give....And why.

    Which brings us to the final characteristic under consideration.....

    Conflicts between loyalties:


    Sometimes a Knight has to make an unpleasant choice between two, or more, things he or she holds dear. In UO, for example, what does one do when Valor demands one thing, and Honor demands another? For example, in real life it wouldn't be without precedent for a Knight to pledge him- or herself to two lords who now find themselves at war. Chivalric loyalty could get complicated.

    One common thing you see in modern fiction is the idea that a Knight's loyalty to the truth can conflict with his or her loyalty to whatever practical goal he or she is seeking. Lie and save the Kingdom, or tell the truth and endanger it? Medieval European stories were particularly fond of forcing Knights to choose between loyalty to a romantic interest and loyalty to a Lord or ruler. (The apex of this of course was the great Sir Lancelot of the King Arthur myths.)


    Real life and mythological Knights, it seems to me, often would rely on their combat prowess to, literally, fight their way through conflicting loyalties. A conversation between two characters on “Game of Thrones” who were NOT Knights actually crystallized this pretty well. Facing a difficult choice, one character proposed a certain course of action. “What you propose is illegal,” he was told. “Only if we lose,” was the response.

    I'd urge you to not overdo the conflict factor by the way. Many fictional stories of Knights are tragic, and “Game of Thrones” has, I feel, injected too much tragedy into modern fantasy. Not every story has to be tragic.

    But, hey, it's your character, not mine.....

    One last point...


    This isn't exclusively related to playing Knights, but: Good doesn't mean stupid, at least not always. In Medieval Europe, at least, Knights were often educated, especially in military matters. (They could afford the best education available.) Your Knight doesn't have to believe everything he's told, and doesn't have to go on a suicide run when another option is available.

    So if you think being a good Knight means being as tactically incompetent as Jon Snow? Well, you're wrong. I can't tell you how to play your character (if you want to play an idiot, feel free) but if you feel obligated to play your Knight, or other good guy character, as stupid because you've seen “Spaceballs” or “Game of Thrones?” I'm happy to tell you that you're wrong.

    One day I may collect some thoughts on what a distinctly Britannian Knighthood might look like.....But, not today. This has gone on long enough!