I have several post ideas I'd like to get to this week as time and enthusiasm allow. I may be able to squeeze in the former but I am still struggling a bit to squeeze out the latter.
This past Saturday I ran another installment of our Ars Magica campaign, 'Something Rotten In Denmark'. Rather than recapping it, I would like to address and (hopefully) discuss on odd moment we had.
One of the elements of medieval fantasy fiction and gaming taughted as a major component of its popularity, is that it draws on our shared past. Reiterating something I've brought up a few times before, while we may have different visions of the future, we all, pretty much, share the same view of what the past was like.
While there is no denying there is some truth to the statement, I feel less and less like it's a factor in medieval fantasy RPGs. For one thing, how many of us are actually setting our games in the historic past of the real world? Furthermore, it would seem our shared pop culture knowledge of what a dragon or a magic spell or a knight is means a lot more than any actual understanding of the middle ages.
Now, what if that shared knowledge of what is to be found in a medieval fantasy setting isn't so shared? What do I mean? Case in point...
After a battle with some trolls seeking a crown of some kind, the PC and NPC Magi of the Covenant of The Silver Stag (or The Silver Elk Lodge) look at the cryptic last words of their recently departed leader...
"They will pass the ring...
Go for the crown.
Speak to the stone.
Our niece knows the way."
It took my players a long while to figure out what any of this meant. There were tons of clues to outright evidence but, as I may have mentioned before, investigating and solving mysteries and puzzles is not their forte'. I tried to make it as easy as possible so they would get it and feel encouraged to expand their abilities in this regard. Marcus can be pretty good at it from time to time but it's really hit or miss it seems. Anyway...
The 'ring' turned out to be (not the kind you wear but rather...) a circle of standing stones about 200 feet beyond the perimeter of the covenant house. The standing stones are each inscribed with a rune and must be read one after the other, out loud as if talking to the stone, in a clockwise fashion each morning at sunrise. They later find out you can actually read them anytime but the enchantment only lasts until the Sun rises the next day no matter when you 'started' it. This enchantment provides protection against the trolls during the night.
OK, problem: No one at the covenant except the old leader (who is dead) knows how to read these runes.
"But wait!", you exclaim. "The niece knows how right?"
Excellent observation dear reader. One that it took the players a bit to figure out since the PC who was there when the leader died, Dave's Bjornaer Magus, Adalfrid, could not remember exactly what Oshemming the Stout (now Oshemming the Deceased) had said exactly. Actually Dave couldn't remember. No one remembered and no one took notes. And they wonder why they get baffled by easy mysteries. I sometimes wonder why I bother. *Sigh*
Anyway, who's niece? Oshemming? No, it's confirmed that he had no remaining family. He said 'Our'. The covenant? His house?
It was then that an NPC realized that Adalfrid's Danish isn't particularly good. His native language is German. It's not 'Niece', it's 'Nisse', a type of Gnome or Brownie.
And then the breaks hit.
None of my three players were familiar with what a Brownie is. To them, a Gnome is a slim Dwarf or hairy Halfling in D&D or the tinkering artificers of Dragonlace and World of Warcraft.
I tried to explain it as a household spirit that fixes things when the people of the house are asleep. Like Dobie and the House Elves of Harry Potter.
Not one a Harry Potter fan.
'Like Thimbletack in The Spiderwick Chronicles', started bubbling up in my head but I knew that if they didn't know Harry Potter they weren't going to know Spiderwick. I eventually explained what a Brownie was or Nisse was and the PCs asked the other Magi how to find him. They didn't know. They didn't know there was a Nisse in the building. Lady Hildebritte was particularly stunned and flustered as a member of House Merinita (the house specializing in Faerie knowledge and magic). She was thoroughly embarrased.
When it came to figuring out who other than the departed Oshemming would know about the Nisse, the players flumoxed and stumbled again. I said simply, "If none of the Magi know, who would?"
Nothing. Then mentions of the different Magi in the Lodge. Then me reminding them that none of the Magi knew. Then crazy, no basis guesses. Then me feeling like taking up golf might be a better way to enjoy my Saturdays.*
"The Nisse fixes things, finishes chores for hard working people who fall asleep trying to complete them. Who is giving it the honey and bread or bowl of milk or portridge I mentioned? You think the Mages do that?"
"Of course not," Dave says jokingly, "I bet they don't even know how to cook. They have Grogs to cook...for...them...". Light bulb sputters on. The Grogs.
Anyway...my point is that the idea of a house spirit is a very old and very common one native to many, many regions. From the Scandinavian Nisse or Tomte to the the slavic Domovoi, the British Brownie and Scottish Urisk to the German Heinzelmännchen and even places as varied as Japan and many nations in Africa, there have been stories of this type of creature.
Not one of three guys, 26-34 years of age, who are into Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Comic Book, etc and who play RPGs, including D&D, knew what a Brownie was.
Yet they all know what the Central Power Battery is and what a Spartan soldier is. Hmmm.
Something to think about as I plan future games.
*Golf. I despise Golf.