Thursday, 2 June 2016

Not about Aragorn

More Vanished Kingdoms goodness in Davies’ discussion of Aragon, the long-lived medieval Iberian kingdom that started as a minor Pyreneean county designed essentially as a speedbump for the then apparently fast-moving Muslim conquest of Southern Europe. Obviously this eventually got turned around and Aragon subsequently became one of the chief staging-points for the gradual (like, half-millennium-long) reconquest of Spain and Portugal. This much you probably know.

Point being that early medieval Aragon represented a genuine example of the kind of place DMs have certains uses for in which everything was geared to war all the damn time. If you were a man and anything above a very low-level peasant your whole life was geared towards pushing the Muslims gradually southwards (and occasionally making lateral landgrabs against other Christian Iberian states if they were looking shaky). Castle construction was relentless, since there was always a new front line needing fortifying, and there was a class of itinerant bishops, dispossessed of their cathedrals and administering a form of Christianity called the Mozarabic Rite that was older and more elaborate than the forms current in the rest of non-frontier Christendom, full of call-and-response and the use of sacramental ashes.

Obviously this is the kind of society that might give rise to paladins and to genuine warrior clerics: but much more useful to most DMs than Aragon as a place of origin for characters is the fact that Aragon is basically the Orc State, the one you worry about whether or not it makes any sense as a state (or I do, at least). The Aragonese are the warlike, fiercely but primitively religious mountain men who live to descend with the sword and the flame upon the really much more sophisticated realms of men/Muslims. They have a bardic caste (
way more on this if you can read Spanish or Catalan) and a slaughterous, treacherous folk hero with a semi-legendary sword whom they fondly imagine nailing to his horse once he was dead so he could continue to lead them into battle. Moreover, they’re not a fringe nuisance that makes hexcrawling in the hills mildly exciting: they’re winning. Civilization as you know it is falling back from them, slowly but surely. And they keep winning, right up until the moment they drive you out of your lands for good - which is the very same moment they discover a New World across the ocean, and start sending their ceaselessly bloodthirsty warrior caste there instead.

Are there encampments in the hills, needing to be disrupted? There are. Are there overwhelmed and abandoned citadels once belonging to the lowlanders and still filled with their heirlooms? You bet. And are there warlords among the barbarians who know the value of adventurers with flexible morals who might turn their coats and re-enter civilization to further tear it down? Most definitely.