Sunday, January 20, 2019

Why Do Adults Play D&D?

Jim Murphy is an original D&D player and DM from the 70s who still plays today. Totally the greatest Ref in the world or close. 

Couple years ago I got a chance to watch Matt Colville shoot an interview video with him and it turns out he has his own YouTube channel which I can 100% recommend if you're into that thing. In it he talks about a lot of D&D and other RPG specific things. I don't think he does actual play videos. He shares his minis, shares his specific tricks and traps, specific prepping methods, and philosophy. I'm totally a disciple now.

Get a load of this story. It's amazing.

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I have no idea how to embed a video on Blogger, which is pathetic both for me and for Google. This should be baby stuff.  Here is the link:

This is an epic tale and made more epic by the telling. 

Two things happened here that can only happen when people really understand what they're doing here.

The first thing is, Jim had one path set up to play. And Steve said, "well, what about this other path?"

And instead of convincing him to try the one Jim had laid out or barring him somehow from trying this audacious mission, Jim said, "Yes. Okay Steve, try it." And he let him try it and he prepped what Steve wanted and he bought into Steve's vision of the campaign rather than the other way around.

That takes guts and trust and not everyone who Refs even knows they don't have what it takes. Some Refs don't know that this is what it takes sometimes (not always but sometimes). Some Refs just can't but Jim can and that is so commendable.

The second thing is that Steve had a vision for his dwarf that he wanted the dwarf to have a beginning, middle and end. His man was not an idealized image prior to the adventures; his man was going through a life story with a life and with a death both with meaning.

His goal was to leave a lesson to the campaign world - to create a myth and legend. This is not something gold can buy; and neither can the attainment of mere amoral glory. Players, keep this in mind. Sometimes it's okay that your goal is not to be the biggest, baddest guy on the block. Sometimes the real meat of a character story lies somewhere other than putting an orc to the sword.

Anyway. Jim allowed Steve to put his man to certain death even though Jim didn't know beforehand Steve was going there.

These guys trusted each other. Jim trusted him when he said to save the nobles, and Steve trusted Jim that Jim would let him play it out.

So that second thing is trust and deep camaraderie and deep friendship. Like a marriage. It's so hard-won that the value of achieving it is bigger than the game.

You and I may never win a Super Bowl together or build a house for ourselves to live in together, but we can achieve this victory together - the victory of friendship truly fought, won, and demonstrated - with our little elf talking and funny dice - and that's a hidden but invaluable part of living well and being human and one which is readily available to be had through RPGs.

No Thiefs in Port

I do not use the Thief class.

Let me say that again: I do not use the Thief class.

This is a job, not a character class.

This is the reason why: When the Thief does this thief things, everyone else stands around and watches him do it. Either he succeeds or fails and if he fails, that's usually the end of that. It's a dead end. But in the meantime nobody else is trying to do what he's doing.

If you remove the Thief class and tell your players anyone can try hiding, sneaking, setting off or setting traps, picking pockets and so forth, then they will try these things. They can even try to pick a lock; it just takes a long time for an attempt. While a Thief can try it noiselessly and quickly, a normal person may take ten minutes and make a little noise.

There are a couple of things you lose out on: 

Bypassing magic traps
Climbing walls like Spider-Man.
Maybe there are other Thief things you really enjoy that you would lose.

These are not huge losses, I don't think.

But the point is, everyone gets involved in searching and setting off traps and sneaking around and that's more inclusive and dramatic game play.

These are good gains.

Fear not, Thief lovers, there is a class that plays the same kind of role a Thief does. It is the Rat-Catcher made up by +Simon Bull who is also one of the creators of the Delving Deeper retroclone.

Remember Port is a game with all d6 Hit Dice which will be indicated on the advancement chart.

The Rat-Catcher


A professional Rat-Catcher is essential to every castle, city, town, and village with a pest problem, or wherever there are people. These crafty Men must frequently work in the "undesirable" places where vermin fester, including sewers, derelict basements, and catacombs. They risk health and safety in proximity to diseased and rabid pests.

Rats, mice, and other vermin were ubiquitous throughout Medieval life, and an ever-present harbinger of pestilence, famine, disease, and epidemics. The Black Death was spread by rats and is estimated to have killed 30 to 60% of Europe's total population 1346-53, putting the toll around 75-150 million people. 600 years later, with all the World's most grievous weapons, WWI would kill an estimated 17 million soldiers.

Keeping the rat population down was crucial work in preventing the spread of disease and damage to food stocks. Thus, professional Rat-Catchers were always in demand and despite their work being grim and dirty, they were actually rather respected. Even today, folklore casts the Pied Piper of Hamlin in a positive light.

In the fantastic medieval genre vermin can be driven by vampires, lycanthropes, or diabolical cunning, or grown to giant-size, or conjured as part of who knows what wicked sorcery? The Rat-Catcher could hardly be less important in the fantasy medieval wargame than he was in reality.


The Prime Requisite of the Rat-Catcher is Wisdom.

Arms & Armor: A Rat-Catcher may use Leather armor without penalty. He may wear heavier armors, but he is at a penalty of doubled encumbrance from these.  (His best defense is mobility.) He may use the backsword, dagger, hatchet or hand axe, war hammer, staff or spear. He may also use the light crossbow and the sling.

Combat Ability: The Rat-Catcher uses the Cleric’s Attack Matrix line and Saving Throw charts.

The Rat-Catcher’s Class Abilities:


The Rat-Catcher learns his craft where vermin are. He has a keen awareness of mischief and danger in such places.

Rat-Catchers can be nearly invisible and can move almost silently, surprising enemy on a throw of 1-4 on a six-sided die.

When actively searching, Rat-Catchers will locate secret doors with a throw of 1-4 on a six-sided die; when merely passing by they will do so with a throw of 1-2. 

Rat-Catchers are able to identify useful information from faint noises when listening with a throw of 1-2 on a six-sided die.

They will note traps and slanting passages, and have good vision even in the feeblest light. 

Poison Use: A Rat-Catcher can lace food with wolfsbane (or hemlock) to poison vermin via the clerics versus undead table, affecting vermin and lycans with as many HD as the indicated undead types. Such types in animal form will take the food 5 times out of 6 per usual.

Favored Foes: In combat, he is particularly effective at skulling and boning vermin, doubling damage dice versus animals, ooze-types and lycans. Lycans will always attack a Rat-Catcher in preference to other enemy.

Tracking Vermin: Rat-Catchers can identify vermin by signs or marks of their activity and can track them with a throw of 1-4 on a six-sided die. He can collect a bounty of 1 gp per hit die for each carcass he returns to the local authority (live vermin may fetch a higher price where baiting is practiced for sport).

Hunter’s Kinship: The Rat-Catcher frequently handles cats, ferrets, serpents, and the like to root out and destroy vermin. He adjusts reaction checks by +2 in any dealings these types but alas!, the smell and appearance of him adjusts reaction checks with civilized Man-types by -1, and Lycanthropes' reactions are always adjusted by -2.

Disease Immunity: Grimalkins (2nd level) and above are immune to natural diseases.

Sense Dangerous Vermin: Ferreters (4th level) are aware of unseen animals, ooze-types and lycans within 3".

Speak With Vermin: A Stalker (6th level) and above can speak with calm vermin in a rudimentary fashion (cf clerical Speak with Animals spell).

Charm Vermin: A Piper (9th level) and above is highly sought after for his ability to charm vermin with pan pipes (or similar) for so long as he continues to play (cf magic-user Charm Animals spell). Unintelligent vermin such as slimes and oozes will be held in a quivering, immobilized state while rats and their like will follow after the Piper, mesmerized.

A Piper Lord (10th level) can establish an operation in any existing town, city, or stronghold that does not already have such, including any run by a non-player figure (even non-players have rat problems). This operation will attract 4d6 Mousers who will each generate 1d6 gp profit per month of normal practice. Any activities outside of "normal practice" remain the jurisdiction of the player.

Any Rat-Catcher can be ennobled and added to the household staff of a Baron or greater.  He then earns 140 GPs per month and is no longer subject to taxation.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Fallen Empire Campaign Elements Part Seven: Character Classes and Rules

If you looked closely a couple of days ago at the demographic breakdown of classes individuals of 0-level or higher, you would have noticed a couple of things that are different from standard OSR fare.

Tieflings bug me.

1. There are no 0-level Wizards or Elfs. 

An 0-level Wizard is just a learned peasant. They are no different than a Normal Man.

Elfs are a little different. By the time they visit the realm of Men, they are already over 100 years old and very learned. They have mastered the skills necessary to be a 1st level Elf guy. 

So that's what's up with the demographics chart.

2. The other classes have interesting things. 

First of all, it's going to be race-as-class.

Adventuring is a particularly human pursuit. Other races are not people in funny suits, but rather quite different in almost every way. The clanholds of Dwarfs do not value individuality or striking out on your own. Elfs are not numerous enough to consider one another expendable. Hobbits consider adventuring to be scandalous. It's not something a civilized person does. For these reasons and more, the individuals who do become adventurers are rare and unusual and there are no Demi-Men character classes. Each uses the skills that come to him naturally to make his way in the world.

0-level Clerics can wear heavy armor like a fighter but also have weapon restrictions and behavior patterns. 0-level Rat Catchers have their vision skills and can serve as adequate guides in some places in the underworld. Of course the remainder of 0-level guys are just basic Fighting-Men but with worse hit and save rolls. 

The other thing you might notice is that there is no Thief class. There is a mechanical reason I made it like that: when a Thief does his Thief stuff, the rest of the characters tend to stand around and wait until he's done it. It slows down the action. Additionally, while a Thief has a small chance of doing something incredible (hide in shadows/move silently/etc.), anyone including a Thief can try sneaking and hiding and stealing. 

So if you take Thief out, you find that everyone does Thief stuff. If you want to be like the Thief, be a Rat Catcher, which is kind of like the urban ranger archetype.  They get bonuses in the dark, when fighting some favored foes, when dealing with indifferent or friendly animals, and so forth. They also get a limited kind of sneak attack instead of backstab. Or just be a Fighting Man and wear leather armor and play sneaky.

Here are some special things about this campaign in particular that involve character generation.

3. All weapons deal 1d6 damage and all Hit Dice are six-siders. 

This means both damage and hit points will be lower overall but the differences are equivalent. Additionally, the +1 damage from a high strength score, +1 damage from two handed weapons, and the +1 damage from being a Fighting-Man will be really powerful proportionally.

Fighting-Men still get more hit points overall and Wizards still get less, but that is handled based on the numbers of dice rather than the size of the dice, like it was done pre-Greyhawk.

When it comes to weapons, a dagger will kill you just as easily as a halberd. They all do the same damage. While this will feel unintuitive to most everyone, you will find it means that players will choose the weapon that suits their character rather than the weapons with the most mechanical benefit.

4. Hit Points are generated daily.

In the morning, a player rolls all the character's hit dice. That's his max hit points for the day. Some days you're gonna feel great and other days you're gonna have to hold back. This should be an interesting balancing act. I have no idea whether it will work.

5. Here's my hope

The Fallen Empire setting is super humanocentric. I really hope the players understand this. If things go the way I want them to, we get less than 40% Demi-Men PCs. I'll try to urge people to play Men, but I don't know how to do that without being heavy handed about it. What do you think?

Thursday, January 17, 2019

What To Do When You Referee - Session Zero

XxDnDLvRxX, amiright

I didn't even read Session Minus-1 before I wrote this, so I hope it's not in a totally different format. But it probably is. Oh well, it's free and you get what you pay for!


So you have your people lined up and you meet for the first session. I will call it Session Zero because it happens before the proper campaign starts.

1. Have the people meet each other or if you have met before, have a little table conversation. Bust out the snacks. 

2. Give them the elevator pitch for the campaign, whether they have heard it before or not. This will focus the next part of the event. It helps the players but it also helps you.

In my opinion the most important distinction between players is that some of them are content to tour your adventures and hang out and have fun, while other players want to direct the action and take some measure of control over their character's life and the world around him.

These are both perfectly appropriate strategies to have fun playing D&D.

There are many other ways to divide up groups of players or recognize distinctions, but to me this is the most important one. 

3. Invite everyone to help decide what kind of campaign they want. See if everyone can agree if they haven't before. At this point you can start to get a feeling about which players will be more active and self-directed.

4. Then everyone can talk about the races and classes they want to play and figure out how to get the bases covered. Once you all know what the thrust of the adventures will be about, it will be easier to know what kinds of characters will be most useful.

5. Depending on the system you are using, character creation can take ten minutes or two hours. Not everyone has a book. Not everyone can settle on one idea or another. Do it together and support each other. Make sure the players who get done faster are engaged with the players who are a little more methodical. 

6. One specific thing I am going to try to do going forward is insist that the players establish that each character knows at least one other character and the nature of that relationship, such that every character is at least an acquaintance-of-an-acquaintance of each other one. Consider it a string of connections in a way that connects them all even if any particular one is once or twice removed from another particular one.

7. At the tail end of the character creation, do hirelings and pets if they want to. Give them a chance to do shopping.

8. Then do a little five-room dungeon so they can get the first taste of working in a group and fighting and finding treasure. I do a little temple with a patrol, a straight fight, a clue, a puzzle a boss fight, and a bonus fight for better treasure if they figure out the clues and puzzles. Every time I run it for new people it goes a little different so I stay engaged as well.

9. Then after that tell them hooks. Rumors or someone running in with a message or a bulletin board in the middle of town where people post bills to each other. 

Then you're done with the adventure for the night.

10. Then make them well aware that email and texting are not required but very welcome. There are in-game elements that can and will happen that can be handled away from the table. Technology is awesome for making more table time magically appear when you least expect it.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

What To Do When you Referee - Session (-1)

Here are the things you should do when you referee a campaign. These are the same things you will do if you are a first time Ref or a long time Ref. I am sure that in the comments people will give us more things we could or should do. These are mine.

Session Minus 1

That is, these are the things you have to think about before you even think about being the Ref!  These are things that all happen before the players get involved at all.

1. Relationship with people at the table. 

The most important thing to remember is that we do this to have fun. We are going to be with friends and we are going to have fun. 

Don’t be a jerk. Listen and communicate clearly. Be nice. Try to engage with each person at the right times both in and out of character. While this sounds like something that happens AT the table, it's really something you should keep in mind all the time, even before you start. Ask yourself, "Is this campaign for me or is it for us?" And "How can I make it comfortable and fun for everyone?"

Keep this in mind first and foremost.

2. Physical situation. 

Make it comfortable. Have enough room to play. Have enough time to play. Have enough quiet, or enough room to make some noise and not bother other people around. 

Have snacks. 

Don’t be too loud or stinky or too anything. 

3. Setting of the game. 

This is the first time you think about touching an actual set of dice or picking out a game book. When you have a campaign idea then you can communicate this to your players.

But don't just communicate the basics. 

Make sure people are able to understand what kinds of characters will work. (eg a barbarian in a game of courtly intrigue or a bookworm in a bloody zombie game, these are interesting characters that would probably fail.)

4. The rules. 

Let people know the genre, the game and roughly the edition. Help each other with the rules. Do your best to know the rules which impact your character. Work to quickly learn the rules of common actions such as combat in a combat game or social interaction in a political game. 

5. Player expectations. 

People all have different assumptions about what Vampire is or what Champions is or what D&D (especially) is. People assume their assumptions are the shared assumptions. But within every game system and even every kind of campaign, the assumptions of what "fun" is varies from person to person.

Let them know whether this is a story path game, a story game, a tactical sim or wargame, a sandbox, how much self-direction they will need, etc.

Let them know the specific genre. Is it tinker gnomes and Holy Avengers and going to the Nine Hells at 3rd level, or are you going to experience a TPK fighting rats every 1.3 game sessions? Or maybe there's no fighting at all?!

Here is an example of what I mean when I say different assumptions. 

I play in a new school style railroading game but I didn’t know it for a few months. I was trying to play my old school self-directed way and getting frustrated that the DM kept misunderstanding me and bumping my character “back on track.” Only once I realized what degrees of freedom I actually had (more or less, the how but not the what) could I then enjoy the game! 

And I really do. 

But it took me a while to realize that the kind of fun I was used to and the kind of fun the DM there presented were 180 degrees off from each other.

So What

These are all kind of philosophy of gaming points. All kinds of people do it differently. This is just how I like to do it. 

Let me give you a specific piece of advice though: Use common technology to buy you some more game time. None of it requires any special programs or apps or an iPad either.

1. Use your phone at the table. Secret messages or odd languages sent as text messages, name generators, calculator. All that stuff.

2. Email and text each other - Ref and players - in between sessions. A lot of stuff can be accomplished away from the table. It's almost like having a whole extra one on one session in between at  times. 

Especially when it comes to making secret plans the other players can't know about, running a subplot of diplomacy, adventure, romance, lineage or searching, doing spell research or making a magic item, building or improving property, or domain or war stuff... doing it via texts and email is tremendously helpful and considerate of the other players' time.

William and Harold, their claims to the throne

Nesta, strong of mind and wishing then to feed her understanding of the thing they were to undertake, revisited the man who’d made her crest. For this next enquiry, she thought his craftknine would be best.

A boy of maybe ten lead her to quarters of the vexilographer,[1] a man named Charles de Picardie, about which one could only say his chief defining feature was his great fastidiousness in all enterprises he betook. His hair was short and neat and straight, as well his moustache too. He bore some wax, perhaps, to keep his moustache and his ear hair very tidy. His doublet cut about him fine in yellow and in red, and clasped it all about his wrists with bands of linen bathed in blue. His pumphose and his hose and shoes looked new and bore no holes, nor signs of wear. They were of pleasant colors dyed as well. Upon his leather belt, he tied his hood of red and gloves of white. Even in his carriage, he remained compact and used efficient ambulation all about his tidy little room.

They boy announced the lady knight and well presented her to him (as when two people meet, the customary thing to do was to present the younger one unto the older one, just as we do today.) Dame Nesta was impressed at Charles’ library. It must have had as many as eight books, and mayhap twice as many scrolls. This quite the treasure to a bookhound like herself! He bade her sit with him across the little table which he had. He lifted up the chessboard with great care and placed it down upon the top of his great book-shelf, then sat down again in one wee, graceful spinabout.

He looked expectantly to Ness.

M’sieur, might ere you know about the several notable great personages here in pretty Normandy, and mayhap in some other places, too, like my dear England?”

Me ouimademoiselle. It is my lot to know these things.” He then dismissed the boy with but a single moustache-twitch.

“And do you know how they are blooded up to one another?”


“And what of William and the old, dead king of all the Saxons? Edward the Confessor?”

Oui,” again. His eyes were calm and never did they leave hers, even for a speck. His calm demeanor bordered on the menacing, somehow.

“If it pleases you, m’sieur,” asked Nesta, eagerly.

He smiled and looked down, perhaps to blush.

The gentleman brought out a mighty slate of gray and placed it on the table there before them. ‘Twas wide enough that Nesta would have difficulty in its carriage. 

“On the left and near the middle, we begin by writing ‘you.’ That’s meant to mean onesself, my dam. In this case, it is you.”

“Whacht means this, ‘it is me?’”

“This is a writ of generational depiction. Of relatives of one, and how they do relate, and how they come before or after one. The one in this example can be you: you Nesta Mortimer.”

“I see,” she said.

 “You did not just appear from out of no-where. You were born through union of man and woman, whom you call your parents. Tis true whether, hm, ahem, one knows his father, or be ‘stranged from him. There was a man and woman, and their union issued forth a babe. Is this quite so?”

“Aye, for every man except for Jesus, and for Adam and for Eve,” the dam agreed.

The man then marked, above and to the right of Nesta’s ‘you,’ another word: ‘parents.’ He marked down then a line between the two. The line stretched up from ‘you’ and to the right, diagonally.

“This single line means it is a direct relation. It means you have the blood within you from your parents quite exclusively: half from mother and half from your father. You are half of each of them; one part in two from each of them. Dost you know ‘one part in two?’

“Aye,” she said, with some annoyance in her voice. “I’ve had both numbers and geometry.”

“Bully,” said the man to her, and turned he back down to his slate. He said then, “Someday, you may have some children. Each of them would made up from your blood, and blood giv’n by their pa. That makes each one to take one part in two from you, the same as you are one in two from each your parents, m’amoiselle.

“I shall draw a row beneath your own directly, and upon that row write ‘children.’ Down a row, to show they are descendent. I shall draw a straight line down between ‘you’ and your ‘children’ here, to show they are your blood direct.

Those same children of yours may have some children. I shall write a word upon a line just under ‘children.’ This word that I shall write will be ‘grand-children.’ And again, I’ll draw a line descending. That’s two lines between y’self and your own children’s children. Each your children’s children are one part in four your blood. Two lines, four parts.

“And their children, on another row writ down, another line connecting, and so these ‘great-grandchildren’ appeareth as one part in eight. Three lines, eight parts. And so it will go on as long as men shall tread the Firmament.”

“What’s all this? These twos and fours and eights?” She asked. “The lines make halves as well as you or I can see. Why use the lines at all? What needs this? Seems it all quite plain what generations be.”

“Allow me beg indulgence from you, little dam. It ennobles one to offer goodly patience to her humble tutor now. These twigs will help illuminate the tree when branches start to bloom anon across this slate of ancestry.”

“If it is as you say, then do go on,” she well agreed.

“Likewise, each your parents have two parents. One calls these one’s ‘grandparents.’ As parents grant their blood by half to thee, so has each set of grandparents give’d half their blood unto your ma and pa. I shall write this word, ‘grandparents,’ up and to the right again of ‘parents’ and again connect these words up with a line, up and to the right. That’s two lines now betwixt you and your grandparents doth shew. That means you share one part in four your precious blood with each of these grandparents. And for their parents, called they ‘great-grandparents,’ there’s another line, up and to the right again. Three lines now separate ‘you’ from these ‘great-grandparents,’ dam, so you share one part in eight your blood with each of these as well. And so on it hast gone throughout all history to Adam.” He pointed out the lines and counted off these little stems with greatest care, to well direct dame Nesta’s eyes to wacht he spoke of there.

“Allow me, clever tutor, to recite what you have shewn,” she asked of him. “Twos, fours, eights, and so. Each line direct of lineage, up and toward the past; or down into the murk of that which hast not been revealed, the future’s show, shows both relation, and a halving of the blood along the lines. One line sheweth one in two; two lines sheweth one in four; and three lines sheweth one in eight. Surely there are diagrams like this devised which show to us more generations still. This is but a sample of what’s possible to show.”

“There are, you know,” he did agree. “You’ve got it, by-the-way. You’ve mastered how we show our lineage direct from man and wife to child, and again down through the generations here.”

“That’s all there is to this?” She asked.

The man could not suppress a laugh. “No, mademoiselle, not all by half!”

He did continue then with other words and other lines.

“Your ma is not your cousin, but you mother may have cousins. If this so, her cousins are your cousins… once removed.”

“What does that mean, to be removed? And what means it to be a cousin of the first? Or cousin of the second ordinal?”

“Do you wish to know it?”


“Then harken and be still. Your grandparents may have had children who are not your parents. What woulds’t thou call these children?”

Nesta thought she knew. “Aunts and uncles!” She exclaimed. “Just like my Uncle Robert and Aunt Alice!”

Charles de Picardie put forth a line, directly down from ‘grandparents’ to the line where ‘parents’ lay, and wrote ‘aunt and uncle’ to the right of ‘parents.’

“What, m’sieur, about one’s great-grandparents’ other children? Those aside from one’s own grandparents, I mean to say?” She thought she’d seen a pattern as it lay. “Would one call these, the extant children of one’s great-grandparents by the name of ‘grand-uncle’ and ‘grand-aunt’?”

Oui.” And dreweth he the line directly down from ‘gr.-grandparents’ and then wrote, aside of ‘grandparents’ the words ‘gr. aunt & uncle.’

“But what of cousins, tutor?”

“I shall explain. Your uncle, for example, hath the same degree of blood as does your father. But you, as you can see, have one line here,” he pointed to the line from ‘you’ to ‘parents’, “one line here,” he pointed to the second line, from ‘parents’ to ‘grandparents’, “and a third line here, down to your uncle,” pointing then to the degree between ‘grandparents’ and the ‘aunt and uncle’ mark. “That’s three degrees of blood. Whilst you are half your father, you are but a part in eight your uncle.”

“Yes, I see,” she said.

“And then, imagine that your uncle had a daughter quite like you.”

“That’s four degrees,” she said.

“That girl would be your cousin. She the cousin closest to you, though. Her ordinal be one, and she called ‘first cousin’ to you, dame.” He drew a line directly down from ‘aunt and uncle’ and below that wrote ‘1° cousin.’ This cousin would have four lines intervening, and so therefore be one part in just sixteen from you; but still a relative by blood, and close by ways we count these things for heraldry.”

 Nesta was delighted! She could have a cousin! Though, she’d have to wait for Robert Mortimer and Alice to make issue for this joy to come about.

De Picardie continued, “And if this cousin-daughter had a daughter too, that girl would be first cousin to you too, but then we called her ‘once removed,’ for she would be another half of blood away: just one in thirty-two.” He marked a line directly down from ‘1° cousin’ and below it wrote ‘1° cousin, /’ to shew it once removed. And then, to show a greater part complete, he drew another line straight down from that, and wrote beneath it ‘‘1° cousin, //’ to shew a cousin twice removed.

“That doesn’t seem like much at all,” said Nesta, with consideration of the fact. She stroked her chin and nodded as she’d seen old wise men do. “The one in thirty-two of blood we’d share. What about…” she thought with some alacrity, “What about a second cousin? What be this relation on your chart?”

“Aha. We go to ‘grandparent’ and then descend again to find your cousin of the first. Therefore, in order to devise your second cousin, we ascend to ‘gr.-grandparent’ and then down through ‘gr. aunt & uncle,’ and only then we reach the rank of second cousin. This would be your father’s father’s brother’s son, to show degree.” He did not bother writing this.

Nesta counted off the lines in silence in her head. “Five lines.” And then she worked the halves. “One in thirty-two, the same degree as a first cousin, once removed. The same amount of blood.”

“Or as we say in heraldry, degree cosanguinuity.”

Nesta nodded, eyebrows raised. She well impressed by all these things de Picardie could shew.

“Here. Is’t that you wished to know? Or is there some particular you wish for me to show you?”

Nesta had lineage exact in mind, which when she started out, she’d mentioned to de Picardie. But it weren’t her own. Some day, she would know her mother’s line, as well her brother’s mother’s line. But there was something else she wished to know. She phrased it carefully.

M’sieur de Picardie,” she started, “Harold sits… upon Duke William’s rightful throne in Anglestead.”

“He does.”

“How hast Harold claimed the thing? By what degree of blood?”

De Picardie looked down, and half his mouth pulled up into a smirk. He met her gaze again and touched his finger to his upper lip. “Ah. You wish to know for whom you fight. Let’s show you then.”

He reached up on his bookshelf and pulled down a scroll, tied off with bright red woolen yarn. He gathered up four chess men,[2] and placed each upon a corner of the unfurled thing to keep it flat. It was an ancient document, and well illuminated up with crests and lots of illustrations in the borders. “This is William’s family tree. I made it for him twenty years ago, when he was just a boy.”

“It’s very gay,” she said. She liked the colors and the symbols, though aside from some the heraldry, she knew them not.

He pointed to the symbol for Duke William: lions rampant Or upon a field of red. “This is the Duke. His father was the Duke as well. His name was Robert, like your uncle’s is. We call him Robert the Magnificent.”

Nesta nodded, demonstrating understanding.

“His father was Richard II. His father was Richard I.”

“That’s three lines: William to Robert, Robert to Richard, and Richard to his father, Richard,” Nesta counted off.

“Correct. Richard I had a daughter, very clever girl. He named her Emma. Emma was the mother of the old king of the English, Edward the Confessor. Edward spent his youth at old Rouen. Has’t seen the place?”

“I have!”

“Can thou tells’t me, by our lessons, Nesta, what degree doth separate King Edward from Duke William now?”

She thought. “Richard on to Emma, Emma on to Edward. Two more lines. That’s five. A cousin, primal ordinal, with once removed? William is the cousin to the king!”

Me oui.”

“William is five parts removed from Edward, the old king. What about this Harold then? Is he some number greater then than five?”

“Harold has no royal blood,” de Picardie replied.

Nesta take’d aback. “No royal blood?”

“No, none at all. He is a nobleman, ‘tis true. He is an Earl, which is to say an equal rank to Duke, and he descends down from the House of Wessex. They made kings of Englishmen in times long past. But he has no royal blood to claim the English throne. No. He married Edward’s sister. So he’s kin, and any of his sons might have within them royal blood, but he himself hath none.”

“Scandal!” Nesta then exclaimed.

Charles de Picardie, just looked to her with knowing eyes, and rolled the scroll back up again. He took a tidy minute to re-tie the yarn into a tidy bow, and tidily emplaced the scroll back in its tidy place upon the tidy bookshelf shewn.

“This pleases me to hear about, monsieur de Picardie,” she said to him, in way of thanks. “Some day, when I can find my mother’s lineage, I hope to bring it back to you to write it up so pleasingly as well you’ve done it here for our great Duke.”

“Do you not know your mother’s line?” He asked.

“My ma and pa were married more Danico,[3] and she a proper lady, but from Scone in Scotland set. They’re not so good at writing down their lineages there.”

De Picardie smiled knowingly again. “Men such as myself may aid those in your situation too,” he said. He stood, and walked dame Nesta to the door. He opened it, and gave a gentle nod to her. She left.

Presently, she found an old decrepit servant maid to show her to her quartering: she was to sleep with some the other soldiers, in an out-building, within an ear-shot of the coursers in the stabling a-bye. Not quite the prize she’d once imagined for a new knight to the Duke!


[1] The chief herald. Literally: Flag-drafter.
[2] Chess was known throughout Western Europe as early as the 9th century.
[3] More Danico – “in the Danish manner.” A Germanic or Scandinavian civil marriage, unrecognized by the church.