Saturday, 2 April 2011

A-Z Challenge: B –To Beowulf or Not to Beowulf . . .

. . . that is the question I didn’t ask myself when starting Redwald. The only question I asked myself when I started this project was ‘should I write a low fantasy Dark Ages setting supplement for Swords & Wizardry?’

However, as the project progressed I at least inferred the question, and the answer was not to Beowulf. Early on I decided to have the characters be outlaws. The title Wolfshead is just so evocative, and the idea of the characters being outside the law fits the average D&D party, who if not exactly outlaws, are often a law unto themselves.
Recently, during playtest and in emails from people who have a copy of the playtest pdf, I’ve had head scratching questions along the lines of: 'Why isn’t there a human warrior with chain, sword, and shield as one of the character classes?'

The answer is simple enough. Redwald players aren’t heroes, they’re not Thegns, they’re not Ealdormen. They are not Beowulf. They aren’t even Churls in the Fryd. The players in Redwald are outlaw scum. How can that not be fun?

Now it's not that I went out of my way to be different, or contrary.I just figured there are plenty of settings and RPGs where you can play Saxon, Viking, Celtic, or Barbarian warrior including TSR D&D. I think that’s already covered.
Beyond that, Beowulf and his ilk are the archetypal Dark Age heroes. Beowulf, Kings, Ealdormen, Thegns, and the Fryd are the acceptable face of Redwald society. They’re the mainstream. The player characters are on the margins of that society. Which I think works well for D&D characters, especially OSR D&D.

So why isn’t Beowulf or the archetypal Dark Age warrior a character class in Redwald? Because Beowulf and his mates are Redwald's ‘Orcs’ and like all good Orcs they want your characters dead!


  1. LOL! Good call. I read a book called 'Orcs' once, and it was told from the orcs point of view. Fascinating storytelling in there. I should dig that out and read it again.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog yesterday, by the way!

    India Drummond

  2. As a Viking age scholar, I love what you have been doing. I love the setting. I love the research. I love the care with which you approach the data. I love the originality.

    But, being told I must play a particular kind of character who must be played a particular kind of way, that I do not love. No sir. Had enough of that from the AD&D mindset.

    Just my 2 cents.

  3. DHBoggs said . . .

    But, being told I must play a particular kind of character who must be played a particular kind of way, that I do not love. No sir. Had enough of that from the AD&D mindset.

    Hey, DHBoggs.

    I’m completely on board with that, but despite the way it looks I’m not actually telling anyone what character they have to play. Not at all sir. No.

    Let me explain . . .

    First off these aren’t the Redwald rules. These April A-Z Challenge posts are merely my ramblings and musings about how I went about doing things and why.

    Secondly rule zero is very definitely front and centre in the Redwald rules. I’m frimly in the DIY school of gaming, I like to tweak, bend, and break the rules I play with. I totally expect people to do likewise with Redwald at their table. In fact I encourage it. If you want to use Redwald to play heroic Beowulf style characters who am I to say otherwise. In fact I wouldn’t mind if people ran Redwald games with Samurai Penguin Beowulfs toting Lazguns. I'd just be happy were running Redwald games.

    However, I didn’t write Redwald to be a general game. I wrote it with a very specific focus: that being a mini-campaign (Redwald only has 3 levels) about outlaw outsiders. I did that because that’s the game I wanted to run. Not because I think that’s the campaign I think everyone should run. Don’t get me wrong I hope other people think its cool too. If I didn’t I wouldn’t have bothered with anything other than my rough notes.

    All these posts have to be taken within this context (and the context of my tongue being firmly in cheek sometimes).

    Proclamations on high and telling people how to play their game is not what I’m about.

    Drop me an email at redwaldrpg AT hotmail DOT co DOT UK and I’ll send you the playtest rules and Bestiary. If you can’t find a character concept that grabs you out of the twelve Redwald classes, then what the hey, roll up a big damn hero with chain, shield, and sword and call him Beowulf. I categorically won’t mind and even if I did why should anyone worry?



  4. Heh, You're a good sport Lee. E-mail on its way.