Friday, November 7, 2014

Why You Should Respect Characters of Noble Birth (Before They Kick Your Ass)

There's a pervasive trend in roleplaying games that noble characters (whether they're PCs or NPCs) are somehow less effective than those of common birth. We've all seen them; the pampered sorceress who grew up in a castle, the foppish swordsman who can barely get into his own armor, or the blustery-yet-ineffective local lord whose messes the party always has to clean up. We've rolled our eyes and sighed, shaking our heads and wondering what these people would do if the party decided to just take over the town.

Smite you into next month, probably.

I'm just saying, that's how this is going to go.

Wait, What?

For those who got comfortable with their working class characters being the hardest-hitting heroes in the land, let me throw some names at you. Prince Valiant. Arthur Pendragon. Beowulf. Theseus. Charlemagne. Christopher Lee (oh yeah, he's nobility). Our stories going back for millenia have prominently featured protagonists who have some connection to power, and that power is most often held by a crown and a throne. Hell, even Tarzan is the Earl of Greystoke!

Why do we want to think nobles are all foppish and delicate? Part of it is that America has never had nobility as a society. We've had landowners, robber barons, the 1%, but generally speaking we've always valued the myth of the up-by-your-bootstraps, working-class hero. Abraham Lincoln is perhaps the greatest example of this myth in action. We fought against a monarchy and won, so therefore those who've been born to power and servants just don't know the value of hard work, sweat, and a desire to truly succeed.


What It Took To Be A Knight

Knights are a big deal, I'm sure we can all agree on that? And while we all agree that to be a knight meant you were also a noble, it was not unheard of for knighthood to be granted to those who had fought valiantly, thereby raising those of common birth up into the gentry. That appeals to our sense of fairness; after all a soldier who'd learned to fight on the front lines had to be worth a dozen palace-born pretty boys at the very least!

Winner eats the peasant? Agreed!
If your chest swelled up with pride reading that, chances are you have no idea what went into being a knight.

Training started at age 7 when a young boy was taken to live with a local lord, which was typically a relative (however distant). These boys were called pages, and they were expected to train constantly for a future as knights. This meant that mornings were filled with rough games that ranged from putting on padded armor and fighting with training swords to riding wheeled horses during lance training. Afternoons would be filled with more weapons lessons, as well as teaching etiquette, history, letters, and more standard schooling. Pages would be given tasks and chores that ranged from caring for horses and tack to oiling weapons and caring for armor.

If a page made it to 14 then he might be given the privilege of becoming a squire. A squire was like the assistant manager of knighthood, and the squire would attend a knight who would train and hone him further. This included more combat training, additional horsemanship, and could be thought of as the high school to a page's elementary education. If one of these apprentice knights proved himself then he would be knighted, and be given the full rank and title that his achievement deserved.

How did a squire prove himself? Serving in combat with distinction, a command from a noble, or perhaps just his lord granting him title of his own in exchange for service. There were all kinds of ways, but all the squire could do was train, fight, and strive until a lord finally granted him what he wanted.

So if you find yourself squaring off with a 15-year-old squire in a tourney, keep in mind he first picked up a sword 8 years ago and has been training with it every day since then.

But Not All Nobles Are Knights!

And isn't that fortunate! It's true that a full-fledged knight is a canny and dangerous opponent, and we can assume that anyone who even completed a page's training can defend himself if he kept in practice. But what about all those noble characters who never underwent such training? You know those quiet, bookish types who don't know one end of a sword from another!

Pictured: Quiet and Bookish
It's true that not all nobles are martially inclined (even though they might be forced through a few years as a page just to be sure). That said nobles have the unique ability to explore their options for career paths; there are no crops they need to harvest, fences to mend, or other commoner concerns. Nobles are, for the most part, free to acquire the skills adventurers need very young. Additionally because nobles are powerful and well-connected they have the opportunity to ensure their children are given access to the very best teachers in the land.

Say that the duke's daughter wants to join the clergy. A normal young lady would simply dedicate herself to a local temple, but a noblewoman may find herself studying under a high priest and being given additional time and attention that deepens her knowledge. If the count's son wants to become a powerful wizard then his father could send for tutors, or ensure that his son is guaranteed a place in a wizard's college where his education will be seen to by those with a lifetime of experience. Money opens doors, and influence ensures that nobles are given a leg up when it comes to achieving their goals.

Speaking of achieving goals...

Nobles Have More Reason to Adventure Than Anyone

Well, almost anyone.
Commoners all have very specific jobs. Farmers farm, weavers weave, tanners tan, blacksmiths smith... you get the idea. Most of the time someone who is a commoner is also tied down to a form of livelihood (just like in real life). You can't just close up your shop to go adventuring for a few months, unless you have apprentices and family to watch it for you (meaning you're likely quite successful). Some commoners, like caravan guards, traveling singers, bounty hunters, and other exotic professions, can make a living looking for trouble, but that's the exception rather than the rule.

On the other hand, it is a noble's job to go and take care of problems when they rear their ugly heads throughout the lands. Bandits start razing and burning farmland? Send a contingent of men-at-arms led by a knight to stop them. Undead start rising and tormenting the countryside? Send the duchess who's achieved the rank of acolyte with the church to put them down. Demons coming through holes in the world? The count's son is the one with the knowledge of how to close those portals.

Commoners produce things that society as a whole needs. Nobles protect and rule the commoners, meaning that anything which threatens the land or the people is now a noble's #1 priority. Sure lesser threats might be farmed out to sellswords, mercenaries, and low-level adventurers, but they also make tempting proving grounds for noble scions who want to prove they're just as great as their parents.

Ever wonder why every main character in Game of Thrones is a noble? Because nobles are the ones with the power.

Also, check out this build for Tyrion Lannister if you're a big George R. R. Martin fan.

Do You Want To Play A Noble Character?

If you'd like to take a spin in one of these titled characters I highly recommend the experience. If you'd like to have a little extra fun with it though, why not roll for what kind of noble you are on this Pathfinder table? Put together an entire party and see who's related, who's closest to the throne, and make a name for yourself out of the shadow of your families.

Alternatively, you should check out 100 Nobles to Encounter, as well as A Baker's Dozen of Noble Families if you're looking for inspiration.

Finally, if you want more last-minute advice, check out 5 Tips For Playing Better Noble Characters.

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday!

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