When adventurers think about their relationship with the lower orders as a whole (a rare occurrence - the masses are typically providers of basic goods and services, and occasionally nuisances or colorful distractions), they typically cast themselves as Defenders of Civilization and its people. When they are met with anything other than adulation, the results are usually bloody - for the peasants in the shorter-term, and occasionally, for the adventuring party in the longer term.
Adventurers lead risk-filled lives, and as they commonly manage risk through the use of violence, any heightened sense of risk will lead them to lash out at its real or purported sources. When such risk emanates from the salt-of-the-earth commoners, it usually points to a trust deficit, which the adventurers then inflate to ludicrous levels. Peasants, like adventurers, also lead risky lives, though for different reasons. Rather than the danger of being murdered by enemies, the primary risks are of accidental death or maiming, disease, famine, fire, and other mundane hazards that can curtail already short lives, or make a person incapable of fending for one's own self. While adventurers attempt to ride the tiger of risk, commoners tend to be risk-averse: they lack the wherewithal to face the risk as individuals, and even as communities, peasants tend to be weak, disarmed, and isolated (hence, poorly informed, and without powerful allies).
Often, encounters with strangers who both appear to be dangerous, and who do not understand the plight, lifestyle, and culture of the typical peasant, will be fraught with danger. Even if the peasants are currently oppressed by a villain - a local landlord who sets very high tax-rates, a group of marauding monsters in the nearby woods who ravage the village with regularity, or impose an onerous tribute - the local oppressors are known quantities. From the peasants' perspective, these tyrants will probably still be there long after the adventurers have moved on to greener pastures. If the oppressors see the adventurers as a threat, they might take their frustrations out on the peasants after the adventurers have left. And the adventurers may, quite possibly, prove to be worse: it's not clear what social or legal force checks their behavior, and it will take time to adjust to their demands - an adjustment that has already been made with respect to evil overlords or harrying bandits. Moreover, reporting on, or perhaps even capturing, an adventurer, and turning him over to the local villain may actually lead to rewards, or at least to a lightening of the burden imposed on the village, or on a particular family. And if disobedience to a lord or bandit gang leads to a symbolic punishment for the ring-leaders (since indiscriminate slaughter would destroy a major source of income), who can be sure where a bloodbath unleashed by visiting adventurers will end? In play, once player characters feel that it has lost the trust of the populace, they rarely stop until the danger to their own lives is uprooted completely. And once they have had such an experience in one village, the attitude of complete distrust toward locals becomes an ingrained mindset.
|Petrashevsky and his followers were also subjected to a|
mock execution for their efforts
* * *
In circumstances where important-seeming visitors are merely passing through, have wealth to share, or can facilitate connections to VIPs, locals can be considerably more forthcoming and generous. Consider this testimony from the German scholar Adam Olearius (1603-1671), who traveled through Russia on route to Persia in the 1630s and 40s. The "friend" referred to below is in fact a member of the Muscovite aristocracy, but given Olearius' attitude toward Russian women of any class, who "have lewd tongues, are given to Wine, and will not let slip the opportunity to pleasure a friend", and his reference to "Muscovites" in general, his characterization applies to peasants as well:
"The greatest honour a Muscovite thinks he can do his friend, is to let him see his Wife, to be presented with a Cup of Strong-water [i.e. vodka] by her, and to permit he should kiss her. Count Leo Alexander de Slakou gave me to understand so much at my being in Muscovy in the year 1643. Having dined with him, he made me withdraw into another Chamber, where he told me, that he could not make a greater expression of the respects he had for me, nor a greater acknowledgment of the obligation he had to his Highness, than to shew me his Wife. She presently came in, very richly clad in her wedding-cloaths, and follow'd by a Gentlewoman with a bottle of Strong water and a Silver Cup. The Lady bid her fill out, and having put it to her mouth, presented it to me, and oblig'd me to drink it off; which I did thrice together. That done, the Count would have me kiss her, which I the more wondred at, in regard that kind of civility is not yet known in Holstein. Wherefore I would have contented my self to have kiss'd only her hand; but he so kindly engag'd me to kiss her lips, that there was no avoiding of it. She presented me a Handkercher, embroider'd at the extremities with Gold, Silver and Silk, with a deep fringe, such as are presented to the Bride on her Wedding day. Afterwards I found a note fasten'd to it, wherein was the name of Stresnof, Uncle by the Fathers side to the Great Dutchess."
Despite these displays of Russian hospitality, Olearius nevertheless expresses a typical adventurer's distrust toward the locals, as he regards their attitudes toward foreigners as being reciprocal. He relates that they treat all foreigners who will not dress in the local manner with disdain, and consider any display of scientific knowledge as an instance of sorcery. As for their own talents,
"[t]heir industry and subtilty is chiefly seen in their Traffick, in which there is no craft or cheat but they make use of, rather to circumvent others, than to prevent being deceiv'd themselves... And whereas cheating cannot be exercis'd without treachery, lying, and distrust, which are its constant attendants, they are marvellously well vers'd in these qualities, as also in the Lectures of Calumny, which they commonly make use of against those on whom they would be revenged for theft, which among them is the most enormous of all Crimes, and the most severely punish'd. To this end, they are so cunning, as to pawn at, or get secretly convey'd into their Lodgings, whom they would accuse, those things which they would have believed were stollen from them, or they thrust them into their Enemies Boots [...]"
Olearius looks in on a peasant enterprise
* * *
There are times, however, when peasants look past their xenophobia, open themselves up to foreign adventurers, and are even willing to accept their leadership. This happens during periods when society has been so destabilized that the peasants no longer accept the legitimacy of their elites, and look for any opportunity to revolt. In these circumstances, they will follow non-local charismatic leaders, but only provided that these leaders speak to them in a cultural idiom they understand, and tell them what they want to hear.
An example of such an antinomian time and place is Central Europe in the 15th and 16th century. Though the economy had gradually recovered from the near-collapse following the Black Death, the heightened expectations of the lower classes coincided with a nearly universal loss of faith in the elites (and especially in the Church), which, after all, failed to stave off the Plague. As a result, popular attitudes mutated into a heady brew of egalitarianism and the expectation of an imminent Millennium, which would lift up the lowly, punish the powerful and the wicked, and sweep away all laws and restrictions.
|The Drummer of Niklashausen casts a spell over willing|
In 1476, in the south German town of Niklashausen, within striking distance of Bohemia, where the millenarian revolt of the Taborites had only been crushed four decades earlier, and where apocalyptic sentiments remained strong, there arose a popular preacher named Hans Böhm (c. 1458 - 1476), himself likely of Bohemian origin. Böhm's background had been that of a popular marketplace entertainer (drummer or piper). At one point, Böhm, who was accustomed to summoning people to a dance, called them to assemble around a statue of the Virgin in Niklashausen, where all pious people were to assemble so as to be saved from God's wrath while He remade the world. Although Böhm initially preached a message of simplicity with the consent of the local priest, his sermons soon took an anti-ecclesiastical turn. He proclaimed that the killing of priests was pleasing to God, and would be judged as a meritorious act. Soon, he bade people to stop paying tithes, to fish, hunt, and pasture their flocks wherever they liked, and announced the abolition of all social ranks. Crowds of supplicants numbering in the tens of thousands flocked to the new prophet, who took credit for Niklashausen's bountiful harvest despite inclement weather. Before long, the Holy Youth claimed the power to heal the sick by the laying on of hands, and to free any soul from Hell.
Eventually, the authorities, led by the Archbishop of Wurzburg accused Böhm of sedition, captured him (possibly naked, in a tavern), and transported him to Wurzburg Castle. Böhm's followers marched en masse to the castle walls to free their prophet, and when the castle defenders fired warning shots from their cannons, they decided that the Virgin was protecting them. However, when the cannons began to target the besiegers, most of them quickly scattered, while the rest were easily routed, though supplicants continued to make pilgrimages to Niklashausen (despite the fact that the authorities had the church where the Virgin's statue stood demolished).
The episode of the mystical ministry of Hans Böhm demonstrates that under the right conditions, peasants are prepared to follow charismatic outsiders. These conditions include appealing to local value-systems and simmering religious and political expectations, as well as continued demonstration of the leader's efficacy. Once a prophet fails, however, erstwhile supporters melted away, or even turn against him with vehemence that matched their earlier devotion. The latter transpired slightly more than two decades later in Florence, when the friar Girolamo Savonarola's (1452-1498) followers angrily abandoned him when he backed down after committing to undergo a trial by fire. In addition, as Böhm's case shows, charismatic outsiders are likely to be manipulated by local notables (who had scores to settle with the Archbishop), or other unscrupulous manipulators, such as the local hermit who saw Böhm's preaching as an opportunity to head up a major revolutionary movement, and acquired the same kind of power over Böhm himself that the Holy Youth had over his followers.
Encounters between adventurers and established elites sometimes take place after the former have acted as disturbers of the peace (e.g. by slaughtering peasants), or when the latter are forced to step in to lay down the law and assert their place atop the social hierarchy. More frequently, however, members of the elite play the role of quest-givers. Why they do so requires a bit of explication. In principle, the legitimacy of rulers and the upper orders rests on their role as protectors of commoners against all manner of dangers. Not wishing to risk their life to drive back marauders, and preferring to let desperadoes handle the case might seem like an obvious rationale, but hiring outsiders to do your job is not always politic. Typically, the upper orders have something approaching a monopoly on the use of force, and have access to martial training that most commoners lack. Not every elite is a warrior elite, but in conditions where arcane forces may be equally potent on the battlefield (as is the case with many historical-fantasy RPGs), priestly, scholarly, and even moneyed aristocracies have access to some of the same kinds of combat abilities that adventurers exhibit as well. Additionally, a too-frequent resort to the use of mercenaries to solve problems will undermine an elite's standing, and over time lead to a proliferation of Hans Böhms who will attempt to enthrone themselves as a new elite. Wise elites are aware of these dangers, and approach the use of adventurers with great care, and only under certain circumstances.
The case of the 14th century English adventurer John Hawkwood (1323 - 1394), who headed the White Company of mercenaries in Italy, is particularly instructive in revealing the motivations of his employers (chiefly, Italian princes), as well as the measures they undertook to contain the damage caused by their association with adventurers when the relationship turned toxic. Sometimes, the princes' employed foreign mercenaries precisely because they were outsiders. Local commanders might be too deeply ensconced in the power structure, and would be far more likely to parlay their success into political leverage, whereas foreign mercenaries cared mostly about money. In addition, locals were often deeply implicated in strife between city-states, and between social orders within urban communes. A victorious local commander might have individual or political scores to settle, and was far more likely to engage in mass reprisals after capturing a city. Foreigners like Hawkwood were much less likely to upset a delicate political balance, and they were also desirable specifically because they trained to use less violent modes of conflict resolution. Their military offensives generally sought to inflict economic pain (though cutting off trade, or destroying crops and livestock), engaged in theatrical psy ops like mock executions, and targeted opposing unit commanders (by poisoning them), so as to cause the disintegration of enemy forces. They eschewed the systematic bloodletting of pitched battles when they could.
|The White Company on a business trip|
Nevertheless, dealing with mercenaries was still fraught with danger, so Hawkwood's employers put in failsafes to avoid the most common pitfalls. Relationships between employers and mercenaries were designated in detailed contracts called condotta, which testify to great levels of distrust that existed between the two sides. Mercenary commanders, as well as their lieutenants were made to individually and collectively swear on the Bible, not only making the lieutenants responsible for fulfilling the contract's terms even if the commanders were not, but also sealing the agreement with religious sanction (which, in fantasy environments, can bear magical force). The mercenaries were also made to swear not to molest women in the territory of their military operations. The division of spoils between the condottieri and the employers were also clearly spelled out: typically, the mercenaries were entitled to all movable property, whereas the employers would keep any immovable property captured (a policy that would make sense in many in-game situations). In case disputes between the two parties erupted, a panel consisting of representatives of both sides would attempt to iron out conflicts, though typically, transposing the disagreement onto legal terrain would yield advantages to employers, who had access to better jurists. The condotta were also time-bound and concluded on a short term basis - typically, six or eight months - allowing employers to stall, and then legally dissolve problematic relationships with their mercenaries. However, if at the end of the negotiations, the employers were seen as being in arrears in regard to timely payment, they could be targeted by vengeful mercenaries, who were only too happy to switch sides.
Foreign mercenaries, like mystic revolutionaries, could only operate and prosper under certain conditions. Late 14th-century Italy evinced a number of highly atypical features in comparison to a "standard" medieval European environment. It suffered from a high degree of political fragmentation, but most of the city-states and small duchies that competed for primacy, to a much greater degree than the rest of Latin Christendom, at the same time benefitted from inflows of great wealth as a result of being connected to centers of trade in the Muslim Near East. The surplus wealth, coupled with sharpened political conflict acted as a lodestone for military specialists from relatively more impoverished areas (like England), who no longer even had the luxury of going on Crusade to the Levant, as these had ended late in the previous century. Moreover, though the social hierarchy in Italy had been greatly shaken by the Black Death, the influx of wealth, and the struggles between patricians and plebeians in the cities, the old aristocracy was still secure enough atop the social pyramid to regard mercenaries as interstitial players rather than as a serious political threat. The monthly wages of an experienced and successful commander like Hawkwood could be astronomically high - 140 times greater than those of an average Florentine construction worker - but war was a highly speculative business, and failure on the field could result not only in financial losses, but in the loss of life. Wealth could thus be fleeting, and the best guarantee for maintaining or improving one's status was still a title of nobility, which is why many commanders of mercenary companies were in fact aristocrats. Those who were not knew that war ennobles - that is, their best chance of winning a title was to qualify for a land-grant from an employer through excellence on the battlefield. Hawkwood's own early biography is a bit murky - some sources claim that he was the son of a tanner, while others attest that his father was a fairly wealthy landowner. Whatever the case, his aristocratic claims certainly strengthened by the end of his career, when he married Donnina Visconti - illegitimate daughter of the ruler of Milan. But the age of the mercenary came to an end at the turn of the 15th century, when private foreign companies were replaced by permanent armies working with long-term contracts. The business of Italian power politics was too dangerous to be left to outsiders.
* * *
In situations where the elite is new and there are significant opportunities for social mobility, adventurers may be recruited on the basis of personal connections. Functionaries holding high administrative positions are probably surrounded by strangers and foreigners, and are looking to strengthen their own standing by bringing in relatives or old friends they believe they can trust. They may also feel a sense of debt to such people, and will be looking to set them up in lucrative sinecures.
The story of Abu Ali Hasan ibn Ali Tusi, better known as Nizam Al-Mulk (1018-1092), and Hassan-i Sabah, better known as the Old Man of the Mountain and the founder of the order of Assassins (c. 1034 - 1124) exemplifies this sort of relationship. Though the story is likely apocryphal, its popularity throughout the Persian- and Arabic-speaking worlds until our own days offers important insights on the conceptualization of associations between members of the ulama scholarly stratum and political administrators in the Muslim world. According to the story, the two men (as well as the famed poet-astronomer Omar Khayyam) were fellow students in a Nishapur madrasah, who made a pact, vowing that when one of them obtained a high position, he would help the others do the same. The first to rise was Nizam, who became vizier under the Seljuk conqueror Alp Arslan (and then de facto ruler of the empire under his son Malik Shah). At that time, Hassan appeared at the Seljuk court, and demanded that Nizam fulfill his pledge, which the latter gladly did. After acquiring a ministerial-level position in Nizam's cabinet, the friendship began to experience tensions. When the young Malik Shah ordered an audit of the Sultanate's economy in 1078, his vizier promised to complete the project in one year's time, but his protégé Hassan averred that he could do so in just forty days. Unsurprisingly, the inexperienced ruler chose Hassan for the task, undermining Nizam's position at court. The likely explanation for Hassan's connivance was that he had already converted to the Isma'ili form of Shia Islam while in the service of the Fatimid Caliph in Egypt, and thus, sought the opportunity to sow chaos and dissension among the Sunni Seljuks, who ruled over his Iranian homeland, and constituted the dominant power in the Dar-al-Islam. The canny Nizam struck back, however, and was able to insert altered records into the documentation utilized by Hassan. In the end, the report submitted to the Shah contained such absurd figures, that Hassan was expelled from court. Like the employers who hired John Hawkwood's mercenaries three centuries later, Nizam used his command of the administrative apparatus to manage (and if needed, eliminate) competition from upstarts.
|The assassination of Nizam Al-Mulk|
The last blow in the struggle was struck by the hand of a killer in the service of the Old Man of the Mountain after he had already created the assassin network, and taken residence at the impregnable fortress at Alamut. The man, dressed as a dervish, laid low the vizier whose name meant 'The Order of the Realm'. Just over a month later, Malik Shah himself was poisoned while out hunting. While modern scholarship attributes his death to the followers of the assassinated Nizam (or to the nominal Sunni Caliph in Baghdad), legend has the Old Man taking the credit: "Here I am, at Alamut, master of all I survey: and more. The Sultan and the peasant Vizier are dead. Have I not kept my vow?" The message, instilling fear of the radical sect even after it had lost most of its power, couldn't be starker: people who were responsible for the affairs of state should steer clear of parvenu adventurers.
* * *
|News of Musa's spending spree reached Europe|
Peril from adventurers could come not only in the form of dark conspiracies or poisoned daggers, but also from the economic and social instability they brought in their wake. In historical terms, the equivalent of adventuring parties hauling in a dragon hoard into town and completely destabilizing the economy was an extremely rare occurrence, but it did happen. The most famous case involved the Malian king Mansa Musa (1280s - 1337), who went on pilgrimage to Mecca via Egypt in 1324. Musa was the ruler of a sizable empire, not an adventurer, but despite the fact that he brought 60,000 people with him to make his mark as a major potentate in the Dar-al-Islam, he was still regarded as a peripheral upstart, and was told to bow before Egypt's Mamluk sultan. Each person in his retinue carried an average of four pounds of gold bars, while each of the 80 camel in the caravan carried an average of 175 lbs. of gold dust. Overall, Musa's wealth has been estimated at 400 billion dollars in today's prices, which makes him the wealthiest man in all of recorded history. When he arrived in Egypt, Musa's people spent gold liberally, and the locals jacked up prices by a factor of five. As a result, the value of gold in the whole of the Mediterranean economy, of which Egypt was a key part, declined between 10 and 25%. The story goes that Musa had to borrow gold at exorbitant rates prior to his return, possibly because he and his people had spent everything and had nothing left, possibly because of his generosity and heart. But one wonders whether this punishment may have been imposed on him by his host Al-Nasir Muhammad as a sanction for creating economic instability, and as a way to put an upstart who had difficulty in recognizing his seniority in his place.
|Polo in a Mongol caftan. Did he have|
gems sewn into it?
An analogous fate awaited Marco Polo (1254 - 1324) on his way back to Venice from the court of Kublai Khan. On route, Polo carried a considerable hoard of coins, which was protected by the Khan's paiza - a passport that gave him the right to pass unmolested anywhere in Mongol domains. When he got to the Empire of Trebizond - a corrupt little remnant of the Byzantine Empire on the north coast of Anatolia, he found himself beyond the limits of the Khan's protection. Local officials then confiscated the equivalent of 4,000 gold hyperpyra, which apparently constituted the major part of the wealth the Polos acquired during 20 years of service to Kublai. As a result, Polo ended up converting the rest of his treasure into gems, and sewing these into his coat lining - an act every fantasy RPG adventurer should be able to identify with. Though Polo still had enough money to purchase a palazzo after his return to Venice, and died a wealthy man, he apparently found the seizure of his treasure in Trebizond so humiliating, he left it out of the autobiography he dictated to Rustichello da Pisa.
|He's ki-rin (giraffe), brought|
from the Horn of Africa as a gift
for the Chinese imperial
Sometimes, the threat of treasure-hauling adventurers was more sociocultural than monetary. The case of the famous 15th century 'eunuch admiral' Zheng He (1371 - 1433/5), who commanded Ming Dynasty treasure armada of over 200 ships, and nearly 30,000 people around the Indian Ocean and probably carried even more valuables even than Mansa Musa. He represented the most powerful state that existed in the world at the time, though as a Muslim and a eunuch, he was regarded as an outsider at court by the Confucian establishment, and his appearance in ports of call from Malacca to the Horn Africa must have been regarded as that of an adventurer. The treasure he carried was primarily intended for export and trade - to get rulers throughout the Indian Ocean area to recognize Ming suzerainty (though He had earlier played the decisive role in placing his patron Zhu Di on the throne as the Yongle Emperor, and had no compunction in using force in situations where bribery did not suffice). However, after his patron's death, He was marginalized. The scholar-administrators, and the Yongle Emperor's son and grandson, who shared their outlook, believed that the treasure fleet voyages counteracted the spirit of the dynasty's foundational documents, which rested on the principles of legalism, the strict observance of ritual, and austerity. After He's seventh (and largest) voyage, he died, and was buried at sea. His fleet was burned, all records of the voyages were destroyed, and the admiral's name was omitted from the dynasty records. In this way, a traditional elite asserted itself against an upstart deemed to be a destabilizing influence.
* * *
But the biggest threat adventurers could pose to established elites was as potential usurpers of their primary calling and source of legitimacy - as protectors of the people. Unlike in the case of the Drummer of Niklashausen, where an adventurer did become the head of a faction of counterelites, and had to be confronted directly in defense of the existing social order, in other instances, upstarts pursued a more typical trajectory of RPG heroes - they rose up to fight against evil invaders, specifically seeking to place rightful rulers back on the throne. But even in this expressly conservative role, they still constituted substantial dangers to the powers that were.
|St. Joan of Arc - a People's|
Paladin who ended badly
The story of Joan of Arc (c. 1412 - 1431) is perhaps as close as one can reasonably come to a narrative about an FRPG paladin in the historical record. At age 13, Joan saw visions, ostensibly of saints, who told her to drive out English occupiers from France, and to crown the Dauphin (later Charles VII) in Rheims Cathedral. She sought Charles out, convinced him of the authenticity of her visions and her seriousness of purpose. She donned armor, assumed effective command of French forces, and succeeded in capturing the strategically vital town of Orleans, after which she fulfilled the main part of her mission, and saw the Dauphin crowned. But the following year, while on campaign to capture Paris, she was taken prisoner by the Burgundians, who sold her to their English allies. The latter in turn put her on trial for witchcraft, and the presiding Bishop of Beauvais - an English collaborator - succeeded in having her condemned and burned at the stake. In the meantime, the newly-crowned French king did not rush to her defense before she fell into the hands of his archenemy. The evidence is somewhat murky, but his main advisor - the Grand Chamberlain Georges de la Trémoille had a brother who served at the Burgundian court. Even if, as recent evidence suggests, Trémoille did not betray Joan, he likely saw the charismatic youngster, and her adventurous foreign policy as a serious risk to himself and to the kingdom, and his master, through his failure to act, seems to have acquiesced. The paladin's main task had been accomplished anyway, and God's anointed king assumed his rightful place as the protector of the French.
The Middle Orders
Unlike commoners, who are either in need of saving or are victims of the adventurers' rapine, or elites who act as quest-givers (or agents of reestablishing authority), the middle orders are usually peripheral players in dramas where adventurers assume starring roles. Typically, these are providers of goods and services, informants, operators of establishments where adventurers meet to unwind or discuss plans, and, in rare instances, part of the supporting cast that accompanies the heroes on their missions. Despite acting as "extras", their interstitial positions in society make them the most similar to adventurers in their ideals and outlooks on other social groups, so representatives of the middle orders will generally display the greatest spiritual kinship with adventurers of any other NPC groups.
A good model for the interaction between skilled specialists from the middle orders and adventurer types may be found in the relationship between Niccolo Machiavelli (1469 - 1527), Leonardo da Vinci (1452 - 1519), and Cesare Borgia (1475 - 1507). Borgia is as good an exemplar of a murderhobo as one can find in historical sources: he was a scion of a provincial aristocratic family trying to make a name for itself in big politics. Smart, opportunistic, amoral, and capable of monstrous violence when it advances his goals, he is treated with a great deal of understanding by these two representatives of the Humanist Renaissance, who are also reliant on him to advance their careers. For Machiavelli, his first impression of Borgia - his future model for a Prince - is that of a lord who is
splendid and magnificent, and in war there is no enterprise so great that it does not seem small to him; in the pursuit of glory and territory he is unceasing and knows neither danger nor fatigue. He arrives at a place before anyone is aware that he has left the place he was at before. He is beloved by his soldiers and has in his service the best men in Italy. All this makes him victorious and formidable, particularly in light of his constant good fortune.
What particularly elicited Machiavelli's admiration was Borgia's single-minded determination to a cause, his uncanny competence, resilience of character, ability to draw on either force, guile, or intellect to get results, and his ability to make rapid and shrewd decisions - in other words, for what might nowadays be called his "professionalism". As a diplomat and budding political advisor, the Florentine was excited by Borgia's unscrupulousness, disdain for half-measures, and simultaneous flexibility - qualities he saw lacking in his own Republic, which had by then become decrepit, and lacked the force or will to put its proclaimed principles into practice.
|Leonardo's sketches of what is thought to be Cesare Borgia|
We lack direct evidence of Leonardo's sentiments toward his condottiere employer, but Borgia's own treatment of da Vinci is well-documented. The 'Scourge of the Romagna' clearly respected Leonardo's superior intellect and treated him as a friend. He ingratiated the artist to enlist his services as a siege engineer by appealing to his vanity and keeping him well-dressed. Leonardo, for his part, preferred to overlook the purposes to which Pope Alexander VI's ruthless son was putting his designs - he preferred to extoll the human spirit that inhered in them, and to assert that his engines of war could only be put to evil ends by evil men. Whether he thought his own employer was evil is unclear, but sketches of a man regarded by art historians as Cesare Borgia suggest that Leonardo, like his Florentine compatriot Machiavelli, also perceived his boss' intelligence and rather empathetic to the cares etched on his prematurely aged face.
* * *
|Modena's 'scandalous' Kabbalistic|
dabbling continues to attract attention
Not all representatives of the middle orders exhibit the genius or adventurousness of a Leonardo or a Machiavelli, obviously. The majority might evince much more parochial and nervous attitudes toward adventurers or adventurous activities. This is especially true regarding people who reside in highly regulated social environments. We can look at the autobiographical notes of Leon de Modena (1571 - 1648), a Sephardic rabbi who hailed from Venice and resided in various towns all over northern Italy. Although Modena's main professional activities were of a liturgical and pedagogical character, he also gambled, dabbled in Kabbalism, and was known to lay out horoscopes, occasionally in tandem with Christian astrologers. Modena's writing was replete with pangs of guilt regarding all the latter activities, which he experienced as addictions which he could not control. In the wake of bouts of gambling or engagement in magical practices, Modena always retreated back to the ghetto, to his main work, and to family life. The flings with the outsider Christian "adventurers" were to be atoned for by discipline, fasting, and prayer.
|Peterhof - the German "ghetto" in Novgorod|
Modena's discomfort with the "adventuring" life is not fundamentally different from that of the peasants discussed earlier. If he is to be thought of as a kind of adventurer himself, we may note that his bouts of adventuring activity were brief, and that the law forced him to live in special compounds apart from the bulk of the population. Special laws keeping adventurers apart from most of the populace - outside city walls, or within special compounds, might not be out of place in historical fantasy settings. In another instance, Hanseatic merchants who arrived in medieval Novgorod were to stay in a special settlement called St. Peterhof, where the Germans had their own churches, and were largely ruled by their own laws. But entry into the German district by locals was generally prohibited. While the two societies were linked by trade networks, the authorities at least attempted to keep human interaction between their representatives down to a minimum - and this in what was then one of the greatest commercial emporia in the world.
The Barbarians and the Monsters
As discussed at the outset of this series, the frontier mentality of rapidly expanding settled civilizations lies at the root of the fantasy RPG construction. The notion that that all those who live beyond the borders of settled lands (ruled by the descendants or appointees of the gods, of course) are bloodthirsty, ever-aggressive, and rapacious savages, reproduced in the image of every "monstrous humanoid" race that populates fantasy universes, goes back to the earliest agricultural empires. For the Egyptians, the Aamu (Amorite) "Asiatics", who populated the Sinai badlands just beyond their own frontiers, were early prototypes of the proverbial orc or gnoll.
The "wretched Asiatics" arrive in Egypt"As for the wretched Asiatic, unpleasant is the place where he is, [with] trouble from water, difficulty from many trees, and the roads thereof awkward by reason of mountains. He does not dwell in one place, being driven hither and yon through want, going about [the desert] on foot. He has been fighting from the time of Horus, he never conquers, yet he is not conquered, and he does not announce a day of fighting, like a thief whom a community has driven out... But I lived, and while I existed the barbarians were as though in the walls of a fortress... I caused the Delta to smite them, I carried off their people, I took away their cattle, until the detestation of the Asiatics was against Egypt. Do not worry about him, for the Asiatic is a crocodile on his riverbank, he snatches a lonely serf, but he will never rob in the vicinity of a populous town."
The "monsters'" state of permanent aggression (but without deep social significance) may be a valid enough trope for the classic frontier-type setting in which murderhoboing adventurers are "heroes" simply because they hail from the "right" side of the frontier. World-builders who want to take a deeper look at the terrain occupied by adventurers will quickly conclude that the monsters' apparent state of permanent mobilization would obtain only in those cases when some of them had at least a halfway reasonable expectation of victory against the forces of civilization. In instances where the barbarians are clearly aware of being outmatched, a very different attitude toward representatives of the stronger side is likely to dominate.
* * *
Typically, small, weak groups of "barbarians" would avoid confrontation with the forces of civilization to the best of their ability. They would likely adopt a strategy of avoiding most contact altogether, by taking up residence far from civilized frontiers, and engaging in interaction only through intermediaries, or indirectly, The 12th century "silent trade" of Muslim merchants with the Finno-Ugric Iugra in what is today northern Russia is case in point. Traders would come and leave their wares (including weapons) near a large tree, and leave. If the goods were of sufficient quality and quantity, the nomadic hunters would take them, and leave a certain number of pelts of fur-bearing animals; if not, they would leave the merchant goods untouched, until their counterparts made necessary adjustments, or left without making a deal. No direct encounter with the representatives of "civilization" took place.
|Arawaks greet Columbus, shortly before being designated|
as "monsters" and slaughtered en masse
Alternatively, the weaker party would initiate the encounter with open arms. This generally happened in cases where the "barbarians"belonged to relatively egalitarian groups that practiced gift-giving and exogamy, and maintained a curiosity toward outsiders that had not (yet) been stained by bloodshed. The initial encounters between the Arawaks in the Bahamas and the sailors of the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria featured displays of dancing, gift exchange, and not a few instances of sexual congress - until the latter decided the time had come to show the flag clearly demonstrate the power relationship between the two groups by engaging in wholesale butchery. At that point, the sailors' own chaplain, Bartolomé de las Casas, relates, the natives took to the hills, where the Spaniards began to hunt them down with dogs. Though they tried to hide from the invaders, on rare occasion the natives managed to kill a European as revenge for widespread acts of murder and rape, but the invaders would answer each death by executing 100 Arawaks. In Mexico, the resistance against conquistadors took more extreme forms, as refugees from Aztec cities fell upon their oppressors, and would slaughter Spanish garrisons until no one was left alive. This was the version of events that was impressed upon newly arrived "adventurers", who were told that the bloodthirsty natives attacked after refusing to accept the just rule of the conquistadors' God and king, whom, as las Casas justifiably points out, the natives had never before had the occasion to hear about, much less meet.
* * *
Greater barbarian militancy was exhibited in areas where the military and technological balance was not so decisively skewed in favor of the sedentary empires. The steppe frontier in Eurasia was maintained for nearly 2000 years because the diffusion of arms, the possession of a superior cavalry, and the potential to put most of the adult male population under arms gave nomads the possibility to compete with sedentary empires militarily while maintaining their own way of life. On occasion, they could even organize huge commonwealths that could conquer even the largest empires. Representations of Mongols, Gökturks, and Xiongnu inform the images of monstrous humanoids that threaten civilized life, but as Christopher Beckwith justifiably points out, in the relationship between Outer Eurasian settled empires and Inner Eurasian steppe "barbarians", violence and expansionism was typically initiated by the former. Chinese, Persian, and other administrators practiced a strategy of luring the nomads into a position of economic dependence on their far more populous and productive neighbors, after which they initiated policies of economic sanctions, followed by divide- and-rule tactics. Nomadic attempts to conquer sedentary kingdoms usually followed as a response, when negotiations broke down, threats proved ineffective, and migration was seen as undesirable or impossible.
|China trapped the Dzungars, their last|
serious steppe rival, on both sides
of the frontier
One aspect of the relationship between nomadic warriors and settled civilization that's overlooked by the racialized "monstrous humanoids" model is the diversity of the "barbarian" population. Typically, "civilized races" - humans, elves, dwarves and others, are counterpoised by the "monstrous races" - orcs, goblins, reptilian folk of various kinds, and so on. Aside from a few dubious urban half-orcs, the racial divide is largely congruent with imperial frontiers. However, nomadic groups tend to be mixed, despite the emphasis on reciting lineage (which is often fictitious anyway). Not only does a nomadic lifestyle typically preclude endogeny, groups living beyond imperial frontiers often led healthier and freer lives, thus serving as magnets for sedentary peoples who devoted their lives to agricultural toil. It is frequently pointed out that the main function of the Great Wall of China was not so much to keep the barbarians out, as to keep the native population in. To be more precise, it was to keep the recently settled nomads living within the walls and allied with China from wandering back out onto the steppe. Along these lines, Thomas Barfield argued that China used a differential strategy on their "inner" and "outer" frontiers. Initially, the "inner" barbarians would be approached with gifts, which were given on the condition that they pledged to cease raiding Chinese towns, would not migrate beyond walls and join up with more distant nomadic groups and accept imperial seals. This meant that they would henceforth be recognized as imperial officials. Their military forces would then be marshaled to defend Chinese frontiers against the "rawer" barbarians that resided beyond the Wall. Chanyus and khans who concluded such treaties rarely felt bound by them over the long term, but reneging on deals with the empire gave China the excuse to cut off the flow of gifts (on which nomads had become dependent), to adopt a more aggressive military posture, and to conclude deals with the chieftain's rivals, thus further dividing nomadic confederacies internally. Thus, though nomads quickly became savvy to the Chinese diplomatic game, there would now be "barbarians" on both sides of the frontier, and over the long term, it became difficult to resist Chinese economic, bureaucratic, and cultural encroachment. Successful conquests of China only hastened the sinification of nomads. Conquering elites became new dynasties that had clients and alliances beyond the wall, which ultimately resulted in the movement of Chinese imperial frontiers further north. Later, the spread of religions such as Buddhism among nomadic populations further helped tie them to (Tibetan) cult centers under Chinese control, and to erode cultural links with other steppe groups.
|Cinematic depiction of True Son|
Diversity on the "barbarian" side of frontiers was also promoted by demographic factors. Given the overwhelming superiority of numbers of the settled populations, groups living beyond the frontier had to replenish their losses from wars in any way they could, including by kidnapping children from towns and villages, and raising them as their own. The Light in the Forest - a story of a different frontier in 18th century North America, tells the tale of John Cameron Butler - a boy born to British colonists, but taken prisoner by the Lenni Lenape of Ohio, and raised as one of their own. In just four years, Butler, now called True Son, was so fully assimilated that he did not want to return to his family after a treaty with the British stipulated that all white captives should be returned.
The upshot is that in situations of a relative balance of power along the frontier, relationships between adventurers and "barbarians" may be quite multiform. Some "barbarians" may be treaty-bound to "civilized" authorities. They may be ready to abandon their commitments at the drop of a hat, or to affirm their newfound status to become "more Catholic than the pope" and join adventurers in an effort to downplay any connection between themselves as other "monsters". Conversely, monster groups beyond the frontier may seek to ally with powerful adventurers by offering them service, marriages, and gifts, or looking for ways to cause captive adventurers to "go native".
* * *
"Monsters" may thus relate to adventurers as potential trade-partners, in-laws, employers, negotiating partners, or even fellow adventurers dedicated to clearing the frontier of other "monsters" with which they are at odds, or no longer identify. They may try to avoid contact with adventurers altogether. However, at times, "monsters" may act in accordance with the traditional script, as implacable foes.
|Varus commits suicide|
In the example of the Battle of Teutoburg Forest, the allied Germanic tribes can easily be cast in the role of the "monsters". The Germans were lead by Arminius (or Hermann) (17 BCE - 21 CE), son of the chieftain of the Cherusci tribe, who had been taken as a hostage and raised in Rome. There, he had not only become a citizen, but also attained the rank of equite (knight). After being put in command of Cherusci auxiliary units beyond the limes in the first years of the Common Era, Arminius suddenly (or not) had a change of heart, and turned against his Roman overlords. The specific target of his plotting was one Publius Quinctilius Varus (46 BCE - 9 CE), a Roman official appointed as governor of newly conquered provinces beyond the Rhine by Caesar Augustus. Varus was another classic murderhobo - the scion of an ancient, though impoverished patrician family, he hitched his political wagon to Augustus, and as a result, was rewarded with appointments as governor, first in Africa, then in Syria, where he quickly acquired a reputation for harsh methods of rule and leveling high taxes. After being transferred to Magna Germania, Varus once again distinguished himself by his oppressive policies, which particularly included the practice of crucifixion against local insurgents. It was likely this conduct that set off Arminius, who, while working as Varus' advisor, began to secretly forge an anti-Roman coalition among heretofore disparate Germanic tribes. Under the pretext of recruiting additional native allies, Arminius led the three legions under Varus' command into a trap in Teutoburg Forest. There, during a rainstorm, the Romans were surrounded by Germans, who rained javelins down on them. After managing to escape and retreating all night, the legions wandered into another trap set by Arminius' allies, where they were trapped on the edge of the woods by German attackers behind a trench and a wall. After a desperate attempt to storm the wall failed, the remains of the legions were ridden down by German horsemen. Ultimately, over 20,000 legionnaires were slaughtered in the rout, and the 17th, 18th and 19th legions simply ceased to exist. Varus himself succeeded in committing suicide and avoided capture, which was for the best, for he did not live to witness the barbarians' monstrous reprisals. His body, along with those of many of his comrades were left unburied on the field of battle. Other captives or fallen solders had their heads nailed to trees, were hung from gibbets, ceremonially sacrificed to the Germans' gods, cooked in pots, enslaved, or, on occasion, ransomed back to the Romans.
In summation, it may be said that adventurers who acquire a reputation for terrorizing natives beyond the frontiers of civilization are likely to be considered as evil incarnate by the "monsters" who live there. This attitude will likely be shared by most rank-and-file monsters, who would gladly take any opportunity to completely obliterate or humiliate these adventurers, both to satisfy their own need for revenge and to build up confidence and élan among groups that generally consider themselves inferior. Thus, once they have set on such a path, adventurers can expect no quarter from the "monsters" on whom they build their careers. As the case of Arminius illustrates, they should expect to be betrayed by monstrous allies, even if these allies can fully express themselves in civilized idioms. Which will naturally only convince them to commit even more to their murderhoboing ways.
* * *
Although monstrous leaders may have a stake in stoking anti-adventurer rage among their rank-and-file, some 'boss monsters' may, contrariwise, seek to recruit adventurers to work for them. They may do so in order to settle petty scores with various other monstrous rivals, to increase their own prestige, or, even, to proclaim themselves as players in a wider system of relations that include established "civilized" powers. There is no contradiction, from the point of view of these boss monsters, between working to make a deal that increases their fame and power, and manipulating their underlings to continue to hate adventurers along the lines outlined in the previous example.
A illustrative case of a relationship between such a boss and an adventurer is the association between Ivan the Terrible (1530 - 1584) and Heinrich von Staden (1542 - after 1579). Ivan's "monstrosity" is frequently overstated, including by authors of Russian-themed RPGs - the 16th century was a turbulent time in Western Europe as well, and the single example of the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre makes Ivan seem fairly mild by comparison. My characterization of him as a monster boss simply follows the conceit utilized above - he was a ruler of a state beyond the boundary of a more powerful Germano-Latin civilization, but he attempted to assert himself as an imperial-caliber player within this sophisticated system. Ivan conducted an active, though ultimately unsuccessful diplomacy with other European states. Most famously, he carried on a correspondence with Elizabeth of England, in which he attempted to leverage the burgeoning trade between the two countries into a possible marriage with the Virgin Queen, a potential asylum (should his attempt to bring Muscovy under more stringent central control go awry), and most importantly, into a military alliance with England against his Baltic rivals Sweden and Poland. Ivan also sought to increase his realm's power and his personal prestige by bringing a variety of foreigners, of which von Staden is probably the most infamous, into his service.
|Heinrich von Staden in the film Tsar'. Portrayed by the|
Finnish actor Ville Haapasalo, von Staden was depicted
as a designer of torture and execution devices.
Prior to coming to Russia, Staden - a native of Western Germany near the town of Münster - had been a seminarian, a mason, and a merchant. He found himself in Livonia, near the borders of Ivan's Muscovite state, because he fled his native city after he was accused of stabbing a fellow student with an awl. Here, after raiding Muscovite-occupied territory and serving some time in prison, Staden despairs of Livonian lawlessness, decides to switch sides, and enters Ivan's service. Apparently, the foreigner's literacy and facility with languages made him an attractive servitor, and he was immediately taken on by Ivan's governor in Dorpat, and from there, conducted to Moscow. Here he received an invitation to the tsar's table, was granted a salary, a silk caftan, a village, and an appointment to the Service Land Chancery, which distributed land to the tsar's servitors. By this time, Ivan had placed a third of all Muscovite land under his direct control. This land, called the Oprichnina - 'the land apart' - was run by officials called oprichniks, who constituted something like Ivan's secret police. The oprichniks' main preoccupation involved uncovering plots against the tsar by hereditary princes and boyars, and, not coincidentally, seizing their property. Staden became a leading oprichnik, and accompanied Ivan in what the German, in his chronicles, later called plundering expeditions against his own people. Staden grew fabulously wealthy from this plunder, which in some cases had to be seized from monasteries, or involved axe-murdering hereditary princesses - an episode Staden relates with no small amount of glee. The plundering life in the service of the tsar did present significant dangers to a foreigner with few sources of social support. Sometimes, arguments broke out over how the loot was divided, but a bigger source of problems was storing the loot. Much of Staden's narrative is taken up with complaints against servants and neighbors who stole from him, or attempted to blackmail him (by claiming in court that Staden, contrary to the tsar's ordinance, planned to leave the country, for instance). His fellow Germans - seekers of fortune much like him - were among the worst offenders. Ultimately, following the 1571 raid on Moscow by the Crimean Tatars, Ivan was forced to rehabilitate the hereditary princes and to dissolve the Oprichnina. As a result, Staden, after nearly dying in the raid, lost his holdings, moved north, and invested his not inconsiderable wealth into a successful fur trade. Eventually, he left Russia aboard a Dutch ship. After returning to Europe, Staden lobbied the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II to conquer Muscovy, and presented him with a fairly detailed description of the wealth and defenses of the country of his erstwhile overlord and employer.
The relationship between Ivan and Heinrich von Staden provides a useful model for how boss monsters and adventurers might interact. After coming to Russia, Staden experienced dramatic upward mobility, because Ivan found his cleverness and ruthlessness useful. Despite becoming a highly placed official, Staden's life in the shadow of the Muscovite court was precarious. He was constantly preyed upon by proximate members of the lower orders (rank-and-file monsters) and his fellow adventurers, who also wanted to capitalize during an unstable time rife with wars, plagues, and invasions.. Despite being in favor, Ivan's protection was rarely enough, and Staden had to use his wiles and pay off competitors, neighbors, and compatriots to leave him be, at least until such a time as he could turn the tables on them. Boss monster Ivan preferred to have his henchmen's feet held to the fire. And when he needed to start relying on the established elite, Ivan cut Staden loose - though the latter repaid him by plotting to organize a Habsburg invasion of Muscovy.
* * *
This concludes the overview of the relationship between adventurers and established social orders based on historical examples, and the study of murderhoboes as a social type within game settings. In the concluding essay of this series, I will turn to look at the sociology of the adventuring party as a small group, and examine the question of how depicting such a group by players can be made into a deeper and more enjoyable experience over the course of a campaign.