Alright, everyone, it's time to get on to a story about medieval stasis, societal norms, possible elven fuckery, wine, honor, and more crossdressing than you can shake a lance at with Warhammer Fantasy: Knights of the Grail.
Knights of the Grail handles the Empire's neighbor to the west, the backwards but noble realm of Bretonnia, where everything is stuck a couple centuries behind the norm of the setting and noble knights rule over grateful peasants in perfect feudal harmony. The noble knights, who are all men of good bloodlines, stand as the shield of their people against the monsters and horrors of the old world. In return, the peasants work the fields and cheerfully build their castles and feed their lords' armies, happy to give over 9/10ths of their income to their masters. The Knights worship the Lady of the Lake, the ideal of chivalry and honor who first rose up Giles d' Breton and his mighty companions to become the first king and dukes of the land. Everyone knows their place, unlike the Empire with its upstart merchants and grasping politicians and rebellious 'free' cities. There is no need for guns and machines, for chivalry, honor, and the Lady's Blessing are stronger than any coward's invention!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=60WQUG3XW3M The Warhammer Total War Bret Trailer is basically a perfect example of how Bretonnians would tell you everything works. It's not, but it's also not quite as far off as you'd initially assume, which gets at why Bretonnia is one of the most interesting places in Warhammer.
I've talked about the sidebar that starts this book a lot in the past, but it's an important one for two reasons. It starts out by addressing what's going to be an elephant in the room throughout all of the Bret Book: Women are second class citizens in Bretonnia as written. Many of the careers in the book are only open to a female character if she pretends to be a man. The sidebar is about two things: First, it assures players and GMs that if that bothers their group, they are free to discard it. If you want all the feudal shenanigans and nothing to do with the crossdressing and gender politics, that's 100% fine. It's not necessary to remind players of this, of course, but I think it's good to do so; I've seen enough 40k Deathwatch posts on Fantasy Flight's forums about 'I have a woman in my group who wants to play a female Space Marine! How can I possibly violate canon like that? What do I do!?' that I think explicit permission to bend things around might be needed for some players. But it also contains a bit of 'But see where we're going with this. We think we can make it interesting' reassurance that I think is borne out by the rest of the book.
You see, one of the keys to Knights of the Grail is that Bretonnia's society is so thoroughly based on outward appearances and performances, supplemented by so many people bending the rules to make this insanely rigid mess work, that it does something very intelligent with the idea of PCs as peasants pretending to be nobles, nobles pretending to be peasants, and women pretending to be men: None of these things require checks to maintain and outside one specific instance, none of them limit your ability to play as any class or character. Being a woman in disguise, a peasant who stole a noble's armor and identity, or a noble who has disguised themselves to go among the Merry Men and right the deeper injustices plays into the theme of a setting. In Bretonnia, everyone has a thousand little things they pretend not to notice to keep up the appearances of a fairy-tale kingdom, and what you dress like and act like is often what society treats you like. Playing as a woman in Bretonnia is a plot hook, rather than a restraint on who and what you can play as.
Bretonnia is a beautiful kingdom. Its fields have always been fertile, its forests green and lush, and its food some of the best in the world. Bretonnian wine is celebrated all across the continent (and their beer reviled as worse than horse's piss), and the knights are actually often quite brave and talented in battle. Recently, at the first hint of the Storm of Chaos, Bretonnia set aside its various squabbles with its neighbors and instantly declared a crusade to aid in defending the world from Archaon; the Bretonnian Errantry war contributed significantly to making sure Chaos did as little damage as it did. Relations between Bretonnia and the Empire have never been better, King Louen Leoncour is considered a man who lives up to the truest ideals of the land, and they avoided taking the sort of damage the northern Empire suffered in the Storm. At the moment, Bretonnia is poised to have a very good century. Anyone wandering Bretonnia will see fantastic agricultural land and bounteous harvests as the rule rather than the exception, with much of the land made up of pleasantly rolling hills and meadows dotted with castles and small towns.
The problem is that Bretonnia is also an inefficient feudal monarchy mired in constant bickering between the dukes and knights, four or five centuries behind the Empire in technology, with a middle class that has to pretend it doesn't exist (yet is still completely essential to the economy) and most of its people trapped in desperate poverty and backbreaking labor for most of their lives. It is also beset by (and aided by!) the mysterious Fae beings that live in the eastern Athel Loren, a terrifying forest where time doesn't seem to work right and no-one is safe. These creatures steal children from their cribs, taking any Bretonnian boy or girl who might have a talent for magick, and parents are forbidden on pain of death to try to protect their children lest the realm draw the wrath of the Fae. Some of the other great forests are infested with Beastmen and without a professional army to patrol regularly, the people are reliant on wandering knights errant and their Lords' castles to defend them from such monsters. The mountains of Southern and Northern Bretonnia often see invasions by Orcs and Goblins. The coasts are often raided by the Norse. And, of course, a land full of worthy opponents and possible students in the form of its famed knights is a positive beacon to Blood Dragons. There's no shortage of grim and perilous adventure to be had in Bretonnia.
Next Time: Details on the Land and the People.
Time to continue getting French in Warhammer Fantasy: Knights of the Grail
Bretonnia is much more racially homogenous than the multicultural Empire. The Sea Elves (their name for the High Elves of Ulthuan) have embassies and trade with the port of L'Anguille, and the Dwarves come down to work and trade in Parravon in the east of the country, but most of the country is populated solely by humans. Bretonnians are, like all peoples, diverse in appearance and cultural, varying among their provinces and localities but as a whole they tend to prefer to live in the moment, rather than worry so much about the future. This doesn't mean they're crazed hedonists or idiots, but rather that the national character tends away from angst and anxiety; you do what you can now, you enjoy what you can now, and if difficulties arise in the future, you meet them the same way. Life can be unfair and life can be short; who knows what will happen next? Enjoy what you have now, fight for what's in front of you, and trust you can work out what happens next. This national character leads a surprising number of Bretonnians to become Adventurers, and as long as you're a noble (or following a noble around) they aren't looked down upon as strange like they are in the Empire.
There's a bunch on Bretonnian language, but...it's French. Just like Reikspiel is German.
Bretonnian social structures are all (officially) focused on the feudal order and the divide between peasant and noble. Most Bretonnians would find the idea that all people are equal to be insanity. A noble is anyone who can prove five generations of noble descent, recorded in the country's registers of nobility. Everyone else is a peasant, incapable of holding land or being granted titles. A noble's duty is to tend his land and protect it, raising professional men at arms to guard his fortifications and holdings, and training to fight for his people and for his own lord if called to his feudal master's banner. Emphasis on his. Peasants are to work the noble's land, serve in his army if chosen, and pay 9/10ths of their produce to their master for his upkeep and the upkeep of his family. Most nobles regard their duties to higher nobles (who can grant them more land) more important than their duties to their peasants, and nobles who consider peasants anything but beneath them are rare (the book notes that this is the kind of 'rare' that means 'player characters'). Peasants who regard nobles as useless parasites are far more common than nobles who regard peasants as people of equal standing!
There are two exceptions to this absolute stratification: Foreigners cannot be nobles or peasants, as they are not Bretonnians, and thus visiting ambassadors, merchants, and adventurers are outside the bounds of the system of serf and lord; they will be treated with the respect they seem due, which means they will be treated according to how well dressed, well armed, or well monied they seem to be. The other group that is completely outside the system are the mysterious Grail Damsels, the pupils of the Fae Enchantress. These are women who were taken as children by the Fae of Athel Loren, who return as powerful wizards and advisors, owed respect by all in the land. They are permitted to go where they wish, with escort only if they request it, and are even allowed to show their hair without scandal.
Nobles hold their position at pleasure of the King of Bretonnia, and he is the only human with the rights to strip them of their titles (though other lords above them could strip them of fiefs). The Fae Enchantress, representative of the Fae and the Lady, can also strip any noble of their title without the King's say so if she so wishes. She is also responsible for crowning the next King. A noble stripped of their land and title breaks the chain of descent for their descendants, meaning of your father were to be disgraced to a degree that the Enchantress or King declared him no longer a Noble, you, too, would become a peasant. A peasant can be raised to nobility if both King and Fae Enchantress agree; this has officially only happened a few times in all of Bretonnia's history (and would make a good plot for a campaign!). Even if this were done, though, because of the requirement of 5 generations, the children of an ennobled peasant would not be considered nobles unless their ancestors were retroactively knighted as well.
Male nobles are uniformly expected to train as Knights unless they are physically incapable. The overwhelming majority will try no matter what, as this is the main way to advance within Bretonnian society. Female nobles are expected solely to be ornaments to their household and convenient political tools to marry off. Men are expected to treat women with all courtesy and keep them firmly on a pedestal. Women are supposed to always eat first, be given the most comfortable room, be protected in all circumstances and while it is not required for a knight to be courteous to peasant women as well as noblewomen, they will be better regarded if they are. The book is correct to follow this by pointing out that these are trappings of courtesy only; women cannot hold property, are not free to travel, and are second class citizens in all ways, expected to be subservient to men.
Most women live with these constraints, because it's the overwhelming tradition in Bretonnian society. Because they are raised in them, many women even believe they're correct. But plenty also want to learn to fight, to travel, or to own property. To do this, they disguise themselves as men. No-one knows exactly how many of Bretonnia's men are secretly women, but it should be noted that it's been the style among knights to be cleanshaven for as long as anyone can remember. At least a few are found to be women when they die in battle every year, and that's just among the nobility. Who knows how many vinters, men at arms, and traveling merchants are secretly women? There are no tests necessary to disguise yourself; if you are dressed as a man at arms or armored as a knight, people assume you must be a man, because women don't do that. A woman is only revealed as a woman if her player chooses to reveal it to someone at a dramatic moment. And of course, if you leave Bretonnia, you're free to drop the pretense while abroad. The divide in sexes is annoying enough that women from other countries who travel to Bretonnia to do business as adventurers or merchants often choose to similarly disguise themselves, as it's less of a bother than no-one taking you seriously and everyone assuming your male partymates are in charge.
I like the way the gender divide in Bretonnia is treated. It's written with the absolute awareness that in-setting, much like the class divide, this is total bullshit. Female characters have the same stats, same careers, same EXP, same fate points as any male character, and the fact that no-one notices because you're doing male work and dressed in male clothes reinforces the artificiality of the divide between the genders' treatment in setting. It's a theme rather than an excuse to indulge in sexism because it's 'historical'. Class and gender are played as performative. A man (who is actually a man) dressed in armor and riding a horse must be a knight, because in a society this stratified who would risk punishment by pretending to be what they're not? A woman in armor and carrying a halberd must be a man at arms, because what else could she be? Leaving it mostly entirely in the players' hands to reveal exactly what they're lying about about themselves when and to whom they wish is the right way to go. I also really appreciate the little paragraph on how no, the fact that men hold the door for women does not mean that women secretly rule Bretonnia from the shadows. It's easy to infer that oneself but it's something better made explicit.
Next: Wine. So much wine.
I promised you wine in Warhammer Fantasy: Knights of the Grail
Material culture in Bretonnia includes a hell of a lot of wine. Wine is everywhere in the country, to the extent that it's common to drink wine with nearly every meal whether noble or peasant. 'Like a bad wine' is a Bretonnian expression for 'Completely unexpected'; the quality of their vintages is such that Bretonnian wine is one of their major exports. Most people drink it watered down, of course, so that they don't go about life tipsy and so that a bottle will go further. Nobles and people celebrating festivals will sometimes drink unmixed wine, but this is usually reserved for feasts and special occasions. While there is very little bad wine in the country, vinters and connoisseurs compete ferociously to be the best. A bottle of high quality Bretonnian wine can go for over a hundred crowns up in the Empire, enough to feed several families for a year. Brandy is only drunk by the nobility and wealthy merchants, and you never water down brandy. Some of the finest Bretonnian brandies are so valued that one noble family's entire feudal obligation is delivering two of the best bottles to the king's personal reserve every year. Bretonnians take their alcohol really, really seriously. Except their beer. Bretonnian beer makes dwarves cry for the doom and folly of manlings everywhere. Asking an Imperial landlord if his brewer is Bretonnian is a good way to start a fight.
Bretonnian food is also famous. The fields and pastures are rich and produce a wide variety of spices and herbs. Used moderately, they can make almost anything delicious. Used liberally, they can make a rotten meal palatable (though you'll still get food poisoning). Peasants have little access to meat, and their food tends to be dominated by vegetable, bread, fruit, and cheese dishes. Noble cuisine is dominated by a variety of meat courses; when a cow is slaughtered in the village, the meat usually goes to the knight as part of the village's feudal obligations. Similarly, while Bretonnian knights are foresworn from using missile weapons for war, hunting with spear and bow (or by falcon and hound) is considered fine practice for battle and a popular diversion all through the country's nobility. Venison, especially, is only permitted to nobles. Peasants caught poaching will be subject to all manner of punishments, and a crueler knight is within his rights to order the peasant ripped apart by his hunting hounds. Serving a meal to guests that one hunted oneself is considered an honor both to the guests and the knight's own household. Serving a meal of vegetables and bread as a noble host is a calculated and intentional insult to one's guests. Brets are also known for eating things other people don't much care for; boiling a frog alive and seasoning and eviscerating it at the table is considered good practice. Snails are fried in garlic and eaten from the shell. Bretonnians take great delight in introducing foreigners to these delicacies, both because uncultured foreign folk tend to scoff at them at first and also because most find them surprisingly decent once they try them.
Bretonnian clothing is the same regardless of social class, differing mostly in finery and color rather than basic design. Men wear pants, boots, a shirt, and a cloak for weather or warmth. Cloaks are hooded by custom, but the hood is only to be used for poor weather. Otherwise it serves as a pocket. Knights wear their cloak over their armor, and so a noble wearing a patched and tattered cloak is claiming he is a knight who has seen combat and deserves to have it recognized. Faking battle damage to one's cloak is frowned upon in the extreme. The cloak is usually the best part of a peasant man's outfit, designed to cover over his old breeches and shirt and to make him look a little more respectable and wealthy than he would otherwise. Women wear dresses and skirts beneath the ever-present Bretonnian cloak, with the current noble fashion being one so short that it is mostly a scarf, with a dress that leaves the shoulders scandalously bare. Peasant women wear long cloaks like the men, needing to keep warm and keep off the elements. Bretonnian women always keep their hair covered; showing the hair of your head to anyone but your husband is a scandal. It's said that if a Bretonnian woman was surprised in the bath she'd use the towel to cover her head before anything else. Most Bretonnian women thus keep their hair short, to make it easier to hide it. Grail Damsels are, of course, the exception; their flowing locks are the subject of many romantic poems and as they are outside of society, they are immune to petty scandal.
It's time to cover some of Giles d'Breton, the Sigmar of Bretonnia (or as they'd say, Sigmar, the Giles d'Breton of the Empire) Warhammer Fantasy: Knights of the Grail
Ages ago, the ancestors of the Bretonnians, the Bretoni, came to the land of Bretonnia shortly after most of the elves had abandoned it when they lost their colonies to the dwarves. This in a war the elves had started by shaving the beard of a dwarven ambassador when he came to ask them why elves were attacking dwarven merchants (the elves attacking them were the other side of an elven civil war the elves didn't want to admit was happening). Elves are idiots. The Bretoni were skilled horsemen and used their talents as plains nomads to drive the greenskins off of the ruins of the old elven colonies. They set up there, and began to build sedentary towns and do agriculture. They also attempted to penetrate the wood of the Athel Loren, but when expeditions only produced a few insane survivors, they quickly backed off. When Sigmar sent ambassadors to ask the Bretoni to join his empire, they refused and continued to keep to themselves, refusing to bow to a foreigner. Without the aid of the dwarves, they didn't gain the sudden boost in metallurgy and technology that the Empire did, and began to struggle to hold on against the tide of orcs and goblins that always sought to retake their lands. Chaos and Undead joined in, whittling away at the original twenty tribes of Bretoni.
The orcs continued to overrun the Bretoni. They simply didn't have the equipment, numbers, or strength to deal with the seemingly limitless green tide, even without undead and norse raiders pecking at their heels. Every tribe that tried to face these foes alone was crushed. Into this came Giles d'Breton, the young duke of Bastonne, the center-most region of the country. Having slain a dragon and fought hard for his people, he was famous enough to attract other tribal lords to his banner, convincing them to unite in the face of the greenskins to try to relieve their neighbors. As Giles of Bastonne, Landuin of Mousillon (known to many as the greatest knight in Bretonnian history), and his great friend Thierulf of Lyonesse made their way to try to relieve the western realm of Bordeleaux, they came upon something that would change Bretonnia's history forever. While the three lords planned the battle to come, they saw a vision of a beautiful woman standing in a nearby lake, untouched by its waters. She walked across its surface to the three companions and held forth a golden cup, spilling with light. She offered it to them to drink, and when Giles and the companions did so, they found themselves empowered beyond their wildest dreams. As the Lady implored them to go under her sign and conquer, Giles' banner changed from that of a dragon to the visage of the Lady, and thus were made the first of the Grail Companions.
The epics of Giles d' Breton speak of twelve great battles fought over the next two years, where he slowly accumulated the other lords of the land who yet lived, the Lady choosing great knights to become his Companions as they battled every conceivable foe to make Bretonnia safe at last. Warriors who drank of the Lady's great gained the ability to strike at spirits and devils as though they wielded magic weapons, no matter what they carried, as well as unnaturally long life and physical strength. Grail Knights are, to this day, literally superhuman. By the time the fourteen original Grail Companions had been gathered, none of the monsters plaguing their land could stand against them. Having made their country safe by unity, they turned and swore their allegiance as dukes to their new King, Giles d' Breton, as the Lady of the Lake herself placed the crown on his head.
Then, strangely, while he was sweeping some of the last orcs from his lands, Giles was struck down by an unseen assailant, shot with an arrow out of nowhere. They say he was shot by a minion of the Warboss he was challenging, but for a single missile to drop the great Uniter? It's one of the setting's little mysteries. As he lay dying, he was born away across the surface of a nearby lake, to be with his Lady, and supposedly told his people he would return when their need was greatest. This left the problem of succession. Some wanted Louis, Giles' son, to be crowned king as was the norm of the time for passing on titles. Others argued that if the Grail made men more than men, only one who had supped from the Grail could be king. Louis responded by declaring he would seek it himself, then, and proceeded to go on the first ever Errantry Tour, then to be the first to take up the great Quest, wandering the land in search of visions of the Lady and heroic deeds to do. When he returned, now known as Louis the Rash for his restless and daring life, he shined with the light of the Grail and drew up the accords of Chivalry, to set down how future knights should progress their journey. It was Louis who hammered out the original codes of conduct in war and peace for the Knights of Bretonnia, as well as the periods of proving and the rites of questing for the Grail. He was crowned the second King, and Bretonnia was truly a nation.
Next: Errantry Wars, Mousillon's Downfall, and Undead
And now that I'm home and back with my PC, it's time for more Warhammer Fantasy: Knights of the Grail
When we left off in the history of Bretonnia, the traditions of kingship and the basic premises of Chivalric law had been laid down by the succession of Louis the Rash. The progression of knighthood and the idea that a knight must prove him (them) self is core to Bretonnian chivalry. A young knight does not simply inherit his father's lands. They are expected to emulate the succession of Louis and prove themselves as a landless Knight Errant before they can be trusted with ruling and defending property. In plenty of cases this will be something of a fig-leaf ("My eldest went out and slew four beastmen, he is prepared to inherit this large parcel I already had drawn up and ready for him.") but it produces large numbers of landless, excitable, inexperienced knights with a license to roam the country and a need to find adventure. Bretonnia has a tradition of sometimes channeling this dangerous enthusiasm (and keeping the march of knights and retinues from foraging too extensively in-country) into official Errantry Wars, where any knight-errant my prove himself under the king's banner in foreign adventures.
The first of these were the crusades against Araby, when the Bretonnians joined Estalians in throwing back Arabian invaders from their lands and counter-invading into Warhams North Africa. Discovering the land wasn't suited to traditional Bretonnian manorial farming, they didn't bother holding on to most of the possessions they won in those wars. Other knights, hearing the wars had already been won before they could arrive, turned into the harsh country of the Border Princes and carved out their own fiefs by driving off the orcs and goblins of the land. This made the surrounding dwarf-holds happy and started diplomatic relations between Bret and Dwarf, though it never became nearly as warm as the relations between the Dwarven High Kings and the Emperors of Sigmar's Heirs. In fact, many Errantry Wars ended up fighting the ever-surrounding tides of Greenskins; it had to be done anyway and stopping them before they got to and ravaged farmland in their forage was always preferable. One particularly stupid king decided he was going to declare the greatest of all Errantries, one that would not stop until all orcs and goblins had been exterminated world-wide. This technically went on for a full 70 years, killing entire generations of knights for little territorial gain, and greatly weakening the realm (ironically opening it up to orcish raids). Only a decisive defeat finally convinced the kings that the dwarves were probably right about it being impossible to wipe out all orcs.
Landuin of Mousillon had once been the greatest of all of the Grail Companions, held up as one of the ideals that inspired the entire Chivalric code. Mousillon is a swampy, unpleasant country on the western coast of Bretonnia, always unsuited for farming and always struggling in poverty. Since Landuin's time, the land has had a reputation for producing and sustaining great menaces rather than shining champions. About seven hundred years back, all of Bretonnia was ravaged by a terrible pox that forced knights into their castles and slaughtered peasants in the streets. The pox was accompanied by strange, rat-like beastmen wielding weapons far more dangerous than the crude tools of common warherds. Hello, Skaven. Only one knight of Bretonnia stood in their way. The Duke of Mousillon, Merovich, rode out against the forces of the rats and both he and his closest knights seemed to be completely unaffected by their plagues. Together with a force of fae beings from the wood of Loren, they slaughtered the ratmen in their thousands and drove them back into their warrens. Some said Mousillon had returned to its old glory, until the assembled nobility of Bretonnia attended a great victory banquet at Merovich's castle. There, they were horrified to find spitted and impaled criminals and other evidence of excessive brutality. When the king spoke against Merovich, he complained his hospitality had been insulted; had he not just saved the country? With tempers high on both sides, the current King and the Duke squared off for single combat, a single combat that Merovich won easily. The fact that he then drank the king's blood was probably excessive. And also probably proof he'd been a Blood Dragon the entire time. With the blessing of the Fae Enchantress, the other nobles declared war, and Mousillon lost most of its territory outside of the swamps that no-one wanted.
This wouldn't be the last time Mousillon caused strife for the people of Bretonnia. Two hundred years ago, a knight named Maldred was raised to Duke of Mousillon. He made the baffling claim that he had taken the Lady of the Lake herself as his wife, and appeared with a beautiful woman hanging off his arm and a shining cup; he claimed to have been given full control of the Grail as the best of all knights. Rallying other knights who felt they had unfairly been denied the Grail in their own questing, he threatened to plunge the land into civil war and crown himself king.
I don't think he thought that scheme out very well, though, as he was met by the Green Knight and the actual Lady of the Lake. The Green Knight is a spirit of great importance in Bretonnian mythology. A warrior of ghostly power who rides forth from the lush places of the land, coming and going at hours of great need to defend the people and the country. He is also said to be the traditional test of Questing Knights on the verge of finding the Grail; fighting this invincible, unkillable warrior is a true test of knighthood. Myths differ on who he is; some say he is the manifest spirit of all that is good about Bretonnia, the earthly avatar of Chivalry and nobility. Some say he is Giles d'Breton, arisen again in a new form to watch over his beloved land and traditions. Others that he is some great gift of the Fae, a warrior in the shape of their honored neighbors set to defend them in their times of need. Whatever the case, they all agree he cannot be killed, only dissipated or wounded. As you might imagine, this spirit showing up openly and directly, along with the actual avatar of the Lady herself, was more than enough to put paid to whatever illusions and dark magic gave the False Grail its luster. Ever since Maldred's defeat, there has been no actual Duke in Mousillon's blighted lands.
Another major historical threat is the Red Duke. I talked about him in Night's Dark Masters, but the Red Duke is a Blood Dragon of unparalleled skill and ferocity who seems to bear a singular grudge for the nobility of Bretonnia. In some legends, he is even held up as a dark counterpart of the Green Knight, another terrible test for great and true knights. He has attacked the knights of the grail for over a thousand years, and every time he is slain he seems to rise from his grave anew to bear his grudge against the sons (and secret daughters) of Bretonnia. Why he hates them so much is up to a group's GM, if they decide they want the Red Duke for a major foe; whatever it is, it is clear he is incredibly angry. He draws to his side those who feel similarly wronged by Bretonnia, as well as other Blood Dragons who seek to study and fight under such a renowned and determined warrior.
Next: "We have political systems like yours in the Empire, yes. We call them 'protection rackets.'"
It's time for feudal politics in Warhammer Fantasy: Knights of the Grail
The section on politics begins with a reminder that while they lack any formal political power, peasants are active participants in the politics of Bretonnia if only by trying to avoid involving their lords in local issues so that people are less likely to be hung or property destroyed. What the peasants hide, what the peasants go to the lord for, and how the peasants try to build local structures to keep the unpredictable whims of their knightly masters at bay are just as important as the oaths of fealty and allegiance between the members of the nobility. It also notes that Bretonnians do not have an 'idea of the state', such as is beginning to emerge in the modern Empire. To a Bretonnian, all politics eventually goes back to loyalty to individuals and all power devolves eventually to the holding of land and the ability to summon military force. A peasant is theoretically loyal to the King, but practically all loyalty to the King is because he holds all land in Bretonnia and a peasant is much more likely to consider them self solely as subject of their local lord rather than having an idea of being attached to a greater Bretonnian state. Nobles take oaths of allegiance and fealty to one another to cement their feudal relationships. Peasants are not permitted to swear oaths, as they are considered to lack personal honor. They are simply told their duties and the laws they must follow, with bare violence as the likely consequence should they try to object.
The highest rank of nobility is the King. The King of Bretonnia is (in theory) an absolute monarch, with complete power over the legal system and ultimate possession of all land and property in the country. The King is literally unbound from law; he may declare new laws as he wishes with no check on his power and if he does something, it cannot be illegal because it is done by the King. In practice his power is considerably more limited. First of all, while he holds theoretical ultimate power, he is reliant on lesser nobles and their levies in order to enforce any decree or decision. Thus, like every absolute monarch in history, if the King does something completely insane there's always the chance the very powerful people who enforce his absolute rule will decide they no longer wish to do so and civil war will ensue. There is also the fact that the King's power is checked completely by the Fae Enchantress. She crowns the next King (as does the Lady, as the King must be a Grail Knight who has successfully undertaken the greatest of quests in the mold of Louis the Rash) and she can declare any noble no longer a noble. This includes a King who has gone mad or become overly tyrannical. It should be noted that only the Lady herself theoretically checks the Enchantress's powers in this. The corruption of Kings is not a grave concern for Bretonnians at present: Louen Leoncour is talked about as one of the greatest sovereigns since Giles d' Breton. A genuine paragon of knighthood and compassion, Louen tends to stand as a check on the abuses of his lesser nobility rather than the other way around.
Below the King are the Dukes. Dukes hold the lands traditionally ruled by the great Grail Companions, and are often Grail Knights (though they do not need to be, unlike the King). A Bretonnian Duke has kingly power within their Dukedom, and has the right (via holding the Dukedom in lease from the King) to distribute their dukedom's fiefs among their vassals as they see fit. Like the King, the Duke cannot disobey the law within his Dukedom because he is sovereign UNLESS he disobeys an order or decree of the King. Dukes hold their land directly from the King and only owe fealty to the royal crown itself. King Louen is also Duke of Couronne and thus is legally considered two people, having a vow of fealty and allegiance to his own person as King in his person as Duke. In theory, the King can create as many Dukes as he wishes, but traditionally there have been 13-14 (depending on if anyone holds the Dukedom of Mousillon this century) to represent the Companions of Giles and the great fiefs they claimed.
Barons are a special class of people who hold land from the King, but do not hold the sovereign power over a dukedom. They are legally independent from the Dukedom whose lands they hold, since they hold a royal estate at the pleasure of the King. Barons are a very rare edge case in Bretonnia and likely to cause political strife with their local Duke, as they hold no legal allegiance to him but hold land within his territory. Baronies make an excellent future objective for PCs, and evil Barons are specifically noted as a perfect long-term enemy for a player party since they have the political independence to hide villainous deeds but aren't as prominent as a Duke, and thus are less likely to be spotted. A PC Baron may be made Baron of a dangerous frontier territory, where their skills and allies as an Adventurer will continue to come into play as they fight to secure their realm and protect their people.
Lords hold land from another Lord. These are the landed gentry of the Realm who hold individual manors and villages. These vassals are subject to both Ducal and Royal law; even if they are vassal to a Baron, they do not inherit the Baron's relative independence and must obey Ducal decrees as part of their feudal obligations. Almost all of Bretonnia's land-holders are Lords of one kind or another, with the Dukes, Barons, and King being rarer and more exalted individuals. Below the Lords come Knights, who hold no actual land but are supported by their Lord's household. Note that every single male Noble in the realm is actually also a Knight, in addition to their other titles. Landless Knights are still in an honored position so long as they attend to their duties to Lord, Duke, possibly Baron, and King; loyal service may also eventually see them granted a fief of their own and elevated to Lordship, as might marriage.
There are also various other titles, which do not hold the legal power of the above mentioned, but are rather recognition of the nuances of one's place within the sea of Lords.
An Earl is a particularly powerful Lord, with the title of Earl being an honorific to recognize that one holds a particularly large amount of land and has done particularly good service. The title of Earl is awarded by the King. Most Barons are Earls, but all Earls are not Barons.
A Marquis is a Lord who holds land that is very likely to be attacked. A Marquis is thus granted dispensation to gather forces and order the construction of fortifications without needing to seek the direct permission of their feudal superior.
A Castellan is a Lord given responsibility for a particularly important castle. He has the right to full authority over the castle and the lands it defends directly unless his feudal superior is present and recommends otherwise.
A Justicar is an expert in the laws of chivalry and the legal codes of their master. The King appoints traveling Justicars to wander the land and enforce Royal decree among his subjects. This is another particularly good position for a PC noble to shoot for.
A Paladin is a title that is granted purely as an honorific. It does not contain any extra responsibilities or lands, but it is an acknowledgment of knightly excellence. A Knight or Lord marked as a Paladin is someone their King, Baron, or Duke would consider worthy to serve as bodyguard in a war-host, or worthy to be appointed as a sub-commander.
Next: Marriage, Courts, and matters of law.
It's time for more noble politics and family affairs in Warhammer Fantasy: Knights of the Grail
Family is important to Bretonnians of both social classes. Nobles have to be careful about who they marry; the rule that your ancestors on both sides must be nobles to make your children noble means that marrying low-born for wealth or property are much rarer in Bretonnia than in the Empire. Bretonnia practices strict primogenitor, inheritance by the eldest son. While an eldest son will still have to do his errantry tour and prove himself as a knight, he is guaranteed the family's fiefs and titles if he succeeds. Daughters try to marry the eldest sons of other families to ensure a link to other fiefs' properties. Younger sons wander off to seek a Lord to household with, or strive to excel in their errantry tour and earn a fief from a higher lord. The book specifically notes that younger sons and daughters (disguised) of the nobility make great player characters, since they can move freely but also have plenty of incentive to adventure since they've no lands or properties guaranteed to them. The eldest daughter of a dead noble with no sons will inherit his fiefs, but is not permitted to act as Lord; this is left to her husband. Marrying an heiress is the dream of many a landless knight. Marriages between landless daughters and sons are still politically important, being a strong expression of alliance between those families. Besides, an eldest daughter whose brothers all happen to die on their errantry tours becomes the heir. Something their husband might try to help along.
A noble can grant parts of their lands to anyone with noble blood, binding them to him as vassal. While all nobles who hold land can grant property titles to other nobles and subinfeudate them, the same noble cannot easily take those lands back. Only the King can freely strip a vassal of their fiefs. This means nobles are usually very careful about dividing and granting their fiefs. At the same time, a noble who holds land at the pleasure of a higher noble is expected to fulfill their duties to their new master, because if they don't, their Lord may petition the King to remove those lands. Further, reputation matters in Bretonnia. A vassal with a reputation as a faithful and honorable servant will be more likely to be granted more lands, possibly by other nobles. Many Lords and Knights owe their allegiance to multiple lords (and back to the King, eventually). This can cause problems when a noble's superiors quarrel.
A court forms around a powerful noble, generally during winter or other breaks from the campaigning season. At court, nobles politic and petition in hopes of securing their fiefs and learning more about their Lord's upcoming plans. A court generally consists of a Lord's landed vassals, who hold land at oath to him, his household knights, and the younger family members of both. Landed vassals are usually secure enough in their position to ignore court if they wish, but it's seemly to attend to your Lord and helpful to try to figure out what might be happening next year. Landless household Knights are a Lord's direct warrior-subordinates, patrolling his land and fighting his enemies, and may use their position at court to try to petition to be granted fiefs. The most vicious courtiers are the younger family members of the landless knights and landed vassals; they don't have a direct function for their Lord and only attend court at his pleasure. They bicker and fight endlessly to either be granted positions as household knights, or maybe to be raised to an enfiefed position themselves. Adventurers get caught up in the schemes of these petty politicians with irritating frequency.
The King's Court is a particularly important court in Bretonnia, and very important to one of its themes. King Louen's court meets exclusively in winter, as he prefers his vassals to return to their fiefs to patrol and defend them (or prepare for larger wars) during the summer campaigning season. Louen's personal servants are all Barons, who are powerful because they have constant access to the King and his implicit trust during the winter court. Louen is unusual in having declared that he wishes his people to bring him word of any and all injustices committed by the nobility, because they are his vassals and his responsibility. While the King doesn't speak to peasants directly, if they can petition a noble to speak to him at court on their behalf, Louen will do all he can to correct any injustice he hears of. There are far more abuses than the King has time, though he always rules justly and well. He corrects as much as he can, whenever he hears of it (a good adventure would be getting word of a corrupt noble to the King's court!) and yet things are still a mess.
I've always thought making Louen a true knight and the best possible king is one of the best parts of Bretonnia as a setting. There's usually an undercurrent of 'the nobles are all corrupt and evil, and that's why this doesn't work as a system of government'. Here, that's often true, a fair number of the nobles are corrupt. But plenty aren't. Plenty are genuine heroes, even. The highest noble in the land is earnest, just, brave, and wise. He works as hard as he can to make everything work out, and it still doesn't. This puts the focus on the system of peasant and noble, the unequal classes and the arbitrary distinctions, rather than a specific evil king. It also makes a lot of the knights much more sympathetic characters; plenty of them are honest and good warriors. When the Knight's Vow ends in 'Rejoice, for a Knight of Bretonnia provides your shield!', many of them are doing everything they can to be that shield for their people. Bretonnia is a land where plenty of people are doing their best in a messy state that doesn't follow its own rules because its rules are too simplistic and absolute to ever be followed. The King's Court is a great representation of the sort of rigamarole the focus on appearance and distinction brings about : The King wants to hear the pleas of the common people so he can correct their suffering. But it's not proper for a King to have audience with a peasant, so instead the peasants (who might be PCs) have to beg a noble (probably a PC!) who will have to navigate court to get the plea to the ear of the King, who then needs to have time and space to fix things even though he earnestly desires to do so. And his method of fixing things might just be empowering the party to go back and stand up to an evil lord with his blessing.
The whole mess is fascinating, complicated, and more importantly, it's full of great opportunities for adventures. A Bretonnian party is likely to have half or more of its number not be who they say they are, the peasant PCs running around rubbing shoulders with nobles they aren't supposed to be talking to, everyone getting up to adventures they 'should' never go on, while everyone pretends that all is as it should be. And, of course, the irony of a PC Knight who is a paragon of valor, justice, and compassion having been a peasant or a woman wearing the armor and living up to the ideals all along, possibly while fighting male nobles who are exactly what they appear to be and who have fallen far from what a Knight is meant to be.
Next: The Army, and Money.
Anyway, speaking of mass murder, here's the army in Bretonnia in Warhammer Fantasy: Knights of the Grail
Unlike the Imperial State Troops, the Kingdom of Bretonnia does not have a standing army. What they have is a long chain of feudal obligations and vassals. One of the most common and honorable feudal duties to owe is military service, so a Duke can call on his Lords can call on their Knights, and anyone with lands can call on the strongest of their peasant subjects to become Men at Arms and take a wage as soldiers and bailiffs. These sub-units of a Bretonnian army will not have trained together and Bret armies can be pretty disorganized, plus they have the difficulty of needing to hold their men together during long campaigns. A knight is eager to return to his estate and make sure things are managed, plus he's bringing most of the law enforcement from his fiefs with him on campaign; he can't afford to stay out long lest his villages get raided or his people get ideas about the unjust nature of the feudal system. This means that the longer a Bretonnian army campaigns in the field, unless it's making great progress and gathering wealth, captured land, and opportunities for glory, the more the less secure and poorer nobles will drop out and take their levy with them, as the strict text of their oath commonly only promises about 40 days a year of service. Bretonnian defense of important strategic passes and regions is passed off to an able noble as a Marquis, given permission to build fortifications and summon troops without needing further oversight. These sorts tend to be pragmatic enough that they'll reach unofficial arrangements with young knights errant and baseborn adventurers, giving PCs a very easy way to gain a noble employer even if by all rights they should be captured and sent back to their farms.
Bretonnians also settle disputes by force of arms, between Lords. A man is not permitted to make war on his feudal superiors, but usually one's superior has too big an army and too many vassals to make that feasible anyway. Nobles of equal rank can legally fight it out if one has proof the other has engaged in actual treason (like allying with Chaos), if one has proof the other has stolen part of his fief, or if one can prove the other has made grave injuries upon the honor of one's family. Adventurers are very useful for gathering evidence of these charges ahead of a bout of civil strife, and an innocent noble sorely pressed by a neighbor might resort to hiring the PCs to help in a time of need. These small, petty struggles are the perfect place for a party of 3-6 exceptional people with good luck on their side to make an impact.
Merchants are by nature anomalies. They aren't supposed to exist; a noblewoman isn't supposed to have a trade, a nobleman's trade is supposed to be war, and peasants are all tied to the land and enserfed. But trade is vital to Bretonnia, and it produces plenty of products that other nations want, while having a few particularly good sea ports and good relations with the Empire to stimulate the exchange of goods. While they are officially peasants with absolutely no political power, the merchants of Bretonnia are often richer than the nobles they serve, and the country couldn't function without them bringing in foreign goods and expediting international trade. Similarly, there's no official way to tax merchants; a peasant turns over 9/10ths of their produce as their feudal obligation, but merchants aren't doing agriculture. Bretonnian conservatism and the intense, quiet lobbying of merchants has kept their taxes entirely under the table. Nobles, similarly, know they need the merchants even if they pretend they don't exist, and so permit them to do so because the money and economic power of the merchants could strangle the country if they felt they were under concerted attack.
To deal with taxing people who aren't officially able to be taxed, Bretonnian merchants have developed an elaborate system of ceremonial gifts, whereby they give valuable goods and gold to the nobles as recognition of their greatness and their service to the community. If the noble needs money more than product, the merchant than buys the gifts back the day after at reasonable rates. This buyback is done without any of the fanfare of the original gifting; it would be gauche to highlight a noble's poverty or risk affronting their honor. Merchants also hire guards to watch their warehouses and help protect their caravans (another good origin for peasant PCs), and the wealthiest have small private armies that can compete with the average lord. Similarly, since they aren't bound by chivalry, it's technically legal for them to import firearms and crossbows from the Empire. In practice, they do so only enough to make sure their warehouses won't be an easy target for an avaricious noble; a merchant doesn't want to look like he has designs on revolution. On some occasions, the younger children of a poor noble family will marry into a mercantile one, with the expectation that their relatives will protect the merchant's business legally and politically, while the merchant provides for their new relatives financially. Merchants also form unofficial guilds, disguised as 'social clubs', and the lack of any actual legal framework to limit their power or grant jurisdiction in specific areas can lead to nasty feuds, intrigues, and skullduggery. Merchant clubs are especially common and powerful in ports like L'Anguille.
Next: Actual Peasants, or the Art of Keeping The Lord The Hell Out Of Things.
Anyway, to get away from 40k chat and back to Fantasy, here's more Warhammer Fantasy: Knights of the Grail
Peasant politics revolve around a very simple maxim: Don't get the Lord involved unless you have absolutely no other choice. When Lords get involved, they bring their men at arms and they bring their sword. They usually don't know the local situation half as well as they think they do, and when they get frustrated someone gets hung. At the same time, sometimes the Lord's bailiff is the one causing trouble, or the local sheriff is evil, so you need to go to a noble for help. A common technique to get your case heard is to try to find some good-hearted Adventurer or convenient outsider who isn't technically involved and doesn't have as much on the line, and if this fails, peasants will scurry off in a group to try to find a champion like a medieval French version of the Seven Samurai. Since the Lord can technically beat, hang, or take anything the peasants own, he is a very dangerous force in peasant politics.
Peasants devise all kinds of ways to keep the Lord out of local politics as much as possible. Underneath this, peasants pick people who are good at mediating disputes among them to try to negotiate out settlements without having to resort to force, they sometimes have mock battles/sporting contests between villages over matters like boundary stones or use of a forest, and they generally abide by the results of these contests and negotiations because again, the alternative is the Lord getting involved. A corrupt sheriff is the worst possible problem for a peasant, because a sheriff or bailiff is probably a yeoman of the Lord and has access to the Lord's men at arms. Also, only the Lord can remove him. This makes getting rid of a bailiff who causes trouble very difficult to do while trying to keep the Lord out of it; peasants will usually try various schemes to make his corruption more obvious, like hiding goods during tax season and then sneaking them into the bailiff's house, or thanking their Lord for his protection that led to such a large harvest in hopes that the Lord will start wondering why he isn't getting more in taxes (though this runs dangerously close to causing the Lord to investigate the village more generally, which again, is usually a recipe for chaos). Bailiffs know about these strategies, leading to ridiculous comedies of errors and games of wits between the wily peasants and the corrupt bailiff for their town. Smarter bailiffs will reach an accommodation with their fellow peasants to mutually defraud the Lord and protect both parties from excess tax, which gets very messy if the Lord ever decides to inspect his estates.
Sometimes taxes get excessive, especially in a year of poor harvests, even if the bailiff is in cahoots with the villagers. In this case, peasants have two options. If their Lord either has plenty of reserves or is known as a just and chivalrous man, an honest explanation might save the village for the year; they simply can't hand over their seed crops without starving or having too little to survive the winter. If that doesn't work, peasants will claim the taxes they couldn't pay were stolen by outlaws, and usually the Lord will mount up and go to hunt them down. Sometimes they might even find and remove unrelated outlaws or beastmen, protecting the village, which is usually considered a tremendous bonus by all involved.
A result of this carefully staged political theater is that many Lords believe their peasants are contented and happy, and rarely in need of their master's aid. This is seen as an endorsement of the efficacy of their rule, and talked about excitedly with their social equals as another sign of the superiority of Bretonnian chivalry. The peasants lead a simple and charmed life, not beset by the troubles and cares of nobility, after all! This is until there is another peasant revolt. Peasants hide problems until the situation is unsustainable, at which point they may be forced to rise in rebellion for their very survival. This does not go well; the Lord has arms and armor, he can call upon other knights, and he's a professional fighter. Enthusiasm and desperation don't protect someone from elite heavy cavalry and armed footmen. The suppression of a rebellion usually kills enough people that the village can survive on its remaining food stocks, at least, and most Bretonnians would agree that it is better to die fighting than starve to death in the winter; most rebelling peasants feel they win even if they lose. Foreign agitators are usually blamed, even though they are never at fault; it is another fiction that allows the survivors and the Lord to return to normalcy after the suppression. Ironically, the only time peasant revolts are particularly dangerous is when they actually need to be put down brutally, because they've been caused by the influence of Chaos. Witches and mutants might actually threaten a knight of Bretonnia, after all. Knights who are especially brutal to their people are especially likely to face these more serious rebellions, as the locals turn to dark forces in desperation. Evil begets evil.
As for foreign relations, Bretonnia borders most of the major nations of the Old World, being France and all that. This means that despite their belief in their obvious superiority, they must have regular dealings with lands that do not understand chivalry and social order as well as they do. The lawless hellhole of the Border Princes has plenty of Princes who used to be Bretonnian knights, and who still try to rule in the traditional manorial style, which makes them unpopular with the rest of the petty murderers and scum that live out there. Bretonnia and the Empire are currently enjoying their best relations in centuries, thanks to the enthusiastic support of the Bretonnians in putting down Archaon the Everfailure. The two nations don't understand one another, and each looks down on the other, but for now they remember being brothers in arms against evil, and trade and relations are at their height. Bretonnia badly wants to conquer the Not-Dutch of Marienburg, a breakaway Imperial province that bought its freedom ages ago, because they would like to control one of the best ports in the Old World. They have not been successful, because Marienburg has guns, a navy, a lot of money, and mercenaries. They don't have any desire to have a King or a Duke any more than they want an Emperor ruling over their crazy corrupt merchant country.
Next: Law, Justice, and How If You Get Caught Lying About Yourself You Go On Adventures.
Anyway, might as well do more Warhammer Fantasy: Knights of the Grail
There are two systems of law in Bretonnia, as there are with everything else. A noble is tried under a different code than a peasant, and punishments for nobles are completely different than for peasants. Under noble law, a noble who harms another noble's peasants is wronging the noble, not the peasants, for instance. Nobles are still forbidden to murder, steal, or assault others, though they are legally permitted to use force to avenge a slight on their honor. Nobles are actually legally forbidden from directly engaging in a trade. Courts to try noble offenses are always convened by a feudal superior, which means the King can convene a court and try any noble in the land. The convening Lord is judge, and 7 nobles of equivalent rank to the accused serve as a peer jury. When a noble defends themselves at court, it is the judge who decides innocence or guilt; the jury only handles the matter of sentencing.
Nobles are never imprisoned and execution is reserved for actual treason or direct ties to the Dark Powers. Fines may be levied, but these are rarer than much more symbolic punishments, such as demanding the convicted do a service for the wronged party, or sending the convicted on a quest to prove their honor and make restitution by force of arms. These long quests can be death sentences that allow the executed to maintain their honor, or they could simply be an oblique way to cost the criminal noble years of effort and exile by traveling far from Bretonnia to do their quest. Since these courts are only convened by a noble's superior, a noble with a corrupt direct superior can get away with all kinds of villainy legally. A noble who refuses the court's judgment is Outlawed, meaning that they are outside all protection of the law. They are still a noble; they don't ruin things for their descendants. But they can be killed by any person, without it being a crime, even by peasants. Curiously, noblewomen are subject to the exact same penalties as men, and thus, for one who doesn't know how to fight a sentence to a quest of valor is intended to be a death sentence. A woman discovered pretending to be a man to be a knight is customarily assigned tests of valor until one of them kills her or she agrees to cover her hair up and put a dress back on. As noted earlier, a continually questing, heroic female knight who has been 'caught' being what she is would make a good PC.
Peasants are subject to two flavors of law: The official law of nobles and the ad-hoc stuff they do to keep the nobles the hell out of their business. A peasant brought before the Lord is allowed to explain themselves if the Lord feels like it, and if not, the Lord may simply pronounce whatever judgement they feel like. These punishments are usually corporal, like beating or being locked in the stocks, or fatal. In fiefs where the Lord is conscientious and good, there can still be justice, but it is entirely up to the Lord, and this is another reason the peasants don't like to gamble on going to the Lord's justice.
Instead, they make informal agreements and go to village elders. Restitution is the most common penalty levied by the community, with the threat of taking someone who doesn't accept communal judgment before the Lord (who does not know the specifics of the case) and simply saying 'That guy did it. The thing.' and seeing what happens. Most accept communal judgment. The merchant clubs have managed to convince the lords by gifts and propaganda that any Lord who pays too much attention to mercantile affairs is plotting to become a merchant himself and thus is not chivalrous. This, combined with the bribes, gives them more free reign to enforce their local monopolies and trusts. People happening to die spontaneously in brawls after they break mercantile rules is quite common.
Bretonnia also has dozens of little rules that were passed by some king in the past and no-one has bothered to repeal. For instance, white is considered a noble color, and so even Shallyan sisters must wear yellow instead in Bretonnia. Women are specifically forbidden men's clothing, though the reverse is not true. Peasants may not officially wear armor unless marching to war under a lord's color, and plate, lances, and swords are forbidden to them as they are the weapons and armor of chivalry. The crossbow is an evil thing that goes through knights' armor, and thus is forbidden, but no-one has gotten around to outlawing these 'new' guns, yet. It is technically completely legal for any peasant to carry a pistol or musket, while being forbidden to knights under arms under their vow to forsake missile weapons while at war. Only nobles can live in houses of stone, but bricks aren't technically stone and so brick is beginning to catch on quite well in the larger towns. Lords can also exempt their peasants from any of these sumptuary laws at will, so buying exemptions for one's bodyguards isn't uncommon among merchants (or adventurers). Local lords also have total freedom to establish additional laws in their domain, which is how we end up with local laws like 'All pigs must be sworn before a Grail Damsel to show they are not servants of Chaos' (I would like to know what caused that law) or 'Peasants must wear hats of a height equivalent to the amount of tax they pay'. Bretonnia can be a silly place.
Nobles, peasants, and merchants who don't like the results of a judgment can flee into the forests as Outlaws. As mentioned above, an Outlaw is someone outside the protection and reach of the law; they are legally not people and can be murdered, robbed, etc without any consequence, by anyone, of any class. Many outlaws are actual violent criminals and brigands. Some are just on the run, with no other options to survive. But then there's another class of Outlaw: The Herrimaults, the Merry Men. The Herrimault are bands of woodsmen and outlaws (and all men, except for all the disguised women, and all peasants, except the occasional disguised knight trying to fight the system from outside it), wandering the country and fighting corrupt lords. They rob the worst of the merchants and steal from evil knights, and they give much of what they take to the peasantry. It's fitting that there be a class of outlaws just as romantic and idealistic as the knights of Bretonnia. Herrimault bands work under the direction of a Faceless, and each Faceless enforces the Code of the Herrimault within their band. These Merry Men believe you cannot fight injustice with injustice, and also explicitly say they will battle the forces of Chaos wherever they find them, as well as attacking evil lords and forest monsters to defend the peasantry.
Next: Religion and the Fae.
Strange women lying about in ponds offering grails are hardly a basis for a system of government, unless you're in Warhammer Fantasy: Knights of the Grail
The Lady of the Lake is as key to the Bretonnian state and character as Sigmar is to the Empire. She enlightened Giles d' Breton and his comrades, and even now she provides the Grail to true knights of noble character who seek it. She is the oddest Goddess in all the Old World, as she is the only one who is directly, physically seen by her followers. Myrmidia or Shallya may send signs, but no-one has ever actually seen the Gods in person, except in this one case. The Lady's worship is also socially bound, unlike the Gods of other lands: Her official cult is exclusive to the nobility. She has no Initiates and no Priests, only her Grail Damsels and the Grail Knights who fight in her name.
The Damsels are also the product of one of the most tragic affairs in Bretonnian culture, one that has left a deep and abiding scar on the national psyche. Almost child with magical talent vanishes before the age of 3. Boys and girls, peasants and nobles, children are simply taken, spirited away to the Fae Enchantress, the greatest servant of the Lady. Sometimes the girls appear years later as the mighty Damsels, supposedly initiated by the Lady and the Enchantress, but they refuse to speak of any of what happened to them in the meantime. Boys are never heard from again. The fact that every single child could be lost before the age of 3 is a painful and nerve-wracking experience for loving parents, and many strive not to get too attached until the danger has passed. Being human, this doesn't work. The stuff relating to the theft of the children is some of the saddest stuff in all of Bretonnia, and I appreciate that the book took the time to consider just how painful this would be for families, and how much of a mark it would leave on the country.
The Lady of the Lake is said to stand for honor, chivalry, and courage in the face of danger. The dictates of Chivalry are her commandments, and to many of the knights she is the ideal Lady that they must serve in all ways. The romantic ideal personified, the perfect woman and mystical representation of Bretonnia itself. Her main concern as a goddess seems to be maintaining the stability of the Bretonnian state and defending it from external threats, working through the devotion of the knights and the Damsels. Her Damsels do not travel outside of Bretonnia and seem to regard anything but the country as outside their sphere of influence. She seems to show no concern for the fate or plight of the peasants under the current system of government, and most peasants worship other Gods, like Taal and Rhya, or Shallya. Indeed, the greatest cathedral of Shallya is in Couronne, and the Sisters there are much beloved of the common folk. Nobles of Bretonnia are not monotheists, of course; they still offer the proper rites to other Gods, they simply believe the Lady is their especial patron, much like Imperials believe they are Sigmar's heirs. The Lady also has some different strictures for noblewomen: They are to guard their modesty and innocence, serve their father before marriage and their husband after, push to succor those who are weak and helpless, and swear to only show their favor to the bravest and best of knights. In essence, the Lady's strictures on noblewomen are that they should be more like a character from a courtly romance.
Grail Chapels are the main temples of the Lady, usually constructed by a newly minted Grail Knight where he encountered her. It should be noted the Lady will only ever appear to a Questing Knight who is actually male, actually Bretonnian, and actually a noble. She has a clear preference for reinforcing the structure of Bretonnian government and barring a campaign being about an exception (which is always a good concept for a campaign!) only people who match her checklist will ever find the Grail and ascend. In theory, these small, sacred spaces are supposed to be attended by a Grail Knight, but most Grail Knights spend their lives as wandering paladins, and as the chapels are founded where a knight finds the Grail and Grail Knights tend to die eventually, there are far more chapels than knights. A few knights remain at their chapel their whole lives, becoming Hermit Knights and attendants. At attended chapels, the Knight keeps up the building and defends it with his life, and every Ladyday (holiday) gives a sermon on the virtues of the Lady and the values of chivalry and courage. As most knights are chosen for their pure hearts and mighty courage, they aren't the best speakers. Moreover, they're determined and fearless people with a strong work ethic, so they feel they must make a great effort. This means these sermons are usually extremely long and very rambling. Some chapels will be attended instead by Grail and Battle Pilgrims, an odd thing where peasants become caught up in the religious mania of the Lady despite her ignoring them. These enthusiastic pilgrims proclaim the deeds of the knight who founded the chapel and display any relics they could find of the man, and their leaders tend to be much better orators and preachers.
Despite her ignoring the peasantry, both peasants and nobles commonly go on pilgrimages to visit sacred sites throughout Bretonnia. Nobles go on pilgrimages to travel outside of their domains without being under arms, to prove their piety, and because it's an excellent reason to travel through other lands and meet possible marriage prospects, make friends, and make allies. Peasants do so for much the same reason, with the added bonus that a Lord looks impious if he is too overbearing about refusing peasants the right to travel to sacred spaces. It is much easier for a peasant to get permission to take a holiday to go on pilgrimage than it is for any other reason. Peasants love to go on pilgrimage to chapels attended by actual Grail Knights, as the sermons and services are open to all Bretonnians and this is one of their rare opportunities to meet or speak to one of the land's proven heroes. Some chapels are attended instead by Grail Damsels, and these are always popular with the nobility, while peasants tend to stay away. Some chapels become so popular as destinations that entire towns and industries spring up around them, becoming the Bretonnian equivalent of a religious resort and retreat, attended by people of multiple social classes. These are a good place for a PC party to meet.
Grail Damsels are weird, and no-one would ever mention that they are weird. These servants of the Lady were raised either in the forest of Loren, or in some other world entirely, and return to Bretonnia with mysterious powers and the Lady's direct blessing. They are led by the great and mysterious Fae Enchantress, and whether she is simply the greatest of their order or some sort of demigoddess is unknown. Grail Damsels have total freedom within Bretonnia, and are completely outside all social custom. They mark themselves by their uncovered hair, and always appear young and beautiful until they simply withdraw to the forest of Loren, supposedly to die. They are also free to do as they wish with their many paramours and admirers, and not a few are famed (not notorious, none would ever dare criticize their behavior!) for their promiscuity. They also seem to be completely incapable of having children.
These mysterious women are the only accepted users of magic within Bretonnian society. They wander the country as they wish, doing what they wish, when they wish, but it always seems to work out to protecting the security and stability of the current Bretonnian state. Experienced Damsels become Prophetesses, able to read the heavens and foretell events and dire portents as they give counsel to the lords of their land. The Fae Enchantress herself is a common presence in every royal court, and has been since Giles founded the office in the first place. She is supposedly immortal, and may well be the same woman who first advised the founder of Bretonnia. She is the only person in the country with authority greater than the King, because she is the only official with the power to deprive a King of his crown. She crowns every new king in the Lady's name, and many suspect she is the Lady's avatar. She refuses to answer any questions about this, simply chuckling politely and changing the subject whenever she is asked at court.
Next: Grail Knight Groupies, Stolen Children, and Existential Sadness.
Life's hard for peasants and they deserve whatever time off they can get in Warhammer Fantasy: Knights of the Grail
Pilgrimage is pretty sweet for peasants. It's like, the one time they're totally allowed to travel and not engage in backbreaking subsistence farming or labor. Sometimes, they take this a little too far. Some peasants get really caught up in the whole 'Lady of the Lake' thing, despite her pointedly ignoring them. Peasants who desperately want to serve the Lady can't become Grail Knights or Damsels themselves, but they CAN form roving bands of religious groupies that follow Grail Knights around! You see, by legal technicality, as long as a peasant is following a Grail Knight around and technically on the pilgrimage they got permission for, their Lord can't return them to serfdom, legally. Peasants stick to Grail Knights because wandering paladins are significantly less likely to drive their groupies off by turning into a giant werewolf monster and scaring the shit out of them (On TT, this is what the common Lore of the Beasts spell did, and Damsels often wield the Lore of the Beasts, so the image of a beautiful Damsel turning herself into a 9 foot tall murder-machine became kind of an running joke with our group) than Damsels, and Damsels are generally more feared than loved among the peasantry anyway.
Grail Knights consider these roving bands under their protection, because they are sworn to defend the people of Bretonnia. They try to discourage them by avoiding speaking to them, giving them orders, or anything that might encourage them, but this just causes the peasants to try harder. Plus, most peasants who become Grail Pilgrims believe the knight is so far above them that it's totally proper he not speak to or interact with them. Also, they try to help however they can, watching the knight's camp at night and warning him of ambushes, cooking his food, and helping take care of his armor. As they get more experienced with adventure, they start to form an actual military unit around the knight, and some Grail Pilgrim mobs can become exceptionally motivated warriors. Enemies who are used to a knight's peasant men at arms breaking and running are often shocked when they find the devoted, determined pilgrims fighting back with all the valor of the knight they're following. The pilgrims also grab any relics that 'fall off the back' of their knight, like discarded spoons, broken weapons, or bits of armor, and use these to build the band's reliquary. If the knight happens to die and his family can't claim the body, the pilgrims will claim it for themselves, dress it in armor, carry it around on a skeletal horse, and continue to fight in its name. Grail Pilgrims are weird people. These weird bands of religious crusaders can even find themselves sought out for lords' armies, and were a flavorful and pretty useful unit in the TT game.
Most peasants don't go into this whole Lady business like the perpetual pilgrims, though. Most worship the normal gods of the Old World's pantheon. Village elders are fond of invoking Verena in their ad-hoc negotiations and legal dealings, as are the Merry Men. Morr is beloved for his protection against the undead, and everyone like Shallya (even the nobility) because everyone is going to get sick or hurt at some point. Taal and Ryha are just as important to Bretonnian farmers as to Imperial ones, and every sailor honors Manaan, peasant or noble. Ranald is much more honored as a God of Merchants in Bretonnia, rather than thieves or rebels, and is very popular with city folk. If the nobles paid more attention to peasant religion (and the merchants having access to guns) this might worry them. For the peasants, especially, Shallya is as honored as the Lady of the Lake. Shallyan priests and priestesses provide very real relief and are some of the only doctors people have access to in Bretonnia. The cult is given almost no political influence, but the love of the common people and the donations of the nobles still let them do plenty of good. It's a common heresy among peasants to believe the Lady is, in fact, a servant of Shallya and not a Goddess at all. The fact that Grail Knights tend to treat the peasantry better is seen as proof of this among its adherents, but the Damsels and Knights ruthlessly stomp this idea out whenever it becomes too popular.
Bretonnian holidays are all based around celebrating the great deeds that founded the country, rather than honoring specific Gods. As everyone likes an excuse for festivals, the Gods of the Old World have their holy-days celebrated as well, but only the holidays centering on the Lady are considered to be of real importance.
And now, the Fae. The Fae have scarred the national psyche of Bretonnia by the practice of stealing the children of both commoner and noble, taking anyone with magical talent before the age of three. Thus, Bret characters should generally not be capable of magic. The Fae strike at any time, night or day, and are never seen coming nor going. The children are often taken from the bed they share with their parents, there one moment and simply gone the next. Even though everyone knows this could happen, parents naturally love their children; these losses are devastating. People try various means of coping, like refusing to name a child before they learn to talk, so they won't be so attached, but these things don't work. In the face of this, some try to protect their children, but this is illegal by long custom of the land; the Lords fear the Fae will strike at the country if they are denied. If a parent manages to hide their children and is discovered, the child is taken before the Damsels and tested. If the child is gifted, they are taken. If they are not, the child is killed in front of the parents as penalty. Some cruel lords demand the parents murder their child themselves, on pain of death if they refuse. In those cases, many parents choose to die.
Despite this harsh penalty, people still try. There are all sorts of folk practices, like giving the child a doll of themselves in hopes the Fae steal that instead, or claiming to all the village the child was still-born and hiding them in the wilderness until the time of danger has passed. Some of them even work. Wealthier parents will sometimes pay poor families for a son or daughter to replace one taken, raising it as their own and pretending it was their baby all along. Some wicked people use the Fae's work to cover up infanticide and exposure when they cannot afford another mouth to feed; claiming the babe disappeared because of the Fae means the loss will not be investigated.
The book doesn't mince words on this particular subject: The Fae are wood elves. Bretonnians know about elves, but they don't believe the creatures that live in the forest of Loren are the same as the people from across the sea that they trade with. The Fae Enchantress is, herself, most likely an elf. Why they steal children and what they do with them is not answered. Perceptive players might notice that the Fae Enchantress is an elf, the Fae are elves, and the Damsels only use Arcane magic, not Divine, and start asking questions about the Lady of the Lake. Those questions aren't answered here; what's going on with her could be the obvious answer (elves are bastards and are using Bretonnia as an enslaved buffer state to protect their hellish forest) or it could be something weirder entirely. Whatever the case, one of the saddest places in the setting is a grove in Quenelles where sometimes, the Fae give a child back if they took the wrong one by mistake. It is filled with parents waiting desperately for their child to be returned. Few ever get their loved one back.
Next Time: Things get Way Less Sad As We Explore The Provinces.
It's time to learn about the provinces in Warhammer Fantasy: Knights of the Grail
L'Anguille is famous for its port, because the actual city of L'Anguille is one of the most populous and wealthy in all of Bretonnia. Nestled in the one safe bay among craggy cliffs and rough seas, this city used to be an old High Elf trading port before they fatally angered the entirety of dwarfkind due to King Calador II being a massive idiot thousands of years ago. When the elves abandoned their colonies, they didn't take down the buildings, and the ancient Bretoni used them for shelter. Over the centuries, the city has built up and out, but the elven core remains; high elves might be dicks but you apparently build to last when you usually live for a millennia. The mighty River Sannez empties into the bay, and much of Bretonnia's trade flows through the river and out the port. This makes L'Anguille one of the wealthiest dukedoms in the country.
The inland areas of the province are fertile, arable, and pleasant. While the coastal weather is rough, something about the high cliffs and coast seems to take the edge off the storms, leading to mild weather and good agriculture. There are beastman problems in the woods, but where aren't there beastman problems in the woods? The duchy is mostly free of major threats, since most of the coast is too harsh for Dark Elf or Norse raiders to land and the port is defended by some of the only cannons in Bretonnia. The people of the urban area are wealthier than usual and L'Anguille sports an actual burgher class, almost like an Imperial city, while the people of the countryside are about the same as they are all over Bretonnia (albeit a bit richer and more secure). Duke Taubert of L'Anguille used to be a famed explorer and sea captain, but one day fifteen years back, he returned from a voyage, would speak nothing of it, and left his castle in the city for good. He has since re-settled himself in a former hunting lodge, which he has fortified and turned into his new seat of power, and will not go near the city or the ocean.
To the people of the city, this is a tremendous blessing. With the Duke out holding court elsewhere and staying out of their business, the merchant clubs have essentially taken over the city, and even plot the idea of turning it into an independent republic (with them in charge) like Marienburg near the Empire. To that end, they import more cannons and guns, to 'defend the port', and try to figure out how they can do this without causing the entirety of Bretonnia's upper class to come at them. Meanwhile, Taubert spends his days personally riding to the rescue of the people in the countryside whenever there is a Beastman attack; he's become a hero to the common people for his tireless efforts against these threats, and his efforts to find things to do that take him away from the sea have made him a conscientious and just ruler to the rural peasantry. They would be unlikely to support an attempt to overthrow him.
The example NPC for L'Anguille is interesting: An up and coming young merchant who is, for now, honest despite his ambitions. He is presented as 'The rarest and most precious of PC resources: A man with money and reason to hire them who is, for now, exactly what he appears to be.' The plot thread for Marperic d'Abene is that if his business fails or he gets in legal trouble, he might get tricked by a Chaos cult posing as a merchant club that can help him. A patron who actually pays on time and gives reasonable missions is a patron worth defending, so if that happens the PCs will have to defeat the cult and keep their merchant buddy on the straight and narrow. Even if he remains a normal merchant, he joins the most prominent clubs and potentially gets caught up in the push for independence, which gives the PCs a foot in the door with someone who is rich, in on the ground floor of what could be a major campaign plot line, and able to choose what they do with that. I like Marperic as a plot thread; there's a bunch of ways to use him and really, a guy who has the money to pay and does it without complaint *is* a pretty big asset that PCs might defend.
Next: Aquitaine, Eleanor Not Included.
Next up is Aquitaine in Warhammer Fantasy: Knights of the Grail
Aquitaine is a boring province in western Bretonnia. That's actually a distinguishing feature. It's got pleasant coastline, but nowhere sufficient to put a large scale port. It's got hills, but no mountains. It's got the occasional forest, but nothing deep or dark enough to have proper monsters or bandits. This all amounts to a province where the nobility is dangerously bored. The nobles of Aquitaine love to invent any reason to fight one another, and the feuds and battles drive the noble Duke Armand nuts. Armand is, himself, an honest and decent knight who Quested in total secret and never expected to inherit the dukedom, content to wander about and do heroic things without asking much reward and while trying to stay out of politics. He was the younger brother of the prior Duke, who ended up dying in battle with no heirs and the renowned Armand was given the dukedom by royal decree, since he'd served well as Standard Bearer for the royal army. This was not a position he wanted, and his honest and straightforward method of trying to stop the troublemakers means his personal army is constantly intervening in the pointless fights while more feuds spring up outside his reach.
Aquitaine is also known for its castles and abandoned towns. Lacking notable features that would merit a strategic position, castles are just sort of built haphazardly all over the place. Owing to the constant competition, nobles tend to try to build the 'latest' and 'most amazing' castle, then run out of money and end up with an overbuilt mess. Similarly, nobles keep trying to jump-start larger urban development around their castles to pay for the extravagant things, but when the money runs out there's still no special resources besides decent farming and no real reason for people to live in the artificial towns they set up, so the buildings end up abandoned. This has turned into a big problem, as recently a weird kind of ghost has started popping up in these abandoned buildings. Dereliches take over old buildings and falling down castles, and they use their ghost powers to make the place look inviting and livable. Firstly, ghost powers don't actually repair holes in the floor or crumbling roofs, just make them look like they're repaired, and so falling out of buildings or being crushed by masonry are a real danger anywhere they've infested. Secondly, they also show up as multiple 'bodies' and just straight up murder 'guests' in their sleep. Dereliches are dicks. Weirdly, they seem to be neither undead nor creatures of Chaos. Whatever they are, they have Ethereal, so actually dealing with the damned things comes mostly by burning their house down, since you need magic or magic weapons to just hit them with a sword and both are pretty rare in Bretonnia.
Aquitaine isn't the most interesting place, but it does have one nice plot hook: It's the site of the first successful peasant rebellion in ages. A group of peasants discovered their Lord was worshiping Nurgle and was to blame for local outbreaks and sicknesses. They managed to expose and kill him, and of course his neighbors didn't show up to help immediately because he was a Chaos worshiper. Now, normally, at this point, the local lords would pour in and solve the problem and maybe claim they'd defeated the Chaos worshiper and not the peasants. But they were distracted by their pointless feuding and figured the problem could wait. In the meantime, the peasants of Derrivine made contact with a competent Faceless and his heroic Herrimaults, and managed to fortify the village against attack. When the knights made their initial assault, twelve of them died and they were driven off in disorder. The village has been free for six months and has declared itself the start of a Bretonnian republic. They hope to attract enough skilled guerillas, deserters, and adventurers to be able to take a couple other villages and build up their power base such that they can negotiate with the Duke to be left alone. The Faceless, Carmolax, is a brave and able man who turned to the outlaw life after his brother was hung for smiling at a noble's daughter, and his mother beaten to the point of being crippled for crying at the execution; he kidnapped his lord's daughter for revenge, ran into the woods, and found he couldn't hurt a young woman who didn't actually kill his brother. After letting her go safely, he was approached by the Merry Men as an exemplary recruit and became an idealistic republican (in the sense of wanting to establish republics) rebel. He'd be very eager to hire the kind of able and unusual people you can get from PCs to further the dream of a free Bretonnia, where all men have a say (specifically men, one issue at a time).
Next: Artois, Which Is Good Pig Country, But Not Like You'd Expect.
It's pig country because it's infested with wild boars, and also with wild boars that walk on two legs and fight alongside the goatmen, in Warhammer Fantasy: Knights of the Grail
Artois is a dangerous and heavily forested Dukedom in central Bretonnia. It has almost no access to major rivers, save its southern border, and most of the province is covered by the deep, dark Forest of Arden. The narrow strip of good land in the northwest of the province holds most of the population, and the only large town, Larret. It's easy to get a fief in Artois; you just round up enough serfs and ask for one, and you can get permission to establish a fortress and try to carve out land within the forest from the Duke or King quite simply. The problem is most of these settlements fail. The forest is thick and full of Beastmen, more so than any other place in Bretonnia. The wood just seems to breed the worst sorts of monsters and mighty beasts. Most people would much rather live in Larret, which is a prosperous and pleasant town, rather than risk the life of a forester in the worst parts of the wood. There are even rumors that the Beastmen must have some kind of actual city hidden deep within the wood, some blasphemous source of the monsters.
They're wrong, of course. By their very nature, Beastmen would never build a city. What happened instead is that the survivors of a poisoned, failed settlement succumbed to mutation after Skaven spiked their water supply with warpstone. The Skaven thought they could kill the people and their lord easily while they were busy mutating, but the local lord and his soldiers were too determined to be distracted by little things like growing claws or second heads and drove them off. Now the village of Usein is still full of mutants, but mutants who still think like humans and still want to have a society. They try to attract other relatively sane mutants and continue to build and defend their community, free of Chaos despite the horrific physical changes. Their village is actually prospering pretty well, even if it accepts it's cut off from all Bretonnian society and constantly battling dark forces.
The actual duke of Artois, Duke Chilforey, is a massive bear of a man who only wants to spend his time in battle and great beast hunts. He intentionally rules unjustly when disputes are brought to him, so that people will stop bringing disputes, a strategy that has worked well enough for him so far. He instead spends all his time leading his knights against the beastmen of the wood, killing boars, eating boars, and fighting bigger monsters for the sport of it. He's kind of a dick. The other leading noble is the Earl of Larret, a cultured and cosmopolitan man who runs the town as best he can and constantly plots to find an excuse to have Chilforey killed and take over. Larret maintains its prosperity by ruthlessly purging the poorest of its citizens and other criminals via exile. It's a nice place to live, as long as you don't fall on hard times. Larret plots to become Duke because he believes if he can advance that far, his beloved son will eventually have a shot at succeeding Louen in a couple decades after inheriting the Dukedom. Larret believes himself a better sort of man, one who actively tolerates minstrels, scholars, and even satires of himself, while again, purging the poorest of his people so as to keep his town 'prosperous'. He is also kind of a dick, but the kind of dick that players might work for for awhile before they realize it. He also genuinely loves his son Fredemund, and would do anything to ensure his son becomes a proper Grail Knight.
Meanwhile, dotted throughout the forest are all kinds of lost villages and failed settlements, which players could come across in their adventures. Who knows what sorts of divergent cultures and interesting, weird stuff they could find in the depths of the monster-haunted forest?
Next: Bastonne, Home of the Hellpit.
It's time for another province so I can get through all these with Bastonne and its lovely hellpit in Warhammer Fantasy, Knights of the Grail
Bastonne is special, because Giles d' Breton was Duke of Baston before he united Bretonnia. It is also in roughly the center of the country, bordered by rivers and with the Massif Orcal mountains spilling over the border from the eastern border with Quenelles. It's mostly a pretty nice place, excepting the hell pit. Where the duchy meets the Massif Orcal, there's a massive 200m rend in the earth, so deep that people think it might be bottomless, and out of it comes terrible fogs that can kill a man with extreme cold at the height of summer. It also spawns weird, giant frog monsters that wander the country and devour livestock. No, I don't know what the deal with Bastonnian hellpit is, but anything called the Black Chasm is usually bad news. The creatures have stats; they're actually really nasty for a low level party to face, since they've got 6 Strength Bonus, 5 Toughness Bonus, and 3 AV from their scaley skin, plus a whopping 32 Wounds. With only a single attack a round and a 40% Weapon Skill, a starting party *might* be able to take one, but they'd be best left for more experienced characters. Scholars suspect these aren't actually Chaos spawn, since they never have additional mutations and they're always the same (giant frog, likes to eat horses), but given how dangerous the Black Chasm is no-one has ever observed them closely enough to find out more.
The other problem for Bastonne is the Forest of Chalons, which is somehow even more dangerous and sparsely populated than the Forest of Arden in Artois. It is completely infested with undead, beastmen, and where the two meet and the beastmen inevitably lose a battle, undead beastmen. The Red Duke has been known to haunt the place from time to time, though he might currently be in Mousillon or anywhere else; he certainly isn't dead at the moment. But really, outside of the hellpit and the haunted death forest it's a nice duchy, believe me.
Bastonnians are some of the most nationalistic people in Bretonnia, and it is only in this duchy that you'll regularly encounter people who have something of an idea that there should be single Bretonnian state, rather than 13 great duchies (and Mousillon) swearing fealty to a King. The worship of the Lady is everywhere, and very strong; even the peasants get into it in Bastonne, and it's one of the country's best sources of Grail Pilgrims. Of all Bretonnians, Bastonnians are the most likely to believe there is simply something better about the way Bretons do things compared to the rest of the world, and they're happy to adventure abroad to prove it. This was embodied when Duke Bohemond of Baston volunteered to personally join the King's errantry host and go to aid the Empire in the Storm of Chaos. He did so as much to ensure Bretonnian arms would be represented and respected in the ultimate victory of good as to fulfill any military obligation. Bohemond is one of the Grail Knight dukes, famous for his sense of honor and desire for challenges. This drives the man to fight greater and greater monsters, and he's known to never kill an opponent he considers genuinely inferior. The man isn't interested in killing, just in fighting. He is a direct descendant of Giles d' Breton, and some believe he should be king. One of them is not, Duke Bohemond. He is completely loyal to his king, and prefers to spend his time practicing his skills at war. To that end, he leaves the running of his Duchy to subordinates, and is a notoriously poor judge of character; many of them are corrupt and wicked.
Bastonne is also the site of one of the oldest Grail chapels, over a millennia old and built and maintained entirely by the peasantry. It is a great cathedral, rather than a small chapel like most. Legend has it that the Lady appeared before a peasant ages ago, praising his loyalty to his lord, and allowed him to touch (though not drink from) the grail. He built the cathedral on that spot. Nobles will deny this story as mere peasant superstition out of hand; everyone knows the Lady is only the Goddess of the nobility. Despite the fact that the Grail Knights shun the 'Humble Chapel', it is one of the few places where Damsels and Prophetesses will come to speak to the peasantry, breaking their normal disdain for reasons no-one can fathom.
Next: Bordeleaux, Land Of So Much Goddamn Wine.
Anyway, it's time to get drunk rather than think about Age of Sigmar in Warhammer Fantasy: Knights of the Grail
Bordeleaux, the least dry Duchy in all of Bretonnia! This is both because it has multiple good harbors among its cliffs and coasts, and also because it is extremely full of drink. Bordeleaux is the best wine country in all of the Old World, full stop, and the finest wines come out of the vineyards of this Duchy. The southeast of the duchy intersects the Forest of Chalon, but the parts in Bordeleaux are much less dangerous than in Bastonne and so you'll find woodsmen and settlements there. They also have a northern border with Mousillon, and occasionally have to tangle with vampires (despite them never drinking...wine), hordes of the undead, and awful swamp monsters coming down from the cursed Duchy. The massive supply of alcohol both brings wealth and a reputation for drunkeness to the dukedom, and the stereotype of Bordeleaux is of a perpetual party where both noble and peasant drink unmixed wine and fall out of windows all the time. This is obviously not true; they have to do the work to grow the grapes and work the wineries, and they still need to feed themselves. Furthermore, the many sailors along the coast are renowned for being surprisingly sober and professional. Despite the stereotype not quite matching the reality, many Adventurers from Bordeleaux are trying to get away from the constant drinking, and are disappointed when their partymates turn out to want to get hammered whenever they have enough time and money to afford it.
An interesting feature of Bordeleaux, besides all the wine, is the prevalence and power of the Cult of Manaan. One can find temples to the sea god all through the coastline, but more impressively the nobles pay him way more mind than they usually do for non-Lady gods. Manaan is not simply a peasant god in this duchy, and it's a common saying that she's the Lady of Lake, not the Sea. Because of all the sailing, nobles of Bordeleaux are as likely to send their sons out on long sea voyages to trade or explore in foreign shores for their Errantry Tour. This is still considered a big adventure that will prepare a boy for proper knighthood, and learning to work together and give orders on a ship as a lieutenant to an experienced captain is good training for a noble anyway. Many of the coastal nobles don't hold much land, making their sustenance entirely from trade and the sea, which is considered a little odd. Due to the wine and money, they get along well with their neighbors in Aquitaine and Bastonne, but they've always had a rivalry with L'Anguille over their commercial competition. Lacking a truly great port city, they've never been able to challenge them, so the rivalry is mostly only felt in Bordelaux.
Duke Alberic of Bordeleaux will be familiar to Total Warhams players, being one of their options for a Legendary Lord. I'm not entirely sure why he was, because while he's a renowned and competent noble, he's notable for never having found time to go look for the Grail. He has always felt his duty to his duchy is too strong to simply up and leave on a grand adventure, and he let his son (who could have been a competent regent while his father searched) go Questing instead. Alberic is renowned for his self discipline and high standards, and he expects these of all his knights, regularly dismissing any deemed corrupt or tyrannical. He's a hard worker who has always taken his position very seriously, and it's cost him his dream of grand adventure in the name of keeping his duchy running. He's getting desperate in his old age, though, and might be happy to hand the duchy off to a renowned PC regent if they could prove themselves as hard working and able as him...
The actual city of Bordeleaux is a challenger to L'Anguille in matters of commerce, population, and importance to the country as a whole. It isn't as suitable as a commercial port, but it still does plenty of business (especially as the duchy is home to valuable exports). It's exceptionally well defended, having some of the other cannons in Bretonnia (like L'Anguille), and renowned siege engineers who practice regularly to be precise shots, with great coverage. This is to discourage Norse and Dark Elves from getting any ideas about raiding such a rich city. It also houses the First Chapel, the very first Grail Chapel ever built. As a result, dukes of Bordeleaux have traditionally been Grail Knights, another thing needling at Duke Alberic. There's also the great Temple of Manaan, which isn't a building but rather an enormous ship permanently moored in the harbor. Somehow, the God protects it from storms, despite the holy temple being out in the harbor, and Grail Knights, Damsels, and Prophetesses are forbidden to set foot within.
There are two very odd places in Bordeleaux: The Silent Isle and the Turris Vigilans. The Silent Isle is a few miles off the coast, and used to be a noble fief, until everyone living there vanished without a trace about 100 years ago. Since then, it's become impossible to make noise while on the island. Adventurers who go there fall into two groups: Those who stay a couple hours, get spooked by the unnatural silence, and leave...and those who don't come back. The Turris Vigilans is a great lighthouse and temple to Verena, the Goddess of Knowledge and Justice, located on the border with Mousillon. The priests are said to be scrying and spying on Mousillon, looking for something very important that they won't tell anyone else about. They're visited from time to time by Prophetesses and the Fae Enchantress herself, for reasons unknown. The priests are also eager to advise adventurers to enter the cursed duchy and come back and tell them what they find. An adventure revolving around what the hell they're looking for seems like an obvious hook.
Next time: Ah, sweet Brionne, land of a thousand poets and also random plagues.
Brionne is as beautiful as all the stars (and not any other metaphor, like jewels or anything) in Warhammer Fantasy: Knights of the Grail
Brionne is a living fairytale, even more than Aquitaine. There is nothing threatening in all of the duchy, as Carcassone stands between it and the dangerous mountains to the south, Quenelles is between it and the Loren in the east, and Aquitaine is between it and the haunted Forest of Chalon in the north. The port at Brionne (every duchy that has a city seems to name the city for the duchy) sits in forgiving seas, and the coast has sandy beaches that are perfect for glassblowers. The duchy can be a bit obsessed with being picturesque, as Lords sometimes tear down and rebuild entire villages around imagined ideals of what a perfect, happy peasant town should look like. Without asking the peasants, who keep dirtying the place up trying to make it livable. Brionnian fortifications look beautiful, but the little, delicate towers and disney-esque touches make them indefensible and impractical. The people of Brionne love poetry, music, and courtly love, albeit their ideal of courtly love leaves to a lot more extramarital affairs and generally ends in marriage or ribald rather than being properly chaste. Stories of young knights staying loyal to their liege despite loving his wife, going off on grail quest, and returning as heroes right as the old man dies of old age at the convenient climax are wildly popular. In the real world, this leads to older nobles with young and beautiful wives being very paranoid about someone trying to bring that perfect climax about in real life.
The love fever in Brionne is so strong that many of the Adventurers you'll meet from the country are running away from angry fathers and husbands, or are disguised young women who got sick of being constantly serenaded and wanted to escape all this Disney musical nonsense. The internal politics of the duchy are rife with feuds caused by these matters of the heart, and in Brionne, politics are more personal than anywhere else in the kingdom. Finding a knight who *isn't* going to covet your beautiful young wife is like finding a chest of diamonds. Rivalries are common between secret lovers and husbands, between would-be lovers and each other, between famous minstrel-knights over matters of gaining more fame, and between would-be, tone-deaf minstrel-knights and all good people of musical taste. Duke Theoderic of Brionne is a giant of a man, and a complete terror in battle as he cuts down beastmen and monsters with his signature massive greataxe. The second he steps off the field, though, he becomes a gentle and playful patron of the arts and a decent musician, himself. He is also said to be an enthusiastic adulterer, and many of the noblewomen of Brionne certainly hope that's true; you could do worse than being courted by the brave and gentle duke.
Of course, it's not all musical numbers and hijinks. Brionne is also home to inexplicable and dangerous plagues. Every year or so, some new disease no-one has ever heard of tears through some part of the population, inspiring sorrow and tribute ballads. Everyone assumes there has to be some underground cult of Nurgle that's causing this, but hanging the occasional cultist doesn't seem to put a stop to it.
Our example NPC here is Thiemar of Brionne, a renowned and talented minstrel, gaining a following for his tremendous compositions, lovely singing voice, and his good looks (though some consider him a little too pretty). He wanders the castles of Brionne, performing for nobles and claiming he is still in his errantry, while refusing to join a household as of yet. This is because Thiemar is a peasant. And also a woman. She has a naturally low voice for a woman that makes for an excellent young man's singing voice, and most Bretonnians simply assume she must be a man; a woman wouldn't be traveling and pretending to be a minstrel, that'd be crazy. Everyone knows disguised women always pretend to be knights, not singers! She originally had vague plans to learn about the nobles and pass information to the Herrimaults, but she's found she loves being a wandering entertainer. Still, the plight of the peasants is troubling, and she might make a good PC herself, or recruit PCs to help her with some scheme to make things better for people with the power of song.
Next: The Exact Opposite of Brionne, and Also Its Best Buddies.
Before I accidentally get too into yelling at 40kRP it's time to go deal with some grim, dark warrior knights in Warhammer Fantasy: Knights of the Grail
Carcassone is a rough land. There isn't much good, arable farming land since it sits at the foot of mountains and covers Bretonnia's southern border with Tilea. The mountains are also home to enormous hosts of orcs, who like to try to invade Bretonnia and who the people of Carcassone will fight however they can. The constant danger has made the people of Carcassone more practical about defending their country than most of the kingdom. Sometimes, they'll hire on large bands of foreigners to watch their sheep, since no Breton lord would ever hire foreign mercenaries. The pay is low, but the Lords of Carcassone are remarkably clumsy about 'losing' large bags of gold where these shepards can get at it. Similarly, Duke Huebold is one of the only knights in the land who is willing to use ambushes and stealth against his enemies, arguing that greenskins coming down from the mountains to slaughter innocent folk don't have any honor and don't deserve a fair engagement.
Foreigners aren't the only shepards in Carcassone; the country is famous for its 'shepardesses', who really do watch the sheep (wool is the main export for the province) but also happen to carry weapons and follow greenskin war parties, or set traps for them in the narrow mountain passes. These people are not officially warriors, just peasants tending their lord's flock, and so are allowable under Bretonnian custom. They even get their own solid fighter/mountain ranger starting class, and it's unique in being enterable by women who are not pretending to be men or nobles. Carcassone is also famous for the custom of the Birth Sword, and this thing is broken as all hell in gameplay. A baby boy (or woman being raised as a boy because her parents are desperate for an heir) is given a fine sword, supposedly the first thing they touch as a babe, which then hangs up above their mantle until they're old enough to learn to use it. This is represented by a unique talent, Birth Sword, available to characters from Carcassone. It makes their Birth Sword into a Hand Weapon that does SB+1 instead of SB and gives +5% WS, and +10% to fear tests. This is crazily good as a unique bonus, replacing one of the basic rolled-for Human Talents for characters of noble birth raised as men in Carcassone.
Duke Huebold does not smile, does not laugh, does not joke, and does not even talk unless he has to. He's a grim, quiet man of short stature and wiry build, and an exceptional strategist known for using the mountains (and his unique shepards) to best advantage to kill orcs more efficiently. He has time for little else in his life, though he does have a wife and four children. People find it a little amazing that all his children look like and take after him; apparently his political marriage worked out better than they usually do. He's generally well respected, and everyone in Carcassone knows they need to be on point to keep their province (and by extension, the rest of the country) safe, so as long as he stays hard at work doing that, no-one will ever mock his terse demeanor. Well, except for knights from other provinces. At their own peril.
The most interesting relationship with Carcassone is the one between Carcassone and Brionne. One would expect these very opposite provinces not to understand one another, but instead the people of Brionne acknowledge they owe their idyllic (relatively) existence to the determination of Carcassone's defenders. In turn, the people of Carcassone take pride in knowing that their stalwart defense allows a beautiful place like Brionne to exist. The fact that the Brionnians tend to run about composing songs in honor of the great victories of Carcassone and raising their standing in the eyes of the noble courts of the realm doesn't hurt relations, either.
Of all the places in Bretonnia, Carcassone is the most likely to overlook the oddities of adventurers and give them a job. As long as you can put the most basic of a fig leaf on your oddity so that the Duke and others can claim you're normal enough, and as long as you're willing to fight orcs and other monsters constantly to earn your keep, Carcassone is one of the most honest places for oddball parties to work in the whole country. They're simply under attack too often to care. Aside from that, though, the provincial nature and lack of any big cities means that Carcassone has always felt like a better place for PCs to be from, rather than for PCs to work in. It just doesn't have as many plot hooks besides 'Kick the shit out of orcs', and let me tell you, the soccer hooligan schtick can't really sustain a campaign as well as you'd think.
Next Time: Couronne, and a detailed examination of Louen Leoncour.
And now let's get horse-crazy in Warhammer Fantasy: Knights of the Grail
Couronne's hat is horses. They have a huge amount of land that's too dry to be good for growing food crops but perfect for grazing horses, and the breeders of the Marches of Couronne in the east of the duchy are considered the best in Bretonnia. Given Bretonnian war horses are easily the best war horses in the Old World, 'best in Bretonnia' is really saying something. Couronne is the largest of the duchies, with a harsh coast to its north that's too rough to build big merchant ports, but isn't quite harsh or cliff-y enough to keep the Norse from raising them constantly. They also find themselves under attack from Orcs coming down from the Grey Mountains, but the biggest problem is definitely the Norse marauders, who come to take slaves, food, and wealth. The orcs from the mountains also ride strange, toothed horses that seem to be able to climb rock faces, and who the Couronnians can't tame no matter how hard they try. This is because the creepy meat-eating horses are actually intelligent, love killing, and are working with the orcs because the orcs provide them the best chance to kill things. Having your PCs figure this out could be a fun time.
With the wide plains, the men and women of Couronne are completely and utterly horse-crazy. The ducal capitol at Couronne is built around an ancient elven Hippodrome, and while only the foundations remain the rest of the building has been rebuilt over the centuries to be used for the favorite sport of the duchy: Watching a dozen horses run in a circle very quickly. It's said that while a Brionnian would happily lend you his horse and kill you over his wife, a Couronnian would do the opposite. Since so many people are involved in the breeding and care of horses, even the peasants are deeply knowledgeable about their husbandry and bloodlines, and most of the peasants know how to ride (even if they don't own their own horse). Even Couronnian ladies are avid riders, and a noblewoman will obviously get the best horse she can, so it's not uncommon to see a dainty noble mounted on a mighty destrier just so she can say she owns one.
The Duke of Couronne is also King of Bretonnia. I have to wonder if Louen's detractors (he's got to have a few) ever make note of the fact that he rides a bird-cat (Hippogriff) into battle rather than a proper Couronnian warhorse. As has been said before, King Louen is everything a King is supposed to be. He works hard, he's just in his rulings, and he has made it policy that no man can be harmed or prosecuted for anything said to him during a court case, to ensure he is given honest opinions. He keeps his word, has been faithful to allied nations and dangerous to those who threaten his country, and does everything he can to keep the peace between his subjects. At the same time, he is only one man, with limited time and limited information about what's going on in his realm. Yes, if the king gets involved justice will be done, but how often can the king get involved? Moreover, he is completely blind to the idea that there might be some sort of systemic injustice at place. He believes if every man and women did their duty as they were supposed to, like he does, the Bretonnian system of government would be the happiest and most just in all the world, without being able to see that the system of government does not exactly incentivize things going that way. He solves every problem he can find, but has no idea of their roots.
There's also the issue of Earl Adalbert of the Eastern Marshes. The Earl is vassal to the Duke of Couronne, but wants to be vassal to the King, a more prestigious position, as a Baron. As the two are the same person at the moment, he thinks this is his best chance to get his wish, but Louen is wary of making a very powerful noble even more independent. Adalbert hires adventurers to help him find opportunities to distinguish himself as a great hero, such that the King will obviously make him a direct vassal, and to help with his maneuvering against other barons and earls. He has also looked east to Marienburg, which he borders, and has been pondering how if he were to conquer the richest port in the Old World to add to Couronne, the king would obviously make him Baron of it. Especially with so many of Marienburg's defenders away, since the Storm of Chaos led to many of its mercenaries traveling north to fight for the Emperor, and many are still busy cleaning up the left-behind raiders and warbands.
Couronne also has one notably weird place: The Landrell Barrow near its southern border. Every few years, exactly 4,373 skeletons and zombies march out of the barrow, patrol a pre-set path, ignore anyone who doesn't attack them, and march back. The count is that precise because they ignored a wandering scholar long enough for him to get an accurate estimate. Inside the Barrow, no-one ever finds evidence of all these dead during the off years, and light doesn't seem to penetrate the gloom. No adventurer has yet been able to solve the mystery of what on earth these undead are doing, or why.
Next time: Gisoreux, whose hat is having a ton of hats.
Let's take a look at a place that is basically 4 different small duchies in Warhammer Fantasy: Knights of the Grail
Gisoreux is divided by rivers, forests, and mountains, forming four different and distinct regions that all get along and consider themselves stronger for their diversity. Gisorens are friendly people who are generally hospitable to travelers, because there is much travel within the bounds of their duchy and they are usually happy to receive visitors. The plains of Gisoreux are actually very hilly, pastoral country for raising animals, and most of the people live here, in the area between the Arden, the Grey Mountains, the Pale Sisters range, and the River Gismerie. This is also where the capital sits. North of it, near the River Sannez, you find arable land that can grow food crops, and Northern Gisoreux is home to about a quarter of the population. It used to be heavily forested, but was cleared out to grow food over the last thousand years. South and east of the river lies the Arden, and the areas in Gisoreux are better tamed than the ones in Artois. The loggers and woodsmen make sure to travel so they don't end up isolated and 'odd' like Artois' lost villages. Finally, there's the mountains, where people live as miners and mountaineers, and occasionally raise sheep and goats. Very few people live in that part of the duchy, but their work is important.
The key to understanding Gisorans is that they don't see any of this division as a problem. They see it as a blessing. As mentioned, they're hospitable people, and surprisingly cosmopolitan for folk who live in small villages in woods, mountains, and hilly places. They also hold an important mountain pass at the Gisoreux Gap, which allows access through the Grey Mountains. The actual populace mostly get along, but the nobles are more divided; the difficulty of reaching some of the parts of the duchy mean some of the locals are very used to being independent, and not used to their liege lord actually bothering to spend time ruling them.
Gisoreux's big problem is its duke. Duke Hagen is a brave and utterly honorable Grail Knight, totally devoted to his king and the principles of chivalry. As a result, he is primarily a ruler in absentia, having moved to Couronne to ensure he can offer his advice to the King on proper knightly behavior at all times. He always insists on the strictest action in accordance with chivalry, something the King sometimes disregards in order to avoid losing hundreds of lives over every minor diplomatic insult or refusing to allow a beaten army to retreat in order. Hagen has been watching the King, concerned that even this paragon of Knighthood is being corrupted, and meanwhile his dukedom suffers without his presence. Without him there, there is no-one to deal with the independence of many of the local nobility, or to deal with their petty feuds. Without him, some have started to consider swearing allegiance to the Duke of Bastonne instead, and some do indeed hold land from him as well. The border is straining and the Duke is too busy making sure the King, who is already a paragon of knighthood, holds directly to the letter of the law (which the king does not) to fulfill his actual responsibilities as ruler.
Gisoreux itself is a very important city, because it's located on one of the safe trade routes overland with the Empire. Imperial merchants and travelers are common, and warmly welcome so long as they don't cause any trouble. The people of the city are likely to know Reikspiel in addition to Breton, and they happily import Imperial goods and watch over the export of Bretonnian produce. The noble quarter of the city is in disrepair, because the nobles tend to prefer their countryside estates and the Duke is never home as it is.
Castle Desflauve is a very important defensive emplacement watching over the center of the Gisoreux gap, keeping the road to the Empire open. It is ruled by the Marquis Desflauve, a young man who has inherited the title after the death of his father a year ago. Ever since, he's established a reputation as a fine knight and a good leader of the defenses, and young Frederic has been talking about finding a good steward so he can go on Quest. This is because he has a big problem: He's a she. His father couldn't bare to remarry, and only had a daughter, so he raised her as a son. This turned out to be an excellent decision, as Frederic is a good strategist, a good knight, and an inspiring leader, but she's panicking about the need to eventually marry and produce an heir. Panicking enough that she might get some trustworthy PCs involved in discretely finding her a woman who would be okay with marrying her and then producing heirs by surrogate or something. PCs can easily get involved fighting for the Marquis in the mountains and slowly gain enough trust to learn her secret (or earn it by showing her their own) and then get in on this drama.
There's also the Valle Florida, a strange place in the Grey Mountains where trapped sunlight and weather lead to wine-growing country in the middle of the mountains. Because it is difficult to get here, and because the wine is a unique vintage, it's a valuable commodity that adventurers often carry for clients, since they need to do some mountaineering to transport it and probably have to fight off orcs. The place is a little suspicious of strangers after a passing Witch Hunter tried to frame them for Chaos Worship by spiking some of their wine with warpstone. They tried to drown him in the warpstone wine when they discovered his treachery, but he grew gills inside the barrel, so they settled for throwing it off a mountain.
Next: Lyonesse, You Treasonous Bastards.