Monday, 1 March 2021

Scenes from Courtly Life

"The court ministers will be as powerful as the king is weak" - Simon Nicholson, Scenes from Courtly Life, White Dwarf 98


As I've mentioned before, one of the ways I've been encouraging myself to paint over lockdown has been The Monthly White Dwarf Painting Challenge. For February the challenge was to paint something found within - or inspired by - White Dwarf 98 from February 1988.

I've gone a bit left field this month. I'm trying to use these challenges as a reason to paint up miniatures that have been languishing in the leadpile, not an excuse to buy more - but it turns out I only own one miniature featured in this issue, and that's a dwarf. I've painted dwarfs the past 2 months so I wanted to try something different.

Reading through the issue, I really enjoyed Simon Nicholson's article "Scenes from Courtly Life - Courtly Characters for FRP", looking at struggles for power and influence around the throne. That inspired me to paint up two spare miniatures that might never have seen paint otherwise - they're part of the Lancastrian Command set from Perry miniatures (so at least they have the Perrys as a link to true Oldhammer greatness) and are meant to be Henry VI and the Lord High Treasurer Longstrother, though I plan to use them as a prince and his minister in a petty domain amidst the Border Princes... I figured I'd start with these miniatures and then see how the story unfolds!


Simon Nicholson's article gets us thinking about the intrigue that surrounds the throne - the messiness of human frailty and ambition. What happens when a king is old and weak? Or if a king is too strong? What role does his physician play? How do the ministers work for him or scheme against him? What goes on in his servant's chambers? Although all this is written with fantasy roleplay campaigns in mind, given that battle is so often an extension of drama at court, all of this gives narrative shape for our wargames.

Recently I've inspired by Phil Dutré's Chronicles of Lowenheim over at the Tiny Tin Men blog - he's been playing a whole solo campaign based on events generated by rolls on random charts, and it's been great reading. He's taken inspiration from Tony Bath's magisterial book Setting Up a Wargames Campaign, rolling on tables to generate the personalities that inhabit the town and shape its destiny. I wanted to take a leaf from the same book, but focussing on the Intrigue and Court and then seeing how that might give shape to a narrative. I decided to use the system Tony Bath devised using playing cards to develop the personalities for wargames campaigns:
Tony Bath's Personality Generator, from Setting Up a Wargames Campaign

The first card determines the individual's overarching characteristic:
Heart, Good Nature; Diamond, Love of Wealth; Spade, Ambition; Club, Love of War/Patriotism. The higher the card, the more intense this characteristic.

Then, deal 7 additional cards detailing the personality:
Ace: Spade or Club, a disloyal intriguer. Diamond, loyal intriguer. Heart, exceptional good nature. (A reversed ace signifies a hunchback or cripple)
King: Spade or Club, Energy. Heart or Diamond, Courage
Queen: Great lover
Knave: Spade/Club, Unreliability, oath-breaker, liar. Heart/Diamond, Merciless, revenge-prone
Ten: Loyality (Absolute loyalty in Diamonds, grading down through Hearts, Clubs, Spades.)
Nine: Physical beauty, except for Spade, which is Ugliness
Eight Spade/Club, Cruelty. Heart/Diamond, Generosity.
Seven: Spade/Club, Personality. Heart/Diamond, Jealous of Family Honour.
Six: Spade/Club, Lazyness. Heart/Diamond, Charm
Five: Spade/Club, Wisdom. Heart/Diamond, Cunning.
Four: Spade/Club, Stupidity. Heart/Diamond, Cowardice.
Three: Spade/Club, Bad Temper. Heart/Diamond, Good temper.
Two: Spade/Club, Arrogance, pride. Heart/Diamond, Merciful.

Resolve any inconsistencies using common sense!


I love a good random generation table, so before I started painting up my two guys, I grabbed a pack of cards:

So, first I deal the cards for the Prince. The card that determines the overarching characteristic is a heart - ok, so we have a good-natured ruler. Then, the other seven personality cards. Straight away, an ace of hearts - EXCEPTIONAL good nature! How lovely for his subjects! The rest of the cards: stupid, energetic, beautiful, cowardly, good temper.

Alright, not sure what I can do about beautiful (as you can see, I'm not a miracle worker with a paintbrush!), but the picture is clear enough: we've got a kindly but dim man, full of ambitious plans for his people but too cowardly to venture out much beyond the castle walls.

Now for his trusted minister. First card out is a diamond - so his overarching motivation is a love of wealth. Now let's see what the rest of the cards tell us: disloyal intriguer (!), wisdom, bad temper, cruel, unreliable/oath-breaker/liar.

Wow - that's almost a pantomime bad guy! Sneaky, cruel, smart but deceitful, and with a tendency to fly into a rage!

Quite a contrast between the two fellows! From here the story almost writes itself: the minister is a ruthless operator, taking advantage of a kind (but thick) prince. For his own enrichment, he has been embezzling charitable funds that had been meant for the realm's sick and poor. What terrible wickedness will the minister employ to stop his corruption from becoming public knowledge?

To be continued...

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