Pantheons of the Multiverse: The Arthurian Mythos

The name really says it all here. While both editions of Legends & Lore refer to this as “Arthurian Heroes,” I’ve chosen to go with “mythos” since both books include characters of decidedly less heroic bent. Either way, this collection of characters can’t be referred to as a pantheon, as – alone of all the entries in this series (with the arguable exception of the “gods” of Eberron, if I ever get that far) – this entry lacks even a single deity.

AD&D First Edition

The opening text in the the 1E Deities & Demigods book spends a scant two paragraphs talking about the characters of Arthurian mythology, and the first is to overview the nature of chivalrous knights. It’s only with the second paragraph that it touches upon the difficulty of using these characters in one’s AD&D game, and even then it brushes this aside by suggesting that it might be fun to “take a trip” to Arthur’s Britain.

It’s surely just a coincidence that the text then mentions that more information can be found in TSR’s Knights of Camelot Fantasy Boardgame.

The characters that we are then given stats for are: The Average Knight of Renown, Knight of Quality (followed by a long list of names for which the previous two stat blocks can represent), King Arthur, Sir Bernlad De Hautdesert (aka the Green Knight), Sir Galahad, Sir Gareth of Orkney, Sir Garlon, Sir Gawaine, Sir Lamorak, Sir Lancelot Du Lake, Merlin, Morgan Le Fay, Sir Palomides the Saracen, King Pelinore, and Sir Tristam of Lyoness.

AD&D Second Edition

The 2E version of Legends & Lore expands on its predecessor by a notable amount where the Arthurian Mythos is concerned. For instance, all of the entries mentioned above are here as well – save only for King Pelinore, who has been deleted for some reason – but now also include Queen Guinevere, the Lady of the LakeMordredSir PercivaleSir KayBedevere, and Naciens. There are a few stylistic changes as well (e.g. changing “Sir Bernlad De Hautdesert” to simply “The Green Knight”), but for the most part everything in the 1E book is here and then some.

More notable is the supplementary information that’s given. For example, we now have monster stats for the White Heart and the Questing Beast. Both Excalibur and the Holy Grail have magic item stats. There are also three new spells: impersonation, revelation, and protection from death.

What I found to be more notable, however, was the large introductory section that came before this. Presenting an excellent overview of the story of Arthur, it also talked about how to role-play in an “Arthurian Setting,” what the duties of a Knight of the Round Table were, briefly overviewed the nature of omens, portents, and transgressions in such a setting, and introduced a new character class, the pious knight.

The pious knight class has access to some divine spellcasting, and so includes a list of clerical spheres to which they have access. While it’s easy to wonder if this should have been expanded with the introduction of several new sphere in the Tome of Magic book, the fact that the text – after outlining the spheres open to a pious knight – says that they “have no access at all to other spheres” makes it seem unlikely that they’d have received any others.

Interestingly, the section on how to use the material here with role-playing – now expanded to four paragraphs – sticks to the advice of its First Edition counterpart and recommends treating Arthurian Britain as its own setting, or at the very least as an adjunct to a setting that happens to have a similar backdrop. It then goes on to outline how the PCs could function in King Arthur’s court.

I found this dissatisfying, for two reasons. The first was that it essentially walls off all of these characters from the wider AD&D multiverse. Unless we’re to essentially place Camelot and the surrounding environs in a demi-plane or Alternate Material Plane, there’s really no way to use what’s here in your bog-standard AD&D game, even if it allows for all sorts of cross-campaign hijinks (a la Spelljammer and Planescape) to take place.

Secondly, I don’t think much of the advice to make the PCs squires and would-be knights working their way up through the ranks of the Knights of the Round Table. Even if we overlook the issue of so many character classes breaking the setting conventions of Arthurian Britain – just try to imagine playing a thief! – and that the players don’t chafe at the yoke that chivalry imposes on them, having the PCs be just another set of squires and wannabe-knights seems like an imposition. While not all of the PCs might feel this way, I suspect that most players want their characters to break from the mold, rather than conforming to it.

All of these complaints, however, underscore the real problem with these entries: that ultimately the story of King Arthur is its own tale, with its own beginning, middle, and end, as well as cast of major characters. Ultimately, this leaves very little room for the PCs, and so it’s hard to visualize them as doing anything except serving as a disruption. Ultimately, while AD&D can be made to fit into the mold of the tale of King Arthur, it does so awkwardly (especially compared to games that were explicitly designed to do so, such as Chaosium’s Pendragon RPG).

Miscellaneous Thoughts

When I sat down to write this article, I had thought that there were no elements of Arthurian mythology that appeared anywhere in Dungeons & Dragons outside of the two sources outlined above. However, much to my surprise, I did find two others.

The first was that there’s an entry for the Holy Grail in the D&D Master Set. The second was that there’s a new – and much more powerful – entry for Excalibur in Encyclopedia Magica Vol. 4 (right between the entry from Deities & Demigods (as part of Arthur’s writeup) and the entry from Legends & Lore). Beyond that (and Excalibur getting name-dropped in the entries for the Ravenloft domain lord Ebonbane) however, I’m unaware of any other instances of Arthurian material appearing in any D&D products. That’s not entirely surprising, given the issues with using such elements that I noted above, but is still perhaps somewhat disappointing.

Were it up to me, I’d have tried to sit down and somehow come up with a “post-Arthurian” method of approaching these characters. That would have had something to do with trying to make it so that everything from the Arthurian myths have already happened, and now brought those characters to a place where the future is uncertain, perfect for the PCs to appear on stage to set things in a new direction.

That would have required bringing back King Arthur, of course. But on the other hand, maybe not, in which case your characters could be arriving just as Camelot is in need of a new king…

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