History, Mythology, Art and RPGs


First Post
Thanks man.

One of these days I am going to in fact tackle Ninjas for this thread ... thats going to be a tough one :)

Here is a bit more on the Thieves Cant I was actually kind of rushed when I posted that. The Thieves Cant in particular is really cool and fun to introduce into your game


Thieves' cant - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

There are several alleged Cant-to-English dictionaries online, here are a few examples:

The Thieves Guild - The Thieves Cant - Simple - Cant to English

Cool looking website for all things thievish for DnD actually

The Thieves Guild

Another even more extensive Cant dictionary

Canting Dictionary, letter A

Real or not, these are a lot of fun to browse through. Going through some of these terms gives you some ideas how rich the criminal underworld really was (if only in Elizabethan imagination) and how incredibly many specialist criminal jobs you could use in your campaign (many of these scream Adventure Hook) ... a few of my favorites:

ANGLERS, alias HOOKERS; petty Thieves, who have a Stick with a Hook at the End, wherewith they pluck Things out of Windows, Grates, &c. Make ready your Angling Stick; a Word of Command used by these petty Villains, to get ready the Stick with which they perform their Pranks, and as a Signal of a Prey in Sight. In the Day-time they beg from House to House, to spy best where to plant their Designs, which at Night they put in Execution.

KNIGHT of the Road, the chief Highwayman, best mounted and armed, the stoutest Fellow among them.

KIDLAYS, an Order of Rogues, who meeting a Youth with a Bundle or Parcel of Goods, wheedle him by fair Words, and whipping Six-pence into his Hand, to step on a short and sham Errand, in the mean Time run away with the Goods.

BARNACLES, the Irons worn in Goal by Felons. A Pair of Spectacles is also called Barnacles; as I saw the Cuffin Quire with his Nose Barnacled, making out the Cove's Dispatches, i.e. I saw the Justice of Peace with his Spectacles on making out his Mittimus.

PRAD LAY: the act of cutting the saddlebags of horses in order to steal their contents.

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First Post
The Knight and his Lance

The Knight and his Lance - Pt I of III


The fuzzy part you often see just under the business end of a lance is to soak up the blood so it doesn't make the whole thing too slippery to hold.

On another forum, someone asked "How would a lance be used in War?"

It's actually a pretty good question, and one tied closely to the history of the Knight. We all know the Lance was the principle weapon of the knight just like the javelin (pilum) was the principle weapon of the Roman Legionairre.

A Lance was any specialized thrusting spear for use from horseback. Thats all it means. It is a specialist weapon which evolved gradually from the more basic general-purpose spear, just like it's cousins the pike and the javelin. Like the pike and the javelin, the lance seeemed to be most effective when used en-masse, though in smaller groups. Knights were typically deployed in small units or squadrons that would repeatedly charge into and through (or sometimes around the edges of) an enemy formation, inexorably breaking it up like the blows of a battering ram.

Until Medieval times cavalry used spears or lances which would typically be held overhand, and often from horses that were running at slower gaits than a gallop. Using them couched to charge straight into enemy forces seems to have started around the 11th Century, coinciding with various improvements in horse harness, saddles, stirrups etc. which allowed a rider to remain on horseback through the heavy shock of collision.

the European knight emerged at or shortly after the battle of Hastings, the innovations of the couched lance and the new types of saddle refining the armored heavy cavalry warrior into a truly lethal killing machine.

So envision 20 armored guys charging in a pretty tight group, usually with armored horses, with lance points anywhere from 12'-18' out in front of them. This was very hard to stand against.

Not all heavy Cavalry of this type were knights, a knight (or reitter or chevalier or miles) meant a professional warrior of independent means, who essentially owned their own horses, armor, and weapons. There were always also a parallel type of warrior armed and equipped by a Lord, the latter sometimes called Sergeants or Men At arms, were preferred by some military leaders because they were more disciplined.

Lances broke or were dropped pretty quickly and heavy cavalry would wheel back to a support base to rearm with more lances. That was the job of a squire or some other less formal type of attendant. The number usually carried was three lances. Extra horses would also usually be available, in Medieval times heavy cavalry would usually have at least the very expensive warhorse used for fighting (a destrier or a courser or a palfrey) another horse for traveling, usually an ambler, and another horse or a mule or a burro for carrying baggage.

The (Very) Ancient origins of the Knight

Modern re-enactors conception of a Sassanid Cataphract

The origins of the knight seem to go further back than most people realize, at least to Parthian Cataphracts in the 3rd Century BC. The Romans developed t heir own version called Clibinari ("oven men" due to the heat of the armor) from the 2nd Century BC. These were feared and highly effective and remained an important part of the Roman military in the East until the fall of the Byzantine empire.

One roman observer described Iranian heavy cavalry thus:
"The Persians opposed us serried bands of mail-clad horsemen in such close order that the gleam of moving bodies covered with closely fitting plates of iron dazzled the eyes of those who looked upon them, while the whole throng of horses was protected by coverings of leather."


If you didn't know better you would think this was a relief of a 13th Century European knight rather than a 4th Century Persian...


This is from a French reenactor group which seems to have excellent standards:
[Collectif de reconstitution de matériels de Terre Sainte au XIIe siècle] : La druzhina du Prince

The Norse / Slavic Rus Druhzina* of the 8th-12th Century fought both with lances in the Western European style and with bows in the Steppe / Hun / Mongol style simultaneously, which is interesting, as well as carrying maces and swords or sabers. They are the only example I know of who fought as both archers and heavy cavalry.

The rise of heavy cavalry in Western Europe

Charlemagnes conquest and brief unification of Continental Europe was achieved largely through the use of armored heavy cavalry. These were not yet considered knights however (though they were kind of made into knights retroactively in Medieval ballads many centuries later).

There was also a paraellel development of heavy cavalry in the West. Rather famously Sassanian (Iranian) heavy cavalry were garrissoned in Britain which some speculate, on rather thin evidence, may have influenced Romano-Celtic war leader Artorius (aka King Arthur) and his war bands.

More well documented is the link between heavy cavalry and the elite members of Celtic and later Germanic tribes, the latter forming something called a "Commitatus" of elite warriors who would act as the personal bodyguard of a chieftain. There is also Alexanders the Greats elite companion cavalry though that was before real stirrups or fighting saddles so nobody knows how they really fought exactly.

The first documented major use of heavy cavalry by European barbarians was the famous battle of Adrianople in 378 AD, in which Visigoth cavalry, having equipped themselves with Roman armor and horses during an uprising, successfully overran the previously all-but-invincible Roman infantry and killed Emperor Valens.

From that point on in Europe cavalry very gradually began to get the upper hand over infantry during the Migration Period (i.e. "The Dark Ages"), which coincided with a very gradual shift from tribal forms of social organization toward a more Roman type of feudal system called Latifundia, in which the common tribesmen were obligated to remain on their land and ultimately became tenant farmers or serfs. The decline of the free tribal warrior coincided with the decline in the quality and importance of infantry in the European battlefield, and the rise of the knight. The last really effective infantry in the Early Middle Ages were probably the Vikings, and their power was broken at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 AD.

After the Battle of Hastings the knight as a new form of cavalry capable of wiping out almost any opposition. While the original Eastern Cataphract hadn't changed in 700 years, the new European Knight was evolving rapidly. By the end of the 11th Century European mail armor was beginning to creep toward cap-a-pied (head to foot) protection, new weapons were being developed (like two-handed swords) along with new saddles and horse harness, and special breeds of warhorses. The system of charging into battle in tight squadrons or 'battles', was beginning to coalesce into a fine tuned killing process.

Knights proved to be essentially unstoppable shock troops. In this battles during this period (roughly 1066-1300) in open terrain even a very small number of knights routinely rout much larger armies. There are many accounts where as few as 200 or 300 knights smashed infantry or light-cavalry forces numbering in the thousands.


During the early Crusades European knights (and other heavy cavalry) proved to be a major shock to the Turks, Arabs, and Byzantines. This terrifying new threat simply could not be faced in direct combat. The only way to deal with them was to feign retreat, shoot arrows at the horses from a distance and keep far away. But this wasn't always possible strategically depending on the type of battle which was being fought, sometimes you simply had to come to grips to win the day.

*(little trivia the word Druzhina made it's way into modern Russian and was the inspiration for the term "Drouges" in the film A Clockwork Orange
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First Post
Mondays Mercenaries

Mondays Mercenaries

Todays group is one of the first major mercenary companies to gain significant notoriety in Europe, the Catalan Grand Company, founded in 1302. They are still well known in Greece and in Spain, but if you live in the USA, Australia or the UK chances are you have never heard of them. They were one of the more colorful mercenary bands in history and would make fine background material for almost any fantasy RpG campaign ;)


The Catalan Company achieved fame and success far beyond that of most Mercenaries wildest dreams. Consisting primarily of Almogavars, Catalan soldiers from the Pyrennes Mountains between Spain and France, they were lightly armed but hardened in the battles of the Reconquista. They achieved a reputation sufficient to sell their swords, and were led by a remarkable figure, the redoubtable Mercenary Captain Roger De Flor


Roger was quite a character. Starting his career as a sailor on a Templar galley, he soon rose to command the vessel and lead it into combat against the formidable navy of the Ottoman Turks. Accused of thievery and apostasy for shaking down some Lords who were escaping the siege of Cyprus, he fled to Sicily where he was promptly granted an Admiralty by the King and rejoined the war against the Turks. After the war Roger was given command of a company of Almogavars, and went with them to the East to offer their services to the Byzantine Emperor in his increasingly desperate struggle against the Ottomans. Roger apparently hit it off pretty well with his Greek patron, and was promptly married to a Byzantine princess, made a duke and put in charge of the Byzantine Army and the Fleet.


Roger and the Catalan Company proved no slouches at their jobs, and defeated the Ottoman army, pushing them back to the borders of Armenia and Persia, and lifting a major siege. But the agreed upon fee was never paid by the crafty Byzantines, leading to a nasty dispute and ultimately Rogers assassination at their hands. But that wasn't the end of the Catalan Company who were infuriated by Rogers murder. They challenged the Emperor to a duel, but his only response was to kill their emissaries and order the massacre of all Catalans in the Byzantine Empire. So in retaliation the Catalan Company went on a rampage against the Byzantines called the "Catalan Revenge" that proved wildly successful, leading to their capture of Athens and Thebes and ultimately conquest of all of Greece, which they then held as their own independent province until 1390, for almost a century!


Many of the amazing adventures of the Catalan grand company were recorded in a Chronicle by Ramon Muntaner The Chronicle survives today, in fact thanks to the rather incredible power of the internet you can read a translation of it right here:


Hows that for history in your hands?


Some Links:

Catalan Company - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Roger de Flor - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Almogavars - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Some people dressed up as Almogavars in modern Cataloinia where they remain popular figures :

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First Post
The Knight and his Lance, part II of II

The Knight and His Lance, Part II of III

From 1066-1302 this guy was the last word on pretty much everything.

For a while European knights basically were all but unstoppable both at home and abroad, the Crusader kingdoms expanded, the tide of the reconquista began to turn in Spain, and the Feudal system was spread inexorably across Christian Europe as the old tribal communities were disarmed and made into peasants. All this was achieved without using much in the way of tactics in many cases, because the heavy cavalry was so powerful it was almost impossible to cope with. In this period, the knight was the dominant military force arguably in the world.


Riding high- a 12th century knight astride a destrier, a specialized warhorse bred for charging

The high-water mark came toward the end of the 13th century. By this time the Arabs had developed suitable techniques to cope with the European heavy cavalry, still largely by avoiding pitched battles and using their advantage in speed and mounted archers for hit and run attacks with missiles. Clever European war-leaders such as Richard Lionheart counteracted this effectively though by mixing large numbers of fast light cavalry (Turkopoles) and heavy Crossbow infantry in with his ranks of knights, but the initial imbalance had been addressed.


It was new weapons like this Flemish Godendag in the hands of a cobbler or a weaver or a blacksmith which put the breaks on the knightly party

But it was the commoners of Europe who really put the breaks on knightly power, far earlier than most people realize. There were three major battles in the beginning of the 14th Century in particular which changed the equilibrium. Not coincidentally these took place in the hinterlands of Civilized Europe where the old tribal systems had not completely broken down and the common people remained armed: in the marshy lowlands of Holland at The Battle of Golden Spurs in 1302, in the moors of Scotland at the battle of Bannockburn in 1314, and perhaps most decisively in the high Alps of Switzerland at the Battle of Morgarten in 1315.


Increasingly professional European infantry were a thorn in the Knights side which could never quite be 'Lanced'

The check on the power of the knight resulted from new weapons and tactics that were invented by urban burghers and wild rural tribesmen, New weapons such as the Flemish Godendag and the Swiss Halberd, combined with innovative massed infantry tactics made it possible to finally withstand the knightly charge, and this was a major turning point in European history, heralding the rise of the independent city-states, trading leagues and regional republics which were to form a counterbalance to the feudal monarchies and became a major part of the European landscape from that point onward.

But it was not the end of the knight, it only meant that the knight had to use his lance with a bit more caution and planning. New heavy cavalry tactics and kit kept being invented and countered by new infantry tactics and kit. Knights equipped themselves with head to toe plate armor and even firearms, whereas commoners invented or rediscovered weapons such as the Swiss pike and the pistol and the flail, pioneered by the Hussites of Bohemia in the 15th century. European infantry and cavalry evolved in parallel, sometimes in direct competition, but proved a highly effective combination when facing the armies of other nations. For the first time since the decline of Rome, combined arms warfare was being practiced in Europe.


Late 15th Century German Reitter / Demi-Lancer... by the time fully articulated plate armor arrived, guns and cannon were already a reality on the battlefield and heydey of the knight had already passed, but he was still a formidable adversary and a major part of almost every European army.

But heavy cavalry remained a potent force on the battlefield and continued to evolve, a warrior you could recognize as a knight remained an important role on the battlefield well through the gunpowder era and all the way into the 17th Century, in which the last hurraugh was arguably the Polish Winged Hussars who proved so wildly successful they are credited with the explosive expansion of the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth and numerous critical defeats of the Ottoman Empire including breaking the siege of Vienna.


The 'wings' were probably for protection against lassos, though nobody knows for sure. The Hussars success hinged around new tactics allowing them to spread out to dodge cannonfire until the last minute when they would form up into the charge.


The Ottoman Turks were no slouches and had formidable heavy cavalry of their own, as can be seen clearly by this sinister looking Turkish armor from the 16th Century


You can make out a spear apparently thrown by a Norman knight in this photo of the Bayeux Tapestry

Lances and their accessories
The Lance remained a potent weapon even up to the dawn of the 1st World War. Shorter spears used by heavy cavalry would sometimes also be used overhand to attack either side or even thrown from within the press. And of course there was always light cavalry, everything from demi-lancers who would fight armored but on unarmored horses, to light cavalry which was unarmored and relied principally on javelins. Later incarnations included pistol reitters who were armored as knights but specialized in using pistols and armored crossbow cavalry such as used by the Swiss.


The Lance was a weapon with a finite lifespan in battle and limited utility in close combat, it was a shock weapon used for the initial attack, and extremely effective in breaking formations and enemy morale (and killing people) but it's nature meant that the sidearm was critically important which is why the sword and the saber were so closely associated with heavy cavalry.


In the brutal aftermath after the initial phase of the battle, the sidearm was critical

Other popular sidearms included axes, war hammers and light maces the latter particularly in the East along the steppes. These maces would usually have a thong for weapon retention (always a big deal for cavalry, this also defines most of the principle aspects of the saber from the shape of the blade to the canted grip IMO) were also thrown.

Sidebar: The Lasso

An important counter weapon used heavily on the steppes by light cavalry against heavy cavalry was the lasso. The Mongols specialized in this and used it successfully at the battle of Liegnitz in Poland against Teutonic knights and the other military orders. I believe it was the reason for the wings on the Polish winged hussars.

Some links:

Cataphract - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Clibanarii - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Demi-lancer - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Druzhina - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Some re-enactor groups:

Galeries - Fief et Chevalerie
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First Post
Not only is this good and valuable historical and Role Play gaming research, it's also extremely interesting general research.

You're doing a top-notch job.


First Post
Thanks I'm delighted that y'all like the thread. I hope some of it is useful for peoples campaigns, character backgrounds or game design efforts. I'm going to try to tie some of this stuff back directly into DnD in my next post (part III of the Knight / Lance blog) Please chime in if you have any questions or anything to add...



First Post
Knight an his Lance part III of III

The Knight and his Lance part III of III
I'm somewhat limited for time so I'm actually going to subdivide part III of this into two parts...

A Thirteenth Century Knight in 3.5 DnD
As popular as the idea is, the Knight is not a common archetype in most RPG games I've played. One rarely encounters anything even vaguely like a real historical Knight as either players or NPCs, though there is the Paladin class and various Doom Knights and etc. prestige classes of course. But these mostly have to do with various magical and quasi-magical abilities, I have rarely seen anyone fighting on horseback or use lances in my (of course very limited) gaming experience in 25 years or so. Just for fun I'd like to see how a somewhat historical knight might work out, perhaps for a lower-magic / lower fantasy type campaign.

Standard 3.5 does give us some room to work with, so lets see what we can come up with.

This should be an entry level knight, so I'll make him 4th level. A knight has to has a significant amount of training and will usually spend some time fighting as a squire before achieving knighthood, so I figure thats around minimum for a knight. I'll give him slightly above average stats, 13s across the board. He'll also have an average amount of Hit Points for his level, 29.

Looking at the Lance in 3.5 it doesn't look very impressive initially. Only 1d8 Damage, no armor piercing ability since that doesn't really exist in 3.5, no reach to hit bonus but it is a reach weapon which is good, gets x3 damage on crits, and best of all gets double damage in a charge which is very good 2-16 damage is pretty tough in DnD.

A 13th century knight wouldn't have plate armor since it wasn't invented yet, so he'll have to settle for "chainmail" which isn't as good armor in DnD as it was in real life, but it's decent protection. Of course he'll have a shield and an arming sword as a sidearm (longsword in DnD).

Needles to say our knight would have a warhorse. The warhorse itself would have some kind of barding, but since this is an entry level knight I'll limit that to padded armor.

Our knight will have some of the very few skills allowed for a fighter, but the only really important one here will be Ride. I think at 4th level he'd be limited to 4 skill ranks? Somebody can correct me on that if I'm wrong (those skills rules are a bit too byzantine for me...) anyway Riding skill 4. +1 for his dex bonus for a +5 on all ride skill checks.

Feats are where it can start getting interesting. I'll give my knight Mounted Combat, Spirited Charge, Ride by Attack, Weapon Focus: Lance, Weapon Specialization: Lance, and just for fun, Improved Initiative.

His Lance gets x2 damage in a charge which is good. With the Spirited Charge feat that becomes x3 damage which is even better. The Lance is also a reach weapon too which means the Knight can attack most Large sized or smaller creatures without being in range for a counterattack, which is potentially interesting. This works even better with the Ride By Attack Feat which allows them to move (charge), attack, then move again. If I’m reading that correctly it makes the Knight very dangerous indeed.

His warhorse only has a quilted / padded barding, for a total AC of 15. But with the Mounted Combat feat the Knight can also make Ride Skill Checks to avoid their mount being hit by an enemy attack. Considering these factors and that a Warhorse is pretty tough anyway (30 HP average) it should be able to hold it’s own in a fight.

So here is our knight now:

4th Level Fighter
Str 13 +1
Int 13 +1
Wis 13 +1
Dex 13 +1
Con 13 +1
Cha 13 +1

AC: 17 (Chainmail +5, Shield +1, +1 Dex)
HP: 29
Bab: 4
Init: +5
Lance: + 6 TH (4 Bab +1 Str +1 WF) D 1-8+3 (3d8+3 when charging) 6-27 / 15 damage average
Skills: Ride 4
Feats: Mounted Combat, Spirited Charge, Ride by Attack, Weapon Focus: Lance, Weapon Specialization: Lance, Improved Initiative

This is a pretty tough hombre. Especially if we put our knight in a small formation or 'battle' with two other knights which would be the bare minimum you would see on the battlefield. Now we have 3 guys wheeling riding in formation, capable of hitting enemies for 6-27 damage with reach attacks then taking off on their warhorses with their base speed of 50', and wheeling back around to attack again. Against any target with a relatively low AC they could be expected to do around 40 HP of damage per round, and be pretty hard to attack without reach weapon or missile weapons. Pretty dangerous opponent.

Not a bad start in fact. The only real weakness here is the vulnerability to Magic all fighters have in DnD, and a relatively poor chance of hitting targets (only +6). But perhaps it could be enhanced a bit with some house rules.

Next: How to improve on this basic template
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First Post
Very nice.

Max skill rank for a 4th level character is actually 7 (level +3, which explains why characters get quadruple skill points at 1st level). Ability scores of 13 across the board isn't slightly above average in 3.5; it's exceptional (15 points higher than the standard NPC using point buy, and 5 points higher than even the standard PC). You might want to consider the standard (13, 12, 11, 10, 9, 8) or elite (15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8) arrays. The aristocrat or expert NPC classes might also be worth a look. Help against magic (good Will saves), have more skill points and good class skills, and in the case of the aristocrat higher starting wealth.

I'd also be inclined to tone down the knight. After all, if you start with a vanilla baseline, there's more room to customize unusual knights and make them really stand out. NPC classes, fewer feats (only Ride-by Attack and Mounted Combat are probably required for a knight to feel like a knight), lower level (2nd level is still exceptional), standard array instead of the elite array, etc. Save all those feats that make them combat monsters (specialization, Spirited Charge, etc) for the special ones.

But all that's purely from a game standpoint, so please disregard it if you don't think it fits your vision.

Also, I'd be interested to hear your opinions on the quality of the weapons of the typical knight (masterwork, in D&D), and more on their non-combat capabilities (represented by skills and feats; they weren't just fighting machines, were they?).

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