D&D 5E Mythological Figures: William the Conqueror

Mythological Figures is taking over England today with William the Conqueror!

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William the Conqueror (also known as William I or William the Bastard) was born in 1028 and lived to the ripe old age of 59. As the illegitimate son of duke Robert I of Normandy (born to a mistress named Herleva), after he turned 7 and took up his father’s position 25 years of warring was required to consolidate his authority. Part of that involved marrying Matilda of the county of Flanders to secure more power, putting his own people into the Norman church as abbots and bishops, and adding the county of Maine to his domain in 1062. Then when Edward the Confessor—childless ruler of England—dies in 1066 William gets involved with the pursuit of the royal crown.

Before dying Edward did proclaim an heir (Harold Godwinson, an earl of England), but William claimed he was promised the throne (as the grandson of the perished king’s uncle, Richard II of Normandy, he had a line to succession too) and that Harold would support him. Harold did not and died the last Anglo-Saxon King of England at the Battle of Hastings. A couple months later on Christmas, William became the first Norman monarch of England (1066–1087), though the full Norman Conquest wasn’t completed for some time as he quashed rebellions for almost all of the next decade. These campaigns are referred to as the Harrying of the North and included widespread famine, looting, pillaging, and other scorched earth tactics (particularly in York) that saw a massive amount of the population either abandoning their homes or dying. The rest of William’s years were spent invading Europe but during his tenure as ruler castles were built across England, he entrenched Norman nobles, made the country’s language Anglo-Norman French, and generally manipulated the church. Upon dying in 1087 he left Normandy to his first son Robert II, and England to his third son (and only other surviving son) William II.

On the matter of what William looked like or the sort of person he was, there aren’t many clear details. Most of the depictions of him are about making him look authoritative, commanding, and regal but written accounts say he was burly, robust, very strong and tough physically, had a deep voice, was as good at fighting on his feet as he was with a horse, and that in his old age he got quite fat. Forensic science has figured he was probably about 5 feet and 10 inches tall, which for over a thousand years ago basically made this guy a giant. William received tutoring for a while in his teens but wasn’t known for funding of the arts or education, and he couldn’t manage to learn Old English later in life so probably wasn’t terrifically smart. He was a loyal husband though, an avid hunter, and pious (though later writings characterize him as greedy and cruel).

Design Notes: Learning a new language (especially later in life) is not an easy task, but it does indicate that William here was probably a ruler more by virtue of his might, intuition, and influence. As a battling king with that kind of approach we’re looking at a high level character, which fighter seems appropriate for (going with cavalier for archetype for the mounted warrior angle) so we can net plenty of Ability Score Improvements to round out his statistics. If there’s any evidence of him knowing a second language (like Danish, since we know he couldn’t manage Old English) it’s buried pretty well, so if any of the statistics sticklers out there are wondering his statblock should have a second language. Let’s do the numbers! The DMG lands William at 10.5, the Blog of Holding at 11.33, averaging to a smidge under 11—because of that Fend Off reaction and his ample uses of it, we’ll round up for his final CR.

William the Conqueror

Medium humanoid (human), lawful evil fighter (cavalier) 16
Armor Class 18 (chainmail, shield)
Hit Points 152 (16d10+64)
Speed 30 ft.
STR
DEX
CON
INT
WIS
CHA
18 (+4)​
14 (+2)​
18 (+4)​
12 (+1)​
14 (+2)​
14 (+2)​
Saving Throws Str +9, Con +9; Proficiency +5
Skills Animal Handling +7, History +6, Insight +7, Persuasion +7, Survival +7
Senses passive Perception 10
Languages Anglo-Norman French
Challenge 11 (7,200 XP)

Background: Noble. Due to his lordship William receives a measure of respect wherever he goes. He is treated as royalty (or as closely as possible) by most peasants and traders, and as an equal when meeting other authority figures (who make time in their schedule to see him if requested to do so).

Action Surge (1/Short Rest). On his turn, William can take an additional action on top of his regular action and a possible bonus action.

Control the Field. A creature that moves 5 feet or more while within William’s reach provokes an opportunity attack from him, and a creature hit by William’s opportunity attack reduces its speed to 0 until the end of the turn.

Feat: Athletic. William can stand up from being prone with only 5 feet of his movement, climbing doesn’t cost him extra movement, and he only has to move 5 feet before making a running long jump or running high jump.

Helm. While wearing his helm William gains a 1d4 bonus on saving throws made to resist being charmed or stunned, and his passive Perception score is reduced by 2 (included above).

Indomitable (2/Long Rest). William can reroll a saving throw that he fails but must use the new roll.

Lethal Rush (1/Turn). When William moves 10 feet or more in a straight line and attacks a creature, on a hit it must make a DC 17 Strength saving throw or be knocked prone.

Mark of Challenge (4/Long Rest). William may choose to mark a creature when he hits it with a melee weapon attack. This mark lasts until the end of William’s next turn, he dies, becomes incapacitated, or another creature marks the target. A marked creature has disadvantage on attack rolls targeting creatures other than William while it is within 5 feet of him. In addition, William can use a bonus action on his turn to make a melee weapon attack with advantage when a marked creature deals damage to someone other than him. On a hit, he deals 8 extra damage to the marked creature.

Saddleborn. William mounts or dismounts a creature with only 5 feet of his movement (not half his speed), has advantage when making a saving throw to avoid falling from his mount, and lands on his feet when he falls off his mount and falls less than 10 feet as long as he’s not incapacitated.

Second Wind (1/Short Rest). On his turn, William can use a bonus action to regain 21 (1d10+16) hit points.


ACTIONS
Extra Attack. William attacks three times when he takes the Attack action.

Lance. Melee Weapon Attack: +9 to hit, reach 10 ft., one target. Hit: 10 (1d12+4) piercing damage. This attack roll has disadvantage if the target is within 5 feet.

Longsword. Melee Weapon Attack: +9 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 8 (1d8+4) slashing damage, or 9 (1d10+4) slashing damage if wielded in two hands.

Shortbow. Ranged Weapon Attack: +7 to hit, range 80/320 ft., one target. Hit: 5 (1d6+2) piercing damage.


REACTIONS
Fend Off (4/Long Rest). When William or a creature with 5 feet that he can see (including his mount) is hit by an attack, if William is wielding a shield or melee weapon he can use his reaction to increase the AC of the attack’s target by 1d8. The attack’s target has resistance against the damage dealt by the attack if the attack still hits.
 
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Mike Myler

Mike Myler

GuyBoy

Hero
He did die a few days after the pommel incident and it was even more embarrassing during his burial in Rouen Cathedral; the corpse had bloated in the heat and burst during the ceremony, filling the cathedral with a vile stench.

Leaving that aside though, I’d argue for a higher INT. Yes, he couldn’t read but very few non-clergy could at the time, and he wasn’t about to learn the language of the conquered Saxons. However a couple of instances show remarkable innate understanding of both history and psychology, as well as a highly organised mind:
1 He travelled with wine (seen being loaded on the Bayern Tapestry) to celebrate his future victory, thus inspiring confidence.
2 He landed at the old Roman fort of Anderida to secure safety after a long sea voyage.
3 He ravaged the local villages to force an early battle.
4 He brought a flat-pack wooden castle over for his forward base.
5 After the battle, he went a circuitous route to London via Dover (to secure sea route for reinforcements), Canterbury ( to thank God for his victory), Winchester ( to secure the Godwine family treasury to reward his men) and the round London to approach from the north, negating the Thames as a barrier.

Smart man!

His harrying of the north in the late 1060s was stunningly brutal and suggests some evil in his character.
 

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It's tricky, isn't it? I think few people would object to calling Hitler or Stalin Lawful Evil, but Churchill could be Lawful Good or Evil depending on whether you talk to a (contemporaneous) British Jew or a Bengali. Most famous people at that level have done good and evil. William the Conqueror is probably far enough in the past not to get anyone upset, but I'm sure you could find a few Englishmen who think literature's gotten too French...
It is tricky, so I would stay in my range of expertise: Gaming.
 

reelo

Adventurer
It's tricky, isn't it? I think few people would object to calling Hitler or Stalin Lawful Evil, but Churchill could be Lawful Good or Evil depending on whether you talk to a (contemporaneous) British Jew or a Bengali. Most famous people at that level have done good and evil. William the Conqueror is probably far enough in the past not to get anyone upset, but I'm sure you could find a few Englishmen who think literature's gotten too French...
Having been to Normandy this summer I know the Normans at least are still mighty proud of him for teaching those Anglo-Danish ne'er-do-wells some proper culture.
 

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