After nine years of “it’s going to happen” one of my players who got me back into WFRP all those years ago started his own campaign. And we get to play knights! In Bretonnia!
We created the character (naturally taking the advantage of the magnificent Expanded Character Module by Dave Graffam) and discussed a little about what’s to come. The GM asked us all to write a little something about our characters’ background and I set out to work.
I haven’t actually read the Knights of the Grail in almost ten years. I might have leafed through it on an occasion but now I wanted to get the facts right with my Knight Errant from Parravon. Aaand naturally this was where the problems started.
All players of Warhammer know that it is about exaggerated mockery of the actual history. And most players know that Bretonnia is about chivalric knights in shining armour – like those in Arthurian legends. But what got me off-guard was the description of the Knight Errant:
Knights of the Empire start their careers following after some other knight, acting as nothing more than a servant. What else would you expect from a nation who has forgotten the true meaning of chivalry, the true meaning of honour, and the true meaning of courage?
In Bretonnia, knights start off riding their own trail, as they set off on their errantry tour. Bretonnian knights learn from the best school there is: genuine experience. At the start of their tour, they don’t have any genuine experience, but most make up the deficit with their enthusiasm.
So young boys are set on a warhorse, given a suit of armour and a lance and sent of to their own adventures? No training, no time acting as a squire, no nothing? Just “keep yourself alive lad and kill some orcs for the Lady?”
As it turns out our GM had different plans and he was a bit shocked by this. Even though he has been reading stuff about Bretonnia on and off for all those nine years. “That makes absolutely no sense!” was the summary of his words.
On the other hand I have to (naturally agree) but on the other hand it got me thinking the pure ingenuity of this kind of behaviour.
Warning – This post contains some spoilers and racial doctrine about the evolution of Bretonnians. You can blame the fairies for that.
The whole realm of Bretonnia is based on the Cult of the Lady orchestrated by the Wood Elves. They want the Bretonnians to act as a natural buffer against the forces of chaos and are keeping them in excellent check with all the child-stealing and whatnot. On that premises we could actually see the point of this kind of knighthood.
At least according to the maps there are very few cities in Bretonnia. Lore as written dictates that all nobles must be able to prove their noble heritage for five generations prior to their own. Considering both facts this would mean that there are quite many nobles living in tightly backed cities where politics might play a much bigger role that the actual chivalric code.
BUT as it is each noble is supposed to send their sons on a knightly tour. If we accept the fact there should be no exceptions to this (that is there should be some exceptions to this when such a character is needed for the story) we should be willing to make a few assumptions.
1st – All Bretonnian noble men have done this (or are about to). This means it is a part of their heritage as long as they can remember because they must be able to prove this. In a land as wrapped in weird customs and codes as Bretonnia this one actually makes sense.
2nd – If the noble fathers know what their offspring is supposed to do they have (at least) three options: a) Train their sons to survive the tour (most likely), b) bribe their son into a care of an older knight that protects them during this tour (very warhammerish), or c) send their son into Empire.
3rd – If and when all noble men are sent on an errant tour this means that the “breeding stock” (so to speak) of Bretonnian nobles is of excellent quality. Sending a young boy out in the wild in the world of Warhammer is pure lunacy but if the boy return it is a sure thing that he will be a knight worthy of the Realm. And when he gets sons only the strongest of them will return. There is no denying that this sounds pretty much as another Elven plot that is clearly working.
4th – Most likely a lot of these young knight errants die on their tour. This means that a noble must keep on producing more sons to get an heir or his house will loose whatever title and/or land they hold to another family. I actually visioned this in very Warhammerish way where the nobles of Bretonnia are in fact dying out as their lands are getting more and more dangerous and their sons won’t return from their errantry. This makes the whole idea of Bretonnian chivalry more suitable to the Old World and in line with the overall feeling of doom and gloom.
I have always liked Bretonnia with its strange Arthurian vibe but it has not been that warhammerish to me. With this single idea of Bretonnian nobles living their whole lives in the fear of loosing their sons on errantry tour it gains a new and heightened sense of danger and deepness. Sure the peasants have no rights in Bretonnia and are to be oppressed but that is only the way of nature. When only the strongest of Bretonnian noble boys reach adulthood and are able to produce sons of their own they will naturally see their serfs as inferiors