The Early-Modern German Court, Part 1/3

These are a bunch of notes I put together for a friend who was working on a court supplement for WFRP. Although the supplement hasn’t, as far as I know, yet materialised, I thought I’d put these up here to help anyone wanting to reconstruct a convincing aristocratic court in the Empire. There’s quite a lot of it, so I’ll divide it into three posts. The information is taken and translated almost entirely from Rainer A. Müller, Der Fürstenhof in der frühen Neuzeit (Munich, 1995).

For Part Two go here, and for Part Three go here.

Ideally the court consisted of two groups of people, each of which undertook different functions even though the functions often overlapped in one person. One group, the Hofstaat [princely household] was entrusted with the personal care of the prince and his family. The other constituted the offices of state, such as the Hofrat/Geheimrat [both meaning Privy Council]. But the two areas were not separated in the patrimonial early modern state – Hofdienst [service at court] meant largely the same thing as Staatsdienst [state service]. The Hof [court] was at the same time centre of government and the prince’s household. Work in the central administration was couple to service to the prince and administrators had the additional status of being a personal servant of the prince.

The medieval court was dominated by the quattuor officia principalia [Four Principle Offices] of the Marschall [Lord High Marshal or Earl Marshal], Kaemmerer [Lord High Chamberlain], Truchsess [Lord High Steward/Seneschal] and Mundschenk [Cup-Bearer/Butler], but in the later Middle Ages and 16C, the importance of these offices varied greatly, with some becoming key and others losing in importance. But later the hierarchy became much more fixed, with the idea of places of honour (particularly the different statuses in seating positions at feasts) being extended to the administrative hierarchy.

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Asmodai, Lord of Change

Recently, my attention was brought to a fantastic book from the Wellcome Library: the Compendium rarissimum totius Artis Magicae sistematisatae per celeberrimos Artis hujus Magistros [A Very Rare Compendium of the Whole Art of Magic, Systematised by the Most Famous Masters of this Art].

One page allegedly depicts the signs for various demons:

Compendium rarissimum, fol. 2r

The familiar symbol at the top right? That’s for Astaroth, a Duke of Hell. It doesn’t match up with the older sixteenth- and seventeenth-century traditions, though.

The book claims to be from 1057, but is actually from c.1775. This sort of pseudo-scientific magic and demonology is a creation of the Renaissance and an emphasis on rationality and systematisation; in fact, the very next page has symbols for the elements, demonstrating that up to the Enlightenment, there wasn’t much difference between science, magic and demonology.

But by the time this book appeared, it was already out of date. The great witch trials were long over, and the author’s dating his work back to 1057 is a bit of pseudo-medieval sensationalism. The first page tells the prospective reader: “Noli me tangere [Don’t touch me]”, which to me sounds more like an advertisement than any real warning (and would to any self-respecting PC too!). Certainly, the lavish illustration makes the whole thing look more like a scandalous coffee-table book than anything intending to be practical.

And where’s this Lord of Change? I’ve put him after the break because he’s very slightly NSFW:

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The village of Hamschik sits on edge of the Bitter Moors in Wasteland. It is only a small community of pig herders, coal burners and other serfs that mostly work to pay for the little protection the local lord, Hans Gruber, offers against beastmen of the moors, green skins of the Pale Sisters and the raiders from the North.

Right in the middle of this small village next to the old well stands the Three Knights Tavern the only notable man-made location in miles. It is ran by a striking Ulrika Grünkopf with his three young sons. Three Knights doubles as a local town’s house where important meetings are kept and where the locals might learn the news of the outside world – if they cared about such things.

Ulrika’s husband died two years ago fighting in the army of Empire and even though suitors have come from quite afar Ulrika has yet to re-marry. According to the old midwife Sigrid Ulrika is being courted by lord Gruber. Ulrika herself neither acknowledges or denies this rumour simply choosing to keep her personal matters to herself.

Another notable feature at Hamschik is the Roteblüte, a great big oak that weirdly blooms red flowers during summer. The blooms smell lovely but there no insects ever land on them to gather their pollen. A half-remembered song tells that Roteblüte was once a brave captain in the Emperor’s army who never married nor had sons. Mórr took petty on him and let his soul to linger in the tree waiting for a young maiden who would smell the flower and be conceived by it.

Some years ago a Witch Hunter of the Order of the Flame came to Hamschik. He studied the dead and suspected it was tainted with chaos. He ordered the men to hew it down and burn the logs but when the men took axes against the tree the Witch Hunter suddenly ordered them back. He offered no excuse for his actions simply stating that the tree should stand. Later that evening he left the village for Altdorf.

To Dungeons Deep!

We just got back to WFRP2 last Wednesday. We started a new campaign I labeled as “Warhammer Quest”. Read more about it at my other blog.


I got this from Robin Low at the Strike-to-Stun forum. He was kind enough to allow me to publish it here:

One dungeon. Add your own scenarios.

A WFRP Dungeon 

1. Door to Dungeon: An arched doorway, framed with large, heavy unmortared stonework. Within this solid outline is a very heavy oak door, strengthened with iron bands and studwork. In the upper part of the door is a heavy metal grill; a bolted metal panel can be opened from the dungeon-side of the door. There are two locks, which require separate keys, held by two different people (one by a castle-side duty guard, the other by the steward). On the dungeon-side of the door there are also two locks, which require a third and fourth key, held by two different people (one by a dungeon-side guard, the other by the jailer). Consequently, transfer of prisoners or staff in or out is a protracted affair. A chain on the right-hand side of the door rings a bell on the dungeon-side. On the left-hand side is a bell connected to a similar chain on the dungeon-side of the door. Two guards are on the door (one carrying one of the keys for the outer door locks), armed with short swords, spears and shields, wearing leather armour, with mail shirts and helmets.

2. Guard Station: A small wedge-shaped landing with two fixed benches along the walls either side of the dungeon door, facing down the stairs. The landing narrows towards the stairs. A chain on the right-hand side of the door rings a bell on the castle-side. Two guards are on the door (one carrying one of the keys for the inner door locks), armed with short swords, spears and shields, wearing leather armour, with mail shirts and helmets. A lantern illuminates the area; a polished mirror above the door arch directs light directly down the stairway giving guards above a clear view. A lever on the wall can remotely lock the portcullis at the bottom of the stairs

3. Stairway: Steep stone steps lead down to the dungeon. At the stop, the stairs are narrow, with room to admit the passage of only one person at a time, but they broaden so that by the bottom there is room for three people side by side.

4. Portcullis: A heavy iron gate secures the bottom of the stairs. It can be raised or lowered by the two guards at the bottom of the stairs on the dungeon-side, using a wheel on the wall. The portcullis is not normally locked (although it can be locked from the Guard Station (3) above), but is usually lowered, and requires two men to work the wheel to raise it. Two guards are on the gate, armed with short swords and wearing leather armour, with mail shirts and helmets. A small bench fixed to the opposite wall alternately allows one guard to sit while the other stands.

5. Cells: There are twenty cells. They are small, windowless, with nowhere to hide. Furnishing ranges from straw and bucket to blanketed cot-bed, table and chair, depending on the quality of the prisoner. The flagstone floors are sloped into one corner with a fist-sized, iron-grilled drainage hole to clear water when the cells are sluiced out. Each cell has a barred iron gate, hinged to the wall outside the cell, with a lock (keys held by jailor; steward has a spare set).

6. Torture Chamber: A large open room, illuminated by braziers filled with red-hot coals and three small fire places in three of the four walls. Access is via a barred iron gate identical to the kind on the cells. The room contains a rack, an iron maiden, and a good selection of small knives, pincers and pliers, branding irons, whips and other tools of the torturer’s trade (the more creative of these include three small cages, each containing a large rat). Additionally, there is a writing desk with stool, paper and ink, wax and seals to record confessions. The flagged floor slopes towards the centre of the room where a head-sized, iron-grilled drainage hole allows water to drain when the room is sluiced out. Two guards are on the gate outside the chamber, armed with short swords and wearing leather armour, with mail shirts and helmets. The jailer holds the key to the gate. The torturer and his apprentice do not hold keys.

7. Kitchen: Preparation area for prisoners’ and staff meals. In practice, it’s more of a shelved storage area for bread, cheese, oats and water and small beer. Utensils, plates and bowls are made of wood. There is a table and two stools. If the dungeon hosts prisoners deserving better, then food is brought down from the castle kitchens.

8. Jailer’s Room: A small room containing a bed, a chair, a small table and a chamber pot.

9. Torturer’s Room: A small room separated into two halves by rustic wooden frame covered with old but thick blankets, providing some privacy for the Torturer and his Apprentice. Additionally, there is a table, with two chairs, a small table, and a chamber pot under each bed.

10. Water Barrel: A large tapped barrel filled with water. This is kept topped up by buckets of water carried down by the Torturer’s Apprentice.

11. Baron’s Safe Room: This room is secured by a heavy iron-bound oak door, to which the Baron holds the only keys (one to unlock the outer lock, the other to a lock on the inner side, so if the Baron is inside it doesn’t matter if the outer lock is picked). Inside is a comfortable velvet chair, a leather-topped oak desk and a Dwarven combination rune safe embedded in the wall. There is also a large oil lamp, which provides a reasonable degree of warmth as well as light. The Dwarven safe contains a range of documents, private letters, gold and jewels. It also has a hidden door in the back (opened by a second rune combination that only works after the first has been entered and outer door opened). The hidden door is large enough for a grown man to crawl through, but opens up into:

12. Small Cave and Escape Tunnel: This small Dwarf-made cave contains a small stash of wrapped oiled weapons (two swords, two hand axes, two daggers, a bow and quiver containing 20 arrows), sturdy leather travelling clothes and cloaks wrapped in waxed paper in a leather sack, and a quantity of coins (mostly silver, with some gold and copper) and jewels. There are also two filled oil lanterns, a tinderbox, waterproofed matches, and an empty water bottle. This represents the Baron’s emergency escape kit. From the cave, a Dwarf-made tunnel leads a mile from the castle, opening up through a cunningly concealed stone doorway in a rocky outcrop in a wood. A Dwarf engineer who knew of this doorway’s existence might be able to open it from the outside. However, even a Dwarf would be unlikely to notice the concealed door unless he was knowingly searching for it.

Non-Player Characters

The Baron: There’s really nothing admirable about cruelty, but it is part of the role. Having the threat of a secure dungeon and torture chamber underneath the castle seems a pragmatic method of maintaining a suitably menacing air of authority and power, even if one would rather not keep it stocked and busy. One has to admit, though, that giving rivals and enemies, and on occasion annoying relatives and guests, a tour of the dungeon demonstrates the threat and gives me a bit a giggle at the same time. I do wish the cult of Sigmar would come and collect that horrible Beastmen, though. It’s been, what, a year now since I wrote to them? I mean, I understand bureaucracy as well as the next man, but even so. Still, it maintains the illusion, I suppose. Of course, the dungeon does provide a very secure place to hide, and subsequently escape should the castle ever become overrun. Better still, I can go down to the Safe Room and hide away from the family, get on with some paperwork, or read a book in peace for a few hours. Pity I didn’t incorporate a fireplace and chimney into the Safe Room. Perhaps I should get one of the braziers from the Torture Chamber put in there.

The Steward: The dungeon is something of a distasteful and rather pointless irritant. It wouldn’t be a significant problem, except that as holder of one of the keys for the outer locks on the main dungeon door one has to be on hand at least twice a day to enable changing of the guards, water collection and so on (morning and evening). If only the blessed cult of Sigmar would send someone to deal with that damned Beastman the Baron insisted on locking up then we could dispense with much of this nonsense.

The Jailer: This has to be the best job in the world: something to eat and drink, a bed, some coin in my pocket, and a day off once a month to visit the ladies. And only a single cell to inspect, even though that Beastman does look rather scary. Why doesn’t the Baron just get his guards to kill it, or give the Torturer something to practice on? Oh well, that’s nobles for you.

The Torturer: This looked like a cushy job, but it’s actually mind-numbingly dull, with bugger all to do. Even that Beastman is off limits on the Baron’s orders. Hopefully the Sigmarites, if they ever arrive, will take advantage of the Torture Chamber, see my skills in action, and offer me a more rewarding job. Shame I probably wouldn’t be able to take this half-Orc Apprentice with me; he seems to have a real enthusiasm for the theory, even though there’s been nothing to practise on. And those tusks and fangs! Wish I had a set of my own! I’d have them talking without lifting a knife!

The Torturer’s Apprentice: Don’t know if he did it for me or for mother, but it was nice of the Baron to give me this job. It’s safer down here, and the servants can only be mean to me when I go to collect food or water. The guards are nicer down here to me too. They know I’m strong and admire it, even though they can’t show it when they’re with the maids upstairs. I miss mum though; she’s getting old and not as strong as she was, and I worry about her lots. The Torturer’s really nice too. He lets me look at his books, manuals he calls them. He’s learning me the words, and the interesting pictures help sometimes. The only scary thing is that it’s harder to hide some things down here. I don’t know what they’ll do if they find out I’m really a girl.

The Guards: It’s sooooo borrrrrrring down here! The Jailer doesn’t do much of anything, but he seems normal enough. The Torturer is a bit creepy to be honest, but I guess he’d be a rubbish Torturer if he wasn’t, and I think he’s as bored as we are. That half-Orc Apprentice is alright though, always asking if his mum’s okay. Never really talked to him before he was sent down here to work, but you just want to smile a bit when he comes round the corner. A bit quiet, but he’s had a hard time of it upstairs, given that he’s a freak and everything. Reckon he’d make a hell of a fighter though if someone trained him up a bit. It’s probably in the blood.

The Beastman: Caught I was, now I rot under the ground. Weak in body, but not mind. Oh, no. Mind is strong. Can still hear the song of the Dark Beast. If I get some blood, I can sing it too. And then small things will slither and crawl though the small dark holes in the corners of these cells. Small, but dangerous. If I get some blood.

Remember to Comment!

A sharp eye can spot mistakes even in forbidden documents. Aleksander Temkin managed to spot an error in my Cult of the Possessed and for that I thank him!

The main reason this page is done as blog (other than my frustration on writing a web page) is the ability to comment on things. So please, always remember to give comment when you think you have something to say. This page is for the whole community. Not just for my ego-boost.

Download the updated version of Cult of the Possessed HERE as a pdf.

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