Overview: Mythic Britain – The Setting

This is an overview series on the Mythic Britain Campaign setting for RuneQuest 6. This series will explore the look, feel, utility, and depth of the material provided in this 360 page book.  This installment, the second, will look at the setting elements and how they are presented. You can find the rest of the series here, and a video looking at the hardcover, on my YouTube channel.

Featured Image of Arthur by Allan Gallo

As was mentioned in the first installment, Mythic Britain takes some of its inspiration from the tone of Bernard Cornwell’s The Warlord Chronicles. The setting and campaign material inside seeks to evoke a clear sense of time and place in order to support the sort of gritty world of hardship, violence, and partisan politics evoked in such tales. This is not a setting for a silver-plated Arthur, French concepts of Knighthood, and a glittery, disco-decor Camelot.  This book lays the foundations for a play experience in an older thread of the Arthurian tapestry; one where the White Dragon stirs and the Red Dragon must be roused from slumber. Conquest, War, Famine, Death and its companion, Hades, grow fat with rich offerings from the plots and plans of Celt and Saxon alike, while cries to Andraste, Abandinus, Modron, and Ankou slowly rise up in defiance, in this world and Annwn.

MBheader

The book establishes a starting point in the year 495 after outlining a progression of events arising from the end of Roman rule over Britain in 383. Drawn from the Anglo Saxon Chronicle, the timeline has been modified to streamline and isolate key events for play.

Facts and Figures

Starting on page 6, after a concise introduction to guide the reader in understanding the intent of the setting and the use of the book, we begin our journey into the historical underpinnings of Mythic Britain. This chapter  runs to page 17 and offers an overview of major players, such as Vortigern, Uther, Arthur, Aelle, and Merlin. It then lays out the forces at play, such as the rise of warlords in the wake of Uther’s death, the intensifying conflict between Christianity and the island’s native beliefs, and the hardship of daily life. Much of this is gone into in further detail in separate sections in the book.

MBContentsThe first such section is entitled Kingdoms of Mythic Britain and runs from page 18 to page 91. It first defines the Britain of this game setting, complete with a clearly-labelled topographical map. It then touches on the Druids and the Picts, and takes a look at Middle Britain. With that done, the chapter then walks us through the tribes found in Middle Britain, explaining their history, notable settlements, culture, customs, and dress, their enemies and allies, magic, and notable figures of the tribe. This process is repeated for each of the 5 major regions of Britain, and each of the 12 major tribes, as well as notable regions of Saxon-controlled Logres.

Maps

This chapter contains one map of the Kingdoms of Mythic Britain, one for the territories of its tribes, and one for its key locations.

History for Gamers

For those new to the history of this period, Mythic Britain is an easy and informative read which establishes a sense of place, defines how and under whose influence it came to be, then pushes on to the rising struggle which will frame the lives of the player characters.  The author has delved deeply and respectfully into what is known of this period and refined its presentation as a gaming supplement over the course of 4 years of regular campaign play, and a rigorous writing process.  This is a work of historical fiction designed to encourage historical fiction around our gaming tables. Its facts ring true, and its flights of fancy rise on currents of truth and respect for the myths, beliefs, and drives of the people and period it portrays. It is a dark age, and this is serious challenge and serious fun in a grim setting of stalwart heroes, noble sacrifices, superstition and spirit, and a sword named Caledfwlch.

For gamers with little to no knowledge of the period, this supplement will be a rich golden vein of clear and decisive writing to mine as the characters establish themselves in Mythic Britain. Helpfully, a detailed bibliography of both fiction and non-fiction is provided for those who seek to expand on the diversity of the peoples and places involved, or to learn more about what inspired the campaign and laid the foundation for its setting.

History for Gamers who know History

Is the history in Mythic Britain accurate? Taking the title into account, particularly the word Mythic, and recognizing that this is a setting for Arthurian adventures in a period recognized for its lack of reliable historical sources, I believe that readers with a solid grounding in this period will find much to be impressed by. Those with strong ties to, affinities for, or focus on aspects which have been compressed, compiled, or cast in a simpler light may be able to find disappointment among the pages of Mythic Britain. This is a setting which encompasses the Dark Ages. We must expect some aspects of dispute to be made clear for the purposes of guiding those who will use this book for their games. If we choose to look at what is included, at how fairly and evocatively it is offered, how usefully it is presented, and how easy it is to stir in our own ingredients, seasoned with our own expertise and lore, I think what we will find it is a supplement to savor. I think we may find ourselves returning to its earthy recipe again and again.

People, Perspective, and Practice

The next chapter furthers our understanding of the setting by zeroing in on Celtic Life and Society. Running from page 92, it answers the question of who the Celts of Mythic Britain are, and describes the languages, social structures, personal appearance, favored personalities, and local customs. Of particular note is the Five Aspects of Character. This part of the Celtic Life and Society chapter breaks the perspective of the Celts into manageable and replicable elements that can give players real hooks on which to base their actions, decisions, and character portrayals.

The chapter then delves into social status, gender roles, maturity, the essential warriors, and the general view on slavery. Great attention is paid to the wedding ceremony, housing and fortification, food, cultural pursuits, and personal property. Trade, literacy and numeracy, festivals, and the law round out this section and bring us to page 119.  In PDF, the chapter presents hyperlinks to important information in other sections, and maintains a logical flow useful for both reading from start to finish, and searching through later.

Conclusion:

For experienced gamers and historians, this supplement offers clear guidance on how to turn the complicated and grim world of this early version of Arthur into a navigable and manageable setting for good gaming. For those new to this period, these tales, or both, it offers solid support in detailed but topical and memorable allotments to ensure the distinct genre and theme of the source material can be brought into focus around the table.

What’s next, and what has come before?

This is the second installment of a series. The first focused on Character Creation and the links between this supplement and the RuneQuest 6 core rules. The third installment will look at religion, spirits, gods, and magic. The final installment will look at the Campaign and Mass Combat rules.

Stay tuned~

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