Overview: Mythic Britain – The Supernatural

This is an overview series on the Mythic Britain Campaign setting for RuneQuest 6. This series explores the look, feel, utility, and depth of the material provided in this 360 page book.  This third installment will look at the campaign setting’s supernatural elements and how they are presented. You can find the rest of the series here, and a video of the hardcover, here.

As was mentioned in the second installment, Mythic Britain is not a setting for an Arthur in plate armour, promoting the ideals of Knighthood.  This book is one in which its characters get their hands dirty, and often very bloody. It portrays a world in which the spirit world is seen as being as real as this… perhaps more so. Britain is alive with spirits, from the dragons, Red and White, whose struggles shape the destiny of Britain, to the ancestors of its proud people.

The book sets a tone of play befitting a dark age of warring communities, warring ideologies, fading knowledge, and the regular visitations of Death and Wonder such a world entails.

MBheader

Signs, Portents, Omens, and Talismans

On page 144, Mythic Britain turns its attention to Gods, Religion, and Magic. Just prior to this, however, on page 136, near the end of the character creation section, the workings of the setting’s new skill of superstition are revealed. These details were touched on briefly in the first installment, but will be looked at more fully here.

Superstition

Mythic Britain’s added step to character creation is the determination of the character’s superstition score. This is a derived trait, based on Intelligence, but in play it is – for the most part – treated like a standard skill. It is a percentage, as are all skills, and can be rolled to determine the effect a particular experience might have on a character. Success in such a roll indicates the understanding that otherworldly forces are in motionMBContents, perhaps in the form of signs, portents, or the work of a spirit. Failure indicates no such supernatural connection is made. Sometimes a face in a cloud is just a face in a cloud. Superstition can be raised by the use of Experience Rolls, should the player so desire, but may also grow incrementally with direct experience of the supernatural. Its primary purpose is to show belief in otherworldly causality. The higher the score, the more superstitious the character is. The inevitable growth in this trait can be resisted at the player’s discretion by modifying a d100 roll with their Intelligence. The more superstitious the character becomes, the harder it will be to resist.

Interestingly, druid characters are exempt from adding superstition to their own list of scores, but are trained in the art of capitalizing on it in others. This makes them formidable manipulators of those around them should they choose to invoke otherworldly threats and interpret omens others are not so well-trained to see.

Where superstition differs from standard skills is that it also interacts with Willpower to serve as a limiter one’s ability to resist magic or supernatural forces. A small chart on page 136 indicates the number of grades by which to modify the difficulty of a Willpower roll. As an example, our sample character, Cadman apKendall from the first installment would have no increase in difficulty applied to a roll to resist magic. A character such as Guinevere, though, with a much higher 60% for superstition, would face a shift of 2 grades in difficulty. That is sufficient to make a normal check become Formidable, reducing her willpower to half for the roll.

You’ve got me…. under your spell~

Falling under the influence of magic would of course reinforce belief in its power. Christians and Pagans alike believe in the power of the supernatural. Both will experience an increase in their superstition score of 1-3 points unless they can find some other explanation (resist), each seeking out or recoiling from the experience as befits the nature of the event, their faith, and their own outlook.

Religion

The Gods, Religion, and Magic chapter, after a very brief introduction about the nature of the supernatural and magic in Britain, launches into a look at the Christian religion. The chapter opens with an explanation of the Christianity of 5th Century Britain, first looking briefly at how it operates and characterizes itself. The structure of the church is described, with a focus on priests, monks, and monasteries. As befits the attitude of the people in the setting, the chapter devotes several pages to describing individual saints and their connections to miracles,  before moving on to the setting’s expression of Theism from the core rules of RuneQuest 6th Edition. This is a good section for both players and GMs as it provides clear examples of how to picture the lives and mission of 5th Century Christians, but also to give excellent in-character information to players of devout characters to share and connect to their religious or miraculous workings.

On page 150, the book turns to the gods of its Celtic Pagans, but does so by laying out the supernatural worldview of the people first. As with Christianity, this section is very valuable as a means of bringing the culture of the time and place out in our roleplay. The section concisely communicates the mortal focus on four co-existing worlds: the mortal world, Annwn, the spirit world, and the world of the gods. Once read, players should have no trouble bringing aspects of these customs into their characterizations.

Discussion of the supernatural worlds, and the common rites of the Celts takes us to page 155 where we begin to learn of some noteworthy gods, drawn from those more widely recognized across Britain. The Celts of Britain had a lot of gods and revered many spirits. No supplement could contain them all. The broad representation here covers most aspects of life, and provides intriguing hooks and connections through all of them so that they can be brought into the everyday lives and dealings of the characters. Should the need arise, each can serve as a template to some other similar entity of a more regional nature. With 52 presented, such a need should not arise often.

Maps

This chapter contains one map of the Sacred Sites of Mythic Britain

With this structured presentation of belief in Pagan Britain complete, the section turns to presenting Druidic Animism and the sacred sites the scattered followers of those old ways revere. In addition to the many pages of description for these sites, this chapter also provides details for the 13 Treasures of Britain, of which Caledfwlch (Excalibur) is but one.

With that job deftly done, the chapter moves on to providing the same type of information for the Saxons. Beginning on page 172 and running to 177, the world(s) view of the invaders is described and enriched with a host of their gods and customs. Although not as culturally detailed, often presented in counterpoint to the Celtic information already given, the section provides a good range of deities and attitudes to bring the opposition’s religious and magical behavior out in play. The chapter closes with a look at Saxon Animism and how it works in terms of RuneQuest 6.

In this section on religion, perhaps the most detail is provided to the large number of compelling sacred sites. Before getting into the descriptions, proper behavior is explained, and common rites and rituals, types, and locations are made clear. Nine sites are presented in detail with descriptive text, magical strength of the site, the sort of spirits that will be encountered, the sort of magic best wrought there, and any special details relevant to a particular site. These nine sites can in turn be used to generate other similar sites. An example of this is that the primary three of nineteen sacred lakes in Cumbria are described and can be used to guide the description of any of the other, lesser, lakes.

Magic

Magic is thoughtfully presented at the end of each of the three main supernatural outlooks presented for the setting. Theistic Magic (RQ6, p257) as interpreted for the setting from the options in RuneQuest 6 falls on page 149, after the description of Christianity. Animism (RQ6, p197) as practiced by the Druids appears on page 162, and as different in practice by the Saxons on page 176.

These arts function as they do in the core rules, but the range of options and how they are to be presented in play are provided in detail in these sections. Each has its own distinct flavor, manner of evocation, culture of use, and range of effects described. While it may be very likely that magic will remain in the realm of NPC characters, it will still be a part of the lives of the characters. Magic is all around them, seen and unseen.

Mythic Britain presents a setting where magic is subtle and frightening. It is not an overt and powerful force causing explosive and visible change all around the characters, rather it flows through the veins of the land, whispers in the rustle of the leaves, shapes warnings in the spilling of entrails and the sacrifices made in sacred places. It is all around, pushing, pulling, but not making itself heard… until there is great need.

Magic is something to be feared and respected. It is something believed, but rarely if ever witnessed. It is a source of worry and wonder, desire and dread.

Men like Merlin wield it. The druids and the laece court its favor. Warlords and commoners bow before it for fear of being swept away.

Powerful and present as it is, Britain will not be united by force of magic, but by force of arm, force of will, and the shedding of blood under the watchful eyes of gods as capricious and familiar as one’s own tribe.

Gods

Mythic Britain presents its gods in paragraph form, noting their reputations, their lineage and relationships, and whatever responsibilities or resonances they might have. Some entries are more detailed than others, but a very large number are presented, taking the form of gods and spirits for the Pagans among the Celts and Saxons, and saints for the Christians. Reading these descriptions will quickly make it possible for the characters to curse, swear oaths, understand the import of omens, and know who their characters might like to venerate before a challenge is undertaken.

Conclusion:

Perhaps the greatest challenge a group of players intending to make use of a published work in a historical or entirely fictional setting is to balance the fun of play with the benefits of emulating genre. Lack of time and desire can sink any campaign before it starts, or worse, sink its good intentions leaving only the wreckage of past campaigns on the surface to mark its passage.

Toolkits like RuneQuest give us the tools to run the games we want in the way that we want, but it is the setting material that makes those games distinct. Without care and clarity, one game can settle down to be no different from what came before – no matter what our intentions. Lawrence Whitaker’s treatment of Mythic Britain’s rich spiritual subject matter, being both stirring and concise, makes the evocation of its distinctions easy for both GM and player. This is a setting where knowing what to say and how to say it, what to do and when to do it, though alien, will soon be second nature.

What’s next, and what has come before?

This is the third installment of a series. The first focused on Character Creation and the links between this supplement and the RuneQuest 6 core rules. The second focused on the presentation of the setting. The fourth and final installment will look at the Battle Rules and the seven linked adventures which can form the basis of a Mythic Britain Campaign~

Stay tuned~

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