Last Updated: June 23, 2022
In this episode of the RPGBOT.Podcast, we discuss sentient items in tabletop RPGs. We look at the rules for sentient/intelligent items in DnD and Pathfinder, and we discuss why and how you should bring these items into
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Materials Referenced in this Episode
- The Maniculum Podcast
- Other Stuff
Welcome to the RPG bot dot news. I’m Reynold James and with me is Tyler Kamstra and Ash Eli.
Ash Ely 00:27
And tonight we have special guests with us, Mac.
Hi, I’m Matt. I’m a co host of the Maniculum podcast and an academic studying medieval language.
Awesome. And Zoe.
Hello, hello. I am a narrative designer at Obsidian Entertainment. And I am also a medievalist and also a co host of the Maniculum podcast. I should have started with that.
But all three of those things and I think that’s pretty fantastic.
Tyler, what’s happening?
Well, we are talking to Mac and Zoe about their podcast, the Maniculum. We talk a lot about games like Dungeons and Dragons, which are medieval, adjacent. And makinde. Zoe are kind of experts on the subject. Their podcast is an excellent resource for people interested in medieval history and for adapting that to games D&D, etc. So we brought Mac and Zoe on to talk about their podcast and to talk about things we can learn from real world medieval history.
Awesome, awesome. So I think it makes sense, like you talked a little bit about your backgrounds. But let’s tell folks a little bit more. So you described yourself as an academic Mac? And I feel like that’s a big old world. Like, what’s your focus? What’s your passion?
Well, I’m really interested in the Old English and Old Norse languages, I enjoy doing translation. And I’m currently working on a dissertation where I look at the relative frequency of different types of alcohol in old and Middle English literature.
Ash Ely 01:59
Oh, that’s really cool.
Yeah, that’s awesome. So from that, would you like to infer what the authors prefer to drink or what the other perceived that the common folk drink?
Normally what I’m inferring is, which is the the prestige drink, which is the drink that the author would like to have available, which starts out in the Old English period as being Mead. But as things progress, it becomes more and more focused on wine and the mead culture kind of dies out?
That’s interesting. Is that around the time of like, the French influence in England, like is that what’s driving it is?
Yes, a large part of it, the shift is very pronounced after the Norman invasion.
We also get a lot of new words for different types of wine from French, around that same time, because it’s just more and more interested in in that side of drinking culture.
That is, that is interesting and awesome. And I’m glad that you get to study that. So Zoe, tell us a little bit about you. Your background.
Oh, my goodness. I was working on a master’s in medieval studies at Trinity College, Dublin, actually, when it’s sort of popped into my head, I’d always wanted to be a storyteller. And I thought, Okay, what is the sort of leading bleeding cutting edge of storytelling. And for me, that was always video games, and D&D, tabletop role playing games, that sort of thing. And I looked at that, and thought, oh, my gosh, this is perfect. I want to be a video game writer. And of course, all my professors took one look at me saying that and went, that is absolutely absurd. And every woman in gaming went, you have a Medieval Studies degree that’s like underwater basket weaving, how are you going to make this happen? And eventually, I applied. I mean, we started this podcast as a way to connect the two, and ended up in a role at Obsidian Entertainment, which is very narrative based, very narrative driven, or known for Pillars of Eternity, which is very RPG based. So it’s a perfect fit for me. And we’ve just continued on with the podcast, sort of bringing together the medieval world and the academics with, you know, the nerds and the geeks and everyone like that.
Okay, that is awesome. I want to talk more about the podcast. But before we do that, I need to ask a different question. What is a maniculum?
Ash Ely 04:28
Yeah. I’m curious about this, too.
Now, I have Google, I probably could have solved this on my own. But I think it’s gonna be a lot more exciting to hear from the two of you.
Ash Ely 04:37
No, see the thing. I looked this up on Google, and the only thing that came up was their podcast.
Yeah. It’s not a common word outside of medieval studies. So we’re kind of everywhere on the Google Search now.
So really brilliant choice on the SEO like that’s going a whole different direction. You’re gonna win the search engine optimization picking a game from medieval English. Yeah. Okay, but yes, no kidding what’s going on?
Do you wanna take this on Mac or shall I?
Yeah, sure. It’s the it’s a little pointing finger that medieval readers would draw in the margins of books to point out interesting passages, like it was their version of those little post it tabs that we use nowadays.
Ash Ely 05:20
They could get really like, elaborate too. Like, there are some that are like little beasties with pointing hands for heads or a whole arm reaching in from off the side of the page to point out an interesting passage. But the point is, it’s, it’s this little pointing hand. And it’s like many as an hand, yes. Okay, cool. Yeah. The shape that your cursor turns when you, when you go over a link or something, it turns into a little hand, it’s just called something different. Now, it’s the index of the fist, because that’s what the typographer has called it. But in the Middle Ages, it was called the manacle, or the maniculum.
Now, you mentioned that you’ve seen a bunch that are like full arms or a little creatures or whatever, and get really elaborate. Have you ever seen a maniculum that’s just really disappointing. Like it’s very clearly the stick figure of maniculum?
You do get those, they’re just they’re just little squiggly lines that you can kind of tell are meant to be like the outline of a hand.
Okay, so the barrier to entry on drawing them in a column is pretty low.
But you know the barrier to entry on all marginalia. That’s, that’s what we call it when you write in the sides is marginalia. Yeah, the barrier to entry there is extraordinarily low, you look at some of these sketches. And you’re like, wow, I could do that. And then other times, they would be beautiful, illuminated art or like, manicules that are just they’re not hands, there’s some guys really long nose, something like that. And you realize, like, you can’t touch that.
Ash Ely 06:52
So these are the overachievers of the medieval world, the guys who would like Doodle in the side of their books and stuff.
If they’re making a living, right, like we can’t really, we can’t grab too much. I have to ask you a question. Because I I’m, again, I’m fairly ignorant like medieval printing practices. Would it like at this point, were are we talking printing press or each of these things hadn’t copied?
We are not talking printing press. Hand everything.
Paper was not largely available during the Middle Ages. So a lot of it almost exclusively was done on vellum on parchment, which is animal hide that would have been tanned and all those, you know, all the fur would come off, and they would treat it and then be able to cut it into pages and write on it that way. And all of the ink would be usually handcrafted oak galls, which is something that falls off the oak tree would be used to create ink, for instance. So yeah, all of all of this stuff is hand done. And a lot of the doodles you say, you know, like, Oh, this is the top tier of scribes back in their day. A lot of these doodles were because these people were really bored.
The marginalia would be like I they had nothing better to do and they didn’t want to go to the next page yet. Okay.
Ash Ely 08:13
That makes a lot of sense.
I feel that like, I feel that personally. I the reason I asked that question, are we talking like printing press versus being hand copied? Like if I were to find multiple editions of the same book that maybe different scribes did the I suppose you’d call it transcription, would you expect to find the same meticulous and same places? Or is the scribe actually looking at it thinking, This is interesting to me, I want to highlight it,
This is a really, really good question. And it’s something that I would love to just do an entire Masters or PhD on actually, the manicules, the maniculum are usually quite different. Sometimes books would be copied all the way over and glosses would be copied all the way over. So sometimes that would occur. But largely each instance of a manuscript or rather, each instance of a work or a text in a different manuscript would have different glosses. A lot of times depending on where the manuscript was copied, or where it originated. It would include glosses in different languages. So for instance, a Latin prayer book might be glossed or edited, written in, in Welsh, if it’s in Wales, for instance, or you might have it move location, so part of it is in Welsh, and then part of it is an old English. And so you can trace the history of a manuscript based on the marginalia that you find in a specific area. So sometimes it’s way cooler to look at the marginalia of a book rather than its actual text.
Next to text is boring. I feel like we established that. I’m kidding, I’m kidding.
But we’re here to prove you wrong.
Let’s do that. Let’s go there. So you decided Name this the Maniculum podcast. Why?
Essentially, because we’re pointing the finger back at the Middle Ages, is what we like to say
We really wanted to show modern audiences that this period of history is not the Dark Ages. It’s not something that is boring. It’s not something that didn’t have any culture. But we because we’re a medievalist, and we’re interested in this stuff. We read it, we go through it. And we think this is amazing. This is hilarious. But we understand that a modern audience doesn’t have the context or the education necessarily, or the the raw interest to really understand what’s going on in these texts. So by pointing the finger back at the Middle Ages, we are introducing a new kind of fun way to look at it. We’re poking fun at these weird texts that have really stupid ideas, or they have really funny ideas, or, you know, whatever it is. So we’re trying to introduce the idea that the medieval people have fun too, and they knew how to have fun. And also, some of their ideas were just really stupid. And we’re gonna laugh.
Like, draining the humors. Yes.
Ash Ely 11:18
So, my big question for you guys, is why the medieval period in particular, what drew drew you guys to that period, more than like, say, you know, the Roman era, or the Bronze Age or early modern era, that kind of stuff.
Mac, I’ll let you take this one first, unless you want me to go,
I will say it’d be a lot easier to study pre history, right.
Ash Ely 11:40
There’s nothing there.
I think what happened was, when I was in undergrad, I read a few medieval texts and kind of fell in love with them. I read Beowulf in the Canterbury Tales. And I was just fascinated. And that was it. I’ve been in school for it ever since there’s, there’s not a whole lot of complexity to it. Although I am also to a degree interested in old Roman texts and pre history, I just didn’t decide to study them for reasons mysterious even to me.
I can definitely echo that. Like I saw I did traditional literature in high school. And I remember our professor had us read like Beowulf in I think, I think it was Old English, right? Um, that that’s Beowulf, right? And so you’re like, you know, or, and gore and like you’re pronouncing these things. And it was, it was amazing. Like, we had to take turns doing our best, which was sad. But here we are. What impressed me there was that if I’m the one reading the text, being somebody who’s not very familiar with it, I have no idea what’s happening. I’m making these sounds and it’s great. The people listening are hearing the sounds that I’m putting together. And it’s like, that does almost sound like English. And I can kind of get an idea of what you’re saying. And I found that really amazing. Talking about Canterbury Tales, like kind of the same game I remember in Canterbury Tales, and like having to dive in and like, chew the stories in like, there’s right, there are fun stories, and there’s analogies to things that like stories we still tell today with different shapes. And that was something that really impressed me. It’s like, this is like a collection of tropes. And I’ve seen these before. Yep. So yeah, to find that they had an origin. So oh, it’s cool, cool narrative guys, I can definitely understand that.
Yeah, absolutely. For me, I had a weird upbringing. I started Latin very young, I started it in the third grade. So I have over a decade of Latin experience. I like to say that I did a blend of classical and ecclesiastical Latin. So I have this weird, ecclesiclassical pronunciation, just horrible at this point. But I’ve done so much of that Roman history and base work there. I wanted to know what came next. And even though I got a really good education in that as well and in the enlightenment, and so on and so forth. I was enraptured with the spiritual understanding and the sort of bridge that the Middle Ages created between the Roman era and the knowledge and the philosophy that was there. And the Enlightenment era when science started taking over, and you know, God is dead, and so on and so forth. I really enjoyed the sort of the spiritualism, but also the bridging connections that people were making there. For me, the Middle Ages is more an Age of Discovery than even the Enlightenment era. And it gets a really bad rap because the people during the Renaissance started calling the Middle Ages, the Dark Ages. They did that on purpose. It was a branding term. And I was just so enraptured in this idea of all the hidden knowledge that’s there that people didn’t want me to figure out because of course, I’m in high school and want to find all the secrets hidden, secret hidden secrets of the world. So I settled on that period and ended up doing my dissertation on magic and folklore.
Ash Ely 15:09
Just one question about this again. So when you’re talking about Middle Ages, I assume you’re focusing on European, Western European Middle Ages, or do you branch out to non european Middle Ages?
To a point, we focus on European Middle Ages, because that’s what we have access to, because those are the languages that we can read and write. Those are the things that have been translated into English. But I do occasionally try to take us outside of Europe and do more of a global Middle Ages thing. So for example, one of the texts we read is this travelogue written by a sixth century Chinese scholar traveling through India and writing out like the things he sees in the folklore he hears. And I like including that to give a more of a sense of what’s going on outside of the little European bubble that we are usually stuck in.
What’s the name of that?
it is, oh, the
The Great Tang Records of the Western Regions, I think it’s called.
Perfect, well put a link in the show notes, folks. So folks at home you can find it.
We do have links to that that are accessible. And in English on the podcast blog, we do like to cite our sources. So all of that’s available.
Even better, we’re going to link to that and then you folks, because presumably, if you listen to this, you’ll be able to read it in English, and that’ll be great. So that that gets to a different question when asked so you said you focus on Old English and Old Norse? What does that have to offer versus maybe other languages in the region? Like we’re the Franks keeping, like similar text? Is there anything available from from them? Or is like really, if you want to study the medieval period in Europe, Old English and Norse are the way to go.
They’re not particularly. I’m coming more from the language side of things I’m, I started out focusing on the history of the English language, which of course meant learning Old English. And then Old Norse is a related language. So I learned it as well. And obviously, there’s a lot going on in say, Central Europe and Eastern Europe and southern Europe that is very, very interesting. And I have no access to linguistically…
That’s fair, okay.
I’ve just stuck with what I’ve got.
At a certain point, you really have to specialize in what language you want to work in. Just because there is a depth of sources and knowledge in each sort of language, pot or language category. For instance, high, French, has just an overabundance of texts, as does Old Norse. And to an extent Old English, we don’t have as many texts in Old English. So at a certain point, if you want to get into it and read the source materials, you kind of have to pick a language. Latin was the so called lingua franca of the day before French took over. So most medievalists have a rudimentary understanding of Latin, and then they can specialize further.
Awesome, cool, cool.
The benefit of Old Norse is that you get to read the Sagas, which are some of the coolest medieval literature out there if I do say so myself.
If you like Game of Thrones, read the Sagas, I promise you they’re better.
Than the TV series or within the book series. Both both okay. Because the TV series, I mean, like you could you could light it on fire…
At this point.
We have strong feelings. That’s all I’m saying. Let’s, let’s not talk about those D&D. Let’s talk about a different D&D, though. So we’re
Ash Ely 18:49
Very smooth, very smooth.
That’s what I’m here for. Okay. So yeah, we’re a tabletop gaming podcast. We love to talk about D&D. We love to talk about Pathfinder. And you folks love to talk about gaming and medieval fantasy. So let’s get into that.
Zoe. You’re working for obsidian and as a Narrative Designer on games and on the podcast. You both have a segment where you talk about adapting these documents to Dungeons and Dragons, which I look forward to that part of the podcast every time I enjoy that part. So so as people who understand and know things about like, what the medieval period was actually, like, how historically accurate are games like D&D?
Oh, so really accurate?
Well, it’s a question is the funny thing. There are parts of D&D specifically, for instance, that are very accurate. For instance, they just snatch entire pantheons and stuffed them straight into the world. And you sit there and you know, I’ll read through the book and look at that and go, Oh, hey, hey, I know that that’s, that’s actually accurate. And then I’ll flip through and you know go later and find something and I’m like that’s that’s not how the Fei work. It really largely depends but a lot of D&D is based on sword and sorcery books which are in turn based on Tolkien. And if you know anything about Tolkien, you know that he was or maybe you don’t know, maybe I’m just pretentious about this. Tolkien was the terrible English at Oxford. He was a medievalist, he was a philologist, which it was the word for linguist in his day. And so all of the Lord of the Rings and the associated lore, which anyone who does anything and Fantasy has to bump up against, is influenced by Tolkien, who was in turn influenced by medieval texts, the names for all of the dwarves in The Hobbit came from a page that was just a list of dwarf names. And which one was it was, it’s one of the arrows.
I don’t remember, whichever…
Either the Poetic or the Prose Edda, we can’t remember which one, but he just pulled those. So when you’re looking at D&D, you have to look at it and understand it. It’s come through such a sieve and such a filter, that some of it is totally completely accurate. And some of it is tropes that have come down through ages and ages in years and years, that now you pick up and people recognize as a trope, and they think this is what the Middle Ages look like. And then those of us who have a medievalist background sort of look at and go, Oh, no, no, no. It’s funny, because when, when you’re in this field, it makes reading fantasy literature really hard. But it makes the good fantasy literature shine, and it helps you enjoy it more and create it more. So D&D gets a lot right. And it gets a lot wrong. And that’s okay. Both are okay.
Yeah. This question was kind of the result of a long, long game of telephone where we’re looking at medieval reality filtered through medieval literature filtered through Tolkien filtered through other authors, and then filtered through each subsequent edition of D&D, which as it becomes its own thing, more and more just builds on itself rather than building on external sources.
Yeah. 100 years from now, we’ll be talking about Tolkien and Jeremy Crawford and it’s going to be a wonderful addition to the fifth edition now, okay. You talked about pulling the dwarf name straight from the Edda? I’m unfamiliar with it. Is that a Norse? Or is that an old English? And then the follow up question that comes with this. Who were the dwarves in that text? Are they like Tolkien dwarves, and they completely different?
Well, so the Eddas are compilations of Norse mythology, that are mostly put together to aid in writing, like their lists of kennings, which are an Old Norse literary device, and different names of figures that you might want to allude to in your poetry. And of course, they are the main source of what we do know about Norse Mythology is what’s been preserved in the Eddas.
Okay, so you’re saying that their source books for his story, masters? Yes, Yes, precisely. Okay, good. Like I want to put together a new story for my party. And so I’m gonna go to the source book, and I’m gonna pull it like, Okay, I kind of want to allude to this because, like, I’ve got loathe the spider queen, and I need to get her in here. And then that that’s what we’re doing.
Absolutely. And I don’t actually recall if those dwarves are connected to any particular story, or if it’s just a page with dwarf names on it.
I do think it’s just a list of dwarf names.
But who are dwarves in the stories like we are, and that is my real question. Are they Tolkien dwarves? Like do they live underground and they carry big hammers, and they’re very strong and everybody has beards? Everybody has beards.
And they’re all Scottish too.
We’ll perfect, we’ve had that conversation.
Again, very broad question, but a fun question. The dwarves that are in the in this list are kind of in their own little bubble. Every medieval literary genre has its own version of what a dwarf is. So Arthurian dwarfs for instance, in King Arthur and his table of knights and the Holy Grail, and so on and so forth, those d4 herbs usually pop up as plot devices to trick the knights to start a quest, things like that. The Old Norse dwarves are usually ring keepers, wisdom bearers, things like that. However, linguistically, specifically Old Norse dwarves, the words come from Mountain elf, or Hill elf. So fundamentally, Dwarves and Elves are from the same group there. They could essentially be the same group of people and just be two different kinds of elves. So forests elves, versus Hill elves, we don’t actually know. And then over time, they, they turned into the small, diminutive dwarves that you’re familiar with more akin to a leprechaun. And pre Tolkien, all of the Fae, including elves were small little creatures that you have in your garden and your grandma has no sticking their heads on. And, like the gnomes exactly, precisely. That’s what elves were, they were in children’s stories. And then Tolkien transformed that and all of a sudden, we have the Regal elves and the dwarves who are digging under the ground, that there was some difference initially, and dwarves did live in burrows underground. But fundamentally, what’s the difference between a dwarf and an elf? We don’t know. There’s probably not a difference.
Okay, this is really interesting. And I’m putting it together right now as we’re talking about it. So I think I kind of knew that like old school pre Tolkien elves were small. In particular, I want to talk about a group of elves, the Keebler elves. They’re they’re small, diminutive elves who live in burrows underground, they might as well be dead forest or yeah, they’re they’re dwarves.
Yeah, Keebler Dwarves.
I think we should specify that. That’s immediately pre Tolkien elves were small that back in the medieval texts, they’re more Tolkien esque than pixie esque.
As in they’re like taller than humans and regal or just their normal their their person sized.
I think they’re often depicted as taller than human, although I might have to correct me on that. But they are these. They’re the Fae that elf is kind of a catch all term for other worldly beings. Okay, which is dwarf and elf kind of overlap.
Okay, and then tell us about medieval warlocks.
Merlin was one.
Fair, fair, good.
That was true.
Yeah. Merlin was historically according to Geoffrey of Monmouth, conceived by a demon and a human woman. So his patron would have been whoever this demon was. So when he’s depicted in a lot of early Arthurian literature, he’s not exactly a helpful figure. He’ll help Arthur but also you don’t really want to associate with him because he’s still of the devil. Not quite sure what’s going on there. That sort of thing. That’s how Warlocks usually appear. Otherwise, they’re just Crohn’s hags, horrible women who have made terrible deals with the devil, that sort of thing witchcraft…
Which again, the witches got the short end of the stick because like Merlin is like cool and fancy versus we’ve got the witches versus the patriarchy thing going on on the other side.
Ash Ely 28:40
Talking about the Mists of Avalon live right? That’s a whole other can of worms.
Well, there is a lot to be said about how the figure of the witch is an invention of the patriarchy in order to condemn women who live independently. There’s one of my pet theories is that there’s a lot of overlap between the way the traditional witches depicted and the insulting depictions of ale wives in late medieval texts, because ale wives or women who brewed ale and ran taverns lived independently. They had their own income stream. And this was looked on as very suspicious.
Yes, during the mash. Exactly.
They’d be described as having like long warty noses and the whole like, the the image of a Halloween which is basically an ale wife.
Hmm, so how much eye of newt goes into medieval ale.
Actually, fun fact. Eye of Newt was a colloquial term for mustard seed.
So possibly some.
Ash Ely 29:47
Makes sense. Makes sense. I use I use coriander from time to time, which is a lot like mustard seed. You’ve drink that beer. It’s delicious.
I have, your beer is delicious.
So you’re talking about, or you mentioned this and I want to elaborate a little bit more. So medieval ale wives like that was the norm, right? It was more common for women to be brewing beer, it was almost seen as like a household chore to make the beer,
Yeah, for most of the medieval period, it was women who women who brewed the beer, women who sold excess beer, it was not only a household chore, but as an extra source of income, because you, you’d make more than you needed and sell the extra. But what changed was the introduction of hops from the continent, which allowed a beer to be made, that lasted longer hops are included as a preservative. And this made it easier to make it at an industrial scale and import it and export it over larger distances. And it became profitable as a major industry. And so men got involved and started pushing the women out now they can actually make money doing it.
The other half of that, interestingly enough, was the introduction and rise of guilds during the medieval period. Men Well, initially women could be members of guilds, but they were also slowly pushed out. Because in the early Middle Ages, businesses were run out of the home. So there wasn’t necessarily a split between the work that women and men did. It was largely put together. However, when cities started growing, men came together, they formed guilds, who could be for instance, a master artists, a master brewer, so on and so forth. And again, as it became a profitable source of income, women were pushed out of that sphere. And as guilds and shops were set up, it became more and more male dominated.
I want to go back a second. So an interesting topic came up that I want to make a distinction between you said that Merlin, I’m leaving beer, I love beer, I would love to talk beer for the rest of the night. But okay, you said Merlin, was the Offspring of a woman and a demon? Is this? Yeah, like, is this Catholic church demon? Or? Or is this like a Norse or an old English demon separate from the ideas brought to us by Christianity?
I love that you’re asking this question. Because this is what I specialized in. And I hate to tell you this, but there’s largely no difference. The history of magic and how people perceive demons, was largely constructed by the Catholic Church. As Christianity became the dominant religion of the time, all of the texts that we have, I think, all almost all, very, very close to all of the texts that we have are written by scribes who were also monks and written from a Christian perspective. So everything that we have on magic usually condemns magic. And same thing for demons. Same thing for spirits. So when you’re getting into, Oh, okay. Was this occurrence a woman being seduced by the devil? Or was this something else? There were plenty of occurrences of women who would have a one night stand, they would end up pregnant and say, Oh, well, it was a succubus, and then would be okay. In the eyes of the church, she would still be largely condemned, but hey, it’s not her fault. Other instances of this include praying to saints, saintly miracles, was that something that for instance, if a spring erupts in the middle of a town, okay, is this a godly occurrence? Or is this a demon? How do we tell the difference? What is the difference?
How’s the water taste?
Yeah, how does the water taste? Is it good water? Is it causing problems? Everything is up to the narrative of that general location. So for instance, Mac will sometimes read the leech book on the podcast, which is a book of remedies, medicines. A leech was a doctor by the way.
Do Leeches carry leeches. Sorry, did leeches carry leeches?
They did indeed. They’re very useful in medicine. So we’ll read from that text occasionally. And there will be prayers that you read; blessings, that would be said. So you might take a snail and put it on the burn and then you take the snail off and you coat it in moss or oil or something. And then you say this invocation. The invocation, as you read, it sounds like a pagan spell. But they’ve taken the word of Thor out and put in the word of God Almighty. That’s the only difference. And speaking to that, it’s not that they believe Oh, well, it’s not going to work if we pray to Thor because Thor doesn’t exist. It was Oh, no Thor exists, but he’s a demon posing as a god. And we don’t want to invoke Him. So we’ll use the spell. It’s a great spell. We’ll just use it with our God, and we’ll be okay. So was it a demon? Is it a spirit? Is it an elf? All of the above answers could be true. It just depends on who’s speaking.
In the original Celtic sources, it could well have been that Merlin was born of some kind of positive kind of spirit or a Fae or an elf for something. But it was when it was written down into the Christian tradition, it became an Incubus or Succubus, or a demon or whatever, because of exactly that process that Zoe is describing.
Did the Celts have a written language?
So we’ll never know. Well, they had ogham. But that’s usually on just on standing stones. It’s not something that you would write a manuscript in.
Hard toget a big message that way. Need a very big rock.
Ash Ely 36:05
So you say that there’s, it’s hard to make a distinction between demon, el,f Fae, that kind of thing. So when we’re talking about distinctions to bring the subject a little bit back to D&D, D&D makes like these these very hardline distinctions between demon, devil, fae, and other, so how do you guys view those distinctions? Like do you think those came out of anything? Or where there’s just arbitrary distinctions? Or is there precedent for that and medieval?
Generally speaking, I like to think that all of those hard distinctions get so much hate for this. The Catholic Church, which is really funny considering the Satanic Panic surrounding D&D Because people, particularly not Augustine… Mac, who am I thinking of Isidore of Seville was one of them. That was, this was one of them. These are Founding Fathers of the Church, if you will. And they were very, very concerned with figuring out what’s a demon? What’s a spirit? What’s a ghost? We want definitions around these things. Because, and I love sharing this fact, the highest number of those accused of using necromancy and exorcisms and the things associated with devils and demons, were clerics. 100%, they were clerics. You might get the local witch doing an exorcism. But 99% of them were clerics. Because they wanted to be able to control the devil. They wanted to know what they could control and what the lines were on understanding how to control these demonic things, either, so that they could have greater power or for the will of God and something positive. So ultimately, my take and Mac might have a completely different perspective here. And again, we’re talking filters and filters and filters of time, but ultimately, the distinctions between what’s a Fae, what’s the devil so on and so forth came from academics and scholars and church men wanting to understand the differences between these creatures.
I didn’t think clerics had a lot of necromancy spells.
Well, healing spells are all necromancy.
It depends on who they worship, I think.
Okay, I guess I guess that makes sense. No, okay. Yeah, actually, now that I’m looking at, there’s a ton of necromancy spells here. Okay. No, this checks out. This makes sense.
Ash Ely 38:43
So on the same topic about demons and devils, would I be wrong and saying that the Nine Hells was heavily inspired by Dante’s Inferno and other stuff like that? Yeah. Hey, yeah, Paradise Lost, right? Because Asmodius, Lucifer, Fallen Angel became the leader of hell. That makes sense.
Yeah, the depiction of like, the structure of Hell is almost entirely invented by Dante and just kind of adopted as basically headcanon by everyone since.
Ash Ely 39:17
So I think we’ve pointed out some some good and bad examples in D&D, where like, the medieval folklore kind of became D&D Canon through all of those various filters. And it seems like a lot of those things have stuck around and like you guys said, a lot of those have been through filters and then DnD has built on itself. So it’s a deviated from the original source material. Is there some benefit to keeping these concepts close to the original sources? Like like how close is too close? What are good things to keep? What are not good things to keep?
I think That’s absolutely up to you and your party. I’m not gonna lie, the Middle Ages were pretty rough. For a lot of people, there was a lot of prejudice going on whether it was for queer folks, or for Jews, in particular, in, I believe it was 1492 or 1392, I believe I’m getting my dates wrong, but all of the Jews were expelled out of England, all of them, there was a major, major prejudice against Jews, during the Middle Ages, as well as Muslims, and those of any other faiths. But that being said, I find such topics to be a great way for players and DMS to sort through those and have agency and become their own heroes, if you don’t have something to overcome and fight against, then you’re not really going to have a strong story. But again, it’s up to you and what you’re comfortable with, at the table. In other ways, there’s a lot of really, really cool stuff that you can bring in, that’s closer to the stories, it’s closer to the quote, unquote, factual truth about the Middle Ages, that can be really interesting, largely, in part because we’re so familiar with the DND lore, or we’re so familiar with the sword and sorcery and Tolkien, and fantastic, why not. But also, don’t write something new, right, something old, let’s go back to the source material, because it’s going to feel familiar enough to your players. But it’s also going to be something new there, it’s going to feel original. And I like to think of storytelling as sort of like the great chain of being everything goes back. There’s one singular route, I think, like you were saying, there’s something there’s deeper and deeper, that’s at the heart of storytelling. And for me, going back and finding those original routes is just hugely rewarding. And I found it to be incredibly helpful when learning to DM and creating a satisfying story. And then on the other end of that spectrum, what is realistic in the Middle Ages? What might feel realistic, and what is realistic can be two totally different things. Because we just did an episode on this. They had animal trials in the Middle Ages, where they would accuse the pig that’s that ate or slaughtered a child or a dog or whatever. And there would be a lawyer who had to stand in court and defend the pig. I am not kidding, this is a real thing that happened. So realism, because the animal trials feel very realistic.
We wait just a few moments. We should talk about this, I think. So the lawyer like was the claim that the pig was possessed or something like this, it wasn’t just like, pig Did you eat that child and the pig sitting there shaking? It’s not like, No, I didn’t eat the kid. And the lawyer is gonna be like, well, I asked my client and he wouldn’t give me a straight story like is that is that we’re talking about?
They did sometimes interrogate the animals, but usually the lawyer spoke for them.
Ash Ely 43:20
Mac, do you want to talk about the weevils?
I do want to talk about the weevils. So some of my favorite of the animal trials are like the one with the weevils, where it’s not a single animal, but a population of animals. It’s being condemned, like the weevils that are eating the crops. And as we know, through all of these medieval texts, and through all the all of these legends of saints that flipped were floating around during the time. We all know that saints can drive out vermin. People who have strong in a faith can pray to God and God will make the vermin leave. It’s right there in the book.
No snakes in Ireland. We all know that. Right?
But, but you can’t just do that without first giving the weevils a fair trial and arguing over whether or not they have the right to be there eating the crops. And so you’d have a trial where they were, they would decide whether or not the vermin had the right to be there. And if the vermin lost the trial, which they didn’t always…
I thought we had the weevils this time no, you let them off the hook. You need to go back to the animals Law School. I’m sorry.
Yeah, but the punishment was that they’d have like the bishop come and pray over the fields and cast the weevils out often to another specific location that had been set aside for the weevils.
To think Oh, willingly.
What we don’t know is amazing.
Ash Ely 44:56
I feel the need to break the news to you Randall. Magic isn’t actually real.
Wait, wait, what?
It was in the middle ages, at least everyone thought it was.
Ash Ely 45:06
No, it’s not actually real, my friend. I’m sorry.
How can you say that I’ve got my Magic the Gathering cards right here.
It’s like I can touch it, it’s real to me.
That’s the thing. That’s what I find so fascinating is that the spiritual lives of these individuals were so strong, and they were so enmeshed with the political system of the day and the law, that everything you did, had to simultaneously be a legal act and a moral act. So you could do something immoral. And you could go to court for it, depending on what the law was. And so largely medieval people saw the world through a spiritual lens, everyday actions were also part of worship, which I think comes through a lot when people start to play characters, like warlocks, like clerics. And so when you understand that background, for the Middle Ages, you can start playing your character in a different way. And that’s one of the strengths I think, that you can get from understanding these texts and understanding these backgrounds. Because that kind of faith doesn’t just come from anywhere. And we’re so far removed from that in our society, it can sometimes be helpful to see that take place, even in a ridiculous case, like an animal trial. And you can understand that and so all of a sudden, you’re role playing differently, all of a sudden, you’re a little bit more immersed in the story. And to me, that’s just the coolest thing.
It’s a very foreign mindset to, to try and picture the medieval people who very, very much believed that magic and miracles were real, and they were everywhere.
Nice. So I think you’re giving us like a good foundation to advance ourselves as storytellers as Game Masters. On the meticulous podcast, you actually give specific exam samples of this, you talk about how we could take source material, how we could bring the source material into our games, and actually provide that experience. We do for the folks at home, like what are a couple of your favorite examples that you’ve talked through of this.
One of them oh, oh, yes. Okay. Um, one of my favorites is in in Perlis vous which is a French version of the tale of Sir Percival in the holy grail. It’s absolutely insane. We’ve just finished covering it. We invite you all to come and listen to it. There are so many decapitated heads.
We’ll have the link in the show notes.
It just so many. But it’s very interesting in that story to see. Can you guys hear this honking horn? Should I wait?
Oh, just can’t but also, we can pause for a second.
Okay, well, it just stops, so we’re good. Anyway, in Perlis vous, there are women all over the place, maidens noble women of noble birth, who run around starting quests, and they understand that they don’t have the role of the hero. They’re not equipped to go around killing people and taking on all of these quests. However, they are the quest givers. So they’ll show up with a head in the middle of King Arthur’s court and say, hey, somebody killed my brother, please, I have a vengeance quest. Will you take it? And then just show up and they do this? And so instead plot hook What more do you want?
Yeah, that’s pretty awesome. Vice versa, like somebody comes in with a sob story. And it’s like no head, no quest, I can’t do anything for you.
Let’s see what are others Mac that you have in your head?
Well, one of the texts that I really enjoy drawing ideas from is the wonders of the East, which is basically a the text itself is a description of what supposedly you can find in Africa and the Near East and India that was written over 1000 years ago. And it’s full of strange creatures and monsters and bizarre places. It’s basically a campaign setting in miniature. And I really feel like a huge amount could be pulled from that straight into your D&D game just like like the part where it describes there’s a land called Hacelentia where they have two headed snakes with the glowing eyes Great. That’s that’s a place now they have those.
The best lens kartu and they have two heads. Absolutely. Yeah. So a little Mork Borg joke for everybody.
There’s other stories like The Green Knight, which you can just grab wholesale and use that as a question your campaign we actually have a page on our blog, and we cover these at the end of every single episode, but we do have a collection for you. If you are so interested. It’s called our quest posted the noticeboard on our blog. So I’m sure you guys will link that. And if you’re interested, this isn’t quite done yet. But we’re working on a project behind the scenes to bring a lot of these different magical items, for instance, to life. So we’ll check back in with you guys when it’s ready to announce. But please, if you’re interested in this at all, come join us. And we’ll have something hopefully that you guys can play with pretty soon.
Absolutely. I think we would look forward to that. All right, well, Max, Zoe, thank you so much for being with us tonight.
Thank you for having us on.
Thank you for having us. It’s been so much fun to come on and talk about what we do. And if you would like to follow us, you can find the Maniculum podcast on anywhere you find your podcasts. We also have the website, the blog, just the masculine podcast.com. We’ve got our Twitter @Maniculum. We’ve got Maniculum podcasts on Instagram, we’ve also got a Facebook page and a Discord now so if you would like to join our Discord, where we discuss all of our fun ideas and swap resources and cite our sources and not cite our sources, or just put links in there, please let us know. Just shoot us something on any of our social medias and come join us we would love to have you. And yeah, we’ve also got a Patreon. If you do feel like supporting us this is entirely run on our own. We’re just two medievalists doing this because we love doing it. So thank you so much for having us on.
Absolutely. If you’ve enjoyed the show, please rate and review us on Apple podcast and rate us on Spotify or your favorite podcast app. It’s a quick free way to support the podcast and helps us to reach new listeners. You can find links in the show notes. You’ll find affiliate links or source books and other materials linked in the show notes as well as on RPGBOT.net following these links helps us to make this show happen every week. We did we did a whole ep.
So I just finished listening to the episode on the green night. It was awesome. I saw the green night movie like a couple months back and had no idea what was going on. And everything immediately made so much more sense. Thank you. That was a great episode.
I am so glad you liked it.