Another element of the Faerie Queene is that rulers are often proceeded by processions of unique individuals who illustrate the nature of their power in various ways. These are often extremely vivid and interesting, some of the best parts of the book (and also get a bit rubbish towards the end). In particular, Femme-Satan in her House of Pride gets her seven wizards riding even beasts, each incarnating a major sin. Cupid also gets a great entry, first music; "full straunge notes", then Fancy "like a lovely boy", then Desire beside him, then Doubt "In a discolour'd cote, of straunge disguyse", then Danger, Fear, Hope, Dissemblance, Suspect, Grief and Fury, Displeasure and Pleasance, Despight and Cruelty, and then the winged god himself riding a lion.
|Hey, and here they are, by Walter Crane, proceeding.|
No doubt Edmund had seen a few of these in real life and just expanded on the structure, introducing supernatural and moral elements.
The utility of the procession in games is varied;
- It makes the main thing feel like the main thing. Instead of 'oh hey its the King', you get this loooong build up and concentration of different powers until 'oh fuck, its the king!'.
- It translates feudal/religious/state/family/other power structures into highly specific, *vivid*, elaborately costumed and easy-to-remember people.
- It does this sequentially, and slowly. Instead of the PC's wandering into a party or mixed group and having to navigate it, all the major players are introduced one at a time, or in linked pairs, they are given a moment to recognise and remark on them, and when the procession is over, they know who to look for and/or avoid. It makes the large amorphous mid-sized group which is hard to translate into natural language for an RPG, more navigable, essentially providing its own map.
- It highlights power structures and precedence in the kingdom or polity where the PC's are. Different factions and their position in the procession is a strong indicator of how powerful they are, or want people to think they are. It's clear who you have to speak to get what.
- If you want to get freaky and Spencerian/Vancian with it then you can include strange stuff like incarnated moral values that make the kingdom possible, extra-dimensional alliances, Wizards who have become their own reflections, dudes made of crystal etc.
A theme in the generator is going to be that each individual element or member of the procession doesn't have to be that complex. What important is that they are visually striking, direct, memorable and exemplify their faction, group or idea in the procession. In Spenserian (and Comic-Book) fashion, complexity comes not from characters who are complex in a literary or post-Freudian way, but from the combination and interaction of individually simple, stark and unique elements. (Plus you can always add psychological depth if people want to interact with someone).
Firstly, this generator, (or vague idea for a generator) works if you already have a monarch and a kingdom/empire/barony or whatever. It's built with the idea that you already know what that is. And of course it works better in feudal and pseudo-feudal settings.
1. MAKING IT INTERESTING
Even if it’s interesting, watching a procession is a somewhat passive act. Here are some ways to make it feel more active and animated
Its good if the PC's have a guide, or at least an interesting parasite, who wants to tell them stuff they might not know. The purpose of this individual is to hang out with the PC's, gossip with them and These are almost always going to be chatty extroverts.
1. High-status noble got caught doing something sketchy with a stableboy or groom, so massive status loss, but can't be kicked out.
2. Faithful but questionably-liberal priest of state church, happy to be meeting people!
3. Governess or Tutor of minor royal. No-one else they can really talk to.
4. 'Artists Model' or 'Poet' ridiculously attractive, likeable & shallow courtesan or rent boy, currently between patrons, happy to grab the free food. Stays talking to the PCs so they can't be ejected.
5. Very Noble but old-as-fuck individual. No longer cares about protocol but no-one can stop them rambling to the PC's because nobody nearby outranks them.
6. Teenage noble wannabe so over this hierarchal bullshit, wants to impress dangerous outsiders.
As the procession begins some kind of music will start to let people know to smarten up. Due to ancient ethnological, cultural or ritual reasons, the kind of instruments used may be utterly out of seeming character with the current culture of the kingdom. There is always a specific reason for this. You can probably make this up yourselves but here's a crappy list;
3. Male voice choir
4. Bone flutes
5. Full Orchestra
6. Intense drumbeats
The audience isn't meant to just stand around and stare, there is a specific way that everyone is meant to be behaving, and if the PC's aren't behaving that way, then they are going to get into trouble;
1. Deep and weepy.
2. Silent and stiff-backed.
3. Periodically jubilant.
4. Awed and Amazed, in a positive fashion.
5. Awed and Humbled in a near-downcast fashion.
6. Movement from one of these extremes to the other as the arrival of the monarch approaches.
Reactions to each Emergence;
The immediate group around the PC's, and their interlocutor, will react in particular ways to each emergence of the procession. Each of these elements, and their position means something specific to the people around.
These reactions always take place underneath the expected behaviour, in sotto voice or cross talk, if PC's, and players' don't act this out then they will lose status and may be ejected. (Of course the rich & powerful can talk sotto voice as much as they like, the less important you are, the more you will be policed.)
Here are some ideas
1. A processional farts mid-step. Nearby elite individual moans "this is the end for us, saddle the horses".
2. Serious intra-group power struggle or doctrinal shift indicated by micro alteration in ritual - i.e. sword of justice held sideways. Gasps and remarks abound.
3. Procession member is masked, crowd members suspect replacement by unknown, those nearby become obsessed with minutia and bearing.
4. Procession member is out too early in procession, their group or faction has lost power. Shock, interest and comments move through crowd. Faction members bristle.
5. Procession member is closer to monarch than expected. Faction members glow with pride, other groups angry or manoeuvring.
6. Procession member is highly divisive with base for intra-faction reasons, 50% of that faction hate, 50% love them, both groups have individuals near the PC's. "It's about time" vs "This is the end!" Other factions utterly indifferent.
7. Members proceeding together represent factions currently in conflict, tension grows in crowd, will they try something?
8. Procession representative is new to the job and visibly nervous, looks like they are going to fall/screw it up. Faction members hold their breath, others observe in fascination.
9. An entire faction is missing! New faction present! Massive unexpected power shift! Old factions members aghast, new members thrilled. Tension rises in crowd.
10. Muttered local argument about exact symbology of the precise thing this faction member is carrying/doing.
2. CONSTRUCTING THE PROCESSION
Without any actual playtesting, I've decided that the standard procession is made up of ten individuals, who appear in five groups of two each.
If you go much lower than ten, it’s not really worth processing, you may as well just arrive. If you go much over ten then the PC's have to do a lot of hanging round and are probably not going to remember as much as they should.
Ten people and five pairs means five whispered conversations and five repressed (or expressed) reactions, and then the Sovereigns arrival, and then we are back into 'real game' space where the PC's can wander around, get into trouble, be called on by, or brought to the attention of, the ruler.
So this is an abstraction of a 'real' or historical procession. Many of the ceremonial ones would have been a lot longer than this I think. It also blurs together quasi-real feudal elements, pseudo-real 'classic fantasy' elements and hipster OSR magical or strange elements.
My guesstimation for how many of each element you want is;
Standard D&D Fantasy;
4 Feudal Locations
Pseudo-Real Fantasy (Harn-ish);
6 Feudal Locations
Highly-Magical Fantasy (Spencerian);
4 Feudal Locations
So we will go through each element of the procession, deciding what they are, and giving each three (actually four) separate things;
1. A Name and Title (you are going to need a name generator, or a list).
2. A Costume.
3. A Behaviour.
4. An Object.
These three things, linked together, are intended to form a sharp and coherent block of identity, easily describable in natural language. They are then linked in pairs, each emerging together.
Again; these individual concepts don't need to be very 'good', that is, original and deep. The combination of simple, stark, basic identifiers means the scene as a whole is meant to be easy to read. People are types and/or want to be see as types, at least while the procession is on.
If important people are acting in, or dressed as, a ridiculous fashion or way, then they are doing it for ancient ritual reasons, respected by all, and you are the idiots for pointing it out.
Put simply, this gives the DM something interesting to describe and the players something interesting to experience, which they will hopefully remember. The reactions of the crowd and their attempt to interrelate the PCs with those reactions, hopefully turn the moments of the procession from a boring experience of watching people going past, to an interesting discovery.
Remember, processions process quite slowly relative to normal walking
So the ideal process is;
1. Announcer or interlocutor announces names and titles.
2. A Pair Emerges.
3. The DM describes their strange looks and behaviour.
4. The Crowd and/or local guide reacts and relates this reaction to the PC's.
5. A possible short, whispered conversation takes place between the guide and the PC's.
The process is repeated four more times as excitement and drama builds.
6. The Sovereign (and possible Spouse) arrive.
This isn't the location itself, but someone representing it. You've seen stuff like this in Game of Thrones and, most recently, Black Panther. It essentially represents different geographic areas as Star-Wars-Style mono-biomes with one determining element and character type, and one costume or symbol that defines them.
In real hisotry what really seems to matter are arable river valleys and catchment areas, and maybe pastoral hillsides, so in a 'real' feudal situation, all the location-controllers will be pretty damn similar guys who each control a river valley.
But this is a game, so, like in Star Wars and Black Panther, we want them to be grouped as a type and highly distinguishable within that group.
To pick your locations, look at a map of the areas controlled by the kingdom or sovereign you are looking at and go for some combination of economic or political utility, and simple identifying elements.
If you are doing a pseudo-real version of this, then the guys from the arable river valley that also contains some mountains refer to themselves as 'the mountain folk' and the guys from the arable river valley that contains the forest think of themselves as 'the forest folk'. The components of a feudal culture are as much involved in distinctive and highly physicalised expressions of identity as players in an RPG.
And in a 'realistic' setting, the representatives of these places are wearing this whacky stuff and acting in this very arch and strange way because it is the time honoured way of their people, and everyone around takes it super seriously too.
Here are some not-that-good suggestions;
Green silk ribbands, fake silk leaves, horned crown
Scattering truffles, shooting toy arrows into audience
Ceremonial hunting bow, hunting horn, charcoal censer.
Being Philosophical (maybe carrying stones or honey symbolising wisdom?) Disdainfully scattering ‘snow’.
Climbing staff. Grapple & rope.
Pretend-fishing? Pages blowing into a pseudo-sail or with pseudo-oars.
Trident. Ropes. Scales for trade goods. Net full of fake or real fish.
Pastoral Lands ‘The Vale of somethingother’
Sheepskin, Cloak of Goat Bells, Great Cow Head
Weaving a huge cats cradle, chopping meat, dispensing hams
Hurling meat into crowd, ‘chopping’ crowd with big fake cleaver
An organisation is something that either has a big main building, or a lot of buildings spread through the domain, or has no building and is purely distributed.
The Church should always be one of these, if there is a state religion. The judiciary also. A major school, especially if magical. The Iron Bank of Bravos is a good example of one of these. The chancellor of the Kingdom could be one, major regiments or military commanders as well
Most of these actually already have pretty good costumes and honestly I got bored writing a table for them, it wasn’t very good.
The idea of a Power originates with the habit of Spencerian monarchs to spend a lot of time hanging out with literalised metaphors. In less-Spencerian settings the Powers become a kind of dumping ground for high-weirdness, or for the strange forms of otherness and ancient ritual on which many monarchies depend. The King or Queen, after all, is not just some dude, but is an intercessor between the material kingdom and a bunch of freaky supernatural stuff that ordinary people may never see. The axis of eternal powers. And in D&D, these powers can actually turn up.
Classic D&D - Powers might represent the Splatbook Races. Crystal dudes, Gythanki, Warforged or anyone not in the players handbook. They could also be supernatural monsters whose nature links them to the realm, a Naga in human form for the major river, an ageless silver dragon in humanoid form.
Vancian D&D - These would be extra-dimensional entities like meta-wizards or quasi-aliens.
Spenserian D&D - These would be actual, literal virtues or sins, or other moral or natural elements, depending on the monarch. For example, the classic virtues are Chastity, Temperance, Charity, Diligence, Patience, Gratitude and Humility. And the classic ‘seven sins’ are Wrath, Envy, Gluttony, Pride, Greed, Lust and Sloth.
Hipster OSR D&D - Bound multidimensional horrors, living reflections carried in smoking mirrors, and that hoary old standby - freaks in masks.
6. THE SPOUSE
These can add variety and can be very gameable. A kind of aesthetic and/or behavioural counterpoint to the court as a whole. By bringing in someone or something 'other' to the group it centres them as a group. Plus the players are probably going to be dum-dums and completely botch their meeting with the King so if there's a Queen who has different ideas, it gives them a second chance to not be fuckwits. Here are a few options.
1. Classic Pairing - same class, origin and temperament. Not spookily similar but talking to one is pretty much like talking to the other. Victoria and Alfred would be a good example. So would Michelle and Barak.
2. Other Does The Job - whoever is meant to be in the inferior or passive position relative to this society actually does most of the work and wields most of the power. So, Marjorie Tyrell in Got (if she had lived). This might be obvious, or hidden, tolerated, or hated.
3. Rival Power Scion - If this is the pseudo-euro Empire then the spouse is from the pseudo-arab Empire. If its pseudo-Han, they are pseudo-Mongol, etc, etc. This is meant to prevent or halt a major war so the marriage is important, but the court is freaked out.
4. One-Point Opposite - A Classic Pairing except one is extremely different in one particular, behavioural, physical, political or aesthetic way. To the extent that its either immediately obvious or comes up very quickly in each interaction.
5. Full Opposite - Physically, mentally, personality, politics, behavioural tics and costume. One wears black, the other white, etc etc. Could be an accident of the heart, of political convenience or for strange spiritual or otherworld-management reasons.
6. Mysterious 'Other' - They aren't even a thing like the things we are! What do they even do in the bedroom? What's behind the mask/veil/robe/endless dry ice?
7. ENDING THE PROCESSION
In most cases they will be proceeding towards the throne or throne-equivalent. During the procession its members will usually take positions adjacent to the throne, with those coming out first ending up furthest away. One option is the corridor of individuals, with the Monarch and Spouse proceeding down it to the throne at the end.
Once the procession is over, Royal business can begin and this can be PC-centred or background stuff, depending on the needs of the game. The processionals should move out into the crowd, forming marked and visible elements to interact with. In less-magical settings they can 'drop character' a little, and discuss how things went.
If the PC's are trying to get access to the monarch and the game is that this is hard to do, then space closer to them is dominated by increasingly important people. The PC's will need to have conversations where they 'get through' each group or conversation, getting closer and closer to the main person with each success.
If the PC's are there for other reasons, then there should be a person, faction or element that doesn't want them there and it actively trying to get them removed. In this case they may end up having to socially manoeuvre to stay ahead of them.
In both cases, effective social interactions gains you social influence, getting them what they want, and the visible processionals can form predictable nodes in that social structure so PC's can make interesting decisions about who to go towards or away from, with the DM bringing in