5th edition Pendragon starts all player character knights as Cymric Christians from Logres for a simple, and sensible, reason: Britain, in 485, is being assaulted by raiders from the north (Picts), west (Irish), and east (Saxons). Meanwhile Britain’s indigenous people, the Cymri, struggle to hold their lands following Rome’s conquest and recent desertion of the island. As such, it makes perfect sense that starting characters be Britons from Britain’s heartland striving to keep their lands from falling into barbarism and out from under the yoke of foreign occupation.
That said, I don’t see why Cymric pagans and Roman characters aren’t available as player knights. At this point in history the Franks are still pagans and it is easy to imagine that paganism is still practiced among the Cymri… particularly those belonging to the hill tribes of Cambria and in the northern reaches of Cumbria. Even in places where Christianity holds sway, I’d imagine that a good deal of the locals still hold to their pagan beliefs and practices, incorporating their ancestral folk lore into their Christian faith.
While the Roman legions and governors were withdrawn from Britannia in 410 AD, there’d certainly have been Roman and Romano-Cymric families that chose to remain behind.
Adding Cymric Bretons, Frankish, Aquitanian, and Romano-Celtic Gallic knights is also feasible as warfare on the continent, particularly between the Franks and Roman Gaul, could easily account for exiled and displaced nobles journeying north the Britain. In fact, by 486, Gaul ceased to be a Roman province after the Frankish victory at the Battle of Soissons (Novidunum) in what is now northeastern France. Also both Uther and Aurelius Ambrosius spent their years in exile in Brittany in the court of their cousin, Budic I of Britanny. There is little doubt that nobles and knights from the region, particularly Gauls and Aquitanians (Romano-Goths) displaced by the conquering Franks, would have joined the cause of the exiled princes and sailed with them to retake beleaguered Britain.
In an early campaign, justifying Saxon, Pictish, and Irish characters is a tough feat. At this point, these people are the enemies of the Cymri in Cornwall, Logres, Cambria, and Cumbria.
Saxons, along with Angles, Frisians and Jutes, invaded and migrated to the island around the time of the collapse of Roman authority in the west. Saxon raiders had been harassing the eastern and southern shores of Britannia for centuries before, prompting the construction of a string of coastal forts called the Saxon Shore. Before the end of Roman rule in Britain, many Saxons and other folk had been permitted to settle in these areas as farmers.
Under the rule of Vortigern, Saxon mercenaries were employed to defend Britain against the Picts and Irish, and to aid him in uniting Britain under his banner. Over time these Saxons were granted lands, particularly in Kent. The Saxon warlords Hengist and Horsa manipulated Vortigern into granting more land and allowing for more settlers to come in, paving the way for the Saxon settlement of Britain and Vortigern’s downfall.
One way to incorporate Saxon characters would be to have them be British-born Saxons whose forebears served as mercenaries for the Romans, or Vortigern, and settled lands under Cymric rule. Coming from established families, British-born Saxons would still face prejudice but, as sworn servants of Cymric lords, fall under the protection of those lords. Their position, in the face of relentless Saxon invasions, would be tenuous and roleplaying such a character could be challenging… to say the least! Based on the location of Saxon settlements in relation to Cymric lands, some likely locales for such characters would be:
- Eboracum and it outlying lands
- Essex, particularly Ipswitch and Colchester (before they fall to the Angles)
- London and its outlying lands,
- The Southports region
Irish knights, in an early campaign, could be from Estregales and, until 495, Escavalon. These lands have been held by Irish tribesmen for generations and are currently held by King Canan I. While Estregales wars with its Cambrian neighbors in Gomeret, it has diplomatic relations with other British lords. As such fosterage, a practice common to Wales and Ireland, could allow the sons of Irish lords to serve in Cymric courts as honored guests and wards. Cultural tensions, diplomatic concerns, and opportunities for espionage could all make for great roleplaying sessions.
Integrating Pictish characters, particularly knights, is a challenge in light of their insular nature and hostility towards their southern neighbors. It is possible that some lowland clans could have tribesmen serving Cymric lords as mercenaries, such as scouts or as infantry, while Christian Picts (St. Ninnius converted the Picts of Benoic in 390 AD) might serve either the church or a Christian lord in the name of their faith.
Coming soon… Expanded Cultural Options, Pt.2