My monthly gaming group has just finished our campaign of The One Ring: Oaths of the Riddermark.
Shieldmaiden of Rohan (Wanderer calling)
Signy had always wanted to be a Shieldmaiden. Her mother, Emma, had been a Shieldmaiden and was also a great storyteller. Signy’s strongest memories of her are sitting at her mother’s feet by the hearth while Emma sang of the great deeds of heroes and plaited Signy’s bright, coppery hair, while Signy looked up at her parents’ swords and spears glinting in the firelight over the hearth, or of sitting in front of her mother while riding, and the terrifying joy of leaping over fences at a gallop. Her mother’s death in childbirth left deep wounds in Signy’s heart, and from a young age Signy feared death by childbirth as the foe against whom even a Shieldmaiden could not prevail.
In time, her father took a second wife and after the birth of Signy’s half-brother, Signy was given the care of a newborn foal. The dappled-grey foal became young Signy’s obsession, and the girl even slept in the stables some nights. Signy devoted herself to Renna’s training and to learning swordplay from her father and his thanes.
Despite her father’s attempts to keep Signy from feeling like she and the memory of her mother had been replaced, Signy still felt alienated from her father’s ‘new’ family. Even worse, when she was eighteen, Signy overheard her stepmother say that Signy should become a good wife to one of her father’s thanes. Indignant and proud, Signy rode away from the homestead for Edoras and the King’s hall. She was of age now; she would bring renown to her own name based on her own valor.
In Edoras, Signy became one of Thengel King’s outriders, riders tasked not only with carrying messages, but also relied upon for their tirelessness and speed. Her service as an outrider sends her far across the fields of the Riddermark.
Then, one winter, something began attacking a series of homesteads in the West March, her friend Felwyn’s homestead among them. Signy, Felwyn, and their friend Ava go to investigate, joining with two Gondorians and a Dunlending in what becomes only the first of many adventures…
The One Ring: Oaths of the Riddermark is the third The One Ring campaign my group has played. It’s set in Rohan in Middle Earth at the beginning of Thengel’s reign (Theoden’s father; Theoden is king in The Two Towers). The premise is that Thengel has returned from exile to claim the throne after his father’s death and is now trying to fix the corruption, rivalries, and distrust his father had created during the previous reign. The adventuring party here is tasked with helping the king unify various parts of the kingdom.
It’s a cool premise and makes sense for the lore of the world, but one I sometimes found frustrating as a player because I had built an archetypal Anglo-Saxon hero when I made Signy. Yes, she was skilled in Song and Awe, but not in Inspire or Courtesy — and it was Courtesy we needed the most. The success of several of our missions was determined by if they didn’t devolve into fighting, and I had built a character who had wanted to win glory and renown by fighting. I often felt like I had the “wrong” character for this campaign — except that I didn’t, because I had built a character that was “right” for this particular culture.* There seemed to be a disconnect between what the writers of the campaign wanted and the setting. I don’t know how much the other players felt this incongruence; however, I’m always going to notice medieval-related things more than the others, considering that I am the medievalist at the table. (The GM is a history teacher, but the medieval period is my speciality.)
Fortunately, we weren’t all stereotypical Anglo-Saxon heroic characters: we had a smooth-talking Gondorian with us, and for a while a Dunlending to be a liaison with the other Dunlendings, and then this strange man from a place called Lake-town who claimed he’d seen a dragon (yeah, right), but who was also really good at talking to people. If we had all been Rohirrim though, maybe there would have been more fighting, because we’d have all botched the Courtesy rolls and not gotten along…
At any rate, Signy Fire-hair Orc-killer Kings-guard survived the campaign and did manage to win much renown during it, though perhaps not as much and not necessarily in the manner she had wanted. She may yet go on other adventures. We are returning to the north for our next campaign and picking up story threads (and some characters) we had left off with a previous campaign. What has been happening in Mirkwood and Wilderland while we’ve been riding in Rohan? I guess we’ll find out!
* Having two degrees in medieval literature, I think I’d have some idea of what Tolkien had in mind when using Anglo-Saxon source material for the Rohirrim…