The Celtic countries of Britain gained independence from Rome, for better or worse, by the beginning of the fifth century, c.e. The loss of Roman legions was a jarring change for the nobility and people who, although once quite war like, had been largely demilitarized and thus reliant on outside professional soldiers to preserve the peace. Failed attempts to employ Germanic mercenaries to protect their borders against raiding Picts and Irish and internal feuding forced the Celtic kingdoms to restore their ancient hill forts and try to rebuild a new military presence. Cities shrank and towns disappeared in the wake of repeated raids, plagues, and the loss of regular trade and coins from the old Roman Empire. The Celts reverted in many ways to their old customs, thus igniting a new cultural revival. However, in our own world, Celtic Britain began a long, slow descent and eventual subjugation to invaders as the independent kingdoms were absorbed or conquered by new Germanic immigrants.
Welsh or British?
In general, this book refers to the people of Dawn of Legends Britain as the British. However, the Anglo-Saxon invaders have another name for them; wealas. Wealas is the Old English term for foreigner or slave, which gives you some idea of the attitude of the newcomers toward the native British. This term evolved into the word Welsh that we are familiar with even to this day.
If you are playing an Anglo-Saxon oriented game, your gaming group might refer to the British antagonists as Welsh. A Celt based game in the Britain could use British instead, or even Cymry which is the Welsh term for their people.
British or Briton, Not Breton
You might ask why not refer to them as Breton. The reason is simple. This is because there exists in Dawn of Legends (and in our own history) a land just across the channel called Brittany, or Less Britain, whose people are referred to as Breton. In modern usage a Briton can refer to someone from the British Isles, while a Breton refers to someone from the Brittany on the Continent.
The British in Dawn of Legends hold a large number of different professions. What a person can do is usually determined by his status in the community, and his or her status is usually determined by his heritage and/or his wealth. Class mobility, when possible, is sometimes achieved by amassing wealth and property.
The Lower Classes
The lowest class of British include slaves and peasants. Slavery, common even before the Roman conquest, does not necessarily mean a total loss of rights. Slavery may be imposed on those who break laws and are unable to pay the imposed fines to the wounded parties. In Britain, this can also mean fines payable to both in the offended party as well as the royal house. Slavery may also be imposed upon people captured in war. Slaves do have rights, too, although fines for stealing from, injuring, or killing slaves is quite small in comparison to fines levied against those who wrong people of higher station. Eventually, slaves can earn their freedom by working off their debt or by purchasing their freedom. In Dawn of Legends, slavery is quite rare (unless the GM really wants to add a stiff dose of reality).
The peasants are a small step up. Although they are not slaves, they do tend to be tied to the land. They work land rented from wealthier land owners (lords). The rent typically consists of a share of the crops or livestock produced by the farmer.
These two classes are the largest producers of criminals such as bandits. Desperate situations sometimes develop when a people can not produce enough food to get by and they may turn to crime, just as will happen in any society.
In Dawn of Legends, however, banditry is becoming more frequent than it had been in the past. This is because the flow of trade that once came to Britain has been damaged by a slow erosion of trade with the Eastern and Western Roman Empires. Raiders on land and sea have hurt trade to and from the cities. Also, since the foreign demand for goods and crafts has been diminished, there is little for these people to do. They become poor, move to the country to try their hand at farming, and if that fails, they must resort to whatever means necessary to secure food and housing for their families.
Slaves and peasants do not generally act as soldiers or participate in warfare. That is left to heroes and powerful families. Since warfare is left to the upper classes, army size has shrunk considerably since the days of the Roman legions. Dawn of Legends resides in a time before the nobility drafted large numbers of peasants into an army. Warfare is the domain of noble warriors.
The Middle Class: Warriors and Craftsmen
This group of skilled workers, although growing smaller, still occupies an important place in society. Craftsmen include people skilled in the different types of smithing (such as blacksmith, weaponsmith, armorsmith, goldsmith and silversmith), pottery making, stonework, and various other professions. Owners of small plots of land, free farmers who pay no one rent, also fall into this class.
It is also important to note that blacksmiths often reach near noble status. This is due to their position of toolmaker in the community. Without them, there would be no tools for craftsmen and farmers. There would be no shoes for horses or oxen. Therefore, a blacksmith can be the most important commoner in a community.
Most warriors, such as foot soldiers or archers, would also fall into this class. These are people who paid for their own equipment, and much of their wealth is tied up in their arms. They have little else but to look to income made from duties such as patrolling, guarding, capturing criminals and warring. Eventually, employers may run out of money or no longer require their services. The common warrior can only hope that they were able to save enough from their pay and plunder to purchase some land and settle. Otherwise, they may have to look to continue their career for another lord.
In matters of legality, it is less likely for someone of this class to be enslaved as a penalty for breaking the law. They have a little more money than the poorer classes, and have a chance of being able to pay the fines to the king and the victim.
The Upper Class: Nobles, Clergy, Wealthy Traders
The nobles who make up this class are wealthy land owners who have moved into such critical roles in society such as leadership in wartime, spirituality, and trade. The complex system of feudalism that is to appear in the centuries after Dawn of Legends has not yet developed. However, because of the decline of trade and the British economy since the Roman withdrawal, the noble class is quite sparse.
The upper classes play the largest and most critical roles in warfare. It is from these classes that the most skilled warriors are drawn, since it is these men that can afford the best weapons and armor. The greatest warriors including swordsmen and mounted troops exclusively come from this class. The extreme expense of battle ready horses puts them out of the reach of everyone else.
This class, since it is wealthy, tends to have a lot of land, trade assets, livestock, property, etc. This class is more likely to own slaves, particularly as spoils of war. Merchants can and often do manage to still do good business by trading with Mediterranean and Continental states, providing they can afford to protect them. Exports include fine woolen goods, agricultural produce, silver, and tin. Mediterranean pottery, gold, and art are highly prized for import.
Ironically, it it his same trade that exposes the British to plagues originating from the Medterranean region and weakens their population while the Saxons suffer much less. Only swift action by bards and druids prevent catastrophes like the Yellow Death from devestating British population as it did on our own history.
This class, as well as the ruling class, also produce Christian priests, druids, druid priestesses, poets and bards. Thus religion, advisors, and leadership in matters of law are provided by this group. Since the clergy are made up of nobility, this earns them even greater respect in the eyes of the ruling class.
This is undoubtedly one of the most dynamic of the classes. Attrition through war and internal power struggles ensures there are always openings for people to move into this class. The requirements are low. An individual need only to have acquired the necessary Wealth to be considered part of the nobility. Wealth can be purchased by beginning characters automatically giving them some noble status. In the course of a campaign, characters may be able to acquire regular income in business, property or land deals which allows them to gain or improve their Wealth and Status. Players should work with the GM in achieving this goal.
The Ruling Class: Kings, Queens, Princes, and Princesses
"Its good to be the King." Firstly, the ruler is boss because he or she has more money and/or power than anyone else in the kingdom. By the law, the ruler is the most valuable person in the land. A crime against the ruler can be quite expensive to the perptrator should she be caught. Additionally, tradition states that one part of the penalty paid for any crime is payable to the ruler (this is in some contrast with the Irish tradition, which does not include reparations to the king). After all, if you hurt the kingdoms people, you hurt the King! Princes, Princesses, and extended members of the rulers family also tend to be at least upper nobility and therefore wealthy. They also tend to be favored by the ruler who can lavish authority and power upon his favorites.
Like the upper class, this class tends to be rather dynamic as well. There are a couple reasons for this. The first is the matter of inheritance. King and Queens will usually divide up the kingdom and their holdings between the children in the old Roman style. Daughters are usually given a dowry, so they are taken care of ahead of time. However, since all the sons might have chunks of the kingdom, this has an overall weakening effect. Sometimes, one son will dominate the other, forcing the weaker to recognize the stronger as his overlord. However, this easily turns into a civil war.
The second problem facing the ruling class is the matter of war. It kills people. Especially kings, queens, princes, and princesses, unless they are very good tacticians. Some rulers will opt to have champions go in there place. This is an accepted tradition. However, the ruler claims no glory for it, and no bard will sing praises of a king who hides at home. A ruler should lead his people, and do so personally. This is what is expected.
So a ruling family has lots of wealth and a lot of power, but is also faced with a good deal of danger. Holes in the Ruling Class can open frequently, and wise nobles will try to associate themselves with a ruling family through marriages and business deals. With marriage comes dowry, and with dowry comes wealth, and with enough wealth comes a viable bid for the throne!
As a ruler of a kingdom, certain duties are expected of you by the people. The ruler is expected to provide safety and security to the kingdom. A British king is expected to be an excellent example of British Heroism. This includes a requirement of having an unflawed physique. No man can remain king should he not have all his faculties and limbs.
The British Calendar
From the time of the Romans, the ancient British calendar has been replaced by the familiar (to us) Julian Calendar. To a large extent, the druids have adjusted and of course there was no change at all for the Christians. The most significant change was that the druids' new year began on November first, while the Christian new year began on January first.
The metephor for the changing of seasons during the course of a year is known as the Wheel of the Year. For the druids in particular this has a dual role in that it also represents the universal cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth. The British druids characterize the wheel as being turned by the great goddess Arianrhod whose fortress, Caer Sidi, is the hub.
The druids are reincarnationists with quite specific ideas on how rebirth works. The druids, and those who follow them, believe that after death, they will be reborn into their own clan. This follows in general with their non-linear view of the year and cycle of the seasons. To the druids, there is no linear time at all. In fact, all things, past and future, life and death is a simultaneous (and perhaps continuous) event. Therefore, we all live all our lives out at the same time!
While you try to wrap your mind around that one, let us note also that the druids keep very careful track of the seasons and astronomy.
The druids dont celebrate the holidays of the Christians. Yet, often the holidays are close enough that celebrations for the followers of Christ and the followers of the pagan gods close to the same dates. The following dates are the greatest of the pagan Celtic celebrations of the year in Dawn of Legends.
Samhain (SAV-ayn). October 31. This is the most important day of the year. Also known as the Day of the Dead, the day marks the beginning of the Celtic new year. The Celtic pagans believe that the veil between the physical world and the Underworld, the world of the dead, is thinnest at this time. This is the day that the souls of their departed loved ones return to walk among the living. This is the best time of year for druids and priestesses to contact the dead. It is common for Celtic Pagans to disguise themselves as one of the dead so that the dead will think them one of their own and pass them by. Feeding the dead by leaving food out for them is also common. Starting to sound like Trick or Treating? It should.
The Christians now also celebrate this day as All Saints Day which was introduced by Pope Benefice IV (seventh century, the current century in Dawn of Legends) in order to supplant this pagan day of the dead. Besides, why should the Celtic pagans have all the fun?
Imbolc. February second. This is a day of celebrating the return of the nature goddess, perhaps Brigantia in Britain, Brigid in Ireland. Christianization has produced Saint Brigid, and to them this time is known as Saint Brigids Day.
Calan Mai. May first, also known as May Day. Called Beltaine by the Irish. This day is celebrated with bonfires, cakes, and dancing. This day is a time to celebrate new life and as such is a popular day to have marriages.
Calan Awst. The First of August. This is a lesser celebration commemorating the ripening of wheat and grape vines. This holiday is more widely celebrated among the Irish as Lughnasa. The Christians do not oppose this holiday and are more likely to join the pagans in this celebration. In our real history, this celebration survives under a wide variety of names, obscuring its pagan origins.
There is a fifth very popular holiday that is also celebrated in Dawn of Legends Britain. This day is known as Mabon and is celebrated during the Fall equinox. The holiday is named after the British god Mabon. It is usually celebrating newly made wine, vine harvests and apple harvests.
For the Christians, of course, Christ Mass and Easter are the most important holidays. However, there is disagreement between the Celtic Church and the Catholic Church as to the correct date of Easter. However, in Dawn of Legends, unlike our own history, the Christians have bigger problems to worry about in the spell-wielding druids and Saxon pagans. It is unlikely the two churches will risk weakening each other in a direct confrontation over the issue. (In our own history, it was the Synod of Whitby in 654 which settled the question once and for all. The Celtic Church was reabsorbed by Rome through a majority vote by the leading bishops of Britain.)
The Role of Heroes
Heroes, heroines and their deeds make up an essential part of the identity of the various Celtic peoples. The great epics, describing the lives and adventures of their most important kings, queens and other heroes of legend, are told and retold by bards, poets, druids and their priestesses. The stories describe the lessons, wisdom and traditions of the old ways and by memorizing them, the bards and their like preserve the ancient Celtic culture.
In the current times of Dawn of Legends, like the times of old, Heroes provide the Celtic folk a source of pride and hope. Since the withdrawal of Rome, the Romanized British have had to fend for themselves against the depredations of Irish and Pict pirates and raiders, as well as increasing encroachments by the English-speaking people arriving from the east. This was especially harsh since, being Romanized, the British had not had to provide for their own defense. Although contact with Mediterranean nations was maintained by British merchants, this also meant that plagues which swept the remains of the Roman Empire also swept the British held nations. All of this makes for a pretty bleak looking future for the British Celts of Dawn of Legends. Therefore, maintaining pride and hope through the exploits of their heroes is essential to the health of the Celtic spirit.
Playing in a Celtic British oriented campaign can be very rewarding. Since heroes and heroism plays such a critical role in Dawn of Legends society, epic style games where the future of entire kingdoms rests upon the shoulders of heroic characters played by players (PCs), are natural.
Heroes and Society
Heroes may originate from any part of society. Uncommon deeds of bravery can gain the respect and admiration of the common folk. Building this kind of reputation can gain the attention of powerful nobles and rulers who may begin to see them as equals, even if they originally come from humble beginnings. Powerful individuals will seek out heroes for help and advice. If the task is not just the heros duty, but rather much more than would be expected of a person of their station, their action may be viewed as heroic. A prince, who begins with a rather high station to begin with, must perform much greater acts of heroism than a common farmer.
Exactly what kind of action is heroic for a character is largely the Game Masters (GMs) call. A local farmer single handedly driving off a herd of rampaging wild pigs would be considered a pretty impressive feat. The same thing done by the local prince or noble would simply be what was expected of them. A heroic act for a prince or ruler would have to be correspondingly greater. For instance, a prince defeating the leader of a band of raiders in single combat might be impressive if the enemy leader was particularly powerful or vicious.