This is the world of the British Isles in the opening years of the ninth century. Across the sea, Charlemagne has been crowned the Holy Roman Emperor; the first Emperor western Europe has seen since the fall of Rome. The Danes will invade before the century is out, then will come William the Conqueror, then will come the balladeers who record the legends (and write some new ones) that will make King Arthur immortal.
Not that this is the real British Isles, of course; it is the Albion of those French legends. There are wizards and hags and elfs and prophecies and magic. There is a timeline which will never quite make sense. There is a host of characters who will live and die and live again with half a dozen names each, holding grudges and promises close to their changing hearts.
King Arthur and the Twelve.
King Arthur the Boy-King.
Idealistic, brave, rash. Rightful lord of Avalon, actual lord of Gutodin country, near the land of the Picts. Would-be ruler of the North. Wants to conquer the Heptarchy and, ultimately, the Isles.
Prince Angravain the Heavy Hands.
Proud, unmerciful, ambitious. Nephew to Arthur, brother to Gawain and Gareth. Arthur has no children and Angravain is the presumed heir. He's a real cockmunch but a brutally skilled fighter.
Sir Bedevere the Perfect Sinew.
Boisterous, friendly, natural leader. Arthur's first friend in the North. Only has one hand so he must tie a shield to his forearm. Serves as marshal of the realm, and is in charge when Arthur is adventuring.
Prince Bors the Youth.
Somber, haunted, prone to violence. Son of King Bors (one of Arthur's first allies). Has killed many, many wicked things. Seen a lot of terrible sights. Destined to survive and take the throne — mortals don't know this, yet.
Sir Calowrennant the Even Lion.
Chipper, easy-going, takes all things in stride. Cousin of Yvain. Known to be a great example of what a knight should be. He doesn't take defeats to heart and always gets back up to try again. A witch told him he is destined to die for Bors' sake.
King Caradock the Hoary Head.
Experienced, jaded, doesn't buy the "Boy-King" line. Contemporary of Uther, Arthur's father. Trained Bedevere. Caradock was having knightly adventures in this land fifty years ago and you'd better remember that. He's seen everything there is to see, fucked with every wizard, fought every fairy prince, and is interested to know what will come of Arthur's kingdom.
Prince Gareth the Delicate Hands.
Youthful, eager to learn, not assertive enough. Son of Lot, brother to Angravain and Gawain. Much younger than his brothers. Good friends with Bors, and will one day be his right-hand man (heh). Despite his youth and his inexperience Gareth is the greatest swordsman on the Isles; only Sir Tristan can even challenge him. Lancelot will unknowingly kill him as Gareth tries to peacefully subdue the other knight.
Prince Gawain the Esoteric Star.
Kind, dangerous, always polite. Nephew to Arthur, brother to Angravain and Gareth. A little bit gay. Protector of the poor, the young, and the defenseless. Friend, later enemy, of Lancelot.
Prince Kay the Terrible Knight.
Unpleasant, easily provoked, masterful warrior. Step-brother to Arthur. Hates how condescendingly Wart treats him now that he's king. Hates how people assume Kay will try to take advantage of his familiar connections. Always needlessly harsh with those he meets; this way, no one ever mistakes him for an ass-kisser. A peerless cunt whose insecurities make him easily manipulated.
Prince Lamorack the Unseeing Eyes.
Unstable, prone to psychotic rage, several personalities. Son of King Pellinore, one of Arthur's first allies. Hates Lot and his sons, who he believes are responsible for Pellinore's death (everyone thinks this but no one is sure how). The blood of Dane chiefs flows in Lamorack's veins and makes him a berserk without equal. On the battlefield he is worth thirty lesser knights.
King Lot the Red Barbarian.
Boisterous, pretends to be a fat stupid jester, cunning and treacherous. Early ally of Arthur, father to Gawain, Angravain and Gareth. His control over his Pict subjects has waned over the years, to the point that he spends most of his time on the southern borders. Always looking for young knights to send to their deaths pacifying the tribes.
Prince Tor the Distinguished Eyes.
Quiet, broody, gives advice which people never listen to in time. Brother to (and only person trusted by) Lamorack. Hates Lot and his sons, but stays quiet about it. A decent fighter but a great adventurer. Lancelot will kill him in self defense when Tor tries to cut the man's head off.
Sir Yvain the Faithful Lion.
Noble, loyal, loves animals as much as people. Cousin to Calowrennant. Hunts down people who disrespect his cousin and beats them to a pulp. Followed by a friendly lion and a flock of man-sized ravens. Knows how to turn invisible.
Sir Lancelot the Fair Knight.
Brave, ruggedly handsome, obsessed with being a hero. Cursed and blessed at birth by two feuding fairies. Destined to be a legendary knight AND the downfall of a kingdom. Very close to Gawain. That will change.
Sir Tristan the Troubled Knight.
Bold, heroic, near-perfect. His indiscretions are whispered by all — but never spoken aloud, for fear of his gleaming brand. Regardless of his personal sins Tristan is of noble blood and character, and for the moment can be relied upon to act heroically.
King Pellinore the Wise Councilman.
Noble, peaceable, dead. He was to Uther as Lot and Caradock are to Arthur. In his dotage, he taught Arthur the ways of the Round Table (and gave a literal round table to the boy-king). Pellinore's death is shrouded in mystery. If he had survived a little longer maybe things wouldn't have turned out this way..
King Uther the Pen Dragon.
Fearless, warlike, dead. Father to Arthur and many other bastards who still wander the kingdoms of Albion and the Isles. His chance friendship with Merdin is the only reason Arthur has made it this far, unless you believe the prophecies.
Ancient, source of mystic wisdom, not half so clever as he thinks he is. Son of the Devil and a fallen nun. Merdin was destined to be the Antichrist and bring about the end of days, but was too unreliable and just a bit too decent.
No magic-user in Albion can even compare to this legendary Wise One. He makes deals with the Fairy and the forces of Hell, and lives to sing of both. Wanders the islands seeking more power and knowledge. Fears death.
Young, desperate for wisdom, loves Merdin more than he loves her. Lover and student of Merdin. Will one day betray him and trap him in a cage for all eternity. Takes many apprentices of her own in hopes of finding a friend and ally.
Young, unsure, filled with hate. Servant of Nenevieve and, unknowingly, half-sister to Arthur by their father and a fairy prince. Destined to outpace both Merdin and Nenevieve.
Foreigners in their Distant Lands
King Charles the Great Lord.
Pious, warlike, wealthy. He has a Twelve of his own, which he calls "paladins" after, apparently, a hill. His father, Pepin (the Small Lord), was a contemporary and a rival to Uther. His grandfather, Charles (the Fearsome Hammer), was a contemporary and a rival to Mabon (the Mother's Son), who was Uther's father and Arthur's grandfather. So it goes and so it goes.
Queen Sarantapecha the Eastern Tyrant.
Mystickal, schismatic, a woman. Rules a ruined kingdom called Byzantium on the eastern edge of the civilized world. Her cities are decayed and decadent, but her gold coins (the Byzants) are the finest around. Hates Charles for unknowable woman reasons.
King Solomon the Arab Lord.
Barbarous, cruel, wicked. Rules a ruined kingdom called Catalon on the southern edge of the civilized world. His cities are decayed and decadent, but his alchemy is the finest around. Hates Charles because their peoples have been at war for several hundred years.
The natives of Albion and the Heptarchy. Fair skin, brown or tow hair, and a middling stature appropriate for the most common race of the Middle Earth. Capable and adaptable. Can be found everywhere.
Human characters have +2 SAVE
The grey-skinned Little Folk of the northern lands beyond the Heptarchy. If you believe their songs, they once covered all the Isles — until the Latins drove them out at the gleaming point of iron blades. Childlike in appearance, which can be distressing because they file their teeth sharp and go into battle wearing only feathers and warpaint.
Pict characters have +2 SNEK.
Tall grey-skinned peoples of the western lands not counted among the Heptarchy. They are tough and nimble, and make their homes among the crags of the mountains. Some still practice the old religion, and others ally themselves with the Fairy and the forces of Hell.
Welsh characters have +2 MOVE.
Strange red-headed red-bearded mariners who fight with axes and sing songs of death and chaos. They came from across the whale-roads in search of treasure and glory, and can often be found in the service of local lords or among the ranks of bandits and marauders. They have dark ambitions for the Isles and cheerfully promise to one day rule it.
Dane characters have +2 HRTS.
Those of fairy blood. They sometimes have mismatched eyes, or pointed ears, or webbed fingers, but always wear a puckish smile. Many are traveling musicians. It's bad luck to kill an elf and worse luck to keep them in your home.
Elf characters have +2 SKLL.
No real thoughts to put here. What notes I had for my old Arthurian Campaign are 5e focused.
Automaton (8 HD, 16 AC, 10 Morale)
A mechanism built by the fairy to mind their homes while they are gone. Found in ancient ruins and in crashed fairy ships. They resemble humans made out of metal, though their guts are whirring clockwork and their faces are solid bronze. Usually armed with tools like brooms and trowels (1d6+2), but occasionally carrying proper weapons such as greatswords (1d10+2) or strange arbalests (1d8+2, 30' range).
Boar (2 HD, 12 AC, 7 Morale)
Hungry, mean, smart. Much like humans in that regard. Their tusks (2d6 to leather or worse, 1d10 otherwise) are sharp, and on level ground their charging attacks always hit creatures slower than them. Nobles hunt them from horseback (safely enough) or on foot with spears (very dangerous).
Dead Man (2 HD, 10 AC, 13 Morale)
Sometimes these are murders hunting their killers, or ancestors hunting their negligent descendants. Other times they are the product of foul sorcery or fairy trickery. Regardless, they take half damage from mundane weaponry and kill with long nails and teeth (1d8, two attacks a turn).
Fairy Prince (4 HD, 16 AC, 8 Morale)
Here to cause trouble. They may appear as men or women, tall or short, young or old, and often go about in disguise to "test" mortals. The trick they love the most is to demand a favor, and then punish anyone who denies them. They can fly by moonlight and make deals by sunlight. Their gossamer swords (1d6+2) leave wounds which can only be healed by priests. Iron and fire always deals maximum damage to them.
Hag (2 HD, 10 AC, 10 Morale)
Old women who know too much. Often warped by diablerie. They can brew potions and lay curses, occasionally offering those services but mostly using them out of spite. You know a Hag is around when the weather turns sour and your animals start dying of disease.
Headless Rider (4 HD, 14 AC, 13 Morale)
The ghosts of lost knights and betrayed highwaymen who are cursed to ride forever. Cruel fate has stripped them of their faces and, therefore, any possibility for reconciliation. They carry lances (1d12) and ghastly swords (1d6+2). Their horses are usually intelligent and malevolent.
Madman (2 HD, 10 AC, 10 Morale)
Lepers, wild-eyed prophets, or cursed knights. They live in the forest and eat rats. Giving generous alms to them is good luck, though you must be careful they do not steal anything.
Marauder (2 HD, 14 AC, 8 Morale)
Vicious criminals who prey on travelers and small villages. Usually wearing gear stolen from some lord's liveries. They carry medium weapons (1d6+2) such as axes and short spears.
Pict (2 HD, 12 AC, 8 Morale)
Small, grey-skinned, probably here for rape and pillage. Armed literally to the sharpened teeth. Their flint weaponry (1d6) is ineffective against fairy, but fully capable of carving you like a chicken.
Unicorn (8 HD, 18 AC, 13 Morale)
These beasts are larger than horses and more dangerous than foreigners. They attack almost every living being on sight, except for human virgins. No one is sure why. Their alicorns (1d12+4) are priceless, powerful medicine.
Wizard (1 HD, 8 AC, 5 Morale)
Old men who know too much. Often twisted by diablerie. They can cast spells and divine the future, occasionally offering those services but mostly using them out of spite. You know a Wizard is around when the crops fail and folks start seeing shadows in the corner of their eyes.
Wolf (2 HD, 12 AC, 7 Morale)
Hungry, mean, smart. Much like humans in that regard. They like to eat sheep, pigs, chickens, and all the same things humans do. Their teeth (1d6+2) are sharp, and they gain advantage on attack rolls against targets adjacent to other wolves. Most towns offer small rewards for their heads.
Woodwose (3 HD, 12 AC, 8 Morale)
Sad-eyed hairy men who live in the trees. They understand speech, but do not speak. They will not defend themselves if attacked. They eat fruit and sleep on the ground. When woodcutters come, the woodwise leave.
Notes on concepts and on the differences from other versions of Arthur
The distinction between "human" and "Welsh" et al. isn't intended as a commentary on 9th century race relations, but merely a parochialism which I hope the reader finds amusing. Similarly, the highest rank these Arthurian types can imagine is cyng, or "King". This is the rank they ascribe to the Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne, the Byzantine Basilisa Irene Sarantapechaina, and the Abbasid Wali Sulayman ibn Yaqzan al-Kalbi.
The names of the knights and other characters should be recognizable gibberish, I've taken the form and the spelling from different sources with a mind to deliberately confuse things. The rivalry between Lot and Pellinore, when it appears in the stories, usually ends with Lot's death. Here things have gone differently.
Here the arc of history bends in a complete circle. Alfred has not yet been born; the Danes are but wanderers, and the thousand year rivalry between France and England is yet to begin. How could it? There is no England, and there is no France. Charlemagne has only just toppled the Langobards. The "English" are speaking Old English (which looks nothing like the language I am writing in), the "French" are speaking Old German for the most part. The cold, linear history of later eras has not yet begun.
Instead, again and again a king rises in the Isles, rides out conquering, and dies. This happened to Uther and it will happen to Arthur too. Identical stories will be relived. Faithlessness, cruelty and cowardice will topple Arthur's kingdom like the others.
As the miner-mariners drove the Fomorians back into the sea, so did the Celts drive out the miner-mariners. The Romans drove the Celts into the wilderness, and collapsed, leaving the land in the hands of the Saxons. They will in turn be conquered by the Normans. Everything has happened and will happen.
Snippets of poetry
Of great limbs gone to chaos,
a great face turned to night —
why bend above a shapeless shroud
seeking in such archaic cloud
sight of strong lords and light?
Where seven sunken Englands
lie buried one by one,
why should one idle spade, I wonder,
shake up the dust of thanes like thunder
in smoke to choke the sun?
In cloud of clay so cast to heaven
what shape shall man discern?
These lords may light the mystery
of mastery, or victory,
and these ride high in history —
but these shall not return.
Mistletoe killing an oak!
Rats gnawing cables in two!
Moths making holes in a cloak!
How they must love what they do!
Yes, and we Little Folk too,
We are busy as they!
Working our works out of view!
Watch, and you’ll see it some day!
Sharp is my spear, and bright.
I will keep watch here at the ford.
And if I do not escape, God be with you!
If you escape, I will meet you if I live.
If you are killed, I will lament you if I live.
Do not lose the honour of a warrior despite battle hardship!
There is always a thing forgotten
When all the world goes well;
A thing forgotten, as long ago,
When the gods forgot the mistletoe,
And soundless as an arrow of snow
The arrow of anguish fell.
The thing on the blind side of the heart,
On the wrong side of the door,
The green plant groweth, menacing
Almighty lovers in the spring;
There is always a forgotten thing,
And love is not secure.
Riding seems easy to every warrior while indoors,
and very courageous to him who traverses the highway
on the back of a stout horse.
Generosity brings credit and honour which support one’s dignity;
it furnishes help and subsistence
to broken men who are devoid of aught else.
Trouble is oppressive to the heart;
yet often it proves a source of help and salvation
to the children of men, to everyone who heeds it betimes.
And now of the death of Arthur I shall sing.
And how to the island Avalon he sailed;
the Once and Future King.
By mountain and by winter sea rode the din of shield and sword,
till Arthur's table, man by man, all fell about their lord.
Then bold Bedevere seeing his liege, with wound too deep to heal,
bore the king by light of moon to a chapel near the field.
Then said the king "Take now my sword and with what strength you can;
into the deepest water fling Excalibur my brand."
With all the strength that he could find, to land he knew not where,
Bedevere cast the royal blade in the morning-twilight air.
So fell the brand Excalibur — but then there rose a hand!
Up from waters dark and deep, it caught the mighty brand.
Three times it wield Excalibur, as through the air it gleamed.
Then to waters black it sank, no more to be seen.
Behold; a dusky barge appeared through shadow moving on.
King Arthur breathing hard then said "Tis time that I were gone."
"Lay me in the barge" he said, so to the barge they came.
Three gentle maids stretched out their hands and called the king by name.
"Now I am alone my king!" Bedevere loudly cried.
"Whither shall I go my king, now our world has died?"
There long stood Sir Bedevere, in sadness looking on,
until the ship was one black dot against the verge of dawn...