Some thoughts on my second megagame outing and a Saxon-esque chronicle. On 14 November 2015, I attended my second megagame in London. For more on what a megagame is, plus an account of my time as a pipe-chomping journalist in a pulpy 1930s metropolis, check out my post on City of Shadows. This time I would be travelling back to the Europe of 1014 for a game called Come to a King, created by Andrew Hadley, and stepping into the episcopal shoes of Bishop Godwin of Lichfield.
With Southern England, Northern England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Scandinavia and… pretty much the rest of northern Europe spread across eight odd tables, Come to a King was on a different scale to City of Shadows but similar in size, featuring roles for about 70 players, plus the fantastic control team who make the whole thing possible. Players were eorls, jarls, kings, queens, abbesses, bishops, mercenaries and adventurers, many of them contenders for the crowns of England, Denmark, Ireland and so on. The core concept of Come to a King – which made me want to play this megagame the moment I heard about it – is right there in the title: each player had to decide who to support. And not just once, but every hour or so, players had a choice to make: which contenders council do you attend? Is loyalty or survival more important, religion or ethnic ties, family or country? When is it safe to turn your coat? And can you make a bid for the throne yourself?
A larger council meant legitimacy, power, money, soldiers and connections. Watching the councils of the various kings wax and wane over the course of the game was fascinating. For a time the Saxon council of Wessex seemed to have shrunk to a rump of three, while the conquering Danes and upstart King in the North were drawing in crowds of fifteen and twenty. At one point the bickering Saxon and Danish councils merged into an unwieldy conglomeration, as their respective and rival kings sought some kind of accommodation with each other. Who knows what was going on in Ireland, Wales, or distant Scandinavia?
As Godwin, Bishop of Lichfield on the Southern England map, I had a handful of goals (suggested on my character sheet but quickly personal): to attain a higher church office; to see a true Saxon king on the throne; and to bring woe to my rival, the dastardly Bishop Aethelstan of Hereford. I quickly set my sights on the vacant Archbishopric of York and made it my mission to bring God’s word back to Northern England. By the end of the day I had become Archbishop of York, with papal approval; swindled gold for my enthronement out of that Danish usurper Canute using false promises that I’d crown him king of England; and then crowned a triumphant Saxon king of an independent Northern England. All in all I was rather happy.
My rivalry with Aethalstan was a little more… complicated. According to our character sheets, we were enemies, but both by design and temperament we found we agreed on most things, at least for the first half of the game. Frenemies was the word of the day. It was a great roleplaying experience – making it clear I despised Aethelstan while constantly finding myself working alongside him was lots of fun. And fate smiled on me again: by the end of the game, the constant betrayals of Aethelstan’s closest allies, the perfidious lords of Hwicce, had heaped more misery on him than I could ever have achieved.
For more on my experience, and the eternal fremnity between Bishops Godwin and Aethelstan, check out my Saxon-esque chronicle below. It’s a fairly limited account though! Whereas with City of Shadows there was more going than I could ever convey, for Come to a King it was clear there was more happening than I’d ever know. To round out your sense of what went down in 11th Century Europe (and how the game worked), check out these other great accounts:
The Last Viking – Jarl Gilli and the Last Crusade
Brothers Earngrim – Danes on tour
Check out this cast list if you’re struggling to keep up with all the names!
The Lichfield Chronicle
The Lichfield Chronicle is a fragment from a collection of annals recording the history of England, covering the years between 1014 and 1022, although its dating is suspect. Discovered in York Minster in 1977, it offers an unparalleled window into the era. Generally thought to have been written at least a decade after the events it describes, it was commissioned by Godwin, then Archbishop of York but previously Bishop of Lichfield, and composed by a single scribe over several years. The surviving manuscript is remarkable in two ways: 1) for its distinctly Saxon account of this turbulent period in English history; and 2) for its unremitting smear campaign against the unfortunate Bishop Aethelstan of Hereford.
If you are interested in the period, you may appreciate some of the other resources we have on display, such as the so-called “Betrayal Flag” of the shortlived petty kingdom of Hwicce. If you are studing the Lichfield Chronicle, suggested further reading includes the translated poems of Ottar the Black, which provide a useful Danish counterpoint to the Saxon narrative.
“Can we rest now?”