A Guide For New Players
Part 1: Overview
Welcome to the Harts of Albion. This overview was written as a guide for new players; to provide information, examples and hopefully inspiration for those considering joining the faction.
The Albion of the Harts is not a re-enactment of mediaeval England. Instead it’s an odd mix of influences; drawing on historical images from as early as the Norman Conquest, right up until the Regency and mixing them with a wide-range of traditional, literary, mythological and modern fantasy elements. Your average Albione noble wears a frock coat, drinks tea and enjoys foreign travel; but still owns a suit of chainmail, trains to fight in his lord’s shieldwall and offers victory prayers to The Hunter.
The Land & the People
Albion is a green and pleasant land, occupying the south eastern portion of the Britannic Isles. It is bordered by the barbarian kingdoms of Caledonia to the north and Cymrija to the west, and separated from mainland Erdreja by the Betton Sea. Whilst tiny in comparison to the vast landmasses ruled by many of the other factions Albion is fertile, rich in mineral wealth and relatively densely populated. All those who live within its borders are considered subjects of King Edward Pendragon; who claims sovereignty by virtue of a birthright that can be traced back to Arthur.
The land is divided into five duchies; each governed separately by a Duke or Duchess who answers directly to The Pendragon Throne. Winchester remains the jewel in Albion’s crown; a shining beacon of honour and chivalry, set amongst some of the richest farmland in Erdreja. To the north of Winchester lies York with its rolling moors, and to the northwest the barren hills of Keswick. South of Keswick stand the dark forests of Gloucester, and beyond them the rocky and windswept reaches of Cornwall. Each of the five Duchies is fiercely proud of its own identity, and each contributes something different to what it means to be Albione.
The Harts of Albion
Whilst all power rests within the purview of The King he cannot possibly govern single-handed and so is supported by the Harts faction; a network of hierarchies through which the authority of The Pendragon Throne is delegated. The Harts serve The King in a wide range of capacities and are considered his most trusted and honoured subjects.
Anyone within Albion – noble or peasant, human or beastkin, rich or poor – is free to become a member of the Harts faction but only a small proportion of the population actually chooses to do so. Whilst membership grants opportunities far beyond the reach of most Albiones (including travel to foreign lands, learning powerful magics, and maybe having your name go down in history) it also confers a great measure of responsibility. When Albion is in direst need it is the Harts who stand at the forefront of any struggle; putting their lives on the line for the land, its people and their king.
This being so, it takes a certain type of person to want to join the Harts. Most possess a good measure of either idealism or ambition that makes them accept the risks in the service of their country. Many believe strongly in duty, and often see honour in service to the Pendragon Throne. Your character will be one of these exceptional people.
The Birth of the Harts
Albion was not always as it is now, and in many ways it is ironic that a faction so steeped in ideas of tradition and duty was born out of rebellion.
In 1094 Lord General Corvus Corvidae of the Lions (then the ruling faction of Albion) succumbed to the dire influence of the demoness Roxanne. As he became ever more irrational his leadership began to divide the faction and alienate Albion’s allies, until finally he claimed the Crown for himself. When attempts at reason failed those who would not accept Corvus’ claim united behind the banner of his niece, Elspeth Karlennon. Albion was divided by civil war as Elspeth’s supporters (calling themselves the Harts) fought to wrest control of Albion from the Lions and Corvus’ increasingly insane and corrupt rule.
When the war ended Corvus fled and the Lions were exiled; leaving Elspeth and the Harts in control of Albion. In the years that followed the Harts sought to rebuild Albion; uncovering ever more of their own lost heritage, summoning forth the sword Excalibur and recognising the spirit of the Pendragon reborn. Elspeth was eventually crowned Queen and under her leadership both the Harts and Albion prospered.
In early 1113 Albion was almost destroyed, threatened further than ever before by the wild Ancestor, Calligar. Much of the land sank under the influence of tidal waves and ongoing storms and many feared the land would not survive. Subjects of Albion fled across the egg, returning later to rebuild, or holed up in small boltholes around the country, emerging later. In the aftermath of the disaster the country grew prosperous and the numbers attending court swelled. The northern tip of Keswick was largely wiped out by the movement of the Wellspring of Evil, but there and elsewhere rebuilding is in full force and each Duchy has returned to its former ways, although not without small changes.
The Harts Today
In the decades since the end of the civil war the fortunes of the Harts have varied somewhat. Old alliances faded with time and new ones proved less reliable. War with The Empire and the death of Queen Elspeth hurt Albion badly and on more than one occasion all seemed lost. Today the Harts are not the great power they once were but they are fast rebuilding and, tempered by adversity, display a determination that some argue had been missing before.
Power & Politics
Three great houses – Karlennon, Hunter and Corvidae – have dominated the Harts since the faction’s formation; however they do not do so unchallenged and at any one time half a dozen ascendant houses may compete for influence. The Royal Council (which is often drawn from senior nobles of these houses) tolerates a degree of competition so long as it does not get out of hand and the interests of the faction are not threatened.
Behind the nobles stands what is arguably the real source of Albion’s strength; a network of soldiers, merchants, scholars and simple peasants committed to the service to their King through his faction. From time to time certain individuals need to be reminded of this commitment, but when Albion’s disparate elements all pull together they provide the Harts with considerable strength in depth … something that the Dragon’s faction discovered to its detriment at the Gathering of 1106.
Regardless of rank and title Albiones considers themselves a civilised people and, as such, expect a certain degree of manners. Each shows deference to those above his station and has responsibilities to those below. A good host displays generosity and hospitality; a well-meaning guest shows consideration and gratitude … even when dealing with enemies or barbarian foreigners there are certain standards to be maintained. Generations of nobles have honed such etiquette to a fine art and, properly executed, social protocol provides a skilled diplomat with an inscrutable veneer behind which his true intentions can be hidden.
The true king of Albion now sits upon the throne, despite Calligar’s influence and the slaying of the child king. In recent years Queen Eloise ruled, with Hunter in ascendance while the true Pendragon heir was sought and found. His influence has seen a number of changes to the structure of the court officials and this is very much in a bedding in period.
Morality & Belief
Many casual observers will tell you that the Harts are essentially a good and just faction; proudly moral with a strong belief in justice and community. That view isn’t entirely unfounded, but it’s not entirely accurate either since the guiding principle of the Harts is not actually morality but order. In a turbulent world the faction strives to achieve stability through hierarchy, discipline and duty.
In the pursuit of this stability the faction tolerates (and in many case actually supports) a number of practices which to modern eyes might seem profoundly unjust. The most obvious of these is the vast inequality of power between the nobility and the rest of the populace. Wealthy barons live lives of relative luxury supported by the toil of the peasants who work their lands. To the people of Albion however feudalism is not only acceptable but something they devoutly believe in; with the authority of the nobles tied directly back to The King and through him to the ancestors.
Those ancestors – the spirits that watch over both the land and the people – reflect similar values. The Pendragon, ancestor of The King, is associated with order, duty and honour but also stands as a cornerstone of feudal inequality and has little reservation about the use of force to protect that order. The Hunter, ancestor of the wilds, teaches the value of leadership, family and self-sufficiency but is also savagely intolerant of weakness. Finally Nethras, ancestor of the common folk, teaches the values of hard work, perseverance, nurture and charity but is also ancestor of vengeance and promises bloody retribution upon those who harm her people.
The Dark Side of the Faction
Whilst morality might not be the faction’s guiding principle most Harts will honestly tell you that justice, equality and fair play are desirable and virtues that the faction should strive towards. A significant number of those however will concede that philosophical ideals do not always make the best policy in practice, and would be willingly put such considerations aside if they became inconvenient to the faction’s progress. It’s this willingness that led one observer to famously describe the faction as “piranhas with manners”.
Throughout the faction’s history a ruthless undercurrent has existed. Many of those who fought the tyranny of Corvus emerged with blood on their hands and the legacy of such men and women is still an important part of the Harts’ identity. Assassination, demonology, alchemical poisoning, deception and religious fanaticism not only exist but are potential weapons to be wielded by The Pendragon Throne. Some of Albion’s leaders have made more use of these elements than others … but behind many of the faction’s successes lays a pile of discretely buried bodies.
If you’re still searching for inspiration you might be interested to read or watch some of the things that have inspired Harts players and plot teams in the past. Whilst the faction doesn’t adhere strictly to the ideas in any one of these, if you’re a fan of any of the following then there’s probably something in the Harts for you.
- Robin of Sherwood … Richard Carpenter’s television series was compulsive viewing in the 1980s and a major inspiration behind the original style and tone of the Harts faction. It mixes traditional tales with ideas of pagan religion, and added an ongoing battle of light against darkness that ran in parallel to the more obvious battles of Norman and Saxon, sheriff and outlaw. All three series are now available (relatively cheaply) on DVD and are highly recommended (much more so than the recent BBC series).
- The Blackadder, Blackadder II and Blackadder the Third … more must-see 80s television. Edmund’s machinations would not be at all out of place amongst the Harts, and ambitious nobles, foul-smelling peasants and manipulative butlers are all relatively commonplace in Albion.
- Harlequin, Vagabond and Heretic … three novels by Bernard Cornwell chronicling the adventures of a fictional English archer fighting in France during the Hundred Years War. This image of peasant soldiers was an inspiration for many of the free companies within the Harts.
- Cadfael … either Ellis Peter’s novels or the television series based on them (with Derek Jacobi in title roll). As well as the rich medieval setting the stories are an excellent example of how a scholastic/monastic figure can be a strong character in a fairly brutal world (in contrast to the very militant medieval character’s we’re more used to).
- The Canterbury Tales … Geoffery Chaucer’s series of short stories, supposedly told by a number of pilgrims travelling together on their way to Canterbury Cathedral. The collection shows readers a cross-section of Chaucer’s England and in many case provides a surprising insight into their particular sense of humour.
- Shakespeare’s history plays … Shakespeare wrote almost a dozen history plays about English monarchs from John to Henry VIII, many of which paint a vivid picture of courtly life, warring nobles and royal intrigue from the Plantagenets to the Tudors.
- La Morte d’Authur … Malory’s classic. Surely no other explanation need follow.
- Game of Thrones … The North of Albion as it currently stands owes much to the ethos of the northeners in GRR Martin’s universe. Strong and hardy, the north remembers.
Whilst hopefully this document should give you an idea of what the Harts are like, there’s no way it can cover everything. For more information please browse around this website, especially the library, or contact the command team for details. An active faction space can be found on Facebook where many Harts will be happy to welcome you and show you the ropes.
Whilst obviously we’re always delighted to have new players join the Harts we do realise that it’s not for everyone. Thankfully one of the strengths of The Gathering is that each of the ten factions has its own distinct identity and offers something slightly different to its players. If you do decide that the Harts aren’t quite what you were looking for then please do gave a look around the other factions to see what they’re like.