Let's Read GURPS Celtic Myth

Bilharzia

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I am about to run a short adventure in (Mythras) Mythic Britain using the Waterlands adventure, watching this thread with interest. I've run the adventure before but this time with a stranger group of characters.
 

Séadna

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A big thanks to Jo Walton for providing me this answer:
Jo Walton said:
There was certainly more, and more accessible, Irish than Welsh stuff when we were writing it. I'd say we used primary sources of both about equally, with tiny bits of Scottish, and of course Caesar etc. But the Brehon laws give us so much more than Hywel Dda.
And you have to remember we wrote it in the early nineties, and there's been a lot of scholarship since then, some of it excellent.
I think looking back over the sections I mentioned it's simply that the Old Irish Brehon laws detail their society more like Walton mentions. They take a more documentary approach (I mean they even detail hobbies like bee keeping and also pet owning habits), where as the Welsh material assumes insider knowledge.
This is reversed a bit when we get to the actual myths, where I'd say the Welsh material is more obviously coherent stories rather layers of confusingly interwoven material.
 
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Séadna

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The social hierarchy
Except where noted there is no real difference between Wales and Ireland here.

So next we have the class structure of Celtic socieities.
As the book lays it out this is:
  1. King [Always used but not the best translation. Somewhere between Chief and Mayor is more accurate]
  2. Nobility (Also called Lords). The sacred proffesions: Bard, Historian, Judge, Druid
  3. Farmers (vassals to the Nobility). Craftsmen. Entertainers.
  4. Peasants
  5. Slaves and Non-people.
It's here and in the next section on law that the book takes a simplifying approach to Celtic society more suited to mythic play over being a straight historical game.

Last Celtic king/mayor (died 2018, still looking for heir):
Kingoftory.jpg

In the real historical period these are all subdivided further. Each having about five or so subdivisions and there is a complex legal process of moving up the ranks. Slaves and Non-people are in fact broken into about fourteen categories depending on if they are washed up foriegners, war prisoners, etc. The book takes a higher level view with more static positions, since this is what we see in mythic tales.

Spread over a good portion of the remaining texts are descriptions about the society, but they can be summed up by saying Celtic society was:
  1. Rural. There were no towns or even villages really. Just private homesteads. Rural Ireland has remained like this to today largely.

  2. Local. People lived most of their lives in small mostly economically self-contained "kingdoms". Each of these kingdoms had its own lore, poems, myths, etc and we can see from Medieval documents that knowledge of other kingdoms outside of the closest ones was very poor.

  3. Hierarchical

  4. Had an odd emphasis on secular learned professions derived from the pagan past

  5. Put a strong emphasis on the concept of “face”, that is one’s social honour
The book is quite sober and accurate about all of this. I think most people with an interest in fantasy gaming will be familiar with the feudal system. Celtic society is fairly close to this with its kings, lords and vassals. The major differences relevant for a campaign I would say are as follows. Here I'm summarising and supplementing what the book says:
  1. Women could hold any of the positions. Female kings were rare ("queens" don't exist as a concept), but female bards, historians, etc were simply uncommon but not remarkable.

  2. Kings are not really powerful national or even regional rulers. Just the local "big guy". Similarly Lords are not really that far above the common farmer. They're just the guys you pay rent to.

  3. Law does not emanate from a monarchy, is secular and is personal. This means that although nobles and kings are privileged by law, they can also be deposed by law for their behaviour. They're also not above being harshly punished for crimes against commoners. The personal part means the law could not punish dependents, family, etc. The common medieval trope of deposed nobility fighting to regain their title just didn't happen. If a Lord was deposed, their heir was the next Lord.
Celtic "kingdoms" had a population of about 3,000 people and were quite small in area. Roughly about 140 sq miles. If you were running a game I'd simply google "Irish Baronies" or "Welsh Commotes" as in both countries the Normans simply converted the older Celtic kingdoms into Norman baronies and hundreds. Since they standardised the boundaries a bit the Norman versions would be easier for game use. If you have played in Glorantha the Celtic kingdoms are basically the same as Tribal areas in Sartar and the rest of Dragon pass.

Wikipedia has these in higher resolution but for the basic idea:
WalesCommotesMap.jpg
IrelandBaronies1899Map.jpg

King:
Next we're told the king was really the "first among equals". I would expand this to say the king was simply the head of the region's most well regarded family. The family typically had some origin myth saying why they were the major one in the area. The only real qualification to be a king was the support of the local warrior/noble class, from a family with a history of kingship and be physically flawless, i.e. no disabilities or disfigurements. Some supernatural powers were associated with kings such as the ability to magically perceive the truth in legal matters. In real life who was king changed rapidly as they were blamed and deposed for bad weather and crop failures.

The King's hall was the center of social life for the community. It tripled as his house, the townhall and the local restaurant/pub. On certain nights of the week a given entertainer would perform, but the Bard was always the headline act. The non-Bard entertainers are standard medieval fare: Jesters, Jugglers, Professional farters, singers and so on.

For an RPG though the main attraction is the King's hall is where mythic tales often start. Some wierd guest comes to the king's house and ends up being a Sidhe or a druid and binds the heroes into quest himself or else they must quest to stop some diabolical plan set in motion by their visit.

The book leaves it out but Kings were expected to do some pretty mad stuff. Inauguration could involve taking some heavy drugs and running around naked, bathing in slaughtered horse blood to absorb their mystic power. Possibly even "consummate" his bond with the kingdom by having sex with the ground.

Nobles:
The Nobility are described as Warriors and a direct comparison is made to King Arthur's Knights of the Round Table. This involves going on epic quests, raids, guarding his king's fortress, also being his buddies and a generally having a good time. They also had farmsteads and commoner farmers as their vassals. Aside from the epic quests bit this was basically their status historically.

Welsh noble minis:
mrm_dkl_bry_gwy_inf_206_000_01_large.jpg


Sacred Professions:
The sacred professions get a quick description and it's mostly what you would expect. Bards maintain their King's reputation, tell stories and recite epics at feasts and have a secret language. Druids and Judges get more detail in their own sections on law and magic. In real life of course the Druid fell out of the nobility around the 7th century and was demoted to a craftsman. The game keeps them noble.

Bardic School ruins:
DeJm9LxXcAIw25A.jpg

Farmers and Craftsmen:
These get no description.

Peasants, Non-people and Slaves:
Peasants and Slaves are just described as being there. Again in a proper historical game they would be fleshed out as personally I think many of the peasant and slave classes we see in historical documents make for the more interesting stories. We have examples of men washing up on shore from a strange land, escaped from another kingdom after violently murdering tens of people, even just being found in the woods covered in blood. They enter the non-people or slave class, but end up marrying a noble woman. So they enter a weird position of nobility completely at their wife's mercy with nobody really knowing their past.
In a mythic game though they just don't exist except as background since myths were by and for nobility.

Law:
Celtic law was complex to say the least and in the Welsh case kept obscure and secret on purpose. The book keeps it simple, focusing on the two points most relevant for play.

First everybody has an "Honour Price". This is basically how expensive it is to commit crimes against you. For any transgression up to and including rape and murder a person must pay some multiple of your honour price. The higher in rank you are the bigger your honour price. So a commoner hitting a king was prevented largely because he couldn't afford it rather than the social taboo/unthinkable nature of it in fuedal socieites in the rest of Europe.

Secondly outside your kingdom you had no legal rights.

The book phrases the law quite well as saying it was "personal" and monetary. It all concerned paying for transgressions or theft and regulating disputes about what level of payement was appropriate. There was no punishment for crimes outside of paying up.
It doesn't mention what happens if you couldn't aside from banishment. Again this is the only one that occurs in stories and suits an RPG for the same reason it suited myth: the PC survives and can return. In real life there were more gruesome permanent punishments, e.g. starving to death up to your neck in filth if it was a major payment.

The Old Welsh law text Cyfraith Hywel:
Laws_of_Hywel_Dda_(f.1.v)_King_Hywel.jpg

and a little Welsh judge:
Laws_of_Hywel_Dda_(f.4.r)_Judge_cropped.jpg

Typical game:
I think at this point the basic set up of a game is clear. PCs are Nobility. Either established or still learning their role of Lord, Bard, etc. After a visit from a Sidhe who promises retribution for some obscure transgression the PCs head into the alien world outside their local kingdom. To kill the Sidhe or find something it wants.

They travel through other kingdoms where they are no better than criminals, facing suspicion and hostility. However they often get lost along the way passing into mythic realms and having time distort around them as the untamed wilderness is still the home of sleeping divine powers. In very reductive terms a Hexcrawl where the PCs will certainly get lost and any hex could be an above ground open air "dungeon" full of mythic creatures and sapient animals. Non-dungeon hexes would be homesteads of farmers who would be ready to fight and probably sent a son/daughter off to get help.
 
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Séadna

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Warfare:
This is divided into three forms of combat. Single Combat, Cattle Raids and large scale War. We'll get to weapons and combat rules later so all it mentions here is the social conventions involved.

Single combat is basically a duel will fairly plain weapons like a single sword with no shield. It also mentions the Monkey Island style insult trading that proceeded the actual combat itself. Wars themselves could be resolved by single combat between the kings such as when Pryderi challenges Gwydion in the Magobinian. One thing to add to the book is that these single combats were often duals between people who lived in the same area to resolve some dispute, boast or legal matter. Usually they weren't lethal and might have involved simple wrestling.

Next is Cattle Raiding, certainly the most common kind of warfare historically. The king and his warriors charge into another kingdom and steal livestock, especially cattle. The raid might have also involved simply wrecking a piece of property as part of some ongoing fued. Ultimately this often lead to generations long back and forth raids with nobody gaining the upper hand and to be honest often not wanting to since the fun of the raid was the point. In his "The Normans in South Wales, 1070–1171" L. H. Nelson puts it well:
The Norman military machine was composed of specialized, full-time mounted men . . . The Welsh military machine was, accordingly, a loosely organized, part-time infantry force primarily designed to pursue feuds, and to engage in cattle raiding and looting expeditions . . . the Welsh army was not the sort of organized field force which could be crushed in regular campaigns
For this reason when we get to actual wars they are little more than a mass cattle raid. There is no real sense of strategy or large scale campaign planning. In fact this was often considered cowardly for strategy might require attacking a foe's weak spots which was "unsporting". If it was a particularly violent war the warriors would literally go around collecting the heads of their enemies. Mounting them to spikes or tying them around their belt.

I think the best account of how the Celts conducted war is given in "War and Society in Medieval Wales, 633-1283: Welsh Military Institutions" by Sean Davies. Although the details above are sufficient for the average game not seeking greater historical fidelity. In a typical game combat will be 1-on-1 or small group melees and with a mythic focus almost exclusively the former. We'll see in the combat section that armour was rarely used. More clothing that made you look rich or even sexy. A king or very wealthy noble might have a breast plate or use a chariot on a raid, but these often have weaknesses from being overly ornate.

Méibh and her army come upon their bodies later:

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Religion:
The book has a long section on Celtic religion given its setting being the mythic pagan past. There is plenty one could do here as the tales themselves show a very incoherent attitude to pagan myths.

One can attempt to reconstruct what Celtic religion was actually like from Gaulish and very old Irish and Welsh sources. You could just go with the fantasy version of the religion that Christian monks came up with, e.g. ironically Druids are more powerful in their later Christian depiction. It could also receive a light touch with virtually no gods or religious practices outside of the Gods appearing occasionally as mysterious and powerful strangers who don't give their names and can't be directly looked at.
Disguised as her chambermaid, she describes how Méibh's husband Ailill is richer. Méibh infuriated at this begins a war to steal the most valuable animal in Ireland. The divine brown bull of Cúailgne.

20200426_133436.jpg

The book here takes the first approach, i.e. reconstruct the actual religion. To some extent I will say this goes against the feel of the actual myths. In stories we have the Celtic gods are described as neither angels nor demons but something that "came before" fading in the light of approaching Christianity. They are hybrid entities. Sometimes they are gods, sometimes simply ancient humans who gained enough esoteric knowledge to remain immortal and powerful and in many cases both in the same story with the understanding that both are simultaneously true. So having them as out and out Gods like Zeus removes part of the "fading away" feel of the myths.

20200426_133345.jpg

In general this is the section where the book shows its age the most. In the more than twenty years since it was written we now know much more about Celtic religious practice. However in a wise move the book lists what it calls "The Old Gods" which are meant to be the gods heroes worship in practice. These include:
  1. Tribal Father God
  2. Mother God
  3. Love God
  4. Animal Gods
  5. Gods of local geographic features
  6. Horse God
This is very similar to the kinds of gods worshiped by Hindus and Greeks, especially the abundance of Gods that are in essence the animating force of some significant natural feature like a river, cave or grove. Actual big named gods in the myths like the Dagda and the Morrigan are more literary figures built up in the 8th century onward and in many cases can be proven to not have been known or worshiped in the actual pagan period. So if you wish to have actual pagan religion its more authentic in a sense to just make up your own god and cults. Rituals are mainly the sacrifice of woodland animals where one can pay to have their entrails read for prophecy. More on cultic rites in the druid section.

20200426_134244.jpg

The big festivals are the Spring, May Day and the festivals marking the start and end of the Autumn harvest. The book only gives the Irish names so I've included Welsh on the right here:
Imbolc, Gwyl Fair y Canhwyllau [Spring]
Bealtaine, Calan Mai [Summer]
Lugnasa, Gŵyl Awst [Early Harvest]
Samain, Galan Gaeaf [Late Harvest]

Many of these are ultimately related to the worship of some god, e.g. Samain was a Belgian god. The seasons in Ireland are still marked by these festivals, e.g. Winter begins on November 1st after Samain/Halloween. At a high level they are all fertility feasts.
In the Summer festival is associated with massive hill fires, fertility and sex rites for conception. The Spring festival is then nine months later to coincide with the baby boom.
The two harvest festivals are the ones a campaign would focus on more. The first one involved competitive games at the King's house and is the stereotypical time when supernatural visitors show up. The Late festival is when the barriers between the world of the living and the Sidhe breakdown the most, bringing with it the most dangerous supernatural beasts.
A character probably resulting from the same kind of shape-shifting trouble making goddess as the Mór-Ríoghain, but fused with Greek characters like Circe. Was probably originally associated with the Calan Mai festival
20200426_144224.jpg

And that's Chapter 1. Next Chapter 2 on the tales themselves. I'm not going to summarise the tales outside one or two liners, but comment on the books retelling and variants since the GURPS book uses sort of the main "canonical" versions of the tales. Also how the tales are collected and interrelated.
 

Séadna

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Lesbianism is mentioned in legal documents
From the Book of Leinster Vol. 5, p. 1202:

We have the story of a king who has a woman come before him. The woman claims she hasn't had sex with a man in years. She comes before the king to use his royal-divine abilities to discover how she became pregnant.
A rough translation of her request:
"Using your divine kingly knowledge of truth, figure out who this boy's natural father is. I have no idea myself!"
The king goes quiet for a while. Then through his mystic abilities it hits him. He asks her if she has had sex with a woman recently. She confirms she has.

The king then proclaims to the court that he now knows the truth of events. The other woman had recently slept with a man and still had some of his semen. This must have impregnated the woman here in court.

He pronounces that the man himself must be sought out for child support. So righteous and objectively true is this judgement that the king becomes glowing red and emits a blast of power/steam straight into the air that shoots through the roof into the sky. This blast fortunately hits a cloud of demons who happen to be passing overhead. This burns and scatters the demons who release a priest they had caught seven years prior. They'd been tormenting him ever since as payment for doing handiwork for him (I think we're all familiar with the excellent DIY skills of demons).

The priest falls through the roof and lands in the court, thanking the king for the righteous blast that had freed him from the demons.

This is all given as an example of what a true king is capable of.
 
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Y Mab Darogan

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The family (on my mother's side) was originally from the Knoydart area, near Inverie; it was my great grandparents that settled in Nova Scotia at the beginning of the last century, and my grandmother who would still speak Gaelic quite regularly wen I was growing up, usually either a song or proverbs - sghe acted like speaking the tongue, as she called it, was imparting wisdom. I wish I'd, as a child, had the forebearance or awareness to pay more attention or copy more of it down before she passed, but my interest in culture and history didn't manifest until my adolescence.

All I really have left is some common idioms and phrases (and a few colourful curses).
Don’t know if it’s the right dialect but Duolingo has Scottish Gaelic.
 

Séadna

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Colloquial Welsh by Gareth King is often recommended. Although many I've spoken to say the older Teach Yourself Welsh edition by T.J. Rhys Jones is the best self-learning book. No doubt you've heard of them.
 

Y Mab Darogan

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Colloquial Welsh by Gareth King is often recommended. Although many I've spoken to say the older Teach Yourself Welsh edition by T.J. Rhys Jones is the best self-learning book. No doubt you've heard of them.
Heard of them but I’ve been using the I’ve been using the Julie Brake edition, Duolingo and just attended a class with a Cymraeg Dysgu tiwtor Online (very good). I’m hoping to join an ongoing evening class to complete the mynediad level.
 

Séadna

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The Tales:
This chapter is just a retelling of some of the tales. For that reason I thought it a bit better to layout and explain the mythologies and give some sources rather than just say "the book summarises the story of X, then the story of Y...". This is fairly detailed post, so if you just want reading recommendations skip to the last bit.

To avoid saying "Bards, Historians, Lawyers" all the time I'm just going to use the shorthand Profession/Professional. Note that no family was ever more than one of these. There were Bardic families, Legal Families, Historian families. Every kingdom had a couple of members of each profession. Each one had its leader for that kingdom called a professor. Often when sources say "The King's Bard" it means that kingdom's Bardic professor.

...mostly untranslated into English

20200428_224110.jpg

Who wrote the tales:
In both countries the professions often had one sibling or cousin take up the family business itself and another go on to be a priest or monk. In many cases the priest would have returned to their home kingdom after training in a monastery to take up work as the court cleric. Similarly the family member who would be the next professional often went to the monastery for a bit to learn Greco-Roman and Biblical literature and calligraphy. Some actually ended up not working in their home kingdom but the monastery. We have references in both countries to a monastery's Bard and to Lawyers working in the monastery to deal with cases were secular and canon law overlapped. This means in both countries there was a close tie between the professions and the church.

Also each of the professions often knew some of eachother's trades. A Bard could recite some legal material, a Lawyer had to know some of the classic tales. This was just part of what was viewed as a rounded education. In most kingdoms all three professions trained together for the first few years, sometimes together with the priests for Latin literature.

Despite what you often read about them being "oral" traditions, these professionals would have learned from heavy study of canonical written texts held in monasteries and we have some copies of their textbooks. For example Welsh monasteries are mentioned in a few sources as repositories of written Bardic poetry and many monasteries in Ireland held copies of the Brehon law codes for study. In short these were people with the medieval equivalent of undergraduate degrees who attended two campuses. First their own profession's campus which were often small buildings housing about fifteen people with open internal gardens and dark rooms for secluded thinking. Then a second campus at a monastery for studying written material. There were even analogues of postgraduate study necessary to qualify as a kingdom's head professional.

Redwood_Castle.jpg

Thus virtually all of these tales were written down in scriptoria in monasteries by monks or secular professionals. For both mythologies we know there were far, far more stories than we currently have. In the peasant folklore of both countries we have echoes of tales not recorded in these medieval literary works. Also the medieval tales themselves, as well as Bardic poetry, contain references and citations to other works. What we have are essentially "best of" collections. This is no different to Norse myth with the Poetic Edda preserving only vague references to a more complete framework.

20200428_224433.jpg

This is just a general warning if you ever read up on this stuff, the amount of debate over the authorship of these tales and the level of detail in these debates can be overwhelming. However in virtually every case it's just a question which branch of the professions the author came from. It can be very hard to tell today from the manuscripts the difference between a Lawyer who simply knew a lot of stories and a Bard who knew the law well considering they trained together. Similarly a monk from a Bardic family versus a Bard who knew the Bible well.

Also we have often three or more versions of the same tale and there are complex debates over whether the different versions represent regional variations or the different authors taking different liberties in their own retellings etc. Since we now have a better understanding of the Bards and their art the second option is often the most likely one. We know Bards composed stories by fleshing out the versions they had memorised from their course texts and so often the tale wasn't recited the same way in a King's court at different feasts.


Preserved in the myths are characters who were originally Celtic gods or have a god as a major source inspiration. However the full relationship between these literary figures and the Gods they might take elements from is a very complex one that I'll say a good bit more about when I get to the chapter on the Sidhe.

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Irish Myth:
Irish myth is organised into the following groups:
  1. Otherworld Cycle. A collection of tales detailing the journeys of saints and others into mystic Edenic lands.

  2. Mythological Cycle. Stories involving the race of magical beings known as the Tuatha Dé Dannan and their enemies before or early on during the arrival of mortal humans. A large chunk of this material is taken from the Book of Invasions, a church sanctioned history of the island.

  3. Ulster Cycle. The tale of the Ulaid, a group of people living in the North of the island who were probably originally invaders from Belgium or Northern France. The main tale here is the Táin, a story of a war between the Ulaid and Connacht kingdoms over the divine brown bull of Cúailgne. Most of the Ulster Cycle is taken up with tales that set the background to the Táin. Although there are some miscellaneous adventures of the Ulaid people.
  4. Fenian Cycle. The stories of Fionn Mac Cumhaill and his hunting band of brothers.

  5. Kingly Cycle. Pseudo-Histories of the earliest kings.
Most myths we know today are found in collections that were intended to preserve and replace professional educational material destroyed in Viking attacks or in books that were presented to Noble families (e.g. for a wedding). We occasionally have the original copies for use in the professional courses.

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Welsh Myth:
Welsh myth is organised into the following groups:
  1. Four Branches of the Mabinogi. A collection of four stories that occur during the early part of the king Pryderi's life. Mabinogi probably means "Youth Tales" or similar and the four branches were originally part of a large collection detailing all the events leading up to Pryderi's rule.

  2. Arthurian Cycle. This needs little introduction I think. These are either original Welsh Arthurian stories and poems or Welsh versions of French Arthurian romances.

  3. Native Tales. A very broad category that refers to every other piece of mythic material we have. The main stories here are a mythic biography of the great poet Taliesin, stories about giants, a tale about the Roman emperor Macsen Wledig which is meant to explain Britain's geopolitics and the story of the brother's Lludd and Llefelys and their fight against mystical forces affecting Lludd's kingdom. Taliesin's own poems also provide further material.
The major collection of Welsh material is the so called Mabinogion which gathers the "Four Branches of the Mabinogi" together with what were considered the best Arthurian and Native material for a collection of eleven stories in total. Although this grouping arose in the late 18th century, it wasn't a medieval way of organising them.

Most Welsh material is preserved in manuscripts commisioned by families who would have employed the Bards or were Bards themselves in the late Medieval period as the professional classes went into decline. Some are from preserved monastery copies.

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What's in a tale:
The actual origins of most of these tales is tortuously complex. They all arise out of tellings and retellings and fusions of stories over centuries, often with political meddling to support current territorial claims.

A simple example is the Táin. The high level take on the core story is that Queen Méibh of the Connacht Kingdom invades the Ulaid kingdom to steal a divine bull. The army of Ulaid cannot hold her off because they are currently under a curse. The only unaffected one, Cú Chulainn, holds off her whole army in a protracted guerilla warfare and single combat scheme until the other Ulaid warriors recover.

However originally Cú Chulainn wasn't in the Táin. He had his own cycle concerning his training with the semi-divine Scáthach and various adventures involving the Mór-Ríoghain at times. He seems to have been fused into the Táin around the 7th century simply because he was a popular character. The bulls are probably a borrowing from the Roman poet Statius’s Thebaid which the Táin echoes at points and were brought in around the 8th century. The Táin continued to be modified and expanded until the 1100s.

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The short version is that all these myths are medieval fantasy stories not pagan myths. They reflect actual pagan myth about as well as Loki in Marvel WWII stories does, sometimes less so. Just like there you have a mostly original version of older mythic characters put in a well enough remembered event, but with plenty of side characters that were made up purely for this telling and don't come from anything older. More about this in the Sidhe chapter.

On the whole Welsh myth has gone further in making a seamless tale out of the combined sources. In many cases the Irish myths don't make much sense since they might combine stories with conflicting assumptions about the protagonists. Sometimes this is on purpose as the confliucting facts served two separate contemporary political goals.

Reading:
The GURPS book contains on the Irish side a summary of the Táin from the Ulster Cycle and some of its background tales as well as some brief comments on the Fenian Cycle. On the Welsh side it gives a summary of each of the Four Branches, the stories of Lludd and Llefelys and a portion of Taliesin's biography.

For Irish myth the central thing to read is the Táin. There are two main versions of the Táin, one found in the Book of the Dun Cow and one found in the Book of Leinster. Both these books are storehouses of Bardic material intended to preserve texts lost in Viking raids. I think both Thomas Kinsella's translation and the more recent one by Ciaran Carson are very good, but I prefer Carson's. The major difference is that Carson translates only the Táin and I would say his language is closer to the grimness of the original. Kinsella brings in some of the other stories from the Ulster cycle to set up the tale. They both use the version from the Book of the Dun Cow which is less florid than the version from the Book of Leinster.

The rest of the Ulster cycle and most of the Mythological and Otherworlds cycles are available in translation in expensive volumes from the Irish Texts Society, but these are academic works. Fortunately the highlights of the Ulster and Mythological cycles are available in the volume by Jeffrey Gantz "Early Irish Myths and Sagas".
I personally think there is no proper readable translation of the Fenian or Kingly Cycles into English.

For Welsh Myth you have to start with the Mabinogion. Sioned Davies excellent translation from Oxford World's Classics is the one to head to first. It contains the Four Branches and the other seven Arthurian and Native tales. Most of Taliesin's poems are translated in the newly released "The Book of Taliesin: Poems of Warfare and Praise in an Enchanted Britain" by Williams and Lewis. However for a true treasure trove of Welsh mythic knowledge one can finally head to Will Parker's "The Four Branches of the Mabinogi". Almost every page contains knowledge you can't get elsewhere or would have to comb academic journals for and even then they wouldn't be contextualised for you. A real treasure trove!

There is a nice volume "The Mammoth Book of Celtic Myths and Legends" by Peter Ellis that retells many miscellaneous stories from the six Celtic nations. I've not said much about Scotland, The Isle of Mann, Brittany and Cornwall since the GURPS book doesn't. I'll deal with them in a post after the whole book is done.

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Séadna

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After that fairly long and academic post, the next chapter will be character generation so we get to actual mechanics.
 

TristramEvans

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Do you have a recommendation as far as the best English translation of The Táin?

edit: n/m I hadn't gotten far enough yet. Carson?

What about the Book of Invasions?
 
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Séadna

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Do you have a recommendation as far as the best English translation of The Táin?

Or the Book of Invasions?
Ciaran Carson's is the best I think for the Táin.

For the Book of Invasions R.A. Stewart Macalister's translation is the best. In five parts from the Irish Text Society, but it is quite expensive.

A condensed version of the Book of Invasions is retold in Geoffrey Keating's "The History of Ireland" Volume 1 translated by David Comyn. This is more affordable.
 

Séadna

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If anybody reads Welsh there is a nice translation of the "Four Branches of the Mabinogi" into Modern Welsh in Gwyn Thomas's "Y Mabinogi".
 

TristramEvans

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Interested to see your reading recommendations when you get the chapter on Sidhe, as they are the main source of my interest in Irish myth
 

Séadna

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Interested to see your reading recommendations when you get the chapter on Sidhe, as they are the main source of my interest in Irish myth
There'll be a quite a bit. It's probably the single most complex subject in the whole mythos.
 

Séadna

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Indeed, it's a rabbithole I've been falling down for the last 30 years, simultaneously with the Anglo-Saxon elves.
In many ways they are interwoven with many parallel features as you know. Some documents on Elizabethan folklore bring many aspects of English faeries and elves to light that one doesn't often see mentioned. I'll be talking about them as well.

Suffice it to say the Sidhe blend medieval notions of pre-fall non-Adamic peoples, pagan gods, idealisations of noble life and aesthetics and ghosts of the dead together in a way that's dizzying. The different terms (Host, Hunt, Fae) capture different aspects.

I know there are some things not present in English translations (the enormous internal oceans inside fairy forts that sometimes have Heaven on the other side) which I'll try to compress as well.
 

Séadna

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Characters:

So now we come to making your own characters. I'll break this out over a few posts. This one is the basics of making a character and the new edges and skills. At points the Tree/Letter based Druidic magic system and the Geasa system are referenced but they'll be in a later post. Being related to Sidhe is also present, but again the detailed mechanics of that come later.


GURPS:
Just a brief summary of GURPS for those who don't know it.

The basic mechanic is that when you attempt something you roll 3d6 under your modified skill or attribute. So if you have Lockpicking 19 and it's an exceptionally difficult lock giving a modifier of -8 you roll under 11.

The system is point buy, so you start with a certain number of points to build a character that depends on the power level of the campaign. You then use points to upgrade your attributes and skills.
One thing is that attributes affect the cost of skill level. So a high IQ character needs to spend less points to raise their ranking in technological skills.

Also skills are quite fine grained. For example Medicine-TL4 (TL = Tech Level) is a different skill from Medicine-TL8 to reflect that a medieval doctor might be well versed in poultices and herbs but not know how to operate an MRI. Obviously if one plans to focus on a specific setting this can be simplified down a lot.

There are advantages and disadvantages. These are like Feats and Flaws from D&D or Edges and Hindrances from Savage Worlds. Just like in Savage Worlds taking a disadvantage gives you a certain number of extra points that you can spend.

Combat is essentially the attacker rolling his skill against the defendant's "defense score". The defense score being made up from a defense skill, equipment, armour and what kind of dodging move you use. The typical case is blocking or parrying where your defense is half your skill (in shields or similar for block and in your weapon for parry) with your armour's score added.

In terms of points the typical person is 100, pulp heroes are 150-300. Superheroes reach the 500 scale and truly powerful gods reach into 1000 or over.


Character Types:
First of all the scope of the campaign is said to be at least 150 if you want a typical Celt, but probably around 500 to 1000 points for Mythic play. This means the normal people in these campaigns are at GURPS heroic levels and the PCs are in the superhero to godlike scale. Note that Thor and other Norse gods come in around the 500 point scale

We are given these character types:
  1. Bard
  2. Blacksmith
  3. Charioteer
  4. Craftsman
  5. Druid
  6. Fianna. Trained raiding band members
  7. Harper
  8. Healer
  9. Initiate. Trainee Bard
  10. King
  11. Ollave. Kingdom's head Bard, I called them "professor" above
  12. Satirist. A harper or bard who composes satires.
  13. Spearman
  14. Warrior

All of these archetypes are from the noble class except Spearman who were farmers. Bard, Ollave and Druid have special advantages and disadvantages but I'd restructure this as follows.

The book makes a historical error in saying that a Druid is the highest level of Bard. In truth they were just separate professions. I would remove some of the more Poetic skills they gain from being a Bard++ to keep them solely a Druid. Similarly a Bard is given many druid like elements such as being priest of the religion which I would remove.

I personally would add in the other sacred professions with Lawyer and Historian. I would then remove Ollave and Initiate as they are just Bards at different levels. The Ollave gains traits related to judging that I would fold into the lawyer and things like that.

I'd also probably get rid of Satirists since that was just one of a Bard's jobs. There was a kind of witch in Ireland and Wales who lived in the woods and wrote satires for a price (since it was believed poetry could enhance or curse you, see below) but these more suit an NPC and such unlicensed Satirists could be killed on sight.

IMG_20181110_232434.jpg

Suggestions are given for Skills, Advantages and Disadvantages for each archetype. These are fairly obvious, e.g. a Blacksmith should have Blacksmith TL2 or a Bard should have Bardic Lore so I won't bother repeating them. One interesting point is that a Bard doesn't need to be too high in the Bard skill. This is because the Bard skill is a GURPS generic skill for being good at spoken performances where as an actual Celtic Bard often hired somebody else to recite their work. Recitation and performing were beneath them except as the major event directly for the king and we have contemporary evidence that they were very dry and boring performers.

Each archetype is given a geasa that is something they either can never do or must do. The "must do" form is more common in myths. Generally it will be related to one's craft and have started as a mild habit like a Bard composing a song in the morning gets to the point where he must compose a morning song or face supernatural punishment. The actual system for Geasa comes later.

IMG_20181110_232440.jpg

Advantages and Disadvantages:


The game lists the following basic GURPS advantages as important:
  1. Allies
  2. Ally Group
  3. Clerical Investment
  4. Eidetic Memory
  5. Literacy
  6. Magical Aptitude(Magery)
  7. Patron
  8. Reputation

Allies is mainly for warriors to have a charioteer of 100 points working for them. Ally Group is to reflect a King's relationship to his noble warriors, with Patron the reverse. Clerical Investment simply reflects the social advantages of being a Priest, the aspects that can't be captured in the skills. Literacy is either in the Greek, Latin or native Ogham scripts. Magery is required for high level spells accessible to Druids and Ollaves.

The following basic GURPS disadvantages are given:
  1. Addiction
  2. Berserk
  3. Code of Honour
  4. Compulsive Behaviour(Generous)
  5. Delusions
  6. Miserliness
  7. Odius Personal Habit (Arcane or Poison tongue)
  8. On the Edge, Secret(No Honour)
  9. Social Stigma(Druid's Ban)
  10. Youth
These are all common character traits in the myths. Miserliness is a disadvantage due to Celtic society's emphasis on being generous. The same emphasis can lead to somebody being too generous hence Compulsive Behaviour(Generous). Social Stigma (Druid's Ban) means one is outside the law and thus others need not feed you and can kill you without retribution.

Code of Honour is the most detailed one and can be either the general Celtic code or the Fianna code. The general one means you have to uphold truthfulness, hospitality and revenge for family members. In Celtic myth it is morally right to keep to these, but they always lead a hero into trouble. The Fianna code is odd and complicated matching the actual Fianna code from myth:
  1. Should you wish to be a warrior, be quiet in a great man’s house, and quiet in the mountain pass.

  2. Do not beat your hound without good reason

  3. Do not accuse your wife of anything without proof.

  4. In battle, leave buffoons alone; they are just fools.

  5. Do not criticize anyone of high repute

  6. Do not get involved in brawls;

  7. Have nothing to do with madmen and wicked people.
  8. Show two-thirds of your gentleness to women, little children, and poets, and do not be violent to the common people.

  9. Do not boast, or say you will not yield what is right; it is shameful to boast if you cannot carry out your boasts.

  10. Do not forsake your lord as long as you live;

  11. Do not abandon those you are sworn to protect, for gold or any other reward.

  12. Do not abuse a clan in front of its chief, because that is not the work of a man of gentle blood.

  13. Do not gossip or tell lies; do not talk too much or criticize others;

  14. Do not stir up hostility against yourself, no matter how good a fighter you are.

  15. Do not frequent drinking houses, or make fun of old people; and leave poor people in peace.

  16. Be generous with your meat, and do not make friends with miserly people.

  17. Do not force yourself upon a chief, or cause him to say bad things about you.

  18. Keep hold of your gear; do not let go of your arms until the fight with its weapons-glitter is ended.

  19. Be more keen to give than to deny, and always be gentle.

Odius Personal Habit(Arcane) is related to the historically attested fact that Bard and Druids were hard to understand. Either due to talking in riddles or literally speaking a form of the language four or so centuries older than the current one. In both countries we have contemporary documents where king's claim they cannot understand what their Bard just said. Both languages still retain a strong memory of these with phrases like "as obtuse as a poet" and both languages still have older more difficult written forms due to Bardic influence.

IMG_20181110_232513.jpg
IMG_20181110_232523.jpg

Three setting unique advantages are given:
Sidhe Blood
Good Geasa
Natural Spell Casting.

The first two tie into their own chapters later.
Natural Spell Casting is basically the ability to cast unlearned spells/improvise spells. These are usually vaguely given like "Open the door" and the GM will look up the appropriate spell and get you to roll based on it. It's suggested that the spell be low key by default like "Get him away" should be an illusion that would misdirect not the "Teleport Other" spell.

Four unique disadvantages:
Bad Geasa
Beardless
Capricious
Pangs of Macha.

Being beardless for a man is deeply unmasculine and unattractive. Capricious is suggested for Sidhe characters. Pangs of Macha is from the tale from the Ulster Cycle where the men are cursed to feel childbirth pains. This is quite a severe disadvantage preventing you from doing anything without making a Will check and is suggested more for NPCs.

Skills:

Base GURPS skills suggested are:
Games, Language Skills, Medical Skills, Musical Instruments, Naturalist, Sports, Teamster.

It does note that in a mythic game Language Skills aren't necessary, everybody speaks the PC language fluently. Medical Skills is TL2 except at the major royal courts where it is TL3.

20200404_010643.jpg

New Skills:
Bardic Lore, Hairdressing, Herbary, Satire, Consonant Tree Lore, Vowel Tree Lore, Mixed Tree Lore.

Bardic Lore is the ability to compose and recall poems and stories, kept separate from the Bard skill to actually perform them well. Men had their hair made to look good before a fight, so Hairdressers were a big deal.

I personally would just fold Satire into Bardic Lore as a skill but keep the little curse subsystem it has. Basically because part of Bardic training involved Satires. The curse subsystem works by reciting the satire in one of the mystery spawning sites of natural wonder and if it is true and the victim fails a Will roll they break out in boils or start drooling uncontrollably or some other GM determined effect related to the satire.

The Tree Lore skills are related to the magic system.

Next: Looks, Status, Wealth and Equipment
 

AsenRG

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I won't say the aesthetic qualities women were expected to have unless somebody asks, they're a bit crude!
OK, I'm asking officially now!
For comparison purposes, if you're wondering. A lot of the details sound quite familiar:smile:.

When I was lkiving in the US I met Americans who earnestly asked me if Canada had cities. The awareness of the outside world in that country is astoundingly low.
Might be just my mood, but I really hope you answered "only towns":wink:.

That gives me an idea, that fantasy elves... being stereotypically arrogant and self-satisfied, should be generally ignorant of anything having to do with areas outside of elfland. It's not about elves, so they really don't care... and are prone to ignorant questions and assumptions.
I've been playing them like this ages ago...along with a few more drawbacks, like being universally disliked!
Then I simply stopped running games that had them as a playable race. But overall, @Tulpa Girl had it right:grin:!
 

Séadna

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OK, I'm asking officially now!
For comparison purposes, if you're wondering. A lot of the details sound quite familiar:smile:.
Similar to men to some degree (see post coming soon) with pale skin (especially emphasised for the breasts) and very blonde or brown-black hair. The eyebrows had to be quite dark in contrast to the skin.

However the other thing mentioned is powerful vaginal muscles.
 

AsenRG

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Similar to men to some degree (see post coming soon) with pale skin (especially emphasised for the breasts) and very blonde or brown-black hair. The eyebrows had to be quite dark in contrast to the skin.

However the other thing mentioned is powerful vaginal muscles.
Makes total sense:thumbsup:!

Also, huh, that's also...familiar from elsewhere requirements (except the last isn't mentioned). Go figure!
 

TristramEvans

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Similar to men to some degree (see post coming soon) with pale skin (especially emphasised for the breasts) and very blonde or brown-black hair. The eyebrows had to be quite dark in contrast to the skin.

However the other thing mentioned is powerful vaginal muscles.

What's gaelic for keggles?
 

Séadna

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Characters Continued:

GURPS Damage:
Relevant for the end of the post. GURPS damage is always in d6. For low-tech melee weapons like a sword damage is based more on your own strength than the weapon. You strength gives "Swing" and "Thrust" damage dice for melee and ranged weapons and the ones from Celtic Myth basically add a +1 to +3 to this score.

Weapons often have special properties like "impale" or "cutting" that let it say ignore 50% of armour or other things.

Appearance:
There's a small section on appearance and attractiveness mentioning the ideals of being pale-skinned, blue-eyed and tall. There are two parallel beautiful hair colours blonde or dark brown to black. The book says dark brown only, but from most tales I've read black seems to be equally common.
The book doesn't mention it but men were meant to have long luscious hair in most cases.

oisín.jpg

Money:
The book uses dollars to represent prices in line with the rest of GURPS. It does mention that $250 in GURPS money is in-game the historical sét. The historical sét was a very odd intuitive unit of currency as it meant "the value of a cow kinded animal". A Lawyer would have determined the relative type of cow or bull for the appropriate situation thus ten sét could vary wildly in value depending on if it was ten milch cows or ten heifers. The sét the GURPS book mentions is the one for a three year old heifer.

Comparing with actual Brehon law and fixing the $250 to be the value of a three year old heifer the GURPS prices are all very accurate. A milch cow is twice the price of a heifer at $500 as matches the law texts. I've checked for weapons as well and it seems the authors were pretty careful about this. The only funny things is that the given price for a sheep is $150 which would have been true only of a very high quality sheep.

The book doesn't have this but if you are playing in Wales then the in-game unit is a Ceiniog worth $6 in GURPS terms. (This took a bit of work and cross comparing of Irish and Welsh law, but it should be correct)

Bit of myth busting. The book doesn't mention this but there was a unit called a cumhal which would have been $1500 in GURPS terms. This is also one of the names for a female slave. We know from contemporary documents that the currency unit was the primary meaning as contemporary accounts have Lawyers explaining that cumhal came about as a female slaves nickname as they exactly matched the unit in value.
This currency-female slave connection has lead to some "imaginative" stuff from what I've seen on RPG and Fantasy forums. Suffice it to say this was a slave that helped a nobel's wife with housework, only a noble could afford one. There was also a fairly extensive set of laws that dealt with their fair treatments, as there was for male slaves.

We're given a price list for common items and weapons, as well as the monthly upkeep cost for the lifestyle of a typical character. This ranges from $20 for a slave to $5,000 for a king and incalculable for powerful Sidhe. A PC should start in the $1500 range being a Noble and spending about half of this on adventuring equipment.

DBKZILDXUAAZ58N.jpg

Names:
Short section mentioning that most characters are named:
[Personal Name] [son/daughter/descendant of] [Father, sometimes Mother]

It gives the usual "Mac/Mag" for Irish and "ap" for Welsh for the "son of" meaning. There's also Irish "Nic" and Welsh "ferch" for "daughter of". Irish additionally has Ua or Ó for "male descendant" and "Ní" for "female descendant".

This will work for Welsh easily enough, but unfortunately you sort of have to know Irish grammar to form the surname correctly so I'd just say it in English: "Finn son of Bres".

It also mentions "Mong" for daughter but this wasn't actually a term for a daughter but for "locks/long curly hair". It probably comes from the confusing names of some female characters where they are called "[X] Mong [Colour]" and the colour is also in their father's name. Like "Red Hugh" and his daughter "Macha Red Locks" (Macha Mong Ruadh)

Some example names are then given.

Status Table:
There is a table giving the status rank for each character type. Ranging from -4 to 8. In GURPS status is used in reaction rolls as a modifier, a reaction roll itself being used to determine the disposition of a new NPC to a PC. The table also gives the money required to retain that status as mentioned above. If you don't have an Honour Code your status is -3 from your social class's default.

(Should have English closed caption)

Jobs and Income:
A table is given for typical incomes for the various jobs, with a note that money cannot be saved as in other settings as income is recieved in perishable/temporary items like food, drink and entertainment.
In GURPS one rolls on your Job's table to see how you do that month, a critical failure might get you fired.

Here in GURPS: Celtic Myth a critical success might net you a valuable gift from your employer like a special cloak. A critical failure might see you outcast from the community. It can also see you receive damage, usually in combat oriented careers, from attacks while on guard and so on.

A nice thing it points out is that in parts of Britain near previously Roman cities there was a coin economy, so there you could save.

Weapons:
This is kept short as we know Celts didn't sport a broad array of weaponry. We're given an iron or bronze broadsword, spears, slings and knives. A sling is mainly a hunting weapon though.

It does include two cool notes. The first is the very common motif of a sword bending in battle and the hero straightening it. The system given is that the sword bends on 4 or more points of basic damage. Fighting with a bent sword is at -4 and you only use half your skill. To straighten it you have to use a second to stand on it and a round to prep it again. However you can also do what the characters from myth do and straighten it with your teeth and save on prep time for a risk of 1d6 - 2 damage!

It also mentions a special type of spear: the Gae Bolga (Belly Spear). This was a rare weapon reserved for the best warriors, a spear with a spiral drill on its head. Barbs pointing backwards hung from the head whose purpose was to rip out as much flesh as possible when one tried to remove the spear. We know that Celtic warriors had training to anally impale an opponent with this weapon, so this is a very gruesome attack. It does 3d6 damage, but I would move this up to 4d6 when used anally (probably the strangest sentence I've ever written on the Pub!).

Weapons Table.jpg

Armour:
Celts didn't wear armour usually. Upper class fighters may have had a helmet. Very rarely a king might have had mail shirts, but this was so rare that I probably wouldn't include it by default. The book sensibly says to have such a shirt requires a 10-point Unusual Background to explain it.

The only common defenses were wooden shields. Either small and round or long shields painted with some symbol to identify the wielder. Mechanically there is nothing special about these and one uses GURPS small or big medieval shield stats.

Equipment:
Chapter closes out with some common item and livestock prices. Nothing shocking here.

So that's it for Chapter Three!
Next: The Sidhe!
 

Voros

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Is there a pronunciation guide? Love the look and sound of Welsh but have no idea how to pronunce any of it. My main exposure to the Welsh language has been through the psychedelic pop of The Super Furry Animals.
 

Séadna

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Is there a pronunciation guide? Love the look and sound of Welsh but have no idea how to pronunce any of it. My main exposure to the Welsh language has been through the psychedelic pop of The Super Furry Animals.
Here's the one from the GURPS book:
WelshGURPS.jpg

Here's a much more detailed one from T.J. Rhys Jones's "Teach Yourself Welsh":
Welsh.jpg
Welsh2.jpg
Welsh3.jpg
 

Y Mab Darogan

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Is there a pronunciation guide? Love the look and sound of Welsh but have no idea how to pronunce any of it. My main exposure to the Welsh language has been through the psychedelic pop of The Super Furry Animals.
It’s phonetic so once you know the sounds it’s hard to get the words wrong. Séadna posted a guide with the second link that is excellent.
 
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