The Unreliable Narrator in a Chronicle AAR
A Poorly written, completely un-researched, and badly edited short essay by Alfred Packer
In Crusader Kings (possibly in Europa Universalis as well, but my motto is “Why Research When You Can Make Up Facts” – keep this motto in mind as you read through this article), there is a long tradition of Chronicle style AARs. By “Chronicle Style” – for you Philistines unfamiliar with my made-up terminology – I mean AARs which mimic or attempt to mimic the style of Medieval Chronicles such as the anonymous and immediate The Annals of Wales and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle or the more personal and agenda driven histories such as the British History of Nennius. My personal favorite Crusader King example of this style is The Annalum Eburacorum (the AAR that got me to buy CK) An important thing to remember is that this does not need to just apply to such medieval works. Modern newpapers (and even newscasts) fill much the same function of making sense of the quite recent past.
Most of the AARs using the Chronicle seem to use the simple and honest rendering of facts as presented in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, some add the Chronicler’s personality and personal reflections to the AAR. In my “exhaustive” research, the one thing I have not seen a Chronicle do is lie.
By lie, I do not mean “Good King Bladud conquered the Lithuanians with nothing but his trusty side-kick Sancho and a Haddock,” when in fact Bladud died of intestinal worms while never stirring from his castle. No, what I mean is a Chronicler writing long after the fact and with a very clear agenda who perhaps distorts the truth in order to make a point to his contemporaries. This is a concept I find fascinating and even attempted to explore in an AAR about the Vandal Tribes, but the game went screwy. It is something I plan to try again one day.
The Unreliable Narrator, who writes with an agenda and also (often) without a complete grasp of the facts, is a staple of fiction and can be found throughout AARLand’s many fine narrative AARs. But it also has a long tradition in the Medieval Chronicles themselves. The writers of these ancient histories did not just write down history as they found it and they did not merely incorporate bad legends and heresy into their books out of naivety or laziness. No, they often slandered Kings and Prelates, lied about origins of whole peoples and blatantly distorted and subverted History quite deliberately and in pursuit of personal goals.
Now, imagine that you have completed a game of Crusader Kings or Europa Universalis (or even Vicky and Hearts of Iron – History Books and Newspapers have not stopped distorting the past in pursuit of agendas) and you are sitting down to write your AAR. Unless you are a talented fiction writer (and there are many of you in AARLand), you are probably not going to dive into a narrative AAR. You will instead probably go for a Chronicle or History Book style. This is a great idea. These are fun to read and write. I have a modest suggestion for you: when you write your AAR, do it from a specific perspective. Did you just play a game as the Norman King of England? Are you writing the Chronicle as a bitter Anglo-Saxon monk living in the south of Wales? How gloriously is that monk going to write about the successes of the Norman Marcher Lords? How much will he crow when the Norman King is excommunicated or dies of Leprosy? What about your King with a negative piety who regularly suppresses the church in favor of the burghers and nobles?
What if you are writing as a socialist clerk pop? Are you writing an underground paper which would get you hanged if caught? How will the conquest of Ethiopia or the Congo be seen by this Chronicler? You don’t need to write as a shaper of history to have a take on it. You could even do dueling Chronicles (The Free French Underground might report on the sack of Leningrad very differently than, say The Hitler Press).
While such an AAR can be an end in itself, it could even be a spring-board to writing narratives, for now you have some practice as writing “in character” and some practice and experience looking at events from other perspectives.
This style also seems like a nice solution to issues of “that’s been done better already by others,” something I tend to be victim of. For example, who can write a Byzantine AAR without self-consciously comparing themselves to VILenin or General_BT (among others)? I have never played as Byzantium for just this reason, but maybe I could produce an AAR as a latter day Procopius, producing another bitter and bile-filled secret history of the Imperial family (and, indeed, maybe I will). It is entirely probable that such AARs have been produced before. If they have, I would heartily recommend someone less lazy than myself should look them up and post them or bump them. Even better, someone should sit down at a keyboard and produce new ones.
(if there is enough interest, for the next issue or even for this one I can produce a comparison of King Arthur’s treatment at the hands of Medieval Chroniclers to illustrate unreliable narrators in action)
Alfred Packer is the author of The Adventures of the Crovan Clan 2: The World Is Way Too Much