Remixing Mythology, part 5: Sources and recommendations
Author: Viktor Juhász, Lead Writer and Content Designer (or World Designer, if you like)
During the planning phase of King Arthur, we used various sources to build our game world, but first and foremost we wanted to create our own magical realm, one that had everything that made the Arthurian mythology so unique and enduring: plenty of epic battles, great adventures, fearsome heroes and villains, proud castles, and kingdoms at war.
One of the sources that had a major influence on King Arthur is the classic work of a certain gentleman called Sir Thomas Malory. Malory lived in the 15th century, and judging from the limited amount of information we have on him, he was quite a colorful character.
Sir Thomas Malory wrote the classic text on King Arthur: Le Morte d’Arthur, or The Death of Arthur. This masterpiece has all the major plot points which set the tone of the colorful Arthurian mythology: evil knights and good knights, the Holy Grail, Excalibur, the romance of Queen Guinevere and Lancelot, the rise of King Arthur and his betrayal by his illegitimate son. Even today it’s a fascinating read, and one of its greatest virtues is the portrayal of the larger-than-life heroes and their epic deeds. It has also plenty of anachronistic features (similar to our game): Malory mixes medieval Britain with a conquering Roman emperor and the Saracens on the Holy Land. We couldn’t follow the events in Malory’s book for various reasons, but we definitely wanted to capture the essence of his larger-than-life heroes. (You can read it online here.)
If you liked the atmosphere of King Arthur, you might also like some of the following works. They had no direct influence on the game during the design process, but we highly recommend these games, books and movies. We really love them, and we wanted to create something that would give our gamers had the same exciting experience that these works gave us.
There are plenty of traditional role-playing games set in a medieval fantasy world. Two really outstanding ones are Pendragon, a King Arthur-themed RPG, and the superb Ars Magica, which is set in a 12th-century, alternative (Mythic) Europe, where magic is alive and you play wizards and their mundane allies.
Excalibur is a classic fantasy movie from 1981, starring Helen Mirren and Liam Neeson. It’s a retelling of the basic Arthurian myth. It’s dark and gritty; you should watch it!
If you’d like to read more about King Arthur, you have such a wide range of opportunities that it’s difficult to imagine where to begin. Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon is a successful retelling of the Arthurian myth, as is T.H. White’s The Once and Future King.
And there are other books that that have no clear tie to the Arthurian mythology, but which are great reads and evoke the same gritty, dark atmosphere that we also love (which will be all the more evident in King Arthur 2). Among these books you might find The Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin or Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy, or even the Cormac Mac Art and Bran Mac Morn stories by Robert E. Howard, the creator of Conan the Barbarian.
William Shakespeare’ A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a must read for those who want to understand the Sidhe (as is Lords and Ladies by Sir Terry Pratchett, although I guess no one would normally place Discworld and King Arthur in the same context). Any good collection of Celtic faerie tales, or the Welsh Mabonigion should be on your reading list as well!
This series of posts presents the world-building behind King Arthur – The Role-playing Wargame and King Arthur II and the intervening supplements. This is the fifth installment. You can read the first part here, the second part here, the third part here, and the fourth part here.
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Very, very nice and inspiring post, thank you !
In France, popular knowledge of the arthurian myth often has its roots from the texts of Chrétien de Troyes (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chr%C3%A9tien_de_Troyes), more than from Mallory.
I played Pendragon and especially Ars Magica when I was younger, Boorman's Excalibur is one of my favorite films ever, and I am an avid reader of GRRMartin and Joe Abecrombie ! With so many common references, no wonder I did "connect" that much with the theme and mood of the game