Book Review: Osprey Publishing – The Knights of the Round Table (Myths and Legends)

The Knights of the Round Table
The Knights of the Round Table is a historical mythology book, written by Daniel Mersey and published by Osprey Publishing.
By Cape Rust

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When I think back to my first impression or memories of knights, they always sat at a round table, actually they sat at The Round Table. I can remember watching Excalibur on cable several years after it was in theaters. As I grew older I learned tidbits about Arthurian Legend and realized that much of his legend is derived from even older legends and has influenced myths and legends that followed. In many of the legends in this cycle, King Arthur actually isn’t the focus, he normally shows-a-leg in the beginning of the story, but it is the Knights who end up doing most of the questing, after all he does have a kingdom to run. While Arthur is well known, many of his knights have gained a large measure of fame. The names Lancelot, Gawain, Perceval, and Tristan should resonate with many readers. This book focuses on them and other knights like them.

As the Myths and Legends series progresses, I find it interesting to see the subtle changes that occur in each book. This book was done by David Mersey and like most other books in the series it is a reflection of his passion for Arthur and his gang. While following the basic formatting of this series, this book seemed less flashy and more crunchy. It still had historical and original art, however the art seemed to take a back seat to the re-telling of the stories.

Many of the stories contained in this volume are very popular stories, stories that even an Arthur novice like myself have heard. However, Mersey’s ability to extrapolate the essence of the story from multiple sources gives them a unique and legitimate feel. Rather than just pulling from one source, it felt like Mersey pulled from three or four of the major sources and distilled the goodness of them onto the pages of this installment. None of the stories was terribly long, but all of them involved plenty of chivalry, sword fighting, maidens, love, and a surprisingly large number of horses dying and dwarfs, don’t forget those. Now these are not Tolkien dwarfs, these tend to be nasty little buggers who represent the less savory aspects of society and tend to herald outer nastiness.

One of the trends I noticed in these stories was that of mistaken Identity. It seemed to happen in almost every story and more often than not it happened when knights were not wearing their proper heraldry. Apparently no knight’s armor was distinctive enough for say their own son or brother to notice them. I understand this recurring theme was a plot device to justify why knights who were friends would fight, but when viewed from a modern lens, it became trite.

This book has special value to both GMs and players. First as a GM, there are some great adventure seeds here and, if pulled from some of the lesser known stories, should surprise most players and feel very original. Because these stories deal with loyalty to ones sovereign, there are many opportunities to test a character’s true loyalties. I found that while some of the situations seemed absurd by modern standards, they made sense back then and would make sense in an RPG. If you choose to go this route as a GM, you might be able to put your players in situations they don’t know how to handle. Many people play RPGs to lead a different life or experience situations that they wouldn’t normally encounter; this book is full of those.

As far as players go, there are great examples of how to play noble knights, paladins, or even just interesting character concepts. Even the names would be great for many characters and trying to overlay a concept of one of these characters on say a non-lawful, or non-combative type character would be a fun challenge. Chivalry in practice is much different than the concept of chivalry and many of these stories explore the nuances of it. How much fun would it be to do the same as a character? Besides, what GM wouldn’t want to have a player whose character is almost an instant quest generator?

While not as picture filled as some of the other books in the Myths and Legends series, The Knights of the Round Table is just as important and full of great information. I was happy to see that different naming conventions for some of the characters were relegated to the sidebars. It caused less confusion and was very helpful. I was also pleased to see that all of the original art used drew from the same genre of Arthurian Legend. This provided an artistic cohesion that really helped bring all of the stories together. Once again I applaud Osprey Publishing for producing a high quality product that will appeal to a wide range of audiences. There is a good representation of Arthurian Legend contained in this book and it will most likely whet the readers appetite for more Arthurian goodness, because when it comes to King Arthur, we should all be well rounded.

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