Instant and Meanders

Instant and Meanders

I've just received a copy of Avant Charlemagne, a 1986 french role-playing game set in Western Europe right before Charlemagne.

This post is not a review of that game, but a translation of its foreword. It's a text from Gérard Klein, probably a commentary of Frank Herbert's Dune.

Interesting eras are the ones about which we believe we don't know much. History there seems like a game because out of its fuzzy weft, anything could emerge.

All in all, there are two interesting historical situations from the point of view of a gamer. There is the decisive instant, Marathon, Trasimene, Poitiers, Lepanto, Waterloo, Stalingrad, Arrakis, where, after an instant of suspense between forces presumed to be equal, a new world equilibrium is defined. Then, there is the situation of potholes and swamps, where history course divides into so many arms that it no longer seems to have any meaning or direction.

We will notice that behind the fall of the pendulum which deviated from its unstable point of equilibrium and the imperceptible movement of the water that seems to stagnate, there is the same simple force, gravity.

The first situation corresponds to strategy games, the second one suits role-playing games.

Consider, for example, the period that went from the fall of the Western Roman Empire to the reign of Charlemagne. The proud monuments of the Empire, roads, aqueducs, bridges, basilicas, palaces, amphitheatres and circuses remain almost intact, but barbarians do use them, strut there, or distrust them, foreigners to Roma's tradition and ignorant of the historical dimension the Ancients were conscious of. So many chiefs, as many strategies, history seems stuck.

The apprentice mentat often prefers situations of decision because it seems to him that, from a well-educated decision, a never written, different, history may be born in a fraction of a second. Great and concentrated forces seem to wait a move of finger to be toppled into an unknown. These forces have however their own inertia and, whatever the decision, they tend to force history into the same conduit.

The experienced mentat prefers apparently stagnant situations, where anything is possible (not only a coin toss, heads or tails) and where, with time, a patient mind may build for himself a sequence of adventures (etymologically, events that must happen, Latin advenire) that will slowly unfold across the centuries.

The modern world — that is to say our modern world and all the modern worlds before ours — was forged in this indecisive time from the 5th to the 8th century.

Préparation à la formation du mentat, Gérard Klein