Crusades

Hope springs eternal, even for hopeless crusades.

LORE

Crusades character Icon

Lasting from the 11th to the 13th century, the period known as the Crusades spreads across the core of the Medieval era, spawning the consolidation of the feudal world and the final push of Christendom in Europe. Most famously known for the invasions and wars in the Holy Land, it also included conflicts against the Muslim state of Al’Andalous in Iberia, known as the Reconquista, as well as fights against pagan people in Northern Europe and the Baltics.

The Crusades are a controversial topic, but it is fair to say these wars were far from limited to religious matters. There was land to conquer, profits to make, and prestige to win on the battlefields, may it be on the Holy Land or elsewhere. Particularly for the rulers of Crusader states such as the Kingdom of Jerusalem, it was less about spreading Christ’s influence or fighting the Saracens than making trades, maintaining diplomacy, and consolidating power. Faith was as good an excuse as any other to wage war, and it certainly managed to rile up nobles, knights, and commoners alike across Europe. But in practice, the politics of the Crusader states were pragmatic, and the neighbouring Muslim powers sometimes turned from enemies to allies and partners against Christian rivals.

Indeed, there was constant infighting and tensions between the Crusaders, divided among nationalities, dynasties, and their visions of the Crusader states.

New and overeager crusaders would often clash with local nobles who learned tolerance and compromise after years of ruling over the very diverse population of the Levant, marrying locals, and dealing with respected and magnanimous Muslim leaders such as Saladin. Various religious military orders were also wrestling for power and influence, Teutonic Knights, Knights Templar, and Knights Hospitaller often caught in internecine feuds, or throwing oil on the fire of war by their sheer zealotry.

The popular vision of the Crusades writes a narrative of a shock of civilization between the Islamic world and the Christian Europeans, but it was also a flourishing era of cultural exchange, with traders bringing back ancient and new knowledge and technologies into Europe. As it’s often the case, the reality was more nuanced than the popular tale. What remains however is a powerful and influential myth of holy warriors fighting for faith and salvation, often in foreign lands. This myth and its symbols are very influential in our modern vision of the Middle Ages, and historical fantasy in general.

Characters

The Crusades saw the ascension of religious knightly orders across Christendom, and those holy knights, battle clerics, and warrior priests became so iconic they are now synonyms with the time period. In LARP, any zealous inquisitor, dogmatic templar, or warmongering believer has some of the Crusades’ mythos influencing their play, consciously or not. But beyond those well-rooted stereotypes, the religious orders of the Crusades were also taking care of pilgrims and protecting the roads from bandit raids, or even running leper wards like the Order of Saint Lazarus.

Bringing inspiration from the Crusades into your LARP character will often mean combining faith with a martial inclination. At the time, the Crusaders’ way of giving such a militancy to faith, and such religious importance to war was pretty unique, not finding much analogue in the Muslim world outside of religious sects. It can also mean creating a flawed character fleeing from their past and current transgressions. After all, many who answered the call of the Crusades were hoping to find forgiveness for their sins, or were flat out sent away by their lords to get rid of these troublesome vassals. Redemption is an important theme in the Crusades’ mythos, and so is ambition, for many amoral knights managed to hide behind faith to fulfill their selfish agendas.

Another way to look at the Crusades is through the lens of cultural exchange and travel. A Crusader was not only a holy warrior but one that travelled far and met people of different origins and cultures. Instead of a close-minded zealot, a Crusader could be a free thinker, critical of dogmas and small-minded worldviews, and willing to befriend and learn from foreigners. This kind of vision can be the result of a long character arc, with one’s rigid mindset slowly unravelling when confronted by reality and its nuances.

Inspired by the Crusades

LARP Weapons

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LARP Armors

Metal armors, chainmails & gambeson

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Costumes

Costume inspirations for the Crusades have a few key elements. For men-at-arms, soldiers, and knights, there was no such thing as plate armor, apart from the famous helms worn by many Crusaders. Chainmail was dominant, with gambeson underneath to protect from blunt impacts. A tabard displaying coat-of-arms or the colors of one’s order was generally worn over the armor, both to display allegiance and protect the metal from the sun. Long knotted belts held everything together and made the heavy chain more comfortable to wear. Crusaders would also often burrow some clothing from the locals, mostly in an effort to adapt to the weather.

For instance, flowing scarves and wrapped headwear borrowed from desert nomads would be combined with European clothing when travelling the arid regions. Of course, the cross was prevalent and used as part of the coat-of-arms of most religious orders in a variation or another. In LARP, the symbols might not be the same, but it clearly should be visible on the tabard and accessories of a Crusader!

In terms of weapons, the Crusades occurred right in the middle of the medieval era, with the one-handed knightly sword as one of the predominant weapons. Spears, maces, and battle axes were also quite popular and formed most of the arsenal of foot soldiers. The large leaf shaped kite shield, and the smaller heather shield were both widely used, with the Crusaders often forming shield walls to fend off dangerous horse archers.