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Marcher Wassail, Autumn Equinox 378YE


Tried and trusted traditions bind the folk together and give a context to their lives. Traditions such as hue and cry, rough music, shunning, shriving, beating the bounds and the wicker man are all part of a system that has worked to make the Marches strong for centuries. Several of these traditions have their roots in necessity - when times are hard, people who act against the interests of their neighbours endanger the entire community. These traditions help to maintain the cohesion of a community, and lay down punishments for those who act against the communal good.

Hue and cry

The Marcher attitude of taking matters in hand is the basis of the hue and cry, the old tradition of law enforcement in the Marches that still endures. Any Marcher who witnesses a crime can raise a hue and cry. All able-bodied people, upon hearing the shouts, are expected to assist in the pursuit until the felon is apprehended. In the pre-Imperial past, the hue and cry would often result in summary justice for a criminal, which occasionally lead to innocent people receiving harsh punishments. Today, suspects are turned over to Imperial magistrates to judge. The readiness of the Marchers to defend the common good derives from their belief in doing the right thing and their pride that they are up to the task of getting it done.


Those who persist in ignoring Marcher traditions may end up subject to Shunning. Individuals who are shunned are effectively cast out of society. They are turned out of their household and find every door closed in their face. Helping or in some cases even acknowledging someone who has been shunned can result in the offender being shunned in turn. Shunning may last for a week, a season, a year or even indefinitely. The extent of the punishment depends on who is enacting it – one family may shun another and anyone who helps them, or an entire household or town might shun someone and encourage all their allies to do the same. Many individuals who are shunned are forced to leave the area.

Children are never shunned. Until someone has passed their test of adulthood, they may be punished by their parents but they are not considered mature or responsible enough to gain any benefit from being shunned. Adults who suggest shunning children are considered to be idiots.

You listen to me young Alice. You're of age now, so you're old enough to come with us, but you better have a care to be doing exactly what we told ya or there will be more trouble than you've ever seen. Firstly, the music stops once we get there. Has to - otherwise nobody'll be able to hear what the beater's got to say. And most imporant of all, nobody goes in their house, and if they run off, no damn fool goes chasing after them. And nobody, but nobody lays a hand on them... or else. That's how rough music turns into bloody murder - and that's not what this is about. We're going down to their Common to show Green Cobb how pissing furious we are, not to start the next Cousin's War. You got all that? Right - grab your pans and lets be off...

Ann Beater

Rough Music

  • Rough music is only used on Imperial institutions like the Senate or large national groups like a national council, shunning is used for anything smaller
  • You must get a referee to accompany you before the rough music begins
  • It starts with an energetic procession that moves through Anvil and ends within a minute or two of arriving at the destination
  • The Marcher tradition incorporates three golden rules to prevent bloodshed if things get out of hand
    • Everyone involved must stay well back, nobody is allowed to get close enough to start a fight
    • The music stops outside the culprit's building or tent, nobody is ever allowed to go inside
    • Everyone makes sure that the wrongdoers have a clear route to flee if they want to, nobody is allowed to go after them
When the Marchers are angry, they do not keep their anger to themselves - they share it with everyone.
The rough music is a particularly egalitarian form of punishment.

Those who break Marcher traditions are often called out publicly. Unlike shunning, however, rough music targets a group of people who have offended their neighbours rather than an individual. Within the Marches, one village will often use rough music against the next village along if they get caught cheating at foot-the-ball. At Anvil Marchers reserve rough music for institutions like the Imperial Senate and the Military Council or large national groups or bodies like the Brands Council in Navarr. If a lone individual or small group are responsible for breaking traditions or causing upset, then shunning used instead if a demonstration needs to be made.

Be Dramatic - Not Punitive or Intimidating

Rough music is not a license to break the conduct rules for roleplaying conflict. Everyone who attends Empire must take reasonable steps to ensure that nobody is out-of-character physically intimidated by your roleplaying in a dramatic confrontation. Avoid in-character confrontations where there is out-of-character animosity, or when you are angry out-of-character for any reason. The new version of rough music is designed to lets players produce a dramatic scene that ends with a climactic confrontation, without breaking the conduct rules.

The in-character goal of rough music is to demonstrate the depth of feeling, to show how outraged people are and to highlight the offenders' actions to everyone. The out-of-character goal is to make a big dramatic scene that creates an impact and draws attention to the cool things the perpetrators have done.

At its simplest, rough music is simply a group of Marchers bringing a lot of noise to the house of the folks they're punishing. Rough music is a peculiarly egalitarian punishment. The more Marchers agree with the punishment, the louder it is. The more serious they deem the transgression, the more effort is made in preparation. The more outraged the people are by the behaviour of the targets, the more theatrical the presentation. It usually ends with a formal shaming of the people involved - everyone in the mob stops making a noise, then someone loudly declaims what offences have been committed - and then everyone turns their back and walks away in silence.

While the perception is that it rarely has any sort of formality to it, a proper rough music is generally an organised undertaking. (OOC Note: You must get a referee before the rough music starts). It starts with a procession, folks get together, agree what they're going to do and then start to march towards their target while making a hullabaloo. The precise nature of the "music" varies across the Marches, but it is always noisy. The racket may just be chanting, or it may involve drumming, rattles, bells, hooting, and improvised instruments such as pots and pans. Sometimes, the wrongdoers are presented in effigy, and at its most sophisticated the targets are shamed by theatrical performance or puppetry.

Whatever the format, the procession inexorably proceeds towards the target, although the route can be circuitous if folks are angry enough. The rough music will continue the whole time they march, culminating in a great crescendo once they arrive at their destination. The finale will continue for a few minutes at most but stops if the culprits have the courage to come out and face the mob. Once there is quiet someone, usually a respected beater or whoever has the loudest voice, will be pushed forward by the crowd to recite whatever transgressions have roused the anger. It is foolish in the extreme to try and interrupt whoever is presenting the mob's demands since that only invites the rough music to start up again. Once the denunciation is delivered, the crowd will turn their back and walk away in silence - ideally just as the offenders are trying to rebut the accusations.

There are three golden rules for rough music that sensible Marchers ensure are never broken. The first is that nobody is allowed to get close enough to the culprits to in order to prevent a fight starting. The second is that nobody enters the tent or building at any point. And the third is that everyone leaves plenty of room so that the culprits can flee if they need to; those that do flee are ignored. Marchers understand that people do foolish things when they feel trapped.

These rules are set in stone because rough music can all too easily descend into violence and murder when passions are high. The goal of rough music is to demonstrate the strength of feeling, and how badly a group has offended, not to threaten or punish people and certainly not to take a life. That's a bad outcome for everyone, so sensible Marchers make sure everyone knows the three rules before they begin the march.

Rough Music and Imperial Law

Like curses, rough music does not intrinsically contravene Imperial law. However, like curses, care must be taken not to break the law while engaged in rough music, otherwise the militia will investigate and the magistrates are likely to take a dim view of the proceedings. Provided no Imperial laws are broken then there is no crime to answer for, but Marchers who enter premises where they are not welcome or who assault another character or unlawfully detain them during rough music can expect to face severe punishment.



An old Marcher tradition says that dark deeds can be mitigated through disavowing their actions and to cleanse their souls through the practice of shriving. A Marcher will often seek out a trusted friar or monk and share the onus of their wicked thoughts or unvirtuous deeds. A priest who hears a confession transfers some of the culpability for the dark deeds recounted to themselves; only an individual who is certain their soul is relatively unsullied will offer shriving.

The beating of the bounds

The beaters mark out what is Marcher and what is not, and they help the Civil Service with the recording of who is loyal to whom. The Beating of the Bounds usually takes place after the harvest is in. At this festival every Marcher marks their land, by walking around the boundary led by the beaters. Certain stones, trees or other marker points around the boundary are beaten literally, ceremonially striking them with sticks or willow wands. Market towns beat the boundaries laid out by their warrant, and individual market towners often have a second ceremony in which they beat the bounds of their shop or workplace.

The ceremony is designed to remind all of the size of the holding, but it also works to remind everyone of who is part of the community and who is outside it. On a practical level, the beating of the bounds is often preceded by the beaters ensuring that the boundary areas are safe for the upcoming ceremony, and followed by a period of maintaining and replacing whatever physical markers delineate the bounds - it is a time for repairing fences, planting hedges and the like.

Wassail with Scarecrow.jpg
Wassail, the harvest festival


After every harvest, Marcher farmers perform this traditional religious ceremony to celebrate prosperity. Wassailing varies from place to place but typically involves parading through the village singing and drinking to celebrate the health of the fields and orchards. Food and drink produced during the year is consumed or left as an offering; ale might be used to toast a barley field or a pat of butter buried in a dairy pasture. The parade is often led by the children of the village. As the yeomen go from house to house they share food and drink with their community and receive in return a taste of the food that each household has in excess from their own harvests.

At each Autumn Equinox, Marchers parade from camp to camp, singing the Wassail and sharing their home-grown produce with other nations. Although not expected, other nations often reciprocate in small token exchanges of goods that their own territories have in abundance.

Wassail songs can be found on the The Marches music page.

Burning Marches.jpg
Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant. Well sown, Ned. Well sown.

The wicker man

This is a large figure of wicker and wood, which is set alight to burn sacrifices. Ideal sacrifices are things that have been raised by mortal hands from the land such as crops and domesticated animals. These sacrifices are made to atone for acts of vice. By giving up the rewards of prosperity, and creating the need for more prosperity to replace them, the Marchers believe that they make reparation for their unvirtuous behaviour and in this way ensure that they reincarnate well in the next life.

The greatest sacrifice of all is to give up your own life. This is only ever permitted for individuals whose failure cannot otherwise be redeemed. Primarily this responsibility lies with a person whose actions cause a Marcher territory to be lost. In Marcher eyes, that individual - and everyone who worked and fought for them - is responsible for the failure. By going voluntarily to the wickerman a general or senator absolves not just their own failure but the failures of everyone who served under them. A recent example was in 349YE when former Senator Thomas Overton of the Mournwold went into the wicker man to absolve himself for his inability to keep his territory out of Jotun hands.

In Autumn 381 YE, former general of the Tusks Nedry Galest of the Cullach went to the wicker man to atone for the curses on the Mourne which had killed so many. "Only Remembered For What We Have Done", they sang as he burned.

Marcher proverb.jpg
Which precise epithet is shared with the enemy here is unclear, but context suggests a typically Marcher piece of salty wit.


Marchers are keen on mottoes and folk sayings. Many Marcher households adopt a single motto, a phrase meant to formally summarize the spirit of the group. Marchers in general make common use of proverbs, pithy pieces of folk wisdom often expressed as admonitions. Favourites can have double meanings often unnoticed to the outsider. Individuals generally pick one or two that they like or find particularly wise, but some collect dozens of sayings and employ them at every opportunity. While there are some common Marcher sayings that many people know, nobody could expect to know all of them and new ones are regularly created when a pithy comment is repeated.

Sports and games

At their best, Marcher folk relish competition. All kinds of sports and ball games are taken very seriously, to the bafflement of outsiders unfamiliar with the subtleties of rules that often only exist in oral form, depending of the regions involved. Foot-the-ball might be a simple game of five-a-side or it might be a more traditionally Marcher game with unlimited participants. Stick-and-ball might ban sticks wielded above the waist, or might, in a version much favoured by some younger Marchers, be played at head height. There is no centralised authority to define and enforce rules; it's traditional for participants to double-check their understanding of the rules before they start. Sporting competitions are sometimes used to decide serious matters or settle disputes. In some cases participation may even be part of ancient treaties between Households.

Beaters Annals for the Household of Barrowfield, Summer’s End Festival, Year of the Empire 294

"I hereby bear witness to the annual match between the allied lesser Households of Elderhowe and Youngerhowe to determine cultivation of the Old Howe orchard, as is the custom since the division of Old Howe farm between the Sons. Rules were agreed as follows:

Teams of five. First to three scores wins.

Elderhowe running from Mill Lane End, scoring at the oak by Blacksmith’s gate, John the Blacksmith counting at the oak.

Youngerhowe running from Blacksmith’s Gate, scoring at the red beech at Mill Lane End, Grey Allan counting at the red beech.

Let it be recorded that Elderhowe won by three scores to two, retaining the orchard for a fourth year. Bond of three baskets of apples, three of pears was promised to Youngerhowe for six pairs of strong hands at picking time.”

Apple Tree.jpg
The dead rest peacefully beneath the shadow of the apple trees.


Marcher dead are buried in good fertile soil, often with an apple seed or small apple sapling planted above the body. There are plenty of stories of Marchers who die far from home and who "rest uneasy in the poor soil, cold in their stony beds" as one song (The Unquiet Grave) has it. Sometimes these are little more than ghost stories, but there is some evidence that so ingrained is the desire to "sleep beneath the apple trees" that the spirits of dead Marchers may trouble friends, relatives or even random travellers until their remains are given a suitable burial.

Should an apple tree actually sprout in a graveyard, the apples are not to be gathered, but are free for the poor and desperate to eat. The wood of these graveyard orchards is said to contain some of the wisdom or knowledge of the deceased. Many Shunned individuals survive on apples taken from graveyards. There is also a common belief that for those souls who have achieved true greatness, the grave is a literal “resting place.” According to this superstition, the greatest heroes of the nation simply slumber beneath the ground, ready to defend the Marches in its darkest hour.

The lone exception to this rule is briars. There is a longstanding superstition that the magic in a briar's blood can affect the ground around where it is buried. There does seem to be a connection between the burial of briars, especially those with high lineage, and peculiar supernatural effects. Several sites across the Marches are attributed to the burial of a briar including the Bleeding Dolmen of Oddmire whose infrequent secretions are said to promote chaotic fecundity; the Fallow Field of south-western Green March where plants grow unnaturally quickly and resist all efforts to clear them; and the Poison Glen that once stood in north-eastern Birchland whose trees were sprout unwholesome fruit.

As a result, some Marcher communities refuse to allow those who manifest briar lineage to be buried nearby. In these cases, their bodies are burnt and the ashes scattered or they receive more traditional burials but in soil that is outside the Marches. There are also a rare few places where burial grounds specifically for briars are laid aside, often in land that is of no use to anyone else, or that is owned by a briar yeoman.

Very few Marcher heroes lie on the cold marble biers of the Necropolis, and those that do have a good thick layer of soil in the tomb under them.

Icons and Artistry

The iconic symbols of the Marches are those that represent the bounty of their farms, most commonly the wheatsheaf, the pig (especially the boar), and either an apple or a basket of orchard fruits. These symbols are closely associated with Prosperity, a virtue that is close to the heart of many Marcher folk. The symbol of the seed or apple and seed are both popular representations of the soul and the cycle of rebirth peculiar to the Marches - in some parts they are more popular than the labyrinth as symbols of the Way. The crow and the rat, by contrast, are both images of ill-omen and bad luck.

Gates and doors are traditionally decorated or adorned with woven bundles of grain on either side, while the hearth is ideally adorned with freshly cut flowers or blossoming branches. More than any other subject, Marcher art strives to capture the straightforward beauty found in flowers and plants, especially using pencils, charcoal, and watercolour paints. Portraiture is also common; wealthy stewards often commission respected artists to paint one or more portraits of the household, but less well-off yeoman will hang their own paintings of family members.

Further Reading

Core Brief

Additional Information