Who would win in a fight between all of the pilgrims in Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales”? I asked that question a while ago, and went through a lot of research to find out. You’ll see the results of the fight eventually, but first, here’s the setup information you need.
Who would win in a fight? This question has been asked about thousands of characters, either real (Muhammad Ali vs. Sonny Liston) or imaginary (James Bond vs. Jason Bourne). To answer any “who would win?” question, the answerer must consider the personality of those involved. Would Superman’s moral code prevent him from killing Batman, giving his opponent enough time for an effective counterattack? Would Hitler have won WWII if his overconfidence didn’t lead to a foolish invasion of the USSR? Character informs action, and therefore the actions of certain characters can reveal new depths to personality.
There’s no better way to see the personalities of Chaucer’s pilgrims on full display than to watch them all fight. The premise of this assignment is: the 27 pilgrims of The Canterbury Tales (excluding the Host but including Chaucer himself) are locked in a room together, and only one can come out alive. Who would win in a fight? To find an answer, I will take information from the general prologue and translate the details of each character into a Pathfinder (a version of Dungeons and Dragons) character sheet. The characters’ combat experience, profession, traits, and chosen stories will all turn into numbers and strategies that can be used in battle. Each character will be at level 1, and all non-medieval-society elements (like magic) will be outlawed. Then, using the Pathfinder rules, I will simulate a battle between all these pilgrims, a battle decided by skill, cunning, and random dice rolls.
The heavy favorite to win this brawl is the Knight, as he has lived through many wars and possesses the best armor. However, the Knight is wont to charge into battle bravely, which can be a mistake that wiser men like The Parson or the Doctor can take advantage of. Plus, characters like the Knight and The Parson are moral, whereas an immoral character like The Shipman would have no problem forming alliances with someone like the Monk before stabbing him in the back. Will the Miller’s brute strength overcome the Yeoman’s archery skills? Which church official’s ill-gotten wealth was used on the best weapons? And how badly will Chaucer’s narrator lose the fight? I will record whatever plays out, and then extrapolate from the results who won the fight and who should have won the fight.
The only difficulty I forsee in this project is keeping the paper under 5 pages. Perhaps I can send both an abridged copy talking about the process and then all my notes/character sheets as the project itself.
This fight will be simulated using Pathfinder rules. All the information about Pathfinder can be found at http://www.d20pfsrd.com, but I’ll go over some of the basics here.
Pathfinder is a game where most actions are decided by the roll of a 20-sided die. The higher one rolls, the better one succeeds at a given task. Bonus and penalties may be added and subtracted to the roll depending on a character. For example, say the Friar wants to lie to someone. He’d roll a d20 to see how well he does; the higher he rolls, the more likely his lie will be believed. He has a +7 for the bluff skill, so if he rolls a 13 on the die it really counts as a 20. If the Summoner tries to discern whether the Friar is lying, he gets a -1 to Wisdom and therefore to the Sense Motive skill, meaning anything he rolls counts for one less.
Combat works similarly. When attacking, a character rolls to see if they roll higher than their opponent’s AC (defense). If they do, they hit. If they don’t, they miss. Most characters will have an AC of 10 unless they have a shield or a modifying Dexterity stat.
There are 6 base attributes: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. Strength affects how good you are at hitting things, while Dexterity determines your AC and Initiative. Constitution adds to your hit points and helps for Fortitude saves. Intelligence helps for skills, and Wisdom and Charisma are self-explanatory.
During combat, each round can have characters use a move action and an attack action. Move space for most of the characters is 30 ft. per round. Rounds are supposed to count for 6 seconds in real time, although this can be stretched or compressed at the decision of the Dungeon Master (the guy running the show).
If a character rolls a natural 20 (or a 19, if some weapons say so), and then confirm the roll with another good roll, they get a critical hit. This could mean double damage or another stupendous affect of good fortune. On the opposite side of that coin, rolling a 1 followed by a bad roll means a stroke of bad luck as determined by the DM.
Two important combat terms for this battle are attack of opportunity and flanking. An attack of opportunity happens when a character tries to move past a space that an opponent can reach. If that happens, the character is not on their guard, and the opponent gets a free chance to attack. On another note, if a character is flanked, he/she receives a -2 penalty to AC for each additional person flanking them.
If a character falls below 0 hit points, they are considered unconscious and must make Fortitude Saves to keep from bleeding out. If they reach -10 hit points, they are dead. Unconscious characters can be instantly killed with one attack action from a awake character that means him/her harm.
I chose for each character a class that would most likely fit them. This helped determine their hit points and skill points. For example, the Knight was closest to the paladin in character, and thus would be considered one in an actual game of Pathfinder.
|Pilgrim||Advantages (translated into DnD terms)||Disadvantages
(translated into DnD terms)
|Hit Points||Explanations (how they’re described in the prologue)|
|Narrator||+12 for Perform (Stories), able to go by unnoticed||6||Tells the main story, doesn’t draw attention from other characters)|
|Knight||+2 Strength, +1 Dexterity, +2 wisdom, +1 Charisma, veteran of wars, starts with a longsword (+1) and shield, knowledgeable of religion, aligned with Squire and Yeoman.||10 (also won’t fall unconscious when in negative hit points due to combat experience)||Strong, has survived many battles, well-liked, brave, Christian|
|Squire||+1 Strength, +1 Dexterity, +2 Intelligence, +3 Charisma +5 Perform (flute), +5 Perform (singing), +3 Ride, carries short sword (+1), aligned with Knight and Yeoman||-1 Wisdom, will do anything a woman tells him to do, eager to prove himself||10||Sings, plays flute, rides well, knight in training, educated, agile, strong, spends nights awake, a bit egotistical|
|Yeoman||+2 Strength, +4 Dexterity, +2 Constitution, carries Longbow and Dagger (+5 and +3 respectively), arrows have +1 bonus, +3 Handle Animal, +3 Knowledge (Nature), +1 Profession (Attendant), +2 Survival, aligned with Knight and Squire||-1 Wisdom||15||Expert woodsman, strong, loyal, sturdy build, arrows perfectly made, excellent shot with bow and arrow, too concerned with appearance.|
|Nun||+1 Intelligence, +2 Charisma, +4 Diplomacy, +3 Nobility, Speaks French||-1 Wisdom, trained for court instead of survival||6||Speaks French, courteous and friendly, emphasis on appearance, over dramatic, would rather be a lady in court|
|Monk||Has 3 greyhounds to fight by his side, carries a hunting crossbow (+3), +3 Dexterity, +1 Charisma, +3 Handle Animal, +2 Knowledge (Nature), +8 Ride||-1 Constitution, -1 Wisdom||7||Great hunter and ride, owns greyhounds, loves hunting, personable, worldly and breaks religious vows, fat|
|Friar||+2 Intelligence, +3 Charisma, +7 Bluff, +4 Knowledge (Local), +5 Perform (Sing), +2 Profession (Friar)||Values Money Too Much||8||Good at getting money, cunning, knows local bars, good singing voice,|
|Merchant||+2 Intelligence, +6 Appraise, +6 Profession (Merchant), respected by other pilgrims||-2 Wisdom||6||In debt, bad at money management, knowledgeable businessman who knows a good bargain, respected|
|Cleric||+3 Intelligence, +4 Knowledge (arcana, geography, history, local, nobility, religion)||-2 Constitution, -2 Wisdom, maybe too moral for this battle||4||Very thin, spends all borrowed money on books, moral, well-educated|
|Sergeant of Law||+4 Intelligence, +2 Charisma, +9 Profession (Law), has distinction and money||-1 Wisdom, will follow whoever’s nearby||6||Less busy/wise than people thought, no original thought of his own, memorized court cases to appear intelligent (but has incredible memory),|
|Franklin||+1 Charisma, has lots of money, carries dagger (+0), +2 Knowledge (nobility)||-1 Wisdom, will give out money freely,||8||Loves worldly pleasures, wealthy|
|Each carries silver dagger (+1 attack), Profession (for each) +12, in natural alliance with each other||Concerned about appearance||8||Worthy at trades, did well professionally|
|Cook||Can use cooking tools as weapons, +4 Cooking||-1 Constitution, -1 Charisma||7||Oozing ulcer, questionable hygiene, great cook (familiar with tools)|
|Shipman||+1 Strength, +1 Constitution, +1 Wisdom, +1 Charisma, carries dagger (+2), +4 Bluff, +3 Profession (shipman), +1 Slight of Hand, good fighter, lacks morals||“take no prisoners” attitude, dishonest, weak to chances for drinking, -1 Dexterity||11||Excellent sailor, hardy, transports wine and helps self to it|
|Doctor||+2 Intelligence, +6 Heal, +6 Knowledge (local)||Loves gold, too miserly to spend money on anything that might help him in this battle||8||Skilled doctor, educated about medicine, has deals with local apothecaries|
|Wife of Bath||+3 Charisma, +1 Seamstress, +4 Knowledge (love remedies), +3 Knowledge (geography)||Vain, not prepared for combat||6||Attractive, married 5 times, wants to be first at alter, good seamstress, loves to laugh and chat|
|Parson||+3 Intelligence, +4 Wisdom, +7 Knowledge (religion)||Doesn’t have the will to fight, very poor||8||Well-educated, devout, hardworking, ideal priest|
|Plowman||+1 Strength, +1 Wisdom, +4 Knowledge (religion)||Doesn’t have the will to fight, poor||8||Lives in harmony with God/nature, still pays tithes even when poor.|
|Miller||+4 Strength, +2 Constitution, Unarmed attacks +5,||-1 Charisma, braggart||14||Big, brawny, strong enough to tear door from hinge, tells dirty stories|
|Manciple||+3 Wisdom, +5 Appraise||-1 Intelligence||6||Illiterate, shrewd, manages law school, gets great deals|
|Reeve||+2 Intelligence, +1 Wisdom, carries rusty dagger (-1), +5 Appraise, +5 Carpentry, +4 Intimidate||-1 Strength, -1 Dexterity, -2 Constitution, -2 Charisma, bad temper||6||Good at predicting weather, old, is intimidating and hated, great bargainer|
|Summoner||Aligned with Pardoner, +2 Intimidate, +2 Knowledge (Nature), +4 Sense Motive, +2 Survival||-1 Intelligence, -1 Wisdom, -2 Charisma, easily bribed||8||Face full of pimples, children afraid of him, knows little Latin but tries to pass himself as knowledgeable, loves garlic and onions|
|Pardoner||Uses sack of relics as a weapon, +3 Bluff, takes advantage of ill-fortuned||-3 Charisma||10||Most despicable of pilgrims, sells fake relics to poor people|
One final note: I’ve decided not to include the second nun or the nun’s priest because they’re not described that much in the story. I wouldn’t even be sure if they have absolutely average stats. They would get in the way of the other pilgrims if I put them in the battle, so they’ll stay out of this one.
So our fight is about to begin. The host leads the pilgrims into an inn, or at least what looks like an inn on the outside. Inside is a large 75 ft. by 140 ft. room. The Host asks the pilgrims to stand where they are standing on my ‘Round 1 Beginning Placement’ sheet (which I’ll upload soon). Then, the Host leaves, and the one door in the room locks on its own accord. The pilgrims are confused and frightened. Then, the voice of the Host booms through the room: “No man shalle leven unlesse he is the solein man that lives- God spede!” To the pilgrims, it’s as if the voice of God had spoken through His avatar. The meaning is clear- only one pilgrim will leave this room alive…
TO BE CONTINUED…
Follow my blog so you can be there when this fight starts!
Edit: It begins!