Sunday, 16 August 2015

Ganieda, Sister Of Merlin: My 150th Post

A SNES game form the 90s based on a cartoon I have absolutely no recollection of.

The story of King Arthur is a broad church.  It includes a lot of obvious stuff: The Sword in the Stone book and film, the classic fiction like Le Morte Darthur or Sir Gawaine and the Green Knight and the more famous films like Excalibur, First Knight or that one where Keira Knightly was the most RADA trained Pict I've ever seen.  Recent TV shows like Merlin and Camelot also spring to mind.

This swarm of fiction includes some more obscure examples and some weird and wonderful characters who don't always make it into other versions.  Reading Le Morte Darthur my favourite character was Sir Palomides, a character who doesn't really get a look-in when it comes to films but comes across all the cooler for being a Saracen written by medieval Christian authors as pretty cool.  The Welsh myths give us a more dark ages Arthur and some proper pagan nonsense like the Troit Boar.   In The Mists of Avalon, we take the usually villanous Morgana Le Fay and make her far more sympathetic.

And there's a version of the story set at an American high school.  Obviously.

It is The Mists of Avalon which inspired my following piece of writing on Ganieda, the sister of Merlin.  She's a bit of a sparsely written character, mentioned in 12th century writing but never making it to the "big league" books we've addressed before.  I was interested enough in reading an article about her on Timeless Myths to incorporate her in my Pendragon game where she became a noteworthy NPC.

Search her name on Google and you find a spare collection of links.  Concerningly, the top search is Timeless Myths and the second top search is my own Wiki article on her for our game.

Number six is also me posting on a forum to find out if anyone else had used her.  The answer was no.
What follows below the cut is a piece I wrote on Ganieda for The Dragons of Britain, a free King Arthur RPG fanzine by Stephanie McAlea and that I'm reprinting here as an 150th Blog Post anniversary piece.  The piece got some positive comments on the Pendragon boards, but I'd like to try and get the character out to a wider audience.  Considering how little she has appeared in Arthurian literature over the years there is the concerning possibility I am the human being who has written the most about Ganieda, ever, in the history of the universe, which is a somewhat concerning position to be in.

Anyway, please read and enjoy the piece below.  Also check out the fanzine - I wrote another article in Issue #1 and it's had a few other issues since with some good material in there.

This magazine is free on RPGNow.Com, so check it out!

Ganieda, the Sister of Merlin

An Obscure Arthurian Character, And How to Use Her in Your KAP Games

Of all the characters of the Arthurian mythos, Merlin is perhaps one of the best known.  The idea of an ancient, bearded magician who aids the king has become so ingrained in popular culture that almost all wizard stereotypes seem to come from representations of Merlin rather than anyone else - even Tolkien’s Gandalf draws some lineage through him.  Arthurian stories on screen or in prose may drop Kay, Tristram, Palomides, Lot, Ygraine or others.... but Merlin is always there: whether it's as the bombastic aide of Boorman's Excalibur, the manipulative adviser of Starz's Camelot or the philosophising teacher of White's The Sword in the Stone.

Yet Merlin is not the only spell-caster in Arthurian legends and one character in particular is noteworthy for having a connection to him: Ganieda, the sister (sometimes twin sister) of Merlin.  She appears only in some of the older Welsh stories and in Geofferey of Monmouth’s tales.  After that she vanished, probably having been absorbed into a proto-Lady of the Lake - few if any modern versions recount her existence.  But Ganieda provides excellent possibilities as an inclusion you’re your Pendragon campaign, especially if you wish to provide the possibility of a major feminine angle in the style of Marion Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon or wish to focus on Cambria.  Following my use of her in my own campaign, I present my version of her history as well as details on how she can be inserted into your games.

Even this epic encyclopaedia of Arthurian matters only mentions her briefly


Merlin's origin, as recounted in the Great Pendragon Campaign, is of the coupling of a demon and a nun whose holy actions preserved the soul of her child and allowed it to escape the role the demon may have intended.  One cannot seriously imagine a woman with child remaining in a convent, though, and so Merlin's mother was married off to remove her from the convent and ensure the safety of her son.  Merlin's mother was a daughter of a king so her marriage was to a man of some import - Sir Morfyn, an officer from Cambria.  (Monmouth calls this kingdom Demetia, which in Pendragon would equate to Estregales.)  From this marriage other children were inevitably issued, and Ganieda was the first such child.

Everyone always downplays the "son of the devil" thing
Sir Morfyn was a British Pagan and his children were raised as such.  Raised in a religion with a strong role for women, she found her mother’s recounting of Christian teachings distasteful and in particular the position of women & sex offensive.  When she grew older, Ganieda’s innate magical skill became clear and she was sent to the Ladies of the Lake for tutelage.  She quickly became known as a master of dweomers – her skill with divination eclipsing even her brother’s power.  In this period she became more opposed to Christianity, believing its male-dominated nature was bleeding into society and even into some Pagan communities.

Following her apprenticeship, Ganieda became ensconced within the court of King Leodegrance of Cameliard.  A wealthy but widowed Cambrian lord with a known lusty nature, Ganieda believed him an excellent ally she could use her feminine wiles on and as his kingdom was to be inherited by his daughter Guinevere she thought she could instruct her such as to make her the architect of her female emancipation dream.  Unfortunately internal politics in Cameliard complicated this and Guinevere was sent to a convent for education where she became a devout follower of the Christian faith that Ganieda so resented.

Ganieda found another monarch to work with, though: Monmouth recounts her as married to King Rodarch of Cumbria, which doesn’t map easily to Pendragon.  I’ve read the suggestion this is supposed to be the south of Scotland; I might choose Strangorre as the best fit here, so she could be a wife to Carados or even his father Brangore.  With a British Pagan king she finds a good match for her personal beliefs and spends her later years trying to prevent the spread of Christianity north of Hadrian’s Wall through magic and politics.  Despite her problems with Arthur’s faith she remains on good terms with the king and is happy to assist him when he needs help.

Her final fate is vague and so can be left to Gamesmaster interpretation – I would default to her dying of old age or retiring to Maidens’ Castle or similar to teach.  Since she does not interfere in the major events of the Twilight Phase we must assume she has passed away or retired beyond the reach of men by this point.

An ace picture found on Etsy

Sidebar: Queen Guinevere Pendragon

The timeline presented above has Ganieda based in Cameliard for the Uther/Anarchy phase, allowing her to serve Leodegrance as a magical assistant and be a tutor for the infant Guinevere, much as Merlin fills these roles for Uther and Arthur.  

This means that Cameliard could be an excellent place to start a Pendragon campaign rather than the usual Salisbury.  The knights will spend their early years adventuring in Cambria and Cumbria, witnessing the formation of Guinevere and the machinations of Ganieda.  Arthur will not be their rightful king but merely a noble lord who marries their lady, whom they ultimately owe fealty to before the Pendragon.

While the details of such a campaign are beyond the scope of this article but something I hope whets the appetite of those who, having completed the Great Pendragon Campaign, feel they have done “all there is to do” about King Arthur!

Adventures with Ganieda

Merlin’s birth date in the original edition of Pendragon was 454, which puts a likely birth date for Ganieda between 455 and 460.  Assuming she is born in 460, she will be 25 when the campaign begins; 35 when Uther dies; 50 when Arthur draws the sword from the stone and 63 when Merlin vanishes in 523.  This means she is best used in the early section of the campaign, though considering Merlin by no means became weaker with age there’s no reason she can’t continue to be a prodigious diviner in her later years.

Below are some ideas on how to include her in your games.

·           During Uther & Anarchy phase, Ganieda can be found in Cameliard – or accompany King Leodegrance when he travels, which may include events such as the royal marriages of the Uther Phase.  Depending on their relationship with Merlin the player knights may be sceptical of dealing with her.  Ganieda is very attractive and well-preserved for a woman of her age, and not beyond trying to seduce a knight she thinks could be of use to her.

·           If your group seeks passage into the Forest Sauvage they may wish to find a way to cope with the faerie geography that see travellers lose their way within.  Ganieda as a master diviner may be able to assist, but wishes assistance in this endeavour: the right to call the knights up for service at a future occasion say four knights service for a month.  Will they put themselves in an enchanter’s hand when they cannot know when and for what the call will come?  (Failure to follow through on the vow when requested would probably be an Honour loss, as well as putting them in a magician’s bad books.)

·           When the Anarchy phase sees internal battling between Britons, Ganieda seeks the aid of the knights to slay Druids who she says are using their magical powers to aid a rival kingdom.  (Cornwall is an obvious choice but it can be adjusted depending on the exact year and events in your campaign.)  This isn’t necessarily a lie but a bigger part of her request is their politics, which is of a more patriarchal nature than Ganieda likes – they believe the Ladies of the Lake are fine teachers but the true preaching and ritual enacting should be left to menfolk.  If these Druids have magic it is more divination or the like and they are little threat in battle, though they may be guarded by knights and those who murder them would almost certainly invoke reprisals.  Will the knights slay these men whose mystical power is great or can they not bring themselves to kill old men without swords?

The Lady Of Shallot by John William Waterhouse. Because I'm pure classy, by the way 

·           If the group are not foes of Merlin, Ganieda could seek them out to guard her outlaw brother when he returns to Britain on personal business.  (To be exact, travelling to Norgales to check up on how the young Arthur is doing.)   Uther may be dead but the king’s command remains, and some like Sir Brastias would delight in the chance to have revenge on the Archdruid.  The knights are required to protect Merlin from harm, perhaps as bodyguards or perhaps as distractions for those who pursue him.

·           One of the knights has a daughter who demonstrates innate magical ability – for extra tension, a Christian knight who may not view such gifts as blessings but a curse.  Ganieda requests the daughter be handed to her for apprenticeship and tries to groom the daughter into the same religion and politics as her own.  A male knight who hopes for a meek, gentle, chaste daughter may not be happy at the feisty woman who returns, nor of her newfound opinion that “sex is the ultimate prayer”.  Tolerating this behaviour will cause scandal and possibly a loss of Honour but disowning a daughter would be a loss to Love (Family)

·           The Beltaine fires are a fertility ritual long practiced in Pagan counties, including by some kings – but Christian men and women find it obscene.  The knights are charged by a lord to prevent the ceremony taking place in that lord’s land, standing guard on ritual spots – but Ganieda is determined that it will still occur.  Mysterious magical happenings and odd faerie creatures appear to pester the knights in an attempt to get rid of them, which could include fearsome visions they must roll Valorous to resist, wild beasts they must battle with their swords, pagan sorceries they must resist with Love (God) or fey charms that prey on their Lust.

·           The crowning of King Arthur is an affair dripping in Christian ceremony and Ganieda fears that the Bishops will use Arthur’s High King-ship to try and unite the country under one faith, forever destroying her own.  She seeks friendly Knights of the Round Table to speak to Arthur’s court and gain assurances that freedom of worship will remain a legal right – but passionate Christian knights & lords may speak against the knights, insisting that converting the country to Christianity would be a holy endeavour.  This could lead to duels or to challenges by either side to prove the worth of their argument – perhaps a tournament between Christian & Pagan knights, or a challenge whereby knights of both religions take on the same quest to see which faith triumphs.  (A monster from the Pendragon bestiary terrorising a corner of Britain is a simple but effective option.)

·           Ganieda learns of the May Babies affair and is horrified that Merlin is countenancing the act of infanticide.  She appears in court enraged and swearing revenge on her own flesh and blood – not necessarily revealing what has happened but making it clear Merlin has done something unconscionable.  A violator of hospitality must be punished, but what can one do when two arch-mages are having a family tiff?  If Ganieda is banished for her insults the knights may have to accompany her out of Logres, and keeping tabs on a spell-caster who can try to use illusion to escape your watch will be difficult – Awareness and Trusting rolls likely being involved.

Ganieda & the False Guinevere

Another older Arthurian story not featured in The Great Pendragon Campaign is that of the False Guinevere.  In the Vulgate, a character called Guinevak appears  - the Welsh Gwenhwyvach being a bit much of a mouthful more most English speakers so I have chosen the more appealing Anglicisation!  An identical half-sister of Guinevere by a different mother, the two ladies can only being distinguished by Guinevere’s distinctive crown-shaped birthmark.  For a time Guinevak convinces Arthur that he married the “wrong” sister and that she is true heir to Cameliard, forcing Guinevere to seek sanctuary with Lancelot: but eventually the deceit is revealed and normality is restored.
I know it's daft, but then, is it any dafter than a sword in an anvil in a stone?
It isn’t difficult to see why this wasn’t included in the GPC – not only is it an older story not repeated in the major collections like Le Morte Darthur, it also seem quite clich√© to modern audiences.  Identical twins seem a bit too bad-soap-opera, I agree!  And yet, part of the charm of Pendragon is taking something as well-trodden as King Arthur’s story and making it your own: and with the addition of Ganieda & her stay in Cameliard during Guinevere’s conception and childhood, this can be converted into something a bit more epic using the following structure as a guide:

  • An early visit to Cameliard may reveal that Ganieda is very close to Leodegrance, possibly including flirting with him.  However, his attention his elsewhere – on his wife, and on the wife of his seneschal whom he does not act improper towards but clearly lusts after.
  • The GPC already includes an adventure to meet the child Guinevere in Cameliard.  At the same time as introducing her, show another child at court; one who is cared for by a junior handmaiden but looks strangely similar to Guinevere.  Intrigue success will reveal the child is called Guinevak and is the daughter of Leodegrance’s seneschal, but though gossip is that she is truly the King’s bastard.
  • When encountering Ganieda the knights will find that Guinevak has been taken on as her apprentice – they may in fact not immediately realise that it is Guinevak and not Guinevere.  (This will be especially confusing to them if Guinevere has married Arthur by this point – they may wonder why their Queen is traipsing around the woods with a pagan priestess.)
  • Before the Battle of Badon, Guinevere asks Arthur to fly a different banner than normal.  Rather than his draconic coat of arms which she perceives as a pagan symbol, she asks that he fly a standard with the Virgin Mary on it.  Arthur is hesitant lest he offend his pagan allies – he needs every knight he can to beat the Saxons – but is eventually convinced into it.  Player knights may note this change and pagan ones in particular may feel slightly uncomfortable riding into what seems to be changing from a war into a crusade.
The "different banner" thing is completely nicked from The Mists of Avalon
  • After Badon and with the country unified, Guinevere presses further on the topic of the state and religion.  While Arthur (who has the Religious Knight bonus in official statistics) is Christian, it is Guinevere who comes over with crusading fever – perhaps a consequence of her convent education - and she seeks to convince the pagans to convert.  This isn’t full fire and brimstone, but she does ask how knights can serve a Christian lord without themselves being Christian, or how they can fail to convert when a blessed sword on the holy land of St Paul’s Cathedral revealed their monarch.  (Note that in Malory she is polite when she brings this up to Sir Palomides, but she still considers it appropriate to question the religion of one of her husband’s warriors!)
  • Ganieda fears the turn that Britain is taking and that Guinevere will force Arthur into making the whole isle Christian.  She concocts a plan and contacts her old apprentice Guinevak and Bertholai, a knight of Cameliard, to set it in motion.  Unbeknownst to the court, Bertholai slips a magical potion to Arthur – perhaps attacking him when he is out, more likely poisoning him while he visits Cameliard.
Have you read Camelot 3000?  It's not really relevant to this post, but it is awesome and full of Brian Bolland artwork.

  • While at court, Bertholai presents Gunievak whom he claims to be the true wife of Arthur; the true Guinevere he brands an imposter.  (Perhaps claiming a switch was done but a night or two ago.)  She may even brand Guinevere as being Guinevak and a common maid’s bastard who seeks to bewitch Arthur.  Because of the magic of Ganieda Arthur believes this and banishes Guinevere.  If they are there, how will the player knights react to this?  Arthur’s word is law but they will knows and possibly have loyalty or emotions for Guinevere.
  • The true Guinevere is sentenced to death by burning as an imposter: news of this travels the country, including to Sir Lancelot who seeks to come to her aid.  Will the player knights join him?  Will they try to talk him out of defying the king?  Who do they feel they owe loyalty to?
  • More of Arthur’s court travels to Cameliard and someone challenges Bertholai to a duel to determine the true Queen.  (This could be Lancelot, or it could be a player knight so inclined.)  If successful, God has spoken and Guinevere is proven true though Arthur is still bewitched and his curse must be lifted before he will realise he has been deceived.  A failure could be more of a problem unless you assume that this is when Lancelot intervenes, perhaps stealing away Guinevere before Arthur can be brought back to his senses.
  • If magic and Ganieda are suspected then she or another magician can be sought out to clear the curse from Arthur’s head that makes him suspect his wife and love the interloper.  A more traditional adventure can fit here as the player knights may need to hunt for magicians, tomes and ingredients to cleanse the stain of magic from Arthur.


The following statistics for Ganieda are when she’s 40 and use the Pendragon 4th Ed magical skills to quantify her magical powers.  If you don’t have this particular edition of the rules, have no fear – the whole stat block is easily used in another edition of the game, using the magical skills just a relative measure of her magical power scaled much as the regular skills.

Homeland: Estregales
Culture: Cymric
Religion: British Pagan
Age: 40
Woman’s Gift: Naturally lovable

Religious bonus
Chaste 2 / 18 Lustful
Energetic 16 / 4 Lazy
Forgiving 11 / 9 Vengeful
Generous 16 / 4 Selfish
Honest 16 / 4 Deceitful
Just 10 / 10 Arbitrary
Merciful 8 / 12 Cruel
Modest 2 / 18 Proud
Pious 10 /10 Worldly
Prudent 16 / 4 Reckless
Temperate 14 / 6 Indulgent
Trusting 8 / 12 Suspicious
Valorous 18 / 2 Cowardly

+5 Deceitful Vs Men

Loyalty (lord): 15
Love (family): 15
Hospitality: 16
Honour: 18
Love (Deity): 17

SIZ: 10
DEX: 12
STR: 8
CON: 15
Damage: 3D6
Healing Rate: 4
Movement Rate: 2
Total Hit Points: 25
Unconscious: 6

Awareness 9, Celestial Lore 14 , Chirurgery 0, Courtesy 11 , Dancing 8 , Faerie Lore 12 , First Aid 5 , Flirting 14 , Folk Lore 6 , Gaming 1 , Geomantic Lore 8 , Hunting 5 , Industry 3 , Intrigue 15 , Orate 3 , Play (Harp) 3 , Read (Runes) 5 , Recognize 3 , Religion (Pagan) 15 , Sight 17 , Singing 3 , Swimming 2

Battle 1, Horsemanship 6, Siege 6, Dagger 5

Animal Friend 11, Control Faerie Creatures 15, Dispel 7, Divination 20, Emotion 5, Glamour 17, Healing 16, Sacred Space 2, Shapeshift 5, Summon Faerie Creature 10, Travel 3, Weather Control 3

When I ran Ganieda, I described her Anarchy era self as looking a bit like British wildlife presenter Kate Humble


Thanks to Timeless Myths (, the website where I first read about Ganieda.  Their section on Arthurian myth summarises a lot of different versions of characters and in particular their Arthurian Women section is a goldmine of campaign idea.

Marion Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon was a major inspiration in my characterisation of Ganieda.  The female –driven narrative gives particular focus to Guinevere and Morgana Le Fay, but here those principles have instead been placed on the blank canvas of Ganieda.  The clash of religious principles between Pagan & Christian is well handled, not feeling too preachy on either side – it would be easy to make it a story where one of the faiths is demonstrably evil, but instead a darker side of both comes up at different times.

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