Our game is set in Oldtown, the oldest of Westerosi cities and one of the premiere ports of the continent. It is on the Whispering Sound, at the southwestern edge of the continent.
The Citadel, where Maesters are trained, is located here, making Oldtown the seat of Westerosi history and learning. The Starry Sept is here. It is the Seat of the Faith of the Seven; the Great Sept of Baelor in King's Landing does not yet exist.
The lords of Oldtown are house Hightower, petty kings of the First Men, now bannermen to the Tyrells. Their seat is the Hightower, a great white lighthouse and the tallest structure in Westeros. Its beacon is visible several miles out to sea, and it is one of the Nine Wonders Made by Man written about by Lomas Longstrider.
Oldtown is an ancient and gracious city, with clean, stone-cobbled streets that cross over little rivers and canals. These tamed tributaries to the Honeywine are strictly patrolled where they are uncovered and cleverly diverted by old fitted stone, such that all but the worst neighborhoods have a stream fit to drink from and another for dumping filth. There are stone buildings that have stood and been maintained for thousands of years, some breathtakingly grand and some simple. Between the main thoroughfares the city is a labyrinth of twisting wynds and allies. Oldtown lacks the widespread squalor of King's Landing and most of the stink, and is considerably safer for gentlefolk. Less-than-gentle-folk might be made unwelcome by the watch if they visit the wrong neighborhoods. It's the largest and most beautiful city on the continent, and a draw for many people.
The time is 123 A.L. That is, After Landing, meaning one hundred and twenty-three years after the Targaryen conquest of Westeros. The current ruler is King Viserys Targaryen I. This is shortly before the civil war known as 'The Dance of the Dragons' and predates the death of the last dragon by nearly twenty years. This is still a low-magic world, but the collapse that coincided with the loss of the dragons has yet to occur.
More, more, more
A Wiki of Ice and Fire is an excellent resource for more details than you'll ever need.
If you have questions or need rulings about the theme and setting for the game, inquire with Gashlycrumb.
Here is a useful Map of Westeros.
Here is a great big Map of the World.
In the real world, Western nobility is complicated, with all those Dukes and Earls and Viscounts and the like, all in an order of ranking.
In Westeros, it's simple.
The king is at the top. The Crownlands are under direct rule of the king.
The Lords of the Great Houses of Westeros (Arryn, Baratheon, Greyjoy, Lannister, Tully, Tyrell) swear fealty to the king.
Noble Houses swear fealty to the Great Houses that rule their region, and called "bannermen" to the Great House.
Minor, or Knightly, Houses swear fealty to Noble Houses — House Clifton are the bannermen of House Farman, who are bannermen of House Lannister.
During the time period of the MUSH, Dorne is a separate nation, and the Martells a Royal, rather than Great, House.
The MUSH will not allow you to take the same name as another existing character. Other than that, you may name your character whatever you like, so long as it is feasible in the theme.
Most Westerosi people have Anglo names that are spelled oddly (Petyr) or have one sound changed (Edward becomes Eddard) or are Anglo-sounding (Tommen). Many people are named after Targaryen rulers, and have names that sound similar to Targaryens mentioned in the books. Lots of people share the same name.
Smallfolk do not have surnames. They may have surname-like additions to their names ("Lem Lemoncloak," for example) taken to differentiate themselves from other people of the same name. People also often add "of [region or town]" to their names. Some (Masha Heddle) have a surname that is passed through generations because they were once a noble house, but have fallen.
Bastards have a bastard surname that reflects which kingdom they were born in. Occasionally they are given a different surname, at whim (Bronn's son Tyrion is named Tyrion Tanner.)
Nobles have the surname of their house. When, as rarely happens, smallfolk are elevated to nobility and become heads-of-house, they choose a surname (Davos Seaworth).
Nobles have their House name as a surname. People do not have middle names, but married women's former House-name sometimes serves as a middle name (Catelyn Tully Stark).
People of the Free Cities do have surnames, or at least, double names. (Syrio Forel, Salladhor Saan.)
http://fantasynamegenerators.com/got-westeros-names.php may be helpful if you're having trouble thinking something up, though it produces last names that are not generally appropriate.
A knight is known and addressed as "Ser [Name]." Nobles are addressed as "Lord [Given Name]" or "Lady [Given Name]." Only the head of a house and his or spouse is called "Lord [House Name]." Others may sometimes be called Lord of [House Name].
"Ser" is used in preference to "Lord" if a knight is both, unless he is also the head of his house.
A King or Queen is addressed as "Your Grace," and a Prince or Princess as "My Prince," or "My Princess." "My Lord," and "My Lady," are also appropriate for princes and princesses, regardless of Joffery's opinion
Women who are not nobles are not called "lady." People who are not knights are not addressed as "Ser" or "sir." The appropriate and nearly-never used titles of respect for smallfolk are "Goodman" and "Goodwoman" or "Mistress."
Yes, they are rare in the world. However, they are not rare in the books or the television program; among the characters who are PC-like, they appear frequently. They are, to many fans, much of the reason for the series' appeal.
So yes, they are allowed here. They do not require a special application. We don't treat the PCs as 'extras' on this game. If you want the PC demographics to match the demographics of the game world, you need to find a different game.
Princes and Princesses
In the real world, Western monarchies limit who is styled Prince or Princess. The result is that while Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, is the son of Prince George, Duke of Kent, and grandson of King George V, his children are a Lord, a Lady, and an Earl. This gets confusing, and can cause somebody to suddenly become a Prince when someone else dies. In other monarchies, the child of a Prince is always a Prince or Princess, regardless of her position in the succession.
We've chosen to go with the simpler non-western format for the MUSH. All true-born Targaryens and Martells are Princes and Princesses, though the PC ones are largely landless family members to the royals, and far from the line of succession.
Houses and Cadet Branches (Cousins, Cousins, Cousins)
In the books, the houses tend to be depicted as fairly small, in spite of the Head of House usually producing not only an Heir, but a Spare and another Spare.
We assume that Spares are as likely to reproduce as Heirs. Over time, this sort of behavior will eventually produce a large number of House members who are not in the ruling line for the House. Most PCs come from this enormous supply of cousins.
Players of characters from ruling lines of the Nine Major Houses are not allowed to choose what characters will be added to the ruling line of the House. This means that if you choose to play, for example, the heir to House Lannister, and someone else comes along and wants to play your brother, staff can approve that brother without your consent. Otherwise, a single player can control an entire powerful faction, and this is unfair. Similarly, you may not populate the ruling line of a Major House with NPCs or Roster PCs of your own design. If you want to add one or two, that's fine, but filling up the timeline with NPC births that prevent people from adding their own characters is a no-go.
If you choose to play a minor house, or a cousin branch of a major one, you may approve your close relations. You are free to populate your nuclear family with NPCs, roster characters, and PCs of your choosing, as you will.
There are two exceptions: House Hightower and House Florent, because they are so powerful in the particular setting of Oldtown and The Reach, are treated as Major Houses.
There has been some question about gay characters here, and the idea that the reaction to them is inconsistently portrayed in-game and in character backgrounds.
This never troubled me, because as I see it, the reaction to them is inconsistent in-world.
We know that George R. R. Martin intended for Renly Baratheon and Loras Tyrell to be 'gay' characters. He said so. We also know that this relationship between them was somewhat approaching common knowledge, at least among the court. Nobody did anything about it. We also know that people didn't openly talk about it. We know that the Faith of the Seven is generally puritanical about sex, and more so for women then for men.
We know that in the real world, sexuality as an identity is a very new phenomenon. There's no such thing as being gay in the medieval period. The frame of reference is only for acts, not identities.
One character might view homosexual liaisons with indifference. Another might think those liaisons are awful, because they are extramarital sex. One character might think gay sex perverse, while another character might think that gay sex just something natural and inevitable in a culture that is so sex-segregated. Some might think that gay sex is inevitable and that only het-sex even counts as real sex. We've see this difference of opinion expressed in the show to some degree. We have seen, in the novels and short stories, a number of explicitly gay relationships that are rarely spoken of, though occasionally joked about. What we haven't seen are homophobic slurs. So we can guess that, by and large, most people don't think about it much, and don't much care either. We do know that here in The Reach, people care even less than in the Kingdoms further North, and we can probably guess that the Dornish are even less opinionated on the subject.
We know that sexual indiscretions of any type are risky. Tywin is permanently pissed off at Tyrion for spending so much time with prostitutes. It damages the honour of the House. You can assume that homosexual behavior, if made public, will probably be looked down upon more than mere hetereo-whore-mongering, though discrete gay relations are probably better than Tyrion's brazenness. Most of the time, to many people.
In short: your character's IC reaction is probably theme-appropriate, given that it's in the range from "This perversion should be punishable by death," (Joffrey) to "So what? That's normal," (The Queen of Thorns) to "Yes, please," (Renly). What isn't theme-appropriate is to believe that others are not RPing in-theme when their reaction is not the same as your own.
About the culture of this behavior.
First: +combat will display how badly hurt you are, and similar for your opponents. This is more-or-less IC information. Your character knows how she feels, and can see how opponents feel with reasonable accuracy. When your line turns red, you're in bad shape. If it's highlighted, well, if you were an NPC, you'd be dead. KO's just mean you're knocked out, and it could happen if you're not badly hurt. We don't play that PCs die when they are at max-possible damage, because our dice are evil and having your PC die from bad rolls when you don't want him to is the anti-fun.
Tourneys, and indeed all but the most serious of duels, are not life-or-death matters. They are social events. When you notice that you're doing very poorly and your opponent is just fine, you yield. It's not just a way to escape without further injury, it's expected.
If you don't yield, you're sending a social message.
It could be:
1: They clang when I walk.
In our own society, that's the only message you send. You don't see people yielding the footie game even when their team has zero chance of winning, because they want to show they've got grit.
In our game world, refusing to yield can also mean:
2: I hate you, opponent, so much that I cannot possibly admit that you've bested me.
3: I am a colossal prick and cannot possibly admit that anyone has bested me.
If you refuse to yield and instead force your opponent to bash you around when you are a bleeding mess, you're pretty much dishonouring her. You are forcing her to kick somebody who's already down. It's rude.
Food and Consumables
In the texts, George R. R. Martin describes a world that has real world creatures from the New World, the Old World, and prehistory. He also describes both New and Old world plants — we have wheat and barley, but also squash and (presumably cane) sugar.
There is a grand list of every food mentioned in the books up to 'Crows' here: http://iceandfire.wikia.com/wiki/List_of_Food_and_Beverages
Things people might wonder about:
Maize, (sweet corn and field corn) squash, and pumpkins are New World plants that area included in the novels, so yes. Old world crops like onions, garlic, carrots, radishes, parsnips and turnips have all appeared and can be assumed.
Potatoes — Yes. We don't see these in the books but Tolkien's influence has placed these New World plants so firmly within the medieval fantasy paradigm that it's hard to do without, and they've appeared in the show.
Tomatoes — Yes. We don't see them in the books either, and the tomatoes we know are both New World plants and quite modern cultivars (the wild type are tiny, hairy, and yellow) but we'll say we have them, because players want to.
Chocolate — No. The chocolate we know, chocolate candy, is a pretty high-tech venture to make. Enormous machines are involved. Even the weird bitter drink that was 'chocolate' until the 19th century involves a lot of processing. Cocoa beans may indeed exist in the world, but we simply haven't the technology for chocolate.
Pasta — No. Not in Westeros. Dany has noodles in Essos, though.
We've got fermented beverages. Wines of all types, including fruit wines. Meads. Beer. Cider. One might have the beers where fruit has been added to the mash. Hippocras is mentioned in the books — this is wine with sugar and spices added to it.
Spirits — We don't hear a lot about distilled beverages, but they are mentioned a time or two — black tar rum, some pale green stuff that the Volanti make. We can assume by this that brandy (distilled wine) and whiskeys (essentially distilled beer) and possibly any number of other spirits might be about.
Coffee — probably not. If you're some adventuresome or exotic person who has travelled far across Essos, maybe you have discovered this stuff, and if you want to RP the complicated process of stripping the fruit part off the 'bean' (coffee beans are not beans, but the pit of a sort of stone fruit) and toasting the beans, grinding them up, and brewing coffee from them, hey, okay, but it's not something that's just around.
Tea — Martin mentions mint tea and nettle tea and just "tea."
No. Nobody's invented smoking, at least not in Westeros. There's 'sourleaf' which is something in between chewing tobacco and betel. Makes you foam at the mouth, pink-to-red foam, and dulls pain, aside from tasting sour and being, evidently, a mildly good time.
Most people, except for Inns and big manses, do not have proper kitchens. They've got fireplaces, and do not have ovens. This means that all the cooking you do at home is done over an open flame. It is possible to bake over open flame, but it's difficult, uneven, and a generally ineffective pain in the arse. Most people would make their breads and pies at home and then take them to the baker's to be baked in proper ovens. What you can cook at home is stuff you boil or simmer, and stuff you roast or pan-fry over the flames.
Nobles do not, generally, cook for themselves. It's hot, it's messy, it's a pain, they have servants. The handcrafts of noblewomen are usually of the textile-oriented type. Needlepoint, embroidery, weaving, knitting. Sure, if you want your noblewoman PC to cook as a hobby, she can, but it's weird. (Imagine if I were to Martha Stewart it up by recycling old books of romantic poetry into toilet paper for my guests. They'd probably be impressed, yes, but also enormously mystified.)
As modern people, we're used to the idea of Rule of Law. In Westeros, it is Rule of Kings, and below them, Rule of Lords. What is and is not a crime is up to the discretion of the King or the local lord, and the appropriate punishment is likewise at the lord's discretion. While nobility may enjoy a trial, perhaps by judge, possibly by jury, or even by combat, smallfolk are judged and sentenced in a perfunctory fashion by the local ruler.
One may assume that most things we deem criminal by modern standards will be considered crimes in Oldtown.
Punishments vary, as they are at the lord's discretion. For some crimes, a man might have the option of joining the Night's Watch. Other punishments include death, by hanging or beheading (with an ax for smallfolk, and a sword for the nobility) maiming (the loss of a hand for theft, castration for rape, etc.) time spent imprisoned in the cells at the Oldtown Watch House, sentences of hard labour, or a stay on the pillory.
We tend to use the pillory in the game, because it allows a character to be returned to play quickly, and without making the character disabled if the player does not wish to play a disabled character.
A stocks is not the same as a pillory — in the stocks, a person is seated on the ground with their legs out in front of them, restrained at the ankles by wooden bars. In a pillory, the person is bent over and restrained at the head and wrists. This is painfully uncomfortable after a fairly short time.
When on the pillory, people may throw things at the prisoner, or urinate on him, or do any number of other things. They're liable to gather when a person is first locked in, and throw stuff in a group. At night, a person on the pillory is liable to be assaulted and badly injured if left unguarded.
It is customary for friends to guard a pilloried person. Once the initial barrage of thrown dung and rotting vegetables has calmed, friends take turns making sure nobody touches the pilloried person. You really need an in-character reason as to why nobody (not even a single NPC) in the city cares enough about you to stand guard over you for a night or two.
The Oldtown City Watch serves as a form of proto-police force.
The age of adulthood is 16. Birthdays are called "namedays" and on a boy's 16th he is considered "a man grown." For women, it is a little less exact; a girl is "a woman grown" at menarche ("flowering.") Betrothals are often arranged while the people to be married are still children, and marriages made as soon as the girl "flowers" or the boy is old enough to take an interest.
Bowing really isn't a big deal sort of thing. If a lord tells you to kneel or bow you do, but people don't do it all the time as a matter of course.
Vows are serious business. To break one is a capital offense.
If you offer a guest bread and salt, and they eat it, both of you have partaken of the Westerosi rite of hospitality, and neither may harm the other without serious, vow-breaking level, dishonour. This makes it suspicious not to offer, and even more so not to eat.