I started out this session by distributing some rumor cards. I haven’t used this technique before in the Great Pendragon Campaign, but I’ve done it in other games. Write a bunch of rumors down on some index cards, and hand everyone one at random at the start of each session. In this case, the rumors were pieces of news from different parts of the world: they found out that King Idres was marching north in Cornwall (of interest to many Salisbury and Silchester knights, who had gotten land in Cornwall after Uther’s invasion), the mysterious appearance of the Forest Sauvage, the Supreme Collegium’s failure to name Ulfias (or anyone else) High King, King Clovis of the Franks getting baptised, and King Lot having a son and heir born.
One of the key techniques here is to come up with more rumors than there are players. The remaining rumors will get shuffled into the next batch, which in this case simulates the fact that news spreads unreliably, that we are in the Dark Ages after all, and means that I don’t know in advance which tidbits of information the players will get and which they won’t. Some of these are plothooks, some are foreshadowing, and some are just rumors, with little immediate consequence for the players.
Then we started play with the year’s Pentecost feast, another chance to make contacts, flirt with eligible ladies, and decide what to do for the year. In this case, the knights noticed that some of the knights who had stayed home last year (like Sir Bandelaire) were present but others (like Sir Lycus, more on him later), were not.
Sir Hywel and Sir Ulysses tried to get more information about the Forest Sauvage, and talked to Sir Cicero, a knight with a reputation for being a notorious rumormonger, who gave him some theories on the origin of the forest, most of them contradictory. Sir Hywel also felt that they needed to do a better job training more knights, which Marshall Sir Elan (son of beloved Sir Elad) enthusiastically agreed, and he charged right outside to do it, getting him an Enthusiastic check.
Sir Hermel spent his time flirting with the ladies of the court, particularly wealthy heiress Lady Elfrida, the richest heiress in the county, and Lady Jenna. He also thought about hosting a friendly competition, with jousts and board games, some sort of proto-tournament. That sounds like a great idea, and also really expensive. I told him his Steward would look into the pricing and get back to him (in other words, the GM needs to research what you want to do.) I doubt that Sir Hermel can afford this on his own, but perhaps with a wealthy patroness…
Sir Gherard was a bit of a wallflower, but Sir Hywel tried to play matchmaker, socializing with his sister-in-law Lady Indeg (widow of former player-character famous knight Sir Bersules), hoping to set Cath, her youngest daughter up with him. Sir Gherard proposed a hawking expedition, and it turned out that Indeg and Cath were avid falconers.
Of course, it’s going to take more than a couple of flirting, courtesy, and falconry rolls to court and marry a wealthy Lady- however most of the player knights have gotten the attention of the ladies of the court.
The biggest decision of the court was what to do about the Saxons: representatives from Essex, as well as King Cerdic’s kingdom of Wessex were both here to demand tribute: 100 head of cattle and 100 pounds of silver. Countess Ellen let it be known that she was going to ‘consult with her advisors,’ which savvy Nerovens figured out meant ‘figure out what her knights will support’- if she wants to keep her seat for herself and her son, she needs to keep the loyalty of these knights!
Nerovens reasoned it was best to pay Cerdic’s tribute- they had paid Essex last year, and it was farther away, so the risk of being raided seemed somewhat less. His grand hope was to get the Saxons fighting each other- perhaps by calling to Cerdic for assistance against the eventual raids. A bold move.
Anyway, Pendragon doesn’t really have a skill for convincing people- what I’ve used in the past, and what I did here, is ask the player to choose a Trait or Passion that they are embodying/hoping to instill in the target. In this case, Nerovens gave a big speech, and angled for Energetic- let’s all band together and support the County! He got a Critical Success, and there was much agreement from the assembled knights.
He was able to talk to Countess Ellen later, and she let him know that she’d like him to talk to some of the knights in the region that had either not affirmed their loyalty or did not owe her homage. The subtext was that she was talking about Sir Lycus.
Sir Lycus holds Llud’s Hall, an important castle in eastern Salisbury, which is notable for being a royal holding: whoever holds it does so directly in the name of the King, in the name of the count- so he is not a vassal of the Count. (Of course, there’s no ‘top-level’ ruler in the Anarchy Period, making his holding an independent fief.) Llud’s Hall is only ever gifted, which means it reverts to the King upon death of the holder.
The previous holder, Sir Llywel, died at the Infamous Feast, and Sir Lycus took control of the castle, claiming right as Sir Llywel’s brother. Does he have the right to do this? Probably not. Is anyone going to stop him? That remains to be seen. (Also somewhat important in this- the previous holder before Sir Llywel? Nerovens’s father.)
After all of this, I told the players that it was up to them to figure out what they wanted to do for the year- that this would have a lot more freedom than the Age of Uther, with fewer scripted events that demand, or heavily suggest participation. There were two frontrunners that people were interested in: do some raiding in Saxon lands, or go see what the deal with the Forest Sauvage was.
The most direct way seemed to be through Silchester, then to Rydychan county, then to the Forest. Riding into Silchester, they encountered a patrol of knights from Levcomagus, led by Sir Alvin. A herardly check later revealed that Alvin was the son of Sir Arvel, who was hung for theft by Count Roderick in one of the first few adventures. Sir Alvin was here to defend the borders of Silchester, complete with a Hate: Salisbury knights passion.
He challenged the knights about their business, and they said that they were seeking to travel through, and go to the Forest Sauvage. He said he’d been given no direction to let anyone through. One of the knights (I don’t recall who), offered a joust of honor, to which Sir Alvin accepted, eager for a chance to best a Salisbury knight. It was Sir Harvel who represented the players.
Both knights inflamed by Passion, in the first two passes Sir Alvin struck true, doing damage to Sir Harvel, who made his Horsemanship rolls to stay seated. On the third tilt, Sir Harvel (pulling his blow to do less harm, but inflicting the same knockback- note that Sir Alvin was most certainly not doing this), struck Alvin’s shield, and Alvin proceeded to botch his horsemanship roll, flying from the saddle in a particularly ignominious fashion.
(Consulting the Border Challenge entry in GPC after the fact, it looks like what Sir Alvin should have done was escort the knights to Levcomagus, and let his lord, Steward Cadwallon decide what to do, which might have result on them being allowed passage with an escort, being turned away, or even being captured and held for ransom! Perhaps Alvin’s youth and defeat made him overconfident, something the more pragmatic and callous Cadwallon will be unlikely to tolerate in the future.)
They made their way to Rydychan without incident. Looking over the list of named NPCs I had provided, they note that Lady Rhonwen (I couldn’t find a name for her, other than Rydychan in GPC, so I made one up), is supposed to be a very wealthy widow- is she in need of a husband, perhaps?
Another border challenge, this time by some Rydychan knights, these guys mostly told the knights to go about their business, but to stay on the main road and go straight to their destination. “In the name of the Lords of Rydychan.”
(Again, probably should have done a full border challenge here. I was trying to save time and get straight to the forest, but it all works out because…)
The knights decide they should pay a visit to the local lord. They head to the local castle, just off the main road, and encounter ten knights, led by Sir Basile, who’s shield depicts three black wolves on a white field. He demands they state their business, and is very Suspicious- when they say they go to the Forest, he challenges them, asking them to prove they are not spies. Those players who are trying to make overtures, I have them make Trait rolls- Ulysses rolls one and fails, someone gets a success (I’m going for more successes than failures here), and then Hervel gets a critical success on an Energetic roll, about how eager they are to go on a Quest.
Sir Basile nods- he went on a few adventurous quests as a younger knight, and perhaps driven by nostalgia, gives them leave to travel through these lands. He sends a knight to travel with them.
They try to ask a few questions of their escort- what’s the deal with this Sir Basile guy? Where is Countess Rhonwen? Their escort is uneasy, and doesn’t answer, and Gherard observes that maybe they shouldn’t ask so many questions if the locals are worried about them being spies.
They get to the Forest, after spending a night in a local village, and enter one of the paths. They learn that even experienced hunters have gotten lost inside, and that animals have gone missing. The Forest Sauvage is difficult to travel, even on what now passes for a path: it requires a Hunting roll at -15. Hervel, the best hunter (trained by King Pellinore himself) has a Hunt 15, so cannot succeed.
They get lost in the woods for a week, ending up at a peasant farmstead. This family of peasants is happy to aid the knights, and just happy in general (suspiciously happy, according to Nerovens. Gherard makes the Stewardship roll and figures out that they aren’t having to pay taxes to anyone, so get to keep all of their harvest.) The peasants offer their house to the knights, who graciously refuse, and camp out in the field. The peasants give the knights directions, saying the village is only an hour or so to the south.
During the night, strange lights are seen in the distance. Someone with a lantern, perhaps? Nerovens, getting Reckless, goes into the forest to follow them- so, given the forest, and the darkness, has to roll Hunting at a hefty penalty. He critically fails, and ends up taking a tumble down a ditch. It ends up being a major wound, and he loses a point of con and cracks some ribs for his trouble, and falls unconscious.
He wakes up the next morning, and the rest of the party is able to head out and regroup with him. They head south back to the village, and indeed, it’s only an hour of travel. They’re right where they were, a week of travel ago.
I gave everyone some glory for Entering the Forest Sauvage, and some to Nerovens for Chasing a Will-o-Wisp- a misadventure is still an adventure!
They go to the village priest, and I roll a d20 for his Chirurgery skill- a 5! He fails, and tells them he can’t do much for Nerovens’s wounds right now. (Ulysses, who is Suspicous of British Christians, AND of physicians, scoffs.)
The knights make their way to Oxford, which as a larger town with large monastery, might have a better healer. On the way there, Nerovens gets his weekly healing, but also suffers 1d6 damage for deterioration. I roll a 2- he doesn’t get any worse or better. I believe his hp were low enough that a 6 could have killed him!
At Oxford, they meet Sir Beleus, who is rather jolly and hospitable, much more so than his older brother Basile. He is compassionate to Nerovens’s plight, and makes the monastery (and the markets of Oxford) available to them. I assign the Chirurgeon here a skill of 15… and he botches. Sir Nerovens’s condition actually gets worse. Ulysses struggles not to say I told you so.
There’s nothing to do but to wait a week for the monk to try again. Another deterioration roll- Nerovens still manages to stay alive. The next try, the monk makes the roll. Nerovens will live to fight another day.
Clearly unequipped to face the trails of the Forest Sauvage, and one of their number injured, they return home to Salisbury, wondering what’s going on with Countess Rhonwen. Perhaps they will soon find out…