Willow’s List: Top 10 Roleplaying Games of the 2010s

It’s been a great decade for roleplaying games, with many quality releases, both big and small. This is my personal list of the top ten games of the 2010s, based on actual play delivered at the table. I took a number of qualities into account: how innovative is the game? How vibrant is the community it has fostered? But most importantly, how fun is it?

Only included are actual games, no supplements, expansions, or adventures. Also absent are any reprints, re-edits, or re-releases of any kind. New games only. Also, none of the games that I personally released are on this list, even though they are all excellent. And despite my best efforts, I have not managed to play all the games that have been released this decade, so there are likely some games that have passed me by.

#10: Microscope (2011, Ben Robbins)

Ben Robbins was originally most famous for his D&D experiment the West Marches, an epic hexcrawl game featuring multiple players in the same world, dropping in and out of fluid groups. This same world building drive is seen in his later games, Microscope, Kingdom, and Follow.

I don’t even like Microscope. I think it’s too dry, too easy to get caught up in the mechanics of the game to avoid caring about the emergent story. But I can’t deny its brilliance, or the ambition of its premise. In Microscope, you and your fellow players create a timeline of events, regarding any topic you agree on before the game begins: the rise and fall of an empire, the ongoing war between the gods, or the history of a single city. Players take turns creating events on a timeline, and then zooming in on key points to play them out. These scenes are the only in-character play Microscope features, and risk end up being stilted. The end result also ends up being pretty gonzo, because while there’s some exercises at the beginning to get everyone on the same page, and generate a list of elements that are encouraged or disallowed, after that there is not supposed to be any player-level negotiation. Don’t like what someone did? Play somewhere else on the timeline. If players can’t harmonize their visions for the timeline, Microscope goes off the rails. But despite all this, Microscope serves as a roadmap for many of the worldbuilding games that followed.

#9: Mythender (2012, Ryan Macklin)

Do you want to roll a bunch of dice? No, even more dice than that. No, keep adding some. Oh dear, I think you may have to buy some more dice. Okay, you can stop now. Let’s go kill some gods.

Mythender is a frickin’ metal game of epic heroes on the cusp of godhood themselves going out and killing some tyrant gods. In the tutorial adventure, which teaches the ropes of the game, the heroes get to kill Thor, and there’s rules in there for pruning the whole Norse family tree, or the pantheon of your choice. Narrate impossible stunts, get a ton of dice, use those dice to get even more dice, then blow up a god. You can always draw upon your own mythic strength to get more dice and cool powers, but you risk becoming a god in the process… and becoming the next Myth that needs to be Ended.

This is the game that I wanted Exalted to be, high-powered, high-stakes action. The mechanics are essentially a die pool system, however a very unique one that is a bit unintuitive to take in all at once, but the tutorial adventure introduces these mechanics in a very logical series of events. The game also properly establishes the mindset for the GM to treat the players with the respect their characters deserve, addressing them as Lord or Lady Mythender, and acting almost like a game-butler. This game does just one thing, but man does it do it well.

#8: Dungeon World (2012, Sage LaTorra and Adam Koebel)

The first Powered By the Apocalypse World on this list, but it won’t be the last. Like Microscope, Dungeon World isn’t exactly my cup of tea, but it’s impossible to deny Dungeon World’s impact. Dungeon World was originally envisioned as a way to adapt D&D for the indie crowd, but what it really ended up doing was adapting indie techniques for the D&D crowd. All the familiar D&D tropes are there, with a streamlined system that makes improvising for the GM easier and focuses on establishing interesting consequences for failure, resulting in the sort of dungeon antics that people remember fondly and talk about for years.

As a player, Dungeon World often feels too easy for me, and as a Gamemaster, a touch too freeform: I seem to prefer concrete challenge in my dungeon delvers. However there are a lot of people whose tastes differ than mine, and if you enjoy the tropes of D&D but find the mechanics cumbersome you should give this a try. (It’s one of the few games I’ve gotten my parents to play; they both loved it, and my Mom even asked if we could keep playing after I suggested we wrap up for the night.)

#7: Dungeon Crawl Classics (2012, Joseph Goodman et al)

Dungeon Crawl Classics exists in the orbit of the OSR (Old School Revival/Revolution) returning to the roots of D&D, back before editions were numbered and the dice had to be filled in with crayon and the road to the dungeon was uphill both ways and by golly that’s how we liked it. Rather than serving as a fan edit or remix as many alliteratively titled OSR games do, DCC builds on what the designers viewed as the principles of OSR gaming and the narrative style of the fiction present in Gygax’s original Appendix N: Further Reading, while using the 3rd edition D&D SRD as a foundation for the rules. This is the swords and sorcery fantasy of Robert E. Howard and Jack Vance, with seven sided and twenty-four sided dice to bring back that sense of wonder you felt the first time you picked up those polyhedrons the first time around.

DCC is just plain weird, in a way that many D&D imitators aren’t, featuring a magic system that feels strange and mysterious, interesting crits and fumbles, and a series of adventures that are some of the most imaginative around. DCC is particularly famous for the ‘0-level funnel’ type of adventure, where each player starts with 4 characters who have a d4 hit points and not much else, trying to survive by their wits and luck. This style of play is very divisive, much loved by some, hated by others, but certainly worth trying at least once.

My main issue with DCC, which prevents this game from being higher on this list, is the holes in the rules, areas where things are a bit unclear, or a common situation results in a difficult to assess situation. (An example: any Wizard with a luck modifier rolling on the 1d100 Mercurial Magic adds or subtracts modifiers in increments of +/- 10, meaning that rolling off the table becomes statistically the most likely result. I would not recommend taking that as a result of 1 or 100, as they are extreme.) In the OSR community these sorts of things are often viewed as an advantage, giving each individual gamemaster a way to put their own unique stamp on the game (no two GM’s I’ve played with seem to do Luck exactly the same, for example), but I am a firm believer that clarity is one of the most important things for a rules text, and making sure that rules can be universally understood is especially important for a game with as large an organized presence as DCC has. The game is gonzo as hell and I love it, but this clunkiness holds the game back.

#6: Dungeons & Dragons, (5th edition, 2014, Mike Mearls, Jeremy Crawford et al)

The only new edition of a previously published game on my list, many will be surprised at its placement at the number 6 spot. D&D is the behemoth of the tabletop games industry, easily the most visible and most played of any rpg. (The 2nd most visible and played is Pathfinder, which is now the 4th edition of the 3rd edition of D&D. After that it drops off sharply, in practical terms, there is no number 3 in market share.)

D&D 5th edition is the least innovative game on this list, taking it’s mechanics from earlier editions of the game. There’s something for everyone in here, no matter their favorite edition. Those ‘old-school’ gamers who felt betrayed by the design choices of 3rd and 4th editions find a return to the frameworks that they were used to, while keeping the best mechanical innovations of 3rd edition and a fair number from 4th. This is a ‘big tent’ game, designed to be approachable to all players, which means it does a lot of different things, but isn’t great at any of them. In terms of sheer polish, this is the best D&D yet, and Wizard’s commitment to quality rather than quantity of source books has been refreshing. The published adventures present months of viable play, and are generally excellent. This version of D&D happens to coincide at the same time as the rise of streaming play, allowing prospective new players to watch a game of D&D before playing it, resulting in an expansion of the hobby like never before. While there’s no reason that another game can’t or won’t be someone’s entry to the hobby, D&D has decades of name recognition behind it and dominates the rpg conversation.

#5: Torchbearer (2013, Thor Olavsrud & Luke Crane)

Like Mouse Guard (2009), Torchbearer is a revision of the core Burning Wheel rules: simplified in many extents, with a specific focus on a single style of play, and in this case that style is dungeon delving murderhobos. Torchbearer is a well oiled machine that chews up adventurers and spits them back out, hungry and tired, chasing that next big score. One of the best mechanics is the Grind, which by every four turns (a turn being one die roll or conflict) resources get used up and adventurers get worn down. Torchbearer demands skillful play of its players, both in interfacing with the dungeon environment and in mastering the game mechanics, which not everyone is willing to put the time and energy into, but is highly rewarding. Like Dungeon World, this is an old school dungeon crawler with modern mechanics, but where Dungeon World will fight you on an exploding steampunk zeppelin, Torchbearer will shiv you in a back alley for spare change.

#4: Blades in the Dark (2016, John Harper)

Easily the best system for heist games I’ve played, Blades in the Dark casts the players as a band of criminals in a game of an industrial magical world of perpetual night. The system uses a pool of dice with the best number taken, 1-3 being bad, 4-5 being okay, and 6 (or even 2 sixes!) being best. The system takes some getting used to, since it involves the GM setting stakes on two axis before the roll: how effective is the action being taken (Effect), and how bad are the consequences for failure (Danger). Because of this I find Blades challenging to run, and one of the few games that I prefer playing to running. The setting of Duskvol is well established in the book- perhaps too well established, since it can create an intimidating wall of information to process, and everything is linked directly or indirectly to everything else. Challenging to process, but resulting in a dark gritty world that feels alive with its own story and flow, existing despite the schemes of the players. The core of the system is the ‘Forged in the Dark’ system, which has already produced the excellent Scum and Villainy (planetary space rogues) and Band of Blades (military fantasy, reminiscent of The Watch.)

Success in Blades in the Dark is hard fought: most of the time there will be consequences for success, meaning any victory will come at a cost and be fleeting, which is fitting for the grim and perilous world of Duskvol, and has the potential to create an avalanche of play as things go wrong and repeatedly escalate. The danger in play is feeling like you are under the sole of a boot stamping on your face forever, unable to get out from under it, which is damn appropriate to the setting, but is it fun? It can be, but it can also get repetitive.

#3: Itras By (2012, Martin Bull Gudmundsen and Ole Peder Giӕver)

The best game you’ve probably never heard of. Or you have heard of it, in which case you are a person of distinguished taste. Itras By is a Norwegian noir surrealist roleplaying game, set in the titular city of Itras By, which exists in a dream and feels like something straight out of The Dark City or early-mid 20th century dystopian sci-fi. The book is beautiful and full of exercises to get the reader thinking about surreal game play techniques, including ones that encourage the reader to write in, deface, or otherwise physically modify the game text. Play is essentially improv, punctuated by cards featuring responses like “Yes, but…” or “No, and…”, the same system used in games like Archipelago, for when an impartial resolution is needed. The other mechanic that influences play is the Chance Cards, which impart a bit of surrealality into the experience. Each player can draw one each session, and they have effects ranging from the subtle – your character gives a monologue to the audience about their inner thoughts – to the absolutely bonkers – objects and abstract concepts animate and begin to talk and interact with the scene. Play is super fluid, and can go from heartfelt to strange to silly to serious and back again seamlessly. Every session I’ve played has been a joy, and incredibly unique.

The Itras By Menagerie (2017) adds even more Itras-ness, with essays on play, new card suggestions, new setting stuff (including a section by yours truly), and is even thicker than the original book. This game is worth checking out, if only to see just how weird roleplaying can get if you let it.

#2: Monsterhearts (1st edition 2012, 2nd edition 2018, Avery Alder)

Monsterhearts is a game of teenage monsters, and being a teenager is often the harder part of that. Think of all your favorite tropes from media like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Twilight, Vampire Diaries, and other Teen Monster fiction, put them in a blender, and turn the melodrama up to eleven. Powered by the Apocalypse, each of the different playbooks (“skins”) is a different type of monster, with all your favorite monster mashers featured: the Ghost, the Vampire, the Werewolf, and the most evil of all monsters, the Mortal (who has the power to get into toxic relationships. It’s awesome.) The rules reinforce that the characters are teenagers and don’t have the best control over themselves, creating messy storylines of love triangles and property damage, as hearts and bones get broken. My favorite rule is that of The Darkest Self, a paragraph on each playbook that turns them into a giant raging asshole, and a threat to everyone else, under certain conditions. The Werewolf wolfs out, the Witch goes mad with power, and the Ghoul goes on a feeding frenzy. Darkest Self gives you permission to be that guy who is like “I’m just playing my character,” – nay, it requires you to be that guy, and it’s liberating. This is a twisted game that results in twisted stories, and I love it. It is also the most queer-positive game out there: every character is queer by default. (Hint: the whole ‘becoming a monster’ is a metaphor for coming to terms with ones own sexuality.)

This is my favorite game to run for a con one-shot; in four hours it delivers a delightfully murderous time, every time, but the campaign games are just as fun, allowing for more of a slow burn story, dangerous secrets coming out (pun intended) and as much anticipation as waiting for next week’s episode on the CW. (A campaign I ran resulted in the “A Very Monsterhearts Christmas” session, which will forever live in Infamy in my playgroup.)

#1: Apocalypse World (1st edition 2010, 2nd edition 2017, Vincent Baker and Meguey Baker)

Already beloved in the indie scene for games like Dogs in the Vineyard, Vincent Baker struck game design gold at the beginning of the decade with Apocalypse World, which spawned the Powered By the Apocalypse system, taking off and inspiring dozens and dozens of new games. Teaming up with his wife Meguey Baker (1001 Nights), this vision of the Post-Apocalypse is dark and gritty, painted in broad strokes with careful word choices, encouraging and demanding the GM and players to collaborate on building their own post-apocalypse wasteland, but fortunately giving everyone the tools needed to do just that.

Where to start with this one? The dice system is simple: roll 2d6 and add a modifier. 7-9 is a success, possibly with a consequence, 10 or above is a full success, and 6 is a failure. However each die roll is a scripted ‘Move,’ with explicit rules for what happens at each level of result. This means the GM spends less energy interpreting results, and more time getting to be creative about how they’re going to screw you over when you finally do roll that 6 or less.

Characters in Apocalypse World are larger than life, incredibly competent, and bound to make their mark on the setting around them, which is good- we want to be interested in them, right? People expecting a gritty system where death can come for you at any moment may be disappointed. Scarcity is everywhere, and death surrounds you, but the player characters are survivors by nature, burdened with enduring this broken world.

One of the best things in Apocalypse World (and it’s a game full of best things) is the chapter on GM advice, laying out very specifically what techniques to use in running AW. It’s concise, specific, and not optional: a lot of GM advice takes the wishy-washy tack of “here’s some techniques you can use, if you want, I guess,” and Apocalypse World takes that stance out back and shoots it. AW tells you specifically to Be A Fan of the Player Characters, to Ask Questions and Build on the Results, to Say What Honesty Demands, and best of all, to Barf Forth Apocalyptica. These mandates foster an environment of trust and collaboration between GM and players, and instruct the GM in how to run a killer game of Apocalypse World. The game is worth the price of admission for the GM advice alone; even if not running an AW game, much of the advice is widely applicable, and considering it carefully will make you a better GM even when running a game that demands the exact opposite of one of its Principles. I frequently see Principles (or statements clearly like them) transported into other games, especially ones not Powered by the Apocalypse, and I think this is great, calling attention to how to GM the game for maximum enjoyment, and a mark of this game’s lasting influence.

In addition to making a damn fine roleplaying game, the Bakers have called attention to and codified roleplaying procedures that a lot of us had been doing anyway, and given us the vocabulary to talk about them in simple terms. Vincent Baker’s thoughts on the structure of roleplaying games is like the discovery of the Atom, opening up advances in design in myriad directions. If there is a game that has defined the collective game design of the decade, this is it.

Honorable Mentions:

These are all fine games deserving of your notice, in no particular order except the alphabet.

13th Age (2013, Rob Heinsoo and Jonathan Tweet): A simplified reimagining of the D&D 4th edition experience, 13th age scraps the battlemap in favor of narrative flexibility. Full of cool ideas, mostly buried under the hype of D&D 5th edition.

Dog Eat Dog (2013, Liam Liwanag Burke) a game about Imperialism and the effects it has on indigenous societies, Dog Eat Dog is fast, lean, and insightful.

Fate Core (2013, Leonard Balsera et al) The generic system of choice for designers putting out essentially a setting book, Fate is well refined but bland. The earlier Spirit of the Century was a bit clunkier, but had a lot more spirit. Easy to adapt, a one-size-fits-all approach.

Forbidden Lands (2018, Eric Granstrӧm) The only game on this list I haven’t actually played, Forbidden Lands is a dark fantasy Hex Crawl, using the same d6 system as Mutant Year Zero and Tales from the Loop. The boxed set is beautiful, and features a double sided Hex Map with stickers, making every group’s Hex Crawl unique and generating a unique artifact to prove it.

Ghost Court (2017, Jason Morningstar) Is it an rpg? Is it a larp? Ghost Court is advertised as a ‘party game,’ but let’s get real, it’s a larp about ghost courtroom drama. Judge Judy with ghosts. You know you want it.

Mars Colony (2010, Tim Koppang) A roleplaying game for two players, with one of them an administrator trying to save a failing Mars Colony. (Hint: it’s a metaphor for real world politics.) It uses push-your-luck rolls to try to get progress, and issues ripped from whatever piss you off about politics in your country.

Scum and Villainy (2018, Stras Acimovic, John Leboeur-Little) It’s Star Wars Forged in the Dark. I actually like it more than Blades, since it feels a little more accessible.

The Black Hack (1st edition 2016, 2nd edition 2018, David Black) An OSR game with razor-light rules, and tables chock full of weirdness. Already has spawned many Hacks of the Hack.

The Clay That Woke (2014, Paul Czerge) Shouldn’t you be thinking about minotaurs? Probably the weirdest resolution system of any game I’ve played, bidding tokens into a bowl and then drawing them out and comparing the results to a table. Worth buying just for the strange setting, and has some interesting things to say about society and masculinity.

The Sword, the Crown, and the Unspeakable Power (2018, Todd Nicholas et al) Game of Thrones powered by the Apocalypse. That should really be all you need to know.

The Watch (2017, Anna Kreider) Military fantasy Powered by the Apocalypse, and the player characters are all women. And the shadowy enemy is Literally Patriarchy.

World Wide Wrestling (2015, Nathan Paoletta) I’m not a wrestling fan, and I loved this game. PbtA, the rules create a great narrative of in- and out of ring action. Just don’t break Kayfabe.

The Great Pendragon Campaign, 500, Part I

I started off the session getting Sir Neroven’s player back up to speed, since he had missed the last half of 499. He had gotten married to Lady Cath, one of the daughters of Lady Indeg, who came with a sizeable dowry (20 libra and 2 manors.) Like everyone else, his lands were raided. Thanks to the dowry money, he’s starting to build a Bailey for his manor, but these things take time. One of his events for the 499 winter was that Lady Cath had a questionable birth- upon questioning, it was revealed that yes, before they were married she had relations with another man (that’s the problem with lustful wives.) The question then came up, what to do with the child? One of the double standards of the medieval era is that a man siring a bastard is no problem (and even expected), but a woman who has a child outside of marriage has committed a crime, even more so if she was an adulteress. Sir Nerovens, as a pagan, is more relaxed about these things, but society expects him to produce an heir. He had a number of options here- recognize it as his own, foist it off on a church or temple, but choose to accept the bastard into his family. I think I gave him checks on Honest and Modest for this- acknowledging an uncomfortable truth, and putting the needs of others before his own reputation.

Pentecost brought news that Cornwall had continued to expand, conquering county by county, having now taken over Jagent, where Count Madog (not to be confused with King Madog of the Forest Sauvage), who had insisted on singing for one’s supper had surrendered. No word on whether or not he had asked Prince Mark to sing. Lady Jenna had been married to Sir Ulfian, one of the sons of Duke Ulfias, and as a dowry had some land that had been contested with Levcomagus. Those who were intrigue-savvy learned that Prince Mark’s squire had brought a secret message to the castle in the dead of night, and apparently went away unhappy with the response. And Sir Salador arrived, and was recognized as rightful holder of his lands by Lady Ellen, and swore to serve her.

Other news: the Saxons of Kent and Essex were fighting each other, and looking to hire mercenaries. And fortunately, no one was here to demand tribute. Unfortunately, news came that one of the border castles was under assault by an army led by Prince Cynric of Wessex! The knights were mobilized and set out.

For this I used the rules from the Book of Battle. On the surface, they seem pretty simple, and I thought I had them down, but in practice they tended to be more complicated than they looked, with little details and modifiers here and there. Book of Battle introduces options for the unit leader to pick a maneuver (it reminded me a lot of the scripted combat from Burning Empires or Mouse Guard), and an Intensity system to represent the ebb and flow of battle, and also allow for a battle that the player’s actions can impact the victory. (The base system in the KAP rules involves a scripted victory- after a certain number of rounds, the battle ends, and the events is about what happens to the PCs and how much glory they could gain.)

Going into the battle, I did not know which way it was going to go, whether it would be a victory for the Saxons or not, I was going to let the dice fall where they may- it’s the Anarchy period, and anything can happen!

Once we got into the battle, it went really slowly- I was less familiar with the new rules than I thought I was, and something I discovered quickly was that the Tides of Battle make a much bigger difference.

Tides of Battle is a 3d6 -10 roll, resulting in a number somewhere from -7 to +8, which is a modifier to Battle rolls (and in the base rules, I think, combat rolls.) In the base battle rules, this lasts just for the round; it determines how well your army is doing right now. In Book of Battle, it is cumulative, and adds to Intensity (your army’s score, high is bad.) Every Tide of Battle roll I got was at least a 14, which is incredibly bad for the players. The first round they got a triumph (I think I interpreted the rules wrong), the best result, and modified their Intensity by -2, but increased it by +4. It got much worse from there.

We didn’t really get to see any of the scripting stuff, because the results of the battle meant that the players were forced into a certain maneuver each turn, due to Intensity scoring a critical hit, which meant they were fighting two Saxon units each round. Book of Battle has two tables for Saxons, one for a basic, scrappy Saxon army, and one for a more experienced Saxon army. For the first few rounds, I used the experienced table, but even though the players were emerging overall victorious, they were having a hard time of it, a few of them suffering major wounds. I probably should have leaned on the basic chart, given that this was the first battle of this segment, and the real experienced characters all died at St. Albans– it makes sense that the experienced Saxons would have died off too.

Anyway, after three rounds I called it for the Saxons. The players got a pittance of glory due to the defeat (like 25 each), which I’m going to go back and double. Sir Hermel got his major wound from a blue cloaked Saxon, some sort of aging badass. Those knights who didn’t yet have Hatred of Saxon picked up the passion.

After losing the battle and retreating to tend their wounds, the knights decided that they would rally Lady Elfrida’s knights, and armed with cold iron (which is really just a fancy name for iron), return to her castle to free it from the goblin horde. They made their preparations, ready to return to the Forest of Gloom.

The Great Pendragon Campaign, 499, Part II

Two of our knights were needed elsewhere- clearly Sir Nerovens had wedding preparations to attend to- so it was Sir Gherard, Sir Harvis, and Sir Hermel who ventured north, escorting Lady Nineve and her handmaidens into the Forest Sauvage.

Sir Gherard was quite vexed by the logistics of traveling with women, who seemed to want to stop constantly for all sorts of trivial reasons, and found himself quite restless and scouting ahead. However Sir Harvis and Sir Hermel were quite taken by the luxurious provisions Lady Nineve had brought along, eating quite well and looking forward to their next meals.

They crossed over into Glouchester, a land now divided between old Duke Eldol’s many relatives. They stopped at Castle Marlborough, where young Lord Eldwyn, no more than eight or nine years old held the castle. He did not seem to have a Regent, but rather ruled with the advice of a Christian monk. He granted the knights hospitality, and was the most gracious host they had met so far.

They avoided the main roads, and were able to avoid any banditry or challenges by hostile knights, and made it to the Forest Sauvage. Lady Nineve seemed to know the hidden paths to take, and led the knights forward.

They met a strange Squire, named Llewellyn, who was unusually cold, and asked the knights for a cloak. When Sir Gherard gave him one, they found that it did not fit him, covering barely a shoulder. Sir Harvis gave his as well, but it seemed quite small on the squire’s frame. Sir Hermel gave his cloak up only reluctantly, after being chided by Lady Nineve. (Sir Gherard and Harvis got Generous checks, Hermel got a Selfish check.)

Squire Llewellyn led them to the Castle of the Falcon, a small keep and nearby village surrounded by the local forest. The only knight present was the owner, Sir Ector, and the castle had clearly seen better days. He explained that he believed Llewellyn was a ‘spiritual giant,’ as if that explained anything. Without any servants to attend to him, Ector had his two sons, boys of about ten and eight, named Kay and Art, attend to the knights.

Sir Ector showed them the mews and the falcons (Merlins, as it happened), and the knights went falconing. Sir Harvis exchanged news with Sir Ector, and asked Ector if he had ever met Merlin- Ector said he hadn’t, but Harvis could tell the knight was lying. He did not press him on this mystery, since Ector had otherwise been a gracious host.

They continued onward through the forest, and encountered a pavilion of ladies, led by one Lady Blanche de Blanche, who told the knights she and her ladies were discussing morality, and wanted to know what made them good men. Sir Hermel said that it was because he took care of his family and provided for them. Sir Gherard said that he strove to be just in all things, and Sir Harvis that he was brave in battle. (Sir Hermel was clearly reaching for a generous check, after getting one for selfish; he got checks in Honor and Love: Family. Gherard got checks for Just and Modest, and Harvis for Proud and Valorous.)

They encountered a field of poppies, that made everyone who crossed through want to fall asleep, but the vigorous knights were able to carry out the squires and ladies who fell asleep.

Finally, they reached Lady Nineve’s destination, the home of an old friend of hers. This woman was near the end of her life, and was in pain, and asked Nineve to brew her a potion that would end her life. Lady Nineve was somewhat taken back by this. Sir Hermel told her she had to be true to herself, which comforted Nineve. After her original shock, she had no problem brewing the potion. She gave Sir Hermel the root he would need to cure his sickly child, and told the knights she and her handmaidens would be continuing north, to Gorre, to their mistress, Queen Morgan. She told the knights to go back the way they came, but also mentioned that if they sought adventure they might seek King Madog, the King of the Forest at the heart of the Forest Sauvage.

They ventured back to the Castle of the Falcon, where the younger page (clearly a reliable source of information), told them that it was rumored that anyone who passed three trials would be granted a boon by King Madog. Going deeper into the forest (now finding a clear path further in), they encountered a bridge guarded by Sir Joust, who wanted a friendly joust with the knights. Each jousted in turn, and he unhorsed each of them, however did so so skillfully that they were unharmed. Afterwards, he led them to the Castle of Ease.

At the Castle of Ease, they were feasted and granted warm beds, private chambers, and even a bath! Sir Harvis found his long lost sister Violet, who had married a knight and had two children. After staying the night, they found the castle most welcome… so welcome in fact, that they felt that if they stayed another night, they might want to stay another, then another. The three energetic knights took their leave of the Lord of the Castle of Ease, and continued on their journey.

After traveling through another village, where everything was unusually clean (including the pigs and the dogs and the peasants), they stopped at the Castle of the Race, where the Lord, Sir Yves, insisted on racing one of them. The track didn’t look so hard on foot, so all three knights agreed to race him. However once they set off, they found that the course was quite confusing, and Sir Hermel and Harvis found themselves hopelessly lost in the forest. Only Sir Gherard actually finished the race, with Sir Yves waiting at the finish line for him. He ventured forth into the forest to find his fellow knights, and found himself lost with them.

They traveled through the forest for several days (weeks?) getting no closer to Castle Sauvage. They first encountered Sir Bryan of Tribuit, who offered to show them the way out, and warned them that the forest was a dangerous, cursed place. Still, they ventured forward. Next, they encountered an old hag, who scoffed at them and told them if they had any sense they would leave. Still, they ventured forward. Next, they encountered a remote shrine, and the hermit who kept it, who pointed the way out, and told them no good would come to them if they stayed. Still, they ventured forward. Finally, they encountered a talking bear, who roared at them to leave. They figured this was a pretty good sign, and took the bear’s advice, and exited the forest, miles and miles away from where they entered.

They made it back home, to a scene of devastation. The Saxons of Wessex had raided their lands, so heavily that it would take years to recover. (In addition to the 3 points of raiding that had happened before, there were 2 points of ‘permanent’ damage, that reduced the value of their lands. Some of the knights, through good stewardship were able to mend the damage, and those who were married were also able to have their wives aid them, but it was a hard year all around, and most of the knights were forced to adopt poor lifestyle.)

The Great Pendragon Campaign, 499, Part I

In many ways, 499 is a watershed moment for the campaign. A few of these reasons are certainly in-character: King Idres of Cornwall is going to war with Jagent, which means that if successful, Salisbury will now border the Cornish juggernaut. So far the Saxons have mostly been posturing and raiding, but this is also the start of serious military action. However 499 has an incredibly short writeup in GPC- the only year to date that has been shorter was 493, which was still a great session, but it meant doing an improvised scenario, rather one from the book- which may very well be part of why it was a success.

But more importantly, it was when I figured out that with the number of sessions available (the games are run in four month blocks), I simply can’t get through the Anarchy in a single block without rushing things… so I might as well run this over an eight month period (December is bad for gaming anyway), and give more attention to each individual year. If the players want to spend an hour of each session going over the events at Pentecost Court, why not? It also gives more freedom to dig in and follow events in more detail, rather than trying to resolve everything in broad strokes, which I think would really do the period a disservice.

Anyway, there’s not much for the GM to latch on to in 499- some updates to the current events, the Saxons of Wessex wanting extra tribute, Prince Mark showing up. Technically the knights have been free to do as they will in any year, but this is the first year that did not have an obvious hook to latch into that demanded the knights’ attention, making it a sort of inflection point: this is where the rails fall away, and the notes in GPC become increasingly about what is happening elsewhere. Somewhat appropriate as the characters look on to the new century (technically the century doesn’t start until 501, but who’s counting.) And maybe this doesn’t matter to anyone but me, but I tend to overthink these things.

So we opened by picking up with Sir Hermel IV and his new wife. I finally put together my random wife table, and everyone watched with baited breath as the player rolled up Hermel’s new wife. He got a lucky roll and generated an heiress, and then got lucky again and it turned out she was a widow- extra glory, and she has some assets from her first marriage. (Also, she was originally 15, but being a widow added 2d6 to that. And then she was an ‘old maid’ for another 1d6.) Lady Efa is Energetic and Merciful and Lustful (good for Pagans), and skilled in Falconry, First Aid, Stewardship, and the art of Recognize. Quite the catch!

(Also Sir Ulysses has a nephew that is a Changeling. He doesn’t seem very concerned.)

There were several high profile visitors at Pentecost: Prince Mark from Cornwall, Prince Cynric of Wessex, and Sir Ulfian of Silchester, son of the Duke.

Prince Mark came seeking an alliance with Salisbury, and was hiring mercenaries for “the usual rate.” I could not find the rate for hiring a knight as a mercenary- a mounted sergeant is one pound a month, so I doubled that to two pounds, a tempting offer for many of the recently impoverished knights. Sir Gherard attempted to converse with Prince Mark and judge his intentions, and tried to make an Awareness roll (with a penalty)- it turns out that Prince Mark is a really hard guy to read. After a failed Suspicious test, Sir Harvis came away with the impression that Prince Mark was a great guy and super trustworthy- after all, he had been taking lands from Ygraine. What could possibly go wrong?

Prince Cynric wanted double tribute, and promised protection from the other Saxons.

The single knights of course engaged in some courtship/conversation with ladies: Gherard talked with Lady Rhonwen of Rydychan, who lamented if only some brave knight would help her retake her lands. Gherard, not having a plan to fight against sixty knights, was noncommittal. Sir Harvis found out from Lady Elfrida, a wealthy landowner, that her Castle had been sucked up by the Forest of Gloom, and invaded by Goblins! Modest Ulysses courted Lady Jenna, and heard her lament that she was not married yet- unfortunately he’s likely too low on the totem pole to catch her notice. Sir Nerovens identified Lady Cath as a reasonably available wife- not needing to rid a castle of goblins or a county of usurpers. To marry Lady Cath of course, he would have to get in good with her mother, Lady Indeg (thrice widowed, most recently to famed Sir Bersules). He critted his Flirting roll, leaving Lady Indeg with a very good impression, and she invited him to visit them later in the year.

There was some discussion over here about what to do next, but Goblins certainly stood out as the most interesting. They went to Lady Elfrida’s lands, got a hunter guide, and went into the Forest of Gloom, which has been expanding at a large rate, not unlike the Forest Sauvage to the north. Traveling through a village that had been overtaken completely by nature, the knights were ambushed by six goblins. A botched Awareness roll left Sir Gherard unable to act in the first round, and due to their hideous looks, a Valorous roll was required by all the knights, which Sir Gherard botched once more. The creatures killed the guide, but where largely ineffective against the knights, only doing a single point of damage to Ulysses. Gherard ran from the goblins, and had to be reassured to rejoin the group, and picked up a Fear: Goblins passion.

They met two large Goblins, named Bug and Gug at the gates to the castle, who engaged them in conversation. The Goblins seemed a bit daft, and had some odd opinions about things, but related that the castle belonged to their Lord Djejj, they had come with the forest from “over there,” and they weren’t leaving. They asked if they could speak to Lord Djejj, and after some debate between the Goblins, Bug and Gug offered Hospitality.

Here Sir Gherard failed (or rather succeeded- success is bad in this case, meaning he must act within the passion) a Fear: Goblins roll, and was understandably quite reluctant to enter a keep full of goblins. Being a generous GM and not wanting him Out of the Story, I told him he could enter as long as he steeled himself by making some precaution. After mulling it over, he decided he would draw his weapons, and claim it was a sign of respect. The gullible Goblins believed him. Sir Hermel followed suit, reasoning a good tactic. They both got a check on Deceitful for their troubles, and lost a point of Hospitality.

Entering, they found the keep overgrown with plants, and swarming with goblins. In the main hall, which was completely trashed, they encountered Lord Djejj (“the J is silent!”), who Sir Ulysses correctly identified as a Spriggan, a size-changing creature. Valorous rolls were successful by all, and they were able to stand firm and converse with the Spriggan. Lord Djejj was a little bit more informative about Over There, but still clearly thought about things in a non-human way. He refused to leave the keep, stating that it was his now, but smiling, very magnanimously said he would allow Lady Elfrida to return.

“But at what price?” asked Gherard, getting him some glory for asking the all important question.

“Why, her hand in marriage, of course.”

The knights exited the castle, and told Lady Elfrida what they had seen.

A few scenes here and there with knights attending to personal business. Sir Nerovens paid Lady Indeg and Lady Cath a visit. What is important to understand is that Lady Indeg is both notably Lustful and Indulgent; she and Sir Bersules essentially had an open marriage. (Her brothers didn’t approve, but they died at the Infamous Feast.) Lady Indeg set a condition for Sir Nerovens- he had to give her a roll in the hay first. (Perhaps to make sure he could take care of her daughter?) Sir Nerovens went through with it, costing him a point of Honor (having sex with your betrothed-to-be-betrothed’s mother is weird.) Oh, and one more condition. She wanted a Christian wedding. This seemed like more of a dealbreaker for Pagan Nerovens, but upon learning he wasn’t required or expected to convert, he relented. Preparations were to be made for the wedding later that year.

Sir Hermel, returning to his wife (and his bastard children, and her three children from her first marriage), met a strange woman- Lady Nineve, who claimed to have been sent by Merlin to look after his sickly child. She promised to cure him, but asked for Sir Hermel to do a service for her- she needed some brave knights to escort her on a journey through the Forest Sauvage. (Fortunately, she said, she knew certain secret paths that would aid their travel in the Forest.)

Gathering up his fellow knights, they set out, deciding to take the route through Glouchester, rather than Salisbury/Levcomagus like they had on their previous foray. Looking at the Salisbury map, we saw that they were passing through independent Swans Hundred. One of the things to remember is that each county is divided into twenty-ish subdivisions called Hundreds, and that because of feudalism, who owns what is patchwork and messy sometimes- Count Robert may own most of Salisbury, but certainly not all of it. And because the rightful holder may be dead, or a hundred miles away, or no one knows who it is, or the rightful holder is the king (and there isn’t a king), these things can get messy. This is why things like Adverse Possession came into be- the land is there, someone ought to use it, and if no one shows up to own it, maybe that person should own it.

Anyway. They encountered a Sir Salador, who held the hundred for Lord Thornwood, who is dead, with no clear heir. (I screwed up the details here- in Book of the Warlord, Sir Salador is supposed to be Lord Thornwood’s son and heir, but I presented him as a Castellan with a dubious claim. That’s who he is now, I guess.) Sir Salador was fortifying the town, in the process of building a castle. He was fairly amiable to the knights, and they asked him if he would attend next year’s Pentecost feast. This was pretty much the best reception they’d had with a foreign knight. Then they set off, ready to travel into Glouchester.

The Great Pendragon Campaign, 498

498 opened with some of the knights taking a more proactive approach: Sir Nerovens and Sir Harvis paid Sir Lycus of Llud’s Hall a visit, asking if he was going to be at Countess Ellen’s Pentecost feast, and if he was going to pay her homage. Sir Lycus rather awkwardly refused both, and then tried to change the subject with wine. ‘We’re going to get poisoned,’ said Harvis, but there was no poison, just an attempt to smother uncomfortable subjects with hospitality. Savvy Nerovens noticed that Sir Lycus had hired a whole lot of mercenaries, many of them Galish or Picts.

Sir Gherard, following up a random family event from 497’s winter, learned that his mother had been cursed by a witch. Upon further investigation, he discovered that the witch was the local herbalist and wise woman, and his mother’s curse was a severe rash. He consulted with his father-in-law, who said that he would do whatever Sir Gherard advised. Gherard said he had to think about it.

Learning of war in Norgales, Sir Harvis sent his relatives Sir Morris and Sir Bryant to see if King Pellinore needed aid.

At Pentecost court, Gherard consulted many people regarding his problem: one source suggested ‘thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,’ and that the woman be burnt at the stake. Sir Charles, the resident heretic and mystic said he could devise a charm to protect Gherard’s mother, but he would need a vial of her blood to make it. Gherard refused, to Charles’s ambivalence. Father Tewi told Gherard that his mother should turn to prayer, because a witch has no power over a pious woman. Bishop Roger suggested she might find solace at the Amesbury Priory. Gherard, a Roman Christian, took this advice with some skepticism. Sir Harvis suggested Gherard try to consult with Merlin, and found out that Sir Charles might know where Merlin was, and to visit him later that season.

Meanwhile, news from the Saxons- several holdings on the southern edge of Salisbury had been raided by Saxons, but none of the player knights. More alarmingly, several holdings near the eastern borders had been raided by knights from Silchester! When Prince Cynric of Wessex was confronted over failing to provide protection, he said they only agreed to provide protection from Invasions, which a raid was not, but perhaps Salisbury would swear fealty, and receive a greater level of protection…

In addition to Prince Cynric of Wessex, there were messengers from Sussex and Essex, both demanding tribute. Countess Ellen (with some advice from the player characters) decided to continue to pay tribute to Wessex, especially since Wessex had been pretty successful at invading the lands of those who refused to pay, but not pay Essex or Sussex. Futhermore, she would send messengers to neighboring lords, to try to form alliances.

Also at Pentecost was Lady Rhonwen, Countess of Rydychan. Rhonwen had arrived in Salisbury, and was now staying as a guest of the Countess. Sir Gherard got a chat with her and learned that the three brothers had usurped the county. The pound signs in his eyes were visible- if she were married and her lands retaken, that would be quite the wealth for the taking.

After the feast, Countess Ellen had a mission she gave to Sir Hermel: travel through Jagent County to Cornwall, and meet with Sir Cador of Cornwall, and escort him and his party to Amesbury Abbey in Salisbury. There was also a message to be delivered to Count Angor of Jagent. Details of what to expect were somewhat slim. Dutiously, Hermel gathered his friends and they set off.

They met with some Jagent knights, and were escorted to Count Angor’s castle. The Jagent knights seemed to have a hard time keeping a straight face- they found something very funny. When they arrived at the castle, the source of their amusement was clear- Count Angor, ‘in accordance with ancient tradition’ required all guests to sing for their supper- literally. One by one, all the knights failed their Singing checks, and were escorted to the stables, where they were served meager provisions. Sir Hermel’s squire turned out to have a lovely singing voice, critically succeeding in his Singing roll, and returned later to describe the sumptuous feast. Everyone agreed that the hospitality left something to be desired.

The knights pressed on to the border with Cornwall, and met Sir Cador, leading four other Cornwall knights, and a horsedrawn wheelhouse. Sir Cador was very protective of whatever/whoever was in the wheelhouse, not letting anyone get near. Sir Harvis remembered that Cador was the nephew of Queen Ygraine, and was immediately suspicious of him.

Followers of this campaign may recall that Sir Harvis was the younger brother of famed Sir Bersules, who like King Uther, fell tragically in love with Queen Ygraine, and found it to be his undoing. After the death of Uther, Bersules seduced the Queen (or more truly, it was she who seduced him), and was stabbed to death by her, as vengeance for his slaying of Duke Gorlois. As a result, Sir Harvis had a Hate passion for Ygraine and her family.

It was not long on the road before it was discovered that the passengers in the wheelhouse were Queen Ygraine and her handmaidens, attempting to travel incognito. It was learned that King Idres of Cornwall (not to be confused with the Duchy of Cornwall) had laid siege to the Castles of Terrabil and Tintagel, and once Terrabil fell, Queen Ygraine surrendered Castle Tintagel on the condition that she and her followers be spared. King Idres offered to let her stay in Cornwall, but she decided she was better off fleeing elsewhere.

Traveling back through Jagent was largely uneventful, they stopped at a few manors, though after Queen Ygraine was advised of Count Jagent’s strange customs, they decided not to stay the night there (though they did stop to receive Angor’s reply to Countess Ellen’s message). Pressing on into Salisbury, Sir Gherard was rather offended that the Cornish knights insisted in riding fully armored- he protested, citing that Salisbury was surely safe. However the other knights decided the prudent thing to do would be to armor themselves as well, following Sir Cador’s example.

Sir Gherard remained in riding leathers, and scouted ahead, and it was wise he did, for he soon discovered a Saxon raiding party, 20 strong, let by several Heorthgenants. He quickly returned, and was able (with the help of his squire) to fully don his armor in time.

Tactics were discussed- Sir Nerovens and others wanted to organize a lance charge, which would be devastating against the unmounted Saxons, but Sir Cador insisted on staying near the wheelhouse in case there were other threats. Deciding that mixed tactics, such as half the knights doing a lance charge and half staying back would be disastrous, the knights decided to stand firm with the Cornish knights.

This was our first real combat of the Campaign, and had several modifiers in place: the on horse vs. foot bonus, splitting skill due to multiple opponents. Ulysses, Nerovens and Harvis all invoked their Hatred of Saxons, and to good effect; Hermel and Gherard were taken out quickly- Hermel by a fearsome Heorthgenant, and Gherard by a Saxon warrior with a lucky crit. Ulysses also faced a Heorthgenant and defeated it, but not before he was dealt many fearsome blows himself.

At Castle Vagon, they injured knights received Chiurgery from the monks (much to Sir Ulysses’s protests). Of course one of the monks botched a surgery on Hermel, only feeding into Ulysses’s suspicions. Now further into Salisbury territory, Hermel and Gherard chose to stay and recuperate, but Ulysses pressed on, hoping to find a healer that wasn’t a British Christian surgeon. Hermel found a sympathetic damosel to nurse him back to health.

They made it to Amesbury Abbey without incident.

Gherard, along with Ulysses and Nervovens went then to his estate to investigate the wise woman. Sir Ulysses asked her to heal him- I rolled a d20 for her skill, and got a 3, so her attempt naturally failed. She covered his wound in a strange poultice, which itched severely and gave him quite the rash. Sir Nerovens, a pagan, interviewed her, and deduced she was no witch, but rather a fellow pagan and a simple herbalist. Her mother had been the village herbalist and she was trying to follow in her footsteps, but had not developed the skill yet. Gherard decided that no crime had been done, and allowed the woman to follow her practice.

Ulysses stayed another week to recuperate, and the woman- now given a name, Bronwen- rolled a 1! Her methods worked, and he was healed.

(Reviewing the rules for Deterioration and Aggravation, I see that I was much more generous than what the rules present- I halved healing rates for those Knights who were traveling, when the Aggravation rules would assign 1 or 2 damage per day of travel. Also, I was only rolling a d3 instead of a d6 for Deterioration, thinking that it was the same as First Aid.)

Meanwhile, Harvis and Hermel paid a visit to Sir Charles, to discover that he was hosting Merlin! Merlin revealed that he was going to go on a great journey, visiting Gaul, and Rome, and perhaps sites further still, waiting for the right time to return to Britain. He revealed that the Forest Sauvage was not harmful, and was likely to be around for some time. He offered the knights a boon: Harvis asked about the status of his sister Violet: Merlin revealed that she was still alive, and perhaps fate would see them reunited. Hermel asked for help for his sickly child, to which Merlin said he knew someone who might be able to help.

(There was a possibility of a short scenario to be ran here, of escorting Merlin to London, but it was quite late in the evening by this point, and the knights were scattered and wounded. However I think the year was plenty adventurous.)

In Winter, everyone had been raided by Saxons. Some knights managed to make their Stewardship rolls to mitigate the damage. Between the raid and paying tribute, most of the knights had to drop to a Poor standard of living, and those who maintained an Ordinary one (Nerovens and Ulysses, I believe) did so by dipping into their savings. Belts were tightened and Saxons were cursed.

Then some random events were had- my favorite part of the Winter phase. Ulysses’s bastard brother Owain had a strange child, and Hermel’s half-brother Arnold married upwards (possibly a minor heiress, if he was an unlanded knight, otherwise a younger daughter with a limited dowry, in any case, a boon to the family.) One of Gherard’s bastard children died, and there was a wild rumor that his aunt had poisoned it. Best of all, Sir Bryant returned from Norgales in disgrace- he had been caught attempting to steal some hill ponies! Clearly he had been spending too much time around Sir Dyfed.

It is a cold and dreary winter, and the knights look forward to spring…

The Great Pendragon Campaign, 497

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…

The Great Pendragon Campaign, 496

After a four month hiatus, the Great Pendragon Campaign is back.

Since I’m running as part of a larger gaming group, a significant part of the session was just people getting their table assignments: a raffle system, where everyone gets a raffle ticket, and when your number comes up, you can join up into a game. This time we had eight games, each with room for five players. Even in the first session, I found running for five much more comfortable than running for six (or for seven, as I had for the first few sessions of the Uther phase!). From looking around the room, it seemed like most of the games were full, but several still had room in them, which seemed nice if we had new people joining in the middle of a campaign.

Out of the five players, we had two returning, the player of famous Sir Bersules, and the player of almost as famous Sir Hewgon the Sheeprider (and others). Of the three new players, one had played before, and two were new to it.

For this character creation, I used information from The Book of Sires. I found the tables within to be much more interesting than the basic tables in Pendragon 5.2, especially since they expand to contain the years 486-495, and each individual year has its own entry, instead of grouping some years together. The bad news is that adding that many more entries took more time, and each year had additional handling time. I think we spent most of the session rolling on those tables, with me reading from the book and telling people their results. I did like how much detail Book of Sires went into regarding the period of Vortigern’s rule. I suspect the next time I do this, I’ll make my own tables inspired by Book of Sires, and pick twenty or so key years, rather than rolling for every year.

After that, I had a packet with a step by step walkthrough for making a character. Over the course of the rest of that session, and the first hour or so of the next, we came up with our knights:

Sir Harvis- played by Sir Bersules’s returning player. Harvis is Bersules’s former squire, who squired for King Pellinore(!) and has now returned to Salisbury. The player asked if he could get some glory for having squired for a king- I’m leery of handing out glory for pre-play events, but this one was established through play of his previous character, so I gave him 25 glory. Harvis is famously Energetic, and broad shouldered. Through his experience with King Pellinore, he had the opportunity to roll for a Passion Love: Hunt, and ended up with a 4. It turns out that hunting is really a lot of bother, when you get down to it.

Sir Ulysses- played by Hewgon’s player, who rolled up a new family history and dynasty. Ulysses is Merciful (and rather humble, as we will see in play.) He’s the one player who made Appearance his clear dump stat, with a lisp and the tip of his nose missing. His family’s bloodline skill is Dancing, which is a bit humorous for the homely knight.

Sir Harmel the Fourth, an Indulgent knight, with sea blue eyes and dimples. So far Harmel seems to be pretty full of himself, but you’d be too if you had a number after your name. I think Harmel ended up with a 15 or 20 Recognize due to a family bloodline trait- he’s got a keen eye for faces.

Sir Gherard, another Energetic knight, Bright Eyed, with a Patrician Nose.

Sir Nerovens, a Just knight, with regal stature and dark mysterious eyes. From the random tables of The Book of Sires, his father did many great deeds in battle against Vortigern, and was rewarded by Uther with a gift of a large Estate. Nerovens has grown up rich, and thanks to his bloodline has an Intrigue of 20. This player has expressed an interest in being a plotter- I’m eager to see what he will come up with.

The other stumbling block in character creation was rolling up people’s families. I found a sheet that had spots for 20 family members, and rolling a d20 to see who ends up with a random event (instead of rolling a random family relationship.) A lot of the families needed fudging, since the number of young knights generated was higher than the number of siblings, for example, but we got some interesting starts at a family tree, and I told people it would be fine if they filled in 10 or more of the list.

Our game opened with Pentecost Court in 496. Lady Ellen, Countess of Salisbury, is Regent, her son Count Robert being but four years old. However, his older sister and heir, Lady Jenna, is now sixteen, and this Pentecost doubled as something as a coming out party for her. Many nobles arrived with gifts, including Sir Brastias the wandering knight, and Sir Cadwallon the Younger, the new Steward of Levcomagus.

Some simple die rolls were made to get the game going and start earning the players those checkmarks: a Stewardship roll (of which only Gherard made) to identify that almost 120 knights are supposed to be sworn to Lady Ellen (or technically, her son Robert), and only half that had attended. He also realized, with a crit, that while some of those knighthoods were unfilled, there were many who purposely did not attend, a snub to their liege. A Recognize roll was made for a few people- Nerovens and Ulysses both fumbled their rolls to recognize Sir Brastias- they know him, and mistakenly believe a rumor that he was a traitor, and in league with Sir Jorddans, the Mad Knight who poisoned the King and the Lords of the Realm!

Sir Charles (now an NPC) arrived with a bag full of captured Saxon idols he sacked, a gift for the Countess and her daughter. The rumors were aplenty about Sir Charles: that he was a heretic and a sorcerer, utterly without honor, treasonous, and cavorts with witches. Nerovens got a crit and knew that only most of that was true (like the cavorting with witches- Charles was romantically involved with Nimue, a Lady of the Lake!). I felt these expositionary rolls were helpful in getting the new players up to date about what was going on.

Many of the knights attempted to dance with one or more of the ladies at the feast, for many eligible heiresses and widows were present. Gherard was perhaps the most charming of them all, and danced with many ladies, including Lady Jenna herself. Meanwhile Nerovens botched his dancing roll, and stumbled backwards into a certain Sir Bryce.

Those from the previous game know Sir Bryce as a Levcomagus knight with a large mustache and a short temper. While dining at Levcomagus, he pulled a dagger and threatened to stab a player knight, and at Castle Terrabil, angrily jousted with Bersules and took the loss out on his own squire- Gruffen, who then ran away, squired for Bersules, and was presently squiring for Harvis! I imagined that squire Gruffen was doing his best to avoid being seen, and that any failed squire roll on his part would result in his being spotted by Bryce.

Nerovens tried (badly) to diffuse the situation with humor, but things only escalated, with the Levcomagus knights all standing up ready to back Bryce in a fight, and then the Salisbury knights all getting up… and then a long tense moment. None of the players seemed to want to be the one to throw the first punch (and no one was particularly Reckless or Proud), so it turned out that it was Cadwallon, who shouted for his men to sit down, and for Bryce to shut up. A humiliating moment for Sir Bryce, one he will not soon forget…

Later in the evening, a horn was sounded, and the Marshall of Salisbury, Sir Elan, an experienced knight but inexperienced commander, commanded his knights to get arms and secure the battlements. They gathered up whatever they could, and rushed to see what threatened the city of Sarum.

By the last rays of the sunset, they were able to make out a group of riders- 20 to 25, Saxon Heorthgenants (!), mounted (!!), waving a flag of truce (!!!). Their leader dismounted and approached, saying he had a message for Countess Ellen. Sir Elan offered to convey the message, but the Saxon said he was sworn to deliver it personally.

Sir Nerovens, with his famously high hatred of Saxons, felt compelled to do something, so he went downstairs and insulted the messenger to his face, calling him Swine. The Saxon seemed unmoved, perhaps amused by this, and continued, alone with no escort, to Ellen’s throne room.

There he introduced himself as Prince Aescwine, son of the Saxon King Aethelwine, of Essex, with an offer that the Countess pay a tribute of 100 head of cattle and 100 pounds of silver, and in return they would have protection and would be safe from raids.

I have to say, I really appreciate the boldness of Prince Aescwine, strolling right into the court of a Christian ruler and demanding tribute. As a Prince, he’d be worth a fair ransom, if an unscrupulous host was willing to violate hospitality. Also interesting to me that Essex isn’t really convenient for raiding into Salisbury- there’s much easier targets nearby, and one would have to ride through at the minimum Rydychan or Silchester.

At any length, the Countess responded that she would discuss it with her advisors and get back to him. He left, and there was much hubbub about this, whether it was right or not, or even a good idea or not to pay this tribute.

We jumped forward a few weeks, with the knights on garrison duty, patrolling the borders. They had learned that the Countess had decided to pay the Tribute, and decreed that every manor contribute one cow and 100 pounds of silver. There was some idle talk about giving their worst cattle, or trying to send lesser coinage, but even after grumbling, everyone agreed that they would follow the edict and contribute their portion. Opportunities for Trait checks were gained, based on one’s attitudes- Just, Selfish, Loyalty-Lord, or Prudent were common ticks.

I was going to go right to the refugees encounter, but the players decided they wanted to call upon one of the knights who had refused to attend Pentecost court. So I came up with one Sir Bandelaire, who they called upon. The not very hospitable knight welcomed them into his home “stay as long as you like… just don’t empty my larder”, which several hospitality minded knights found rather insulting.

Insinuating that Bandelaire had perhaps been ill, Nerovens led the questioning as to why the knight had not attended Pentecost. His answer was that he did not want to serve a woman or a small boy, and that the realm needed ‘strong men of action.’ Pretty much everyone took exception to that, and took turns telling Bandelaire how wrong he was. Several arguments were made, about the realm needing to stand together against the Saxons, but it was clear that Bandelaire was not going to budge. A few knights brazenly insulted him and I docked them a point of hospitality (even if he isn’t a very good host, openly insulting him in his own manor is kind of a dick move.) Nerovens rolled an Intrigue to see if there was anything more behind this, and learned that there was something of a faction of knights who did not see Lady Ellen as worthy of their service, however this faction did not have a strong leader to rally around yet.

Moving on, they encountered some refugees from Hantonne to the south- another Saxon fleet had landed! (Is there no end to them?) The knights split, some that were Reckless and Energetic riding south to learn more of this, those that were more Prudent riding north to inform Lady Ellen. The advance group encountered more refugees, who said that Saxons had taken the port of Hantonne.

They spotted a small village, that was strangely not-on-fire. They asked the local peasants, and it turned out a group of Saxons had arrived and paid a visit to the local knight. Since the manor was not-on-fire either, they went forth to meet these Saxons. It turned out that they were tendering a message: the knight could swear fealty and homage to King Cerdic and keep his lands, or resist and die.

Several of the knights realized that this King Cerdic was the half Saxon, half Cymric son of Vortigern! Our rolling up family history, because the players immediately recognized the name, and decided they definitely did not like this Cerdic guy. The knights had reunited, and were considering fighting these Saxons, but Prudence prevailed and they parted ways bloodlessly. They called on the lord of the manor, a Sir Ysgarren (not to be confused with the Cornish Sir Ysgarren once met during the Battle of Castle Terrabil), who was seriously considering this offer. They suggested instead that he come north to Salisbury, where Lady Ellen would be sure to accept his service.

We got through our first winter phase, a tough one, with the knights having to pay tribute. I taxed each of the knights two pounds, which in retrospect seems like a bit much, since the price of a cow is half a pound. I also taxed their earned glory by 2 points, since their income is lowered, but in retrospect I think they should get the full glory award, since the still earned that much, they just had to spend some of it. We also got to try the new random family event table I made- Sir Harmel IV had a cousin who was thought dead return home, Gherard’s uncle was being blackmailed into not paying his tribute, Neroven’s brother, a household knight, fought off some raiders and was rewarded with a manor, Ulysses’s uncle made a social blunder, and to the surprise of no one, one of Harvis’s uncles was accused of adultery. Some grist there for the next session!

The Great Pendragon Campaign, 495

This year took place over two sessions- about four hours of play, give or take, with our sessions being about three hours each. I estimated correctly that it would be too much for one session, and chose a likely break point, which you’ll see below. This left us with two short sessions. I find myself, in retrospect, wondering if I could have added more ‘side content’, or if it just would have felt like padding, or if I could have managed to cram it all into one session (which would have been miserable had I just fallen short.) But things happened as they did, for good or ill…

A great Saxon army had gathered in the north, given free passage by the traitorous King Malahaut, and ravaged the lands of Lindsay. Duke Lindsay had pulled his people and hid behind the walls of his castle, rather than give battle. As the Saxon army marches south, King Uther gathers his forces, ready to meet them at the city of St. Alban’s.

When the army arrives at St. Albans, they find it already sacked by the Saxons, and strangely deserted- not a single survivor, nor any sign of the Saxon army. Several scouting parties are sent in, led by brave knights. Leoric, Tathan, and Charles go to investigate the Abbey, and Sir Martin goes to investigate another site (the keep, perhaps, my notes are unclear.) Meanwhile Sir Morian and Bersules ride the perimeter of the city, and find the great ladders the Saxons must have used to scale the walls. Ever wary as to the threat of ambush from the woods, Morian and Bersules remove the ladders.

But the ambush was from within, not from without! As knights explore the empty city, a hue and cry is raised, and Saxon warriors pour forth from the Abbey and Keep, and other hiding spots. A volley of arrows blankets the city, taking many knights and soldiers unaware. The knights within the city make battle, but soon find themselves out numbered: a skirmish started, and more and more Saxon reinforcements kept arriving. Soon it was made clear: to stand and fight was suicide. Rolls were made to escape the melee. Leoric and Charles managed to escape, Tathan and Martin were not so lucky- being struck, and failing horsemanship rolls, they were pulled from their horses, then hacked to bits by treacherous Saxon warriors.

Almost all of the scouting party is killed by Saxons- Leoric and Charles and scant few others escape. Uther’s army pulls back, intending to dig in for a siege rather than assault the city and suffer more losses.

It is an uneasy night. And at the very break of dawn, the Saxon warriors charge out of the city, to make battle with Uther. This marks the end of the first of the two sessions.

Our second portion opens with the great battle. As the Saxons attack from Ambush, our knights must make Squire rolls to be ready- Sir Leoric I recall started unarmored. As the Saxon warriors charge forth, the knights gird themselves and invoke their passions. All of our knights succeed, and Sir Leoric crits his Passion roll. The +20 bonus certainly saves him in the first round of combat, as going into battle unarmored against a Saxon warrior is most often a death sentence.

What follows is an eight round battle, which to me felt mostly like an exercise in dice rolling, and consulting with my players, was perhaps the weakest battle of the campaign. I’m told that battles are certainly more interesting from the player side, since they are the best way to gain glory, and oddly seem safer than a melee, since you’re likely to use a passion and get an increase to your skill. I don’t entirely like passions lasting for an entire battle, it seems like something that should be saved for a climactic fight against a special enemy. On the other hand, this might be the game working as intended. It’s certainly something I intend to ponder further.  (Addendum: as clarified in the Book of Battle, any given passion can only be used once, and lasts for a single combat round.)

There were some scrapes and bruises, but no serious damage to any of the knights. Many of the knights were getting crits every round, and only a crit from their enemy would result in a tie, with many Saxon axes broken upon Breton swords. The most notable thing that happened was that Sir Charles was unhorsed, and fighting with a dagger, gave a nasty scar to a Saxon opponent, who must have survived the fight. Sometime around round six or seven Duke Lindsay arrived with reinforcements, which turned the tide in favor of Uther’s army, but really, who needs Duke Lindsay when you have seven fully impassioned player knights getting critical hits every round?

I was really hoping I’d kill at least one player knight during that fight.

Afterwards, what remains of the Saxon army is routed, and there is much looting to be done. There is great glory for everyone- seriously, this battle was worth thousands of glory for most of the participants.

The keep of St. Alban’s being retaken, a great victory feast is held. The rank and file knights and soldiers have a great feast of their own in the bailey, but in the great hall, Uther and his great lords are assembled, as are knights who distinguished themselves greatly in battle- certainly all of our player knights. At this point, pretty much noble of consequence is here, unless they were gravely wounded (like Duke Ulfias and Sir Brastias, who are both in the hospital area).

There are many opportunities for entertainment here: dancing, signing, playing of instruments, making toasts, and the like. Those who were particularly glorious are called up to pour wine for the King, a great honor. As the evening draws to a close, Sir Jorddans, the Mad Knight arrives. He gives a toast to King Uther and the lords of the realm, commending them on their great wisdom and leadership. Those who make an Intrigue or Suspicious roll detect that he is being sarcastic, twisting his words to subtly insult Uther, Morganor, and all the other assembled lords. As he finishes his toast, he raises his glass… then tips it over and lets the wine spill onto the floor.

Now come the Temperance rolls. In the module as written, a character needs to critically succeed on their roll, which gives them a 1 in 20 chance, regardless of skill, unless their Temperance is somehow over 21. I thought this was a bit too punishing and capricious- wherever possible I have eliminated rolls that require a critical success. Instead characters roll Temperance at -10: still punishing, but those who are famously Temperate have a fighting chance.

Leoric critically fails, and was the one to drink the most wine of all, and begins to vomit. Others begin to follow suit, and all those who drank the poisoned wine uncontrollably retch, until they vomit up blood, turn purple, and die. Only those who did not drink the wine survive, and out of the assembled knights and lords, there are but three: Sir Bersules, and Sir Charles. And of course, Sir Jorddans.

Around them there is chaos: the high lords of the realm are dead, as are the most esteemed knights they know. Sir Jorddans attempts to flee, Sir Bersules and Charles pursue. Bersules catches up with him, grabs him, and tries to reason with him. Sir Jorddans stabs Bersules in the stomach, but it’s not enough to kill the hardy knight, who draws his sword, and quite rightly impassioned, slays the traitor knight.

Charles leads the effort in finding what healers and chirurgeons, seeing if anyone can be saved, but it is no use: the poison is most deadly. Not even Lady Nimue is able to cure it. Nimue goes to Uther and bundles up Excalibur. She tells Charles that she must take the magic blade and hide it away until it is ready to be wielded again. Charles agrees, they kiss, and the Lady of the Lake leaves.

Many funerals are held in Salisbury- for Morganor, for Uther, for the player knights who fell. At Morganor’s funeral, Countess Ellen is seen with her two young boys. She is now regent, and the future of Salisbury depends on her.

At Uther’s funeral, Lady Ygraine wears mourning once more. Sir Bersules, still mad with lust, finally can approach her without it violating his duty. He and Ygraine retire elsewhere to comfort each other.

“I’ll bet she’s the one who kills me,” says Bersules’s player. “Do you think that would be a fitting end for your character?” I ask. And so it is, decided by mutual out-of-character fiat: after a night of lovemaking, Lady Ygraine stabs Sir Bersules, getting vengeance for Gorlois at last.

Out of the player knights who fought at the battle of St. Albans, only Sir Charles remains. And so ends the Time of Uther, and so begins the Time of Anarchy.

The Great Pendragon Campaign, 484

The diplomatic mission to Malahaut seeming to have failed, King Uther looks for other allies- King Canan of Estregales, the most powerful of the Kings of Gales, whom to other Kings in that region owe tribute. King Canan would make a powerful ally, and all but assure victory against the Saxons and deliver unto Uther the votes he needs to be formally anointed High King. To this end he sends one of his most capable ambassadors, Steward Morganor of Salisbury, who will be accompanied by a cadre of his knights.

Along the road, the knights encountered Sir Jorddans, the Mad Knight, who lampooned many of the player knights with songs mocking them, perhaps intending to provoke one of them into a fight. However the knights all kept their composure, and rode on, and Sir Jorddans, having failed to rile them, tired and went home.

As they traveled through Gales, they encountered a number of places and people; these were essentially narrated events for some local color. They traveled through the Duchy of Glouchester, an independent fiefdom, where they meet the old Duke and his sons, the Twin Bannerets, identical twins who seem to quite hate each other, one who dresses in all red (the Red Banneret) and one who dresses in all green (the Green Banneret). Red & Green’s proper names are not given by the text. The Twin Bannerets escort them to the border of Escavalon.

In Escavalon, they are met by Sir Alain, who served at Castle Terrabil in his position as envoy to King Uther. Knowing the knights, he showed them around the city of Carlion and introduced them to King Nantlerod of Escavalon. Alain tried to ask about the whole Merlin business without being too impolite; he was probably a bit too impolite but his curiosity was finally answered. King Nantlerod was quite gregarious, and had an odd habit of putting each knight on the spot and asking them some question, often about a point of knighthood or an opinion on honor. As the King held court he would regularly do so, forcing everyone present to speak up at one point or another and voice some opinion. A truly eccentric King, indeed. Continuing to travel through Escavalon, they went through Cardiff, Newcastle in the Nain Forest, and Kynke Kynedonne, none of which are described in the text.

Then they get to Estregales, traveling through Carmarthen and onto Pembroke Castle. At Pembroke, they finally meet King Canan, along with his two sons, Sir Drac, a young prince, recently knighted, and his younger brother, Lak, his squire, along with King Canan’s seneschal, Sir Orcas. (Several jokes about D&D’s Orcus ensue, and whether someone named after him can be trusted.) King Canan and Steward Morganor are in closed negotiations for several days. In the mean time, Sir Drac asks the knights if they will accompany him and his brother on a hunting expedition.

Setting out, they travel through the woods to prime hunting grounds. Drac and Lak have never been out of Estregales, and are eager for any tales the knights would share with them. Eventually boar tracks are found. Sir Drac is eager to go fight the beast, and asks the experienced hunters how many people should attack it at once. (The answer, according to those who have faced boars in the past, is as many as possible.) Roughly four knights on horse can stab at the boar with spears or lances at once, but even cornered, the Boar is a ferocious foe. Before it is defeated, it maimed Sir Morian’s horse, and killed the horse of Sir Drac. Along their way back, they stopped at a small village, where a roughly dressed man offered to race his pony against the knights on horse. It turned out that knighty steeds were not suited towards this terrain, and the man’s hill pony easily beat all those who raced him, and Sir Leoric lost 5 pounds in a mighty wager. After the races it was revealed that the man was Ystrad Tyi, Chieftan of the Hill People. Bersules was quite impressed with the hill ponies, and purchased one for himself, and another for Morian.

Upon returning to Pembroke, they learned that King Canan and Steward Morganor had gone to Castle Tenby. King Canan prefers to make a quick progress through his realm, visiting his lords as often as possible. Sir Drac was more than happy to accompany the knights on their way.

They stopped in Carmarthen, where Sir Drac told them it was the birthplace of Merlin, who was born longer ago than anyone could remember, but he was once a young man, son of a maiden woman and the devil. He showed them the chapel where Merlin was baptized, the shack where Merlin lived, and the fountain where Merlin performed healing magics, and finally, Merlin’s tree, with a raven perched on it.

Sir Morian decided he wanted to sleep out in the woods by Merlin’s tree, hoping to gain some wisdom from it. The other knights agreed, though some were suspicious of the raven. Some Faerie Lore rolls were made- it was learned it was indeed a magic tree (though at the time I didn’t know the legend of Merlin’s tree, so I didn’t give out any more information than that), and Tathan, getting a critical success, learned that the raven was Merlin’s familiar. Sir Leoric botched, and I asked the player to determine what wrong thing Leoric believed. The player came up with two that she could not choose between: one, that Leoric believed that Leander was completely wrong about everything, and that Merlin was a great and holy man, or that Leoric believed that Leander had been completely right, and that Merlin was a wicked sorcerer who deserved to die. She decided to roll a die, and Leoric saw the light and realized that Leander had been right all along, that all this magic business was wicked and sinful. “Please forgive me for my sins, and the sins I will do in the future,” Leoric said, not entirely understanding the point.

Leoric decided that this tree was bad business, and hatched a plan. During the middle of the night, when he was on watch, he took an axe to the tree, hoping to chop it down. Tathan and others woke up; Morian bopped Leoric on the head with the blunt end of a spear, and another knight tried to grapple him, but ultimately it was Tathan, who stood fast against the tree and told Leoric that he would have to go through him to get to the tree. (This was a crit on a Dex roll to interpose himself.) At that point Leoric stood down. Many trait checks were earned by all present.

(Addendum:  The legend of Merlin’s tree says that when the tree falls, so will the village of Carmarthen, probably by flood.)

They finally caught up with King Canan at Castle Tenby, where he announced that he was glad to form an alliance with King Uther. He proposed a toast, and his son Sir Drac brought him a goblet, and he drank it down… and began to turn blue, and blood ran forth from his mouth, eyes, and other facial extremities. The King had been poisoned! Sir Orcas proclaimed that Sir Drac had done it and called for his arrest.

However Sir Bersules had seen that it was Sir Orcas who had given Sir Drac the poisonous chalice, and knew that this was Sir Orcas’s doing. Who knew that someone named Orcas could be a villain? Sir Bersules called out Sir Orcas, who responded with demanding a challenge. Space was cleared out in the dining hall, and Sir Orcas and Bersules returned, clad in armor with their weapons, Orcas wielding an axe.

I wanted Orcas to be tough, so I gave him the famous knight stat bloc, as befits a high officer of a kingdom, and swapped out his Sword skill of Axe to make him a little more memorable. Sir Bersules was inspired by his Honor, and had a higher skill to start with, but the dice favored Sir Orcas, who got a critical hit on Sir Bersules, incapacitating him. Sir Orcas was prepared to go in for the kill, when many knights arose to stop him. However Sir Orcas was the winner, and as such, the Lord of Tenby Castle proclaimed him the victor and (regretfully), innocent of any accusations. Sir Drac, still confused as to what was going on, was taken away to the dungeon. Steward Morganor decided this would be a good time for all the knights to leave, just in case Sir Orcas decided to have some unusual ideas about hospitality.

They traveled out back the way they came, and stopped in a hamlet to get medical care for Bersules. His healer was none other than Lady Nimue, who was traveling to Logres to heal King Uther from his sickness. Bersules questioned her and found out that she too was a Lady of the Lake, the magical sisterhood that Lady Nineve was a member of.

Along the road, Sir Charles flirted with Lady Nimue, who found him quite charming. He critted either a Flirting or a Romance roll, and the Lady of the Lake became quite taken with him.

Returning to Logres, bad news was had: the Saxons pillaged the Duchy of Lindsay, and Duke Lindsay, rather than meet them in the field, had his knights hole up in the castles. King Ossa of the Saxons had returned, and was preparing for a great battle.

The Great Pendragon Campaign, 493

There was a new player this week, Tom, who picked up a prefilled character sheet, Sir Martin, which Brendan had previously played after Sir Jorddans’ foray with madness. This Sir Martin hasn’t aged, so he’s clearly a different but similar Sir Martin. Note to self: fill out more pregen sheets. Also introduced was Sir Leoric, the younger brother of Sir Leander, with a love of gambling, a high Selfish Trait, and the Passion of Love: Money. Readers may recall that when Leoric was younger and squired for Leander, he foolishly gambled away his charger to Sir Jerren, who remitted the steed for Leoric to serve as his squire for several years.

We started with our knights still garrisoning Castle Terrabil in Cornwall, and now being relieved of those stations as the garrison is taken over by Sir Cadwallon the Younger, (son of Sir Cadwallon the Elder, who is the Steward of Levcomagus and Cornwall, and generally antagonistic to the characters.) Sir Bryce, knight of Levcomagus, mustache enthusiast, and all around thorn in the player’s side showed up, and demanded of Sir Martin where Sir Oban was. Sir Martin (and Tom) having no idea who the heck Sir Oban was, Sir Morian helpfully showed up and informed Sir Bryce that Sir Oban died several years before, fighting in Gaul. Sir Bryce seemed upset at this news, as if he had some unfinished business with Sir Oban.

When helping to oversee the changeover of the garrison, Sir Bersules and Sir Bryce could not help but lob some barbs at each other, Sir Bersules insulting Sir Bryce’s mustache, Bryce insulting Bersules’s beard, various veiled insinuations of treason and dishonor, etc. Looking over Sir Bersules’s sheet for relevant Traits (Pride, Vengeful, perhaps), nothing was high enough that merited a trait check- you can easily let this go, I told him. So of course he didn’t, and challenged Sir Bryce to a joust of honor.

Sir Bryce was a passingly good jouster (Lance 18), but knew Bersules was quite better (Lance 22!), so accepted for honor, but choose not to offer any kind of wager. They tilted… and Sir Bryce botched his Lance roll. Bersules didn’t do enough damage with his lance to unhorse him, but Bryce’s saddle was improperly placed, and he fell. Much wroth, Sir Bryce beat his squire severely. Bersules managed to get Bryce to stop the assault, and called for all young men to make sure they attended to their duties. When leaving the castle, the squire, young Gruffen, revealed that he had been released from his service by Sir Bryce, and asked leave of Sir Bersules to serve as his squire. And thus, Sir Bersules acquired a second squire.

493 does not have many scripted events in the GPC- there is an option to act as envoys to Malahaut, which is pretty bare bones. So instead I followed up a plot hook from the previous adventure, Sir Bersules’s vow to find the errant King Pellinore.

This manifested as a message from Bersules’s wife, Lady Indeg, that a dragon had been seen in her lands, and the peasants were refusing to work! Bersules made haste there, along with the other player knights, eager to prove themselves. They were also joined by Indeg’s stern brothers, Geriant the Younger and Gwern, also interested in the situation. With some legwork and questioning peasants, a description of the ‘dragon’ was had, and it was determined that this was no dragon at all, but the legendary Questing Beast!

Here Sir Geriant & Gwern offered a wager to the knights, that they divide into two groups, and that they and their dear brother-in-law Sir Bersules could find the beast before the others. Sir Leoric gladly accepted the wager. Suspicious, Sir Morian figured out their aim, to get themselves alone with Sir Bersules so they could arrange a ‘hunting accident’. Sir Morian insisted on accompanying Sir Bersules to make things fair, since Bersules was not a great hunter, and they hired Lady Indeg’s huntsman, and now the hapless brothers had two extra witnesses to deal with. They were not happy about this turn of events, but couldn’t really say anything about it.

The two groups set out, having supplied themselves with hunting supplies and hounds, and bringing armor along if needed, since Camelot Forest is known to be quite dangerous. The first group was Bersules, Morian, Geriant, Gwern, and huntsman Robert, the second Sirs Tathan, Leoric, Charles, and Martin.

The group led by Sir Tathan set out into Camelot Forest, and after a few hours, found a large tree in a clearing, which looked particularly restful. All those present had to make Energetic rolls, and those who failed (Tathan and Leoric) felt compelled to go up to the tree and take a nap. Sir Charles and Martin were left trying to figure out how to wake them up- shaking, yelling, and even kicking them didn’t work. They also found another knight resting against the tree on the opposite side, with heavily grown beard and heraldry neither of them recognized. After several failed attempts (each characterized by a failed skill or trait roll), Sir Martin tried trickery, using Deceptive to shout out that the horses were being stolen, and managed to rouse the knights. Here they discovered that the sleeping knight was none other than King Pellinore, who had been following the trail of the Questing Beast, and stopped at this particularly restful tree for a nap, but then ended up falling asleep for several weeks.

Meanwhile, Sir Geriant and Gwern found the tracks of a boar, and tried to encourage Sir Bersules to hunt it. (This was their original plan: find a boar, get Bersules to fight it, then if he wasn’t killed by the boar, do him in themselves with spears and blame it on the boar. A classic, really.) Bersules used Courtesy to insist that as he was their guest, they get the honor of the first shot, and they unenthusiastically tracked the boar, eventually letting it go. After wasting several hours on this, this group made camp, and during the night, Sir Moriant had his squire, Dyfed, the alleged horse-thief, spook Geriant & Gwern’s horses and chase them off into the forest. The next morning, the brothers were horseless. Bersules and Morian lent them some riding horses, and sent them back to the manor, and continued on with huntsman Robert.

It was Tathan’s group who found the Questing Beast first. They agreed that they would sneak towards it to try to catch it. Sir Martin got the closest before it was alerted, and the beast, truly quick, darted off before he could get any closer, but a glorious attempt it was. Sir Charles tried to shoot it, but his arrow went wide.

They met up, exchanged tales, and returned, King Pellinore in tow. He accepted Bersules’s hospitality for a few days (as far as Bersules was concerned, King Pellinore could stay as long as he liked.) Given the news that his kingdom was in chaos, Pellinore was reluctant to leave the hunt behind, but vowed that he would do his duty. Before leaving, Bersules asked if Pellinore would do him the honor of making his brother Harwel his squire. Pellinore agreed, and later returned to his homeland of Gomeret, along with a new squire.

One last event that occurred during the Winter Phase. Sir Bersules, being a bit shy of a 1000 glory milestone, spent 107 pounds libra on a feast, giving him a like amount of glory for conspicuous consumption. Truly, one of the greatest feasts in Salisbury in living memory.