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.

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