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!