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.