Many of his knights not yet returned for the muster, Earl Roderick sends Sir Morganor out to find his questing knights. And Sir Morganor does so, finding those knights as they return from Glastonbury Abbey. They relate the events of their trip, which Sir Morganor responds to in typical Worldly fashion, decrying the habits of monks, and also skeptically dismissing their claims of a curse. However they still have a few days before the muster, and the assembled knights insist on going to the Tower of Ravens. Sir Morganor sighs and accompanies them, for after all, you never know what trouble they will get into.
They travel to the Tower of Ravens, in the Ravenwood, in Lady Gwiona’s lands. The woods are creepy and filled with cawing ravens. There they find a single solitary tower, with planks protruding from it, and on each plank is a gibbet, with a dead knight in armor, being fed upon by ravens. Outside the tower is a knight’s pavilion, with a dwarf outside, attired as a squire. (Little person, not fantasy creature.) As they approach, the dwarf went into the tower, and a knight clad in black mail emerged, with a shield painted entirely black, with no heraldic device.
Those who make their Heraldry rolls know that such a shield is used when a knight does not wish to fight under his own name or be known to others for some reason. “What knavery is this?” shouts Sir Bersules.
The Black Knight introduces himself as the champion of the Lady of Ravens, and tells the knights that if they wish to enter the Tower of Ravens, one of them must best him in single combat to first blood, weapons to be determined by the challenger. He is courteous at all times, and bids them turnaround and leave, because nothing but sorrow will await them from within the tower. When asked if he defeated the knights in the gibbets, he says that he did not, that they were defeated by trials within the tower.
What are the protocols for a challenge such as this? We determine that the highest glory has the first right of challenge, which is Sir Morganor. Sir Morganor, even though it is his Lady’s wellbeing that is at stake, passes the challenge, and Sir Bersules makes the challenge, demanding a joust. The dwarf retrieves the Black Knight’s horse, which is a majestic black charger. They tilt, and Sir Bersules is unhorsed, and dealt a heavy blow – not a major wound, but certainly enough that will hurt. The Black Knight dismounts and asks if any other will challenge him.
Sir Jorddans, driven wroth by his love for Lady Gwiona, draws upon his passion for her… and botches his roll. A fumble on a passion test leads to madness. The rules here are intentionally vague on whether the madness happens immediately or after the current test – I allow him to fight as if melancholy, at minus 5, and he loses, and then goes stark raving mad, believing himself to be turned into a raven. He runs off, his squire chasing after him. When this happens, the character is out of play – again, for a period to be determined by the gamemaster, but usually at least the rest of the session. I give him some filled out pregens, and so he decides to be a still-living knight trapped in one of the gibbets, and he cries out for the knights to leave, and save themselves.
Sir Hewgon, failing a Valorous Roll and succeeding on a Cowardly check, wants nothing to do with this. So now, Sir Calus, the resident badass, steps up and challenges the Black Knight to a contest of spears, thinking that the foe may be less skilled in this weapon. The first clash of arms sees the Black Knight successful, but he does not deal enough damage to get through Sir Calus’s armor. The next clash of arms sees Sir Calus victorious. The Black Knight bows, and says he shall block their way no more, but repeats his warning that only sorrow awaits inside.
Hewgon and Calus are the first to enter. In the first floor of the Tower of Ravens awaits a sumptuous feast- putting even the generosity of King Cadwy to shame, with copious pies, pitchers of wines, and diverse meats and desserts. A Temperance roll is called for, and Calus fails, succumbing to the deliciousness of the awaiting feast. Hewgon shakes his head and climbs the stairs upwards, to see what challenges await.
Meanwhile, Sir Morganor and Leander put their heads together and devise a way to get a rope and a dagger up to the caged Sir Martin, so that he might free himself from his cage. He does so and manages to climb down, where he thanks his rescuers profusely. He is armed with spare weapons from Sir Morganor, and warns them of the trials of the Tower. He says that the first challenge is a sumptuous feast, and the second is a cadre of lusty damsels, and he failed to resist their charms. At the words ‘lusty damsels,’ Sir Bersules decides he must see the interior of this tower, and making his Temperance roll, resists the lure of the feast to climb to the second level.
Sir Hewgon is accosted by many lusty damsels, who ask him to spend the night with them, and cast many desirous looks at him. He relies upon his Chastity, and manages to resist their beguiling, and push through to the third level. Following not far behind, Sir Bersules emerges, and amazingly manages to make his Chaste roll. He too resists them, and presses on into the tower.
Sir Leander enters the tower, and quite unexpectedly fails his Temperance roll. Like Calus, he gives in to the delicious feast.
Making their way to the third level, Sir Hewgon and Bersules see a room filled with diverse treasures, fantastic goblets, jewels, chests bursting with coins, truly a king’s ransom and more. However after Generous rolls, they are unmoved by this display of gross material wealth, and press onward and upward.
The final level of the Tower of Ravens is a throne room, with a great black throne, long flowing black curtains, two giant braziers, and various perches on which ravens roost. On the throne is the Lady of Ravens, wearing a long black gown and wearing a black mask. She asks the knights why they have intruded upon her abode, and they demand that she lift the curse on Lady Gwiona.
She says that the cursed is justly deserved- that she was flying about in raven form, and when she chanced to fly near a human dwelling, a young woman chased her away with a broom. Therefore, she cursed that young woman to know nothing but sorrow, and that all her loved ones would die. Surely, they would admit this is only fair. (They did not.) Then she asked them what they would offer in exchange for her lifting the curse.
A bit stumped for what the Lady of Ravens might want, she made a few suggestions- perhaps one of them might serve as her champion (Sir Hewgon was prepared to serve for a year and a day, but she wanted indefinite service, which he refused), or to deliver Lady Gwiona’s firstborn unto her (again, refused), and finally that one of them might take the curse upon themselves. Sir Hewgon agreed, and the curse was transferred from Lady Gwiona to himself. He swore Sir Bersules to secrecy regarding the details of what transpired inside the tower. Before leaving, Sir Bersules invited the Lady of Raven to visit him in his own manor, an invitation I am sure he will have no cause to regret. They also, with Temperance rolls, managed to shake Sir Leander and Calus from their spell, and allow them to leave the Tower safely.
Sir Hewgon told Sir Morganor that “the curse would trouble Lady Gwiona no more,” to which Sir Morganor scoffed, insisting there was no curse.
The knights managed to make it back to Sarum in time for the muster, and then joined up with the King’s army, to march north to Lindsey, where the entire army of Logres assembled to fight the Saxon hordes.
In our previous battle, I had gotten the sense that players had too few choices to make things interesting, and not enough meaningful decisions to make, that battle was essentially a series of high-stakes dice rolls: potentially rewarding, but fundamentally boring. I added a few rules from Book of Battle (which on first read seemed to go way too far the other way into too much detail, but I might revisit it), to try to give the players a little more agency.
The lines were drawn up, with King Uther leading the center (including the player knights), Duke Gorlois leading the left flank, and Duke Ulfias leading the right. With his Battle skill of 20, the players select Calus as their unit commander.
This is a massive battle, consisting of eight rounds of combat. (Mearcred Creek, at the start of the campaign, was five rounds.) Each round represents roughly an hour of skirmishing and fighting, with a single roll resolving a spotlight moment. As far as RPG battle systems go, I quite like it, save for the aforementioned lack of decision making.
Prior to the first charge, pretty much everyone invokes a Passion: Sir Hewgon starts with Hatred of Saxons, and others follow up with various Loyalties. I was probably too generous here, allowing Loyalty: Roderick- I should have insisted on the more directly appropriate Hate: Saxons or Loyalty: Uther. Reviewing the combat skills, I was too generous in letting it apply to ALL combat skills (for example, Lance and Sword) when it should only have been for one skill. I’m still not sure if it should have lasted for the whole battle, or just one battle round- the rules say “for the task at hand.” Hard to say if a battle counts as a single task. (Addendum: It doesn’t.)
All but Sir Calus made their Passion rolls (and I think Hewgon critted his), leaving Calus weary and Melancholic, at minus five to all rolls. Through the first seven grueling rounds of battle, they fought valiantly, whether against sturdy Heorthgeneats or against hordes of armed peasants. Between the +10 passion bonus and the +5 mounted bonus against most enemies, the Saxons didn’t really stand a chance. The enemies got very few hits in, and when they did, they were crits: Sir Martin and Sir Calus were both disabled about halfway through. When Sir Calus went down, Sir Morganor took command (despite Sir Leander having a better battle skill.)
During round seven, Duke Gorlois defeated one of the Saxon leaders, and the Saxon right flank began to route. (A scripted event) This meant that during the eighth and final round, the remaining knights had a choice: as the Saxon army routed, they could go after the Saxon warbanner (guarded by Heorthgeneats), or after the Saxon King Octa and his bodyguards (mounted Heorthgeneats). Sir Morganor called for the knights to capture the banner with him, and Leander and Bersules followed, but Reckless Sir Hewgon sped after King Octa.
It was a dangerous battle for the three knights against four Saxons, but they soon evened the numbers and captured the war banner. Sir Hewgon did not fare as well- two of King Octa’s body guards blocked his path and unhorsed him after a few rounds of combat, and then retreated with their King.
After the battle there was much plunder to be had by all, except for Sir Calus, who wandered about in a melancholic stupor, missing the great feast and the next few scenes. In addition, those who participated in the capture of the battle-standard were greatly rewarded by King Uther- they were each granted a fine new Charger, and additional gold.
At the great victory feast, there was diverse entertainment, and King Uther and Duke Gorlois toasted each other often. During the feast, Gorlois brought in Lady Ygraine and her handmaidens, who performed a coordinated dance. All who looked upon Ygraine had to make a Lustful roll, and those who succeeded gained extra lust towards Ygraine based on the margin. For example, if someone had a Lustful of 10 and rolled an 8, they would have +2 Lust towards Ygraine, but if they rolled a 1 they would have +9. Most of the knights picked up a few points, but Sir Bersules, already known for his great lust, critted his roll. With no specific ruling in place, I decided that he had +20 Lustful towards Ygraine. (There’s also no specific suggestion for what I should do to make this knight’s life interesting and miserable.)
Those who succeeded their rolls (I believe Morganor and Leander) were able to make awareness checks, and deduce that Uther (and Bersules) were quite entranced by Ygraine.
Most of the knights (not Calus, still melancholy) went for a procession with Uther, where he was welcomed into Malahaut by the Centurion King, and met with several kings of the northern lands: King Eurain of Rheged, King Uriens of Gorre, King Nentres of Garloth, and King Lot of Lothian. Excalibur is shown off, and vows of mutual support against Saxons are made. Some small glory is gained. For time constraints, this was mostly summarized.
At Christmas Court, King Uther is attended by all his nobles, so he celebrate them. After a few weeks, he gives most of his vassals leave to return to their own lands- save Earl Roderick and Duke Gorlois. Every day Duke Gorlois asks for leave to return to his lands, and every day he is refused, the King saying he depends on the Duke’s good counsel. Most everyone is aware that what the King really wants is to gaze upon Ygraine.
Sir Bersules is approached by one of Ygraine’s handmaidens, who introduces herself as Lady Nineve. She tells Sir Bersules that Lady Ygraine suffers, and that Bersules’s help is needed. He must make a Lust roll to resist. He uses his Passion of his Love for his Wife to inspire his Chastity, which lowers his Lust (technically Passions are only supposed to inspire Skills, but I allow it.) He makes his Lust roll, which is a success… but at least it’s not a Critical Success. He is compelled to be sympathetic to Ygraine, but isn’t wrapped around her finger (yet). Nineve asks him to help distract some of the gate guards. Bersules goes and gambles with them, and gets them drunk.
While returning from the chapel that night, Sir Leander catches a glimpse of the courtyard, where it seems like a large group of people is outfitting themselves for a journey. Not being seen, he makes haste back to his quarters, determining that silence is the prudent course of action.
The next day it is revealed that Duke Gorlois and Lady Ygraine fled during the night. The King makes great wroth. Due to the weather, none can follow them.
This was a big year for glory, mostly because of the rewards of the Battle. Due to being a huge battle, plus most of the characters getting crits every round, (a multiplier), plus glory for the Heorthgeneats they defeated, plus the modifier for a decisive victory – most characters raked in around two thousand glory. Sir Calus was the odd man out, missing about half the battle. By this point everyone has at least 3000 glory, with Sir Morganor and Bersules both over 6000.
During winter, Lady Gwiona died during childbirth. A random event, but it stinks of the influence of the Lady of Ravens.
We’re losing a knight (Sir Jorddans), due to the player needing more time during the holidays. In terms of the time set aside for the game, we’re now halfway through, and well on schedule to finish the Uther Period by the end of the year. Really looking forward to seeing what happens next.