The Great Pendragon Campaign, 491, Part II

Sometimes, you run an rpg session, and everything goes exactly like you had expected it to.

This was not one of those times.

Duke Gorlois being dead, and Duchess Ygraine having surrendered, King Uther had taken over the rebellious Duchy of Cornwall. Lots of Cornish knights (and not Cornish knights) had perished, and the claims of all Cornish knights were ‘under review,’ meaning that the fiefs of the dead knights were going to get redistributed, and maybe some of those of knights still living. Earl Roderick was installed as Steward of Cornwall to oversee things, and the player knights all received a gift of a Cornish manor, to keep and maintain as long as they live.

News had come also that the Saxons had sacked the city of Pevensey, burning it to the ground and putting every inhabitant to the sword. Victory had been achieved in the west, but at what price?

First things first, bury the dead. Sir Hewgon was buried, and a royal funeral was held for Prince Madoc near Stonehenge. Sir Calus did not attend, owing to his Worldly nature.

Then, weddings. Calus and Leander had been ordered by Roderick to marry, and try as they might, neither of them was able to weasel out of it- in fact, they botched their rolls to try to do so. Calus was wed to Lady Venora, known for being Generous and Proud. Leander’s fiancee was Lady Derwen, known for being Pious and Modest, a fellow Roman Christian. She had been contemplating the life of a nun, when Roderick arranged the match.

They were super perfect for each other. Leander was torn between his duty to God (Chastity/Piety) and duty to his Lord (Loyalty/Justice), and his desire to do right by Derwen. He contemplated taking her to the nunnery and suffering whatever consequence Earl Roderick would choose. She was largely suffering the same conflict, along with the desire to please her potential husband and not make waves. After much agonizing over the right thing to do, Leander rolled his Justice vs. Chastity. Justice won, so he agreed and married Lady Derwen.

They returned to Cornwall, to help garrison and repair Castle Terrabil. They met some other knights, Sir Thebert, the Garrison Commander, strange Sir Verius, from the land of the Dobunni, and Sir Alain de Carlion, a vassel of King Nantlerod, here as a favor to King Uther. In some discussion, Sir Morganor learned that Sir Thebert had been part of the small force that had taken Castle Tintagel. Thebert revealed that Merlin had disguised Uther and a small troop of men as Gorlois and Cornish knights, and they had been let in by a postern gate. They killed the troops manning the main gate and let in the army to take the castle. Not even Gorlois’s own wife could have known it was Uther!

Sir Leander asked of his fellow knights how to please his wife, and what women truly wanted. The other knights had various perspectives on this, which only served to confuse Leander further.

A royal wedding was held at Tintagel for Uther and Ygraine. Sir Bersules, wary of his lust, choose to stay behind, and served as Garrison Commander while Sir Thebert attended the ceremony. It was a most lavish ceremony. Afterwards, Margause, the eldest of Ygraine’s daughters struck up a conversation with Morganor, where she asked some very needling questions to try to understand Sir Morganor, who managed to comport himself very politely. She seems like she’ll be a troublemaker someday.

At the wedding, Calus sought out Lady Nineve, the handmaiden of Lady Ygraine rumored to be a sorceress. He put the following thing to her: he wanted to be absolved of his marriage to Lady Venora, and the only way he saw to do that, was to kill Earl Roderick. After some back and forth, in which Lady Nineve revealed that Earl Roderick ‘would not live long past the Battle of St. Albans’ Calus said that that was not soon enough. She told him to come back later, and when he returned, she gave him a twisted blade known as the Dagger of Endings, which would kill anyone who the wielder truly hated. Calus botched his Faerie Lore roll to know if there was any sort of curse or drawback to the blade, so he thought it would only help him get away with the deed.

Some time later, after the wedding guests had gone home, Calus skulked about the castle, looking for a moment where he could get Earl Roderick alone. He found it, when the Earl was using the privy. He kicked the door down (a strength check), and then stabbed at the Earl. The Earl was at minus 15 to his own dagger roll for his pants being around his ankles. Calus was inspired by his hate, and stabbed the Earl to death.

Just in time for Sir Jerren to show up. Sir Jerren called for the guards, drew his sword, and fought Calus. Calus was no longer inspired at this point (his goal having been completed), and was much outmatched with just a dagger, and unarmored. Jerren made a doleful stroke that would have killed most anyone else, and Calus fumbled, losing the Dagger of Endings. With Calus on the ground and Jerren’s blade at his throat, Calus made an impassioned plea (using his Love Passion). On the success, Jerren said that he understood Calus’s behavior, but did not condone it. So instead of killing him on the spot, Calus was thrown in the dungeon, and executed three days later.

Also during the winter, Sir Bersules was driven by his Lust to pay a visit to Tintagel, and see Lady Ygraine. However he critically succeeded his Courtesy roll, and managed to not say or do anything that would offend King Uther.

Sir Morganor was offered the position of Steward of Salisbury, and married Countess Ellen. That winter she had a son- before Roderick died, he finally accomplished his goal of siring an heir. Becoming a powerful noble, Steward Morganor is now ‘out of play,’ having effectively ‘won’ Pendragon.

The death of Earl Roderick is our first major swerve from the official Pendragon timeline. However Nineve’s prophecy says he already had a fated demise. What ripples will this change have?

Also during the winter, Lady Derwen, Leander’s wife, gave him a son. And died in childbirth. Much angst was had.

Next session we’ll have THREE new player knights, replacements for Hewgon, Morganor, and Calus. I’m sure that one will go as expected.

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The Great Pendragon Campaign, 491 Part I

Last winter, Duke Gorlois and his wife, the Duchess Ygraine, had fled the King’s castle without leave, a breach of hospitality, killing a few guards to make their escape. In retaliation for this act, the King has declared war on Duke Gorlois. While the pretext of the war is Gorlois’s dishonor, astute observers know the true reason: the King is obsessed with Lady Ygraine and lusts for her. Sir Morganor, who got a critical hit for Intrigue, learned that the attack was unpopular with many of his advisers, including his son Prince Madoc, and the two of them had fought bitterly over it.

Before the muster, in the courts of Sarum, Sir Jorddans, recently recovered from his stint of madness (and now an NPC) sang a song to all about a seemingly noble knight who refused to fight for his lady wife, leading to her death. While it didn’t name any names, it’s clearly about Sir Morganor. Sir Morganor invited Sir Jorddans to his manors to play that song in front of Morganor and his family. Jorddans accepted the invitation.

Each knight personally had a visit with each of the knights to discuss their marriage status. For Sir Morganor, who’s bride Lady Gwionna had recently died, he said he would arrange a marriage when he was done mourning.

For the brave Sir Hewgon, recently cursed, who had vowed to remain a bachelor, he offered the hand of Lady Elaine, a widow and heiress who’s previous husband had been killed by her baseborn lover (who was subsequently hanged.) Hewgon was skeptical, but said he would talk to the lady and see if it was an amenable match.

To Sir Calus, who had taken a Frankish woman for his wife after the siege of Bayeux, the Earl said he needed to ‘set his concubine aside’ and take a proper wife, that the Earl would find for him. Calus was quite angered by this, and demanded the right to choose his own wife. I asked him what Trait he wanted to use to persuade the Earl, and he wanted to roll Justice, for his rights. We talked about it, and I observed that it’s actually a very modern attitude, and in fact, insisting on it could be seen as Arbitrary. He ended up rolling Proud, and failed. The Earl said the matter was not settled, and an arranged marriage would go further.

To Sir Leander, he said similarly, your piety is beyond reproach, but you have a duty to your family to leave an heir. Leander again asked for leave to remain a bachelor (rolling I think Chaste), and also failed. The Earl again was quite frustrated, and said again that he would arrange a marriage, and rather callously said, “you only have to do it with her once, you know!” Leander was quite flustered.

He also asked everyone if they knew anything about Gorlois’s and Ygraine’s escape the previous winter. Leander and Bersules (who both did have some information, and Bersules had actually personally aided the escape) lied about what they knew, and picked up Deceitful checks.

With the looming threat of Saxons to the south, both Earl Roderick and Duke Ulfias left their foot troops at home, taking only their Knights for the muster. King Uther, not willing to wait for Duke Lindsey to arrive with the rest of his army, set forth early, heading west.

Upon reaching the borders of Cornwall, advance scouts reported the following: Duke Gorlois and most of his army were fortified in Castle Terrabil, and his family and treasury were both in Castle Tintagel, a fortress of Roman make, one of the greatest in Logres, said to be unassailable. After consultation with his war council, it was announced that Uther, supported by Merlin, would begin laying siege to Castle Tintagel, and Prince Madoc, with the bulk of the army, would lay siege of Castle Terrabil.

There once had been a village around Castle Terrabil, but now the peasants were all in the bailey, and had taken everything they could carry with them. Madoc’s army rolled in and set up camp, looting anything else for supplies, and beginning to construct siege weaponry. We did a series of brief camp scenes- Leander seeking advice from a camp chaplain, and being disgusted at the priest’s pragmatism, Morganor trying to make an impression on Sir Hywel, a wealthy Banneret with many holdings an an unmarried daughter, and fumbling his Courtesy roll, forever spoiling that possibility, Sir Calus trying to go for a refreshing swim and failing his swimming roll and having to be fished out by his brother, which got him an Energetic check and some fun poked at his expense.

A few nights into the siege, the knights were awakened by the sound of fighting. The camp was under attack! They had little time to prepare. They had a choice to make: they could grab a weapon and try to fight (a bad idea), get their squire to armor them up (the best idea, as it would turn out), or get their squire to get a horse ready (a middling idea.) It would be a Squire roll to get one’s armor or horse ready. Sir Calus, who recently had a squire graduate, did not trust entirely in his new squire of 12 years, and chose instead to don Leather armor, which would not require a roll. Sir Morganor and Bersules donned armor, and Hewgon and Leander got on their horses.

This next part is a bit of a dick move on the part of the adventure: the next round it says that the sound of fighting is nearer, and asks the players again: will they charge into the fight with what they have, or attempt to finish gearing themselves? It’s a dick move because the enemy knights charge into their camp, and anyone who was trying to get ready is at a minus 5 for the round.

Thus begins a rather dangerous Battle, and a bit different than others I had run, because there aren’t really any Units in this one; each knight is mostly just trying to defend against the Cornish attackers. I also assign a minus 5 penalty to everyone for night combat. Where previously, they had mostly fought Saxons on foot, these are fully armed and mounted Knights, who get the height bonus against the players who are on foot. At least they aren’t on the receiving end of a lance charge.

I roll Young Knights for the quality of the first batch of knights, which is good for the players. Very few enemy knights are unhorsed, but they don’t deal many wounds either.

Bersules and Morganor make their Squire rolls, and are now both armored and mounted. Calus fails his, and his squire and horse are nowhere to be seen. Leander and Hewgon have horses, but no armor. Calus invokes a passion: Loyalty, Lord and fails, falling into melancholy.

Calus and Leander are soon disabled. Without the benefit of armor, even moderately strong blows can be incapacitating to a knight. Leander failed a horsemanship roll and got max falling damage, 6 on a 1d6, so he fell into a campfire, which singed him terribly. They both spend the rest of the battle seeking first aid. Melancholic Calus and Prudent Leander see no reason to return to the front lines.

Prince Madoc can be seen by the battle banner, calling for knights to rally to him. After a few rounds, Duke Gorlois and his men crash into the banner area. Gorlois and Madoc fight, and Madoc is killed. The knights still in the fight, Bersules, Morganor, and Hewgon all charge in. They get a free attack since Gorlois’s sword is fully stuck in Madoc’s chest and he is switching to his mace. The next round though, is a bloody fight: Gorlois, inspired by passion, has a current Sword skill of 33. However, fighting 3 knights is no good for him: he has to split to 11, then the darkness modifier brings his skill down to 6 against each of the three knights. Despite this, he gets a strike in on Hewgon, and without armor, Sir Hewgon the Sheep-Rider is laid low. Sir Bersules and Morganor kill the rebel Duke.

Bersules and Morganor now find themselves surrounded by Gorlois’s bodyguards, who are themselves surrounded by a ring of men loyal to Uther (and there’s probably more Cornish knights out there.) These guys are elite Cornish knights, not likely to go down easily. Bersules makes a Recognize check and has met one of them before (Sir Ysgarran), and urges him to make peace, but battle continues. Bersules and Morganor hold their own. With news of Duke Gorlois’s death, the remaining Cornish troops begin to rout. Sir Ysgarran retreats, and Bersules lets him go, getting a Merciful check.

After the battle, as the sun rises, it is a terrible sight to be sure. War dead from both sides, the castle itself partially in flames, the land turned to blood-stained mud.

They bury their dead, and say a few words for Sir Hewgon. Word is soon brought: by means of an incredibly cunning strategem, King Uther has taken Castle Tintagel! Lady Ygraine has officially surrendered Cornwall, and Uther has pledged that she and her daughters are under his protection.

The Great Pendragon Campaign, 490, Part II

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.

The Great Pendragon Campaign, 490 Part I

Here Sirs Calus and Leander rejoin us. Calus (his player being filled in as to what his character learned the year before), is eager to follow up on the Quest. Hewgon and Jorddans are both eager to go, but Leander takes some convincing. Like Morganor, he is skeptical of the curse, but Hewgon beseeches him and he decides to join.

Their destination is Glastonbury Abbey (never mind that in the real world, there is no Christian church there for at least another half century, and it won’t become an Abbey until 960. Pretty much all the famous churches in England are established far later than the timing of the Great Pendragon Campaign, which reminds us to take whatever we want from history, because this Pendragon’s England is much closer to that of 1066 than it is of 466.) The Abbey is in Somerset, which is nearby, but still a long journey, and the knights have to make sure they are back in time for Pentacost for the yearly muster- Uther is taking his armies north to fight the Saxons!

Anyway, along the road west, they are accosted by an enraged charging bull, which is upon Sir Hewgon before he can react. All the knights made alertness rolls, and he alone failed, and was also unluckily the random target of the bull. In a single charge, Hewgon was unhorsed, and suffered a potential major injury, but lucked out, suffering no permanent damage. The other three knights hacked away at the bull, managing to defeat it.

Soon they encountered the late-coming Sir Bersules, got Hewgon patched up, and were back on their way. They were hosted at Castle Wells, and given guides through the trackless marshes to help them to Glastonbury.

At Glastonbury, they found themselves entangled with the plot of The Name of the Rose- a monastery with a famous library, unhelpful and insular monks, a crotchety old blind monk, and dead bodies popping up left and right. The knights got Trusting or Suspicious checks, based on their reaction to the monks, and went to the abbot to make their request. After stonewalling them, the head librarian decided the best way to get them to go away was to give them what they want, and explained that the Curse on Lady Gwiona was the fae spirit the Lady of Ravens, who resides in the Tower of Ravens, not far from Lady Gwiona’s lands. Meanwhile, Leander and Calus found an unlikely common cause in trying to determine what was going on, but weren’t really willing to commit to the level of skullduggery that would be required. A few Prudent rolls, and they decided that they had gotten what they had come for, and the mystery of the abbey would have to remain unsolved. The other three knights looked for other local adventure and were enlisted in a wild chase for a giant snake that may or may not have existed- a Hunt roll at -10 certainly didn’t turn up any results.

Generally, give roleplayers an obvious mystery or strange situation (a monastery where monks keep turning up dead), and they’ll go to all sorts of trouble and chicanery to get to the bottom of this. There was a bit of sneaking around, but they stopped short of trying to break into the library or physically threaten the monks, which probably was what would have been required next, and they had worn out their Hospitality. I’m sure your typical party of murderhobos would have no problem adding prodigiously to the body count, treating the abbey like a dungeon to be sacked. But when your high Traits are earning you glory each year, suddenly you find you very much want to keep them that way, and risking a check on the opposite ability is something to be avoided. Without any direct pressure from the GM, like taking abilities away or threatening you with NPC enforcers, the players suddenly have an incentive to behave a certain way, which doesn’t require any intervention by the GM at all.

Upon finding out as much as they could, the Knights began to head back to Salisbury, hoping to have time before the muster to confront the Lady of Ravens…

The Great Pendragon Campaign, 489

This was something of an unusual session- we only had three out of our six players. Normally my policy is to play if a quorum of players is available, but I violated that personal rule this week. I think the session turned out okay. We ended up only playing for an hour (instead of the normal 2.5-3).

Our knights this week were the erstwhile Bersules and Morganor, and Brendan’s new character, Jorddans. Jorddans starts out this week as a bright-eyed 20 year old squire, a year away from knighthood, and a pious pagan, attempting to cleave to a romantic standard of knighthood.

Brendan wanted to do something a little different for the introduction of his (third) character, so we settled on the squire idea. It was a fun opportunity to see a different sort of knightly interaction.

Morganor’s normal horse-thief squire injured himself (falling off a horse badly and breaking some limbs), so Earl Roderick asked him to finish Jorddans’ squiring as a favor.

Bersules and Morganor took Jorddans out to the training yard, and some sword and jousting rolls were made (a bit reminiscent of the first session), earning the new character some useful checkmarks. With another muster coming up (Uther’s army marching on Cornwall to confront Duke Gorlois), the knights of Salisbury feasted, got their gear together, and went out on the march.

Along the march, the knights saw Merlin, and approached him. Morganor warned Jorddans to be quiet and respectful, since wizards are strange. Jorddans, the faithful pagan was quite starstruck to meet Merlin, the Grand Druid of Britain. Morganor asked Merlin how he could teach his squire to be a great knight, and Merlin turned the question back on him- what makes a great knight?
Morganor (Looking at his character sheet): Loyalty to one’s lord, king, and family!
Bersules (Also looking at his character sheet): Justice, and Generosity, and…. Energeticness?
Merlin (addressing Jorddans): And what do you think, young man?
Jorddans (almost speechless): …to be one with the land.
Merlin: With dirt, and water?
Jorddans: …yes.
Merlin: Ah, very good then.
Morganor: And what is your answer, sir wizard?
Merlin: There are three things that make a great knight: a suit of armor, a horse, and a sword.

Truly, they all agreed that Merlin was most wise.

Afterward, they saw Sir Calus (played now as an NPC), go up to Merlin and have some kind of conversation with him. They couldn’t make out what was being said, but Calus seemed quite agitated. Jorddans was quite astonished by the monstrously large Sir Calus, and a bit of conversation was had about Calus’s strengths as a knight, and his somewhat unorthodox behavior.

They got to Summerset, ruled by King Cadwy. On most of the maps, Summerset is part of Logres, but in several text descriptions, Cadwy is an independent ruler. I interpret this to mean that Cadwy is essentially an independent state with some major concessions to Logres- he has sworn to vote for Uther for High King when the Grand Collegium is called, and will grant passage to Uther and his armies, but does not technically count as a vassal, and thus does not owe a muster or other obligations.

King Cadwy is known for his hospitality, and met Uther, renewed his pledge of support and friendship, and invited Uther and his entourage to stay the knight in Castle Wells, where they were greatly feasted and entertained.

Soon, they made it to the border of Cornwall, where Gorlois’s troops were set up. The characters who succeeded in Battle checks were able to ascertain the field of battle: a stream between the armies, forested hills with archers encamped, and Gorlois’s line of battle in defensive areas. Even with Uther’s vastly superior numbers, the battle would be a bloodbath.

Uther and Gorlois rode up to parley, and the player characters, as part of Uther’s retinue joined them. There was a ‘scripted cut scene’ where Uther and Gorlois negotiate- Gorlois impetuously asks “If I surrender, what do I get?” Uther, at first enraged, is calmed by Merlin’s castle, and offers him the lands from here to the sea to hold in his name. Everyone is happy, and Uther and Gorlois drink together.

(GPC takes the scene, almost word for word, from the 1981 movie Excalibur, which I happened to see over the weekend. What a cheese fest. Patrick Stewart and Helen Mirren were both great in their roles as King Leodegrance and Margause/Morgan Le Fae, but everyone else (including Liam Neeson as Gawain) seemed to be doing their best bad acting.)

After that, we returned to the character’s manors for some slice of life. GPC offers some suggestions for raiding into Saxon lands, or that this might be a good year to throw in another side quest or player based adventure.

Returning to Sir Morganor’s lands, we saw Lady Gwiona a bit (and Jorddans has a Love: Gwiona passion, nothing bad can come from that), and Calus arrived to tell Morganor that he is going on a quest to find a cure for the curse (involving finding an abbey of monks); Morganor insisted there is no curse and sent him on his way. We also did some stewardshipping, with the knights making the progress of their lands, and hearing peasant complaints and enforcing justice. Morganor fumbled one of his rolls, so he seems to have set his manors right for now (peasants complaining about refugees from Caer Colun), the resentment is certainly building up.

The Great Pendragon Campaign, 488

After the diplomatic excursions of the past year, this year the knights got to practice their true profession- war! After some deliberation, King Uther had decided to send his knights to the continent, under the command of Prince Madoc, to aid Praetor Syragius. A few years prior, barbarian Franks had overrun the last Roman outpost in Gaul, and Praetor Syragius sought aid. He promised half the treasury of the Frankish King if Uther could retake Paris.

The army mustered, and various rumors were sought. Sir Oban promised his worried new wife Lady Gwiona that he would be careful. The army marched south to the port of Hantonne, and proceeded to hurry up and wait.

While waiting, the knights are guarding the command tent, along with “The Drakes”, three brother knights who are known to be enforcers for Uther and Madoc. From inside the tent, they can hear an argument, closed with Prince Madoc shouting “four weeks or one city, no more.” Sir Calus was tempted to storm inside and see what the fuss was about, but failed his Reckless roll and decided not to. (The player was tempted to storm inside, but wasn’t sure if he would or not, so chose to roll his Reckless.)
A bit of low comedy here; one of the knights, I don’t remember which one, botched his Awareness check to eavesdrop. I couldn’t think of a specific awareness-related fumble, so I just added a very distracting situation: a stray dog arrived and peed on his leg. The knight chose to sternly stay put and endure it, which actually got him some respect from the Drakes for his devotion to duty.

Naval excursions are a tricky thing in the 5th century. It took the army about a week to load up all the gear, horses, Irish mercenaries, et cetera, then another week of waiting for the tide and wind to be right, then a week to sail across the channel. I had everyone make a Boating roll to see how they fared with the trip- anyone who failed had pretty common bouts of sea-sickness (which was almost everyone), and Morganor and Hewgon both fumbled, leaving them completely incapacitated for the journey. Calus got a critical success, and was perfectly fine.

Upon arriving, the Irish mercenaries wade out onto shore… when buildings on shore start to go up in flames, that’s a signal that it’s safe to land. Small boats bring people on board. The larger boats dock at the village’s small fishing dock, and it takes a week to unload all the horses and crap.

During that time, Praetor Syragius isn’t keen to just stand around. He rallies some troops to go sack a Frankish Temple. (I actually typed Saxon there and had to correct it. During the session I kept referring to Franks as Saxons, since they use the same stats, and had to go back and correct myself. Over and over and over.) The player knights, except for Morganor and Hewgon (who are still reeling from sea sickness and are -5 to everything) decide to join. They have no horses, so Syragius tells them that if they want to don armor, they should do it now, but it is a long journey. Everyone chooses to don armor. Sir Oban sends his squire off to see if he can find a horse, and fumbles the squire roll. No such luck.

They get to a treacherous ravine, with a rickety rope bridge, and opposite the ravine is a beautiful woman in a white gown. Sir Bersules is the first to cross the bridge, and is confronted by the woman, who asks for a dance. He rolls Dancing and comports himself passing well, and is honored by the lady and granted passage.

Everyone else now looks at their character sheets to see if they put points into the Dancing skill. Sir Oban decides he will scale the ravine up and down- I give him a Strength of Dexterity check, at -10 due to his armor. He goes ahead, as it’s still better than his Dancing score. He fails, takes a tumble, some damage, and is stuck at the bottom of the ravine. Sir Calus tries the same, fails, and tumbles to the bottom. NPC knight Sir Jerren (a sort of rival to Sir Bersules), crosses the bridge, dances with the lady, and calls out that it isn’t that hard.

Sir Leander is torn on what to do… he rolled two traits (I don’t remember which ones) to determine his action, and tied, so he was paralyzed with indecision during the situation. Eventually, Bersules and Jerren came back, and with the help of the legionairres and Leander, got some ropes out and helped Oban and Calus out of the ravine. By this time, it was too late in the day to look for a way around the ravine, so the temple-sacking mission was aborted. But hey, Sir Bersules got some glory for dancing with a strange woman!

(In prepping this adventure, I looked up French medieval legends, and the White Lady, who demands passers-by dance with her, seemed perfect for a Pendragon encounter.)

Upon coming back, remember Sir Oban’s squire that failed to find a horse? Well, he, as well as Sir Morganor’s horse-thief squire, are both bound, with their bindings attached to a rope tied to a post, guarded by the three Drakes. Apparently, they tried to ‘borrow’ one of Prince Madoc’s horses. Sir Morganor dragged himself from his sickbed, and Oban and Morganor made Courtesy rolls to convince the Drakes to accept a recompense instead- a pound each. The squires were released, and tendered instead to the justice of their masters, instead of the hangman’s noose.

Eventually the army is all unloaded, and begins to march on Bayeux. Note that they only took provisions for 40 days, which has already passed, and are now living off the land at this point.

They set siege to Bayeux, which is more waiting. A small Frankish force shows up to reinforce the city/distract the besiegers, so a small force (including the knights) splits off to challenge them, which is a Skirmish, sort of a midway between a melee and a Battle, which is basically a small melee, which involves a single leader character (Calus in this case, with his Battle skill of 20), making a few Battle rolls to determine how the rest of their unit fares. The knights were on horse against Frankish footmen, and made short work of them.

Finally, Prince Madoc called for the assault on the city- Irish mercenaries with hatchets and ladders storm the walls, defenders shoot arrows at them, Madoc’s archers shoot the defending archers, and so on. Eventually, the mercenaries get over the wall, and get the local gate open, and the army is ready to start marching in. As heavy cavalry, knights are not part of this- send in the footmen first. Suddenly, there is an actual explosion at the gate (do barrels of oil explode? Was it Frankish magic? I don’t really know) and the attacking force is repelled. Will the knights charge forth to save they day? Of course they do.

Before I get to the details of that battle, I want to discuss the framework given in the Great Pendragon Campaign for the structure of the campaign- there really isn’t anything. The adventure gives good details about how hard crossing the channel is and the logistics of it, but not really any structure for what the knights actually do. There’s some encounter suggestions, like escorting the Praetor, sacking a temple, getting in a skirmish, but no real guidelines in terms of enemy numbers. Likewise, it just says that the troops are having trouble getting the gate open, and that the knights can be rash and rush in to save the day, but that it is dangerous. Again, no real advice in terms of what challenges are actually faced. This is an area where I feel ‘zooming in’ on the level of detail would be warranted and greatly appreciated.

The knights ride through a hail of arrows (no one takes any real damage, maybe a point or two on characters who failed to get their shields up). More dangerous is getting past the siege works, a great big pike emplacement. Those trying to leap the fortification get a Horsemanship roll at -5. Hewgon and Calus fail… leading to their Chargers charging into sharpened stakes and getting skewered. Ouch.

The rest of the knights press on. There are six badass Frankish warriors, cutting down injured Britons who are begging for mercy. One by one, the four involved knights invoke their Honor. Everyone succeeds, and Sir Oban crits, giving him +20 skill for the battle!

I say that the quarters are too tight to get a lance charge, but they still have the benefit of steeds. Sir Leander and Oban end up fighting two Franks each, and have to split their skill, which results in some tricky calculations to determine exactly what their skills are.

The dice are rolled for the first round of battle… and one of Oban’s attackers gets a critical hit. Oban is gutted by his giant axe, felled in one swoop.

(Oban’s player and I took a look at this later, and there pretty much wasn’t anything he could have done, other than not be in the battle. Had he been fighting one-on-one, he would have been guaranteed a crit, but with having to split his skill, he was still at 20+, guaranteed to get a success, and likely to get a crit. However his opponent rolled exactly what they needed, and an already dangerous enemy doubling their damage resulted in an amount he basically couldn’t do anything about. I guess the moral of the story is don’t get outnumbered.)

I let Hewgon and Calus arrive the next round, which was incredibly generous of me- realistically it probably should have taken three or four to extricate themselves from their dead horses and clear the ground, but practically, it’s not much fun to be out of the game, and the rest of the knights were even more outnumbered that this point. With the numbers evened up, the knights ground down the opposition, and were able to outnumber and defeat them. (Perhaps next time when the enemy is down to one or two, I’ll have them invoke their own Passions. But it seemed like the encounter had taken enough of a toll.)

In the aftermath, there was opportunities for looting (and some knights took selfish or cruel checks to get more loot). Calus, deciding that he was too ugly/rude/heretical to find a wife through traditional means, took a Frankish woman for his wife, earning him a point of honor loss. Leander decided that instead of looting he was going to help the women of the city escape mistreatment by the invading army- since there didn’t really seem to be a skill for that, I had him roll Merciful. He got a critical success, and was able to find a safe route out of the city for many of the women.

Praetor Syragius came to congratulate Prince Madoc on his victory, and to encourage them to push on. There was an awkward silence as Madoc refused, saying his obligation was done, and that they were returning to Logres. Syragius was enraged, saying that he had broken a promise from the King, and Madoc simply shrugged. The Romans rode off, to seek victory on their own. Sir Leander was very distraught by this.

The knights sailed home. Sir Oban was buried on his family land. Lady Gwiona made much dole, rending her hair and crying out.

Sir Calus wanted to know if Lady Gwiona was truly cursed. I had him make a Faerie Lore check, which he made. So I took a page out of Apocalypse World, and deferred decision making- I asked Brendan, Sir Oban’s player- Is she really cursed, or is it just bad luck? He decided that she is cursed, and so she is: Sir Calus saw ravens perched on every building watching her, a bad omen to be sure.

Sir Calus said that the infant Gracian needed to be taken from her, as she was cursed, which made Lady Gwiona more upset, and protective of her son. Sir Morganor stepped up to defend Lady Gwiona, and said he was afraid of no curse, and would marry and defend her. Little Gracian remained with his mother, and Morganor and Gwiona were wed.

The Great Pendragon Campaign, 487

As readers of my last session report may recall, our playgroup (of about 30-40 gamers) had been playing in the play space of a local gamestore, until recently, the gamestore owners wanted to make room for a different playgroup. I assume this was mostly a financial decision, to attract things like minis and card players who would spend more money. One of the group organizers rented an empty storefront in the same strip mall, where we are currently playing. Last week was pretty awkward, with not enough chairs, but this week people brought more, and we were actually pretty comfortable. The space is a little smaller and noise is more of an issue, but it’s not terrible. As far as I can tell, the fabled horde of spend-happy collectible gamers has not yet materialized to replace us.

Sir Oliver and the walk-in knight from last week did not return, so we seem to have a core of six knights: Sir Bersules, Sir Morganor, Sir Hewgon the Sheep-rider, Sir Leander, Sir Calus, and Sir Oban.

Pentecostal Feast was held at Sarum. If you are not a Catholic from the Middle Ages, Pentecost is White Sunday, the day 50 days (or five weeks, depending on your reckoning) after Easter. It is kind of a big deal, and as far as gameplay goes, it is the biggest deal for holidays.

Anyway, King Uther and his Dukes and Counts show up at the castle, with their retinues, and everyone does the quarters shuffle, because there aren’t any guest quarters, and lodging of some sort has to be found for everyone. There’s a chance for gossip and flirting, and a few personality checks, and then a few of what are basically cutscenes: gift-giving, in which a bunch of gifts are exchanged (notably King Uther recognizes Sir Madoc as his son and heir, gives him a shiny suit of armor, and a grant of a bunch of prosperous manors and a castle, Sir Madoc gives Uther a bunch of treasure, and then Uther gives all the knights treasure- one pound in coins, and Sir Bersules gets a silver goblet. It’s good to be the glory leader. (Ever notice that the more stuff you have, the more free stuff people are willing to give you? Doesn’t seem very fair…) Then in what is basically another cutscene, Merlin shows up, gifts Uther the sword Excalibur, and Earl Roderick asks the knights who helped find it tell the tale, getting them either Proud or Modest checks, and some extra glory for being toasted by the King. Merlin tells King Uther he will rule as long as he remains just, but King Uther seems mostly interested by the sword.

Notably Duke Gorlois of Cornwall is absent, another snub to Uther (though he did send two of his sons, and his oldest daughter, fifteen year old Margause), as is Duke Lindsey.

Later, King Uther calls the Salisbury knights to him, and says he would like them to accompany him on a trip to Lindsey to visit the Duke and get a pledge of Loyalty. Madoc says that he would like the knights who found Excalibur (and killed a giant!) to help on the naval raids (with Admiral Gwynwynwyn, with is the name in adventure) against the Saxon fleet. Merlin suggests something unorthodox: give them a choice. A choice! King Uther is startled, but agrees with Merlin’s council.

I expected that the players would prefer a good raid against Saxons, but they surprised me- almost everyone preferred to do a diplomatic mission. I think Hewgon and Calus were the holdouts. Everyone got to check the Trait or Passion that they felt most reflected their decision- for some it was Loyalty: King Uther, or Just, or Honor.

Lady Gwionna was very happy that Sir Oban had chosen the nonviolent mission, and begged him to come back safe and sound.

They arrived at the city of Lincoln in the duchy of Lindsey. Note that I couldn’t really find Duke Lindsey’s given name, so everyone just calls him Duke Lindsey. Which isn’t wrong, technically, but no body calls Roderick Earl Salisbury or Ulfias Duke Silchester. The King’s procession is welcomed into Lincoln castle, where they find that the Duke is on a hunting trip and is due back any day now. Sir Morganor organizes an expedition to go find them, and discovers along the way that the hunt was entered into rather hastily… almost if the Duke was avoiding the King. Sir Oban tries to use his falcon to find the Duke, but it just flies off and he finds it in a tree later. The knights find the errant Duke, and with some Courtesy, convince him to come back to the castle and treat with the King. There, Excalibur is shown off, and Lindsey renews his pledge of loyalty. Along the way, Leander makes an Intrigue check and realizes that Lindsey has been avoiding Uther because he fears Uther has the potential to be tyrannical, not a great king like his brother. Leander is very offended by this.

Having renewed Lindsey’s loyalty, King Uther instructs the knights to go north, into Eburacum, in the Kingdom of Malahaut, to treat with its King and ask for his support. It is one thing for a King to go with full retinue to meet with a vassal, but not for him to enter the territory of another King in such a matter. He gives Leander a sealed letter to deliver to the King. Calus tries to get a peek at the letter, but Leander refuses to let him look at it.

They rather uneventfully travel into Malahaut- they meet some Malahaut knights who cordially escort them to Eburacum. Eburacum is a large old Roman city, the second largest city in Britain. (In modern day, it is York.) It is a walled city, with two halves on either side of the river. They are welcome to visit the southern city, but the old city, on the northern half of the river, is closed to outsiders.) They find that King Malahaut is out with the army fighting Saxons.

Hewgon and Calus decide they want to sneak into the northern half of the city and see what all the fuss is about. Calus tried to fast talk his way across the bridge, earning him a deception check, and Hewgon tried to swim the river. They both failed their rolls, and were turned away/fished out of the river and returned to the castle, and both kept a much closer eye on, and lost a point of Hospitality for their troubles.

Sir Morganor met up with an old knight named Padraig, who was willing to help them find the King. He took a number of squires with him, and they rode out, and they encountered the aftermath of a large battle. I got the sense that some of the players were itching for a fight, so exploring onwards, they found a Saxon patrol (on foot), of ten Saxon warriors. After a lance charge, their lines were largely broken. A few knights were knocked down, and had to spend a turn getting up, but the knights did not remain outnumbered for long.

In this fight, Sir Hewgon decided to invoke his Hate: Saxons… and failed! He was at -5 to all rolls for the combat, and after the fight sunk into a deep Melancholy, falling to the ground and weeping at the senseless violence. Sir Padraig said he had seen this before, and that it was best to let the knight be. When Melancholy happens, the Knight can be roused, but he will attack the rouser violently. Otherwise, he remains in the Melancholic state for a number of WEEKS equal to the Passion score, so in this case sixteen weeks. Good thing it was almost the end of the season (and the session.)

The remaining knights went on to find King Malahaut (who like Lindsey, has an actual name, but is mostly called Malahaut, or the King with A Hundred Knights. Note that he has many more than a hundred knights- for example, Earl Roderick has a hundred and fifty knights in his service.) They found his camp, and Sir Padraig escorted them to the King. Leander tried to speak courteously to the King and failed his Courtesy roll- his player decided that Leander had tried to greet the King in Latin, only to realize that he doesn’t speak it. Leander gave the King the message, and he opened it up, looked at it for the appropriate amount of time, and then handed it to his scribe to read. (King Malahaut doesn’t read Latin either.) It asked for Malahaut’s pledge to back Uther for High King, and to see the great sword Excalibur. Malahaut told the players he’d come see the sword… when he has some leisure time.

Upon returning, Lady Gwionna and Sir Oban were married. They had a small, private ceremony.

This was our first session that contained an entire year, and I think it went very well. I did not feel rush, and we had plenty of time for the Winter phase.

The Great Pendragon Campaign, 486 Part II

We had some real-life logistical issues this week; the store that had been hosting the game night no longer is hosting (they seem to want TCG players in the space, but no one showed up, apparently.) So one of the group organizers rented out an empty storefront in the same minimall, and crowdsourced tables and chairs, but there weren’t quite enough of either to go around. People brought in camping chairs from their cars, ran out and got more who knows where, or traded off sitting and standing with their neighbors.

We have lost Sir Oliver- I have not seen or heard from the player. Perhaps the game was not to his tastes, or perhaps he had a scheduling conflict- either way, I have no contact information for him, so I really don’t know what’s going on.

Due to a variety of reasons, the new location perhaps being one of them, we started with just Sir Morganor, Oban, and Hewgon. While riding on garrison duty, they came across an old peasant who was looking for his lost sheep. Suspiciously (or Trustingly, as the rolls determined), they ventured forth to find the sheep, and saw it at the top of a small hill. Getting closer, they realized it was a large hill… and a giant sheep.

Several attempts were made to get the sheep to budge, but eventually, Sir Hewgon climbed atop it and managed to ride it down the hill, earning him the nickname of Hewgon the Sheeprider. Upon returning to the old peasant, it seems he had had the benefits of a makeover- he was no longer a smelly peasant, but rather Merlin the Magician! He bid the knights to follow him on a quest for the realm.

He led them to a strange glen (that Sir Morganor had never seen before, even though these were his lands), and down a path, where they fought a strange Green Knight, who sprouted an extra arm so he could fight all three at once. When defeated, the strange knight and horse melted into a puddle of algae. Meanwhile, Morganor and Hewgon caught a glimpse of an arm, clad in samite, emerging from the water and handing Merlin a gleaming sword.

After that, they returned to court. By this time Sir Bersules had joined us, and we had a walk-in player. (I don’t know if they’ll come back next week or not, but I gave them a character sheet for the default knight.) Earl Roderick used this strange tale as an excuse to throw a feast, netting the characters some extra glory. At the feast, Lady Indeg told Sir Bersules that there had been a giant spotted on her lands, and that her vassal knights (she said, giving them some serious side-eye) were too cowardly to face it. With the implied promise of Lady Indeg’s hand in marriage (and her vast tracts of land), Sir Bersules gathered his companions (and Sir New Guy) and set out in search of adventure.

The giant is part of the Great Pendragon Campaign module (I actually moved things around a little- the Merlin sequence is supposed to go Sheep – Giant – Green Knight, but I figured three knights would get stomped by it. As it turned out, it was still tough going with five knights.)

So the giant is tough as hell, with 55 hit points and 15 Armor, and gits for 7d6 damage with a thrown boulder or 9d6 when bashing you in the head with a tree. This guy took out a knight pretty much every combat round, until only Bersules and Oban were left. They both invoked Passions, (one Bersules getting a crit!), and charged the giant together, both getting crits on the rolls. Between the two of them, they finally did enough damage to fell the mighty beast.

Returning to court, they told tales of their deeds, both being rather humble about it and getting Modest checks. Leander and Calus had shown up, and were told of their companions deeds, and got either Suspicious or Trusting checks based on their reactions. Calus also made a critical Faerie Lore check, and identified the Green Knight as a Nukalavee.

I gave our latecoming players a chance to make a few die rolls and earn some checks to see what they had been doing that fall while the other knights were out adventuring. Calus had gone hunting, and got a crit on his Hunting roll, which gave him an impressive trophy and a bit of glory.

Bersules and Lady Indeg were soon to be married, and preparations were made. Worldly Calus decided he was going to have a bit of fun, and released some wild boars into the chapel during the wedding ceremony. I looked at the Boar profile in the book, and then asked Calus how big of a boar he wanted to find. “As big as I can,” he said, and since he had previously critted his Hunting roll, I figured they would be two full strength boars.

Two boars fighting six knights is actually a very scary fight if the knights are in the middle of a wedding and therefore not armored or mounted (I decided they did have their swords, as they are the marks of their status.) I actually pulled back during this fight, downgrading any critical hits the boars got, (and they rolled more than their fair share), because I didn’t want to kill anyone during what was basically a player prank. That said, more than a few knights got major wounds before the boar was subdued. Lady Indeg called this a bad omen, and delayed the wedding. She and Sir Bersules are still getting married… just not in time for him to get any glory or money from her holdings this year.

The Great Pendragon Campaign, 486

We started off with the Winter Phase, which I think might be one of the coolest things about Pendragon. You get to do a whole bunch of bookkeeping- okay, so maybe it’s not awesome for everyone. But it’s the accumulation of the events of the year and really ties everything together.

Every skill you’ve rolled, you get a d20 roll. If you roll above your skill, add 1 to it. You learned a thing! Low skills are likely to fail… but likely to increase. If a skill is already at 20, you need to roll a natural 20 to improve (and indeed, Sir Bersules increased his Flirting from 20 to 21.)

More importantly, from a character perspective, is that Passions and Traits have a chance to improve. Acted Recklessly? Your Reckless trait might increase, leading you to be more reckless in the future. Mind your behavior to increase the Traits you want your knight to be famous for.

There is also a training mechanic, where your knight spends the winter training. There is a bit of a gamble here- you can get 1d6 skill points, which might be a dud, or a point to almost anything. (With some ability caps.) It’s another chance to buff up your character and get some new skill points, or shore up an important Trait that maybe just got reduced.

Winter is also when you collect income, and pay your lifestyle. And income is worth glory, as is spending enough on lifestyle.

And the best thing about Glory, of course (other than being more famous than everyone else), is that every thousand points you get a bonus point that can go anywhere- abilities that normally can’t be increased, your highest skill, whatever. If you want to be like Lancelot and have a Lance skill of 39, this is how you’re going to get it.

There’s also a few dice rolls to determine how things are going with your family. There is a d20 roll to see if you had a child, which in most circumstances is not optional. We had a handful of baby bastards this year, including one from Sir Leander, who hadn’t established any rolls in the hay. We also got some suspicious rumors- Sir Leander’s brother is deeply in debt, Worldly Sir Calus’s brother is a heretic (not a surprise, we figure they’re basically a family of atheists), and Sir Hewgon’s brother is a horse-thief. One of Morganor’s brothers went missing.

These random rolls are great for flavor, but as any experienced GM knows, they can be expanded for plot hooks and additional game content, that make the game feel more vivid, and less like a preplanned plot- and Pendragon has a lot of preplanned plot, so bringing in these events whenever possible to round things out serves as a bit of a balancing element.

I think our first Winter phase took about a half hour all around. Since this is something that happens every year (and most years will be 1 session), my hope is that once we all get used to it they’ll go more smoothly.

486 opened up with news from the ongoing battles: another battle had been fought in Caercolun, in eastern Logres. A Saxon army had marched into the kingdom, and by the time the reserves showed up, it was too late. Uther’s army had to retreat, and the Saxons pretty much have the run of the place, killing and enslaving as they please.

In other news, the last Roman outpost in Gaul has been overrun by Franks. Praetor Syagrius offered King Uther half the treasury of the Franks in exchange for helping him retake the area, but was refused.

Sir Madoc has put out a call for warriors to join him in raids into the Saxon lands- a offer which Earl Roderick specifically forbid his vassal knights from taking up. Instead, he assigned them a specific duty- the dreaded Garrison Duty.

Garrison Duty isn’t just manning the castle walls, waiting for attack (but it does include that!) It also includes patrolling the borders and roads of the County, keeping an eye out for neer-do-wells, invaders, and trouble. And indeed trouble was found.

When near Sir Gracian’s family estate, (Gracian botched his hospitality roll, and had everyone sleep in the stables with him.) the knights saw smoke on the horizon.

Upon arriving, they found a farmhouse in flames, some butchered peasants, and some knights from Levcomagus.

Levcomagus is a small city to the east of Salisbury, part of the Duchy of Silchester, which is also sworn to King Uther. And here a bunch of knights from it are raiding Earl Roderick (and perhaps more importantly, one of the player’s) lands.

There was some conversation, where the leader, Sir Alver, said that these were Levcomagus lands, and that he executed the peasants for failing to pay their tribute. When Sir Gracian insisted they were his lands, Sir Alver offered to joust over it. Sir Gracian invoked one of his Traits (I think Just, but maybe Vengeful), which gives +20 to your skill, guaranteeing success in most situations, and making Criticals very likely. Gracian unhorsed Sir Alver, much to the surprise of no-one.

This could have been the end of it, but Sir Leander, inflamed by love of Justice, demanded that all these knights answer for their role in the killing of these peasants. A melee broke out, in which Sir Morganor invoked his own Passion of Loyalty to his Lord. The Levcomagus knights were defeated in short order- but not before one of them struck a mighty blow against Sir Gracian- a powerful critical hit which reduced him far below 0 hit points- striking his head clean off. Thus dies our first player character.

Combat is pretty weird, in how brutal it is. Most attacks don’t do that much damage to a knight in armor- the danger is in being ambushed or outnumbered. However, a critical hit deals double damage, which will completely blow through armor and leave a lasting injury or even death. Most characters and enemies do 4d6 damage, and knights have 10 armor (16 if they make their roll to use their shield), meaning 4d6 will often be blocked or do single digit damage, but 8d6 is a very different story.

The last Levcomagus knight surrendered. Sir Hewgon killed one of the defeated knights, and the other five were taken captive. They took them back to Sarum, after stopping at Gracian’s home to give the bad news to the family and pick up a new PC, Gracian’s brother Oban.

They took the captives to Sarum, where they were judged by Earl Roderick. He asked the PCs for their opinions, and then passed judgment. The knight that killed Sir Gracian would be executed for killing one of his knights, and Sir Alver would be hung as a thief. The other three would be ransomed back to Levcomagus.

Ransoming enemies is a big way to get money. Each knight is worth 12 gold libra, for a total of 36, or 6 per knight. Typical yearly income, after expenses, is 4 gold.

There was some other court business- lusty Sir Bersules finally Lady Indeg (the old rich one) to take notice of him. She will surely have some sort of quest for him soon.

The way a ransom would typically be done would be to send a messenger with the ransom notice, get the money, then send the ransomed person. I thought it would be more interesting to let our knights deliver the prisoners themselves, and receive the ransom in person. So off to Levcomagus they went, prisoners in tow.

At Levcomagus they received a chilly reception. They met Sir Bryce, the brother of the knight who killed Sir Gracian and was killed in return. Cadwallon, Steward of Levcomagus paid them the ransom, and offered hospitality for a single night- after which they had until the next sunset to leave his domain. Sir Oban tried to argue that the lands were his, but Cadwallon was not in the mood for debate. Sir Oban riled up Sir Bryce during dinner, who pulled a dagger on him, and was promptly banished by Cadwallon.

The next morning, while leaving, Sir Bryce challenged Sir Oban to a duel. They both invoked their Hate passions for each other, both getting +20 to their skills. Sir Oban got a success… but Sir Bryce got a crit. Sir Oban was unhorsed (with a warlance, for plenty of damage), and dealt a major wound. Seeing a full garrison of Silchester knights, the rest of the knights decided to be prudent and take unconscious Sir Oban and leave.

Thus closes this adventure, but it is not the only one this year has in store for our knights…

The Great Pendragon Campaign: 485, Part II

We picked up where we left off, the next morning. One of the players, Hewgon, was going to be absent, which was just great, because Hewgon is known for his recklessness, so I narrated him charging off in search of the bear on his own.

A few of the players were running behind, so we started without them. Gracian, Morganor, and Bersules went on the hunt, with Old Garr and a bunch of peasants with dogs. Gracian led the hunt, making his hunting roll.

At some point Oliver showed up, and his recklessness also made him set off on his own. He made his own hunting roll, which succeeded, but not as good as Gracian’s so Gracian found the bear first. Also Leander showed up, so he was with the main group.

In the sample first adventure, there’s this whole progress marker thing of making checks and filling in progress bubbles, and you have a limited number of checks based on the number of hours of sunlight remaining, which is interesting, but I much prefer single-roll resolution whenever possible.

The bear was found and the hunting party ambushed it, and killed it really easy. Being targeted by multiple attackers is really bad, because you have to split your skill. This was a particularly tough bear, with a Claws skill of 15, but being attacked by four people at a time meant I split my skill in four parts. I chose to split it 2/2/2/9, so I could mostly focus on one person. The bear got in a few good claw swipes, but went down pretty quick. Oliver managed to arrive in the third round to join in the fray, to replace Gracian who had been wounded and wanted to back off. Through combined arms, the squires took out the bear.

There was some first-aiding, and Old Garr fumbled his First Aid on Morganor, making his wounds much worse. Probably won’t do much for Morganor’s view of priests.

And then Hewgon showed up after all! He arrived just in time to see his companions taking out the bear.

On the way back, they began to hear a strange sound- an eerie baying of hounds, getting louder, with the clopping of hooves, and everyone needed to make a Valorous roll. All of the peasants fled in terror, along with Old Garr. Oliver fumbled his, so fled along with them, and Hewgon failed and decided they had the right idea. (Oliver’s behavior was dictated by the fumble, but I told Hewgon only that he was very uneasy and reluctant to investigate.)

Gracian took the lead in investigating, and saw a strange six-hooved beast, with the stripes and spots, a the neck and head of a snake, and a yellow belly that looked like it had black wolf heads trying to press against the skin from the outside. The beast was gently drinking at a pond. Gracian decided he was going to kill it, since it was clearly an abomination against god, and drew his sword and tried to sneak up on it, but at the last second the beast perked its ears up and ran away.

And not long after, a knight in armor came crashing along, asking if the squires had seen a strange beast come through. The scenario calls for Recognize rolls at +5 to identify the knight- on a success, they know he is from Gales, and only know his identity (King Pellinore) on a Critical success. One of the players actually called out ‘Pellinore’ before I had to inform him his success wasn’t good enough.

There was some interaction back and forth. Pellinore was pretty much only interested in the beast, and where it had went, and wouldn’t even give his name when asked (“a knight of some excellence.”). Upon learning what he wanted, he rode off, but Leander followed him someways, demanding answers, to which Pellinore told him not to worry about it and focus on doing his duty.

It was pretty fun watching the reactions of the different players during this scene- the veterans knew what was going on and were pretty pleased just to be there, but Leander’s player had no idea what was going on, so her reaction to the Questing Beast (because that’s what it was), and that King Pellinore was an arrogant jerk (because I guess he kind of was that too) were quite reasonably what a young knight’s might be.

They got back to the village of Imber, and there was a celebration- opportunities for everyone to make a Dancing, Singing, Play or Orate check, making Indulgent/Temperate checks or Lustful/Chaste. (Bersules and Oliver chose to go for rolls in the hay with peasant girls.) Morganor stayed out because he was wounded, which might have gotten him Prudent instead for one of those. At the end of the celebration, they were presented with the bear pelt as a gift from the villagers.

On the way back to Vagon castle, they met some bandits, with daggers and bows, beating up a peasant and taking his cows. This was another combat scene, where the young squires completely smashed the opposition. Having a horse when your opponent doesn’t is a really big deal- you get a +5 bonus, and they get a +5 penalty. Some of the bandits were killed, others were taken captive.

After this I realized I had written up a reference guide for the combat rules that I was going to give the players before the bear fight, but didn’t. Oh well, their first two fights went pretty well for the player knights.

We skipped to a month later, at court in Sarum. Sir Elad told Earl Roderick of their deeds, and they met Prince Madoc, who told Earl Roderick that King Uther is mustering all the armies of the realm to fight the Saxons. They had a bit of a chance to either gossip or flirt. Many of them- Bersules, Gracian, and Olvier tried to get the attention of various heiresses, but all failed their flirting rolls, and couldn’t get their attention with handsome Prince Madoc nearby. Others focused on Intrigue and learned that while the young knights were eager for battle, the old knights weren’t so convinced of an upcoming victory.

Calus’s player showed up just in time for the knighting ceremony. The knights-to-be were to stay awake in the chapel all night on vigil. Morganor and Calus were both particularly Worldly, so had to make Worldly checks. Morganor choose to stay present, but not praying. Calus critically succeeded his, so had to do something incredibly worldly. We discussed what that might be, and he decided to storm out of the chapel, saying he’d see everyone else in the morning. (Earl Roderick didn’t mention it, but it was clear during the knighting ceremony that he was not pleased.) Everyone else had to make an Energetic check, to see if they stayed awake through the whole night. Leander fumbled, and fell asleep almost immediately.

After that was the knighting ceremony itself. I had printed off the words for the official ceremony, and had Gracian’s player perform his side of the script with me. After that, we passed the script around if anyone wanted to see what the words of knighting were. Then there was the Leap, just a fun Dex roll for a few extra glory, to see if the newly minted knight could leap into the saddle.

We still had about an hour left, so we went ahead and did the last event of the year: the Battle of Meadow Creek. It was a little clumsy. I had set aside time to go over the battle rules. It looks like a combat with some macro elements, but it’s really the reverse, a macro with combat elements. Each round the knight gets a randomly generated enemy, and makes an opposed combat check, and the loser takes damage. And then the chaos of battle separates you and you move on. It does really feel like a chaotic battle, where its moving all around you and you have no idea what is going on, however if you’re doing well you don’t have a lot of options. Sir Gracian made all of his combat rolls and got baseline experience, and didn’t really have any real choices. Sir Leander was unhorsed early, and spent the rest of the battle behind the lines failing to first aid himself and looking for a horse. The first round enemies were Saxon footmen, but after that I pretty much just rolled Heothgeneats as the enemy, mounted and well trained warriors, easily the knights’ equals.

(Fun fact: I realized afterwards that the entry in the Great Pendragon Campaign specifically says that the Saxons in this battle don’t have horses… which would have made this all much easier for the player knights, since they would have gotten the mounted vs. afoot bonus. Whoops. So I guess I took the training wheels off a bit earlier than expected.)

Most of the knights got knocked around- Oliver, with his size of 6 took a blow that was 1 point shy of knocking him unconscious, (the minimum is supposed to be 8 size, so I’m going to check with him next week that he calculated his stats right). Morganor took a Major Wound and ended up losing a point of Size, and Sir Calus took a critical hit that would have killed almost anyone else, and instead left him down a point of Appearance, at Appearance 4.

(After this, Calus’s player asked, ‘so if you die, do you just wait to get resurrected?’ and we explained that there is no such thing in this game, you play a brother or a cousin, or if you’ve done well enough, your son.)

The battle was 5 rounds, just enough for it to end when people were starting to sweat. It was a tie, with neither side decisively winning, so the survivors regrouped with their wounded, to fight another year. I feel like the battle was the weakest part of the game right now, so I’m going to be looking into ways to make sure there is more player agency, and that it’s not just a game of trading dice rolls.

We had about fifteen minutes left in the session, so I decided to forgo the Winter phase until the next session. So that’s where we’ll pick up: with death and taxes.

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