Monday, 15 August 2011

Pendragon Campaign: Year 485 part 1: The Squires' Tale

Tonight, three of us got together for the beginning of the Pendragon Great campaign, a "pick-up" style game we'll be playing whenever the two couples involved happens to have an evening off at the same time. The fourth player, my dearly beloved, joined us just in time to meet the squires before being knighted. How did they earn their spurs? By playing the introductory scenario in the Pendragon Rulebook of course, read on.

Squires Galen, Godrick and Valiance, having spent the last several weeks of their training under the auspices of Salisbury's Marshal, Sir Elad (see left) at Vagon castle, awake at the cock crow to attend their daily duties. Unlike the other, younger squires within the wooden-walls and halls of the Motte-and-Bailley castle, the trio of worthies are excused the early morning tasks of seeing to the needs of their respective knights (mostly by dint of the fact that said knights are absent from the castle altogether) and assemble in the training yard immediately after breaking their fast. Not being a particularly religious knight, Sir Elad does not force any of the squires present to attend morning prayers, nor does he attend himself, and so the squires proceed quickly to the business of lancing quinnions for most of the morning.

Though all three of the doughty squires acquit themselves well against the target while it's spinning arm is disabled, Godricks first attempt at the Quiionnn with arm enabled is a disaster. So intent is he on striking the target that he entirely forgets to duck when the sword arm comes swinging round and takes so severe a blow to the head that he is knocked from his horse entirely. Young Godrick accepts the laughter of his fellow squires and the watching household with good grace however, and quickly remounts his horse to try again. Sir Elad seems impressed with the lads attitude when Godrick comments that "a squire who never falls never learns to stand up" (earning the player a little extra glory in the process).

Later, he has his revenge when Sir Elad instructs the knights to race three times around the bounds of the castle on horseback. Though Galen takes an early lead and Valiance (perhaps by dint of being built like an ox) soon lags behind, Godrick quickly takes the lead when, not one but both of his opponents fall from horseback into the muddy ditch surrounding the castle. At the exact same time.  Godrick is too good natured to make a great deal of their muddy clothes when the other two finally cross the finish line at the castle gates, but the castle many womenfolk certainly enjoy directing numerous ribald and embarrassing comments their way.

After sending the three lads away to get themselves cleaned up, Sir Elad meets the squires in the Great Hall and instructs them to perform a certain task. There is a certain bear, it seems, which has taken upon itself an unholy desire to consume the flesh of men as well as beasts and livestock. The peasants of Imber (the most distant of Sir Elad's manors) have been terrified out of the fields as a result, and Sir Elad has concerns for the viability of the manors winter crop plantings as a result. Before setting out, however, he instructs the three lads to joust for the honour of leading the expedition. Sir Valiance, ever-humble and not in any way desirous of fame and responsibility, graciously volunteers to withdraw from the contest for simplicities sake. And so, Sir Galen and Sir Goderick joust for the honour, with Galen very convincingly winning the joust on the very first pass of spears.

Galen decides that it would be best to ride forth today rather than wait overnight, confident of reaching the manor before nightfall if they push the horses hard enough, ride rouncy's rather than their coursers, and spare the warhorses for the hunt tomorrow (earning them all an energetic check in the process). All three squires retrieve their fathers' (or in the case of Valiance, his brother's) war gear before setting off, without even pausing for the mid-day meal.

Perhaps wisely, they choose to remain within the borders of the County and take the longer route rather than risk travel through lands which they neither know well nor know if they will be welcomed in. This entails a hard-ride north east from Vagon to the cross-roads near Stonehenge, where they turn North-West with nary a glance at the great pagan monument and burial site of Aurelius Ambrosius. As the sun hovers dangerously close to the horizon, they enter a pass through some low hills before turning south-west along a narrow track that eventually leads them to the benighted manor just moments after the sun sinks to it nightly rest beneath the plane of the world.

After some confusion (knocking at the door of the Manor House, which itself seems to be in a state of disrepair following the winter) the three squires are faced with a throng of peasants come to investigate the noise of fists pounding on the manor-house gates. To the dismay of Galen and Godrick, they are understandably mistaken for knights by the villagers and the crooked-backed little old priest that leads them, yet the two christian knights are quick to dissuade them (earning modesty checks in the process- though in retrospect honesty checks would probably have made more sense). The villagers seem to doubt for a moment that the three armoured men before them, each with spears and spare horses before them, could be anything but knights but eventually are satisfied with the answer that the visitors are, in fact, squires. If  any seem put out by the fact that their Lord has chosen to send mere squires (rather than full knights) to save them, they are too wise (or too fearful) to say.

Old Garr, the village priest, identifies himself as the manor's steward, village headman and the local priest, which likewise explains why the manor house (the normal abode of a village steward when the lord is away) lies empty in favour of the village church. Valiance snickers and his companions are clearly discomforted when they realise that the "housekeeper" who offers them porridge oats spiced with onions for their supper is actually Old Garr's doxie (and the mother of the two children underfoot, both of whom have something of Old Garr's look to them).

They question the old priest briefly regarding the bear before the old priests hints about the late hour and the cost of good candles finally hit home. All three squires turn in for the night on the floor of the priest's hut while Old Garr himself and his "wards of the church" sleep in the village chapel itself.

Next morning, alarmed by Old Garrs talk of men and bulls ripped apart by fearsome claws, the squires take the unusual step of armouring themselves for the hunt. All too aware that the extra metal will hinder the agility of both themselves and their steeds in the thick boughs of the forest, they nonetheless insist upon wearing it. Old Garr himself volunteers to act as a guide, apparently thinking to keep up with the squires while mounted on his donkey. The squires will have none of it however and instead persuade the old priest to mount one of their Rouncy's.

The hunt goes well at first, with hunt leader Galen very quickly picking up the beast's spoor, but (in large part due to the encumbrance of their armour) the squires have a hard time making up the distance. At one point they are almost distracted by a strange growling nearby, but at the last Galen realises that the source is merely one of the villager dogs that had been running alongside for much of the morning. Soon after, Galen and Valiance find themselves tangled up in a briar while Godrick must cut them a path out with his sword. Finally though, just as the sun begins sinking beneath the trees and the squires begin to worry that it might be time to return to Imber, they catch sight of the beast. It turns at bay, rising up on it's hind-legs to stand fully twice the height of a man. It's black claws and yellow teeth glisten with sweat and saliva and it's animal eyes blaze with bloody murder. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Old Garr turns tail and flees at the sight. Without hesitation, the young squires attack. Galen very nearly skewers it heart on the first charge ( 1 hit point away from causing a major wound) though the beasts angry reaction causes Godrick's thrown spear to fly wide. The best flails ineffectively at Galen, it's claws failing to pierce his hauberk of stout chain and serving only to give the young squire a fierce buffeting. Finally, it is Galen whose spear finds a soft point in the bear's thick hide and renders a blow sufficient to cause it's collapse. It's great chest heaving from the effort of dragging air into it's damaged lungs, Godwick slays the slumbering beast and takes a tooth as his trophy while Valiance and Galen each take a single claw. The squires show little regard for the valuable (though damaged) pelt of the beast and leave it where it lies to rot before gathering up Old Gar and making their way in the failing light back to Imber.

There the peasants greet them with great joy and a rude feast is prepared. It is poor fair by any knightly standard, but all these good people can provide so late in the winter, mild now as the days might be. The three squires depart late the next day at a leisurely pace for the sake of their spinning heads and queasy bellies but do not travel far before coming across three brigands beating a farmer they recognise from the night before. Without hesitation they charge and the rogues quickly make off on foot. Valiance has no difficulty in over-taking the lead brigand however, kicking him unconscious to the ground with a successful grapple check. His companions attempt to emulate this feat and fail. yet seeing they cannot hope to outrun three mounted men, the remaining two turn at bay and attempt to slay the riders with their hatchets. Galen's spear takes his foe in the arm-pit, nicely skewering the rogue while Godrick delivers a sword-blow that renders the last brigand unconscious yet close to death. Showing something of a merciful nature he dismounts and tends to the brigands wounds, saving his worthless life (three of the four PC squires have first aid skills at 15, which bodes well for the groups survivability to say the least).

Their travel slowed further by the burden presented by these two prisoners, it is near nightfall before the three squires return through the pass and catch sight of Tilshead, one of the county's three lesser cities. They gain admittance just before the gates close and accept the hospitality of the towns Lord, Sir Jaradans (who in this version of the Great Pendragon Campaign is a Knight Banneret and Lord of Tilshead, see the picture on the left). Sir Jaradans took the surviving brigands off their hands and promised to send a messenger to Sir Elad with news of their success in the morning. He gives the squires 2 libre in silver for their capture of the Brigands, who he assures them will be sold into serfdom far away from Salisbury, preferably somewhere close to the encroaching Saxon menace. Godrick is invited to tell the tale of their adventures thus far at dinner, but, being somewhat unused to such attention, makes a hash of it. Somewhat mortified, he spends most of the next days ride practicing his storytelling, sure in the knowledge that Sir Elad will also wish to hear the story of their adventures.

Indeed he does. After being welcomed back to the castle by the Marshal in person, the squires are instructed to wash before joining the household for dinner. There Godrick again relates their adventures, doing a much better job of it this time, and earning some glory for himself and his companions. Sir Elad nods his approval and announces that on the morrow the squires will join him when he rides forth to Sarum for Earl Roderick's final council of the long Winter.

It is another leisurely ride to Sarum. Though the squires are far from strangers here, the sight of the mighty town with its ring-work of stone, it's great cathedral, stone keep and mysterious eagle statue serve to once again steal their breath away. While Sir Elad takes his rest in the great hall with the Earl, the squires are left to the stables with instructions to tend to the horses. Eventually, as clear winters day fades into evening, they are called from their duties to wash and present themselves in the Great Hall.
Though the hall is still busy with bustling folk of both castle and town, already the servants are setting out the trestle's for that nights repast and feasting. Sir Elad and the Earl regard the young squires from the dais, but do not beckon them forward. Somewhat at a loss, the  youngsters are relieved when two older, veteran knights, approach the squires and engage them in conversation. Sir Brogan, it seems, is a dour Roman Christian and not overly fond of gossip, yet his great friend Sir Leoric (see left, standing in centre picture with Earl Roderick on the right) is as Pagan as the Green Man and as gregarious as an old nan. Sir Brogan grumpily reveals that they have just returned from chasing off brigands on the eastern borders of the County. "Trouble is brewing," observes Sir Brogan, "It is good that we have fine young squires such as yourselves to strengthen the ranks of knighthood in these difficult times." When pressed, the dour knight seems to think he has said too much already, but Sir Leoric cheerfully explains that the brigands they faced were too well organised to be common robbers, and likely were mercenaries in the employ of the Sire of Levcomagus, the castle that guards the border between Salisbury and Silchester. While Sir Brogan stomps off shaking his head about telling tales to squires, Sir Leoric explains that the Earl and the Sire hate each other over the business of wooing of Ellen, the Earl's good lady and Countess of Salisbury, many years before. "The Sire wanted her manors along the border. The Earl just wanted her, but got both regardless. The Sire of Levcomagus hates him for it."

Talk turns to women at court, and Leoric quickly explains that the pick of the rosebush are:
  • Lady Elaine, whose first husband was murdered by her base-born lover and is now a ward of the Earl ("Very rich, good looking but with no t*ts to speak off. And who would be fool enough to trust her anyway?)
  • Lady Gwen, the Countess' hand-maiden ("Sweet enough to look at, with a nice enough dowry, but she's outlived the last four men that asked to marry her and never once made it to the alter. Talk about cursed!)
  • Lady Adwen, barely more than a lass but old enough to wed ("And rich too! Her daddy got himself killed a while back and without the good sense to breed a son first! Marry her and find yourself a Banneret! But what chance have you got? Shame though, she has hips that'll squeeze out brats like lemon pips!"
  • Lady Indeg, the richest heiress in the country but with children of her own already ("Them as marries her will be rich as sin till her brats are old enough to inherit. Bit wrinkly for my tastes mind you but a still fine looking bit of flesh. Good news too if you're one who likes em with a bit of experience. Doubt she'll give you any brats now though, at her age, but you never know.")
Perhaps hurriedly seeking to change the subject, the squires ask Leoric how long ago he was knighted, and find themselves doubled over in laughter as they are treated to the tale of the deeply pagan Leoric, expected by the Earl's father, a good British Christian himself, to spend the night alone in the chapel deep in prayer. It seemed, then, that his elder brother had arranged to take the Chapel Guard duty himself that night and smuggled two buxom wenches from the towns brothel into the chapel, to keep young Leoric warm and entertained during the long night. The laughter is only stifled by the arrival of another young man, a fellow squire, whom Sir Leoric quickly introduces to the group as Tywin, his squire.

It is not long before Leoric is called away to his table by the hammering of the Herald's staff upon the flagstones. The four squires sit at the lowest table, the one furthest away from the high table and the Earl. The salt at their table is brown and dirty, but nonetheless, it is still salt and an excellent indicator that something important is afoot here. Of course, the knights know that this feast is traditionally when the Earl invests new knights. Could it be their own dubbing comes nigh?

Just as they are wondering that, the Herald bangs his staff three times and asks if any here present know of worthy young men who have committed great deeds worthy of knighthood? At this the Marshal stands and demands that Godrick relate the tale of the Adventure of the Terrible Bear, which he does, putting on a fine display (In the first person, rather than by dice roll, for the benefit of Tywins character who arrived late. A big deal for this player given that English is not his first language, which is probably why he prefers to role play his character in the third person. This extra effort netted him some additional- and well earned- glory points). When it came time to to capture of the bandits, Galen took over, a little disgusted by Godricks grand-standing and boasting, which at times stretched the truth from exaggeration to the point of outright lies (and earning him a dishonest check). Valiance, preferring (as ever) to remain in the background in social stations did not speak, but was spoken well of by both companions. Then it was the turn of Sir Tywin to tell of his exploits (which I forced the player to make up on the spot) of spotting an impending bandit attack on the camp of Sir Leofric's patrol and rousing them all to arms.

Both tales were greeted with much pounding of fists and dagger hilts on tabletops. Finally, when all the acclaim had died down, the Herald boomed:

"If any man here knows of any reason why  theses squires, prven worthy through the course of deeds and actions should not to be acclaimed and anointed knight, let him speak now!"

No disenting voice comes, and a silence settles about the hall. At this, in accordance with tradition, Sir Elad  as Marshal of Salisbury booms out the names of the four squires: Galen, Godrick, Valiance and Tywin (in Glory Order). With much ado, the four squires are then hustled from the hall by all the knights present and more or less thrown into the chapel, there to wait out the rest of the night in Holy Vigil.

Both Godrick and Galen, as British Christians, profess a desire to spend the night in vigil. Yet while Godrick passed his energetic roll with flying colours, Galen critically fumbles and falls asleep almost instantly, constantly distracting Godrick with his loud snores. Valiance and Tywin, as Pagans, simply wait until the two Christians are distracted (Godrick in his holy trance, Galen in his less-holy slumber) and then begin their own short "ceremonies". No sooner has Tywin finished dipping his fingers into the chapels water-filled silver chalice and sprinkled an offering to the four corners before pouring a libation on the stone flagstones for the Dagda than does Valiance set about rolling up an alter cloth for a pillow and trying to sleep.

All manner of trait checks followed as a result of this behaviour and-in some cases- causing it. All the more so when, shortly after midnight, a knock comes at the chapel door, waking Godrick and Valiance from their reverie but not disturbing the slumbering Galen in the least. Opening it, Godrick, Valiance and Tywin are confronted by a beaming Leoric, who unceremoniously dumps a haunch of beef and full skins of ale, wine and mead into the arms of the astonished squires. Chuckling to himself heartily, the Pagan knight closes the chapel door and returns to his "guard-post" outside the door. Godrick's piety fails him at the sight of this rich fare, and he joins the two Pagan squires in their feast.

Early next morning, after the remnants of their repast has been spirited away by a chuckling Leoric, the chapel doors are flung wide by the assembled knights of Salisbury. The squires, escorted by their honour guard of white-garbed knights and a choir of singing youths and maidens, make their way to the Cathedral. There they swear oaths of loyalty to the Earl and to the King, officially receive their armaments, swords and the steeds inherited from their fathers (brought from Vagon to Sarum in secret for this very moment) and are subject to the last blow they will ever receive without giving answer in kind.

To the amusement of all, the newly dubbed Sir Valiance, in deference to his great size, broad shoulders and mighty thews, demurrs from participating in the traditional leap from dead-halt to horseback (much to the relief of his horse). Only Tywin succeeds in this difficult test, to much applause from the crowd and various bawdy remarks from Leoric ("As well he managed to mount his horse first time, for the Gods know he's never so far managed to mount a woman!").

As the sun rose above the town walls, the four newly made knights basked in the glory of their day and the admiration (and attention of the crowd) and wondered at the adventures to come.

Final Thoughts:

I was very pleased with how the session went over all. The scenes during the chapel vigil in particular, not to mention the antics of the jovial, crass, crude and entirely bawdy Pagan knight Sir Leoric caused great hilarity, though I'm not entirely satisfied with how I handled the nave scene. Leoric was a spur of the moment character, one that I hoped to use as a contrast to the other, more serious and intensely focused Christian NPC knights. Though great fun, the lack of respect for courtesy, tradition and religion shown in the nave wasn't really appropriate for the setting. Yet I let it go purely because the players (and yes, me too) were clearly having so much fun. The various trait checks caused some surprises, such as the relatively pious Galen falling asleep almost immediately and the (also fairly pious) Godrick giving up his prayers to join the other other squires in their very pagan celebration. I would have been happier if the different religious attitudes of the four squires had caused more tension - if the rolls or players had determined that the Christians in the group had grown angry at the lack of respect shown by the pagans- but sometimes the dice surprise us and such conflict was not to be.

All in all a very enjoyable session with much fun had by all, even with the slightly jarring moments of near-slapstick humour towards the end of the session. That's one vigil-night that none of the squires -or the players- will ever forget!


The Angry Lurker said...

Nicely done. a very enjoyable tale.

Dangerous Brian said...

Thanks Fran. It was a very enjoyable session to run as well. Introductory scenarios that teach as you play can be a bit hit or miss, but this one worked very well.

David Larkins said...

Great start! The intro scenario may be lacking in flash-bang events, but it never fails to entertain somehow.

Though great fun, the lack of respect for courtesy, tradition and religion shown in the nave wasn't really appropriate for the setting.

You know, I wouldn't be surprised if that's how a lot of vigils went in real life, actually. I know my friends and I at that age would have probably carried on in a similar manner.

I've found as both player and GM in Pendragon it's all about letting go of expectations and letting the dice guide you along.

Thanks for writing this up! Looking forward to future updates as they come.

The Happy Whisk said...

Just wanted to pop in to say thanks for voting for Trina and Lori's cakes. I appreciate the time and effort. And boy, some of those cakes were awesome, I agree.

Thanks Bunches.

The Great Khan said...

A great start, and well told. I love Pendragon. Maybe I should get a campaign started now that my AD&D game is on hold until my eldest returns from basic/AIT; it'd give us some gaming here anyway.

Dangerous Brian said...

Thanks guys, I'm glad you're all enjoying the report. It's a long post, but Sir Larkins own play reports are just as long and very popular. I suppose if you're an actual play junkie like me then the longer the better.

You make an excellent point by the way Sir Larks, maybe I should just relax a little. A bunch of 21 years on the eve of their dubbing are gonna be in high spirits after all.

Hope you start up that campaign soon Jag. I'd really like to see more Pendragon gaming going on the blogsphere. It's a cracking game. I forgot how much fun it is and with your CAS pursuits it should be right up your street.

Ray Rousell said...

Great stuff, very entertaining!