Friday, 2 September 2011

Death on the Lake: Pendragon Campaign year 486.

Sir Tywin of Stapleford,  played by Caroline
 Sir Godrick of Baverstock, played by Silv
Sir Galen of Woodford, played by Aimee
Sir Valiance of Steeple Langford, the spare.

While Earl Roderick and the majority of his knights will be riding with King Uther and Prince Madoc to hunt down the Saxons raiding near Colchester, the PC knights learn to their great disgust that they will remain behind to protect Salisbury. Nonetheless, come the summer they dutifully attend at Sarum where they once again find themselves placed under the command of the Marshal, Sir Elad. There, the news that Sir Leoric has been allowed to accompany the Earl, despite being one of the Marshal's own knights, only adds to their annoyance. The group had, it seems, been looking forward to the pagan knight's company as a means of alleviating their boredom on patrol. Splitting his forces into four, the Marshal assigned the player knights to patrol the southern border of the County. For several days they travelled from manor to manor, checking to ensure that the peasants were up to no mischief in the absence of their lords and that no noble lady grew too lonely or afraid in her husbands absence.

Yet in time, one misty morning, they came upon a strange sight indeed: an old greybeard, wrapped in goat-skins and carrying a worn crook, standing on the path at the base of a steep hill and calling out for someone called Bill. Immediately suspicious at finding such an old fellow out on his own in these dangerous times, the four knights approached warily, keeping an eye out for an ambush. It transpired then, that the old man was a goat-herd in search of his prize goat. Sneering, but expecting something of import afoot (perhaps even an ambush of some kind) Sir Tywin (currently the most glorious knight and, hence, the party leader) ordered Sir Valiance to remain behind while the others rode up the hill.

The knights soon heard the tinkling of a small bronze bell not far away, and caught flashes of something white furred and fleet through the trees. After kicking their mounts forward once the ground leveled out, they quickly came across the goat.

Hanging upside down


It's tail clenched in the meaty, greasy fist of a huge, three-eyed giant.

Without hesitation, seeing the feast before him, the giant tossed the terrified goat over one shoulder, uprooted a small tree, and charged the three knights. Immediately Sir Galen and Sir Tywin charged to meet it, but Sir Godrick again held back long enough to throw a spear at the beast. Meanwhile, down below, Sir Valiance spurred his horse through the trees at the first sound of combat.

It was indeed a vicious battle, with blows from his mighty club the giant knocked first Sir Galen then Sir Godrick from their mounts, though on both occasions the knights managed to remount and continue the fight. Sir Tywin however, took a blow to the head from the giants club that left him senseless -and careering in  terror back down the hill (having failed his valour check for a major wound), passing the astonished Sir Valiance on the way- and pursued by his hideously embarrassed -nay, mortified, squire. Sir Valiance came upon the scene just as Sir Godrick finally hacked through the massive creature's tree trunk. Valiance seized his moment to charge - his finely aimed spear point lancing through the creatures heart. Exhausted, Sir Godrick and Sir Galen (both down to just a few hit points each) slid from their horses. While Sir Galen rested, Sir Godrick tried to claim the giant's head as a trophy. Non-plussed, Sir Valiance pointed out that the final blow -the kill- had been his. And that by the laws of the hunt, the prize was his also. Sir Godrick relented and settled for taking some lesser trophy. Meanwhile, as a chagrined Sir Tywin rode back into the clearing (having downed the healing draught thoughtfully provided by his fae young wife) Sir Galen paused to examine the well and truly dead goat, it's back having been broken in it's "fall".

Determined to obtain some answers, four bloddied knights and their squires rode back to the old man post haste. Seeing them arrive, the old man chuckled to himself and spun round, triumphantly casting aside his guise. Arms spread-eagled, the elderly fellow revealed himself for who -and what- he truly was: The wizard. Merlin.

"Merlin! What trickery is this?" demanded an irate Sir Valiance, the giants bloody head dripping down his horse's flanks. The old wizard chuckled. " You have passed the test," he smirked, "oh... that's good! That's it. Yes. You have passed the test and now must come with me -to save this land from ruin. No questions. Follow me!"

And with that, the mysterious wizard, in his tall, silver skull-cap and wielding a dark-wood staff topped by a silver dragon design, stalked off into the forest. Unnaturally fast, so that the mounted knight had to hurry after.Yet even as they passed under the eaves of the trees, so, they felt refreshed, as though they had rested for a day or more under their leafy shelter.

"But Merlin? What must we do?" Called Sir Tywin, at the head of the four knights, while a perfect lake of clear, calm water came into view beyond the treeline.

"Do nothing!" the old wizard called back over his shoulder, not slowing his pace. "Rest in the arms of the dragon. Ah! No scratch that! Too late! Aha!" Turning back to address the knights, Merlin flicked both eyebrows up briefly before announcing with a great degree of flamboyant showmanship. "We're here!"

"Where is here?" Sir Godrick asked, but the old wizard simply chuckled and stalked off into the waters of the lake. Turning, he addressed the knights, still walking backwards into the water. "I am in the service of your King. Uther. What I do is for him and for the land itself. Do not follow me and allow none to do so. This is the doom I set upon you." With that, he faced into the lake once more, the water lapping about him ever higher until, engulfed, even the silver of his skull-cap faded entirely from mortal sight.

"Bloody wizard," someone muttered (probably a squire), to the general agreement of all. Yet the four knights did not have long to wait. Soon, they heard a strange sound, similar (but not quite the same) as the noise of horse-hooves splashing through water. It was then that a strange knight rode into view, armoured all in fish-scale and riding upon a tall, shiny-coated horse with fins for feet and a fish-tail instead of hair. The knight paused beneath the trees a short distance away. In a strangely guttural voice (like a man speaking under water) the knight demanded:

"Let me pass!"

When the reply came from the four knights that they would not, the fish-knight did not hesitate. He lowered his spear and charged. Sir Galen, this time, was the first to give spur to horse and took a hefty  blow from the charging knight's spear on his shield. Sir Tywin and Sir Valiance quickly followed, yet the knight's incredible skill and fine armour saved him from all harm. Meanwhile, Sir Godrick's mis-thrown spear missed the knight entirely and instead struck Sir Tywin a glancing blow to the back of his head, though fortunately turned aside by his helm. Realising the folly of throwing into such a close melee, he too spurred into combat with the knight.

Unnaturally fast, the strange knight proved himself a more deadly a foe even than the giant. Within moments the fish knight inflicted numerous  wounds on all four Salisbury knights. In desperation, Sir Godrick struck at the knight's horse. Outraged, fish-knight flicked Godricks sword aside effortlessly and, in a righteous, display of passionate fury at such a dishonourable display from the young knight, clove Godrick near in twain with a single blow.

For a single, horrified moment, Sir Galen, Sir Tywin and Sir Valiance paused in their efforts while their friend slide from his steed to the ground below. At this point, all three players declared their character's intention to "go mental" (or words to that affect). With now seeming like a good time to determine the Loyalty (Group) Passion they had earned from standing over Sir Valiance's unconscious form for three hours in the midst of a battle last summer, I had the players roll 3D6 to determine their knights' passion scores. Sir Galen rolled a mere 8, Sir Tywin a tragic 3 but, (appropriately enough) Sir Valiance generated a Loyalty (group) Passion of 15.

Knowing that I would grant them all a +5 bonus to their passion due to seeing their friend hacked down before their eyes,  two of the three surviving knights (all except Sir Tywin) tried to call upon their passion. Yet Sir Galen failed miserably. The young knight fell into melancholy, caring little even for his own safety as he slid from his horse and rushed to cradle Sir Galen's head in his lap. Sir Twyin meanwhile continued his seemingly futile attacks. Attacks that repeatedly failed to slip past the knights defence.

However, Sir Valiance did, indeed, in the words of his squire, "get blood-drunk mad-with-it". Drawing himself up in the stirrups, the huge pagan knight threw away his shield and grabbed his sword in both hands, utterly forgetting the axe that hung by his side (far more useful against a foe with a shield) so great was his fury! For the next five rounds, Sir Valiance and the strange knight battered one another repeatedly, with the stranger criting at anything above 16 and Sir Valiance critting on anything above 11. Sir Tywin, feeling himself  somewhat ineffective in the face of this fury from friend and foe alike (and in danger of catching a blow or two himself from Valiance's back-swing), pulled his horse back into the trees to observe a martial display the likes of which he had never seen. Finally, with a great heaving roar that sent birds flapping madly into the trees for miles around, Sir Valiance swung his blade in a mighty two-handed roundhouse blow and lopped the strange knights head from his shoulders. Instantly, horse and rider vanished in an explosion of black, salty ichor.

Merlin, perhaps unwisely, chose that moment to re-appear, a long, cross-shaped bundled swaddled like a babe in his arms. Utterly dry despite his near total immersion in lake water for nigh on half an hour, he stomped merrily up to the beach with a loud guffaw -and then stopped dead in his tracks!

"Oh..." the sorcerer observed, seeing the bloody carnage all about him: the fallen form of Sir Godrick, the weeping melancholy of Sir Galen, the many wounds of Sir Tywin and the ichor-drenched, enraged glare of Sir Valiance. "Oh. Oh indeed. Well, ahem, I am most sorry for your loss, worthy though that deathy might be. I really must be off. Mustn't disturb your grief. Farewell. Farewell and all that indeed -and great glory upon you for your deeds this day." With that, the wizard hustled off into the woodlands, disappearing from view far more swiftly than he naturally should, and leaving the surviving player knights huddled together to grieve.

That winter, they told the tale of Sir Godrick's death to his younger brother and promised to petition the Earl to allow the lad to be knighted early. Sir Godrick never did get to meet his pagan-born bastard after all (but that doesn't mean his brother wont) but the arrival of Sir Tywin's son Gwion (sired in the last winter phase) proved some consolation for the pagan knight at least. As did some other news:news that his wife was indeed, once again, with child. A child that, this time, his wife felt sure would be a daughter. While Sir Galen made some head-way in his flirtations with the unfortunate and oft-betrothed Lady Gwen, Sir Twyin, having learned already that his wife had a strange sense for such things, merrily spent the winter playing with his fine, strapping young son and dreaming of his promised daughter, Arianrhod. A fine, half-fae lass with raven-dark hair and a beauty to ensnare even the most jaded of kings.

Game Notes: Well, there it is. The single, most dreaded year in the early Pendragon campaign. The one year that's probably claimed as many PC's as the Battle of Badon. We very nearly had a TPK at the very first encounter, with all three PC knights down to single digits in hit points. As it was, it remained a close run thing right up till the end. One last hit could have killed either one of them. Even with Tywins healing draft and a completely improvised (i.e non-scripted) healing effect from Merlin the three PC knights went into that second battle with less hp than I would have liked. Even so, with only one PC death this year, I think the group as a whole can count itself lucky. They can now more easily comprehend just how brutal multiple combats are in Pendragon, just how deadly Passions are (and that the NPC's can call upon them too) and how quickly the tide can turn on a single dice roll. After all, even at the end of the game, that impassioned knight was never more than one hit away from killing Valiance (who actually started that duel with full hit points).

Silv took the loss of Godrick better than I expected. especially given how it always seems to be him who loses the first character whenever we play. Well, he'll know better than to try something dishonourable (like attacking another knights horse) next time.


Dariel said...

very inspiring! Pendragon is right there among my favorite games and you've just reminded me why i love it so much.

Dangerous Brian said...

Glad to hear it. Hopefully we'll be playing again soon. I'd forgotten just how much I enjoyed it myself until we starting playing again.

Dariel said...

playing Merlin like the Merlin from Boorman's film really helps add flavor too :)

David Larkins said...

Yeah, I think this remains easily the most hardcore year I've yet run in the GPC. At least at Badon the PC's are kind of expected to die!

Thanks for writing this up--enjoyable as always. I've got the latest Meleri session to do. Should be going up this week.

Dangerous Brian said...

There really is no comparison to other Merlin's is there?

@ sir larks: I warned 'em. But I don't think they quite believed me till they actually saw what they were up against. I'm looking forward to that next session report.