Sébastien Brunet from one of Megara's Way of the Tiger hardbacks that Kickstarter backers will be receiving next year.
The first two paperbacks in the Way of the Tiger series should be coming out from Fabled Lands Publishing by February. These will feature Megara's art but - be warned - only in black and white. If you want a full-color set of books, hurry up and order from Megara as they still have some left, but only a strictly limited edition.
Way of the Tiger is also coming out as a series of apps from digital gamebook supremos Tin Man Games. (The technology doesn't exist to do full justice to Blood Sword yet, but they're working on it.) Jamie has written loads of flavor text for every outcome in the fights, making these much more than straight ports of the book text.
Lastly, before you pack 2013 away for good, here's a shout-out on BBC Radio's Open Book program for Jamie's Dark Lord books. He comes in at 24:05 minutes but it's all good stuff.
Tuesday, 31 December 2013
Saturday, 21 December 2013
I like Yuletide, but the magic for me lies not in the Bethlehem child and his royal gifts but in rather darker and fiercer deities. Like Alan Moore, I believe all these things are real - in the same way that love and hate are real, not in the way that log fires and mince pies are. But some are more real to me than others. Odin and the other Aesir, above all the other gods mankind has imagined. They feel like old friends.
Whatever your beliefs, or lack of same, may you rise to find the sun still in its heaven and with a year of wondrous experiences laid out ahead. I'll leave you with the Allfather on Yggdrasil:
"I know that I hung on the wind-swept tree,
Nine long days and nights;
Stabbed with the spear, sacrificed I was
To Odin, myself to myself,
High on the tree that none may ever know
What root beneath it runs.
"None gave me succour with food or drink,
As I gazed right down in the deep;
I took up the runes, shrieking I took them,
And forthwith back I fell."
Thus Odin spoke before the world began;
Then he rose and came again.
Illustration by Paul Reck (Odingraphics) on DeviantArt, reproduced here under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.
Wednesday, 18 December 2013
First, Tim Harford's description of his character Tall Tom Tattertail, inspired in part by the character of Cole Hawlings from John Masefield's 1935 novel The Box of Delights:
"I still need to sketch out some more backstory, but the idea of a near-demented once-great sorcerer is still there. His most powerful item is the Felicitous Purse, a small black velvet sack with a jewel-studded clasp. It has a panoply of powers that Tom has completely forgotten the use of.Tim had already suggested making him a slightly befuddled old conjurer, and that played rather well into the Mathan story so I worked it in. Tall Tom got the following magical items, which are the kind I like because they enable interesting twists in the story rather than being about zappy artillery effects:
"What Tom does remember is that the purse is remarkably capacious; holding the purse gives the wearer fortitude ("recover will" lost through spellcasting) and the power to help others (through fortify, deflect and major healing) and to avoid trouble (through blur and blink, although these would attract great attention and are best avoided).
"Tom once owned a fine and generously-proportioned bowl, spoon and knife which he confiscated from an over-bold ogre. He gave the bowl and the spoon to a fairy maiden who was impatient to eat a large pot of scalding porridge. The knife - a large dagger to human eyes - now dances and fights to defend Tom with surprising deftness. he cannot remember what happened to the dish and the spoon and believes they ran away together.
"Tom's sole remaining inherent power is that of his voice: he will sometimes make suggestions to people in the most genial manner; these suggestions are strangely persuasive."
The players were given these guidelines about wealth and status when generating their characters. (Apologies about the use of dollars in medieval Ellesland, but that's the convention in GURPS.)A toy coach
Throw it onto a fire and a full-sized coach with silent driver will arrive, taking you to the first place you name. The coach covers ten miles an hour regardless of the condition of the roads. It must not carry more than seven people (excluding the driver). When it has reached its destination – or returned home, if it’s a round trip – the coach departs and the toy will be found in the ashes of the next fire you sleep beside.
A puppet of a hound
Put the puppet's nose to something associated with a person or object and then drop it in a stream. A full-sized hound will jump out of the stream and will lead you unerringly to the one you seek. You must then give the dog a bone, which it will bury before running off. Dig at that spot to get the toy back.
A puppet of a plague doctor
Put a nail clipping or lock of hair in his bag, and that person (only one at a time!) gets +5 on HT rolls to recover from wounds, disease or poison.
A puppet of a skeleton
Put a nail clipping or lock of hair in the sack the puppet carries, and that person is cursed: all rolls at -1 until they achieve a successful roll when in danger, whereupon that successful roll is itself nullified but the curse ends. You cannot curse the same person again.
A puppet trumpeter
Will wake you with a toot of its horn (which only you can hear) if anyone enters with hostile intent into the room in which you are sleeping.
A puppet of a harpist (Orpheus?)
Bury in a cemetery at sunset. At midnight it will dig its way out of the ground and answer three yes/no questions. (Usual Divination penalties for repeated questions on the same subject.)A puppet of a serving maidLeave it in a room with people you wish to spy on. It will answer three yes/no questions about what they said or did.
Status 4 comes with automatic Status 5 character as a prepaid Patron/Duty package (will only apply in the game on a 6 or less). Status 2 and 3 come with Patron/Duty to level above (will apply on 9 or less).
For characters of Status 1-3: if you swear fealty to another player-character of higher status, you get 10 points for your feudal duty to him/her. That is, he/she is your Patron. The character to whom loyalty is sworn gets 5 points for each vassal.
Struggling and impoverished characters
You can opt to be struggling (-10 points, halve starting wealth) or impoverished (-15 pts, one-fifth starting wealth). But wait – wouldn’t a struggling Status 4 character, for example, just have the same wealth as a regular Status 3 character at the same points cost – and have higher status? You might think you can game it, but a struggling character cannot afford the clothing that marks his/her rank under the sumptuary laws. Therefore, if you take a struggling Status 4 character, everyone who doesn’t know your circumstances will simply react to you as you appear, ie Status 3. As for the people who do know: those of equal or higher status will indeed regard you as Status 4 but those of lower rank will have a -1 reaction to you because, to them, your poverty is the first sign that your line is slipping down nearer to their own status. All in all, given the extra responsibilities of a high-status character, you should consider carefully before taking either of these options.
The authentic medieval atmosphere is Legend's main USP. Lately I've found The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer to be a really useful source of information and inspiration for this period:
Friday, 13 December 2013
The manor of Crossgate is the largest of three (the others are Moyses and Garrow End) held by the Keppel family from Lord Maldupine, Marquess of Westring, whose lands stretch from the Cornumbrian border to the Vindar Hills.
The Keppel family are originally from central Albion, but took over these lands from the original lords almost a century ago. Many still refer to them as “the new lords”. The last of the old ruling family was Lord Duruth, who was killed 90 years ago.
The priest overseeing the local parishes of Moyses (where he’s based), Crossgate, Garrow End and Torstum (a village in the manor of Sir Eustace of Viridor, a neighbouring lord) is Father Lanarius, a cousin of the Keppel family. The rector of the small church at Crossgate is Father Gules.
Across the Stonestruck Lake is Redfern Abbey, with a mixed (segregated) community of about thirty monks and nuns.
The player-characters are Sir Werian Keppel and his retainers and comrades from the Crusades, or could join when the party reach Crossgate as travellers or residents of the manor. In our game, one player was Tall Tom Tattertail, a local "conjurer", or wise man, who has lived in the area for as long as anyone can remember - and, indeed, a lot longer than that.
The player-characters are Sir Werian Keppel and his retainers and comrades from the Crusades, or could join when the party reach Crossgate as travellers or residents of the manor. In our game, one player was Tall Tom Tattertail, a local "conjurer", or wise man, who has lived in the area for as long as anyone can remember - and, indeed, a lot longer than that.
Prelude in Outremer
Sir Werian, the younger brother of Sir Palagius Keppel, “Lord of Crossgate and Moyses”, has spent the last few years in Outremer fighting for King Fengor of Ibrahim. A little over a year ago, on his own initiative, he saw an opportunity to seize the fortress of Karat, which overlooked the plains of north-west Zhenir and would have given Ibrahim leverage over the Caliph. But somehow the Zhenirans were forewarned, and the Coradian forces just managed to retreat into the fortress before being overwhelmed.
The siege lasted almost nine months, by the end of which the defenders were reduced to catching pigeons on the city’s balconies and digging termites from the cliffs. The siege was lifted when a large army arrived from Outremer, but when the defenders proposed sallying out, Lord Belvoir, the commander of the relieving force, told them he had agreed to hand Karat back to the Ta’ashim. It later transpired that Belvoir had mercantile investments in copper mines and would not have wanted mines in the disputed territory to fall into Coradian hands.
Sir Werian returns to Ibrahim to find a letter from his mother, Lady Olivia. Pelagius is to be wed and she hopes his brother can sail home in time to attend, as the last time the two brothers spoke there were cross words. But the letter was sent in spring, the wedding set for All Souls’ Day. (Perdita later tells them that Pelagius made it as late in the year as he could, hoping that his brother would arrive in time.)
Prior to the adventure
The old church at Garrow End had fallen into disuse so, on St Brice’s Day (Nov 13), the Bishop of Netherford performed a deconsecration ceremony. The bodies of gentry from the church itself had already been relocated to the larger and more modern church at Moyses.
A month later, at first frost (the night of Dec 11), a loud noise was heard in the village of Garrow End. The next day it was found that a wall of the church had collapsed (the west end of the north aisle) revealing the tomb of a knight with the inscription: “VIVIT POST FUNERA SCELUS”.
Because of reports of strange occurrences at Garrow End, Sir Pelagius and his cousin Ryger decided to go and take a look while seeing that the small manor house at Garrow End was weather-proof for the winter. That was on St Tibba’s Day (Dec 14) and they were expected back the next day, but have still not returned by the afternoon of Boar’s Head (Dec 17).
A village of about three score households. The population of 300 comprises 10 manor servants, 40 freemen (including the priest and sexton), 200 villeins and 50 cottars.
Notables of Crossgate are:
- Lady Perdita – Sir Pelagius’s wife, 19 years old, beautiful in a roses-&-cream, softly rounded, quietly forebearing way; she’s pregnant but nobody knows that yet.
- Lady Olivia – Sir Pelagius’s mother, 55 years old, a bit high maintenance and panicky
- Ryger – Sir Pelagius’s cousin, a squire (missing)
- Ogen – the steward, a little over-familiar in a daft-headed Luna Lovegood way: “You have found your way home, young sir, so you have.”
- Hywel – a blind Cornumbrian bard, about 40, who occasionally has visions of the future, which he of course sings of cryptically.
- Rodwulf – the reeve (spokesman for the villeins) a bit hotheaded, huge shock of red hair, burly, intelligent
- Father Gules – village priest (Patrick Magee)
Ogen is concerned about taking in any lower-status soldiers: “I do not see as how her ladyship can give hospitality to some of these men. T’would make the lord responsible for their conduct which, in other cases involving other young men who have come back from o’erseas, may be cause for concern.”
He could be argued round if Sir Werian takes personal responsibility. Failing that, he suggests putting up the rougher men (ie status 1 or lower) in a cottage that has been lately vacated by the death of Granny Hardbark. The characters will find wood for a fire there, and bread and cheese, but the cottage itself is very basic and, although a month or two unoccupied has left it damp, it has done nothing to clear the smell.
Those staying in the cottage can at least get beer from Wanda the Brew, a tall dippy-hippyish young woman (“Ah my sweet buds, my brave boys, bring your thirst but leave your cares at the door”) who lives alone.
As far as Sir Pelagius’s absence is concerned, Ogen says he would have sent somebody to look for the lord but he has to get things ready for the dinner.
The boar speaks
The boar is roasted over a spit and all the male adult freemen of the village come in for dinner. (That’s about ten men.) Sir Pelagius is supposed to carve. In his absence, Lady Perdita asks his brother, Sir Werian, to do it. And that’s when the trouble starts...
As the first cut is made in the roasted boar, the head suddenly rears up and the mouth opens. A loud crack of a splitting log in the fire makes everyone gasp. There’s a clatter of plates as Hywel stumbles to his feet and starts to sing:
“Now the wild weathers of the world are wakened. Clouds cover the hills and keenly cast their sleet on man and beast. Bitter breath of the north blows, biting the flesh of all living things, filling the dales with snowdrifts, while in the dark of the deep earth the old lord lies and listens. Free of his fetters, he seeks his three knaves, long buried beneath the burden of faith. In air is one, another water, darkness for the third, and under fire lies his hand and the sword. Seven days he has to reclaim them, and if he does then the New Year will find the hall cold and the wing of death upon the land.”The “seven days” are from Boar’s Head (Dec 17) to Christmas Eve (Dec 24). If parish records are found (they’d be at the priest’s house in Moyses) the characters will learn Duruth was killed on December 17.
A small village of two dozen households (population around 100). The local land is boggy, better for hunting and keeping pigs than growing crops.
The notables of Garrow End are:
- Garstan – a freeman, appoints himself spokesman but has little idea what’s going on.
- Ector – old guy employed as baliff/caretaker of the small manor house.
- Fessick – the reeve (senior villein), big fat foreman type, superficially jolly but a bit depressive.
- Alewife Gerty – a wily old biddy with a few cantrips.
- Bendrack – formerly the sexton, now making ends meet as a labourer despite being nominally a freeman, hence a bit disgruntled.
- Poth – local teenager, a bit of a tearaway, seems a bit subnormal in a James Dean way.
- Barlon – Poth’s widowed dad, cottar; hunts a bit; loner
- Toggen – a shepherd who happens to be in the village currently (trading wool) but usually lives on the shoulder of the heath.
- Mardy – Garstan’s daughter; fancies Poth but would never admit it
The locals say that there were a few odd things after the bishop left. People noticed subsidence in the churchyard, depressions in the ground too big for moles. Barlon’s dog Rollo became afraid as they went past the lich gate and ran off, returning home very frightened after dark, and since then it won’t leave the cottage. Then came the night the church wall fell down.
Garstan says, yes, Sir Pelagius did come a few days earlier. He looked to the manor house and accounts, he and Ryger spent a day hunting along the shore of Stonestruck Lake, then on the morning of Dec 17 he went to investigate the collapsed wall at the church on his way home. Garstan hasn’t much of a clue exactly what the lord did or why, but others have their theories.
Fessick knows that the lord had words with Poth, who’d been in trouble – failing to do his duties, throwing stones at a widow’s chickens, lighting a fire in the barn that almost got out of hand, and so on.
Poth will be very hard to get anything out of, but the upshot is that he told Sir Pelagius he’d seen something across Stonestruck Lake. “For years, not just in winter, neither. You can see lights, sometimes hear hunting horns or music. All sorts. But this time I seen a woman out on the ice. Like a lady in a long green gown.” (If Barlon is present, he’ll cuff the lad: “Head in the clouds, eh? His dead mother, lords. He dwells too much on her.” “Weren’t my mother, see? Nor your strumpet widow, neither!” Barlon admits to talking to the lord about game traps on occasion, but didn’t go with him this time.)
Fessick says he spoke to Sir Pelagius about taking wood and stone from the church “now it’s not sacred no more” and they agreed that was fine as long as any work was overseen and made safe. Sir Pelagius suggested talking to Bendrack (the former sexton) about that, to give him some work.
Toggen is worried about his friend Bosko (q.v.) who has been missing since the afternoon of Dec 17.
The Old Church at Garrow End
It fell out of regular use over a century ago. The first thing anyone will notice is the total, deep silence that surrounds the place. Spiders’ webs hang motionless and hoarfrosted on the hedgerows. The churchyard ground is uneven, with frozen puddles in the hollows caused where the ground has dipped.
Investigating the interior, anyone making a Vision roll will notice faded murals. These take a little while to decipher, and show:
- A black-faced figure being carried towards a church or cathedral being built. (Architecture or Local Knowledge to see that it’s Netherford Cathedral.) The rune below it (see below) is Air.
- A black-faced figure being carried towards a spring with a halo of light around it. The rune (see below) is Water.
- A black-faced figure being led (not carried) as though blind towards a monastery (Architecture to recognize it’s Cornumbrian.) The rune (below) is Darkness.
- A procession, preceded by a priest, with a sword (Vision -3 to spot a black hand holding it) being carried on a trestle or slab on the back of a cart. Ahead lies a great hall or castle. The rune is Fire.
- A black-faced figure, his jaw bound with a soudarion, is being walled up in a church that anyone can see is this one. The rune is Earth.
The “runes” under each mural are harder to spot (Vision -5) and to interpret (Occultism, Alchemy or Magery roll).
The altar has been modified by removal of the altar stone, replacing it with a slab of oak. That obviously happened a long time ago. Architecture or IQ-5 roll to figure out that you’ve seen something that would fit here (Keppel gets a bonus), then another roll to realize it’s the hearth stone at Crossgate Manor.
Inside the collapsed wall is the traditional knightly tomb (effigy carved into the stone lid, not a full raised sculpture) whose lid has broken open. The inscription reads: “VIVIT POST FUNERA SCELUS”. There is a rope, secured to a pillar, hanging down into the tomb. On the floor is a sword bearing the Keppel family crest; Werian will recognize this as Pelagius’s.
Outside the gate: a Tracking or IQ-5 roll (Vision bonuses apply) to notice frozen horse droppings and some crescent-shaped cracks in the frozen puddles. A couple of horses were tethered here, possibly for several hours. (They were of course Plagius’s and Ryger’s horses. Bendrack ran off, came back and took them, and has hidden them in the manor barn where he can claim to have “simply returned them” if they’re discovered.)
(What happened to Sir Pelagius: finding a sizeable shaft revealed under the stone lid of the tomb, he decided to see if there were extensive Duruth family crypts. He was killed by Duruth, who then rose out of the tomb and snatched Ryger, pulling him down into the pit. Bendrack, who they’d brought along to help, ran off.)
If the characters climb down into Duruth’s tomb
At the bottom of the rope they find a small crypt chamber with a slab in the middle, and another shaft below a flagstone that has been moved. The rope has been pulled up into this chamber, but is long enough for them to descend the second shaft.
The shaft is narrow: double helm penalties; -1 on all rolls for medium encumbrance and -2 for heavy; no shields or weapons longer than a shortsword.
That leads to a network of tunnels shored up with bones and fragments of coffins. The tunnels stretch under the graveyard. The tunnels are so low that they have to crouch.
After a while they hear a moaning. It’s Ryger. (Or seems to be; optionally it could be the Knave of Guile, using his illusion power.) He’s had his tongue and eyes put out and his right hand severed. He gestures back into the tunnels.
Deep in the tunnels they find Sir Pelagius’s body with its right hand severed. The face is shrivelled and ghastly.
At this point make a Smell check at -3 to get early warning of what everybody will notice a few moments later: a choking miasma. Torches burn low. And that’s when the skeletal hands burst out of the walls...
Among the hands, some of which are just bone and others are grey and shrivelled, one is of swollen white flesh caked with blood. This one wears a ring with Sir Pelagius’s family crest. You’d need to cut the finger off to get the ring.
The tunnels lead through all the graves, merge into one larger tunnel leading up, and eventually emerge in the woods fringing the lake.
Lord Duruth (“doo-rooth”) was an evil man who “preyed upon his peasants as a wolf on unprotected sheep”. Any man who he suspected of holding back his share of produce would have his hand cut off on the Wutten Stone, a prehistoric altar-like slab that stands in the centre of the crossroads near Crossgate. Duruth was said to hang the hands in his chimney to smoke them, and would decorate the hall with them at Christmas.
Duruth wielded the sword Koth, a blow from which was said to bring the breath of death. He was attended by his three henchmen: the Knave of Guile, the Knave of Splinters and the Knave of Sores. It was “well known” that these four would gamble with the Devil whenever he came through Crossgate.
Duruth was betrothed to his fourteen-year-old cousin, Abella. A boy looked at her and was said to have “stolen a glance from the lord”. He suffered the usual punishment, after which he bled to death. Abella prayed at the Wutten Stone for a knight to rescue her – and lo, a knight by the name of Sir Keppel of Saxton duly arrived. With the help of Saint Eremberta and the wizard Mathan, Sir Keppel slew Duruth and his knaves, cutting off his hand (still clutching the sword Koth) on the Wutten Stone.
According to the story, Keppel was told by St Eremberta to bury each foe in holy ground as far apart as possible. Mathan, who had taken a wound to the head in the final battle, had previously said to bury them in different elements, near enough together that the legend would be remembered as a whole. In fact Keppel buried them as follows:
- Duruth’s body under rocks (earth) where the holy spring flows.
- Duruth’s sword and hand under the altar stone of the old church* now repurposed as the manor house’s hearth stone (fire).
- Guile under rocks where the spring at the head of the Hollybrook runs out.
- Splinters in a hollowed beam in the cathedral spire (air) then being built.
- Sores as a scullion at the monastery – he’s lost his memory (darkness), thinks he’s mortal.
*The old church at Garrow End, long abandoned. The altar stone seems to have been removed; Architecture or IQ-5 to figure out you’ve seen something similar, then again to realize it’s the manor house hearthstone.
The lord and his knaves
When first encountered they are like animated corpses, with worm-nibbled faces, charnel breath, mouldering armour, etc. In this form they fight barehanded and have none of their special powers.
They need to get away from the sacred influence that binds them to recover their full powers. When they do, they recover their weapons, armour and their appearance changes to being deathly white – clearly dead, but not obviously decayed.
As undead, they take no additional damage from cutting or impaling weapons and are not subject to stun, etc. At –HT they are susceptible to crippling injuries. They have to be reduced to -5HT to incapacitate them. Their special powers do not work on holy ground; they are: regenerate 1 HT per round, glide (not fly), leap, scale sheer surfaces, night vision.
- Duruth fights with his shield (1d6+3 crushing damage) until he regains the sword Koth.
- When wielding Koth, if he injures a limb, the subject must make a WL roll to resist or the limb is withered (it looks really shrivelled and mummified).
- He can remove his soudarion (cloth to bind the jaw of a corpse) only when reunited with all three knaves. This gives him the ability to say terrible, unrepeatable things that will cause Madness (Magic p58) – cast as skill 15, range 1m, resist with IQ or EQ (no modifier), takes two full rounds, only one person affected.
- The Knave of Splinters is almost as evil as his master, single minded, can lose his temper, very tough in a fight.
- Special power: Terrify – if he hits someone for 1/2HT or more, they and anyone within 3m must make a Fright Check (that’s Will, not IQ).
- The Knave of Guile is tall, cadaverously thin.
- Special power: Seeming – he can put on an illusion, requires an IQ roll at -5 to vaguely notice something amiss, another to tie it to him specifically.
- The Knave of Sores seems doltish, misguided where the others are evil, an idiot savant with magic powers.
- Spells: Glissade (AG to avoid falling), Mist (visibility 3m), Doubles (2 illusory duplicates who vanish if hit), Webbing (three consecutive DX -4 rolls to escape, or cut two strands by first making DX and then attack roll – needn’t be consecutive)
- Special power: Plague – anyone touching him (including in combat) must make a HT roll or start to suffer fever, -1 from skills per round to –d6, roll HT each day to recover; crit fail = -1 Reaction permanently from scarring.
The magic items
The first time round, Sir Keppel overcame Duruth thanks to two items: a sword with a splinter of the True Cross in its pommel (does double damage to undead; wielder is immune to hostile magic) and a shield of faerie steel (medium size but with PD6; adds +1 DR; attackers must reroll a critical hit).
Parish records state that the sword was taken by St Eremberta to her cell, while Mathan undertook to return the shield to Faerie. The “cell” in question is the cave (now overgrown with thorns, Vision roll -1 to spot) above the holy spring on Hosten Ridge.
“The old lord will awaken when the holy spring runs dry. He will search for his three knaves who have been buried under the weight of faith – one in air, one in earth, one in darkness. Under fire is buried his hand and his sword. Seven days he has to reclaim them and, if he does, the new lords will not be in his seat at the turn of the year.”
The seven days are from Boar’s Head (Dec 17) to Christmas Eve (Dec 24). If parish records are found (they’d be at the priest’s house in Moyses) the characters will learn Duruth was killed on December 17.
The High Sheriff arrives
Around mid-afternoon of Dec 18, word is sent that the High Sheriff of Vindashire and the Marchlands is coming. The sheriff turns out to be Baron Belvoir, accompanied by four knights (Sir Byr “the Bear” Breynaux, Sir Chard of Uvendale, the Knight of the Garland and Sir Takfarin “the Moor”) and eight men-at-arms. The small party, swift transit and lack of the usual large retinue of servants all suggest he is on unusual business.
The sheriff’s party arrives late on Dec 18 (after Lady Sisypha’s arrival) and leaves early, saying they are travelling on to Westring Castle and will be back through on Christmas Day. A Vision roll shows Belvoir is carrying a satchel of letters bearing the royal seal.
If anyone sneaks a look they will need to beat Sir Takfarin’s Alertness of 19 (and again to replace the letter, plus DX -3 roll to open the seal undetected). It’s hard for any but a highly educated man to decipher, being in Angate and court script to boot (requires Calligraphy at -2 and Literacy at -3). They will read that Keppel is commanded to relinquish his lands at Crossgate… the rest is impossible to see clearly.
The Lady Sisypha arrives
At dusk on Dec 19, there’s a knock at the door. It’s a hunchback carrying a huge travelling chest, which he (nearly incomprehensibly) describes as “t’lady’s belon’ins”. As he moves aside, they get their first view of the Lady Sisypha – though she will not give that name, or any name.
As they greet her, there’s the sound of a carriage trundling off into the dark. This carriage waits for her in the woods. It’s like a giant tree gall drawn by a team of toads the size of warthogs. It’s also possible to ride those toads, though you’d need a roll of Riding -4 or Animal Handling -7.
Sisypha introduces herself as “a lady from over the lake”, and asks for hospitality as she hopes to meet somebody here. If questioned, she’ll say that she is to meet her father. Her manners and clothing (Savoir Faire roll here at +4 – it’s pretty obvious) are those of the nobility. In person she is strikingly good-looking, as much for her vivacity, bright eyes and obvious intelligence as for her physical appearance, which is spry and lean.
Her hunchback is the goblin Snark, loyal but foul-tempered.
Sisypha is from Faerie (she won’t say that either) and is the wizard Mathan’s daughter (and of course she doesn’t say that). She is waiting for somebody to recognize that, at which point she will divulge her name. In the meantime, she can give medical aid, to the extent that anybody making a HT+3 roll will recover 2d6-1 hits for a night’s rest after taking her concoction of herbs.
The first petitioners (a man, his grown-up son, sister-in-law and her baby) arrive mid-morning on Dec 19. They are from Hosham and say they need “the conjurer” as the man’s brother has been stricken with plague.
The plague is not directly contagious as it’s a magical by-product of Duruth and the knaves rising from the dead. However, make sure that everybody is very fearful of it by getting them to make HT rolls and so on.
Doctors are not necessarily expected to visit their patients. Often, diagnosis is done by numerology or astrology and the remedy is sent in the form of advice or (at best) a charm or medicine. However, not attending the patients will start to cause discontent and fear to spread.
The Half-Built Bridge
Also known as the Devil’s Bridge (though it’s very unlucky to say so) as it’s said to have been built by the Devil in a single night, under the stipulation that if he completed it by cock-crow, the local farmer’s firstborn should belong to him. The farmer went away pleased, figuring that he would give the Devil the foal that was due to be born the next day. But the farmer’s wife, not knowing that ploy and fearing what she’d heard, woke the rooster in the middle of the night and it crowed, causing the Devil to depart with the bridge only half built. (The moors at night are said to be roamed by a black stallion with fiery eyes – the Devil’s Horse.)
The locals then completed the other half of the bridge using wood – a structure that lasted for several generations. But even after the priest set crosses at either end, many feared to use the bridge and the wooden section began to fall into disrepair. It was said that sometimes things could come across from the underworld – whether elves from Faerie or ghosts from the Land of the Dead is unclear.
It was used one midsummer’s eve by the wizard Mathan who was smitten by an elfin princess. He meant to dally one night with her, but on his return he found the bridge dilapidated (people had begun to shun it) and realized seventy years had passed and his loved ones were all dead. He destroyed the mortal-built part of the bridge with one blow of his staff, but the stone half of the arch still remains.
It’s impossible to say when the bridge was built exactly, but it certainly stood in the old lord’s day (ie more than 100 years ago).
Known as the Stonestruck Woods to the gentry and many villagers, but informally divided into the Hamewoods and the Overwoods by the reckoning of woodsmen and those living in remote hamlets.
The main forester of note is Fosse, a man who seems “carved of wood”. He is a kind of lay monk or friar, in that he uses holy symbols and charms as part of his one-man crusade against unholy things like the Rime Giant (a kind of wendigo, though that is not a term anyone in Ellesland would use) and goblins and other monsters that stray in off the marshes.
Crookits Heath and Destring Moor
The Devil’s Horse roams here at night. As it can’t cross the Hollybrook, it tends to get stuck one or the other area and only moves between them when it happens to find the way round at the top (above the holy spring). Therefore if the characters analyze sightings they’ll find it tends to cluster: two or three sightings on the moors, then two or three on the heath, and so on. But since the moors are not frequented, they initially only get part of this information – ie, that it is seen on the heath, but only sporadically, then there are no or few sightings for a while.
Up on Crookits Heath is an ancient burial mound known as Cutler’s Crib. There’s not much to see: a low grassy mound in which the outline of an entrance arch is barely visible (Vision roll) as a depression in the snow. It would take some excavation – a quarter of ST in feet every hour, assuming a yard-wide tunnel. After fifteen feet you break into a chamber with a bronze-covered door in the floor, and if you lift that you can squeeze through the back way into Faerie (qv).
A stream which runs from a spring on the ridge, above which was a cave where St Eremberta lived. The villagers have mostly forgotten that the brook is supposed to be holy, but anyone you meet from the more remote hamlets or shepherds’ cottages will tell you.
The Knave of Guile was buried here under a pile of rocks at the bottom of the small waterfall. The rocks are now torn up and cast all about, revealing an ice-encrusted gash in the ground. If somebody specifically says they are looking, and is willing to spend at least twenty minutes here, on a Vision-2 roll they will find a strand of hair from Guile’s head.
The holy sword used to despatch Duruth the first time round is in Saint Eremberta’s cave, now overgrown with thorns (Vision roll -1 to spot). The sword is amazingly untouched by rust. It’s just a regular broadsword, and you could transfer the relic (a splinter of the True Cross) from its pommel to any weapon you like.
When the water flowing across the grave froze, Duruth was able to force a shepherd called Bosko to dig the body out, freeing Guile. A Tracking or IQ-5 roll (Vision modifiers apply) will lead them to the shepherd’s body. A Vision roll reveals a single dry strand of hair under the body’s fingernails. Animal Handling or IQ-6 to realize that it’s a horse hair. (Guile left this here to mislead them.)
The hearth stone at Crossgate Manor
If anyone looks closely at the hearth stone (which would probably only be if they were sweeping out the ash) they get an Architecture or IQ-5 roll to figure out that it is part of a church altar.
Under the hearth is buried Duruth’s sword Koth, still with his dead hand clutching the hilt. Nothing can unclasp the hand, nor destroy it or the sword until it is reconnected to Duruth.
The characters could dig up the hearthstone of their own volition. If they don’t, there’s a howling wind that builds in late afternoon on Dec 23, and at the moment the sun sinks out of sight, the fire is flattened by a gale in the chimney and goes out. An instant later, the hearthstone cracks across to reveal the sword and hand.
On Dec 24, as Duruth comes steadily nearer to the manor throughout the day, the sword will swing like a compass needle. At dusk it starts rattling against the floor, then falls silent and vanishes while no-one is looking at it.
Getting to the abbey isn’t easy, as the route is infrequently travelled at this time of year so there is no clear track through the forest. A Survival (forest) or IQ-5 roll is required to avoid getting lost. It’s even harder at night or in bad weather. Roll again every 1-3 hours. If you know your way, the journey from the Half-Built Bridge will take several hours and even directly over the frozen river Musegrave will take two hours (ie from the northern bank to the abbey.)
The abbey is strongly influenced by the Cornumbrian monastic tradition, with both men and women living in a segregated community. Have the characters greeted at the gate by Sister Evla. That may give them a surprise since most people refer to it as “the monastery”!
As per rules of hospitality everywhere, their hosts are responsible for their conduct so the characters will be asked to relinquish their weapons at the gate (though it’s customary to allow characters of Status 2+ to retain a dagger).
The abbey is small: a church (divided into north side for nuns, south side for monks, by a long carved screen), cloisters, scriptorium, dormitories, infirmary, herb gardens. All those are surrounded by a wall – stone to three feet with a stockade above that – and a small moat. Outside the wall are the (wooden) alms house – with a postern gate through to the abbey – and the orchards and goose pens.
Father Niall abbot
Brother Arran orchardist
Brother Bres apiarist
Brother Daniel gardener (orchard)
Brother Gann chamberlain
Brother Keln precentor (writing)
Lay brother Lupus cellarer (Knave of Sores)
Brother Ronan preceptor (music)
Mother Karwen abbess (tough Glenn Close type)
Sister Arwen sacrist (in charge of relic)
Sister Deidre kitchener
Sister Evla hosteller (guests)
Lay sister Lilith herbalist
Sister Nessa almoner (the poor)
Sister Sian infirmarian
Of course (as with the Bishop of Netherford) they are unlikely to be seen by the abbot or abbess in person.
There is a reliquary chapel off the side of the church. The relic is Holy Milk. It actually looks like a crumbled bit of chalk, but characters praying here will receive a blessing (Magic p54) of +1 or +2 depending on sincerity.
The abbey cellar
Lupus, a very old “soft in the head” lay brother keeps to himself down here, tending to the barrels of apple liqueur. He appears to have unpleasant psoriasis. If confronted, he will get flustered and a reek of infected wounds fills the air, causing everyone to gag. Then his skin will peel off and the undead plague-scarred body of the Knave of Sores will be revealed. As long as he’s on abbey grounds he can’t use his magic, so his goal will be to get away as fast as possible.
Lupus comes up into the kitchen occasionally, and if encountered there will try to escape up the chimney – despite the fire. Fire does 1d6-1 per turn, armour protects for rounds equal to three times its DR. After two rounds, if you’re climbing, the heat drops to 1d6-2, then 1d6-3. After that you only have to worry about the fall.
General notes about Netherford:
- Weapons are legal in the city, but not (of course) within the cathedral precincts without permission of the bishop.
- Curfew is at 6pm, when the vespers bell rings, when people have one hour to get to their place of lodging or leave before the city gates are locked.
- After curfew, the watch patrols in groups of six (Sword 13; captain in scale, others cuirboilli; carry horns to summon aid).
- Anyone out after curfew who is not of Status 1+ and carrying a lantern will be arrested.
The characters are unlikely to get an audience with the bishop himself (requires status 4+ or status 3 with a savoir-faire roll) but will get taken to his assistant, who is the deacon of the cathedral, Father Sarling (Ian McShane). He is accompanied at all times by a shaven-headed monk of the Capellar Order; this is Brother Tars (of the chaplain rank within the Order) who is an accomplished assassin.
The deacon’s assistants are Father Mardel (clever, obliging) and Father Concho (Algandian former crusader, exuberant).
Naturally you cannot waltz into the cathedral precincts with arms and armour. Everyone should know that is completely unthinkable. Player characters who try to flout such rules will face the threat of clerical censure or even excommunication, and to the medieval mindset of Legend those are weapons more feared than a crossbow bolt to the belly.
The cathedral is famous for its vaults in which both Cornumbrian (one) and Albion (three) kings are buried. There is also an ossuary where the walls and vaults are lined with artfully arranged bleached bones.
However, the Knave of Splinters is not in the crypts, but up in the spire. There’s a thickening of one of the beams which, on an Architecture or Engineer roll, will be seen to be out of place. Following up, on a Vision roll, they see it’s some kind of stout casket nailed there, as big as a ship’s chest, just out of reach of the stairs to the bell tower.
If the casket is smashed open immediately, they will have a round to act before Splinters comes alive. Otherwise he smashes his own way just out as the bell rings out above. This requires a Fright Check to avoid being stunned because he is huge, terrifyingly undead, smells like something that has been rotting for a long while, and makes a really dreadful insane howling. Disturbed by the bell and the unfolding figure of the undead fiend, a flock of bats drop from the bell tower and rush around everyone, a distraction which gives Splinters three or four rounds to reach the window overlooking the transept roof.
If need be, he will grapple anyone in his way (DX+3 or Wrestling+3 against opponent’s AG). That person is then at –4 DX/AG till he breaks free. Next round, Splinters can throw him with a Wrestling roll (which opponent can parry/dodge but gets no PD from armour) and if he fails he’s thrown. The opponent can use an active defence (eg parry) but gets no defence from armour. If thrown, roll against HT to avoid being stunned. If thrown into someone else, that person must roll either ST or AG (sic, because of Splinters’ massive strength) to avoid being knocked down (if fails to dodge). If thrown out of the window, DX to grab the sill, otherwise 1 in 6 of lodging on a crenellation, otherwise you fall to the transept roof (see below).
His goal will be to get off holy ground as fast as possible, and he won’t mind making the fifty-foot jump (10d6-20, armour counts half; 5d6-10 if you make Acrobatics; it would be more but the tiles break absorbing some of the impact) to the transept roof to do so. Anyone making the jump will need Acrobatics (or AG-6) to avoid falling – then it’s DX to grab hold or a long way (another 15d6-30) to the ground.
Splinters takes 8 points in the jump, then runs for the edge and will start climbing down fast if not stopped. Every round you fight on the roof, make an AG roll or fall over as above. If he gets to the ground, it’s a race across the lawn to the frozen moat. As soon as he’s over that, or the bridge across it (think: Wells), he’s back to full power.
If he can get free of all attackers for ten clear uninterrupted rounds after fully regenerating, he’ll give a triumphant mocking howl and transform into a fetid-smelling vaporous scrap of grey flesh that flaps off across the city rooftops in the direction of Crossgate.
Hand in a ditch
This is first reported on the road from Garrow End. A pedlar by the name of Topley says he heard something and when he went to look he saw a hand in the ditch. He ran off when it tried to grab him.
If tracked down, the hand has ST 16, Speed and Dodge 13, armour 1, hits 4. Attack 15 to grab throat, then squeeze: match its ST vs victim’s HT. If the hand wins, the victim takes as many points damage as it wins by, plus suffocation rules.
This is Ryger’s hand, though there is no obvious way for the characters to know that.
The archery contest
This is held every St Thomas’s Day (Dec 21) on Crossgate village green and is open to freemen from the four parishes (Crossgate, Moyses, Garrow End and Torstum). High-born folk sometimes participate under a pretence of going incognito – an early example of “gentlemen and players”.
This year, because of the fog, it is all but impossible to see the butts, which are moved further away with each successive round. A competitor must make a successful Vision roll (penalty increasing each round) before taking each shot. The finalists are:
- Tybalt – Bow 16, Vision 14
- Ortmund – Bow 15, Vision 15
- Guy – Bow 16, Vision 16
Going to Faerie
Faerie castle is across a very wide frozen lake. If you set out, you must follow the path by moonlight and you will come to a city built of glass or ice. The light is like bright summer but very low on the horizon, and warm like a summer evening but with occasional freezing drafts as if it will get very cold if the sun ever sets. (Don’t mention the freezing drafts for a bit, let them enjoy the warmth first.)
Sentries in full-face silver helmets take their swords and place them on a rack; it is up to them if they wish to keep their cloaks.
While in Faerie, they are not introduced to anyone by name, and should not give their name to anyone. Sisypha introduces them to a party of lords and ladies “clad in the colours of dewdrops in the sun” clustered fawningly around a regal woman. Give the characters time to blunder in introducing themselves by their names – and to see the stir of predatory interest if they do, and then Sisypha starts referring to “Your Majesty” or “Your Grace”, talking of someone as “the Lady of the Dandelion Clock” or “the Prince with Many Tunes” and so on.
Likewise Sisypha warns to call them “the Good People” – never “fairies”!
The tables are laid with dishes of flower-garlanded meats and crystal goblets filled with a water that is intoxicatingly fresh. Sisypha will warn them, “Do not accept any food and drink or you risk being trapped forever.” Ah, but how to refuse? You need Fast Talk -4, Savoir-Faire -2 or a Sleight-of-Hand roll, or else to distract the fay folk with something like a song or a riddle. (Failing any of these, you can still refuse the refreshment but when you come to leave will find yourself in the water under the ice with your friends above; and, unless you escape, you’ll later be found drowned.)
If you eat or drink, you must resist magic with Will or, when the party leaves, you’ll remain here for a year and a day. Likewise if you use the word “fairy”.
The banquet is set out in a number of halls where they will be able to see figures moving as if through thick glass. If a character who has not eaten the food goes to take a closer look on his own, he will see dim images of the others in the party gesturing behind his back, making faces, and so on. This is just an illusion.
So how do they broach the subject of the shield? It is when they approach the Queen to ask about the shield that she has food and drink brought, so that’s the point at which they need to handle how to refuse it. The Queen will grant the shield one who has tactfully refused the food, or willingly eaten and drunk; otherwise she affects not to know anything about it. Out in the gardens, where white blossom dances in the pale slanting light, they will find a fountain with a silver shield set atop it. But, as before, only certain characters can request it, and if the Queen refuses one she cannot then be asked by another. They could, of course, simply grab it and rush towards the “gate” of pines that marks the exit from the garden – but if they do that they will need to roll Vision at –5 to react in time to avoid the 15-foot haha that will cause 5d6-10 damage (armour except leather is halved; check for hit location). Also note that if they flee from the garden they will be leaving behind their swords and warm cloaks.
There’s a hush over the countryside. At around 8pm, the sword starts to vibrate madly, then falls silent and vanishes while no-one is looking at it.
If they look outside, where before it was clear, now mist presses up against the house. It creeps in softly under the door and tendrils of it hiss in the hearth.
Duruth comes now. The mist has been evoked by Sores’ magic, and will reduce visibility to a few metres. If the characters are outside, they will see him and any knaves he has gathered as tall shadows on the fog. If inside, they hear the scrabbling as of many fingers at the shutters. That is followed by a titanic pounding that splinters the door-beam.
Guile (who has been masquerading as Ryger) will first go to slay Lady Perdita, then if no-one notices that (Hearing roll) he will attack with surprise from behind.
The aim of the undead is to slay Perdita, slice her open and cut off the hand of her unborn son. If they achieve that, they’ll retreat and the cause is lost, as the next day the Sheriff will strip the Keppel family of their holdings.
If the undead are killed, the mist will disperse. A short while later, a heavy silent snowfall will begin. Venturing from their homes, the villagers gather to sing carols at the manor.
At midnight is the Angels’ Mass, then at dawn the Shepherds’ Mass, then the Mass of the Divine Word at dusk.
Carol singers arrive mid-morning and may be invited to stay for dinner. Dinner starts around midday. That’s roast goose, spiced pork, corn bread, gravy, baked apples, honeyed turnips, winter greens, mulled wine, quince sauce, steamed blackberry pudding. Then a walk, games, etc.
After supper (which follows the evening mass) of cold meats and bread, nuts and fruit, there will be plays, puppet shows, singing, music and dancing.
- Backgammon (called Tables)
- Dice* (a three-dice game called Raffle)
- Merrils (nine men’s morris)
*The Keppell family owns a fine chess set of ebony and ivory pieces, with a table of nutmeg inlaid with pearl and gold. At midnight on Christmas Day evening, the Devil comes and offers to play a game of chess for a favour. (He has skill 17.)
- Camp-ball (football played three-way between the parishes on Christmas Eve)
- Wrestling (ladies not approved of)
On Christmas Day, when the sheriff’s party returns, he will read the King’s letter. It either (if they successfully slew Duruth and all the knaves) tells Keppel to leave his lands because he is being created Marquess of Westring or (if they failed) makes Keppel landless and gives his manors to Baron Belvoir instead.
In our campaign, the wizard Mathan was one of the player-characters, but he didn't know that as he had lost his memory. Now known as Tall Tom Tattertail, he'd also lost most of his magical knowledge but retained a few arcane items that proved useful.
You can download a useful timeline of the adventure here, or refer to the table below for the sequence of events (assuming, that is, that the player-characters don't do anything to change them).Of course, in the real medieval period, Christmas would not have been celebrated on December 25th, but adjusting the calendar would have been one of those foolish consistencies that Emerson warns us about. The aim is to chime with players' own feelings of Yuletide magic, after all. I would have no problem with shifting it all back a few days to let everything culminate on the solstice, however.
Weather during the adventure:
Dec 17 Cold
Dec 18 Very fine snow turning to heavy
Dec 19 Not snowing but deep drifts; sunny
Dec 20 Freezing fog, hushed, a white haze in which you can’t see
Dec 21 Freezing fog blankets everything
Dec 22 Fog lifts, snow melting
Dec 23 Slush; flurry of sleet at midday; bitterly cold
Dec 24 Pale blue sky, bright but no sun, heavy silent snow towards midnight
Dec 25 Thick snow on ground
Players in my game were: Aaron Fortune, Paul Gilham, Tim Harford, Oliver Johnson, Zelah Meyer, Frazer Payne, Tim Savin. Many thanks to them; and to all FL blog readers: season's greetings, and may you have a happy New Year.