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Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Tall Tom lay o'er yond grassy bank

If you're planning on running this year's Yuletide scenario "Silent Night" then here are a few bits and pieces that could come in handy.

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.

"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."
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:

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 maid
Leave it in a room with people you wish to spy on. It will answer three yes/no questions about what they said or did.
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.)
Wealth listed in the table is your personal disposable cash with which to buy equipment. You’ll be assumed to have clothing appropriate to your status. High status characters will also have a household with servants, but if you want any special servants (that ex-Harbinger for example) then you’ll need to spend points. You can, of course, lend gear to each other.

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:


  1. Some of the magic items, especially the coach have more of a flavour of Vance's Lyonesse that anything "authentically" medieval. Now that is no bad thing. I always thought that if legend ever featured in a TV series it would be called "Robin of Tantravalles."

    "The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England" is a great read but I'd love to read something similar devoted to the two previous centuries.

    In case this all sounds like I'm picking nits thanks again for the scenario. It's great to read anything you write that is set in Legend. Bring on Blood Sword.

    1. I certainly wouldn't want to give the impression that these magical items are typical of Legend! I envisage them as very old and probably Cornumbrian, as they were in the wizard Mathan's hands, so think Mabinogion rather than Middle Ages :-)