Monday, January 18, 2010

[Solo GPC] 489: Love and Saxons

(This is the second part of a two-part overview of our last Pendragon session.)

This year promised to be a bit more eventful, even though, as with 488, scripted events in the GPC were rather sparse. I knew going in that this year would see a reunion with Sir Jordans, Chamberlain to the Duke of Lindsey and potential love interest for Sir Herringdale and I was curious to see how things would play out. Des had been unsure how to react when the two knights first met, and was still willing to play things by ear, although she'd been playing Herringdale as somewhat intrigued for reasons he didn't fully understand. As it transpired, Herringdale himself would make it perfectly clear how he felt, much to the collective delight of player and GM; what can I say, the dice don't lie.



Part I
There are two small set-piece events that take place in 489. The first is straight out of John Boorman's Excalibur, as explicitly acknowledged in the Great Pendragon Campaign itself. Again we started things out after the action had gotten under way--fade in on Sir Herringdale riding along as part of a massive train of knights, squires, sergeants, and footmen making its way west towards the borders of the Duchy of Cornwall. Gorlas, the Duke, had ignored Uther's summons one time too many, and the King was riding out to teach his recalcitrant vassal a lesson. Unfortunately, few lords were sending troops to aid in this mission. It seemed that many still harbored some level of mistrust for the would-be High King, despite having Excalibur at his side. Also riding with Uther was the wizard Merlin, who would no doubt be of some assistance in the coming battle. Still, Herringdale wasn't optimistic about his chances--the army was tiny, and Cornwall has notoriously difficult terrain for fighting in.

Sure enough, the two armies met in a hilly, wooded vale bisected by a fast-flowing stream. Herringdale, in the central vanguard with the King, could make out Cornwall's knights and archers positioned throughout the trees, ready to spring an ambush. Gorlas himself commanded a rocky rise. Any victory would be purchased at great and bloody cost.


For a remarkably accurate recreation of what happened next, simply cue up your copy of Excalibur (you do have a copy of Excalibur, right?) to the scene pictured above. It was a hoot to recreate the dialogue between Uther, Merlin, and Gorlas (nicely truncated in the GPC so the GM isn't talking to himself too much), and everyone gave a great cheer when the two men agreed to peace and averted a terrible battle. The Duke and his men slipped away the next morning, and Uther set out on the old Roman road leading north to Lindsey.

Part II
Although relatively quiet in the south, the Saxon threat in the north had been building for a couple years. Fresh arrivals from the Continent had been swelling the army of Deira, and the northern Cymric kingdoms of Roestoc, Lothian, and Malahaut had been suffering terribly. Worse, those new arrivals had also brought two dynamic leaders: Octa, son of legendary Saxon chieftan Horsa, and Eosa, Octa's cousin and a giant of a man said to be too big to ride a horse! Uther was concerned and wanted to take his army north to assess the situation and put on a show of force.

The King was met personally by Duke Lindsey, now a firm ally. In the Duke's entourage could be seen his Chamberlain, Sir Jordans. Sir Herringdale, farther back and anonymous among the king's much larger escort, studied the man carefully. Later, in the hall of Lincoln Castle, the two knights had a chance to greet each other in person. They were both formal and polite; Sir Jordans, for his part, remained inscrutable. Nevertheless, Sir Herringdale was informed by Earl Roderick that Sir Jordans, quite out of turn for an Officer of the Court, had insisted on leading a field patrol, and that Herringdale would be riding with him as co-leader.

The patrol was one of a dozen being sent out into Roestoc to hunt for Saxon raiders and give some aid to that ravaged land. The following day, Herringdale set out with Jordans and a dozen household knights, bound for the castle of Conisbrough, a stronghold poised on the edge of the Penine wilderness.

Not a day out of Lincoln, shortly after turning off the Eburacum road and onto a trade road leading to Conisbrough, the patrol encountered its first band of raiders. Saxons were laying waste to a village; half the buildings were in flames, bodies of men lay heaped in the town square, the screams of women could be heard, and Saxon warriors were running about, rounding up pigs and cattle. Without a word, the knights charged in, Herringdale waving his sword, Jordans at his side swinging his ceremonial mace.

(In this instance, Des opted to charge without a lance. She had invoked her Hate (Saxons) passion and, as you can only apply the bonus to a single skill, had chosen Sword rather than Spear Expertise. I implemented a rule from The Book of Battle that says you can add +1D6 to your damage if you charge with a weapon other than a lance or spear [in which case you use your horse's damage rating]. I quite like this. In most circumstances, this means that it's still the best choice to use a lance, but it gives some flexibility to big bruisers who'd rather use a different weapon, and also allows knights mounted on rounceys [as many knights in the Uther period are] to actually do more damage with something other than a lance. This nicely mirrors the feel of the period as it corresponds to early knights, who didn't tend to use couched lance charges as often as their descendants.)

Fueled by his passion, Herringdale beheaded a Saxon warrior, drove another to the ground, then charged at the Saxon chieftan leading the raid. The blond barbarian gave a good accounting of himself, but Herringdale soon laid him down with a terrific blow. As the chieftan lay groaning in the mud, Herringdale brought his horse's trampling hooves down on the raider's ribcage and skull. Scratch one Saxon chieftan!

Jordans and the other knights had done just as well and had set the raiders to full flight with only one wounded knight to show for it. Jordans and Herringdale met up in the town square and Jordans gave Herringdale a beaming smile; it seemed there was more he wanted to say, but instead the pair dismounted and saw to assessing what damage the Saxons had wrought.

After cleaning up as best they could and promising the surviving villagers they'd send more aid once they reached Conisbrough, the patrol moved on. The remainder of the journey passed without incident, and soon Herringdale and Jordans were meeting with the lord of Castle Conisbrough. The bearded pagan knight informed them of troubling reports coming in of a large Saxon army on the march a couple days north of the castle. The good news was that their apparent path was taking them away from the castle, but the steward thought it might be a good idea to send some scouts out to shadow the army's progress and spy on it a bit.

Herringdale and Jordans agreed, and dispatched four of their number to do some reconnoitering. The remainder of the patrol would head into the wooded hills that lay outside Conisbrough in search of more Saxons. Des was anxious to have a repeat performance of Herringdale's bloody work at the village the day before. For my part, I had decided to use the random encounter tables from Blood and Lust and just see what the dice came up with; any result of "Bandits" would be read as Saxon raiders.

As it turned out, there wasn't a whole lot going on in the hills. Clearly, most of the raiders had pulled up stakes and headed north to join up with the army of Octa and Eosa. After four days of tramping around in the wilderness, at times through woods so thick the knights were forced to dismount and lead their horses, the patrol began making its way back to Conisbrough.

On the last night in the wilderness, Herringdale spotted Jordans walking the perimeter of the glade they had made camp in. He resolved to go and have a chat. The two knights took a seat on a fallen log, well away from the other knights and the roaring bonfire they'd built, and chatted about their lives. Jordans, it turned out, wasn't much older than Herringdale. He had inherited the office of Chamberlain from his father when the latter had died in a hunting accident and Jordans was a bit resentful about being tied to a duty at court, desiring instead the crush of battle and other such knightly activities.

At this point, Des asked if she could make a Reckless roll. I said sure, and she rolled a success. She then announced that Herringdale would plant a kiss on Sir Jordans as he was still talking. Score! She then made a Chaste roll and succeeded at that, as did Sir Jordans. The two knights bid each other a cordial good evening, both a bit hot under the collar.

This was just the beginning of a sequence of dice rolls that demonstrated Pendragon at its finest. The system, with its skills and traits, is designed to facilitate story development through game mechanics; it's really one of the few systems out there that mechanically handles things like diplomacy, intrigue, and passionate emotions (love, hate, loyalty) just as well as it does for combat.

The knights returned to Conisbrough the next day. They were exhausted after nearly a week in the wilderness and ready to head back to Lincoln the next day, so that evening the lord of the castle held a very small feast to show his hospitality as best he could. After the feast, as other knights were trading stories in the hall, Jordans and Herringdale had a quiet conversation in one of the shadowed aisles far from the central hearth. Ostensibly they were talking about the hawking hunt they went on a couple years prior, but the conversation was heavy with metaphor and innuendo. Time for another round of Flirting rolls from Herringdale. Readers of previous updates will recall that this has never been a strong suit for the knight, who has shown himself to be completely dense when it came to flirting with the gentler sex. So it should come as no surprise that Des proceeded to roll first a success to initiate the flirting, then a critical success to communicate Herringdale's intent! As the rulebook says:

Success simply indicates that a flirtatious message was conveyed, to which the recipient may choose to respond or not. The higher the number rolled, the more potent the message conveyed. However, a critical success indicates that the listener was moved somehow, and further was unable to hide his or her feelings.

Dear oh dear. So Herringdale, as I said at the top of the post, made his feelings on the matter quite clear to us. So that's why he's been so dense with the ladies! Oh how we laughed.

The two knights made arrangements to go "hawking" the next morning before departing. One last obstacle stood in their way: I had them both make Energetic rolls to get up before dawn, but clearly that was no problem. Both rolls were made and the knights headed off into the woods. Once there, they both made their Lustful rolls, we faded to black, and that was that.

Des generated a Love (Jordans) passion of 15. I also gave her a Directed Trait of Lustful (Men) +5. She had also been talking about Herringdale having mixed feelings regarding his wife back home; he still held her in high esteem and appreciated her as a partner and mother to his children. So I said she could generate a passion of Loyalty (Spouse) to oppose against her Love of Jordans, which she did. That came up as 12, which seems about right.

As the sun began to rise, the two knights headed back to the castle, where they were met by the master falconer: they had neglected to take any birds on their hawking hunt! Herringdale was at a loss for words, so Jordans quickly explained that they had decided to hunt varmints instead. The master falconer seemed placated, but still noted that they didn't have any spears or bows either. He watched them head back to the halls, a cagey look on his weathered features.

Soon the patrol was back on the road and by the next morning they arrived back in Lincoln. There they met their scouts, who had spent the last week carefully shadowing the Saxon army. They had detailed reports on numbers and composition of the army, as well as its apparent destination, information of great value to Uther. The next day, Earl Roderick was heading south for the harvest and Herringdale was due to accompany him. Now he was dreading being parted from Jordans, so at the farewell feast that night he threw himself into a drinking contest that developed during the final course. It wasn't his first such contest, but he won this one. Clearly, he wanted to drink himself into oblivion and so succeeded, thus nicely avoiding the need to say goodbye to Jordans. First thing next morning, a very hungover Herringdale departed with the Earl's entourage.

On his return to Broughton Hall, Herringdale, clearly conflicted about what had happened in Conisbrough, showered his wife Elaine with 8 libra worth of jewelry and fine fabrics (and picked up 8 Glory for himself thanks to such conspicuous consumption). He was also obviously trying to make up for things in other departments, as that year's Childbirth roll came up with Elaine giving birth to another son!

At the same time, Herringdale ordered the construction of a Guesthouse on his manor grounds. Sure, he claimed it was for all the family members he was constantly having to host at Broughton, but could it be he was hoping another knight from the north might come down for an extended visit as well?

On a much less ambiguous note, Herringdale qualified for the Chivalry Bonus this year. This means he is an examplar of the traits that will eventually be identified as typifying the ideal chivalric knight. Although chivalry has not been expounded as a doctrine yet, folks will now recognize that Herringdale seems to possess a certain...something that marks him out as a paragon of knighthood. In game mechanical terms, he'll now receive an extra 100 Glory every year and gain 3 points of "spiritual armor" that will always protect him, regardless of the state of any other armor. Bonus indeed!

We'll leave things off with Des's very apt summation of the events that transpired this year:

"I wanted to crack some skulls, but instead I ended up busting a nut."

Post-script
I mentioned in my last post that Herringdale's twin sister (and Des's backup character) Lady Obilot had gotten married. So after the session, I went to my computer and opened up a very handy little spreadsheet that I'd downloaded off the Yahoo King Arthur Pendragon group. Some wonderfully obsessive soul had gone through and assembled this massive document showing (as far as I know) every NPC in the game, from kings and lords down to ordinary knights and ladies, their status and location, and (most importantly for me) their dates of birth and death. It can sometimes be hard to tell in the setting how old or young some people are supposed to be, or even if someone's been born yet, so I've consulted this document in the past to double check on such matters. This time, I arranged the spreadsheet by date of birth and started looking at likely matches for Obilot.

Now, if you'll recall from the character generation post, Lady Obilot is one of the most beautiful women in the realm, having an APP of 28. I figured this would make her pretty desirable, despite her relatively low standing as daughter of a vassal knight. So you can imagine how delighted I was to note that a certain Leodegrance of Cameliard was born in 465, which would make him the perfect age to marry. Well, well, well.

Sometimes I like to spring these sorts of surprises without any warning, but I figured this was a pretty big deal. So I said to Des, "Hey, you want Lady Obilot to be the mother of Guenevere?" And Des shrugged her shoulders and said, "Sure, why not?"

This should prove very interesting if Herringdale dies before his sons reach majority and Des ends up playing Obilot for a time...
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