Friday, February 8, 2013

[Solo GPC] 536: Low Hangs the Head Who Wears It

We left off the previous year with Sir Loholt, in effect, "winning the game" - it doesn't get much better in Pendragon than making the Round Table and being crowned king of your own kingdom, much less both events taking place in the same year! Loholt's glory tally for 535 was, I believe, an all-time record for a single year's award: 2,993 points! (And that's not counting Loholt's annual glory. In the final tally, he was only about 300 points shy of racking up a whopping four Bonus Points in a single year.)

Both the achievement of the Round Table and ascension to high nobility have been put forth in the rules as logical end-points for a character's story. So where to from here? As it turned out, the events of this session would provide all the answer we needed.

Before moving forward, the Winter Phase beckoned. Des had lots of fun with the new Book of the Entourage, picking out members of Loholt's royal court. Clearly sensitive to Loholt's distressing tendency to acquire major wounds, she employed no less than three healers: a barber, a chirurgeon, and an Augustinian nun. She retained the services of the court clerk, Brother Briarwood, and hired a huntsman and master of hounds to coordinate the royal hunts. She took on King Farion's old squire as aide-de-camp and hired a steward and majordomo to attend to the palace hall. A tailor and his team of seamstresses were employed to keep the new king looking sharp at all times. And lastly, Loholt took Farion's queen, Elaine, into his chambers as his courtesan. It was an arrangement that worked for both parties; Loholt was convinced he would never see Orlande again and the queen needed Loholt's protection from robber knights and other unscrupulous sorts. Perhaps most importantly, Loholt employed a professional raconteur to entertain the court with stories every evening. As Des succinctly put it, "I need entertainment nonstop because this place is boring as fuck-all."

Even with the services of the raconteur, Loholt found life in his new kingdom to be quite isolated and uneventful. Not only was he off the beaten track, he was off the beaten track in Cornwall. News from the wider world was slow to reach his ears, and often arrived in bits and pieces. Loholt's first real word from Camelot came in mid-spring, with the arrival of a royal messenger bearing the arms of King Arthur himself. And the herald brought word of war! The High King had issued a summons for knights to follow him across the sea to France. The behavior of the French king had become too much to bear: first, he mutilated Arthur's ambassadors, sent to Paris to arrange a marriage between Loholt and a member of the French court; after that, he imprisoned Guenevere's cousin, Lady Elyzabel, whom Loholt had escorted to her Parisian wedding some years earlier.

As a vassal of the Pendragon, Loholt was required to send troops. Of his 35 knights, he chose to send 18 away to war under the command of Baron Varangis. With the departure of many of his vassals, the royal halls now seemed even more dull and lifeless than before.

Aside from this exciting interruption, however, life went on much as before. Loholt went about the administrative business that so occupies the life of a king and he acquitted himself adequately. The new king tasked his steward with finding out how the kingdom's vassals felt about their ruler. The steward reported back that they had all quite willingly sworn allegiance to Loholt. However, the peasantry was less thrilled by Loholt's ascension, the story of his unjust treatment of the peasants at the river crossing having now become common knowledge. This greatly upset Loholt, and he immediately set about formulating a plan to boost his reputation. He ordered a pair of oxen delivered to each village in the kingdom come the spring.

News continued to filter in sporadically. Near Pentecost, some particularly juicy gossip reached Loholt's ears regarding goings-on at King Mark's court: It would seem that a knight appeared at the court of King Mark bearing a drinking horn. This rang a bell as soon as Loholt heard it - he had encountered a knight on the road in Cornwall bearing a magical drinking horn on his way to the Kingdom of the Circle of Gold! Loholt had directed the knight to Camelot, but somehow the man must have gotten diverted and ended up at Mark's court instead.

[This was an interesting potential turning-point in the grand narrative. Canonically, it is Lamorak who encounters the knight and, wanting to protect the honor of Arthur's court, directs him to Mark's hall instead. Loholt, lacking such scruples, sent the knight right on his way to Camelot! I considered the possibility of having Guenevere's infidelity revealed some 20 years ahead of schedule. That would...mess with continuity pretty severely, to say the least. On the other hand, one of my cardinal rules when running Pendragon is to allow the PCs' actions the possibility to affect and change the continuity as much as possible. Since the Arthur-Guenevere-Lancelot triangle is pretty much the one part of the GPC one is discouraged from messing up too much, I left it up to a dice roll: 1-3 and the knight gets diverted to Mark's court anyway, 4-6 and he goes on to Camelot. I rolled a "2" and the continuity went on as intended.]

The horn, enchanted to spill its contents upon any lady that drank from it who had also been unfaithful, raised a furor when it spilled on 96 of the 100 women who sipped from it - and Queen Isolt was among those 96! Mark, enraged, ordered the 96 women, including the queen, be burnt at the stake. Calmer heads prevailed, pointing out that an ensorcelled horn could not be trusted, and that it may in fact have been enchanted specifically to sew discord. The work of Morgan le Fay was suspected, and King Mark and his court swore vengeance upon the enchantress, should they ever come across her.

Suspicions still simmered, however. A certain Sir Andred, a loyal household knight of King Mark's, took it upon himself to spy on Sir Tristram, against whom Andred harbored both a grudge and a hunch. It turned out that indeed Tristram was visiting the queen's chambers on a nightly basis. Andred laid an ambush with an armed guard, surprising Tristram and Isolt naked in bed together.

Sir Tristram submitted himself for judgment and was taken to a small chapel overlooking the sea. Tristram defended himself by saying he was the best knight in the kingdom and had been promised fair treatment. Andred, not accepting this defense, drew steel. Tristram, unarmed and in his shift, escaped from his guards, wrested the sword from Andred's hand, then leapt through the chapel window into the sea far below.

Meanwhile, Queen Isolt had been banished to a leper colony. Tristram came for her and spirited her away into the woods, where they wintered. Their idyll came to an end only a few weeks ago when Tristram was wounded by a poisoned arrow fired by an unknown assailant. Incapacitated, he was unable to save Isolt from King Mark, who found her hiding spot soon after and took her back to his hall. Tristram's whereabouts were last reported to be in Brittany across the sea, recuperating from his wound. Loholt took in this whole juicy story with fascination. Surely, here was a romance to rival his own and Orlande's!

Shortly after Pentecost, a rider was dispatched from the camp of Sir Dorgane of the Fountain on the borders of the kingdom. The rider interrupted a conversation between Loholt and his huntsman, discussing the prospects for the first wolf hunt of the season.

"My lord!" the squire reported, taking a knee before Loholt. "Word has reached me that a small party has entered our kingdom."

"A small party? Who rides in it?"

"A lady and her entourage."

"A lady? Does she bear a coat of arms?"

"I do not know my lord. She will be on her way at this moment."

Loholt ordered his crown and regalia brought out and assumed what he hoped was a regal pose on his throne. After waiting for some time, Loholt's majordomo finally entered the hall and banged his staff on the floor.

"Your highness, the Lady Orlande of Salisbury!"

Loholt nearly dropped his scepter at the announcement, but quickly regained his composure as Orlande swept into the court, resplendent in a red damask dress with flowing sleeves and skirts, her hair arranged in a gold net accented with pearls. Her ladies in waiting proceeded behind her, their heads bowed demurely.

Loholt attempted to maintain his regal composure, but he still half-rose from his throne as she approached before remembering his place and sitting again. Loholt took in that not only Orlande but her ladies in waiting were wearing red - and in Orlande's delicate hands was held the red rose from Bona Dea's garden, the rose Loholt had given Orlande as a token of his affection before departing for the Kingdom of the Circle of Gold.

At the foot of the throne, Orlande kneeled along with her ladies. Looking up, she spoke: "King Loholt, love is won through suffering and toil. You have proven your love for me through your actions and the exile you have undertaken. I have come to join you in exile."

Tears welled up in Loholt's eyes as his hands gripped the arms of the throne. "I am staggered by this news. How...can this be?"

Orlande stood and held the rose out to Loholt. "This rose. It unlocked my feelings for you, increasing with each passing day. Every bit of news that reached my ears of your toil and tasks swelled my heart with love. When word at last came that you had attained the quest I had set you, and that the price you paid was exile, I knew that you would not have paid that price had you not felt the same way about me. And so I have determined to come and live in exile with you."

"But what of Sir Gondrins, your husband?" Loholt asked, thinking of Gondrins' powerful father, Earl Robert.

"I have forsaken my husband and the child I bore for him," said Orlande, her cheeks flushing red to match her rose. "Although it pained me to leave the babe. But he is the heir, and he must be raised at court. I do what I do for our bond," she said, looking deep into Loholt's eyes.

The king was silent for a short time, but at last he smiled. "Then you are welcome at my court," he said, standing and taking the rose from her. He then swept Orlande into his arms and kissed her, at long last holding her tight.

In the following days, Orlande and her entourage settled in at court and Loholt adjusted to the new reality. Orlande now joined Loholt in his chambers at night. Elaine, Loholt's previous courtesan, remained at court, but only to provide conversation and companionship. He had at last won the affection of his amor. But he felt a bit ambivalent, in the final analysis. He loved Orlande, yes. But now that she was here, now that she was here, things felt...different.

Loholt thought of the various strange rumors and legends of his land: the imprisoned griffons, that strange garden, the tale of the Blue Woman, the disappearance of King Falegantis's wife and the appearance of the wild women. Surely these were all calls to an adventurous knight, but now that Loholt no longer had his Amor to motivate him, he felt listless, even bored.

[When an Amor is physically consummated, the passion turns to Love. I have a further house rule that the Amor's value is cut in half to determine the value of the Love passion - that way, a knight with an Amor is particularly motivated to maintain his chaste love, even if he's not a romantic knight pursuing Glory through deeds of love. So Loholt's passion of Amor (Orlande) 40 was reduced to a "mere" Love (Orlande) 20.]

[At this point, Des and I began to talk about how she wanted to play Loholt and what she wanted out of the character. She decided the time had come to make a backup character for Loholt: Herringdale's only surviving son, born in 518 - the year of Herringdale and Jenna's deaths - was by now old enough to come into the game as a squire, in the same manner as Loholt had. And so we took a break to cook up young Graid, squire at Earl Robert's court. And so we shifted the narrative to the east briefly.]


When Herringdale and his wife Jenna died the same year - Herringdale in battle, Jenna in childbirth - Graid and his older sisters were sent to be raised at the court of Earl Robert. Young Graid grew up hearing tales of his famous father's exploits (and whispers of his scandals) and patterned his life on an earnest desire to emulate Herringdale's exploits. His father had been a mentor to knights who were today legends in their own right. Queen Guenevere was Graid's cousin; King Loholt was his nephew! He was scion to a legendary heritage, and was vaguely aware that great things were expected of him, many eyes in Salisbury watching him to see what he would make of himself.

And so the young lad grew over the course of 18 winters into a fine specimen, quite reminiscent of his father at the same age. [Graid even started the game with a chivalry bonus and nearly 3,000 points of inherited Glory!] Perhaps it was out of jealousy, or perhaps it was an effort to keep Graid's ego in check, but from the time he had been a page, Graid had been given over to the castle butler, Sir Gerald, and made to serve in the buttery, down in the bowels of the castle and out of sight of the court. Although he received the standard knightly education - and, indeed, Sir Gerald taught Graid much about household maintenance and proper courtly manners - Graid was denied many of the opportunities the other squires were presented with. He tried to maintain a happy demeanor, but deep down simmered a burning desire to embrace his father's legacy and fill the shoes of the Broughton clan. Graid was on the lookout for any opportunities to take up the mantle of knighthood.

This year did not look promising for such a prospect, however. Earl Robert and many of the knights of Salisbury were far away in France, fighting for Arthur. Sir Gondrins had been left in charge of the county, but scandal had now erupted at court - the Lady Orlande was gone! She and her ladies in waiting had disappeared in the night, and it appeared to be voluntary. Her destination was initially unknown, but word reached Sarum in early autumn that Orlande was in residence with King Loholt in "the backwater kingdom that Arthur's bastard son ruled," or so Gondrins raged as he stormed around the hall, throwing tankards into the fire and upsetting tables. Graid, watching from the alcoves, was secretly delighted - he had never cared much for Gondrins, who was only a couple years older than him, but had had everything handed to him over the course of his life. Graid was also taken with the romance of the whole situation - what a tale!

Following Gondrins' rage, the Earl's son retired to his chambers most days with only a few trusted advisors. What they may have been discussing, Graid had no idea. All he knew was that Gondrins was neglecting his administrative duties and various writs and pleas were beginning to pile up, awaiting Earl Robert's return.

Before Robert came back from the continent, however, a delegation from King Mark of Cornwall arrived. Rather than the usual feasting and public appearances, the delegation went straight into secret talks with Gondrins. Three days later, the delegation departed...with Gondrins and his household knights in tow.

And so, back in the Kingdom of the Circle of Gold, just before harvest time, King Loholt received word that King Mark himself, along with a small army, had come calling at the borders, and that he came with a special guest. A herald from King Mark came to Loholt's court to explain.

"Why does King Mark intrude upon the borders of my land in such a martial fashion?" Loholt asked the herald.

"I have come on behalf of my king, and he wishes you to know that he respects the sovereignty of your lands and does not wish to challenge that. However, he has been made aware of a great wrong and injustice that has been perpetrated, and has come as mediator of the wronged party, Sir Gondrins of Salisbury, who says that you stole his wife away from him."

"Then let Sir Gondrins come and talk to me face to face, if this matter is so important to him," said Loholt testily. "Why is he not here in person?"

"Because Gondrins wishes to essay the Challenge of the Circle of Gold," said the herald. Loholt's stomach dropped at these words, and he wished greatly that he had the power to deny Gondrins, but he knew that part of the condition of his kingship was to allow any who wished to venture the challenge to do so.

[Before the session, I ran Gondrins through the various challenges leading up to the final palace challenge, rolling combats between him and the NPC knights standing in his way. There was a chance, after all, that he would find defeat against one of the NPC knights, or be so wounded as to be unable to continue. But, inspired by his Love (Orlande) and Hate (Loholt), he did well...until the penultimate combat.]

Loholt and Orlande waited nervously in the royal hall. Word reached them of Gondrins' progress. Sir Dorgane: felled! Sir Fitzroy: felled! Sir Alar: felled! Sir Patrides put up a good fight and wounded Gondrins, but fell in time as well. At Sir Maristone's, the penultimate challenge, Sir Gondrins and his entourage fought a small melee against Maristone's entourage. From the walls of the royal city, Loholt and Orlande watched the combat, which took place only a few hundred yards away. The tiny figures of knights on horseback clashed upon a plowed field. Beyond, King Mark and his entourage watched from the sidelines as impartial observers. Banners fluttered, rose, and fell. Distant sounds of battle wafted over on the chilly autumn breeze.

Then, Loholt saw something remarkable. Emerging from the scrum was a single dismounted knight. Heading towards the City of the Circle of Gold, he was screaming at the top of lungs, systematically stripping his armor off as he went. A couple of Sir Maristone's knights tried to run him down, but the knight struck them down instead almost as an afterthought. As the knight drew near, his screams became audible.

"LOHOLT! ORLANDE!" It was Gondrins. As he drew near to the city gates, Loholt could see the man's maddened expression: eyes rolling, mouth foaming, covered in the blood of foes and his own blood, gore-spattered sword in hand. He was wearing only his aketon and leggings at this point.

"COME DOWN HERE LOHOLT! COWARD! FACE ME! FACE ME!" screamed Gondrins, pounding on the gate.

"Let him in," Loholt said, retiring back to his hall to don armor. Gondrins staggered to the central plaza, still screaming, and it was there that Loholt met him. Usually the citizens of the city would turn out to watch such a challenge, but now the streets were deserted, fearful faces peeking out from behind second-story shutters.

Loholt's aide-de-camp tried to step forward to pronounce the rules of the challenge, but Gondrins' shouts drowned him out. Loholt waived the man away and stepped forward with sword and shield at the ready, preparing to dispatch this raving derelict.

"I DO NOT NEED ARMOR - THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF MY CAUSE WILL SHIELD ME!"

"You will die a fool, Sir Gondrins," said Loholt, inspired by his love for Orlande.

The two knights locked blades, jostling into each other, grappling, heaving, grunting. Loholt was taken aback by Gondrins' strength and ferocity. He quickly found himself on the backstep and then, flashing like a dragon's claw, came the sword blow. A burst of red, a jolt of searing pain, and Loholt knew no more.

Watching from the hall, Orlande burst into tears; Loholt had fallen! He feebly stirred on the ground of the plaza, but then Gondrins moved in and cut Loholt's head from his body. Orlande ran out, eyes streaming. "Gondrins, no!" The knight looked at his wife, his eyes still bulging madly.

"Harlot!" Gondrins screamed. He put a yard of steel into Orlande as she ran to him, burying his sword up to the hilt in her tender bosom. She sank to the ground, blood pooling and mixing with the blood of Loholt that now flowed freely upon the cobblestones of the courtyard.

Back in Sarum, as winter set in, Graid heard a terrible tale. A tale of the death of Loholt and Orlande, and of the madness of Sir Gondrins. Earl Robert's son was lost in the Kingdom of the Circle of Gold, and the kingdom now lacked a king. The enchantment protecting the land was broken, and it was said the kingdom was overrun with terrible beasts.

Loholt's body was borne away before the kingdom fell by a mysterious woman garbed in a cloak of feathers woven from many birds. She took the body away, but to where was unknown. All indications were that Camelot was thrown into mourning when word of Loholt's death reached Arthur's ears. But Camelot and Arthur's court seemed very far away to the young squire Graid, son of Sir Herringdale. As winter settled over Sarum Castle, Graid spent most of his time daydreaming about the day he would become a knight and come into his inheritance. Perhaps next year would be the year?

[As I mentioned, I rolled up Gondrins' combats with the other NPC knights and let the dice fall where they may. Much like Loholt, Gondrins was fueled by a couple powerful passions, and he managed to steamroller the opposition. During the Sir Maristone melee, however, I rolled a natural 20 for Gondrins' passion, and (since his passion is less than 20) this indicates madness! I honestly thought Loholt would come out on top for the combat. Gondrins was unarmored and was down to 16 hit points, after all. But all it took was one bad roll on Loholt's part and a timely crit from Gondrins and, 40 points of damage later, that was the end of Loholt.]

[From the start, Des had known that Loholt was a doomed figure, so she accepted his death with quiet dignity. The most interesting thing about her tenure with Loholt was how she played him. At the outset, I asked her if she wanted me to tell her about Loholt's canonical personality and she said no, that she preferred to play him her own way. The funny thing is that she ended up playing him almost exactly how he is canonically. Unlike Borre, his half-brother, Loholt eschews court life at Camelot, his royal heritage resting uneasily on his shoulders. He prefers a life of quest and adventure. Pretty much exactly as Des played him, although the Romantic Knight stuff came out a lot stronger in her version.]

[And, as far as we were both concerned, Loholt had won the game in pretty much every conceivable way, so in a lot of ways he went out on top. And now it's on to the heir of Herringdale. Will he be as successful as his father? We can't wait to find out.]



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