by Timothy Ferguson firstname.lastname@example.org
Originally presented in Chaosium Digest Volume 31, Number 2, Tuesday, May 2, 2000
Author's Note: This adventure was written during the playtest for the "Saxons!" supplement and may contain references which are not correct for the published version, since it is based on the playtest release.
The adventure revolves around the search for the remains of a character's father, who disappeared and therefore could not be buried by his sons, dishonoring them. At the time of his disappearance the father was equipped with a family heirloom, a spear blessed by Wotan and Thurnor, that would never break in battle and added +1 to it's wielder's spear skill. A traveler will relate a tale in which the heirloom appears, drawing the character into a confrontation with its new owner and providing him with a clue as to the whereabouts of his father's remains. If no player character is appropriate, then an NPC thegn, Caedwalla, will be the heir and will ask the assistance of the player characters in the recovering of the artifact. The rest of the scenario is written presuming it is this NPC who is the heir.
The characters are in the mead hall of their lord. While here before dinner they can use some courtly skills, if they wish. The Gamemaster should emphasize how different this setting is from the usual, by making the manners more earthy and the activities less refined. Dinner is served and the characters lay into their meat and mead, while telling stories of what they and their ancestors have done. Check Temperate to see how drunk the character is by this time.
These tales have a certain form, which should help the players design them about their character's fathers. It starts with a statement of relationship, then a description of the excellence of the man and those things he owned. Then it outlines a problem, adds an opponent, then makes it very clear that the opponent is terrible and potent. Next it praises the bravery and skill with which the relative overcomes the menace. It then concludes with the receipt of his just reward. Characters who make up a story about their fathers may make checks on Honesty, Pride and Orate. If they critically succeed on the Orate roll, they may check Love (family), as it gives them a deeper insight into the greatness of their father's bloodline.
If the characters all have fathers safely burnt or buried, the last tale in the series involves Caedwalla, who tells the tale of his grandfather's victory over Edbert, a Scandi warrior of great might. A visiting Skald will beg the next tale and say:
"As I traveled here, I met another Skald who told me the tale of a warrior living in the woods of Lanburh. He also carried a spear such as you described. It's holder is a mighty bandit, known for his many forays into the Welshlands. It is said that, with the spear you describe, he slew two hundred men at the Battle of Cliffington. He is said to have escaped the bear-pit of the King of Kent only by seducing his daughter."
"Tell us the tale!", call many drunken Saxons.
The skald goes into a tawdry tale indeed of a woman foolishly freeing her father's enemy because he promised her a large bride-price. Although he paid her a large maiden-fee, he did not take her away to marry him, so she was dishonored before all of her family.
Soon after, the Gesith leaves and the Thegn gets sufficiently drunk at his expense to fall asleep. Caedwalla asks the skald for directions too Lanburh. The skald will give them freely, so that the characters realize it is about three weeks away by foot, two by horse. He mentions that there are feats for heroes along the way, but myths indicate they might only be found by those with a fox's hide arm-band. Caedwalla asks the characters to accompany him to overcome this chieftain and regain his heirloom. He is also keen to haggle a fox fur off one of the other warriors, but will leave that to the player characters while he gathers supplies. He has only two horses, one for himself and one to carry provender, so characters will have to supply their own mounts, if they can.
The First Feat: The Lady of the Barrow of Black Stones.
Five days from home, the track the characters are following swerves past a low hill, obviously artificial, made out of black, polished rocks. Should any character touch a rock, a woman with black hair and dark eyes, dressed in black-embroidered clothes and wearing a cape of fur from a black bear, will accuse them of being thieves and attempting to steal her stones. Once they protest their innocence, she will call them liars and curs, then will demand they undertake a trial to prove it. Either they will be tried by hot water or by combat.
A foul beast emerges from this barrow every evening during the dark of the moon, she claims, and she will believe the truth of their story only if they can slay it, or cause it to flee. She will be unable to describe it, but will say that it eats people and leaves few footprints when it travels. It never enters houses, so people shelter from it in the mead hall, but it often kills passers-by and livestock. If the characters ask, she will agree to pay damages for their injuries in battle against the beast, even as a chieftain would, so long as they prove their innocence of her charge.
At midnight the barrow shudders slightly and there is a low, groaning sound as the stones move against one another. A humanoid shape leaps to the top of the barrow. It is like a human, but bent over almost double, with springy legs, black, shiny skin and a long tongue with which it tastes the air. After a moment or two, it leaps to a nearby tree-top, then bounds from tree to tree away from the mound and out into the forest. After a night of rapine, it will return to the mound. Characters wishing to confront it would best do it now, as it is weighed down by a bloated stomach.
The Fiend of Vaults:
SIZ 15 Move 3 / 6 leaping. Major Wound 12
DEX 30 Damage: 4d6 Unconscious N/A (0)
STR 12 Heal Rate: Special Knockdown 15
CON 12 Hit points 27 Armor 15 points, hide of stone
Modifier to Valor: +0
Glory to Kill: 50? 75?
Attacks: 2 Claws @ 10 each or
2 Kicks @ 15 each, damage 5d6 only on two people standing
together or on a single target or
1 Jump @ 20, crushing damage 6d6, but useable only every second
The Fiend will shy away from flame and not fight any character who bares a torch. It also hates sunlight, as this turns it into inanimate stone until the New Moon. If the characters prevent it from hiding back in the barrow, it will seek a sheltered spot where it's body can lie undisturbed during the next month, such as the bottom of a deep stream. If it does get back into the barrow it can be killed by lighting a huge fire that covers the entire mound, as this cooks it against the hot stones.
If the characters are victorious, the Lady of the Barrow of Black Stones will thank them profusely and pay them for their wounds using polished jet. Finally, she will take the left hand of the heir and kiss it, instantly vanishing. The character will take three points of damage as her kiss has branded him, as if by a hot iron, with a rune for "stone". Although he will be annoyed now, the brand will grant him three added points of armor in the battle with the brigand chief, before vanishing away, leaving only a faint, white scar.
The Second Feat: The Maiden of the Field of Berries and Briars.
The characters will come upon scattered clumps of wild berries during their travels and may trap small game to give themselves some fresh supplies. Late one day while foraging, a character with an arm-band of fox-fur will find a large glade with raspberries, blueberries and blackberries growing together by a cool spring. The edges of the glade are surrounded by thick briar-bushes, but a path through these is easily cleared. It is an excellent place to pitch a tent and camp, but early the next morning a carnation-skinned girl with strawberry-blonde hair, who wears a cloak of red deer hide, will rouse them awake, by demanding that they get out of her glade and pay her for the magical berries they have stolen.
The characters will likely again protest their innocence and the maiden will demand a test of them. Either they will be tested by cold water or they will be tried by combat. Again, she will agree to pay the price of the blood they spill if they succeed in the trial. She will tell them that a terrible creature dwells deep in the well. It is drawn forth by the light of the full moon, or the reflection of silver in moonlight upon the water's surface. The creature kills babies and bites people in their sleep, leaving them with boils and blisters for months afterwards, but never enters the mead halls, so the people sleep there while it eats their livestock.
The Robust Fiend of the Spring of the Field of Berries and Briars
This creature has the statistics of a Mersc Feond, from Chapter 8, save that It also has the attack "Bite @ 15: Damage 7d6, plus opposed roll on Con. versus poison potency of 12, or the wound festers and blisters, giving the character 1 point of damage per round if they participate in combat while wearing clothing." It has eight points of armor, due to its aqueous nature, which makes it resistant to stabbing and chopping attacks.
The Robust Fiend is a potent foe, but is very vulnerable to alcohol. It will not attack a character who is not cold sober, or who carries an alcoholic beverage. If mead, for instance, is splashed upon it, it uses the following statistics:
As per Mersc Feond, but reduce damage rolls by two dice, its hit points to 32 and let its armor be 5.
Once the characters are victorious, the Maiden of the Fields of Berries and Briars will congratulate them, apologizing for her earlier claims against their honor. She will pay for their wounds with bottles of berry-wine, toasting them and asking each to raise a horn. As the heir drinks, she disappears and he is branded on the tongue with the glyph for water. Although he loses three hit points and is probably extremely annoyed, the glyph will aid him in the final battle as he will bleed water it produces rather than his own juices. This prevents aggravation of Major Wounds.
Characters travelling on will get to Lanburh, a little community by the woodland in which the bandit chieftain skulks. Suspicious players may be on the look-out for another supernatural occurrence, but these scenes are another venture into the day-to-day life of Saxons. The chief is holding a feast as his people have just raided deep into the Welshlands and have returned with much livestock and many slaves. He invites the characters to sit at his table, so long as they are not ill-thought of, which in game terms is represented by a low Honor Score.
Tales will be told and mead drunk. He will gladly give the characters a fair price for their berry wine in precious metal, so long as they tell him the tale of its earning. He will be greatly pleased by the death of the Robust Fiend, as he had tried to kill it, but it had refused to fight him. Although the chief claims this was due to his great courage, wily GMs may notice it was because he was noted for his great Indulgence. If asked about the Maiden, he says that odd magical maidens are thick on the ground in this bit of the country as a runecarver had come here many years ago and trained some local girls the ways of the written word. Mostly, he says, they keep to themselves. If the characters have sex here, remember to check for pregnancies and charge maiden and bed-prices.
After heading on again, the characters will travel upon a road of gray flagstones, which makes travel remarkably rapid. They come to an enormous tree which has fallen, blocking the path. It is spongy with rot and coated in fruiting bodies of both odd and unsavory hues. It's wood has bleached to a gray color. Characters trying to clear it will be accosted by a woman who claims the fruits as her own. If they travel around the tree, which, due to the placement of gullies on either side of the track is a laborious course, she still waylays them for using her road, but not paying the toll.
The Dame of the Road of Polished Flagstones is elderly and has gray hair. She wears clothing of gray wool and has a shawl of wolf's fur. Her hands are covered with iron gauntlets and she always lays the right over the left. She will also will also abuse the characters, saying that they have damaged her tree, trodden dirt all over her nice road and ruined her crop. She will call them all sorts of horrible names, ask if they are descended of Scandians, then demand they take the trial of hot iron to prove it.
She will accept combat instead, against the Thegn at the end of her road. He is a brute and a bandit, also a well-known rapist and a defiler of graves. He does not, however, attack people in mead-halls, so that is where women shelter from him while he adulterates graves. She agrees to pay the price of their wounds, if the players think to ask, so long as they are victorious.
At their assent, she disappears and the heir feels a stabbing pain in his right hand. He loses three hit points and is
marked with the glyph of vengeance. This will add one to the damage he does with each successful blow of his weapon upon his opponent. The point is added after the subtraction of armor, so that he does at least a point of damage whenever he wins the opposed resolution roll.
At the end of the road is a small motte and bailey structure, wherein dwells the bandit chieftain. Characters are faced with the classical Pendragon dilemma of how to get into a fortified structure. In this case, it is relatively simple. The bandit chief wants the horses and valuables of the player characters and he is more than certain that he can take them. He opens the gates for them and allows them to enter.
Aelfric, the chieftain, is an elderly man who has fought off the years well. He is haggard and has scars aplenty to testify to his bravery and resilience. He asks the characters to dine with him, but at the feast the characters will find themselves the center of attention, greedily stared at by his henchmen. Eventually he will ask for stories from the characters. Caedwalla will arrange with the other characters to speak last. He will tell of his father's victory over the Scandian warrior.
Aelfric will laugh at him, then tell the story of how he killed Caedwalla's father, incinerated him, then added him to his Sack of Ashes. A leather bag is hug from the ridge-pole of his dining hall. He always incinerates his enemies, he says, as it prevents them haunting him. With a critical Awareness check, characters can see something inside the bag wriggling. Caedwalla is incensed, but makes his Hospitality vs. Love (Family) check and so keeps his peace. His host asks the characters to leave in the morning, saying that he will give them a day's start.
The next morning, after the characters have passed out of the gate of Aelfric's stead, Caedwalla will call out to Aelfric, proclaiming him to be ignoble in any number of ways and demanding trial by combat for his spear and the box of Ashes. Aelfric will ignore him. Caedwalla shouts that the leader of the bandits is a Nithing and that all who serve such a one are worse than the lick-spittles of a dog. That gets some attention.
Twice as many followers of Aelfric as there are characters emerge from the gate to do battle. They have their armor on, which is an advantage they have over the PCs, but the PCs are presumably mounted and the bandits have no time to arrange a Scudburh so long as the players attack them quickly. The runes on the hands and tongue of the heir do not activate unless things are going poorly for him. After half of these bandits die, they retreat back inside.
After this success, Aelfric comes to his gate and calls out to Caedwalla that he will meet him in trial by combat. All of the rest of the bandits troop out to form a half-circle and watch their leader in combat. Each is armed and the characters should feel that if he is victorious they are liable to be hunted immediately. Aelfric is armored in finely-worked mail, with an elaborate helmet, giving him 12 points of armor. He carries the spear which was Caedwalla's father's. This makes "Love (Family)" the appropriate combat passion for the heir.
Aelfric's statistics are those of a Rich Thegn, from chapter 8.
If, during the combat, the bag of ashes is burst open, a black cloud that whines like a swarm of mosquitoes will curl out of it then attack Aelfric, filtering in through the slits in his helmet's visor and choking him to death. It will then hunt down any bandits who do not flee for dear life, seeking out any who hide nearby. Finishing it's retributive justice, it slides back into the bag and turns back into a heavy, gray powder.
At Aelfric's death, the three brands begin to fade into thin, white scars. The heir loses his magical powers as soon as he holds the spear in his right hand.
Victorious characters can either take over the motte and bailey, which has no peasants around it so it must be supported by raiding, burn it down, or give it to the lord they feasted with on the way to the conflict. Although there are only three horses here, characters might take the livestock, although it is stolen property, so they can never sell it in good faith. Similarly, most of the items of treasure found here should be the grave-goods of someone or other, so to keep it might prove unfortunate and Pious Saxons will insist on destroying everything they can lay their hands on.
The Dame of the Road of Polished Flagstones will appear to the characters and pay them for their wounds in iron, giving them swords, seaxes and the heads of axes. spears and arrows. She congratulates them and thanks them for avenging so many wrongly dead and badly buried. She gives them an inlaid box in which to keep the ashes until they are safely home, instructing them to burn it. A Recognize roll, with negative modifiers, will note that the design is the battle-banner of the previous King of Kent.
If the characters do not notice this, it will be pointed out to them by the skald at their home, who has waited to hear the outcome of their journey. He tells them that the Princess of Kent suffered so greatly that she went mad, scourged herself until her wounds poured out her lifeblood then fled to the woods, calling all of the gods to grant her justice and revenge. Many years later, as her father lay dying, she returned to her family, briefly. She showed no injury from her time away, having grown into a proud and forceful woman, save that her left hand, now covered by a gauntlet, was never seen to move without the prompting of her right, lying flat again if not held bent by its partner. After burying her father she left again, taking with her such few sections of her maiden-price as were still in the hall. No-one has seen her since.
Plot Hook: The Lady and the Maiden can serve as puzzles for future games. Are they ghosts of two of Aelfric's victims? What is their relationship to the two monsters? Were they his bastards, or the bodies of the women under terrible curses? Are they simply runecarving acolytes of the Princess in Gauntlets, or are they faeries she has called to her? Are they simply her in other guises?
Labels: Pendragon, Saxons