Saturday 24 October 2015

Dragon Warriors solo - Part II: An old friend

The knights make their way up the shore towards the village of Dunning's Green. The streets on the outskirts of town are strangely quiet. Not a soul is to be found. The knights make their way towards the town centre, from which the column of smoke rises into the evening sky. They can hear the tumult before they have even rounded the corner behind St. Switha's church. The whole village is assembled in the square.

In the midst of the square, a pyre has been builded, which smokes e'en now as the kindling and straw begin to catch fire. A young woman clad in a soiled shift is lashed to the pale at the pyre's centre, twisting in vain against the ropes which bind her. Shouts, jeers, and taunts erupt from out of the throng, exhorting the executioner to hasten the sentence, to set the witch ablaze.

The two knights shove their way through the crowd to get a better view of the spectacle. As Loys draws near enough to see the woman's face, a shiver runs down his spine.

"Good Lord!" says Loys. "That's Ysmena!"

Scene 5

Chaos: 6

Setup: save the sorceress

NPC list: Lady Melisenda, Earl of Avincester, villagers, officials, clergy

1. get a horse
2. find out situation
3. head home
4. take message to earl

[I was looking through the pictures in my 'Medieval' folder, and when I saw the one above, I instantly knew how the knights would first run across the sorceress. Now, to set up the scene:

I used UNE to quickly generate the major NPCs in the encounter--

Father Jolyon, the officiating priest
power level: comparable (3rd rank Priest)
goal: depress charity (he's against leniency in all matters)

Bricot, the mayor
power level: slightly weaker (normal human, but decent attributes)
goal: discourage freedom

the secret enemy
power level: comparable
goal: ?

Ysmena is down 1d8=1 health point from smoke inhalation. She has full Magic Points, but wouldn't have been able to use any spells whilst under guard.]

"My liege," says Reynaud slowly, "I fear that our Ysmena was always a headstrong girl, and whilst this spectacle saddens my heart, I cannot in truth say that it not that which I feared would someday befall her."

"I cannot believe that of her," says Loys. "This must be a mistake."

"Can we not put our trust in the good people of this village? and the wisdom of their clergy? and the mayor?"

"Even the best men may be deceived by evil."

"And what if it be her evil whose deception they uncovered?"

"Then may the Lord punish me for what I now do..."

Loys strides forward to accost the black-hooded executioner, who is applying his torch here and there to the smouldering straw. "Hold! who is in charge here?"

[reaction roll=9
Who then? (1d6) 1-2 mayor, 3-4 cleric, 5-6 both: 5]

The executioner is insensible to the man's words, but jumps at touch of the iron gauntlet upon his shoulder. A hush settles over the crowd, that they may better hear the ensuing drama.

"Good my lord," says the executioner, cowed at the appearance of the armoured knight, "Father Jolyon has pardoned this miserable sinner, so the case has passed from his hands to those of our good Mayor Bricot. For e'en as the Mercy of our Saviour is infinite, witchcraft is yet a civil offence."

Father Jolyon and Mayor Bricot step forward to treat with Loys. [Their reaction rolls are 8 & 9 respectively. Loys succeeds at a Looks roll (rolling a 7), so they will hear him out.]

"My lord, holy father, whilst I respect your wisdom and both your offices, I must protest at these proceedings. For I know that woman, and I say to you she be no witch!"

"But you are a stranger in our village, O knight," says the Mayor. "How can you know such a thing?"

"For that I know her! I met her at St. Uchtred's Priory, whither I had gone on a pilgrimage before my investiture as a knight. She was a lay sister then. I've not seen her since I left for the Crusade, but she's a beneficent soul and good, and as devout in the True Faith as you or I."

"But... the evidence," says the Mayor.

"What evidence?"

[Q: what evidence? d30=tome (on the Artifact/Relic table (AG8) in the d30 Sandbox Companion)]

"This tome," says the Mayor, indicating the book in the priest's hands.

The priest holds the book forth for Loys to see. It is large, thick, bound in elegant white vellum, and has gilt edges. Loys cannot decipher the title, written in ornate letters down the spine [nor anything else -- he is illiterate], but the look of the thing reminds him of the costly missals in his family's private chapel. He takes a decided gamble.

"Come now," says Loys, "that is hardly a grimoire of black magic!"

[using UNE for the priest's response: prejudiced-assessment-knowledge]

"Nor need it be," replies the stern cleric. "But this book is not a holy book, and thus it is wicked, and full of ungodly sentiment. The Holy Church may not raise a hand against any man, even so far as to offer up prayers for the soul of a foul necromancer, but I shall not scruple to throw this unclean thing upon the fire."

"The fate of this book concerns me not. But I say again this woman is no witch. And I am prepared to prove it in trial by combat. I name myself the champion of this innocent!"

[Q: Will they agree to trial by combat? 50/50: Yes - They are more concerned with civil order anything else, and a combat will placate the masses just as well as an execution.]

The mayor looks to the priest, who nods his assent. "Very well," says the Mayor. "This is unorthodox, but if the good friar is willing..." He bids a subordinate go fetch some water to quench the nascent flames and tells the executioner to remove the prisoner from the stake. He then turns to address the hushed crowd.

"Good people of Dunning's Green! This brave knight insists upon the innocence of the woman Ysmena, saying that she be no witch. And yea though it hath been found otherwise by our good court, let it ne'er be said that we are without mercy. This knight..."

"Sir Loys."

"...Sir Loys hath pledged his sword and his life to prove that it is the will of the Most High that she go free. And so tomorrow at mid-day, he shall return to this square to face our own champion, Sir Cressin--" (Here a cheer erupts from the crowd) "--in a trial by combat!"

Mayor Bricot arranges quarters for Loys and Reynaud, and even invites them to share a late dinner with him. Ysmena must spend the night in the gaol, and the knight are told it would be best if they did not go to see her. Loys does spend a long and prayerful vigil in the church of St. Switha, where he meets Sir Cressin doing likewise. The two observe the laws of chivalry scrupulously, and find one another quite affable besides. Reynaud correctly surmises that the Mayor put off the contest until the morrow to allow his subjects ample time to place bets on the outcome. Reynaud openly disdains talk of wagers, but privately wishes he knew on whom to put his money. As much as he trusts in Loys' fighting prowess, he just cannot be sure that Ysmena isn't a servant of Darkness.

The next day a festal air reigns in the village. The square is filled with sweetmeat sellers, minstrels, and jugglers, all vying for the attentions (and pennies) of the crowd. Fr. Jolyon is peevish about the jocularity round what should be, by rights, a solemn affair, but the Mayor tells him it is good for the commoners to enjoy an extra day of leisure now and again, however distasteful their levity. The happier they are, the easier it is to keep them in line. Perhaps the good father could work his sentiments into his next sermon, and encourage penance through good work. The Mayor neglects to mention that he has 10 gold crowns on the stranger to win.

As the orb of day attains its highest seat in the heavens, a clarion sounds. The crowd falls silent. Soldiers push them back from the centre, and clear a path from the town hall. The executioner leads the prisoner forth, a stout rope about her neck, her hands bound in irons.
Four spearmen follow, and then the Mayor and Fr. Jolyon. The group take up their station before the pyre. It does not yet burn, but a torch rests in a brazier of ardent coals, ready to fulfil its grim office should Ysmena's champion fail.

From the church emerge the two champions, resplendent in their gleaming armour, shining helms under their arms. Each is followed by his squire, bearing sword and shield.

The champions stand in the midst of the square, facing the crowd. The Mayor comes up between them, and addresses his people with a pretty speech. The priest does the like, though with much sterner words. The two champions than kneel in an attitude of prayer. The priest declaims an orison over them in the Bacchile tongue (which none of the peasants -- nor indeed the champions -- understand). The champions rise. They swear before God, in the prescribed form, that they bear no talismans nor rings, have imbibed no magic potions, and will call upon no sorcery in the battle.

The squires come to fasten on their sires' helms, check over their armour, and furnish the swords and shields. They are left alone in the midst of the square, and all the rest pull back. The Mayor bids his herald sound, the trump again rings out -- and the battle begins!

[And then it was time to roll up Sir Cressin. I used UNE's Table 3: NPC Power Level to decide his Rank relative to Loys. The middling Chaos Level of 6 let me roll on the Standard line, and so fortunately Sir Cressin's power level turned out to be Comparable. For simplicity's sake I only rolled the attributes that could affect his combat stats.

Sir Cressin
3rd rank Knight
ST 8  RF 15  IN 9
Attack 14  Defence 10
Health Points 12
sword (1d8,4), shield, plate armour (AF6)

Initiative goes to the higher Reflexes, so Sir Cressin acts first.]

The crowd holds its breath as the two warriors advance. At the first clash of their steel, a roar erupts from hundreds of throats, cheering the combatants on.

[Round 1]
Sir Cressin is faster and more sure than Loys, and rains blows down against him. Loys is slow to bring his sword round to parry and nearly lets the blade past his guard. Fortunately, he raises his shield at the last possible instant, deflecting the blade with its rim. Pushing back with all his might, he forces Sir Cressin back, and takes an opportune thrust at his midsection. The point of his blade slips under Sir Cressin's tasset to wound his thigh. The sight of blood on Loys' sword is like nectar to the bloodlust of the throng.

[This is my first combat, so game mechanics will be written out in more detail than usual.
Sir Cressin has 14 Attack, Loys has 9 Defence. 14-9=5 or less on 1d20 to hit. He rolls a 5 which would have hit, but Loys rolled a 1 on the d6 for his shield, and so deflected the blow.
Loys has 16 Attack 16-10=6 or less to hit. He rolls a 2. Sir Cressin's shield roll is a 5, so the hit stands. A sword gets 1d8 for its Armour Bypass Roll. Plate has and Armour Factor of 6. 1d8=7, the hit penetrates. Swords do 4 damage, so Sir Cressin is down to 8HP.]

[Round 2]
If Sir Cressin is chastened by haven received the first blow, he shews it not. Again and again he comes at Loys cutting here, slashing there, now an overhead blow, now a low thrust. But his sword cannot find his foe, rebounding ever off his stout shield, or being turned aside by Loys' own trusty blade. But the onslaught is so fierce that Loys dare not advance, and indeed is forced back several paces towards the crowd.

[Both missed]

[Round 3]
Sir Cressin presses his advantage, forcing Loys back further and further until he stumbles and falls to his knees. Sir Cressin hesitates a moment -- a terrible mistake. Loys springs up onto his feet and propels himself into the other knight. There is a great clattering of steel upon steel as the two knights' armour smashes together. Loys takes advantage of his foe's consternation at the impact to smash down the hilt of his sword onto Sir Cressin's gleaming helm. Sir Cressin staggers back, nearly dropping his sword.

[Sir Cressin rolled a natural 20. I'm not house ruling fumbles, but a 20 speaks of some sort of mistake. Loys, on the other hand, rolled a natural 1, a Critical Hit, meaning the Armour Bypass roll automatically succeeds. Shields have the normal chance of deflecting a critical, but Sir Cressin rolls a 6; he takes 4 more damage, leaving him with 4HP.]

[Round 4]
Sir Cressin has blood in his eyes, and is still reeling from the mighty blow which dented his helm, and nearly cracked his skull beneath. He swings weakly at Loys, who sidesteps the clumsy manoeuvre with ease. And by so doing, Loys finds himself in an excellent position. He strikes out at Sir Cressin. The blade glances off his pauldron and bites into the mail guarding his neck. Sir Cressin drops both sword and shield, and, clutching his neck, begins to stagger off to the side before collapsing into the dust.

[Sir Cressin rolled an 11, missing.
Loys rolled another 1; Perhaps God really was guiding his hand in this contest! The shield roll failed, so Sir Crespin was reduced to 0HP.]

Loys nudges Sir Cressin with his foot, rolling him flat onto his back. He puts a foot atop his chest, and holds his sword at his throat. "Do you yield?" barks Loys. Sir Cressin does not, nay cannot respond; he only moans faintly. Loys removes his helm, and turns to the Mayor. "I have vanquished your champion! Set the lady free!" The Mayor's reply is drowned out by the cheering of the crowd.

Ysmena's is loosed form her fetters, and she hold a hand out to her saviour. "Loys," said she, "never had I thought to ever be this happy to see you!"

"It is my honour to do you service, fair Lady."

The crowd is dispersing through the square. The jugglers are again doing their tricks, the minstrels again playing. Children, and even some adults, are miming the fight in play. Reynaud shoves his way across to Loys. He looks at Ysmena with [Looks roll with +3 penalty: 11+3>11, fail] barely disguised contempt.

"Ysmena," says Reynaud bluntly.

"Reynaud," she replies, with [Looks roll, also with a +3 penalty: 5+3<15] well-feigned sweetness.

"My Lady," says Loys, "the Mayor had assured me that, should I be victorious, all your property would be returned to you. But I am afraid that does not apply to the book. The priest seemed intent on its destruction."

"Let him burn it," laughs Ysmena. "That was not the grimoire I was sent to collect. Don't look so astonished, good Loys. I thought you knew I practised sorcery!"

[Some bookkeeping, for later:

Q: Has Ysmena's accuser already skipped town? Likely: Yes
Q: With the grimoire? Likely: Yes.
Q: Who was (1-3 m, 4-6 f) she? priest
Q: Magician? Likely: 18  (thus, a cloister-trained sorceress like Ysmena)
Q: Was she the one being spied on (Ysmena's spy / the spiritual result from the character generation post)? Very Likely: Yes.

I've been remiss about putting up the PCs' stats, so here is the party as it now stands.]

Sir Loys
Knight, 3rd Rank
ST 13  RF 9  IN 11  PSY 12  Looks 15
Health Points 11
Attack 16  Defence 9
Evasion 4
Stealth 13  Perception 6
Mag. Attack -  Mag. Defence 5
sword, dagger, plate armour, lantern, flint & tinder, backpack, 25F

Knight, 1st Rank
ST 11  RF 12  IN 7  PSY 14  Looks 11
Health Points 13
Attack 13  Defence 7
Evasion 4
Stealth 13  Perception 5
Mag. Attack -  Mag. Defence 4
sword, dagger, plate armour, lantern, flint & tinder, backpack, 25F

Sorceress, 1st Rank
ST 12  RF 16  IN 16  PSY 13  Looks 15
Health Points 9
Attack 13  Defence 8
Evasion 5
Stealth 14  Perception 5
Mag. Attack 17  Mag. Defence 7
dagger, lantern, flint & tinder, backpack, healing potion, replenishment potion, 20F

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