Mythic Britain: Summer Blood and Winter Snow – session 2&3

The first three sessions of Summer Blood and Winter Snow took place during our usual Saturday playing time. The fourth session has been delayed due to the amazing travel plans of one player, and the less amazing work obligations of yours truly. The group will try out some other games, such as Tunnels and Trolls and Edge of the Empire until normal play can resume. These introductory sessions have focused on establishing the characters, adjusting to the Mythic Britain tuning of the rules, and finding our voices in this setting. For me, it is an opportunity to explore the Superstition mechanic as a guideline of NPC behavior and reaction, and as a tool for us to see inside the culture and outlooks of the people of this mythic era.  This is something that I want us to have a good grip on, to take it naturally. As a result, we have not gotten into the prepared scenarios in the campaign book, yet. Asa  result of that, this recap will be free of spoilers. A note will be given on recaps drawn from that prepared scenario material. I am somewhat behind on detailing the sessions in text, but a video recap of the first three sessions can be found on my YouTube channel, here. It likewise, is spoiler-free.

 

The characters in play so far are a game hunter/trapper and a young druid struggling to find his place among his revered fellows in the old Roman community of Caer Guricon in Cornovii. This is an unlikely pairing made all the more so for the hunter’s well-known practicality and obtuseness when it comes to matters of the spirit.

  • The hunter, Heilyn ap Airell, serves his people well but tends to spend his time far from them. Kind to some and given to some generosity to those he likes, he prefers to spend his time in the wilds. He is a good man to have in a fight, and he knows the lore of his people well.

  • Vaughn ap Edgard labors under many ill-omens, but has managed to carve out a place for himself among the druids of Caer Guricon. From a dishonored family whose men are known to die young, and suspiciously corpulent, Vaughn is something of a sensualist with a strong passion for food and praise.

In the cold grip of privation, hope breaks free

 

The second session of our campaign detailed the day before the great feast in celebration of Heilyn’s and Vaughn’s accomplishment and return with such a prize. The King and the elder druids sequester themselves to talk about portents, intents, and much needed solutions, while the community goes about its daily chores – cold and hungry. Vaughn is woken early by his mentor Calder and told to get to his chores as usual, while Heilyn slips away after giving thanks to the aging druid for the night’s rest under his roof.

Wandering the streets he overhears much conversation about the hunt and the boar, but keeps to himself as usual. Eventually he is waylaid by an old soldier who had a firm hand in his upbringing and training for war, who will not be denied details about the hunt. Heilyn knows he should reserve the telling of the tale for the King’s feast that night, but the insistence of the old man, and the bribe offered by the man’s wife in the form of a portion of ale and stew convinces him to part with a few details. They talk of the raids, they talk of dragons red and white and the war in between, and they talk about the coming feast. It is a good family time for a man who has none, and who spends much of his time alone in the woods. The couple is famous for their ale, and for their valor in battle in their youth. It is an honor to spend time with them.

Vaughn, done with his chores, is driven by hunger away from Calder’s dwelling with its notoriously bare food stores. Wandering through the community he overhears the ale-fueled description of the battle with the boar and gets himself invited to join. He can be quite persuasive when important matters, such as eating, call for it. When the tale is told, and the couple offers their best advice for how to comport themselves in front of the king, the two make their way back out into the cold noontime air. Both still sore and battered from the fight with the boar the day before, they do not go far, ending up near Calder’s dwelling again…. finding themselves in time to help him move stores of grain to dry locations less obvious as targets to the eyes of raiders. It is backbreaking work, especially after the exertions of the day before, but it is work they can do. When they are finished, he rewards Heilyn with an ale and Vaughn with a further chore of ensuring the riverbank and the wells are clean and show signs of regular attention. A delegation sent by the Daughters of Sabrinna are due any day now and Calder has an inkling that they will arrive in time for the feast. They are passing through on their way North, and Calder wants to make an impression of strength and propriety on them which they might convey to others they meet. Vaughn complies without spoken complaint, but has his work cut out for him.

When night finally falls, the community heads up to the walled fort, warmly lit from within and shrouded in the intoxicating scents of roasting boar. It has been too long since such a night was had. The night’s first moment of import was in the delivery of the boar’s testicles to Heilyn with the honor of choosing on whom to bestow them. Wisely, he chose King Lend as the recipient of the prize. “For you, my King!” he cried, fueled by ale and shyness. The King ate them with gusto and then made the old joke, “Are there any more?” The revelry continues for hours, and Heilyn is well in his cups by the time the serious side of the evening comes around. Vaughn, more of his wits about him, also had greater reason to be in control as he found himself under the eye of his mentor, and the region’s Elder druid, Askrigg.

It came time to tell the tale and Heilyn told it with Vaughn’s support. As they spoke, two young boys of Lend’s household brought forth the boar’s white and red hide, the red patch looking all the more like the shape of their land, Cornovii, now that it was freed of its meaty conveyance. The hide was suspended like a banner on two wooden poles and the lads held it upright between them, behind the king. Upon seeing it, Vaughn was once again gripped by the call of prophecy, tumbling down into his vision of enemies without and within, of fire, and ash, and blood. Through the chaos and betrayal, one thread was certain: hope lay to the South.

The prophecy made a big impression.

With the problems of King Lend laid bare for all to see, but with the urging of the young warriors, the aged and crafty druids, and the lingering power of prophecy, a decision was made. First the problems within, then the problems without. Conflicting suspicions as to the identity of the raiders had paralyzed decision before, but now, in sight of all, the King called for those who know the woods, know the neighboring lands, and the ways of war to come forward. One by one volunteers came forward, and each in turn was greeted with cheers as each laid claim to the honor due their past deeds. No one counted their numbers, but Calder. He counted each in turn, to himself, and when the seventh was about to rise, he stepped next to him and pressed a full drink into his hand, distracting him. In the lull, the King called for Heilyn to lead them, taking all that had happened so far as a sign. Moved, Heilyn swore he would lead them well, and passed his silver brooch to the king as a pledge to do just that. In return, the King gave him a golden armband to mark him in the eyes of others. Heilyn made eight.

Watching all of this, Vaughn felt the pressure of eyes upon him, and noted that Calder and Askrigg were making it plain that he too must go, but that he must step forward and make it so. As he gathered his courage, there was a small disturbance at the rear of the hall. The delegation from the Cult of Sabrinna had arrived. Recognizing what he must do, Vaughn rose and with his voice and posture, took attention back and announced that he too would join the scouting party to ascertain the nature of the threat to the King. There were many reasons why he should go, but Askrigg saw to it that the auspicious number 9 that was formed with his inclusion was noted, and stopped the chain of volunteers.

While no one respected the fat druid as a hunter or tracker, they now respected the power of his vision. With this quest before them, it was just a short step to earning their full respect in his own right. With that, and the arrival of new guests, the party got its second wind, and we faded to black on this session. Askrigg would have none in his retinue that the people did not respect.

Mechanics:

This session saw a lot of use of dice for social interactions to establish the reactions of the NPCs to the gambits of the players, or to offer insight to the players about the status, role, and relationships of their characters. Influence and Insight played a strong role in navigating things, and Deceit raised its head more than once. It was Oratory, however, that truly had profound effects, both in giving inspiring speeches and in aiding the analysis of the words of others.

Setting difficulty grades is a good method to inform players about challenges before their characters undertake them, but also to indicate opportunities for teamwork, augmenting rolls with associated skills, and ensuring they have things set up in their favor. Although we have been playing with this system for a while, I think returning to basics and establishing the ins and outs of setting and system is an important part of actually attaining real facility with a system. Doing this whenever a new character enters the group, or whenever a new campaign starts is an old habit of mine, and I am seeing its benefits clearly in this harsh and dangerous setting already.

Seeking shrouded answers in a wasteland of broken promises

In the ruins of the feast the next morning, the King and the scouts with their portly druid laid their plans. Their number would be nine, thanks to the inclusion of Vaughn, and that was another sign of good fortune. It was decided they would head out to the outlying farms to talk to those who had had livestock stolen. They had little hope of finding signs of a trail, but perhaps they could ascertain a clue that might set them on the right path.

Before the group set out, Calder – at the behest of Askrigg – informed Vaughn that he would have to once again offer his insight, to bless and to guide the scouts in this important task for the King.

After speaking with a few bereft farmers, they set out in a direction that suited having to move a collection of cattle and other stolen livestock across the snowy ground. Heilyn was patient and tried to put himself in the minds of the raiders. Where had they come from? Within or without? How far were they willing to travel? How far would they go in order to confuse a trail? Through harsh and cold conditions, the group sought signs until eventually they found one. This was a timely critical success on a tracking roll, and it set the tone for how the scouts would react to Heilyn’s leadership during the rest of the search. As one of the aspects of the prepared campaign within Mythic Britain may be travel over long distances, perhaps during seasons less-conducive to it, this establishing session put the difficulties of such travel front and center. Cold, wet, distance, rough terrain, and their effects on health and skill use were the lead-in to the more human challenges of this session. The characters were in rough shape, but faring better than they expected by the time they reached the end of their trail.

Their journey was several days, and passed through a variety of weather and terrain types, but of note to them was the thick and muffling ground fog, through which the sardonic voices of ravens offered commentary. Each day after the first, each mile was filled with the silent damp of the fog, and the echoing croaks of bemused black birds never quite seen, but always near. The scouts would have grown nervous as the weather and environment took on a steadily more ominous cast, but Vaughn, reading the very earliest signs of their agitation reminded them that ravens follow wolves on the hunt of prey, aiding and looking for payment. Signs of wisdom and revenge, they were a good omen for hunters such as themselves. Reassured, the group was bolstered against all the terrible hardships the trail was due to dole out to them.

Mechanics

This portion of the session relied heavily on Endurance, Survival, and Tracking rolls, and due to the extreme difficulty of following such old signs, after snowfall and in the heavy mist, Heilyn found himself pushing himself very hard to keep on the trail. From the player side, this meant using assisted rolls, and at times it meant using Luck points. Success in this endeavor had become important to the players, and was deadly serious to their characters, so the use of Luck demonstrated both that commitment, and perhaps even that mysterious touch of destiny that Vaughn is starting to realize he sees in the world all around them. The major effect on the characters was Fatigue, and it came at them from multiple sources, slowly grinding away at their abilities.

That grind made them wonder if they would be able to complete their assignment, failing their king. That triggered Heilyn to start speaking inspirationally about the King fanning the flames of loyalty and dedication each person in the group felt. With that Passion of Loyalty driving them forward, they were able to overcome the bite of hardship and face each new day.

All of this ‘realism’ contributed quite a bit to the background for roleplay. While ‘nothing was happening’ in terms of villains dropping out of the sky, there was a lot of fuel for IC interaction and identification. When the villains were met, the characters were ready.

Eventually, the trail led to a clearing where the mist mingled with smoke from a wood fire, and the faint scents of dung and cooking. Heilyn scouted out the area and discovered that his force of 9 outnumbered the men around the smokehouse by 3. It was a margin, but perhaps not the best one considering their fatigue, the unfamiliar terrain, and the long journey home. While he felt they could win, he was not sure that winning would lead to victory.

It was then that Vaughn revealed depths hidden by long-association from youth. He may have grown up to be the overweight scholar instead of the lean hunter and fighter, but Vaughn’s scholarship was in the lore of some of the greatest druids in the land. There was much more to him than meets the eye.

Vaughn told the scouts that he would go forth and speak with the raiders. If they would not see reason, they would perhaps be in a weaker position to defend against a sudden attack. If they would, then no blood needed to be shed that day. Good as his word, he marched out of the mist and the trees toward the collection of low buildings from which the heavy smoke rose sluggishly, as cattle stood listlessly, waiting their turns. He made it most of the way across the cattle enclosure before he was spotted, which added to his mystique.

It did not take long before Vaughn was able to expose twin threads of guilt and need in the raiders, and recognize that they were doing the bidding of their fractious and vengeful chieftain, Llwyld. With a little prodding, it became clear that this had happened before, and newer raids were being planned. Although hunger had struck the entire area with its cold fist, Llwyld seemed to feel that King Lend had reserves he was not sharing. A man tends to see in others what he doesn’t look at in his own reflection.

Discussion, backed up by the weight of his role as a druid, and the looming threat in the voices of ravens commenting from the mist led the raiders to agree to return with the scouts, return the provisions and livestock they had taken, and to seek the forgiveness of King Lend. Their perception of the king was vastly different from Vaughn’s, and they wondered if they might have a chance to restart their lives as they renewed their fealty.

As the raiders and the scouts mingled, the description of Lend given by Vaughn, and the description of the cruel effects of the raiding had had in Caer Guricon did the rest of the work. The two groups began to work together the break camp, and prepare to drive the livestock back to their rightful tenders the following morning. The scouts did not hold King Lend to be without fault, but his handling of the food shortage had been commendable, and his loyalty was earned, not demanded.

The trip homeward was as hard as the way there. It was further complicated by the addition of all the animals and the supplies. Slowed, and suffering from adverse weather at times, they still made steady progress toward Caer Guricon. Heilyn distinguished himself by halting the herd before a dangerous river crossing, but this lost them days of travel and had them pay a growing cost in fatigue.

One night, while counting days, one of the former raiders took Heilyn and Vaughn aside to tell them that he was worried a group of riders from Llwyld would likely be on their trail now, or very soon. At their rate of travel, it would not be long before they could catch up. There was certainly no hiding the broad trail that they were leaving. Heilyn kept his wits, and did not push for greater speed – just greater watchfulness. He also chose to take a small group of his men and form a rear guard – looking for signs of riders coming in pursuit. His bravery and willingness to put himself between danger and his group was noted.

The riders did catch up and found themselves facing a very determined Heilyn and 5 warriors. Lacking Vaughn’s weight as a druid, Heilyn had to resort to the threat of violence and the offer of plain talk to get them to listen. They recognized that Heilyn was not going to back down, and so were willing to talk. In the end, they camped all together and negotiated a deal. Both sides swore to keep it secret, for the good of both regions. Heilyn would allow the riders to take a few head of cattle, and some of the preserved foodstuffs. They could claim whatever tale of victory they liked to Llwyld. He would do likewise with Lend. With Vaughn to seal the agreement under threat of curse, the two sides parted under the dawn light of a mist free morning.

Upon their return to Caer Guricon, they were greeted as heroes, but they in turn directed the praise toward King Lend. True to his word, the king gave Heilyn the hide. Vaughn and Heilyn asked to speak with him quietly, and when they had the opportunity, they explained the presence of the raiders, and the perception the distant regions had of him among some chieftains. The King recognized it to be true and vowed to take a tour of the land, immediately… with Heilyn and Vaughn in tow.

Mechanics

Team rolls, and rolls capped by other skills were of some importance in this set of sessions. Passions were of immense importance, as was the interplay of the Supernatural and the manipulation of the druids – including young Vaughn.

Session four will join them in this tour, in the midst of a cruel winter.

The Tale So Far~

Session One

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