Mythic Britain: Summer Blood & Winter Snow – session 4

Since the last recap of our Mythic Britain campaign, there have been a few changes. The biggest change, I suppose was that the name of the game has changed. From this point forward, RuneQuest 6th is being rebranded as Mythras.  This is good news. The same great game will continue, but from now on it will be able to do so under its own name, and be able to forge its own tradition unfettered by the limitations of a license or varying expectations. The second change was that a former player of our previous fantasy RQ6 campaign has returned to Asia and will be joining us from session five which will run next week. This was also good news, not only as it helps us to fill our growing ranks of characters with more players, but it returns a friend and good gamer to the fold.

Session four of the campaign was run last week. This week we intended to run session five, but after I inadvertently caused a scheduling mishap, a few of us met to discuss the creation of the new character and get a sense of how to add him to the flow of events as naturally and thematically as possible. The dice helped us out in the early stages of the game’s character creation process, and once a few good hooks were established, we took it from there. There is something magical about this type of character creation process and I love to see its alchemy work time after time in game after game. I think the addition of this new character, a bard, will further tilt the focus of in-game play to the social and political interactions built into the campaign, which will be good. Combat, when it occurs, will be meaningful, dangerous, and no doubt carry a cost in character lives.

The fourth session saw the first hint of elements drawn from the published Mythic Britain campaign. While it does not contain spoilers, per se, this recap will recount a scene referred to in passing in the campaign setting materials.

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. 

Greatness is as greatness does

King Lend wasted no time issuing commands to assemble his entourage for his tour of Cornovia, making sure that Vaughn and Heilyn were included. They spent a restless night of packing and thinking of the hardships ahead of them.  Lend’s hatred of Powys tends to overshadow all that he does politically when he gathers with his chieftains. Despite the details of Vaughn’s vision highlighting discord within Cornovia, and the threats posed by the Saxons, there is no reason for them to doubt that the King will not use this tour to foster unity against the greater threat of Saxon aggression, but to further his dreams of striking a fierce blow against Powys. That the first visit will be to the holdings of Llwyld gives them some hope. His hatred of the Saxons is almost legendary. If nothing else, the two might strike a deal to fight together should the vision prove itself true sooner than later.

The entourage was to depart at first light. Heilyn arrived on time, with Vaughn only slightly late as he waited for final instructions from Calder or Askrigg. It turned out Askrigg has departed late the night before, and Calder had spent the night and most of the morning in conference with the King. It was almost midday before the King, his red cloak and helm packed away against the filth of the journey, finally joined the assembled men under the grey skies of winter to set them on the road. Before he would leave, he demanded that Vaughn call upon their ancestors to guide and look out for them. Vaughn, after praying all night for aid from his own mostly silent ancestors, was all too happy to plead his case again.

Mechanics

This session also called upon Survival and Endurance heavily to frame the struggles against the cold, wet, and snow. Their rising and falling fortunes in these skills led to the cold grip of fatigue taking root in their muscles and affecting their thinking and interactions. The group members’ Passions of Loyalty to King Lend was also shifted into focus as the trip stretched on.

Preparing good camp sites and good meals, keeping a good pace on the trail, and getting sufficient rest, water, and nourishment fell to men like Hielyn, and was strongly affected by the demands and whims of the King.

The trip overland took many days. Each day became a test of Loyalty (Passion) for some characters as conditions worsened, and as the King evaluated those with whom he was riding, both in conversation but also in contention with each other. Despite the difficulties and these political ‘games’ the actions and sincerity of people like Vaughn and Heilyn kept the fires of local pride and loyalty burning bright. At times, it was the only thing which kept the band moving forward into the teeth of the winter wind.

Midway into the journey, during a late-night turn as sentry, Heilyn spotted a poorly-hidden fire in the distance. Certain that his own fires were not visible, Heilyn roused some companions well-skilled in woodcraft and slipped away from camp with them to investigate. He found a camp of young, tired, travel-stained, but richly-attired men with sentries not nearly so attentive as his own. He observed for a while as they discussed their plans for the coming day, as they were too cold to get to sleep. After learning they were messengers from Caer Cadbryg who spoke in a somewhat familiar fashion of both Merlin and Arthur, and upon hearing their hopes to reach the hall of King Lend soon, he politely announced himself and invited the shivering young men to follow him back to camp.

They were duly impressed by his prowess, and that of his men. They were also relieved to be taken somewhere which promised more warmth and better food.

The King was in no mood to meet with visitors in the night, but he conveyed his welcome through a hastily-roused Vaughn and bid the messengers join his camp for the few hours that remained of it. With dawn, the King was up and demanding to hear whatever message was so important as to send messengers such as these across Britain in the snow. He was both surprised and intrigued by what he heard.

The messengers, it turned out, were travelling at the behest of the renowned and ancient druid, Merlin. He was calling for a Council and Feast in Elmet during Imbolc, and all of these details struck Lend as obvious signals of the importance of the invitation. The messengers’ careful and respectful mention of Merlin’s request and assurances of safety during the feast also caught his ear. He knew they would need to deliver their message to his chieftains personally for it to be taken in the right way. He did not however, think much of their prowess as warriors or travellers. A test would have to be held, else he would send them to his hall at Caer Guricon to wait for him.

Giving Heilyn no chance to rest, Lend called for a test of skill with spear and shield. The first to defeat the opponent would get a reward and a chance to ride into Caer Ffridd at his side.  The loser would be sent off to Caer Guricon to wait. Heilyn did not want the messengers to join them on the journey. He had enough trouble with the people already on it, and enough to worry about from Vaughn’s meddling (nothing about the vision has yet struck him as anything but coincidence or politicking: low Superstition + high familiarity with druids). Tired and sore as he was, he threw himself into the fight and quickly disarmed his young opponent and sent him sprawling in the mud and snow (by virtue of a very impressive and timely roll of 01 vs a dismal roll in the 90s).

The King rewarded Heilyn with a draught of mead and a double portion of food despite the sun barely being in the sky, and then ‘showed mercy and generousity’ by allowing the messengers to stay with the entourage. Heilyn was not happy about that, but mentioned later that he should have seen it coming.

The road conditions did not improve, but conversation did. The King was distracted by the messengers and their news of other regions, so Heilyn was free to focus on the land, and not politics. Vaughn, on the other hand, was constantly required to attend the King. The food was good, but the stress was palpable. Only serving Askrigg was worse.

Arrival at Caer Ffridd was late in the day, and as they neared the community near the hillfort, news of it spread quickly. Llwyld and members of his warband rode out to meet them. While Vaughn and some druid of the region he dimly recognized were actually forced to handle the greetings, the two older men glowered at each other. Finally, after a jaw-dropping diminishment of the local druid’s greeting, Vaughn set a tone of seriousness and destiny to the rest of the proceedings with trance and ancestor inspired speech which saw Llwyld screaming harshly for a feast and ushering them all into his hall. Although his bitterness never faded from his eyes, the chieftain recognized the distant threat in Vaughn’s words, and how soon it could become a present one. He agreed to play host, offer safety, and listen.

King Lend, for his part, was savvy enough to not raise the matter of the livestock raids and instead brought his message of unity forward in terms of ‘enemies from without, and within’ which was vague and true enough from each man’s perspective to serve as common ground.

Heilyn was allowed to feast with his men. Vaughn was compelled to sit at the high table with the King.  All through the feast Vaughn grew drunker and more entertaining, while Heilyn grew more restless and uncomfortable. It was as though someone or some thing would not let him relax. When the food was mostly gone and the drink was flowing freely, he was glad for the tension, whatever its source. His roving eye noted a serving maid of fine figure and long hair pouring from one pitcher, but carrying two. When she served the King and Vaughn, she switched to the second pitcher, but when serving Llwyld, switched back to the first. Her face as she poured, suggested it was not a better quality drink she was serving.

In-character, Heilyn attributes this to his hunter’s sharp eye. When the druid and the King hear the tale, however, they will see it as the hand of an ancestor, keeping them safe.

Hurrying through the revelry, Heilyn managed to prevent the King from drinking from it with a firm hand, and a quiet word, but barely stopped Vaughn from downing his in a gulp, sloshing drink on the table and drawing attention. The drunken druid blinked at him owlishly in surprise and demanded to know why. Heilyn’s response was lost in the noise of the crowd, but Vaughn’s shocked response caused silence to fall instantly as he shot to his feet, with liquid sloshing.

“Poison!”

Session Five will continue this deadly intrigue in the fort of Llwyld, and see the addition of the next member of our band of would-be heroes of ancient Britain~

The Tale So Far~

 

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