The Streets of Netherford

Written By: Stephen Dove - Mar• 10•14

I’ve just realised that I’ve never put the map of Netherford up with the streets, wards and features named on it; so here it is!

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The Wards or Districts of the City are:

1) The Sacred Precinct, where St Basil’s Cathedral and the Abbey of St Peter are located. Also here are the law courts, where disputes that require the attention of the Lord High Sherriff are decided; usually these disputes involve the Church against powerful noble families or the most heinous of crimes, like treason. Most of the Sacred Precinct lies outside the normal conventions of civic law, for the precinct is considered a part of the Bishops’ personal domain and offenders are dealt with by the Cathedral Proctors and are subject to Canon and Church law. The City Watch have no power in this area. It is also home to Clerkly, where those secular students, who attend the law courts to learn to be clerks, live. Knowing that they are protected by Canon law, many students drink, get into fights with townsfolk and generally behave reprehensibly.

2) Nethermere Ward, where the well to do and many of the  Guildmasters reside. This area is heavily patrolled and the King’s Crowner himself lives here and administers civic justice that is not important enough to need the attention of the Lord High Sheriff; who is largely a tax collector in Vindashire. Unless of course, he wants to get involved.

3) Seagarth Ward; the home of the fisherfolk of Netherford, and also a fair few seamen who work for the Guilds and ply their wares to other ports on the coast that are less hazardous to shipping from other ports. Seagarth is also home to the Fishmarket and the Nantgate, that leads out onto the old river port, and also a lot of Guild warehouses and City granaries.

4) Weavering District; the home of Netherford’s many weavers and spinners, who turn the vast cartloads of sheep’s wool that trundles into Netherford every year, into woolen cloth and garments.

5) Fayrefield; also known as the Pilgrims’ or Inn District, this is where the bulk of the City’s stables, Inns and hostels for travellers can be found. It is named for a large field where the townsfolk are now permitted to hold their own fayre during the Martinmass and Michaelmass feasts. This development is much to the displeasure of the Bishop, who petitioned the King to stop this practice, but sadly paid lower bribes than the Burghers of the City. This area of the City is a notorious haunt of pickpockets and Knaves of all stripes; looking to fleece unwary pilgrims out of their hard earned coin.

6) Pottersbridge is a ward of the City on the west side of the so-called Pottersdyke; a stinking drain that smells even worse than the town ditch if that’s possible. The prevailing wind blows from the North in this part of Vindashire, and it is as well that it does, for the stench from this area is formidable even in winter. It comes from the many tanners’ shops and dyers and fullers workshops that abound on the eastern side of the Potterdyke (in the Nantwell district of Netherford); and from the smoke and ash from the brick, pot and tile kilns that line Kiln Lane on the western side of the dyke. The only people who live in Pottersbridge are those who work here; and that is mainly guildsmen.

7) Nantwell shares the Pottersdyke with Potterbridge and creates twice the smell because of all the tanneries, and also the chandlers, who render down animal fats to make candles. Only those who are sufficiently disliked or shunned that they have to live in this place do so; so this area is home to whores, vagabonds, soldiers and madmen as well as the aforementioned guildsmen, apprentices and journeymen. It can be one of the more dangerous areas after dark, as there are a number of businesses that double as dicing halls, brothels and illegal taverns come nightfall. It is also often awash with off-duty soldiers and the off-duty watch as many of them live in the area close to St Stephen’s Church. Most are capable of violent excesses when they are deep in their cups and so most murders occur in this area of the Netherford; and nearly always after dark.

8) The Shambles; this area nominally includes the Horse-Fayre, the slaughterhouses, the Cattlemarkets and also many businesses associated with animals or their hides, skins or meat. It is usually awash with animal blood and dung and is not the sort of place to attract pilgrims or the curious. Every morning, a vast number of animals are lead into the City by drovers. The sheep are sheared and their wool sold, the cattle may be sold or slaughtered and the geese and chickens end up in pies before noon, as feeding a City this size in a time without any real way of preserving meat requires a constant supply of live animals, day in and day out. The Horse-Fayre is where the best brood mares and stallions in Vindashire are sold; as well as the usual clapped out old nags that the wily Horse-traders attempt to foist on unsuspecting pilgrims. The Shambles can be a dangerous place after dark, because few people actually live in this area and so it is often the haunt of drunks who stagger out of Nantwell and sing and parade around the deserted cattle-markets until the City Watch appear. This is an area where most fights occur; sometimes between students from Clerkly and Journeymen and apprentices from Nantwell, Weavering and Pottersbridge.

The Gates of Netherford

Written By: Stephen Dove - Mar• 10•14

Background

The Cantorbridge Tales finally arrive at Netherford! For those of you just joining us, this is another installment of the first in a series of linked adventures that model a medieval road journey; in this case a pilgrimage. See the earlier parts of this article series by clicking on ‘Vindashire’  in the categories menu in the sidebar. These adventures are statted up for Dragon Warriors, but could easily be ported to d20 based games because the monsters and NPCs are fairly generic and can be lifted straight out of your monster manuals.

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In sight of the City

It is a beautiful evening in late autumn as the PCs arrive at the gates of Netherford. The waning sun kisses the surface of the river as they approach, turning its sinuous course into a ribbon of quicksilver. Later, as the sun sinks into the west, it paints the skeletal branches of nearby trees in a thousand shades of pastel, even as the shadows lengthen.

The smell of burning stubble fills the evening air; clouds of smoke billowing up from the well-tilled fields on either side of the road, as serfs burn off what the harvest has scorned.

Before the PCs  come to the gates, they must pass the rude settlement of Rufford, hidden behind ancient earthworks; the sweet smell of woodsmoke and of hog dung mingling pleasantly in the crisp air. Here, hard eyed men dressed in filthy peasant garb watch them warily from their doorways; their mangy dogs straining at their leashes, barking unfriendly challenges.

Netherford_gates1

Just beyond Rufford, the stench of the city ditch will assault their senses until it seems as if they can almost taste the putrescent mix of human waste and rubbish that emanates from the steep gouge in the earth that surrounds the town walls. As they approach, Goodwives from the city empty stinking chamber pots into the ditch, narrowly missing the bloated corpse of a dead sheep that floats amidst the detritus littering the surface of the fetid channel.

A bridge crosses over the noisome flow and the lane passes between the two squat towers of the gatehouse that form the Pilgrim’s Gate.  The party must each pay the Fayre toll (2 florins) and will be given a small clay tablet bearing the image of St Martin. Anyone bearing weapons will be required to ‘peacebond’ any sword or other martial weapon, though daggers are allowed to remain free. This knot makes drawing any weapon take 2 full combat rounds. The Watch will also require that any non-Knight remove armour they are wearing with an AF greater than  2. Knights will be directed to present themselves to the Castle Constable, as is custom and courtesy; where they may be given leave to bear their arms and armour in the city, depending upon their allegiance, reputation and conduct.

Once through the gates, the lane comes hard up against a steep hill; the shadow of Netherford Castle high above, looming over those daring to enter the town. Now the PCs must make a choice, as the monks who built Netherford intended. To the left lies St Basil’s lane, the Cathedral, the Abbey grounds and salvation; to the right, Fore Street, the narrow lanes and fleshpots of the town, and probable damnation.

Netherford_part2

Explanations and a Trial

If the party arrive in company with any bodies (or if they arrive after Master Carpenter arrives on his cart with any bodies), they will immediately be questioned by the Watch manning the Pilgrim’s gate, who will most likely escort them under guard to St Botoph’s Church; which is on Fore Street, while they fetch ‘the Crowner’. The PCs will be brought food and wine and will be questioned by the Sargent-at-Arms; if they mention any witnesses to the violence who are not present, then some of the Watch will go and try to find them if they are in the City.

Netherford_part3

Sir John Talbot, the Crowner or Coroner proves to be a rather rotund Knight with a bushy black beard, wearing a fur-lined cloak and sporting a bejeweled dagger and matching sword. He sweeps into the church about an hour after the PCs arrive, still gnawing on a chicken leg. He has a gaggle of townsfolk and pilgrims in tow; this rowdy company have been rousted out of the taproom of the nearby ‘Pilgrims’ Rest’; a respectable Inn just across the square. Most still bear flagons or the crusts of pies or bread that there were eating before they were interrupted. They are here to act as jury.

Sir John examines each body, still chewing away on his drumstick, whilst he barks comments at his whey-faced clerk, Thomas Blanchard, who hastily scribbles notes down on a slate.

Sir John will then question the PCs closely about the circumstances of any deaths. Medieval Crowners were notorious for levying fines on witnesses for the slightest excuse, and Sir John, being a member of the most rapacious family in Vindashire, is no exception. If the PCs let any of the witnesses to the deaths leave the scene without making them come to Netherford; if the PCs have brought dead lepers within the city bounds, or if the PCs allowed a mob to hang an untried man, he will fine them 10 florins each, for every such transgression. He will also take the possessions of any dead folk as ‘amercements’ and then ask the jury for their verdicts, roaring at them if they ask any stupid questions. Once he has pronounced judgement, his scribe will write the judgement on a roll of parchment and it will be posted on the outside wall of St Boltoph’s near the graveyard, as this is a common place for gatherings and for news to be spread.

If the PCs are suspected of any wrong-doing; i.e. if there have been deaths by violence with no living witnesses to vindicate them, then the PCs could be in for trouble, though if they brought the body or bodies back to Netherford, then this will be looked upon favourably and they will be let off.  If they did not accompany the bodies back, but were detained by the Watch upon entering the City, then they must face a trial to prove their innocence. A roaring brazier of coals will be brought in and one of the PCs made to pluck a red hot poker from the coals without flinching (Evasion versus a Speed of 11). If they ‘evade’, they take 1 HP damage and the party are adjudged innocent. If they fail, they take 1d4 damage and are adjudged guilty.

If the party are found guilty, the Crowner asks the jury and his officers to step outside whilst he ‘further questions the witnesses’. He will then offer to let them off, saying that he ‘believes in their innocence’ but that they will have to pay a fine so that he can ‘smooth things over with the Jury’. This is obviously blatant corruption, but what can you expect from a Talbot! If the PCs can russle up 100 florins, they will be let off; with Sir John recording a favourable verdict. He will, of course, take any of their possessions in lieu of actual money. The NPCs caught up in these deaths may pay some or all of these fines or bribes; Lord Aldred’s Men, Etienne, or Reeve Corbett certainly would contribute, though Lord Aldred’s Men have less money than the latter two. Clever PCs could also trade off Lord Aldred’s influence, or Etienne’s Father to sway the Crowner and either is likely to work if raised convincingly.

Burials

Once a verdict has been reached, any bodies must be buried and masses for their souls said.  The GM should make it clear that without a sponsor, some of these poor souls will end up buried in a mass grave outside the town; any NPCs still with the PCs (which will be anyone who is cursed or who stood accused) will make this perfectly clear. Teresa or Etienne in particular would not hear of this, and would try to get the others to help get these poor folk buried in hallowed ground.

Netherford has so many churches (see map below) because each is frequented by different sorts of folk; for townspeople of different station like to mingle with their own, even in the sight of God and in death. The Churches of Netherford are:

1) St Simeon’s is sited on a low hill overlooking the lake known as the Nethermere. It is frequented only by the High-born, the Noble or the very rich. It’s priest, Father Roderic, is a skilled orator and theologian who looks down his nose at the poor and hates any lack of cleanliness. He is always looking for donations, dresses richly and secretly uses whores. St Simeon’s is a very rich church, full of costly tapestries spun from golden and silver thread, beautiful statues, ornate carvings and stained glass windows.

2) St Boltoph’s is used mainly by many Guildsmen and lesser merchants. It is also greatly favoured by pilgrims. The Church-yard is well known as a meeting place and messages are often stuck to the sides of the church, including court judgements, offers of work and proclamations from the Guilds or Alderman. The inside of the Church is painted with frescoes, and depicts the Life of St Boltoph, who was once a shepherd and is the patron saint of Travellers and Pilgrims. It is also often used as an impromptu court by the local Crowner; St John Talbot. Its priest is Father Bartholomew, a very young and pious man who is said to see visions and to be gifted with stigmata; wounds that bleed in memory of the Holy Fischer Gatanades.

3) St Stephen’s is a faded building, the stones rotting away and the graveyard forlorn. The inside is dark and hung with captured war banners and broken blades. It is favoured by soldiers from the Castle and members of the Watch, whose homes surround the Church, and by butchers, tanners and Dyers; and so is the preserve of those who are avoided and reviled in medieval society. Its priest, Father Thomas Mountford, was once a noble crusader Knight, who foreswore violence because of the sins he committed in the holy land. In truth his faith hangs by a thread, but he is actually closer to God than most men, though he often spends his nights weeping as he dreams of all the things he had seen and done.

4) St Lot’s is a beautiful church; the outside of which is covered in ceramic figures of Devils, Saints and Fey. Even the tombstones are more ornately carved than is normal in Netherford. It is the preserve of the Potters, Tilers, Brickmakers, Weavers and Masons who live in the Pottersbridge area of the City. These are some of the most powerful guilds in Netherford, and so the church is fairly rich in style. It’s priest is Father Tyler, who was once a Guildsman himself, before he gave up all his money when his wife and children died of the pestilence many years ago. He is a morose and rather sad figure whose sermons are full of portents of doom.

5) St Job’s is a tiny chapel that is frequented by the Fishermen who call Netherford home. It is very poorly appointed, lit by fish-oil lamps and simply whitewashed inside. Father Bedr is a Cornumbrian, and is famed for championing the poor of Netherford, even translating holy books into Elleslandic. He has been investigated for heresy many times, but all those who meet him are impressed by his humble piety, even though he is often at odds with the Church authorities.

6) St Dunstan’s is Netherford Castle’s chapel and is the private preserve of the Lord High Sheriff, the Constable and their families and retinues. It contains many ornate tombs of past Sheriffs and Crusading Knights, and has the feel of a rich family’s chapel.

7) St Mark’s Friary is the home of a group of men who have sworn to live lives of poverty but pass their days doing good works amongst the sick and needy instead of locking themselves away from the world, like monks do. This is not a place of public worship, but is instead a place of healing and all the Brothers are skilled herbalists and surgeons. They also buy animal skins from the shambles and make vellum from it, which they sell to the Abbey copyists and buy food and medicine for the poor with the monies they obtain. The Friary also has one of Ellesland’s only public libraries; though the books cannot be borrow, only read in their reading room. As few can read in these days, the library is often empty, but it does contain books on most mundane topics.

Netherford_church1

Anyone slain in any of the encounters so far are of such a low station as to be eligible for burial at either St Stephen’s or St Job’s Churches. If any of the corpses show any sign of having been slain violently, the priest at St Job’s (or indeed any of the other churches in the town) will refuse to have the corpse; directing the party to St Stephens, for medieval folk fear that corpses might ‘lie unquietly’ if they died violently.

Burial and the associated masses will cost 5 florins  per person at St Job’s; a poor chapel near the fishmarket, where the fisherfolk say their prayers, or 15 florins at St Stephen’s. The latter building is a much larger church and is flanked by the houses of the Town Watch and those soldiers who man the castle. It is surrounded by a yew hedge; said to keep the dead in their graves, for not a few of those in this church-yard came to their end in violent circumstances, and this is a thing of dread to the medieval mind. Yet the Priest of St Stephens  is well used to such things as a former Knight, and will not quail if the party have the coin, assuring them ‘that this poor soul shall find in death the peace that eluded him in his last moments on earth!’

Master Carpenter will pay for Gervases’ funeral, if required, but anyone else will be down to the PCs.

Award any PC who contributes money to the burial of these poor souls one pointy of Piety; as shall be shown in later installments, true Piety is required to remove the Fey curse and free the PCs from the evil magic that currently entraps them, and it is through their deeds that they shall be judged. Note that during the burial, the PCs’ shadows return as long as they walk on hallowed ground; but Sorcerors will feel distinctly uncomfortable and can only cast first rank spells within the precincts of the churches or Cathedrals.

The Curse

Now that the PCs are in Netherford, they will probably want to research their curse. They might ask at any of the Churches or at the Cathedral or Abbey; or they could even search in the library of St Mark’s Friary. If they do so, they are likely to track down a story in the Life of St Felix; an Algandian Saint who spent his life learning about and disputing with the ancients Fey Lords who once held sway in the deep forests that still cover his homeland (for more details, see The Order of St Felix here). The story is called ‘The Conversion of St Phillipe’  and is as follows;

And in the tenth year after his conversion, did Felix cross into the valley of Navard where he came upon a shepherd who wore robes so costly that they might have adorned a King, and yet the poor man was wretched with weeping.

‘How now Good Shepherd; what ails you my friend?’ asked Felix, whereupon the shepherd, whose name was Phillipe, told him of a coin hoard he had found in the forest. The gold bore the device and image of no known human King and yet had the Phillipe rejoiced and had taken up the gold and had run home with it, heedless of the danger.

Phillipe now bemoaned his fate, since his Wife had left him, just a month after he found the Gold; running off with a travelling minstrel, and taking much of the remaining gold with her. Then he had quarrelled with his Father, who had wanted some of Phillipe’s bounty for himself, yet Phillipe could not bring himself to part with a single coin. Even his friends had deserted him, jealous of his fortune. Finally, wolves had come down from the mountains and had eaten his flock, but left those of his neighbours untouched.

‘O woe is me!’ said the Shepherd bitterly ‘for I am accursed and so unloved by God and fortune’

‘Do not fear Brother! For you are indeed accursed. For Lo; see you cast no shadow in the Noon-day sun. Doth you not know what this portends? God has not abandoned you; but a veil has been drawn twixt you and the Most High, for you have become subject to Fey Law and have entered into eldritch compact with them, by accepting their gift!’

‘But they gave me no gift; yet you must mean the Gold. Have I been tricked then?’

You have Brother; and in so taking this gold have you cut yourself off from God and subjected yourself to the power of these evil creatures.

‘What then must I do?’ wept Phillipe, falling to his knees.

You must serve God! Not for nothing has this happened to you; it is a part of God’s plan, for by being enmeshed in the power of these creatures, have they also lent you a measure of their power which can be turned against them. You can now see through their glamours and so could aid me in defeating them. Only by using your power for God’s purposes can you ever be free of it. Come with me; I have devoted my life to helping men like you from these ancient banes. Join me and know peace; else you must find each and every coin you were given and somehow win them back from those who hands now grasp them. Only then could you replace them where you found them and only then will the curse be broken, after a year and a day. But if you come with me, God will break your curse when he finds you worthy. But first your heart must be pure.

Many years did Phillipe travel with Felix and learnt from him many things that were both wise and Good. And ever could he see the true form of the Fey and could direct Felix, whose lore was deep and whose faith was so great that even the Mistlords shrank from him.

And in the end, was the curse broken; when Phillipe’s heart was pure and when he had fulfilled God’s purpose. By then, so filled with Grace was he that he founded his own house of God and went about as Felix had done, and taught and healed those afflicted by curses and in time became St Phillipe of Navard and was exalted by all men who love the Word of God!

It should be obvious that the story is hinting that piety can break the curse; and that the curse allows those so ensnared to wield power over Fey. This theme will be explored in the next post; a mini-adventure set in Netherford, involving a Gloaming hidden in a tapestry and a child who is not what he seems…….

 

The Road to Netherford

Written By: Stephen Dove - Mar• 03•14

This time, I continue with the Cantorbridge Tales; a medieval fantasy adventure written primarily for Dragon Warriors, but which can also be used with any game. For the first part of Cantorbridge Tales, or for background information on Vindashire where the tales are set; see the appropriate widgets in the sidebar. I have now created new categories so that you can find all posts relating to this series easily,.

Note also that I have expanded the section on Lord Aldred’s Men from last time; so you might want to re-read that before going any further.

Aftermath

When the battle is done, the dead, if any,  must be sewn into shrouds; if Teresa is present and still alive, she will do it with a hard-eyed, practiced ease. Else Odo may lend his skills, for he has lived through a time of pestilence and was once forced to do this office all too frequently for his fellow villagers in Igham.

The NPCs’ reactions to the dead are an opportunity to set an atmosphere and tone for this game. Death in this age was treated with a mixture of reverence and fear; in medieval times, people feared that ‘the dead would walk’ if they died violently or were buried in unhallowed ground. This thought would be uppermost in everyone’s minds after such a battle. The GM can signal this through how he plays his NPCs, and should have them discuss with the PCs how best to ensure that any dead ‘lie quietly till morn’s first light’. Gervase will suggest that the corpses be weighted down with stones and will also place rude crosses he fashions over them to keep evil at bay. In addition,  Teresa or Odo will go and find some rowan wood to burn, for it was popularly believed that this wood had the power to repel Fey in these days. It is details like this that set apart a game like Dragon Warriors from games based on pulp fantasy, like Dungeons and Dragons.

Any NPCs of fragile mind, such as Alice, will be weeping with fear and must be comforted. Etienne will also be struggling if alive, because he was filled with fear during the battle, and even though he stood his ground he thinks he has besmirched the De Toyne name. This may take some time to become apparent and could be a conversation for the cart tomorrow.

Now is also the time for one of the NPCs to notice that all who fought in the battle cast no shadow. Alice, if present, will scream ‘you are all taken!’ and run off into the forest and must be pursued. Odo will now begin weeping if he lived, feeling that ‘this is all my fault!’

If Teresa, Etienne or Gervase fought, they too are affected by the curse; the latter pair will fall to their knees in fear and pray for deliverance. Teresa will just grimace in disgust and return to cleaning her weapons, ever practical. She may even sneer at anyone who is overcome, to ‘stop mewling like a kitten’ for she has had to harden her heart since the fall of her order.

The ice from the dead wolves soon melts; and where it touches the ground, strange unearthly flowers bloom and open just as the day dawns. Anyone harvesting the flowers can easily make two healing potions (1d8 HP) just by pouring hot water over the blooms and steeping them for an hour to make a decoction. However, anyone taking even a sip is subject to the Fey curse if they weren’t before.

Morning and Master

Next morning,  if Odo is dead and anyone checks his body, it has turned to dust; the shroud sags as if the body inside has somehow crumbled. If the shroud is opened, a swarm of bees bursts out.

Gervase’s Master, Phillip Carpenter; a rotund, florid-faced and jolly looking fellow, arrives three hours after dawn on a cart. He will be incensed and overwrought if Gervase is dead, and will demand that all the PCs accompany him to Netherford to ‘make just report to the Crowner’. If Gervase is alive, he will believe any story that Gervase agrees to, no matter how unlikely and eldritch it seems, for he trusts the boy completely and knows he is not the ‘sort to take any passing fancies into his head’. He will also load up any bodies onto his cart, and take them to Netherford.

Odo, if alive,  will shy away from the horse pulling the cart and will not get on. He says he prefers to walk. If someone insists and he gets on, then the horse will go mad and will bolt and charge off down the road. Roll 1d6; after this number of rounds, the cart will crash and everyone on the cart will take 1d8 damage. The PCs have this many rounds to gain control; they must make a Strength check against a difficulty of 17 to control the horse. Afterwards, if still alive, then Odo will warn the PCs that ‘this will happen to you at the last; all living things shall scorn you!’

Nutley to Netherford

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As part of the ‘Road-Sandbox‘ every road between two settlements must have an encounter table; that way, if the PCs return this way, we have something to give the road some character. Here is the table for Nutley to Netherford; roll 1d6 once:

1)  A tame, performing bear is walking along the road with its owner; heading for Martinmas or one of the other minor fayres (if at another time of year). It suddenly breaks free and attacks the party for no apparent reason. If any of the PCs are still fey-cursed then this should be played up as if the bear was spooked by their presence.

Bear: Attack: 17,   Claws: (d8, 5) , AF 1 (for thick fur),  Defence: 7, Movement:  10m (25m),  Magical Defence: 3, Evasion: 4, Health Points: 20  Stealth: 10, Perception: 6,  Notes:  Critical hits count as bear-hugs, doing 10 damage (ignores armour).

2) A group of lepers in stained cowls and cloaks ring a bell as they pass by on their way to the Cathedral, asking for alms. If no one gives them alms, then the leader throws back his cowl, revealing his hideous, puckered face and the other 4 lepers seize hold of any horses the party might have, and use fear of their disease to extort money. If the PCs speak very disrespectfully to the lepers then they may attack. If the PCs are kind and respectful, then they gain allies who my help them in the future, even if they don’t give them money. Since they are already ‘dead’ the lepers have little fear of the law or of God and might be willing to do things ordinary folk would fear to be involved in; for instance, they know the charcoal burners, some of the secrets of the Hamewood outlaws and even the certain Gloamings in the Hamewoods.

Lepers:  Attack; 12, Defence; 5, Club; (d3, 3), AF 1 (thick robes), Movement (6m; cannot run), Magical Defence; 3, Evasion; 2, Health Points; 5, Stealth; 11, Perception; 6.

3) In sight of the City, a group of drunken students who were shut outside because of curfew last night, rudely accosts the party and intimates that they would like some ale or wine if the PCs have any. They mean no harm but are very drunk and will try and intimidate Master Carpenter or Gervase if present, possibly becoming violent, since there is much enmity between ‘town and gown’ at present. However, they will run off after one of them is knocked down or seriously injured. After the encounter, Master Carpenter will confide that the students are so unruly because ‘they know the Church courts will just give them a penance and that they’ll not be justly punished. And the Watch cannot touch them, being under the Bishop’s protection.’

If the PCs attack or beat them, they can expect to be attacked in retribution later in the town. If the PCs are firm but fair, then they might gain an ally in the shape of the leader of the students; Marcus Tyler, whose Father is a Knight in the service of Lord Westring.

Students:  Attack; 12, Defence; 5, Dagger; (d4, 3), AF 0, Movement (10m; 20m), Magical Defence; 3, Evasion; 4, Health Points; 7, Stealth; 12, Perception; 6.

4) An Averer targets the PCs; these children cover themselves in pigs’ blood from the shambles (the area of Netherford where the slaughterhouses are located) and then stagger about in front of strangers or pilgrims and pretend to faint. Once the party stop and help them, they use the distraction to pickpocket or swindle them.

Averer:  Attack; 9, Defence; 4, Dagger; (d4, 3), AF 0, Movement (10m; 20m), Magical Defence; 3, Evasion; 5, Health Points; 4, Stealth; 18, Perception; 9.  The averer can pickpocket as an assassin.

5) A pardoner (Hugh Gaffney) with an escort of the Bishop’s soldiers and a Varni prisoner in tow, accosts the party and tries to get them to buy indulgences for their sins. Pardoners were officially sanctioned by the Church in medieval times and sold pieces of paper with prayers on, that supposedly could lessen a sinner’s time in purgatory. Pardoners were universally reviled as they were often very avaricious.

Gaffney presses the party to buy indulgences and tortures his Varni prisoner in front of them, as an implicit threat. Varni are a religious and ethnic group expelled from Albion twenty years before. Many chose to convert to the True Faith; in fact hiding their real religion and meeting in secret. They are now hunted by the church and burned as heretics.

If the PCs fail to buy indulgences or are rude, they invite consequences, and may even have to fight the Bishop’s soldiers. There are 4 of them and they have stats as second rank Knights. If that happens, the PCs  may be arrested once they enter Netherford, though the Sheriff might help them, as he is no friend of the Bishop’s.

6) At a roadside gibbet, a pilgrim (Stephen Corbett) struggles against a mob as they try to lynch him. A girl was found raped nearby and the mob grabbed the first stranger they saw who even vaguely fitted the description of the rapist. The PCs can either witness this act of mob justice or intervene. If they intervene, the mob will attack them until they subdue the mob leader, and father of the girl (Anselm Coppley). In fact Elaine Coppley  was raped by a Pardoner named Hugh Gaffney, who uses his position in the Church as a cloak for every kind of vile act. She is too terrified to tell the truth, having been threatened by Gaffney if she speaks out against him.

If they rescue Master Corbett, he is in their debt and offers them his horse in payment for their good deed. The beast is stabled at one of the Inns in the City. Corbett is a pilgrim and Reeve of Scardic, and so is quite a wealthy man, though his clothes belie this fact. He is a morose and sad man, who is on a pilgrimage hoping that the Saints will lift the grief from his soul, after the recent death of his wife in childbirth.

Mob (10):  Attack; 11, Defence; 5, Clubs; (d3 3), AF 0, Movement (10m; 20m), Magical Defence; 3, Evasion; 4, Health Points; 8, Stealth; 11, Perception; 6.

The mob will not kill the PCs; if the mob win the fight they will beat the PC senseless and then hang Corbett, before dispersing. In this case, the PCs will be speaking to the Crowner about these events and may have to bear witness against Master Coppley.

Next time; The Gates of Netherford!

The Cantorbridge Tales pt 1

Written By: Stephen Dove - Feb• 28•14

Today the Cantorbridge Tales begin! This campaign was written for Dragon Warriors (actually for LORE) but can be used for any RPG because most of the adventures that comprise it are not dungeon crawls. Thus monster and NPC stats are not so important. In fact this campaign is a ‘Road-Sandbox’ and models a religious pilgrimage ala Canterbury Tales by Chaucer.

For visitors to this page who don’t know Dragon Warriors; the world of Legend is a reflection of the actual medieval world, but with magic, monsters and myths as reality. The major religion is the True Faith (very much medieval Christianity) in this part of the world, for the Cantorbridge Tales are set in Albion (a version of medieval England). However, none of this matters, because you’ll be able to run this adventure without any additional materials apart from those you find on these pages.

It’s my intention in writing this is to show how decent adventures can be written for any game that do not consist of ‘killing things and taking their stuff’. I’m not saying that’s not enjoyable, but after thirty years of roleplaying, I like a bit of variety!

Cantorbridge Tales is written for 4-6 1st Rank characters (that’s level 1-2 for d20 games) and is a mixture of mundane, low-magic adventures interspersed with high-magic encounters set in otherworlds known as Gloamings.

It uses the area of Albion known as Vindashire as a backdrop; and everything you need to know about this shire is contained within these pages because I’m inventing that too, as we go along! The campaign opens on a wintry road near the City of Netherford………

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Part 1: A Shadow of things to Come

The year of our Lord 950 is on the wane in Albion. The perfumed heat of Summer is now a distant memory as Winter fast approaches and the icy wind bites with a chill that carries with it the promise of snow.

The traditional time of pilgrimage in Albion is now almost over, for most canny folk journey in early autumn, after the harvest, to venerate the Saints; yet something has a certain group of travellers out on roads already iron hard from frost:

1) The PCs have been hired by Bretwald of Axbridge to ‘escort’ a woman to Netherford Cathedral and the care of the Bishop. Alice Green is the daughter of respected local craftsman Arnold Green. She is suspected of having enjoyed a dalliance with young Lord Martin De Rainno and is being sent away to the care of the Bishop, until it can be ascertained if the girl is with child. Bretwald is hoping that by doing so, the girl’s prospects of marriage will not be ruined and the family’s reputation will be protected; but Alice is rather too self-assured and ‘forward’ for a medieval woman and she’ll try and seek the ‘solace’ of another man at every opportunity. She is very beautiful (and knows it) and is like a honey pot to members of the male sex. She has a good heart but is not very pragmatic nor wise. She fears the Bishop will try and press her into a Nunnery and will try and escape if this is ever confirmed or hinted at.

2) The PCs are the retinue of 15 year old Etienne De Toyne on his journey to Netherford Cathedral. The boy’s uncle, Tancred De Toyne, was once the King’s Champion, and Etienne wants to hold a vigil by his tomb, on the anniversary of his death in battle at Maunderlak Castle, because he reveres and seeks to emulate his uncle. Etienne is a serious and high spirited noble boy, who desires to appear older and more dignified than he is, but who is also bursting with excitement about the world and is interested in everything.

3) The PCs have been hired by ‘Lord Aldred’s Men’, a company of travelling players, to protect them on the roads to Netherford. This company have been sent by Baron Aldred, as a gift to the Bishop of  Netherford; and are to perform a mystery play in the yard of the Bishop’s Inn at the forthcoming Martinmass Fayre. They are there to compete with the Guilds of Netherford, who also perform their own mystery plays during the Fayre and take custom away from the Bishop’s Inn. There could be trouble ahead……..

The players are:

Oswald is a handsome and cheerful golden haired young man who is feted by women everywhere, and has broken many hearts as he strides the stage like a giant (Looks 16). He can play anything and exudes pure magnetism when ‘treading the boards’ and has been approached by other companies to join them. Off stage he appears as strangely sad and self deprecating and often drinks. He plays up to the image of the Ladys’ Man but hides a secret; he is a homosexual and Sigismondo’s lover. Both live in constant fear of discovery and it places great strain on their relationship, though the other members of the company know or guess and try to help the two lovers stay safe.

Sigismondo is a swarthy lute player from Asmulia. He left home when he was young as an apprentice to a minstrel. He did so because his family found out about his sexual orientation and tried to ‘have the sin burned out of him’ with red hot irons and parts of his body are savagely scarred; though as he can easily cover these areas, few people would guess. He is, however, a talented musician, and knows many stories and songs from Chaubrette and Kurland, as well as his homeland.

Teresa is a muscled and hard-headed woman who is the virtual leader of the company. Though middle-aged, she is shrewd, sarcastic and can knock most men on their behinds with one meaty punch, and hence is as much of a misfit in normal medieval society as the rest of the troupe. She cannot perform, as women were not allowed on the stage in medieval times; women parts were played by men. Instead she bargains and speaks for the group, makes their costumes and make-up and also defends them; Teresa is a very skilled knife thrower and knows how to use a sword. She was once part of a Beguine community; religious women who allowed no men into their domain. Her order was very progressive in both worship and daily life and taught equality of the sexes and gave its members the knowledge to defend themselves. Some of these women even fought in the crusades, and Teresa was one such ‘Knight’. The church eventually excommunicated them as heretics,  and burned its leader; Sister Mirriam, at the stake. Teresa has no love for the church or men as a result and is as tough as old leather.

Thomas is the troupe’s acrobat and stilt-walker. He is rather simple minded and thinks Teresa is his mother, and she for her part is fiercely protective of him. Thomas is carrot haired and was born on the border with Thuland, and was always the butt of everyone’s jokes even before his accident. He was kicked in the head by a horse at the age of seven, and almost died. He now has an almost supernatural ability with animals; wild wolves have been known to take food from his hands. He is the gentlest of souls and never seems sad or angry. The troupe call him ‘the holy fool’ and privately wonder at him.

4) Any other reason the GM cares to invent; the PCs must merely have a pressing reason to journey to Netherford in late autumn/early winter. Their reason should be something easily resolved, though with a catch, and also should end in Netherford, leaving them free agents.

The Opening Scene

The PCs’ journey is almost over, and only one more day of walking or riding will have them at the gates of Netherford; but since the Inn in Nutley was full, they have passed through the village in the late afternoon. Now it is almost dusk and the PCs must seek a place to camp on the road between Nutley and Netherford (see this map) ere darkness falls.

As they round a bend in the rutted road, the lengthening tree shadows stippling the track in front of them, they see a light off the road and then come upon a tumbledown cottage, just to one side of the trackway.

camp

Several travellers are sheltering in the old cottage, huddled around a meager fire. As the PCs approach, a younger man with a flushed face invites the PCs to join them.

The first is a carpenter’s apprentice, Gervase Attley, who is deep in his cups. Gervase’s family live in Nutley and he had a day off to attend a family wedding. His relatives then dropped him off at this cottage with some produce as a gift for his master (the boxes and barrels outside), who will be picking him up in the morning, after they cut some wood from the forest. Gervase is a garrulous man, and will gladly dice with Etienne De Toyne or Sigismondo or flirt with Alice if either are present (and possibly even worse if the PCs don’t keep their eyes on her).

The second is an aged man by the name of Odo Phinn. He appears as a simple chapman or peddler, but Odo has been plagued by visions and pursued by something evil ever since he helped a stranger a few months ago. Indeed Odo casts no shadow, though only a Perception roll against a Stealth of 19 will reveal this; and the GM should roll secretly. Odo has come to Netherford on a pilgrimage to remove the curse, though he will not volunteer why if asked. Odo hails from a village called Igham, far to the north. He is tired and afraid, for he gets little sleep any more; the curse that Odo suffers also gives him the gift of Second Sight, and he can see the eldritch as easily as mortals see the waking world. He will seem to know any of the PCs who can wield magic and will recoil from them. He is a quiet man who does not say much and starts at any sudden noise and seems nervous. His cloak-pin has a cockle shell affixed to it, to show that he is a pilgrim.

The GM should give the PCs time to interact with each other and with Gervase, Odo and whatever NPCs they are accompanying to Netherford, as they all cook and share dinner and the darkness closes in. Odo should be played as sad, distracted and yet somehow wise, whilst Gervase is lecherous and lewd but well meaning.

Then, a sudden howl is heard; as if a wolf is prowling in the woods nearby. Odo whimpers with fear and brings out a cross and begins mumbling a prayer. Suddenly, dark shapes appear against the hoarfrost as terrible creatures loom out of the darkness, their breath smelling of the grave and their eyes filled with terrible blue radiance. There is one for each PC plus 2 more.

ATK:15 (Fangs d6, 5 points), DF:4, AF: 2, HP: 8, Stealth 16, Perception: 12, Magical Defence: 6, Evasion: 4, Movement: 12m (25m)

The wolves are here for Odo; if he dies whilst he is under the curse, then the Fey Lord that enacted the original hex can lay claim to his soul. The wolves attempt to break through to Odo and kill him, but will attack anyone else who tries to stop them. Odo stays inside the ruin and does not fight; clearly knowing and fearing these creatures whatever they are. Gervase takes up a dagger and defends himself, as will Etienne if present (use the statistics for a Hotblood for both). If Lord Aldred’s Men are present, they’ll take shelter in their cart bar Teresa, who will stand and fight like a lion with her sword (stats for a 3rd Rank Knight).

If any of the wolves are killed, they explode into shards of ice. If Odo is killed, the PCs may learn his story from a letter (see below) he was writing to his wife; award any PC who thinks to ensure the letter is sent to her, plus any belongings and news of his death, an extra 3 XP.

If he lives, then Odo will explain the story himself halting. In either case, anyone who fought the wolves, even if they did not score a hit, now casts no shadow; this is a sign that the curse has transferred itself to them. In time, they will also develop other manifestations of the curse but that must wait for the next installment.

Odo’s Letter

My Dearest Adela,

I beg forgiveness for the ill-humour I have been in recently. It is nothing you have done my love. I have come away because I fear I am cursed and do not want to place you in its power.

Do you remember when I was away last Summer? Something happened then that has tested my faith as it has never been tested before. I met a man sheltering in a cave from a storm. He seemed a noble man, though he spoke as roughly as any cottar. We struck up a conversation and he told me how he had come into a fortune. He was once a woodcutter but found some gold coins littering a stream bed in Fenring Forest and took them home, thinking himself greatly favoured. Yet the man; Torstan of Ashmore was his name, told me that he would give anything to go back to his old life for the gold had brought him nothing but evil.

Well I was nonplussed and asked him what he meant; and he told me a terrible tale then. Of how he was ever pursued by strange wolves that sought his blood and would never allow him any rest. Of how he had lost his shadow the very day he found the coins and how he had been able to see all manner of unnatural things ever since he took them.

I was then greatly afeared, for the man was clearly cursed and asked him to tell me no more. Since I had no desire to share his fate, I made to leave, but then a howl came from all around us; a blood curdling howl which almost stilled my heart in my breast. A huge ragged man bearing a great staff appeared at the mouth of the cave and came at us, aiming to kill my companion. Torstan drew a blade and attacked the creature though he was shaking with fear and was half mad by then. I was overcome for a moment but struck the creature with my staff, to no avail. We fought desperately, but Torstan was dealt a mortal blow. I fell to my knees, expecting my own death blow, but opened my eyes to see the Giant striding from the cavern, laughing. I thanked God for my deliverance in that moment, then ran from that place and did not stop running until there was not a breath left in my body.

It was not until the next day, when arrived at Gully’s Inn, that I noticed that I cast no shadow by the light of the Inn’s torches. It was then that the trouble started my love, for I sat talking with a man by the fire. He told me of his life and of many stories, and I went to buy him a drink. The master of the taproom looked at me strangely then and asked me who I was talking to and I pointed to my companion and told him his name.

They ran me out of the Inn then and there, chasing me with pitchforks, for the man whose name I had spoken had died of a fever not two weeks before and none else could see him, though he was a plain as day to me. I was faint with fear by then, when I heard a howling in the forest and ran and ran, hiding in trees by night.

I made for Osterlin Abbey and begged the monks for aid; there was a learned man there from a country far across the sea. He told me I was cursed by the fey and that I must seek a cure as soon as possible. He recommended that I should visit every shrine in Albion and touch the relics until I was cured. I bathed my head in holy water there and left the next day, clutching a cross the brothers gave me.

How foolish I was my love; for weeks I thought myself cured by the holy water, even though at night I sometimes heard strange noises, as if a beast was snuffling around our door. For a time I saw no visions and I convinced myself that all was well, and that I did not need to go on a pilgrimage.

Then, just two weeks ago, that outlaw was hanged near our village; do you remember? Well the night after his hanging, I saw him in the lane outside our village and spoke to him. It was as dawn was breaking that I heard a howl and knew whatever rest I had earned from the curse at Osterlin was over, and that I must leave.

I did not dare tell you; for I feared that every moment I spent at home would bring evil to you and our daughter, and I could not risk that. So I have come all the way to Netherford, and will walk the Maidens’ Walk until the curse is broken. And if that does not work my love, then I shall have to walk to Ibrahim itself, but I shall not bring this shadow back to our hearth I swear!

Please forgive me and pray for my soul. I shall break this curse and come home if it is within my power.

Your Husband Odo

Next week: The Gates of Netherford!

Cathedral City

Written By: Stephen Dove - Feb• 26•14

After many more hours of work, the City of Netherford is finally ready to greet the world!

Netherford1

Founded in the days of the Empire, ‘Nantovarum’ played a central role in the Selentine campaigns against the Druids of the Old Faith. These Druids had long been a thorn in the side of the legions, rallying the tribes both in Ellesland and also in Kurland and Chaubrette against the Empire, and so they had to be removed. Nantovarum started as a large Imperial fort sited atop a motte, but a town soon grew up around it. In those days Nantovarum was an important port, but centuries of silt from the marshes have made Netherford a harbour that only local ship Captains dare to call home today. Indeed, the upper reaches of the Nant are littered with the broken hulks of the many cogs that came to grief on the hidden mud and gravel banks, and so most sea-trade moved to Bishop’s Landing nearly a century ago. Now only the local wool merchants and the Pottery Guild use the river as an artery of trade; and even then only with their own ships, so treacherous is the passage to the sea accounted.

Ironically, the silting up of the river proved a boon to the City, for it allowed it to remain an important river crossing; the Selentine bridge fell into the river in a huge storm in 303 AS, but a gravel bar has provided a wide, shallow ford to the east of the City since the 600s. Carts and horses can easily cross; as long as there has been little rain, and peddlers and pilgrims can use the pilings of the ancient bridge to ford the river if they do not mind getting their leggings wet.

Nantovarum was abandoned after the Empire withdrew from Ellesland in 290 AS, but with the return of the True Faith to Albion, the lure of the dressed stone from the old Selentine town proved too great a boon for the wily prelates of Albion to ignore, and a Cathedral and Abbey were founded here in 412 AS by robbing out the old Imperial ruins. Both were burned to the ground in Mercanian raids in 540 AS but were rebuilt forty years later, and this time with stout walls for protection. The Cathedral was re-dedicated to St Basil after being rebuilt; for the legend of how he fed his starving brother monks with only three fishes, after the destruction of the Abbey, is a story that is known the length and breadth of Ellesland. Also remembered is how he cured the sick in the plague years of 544 and 546 AS with blessed fish, and so the sign of three fishes has been Netherford’s device since his death and sanctification in 570 AS. His relics now reside within the Cathedral and are some of the holiest and most blessed in all of Albion.

By about 610 AS a substantial town had grown up near the Abbey and the walls soon grew to encompass it. It was at this time that the King ordered a Royal Castle to be built on the ruins of the old Selentine fort after granting the Bishop the town charter; Netherford Castle has been the seat of the Lord High Sheriff of Vindashire ever since.

Today, Netherford is the centre of Vindashire’s commercial life, as a centre for the wool trade, for weaving and for pottery. Indeed Netherware is the finest tableware made in Albion, and Kings and Barons do not scorn to use it on occasions when silver plate will not do. This has made the Potters’ Guild so powerful in Netherford that they have even taken the Bishop to task for allowing his monks to make their own earthenware within the city limits and won a ban on it from the King.

Sadly, this is not the end of the enmity betwixt town and Church, for the townsfolk and Guilds are constantly berating the King for the privileges he has heaped upon the Bishop. Indeed all the Fayres and festivals are the under the Bishop’s purview and the taxes and rents he collects swell the already overflowing coffers of the Abbey and Cathedral, whilst impoverishing the townsfolk. There have been riots and much strife in the past and will be again; with clerks and students from Clerkley in the Abbey grounds going up against the journeymen and apprentices of the town after a holy day has degenerated into a melee as too much drink causes tempers to flare.

Yet there is a much more serene side to Netherford; as the start of a great pilgrimage trail, known as the Maidens’ Walk. This trail leads from Netherford, all the way to Barrow on Maidenmoor, through the sheep country around Scarth and finally down to Cantorbridge. The trail stops at all the roadside shrines along the way, and not a few wayside alehouses as well……

After harvest every year, hundreds of pilgrims descend on Netherford, swelling its many inns before they set out in great companies to brave the Maidens’ Way ere winter closes the roads. But the route is not for the faint of heart, for it is many hundreds of miles long and takes most a month or more to complete. Even so, all folk in Albion pray to complete the journey at least once in their lives, for it is said to be a cure for all ills, to lessen a sinner’s time in purgatory and can even ward off the curses of witches and the Fey. Indeed, so famous is the route that pilgrims come from across the Glaive to brave the roads of the Maidens’ Walk and find God’s favour; and some hardy souls can be found treading the lonely trails in the heights of Summer or the depths of Winter, no matter the weather. The many miracles that occur each year are a testament to the Maidens’ lasting place in the religious consciousness of all the countries of the True Faith; though sadly the pilgrims also draw a different sort to the roads, as gangs of outlaws prey upon the unwary or those who choose to walk the route alone or out of season.

Next time; a detailed look at the streets and wards of the City, as well as the Guilds and powerbrokers! Then we’ll be ready to start the Cantorbridge Tales.