Netherford

Written By: Stephen Dove - Feb• 21•14

This week I’ve been beavering away on a huge map of the town of Netherford; the opening scene of my Cantorbridge Tales.

Towns and cities really are the hardest things to map because there are hundreds of tiny elements that all have to be placed carefully or they look just plain wrong. The map has already consumed about 18 hours, and it’s far from finished; but I must say it’s been fun.

Sadly, I’m going to have to work out how to put it up on the site without having to compress the image so much that the buildings don’t come up clearly enough.

A particular challenge with Netherford is the Cathedral; there are no pre-existing tokens anywhere for this sort of building, so I had to make them. Not quite from scratch, but almost.

The other challenge with a town of any size, is to do the map at a scale where the streets can clearly be seen when zoomed in, at the same time as having textures that look good when you are zoomed right out.

Still plenty to do but will post the start of the adventure next week.

Shields of Vindashire pt 2

Written By: Stephen Dove - Feb• 17•14

Last time we started our tour of the ‘great and the good’ of Vindashire and we continue that tour in this post. Note that I shall be leaving a few of the shields I created last time, for all you GMs out there to customise as you see fit. They shall remain as family names and coats of arms and I’ll not say anything further about them, I promise!

De Courcey

The De Courceys have held Cairnsford Castle from before Hadric’s father’s time. The castle itself is no mere status symbol; it is a sturdy and functional keep that still retains an important position close to the border with Cornumbria. The castle has been invested and changed hands many times; though the last time was over a century ago. Indeed the last battle fought against its walls was when Hugo De Courcey stormed the castle, recapturing it from the Cornumbrians; Hugo was then granted the fief and the castle for his service to the crown and his line have held it ever since.

Lord Richard Cairnsford takes his duties seriously and remembers well his family motto; ‘In peace, the whetstone; in war; the sword’ but has discovered recently that enemies off the battlefield are sometimes harder to defeat; for he has no sons and his eldest daughter Catherine, was recently married off to Hugh Talbot. If the whispers doing the rounds of the shire are true, then Hugh raped Catherine whilst she was on a pilgrimage to Clee Abbey and there was nothing Richard could do to forestall the marriage once this became known. Richard De Courcey’s own second wife appears to be barren and he is considering divorcing the lovely Eloise unless she begets him a son soon, even though he is said to be besotted with her. For her part, Eloise has been seen on ‘pilgrimages’ around the village of Frith, and the goodwives of the shire have been sagely¬† speculating on which of the ‘Old Powers’ she is seeking to bargain with, to get herself with child now that God has failed her.

All of this is said to have the Old Lord De Courcey; Martin (Richard’s father) in such a lather at the thought of his castle and lands in Talbot hands, that he is said to be considering ennobling his bastard son Rodric, who currently serves as a Knight in the household of Lord Westring. Rodric already has his own son and the Talbots are said to be extremely worried that their scheme to get their hands on Cairnsford Castle should come to naught after all these years. If the rumours are true, certain messages have been sent north to a certain mountain clan…………..

Scarth

Lord Scarth is one of the oldest of the Lords of Vindashire, and probably the most vicious. The old man is past sixty, but is as vindictive and spiteful as only a gnarled old tyrant can be. Eddo Scarth lives in constant pain from the disease that ravages his body and in constant fear of the fast approaching day of judgement. He is said to have murdered his brother to take the Scarth family name for his own and then bedded his sisters and later his daughters as he pleased; and that is how the disease is said to have come to him, as a judgement from above. It is a matter of record that anyone trespassing near his demesne around Scarth and Downgarth can expect a swift and painful retribution; though his recent horsewhipping of a tax collector was very unwise and the King may soon intervene.

The Scarths have been sheepfarmers for as long as anyone can remember. Their wool is worth a fortune to the crown in taxes and several monarchs have balked at dealing with this family as they deserve; for the Scarths have a long and dark history that has stained the pages of the ‘Vindashire Chronicle’ with blood. Indeed the Scarth name is a byword for vengeance and pettiness across the whole of Albion and their motto is ‘Blood for Blood’.

In fact, it is whispered that it was Borric Scarth who actually killed Old King Athelstan for Hadric’s father during the usurpation. Like Eddo, Borric had no desire for power; his motive was vengeance, for Athelstan had married his ‘true love’ Matilda. The Scarth Lord nursed that hatred for forty years, until Hadric’s father Eadulf used it to commit regicide and avoid the ‘divine curse’ said to fall upon anyone who dares to ‘bring low those whom God had raised up’.

Since that day, misfortune has befallen the Scarth line; most of their children have been stillborn and a murrain has affected their cattle, though their sheep seem to have escaped. Yet these misfortunes have not stopped them from starting a number of long running blood-feuds with the Merrowmen of Ayelsham and the Abbot of Hawksley Abbey. The former feud began when the eldest son of the Scarth family had his hand removed forty years ago for hunting in the Royal Forest without leave; that boy was Eddo’s brother and though he latter slew him, that seems to have done nothing to cool the feud and it claims new victims every year. The latter feud with the Abbey is over grazing rights and also because of constant accusations of sheep stealing by both sides, though it is well known that sheep wandering onto Scarth land are ‘theirs by right’; at least according to them.

Saltley

The Saltley family are accounted odd by all and most people avoid their lands, feeling uncomfortable in their presence. It is said that they originally came from across the Hadran Sea; from a group of mist shrouded isles far to the west, and it is even whispered that their lord can transform into the shape of a great seal and holds congress with the sea-folk, though this is laughed at by most. Whatever the truth of these rumours, they do seem a queer bunch, living in their great hall on the cliffs above the beach at Saltly Village, walking in the moonlight, and processing along the shore holding lanterns whenever there is a storm. Their motto is also considered strange; ‘The sea is mother, the sea is father’.

They make their money from the very stuff of the sea; for they have fashioned huge enclosures on the coast that they allow to fill with sea-water and then seal off under the baking sun in summer, to form white salt. Indeed it is for them that the Salt Way; the road running between Cantorbridge and Netherford is known and their produce is found on tables, and in butchers and fishmongers the length and breadth of Albion, even as far away as Thuland and Ereworn. Indeed the common people of Saltly seem as normal and natural as any other shireman, though they grow closelipped if you ask them too many questions or mock their lord.

This trade in salt has made the Saltleys one of the richest families in Vindashire; though they seem to live modestly, pay their taxes and tithes and do nothing to cause anyone to look too closely at them. Their enemies, the Talbots amongst them who doubtless covet their wealth, claim that this is because they are Fey, Pagans or worse. Others are less sure and most folk seem to be oddly afraid of them. For their part, the Talbots seem to concern ‘the Sandthane’ as Lord Saltley styles himself, not at all, and they seem to have friends at court and so their enemies can find nothing to charge them with. Yet!

What is known for certain is that travellers have been known to disappear on the Salt Way near the village of Saltley for many many years now; indeed the Nevilles, formerly Lords of Watermouth Castle before the Talbots usurped them, once claimed to have seen strange lights and a glowing mist arising from the ground near Saltley Manor. They went so far as to level a charge of Sorcery at the family, though it was dismissed as fanciful nonsense at the time, but now many are not so sure. Indeed, ‘the Beast of Saltley Moor’ is a fable that has recently been resurrected to explain the disappearances; the story comes from hundreds of years ago, and tells of a terrible hound that stalked the road, slaying pilgrims and carrying their souls to the devil. Needless to say, the Inns on that section of the road are never empty after dark……………

Murham

The Murhams originally made their money from smuggling it is said; for their old lands lie right across the moors from Cornumbria and the waterways of the Coronach. Yet they became respectible by going on the crusades, and many of their name were famous quest Knights, and are buried in Netherford Cathedral. They now hold Tollpike, Murham and the tumbledown Maiden Castle, that straddles the Scardic road.

Once the family was very rich, though their lands were always marginal and they raised sheep like so many in this area. They also charged a toll for using ‘their road’ and indeed did keep the road free of banditry and well maintained.

Those days are gone now; for Valory Murham, the current Lord, is a drunkard and a gambler. He used to ride to the infamous Bowbeck Inn; in Bowbridge, just south of Netherford, where he whored and diced away his family fortune until he had huge debts to Rodrigo D’Astangia; a ‘robber-knight’ from Algandy who did not fancy the crusades.

Valory’s slide began after a marsh fever took his wife and two sons in a particularly wet summer. The result is that Maiden Castle is half deserted, and weeds and neglect hang in the air like the stench over a corpse. Those servants and men-at-arms that do remain are not to be trusted; they are like pall-bearers who are hanging around solely to plunder the deceased, and it won’t be long before Lord Valory dies, so poor is his health now.

He is surrounded by ne’er do wells from around the Bowbridge area but who have recently been driven away by the Bishop of Netherford’s new Crowner; and all are under the sway of Rodrigo. They now skulk in the rotting hulk of Maiden Castle and the half-abandoned village of Tollpike and charge travellers ‘tolls’ as well as stealing cattle and sheep from the moors around the Scardic Road; even from Murham village itself, which is Valory’s land in any case. They are also embroiled in the Talbot’s tomb-robbing schemes around the Longbarrows; smuggling the relics and artifacts northwards for a cut of the profits.

Indeed the fief of Murham is now Rodrigo’s in all but name; though he knows these lands are his to plunder only so long as Valory is alive and so has men skilled in leechcraft poking at the poor man every hour of the day and night. Valory now seldom gets out of bed, so bad is his gout, and is kept a virtual prisoner by the sinister Rodrigo.

Baron Grisalle, who knew Valory’s father, has protested to the King, but Hadric is too absorbed by his own schemes to pay any attention.

That’s all for now; next time, we’ll start the Cantorbridge Tales, hopefully this Friday.

Shields of Vindashire

Written By: Stephen Dove - Feb• 07•14

In my last post, I mapped the area of western Albion between Netherford and Cantorbridge that Dave Morris has dubbed Vindashire. Note that I’ve updated the map from last week, and there are a few changes; so you might want to download it again.

This week, I have been creating the coats of arms for the important families that hold most of the land in this area. I have written about the amazing use I have had out of heraldic symbols and family trees in my games elsewhere, but I consider them essential; especially in a game involving Knights or those of noble birth. I hope you get as much use out of them as I will.

The Westring family are something from Dave Morris’ own game, and so they could not be ignored, but the rest are of my own invention, as are most of the shields below.

Arms of Vindashire copy]

The Westring Family

The Westrings have holdings all over Vindashire, but their main hold is Mountly Castle, just outside the town of Westring. The Westring family motto is ‘Honor before all‘ and they are a prideful and rather sanctimonious lot, who regard the current crop of sycophants that surround the King, with disdain. But they reserve a special brand of hatred for the Talbots, with whom they have a long running feud stemming from the Talbot’s part in the destruction of the Neville family.

The Westrings are out of favour with king Hadric¬† after protesting too strongly over his treatment of the Neville and Fitzwilliam dynasties (see later) and so have been careful to do nothing to draw the King’s ire in recent years. Marcus Westring (eldest son and heir) is a famous tournament Knight and is still commands some respect at Court. The Westrings are also in dispute with the Archbishop of Cantorbridge over hunting rights in Otley Chase, though as neither has the King’s ear these days, the dispute is unlikely to be resolved in the near future. The Bishop of Netherford, Lord Vulnifex is the Marquess of Westring’s brother (according to Dave M).

westring holdings1

The De Lacys

The De Lacy Family are the second great landowners in Vindashire, holding most of Bishops’ Landing, Gullsgarth and Frith. They are related to Old King Athelstan’s family; from whom Hadric’s father usurped the throne, and so their star has been waning for the last fifty years. Hadric has ruled against them in a number of land disputes with the Abbot of Clee and they have lost much land, prestige and money in the last decade or so.

Traditionally, the De Lacys were shipbuilders; half the Kingdom’s Fleet was built here in days gone by. Indeed some fine cogs are still made in their docks at Bishops’ Landing; though it is a trickle of work besides the flood of ships that once poured off the beach below the town. Nevertheless, Bishops’ Landing is still an important port and many ships still call here; especially ships from Ereworn and Cornumbria.

Now Lord John uses his skills to build merchantmen, which then ply the trade routes between Albion and Chaubrette; for the De Lacys are also famous for the cider from their vast orchards that surround Gullsgarth, and the nobility on the continent cannot get enough of the stuff. This has arrested their decline, albeit only a little, but they remain hopeful of better times.

Being ‘old money’ they are natural allies of the Westrings against the rapacious Talbot Family, and are also enemies of the monks of Clee Abbey. Their Abbot constantly writes letters to the De Lacys and to Archbishop Beckett denouncing the ‘pagan worshipers infesting Frith’ though his real grudge is because of more temporal matters; the Abbot of Clee was a Talbot before he took the cloth! Lord John despises him and his family and is seeking for a way to right the wrongs done to him and his kin without involving the King. Their motto is ‘Rule by Divine Right‘.

The Talbot Family

The Talbots are sycophants of the King and have his ear, as they loudly remind everyone they meet. They gained the King’s favour by denouncing several families as ‘traitors to the crown’ and it probably helped that the King owed the Fitzwilliam and Neville families a great deal of money and was able to cancel his own debts once their ‘perfidy’ became known. The Talbots somehow acquired their wealth and titles and most of the Nevilles were hanged; before that they owned a minor holding on the edge of Neville land’s. The Talbots currently wield a great deal of influence at court; but by no means as much as they think, such is Hadric’s short memory. Indeed, they are sailing very close to the wind, though Edmund Talbot is too foolish to realise this.

The Talbots are loathed by most right thinking and honorable families in Albion; but especially by the Westrings, who had excellent relations with the Nevilles. Few would openly admit to this hatred though; for these upstarts do wield power ‘at least until the wind changes’ runs the common proverb these days. The Talbots are rapacious, violent and willing to lie, cheat and intimidate to get what they want, which is pretty much anything their eye falls on. They have caused serious trouble in the shire; raiding cattle, imprisoning pilgrims and thumbing their nose at Archbishop Beckett of Cantorbridge, and it is only a matter of time before there are serious consequences. Indeed, there are whispers that the wedding of Hugh Talbot to Catherine De Courcey occurred after he had raped the poor girl, leaving the De Courceys with no say in the matter. The Talbot family motto ‘Victory is sweet‘ sums them up quite well.

One of their number, Matthew Talbot, was installed as Abbot of Clee ten years ago and he is busy using his influence to enrich his former family and his own coffers and move against those who are weak or who stand in the way of the Talbots. His current targets are the De Lacy family, as he suspects them of harbouring heretics and pagans in Frith and is seeking evidence to bring before the King, who already hates them because they are a constant reminder of his Father’s misdeeds.

The Talbot family currently holds the old Neville family ancestral lands around Waterford, including Waterford Castle itself. They also have manors in Barrow and Kenit that belonged to the Fitzwillam family. Indeed, they have recently been accused by the Abbot of Maiden Priory, of hiring ne’er do wells to rob the pagan tombs on Maidenmoor; an accusation they strongly deny! There are also rumours that they have organised raids to set the other great families against one another, and The Merrow Lord in particular is convinced of their involvement.

The Merrows

It has often been observed that a name was never more ill-bestowed than that of Merrow, for the name means ‘one who is merry’ and that is not something to associate with this dour family. Their family motto ‘We are stone and shall endure‘ seems to personify their fatalistic and ill-humored attitude to life.

The Merrows have held Ayelsham Castle, and protected the Royal Forest of Ayelsham for two centuries. The Albish King has enjoyed a hunting lodge in the Forest for almost as long as Albion has existed as a nation. The Merrow’s verderers are hated and feared by the locals; not a few of whom have lost a hand for killing the King’s deer in the midst of a lean year.

The current Merrow Lord, is the aging Robert Merrow, but he has lost none of his fierceness nor his stubborn pride. His sons, William and Edvard bait each other and snap at his heels, like hounds kept too long on the leash; they are straining to attack the Scarth family, whom they suspect of raiding their horse studs, but Robert wants proof before he’ll give them their heads. The wily old man suspects that the Talbots are behind the recent midnight raids and are out to stir up trouble, but his sons are less wise and are already making plans of their own…

The Merrow-men are a fierce lot, who like to drink and hardly ever speak or smile. They have always been staunch supporters of the King; without any regard for who is actually wearing the crown and consequently, the King’s Champion is often a Merrow-man. Even the paranoid King Hadric could never conceive of a Merrowman betraying him, for to him they ‘lack the imagination to even think of it’.

Famous for the horses they raise, one uncharacteristically enterprising Merrow brought back some stallions from the Crusades many years ago and crossed them with Elleslandic stock. The resulting horses are highly prized and fetch a fortune at horse fairs the length and breadth of Albion. The Merrowmen use these powerful steeds to hunt, for most of them seem bored when not in the company of horses and hounds. Indeed they themselves have permission to use the Royal Forest and take full advantage of it, hawking the day away whenever they can.

Yet a storm is brewing; for there are rumours that the King has taken Alice Merrow, the eldest Merrow daughter, to bed and if he does not wed her, then this clannish group are unlikely to take it well. Indeed, anyone in Ayelsham will remind all those who care to listen, that the Merrows started a rebellion in 675; and all for the honour of one of their womenfolk. Hadric seems blissfully unaware of the danger, whatever the truth of these whispers.

Next week; more politics in Vindashire as we look at the other families, their holdings and their relationships.

Vindashire

Written By: Stephen Dove - Jan• 31•14

I’ve spent my time this week fleshing out the area of our Road Sandbox that we started last week. This area is called Vindashire; and I didn’t make that up because this area is the scene of Dave Morris’ current game, and so can be considered canon. Indeed Crossgate Manor is found to the north of the region and Dave’s recent Xmas adventure is set in and around this county.

One of the problems with this area, and indeed the whole of southern Albion, is the sheer ‘blankness’ of the region from the canon map of Ellesland in the main rulebook. It implies mostly flat rolling countryside, but that’s hard to make interesting and so I’ve had to seriously improvise.

Vindashire_finished

I ended up imagining a ritual landscape like that found on Salisbury Plain in real life England. The Ring of Nine Maidens is a rip-off from Robin of Sherwood; but hey, so is lots of other stuff in Dragon Warriors!

North of Maiden Moor lies the Murrows; a classic upland bog, full of stagnant pools, sphagnum moss and misty vistas, though the stories told in the taproom of the Murham Inn, of deer becoming beautiful maidens by moonlight to lure the unwary to a watery grave, is surely fanciful nonsense.

South of Maiden Hill is a vast area of pagan burial sites that locals call the Longbarrows. These ancient turf hills attract pagans and treasure seekers; and many a bandit has made his home here, for not a few have been robbed and their doorways left open; the perfect hiding place for outlaws.

The Nantmarsh, to the south of Maiden Moor, is a reed-choked labyrinth of waterways and marshy islands. Strange sounds and lights are often seen in the marshes and the locals will not tread its paths after dusk, for the ancient trackway that leads from the Ring of Nine Maidens to Averly, also continues south into the Nantmarsh. It is said the valley was once a place of worship for the Druids of the Old Faith and that the Nantmarsh was accounted a hallowed place for them. Many a pagan King is said to have given offerings to the Gods of the waters, though the marshes now keep their secrets in silence and few disturb the sere grasses save reed cutters and the occasional hunter.

Moving westwards, the name of the Netherwood is one of ill omen. Not for nothing is this forest accounted perilous, for it is said to be the haunt of Elves, and other Fey things. Indeed, the village of Frith is renowned as a place where the locals sometimes hold Moon-moots. As the moon rises, a bonfire is lit and those who would hold congress with the denizens of the wood await what emerges from the forest. Sometimes the Elves come it is said; and trade wine and tales and sometimes bright treasures with mortal men. The Abbot of Clee Abbey has tried repeatedly to stamp out this practice, but the woodcutters of Frith follow the Old Ways, for all that they go to Church and pay their tithes.

This then shall be our canvas. My next post will start to delve into the mundane side of this region and the political landscape. I’ll start, as I said last time, in Netherford, which is the opening scene of the ‘Cantorbridge Tales’; a campaign I am writing that will take the PCs on a pilgrimage to all the holy sites in Vindashire and will embroil them in a twisted tale of murder most foul, heresy, pagan worship, betrayal and political rivalry. A classic Road Sandbox in the making!

The Journey’s the thing pt2

Written By: Stephen Dove - Jan• 24•14

My last post presented the idea of a ‘road sandbox’ campaign; to be used as a backdrop to more traditional location based adventures. This post aims to begin actually creating such a sandbox by fleshing out the area of western Albion between Netherford and Cantorbridge. Note that this area contains a number of Gloamings that will also be detailed, but these locales will be dealt with after the mundane villages and towns. Once this is done, I hope to use the area as a site for some adventure seeds as well as a full adventure or two.

First we start with a map; I am going to be updating this as I go, but the basic geography is shown below.

Road_Sandbox

This Road Sandbox has four main routes; all of which branch off of ‘The Saltway’, which is the main coastal road on the extreme left (east) of the map, that runs between Netherford and Cantorbridge.

These are;

  • The Saltway itself.
  • The Breylak Road that crosses this map (and indeed the whole of Albion) West to East, leaving the Saltway at Netherford.
  • The Scardic Road, that branches off of the Breylak Road and heads north.
  • The Ongus Road, that leaves the Saltway south of Cantorbridge and heads southeast to the Capital.

I will first focus on the towns and villages along the Saltway and the encounters that travellers might have on this road. For each segment of the road (a segment is a distinct section between two settlements) I will present a random encounter table with fairly detailed set of encounters specific for each segment.

We’ll start with the town of Netherford next week……………