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!

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