My roleplaying group's days of being able to game two or three times a week are unfortunately long gone. Children, spouses and office hours will do that. But we still get together once a fortnight for our traditional Thursday night games, and also four times a year for Sunday specials. The latter sit outside of our regular campaigns and are often an excuse to revisit old characters.
I mentioned this to Lee Barklam, keeper of the Cobwebbed Forest, and he asked permission to adapt last year's spring special, "The Hollow Men", as a Dragon Warriors scenario. That involved quite a lot of work, as (a) we use GURPS 4e, not DW, and (b) my typical scenario notes would fit on the back of a cereal packet. You can download Lee's thorough reworking/buffing-up of "The Hollow Men" here and some other Legend adventures here.
I'm posting the original (scrappy, non-DW) version of the scenario here as a reminder that roleplaying as actually practised doesn't conform to the tight structure of a published scenario. A real scenario should never be a script to force the players through; it should merely be a set of notions that you and they can start from to improvise the shared story that emerges from the game session. But when we're writing scenarios for publication, we're making something that's intended to be read rather than played. It's designed to show the referee one way that the game might go. So in that sense it's more like a short story - and, as you'll see, Lee has done a brilliant job of bringing the settings to life with rich descriptive text and evocative details. Anyway, compare the two versions and drop a comment at the end if you like.
Tim Harford’s Iron Men campaign. Tim is the master of creating a foundational concept to bond the player-characters together, a formula that he then stirs up by lobbing in an unexpected inciting incident that changes everything.
Here’s how Tim introduced the campaign:
“It is the end of days. The seers and the signs agree that the world is exhaling its last breath before the fall of eternal night. The last struggles of greed-blinded lords plough the land while the people drift confounded through the crumbling rituals of their lives.
“It is a good time to be a mercenary.”
The Company of Bronze was commanded by Pieter de Fleur and was one of the largest and most successful mercenary groups in Ellesland. Yet the company was almost entirely wiped out in a massacre, the sole survivors being the player characters, who had been absent on another mission that day.
Rootless, the characters wandered until they hit on the idea of exploiting their connection to the company by forming a small band called the Iron Men, on the principle that adversity had forged them into something stronger.
And meanwhile: an Axe Age, a Sword Age, as storm clouds gather for the world’s ending.
THE ATTACK ON APPLEFORD MANOR
The characters are in the army of Baron Verlaine of Trefell, who is fighting an insurrection by his younger son Keele working in concert with a Cornumbrian lord called Pengarth.
On the day of the big battle they are sent to a small hamlet with a stream running through it. The manor house that overlooks Appleford is fortified, and could provide a bolt-hole for a sizable part of Keele’s forces even if Verlaine’s army can carry the day.
The characters have waded upstream to avoid patrols of Keele’s men. Advancing through the orchard, they get to within 250 yards of the manor. The only cover that can get them right up to the walls are the graves in the churchyard. The church itself stands about 100 yards from the wall, then they have to get stealthy.
(I based the manor layout on Stokesay Castle, shown here.)
A familiar face
As they are attacking the walls, they will see one of the defenders is Gorshin, who was supposed to be on sentry duty the night the Company of Bronze was wiped out in a surprise attack. One of the player-characters was present as Pieter de Fleur instructed Gorshin to hand-pick the sentries, just before Pieter ordered Joseph Lynch and his friends out on the scouting mission that spared them from the massacre.
As the battle for the manor begins in earnest, Gorshin, recognizing his former comrades, jumps on a horse and rides off.
The manor's garrison comprises two Cornumbrian captains and ten men-at-arms. (Eleven until Gorshin took off.)
The player-characters are under the command of Turvatelle de l’Abîme, who will not take kindly to anybody charging off after Gorshin in the middle of the battle. To do so would count as desertion, punishable by death if they are caught. If they ride off after the manor has been taken, there'll be a fine to pay later (assuming they return) but that's all.
A Tracking roll (-1 per hour that they delay pursuit) will reveal Gorshin’s destination to be the town of Axbridge.
THE SPRING FESTIVAL IN AXBRIDGE
Axbridge is medium-sized town. The characters arrive to find the spring festival in full swing. Because of the approach of the year 1000, the celebrations are tinged with a note of hysteric abandon.
Events at the festival include:
- The Jacks-in-the-Green (dancers) who go around whacking people with padded sticks
- The passion players (they’re doing the judgement of Sodom and Gomorrah).
- The procession of giants (local characters called Millstone and Hobbler, represented by large costumes operated from within).
- Cock fights (you can place a bet)
- Jugglers, etc
- Puppet show (the story of St Millais grabbing Old Nick and drowning him in a pond that’s been said to boil ever since)
The current wrestling champion is Bors Jellybones (so called because he reduces other people’s bones to jelly), a Cornumbrian giant with a thicket of golden hair and a face like a badly made stone wall. He suffers from overpowering body odour – or rather, his opponents suffer from it; roll HT each round or you're at -1 to attack.
- The Nonesuch
- The Sheaf of Barley
- The Old Mustard (Gorshin is hiding out here)
- The Three Legged Mare
- The Hangwell
To save his skin, Gorshin offers to tell all about the night the Company of Bronze were ambushed. He was on sentry duty, but an officer called Brother Lowring came round with some other mercenaries and told Gorshin to make himself scarce. Gorshin says he was given a silver florin to go off to the nearest tavern.
IQ roll at -3 to recall there was no tavern within ten miles of where the company was camped that night.
If pressed, Gorshin admits he was in cahoots with Brother Lowring, though he claims it was under duress. He was led off across the stream and they watched as a surprise attack was launched and, without sentries, the company was wiped out.
The truth: Gorshin is still Lowring’s henchman, and is supposed to get supplies from the apothecary here in Axbridge to take back to Tallowden. If Gorshin is killed, a scrip for the apothecary, whose name is Dr Banders, is found on him.
Dr Banders has been making up prescriptions of a liver potion for Gorshin for the last year or more. Gorshin arrives every six weeks and collects enough for six or seven heavy drinkers (the medicine is supposed to ease digestive ailments). This last trip the batch wasn’t ready, so Banders told Gorshin to come back in a fortnight’s time.
Presumably Gorshin figured on earning some extra cash moonlighting for Keele in that time. Being from this area originally, he met a friend called Ambrose who was already in Keele’s employ.
Of Tarrowden they are told: “You could say it’s disputed land. Neither Albion nor Cornumbria wants it.”
JOURNEY TO TARROWDEN
The route to Tarrowden lies across the Coronach Marsh. The land rises up to a wild landscape often shrouded in fog and drizzle. It’s not too bad going as long as you stick to the old road, but finding Tarrowden is very hard unless you have a local guide.
Each time characters venture off the road without a guide, roll d6. On a 1-3 they end up in a dead end hemmed about with quagmire. To get back to the road requires a Tracking or Survival (Swamp) roll.
In thick fog or rain, there is a chance of being attacked by swamp goblins. These have Stealth 19 (Stealth 14 vs a sorcerer) and will try to pick off stragglers and haul them down into waterlogged hollows where they will drown.
Initially the goblins attack with skill 15. Typically four or five will leap up and attack at once from all directions around the target. If they get surprise, remember the target can only defend (at -4) and must roll IQ, IQ+1, IQ+2, etc to snap out of it and act normally.
If a goblin’s attack succeeds, it grapples the target. Treat each goblin as ST 10 and on each subsequent round match total strength versus the target’s. On a failure, the target is pulled down into the water.
Drowning: You can survive HT rounds, then lose one fatigue per round. This assumes the character specified they were taking a breath. If not, make a Swimming roll to get your breath, otherwise deduct the number you missed by from the rounds before you start to lose fatigue. A character who is submerged hasn’t only got to worry about drowning, though. The cold water saps ST at the rate of d6-1 per round (armour protects at half value). Therefore the character’s fatigue is likely to be reduced by the time they start losing fatigue anyway.Once submerged, a character is partly hidden by the goblins’ magical stealth no matter how much they fight back. Treat as Stealth 16 (11 v sorcerers) and remember to allow for poor visibility.
If overcome, the character will be stripped of all they own and then left unconscious on the path.
Leading down off the moors to the west is a very steep hill that leads into a sunken lane overhung with dank trees. This part isn’t so steep but it’s dark and eerily silent.
The lane emerges at the head of fields that descend towards Tarrowden.
THE VILLAGE OF TARROWDEN
Jammed at the bottom of a wedge of land that slopes down between two heavy growths of ancient forest. There is a church, a manor, and a few cottages.
Last year’s crop was obviously left to rot. The whole hillside is a mass of tangled, rank vegetation in which dark rat-like forms root and scurry.
Nearer to the cottages there are some furlongs at the edge of the lowest field that have been ploughed and sown. They are obviously not the best plots, but are the ones typically allowed for villagers’ private use.
These have a baleful appearance. There are three of them. On close inspection they can be seen to be cured human skins that have been stuffed with straw and roughly stitched up.
The truth: they are people who came snooping after the treasure and whom Lowring and his men drowned in the mere, then left them here as a warning. The cottagers don’t go near them.
There are a dozen households here:
There is no priest. “Well, there is.” “But he run away.” “Father Wissell his name was.” “Might still be.”
In the church, astute characters may notice carved wood panels on the pulpit that show St Millais drowning the Devil in a mere.
But there’s more. Returning to the village, St Millais discovers men drinking and wenching with the gold the Devil gave them, so he takes them to the mere and makes them throw the gold in. The inscription reads: Redde Caesari quae sunt Caesaris.
The cottagers will freely volunteer their belief that the mere is the Old Kettle.
The manor house
This stands deserted. The cottagers say the lord moved out of it last summer and they have hardly seen him since – “Only that Gorshin that runs and fixes for him.”
The lord of the fief
This is the original fief of “Brother Lowring”, who has no religious rank but acquired the nickname because of his silent mien, which among mercenaries suggested a priest-like introspection.
Lowring abandoned his rather impoverished fief to become a mercenary, but returned here when he needed to lie low after accepting a payment to betray the Company of Bronze, of which he was a senior officer.
He brought with him five accomplices. In the woods, looking for a place to hide their loot, they found an old Cornumbrian drinking hall and, nearby, a pool known to the locals as the Old Kettle.
THE ANCIENT HALL
Off in the woods is a long, lichen-spotted stone wall overhung with a low moss-covered roof. It is so deep-set into the bank, weathered and overgrown that you could easily miss it.
Roll Survival (Woods) to notice the trees around it are not quite so old, ie a hundred years at most.
This is the old Cornumbrian hall which was the nucleus of the original settlement. Lowring and his henchmen moved here after discovering the treasure in the Old Kettle.
The treasure in the hall amounts to 2000 crowns (about a million farthings). If you dare take it.
The Old Kettle
A mere that, every evening, froths and bubbles. At other times it is so icy cold as to sap the strength in moments, but when boiling up it can be swum in. One of Lowring’s men discovered this and dived down, returning with gold coins. They have been hoarding the coins they retrieved in the old hall ever since, finally moving into the hall, ruinous and inhospitable though it is, so as to be nearer to the Old Kettle.
Lowring and his men soon discovered that each dive made them feel ill, particularly with liver pains, but greed kept them going. Gorshin was sent to Axbridge regularly to fetch medicines from the apothecary.
The real cause of the pain
Lowring and his five men (Ulfar, Olbeck, Quintus, Guston, and Fyfe) are infected with hellion flukes. These are eating them away inside. They still think they are normal men, but the truth is they are mere shells – and inside the shells are devils.
At first they fight in human form:
If struck for more than 4 points (after armour) their skin splits, releasing a gout of flame. The character who injured them must drop his weapon or take 1d3 burn damage (no armour). There is a chance (10% for ordinary weapons, 1% if magical) that the weapon will be destroyed, but in any case any edged weapon loses 1 from damage until an armourer can fix it.
After being hit, the hellion’s outer skin burns away and you know have something much nastier to deal with:
The reason for the massacre
The story behind this is that the Company of Bronze were in the employ of Baron Grisaille, and as part of an “arms limitation” deal with Montombre, and to avoid paying them, he agreed to arrange the massacre as a two-birds-with-one-stone solution.