Friday, July 1, 2011

The Pale Horseman round 2!

Sorry for the lack of regular updates but work has been kicking my behind lately. This is something of a regular occurrence at the end of the month, but throw in the end of the quarter and it gets ugly.

Anyway, more quotes from Bernard Cornwell's Saxon Tales book, The Pale Horseman.

Spoilers below so read no further if you wish to avoid them.

"Leofric smiled. 'I don't need orders to go on a patrol, do I?"

Uthred and Leofrid are warriors of high caliber but in this age, they are also warriors who need funds to pay for their soldiers and to build further reputation. By 'going on patrol' as Leofric crouches the words here, he's actually going raiding. This is an old staple where the hero does something nominally against the rules but does do in order to pursue some private agenda.

If you can allow the players room to maneuver their own raids, even when they have their own patrons, and add those elements into the continuing chronicles of the campaign, then you give the players freedom and allow their actions to have meaning.

"The cows are there to kill us." Haesten warned us in his new and not very good English.
"The cows will kill us?" I asked in amusement.
"I have seen it before, lord. They put cows to bring us on land and then they attack."

Bait is a useful tool. It can be something that motivates adventurers on their way, something to lead them into a trap, or something not worth the risk. In the above case, the cows were not worth the risk. In old school games, I remember the traps might be a bit too obvious but the fun thing was that if the price was right, players would still try those potential traps because the bait was worth it. When setting up traps, they can come in all types of sizes and shapes. In the above example, animals are used, in old school games, it was often huge gems or obvious magic items, weapons or shields that radiated their power.

"The West Saxons are Christians,' he said, 'and it is our duty to support them, not because of a love for them, but because of our fellow love for Christ.'

One of the elements that crops up often in the series is the brotherhood that Christians enjoy among each other, even when they are from different countries and speak different languages. The pagans, worshipping most often a Viking or Norse Pantheon, have a difficult time of it when surrounding by the Christians in getting on with day to day living when not raiding and so many of them converge on Christianity while keeping some of their old pagan ways.

While the Forgotten Realms and Greyhawk are both host to different pantheons and multiple gods within those pantheons, the threat of open warfare between them is often depicted as slim to none. Those conflicts were in the old days and while individuals may bristle at others gods, the armies that used to march under those banners rarely do so anymore. More of a rivalry thing thing any true military strength.

This doesn't have to be that way for your own campaigns however. What if in the Forgotten Realms the Mulhorand pantheon takes on new life? What if Tyr brings in more of his kinsmen from the Norse Pantheon and viking raids not only become a reoccurring threat, but new gods are brought with them?

"I'm looking for allies,' he said.

While the players are out pitting their sword and spell skills against others, one of the ways to build the setting is to have them encounter other adventuring groups and not have these groups always be enemies. Having the players options to ally with other adventuring groups might allow them to pull off larger jobs that they would not have access to otherwise. It also sets up the potential for reoccurring characters.

"The gatekeeper demanded that we surrender our weapons, a thing I did with a bad grace, but no man, except the king's own household troops, could go armed in Alfred's presence."

In my experience, one of the hardest things to do, is separate the characters from their magical toys. If they are in a setting or area where its the law, it becomes fairly easy to do so. On the other hand, if every time they are disarmed, they are attacked, they will NOT go to areas that require them to be disarmed. Its a tool that can be used a few times and no more.

"Men cheered. They liked a fight to the death, and it was much better entertainment than listening to Alfred's harpist chant the psalms."

When Uthred is accused of various crimes, the truth of the matter is put to the sword. This is an option that the GM should be careful in allowing. Players are most often specialist in their field and depending on their class, may have options and abilities that would be hard to counter. On the other hand, sometimes its fun to throw the logic of a thing out the door and allow the players to prove their 'innoncent' through might.

Bernard Conrwell's Saxon Tales provide several great battle scenes, a view into a dark and dirty world where life is cheap, and one worth a look for those old school game masters and players looking for sword and sorcery inspiration.