GURPS: Casus Belli

2x13, Dousing the Embers

Skirmish in the Woods

  • 31 October, 457 Anno Domini Nostri Iesu. Night is rapidly approaching in Caer Segeint. Before he can bed down for the night, Áedán receives word that the hostler they left the horses with wishes to have words with him at earliest convenience. Curious, the smith checks into this and finds the man extremely eager to please. He claims to have recovered the two horses although at a glance, Áedán can see that one of them definitely isn’t the same one. The hostler begs that Áedán not sic Lord Bradán the Ruthless upon him, which actually makes the smith laugh. He can’t promise anything, not with that cart still missing…
  • Meanwhile, Angus’ attempts to figure out why his little birds are not responding to him uncovers a mystery: it would seem that several of his older agents have mysteriously disappeared, shortly after speaking with a woman that no one recognizes. When offered Aeronwen’s description, he is told that no … that isn’t this woman. She’s dark-haired, yes, but pale and with many freckles. The spymaster makes a note to investigate this further once the current disaster has calmed down.
  • Deciding to seek out Myrddin Emrys’ advice, Heddwyn seeks the World of Dreams but rather than finding the mysterious man, instead finds himself facing one of the Fae he rescued from the cages in the Otherworld. ‘I acknowledge that I owe you a Debt,’ the Fae states before asking of Heddwyn’s need. The druid’s obsession with knowledge immediately rears its head and he inquires of Eolande’s father, whereupon he learns that he is the Erlking, an immensely strong and dangerous lord of goblins who is the master of the Wild Hunt. Heddwyn also learns a few other things from this Fae, such as the importance of Names, particularly with supernatural entities – By knowing something’s true Name, a magical link can be created by associating oneself to it in a magical sense, in a similar way that one could if one had hair, nail clippings, or blood. One has to know exactly how to say the name, just knowing it is not good enough. Names with a capital N, have power. If a wizard has an entity’s or person’s name, they automatically have a conduit, a way to home in on it. A mortal’s Name can change over time due to how their perception of themselves can change, whereas most supernatural beings’ Name is static and unchanging.
  • Meadhbh sleeps extremely poorly this night. She dreams – regular dreams, not Dreams – of looking for something that she has misplaced but cannot find, and each time she wakes, she automatically begins looking for whatever it is that is missing before finally realizing what she is doing. Something is wrong but she knows not what it is…
  • Finally, Lord Bradán spends many, many hours in Chief Cedwyn’s presence with the various warriors, going over battle plans again and again to the point that others begin falling out of exhaustion. Eventually, Cedwyn suggests a break and that they sleep on the matter. When Bradán does doze off, he dreams of the strange-eyed man – the Erlking, though he does not know him by that name – screaming things at him he cannot understand. Whatever is said is clearly important but he is ignorant and wakes early, in a fouler than normal mood.
  • Near dawn, Morgan enters Caer Segeint, exhausted, cut up, bruised and on foot. He advises them of “The Plan” that Marcus has drawn up which consists of the following: the majority of Caerhun noncombatants will be (or, by now, have been) evacuated while the warriors will conceal selves within the village’s confines. It is hoped that the hostiles will see an empty, abandoned village and rush forward to loot. At that point, the hidden warriors attack from concealment while hostiles are disorganized and scattered, and thus unable to bring their full force to bear. Marcus suggests that Bradán attempt to assault the command elements of the Blackshields from behind, which Bradán admits is a good plan. Chief Cedwyn informs him that he has thirty men available right now to march with Bradán and the chief will follow upon the morrow once he has the rest of his warriors. Unwilling to wait any longer, Bradán agrees and the whole band march out (some, like Meadhbh, on horseback) soon after.
  • In Caerhun, dawn comes and nothing has happened. From his place of concealment, Marcus watches and waits, wondering where the Enemy is. Hours pass with no sign of the expected attack until finally, he decides to send Gwion out with a small unit to scout for the Blackshields. Selecting a handful of his best bowman, Gwion and his team vanish into the underbrush, heading north. Eventually, they detect the sound of people rushing through the woods – not a great deal, but some – and Gwion has his band seek concealment. Suddenly, Lord Ieuan appears, hotly pursued by Blackshields who seem intent on killing him! Deciding that the traitor might have valuable intel, they opt to prevent the Blackshields from succeeding and a flight of arrows are launched. This leads to a fierce skirmish in which most of the Blackshields are slain although two manage to escape. Lord Ieuan, who has by this point been badly injured by the Blackshields, gasps out a warning to Gwion: it’s a trap! Lord Bradán is marching into a trap!

A Last Stand

  • By midday, the warband led by Bradán have reached a small bridge that is on the way to Caerhun. It has been a difficult march, made worse by Bradán’s harsh refusal to slow the pace. Just as the band is halfway across the bridge, horns sound! Blackshields scramble from concealment to block the path as answering horns can be heard behind and another group rush from hiding to block off any retreat! They are trapped! Bradán reacts quickly and authoritatively to get his band into a defensive square, but looking at the sheer numbers, he has little hope of them winning free.
  • Two men emerge from the southern group of Blackshields, clearly intending on offering terms. One is wearing old but well maintained Roman armor while the other is Lord Serigi. Bradán orders Heddwyn to accompany him and strides out to meet them where is unsurprised to discover that Serigi is here mostly to gloat. The terms are brutal: if his men throw down their arms, they will be granted swift and merciful deaths. Most of them anyway. Heddwyn engages the Blackshield commander in conversation when he notes that the man seems to disapprove (either of the offer or of Lord Serigi himself); said commander reveals that he knows of Bradán’s reputation and would have struck from ambush with an eye toward decapitating the head of the snake first. Even the revelation that King Diwarnach is dead does little to move the commander – that is a matter he will deal with latter. Bradán opts for a different tactic: he insults and belittles Serigi, loudly enough for his voice to carry, and deftly maneuvers the traitor into angrily admitting that Bradán’s death is the only thing he truly desires out of this. From that admission, it is easy enough to segue into a personal one-on-one challenge in the ‘old way.’ Made in such a public way, this challenge is flatly impossible for Serigi to refuse and the Blackshield commander acknowledges to “the druid” that he and his troops will abide by the results of this duel.
  • Bradán strips off his armor so he wearing only pants so as to prove to all watching that he is a true Celt and further removes his gold torc that denotes his position of leadership. This he gives to Meadhbh for safekeeping since he informs her that he does not trust Serigi in the slightest. Should he fall, he expects her to get away with this. He then retrieves a new shield from Morgan, draws his sword, and marches forward to meet his fate. When Serigi does appear, the traitor is still wearing his armor which Bradán loudly scoffs at, which only further infuriates the older man. They circle, Bradán with his sword and Serigi with a spear. And then, they fight.
  • Back and forth they go, each displaying considerable skill. Bradán is the younger and faster of the two, but Serigi is a canny veteran and catches each of his foe’s strikes upon his shield. Long seconds pass as they batter at one another and soon, sweat is pouring down both of their faces. But then, disaster strikes for Lord Bradán: he missteps slightly, which puts him slightly off-balance, and Serigi pounces with a vicious thrust of his spear that slices into the younger man’s torso and cleaves something vital.

SeatedJareth.gif* Abruptly, time seems to slow to a crawl and Bradán realizes abruptly that the strange-eyed man that he saw in the Otherworld is seated atop the edge of the bridge watching. The strange man declares: ’I would offer you my aid, Bradán, son of Caddell, but … ‘ His voice changes to one that is only vaguely familiar to Bradán (although the Player easily understands the stranger is now using Bradán’s own voice, ‘that is not why I am here and you … you do not matter.’ It is a clear callback to Bradán’s words to Heddwyn in the Otherworld and he can feel the injury begin to burn. Bradán knows then that his enemy’s blade was poisoned and that this stranger has done … something to accelerate the speed of the poison. His body has already begun to shut down and he knows that this blow was a mortal one. Death is only moments away but Bradán responds with a snarl: _‘If you’re not going to help, well then, to hell with you.’ The strange-eyed man is suddenly looming over Bradán and peering at him. He speaks again: ’Still you fight, no matter that your body betrays you. I shall grant you a single boon, mortal, but in doing so, you pledge yourself to my service. Do you wish to kill this man?’ Bradán replies with one word: YES. ’Then do so,’ the strange-eyed man says.

  • Despite blood gushing from his clearly mortal wounds, Bradán scrambles to his feet, shocking Serigi who logically presumed his foe was incapable of even standing. When Bradán screams a battle cry and thrusts his sword forward, Serigi is still too shocked to counter properly and his shield too far out of position to block it. Bradán’s sword punches through the traitor’s armor, piercing something vital, and Serigi is utterly incapable of handling the pain. He topples, unconscious and with an expression still displaying disbelief and surprise, but Bradán tears his sword free and then decapitates the traitor with a single, mighty blow. The warriors who had accompanied him cheer their approval as Bradán throws the head down onto the bridge. He turns toward the strange-eyed man and thus misses seeing twin spiders crawl from Serigi’s mouth and disappear over the side of the bridge.
  • To the strange-eyed man, Bradán asks for a few minutes more and the Fae nods slightly. Bradán then limps toward his sister, tears in his eyes, and it is this more than the brutal wounds to his torso that tells her the story. He reminds her that family and the people matter, not the land, which were the words of their father. He then turns to the strange-eyed man (who no one else can see) nods and drops to his knees and topples forward.
  • And thus, Bradán Ddidostur dies.

GM Notes:

  • And thus ends season 2 (rather dramatically, if I may add.) The season as a whole had some high points and some low points, but was for the most part fairly tolerable from my admittedly “own harshest critic” viewpoint.
  • Overall, was fairly satisfied with this session, although I really do wish I could have figured out more for the other Players to do during Bradán’s “final fight.” As shown in the above recap, this really turned into the Bradán Show which, I suppose, is fitting for it being his swan song.
  • One of the things I wanted to do with the encounter in the beginning was to ensure that we all played archers. I’m planning on continuing these sorts of encounters in the future, especially using the Allies of the various PCs.
  • Interesting note: I did not fudge any of the rolls for Serigi. This was a weird moment (unique, I think, in my experience) where Fantasy Grounds did exactly what I wanted it to for the dramatic story effect exactly when I needed it to. First, there was the critical hit (rolled a 4) that not only deployed the poison (more on that below), but also put Bradan very close to an initial death before the poison’s toxic checks, then once the poison effects kicked in Bradán failed his Death Check by 2 (mortally wounded), then I critically failed the defense roll against his attack (rolled an 18). To make matters worse for Serigi, he failed the major wound check from the vitals strike by 6 so it was all over after that!
  • The poison was a mixture of belladonna and curare (see Low Tech). Since it was a mixture, I halved the number of cycles but that ultimately did not matter.
  • Interestingly (at least to me) is that both of the major threat elements in this fight (Serigi, the Erlking) were major threat elements because of Bradán’s own actions. Originally, Serigi was going to be a throwaway character who didn’t like Heddwyn because Heddwyn had taken his job (Diplomat), but instead, during the ramp up for the initial big Irish fight, Bradán publicly humiliated and intimidated the man, resulting in Serigi gaining a negative reputation as a coward. This transferred his enmity to Bradán and he went full-on Evil! (complete with twirling mustache.) The Erlking’s irritation stems from some of the things Bradan said while they were in the Otherworld.
  • This also marks the first time I can think of in our Fantasy Grounds gaming experience where an actual PC died. We’ve had at least two recurring NPCs that I can think of kick the bucket, but not PCs.
  • Season 3 will begin with a 5 year time skip. Beyond that, I haven’t actually begun planning anything just yet.

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RigilKent

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