GURPS: Casus Belli

1x05, Níðstang

Act I

  • 4 August 456
  • Lord Caddell has been in an eager mood for weeks. He has vented to Bradan regarding the high king who he considers to be an abject fool. The nobles will no longer sit for Vortigern’s stupidity. They have placed their demands before Vortigern and he has grudgingly agreed to most of them. The might of Prydain is going to assemble and face off against the Saxons at a date very, very soon. It will be a negotiated settlement for the time being, until they can re-organize the warbands into a more cohesive force to push the Saxons back entirely.
  • Lord Caddell has kept both Bradan and Marcus so busy that the young men haven’t had much time to do anything but work. They’ve alternately ran messages back and forth between other barons in between drilling hard with Caer Tarian’s warriors. There is a strong sense that a big battle is coming. These two have had no time for any personal business.
  • In a moment of weakness, Caddell promised both of his sons that he would not leave them behind when the day of the big battle came. He has since regretted making this promise but will not renege on it. Naturally, this has evolved into allowing the other characters to come too.
  • Meadhbh is presumed to have been doing a lot of drilling with the warriors as well.
  • Many have been talking about how frequently Heddwyn has been seen with Siobhan verch Odgar of late. It seems innocent but with her reputation … well. He has also been present during the many meetings that Lord Caddell conducts with his allies and potential allies.
  • Aedan has been as busy as the two brothers, but almost entirely in the forge. Weapons have been forged, armor repaired, etc.
  • Bishop Paulus has alternated his time at Vertis in the church and Caer Tarian as Lord Caddell tends to have him and the druid, Heddwyn, present during his many meetings with his allies and would-be allies.
  • Angus has, in his capacity as spymaster, spent the last twenty-three days trying to track down Aeronwen since he does not believe she is actually dead. He has followed every unearthed lead to where they will abruptly disappear without a trace, which continues to baffle him.
  • War Duke Ambrosius Aurelianus arrives with Pwyll ap Math, lord of Salinae, and the band learn that Aurelianius is marching south, despite the time of year, with the king and all of his warbands to meet with the primary Saxon leader, Hengist, to negotiate a settlement. Ambrosius Aurelianius intends to demand the Saxons to withdraw back to Ceint which Vortigern already ceded to them seven seasons ago. He (Ambrosius) wants a major show of force here and will be heading to Glevum to assemble Niul One-Eye.
  • Caddell speaks with Heddwyn alone, asking him to draw his fortune and what the bard discovers is not good.
  • The following morning, Lord Caddell marches out with most of his warriors.

Act II

  • Lord Caddell’s warband hooks up with War Duke Ambrosius but not Artos. The duke reveals that he sent his son off to deal with some damned Irish raiders who have been causing merry hell in Gwynedd and giving Duke Cunedda Wledig fits. The way Ambrosius phrases this gives the impression that Artos did not want to go. He (Ambrosius) is actually surprised if PCs are present, knowing how much Caddell distrusts the Saecsens.
  • It takes 22 days total to reach Stonehenge, which will places the date as around 27 August.
  • Along the way, Caddell is drilling stuff into Bradan (and the Twins) regarding rulership and all that. Again and again, he stands out from the other leaders by insisting that the people are more important than the land.
  • He also chastises Bradan for his temper, reminding him that men will follow a man with a temper but will find it difficult to be loyal to him. In fact, he points out, look at this man, Morgan. He listens more to Marcus than Bradan because Marcus does not show him to the rough side of his tongue when things go poorly or not his way.
  • Marcus does not escape his lectures during the trip. He is chastised for looking down at habits of those he’s sworn to (his Q: detests ‘barbarians’ and ‘barbaric’ behavior.) Caddell also expresses his concern about Marcus’ continued dalliance with ‘Odgar’s girl.’ As the son of a baron, Marcus is expected to marry better and it is folly to toy with the girl’s affections in this way.
  • Meadhbh, being his only daughter, can do no wrong in Caddell’s mind.
  • Caddell spends much time discussing stuffs with Heddwyn and Paulus. By the time they reach the meeting site, both men are well aware that the baron has been evaluating alternate locations to relocate to should this battle go ill.
  • Bradan learns that Caddell is known as ‘the Fox’ for his slyness in battle. He has a reputation for cleverness and has been known to withdraw from a losing fight and tactically maneuver.
  • They arrive at Stonehenge at the head of a massive military force and discover an equivalent Saecsen force waiting.
  • Both forces effectively surround Stonehenge with the Saecsens on the south and the Celts on the north. The leaders (and only the leaders) advance, showing their weapons and leaving them behind (swords & spears thrust into the dirt) and meet at the almost table set up within the standing stones where they will discuss terms. The druids are monitoring this.
  • Caddell explicitly instructs Heddwyn to remain with the warband and to stand alongside Bradan. He (Caddell ) will admit to having a bad feeling about this and wants Heddwyn to stay close to his family to ‘sing them a victory like the druids of old should this play out ill.’
  • King Vortigern will initiate the greeting by providing tokens denoting the Celtic intention to resist if necessary but be willing to negotiate. The Saecsens acknowledge this and one of their number reveals their own token in the form of a long pole … with the severed head of a horse atop it!
  • Angus and Heddwyn immediately recognize a Nithing pole and realize that danger is imminent. But it is too late!
  • The Saecsen holding the pole bellows out something and slams said pole into the dirt. There is a massive eruption of light and sound that momentarily blind them! This does not stop Bradan from charging forward the moment he realizes his father is in danger.
  • The instant that the flare happens, the other Saecsen ‘leaders’ draw long knives from where they were secreted at their backs and pounce! At the same time, the Saecsen warbands roar and charge!
  • The band see many men fall immediately because they were blind – the war duke himself, Barons Atticus and Pwyll, Niul One-Eye – but Lord Caddell scrambles back toward his weapon. He seizes the sword that Aedan made for him and cuts down one Saecsen, then another but then, as he tries to parry a third attack. the sword fails him. The Saecsen in question is a big dude and his axe cleaves through the sword and into Caddell’s torso. It is very obviously a killing blow.
  • Mass combat ensues, but the warband immediately recognize they are in an untenable position. Bradan recovers his father’s body as Marcus seeks to hold the warband together, but the younger brother is badly injured in the fight as is Meadhbh. War horns sound, indicating Saecsen reinforcements, and Bradan, taking over for his badly wounded brother as warband commander, orders a retreat.

Act III

  • Retreating to Aquae Sulis, the warband bickers over their next actions. Bradan sends a runner – Coedwig – on to Corinium to report the defeat. They reach Aquae Sulis three days after the battle and spend a day licking their wounds. That evening, Coedwig returns and reveals that Corinium is already in full-scale riot, word of the Saecsen ‘treachery of long knives’ having beaten him to the king’s city.
  • After some consideration, Bradan decides they will march toward Corinium, believing that should it fall, it would be a mortal wound for Prydain as it is the king’s city. He sends Angus and Bishop Paulus ahead to prepare the way.
  • With the bishop conducting a public speaking psy-ops campaign to rally the terrified members of the city and Angus utilizing his ‘little birds’ network to spread this propaganda, the two manage to convince a considerable portion of the city’s lowborn to stand with ‘Lord’ Bradan against the Saecsen horde. By the time that Bradan’s battered warband reaches Corinium, this force is ready for a lengthy siege.
  • A week passes before the Saecsen vanguard arrives and this commander is nowhere near as capable as the man the warband has faced twice before. Hurling his men forward, this commander is utterly crushed and his warband routed.
  • Recognizing that they cannot hold this city against a competent commander and a larger, more effective military force, Bradan orders a full retreat. He passes word that any who wishes to accompany his band may as they intend to leave nothing behind that the Saecsens can use. This results in them leaving Corinium with more than 1,500 lowborn farmers, craftsmen, and tradesmen.
  • They pause only briefly at Glevum – the gates are closed – but do so just to pass word of the impending Saecsen attacks.
  • Some days later, they begin to encounter refugees and are horrified to discover that Caer Tarian and Vertis alike have been burned to the ground! Siobhan verch Odgar is among the refugees and she is shellshocked. She reveals that warriors came to Vertis and then, after destroying it, marched onto Caer Tarian. They looted and slaughtered and raped and murdered … Marcus is horrified to learn that Siobhan’s sister, Caitlin who he was courting, is dead. When asked about who was responsible for this, she replies: “It was not Saecsens nor Celt nor Scoti,” she says before looking at Marcus. “They were Romans. And they were looking for you.”


    GM’s Note: The Corinium siege/battle was unexpected on my part but GURPS: Mass Combat worked even if this Saecsen leader turned out to be an idiot. After losing half his force, I gave him a Bad Temper and Impulsiveness control check – he failed both – which resulted in him choosing All-Out Attack instead of withdrawing and starting a true siege. Surviving the latter would have been very difficult for the characters…

I also did not expect them to leave Corinium with so many people. It changed the next installment slightly (but in a good way!)

We also discovered that the Mass Combat Google Docs I was using was thoroughly screwed up. The PCs probably shouldn’t have lost quite as badly as they had the previous two mass combats.

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RigilKent

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