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More Prince Valiant: our session today

pemerton

Legend
My group's last session of Prince Valiant ended with the PCs, leading their religous order (the Knights of St Sigobert) and a peasant army, having conquered a Duke's castle in or about Bordeaux.

Today's session saw quite a bit of action. At the start of the session two of the PCs - the minstrel Twillany and Sir Morgath - took control of the peasant army as it looted the castle and broke into the keep, stopping them from killing the Lady Alia in revenge for the way they and their families had been treated by her father, the (now dead) Duke. The Lady tried to assert her pre-eminence in the situation - she was wearing the ducal coronet - but Twillany prevailed (in an extended contest of Courtesie vs Courtesie) and she retired to her room to wait for judgement as to her fate upon the morrow.

The other two PCs, Sir Gerran and Sir Justin - respectively father and son and Marshall and Master of the order of St Sigobert - followed up on the clue that had been overheard in the previous session, referring to "special duties" to be undertaken by a kitchen hand. While searching the dungeons - finding no nobles being held for ransom but various waifs to be sold into slavery - Justin (via a successful Presence check) noticed the kitchen hand down a side passage. Despite their armour penalites Gerran and Justin succeeded in contested Brawn + Agility checks to catch up with the kitchen hand as he went through a secret passage. He was quickly cowed (Presence check), and led the two knights down a 500 yard long tunnel which ended with a ladder leading up to an old hunting lodge in a woods on the slope below the castle.

In the lodge they found a teenage boy bricked up inside the chimney, who - it turned out - was the dead Duke's son Bryce, imprisoned by his sister Alia. They returned to the castle to acquire tools, and then broke down the wall trapping the boy. They provided him with some food and water, soothed some of his hurt (successful Healing check), and brought him back to the castle, making sure his sister didn't see him.

The players were conscious that Alia had been able to send a signal to a rider, and hence that a relieving force might arrive soon. Inquiries revealed that it was at least two days walk to the edge of the duchy - this didn't give them a lot of confidence as to their time available. And the peasants' looting of victuals from the castle didn't them a lot of confidence as to their ability to withstand a siege. But a speech from the Marshall of the order roused the morale of the men.

The next morning, Sir Justin convened an assembly in the great hall. At that assembly, Lady Alia was confronted with the presence of her brother. At first she disputed his identity, and then she denied his fitness to rule, but the PCs insisted and Sir Justin, in the name of St Sigobert, placed the ducal coronet upon his head. The players had determined that the best way to stop Alia being an enduring enemy was to have her join them in the order, and Duke Bryce had been persuaded to accept this course of action. Now Duke Bryce made the declaration that - while he forgave her in his heart - she had to do appropriate penance, and that this could be done by joining the crusading order. I rolled the dice for him, and his roll was very successful. So she acquiesced, and was led by Sir Justin in reciting the oath of St Sigobert.

Next, warning came that a military force was approaching in the distance. The drawbridge was raised and the gates closed. But Sir Morgath, looking out from the battlements, could see that in front of the soldiers were two women riding hurriedly on ponies. (In the tram on the way to the session I had decided to use the second of the Woman in Distress episodes found in the main rulebook.) There was debate - should the drawbridge be lowered? - but Sir Morgath was against it, as too risky. The women arrived at the edge of the moat across from the drawbridge and called out for help to Sir Gerran, who as Marshall of the order was in command of the gates. Lady Lorette of Lothian explained that she was fleeing from her fiance, Sir Blackpool the Count of Toulouse, to whom she had been betrothed by her father and who had treated her cruelly. Would they not lower the drawbridge?

Although Prince Valiant is not technically a pulp it is from the same period - the 30s and 40s - and there is a degree of pulp-era stereotyping in Greg Stafford's presentation of women in his scenarios. In this case, Lady Lorette has Presence 4 and Glamourie 5. So as she pleaded to Gerran I rolled her 9 dice vs Gerran's Presence of 3. I allowed Gerran's player two bonus dice (the maximum morale bonus allowed for in the system) as a resolute Marshall defending his castle, so he had 5 dice in total. And rolled better than me! And so he didn't relent.

Meanwhile Sir Morgath had lowered a rope down the wall of the castle. He called out to the Lady and she leapt into the moat and swam to him, where he took hold of her and carried her up the wall. But the handmaiden accompanying her did not have the strength or courage to jump into the moat. So Morgath slid back down the rope and swang across the moat to rescue her. (At the start of the session I had handed out some fame (the "XP" of the system) that had been earned in the previous session. This had qualified Morgath for a new skill rank, which he had spent on Agility: his player felt he was repeatedly suffering for a lack of physical ability at key moments. It now served him well, as he got 3 successes on his 4 dice.)

In the scenario as written by Stafford, the Lady has the Incite Lust special effect which she will use against the strongest and most famous male adventurer, provided he is not married. Anticipating possible complications, Morgath - when asked by the Lady who her rescuer was - announced himself as Sir Morgath, husband of Lady Elizabeth of York. But being an unfair GM while also trying to run with the fiction, it seemed only to make sense that Morgath should fall for the Lady as he carried her in his arms into the castle. The player cursed me appropriately, but also had seen it coming. He took the Lady into the keep to ensure her safety.

Meanwhile the Count - Sir Blackpool - and his men had arrived and approached under a white flag of truce. The players had deciced that they would have Lady Alia explain that there was a new duke, Duke Bryce her brother, and that hence there was no need for relief after all. Suitable Presence rolls persuaded her to do as instructed. The Count was satisfied with this, but had one other request - his fiance had been taken into the castle, and he wanted her returned. Sir Justin tried to direct Sir Blackpool to leave in the name of the Duke, but he retorted that he had not yet sworn fealty to the new duke, and would not do so until his fiance was returned.

At this point the player of Morgath was laughing, and thinking that the Lady Alia must be feeling the same way. And as the other PCs decided they would fetch the lady from the keep, Sir Morgath decided that safety required sneaking out with her through the secret tunnel - which they did, and then - with a successful Stealth roll despite the 1-die penalty for having a non-stealthy companion - he led them without being noticed to the lighthouse on the coast which he knew to be abandoned, the PCs having beaten up its thug occupants a couple of sessions ago. So when Gerran and Justin searched the keep for the lady they couldn't find her, and hence reported to Sir Blackpool that "Upon my honour, your fiance is not in this castle!"

Sir Blackpool then demanded satisfaction, in the form of three lances. Sir Gerran accepated the challenge, and the drawbridge was lowered again. Sir Justin and the Duke came out with him. The opposing dice pools were 11 for the Count and 14 for the Marshall, and there were no unexpected results - by the third lance Blackpool had been reduced to 6 dice. But then - treacherously (and in accordance with the scenario description) he gave a signal to his men. In the context it mad the most sense for this to be a volley of arrows (rather than the charging forth of the scenario). Sir Gerran's armour protected him (I rolled poorly); but the Duke was struck!

In Mark Rein*Hagen's scenario description the young Bryce is given the "sacrifice self" special ability, to sacrifice himself to save another from harm. Rein*Hagen suggests that this might happen during the commotion around who is to succeed to the position of duke, but as that unfolded at our table it made no sense for their to be violence, and hence no need for the boyto sacrifice himself. And so I had assumed the ability would go unused. But now the moment presented itself, and he stepped in front of Sir Justin to take an arrow. Sir Justin's player was shocked; and Sir Justin picked him up and carried him into the castle. I invoked the "severely injured" rules (in the system, it is always the GM's call how severe an injury - represented by Brawn depletion - is within the fiction) - thus a Healing check would be needed to save the boy's life. And while normally 1 success would be enough, it had already been established that Duke Bryce was frail and weak, and so I set the difficulty at 2. Sir Justin has Healing 2, and so would have only a 1 in 4 chance of success. So his player asked if he could use the Dagger of St Sigobert - who was, after all, a healer - to help, and I suggested that if it was used to help cut out the arrow he could roll 3 dice (50% chance of success). But the roll was still a failure, and so the Duke passed away in his arms.

Meanwhile Sir Gerran rode down the retreating Sir Blackpool, reducing him to 4 dice. But then Sir Blackpool won an opposed Riding check and so was able to retreat behind the cover of his men. Sir Gerran would not relent, and Sir Justin ordered the men of the castle and the order to ride out to join Sir Gerran and avenge the Duke. And so another mass combat took place, this time with Sir Justin in command. I decided that it would be a single "round" of mass combat.

Sir Justin won the opposed command checks, reducing the Count to 1 die, and so I narrated his men as fleeing. Sir Justin lost a point of Brawnd and of Presence in his personal checks - meaning some exertion and some shaking of his morale. But Sir Gerran succeeded on both his personal checks, while on both checks - made against Sir Gerran's totals - Sir Blackpool was reduced to 1 die in Brawn and in Presence - so he was retreating with his men, failing badly. I let Sir Gerran's player decide what happened to him, and he declared him dead.

From their vantage point in the lighthouse Morgath and Lady Lorette could see the army of Toulouse retreating, and so they returned to the castle and re-entered through the secret tunnel. Lady Alia was the first to find them upon their return, and she spoke with Sir Morgath to discus the next steps - having already decided that he was more sensible than the Sigobertians.

They decided that they should present Lady Lorette as the (now widowed) Countess of Toulouse, which she was happy to go along with; and that she should come under the protection of the (newly ascended) Duchess of Bordeaux. Lady Lorette suggested that Sir Morgath should send for a regent from York, so that she could travel with him on his adventures; while Alia took the view that she should stay in the castle to manage it and rule the ducal lands. This suggestion was presented to Sir Gerran and Sir Justin, who agreed subject to two conditions: that the castle should fly the standard of St Sigobert as well as that of the duchy; and that Lady Alia should marry Sir Gerran to cement the alliance of the Duchy and the order. (It had already been established that the order did not require chastity of its members - Sir Justin is married to Violette of Warwick.)

So the session ended with the wedding being agreed to and preparations having to be made. With discussions of how much crusade might be financed by mortgaging a duchy and a county. And with Sir Morgath's player lamenting that they could have had the company of a battle-maiden and now have an ingenue (or seductress?) instead. He did have the sense, in character, to make sure that the messengers sent to York to discuss the matter of the regency should also bring him back a token of his wife Elizabeth, which he hopes will help him remain faithful despite his feelings of attraction to Lady Lorette.

Overall this session was a lot of fun. There was political manoeuvring, justice and honour, romance and infatuation, and - as Sir Gerran's player pointed out - the pathos of a duke whose rule lasted for less than one day. The system continued to demonstrate its robust flexibility and a nice interplay of GM judgement (and occasional fiat "special effect") with player action declarations that produce real control over the fiction.
 

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