I have mentioned before that I like to run convention games and do so several times a year. The last few years have been mostly virtual, though this year I will be running games in person at least twice. However, the season has begun with virtualGROGMEET 2022. I am a fan of and listen to the Grognard files. I have written a couple of articles for their yearly magazine. I know it is not everyone’s taste, but they seem like decent blokes, and I have never had a bad player at any of the tables GROGMEET tables I have run.
757 CE: Beornred’s Flight
I have had a bit of an obsession with this historical figure for some time. He is a little-known king that ruled Mercia for part of the year 757 CE. His throne was taken by Offa, a more famous king of that Angle (Saxon) nation. The entire idea fascinates me: who is Beornred? Why was he so insignificant? Was he part of that conspiracy that killed the previous king?
It is within this historical context that I set about making a scenario about the flight of Beornred after he is defeated in battle by Offa. Historically he flees into exile and is then murdered. I decided to just focus on the flight itself and narrow it down further to four thanes who are preparing the king’s escape route.
Here are the four characters. They are skilled in things other than combat, but their combat skills are above average. I knew whichever way this went the characters might end up in at least one fight.
- Godwin of Warwick – a noble of Mercia
- Wilfred of Derby – a mercenary; also from Mercia
- Lothar Redhand – a Frankish soldier
- Ieuan (pr. yey-yan) ap Owen – a Welsh priest and soldier
I decided to use the latest BRP (Basic Role-Playing) SRD. For one thing I could cut down the skills needed to just those that might be useful in this scenario. It is a straightforward system and there would be no magic (as such, see below) to complicate matters. I also suspected (and was proven right) that all the players had touched either BRP or one of the associated games, thus making explaining things easy. The SRD pdf has all the information you need and is easy to access.
I also like that BRP is unforgiving without magic. Dead is dead and when building for the kind of heroic blood fest we imagine the Dark Ages were, this works very well.
The only change I made was to give each character a legendary ability to spend their Power Points on. Each cost just 2 PP and gave a short-term benefit, with each character having a unique ability. This was not magic as such, but more along the lines of a fictional / legendary attribute associated with these heroes. After all they were not just off the farm but had served Beornred as thanes and part of his household. It was only later that I realized this gave the characters an Arthurian feel and that I could have also used Pendragon for this scenario. Something I might try next time.
I had a few short notes. In general, I would give the players two choices: act a distraction or find safe houses for the king’s path of escape. If they chose the distraction I had prepared a few set pieces based on how they wanted to distract Offa’s forces. On the surface this would seem to suggest a combat heavy session. I cannot say for sure, because they chose the more diplomatic / subtle approach and that turned out to have a few nice combats as well as a great deal of showing of the flag for the locals. The players did a fantastic job of playing on their own characters reputations and stations to build rapport with the peasants and village leaders.
The tendency is for players to take any kind of authority (in fiction) or mandate and beat the potential friendlies over the head with it. Yet from the moment the characters rode into Horse Crossing, a fictional village south of Litchfield, they did none of that. I played the alderman of Horse Crossing as suspicious at first, but the players allayed his fears with their words and a few rolls. In short time they village told them of the group of Offa’s men who had taken over the bridge and sent two of their number to the village every morning. The players set a trap for the two soldiers and I noted that the Welsh Priest was not keen to just kill them from afar without giving them the chance to surrender. But when it came to hook and tong, the priest did his part as well. A couple of the players immediately started using their legendary abilities in the fight while others were more conservative with it.
They dispatched the two soldiers and then went to the bridge, capturing one man and dispatching the other two. Leaving word for the king that Horse Crossing was safe, they continued down the road and discovered a recently abandoned village with some evidence of violence. They also found tracks of wagons and horses. This was a good example of the players debating the evidence without much help from me. I just clarified what they knew and they talked it out themselves. I did not want to push them in any direction. They chose to follow evidence of the fleeing villagers down a narrow forest path. Here they learned of the atrocities of Offa’s soldiers and of a possible ferry over the Severn River into northern Wessex.
The next day the characters rode to the ferry and found Offa’s men there as well, torturing the ferry master and his wife. They scragged the VERY IMPORTANT NPC BAD GUY™ with their arrows and I had a good laugh at him falling to the ground. Even with an ambush of archers and a tough fight on the ground, the heroes cleared the ferry and saved the old couple. King Beornred would be able to cross the river and escape.
I am ever refining my prep and goals for convention games. I have observed that convention games are not as much play as they are a tour of a game and its mechanics. Or a sight-seeing trip through a cool backdrop but real play is absent. So, I set some goals:
- It will be real play
- Let bounce happen on its own
- Don’t try to finish (though we did)
- Put excitement in the preparation, do not improv excitement.
I feel like I met the goals, except #4. I did not add any extras to make the situations more exciting. I think I could have challenged the characters more and challenged the players more. Though they picked up on the inherent moral and ethical choices all by themselves; I did not have to lay out any of that for them. I was satisfied on how it worked out and may refine this scenario for further play at some point.