15th August 2020
Saturday night has come, I'm in the living room and logged on to Skype.
This means it's RPG time! Matakishi is starting his new Merry Outlaws campaign.
In this RPG, players follow in the footsteps of Robin Hood. Robbing the rich to pay the poor, fighting the injustice and corruption that persists in sunny England.
Merry Outlaws is definitely a 'lite' RPG. It runs to just over twelve pages - including evocative illustrations. The rules are well laid out to view on screen and simple to understand.
Everything is handled by rolling one or two six sided dice, the higher the better. When rolled this will produce one of four results that are analogous to; very good, good, fail, and critical fail.
Combat is handled in the same way.
Character creation is as simple as can be roll for (or pick) a personal code, two abilities and two starting items and a weapon.
If a PC has a pertinent ability or some other advantage, they have an edge. Conversely, if a PC has a disadvantage, then they have a setback. This is a advantage/disadvantage mechanic.
Finally we have character progression, this is where the game stands out. Merry Outlaws eschews the usual XP or level-up paradigm. Instead players are forging their own legend through the creation of a ballad!
At the end of every adventure each player creates a stanza - a four-line poem to add to their ballad.
As players continue their adventures, their balled will lengthen. Additionally, as they accumulate stanzas, they will acquire new abilities.
Once a character has ten stanzas in their ballad, they retire.
All in all a short, sweet and simple RPG. Worth trying if that's your cup of tea.
Our merry band consists of:
Calder Winterbourne a.k.a Mouse Eater - played by Mark.
Swift footed and skilled with the bow.
Mopsa Hiems a.k.a Mopsacle - played by Michaela.
Silver tongued and sharp-eyed.
Randulf the Red - played by Kevin.
Handy with both fist and mace.
Wystan Blackbourne a.k.a. Black Stan - played by Giro.
Wilderness traveller, well-informed and keeper of this chronicle.
Bandits lurk in Castle Drumclog
Location: The Green.
Today was Saturday and therefore market day. The summery day had drawn out a fair crowd who noisily ambled and milled around the market, casually perusing the stalls.
Our merry band had come to the market when the sun was reaching its fullest height. Navigating the hubbub, we too sought to peruse the wares.
As Calder stood at the local blacksmith's stall turning some arrowheads over in his fingers, he overheard a conversation between the blacksmith and a priest.
The blacksmith 'Dai' was telling 'Father Hayden' that he was happy to accompany him to 'Billige' for the trial of 'Alice' the herbalist tomorrow.
Dai stated that he was doubtful that she was a witch or responsible for the thefts and it was likely the same brigands who were holding his daughter hostage.
Once the priest had left, we approached Dai and asked about his daughter?
Dai explained that his daughter, 'Blodwin' had been kidnapped by 'Giles The Ghastly' a renowned outlaw with a disfigured face. Giles was now demanding a ransom for her release and he wasn't in the mood to wait.
Dai told us that Giles and his gang were holed at the ruins of 'Drumclog Castle'.
After this, Dai showed us a sword, it was a good piece and Dai said it was the finest he had ever forged. He would gladly give it as a reward to whoever rescued his daughter.
Next, we asked about Alice. Dai said that 'Merick' the miller had accused her of being a witch after sacks of flour had been stolen from his locked storeroom.
Dai went on to say that a lot of stuff had been stolen around the village and it was unlikely that Alice was responsible for all of it.
Alice would stand trial for witchcraft tomorrow, she was currently being held a barn at Billige, guarded by 'Friar Nicholas'.
After thanking Dai, we moved off and had a discussion, we came to an agreement, both Alice and Blodwin needed our help. Randulf had some reservations about dealing with someone accused of witchcraft, but we convinced him to put them to one side.
Tomorrow Alice would be put on trial and the brigands did not seem willing to wait for their ransom. There was no time to waste.
We would begin by freeing Alice and then rescue Blodwin.
We took the path to Billige.
It was typical of a hamlet or village, small and secluded. A water mill sat on a stream that skirted the edge of the settlement and some houses surrounded a pond in what could loosely be described as the village square. In the centre stood a church and nearby was a barn, the only barn in the Billige.
Close to the pond, some workmen were constructing a frame of some kind...
It was early afternoon when we strolled into Billige and in the direction of the barn. We were strangers her and could not help but notice that we are being watched. A gaggle of old women and a band of four ruffians had their eyes on us from different parts of the village square.
Once at the barn, we could see Friar Nicholas sitting in front of the door. Calder approached and politely inquired about Alice.
The Friar confirmed that he was here to guard her and stop her leaving. He also said that he did not believe that she was guilty, she was too young and too beautiful to be a witch.
Calder then asked if perhaps Friar Nicholas felt the need to pray at the church and donated some coins into Friar Nicholas' alms bowl. The friar walked in the direction of the church.
Even though the way into the barn was now unguarded, we could still feel suspicious eyes watching us.
Randulf came up with an idea for a distraction.
He walked up to the ruffians and brazenly challenged them to a wrestling match. The largest of them stepped forward and introduced himself as 'Godric' and eagerly took up Randulf's offer.
Meanwhile Mopsa also came forward, using her talent for public speaking to distract the old women.
As the distractions began, Calder and I entered the barn and found Alice. She was not keen to remain here and did not take much convincing to join us. We left the barn and the settlement as quickly as possible with Alice hidden between Calder and I.
Back at the village square, Randulf was not having such a good time of it. Godric had quickly and easily picked him up and slammed him into the ground.
Randulf shook his head, jumped to his feet and yelled. "Best of three, best of three!"
Godric nodded, he was still up for it.
The second bout lasted a bit longer and eventually went Randulf's way as he got the better of Godric and managed to pin him.
After pulling Godric to his feet, Randulf said. "One win each, call it a draw?".
This was acceptable to Godric, who insisted a rematch later. Impressed with Randulf's prowess, Godric introduced his three friends 'Tybal' 'Cliff' and 'Shawn'.
Randulf accompanied the four of them to their home for a 'quick drink'.
He discovered that the four of them worked as 'foresters', or so they said. To Randulf's worldly eyes however, they seemed more akin to 'poachers'!
During the drinking, Randulf also learned that one of their number - 'Roland' had gone missing in 'The Forest of Caucy', he had disappeared a few days ago whilst managing the forest or more likely poaching!
The four of them were too scared to go looking for Roland. A couple of nights earlier, they had seen ghosts as white as chalk running through the forest, carrying sacks filled with souls!
"Perhaps the ghosts had taken Roland," Godric said.
Or perhaps they were thieves running away with sacks of flour?
Randulf had spend too long drinking and talking, he groggily made his leave. Godric and others were quite taken with their new friend and decided to accompany Randulf. He thought hard, but could not think of a good reason to refuse them.
Mopsa met up with Randulf when he returned to the village square with four extra companions in tow! She noticed all of them reeking of drink.
Meanwhile, Alice, Calder and I had reached the edge of the forest. Alice knew the woods here well as she frequented them regularly to gather herbs and plants and felt safe to be left alone.
By the mid afternoon, we had met up with Mopsa, Randulf and his four new companions. Now that Alice was safe, we set our sights on Blodwin and Drumclog Castle.
It was a short march to Drumclog Castle, coming in from the north, we spotted the ruins on the horizon, it sat on a rise and was silhouetted against the darkening sky.
From this distance, there was little detail, but we could see most of the castle was gone, a few walls and a single tower was all that remained standing.
The land between us and the ruins was quite open, it concerned us that there might be a lookout in the tower. They would easily spot our approach.
Just west of the ruin was a large copse.
Circling round, we made our approach through these trees. We stopped just in the tree line and observed the ruins of Drumclog.
The keep, most of the walls and all but one of the towers had crumbled into mounds of overgrown, grassy detritus long ago. Over the years, much of this stone had been reclaimed and reused by locals. A few 'half-walls' still stood forlornly and some corners of the keep's floor had not yet been entirely overrun by nature.
Only the single corner tower had endured the ruination of Drumclog Castle. We watched it intently for a while and our diligence was rewarded; there was indeed a lookout slowly patrolling the top.
In the twilight's dimness we could see a soft, wavering orange light playing across the lowest parts of the tower wall. There was a campfire at the tower's base. Unfortunately, the ruins prevented us from having a clear view.
We waited until the remainder of the day's light had drained from the sky. In the darkness, the campfire shone even brighter.
We waited until the lookout had walked out of sight and quietly slipped into ruins.
We advanced on the tower and stopped quite close, taking up position in some nearby bushes. The same ruins that prevented us from seeing the campfire now hid us from it.
However, from our new spot, we had a clear view of the tower's base.
Gathered around the campfire sat five men, they were off-guard and relaxed, but their swords and bows were within arms reach. A horse was tethered next to tower.
On the other side of the campfire was a doorway into the tower. We could see no other way in to the tower.
There was no sign of Blodwin here, no doubt she was inside?
As well as the five here, there was a lookout up the tower, that made six opponents.
There must be at least one other guarding Blodwin, that made seven.
Finally, none of the five here had a disfigured face, none of them was Giles, he must be elsewhere, that made it potentially eight opponents.
With the foresters on our side, that made it even numbers, we had the advantage of surprise though.
The foresters were for a direct assault on the tower, relying on surprise to win the fight.
I suggested waiting until later, when they were all asleep before going in.
Cliff pointed out some other bushes to Randulf and explained. "They use those bushes for a privy!". We could wait until they came over and exposed their vulnerability to us and deal with them one-by-one.
In the end, the foresters were too impatient to discuss any strategy and strung their bows. They, along with Calder loosed arrows at the five men.
One man went down and another was wounded. The remaining three sprang to their feet, grabbed their swords and kicking dirt on their campfire.
The rest of us charged into melee.
The four foresters also charged in... straight past the men and to the horse!
Whilst we were exchanging blows with the three remaining men, the foresters had untethered the horse and fled into the night with their prize, whooping and laughing as they did so.
The fight did not last too long, by the end one more was dead and another wounded. The last man fled into the tower and we gave chase.
The chase led us into a chamber which contained two men and two others. A man with a scarred face, - Giles and a young woman who bore a striking resemblance to Dai the blacksmith - Blodwin.
Without hesitation Calder charged in, followed by Randulf. The entrance to the chamber unfortunately proved to be something of a bottleneck, preventing Mopsa and I from providing aid to Calder and Randulf.
Regardless, the fight went our way, by its end, Giles had been killed and the other two wounded.
We spoke with Blodwin and she seemed unharmed, was in fair spirits and desired to return home.
Next, after arming ourselves with the swords and bows of the dead and we gathered up the four surviving brigands, they were hurt, but at no immediate risk, their accents betrayed them as Welshmen.
When asked about the miller's flour, they denied stealing it. Certainly there were no sacks of flour to be found here.
This meant that there were other thieves active in Billige, either that or it was actually ghosts!
Then we had to decide what to do with the brigands, they were offered the opportunity to join our band by Mopsa, who it appears spoke mostly convincingly. All four of them agreed to join with us.
'Owen', 'Dylan', 'Aylwin' and 'Gwyn' joined our merry band, hopefully they would be more loyal than those blasted foresters!
Finally, we took Giles' head, there was a reward on it for three hundred coins which we intended to collect.
We returned to the forest with the four brigands and Blodwin in tow and found Alice. The brigands agreed to stay with Alice while we bought Blodwin back to her father.
It was late when we returned to Billige, the village square was empty and quiet. I had to fight the urge to creep through the hamlet on the way to Dai's home.
When we got there, Dai was overjoyed to see his daughter safely returned. He gripped her tightly and thanked us.
Dai also insisted on gifting us the sword he had shown us during the day and would not take 'no' for an answer.
In the end Calder took the weapon and a fine weapon it was.
We had rescued Blodwin, but it was fast approaching midnight and we had yet to prove Alice's innocence.
Our next objective was to head of to Merick's mill and learn why he had accused Alice of witchcraft.
Merick's mill was situated on the very edge of Billige but not far away. There was just enough light to make out three men as we drew closer. They were 'hanging about' at the water mill and heatedly discussing some matter.
We stopped short and Calder sneaked forward to get a better look at them. Unfortunately, Calder stumbled and scuffed his shoe loudly. The three figures immediately stopped their talk and turned to face our direction and quickly looked left and right.
Calder stayed still as they looked.
After a few seconds, the three of them seemed satisfied and went back to their business.
In front of our eyes, the heated discussion became an argument, then the argument became an altercation.
One of the three was struck hard and knocked to the ground, the other two pounced and wrestled a key from him and headed for the mill.
We ran forwards as the other two headed off. The man on the ground was 'Thatch', Merick's son.
After hauling him to his feet, we asked him what was going on? Thatch told us that "Nothing was wrong, everything was okay.".
It was obvious that something was wrong, why had the other two gone to the mill?
We make a lot of noise to wake Merick and Mopsa loudly sang:
“Here they are, the real witches."
"Come Mr Merick and smack these bitches.”
It was enough to wake Merick who came storming out. At the same time, we prevented the other two from fleeing the mill. They were 'Tom' and 'Hubert', local farmhands.
Merick was furious and questioned Thatch, aksing him was was going on?
Thatch hesitated and then admitted that he was being blackmailed? Blackmailed by Tom and Hubert.
Thatch explained that Tom and Hubert had approached him and said they had seen him murder Roland the forester in the woods a few days ago. They demanded that unless Thatch gave them flour from the mill, they would publicly accuse him of the murder.
It was their word against his, Thatch felt he had no choice but to help them, which he did until his father accused the wrong person and Alice was arrested.
We turned to Merick and told him, here was proof that Alice had not stolen the flour. Merick concurred and agreed to withdraw his accusation against Alice in the morning.
Now we had to deal with Tom and Hubert.
They refused to tell us why they were stealing flour.
Intimidation did not work, they were more afraid of someone else than us?
A different approach was needed.
We told the pair of them that we would blame the thefts on Giles The Ghastly if they agreed to tell us the truth.
It was enough to convince them.
They had been out in the woods a few days ago, when they saw Roland acquire a deer, they decided that they wanted the deer for themselves. Since there was two of them and only one of Roland, they sought to 'relieve' Roland of the deer.
In the ensuing tussle, Roland fell and was killed.
They weren't alone in the woods though, the entire incident had been witnesses by 'Otto The Hermit'.
Otto was a recluse who lived in the forest, he was also known as 'a magician'.
Otto confronted them and as they would later go on to blackmail Thatch, Otto blackmailed them. Otto threatened to turn them in unless the two of them provided him with all the food and supplies he needed.
Unwilling to tangle with a magician and deal with the accusation Tom and Hubert had stealing since then.
So the mystery was solved, but there were some loose ends to tie up.
We considered going for Otto, but ultimately his crime was minor, the real culprits were Tom and Hubert. In the end, we left him alone.
Next was Alice, we may have proven her innocence, but if we didn't return her to that barn in Billige it would simply make her look more guilty and it would all be for naught.
Once again returning to the woods, we spoke with Alice and she agreed to being returned to the barn.
We left Tom and Hubert under the watch of our four new recruits.
Back at Billige, we stepped lightly as we went back to the barn. Friar Nicholas had returned to his post, he had slumped over and fallen asleep. We carefully stepped over his gently snoring form and returned Alice to the barn.
It was late now and well past midnight! It had been a long day and we needed somewhere to stay, we had to be in Billige for the trial.
We called on Dai again and he was happy to put us up for the night.
Sunday had come; it was a cool, misty morning, the low summer sun hung in an fantastically blue sky, casting the longest of shadows and promising to burn away the mist to become a blazing hot day.
The people of Billige soon began to congregate for the church service and of course, the trial... We even saw the foresters proudly riding their new horse to church!
Once Father Hayden had concluded Sunday service, matter turned to the witch trial.
Father Hayden and the congregation positioned themselves outside for the trial. Before it could get underway, Merick made himself known to everyone and publicly withdrew his accusation of Alice, clearly stating that she had not stolen his flour and was not a witch.
Murmurs rippled through the gathered people like a dropped stone whilst Father Hayden considered the situation. He ruled that since there was no longer an accusation against Alice,she should not longer have to suffer the test and was free to go.
Alice was free.
Tom and Hubert were handed over to the authorities and taken away.
When Monday came, we travelled to the larger settlement of 'Hexham' and handed Giles now fetid head and claimed the his bounty.
Upon our return to Billige, we gave out the reward to the people, ensuring the needy got first shares. We even bought the horse off of the foresters at a fair price no less, once they realised it's upkeep would require both effort and money.
So was completed the first undertaking of our merry band.
The Ballard of Calder Winterbourne 'Mouse Eater'
The Ballard of Mopsa Miem 'Mopsacle'
Rumble rumble in the village
The Ballard of Randulf The Red
Stand and listen gentlefolk
The Ballard of Black Stan
Fine Alice from Billige, accused.
I play, I paint.