Tuesday, August 10, 1999

Minions of the King

by Steve Foster

A scenario inspired by an article in National Geographic magazine. Maybe the Neanderthals didn’t die out? Maybe they co-existed for some time with our ancestors? Maybe they are the basis of stories about trolls and goblins? Who knows?…

I ran this scenario pretty much from these notes to give Tim a break in his long stint as referee of "Legend III". The players were staying at a minor castle between the lands of Montombre and Aldred. The castle’s lord was Eustace, one of Aldred’s men. A man named Gwylas had just turned up, an important aide to the local bishop. My scenario begins shortly afterwards.

Dramatis Personae
Bro. Theodoric
A too-curious friar.
Cannon Gwylas
An assistant to Bishop Daniford of Trewyn, and an honoured guest.
Sir Hrognar
Companion and bodyguard to Gwylas.
Fr. Damien (Damgharn)
A spectacularly ugly, though equally holy, priest.
Fr. Alric
A missionary. Still hale, even in his 70s.
Sir Cerewyn (Kurwan)
A pugnacious knight.
A distraught mother.
An aged orcish leader. Grandfather of Damgharn.
Plus assorted men-at-arms, peasants, orcs and demons.

The History of Ogsmoor
OGSMOOR IS A small village set on a small, high moor of the same name on the edge of the Bleaks. For many years, the moor was shunned for its evil reputation. Folk nearby said that it was the abode of devils and goblins. Strange lights and drums were seen and heard from its misty summit and the surrounding farms were often attacked or raided in the night. Yet, no-one in those days talked of a village on the moor.
More than 40 years ago, Herolaut, the grandfather of Montombre, put an end to the troubles by taking a sizeable troop and his sorcerer, Broden through Ogsmoor. His journals say that he fought more than one pitched battle, but his well-trained and well-armed troops were in little danger. He built a pyre from the bodies of the orcs that he massacred, and declared the area safe. A few years later, a young priest arrived at Herolaut’s court and asked permission to build a chapel on Ogsmoor. Herolaut, on his deathbed and fearing that his sinful life had doomed his soul, not only granted permission but also money and favours. A few years later, the tithes and taxes began to flow in. No one questioned the sudden springing up of a new village high in the moors, particularly one that paid its taxes!

An Untimely Death
It is early morning on the second day of Gwylas’ visit. A guard has seen a horse wandering on the edge of the forest. When it is brought in, the load it bears is seen to be the dead body of Brother Theodoric. The dead man has a massive head wound, caused by a stone axe, though it looks like he lived long enough to escape his attackers. (There is no sign of the two men-at-arms who would have accompanied him. Perhaps they held off the attackers until Theodoric could flee.)
Gwylas knows the unfortunate man. Theodoric had been charged by the bishop with maintenance of tithe records and travelled around various parts of the see. He was also a learned man who brought back records of interesting locations that he had found. A quick search indeed reveals a blood-stained parchment, stuck to his horses neck by the dried blood from his own wound. (The parchment bears the words "The Stones at Ogsmoor" and has several marks arranged in part of a circle, a small numeral by each. Theodoric’s blood and brains obliterate the rest of the circle. A guard may have heard of Ogsmoor - "Ugly as an Ogsmoor wife, my dad used to say")
Unless the players react so first, Gwylas will be affronted by the death and request that Eustace dispatch a party to investigate.

An Ugly Priest
While on the road to Ogsmoor, the party encounter an unfortunate priest whose donkey has thrown a shoe (perhaps in protest at the absurdly heavy load of chests and boxes that it bears). The priest is a singularly ugly man - jutting jaw, large nose, prominent brow ridges, small and deep-set eyes, greasy hair, bow legs, long arms, barrel torso - though also well groomed and scrupulously clean. He introduces himself in a pleasant but slightly grating voice as Damien, a recently appointed priest. Damien explains that he is on his way back to his home village, Ogsmoor, to see his mentor, Fr. Alric and his grandfather. Thanks to Alric’s influence, Damien has been able to study in Ferromaine at the famous Chaunterle Abbey. He has been absent from Ogsmoor for some 15 years since the age of 10, though he has corresponded regularly with Alric. Damien is something of a scholar. As well as being fluent in several languages and having an excellent familiarity with religious books and doctrines he is also a trained healer. However, he has been away from Ogsmoor for a long time and is unfamiliar with recent events. In all but one aspect, Damien is the mild, pious, educated priest that he seems.

In Ogsmoor
Ogsmoor is set in the middle of the often misty moor. There is a fine chapel, but only a curiously small graveyard. The houses are small and rude but well-maintained.
A circle of standing stones can be seen looming in the mist, a short distance off.
The people of Ogsmoor are of a similar appearance to Damien - squat and ugly, yet exceedingly well groomed and clean. For the most part they are also mild-mannered and courteous. They are delighted to see Damien and greet him warmly and devoutly - they clearly are proud that he is now a priest - yet they are shy and nervous in the presence of the strangers. One woman, less ugly than most, peers at them from a doorway. She is Freydwina.
While the greetings take place, Alric will arrive. He is a lean, silver-haired priest. Clearly in his early seventies, he shows no signs of physical or mental frailty. He wears a crucifix around his neck and the observant will see that there is also a second chain carrying another sign - a small oblong stone. Alric will pass this off as a good-luck charm, a memento from his early days here.
Alric insists on a service of welcome and invites Damien to lead it. Alric steps in to lead some of the prayers, which seem familiar until one additional proclamation and response is added. "Give unto God that which is God’s" says Alric. "And to the King that which is the King’s" respond the congregation. Moreover, a small child begins to say "For the minions of the King are countless…" but is quickly silenced by those around him. Alric seems unconcerned but Damien’s brow is furrowed.
As the party leave the church, they see the woman Freydwina talking to a knight some distance off. The knight pushes her roughly to the ground and storms off. He is Sir Cerewyn, and he has several men-at-arms with him.
Freydwina will say of this incident only that she sought help to find her missing child and that Cerewyn refused. Cerewyn, a short-tempered and brutish man, will only say that the brat was forever running off and could "damn well find himself".

Asking about Theodoric
Alric will say that Theodoric and his men left before dawn a few days ago. He is saddened to hear of their disappearance.
Cerewyn says that he doesn’t care what happened and that the men-at-arms probably slew Theodoric for his gold and then fled.
Freydwina will get very upset at the question. She will give several different stories, then just say "The Minions of the King are Countless" and "They will render unto the King! Oh Sweet God, How could you take my child away!"

Damien’s Grandfather
At some point, a player may observe Damien and Alric heading off into the moor. If followed, they will come to a cave, in a low, bramble covered cliff. There is the light of a fire deep in the cave and smoke. On entering, the players will see Damien, Alric and a woman from the village around a litter on the floor. Surrounding the litter will be various orcish totems - skulls and animal skins. On the litter lies an ancient orc, Krazkul, too old and near death to be any trouble. It is clear from his features what the secret of the village is. Damien, Freydwina, Cerewyn, all except Alric have the characteristic features of orcs which, cleaned and groomed, can almost pass for human. Alric is clearly respectful of the aged orc. If the players stop to overhear, they may catch something along these lines:
"Pah! It is bad enough that I let a priest overrun my tribe, now my own grandson is a shaven-headed shaman too! Changed your name too, eh, boy! What’s wrong with Damgharn? A good orcish name!"
"Grandfather, you must not talk like that. I’ve come to show you that we can change. I am accepted by men. I am a priest of their god -no my God. You will be accepted too if only you will convert to the True Faith."
"Pah! Though shalt not kill! Thou shalt not steal! Thou shalt bathe! What sort of life is that for an orc! Damn you Alric! You have destroyed my tribe"
"And if I had not, Herolaut would have done the job 40 years ago. Save my people, you said and I have done, in more ways than one. They are god-fearing folk, now, for the most part and have souls for the saving. Your own could be saved too if you’d agree to the baptism."
"Kurwan. Now there’s a good orcish name too."
"Perhaps too good. I believe that he still worships the King. I cannot prove it, but I believe he killed the friar for breaking the taboo, for counting the minions. I believe he has taken Freydwina’s child and will sacrifice him. I believe he is trying to revive the old orcish ways, and if he does then Montombre’s men will raze Ogsmoor to the ground."
From these conversations, it should not be too difficult to fathom what has happened. Alric came here shortly after Herolaut’s massacres. He found a beaten, demoralised people in fear of their lives. Moreover, he realised that these orcs were somehow very similar to men. He educated them and cleaned them up so that they’d pass for men then, bit by bit, converted them to the True Faith. However, he has had to make a few compromises by allowing some of the pieces of the orcs’ old religion to remain - the worship of the King. Kurwan wants to bring back the old religion and the old orcish ways, and he plans to do so by sacrificing Freydwina’s child to the King.

The King and His Minions
The players will discover Kurwan and his henchmen at the stones. No doubt a fight will ensue and blood will be spilt on the stones, be that the child’s or Kurwan’s. This blood sacrifice is enough to call up the King and his Minions - a number of stone-skinned orcish ghosts. They are terrible opponents whose skin is almost impermeable. However, their strength depends upon the belief of the people. If only Krazkul, the last unbaptised orc, could be converted to the True Faith before he dies…

How It Played
I ran this scenario back in early ’97. I created the blood-stained map as a prop, and people soon wanted to go to Ogsmoor without much prompting. However, we were a bit short of players that week so Hrognar became a useful NPC. Things pretty much followed the route here, though no-one attempted to get Krazkul to convert. This was a shame, as I’d planned that the Minions would actually be impervious to normal weapons until that happened. In the end, to avoid a massacre I just gave them a very high armour rating that halved when Krazkul "spontaneously" converted. Of course, a little party blood had to be spilt before this happened!