Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Campaigns I'd Like to Run: III - Ars Magica in 19th Century Northumberland

There's this group of friends, right? And they're the second or third sons or daughters of aristocratic families and industrialists who never need to work again. They're what might be called, nowadays, the 'idle rich'. But they've become bored of polo, hunting, drinking and bridge. And the devil makes work for idle hands. So they spend their time researching magic, demons, evil spirits, alchemy, and things of that nature. They've learned the rudiments. And they've also learned that there is a whole other reality behind that which they know: a reality in which the rationality of the Enlightenment and the Victorian age is simply wrong. They find the thought of it truly terrifying. But they also suspect it may be the path to something greater than anything else to which they can aspire.

So they sequester themselves to a sprawling manor deep in the Northumberland hills to pursue their aims in private. A place hidden in the dark forest, out of sight from any road or track, which an indulgent parent built long ago and nowadays rarely uses. A place where they can learn the magical arts free from prying eyes. A place like Cragside:

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Generic Bastardised Cyberpunk 2020 System: More Thoughts

It's been a while since I've posted about this, but it's still in my thoughts. My aim is to create a traditional RPG system which is moderately crunchy and makes combat tactically interesting. With the emphasis on the latter. I like wargames, and I like combat as a mini-game all of its own; at the same time I don't like how, in modern RPGs, that seems to have turned into "PCs can do loads of awesome stunts and have all sorts of cool abilities". That bores me - I want combat to be gritty, mean, dangerous and enjoyable to think about in a rigorous way.

At the same time, I don't know much about Western Martial Arts, and I've never tried to stab somebody to death, so nor am I particularly keen on making something ultra-realistic. Just something that has the patina of realism and which satisfies the person in me who plays Steel Panthers: World at War and Advanced Squad Leader.

Or, as I put it in my original post:

The basic aim is to try to emulate the grittiness and danger of the Cyberpunk 2020 "Saturday Night Fire Fight" system, as well as the importance of armour and shields. The rationale is: if you are prepared for a fight, fully kitted out, you will be very tough to kill. If you are unprepared/unarmoured, you will die extremely quickly.

So I decided tonight that I would run a playtest of my rules and see what happens. This is a battle between John Red and Bill Blue, two warrior types. I'm not going to pretend to be balanced on a first run through: the idea here is to just see how it all works in practice (if at all). Only combat-relevant skills and stats are noted. (Also, I realised at the end I forgot to factor in damage bonuses for BTM. I'm fucked if I'm running the combat all over again, so just chalk the mistake up to experience.)

John Red is a warrior who relies on brawn. He has a BODY of 9 (BTM-3) and REF of 8, and has Combat Sense +5, Slashing Weapons +6, Brawling +4, Dodging +2. He wears steel leg greaves (SP 14), a breast plate (SP 16), steel arm greaves (SP 14), and a full steel helmet (SP 16). He carries a wooden shield (SP 14) and a bastard sword (2d6 one handed, 2d6+2 two handed). His reflexes are restricted by -1 from his armour, taking it to an effective 7. Because he carries a shield, he suffers an additional -3 to his attack rolls.

Bill Blue is speedy. He has a BODY of 7 (BTM-1) and a REF of 10. He has Combat Sense +5, Bludgeoning Weapons +5, Brawling +3, Dodging +4. He wears heavy leather leg greaves (SP 6), a hard leather breast plate (SP 8), and soft leather arm greaves (SP 5), and a steel cap (SP 12). He carries a pole-axe (1d6+3).

First round. Initiative: JR 13, BB 20.

BB knows he doesn't have much chance of getting through JR's formidable defences, so he decides to focus on the left leg. This means he'll be at -4 to hit. He rolls d10+Bludgeoning Weapons[+5]+REF[10] and scores 17, which makes 13 total. JR's defence roll is d10+Dodging[+2]+REF[8] (with -1 from encumbrance), and he scores 17. BB almost, but doesn't land a blow.

JR just pushes forward, flailing with his bastard sword. He rolls d10+SW[+6]+REF[8]-1 = 17. BB's defence roll is d10+BW[+5]+REF[10] = 25. BB easily avoids harm.

Second Round. Initiative: JR 13, BB 22.

BB goes for the legs again, swinging that pole axe. He rolls 15. JR's defence roll is 12. BB connects with a glancing blow that does 3 damage; even with the armour penetration of the pole axe against hard armour, BB's left leg greave saves him from harm, although it is damaged by the blow (SP 13).

JR rolls 13; BB, with 24, easily dodges again, lightly skipping away.

Third Round. Initiative: JR 12, BB 21.

BB keeps up the attack on JR's left leg. He scores 14. JR gets 12. BB connects with another blow, doing 7 damage. JR's leg greave absorbs most of the blow, but its SP is halved versus the pole axe, to 6. He takes a point of damage to his left leg. Argh! His leg greave takes another point of damage to its SP, reducing it to 12.

JR scores 14 for his attack; BB again escapes the clumsy blade, rolling 20.

Fourth Round. Initiative: JR 10, BB 23.

BB gets a 12 for his attack on JR's leg, doing another hit (JR scored 11). The pole axe does 8 damage, beating the leg greave's effective SP of 6; JR would take 2 points of damage, but it reduces to 1 due to his BTM. The greave is further damaged to SP 11.

JR realises he has to change tack. His blows aren't connecting and he's being slowly ground down by the thudding blows to his leg. He takes the radical step of tossing his shield to one side. Now he no longer has the -3 penalty to his attack rolls with his bastard sword and he can wield it two-handed; this means he always loses initiative but does 2d6+2 damage.

Fifth Round.

BB gets 15 for his attack, and JR, for once, avoids the sweeping weapon, getting 19. He immediately retaliates, getting a 16 for his attack; BB gets an 18 and avoids harm again, but JR is already sensing a change in the wind.

Sixth Round.

BB scores 12 for his attack, and JR defends with a 20 and then attacks with a 19. This time he connects - BB only scores 17. Because JR is not calling shots, he hits a random location and rolls an 8 - foining his sword deep into BB's right leg for 6 damage. Bill Blue's leather leg greave is at half SP (3) and thus he takes 3 damage, reduced to 2 from his BTM. A nasty gash, but not enough to take him down, but he has to see if he faints from shock nonetheless - he makes the save.

Seventh Round.

BB keeps on at JR's leg, getting 16, beating JR's 12 and hitting him again, this time for 7 damage. JR takes another point of damage and his armour is reduced to SP 10. But as BB ducks away after making his strike, JR thrusts his sword again into BB's right leg, scoring a 22 against BB's 16 defence roll. He does 9 points of damage this time, for 7 net. This is a serious wound. BB's thigh is slashed open by a blow that could easily have severed it, and he's bleeding profusely. His total damage is now 9; he's critically wounded and his REF is halved.

BB also has to make a save against fainting, modified by -2 for the severity of the wound. He manages to stay conscious, just.

Eighth Round.

BB knows the jig is up and should probably surrender. But he decides to go out in a blaze of glory. He lunges against for JR's leg, and against all odds gets another hit. But he can't penetrate JR's damaged leg greave with a weak, glancing blow, although it does reduce the SP to 9.

JR gets a 16 for his attack roll and BB gets 15; JR presses in for the kill and rams his sword point into BB's ribs for 10 damage, which reduces to 2 thanks to BB's hard leather breast plate. This takes BB's total wounds to 11. A few more and he'll be mortally wounded; he rolls his save against fainting and fails, dropping to the floor, out of action. JR can now capture him, or kill him at leisure.


Not sure what that went to prove, but I enjoyed running through it. As you may have noticed, decent armour is a real bitch to break through, but I like that; the idea is that armour is really, really useful in a fight, and something to be worked around. Against a heavily armoured opponent you would want to flank or outnumber him, and never do what BB did and go toe-to-toe. To that end, I'd like to come up with rules for trips and overbearing, to add to the mix.

Hopefully, this would incentivise players to box clever, too. If you could, you would try to catch opponents unawares while they were unarmoured, and encourage sneaky strategising - why allow things to get tactical against somebody with access to plate mail, when you could just stab him in his sleep?

Monday, 22 April 2013

Actual Play: Pendragon of Mars, Sessions 3 & 4

Characters Present: Sir Owain the Red, Sir Wiglaf the Windhover, Sir Elias the Overly Curious, Sir Xyre of the Barrens, and squire Emerec of the Isles

Session 3 began with the knighting of the squires Owain, Wiglaf, Elias and Xyre. [Owain, a new character, had been busy doing something else worthy of knighthood for the time period covered by the first two sessions of the campaign.] The Earl, ever the traditionalist, was keen on performing the full knighting ceremony in full sight of the great and good of Salisbury - and this included him delivering full punches to the face to each of the squires as the last blows they would receive injustly. It also had the newly knighted men performing 'the leap', at which they all succeeded. After the ceremony a huge feast was held, and they all used this to maximum advantage with the womenfolk at the castle. Sir Xyre continued to pursue Gwiona in his attempts to get one over on Sir Guy. Sir Wiglaf bonded with Elaine by capturing butterflies for her in the castle grounds. Sir Owain found a shy, beautiful girl called Iblis, who has an irritating habit of blushing all the time; his flirting tactic was to carve a heart into an apple with a dagger and then toss the apple up in the air and throw the dagger at it - he failed in this miserably, but Iblis didn't seem to mind much. Sir Elias managed to converse for a time with Lady Adwen.

The new knights then returned to their manors for the winter, which passed mostly without incident - except for Sir Xyre hearing rumours that his cousin was a necromancer. A few trials were held, a few births were recorded, and the snows receded.

In spring, everybody reconvened at the fortress at Sarum for the Easter festivities. The knights were each given squires to serve them and train with them; these turned out to be almost universally good looking, flirtatious, lustful and muscular [I set up a random squire personality generator table shortly before the game, but the squires it generated all turned out to be much cooler than any of the actual characters]. Sir Xyre was given another squire to take care of - Emerec of the Isles, an almost suspiciously androgynous young man. [Emerec is, unsurprisingly, actually a woman in disguise. Future post-apocalyptic feudal Mars is a chauvinistic society, so women can't be knights - unless they pretend to be men.]

While at Sarum Sir Xyre bumped into Sir Guy and the two exchanged angry words; Sir Xyre told Sir Guy that the Saxon man Guy had killed last year was the son of King Cnut, and Guy was irritated he had not been informed sooner. He suspected Xyre of trying to keep the glory to himself. Meanwhile, Sir Wiglaf noticed that Elaine, his erstwhile paramour, was flirting quite openly with Sir Phelot the Greyling, the court's resident Jack the Lad. He got his squire to fake an emergency so Sir Phelot would leave her alone.

During the feast, Sir Elad gathered the new knights together and gave them a quest on behalf of the Earl. Sir Michael, a knight living on the border of Modron's Wilderness (an area where the terraformed Martian surface had reverted to its original Martian landscape) had cuckolded Lord Jagent, an independent lord whose lands lay between Salisbury and neighbouring Somerset. Lord Jagent was the type to seek revenge for such a slight and would undoubtedly try to make war on Salisbury if he was not allowed to get "satisfaction" against Sir Michael. Earl Roderick therefore wanted Sir Michael - who had fled into Modron's Wilderness - recovered and brought to Sarum, preferably alive. Since Xyre and his comrades were good hunters, they were chosen for the task.

The knights asked around about Sir Michael, and heard from some of those who had fought alongside him in the past that while he was a skilled knight and his mech, The Marsh Harrier, powerful at distance, he was a coward and weak in melee. They set off for Sir Michael's manor immediately, and arrived at nightfall. There, they met Sir Michael's wife and young son. Although his wife was understandably bitter about the fact her husband had fled after shagging another man's wife, she was also unwilling to tell the knights where he was hidden. But Emerec of the Isles, using a different approach, managed to befriend Sir Michael's son and trick him into revealing the information that Sir Michael was hidden in a plateau in the middle of Modron's Wilderness, with a few allies.

The knights also learned that there were huge sandworms in the Wilderness who would try to eat anything moving across the arid landscape, but that, perversely, making as much noise as possible would not attract the creatures but would in fact intimidate the worms into staying away.

The knights decided they would sleep in their mechs rather than in the manor, fearing what would happen to them if they stayed there, and head into the Wilderness the next day. But during the night, in Sir Wiglaf's watch, a large mech was seen silhoutted in the starlight on a distant ridge. Immediately, a game of cat and mouse developed in the darkness. The ranged weapon on Emerec's rouncy was destroyed, but the attacker managed to slip away in the night. Being the fastest, Emerec pursued, chasing the mysterious enemy knight; by dawn, she had reached the plateau Sir Michael's son had spoken of.

The knights commenced to approach the plateau, and were fired upon from a cave near the summit. They quickly went on the offensive, knowing Sir Michael was weak in melee, and a short, sharp battle ensued. But though Sir Michael was joined by Sir Aquinal, his brother, and another unidentified knight in a smaller mech, they were outnumbered and quickly surrendered. Sir Owain, flushed with victory, emphasised the triumph by driving his mech's energy sword through the torso of The Marsh Harrier once Sir Michael had dismounted, despite the protestations from Michael and Aquinal at the damage to their precious heirloom.

And there session 4 ended. It was a good session and definitely felt as if things were clicking into gear. The arrival of Emerec definitely also added an extra and welcome new dimension - if there was ever any doubt that men and women tend to approach playing RPGs differently I think a recording of our last session would quickly dispel it.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Campaigns I'd Like to Run: II - Noble Cyberpunk House

I re-read James Clavell's masterpiece Noble House over Easter. (James Clavell is like Charles Dickens for the 1980s, except if Charles Dickens has been spliced with the genes of Hemingway and Dashiell Hammett and he's writing about Asia. If you haven't read Noble House, treat yourself. It won't sink in how good it is until page 200. It doesn't matter because there's still nearly 1000 to go at that stage.)

It's a brilliant book, but it's also the kind of thing I aim any Cyberpunk 2020 game to be. Everybody is on the make. Everybody is out for number one. Everybody is motivated. Everybody has a name, a past, a reason for being. Even characters who appear for only a page have depth, desires, passions: the NPCs aren't cardboard cutouts - they're real people to be interacted with, manipulated, bargained with, begged, intimidated, pleasured. They can all do something for you, but they all want something in return. And they all know other people, who know other people, who know other people, who know the first people but for different reasons. To play the game is to create a massive web of favours and enemies and allies and vengeance.

The fact that Noble House is set in 1960s Hong Kong is just the icing on the cake. I love the aesthetic of the original Cyberpunk 2020, but I love the aesthetic of 1960s Hong Kong even more: all the men wear suits, smoke cigarettes and say "I'll have a brandy and soda" when you offer them a drink at 11am, and "I'll have a whiskey and soda" when you offer them one at 11pm. People use the telephone to have important conversations. They leave messages for each other at hotel receptions. They bump into each other in bars and say, "Hello gentlemen, may I join you?"

Why bother with all the cyberware when you can have a noirish game of crime, business and style over substance? Or, a better question: why not an alternative reality in which it's the 1960s, but people have cybereyes, contraceptive implants and Kerenzikov boosterware?

Friday, 19 April 2013

Campaigns I'd Like to Run: I - Jack the Shadow of the Colossus Killer

The 'Completes' were a bit hit-and-miss overall, but the Complete Ranger's Handbook was one of the best splatbooks TSR produced - certainly during the 2nd edition era. This was mainly due to the sheer variety of the Ranger kits on offer.

One of these was the 'Giant Killer' kit - a variety of ranger who made it his business to hunt and slay giants, and got certain advantages when fighting them. I used to want to run a campaign in which the PCs were all Giant Killers roaming the wilderness, protecting the weak and timid from gargantuan monsters.

A few years ago I wrote a post about the giant slaying campaign. I described it as:

[R]evolving around infrequent encounters with large, powerful, and possibly unique enemies right from the beginning. In this paradigm, monsters would start off at the level of trolls and progress from there; they would be mighty and perhaps near-legendary beings who only true heroes could possibly hope to defeat in a fight: Fafnir, Gog and Magog, Grendel, Glaurung, the Green Knight. Giant Slaying adventures would involve much in the way of tracking, exploring and inconclusive battle, and comparatively little in the way of slaughter.

I used the old Playstation game The Shadow of the Colossus as an example of how this would play out. There would be no goblins or kobolds or anything of that nature. Only big, ferocious creatures that you would have no hope of defeating without team-work, strategising, and forward planning.

It didn't occur to me at the time that the Giant Killer kit existed - I'd forgotten all about it. It was only leafing through the Complete Ranger tonight that reminded me of it. It's tailor-made for that sort of campaign. I particularly like how a party composed entirely of Giant Killers would be specialized to the extreme - they would be excellent at working together to hunt down and destroy giants, but correspondingly vulnerable against magic-users and human enemies. This would make an interesting strategic problem for the players: perversely, they might be better against big enemies than those their own size.

The only problem with the Giant Killer campaign is that D&D combat is too abstract to do it justice. You don't particularly need to be creative when, despite a giant's size and unique challenges, ultimately all you are doing is just rolling a d20 against AC like you do for any monster. I wonder if there are any other systems which are designed to handle small human versus big monster combat?

Sunday, 14 April 2013

The Rod of Seven Parts and the Sandbox Quest

A long, long time ago, I can still remember how rpg.net used to make me smile. One post I remember in particular raised the idea of a kind of valedictory tour of the TSR universe in pursuit of the Rod of Seven Parts. Each of the seven parts would be found in a different published campaign setting (Al Qadim, Athas, the Forgotten Realms, Ravenloft, Aebrynis, Krynn, Greyhawk) and the PCs would be on a grand mission to find all the pieces and put it back together again. It would be a cheesy and cliche TSR novel in gaming form, in other words, but played as straight as possible.

I always liked this idea, and it's always stayed in my mind. Much as I may have moved beyond David Eddings/Weis & Hickman/Terry Brooks fiction, I still have a strong streak of nostalgia for epic fantasy quests. (I many not be alone in this - my friend Nate has been planning for the last 15 years to write "The Boy Who Finds A Sword In A Field Saga".) At the same time, however, it's rather hard to imagine such a campaign working without a heavy dose of rail roading.

Or would it? The campaign, in my mind, would work something like this. First, you would get all the players on the same page: their PCs have been chosen by the gods, for some reason, to gather the seven parts, and if ever one of their PCs dies, the replacement has to be "in on" the quest too.

Then, you would set up an ordinary hexmap and sandbox in, let's say, the Al Qadim campaign setting (because why not have brown people being the heroes of the quest for once?). Somewhere in that hexmap, somebody or something has one of the parts of the rod, but only the DM knows where.

Next, you sprinkle everything with rumours as you normally do when setting up a sandbox-type game, but the difference is, they are geared towards that part of the rod. They don't have to be too explicit ("The sheikh of Blahblahplace has this...special stick..."); they would probably be more like rumours leading the PCs to wise men, sages, archives, libraries, and the like where they can begin their investigations. Those investigations might equally be red herrings. The PCs might be sidetracked by other considerations. But the general idea would be for the PCs to have the finding of the rod-part their primary goal, and for the DM to set things up in such a way that this would be possible without leading them by the nose.

Then, once the rod-part in Al Qadim is found, the Gods say "Now find the next one!!!!1" and the PCs are magically transported to Athas. Rinse, repeat!

Thursday, 4 April 2013

False Optimization?

I've seen it argued in the past that players (especially new players) should always be discouraged from making 'sub-optimal' choices in D&D character generation. If you have high STR, you should be a fighter. If you have high INT, you should be a magic-user. And so on. The argument, at least as I understand it, is that if you are going to play a fighter, you should have high STR, because otherwise you will not be as good at fighting as you ought to be, and this will make you less effective (and presumably, by extension, this will make things less enjoyable). 

The argument is of course based on a faulty premise to begin with: that mechanical player-character effectiveness is what makes playing an RPG enjoyable. That way lies the utter, and now discredited, madness of 4th edition (which is linked to the equally mad and equally discredited character optimalisation mayhem that can be found on 3rd edition fora online); and even if you believe in that premise, you must recognise that it is simply an axiom and the argument is circular. 

But be that as it may, I sometimes wonder if, even in purely mechanical terms, what we used to call "min-maxing" is genuinely advantageous. If your magic-user has an INT of 9 but a STR of 18, he can still cast spells, but he will also be very useful in combat. If your fighter has a STR of 9 but a WIS of 18, he will still be very useful in a fight but can also resist magic. And so on.

This applies more to some stats than others: Charisma is always useful irrespective of your class, whereas Intelligence is not particularly useful unless you are a magic-user. But by and large high stats are useful whatever you are, and provided you have at least a 9 in your prime requisite, you will be largely effective in doing the thing which your class is best at. 

Is the notion of 'sub-optimal' choice just received wisdom that too few people question? Or do I simply misunderstand the argument?  

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Actual Play: Pendragon of Mars, Sessions 1 & 2

After quite a hiatus of running games because of moving cities, I've recently got back in the driving seat via Google+, GMing what I've dubbed "Pendragon of Mars". It's a mashup of Pendragon and Mekton Zeta; if anybody is particularly interested in how this works mechanically I'll go into the details, but it's basically Pendragon except when the characters are in their mechs, we use Mekton Zeta. Duh.

As should be obvious: yes, Pendragon of Mars is Pendragon, but where the knights pilot mechs. We began with this initially cheesy premise in a moment of enthusiasm while puzzling over why Japanese mech-based manga is so boring; the setting sort of spiralled from there. My idea was as follows: it's Mars in the far, far future. In the ancient past - so many aeons ago it is now forgotten - the planet was terraformed by an Earth-based civilisation. The current inhabitants are unaware of this, and indeed do not really know anything beyond Mars itself - to them, Earth is just another shiny object in the sky. They have forgotten much of the ancient technology they once knew, and have regressed to a feudal state without the knowledge of how to operate the crumbling technological remains that still dot the Martian landscape. Just about the only technology of elder days which they still have available to them are their mechs - sad remnants of former times which are handed down from generation to generation of noble families like heirlooms. The knights (the only ones who are allowed to pilot or possess mechs) do not know how to make them, and do not comprehend their technology beyond making simple repairs. Other than the mechs, people live as they did in the Dark Ages on Earth.

(Conceptually, the whole thing is a bastardized mixture of The Once and Future King, Viriconium, Dune and the Dying Earth, but with mechs.)

Sessions 1 and 2 have followed the traditional Pendragon opening. I had the players create Pendragon quires in the normal way (they will be called Sir Xyre, Sir Elias, Sir Wiglaf, and Sir Owain once they are knighted) and four mechs each - a charger, two rouncies, and a sumpter. I then had them begin in an area of Mars called Salisbury, which is more-or-less a Martian version of that in the Pendragon 5th edition book.

In the first session play began with training in the region of Vagon, with each player in one of their rouncies. Sir Elad, the Castellan of Vagon and Marshall of Earl Roderick's forces, suggested they have a race, with the winner taking the position of their leader for the course of the day. Since Xyre had the faster rouncy, he modestly suggested they make the race more interesting by holding it on hilly terrain, which they did - running up and down hills in a chaotic fashion, having several falls and crashes, before Elias emerged victorious.

After the race, they returned to Vagon, and heard news that the people of the nearby village of Imber were reporting the existence of Geteit Chemosit in the area. The Geteit Chemosit are large automata made of a strange green-black stone, who attack people seemingly at random, slicing the top of their skulls off and stealing their brains - for reasons unknown - before disappearing into the wilderness. They are said to be creations of the Elders - the ancient civilisation of Mars.

The squires immediately volunteered to go off and destroy these Geteit Chemosit, which they did in a fierce melee after tracking the things for a day. But Wiglaf's mech lost the use of its left leg, and Xyre's the use of its right (and only) arm, in the fight. They therefore decided to head to the nearby city of Warminster after taking some ceramic swords and ceramic eyes from the Geteit.

In Warminster they sought refuge with the Bishop of Salisbury, at Warminster Cathedral. This is a triangular structure made out of wood, which surrounds a large hall made of pale stone, rumoured to be a creation of the Elders. While there they talked with Brother Roger, a deacon at the cathedral, who told them that there are rumours that the Elders did not die off or disappear, but buried themselves deep underground - where they remain still, in endless slumber. Because the Elders are so artful, where they hid themselves and where they are is a mystery that nobody alive could know.

They also tangled with Sir Belias and Sir Guy, two knights who form the Earl's garrison at Warminster. These two powerful knights bachelor were rather different characters - the former friendly, the other arrogant and dismissive of weakling squires. They told the squires that they had destroyed a group of Saxon raiders a week previously, and the Saxon mechs might be salvageable for parts to perform the necessary repairs on Wigla's mech's leg and Xyre's mech's arm. The next day the squires duly went to the site of the battle, where they found usable scrap but also the corpse of a Saxon mech pilot, decorated with silver and bronze and clearly a man of some repute. They decided to take him back to Sir Elad the next day. Back at Warminster Xyre and Sir Guy had an unpleasant conversation and Xyre seemed to have made himself an enemy. Asking around, he discovered that Sir Guy had an unrequited love for Lady Gwion, the attractive handmaid of Lady Ellen, the Earl's wife.

The squires returned to Sarum the following day and then went with Sir Elad to Sarum, the mighty fortress of Earl Roderick, built into a network of fortified craters. After being announced to the Earl, they told him what they had seen and done in the preceding days and were congratulated on their triumph in combat and their discovery of the Saxon. The Earl recognised the man as being a prince, the son of King Cnut of the East Saxons. He surmised that this prince and his raiders were the remnants of the Saxon horde who had been destroyed in battle two years ago at the Battle of Savernage. He ordered the squires to tell Sir Guy and Sir Belias as soon as they were able that they had achieved a great feat in killing this enemy prince.

The Earl then implied that the squires would be knighted after the evening meal. During this meal they attempted to socialise with the ladyfolk of Sarum. Xyre, mainly as a way of getting back at Sir Guy, decided he would try to seduce Lady Gwion, and invited her to go falconing with him the next day through one of her maids. Wiglaf, meanwhile, invited Lady Elaine - a beautiful adultress shunned by the rest of the court - to dance, and Elias attempted to make the most beautiful woman in the county, Lady Adwen, jealous by dancing with Lady Indeg, a 40-year old three-times widow who is always on the look out for handsome young knights. Thanks to the intervention of Xyre, who composed a ditty for the minstrels, both Wiglaf and Elias were able to dance most impressively. Later that night they are sure to be told by the Earl they will be knighted, whereupon they may be able to press their advantage with the ladyfolk further.