This session was held on June 11th, 2016, the 80th anniversary of Robert E. Howard’s death. It is a sad coincidence that we played our first session of Conan 2d20 on this day – coincidence because it turned out we could only meet on this day, and sad because it was the 80th anniversary of Robert E. Howard's death. But why not celebrate the memory of Conan’s creator by making our first steps in the Hyborian Age?
After being attacked by Pict warriors in the primeval forest of Conajahara, the group, consisting of six characters, tried to reach Fort Tuscelan to raise alarm, only to arrive too late.
Lucina, brave herder
Petrus, curious noble
Maeve, experienced tracker
Adelstan, young knight
Edric, grizzled veteran
The First Attack
As night drew on the forest, the constant noise of drums from the west became faster, and Pictish war songs were to be heard. The companions were patrolling for the Aquilonian army and on their way back to the outpost Fort Tuscelan, when suddenly, with ululating war-cries, seven Picts rushed out of the underbrush. The warriors were met with a hail of arrows. Adelstan, eager to prove himself in battle, fired his only load of crossbow bolts, killing his target, then realized that he had only a handful of ammunition left (the first Complication rolled). Others shot loads of arrows, too, but realized in time that they are using up their missiles way too fast. Amala tried to scare a Pict with a Hard Stare, and she succeeded. The Pict abandoned his comrades and fled into the forest.
Only two Picts came close, but were killed without doing any harm to the group. When the companions searched the savages’ bodies, they found bronze hatchets and stone knifes, quite common for Picts, but a steel dagger seemed out of place.
The Bridge at Brumble Creek
The group proceeded North to Fort Tuscelan and had to cross Brumble Creek, a narrow but fast-flowing stream connecting Black and Thunder River. Upon arriving at the log bridge, they discovered that Picts with hatchets were hacking at the bridge ropes.
One Pict bowman tried to fend off the companions, but they killed him while advancing and swamped the Picts trying to destroy the bridge. Two additional Pictish archers arrived at the far bank of Brumble Creek (for two points of Doom), but the group split, killing them with arrows, and slaying the Picts at the bridge in melee. When Edric climbed on top of the bridge to observe, an arrow, shot from the woods, barely missed him. The companions were unable to spot the sniper.
This photo shows Petrus in Melee with a Pict:
A Pictish Bowman attacks.:
They got into cover and searched the bodies of the slain Picts. They found an axe and another knife, both with steel blades. The bodies were smeared with bear fat. Because of his Lore skill, Petrus knew that Picts grease their bodies when on warpath so that they can’t be grappled.
The group gathered arrows and proceeded to the fort. They knew now this was more than a foray of a Pictish warband; the savages were up to something.
When they approached Fort Tuscelan, they heard unusal noises: yells and warsongs and the clash of weapons. They sneaked to the forest rim and realized that the fort was under attack from hundreds of Picts. The companions retreated some yards and discussed what to do. They knew they could not stand against the Pictish hordes; they considered picking out chieftains and shamans to demoralize the savages. But Petrus told then (the Lore skill again) that a Pictish chieftain is identified by the red top of the feathers on his head (a fragment of information I gathered from “The Black Stranger”). They had no means to identify a chieftain because of the darkness and the range.
While they discussed, the Picts conquered one tower of the fort (a little prodding on my part, underlining the futility of any attempt to help). Edric noticed that the Picts did not use fire at all. Thus, any fire would warn the settlers along the road to Velitrium, the group realized. They decided to warn the settlers themselves; as they knew protection of the colonists to be part of their duties.
But to be alone in Pict-infested woods at night is a scary thought, and Edric soiled himself (two complications on an Average D2 Discipline roll …)
Once Edric had changed his pants (a Fortune point bought him clothes for changing), the group crossed the woods to Settlers’ Road and followed it East. (Afterwards, I had some qualms about the rather embarrassing complication result for Edric, but the player told me he did not mind.)
The First House
When the companions approached the first house on the road, they made a grisly discovery. Canaeus, the farmer, his wife, Iphisa, and their children had been slaughtered, and the livestock was butchered to the last hen. The companions searched house and barn; upon discovering a young girl’s single shoe, theysurmised that the oldest daughter might have escaped. They looked thoroughly for tracks, but there were just too many of them, and they could not find footprints of somebody with only one shoe.
This time, the Discipline tests were all successful.
The group decided to set the farmstead on fire as a warning sign for the other settlers.
The buildings burning, the companions proceeded along the road. Five minutes later, the flames in their back went out: Picts had doused them with water from the well. The group considered going back, but decided to run at the double to the next farmstead, hoping to reach it before the Pictish warband in front of them killed the settlers there, too, and the warband in their back caught up.
The Second House
When the adventurers approached the second farmstead, they heard noise: yelling and curses, cries of pain. Cautiously, they crept nearer. The farmhouse was surrounded by Picts who with their weapons stabbed through the small windows, while one savage in vain tried to open the heavy front door. The companions shot a barrage of arrows, when a terrible scream emanated from the house and the Picts yelled in triumph. Adelstan, Lucina and Edric ran to the house to attack Picts out of sight behind the house, while Maeve, Petrus and Amala continued to shoot. Before the Picts were defeated, a woman’s cry from the house did not bode well.
The companions had saved the farmer, Ulgram, and most of his children, but his wife, Friede, and one of their children lay dead from the weapons of the Picts. Ulgram was utterly distraught and almost unable to speak coherently. When asked about his neighbors, Ulgram wouldn’t even remember their children. To talk about the losses his family had suffered was all he could do. One of his children told the adventurers that Canaeus and Iphisa had an almost grown-up daughter named Rowena, but did not recognize the shoe the companions had found. Upon a little prodding, the group got the family to pack their most important things onto a mule cart; together, they set off East.
Edric and Adelstan pretended to stay back as a rearguard, but they cut the rope on the well to prevent dowsing any flames, then set fire to the farmstead and waited until it was burning beyond hope. No Picts attacked them. As they were to realize later, the savage warriors had another fish to fry.
Death’s Dark Messenger
On their way, Edric and Adelstan heard noises from the forest, and all of a sudden a black panther attacked them from the undergrowth. Surprisingly, the great cat blotched its attack and ran with a wound from Edric’s and Adelstan’s defence. (I rolled a lot of 20s that day.) They decided to follow the panther back into the forest to prevent being attacked again and again. The panther attacked them, and in its attempt to jump Edric it lost its footing and slumped to the ground. (Not a really elegant move, but I rolled two complications for the panther.) Some well-aimed hits later, the panther lay dead, while Edric and Adelstan had only a few scratches. They considered to skin the beast, but realized they really had no time for this. So they left the carcass and tried to catch up with the rest of their companions.
A Passage through Pictland
The trek reached the next farmhouse, where the fire in the West had already alarmed the inhabitants. They had gathered their most precious goods and were prepared to leave, glad to have the companions for escort. These settlers had no qualms about torching their own farm as a warning for their more eastward neighbors since they were aware that for them, there would be no return to Conajahara anytime soon, while Ulgram was ceaseless talking about the crops he had to tend to.
A Scream in the Distance
All of a sudden, a scream pierced the eerie silence of the woods north of Settler’s Road, followed by yelling. Amala, Lucina, and Petrus advanced into the forest, while Maeve stayed back as a rearguard, trying to keep in touch with the treck. They reached a clearing where a white girl with torn clothes was being mockingly surrounded by six buck-naked Picts with white skulls painted on their faces. One of them hat a bleeding cut in his forehead, and the girl menacingly wielded an already blood-smeared rock. Her left shoe was missing. The companions admired her courage, and Amala, Lucina, and Petrus engaged the Picts in melee, while Maeve was picking shots from the rear. She had taken up a Pictish bow, which was more effective for Close Range. Although one of the Picts was Elite (1 Doom), they were defeated quickly, but Petrus got wounded.
The girl, who had a lot of superficial cuts and scratches, told the companions her name was Rowena (they already had guessed). She had escaped from the slaughter at her parent’s farm and fled into the woods, relentlessly followed by the Picts, who probably could have caught her much earlier; they were toying with her, she believed. When one tried to overwhelm and rape her, she hit his forehead with a rock she had found. The savages yelled and circled her, and then the companions had arrived.
Maeve treated Rowena’s and Petrus’ wounds, then the companions returned with her to the column, which continued its voyage east.
The delay was long enough that Edric and Adelstan could catch up with their companions. They reported what they had seen and done. The trek reached another farm, evacuated the settlers, and put the buildings to the torch. By now, their column had grown to a substantial size and was everything but silent.
The trek continued with Maeve riding on one cart in the middle, so she had a good field of fire in all directions.
Without the companions realizing (their Observation checks failed), the Picts had caught up to them and overtaken the trek in the woods. The savages laid an ambush, but didn’t conceal themselves really skillfully: their Stealth check lost the Struggle against the companion’s Observation test.
Adelstan yelled a warning, and the trek assumed combat positions. When the Picts realized that their plan had failed, more than a dozen of them assaulted from the underbrush.
With two points of Doom I bought two Elites for Chieftains.
The companions scrambled to bind the savages as far from the column as possible, but doing so, they exposed the left rear to Pictish marauders who wreaked havoc on the poor settlers defending themselves with hunting spears, short swords, and clubs. Maeve enfiladed them with arrows from her cart, but nevertheless the settlers fell like wheat before the reaper.
While the companions quickly killed the Minions, a Chieftain (one Elite) bound Adelstan and Edric. Adelstan attempted a mighty blow with his broadsword, draining the groups Momentum pool, and … smashed his blade on a rock (the third double-20 in this session).
Meanwhile, Petrus had killed his opponents and ran to help the hard-pressed settlers. A Pict intercepted him and hit him in the chest with his longspear. Petrus, already wounded in the last fight and slightly fatigued, was reduced to 0 Vigor and by this hit had lost more than 5 Vigor, so he got two more Wounds, and the stitches of the old one reopened. He summoned all his fighting spirit and battled on. (He sacrificed1 Fortune to ignore the effects until the end of the scene.)
Lucina and Amala hat engaged the other Chieftain. A lot of blows remained without effect. Lucina had to sacrifice her shield to avoid one wound, while Amala was parrying with her sword. Then, with an overwhelming strike (using up the group’s Momentum pool), Lucina cleaved the Pictish Chieftain from shoulder to hip.
Rowena had taken a Pictish hatchet and killed one Pict who tried to slay settlers.
One surviving Pict attempted to flee, only to be felled by one of Maeve’s arrows in his back.
The Picts were beaten, but four settlers lay dead. Maeve and Amala used up their last healing supplies to treat the wounds of the survivors. Amala bought a d20 showing a 1 with one Fortune Point to get Petrus in marching shape.
The settlers picked up their dead, and the trek prepared to continue its voyage east, but now in a far more sombre mood. Even after the victory over the Pictish warband, everybody feared the night had not yet run out of danger to be placed in their path.
The Horror from the Trees
The trek was ready to get off when Maeve heard something moving in the underbrush near the road. Someone – or something – approached in the forest. A harsh, gabbling voice called out from the woods, taunting them in the brutish Pictish language. It moved while it spoke. Lucina thought the voice to be one of a woman.
The companions braced for another attack, this time protecting the settlers, who huddled by their carts, more evenly.
A last yell, a moment of eerie silence, and then a huge ape-like beast swung from the branches of a tree and slammed against Edric. While he, Adelstan, Lucina and, in spite of his wounds, Petrus engaged the creature.
Maeve and Amala realized that somebody was still chanting up in the trees. They moved to get a free field of fire.
Black immaterial thorns, conjured by dark sorcery, attacked Amala, but could not wound her seriously. Maeve was engulfed by a strange horror, an urge to run, but she summoned all her Discipline and withstood the unholy fear.
Both realized that the figure in the tree was a sorcerer of some kind, a chanting shaman, and peppered him with arrows.
Meanwhile, the unified force of despair brought down the ape-thing. Petrus examined its carcass and remembered reading about beings called the Chakan, remnants from older times, abominations half man, half ape.
Hit by several arrows, the shaman fell from the tree and surrendered (only 1 Wound left). To the companion’s surprise, the Shaman was a woman (because I had a painted mini for that), who immediately was tied up. The settlers wanted to kill her on the spot, to hang her on the very tree she attacked from, but the companions would not hear any of that. They convinced the settlers that the Shamaness had to be brought to Veltrium for interrogation, and put her on a cart.
Petrus wanted to bring the Chakan’s carcass to the town, but the corpse was too heavy to be transported. When he insisted, the companions cut off the Chakan’s head and took it with them, a proof for the existence of such creatures.
In the morning, the trek reached Velitrium, a fortress town well alarmed by the fires the companions had lit. The Shamaness was taken over by the Garrison to be confined in a cell, the worst that could be done to a Pict.
The companions rested, a Surgeon treated their wounds. They slept the whole day and night in the barracks. Next morning, they were celebrated for the rescue of the settlers, but a few days later their fame was diminished. More and more people said their defence of the settler’s column was sloppy and more lives could have been saved by better planning. A Cimmerian, Conan, they heard, had also saved settlers with much less loss of lives, and an Aquilonian, Balthus, had sacrificed his life to allow them to escape. And Conan had killed Zogar Sar, the Pictish Shaman who was behind the insurrection, not merely captured one of his acolythes.
But the Chakan’s head was met with awe in the whole town, and after a week an agent of a collector in Tarantia paid them 50 Gold for it. They shared the money, and Adelstan immediately had a blacksmith reforge his heirloom broadsword.
The Companions enjoyed their fame in the fortress town and began their Carousing.