The initial goal for our group: get the hell away from a war-zone. All the party knows a rumour of a magical place about a day’s trip north in the hills, a place locals call “The Gatehouse”. I sat them down and let them loose.
Our three characters were given an “introduction scene” where they could show whatever they wanted.
Elin (the “wild” scout)
Thora (the Caring Sergeant)
Atli (the ruined merchant)
Elin saw Svenni swagger back into the scout-hall. Those damned Legion-Born always think they are better, and love to lord it over us wild-born folk. He’s going to tell us how he met with the commander…
“The Commander wants you to all get ready. He heard my report and we’re to prepare to fight.”
“Fuck you Svenni, you don’t rank us” one of the other scouts yelled back.
“Do what you want, it just means you’ll have to hurry when the Host get to the gates.”
A log snapping in the fire was the only sound to break the silence. Many of the scouts had been born in lands that had been ravaged by the Shining Host.
Elin geared up, belt and knife, bow and arrows all strapped to her body. She glanced around and grabbed her snares and fishing line, stuffed them in her pack before shouldering it and heading for the door. She had to convince Thora to run before the orders came through.
“See” Svenni called out, “at least little Elin is clever enough to try to be a good soldier!”
Thora closed the door on the crying Elin. She’d been convinced by the horror stories of the Host. This wasn’t going to be a fight, it was going to be a slaughter. Theirs. As she walked towards the keep arguments turned in her head. Reasons to leave the Citadel and head for the hills. Places the Legion and their supporters could run and hide. None of them were convincing, even to her.
But Elin had already decided to run. Her clan had been destroyed by Shining Host zealots years back. The reports of the returning scouts had claimed to see open summoning circles, and the Bright Flyers assembling already. Time was not on their side. And whatever the outcome, she would not leave Elin.
The commander’s door loomed before her. She paused just before knocking, eyes narrowing as she considered her options. Her left hand slowly reached to the dagger resting on her hip. The peace-knot came undone.
Elin looked up as Thora returned to her room. “Did you speak to the commander?”
“And we’re going somewhere safe?”
Elin frowned as she watched Thora carefully tie a tent to the side of her supplies bag.
“He didn’t give any orders to defend the Citadel?”
“No. Now stop asking questions and help me get this armour on.
Atli sighed and grabbed his broom from behind the counter. The looters had made a real mess of his store. The glass frontage, his pride and joy, was in a thousand shards across the floor. Much of the stock was still scattered around, trampled and torn. “Fucking idiots, the lot of them. Someone sees a few lights in the sky and suddenly it’s the end of the world.”
The entry-bell made a dull clank. “I’ll have to fix that too.” Atli sighed at looked up at the new visitors. A Legionnaire in travel kit: Cuirass, gorget, left guard of vabrace and pauldron, and greaves. Lighter than the full battle kit. Probably a decent helm still in the back that would fit nicely. Shadowing the Legion-born soldier was a Clansfolk scout. Tattoos and leather harness. Might want some arrowheads.
“Don’t want no more trouble, it’s already been. What can I do for you?”
Elin spoke up “You saved me from the looters earlier.”
“An’ look where it got me.”
“I’ve come to return the favor. The Shining Host is coming.”
Atli coughed. “Those crazies actually had a point?”
Thora frowned at the mess. “Yes. Scouts have spotted the vanguard. They will be here by nightfall.”
Atli went white.
Elin clapped a hand over Thora’s pauldron. “But she knows a way out”
The rough laughter erupted from Atli. He clutched the broom and bent over until the laughter subsided. “With the panic, mayhem, looting, and now your religious nuts coming for blood, I know a way out too.” He slashed a finger across his wrist.
Elin stepped forward and grabbed his hands. “No, You saved me from that mob. I told Thora we had to save you.”
“Ah, nothing doing. I cant abide those weak willed idiots. An’ I don’t hold with hit’n womenfolk.”
Thora raised an eyebrow, and pointedly looked down at herself. Atli shruged. “Legion-born don’t count.”
“So what is this way out?” Atli kept on stuffing bits and pieces into his backpack while Thora kept an eye on the street.
“I snuck a peek at the Chronicles while on cleaning duty. I was trying to work out how often there was at Call of Consecration. The Heralds were said to ‘arrive through the tower’. The phrase caught my eye, So I searched some more until I found the Tower of the Gatehouse.”
Atli nodded. “I’m impressed. A Legion-Born who can read.” He frowned as he reconsidered the phrasing. “Did it say what ‘through the tower’ meant, exactly?”
Thora waved away the insult. “What that means is this tower can send us far, far away.”
With an effort Atli swung the backpack onto his shoulders. “Good ’nuff for me. Lead on.”
The players proposed sneaking out of the citadel. Elin wanted to “know a secret way out” and pointed at pathfinder talent. I ruled that this was basically a “hike” out of a city-hex, so allowed a (wits+survival+pathfinder) roll to Lead the Way out of the city. 0 succ, pushed, 1 succ, 2 trauma.
Elin gets more and more stressed as she leads her companions through back streets and past burning buildings. The growing panic of what was approaching weighed on her mind. But the three of them stood at the base of the citadel walls as the sun rose over the horizon.
Forbidden lands uses 4 watch system – Morning, Day, Evening, Night. So gathering the group and moving out of the city was the morning watch. Their Day watch would be two hexes up to the mountain lake shore, and the Evening would be exploring the tower.
Travelling to a new hex needs a “Lead the Way” watch action, which only needs a single success, but potentially can cause stress. Especially when the characters are trying to make good time!
During the day the companions head north, trying to follow the course of the river as it winds through the hilly terrain. It would almost be idyllic with the morning sun shining down on the river and greenery. Except for some the occasional broken branches and footprints in the riverside mud. “We’ve got some soldiers ahead. Scouting group perhaps? I think they are legionnaires.”
Thora shades her eyes as she looks north along the river. “Perhaps some others had the same idea as us? There have been some going missing over the past few days.”
Elin’s player was nervous about the trauma to wits reducing her die pool. But her ability of “Adaptive” lets her swap skills. She pays the Willpower to swap in a higher skill Scouting – but she has to bring it into the story… (0 succ, push, 1 succ, 1 trauma, 1 gear damage)
Elin has been staring at the collapsing spyglass tied to Atli’s massive backpack. “Hey, Atli, can I try that out?”
“Be careful girl. I’ve had it for years. Reminds me of when I was your age.”
“Hard to image” said with a grin, “what were you doing way back then?”
“Things the Legion would not have approved of” He leant in conspiratorially, “I used to smuggle. I remember bringing a load of Legion forged weapons to the western clans. Might even have been your parents.” Atli gave a wink.
Elin grinned in response and pulled out a many-time-sharpened dagger. “That’d explain this then. Used to belong to my mum.”
Atli untied the spyglass and handed it over. Elin examined it a little before pulling it open and trying it out. She dropped the rest of her gear and clambered up a nearby tree like a squirrel.
“This is fantastic” she shouted down. “I can see where the river turns, and a decent path up away from the waterfall. I think I can see the top of the tower in the mountains too.” She turned back towards the Citadel. Smoke was rising from the streets, and a number of winged lights were swooping above the towers. The cracking of branches announced Elin’s approach as she dropped down. She brushed hair out of her eyes and handed back the spyglass.
Atli looked aghast at the new dents in the casing. “Why didn’t you close it before coming down like that.” There was a grinding sound as Atli pushed it closed.
“The Citadel is under attack. I can see the streets burning already. Once it falls they will scour the countryside. We need to get moving”
Thora and Atli stared at Elin. Then they tightened their straps and started walking down towards the river.
As the sun was nearing the mountains in the west, the trio looked down onto the massive lake. The clouds had been gathering all morning, and now they opened, dropping rain so cold it was almost ice.
“Look, we’re going to catch out death out in this sleet. Sett’n up camp in this is a bitch. How ’bout we get to that tower o’yours as fast as we can?”
Elin nodded. “I dont want to wait out here for the Host. Lets pick up the pace!”
While they approached, Atli repeatedly took out his spyglass to get a better look at the tower. His face showed his confusion. Eventually he spoke up. “That there is an old place. Been let alone for a while.” He looked sidelong at Thora, who ignored him. “And I swear its get’n taller as we get closer. Its got windows now. Care to explain that?”
Thora shrugged and kept walking.
The walls were smooth as glass. The main doors were easily twice Thora’s height. A balcony surrounded the tower twice the height again beyond. Someone had recently pushed aside some grass and bushes and cracked open one of the doors.
“Nothing else for it. In we go.” Thora unsheathed her longsword and squeezed into the gap. The others followed.
That was a great session for me! I started with very little information and let my players have a lot of free rein. They are always free to suggest new details as long as it doesn’t directly contradict anything already established. What we ended with was something very different that I expected! Now the Legion is some kind of semi-religious group that supplies troops to various people. And periodically gets visitors from beyond who collect soldiers. Also got a more tragic backstory for the Clanfolk, and made out the Legion-Born to be somewhat racist in general.
The mechanics of Forbidden Lands to lend themselves to more survival/endurance so far. Already the characters (especially Elin) are somewhat worn out by their escape, and the option of rest or move forward is a significant one, as depending on how long the exploration of the tower goes they could all face getting tired (which has real repercussions!)