Ars Magica Adventure
by Kevin Hassall
Why you should not swear oaths lightly.
Going Home is a quick supernatural story (it should take about an hour or so to play through) for a small group of characetrs – grogs would do as well as magi. The names assume that it is set in Christianised Scandinavia, but by changing the names it could be relocated to any area where paganism still survived a century before.
The references to “the gods” are left deliberately open. Some SGs will see the old pagan gods as faeries, others will see them as demons – do whatever works best in your saga.
During a preceding adventure, as the characters browse through a small market, they come upon an untidy junk stall. Amongst the trinkets on sale is a silver ring with an opaque crystal set into. An unknown family emblem is cut into the gem. It isn’t magical. The stall-holder wants only a shilling for it – a meagre price.
If none of the players’ characters buy the ring, one of their grogs could purchase it, or a local might buy it but lose it to a player character in a dice game that night.
For The Players
It is a hot, lazy day, as you travel through the rolling countryside, seeking a sheltered place to pause for lunch, when around a bend in the road you spot a broad oak tree next to a ford. Beneath the tree a young minstrel sits, a lyre and a wineskin at her side, bread and cheese in her hands.
“Care to join me?” she asks as you approach. “There’s a story about this ford. I’ll share it with you for the price of a mug of ale.”
With nothing better to do, she’ll actually relate the story even if the characters refuse to pay her, and throw in a couple of irrelevant songs if they give her some cash.
“There’s often a beggar loiters by the ford – an old man, but straight and tall and dignified. I’ve met him myself, and he never asks for food nor coin, though he’s gracious to those who show charity to him. All he asks for is a ring, he says, a silver ring with a crystal set into it and an emblem carved out in the crystal. Some say he’s a ghost seeking for the only thing that will lay his soul to rest. They say that he is the son of King Harek, who ruled to the east fifty years ago. He took an oath to kill a German nobleman who had slain his uncle, and to bring back the noble’s ring as proof that he had succeeeded. But the German died in a distant land, and now the devils whom he swore his oath to won’t let him rest until he recovers the ring.”
The players should realise that their characters carry the ring that the beggar seeks. The minstrel’s story, based on fancy and conjecture, is less than half true.
For The Storyguide
Over one hundred years ago, a petty prince ruled the surrounding lands. He was usually just, but proved merciless to those who opposed him – and in his old age he grew paranoid, suspecting all around him of treachery. At last he went too far, and executed his chief advisor, his life-long friend, a man named Fjalar. Many local nobles rose against the prince, and led by the advisor’s three daughters they laid siege to his hall.
Fjalar’s daughters swore by the gods that they would not leave the hall until their father’s murder was avenged. The prince fled from his home under cover of night, vowing that he would reclaim his throne before he died. And the gods heard both proud oaths.
Today, the old prince still lives, a wizened old beggar robbed of his strength by time. He has tried to re-enter his castle, but finds a ring of enchanted thorn bushes barring his way. Unknown to him, Fjalar’s three daughters still wait in the ruins of the castle, prevented from leaving by the same barrier.
Searching for the means to breach the bank of thorns and regain his throne, the beggar has consulted numerous diviners and wise women. Their advice has always been the same: to appease the gods he must find the Ring of Office that Fjalar wore; he must carry the ring through the thorn hedge to his throne, and there pronounce his long-dead friend and councillor innocent of all treason.
The gods want the prince the repent of his murder, and will not let him die until he has made some token amends. And at the same time, Fjalar’s daughters will also have the opportunity to fulfil their oath – after they have had a century of isolation to wish they had never uttered it.
Fjalar’s Ring of Office, of course, is the trinket that the party found on the market stall, above.
Finding The Beggar
The prince is now so weak that he can hardly stand – but still the gods will not let him die. He lives at a local farm, where the family have taken pity on him. The party may find him by asking any of the local farmers. Alternatively they may just search through the surrounding woods in the hopes of stumbling across him – in which case they come to the farm – or wait by the ford for a week or so. Whether they seek him out immediately or return in a month, or a year or in ten years, he will still be in the area.
Half a mile from the ford stands a small farmhouse and outbuildings. The farm’s owner, Ingibjorg, lives here with her three children, a hard working but pious and generous woman.
The beggar lies in a small room at the rear of the farmhouse, peeling vegetables, sewing and performing other light tasks for the farmer. He is wizened and frail, with only a few wisps of white hair remaining on his head.
The ancient man introduces himself as Vemund (characters with a good Legend or Local Area Lore roll recall that a petty tyrant of that name ruled this area a century ago), and speaks to them with a self-assured humility.
If the party show Vemund the ring, he is moved to tears. He explains to the player characters:
“Decades ago I held a great hall, and many fine warriors who served me. I had power and wealth and luxury. Perhaps I had too much power, too much wealth. I don’t know. But I betrayed a friend, I clung on to my wealth and my power, and I swore that I would reclaim my hall when my people cast me out. The gods punish me for my pride: they will not let me die. I beg you, take me back to my home. Let me show the gods that I am sorry, and let me die there.”
Vemund, ashamed of his crimes, explains no more at present. He only says that the ring belonged to a friend whom he wronged, and he promises the party any treasures which remain in his castle.
To The Hall
The party must carry or support Vemund on their journey to the castle, as he can barely walk. The journey takes most of one day to complete, so that the party arrive at the ruined castle about an hour before dusk.
All that remains of the great hall is a low hill, scarred with tumbled-down walls, and all around it what was once farmland has reverted to wood and moor. The hill itself is a hundred paces long, but at its summit is a flat area, encircled by some kind of hedge or thicket, about eighty feet across.
Thorn bushes have sprung up around the edge of the plateau, packed in so close together that they form a solid hedge.
Wall Of Thorns
The thorn bushes can be climbed (the climber takes +5 damage doing so) or with much effort can be pushed through (+25 damage, reduced to +15 if using a shield, staff or other object with which to push the thicket aside). The thorn trees are immune to all non-magical damage. Spells and magic weapons affect them as usual.
Any character wearing or touching Fjalar’s ring can push through the hedge at any point without taking damage from the thorns. However, Fjalar’s three daughters wait inside, to oppose anyone who tries to gain entrance to the area.
The area within the ring of thorn bushes is scattered with rotted timbers and the remains of walls. At the east end a stone throne sits upon a low dais. Three pallid figures, their armour rusted and clothes tattered by the years, turn to face intruders as they enter.
The daughters – Asa, Nauma and Aslaug – have waited at the castle for a century. Their bones lie in the grass: what the characters can see are their ghosts – immune to normal weapons and damage, but very much capable of damaging living folk as if they were real. Spirit Might 20 each. For added nastiness, the SG might rule that their swords can pass through metal etc., and so cannot be parried, so that only dodge-based defenses have any effect.
As soon as the party enter through the thorn hedge the women go to confront them and to block their advance. Their tactic is to prevent any characters from entering until they know exactly who the party are and what they want.
If the characters start a fight, the women retaliate. They do not venture out of the enclosed area unless they see Vemund – in which case they charge towards him, grimly intent upon killing him. Note that they cannot get through the hedge unless they somehow get the ring or the characters have destroyed a section to make a gap.
But the women would rather talk first: they want to kill Vemund, but have no quarrel with the characters.
Like Vemund they are trapped, and long for release. They want to kill Vemund to fulfil their oath, hoping that the gods will then allow them to rest. They have no passion in their vengeance. They now pursue their vendetta only to gain a release from their imprisonment, and can hardly even remember their father any more.
Both the women and Vemund try to persuade the characters to help them. Both want to fulfill their oaths. Neither side can bribe them, as there is clearly nothing of value left in the hall’s ruins.
The daughters demand that the beggar be delivered over to them. He urges the party to kill or restrain the women (if they can!), so that he can get to his throne. The women tell the party what a tyrant Vemund became towards the end of his reign, and insist that they are justly avenging their father’s murder. Vemund argues that only if he can get to his throne again – and fulfil his oath – will the gods let them all die at last.
The most obvious compromise is this: Vemund may be allowed to get to his throne and pronounce Fjalar innocent, and then the daughters may kill him. As Vemund longs to be allowed to die, this is fine by him, and the women have no objections. Other solutions may be viable, at the DM’s discretion, depending upon how the party handle the negotiations.
There are no obvious treasures for the characters to pillage, but with a little thought they might find a use for 15,000 cubic feet of near-indestructible thorn-bush.
Whatever happens, if Vemund is killed the women all “die” – fade away to be at peace – before sunset. If Vemund gets to his throne and pronounces Fjalar innocent then he and any remaining daughters “die” before darkness falls. Equally, if the characters persuade the protagonists to forgive each other, then all four die here at dusk. If Vemund is killed by anyone other than the daughters, then his ghost continues to stalk the region, looking for the ring (and note that his lone ghost will always be “killed” by the daughters if it tries to return alone). If the the characters destroy the daughters’ ghosts then the gods will not let them rest, so that they return after a few months – especially unfortunate if the characters have let Vemund free himself in that time.
- Copyright rests with the author. Permission is granted to reproduce and distribute via fanzine or website, so long as the copyright is indicated.