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Triodia: The Deeds of Three (Series 2 - 2005)

Episode 1 - Vercingetorix Pt 2: The Black Camp

23 January 2005

Gaul, 52 BC. Several weeks have passed since Caesar begun his campaign against Vercingetorix. The Romans have besieged Bourges, the greatest city in the region, while the Gallic chieftain is encamped several miles away. Vercingetorix lacks the manpower to attack openly against the enemy, but the natural defences of his camp are too good for the Romans to risk assault. So the situation is a stalemate... Nothing has been seen of the black army that arrived from the east.

Rhadamanthus, Trophonius and Eirene are still with Vercingetorix, helping his army. One afternoon they happen to hear a discussion in the chieftain's tent. A strange voice says: "Maeve sends word. Our army is ready to attack whenever you give the word." That wicked warlord and Vercingetorix together? Later that day they are out, scouting the neighbourhood. Suddenly they hear sounds of combat ahead. Rushing forward they see two soldiers in black leather, several of their comrades fallen, fighting a Roman squad. Rhadamanthus recognizes one of them: his friend Dhasarius, the innkeeper from Mani. Remembering the way the Greek slaves had been brought to Gaul they immediately rush to their assistance, and the Romans are quickly beaten. But Dhasarius does not appear to recognize their saviour. His face is blank, and his eyes... It looks as if a black fluid is swimming behind his eyes. The two survivors walk away, without saying a word.

They decide to follow the men, who lead them to a large camp. Thousands of soldiers, all with blank expressions, except for the many guards and commanders. An army of slaves. A closer look is needed, and the three disguise themselves in the armour of some of the fallen soldiers. No one pays them much attention as they stroll through the camp. The general's tent is at the centre of the camp. Peeking in they see Maeve, as beautiful and cold as ever. Suddenly there is a flash of light: the mysterious young man with his harp appears out of nowhere. He seems angry: "What do you think you're doing? You know I can't help you this far from Greece." Maeve just laughs. "I'll do what I please. I need this army. I need the greatest army the world has ever seen." The man says: "Very well. You know where to find me." and disappears in another flash. So, if this sorcerer, god, whatever he is, has not brainwashed the slave soldiers, then who or what has? Thinking Maeve may have the secret with her, they decide to smoke her out, and set fire to her tent. But there appears to be nothing of value there. At least, she doesn't bother to rescue anything. Now it is time to vanish, before they are discovered. There is a lot of commotion. Not only has there been a fire, but apparently one of the slaves has escaped...

Deep night is about them as they journey back to the camp. Suddenly they hear a rustle in the woods. They discover a man in black, terrified. His eyes are normal. "No, don't take me back!" he screams. "I don't want the Black Oil!" They try to assure him they are not with Maeve. He appears to be Greek, like them. Apparently Maeve stole the "Black Oil" from an alchemist living in Bourges, or so the fellow had overheard. The same man also had an antidote... They give him civilian clothes and point him on the road to Greece. It is too late to seek the antidote tonight, so they return to camp. In the morning they confront Vercingetorix. "Yes, I have allied with Maeve," he concedes. " I need her army. You know as well as I that we cannot beat the Romans as we are." They try to warn him about Maeve, but he won't change his mind. They decide to find the antidote and release the slaves themselves.

Getting into Bourges is easy, even though the Romans have it under heavy guard. There is a ditch they can easily follow under the battlements, under the cover of night, then scale the city walls. Finding the alchemist may prove harder. However, they have not gotten far when they see a guard at the mouth of an alleyway, knocked out cold... In the alley there is a door ajar. They enter the shop, filled with jars and vials. A door slams in the back. The back room appears ransacked. There is a shelf with a note: "Black Oil antidote". It is empty. They rush through the door to see a man disappearing into the next street. Rhadamanthus, fired by the will to save his friend, almost catches up with him. The thief reaches the city wall, begins to climb up a rope he has left there. Eirene, coming up at least a hundred yards behind, strings her bow and fires, slicing the rope with a masterful show of marksmanship. The man falls on the ground. It is Vercingetorix.

"I'm glad you caught me. I was going to get rid of the antidote so no one could hinder our army. But I can't, not when I know how that army was built. Take it, free the slaves. I'll give you as many men as you need if they will help." They return to camp, to prepare for the attack on the next day. As evening is falling Rhadamanthus sneaks into the black camp, places the antidote into the water supply. He then goes in search of the Black Oil in order to destroy it. He has no trouble finding the right tent, as he sees guards dragging a resisting slave into it, then out again, his face blank. Meanwhile, Vercingetorix's men surround the camp, in order to take care of the guards when they discover that the slaves are no longer in their sway after drinking the water at their evening meal. The battle is swift, the guards soon realize they have no chance and surrender. But in the confusion Rhadamanthus sees one woman riding away: Maeve has escaped.

Just then a messenger comes riding in: the Romans have taken Bourges, the citizens have fled. Vercingetorix decides to retreat to the stronghold at Gergovia, hoping to draw Caesar's army there. He is willing to lend troops to see the freed slaves back on their way to Greece, though. The three adventurers decide to leave with them. It is time to return home. They set off the following day. At nightfall they make camp, the three sleeping a little way off. They set their own watch. In the dead of night Trophonius wakes up. As he does so he realizes that he should have been on watch. He feels cold steel against his neck. All around them stands a host of Roman legionaries.

To be continued...

(No allusions to hit science fiction shows were made during the creation of this roleplaying adventure.)

Episode 2 - Sheepwrecked

19 February 2005

Sounds of battle are heard in the distance. A Roman soldier reports in to his commander: "There's too many of the Greeks, and they have Gallic warriors with them." The commander answers: "Very well. Retreat, but take what prisoners you can with you." Our three adventurers, together with several Greek and Gallic fighters, are marched southwards for many days. At last they see the sea before them. They haven't got long to enjoy the view, though, as they are soon led onto a ship, and put in chains below deck. The voyage begins. They have not been out for many days when the sea begins to get rougher and rougher. Thunder is heard, suddenly. Eirene has been scared of thunder since she was a child, but she manages to hold together. Maybe just because of exhaustion from their long journey...

Suddenly there is a loud crack, a scraping noise. Then shouting is heard, all around the vessel. "We're sinking!" Panic breaks loose in the hold. As soon as the guards have run out, Trophonius, just waiting for the chance, picks open his bonds. Soon all the prisoners are freed, and they escape into the howling wind and stinging rain. Most of the crew has already abandoned the rapidly sinking ship. They find a table in the captains cabin, which they use as a raft. They have barely got on it as the ship sinks. A wooden chest is floating near by. They capture it: it contains various junk, hardly useful. But also, by some stroke of luck, their gear and weapons...

Many hours later they wash up on a shore. No other survivors are in sight, not even much debris. They rest for the remainder of the day, eating what fruit and roots they can find. In the dead of night, Trophonius, keeping watch, hears a distant wailing sound, and a banging. It goes on for a moment, then ends. In the morning they decide to make for one of the high hills nearby. They walk for a few hours, until they suddenly see a great hole in the ground, covered by heavy wooden bars. Creeping up to it, they peer in and see... a cyclops, sitting still at the bottom! It is blind. The poor creature says it has been trapped by terrible monsters who have taken over its home. The three decide to give it a hand, in exchange for a promise to help them back towards civilization.

After they have helped the cyclops, who introduces itself as Polyphemus, out of the hole, they continue on a path up the hillside. They haven't gone very long when they suddenly see a glint of metal. Someone is guarding the way, hidden behind a rock. As they draw nearer, a white face under a brass helmet peers out, and calls, in an eerily familiar voice: "Baa! Who goes there?"

Later, as they are led into a dell occupied by a horde of sheep (most of them wearing helmets), it is no surprise to find their old "friend" Haroldus at the thick of things. He is the leader of the mob, the great revolution as he terms it. "It was lucky that I happened to land here. For years the cyclopses have enslaved our kind. It is time to fight back! You couldn't have come at a better time! We're in desperate need of a little assistance." The sheep are, apparently, building a secret weapon. But they need to, for some reason, take a metal rod attached to a chain to the top of the hill. The other end of the chain is attached to a funny looking box. "It collects lightning, you see? And stores it in the box. Then we use this thingy to shoot the lightning, where and when we want to!"

Despite their misgivings about getting involved in this war between two species, they agree to help, as the sheep promise to build them a boat. They climb up the hill. The last dozen yards are very steep. Trophonius, the best climber of the group, scales them alone, the rod tied to his back. The others notice it is getting rather dark, a black cloud is passing over them... The rod is put into place. Trophonius begins to lower himself, using the chain! Rhadamanthus feels the danger: his sixth sense is rarely wrong. He shouts to the thief, telling him to get off the chain. The thief leaps, just as a the lightning strikes... They can see and feel the raw power travelling past them along the chain. Trophonius, hair standing on end, slides down the steep hillside. Back down, Haroldus greets them: "Perfect timing, pals! Perfect! We've got more than enough power to test the weapon!"

But they need one more thing: a perfect ruby. There is one, they have heard, in the treasure chamber of the cyclopses. But the sheep do not know where it is located. So the adventurers go back to Polyphemus. They tell the cyclops they have a plan to get rid of the "monsters", but they need jewels to do it. Polyphemus agrees to guide them to the treasury. There are guards there, three mean looking cyclopses. They decide to wait for cover of dark, then act: Eirene fires a series of flaming arrows. The cyclopses follow them, into a nearby wood, where Rhadamanthus is building a fire, small, but smoking. The guards rush away, shouting: "Forest fire! Help!" Meanwhile, Trophonius sneaks into the treasure chamber, which, to cyclopses, apparently is synonymous with 'larder'. There is, however, a statue with a ruby as its eye...

Next morning the sheep have completed their lightning machine. They reveal a creature, vaguely cyclops-like, made of hay. At this they aim the machine, Haroldus flips the switch. A red beam shoots out of one end of it. But nowhere near the target. The machine begins to shake, and move around. "Duck!" Rhadamanthus yells, the others don't need telling twice as the beam approaches them. A nearby boulder is sliced in two. The lightning that was stored in the box can't last for ever, can it? But the machine does not seem to think so and goes on slicing and dicing everything in its path. It begins to smoke... The heroes, and the sheep, decide to run for it. They haven't gotten far when they hear a tremendous blast behind them...

"Oh no!" Haroldus moans. "Without the weapon we are helpless against the cyclopses!" So why not leave? The adventurers agree to take the sheep with them on the boat (which, amazingly, has already been built), and look for a deserted island for them to settle. As Polyphemus comes up, shouting: "My home! What have they done to my home!" there does not seem to be much choice but to run for the boat... They set the course for Greece.

(No cyclopses were blinded during the creation of this roleplaying adventure. However, the police would like to question one Ulysses of Ithaca concerning earlier events at the scene.)

Episode 3 - A Midsummer-Night's Scream

27 February 2005

Spring is well on its way as our three companions return to Athens. There is a buzz in town: king Theseus is getting married (and, what is more, to Hippolyta, an Amazon queen). As the afternoon is coming to a close, they step into a tavern. At that very moment Rhadamanthus sees something hurtling straight towards him. He quickly ducks, so does Eirene behind him. Trophonius, however, isn't fast enough, and the cream pie strikes him square in the face... A "friendly" brawl is taking place. After fighting off a couple of assailants they decide to find another inn. They are out of luck, however. There is no room anywhere. No matter, they are used to sleeping outdoors. They decide to have supper, though, before leaving. As they walk into another tavern, Trophonius sees something glittering in a corner. He bends to pick it up (a measly dinar). As he stands up, he sees a dagger, still vibrating, stuck into the wall where his head was a second or two ago... They order. Trophonius is about to taste his wine, as Eirene calls out. The thief has spilled a drop of wine, which is burning a hole into the table...

An hour or two later they have found a comfortable spot in a nearby wood. They are preparing to turn in as they hear three sounds at the same time. Someone is moving in the woods, talking softly. Another small group would appear to be moving, talking less softly, some way off. And from another direction an eerie music is heard. Trophonius decides to investigate the music, the others stay in camp. Suddenly the softer voices draw nearer. Eirene hides nearby, while Rhadamanthus meets the travellers: a young man and woman, fairly wealthy by their apparel. Lysander and Hermia are their names. They are eloping, and have lost their way. Rhadamanthus tries to help as best he can, and they leave.

Meanwhile, Eirene hears a sound behind her: the source of the second voices, another man and woman, stumble out of the trees. The man, Demetrius, says he is looking for his betrothed, eloping with another man. Eirene, though he has seen the couple who are even now talking to Rhadamanthus, says she has seen no one. They leave, the man shouting at the woman, Helena, to quit following her... Just then, there is a terrible scream, from the direction Trophonius went...

As this has been happening, Trophonius has reached the source of the music: in a large clearing he sees faeries, nymphs, satyrs and other creatures of the wood partying. As he steps into the clearing, the music stops, the creatures vanish into the shadows, just a few pieces of fruit left scattered on the ground. Then he as well hears the scream, back from the direction of their camp. The three meet in small glade halfway between them. A body is lying there: they recognize the dark skinned female assassin who assaulted Trophonius and Vercingetorix in Gaul. A sword is stuck in her chest: Trophonius's sword! A voice calls out: "Who dares to desecrate our festival night with blood?" Four satyrs step into the glade, carrying a throne on their shoulders. A crowned, handsome man is seated on the throne: Oberon, the king of faeries. A ring of sprites and spirits of all kinds surrounds them...

Trophonius denies he has killed the woman, although all evidence points at him. They manage to convince the king that possibly someone else might be guilty... He decides to give them a chance to prove it. They have till dawn. Rhadamanthus begins by searching the ground: tracks lead away, tracks of cloven hoofs... Even in the dark and bad terrain the monster hunter has no trouble following the trail. After a while they hear arguing in a nearby clearing. All the four youths are gathered there. Helena, earlier trailing after Demetrius against his will, seems to be at the centre of attention, while Hermia, earlier the love of both men, is crying further off... This is too much for our heroes to bother with now, so they discreetly pass them by.

They have not gone much further when they run into a... a... half man, half ass? Maybe this is the killer? But no, the creature appears to have human feet. It greets them, politely, and says he appears to be lost after his frieds, for some reason, ran away. He has also lost his ring... They promise to keep an eye out for it, and depart. Just a little while further along the path they hear giggling from the woods. They sneak to the edge of a little dell, where they see a satyr sitting on the ground. It is snickering, and mumbling to itself: "Too shiny, yes, too shiny, must paint it, paint it red." In its hand it has a gold ring, and it is apparently smearing it with red berries. "Too shiny, like the sword, must paint it red, yes..." Well, they seem to have their culprit, and a real nut-case at that... Rhadamanthus thinks up a plan that will require all of Eirene's marksmanship: she fires an arrow, with a rope attached to it, which bounces off a rock, then another, so that it circles the crazy satyr, binding it. Then Rhadamanthus and Trophonius jump in to finish the job...

A little later they have delivered the thing to Oberon. He does not need to talk to it for long to be assured of its guilt. The faeries vanish into the shadows. The three return to their campsite. To their surprise they find it occupied: the four youths are all a sleep, apparently in total harmony, Lysander with Hermia and Demetrius with Helen. Our adventurers are too weary to even try to guess what's going on, and sleep. They leave before the youths awake, northwards, back to their homelands in Thrace...

(No love potions were used, by us, during the creation of this roleplaying adventure.)

GM's note: Despite its name, Shakespeare's Midsummer-Night's Dream actually takes place at the beginning of May. It is so named probably because it was written for a Midsummer's celebration...

Episode 4 - The Soothsayer

20 March 2005

It is a beautiful spring day as the three companions walk down a forest road in Thessaly. Suddenly they hear cries for help from further along, a group of youths almost runs into them. A monster, they say, has captured a traveller. From their description it would appear to be a griffon, and it has flown off towards the mountains. The winged beasts don't usually care much for the taste of man-flesh, but it has been a cruel winter... The three decide to help the man, or, if too late, at the very least rid the region of this beast. (Rhadamanthus, a monster hunter by trade, is eager to test his skills against it.)

They don't have to go far up into the foothills when they spy a large nest above a nearby cliff. The region beneath it is too steep, so they go around, and eventually turn up directly above the nest. The man, middle-aged, bearded, dressed in strange leather and fur, is there, lying prone. Hardly even giving the others time to think, Rhadamanthus leaps down, head first, spinning and whirling his mighty axes below his head. Like a living cork-screw he hacks into the flesh of the surprised beast. As soon as the monster hunter has landed, Eirene releases two deadly arrows, which pierce the creature. The weak fiend tries to strike with its mighty claws, but Rhadamanthus parries, and counter-strikes, slicing off the top of the bird-like head. The beast falls, brains oozing out on the floor of the nest. They manage to revive the man, and leave.

The man introduces himself as Aumenix, a soothsayer from Gaul. He says he has followed omens to this place. He asks the three to bring him a wild animal, so that he could read its entrails and decide on his next move. Soon they are happily roasting a rabbit by a camp-fire while the Gaul is examining its innards. "I see a woman of the north, a Celtic warrior queen. I see a man of the south, a conqueror. And a third man, a noble Celt, stands between them. If North and South should join, the Middle will fall, and all the world after him... There are only three who can save us."

They spend a few days in a nearby town resting and equipping themselves. Soon after they have left, walking down a beautiful woodland lane, they hear music from a glade up to the front, a harp playing... They try to sneak up, but Aumenix treads on a twig, making a noise that would raise the dead. (Maybe, if they were very near...) The man there turns, looking straight at them. It is the young minstrel, the god they immediately associate with the warlord Maeve. "So," he says, "you again. Well, there's nothing you can do this time. Soon Maeve will control the greatest army in the world, then all other powers shall fall." With a flash of light he vanishes.

If there was any doubt before, the soothsayer's prophecy is now all but too clear. Maeve and Caesar are about to join forces. If that should happen, Vercingetorix and Gaul would fall, then, little by little, all of the known world... Once again it is up to them to stop Maeve's plans. But what should they do? They must go to Gaul, that is clear. But Rhadamanthus the warrior, with a glimmer in his eyes, begins to lay out a plan. They'll go, not unprepared, but in force, gathering an army of their own. He plans to find the greatest and nastiest mercenary group in the region, and hijack it...

In this era of war, bandits and monsters it does not take them long to find a suitable army. A band of some two hundred bad-ass warriors, led by the warlord Caicas, is encamped nearby. Rhadamanthus decides to take a direct approach. He marches straight into the camp, punching down guards as he goes along. The mercenaries are too stunned to react. Caicas steps out of his tent. "What is this racket?" he demands. But almost at the same instant the monster hunter charges at him wielding his double axes. The fight is short and violent. The surprised Caicas is badly wounded, then disarmed by a mighty blow. Panting, he falls to the ground, and Rhadamanthus claims leadership of the band. Caicas still has something to say about this, but a sharp axe pressed against his neck quickly changes his mind. Also, and not maybe least, he is intrigued by a promise of a battle of battles to come...

They begin their long march across the Alps...

To be continued...

(No feathers were ruffled during the creation of this roleplaying adventure.)

GM's note: Sooner or later the players are bound to do something entirely unexpected... Hijacking an army was certainly not a part of any of my plans, and has put the continuation of this sequence in an entirely new light.

Episode 5 - Vercingetorix Pt 3: The Morrigan

28 March 2005

The Romans have besieged Vercingetorix at his fortress in Gergovia, and this is where our three heroes now lead their army, some five hundred men strong after adding more mercenaries on the way. Keeping their presence secret, they make camp not far from the scene. There is little news about Maeve, but apparently her army is nearby, remaining neutral for the present. Under cover of night, Eirene and Trophonius sneak through the Roman lines and make contact with Vercingetorix. He knows nothing about negotiations between Maeve and Caesar, and finds the news alarming. As for now, the Roman forces are at a disadvantage, but if Maeve should join them, even with her army diminished with the release of the slave soldiers, that might just turn the odds in their favour... Vercingetorix has no advice to give, but will greatly appreciate any help from our heroes...

At the brake of dawn, a scout returns to camp bearing news that Caesar and Maeve are set to rendezvous the following they. This gives Rhadamanthus the inklings of a plan. They need to drive a wedge between the two leaders. What better way to do this than to convince one that the other is trying to kill them? They decide to capture Roman uniforms and attack Maeve as she comes to the meeting. Both leaders should only have a small escort with them, so they would not need a great force... But where to find the uniforms?

An army fights on its stomach. There must be frequent food deliveries, with escorts. They take some 200 men and set up an ambush on one of the main roads. Before long scouts return, saying that a caravan of several carts is approaching, guarded by a whole century. A hundred men... Not too much to handle, enough to take on Maeve's escort. The surprised Roman's haven't got a chance. The operation is swift and clean, they have their uniforms and also enough food to keep the troopers happy for some time.

They still must find out the exact time and place of the meeting. Trophonius dons the centurion's uniform and sneaks into the Roman camp. He starts asking around, but the lower ranks no nothing about the meeting. He finally asks a high ranking officer, who is suspicious about how the man would know anything about this, highly classified, matter. The thief, though, is a masterful bluffer and soon strolls out of the camp with the information. The following day they set up their troops, a hundred mercenaries disguised as Roman legionaries and another fifty as backup further off, about the scene of the meeting. At noon Maeve and Caesar approach, both with an escort of some twenty horsemen. A tent is put up, and the leaders begin their negotiations in privacy.

This is the cue. Rhadamanthus, in the centurion's uniform, leads the assault. One of the the mercenaries ducks into the tent, addressing Caesar: "The assault has begun as ordered, sir!" Caesar's escort, very much confused, joins them in their assault on Maeve's men at Rhadamanthus's command. Maeve, convinced that she has stepped into Caesar's trap, exits the tent and mounts her steed. Rhadamanthus knocks down a tent pole, hearing Caesar curse inside. Maeve's escort is soon killed, only a few have escaped. Suddenly Rhadamanthus, viewing the scene, feels a presence behind him. An old woman, with hair red as fire, is standing there. She whispers to him: "There's a ruined temple a mile to the North. Drive her there!" Then she vanishes.

Meanwhile, Maeve has broken through the lines and is making a run for it. Rhadamanthus leaps up on the first horse he sees and gallops after her, taking a few of the Roman cavalry with him (real Romans, but they are convinced he is a real commander). Trophonius, further away, sees what is happening and follows them, while Eirene leads their troops back to camp. Caesar, escaping form the tent and seeing what has happened, silently flees the scene.

Rhadamanthus and his company pursue Maeve, driving her steadily northwards, away from the path. They are getting higher and higher. Finally they see the old temple. Cliffs rise behind it, they have driven Maeve to a dead end. She unmounts, and makes her stand in the temple. Rhadamanthus, and Trophonius coming up behind, follow her in, commanding the soldiers to guard the exit. Maeve laughs at them. "So, we meet again! You were the ones who spoiled my beautiful slave army, I believe. And now it seems that Caesar's army is beyond my grasp... No matter, some way or another I will have my revenge!" With a tremendous roar, Rhadamanthus assaults her with his axe, she takes a grievous wound, but hardly seems to notice it. She stabs him in turn. Just a flesh wound... The thief, though, surprises her by throwing a net over her, and Rhadamanthus grapples her. Tied up they drag her back to their camp.

Back in camp, in the commander's tent, they open the net, commanding her to strip her armour and weapons. Despite Eirene's arrow trained on her, she instantly grasps Rhadamanthus's neck. Eirene lets the arrow fly, piercing her heart. She just looks down at the arrow sticking in her chest, and laughs. The thief stabs her, while Rhadamanthus lets loose a fearsome swing with his double axes, decapitating her with a clean sweep. Her body begins to crawl towards the head... There is a flash of light, the mysterious Minstrel appears between them and the woman, a grim expression on his face. But suddenly, in another flash, three women appear around them, all with fiery red hair. The Minstrel takes on look at them and vanishes. With one voice they speak: "You cannot kill her. Leave her to us. We are the Morrigan, she is our responsibility." The three run out of the tent, and turning around see it turn into solid rock. In a nearby tree they see three ravens sitting on a single branch, and suddenly take flight...

A messenger comes in. Caesar, outnumbered and failing to ally with Maeve, is retreating from Gergovia. Maeve's army, convinced that Caesar has captured and killed Maeve, is likewise retreating, in the direction of Germania. Later on, Vercingetorix thanks them for their help. The battle is won, but Gaul's freedom is still far away...

(Maeve was not killed during the creation of this roleplaying adventure.)

GM's note: My original plan was to have the Morrigan appear at the ruined temple and then have the temple collapse on top of Maeve. However, the players insisted on taking her alive...