We picked up with our heroes last night (after a spectacularly good batch of jambalaya…yay, me!) the morning after young emperor — although there seems to be some dissension in the ranks as to whether he should become emperor — Gratian asking Quintus Marcellus, the former legionnaire, to return to service as an imperial ambassador to the tribes on the other side of the German Line. This would make him a legate — a senatorial rank that would permanently elevate him from simple Roman citizen to one of the elites. Damn right, he took the job! Additionally, Gratian and the selection of military leaders around him were so impressed with Carrus the Goblin Killer that he was asked to join the Roman Army as a “decurion” — the leader of the small cavalry band that would support Marcellus in his mission. This auxiliary force are considered “speculatores”, or “scouts” (’cause “spy” is such a dirty word…)
We picked up the action with Aurelius Augustinius, our cleric, and Marcus Calvinus, the bard, waking in bed with the pair of sisters they were celebrating their good fortune with, and hearing the return of their father — an important man in Augusta Treverorum. They quickly dressed and exit through the bedroom window with Marcus biffing his athletics test and falling comically out of the window. The pair then retired to a gashaus to have breakfast and celebrate their night of revelry.
Icio, the aasimar monk, spent the night in contemplation over the Bible the local church had, a product of two monk’s life’s work. The Vicar of Trier (what the local Franks and Alemmani call Augusta Terverorum) gives him a primer on the Alemmani language so he might spread the word in the barbarian lands he’s going to. Linking up with Aurelius and Marcus, the trio spot a young woman being chased by a half dozen toughs, who drag her into a arched alleyway between buildings. Without a thought, Icio jumps to the rescue.
They find a pair kicking the girl, while their friends egg them on. It’s smelling like it’s about to get rapey or murderous…maybe both. Icio pulls the classic up run up the wall to do his death from above spinning staff and backfist atttack on the two assailants, with a crit success that knocks the teeth out of one. Marcus bards up and lights the place up with “fairie fire”, while Aurelius blasts a shot of scared flame into the roof overhead. The combined violence and magic scares the young men, but not before the girl leaps up and headbuts one of them insensate.
Icio has a moment of righteous anger at seeing her for the first time: the cloven hooved feet; digigrade, furred legs; the rams horns on her head — is he nephalim? (The damned, or what the folks from the Near East call tiefling.) No…he can sense his opponents, and he can’t sense her nature. Moreover, an crit insight (he was rolling very well last night) makes him think this is a wild, and generally good, creature. She is Carona — a satyress or faun — from Dacia. Her tribe was wipred out by a group of Goths and she has been migrating west, relying on her wits and the occasional good graces of the faun communities throughout Germania. What she doesn’t tell them is that the six men were chasing her because she had just picked the pocket of the lead “rich bastard” and they were in pursuit.
The three convene to their inn with her to question her about the barbarian lands. She notes that Marcus has the “gift” — his music can summon magic. She can teach him to use it. For the character of Carona, I used the satyr listing in the Monster Manual as a template for a PC race, then built her in the Fight Club 5 app as a 2nd level bard/1st level rogue, and let her have all three of the Panpipes spells from the MM as her cantrips.
Meanwhile, Carrus and Marcellus get set up with the appropriate clothes for the rank. Carrus is somewhat miffed at the Roman outfit — a uniform of a Roman centurion– but Marcellus is quite chuffed to be wearing the uniform of legate, complete with a purple trimmed red cloak. they put together their small band — a Alemmani huntsman, a Saxon spy, their companion Verenor from the caravan, a pair of scouts from the auxiliaries, and their wrangler, a Down’s Syndrome animal savant named Steven than the huntsman treats as a sort of surrogate son. Steven is sensitive, and is able to chose the perfect mount for each of them. (I originally was thinking of writing Steven up as a paladin — a guy that “just knows good and bad”, but the wrangler angle felt better.)
The group finally meets up, convinces Carona — who has just been through the lands they’ll be traveling in — to aid them in their mission.
There was a second dinner with Gratian and his court, where Marcus’ uncle tells him the political landscape is changing…and not necessarily for the better for the party. Gratian’s troops are not supporting him for emperor, but instead seem to have been convinced (most likely by his senior generals) that backing his 4 year old step-brother is the way to go. Specifically, they are hoping the popular and well-connected in Constantinople Empress Justina (Valentinian’s last wife) might keep the money flowing from the Eastern Empire and provide a support from Emperor Valens. Gratian is not happy with this turn of events.
Angered by the obvious bullshit of this, Carrus explodes into defense of Gratian, and with his first 20 of the night, proceeds to berate and humble the assembled legates and tribunes. Marcellus makes the suggestion that at the very least, Gratian should keep command of the army and the regions of Gaul, as augustus (junior emperor.) They don’t make a lot of friends in the court, but they impress the old and wily Merobaudes, the Frankish king that is Gratian’s lead general.
After that they decided getting out of the city and away from the court intrigue was a good idea. They are also very aware that the success of their mission could reshape the empire…or ruin Gratian and anyone connected to him. Like them.
After a five day trip in which Marcus is trying to learn Carona’s cantrips, and Carrus is increasingly smitten with the creature, they arrive at the Limes Germanicus, the border of the Roman province of Germania. The line is a moat with a sharp berm 20′ high and topped with a wooden spiked wall. They’ve arrived at a castle that provides access through the wall under the command of a senior centurion. After a night’s rest and a study of the maps they have, the party crossed through the gate to the bridge over the moat and the road into the wilderness.
They are now on their own…
Several elements of the campaign are falling into place. I’ve been holding to magic, while present, is rare and powerful — something the 5th edition rules don’t do well for the former (Does everyone know spells? Really?) and excels at for the latter. I’ve been essentially assuming no one outside of the PCs have magic unless it is specific for the plot. This is an extraordinary group — an assimar or “demi-angel”, a cleric and bard blessed by Apollo…maybe the satyress’ presence is also something the Olympian (or the Christian God) arranged, as well.
I’m not a high fantasy fan, so keeping this gritty and based in an alt-history universe has been a main goal. The politics and intrigue of Late Antiquity/Early Medieval Europe have, so far, provided a richer backdrop than a knock-off Middle Earth could. Now, as they are heading into the wilds, I’m starting to loosen up on that. The addition of the faun is the gateway into more traditional fantasy (although we have already established that Marcellus’ common law wife in Britannia, a Celt, was an elf.)