We opened this week’s Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition game with the party on the other side of the Limes Germanicus — the series of walls and berms that separate Germania Major (Roman territory) from Germania Magna (where the Alemmani barbarians live.) They have entered these lands close to where modern-day Mainz is, at the conflux of the Rhine and Moenus (Main) Rivers and are pushing east into the lands of the Chatti.
A recap of the characters and their mission: they are led by Legate Quintus Marcellus, a former legionnaire who has been asked to act as an envoy for the empire by the Augustus, Gratian — the 16 year old heir to the throne who is battling for the same against the machinations of his largely Frankish and Alemmani general staff. He was, a few years ago, the boy’s mentor while they were on campaign. Next is Decurion Carrus Zwergi, a dwarf of the Jurazwergi tribe in the mountains near lake Constance. Known as Carrus the Goblin or Vandal Killer, he was given a commission leading the troop of irregulars protecting Marcellus on his mission. The are aided by a priest, Aurelius Augustinius of Hippo (know to our world as Saint Augustine) who apparently is under the protection of Apollo, as is the senatorial-class bard/brat Marcus Calvinus — both of them magic users empowered by Apollo. There is a former anchorite monk, an Aasimar, named Icio Zaccharius, who is being led by the archangel Michael to find and destroy a tiefling looking for some kind of powerful magic-user to aid the Adversary. They are joined by several Roman auxilliary troops and a satyress named Carona, whose people were destroyed by this tiefling, known as “the Seeker.”
Their first stop of note was a small trading town on the other side of the border, where they got their bearings and spoke with the elder of the town about the situation on this side of the wall. This is an area of foederati — treaty-bound Alemmani, mostly Chatti and Matteucci tribes, but further are the Vangiones…also currently allied, if only marginally, with Rome. they were told the area was safe to Romans, and press on to the Chatti “capital”, Stragen, (after a fashion) to speak with their King Pilenses.
On the road through some forest, however, things go awry when the party is attacked by a group of what they think are bandits…these guys, however, are skilled and led by an assassin. The fight was vicious, with most of the PCs catching some form of injury, minus the Cavlinus and Augustinius, who were far enough back to not be directly in the fight until near the end. The characters were generally doing poorly with their rolls, while the bandits were wracking up a surprising number of criticals. Fortunately, most of them were at disadvantages thanks to the bard’s “vicious mockery” and bad terrain.
Eventually, they were able to take down the bad guys, with Carona dropping two by using her “ram” advantage and hitting them with her horns. The assassin, on the other hand was holding up despite an onslaught of multiple characters, before trying to escape. He was put to sleep by the bard.
Now captured, the bard and satyr interrogated the men — she used the “frighting strain” as per the Monster Manual. (I built a Satyr PC race for the Fight Club 5 app using the MM data, but made her a bard and for her spell slots gave her all the alternate spells from the “Panpipes” sidebar.) Terrified, they got a disadvantage vs. the bard’s high charisma and spilled it: They had been hired by one of the tribunes that had been against the mission, and had thought elevating a simple Roman like Marcellus (who left the legion under a cloud, but mysteriously with a military diploma and his retirement land and pay…) to a senatorial rank was folly for the new, and not quite yet, emperor. Trying to kill a legate is treason under Roman rule, and Marcellus has the ability as a legate and commander on detached duty to render judgment. Carrus then executed them with his axe.
But, wait…these guys are supposed to be “good!” That’s their alignment — Marcellus is lawful good, and did everything by the rules; Carrus is neutral good and these guys were “all bad”, to quote Harry Tasker in True Lies. This is another instance where the moral issues and legal issues of the Roman period clash to a point with the typical D&D alignment system. Is it possible for something to be “good” or “evil” by our standards, but the mores of period would say differently? Slavery is “evil” today, yet until 1792, it was normal and ubiquitous around the world. People would even willingly enter into slavery to have a job/housing/security. Executing traitors or assassins without a real trial might seem “evil” today…but it was the law, and most would have considered just, in 375AD.
Eventually, they get to Stragen, the seat of King Pilenses, where after some tense introductions — What are the Romans doing showing up out of the blue? Did he bring a legion with him, and if so, why are they not here..? — they were able to sound him out about the goings on in Germania Magna.
They found out that there is a lot of migration of tribes from the East, moving ahead of the Ostrogoths and a group of Sarmatians that appear to be led by someone called Aiton (the Seeker.) They have heard that traveling with them is some kind of horror which has been destroying whole villages. The main troublemakers for Rome out here are the Lentienses, a Celtic tribe (elves) who are trying to win the Alemmani tribes over to their side. Led by King Priarius and based south near the Danube, they are claiming to have the means to stop Aiton. It is convincing a lot of those tribes not wedded to peace with Rome to consider his offer. Even Pilenses has been courted by these Lentienses.
The key, he thinks, is the Vangiones tribe of the Alemmani. They hold Locoritum, once a large Roman town on the Moenus, about three days travel through the river valley and the heavily forested Spettus Hills. The group stayed the evening and the next morning were planning to set forth.
Some of the character beats included Carrus getting lucky with Carona…then the bard, Calvinus, getting lucky after a night of debauched music-making for the Chatti king. Now the dwarf is confused, angry, and jealous. Also, she had given them presents for saving her from her attackers…most of it lifted from some people (like the set of figurines of the Greek gods for Augustinius and the lovely gold beard bands for Carrus), or paid for with money she’d pickpocketed from people (like the new lute for Calvinus.) There’s no way this could go wrong…right?