All Hallow's Eve: A Robin of Sherwood adventure for HârnMaster Core
© Andy Staples, October 31, 2000
'Tis now the very witching time of night, when churchyards yawn, and hell itself breathes out contagion to this world. Now could I drink hot blood, and do such bitter business as the day would quake to look on.
Hamlet, Act Three, Scene Two
Special thanks to Chris Golden for the use of his beautiful maps, for sharing the fruits of his historical research and for his enthusiasm for Robin of Sherwood. Also to Andy Gibson, Francis Tiffany, Mark Williams, Ellen Singer and the rest of the Gencon UK playtesters for helpful criticism and advice. Nothing is forgotten. Nothing's ever forgotten.
Note: Though it's been 10 years since I created this adventure, I've never managed to write the remaining scenes or stat out the NPCs. They do exist - but only in my head. If enough people bug me to finish it, I'll try to pull my finger out. It's also in my mind to produce some Hero System stats for it. But finishing it's the priority.
- Welcome to the Mystic Forest
- The Wolfsheads Must Be Caught!
- To market, to market...
- All Souls' Night
This adventure was written to demonstrate HârnMaster Core at Gencon UK 2000, but should be fairly easy to convert to any game system. It is intended for up to seven players, who will take the roles of Robin Hood and his merry men, as seen in Richard Carpenter's Goldcrest TV series Robin of Sherwood. For Robin of Sherwood afficionados, this adventure is set early in the first season of the series. If there are fewer than seven players some of the Merry Men may be absent for some reason, or they may be played as NPCs. Much should be the first candidate for NPC status. Robin should always be a player character.
Companion files include: pre-prepared character sheets for Robin and the Merry Men; a map of medieval Nottinghamshire; and a brief history of Sherwood. Only the basic HârnMaster Core ruleset is required to play; HârnMaster Magic and HârnMaster Religion are unnecessary. A battlemap and a copy of Clannads Legend album are entirely optional.
Maps of most places where action is set in this scenario are available on Chris Golden's Aedificium site. Chris's speculative reconstruction maps of medieval Nottinghamshire villages include Carlton-in-Lindrick, Shireoaks, Wallingwells and Worksop. He has also created a groundplan of Wallingwells Priory.
A convention game should be flexible and oriented towards action and adventure, and this is no exception. The plot is fairly simple and linear. It must be kept moving. Several optional scenes in this adventure are designed to slow down or speed up the players progress as required. Aim for a session to last about four hours - most players have lots of other things to do at a convention. In a more relaxed setting, timing is less important, but good use of optional scenes can help adjust the difficulty and tension.
Combat is a major feature of the adventure. Experience in the Gencon demo showed that the pregenerated statistics for Robin and his gang are sufficiently powerful that they can emulate many of the deeds of the TV characters: dropping enemies with a single arrow, avoiding hits and so on. Nevertheless, anything can happen when dice rolls are involved. Let it.
Besides the introduction, there are four key scenes which should be played: Raid on Wickham, The Holdout; Get Thee to a Nunnery and The Devilstone. Everything else is optional. During the Gencon UK demo I even dropped one of the key scenes (Get Thee to a Nunnery) to finish the adventure in time for lunch. It did not suffer greatly.
Atmosphere is important in the Robin of Sherwood setting. The TV series adopted a distinctive pseudo-Celtic mysticism, which should be emulated if possible. The core concept of this mysticism is the existence of the Powers of Light and Darkness, a spiritual force, neither good nor evil, innate in all natural things. Those unfamiliar with the TV series may think of it as The Force.
Certain individuals have an innate ability to use the Powers of Light and Darkness, but conscious use is usually only obtained by training. No rules are provided for the Powers of Light and Darkness. Both Robin and Marion have certain innate abilities, represented by HârnMaster psionic talents but more powerful use of the Powers is part of the story, rather than a matter for rules.
But the mysticism goes beyond the Powers. The whole setting is pungent and vivid. The woods are greener than our world, the wind fresher, the towns filthier and the contrast between good and evil stronger. The mists are never far away. Enrich your descriptions as much as you can. Those who like to play music with their games might consider Clannads album Legend, the soundtrack to the TV series. The haunting track Caislean Or, from the Macalla album, was also used in the series. Enya and Loreena McKennitt provide similar mood music (All Souls' Night, from McKennitts album The Visit is highly appropriate). If you want something with more oomph (McKennitt can get pretty soporific even at her most lively), Iron Maiden's The Number of the Beast makes a highly appropriate opener for the climactic scene The Devilstone. Incidentally, Iron Maiden singer Bruce Dickinson was born in Worksop, which the players are likely to visit in this adventure.
Players are always doing the unexpected. Good GMs improvise in play to keep up with events, and this adventure is designed to aid that improvisation. But there are particular pitfalls to running an adventure so firmly based on a TV show:
Robin of Milwaukee: Players familiar with Robin of Sherwood may try to emulate their character from the series, but some may not have seen it. All they have to go on is the notes on their character sheet. Let players play their characters how they see fit; it may alter the atmosphere of the game, but it shouldn't affect the enjoyment.
My God, They Killed Kenny: So the outlaws decide to pepper Sir Guy of Gisburne full of arrows, raze Wickham, abandon Much or pillage Nottingham. Let them. It's a one-off adventure.
It's Worse Than That - He's Dead, Jim: What if one or more of the player characters is killed? Well, it's a shame, but they're dead. You're playing a game based on a TV series, not scripting an episode for it. There are a couple of NPCs who could serve as replacement characters if necessary. What if Robin dies before the finale? Don't panic. There are a couple of get-out clauses quite in keeping with the TV series. The best solution is for another player to assume his mantle as leader. Marion is the best bet, but John or Will could conceivably serve. If a party is much depleted then it might be better to rely on a mysterious NPC Hooded Man bearing a startling resemblance to Jason Connery coming in to save the day - or at least get the PCs as far as the final confrontation before vanishing as mysteriously as he came.
It is nearly Halloween, and Herne is off to lead the Wild Hunt, to limit the incursions of the darker elements of the Otherworld at their most powerful time. But there are some who seek to use the destructive power of Samain for their own purposes. The witch Gretil has developed a ritual that she hopes will create a bond between her protege and the powers of Darkness to produce the Darkling Green, Child of Rinds and Husks, the antithesis of the Hooded Man. By doing so, she hopes she will stand as liaison between the Darkling and the Dark, as Herne the Man stands between The Hooded Man and the Powers of Light and Darkness. As Herne battles the seasonal tide of Darkness in the Otherworld, so Robin and his companions must fight the darkness in this.
The adventure opens with Matthew of Wickham running into the outlaw camp to warn of a brigand raid on his village - his father needs their help. By the time the outlaws arrive, the brigands are leaving on horseback with Meg in their custody. Various alarums and excursions, which should end with Edward injured, Meg captured and the brigands fled. The outlaws must track the brigands down, work out who they are and what they're up to. To succeed, they must find help from other sources. They'll face the brigands (probably raiding their stronghold), prim nuns, superstitious peasants, and probably Gisburne and his men, before they reach the climax of the adventure as the servants of the Dark prepare their ritual at the Devilstone.
Background stories and roleplaying notes are given in more detail on the pregenerated character sheets. Click on the character name to download a PDF character sheet (they range from 160kb to 200kb).
Robin of Loxley: Hooded Man and leader of the outlaws. Robin is the son of a Saxon rebel, sworn to Herne the Hunter, stag-headed Lord of the Greenwood. He has pledged to defend the people of the forest and uphold true justice.
Marion of Leaford: The daughter of a Crusader slain in Palestine. She planned to become a nun to escape her wardship at Nottingham Castle, but followed Robin into the woods and married him.
Little John of Hathersage: A former shepherd sometimes accused of being a giant. Robin won Johns loyalty after freeing him from enchantment, and soon won his friendship.
Will Scarlet: Hot-headed soldier outlawed after tracking down and slaying three of the French mercenaries who murdered his wife.
Nasir: The 'Saracen killing-machine' is a former member of the sect of hashishim brought to England by Baron Simon de Bellême. Robin's skill and courage in slaying the Baron won his loyalty.
Brother Tuck: Not a friar (they don't come to England until the early 13th century) but a Regular Canon. Tuck was the Sheriff's chaplain but decided to accompany Marion when she fled to Sherwood with Robin.
Much the Miller's Son: A simple rustic, utterly devoted to his step-brother Robin, who he believes can do just about anything.
Raven (Primary Opponent): The Raven (real name: Payne fitzNorman) is a vile and ruthless mercenary captain, and protege (he believes master) of the witch Gretil. She has promised him he will become powerful if he helps her perform a certain ritual...
The Raven is a tall, lean man, with a mane of black hair and a thin, beaked nose. His men are the worst sort of Flemish mercenaries, rowdy, vicious and carrying a variety of mismatched and well-used weapons and armour. FitzNorman's device is Argent, a Raven proper displayed. His men carry white shields with an inverted (ie, downwards-pointing) black chevron.
Raven took over the manor complex at Shireoaks a day or so before the adventure opens. It's an isolated stronghold, but close to Carlton-in-Lindrick, where the ritual must be performed on All Hallows Eve.
Gretil (Primary Opponent): Every inch the evil witch, Gretil is a scrawny, wrinkled old hag with long, lanky hair and a protruding wart on her chin. Her soul belongs to dark powers, but she seeks to avoid payment by substituting another: Raven. By consecrating him as the Child of Rinds and Husks, she will become a lesser power among the ranks of Darkness.
Gretil has a variety of mystic powers. Some are represented by HârnMaster psionic talents, but others should be made up by the GM to suit the narrative flow. Summoning powerful winds, dense mists or even lesser demons could be possible.
The Prioress of Wallingwells (Secondary Opponent): Prioress Adelize and her sisters will definitely object to anyone attempting to rescue an apostate from her penance. The nuns are probably best sneaked around, but a particularly persuasive Tuck might convince the prioress that Sister Benedict is best off becoming an anchorite in the wildwoods. Use of threats against them will certainly be effective, but may cause them to seek help from the Sheriff - which will likely be forthcoming if Robin or any member of his band is identified.
Prioress Adelize is a middle-aged Norman who rules the 15 nuns in her charge with an iron will. She is greatly respected for her piety in the surrounding villages, particularly by knightly families, and she is a demanding, though not unkind, mistress to the serfs who work the priory's lands.
Sir Guy of Gisburne (Optional Opponent): Gisburne and the Sheriff's men-at-arms should be introduced either to slow down a speedy bunch of players, or for dramatic intent at the climax of the adventure. It is also conceivable that Gisburne & Co could act as temporary allies (preferably unwitting ones) if, for dramatic reasons, the Sheriff actually heeds the Prior of Worksop's pleas concerning the Raven's takeover of Shireoaks.
Gisburne is a blonde, handsome and haughty Norman, a devious bully with no respect for serfs or outlaws, and a courageous fighter. His dedication to catching poachers has earned him the nickname Guy the Gamekeeper among the Nottinghamshire peasantry. His men-at-arms are well-equipped with swords, shields, mail and occasionally crossbows. They are extremely good at intimidating peasants, but bungling incompetents when faced with heroes like Robin and his gang.
Sister Benedict: Eight years ago she was Branwen FitzHugh, bastard daughter of the late Marcher Lord of Weobley, Hugh de Lacy. She was a wild girl, roaming the forests of the Wye and the peaks of the Brecon Beacons from her father's border castle. Her wildness quietly amused her father, but when he died in 1186, her half-brother Walter arranged to have her taken as a nun by Wallingwells Priory, administered by his cousin's priory at Pontefract, to pray for the soul of their father (with a gift of land to pay for her upkeep).
Branwen is a poor nun, constantly chafing against the rules and restrictions of the priory. Her heart cries out for the wildlands, the greenwood and the moorlands. (Vader: "The Powers of Light and Darkness are strong within this one.")
Branwen tried to run away from the priory at harvest time. Her penance will continue until next summer - she is locked in a cell and given only bread and water. Needless to say, she is very unhappy. Though neither Branwen nor the Hooded Man can defeat Gretil alone, together they have enough influence over the Powers of Light and Darkness to overcome her.
Clues as to Branwen's whereabouts should be subtle (the Prisoner behind the Walls should be sufficient once one or two supporting characters have mentioned 'St Mary of the Wall and Wells' enough) but more obvious hints should be introduced if required.
Beneath her cassock and wimple, Branwen is a moderately attractive brunette, somewhat thin as a result of the enforced fasting. Her eyes are a little unsettling: one is green, the other blue.
Edward of Wickham: Edward is a great source of information and contacts, and a devotee of Herne who, though he has no special affinity for the Powers of Light and Darkness, will give Herne's Son all the help he can. If asked, he knows a little about Wallingwells - though he has not heard of Sister Benedict - and vague stories about the Devilstone at Carlton-in-Lindrick. He can even introduce the outlaws to Osbert, Reeve of Carlton, with whom he occasionally shares a mug of ale at Worksop Market.
In the event of PC death, Edward can be handed over to a player if necessary, though GMs will have to create their own stats.
Herne the Hunter: If things are looking absolutely dire for the outlaws long before the climax of the adventure, Herne may provide a little aid. He may appear to heal badly injured outlaws, or even to lend Robin the Silver Arrow (which can kill Gretil or The Raven instantly). He cannot raise the dead, but he can lead Robin or Marion through the Otherworld to release Branwen automatically. She can then be played as a PC if desired.
If Herne does appear in the run-up to All Hallows' Eve, he will be throbbing with the Powers of Light and Darkness, more god than man. His eyes will sparkle, he will exude strength, his nostrils will twitch at scents too subtle for the outlaws to detect, and so on. But he will be practical to the point of bluntness, for the Dark is Rising, and he is becoming the Master of the Hunt. He has other things things to do and other places to go.
St Thomas à Becket: Although St Thomas won't appear in person, in Tuck's hands the reliquary from Carlton parish church is a powerful spiritual shield. He can use the reliquary to defend Robin (and/or Branwen) from Gretil, making their battle against her easier. No rules are provided for this - make it apparent through description.
Meg of Wickham: Little John's beloved is the initial spur to adventure. The swearing of a soul to any of the Powers of Light and Darkness requires a life. Robin has given his own life to Herne; Gretil aims to give Meg's to the Lord of Husks and Rinds. Meg's death will occur at the high point of Gretil's ritual. The outlaws have until then to save her. If the outlaws manage to save Meg before the ritual even begins, then the backup choices for sacrifice are Marion (first choice) or one of the Raven's men (in a pinch). If Gretil is aware of her, Sister Benedict would make a good offering.
That Meg has been chosen as the victim is mere coincidence. Wickham is far enough from the Devilstone that a kidnapping shouldn't attract too much advance attention to the ritual, Gretil prefers a young woman as the victim, and Meg happened to be heading out to pick mushrooms when the mercenaries rode into the village.
Meg is an attractive, fun-loving and rustic red-head, a little gullible, but cunning when she needs to be. Her relationship with John is simpler and happier than the deep and complicated love between Robin and Marion, but they love each other no less.
Osbert, reeve of Carlton-in-Lindrick: Long on patience and short on imagination, Osbert is a reliable husbandman, though he operates by rote and custom rather than flair. He has no truck with tales of dancing stones, greenwood mystics or witches - though his door, like the rest of those in Carlton, will be firmly barred on All Hallows' Eve.
Osbert knows Sister Benedict from her previous forays from the priory. He sympathises with her plight, but she's a nun, and he doesn't interfere with the nuns. He reckons she's a nice enough lass, bit headstrong, but her eyes give him the creeps. It isn't natural, true enough, but she seems all right despite that, and he won't hear any of this 'touched by the devil' nonsense. Anyway, no use asking about her, they're keeping her in the priory forever and a day after her last attempt at escaping.
Matthew of Wickham: Matthew is Edward of Wickham's son, a bright and lively 10-year-old peasant boy. He only comes into the opening scene.
Sir Ralph de Chevrolcourt: The Norman lord of the manor of Carlton-in-Lindrick will not come into the adventure unless the outlaws seek him out. He is pompous, chubby and totally unconvinced by talk of witches, pagans and dark forces afoot in his village - he will be suspicious of the outlaws and their motives for bringing any such tales to his attention, and is more likely to demand they leave the village than to give them any help.
Richard, bailiff of Shireoaks: A middle-aged, middle-class man of mixed Norman and Saxon descent. Richard runs the manor of Shireoaks on behalf of Worksop Priory. He has been imprisoned in the manor's great barn with the rest of the inhabitants, and was beaten up when he tried to resist such treatment. He is grateful to the outlaws, and will provide passive help - he has seen Meg alive, can provide an estimate of the Raven's forces, and may have overheard snippets of their plans. His main concern is getting everything back to normal as quickly as possible.
I have no more chance of persuading the public that Sherwood Forest was not a wood than Professor J. C. Holt has of getting people to believe that Robin Hood really lived in Barnsdale (West Yorkshire). But I must try.
Dr Oliver Rackham
The History of the Countryside
One of Richard's first acts after his coronation was to bestow large tracts of England upon his younger brother, Prince John, granting him near royal powers in his estates. Nottinghamshire and neighbouring Derbyshire were among the counties John acquired.
If Richard hoped to secure his brother's loyalty during his absence on Crusade, he was misguided. John rebelled in 1191, fortifying his castles at Nottingham, Tickhill (just across the border in Yorkshire) and Peak (in Derbyshire). He backed down in the face on concerted opposition from Richard's regents, the Church and from their mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine.
Despite his rebellion, John maintained control of his estates until Richard returned in 1194 and stripped his brother of his titles and lands at a Great Council in Nottingham in April of that year.
During the 1190s there were three forests in Nottinghamshire. Sherwood stretched from Nottingham to the River Meden, and from Mansfield to Wellow. Hatfield Forest lay to the north, around Worksop, and the Forest of the Clay lay between them and the River Trent. The forests included all the open heathland, villages and fields within their boundaries, not just the woods. The word 'forest', in its medieval sense, is a legal one and does not refer only to woodlands.
Sherwood was first mentioned as a forest in 1154, but is probably older. Under the terms of the Magna Carta (1216) King John disafforested forests created since the death Henry I in 1135 (ie, he removed them from the jurisdiction of the Forest Law). Sherwood survived; Hatfield and The Clay did not. The earliest record of Sherwoods boundaries dates from 1218, after the widescale disafforestation prompted by Magna Carta. It may have been more extensive during Richard's reign. The boundaries of Hatfield and The Clay are unknown. It is probably safe to assume that at the time of this adventure most of Nottinghamshire north and west of the Trent is subject to the Forest Law, though the Borough of Nottingham itself is exempt.
During his brief lordship, Prince John appointed Radulf FitzStephen and his wife Matilda de Caux as his Foresters-in-Chief for the counties of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. They are responsible for enforcing the forest laws in all the forests of those counties, and hold forest eyres (court sessions) at their castle at Laxton. The charter confirming their rights and responsibilities is one of the earliest surviving documents concerning Sherwood. The couple probably held their position before John took over the counties, and continued to hold it after he lost his lands. After Maud's death in 1220, the position passed to her descendents from her first marriage, who held it until well into the 14th century.
Bows and arrows are forbidden in the forests, dogs must have their paws mutilated to make them useless for hunting and strict rules preserve both game animals and their habitats. No tanner or dyer may work within the forest.
Radulf and Matilda have the right to the goods and chattels of any robber or poacher caught by their servants - in most cases such chattels would be taken by the Sheriff, in the King's name, whoever caught the offenders. They hold the right of free warren, which allows them to hunt foxes, hares, wildcats and squirrels throughout the forests. They are also allowed to keep a deer park in the woods near Laxton.
Radulf and Mathilda have fewer than a score of foresters in the whole of Sherwood, and probably about the same in Hatfield and the Clay. It is fairly easy to avoid them - most are administrators who do not patrol the forests regularly.
Sheriff Robert de Rainault and his henchman Sir Guy of Gisburne are fictional characters. The real Sheriff of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire around this time was Radulph Murdac.
For the purposes of this adventure, Wickham is the village of Budby, just south of the river Meden. The outlaw's stronghold of Darkmere lies in the woods of Bilhaigh and Birkland, between Budby and Edwinstowe. By co-incidence this is the location of the Major Oak, erroneously considered one of Robin Hood's hideouts, and the site of the modern Sherwood Forest Visitor Centre.
The adventure begins in northern Sherwood in the last days of October, 1192. The first Crusaders are beginning to arrive back from the Holy Land, but King Richard is still abroad. His absence will not become worrying until the winter - that he has been imprisoned by Duke Leopold of Austria is not yet known. Sheriff Robert de Rainault and his brother, Abbot Hugo, are making the most of the King's continued absence by exploiting the peasantry even more than usual, for they were instrumental in Prince Johns rebellion last year and may soon need their retirement nest-eggs.
Deep in the heart of Sherwood, Robin of Loxley and his fellow outlaws are about to experience their first autumn in the wildwood. All the leaves are brown, and the sky is grey. The weather is wet, and often windy, though the frosts are not yet harsh. Mud is everywhere. Beech-mast and acorns have fallen and some peasants have paid for the right to graze their pigs upon them. The winter wheat and rye has just been sown in the open fields around the forest villages, but has not yet begun to germinate.
The mist is particularly thick around Darkmere at dawn as Robin quietly slips away from the outlaw camp to visit Herne in his cave beyond the lake...
Robin poled his punt towards Herne's island sanctuary through the mists hanging over Darkmere in the cold October morning. The old shaman was waiting for him at the edge of the water, beside the entrance to the cave he called his home, his long grey hair and leathery face lending him dignity, even without the antlered deerskin hood he donned when he became his god.
"Soon it will be the time of the Hunting, when the Powers of Light and Darkness swirl and change like an estuary tide," he said. He seemed a little edgy. "It is a time of great peril, and you must face it without me, for I must be gone for a few days. But fear it not. I will raise the awen and seek a vision to guide you while I am away."
He led Robin inside the cave, where a small bazier lay ready, its glowing charcoal embers - a gift from the villagers at Wickham, Robin guessed - warming the cave. Herne squatted on the floor beside the brazier, instructing Robin to sit opposite him with a gesture. Robin was already moving to take up his place; the strange old man's rituals were becoming familiar to him after nearly six months in Sherwood as Herne's Son, the Hooded Man.
A wooden bowl holding herbs stood on a rocky ledge beside the brazier. Robin didn't know what they were; the old man spent long, solitary hours collecting his supplies in the woods. Herne picked up the bowl, scattering its contents over the embers of the brazier. He glanced at Robin before leaning forward to breathe in the pungent smoke, pulling it in towards him with wide sweeps of his hands. Within moments his breathing grew hoarser, and when he looked up again, his eyes were rolled up into his head, only their whites showing between narrowed lids. The awen trance was upon him. Slowly he began to speak, in a voice not his own.
"The dark... dark... The Dark is rising. Beware the witch! He is coming... the Child of Rinds and Husks is coming. Beware the Darkling Green. It must not be!"
"How can I stop this ... this 'Darkling Green'?" Robin asked.
"One will help you. The reluctant one, the sisters' prisoner behind the walls, can help... The devil... devilstone..."
But the trance was over, the awen gone.
Shortly before Robin returns from Darkmere, Matthew of Wickham runs full tilt into the outlaws' camp. He is panting heavily, sweat streaks his face and there is panic in his eyes. He runs straight into Will, almost knocking him over.
"Help, help! Soldiers are attacking the village." He looks around for John. "John, they've got Meg!"
John will probably want to head for Wickham immediately, but cooler heads will want to question Matthew a little more closely. Robin should arrive back at camp while the questioning is going on.
Matthew does not know who the soldiers are, but he knows they are not Gisburne and the Sheriff's men. He thinks there are about a dozen of them, all on horseback (actually, there are 15; if the outlaws think to question villagers later they will get estimates of between 10 and 20 men). They are dirty and violent, and carry white shields with black V-sign on them (Matthew is illiterate; he will draw the inverted chevron in the earth or indicate it with a gesture). Their leader is a man with long dark hair and a picture of a black bird on his shield. Matthew knows little more than this, and will be eager to lead the outlaws back to Wickham before it's too late.
To be continued... eventually.