Roleplayer #22, November 1990

Preliminary Bout

Starting an Adventure With a Bang!

by William Wilson Goodson Jr.

An excellent way to begin a roleplaying adventure is a "preliminary bout" – a brief battle to test a character's mettle or a group's team work. This encounter doesn't need to have anything to do with the main plot of the adventure – it is just an incident. Of course, if it foreshadows something that will happen later, so much the better!

Even if it's totally unconnected, it should be well-enough worked out that both the GM and players can roleplay – it shouldn't seem like a "wandering monster" attack. The foes should be a natural part of the background, and there should always be a good reason for them to attack.

This opening, like the "teaser" at the beginning of a television show, establishes the general tone of the adventure. The foes should pose a creditable threat. They can't be avoided; they must be defeated.

The Personal Challenge

One way to start a fight is with a challenge. The annals of King Arthur are full of battles fought for no more cause then two knights seeking to prove their mettle. Challenges may be group vs. group, but the traditional challenge is to single combat, champion vs. champion.

T.H. White, in his novel The Once and Future King, describes how Sir Turquine waited at a busy river ford, challenging any knights he saw. He especially sought out members of the Round Table because his brother, a dishonorable knight, had been slain by Lancelot.

Sir Turquine

Fictional; rebellious subject of King Arthur.

ST 15, DX 14, IQ 10, HT 12

Basic Speed 6.5, Move 6, Dodge 6

Threatening appearance – 6', 190 lbs., wears black armor with demon-mask helm.

Advantages: High Pain Threshold, Status, Wealth.

Disadvantages: Sadism; Vow (to hold the ford against all challengers)

Skills: All knightly weapons at 16 or better. Riding-16, Savoir-Faire-14.

Weapons and Possessions: Warhorse, full armor and all knightly weapons, castle with loyal retainers and dark dungeon, and everything else appropriate for a wealthy noble in the game world.

Turquine conquered 64 knights in all. He held them prisoners in his castle, where he beat them regularly with thorns. Upon a tree he hung their shields to draw new challengers.

Lancelot heard of his crimes. Upon arriving, the first thing he saw was a shield with his cousin's coat-of-arms on the tree. Lancelot hit a tin basin hanging among the shields to summon Turquine.

Sir Turquine appeared, carrying another new captive across his saddle horn. He accepted Lancelot's challenge without even waiting to learn his opponent's name.

They started with lances and proved of equal skill, unhorsing each other. Then for over two hours they fought with swords. Turquine was so impressed that he offered to release his prisoners in return for Lancelot's hand in friendship. But when he discovered he was fighting Lancelot, the slayer of his brother, he struck a sudden foul blow.

For two hours more they fought with swords and the edges of their shields. Both were growing exhausted from the weight of their armor. Then with perfect timing Lancelot dropped his sword, seized Turquine's helm and yanked him over, pulling off his helmet. Both drew their daggers, but it was over in a second.

The castle surrendered to Lancelot, but he refused any loot. He told the prisoners to take what they wished and rode away on a borrowed horse. This was, after all, just a passing incident for him.

In legend, Turquine depended upon the nobility of his foes to insure one-on-one combat. Many PCs are not so honorable. Therefore, Turquine can be given a large band of men-at-arms standing by to insure fair play. (Of course, if Turquine himself is not honorable, his men-at-arms will enter the fight when he loses, and the encounter will be come a general battle.)

A Turquine-like character challenging passersby for glory could fit in many situations, from medieval to outer-space cantina.

The Pack Attack

In some backgrounds, a formal challenge is unrealistic or impractical. To engage a large party, we need a band of waylayers. The famous Scots cannibal family of Sawney Bean is a perfect model. These murderers need no motive but their own hunger and viciousness.

Sawney Bean

Historical; lived during the reign of James I of Scotland.

Nationality: Scots.

ST 11, DX 11, IQ 9, HT 13

Basic Speed 6, Move 6, Dodge 6

5'3", 160 lbs. Ugly, dirty, with bad teeth. Pale from coming out only at night. He wears clothes taken from different victims.

Advantage: Toughness

Disadvantages: Dead Broke, Bad Temper, Odious Personal Habit (cannibalism). He did not have a bad Reputation, because nobody had any idea what he was really up to, or even exactly what haunted his woods.

Skills: Area Knowledge (local)-18, Brawling-14, Knife-16, Stealth-15, Sword-12, Survival (Woodlands)-17, Tactics-16.

Weapons: Sawney and his brood use all sorts of weapons taken from victims, many used without skill.

Sawney Bean's Sons

ST 12, DX 11, IQ 7, HT 13

Basic Speed 6, Move 6, Dodge 6

Average appearance: 5'6", 170 lbs., ugly and mean with some signs of retardation. Pale; communicates in grunts and mad laughs. Wears mostly rags.

Advantages: None.

Disadvantages: Dead Broke, Odious Personal Habit (cannibalism). Some may be Berserk. They certainly have other filthy habits, but visitors won't live to see them.

Skills: Stealth-12, Survival-11, Brawling-14, assorted weapon skills

Sawney Bean's Wife and Daughters

ST 11, DX 11, IQ 8, HT 12

Basic Speed 5.75; Move 5, Dodge 5

5'4', 130 lbs. Some may be attractive, while others will be grotesque. All are very dirty and hostile to everyone but family. They wear the fanciest clothes taken from victims, but never wash or mend them.

Advantages: None.

Disadvantages: Dead Broke, Odious Personal Habit (cannibalism).

Skills: Stealth-13; Survival-12, assorted weapon skills

Sawney Bean's Grandchildren

ST 8, DX 13, IQ 5, HT 7

Basic Speed 5; Move 5; Dodge 5

These are feral little creatures, more like animals than people. Nevertheless, they obey the elder Beans.

Advantages: None.

Disadvantages: Dead Broke, Primitive (TL2 at best), Odious Personal Habit (cannibalism).

Skills: Stealth-17; Survival-11; Throwing-14

Weapons: knives and thrown rocks. Each child can bite for 1d-4 cutting damage.

Sawney Bean was raised as an honest laborer near Edinburgh. However, his lazy, evil nature drove him to take up crime. He fled to a deserted seacoast, accompanied by a woman. Some versions of the legend say she was simply a woman as vicious as he. Others say she was his sister and their incestuous "marriage" was the reason they fled human society.

Whatever their relationship, they raised a large family, which they supported by robbing passersby. They were always careful that no one escaped to spread a warning. The entire family developed a taste for cannibalism which, with the convenience of living near the sea, made the disposal of the bodies simple.

Their lair was cunningly chosen, a cave surrounded by dense thickets. At high tide the ocean went 200 yards into it, so it was hidden over half the day. Nearly a mile long, this cave became home to three generations of Beans. If Bean's eight sons and six daughters were not the product of incest, his 18 grandsons and 14 granddaughters were. They were a brutish, bloodthirsty, cunning lot, having no contact with humanity except the travelers they trapped and butchered.

Eventually enough people vanished to attract public attention. Innkeepers in the area were questioned and strange travelers stopped. The King sent spies . . . who vanished. The disappearances caused such fear that the lightly-populated area became almost deserted.

One evening a man and his wife, riding on a single horse, were attacked by a group of adults and children. The Beans emerged silently from the darkness, armed and dressed in a wild hodgepodge of styles.

The man was armed with a sword, but while he rode down an attacker, his wife was dragged off and her throat cut. Her husband prepared to sell his life dearly, when a party of 30 men, returning from a fair, came on the scene. Sawney Bean and his band seemed to disappear into the thick woods, leaving the horseman and his wife's body.

This sole living witness to the clan's crimes went directly to King James I. The king believed the incredible story and set out with 400 men-at-arms. They combed the district, but without their bloodhounds, who scented the unnatural larder, they would have missed the cave.

The long, twisting tunnel was explored by torchlight. Smoked human flesh and piles of stolen items turned up in odd corners. The entire clan of cannibals hid in the inner-most chamber, but all were captured alive.

They were publicly put to death in Edinburgh. While King James was famous for establishing a court system, it was not felt necessary to grant a trial to such obvious enemies of mankind. Each was given a chance to publicly repent before death but "they all died without the least signs of repentance, but continued cursing and venting the most dreadful imprecations to the very last gasp of life."

These particularly violent creatures fit well into a medieval game. They are of limited intelligence, poorly armed but strong, and skillful in stealth and woodcraft. The number of attackers can be set by a simple formula – say, three Beans to each party member.

They can also be used as mutants in a post-holocaust scenario, or even the dregs of a high-tech civilization, lurking in the lowest levels of a sky-touching city. Their weapons would remain about the same; their Survival skill would be appropriate for their environment. The Bean clan is especially useful as "warm-up" foes, since no reason is needed for them to attack a party, and their methods allow the PCs to practice both combat and teamwork.

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