Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Duke's Circle

Description: The powerful Duchy of Burgundy is a rival for France itself. It is a center of courtly culture whose fame is spread far abroad by it's minstrels. However, it is the military and political acumen of the Burgundian Dukes that maintains the thriving state independent of both France and the Empire. While the flower of Burgundian Chivalry is justly famous, but it is the shadowy network of spies and assassins, first established by Philip the Bold, that deserves credit for maintaining the delicate line the Dukes must walk with the Royal House of France. Their most infamous exploits occurred under the previous Duke, John the fearless, and include the successive kidnappings of the French Dauphin and in 1407, the shocking public "Tyrannicide" of the heir to the throne of France in the streets of the capital. The new Duke, Phillip 'the Good', has chosen to carefully husband the resources of the Duchy and pursue a more subtle policy than his father. However, only a little more than a decade after the events in Paris, all in Europe remember what the Duke's Circle are fully capable of.

Skills: Stealth, perception, thiefcraft, melee or ranged arms, statecraft

Secret Masteries:

Duke's Hand (Statecraft (etiquette) Mastery) The agent is recognised as a the hand of the Duke wherever he or she goes. The sympathetic to the Duke or who follow tales of the Duke's glorious court, willingly open their doors to provide sanctuary, relate information and provide other small forms of aid without question.

Public Example (Statecraft (etiquette) Grand Mastery) For many reasons, political conflicts unavoidably come to a head and there is no option but violence in pursuit of Duke's aims. If it comes to this, the Duke's Circle are able to commit public assassinations so bold in their manner and with such precision and timing, that the Duke is able to escape public blame or political sanction. This ability does not achieve the assassination itself, it merely allows the agent to avoid ill effect to the Duke.

Childhood Background: Burgundy

Languages: French

The Burgundian court is famed throughout Christendom for it's spectacle and exultation of the Chivalric ideal. A rich center for commerce and a beacon of culture, Burgundy is accounted one of the great European states. The Dukes of Burgundy have a strained relationship with the Royal house of France and have in the past undermined them during the events of the Hundred Years War, the the current Duke has so far refrained from any activities of this kind.

Abilities: +1 Talent Performance, Persuasion


Thursday, January 29, 2009

Prologue: The Road to Ruin

After entering the employ of Stefano de Medici in Prag, Miklos, Seighard and Thom Ecke escorted him and his brother Cosimo South. They were ambushed by Hussites, many were killed and the strange Dominican Piero (who was curiously interested in what Cosimo was carrying) and his pupil fled into the woods. The companions charges were merely wounded and they to fled through the Bohmerwald, battling a supernatural foe and bitter cold of the forest.

In need of aid, they added the skills of one Hans to their number. They all then investigated the village of Schryswig, still smoldering after it had been burnt to the ground for heresy. There Hans traded recipes with a canny old lady who kept many black cats while the others tried fruitlessly to track the black cowled foreigner (with the same accent as Stefano) . On their way to hold the local lord to account for his overzealous treatment of the humble peasants, they explored a hidden cult sanctuary.

Inside the four vanquished it's guardian with Han's heretofore hidden relic and were rewarded with some arcane secrets, but were unable to carry away other treasures, including a large gilded cross, wreathed with golden roses. Rebuffed at the lord's forbidding keep, the companions and their charges made their way south coming upon the village of Rosenheim. At this village, they re-met the Hussites, led by their shaggy blond Captain, and after a ferocious clash of arms, forced the Hussites to surrender and return to Bohemia. Now the companions take their ease at Rosenheim, pondering a very odd letter, before braving the highway to Regensburg.

Continued in Chapter One: Regensburg Nights

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Brotherhood of the Golden Spurs

Description: July 13 1302 was a day that reverberated throughout the courts of Europe, a strong force of mounted French Knights and Men-at-arms were defeated in open battle by Flemish commoners on foot, armed only with with peasants weapons. The event became known as the "Battle of the Golden Spurs" after the trophies claimed from French knights by the victorious militiamen and put on display in a nearby church . Though the French nobility exacted bloody vengeance two years later, reclaiming most of the spurs, the point had been made that that heavy cavalry could no longer expect to dominate enemy foot every time they fought and the Flemish towns were permitted the concessions they sought. Not all the spurs went on display in the church that day. A network of trusted men took them for their symbol and formed a brotherhood to secure the interests of their land against powerful nobles.

Skills: Stealth, Perception, Fieldcraft, Melee arms, either Statecraft or Maneuver.

Secret Masteries

Flemish Militia (Melee arms (Staff weapons) Mastery) The Brother has mastered the techniques needed to best any mounted foe. A set spear does +2d10 (rather than 1d10) damage to charging foes (if they are mounted) and the brother gets +2 to any checks to unhorse a rider with their weapon.

Common cause (Melee arms (Staff weapons) Grand Mastery) The Brother is acclaimed as a leading man in Flemish affairs. He is awarded one of the coveted golden spurs and given access to, and sanctuary in, town halls across the low countries as well as a comfortable income, letters of credit and a fine house in his hometown.

Childhood Background: Low Countries

Languages: German, Flemish, French

The Low Countries have usually been under the sway of either the Empire of the Crown of France. However, the rising prosperity of the Flemish town communes, and some military successes by their militias, has led to some independence for their citizens form their current feudal overlords.

Abilities: +1 Talent Commerce, Melee arms.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Into the Alps

To this day, no clear record of the events in Regensburg exists.

9th February, the Year of our Lord 1420. Following the excitement of yesterday evening, Hans, Miklos, Seighard, Thom Ecke and Stefano broke their fast around the kitchen table in Brause's empty home. Han's kept idly stabbing at an onion while Thom Ecke enquired of a pensive Stefano exactly where his absent brother Cosimo might be.

Stefano gave every appearance of not having heard the question. After an odd span of complete silence, he pulled an eagle embossed bronze disk from an inside pocket and tossed it amongst the empty breakfast dishes. He fixed Seighard with a hard gaze "the inscription said that the signet to get you through that hidden door under the Jewish Quarter lies at the hidden memorial to the day Octavian became Caesar. Right?". Stefano pressed on before a startled Seighard had a chance even to nod slowly. It turned out that the Medici claimed to have some blood tie to Augustus' family line and believed that valuable family heirlooms were interred in the hidden sarcophagus on the slopes of Mt Innesfreiss.

Of course, Medici had tried and failed to gain entry in the past, but they had never had reason to have an expedition make the attempt amidst the spring snows high in the Alps. Hans pulled his blade from the onion and he and Thom Ecke engaged Stefano in a long bout of haggling around Stefano's initial offering of 15 florins apiece bounty for the return of the 'heirlooms' and another 2 florins for expenses. After much pondering of particulars of financing the expedition and planning their travel across difficult terrain in late winter, the companions persuaded Stefano to instead enter into a partnership, pay a share of expenses and they would divide what was recovered evenly, half to them, half to the Medici.

Since the overland passes were still snowed in, the company would have to make the journey up the river Inn. Nine days of hard travel under overcast sky on empty roads, few others were to be seen abroad save small parties of men at arms and other rabble of soldiery straggling north to Regensburg. The four brought their wagons and horse via the Town of Salzburg, across the river Isar at the ferry and thence to the Inn crossing. Saddle-sore, wet and cold, they embarked on a trading boat, whose Master, Manfred of Monschen, had been enjoined by Stefano's courier to await passengers. On the 17th February, the Year of our Lord 1420, they began their journey upriver, winding slowly between the snowy peaks and sailing during the meager hours of winter daylight.

On the 25th of February, sometime after the hour of Terce, the companions were moved to emerge into the cold air, from where they skulked below decks, by the cry of the bow lookout. Looking about, they could see the boat had ceased it's upriver travel and the way ahead was blocked by a heavy iron chain stretched across the water. Manfred stalked the deck cursing roundly "Rhine bandits are bad enough, but who would levy tolls on the inn river in the middle of winter? It's unheard of!". Thom Ecke followed the line of the chain off the port side up to a narrow stone tower on the far bank. A heavy Raven Banner heralded its allegiance to Louis VII, "The Bearded". Manfred was flabbergasted at this development "these lands don't even owe fealty to that black hearted swine!" The chain was anchored at it's other end at a small wooden palisade, on the near bank, to the starboard of their boat. Despite his complaints, when the hail came from the palisade demanding a toll be paid Manfred was about to give the order to heave to and pay. Offended by the temerity of this grasping Duke (little better than a Rhineland Raubritter, he was heard to mutter), Hans made to arm himself, but was stopped by Miklos' hand on his shoulder so he turned and beheld a disturbing sight.

Seighard had positioned himself by the boats bowsprit, having shoved aside a couple of crewmen and he was holding a smoking flask in one hand and was unstopering the beaker in the other hand with his mouth. Thom and Hans could only stare mutely while Miklos shook his head slowly. A hissing stream of blue and yellow sparks streamed from the Alchemist's flask, struck the middle of the chain and turned it water.

The low moan of superstitious dread that went up from the crew spurred Miklos into action. He ran to Seighrad's side, threw up his arms and yelled "rejoice good Christians, St Hildegaard has miraculously answered Seighards prayers!". For a tense moment there was silence, then the crew appeared to accept the Teutonic Knight's claims and followed Manfred's urgings to leap to the oars and get underway. Six days hard rowing brought the band and their livestock and supplies finally to Innsbruck. From there, they would strike overland to Mt Innesfreiss. Having debarked, they made provision to stable most of their mounts in the town while Seighard and Hans sought out the local Kloster attached to the church of St Hildegaard.

Seighard was fortunate indeed that Miklos was so well schooled in Theology and the lives of the Saints, the quick thinking Hungarian had linked the Alchemist to benifant acts of the local patron Saint. The monks who studied there brushed of the less learned Hans, but they were quite willing to allow a local celebrity access to their library without any fee. There Seighard found books on Saints Eugendius, Reinhold, Hildegaard and Potianus and spent his afternoon studying the life of Eugendius, the noted scripture scholar from his homeland of Switzerland.

After a good nights rest in the local Gasthaus, they loaded up some pack animals and set out alone down the snow covered westward trail. This took them around the mountainsides until they could see the distinctive forked peak of the Innsfreis in the distance, crossing worn and creaking a rope bridge, they passed beneath a silent palisade village that loomed above them on the hillside. They decided to not brave the narrow switch backed trail to the silent settlement above and instead made their way westward into the gathering snow. They might have had cause to regret that decision had not Thom Ecke spied a small shepherds cottage amongst through what was becoming a thick blizzard. Here they exchanged a keg of ale for shelter until the storm passed. The surly Franz was not good company, but was willing to provide clear directions to Mt Innesfreiss, though he knew of no structures or ruins upon its slopes.
Bidding their host goodbye after three days spent in close confines, they made a quick pace despite the shin deep snow.

They were fortunate to have some directions as, though the blizzard had passed, thick cloud blocked any distant view of their goal. Local knowledge and Thom's field craft allowed them to stay the course and after two more days slogging through snow, they came, cold wet and exhausted to shelter beneath a ruined tower and finally in sight of Mt Innesfreiss.
The tower was had long succumbed to time and was open to the sky, however its cellar remained surprisingly snug and dry. There they made camp with their animals. Hans demonstrated his rumoured ingenuity for the first time to companions when he designed and fashioned a cunning lean-to over the entrance that both block the winter wind and permitted the smoke from their fires to escape.

As they were about to set watches, they heard the low baying of wolves above the sound of the wind. Thanks to their shelter and fire the ravenous beasts were loath to approach. However, in the midst of his Compline watch, Thom Ecke's superb night vision allowed him to notice a disturbing sight. A thick red fog was slowly rolling up the hillside toward them from the valley floor. Thom awoke his companions and they resolved to douse all lights and try and avoid the fog by cutting across the hillside at right angles to the approach of the hundred yard wide bank of roiling vermillion mist. As they led their animals silently as they could, they could hear the foul and guttural sound of many men chanting over the howling wind...

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Fractious Dukes of Bavaria

Bayern-Ingolstadt (sometimes called Northern Bavaria) is centered at Ingolstadt near Regensburg and is ruled by Louis VII "The bearded". The city is a fortress surrounded by a high wall. The Dukes here have always coveted the old capital of Regensburg and always scheme to strip it of it's independent status and take it as their own capital. Louis VII had formerly been close to the Burgundian Dukes, assisting John the fearless in crushing Liege, but he has a fiery temper and is now wars with both his former allies and the other Dukes of house Wittelsbach in Bavaria. A number of the great lords of Germany, including two of Louis' cousins, the Elector-Count of Saxony and none other than the Duke of Burgundy have formed the 'Parakeet Society' to oppose the expansion of his power.

Bayern-Landshut
(sometimes called Southern Bavaria) is based at the mighty fortress of Traustnitz castle overlooking the town at Landshut, over a days travel northeast of Munchen on the river Isar. Henry XVI (of the house Wittelsbach) is the current duke and is famed for his great wealth. He is also notable for his black temper and brutally supressed an uprising in Landshut in 1410. He is also constantly at odds with his cousin Louis VII, Duke of Northern Bavaria, and is a member of the Parakeet society formed to oppose his power.

Bayern-Munchen (sometimes called Upper Bavaria) is ruled by Ernst from his capital at Munchen, a town on the important bridge over the river Isar built by Henry the Lion near a monastery of Benidictine monks (Monschen is another name for the town.). Ernst is, with his cousin Henry, another member of the Parakeet society.

Duke John III "The Pitiless" has parts of his scattered possessions in Bavaria (others are in the low countries and near Burgundy). He constantly struggles with his niece Jacqueline and her husband duke John IV of Brabant for control of these territories. John has the support of the Emperor-elect Sigismund and was a close ally of the current Duke of Burgundy's father, John the Fearless. John had previously been bishop of Liege and supported John the Fearless in brutally extending his control there. He gave up his life as a man of the cloth to vie for the inheritances of his niece and is staunchly supported in this endeavor by Philip the Good, current Duke of Burgundy. Two years ago, John III married Elizabeth, Countess of Luxemburg.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Fraticelli

Description: The Fraticelli, or "Little Brothers" were first formed from the following gained by St Francis of Asissi when he rejected his former life as the heir to a rich Italian family and forsake all wealth to live simply in the countryside and build a church. Despite their ideas being similar to the rejectionist beliefs of other sects that were deemed heretical (as an obvious challenge to the social order), the Franciscans were approved by the Pope, Innocent III. This was due to the obvious piety of the Fraticelli and more importantly, their disarmingly complete and humble obedience to both the local Archbishop and the Pope. Caesarius of Speyer was the first German Provincial of the order and worked hard to gain the Fraticelli lands near the headwaters of the Rhine and Danube to the west of Bavaria. The harsh demands of the stress St Francis placed on the particular vow of absolute poverty and the demand to adopt a humble station in the world has led to ongoing splits, sects and conflicts within the brotherhood reflecting the tensions between acting as a religious order and part of the church hierarchy and and living out St Francis' example.

In Germany, the Brothers have both traditional closed monasteries separate from the world and wandering Friars in distinctive Grey habits. Both branches of the German order are noted for the presence of many particularly zealous adherents. The Grey Friars are often often directly compared to the Dominicans who are like them a new mendicant order noted for their dedication and obedience to the Church. Just as St Francis was famed for his love of gods creation and completely at home in nature, the Grey Friars are wholly at home on the dusty roads between towns and on the forest trails and lonely passes. Their practice of an "authentic" and austere brand of Christianity, along with their zeal, makes them powerful speakers which sometimes garner great followings of their own.

St Claire of Assisi was part of the Franciscans right from their earliest days and there are many Franciscan nuns and hermitess'. The simple life of egalitarian poverty a lesser focus (compared to the Dominicans) on education, though not always strictly observed in the monasteries, does provide many opportunities for of more humble station in the Franciscans.

Skills: Theology, Persuasion, Linguistics or Perception, Fieldcraft, Philtrology.

Secret Masteries

Little Brothers (Fieldcraft (Survival) Mastery) The Friar has so dedicated himself to the simple life in imitation of the early Apostles, that she is able to completely disarm religious or secular authorities with her simplicity and piety gaining +5 on all Persuasion (Influence) rolls when attempting to be allowed, along with their companions, to travel and preach freely.

All creatures great and small (Fieldcraft (Survival) Grand Mastery) Inspired by the legendary closeness of St Francis to even the smallest creatures in Gods creation, the Friar is able to use their powers of persuasion to subdue the angriest beast or insects. If they succeed as a persuasion roll at a hard (15) difficulty, any wild beast or insect (this does not include an infernal beast or one under magical domination), no matter how hungry, will cease all aggression against the Friar and her companions and let them leave freely.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A very odd letter

After fighting off the Hussites, the companions took their ease in Rosenheim, whence the villagers passed on an odd letter that the Ultraquist patrol has uplifted from some Men-at-arms who strayed too close:

Good Sir, master of any manor pursuant to this trouble.

These harrOwwing days only auger reknewed sorrows to all great and meek servant espouseing a life of Christ. Truely it sours my humble peaCe of mind, always finding herreTics where godly fArmers do till in hope of their rest in haeVen. I am greatly honoured it falls to hUmbler people in a role as an shepherd to carry forth God’s beneficiel plan for his fallen lost laMbs. To my sorrow the visit of merciless doom must today wash your demesNe clean. So a good friend of inocents needs bold saintly men to cleanse evil prOperly. Bavaria prays for aid. Our agent has the goodwill of God’s annoinTed, Clement IX, your Pope in Rome. Do not delay, sincereley gather Christ’s brAve heroes to go attack heretics and tools of demonic’s or evil men.

Dietrich von Mörs, Archbishop of Koln

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Battle of Rosenheim

When last we left our four heroes, Miklos had heard an odd crackling noise to their left down a side tunnel, they investigated and saw a crackling man shaped glowing apparition floating toward them above the water. Thom immediately recognized the smell of Lightning in the air and refused to remain and face what ever it was, Hans was more eager and approached it but was forced to drop under the water to avoid touching it as it came towards them. With Hans submerged beneath the muddy water, Miklos and Seighard quickly followed Thom's example and fled back through the tunnels. Meanwhile, the apparition floated over Hans, offering it's back to the young warrior.

He quickly came to a decision and leapt to his feet, showering water at the tunnel walls and brandished his hidden relic, the Brand of Tigrius and Eutropius. Igniting it, he smote at the unnatural menace many times, suffering much damage in consequence, before he banished it forever. His companions marveled at his wondrous treasure and expressed their relief at it's existence, fearing they could never defeated the apparition without it. The companions searched the remnants of the grotto, finding first a great ten foot high gold plated cross, all woven about with golden roses that loomed over a room also containing a raised platform and a gilded cage containing intelligent looking twittering yellow songbirds. Leaving these marvels for now, they investigated a side tunnel and found along it's walls three alcoves between two great statues: one vulture headed and Oriental in aspect and the other wearing a toga and winged statues. Along the top of the wall ran an inscription in Latin: Sumo sapienter (Choose wisely). Inspecting the alcoves, Seighard perceived a small notebook, a set of bound scrolls and a larger folio. He decided upon the folio and before his companions could react, seized it from it's resting place and eagerly inspected his prize. Disgusted at what he found, he tossed it to a surprised Hans, who upon reading it himself, was delighted to find formulae for new potions.

Deciding nothing else was of value (after a number of unsuccessful attempts to remove other items from the alcoves) the companions then scraped the gold leaf form the great cross and brought their treasure back to the entry shaft. The tried climbing up, but the gold proved impossibly heavy in their pockets, they tried hauling it up separately, no success, they even tried throwing it, but the height was too great. At a loss, the companions left the gold at the base of the shaft, hid the top of it once more and resolved to return one day with some means to make a new entrance of their own away from the magic of the grotto's entrance way.

Leaving Halgast behind, the companions made the last leg of their journey and came to the Lord's keep, looming on a ridge above the serf's fields, in the afternoon. Making their way past silent, closemouthed peasants, they companions smote upon the wooden gate. After a delay, a pot helmed head appeared at the ramparts demanding to know their business. After the companions stubbornly refused to leave in the face of constant rebuffs delivered by the the Lord's representatives, the Lord himself appeared, flanked by several men at arms bearing heavy Arbalests. He was unimpressed by their mission and demanded they quit all his lands by midnight, upon the companions rejoinder that they had religious knights amongst their number, he retorted "that the crosses of their holy orders were all that kept him from shooting them where they stood for their impertinence". Disheartened, the four took the road South to report to Stefano that there was naught more to be achieved there without much fruitless blood shed.

So they made their goodbyes to the survivors of Schryswig, and made their way quickly south through the tree lined paths of the Bayerischer Wald. After a couple of days, their journey brought them to a long valley leading down to a peaceful looking village guarded by some soldiers. Relieved to find security in German lands at last, the companions, with Stefano and Cosimo in tow, approached the houses and haled the nearest soldiers. They were greeted in oddly accented German by a snaggle toothed veteran, leering at them from beneath the rim of his helm. Suspicions aroused, Miklos cast his eyes quickly over the rest of the soldiers, they might have been the retainers or mercenaries of any lord in these troubled times... until his eye alighted on the familiar sight of a shaggy haired blond captain, bearing the a Chalice device on his tan tabard. The very same who led the Hussite ambush that caused their woodland flight in the first place.

The companions were quick to action, calling to Stefano and Cosimo to hang back, they charged in. Seighard worked first defensive, then brutally offensive alchemy while the other three charged in on horse back. They were met by a volley of gunfire from nearby houses, largely unharmed and knowing full well the gunners must now reload, the riders charged pressed through the smoke and attacked. Thom crashed straight in and engaged the still unready soldiers, Miklos wheeled in and out launching quarrels from his crossbow and Hans skirted round the flanks and began to torch the buildings where the gunners lurked, slaying the hapless men when they fled. Though the tide initially was with the companions, the shaggy blond Captain was rapidly ordering his men into a solid line and when he joined the melee, his skillfully wielded war hammer soon wounded those in reach. Unperturbed, Hans finished with the last refuge of the gunners and turned to charge the back flank of the remaining soldiers, however the other three were beginning to falter, tired, wounded and losing heart in the face of so skilled a warrior. When the Captain took stock of his losses and called for a truce, Thom and Miklos quickly agreed (Seighard again was too wounded to continue the fight) but Hans, emboldened by his successes pressed on. However, it quickly became apparent his companions could not long continue and he reluctantly acceded to the Captain's request. They would cease fighting and the Hussites would leave Bavaria.

So the remaining Hussites gathered and made to leave, when they were almost away, their leader turned and called "my name is Lional Poder, remember it well, for I know it in my heart this is not our last meeting". Then, true to Lional's promise, they made their way directly back to Bohemian lands. The villagers emerged from their hiding places and were ecstatic with joy, crying out that teh four heroes had delivered them form damnation at the hands of the ehretics. It soon emerged that the Hussites had come a week ago and occupied the village, Rosenheim since. Everyday they sent out patrols to search the surroundings. When one day a trio of a armed men came form the west claiming to be couriers, they were challenged, when they refused to surrender, they were slain and their possessions taken. The Hussites never molested the villagers, their blond Captain maintained firm discipline, but the ruthless handling of the "couriers" made even the boldest farmer to fearful to resist the Heretics. Intrigued, Stefano' had the couriers bag brought out from where the Hussites had had to leave it. It contained only a single sealed letter shrugging, he broke the seal and read it, he made a face at it's poor composition and handed it to his escorts. "You lot make sense of it, if it has any importance at all. These villagers seem friendly enough so we will pause to lick our wounds and rest before making the last few days journey...to Regensburg".

Monday, January 19, 2009

Ensiferi, the Sword Brothers of Livonia

Decription:
The Ensifiri were once an independent order, based on the Crusading Knights Templar, established to pursue the crusades in the north. The old order was founded in the year of our lord 1197 by the first Bishop of Riga, Albert. Though a crusade in the north had initially been pursued with some vigor by good Christians, that commitment waned and it became obvious that an order should be formed to continue the crusade on a permanent basis, as the other knightly orders did in the holy land. The rule and symbols of the order were those of the Knights Templar and their badge was a sword, from which came their name. The bull approving their order (Innocent III in 1202) was notable in that, unlike the other knightly orders, there was no stipulation as to the birth or station of the brother knights and membership was open to all.

This new order pursued their mission only short time, with only two Grand Masters. The first was murdered by his brother knights and the second fell in battle along with many of his fellow crusaders when the order was almost wiped out by the combined pagan forces of Lithuania and the Semigallians in 1236. The surviving knights were incorporated into the Teutonic Order as an autonomous unit, retaining all their lands, symbols and the right to govern themselves under the nominal authority of the Teutonic Grand Master.

The Ensiferi remain a potent force on the Baltic, having avoided most of the losses suffered by the rest of the Teutonic Knights. They are organised differently to the other crusading orders and do not keep so closely to their vocation as religious, being almost totally military in orientation. Having never fought in the holy land, they also do not share the high esteem in which the Knights of St John, and to a lesser extent the other orders, are held.
Devices and colours: White surcoat with a red cross. They have a red sword as their symbol and bear a red bordered shield with a red cross on a white field as their coat of arms.

Skills: Animal Handling, Melee arts, Maneuver, Military Arts or Theology, +1 LP

Secret Masteries:

Swordbrother (Melee arts (Bladed Weapons) Mastery), the novice Ensifiri is Knighted and the accorded the right to command his own Gleve (Lance) of lesser soldiers. He will be granted a sword of good quality along with armour and horses appropriate to his station. His sure presence will give +1 to defense rolls for his Gleve (any party may act as a Gleve outside of battle) when in formation.

Crusader (Melee arts (Bladed Weapons) Mastery), the Veteran Ensefiri is accorded the rank of Preceptor and command of a chapter. His order will grant him a sword of exceptional quality as badge of his high office. He will also have the right to lodging and aid anywhere in the Ordenstratte.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

A quiet walk amongst the trees, (with some pauses for conversation).

When the dawn finally banished the chill from the nights uncanny events, the Medici and their escorts were left to ponder the best way to proceed. The original aim had been to strike over the high-country and completely elude the Hussites, who they reasoned would keep to roads this near to unfamiliar Bavarian lands. However, the encounter in the woods had left Stefano shaken and unsure, worse both his brother Cosimo and the Engineer Seighard were wounded grievously and they were far from skilled aid or safe rest.

It fell to Thom Ecke to restore purpose and direction and suggest the manor of his fellow "Knight", Gunther Schwarze only a days trek north. It led them away form their path, but thoughts of his brother weighing heavily upon him, Stefano readily agreed to the promise of a safe house, warm food and (so Thom had heard) a skilled healer. Gunther was away hunting when the party arrived at the three crumbling stone buildings that comprised Gunther's "Manor" but his guest Hans readily received them and quickly went to work preparing potent medicines. By the time the host finally returned with freshly killed boar, the party's wounds were cleaned and bound and a potent medicine had been imbibed by Stefano.

Having received such hospitality and skilled healing, Stefano's party were soon ready to leave. They were surprised, but quite pleased, when Hans (now outfitted in mail and spear and shield and bearing the Green Cross of his order) asked to join them while they traveled to Regensburg. Thus strengthened, the party set forth and made their way south and then up to the pass where they had intended to make their way into Bavaria proper. There, above the tree line, they saw a great plume of dirty black smoke rising atop the snow covered trees. After a little deliberation, Stefano (at Han's urging) resolved that they should investigate in case there were Christians in need of succor. Stefano and Cosimo hung back in case there was serious danger and their four escorts made their way along a muddy forest trail to where they reckoned the scene of the fire was.

Before they made it to this place, they encountered a half dozen men, dirty, armed and wearing armour and shields with some noble's sign upon them. These men stopped and their leader demanded to know what business the four had walking their master's lands. It emerged during the conversation that the six "men-at-arms" had come from where smoke marked a burning village, but would not speak much further of it and were loath for the four companions to investigate further. They would say only that they acted on the lawful authority of their lord and that the villagers were condemned by the proper "Godly" authority. Despite the men-at-arms' claims of righteousness, they gave only weak argument to Hans and Miklos' assertions that as Religious knights they should be let pass and sullenly let the four go investigate.

What they found was a small clearing in a quiet forest dotted with still smoking buildings and the odd wandering cow. No people, not live ones anyway, the bodies of dead peasants were all about. Hans was unconvinced that the area was deserted and scanned the tree-line until he spotted movement and openly approached and old man and beardless youth who were cowering. Hoping it would reassure them, he declared himself a Knight of the Order of St Lazarus, this seemed to terrify them further. His suspicions aroused he began to question them about their religious practices but was able to glean only that they traveled to another village for mass once a month and that they were possibly two ignorant or scared to recite the "Lords Prayer". Eventually he calmed them enough to discover the whereabouts of more survivors and the name o this place "Schryswig".These survivors were to be found by a small stream hidden away from the clearing. Here an old Woman (Old Lita) cooed and cradled a frankly terrified and very pale man wearing leather armour. Nearby a cauldron bubbled with a pea-green concoction and all about were black cats.

Hans immediately questioned her on religious matters in the hope of resolving his doubts about the villagers. He had no real success, Lita was obviously intelligent, could recite the "Lords Prayer" and appeared about as orthodox as a remote villager could be expected to be. Her patient was Martin, the village Shultz (headman, magistrate and contribution to the lords levies in time of war) and he he told of the recent events in gasping breaths. The local Lord's men (the local lord had little to do with them and Martin usually brought his taxes to his tower once a year on behalf of the village) came with a black cowled man, with an odd foreign accent much akin to Stefano's, who accused them of heresy. When they protested the innocence, he was enraged and ordered the men-at-arms to burn the village and every heretic in it. Once the deed was done, he made his way westward down another trail leaving only a half dozen men behind to find stragglers. Some hours later, they too left eastward towards the Lord's manse and eventually Hans, Thom, Seighard and Miklos appeared from the direction they left from.

Disgusted at the what had taken place, Miklos was eager to pursue to the black cowled foreigner and hold him to account. With this in mind he went with Thom and Seighard to lay in wait to the East to catch him when he returned while Hans sought to learn any secrets of potion brewing the old woman might impart. The three were finally to return frustrated, the mysterious foreigner and the remainder of the Lord's men-at-arms nowhere to be seen. The companions learnt the way to the Lord's manse from Martin and after consulting with Stefano and Cosimo, who were eager to remain with the villages and speak more with Lita, the rest of the party set forth to hold the Lord himself to account.

They had been informed by Martin that they could expect to find the ruins of a small village, "Halgast" not half a day's travel from the village and a mere bell from the Lord's Manse. Schryswig was a new village, but Halgast reputedly dated from the time of Roman occupation. The previous occupant of the Manse had been deeply into the occult and Halgast, with some other local villages, had been filled with his disciples. Fortunately (Lita and Matin appeared earnest when they related this) the current lord came with a writ from the Duke's court, some Dominicans and many armed men. they burnt the village, put the heretics to the sword and ejected the heretical noble from his tower and took him to the Duke's court where he was tried for witchcraft , convicted and burnt at stake in public.

When the four came to Halgast, they found is in better condition than Schryswig, most of the walls still stood and the church was almost complete, minus it's roof and shutters. Curious, Seighard went to inspect the alter, the next thing his companies knew, he was vanished from all sight. When they rushed to the alter, they found an open trapdoor and their companion falling, very slowly, down a deep pit. Once they had ensured he had reached the bottom safely and that all that awaited them seemed to be a dark corridor and ankle-deep water, they bravely followed him down.

Lit by their flickering torches, they saw a smooth walled grotto with a number of winding tunnels. The water, which reached their calves in the corridors, seemed to come from an ancient looking cylindrical milky-stone font that constantly spilled water on to floor. Curious as to what riches might lie beneath the earth, the companions explored further. Miklos heard an odd crackling noise to their left down a side tunnel, when they investigated, they saw an uncanny thing. A crackling man shaped glowing apparition floating toward them above the water. Thom immediately recognized the smell of Lightning in the air and refused to remain and face what ever it was, Hans was more eager and approached it but was forced to drop under the water to avoid touching it as it came towards them. The companions are left pondering how to deal with this sequence of events..... They have no obvious escape, what will they do?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Medici Agent

Description: The Medici are the leading family in the rich and cultured city of Florence and are leaders in introducing new forms of accounting and providing finance to the powerful across Europe. While money is a key pillar of political influence in Europe, the Medici also actively court popular support to bolster their position. Lavish parties, endowments to the arts, new churches, generosity to the poor and stirring oratory are all employed to build Medici support at home and abroad. A Medici Agent works to bolster their financial wealth and further the Medici political intrigues.

Skills:

Commerce, Linguistics, Perception or Performance, Persuasion, Statecraft.


Secret Masteries:

Influence (Statecraft (Etiquette) Mastery) The Agent can draw on the influence and contacts the Medici posses to accomplish any goal within a bureaucracy. She can have prisoners released, gain dispensations from local laws, gain appointments, find out about hidden persons etc.

Populists (Statecraft (Etiquette) Grand Mastery) The agent is given the title of Maestro and is a leader in Medici affairs. Through the support the Medic posses and their wide contacts the Maestro can engineer major events like riots, guild strikes, border conflicts and so on. Such major acts can have widespread consequences and can bring repercussions, both from outsiders and other major players within the Medici.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Imperial Politics

Preamble
The Empire is a complex web of overlapping jurisdictions. Ultimately, overlordship over the entire Sacrum Romanum Imperium rests with Sigismund, King of the Romans and Emperor-Elect. However, the practical realties of Imperial politics and the privileges enjoyed by the Universal Church or accrued by numerous local guilds and towns, privide many exceptions to this dominion. The chains of fealty do not follow a consistent pattern and a Knight might have several overlords or owe his allegiance directly to Sigismund himself. This means that while the major political players are the Dukes and other great lords, both secular and sacred, there are numerous largely independant entities of quite minor power. This lends a complex and shifting undercurrent alongside the schemeing of the great Electors. Thus, even the Emperor-Elect himself may find his plans undone by the swift emergence of a previously unseen network of minor nobles and merchants.

Electors
The title "King of the Romans" (the German Kingship) has been an elected one throughout the Empire' s history. Due to the central importance of the Electors to Imperial politics, who actually got to be an Elector was hotly contested. After all, those with the ability to uplift a lord to the highest position in the Empire were always well rewarded for their promise of support. Particular debate centered around whether the Electors should all be German nobles with the King of Bohemia making forcible claims to the Electoral dignity. All debates were resolved by the "Golden bull" of Emperor Charles IV in 1356 which fixed the number of Electors at seven and determined which nobles would hold these positions. There are three Archbishops: The Prince-Archbishop of Cologne, the Prince-Archbishop of Mainz and the Prince-Archbishop of Trier. And four Secular great lords: The Count Palatine of the Rhine, the Duke of Saxony, the King of Bohemia (also an elective Kingship) and the Margrave of Brandenburg.


Free Cities
Are accounted in this time as "Imperial free cities" but instead won their independence form their former overlord (usually an Archbishop) rather than purchasing it directly form the Emperor. In the case of Koln, the Archbishop (and overlord of the city) was forcibly ejected by that city's Burghers and subsequently barred from returning. This Archbishop then worked, unsuccessfully, to secure his return and retake the city by force of arms. They actually enjoy a greater degree of autonomy than the proper Imperial Free Cities as they have few direct obligations to the Emperor (they would formerly have owed these obligations to their feudal overlord, of which they now have none). They must only support crusades and maintain their own defenses.

Imperial Free Cities
These great cities have purchased their independence directly from the Emperor. Rather than being subject to a feudal overlord, the heads of the rich merchant families (Burghers) control the cities affairs directly and are subject only to the Emperor himself. All of the great cities in the German lands of the Empire have this status. In the case of Lubeck, this independence underpins the political power of a great league of merchant cities. This independence is constantly contested, it may be revoked or reconfirmed by Emperors and is always challenged by the land's great lords. They also owe the Emperor taxes and must provide military support for his campaigns.

Imperial Knight
A hereditary title and benefice (source of income, usually one or a number of manors) granted in return for service to the Emperor. These individuals are direct subjects of the Emperor.

King of the Romans
The title "King of the Romans" is held by the individual chosen by the Electors to be the new Holy Roman Emperor. This is his sole Imperial (he may also have other titles, eg :"King of Hungary") title until such a time as he is actually crowned Emperor by the Pope. this may take some time to secure (Sigismund is as yet uncrowned for a decade) and requires the Emperor-elect to personally journey to Italy to have the Iron Crown placed upon his head. In order to reduce confusion, I use the term Emperor-elect (which didn't exist in the early 15th Century) rather than "King of the Romans".

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Swiss Pikemen

Switzerland
Languages: German
Abilities: +1 Talent Farming, Military arts
The confederation of Swiss Cantons remains nominally a part of the Holy Roman Empire. However, in all respects they are effectively independent despite numerous attempts by their neighbours to assert control or take lands from them. It is their well disciplined militia, raised from the free men in every community that has achieved this feat. They from large units armed with Pikes and Halberds and are the most sought after mercenaries in Europe.


Description: Must be Swiss
Swiss Pikemen were the most sought after mercenaries in Europe. They first rose to prominence through remarkable victories over powerful forces composed of Knights and then later sold their skills on battlefields throughout Europe. While the forces of the Swiss cantons often won their victories by impressive maneuver, Mercenary Pikemen were inclined to just grind down their foe with a frontal push. Despite commonly being referred to as Pikemen, they employed halberds almost as frequently as pikes.

Skills: Melee arms, Maneuvering, Military Arms, Ranged Arms, +1 LP

Secret Masteries:
Marching Pikes (Maneuvering (Footwork) Mastery) The core of successful pike combat is using formation and superior pike skill, to either out maneuver or just grind your enemy back. This was the heart of the Swiss innovation, a hundred years earlier defensive pike formations had bested Knights at Bannockburn and the Battle of the Golden spurs. However, this only succeeded if the enemy cooperated by charging the Pikes. The Swiss required no such cooperation and utilised a marching drum to keep the pike block in formation on attack. The Pikeman is recognised as a Sergeant of Pikes and is able to advance and force their opponent to give ground (one yard PDL of attack) when successfully hit, the opponent can prevent this only by beating the accuracy roll with a footwork roll of their own.

Pike Maneuver (Maneuvering (Footwork) Grand Mastery) Though the mercenary Pikemen preferred frontal attacks, the Pike styles evolved by the Canton forces were more mobile and flexible. The Pikeman is accounted a commander of Pikes and if their opponent successfully parries or blocks against an attack, they must reroll the defense due to the feints employed by the Pikeman. Opponents may evade the attack without a reroll, but must also give a yards ground.

Bavaria

Geography
Bavaria is an old Germanic Duchy with a proud and independent history. The tribes were first converted to Christianity by St Boniface long ago in the 8th century. Today in the 15th Century, it is accounted to encompass all of the Imperial lands south of Franconia, north of the Alps, east of the Rhine's Swabian headwaters and west of the Kingdom of Bohemia. The mighty river Danube cuts through from west to east. At this time, Bavaria is the ruled by several Dukes, having historically been constantly divided and reunited amongst the members of house Wittelsbach. In addition to the great Dukes, the region includes part of the scattered (not to mention contested) holdings of the Wittelbach Duke John "the Pitiless" of Bavaria-Straubing and the Imperial Free Cities of Augsburg, Ulm and Regensburg (the ancient capital). Other significant cities include: Passau, Munchen, Straubing and Nordlingen.

Bavaria occupies the high wooded Plateaus north of the Alps extending down through the Danube basin north into the Franconian and Bavarian forests. To the south and east, Bavaria is jagged and mountainous and where it abuts the Alps, reaches great heights with small villages overlooking the river valleys from high above. To the West, Bavaria meets the Swabian Alps and thence the heights of the Schwarzewald which occupies the border region between the Danube basin and the rich lands of the Rhine. The climate is cold by European standards, though milder in the lower south Danube basin. North of the Danube, nearing Franconia, the landscape rises once more into rolling hills and then jagged mountains. The River Danube and it's tributaries dominate the land providing major highways for trade and travel and all of the significant settlements are sited at crossings or confluences between rivers.

Politics
The outcome of the divided and contested rule of this region has been twofold: Ambitious nobles from other lands constantly encroach on the region and the Bavarian nobles often ignore Ducal authority, taking advantage of the chaos to further their independence. However, the contested rule in Bavaria has been positive for the cities and towns not directly occupied and ruled by the Dukes. They have taken the opportunity to draw upon the long standing Landschaft or Landtag, (in place since the beginning of the 13th Century when Bavaria was a united Duchy) to strengthen ties amongst themselves. Not only do the Imperial Free cities ignore the Dukes and Munich openly conflict with them, the other cities and towns now posses strong political and trading links independently of Ducal control, along with accompanying agreements for mutual defense and prosper accordingly. While the Hanseatic League has no member cities in Bavaria, it's Rhenish "Third" is neaby and the have agents in the area to purse league business. The Fugger family is based in the great Imperial Free City of Augsburg. The Medici family of bankers from Italy hails form south across the passes of the Alps. The long history of the Holy Roman Empire in Italy, as well as opportunities for profit, means that they employ Bavaria as the gateway to expanding their influence in Europe. With a commandery in Ulm, the Teutonic knights regularly take part in Bavarian affairs. The Knights Hospitaller have their Grand Priory of Lower Germany in Bavaria acting as a way station for communications with their sovereign possession of the island of Rhodes.

People
When the Germanic kingdoms coalesced after the earlier migrations of tribes, the kingdom that emerged in Bavaria formed out of peoples who, unlike the newcomers of the neighboring lands, had a long tribal histories and great traditions. The Bavarian people take great pride in their culture, history and contribution to the Empire and are noted for their independence and superior attitude. The Bavarians enjoy the additional distinction as the finest brewers and greatest consumers of beer in Europe. Those that hail from this land have: +1 Talent Statecraft, Stewardship

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Interesting times in Bohemia

It was midsummer in the year of our lord 1419 when all hell broke loose in Prag. While what took place had a number of causes, the cause that came to be the most important was the death of the old King and the the prospect of Sigismund, King of the Romans, taking over the throne. Sigismund had guaranteed Jan Hus, a Bohemian religious teacher much loved by his countrymen, safe conduct to Constanz in 1415. But while the Emperor elect was absent, the assembled Bishops tried and convicted Hus of heresy and (deeming the safe conduct to not apply to heretics), had him burnt at the stake....

So in the hot months of 1419, Sigismund as their new king was one indignity too many for the Bohemians. News of his succession saw the good citizens of the Bohemian capital ejecting royal officials from high windows and once that business was done, they organised in open revolt. The old Queen, acting as regent managed to hold the royal palace with her guard and since November has maintained an uneasy truce with the rebels.

It can't last though, the rebels offend the Emperor-elect by refusing him his crown , they offend the Pope by espousing heresy and they offend the German nobility with their lawlessness and raiding. Against all of Christendom, the Hussites would have to be military geniuses to prevail... However, as future events will show, those dramatic happenings were merely context. The most important event in 1419 was that Miklos a novice Teutonic Knight, the Sapper Seighard of Zurich and Thom Ecke an agile young noble from the Bayerischer Wald, were employed by one Stefano de Medici. This would be a brief liaison of striking consequence.

Stefano, the Medici Resident in Prag, needed nothing more than some skilled blades to provide a little extra "security" in case the more zealous revolutionaries gained the upper hand. He knew Miklos through the reputation of his father, the Archbishop of Kalocsa-Bacs and entrusted this young man to gather two other worthy individuals, so as to provide a discrete but effective guard. So followed many months sitting a round in the front rooms of the Medici Residence waiting for Christmas. Once it was clear the truce would hold until spring, all that remained was to enjoy the Christmas feast, observe the twelve days as closely as was prudent and join a caravan westward over the Bohmerwald and out of Bohemia toward Regensburg.

I have recovered Giocomo's (the Medici's trusted secretary) log of the journey and I believe this final extract is most enlightening:

January 4th, in year of our lord fourteen hundred and twenty. My master Stefano de Medici and his foppish brother, Cosimo, clearly chafe to be quit of Bohemia. I don't blame them, full of Czechs. It was worth putting up with their potato smell when there was money to be had in Prag but now those Hussites and their ringleader Zelivsky have control of the place. What wealth, breeding and any good taste Bohmeia might have had left are now long gone. I overheard my master inquiring with Thom Ecke yesterday, whether perhaps some of the more "rustic" nobles might be interested in good arms and armour at a special rate for fighting heretics. Cosimo meanwhile has been "thick as thieves" with that boorish Seighard, if I know him, he is up to something. I must apologise for not expanding more on the what took place yesterday between Stefano, that Dominican Piero and Jans Fugger, I lacked the serenity of mind to pen a proper entry while so infuriated by that damnable footman Henry. The nerve of that man is unbelievable!

I will write more on that I assure you! It's much too dark for that now, it's past Compline and everyone has found a fire, some wine and is wrapped in their cloaks swapping tales and gossip. I am hunched over a guttering candle trying to write this while keeping my back warm near the fire. What in the name of our creator is Piero up to? He's like a crow in that black habit of his and I can see him glancing over at my master like a he is ready to pick over his bones when he's done genially interrogating our escorts. Miklos, Thom and Seighard certainly have plenty to say. However I doubt so discerning a man as my master has entrusted any secrets to such clods! There he is, playing up being a man of the cloth and "blessing" the ruffians before taking his leave. Good riddance. It is many more days until we reach Regensburg, the Germans account it a great city, I think it's a backwater and if they are impressed by that great bridge they need to come to Rome and see what our ancestors could build! I will write some more after our day's journey is completed tomorrow on the vigil of the Epiphany.

Giocomo never had a chance to write those entries. Amidst lightly falling snow in the morning of Epiphany's eve, popping sounds and the screams of dying men heralded a Hussite ambush. Giocomo fell in the first volley, the entire left side of his face a bloodied mess. At the head of the four wagons, the merchants Jobst and his sons lost their nerve and quickly took flight. So abandoned, the two Fugger wagons and the Medici wagon gathered their escorts and charged the Hussites, aiming to drive them off. However, the Hussites were well led by a shaggy haired blond giant, bearing a chalice device on his tabard and swinging a mighty pick about him with both hands., He rallied his spearmen to resist the charge of the Fugger's men-at-arms and swiftly brought them low. Their deaths did buy time for Jans Fugger's son Thomas to be dragged into the woods by his manservant Henry. The boy's Dominican tutor Piero also followed his charge into the trees, but only after spending a long while clearly torn about whether to go to the Medici instead.

The Medici's escorts had skillfully dispatched the spearmen threatening their wagon through impressive horsemanship, not to mention fearsome blade work by Thom Ecke and well placed crossbow bolts from Miklos. Seighard unstoppered his flasks and mixed some powders to create a terrible smoke and smell of brimstone. The spearmen who sought to take the wagon were shocked to find them selves burning as a result of the strange magic's and though they got some good hits in, were clearly too unnerved even to handle a lone man between them before Thom and Miklos rode to Seighard's rescue. The shaggy Hussite captain took careful note of Seighard's wizardry before he called his men to advance on the Medici wagon. Meanwhile Cosimo, bleeding from a gunshot wound in his side, retrieved a small package from poor Giocomo's body and supported by his brother, limped for the tree line. A third volley of gun-fire lent weight to Stefano's calls to withdraw and the Medici party disappeared into the trees of the Bohmerwald.

The took their breath and cleansed their wounds nearby the scene of the ambush, reasoning the Hussites seemed more interested in booty than further murder. Thom Ecke was quite familiar with the Bohmerwald and suggested they either proceed the easier way down the valley near the trail keeping near the road to Regensburg or take the harder road over the mountain pass in the snow to avoid the Hussites completely. Preferring snow and wolves to Hussites, they set out across the valley and made their camp within a bell's journey of the pass before nightfall. However, none had the skill to heal the grievous wounds Seighard had sustained protecting the Medici wagon and with tow men of five wounded, their progress was slow. Thom proved his usefulness again by hunting fresh hares for their supper and they settled down to hot food and a warm fire.

Since his hurts made it difficult to get comfortable and sleep, Seighard took the first watch. As his eyes finally began to grow heavy, he heard the oddest noises. Instead of a still snow blanketed night, he heard gravel and grit being tossed about in the wind rolling down a hillside. Except this noise was seemed to be getting closer and originating downhill. Perplexed and unsure as to what to do, he decided to wake Thom (the next on watch) on pretense of having him take his turn in order to let him make the decision about what to do. Shaking his head at Seighard's foolishness, Thom scouted downhill and what he saw made the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. A great wolf strode toward their camp, however it was no natural beast. It's form shifted in shape as if it were a swarm of insects and it were not flesh and blood but swirling snow and leaves. Taking care to make no noise, Thom returned to camp, woke his companions and they prepared an ambush. Thom readied a burning brand, Miklos his trusty crossbow and the wounded Seighard took up his place guarding the Medici. When the uncanny beast charged into their clearing, Miklos let loose from hiding, his crossbow bolt cleaving the monstrosity into two smaller beasts. Thom had more success, the fire from his brand seemed to quench whatever substance the infernal creature possessed and with a few well placed blows, it was defeated.

The Medici were almost pathetically grateful at their deliverance, having been quite overcome in the face of such "deviltry" as they termed it. Their escorts were promised hefty bonuses in addition to their pay. All they had to do now was actually reach civilization and collect. Between them and their goal lay midwinter snow, wolves, bandits and perhaps more infernal creatures abroad in the woods. Were these creatures sent by the devil as Stefano believed? Were they part of the Bohmerwald's unfriendly nature as Thom supposed or, did something more lie at the root of that nights events?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Sigismund, King of the Romans and Emperor -Elect

Commonly the Emperors themselves have little to do with affairs in the Empire proper, preferring to administer those lands they control more completely beyond it's borders. The Emperor Charles IV both ruled the lands of Luxemburg and was King of Bohemia, he devoted much wealth and energy to that kingdom and particularly it's capital Prague, which (with it's famous University) became a major European centre of culture and learning. His son, Wenceslaus was also King of Bohemia and spent most of his time away from the German lands. He was the German overlord in name only as the lengths his father had been gone to so as to ensure his succession had so alienated the great cities of Germany, (the great lords habitually work to undermine the Emperor) that he was faced everywhere by riots and armed opposition. Wenceslas was eventually deposed by the Electors, who elected the Elector Palatinate of Saxony, Rupert to succeed him.

So followed a decade of German rule until Wenceslas's brother, Sigismund of Hungary, took over as Emperor-Elect* (neglecting to have his own brother reinstated instead. Sigismund is an active and intelligent man and a great ally of the Teutonic knights. However, the Emperor is constantly stymied by the great cities and powerful electors, churchmen and nobles and federations of lesser knights. The Bohemian revolt has in one sense undermined his power, removing as it does half of the lands he controls outright, in another sense it has moved Sigismund to the centre of German affairs once more. A militarily successful nation of heretics, given to raiding far a field and challenging the Imperial order is a major concern to every man in the Holy Roman Empire. This is a problem and opportunity for the Emperor-elect, the results he achieves, and how he achieves them, will be the key decider of whether he is yet another Emperor alienated from his own subjects or the strong leader of the German people.

*
The title "King of the Romans" is held by the individual chosen by the Electors to be the new Holy Roman Emperor. This is his sole Imperial (he may also have other titles, eg :"King of Hungary") title until such a time as he is actually crowned Emperor by the Pope. this may take some time to secure (Sigismund is as yet uncrowned for a decade) and requires the Emperor-elect to personally journey to Italy to have the Iron Crown placed upon his head. In order to reduce confusion, I use the term Emperor-elect (which didn't exist in the early 15th Century) rather than "King of the Romans".

Imperial Lands, the Sacrum Romanum Imperium today

The German Lands of the Sacrum Romanum Imperium stretch from the Alps, north to great plains that lead down to both the Baltic and North Seas. The lands begin as cold stepped plateaus, become great river valleys, dotted by farms and overlooked by wild forested peaks, before they run into misty lowland moors, lashed by winds and storms form the sea. To the west of the Empire lies the Kingdom of France, rich and powerful, though mired in civil strife and foreign wars. To the north and east, the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania are emerging as new powers in their own right. To the south and east, past the Emperor's possessions in the Kingdom of Hungary, lies a greater threat still, the Turk and the inexorable spread of Islam.

The Imperial lands have their origins in the conquests of Charles the Great, Charlemagne. Over 700 years ago, he conquered all of Christian Europe. With this, he won the Pope's recognition as the heir to the vacant Roman title and the stature of the secular defender of the faith. The origins of his empire lay in the old Frankish kingdoms, the remnants of those which brought about Rome's fall. His Grandfather, Charles Martel, "the Hammer", turned back the forces of Islam at Europe's southern border and took by force the crown from the moribund and weak Merovingian house. Charlemagne too, with Christendom subdued and united, campaigned tirelessly against the Moslems. However, upon his death, Charlemagne's empire fragmented, divided between three warring sons.

One son retained the imperial dignity and the old Germanic lands first taken by Charles Martel. In the next centuries, Christendom marched slowly east and north, first with missionaries, then followed by crusaders and finally colonists. The original heartland of the Empire had been the rich valley of the Rhine, then colonisation extended past the Elbe, then further past the Oder and into the Baltic, spearheaded by the Teutonic Order. In time, these new lands became stable and settled, even the formerly pagan territories of Lithuania and Hungary eventually Christianised, leaving the rich German heartland surrounded by Christian states.

The Empire bears little resemblance to the solid order of ancient Rome. Rather, the great lords are heirs to freedom loving Germanic chieftains and their kingship is an elected one. Many concessions have always had to be made by any who would assume the title "King of the Romans" and the right to journey to Rome and be crowned Emperor by the Pope. A long history of struggle, alliances and payoffs between Emperors, their great lords and the Papacy has left the lands of the Empire a patchwork of scattered possessions. The greatest lords, the seven Electors, are all but kings themselves (one of the Electors is actually King of Bohemia) and they can use their power to both elect and even depose Emperors to build their personal "empires".


Friday, January 9, 2009

Brotherhood of the Red Hand

During the Hundred Years War, the rebel Welsh Prince, Owain of the Red hand, formed a mercenary company of his countrymen to fight. Turning the feared Welsh Longbowmen against both conquerors and kinsmen. After numerous successful battles, the mercenary Captain traveled to Spain, where the English, fearful the famous captain was about to return home to lead a rebellion, had him assassinated. His followers did not disperse but instead elected a new Captain and offered their services to German lords so as to be free of the presence of the perfidious English.

Skills

Melee arms, Military arts, Ranged arms, Maneuvering, +1 LP

Secret Masteries

Clothyard Arrows (Ranged Arms (Bows) Mastery) The veteran bowman is recognised as a leader of men, a Rhingyll (Sergeant). The distinctive heavy arrows of the Welsh Longbowmen do heavy damage to their targets inflicting an extra 1d5 damage.

Hail of Arrows (Ranged Arms (Bows) Grand Mastery) The longbowman takes up a senior role in the company and the title, Llywodraeth (Commander). The longbowmen are justly famous for their ability to darken the sky with massed arrow volleys. Heavy armour may be proof against a single arrow but against numerous arrows, hitting all at once, the weak points in a the armoured suit provide chinks letting arrows hit home. Even the newly emerging massed Pikes and Halberds has cause to fear massed arrow fire and master archers are much sought after. The longbowman firing a Hail of arrows attacks three times at half accuracy (as normal) but does not suffer any further penalty for range, cover or if the target is moving. Additionally, the targets PL is reduced to one quarter (rounded down) when bodkin arrows are used.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Plattner of Nurnberg

Description:
Nurnburg, as well as being symbolically the Imperial capital and a major centre of trade, lies in a rich mining region and it's guilds were famed as the best armourers in the Empire. In reality a network of specialist guilds, the Nurnberg guild crafts the finest swords, axes and most famously armour to be found anywhere in Europe. Princes from far afield will have Nurnberg plate custom built and imported at great cost and many famous new armouries are formed with a Master Plattner from Nurnberg as their head. It will take a guildsmen many years to create his masterpiece and become a Master. In the time before that, he will have to travel the dangerous roads to other towns as a Journeyman in order to widen his skills in the craft. With the introduction of new technologies and techniques into warfare, a skilled guildsman will often be in demand to outfit, equip and train a nobles forces.

Skills: Commerce, Craftsman, Melee Arms, Military Arts, Perception.

Secret Masteries:

Masterpiece (Craftsman (Smithing) Mastery) In order to be accounted a full Master in the guilds, the Plattner must demonstrate their proficiency by the creation of an exceptional example of their craft. The Plattner is then acclaimed a full Master. The item will be an individualised chestplate that prevents against critical hits in that area.

Guildmaster (Craftsman (Smithing) Grandmastery) The Plattner is now recognised as one of the Guildmasters and a leader in the affairs of their craft, not just in Nurnberg but throughout the Empire. The Guildmaster is will be given sanctuary in any armourer guildhall, a comfortable income from guild dues and letters of credit as well as a fine townhouse in Nurnberg.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Miklos the Hungarian

Miklos is the son of the Archbishop of Kalocsa-Bacs. As a man of the church his father was not permitted a legal heir and instead followed the usual practice of providing for a worthwhile position for his son when he came of age. Hungary was and is less well cultivated than more western parts of Europe and Miklos was accustomed to ride, fight and hunt in the wild hinterlands as soon as he could sit straight in the saddle. His father and his entourage would fare widely afield with other nobles in order to bring down dangerous game, boars were much prized, for sport.

One such night a foolhardy Miklos strayed too far from the campfire whilst his elders drank and was confronted by a great black wolf while armed only with his hunting knife. The young Miklos was brave as well as foolhardy an managed to face down the wolf, stabbing it in the chest as it attacked. Though grievously wounded, the wolf bore down the young man and he would have been killed had not some of his father's servants come to investigate the commotion.

This event was to seal his reputation amongst his peers and be a source of enduring pride for his father. Denied a noble birthright and obviously unsuited to a cloistered life in a rich monastery, Miklos' father turned to a cunning guild master who organised the construction of many projects for the Royal house. The involvement of the House of Luxemburg in the affairs of Hungary had seen much new wealth and expansion and it was the Archbishop's hope that his son would live prosperously and earn royal favor and patronage through building on behalf of the Crown.

It was not to be, Miklos succumbed to consumption in his teens and was bedridden for many months, with recurring bouts leading to frequent setbacks in hi apprenticeship. Frustrated, young Miklos pleaded to his father the Archbishop to be allowed to take up the crosses of a crusading Knight and mindful of his sons' bravery, the Archbishiop assented. So is was that Miklos was gifted his father's ring, a priceless heirloom of their family and sent forth to join the Teutonic Knights as a novice. Though his illegitimate birth denied him any hope of high office according to the Order's strict rule, Miklos found his place in the cavalry much to his taste and trained hard, quickly earning the accolades of his superior knights.

On one of his journey's home to visit his father, Miklos was approached by the soft spoken Mathias, a prominent Dominican and fast friend of his father. Mathias begged a favour, the matter was urgent, though he would not say why. All he desired was for young Miklos to accept an offer of work as a guard from Stefano de Medici, should it be offered. Beyond that there was no explanation, not even an indication that Stefano had made contact with Mathias. Mathias was not the type to speak lightly of any matter so Miklos agreed to his request. When Stefano's servant came with the offer, the man was surprised to find the young Teutonic knight already prepared to leave for Stefano's house.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Life in the 15th Century

Everyone comes from somewhere and your background and experiences as you grow up in the various regions of the Holy Roman Empire or elsewhere leave an indelible mark. Even more important than the region from which you hail is your place in the "Great chain of being" and everyone knows their place, from the lowliest serf to God's anointed, Emperor-elect and King of the Romans. Pay careful heed to the limits that the Social System can place on your plans in life. Knowing your place in the world and where you come from, you then had best find a guild which matched your inclinations and which will permit you membership.

The common language in the Holy Roman Empire is simply German. The language of Christendom is Latin and the language of intellectuals is also Latin. Latin is the most appropriate language for reading and writing and theoretically would also allow you to converse with any Churchman anywhere. However, unbeknownst to most of the faithful, many a priest has been consecrated while wholly incapable of saying even the mass correctly, let alone being fully conversant in Latin!

The passage of years follows the Julian Calendar passed down from our Roman forebears. There are 365 days in a year, divided into twelve months and grouped into weeks of seven days each.

Since it is unthinkable to follow any other way than that of the Roman Catholic Church, the holy day is of course every Sunday. Most toil in the fields according to the passage of the sun in the sky, awake at dawn, breakfast work until midday, eat, then work until the gathering dusk, eat once more then sleep. Some of the greatest and wealthiest towns have sponsored skilled craftsmen to create wondrous mechanical clocks in their town squares, these clocks keep track of twelve hours before the meridian and then the twelve hours hence. However, for the minority that follow some other path in life than working the land, there is the standard of "hours" based on the routine of prayers in monasteries. There were eight of these “hours,” or "offices," during the day:

M a t i n s : M i d n i g h t
Latins: 3 AM
Prime: 6AM
Terce: 9 AM
Sexts: N o o n
Nones: 3 P M
Ve s p e r s : 6PM
Compline: 9 PM

Despite minor and inconsequential regional variations, there is one standard for the coin of the realm:
12 Pfennig (pf)= 1 Groschen or Schilling (g),
20 Groschen = 1 Florin (fl).

The standard coin for those who aspire to a greater station in life is the silver Groschen or Schilling (g), copper Pfennigs are really just shortchange for peasants to deal in and the golden "Florins", or "Guilden" or "Guilders" are what the great lords and merchants will tend to trade with.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Dominicanus

Black Friars (Dominicans)

The order of Friar Preachers was founded by St Dominic in the 13th Century as a new kind of religious order, not bound to secluded monasteries but traveling and living amongst the people and surviving by their donations or though earning their keep as teachers. In keeping with a famous rebuke made by St Dominic to Papal Legates, Dominicans will never ride, reject all finery and try to project an example of Christian simplicity. Instead of the stable life of the cloister, brethren would be found making their way across the country lanes of Europe, singing psalms to keep up their spirits, in danger of attack by thieves or heretics, on their way to the frontiers of Christendom and beyond. Additionally, as their reputation as teachers and theologians grew, they came increasingly to be found in the new towns of Europe and in the disputations of their universities. Because of their traditions of scholarship and the contributions of members of their order, most notably St Thomas Aquinas and Albertus Magnus, to spreading new forms of experimental science and Aristotelian thought, they were often at the centre of the great debates of their time. While St Thomas introduced a new Aristotelian form of theological thought that came to supplant the previous Augustinian Orthodoxy, a seismic shift in Christian theology, the famed but more arcane writings of Albertus Magnus, the teacher of the "Angelic Doctor", delved into the mysteries of experimental science, Astrology and even Alchemy.

However, the order had originally been conceived as having a mission to persuade heretics to recant for their errors and rejoin the church. St Dominic may have held to the belief that this could be accomplished gently, though he did burn many heretical books, but many of the leaders in the order did not share these scruples and the great Cathar heresy of the Albigensians ended violently through a Crusade by the French King. With their commitment to Church teachings and formidable intellectual abilities, the Black Friars are often known by another name, "Domini Canis" (Hounds of God) as they pursue heretics and carry out the works of the inquisition or hold other senior Church offices carrying out Papal policy or enforcing religious truces. Despite becoming important to enforcing church orthodoxy, the majority of black friars still pursue either the mendicant or teaching lives and others make different contributions to Christianity, several renowned German mystics of the last Century were Dominican, notably Meister Eckhart and St Catherine of Sienna.

Friar Mendicant

Description:

The common face of the Dominicans to the world is the Friar. He or she (there is a secondary order of Nuns) may either be found journeying though the countryside spreading teaching and spreading the faith, on official church business or teaching at a major school or university. They are famed for their learning, simplicity and powers of argument.

Skills: Theology, Persuasion, Linguistics, Athletics, Perception or Lore or Science.

Secret Masteries:

Veritas (Theology (Philosophy) Mastery) The schooling the Friar has received, combined with their keen intellect and spiritual development allows them to easily discern the untruths and deceptions in even the subtlest arguments or apprehend when the natural laws are being violated by arcane workings +1 PDL to Theology tests to resist the lies of heretics or pagans or to resist their magic (when the variants allow a Dominion (resistance) roll.

Dsiputatio (Theology (Philosophy) Grand Mastery) Black Friars have an important role in promoting orthodoxy and exposing error. The long experience of the Friar fulfilling this charge in a range of settings hones him or her to to a formidable debater. They gain +2 PDL to Persuasion (Influence roles) in any formal debate over doctrine or theology.