My group has finally started our Band of Blades campaign, and I plan on keeping a chronicle of it here in this post.
I have decided to use The Horned One’s Chosen (THOC) for this campaign. I like her because she is the most ineffable and “godly” of the three Chosen. I also like how she is an atypical Chosen candidate; her only connection to The Horned One is that they both loved the same goddess; it’s like a widow marrying her husband’s best friend, just because you both loved the same person doesn’t mean that the two of you are compatible and that strikes me as ripe for roleplaying.
The Horned One’s Chosen: Bestial, Sinister. Holy, Mystic, Wild.
Starting Power: Anointed.
Look: When not deliberately maintaining a shape, THOC absentmindedly manifests bestial traits such as clawed hands, quilled hair, taloned feet, fanged teeth and any other number of animal features that appear and disappear over the course of a few minutes. THOC radiates an aura that makes most prey animals fall silent and predators submit to her will. Humans cannot help but feel hunted and stalked in her presence despite her gregarious and friendly nature.
Goals: (1) Collect intelligence on the Cinder King and the Broken. (2) Pursue THOC’s theory that the Cinder King has an origin in the Godswar or Empire, (3) Set the Broken against each other. The Horned One has remained purposefully ignorant of the dealings of gods and men for centuries and is now trying to make up for lost time. They retreated into their forests during the Imperial era, avoided the Godswar and only entered the war against the Cinder King after their beloved Nyx was Broken. They suspect that the Cinder King has a history with the Chosen, but needs to know more.
Personality: THOC is a dualistic entity composed of a (mostly) male hunter-god and a young Panyar priestess of Nyx named Silver Dancing Moonlight. When the Horned One is in control, he is self-assured and professional but also takes unnecessary risks and is easily emotionally manipulated. He is also prone to long periods of semi-catatonic grief over the death of his lover, Nyx. When Silver Dancing Moonlight is in control she is analytical and observant but risk-averse and somewhat paranoid. She is also prone to bouts of incoherent rage at the death of her goddess where she lashes out recklessly at the enemy. Depending on how the campaign goes she may end up more divided or reach a synthesis between her two personalities.
For my Broken I’ve decided to go with Breaker and Render. They’re very different from each other so I’ll have a lot of diversity in the kinds of threats I’ll be able to bring to bare. They’re also technically allied with each other and have lots of dark secrets that could blow them apart.
Starting Power/Progression: Coven & Pillar of Skulls
- Changing Curse
2a. If the Legion takes the mountain or forest path: Nature’s Fury
b. If the legion takes the urban path: Dark Visions
Grand Strategy: Asymmetric warfare. Use Devourers to insert Shadow Witches deep behind enemy lines. Subvert local populations with Hexed. Isolate communities with attacks by Transformed and Devourers. Turn people against each other while they search for the traitors in their midst. When the community can no longer defend itself, take it over and hang everyone from trees to become Burned. Send covens to the next town to take it over. Leave behind villages of Hexed that make a mockery of human living.
Flaws: Vain, needs/wants to be worshiped. Likes to monologue. Betrays allies immediately when convenient, often without thinking of the long-game.
Starting Power/Progression: The Sworn, Shredders
Grand Strategy: Fascist military industrial complex. All battles are about the accumulation of resources with no concern for ethics or honor. Refine cinderblood through horrific acts of industrialized violence. Separate civilians into "recruits" and "trade stock". Recruits are transformed into Gaunt and Hounds, "trade stock" civilians are sent to Render’s allies or used for experimentation. Strip the area for all valuable resources, set fire to everything else, leave Shredder traps behind you. Make promises to civilians you never mean to keep.
Flaws: Unable to think strategically outside of a military context. Micro-manager with a habit of brutally punishing failure even when it makes him weaker. Easy to bait. Intellectually incurious.
STARTING MISSION: Operation Wolfmother
Heavy: Viscount Leon: War Machine. Squad leader. A proper Orrite noble known for his extraordinary strength, luck and bravery. Stupid levels of bravery.
Medic: Blue Running Stream: Attache, First Aid. A young Panyar medic with red hair and prominent working gills. (The player and I came to an agreement that she has no special swimming abilities, she can only breathe freshwater, and when she is in dry locations she must spend 1 Load on extra water, unguents and waterproof bandages to keep from dehydrating or having her gills bleed.)
The Ember Wolves
Emerald Growing Weald-Panyar, Every Inch a Panyar. A plain-faced Panyar who has an inflatable septum bladder like a hooded seal that expands when he’s scared or upset. (Look it up.) Three days ago, he was a journeyman ferryman on the Taigeria river with only two Panyar names. Now he is sworn to the Legion and has earned his full Panyar name in battle. Emerald Growing Weald has been chosen for this mission specifically for his boating skills.
Cavaliere Ignazio Voci: Orrite (Connected, Stern), he/him, Jack of All Trades. Ignazio is a handsome and charming man of small stature who joined the Legion to avoid an army of jealous husbands and wives. He somehow manages to always convince someone else to carry his tents and cooking supplies. A man who prefers talking about work to actually working.
NPC Rookies: Dauphine Viviana Tanasi, Jagdeep Guarav, Landgrave Anton Zardan
The Ember Wolves and a select group of Legion specialists have been fleeing the undead hordes since they were routed at Ettenmark Fields. As they begin setting up camp for the night, they hear a voice behind them. “Oh wow! I actually found you guys!” Behind them is a white raven the size of a dog with reindeer antlers sprouting out of its skull. It begins to shift before your eyes into the form of a small, wild looking young woman. She is waving a letter at Viscount Leon.
The letter is from the Commander. It confirms that the woman before you is the Horned One’s Chosen and that the Legion has sworn to serve her. At this point I ask the Lorekeeper if there are any special rituals, items, etc, associated with the Legion taking on a new client. He tells me that:
When the Legion takes on a new client, they require the client to provide them with a new banner that they will serve under. When the Legion has completed its contract, the banner is retired to the Legion’s command tent. The Legion’s command tent is called the “Tent of Rags” and rumor holds that the tent is actually constructed out of the old imperial banners that the Legion first served under.
This sounds awesome, so I quickly design the Horned One’s banner for the Legion. It is the skull of a bear with the horns of an antelope bonded to the skull through some kind of magic or alchemy. The skin of the bear hangs below the skull on a pole and is painted in blue runes.
The Horned One tells the Ember Wolves that she has found a convoy of Render’s troops carrying Blackshot south into Cinder King territory for study. She has switched all of the road signs along the route and she expects the convoy to be waylaid. The Ember Wolves will travel south to the village of Harbuck and requisition some fishing boats and then cross the Taigeria. They will make contact with the convoy and through force or guile liberate it of its Black Shot.
The mission begins with Emerald Growing Weald trying to navigate across the Taigeria in time to catch up to Render’s convoy. Viscount Leon tries to set-up Private Weald by being an enthusiastic rower, but rolls poorly and only manages to give himself a Rank 1 Harm, “Rower’s Elbow” that he resists. Emerald Growing Weald rolls a 6 and manages to get across the river in record time.
As the legionnaires move up the riverbank the Horned One’s Chosen reappears. She is smirking. “They fell for it, the Knights took the wrong roads and now their wagons are stuck deep in the mud.” The legionnaries decide to do a group stealth roll that goes poorly, I fill in a 3/4 of ticks on a clock that says Render’s Hounds catch the groups scent.
Private Voci decides to resist on behalf of the Legion, reducing the clock to 2/4. Then he flashbacks to an earlier time where he asks for intelligence on the Hounds. He rolls a 6 on the fortune roll and learns from fellow refugees that Hounds can track the breath of the living. Using his high Discipline skill he orders his fellow squadmates to control their breathing as they move closer to the convoy. He rolls a 4 and gets partial success, his breath trick lets them get closer, but not close enough.
At this point I narrate a scene:
The Legion can hear the convoy guards fighting with each other. One of the Knights thinks that this convoy assignment is beneath him. “I’m a cavalry officer, not a teamster!” The convoy leader, a soft-spoken woman, asks if the Knight would like a new assignment and he says yes, before realizing he’s made a terrible mistake… She orders the complaining knight’s brothers to hold him down. The Knight breaks free and starts to run away before he’s tackled by a massive Hound. The Infamous hound Eater is on the field! The Knight is dragged back to the wagons and the convoy leader unwraps a spear from an oilskin. The spear is dripping with an orange glowing liquid. “Lieutenant Vishni, you are hereby relieved of your Oath as a Black Oak Knight. Your request for transfer to Experimental Weapons Division has been approved. May the gods have mercy on your soul.” She shoves the spear through the Knight’s body, as the blade emerges from the other side, it is no longer glowing, but the Knight’s veins have begun to burn with internal light. He screams for a long time and then dies, smoke coming out all of the holes in his head. “Collect the head. It looks like a real boomer.” Another knight unceremoniously hacks the dead knight’s head off, which is still glowing from the eye sockets.
The squad briefly considers their options. The group is poorly outfitted for stealth and after a moment of indecision, mission leader and Legionnaire Heavy Viscount Leon steps forward. “Screw it. When I give the signal, everyone rush the wagons and grab everything they can carry. I’m going to try and get the whole convoy to chase me.” The Viscount Leon has a heavy load. He has kept to the back of the mission party because of his size and weight. Suddenly he pulls himself off of the riverbank and begins running towards the convoy. He uses War Machine to push and reduce the threat level of all enemies by 1. The Horned One, realizing that the Viscount is making a potentially suicidal distraction decides to back him up. She transforms herself into a 30’ long horned serpent and makes herself conspicuous, hoping to make the Black Oak Knights and their hounds chase two targets. Viscount Leon rolls a 6. Perhaps it is sheer dumb luck, perhaps the Black Oak Knights are just dumbfounded that a single man in heavy plate is running past their campsight, but either way Voci is unharmed and the Black Oak Knights give chase. The Horned One rolls a 4 and takes a barrage of crossbow bolts for her trouble.
With the Viscount’s distraction happening my clocks need to change. I keep the detection clock, because the rest of the squad is still in stealth while Viscount Leon and the Horned One try to get the convoy to chase them. However, the Infamous hound Eater is on the field and decides to let out a horrible psychic scream, targeting Viscount Leon and the Horned One, but bleeding out over the rest of the area as well. I assign rank 3 psychic harms to the Viscount and the Horned One and rank 2 harms to everyone else as the psychic waves of agony cause rookies to bleed out of their eyes and ears. Of course a lot of this is resisted. The player for Viscount Leon successfully argues that he is using his War Machine ability to reduce the threat level of all enemies on the field right now because he pushed on a distraction and that should apply to Eater’s psychic attack. The medic Blue Running Stream does a further resist to protect the squad so that none of the NPC rookies die.
As the Viscount and the Horned One lead the Black Oak Knights and their hounds away from the convoy, the remaining Ember Wolves rush the wagons. The rookies Cavalieri Voci and Emerald Growing Weald both roll 6’s on the single remaining Black Oak Knight while the rest of the squad rushes the wagons and begin dragging Blackshot boxes back to the boats. While the squad is able to do this work quietly, they are unable to do it quickly enough to make a clean getaway before the Black Oak Knights start returning.
Things are not going well for Viscount Leon and the Horned One. Leon pushes himself again, this time for supernatural strength so that he can run fast despite his heavy load and starts making his way back to the riverbank. A 4 lets him make his way back to the river, but he is hit full-on with the flaming head of a recently deceased knight. (Render’s Shredder power making its first appearance.) The Viscount resists level 3 harm and uses all his armor points to reduce it to nothing. The flaming skull slags his armor but leaves him unharmed. The Horned One fairs much worse. She doesn’t roll above a 2. Eater closes the distance with her and unleashes a devastating psychic attack on her, driving the god into depressive catatonia and leaving Silver Dancing Moonlight in full control of her Chosen abilities. She is weakened and close to death.
The squad has successfully collected most of the Blackshot while the convoy guards have been distracted, but the final push must happen while Hounds and Black Oak Knights race back towards the caravan. A group maneuver roll results in partial success; the Legionnaires make it back to their boats, but another Shredder skull grenade is thrown into the squad’s midst and two rookies are cut down by hounds. This of course is resisted: Cavalarie Voci is able to inspire his squadmates to run faster so only one of the rookies is captured and eaten by hounds. The specialists and PC rookies spend armor and make resistance rolls for the grenade and make it to the boat. Dauphine Viviana Tanasi doesn’t make it.
Viscount Leon pushes one final time to make it back to the boats and rolls a 6. The Horned One flees with partial success. She leaves the battle with 9/10 ticks on her clock. She is badly injured but still able to walk away. It will be a long time before she ever things about accompanying the Legion on a mission again. She also has decided that she hates Viscount Leon, a foolish and stupid man who should never be given leadership ever again. The Viscount has earned the enmity of a god.
Emerald Growing Weald ends the mission by doing a flashback. “Of course, before we left to get the Blackshot, I made sure that all of the boats were ready for a quick cast-off so we could escape quickly.” He rolls a 6 on his Rig roll. I require a final group maneuver check to see how successful the squad is in getting away. The Medic leads the roll and barely avoids trauma with 2 failures and a 6.
BACK AT CAMP
The Lorekeeper has his first Back at Camp scene, an informal funeral for the Dauphin. The Ember Wolves remember her as a genuinely nice person whom the rest of the Ember Wolves respected. Emerald Growing Weald gives a speech where he says that she made a point of making sure he felt welcome in the Legion from day one. Alcohol is consumed in her honor, courtesy of the Lorekeeper and Quartermaster.