Yorkshire's Rifles

The Monastery, Part 5: Trial By Fire

The Redcoats and Riflemen enter the mountains of Spain, and their Spanish friends demand British justice.

Before we get into the action I need to talk about Personal Missions in Duty & Honour.

I’ve said before that I was having a hard time wrapping my head around how to structure missions, which are the heart of play in Duty & Honour. And I hadn’t yet messed with players’ personal missions, which are key to exploring what makes each character tick and to making sure that the leader—the one who makes the all-important Command roll to win or lose a battle—doesn’t get too much of the limelight. In last night’s game I think I finally got the hang of all that, or at least I feel that I have settled into a rhythm that really works for me.

We kicked things off by building personal missions. I left it until now because most of the players were still new to the way the rules worked and even to the nontraditional, story-game aspects of the way D&H works. By last night the players have had enough practice with the rules now that I figured they could contribute to building the personal missions without feeling lost.

Considering what they add to the game, I really think personal missions are absolutely key to D&H play. Not only because they give each individual character time to shine, but also because they provide side stories, “B” plots, that progress alongside the main military missions. The fact that they’re “B” stories doesn’t mean they’re less important; they give context and counterpoint to Army life (or Navy life in Beat to Quarters). And they help establish that rhythm of play that I mentioned.

The rulebook says it’s safe to take the approach I took, not setting them up right away, but I would recommend digging into them as quickly as you can. Play through a really quick opening military mission, something with only two challenges rather than the usual four-challenge job, give the characters’ rewards or penalties for success or failure, and then talk them through setting up personal missions which will each have their own rewards and penalties. I found it was easiest to ask the player first what he wanted to improve on his character sheet, what reward he wanted, and then we put together the challenges that it would take based on the current storyline and on which skills the player wanted to use. I asked them to not use the same skill for more than one challenge in a personal mission in order to keep things interesting.

So let’s look at Yorkshire’s Rifles. These are all four-challenge personal missions.

Lt. Halter Smithwick thinks it would be just the thing to make himself the subject of jealous scandal back in England to bring home a beautiful Spanish girl. He’s already established a Reputation with Uxia Maria Raimundez, so now he aims to deepen that relationship and persuade her to leave Spain behind and follow him. His reward for success will be +2 to his Reputation with her, bringing it up to +4. His penalty for failure will be that his existing Reputation with her is Maimed. His four Challenges: (1) A Courtesy test to convince her older brother, Luis Raimundez, to form a better opinion of him. (2) An Intrigue test to find out from the Spaniards what Uxia Maria wants most so he can make himself more persuasive. (3) A Music test to charm and sway her. (4) A Romance test to seal the deal.

Mr. Thomas Raif Giles, the 19-year-old gentleman volunteer, had his first taste of combat leadership yesterday and found it daunting and terrifying. The Rifles already like him, but he means to be more diligent in setting an example for the men and he wants to earn and keep their respect. His player wants to boost Giles’ Command skill, so +2 Command is the reward if he succeeds. Failure means one of his institutional Reputations (regarded as a hero by the rank and file) will be Maimed. His four Challenges: (1) Maintain order and discipline among the ranks (Soldiering). (2) Spot some danger or threat in time to warn the other officers and make sure the men respond accordingly (Awareness). (3) Gain the honor and respect of the men (not sure what skill; we’ll see when it comes up). (4) Impress the higher-ups enough to be entrusted with an important command (again, we’ll see what skill applies when we get there).

(A quick aside: One of the things that I love about Duty & Honour is that characters have sound reason in the game mechanics to pursue objectives that aren’t the wisest or most sound from an in-character perspective. Where Giles is out to make himself a better leader, Smithwick is out to get laid and impress his friends back home. But if Smithwick succeeds, his Reputation with Maria goes up to +4, which means he can use that to gain +4 bonus cards in any test later when he decides that some facet of his relationship with her is involved or serves as a motivation. +4 cards is a huge advantage, so it not only fits his character perfectly to pay attention to a lady rather than being a good leader, but it will pay off in the game as well.)

Sergeant Sebastian Cole had as part of his background that he’s a family man and his wife and young son are on the rolls accompanying the regiment, but he doesn’t have an actual Reputation representing them and we established in the game that they were separated from him and the company during the retreat to Corunna. So his personal mission is to find his wife and child. His reward for success will be gaining a new personality Reputation with his wife at +2. The penalty for failure will be losing 1 point each from Soldiering and Discipline as the grief and frustration drives him to distraction. His four Challenges: (1) Speak to the Redcoats and see if he can find some sign or rumor of his family. (2) Do something important for some of the Redcoats so they owe him a favor and will go out of their way to help him in his search. (3) We didn’t settle on a third Challenge so we’ll come up with it later. (4) Once he’s back with the army or has some way of communicating with it, actually finding his wife and son (we’ll see which skill applies when we get there).

Private Garland O’Toole, a lazy soul who’s always gotten along by finding things that other men need and letting them watch out for him, has had a couple of close brushes with death in close combat in the last couple of days. He wants to become a more ferocious fighter with his bayonet. His reward for success will be gaining the Hack and Slay +1 trait (which I personally apply to the fixed bayonet as well as halberds and axes). His penalty for failure will be getting his physical health Maimed by diving into a fight before he’s ready; we clarified up front that that will be in addition to any physical damage he might take if it happens in a battle, which could be disastrous. But O’Toole is lucky and tough (he’s got all kinds of traits to avoid getting killed) so he’ll chance it. His Challenges: (1) A Haggling test to replace his rusty, dingy old sword bayonet with one that’s been kept in better repair by a more diligent Rifleman. (2) A Quartermaster test to make sure some of the tougher men in the Rifles get the best equipment so they’ll help him out. (3) A Soldiering test to get some good practice in with the men who really know what they’re doing. (4) A combat test to bravely put his bayonet to use against the enemy.

Private William Southgate has as his secret life’s ambition to make himself rich enough to eventually desert the Army and set himself up in style, but only if he can do it without getting caught. First he needs to see to the riches. He means to abscond with even more of the King’s silver that the Rifles are trying to bring back to the Army. His reward for succeeding at his personal mission will be +1 to his Wealth rating. The penalty for failure will be having his Reputation (distinguished in the Regiment for his bravery) Maimed. His Challenges: (1) A Scavenging test to come up with whatever he needs to convince a guard or sergeant to look the other way when the time is right. (2) A Skulduggery test to pilfer a bag or two of silver. (3) A Quartermaster test to stash it away someplace where it’s not likely to be discovered too soon. (4) An Intimidate test to persuade one of the other men to help him forge the silver into musket balls—with enough dirt and time silver looks a lot like lead—that he can store with his own pack so they don’t draw attention.

The players for Captain Yorkshire and Private Jones were away last night—Yorkshire’s player moved into a new house a few weeks back and has been remodeling in every spare minute; Jones’ player was ill—so we’ll work out their personal missions later.

A note about the military mission: Last night the players accomplished two group challenges for their military mission and two challenges for side missions. I had originally conceived the current military mission—March to Corunna—to be one long mission; but that would mean waiting until the very end of it to see whether they succeed or fail and to hand out rewards or penalties. So instead I retroactively made this first stage its own two-Challenge mission to escape into the mountains and keep the Spaniards as guides, and since they succeeded they gained the benefits of succeeding at a two-Challenge mission. A lot happened in the session, so that was more satisfying for them than waiting.

Now, where were we?

A Moment’s Peace

It was a deep, frozen night with drizzling snow, icy mud and muck all around. Two hundred or so Redcoats and a handful of miserable women sat in a great clump across a sheep trail that led from hills toward a steep mountain path to the west. About nightfall they had formed into an infantry square to fend off an expected attack by sabre-wielding French cavalry, but it was square in principle only. A few desultory campfires sputtered in the crowded center.

About 60 British riflemen were scattered in pairs in the woods alongside the trail. The riflemen of the 60th (Royal American) Regiment of Foot wore green coats and blue trousers—once blue, anyway, now mostly faded to a drab gray—rather than the red coats and white breeches of the regular infantry, but their tattered gray greatcaoats and bulky, heavy packs looked much the same as the Redcoats’. So did their shakoes, tall, black cylindrical hats distinguished by a green pom that sprouted from the top, marking them as skirmishers rather than line infantry. They carried the Baker rifle, much shorter than the usual musket, and wore old-fashioned horns at their sides to hold their best powder.

In the woods near the great square of Redcoats rested three mismatched wagons. One of them was the Sick Wagon, holding men who were too badly hurt to walk. The others carried the meager supplies that the soldiers had liberated the day before from the monastery of San Millan de Montana.

Near the wagons a small herd of horses shivered and waited under guard. They were captured French cavalry horses, and they had been brought along mainly to serve as fodder for the troops in the difficult mountainside march to come. Private O’Toole, the Rifleman who acted as company quartermaster estimated that slaughtering nine or ten cavalry horses would feed their 270 men and followers well for a day.

(I said that the few hours of nighttime were open for the players to each attempt one challenge to follow their own pursuits—healing their physical health, repairing a Reputation or attempting a challenge for a personal mission.)

Once the sentries were posted, Sergeant Cole and Private Southgate saw to the Sick Wagon. Southgate was no expert when it came to medicine or even folk remedies, but in India years before he had learned how to put together some odd ingredients for a strange salve, smelly but useful for warding off infection; and he had a supply of stout silk bandages that he used and reused on bad wounds, occasionally washing them out when the stink got too severe.

(Cole attempted a First Aid test with an assist from Southgate; rather than following their own pursuits they wanted to get Smithwick back in the action. With the bonus cards from Southgate, Cole succeeded. That brought Smithwick’s “Maimed” health to merely “Injured, which meant he could function but at a -1 card penalty.)

Cole and Southgate saw to the worst injuries, and they managed to bring Smithwick around, binding up tightly the wounds he’d sustained in his impromptu duel with Lt. Leveque and restoring him with soup. His burgeoning fever receded.

Unfortunately Captain Yorkshire remained unconscious, even comatose, from his fall from a froward horse at the monastery.

Mr. Giles went to inspect the Redcoats and the Riflemen assigned to keep watch on them. The Redcoats were a difficult bunch; the British army was strong on tradition and savage on discipline, but these were men from a scattering of regiments, men who had fallen off the march, wandered far astray, and settled into the first shelter they could find to drink themselves into a stupor and await capture by the enemy. Giles, not an officer but well liked by the Riflemen and clearly a gentleman, set out to dress their square, see that what equipment they possessed was in order, and in general remind them that they were soldiers of His Majesty’s army, Redcoats, not ragamuffins. With the Riflemen at his side backing up his attempts at authority, he brought many of the men around and brought their rough camp into some kind of order.

(This was a Soldiering test, the first challenge in Giles’ personal mission. Thanks to bonus cards from his Reputation with the rank and file, he succeeded.)

Private O’Toole settled in to rest near one of the fires alongside another Rifleman, a credulous fellow who kept up his gear well but could be talked into anything. O’Toole convinced him to swap bayonets, offering a few extra belongings he had stashed away to sweeten the deal.

(A Haggling test, the first in O’Toole’s personal mission. Success.)

Lt. Smithwick awoke after a few hours’ sleep, still hurt but feeling human again with his wounds bound up and his fever fading. He consulted with Ensign Richter, Ensign Flagstaff, and the much more useful Sergeant Cole, and decided to strike camp at the usual very early time, hours before dawn, so they could be marching for the safety of the high, intimidating mountain paths before light.

Luis Raimundez came to consult with him. Luis said he was glad to see Smithwick still among the living. He didn’t seem to be much worried that Smithwick had lost the duel; what mattered more was that he had fought it as long as he was able.

Luis said about half the Spaniards had departed. They were followers of Rojas Cervino, who had tried to rob Cole and his men of the King’s silver and whom Cole had shot dead in the attempt. Rojas’ brother, Iago, took his followers off into the hills on their own after a fierce argument with Raimundez over whether to abandon the British to their fates.

As they talked Smithwick steered the conversation to much more important but more dangerous ground: Luis’ sister. Smithwick told Luis that coming so near to death had made him realize that he was in love with Uxia Maria, that he adored her, he wanted to convince her to marry him.

(This called for a Courtesy test, the first Challenge in Smithwick’s personal mission. Failure would mean offending Raimundez pretty severely. But Smithwick succeeded.)

Raimundez laughed it off. Uxia was beautiful and always had men declaring their love for her. He told Smithwick they would discuss all this later, when it was more appropriate. Then they could discuss Smithwick’s station, his prospects, his status with the Church, and so on. (This got a great laugh out of the players at the table, since Smithwick was established early on as being notoriously anti-Catholic.) Raimundez left in good humor, not much preturbed. But as far as Smithwick was concerned the groundwork had been laid.

Rolling Out the Guns

Well before dawn, before it was time for the sergeants to wake up the camp and start the column moving, a sentry came running down the trail. He ran up to Smithwick and Cole and reported breathlessly that they had heard wagon wheels approaching.

“How many?” Smithwick asked. “Did you see them?”

“No, sir, it’s still nighttime,” the sentry said, all earnest guilelessness. “But I think three or four of them. Heavy loaded, sir. I think it’s cannons.”

Time for rest was gone. The Riflemen spread out, rousing the Redcoats and preparing to march as fast as they could over the icy trail and up the mountain.

(This was a skirmish challenge, where each player could attempt one challenge to contribute, and then their commander, Smithwick, would make a final Command test to see if it succeeded. The challenge: Getting the Redcoats and Rifles onto the mountain path where the cavalry and cannons could not follow. If it failed, the formation would fall apart and they would escape with only the Riflemen themselves. I told the players that they could each opt to either attempt a noncombat challenge—which if it failed would extend the amount of bombardment the column would suffer come daylight—or a combat challenge fighting off the pursuing dragoons. I also told them that they could always opt to forego their assigned test and attempt a challenge from a personal mission instead; that would count as automatically failing at the skirmish test but might advance their personal missions.)

Smithwick sent Southgate to spy on the approaching French, to confirm how many guns and horsemen and how fast they were coming along. Southgate moved fast and quietly, and soon saw the French had managed to bring three light cannons into the hills, followed by wagons for their ammunition and powder, and a squadron of dragoons, about a hundred riders led by the captain who had attacked Giles’ detachment yesterday.

(A Soldiering test for Southgate, but I let him apply his Thief in the Night trait to it since he was being all stealthy. He succeeded.)

Sgt. Cole helped Ensign Richter and Ensign Flagstaff lead the column of Redcoats, shouting and pushing to keep them in order and to keep discipline intact as they marched at double time through the ice uphill along the ever-narrowing trail.

(A Soldiering test for Cole; he succeeded, only barely but that was enough.)

Giles took charge of the horses and the Redcoats who had been assigned to act as their grooms, so the animals would not bolt in all the noise and hurry and terror. He spaced them out perfectly, and set just the right tone to keep them calm.

(A Riding test for Giles; a Critical Success.)

O’Toole stayed near Smithwick in the rearguard, watching for the French, watching to see what their range would be when dawn came.

(An Awareness test for O’Toole; a success.)

As the dawn of January 11 broke over the snow and mud of the hills, the Redcoats and their horses were quite near the twisting trail that would carry them around the mountain and out of sight. O’Toole sounded the alert as soon as he spotted the French guns and riders off to the east, beneath the lightening sky. Smithwick called orders out to the ensigns, Richter and the timid Flagstaff; Cole and the sergeants warned the men at the head of the column to dress their line, to keep up the march, to get on that mountain path in good order and above all quickly.

And then the French guns spoke. It wasn’t withering battery fire, there being only three of them, and the guns (not to mention the gunners) were quite cold; and the British thanked God that the range was too great for cannister or grape shot. But every minute like clockwork they sent three six-pound cannonballs flying through smoke at the British column, throwing up dust and rocks and snow and occasionally bodies and parts of bodies.

At least half a dozen men and two horses died to the cannonballs, but the effect on morale was more worrying. The column grew ragged as men and women hurried in panic up the narrower path that led up and around the sheer mountain side, two men or one wagon or horse at a time. The rearguard gathered stumbling and shouting around the stragglers at the path’s foot.

(Cannon bombardment calls for a test of the defenders’ commander’s Discipline measure as well as killing soldiers. Sadly, Smithwick’s Discipline is an absymal 1. I let him take the bonus cards from the other players’ many successes in the skirmish leading up to this, as well as getting those bonuses in the final, critical Command test to come, but even so he failed. Company Morale became Injured, which incurs a penalty of -1 card on future Command and Discipline tests for the company.)

At last—it was maybe ten minutes but it felt like ages, trying to walk away in formation under steady cannon fire—French bugles sounded in the distance. The dragoons charged, taking this one last chance to break the British ranks and gather them up before they could complete their flight. The cannons stopped firing.

Smithwick called for the rearguard to form up and fix bayonets. The Rifles’ bugles and sergeants sounded the command. The Riflemen fixed their bulky sword bayonets on their rifles; and the few Redcoats who still had their muskets fixed their own bayonets; other Redcoats stood with captured French swords in front of men holding captured French carbines and pistols.

The dragoons’ Captain Boutin led the charge again. Rifles, pistols and carbines fired out at them as they came on. The first dragoons crashed into the British square in a bloody melee, swords flashing down and bayonets stabbing up.

The charge failed to break the square apart, so the next ranks of horsemen rode around to attack the sides of the square, where more rifle, pistol and carbine fire erupted and the men stood and fought.

Dragoons fell and died. A handful of British soldiers fell to the dragoons’ deadly swords. Then Boutin himself fell from his horse, shot down by one of the riflemen inside the uneven square. The French attack stumbled as the men rushed to gather up their beloved captain, then broke off entirely as the British fire only intensified.

The dragoons rode back out of range. At once Smithwick ordered the square to move up the steep path. By the time the cannons began to fire again the Redcoats and Riflemen were mostly away, and soon the guns fell silent as the last of British disappeared around the mountainside.

(This was all the final, all-important test of this skirmish challenge, Smithwick’s Command test vs. Boutin’s command test. Smithwick’s Command skill is 4, surprisingly competent considering his predelictions; he was at -1 for being Injured and -1 for Company Morale being Injured, but +4 for all the other players having succeeded in their tests. He called on his Reputation with the Officers’ Mess for another bonus card—the exact Reputation is that he’s disliked as being stern and unpleasant (“dickish” is what the player wrote on his sheet) but that reputation as a taskmaster worked in his favor with the two ensigns both being below him in rank. Finally, when cavalry attack infantry who have formed square it ordinarily grants the infantry +2 cards and incurs a penatly of -4 cards for the cavalry; since the British were haphazardly armed I halved this to +1 and -2. Smithwick drew eight cards against Boutin’s five. Boutin drew a success, but Smithwick drew a Critical Success! Smithwick won, and thus kept the French from scattering the British. I decided Boutin’s success, a four of diamonds, represented four Redcoats injured in the fighting, while Smithwick’s Critical meant a dozen or so French fell and Boutin was Maimed.)

Awkward Conversations

Slowly the fear and adrenaline of the attack faded and the drudgery of marching along the uneven mountain trail settled in. The men had to keep the horses moving, and men and horses had to keep the wagons from getting mired on the steep, muddy path. The day dragged along.

Many of the men were quiet. Others muttered among themselves, not happily. All shivered in the cold. Maybe half wore shoes, thanks to to O’Toole’s efforts in town; once again, as they often did, the Riflemen thanked God for letting them be equipped with the thick cavalry boots that were traditional with the 60th’s mounted forebears. The rest of the redcoats and the handful of women were barefoot in the snow. The day dragged along.

(I told the players this was another opportunity to pursue their own individual interests, one test apiece.)

Mr. Giles did his best to keep up the men’s spirits, knowing that they liked him for his good humor and his education.

(If I recall right, Giles got a Critical Success at a Diplomacy test to repair an Injured Reputation with the rank and file.)

Sgt. Cole kept an eye and more importantly an ear on the Redcoats, listening in on their discussions and trying to join in, hoping to figure out which ones were most likely to have seen and remembered his wife and little boy. But none of the ones he spoke to could help, and many of them plainly resented him.

(A Courtesy test, the first Challenge in his personal mission. It failed. One more failure will mean his personal mission fails altogether!)

Private O’Toole tried to make his way among the men, particularly the Riflemen, seeing how they did, whether they needed anything he could help scrounge up. But the tone was all wrong and there was nothing much he could do for the ones whose spirits were low.

(He too wanted to repair one of his Injured reputations with the rank and file, but his Diplomacy failed. Since O’Toole has no Diplomacy skill this is very unlikely to succeed. I recommended that he convince another player who has good Diplomacy to assist him at some point to get bonus cards. Currently among the player characters only Smithwick has much Diplomacy, so we’ll see how O’Toole goes about it.)

Private Southgate decided on which guard he was going to approach, which one he could convince to look the other way when the time was right to make a grab for more than his fair share of the King’s stolen silver. He made small talk with the man; learned that he had a love for the good kind of wine that the officer’s kept but that the rank and file rarely tasted; and managed to sneak a bottle off one of the wagons.

(A successful Scavenging test, the first challenge in Southgate’s personal mission. I think it was wine, but I may have said something else during play, I don’t remember.)

The Spaniards rode at the head of the column as guides. Luis Raimundez fell back to meet Lt. Smithwick. After they exchanged the usual greetings—how was Smithwick’s wound, how many hurt and killed in the attack, how did the Spaniards fare—Raimundez reminded Smithwick that while the French clearly had not been the ones to murder the monks of San Millan de Montana, that meant some among the Redcoats had done it, and Smithwick had promised to see justice done. Smithwick said they would hold a field court martial in the morning at first light. That satisfied Raimundez.

He also told Smithwick that his cousin, Juan Artur Moura del Porta, lived in a manor over the village Puerta del Norte, and it would not be far off their track if they made good time today and tomorrow. Smithwick thanked him for the information but privately doubted he could risk getting the unrule Redcoats around all the temptations of a Spanish village.

Smithwick turned the conversation to Spain in general and Galicia, Raimundez’ family; but while Smithwick was usually a fair hand at conversation, his motives were a little too transparent. Raimundez grew impatient, irritable and soon offended, and they soon separated again.

(An Intrigue test for the second challenge of Smithwick’s personal mission. He drew two successes but the Hand of Fate—as I have decided to call the opposition in a static contest, which is set by the difficulty of the task rather than by an NPC’s skill—drew two Critical Successes! Failure. Ouch.)

As the day wore on the trail went downhill again. Late that night—hour upon hour of painful marching, exhaustion, sneezing and illness—it leveled out in a little pass and Smithwick called a halt.

A few men set fires. Many dropped where they stood and fell asleep shaking in the wind and snow. A couple dozen men led ten horses out of their little herd, the ones likely to drop from cold and exhaustion anyway, shot them, and set about carving them up for the fires. At least they’d have meat for breakfast.

Court Martial

Smithwick told the other active officers, Richter and Flagstaff, as well as a few trusted men that he meant to hold a trial in the morning for the dead monks. He asked Giles, O’Toole and Southgate to quietly figure out who had done it so they could make a good enough case that the Redcoats would put up with seeing a few of their own strung up to satisfy the Spaniards. And he asked Cole to be ready to keep the Redcoats orderly during the proceedings.

Giles, Southgate and O’Toole made their separate ways among the Redcoats in camp, speaking quietly to one and then another. Well, Giles and O’Toole did, and Southgate made an appearance of doing so; Giles questioned them, and when they ran across a man or woman who seemed to be holding out O’Toole was there to negotiate, to figure out what their witness wanted to share what he or she knew.

(This was an Intrigue test for Giles, and I let O’Toole use his Haggling skill to assist with bonus cards. The Hand of Fate drew zero successes; Giles with his augmented Intrigue hand drew two Successes and one Critical Success.)

They soon narrowed it down. The plain fact was that the infamous Sergeant Dane and his men had been the first Redcoats to arrive at the monastery. When the next band arrived, and all others as they had straggled in after hearing rumors that British had holed up there, no monks were to be found. A couple of Dane’s men claimed that the place had been abandoned when they arrived, which was in flat contrast with Dane’s earlier story that they had locked the monks up safely and they heard them screaming when the French murdered them. That was enough for the court.

Meanwhile Southgate spoke to a few soldiers and followers, but soon he made his way over to the wagons, where the guard was on duty whom he had earlier plied with stolen officer’s wine. The guard turned a diligent eye in another direction. Southgate skimmed silver from several of the bags until he had a heavy bag’s worth of his own, and tied them tied closed again carefully as he went. He was stepping away with an innocent or at least busy look when another guard came around.

(A Skulduggery test for the second Challenge of Southgate’s personal mission. If it had failed he would have been caught mucking about the treasure wagon and likely flogged at the very least. Southgate drew one Success and one Critical Success—and so did the Hand of Fate! But Southgate’s Success was a higher card than the Hand of Fate’s, so he succeeded, barely. Because Southgate pursued his own mission rather than the group’s current Skirmish Challenge, this counted as an automatic failure for the group’s challenge, which would dock a card from the final test by Smithwick.)

The sergeants got everyone up again before dawn after a few scant hours of miserable sleep. But rather than starting the march immediately, Smithwick called the ad hoc battalion to attention for a field court martial. He and Richter and Flagstaff were the only officers fit for duty, so they were the court.

Throughout all this there was grumbling in the ranks but Cole kept a stern eye on the Redcoats and made sure the sergeants did their duty.

(An Intimidate test by Cole, bolstered by one of his Reputations. The Hand of Fate drew one Success. Cole drew one Critical and one Perfect Success! He kept the ranks in order and then some!)

Smithwick called several of the men and women to ascertain when they arrived at the monastery and whether there were any monks when they did. Then he called Dane and his men, one at a time, and questioned them on their various contradictory claims. Smithwick was no lawyer, but the facts were pretty plain to the meanest understanding among the soldiers that watched the proceedings.

The officers of the court conferred, and they very quickly came back with their verdict: Guilty of murder, one man after the other. Sentence to be carried out at once.

Dane’s late, desperate attempt to rile up his fellow soldiers and spark an impromptu mutiny went nowhere under the stern, very just gaze of the officers, sergeants and guards.

(A Command test for Smithwick, with +2 cards for Giles and O’Toole succeeding but -1 card for Southgate secretly failing to do his job. The Hand of Fate drew a Critical Success; Smithwick drew merely a Success; but he called on his Reputation with the officers—stern and dickish, remember—to bully the ensigns into speaking up and looking stern and just, for a bonus card. It was a Critical Success! Victory!)

The pass had a copse of rugged little trees, enough for a collection of nooses. They strung up the murders, drew the ropes taut, and let them dangle for the prescribed time. As the last of them stopped twitching, the sergeants began forming the men up in column to begin the day’s march.

As the column prepared to move, Private Southgate went up to the hanged men. He grasped the legs of the first one and gave them a mighty, sudden pull to break the neck and make sure the poor man was dead. Then the next. Then the next. at last he came to Sergeant Dane, hanging as still as the rest—but when he grasped Dane’s legs they kicked out and Dane shouted, still alive!

Not that it did him any good, hands and feet bound tight as they were. Southgate fought for a good grip, brought his weight down, and Dane’s neck popped like the rest. He twitched and went limp at last.

(Dane had the Cheat Death! trait, so I was silently waiting for the players to leave him behind so he could struggle free of the noose and come back to haunt them later. Alas for thorough players; but what a great character moment it turned out to be!)

Private Southgate of the Rifles, a murderer himself who escaped his own noose by taking life in the Army, joined in the march as the men made their way along the narrow road and onto the next icy Spanish mountain.


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