Secret Santicorn! Post-Roman Pre-Saxon Tables, Generators, and Hexes
It's been a hell of a long time since I last posted, and for good reason: things went to absolute shit in my life for a bit, much more shit than had previously been gone to. But the storm has (for now) been weathered, and I've returned with a Secret Santicorn! The general idea of Secret Santicorn is that folks over on the OSR discord request a piece of RPG content, and then those requests are randomly assigned, secret santa style. Each person then makes a blogpost about the thing they were assigned.
I personally requested some thoughts on using mechanics to reinforce themes in OSR games, and received this lovely blogpost from Tiny Dog of Goose and Pen. In turn, I received a request from Sofinho over at Alone in the Labyrinth for a few hexes for a Historical Fantasy Post Roman, Pre-Saxon Hexcrawl.
Now, I am no historian, nor do I have the mind of one, so this was going to be a bit of a challenge. Rather than humiliate myself by attempting something accurate, I instead opted to read as much writing from the time period in question as possible and get a feel for the era. The zeitgeist, the poetry of the times. That sort of thing. Then, because I've been on an oracular generation kick, I put together some tables and a generator to help me create locations and encounters that fit with the themes I'd picked up on from my reading. This is the end result. I have to say, I still know very little of the time and place in question, but I've become quite fond of the place that I've created from the idea of the time; apocalyptic, strange, and melancholy. Sofinho, I hope you are fond of it as well.
- An uneven field of dead grey grass, mist rising towards a dead grey sky. A stone cottage, roof destroyed by fire, languishes to the side of the old roman road which already has begun to fall apart.
- Inside the house, sleeping tucked in a corner and covered by a filthy sheepskin are two young Saxon men. One is bleeding out from a gut wound, the other unwilling to leave his lover
- Beside the cottage, an abandoned vegetable garden is being slowly choked by weeds. Look closer and find the putrefying corpse of the man who once lived in the cottage. His flesh is melting into the soil
- Pull up a turnip from the ground and it is swollen, plump and juicy. Bite into it and blood fills your mouth, runs down your chin. You smell smoke, feel flame bite your hands, hear barbarous laughter and the screaming of children
- Further down the road, an old Roman official, bent, robes of office torn and filthy, desperately tries to rebuild the road, straining nonexistent muscle to heave huge flat stones into place. He will embrace the ankles of any travelers coming by, entreating them to help him. He has a large bag of Roman coins, once a small fortune, now questionably valuable.
- A cold marsh on a black day, sun hidden behind ashen clouds, flecks of soot resting on the still surface of the water, thick mud sucking at boots. A little further on, the water pools into a lake, a strange grey boat floating in the center, perfectly still.
- Half sunk into the muddy shore of the lake, a plague victim rots. Half hidden in the mud and decaying fabric of their clothing you can see a crucifix of pure gold: a relic that could not save them. Coming close enough to pry it from their death-grip will expose you to their illness, still festering within their flesh.
- Make your way out to the boat and you realize it is made of weathered stone, stroked into this shape by the numberless hands of the rain. In it sleeps a woman of fierce and terrible beauty, long black hair covering her nude form. Her hands are clasped on her chest around the hilt of a sword, stone blade sharpened to a razor edge
- Touch her and you are drawn into her dream: she is chained to a huge leopard whose spots are brilliant blue eyes; an agent of Juno. Kill the leopard or convince it that its mistress has abandoned this land and the woman will awaken.
- Awake, the woman will declare that her name is Uchrat, and that she is searching for Arthur and means to claim his sword. She will put Roman and Saxon alike to the blade in this endeavor, but fight valiantly as an ally should you aid her.
- A small valley between two softly sloping hills. Well trodden footpaths connect small houses of sod or stone, all abandoned. Wind absently blows bits of straw from thatched roofs and whistles through open doors and windows. At the end of the valley lies a wheat field, burned and barren.
- Lurking in the abandoned houses is a band of brigands, 1d4 to a house. They are bitterly hungry, and will only attack if you look well fed or are carrying visible supplies. Offers of coin and treasure only earn spiteful laughter and cold steel. They will take potshots with slings and bows before closing to finish any wounded off with scavenged Roman swords and rough clubs.
- A creek winds through the valley. Follow it and you reach a point where it has been rerouted to irrigate the wheatfield, running swiftly along a bed of weathered stones placed there by hands long since gone. The old streambed is dry clay, grey and cracked. A warding stone has been placed at its mouth, roughly chiseled, dried blood splashed on clumsily carved runes.
- Follow the old streambed to its beginning and find the bones of some water spirit, picked and bleached. They rest in a small pool of pristine water. The bones will purify any water they come into contact with, and if held in the mouth will stave off thirst indefinitely.
- The western hill of the valley is a forgotten hillfort. Its ramparts of stone and wood are burned black from some long-ago raid, and a massive briar has taken root in the ditch, thorny tendrils providing much better fortifications than the man-made ones ever did.
- Occasionally, you can see a figure pacing the top of the hillfort. Easily twice the height of a man with a strangely stretched skull, it wanders, melancholy, around the ramparts, kneeling to rest now and then in the center of the small space
- If you carry a relic from before men ruled or an object sacred to the land, the figure will salute you, hefting a tremendous stone axe that seems to crystalize from the mist. Salute back, and with a joyful shout that echoes through the valley it will leap from the hillfort and take up arms with you, following you loyally so long as you serve the interests of the land (shunning or destroying civilization, respecting nature and the fae). Fail to return its greeting and it will slump sadly to its knees, fading into nothingness and leaving behind a skull that could be deer or human, but is neither.