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BioKeith

*GPC Spoilers* The Feast after St. Albans

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If you’re playing the GPC and don’t know the timeline...don’t read any further!

 

Alright...

I’m about to run 495 and the GPC never really spells out who’s behind the deed at the Infamous Feast.  I’m wondering how others have handled this in their own games. Any unusual suspects?

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If you have Book of Uther, go to page 120. It has a list of 7 suspects and possible reasons for them to be behind the poisoning, in addition to the traditional* culprits, the Saxons. (* Although it needs to be said that in HRB, the Saxons poison the WATER that King Uther drinks, not poisoning the wine and the whole upper nobility.)

Without going into details, here is the list of suggested suspects: Syagrius, The Centurion King, Morgan, Margawse, Lot, The Butler (whoever the new Royal butler is), and Merlin.

In my campaigns, I have used Syagrius (a bit of a happy coincidence originally that one player had chosen his Roman character to stay with Syagrius in 488, but lost his replacement in 494, so I saw a nice opportunity to bring his old character back... and so it worked out), but I know at least one Campaign where it was one of the Barons who was making a powerplay to expand his own power with most of the higher nobles wiped out.

 

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I like Merlin personally. I feel it demonstrates his prophetic vision and willingness to be unscrupulous in the best of the realm. It should be quite a predicament for the knights if they were to find out and it should make for a good story.

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38 minutes ago, Username said:

I like Merlin personally. I feel it demonstrates his prophetic vision and willingness to be unscrupulous in the best of the realm. It should be quite a predicament for the knights if they were to find out and it should make for a good story.

Yep, I like Merlin, too.

I used Syagrius the first time around since I wanted to bring that Roman PK back, and I thought it was a nice callback to Madog 'betraying' Syagrius in 488. And the second time I ran it (for my current group), I already had that part of the Infamous Feast figured out in my mind, so I went with it again.

But if I were to come at it cold, Merlin would be at the top of the list, followed by Morgan and Syagrius. Merlin is, as you point out, probably the most interesting choice storywise. After all, Morgan ends up as a baddie anyway (until she is reformed) and Syagrius is not one of the big players. Although I admit that it was fun when the players figured out who he was. :)

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Merlin is the wild card in my games as well.  Is he all-in for Arthur? Does he play both sides (or multiple sides) for his vision of the greater Britian? or is he completely amoral and out for his own?   My players had a wonderful time being raised up by Merlin, only to find out they were left holding the bag a few times.  

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I'm surprised there's not a Saxon connection listed in the book of Uther... a Saxon witch, or something along those lines, seeking revenge for her fallen warriors might work. I've introduced such a character earlier in our playthrough, so I was thinking she might work to build up as a new baddie.

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3 minutes ago, BioKeith said:

I'm surprised there's not a Saxon connection listed in the book of Uther...

There is. It is literally the default (emphasis mine):

"The answer to the question: “who’s behind the poisoning” is never provided in The Great Pendragon Campaign. Although the conventional wisdom is “the Saxons!” (of course), we offer here some alternatives for those Gamemasters who might want to take the road less travelled."

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You will notice that Poisoning is the standard default of the Saxons.  The Night of Long Knives between the Saxons and the nobles of Britain had the massacre of the nobles due to drinking (ok, maybe not poison directly, but get a person drunk, and then fight them...), Vortimer is poisoned by his step-mother (at least some believe that), Aurelius is poisoned by the (Saxon) fake doctor, and now you have the feast.  So:

20 minutes ago, Morien said:

Although the conventional wisdom is “the Saxons!” (of course),

It is up to the gamemaster to decide if he wants the conventional villain, or to put a feint within a feint, so to speak.

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Funny enough in my game the question 'who did it?' was never answered. I assume the PKs thought it was the Saxons and the rumours were clear, but they never thought to find out. So i had never needed to think about this. 

In my game Syagrius never really played a part so would not be my first choice. Seems also a bit grand I think. his revenge seems much more personal against Madoc, and maybe his father.

Merlin could be the one. He may have had a vision on how things will play out in the future and set its course. The whole anarchy phase did set up the people to easily accept a new King. 

Centurion King. An unlikely candidate I think. He did not get any gains from it. I expected him to try and take Lindsey much sooner than in 503. That action seems more of a reaction to the sudden increase of power of Nanteleod. It could be fear of a too powerful Logres of course. But it seems a rather drastic measure and he did not use it against Nanteleod.

Margawse and Lot. That could be, but I am not sure what they would get from it. Its not as if he had the power to step into the gap afterwards. I would have believed it if he gained more power in Logres because of it.  It could be that he feared that King Uther gained to much power and wanted to split up Logres, but I do not know why he did not act against Nanteleod when he came to power. 

I also think that both the Centurion King and King Lot had respect for a strong man and leader. King Uther seemed to be that man, so I would think they respected him. Although I could believe that Margawse (and Elaine to King Nentres) poisoned the king's ear. So I would believe it more if Margawse was behind it than Lot.

Morgan is a bit too young. she has a grudge  against Uther sure enough, but that will play out later as she transfers her hatred to Arthur.

The Butler. Well you will have to think of a reason why he would do such a thing.

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26 minutes ago, Cornelius said:

Morgan is a bit too young. she has a grudge  against Uther sure enough, but that will play out later as she transfers her hatred to Arthur.

My interpretation is that Morgan hates Guinevere, not so much her brother. 

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12 minutes ago, jeffjerwin said:

My interpretation is that Morgan hates Guinevere, not so much her brother. 

Yet her early moves are against Arthur. It is only later, with Lancelot, that she focuses more on Guinever.

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41 minutes ago, Cornelius said:

In my game Syagrius never really played a part so would not be my first choice. Seems also a bit grand I think. his revenge seems much more personal against Madoc, and maybe his father.

Well, Syagrius lost his Kingdom due to Madog pulling out, with premeditation with Uther. In our campaign, his plan was to kill all higher nobility, even sending assassins after Ulfius and Brastias, and then use the chaos of the Anarchy to carve himself out a new little kingdom, with the help of his mercenary company of veteran Soissons knights and footmen who survived the war.

45 minutes ago, Cornelius said:

Merlin could be the one. He may have had a vision on how things will play out in the future and set its course. The whole anarchy phase did set up the people to easily accept a new King. 

Could be. Could even be that if Uther doesn't die, Ygraine will conceive again, and there will be a rival for the throne once Arthur has grown up. A rival who has been the heir presumptive for 14 years...

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17 minutes ago, Morien said:

Yet her early moves are against Arthur. It is only later, with Lancelot, that she focuses more on Guinever.

This is an inconsistency in Malory's sources. The Lancelot-Grail (including the Morte, when she could have easily assassinated Arthur) had the focus of her enmity being Guinevere because the new queen separated her from her lover Guiomar; she consistently wishes to shame Guinevere, who she thinks is a hypocrite, rather than Arthur (and even Lancelot: her target is his lover). In the Post-Vulgate she first attempts to murder her husband and later there is the strange attempt on Arthur's life; it says she hated him because she was bad and he was good, which is a pretty weak attempt to justify things. The primary reason is because the PV shifted the focus from Lancelot to Arthur and Morgan was a convenient villain. Of course pondering such things is a bit like trying to discuss continuity in characterization in comics.

In any case, Margawse never shows any malevolence in the romances; that representation of her is TH White's. Morgan may be a child at the feast, but she is already "bad", yet would be overlooked.

I dislike Merlin for it because of Merlin's fatalism. It feels too interventionist for me; his major acts of 'altering fate' seem to be on behalf of Arthur alone, and I don't see how this helps Arthur except in a roundabout way. In the Lancelot-Grail, of course, Arthur becomes king only a year or so after Uther's death, not after an extended Anarchy. That makes more sense: Arthur is ready and Uther is becoming worse.

But the best choice may be for some utterly personal reason, directed against some Uther for some seemingly petty reason, but of great importance to the culprit. I used Morgan for my Cornish campaign, but if I ran a Logres campaign I'd make the murderer someone the PCs love and respect, who has a private and tragic reason for the act.

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On 8/8/2019 at 10:57 AM, BioKeith said:

I'm surprised there's not a Saxon connection listed in the book of Uther... a Saxon witch, or something along those lines, seeking revenge for her fallen warriors might work. I've introduced such a character earlier in our playthrough, so I was thinking she might work to build up as a new baddie.

There probably isn't anything specific because there aren't any Saxons at Uther's Court to interact with. No doubt any, some , or all of the various Saxon kings and their sons were suspected, and they are the "default" culprits. The list of possible suspects in the BoU is really just an alternate for GMs who want someone else to blame, and they needn't be the only suspects either. Pretty much anybody who suffered because of Uther, Aurelius, or his family line could be out for revenge.

Some relative of Vortigern could be a good possibility, as could whoever lost out on Cornwall or Silchester thanks to Aurelius' invasion. A case could be made for just about anybody.

 

Edited by Atgxtg

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15 minutes ago, Atgxtg said:

Some relative of Vortigern could be a good possibility,

Say, Cerdic's invasion the very next year does look a bit suspicious, with the above in mind...

(In our campaign, the reason he didn't arrive already in 495 was because he wasn't behind it, and needed the time to organize the invasion. However, if he would have been behind it, I would be tempted to make him land a year early, almost right after the poisoning to take advantage of the chaos... And what a nice way to put some extra pressure on the Salisbury PKs...)

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I certainly like the idea of it being Merlin paving the way for Arthur's ascendance. That said, I also like the idea of it being Morgan taking revenge for her father's death (I personally prefer the portrayal of Morgan as villainous but with relatable motives and her own oft-skewed sense of morals; I think it's a good middle ground between "misunderstood heroine" and "one-dimensional villainess"), so I suppose my own personal answer would be that Morgan plotted and carried it out, but that Merlin gave her a bit of help behind the scenes to allow it to go off without a hitch, since Morgan is after all still a child at this time and is far from growing into her later power or cunning. In addition to keeping all the stuff I like about both proposed plotters, it has the added bonus of keeping Merlin as the detached and enigmatic figure who often works through others, which means there's no conflict with his usual MO.

Edited by Leingod

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20 hours ago, Morien said:

Say, Cerdic's invasion the very next year does look a bit suspicious, with the above in mind...

Doesn't it.

Personally I don't see Merlin doing it for a couple or reasons. 

First, Arthur is too young to be king and killing off Uther and the nobles in 495 makes it much harder to the Brits to hold onto the country until 510. Now, maybe, Merlin had a prophecy that showed him how it would work out , but I figure he could have waited.

Secondly, the more I look over things, the more convinced I am that Merlin and Uther had made arrangements with the other lords of Logres to Arthur. The way various Lords just jump onto Arthur's bandwagon, and the way Igrane recognized him all look like a big setup. 

 

But that's just my opinion.

 

 

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2 hours ago, Atgxtg said:

Doesn't it.

Personally I don't see Merlin doing it for a couple or reasons. 

First, Arthur is too young to be king and killing off Uther and the nobles in 495 makes it much harder to the Brits to hold onto the country until 510. Now, maybe, Merlin had a prophecy that showed him how it would work out , but I figure he could have waited.

Secondly, the more I look over things, the more convinced I am that Merlin and Uther had made arrangements with the other lords of Logres to Arthur. The way various Lords just jump onto Arthur's bandwagon, and the way Igrane recognized him all look like a big setup.  

 

But that's just my opinion.

 

 

Well, I think the reasoning provided in the write-up does a good enough job of explaining why Merlin would do it. Uther's rule is increasingly unpopular, largely due to his sickness and streak of losses against the Saxons meaning that the reputation and aura of this great warrior king is no longer distracting people from all of his preexisting flaws (which are spelled out quite well in the Book of Uther). Especially when said flaws have led to him essentially abandoning Britons to the Saxons so he can steal another noble's wife. Merlin sees that Uther is losing the trust and regard of the Britons, and so he makes a martyr out of Uther before the man can tarnish his own reputation further. By killing him and so many others off right after Uther's biggest, most unambiguous triumph in several years, which are followed by the misery of the Anarchy, entire generations of Britons will now be a.) so desperate to have a King of Logres & a High King again they'll support even some "beardless bastard boy" who pulls a sword from a stone so long as he's victorious, and b.) remember Uther's reign far fondly than they ever would have if Uther had continued on the trajectory he was on prior to St. Albans, and thus will consider Arthur being his son a plus rather than a minus once that gets revealed.

Besides, if Merlin believed there was a serious chance that Britain would fall to the Saxons before Arthur could grow up, he likely would have stuck around to try to keep things in check until the boy was old enough to draw the sword from the stone, rather than leaving Britain. It's all something that would normally be one of those "you couldn't possibly have accounted for everything that could have accounted for" plans we shake our heads at in fiction, but this is Merlin, who has at least some prophetic powers and is clearly cognizant of future events, so it works.

As for arrangements being made with key nobles to pave the way for Arthur, I could see Merlin making moves in that direction, and I certainly agree that Ygraine revealing that Arthur was her son by Uther was most definitely staged (one wonders if Arthur was let in on it), but it probably wasn't the direct or only cause of so many lords of varying levels of power and influence being willing to throw their lot in with Arthur. A lot of them almost certainly legitimately believed that him drawing the sword (a blatantly magical event) was proof. If not on its own merits, then at least because they all agreed that they needed someone on the throne of Logres, if not Britain. And seeing that many of them would have had rather remote chances of becoming king themselves, at least a few of the more canny ones would have figured it would be much better to establish yourself as one of this new claimant's very first major supporters, essentially getting in on the ground floor of a new faction if not becoming one of the prime supporters in a new king's rise to power.

Certainly, it would make a lot of sense for Merlin to have at least dropped hints at Arthur's parentage to Uther's most devoted and famous supporters, Ulfius and Brastias. Those two are very influential figures, so as soon as they've throw their lot in with Arthur, no matter what people think of Arthur himself, he suddenly becomes a serious claimant that a lot of lords and knights will support almost on reflex, trusting the judgment of these two famous old knights. But I think that's likely the extent of Merlin's direct influence on the nobility of Logres in terms of priming them to accept Arthur as their liege. Not least because I like to give at least some credit for winning over the nobles to Arthur himself.

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18 hours ago, Leingod said:

Well, I think the reasoning provided in the write-up does a good enough job of explaining why Merlin would do it.

I don't disagree. It does give a possible reason. It's just not one I'm sold on. But again that's just my opinion. If some GM wants to go with that reason, that's fine. 

I don't really think it matters much who did it anyway, as no one will ever know, and the effects are the same.

Of course one thing to remember here is that the whole "all the nobles die off is something from the GPC not from Le Morte or the RGB . It might come from some source, but it is a deliberate departure form the main sources.

18 hours ago, Leingod said:

Uther's rule is increasingly unpopular...so desperate to have a King of Logres & a High King again they'll support even some "beardless bastard boy" who pulls a sword from a stone so long as he's victorious, and b.) remember Uther's reign far fondly than they ever would have if Uther had continued on the trajectory he was on prior to St. Albans, and thus will consider Arthur being his son a plus rather than a minus once that gets revealed.

That is one way to interpret things, if you want to believe Merlin was behind it. Another way, and one which I think has slightly more support in the primary sources is that Merlin and Uther had secretly made arrangements with the great lords of Logres for Arthur. It would explain why things went the way they did in the early years of Arthur's reign. But again, that is just 

18 hours ago, Leingod said:

Besides,

 

if Merlin believed there was a serious chance that Britain would fall to the Saxons before Arthur could grow up, he likely would have stuck around to try to keep things in check until the boy was old enough to draw the sword from the stone, rather than leaving Britain.

I agree. Now since Merlin is supposed to have some ability to foresee future events he could indeed know exactly how far he could push things without Britain falling to pieces. So yes he could. But I just don't by into it.

 

18 hours ago, Leingod said:

It's all something that would normally be one of those "you couldn't possibly have accounted for everything that could have accounted for" plans we shake our heads at in fiction, but this is Merlin, who has at least some prophetic powers and is clearly cognizant of future events, so it works.

Yes, and it's why Merlin can be blamed for anything that happens in the saga.  No matter what the event, in theory he could have foreseen it and done something. 

But I think that also depends a bit on just how much future knowledge a GM believes Merlin has. 

18 hours ago, Leingod said:

As for arrangements being made with key nobles to pave the way for Arthur, I could see Merlin making moves in that direction, and I certainly agree that Ygraine revealing that Arthur was her son by Uther was most definitely staged (one wonders if Arthur was let in on it), 

I suspect Ulfius was probably in on it from the start, and maybe a few other key lords. Namely the ones who were so loyal to Uther than they could be expected to do this for him after his death. But it's just a pet theory I have that seems to fit the "facts" as they have been presented.

 

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On 8/12/2019 at 8:33 PM, Atgxtg said:

I suspect Ulfius was probably in on it from the start, and maybe a few other key lords.

Ulfius knew from the start. Ulfius schemed with Uther and Merlin the whole "seduction" of Ygraine. He was even turned into Brastias during the infamous night when Arthur was conceived. I think it is stated in Malory, but it is all explained in the Vulgate. So, it was staged.

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4 hours ago, Tizun Thane said:

Ulfius knew from the start. Ulfius schemed with Uther and Merlin the whole "seduction" of Ygraine. He was even turned into Brastias during the infamous night when Arthur was conceived. I think it is stated in Malory, but it is all explained in the Vulgate. So, it was staged.

Le Morte, Book 1, chapter 2:

Now make you ready, said Merlin, this night ye shall lie with Igraine in the castle of Tintagil; and ye shall be like the duke her husband, Ulfius shall be like Sir Brastias, a knight of the duke's, and I will be like a knight that hight Sir Jordanus, a knight of the duke's.

 

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