Our merry band consists of:
Calder Winterbourne a.k.a Mouse Eater - played by Mark.
Swift footed and skilled with the bow.
Mopsa Hiems a.k.a Mopsacle - played by Michaela.
Silver tongued and sharp-eyed.
Randulf the Red - played by Kevin.
Handy with both fist and mace.
Wystan Blackbourne a.k.a. Black Stan - played by Giro.
Wilderness traveller, well-informed and keeper of this chronicle.
Escape for Emlyn
“Doomed to die” is Emlyn’s cry
Outlawed now our merry band
Watt has fled in fearful dread
Sheriff’s soldiers scour the land
One short week ago, we had retrieved and returned the wedding gown of Lady Chatsworth. In this short week, news of some significant events were bought to our attention.
Firstly a poster had appeared in Billige and no doubt elsewhere as well: A proclamation declaring us as outlaws by the Sheriff of Hexham!
Secondly: A second proclamation had been distributed, announcing the upcoming holiday, 'The Feast of Saint Beatrice' and declaring that at the same time there would be the public execution of Emlyn the carter! Also by the sheriff.
So we had been declared outlaws. The reasoning was beyond us. It must have had something to do with the return of the gown? No good deed goes unpunished!
Emlyn too had suffered at the hands of the sheriff, he also had been declared an outlaw. Today was Monday and his execution was scheduled for Saturday during the feast. Emlyn had to be rescued.
Before we could do anything, we needed to go into Hexham to get 'the lie of the land'.
First though, we headed into Billige and see if any other news had travelled this far south. It was a short march, but we were stopped in our tracks as we reached the outskirts of Billige. Something was happening in the village. A loose, trickling procession of carts and waggons was continually plodding its way along the track that ran through Billige and going on their way to the ruins of Drumclog Castle. They were carrying stone and wood, as well as workers. A number of makeshift traders and sellers had also popped up, hoping to peddle their wares to the passing carts.
We had to use some caution entering Billige now, we might be recognised and it was busier than expected. After speaking with a villager, it appeared that a lot can happen in a short week.
The Earl of Hexham, Sir Roland had gifted the ruined Drumclog Castle and surrounding lands to Sir Clugney, this included Billige and hunting rights in Drumclog Moss. This was rewarded to Sir Clugney for returning Lady Margaret's wedding gown! Since we had returned the gown, we wondered what the story was behind this?
These carts that were trundling through Billige were carrying supplies to rebuild old castle. Foresters had also been dispatched to the southernmost part of The Forest of Coucy to gather supplies. We realised that this 'gift' now gave Sir Clugney more land and possessions than Sir Conrad. It might have represented a shift in power? We had seen Sir Conrad was more than happy to spit out orders at Sir Clugney when he felt like it. How did he feel about this?
One last thing we noticed was that Osric from Knavesmire was now here and was in the process of constructing a pole in the centre of Billige, it looked much like a maypole. After speaking with Osric, he confirmed that he was indeed constructing a maypole. He stated that it would make the people of Billige more fertile to provide his lord with more vassals. Osric continued; he hoped to put Billige 'on the map' and that perhaps some of the traders who set up in the village to exploit the passing trade would stay and make Billige larger. Billige might never challenge Hexham in size, but might grow as large as Wenham.
With that, Osric took his leave, giving us the strange gesture we had seen used in Knavesmire. There was nothing left to do in Billige, it was time to go to Hexham.
We headed north along the path, forced to avoid the heavily laden carts going south. After a while we came to the crossroad, it was there that we spotted Watt Taylor. He waved at us and hurried over, loudly and conspicuously commentating that we had been named as outlaws!
Watt was very fidgety and nervous, he went on to explain that Emlyn had been arrested by the town guards, taken to the tower at 'The East Gate' and tortured until he named us. Watt went on to tell us that he feared that 'he was next', that the guards would come for him. We assured Watt that we would make sure he was not arrested. Watt decided to accompany us the Hexham, he was as safe with us as anywhere else.
Continuing north along the road, we encountered even more carts heading south, soon we arrived at Hexham. It turned out that the constant flow of carts heading towards Drumclog Castle had been making their way south through Hexham, the town had become busier than normal as a result. This did not stop the guards from questioning us and our purpose for coming into Hexham though.
"Trading," was our reply and this seemed enough to satisfy the guards, however they still eyed us with suspicion. We were all carrying weapons of a kind. I tried to keep my sword concealed in the folds of my cloak, but they still spotted and confiscated it. They informed me that I could collect it when I left and asked my name?
"Derek Bigsby," I replied without missing a beat!
Mopsa tried to steal the sword back, but the guards were on their toes and even before she made a move they were watching her. She decided against trying for the sword.
Hexham was always a busy place, nosily bustling with townsfolk and traders going about their business whilst hawkers plied their wares. The carts rolling through town had only worsened the situation.
We allowed Watt to lead us to his shop, but stopped short of it. Watt's fears had not fallen on deaf ears and we had suspicions of our own. Taking our time, we scanned up and down the street in front of Watt's shop. Then we saw them, they were nestled in the shadow of a small alleyway and they were watching Watt's shop. They may have been dressed as typical townsfolk, but they clearly had the bearing of town guards.
Watt lived with his wife and two children in their home situated above their shop. He told us that in his absence 'Malkyn' his wife ran the shop. Even though we were wanted men, it was unlikely the guards would recognise our faces, we were not known in Hexham. So we sent someone in to speak with Malkyn. Unfortunately, Malkyn did not provide us with any information that we did not already know. Upon returning from the shop, we became aware that a well dressed man was speaking with the disguised guards and pointing directly at us with a smug grin across his face!
We had been made, either we had been recognised or Watt had. It didn't matter who right now, the result was the same: We had to run. And run we did, or at least most of us.
The guards raised the alarm that we were outlaws and townsfolk from the crowds grabbed at us. Calder, Mopsa and Randulf managed to escape. The crowd quickly caught Watt. I grabbed a nearby cloak and whipped it on, hoping to give them the slip, but alas I too was captured.
As Watt and I were dragged to the town guards, Watt told me that he recognised the well dressed man.
"His name is 'Sadon Lister', Master of The Dyer's Guild," Exclaimed Watt. "I thought he was a friend!".
We were taken to the guards who marched us off to a guard tower. From there we were taken into the basement, relieved of all our possessions and flung into a cell. The cell had no windows, save for a small hatch in the sturdy wooden door, there was no toilet and the cell stank.
Emlyn was here, sprawled awkwardly on the floor. His face was pale and he looked in a bad way. He explained that someone had seen us giving the money to him and even though he had given up our names, the guards had still tortured him. We were probably next.
Unbeknown to me, the others were formulating a plan to rescue us. They had learned that we had been taken to the East Gate and decided to try and disguise themselves to break us out.
They returned to Watt's shop and spoke to Malkyn, she of course agreed to help and had access to a lot of clothing.
Calder and Randulf disguised themselves as monks and Mopsa disguised herself as a nun. A master plan! What could go wrong?
So a little later, the three of them arrived at the East Gate and spoke with the guard on duty and said that they were here to see the prisoners. The guard looked hesitant, then Mopsa explained that they were her to provide Emlyn with succor prior to his execution. The guard was convinced, Mopsa always had a way with words. They were led down the spiralling staircase into the basement and granted access to the cell. On their way in they had counted six guards in total. They also saw Sadon Lister, who was here to receive a reward for Watt's capture.
I was surprised when two monks and a nun entered the cell, I can't say I wasn't happy to seem them. The guard informed them that he would be outside, they should knock when they wanted to leave and the cell door was locked behind them.
Inside the cell, I was passed a knife that they had concealed.
Time was of the essence, so we hammered on the door to call the guard over, he opened the door. We ambushed him and he went down quickly and quietly.
Emlyn was too weak to walk properly, so we got Watt to help move him. We then left the cell. Next, we called down the other guards, when the first one entered the basement, he was attacked and soon fell to our blows. The remaining guard backed up the stairs, Randulf lunged for the attack, the stairs were narrow and only two people could fight.
Meanwhile I collected my belongings. I wasn't going anywhere without my 'bawdy poem' and 'needle and thread'!
Randulf had dispatched another guard and pressed the attack, by now the remaining three guards had retreated out of the stairway and into the room above. Sadon Lister was also here, he fled screaming as the melee spilled into the room. The rest of us swarmed up the stairs.
Above, one guard faced off against Randulf and the other two reached for crossbows. We charged in and fighting ensued.
Soon enough, two guards were out of the fight. There was one guard left standing and four of us. We menaced him and he knew better than to try and attack. We turned and fled into to the streets.
Back to Billige
Hexham was not safe for us, we needed to leave. Watt would soon be declared an outlaw, that would put his family at risk.
With as little fuss as possible, we collected Emlyn's cart and horse and put Emlyn on it. Next we went to Watt's shop. We collected his wife, children and some of his stock and piled it all into the cart. Now we had to leave Hexham.
Watt simply walked out past the guards, he had not been named an outlaw! We decided to join the many carts that had been passing through the town. It worked, nobody paid us any attention. We were just another cart carrying goods bound for Drumclog Castle as far as the guards were concerned.
Now that we were out of Hexham, we had to decide our next step. Emlyn was now an outlaw, soon Watt and his family would also be outlaws. Emlyn needed convalescence, it did not seem practical to do this at our camp. Emlyn told us that he could trust the people who ran The Three Stoats and a Weasel at Knavesmire. So we took Emlyn there and used his cart to transport Watt and his family as close to our woodland camp as we could before returning it to Emlyn. Our band had grown in size by five!
Back at our outlaw camp, we considered our next step.
Sir Clugney had clearly done something to unfairly reap the rewards for recovering the gown. It was possible that Lady Margaret was involved, although it was hard to imagine how she benefited from this? Going after Clugney or Lady Margaret would be risky, too risky.
Sadon Lister was a different story, his betrayal of Watt had earned him a reward. It was time that everybody should share in this reward. Luckily for us, Watt knew his exact address, on 'Dye Street' no less.
We waited two days until the Wednesday to allow the situation to calm down before the four of us set out for Hexham once again. Our previous foray into the town had informed us that the carts laden with stone were passing out of the Hexham through the south gate and coming into Hexham via the north gate. This stone was being quarried from a place known as 'The Devil's Cut'. Entry into Hexham would be easier through the north gate, the guards could ill afford to spend much time questioning or checking travellers entering without clogging up the traffic.
This meant going round to the northern side of Hexham and back up the track to where we had first encountered The Crow Folk. Fording the River Scarmore, we passed the blackened remains of Watt's cart. From there we skirted the forest until we reached the northern side of Hexham and made our to the north gate.
Unfortunately, even the best laid plans can fail at the hands of luck: Whilst there was much traffic entering Hexham through the north gate, we were still stopped and questioned. Mopsa however stepped up and firmly gave a good reason why we were coming to Hexham. It was good enough for the guards and we were in! From there we headed to Dye Street.
It was well named as it was the home of all of the town's dyers and it also Stank! It reeked of the stuff used to make dyes, the smell was strong enough to make the layman cover his mouth.
Since Sadon Lister was the dyer's guild master, it was the guild house that we were looking for and found. The guild house was the largest building on the street and was afforded some embellishment as was fit for its station. The facade contained a sturdy closed door. We did not feel that the direct approach was wise here. Instead we took an alleyway to the rear, there was a busy courtyard here.
Calder quickly ran off and grabbed a couple of dead rabbits from somewhere and came back, he had a plan. Calder went into the kitchen and spoke with the cook and convinced them to buy the rabbits. Calder also took the opportunity to give a lengthy explanation on how he had caught them.
Whilst the cook was distracted by Calder, the remaining three of us picked up some crockery - hoping to look like staff as we slipped past and into the building. Once past the kitchen and into the corridors, the ground floor felt quiet, we could hear voices in the rooms close by. We discretely searched the floor and it was clear that the ground floor served as offices for the guild. The living quarters had to be upstairs.
We climbed the stairs and listened for signs of occupancy and heard a muffled conversation, one of the voices belonged to Sadon Lister. Unhesitatingly, Mopsa walked into the room.
As well as Sadon, there was a man all in black seated in the room, he wore a black hood and an elaborate stylised crow shaped black mask. One of the Crow Folk.
Not recognising her, Sadon assumed that Mopsa was a servant and ordered her to get out. Mopsa flung a plate at Sadon and it hit him square in the face, shattering.
"By dose," Sadon exclaimed!
We steamed into the room. Randulf leapt for the Crow Folk and grappled him, he was easily overpowered. I brandished a dagger at Sadon and he stood there silently dumbfounded, holding his nose. We closed the door and bound the two men.
First we turned to Sadon and demanded he tell us how much his reward had been for turning in Watt.
"One hundred and fifty coins," came the reply. "But the sheriff has not paid it, he is always slow in paying his dues," added Sadon. Next we asked him where his money was, he nodded at a chest in the corner. The chest contained seventeen hundred coins, we turned to Sadon and said we would take half - eight hundred and fifty coins, plus the one hundred and fifty for the reward he was due from the sheriff. This was a grand total total of one thousand coins.
Our attention turned to the Crow.
"I am Edward Crow," he proclaimed. "Let me go and we'll remain 'friends'".
Well, that answered my first question. He was one of three crows, the three crow brothers. We searched him and removed a pair of black daggers, his black hooded cloak had the elaborate mask sown into it. He also carried a staff and some black feathers which we also took. Finally he had a bag of ninety coins.
We asked him about the money?
"Payment for turning in Emlyn," Edward Crow replied. We took the coins.
"That was a mistake, we're enemies now and you'll regret that," he said intently, his face darkening, Edward Crow had threatened us, we had to decide what to do with him, we considered leaving him, but he would most likely seek retribution against us. There was a reward on his head and we considered turning him in somehow. But we didn't know how deep the rot went in Hexham, Crow might escape or 'be released'.
Randulf had no patience for this discussion, he went up to Edward crow and twisted his head violently, breaking his neck and killing him. It might have seemed 'rough justice' and in truth it was: It was also true that The Crow Folk killed and tortured indiscriminately. Last week we had witnessed this first hand when they slaughtered Watt's guards and left him hog-tied above a fire. So it was that Edward Crow had met his fate.
Finally, I went back to Sadon. I pulled his trousers down and stuck three feathers in his backside. It was a message, a message to Sadon; to not fraternize with The Crow Folk and a message to The Crow Folk; we were not afraid of them.
There was no longer a reason for us to remain here, we left Sadon Lister bound and gagged, returning downstairs and back to the kitchen. Quite impressively, Calder was still there talking away about rabbits!
After we slipped back out into the courtyard, Calder made his excuses and rejoined us. It was not wise to tarry in Hexham, Sadon would not remain bound forever.
We joined with the carts exiting south out of the town and managed to get away unchallenged. Our return to our camp was free of incident.
We had more questions now. What was the relationship between The Crow Folk, the Sheriff of Hexham and Sadon Lister. How far did this go? Was Sir Roland aware of this? What was their relationship with Knavesmire, Osric and Sir Clugney?
There were over a thousand coins to be distributed.
We gave the lion's share of them to Friar Nicholas to pass out.
Our camp was growing and the remainder went to its upkeep.
So ended the third escapade of 'The Merry Badgers of Billige'.
In this RPG, players follow in the footsteps of Robin Hood. Robbing the rich to pay the poor, fighting the injustice and corruption that persists in sunny England.
Merry Outlaws is definitely a 'lite' RPG. It runs to just over twelve pages - including evocative illustrations. The rules are well laid out to view on screen and simple to understand.
Everything is handled by rolling one or two six sided dice, the higher the better. When rolled this will produce one of four results that are analogous to; very good, good, fail, and critical fail.
Combat is handled in the same way.
Character creation is as simple as can be roll for (or pick) a personal code, two abilities and two starting items and a weaon.
If a PC has a pertinent ability or some other advantage, they have an edge. Conversely, if a PC has a disadvantage, then they have a setback. This is a advantage/disadvantage mechanic.
Finally we have character progression, this is where the game stands out. Merry Outlaws eschews the usual XP or level-up paradigm. Instead players are forging their own legend through the creation of a ballad!
At the end of every adventure each player creates a stanza - a four-line poem to add to their ballad.
As players continue their adventures, their balled will lengthen. Additionally, as they accumulate stanzas, they will acquire new abilities.
Once a character has ten stanzas in their ballad, they retire.
All in all a short, sweet and simple RPG. Worth trying if that's your cup of tea.
“Doomed to die” is Emlyn’s cry
Outlawed now our merry band
Watt has fled in fearful dread
Sheriff’s soldiers scour the land
The County of Hexhamshire
Because of lockdown, we're playing over Skype.
The Ballad of Mopsa Hiems 'Mopsacle'
Rumble rumble in the village
We shout and perform in little Billige
Down the road and through the woods
Defeating great Giles, who thought we could?
Father and daughter reunited,
To save poor Alice we can’t be short-sighted
Back at the mill, held against their will
“Here they are, the real witches
Come Mr Mereck and smack these bitches”
Wedding gown stolen,
Three feathers in its place
We rushed through the forest
There was no time to waste
Traps nor Crows could not stop us
We’d get it, come what may
400 gold for the dress returned
Priceless to save her day
Announced as outlaws
A friend sentenced to hang
To save his life,
We’ll go out with a bang
A nun walks into a jail
Three friends walk out free,
Face off at the dye guild
A crow lets out his final plea
The Ballad of Black Stan
Fine Alice from Billige, accused.
Blodwin gone, was kidnapped.
A witches trial we denied.
And thus, Giles got slapped!
A horrific sight encountered.
Three feathers up the arse!
By crows, the bride's gown was stolen.
Saved, reward to folk, passed.
Emlyn unjustly imprisoned.
A pal not forsaken.
A crow and dyer conspire.
Justice and coin taken.
The Ballad of Randulf the Red
Stand and listen gentlefolk
A giant cometh across the land
Let us speak of a grappling God
Randulf the Red, brute of his band
With a grin he wrestled the best
Tankards of mead followed a great draw
With sweep of his arms, bandits were battled
Until the ghastly one was no more
He climbed great oaken trees
To take the crow men by surprise
To save a maidens wedding day
He became the master of disguise
Loyal friends are captured
Rescued by friar and nun
Once three birds of a feather
One crow down, a traitor undone
The Ballad of Calder Winterbourne
From ‘Early English Ballads, Poems and Folk Songs’ (1893):
‘It is unclear where or when the ‘Ballad of Calder Winterbourne’ originated. No copy exists with provenance earlier than the mid-fifteenth century (and that only a fragment). It is likely that early versions have been adapted by others over the centuries and sections re-written or entirely new text added, perhaps to add contemporary references, incorporate unrelated fragments or cover situations likely to be familiar to new, later readers. There is, for example, an oblique reference to a possible act of enclosure in the prologue, which must either be a poor transcription or later addition to a supposedly ‘medieval’ text. No reference to Calder Winterbourne exists in the historical record and it is therefore likely that, if he ever existed, his story has been greatly embellished or his tale is a combination of several stories combined in a convenient narrative thread.’
The Ballad of Calder Winterbourne
Calder Winterbourne, archer bold
Born afar in Blackmore Vale
Full man o’war, full man o’peace
Far-sighted, swift and hale.
Served his lord full time in France
Gave all honour and duty.
Came back with naught but empty hands
Nowhere a sign of booty.
Returned to see the Vale closed down
The villagers all evicted
Saith he ‘I served ignoble lords
Now shall I never more’.
Calder has taken to his travels.
He wanders near and far
Trusts not the rich, befriends the poor,
Takes all men as they are.
To hear a blacksmith’s tale of woe
His daughter held by Giles
Another woman held for trial
A witch? A slander vile.
Four foresters guide to Giles tower
Outside henchmen in force.
All take stock and arrows nock,
A bold rush is the course.
Calder’s arrows fly and two men die
Giles slain in dreadful fight.
His henchmen turn and see the light
The blacksmith’s daughter is aright.
A witch is held for loss of flour,
The miller is distraught
The cause is naught but pilfering
Yet from a bloodstained thought.
A forester’s been done to death
His friends the guides are grieving.
A blackmailed man is stealing flour
To hide innocence with thieving.
Now truth is out and witch is freed,
No charge in any eyes.
Loot found, restored, in easy shares
And a new-named Calder Wise.
Now safely camped in de Courcy
They look t’ward easy living
A blameless life, an end to strife,
Days of gathering and giving.
But Black Crows are in the meadows
Wat Taylor’s going to burn
The Crows have stole a wedding dress
All honour do they spurn.
At Knavesmire side Wat’s wounds they bind
Carter Emlyn aids them.
They take their rest and full refreshed
By Odo and Crispin’s singing.
The village fills with gentry’d folk
To Hexham their road winds
A missing dress? Oh woe! Distress!
All are commanded ‘Find!’
Great search ensues as trouble brews,
For Mannering’s men are slacking.
Courcy’s crew their search renew
They need no other backing.
They track their foes, the evil Crows,
Black Stan has heard their calling,
And Mopsacle undoes their traps,
At all points Crows are falling.
To search Crows’ nest without arrest:
How, in a camp this size?
A simple feat for crew includes
Randulf, Lord of Disguise!
Now Mopsacle has found the dress,
To Hexham heroes hurry.
Return of gown lifts bridal frown
And frees her mind from worry.
In gratitude, reward is made
Wedding party is delighted.
Crew bids adieu and melts from view
Now troths can all be plighted.
The cost of dress drawn with duress
From common folk to vex them
A shadow falls within town walls:
Sheriff Rolfe, the curse of Hexham.
“Reward’s not ours – the people gave,
Now we can make amends.
Money goes to those in need
Through Friars and our friends.”
News cross the land: all wake, all stand!
A holiday in season!
But dreadful word; for no good reason,
Emlyn will hang for treason.
To cast more dark on happy Saint’s Day
The friends are now all outlaw.
It frees their hands to make a stand
Fight injustice as they saw.
In Hexham town Emlyn is bound
And lies in reeking bower.
Stan and Wat are took by Sheriff’s crooks
All held in Eastgate Tower.
Their friends rush in to break them out,
There’s close and nasty fighting
All are now saved, rope’s end denied!
Now to Wat’s home, for hiding.
The Dyers Guild sold Wat to Sheriff:
They are due a reckoning.
The crew close in on Guildhall door,
Trader’s entrance is a-beckoning.
Calder holds the staff enthralled,
Speaking words of honey.
Friends search the house, creep cat and mouse,
All following the money.
Guildmaster Lister speaks in whispers
Dealing with Edward Crow.
Crow brethren leader mocks and jeers –
Ranulf fells him with one blow.
“Tis done, Crows hate no more or less
Than when that man was living.
Good Friars still take what we gain
And see the poor are shriven.”
Carter and all the Taylor folk,
Subject to lies unseeming,
Must leave the town and join the camp
Beneath the oak trees greening.
And what shall be this brave band’s theme?
All sett – the Billige Badgers?
Clad in simple Hexham Green, their role –
A knee in the Sheriff’s nadgers!
Notes from the expanded second edition of the renamed ‘English Folk Songs, Ballads and Verse’ (1895):
‘The author (or authors) now appear to regret the choice of third person as the voice of the ballad, with the appearance of apparently direct speech from Part 2 onward. Almost inevitably this will be complete fiction and should not be taken as reporting of actual conversation. Part 3 ends on a rather coarse and vulgar note, possibly reflecting the limited range of rhyme available for ‘badger’ and the author’s frustration at possible future limitations. If inclined toward sympathy, readers should note first the (unverified and probably apocryphal) comment attributed to Christina Rossetti: ‘At least they weren’t a French gang living in Orange’.
You can buy your own copy of Merry Outlaws here:
These write-ups by Giro can be read on his excellent website Three Spellcasters and a Dwarf before they appear here.