Joined: Sat May 23, 2009 9:05 pm
Centum Mortui Actual Play
Episode 1: The Centum Mortui and the Demon Wolves of Germania
[Harsh trumpets and percussion. Images of a stern looking general reviewing his troops. Start voice-over.]
The Centum Mortui. One hundred men cut from the legion as punishment for an event so disgraceful that it has been blacked out of the Roman histories.
[Scenes of Roman soldiers being driven out and hit with rocks. One man lies dead with a bloody gash across his nose and forehead. His grimy pot helmet fallen to one side.]
Chosen by lot and driven away with stones, the One Hundred Dead have become living ghosts, shunned by their former comrades who are forbidden to speak or even look at the decimated men.
[Dangerous looking soldiers with white scarves tied around their necks and black grease around their eyes.]
Only the generals hand-picked “Spiritum Praesidio,” the Ghost Wardens, are allowed to interact with dead, sending them on dangerous missions until the name of the legion is cleared.
[Images of shaggy-looking, hard-faced men ... fighting barbarians in hairy skins and horned helmets ... backed into a circle with torches blazing and bestial looking silhouettes with red eyes gazing at them ... rowing a galley in the dead of night with a strange looking tower on a rocky coastline looming over them. Volume of the voice-over increases.]
Left to serve the Emperor as shades of the men they once were. Stripped of their Roman citizenship and stricken from the roll of the legions, they fight against the powers that would extinguish the light of Rome! They are the Centum Mortui
[More harsh trumpeting. Black screen with text: "Episode I: The Demon Wolves of Germania." The trumpets are silenced and the black screen slowly turns into a night sky over a ramshackle group of tents.]
Exposition and Opening Scenes
It is the fall of AD 16. Germanicus Julius Caesar, head of the Claudian family and a general much-loved by the Roman troops, is leading a campaign into the black heart of Germania. Raiding over the Rhine he intends to wipe out the German tribes united under Arminius and recover the XVII, XVIII, and XIV eagles lost in the ignoble defeat of Varus during the battle of Teutoburg forest. Germanicus has a second motive: to punish the legions for rebelling when the emperor Tiberious refused to reduce their term of service from 20 to 16 years.
The Centum Mortui is situated in makeshift shelters well outside the trenched and guarded Roman encampment. The night is cold and damp. The black sky is full of stars but on one side they are swallowed up in the greater blackness of the massive forest. The “ghosts” (as they refer to themselves) have recently moved to the forest side of the encampment to avoid the worst of the chilling wind that comes down from the hilltops. But the woods is so ominous that the men begin to wonder if being cold wasn’t better after all. As they sit up late by the fire, deep in these black thoughts, something odd arrests their attentions.
Porcius “Piggy” startles and claims to have seen a hunched shape and a pair of glowing eyes run right by him in the dark. No one believes him (he is notorious for his bad eyesight, after all) until they hear a strangled cry near the camp. Going to investigate they find the guards at the north opening of the picket line with their throats torn out. The wounds are messy, with ragged edges. A small group of ghosts musters up its courage to enter the camp, knowing that if they are seen it could mean death. Disturbance in a nearby tent draws their attention, but none of the camp seems to be alarmed. Piggy knocks over a rack of Roman spears (pilum? pila? I don’t know the plural.) to make noise, acting like a poltergeist since he can’t shout the alarm. Quintinius crouches near the back line of the tents when a hideous wolf face peeks out through the hide coverings about ten feet away. Slowly, a huge mis-formed wolf with red eyes and a bloody maw emerges. As the ghosts tentatively form an attack, another wolf steps out of the tent line behind them. A quick struggle in the night results in some gruesome wounds and the wolves flee. Partially, from the severity of the ghosts’ attack and partly from noises of the awakening camp. The ghosts flee before they are seen but one unlucky fellow, Junius, is caught in plain sight. The soldiers avert their eyes and make gestures to ward off evil, but one tall fellow wearing the white scarf hurls a pilum, which plunges into Junius’ chest. He drops dead.
Later in the night, Quintinius dons the white cloth that marks him as a spirit and enters the camp. It is clearly a routine he has enacted countless times before. He walks right down the center of the camp in plain sight. Everyone intentionally looks right through him as if he is not there, and they quickly find reasons to move out of his way without seeming to notice him. Most disappear into the tents as if they forgot something. Quintinius slips under the red hides of the general’s tent and startles the general awake. Once his wits are about him Germanicus pretends he is talking to a spirit. The two converse. Germanicus learns that it is demonic wolves attacking the camp. Quintinius learns that no fewer than nine men died in the night’s attack, and that there have been previous such attacks which always result in a wasting fever afterward. He also receives his mission. Track down the source of these demon wolves and eradicate it.
The ghosts follow the strange tracks of the demonic wolves into the thickly forested hills. After a half-day’s march, the group stumbles into a brightly-lit opening filled with the sound of rushing water. The clearing is divided by a steep ravine, blocking their progress. At the bottom of the ravine is a rushing river, filled with rocks. Downstream is a waterfall. Over the ravine is a bridge made of ropes. The ghosts decide to use it, cautiously proceeding two at a time.
As the second group traverses the ravine, a red-robed man steps from the woods and begins chanting. Simultaneously, a handful of wolves, two of them running in a strange half-upright posture, rush the ghosts that have already come across. The ghosts on the bridge try to hurry to the aid of their countrymen, but a black cloud of ravens called forth by the red-robed stranger attack them on the bridge, pecking at their eyes and causing them to make the bridge swing wildly as they fend off the maddening swarm. Eventually, the ghosts fight through, no one falling into the river (much to the disappointment of the GM!) and dispatch a few of the wolves. The red man escapes into the forest during the battle.
Continuing through the woods, several of the ghosts bleeding from vicious wounds, the group is suddenly joined by Junius. No one saw or heard his approach, but suddenly he was walking along side them. They talk to him, expressing surprise that he is there. Quintinius reaches out to touch him, only to have his hand go right through Junius’ arm. Some conversation ensues in which Felix convinces Junius that he is indeed dead. (The massive hole in his pale chest being a good indicator and enough evidence to make Junius finally “see” what has happened.) Junius feels a strange pull that leads him deeper into the woods, in the same direction as the tracks were headed. Felix follows him, some yards ahead of the others, trying to match the silent footfalls of the dead Junius.
The march leads the weary ghosts down into a boggy area where the trees begin to thin out. The forest is strangely quiet for some time, and then Felix hears an odd yipping and whining noise from up ahead. He and the ghost of Junius come to the edge of a treeline and behold a strange scene. In the middle of a large boggy vale is an enormous oak tree. It is split down the middle, as if it has been repeatedly struck by lightning, and it seems to be half-dead. Waves of “wrongness” emanate from the clearing. In the branches of the tree sits the red man, laughing evilly to himself as he watches the things cavorting around the base of the tree. A half-dozen wolves are chasing each other there: biting, wrestling, and mounting each other in the throws of some kind of orgy.
Felix watches as Junius walks straight into the clearing. “Nooo” he moans, and the red man chuckles more loudly. Junius walks/is dragged towards the tree. He seems unwilling to go, and yet can’t help himself. This is when Felix notices that the tree is covered in skeletons. But not just any skeletons, some wear the helmets of Roman soldiers, and the base of the tree is ringed with broken spears and Roman shields. It is the remains of one of Varus’ legions. Junius reaches the tree and seems to be “absorbed” by it. A small trail of green mist appears as Junius disappears and a witchfire quickly flashes over the skeletons.
Felix retreats to inform the rest of the ghosts and to make a plan. Piggy jury-rigs an onager, a small catapult out of pliant saplings. It is light enough to be carried by two men. The ghosts approach the clearing under cover and step out at the last minute, planting the onager and loading it with one of Piggy’s alchemical bombs, affectionately known as “Piggy Pots.” Some of the ghosts rush downhill into the clearing while Piggy and Gallus launch the first of many pots. One crashes into the ground at the foot of the tree, engulfing two wolves and setting another on fire. The second bursts in the tree next to the wizard, causing the branches to drip with Greek fire. In response, the red man calls down a massive stroke of lighting from the heavens, which strikes the tree and lights up a shiny object buried in the tree’s crack. The lightning forks out from this point striking two of the closest ghosts.
Pandemonium ensues. The tree “groans” as it is struck, sending out a psychic blast which threatens to overwhelm everyone and leaves several ghosts shaken. As the battle continues, the ghosts fight their way through wave after wave of creatures that are stirred up by the tree’s painful groanings, which are further aggravated by the red man’s repeated lightning strikes. [The tree is the "heart of the forest" and is quasi-sentient, but not mobile or anything. Just the nexus of a magical leyline, as it were.] Swarms of spiders issue forth, and a giant beetle with pincers as long as pikes scurries out from a hole at the base of the tree. It snatches up Felix and breaks his spine in its massive mandibles, then hurls him against the trunk of the tree where he slides down among the legion’s piled shields. (R.I.P. Felix. Shawn jumps bodies and now controls Rambert – turning him into a Wild Card instead of an Extra that had been dragged along for his tracking skills.)
Piggy’s pots prove to be massively effective against the tree’s swarms, as does the mighty axe of Gallus. At one point the red man chains together a lightning strike, catching four of the ghosts in a line and knocking several of them senseless for a few moments. Rambert charges the tree and climbs up to face the red man in a wicked knife duel, Fulvius waiting below and calling up taunts. There is a small break in the fighting as the last Piggy Pot nearly knocks both men off the tree. In a moment of fury, the red man launches himself from the limbs of the tree 10′ off the ground at Fulvius, his knife seeking Fulvius’ heart. With a quick flourish, Fulvius raises his short sword and the red man is impaled all the way up to the sword’s hilt. The sardonic face of Fulvius is just inches from the insane grin of the red man as the light in his eyes dies out.
Gallus finishes off the battle by smashing the bones of the skeletons on the tree, releasing the witchfire and breaking the evil spell that has mutated/stirred up the creatures of the forest. In the crotch of the tree he finds the eagle of the XIV legion, scarred and half melted by lightning. Extracting the standard, the tree “breaths a sigh of relief” and goes quiet.
A grim Quintinius once again dons the white cloth and visits the general’s tent. There he tosses the XIV eagle onto Germanicus’ bed, alongside the heads of Junius and Felix. Germanicus stares at Quintinius with a mixture of wonder and fear, as the latter withdraws.
Later, Piggy shivers in his blankets, groaning alone in his tent which is lined with strange mechanical drawings and bottles of mysterious alchemical powders. Sweat rolls off his forehead and chest. He rolls over in his fevered-sleep and jolts awake, clutching at his arm. His hand pulls away slowly to reveal a festering wound where he was bitten by one of the demon wolves. The edges glow with a soft witch-light and Piggy utters a fearful half-choked cry.