The storyguide should express the following to the players:

Your characters are members of a covenant of magi which makes its home in a town called Lisbon, which is on the west coast of the Iberian Peninsula, in what is modern-day Portugal. You live with two older magi, Lucas of Flambeau and Phillipa of Tytalus, who effectively rule the covenant, but who are absent when the story begins.  The covenant takes the form of a noble townhouse, within the walls of the city. The covenant is funded by rents on houses within the town, and a merchant fleet that crews five ships, one of which is in port. So as to keep the Code, the magi pretend to be the guests of Isabella, a noblewoman. 

Iberia is currently divided between Christians to the north and Muslims to the south. Lisbon is within the Kingdom of Portugal, which is ruled from Coimbra, slightly to the north. The Muslim kings are supported by Sulemanic wizards who, although they are weaker than Hermetic magi individually, can still threaten Hermetic wizards when fighting in groups.  Hermetic wizards do not officially support the Christians, but many do privately. For example, Lucas, Phillipa and some other Hermetic magi are raiding North African magi at the current time.

Generally magic in cities works badly, but two factors make it easier for you. The covenant is in the grounds of an ancient Roman temple, and all magic rolls add 3 while in its grounds. The King of Portgual, Alfonso II, called “The Fat”, has so annoyed the Pope with his actions against the Church that his entire kingdom was placed under interdict in 1212. This makes Divine auras, which weaken magic, weaker, and Infernal auras, which aid but pervert magic, stronger.

The Redcap, the Medallion, the Will

The story begins with the arrival of a redcap, a messenger of the Order of Hermes who is treated as if she was a maga, though she lacks powers.  The magi and their closest servants meet him in their council hall.

Get the players to briefly describe their characters to each other. Make sure they understand how they are linked together into a community.

Aristella of Mercere, a non-magical redcap, carries a dire message: Lucas, Phillipa, and the eight colleagues who joined them to raid North Africa were lured into a trap by the Sulemanities, and are almost certainly dead. Worse, Aristella was able to spy on the  Sulemanities, and they are preparing a raiding force to come north into Christian Iberia and lay waste to the border covenants. She bears two brief messages from Lucas, who spotted the trap before its jaws closed and ordered here to flee. They are simply these:

  • The covenant simply cannot withstand a raiding force of the size that will arrive in about a fortnight. The younger magi must flee or die. The Sulemainities have already defeated eight combat-specialised magi, and may burn Lisbon to the ground with their fires spirit familiars, since the protection of the Divine is weakened by the excommunication of the king.
  • If they go to the greatest well in the centre of Lisbon, and climb to just above the water level,  they will find a loose stone. Behind this a medallion, and any magus wearing this medallion can enter Lucas’s laboratory without triggering the magical defences. Within his laboratory are many things of use, but particularly his will, which gives the ownership of all the things he owns to the younger magi.

Climbing down the well requires an Athletics roll (9, 12 if without light), and a Stealth roll (day 12, middle of the night 6). Other strategies will also work.

Get the players to discuss plans. 

The laboratory of Lucas is a beautiful room, filled with intricately worked stone furniture, and beautiful mosaics.  Lucan was also a bronzeworker, and many small statues of great skill are gathered here. Its contents include: 

  • All of the covenant’s books concerning Creation, Control, the Mental and Elemental Arts.
  • Vis:  Control 5, Create 10, Air , Earth 25, Fire 2, Images 2, Magic 10, Mind 4, Water 10, Wood 12
  • Sufficient gear to make one good magical laboratory, or two mediocre ones.
  • The treasury of the covenant, containing 25 pounds of silver in barrels of coin, 3 pounds of gold in ingots.
  • Minor magic items: magical oil lamps that require no fuel, magical crucible that keeps metal liquid. Magical knife that transforms into a ring (Isabella has used this before, and so knows what it is.)
  • Lucas’s will. Lucas’s will leaves all he owns to the younger magi, as he says, but included is an unexpected element. It contains a list of all the covenant’s vis sources, including a large personal vis source (Earth) that the player characters did not know existed. It lies in a regio, a sort of magical pocket dimension, containing some islands about two weeks to the north. Lucas’s will gives detailled instructions on how to enter the regio, but basically to enter you need to be on a ship at a particular point at dawn or dusk, and the figurehead of the ship needs to be annointed with a mixture of butter and wine.

Casting tablets:  Within the covenant’s library is a slim book which can be used to cast spells directly. It contains three spells:

  •  Aegis of the Hearth: This ritual creates a magical shield around a space, which lasts a year. It does not limit the powers of the magi who cast the ritual. It requires a Control Magic roll that isn’t 0, takes two hours, and costs 4 vis. This shield keeps out minor faeries and weak spell effects, but will not resist great spirits.
  • Chirurgeon’s Healing Touch: This ritual requires a  Create Human Body roll of 0, costs 4 pawns of vis, and heals one Wound. The ritual takes an hour to perform.
  • Conjuring the Mystic Tower: This ritual creates a permanent tower of stone, three stories high. It costs 7 pawns of vis, and requires a Create Earth roll of 5. It takes one and three-quarter hours to cast, and leaves the magus exhausted (unless the roll is very high).

Hand out a list of what the player characters find.

Phillipa’s laboratory

Phillipa was a necromancer, and her laboratory has the antiseptic feel of the tider of her kind. The defences on Phillipa’s lab are still live. They contain many Circle and Watching wards. The characters can find clever ways to circumvent these, by sending in redshirts to set off the traps, having the Bjornaer go in in animal form, or disassembling the rings by peeling the room away from the outside.

Her lab contains:

  • All of the covenant’s books concerning Knowledge, Change, and the Living Arts.
  • Vis: Change 5, Destroy 5, Know 5, Animal 10, Human Body 12, Wood 12
  • sufficient gear to make one good magical laboratory, or two mediocre ones.
  • jewelry, presumably taken from the dead, worth 20 pounds.
  • minor magic items. Magical A magic loom that creates clothes, sails and cordage from raw wool or linen. Lamp made from the skull of her teacher: glows as brightly as sunlight, says “I was a fool” every hour.  Bowl that, when filled with inky water,allows a magus to trap and question, but not harm, ghosts. (Must touch the remains of the dead.  Can be discerned in this scenario by guessing, which is a Magic Theory roll of 12. May already contain a ghost.)

Plans to flee

 So, the first challenge for the players is to work out what they want to take, with them, and how to flee with it.


The ship that the characters have available has a cargo space of 20 tons. This does not include the space taken up by 12 crew, including the captain, or their supplies. There is no other ship currently in port, although a sufficient dice roll (9 on town lore, intrigue or any other suitable) reveals a ship of the Sancho family is expected anytime soon, and might be purchased or stolen.

Potential cargo

Library: weighs a ton, because books are far heavier than modern books, and are packed in special protective crates.

Excellent lab equipment: weighs a ton per set, because its many glass elements are carried in crates of oiled sand.

Mediocre lab equipment: weigh a quarter of a ton each. Clay and wooden vessels are more durable and don’t need padding neyond straw.

People: Eight people require 1  ton of cargo space. This includes their food and water for a two-week voyage, but this provides no privacy or comfort during that time. The player characters can take all of the grogs and sailors but not their families if they wish, but they will hate the player characters afterwards. The following people are employed by the covenant: 

  • All of the player characters
  • A crew of sailors for the ship, with standard weapons and leather armor. Assume weapon scores of 6.
  • 4 specialist staff (an autocrat, turb captain, 2 scribes). Assume scores of 9.
  • 12 craftsmen of various types (choose whatever you need for the story), usually related to sailing crafts in some way. Assume scores of 9.
  • 8 experienced grogs (guards for the covenant’s warehouse, and for Isabella’s home.) with standard weapons and metal armour. Assume scores of 8.
  • 40 labourers and servants. Assume scores of 5.
  • Many of the female servants are the spouses of sailors or grogs, but many also have children, so imagine that each of these people have at least one dependant.

  Food: Ten adults can be fed with one ton of food per year.

Ale or wine: Three people drink a tun a year. It’s less if they also drink water, but many medieval people think fresh water makes people ill.

Trade goods: As the covenant is expecting its ship to return, it has a new cargo ready for lading.

  • 10 tons of raw wool (450L)
  • 8 tons of fish (600L)
  • 1 ton of weapons (225L)
  • 1 ton of olive oil (4.5L)
  • in storage the covenant also has a ton of pitch (2L) and half a ton of naval supplies (22L).

Other stuff: If the player characters want to kickstart agriculture with the supplies of their first trip, they’ll need seed corn (one ton of seed corn costs 5L and seeds just over 20 acres, which is roughly the amount of land required to feed a family of peasants.) Sheep with fodder and water for a 2 week voyage cost 1/8 ton each. Cattle cost 1/4 a ton each. Chickens are 1/16 of a ton each.

When to go

The trip to the Tin Islands takes a week, so if the characters send a cargo away almost instantly, the ship might be able to complete a return voyage to the Tin Islands within the three-week limit. This requires the characters to do things which might tip off outsiders to their actions, like lading cargo at night, or lading cargo by magic. Using magic in public is not, of itself, a crime, but does make the enemies of the characters nervous,. and may lead to a pre-emptive attack.

Possible incidents

Using magic or manpower to load ships

European docks are hugely inefficient. If the characters are using the single dock crane found in the harbor, it loads at the rate of two and a half tons an hour, so loading their ship takes eight hours, and requires 12 men.

Raid on the warehouses of the Sancho family:

Since the player characters are leaving, they might decide to strike out at the noble family who are the enemies of two fo the characters. All magi know that if magic is used in an overt way, and this attack has surviving witnesses, then the magi have committed a crime punishable with death under Hermetic law. The Sancho family dwell in a fortified warehouse complex by the port. Assuming an attack at night, the complex has eight guards, but another 20 seamen, with some skill in combat, can be summoned as aid, taking up to 10 minutes to arrive.

If the characters seize  or raid the warehouse of the rivals, it contains, the following. A Merchant or Bargain roll gives the price of all trade goods below. Note that olive oil, salt, weapons, soap and raw wool are the main exports of Lisbon, so they are worth 10% less that if sold somewhere else. 

  • five tons of fuel wood (,2L each = 10L)
  • two tons of grain (5L each = 10 L)
  • half a ton of cordage and other naval supplies (22L)
  • twelve tons of olive oil (4.5L each = 54L)
  • 2 tons of pitch (2L each = 4L)
  • two tons of salted fish (75L each = 150L)
  • one ton of salt (135L)
  • two tons of soap (0.9L each = 1.8L)
  • two tons of timber (mostly for mending ships) (5L each = 10L)
  • two tons of wine, one cheap, one good (5+10L)
  • one ton of weapons (225L)
  • ten tons of raw wool (45L each = 450L)
  • one ton of woolen cloth (150L)

The valuable goods of the family (clothes, silverware, personal jewelry and so on) are worth 200L if the players find somewhere to later sell them, and weigh half a quarter of a ton. The characters need to ransack their townhouse to gain these items.  Ransacking the house takes three man-hours, but can be made faster with magic. Ransacking requires an Awareness roll for the chief ransacker, with die bonuses for suborning a member of the rival family (+10), suborning one of their close servants (+5), magical aid (+5), or having assistants (+1 per assistant). To get all 200L requires a roll of 15.

This makes using the dock crane in the harbor difficult. Loading from lighters (small boats used to load larger boats in shallow harbors) takes ages. Assume that it takes 36 hours for six men to load the covenant’s ship by lighter. The characters can make this faster by using a small crowd of laborers, but this creates problems with secrecy and legal deniability.

The player characters raise the suspicion of the ruling class that a Muslim warband is coming:

If this happens, the port closes, and the lords of the town claim all of the resources they feel will be of use during siege, which includes all food and weapons. The characters can mediate this by Intrigue or Guile. The difficulty of the roll is based on how overt the player characters have been. Ifthe player characters bring other nobles into the secret, the likelihood of public disorder increases.

The player characters tip off the populace that a Muslim warband is coming:

Refugees flee the city, pillaging all the valuables they can carry before they go. All places of value, like the covenant’s warehouse and townhouse, are attacked by mobs of unskilled looters.  Bands of sailors, employed by other petty nobles, try to seize the covenant’s ship using small boats to ferry combatants to where it lies at anchor. The ship can stand off to sea, but this loses valuable lading time.

The arrival of the Sancho ship

A ship belonging to the Sancho family will arrive six days after Lucas’s message.  It can be taken in the following ways:

The player characters take the docks of the Sanchos and lie in ambush. A character makes an Awareness roll, adding bonuses for Sancho employees who agree to help in the deception, and opposes it to the Awareness roll of the captain (+6).

The player characters take the Sancho docks and use Bargain or Charm to get the captain to enter the service of the covenant. He is very Loyal to the Sanchos and if they are all dead sees no reason not to just take the ship and sail to Bordeaux, treating the ship as his own, so the roll needs to reach 15. If a Sancho survives, as a pawn of the player characters, he may just obey their orders.

If the player characters meet the ship at sea and attempt to suborn it there, with no proof as to the destruction of the Sanchos, then the roll is very hard (18.)

The other ship can be taken by force, particularly if the players have not laded their ship. A ship carrying no supplies for its crew, like a short-range pirate vessel,  can load 16 men per ton as cargo. Of course, the player characters need to spot the enemy ship coming, find all of these mercenaries, load them, and pay them afterward.

The Sancho ship has 12 crew, with supplies, and is carrying 20 tons of cargo.

  • 10 tons of cheap wine (50L)
  • 5 tons of grain (25L)
  • 2 tons of fruit (20L)
  • 2 tons of wool cloth (150L)
  • 1 ton of dye (50L)

2 replies on “Scene one: frame and theft

  1. I very much like the situation with the set up of the game. There should be some nice tense moments there.
    Minor typo “so they are worth 10% less that if sold somewhere else. ” – should be “than”, right?
    The decisions put forth, the potential for madness and chaos… in fact, I’m tempted, were I to run it, to have a grog or other servant of the covenant tell a relative close to the end of the “preparations for escape” just so that there can be a frantic “Casting off/escape the city” scenario.

    More thoughts as they come to me, but a promising start!


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