Six Strangers In Bethlehem
by Thomas Harlan and Katherine Lawrence
The Holy Land lies at the crossroads of Asia, Africa and Europe. Here, on a dusty hill bounded by two deep valleys, stands Jerusalem, sacred to Christian, Moslem and Jew alike. Long under Moslem protection, the Crusade stormed Jerusalem in 1099, leaving the city a Christian island in a sea of Moslem principalities. Even the Crusaders are divided – the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem (ruled by Baldwin de Boulogne, a Frenchman) holds central Judea, while the County of Tripoli (the domain of Raymond of Saint-Gilles, Baldwin’s bitter rival) controls the coast north, through Lebanon, to the borders of the Principality of Antioch (where Tancred de Hauteville, a Norman prince, rules). Each of these feudal lords intrigues and plots against his fellows. There is no peace in this Holy Land, only endless strife.
Under the rule of the leper-king Baldwin the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem is desperate for men to protect the pilgrim routes and Christian shrines. The road from the port of Joppa up through the Judean hills to Jerusalem is fraught with danger. Bandits, rogues, Arab raiders lurk in every ravine and cave, watching for Christian prey to enter their snare. Those men and women not murdered or enslaved march under a deadly sun. As many pilgrims die from the privations of their journey as by heathen arms.
Even venturing a mile from the walls of the Holy City finds a barren land filled with enemies. The Arab princes in Ascalon, on the Mediterranean coast, are proud and hold the Temple Mount sacred. How can Mohammed’s footprint lie under the boot of the Christian infidels? In every Moslem heart burns the desire to reclaim the holy places, and drive out the hated barbarian invaders.
In such troubled times, where pilgrims, churchmen, landless knights, spies, troubadours and kings share bread and fear in equal measure, anything may happen. Men and women from the farthest reaches of the world are drawn to the dusty hills, hidden tombs and gloomy chapels of Bethlehem. Many come for faith, but more come in search of fame – the deeds done under this brassy sky are done under the eyes of Heaven.
Some of these adventurers hope to match the glory of Hugh de Payen, founder of the Knights of the Temple of Jerusalem, a paladin fighting for his Church and God. But more will end in nameless graves scattered among the rocky, desolate hills.
In this year Anno Domini 1114, men from the whole length and breadth of Christenden are here – Saxons, Normans, Germans, Italians, Scandians – all drawn by the mysteries of an ancient, holy land. Some of them – men thrown together by circumstance, men seeking peace in the birthplace of their savior – will find an awesome test and the fate of the world hanging in the balance of their skill and faith.
Golonza di Baratti, Grand Master of the Mysteries of Artemis
Male human, 6th-Level Wizard
|Size||M (4’9”, 194 lbs)|
Skills: Ancient History (Mideast) +9, Read/Write Italian +10, Read/Write Nabatean +10, Spellcraft +9, Astrology +9, Alchemy +7
Feats: Brew Potion, Call Familiar, Combat Casting, Iron Will, and Scribe Scroll. Golonza does not have a magic specialization.
Languages: Italian, Latin, Hebrew, Greek, and French.
Possessions: 6 naptha bombs (3d6 flame dmg, 5' Radius), staff of light, brightly colored robes, dirty cotton tunic and leggings, large floppy hat with a feather, rune-covered staff, spell books (three), bags of components; bat heads, newts, etc; dagger, tall leather boots (worn), monocle, flagon of wine, belt with belt Pouch (3 gp, 20 sp), very stubborn mule (“Beezelbub”).
Familiar: Large dubious-looking raven (“Hecate,” HD 6, HP-12, +5 melee, Fort Save +2, Ref Save +4, Will Save +7. Speaks Italian. Abilities: Alertness, Improved Evasion, Share Spells, Empathic Link, Touch, Speak With Master)
Spells (4/4/4/3): 0-level: detect poison, light, detect magic, read magic, arcane mark, prestidigitation; 1st-level: change self, hold portal, color spray, message, jump, identify, mage armor; 2nd-level: flaming sphere, knock, mirror image, shatter. 3rd-level: hold person, clairvoyance, wind wall, dispel magic.
Golonza is a large, weighty Italian man, given to flashy clothing and ridiculous hats. He speaks portentously, usually in Capital Letters. Of middle age, he gives the impression of great wisdom and cunning intellect. The discerning eye will also mark that while his goods and garb are of excellent quality, they have grown old and worn.
Golonza is an alchemist, an astrologer, and a savant. He is also the most powerful sorcerer in all Christenden. A learned scholar, he has advised the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and the Doge of Venice. Sadly, his mystic powers gained him little save the suspicion and enmity of the Holy Mother Church. Rome does not countenance wizards within its domain!
Once the Church turned its eye upon him, Golonza was bitterly surprised to discover his royal ‘friends’ forgetting his name, his face … even coin owed him for loyal service. Rejected, Golonza struggled with bitterness, penury and the winecup, but eventually roused himself from melancholy. “A man’s time on earth is too short to waste on fools,” he thought. Golonza’s thoughts turned to the East. In his youth he dreamed of rivaling the ancients– a worthy goal, forgotten amid the splendid distractions of the Italian and German courts.
Determined to return to the “true path”, Golonza traveled to Constantinople, seeking knowledge (and escaping the clutches of the Roman Church!). In that ancient, decadent city he found tomes speaking of ancient inhuman races once dwelling in Judea and desolate Nabatea, races wielding tremendous sorceries and trafficking with the powers of the Outer Planes. What secrets might be hidden in the tombs and ruined cities of the desert? Of course, the Church can only applaud a man on pilgrimage to the Holy City!
Golonza is accompanied by his able assistant, Ruggero, a nimble Florentine minstrel. Oddly reticent for a bard, Ruggero hired on just as Golonza departed Venice (under something of a cloud…) and has served faithfully ever since. Of course, the lad is hard of hearing – sometimes Golonza must call his name two or three times before he responds!
Though equally at home in conversing with potentates and peasants, Golonza betrays great uneasiness in the presence of the Church.
Informed by harsh experience, the wizard trusts neither priests nor their servants. In youth generous and open-handed, Golonza now hides behind a suspicious mask – particularly in the presence of anyone that might have ties to the Church. Years of loneliness and flight – dodging from one city to another, fleeing the authorities – have left their mark on the wizard. Though he would never speak such a thing aloud, he yearns for a place in the world, for responsibility and respect. But can it be found in such a treacherous land?
Sir Harold Edwinson, Crusader Knight
Male human, 4th-Level Paladin
|Size||M (5’11”, 192 lbs)|
Special: Proficient with all martial and simple weapons, all armor and shields. Paladin Abilities: Weapon and Armor Proficiency, Detect Aura of Evil, Divine Grace (+3 to saves), Lay on Hands (21 hp per day), Divine Health, Aura of Courage (+4 to fear saves for companions), Smite Evil (+7 HP dmg, once per day), Remove Disease (once per week), Turn Undead (6/day as 2nd Level Cleric).
Skills: Handle Animal +3, Heal +4, Knowledge (religion) +2, Ride +4, Swim +1.
Feats: Alertness, Exotic Weapon Proficiency (Bastard Sword), and Endurance.
Languages: Saxon, poor French and very poor Latin.
Possessions: “Wurmbiter” Bastard Sword +2 (w/Detect Evil), Chain Mail +1, Medium Kite Shield (w/ Mercian Heraldry), Full Heaume over Mail coif, Bearskin Cloak (w/ necklace of teeth), Large dagger (Sax), in belt sheath, Sword sheath on belt, Belt Pouch: 15 sp, a curl of dark brown hair. Well-worn axe, Heavy horse lance, Horseman's Mace, Heavy war-horse (not a Paladin’s Warhorse), War saddle & gear, Saddlebags containing: Camping gear (tent, saw, flint & tinder, pots, pans, rope, hatchet) Lantern w/ 3 flasks of fish oil for it. 6 spare horseshoes, hammer & nails.
Spells (1): 1st-Level: cure light wounds.
Harold is blonde, powerfully built, and a fair (now sunburned) complexion. His eyes are gray and clear. Since his knighting, he sports a small beard.
Sir Harold is all of nineteen, and the third son of earl Edwin of Mercia. Under Norman law, his inheritance would be vanishingly small – some of his peers have stooped to trade or craft. So, like many younger sons of Christian nobility, he has come to the East seeking fame, glory and station. In this wild, untamed land, he can aspire to his own estate. As a Saxon in newly Norman England, such a dream is impossible.
Harold has been in the Holy Land for a year, but his valor in combat against Saracens plaguing the Jerusalem road has already earned him a knight’s spurs and the notice of the King. Having gained these honors from Baldwin the Leper, Harold is a staunch supporter of that noble king.
Harold is also good with horses and fond of cooking - though only Manwys (his squire) can really get the results down. The young knight has come to Bethlehem for Easter, intending to cloister himself for six or seven weeks. His blade, Wurmbiter, and the exceptional mail armor are gifts from grandfather, who found them in a barrow. In the presence of evil the sword glows with a faint yellow light. Grandfather Oald is sure the blade is a Dedannan weapon.
Harold is young and brash, and heedlessly brave. Only his own raw strength and his squire’s cunning have saved him from one scrape after another.
He takes his responsibilities as a Christian knight seriously. Twice a day he stops and prays for guidance from the Good Lord, and for a rein upon his hasty temper.
A man of good heart, Harold knows that his thirst for glory must be held in check – lest he do harm to himself, or others – but restraint is so difficult! Shouldn’t a man feel alive? Not buried by convention or custom? (At least Manwys is there to keep an eye on the young knight…)
Sir Carl Zorn Zugott, Priest-Knight of the Order of the Knights of the Temple of Jerusalem
Male human, 6th-level Cleric of the Roman Catholic Church
|Size||M (5’7”, 176 lbs)|
Special: Turn Undead (4/day); spells; proficient with simple weapons, all types of armor, and shields.
Skills: Diplomacy +6, Heal +7, Knowledge (religion) +7, Knowledge (local) +4, Read/Write Latin +5, Animal Handling +4, Profession (Engineering) +4.
Feats: Alertness, Combat Casting, Extra Turning, and Silent Spell.
Languages: German, Latin, Arabic and French
Possessions: War Hammer (dwarfmake) +2, 5 Potions of Cure Light Wounds, Nasal Guard Helm, Light Chain mail Shirt and Skirt, Medium Round-Shield, Heavy Leather Gauntlets, Loose Desert Robes, Heavy Leather Boots, Medium Riding Horse, Saddle and Gear, Blanket Roll, Water Flagon, Wide leather belt & belt pouch with sling for hammer, 34 sp, 10 gp.
Spells (5/4+1/4+1/3+1): 0-level: cure minor wounds, detect magic, detect poison, purify food and drink, read magic; 1st-level: command, cure light wounds x 2, obscuring mist, shield of faith; 2nd-level: cure moderate wounds x 2, hold person, slow poison; 3rd-level: cure serious wounds, daylight, dispel magic.
Domain Spells: 1st-level: protection from chaos; 2nd-level: shield other; 3rd-level: protection from elements. Carl’s domains are Law and Protection.
Carl is a stout, gray-haired, tanned man of middle height. His face is lined by long exposure to the Judean sun, his eyes shadowed by a fine network of wrinkles.
A priest-knight of the Order of the Temple of Solomon (otherwise known as the Templars), Carl has been in the Holy Land for seventeen years, having arrived with Bohemond of Otranto’s army in 1096 during the “March to Jerusalem.”
Born to a poor family in the brawling merchant port of Lubeck in northern Germany, Carl joined the Church on his seventeenth birthday. Taking his vows in Cistercian order at nineteen, he served the Order for ten years. During that time, Carl served the great Abbot Bernard of Clairvoux as bodyguard and messenger.
In 1112, with Bernard’s patronage, Carl joined the newly formed Order of the Temple. Though not one of the first ‘pilgrim knights’, he is well thought of among that holy band. Carl is currently in Bethlehem to pay his respects to Cardinal Giuseppi Fortuna, the Papal Legate in the Holy Land. The Cardinal is also a student of Bernard’s, as are many Catholic priests in the Kingdom of Jerusalem.
Carl – like his current master Hugh de Payen - is a staunch supporter of King Baldwin, and believes that while an accommodation could be reached with the Saracens, peace will come of strength.
He is well versed in the customs of the Arabic peoples and has often traveled among them incognito. His Ruthenian henchman Fingold, whom Carl rescued from slavery, is a constant companion. The dwarf hammer is a gift of the elders of Lubeck following his deeds in the siege of Jerusalem in 1099.
Carl, through hard experience, has learned that only in God’s hands are constancy, faith and devotion. In men – even Christians as great hearted as Bernard, or Hugh de Payen, or even Baldwin the Leper – there is treachery, deceit and betrayal. Under this brassy sky, all tendencies – both to exalt god and to drag men down in foulness – are exacerbated.
The priest has seen Christians murder and infidels save. Among the Mohammedeans are men of valor and honor, while some Crusader knights are grasping and cruel. Carl has spent a long time among the desert peoples and he has found faith in many hearts. Eastern merchants call this the “balance”, which is weighed in every heart, and only God sees the tipping of the scales.
So Carl places his trust in his own good eyes and hands, and gives his loyalty, and his friendship, sparingly, to those that have earned such gifts from him. Nor does he suffer fools lightly, for this is a hostile land, where survival lies in a narrow margin.
Some men might call Carl cold and calculating, even an assassin like the zealots of the northern mountains. The weathered priest would say, instead, that he is alive, where others – less patient, less cautious – lie bleached bones beside the pilgrim road.
Manwys ap Lleidd, Squire to Sir Harold
Male human, 5th Level Fighter
|Size||M (5’5”, 167 lbs)|
Special: Proficient with all martial and simple weapons, all armor and shields.
Skills: Climb +7, Craft (Fletching) +5, Handle Animals +3, Jump +6, Ride +8, Swim +7
Feats: Alertness, Ambidexterity, Quick Draw, Weapon Focus (Bow, +1 hit), and Weapon Specialization (Bow, +2 dmg).
Languages: Welsh, French and a little Arabic.
Possessions: Studded Leather +1, Longbow of Speed +1 (extra ranged attack), Buckler w/ Mercian Blazon, Well-worn short sword (1d6/1d8) & sheath, Half-helm w/ chain camail, Two daggers (1d4/1d3) and sheaths, Quiver of 40 sheaf arrows (1d8/1d8), Fletching Kit, ten sheaf arrowheads, ten flight arrowheads, Hard leather boots, Wide-brimmed hat with feather, Three spare bowstrings & traveling Case for longbow. Water flagon, Belt w/ belt pouch as well as several sheaths, Cotton tunic & leggings, Light riding horse ('William'), Saddle & gear.
Manwys is an elderly Welshman with short-cropped gray hair, a small well-kept beard and pugnacious nose. Stout and competent looking, he goes clad in well-worn leathers, heavy boots and a powerful yew longbow.
Thanks to the marriage of his cousin Morwyl (a Welshwoman and daughter of King Cynfyn of Powys) to earl Edwin of Mercia, the teenaged Manwys found himself the babysitter of a rapscallion youth, the baby Harold. Taken into the earl’s service as a squire, Manwys served earl Edwin during the Crusade (or “March to Jerusalem”) in 1098 and 1099. Though he acquitted himself well, the young Welshman was sickened by the atrocities committed during the Sack of Jerusalem. Though King Bohemond offered him the silver spurs, Manwys refused the honor. Too many ghosts clouded his memories to take honor from the dead. When Edwin returned to England, Manwys followed.
In the intervening years, the Welshman has tried desperately to keep his young “ox” alive and healthy, despite every kind of disaster, scrape, battle and misadventure. To his lasting credit, the brainless boy is still alive and now a knight himself – an honor won protecting the innocent and the faithful from brigands plaguing the long, twisting road from Joppa on the coast to dry, dead Jerusalem in the hills.
Returning here, following Harold, has not been easy for Manwys. Older eyes see the gaunt faces of the common people beside the road, and the bones of the dead peeking from under brush and thorn. The deep divisions between the Christian lords that now rule this “latin kingdom” make him nervous. What kind of trouble will the boy get into next?
Manwys is devoted to Sir Harold, whom he has known since the latter was a wee babe. His personal burden, doubtless sent down by a vengeful God, is to see the youth through the travails and troubles of the world. Manwys has seen a great deal in his long years as a warrior and has an earthy sense of humor. He is not given to garrulity or panic. He has seen some strange things. He is also good with quiet knife work, but doesn't brag about his prowess with bow or blade.
Likes a pint of bitter on an evening and is oft willing to tell a tale or two of the wide world. Often pretends to only speak Welsh, particularly in the company of those more refined than himself.
Jacopo Ghiarelli (a.k.a. Ruggero), Florentine Minstrel
Male human, 3rd-level Rogue, 2nd-level Bard
|Size||M (5’9”, 165 lbs)|
Special: Sneak Attack (+2d6 dmg), Evasion, Uncanny Dodge (+4 to AC), proficient with simple weapons (crossbow, dagger, dart, mace, sap, shortbow, shortsword, morningstar, rapier, quarterstave. Can use light armor, no shield.
Skills: Forgery +4, Hide +8, Listen +6, Move Silently +8, Open Locks +8, Perform +8, Pick Pockets +7, Spot +5.
Feats: Alertness, Great Fortitude, and Run.
Speaks: Italian, French, German and a little Arabic.
Possessions: Elfin Rapier +1, Gloves of Manipulation (+1 Dex), Studded Leather Jerkin, Belt with Rapier Sheath, Lute with leather case and sling, Belt Pouch (sand and a few dead bugs), Large Dagger (Sax) in Belt Sheath, 3 Throwing Knives in sheaths, Floppy beret hat with feather, Tall supple leather boots, Embroidered vest and tunic, Pouch in vest (hidden): 13 sp, 1 small amethyst (2gp), Thieves Tools (picks, jams, razor, wedges), Battered Woolen sling-bag, Cook kit (pot, skillet, flint & tinder, utensils, salt), 40' of wire cored rope, Collapsing grapple, Wine Flagon, Light riding horse, Deck of cards, Set of gaming dice and stones.
Spells (3/1): 0-level: Detect Magic, Light, Mage Hand, Open/Close, Read Magic; 1st-level: Charm Person, Ventriloquism.
Jacopo is a thin, sharp-faced man, given to witty repartee and an easy hand with the ladies and other men's money. Skilled with the rapier (particularly with a blade gifted him by Fingol of Tharheim) and bon vivant. He also plays the lute and mandolin and has a fine singing voice.
Originally from Florence, Jacopo has traveled extensively throughout Europe and made the acquaintance of many bailiffs and counts. Like his current master, circumstances have forced Jacopo to find sanctuary in the East, among the heathens and sand-devils.
Jacopo dresses and acts casually, but never goes about without a plethora of convenient tools. He hates to climb, but is well prepared for that hated eventuality. “Swift feet have never failed me yet,” he often mutters.
His 'magical' powers were gained during a short and eventful stay in the hidden northern Elfin Kingdom of Tharheim, where Jacopo made the lamentable acquaintance of the elf-king. His escape from that land still weighs upon him. Some scars remain, even after the flesh has healed, and some beauties should not be revealed to mortal eyes.
Currently, Jacopo is serving as the batman or valet to the Great Sorcerer DeBaratti, under the nom de guerre 'Ruggero'. Hopefully, the Sorcerer will draw all the attention, leaving Jacopo to do as he pleases…
The lithe Italian struggles to regain the reckless merriment of his youth. If there is song and cheer, he is in the middle of the crowd, raising a cup, firing his blood with games of chance and daring. Yet despite this, a shadow lies on his heart.
Pain and loss etch his features, if he lets the mask slip. If he does not concentrate, memories overwhelm him and he becomes forgetful and inattentive. Even the simple guise of “Ruggero” the valet can be too taxing to him. The sight of a raven-haired beauty – if her features are too fine, her eyes just a little slanted – will transfix his attention.
Such distractions could lead a man used to living by his wits and speed into serious trouble…
Fingold Torfinson, Ruthenian Woods-runner
Male Half-elf, 4th-level Ranger
|Size||M (6’0”, 126 lbs)|
Special: Proficient in all simple and martial weapons, light and medium armor, and shields.
Skills: Animal Empathy +1, Climb +6, Craft (Fletching) +4, Handle Animals +4, Move Silently +7, Ride +6, Search +3, Wilderness Lore +6.
Feats: Track, Alertness, and Lightning Reflexes.
Languages: German, Arabic and Elvish
Possessions: Indian Steel Scimitar (masterwork +1), Elfin Horse Bow +1, linen shirt & trousers, Loose desert robes & cowl, Small steel helm w/ chain camail, Small steel embossed round shield, Light elfin-made chain mail shirt & skirt, Quiver w/ 34 flight arrows, Two spare bowstrings, Fletching kit, 15 flight arrowheads, Large Dagger (Sax) in belt sheath, Scimitar sheath on belt, Light Lance (1d6/1d8) w/ pennant, Leather gauntlets, High soft laced boots, Light war-horse, War saddle & gear, Bedroll & other camping gear, Cook kit (pots, pans, utensils, flint & tinder, pepper & salt), Two weeks hard rations, Pavilion style tent (on bundle on horse).
Spells (1/1): 1st-Level: Speak with Animals; 2nd-level: Sleep
Fingold is tall, thin, and deeply tanned. His ears show only the barest points, for his mother was a pagan Ruthenian, while his father was a warrior of the hidden Elfin Kingdom of Tharheim.
When Fingold was seven years old his mother’s village was raided by Drowic slavers. Those who not taken as goods were slain. Fingold and the other villagers were sold to merchants from the German Hansa city of Bremen, where he soon found himself on a slave block. A cold-eyed priest, Carl Zugott, purchased and freed him from servitude.
At first from gratitude, and then from friendship, Fingold accompanied the world-wise priest in his travels. Here in the Holy Land, the son of the dark northern forests has found a new life. Fingold has taken to the attire, customs and weapons of the Saracens as to mother's milk. His once brilliant scarlet hair has been bleached to a pale, almost white, rose. He is devoted to the Priest and the Church.
Though his current enemies are the Saracens he admires, Fingold’s abiding hatred is for the Dark Elves who slew his mother and sold him and his village into slavery. Luckily, these desert land is far from the northern forests and the strongholds of the Drow.
There is a purity in the desert, bereft of the clutter of trees and undergrowth, that appeals to his Elfin heart. The beauty of the sky, of the weathered stone, even of the ancient ruins call to him. There is a moment, when the sun is close to rising, when the dawn wind courses across the land, that brings his heart to life, singing with joy.
Someday Fingold will return to the north with a Christian army, and he will seek out the Drow in their forest dens and hidden cities, and he will wreak great vengeance upon them and all their kind. He holds the thought of that day close in his heart, as a great comfort.