Scenario doctors: "The Matter of Britain"

G’day comrades!

I have a scenario that I did a bit of work on a couple of years ago, intending to run it at a con. But I couldn’t find a solution for a big structural flaw, couldn’t cut it hard enough to fit into the three-hours session the orgs were going to give me to run it in, and anyway fell into an episode of depression. But in six weeks I’m going to visit Canberra (to watch an old role-playing friend sing the part of Herod in the Canberra Philharmonic Society’s production of “Jesus Christ Superstar”), and I have arranged to run a little something for some of my old players while I am there. I get a lot more time to run it in, but the structural problem is still there. I’d like to show what I have so far to you lot and invite you to suggest ways that I might improve it, up to and including mending its big structural problem.

Here’s what I have:

— by Brett Evill

On All Souls’ Day 1918, Lieutenant Arthur Wychurst disappeared from a military hospital near Boulogne. His father, his lover, his best friend, his batman, and his confessor know why. On All Hallows’ Eve 1939 five grievous sinners gather in an ancient shrine in Worcestershire to commemorate their son, their lover, their friend, their master, and the man they all betrayed. But other parties have plans for the heart of Britain on the threshold of a new World War: Himmler’s Ahnenerbe intends a bold stroke against the Grail King of Britain and the sacred cauldron of Brân the Blessed.

There is no-one else at hand. Five broken-hearted veterans of the Great War must act promptly, gallantly, and recklessly to defend the realm, to confound the Ahnenerbe, and perhaps, by the grace of God, to recover what they lost in Flanders a lifetime ago.

Off with ash and sackcloth; strap sword to your side.
Ride off now to Camlann though the jaws of Hell gape wide.

What’s the game again?

Tabletop game for five players, in the pulp-action genre, with echoes of mediæval legend and and undercurrent of Celtic myth. The PCs are WWI veterans who must throw caution to the winds that they might defeat a Nazi occult-secret-service operation in England in the early weeks of WWII.


The intended mood is like that of an ‘Indiana Jones’ movie. The PCs have personal issues involving grief and corrosive guilt, but these will spur them to gallant action rather than drive them to emotional breakdowns.

Genre & setting

Pulp adventure/thriller with fantasy elements; in rural England, during the calm before the storm of WWII.


FATE, light. System knowledge will not be required.

Movie rating

MA for illicit relationships, penitential distress, paganism, frequent moderate violence, sex references, and dangerous driving.

My idea here is to aim for something like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade — Western civilian v. Nazis in a race/chase/treasure-hunt for a supernatural goal, with the larger-than-life action of a matinée serial adventure movie. But I want to add an undercurrent of folkloric fantasy, perhaps like the novels of Alan Garner or Tim Powers, in which the themes and motifs of mediaeval legend well up into the lives and relationships of the PCs.

The overt layer of the adventure is that Himmler has sent agents of the Ahnenerbe (his occult intelligence service, a branch of the SS) into Worcestershire to (a) seize and carry off, or failing that to destroy, the magic cauldron of Brân the Blessed (which is the original of the Holy Grail in Arthurian lore) and (b) abduct, maim, or (failing that) kill the sacred king of Britain. The PCs are the Johnnies on the spot who have to frustrate this scheme because there is no-one else, least of all anyone who will believe.

The substrate is that the PCs are all grievous sinners who have, each in his or her own way, betrayed a friend (the same person in each case). A complete resolution requires not only saving the cauldron, but also rescuing the betrayed friend.

There are a lot of parallels between the PCs and their situation with their missing friend, and the situations of the Fisher King in the legend of Percival, that of Queen Morgause, of Elaine of Corbenic, and of Percival’s un-named mother, of Sir Kai, that of the love triangle of Guenivere/Arthur/Lancelot, that of Lancelot at Joyous Gard after the breaking of the Round Table, that of Thomas the Rhymer, Oisín, and Tannhäuser, that of the Pope in the Tannhäuser legend, that of Sir Bedivere on the battlefield of Camlann, that of Tristram and Iseult, and that of the king in the mountain. My idea is that the players will be able to find and use what they like of this, that no one legend shall be a strait-jacket for them.


  1. The Holy Grail

There is a lot of confusion about the Holy Grail, some of it deliberate. The Holy Grail is not the blood royal: ‘sangue réal’ is an out-and-out false etymology. Neither is it the cup that was used to serve the wine at the Last Supper or catch Christ’s blood at the crucifixion: that’s the Holy Chalice, and the two were not conflated until the French poet Robert de Boron did so to Christianise pagan source material in the late 12th Century. Even in the very earliest surviving layers of Grail lore there is a confusion between the magical cauldron of Brân the Blessed (which does exist and was the object of a quest) and the matter of the wounded Grail King or Fisher King. The Grail King was not the owner of Brân’s cauldron; he was the king of the Dobunni, and therefore of their territory, the cauldron-shaped valley between the Cotswolds and the Malvern Hills. That valley is the magical heart of Britain. Artorius Rex was the warlord of Britain, but the wounded king of the Dobunni was the rex sacrorum married to the Land. In the lost original the land was barren because the sacred king was wounded, and the questers needed the magical cauldron to heal the king of the Cauldron: hence the original confusion. The Holy Grail of which the Grail King was king was a domain in the Severn Valley, between the Malvern Hills and the Cotswolds.

The last king of the Dobunni was killed by Saxons at the battle of Dyrham in 577, in specific, by the forces of the Gewisse (a Saxon tribe). King Ceawlin of the West Saxons thus conquered the territory of Bath, Gloucester, and Cirecester, and became Bretwalda (warlord of Britain). But he did not know about the spiritual importance of the Vale of the Cauldron: he granted the territory of the Cauldron to the Gewisse, appointing their war-leader as his subordinate king. In 584 Ceawline was deposed by his nephew Ceol and his kingdom crumbled; the territory of the Dobunni became an independent kingdom called “Hwicce” (‘hwicce’ means ark, chest, or locker; it is another reference to the shape of the flat-bottomed, steep-sided valley). After the battle of Cirencester in 628 Hwicce became a client kingdom of Mercia. After about 780 Hwicce was demoted; its rulers became outright subjects of the king of Mercia, and used the title “Ealdorman of Hwicce”. About 880 Mercia submitted to King Alfred; Hwicce became an earldom of the Kingdom of England. Through all this the kings and ealdormen of Hwicce succeeded as the sacred kings of Britain, the prosperity of the land tied to their health, the morale of the kingdom to their character.

  1. The Wychurst family

In the Ninth Century kings of England started appointing earls of Hwicce as part of their administrations, promoting and replacing them and so forth. But these earls did not know about and did not seize the spiritual connection to the Land. And after the Norman conquest even the political earldom of Hwicce ceased to be; the Kingdom of Hwicce survived only in the shape of the diocese of Worcester. Norman kings of England and earls of Worcester knew nothing of the kingdom of the Grail, sacred kingship, and so forth. Therefore they naturally did not seize the sacred kingship from the descendants of the kings of Hwicce. Rather, the sacred kingship of Britain has passed ever since through an obscure but ancient family that owns an estate in Worcestershire and has come to be known as “Wychurst”.

Saxon in origin and not of important wealth, the Wychursts were never raised to the nobility, though they were granted a baronetcy in 1660 as a reward for their staunch Royalism during the Civil War. So for a thousand years the prosperity and morale of England have depended on the health and character of a lineage of country squires in Worcestershire.

  1. General Wychurst

The current Grail King of Britain is General Sir Edwin Wychurst (Bt.). The reason that Britain is in a parlous economic and political state is that the Grail King is estranged from his wife. He lives as a semi-recluse on his estate in Worcestershire, engaged in a little fishing and shooting. Lady Wychurst lives at the house in London, socialising with the Cliveden Set.

  1. Arthur Wychurst

The central figure of the situation is Sir Edwin’s son Arthur Wychurst. Before WWI Arthur was a handsome, athletic, and charismatic young aristocrat, also, a very gifted poet. He caught the eye of the fairy queen of Wychbury Ring and became her lover, then also that of her husband, engaging in a romantic menage a trois and bisexual threesomes with the king and queen of the fairy hill. At first he languished the usual way, but in the winter of 1914–1915 the combination of his duty to serve King and Country with profound Christian feelings of guilt about the homosexual aspects of his relationship with the fairies drove him to break with his lovers and volunteer for service in France. Lt. Wychurst was a gallant and successful officer until he was wounded in September 1918, and then he fell in love with a beautiful and virtuous nurse at the hospital, Sister Keswick. Rumours of peace began to circulate in October: bound now to survive, Arthur thought of confessing and purging his sins in preparation to marry her. Then on All Saint’s Day 1918 he had a very bad day. He discovered that he had been betrayed three times: his best chum had stolen credit for the action he was wounded in, and been awarded a DSO for it; his fiancée had slept with his father; and his father had slept with his fiancée. He tried to press on with his plan, but when he confessed to the chaplain at the base hospital that he had (a) worshipped and slept with a pagan goddess and (b) committed sodomy with a fairy king the priest declared these sins unforgiveable. Despairing, young Arthur Wychurst spoke the char he had been given to summon transport, and forsook the world to rejoin his fairy lovers.

  1. Lady Alice Wychurst

Born a Beaufort, Lady Alice is Arthur’s mother and Sir Edwin’s estranged wife. She knows as well as her husband that he is the Grail King and what that means. She is engages in right-wing politics and is influential in the British Union of fascists. She attributes the moral decline of England to the poor moral fibre of her husband, and intends to fix the problem by supplanting him and his good-for-nothing son. After all, does not the blood of the Plantagenets flow in her veins? Could she not in the right circumstances, circumstances that could be arranged, become both sacred and secular queen?

  1. The Ahnenerbe

Himmler has sent clandestine operators to England to steal the Holy Grail and kidnap or maim (but not kill) the Grail King. They have arms for the BUF. They have something else that Lady Alice needs, perhaps a way to open the gate into Wychbury Ring. They think the Holy Grail is a thing you can carry off. They think Lady Alice and her BUF boys are on their side. Scary accents, though.


It’s Allhallows’ Eve 1939. Britain is at war with Germany, and although there are no real hostilities occurring on the Western Front Sir Edwin Wychurst figures that the Germans will soon swallow Poland and turn west. With Nevill Chamberlain in Downing Street and the Grail King’s family life in a shambles, Britain will not be able to do anything right. To save the country, Sir Edwin has to either (a) reconcile with his wife (which she refuses) and set his house in order, or (2) get his heir well set up and then die. So he summons the four other people who betrayed Arthur in 1918 to take advantage of the 21st anniversary to raid the fairy realm of Wychbury Hill and rescue Arthur. The Rev. Dr. Urban can open the hill, Bevis and Gonville provide strength and force, Dr Charette can break Arthur’s attachment to the fairies and make him willingly come home.

At the same time Himmler has sent an Ahnenerbe team to Worcestershire to (a) steal the Holy Grail, which Lady Alice has told him is in the hollows under Wychbury Hill and either kidnap or maim, but preferrably not kill, the Grail King. They have brought arms, Lady Alice will provide BUF heavies to use them. Her plan is of course to betray the Ahnenerbe — she has no desire to see England defeated by Germany or anyone else. And all of that is completely unsuspected by the PCs.

The other person with an ace in the hole is Dr. Charette, the former Sister Keswick. Unknown to Lady Alice and therefore to the Ahnenerbe, she had a son who was fathered either by Arthur (most likely) or by Sir Edwin, and is therefore heir if all the Wychursts die, even if Lady Alice effects a usurpation.

So plot: the PCs gather to plan a raid on Faërie. A man with a gun bursts into the room. He is a Nazi secret agent! The PCs fight Nazis. They win. They go into the Perilous Realm to rescue (or kill) Arthur. Somewhere along the way the BUF turn on the Ahnenerbe and Lady Alice shows her hand.

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Sir Edwin Pelham Wychurst (Bt.), D.S.O.

  • Aged 70
  • Retired major-general
  • Wealthy landowner in Worcestershire
  • Grail king of Britain

This is little-known, in fact it is pretty much a family secret, but Sir Edwin Wychurst is the descendant in an unbroken line of the earls of Mercia, the ealdormen of Hwicce, and the ancient Saxon kings of Hwicce. Although the kings of Hwicce were never the overlords of the Anglo-Saxon realms, it was Eanhere of the Hwicce who wrested the cauldron of Brân the Blessed from the high king of the Britons at the Battle of Dyrham in 577, and his line, leading to Sir Edwin, have been the sacred kings of Britain ever since. This involves merely a few annual family rituals and the ability to heal scrofula by touch; that the prosperity and morale of Britain is tied up in the vigour and moral tone of the Wychurst baronets is perhaps superstition.

Sir Edwin has a son, Arthur Wychurst. Arthur turned eighteen in May 1915, but rather than join the forces he became infatuated with the fairy queen of Wychbury Ring, took to writing alarming modern poetry, and started to lose weight. Summoned from France by his wife, Sir Edwin took a sympathetic but firm line with his son, who went to Sandhurst in September and joined the family battalion, the 2nd Worcs. in January 1916.

In May 1918 Sir Edwin was a dashing major-general on the staff of the BEF at Boulogne. He fell in love with a beautiful and spirited nurse at one of the British military hospitals there: Sister Elaine Keswick. He courted her gallantly, and assessed that she was as much affected as he was, but after a few weeks she declared definitely that she would not surrender her virtue to a married man. Sir Edwin acquiesced graciously. Then in October he danced with her at an All Hallow’s Eve ball: she had fallen in love with a patient at the hospital who had promised marriage but jilted her, and was in a fey mood. After the ball they went to bed.

In the morning Sister Keswick had fled. After despatching his duties for the day Sir Edwin went to the Base Hospital to visit young Arthur, who was recovering from wounds. He encountered Nurse Keswick there, who avoided speaking with him. It turned out that the young patient who had jilted Keswick was Sir Edwin’s son Arthur. He had slept with his son’s fiancée. The following morning Arthur was missing from his ward at the hospital, and has not been seen since. He was listed as AWOL, and then as deserted. Sir Edwin suspects that he has returned to his fairy lover under Wychbury Hill.

For twenty years Sir Edwin has been living as a semi-recluse on his estate, estranged from his wife Anne, who is living in the London house. But now that war has been declared and Britain is in a parlous state he is resolved to decisive action. He has summoned four other people who let Arthur down badly at Allhallowstide 1918 ostensibly to a memorial service, but actually to mount a raid on the fairy court under Wychbury Hill, reconcile with Arthur, and rescue him.

The other four are:

Sister Elaine Keswick, now a psychiatrist using the name Dr Elaine Charette. She pretends to be a war-widow, and has a 20-year-old son who must be either Sir Edwin’s or Arthur’s.

Captain K.K. Gonville: athlete, aviator, author. Gonville was a chum of Arthur’s at school and in the Regiment. Gonville won his D.S.O. in the action in which Arthur was wounded. It seems likely that he… misappropriated credit owing to Arthur.

Inspector Peter Bevis of the Metropolitan Police. Bevis was Arthur’s batman, and won the D.C.M. for rescuing him. But there is a twenty-minute discrepancy in Bevis’s account of events, and Bevis seem embarrassed and evasive when Sir Edwin tried to thank him.

The rev’d Dr James Urban, who was chaplain at the base hospital and last person to talk to Arthur before he disappeared. Urban had a breakdown three days later, has avoided the cure of souls ever since, and has made his name as an archaeologist excavating fairy hills. Wychurst believes taht at the appropriate times of year Urban can open the gate to Wychbury Ring.

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Detective Inspector Peter Bevis, D.C.M.

  • 41 years old
  • Worcestershire lad, born and bred
  • Grew up in Wychurst Hall, his parents in service there
  • Operational supervisor with the Flying Squad, Metropolitan Police
  • Heavyweight boxing champion of the Met

In September 1918 Peter Bevis was a private in the 3rd platoon, ‘A’ Company, 2nd Battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment. He had been in France three years, and had had a moderately bad time. He was assigned as batman to Lt. Arthur Wychurst, a very able and well-liked young officer, athletic, handsome, and affable. Batman is generally a good billet, but Mr. Wychurst was an alarming officer to have to attend in battle, not because he was stupid or reckless by any means: he was cool and capable, but bold and enterprising, and he had a trick of stealthily patrolling no-man’s-land at night, hunting German pickets, ambushing German patrols, and sometimes raiding lightly-defended trenches. This was very successful but completely terrifying.

One night ‘B’ company next in the line came under a heavy attack. Wychurst left a section to hold the trench, and took most of the platoon across no-man’s land to effect a flanking counter-attack. Bevis stayed in the trench. The platoon seized the German first trench. To cross would have been safer than usual. Bevis stayed in the trench. Presently he heard Wychurst calling for him to bring ammunition and grenades. Bevis stayed in the trench. A shell burst on the German trenches; Mr Wychurst fell silent. After perhaps quarter of an hour a platoon of reinforcements led by the company 2-i-c, Mr Gonville, came up and crossed no-man’s-land quite unopposed. Shortly afterwards Bevis heard the sounds of fighting several hundred yards behind the enemy lines. By exerting every resource he had left, Bevis hauled himself out of the trench, crawled across the the enemy’s unoccupied lines. There he found Lt. Wychurst wounded and unconscious between the first and second lines of German trenches. Recovering somewhat, Bevis lifted Wychurst to his shoulders and carried him back to the British trenches. Halfway back he began to be overtaken by the raiding party, retreating in good order under Mr. Gonville. Just as he crossed the parapet with Wychurst on his shoulders he was hit in the thigh by a German bullet, collapsed into the trench, and blacked out.

Four weeks later Bevis was in traction in a base hospital in Boulogne. He was ashamed of his cowardice in the battle, but utterly, completely transported by relief that his wound, though not crippling, would sure see him out of action until the imminent end of the War. Mr. Wychurst was in the same hospital (but an different ward, of course), was cheerful when he visited, and seemed to bear no resentment. Rumour had it that he was all-but engaged to one of the nurses, a lovely work of Nature called Sister Keswick. Certainly many of the other nurses were jealous, some to the point of cattishness. But on 31 October one of Sister Keswick’s rivals told Bevis with ill-concealed glee that the couple had had a row and broken up.

The following afternoon Gonville visited Bevis in a captain’s pips. He brought a recent number of the London Gazette containing the despatches reporting the recent action. Both he and Bevis were Mentioned; Gonville was to receive the D.S.O., and Bevis a Distinguished Conduct Medal for rescuing Wychurst. Bevis wept, and Gonville did not stay.

The morning after that a buzz of excitement got around the ward: Lt. Wychurst was missing. It was true, and he was never seen again. Piecing together various accounts, Bevis worked out that Sister Keswick had been avoiding him all day, that Gonville had visited Wychurst after leaving him, then Wychurst’s father, Major-General Sir Edwin Wychurst had visited, and that after dinner Wychurst had gone to see the chaplain, Mr. Urban, and had a row.

When Bevis was rehabilitated and demobbed Sir Edwin offered him a job as footman at Wychurst Hall, but he could not face it. Instead he went to London and got a job as a policeman, from which he was recruited into the Flying Squad. And in the Sweeney Todd he has risen to Detective Inspector.

Old Sir Edwin is the last of the Wychursts, and has been living at Wychurst Hall as a broken man for twenty years. Now he has asked Bevis to come to a memorial service for Mr. Arthur in St Kenelm’s Church near Wychurst Hall, on the 21st anniversary of his disappearance. Bevis cannot help but notice that it will be All Souls’ Day.

Dr Elaine Charette, MB.BS (Lond), A.R.R.C.

  • née Elaine Keswick
  • aged 45
  • psychiatrist
  • athlete
  • Girl Guide leader
  • single mother and pretended War widow

In May 1918 Elaine Keswick (as she was known then) was a Sister (lieutenant-equivalent) with Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Reserve, working at the British base hospital at Boulogne. She caught the eye of, and was courted by, a handsome, dashing, and charismatic major-general of the Staff, Sir Edwin Wychurst. She loved him, but could not bring herself either to surrender her virtue or to sleep with a married man, and after a few weeks, with great pain, gave him a definite refusal.

Some months later Sir Edwin’s son, Lt. Arthur Wychurst, was brought into the hospital as a casualty, and came under Sister Keswick’s care. He was very like his father, but young, beautiful, gallant, and unmarried; also he had a turn for producing the most extraordinary poetry. Elaine Keswick fell in love with him, too. They flirted, courted, sneaked off for candlelit meals, and, as Elaine understood it, anticipated a marriage that would take place after the War.

In the last week of October 1918 rumours of armistice negotiations went around in Boulogne. Keswick passed them on to young Wychurst with a cheerful remark about the imminence of their wedding. His reaction was not what she had expected. When she asked what was wrong he became evasive, and when pressed said that there were impediments to their marriage that he was going to have to clear up. Perceiving that she was being jilted. Keswick left in tears. That night she went to an All Hallow’s Eve ball, drank angrily, met Major-general Wychurst, danced with him, and took him to bed.

The following evening Sir Edwin came to visit his son in the ward. After their conversation Arthur became agitated, and insisted on going to see the chaplain, the rev’d Mr Urban. Raised voices were heard during their interview, but the words could not be distinguished. According to reports, Arthur left the chaplain’s room ashen-faced and rigidly erect. He returned to his room and was never seen again. When she came to pack his belongings, Elaine found a new jeweller’s box containing an old diamond ring, inside the band of which was freshly engraved “Elaine : Arthur — aeternam —”. She kept it.

Two days later the chaplain had a nervous breakdown. A week after that the war ended.

By the end of November Keswick was sure she was pregnant. She resigned her commission, put on Arthur Wychurst’s diamond ring and a wedding band, invented a dead husband with the name “Arthur Charette”, and passed herself off as a war widow. On the 1st of August 1919 she bore a son whom she named Arthur Postumus. In 1927 he went to school at Winchester; Elaine “Charette” enrolled in the the medical school at the University of London. Graduating in 1933, she went to Zürich to study analytical psychology with Carl Jung and learn German. In 1936 she returned to London and went into practice as a psychoanalyst.

Elaine Charette represented Britain in track & field at the World Women’s Games in 1922 and 1926. Since turning thirty she has been a Girl Guides leader and is now quite a senior organiser.

Recently Sir Edwin Wychurst contacted Charette out of the blue, and asked her to come to a memorial service for Arthur, to be held at St. Kenelm’s Church in Romsey, Worcestershire on the 21st anniversary of his disappearance. She has brought her copy of ‘The War Poems of Arthur Wychurst’, edited by K.K. Gonville.

Captain Keith Keightley Gonville, D.S.O.

• 42 years old
• Poet, author
• Pioneering aviator
• Modern pentathlete
• Rugby player

K.K. Gonville was a best chums with Arthur Wychurst when they were at Rugby together. It was Wychurst’s father (then Colonel Sir Edwin Wychurst) who recommended Gonville to the Royal Military College, Sandhurst.

In September 1918 Gonville was second-in-command of ‘A’ company of the 2nd Battalion, Worcestershire regiment, and his schoolchum Wychurst was the able and daring commander of the 3rd platoon. One night ‘B’ company came under heavy attack, so Gonville took the 4th platoon from the rear of the company area up to reinforce ‘B’ Company. Arriving at the first trench, he found that Wychurst had already crossed no-man’s-land and seized the German first and second trenches, but had been taken out by a shell burst. Before Wychurst’s platoon could retreat, Gonville led the 4th platoon across no-man’s-land unopposed to join them and take command. Turning through the German rear areas he brought a surprise attack on the flank and rear of the attacking German formation, and sowing as much confusion as he could, forced the Germans to withdraw to see to the defence of their rear, thus effectually relieving ‘B’ company. Gonville then withdrew in good order, with prisoners and wounded. Neither Wychurst nor his body could be found in the time available.

Reporting this action to the battalion commander, Gonville said “perceiving an opportunity to cross the lines and attack the enemy in the flank”, and failed to mention that Wychurst had created the opportunity or that the crossing of no-man’s-land was not made under fire. He thus gave the impression that he had devised the tactic and led a daring assault. As a result, Gonville, not Wychurst, was mentioned in the despatches. Next morning Gonville heard that Wychurst had in fact survived, had been carried wounded into the British trench by his batman, Peter Bevis, who was hit by a bullet just as he crossed the parapet. Gonville added a line at the end of his report “Lt. A. Wychurst of 3rd. Pltn was severely wounded in the attack, and was rescued by his batman, Pvte. Bevis. Bevis showed the greatest courage and devotion to his officer, and was himself wounded by enemy fire effecting the rescue.”

As a result of the despatches and this report Headquarters got a confused and misleading impression of the events. Bevis was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. Gonville was promoted Captain and awarded the Distinguished Service Order. Wychurst, who actually formulated the plan and carried out the daring part of the assault, received no credit.

At his next leave, Gonville went to Boulogne and visited the base hospital. He congratulated Bevis. He made a confession and apology to Wychurst, which was excruciating. Anything that Wychurst might have said in reply was, however, cut off by the arrival of Wychurst’s father, now Major-General Sir Edwin Wychurst. Gonville never got an opportunity to finish the conversation: the following morning Arthur Wychurst had disappeared from the hospital; he was never seen again, and was eventually listed as a deserter.

After the War Gonville could not bear to continue in a military career on the basis of a step he had stolen from his best friend; he resigned his commission and went to Oxford. The elegant classical poetry that Gonville had written before the war seemed not worth writing, but when he tried to compose in a modern vein the verses came out as a pastiche of Arthur Wychurst. Gonville left Oxford with a pass degree and published his first book: “The War Poems of Arthur Wychurst”. He travelled, wrote books about his travels, learned to ski and fly, wrote books about skiing in Austria and flying in Africa and the adventures he had doing them. He got a position as executive for the Supermarine Aircraft Works. Gonville has written books, competed internationally in the modern pentathlon, played Rugby for the Barbarians…. But he can’t escape being Captain Gonville, D.S.O.— the one accomplishment that he never earned.

Old Sir Edwin Wychurst has asked Gonville to come out to Worcestershire for a memorial service for Arthur on the 21st anniversary of his disappearance. The factory at Castle Bromwich is way behind schedule on manufacturing Spitfires, but you can’t deny the old boy a few days.

The Rev’d Dr James Urban, D.Litt (Oxon)

• 50 years old
• Unmarried
• Church of England minister
• Fears that he committed blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, therefore that sacraments he performs might be invalid
• Oxford don
• Antiquarian & folklorist — expert on English archaeology

In 1914 James Urban was a shy and gawky young Church of England curate, of a Low Church (Protestant) inclination. He volunteered to be an Army chaplain, served in Gallipoli, served two years in France, was twice mentioned in despatches. He lived two years at the front, ministering to men and rags of men suffering and dying in conditions of the utmost terror and squalor. In 1917 his nerve wore out; he was sent to a convalescent hospital in England with “neurasthenia”. In a Tommy it would have been “shell shock”, and he might have been shot. After his recovery he returned to France as chaplain in a base hospital at Boulogne. There he formed — but did not express — a devotion to the most beautiful and virtuous of the nurses, Sister Elaine Keswick.

Very near the end of the War, with young men still being slaughtered in droves without the slightest chance of it affecting the outcome, Arthur Wychurst was brought in: a tall, handsome, athletic, rich, aristocratic young officer who recovered rapidly and soon had surgeons and nurses captivated with his jokes and flirtations and odd modern poetry. Late on All Hallows’ Night 1918 Wychurst came to Urban in a excited mood and smelling slightly of brandy. He asked to make — at once — an auricular confession. Urban was tired and irritated; he thought auricular confession smacked of papism, and told Wychurst so. Wychurst argued that auricular confession is provided for in the Book of Common Prayer, in the order of service for Visitation of the Sick, and pointed out that he was a patient in a hospital. So Urban grumpily put on a stole and read the formula. Then Wychurst made a ridiculous confession, a prank confession as Urban thought it. He claimed not only to have been conducting an illicit sexual connection with a pagan goddess, but also engaging in sodomy with a pagan god, and demanded an absolution to bring him into a state of grace so that he could marry Sister Keswick.

Urban was furious, snatched off his stole, and told Wychurst that it is impossible to absolve a phantasmagoric sin. He pointed to a cross and said “I can no more absolve you of buggering the king of Faërie than this crucifix can bleed.” Straight-faced, Wychurst stood and left without a word. In the morning he was missing, and he has never been seen since. Two days later, as Urban was preparing for Sunday matins, he found that there was now a corpus on what had been a plain cross the night before at Evensong, and that it was bleeding from the side. The room had been locked. The miracle was inarguable. Urban realised that he had refused God’s forgiveness to a penitent; also that he had denied the Spirit of Grace, thus committing the one sin that the gospels do describe as unforgivable.

Urban broke down, and was returned to a convalescent hospital in severe depression. After his discharge he refused employment by the Church in any post where it might matter if sacraments he performed were invalid. He went to Oxford to read Archaeology, and has since become a noted antiquarian and folklorist, an expert on ancient Britain and fairy lore, and a fellow of Wadham College.

Now Urban has been asked by General Sir Edwin Wychurst — father of the missing and disgraced Arthur Wychurst — to perform a memorial service for the missing lad on the 21st anniversary of his disappearance. He doesn’t feel able to refuse.

The problem with all this is that it has two themes, and constantly threatens to fall apart into two stories — a story can no more have two themes than a man can ride two bicycles. There are two core conflicts: a politically-driven conflict between the PCs and Lady Alice; and a personal conflict between the PCs and Arthur over their betrayals and his despair.

First the PCs have to fight the Nazis and frustrate their plot, which is very exoteric, very concrete and procedural. Then they have to confront Arthur and the fairy king and queen of Wychbury Ring, atone for their betrayals, reconcile, persuade him to return etc. All of which is very esoteric, interpersonal, and dramatic. I’m afraid that Nazi-biffing will completely dominate the first two acts, leaving the Arthurian/Tännhauser stuff as a thematically unrelated coda, which means of course that the Chrêtien-de-Troyes-style betrayal and sin will not colour the first part, and have a mess of unrelated disparate elements in an adventure that stops with a clunk when one of its core conflicts is resolved and then has to be re-started with a new initiating incident.

One solution is to cut one of the conflicts out. That probably means the Ahnenerbe, because the PCs don’t make a great deal of sense without Arthur Wychurst. But it seems a lot to go all the way to 1939 and not end up with Nazis.

Another is to entirely embed one plot inside the other, Wizard of Oz-style. That is, start with the rescue of Arthur and introduce the Nazis as an obstacle that has to be overcome to get back to the main plot. Or start with the Nazis, and make rescuing Arthur a means to defeating them.

The best perhaps would be to make rescuing Arthur and defeating the Nazis somehow the same thing. Make it a race/contest between the PCs and the Ahnenerbe/BUF to secure the person of Arthur. But that only makes sense if Arthur is the Grail King, or if Lady Alice can’t supplant Sir Edwin while Arthur is alive.

So do I make Sir Edwin an NPC who can be treated as a McGuffin? And then what if (as is likely) I need a fifth PC?

A single Nazi secret agent? Where did he come from? Why is he alone?

Is this a trick played by Lady Alice on the Nazis? If so how was it set up?

If I were writing this I would concentrate on the nature of the tests the questers have to pass to reach the center of the hill and the climax of their quest.

Some of those tests should include the Nazis as elements. As rivals or the obstacle to be overcome.

Why is the General sure that the clergyman can open the way to the Other Side?

Did the Nazis have a plan to access the fairy hill or did they plan to piggy back on the English party’s efforts?

Why did Lady Alice have anything to do with the Nazi effort if she doesn’t want it to succeed?

Can she appear as a deus (dea?) ex machina at some point?

The Nazis at this point look like a distraction from or just chrome added to the main quest which for each of the questers to forgive themselves and find thereby a way to ask Arthur for forgiveness.

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Perhaps she could use the BUF heavies in her own right, and the Ahnenerbe party could come in from a different angle, perhaps on the basis of one of those wholesale scrapings-up of legendry that they did in the real world? But as Brett says, both of these are basically distractions as they’re currently presented.

So: why not have the Nazis trying to persuade Arthur to do something else, something that would be advantageous to them? In an ideal world, you could even have the party forced to collaborate with them to get to (or survive within) Underhill, because “neither you nor we want Faerie to invade the world”. And then things fall apart. But it’s tricky to set up, particularly in the span of a convention scenario.

Not really. I was alluding to Raymond Chandler. I’m sorry to have been unclear.

A couple of Ahnenerbe operatives and a small escort of Brandenbergers have come to England in October 1939 to bring a stock of arms to the BUF in Worcestershire. They expect to go home pretty promptly, taking (a) the kidnapped Grail King and (b) a large grail (big enough to put a corpse inside) with them.

Worcestershire is not coastal. How do they expect to get home? They are probably going to need an airfield, neh? I want to portray Britain in 1939 is disorganised and hopelessly ill-prepared — perhaps even worse than it actually was — because of the disorder in the Grail King’s household.

So yes, good question. How did the Nazis get to England, and how do they expect to escape?


The same way the Donovan set up his collaboration with the Nazis in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade — offscreen.

Lady Alice is the sister of the Duke of Somerset. She socialises with conservative politicians, the Cliveden Set, and Sir Oswald Moseley. She entertains Society at Wychurst House in St Georges. Surely the German diplomatic service exists to make contact with people like her.

Um. Getting out is not going to be easy; AFAIK all civil flying has been stopped, the RAF is watching for attack, and an unexpected aircraft is highly likely to be spotted (by radar if nothing else) and forced down.

If the Ahnenerbe can effectively disguise themselves as British civilians, with plausible-looking papers, they might have a better chance of getting cross-country to a useful coast.

Good thought! Wychbury Ring is an Iron-Age hill-fort, I can pretend that it consists of concentric rings, each with a gate and challenge. Urban’s expertise as an antiquary and specialist in fairy lore could be crucial here, or there could be a challenge that is suitable to each of the PCs.

The Ahnenerbe have folklore experts who can figure out the challenges. Ot perhaps they have a secret weapon, or a bunch of prepared thingummies to circumvent each challenge. Or perhaps they are counting on Urban and Sir Edwin to open the way for them. Could they have Lady Alice as a hostage? I’m afraid that if I don’t make the stakes clear my players will say "let them shoot their hostage; that’s not as bad as them getting the Grail/Arthur.

Perhaps he has been reading Dr Urban’s publications, and knows that he is the leading expert on British folklore. Perhaps there is something else about Urban. Left-handed redhead? Seventh son of a seventh daughter?

If the Wychursts were a Recusant family and Urban an RC priest, then Sir Edwin might suppose that Urban is a virgin. But if Urban were an RC priest I could see him reacting to Arthur’s confession as the set-up requires.

I had been supposing that they had their own plan, with Ahnenerbe expertise in lore and perhaps a Nazi secret weapon, because I couldn’t see how news of Sir Edwin’s operation could have leaked. But that makes their presence in the plot a bit of a coincidence. Perhpas it would be better if Sir Edwin had unwisely confided in Lady Alice, who took advantage of the opportunity. But wouldn’t she then be able to pull it off with her BUF bother-boys? She wouldn’t need to engage the Ahnenerbe. I’m afraid that if the Nazis are reliying on the PCs to open the path for them that will give away too early that Lady Alice is a traitor.

To get arms for her BUF bullies and prestige with other factions of the BUF.
To get custody of Sir Edwin and Arthur to either kill them, or force their abdications, or work a spell of deposition on them. If she just murders Sir Edwin Arthur becomes Grail King, which is no use to her and, given where Arthur is and in what circumstances, would be disastrous for Britain.

We have that capability (to quote the eminent Mr Lancelot Brown). Moreover she can according to how things are going be a dea ex machina for either side, or a fake hostage.

Exactly! Well put! I have to either integrate the Nazis properly into the plot or else cut them out.

I wonder whether it would be desirable to include the actual Cauldron of Brân the Blessed rather than my beloved metaphorical Grail. It could be under the cellars of Wychurst Hall, or in the crypt of Worcester Cathedral, or sunk the the source of the Severn (that’s in some Welsh mountains somewhere, isn’t it?) or in the source of some other, special, tributary of the Severn. Is there a stream that arises near St. Kenelm’s or Wychbury Hill? Then Lady Alice could have told the Ahnenerbe that they have to raid the Ring to get it, where she needs them to get in, but her objective there is to kill Arthur.

There’s some minimal water visible to the east on Google Map and Google Terrain, though not other maps; looks as if it runs along the edge of the next patch of wood (Roundhill Wood), and crosses Pedmore Lane going north. Zoom about 16 to catch it.

Lady Alice bothers me here.

I think that she would have to have somehow become privy to her husband’s project.

She could have an informant among the servants or perhaps she could be another one who had betrayed her son in some way. Her husband would give her the chance to make things good.

I think she needs a motive that explains why she is using the BUF and the Ahnenerbe to hijack her husband’s ritual. I would suggest either:

  1. She wants access to the cauldron to bring back to life the child she lost before the birth of Arthur. She would then have control of the heir to the Sacred Kingship and could dedicate him to her own political views.
  2. She is currently pregnant by somebody among her acquaintanceship. Perhaps Sir Oswald Moseley! And she wants her husband and son gone so that she can insert her child into the Sacred Kingship.

Both results would end the foolish conflict with Germany and bring Britain into its proper place in the world…

Blah, blah, blah… Insert fascist rant here.

Unless you can make it somehow important to the plot I wouldn’t bring the landscape forming the Cup/Grail/Cauldron at all. Of course in a dream world the two can be made to flow together if that’s important to you.

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It is perhaps usefully notable that Ribbentrop appears genuinely to have believed that if he could get the King of England supporting Hitler, the rest of the country would cheerfully fall in line behind him. So the Ahnenerbe plot may well involve influencing the King or replacing him with their own man, leading to immediately political rewards; Lady Alice is probably thinking more in terms of metaphysical rewards.

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Or perhaps Sir Edwin himself, unaware of her political extremism and foreign connections, doesn’t see any need to be secret from her, and was clear if not explicit. She is a very intelligent woman, and knows more about the Grail Kingship etc. etc. than Sir Edwin supposes that she would believe. A few allusions to seven-year anniversaries and hoping to find Arthur alive and well might be enough to clue her in.

His ideal outcome is of course that she forgives him for his adulteries and alienating Arthur, that they reconcile, and that with their marriage back in order Britain can sort itself out and prevail. Getting Arthur dried out and back on his feet then killing himself is the backup plan. (Killing Arthur, then himself, so that Dr. Charette’s son succeeds is not even something that he knows is possible.)

Is it unthinkable that she should aspire to be the sacred queen regnant? That she should take the political fate of Britain into her own hands rather than putting them into some man’s?

I really want to make her a strong character who is playing for the same stakes as the men. I think that giving her a “womanly” or sentimental motive, having her expect to realise her ambitions for or through her husband or children, diminishes her and is unfair. She’s the “All will love me and despair!” type, nothing less.

Lady Alice is probably old enough that a pregnancy is an implausible plot device. Arthur was an officer in WWI and must have been born in about 1897 — supposing that his mother was seventeen then would make her 59 now.

I do quite good fascist rants.

Fair enough. Metaphorical grails are one of my darlings, and ought therefore to be viewed with some suspicion.

Is Rugby the right school for Gonville and Arthur Wychurst to have been chums at? Or should it have been Harrow or Winchester?

Is Wadham the right college for Urban to be a fellow of?

What were the weapons and cars issued to the Sweeney in 1939?

Ought Dr Charette to be a Freudian or a Jungian?

Who fished the murex up? What porridge had John Keats?

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Right, and Ribbentrop thought that his man was living in Paris at the time. Then I think the Jacobite heir was living in Florence, but very much not the Nazis’ man. But Lady Alice was born Lady Alice Somerset. She is a Beaufort. To her the Stuarts are blow-ins just as much as the Welfs were and the Wettins are.

Lady Alice Wychurst, née Somerset, is certainly primarily interested in the metaphysical rewards of being the regina sacrorum in sui juris. She wants to be the Sacred Queen of England. She wants the divine chrism of the Sacred monarchy for herself.

But also she thinks England needs whipping into shape, rescuing it from the puling crapitude it has descended into since the Great War. She thinks someone ought to impose a strong, orderly, vigorous regime that will unite the People and make Britain great again. And although knows all the the political leaders in the country, some of them quite well (e.g. Moseley) she has yet to meet a man more able to lead a country than she is.

Chain Home coverage in 1939 was far from complete, and French radar was poor. I think they could fly low down the Severn and Bristol Channel then turn south over west Somerset and East Devon.

With a cauldron and a kidnap victim. Not going to be easy. They will need a lorry or a railway goods van. British uniforms and military papers would be handy. Where ought they to make for?