Book Notes: Captains of Fortune - Profiles of Six Italian Condottieri

Captains of Fortune - Profiles of Six Italian Condottieri, isn't available as an e-book anywhere. Since notes and quotations are scarce, I've pulled out some relevant passages, mostly related to supernatural, surprising, or D&D-adjacent events. The book isn't particularly well written or well researched, but there aren't many books in English on the topic. If you want an editorial exercise, go through the sentences below and mercilessly cut words. All eccentricities of punctuation are the author's. All spelling mistakes are transcription errors.

Ezzelino da Romano (1149-1259)

The Devil, it seems, became so fond of his son Ezzelino that he assigned a demon to sleep near the boy - and, as Ezzelino grew into manhood, to counsel him in every crisis, to help him avoid dangers, to accompany him on all his travels, and to predict future events on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays (certainly no demon could issue predictions on Saturdays and Sundays, for these were, respectively, dedicated to the Madonna and to God).
The peasants who now inhabit the lands once part of their domains, one in the north and the other in the south of Italy, affirm that their ghosts prowl through the ruined castles and cry with the winds in mortal pain.
The hair on his head was coal black, straight, almost stiff, and very abundant, giving rise to the story that his hair stood up straight like a dog's when in anger... In after years, this darkness of aspect was cited by Ezzelino's enemies not only as proof of his infernal paternity, but also as proof that he was part dog. Though he spoke softly and with much eloquence, it was said that he could never start a conversation without first barking. It was said, as further indication of his canine nature, that he had a special predilection for dogs, and that he taught them to tear apart the unfortunates in his prisons.
Once, at a tournament dedicated to feasting and jousting, a mock siege of a castle was portrayed. A wooden tower, called the "Castle of Love", had been built. It was large enough to contain two hundred beautiful young women, adorned with rich silks, furs, jewels, and perfume. The young men were expected to attack with flowers and confetti, and free the maidens from imprisonment. So successful was the performance that the maidens were taken by storm; but somehow insults were exchanged, and sham turned suddenly into reality. Male shouts became curses, ladylike cries for rescue became screams for help, daggers were whipped from their sheaths, swords drew blood and the wooden castle was, in fact, about to be sacked. But Ezzelino, adroit with his weapons, whether attacker or defender, escaped with a whole skin in this brawl.
From over the Alps, in the spring of 1236, came five hundred German knights, massive armed, accompanied by one hundred of Federico's faithful Saracen archers, wearing flowing trousers, turbans, and carrying the deadly Eastern short bow... the Emperor brought with him not only his Saracen bodyguard and dancing girls, his trumpeters, astrologers, eunuch and wizards, but also his menagerie of lions, leopards on leash, apes, camels, bears, peacocks, falcons, and an elephant and a giraffe (the latter an animal then completely unknown in Europe).
The memory of Frederick II's giraffe stuck around... and happily, gives me another chance to whip out my favorite Gibbon quotation.
Commodus killed a camelopardalis or Giraffe, the tallest, the most gentle, and the most useless of the large quadrupeds. This singular animal, a native only of the interior parts of Africa, has not been seen in Europe since the revival of letters; and though M. de Buffon has endeavored to describe, he has not ventured to delineate, the Giraffe.
 H. H. Milman adds:
Note: The naturalists of our days have been more fortunate. London probably now contains more specimens of this animal than have been seen in Europe since the fall of the Roman empire, unless in the pleasure gardens of the emperor Frederic II., in Sicily, which possessed several. Frederic's collections of wild beasts were exhibited, for the popular amusement, in many parts of Italy.
Back to the book:
Ezzelino kept at his court such impressive astrologers as the wizard Sallion Buzaccherino, and the log-bearded Paolo Saracino, "a Negro from the boundaries of the Orient". But despite their best efforts at picking the most favourable dates, and Ezzelino's own ardour, no child was conceived... It was noted, sotto voce, that this union, like [Ezzelino]'s first, had not been blessed with children - and the reason: as a son of the Devil, he indulged in "unnatural" sexual behavior.

Castruccio Castracani (1281-1328)

They nurtured him carefully, and are not known to have left him lying untended in grape arbours - from fear, probably, of the fauns and satyrs, in whose existence they certainly firmly believed.
Perhaps in his bitterness Castruccio then said for the first time that phrase he so often repeated in after years: "God is a lover of strong men, because He always punished the weak with the strong."
He engaged himself, instead, to act for mercantile groups, guarding their persons and their goods with small bands of soldiers. The pay was poor and the responsibility suited dullards. Castruccio was made for bigger things.
That's right, OSR folks. Guarding caravans is for level 1 suckers.
[He] set himself up in great style among the young blades of the English court. He introduced Italian fashion for gentlemen: conical hats with rolled brims pointed in front; soft leather shoes, multi-coloured with long pointed tips; long hose (tights), form-fitting to the wait and parti-coloured; elegantly-worked belts for purse and dagger; brief tunics and cloaks of velvet and silks, richly brocaded and embroidered; rings on the forefinger, bracelets, and necklaces made of gold chains. But Castruccio continued to cut his hair short, not following the prevailing style of rolled in front, on the sides, and on the nape of the neck.
"Medieval" doesn't mean "everyone wears brown practical clothes."

Uguccione, informed of  Neri's failure to kill Castruccio, cursed his son for his indecision and weakness, and made a dash for Lucca with four hundred heavily-armed horsemen. He had not yet arrived when he was overtaken by messengers on foam-flecked horses, bringing him word that Pisa had rebelled, killed all the members of his family, and acclaimed a new signore who was Castruccio's friend. Uguccione did not turn back, but resolved to push ahead before Lucca could hear the news and shut its gates against him.
But the rising had failed chiefly because Messer Stefano di Poggio, the wisest and most dignified elder of the House, had insisted that the insurrectionists lay down their arms. He came at once to Castruccio, not to plead for himself, because he did not judge that necessary, but to pray for pardon for his relatives on the grounds of their youth, their quick tempers, their long friendship, and the obligations which Castruccio had to their House. Castruccio heard him out, then praised him for his wisdom and prudence... Indeed, he thanked God for having given him the opportunity to demonstrate his clemency and liberality. - he urged Stefano to have all the men of the Poggio come to him, that he might express to them his gratitude in person.

They came. Castruccio arrested them, imprisoned them, executed them all - including old Stefano.
He used the occasion to ferret out all who had opposed him. The strong he killed; the weak he exiled. He broke the back of the opposition by seizing all the goods and assets of entire families. He razed their palaces and towers to the ground, and used the stones to build himself an impregnable fortress within the city of Lucca.
Finally, he camped just outside the city. In insult to the Florentines, he coined money with their emblem (St. John the Baptist on one side, and the lily on the other), and "raced horses, men, and whores."
Now the Papacy, sunk to its lowest level, chose once again to challenge the Empire, also sunk to the depths. Both Pope and Emperor were but feeble parodies of the great Popes and great Emperors who were their predecessors; and the duel they waged had neither the grandeur nor the tragedy of the past. Though the phrases of invective were much the same, the words rang hollow. No one, including the principals, seemed terribly to care.

Sir John Hawkwood (1323-1394)

I've already done a Book Notes post on Hawkwood. It's probably worth re-reading.
...but on New Year's Eve, while the Milanese were celebrating, the Company raided within six miles of the city. They did not stop to burn or (this time) entertain themselves with women. They collected all the goods and chattels they could lay their hands on, and took over 600 nobles as prisoners - until the supply of rope gave out. From the ransoms they collected some 100,000 gold florins - a tidy fee for a night's work.
As the fame of the ferocious English had reached their ears, [the Pisans] decided to hire the White Company and loose it against the Florentines. The Florentines, in their turn, were stricken with terror at the news, and quickly hired  a formidable German mercenary force of their own. After some months of inconclusive fighting, the Pisans found that they could free themselves of neither the Florentines nor the English. It was Hawkwood who recognized that the Company was for the moment indispensable, and urged the men to make the most of it. So pleased were they with Hawkwood's advice that 150,000 gold florins were demanded, and received, as the next six months' pay; all spoils were assigned to the Company; free transit permitted in all Pisan territories; and the gates of Pisa itself opened for winter quarters - a riotous opportunity.
As a joke, drummers and trumpeters were sent down the hill to "assault" Florence - and so great was the racket that the bewildered and hysterical Florentines thought a night attack was imminent. Torches and oil lamps suddenly blazed in all houses; women screamed and fled to the top of towers.
Urban let loose a blast from Avignon which, had words been bombards, would have blown every mercenary soldier off the peninsula and into the sea. The Pope urged that all honest men seize arms against "that multitude of villains of diverse nations, associated in arms by avidity in appropriating to themselves the fruit of the labours of innocent and defenseless people; unbridled in every kind of cruelty, extorting money, and methodically devastating the country and the open towns, burning houses and barns, destroying trees and vines, obliging poor peasants to fly; assaulting, besieging, invading, spoiling, and ruining even fortresses and walled cities; torturing and maiming those from whom they expect to obtain ransom, without regard to ecclesiastical dignity or sex or age; violating wives, virgins, nuns, and constraining even gentlewomen to follow their camp, to do their pleasure and carry their arms and baggage."
For the Pontiff, whose efforts were wholly genuine and sincere, there remained only the objectionable method of fighting robbers with robbers; and it was not long before the Church found itself one of the chief employers of the detested mercenaries.
"We have in our own heart to regard with serene countenance and to anticipate at all times with our best favours your most amiable person, who rests nearest to our heart." The author of these words, addressed to Dilecto filio nobili viro Johanni Acuti, was the new occupant of the Apostolic Throne in Avignon, Gregory XI.

The letter was one of warm praise for Hawkwood's first big victory over the Visconti, tempered only slightly by the regret that "Bernabò, that son of Belial, had lost neither city, fortress, nor town of any sort". Nor did the Pope, for all his liberality with words, send any money for arrears of pay.
The Florentines, thus temporarily relieved of this threat, vented their feelings in an emotional explosion: they declared war on the Church. The impact in Italy was hardly less than if the sun and the moon suddenly had been reversed in their orbits. It was unthinkable, unbelievable that the leading Guelf city for so many generations could thus reverse itself.
Hawkwood meanwhile had removed himself temporarily from the conflict. He made a leisurely tour of Tuscany with the Holy Company, visiting Pisa, Lucca, Siena, Arezzo, and smaller towns. Within little more than three months he collected 174,800 florins of gold - payments advanced him not to fight.
As the Holy Company marched through the main gate, the people - well aware of Hawkwood's reputation - began to cry out, "Long live the Church!" Hawkwood looked at them grimly, then issued a proclamation that every citizen must consign his arms. This done, he ordered a sack, to compensate his soldiers for pay they had not received.

The English mercenaries drove the men, the old, and the children outside the walls; they kept inside the young women and the girls. A hostile chronicler... describes the following incident: two English captains were dueling for possession of a nun, when Hawkwood, in disgust, drew his sword and sliced her in two, exclaiming, "Half for each . . .!"
In Bologna, the chronicler sadly summed up: "People no longer believe in Pope or cardinals - for these are the things to crush one's faith . . ."
Meanwhile, to show his good faith, he notified them that he had secret information of a plot to overthrow their government. There would be, certainly, a  slight fee for the service: 50,000 florins for complete revelation of the intrigue, plus the names of the conspirators . . . or 20,000 florins without the names. The Signora, though quavering and fearful, sent a representative to haggle about the price. In the end, a deal was made for 12,000 florins, omitting the names.
...the Verona forces were equipped with three machines on wheels, carrying between them 402 very small mortars (bombards) mounted on different levels. The bombards, utilizing gunpowder, hurled "stones as large as hens eggs".
Magic also entered into this campaign. It was said that as the Padovans retreated, they found all their wine had been poisoned. But "Ser Giovanni Acuto, with his ring, put it right again". Worse still, a little later they found that the wells were poisoned. But, "hearing this, Acuto, who had with him an unicorn horn five feet long, had let it down into the wells - and cutting it in many portions he gave to drink from it those injured, and thus remedied the cursed scheme of the enemy."
But, on the coming of darkness, Hawkwood quietly broke camp, leaving empty tents with banners flying, and a group of trumpeters with instructions to blow reveille as usual at daybreak. At intervals along the route of his retreat he shrewdly left wagons and asses loaded with booty - the surest way to slow the advance of mercenary soldiers.

Francesco Bussone da Carmagnola (1382-1432)

The news spread through the streets of Milano with shouts of joy: the young Duke was dead, murdered on the steps of the Church of San Gottardo. A band of equally youthful conspirators, all nobles, had stabbed him in the heart, the abdomen, the neck. His bleeding body, left where it fell, had been covered with red roses by a prostitute - a spot of brilliant colour in the hazy Lombard sunlight that May morning of 1412.

Giovannia Maria Visconti was only twenty-four, but he had reigned as Duke for ten troubled years. In that decade he had accumulated such a loathing for himself as could hardly have been exceeded in a century.
Nor was the situation made any more hopeful by the news that Facino Cane, commander of the young Duke's armies, lay dying in Pavia, the ancestral stronghold of the Visconti. During the very moments when the young Duke was struck down with mortal wounds, Facino Cane expired, leaving chaos and on chaos. Cane had been one of the most successful of the old Duke's condottieri - an astute general, an effective campaigner. Though loyal many years to the House of Visconti, at the old Duke's death he too had seized lands and towns for himself during the general disintegration . . . and thus had become one of the richest mercenary soldiers in Italy.
His armies were organized with meticulous care, his discipline rigorous, his captains inspired by his own example to surmount every obstacle.He scrupulously kept all his promises, and was greatly admired by his men. "To military science," wrote a commentator, "he added an abundance of sagacity, using, according to the occasion, now force, now means hidden and deceptive, and sometimes also cruelty."
The peculiarities of Filippo Maria had intensified through the years. He so feared death that he would never permit the word to be uttered in his presence; and at the approach of death even his favourites were removed from the castle, regardless of their agonies. He himself was protected from bodily harm by devices of the most elaborate nature. All who entered the castle were watched by "hundreds of eyes"; all who entered his presence were kept surrounded by burly guards. He built secret chambers, so secret that he seemed completely to disappear for weeks at a time.
Sounds like a proper OSR dungeon if I've ever seen one.

The details of negotiating a condottiero's services are fairly interesting, especially with the fussy and bureaucratic Venetians.
Carmagnola reccomended that he be given a condotta of 500 lances, to serve under his personal orders, with a stipend of 13 ducats per lance per month. The Venetians replied that they deemed a total of 300 lances sufficient for a condotta - but for the present they could authorize only 200 lances.

In times of war, said Carmagnola, the condotta would require the services of 300 foot soldiers. Very well, said the Venetians, in case of war he would be provided in a manner to make him content. And out outfit the condotta of 500 lances, an advance payment of 60 ducats per lance would be needed. Oh no, said the Venetians, an advance of 50 ducats per lance should be more than enough - though after a review of the question, the additional 10 ducats might be added. Furthermore, each month one-half the regular stipend must be withheld until the advance was fully repaid.

As the regulations required one page per lance, Carmagnola noted that it would simplify the records to inscribe them by units. Do as you like, said the Venetians, so long as the name of every page was listed. [Carrying "dead lances" or padding the rolls with unnamed pages were apparently common tactics.]

Fugitives or soldiers absent without leave should be allowed fifteen days in which to return, without prejudice to their stipend, proposed Carmagnola. No - ten days absence was the maximum, said the Venetians.

When brawls arose among the soldiers, Carmagnola advised that he should have full authority for adjudicating such conflicts. No, said the Venetians, the official rectors were the natural administrators of justice in both civil and criminal cases, and their authority should extend also to mercenary services.

No soldier was to be dismissed arbitrarily, said Carmagnola -  to him should be reserved the right of dismissal, and also of augmenting or diminishing the number of horses. The Venetians replied that in these manners it would be satisfactory to receive written reports for the council's perusal.

Full dress military reviews should not be required more than once a month, nor should corporals or sappers be required to wear gorget or dagger, Carmagnola recommended. Agreed, said the Venetians.

In the matter of lodgings for himself and his staff, Carmagnola asked for exemption from paying rent. The Venetians responded that he and his aides must pay rent like anyone else.

Prisoners should remain under the jurisdiction of his company, Carmagnola proposed; but all the towns, lands, fortresses, munitions, and arms captured should be given over to the Venetian Republic. To this crucial point the Venetians replied that the Republic demanded for itself the custody of all noble or important prisoners, but in the case of officers (who were not traitors) the Republic was willing to consign one-half the ransom money to the condottiero and his band.
At his disposal, as Captain General, Carmagnola had 16,000 heavily armed horsemen and 6,000 foot soldiers. These included all his special units - the artillery, the sappers, the wall scalers. The pages, the armourers, the grooms, the commissary and the supply units boosted the total considerably above that figure.
Though the month was late April, Carmagnola asserted that the army could not move because the grass was insufficient for the horses. The Venetians replied that by the time he could get his army on the move, the grass would have grown.
Also used for the first time was a highly mobile and threatening new weapon - massive crossbows mounted one above the other, to the number of three, on wheeled carriages. The javelins they flung were longer than the height of a man.
And this in 1427, when cannons were becoming increasingly common.

Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta (1417-1468)

Ah, the Malatesta!
From the earliest mention of the Malatesta family in history, in the twelfth century, it was renown for its eccentricity. All its members seemed relentlessly compelled to live up to the family nickname - the "Evil-Heads". The true name was forgotten.

The first names, too, were revealing. Mastin the elder, the "Mastiff" - immortalized by Dante, growled and snarled like his namesake. Ancestor Galeotto, whose name in the dim past meant "Galley-Slave" was transmuted by some process unknown into "Pimp" or "Panderer". Since the Malatesta were either notorious libertines or celibates, the name must have fit.
In the fourteenth century, the old dinner-party trick was tried by Ramberto Malatesta in an effort to be rid of his relations. He invited them all, and all came to dinner except a young woman named Polentesia (a Malatesta married to a Malatesta) whom Ramberto considered unimportant. At the dinner, Ramberto's nose began to bleed, and he excused himself from the table. He returned with armed men and took his relatives prisoner. When Polentesia heard of the trick, she armed herself and rushed to the piazza. When the treacherous Ramberto rode through, expecting to be hailed by his people, he was greeted instead with the cry of "Betrayer!" He fled for his life, and left Polentesia behind him victorious.
No sooner had he bowed than Malatestino whipped out a large knife, and Ramberto was very nearly split. Because the body cluttered the room, Malatestino ordered it thrown out the window.
If the Malatesta were notorious as lovers, as soldiers they were no less vigorous. So tough were they that the chroniclers avow that not one of them died of the Black Death. A later Galeotto was so hardened a campaigner that he was called simply "the Warrior".
Regards for books was a marked Malatesta characteristic... The library building still stands today, one of the architectural jewels of the Italian Renaissance - the Malatesta elephant carved on its facade yet proclaiming in Latin, "The Indian Elephant Does not Fear Mosquitoes." Such was the contempt of the bellicose, turbulent, fierce, ascetic, licentious Malatesta brood for their intellectual inferiors.
The subject of this chapter, Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta, thoroughly lived up to the family's reputation. Even in an eccentric time he was exceptional.
...the willful, impetuous, passionate young married man of twenty-eight who plunged, on first acquaintance, desperately in love with a girl of twelve. He adored her delicate features and swept back, long blonde hair. He marveled at her laughter, the extent of her learning, the charm of her conversation. By the time she was thirteen, she was pregnant with his child; by the time she was fourteen he had begun work on her tomb.
In fact, Isotta would outlive Sigismondo and die (of slow poison, if you believe the chroniclers) in either 1474 (according to Wikipedia) or 1470 (according to the book).
Already in 1437, Sigismondo had cleared away houses to begin the foundations of his first great building enterprise: the Castel Sismondo. Now he hastened to the work, for he had urgent need of an impregnable fortress. He designed six towers eighty feet high, to rise at intervals above the castle walls. In between were many small towers and bastions. Around walls fifty-five feet thick he dug a moat one hundred feet wide and thirty-five feet deep. Each gate was protected by a drawbridge and portcullis. Above the main gate the Malatesta arms were carved, and in Gothic letters, SIGISMUNDUS PANDULFUS. Eight years were required for the castle's completion. The whole impression was stern, forbidding, grim. But for all its frowning aspect, soon this castle would become the seat of one of the gayest and most brilliant courts in Renaissance Italy.
All was topsy-turvy. Now Sigismondo was supported by Naples and the Pope, and opposed by [his father-in-law] Francesco Sforza . . . secretly aided by Federigo of Urbino. And things would have gone hard with Sigismondo had not reinforcements arrived from Venice. The Serene Republic had no wish to be squeezed by a Sforza who was potentially a Duke of Milano . . . though Sforza was on the Venetian payroll!
While the Milanese situation remained undecided, plague broke out in Rimini. The court shut itself up in the Castel Sismondo, and denied all comings and goings. Sigismondo, frantic with fear for Isotta, took every possible precaution to protect her health. His wife Polissena, on the other hand, he ignored. Polissena, to escape from the disease which ravaged the city, fled to the hills behind Rimini, to the Convent of Scolca. Safety, she thought, lay behind the sacred walls.

One morning in June, 1449, the body of the unloved Polissena was found could and inert. She had been - announced the Mother Superior - strangled to death. Quickly she was buried in a nameless grave.
To his clerical deputies the Pope wrote: "For the humiliation of Sigismondo put into operation all your projects and all your courage. Night and day think on the means of rendering, in the most efficacious manner, damage to the enemy. Sigismondo is a contagion which it is necessary to annihilate: he is inveterate in evil - he has neither faith nor soul."

Giovanni de' Medici (1498-1526)

As this chapter deals entirely with Renaissance politics (the Medici, the Borgias, etc.), it's not really relevant to the pointcrawl project, so I've decided to omit it. The film The Profession of Arms (Il mestiere delle armi) covers a portion of his life.

1d100 Condottieri Events

1d100 100 Condottieri Events
1 Shrewdly, he leagued himself with his father's old enemy...
2 ...announced that he had been forced to flee to save his life; but this was part of a maneuver to arouse public opinion.
3 With each victory he replaced one more missing piece of the great realm which belonged to the old Duke.
4 Despite these honours and affections, he seems to have felt little affection for his paymasters.
5 When he caught friars in armour, they were hanged, sometimes with cow dung covering their tonsures.
6 ...the town spirit quickly reversed itself, and the citizens were filled with despair and anger.
7 He expressed his disgust by abducting (with her consent) a beautiful young widow from a nearby castle...
8 He so feared death that he would never permit the word to be uttered in his presence.
9 They succeed in breaking the enemy's ranks, driving them back to camp, and taking 1,200 prisoners.
10 All proclaimed piously their respect for the Holy Father and his high office, and totally ignored his injunctions.
11 His strategy was not to sustain a siege, but to meet the enemy where his forces had room to maneuver.
12 He was wined and feted, and ladies blushed or became ecstatic in his presence.
13 But an illness, coupled with despair, drained his strength; soon husband and wife were dead.
14 The Emperor called a halt to the uproar, feeling that the town had suffered enough.
15 He was a creature of innumerable "poor" relations, who saw in him means for advancing their hopes.
16 He accused the captain of not following orders, of the improper assumption of leadership, of personal dishonesty.
17 He returned with armed men and took his relatives prisoner. 
18 They were seen only by occasional peasants or wandering friars, who either were friendly or fled in fright.
19 He got no further than a small village, where he succumbed to malaria and died.
20 Except for the most rabid partisans of the old feuds, all were relieved at the return to tranquility.
21 To the astonishment of everyone, he did not lay siege. Instead he halted five miles outside the town...
22 He saved himself by quick flight into a swamp, where he hid among canes in water up to his neck.
23 But this was to be only the first in a series of half-failures, errors in  judgement, and outright defeats...
24 If they wanted him, it would cost them dear - far more, in fact, than they were currently willing to pay.
25 Grasping, ruthless, officially pious, and ferociously ignorant...
26 They appeared unaware that garrisons, disease, and desertion were taking a daily toll from their ranks.
27 Since they had not the steel to subdue their enemies, they turned to gold.
28 Defeat turned into rout, rout into slaughter, slaughter into disaster.
29 To the Pope he was "a heretic and emasculator of boys."
30 He himself was protected from bodily harm by devices of the most elaborate nature.
31 She redoubled her bombardment of the enemy, aiming particularly at the palace...
32 But not once - not for a day or even an hour - did the sun shine. It was a bad omen, said the astrologers.
33 But the horse sprouted wings, people claimed, and the young King crossed the river bone dry.
34 He was, thereafter, the darling of the oligarchy; his perpetual employment was guaranteed.
35 The town was well defended, "with high spirits and virility" - as the chronicler wrote. But to no avail.
36 Now he was over seventy, but he entered the field fully armed and buoyant as a young knight at a tourney.
37 He had been given an elaborate feast, quantities of wax and sweetmeats, and draperies of silk and wool.
38 ...besieged the castle of the young Count, took it, then set the boy free with all his arms, goods, and retinue.
39 It was whispered, falsely, that he set his hounds on his enemies, allowing dogs to feast on human flesh.
40 Their confidence became insolence, and they advanced carelessly to skirmish.
41 Along the route at intervals were gibbets; from some hung bodies, hands bound behind the back...
42 ...at the rescue of his concubine by her relatives, he gave up at last and entered a monastery.
43 An ambitious merchant seized power during the municipal confusion and unrest which followed the defeat.
44 Torches and oil lamps suddenly blazed in all houses; women screamed and fled to the top of towers.
45 ...and in the night took the castle (by bribing the gatekeeper) which dominated the road.
46 ...abduction had turned into seduction, adulation into adultery.
47 His bewilderment began to give way to an overwhelming bitterness. He was being left in limbo.
48 ...marched out of the western gate to the sound of trumpets and pealing church bells, as if on parade.
49 At the councils of war, they all talked at once while the competent commanders remained silent.
50 Now priests actively buckled on armour, and the mendicant monks went up and down the land preaching crusade.
51 ...they sacked farmhouses, spent their time playing dice, and faked reports when they returned.
52 ...he imprisoned their women and children as hostages, and confiscated their property.
53 He ignored completely the rumours which sprang up on the subject of his wife's grotesque and mysterious end.
54 Salvation did not trouble him; his earthly enemies were more real than the Devil.
55 His untouched wife had been disposed of by an accusation of adultery with a page (admitted under torture)...
56 ...and selling the rest of the furniture to the people of the neighboring towns.
57 ...and secretly made arrangements for a double assault - one from without and one from within.
58 The occupation of his mother is uncertain, though she may have entertained gentlemen on the side.
59 ...to retrieve the boy-hostages, agreed not only to a sixteen-month truce, but restored every prisoner...
60 Many other agreements awarded the Duke castles and towns with only the effort of a signature.
61 ...sedentary, fat, embarrassingly ugly, too timid to hunt.
62 Part of his men he sent to the plain, as bait; with the other part, by forced march, he occupied hillsides.
63 Nor did the Pope, for all his liberality with words, send any money for arrears of pay.
64 ...who had seemed temporarily paralyzed by her unexpected return from the dead.
65 A week later, an irreparable breach was made in the castle walls.
66 One would-be assassin, when seized, bit off his own tongue in the expectation of bleeding to death.
67 He could hardly have been prepared, in view of his later actions, for the letter which one day arrived from the Duke.
68 She felt compelled to confess the true paternity of her two sons, not to a priest, but to her sons themselves.
69 The people were divided, though the majority wanted to open the gates, and bedlam arose.
70 By the single act of the mine's seizure, they impoverished  the family.
71 The prisoners were uncounted, and more than ten thousand men lay dead upon the battlefield.
72 A subject, speaking after his death, called him "a just man, of great valour, and without peer."
73 Carefully the merchant-nobles divided the spoils in advance...
74 Hand-in-hand the pair vanished, probably in that most effective of all disguises - the habits of monks.
75 By her father she was regarded with despair, by her husband with secret disgust.
76 He hurled himself against the opposing line, and, without guarding himself, sought the enemy captain.
77 This dream was interpreted as forewarning of disasters about to overtake the House...
78 All who were seriously wounded were drowned from the weight of their armour.
79 Water was scarce, the hills dry, the nights almost as breathlessly hot as the days.
80 With insidious effect they used astrologers to colour the Duke's attitudes and dilute his enthusiasms...
81 They decamped like madmen, scrambling for horses, leaving baggage and equipment behind.
82 No troops showed except a few rapacious adventurers; nor did the promised fleet arrive.
83 ...hated almost as much for his clemencies as for his repressions.
84 Because the body cluttered the room, he ordered it thrown out the window.
85 At this moment she was more concerned with the health of her baby boy than with affairs of state.
86 While the Mass was in progress, the troops began sacking the city - a sack which lasted eight days.
87 Lack of exercise and self-indulgence in food had not approved his appearance.
88 Upon the death of the old Marquis, both of his sons rejoiced at being free of his restraining hand.
89 His professed admiration could only conceal jealousy and envy.
90 ...stricken with violent stomach pains, and calmly announced his own approaching end.
91 ...she had begun to acquire that lurid reputation which would one day cause her name to rival her brother's.
92 But the explosion failed to destroy the tower, and she did not die, as she had planned.
93 The captured arms were stacked before the general's tent in a mountain of steel...
94 No compromise was admissible... or possible. He ordered new armour, and sharpened his sword.
95 After the celebration, he felt ill and feverish. Within a few days he slipped into a coma and died.
96 He "cut through the air like a swallow", people said, and invested the town by surprise.
97 ...but suddenly he stopped and entrenched himself on a hillock with a ruined castle in his rear.
98 Now followed a period of busy comings and goings of ambassadors, with much talk of peace.
99 Outflanked and surrounded, pushed into valleys from heights, cut off in segments and herded like cattle...
100 However great his rages, it was always in his character to be self-controlled.

Side Note: There's not a lot of biographical information on the author, Joseph Jay Deiss, out there. He was married, had children, had a fairly successful career... yet I get the sense from this book that he was (consciously or not) slightly romantically fond of young athletic men with tousled hair. Bits of description remind me of Mr. Pedigree from Darkness Visible.

One example can stand for many:
The ex-peasant boy was delighted at being promoted to the command of a castle and the defense of a duke. He was proud that the new Duke had recognized him personally, and had praised his appearance and spoken favourably of his future. But in the Duke's presence he sometimes felt more than a little flustered - perhaps because their ages were almost exactly the same. His own body, in contrast to the Duke's, was muscled and well-shaped, and both on foot and on horseback he was graceful and poised in a simple, natural way. But the Duke, with a quip, could make him feel awkward and stiff. Then the ruddy colour of his sunburned cheeks deepened, and the clear, calm chestnut eyes clouded with a trace of a frown. Certainly he admired the Duke - almost extravagantly, in spite of Filippo's ugliness. He admired his cleverness of tongue, his sagacity, his knowledge of books and art, his title and the fame of his House. The Duke, for his part, professed to admire Francesco's bravery, strength, skill at arms, honesty and loyalty. Yet from the very beginning of the relationship a curious, hidden tension existed between them, as if invisibly they wrestled together.

It is not impossible that the cultivated Duke and the gifted soldier, each appraising the other, longed for some of the other's characteristics. If in body and mind each was the antithesis of the other, they also complemented one another. Each needed from the other what he himself lacked. And, face to face, no doubt each recognized their dominant trait in common: personal ambition, restless and seeking. In the fulfillment, what might be described as love would turn to hate.


  1. PLease give us our Sequal to tomb of the Serpent Kings!

    Your Non-Linear Masterpiece a al Caverns of Thracia!

    Your fans demand it!

  2. This is exactly the odd content I'm glad we have the Internet for. I don't know where that d100 table will fit in one of my games, but it sure is going *somewhere* in my games

  3. Ooh, inspiring! Quick question: I'm working on a post with retirement or alternate career options for PCs. Basically putting a mark-up on the five year expected income. Joining a mercenary band sounds like exactly the bad decision adventurers make.
    --> Have you ever found a ballpark for the kind of income such a band could expect?

    1. Yeah, absolutely!
      This article is immensely helpful: http://deremilitari.org/2014/08/profit-and-loss-in-the-hundred-years-war-the-subcontracts-of-sir-john-strother-1374/
      Or, in the source above, one Lance of 3 men (a man-at-arms/knight, a squire/archer, and a page) could expect ~13 ducats per month in pay, probably divided 8:4:1 or something.
      The Medieval Price List: https://coinsandscrolls.blogspot.com/2017/09/osr-medieval-price-list.html
      Uses 1gp ~= 1 florin = 1 £ = 1 ducat. Give or take.

  4. Oh, SWEET! Thank you very much!