Monday, July 16, 2012

Bearwards of Weyland

One of the common amusements of Middlemark was a "sport" known as bear-baiting. While this past-time has all but died out in Stonemark and is not common to be seen in Claulan or Anarea, its roots are deep in Weyland and it continues to be popular in the Thornwood region to a degree not seen anywhere else. The practice (which has been called deplorable by Aellonians, who claim that the natural dignity of all creatures involved are insulted) focuses around a traveling entertainer and his bear, who is chained to a stake. The chain is long enough to allow the bear to maneuver (but short enough to prevent it from attacking any of the people involved).

Hungry (and possibly mad) dogs are driven to attack the bear, and then bets are placed on who shall be the victor. Bearwards are the men who own the bears and who travel to bring the shows from town to town and city to city. They are a strange and unpleasant lot. The kit below describes is for the thief class, and its use describe the common bearward of Weyland.

Description: Bearwards are the men and women of the Thornwood who capture bears and take them on tours of the countryside to fight in bear-baiting contests. The word is also used to describe those who take and train bears for less violent shows (such as dancing, or performing tricks). They are generally regarded very lowly, below even actors and vagabonds.

Because of the toll of capturing and hauling bears from place to place, the Bearward must have a Strength of 12. Additionally, the nimbleness required to stay apace of a bear and to set the traps required to catch one means bearwards must have a Dexterity of 14.

Role: Bearwards are entertainers first and foremost, though many are also petty thieves. It's easy to fleece a crowd of coin when their eyes are on the bear or, even better, to make bets as to the bear's viability in the fight. Some unscrupulous bearwards even poison or hobble their bears so they can bet against them.

Bearwards without bears are frequently outlaws or bandits, and they most certainly do not fit in with any set of society other than the ubiquitous road-folk such as cotters, travelers, and actors. They often carry their homes with them in wagons or even on their backs, or beg stay at local lord's manors in return for a show.

Secondary Skills: Any.

Weapon Proficiencies: Bearwards may use any weapon normally permitted thieves. In addition, they may know how to use the light crossbow and a single polearm of their choice for disciplining their bears at a distance if it becomes enraged.

Nonweapon Proficiencies: Required: animal handling (bears), animal training (bears), set snares. Recommended: Alertness, Fast-Talking, Rope Use.

Skill Progression: Of all the skills of a thief, the dexterity of pick-pockets is the most likely to be focused on by a Bearward where it can be used to lift items off the crowd that's watching a show. The other most common thief skill for bearwards is climb walls, useful for clambering up trees when a bear gets lose.

Equipment: Bearwards may use any equipment permitted thieves. They generally carry a number of bear-traps and snares with them (many of them non-harmful) so they can capture a new bear if their current specimen dies off. Bearwards wearing flashy or ostentatious clothing are likely to be viewed with suspicion.

Special Benefits: Bearwards begin play with a bear which may or may not be mangy and angry. Depending on how the bear is treated (for example, with kindness and not forced to participate in any bear-baitings but only to do tricks) it may be a more or less useful companion. Nevertheless, a bearward will never let his bear roam free for it is not a dog, and is always dangerous.

In an extremely desperate situation, he may attempt to use the bear to help defend himself, but an abused animal is as likely to attack its warden as it is a foe. A more well-treated bear may behave differently, but in any event the result is best left to a random dice-roll.

As long as a bearward has his bear he may beg for shelter at a noble's manor in exchange for a performance of some kind. Indeed, he may also perform in public squares and in towns to generate some money. Generally admission to a bear-baiting show is a few copper coins a head and in a particularly large town it is easy enough to bring several hundred people to see it.

If a bearward's bear dies, he must capture a new one to continue making the rounds as part of this kit.

Special Hinderances: It's hard to bring a bear most places, including into temples and other such things. Bearwards always stand out, must necessarily find places to house their bears when they must leave them behind, and are always the object of suspicion, particularly from the upper classes.

Races: Elves would never subject beasts to such disgrace. They cannot take this kit. While it is unlikely for halflings or gnomes to become bearwards, their cultural taboos are not as strong as the elves and thus, they may take this kit. Dwarves and men, particularly those of Weyland, see no issue with this sport and make frequent bearwards.

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