Cattle Raid Solo

by Thomas Lindgren

A favorite pastime of some Orlanthi tribes (such as those in East Ralios) is stealing cattle from each other.

Gather a Raiding Band

The first task of the would-be cattle raider is to join an existing band of cattle raiders, or gather a band of willing compatriots. When the cattle raid is done, the raiders disperse and go back to their normal duties.

Joining a band of raiders

If you are looking to join a band, roll on the following table. The number of Raider Values is the strength of your party.
Cattle Raiders Gather
1-15No band gathers
16-18Young men go raiding (2d6 RV)
19Married men go raiding (2d6+6 RV)
20King goes raiding (3d6+6 RV)

Forming a band of raiders

In order to form a band of raiders, you must roll an Oratory roll. If you make the roll, the young men of the tribe will join you, the Raider Chief (2d6 RV). If you critical the roll, the married men will go with you (2d6+6 RV). A failure means no one is interested. If you fumble, everyone jeers at you and go home.

Note: The number of cattle in a herd should be determined by the campaign; I haven't come up with any "good" method without making assumptions about what is normal.

Sneak up on Herd

The cattle raid begins by locating a prospective herd. This needs two rolls. First, the Raider Chief rolls an Animal Lore roll to locate a good herd. If he succeeds, a normal herd of animals is the target. If he criticals, the herd is large. If he fails, a small herd is the target. If he fumbles, the band go out in the woods and find nothing some days later.

Then, a designated tracker rolls Hunting to sneak up on the herd. If no player volunteers, the Hunting roll equals the Raider Value of the band.

Hunting rollResult
CriticalHerders sleep; +10 to Stealing roll
SuccessHerders unaware; +0 to Stealing roll
FailureHerders alert; -5 to Stealing roll
FumbleHerders ambush; skirmish w/o stealing

Steal Cattle

The band has crept up on the herd and now prepare to fool the herders and get away with the animals. Roll on the Cattle Stealing table, as modified by the Hunting roll above. Treat rolls of less than 1 as 1 and more than 20 as 20.
d20Cattle stealing
1-2Skirmish, fumble, ambushed
3-5Skirmish, fumble
11-15Steal 25%
16-17Steal 50%
18-19Steal 75%
20Steal 100%
If there is a skirmish, the number of Herder Values (HV) is 2d6/2d6+3/2d6+6 for small/medium/large herds. There is a skirmish, comparing the RV and HV. If the raiders win, they can steal 50% of the cattle. Otherwise, they must do without. Raider Chiefs match their Battle against a Battle of 2d6+3.

If fumbled getaway, the owners track you down. Legal problems may ensue, especially if herders were killed, or your intrepid band may get to guard the cattle against counter-raids for the rest of the season (unless the chief leads your band). No Status is gained in this case.

Present Herd to Chieftain

The raiders go back to their village and present the captured animals to their chief, who accepts them with benevolence. If the raiders have been tracked, the trackers may come forth with accusations. In this case, Status gained is halved.

The raiders each gain 2 points of Status per animal stolen. The Raider Chief gains 10 points of Status per animal. As the cattle are presented, an Oratory roll is made by the Raider Chief; if it succeeds, a further 25 Status is gained by the Chief. If it criticals, 50 Status are gained. If it is fumbled, the Raider Chief's Status gain is halved. (It may be halved twice.) A failed Oratory roll has no effect.

Receive Largesse of Chieftain

The Chieftain now distributes the captured animals to the subjects. He keeps the first, eleventh, and so on. The Raider Chief gets the second, twelfth, and so on. Every third, fifth, seventh, ninth, thirteenth etc, goes to a raider. Every fourth, sixth, eighth, tenth, and so on, goes to someone else in the village.

Thus, the chief and raider chief gets 1/10 of the animals, and the other raiders share 2/5 of the animals. If the Raider Chief and the king are the same, the king may on a Generous roll distribute the King's share to the raiders. In this case, the share is split half-and-half between Raider Chief (i.e., the king!) and the other raiders.

If there are more raiders than animals, they are traded at the market when this is possible, or some other compensation is made.

Final notes

Do not hesitate to adjust the values shown here to suit your campaign. Skirmishes are not death-bouts, unless the owners are starving already. As said previously, the number of cattle varies with wealth, region, and otherwise general situation. Adjust Status gains if they become ridiculous one way or the other. Likewise, the herders may vary more widely.
Pendragon solos can be run by players, though this one needs a certain amount of GM assistance. I haven't yet introduced Thomas's solo to my campaign, but I might use it more as a GM aid to quickly preparing a raid.


Mike Maxwell on how large a herd a village might have in real life (and some further information on Ireland and cattle raiding for the interested).
Some examples of sizes of cattle herds in the British Isles from the Iron and Dark Ages (sources given in square brackets []).

A few notes:

Herds of cattle were generally maintained with many cows per bull; an old handbook (Waring 1880) gives a ratio of 30-40 cows per bull.

I am particularly interested in early Irish history and society. One subject about which I am not clear is how cattle raids were actually conducted. The tales tell of raiders swooping through enemy land on chariots. I, however, find it hard to believe that a force of men could efficiently slip into a foreign túath, round up cattle, and then drive off the herd, all the while bouncing atop chariots. For what they are worth, two separate sets of engravings from the 1500's depict Irish raiders carrying out cattle raids on foot (in one, the leader is horsed). These suggest that raids by foot were feasible, with the leaders probably being mounted.

I have not researched herd sizes in the medieval period all that much. Those interested might find books by Frances and Joseph Gies helpful. For the ambitious, I recommend checking out primary literature, such as The Domesday Book.

Sources for the above examples:

Barker, Graeme. 1985. Prehistoric farming in Europe. Cambridge University Press; Cambridge.

Wacher, John. 1978. Roman Britain. Dent and Sons; London. 1986 reprinting.

Waring, George E. 1880. The farmers' and mechanics' manual. Treat and Company; New York. Revised edition.

Mac Neill nicely summarizes the Uraicecht Becc in: Mac Neill, Eoin. 1921. Celtic Ireland. Academy Press; Dublin. 1981 reprinting.

Alternatively, one may wish to read the translation of the Uraicecht Becc in the journal article: Mac Neill, Eoin. 1923. Ancient Irish law: the Law of Status or Franchise. Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 36 C: 265-316.

Additionally, Irish law and society are discussed in the following books:

Kelly, Fergus. 1988. A guide to early Irish law. Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies; Dublin.

Patterson, Nerys T. 1991. Cattle-lords and clansmen: kinship and rank in early Ireland. Garland Publishing; New York.

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Last updated 9 Mar 96 drd

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