Witchburner AP: Session 3

Session 3 held on 12/26 with the cast:

The Cleric Janik, Priest of Prios

The Rogue Marklech, Forced Convert

mist-before-dawn-1924
Nicholas Roerich – Mist Before Dawn (1924)

October 3rd, 1st Watch – Slept in Kingshall (continued from session 2)

At breakfast, the housekeeper Esmeralda Takewood leaned over and whispered “you know that Jonah Prizepeace is as odd as they come, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit to learn that he is a witch.”

The party pressed Esmerelda for details. She found it suspicious that Jonah often went away to the city for days at a time since he practices no profession. She also claimed that he would come to Kingshall early in the morning to have breakfast with Ivan Sugarman (Husband of Edna the Mayor), looking tired and disheveled with blackened hands that would stain the table linens. She claimed that most nights a candle burned in his window until the early morning. She reasoned that he stayed up all night because he was working on his witchcrafts and foul magicks.

Janik asked Esmerelda about her religious beliefs, and forced her to talk about her religious instruction. She was very uncomfortable about being made to do this, but revealed a number of things that seemed slightly divergent from orthodoxy. She mentioned divergent elements in a number of religious stories. In one story she mentioned “three sages” and in another “three crones.” Janik suspected that these figures aligned with the “three avatars.”

After breakfast, Marklech asked Roman (Edna’s Butler) to send word to the Blacksmith that he was in need of a small mirror. Roman scoffed, “Am I your errand boy? I must see to the workings of this household! See him yourself.” Janik intervened, offering to mend a broken item in exchange for his help in this matter. Roman proffered a broken candlestick, Janik used the spell Mending to fix the item. Roman crossed himself and refused to touch the candlestick, seeming frightened by the use of magic. Janik pressed Roman “Do you fear the power of Prios, do you not trust that all things are possible in his name?” Roman cringed that he was not accustomed to seeing magic, he assented to assist Marklech to send a message to the Blacksmith.

study-of-two-carthusian-monks-1525.jpg!HalfHD
Jacopo Pontormo – Study of Two Carthusian Monks (1525)

October 3rd, 2nd Watch – Janik Talks to The Priest

The rogue and the cleric left Kingshall together, the cleric was much bothered by his companion’s description of their last encounter with David Slingstrider (priest) whose practices seemed so unorthodox. On the way to the church, an echo of Blaise’s laughter (The Town Uncle) cut through the light fog. Marklech decided to go see if he could find Blaise and left Janik to confront the Priest on his own.

Janik did not pause to knock at the closed door, but strode determinedly into the temple. Upon his entrance, he saw a group of eleven robed acolytes engaged in group worship. One of them approached him directly to ask that he come back later during public worship. Janik berated the acolyte and revealed himself to be an inquisitor, he demanded to be taken straight to the priest. The acolyte cowed to Janik, and hastily apologized while guiding him to the priest’s sanctum. The man asked Janik to sit in a private waiting room while he fetched the priest from his quarters.

The waiting room was filled with fine bookshelves including rare texts, fine artwork, and other exquisite wares. Janik took some time to look at the books for anything heretical. He did not see anything unorthodox, but did notice that most of the shelves were covered in a thin layer dust and the books looked as if they were not often handled.

David Slingstrider (Priest) arrived and Janik used his Witchsight ability to see if the priest had been corrupted by foul Symbaric magicks. The priest’s shadow was not pure, but was corrupted in a way that seemed in keeping with one of his position. Often priests are called upon to secure unholy artifacts or exorcise blighted spirits and their exposure to the darkness can taint their souls. Many a witchburner carries around corruption far worse than this man.

Nevertheless, Janik opened the conversation by accusing the priest of blasphemy and demanding that he explain why his preaching was so unorthodox. Janik accused the priest of incorporating the “three old gods” and thus corrupting the true faith of Prios.

The priest was furious and questioned Janik’s right to call his faith into question. He reminded Janik that he was the outsider in this town, and claimed that the townspeople were of his flock. The Priest went on to say that his ancestors had been forced to convert and that they had given up “the old ways” as best as they knew how. He questioned Janik’s abilities, “how would you have people forget everything their parents and grandparents knew to be true! So what if I blend the old stories with the new, it helps the people connect their own legends with the light of Prios. Conversion of this nature is a process, not a decision! It does not happen overnight!”

Janik accused David of fostering a witch in his flock, and the priest remained steadfast saying that he didn’t believe that there was a witch in the town. He again said that whatever foul magick might be occurring is the work of some other force, something outside of town, something that was moving against them.

Finally, David asked Janik to notify him first if he was going to accuse any churchgoer of witchcraft so that he could help the witchburners to apprehend the suspect. The priest explained that his flock trusted him, and with his help the witchburners might take the suspect peacefully. Janik thought this was suspicious, but thanked the priest for his offer of help and hesitantly agreed that he would keep the priest informed.

chichikov-shaves.jpg!Large
Marc Chagall – Chichikov shaves (1923)

October 3rd, 2nd Watch – Marklech Talks to the Town Uncle

Marklech followed the sounds of laughter to a small house with fireplace ablaze and front door ajar. He approached and saw Blaise sitting before a small crude bronze mirror. Blaise appeared to be preparing to shave, but Marklech could see no hair on Blaise’s face that needed shaving.

Marklech stepped into the house and asked Blaise what he was doing. Blaise responded “Shaving off yesterday so that I can begin to live today.” Marklech seemed curious, so stepped in to watch him. While shaving his clean face, Blaise mused “You know the days go faster and faster now.” Marklech reasoned that days seem to go faster when one has more concerns to attend to, but Blaise insisted that the days were themselves passing faster and faster, “Old father time is trying to move us along, get it all over with, perhaps we have made one of the old gods angry and we are being marched double quick to the end times.” After shaving, he put the straight razor away into a drawer that held five knives.

Marklech asked about what god Blaise worshiped, and Blaise scoffed at the idea of worship. He claimed that he was cursed and had nothing to thank the gods for. He said that he had been cursed to bear the truth alone.

Marklech asked if Blaise knew if any townsperson was a witch, Blaise said “Which Witch do you seek! Everyone a witch, nobody a witch! Depends on what you think a witch is!”

Marklech asked who was responsible for the foul deeds, Blaise responded “Who is responsible for the rain or the sun, the snow or the harvest? How can we point fingers in this world? Are you responsible for your every breath or thought? Perhaps it is the gods who are untended in the mountains who are responsible… wrecking their havoc on our world. Perhaps we are all playing out a grand facade of their making.”

Maklech asked if Blaise was capable of guiding them to the “Mountains of the Dead Gods,” Blaise confirmed that he was able to guide them through the woods to the mountains. He said that it was about a week-long journey and that he would be paid in silver. But he said he would need to think about an appropriate price as the trip was hard and “a long hard winter is surely coming, and coming soon.”

Marklech gave Blaise 10 silver to thank him for his time, Blaise said “for a gift, I give a gift. Some of what you hear today will be untrue, but some will been true. Your fate will be determined by what truths you act upon.”

before-the-morphine-1890.jpg!Large (1)
Santiago Rusinol – Before the Morphine (1890)

October 3rd, 3rd Watch – The Notary is Stricken with Boils

Marklech and Janik met back up and heard a commotion near the town square. Some agitated voices and the sound of heavy feet running across the cobblestones. They decided to investigate and saw Ivana (Doctor) running towards Petra’s (Notary) house. There was a small crowd of townsfolk gathered outside gossiping about having seen Petra suddenly struck ill with boils. They were muttering about “foul deeds” and some others were muttering “serves her right for her harshness collecting the taxes.”

Clarence Ironbutler (Petra’s Chef) stood firmly at the door, clearing a path through the crowd so that the doctor could enter. Janik and Marklech jogged across the square and arrived just behind the doctor. Clarence noticed them running, as did the crowd. The crowd quieted down and made room for them to pass, but Clarence held the door closed, saying that he had been told to allow entry for only the doctor. Janik told the man that the doctor would be of no use if the affliction was from witchery, and that he should allow the witchburners to pass so they may investigate the occurrence themselves. Clarence capitulated, allowing the burners into the sitting chamber. They saw Ivana kneeling next to a low bed, tending to Petra whose face was covered in pustulant boils. Ivana was attempting to investigate the boils, but Petra was screaming in annoyance and pain.

Janik questioned Clarence about Petra’s morning, asking who she had spoken to and what she had eaten. Clarence told Janik that she had met with Olga (Beekeeper) that morning because she was behind on her taxes, but otherwise had only eaten the standard fare from his own kitchen. When Ivana heard the conversation behind her and finally noticed the arrival of the witchburners, she flared in annoyance and ordered the burners to leave the room so that she might calm her patient.

Janik berated Ivana in turn, and insinuated that she was unprepared to cure the affliction that seemed clearly to be the work of witchcraft. Janik then forced Ivana to administer an opiate to kill the pain so that he might question Petra. Ivana took some convincing, but eventually brought out a small pipe and applied some black tar to the bowl. She lit the pipe with an ember from the fireplace and had Petra inhale deeply. Soon the sounds of pain ceased and Petra took on a stupor. Ivana begged leave to fetch books that might shed light on this strange affliction.

Janik interrogated the drug-addled Notary. Petra affirmed that the only appointment she had attended that morning was a meeting with Olga the Beekeeper. She then complained about “those who keep to the woods” who believe that “working the land has any place in the world of today.” She scoffed that Olga would try to pay her taxes with honey or royal jelly. She further rambled on about her views that the future “is for those of us who can seize it” and who are not stuck in the traditions of the past. Janik asked who “kept to the woods” and she muttered “oh the butcher, the baker, the milkmaid, the beekeeper, and the rest of that lot.”

Janik asked how she felt about the priest, she accused him of profiting on the ignorance of his followers and leaving the rest of the town to pay more that their share by claiming that the church was exempt from paying taxes. She lamented the need to attend his sermons at all, and claimed to go only when absolutely required.

francisco-de-goya-y-lucientes-witches-sabbath-the-great-he-goat.jpg!HD
Francisco Goya – Witches Sabbath (1821)

October 3rd, 4th Watch – The Butcher Hosts a Gathering

The party regrouped and decided to meet with some of “those who keep to the woods.” Since Marklech had overheard Ursula (Butcher) console Olga by saying “the Earthbreaker will provide” he suggested that they visit the butcher. Janik and Marklech walked to the edge of the woods where both Olga and Ursula had their homes, noticing that Olga’s curtains were drawn but edged in light and that smoke came from her chimney. There was some great commotion from the Butcher’s house, and through the windows it seemed clear that a small feast was taking place. The witchburners modified their plan slightly, that Janik would go in to tell the gathering that the witch had been identified and Marklech would listen with his familiar to see if any of them revealed themselves afterwards. Janik proceeded alone to knock on the door while Marklech hid in the shadows outside the house, letting his spider familiar crawl under the floorboards.

Gregor Inksblood (Husband of the Butcher) opened the door for Janik with a smile that quickly faded when he registered that there was a witchburner before him. Gregor stuttered and informed Janik that they were hosting a small celebratory gathering after a new birth. Janik explained that he needed only a brief audience with Ursula and that he would not interrupt the festivities.

Ursula and Gregor hosted Janik in a small sitting room, offering him some brandy. Janik attempted a ruse, claiming that he would be capturing the witch that very night. Further, he told Ursula that he had come by to make arrangements for a celebratory feast. Ursula congratulated him and said that the town would surely be happier to have the witch captured and hung. She offered to show Janik her prize livestock so that he might select the finest for the celebration. He demurred, saying that he trusted they could work out the details at a later time. Ursula and Gregor asked Janik to join the festivities celebrating the daughter just born of Lea Takewood (the Milkmaid) by overseeing “the ritual.”

Janik agreed to participate, and Ursula led him to a large room with a dozen people and a young goat tied to a wooden column. She handed him a ceremonial dagger and asked that he say a few words and then slaughter the goat. Janik addressed the crowd, telling all present to be at ease, that the witchburners had found the witch and would soon be making an arrest. He then cut the neck the young goat, but made a clumsy job of it. Ursula and Gregor assisted to catch the blood, and finished the ritual slaughter by hanging the goat by its legs above a bucket to bleed out. Ursula addressed the crowd, explaining that a life must be taken when one is born to maintain the great balance.

Janik noticed a young red-headed woman watching him through the crowd. She kept herself aloof, and didn’t seem surprised or begin to gossip as the others did after they heard Janik claim to have found the witch. After Janik departed, the spider familiar lingered and through it Marklech heard a young woman with a resolute voice caution the crowd about the witchburners. “They would see our traditions and call us witches. Tread with caution when those men are about. They do not have our wellbeing in mind with their crude works.”

After departing, Marklech had his spider peer into Olga’s house. They saw that she was asleep in bed with a companion. Janik decided to lean a small rock against her front door to see whether she was truly sneaking off the the woods to work foul magic during the night, intending to arrive back at her door before dawn to see if the rock had been disturbed.

October 4th, 1st Watch – Sleep

At a quick breakfast in Kingshall, Roman and Esmerelda identified that the red-head was likely Stella Slingstrider (priest’s daughter). Esmerelda shared the gossip that Stella had taken up with a prospector from Ravenia a few months back. Roman chimed in that he saw the young prospector arrive back in Bridge just a few days ago, and told the group that the man was named Arpid Summerborn (Prospector).

path-in-the-fog.jpg!HD
Claude Monet – Path in the Fog (1887)

October 4th, 2nd Watch – Investigate the Beekeeper

The two witchburners arrived at Olga’s house at dawn. The rock had been disturbed, but they immediately heard the voices of Olga and a companion carry through the thick fog. A torch faded into the darkness as Olga walked with her companion towards the hills. The burners quickly conferred, Marklech decided to follow Olga into the woods while Janik would remain to investigate the house.

Marklech followed Olga and her companion through the thick fog, overhearing some flirtation and some discussion of business. Olga and her companion slowed as they approach a steep ascent of narrow switchbacks. Marklech hung back a bit, and then followed them up the hike through the thinning fog. He arrived in time to see Olga kneel down to burn an offering against the trunk of a large tree. Her companion said “You really ought to stop with that superstition, especially with those burners in town. They are likely to believe you a witch!” Olga scoffed and told the man to mind his own business and get to work.

Marklech hid in a small cairn of rocks for a few hours, observing through his familiar while Olga and her companion collected honey from a number of bee hives. After they left, Marklech investigated the tree where she performed her ritual. He saw an arcane symbol of one of the avatars drawn in the dirt and covered in white flaky ashes. He suspected that she had burned some offering to honor the earthbreaker.

Meanwhile, Janik attempted to enter Olga’s house but found the door and windows locked. He noticed some of the wall planks were loose and decided to pry them off to attempt an entry. Prying off the planks was loud, and after he pried off a single board he heard someone call out from inside the house. “Olga is that you?” Janik heard approaching footsteps and decided to simply walk away from the house. Given the thick fog, he was easily able to get away without being observed.

After a few minutes, he decided to return to Olga’s house. He approached the front door which was left ajar. As soon as he entered the house, the man saw him through the hole left by the removed wall plank. The man called out defensively and accused Janik of foul play, but Janik was able to dissuade him and convince him that he had only just arrived and was looking for Olga. The man ended up sharing some information about Olga’s loan to Harald Oldson from Ravenia, and when he was pressed agreed to show Janik into the mead cellar. The cellar tunnel descended into the hill about 100’ and ended in a large cavern ringed with mead barrels, honey pots, and royal jelly jars in the dim torchlight.

New Named NPC’s

  • Stella Slingstrider (Priest’s Daughter)
  • Gregor inskblood (husband of the butcher)
  • Clarence Ironbutler (chef of the notary)
  • Ivan Sugarman (husband of the mayor)
  • Harald Oldson from Ravenia (Olga’s Moneylender)

After the Session

The players lamented that the whole party wasn’t present so that more people could suggest courses of action, they worried that they were missing some key fact and having more people would be helpful for the diversity of thought it could provide. Holiday sessions are tough, but I think the small group allows us to really see what each character is doing. I talked with Janik’s player who voiced his concern that he would hog the spotlight since his character was the one most tailored to the roll of inquisitor. I think we are doing a good job sharing the spotlight, but with the focus on social encounters we need to be extra vigilant.

I mentioned that in future sessions I planned to drop more rumors about things going on around the town, perhaps giving opportunity for small adventures or excursions to break up the social encounters.

The players lamented that each suspect ultimately seemed to not really be a witch, but then they pivoted to talking about how Stella might be a prime suspect. The players were conflicted about Olga, they talked about how she seemed good-intentioned but stuck in the “old ways” and don’t suspect that she is responsible for the foul magick that is afflicting the town.

Marklech’s player said that he thought that Janik slaughtering the goat might’ve been a ruse for some sort of dark ritual and that he expected that his spider would overhear the townsfolk gloat about it after the departure of Janik.

GM Thoughts (players read at your own peril)

Tracking NPCs – I prepared some note sheets that were focused on tracking accusations, but then there were no new accusations this session. I think it might be more generally useful to have sheets for players to track each NPC, rumors about them, scenes with them, etc.

Alcohol – I had intended to continue with the alcohol but it kinda slipped away from me with a number of the scenes. Janik is accepting alcohol when offered but claiming that he is only sipping, refusing to actually drink. I think I will allow this to not further his alcohol clock, but in the future I will be rolling to determine whether the hosts notice. I will probably inform the players when this happens with something like “The host sees your cup is still full as he fills his own for a second time. He furrows his brow and straightens his shoulders, squaring off against you.”

The Old Gods – I am wondering about this religious syncretism path that I am finding myself on. I think it makes for some fun conversations in the session, but I am wondering how anachronistic it is to presume that the priest would be aware of religious conversion as a historical process. I wonder if I should’ve make him less reasonable and either more evasive or oppositional. I think I could’ve played it more like a traditional cult, but I am enjoying really leaning into the moral ambiguity of this whole module. I guess we will see what happens.

NPC Direction – With so many NPC’s it is difficult for me to give each one a clear focus/goal in the world. I feel like good npc’s have clear desires in the world and are striving to change or enforce the status quo. I think I default to make my NPCs reasonable and likable. I want Bridge to be a tinderbox that is about to go off, but I feel like I need to take it up a few notches before it will actually feel like that. I am also thinking about the “kill your darlings” advice. The players have grown attached to some of the NPC’s as sources of information. They like Blaise but aren’t sure whether he is crazy or useful. The breakfast scenes with Roman and Esmerelda have become a useful GM tool, but perhaps I should lean into those NPC’s harder as biased narrators.

Witchburner is an adventure module by Luka Rejec

 

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