Session 4 on 1/9 with the cast:
Stanislav, Treasure Hunter
Janik, Cleric of Knowledge
Marklech, Forced Convert
TLDR Version – Bulleted Synopsis
- Investigated the missing Storemaster. Learned that she might be visiting Forum to ask about the military regiment that ordered winter supplies (but hasn’t picked them up) for their expedition to an old dwarfen fortress in the mountains.
- Approached by Arpad Summerborn. Offered to hire the party to help him clean out the old quicksilver mine on the edge of town that he recently acquired from Pepi Oldson.
- Hail Storm occurs. Mob formed and called the hail an act of witchcraft, complained of their ruined crops. The mayor and Janik both tried to calm the mob but failed, the watch captain had to break up the mob by force.
- Dined with Edna Kingsname and Kristina Changemaker at Kingshall. Learned the history of Bridge and the story of Kristina being the sole survivor of her squad during the barbarian war. Her last memory before appearing in town covered in blood was a vision of an antlered man deep in the Davokar.
- Talked to Pepi about the sale of the Old Mine. Learned that his father was burned for “shadow corruption” after being gored by a boar on the edge of the woods. Gathered some actuarial record books and transactional letters. The documents need to be analyzed before they will shine light on the operational history of the quicksilver mine.
- Visited David Slingstrider. Overheard a sermon to the mob about not taking law into their own hands to hunt witches. Lana Staffsend was the only parishioner who knew the hymn to Prios that was sung at the end of the sermon. David believed the mine to be a bad idea because it was filled with natural dangers that blinded and scarred many of the workers. He remembered that many who were blinded said that their last vision was of a silver wyrm or dragon, but he believed there to be a natural reason for the blindness and not actually any monster.
- David Slingstrider led the party into the catacombs below the church so that they could look at a heretical text that described some of the “ancient traditions” of the old faith. It was kept in a leaded cabinet locked with three padlocks, behind a door with three heavy locks as well. He claimed he was holding some heretical items until the Black Cloaks would arrive to collect them for official study and destruction in Templewell.
- Went to Lea Takewood’s cabin to attempt to see Stella Slingstrider – turned away by Lea’s brothers who blamed Janik for botching the goat slaughter and inviting the “forest spirits” to replace Lea’s child with a changeling.
October 4th, III Watch – The Hailstorm
The session began with some wisewives complaining about how the storemaster had gone missing and that the daft barbarian clerk was inept at his job. Stanislav overheard the gossip while on his way to meet up with Janik and Marklech, they caught one another up on the recent happenings (since Stanislav missed last session) and then their conversation was interrupted by some strong gusts of icy wind. They turned to see a dark storm cloud rapidly approaching from the mountains. The townsfolk complained about the unseasonable weather, the greybeards muttering on about how the weather had been much preferable in their youth. People busied themselves closing their window shutters and securing objects that were flying about in the gusty wind.
The burners decided to make their way to the store “Westerhouse” to investigate the storemaster’s rumored disappearance. They entered to see a frazzled woman in a heavy leather apron scolding a well-dressed barbarian for his neglectful service of some elderly customers. Mila Oakswail (Storemaster Assistant) stopped yelling at Goran Warglory (Storemaster Clerk) when she noticed that the burners had entered the store. She offered the burners the services of the shop, and when the burners asked about Mila’s distress, the woman reluctantly admitted that she was concerned because Victoria Townsman (Storemaster) had gone unexpectedly missing, leaving a note about visiting Forum for a business trip. The burners asked if this seemed normal, and Mila admitted it was most unusual but certainly possible. Mila elaborated that Victoria certainly made some business trips as needed, but would usually plan them in advance and give everyone else ample notice. Mila seemed frustrated with Victoria. Finally, Mila speculated that Victoria might be concerned about the large military winter supply shipment she had been given when the regiment passed through last Spring, but nobody had been sent to pick up the supplies. The regiment was supposedly investigating an ancient dwarfen stronghold in the mountains that might be salvaged or rehabilitated. The soldiers would surely be in need of their winter supplies soon, and Victoria had expressed concern that she was tired of keeping on these bulky goods in her warehouse taking up room instead of more profitable stores. Mila also mentioned that the midwife Nina had stocked up on provisions that made it seem she might be preparing to leave Bridge.
There was a brief commotion as the door opened and a strong gust of wind disturbed goods throughout the shop. Mila yelled for the man to shut the door, but Arpad Summerborn (Prospector) spoke over her. Arpad begged permission to post a notice that he was recruiting strong men to help reopen the quicksilver mine outside of town. Arpad began to nail the notice to the wall before Mila had been given the chance to respond to his request. Mila huffed that he had no right to post his notice here, adding that the old mine was cursed and that it was foolish to reopen it.
Janik asked Arpad about his venture, Arpad talked about his plans to reopen the mine now that his family had acquired the land. He dismissed the talk of the curse as hearsay and asserted that with the careful application of science and hard work he felt confident that the mine could produce enough quicksilver to enrich the town and benefit the whole empire. The burners asked Arpad about his relationship with Stella, implying that they knew the two to have been intimate. Arpad flared in anger at the breach of propriety. He asserted that the burners were acting beyond their station. That they should simply burn a witch and be done with it, “it should be easy to find evidence in a town as rife with superstition and backwardness as Bridge. Honestly, the country should benefit from a few less backwoods bumpkins and foot draggers. You’d have my support to burn the lot of them!” Finally, Arpad offered the burners pay in exchange for their help with the mine, “if you’d like a real job where you can earn your pay through actual labor and industry then come out to join me. We leave from Cinderhouse Inn the morning after next. You can find me at the Inn if you have any questions before then.”
October 4th, IV Watch – Assisting the Mayor
After the heavy hailstorm passed, a mob of discontented townsfolk gathered in the town square. As the burners approached, they heard many complaints about damaged property and ruined crops. A farmer complained that the entire crop of plums had been pulverized, and another added that the figs were all torn up as well. Apparently, even some livestock had been killed by large hail. The mayor tried to calm their concerns by appealing to reason, but the crowd quickly turned to fearful accusations of witchcraft. The mayor silenced the crowd when she saw the burners approaching, and invited Janik to address the crowd. “I’ve heard rumors that the burners have found a suspect, please come up here and assure the crowd that we will see a witch burned soon!”
Janik addressed the crowd, but was unwilling to name their suspect and was also unwilling to commit to a specific deadline when they would make a formal accusation. This refusal angered both the mayor and the crowd. The crowd heckled Janik and accused the burners of being witches themselves. The complained that the conditions had only worsened since the burners arrived and that they hadn’t made any progress. Janik made a last attempt to appeal to the crowd with reason, but it fell flat against the emotionally charged mob. The mob shouted threats to burn the witchburners if they didn’t do their job. As chaos threatened to spill over, the watch captain rallied her guard to disperse the angry crowd. They reluctantly broke up and departed, but it was clear that they were bitter about the encounter.
The burners asked Edna about the history of the town and the mine, she refused to answer them there but instead invited them to join her for dinner at Kingshall so that they might talk at leisure and in private. Once the burners were assured that Kristina (Watch Captain) would be joining them for the meal, they assented. Over a hearty dinner, Edna told the story of the town. She proudly informed the group that the foundations of the stone houses had been used by barbarians and by people before them too. She proudly told how the fathers of the town had driven the crude barbarians out and rebuilt the town. She went on to talk about how good fortune had invited great wealth of the town. She talked about the “tribute” they received from the nomadic herders in the plains of New Beretor to the north, and the profit they made supplying the mountain settlements and scattered homesteads of the region. Edna proudly told of the exploits of her father “until the lightning struck.” They asked what she meant and she described his seizures as “lightning strikes,” adding that he could no longer talk. The burners seemed appeased by these justification of wealth, explaining why the town seemed so prosperous.
The burners asked Kristina about the rumor of her being a lone survivor during the barbarian wars, deliriously wandering into town covered in blood. The Watch Captain reluctantly agreed to tell her story, saying it better suited telling over a low-burning fire on a moonless night. She framed the story by describing a different time, when the barbarians had still been bitter about losing their city. Kristina claimed that a squad of the brutes had refused to abide the treaty, instead hiding in the bluffs and raiding homesteads. Kristina’s squad arrived to investigate when they saw smoke coming from the hills. They arrived to see a family brutalized and killed, the house ransacked and burned. In a fury, her squad pursued the barbarians across the New Beretor plains and into the great dark Davokar forest.
She paused in her story to provide some commentary and foreshadowing, indicating that it was foolish to have pursued the brutes into that evil wood of shadow and darkness. She claimed that her squad had been particularly impacted by the slaughter of the family, so they were willing to take on any risk to seek out justice and pushed her to lead them despite her own misgivings.
Kristina led her men into the cursed wood and followed the trails as best she could, but after hours of search they had not found a single raider. As soon as they sat down to rest, her men started to go missing in ones and twos with no sign or sound. Soon paranoia crept in, everyone believing to see shadows in the trees. They abandoned their camp and tried to escape the woods but only go lost further.
Kristina paused, collected herself. She went on to say that she did not know how long they spent in the woods, her memories of those days seem scattered with more gaps than substance. The woods seemed a labyrinth to them, with no idea if they were going deeper into the darkness or closer to the light. Eventually, it was only Kristina and her closest friends who remained together. She vaguely remembered confronting with a man with an ancient sword and a crown of antlers, but admits that it might’ve been a delusion from days without food or drink. The next thing she knew she was in a hospital bed in Bridge with no knowledge of how she got there.
The party asked Kristina what she knew about the shadow corruption of the forest. Kristina said that since her experience she had made it her mission to oppose the shadow. She revealed that her guard proudly patrolled the roads and will kill anyone who has a hint of shadow sickness. She acknowledged that they did not follow the commonly accepted practice of escorting the shadow sickened to the priest for ritual cleansing. Kristina justified her harsh practices by claiming that too often the ritual fails and the blighted are free to spread their contagion through the town.
Finally, Kristina said that the darkness of the Davokar was her greatest enemy. She said that the afflictions that had been recently plaguing Bridge did not seem to her to be like “poisons from the woods.” Kristina speculated that this witchcraft seemed like something else, perhaps resulting from resentment within the town or from the old ones who kept to the ancient ways in the mountains.
When the party asked about the resentment in town, Kristina explained that some in the town had grown in wealthy through their hard work and good fortune and that as a result, others had found only resentment at seeing the success. She indicated that those who keep to the old professions and want to bury their head in the sand are filled with bitterness and complaint. She indicated that lately many of the ones who refuse to change had fallen into debt, and even some of their land had been acquired by the wealthier members in town. Kristina said she had participated in many disputes between tenant and tax-payer, and that it was only natural that the guard would support those respectable citizens whose taxes paid their wages.
October 5th, I Watch – Sleep
The burners oriented themselves in the morning. They intended to go with Arpad to the quicksilver mine the next morning (October 6th), but wanted to investigate the situation beforehand. Pepi had owned the mine before, so he was at the top of the list of people to visit. The mayor mentioned that the priest had given a sermon warning of the dangers of the old mine, and that he might be the natural voice of the opposition. So the players thought it might be worth talking to him as well. Finally, they wanted to potentially blackmail Stella by threatening to tell her father that she had been intimate with Arpad.
October 5th, II Watch – Pepi Oldson is Missing a Toe
The burners learned from the mayor that Arpad had purchased the old quicksilver mine from Pepi Oldson, so they sought him out. They knocked on his door in the morning, but he did not respond. They knocked again, and he opened the door wearing nothing but a sheet. He asked them to return later in the day, but they insisted that he receive them now. He begged a few minutes of leave to get dressed, which they allowed. As he walked away, they noticed he was missing a toe.
Pepi invited them in and he begged forgiveness of the mess, claiming that he had entertained some guests into the middle of the night. They asked about his toe and he claimed to have lost it while he was drunk in his workshop, stepping on something sharp. They asked about the mine and he said he was glad to have sold it off, cursed or not it had just been something to worry about. He claimed that he was happy managing his still and making due with what it earned him. When he was asked about whether he believed in the curse, he was noncommittal. He said it was a damned deadly place and had driven his father to madness trying to manage it. He said that some who came out of the cave with acid scars and raving madness had said that they had seen a silver wyrm, lizard, or dragon in the depths but he didn’t believe the rumors to be anything but a sign of madness.
The burners asked him if he had any of his late father’s effects related to the mine. He invited them into his father’s study, which he kept locked and didn’t seem to enter often. They entered the room and noticed a human skull on the mantle, an overfilled bookshelf, a large desk, and a locked cabinet. Janik asked about the human skull, Pepi laughed and said “well that is my father, of course.” They asked why he kept his father’s skull, and he asked “hm, I wouldn’t very well want to lose it then would I?”
They asked him why it had not been buried, and he told the story of his father’s death. He said that his father had been an avid hunter but was finally gored by a large boar. The wound was tainted by infection but the zealots of the town believed him to have been blighted by a shadow beast and so they burned him to death in some sort of ritual purification. Pepi said he was able to recover his father’s skull from the flames, and has kept him to honor and remember him.
In Pepi’s late father’s effects, the burners found many actuarial and transactional documents that might be used to derive some narrative about the history of the mine, but they did not find any journal or narrative documents that would reveal the story without a lengthy investigation. They also found something that Pepi called a “moonstone” but that Janik was able to identify as a rare ore that was believed to occasionally fall from the stars. Janik knew that the stone was worth a considerable amount, and that when forged it could hold a powerful enchantment. Janik told as much to Pepi, who shrugged and speculated that the blacksmith might give a testicle for something like that. They asked Pepi about his missing tooth, he claimed that he had lost it during a drunken fight.
October 5th, III Watch – David Slingstrider’s Sermon
They entered the church to see the priest giving a sermon to nineteen townsfolk, many of whom had been in the mob the day before. The priest saw the witchburners enter the sanctum and nodded his greeting. His sermon spoke of having faith in “Prios the Lawbringer” and his appointed agents (as he gestured towards the witchburners) who were in town seeking justice for all of us. The priest warned the villagers not to take vengeance into their own hands, endangering themselves and blaspheming Prios, who valued law and order. The sermon ended in a hymn, most of the gathered villagers did not seem to know the words very well except for one woman who had memorized the hymn and sung it with a clear and powerful voice.
After the sermon, they approached the woman who had sung with such vibrancy. She was kneeling in prayer as they approached, she stood to greet them after she completed her ritual and introduced herself as Lana Staffsend. She mistakenly asserted that they had met her husband, the alchemist. When they seemed uncertain, she corrected herself by saying that it had been her brother, the blacksmith, who they had met. She added that she was a town councilor and wished them best of luck in expeditiously bringing the matter to a close.
They approached David Slingstrider (the priest) and spoke with him about the mine. He spoke about how it was a place where the rich exploited the poor. They asked if it was “cursed” (/kɜːrst/) and he argued about the semantics of the word, saying it surely was “cursed” (/ˈkɜːrsɪd/). The priest went on to say that it was a dangerous place for human life, and that it only rewarded greed to open it back up for exploitation. He added that surely Prios did not intend for men to descend into those black depths so that the Summerborn Mine might profit, when it was Prios himself who sheds light equally on all who walk this earth.
The burners asked the priest if he had any texts about the ancient beliefs of the village that they might reference. He said that any such book would, of course, be blasphemy, but hesitantly went on to admit that he had one in his custody that had been found by the town watch as religious contraband. He led the group down a crude carved stone stairwell which was clearly older than the church itself, he explained that he sequestered heretical items down here while waiting for the Black Cloaks to come collect them once or twice each year. At the base of the stairs, a long hallway extended into darkness. David let the group to a nearby door and opened the three heavy locks with three complex keys. In the room there was a large heavy lead chest, a large leaded cabinet, and a solid table wrought from iron and blackened wood.
David pulled a velvet-wrapped text from the cabinet and presented it to Janik to peruse. David stayed with the burners as the examined the book, and put it back in the cabinet when they were done. They asked him who had access to this room and he informed them that there were two others, his daughter Stella, and the Holy Slave Aldus Blackwater. As they left the church, they asked David if they might speak with Stella. David said that she had left with some urgency for the Milkmaid’s house after hearing there might be a complication with her infant.
October 5th, IV Watch – The Takewood Brothers
The adventurers approached the Takewood residence and saw five dour men drinking alcohol on the porch. One of the younger men noticed the approach of the witchburners and alerted the other men. The oldest man seemed to be in his later thirties, with a thick beard and a military demeanor. He stepped ahead of the others and announced “Greetings. I hate to be blunt but you’ve come at a bad time. Our sister is struggling after her birth. She believes that the child she holds is not hers, but a changeling delivered by the elves who in turn stole her infant. Please, give our family leave to deal with this issue on our own.”
As the older brother spoke, two of the younger brothers approached behind him. Their faces clearly displayed hostile intent, and their stance communicated that they were eager for violence.
Janik pressed the older brother (Mikoyan Takewood), “Sir, surely we are better suited than you lot to investigate this child. If any foul magic is about then we would be better able to detect it.”
Janik was quickly interrupted during his offer of assistance when the middle brother (Viktor Takewood) spat on the ground and approached him with vitriol. “You would offer us help! It was your own unsteady hand that surely landed us in this situation! We all saw your hand waiver when you took the life of the goat. Surely the forest spirits allow no room for hesitation. They understand only action, direct and true. You would now dare to offer us help when you have damned my nephew to be stolen away from us!”
Janik responded with indignation, “What are these Forest Spirits that you would claim?” Viktor scoffed and called Janik daft for blinding himself to the forces of nature around him. “Do you not hear the water, ever churning below. Do you not feel the currents of wind upon your face. Would you claim to enter the woods and not hear the song of the spirits, not see the majesty of their creation about you? You call yourself a holy man and yet you blind yourself from the majesty all around you.”
Mikoyan put his hand on Viktor’s shoulder, attempting to calm him. He repeated his request that Janik depart and leave the family to their own devices. Janik reluctantly agreed, and the burners departed.
I really dropped the ball this session regarding passing the spotlight.
This session felt really exposition heavy to me. It had multiple NPCs telling lengthy stories about themselves or about the town history. I suppose that the players asked for the townsfolk to tell them the stories, but I was pretty exhausted by the end of the session.
I feel like the tone is going in the right direction, the mob is starting to amp up and foodstores are becoming a real threat with all these calamities ruining the harvest. I really liked using the ruse from session 3 (telling the crowd that they had a suspected witch that they would arrest that night) was used against the players in session 4 to demand they name their suspect. When they refused it angered quite a few townsfolk. Also I am excited about the front with the Takewood baby. Both the fact that the players not really sure if Lea is having a mental psychosis where she believes her daughter to be a changeling or if changelings are actually a thing that might be real, and also the fact that now the townsfolk who saw Janik mar the sacrificial ritual blame him for Lea’s condition, regardless of it being real or imagined.
I am excited that the party is going to go to the abandoned quicksilver mine for a change of scenery and potentially to break up the narrative pacing for a session. Although a significant reason they are going is to understand Arpad better so I am not sure that will really be changing the pace that significantly. I am wondering if I should still have a scene for each travel watch, or if I should only have a scene if we roll for a wandering monster. I am also wondering how I should treat the mine, if it should be a five room dungeon sort of session or more of a megadungeon, or a single scene/backdrop of something else happening. I will probably prep a few options and see what feels the most natural as we enter play and I see the player interest/intention.
My prep has been almost entirely NPC driven. I’ve primarily been identifying motivations for each NPC and trying to let that determine what they are doing. As a result, we have ended up with these complex webs of actions. I think this has made the town feel very “real” or “alive” to the players. As they got up from the table they made the comment “it feels like we are exploring an actual small town, where everyone knows everyone and has personal history and an opinion about everything.” I think that is the intention of this module, but I am observing that some amount of action morass seems like an inevitable result. Everything seems subjective, and the players are looking for something concrete and morally clear. I think this is partially just a play-culture thing where players are used to receiving objectively absolute answers during sessions “You see a dragon, it is breathing fire at you. What do you do?”. Afterall, since we are playing in a constructed environment the GM is the ultimate arbiter of the in-game objective reality. I think it is worth wading through this moral swamp. I believe that we are building towards something really meaningful, with NPCs that the players have actually connected with. Even last night, the party seemed genuinely concerned with the woman who refused to believe her child was her own. Their offers of help seemed to be genuine, and their willingness to back down seemed to come both from a place of caring and also a hesitancy to resort to violence against a superior force. As the players walked away from the table though, they were asking “that is a real condition right, where you believe people to be replicants or imposters? What is it called? Imposter syndrome?” I think this is the right sort of conversation to emerge from this style of play.
New Named NPCs
- Mila Oakswail (Store Assistant)
- Goran Warglory (Store Clerk)
- Victoria Townsman (Storemaster) named but not met
- Arpad Summerborn (Prospector)
- Pepi Oldson (Littlewater Cook)
- Lana Staffsend (The Alchemist’s Wife)
- Aldus Blackwater (Holy Slave)
- Viktor & Mikoyan Takewood (The Milkmaid’s Brothers)