To Think of the Life of a Man – One Page Prep

Pyle_Round_Table_30To Think of the Life of a Man (1967)
In a time that breaks
in cutting pieces all around,
when men, voiceless
against thing-ridden men,
set themselves on fire, it seems
too difficult and rare
to think of the life of a man
grown whole in the world,
at peace and in place.
But having thought of it
I am beyond the time
I might have sold my hands
or sold my voice and mind
to the arguments of power
that go blind against
what they would destroy.
I leave all that behind.

Poem by Wendell Berry
Illustration by Howard Pyle


FaeFarmFarmstead on the edge of the Fae
Every eave and beam is honed with craft and skill
– The larder is full of jams, honeys, and dried goods

Blood-Red Barn
Fresh paint spread evenly across well-sanded lumber
– A dappled roan whinnies, oiled plow-harness nearby 

The Timeless Oak
An idyllic post oak stands alone beside a cleared field
– The tree demands your worship and adoration
– The tree soothes your fears and dulls your mind

Fields of Gold and Barley
The smell of freshly cut hay wafts from shapely bales
– Farmer offers you shelter and food for your labors
– Fields are sown with bones and watered in sweat

Fairy Time:
Time passes more slowly in this realm, every day here is a mortal season.

Forget the World:
Every time a character eats, sleeps, or labors they risk forgetting their:

  1. Dreams
  2. Loves
  3. Friends
  4. Fears
  5. Foes
  6. Family
  7. Home
  8. Self

 

Adventure Prep PDF: Here
Hex Kit Map
For
Forest Hymn

Shoalmont_26_Fae_Farmstead

Session Nine: Delve in Oldson Mine

Session 9 was held on 8/29/19

The Rogue Marklech, Spider Cultist
The Wizard Falur Ryerson, Ordained Arcanist

Oldson Mine copyOctober 11th, First Watch

Marklech and Falur approached Arpad outside of the mine, the prospector offered the group 50sp per room to map the quicksilver mine. They accepted the offer, and requested the service of some of Apad’s guards. They negotiated briefly, and Arpad offered three men at the day rate of 10sp per man. Falur and Marklech agreed, each paying 15sp to hire the three guards for the day. Bronek, Marek, and Jurek each carried a shortsword, bundle of torches, and wore leather armor. Arpad had the storekeeper give each member of the expedition one ration.

The first room (1) was a long narrow chamber that descended towards a wide natural cavern mouth, there were two masoned doorways on either side of the room, leading to excavated and reinforced corridors.

The group entered the first doorway to their right. The corridor led to a natural room (3) where one wall featured a 25-foot climb up to a rocky balcony. The characters climbed up to the balcony (4) to find a rocky shelf broken-through by the heavy solid roots of an ancient tree. From within the center of the root ball, a glistening crystal shape reflected light. The characters peered into the crystal to see the skeleton of a Winter Elf with hands raised protectively above its head as if to ward off a blow. Marklech touched the crystal, a vague sensation of fire and combat washed over him but he resisted the pull of the experience and yanked his hand away. Jurek came up to the platform with them, but he did not seem to see the crystal. Marklech and Falur decided not to map the balcony, hoping to keep the discovery of the winter-elf-crystal a secret from Arpad until they could further investigate it privately.

After climbing down from the balcony, they proceeded down the corridor to find a locked door (5). After picking the lock, they saw that the room was lined with shelves of old mining equipment and some old supply crates. Amongst other artifacts, there were usable mining picks, leather aprons, gloves, boots, lanterns, and helmets. After some searching, Marklech found 13 small mirrors in a leather pouch. Marklech discovered that his new lantern could be converted into a hooded lantern using the mirror and some leather pieces. After some time, a cold breeze blew in and each person sensed miner-ghosts lurking in their peripheral vision. They took this as a sign to leave the room, the henchmen guards required some persuasion to keep them from fleeing towards the entrance.

Dark ghostly figure
Rafal Bujnowski – Curtain (2007)

October 11th, Second Watch

The next doorway led to a four-way intersection. Ingress to the intersection was partially obstructed by four masoned pillars. The pillars supported an unsteady-looking shale slab ceiling.

The group proceeded through the first doorway on their right, finding a large room with a seemingly-bottomless pit (7). Marklech and Falur thought they heard something calling for help in the depths of the pit. Falur seemed convinced that he needed to descend the pit to provide assistance, but he came to his senses before going over the edge.

They continued to the next room (8), finding three grain silos dug into the floor and a dry ditch that ran along the cave wall towards a deep ravine. A swollen door at the top of a small ascent sealed off the room. At the party’s direction, Bronek and Marek kicked the door in. A thick mildew smell of rot filled the room and a viscous black fluid began to seep down towards the ravine.

The group proceeded up the ascent into the next room to find a large dark pool of black sluice. As they tried to walk by the pool on a narrow stone walkway, a grey ooze attacked them from out of the black sluice. Falur was nearly slain when the ooze bludgeoned him with an acidic slap.

Dark void of browns and blacks - Abstract Art
Victor Hugo – Dark Planet

October 11th, Third Watch

After they mapped the room with the grain silos (8), the frozen apparitions appeared in the doorway. As the characters approached the doorway, an intense cold emanated from the apparitions. When the party tried to pass through the apparitions to leave, the apparitions sapped the air from their lungs as if plunged into an icy bath. They pushed through the airless zone, gasping for breathe on the far side.

Marklech and Falur returned to Arpad and each received 17gp 5sp in payment for mapping 7 rooms.

October 11th, Fourth Watch – Rest


GM Notes

Experience:
We have transitioned to using an XP system where 1xp is gained for each 1sp that is spent on repaying their bond-debt, paying taxes, buying goods, or hiring services. I believe that this has encouraged the players to drive the sandbox a bit more forcefully. The players have started emailing before the session to identify what the characters intend to do during the session, this has helped me to focus my prep. 

Bond-debt:
Each character starts the campaign with 3,000 gold of bond-debt to Lady Osis, this is why the characters are adventuring. A 100gp payment is due at the end of each calendar month (in-game time). The characters have enchanted tattoos which reflect the amount of their debt and the identity of the creditor. There are collection agents in any sufficiently large town to whom they can make early payments along the way, if they wish. While they have bond-debt, they cannot purchase property, and any assets they acquire can be seized if they default on their monthly payment. We talked for a while about how central debt is to the society, I am interested to see where that takes us.

Exploration:
For this session, I prepped by developing a few random tables so that we could generate the mine as we explored. I have about 12 set-piece rooms prepared, when the characters entered a room there was a chance of generating a set-piece room. I believe random tables are useful for some chaos and inspiration, but the GM should always feel free to place rooms by fiat if it would be more fun, thematic, or appropriate. Likewise, to determine room contents I would roll a d6, roughly using the following results: 1-3. Empty, 4. Monster, 5. Special, 6. Trap. We ended up with a good number of empty rooms, to the relief of the characters. 

Tracking Time:
I tracked the time using a print-out each session. The handout represents one week of time, with 24 hour segments per day, organized into four sections of six blocks. Each of these sections is referred to as a “watch.” To map a room, I would mark down 1 hr. I did not require any rolling for success here, I did roll to determine a random event each hour. Random events would occur on a roll of 1. Luck was with the party, no random events took place. At a few other points, the players would spend a decent amount of time deciding how to approach an obstacle. If they had taken too long without deciding, I would let them know that another hour had passed in game. The characters also knew that they needed to consume one ration per day, and that if they went four watches without resting then they would gain a level of exhaustion. 

Magic:
This was the first session with the wizard Falur since he found the enemy wizard’s spellbook in May. I explained the character’s absence from the last session that he had been working to decipher the spellbook. I made some house rules for spellbooks, wizards can prepare their daily spells out of any spellbook they are carrying, but each spellbook takes up one Stone of inventory. Also, a spell within spellbook can be used like a scroll, but this will remove the spell from the book. Spells can be copied from one spellbook to another, using 10gp worth of special ink and 1 hour of time. I am considering limiting the number of spells that can be written in one spellbook, either by limiting the sum total of spell levels, or just limiting the spell count.

Ice Floes of Stygia – One Page Prep

Map of the Harbor town of Izotz

The Keep of Izotz
Five frost-rimed towers pierce the lightning-filled sky
– Battle plans and quality salvage from the great war

The Gates of Memory
An icy bridge crosses the memory-killing River Styx
– Vigilant guards monitor infamous river of the dead

The Mausoleum of the Damned
Lost souls emerge soaked, regretting forgotten sins
– Ghoulish shambling husks, fodder for the great war

The Ice Harbor
Ice-breakers crewed by brine devils & drowned souls
– Unloading leviathan oil, giant squid, and shark fins

The Balefire Lighthouse
Blue flames circles the highest floor, a baleful glare
– Flames guide lost ships and lost souls to harbor

The Lord’s Monolith
Carved from black ice, a blinking blue eye at its peak
– Frozen Lord telepathically monitors his realm

The Obelisk of Doors
Obsidian stone, each side a portal to a distant plane
– Devils never let a soul depart intact and unsworn

The Memorial of Forgotten Lives
Etchings from travelers, damned souls, and the lost
– Names and deeds that have been forgotten by all

Threats in the Stygian Harbor of Izotz:
– Salt-frozen winds flay frostbitten skin and chill the bone
– Gangs of damned souls and frigid planars control streets
– Thick skinned neanderthal fishmongers filet sea monsters
– Baatezu monitor the portals, demand heavy toll to enter
– Barbed devils patrol imperiously as corrupt guards
– Frost giant mercenaries and shamans barter with devils
– Brutal white abishi and erudite blue abishi marshall forces
– Frozen Lord rules from his iceberg tomb beneath waves

By Max VanderheydenHex Kit Map – Play with Portal Rats


Download this Adventure Prep PDF

 

 

The Arctic Trail – One Page Prep

The Keep
Summer hunting fortress of a distant prideful lord.

  • Iron-barred gates, deep claw gouges in the wood
  • Rear wall was partially collapsed by a rock slide
  • Pristine trophies decorate the inner chambers
  • Hunting tapestries depict all manner of beasts

Prospector Camp
Spruce-pole longhouse near a mountain stream.

  • Frozen sluice box glimmers with bits of gold dust
  • Scattered remains of prospectors long decayed
  • Buried stashes, a dwarf might smell out the gold
  • Gold is haunted, unless burial rites are performed

The Tower
Biting winds howl through the broken battlements.

  • Diabolist dwells here to study the ancient portal
  • Eternal fires burn in volcanic hearths on each floor
  • Bound blue imp deters visitors, loathes
    Diabolist
  • Dozens of journals describe the Stygian realm

The Stones
Obsidian slabs stark against a snowy embankment.

  • Ancient hell portal rimed with icy Stygian runes
  • Frigid wind carries whispers from the fifth hell
  • Hoarfrost blights the hillock around the stones
  • Remnants of a recent blood ritual on an icy table

Dangers along the trail:
Yeti Stalker – lurking in the snow, looking to prey on the weak
Woolly Rhinoceros – digging for roughage below the snow
Icy Demon – trap those in cold, promise safety for a pittance
Blizzard – frozen sleet and hail batter those without shelter
Avalanche – pummel and suffocate everything in the path

Adventure Prep PDF: The Arctic Trail
Map made with: Hex Kit

Shoalmont_24_Arctic_Trail

Session Eight: Return to Camp Boar-Skull

Session 8 was held on 5/30/19

The Cleric Jannik, Priest of Prios
The Rogue Marklech, Spider Cultist

Painting of a tree next to a cliff in a valley
Landscape by Gustave Courbet (1873)

October 9th, First Watch

The party returned to the mining camp to inform Arpad of what had occurred at the Skull Cave. He seemed incredulous, doubting the existence of any demonic skull cave but was nevertheless concerned about barbarians. Arpad consented to accompany the party to see the site of the skull cave. When they arrived, the skulls were gone, and the cave led only to a solid rock wall. The characters felt an otherworldly sensation that they were being laughed at. They arrived at the barbarian camp to discover that the corpses of the barbarians, black cloaks, dogs, and wizard had all been decapitated.

Second Watch 

The expedition returned to the mining camp, and the characters began helping with mundane tasks. The bunkhouse roof lacked a proper beam to support it, the old one had rotted out and was beyond repair. The laborers reported that they had found no logs of sufficient length were within safe distance of the camp, so the laborers asked for the party to assist them to find and retrieve such a log. Without the barracks, the laborers could not begin excavating the mine entrance in earnest. The party led the three guards back towards the barbarian encampment to find a sufficiently large tree, remembering that there were some suitable specimens. 

Third Watch 

They found a tree with a large straight trunk, but a bear was leaning against the trunk reaching for a bee hive. The party attempted to scare the bear away, but the bear only retreated slightly. Lurking at the edge of the woods. The party attacked the bear, two of the guards were brought low by the brown bear’s heavy attacks but Jannik’s healing magic brought them back to their feet. After the bear was slain, the men felled the tree with heavy axes and carried the timber back down to camp. As they passed the stream, they noticed that more water was pouring down from the mine adit than before. The path was somewhat flooded. Marklech washed himself in the cold mountain water, and they continued on their way without investigating.

Fourth Watch – Rested

Portrait of young bearded man in simple shirt
Man’s Head by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1883)

October 10th, First Watch

Marklech spoke with Vine in a fragmented Thieves Cant. Vine indicated that he tried to steal the locket from Cantor because Cantor was somehow analogous to a poisonous bush in tainted soil. Vine has been kept in shackles since he was caught trying to steal Cantor’s locket in Session Five (October 7, II Watch)

Second Watch

The party spoke to Cantor, who reiterated that he was planning to work for Arpad for one month, but come the first of November he would head into Symbaroum forest to try to avenge his slain brother and kill the witch. He invited the party to join him, he was sure that there would be much treasure to be found.

Third Watch

Marklech and Jannik took a long walk in the woods discussing Marklech’s personal history. Marklech discussed his abduction and forced conversion as a youth. The two men agreed that they were both disturbed by the townsfolk of Bridge being able to flaunt tradition by worshiping gods other than Prios. Marklech is still not clear how transparent he can be with Jannik, likewise Jannik is not sure what to make of Marklech’s heretical magic abilities. 

Fourth Watch – Rested

Session Seven: Skulls and Barbarians

Session 7 was held on May 16th 2019 

The Cleric Jannik, Priest of Prios
The Rogue Marklech, Spider Cultist
The Wizard Falur Ryerson, Ordained Arcanist

October 8th – Third Watch  – Barbarian in the Skull Cave

still-life-with-skull-1898
Still Life with Skull by Paul Cezanne (1898)

The adventures looked around the skull cave. Falur read the inscriptions on the massive skulls, which were etched in Infernal script. 

Upon the skull of a hill giant was written:

He trod the land from stream to peak,
No foe could challenge his physique.
Refugees sought sanctum in his land,
Sanctum they found, by death at his hand.
In arrogance he believed himself strong, a well-shot arrow found him weak.

The skull of a snake-like humanoid

Slithering in the mire and murk,
Fools believed him a god gone berserk.
The coven’s worship tamed his heart,
A weapon he became through their black art.
Wrath fueled his efforts, a blessed blade ended his work.

The skull of an Abishi demon

From the deepest depths he tread,
Arranging and plotting the violence ahead.
The factions united and battles commenced,
Betrayal and deceit as allies turned against.
His greed left him blind, not seeing the daggers ‘til he bled.

The skull of a six-horned demon

Two horns he earned when he toppled the lords of old,
Another he grew after his great offering of gold.
Two horns he stole from the beast in the deep,
And he last he took from the maiden in her keep.
His demise was lust, seeking his seventh horn in the lost stronghold.

As Falur read the inscriptions aloud, Marklech dispatched his spider familiar to keep watch. As the spider crawled away, the black cloaks Jakab and Istvan accosted Marklech, accusing him of witchcraft and illicit magic use. Janik came to Marklech’s defense, claiming that the rogue was under his supervision. The black cloaks did not seem to agree, but reluctantly backed away. They muttered something to the extent of “we’ll see about this.”

Marklech’s familiar alerted him to an incoming threat, a barbarian carrying the severed head of a brown bear. The rogue warned the party, who all hid themselves in the shadows along the cavern wall. Immediately thereafter, the barbarian strode into the cave talking to himself. He muttered “those fools won’t notice that I’ve gone until it’s too late. I killed the bear, I deserve the rewards… I shouldn’t have to share the blessing with those weaklings…” He walked towards the black altar, but the party intercepted him. After a brief combat, the barbarian was slain. He also carried a small charm made from the bark of a birch tree.

After overhearing the conversation, the party surmised that the altar must reward those who come with offerings of severed heads. Falur asked the black cloaks about whether they had something that might destroy the evil altar. The black cloaks said that it would take powerful magic to destroy such a thing, and that it was out of their capabilities. Jakab added that destroying such an altar should be the responsibility of an ordained arcanist, indicating that Falur ought to take the lead. 

Jannik attempted to cast Detect Magic as a ritual. He chanted a Priosian religious word that meant “the light that reveals” while meditating. However, he struggled to maintain his concentration like he was a young acolyte sitting to his first prayer. As he chanted, a voice whispered in his head.

the light that reveals… the weakness of man,
the light that reveals… the hollowness within,
the light that reveals… the lie inherent,
the light that reveals… the facade of progress.

Jannik could not concentrate on his spell, Falur decided to expend a spell slot to cast Detect Magic instead. As he inspected the altar, he knew it to be an infernal artifact crafted by a magic more ancient than man. Falur approached the altar, and made out some of the infernal inscription etched in the dark stone. It read: “Master of Darkness, Keeper of Skulls, Revealer of Sins.”

Head of a Martyr by Odilon Redon (1877)The party explored the cave, keeping to the left wall for about an hour. They stumbled upon spring water that had worn a fissure through the cave floor, descending to a pool some 50ft below. They did not investigate, instead they turned around and returned the way they came. 

October 8th – Third Watch – Barbarian Camp

They intended to return to camp to let Arpad know about the skull cave, but as they left the cave they smelled smoke from a nearby campfire. They investigated, finding a small barbarian encampment. They were spotted while scouting and a difficult battle ensued, the barbarian wizard seemed to control a mix of natural and known magicks. The vines of the forest rose up against the adventurers. The barbarians also released two hunting dogs, and a giant man with a greataxe soon came bolting out of a tent. Both of the black cloaks were killed in the fray, and the party members were barely any better off.

The enemy wizard ran when he saw the tide turn against him. The party chased him  into a nearby cave, following him carefully to his lair. They killed him after he drank a potion. In the cave they found a bookshelf filled with texts and a chest with a +1 Shortsword and a Robe of Fire Resistance. The wizard left behind a spellbook written in a cryptic cypher.

As they inspected the wizards body, they found tattoos that indicated he had been in debt-bondage to the Lord of Ravenia (the same man to whom Arpad the mine-owner owes allegiance). However, the tattoos had been altered and twisted. Falur saw that the man had somehow blocked the tattoos effects, he had defaulted on his debt but somehow prevented the tattoos from enacting the debt-price.

The wizard wore a necklace with a stone amulet. Falur attempted to remove it, but his hand came away chilled as if plunged in a bath of ice. Falur inspected the amulet and saw that it had the sigils for “Stone, Bone, & Wood” etched in stone. Jannik went to the bed and removed a sheet, he used the sheet to remove the amulet from the wizard’s body, placing it into his bag still wrapped in cloth.

Session Six: Exploring Oldson Mine

Session 6 held on 5/2/19

The Cleric Jannik, Priest of Prios
The Rogue Marklech, Spider Cultist
The Fighter Stanislav, Monster Hunter
The Wizard Falur Ryerson, Ordained Arcanist

horse(1).jpg!Large
Horse by Eugene Delacroix

October 8, I Watch – Sleep, Arrival of Falur

The party awoke to the approaching sound of horse hooves coming up the road from Bridge. They emerged from their tents to see a crimson robed wizard with two Black Cloaks riding escort. The wizard Falur dismounted from his horse and informed the party that he had been dispatched by the Lady Osis to aid in the investigation of Bridge. Falur relayed that he and his companions had stopped in Bridge the prior evening, and had heard two rumors of witchcraft: 1) mottled salamanders were reported to have fallen from the sky; and 2) the butcher claimed to experience spectral pains in her limbs, as if being pierced by iron needles. Falur asked the party why they were not in Bridge pursuing the witch.

Jannik approached Falur and informed him that they had come to the mine because they suspect that Arpad Summerborn might be in league with the witch, who they suspect is Stella, the Priest’s Daughter. Further, they had heard rumors that the mines might harbor evil magicks of their own, and should be investigated.

Falur consented to aid the witchburners in their exploration of the mine and investigation of Arpad. The party saw that the Black Cloaks were actually of the special group called the Red Flails, an order tasked to escort ordained arcanists to ensure that they used their unnatural magical powers only in the service of Prios.

Falur’s robe is adorned with commendations of his service to Prios, showing that he is a trusted and capable agent of his order. The mark of the arcanists blazoned from Falur’s robe, a triangle with the sun of prios extending beyond its embrace. He had come a long way from his childhood, where he was forced to expose his arcane abilities in order to save the life of someone close to him. His town did not thank him for his act. Rather than stoning him in the street, they were moved to merely lock him up until the Black Cloaks came to collect him. Falur’s decades of study in the mountain town of Redina under the harsh discipline of the Red Flails led him to become a believer in the harsh law of Prios. Magic must be controlled, it threatens the world when left unchecked.

oil painting of two hills and a setting sun
Western Hills by Graham Sutherland (1941)

October 8, II Watch – Explore the area of the collapsed mine, underground lake, and cave of skulls

Jannik took the lead, escorting Falur to meet with Arpad Summerborn. Arpad stood a stonesthrow from the mine entrance, flanked by two guards. He appeared to be consulting with elder guard, but would occasionally turn to shout an order to the camp foreman. The foreman was overseeing laborers to repair the deserted mine buildings. Some laborers were reinforcing the old barracks, while others were patching holes in the supply warehouse.

Arpad saw the witchburners approaching, and his eyes widened when he saw the crimson robed wizard, Falur. “Ah Jannik, you have a new companion I see? It is not every day that one sees an Arcanist of Prios. What brings you to this encampment? It will be good to have another fellow about understands that the mysteries of the world can be solved through research and hard effort. These fellows of Bridge banter on about the foul magicks of these mines, but surely you understand that with the careful application of science and research we can tame the world and make it serve us! Don’t you agree?” Falur carefully assented, “Indeed, magic should be controlled or it is a threat to us all.”

Abandoned Oldson Mine

Arpad asked the companions to assist him by scouting the mine and area for threats while his laborers readied the camp. The party assented and began scouting the abandoned mine. They walked beneath an old dried wooden sign that read “Oldson” and continued for a span.

Along the way, Marklech noticed a funnel shaped web that descended into a fissure in the stone. He spoke to the spider and learned that this tunnel had been long abandoned, the hunting was sparse and air too dry for the spider’s liking.

Before long, the party found where the tunnel had collapsed. Marklech sent his eight-legged familiar to investigate through a small crawl space. The familiar discovered that the collapse did not extend too far, and that the air on the other side of the tunnel was moist and filled with the scent of rot and mold.

The group returned to the mine entrance and told Arpad to dispatch some laborers to clear the mine collapse. He agreed to do it as soon as they had the buildings in habitable shape, “first things first.” At the same time, two spearmen descended from a mining trail holding filled waterskins. “Good news, there is a stream just beyond this rise. We won’t have to lower buckets into the river for fresh water as we had feared.” Falur spoke up, “Arpad, surely you know as well as I that quicksilver can be a poison for those who misuse its properties. We should investigate this stream to ensure that it is not tainted.” Arpad was reticent to call quicksilver a poison, but agreed that the stream should be investigated and asked the party to look into the matter.

Falur begged a moment of leave, and said that he wanted to investigate something briefly. He took Jakab and István with him back into the cave, Marklech followed as well. Falur went towards the collapse and performed a lengthy magic ritual, after which his eyes glowed with an inner light. Falur’s Detect Magic spell enabled him to notice that faint motes of magical energy existed within the Cinnabar ore residue left in the mine, and he also noticed that the flails carried by the Red Flail guards were enchanted, that Marklech’s debt tattoos were imbued with latent enchantments, and that Marklech’s spider companion was host to a fey spirit.

painting of a cavern leading out to sea
A Cavern, Evening by Joseph Wright (1774)

The Underground Lake

The party reassembled and began hiking into the hills to investigate the source of the stream. After some time, the trail they were following continued on away from the stream, while the stream ran down from a rocky ravine. The party waded up the stream, against its current into the ravine. A few of them lost their footing on the slick rocks, bruising their shins along the way.

Before long, they noticed that the majority of the water was coming from an adit that had been carved into the side of the ravine. Marklech volunteered to investigate the adit, the party assented and he entered the darkness alone. Marklech crawled through the narrow passage for half an hour before stumbling upon a large underground lake. His light source only illuminated about 60 ft, so he could not see across the lake to determine the vastness of the chamber or whether there was an opposite bank. Where he stood appeared to be a man made drainage tunnel, the cavern had stalactites hanging from the ceiling and a few stalagmites breached the surface of the lake.

Marklech returned and told the party what he had found, they returned to the trail and decided that they would explore a bit more before returning to camp. They continued up the trail away from the camp to explore what else there might be.

oil painting of human skull stacked in pyramid
Pyramid of skulls by Paul Cezanne (1900)

The Cave of Skulls

The party saw a natural cave nestled in the rocks ahead of them. Once they had approached within short distance from the cave mouth, they saw that the cave had a shelf carved into each wall. Each shelf held hundreds of stacked boar skulls, interspersed with the occasional human skull. The adventurers looked about for threats, but nothing seemed to happen. Falur heard the sound of some loose rubble falling from above and had the sensation that he was being watched. As Stanislav approached the cave, the human skulls each illuminated. Light flickered from the eye sockets of the skulls as if there were candles burning within. The witchburners noticed that the human skulls had etchings on their pate, but only Falur could read them as they were written in Infernal. Each skull appeared to have a list of sins written on it, Falur speculated that the sins might’ve been committed by the person to whom the skull once belonged.

Stanislav decided to crush in a skull with his maul, and barely dodged the resultant gout of flame. Marklech decided to scout ahead, and saw that around the corridor there were four monstrous skulls adorning the walls as prize trophies. Stanislav identified the monstrous skulls as belonging to: a hill giant, an unidentified jaw-less humanoid, a reptilian Abishi, and an unidentified brutish demon with six upright horns encircling the skull. Marklech called the party forth and they walked through the hallway carefully. They entered a large chamber and saw an altar before them that was unadorned except for a carved out bowl shaped to receive a skull as an offering.

fin.

New Named NPC’s

  • Jakab (Black Cloak – Red Flail)
  • István (Black Cloak – Red Flail)

 

GM Thoughts

I’m glad to be back at the table and to have a new player. It is fun to have some exploration that is more simple than the intrigue of Bridge. I put mostly natural obstacles in the session because it feels incongruous with the setting for the cave to be overrun with kobolds or some small threat.

The cave of skulls felt a bit incongruous with the narrative, but I am really curious to see where it goes.

We talked after the session and folks are still having fun, but are frustrated by so many sessions that only have social encounters. Ultimately, I think they want an easy answer. They want to know with certainty what the source of the unrest in Bridge is. I told them that in a sandbox world I am not trying to always provide clean answers. I want them to feel like it is a real lived in world with all the messiness that comes with that. However, I do understand that some variety would be welcome, and I can sympathize with the desire to have a definitive answer.

I will try to frame their options for them next session. They need to hang someone in Bridge who the town council believes is a witch. They can then do any number of things, investigate the army battalion that went missing in the harsh mountains to the east, investigate the forest of symbaroum, delve into the ruins they found during session one. I think that I am going to fiddle with my XP system a bit to encourage players to drive the plot. We will see how that goes.

Session Five: Boars on the Mining Road

Session 5 held on 1/24/19

The Cleric Jannik, Priest of Prios
The Rogue Marklech, Spider Cultist
The Fighter Stanislav, Monster Hunter
The Fighter Friedrich, Treasure Hunter

breakfast-the-dining-room
Paul Signac – La salle à manger (1886)

October 6, I Watch – Sleep at Kingshall

At Kingshall, Roman and Esmerelda seemed to disprove that the party was planning to leave town without first resolving the witch situation. The adventurers did not confront the house staff, instead gathering up some extra food to take with them on the road.

October 6, II Watch – Set out from Cinderhouse Inn

Arpad Summerborn was busy getting his caravan organized. In total, there were 6 members of the watch, 7 hired guards (3 spear, 3 archer, 1 sword/shield), 10 laborers, and 3 wagons laden with supplies each drawn by 2 mules. Arpad gave a brief address regarding the momentous nature of their excursion. He thanked watch captain Kristina Changemaker for promising some of the watch to help see the mining camp established. Arpad gave an overview of the journey, saying that they would be traveling for two days.

four-boars-in-a-landscape
Rosa Bonheur – Four Boars in a Landscape (late 1800s)

October 6, III Watch – Boar in the Valley (Random Encounter – Boar)

After a few hours of travel, the caravan crested a small rise and saw a sounder of wild hogs in an adjacent valley. Five large boar herded their sows and piglets about near a small creek, feasting on the fall harvest of acorns. Stanislav took point on the hunt. He began to lead his companions to a vantage point within arrow range. Unfortunately, Stanislav was unfamiliar with the local flora and didn’t realize that the branches underfoot were of a brittle hardwood and prone to loud breaks. The boar charged headlong at Stanislav while the sows herded their piglets into the thick underbrush. Stanislav charged full-speed towards the boar and brought down the lead boar with a thrown handaxe. He was then knocked prone by the herd but was ultimately saved from the rampaging boar by some well-shot arrows.

After the combat, Friedrich observed one of the archers preparing to use a rusty knife to field dress one of the boar. Friedrich stepped in and introduced himself to Vaude, instructing him to take better care of his knife and sharing the work of preparing and moving the hog carcass.  

the-smoker-peasant-1888
Vincent van Gogh – The Smoker (1888)

October 6, IV Watch – Friedrich the Pit-master

Friedrich worked with Vaude to prepare and smoke the five wild boar. When the meat was ready to eat, it was outstanding, and both men earned the appreciation of the caravan. While all were gathered around the fire, Janik cast the spell “Light” on a small stone and gave a brief sermon about the power of Prios. The performance was met with general astonishment. The act of performing magic made four members of the watch suspicious of Janik, while four of the hired guards who were not from Bridge seemed notably unimpressed.

In the aftermath, the swordsman Card accused Janik of witchcraft. Card spoke of the evil powers of the Davokar and called the all the other men cowards for refusing to stand against Janik. He seemed convinced that Janik’s powers were not from Prios but from the foul forest. When asked about why he knew so much about the foul magic, he talked about how he had travelled into the forest to help excavate a giant clay mound filled with artifacts. He departed after a foul witch from the forest tribes blighted the camp with a sickness that took his cousin.

Later, Marklech cheated Card out of 4sp by having his spider familiar get a vantage point during a game of cards. A laborer introduced himself as Blance and told Janik that he seeks to journey to Templewell to become a faithful of Prios. Janik encouraged him to pursue his dream.

October 7, I Watch – Sleep

The adventurers began packing up camp, but their morning labor was interrupted by shouting. The spearman Cantor was beating on a laborer named Thomer, accusing him of having stolen a locket. Cantor demanded that the pear-shaped man tell him where he had hidden the object. Arpad and the adventurers intervened and convinced Cantor to leave the issue to rest for the moment, further declaring that anyone who finds the locket must immediately return it to Cantor. Arpad insisted that the item was more likely lost than stolen, but added that he would personally check everyone’s belongings when they next made camp.

a-family-of-wild-boar
Karl Bodmer – Family of Wild Boar (1800s)

October 7, II Watch – Boar on the Road

The party encountered a second family of boar along the road. Stanislav again took the lead against the boar, charging ahead with his axe and maul while the rest of the group hunted down the swine with spear and arrow. While the attendants were field dressing the boar, Janik searched through Card’s Bag. Janik found a letter written to Card that seemed to corroborate the story he had told the night before about his bewitched cousin.

After the morning incident with Cantor, Friedrich thought it would be wise to keep watch on the camp attendants to see if any of them did anything suspicious. After some time, he noticed a man named Vine digging through the mule carts. After Vine walked away, Friedrich investigated the area. He stumbled onto Cantor’s locket and announced that he had located it to the camo, indicating Vine’s guilt. Vine ran for the woods, but Cantor gave chase and almost killed Vine before Frederich and Stanislav intervened. They advocated that rather than killing him on the road, Vine should be forced to work off his debt. Cantor had to be forcibly subdued, but in the end agreed to allowing Vine to live long enough to face a trial once they arrived at the Oldson Mine.

miner
Nicolae Tonitza – Miner (early 1900’s)

October 7, III Watch – Blance Confides in Janik

While travelling, Blance shared his misgivings about the Cantor & Vine situation with Janik. He said that it seemed odd that Cantor would make such a big deal about the necklace, or that Vine would risk stealing it in such a small group. Janik thanked the man for his insight.

October 7, IV Watch – The Oldson Mine

The group arrived at the mine just as the sun was setting, there were a number of neglected buildings that looked about ready to fall in on themselves. Arpad instructed the caravan to set up camp for the night, adding that they would begin the work of restoring the mine in the morning.

Janik took Card aside and told him that he believed his story about the Davokar. Janik told Card that it was his mission to find foul magick and purge the world of heretics. Janik asked Card for his help keeping an eye on some of the Bridge natives in camp, explaining that he believes one of them might be a witch. Card agrees, but also asked Janik to help him get vengeance on the Barbarian witch that killed his cousin.

New Named NPCs:
Vaude, the Archer
Card, the Swordsman
Blance, the Hopeful of Prios
Cantor, the Spearman
Thomer, the Pear-shaped
Vine, the Thief

(Names rolled from Jason Morningstar’s Story Games Name Project)

GM Thoughts (I would prefer my players not read)

As the characters departed Bridge, the players talked amongst themselves and joked hey maybe they will hang a witch while we are gone and then we won’t have to keep dealing with these asinine town folk.” Someone else added, “Hey, at least Blaise is cool.” The players agreed that Blaise was their favorite member of Bridge. They went on to talk about how they couldn’t trust anyone in town; how it felt like the townies each had their own agendas, and how everyone had personal history that clouded their opinions of one another. I feel like this means that I have been successful at representing this claustrophobic small town drama.

I think some of the player reticence to force the issue of the witch hunt has been that the characters are not in particularly dire straits with regards to their own finances or personal safety. I began the campaign by starting the players in debt to “Lady Osis” who is the appointed baroness of the region. She is the one who dispatched them to Bridge, out of concern that the “witch fear” might have an impact on the stability of the town. Her main concern is that the crisis not negatively impact the annual taxes the town will pay her. I have not yet had her present in any of the scenes; neither to force the players to make any payments on their debt, to question why they left Bridge without resolving the situation, nor to demand they resolve the issue with haste. I am considering bringing her into the drama next session by delivering some demands via a letter brought by courier on horseback. The courier would also be a good way to bring news from Bridge about how the situation is progressing so that we can stay on the path of the moduled despite being out of town.

I’m not sure how long we will stay at the mine, I think the players wanted a break from the witch hunt so I am inclined to make the mine location a straightforward monster slaying encounter, but there is a part of me that wants to make it a multi-session hunt of an elusive foe, or to make another human drama related to hazardous mine work for little pay.

Two Random Encounters with boar

I rolled for a random encounter each watch. My method was to use a d6, with only the result of a 1 calling for an encounter with a wandering creature. I used the d12 encounter tables from Witchburner to determine what sort of wandering foe we would find. The only two encounters I rolled both ended up as “boar eating acorns.” When I got “boar” for my second encounter, I laughed out loud. As I contemplated re-rolling, I locked eyes with one of my players who grinned and asked “Did you roll boar again?” At that point, I felt like I had to go ahead with a second boar encounter. The players joked about trying to rename the mine “Boar Tusk Mine” or something to that extent to memorialize the significance of boar hunting, so I am glad I did not .

The other watches, when I didn’t roll a wandering creature, I would just introduce an impromptu social scene by making something up or rolling for inspiration from the d30 NPC tables from New Big Dragon’s d30 Sandbox Companion. I thought the whole Cantor/Thomer/Vine drama was some simple fun, and it actually encouraged some good conversations between the characters when they tried to defend Vine from Cantor despite their involvement in exposing his guilt. They seem to view themselves as lawfully aligned arbiters of justice, and insisted (without GM prompting) that Vine should be brought before a duly appointed body and tried for his theft, or be made to work off his debt instead of being slain.

 

Session 4: Hailstorm and a Changeling

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.
passing-storm-clouds-1869
Passing Storm Clouds – David Johnson (1869)

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.”

the-insurrection
The Insurrection – Honore Daumier

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.

george-moore-1891
George Moore – Walter Sickert (1891)

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.

street-scene-in-front-of-the-shop-window.jpg!hd
Street Scene: In Front of the Shop Window – Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1914)

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.

two-men-sitting-with-a-table-or-the-smokers
Two Men Sitting with a Table, or the Smokers – Honore Daumier

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.

fin-

Post-Session Notes

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)

d30 Archaic Words

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William Addison Dwiggins
  1. Aliment – food; nourishment
  2. Bodkin – dagger
  3. Blackguard – scoundrel
  4. Brimstone – sulphur
  5. Fandangle – a useless or purely ornamental thing
  6. Fishwife – woman who sells fish
  7. Kickshaw – fancy but insubstantial dish
  8. Kine – cows collectively
  9. Leech – doctor or healer
  10. Magdalen – reformed prostitute
  11. Malison – curse
  12. Mooncalf – foolish person
  13. Nithing – contemptible or despicable person
  14. Noise (something) about – talk about or make known publicly
  15. Numbles – a deer’s entrails as food
  16. Orison – prayer
  17. Otherwhere – elsewhere
  18. Pate – a person’s head
  19. Peterman – thief or safecracker
  20. Physic – medicinal drugs
  21. Posy – a short motto or line of verse inscribed inside a ring
  22. Pythoness – a woman believed to be possessed by a spirit and to be able to foresee the future
  23. Quaggy – marshy or boggy
  24. Sables – black mourning clothes
  25. Scaramouch – a boastful but cowardly person
  26. Shrive – to confess one’s sins especially to a priest
  27. Slipshod – (of shoes) worn down at the heel
  28. Tapster – a person who serves at a bar
  29. Watchword – a military password
  30. Yoke – the amount of land that one pair of oxen could plough in a day