The Cleric Jannik, Priest of Prios The Rogue Marklech, Spider Cultist The Fighter Stanislav, Monster Hunter The Fighter Friedrich, Treasure Hunter
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.
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.
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.
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.
October 7, III Watch – BlanceConfides 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
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’sd30 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.
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)
At breakfast, the housekeeper Esmeralda Takewood leaned over and whispered “you know that Jonah Prizepeace is as odd as they come, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit to learn that he is a witch.”
The party pressed Esmerelda for details. She found it suspicious that Jonah often went away to the city for days at a time since he practices no profession. She also claimed that he would come to Kingshall early in the morning to have breakfast with Ivan Sugarman (Husband of Edna the Mayor), looking tired and disheveled with blackened hands that would stain the table linens. She claimed that most nights a candle burned in his window until the early morning. She reasoned that he stayed up all night because he was working on his witchcrafts and foul magicks.
Janik asked Esmerelda about her religious beliefs, and forced her to talk about her religious instruction. She was very uncomfortable about being made to do this, but revealed a number of things that seemed slightly divergent from orthodoxy. She mentioned divergent elements in a number of religious stories. In one story she mentioned “three sages” and in another “three crones.” Janik suspected that these figures aligned with the “three avatars.”
After breakfast, Marklech asked Roman (Edna’s Butler) to send word to the Blacksmith that he was in need of a small mirror. Roman scoffed, “Am I your errand boy? I must see to the workings of this household! See him yourself.” Janik intervened, offering to mend a broken item in exchange for his help in this matter. Roman proffered a broken candlestick, Janik used the spell Mending to fix the item. Roman crossed himself and refused to touch the candlestick, seeming frightened by the use of magic. Janik pressed Roman “Do you fear the power of Prios, do you not trust that all things are possible in his name?” Roman cringed that he was not accustomed to seeing magic, he assented to assist Marklech to send a message to the Blacksmith.
October 3rd, 2nd Watch – Janik Talks to The Priest
The rogue and the cleric left Kingshall together, the cleric was much bothered by his companion’s description of their last encounter with David Slingstrider (priest) whose practices seemed so unorthodox. On the way to the church, an echo of Blaise’s laughter (The Town Uncle) cut through the light fog. Marklech decided to go see if he could find Blaise and left Janik to confront the Priest on his own.
Janik did not pause to knock at the closed door, but strode determinedly into the temple. Upon his entrance, he saw a group of eleven robed acolytes engaged in group worship. One of them approached him directly to ask that he come back later during public worship. Janik berated the acolyte and revealed himself to be an inquisitor, he demanded to be taken straight to the priest. The acolyte cowed to Janik, and hastily apologized while guiding him to the priest’s sanctum. The man asked Janik to sit in a private waiting room while he fetched the priest from his quarters.
The waiting room was filled with fine bookshelves including rare texts, fine artwork, and other exquisite wares. Janik took some time to look at the books for anything heretical. He did not see anything unorthodox, but did notice that most of the shelves were covered in a thin layer dust and the books looked as if they were not often handled.
David Slingstrider (Priest) arrived and Janik used his Witchsight ability to see if the priest had been corrupted by foul Symbaric magicks. The priest’s shadow was not pure, but was corrupted in a way that seemed in keeping with one of his position. Often priests are called upon to secure unholy artifacts or exorcise blighted spirits and their exposure to the darkness can taint their souls. Many a witchburner carries around corruption far worse than this man.
Nevertheless, Janik opened the conversation by accusing the priest of blasphemy and demanding that he explain why his preaching was so unorthodox. Janik accused the priest of incorporating the “three old gods” and thus corrupting the true faith of Prios.
The priest was furious and questioned Janik’s right to call his faith into question. He reminded Janik that he was the outsider in this town, and claimed that the townspeople were of his flock. The Priest went on to say that his ancestors had been forced to convert and that they had given up “the old ways” as best as they knew how. He questioned Janik’s abilities, “how would you have people forget everything their parents and grandparents knew to be true! So what if I blend the old stories with the new, it helps the people connect their own legends with the light of Prios. Conversion of this nature is a process, not a decision! It does not happen overnight!”
Janik accused David of fostering a witch in his flock, and the priest remained steadfast saying that he didn’t believe that there was a witch in the town. He again said that whatever foul magick might be occurring is the work of some other force, something outside of town, something that was moving against them.
Finally, David asked Janik to notify him first if he was going to accuse any churchgoer of witchcraft so that he could help the witchburners to apprehend the suspect. The priest explained that his flock trusted him, and with his help the witchburners might take the suspect peacefully. Janik thought this was suspicious, but thanked the priest for his offer of help and hesitantly agreed that he would keep the priest informed.
October 3rd, 2nd Watch – Marklech Talks to the Town Uncle
Marklech followed the sounds of laughter to a small house with fireplace ablaze and front door ajar. He approached and saw Blaise sitting before a small crude bronze mirror. Blaise appeared to be preparing to shave, but Marklech could see no hair on Blaise’s face that needed shaving.
Marklech stepped into the house and asked Blaise what he was doing. Blaise responded “Shaving off yesterday so that I can begin to live today.” Marklech seemed curious, so stepped in to watch him. While shaving his clean face, Blaise mused “You know the days go faster and faster now.” Marklech reasoned that days seem to go faster when one has more concerns to attend to, but Blaise insisted that the days were themselves passing faster and faster, “Old father time is trying to move us along, get it all over with, perhaps we have made one of the old gods angry and we are being marched double quick to the end times.” After shaving, he put the straight razor away into a drawer that held five knives.
Marklech asked about what god Blaise worshiped, and Blaise scoffed at the idea of worship. He claimed that he was cursed and had nothing to thank the gods for. He said that he had been cursed to bear the truth alone.
Marklech asked if Blaise knew if any townsperson was a witch, Blaise said “Which Witch do you seek! Everyone a witch, nobody a witch! Depends on what you think a witch is!”
Marklech asked who was responsible for the foul deeds, Blaise responded “Who is responsible for the rain or the sun, the snow or the harvest? How can we point fingers in this world? Are you responsible for your every breath or thought? Perhaps it is the gods who are untended in the mountains who are responsible… wrecking their havoc on our world. Perhaps we are all playing out a grand facade of their making.”
Maklech asked if Blaise was capable of guiding them to the “Mountains of the Dead Gods,” Blaise confirmed that he was able to guide them through the woods to the mountains. He said that it was about a week-long journey and that he would be paid in silver. But he said he would need to think about an appropriate price as the trip was hard and “a long hard winter is surely coming, and coming soon.”
Marklech gave Blaise 10 silver to thank him for his time, Blaise said “for a gift, I give a gift. Some of what you hear today will be untrue, but some will been true. Your fate will be determined by what truths you act upon.”
October 3rd, 3rd Watch – The Notary is Stricken with Boils
Marklech and Janik met back up and heard a commotion near the town square. Some agitated voices and the sound of heavy feet running across the cobblestones. They decided to investigate and saw Ivana (Doctor) running towards Petra’s (Notary) house. There was a small crowd of townsfolk gathered outside gossiping about having seen Petra suddenly struck ill with boils. They were muttering about “foul deeds” and some others were muttering “serves her right for her harshness collecting the taxes.”
Clarence Ironbutler (Petra’s Chef) stood firmly at the door, clearing a path through the crowd so that the doctor could enter. Janik and Marklech jogged across the square and arrived just behind the doctor. Clarence noticed them running, as did the crowd. The crowd quieted down and made room for them to pass, but Clarence held the door closed, saying that he had been told to allow entry for only the doctor. Janik told the man that the doctor would be of no use if the affliction was from witchery, and that he should allow the witchburners to pass so they may investigate the occurrence themselves. Clarence capitulated, allowing the burners into the sitting chamber. They saw Ivana kneeling next to a low bed, tending to Petra whose face was covered in pustulant boils. Ivana was attempting to investigate the boils, but Petra was screaming in annoyance and pain.
Janik questioned Clarence about Petra’s morning, asking who she had spoken to and what she had eaten. Clarence told Janik that she had met with Olga (Beekeeper) that morning because she was behind on her taxes, but otherwise had only eaten the standard fare from his own kitchen. When Ivana heard the conversation behind her and finally noticed the arrival of the witchburners, she flared in annoyance and ordered the burners to leave the room so that she might calm her patient.
Janik berated Ivana in turn, and insinuated that she was unprepared to cure the affliction that seemed clearly to be the work of witchcraft. Janik then forced Ivana to administer an opiate to kill the pain so that he might question Petra. Ivana took some convincing, but eventually brought out a small pipe and applied some black tar to the bowl. She lit the pipe with an ember from the fireplace and had Petra inhale deeply. Soon the sounds of pain ceased and Petra took on a stupor. Ivana begged leave to fetch books that might shed light on this strange affliction.
Janik interrogated the drug-addled Notary. Petra affirmed that the only appointment she had attended that morning was a meeting with Olga the Beekeeper. She then complained about “those who keep to the woods” who believe that “working the land has any place in the world of today.” She scoffed that Olga would try to pay her taxes with honey or royal jelly. She further rambled on about her views that the future “is for those of us who can seize it” and who are not stuck in the traditions of the past. Janik asked who “kept to the woods” and she muttered “oh the butcher, the baker, the milkmaid, the beekeeper, and the rest of that lot.”
Janik asked how she felt about the priest, she accused him of profiting on the ignorance of his followers and leaving the rest of the town to pay more that their share by claiming that the church was exempt from paying taxes. She lamented the need to attend his sermons at all, and claimed to go only when absolutely required.
October 3rd, 4th Watch – The Butcher Hosts a Gathering
The party regrouped and decided to meet with some of “those who keep to the woods.” Since Marklech had overheard Ursula (Butcher) console Olga by saying “the Earthbreaker will provide” he suggested that they visit the butcher. Janik and Marklech walked to the edge of the woods where both Olga and Ursula had their homes, noticing that Olga’s curtains were drawn but edged in light and that smoke came from her chimney. There was some great commotion from the Butcher’s house, and through the windows it seemed clear that a small feast was taking place. The witchburners modified their plan slightly, that Janik would go in to tell the gathering that the witch had been identified and Marklech would listen with his familiar to see if any of them revealed themselves afterwards. Janik proceeded alone to knock on the door while Marklech hid in the shadows outside the house, letting his spider familiar crawl under the floorboards.
Gregor Inksblood (Husband of the Butcher) opened the door for Janik with a smile that quickly faded when he registered that there was a witchburner before him. Gregor stuttered and informed Janik that they were hosting a small celebratory gathering after a new birth. Janik explained that he needed only a brief audience with Ursula and that he would not interrupt the festivities.
Ursula and Gregor hosted Janik in a small sitting room, offering him some brandy. Janik attempted a ruse, claiming that he would be capturing the witch that very night. Further, he told Ursula that he had come by to make arrangements for a celebratory feast. Ursula congratulated him and said that the town would surely be happier to have the witch captured and hung. She offered to show Janik her prize livestock so that he might select the finest for the celebration. He demurred, saying that he trusted they could work out the details at a later time. Ursula and Gregor asked Janik to join the festivities celebrating the daughter just born of Lea Takewood (the Milkmaid) by overseeing “the ritual.”
Janik agreed to participate, and Ursula led him to a large room with a dozen people and a young goat tied to a wooden column. She handed him a ceremonial dagger and asked that he say a few words and then slaughter the goat. Janik addressed the crowd, telling all present to be at ease, that the witchburners had found the witch and would soon be making an arrest. He then cut the neck the young goat, but made a clumsy job of it. Ursula and Gregor assisted to catch the blood, and finished the ritual slaughter by hanging the goat by its legs above a bucket to bleed out. Ursula addressed the crowd, explaining that a life must be taken when one is born to maintain the great balance.
Janik noticed a young red-headed woman watching him through the crowd. She kept herself aloof, and didn’t seem surprised or begin to gossip as the others did after they heard Janik claim to have found the witch. After Janik departed, the spider familiar lingered and through it Marklech heard a young woman with a resolute voice caution the crowd about the witchburners. “They would see our traditions and call us witches. Tread with caution when those men are about. They do not have our wellbeing in mind with their crude works.”
After departing, Marklech had his spider peer into Olga’s house. They saw that she was asleep in bed with a companion. Janik decided to lean a small rock against her front door to see whether she was truly sneaking off the the woods to work foul magic during the night, intending to arrive back at her door before dawn to see if the rock had been disturbed.
October 4th, 1st Watch – Sleep
At a quick breakfast in Kingshall, Roman and Esmerelda identified that the red-head was likely Stella Slingstrider (priest’s daughter). Esmerelda shared the gossip that Stella had taken up with a prospector from Ravenia a few months back. Roman chimed in that he saw the young prospector arrive back in Bridge just a few days ago, and told the group that the man was named Arpid Summerborn (Prospector).
October 4th, 2nd Watch – Investigate the Beekeeper
The two witchburners arrived at Olga’s house at dawn. The rock had been disturbed, but they immediately heard the voices of Olga and a companion carry through the thick fog. A torch faded into the darkness as Olga walked with her companion towards the hills. The burners quickly conferred, Marklech decided to follow Olga into the woods while Janik would remain to investigate the house.
Marklech followed Olga and her companion through the thick fog, overhearing some flirtation and some discussion of business. Olga and her companion slowed as they approach a steep ascent of narrow switchbacks. Marklech hung back a bit, and then followed them up the hike through the thinning fog. He arrived in time to see Olga kneel down to burn an offering against the trunk of a large tree. Her companion said “You really ought to stop with that superstition, especially with those burners in town. They are likely to believe you a witch!” Olga scoffed and told the man to mind his own business and get to work.
Marklech hid in a small cairn of rocks for a few hours, observing through his familiar while Olga and her companion collected honey from a number of bee hives. After they left, Marklech investigated the tree where she performed her ritual. He saw an arcane symbol of one of the avatars drawn in the dirt and covered in white flaky ashes. He suspected that she had burned some offering to honor the earthbreaker.
Meanwhile, Janik attempted to enter Olga’s house but found the door and windows locked. He noticed some of the wall planks were loose and decided to pry them off to attempt an entry. Prying off the planks was loud, and after he pried off a single board he heard someone call out from inside the house. “Olga is that you?” Janik heard approaching footsteps and decided to simply walk away from the house. Given the thick fog, he was easily able to get away without being observed.
After a few minutes, he decided to return to Olga’s house. He approached the front door which was left ajar. As soon as he entered the house, the man saw him through the hole left by the removed wall plank. The man called out defensively and accused Janik of foul play, but Janik was able to dissuade him and convince him that he had only just arrived and was looking for Olga. The man ended up sharing some information about Olga’s loan to Harald Oldson from Ravenia, and when he was pressed agreed to show Janik into the mead cellar. The cellar tunnel descended into the hill about 100’ and ended in a large cavern ringed with mead barrels, honey pots, and royal jelly jars in the dim torchlight.
New Named NPC’s
Stella Slingstrider (Priest’s Daughter)
Gregor inskblood (husband of the butcher)
Clarence Ironbutler (chef of the notary)
Ivan Sugarman (husband of the mayor)
Harald Oldson from Ravenia (Olga’s Moneylender)
After the Session
The players lamented that the whole party wasn’t present so that more people could suggest courses of action, they worried that they were missing some key fact and having more people would be helpful for the diversity of thought it could provide. Holiday sessions are tough, but I think the small group allows us to really see what each character is doing. I talked with Janik’s player who voiced his concern that he would hog the spotlight since his character was the one most tailored to the roll of inquisitor. I think we are doing a good job sharing the spotlight, but with the focus on social encounters we need to be extra vigilant.
I mentioned that in future sessions I planned to drop more rumors about things going on around the town, perhaps giving opportunity for small adventures or excursions to break up the social encounters.
The players lamented that each suspect ultimately seemed to not really be a witch, but then they pivoted to talking about how Stella might be a prime suspect. The players were conflicted about Olga, they talked about how she seemed good-intentioned but stuck in the “old ways” and don’t suspect that she is responsible for the foul magick that is afflicting the town.
Marklech’s player said that he thought that Janik slaughtering the goat might’ve been a ruse for some sort of dark ritual and that he expected that his spider would overhear the townsfolk gloat about it after the departure of Janik.
GM Thoughts (players read at your own peril)
Tracking NPCs – I prepared some note sheets that were focused on tracking accusations, but then there were no new accusations this session. I think it might be more generally useful to have sheets for players to track each NPC, rumors about them, scenes with them, etc.
Alcohol – I had intended to continue with the alcohol but it kinda slipped away from me with a number of the scenes. Janik is accepting alcohol when offered but claiming that he is only sipping, refusing to actually drink. I think I will allow this to not further his alcohol clock, but in the future I will be rolling to determine whether the hosts notice. I will probably inform the players when this happens with something like “The host sees your cup is still full as he fills his own for a second time. He furrows his brow and straightens his shoulders, squaring off against you.”
The Old Gods – I am wondering about this religious syncretism path that I am finding myself on. I think it makes for some fun conversations in the session, but I am wondering how anachronistic it is to presume that the priest would be aware of religious conversion as a historical process. I wonder if I should’ve make him less reasonable and either more evasive or oppositional. I think I could’ve played it more like a traditional cult, but I am enjoying really leaning into the moral ambiguity of this whole module. I guess we will see what happens.
NPC Direction – With so many NPC’s it is difficult for me to give each one a clear focus/goal in the world. I feel like good npc’s have clear desires in the world and are striving to change or enforce the status quo. I think I default to make my NPCs reasonable and likable. I want Bridge to be a tinderbox that is about to go off, but I feel like I need to take it up a few notches before it will actually feel like that. I am also thinking about the “kill your darlings” advice. The players have grown attached to some of the NPC’s as sources of information. They like Blaise but aren’t sure whether he is crazy or useful. The breakfast scenes with Roman and Esmerelda have become a useful GM tool, but perhaps I should lean into those NPC’s harder as biased narrators.
The players woke up and revisited the mass grave. They looked about the ruined camp and dug up the bodies. Under a torn tarp, they found a necklace and trophy bag (containing ears and fingers) that belonged to the missing witchburner. In the mass grave, they found 16 bodies carrying a total of 200sp. In one the other graves, they found a man who had a golden tooth. He was not the witch hunter. They took the tooth by force. Rather than spend the afternoon digging up the other graves to look for the witchburner, they departed for Bridge so that they could arrive before nightfall.
October 1, 2nd & 3rd Watch – Uneventful Journey to Bridge
October 1, 4th Watch – Arrive at Bridge
The players approached bridge with the sun setting behind them. Two hunters carried a buck tied to a pole. A shepherd led his sheep towards town. The villagers avoided the eyes of the adventurers, politely refusing to meet their gaze.
On the bridge they were stopped by Blaise Knockwood (Town Uncle), who spoke to them for a while. Some of the highlights:
“All the tears of the gods run through this river. The mountains are named after the forgotten, dead gods. Perhaps you will have a mountain named after you one day.”
“The town folk are hot and cold, cold with me but perhaps hot for you.”
“You’ve just arrived and already seek my help? I thought you came to offer us salvation! How quickly the tables have turned.”
“Find me if you seek a guide through the forests of the soul!”
The party went directly to the mayor’s house and were met by Roman (Butler) and talked to Edna (Mayor) briefly. Edna told them they were welcome to stay at Kingshall while they sought the witch. The adventurers asked if she had any suspects, the mayor said that the watch captain had been accused last week, but there was no evidence to support the accusation. Edna told them to be polite in town, and to come to the council with evidence before taking any action against a suspect.
The group asked Edna about the inn they had noticed in the town square. Edna told them that Ursula Cinderdaughter (innkeeper) had not supported the council when they chose to send for Witchburners. Edna warned the party not to look for a friend in Ursula.
The group decided to visit the tavern. Before leaving Kingshall, they removed their Witchburner insignias. The fighters entered the inn ahead of the rogue, as soon as they approached the bar the other patrons seemed to know who they were. Anya Baronsgetwas working the bar, she greeted the fighters with a raised voice, saying “So you’re the Witchburners ey? You’re a day late!”
Marklech the rogue kept to the shadows, entering the inn while the fighters had drawn the attention of the crowd. When Anya said “Witchburners” the eyes of most of the room turned to the fighters. Marklech noticed two tables of patrons who looked particularly uncomfortable and kept his eyes on them for the evening, looking for anything suspicious.
After some time, Anya raised her voice again saying, “If ye like the mead, send your thanks to Olga there!” and gestured at one of the patrons who Marklech had been keeping his eyes on at the corner booth. Olga (Beekeeper) nodded and grinned at the adventurers, but did not approach. She left with her two companions soon thereafter. Marklech followed them, keeping to the shadows.
After the fighters asked Anya about the witchcraft rumors, she leaned in close and quietly accused Kristina (the Watch Captain.) “She was the sole survivor after her squad was ambushed by barbarians. She turned up in town a week later covered in blood. What foul deal do you reckon she made to survive when no others did?”
The fighters asked Anya if they could talk to the innkeeper, Ursula Cinderdaughter. Anya fetched Ursula, who gestured the fighters towards the backroom of the Inn. Also sitting at a small table were Irving Staffsend (blacksmith) & Kristina Changemaker (watch captain.) The fighters spoke with the three for some time, during the conversation Ursula offered them a reward if they could hang the witch by the end of the week (October 7th) and let business get back to normal as soon as possible. When they asked what kind of reward, Irving promised Stanislav a sword and Ursula promised silver.
Simultaneously, Marklech followed Olga (beekeeper) and Ursula Bearbreaker (butcher) back to Olga’s house after they departed from the inn. Marklech hid in the shadows and spied on them by using his spider familiar to sneak into the house. While spying, he overheard Olga speak of her debt to a powerful merchant. In response, Ursula told Olga to have faith that the Earthbeater would provide, and that with hard work she would be free of her debt. Afterwards, Olga descended into a cellar of some sort cut into the hill, she emerged with a jug of mead and they drank together in silence for some time.
October 2, 1st Watch – Slept in Kingshall
October 2, 2nd Watch – Town Tour
Petra Inksblood (Notary) took them on tour of the town after serving them brandy for breakfast – alcohol level: 1
Petra showed them the main neighborhoods, the smaller wooden homes built on the North hill and in the woods, and the larger stone homes built near the Southeast cliff wall. She also talked a bit about the main town square and the watchtowers.
When asked what Petra thought of the Watch Captain, who had been accused of witchcraft. Petra defended Kristina, saying that she kept the watch under budget and performing like an oiled machine. She thought the accusation was ridiculous.
Markel Breakwater approached the group on their tour and gave them a smoked goose. He then accused Olga (beekeeper) by telling a story of how she had spurned men in her youth but now fraternized with the young men in town, taking them into the woods.
October 2, 3rd Watch – Doctor’s house
Drank brandy – alcohol level: 2
Investigated the Maleficae:
Burned fish – found floating in the river by the fisherman
Gutted cat – nailed upon the schoolhouse door
Rotten crops – stinking of decay
Crimson slug – still alive and reeking of brimstone
The players asked about the cursed child (the merchants told the party about the three-eyed baby on the road in session 1). The doctor’s eyes widened that they knew, and he said the child was buried as it should be. Then he told the story of how he had delivered the three-eyed baby after the midwife had forced the mother to suffer for hours of unproductive labor. The cursed child spoke the foul words “Amimam!” as soon as it entered the world, so he slew it as was the custom. After telling the story, he accused Nina (the midwife) of foul magicks and wickedness.
Commotion in the town square, hundreds of hairy caterpillars were eating the roses around Kingshall while some townsfolk wailed and others rushed to help. The adventures avoided the scene lest they be associated with the occurrence.
October 2, 4th Watch – Priest’s Rectory
Rumor from The Chorus: They claimed that Ivan Redbasket (The Baker) is always defending evil creatures and freaks like the Wild Child, they further speculated that he might defend them because he has, himself, been touched by darkness.
David Slingstrider (priest) invited them to drink some wine with him in his rectory – alcohol level: 3
The priest raised the suspicions of the party by performing his functions differently than was standard in religious ritual, liturgy, and exegesis. He kept referring to Prios as the Firebringer, where it is standard to call him the Lightbringer or Lawgiver. He also used a non-standard blessing in response to Marklech’s genuflection.
After Marklech probed about the “Earthbeater”, David spoke about the “Three Avatars” but said that it was the faith of his fathers and grandfathers, now they were all devoted to Prios the lightbringer. The party asked if the three domes of the temple were for the “Three Avatars” and the priest said that it was merely a cultural preference from their history to build this way, but that they were surely devoted to Prios. David added that the party should be forgiving of folk in this town, “We are far from Templewell and I’m certain we do things a bit different out here.” The two smaller domes of the temple were sealed with heavy cloth, robed acolytes busied themselves with tasks but did not wander far from the sealed sections.
When asked about whether Olga (Beekeeper) and Nina (Midwife) were members of his congregation, the priest said that they were both devout believers of Prios who attended every sermon. When the party told him that they had been accused of witchcraft, the priest defended each of them.
He reasoned that their accusers had something to gain by their accusations:
“Aye, and you don’t think the Doctor has something to gain if the Midwife goes out of business then?”
“Those men are just jealous that Olga has found someone to warm her bed and that it isn’t one of them.”
When the players asked the priest who he suspected of being the witch, he claimed that it must be one who lives outside of town, “like those woodsmen or herdsmen.”
As they drunkenly stumbled home after dark, they heard the ringing of hammer on anvil from the edge of town. They did not investigate.
October 3, 1st Watch – Slept in Kingshall
Recovered 2 steps of drunkenness, woke up with alcohol level: 1.
At breakfast, the housekeeper Esmeralda Takewood leaned over and whispered “you know that Jonah Prizepeace is as odd as they come, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit to learn that he is a witch.”
October 2, 2nd Watch – Informal Accusation: Markel Breakwater (Bird Trapper) accused Olga Princebrewer (Beekeeper).
October 2, 3rd Watch – Informal Accusation: Ivana Cleanlined (Doctor) accused Nina Dukesget (Midwife)
October 3, 1st Watch – Informal accusation: Esmeralda Takewood (Housekeeper at Kingshall) accused Jonah Prizepeace (Doctor’s Husband)
Some thoughts after this session (if you are my player don’t read past here):
One player shared that it was fun to play a “genuine who-dunnit” rather than just rolling persuade a couple times and killing someone. I would agree! We didn’t have combat all session, but I am using some D&D 5th edition rule variations that encourage the players to avoid combat. Specifically, I am using the Gritty Realism rules from the DMG but modified for Witchburner. Short rest is resting for 1 watch (6 hours), where a long rest occurs when you engage in restful activity for 5 days.
I have been making the accusations and spreading rumors by rolling on some d30 tables. Wow, it is difficult to keep track of all these NPC’s! I am going to try out some custom tracking sheets to track accusations and investigations next session. I feel like once one npc spreads a rumor about another, I should track that to remember their relationship status. There were multiple rumors spread per scene, many of the rumors became accusations once the party asked people about them. I think tracking accusations is essential, but I am not so sure about tracking rumors.
The players took some time for table-talk after the session. They were agreed that Olga was probably not the witch, despite the fact that she had the most rumors and fingers pointed at her. They were speculating that there was likely some sort of cabal of individuals, rather than there being only one witch. They thought perhaps the city council was somehow behind it.
They picked up on the strange religious practices quite quickly, putting together the scars on the Notary’s face with the symbols in the church and the overheard mention of the “Earthbeater.” I am looking forward to seeing where that goes. The group has some pretty dogmatic characters in it.
I am not sure if I am getting the desperation/fear tone right. Most of the townfolk have felt more like gossips than like people who are genuinely afraid. Perhaps I should think of this as simply a starting point, and that as the malefica get more dire, I will be able to amp up the fear and paranoia.
I was thinking about 5e mechanics today, and how you might introduce spells or effects that would manipulate those mechanics. I think most of the existing 5e spells fit into one or more of these categories. Let me know if you think of another category or method by which to engage with the game at a mechanic level. Also, Sacks/Stones/Soap and Heat are both from Luka Rejec’s Long Winter.
Create/remove a physical/mental/magical barrier to a task (silent image, wall of fire, invisibility)
Encourage/discourage a certain sort of actions (suggestion, command)
Create something that wasn’t there (summon elemental)
Destroy/remove something that was there (banish)
Core Mechanic – d20 vs target number
Change the d20 to a different sized dice (step up/down)
Change the number of dice being rolled, choose highest/lowest (dis/advantage)
Change the number of dice being rolled, sum/difference of the dice (bonus/penalty dice)
Add value to the sum of dice rolled (bonus value)
Skip the mechanic – guarantee success/failure
General Attack/Spell Attack Mechanic – d20 vs AC
All that apply to core mechanic
Change the AC (sunder armor or Mage Armor)
Alternate Spell Mechanic – Player Action Forces GM to make d20 Save vs Spell DC
All that apply to core mechanic
Change the DC (empowered spell)
Skill & Save Mechanic – d20 vs Task/Save DC
All that apply to core mechanic
Change the DC (glamour makes persuasion rolls easier)
Damage Mechanic – Number of Size dice rolled
Roll more dice (critical hit)
Roll bigger dice (versatile)
Re-roll low numbers (Great Weapon Master)
Add value to the sum of dice rolled (damage bonus)
Skip the mechanic – deal predetermined damage per hit
Double/halve the damage (resistance/vulnerability)
Scene 1 – You have all been tasked to travel from Kastor to the town of Bridge to hunt a witch. Your patron, the Lady Osis, dispatched a seasoned Witch Hunter a week ago. The town sent word that he never arrived so she has sent you all as well, with the additional instruction to be careful along the road. The trip takes four days walking east. The road you have chosen is the well-worn road of the boundary wardens. You are deputized agents of the lady, and on top of your current charge it is your sworn duty to ensure only those who are licensed & permitted enter the Davokar forest to salvage the ruins.
As you crest a small rise, you see some dust coming from the road ahead. A two-mule team pulling a cart heavily laden with barrels rounds the corner. The two men slow their progress when they see you, but then wave and continue plodding towards you. What do you do?
The characters did not pause in their trek, continuing towards the mule team. Jannik said that he wanted to focus his attentions on the team and see if there was anything unusual about them. He succeeded on a perception roll and noticed that the travelers were well provisioned and wearing finely made travel clothes. These men seemed more like seasoned merchants and not any sort of rabble leaving Bridge fearing for their lives. He communicated that to the rest of the group, and as the mule cart neared they greeted the merchants.
The merchants responded with hearty greetings, pausing alongside the party and offering them a sample of the fine brandy in their barrels. The party readily assented, with the exception of the cleric who held back. After the cleric saw that the merchants were sampling their own wares, he accepted a swill. After a brief exchange, the merchants shared some rumors from Bridge, claiming: “fish are dead with blackened hand prints on them”, “a babe born with three eyes”, “the harvest rotted in the field” and other ill omens. The party took this news heavily, and then asked about the road ahead. The merchants said that they passed a dead horse the previous day, but had not investigated for there were some jackals about preying on the corpse.
Finally, the merchants told the group that if they liked the brandy they should stop by the still of Pepi Oldson and tell him that Red & Bran send their best regards.
Scene 2 – Another day has passed on the road. You see vultures circling ahead, above the low rolling hills. As you arrive, you see a few large birds picking at scraps on the scavenged corpse of a horse. You have each consumed one ration over the last day, please reflect that on your inventory. What to you do?
The characters spread out around the scene, pausing their journey to investigate if this might the horse of the missing Witch Hunter. After a successful investigation roll, Jannik noticed a bloody trail that led to a small copse of brush trees. At the same time, a successful perception roll alerted Marklech to a dust trail coming towards them from the direction of the Davokar forest. In the copse, they found a bloodied and tattered tabard of a witch hunter. They also found a saddle bag that had been cleared of its contents.
They took a defensive position atop a small hill, some kneeling in the high grass and others standing visible and alert, to await the arrival of whatever was raising the dust trail.
Scene 3 – Two haggard men stumble into view about 150 yards distant. One carries a large bundle beneath his arm, and the other carries a spear shaft that has been snapped off near the end. They seem exhausted and injured, continually glancing behind them as if fearful of pursuit. What do you do?
The party decided to alert the men of their presence, the ragged men seemed thankful to have found the party. They ran towards the members, falling down exhausted on the ground before them. They begged for help keeping them safe from the Davokar Elves who followed them. The party saw that the bundle was filled with poor quality salvage from ruins within the forest and that the men did not have any license for their salvage. Stanislav and Jannik accosted the men, rebuking them for trespassing upon the forest without permit.
Scene 4 – Nineteen lithe figures crest the hill in the distance, pausing briefly and taking a battle formation before advancing towards your position. These figures are tall and elegant, wearing bands of iron on their left biceps and matching armor. Many hold longbows, while some others carry long spears or longswords. They march in well-practiced formation, the archers take a position on a hill opposite yours. The leader holds no weapon and walks a few steps ahead of his honor guard, he looks to you for sign of your intention. What do you do?
Frederick the archer stepped forward and proffered his empty hands as he performed a slight forward bow. He had seen this gesture depicted on salvaged frescoes and fervently hoped that it was the proper greeting. The other party members followed suit, and the elf leader returned the gesture. His honor guard sheathed weapons and did likewise. The elf leader addressed the group in Elven. “We are Summer Elves of the Iron Pact. These brigands have broken the terms of the pact by raiding our realm and disturbing that which should not be disturbed. We demand that they and their ill-gotten bounty be handed over to us, as is our ancient right.” Jannik had studied Elven back at the academy, but he was more comfortable reading it than speaking it. Nevertheless, he stepped forwards to offer a greeting to the elf. In stuttering Elven, the cleric promised to accommodate the elves request by turning over the men and their salvage.
The leader seemed surprised, but nodded his thanks and indicated that the brigands should be brought to his guards. Jannik told the party in common what he and the elf had agreed to, and while some of them might have had qualms with handing humans over to the elves they did not voice them in light of the overwhelming numbers of the elvish host. The haggard men screamed in disbelief, and when Jannik went to grab one of them he got a dagger in the gullet for his efforts. Luckily, his chainmail deflected the blow. He responded by smiting the man with Sacred Flame, killing the weakened criminal.
Scene 5 – The brigand’s death rattle echoes through a suddenly tense and momentarily silent field. A scream of anguish suddenly splits the sky as the last remaining scavenger’s spirit breaks. His cry transforms into something unearthly as his eyes blacken and his body lifts from the ground as if a puppet on strings. The air darkens around him, and the blackness seemed to coalesce into the form of a large shadow humanoid. The man’s face hangs silent and expressionless and his veins are blackened from corruption. Please roll arcana to see if you know what is happening.
Stanislav was the only one who passed his arcana check to identify this for what it was, something people called “shadow corruption” or a “blight beast.” They say that if you spend too much time delving in the forest you can fall host to the darkness. Stanislav shouted “Blight Beast!” and the party took action. A few solid blows landed on the body of the brigand, with each blow the shadows seemed to dissipate slightly. The beast scratched Stanislav in response to his attack, leaving a sickly bruise. A volley of well-placed elven arrows dispatched the beast.
In the flurry of combat, the rogue Marklech succeeded in pocketing a couple Symbaric coins from the bag of salvage before returning the bag to the elves.
The elven leader commended the cleric for his rare willingness to abide the terms of the ancient treaty. In thanks, he offered a small scroll bearing the words “This human assisted Talrond of the Summer Guard to enforce the iron pact.” He also handed over a small vial of opaque glass, and said that it should be consumed with tea by one who has been exposed to the darkness of the Davokar blight.
The elves departed after mentioning that these brigands had a base camp at the edge of the woods. The group decided to investigate the camp to see if they might learn more about the fate of the missing witch hunter, despite knowing that this detour would add an additional day to their trip, and they would arrive in Bridge later than anticipated.
Scene 6 – You catch sight of the wrecked camp before you as the sun is setting. On the edge of the camp in a thick grass you notice a strange pulsing luminescence. What do you do?
The rogue Marklech had taken Magic Initiate, and introduced his spider familiar to the group at this time. The spider crawled his way through the grass to investigate the mysterious lights, and found that a number of bioluminescent beetles were crawling around some hastily buried human corpses. The party approached, hoping to scare the bugs away. The archer shot one of them as it flew around for a different position, and in response the whole host of beetles swarmed the party. The bugs spit a bioluminescent acid at the party members, but were slain without much hassle.
Frederich investigated the burial ground finding a leather satchel buried beside one of the men. He twisted his ankle in the process, but also noticed that there were other graves in the area that seemed more soundly dug. At this time the day was quickly descending into darkness. The men retreated to a nearby grove that Stanislav had identified as a secure site and prepared to camp for the night.
The cleric privately shared the truth about the elven vial with Marklech the rogue, asking him whether he thought it should be given to Stanislav who was complaining about his bruise from the blight beast or if he should keep the vial to study. They agreed that it would be better to study the vial and keep it a secret from the other men.
The party consumed another ration and camped through the night, each taking a turn at watch.
Luka’s Sack Rule of Inventory – “A Human can carry one sack unencumbered and two sacks encumbered.” Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just leave it at that!
One Sack is Ten Stones, and one Stone is Ten Soaps. A Stone is equivalent to a normal sized item (~15 lbs), and a Soap is a small item (~1.5 lbs).
1 sack = 10 stones = 100 soaps = 2500 cash
I am hacking Usage Dice onto Luka’s Inventory system, denoted as ∆ and then a number. Usage Dice will step down one dice value each time they are rolled and result in a 1-2. The dice step chain is: ∆20,∆12,∆10,∆8,∆6,∆4.
Strength Modifiers – If you have a Strength modifier, that will simply make a sack larger/smaller by your modifier amount. So Strength 16 (+3) would make a sack hold 13 stones instead of 10.
Encumbrance – If you carry more than 1 sack, you are encumbered. You can’t carry more than 2 sacks.
Coins – 250 coins is 1 stone = 25 coins is 1 soap.
Armor – Light armor is 1 stone, Medium armor is 2 stone, heavy armor is 3 stone. A Shield is 1 stone.
Clothing – Your worn clothing does not take up any inventory space. Ceremonial clothing or anything elaborate would be 1 stone. In Luka’s Longwinter, each layer of Warm Weather clothing takes 1 stone.
Weapons – Most weapons are 1 stone, Heavy Weapons are 2 stones. Ammunition is 1 stone / ∆10.
Lighting – Candles – 1 stone / ∆8. Torches – 1 stone / ∆6. Lantern – 1 stone. Lantern Fuel – 1 stone / ∆6.
Candles provide dim light for 1 person, Torches provide bright light for 4 people, Lantern provides bright light for 6 people.
My fear is that Adventure Pack is too broadly useful, and there are still too many little trinkets in the 5e equipment list to want them all to be Soaps on their own merit. So I hacked down the list of items in the 5e equipment book and made this list of packs:
Packs – Each pack is 1 stone / ∆10 – Each pack costs 20+4d6 gp. Packs can be “refilled” for 2d6 gp per ∆ step.
Camper’s Pack – For Making Camp & Camp Life (Ex. Stove, Tent, Bedroll, Pots & Pans, Salt, Fishing Tackle)
I first saw Symbaroum on Kickstarter in July of 2017, when the campaign for “The Witch Hammer” was underway. I was immediately hooked by the art and setting, eagerly backing the campaign at one of the higher levels so that I could get all of the books. When I got the PDFs I was in awe of the art, but felt overwhelmed by the presentation and had no idea what the game was really about. I searched online for actual plays, and I even joined a Twitch livestream of some group playing the game.
A lot of what was happening seemed familiar. At the time, I had been running a lot of Numenera so the player-side dice rolling didn’t bother me. While it was familiar, it was also just unique enough to be discouraging. I am the only GM in my group, and most of my players are still pretty content to play D&D 5th edition every week. As the GM, I have a lot of control over what to run for my players but ultimately need to respect player preference and run games that people are excited to play.
Symbaroum arrived at my house at a inopportune moment in my gaming life. My players were experiencing some acute fatigue from my Kickstarter driven system-of-the-week style of scheduling one-shots or month-long mini-campaigns. I was then (and still am) Kickstarter crazed, and my shelves were (and are) full of games that I hadn’t played or had barely skimmed.
Even so, Symbaroum has stuck out in my mind. Despite not having played the system, I backed the “Monster Codex” when it hit Kickstarter during November 2017. I kept going back to the books, and the setting continued to inspire. I would reference the art with other games that I ran, even using the Symbaroum GM screen to set the tone for other games. It was the game that I kept wanting to run, but the fates kept resisting me.
Lots of things can get in the way of running a new system, some of them are in the control of game developers but most exist outside of their influence. The presentation of game content in Symbaroum ultimately is not for me and provided a high amount of internal-resistance to being played, but I don’t want this to be a negative review and so I am not going to go into any of my specific criticisms that are a matter of personal preference.
I haven’t run a campaign for my players in the better part of a year, so when I recently started talking to them about the fact that I was interested in running a new campaign, we started discussing what to play. A few players said “anything,” others said “anything that we already know, no new systems please,” and a few other players said “I really only want to play 5e.”
I came up with a list of the things that I wanted in my campaign, and I realized that I could achieve them all with 5e. I came up with a list of the things I liked from Symbaroum, and I realized that I could hack them into 5e. My players were excited, they too love the art of Symbaroum and the implied setting. Now I could finally take all these books that were full of setting and lore inspiration and make them usable in a way that they never were to me as a complete system.
In my mind, Symbaroum is focused on the forest Davokar. The politics are just a backdrop and the personalities hardly matter. The history is vague and contradictory, every noble and faction tells it differently anyways. The players are all Ambrians, they matter to themselves and they are situated in the landscape. They migrated, they remember the great war and terror. They want to create a better life for themselves, or at least want the power to defend themselves against the hostile world.
There is a lot of rich content in the Symbaroum books. I didn’t know what to do with all of that content over the last year. It felt like I couldn’t access it. There are so many personalities and details that it boggles my mind, “How am I ever going to get any amount of this content across to my players?”
Now, I have a way to engage with that content and bring it to my table. Albeit, on my own terms.
“All games do not come from the same cookie cutter or jelly mould. Each has a heart set in mechanics and raw concepts, but in building a new game the designers imbue the basics with their own flavour, theme and focus. When we step into Ambria, we enter a world created by a small group of writers and that world has a slant of their own. Coming from any other game, we must cleanse our palette of preconceptions and try hard not to shoehorn Symbaroum into a form like those we have just left behind.
Symbaroum is not Dungeons & Dragons or Pathfinder, nor The One Ring, Genesys, RuneQuest or Warhammer. While you can read the Core Book and use the setting to run another game with another system, the best approach to actually play Symbaroum requires you set aside your hunger for spell ranges, feat trees, battle mats and point-based character balance and embrace the idiosyncrasies wide-eyed and open-minded.”
I have played in and/or run 32 different RPG systems since my first TTRPG session in 2015. I like things and have learned from each of them. On top of that, I have read, skimmed, or played hundreds of modules, splat books, adventures, monster manuals, blog posts, gaming zines, tweets and G+ posts.
When I land on a book that lodges in my imagination and consciousness for more than an initial skim through, I get excited. When I am excited about a book, the way I channel that excitement is by hacking the content into a form that will be usable by me at my table with my group.
It feels very unproductive to read anyone talk about the “best” way to play a system. Different groups want different things and different GM’s run games differently. At the moment, our hobby feels full of people drawing lines in the sand and planting flags. I believe that we should each be conscious of our actions and engagement within this space. I want my actions to make play culture more diverse, divergent, individual, and free-form. I want to make accessible tools that can be useful for GMs regardless of system.
I understand that game developers create a game with a certain experience in mind. I run and play lots of PbtA games that are clearly designed for a specific play experience. As a GM I am very intentional about player motivation and intent around the games. Symbaroum might have been created to encourage a specific type of play, but choosing to engage with it differently should not be viewed as an insult or as an act of resistance.
In my mind, hacking a game is a compliment. It is a love letter to the game to like it enough to make it your own when it would be easier to use a system neutral setting or something already written for 5e. I want to continue posting about how I am hacking Symbaroum, but I am not sure if there is even an audience of people interested in this type of engagement. I hope that I can make the setting more accessible to GMs by creating tools that I will use at my table and by sharing Actual Play reports of how we are engaging with the setting. I hope that my engagement is viewed not as an insult to the system, but as a contribution to the community.
A few players were running late, so I decided to open the session with a discussion on expectations/hopes about the campaign. Most of the players I had met with prior to session zero, to talk about my intentions for the campaign and hear if they had any concerns with my choice to limit the game to human characters and to introduce some game hacks. As a group, the four players present talked about what they were excited about:
The darker setting/tone and the idea that magic is somewhat taboo
Playing at a physical table & playing with a more serious tone – not adventure zone
Having a regular time to get out of the house to hang out with friends, hoping for a longer campaign
Exploring the setting and learning more about the mechanics that we will be hacking into 5e
I was grateful that the players were excited about many of the same things that I was hopeful to do with the campaign. I think that meeting with them ahead of time to discuss my aspirations about the campaign was helpful to get everyone on the same page during session zero.
After one player discussed mechanics, I told the group that I did not want to run a game where character optimization or balanced encounters were a core focus. I shared a bit about the fact that while I do know the rules and want the rules to guide 95% of what happens at the table, I believe that game tone is the most important element. That as long as we have a shared understanding about the tone of the setting, that we can each enjoy the game and have varied sessions that speak to the interests of each player. I want combat to be fun, but I will not usually prepare a series of “set-piece” encounters for any given session. Further, if there are times when we aren’t sure how the rules would work in a particular situation, I will want us to discuss it as a table and choose the option that best fits into the established tone and fiction.
I transitioned us into gameplay by passing out pregenerated “level 10” characters. I used a stripped down character sheet for each one that only had a handful of attributes, abilities, and values. I told my players that we would be playing with cinematic rules for the purposes of this session zero. I had prompted them by emailing that we would be playing out a historic vignette that would have occurred a generation prior to our campaign. I elaborated on this idea at the table, by giving some narration:
“You are elite troops who have spent your lives fighting a generational war against the Dark Lords. A few years ago the king died and the young queen, only 12, picked up his spear and has led the charge against the undead foes. Unfortunately, despite all the gains of late, the young queen was captured within the past month. This loss has galvanized the army, and now you are with a group of templars leading the charge against the Vampire’s Castle where the queen is being held.”
I asked the players to name their pre-gen characters, letting them know that north-east European names would be the norm. We ended up with: Peter Petchkoff, Piotr Metchnik, Akman, Gregor, and (after Gregor died) Irena.
Scene 1 – Undead Masses
“A trebuchet payload breaches the tower nearest your position, the four of you run through the opening before the stonework crumbles behind you. You are isolated from your battalion. Ahead of you in the dark tower you see one of The Undying. He speaks words of arcane power that awaken the many servitors along the two walls. These skeletal troops wear the armor of your nation, they are the animated corpses of your fallen comrades. The air reeks of carrion and decay. A blue circle fades into life and the Mage disappears, teleportation magic. The circle is still active, but fading. What do you do?”
I had miniatures set out on the table, the players were on one end of a hallway. Each side of the hall had 8 zombie/skeletons and one giant flesh golem. The teleportation circle was about 40 feet away from them. After initiative was rolled, only one player was able to act prior to the horde. The greataxe wielding fighter (Akman) took out two of the lesser undead, and then all the players were swarmed. The masses of foes didn’t do too much damage, but the golems began pounding away at the heroes. The wizard summoned a wall of fire, killing eight undead and wounding a flesh golem. The cleric healed one of the fighters who had been struck by the flesh golem, and then ran towards the portal. The others fought as they could, Akman realized that one of the zombies was the animated corpse of his brother, who had fallen in combat against the Dead Nation. The wizard ended up isolated on one side of the room, and both flesh golems charged him. They pounded poor Gregor into the ground as the other three characters stepped into the teleportation circle.
Scene 2 – War Room & Hallway
“You emerge from the teleportation circle into a round room, ringed with similar circles of power. They are all dull & inert, the one you stepped out from fades to grey. The center of the room holds a heavy wooden table, covered with maps, books and other objects. It appears to be a war room, a place of strategizing. The room is ringed with leaded glass windows. The sounds of the siege echo from far below. You realize you are near the top of the main keep. Some burning pitch flies past the window, exploding in a blaze against a nearby tower. There is one large door leading out from this room. A trail of fresh blood leads from a nearby teleportation circle through the ajar door. What do you do?”
The group took a moment to mourn for Gregor before heading towards the door to scout. They discovered a hallway leading to a large door about 50’ away at the opposite end. Another large door was midway down on the left wall, and a small reinforced door was set into the right wall near the far end. Voices could be heard down the hallway from the room at the end.
The group listened first at the door to the left. They heard numerous footsteps running away from the door. The blood trail led through this door.
The characters proceeded to the reinforced door, and heard a rattle of chains within. At this point, I turned to the player who had been playing as Gregor and told him that he was a woman in her late 20’s who had been captured along with the queen. I asked him what class he was, and he chose to be a rogue named Irena. I said that Irena has been plotting her escape these last few weeks, and has learned how to work her chains loose.
We had a good scene with Irena asking the party who they were with the opening question “Are you the Dead or the Living?” before freeing her from her captivity.
The cleric (Petchkoff) soon convinced Irena that they were allies, but the commotion of the conversation alerted the well-trained ears of the vampire steward in the next room. Filip the steward appeared in the doorway, receiving an arrow to the chest and an axe blow to boot. The party was dissuaded that their blows seemed to barely hinder the vampire, who then bit the fighter and regained his full health.
Petchkoff held forward his holy symbol and channeled his divinity, Prios the Lightbringer. Instead of a normal turning a miracle then occurred, waves of sun fire filled the hallway and reduced Filip to a pile of smoking ash. After the blinding brilliance faded, the cleric found that the holy symbol he held was now a sphere that appeared as a sun.
Scene 3 – The Dark Lord’s Chamber
“In the silence following the miracle of Prios, you each feel something vibrating the very air of this hallway. In tune with your own heartbeats, the very chamber before you seems to thrum with a heart of it’s own. Beyond the charred doorway you behold a large octagonal chamber with an enormous black iron chandelier hanging far above. The chandelier holds enormous red wax candles that burn crimson. Each candle seems to contain a skeletal corpse within the wax. Opposite you is an enormous bronze and iron sarcophagus set against the far wall. Nex to that chamber is a smaller door, where Irena believes the queen to be held. Laughter fills the chamber, as the Dark Lord whispers telepathic promises of death to each of you.”
Akman ran to investigate the crypt while Metchnik, Petchkoff, & Irena opened the door to the queen’s cell. They freed the queen, who was extremely weak and frail from torture and starvation. She reached out a hand to Metchnik, asking who it was that freed her and offering her blessing against the dark lord. Metchnik received her boon, standing up and applying a vial of blessed oil to both of his short swords.
The sarcophagus opened releasing a thin fog and ten ghasts. The cleric cast holy aura, giving advantage to his allies and disadvantage to the undead foes. After a round of fighting, the fog thickened such that all were effectively blinded. In this chaos, a few ghasts were slain. In the following round, the chandelier flames roared as a deep arcane voice boomed out from the crypt. The flames seemed to depart from the candles, each character saw in their peripheral vision the apparitions of many flaming skeletons flying through the room, but they could never see one clearly, only in their peripheral vision.
These flaming wraiths seared away some of the fog, reducing it from heavy to light. In the light fog, they witnessed a 10’ tall hulking vampire lord emerge from the crypt.
During each round of combat, I described sounds of an approaching force of templars. As the lord emerged, the templars were attempting the breach the iron portcullis that closed off the chamber after the players entered.
The players fought a last round of combat against the giant vampire. Metchniks’ blessed blades seemed particularly effective, and the dark lord’s skin blistered where the blades cut him. The lord spoke arcane words and suddenly appear as multiple identical images. The lord then pointed at Irena and spoke words of death and disease. Irena was reduced to 4hp after failing her con save.
At this point we faded to cutscene, narrating the resolution of the battle as the templars entered the chamber. I worked in the prep questions (below) to the players as they narrated the resolution of their characters.
We talked about these events being part of the lore of the world, and I told the players that they could narrate the fate of each of the characters and also describe whether there was any link between their campaign character and their pre-gen. We had some really good discussion around this topic, the players all really loved Gregor the Wizard who died in the first scene. Since Irena the Rogue was at 4 hp, the player decided that she was mortally wounded in the upcoming fight. He was somewhat gleeful and chuckled “I’ve never had two characters die in one session before!”
With the rest of the time, the players created their lvl 1 characters for our upcoming campaign. They each rolled for attributes and together chose to play two Fighters, a Paladin, a Rogue, and a Cleric.
The only prep I really did for this whole session was writing the following four questions, some of them I was able to get into a scene but the rest of them were answered during the end narration:
You come face to face with your brother, now raised to serve as undead in the dark lord’s army.
How does he appear to you?
What family heirloom do you recover from his body?
In the tower of the dark lord, in a moment of respite you notice an ancient tome of power.
Is it in a script that you understand?
Does anyone see you take it?
Surrounded by skeletal foes, you surge with the holy fire of Prios. After the blaze recedes, a blessed object now rests in your hand.
What form did the holy artifact take?
Was it handed over to the church or kept secret?
After rescuing the queen from her captors, the queen gave you a boon.
What did you ask for?
How did it go awry?
I used the Blood tables in Kabuki Kaiser’s Castle Gargantua to come up with descriptions of the rooms.
I was running a one-shot where I wanted to give out magic items more readily than I normally would, so I prepared this list and slapped a deck of cards on the table. When players looted the corpses of each big bad, they would draw a card from the deck and I would tell them what they got from this table. It was fun.