Friday, April 3, 2020

God's Chosen Bastards, session #1 - "Tales of the Scarecrow"

Summary: A report from the first session of "God's Chosen Bastards", yet another storyline set in my Quassus setting. A two player session running for almost five hours using the rules and module from Lamentations of the Flame Princess. Again, this post also includes post-game musings, a small homage to Dungeon Crawl Classics and a brief review of "Tales of the Scarecrow", so spoilers abound.

Start of the session

You’re no hero.

There were times and chances for you to shine in this light, yet you were either forbidden or you simply refused the call for heroics. For whatever reason, you’re neither a savior, nor a guardian.

Things change. You’re taking your destiny into your own hands and you’re changing your life. Now you’re becoming adventurers, rogues and survivors. With sword, magic, faith and skill you seek gold and glory. You will slay evildoers and demons, for they guard what your heart desires.

You’re still not heroes. But this are changing.

Yes, kicking it off with a tribute to DCC. I love the piece of text on the back of the core book and I instantly thought that this is the perfect introduction for this new band of adventurers. Slight modification on my side and then I used those words to set the mood of the session.

Same as last time, we used randomly created characters via the great Save.Vs.Total Party Kill generator. It's awesome, use it. The rolls were:
- Fighter - Male, Youth, Formal Attire, Ugly
- Specialist - Female, Youth, Messy Clothing, Scrawny
- Cleric - Male, Mature, Formal Attire, Obese

Even though there were only two players around the “table” (it was a Discord voice game), I decided to generate 3 characters and have them choose 2, while I would use the third as an NPC.

To be perfectly clear, the only thing I did before the game was press F5 on the generator three times and copy paste the characters in .txt files for the players. Everything else, as far as background cosmetics go, has been done by the players and myself during the session. Thus, the adventure started with the de facto leader of the group being Hum (Fighter), a young noble man who grew tired of wasting his life in the palaces of their kingdom, instead hungry for adventure and essentially dragging the others along. Bogdana (Specialist, the character I ended up using), a crude and mischievous young woman with a fleeting crush on the prince, bent on following him into whatever adventure he sets out on just for the hell of it. And last but not least, Father (later of course nicknamed Tuck), is a priest of the local church, a man quite fond of the other two and determined to take good care of them and lead them on the path to God. Quite a fun little thing in this context is that “Bogdana” literally means “given by God”. Also of note, all three characters are of Chaotic alignment.

When we established these stories, I further set the ground for the “Scarecrow” with a small prequel. The group got together and performed a heist on a certain wealthy individual, stealing from him an ancient looking figurine. Now on the run, they hit the road leaving the principality and with a set course for the next big town. There, Bogdana knows a person most likely interested in buying off the figurine.

What I didn’t tell them just yet, is that the “wealthy individual” is actually the wizard from “Tower of the Stargazer”. If you recall from my previous report, that other group of PCs saw the corpse of the dead man near the tower and have also established that another group of people escaped the principality and were in the Tower before them. Well, this is that group and the now dead "Traveler" was probably the companion who gave Bogdana the location of the potential buyer. And the figurine they stole? Originally not from “Stargazer”, but a seed for a future adventure... All in due time.
Tales of the Scarecrow

On the road, the party immediately kicked off with some interesting role-play, discussing God, morality and how is it that the priest finds justification for the group’s thieving actions. The conversation was so captivating that it integrated into the story, making the group lose track of their course and their whereabouts, completely ignoring the changing weather. Soon enough, they realized that they got lost and are facing an intimidating thunderstorm looming ahead. 

Wet, disoriented and becoming tired, the group trekked aimlessly a few days across the endless plains of the countryside, no house or shelter in sight, the rain ever-persistent… until they notice an old little house in the middle of a cornfield. Their hearts jumped further when they noticed that no smoke is coming out of the chimney, an obvious sign that the house is empty, for no fool would stand this cold without a fire in his home.

"Anxious Moments" by Sir Sydney Prior Hall
They threaded down the path to the house, making happy remarks that they could even stay here a bit longer since they have all this healthy looking corn to eat… Needless to say their hopes of a safe-haven got crushed when they entered the house. The sight of Richard Fox (I used Balkan names during the game, but for the purposes of this report I’ll use the originals) completely shook them. Que some more amazing role-play from Father, who immediately struck a conversation with the man, offering him blessed holy water to drink and telling Bogdana to give him some food.

Yes, save your food for your own fat ass, Father,” was her remark with a chuckle, but she obeyed. 

Soon enough, Mr. Fox told the tragic tale of himself, his dead companions and the thing dwelling in the accursed cornfield. Meanwhile, the party noticed the path through the corn had vanished. Both this and Fox’s horrid account struck an immediate cord of panic in the group, but the Father remained stoic, saying that God has a reason for everything, even this devilry. 

Hum and Bogdana left the other two to talk, so they investigated the room with the corpse of Kingsly. To the best of their ability, they came to the conclusion that he did, in fact, die as Fox described. The horrid stage of decomposition didn’t stop the specialist to loot the body, her companion remained seemingly uninterested.

At this point, Fox told most of his story and was feeling exhausted again, no doubt the retelling of the demise of his companions made a depressing imprint on him. Yet, Father was an exceptionally comforting and reassuring man, even for someone as nonreligious as Fox.

"We're here now, friend, be at ease. Everything will be sorted out."

The group collectively investigated the other room with the sword and the body of Edward, taking the time to discuss in secret the story they just heard. Father was convinced that the man spoke the absolute truth due to the sheer emotional reactions and body language, while Hum remained neutral, yet trusting the priest’s judgement. Bogdana agreed, her voice drawing the attention of her companions at an awkward moment while she was taking off a golden ring from the dead man.

They continued pondering what to do with the entire situation, when the specialist again drew the attention of the others, this time to the bite marks on Edward’s leg. She stood up from the corpse, neither from fear, nor shock, but some third emotion she couldn't truly describe. Silence, from all three. They looked at each other, fully aware of what this meant, yet none showed signs of judgement for the act of apparent cannibalism.

“Could we truly blame him for what he has done?” Bogdana broke the silence.

“God would understand instead of judging, for he surely has a reason why he allowed Fox to survive, even this way. He still has something to do here,” were some of the words Father uttered.

Still, this was too much for the specialist, who simply went out to get some fresh air, leaving the others to ponder. The only thing they did was open the window in the room to clear out the dreadful stench of death and decay. The sword, as well as the books from the main room, remained ignored for now.

Hum and Father went behind the house to investigate the dead horses. Indeed, a death most foul befell the noble animals. They rolled over one of the bodies and the priest investigated the wounds… numerous gaping holes, an apparent reason why the animals have been almost completely drained of blood. Father took the pouch containing the cylinder with the rolled document, while Hum cut the leg of one horse and threw it in the field. The ground shook viciously, a huge tentacle sprouting out of the soil and snatching the body part mid air. The two were in the house in a split second. 

“I hope that now you know that I’m not lying…” The only comment from Mr. Fox that greeted them back inside the house.

They absolutely did and were now desperate for a break. Hum took a few moments to sit down at the magnificent harpsichord and play some melodies which he learned on the piano during his “more noble days”, in an effort to bring some peace to the chaotic situation.

When everyone calmed down, they investigated the receipt which they found in the cylinder. The price tag listed made them finally decide to also investigate the items Fox bought, yet they were puzzled that the musical instrument was not on the list. Still, it has been a long day and maybe it would be better if they call it a night and get some rest. Bogdana was the first to keep watch, after she lit up the fireplace and went out to stand guard on the roof.

Father couldn’t sleep, his thoughts restless. Instead, he was in prayer the entire night, pleading God for an answer. He dozed off for a mere 10 minutes prior to being “woken up” for his guarding shift. In those ten minutes of peaceful sleep, God answered and Father had a vision. A faint, blissful melody of the harpsichord stuck in his ear.

While “on guard”, Father decided to investigate the books on the table. It is then that he finally noticed the dreaded “Malleus Deus” sitting in front of him. At first he rejected the realization, thinking that this isn’t what he instinctively thought it was. But it only took him a few turned pages to realize that indeed this was the blasphemous tome no one dared talk about, the fabled book which was the sole reason for the burning of the Alexandrian library. He quickly closed the book and pushed it away, feeling almost tainted by it. He immediately grasped the other book, hoping he would calm his thoughts.

The other one, “Tales of the Scarecrow” contained three stories and it was apparent to him that this is just a work of horror fiction and nothing else.

Eventually, everyone was awake and it was obvious that they need to act as soon as possible, lest they end up like Fox and his companions. Father shared his vision with everyone and they took it from there. They realized that the creature gets angry when random tones are played on the harpsichord and that nothing happens if a nice melody is played, but it was painfully apparent that someone needs to stay behind if the others are to escape. On the contrary, Hum was determined that the best idea was for everyone to carry pieces of dead horse meat and just run in separate directions from the house, hoping that the creature doesn’t attack everyone, the meat to be used as decoys.

At this point, Father confronted Fox about the wretched book on the table. It seemed that the poor fool was oblivious as to what he purchased, but upon hearing the origin of the book he regretted it, dropping to his knees and begging the priest for God’s forgiveness. The priest’s response was a test, saying there will be forgiveness if the book is destroyed, right then and there. It was cast into the fireplace, and although his eyes showed pain at the sight of his money and investment burning, Fox did not object. Meanwhile, Hum took the marvelously decorated sword from the other room.

The priest then decided, he will give this man what he asked God previously. Father was adamant and would not take no for an answer from anyone, for he willingly offered himself to be the one who would bring salvation to others. 

The group spent one more day at the cabin, Hum teaching the old, fat priest how to play the instrument well enough to create a safe passage for the rest. The following day it came to be. He sat down and played to the best of his newly learned ability, watching with the corner of his eye through the front door and seeing his friends along with Mr. Fox slowly walking away across the field. He smiled, trusting their words that they will somehow come back for him. It is God's will.
Post-session Game Master musings

About the group:
In all honesty, I absolutely adore my players. We’ve been gaming for years together and still they never cease to impress me. They instantly latched on to the characters and immediately delved into some deep role-playing, breathing so much life into it all.

Emotions aside, these are two of the three players who were also part of the “Stargazer” game. The third player couldn’t attend, but he in fact continued to play Leposava in “Weavers of Fate”, which is now a text based "one on one" game I’m running for him. However, “Scarecrow” and one more adventure following it (hopefully, to be played on Discord soon-ish) will have a major impact on Leposava’s storyline. Nobody knows yet that all this is tied together.

About the module:
Simple… deceptively simple! That’s how I’d sum up “Tales of the Scarecrow” in five words or less. I’ll toss in a “fucking awesome” in there to make it five words and be done with it.

In all seriousness, you have a single location covered on 8 pages of the small A5 format and it is absolutely packed with all sorts of content. In essence, it’s an escape room kind of horror game. You’re stuck in a derelict house with dead bodies hanging about, a fancy harpsichord and some other shiny things, surrounded by cursed corn and a musically inclined Cthulhuoid critter. Get out or die. Simple, right?

Well, it is simple, but the amount of playable content and weird shenanigans vastly surpasses the 8 pages. Our game lasted for almost five hours, going at a steady pace and only one 15 minute break, meaning that this is one serious game jammed into eight pages.

I love the layout of this book as it greatly helps with running the module smoothly. The sections are concise, with as little or as much information to clearly explain things, yet leave enough room for improvisation. Next to that, the few maps that are included are excellent. I know it sounds kinda silly to say that a one-location module needs maps, but the map of the cornfield and the house interior are done really well and they are a great visualization tool both for the GM and the players.

As with other LotFP modules, the already mentioned item shenanigans are cool. The spellbook messed up the priest instantly. The harpsichord was a head-scratcher up until the end. These strange, out-of-place things always seem to add a whole different level of spice to modules and I'm truly beginning to appreciate them in a new light. As with the Tower, I'd definitely like to run this module again!

You can grab "Tales of the Scarecrow" on DriveThruRPG here.

Lessons learned and final thoughts:
The simplicity of this module can be deceptive. I was under the impression that my players would wrap up the adventure in an hour or two, especially when I look back to the previous session when they “finished” the Tower prematurely. We didn’t have time now to discuss and compare to that adventure and why they decided to get the hell out of dodge, but here they exhausted all the content in its entirety without overdoing it. It was an amazing and flowing session.

One thing that did grab my attention was Hum’s player (the player who also played Elena/Marko in “Stargazer”) and how he was a bit obviously distancing himself from items and other shiny things here. I think it’s a sort of mini-PTSD moment, since it seems like he was assuming that this module is equally deadly and abundant with “save or die” rolls. Guess that’s what you get when you decide to run a Raggi as your players first OSR experience.

Overall, I think that collectively we have all adopted quite well to playing “Lamentations” and being in the OSR mindset, which to me as a GM is such an awesome accomplishment. I had my fair share of OSR games, but this is the first time I actually introduced someone to it and I think the road has been great so far. I sense that they enjoyed this module more than “Stargazer”, simply because this one left more room for roleplay while the other one is packed with all sorts of weirdness that might preoccupy and intimidate the players.

But to go back to the point of thinking they’ll finish the adventure extremely fast, I even went so far and prepared one other module to run immediately after this one, just in case. Since this wasn’t the case, we agreed that we’ll continue playing these characters into that other module (after a small interlude where they need to save Father), despite the basic idea being that these are one-shot characters. This is also mostly due to quarantine and everyone staying at home, since before our group got together like once a month (if we’re lucky), so gaming was rather scarce and one-shots were a default norm.

So basically, I’d like to thank bat soup for being a bit kind to my hobby. At least something positive while the rest of the world is falling apart.
"Don Quixote; The Knight and his Squire" by Gustave DorĂ©

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