Thursday, April 30, 2020

The Wandering Misfits, sessions #0 and #1 - "The Trail of Stone and Sorrow", part 1

Summary: Session report of a B/X game that I started running online for several of my co-workers. It’s an experiment all around, trying out some homebrew things while also tackling the challenge of finally storytelling a game in English. In case you have not played “The Trail of Stone and Sorrow”, then beware, spoilers abound.

In the beginning...

For a long while now I knew that some people at work were into RPGs, so the COVID-19 shitstorm seemed like a good excuse to get a game going with them. A few days ago I was extremely frustrated with the amount of insanely increased workload, so a coffee break ensued during which I got an idea for a game. I quickly scribbled some thoughts about it on paper and at the end of my break I came back to a work-related chat room and wrote “gonna run an RPG online, who wants to join?”. Four unfortunate souls rejoiced.

The setting that I decided to use is neither Quassus nor Amasia, but rather I decided on something new entirely. The only thing I told the players during character creation regarding the world was that it will be on the technological level of 16th-ish century Europe, low-magic on the surface, but lots of weird fantasy underneath. Just enough to get their gears going. 

In addition to that, I also gave them a short intro just prior to kicking off the actual module, a sort of brief mood-setter which I’ll post below.

So aside of these few scribbles, that was pretty much all the world-building I did in preparation for the game. But, here’s the caveat: at the end of each session, the players are free to make an assumption about the world, based entirely on the perception their characters had in the sessions up to that point. Having and using these assumptions in mind, either literally or metaphorically, I will craft the world further. Thus, I decided to name this setting Kaleidoscope.

This seemed like a nice experimental way of including the players into the process of world-building, weaving the world together as we go along. Extremely excited to see what kind of caricature we end up with.
Session #0 - Character creation

Session zero was pretty much just character creation and getting to know some basic rules, since the group is a mix of veterans and beginners. I opted for a B/X game sprinkled with a little bit of LotFP and then added some of my own homebrew stuff. 

Standard 3d6 in order, swap two if needed. We used the fantastic failed medieval careers from Ten Foot Polemic, as a secondary basis for the players to decide the class they want. 

Additionally, I decided on a rule which I saw in a friend’s 5e game, where he rewarded an additional +1 random stat increase if a given player comes up with a backstory connection their character might have with another PC. Not sure if this was his homebrew or a legit 5e thing (I’m not much of a post-3e person), but I liked it, so I used it.

In any case, this is what we ended up with:

  • Cleric (Gybon) - grew up as the fat kid who was bullied by the other kids, until he decided to use his size and strength to hit back and protect himself. Eventually, he dedicated his life to the protection of the Church, to which he turned for answers. Traveled around for a time, protecting various monasteries and spreading the fate. A believer, but the weirdness and the inexplicable things of the world made him question his fate and himself. He is now back in the village where he was born, still desperately searching for answers to unknown questions, at times at the bottom of a wine bottle.
  • Magic User (Torus) - the local grave digger. And by digger, I mean robber. The dead don’t need their gold, nor their trinkets. Alas, he is not quite proud of what he is doing and is painfully aware that it is out of survival and pure necessity, nothing else. He grew up with the Cleric and is one of the rare kids who didn’t harass him, so as a result the two are rather close friends and share a similar ambition for grander things. Thirsty for knowledge... and wine, when available. So far, the voice of reason in the group.
  • Witch (Raina) - at birth, her parents were dumb enough to be scared of some of her physical features (red hair, pale skin…) and thought that they were bad omens, thus they left the child deep in the forest to pretty much die. She survived thanks to wild animals deciding not to eat her and the local hunters and witches who took her in and raised her. She is the weird lone girl in the woods, a green witch versed in the Traditions of the Evergreen Ouroboros, usually just coming to the village to sell herbs and buy whatever she needs. Curiously enough, the loudmouth of the group and completely unaware of any social etiquette.
  • Specialist (Shine) - the village fence, she buys various odd items, mostly getting her stuff from thieves or the local grave “digger”, and then reselling the wares for profit. The local witch is her frequent customer, as she’s always in the mood to buy the weirdest stuff for sale. Lately though, she realized that she is a far better burglar than any of her suppliers and that she could make way more coin than a mere fence, especially since she knows what her customers want. Eager to do some travelling, exploring and finding new clients and treasures in need of being “rescued”.
Session #1 - Introduction

In the western corners of the world lies a kingdom, old and powerful, said to be ruled by a wicked king at war with a vicious queen. 

Somewhere within the king’s ancient land lies a village, so small it has neither a name, nor a mark on the map of the great kingdom. A place of common folk, of simple lives and humble needs, untroubled by the vastness, cruelty and strangeness of the world.

But among the simple folk, grows a sense of unease. The Church and its Holy Cross have spread across the land, now standing shoulder to shoulder with the religion of the Old Ways. All these Gods now stand together, silent, waiting… Hungry and envious.

Slowly, the nameless village stirs and a band of unlikely heroes answers the call. This is their story.

"The Mawddach Valley and Cader Idris" by Richard Wilson
The Trail of Stone and Sorrow

Commotion, rumors and overall weirdness riled up the villagers and so the elder named Gregory summoned up volunteers to investigate a matter most peculiar. Our band of misfits answered the call to the village hall, along with some other random townsfolk probably more interested in hearing gossip and not actually helping.

It would seem that the little carpenter’s boy saw a statue of a bear in the middle of the nearby forest. Even though Raina, the witch, claims she knows all the nooks and crannies of the woods and has never seen such a “statue”, Gregory replies that the displayed panic of the boy and his mother is genuine. The local alewife adds to that, apparently a merchant who came to town saw a stone cow by the road leading to the Kosovel farm. And speaking of the Kosovels, who are a frequent seller on the village market, the family has not been seen for a couple of days. 

Such a small village, yet so much trouble, and not made any easier by the other townsfolk rambling and cursing at the “weird stranger” who moved to the region some months back. No good came of his many riches and surely such an outsider is to blame for whatever is causing this distress.

The party decides to help out and investigate the matter, inspired by the reward of a barrel of ale and however much coin the elder can spare. First point of interest is little Robin, the carpenter’s boy. They find him rather fast and, for a price of one silver piece, he accepts to show them where he encountered the statue of the bear.

Even though he was “eager” to help and has quickly led the party through the forest, the boy suddenly stopped in his tracks, showing obvious signs of fright. “It is there, right behind that bundle of trees,” was all he said before running back to the safety of the village. 

Left alone, the party was a bit too careful about advancing forward, especially in the moment when the witch noticed that animals can’t be heard in the vicinity. Torus, the MU, decided to cast “Detect Magic” in the hopes of figuring out if anything magical is behind the treeline. He didn’t “see” anything, but had sensed a sort of weird, dying vibration radiating from the direction. In the meantime, Shine, the Specialist, decided to climb a nearby tree and take a peek. From her vantage point, she noticed something that could resemble a statue.

Finally the witch moved forward among the thick trees and underbrush, greeted by the strange sight of a bear made of stone. A bizarre sight, as the bear looked shockingly realistic, immediately discarding the possibility that this was the doing of anything but magic. Torus was sure the vibrating sensation came from the statue. Gybon, the cleric, tried to remember a tale where, he thinks, a witch had the power to turn creatures to stone, but he wasn’t entirely sure.

While the two childhood friends contemplated, the others spread through the area. The witch, while looking for clues and searching for plants she might use for spellcasting, noticed massive hoof prints that came from the north, moving all the way to the bear and then further south, roughly in the direction of the Kosovel farm. She also realized that, along the line of the prints, plants have been damaged, as if the creature ate along the way. The specialist, on the other hand, noticed trees with notches and a number of small snare traps set throughout the area, recalling that there is a hunting camp nearby.

With all this newly discovered information, the group decides to go towards the camp and see if anybody saw or heard anything. A short trek through the woods and they arrive, greeted by the sole inhabitant of the small wooden hunting cabin, Ol’ Lady Bibic. Annoyed with the high pitched, friendly voice of the witch, she decides to communicate with Shine. Not only is she aware of something threading through the forest, but she has actually witnessed the moment when the bear was turned to stone! She proceeds to describe a huge ox-shaped creature with a disfigured head bearing many horns and snake scales running down its back. The huntress tracked the beast for some time, as it was carelessly walking around, nibbling on plants, until it stumbled upon the bear. The poor animal got turned to stone the second they locked eyes on each other and the beast became quite violent then. It attacked some trees and then moved further south.

"American black bear, Ursus americanus Pall." by Gustav Mützel
Shine tried to convince Bibic to join them in an effort to stop the creature before it hurts someone else, but the huntress didn’t seem interested. She was happy that it strayed away from her cabin and her worries stopped there.

Since the party figured they moved close to the location where the “weird stranger” lived, they decided to pay him a quick visit. They are greeted with the site of a rather magnificent-looking three story cabin adorned with windows made out of actual glass and a menacing guard at the front door. Adorned with a leathery, fur heavy armor, the man gazed at the approaching characters without uttering a single word, even when they waved hello. The awkwardness was broken by an elderly woman coming out of the building, introducing herself as Mildred and wondering what the group is looking for, as the residence doesn't seem to have frequent visits from the villagers.

Soon enough, the party was inside the building welcomed by the man they came to find, Dr. Brenner, an alchemist with a peculiar interest for things most uncommon, who was pleasantly surprised with the unexpected guests. The party introduced themselves, but cut right to the chase. Apparently, the good doctor has heard rumors which unsettled the villagers, alas he has not paid much attention to the whole matter and has prescribed it to the superstitious imagination of the peasants. However, the second the party described the unnatural beast roaming the forest and turning things to stone, as well as the evidence they stumbled upon, his eyes widened.

Dr. Brenner seemed awestruck and curious about the creature, and has immediately offered quite a large sum of coin to the party if they bring it back to his chalet, dead or alive...
Final thoughts:
...and this is sadly where our session ended, since two players had unexpected technical issues connecting to our Discord server.

I won't include post-session musings and the module review in this post, since I'd like to wait for us to finish it. This was a two hour session and they're somewhere in the middle of the adventure. So far it is going "by the book", so to say, but I'm curious how they are going to tackle the end, as it will vastly impact my choice of the next module in line. I can't really tell if they picked up on what exactly is going on in the adventure, so there is no solid ground for me to predict the way it will end. Meeting the creature will surely spark a lot of debate and I'm rather excited to see how it will unfold.

Session #2 is scheduled for next Monday, so until then I hope y'all enjoyed this report!

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