Wednesday, May 6, 2020

The Wandering Misfits, session #2 - "The Trail of Stone and Sorrow", part 2

Summary: Session report and wrap-up of “The Trail of Stone and Sorrow” module by Z. Kowolski, as the group is slowly creeping up into uncharted territory beyond the adventure. Includes a review of the adventure, as well as post-game musings and thoughts. Spoilers abound.

The Trail of Stone and Sorrow

We picked it up right where we unexpectedly dropped the session last Monday due to bad internet. The group is in the living room of Dr. Brenner's chalet, trying to work out a deal where everyone will be satisfied. He is offering 2000 sp for the creature to be brought back to him, dead or alive. The lucrative money offer was more than tempting for the group, but the witch insisted that Brenner should help them out with some equipment or other supplies for the upcoming endeavor. He refused however, instead promising that he might have more “tasks” for the group after this is done, as he is looking for "skilled associates" and he’ll be more than happy to invest further into them. Right now though, they need to prove their worth.

Perhaps not fully satisfied, the group accepted the task. The conversation with Dr. Brenner continued for a little while longer though, as the group was trying to get as much information as possible. The doctor seemed to be a well traveled man and has seen or heard a fair share of cases of creatures with the power to turn life into stone. In this instance he suspects a Gorgon, but it could very well be something else entirely. If correct, a useful tip would be to steer their gaze away from the creature's eyes.

“This world of ours is quite peculiar and can surprise you at every corner… my assumptions could very well turn out to be false.”

Soon enough, the party said their goodbyes and took their leave. Not fully knowing what it is that they are dealing with, they proceeded with caution towards the Kosovel farm. They began to worry that they wasted too much time lingering about and that someone got hurt in the meantime.

"The Cornfield" by John Constable

They arrived at the pastures to a sight that only confirmed their fears, for a cow turned to stone greeted them. The entire scene beyond the poor animal seemed chaotic, as there were three statues of sheep, a stone shepherd dog and, by popular demand from Shine’s player, a stone mouse. The dismay was further confirmed by the amount of prints sprinkled across the field, as all the animals ran about in terror.

What worried them additionally was that there were no humans in sight, no shepherd and no usual residents of the farm, as the sheep were spread everywhere, aimlessly wandering the pasture.

Approaching the house was an equally disheartening scene, as the porch seems to be completely destroyed, as if something huge rammed into it in full force. Their investigation was interrupted by the farmer’s wife, Ivana, who opened the front door, happy to finally see someone from the village coming to their rescue. And by “their” she sadly meant only her son and herself.

Yes, her husband has been turned to stone. She explained that a huge beast came charging towards the house, causing the massive damage seen outside on the porch. Polde, her husband, came out of the barn, but was quickly turned to stone when the two saw each other. The beast then went towards him, staring into the statue for a few moments until Ivana ran out of the house, scaring the creature off. Apparently, it ran south, towards the main road. 

In the meantime, Shine investigated the barn, finding some rope that might prove useful, while Raina went to the little side shed, finding a small ax and some lettuce seeds which she can use to empower her spells. No regrets about robbing poor peasants.

Gybon and Torus inspected the house, meeting the farmer's son Anton and sadly seeing the petrified Polde. They convince the mother and son to go to the safety of the village until they further investigate the matter and hunt down the creature. Once they left, Gybon took a small bathroom mirror from their house and put it in his backpack. Tu quoque, Brute, fili mi!

They continued south, tracking the hoof-prints of the beast after it slammed into the porch and then subsequently destroyed the coop before heading towards the main road. Unexpectedly, they arrive to find a group of people dressed in plain brown robes, pilgrims as it seems, trying to fix a cart with a broken wheel. Torus struck a conversation with the leader of the group, a priest who was dressed the same as the others but had a wooden cross on his chest.

Apparently, a giant ox-thing ran towards their cart and accidentally slammed into it, pushing it over and breaking the wheel. In the sudden chaos, the priest managed to notice an exotic-looking snake-like scaly back of the creature and a horned head, seconds before the beast disappeared into the forest on the other side of the road. 

He is under the impression that it didn't hit their wagon intentionally, rather it ran with its eyes closed and didn't see where it was going. However, he is willing to help and offers a prayer for the leader of the group (read: wants to cast Bless), if the group promises to either tame the beast or get rid of it.

Gybon spoke to the man once his story was done, curious to hear where the pilgrims were previously and where are they headed now. Turns out that this group of worshipers is aimlessly traveling across the land, from town to town, spreading the faith. They would stay in place for a few days, hold mass and pray with the locals and then move on. Gybon briefly recounts the stories of his own religious journeys, dragging out a sign of cheer and amazement from the priest. He will pray for Gybon as well.

After the ritual was done and the group said their farewells to the pilgrims, they tracked the prints ever further. Tracking seemed rather easy, as the beast continued to run away in an almost straight line and not really looking at where it was going. At some point, Shine and Raina notice that it changed pace, almost moving at a crawl due to presumed exhaustion.

When it seemed obvious that the beast was literally dragging it hoofs, Raina continued forward alone. She finally noticed it, laying on the ground near a spring of water amid a grove of trees. All witness accounts seemed immediately true. A huge ox-thing with a disfigured, horned head and strangely colored snake scales on its back. It looked ancient, as if from another age of this world.

The witch didn't linger for too long and was soon back with the rest of her companions. Not knowing what to expect of their “prey”, the group decides to secure a small radius of the forest and rig it with improvised traps, a trip wire, some springs that would create noise to confuse the creature and a sturdy enough tree for Shine to hide in and have a good vantage point.

When everything was set, Gybon, as the strongest and most armored character, moved towards the creature. He slowly came to the groove, trying not to alarm it as it was hunched above the spring of water. Upon seeing it, the cleric was stunned by the size and ancient demeanor of the beast.

"Catoblepas" by Jan Jonston

Fearing its deadly gaze, Gybon opted for an interesting approach. He placed the mirror from the Kosovel house on a tree at the edge of the groove looking in, so while he stared into the mirror Gybon could see the creature, even though his back was turned to it. He raised his arms above his head, weaponless, and then made a bit of noise, drawing out the attention of the creature which got up and turned to him, startled. It seemed that it was keeping its gaze lower to the ground, yet still trying to see what is happening around it with its peripheral vision.

Que some great improvised communication from Gybon’s player, as it quickly turned out the beast is intelligent and understands his words, although unable to speak. Through a series of verbal questions from the cleric and answers from the beast via nodding, growling and wailing, head swings and grinding the earth with its tusks, a peculiar way of conversation was struck. It also reacted quite well when the cleric presented his cross, the moment ending with him petting the giant horned head, bowed down in a sorrowful way and with a sad, deep wail. In a theatrically biblical fashion, the cleric offered some of his bread and wine to the beast.

The rest of the group was silent, yet soon enough they came out into the grove. The beast moved a few steps away, tired and wounded and now maybe even a bit drunk, while the characters paused to figure out what to do. It was fairly “obvious” to them that the creature was once human and that it needs their help. However, they were unsure what to do now, especially since Gybon was somewhat hesitant when it comes to trusting Dr. Brenner. He believes that the doctor is somehow involved in this tragedy. 

After a lengthy debate, it was decided to keep the beast in the grove, while the party goes to fetch Dr. Brenner. The idea is to get him out into the forest and see if he can help somehow, rather than just let him have the creature and do god(s) know what to it. The session ended with the group going back to the chalet.
Kaleidoscope world-building

Nearing the end of the session, we got to the part that I was extremely looking forward to, the player assumptions. If you recall from the previous session report, I told the players that at the end of each session they are free to make an assumption about the world, based entirely on the perception their characters had in the current session. So for example, if they witness some strange kind of magic, their assumption might be that there is a cult dedicated to worshiping something that grants its followers such weird spell potency. 

In any case, having such assumptions in mind and using them either literally or metaphorically, I will craft the world further. Anything goes, so this might be a fun ride.

Assumption #1:
  • Raina (Witch) - believes that the farmer’s wife is in league with something unholy or otherwise involved in the creation of the beast (this stems from the account that the creature was scared of the woman)
  • Shine (Specialist) - thinks that there are more people like Dr. Brenner and that something akin to an alchemist guild exists somewhere in the world
  • Torus (MU) - found the ways of religious pilgrims peculiar and thus thinks that the “Church” has very little presence in these parts of the world (in contrast to the “Old Religion"), which in turn probably makes the villagers skeptical (based on the way the pilgrims are travelling the world)
  • Gybon (Cleric) - simply doesn’t trust Dr. Brenner and has a sense that the man is hiding something
Post-session Game Master musings

About the group:
Great fun so far, quite a nice group of people, however a tad-bit unpredictable. Think this mostly stems from the fact that neither of us played together before, so we’re all in uncharted territory. 

It is a tricky matter, since at times they can be quite passive and quiet, so I’m not sure whether to take this a sign of boredom or they’re just shy and… well, passive as players.

The upside of "not knowing them" is that sometimes they wonderfully surprise you with their actions. There were moments when the scene was supposed to be ordinary and just dull, yet they would spice it up with great roleplay. Similarly, Gybon's player was quiet for almost the entirety of sessions #0 and #1, but completely exploded in this session and took a tremendous amount of lead with investigating and then finally approaching the beast. That last bit in particular was so good and I especially cherished some moments when he tapped into the religious side of his character.

About the module: 
Wonderful starting module! This was such a perfect choice for a beginning adventure that right off the bat I can say that I'd happily run it again. It sets the scene so well and has a steady pace up until the end, leaving enough space to tailor the whole experience towards any kind of group. 

"The Trail of Stone and Sorrow" by Z.Kowolski
Original cover art by Moritz Müller
What I loved about this is how fluent it is. There’s a whole bunch of locations for the players to explore and quite a few of those are already available from the start. The sheer amount of choice given immediately is great, both for the GM and for the players, as it can easily make each game different, if used multiple times.

The whole story is constructed like a big jigsaw puzzle and each of those aforementioned locations fills one missing piece in the grand frame. Bit by bit, it slowly forms into an intriguing story with a nice little twist at the end. (spoiler alert, I think my players didn't manage to figure it out completely, yet)

The beauty of the module is how adaptable to the PCs it is. Wanna go hunt down the beast without much thought? Sure thing, here are some tracks, go! Want to investigate the mysterious stranger accused by the villagers? Go ahead, his lavish cabin is just up north. Or maybe you want to backtrack and see where the monster originally came from? No problem, the old tracks are still fresh. The bear statue? The stoned cow down the road? The weird hermit huntress? Yep, it’s all there. 

And not only that, but all these scenes have vastly different moods to them, so much so that I think they can satisfy almost any kind of group, be it hunters, investigators, explorers or what have you. Similarly, it enables the GM to play around with said moods. For example, our scene with the bear statue played out like a horror shot. This is why I think this is an especially good module for a group like this one, since we don’t know each other’s playing style and this adventure sets good ground for establishing familiarity.

I would suggest some things be done differently though. For starters, better formatting. All the locations are divided into sections, which is great, but I’d prefer important bits of text to be bold or underlined, as it would drastically help the readability. Half a page of completely even wall of text is no fun when you need to skim it and quickly find some information. 

This was painfully obvious when they visited the Kosovel farm. I didn’t fully memorize how the events unfolded in front of their house and I had to quickly refer to the text in order to play out the scene. Yes, I improvised accordingly, but the module wasn’t helping much with how it was formatted. 

Another thing that I would like to see are a few author notes on how certain open ended parts of the story might play out. I presume this is a deliberate decision to leave a lot to the GM’s interpretation, but some rough notes would be cool as inspiration.

Overall though, I would highly recommend this module! It offers a lot of material in only a few pages and can be used in many different ways. You don’t even need to play the entire thing, just opting to use the setting of the village and the forest, or simply picking up and dropping Catoblepas into an ongoing story, this module has your back.

Oh and one other important thing, Kowolski is awesome enough to include dual-stats in this adventure (and most his other modules actually), so you have stats for his own Neoclassical Geek Revival system, as well as an almost system neutral/"easily portable to any OSR game" stat block.

It is available as a “pay what you want” and a suggested price of $2.50. The preview is great since it pretty much shows you almost the entire module and you can easily decide if it’s the right thing for you on the spot.

Lessons learned and final thoughts: 
As I wrote in the previous report, this was a neat little experiment for me personally, as this is the first time I’m running a game in English. Usually I run games in Serbian (duh) and so far this has been an interesting experience. Even though I’m a fluent writer/speaker, it is quite challenging to sometimes think of an eloquent way to describe a scene or reaction on the fly when you’re not using your native tongue. Think I just need a few more sessions just to loosen up and figure out the group (see above) and it’s all gonna fall into place nicely. In the meantime, I presume that I will aid myself with a few descriptive keywords for each scene, just to kick-start myself if I feel lacking for words in the moment.

In line with what I wrote above regarding "not knowing how this group plays", it is quite anxiety inducing at times not knowing what kind of emotion I'm building up within the players, so I'd also welcome my head loosening up in this department as well. However, this is a big personal win for me, wrestling the task of gathering a completely new group and coming out on top. Yay me.


  1. Awesome! Looking forward to the conclusion of the business with the beast and the future adventures; and also to see how you implement the assumptions!

    1. As always, thanks for reading!

      To be honest, this "assumption" experiment is great. Currently writing stuff based on what the players said and I think I'll completely shape the story and the world around that. Some things help you because they narrow down your scope, while others really open up whole new story arcs. It's a fun process, can't wait to share and play it out!