Sunday, May 31, 2020

The Wandering Misfits, session #4 - "Into the Unknown"

Summary: Session report from the game we had last Monday. The party does some much needed shopping/prep before finally taking the first steps on their journey towards the Rosewater baths. Along the way, the serene, yet tedious, trip is interrupted by a storm and an unexpected discovery.

Into the Unknown

After wrapping up the meeting with Dr. Brenner, the party regrouped back at the Kosovel farm. Exchanging gathered information and splitting the earned silver with Gybon, they decide to keep "Bob" in the nearby cave where Raina usually lives. They "borrowed" some food from the farm so that they can leave supplies at the cave until they return. For some reason, they made a judgement call to keep Ivana and Anton away from Polde.

Next stop, some well deserved shopping in the village. The most notable articles bought were four horses, which I was generous enough to make available for them even though this village is extremely small and rather under-stocked. They were so excited about the prospect of having majestic four-legged friends that I simply couldn’t say no.

Seeing as how they had horses to travel with, it meant that they wouldn’t be going through the forest as they initially planned, but rather via the road leaving the village to the west. Soon enough, after some final gear checks, they were on their way.

"The Oxbow (The Connecticut River near Northampton 1836)" by Thomas Cole

To call it a road would be glorifying it. It was a weirdly shaped beaten path, somewhere narrow and somewhere wide, a squirming line cutting through the forested mountain side with odd twists and turns. It slowly waved through the wilderness ever onward, wrapped in silence broken by the occasional singing bird. One could call it almost serene.

The serenity lasted for a few hours, yet was eventually cut short. Dark clouds were omnipresent further ahead of the travelers and it was only a matter of time before they catch up. The whole scene changed abruptly, the first sign of trouble arriving in the form of tiny raindrops. Within minutes, the weather became a threat, a heavy downpour disrupted by wind and a quickening pace of raging thunder.

Quickly the party contemplated what to do, either try and rush onward towards the location of Rosewater or stay put and find shelter. They were still a few hours away from their destination and galloping horses in the mud below and loud thunder above were a peril, thus they opted to find any kind of nearby safe haven.

Another problem was that they forgot to buy tents during their shopping spree, so they decided they need to find a cave or a thick cluster of trees to hide under. They continued riding a bit further, hoping to find something and their hearts jumped once they noticed a kind of rock formation looming on the side of the road behind a thick line of tall trees.

Their discovery took them aback the second it came into view. Nested in a sinking clearing of the forest, there stood a strange construction that resembled a crowned head with a big gaping mouth and hollow eyes, an ancient sculpture made of stone and a single soaring tree sitting next to it. The gigantic face lay waiting, forgotten and silent, gazing with its empty eyes at the stunned visitors.

The party stood there in the rain, shocked with both marvel and horror, unaware of what it is that they discovered. The feeling sank in and their mood waned as each of them recalled bits and pieces of knowledge about this nameless thing.

Raina was the first to speak, remembering that she heard of an ancient tree standing near a stone face, once used for hanging. The rumors spoke that the tree is alive and that it strangles those that come near it, thirsty for the pain it caused in its prime. Similarly tragic, Torus heard of a similar place, a stone head inhabited by angry spirits that can be sated if you offer them your pain.

Gybon, on the other hand, passed through these parts previously and offered probably the most grounded of recollections. A priest told him a tale forgotten by many, that the stone head is a tomb for a tyrant ritually tortured to death, built generations ago by a religious order now long gone.

These tales didn’t make them want to seek shelter inside, but the raging thunderstorm sure did. They  simply had no other choice…

Staying away from the tree as much as possible, the group slowly entered the structure. Inside the mouth a rusted gate swung open, the lock broken who knows when. They tied their horses right in front of the gate, since the initial entry point of the mouth had a roof above.

Past the gate, a room filled with dirt, trash and broken skeletons of small woodland animals. There were signs of someone dwelling here before, several spots on the floor where a fire was burning. However, the most striking feature of the room was at the foot of a corridor that was leading further into the complex. On the floor was an intricate circle made out of magical sigils, each symbol formed by small tiles of pure jade.

Raina tried to analyze the bizarre sigils, but they seemed quite alien to her. She could somehow “feel” that this was placed here to banish something… or to keep something locked away. The group swallowed a huge lump in their throat and decided to simply stay in this room until the storm passes and not poke around much.

It didn’t take long for Shine to develop an itch. She was bored, yet knew better than to take apart the magical circle for the pieces of jade. Those would surely fetch a fine price, but she was smart enough to listen to the warnings of the witch. Instead, she kept insisting that there must be some other treasure in this damned place and soon enough Raina was intrigued as well. The male part of the group decided to stay around the fire that was just lit and protect the horses, idling until the females need help with whatever they find in the rest of the structure.

"Monster in Parco dei Mostri (Bomarzo)" by Livioandronico2013

So it came to be that Raina and Shine were on the other side of the circle soon after, cautiously jumping over it. They were faced with a rather spacious room divided into three sections. Each of these housed exceptionally detailed and well-made bas-reliefs, carvings that told a connected story. A king or a similar overlord was shown, standing tall and proud as he enslaved his enemies using a peculiar yellow sphere. He was shown reveling in the torment and torture of those he conquered. However, the cruel lord met his end in the wake of a divine intervention that led to his eventual demise and slow execution.

The reliefs were well preserved despite their apparent age, but curiously enough the final scene was extremely damaged, almost entirely clawed up and desecrated. Unnerved, they decide to not waste time lingering about and move to the narrow spiral staircase located in the room with the first carving on the wall. The same staircase also led underground, but they choose to leave that for later.

More dirt and animal bones awaited for them above. They ended up in the room where the eyes of the giant stone head are, thus cold wind and drops of rain continuously rushed through. Shine opened a door which led to a room completely filled with darkness, barely pierced by the small lantern that Torus gave her. Inside, a scene far gruesome than the last. Among some strangely placed and derelict pieces of furniture were piles of animal carcasses, some relatively fresh, some rotten, melding together into a blood stained room decorated with meat and sinew that stank horribly. The stench alone made their stomachs turn.

Seeing the scene in its dreadful entirety, Shine let out a scream for her friends below. Both men jumped instantly, rushing to the floor above. However, while ascending the spiral staircase, Torus heard a sound droning from far below, a raspy exhale of broken glass scraped across stone. Focused on reaching his friends and noticeably worried (scared), he decided to ignore it.

The group was together again, trying to not further decorate the surrounding area with their own vomit and analyze the gruesome room. Raina moved out of the room and closer to the “eyes” for some fresh air. Accidentally, she noticed that between the windows there is a rope hanging above her head, tied to a trap door leading further up. Regrettably, she pulled it and noticed that it isn’t rope, but human hair. She quickly pulls it all the way down just to get it over with, revealing a ladder that leads above.

Before the others notice what she was doing, Raina was already up. She stopped near the top of the ladder, poking her head above and looking around the newly discovered room. The wall in front of her was decorated with paintings of old, angry bearded men whose eyes and mouths were scratched out, damaged similarly to the bas-reliefs on the ground floor. Across one of the face, words written with dry blood: “I NOT KNEEL NOR BOW!”.

Amazed by her discovery, Raina failed to notice that on her left, out of reach of the light of her torch, is a yawning passage leading deeper toward a room veiled in darkness… and a creature hissing and snarling at her from the shadows.
Final thoughts:
To say it immediately up front, this was such a great session!

Instant first positive impression is: horses! In all my experience running fantasy games, this is the very first group of players that decided to become equestrians the same second they acquired some wealth. I think this is a commendable and an extremely smart investment, especially in an adventure such as this. Seems like they are already expecting to travel a lot, which is perfectly in line with what I envision for this campaign.

Preparing for this session was interesting, but a little bit of an overkill on my side. Initially I wanted to do world travelling in the form of a hexcrawl, but ended up doing a sort of point-crawl instead which I presumed will be an easier setup. Well, I was wrong, mostly because I consciously decided to make an "easy" approach complicated. I (mentally) mapped the current main destination (Rosewater) and then branched out several paths between it and the starting village. Each of these paths had their separate points of interest along the way, primarily in the form of divergent mini modules.

This was the overkill part, as essentially I had to prepare all these modules in advance without actually knowing which path the players will choose and whether or not they end up interacting with the hooks, if discovered. Even though the modules aren't anything grand or cumbersome (one is actually a 1-page dungeon), it still required a decent amount of prep in a rather short amount of time. Factor in the random weather table I used for the wilderness travel that could completely disrupt things and you end up with quite a lot of uncertainty.

Some of you might have already recognized the module which the PCs triggered in this session, but for those of you who don't know this is the great mini-adventure/location by "Dungeon of Signs" called "Prison of the Hated Pretender". As in my previous reports, I'll give a full review and a proper dedicated space for the module once we finish it.

In the end, I'll leave you with a random real life adventure. That image above that I linked from Bomarzo, Italy? I was there a couple of years ago! A magnificent place that completely takes you to another world, highly recommended IRL hexcrawling location.

It me, dungeon delver extraordinaire!


  1. That photo would make a great album cover for a one-man doom metal band :D

    1. Haha I'll take that as a compliment!

      My friends and me took some more pictures in front of that "cave", we all pretty much agreed that every single photo was a band-worthy shot!