The team debated going after Strahd or just leaving now that Trundle can Mistwalk. They decided to grab their friend’s wife in the village of Barovia and get out of Ravenloft.
Trundle and Bugwump step into the mists. Trundle realizes that he can trap the mist (and possibly vampire mist) in an amber container if the make of it is fine enough. The ranger realizes that moving through the Mist is moving through something that is quite alive. Bugwump knows the Mist is sentient and malevolent.
“This method of travel should not be taken lightly.”
Meanwhile, Helewynn turns into werewolf form and howls a challenge to Barovia’s werewolf pack. A Dire Wolf approaches and says that it will pass on the message but it will take a while.
Long story short – Helewynn takes over the Dire Wolf pack (while Jusko and Kuru watch in awe) and sends two wolves northward to tell the pack that an Emissary of Mother Night (another name for her Moon Goddess) has come.
Kiril Stoyanovitch and his wolf pack meet them in the Standing Stone in the Berez Ruins. Helewynn cannot convince them that Strahd is not the annointed of Mother Night.
“If not, why is he the strongest when the moon rises? Why can none stand against him and live? Why do even the Druids agree that Strahd is the Land and the Land is Strahd?”
They part ways, Kiril hopes to meet her again some day…
During Kuru’s watch, he sees a pterodactyl, like the ones they flew in Chult. It was their guide from Chult, Tefnek. Turns out, their Sigil City Agent, the drider, Quarace Arkenrae, sent a team to get them out of Ravenloft. She plane-shifted a team of Drow, a Vistani and Tefnek with several pterodactyls to Gloomwrought and from there the Vistani Mist-Walked them through the Shadowfell to Barovia.
As Tefnek explains that Kuru had cut the chords of their portal and it was inoperable, their Vistani guide could walk them out. As she says that, Trundle feels the borders of the domain slam shut as Strahd hears their escape plan. Up until that point, he didn’t know that Trundle was a Mist-Walker (and he still doesn’t).
They heard Kiril’s werewolf pack howl in the distance. Helewynn knows it is the howl of a pack on a hunt sent as an order from Strahd himself. Next session we’ll start with a mad dash to save the team sent to save the team that was sent in to save the team.
Am I the type of nerd who writes a 1500 word story about an NPC who is working in the background to support the PC’s?
Adventurers, Monster Hunters, Zealots, Tomb Robbers, Treasure-Seekers and Heroic Fools,
Welcome to Ravenloft. I have lived many lives here and remember most of them.
Most know me because the monster known as Count Strahd von Zarovich desires me. Many might know that when Strahd built Castle Ravenloft he called forth many wizards and architects to build a castle his mother would be proud to inhabit. Few know that I was among those learned folk. I was an up-and-coming wizard who had written on demi-planar mechanics. The act of using magic to create liminal spaces such as in Leomund’s Tiny Hut, Bags of Holding and Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Mansion was my passion and specialty.
Three books and more than a dozen well cited scrolls on demi-planar mechanics all went out the window after I fell to my death running from Strahd on my wedding day after he butchered beautiful Sergei. Sergei was to be my groom; we were going to leave Barovia after the honeymoon and live in Sigil, so I could continue my studies in an urban academic community. He was hoping to join an Outlands Expedition Team.
I have lost count of how many times my soul has been churned out into another life in the mists of Ravenloft. I realize that some powerful entities from the Shadowfell have created a demi-plane to imprison monsters. I know that much.
You might think that a monster like Strahd being locked up is a good thing and makes the planes a safer place. Once I might have agreed with you. The problem is that the prison has become a hungry sentient creature. The prison craves power and the only way prisons gain power is by having more prisoners. A beast with this kind of hunger doesn’t just imprison monsters; it creates monsters so that it can have more kept here against their will under its fell mists.
The Demi-Plane of Dread does not care about justice. Many of us survivors are imprisoned here too. You might say that we are here to cause the monster pain but I never asked to spend lifetimes torturing a murderous parasite.
If you should kill Strahd, I hope I am next to you in battle. If not, seek me out in whatever incarnation Ravenloft’s Mists have seen fit to put me in (probably buxom with good hair). It would be my pleasure to shovel the hole at the crossroads in which we bury his head. But know that when we kill the Devil-Strahd, as the Vistani call him, our work is not over. The only way to truly do good is to abolish this prison, disperse the mists so that its powers are sent out among the planes and this cycle of suffering can end.
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“The Icosahedron, or as it is commonly known, d20, is for deciding violent conflicts. Its geometry and fell swings of fate appease the blood-thirsty 20 saints of battle.
“The 20-sided die is a cruel implement, prone to wild swings of chance because no matter your training and power, war is cruel. Woe to those who must roll it and glory to those who survive its use to see home and hearth again.”
I’m not out to fix or clone anything per-se – more that I’ve got notebook pages with strange ideas. That is where I got the name:
What is in my notes so far?
One class – adventurer. That is what you are.
But Judd, why? Let’s look at a few classes and what is cool about them. Warlock (and DCC’s Wizard) have a relationship to a troubling Power that grants them arcane abilities. Why have only one class that can do that? Why only one class that can use swords or stealth?
New character options can be opened by completing an adventure or enter into a binding oath with new folk.
Levels go from 0-3 and then levels can be spent on other things – like training up followers, making the HQ better, strengthening bonds with a patron or an oath or create a guild. There will be rules for becoming a deity.
Spells don’t have levels but they come from spellbooks that are linked to the world. Spellbooks have names like: Hidden Cache of Scrolls from the Mage Wars, Gifts from the Fae Queen, Wizard’s Guild Journeyman Archives, Olde Queen’s Druidaria, Fiendlands Relics, Black Market Hobgoblin Cantrips, Lake Country Family Illusions, Copies from the Arch-Mage’s Great Works
Every spell is also a dungeon; in order to truly know a spell (or maybe to make a new spell?) you have to travel to the otherworld where it was made and anchor a part of yourself in some alien landscape.
Character creation is 3d6 in order but the 1’s and 2’s become a resource the player can use to roll on a cool table where they can get items, spells and pets. The higher you roll, the cooler the thing is but you can choose anything underneath it instead of what you rolled. Maybe you or your elder was a veteran from the Mage Wars or you encountered a Highlands Wyvern Rider or Got Lost on the Far Side of the Elf-Stones or Held a Torch for an Adventuring Party – 1’s and 2’s allow you to come away from that bit of character history with something tangible as the game starts.
Every stat is a different kind of perception. Or maybe the highest of STR, DEX, CON is noticing the physical presence of another person or learning something about how they move and what their martial prowess is built on.
Other bits have already made it into the Thursday night game.
Fantasy Heartbreaker? Ya know what, let’s leave that term in its era; it was written 19 years ago. Publishing and gaming has changed.
The true heartbreaks were burying any mechanics that veered too far from the founding text was not any good. The truest heartbreak was mortgaging one’s house and selling grandma’s pearls to produce a print run that would eventually get pulped for tax reasons. Fantasy Heartbreakers should be played and discussed but they are something from another era.
In which Yuan-ti are robbed and multiple magicide is discussed.
The Yuan-ti have the last pieces of the cubes needed to open the door to the tomb. The Red Wizards of Thay were throwing Fireballs and such as a distraction while the team sneaked in.
After some discussion, the team decided to use their access to the Godroads, as there is a fell shrine in the Yuan-ti compound. They found themselves in a serpent cathedral in the middle of their fort.
They had several choices for exits out of the cathedral and they chose the hallway to the throne room. The guard was sleeping, as was the Yuan-ti leader. Stealth rolls were rolled and made.
Kuru the Hobbit thief, covered in mud spread on his face in Conan-and-company-invade-the-serpent-cult-orgy-style, mage-handed the cubes to his comrade, Jusko after looking closely for traps (I should have asked HOW he was looking for traps; I’ll ask more before hitting the dice next time). He also took the sleeping Yuan-ti leader’s gladius-style short sword, which turned out to be a flame-brand.
The team spread out across the room while Kuru used Mage Hand. Bugwump climbed up the wall above the door. When the yuan-ti knocked to tell their leader about the attack and no one answered, they were too scared to knock again. The team got out without any blood spilled – a flawless heist.
The Red Wizards met them afterwards and were shocked to find them entirely unharmed. None of the Red Wizards saw them go in. They were unnerved but low on spells.
During the week I wrote a dream for each character with questions. Some of the players responded in the comments, others responded verbally before the game. Bugwump had dreamed about his Arch-mage self, before his power had been taken away by the Lady of Pain. His Arch-mage self gave him advice but he couldn’t remember what it was.
As the Red Wizards flew away, I asked John if Arch-mage Bugwump would have told him to always kill rival wizards after they had been in a big battle and spent their spell slots – he agreed that was the kind of advice his old Arch-mage self would have given along with, “Never trust wizards.”
They discussed murdering the Red Wizards. After an Insight check, they think one might switch sides if offered but they are not sure. That one knows they are from Sigil.
In Book 2: Starships of the Traveller Little Black Box, it talks a bit about getting education and training. Easy enough to Apocalypse it up a bit. Here’s a different way to say something similar, drawing inspiration from ( or ruthlessly pillaging, depending on your POV) Apocalypse World and Burned Over:
But, Judd, you ask, what about stats?
I like that we’re saying that the limits of the human body aren’t interesting to us. What you use to change the world is your training and in order to gain training you have to go out and interact with the world.
What about non-basic moves?
Non-basic moves are all tech. Maybe the True Sword, a networked blade with an embedded AI, gives you a move like the Gunlugger’s Not to be Fucked With, where you fight as a gang. Certain drugs give you access to psychic powers.
I’m listening to the podcast, Trying to be Kind, a show in which a group of young, brilliant academics read and critique Tabletop RPG Design in Theory and Practice at the Forge by William J. White.
It is a smart and scathing look at a book about a time in the hobby that I look back on fondly. It is a vivid reminder that when we are swimming in privilege to be aware of it and do better. The show’s title, the nervous laughter and the intense effort put forth to be constructive are all sobering examples of how far folks from marginalized communities feel like they have to go to tapdance around fragile, white, male egos.
I’m listening and I’m hoping that the show leads to (more critical readings of academic game design texts) a sequel tome in which these brilliant gamers get paid writing credits in a follow-up book, criticizing the book before it, taking a critical look at the Forge as a movement and looking to the future they envision us all creating for independent game design. Hearing smart folks discuss the game design community’s past and how we choose to remember is great; hearing them talk about the future and get paid doing it would be even cooler.
I’m shutting up, listening and not being defensive.
If you are a white dude who I know from that era, shush your face and have a listen. And everyone else should check the podcast out too. It is brilliant, funny and educational.
Sean and I playing Burning Wheel started out because a Blades in the Dark game we both played in had a few nights a month where he and I were the only players who could make it. I suggested a BW side-game and now, several years later, that campaign is still going. Having just purchased a map making program I made a map:
The map helped. It forced me to name things and gives things shape. The human dukes were divvied up into 3 groups that I think of as the Gold Dukes, the Iron Dukes and the Wyrd Dukes. That will help when I need to make up a human on the fly. I can see where they are from and know a bunch about what their political life is like. Naming the dwarven holdfasts wasn’t something I thought about but became important later. Only now have I started to get more firm ideas about Ostofair and Andune.
I knew the BW system wouldn’t be an issue with Sean. He might hate it (and that would be fine (but he didn’t)) but he wouldn’t bounce off it the way I’ve seen some folks do. So I asked him to take a look at the BW Situations I had tweeted and one of those tweets grabbed him.
When I imagined this campaign, I imagined a conscripted soldier who returned home to farm and just wants a peaceful life but is very aware of the perils of war. Instead, Sean burned up Bina Janos, a servant who worked in a tower at the crossroads, serving the knight there. It was not what I expected at all. The game straight up made me nervous. There aren’t many (any?) fantasy books about Bina Janos. She didn’t secretly have magic powers nor was she secretly the lost child of a queen or a knife murder goddess in hiding.
Bina was a mother who married a decent guy, a wheelwright (and it is a Burning Wheel game…huh? get it?) and had a daughter, Nara, with him. She had been taken from a nearby village during some feuding and never went back home. She got by with a skill called Soothing Platitudes, being good at her job and knowing the local gossip.
That first campaign was an exercise in GMing failure without beating up the player. In following Bina’s journey we learned and made up a bunch of mythology in the world. The Burning Wheel, an actual physical artifact that could be seen like an arcane beacon atop a northern mountain and its church. The lore behind the dwarves and the elves that was leading to war. The 17 Great Debts of the Dwarven Princes. The politics behind the human dukes and the songs of the human peasants. There are immigrants from a faraway continent who have traditionally guarded the gold mines and the caravans that take the gold from the mines to the capital after a few local knights turned bandit or rebel lord, trying to control the wealth.
During the game it was clear that a dragon still had an important elf, a consort to the elf queen, and so the second book was about a working class dwarf in charge of tunneling into an abandoned holdfast that was being squatted in by a dragon. The dragon was trapped within but still, there was real imminent danger there.
Pellara the Pillar would become Pellar Dragonsworn and also Prince Pellara Dragonsworn of the Vault through the course of play. That was not at all my intent. I wanted to stay away from noble games but she was born to and was the matriarch of a working class family. To be honest, having a game about a strong woman taking control of a political situation driven into the shitter by born noble princes felt pretty damned good. All of those dwarven holdfasts at the top of the map suddenly became very important. I made notes on each prince and what made those places unique.
I was making stuff up as I went and adjusting to the beliefs Sean made but I daydreamed myself enough content to give myself structure so I wasn’t ever making shit up in a void.
In a subreddit someone asked how GM’s make character arcs. It might look like I very carefully planned everything. Book 1 and 2 are both nine sessions long.
I didn’t. I didn’t plan a damned thing. There was no arc in mind. I didn’ tknow where Sean’s beliefs would take us. I know how I want to push on them but once I push, I have no idea how Sean will react to that pressure. I didn’t want each game to be 9 sessions long and I don’t mind if Nara’s time in the campaign takes 3 sessions or 99 sessions.
Just let he players deal with the problems and cool stuff and arcs will happen naturally because we are humans and we like to find patterns and familiar rhythms in things. Don’t plan the solutions, just put forth the situations filled with problems and wonder and see what happens.
Me, saying stuff, link above
This third book’s situation is more vague. We found out in the first book that Bina’s daughter, Nara, was Gifted and might be destined to be the next Arch-Mage. What does that term even mean? Arch-Mage. All we know is that an Arch-Mage is a wizard who picks up the Burning Wheel, braves its sorcerous fires and takes it down the mountain. We know that her destiny is wrapped up in that mess. I am relying on the lore we’ve built and the fact that we’ve barely scraped the surface. There is still so much that Sean doesn’t know and Nara can learn.
I’ve started writing notes about how Arch-Mages are selected and the previous Arch-Mages and how each of them has led to the current state of affairs in wizard society. We will get to see Wheelholdt from a very different point of view. I’ve been daydreaming about wizards, apprentices and how they learn, what their hierarchies are like and how they interact with the rest of human society.
One of the things BW does well is learning. Seeking out teachers and reading books can be a big deal.
I’m glad we’ve got an empty third belief to start off with, it allows Sean to jump on something that comes up in play as we get to know Nara.
Here are the playlists for the first two books. Come join us in a week for the beginning of the the third. I have no idea what is going to happen. Or…I know some stuff but have no idea how Sean is going to play Nara. We’re going to find out about the history of wizardry and Arch-Magery. We’ll see where Nara fits in all that mess and if she agrees with the prophecy told to her mother years ago that said she was destined to pick up a fiery magical artifact created by a sorcerous fire god.
When I have the energy to do so, I try to write a short synopsis of our Trophy Gold games. The dice kept telling me that strange and terrible things were happening. Who am I to ignore them?
This was tonight’s synopsis:
In which the treasure-hunters made camp on a hill after meeting a lost soul, discussed theology, went to bed for the night, thinking that they would wake up and go plunder the Palace of the Skeleton God with Blackwolf.
The Sisters, gods, devils, and saints of this world had different plans – very different plans.
It was complicated. A goat that had lost its herd instincts entered camp and was accidentally lit on fire – an amorphous blob-beast, drawn to the hill by the sorcery, ate the flaming goat and took on its characteristics. The treasure-hunters fought the flaming goat-blog-man and killed it.
Somewhere in there a god was spoken to in all of its fell, patriarchal glory and a soulless copy of Elezio (Evilezio), an illusion of Elezio brought to life by a sorcerous mishap, gave terrible dating advice to Revel.
Sometimes it just goes like that.
We’ll get to the Palace next week.
“Even by wizard standards that was a pretty fucking crazy night.” – Blackwolf, Wizard
I used the above technique in the Thursday night Trophy Gold game and got a wonderful tale from Jesse. He told me about how his orphan pickpocket broke into a noble’s house and had to kill the noble in order to get out.
I loved it because it wasn’t a kill that made the world a better place (well, depending on the noble) and there was a touch of shame in it. This kid was a treasure-hunter because they had lived a tough life and this was the only clear vocation open to them.
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