Cast of Characters
Mordecai, a Cleric-7: Adam
Forlorn, an Elf-5: Bo
Mister Moore, Magic User-6: Mike
Shy, a Fighter-6: JR
Leonidas the Paladin-5: Nogal
Digit, the Elf Thief-7: Zee
Konstantine, Magic User-5: Smitty
Ireena, a Fighter - 5
Phat Kobra, a Dwarf-5
Grumble the Smug, Halfling-5
Vlad the Inhaler, Magic User-1
On Monday, I posted a brief campaign recap to date, but here's the actual report (or should I say memoir?) of the last two game sessions. Whew, this one is long, and covers politics, diplomacy, religious conversions, and an exciting joust.
Months have passed in the valley of Barovia; over the winter, the characters have begun fixing up Castle Ravenloft, laid plans to replace the wooden church with a larger stone edifice, and negotiated terms with the Barovian gypsies to act as wardens, scouts and border guards. The group was anxious for spring weather, so they could descend from the high mountain valleys back into Sterich and find out what was going on in the world.
In case you're interested, we're using the ACKS (Adventurer Conqueror King) playtest rules to determine things like domain population, castle upkeep costs, domain morale, building costs, all those cool things that come with domain rulership. A previous post on Castle Ravenloft, Under New Management, lays out some of the initial work I did, and they took it forward from there.
The individual characters had their own agendas. Wizards set up laboratories in the castle and began transcribing spells and making "percent change to learn" rolls. Mr Moore assumed the title Baron of Barovia, with his betrothed, Ireena, as the future Baroness. Forlorn has continued reading the Book of Unspeakable Shame. Mordecai, now a 7th level cleric, is Bishop of Barovia, and he and Father Donavich worked diligently at preaching to the villagers and performing miracles on their behalf. They also recruited an acolyte.
Another funny thing became evident; Leonidas the Paladin started extolling the virtues of Zeus, in opposition to Mordecai's church. I guess this detail had drifted into my subconscious, but when the group had frank discussions about the Church and the religion of the townsfolk, Leonidas's player (Nogal) reminded me that he was dedicated to the old gods and Zeus as Ruler of the Universe. "Who wants to be a holy paladin when I can be a paladin of Zeus?"
Mordecai is a "prophet" of the Eternal Spirit - he was a simple farmer that had an angelic visitation, and found himself bestowed with clerical powers. Since the beginning of the campaign, clerical spell casters in Gothic Greyhawk are selected through divine fiat, for unknown aims, and they are infrequent. As such, he hasn’t developed formal ties to the institution of the Church, and has been fairly laissez faire regarding other faiths.
I hadn't planned on having echoes of the Greek gods in the medieval framework of Gothic Greyhawk, but I certainly want to encourage the kids in the campaign to make creative additions to the world. So now Nogal is quick to google a picture of the Spartans from 300 whenever he feels the need to remind me what his guy looks like. "His armor and helmet looks like this guy, only there's more armor because it's plate mail, and more clothes because it's cold". And they have a druid henchman, too.
I'll leave it up to the players to figure out how they work together with three different "faiths" in the group, whereas NPCs and inhabitants of the world are another matter, as you'll see further in the report.
While the magic users continued their group spell transcription, Leonidas announced that he was having visions of a magnificent war horse, and he needed to leave the valley and enter the low lands. (You may recall the AD&D Paladin can 'call a war horse' at 4th level). His horse was in the hands of a brutal master, whom he swore to find and challenge. A bunch of characters signed on to go with him in pursuit of the vision, and so a sortie was planned.
Mordecai, Shy, Leonidas, Digit, Ireena, Phat Kobra, Grumble, Donavich, and Boris, went on the journey, along with Vladimir, a level 1 magic user apprentice recruited by Moore's guild. Ireena considered this an official state act, and their first stop was to head into the foothills on the way out of Barovia and visit Constantine's old village (which I learned from the players was called Stradia). Ireena decided that Stradia would need to become part of Barovia, and the lord of Stradia, Tzefronis, would be given the chance to pledge fealty to the new Baron.
Now, nothing is more boring to me then relating lots of role playing, and this was a session heavy in it. I'll try and touch only on the high points. There was a scene akin to a Monty Python sketch trying to get admitted to Lord Tzefronis's tower - "We're envoys of the Lady of Barovia." No, you're not. We have one already - don't need anymore envoys. "Open in the name of the Baron". Nope, don't think so. Besides, Barovia doesn't have a Baron. "There is a new Baron!" How imaginative you are, giving yourself titles. Good day. (That kind of stuff).
Eventually, Tzefronis's wily gate guard was overcome, Lord Tzefronis brought to heel, and a few days later the group had descended out of the high vales and re-entered the Upper Davish river valley, anxious to see if there were zombies or ghouls about. Instead, they ran into a Flannish patrol.
The nice thing about a wilderness trek is I got the chance to use my "What is the party doing when the encounter happens" tables. A Flannish patrol came across them while they were taking a map break, and Ireena was busy telling a bawdy joke about her husband. "Oh yes, the phrase, stop fondling your little wooden wand has taken on a whole new meaning to me…" Gotta love henchmen making fun of their bosses, especially when it's a future wife. Meanwhile, the new magic user apprentice, Vladimir, sneaking off for a quick smoke, earned the nick name "Vlad the Inhaler". He was surprised when a patrol of highlanders on small rugged horses rounded the corner. The players remarked, "His love of the halfling's leaf has clearly clouded his mind".
They made peaceable contact with Egan, the patrol leader, and learned much of the changes wrought in the valley since the previous autumn. As mentioned in the campaign recap, the Flannish highlanders were at odds with the lowland Oeridians of Sterich. The Oeridians were the folk that lived in the settled towns of Bovia, Poignard and Mittleberg, and the lord of Mittleberg was preparing a campaign to convert them. I meant to call to mind historical conflicts like the Franks and Saxons, or the English and Scottish or Welsh.
Egan pointed out how a plague of undead wiped away the decadent lowlanders, and the undead followed the refugees down the valley, attacking Bovia after Poignard and eventually threatening the rich farmland around the capital, Istvin, hundreds of miles away.
Meanwhile, the Flans have moved into the void, slaying any straggler undead left by the horde and forming a large moot in the ruins of one of the old Oeridian villages. The party traveled with the patrol back to the semi-nomadic encampment over the next few days. Although many of the characters were Oeridian in race, as representatives of the new Barony, there were opportunities for peace and trade between the two groups, and Egan held in high esteem those who had overthrown the ancient vampire lord of the mountains. And the Flans wanted allies for when the folk of Istvin tried to reclaim their lost lands.
When Leonidas described the vision of his war horse, Egan confirmed it. "I know that red-haired man you described in the vision, his name is Bran, and we know that horse as well. It was caught in the wilds of the valley, perhaps running free after the death of the lowlanders, and Bran's men haven't been able to break it in. He beats the animal cruelly. But he's a proud man, and won't easily give up the animal."
When they arrived at the sprawling encampment, there was a pall over the camp. The chieftain, Cadman, was wasting away after falling victim to a witch's curse. In the large audience hall, he was attended by healers while he slunk low in his wooden throne, and heard the character's story. They agreed to peaceful contact and to trade some horses, then they heard Cadman's tale of the witch:
A few nights ago, we were visited by a powerful witch. She was moving her forces across our lands, a foul woman that walked with a devil at her side. She had a legion of orcs and a vicious trolls in the nearby hills, and was flown by gargoyles on a palanquin.
(The players have had at least three run-ins and quests with the witch, so they know her well).
When I told her we wouldn't join her quest, she mocked me. She said, "The great war is coming. What does it matter if you've finally won back your lands? One of the great wizards of yore has returned to the world of men, one who knows the lost secrets of Iggwilv and her book of Evil Chaos. He has joined with the blood drinker that leads Orcus's horde, and together they turn west to be the ones to rediscover the book first. They are the first of many to join the hunt - the Red Duke is coming to the south from the Horned Lands, and the Prince of Lost Dreams has crossed into the mortal world in Geoff".
Her speech was amazing and fearful, but still we would not join forces with that foul one. And so she told me that if we would not lend her our strength, we would have none ourselves; she pronounced a terrible curse upon me, one that none of our druids has been able to cure. I fear I am dying.
Cadman also went on to report that scouts had reported that the siege of Istvin was dispersing, as if the horde of zombies and ghouls had suddenly become leaderless and returned to their mindless pillaging. It seemed to corroborate the witch's story that Cyris Maximus, the vampire lord that took control of the horde, had changed his focus, and was now seeking out this evil book with the help of a dark wizard. The players are convinced the dark wizard is none other than Calcidius, the vile wizard they trapped behind brick and mortar in the Tower of the Stargazer.
This was all bad news for the players. In previous encounters with the witch, they knew she was a servant of Hell, and was preparing for an upcoming conflict against the forces of the Abyss. The beginning of her great war seemed nigh at hand.
Mordecai volunteered to attempt a healing the following day. There was a haughty exchange between Mordecai and the high shaman, the druid Dallas, like Moses versus Pharaoh's wizards, but the chieftain agreed to give Mordecai an attempt on the morrow. Mordecai prayed for Remove Curse, and the following day, restored the chieftain to full health. The chieftain decreed there would be a new god in the halls of his people, that there would be space for this "Eternal Spirit" amongst his people, and the druid stormed off, enraged.
Leonidas stepped forward when the chieftain asked if there was some final favor to grant for his health, and he described the warrior Bran. "I would like to challenge him for the right of the white horse," said Leonidas, and Bran was summoned. "I will not give up my prize mount to this outsider", spat the horse lord, but Leonidas had been coached on invoking the proper challenge, and Bran agreed to ride against him in a joust. It was set for that afternoon.
Numerous crowds gathered on the tilting field, as this was considered great entertainment by the hill people. Bran and his supporters were on one edge of the sward, Leonidas on the other, with spears and swords. Bran didn't ride the white horse, but had a small, sturdy war horse. Although the fighting wasn't meant to be to the death, tempers were hot and Bran wasn't going to hold back.
On the first pass, Bran caught Leonidas with a spear and unhorsed him soundly; the paladin fell flat on his back and had lost half his hit points between the double damage charge and the fall. (Nogal slumped his head on the table in despair - kids take these moments hard). He quickly got to his feet and pulled his sword, chopping at Bran's spear and forcing the horse lord to dismount as well and fight hand to hand.
Leonidas was a better swordsman, and quickly made up ground as they started trading sword blows, and the final round ended up with simultaneous initiative; Bran rolled a critical, and double damage brought Leonidas down to 2 hit points left. But Leonidas rolled heavy damage himself, and this was enough to knock Bran loopy (zero hit points); in terms of the duel, that gave him position to force a submission. Leonidas had won, and Nogal cheered!
Leonidas won his companion war horse, but as a paladin he arranged to offer recompense to the horse lord, paying a fair market value for the animal and soothing over hurt feelings with his clansmen in the interests of peace.
Now the group turned for home. They had come away with the purchase of a dozen and a half horses for their use in Barovia, they had annexed a new village, Stradia, established peaceful trade with their new Flannish neighbors, planted a new church, and learned that various forces of evil were on the move. Future discussions with the Flans might include an alliance against Istvin, but the group didn't commit.
My guess is they'll want game time to advance to where the wizards are done with all their spell transcription (I'll need to consult the calendar, but I think there was about a week left) and they'll use that time to plan a quest. I'm thinking they'll throw their hat into the ring and mount their own expeditionary force to track down the witch, and find this evil book ahead of Calcidius and his vampire companion. Should be fun!