DATE: May 23, 2021
PLAYERS: HA, EC, AJ, OR
We begin, like most campaigns, at a tavern. The hearth roars, drunken folk dance on tables, scoundrels plot. We are at The Black Pig in Dolmenwood.
In an unlit corner, our four adventurers. Aranna (AJ), an astrologer of ill-repute, who along with Surina Juno (EC), have conned a great many with false prophecies and falser jewels. Sitting across from Aranna, a former lover? Husband? "it's complicated"? Thork (HA), a zealot of Loki, who somehow mishandled the finances of his cult and now owes 800gp. And to round out the party, Ser Ragnarok (OR), a fallen knight burdened with gambling debts in excess of 500gp.
They are waiting for a nameless wizard, a contact of Aranna's, for a potential job. Secretly, a former mark of Surina's. He appears, hooded, eyes darting. "There is a burial mound several miles north of here," the wizened sorcerer says. "It is the grave of an ancient knight. Retrieve the ring upon his finger to me and I shall reward you with five thousand gold pieces."
The wizard doesn't say much after that. No clues. Few answers. He leaves.
I look at the players and ask the question all DMs have asked since 1974, "what do you do?"
Spoilers Ahead for Gavin Norman's "Winter's Daughter" (OSE)
OK, here's the truth. I first asked these four kids what they would do in a situation where they were given a quest and didn't have enough information. They had smart answers. Shop for items. Ask around for information. Find out more about this burial mound. But aside from buying a bow and a tent... they decided research was too much work. No investigation. No HUMINT work. "People are boring, I don't want to talk to them," Ser Ragnarok says.
So off we went into a dark forest, with absolutely no intelligence aside from the goal. Steal a ring off a corpse. Fine. After some time into their hike, they hear mumbling and chanting. They plow ahead and come upon the Whything Stones. Two drunes in the middle of a sacrificial ceremony. Do our adventurers attempt to parlay? No. They pull out their weapons.
Immediately, one drune casts magic missile, while another hold person (it fails). Ragnarok, Thork, and Surina, singed by green flames, rush in. Aranna stays back firing arrows. A giant dolmen stone magically topples over, crushing Ragnarok to death. Surina is bashed in the head by a staff wreathed in green flames. Thork is spellbound by charm person. Aranna continues to fire arrows, felling a drune. Thork, now besotted, is beaten to death. It is now monomachy between Aranna and a severely injured drune. Despite two morale checks, the drune resists escaping. He fights to the death for his felled companion. Aranna stands victorious with five bodies strewn about the Whything Stones.
The woman who was to be sacrificed is freaking out. It was her desire to be given to Big Chook, the great beast of the Dolmenwood forest. In an act of malice/mercy(?), Aranna kills her. Six corpses now.
Straight. Just Go Straight. Straight Ahead.
Three strangers come running out of the deep forest. Two are manacled with chains trailing behind them. Thorn (HA) and Emma Frog (EC), both hedge wizards and Merric (OR), a knight. They appear to have just escaped imprisonment of some sort. They don't know what to make of the ghastly scene before them. Aranna tells them she murdered all six... y'know, for reasons. They believe her. And on very thin plot development, decide to join her on a quest to retrieve a ring from a dead knight.
They reach the burial mound. We are in dungeon crawl mode now. They get attacked by religious objects, find an old mirror, and venture into a room with a shimmering pool. There are hundreds of floating candles, blocking the entrance. Merric volunteers to enter, slowly the scene changes. The pool becomes a lake, the statue transforms into an ivory tower, the walls a dense pine forest. It is snowing. The lake is frozen. And from behind the candles, nobody can see Merric anymore. He has vanished into the land of the fae.
Emma cannot wait longer and follows after Merric. Together they reach the tower and are greeted by a troll with a goblin on his back. The goblin has a guest list and Merric and Emma are not on it. He grants them entry on one condition. They must eat a mushroom from his pouch. Merric's skin turns purple. Emma shrinks to six inches tall. Merric puts Emma on his shoulder and they enter the strange tower.
Tangled in a Plot Twist
At the top of the tower is Princess Snowfall-at-Dusk, an elven maiden who has waited to be reunited with her betrothed, Sir Chyde for over 900 years. Sir Chyde, as you may have guessed, is the same knight these adventurers are supposed to grave-robbing. Merric bargains with the princess for a better deal than the nameless wizard. (The player's father is a loan officer, so...) The princess promises jewels and... a wish. A wish?! Like a wish for anything? Yes. A wish.
The players then proceed to spend a good twenty minutes discussing how they would use this wish. I say no to all requests of wishing for more wishes. This isn't the Greendale fountain. After much snacking, playing with sticks (IRL) and more arguments about what they'll do with a prize they haven't yet won, the players sit back down.
When Merric -- who has now renamed himself Purple Nurple (OR) in honor of his permanently purple skin -- and Emma Frog return to the Mortal Realm, they realize two days had passed. (Fairy time moves slower). Aranna and Thorn look hungry.
Return to the Mortal Realm
More dungeon crawling. They come to a double-door with two thick chains linked to the collars of two giant stone hounds. Above the doors is a riddle. The players promptly forget the riddle. They remember the dogs though. And in one of the strangest things I've ever seen in a game of D&D... they do the touch-their-nose-and-say-not-I routine to volunteer someone to... trigger the obviously trapped doors that will animate the stone dogs??!
Thorn loses and is, as you may have guessed, then mangled, disemboweled and chewed to bits by the stone hounds. The survivors attempt more silly ideas like shooting an arrow (at a magical dog made of stone), they cast a spell of hallucination (at, again, magical dogs made of stone), they comically attempt to pretend to be Sir Chyde (because magic stone dogs are easily fooled, right?). Eventually, I remind them about the riddle above the door. They all accuse me of not mentioning it. Liars. I did.
They now have to figure out the riddle. No more fighting through all their problems. I am pleased. Purple Nurple volunteers to travel back to Fae to inquire Princess Snowfall-at-Dusk (gawd, I love that name). She doesn't know. They find the skeletons of Sir Chyde's parents dancing in the air. They don't know. Emma and Aranna find a mould-covered mural, and smartly wrap their hoods around their faces (like COVID masks) to clean it off. The first clue to the riddle!
More dungeon crawling. They come upon a chapel. They're searching the room and rooting out secrets. More smart playing! It's so nice to see them not poking everything with sharp pointy sticks! Just as everyone's about to give up, Aranna figures to look behind a ragged tapestry and finds... a secret door! Behind, the priest's quarters, an old writing desk, and inside... the second half of the riddle! Aranna is beside herself and won't stop bragging and gloating. Surprisingly, the others are not annoyed.
Aranna, the Astute Astrologer (and Alleged Annihilator of Six)
They open the double door, talk to the ghost of Sir Chyde, retrieve the ring, reunite the lovers and receive way too many jewels (worth 8,800gp) and their promised wish. They wished for... an extra ten HP each. :p
Chekhov's Ticking Time Bombs
- Thork may be dead, but his wife Aranna isn't. Her inheritance? 800gp of debt to the cult of Loki.
- The nameless wizard who hired the party to retrieve the soul ring never got his ring
- Emma Frog, Purple Nurple, and the now deceased Thorn are fugitives from a neighboring region. What's their story?
- Two drunes of the Dolmenwood cult of sorcerers were murdered in cold blood.
- They're filthy rich with jewelry. Better find a way to hide or bank it... bandits abound.
DM Notes to Myself
This being the first time I've properly ran a session in eighteen months, and the first true stress test of my cobbled together OSR ruleset, I forgot a few things. Most notably, dungeon time. This meant the players did not get to enjoy the joys of wandering monsters. I'll be implementing Angry's system for random encounters for all dungeon crawls.
I really wish I had remembered. The Wormtongues in Winter's Daughter make for a wonderful minion to drain the players's resources.