Decaying Lands 08: Heartless Intro Session

PCs Present & Played:

Caleb, Fighter 1 [farmer kit]
  Suzie, a stubborn but loyal mule
Tenkos, Cleric 1 [plague doctor kit]
Viggo Marklund, Specialist 1 [bounty hunter kit]

NPCs Encountered:

Farric Grosskopf, tracker
Frau Wetzel, nominal mayor of Bottenburg
Herr Grosskopf, father of Farric
Iris Kenefels, guide retired from lameness
Otto Ringesstadt, husband of Rute
Rich merchants
Rute Ringesstadt, leader of hunting party

This session is a bit of an interlude. Heidi and Helga's players both needed to roll up new characters and Caleb's player was new not only to the group but to RPGs in general so I wanted something smaller. There is one more player to add but they unfortunately couldn't make it that night.

These considerations unfortunately meant that whatever happened this session needed to be resolved by the end of the night so that these folks could meet up with the two survivors from the previous session. Because of that I felt like I had to push the players more than I normally would (i.e. almost never) and they didn't end up with enough time to fully explore all they would have liked. We did however end up with some really solid moments​ and one more player in the fold after after a great session so I shouldn't complain too much. I just felt dirty.

This play report will contain SPOILERS for Gift of the Silent God from S J Grodzicki's $1 Adventure Frameworks.

We started with some introductions and descriptions of the party and players to each other. My general rule is that the players can do whatever and go wherever they want. My one exception is that when we have new PCs is that they get integrated with a minimum of farting about with "but can we trust them?!" type business. They all decided that they were traveling together for safety because of the general lawlessness east of the Dwarfgrave Mountains. Good enough for me, lesgo.

Their first clue that something was wrong as they traveled west was a plume of heavy smoke rising above the village they were approaching, Bottenburg. As they approached, they saw a crowd of people in what amounted to the village square clustered around two large pyres. Caleb got closer and saw that the bodies were already quite rotten and bloated. The decomposition made him realize that the two had been left out for the evil to bubble out of their flesh and then burned to try to remove any last traces of bad luck that befell them. Despite the rot, he could see where claws and teeth had ripped up the bodies but the most striking wound was a huge hole in their chests, ribs burst open.

Meanwhile Tenkos and Viggo were off on the fringe of the crowd chatting with a grumpy man and his young son. Grosskopf was complaining about the superstitious townfolk and how they should be focusing on the missing hunting party. Apparently the town had been suffering from the depredations of a pack of deadly wolves for more than a month. An attack two weeks ago prompted the dispatch of a dozen of the town's best hunters and trappers to go out and deal with the threat but they should have been back by now. Grosskopf's son Farric was one of the main trackers to go out and he is anxious to find out what happened.

During the conversation we got something of a measure of the two adventurers. They both are hardened and seem to have "seen some shit;" this is in sharp contrast to their companion Caleb, a near giant of a man with natural strength venturing away from his farm for the first time. Grosskopf latched onto the capable presentation of Tenkos and Viggo, especially the plague doctor mask dangling from Tenkos' shoulder, and corralled them over to talk to Frau Wetzel, closest thing to a mayor the village has.

Frau Wetzel was engaged in a heated argument with two well-dressed merchants. The merchants had lost some of their own people along the roads near the village in the past few months and they were threatening to find an alternate route if Wetzel didn't take care of things. Wetzel latches onto the presence of three capable men and donkey~

"Her name is Suzie! And she's a mule, have some respect!"

Right, Caleb is quite protective of his companion. Anyway, the party manages to negotiate 100sp from the merchants to clear up whatever is plaguing Bottenburg and Frau Wetzel throws in some supplies and eternal gratitude if they can succeed. This translated into food and one "survivaly" item for each of the players. Tenkos and Viggo's players, having played in a variety of my games, immediately suggest two bear traps. They rounded out their gear with some snares and bait.

Frau Wetzezl suggested that they talk to the various family members to get some information. They started with Otto Ringesstadt, husband of Rute Ringesstadt, the leader of the expedition to kill the wolves. Otto was a mess. He seemed already like a sunken man, no confidence, and now that his wife was missing he was even more withdrawn. He sighed a lot and seemed to barely keep it together. He told the party about how broken his was had been after their children got picked for a culling during an extraordinarily brutal winter some years ago. Rute seemed to barely be hanging onto life until just the past few months when she found a new drive and passion for life again. When the wolf attacks got to be even more consistent she became determined to find and kill the creatures that had been preying on traveler and townsfolk alike and swiftly volunteered to lead the hunt.

Sidebar: Shout out to cecil howe for inspiring this bit with Let Us Not Die In The Dark Night Of This Cold Winter. I guess I laid it out pretty stark, with more detail than above, and now my players think I'm even more messed up than they already did. Which I guess is a bit, by now? That value isn't going to go down ever, I don't think.

The players asked whatever other questions they wanted of the various family members at large in the interest of time and went off into the woods in the general direction of the abandoned lodge that the expedition was to use as the base for their hunt. The took with them Iris Kenefels, a sister to one of the missing, as a guide to help them get there easily.

Ran with altered encounter tables from the adventure framework because of the less fantastic nature of the world that the players are running around in. Their first or second night Caleb heard something skulking off in the distance but it never came closer and they didn't investigate. The party did listen for wolf pack sounds but didn't notice anything out of the ordinary.

When they had nearly reached the farmhouse they found Arran, one of the missing townsfolk. He was frantic, trying to convince them to leave "or else the wolves will get you!" Arran claimed that the wolves had them penned into the walled farmhouse compound and that he had only ventured out because their food supplies were running low. The party remained unconvinced based on how insistent he was on them leaving and the fact that if the group could make it back to the town why couldn't the hunting party? After some pressuring he agreed to take them back with him to the farmhouse.

At the farmhouse it was plain to see that Arran was lying and Rute scolded him for doing so. Six of the original twelve members of the expedition were holed up in the small compound. Rute explained that they tracked the wolves to a cave but then they came out of nowhere in complete silence and started ripping people apart (think raptor scene with Muldoon from Jurassic Park). She blamed Farric, the son of the guy they originally talked to in town, for pushing down their guide Iris' sister and leaving her for the wolves while making his escape. Rute said that none of them could bear to return to town before finding Farric and getting revenge for his cowardice.

Caleb refused to leave his Suzie outside so he decided to sleep in the decaying barn with her and Iris. Iris and the mule had become close during the trip on account of Suzie carrying the lame tracker for the duration. Viggo and Tenkos opted for somewhat nicer accommodations in the farmhouse with the rest of the survivors. Of course, being paranoid adventurers (for good reason), the crew setup one bear trap in front of each building's door.

I lean on the dice a lot to help keep things surprising for everyone and this session was no exception. Farric's chance to show up popped during the middle of the night and everyone was awoken by the sounds of his frenzied screams as the bear trap near the barn door snapped shut around his leg. Rute led the rush out of the farmhouse and Caleb quickly jumped out next to the trapped trapper. Rute was howling about killing Farric but he countered that Rute and the other five had murdered everyone and ripped their hearts out. The only thing preventing Rute from killing him was Caleb's gigantic frame interposed between the two. Rute approached but Caleb popped her in the face and she lost it, screaming "Enough, kill the infidels!"

Caleb's hit rolls kept coming up crap but his damage rolls were monstrous; twice over the farmer could have finished off the crazed leader of their attackers. Tenkos likewise could have killed all five of the other attackers with a fancy firebomb but rolled a 1 on damage. Viggo got in and was doing some work but they weren't connecting enough with Rute or the rest of the attackers. Iris jumped into the fray too but again, only did 1 damage. Before too long Tenkos went down and things were looking pretty grim.

Sidebar: Before starting the session, I made an outline with all the names and people that I was going to need for the original twelve person hunting party. When we started the session with three PCs instead of four I thought that I had better cut down on some of the enemies because otherwise the intro session for new level 1 PCs would likely turn into a TPK, kind of defeating the purpose. When I actually ran it though I just read names and numbers from my outline though, so it stayed at six enemies. Oh well, no harm no foul.

The next shot at Rute got her low enough where she was thinking discretion was the better part of valor, however, and she booked it. This initiated a chase sequence! I think Caleb got up to Rute but again whiffed, leaving it all on Viggo. The bounty hunter caught up to her and nailed his attack roll with his 10' grappling hook, stopping her in her tracks. I think at this point there were only two other attackers left so the group bound the three survivors and went back to take care of Tenkos and Farric.

They paused long enough to search the grounds and heal up Tenkos. Since the adventure framework references treasure tables in Low Fantasy Gaming I went along with it and ended up doling out a pouch with a snowflake inside that never melts. Seems similar to the kind of curios in the 5E PHB but I'm curious to see what they might do with it.

They dragged Rute and the other two killers back to town and convinced Frau Wetzel of their guilt with the personal affects of the missing and consistent accounts from Iris and Farric. Viggo, Tenkos, and Caleb (and Suzie!) collected their reward and quickly headed out of town as the folk of Bottenburg set to tying a few nooses.

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