I thought people may enjoy a Bridewell playtest report. I started my playtest campaign with Marcia and Sandro yesterday. We’re playing in a modified version of Trophy Gold, the rules of which I’ve posted bitwise here. There will be spoilers for the events in the session, and hence some for Bridewell, but no spoilers outside of the session. If you’re a part of the playtest, you can definitely read this.
We have two characters in the company. Ursaline is a wild woman bear-priestess, travelling with Ferdrek, a disgraced noble in shining armour, seeking to redeem his family’s name. This session they took a shortcut through the abandoned valley of Bridewell, only to find it wasn’t abandoned at all.
I asked Marcia and Sandro if it was ok if they started at Angel Gate, because this was the secondary starting location initially, but I’m considering making it the primary starting location, and I want to give it a test drive to see if the company is adequately lured to the south. They broke down the cherubic gates as night fell, and found a settlement – Chamouny – grown around an Abbey, which they visited in the hope of finding rest. The gatekeeper mentioned missing children when asked about the wolf-scratches on the gates, and mentioned that you could get lost in the mists if you didn’t stick to the road. Ferdrek doesn’t believe in such folktales.
The inn, the Knight & Blizzard, was run by three frantic teenagers, and there the Burgomaster of the village offered them reward to either help refresh the village’s supply of wine (“Our Lady of Perpetual Light hasn’t been sending the shipments, and we’re drying up”) or to help find two children, missing the past week, attributed to prowling wolves. One of the children’s great-grandfathers, Veaceslav, was present, drinking in the inn, and directed them back to his farm (“we farm sprouts, it’s the manse out the gates and to the east”).
The company decided to ignore the winery and investigate the missing children. They sought out family, and looked for tracks in the frozen ground, drinking mushroom tea, and headed into the mists, following the tracks, although it seemed they were circling and changing direction strangely, especially when compared to Ferdrek’s compass bearings.
Travel in Bridewell is unique. The mists are a curse, and so when you travel in them, unless you know where you’re going, and where you are coming from, the location you end up in is entirely random, and you run a 25% risk of a random encounter. If you stick to the roads, you’re limited to visiting the next location along the way, but all the encounters lie off the road, and you’ll only encounter omens inviting you to leave it. In this case, the company drew an omen and the location they drew just happened to be the next location along the road.
They heard chanting and saw a faint glow in the forest away from the tracks. Knowing that they wouldn’t be able to find the tracks again, they investigated the chanting, finding a group of naked folk wearing wooden masks carved with patterns, sacrificing a goat to some unusually healthy looking trees. They recognised one of these people by the elderly body: Veaceslav. They followed him, called him out, before encountering wolves and fleeing back to his home. They promised to keep his druidic secret, learnt a little about the forest spirit Padru, and then went back into the mists, following the tracks once more.
This time they emerged from the mists at Our Lady of Perpetual Light, the vineyard that has not been delivering wine. Violet balls of light hovered above the grapes, but many were extinguished and the vines there were wilted and dying. On investigation, barefooted tracks of small men or large children were found by the edges of the vineyard that had no light, but the investigations awoke a flock of ravens that came to defend the vineyard. Ferdrek broke up the flock with grease and the heat from the violet lights, but not before awaking the inhabitants of the vineyard.
A whole household emerged, in bedclothes and cloaks with deadly weapons. Sweet talking allowed them to persuade the patriarch of the family, Davian, to ask them to find a religious relic (which he was suspiciously cagey in describing) that had been stolen not too long since. Davian attributes the footprints to this theft, and also the ailing vines, and offered a large reward. Ursaline queried the matriarch of the family about her religion (“Who’s this Lady of Perpetual Light”), and got a strange and cryptic response; a young member of the household wanted nothing to do with the strangers but was over ruled sullenly. Ferdrek, getting cocky, angered the matriarch and saw a vision of an attacking raven, before they left to carry on their investigation in the mists.
This time they drew the exact location the footprints were supposed to be leading to (10% chance of that happening), so I allowed to tracking to be effective. Ursaline, realising something was stranged, began to examine the mists and realised they were indeed cursed, finding unrecognisable glyphs in the mist-forms, although they dissipated when she saw them. They arrived at the abbey they’d seen earlier, but a back entrance. It was morning, now, and so they decided the front entrance would be more effective an approach, and met here the guardsmen, monks Zigfiend and Orto, who were welcoming and bored. Ursaline asked questions about the strange religions she was seeing evidence of – the forest spirits, this saint, this Lady (“she’s older than these frivolous forest spirits”) – so Zigfiend invited them to visit their theological questions upon the Father.
The Father was a very tall, incredibly hunched person, androgynous and beautiful of face. They placed the book they were reading closed on the table, and welcomed the company. They were happy to answer any questions about theology, but became cagey when Ferdrek accused them of being involved in the theft due to the tracks they’d followed. Before Father Autoriel had the opportunity to answer, though, a beautiful woman interrupted, asking the Father a question about a book she had been reading. She was a pleasant, kind, and thoughtful girl. Ursaline noticed surgical scars on her wrists and body, well-hidden beneath makeup and clothing (she spent a hunt token on this). At this point, Ferdrek pocketed the book (this being something that happened retroactively when they burnt hunt tokens after leaving the abbey), and then the Father asked them to leave, insisting that the abbey had nothing to do with the kidnapping of any children.
Ferdrek persuaded Zigfiend and Orto to play tarocchini with him, and Ursaline wondered the grounds unsupervised, looking for the back entrance. She found an infirmary with surgical tools, and vents that lead down to a bath-house, in which were discarded limbs and wild and angry corpse-creatures she fled back up the vents to escape. She fled to Ferdrek just as he clumsily failed to persuade Zigfiend and Orto to admit wrongdoing, and they asked him to leave.
As they left, they read the book, piecing together that in order to create life, part of a god, still living, must be incorporated into the creations body. Thinking that this must be the stolen relic, they realise that they must choose: Do they sacrifice the young woman, Atanasia’s life, for the gold promised by Davian and the winery? Or do they sacrifice the livelihoods of the winery to save this woman, potentially brought to life by nefarious and evil means, who may not want to be saved?
We chose to end the session there.
I thought the session was a little slow-paced, but looking back at the recap, actually a lot happened. I needn’t have worried. With my revised combat rules, the combat with the flock of rooks went smoothly, too. The goal-setting revisions worked very well, particularly because the hunt token exchanges pushed the story forward rather than ended a field of inquiry. The mists weren’t immediately clear to the players, and the interactions between the mists and tracking was fuzzy for me, something I’ll revise in the text. The fact that they were trapped in the valley wasn’t immediately clear either, something that I’ll revise in the text. I noticed a few things that needed fleshing out – particularly a few of the characters in the Abbey needed more improvisation than I’d intended. I’ll make quick work of that.
I was concerned that the multitude of relationships and plot lines would be too much, but Marcia and Sandro reassured me that it felt mysterious and not overwhelming. I didn’t intend for three separate religions to be introduced in one session, as the druids were a random encounter and I’d assumed that “Our Lady of Perpetual Light” would be encountered in the context of the Abbey or other churches dedicated to saints, and so that the players would assume she were related and that it wouldn’t be revealed it were not until much later. But this ended up being a boon, as Ursaline was instantly interested in this conflict between religions (which is very much implied in the text, but came quickly text in play).
Sandro fed back that his favourite moment was when he realised that there might be a character they knew in the random encounter, rather than just random cultists. This was a meta moment, as he knew that I’d been revising a lot of my random encounters to incorporate existing characters, but he said it was magical. The challenge, then, is how do we communicate to players who don’t follow this blog or who don’t talk to me about the module, that these cultists are real people that they may have met before, and that’s why they’re masked?
Overall, it was a very successful session and a very successful playtest. I’m happy with myself!
19th May, 2023