My Bridewell playtest campaign continued today with Marcia and Alex joining. It was a longer session as I’m out of hospital. We’re playing in my own hack of Trophy Gold. There will be Bridewell spoilers, but if you’re a part of the playtest, you can definitely read this.
Erstwhile the disaster girlfriend joined Ursaline the bear-priestess. They picked up choosing to pursue to thread of finding a holy relic (“part of a god”) in order to save the relic stolen from the Vineyard of Our Lady of Perpetual Light by the Penny Dreadfuls of The Abbey of Saint Angelus.
Erstwhile disguised herself as a scholar to persuade Sigfiend and Orto to allow them entry to the library. With Orto escorting them, they browsed the library, eventually discovering a forbidden book that required both charm and slight of hand to access too (and Orto’s suspicions now lay on Erstwhile, having been revealed she cannot read or speak a language she indicated she could). The forbidden book maid reference to a cult of Knights Belour and their associate Magists being involved in dark magics involving chained or hostage gods.
Ursaline interrogated Veaceslav, secret druid for information, leveraging the multiple favours he owes them. He indicated these Knights Belour were in the very south of the valley of Bridewell centuries ago, but knew very little else. He indicated it would be a great evil to use the bodies of any of the gods of the valley – Padru, Groaming or Khumush – in such a ritual.
Ursaline and Erstwhile, taking the road and choosing (out of character) to bypass many sites for the sake of the session, travelled for a number of days to arrive in Ravensbourne, a small town which strangely feels as if it is not of the same dismal cut as the rest of the valley. Here, flowers bloom, birds sing, and grass is green, although the people of Ravensbourne act as though all is more as it seems than you’d expect. Visiting the fairly empty tavern, they persuade the innkeeper Erik the vibes in his inn are off, ply a local – Alexi – whose grandsons fled for Dimmness-town leaving him with nobody to look after the rookery – for information, and gain the interest of two robed strangers who let slip they have a map leading to the ruins of a Casa Belour that they intend to visit soon. They ignore a suggestion to talk to the Burgomaster of the town. Planning to beat the strangers to Casa Belour, they depart post-haste.
Casa Belour is a fortified manse in a field of artificial black thorns, hidden behind a cleft in the mountains. The only place in this region that does not seem merry and bright, it clearly is the site of an ancient battle, and is crumbling and vine-choked. Within, they spied and avoided praying corpse-knights, flying death-serpents, and plotting undead tacticians, before engaging in a long conversation with the gay commander of the Knights Belour, stuck in his office planning a battle for centuries. With the knowledge of his true love clouding his awakening, they stole his papers and his amulet, which they used to open a secret door in the statue of the Warden of the Forsaken, an unknown god, in the great hall. Screams could be heard from a nearby room as they climbed down into the basement, and here they faced two long-dead, bored and surprised magists in a vestibule, and could hear nearby the groaning of something vast in a twisted and dark laboratory.
I feel like there was less happening this session despite its length, mainly because a lot of the dungeon crawl at the end was starting and stopping, and avoiding encounters, much of which was breezed over in the summary. I’m not a fan of “door to the left or two the right” in dungeons, so I basically gave them a free peek through every door, so they had full information for the most part about the room ahead so they could choose whether to engage. This potentially backfired, as the two felt they were not well positioned to fight the dreadful horrors that lay within this castle. The map I used for this dungeon was experimental in the sense that I didn’t complete it, which I think was not successful in the way that these players wanted to tackle the dungeon. I think that map will need revisions. That said, I think certain success in this first Bridewell dungeon crawl so far.
Marcia at last twigged to the fact that the Bridewell mists are a variety of Nick’s Flux Space when the map they gained allowed them direct access to the Casa Belour. I think this tied together why I’ve set up the mists the way they are, and I wonder if the rules to this simplified flux should be explicit or if I should let that gleam happen in future player’s eyes too.
Some great pleasures are coming from the success in the module’s capacity to face out of sequence play. Not once so far has the approach of the players been the anticipated route by the module, but each time that has yielded fun and unique results. In this session, the sequence-breaking meant they had key information for a character (the death-knight commander) that otherwise would have been a significant foe, to render him instead lovesick and open to plying with charm. This is a single sentence in his description which I honestly put there for the sake of the GM, but ended up playing a key role in the outcome of this particular session.
I’m really enjoying running Bridewell, but I’m starting to see that the structure and writing here is sound (although I’d love to test out a few more locations), and the real question is whether or not the writing and structure holds up to other GMs playing and reading it. Now there’s tension between whether I cease my playtest earlier (even though there’s a lot of fun to be had), or whether I cease after a few more sessions and then let the beta phase of playtesting (“Do other GMs like this too?”) begin.