Playtest Report – Bridewell Session 3

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.


Playtest Report – Bridewell Session 2

My Bridewell playtest campaign continued today with Marcia, Sandro, and with Zedeck joining. It was a shorter session because I was running it from in 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.

Vero the Ratcatcher and her small fierce attack-dog joined Ursaline the bear-priestess, and Ferdrek, the disgraced noble. They picked up where they left off, headi mg back into the mists on the trail of the kidnapping wolves.

They found a massive she-wolf, exerting dominance over a pack of wolves, and followed them at a distance to Cairn Tor, a hill with a wicker-man type effigy at its peak and catacombs at its base. Investigating the catacombs, Ferdrek met a hazy entity with angry eyes and an axe that dripped blood, who threatened him initially, but joined them to drive the druids and wolves from his resting place. He named himself Shukrul.

The company chose to investigate the effigy first, and revealed the site of a massive druidic ritual, ready to be performed come through right astrological moment. The effigy was not just an image, but a cage, for a massive, bellowing creature. Hesitantly, Ferdrek began to use his sword to hack away at the effigy, attempting to free the creature, but they were cornered by Kori, a man with wolves teeth, and four angry wolves with thorns in their flesh and moss-thickened fur.

After Vero angered them (“Why are we bargaining with kidnappers?!”) a fight ensued, resulting in four unconscious wolves and one tied up man, who was unwilling to provide information (and happy to sacrifice his pack) until his own body was threatened. He revealed some information: That he was doing this for the good of his pack, that the High Druid was involved in their association, and that the effigy would “Birth Sigvatibog”. They beheaded him, cowing his pack, who fled as his body grew into a savage thorned plant-thing, which the company burned.

They company freed the creature in the cage, who they now suspected was Padru, spirit of the forest. A massive, red-panda-like entity of autumn colours, she gave Ferdrek a blessing (who knows what?) and answered some of Vero’s questions in an onslaught of emotions and impressions: The druids we’re misguided and well-meaning children, the High Druid was deceiving them; the ritual would have turned her into another, more violent, cruel entity; the children are trapped below. Vero, wanting to stay in contact with the forest-god, asked where she could find Padru again — she pointed far south, to the woods of the Valley, the Crosswood. Then, she departed, ambling through the boughs without them stirring.

The company burnt the effigy and destroyed the ritual site, and then went into the catacombs, finding that Shukrul had fought against the wolves there, who had fled or died. He offered Vero the Bloodsoaked Ax, who accepted it, in thanks. They rescued thr two children from cells behind a well-used arena. They lit a fire in the forest, made them food, and played games with them, before returning them home.

The Burgomaster Ionus offered them gold as reward, but they declined and asked instead for food and board, which was eagerly accepted. After the towns’ celebrations, they cornered Veaceslav, who was mortified and disbelieving regarding their claims — indeed, it seems the druids were deceived, but by whom, and for what purpose?

We chose to end the session there.

This was a much shorter, more directed session, with less mystery than the last, but it seemed like everyone enjoyed the pace. There were also two combats! Though brief ones, and plenty of ruin dealt. Combat with my revisions definitely runs smoother than earlier Trophy Gold combats.

Interestingly, this entire plot was closed without an entire location and faction being involved, and without much of a hitch (other than Vero exclaiming “what kind of wolves are these”, something explained by the fact that they’re corrupted ones, and the “good” wolves have been entirely unencountered). There will be some consequences to this plot being closed early, that will be interesting to see what comes about.

I was surprised that the encounter with Padru went so well, but the feedback was resoundingly positive as both tonal relief and as an example of horror source and insight into the past of the valley, which was all excellent feedback.

I was really happy with the character descriptions here; they’re one or two sentences only, and gave me plenty of sauce for the unexpectedly prolongues encounters with Veaceslav and with Kori. I think the random encounter with the giant she-wolf probably needs to go, although perhaps that was my mistake, rendering her as a member of Kori’s pack. Too many wolves, I think, and an odd random one probably needs to go. In a module of this complexity, that’s one level of complexity that isn’t necessary.

I still am surprised by the density and complexity of the religious aspects of Bridewell, which weren’t intentional at all but seem to be becoming increasingly important to the characters, especially now that they have met one of the gods in question. If they’d asked questions differently, she’d have granted them a quest, and I’d be surprised if they didn’t seek her aid later in the campaign if we manage to continue running.

Overall, another successful session and playtest, and I’m glad it sustained a more directed session than the last.

25th May, 2023

Idle Cartulary

Playtest Report – Bridewell Session 1

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

Idle Cartulary