Things are coming to a head in Halcyon City. Oversight (well, Brahma) is attacking Pheonix Academy, claiming Hellbinder and Alias have corrupted the kids at the school for nefarious purposes, all so he can cover up heinous things he’s done in the past.
Meanwhile, Ember’s mom is playing with file – literally, her fire powers that she only ever learned to repress, never control.
Back to the Village
Having re-read some of the stuff related to leaving and then reentering the Depths of a site, I have a feeling I’m going to hold some ill-will to Gertruda for making me escort her back to town, but whatever.
We get back to town an hour before dawn. I’m working my way through a long list of stuff to do. So let’s wrap up a few things, starting with delivery Gertruda to her mother.
Really? That’s great. Okay. I “realize the truth of the quest.”
I’m going with something like the Dracula movie with Keanu. Gertruda’s been tainted, but not turned – let’s say by some lesser vampire who’s been pretending to be Strahd to the besotted, idiot girl, and toying with her while slowly corrupting her.
So I can’t let that stand, obviously. I’ll take my measly one xp and Swear a Vow to fix the girl by finding who- or whatever was toying with her in the castle.
Nice. I have a clear picture of what I need to do next, and +2 momentum.
I’ll have this be a Formidable quest, since just retrieving the girl was Dangerous, and this feels like it should be a step up from that. In the meantime, the hyperprotective Mary is given instructions to keep a damned close eye on her daughter. (I’m sure nothing will go wrong there.)
Then, quite exhausted, I return to the Chapel of Barovia and make the somewhat riskier attempt to conclude my quest to “Return the Ahmeshti to the hallowed ground of Chapel of the village of Barovia.” (A sort of halfway-point quest for all the stuff that probably needs to happen with that thing.)
Nice! That’s just a troublesome quest, so 1 more XP there brings me to six total, 3 unspent after getting Ismark as a “kinsman.”
I know what I’d like to do with that XP, so after setting up both the Icon and the holy symbol of Barovia in places of honor, I return to the Icon of Ahmeshti, take out the Flail, get on my knees, and begin a sort of impromptu vigil, for all that I’m quite worn out. I’m trying to forge a bond with this, an ancestral weapon of the Freewardens.
Are. You. Kidding. Me?
Okay, well, this isn’t actually as annoying as it seems at first – there are three pretty easy responses here:
- I’ve got 10 momentum. I think I can just reset the challenge dice, if I want to.
- The “Forge a Bond” move says “If you make this move after you successfully Fulfill Your Vow to their benefit, you may reroll any dice.” I think returning the Icon to the chapel would count for that, since the two items are linked in some way, which means I could reroll that 10.
- I could just swear an iron vow to do something in alignment with the Flail’s “wishes” (call it the thing’s destiny, whatever), and take the bond as a result.
I’m actually going to go with option 3, here, because I don’t NEED a strong hit – the benefits for that do nothing for me (my spirit and momentum are maxed out right now.
/me annoyed Mermista groan.
Well, I’m not burning momentum for a Strong hit that only gets me back some of the momentum I just spent, so I start off with a vow sworn, but not EXACTLY sure how to “Drive the Qashida out of Barovia” – since I don’t really know where they are or what they’re doing. (And I’m still getting my head around the idea they EXIST, so…)
Anyway, swearing that vow to the Flail and/or the Farwardens that have come before me let’s me spend 3 xp to pick up a new asset, Blade-bound (in this case, Flail-bound, but whatever).
I was really torn about which aspect of the Asset to take first, but while the first one is really useful, the second one is really fun and potentially horrible, so I went with that first. In short, I envision not a spirit but MANY spirits of past farwardens, whispering advice and knowledge from the mace and generally unnerving me and getting in my way.
Obviously, I need to end my vigil/vow-swearing session by trying to get answers from the Flail, specially about the Qashida.
“I’ll drive them out, but how do I find them,” I implore the whispering spirits of the farwardens that seem to surround me and fill the empty spaces of the chapel.
Again, I’m sticking with the weak hit.
“Few knew of my mission, or my intent,” says the heavy, accented voice of my friend and mentor, Reinhardt. “Someone in the town must have alerted the Robed Brotherhood – they were waiting for me in the Castle.”
So, the new danger is Qashida agents in the village.
I also need to Endure Stress from hearing the ghostly whispers of my dead farwardens. Awesome.
Oh for crying out loud.
Well, the consequences of a miss is -1 momentum, or I can burn EIGHT momentum for a weak hit that does nothing for me. No thanks. I’ll take the miss.
So that’s me coming into the village strong, with pretty much maxed out numbers, but now I’m down Spirit and Supply. I’m tired, I feel surrounded by enemies, and I have to get back to that damned castle. (On the upside, two new assets!)
“I’m taking a nap,” I mumble to Ireena and Ismark. “Don’t let anyone stab me.” Then I but collapse in a pew while the priest, bemused, looks on.
After our conversation with Leif Lipseige, whining accountant, we set off up the stairs, following Leif’s general directions, and I hit the dice to Delve the depths.
That’s a nice result. My Find an opportunity indicates I encounter someone who might support me. I give this a bit of a ponder (and check through the Oracle of the Ravenloft module) and think I’ve come up with something. (The Compel is explained a few lines down. Hang tight…)
We exit the stairwell at the next flight of stairs, head down a short hallway and through a door of delicately etched metal embossing.
Dust fills your lungs. The musty smell of death and decay swirls around you. Before you, a long table of polished oak lies beneath a blanket of dust. The rotting table cloth lies tattered beneath china plates and stained silverware. In the center of the table, a large, tiered cake leans heavily to one side. The once white frosting has turned green with age. Cobwebs drape like dusty lace down every side. A single doll figure of a well-dressed woman adorns the crest of the cake. A window in the south wall is draped with heavy curtains.
The room’s a bit of a mess, but what catches my eye is the movement on the far side of the table as someone gasps and hurries towards the doors to the north.
“Stop!” I call out. “We’re not here to hurt you.” (That’s a guess, but I don’t imagine I’m in a hurry to pulverize anyone whose first impulse is to gasp and run.
“Gertruda?” Ireena says, squinting in the gloom. “Is that you?”
It is. The daughter of the weeping “Mad Mary”, from back in the village. A quick check of the Oracle indicates Gertruda is largely oblivious to any danger to herself – she came here because she saw a castle in the distance and knew only good things of castles, thanks to years of fairy stories and tales of heroic princes falling in love with simple village girls. She’s been sheltered by her mother all of her life, and is innocent and naive to the point of being a danger to herself and others.
I’m less than charmed by the idiot girl, but I try to at least make an effort to be civil.
“Gertruda,” I say, “you’ve put a terrible fright and sadness into your mother. You need to go back home to the village. Now.”
I try for that compel (see roll, above), but only manage a weak hit, which means she wants some in return from me. In short, she’s got enough sense to realize she might not have done the safest or smartest thing, and she sees a big armored freewarden in front of her.
“You have to take me home,” she says, sniffling. “You have to protect me.”
She’s not right, strictly speaking.
But she’s not wrong, either. Dammit.
So, yes, fine, but we need to check out the room the accountant told us about. One more Delve the Depths move…
And, well, that’s pretty good, again. I choose to find some useful item – the thing the accountant told us about. According to the module/oracle, it’s the holy symbol of the Kolyana family, lying on a table in the study nearby.
A blazing hearth fire fills this room with rolling waves of red and amber light. The walls are lined with ancient books and tomes, their leather covers well oiled and preserved through careful use. All is in order here. The stone floor is hidden beneath a luxurious rug of a deep-patterned weave. A large, low table sits in the center of the room, waxed and polished to a mirrored finish. Even the poker next to the blazing fireplace is polished. Large, overstuffed divans and couches stand in order about the room. Two luxurious chairs face the hearth.
Also, because the holy symbol of the Burgomaster is here, I’ve decide the ***spirit *** of the Burgomaster is here as well, having found its way here after trodding the road from the graveyard, but he’s not looking at the holy symbol, he’s looking at the picture on the wall.
A huge painting hangs over the mantlepiece in a heavy, gilded frame. The rolling light of the fire illuminates the carefully rendered painting. It is an exact likeness of the Burgomaster’s daughter, Ireena Kolyana. Though the painting is obviously centuries old, the likeness is unmistakable.
Another bit of the Delve “opportunity” move means I get to immediately make a followup move with a bonus, and get momentum on a hit.
So I reflect on the spirit of the Burgomaster being present, and the picture that looks just like Ireena, and decide this freaks Ireena out: she doubts everything, and I need to talk her down by testing our Bond.
Well, lovely. That’s two more momentum and I’m counting this as progress on putting the Burgomaster’s spirit to rest – he sees Ireena has a loyal friend and ally. That’s hopefully enough progress, so let’ss see if I can’t wrap up that quest right here:
The burgomaster sees his daughter, sees how distraught she is, and sees her comforted by a friend. His soul finds peace, knowing his children are not alone in this dark world.
I’m keeping the “opportunity” this affords me simple: I’m going to use the XP I get from finishing this quest to pick up an a new aspect of one of my assets, or a new asset, right now, instead of waiting until I have some downtime – given what’s going on right now, I’m going to Ismark as a “Kindred” asset, for the same reasons as I had for finishing the Vow and putting the Burgomaster’s spirit to rest.
And now, thanks to Gertruda, it’s time to get the hell out of here. I’m going to Escape the Depths, using my Wits to retrace my steps.
Okay, weak hit, because my dice kinda hate me. Fine. I’m going with “a denizen plots their revenge” and make plans for some kind of retribution sent out after me as soon as the dice offer any kind of opening for shenanigans while I’m back in the village.
Whew. Okay. We retrace our steps, stopping at Lipseige long enough to let him gawk at the Holy Symbol of Barovia, but he gets more than a bit miffed I won’t leave it with him. What the blazes did he expect? He got to see it. Call it good.
We hurry down to the main floor, and make our way quickly to the chapel (eyeing the gargoyles in the main entry more than little warily), and with one long last look at Reinhardt. Need to get his body out of here, but not this time. Not yet.
And then we’re back out in the courtyard and slipping through the dark and drizzle. It’s a miserable slog back down the road, but we don’t stop until we reach the village and the church.
Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.
Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.
The kids and I get back into another story of the Smartwood kids (a ‘kids on bikes’ hack of Lasers and Feelings) – this time, it’s all about the weird runic symbols on Ken’s whiffleball bat, and how they got there in the first place.
Here’s the video (with slightly leveled audio, because my kids are noisy).
Dusty scrolls and tomes line the walls of this room and are scattered across the floor. In the center of all this clutter stands a huge accountant’s desk. A old man slouches atop a tall stool, scratching a seemingly endless scroll of paper with a dry quill pen. A rope hangs next to the old man from a hole in the ceiling.
“Please,” the man begins, raising an finger, but not looking up. “Please… please please… do not stand…” he continues to write something down in the huge ledger in front of him. “Do not stand… on the rug. It is… very old, and very valuable.” He looks up, setting his pen aside. “And you seem to be covered in grime and gargoyle entrails.” He sniffs, rubbing at his nose.
I can’t help but notice how close his upraised hand is from the bell rope hanging down from the ceiling.
“We shouldn’t damage anything so expensive,” he continues, his hand lowering to the desk as his eyes wander over the rug. “Well… it was now it is probably mostly sentimental who arrrrre you?” he asks, rolling his Rs like he has something to prove. “I am Leif Lipseige accountant to the baron. CHIEF accountant.” He pauses, seeming to consider this. “Also ONLY accountant.”
“Hello. Again. Who are you?”
“It’s not very important.”
“Well… I am curious. And if my curiosity is not very important and if your identity is not very important I suppose my curiosity and your identity go together very well.”
I don’t know what to say to that, so I say nothing at all. Ismark coughs behind me.
Leif pats the air in front of him. “I… I do not mean to pry if you do not wish to tell me, that is fine… so what brings you to the castle of the Baron?”
Again, I give him stony silence. He seems to consider what he just asked and chuckles. “Ahh. I see. Yes. I am a curious old man. Habits.” He gestures at me. “It is only… it seems as though you’ve run into a bit of trouble. Not, ahh… entirely unexpected, I suppose, here…” he nods, regretfully. “I tend to stay to my own chambers. There are many unsavory ahh… employees of the Baron about here and you seem to be involved in ahh… I think it is safe to say ‘bloody business.’”
Something in my face seems to give him pause. “Oh, don’t worry about me; I’m harmless. I keep the books, but I am no… I am no minion.” His expression changes slightly – becomes a bit darker. “I’m supposed to be keeping track of the Baron’s riches and conquests and money but he hides things from me; he keeps… he keeps… he doesn’t let me know about all the treasure, so how can I keep track of all these treasures?”
“That… does seem difficult,” I deadpan, not sure what else to say.
Leif nods emphatically. “He keeps them secret from his own accountant! I was… that… it’s ridiculous!”
I get the sense he’s a little grumpy. Sure. One of the oldest living servants of the Baron, and he’s not trusted the one thing he’s supposed to be doing. And might be a teensy bit senile.
Leif is off and muttering. “… some treasures… ridiculous to … he does not … insulting …”
I look around for somewhere to sit, and spot a tall stool in the corner, then shift that direction a bit. It draws his attention back to me.
He squints at me. “Do you need to… clean up? Some of that blood on you is red, and seems to be… yours.”
He’s right. Given a moment of quiet, my hurts gather themselves into a unified caucus and come clamoring for my attention.
“I can help,” Ireena murmurs. “With a bit of time.”
I nod, surprised but happy with the offer. “I… may we make use of your room, here? For a short while?”
[Ugh. Miss. Causes a delay.]
“Of course… of course.” Leif’s smile crinkles around his eyes, but those eyes are hard and calculating, like any good accountant. His hand reaches out and settles lightly on the bell rope. “If you will do something for me.”
I feel Ireena’s hand tighten on my biceps as she stands behind me, I reach up and across, giving her fingers a squeeze of silence reassurance. (I hope).
I think it’s about time the girls form a Bond.
… and WONDER OF WONDERS the dice actually agree!
I’m taking the momentum, since my Spirit is maxed already.
I pull myself up onto the tall stool standing in the corner, acting calm. “If you don’t mind talking while we see this?”
Leif blanches a bit as I pull off my tunic and begin working the chainmail shirt off, but nods. Ireena makes a noise at the cuts and bruises that made it through the armor – Ismark is nowhere to be seen at the moment – and pulls poultice and bandage materials out of my pack, once I tell her where they are.
[I’m rolling to heal myself with my own skills, so +iron, since Ireena isn’t a full companion or anything, but I’m taking a +1 for having a Bond with her. Which. Whatever. Dunno if that’s R.A.W., but it feels right. Anyway.]
Okay, so I’m going to take -1 momentum and -1 Supply for +2 health. Again, I’m not sure that’s ENTIRELY legal (maybe I have to take it all from one source or the other or something), but it makes sense in the narrative, because this (and Leif) are slowing me down (-momentum) and we’re digging through the pack for supplies. So. Whatever. Let the rules match the story.
“There is a thing… an object. A treasure I wish to see.” He waves his hands. “Not have, you understand, but see. Record, as the Baron’s accountant. Has has it, I am told” (those words are bitter) in a study, one floor up and through a dining room located off the same stairs you climbed to reach me. Bring it to me.”
I consider this. “All right.”
I do, though not as an Iron Vow, since I’m all full up on that, and that’s where I’m going to stop for now, healed up and with Ismark lurking out in the stairwell.
Dinner with the Baron
Okay, here we go with the next part of the Delve.
In the Delve rules, I’m categorizing Castle Ravenloft as an Ancient (Theme) Stronghold (Domain). Before I progress, I check the oracle for that theme and domain and see that I’m progressing toward a “Large Hall.” Cool, that tells me where to go, in general, based on what GM-me knows of the place.
Brigitte looks around the chapel. Two of the smaller side archways seem to lead into alcoves that (she guesses) either dead end or lead into stairwells – probably up the dark balcony overlooking the chapel itself.
The main double doors are what draw her attention.
“These should lead us back toward the central portion of the castle,” she says.
“You say that like it’s a good thing,” Ismark says, though he helps her pull the doors open.
Mark progress. Okay. Looking around at the other options non the table tells me that this is fairly middling result – nothing particularly good or bad. Fair enough. How do I see envision the next section?
In my case, the Delve the Depths move tells me sort of where I should end up, and from there I’m using some of the “Oracle” of the Ravenloft module to get me there.
The double doors open into a long hallway: dusty, long unused, and lined with statues whose eyes seem to follow us as we move past them.
The doors at the western end of the hall are bound in heavy bronze, but aren’t blocked or locked. We swing them open and move into the great entry hall of the castle.
Cobwebs hang from dust-covered columns that line this hall, illuminated by lit (?!?) torches fluttering in sconces. The dust and webs cast strange, moving shadows across the faces of stone gargoyles squatting atop the columns, all around the rim of the domed ceiling of the room. The cracked and faded ceiling frescoes are largely impossible to make out after what may be centuries of neglect. To the north, a broad staircase climbs into darkness.
Sad and majestic organ tones float from a lit hallway to the south.
Okay. Lots to process here. Double doors to the west probably lead to the entryway of the castle. Fine. The stairs seem broad enough to be meant for “public” traffic, so that’s probably going to take us to some kind of big receiving space or a grand hall or dining room or … something.
South is tricky, because on the one hand, it’s lit and more welcoming and generally seems ‘interesting’ because there’s music coming from that direction, but on the other hand there’s the thing where it seems like we were expected and that whole direction seems to scream “COME CHECK THIS OUT IT IS WHERE YOU ARE MEANT TO GO.”
By the same token, I do NOT want to hang around this room, because those gargoyles make me REALLY NERVOUS.
So. Yeah, I’m heading for the trap. Let’s follow the music.
I’m not burning all my momentum just for a Weak hit, so I’ll take the miss and Reveal a Danger.
I can work with that.
Torchlight flutters against the walls of this vaulted hall. To the east, a dark and forbidding hallway runs into darkness. Beside that opening, a suit of armor, oiled and glistening, stands on display in a shallow alcove – the first thing we’ve seen not covered in dust. To the west, large double doors hang slightly open, a steady bright light escaping through the opening. Swells of organ music come from behind the doors, spilling a melody of power and defeat into the hall.
I’m definitely going to check out the slightly open doorway, and I want to be sneaky, which (like my last Delve the Depths) is based on Shadow, which so far as been a total disaster for me. But nevertheless…
Okay, I’m taking this as a Weak hit, in which I am “delayed or lose advantage (-1 momentum).” I think falling for this lure means I’ve somewhat dropped into the channel Strahd has set for his visitors. Here’s what we see through the crack in the door.
This is a magnificent 40-foot-square room, brilliantly lit by three massive crystal chandeliers. Pillars of stone stand against dull white marble walls, supporting the ceiling. In the center of the room, a long, heavy table stands covered with a fine white satin cloth. The table is laden with delectable foods of every type: roasted beast basted in a savory sauce, roots and herbs of every taste, and sweet fruits and vegetables. Places are set for four (one at the head of the table) with fine delicate china and silver. At each place there is a crystal goblet filled with an amber liquid. At the center of the far west wall, between floor-to-ceiling length mirrors, stands a massive organ. Its pipes blare out a thunderous melody of greatness and despair. Seated before the keys, its back toward you, a caped figure pounds the keys in raptured ecstasy.
Slowly, the music winds down and the caped figure turns on the stool before the organ to face the door, seeming to look directly at us. I hear Ireena suck in a sharp breath.
Now, I’m a genre and rpg nerd, so there’s a great big Vampire Lore clue in this scene, but when I ran it with my daughter, she totally missed it because she didn’t KNOW it – so I’m introducing it as one of those “weird vampire things that may or may not be common knowledge,” and seeing if Brigitte catches it. I’m doing this as a Gather Information.
My kingdom for a Strong Hit.
Okay, weak hit, the information complicates the quest or introduces a new danger. +1 momentum.
The figure at the organ raises a graceful hand. “Please. Be welcome in my home. Come in. Dine.”
Ireena trembles at my side, but I barely notice – what has my attention is the fact that Strahd can be seen in the mirrors on either side of the organ. Everything the farwardens have ever been told about these fell creatures of the night say that should not be the case.
“It’s some kind of illusion,” I whisper. “A vampire casts no reflection.” I indicate the mirrors, through the cracked doors.
“Please,” alleged ‘Strahd’ says, “come out of the shadows and into the light. Let me see you.”
“Illusion it may be,” Ismark whispers back. “But it’s no mindless thing – it knows we are not yet in the room… or whatever controls it does.”
It’s not a comforting thought, but I feel Ireena calm herself somewhat, realizing she is not facing the monster of Barovia directly. I turn to her. “It is nothing, see? Only a trick. A puppet show.”
It is not Ireena who replies, but the figure of Strahd. “A puppet show? Oh, delightful!” And it laughs: long and loud and mocking, and then vanishes.
The moment the figure disappears, a fierce, bone-chilling wind roars through the halls, blowing out all torches and candles. We hear the screech of ancient hinges and the solid thud of heavy doors slamming shut, one after another, off into the distance; a portcullis clangs down in the middle distance and, ponderously the tired groan of the aged drawbridge pulling up.
Crystal sings in the darkness of the dining room as the great chandeliers rustle in the sudden wind. The fragrance of food wafts its way through the darkened hall.
“I think we may have offended our host,” Ismark mutters. “We should move.”
“One moment,” I say, shoving doors open, much to my companion’s surprise. Ismark manages one aggrieved “hssssst!” as I stride into the now dark room, following my nose and unslinging my pack.
We’re being taunted by the smell of food and right now my Supply is at 3, so…
Oh screw you, dice. What the hell, man.
Fine. The game wants me to burn momentum so bad, I will. Strong hit on Resupply says “on a strong hit, you bolster your resources. Take +2 supply.
I scoop the fruit and some of the least messy foods, working mostly by smell and touch, wrap them up in cloth napkins probably worth more than all the clothes I’m wearing, and jam them into my pack, then stride back to the door, where Ismark has got a torch going.
“Now, we can move on.”
“I’m angry,” I say, though my face and voice are calm, my eyes scanning the area. “This Strahd is picking the wrong sort of fight.”
I’m going to Delve the Depths again, and roll the Oracle to get an idea where I’m headed: a 97 means “Something Unusual or Unexpected.” Duly noted, Oracle. Thanks. Now then…
I’m Delving based on Observation and Intuition (what I can see, and what my gut tells me), so that means +wits – to heck with any more of this +Shadow nonsense.
That’s fine. I roll and get a 43 on the results table, marking Progress on my way to “Something Unusual or Unexpected.”
Brigitte takes in her options. Heading back to the main hall with the gargoyles looming seems like a bad plan, the only other option then is the dark, narrow hallway just across from the dining room of Vampiric Fuckery.
Theory: Vampires are melodramatic as a form of behavior-based informational security. While their ridiculous collection of odd mannerisms make it easy to tag them as vampires, it also makes it extremely difficult to tell which of those mannerisms stem from an esoteric weakness or limitation on their powers, and which are just them being fuckin extra. In this essay I will…
A chilly wind rushes down the circling stairway at the end of this short hall, seeming to kill the very heat of the torch Ismark carries. The stairs spiral both up into the castle and down into the depths.
I do NOT feel like going down into the depths right now, so it’s up one floor and an unadorned wooden door…
Dusty scrolls and tomes line the walls of this room and are scattered across the floor. In the center of all this clutter stands a huge accountant’s desk. A old man slouches atop a tall stool, scratching a seemingly endless scroll of paper with a dry quill pen. A rope hangs next to the old man from a hole in the ceiling.
And… that’s where I’m stopping for now. Next time, we’ll meet Lief Lipsiege, accountant. (Something unusual or unexpected.)
WHEW it’s been awhile since I’ve been able to play.
Okay, when we last saw our heroes, Brig was kneeling over the body of her mentor, Reinhardt, who seems to have died while fighting some berobed figure in the shadows of a long-abandoned chapel in Castle Ravenloft. Rather than his great hammer and mighty shield, she finds him with a silvery-headed flail in hand, and that plus the silver figurine on the altar reminds of Brig of an old, old legend among the farwardens – one of the stories Reinhardt used to tell her when she was too young to even dream of joining him in his adventures.
If she’s right, the figurine is one of the greatest – perhaps THE greatest – relics of the farwardens, the Icon of Ahmeshki. So old it predates the farwardens arrival in these cold lands. If it is the Icon, the weapon in her mentor’s grip is the Flail of the Heavens, always associated with the prophecies that tell of the Icon’s return.
Ismark nods as I retrieve the weapon, feeding the chain of the flail back into hollowed handle, then twisting and locking the head into the end, to form a mace – it’s a familiar weapon design among the farwardens, though she never guessed why.
[So what I’m initially doing with the Flail is introducing it as an Artifact, which just means it’s “this thing that narratively allows a thing, or makes a thing happen.” In this case, it basically “steps down” Strahd as an opponent from Epic to ‘merely’ Extreme. As Brig continues and becomes accustomed to the thing (and if I ever get any XP), I’ll ‘unlock’ the weapon as an Asset or maybe Rarity. For now, it’s just a cool mace/flail thing.]
Ismark gestures to the slim silver figure on the altar. “I’m not much for churches, but it seems an important thing.”
“It is,” Brigitte reaches across Reinhard, laying him flat on the flagstones and arranging his arms in peace. She stands, then approaches the altar. “I’ll need to get it out of this place, and soon, but not immediately.” She reaches out, then hesitates.
“I will return this Icon to hallowed ground, and from that bastion, bring it to the Wardens.”
[Troublesome vow: get the Icon to the hallowed ground of the chapel of Barovia.]
I could burn Momentum on this for a Strong hit, but I’d rather not. A weak hit still gives me +1 momentum, taking me to 10, and I think Brig’s plan of “take it with me, but don’t head straight out of here” seems aimless enough for “not sure what to do next.”
Okay, I also want some kind of test of worthiness, here, not least because I think that’s going to be the first step in getting this thing out of here – if Brig’s not worthy enough, she’s going to need Ismark or, more like, Ireena, to carry the thing.
Brig reaches to pick up the thing, her expression tight, as if she expects a shock at the touch.
[The most amusing thing about is it marks the first time I’ve actually used the Face Danger move, which in many PbTA games is one of the most commonly hit.]
Again, I could burn momentum on this for a strong hit, but I kind of like the “-1 momentum” cost of a weak hit.
Brigitte doesn’t flinch, and there is no sign touching the Icon cost her, but her expression is still troubled. Thoughtful. Her life has become much more complicated in a very short time. She tucks the Icon carefully in her pack. “Let’s move. We’ve more to do here.”
[-1 momentum, but marking progress on the quest to get the Icon out of here]
When she looks up from her pack, Ireena is looking down solemnly at Reinhardt, her eyes lowered. Brigitte wonders if she should say something, but Ismark interrupts her train of thought.
“Who’s the robed fellow with the dent in his head, do you think?” He nudges the remains of Reinhardt’s opponent with a toe.
[I don’t know what Brigitte might know here, so I’m going to use a move to see what’s up.]
And there’s the first time having the higher stat array on Brig would have made a difference.
Okay, that’s a dire threat or unwelcome truth.
Brigitte seems to actually see the figure for the first time. Her expression goes slack. “The Qashida?” She reached down, tugging aside the hood, exposing a strange, broken-glass patterned tattoo on the man’s neck. “They’re…”
“A terrifying bedtime story, suddenly all to real?” Ismark finishes. He looks meaningfully around the chapel. “There’s a lot of that going around.”
I’m adding the Qashida as a Threat to the epic Vow to get answers about/avenge the disappearance of the farwardens, and Advancing the Threat by one, right away.
Somehow, somewhere, the Qashida know what’s going on, and they’re coming. Suuuuper.
[Also, in reading up on threats for the first time in the actual Delve rulebook, I realize I’ve assigned the Threat of Strahd to a vow that’s “too high” for a threat. I need to think about how to address that, but for now I’m leaving it.]
Now, let’s get out of here:
EXITS: The center of the western wall has a great double door that leads into the rest of the ground floor of the castle. On either side of the great door are smaller, arched openings that lead into smaller shadowed alcoves and stairwells.
“We need to move now before more of those….things come for us.”
Ismark and Ireena nod, glancing around – Ismark uneasily, Ireena more resigned, but both on guard.
Okay. Map time…
- This is where we left the rubble remains of the gargoyle behind. There’s a faint footpath through the courtyard, through a small gate, now open again, and into…
A smaller courtyard that houses an overgrown, neglected garden, with small flowers reaching sadly skyward against the gloom.
An overlook over the precipice. Dead leaves turn spirals on this large stone balcony, wheeling and careening over the stone railing. Heavy clouds overhead drizzle constantly. The stone construct juts out at least 20 feet away from the cliff face, and looks down on the dim lights of the village of Barovia, far, far below.
The building to our left as we slipped into the overgrown-flower-garden-courtyard is probably, based on the outside of the structure, the castle’s chapel – with faint light leaking out of the windows. “It is so strange to see a space dedicated to the holy, in this unholy place,” murmurs Ireena. There doesn’t seem to be any easy way to get into the chapel from this courtyard – there is no door from the outside into the building in this area. However, the walls of the chapel are pierced by many tall windows. These windows were probably once stained glass art, but most of that glass is broken out, and the windows themselves have been covered with boards. It MIGHT be possible to get into the castle via the chapel, if you can manage to pull or break the boards that block the windows.
- The northern courtyard surrounding the castle. A quick glance spots a carriage house in the corner of the space, and that MIGHT mean there is a servant’s entrance into the castle in this area as well. (Call it likely, if I use the Oracle.)
We’ll want to move quickly if we want to keep anyone from tracking us down from the noise we made.
And, I mean, all this is interesting and cool, but let’s be honest: I’m breaking into the castle through the boarded up chapel windows
I’m not sure how well this is going to work, but I’m going to engage the Delve mechanics for this. I’m going to call the Castle an Extreme site.
Well okay. Nice start for us.
Delve the Depths says I get to Find An Opportunity:
FIND AN OPPORTUNITY
When you encounter a helpful situation or feature within a site, roll on the following table OR if you are making this move as a result of a strong hit on Delve the Depths, you may pick or envision an opportunity instead of rolling.
Then, choose one:
- Gain insight or prepare: Take +1 momentum.
- Take action now: Make a move which directly leverages the opportunity. When you do, add +1 and take +1 momentum on a hit.
I’m going with “you locate an interesting or Useful object.” And let’s see what’s inside…
Dim spots of colored light filter through broken and boarded up stained glass windows, barely illuminating the ancient chapel. Pews and benches lie about the floor in jumbled disarray, coated with centuries of dust.
Slightly above the room’s debris, lit by a single, dim shaft of moonlight, an altar stands upon the platform before the boarded-up windows we pulled open. The light falls directly on a small figurine of pure silver. This room seems as though nothing has disturbed it in centuries, and that nothing ever could.
BEFORE THE ALTAR, ON THE FLOOR
A black-robed figure, long-dead, lies collapsed before the altar, still clutching a rusted, curved blade in one skeletal hand, as though he died with his back to the altar. … actually, as you come around the altar, you see that he died because his head was crushed. A great, silver-headed flail – still pristine – has all but demolished the corpse’s skull. The former wielder of the mace is there as well, long-dead and lying on its side on the steps leading up to the platform. The second corpse wears rusting armor, covered by a tunic emblazoned with a centuries-old symbol of the same knightly order you serve.
The center of the western wall has a great double door that leads into the rest of the ground floor of the castle. On either side of the great door are smaller, arched openings that lead into smaller shadowed alcoves and stairwells.
Ireena, looking at the mace, murmurs “a weapon of light – a weapon with a vengeance – you may find this amid the ruins of a place of prayer.” She shivers, looking around. The Vistani fortune teller woman had true sight, it seems. ”
Okay, so there’s a cool shiny toy, but first I want to know about the tableau of violence. I’m going to ask the oracle if this guy in farwarden livery is someone I know.
Oracle says “yes” with a 98.
Is it Reinhardt?
Oracle says “yes” with a 52. Whoa. Okay.
Ireena watches as I kneel near the armored warrior. “Did you know him?”
I can only nod. “The spirit from the graveyard.” A sad, fleeting smile. “The big one.”
“He seems a great knight,” says Ismark. “And wielded a mighty weapon.”
I nod, but I’m frowning. “Actually, Reinhardt favored a great hammer. I’ve never seen that mace before.”
Rolling +wits on this, +1 for having a bond with Reinhardt. I get a 9, versus a 2, and 9 on the Challenge dice. Weak hit, BUT WAIT: my Find an Opportunity strong hit gave me a +1 to this move as well, which makes that 9 a 10. Strong hit!
On a strong hit, you discover something helpful and specific. The path you must follow or action you must take to make progress is made clear. Envision what you learn (Ask the Oracle if unsure), and take +2 momentum.
That’s pretty nice, plus I get another +1 momentum from the Find an Opportunity move, which gets me to 9, and I’m marking a milestone on my “Investigate/Avenge the missing members of the Freewardens” backstory quest.
“The action you must take to make progress is made clear.” Is it? Cuz I’m kind of scratching my head a little bit.
I hit the Action and Theme oracles and get “Hide Memory.” Ooh. Okay. I can do something with that.
So, we have some kind of fight here between a berobed shadowy figure, and a member of the farwardens. Shadow-robe guy trying to block the altar (maybe?), Reinhardt killing him, but dying himself..
Something about the whole thing tickles at the back of Brigitte’s mind – an old legend, or prophecy, or maybe – no – one of the oldest vows ever sworn on iron by anyone in the wardens – some would say the original oath – a vow every member undertakes, symbolically (they thought), when they join the farwardens. A holy relic. Find it and return it to the light.
It’s… impossible. Ridiculous. It’s a myth. A legend. A symbol, not an actual thing.
[I’m imagining here something akin to a knight ten generations removed from King Arthur but nominally part of the same order of the Knights of the Round Table, on an entirely different mission, and literally stumbling across their mentor, who died two steps from the literally Holy Grail. Which is a real thing?!? WTF?]
And if that little figurine on the altar is…
That would make that flail in Reinhardt’s hand…
Oh. Oh crap.
Okay, it looks like time for our first actual fight in the system, so I figured I ought to take the time to make sure I get it right – there are a few more moving pieces with combat than some other situations, because RPG. Anyway.
First, to review:
Brig has pushed up the rusty portcullis separating the southern forecourt from hind court, and Ismark and Ireena scrambled through. I was left to figure out how to get let the gate down and get out from under the thing without making a godawful racket and alert the whole castle.
While this is happening, a gargoyle dropped down from the buttresses above (see picture) and into the courtyard just behind the Koyanas, and Brig’s choices got a lot simpler.
Brigitte charges, and the first thing I’m wondering is whether that gate comes crashing down right away. It could make it a move, but honestly there’s not a lot of skill being applied here – it’s just dumb luck, and I’d guess there’s about a 50/50 chance that the rusted track lets the portcullis slam back down.
Well, okay then. The gate is a little shimmied in the track, and when Brig lunges free, it slips a couple inches, gets hung up and cockeyed, and sticks. Lucky us, so far.
Brigitte charges at and past her new friends, both of them wide-eyed and a little surprised – years of training making the unlimbering of shield and mace an automatic thing.
I don’t need the gargoyle to be some terrible foe – I suspect they may be pretty common, at least around the outer grounds of the castle – but they’re more than a basic farmer with an angry pitchfork, so let’s make this thing a Dangerous opponent. (Inflicts 2 harm, takes 2 progress per harm.)
Then, roll to determine who’s in control. Ooh, I get to roll +heart. Nice. (Burning 10 momentum on a basic roll reminded me I didn’t envision Brigitte being very stealthy, and that I didn’t give her the stats to pull it off.)
Very cool. I have initiative (which doesn’t mean what it means in DnD), and +2 to my momentum track, which moves things in a happier direction.
With initiative, I can go for a Strike (which acknowledges I have the edge here) instead of Clash (which is a riskier kind of melee exchange).
Brigitte’s charge isn’t a means of closing the distance – it is the attack, in a very real sense, and her momentum only builds as she charges across the courtyard, each step coming faster than the last. She smashes straight into the gargoyle, leading with her heavy, reinforced shield – the mace blow she follows up with is almost an afterthought.
It’s… super neat when I write up a really cool opening attack and the dice just SCREW me. Ahh well.
The gargoyle is ready for Brig’s attack, and it catches the shield with both it’s clawed hands, absorbing the impact even as it’s pushed back a few steps. It takes the mace strike on a shoulder, like a teenager shrugging off a younger siblings attack in a pillow fight, and then reaches over the shield with a stony claw. Brig likewise turns a shoulder to protect from the claw, and the thing gets the strap of her pack, pulling, then tearing it. Triple-stitched, reinforced leather tears like wet paper, and half the contents of Brig’s pack spray across the courtyard, first at the thing tears at it, then as Brigitte pulls back and tosses it aside.
[-2 supply, based on the Oracle’s result. Super. Also, the thing has initiative now, which means I’m Clashing.]
Brigitte shucks the pack away and wades back in, stalking now, rather than charging.
Gaaaad dammit. I cannot get a break. Okay. Keeping it a bit more simple this time, I’m going for the obvious Pay the Price of Enduring Harm. The thing’s claws are just tearing through my gear like it’s nothing. I’m taking 2 harm (since this is a Dangerous foe) and Enduring Harm:
I don’t know how to feel about being more lucky when it comes time to take a beating than give one, but whatever; I’ll take it. The 8 comes from a +1 I get from my Ironclad asset, which also gives me a +1 momentum on a hit, which I’ll happily take.
The strong hit on Endure Harm means I can choose either to exchange a momentum for +1 health, OR take another +1 momentum. In the long term, I’ll probably want the health – it’s harder to recover than momentum, but that +5 momentum might help me turn the tide RIGHT NOW.
Also, I should give through to that Match. That gives me an opportunity, and it want it to be a real one this time (I’ve been bad about making my positive matches kind of weak, sometimes.
SO: okay. I’m going to take the ‘heal’ option, I think, but I think that Match gives Brig initiative back.
Brig would have sworn she was wearing armor, but you’d never know it from the way this thing is tearing at her. If it weren’t for her shield – for the years of training against her mentor (also bigger and stronger than her), she’s be cooling meat on the cobblestones already. Even so, she’s reeling, stumbling back.
And then and arrow skips off the things head. Then another, snapping and striking sparks. Ismark is stringing a third arrow, and his sister is at his side, sword out and ready for the things charge.
The gargoyle turns, lowers its head, growls (somehow? It doesn’t have a throat!), and takes two steps… before Brigitte crashes into it from the side.
[You know, I’ve pondered on several occasions whether I should move Brig to the “challenging” stat array, but the fact of the matter is, I’ve yet to miss a roll by anything close enough that one more point would matter. This is no exception.]
Okay, so I need to pay the price, but I don’t want to just ‘hit point’ them back and forth, so let’s keep it interesting and see what the Oracle says.
Alright FINE. Asshole oracle, anyway. I take Harm (2, again), and Endure Harm. (Again, +1 from my ironclad.)
Same situation as last time, but without the twist. I’m not going to pick anything else, either – I don’t relish trying to get my health back up in an enemy castle, so I want to mitigate as much of that as I can. This means my heath is +3, and my Momentum stays stead at 3, thanks to getting one from my Ironclad and then trading it right away, twice.
The charge was exactly as effective as the last one.
“Get behind me!” I shout at Ismark and Ireena; my shield is up and I’m circling the thing, trying to maneuver it somewhere useful. Further back into the courtyard? No. Wait, WE can go further in. Yes. Maybe. Find another gate. Something we can get between us and this thing. “Try to get past and see what’s ahead!”
I’m going to Face Danger, using my shield as cover, which gives me a +1. I’ll take whatever break I can, frankly.
Ooh, and that +1 is just what I needed for the Strong Hit. I could kiss my shield right now.
Probably will, later.
So, the new plan looks like this:
I’m going to try to Secure Advantage while Ismark and Ireena slip past me and I keep this stony bastard busy.
“The good news is, the gate’s up!” calls out Ismark. “The bad news is, it’s probably rusted in place.”
Eh. Fine. No worse than a strong Face Danger – +1 momentum is a net good, undeniably.
“Fine.” I grit my teeth and plant myself in front of the opening, and ready myself for the thing’s next attack, wishing I had heavier armor on. [seriously, it would really help my on this Clash roll…]
Inflict your harm, but then Pay the Price. Your foe has initiative.
Finally at HIT at least. That fills the first 4 of the ten ‘progress’ boxes on this enemy.
I’m ready for the thing’s claws this time – mostly – I catch the first slash on the edge of the shield, then bash it over the eye ridge with my mace, right where Ismark’s arrow left me a bright white target gash. The thing punches straight out with its other club-like fist, right at my chest.
I take it on my shield again (seriously, totally having a shield make-out session later); I stumble back into the wall next to the gate, and slam into a release catch hidden beneath the vines on the wall. The small portcullis gate come rattling down, narrowly missing Ismark, and cutting me off.
Our eyes meet through the grating.
“Shit,” he says.
I turn back to the gargoyle and clench my jaw. “Yes.” Then I charge.
[Note: this is stupid. I want to acknowledge, for the record, how stupid this is, before I roll.]
Okay, I’m Turning the Tide. I’m taking back initiative, and going straight for a Strike (getting out of this fight by just getting away is no longer an easy or likely option, thanks to that gate coming down.)
According to Turn the Tide, I get a +1 on the roll, and +1 momentum on a hit. Cross all your fingers…
YES! Oh hell yes!
“On a strong hit, inflict +1 harm and retain initiative.” HELL yes.
Okay, that’s 3 harm, each one of which fills in 2 boxes on the progress track, which maxes the track out with all ten boxes filled. Nice! I’m coming off a strong hit, so let’s End this Fight.
… seriously fuck you, dice.
The creature wasn’t expecting either the timing or ferocity of the attack. My mace comes down once, twice, a third time – claws shoved aside and then joints attacked, until the stone begins to the crack and, once cracked, break.
I do not stop. The smashing, breaking, growling attack does not let up until the thing is rubble at my feet and I am covered in thick, violet ichor with an eye-watering, sour odor.
I shuffle over to my pack, retrieve what I can, and shuffle back to the gate, where Ismark is dragging the chains back up.
“You smell -” Ireena begins.
“Don’t.” I say. “Don’t say it. I can’t hear anyone say it.”
[I’m picking Others won’t forget. You are marked for vengeance. Because seriously: fuck gargoyles.]
The Gates of the Castle
So I’ve been sick for about a week, and finally feeling well enough to get back to Brigitte and Ismark and Ireena. During the break, I spent a bit of time wondering if I missed a chance to swear a vow to Madam Eva – something about breaking the Vistani’s arrangement to Strahd. It’s interesting, because in a ‘normal’ game of Ironsworn I think I would have been quick obvious to do something like that, but with Ravenloft it never occured to me, since the vistani themselves are little more than set dressing (and sometimes a random encoutner) as originally presented.I got stuck in that mindset.
I’m not so far along in the story I couldn’t go back and retcon the vow, but I decide not to – mostly because it’s pretty redundant with other vows i already have going, and because I just have one more ‘open’ vow slot left, and I’d like to save it for something … I dunno. Different. We’ll see.
Once again, we continue up the dark, fog-shrouded road, dead leaves crackling under foot. The road splits in two again, after several miles. A narrower road, curving back northeast, continues toward the castle, while a broader track road leads west into the heart of the mountains and dense forest. Cobblestones still show up in patches on both, but neither sees either much attention or traffic, these days.
[Oracle: Do I stick with the cliche thing at the crossroads, from the module? I think it’s unlikely, and the oracle agrees, so we’re tossing the two-horse carriage waiting for us.]
After passing between the nearest peaks, the narrower road takes a sudden turn around the shoulder of granit and startling, awesome presence of Ravenloft itself towers ahead and above. Ismark comes to a stop just in front of twin guardhouses of turreted stone, broken from years of exposure. Beyond these, a 50-foot-wide crevice gapes between the cliff and the walls of the castle, a chasm that disappears into the darkness below. A lowered drawbridge of old, shorn-up wood beams sags slightly between us and the arched entrance to the courtyard. The slack chains of the drawbridge creak in the wind. A rotting wooden portcullis, green with growth, hangs above the entry tunnel.
[Basically this, but with no eye-glowing crows.]
Through the gates and on the far side of the courtyard, the main doors Castle Ravenloft stand open. A rich, warm light spills out into the courtyard. Torches flutter sadly in sconces on both sides of the open doors.
If I want to go in, pretty much the only way is across the drawbridge, which looks reasonably sound but also like it’s definitely suffering from long years of exposure.
So it’s not a question of where we’re going but how; whether we go in like we were invited, or go quick and quiet and try to get out of sight.
Yeah, DEFINITELY want to sneak in.
Yeah I’m also DEFINITELY not going to start things off with that crappy roll, so let’s burn my momentum and get into the castle a little further than the front gates before things go south.
The drawbridge looks a bit rough but it’s more than strong enough for three people walking. Once through the portcullis and into the entry proper, we can either go right up to the front doors of the castle (no), or sort of circle around the castle out in the courtyard and see if I can find an alternate entrance.
Thick cold fog swirls around in this darkened courtyard. Sporadic flashes of lightning lance the clouds overhead, but too far away to cause much thunder. Light rain patters down, sporadically.
Directly ahead, the large main doors of the castle are wide open. Warm light spills from those open doors into the courtyard. The dark towers of the keep loom above in the mists and drizzle.
Ismark eyes the open doors of the castle. “I’m concerned they’re expecting us.” His tone is flat with irony.
Brigitte might be able to explore the courtyard around to the northern side of the castle, where she can see carriage tracks worn into the damp ground, or south and around, which seems to see less traffic.
1 is roughly Brig&co..
2 and 3 are ways we can circle around the castle.
4 is the wide open front doors.
Brig could also maybe try to get up on top the wall along the walkways, but with the mist and rain, the walls are going to be quite slick and hard to climb.
After a bit of pondering, Brig opts to head south and around the castle (3).
The walls of the castle don’t have many arrow slits or windows in the front half of the side courtyard, and those that do (right off the corner tower) let into a room that is completely dark. It’s impossible to make out anything inside.
A massive wall separates the side courtyard’s ‘front’ and back, (that wall just past #3), and connects the walls of the castle to the outer walls of the keep. That big wall is pierced by a single gate, 20 feet wide, leading through the joining wall. The gate is blocked by a rusting portcullis, which is
[Oracle: Raised? Unlikely. No.]
NOT raised. Brig will have to try to move it to keep going here. Or double back. Luckily, she IS strong enough to give it a try…
[Face Danger, with Iron – I could maybe be using some rules from Delve here, but give me a break, I’m still sick..]
Ugh. -1 momentum kind of sucks, since I’m already down to 2, but I like that better than anything else. “Face a new Danger, hmm? Okay…”
Brigitte strains to lift the massive iron portcullis, pushing it up through the rusting grooves in the gate opening, and (with a bit of Ismark’s help) manages to get it up to about shoulder height – barely – at which point both he and Ireena slip underneath and through, and I try to figure out how I am going to get through and let the gate down without alerting the whole castle to our location.
Ismark and Ireena have backed away from the portcullis to give me room to get under and dive away from the gate, if that’s what I decide to do, and they are both watching me, so they don’t see the hulking, humanoid shadow rise up from the eaves of the castle several floors above us, and drop – silent as a cat on soft grass – into the stone courtyard behind them, it’s broad wings flaring.
Again, my two companions aren’t looking that direction, but with Ismark’s torch raised, high, I can see the looming form of … one of the castle gargoyles, come to life through some horrid magic, and coming toward them!
Brigitte just drops the gate and charges.
Also, we’re doing kind of a hacked system, blending DDiV with Ironsworn; I liked the idea of two emerald dice opposing the characters in Moves. Also, it’s nice to bring in progress charts for goals and fights. We’re keeping Talents from DDiV and using them in place of Momentum, which works really nicely and also dials the game tone from ‘grim’ to ‘challenging and rough, since you can use them more often, but REALLY need a friend to take full advantage,’ which matches the tone/setting nicely.