Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.
Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.
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.
The left fork of the road slants upward slightly, heading up into the mountains – it this road up which most of the spirits continue to travel.
The right fork slants slightly downward, toward what looks like the base of the mountains, rather than their peaks.
At the fork, I see Liqa, standing next Reinhardt. They are both staring silently down the righthand, downward traveling path, away from the route the other spirits have taken.
Reinhardt regards the smaller path solemnly, then turns to me.
As I approach, the two spirits stare meaningfully at us, but say nothing. They look back at the smaller path, then turn – seeming exhausted – and trudge up the larger road the rest of the spirits have already taken, leaving me at the crossroads, with a decision to make.
I’m heading right. It seems like there are clues to be found there.
The canopy of mist and branches overhead suddenly gives way to a clearing, near a wide spot in the river. Dry grass rustles in the wind. Colorful wagons are parked along the banks of a pool. The strains of an accordion mix and a somewhat desultory fiddle mix with the the wind in the trees. Several – perhaps as many as 10 – brightly clad figures surround a large, roaring fire. The seldom used road passes close by this camp.
As I approach, several voices call out “Hale from the fire, join our singing and break bread with us” – a traditional greeting among the mysterious travelers known as the Vistani.
I’m a little surprised to realize they know I’m here, as I’m still far from their firelight, but they seem friendly enough.
As we approach, they wave us in toward the fire and offer bread and a skin of wine. Ismark and Ireena accept both graciously – Ireena in particular seems comfortable with the fireside etiquette – no, that’s not fair – both of them are, but it’s more surprising that Ireena can tip the wineskin and get a perfect stream into her mouth. Ismark seems more the type, I suppose.
I accept both bread and wine, taking what hospitality requires, and ask the vistani why they make camp so close to the castle in the mountains. (The pool next to their camp lies near a waterfall that tumbles from the heights above, and Ireena glances at it often.)
They shrug it off a bit. “we know how to stay safe from night creatures,” they say, but at the same time none of them look up at the high cliffs where the castle looms far overhead.
“Also,” one adds, poking the fire and not looking at us directly, “Madam Eva told us we might have visitors tonight… If you are willing, she wanted to speak with you.”
They nod in the direction of one of the wagons. Not the largest, but the most brightly painted.
We spend a few more minutes with the Vistani, so as not to seem rude, then I use the lateness of the hour as an excuse to visit this Madam Eva quickly.
[Spooky fortune teller! Check off another Bingo box for creepy fantasy story]
Madame Eva doesn’t even look up when I enter the shrouded door of her wagon. She is shuffling and dealing an oversized deck of cards onto the small table in front of her.
[Gather Information – a strong hit, which I’m going to let ride throughout this scene, since it’s potentially chock-a-block with information both explicit and vagued-up.]
“They said, at the fire, you wanted to talk with us,” I say.
“They lied to you, at the fire.” She glances up and catches my expression. “Oh, not about that, I did want to talk to you – all of you.” She shakes her head. “But the reason we don’t have to worry about von Zarovich is because some of our people do his bidding and have insured – they believe – the Family’s safety from his other minions.”
She makes a show of miming spitting to the side in disgust.
“Do they really believe he will leave your Family alone?” I ask, trying to seem unperturbed at being surrounded by enemies.
Eva shrugs. “He has, for several Generations. We are… useful… to him.” Again she looks disgusted.
Her eyes flicker up to us again, then the cards. “But I can see you will attempt to bring the monster down, and I would offer you what guidance I can,” she says, gesturing to the cards spread in front of her, and the stools on your side of the table.
“You view the future?” I ask, easing onto the leftmost stool. “I’m assuming in vague bits and pieces that we’ll understand only too late.”
She shrugs again, unoffended, while Ismark and Ireena join me. “The images I see are often incomplete, but combined with wisdom and insight and…” she smirks “a little bit of luck, they can help you.”
I tilt my head toward her. “Well, I appreciate any help I can get.”
She gathers up the cards, shuffles them, and has me cut the deck before she begins to deal out an array. She lays five cards out, face down, then slowly turns each over and studies each one before speaking.
“These may tell you more of the things you seek, and whisper what the monster’s ultimate goal might be…”
[And thus a new Oracle enters the game – the famous/infamous fortune telling straight from Ravenloft – I6. Sorting this draw out took QUITE a while.]
She indicates the first card…
“This card represents an object of great power – a powerful force for good and protection against the forces of darkness. It is in a place of tranquility, a harbor for the mighty and powerful; a place of wisdom, warmth, and despair. Great secrets are there.”
Ireena whispers “fathers holy symbol that was stolen.”
I nod. “That’s what I was thinking”
Madam Eva taps the next card.
“This card is good for you. It is a card of power and strength; the victor’s card. it tells of a weapon of light – a weapon with a vengeance. You may find this amid the ruins of a place of supplication and prayer.”
Istvarr: “Well… that sounds… Promising.” he winks.
I rock my head left to right. “I’m not getting my hopes up.”
Madam Eva taps the next card.
“This card speaks of history. Knowledge of the ancient may help you understand your foe.”
“This knowledge lies in the Monster’s mother’s place.”
Istvarr makes a face. “Probably that book the priest was yammering about.”
I nod. “Maybe.”
“I don’t fancy digging around his mother’s four-hundred year old unmentionables looking for it.”
Ireena rolls her eyes.
“This is the object of your search – the monster! Ah! I see darkness and evil behind this card! A powerful man whose enemy is light, and whose powers are beyond mortality.”
She closes her eyes, concentrating. “A king’s throne is the place to find him.”
“Subtle,” Ismark says.
“The cup indicates there is a very good influence there. If you are there, the powers of good will aid you.”
It does not surprise me to hear count Strahd would surround himself in the symbols of royalty. It does surprise me to hear some hint that he may be at a disadvantage in that place. [Making a note in case we face off in some kind of throne room.]
Eva’s eyes are still closed when she reaches out and touches this card. “And here is the root. The reason and foundation for darkness and chaos. This card shows the purpose of all things. It is the key to life and death and beyond.”
Her eyes open, wide. “The darkness loves a light and desires it.” She looks at Ireena, who pales. “Great plans are in motion about you; plans that the dead may find warmth from the living.”
“Like hell,” I mutter. I study the cards for a minute, then stand. “Thank you for sharing your wisdom with us, but if you don’t mind, we’ll be on our way.”
“My people do not all feel as I do about the monster in that castle” Madam Eva says, as I step toward the door of wagon. She is not nearly as old as I’d first assumed. “Many simply ignore him. Some serve him. You may encounter them when you reach the castle, or even before; I cannot say.” Her jaw clenches, her dark eyes bright. “But know that some that oppose him, and I am one of them, and I hope this helps you as much as it can. You and your friends,” she says, looking mostly at Ireena.
The ghosts are gone well ahead by the time we return to the main road.
[And with that, I’m marking off milestones for a couple different vows related to Strahd. Lots of information – here’s hoping we recognize it when it’s useful.]
One of the things I find really cool about how Ironsworn is interacting with Ravenloft is the list of ‘stuff’ that this card reading lays out for me. In the original module (and in World of Dungeons), these are your basic magic weapons or holy symbols with bonuses to specific foes or turning undead or whatever. That’s fine. In Ironsworn, on the other hand, this event basically lays out a road map for acquiring stuff that will make beating Strahd achievable. I mean, I’ve set him and the related quest up as Epic, and without boring everyone I’ll say that a 1v1 versus an Epic foe is pretty much a self-inflicted death sentence.
However, it’s very straightforward in Ironsworn to say “this thing lowers the threat level of [particular thing or category of thing]”, so if you get [magic weapon] and [holy symbol] and [fight the guy in this one blessed location], you can, through significant prep work (all of which conveniently advances the quest itself), get the Big Boss Showdown to something manageable, which in every version of the game (DnD, WoD, Ironsworn, whatever) is the point of the stuff in the first place.
It’s just really… neat.
Last session, we talked with the village priest and buried the Burgomaster, which is about when we noticed the ghosts gathering at the graveyard gate, and I realized I knew one of them.
Specifically, it’s the spirit of Reinhardt, my old mentor.
I’m… guessing this next bit is going to suck a little bit.
Brigitte wants to approach Reinhardt.
Brigitte does NOT want to approach Reinhardt.
First thing I’m going to do is Face Danger. I think there’s a chance I just can’t bear to approach my old mentor.
But no! That’s interesting and unexpected. Not sure what opportunity to open up here, and the oracles aren’t particularly helpful this time.
Reinhardt turns as I approach, and his vacant, waiting expression vanishes, replaced with a broad, albeit a bit sad, smile. I can’t help but return that smile, as always, though my eyes are damp.
“Reinhardt. Uncle. What happened?”
I’m going to gather information. I’m not sure how much it can help. I don’t even know if the spirit can talk, but whatever.
Well, that’s pretty bad.
My godfather’s smile immediately falls away. It’s worse than before – he’s not just waiting, he’s vacant – his face is twisted in mourning as he remembers something no one should have to remember – the moment they fell.
I need to Pay the Price here, and I think Reinhardt’s spirit is in trouble here, because of what I asked him, so I’m going to Test our Bond, because things between us can go badly here.
(Well, worse. They’re already bad.)
Oh thank goodness.
“No, Uncle!” I reach out, unthinking, and my hand passes through his shoulder, but somehow it gets his attention. He turns back to me. He is still sad, but he is not lost, and his hand rises to his chest, to his armor, and he taps the space over his heart. Eyes streaming, I do the same, and feel renewed.
I’m taking +1 spirit from this exchange, because it feels good to have that recover as a result of this. I haven’t learned much, but the bond with my mentor/godfather is strong. I’m also going to let this be a milestone on my backstory vow to investigate/avenge the freewardens, which fully tics the first box on that track.
Okay, so obviously I’m following the ghosts up the road at midnight. Fantastic idea – I don’t know what could go wrong.
In the meantime, let’s wrap up that vow to bury the Burgomaster – I’ve got 9 progress, so it should be an easy way to get the last XP I need for a new Asset.
… well, son of a bitch.
“Oh no…” moans Ireena, looking over my shoulder as I return to them. “Oh, papa.”
I turn, following her gaze and see that the Burgomaster – silver-limned and sunken-eyed – also stands among the restless spirits waiting to walk to the castle.
“I will see his spirit at rest, Ireena,” I promise the woman. “I swear it. No matter what it takes.”
So I clear all but one progress and raise the quest to Dangerous. I’m also rewording it slightly.
That… kinda sucks. Not gonna lie. It’s cool, don’t get me wrong, but it sucks.
Okay, it’s moonrise, and hours until we depart. I don’t fancy hanging out in the church or the graveyard for the next four hours, so we’re going to do a bit of prep, and that means Sojourn.
Well, that should get me by. With my community bond, that’s two selections off the list. I’m definitely going to Provision to get my Supply back up, and I’m tempted by Plan, but I think instead I’m going to Provide Aid and make another vow.
In this case, I make my way back to Mad Mary’s, knock on the door and, when the sobbing subsides, somewhat, murmur my vow through the door.
This is pretty good, since the strong hit gives me +2 momentum (back up to +9 after burning it on the priest). Between that and the resupply, I’m basically maxed out on all my resources as we head out of town and toward Strahd’s castle.
What could go wrong?
The climbing moon and the glances of Ireena and Ismark eventually get me going despite my reluctance. It’s not fear of the castle that has me dragging my feet, but of what I might see among the ghosts – who I might see – more farwardens.
Sadly my fears prove justified, as I see the sad solemn face of my friend Liqa among the many waiting spirits within the graveyard, and sigils of several other farwardens amongst the lost souls. She does not raise her hand or acknowledge me, and when the ghosts begin to walk up the road leading to the castle; she simply joins them, her expression resigned and tired.
“Did you know them?” Ismark asks, his expression a mix of confusion and concern, watching both you and Ireena (whose eyes are on their father’s faded form).
“Yes,” I say. “Old friends of mine… or family, or both.” I clear my throat. “But now is not the time for mourning.”
“Do we follow them?”
“Closely.” I say. “They are no threat to us, and we might learn more of what happened to them.”
We follow the spirits (both watching and trying NOT to watch those we know) for a few miles, winding through sparser woods toward the base of the nearest mountain peaks. It is an eerie experience. The ghosts largely take no notice of us – most don’t even seem to see us – but their presence is unnerving, and I find myself touching iron often.
We come, somewhat abruptly, to a fork in the road.
Okay, we’re heading to the northwest part of the village, E5 and E6, the church and cemetery. Sounds peaceful.
Now, not to be too much of a gamer about it, but the thing is, I’m pretty sure the only way to get XP in the game is to make and complete Vows. “Free all of Barovia from Strahd” is epic and all, but it’s not going to be meat on the table any time soon, if ever. I need to keep doing small things – side quests, if you like.
So: a troublesome vow to bury the Burgomaster. On the one hand “har har, you have to carry him allll the way across town, what a big tough adventurer you are”, but on the other, the job is exactly as tough as I choose to make it – I can elide through pretty much everything else that happens in town and just get to the road up to the castle in about a paragraph, but I don’t learn or gain anything from that, so why not have some fun with this stuff?
Anyway, I swear the vow:
Which is good. My goal is clear. No complications like “we can’t bury him here – it’s not hallowed ground anymore!” or whatever. And hey: +2 momentum brings me to the max of 10, so wooot.
I see myself and Ismark walking slowly up the street toward the church, at either end of a bier. Ireena flanks us, pensive but resolved.
Since this is actually attached to a vow, I need to make some kind of progress here, and that means challenges. The first thing I imagine is the possibility of more interference from the village – either more superstitious, angry villagers (they wouldn’t help bury their Burgomaster in the first place, maybe they don’t want to see him buried at all, for fear it will make Strahd angry), maybe some vistani, or even something worse. We’ll see.
To reflect that, I’ll Face Danger (Ironsworn’s catch-all move for “I’m doing something generally risky for which there isn’t a better move) using Heart (loyalty, courage) as we carry the dead man through town in front of pretty much everyone.
I’m feeling pretty good about this – the challenge was strong, but I overcame. (I’ve been pondering moving Brigitte’s stats to the “challenging” stat array (4,3,3,2,2), as some folks have suggested, but so far this session the dice are making me feel silly for worrying about it.
I mark three boxes on the vow, but other than that, benefits to me are kind of slim, since I could get 1 more momentum, but I’m maxed out.
Atop a slight rise stands a gray, sagging edifice of stone and wood. This church has weathered the assaults of evil for centuries on end and is worn and weary. The bell tower hangs to one side, its strident call long silenced. Flickering light shines through holes burned through the roof shingles. The rafters strain to maintain their burden.
The church interior is a shambles, with overturned and broken benches littering the floor. At a claw-scarred altar toward the far end is the priest.
Donavich has apparently been praying and chanting throughout the night for weeks. He spends each night, every night, warding off evil from his church, and has fallen asleep against the altar.
So I need some information from this guy on several topics. I’m going to Gather Information (+1 for the community Bond) and play from there:
Oy. Okay, my dice are mayyyybe saying I should change my stat array. Whatever. I don’t want to snag the story at this point on this guy, so I’m going to burn my momentum to get a strong hit instead of a miss.
This works for me, since I imagine him not being too enthused about our plans – it takes a lot of energy to convince him to help us out at all and, thus, be involved. Cool.
When woken, introductions made (his voice is hoarse and weak), our intentions explained, and our will convincingly conveyed (until he finally stops trying to talk us out of “this madness”) he shares the following…
- There is a book in Castle Ravenloft’s library (“At least it was held there at one time…”) that might help destroy the devil Strand. It is well known from ancient times that Strahd kept meticulous notes on all that he did or said. “Perhaps some weakness of his may be found there.”
- The burgomaster’s holy symbol? Well, he certainly doesn’t have it, but he was shown it a number of times – a golden disk with a stylized Sun design. “An ancient thing, from distant lands – no one even knows how it came to be this far north.”
It’s possible the book of history he mentioned will explain such things – he seems a bit fixated on the idea of the thing.
Probably the thing he’s least enthused about, except for the “storm the monster’s castle” thing, is burying the Burgomaster while night is coming on. I’m going to try a fairly gentle compel, with Heart…
“The moon is rising soon!” he says.
“I’ve never minded the moon,” I reply.
He eyes the door leading to the churchyard, shaking his head fretfully, his hands trembling.
I lay a hand on his shoulder, relenting. “Don’t trouble yourself about this, Brother Donavich,” I murmur. “I know the words to say, well enough, and I’m sure Ireena and Ismark know the way to the family plot. Have you proper tools for the task? I’ve only a camp shovel…”
Maybe it’s the idea I’m letting him shirk his duty to the village. Maybe it’s asking for the tools. Maybe it’s just the pity in my eyes, but the firmness comes back into his eyes and jaw. “No. I mean, yes, they’re in the caretaker’s shed, but no… I’ll come with you. Let me get my things. Let it be done correctly and well and bravely, for a brave man.”
I’m going calling that another milestone on a troublesome vow.
Finally, and quite simply, I’m going to Face Danger (with “strength and endurance, so +iron) while digging the grave and putting the Burgomaster to rest. The day is passing, the moon is rising, and Things Might Happen, so let’s see how it goes.
Okay, a weak hit, “Face a troublesome cost.” Choose one.
- You are delayed, lose advantage, or face a new danger: Suffer -1 momentum.
- You are tired or hurt: Endure Harm (1 harm).
- You are dispirited or afraid: Endure Stress (1 stress).
- You sacrifice resources: Suffer -1 supply.
Fine. I’m going to go with Enduring Stress (-1). My following Endure Stress roll is another weak hit, which effectively does nothing. I “soldier on.” Here’s what happened to cause the stress:
As we conclude the burial ceremony, I see something terrible and unexpected. The moon has risen, and its light catches faint outlines of people — an assemblage fading in and out of view at the gates of the graveyard. They seem to be… Waiting. Either calmly, or resigned.
Donavich sees the direction of my stare, though he does not look himself. “They do this every night,” murmurs the priest. “Almost a hundred souls. They assemble, then, at midnight, walk the road that leads to the castle.”
“That is terrible,” I mumble.
But what is more terrible – I recognize one of them.
Ismark leads us down the street, past Mad Mary’s to E4, which is the Burgomaster’s home.
A weary-looking mansion squats behind a rusting fence. The gates are twisted and torn. The right gate lies cast aside while the left swings crazily in the wind. The stuttering squeal and clang of the gate repeats over and over and over…
Weeds choke the grounds and press in on the house itself, but against the walls the growth has been trodden under to form a path all about the place. Heavy claw marks have stripped the finish. Great black blotches tell of the fires that have assailed the walls. Not a pane nor shard of glass stands in any window. All the windows are barred with heavy planking, each plank marked with stains and gouges.
It’s obvious Ireena only lets me in because Ismark is with me, and vouches for me, and even then only because I apparently came at their father’s request.
The interior of the house is well furnished, although the fixtures show signs of considerable wear. Obvious oddities are the boarded-up windows and the overuse of holy symbols in every room. The Burgomaster’s body is in one of the sitting rooms — on display as if for a wake that never happened. His body has not been preserved in any way, and it’s been 10 days, so despite the candles burning in his honor, the smell in the house is quite horrible.
Ireena and Ismark barely seem to notice, so I don’t comment on it.
A bit of time passes….
It’s already the third time I’ve assured Ireena I’m here to help, but her reluctance or outright disbelief is starting to get to me.
“Sister, this farwarden tapped iron and swore to free Barovia!” Ismark exclaims. “Let her help us!”
[I’m trying to Secure an Advantage and build up some momentum.]
Ugh. Okay, that’s… not great. Either a miss, or I have to burn all my momentum for a weak hit. Basically the opposite of what I’m looking for. If I burn momentum to get a weak hit, I’ll be down from 6 momentum to 3. Bleh. Otherwise, I either fail or “your assumptions betray you”, and in either case I pay the price. Hmm. Give me a second so I can think about what my assumptions are.
My assumptions are:
- There are vampires.
- This “Strahd” is in some way obsessed with Ireena, and may be hundreds of years old, so… vampire.
- Lot’s of women I’ve encountered so far have been victimized in some way by either vampires or the Baron (or maybe both).
- Members of the farwardens have come here or been lured here before, and none have come back.
- The villagers are on my side now (this one is new, and FAIR, since I just swore an Epic vow and forged a bond with them. sheesh.)
Hmm. So either I fail (to secure an advantage – getting Ireena on my side like Ismark is) or my assumptions betray me, and in either case, Pay the Price. Or… kill my Momentum to get a weak hit, but still a hit.
Pay the Price, if I go that route, would be…
Hmm. Okay, for that I’d go to the “Oracle” of the module and check the random encounter table for “Barovia Daytime”, in order to complicate things.
1d8 gets me a 3, which is…
Okayyyy… One. Angry. Villager.
You know what? Fine. Let’s see where this goes. There’s an angry hammering on the front door of house. Ismark and Ireena tense. I keep my hand free from my weapons, but the hand holding my shield tightens where no one can see, and I move to the door.
Who is it? Oracle says…
That’s… a lot to unpack.
“Come out of there, Ismark!” shouts a deep but somehow reedy voice. “Bring that foreign bitch with -”
I open the door fast enough that he cuts off what he’s saying. His eyes widen, he takes a step back, but then his expression pinches down and the grip on a nasty little fisherman’s knife tightens.
“Chenda?” Ismark says, stepping up on my right. “What in four hells are you doing here?”
“I heard about that blasphemy and treason at the tavern – you and your little -” he shoots a look me sidelong and chooses better words. “foreigner, too far in your cups, saying things you ought not, and her making promises she can’t keep, and be hanged if she tries.”
“Hanged? Treason?” Ismark snorts. “Wishing the monster Strahd dead isn’t treason, Chenda, and blasphemy? Are you entirely out of your mind?”
“The Baron is the Land, the Land is the People, the People are the Blood,” says Chenda, and it has the rhythm of a prayer to it. Something memorized. Something believed without thinking about it.
I step forward, through the door, and man takes another step back, scowling. “Your ‘baron’ is sucking the blood out of this land, fisherman. Literally, I think. How much can you lose before dying?”
[I’m looking to Compel this guy to back down, but while it might be nice for me to go in with +heart, I don’t think that’s how it’s going down. I’ve been binging the Witcher too much…]
Okay, weak hit on a threaten, but that’s fine because I’m not being especially threatening. (And maybe this was a heart-based convince, but whatever – the result would have been the same either way. So.)
The move says they ask for something in return. I already rolled “Collect a Debt” on character goals, but I’m really not sure what that is.
[Meanwhile, I’m scrolling through the oracles idly, while thinking, and I spot “your actions benefit the enemy’, and the first batch of oracles on old Chendra says something about ‘in league with the enemy.’ Okaaaay. Yes.]
The man’s eyes narrow. “You speak like one who knows and fights evil. And you claim to be a farwarden, but I don’t know from a scarecrow, and the last farwarden that came through here promised much and then ran off. Tell me who you are, girl. Who exactly – by what right do you interfere?”
[Basically he’s demanding my bonafides, which we know from the oracles he’s going to jog off and report to who’s knows who. It’ll eventually get to Strahd, who’ll know that much more about me. Awesome.]
Brigitte glares at him, then lets out a sound that’s somewhere between a sigh and a grunt.
“I am Brigitte Lindholm, youngest daughter of Torbjörn and Ingrid Lindholm. I’ve been a farwarden proper for three years, and before that I squired under Reinhardt Wilhelm, one of the greatest knights of the order, and my godfather. Traveling alongside him was the greatest honor of my life.”
She sighs, and it’s a proper sigh this time. “I craft armor in my spare time, horse hair makes me sneeze sometimes, and my favorite food is semla. Is that quite enough?”
Before the man can answer, Ireena steps forward, her arms wrapped tightly around her waist. “It is enough, farwarden. Thank you. Chenda…” Her said eyes come up to meet the angry fisherman’s, and he looks away first. “Your behavior embarasses this village. Go away.”
He opens his mouth to reply, but she is already walking back into the house, and I and Ismark follow, closing the door in the man’s face.
So, that’s a pretty big scene from my poor Secure Advantage. Fates forfend I try a Gather Information anytime soon. Anyway.
Strictly reading the text of the move, I still secure an advantage, I think, because of the choices I picked. Let’s review:
“On a miss, you fail or your assumptions betray you. Pay the Price.”
Okay, cool. My assumptions betrayed me and I pay the price. My betrayed assumption is “the villagers are all on my side, and the Pay the price is
… which is Chenda reporting back on everything he learned about me. Sweet.
However, I don’t get the momentum I’d get from either a strong or weak hit. I just secure an advantage in the narrative, which I’m fine with: that result is why I had Ireena come to my aid at the end of the exchange with Chenda – she’s on my side now. Not enough to form a bond with, but enough to be “NPC generally on my side.” Cool.
Also, since I have a bit of Oracle-level knowledge about what Strahd is generally up to, I’m going to say “getting Ireena a bit on my side” counts as a single tick in a single box on my epic quest to kick Strahd in his pointy teeth.
Given that, I actually will Gather Information.
“Thanks for the help out there,” I say, trying a smile. “I feel like I’m swimming in dark water with very, very large fish bumping my ankles. Can you help me understand what’s going on here?”
Well okay! I’m going to infodump on Brig (and mark +2 momentum!), because I don’t feel like writing everything out as dialogue. Here we go.
- Ireena seems nice enough, but troubled.
- She’s very scared, but no helpless victim.
- She can’t remember anything about her early childhood before the burgomaster found her and adopted her.
- “My father only ever told me that he couldn’t bear to see a child alone and helpless, and I seemed immediately to be a daughter to him. I remember no time before that, so to me he has always been my father.”
- “He found me at the base of the waterfall that drops from the Ravenloft peak.”
- Each night, wolves and other creatures came and attacked the house – eventually, her father’s heart couldn’t take it – he died a ‘natural’ death – his heart simply failed under the strain.
- “The wolves stopped attacking 10 days ago. They come from the forests, though they are – ultimately – Strahd’s creatures, I believe, and follow his command.”
- No one in the town has the guts to help them bury their father.
- Strangely, the wolves haven’t attacked since their father died, but Ireena believes it’s only a matter of time, and not much time.
- With the greatest of the holy symbols – an ancient holy artifact – stolen from the house – both siblings fear the house is now defenseless.
- They MIGHT be safe in the church for a time – the priest seems to be able to keep the place protected – but they don’t know how long that will last, either.
- “The holy symbol was a great golden thing – ” Ismark marks the distance with his hands, like a small dinner plate – “a sort of Sun symbol.”
- Ireena: “It was stolen during one of the attacks – so… very likely it lies in Strahd’s cursed castle.”
- “The priest might be able to tell you more about it, though it had been in my family’s home for several generations.”
Ireena looks at me. “What do YOU think? What should be done?”
“If you’re going to the castle,” Ismark says. “I’m going with you. We’re doomed here, but I’d spit in that monster’s face and try to drive a stake in his heart, if I can.”
“And leave me here?!?” Ireena says. “I’m coming with you!”
I frown, still thinking. “Are you sure?”
Irena thinks, and nods, her mouth a firm line. “if it’s what you decide to do, after talking to the priest, then yes.”
“All right,” I say, “grab what you need.” I turn to Ismark as Ireena leaves. “Help me with your father.”
Ismark looks confused.
“I want to talk with your priest,” I say, “and the Burgomaster needs a proper burial.”
Okay, so I’m heading back up the street from the home of Mad Mary, to the tavern. The GM is droning on about atmospheric stuff or… you know. Whatever. GM stuff. They do that.
Now, somewhere in here, if you’re me (or most players I’ve played with since I was 10), you’ve tuned out the GM because you’re turning over what you’ve learned so far. (Or checking Pinterest for pictures of hot vampires.)
So let’s do that. The pondering thing, not Pinterest. What do we know?
- Vampires. Okaaaay.
- Two letters. Contradictory, so only one of them can be wholly true (assuming either is).
- One says “Ireena” is afflicted by Vague Evil ™ , and the one true love of the Burgomaster
- One says she’s got an ‘unholy wound’ and the Burgomaster’s stepdaughter. No. Adopted daughter.
Okay. Obvious facts that can be easily checked.
- BY THE WAY: Mira on the road. Ireena. Mad Mary and her daughter Gracie. Or Gertruda. Whatever. All women or girls. All victimized. Brigitte is sensing a vile little pattern.
I head up to the bar, lay coin down for a drink, and say. “Ireena Kolyana. Who’s she to the Burgomaster of this town?”
I rate it “likely” a fact as simple as this will be shared for the asking without me needing to coax it out of anyone. I check the Oracle, which agrees with me.
The bartender nods to the boy who brought me, pours ale, but says nothing as you ask about Ireena Kolyana or the Burgomaster. He simply nods with his chin in the direction of the quiet man sitting near the fireplace. “There.”
Okay, it’s likely, but Barovia is a place of caution and paranoia. Fine. I head over.
The young man looks up, but says nothing, as I approach – the locals seem quite tight-lipped, but he DOES react when I sit down and quietly ask him about Ireena.
“Ireena is my sister – adopted sister, if you insist. We are -” he pauses. “The Burgomaster was our father.”
Was. Fantastic. But at least I know which letter is true.
I pull out the battered letter I found on the tradesman just outside town and hand it over to him without any explanation.
I’m going for a Compel.
Okay, I’m going to get what I want, which is him opening up. I’ll roll right into a Gather Information with a +1, but I remember he wants something in return, which I’ll get to and agree to.
Well, okay! Strong hit with a favorable twist! I thought I knew what he was going to ask from me, but now I think I’m going to twist his request into an opportunity. We’ll see it coming here at the end of the conversation.
He looks mildly surprised to recognize the handwriting, but nods at several points as he reads, his expression increasingly grim.
“The Devil Strahd is fixated on my adopted sister – he’s been trying to take her away for nearly half a year – ever since he first saw her with his own damned eyes.”
I shake my head. “Strahd?”
“The Baron of these lands, or he once was. He’s ruled from his castle for almost 400 years, and is the last of his bloodline, though he’s hardly alone up there.” He takes a drink of his ale. “He’s all but waged war on us these last six months. As bad as it was before, when he neglected us, now…” He shakes his head.
“We had some protection thanks – my father believed – to a holy heirloom that’s been handed down to each Burgomaster, for centuries, but two weeks ago it was stolen, and a few days later, my father was killed.”
“Since then, it’s all we can do to keep our homes barricaded against assault, and pray.” He glances at me. “No offense, lady, and I can’t speak for anyone else in town, but *I at least was praying for more than one farwarden.”*
I nod. “I’d have asked for a company at least.” I reach over the table, extending my hand. “Brigitte.”
He looks a bit surprised, but smiles a bit and shakes. “Ismark Kolyana.” I move to sit back, but he holds onto my hand. His grip is strong. His eyes are steady on mine. “Take me with you. Whatever you decide to do, if you are here to help us, take me with you.”
He’s strong. Strong willed. And I like that smile – it’s a smile that says he might be able to hold himself together when things get dark. “Can you follow orders?”
He smirks. “Will you ask nicely?”
I roll my eyes, but my grip tightens a bit. “If I have to ask nicely, it’s not really an order.”
He tips his head in agreement. “Fair enough, and yes. Absolutely, farwarden.”
Alright. I’m going for this.
I maybe don’t technically meet the criteria here, but I like Ismark and I got a Strong Hit with a twist, dammit, so there it is – he asks to come along and I’m forming a Bond with him.
Dammit. I cannot catch a break on these dice. Man I could have used the Momentum, too. Ahh well.
Okay, so I still get the Bond on a weak hit, but he wants something from me. Either do whatever it is, or Swear an Iron Vow. Hmm.
Well, hell. I was going to wait on this, but I might as well get it over with.
Still holding his hand, I touch the other to the iron of my armor, over my heart. “I am Brigitte of the Farwardens, and I swear, now, on this iron, I will see this land free from the Devil Strahd.”
Ismark’s face, serious but still playful, goes pale. The tavern goes quiet at my words.
Okay, so first I’m going to swear the vow and write it out.
“Destroy the Devil Strahd and Free Barovia.” That’s pretty straightforward. Fucking horrible and impossible, but simple.
And… I mean… fuck it. I might as well set the challenge at Epic. It doesn’t get much more Epic than that. Finally, I’m going to attach a Threat to this vow (something with Strahd – I’ll figure out the particulars later), which is a really nice feature of Vows that’s being added in the new Delve expansion that’s in beta right now.
Then, roll +heart. I’m making the vow to a person with whom I share a bond, so +1.
And I literally can’t ask for a better roll than that, so I’ll take it. That’s +2 momentum.
I release Ismark’s hand and sit back, but turn at a low, choked sound from the barkeep. His boy is staring, but the man has tears, actual tears, in his eyes.
“Bless you, farwarden,” says the barkeep. “Bless you.”
The Vistani at their table seem… less impressed, but one of their clan brought me the false letter in the first place, so I’m not exactly happy with THEM, either.
I’m going to mark a milestone for my vow to Come to the Aid of the Village, since everyone heard me just now and knows what and who I am. That brings my progress to four, and SIMPLY for the sake of cleaning up my sheet a bit, I’m going to risk it and Fulfill that Vow. (Note: This is stupid and I shouldn’t do it – my odds are bad, but I HAVE come to the aid of the village. I mean, I’m here, aren’t I?)
Ohthankgod. I complete the quest with a weak hit, which has me mark 1 experience for the Difficult vow, which isn’t enough to do anything with yet. HOWEVER, “You may Swear an Iron Vow to set things right. If you do, add +1,” and I’m pretty darn sure that swearing an Iron Vow to free Barovia counts, so I’m taking the extra XP. [Also, I’m taking a Bond with the Village as my third “free” bond that I just noticed I never took during character generation. Good thing I looked while I was writing down Ismark. The ‘free’ bond is with the Village of Barovia, thank you very much. Probably coming at that sideways, a bit, but something tells me I’m going to need all the help I can get.]
Ismark is still watching me. “Would you like to meet my sister, Brigitte?”
He nods, stands, leaves coin for the bartender, and the two of us depart.
I’ve finished a journey as part of a quest/vow (come to the aid of the village), so I’ll also mark progress. Since it’s a Dangerous quest, every ‘mark progress’ move fills two boxes.
Now then, the village.
Tall shapes loom out of the dense fog that surrounds everything, even in mid-afternoon.
The muddy ground underfoot gives way to slick, wet cobblestones. The tall shapes become recognizable as the dwellings of the village of Barovia. The windows of each house stare out from pools of black nothingness. No sound cuts the silence except, just at the edge of hearing, a single voice raised in mournful sobbing from a fair distance inside the town.
A few miles away, Brigitte can see the silhouette of a castle wayyyyy up on a peak, overlooking the valley.
I decide to follow the sound of the sobbing, as much as I’m able, into the village.
Brigitte enters the town from the east (red arrow), and follows the streets toward the sobbing sound, so she kind of goes by a bunch of private homes and the main square in the center of town. What we can immediately make out:
MANY of the houses have no glass in the windows. They’re broken out and then people have nailed boards over them.
- E1 right at the center of town is “Bidrath’s Mercantile” – a general store.
- E2 is the “Blood on the Vine” tavern/inn.
(They have signs, so she can tell.)
- The mercantile is well-lit inside; light signs out into the foggy streets.Same with the tavern.
- There is ZERO foot traffic on the streets. Many of the houses look abandoned or deserted, and those that don’t are closed up tight.
- The sobbing is coming from E3, which is a two-story townhouse. It’s pretty nice, but it’s been boarded up and barricaded from the inside like many others.
I go and knock on the door.
The knocking doesn’t get any response from inside the house. The sobbing continues.
Brigitte’s about to try something else when a small voice, behind her, says “That’s Mad Mary’s house.”
There’s a little kid standing in the middle of the street, about 20 feet away from the front step.
Brigitte frowns. “Who?”
When you search an area, ask questions, conduct an investigation, or follow a track, roll +wits. If you act within a community or ask questions of a person with whom you share a bond, add +1.
On a miss, your investigation unearths a dire threat or reveals an unwelcome truth that undermines your quest. Pay the Price. Awesome.
“Mad Mary. That’s her house.” He points at the house . “She had a girl, named Gertruda, and never let her leave the house. “Gertruda snuck out, and hasn’t come back.”
The sobbing is the same volume, probably, but somehow it SEEMS to get louder.
PAY THE PRICE
When you suffer the outcome of a move, choose one.
- Make the most obvious negative outcome happen.
- Envision two negative outcomes. Rate one as ‘likely’, and Ask the Oracle using the yes/no table. On a ‘yes’, make that outcome happen. Otherwise, make it the other.
- Roll on the following table. If you have difficulty interpreting the result to fit the current situation, roll again.
42-50 A new danger or foe is revealed.
[Man, more complications. Okay.]
“Do you know where she is?” Brigitte asks. “The girl?”
The kid just looks at her, expressionless, for a little while. Then he turns and points.
“My da sent me to invite you to the tavern.”
Brigitte nods, somewhat numbly, and follows the child back along the street toward the center of town, wondering what she’s gotten pulled into.
In the last ‘session’, Brigitte set out toward Barovia by way of the Old Svalich Road, made it to the gates of Barovia and (thanks to our second journey roll) found out things were going to take a bad turn.
BUT FIRST, I need a bit of information for an NPC we’re about to meet. I hit a few of the Ironsworn oracles for a name and description and get “Mira, wild and sick.” Horrible. Perfect.
Brigitte is probably half an hour to an hour past the gate of Barovia when she spots someone on the road ahead. A woman. Tangled black hair. A white shift utterly insufficient for the damp and cold. Barefoot, Brigitte notices, as the woman shuffles toward her down the road. Pale, almost gray skin.
A hatchet in her hand.
Brigitte slips her shield from ‘easy carry’ to ‘ready’, and calls out “Hello, sister. Are you lost? Can I help you?”
The woman continues to shuffle forward. Her face is shrouded by her wild hair. Tension tightens the muscles of Brig’s shoulders, but she makes no move.
The woman – young, we think – stops a half-dozen paces short of Brigitte. Silence in the forest.
Then the axe hand swings up, level, the axe pointed at – or extended to – the farwarden.
“End my suffering.” The woman’s voice is dry, cracking. Makes you thirsty just to hear it. She finally lifts her head enough to see her face, and it’s gaunt and gray and her teeth are… wrong.
Brigitte tenses. Her eyes widen slightly, search the woman’s face. “What are… what happened to you?”
Okay, so the information complicates the quest but I get +1 momentum. Yeah, that tracks.
“My name…” the girl breathes, almost sighs. “Mira.” Her voice is wistful, as if she’s saying the name of a childhood friend she’d almost forgotten and misses deeply.
Her eyes, cold and hard and black despite the tone of her voice, focus back on Brigitte. “Creatures – dark things – came to my family’s home. My mother and father they killed. I hid my brother before they found me.”
“They didn’t kill you?”
“They destroyed me,” the woman says, baring her throat to show the marks there. “They laughed and said I would be welcome in their fold when the moon rose over my new life, and left me in the ruins of the old. I took my brother to town – left him on the doorstep of the church, and fled.”
Brigitte frowns. “Why? You could have stayed -”
Her head droops. “I could – hear his heartbeat by the end, and I wanted it. I wanted it so badly.”
She looks up at Brigitte. “I can’t be this. I can’t be a thing that would take my own brother, and I know – I know – that’s what I could become.”
She opens her mouth, and it is too wide, bends back too far.
And there are too, too many teeth.
Again, she thrusts the axe forward. “End me. Please. Please.”
Brigitte stares at the axe for what feels like a long time, but she knows at least something about what has happened. Knows at least something about what Mira will become.
Eventually she takes the axe, and does what she must.
But it is not without cost.
So, as this is part of a Troublesome journey, I think I take appropriate Stress from this interaction (-1 to my Spirit), and then I do the Endure Stress move.
But hey, Strong hit! This is pretty good: Since my Spirit is still above 0 (4, after the hit), I have the option of dropping my Momentum by -1 to take a +1 to Spirit – this scene with Mira takes the energy out of my step more than a little, but I’m able to shrug off the damage to my spirit. I like that (And I like not being down in Spirit this early into the game. Momentum loss I can deal with: I’m at 4, currently, so I drop that to 3 and effectively ignore the Spirit damage.
It’s probably only a few more hours to the village in the valley. Let’s see how I get on.
Okay, 3+2 gets me a 5 against a 8 and 4, so another weak hit. That moves my progress to 6, total, but I take another ding to Supply (I imagine using up a few consumables while burying Mira’s remains).
I don’t think I’m very far from the town, now, so I’ll risk rolling to Reach my Destination.
For this, I just roll the 2d10 Challenge dice, against my Progress (6), and see how things come out.
Okay, weak hit again, but a hit, nonetheless. “You arrive, but face an unforeseen complication.” Oy. More complications. “Ask the oracle if unsure” and luckily the Oracle of “the module” has an answer for this.
The last part of your journey is still within thick woods, so it’s hard to see much of the countryside, what you DO spot, however, is a body, barely visible under a bush near the side of the road.
I move to inspect the body. Male. Dressed like a villager. I’d guess he’s been dead a few days. The remains of his clothes are torn and raked with what look like claw marks. Guessing some sort of tradesman. Not wealthy. Not particularly well-fed, either, before he died.
There are many paw prints in the soft soil around the body – big ones, probably wolves, and heavy enough to make an imprint.
He has an envelope clutched in his hand.
The letter, unlike the one I got in the inn, which was dated only the day previous, is dated a week ago. The envelope is sealed with a wax seal stamped with a big “B”, and the parchment, again unlike that other letter, is worn and flimsy with damp.
Hail thee of might and valor:
Okay this sounds familiar.
I, the Burgomaster of Barovia send you honor — with despair.
My adopted daughter, the fair Ireena, has been these past nights bitten by a creature calling its race “vampyr.” For over 400 years this monster has drained our land of the life-blood of its people. Now, my dear Ireena languishes from an unholy wound caused by this vile beast. Yet I fear, too, the creature has some more cunning plan in mind. He has become too powerful to be fought any longer.
So I say to you, give us up for dead and encircle this land with armies and the symbols of Good. Let holy men call upon their power that the Evil One may be contained within the walls of weeping Barovia. Leave our sorrows to our graves, and save the world from our evil fate.
There is much wealth entrapped in this community. BURN THIS PLACE, then return for your reward after we are departed for a better life.
Kolyan Indirovich, *
While the wording is, in places, similar to the other letter, the handwriting is NOT.
So… two messages. Very different requests, within. No real way to see which is the real one, yet. Not without further information.
I take the letter, bury the body, and keep moving.
The ground is soft – it doesn’t take long to dig with a camp tool, but Brig hears the howls of wolves a couple times in the distance as she wraps up. First one, then two, a few minutes later…
She wastes little time hurrying on to town and (presumed) safety.
So now I envision my character’s recent history – Brigitte doing the farwarden thing, which boils down to the Unappreciated Rangers of the North Job ™ – helping small communities with beasts and monsters, informal roadway patrols, whatever – but all the while she’s got her ear to the ground for word of farwardens who’ve gone missing over the years. She takes these more seriously since one of the missing farwardens is her mentor, Reinhardt. There’s whispers and rumors about these disappearances within the order, many of which are obviously fantasy, superstition, or guesswork, but a few threads float the surface. A letter. A summons.
Barovia. A barony that’s little more than fog and mountain valleys no one seems to know how to find – at least, no one Brig’s talked to seems to know how to get to the blasted place.
That’s recent past. This is reliving a classic old DnD module for me, though, so let’s actually start in a tavern.
To a far warden, this is just another dull tavern in another drab town in a province whose name I can’t remember; just passing time between the challenges of the road.
Outside the Inn, a bone-chilling fog lies over the town this evening, draping everything in a clammy blanket. The damp dirt of the street shines dully in the light of street lanterns. It’s no time to be outside.
But inside, the food is hearty and the ale is surprisingly passable. A fire crackles in the hearth and the tavern is alive with the tumbling voices of country folk.
Suddenly, the tavern door swings open. A hush falls. Heavy, booted footfalls and the jingle of spurs wind through the silence. His brightly colored clothes are draped in loose folds about him and his hat hangs askew, hiding his eyes in shadows.
Without hesitation, he walks directly up to my table and assumes a wide stance with folded arms. He speaks with a heavy accent, “I hevv been sent to you to deliver this message: If you be honorable, you will come to my master’s aid at first light. It is not advisable to travel the Svalich woods at night!” He pulls from his tunic a sealed letter, addressed to you in beautiful flowing script. He drops the letter on the table. “Take the west road from here to the Svalich Forest, at the edge of the mountains. The road there splits; the one leading into the forest will, in time, bring you to mountain passes. There you will find my master, in Barovia.”
Brigitte’s heart thumps at the name, but she manages (she thinks) to remain outwardly expressionless and cool. She says nothing, and does not immediately make any move to pick up the letter.
Amid the continued silent stares of the patronage, the Vistani (a roaming trading clan) turns and strides to the bar and says to the barkeeper, “Fill the glasses, one and all. Their throats are obviously parched.” He drops a purse heavy with coin on the bar. With that, he leaves. The babble of tavern voices resumes, although somewhat subdued. The letter is lying before you. It is dated yesterday, and the parchment is crisp. The seal is a crest you don’t recognize.
[I open the letter and call for more ale.]
Hail to thee of might and valor:
I, a lowly servant of the township of Barovia, send honor to thee. We plead for thy so desperately needed assistance within our community.
The love of my life, Ireena Kolyana, has been afflicted by an evil so deadly that even the good people of our town cannot protect her. She languishes, and I would have her saved from this menace.
There is much wealth in this community. I offer all that might be had to thee and thy fellows if thou shall but answer my desperate plea.
Come quickly for her time is at hand! All that I have shall be thine!
Okay, so… this is exactly the kind of lead Brigitte has been looking for in her personal vow, but at the same time, this letter meets all the requirements of a formal request for aid from the freewardens. “Hail to thee of might and valor” and so forth… aside from what I want, I pretty much have to at least go and meet whoever sent the letter and see if I can help.
So. I lay my hand to iron and Swear an Iron Vow to help the village, if I can. Time to roll.
My roll (4, plus my Heart of 3), gets me a 7. I compare that to my Challenge Dice. I beat one of the two, which gives me a mixed success, the results of which are indicated at the bottom of image. I’ve got more questions than answers (true!), but I get +1 momentum (3, now).
And at least I know which way to go.
Okay, so I’m going to Barovia, and while I don’t think it’s going to be a particularly horrible journey, I DO think there could be complications, so I’m going Undertake a Journey. I’m only going to make it Troublesome, to open the door to complications without making the whole game about just GETTING to the main action. Since the journey is only troublesome, every success on the Undertake a Journey will tick three boxes on my progress bar.
THE NEXT MORNING: OLD SVALICH ROAD
Black pools of water stand like dark mirrors along the muddy roadway. Thick, cold mists spread a pallor over the road. Tree trunks stand on both sides of the road, their branches reaching up into the mists. In every direction the mists grow thicker and the forest grows more oppressive.
Let see how things go.
Man! A roll of 5 +2 for Wits is really solid, but nothing’s going to beat that 10 on the challenge die. Luckily the other die is a 2, which still means a weak hit, and means no major complications except -1 to my Supply. I envision Brigitte pushing herself on the road, not taking the time to hunt or forage as she goes, and using up some of her preserved trail food instead. That’s fine. I mark progress, tighten my belt, and march on.
PASSING THE GATES OF BAROVIA
Jutting from the impenetrable woods on both sides of the road, high stone buttresses loom up gray in the fog. Huge gates hang from the stonework. Two statues of armed guardians silently flank the gate. Their heads, missing from their shoulders, now lie among the weeds at their feet. They greet you only with silence.
Lovely vibe. Brigitte passes the gates and enters the lands of Barovia itself. The fog is somehow colder. Denser. The sun seems robbed of its warmth. Let’s roll that move…
OUCH. Goddammit. Not only do I miss on the move (even with a nigh-perfect 6+2), but the doubles on the challenge dice means things go bad and introduce an unwelcome unforeseen twist.
I don’t know what Price I should Pay, so for that I consult the Pay the Price oracle…
(I’m going to switch to Roll20 eventually, but I did all of this gaming in the airport, using my phone and an Android app that’s apparently been discontinued in the last couple weeks. In case anyone’s wondering.)
And THAT seems to double down on the “unexpected something happens and things get complicated.” I’m going to go with “Horribly complicated,” since this is coming off a full Fail on the Journey roll as well. Now, normally, in Ironsworn, I’d consult the Oracle for some ideas on what should happen, but I actually have a scene I never used in the original version of this I ran with Kaylee that should fit the bill just fine.
So, last time we did a bit of world building. This time, character.
- Envision – Our hero is a member of a freewarden order
known as the Overwatch. She’s a younger warrior, mentored by several of the senior members. She’s a classic kind of armored warrior: heavy sheild, at least chainmail armor, whatever weapons come to hand, and a knack for improvising.
(Basically, Kaylee and I made up a character based on Brigitte from Overwatch for our World of Dungeons game, and I enjoyed the character a lot, so we’re sticking with that. It’s cheesy. I do not care.)
- Name – usually I’d wait til the end of chargen for this, but in this case, I already know it’s Brigitte (bri-GEE-tah).
Set your stats by arranging these bonuses across edge, heart, iron, shadow, and wits in any order: 3, 2, 2, 1, 1 (page 33).
- Edge is quickness, agility, and prowess in ranged combat.
- Heart is courage, willpower, empathy, sociability, and loyalty.
- Iron is physical strength, endurance, aggressiveness, and prowess in close combat.
- Shadow is sneakiness, deceptiveness, and cunning.
- Wits mean expertise, knowledge, and observation.
This is not going to take me long. Heart is definitely going to be Brig’s best stat (+3) – she is loyal, brave, friendly, and tough-minded. But she is also physically tough and smart, which asks for a +2 in both Iron and Wits. That leaves a +1 for Edge and Shadow, and that’s fine: none of her go-to tactics rely on these stats.
Health, Spirit, and Supply are automatically set to 5. Done.
Momentum is set to 2, automatically. Done.
Mark up to 3 background bonds.
Bonds provide narrative texture to your world by fleshing out other characters and communities. They give you places to return to, and people to reconnect with, when life has taken its toll. Bonds also provide mechanical benefits when you act within a community or interact with someone with whom you share a bond.
I’m taking two bonds initially, and leaving one as a freebie once the story gets going.
- Reinhardt – my old mentor and sort of father/uncle-figure. Currently missing.
- The order – I am, in many ways, a fresh-faced recruit to the cause of the wardens, and believe all the best about them.
- Pick three assets. Assets represent your background, skills, and traits. They give you additional options and bonuses when making a move, or sometimes act as their own self-contained moves. Assets, almost more than stats, is really where you define the mechanical bits of a character. There are four types of assets: Companions, paths, combat talents, and rituals. You can mix-and-match assets as you like.
If I didn’t have a clear picture in mind for Brigitte, this would probably take me a long while, because they’re a LOT of assets, and they are all really need and tempting. Luckily, I pretty much know how this is going to go.
- Shield-bearer: the core of Brigitte’s approach to combat is her shield. Weapons come and go, but a shield is life (and, in the right hands, death).
- Ironclad: even traveling light, Brigitte (as one of the wardens) is more heavily armored than most, and can strap on heavier gear when the situation calls for it.
- Honorbound. This one I’m waffling on the most. I sort of want something that gives Brigitte that paladin-y feeling of a knight with a cause, and this works well, giving her that extra bit of hard-edged will when things get tough. But I’m torn.
- If she were a leeettle more religious, I’ve had grabbed Devotant.
- If I lean more toward her Overwatch inspiration, Wright or Improviser would give a sort of Macgyver-y crafting touch.
… but no. I’ll stick with Honorbound, keep Devotant out there as an option, and pine longingly for Thunderbringer.
- Finally, make a background vow. I’m going with “Find or Avenge the missing Wardens,” which is background I’ll get into later. Next time, we play!
With the holidays looming, my schedule was basically nuked from orbit and much of my normal online/offline tabletop gaming (which wasn’t a LOT to begin with) was disrupted, to put it mildly. Then one of my Monday-night players linked Adam Koebel’s first look into Ironsworn – and reminded me of the game, which I’ve actually had for a while (the PDF is free) but hadn’t dug into.
So I decided to do that.
Because I had no one else to play with.
You see, Ironsworn is a PbtA fantasy adventure game (same inspirational/systemic roots as Dungeon World, Masks, whatever) but supporting three “modes” of play (Guided (with a GM), Co-op (several players, no GM), and Solo) equally and viably.
I enjoyed Adam’s video, and doubly enjoyed the actual play podcast from the game’s creator and his son (search for “Ask the Oracle” on your favorite podcast platform.) Thus inspired, I decided to do a game.
Now, by default, Ironsworn presumes a low fantasy, fairly gritty setting – basically “Logen Ninefingers’s chapters from The First Law trilogy”, which may or may not mean anything to anyone but me. Additionally, the game setup presumes world building to make a version of the Ironlands that is your very own, which is really great.
I’m not going to do that, though.
I have something specific in mind – a use for the game which seems to be okay with the game’s designer in terms of “other potential uses for this game”: using Ironsworn to run a fantasy game/setting/scenario I already have readily available.
In short, I’m going to play a solo game of the original Ravenloft – I6 AD&D module, augmented with some PBtA style tweaks from a World of Dungeons version of the scenario I ran for awhile with my daughter.
So what’s that going to look like?
Well, in a standard Ironsworn game, you’d either start character creation or world building, and then move on to… whichever of the two you didn’t do first. (The podcast AP from the creator starts with worldbuilding, then does the characters second, for example). The steps look like this:
- Create your world: Define ‘Your Truths’ (page 122) about the setting.
- Create your character: I have a general archetype in mind – basically the character my daughter played in our WoD Ravenloft game, but we’ll set stats and select assets.
- Create background bonds: Create up to three bonds to represent connections to home, friends, family, et cetera.
- Write your background vow: Create a quest as backstory for your character.
- Envision your inciting incident: Come up with the problem that spurs our hero into action.
- Swear an Iron Vow: Make the move and see how that sets our starting situation.
- Play the game: See how things shake out from there.
Mostly, the part I’m not going to especially worry about is creating the world, because I have one readily to hand in the form of the (implied) setting for Ravenloft. I’m going to do a BIT of world building, to sync the setting to Ironsworn’s assumptions (lower/subtler magic than DnD, etc), but that’s about it. Let’s start with that and then move on to our hero.
There are several sections that the game says we can make decisions about:
- The Old World: Why did our people leave the Old World and travel to the Ironlands?
- Iron: The most important possession in the Ironlands. Why is it so special?
- Legacies: What people came to the Ironlands before the Ironlanders?
- Communities: What do communities in the Ironlands generally look like?
- Leaders: Who lead these communities?
- Defense: How do these communities deal with their defense?
- Mysticism: Is magic and mysticism all fake, or is there some truth to it?
- Religion: Are the gods real and walk to the world, or are they just superstition?
- The Firstborn: Do other, older ancestries exist (Elves, Giants, Trolls) or all they just stories told to children?
- Beasts: Are the beasts of legends (griffins, dragons, etc) true or just old wives’ tales?
- Horrors: Are there even darker horrors than the Beasts that lurk on the corners of the Ironlands?
Again, I’m not making decisions about all these things, though most of the questions WILL be answered by virtue of using the Ravenloft module as the baseline setting for our adventure. Let’s go.
The first question is about “the old world” that Ironlanders are assumed to have left behind for the Ironlands. I’m discarding this, as it’s not relevant to the setting.
Iron. The next question also seems like one I’d toss in the bin. Basically “why are the Ironlands called the Ironlands?”, but I like the second option we can choose from, so I’m making a note of it anyway.
The weather is bleak. Rain and wind sweep in from the ocean. The winters are long and bitter. Someone complained, “Only those made of iron dare live in this foul place”
That just fits. Absent any other plot, I could take that, plop my hero down on the Barovia map with the related Ironsworn quest starter, and I could go. Nice.
I’m discarding the Legacies question (what lived here before us?) as not especially relevant to my needs.
What are the Communities like? A good question, and I’m going with the first available option:
We are few in number in this accursed land. Most rarely have contact with anyone outside our own small steading or village, and strangers are viewed with deep suspicion.
That suits the look and feel I’m going for right down to the ground.
Leadership is as varied as the people. Some communities are governed by the head of a powerful family. Or, they have a council of elders who make decisions and settle disputes. In others, the priests hold sway. For some, it is duels in the circle that decide.
For Barovia, the answer is both in keeping with this answer and… something else.
How do we defend ourselves?
This is an interesting one. I was initially going to go with: Supplies are too precious and the lands are too sparsely populated to support organized fighting forces. When a community is threatened, the people stand together to protect their own.
But another answer lets me integrate my character concept in much more smoothly, once some of the edges have been sanded.
There are wardens are act as soldiers, guards, and militia. They serve their communities by standing sentry, patrolling surrounding lands, and organizing defenses in times of crisis. Most have strong ties to their community. Others, called free wardens, are wanderers who hire on to serve a community or protect caravans.
This is a really good starting place, though I might tweak the answer a bit in character generation, as we learn about our hero – but basically, I’ll call her a freewarden, and a young member of the order. It works.
Mysticism? Magic is rare and dangerous, but those few who wield the power are truly gifted.
Religion? The people honor old gods and new. In this harsh land, a prayer is a simple but powerful comfort.
There’s a question about the Firstborn – elves and giants, basically, but it’s not especially relevant to this game, so I’m setting it aside. I’m homing in on a pretty human-centric setting, but with beasts and monsters aplenty.
Speaking of: Beasts – which is to say, non-sentient monsters and the like.
Monstrous beasts stalk the wild areas of the world. (To which I’ll add “and the wild areas are cheek and jowl with what’s loosely termed ‘civilization.’“)
Horrors – the monsters you can have a conversation with, sometimes.
For the world in general, this:
We are wary of dark forests and deep waterways, for monsters lurk in those places. In the depths of the long-night, when all is wreathed in darkness, only fools venture beyond their homes.
But for Barovia?
The dead do not rest in these lands. At night we light torches, scatter salt, and post sentries at the gate. It is not enough. They are coming.
Okay! That’s the world stuff answered. Next post: moving on to character generation.