Vastlands ep.6- The Abbey of St Clewyd

This was a big session (longer than normal too). A lot going on (some future traps hooks being planted) and some interesting choices made by the players. The Abbey has been looming over the players for a few sessions now, and I’ve been a little worried about these low-level characters wandering in. But it went better than I expected.

The Abbey – by Andrew Walter

In Game (Session 6)

PCs present: Alette (Hunter), Prudence (Magic-User), Solvang (Magic-User).
NPCs: Estmund (Dolmenwood Knight) Fluff-Tail (Grimalkin) Fleet-Hoof (Goat-kin)

Tired, and wary of the approaching night, the party wanted to take refuge. The went into the closest thing resembling a building. The ruins of the Abbot’s residence. Completely ruined and defaced, Alette gathered some splintered furniture to make a small sheltered fire. They ate and started to get comfortable in the ruined shell. Alette heard some distant prayer. She crept out and saw an old friar kneeling at the doors to the main abbey. Introduced as “Brother Tolmen” and he joins them for the night – shares his own moonshine, and they share stories.
– Gossip about Lady Harrowmoor – commoner marrying a Count! No child for years until Lord’s death… A Witch?
– Goat-kin: original inhabitants. 3 houses rule in the High Wold: Ramius, Murkin, Malbleat. (House Hogwarsh retainers)
– Trouble between the two houses: Hogwarsh in High Wold vs Brakenwald in the Tithelands.
– Fear of the “Watchers of the Wood” – the black robed mystics who worship demons of the forest

In the morning, Brother Tolmen encouraged the party to come with him to the Abbey. Tolmen became engrossed telling stories of St Clewyd – freeing innocents, punishing the wicked, resurrecting the dead, defeating demons – and drawing his own copies of the mosaics and statues still standing. Alette noticed recent offerings at the altar, and followed the tracks of a person leading into the ruined Abbot’s residence. The path was old, stone worn away and vegetation growth altered… Meanwhile Prue noticed strange magical residue, and followed it a door down to the crypt that had been magically locked from the inside… While the four humans discussed what might be behind the sealed door, Fleet-hoof went to badger Brother Tolmen for more booze, and Fluff-tail went outside to get some fresher air.

A sudden squeal from outside grabbed everyone’s attention. Fluff-tail screamed for help as he chased a young child. By the time they got outside, the Grimalkin and the child were struggling on the ground – Fluff-tail trying to restrain the child, who was trying to gouge out the cat’s eyes. When the party finally calmed everyone down (and Prue tended to Fluff’s badly scratched face) they discovered the child was named Bilbry. He was living here with his 2 friends, and something(?) called Mr Rag’n’Bone was taking care of them. His filthy and malnourished state made Solvang dubious about that claim. Alette became worried about the crows cawing at them from the nearby trees. She explains that it sounds like they are all “echoing” each other, but the words are mangled…

When release to lead the party to the other children (specifically “Vi”) Bilbry broke away and ran for the still standing bell tower. Alette started to understand the crows cawing out “run.. run..” The party hurried after the child, but by the time they reached the bell tower he had already dashed upstairs. They could hear children’s voices arguing and hushing each other above them. They slowly went up and faced the children hiding behind makeshift beds in a cluttered room. Alette heard the crows flying to the bell above and cawing (mine.. children mine…) and a strange clattering sound. Solvang and Estmund tried to talk to the children – identifying Violet – but were interrupted by the girls warning them- A shadow engulfed the staircase and an enormous skeletally thin man squeezed into the room. Mr Rag’n’Bone demanded “Leave my children alone!”
Fleet-hoof cut at the creature with his evil-looking sword. There was a faint clack of bones and feather, before the sword clanged against the stone wall… Mr Rag’n’Bone nonchalantly swiped at the goat-kin and sent him crashing against the opposite wall. Everyone felt terror, as the only way out of the room was the very staircase blocked by this shadowy creature. Prue stepped forward, calling forth her powers, and threatened the creature. Her primal magics made her terrifying and the creature shattered into a flock of crows which flew up the staircase out outside – circling the bell-tower and cawing “leave… my children… mine… leave..” Solvang and Estmund convinced the children it was in their best interests to come home to Castle Harrowmoor, then promptly led them down the stairs.

Prue and Alette checked upstairs and found a strange collection of animals and dead wood creating what felt like a strange nest built below the great bell. More gruesomely the animals were preserved, and had human teeth added… Prue sensed a mystic aura and took one of the animals. Alette heard the circling crows gather their courage and come swarming back into the room – forming Mr Rag’n’Bone. “Leave! All mine! Prue tried to command this spirit with its name – it laughed “Why would I tell children my name?” Prue panicked and started to bring forth her powers of terror… but Alette immediately saw that there would not be enough time. As the monster came closer, Alette jumped and swung on the bell-rope… The supports cracked and the giant bell came crashing down. Alette swung free, Prue pulled back out of the way, but Mr Rag’n’Bone was caught by the Bell as it crashed through the floors of the tower.

The party gathered the children and fled. They could hear the sounds of pecking inside the bell.

The road back to Harrowmoor Castle was tense, but they arrived safely. Lady Theatrice Harrowmoor was very greatful and impressed by the stories Violet relayed to her. Sadly the house of Harrowmoor has become poor due to the recent troubles, and all she could give were small purses of coin (100 crowns each). But she offered them all the hospitality of her House in perpetuity., Prue discovered that the rumours were true, and that the Lady was in fact an ancient witch named Sadewyn who married into the House to gain access to greater resources to protect her domain. Prue was initiated into the Sisterhood of the Chalice and Moon (under the forest-god Hasturiel Thrice-Crowned). While Estmund was recruited, Knighted to become a guardian of Prue.

At the table

I think this was my favorite session so far! The players are digging deeper into the “lore” of Dolmenwood and getting more invested in the setting. I loved that my players had been pulling me aside and offering suggestions on how to further tie their characters to the game-setting. This session offered a few opportunities (more on that later)

I have to say that the Abbey of St Clewyd is another awesome adventure – although not for beginners! If you are interested take a look at Wormskin#3 and Wormskin#4. The outside grounds are presented in #3, and the players explored a few locations – but this group are fairly goal driven and remained on-task for rescuing Violet Harrowmoor. The creatures up here are suitably creepy, and very very dangerous for an unprepared group. The party found one of the entrances to the catacombs (the magically sealed door) and are already considering ways to get in!

This session also highlighted for me that basic D&D combat is not just “hit point attrition”. This was an encounter that was unexpected by the party – they had no knowledge about the creature, and hadn’t done any research about the location and so were very unprepared. Resistant to non-magical weapons, very dangerous attacks, practically immune to damage while in “swarm form” in the open. The players were dismayed at the apparently impossible challenge. Couldn’t hurt it, and it was faster and even more dangerous in the open so couldn’t run away! There were talks of “get ready to roll new characters”. The character of Prue had a “fear” spell that seemed to work for a while, but her “control spirits” failed completely (needed a “true name”, which was unavailable).

This is an example of the “non balanced” nature of OSR. This creature was “just there” and “doing it’s thing”. I had no idea how the characters could beat it, or even if they could. But then knowing that nothing they used had much effect on Mr Rag’n’Bone, Alette’s player proceeded to find another way to neutralize the threat! A completely left field and highly risky (two characters making death saves!) method that might not have worked (monster save vs paralysis). Thankfully Lady Luck was smiling on them as everything worked out and they trapped Mr Rag’n’Bone long enough for them to get the children and run. This was the highlight of the session for me! Watching players “solve” a seemingly unsolvable problem.

As to the opportunities, Prue’s player has loved the hints of witchcraft in her character and asked to go full-on into a “witch” – joining the Witches of Dolmenwood. This led to me searching around for a better suited class that matched Gavin’s fictional lore. I found it in the BX Options Class Builder (By the ever awesome “Welsh Piper”) in the form of a “Sorceror” class. Its a Magic User that begs for spells instead of researching them – it feels very “Warlock / divine magic user” to me. It would work very well as a cultist, or even a replacement for a cleric. But anyway, Prue now has a “patron” who supplies spells in return for worship and obedience.

Since we were approaching levelling, and Estmund becoming a “fully fledged” Knight, the player suggested that Estmund be recruited as a “protector” to Prue. The idea of the pairing (Knight and Witch) seemed very “fairytale” and spot on for the characters – so it became part of our story! The idea tickled me, a Knight in sworn service to a high-priestess “Witch”.

Not much treasure from this adventure, but a lot of adventure hooks appearing, and a new safe haven for the characters.

Next time – the trouble with “rulings” and the darkness in Dolmenwood.

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