System: Maze Rats - Ben Milton
I prepped this session as a point-crawl one-shot originating at the Falls of Nyf in the River Hameth (hex 1112) with the town of Dreg as the destination (hex 1110). We allocated three hours so I expected to get through 3-4 scenes. One of my players wasn’t able to make it, but Sxott was at the FLGS for a different event and ended up joining us. I was using a Mage: The Ascension Storyteller screen which seems like a more effective tool than my 5e screen for attracting the right kind of players.
The mission was to investigate the port of Dreg as a potential staging ground for a larger inquisitorial presence in the Dolmenwood. The previous mission to the town of Lankshorn found it to be filled with mixed-blood goatmen and human goatmen sympathizers.
We played with David P, James S, and Sxott RC. I asked each person to roll up two characters and choose one of them to begin with. We used Maze Rats character generation, but rolled spells from the Lost Pages spellbooks. As players begin with three weapons in Maze Rats, I allowed the players to burn a starting weapon slot to give one of their remaining weapons the “iron” quality or to burn two slots to give their only weapon the “silver quality.” I then had each player answer one of the following questions:
- What commonly known concept about the Occult do you know to be false.
- What little-known concept about the Occult do you know to be true.
- What experience set you on the path to become a witch hunter?
- What experience between you and one of your companions established trust between you?
Sxott was a zealous torturer named “Irving the Gnostic” who had studied the translocation spell Living Gate under the auspices of the three secret gods. Sxott chose question 4, answering that Irving believed that Destrian, played by David, was the Chosen One.
Destrian wasn’t so sure that he was chosen, but went along with it for the elegant clothing and elevated status. David answered question 2, as Destrian knew that mirrors are often gateways to the otherworld. Further, he knew that mirrors should be covered or turned-around but should not be broken.
James answered question 3. Lyson had been a bystander of a magical attack as a child. The attack scarred his skin, discoloring his hands and arms. It also left his parents and a number of other innocents crippled, maimed, and killed. Lyson despised all magic users as a result, and joined up with the inquisition.
The party began on a large barge travelling up the River Hameth. The bargeman was a gruff local who had been paid in advance by the inquisitorial brass down river. He explained that the quickest way to Dreg was from the west-bank, but that the trails will ill-kept and little traveled. The east-bank had a road which led around the perimeter of the woods to Castle Breckenwold, but also some well-traveled paths heading into the woods to a manor and a woodcutter's camp.
On the barge there were eight additional hunters, two groups of four each with distinct missions to investigate the Castle Breckenwold and beyond. There were also four local masons who had kept to themselves and spoke a dialect that wasn’t comprehensible. Everyone else was disembarking on the east bank, so that was the first place the bargeman put in.
The party decided to disembark here as well, but Irving hung back and began to question the bargeman’s faith. When the bargeman answered dismissively and encouraged Irving to shove off, Irving jumped on him trying to pin him down. The bargeman had grown strong in his life of hard labor, and easily shoved Irving away before clubbing him into the water and pushing off. Irving pulled himself out of the water and made his way over to the camp that the hunters had begun to set up. The masons headed up the path into the Dolmenwood despite the late hour.
The Woldish Inquisitors
Two witch-hunters from one of the other groups decided to go for a hunt in the evening hours, but the players did not join them. Instead, they walked over to talk to the other group of hunters who had set up camp a bit removed from the rest. These hunters spoke a different language amongst themselves and only one was proficient in common, he introduced himself as Malnex. He explained that his people spoke Woldish and were from a small kingdom north-east of the woods. They had joined up with the inquisition because of their hatred of the fey and the giant bray-men who haunt the woods of their lands. Malnex explained the difference between the goat lords of the south west woods who cohabitate with humans, and the giant beastial hybrids of the north woods who held only the smallest vestiges of humanity. Malnex further expressed his disgust with all fey creatures and told the party that they had gone south to look for weapons to use against the fey, joining up with the inquisition in the process. The party had initially had misgivings about these hunters, but after the conversation they felt much better about Malnex and the Woldish.
Around this time, the other group walked over and expressed their concern that the two men who had gone hunting still hadn’t returned despite the late hour. Silas wanted to go looking for his men, but Hannibal suggested that they wait until morning. Silas asked the party for their assistance in looking for their missing companions. The group drew straws after some initial debate. Irving had the final say and decided they should go.
The Black Bile Wyrm
Silas led the way into the woods for a bit. Destrian stepped forward to lead once the trail became difficult for Silas to follow. Destrian stepped through some dense brush and suddenly found himself in an 8-ft wide clearing that looked like a nest. The trees and brush had been broken and pushed to the edges of the clearing, and a single enormous broken egg lay half-buried in mud.
The sound of rustling was heard at the edge of the clearing, and a pale black wyrm with a lupine head and a revolting mixture of fur and scales emerged and took a position against the party. The party charged in zealously, and Irving’s vial of acid found purchase in the wyrm’s eyes. The eyes went pale as the young wyrm thrashed around, blindly spitting an acidic bile. The party mostly jumped out of the way of the breath attack, but all took some damage as the acid spray found purchase.
Destrian took the brunt of the acid attack, but bravely fought on wounding the wyrm with his silvered sword. The wyrm smelled Destrian’s acid-burned flesh and focused its second attack at him. He fell dead under the weight of the wyrm, as acid spit burned away his face.
In fury, Irving unleashed his magical energy as a maleficence, choosing to risk catastrophe to increase the damage of the attack. Irving steeled himself against the void, avoiding the catastrophe. Radiant bolts of light exploded out the wyrm in a number of places, exposing the flesh beneath the young scales.
This attack seemed to have grievously wounded the wyrm, who began backing away from the group. The wyrm wounded one of the other hunters, Hannibal, with a bite to the leg. But Hannibal responded with a mace blow to the head of the wyrm that crushed its fledgling skull. Just beyond the clearing the two missing hunters were found, victims of the wyrm’s acid and teeth.
As the group recovered, the briarborn Mattias showed up. (David’s second character) They hacked the wyrm up and built a small cairn over the dead. Irving secretly took a finger from Destrian, hoping to build a shrine to the fallen chosen one.
The next morning the party set off down the road. Hannibal and Silas split off to the east, planning to circumnavigate the wood. The four Woldishmen planned to take a different route to Castle Breckenwold, through the Dolmenwood.
Around noon, after an uneventful morning of travel towards the manor, the party arrived at a small canyon that seemed to have been blocked by a rockslide. The rockslide had recently been cleared and there were signs that a camp was recently made and broken. A campfire could be seen burning on the bluffs above the canyon, and the parapets of the manor were visible above as well.
The party decided that they would not investigate the manor, continuing on the road towards Dreg.
Along the path to the woodsmen camp, the party heard whispered voices ahead on the trail. They snuck into the woods and saw four emaciated ambushers with clubs. One had some leather armor and a spear. Mattias put an arrow through him, killing him. Irving then jumped out with Lyson close behind, they convinced the other men to surrender. The surviving ambushers looked starved and beaten, revealing evidence of burns and broken bones. The apologized and said that they were desperate for food and had turned to ambush as a measure of last resort.
The party gave them some food, and asked them how they had arrived in such a desperate situation. They talked about how the Lord Daggert of Bogwitt Manor had emerged from the winter a changed man, possessed with wickedness. He had been the only one to survive the winter, after a rockslide and heavy snows kept them isolated for months. His entire family and all retainers had supposedly died from starvation, but he emerged a changed man. They called him the cannibal lord. Further describing that after the winter, he had decided to force the woodcutters to work longer and for less pay, keeping them prisoners in a labor barracks and hiring armed guards to keep everyone in line.
Assault the Labor Camp
The party knew that they would need to go through the woodcutters camp to get to Dreg, but decided that they would kill the lord. They devised a plan where they would kill the guards during the day when they were out with the labor parties and would surprise the lord with an ambush in the evening.
This went to plan, they killed four guards and allied two full labor parties, equipping the initial three men with armor, weapons and a crossbow. They arrived at the outskirts of the woodcutters camp and Mattias snuck ahead, planning to light some fires to add to the distraction. As three roofs began to burn, the lord and his retainers emerged from their headquarters, an old Inn. The lord had black eyes, wore a long dark cloak and a wide leather hat.
The woodcutters ran for the lord as soon as they saw him, and only the careful guidance of Lyson kept them from all massing as one group. The lord unleashed a bout of fire, killing three laborers and singing another. Irving responded in kind, again risking a catastrophe to empower a radiant blast afflicted the lord and his retainers - three of whom fell dead with radiant light emerging from their gullets. The lord and his remaining guard stood strong, light burning within their eyes. Light and dark energies swirled around the lord, seemingly battling before the darkness returned to the lord’s eyes.
A general melee was joined, the remaining retainer slain but the lord seemed to shrug off many of the blows. Shouting in dissonant fury, the lord erupted with shadow tendrils while flailed all around him. All but one of the laborers fell beneath the onslaught of dark energies. Another round of combat found the lord diminished but his runed blade slew another hireling, and the dark runes glowed with a blood-red energy.
Lord Daggert thrust his charged sword into Irving’s gut, and the dark energies of the sword’s magic violently expelled Irving’s soul from his body. In a fury, Mattias thrust a silver spear through the lord’s chest. The lord fell to his knees and the shadow pooled around him like a heavy fog. The lord’s eyes cleared and a final tear rolled down his cheek. He coughed out “My family… What have I done?” before he died. The black shadow receded into the woods.
I presented the West path as the darker path, and the East path as more travelled to allow the party a choice between two distinct types of sessions, one with dark forest creature enemies or one with human enemies. I am not sure that this was made too clear as I did not explicitly say what the choice meant. I think the East path was chosen because it seemed safer and the other hunters were travelling that way.
Both the Bile Wyrm and the highway ambushers were random encounters. Since the party did not go on the hunt, I still rolled the random encounter for the other adventurers and then presented getting involved as an option via the concerned Silas.
The ambushers allowed me an opportunity to connect the lumber camp to Bogwitt manor, so that I could use my Bogwitt manor prep despite the fact that the adventurers skipped the manor. I did not really prep for the woodcutter camp but it all worked out pretty well on-the-fly.
I really like the Leviathan head from hex 1009 (Wormskin 7), I am imagining the canyon/cliff on which Bogwitt manor is built to be the Leviathan’s hand up-laid with fingers curled-in, the canyon forming between fingers and thenar eminence.
I am not sure how I feel about point crawling with two such distinct paths. I often have more overlap between nodes and connections so that I can feel like my prep goes further. I still think point-crawl this is the most efficient way to prep for a one-shot.
I liked the mental impact of prepping two character, as it prepared the players that they might have a character death. With each death, I allowed the player to narrate the death scene and details. I did not allow any death saves, zero hp meant death. Narratively, acid burning and shadow magic both seemed like fun and final ways to die anyways.
The Black Bile Wyrm was an HD2 foe who rolled 10hp. I gave the beast resistance to all but silvered weapons. I probably should have made the wyrm immune to the acid, but it didn’t occur to me at the time and didn’t really end up having much effect on combat. as I was able to use an area attack and then smell to direct the remaining blows.
The shadow lord was an hd3 foe who rolled 15hp. He had resistance to all but silvered weapons as well.
I really like these Wonder & Wickedness spells but I’m sad I still haven’t gotten to trigger a spell catastrophe - they look so fun.