Friday, March 1, 2019

Educated Goats and Creepy Wells [LotFP: Ashes of Angels session 6]

My current LotFP game was set up to be a sandbox game, meaning the players decide where to go and what to do. The players also set the pace. The result of this means that so far, with six sessions under our belts, the PCs have been on, like, one actual “adventure” (The Pale Lady). Maybe one-and-half if you consider the initial escape-the-dungeon mission from Session 1. Maybe more if you count the excursion to the Ghoul Market, which I consider more as an exotic shopping trip.

And while unexpected, that’s fine! My players are all having a good time. And while there’s been little in the way of the traditional go-to-the-place-to-kill-the-thing-and-take-the-stuff “adventure,” things haven’t been boring. They’ve traveled to interesting places and interacted with interesting people. At the end of every session they’ve learned more about the world, made new relationships, and developed plans for the future. They aren’t just “playing house.”

Another unforeseen effect of this is that the theme and atmosphere is a little different than expected. I originally planned this campaign to be a grim-dark trip across Bleak Europe with a backdrop of war, plague, and famine. It’s shaking out to be more of a mixture of folk horror, Roger Corman, and Hammer horror movies--quiet villages full of eccentric weirdos, superstitious peasants, and Ingrid Pitt country girls. That’s also fine, because I like all of those things. I should probably remember to make life in these villages a little less pleasant, though. Everyone’s far too happy and healthy. There’s a war going on after all.

With that said, our last session was mostly a lot of travel, going from village-to-village, meeting some people, and having random encounters. One of my players was sick, so the rest of the players decided to follow up on some side rumors rather than go straight to the next adventure site.

Our “Heroes”
  • Belinda Kage: Serpentblood 1, Midwife
  • Madeline: Specialist 2, Grave Robber
  • Gerrit Liddstadt: Fighter 1, Soldier
  • Mortimer: Alice 2, Librarian

  • Ekans and Arbok: Belinda’s dog and puppy
  • Ana Fischer: Witchy henchwoman

After the unsuccessful burglary in Hegendorf, the party decided to lit out of town as quick as they could. Their ultimate goal was to get to the Pagan’s Well, somewhere south of Neubrandenburg and supposedly full of viking gold. They plotted a circuitous route that would take them off the main roads but bring them in contact with a few small towns and villages.

Things started off well, but quickly turned dire when an unusually bitter blizzard blew in from the north. Even with heavy winter coats, several of the party failed their saves and took Constitution damage. They saw the lights of a settlement in the distance, but with the snow and dark, they couldn’t determine how far away it was. They decided it was best to hunker down and weather out the storm. The game suddenly turned into a Jack London story, as the party hunted desperately for firewood, tried to erect their tents against the wind, and futilely built snow caves in the dry, non-packing snow. Eventually they managed to get enough shelter put together to survive the night, but two of their horses died from the cold. At least now they had fresh horse meat to supplement their hardtack.

As unusually cold as it was the day before, that morning was unusually warm, and the party had to slog through piles of slush and mud to make it to the next village. Merhold was a fishing village that sat on a river between two lakes. The townsfolk were suspicious of strangers, but the PCs ingratiated themselves a bit by spending money and volunteering to help shovel out the village streets. The party bought rooms at the Broken Fang inn to recover from their travels and the blizzard. Gerrit was finally able to find a gun to replace the one he lost in Hegendorf—a surprisingly fine arquebus of Molemanic construction from Goldberg.

While spending the night in Merhold, the party heard a very interesting rumor. A farmer in the village Lischt (to the north) had a cow that gave birth to a goat that could speak like a man. This talking goat also had the gift of prophecy! The party decided that Lischt was certainly going to be their next stop, and already started formulating plans to steal the talking goat.

They headed out the next morning. About mid-day, the party ran into a trio of men, obviously deserters, though they couldn’t tell from what army. The men were hungry and cautious, but they were more willing to talk than fight. The PCs gave them a few bits of hardtack, which the deserters eagerly accepted. With a brief exchange of information, the PCs told the men about the village they had just left (which, for now, had no military occupation). The three men warned the PCs that Neubrandenburg had been overtaken by Swedish soldiers. The two groups parted ways peacefully.

After another day of travel, blessedly free of snowstorms, the PCs arrived in Lischt. A shoddy, hand-painted sign proudly declared the village “Home of the Fantastical Talking Goat!” Clearly the rumors were true. The party made their way to the Green Mug inn to get rooms and ask where to find the goat. That lead to this memorable exchange:
  • Me (the GM): You enter the inn, the woman running the place, Widow Frammen, comes to greet you.
  • Gerrit: Is she cute?
  • Me: What? No… No, nobody would ever call her cute. But she has a certain presence about her. A distinct pride. Every line in her face, every streak of gray in her hair speaks of hardships endured and triumphs wrung out of tragedy. She’d make you---any one of you—a fine wife and partner.
  • Gerrit: So she looks like…
  • Me: Like Maude-era Bea Arthur.
  • Gerrit: Never mind.
Those callous louts don’t know what they missed out on. A successful businesswoman with her own land and strong opinions. Together they could have made that village a kingdom. But it was not to be…

Anyway, the party made their way to Terwilliger's farm. There they met Isaac Terwilliger and his two sons out chopping wood. “Are you here to meet my wonderful goat?” he asked. The party said that yes they were. “Excellent! I will send my youngest boy to the barn to prepare the goat. He must make sure the animal is in the right sort of mood to speak to strangers! We will just wait here a few moments while he does this!”

The party chatted with Isaac while his son ran off to the barn. After a few minutes, Isaac he said the goat must be ready now. He took the PCs’ silver pieces and led them to the goat. Inside the barn, a back stall was draped with purple cloth and incense filled the air. A painted lantern filled the barn with pink light. A goat with sparkling blue horns stood in the stall, lazily chewing on a boot. “Oh hello there!” said the goat, in a squeaky high-pitched voice. The PCs couldn’t see its mouth move, what with the boot and all, but it spoke with surprising clarity. “Who comes to me seeking the words of prophecy? Simply put more silver into my bucket, and I shall look through the mists of time to answer your questions.”

Farmer Terwilliger looked proud of his goat, and eager for the party’s silver. His oldest boy looked bored. His youngest son was nowhere to be seen. The players looked both disappointed and amused—a careful balance of reactions that I live for as a GM. The PCs gave a quick glance around the barn, while they stood there, watching the goat poop. The couldn’t see anyone hiding, but Gerrit was pretty sure he heard someone shuffling around the hayloft over the goat, and someone spotted what looked like a can of sparkly blue paint. In the end, they thanked the farmer and left without asking the goat for any prophecy.

The next day found the party back on the road, heading east towards Neubrandenburg. Not to far out from the city, they ran into a small train of brightly colored wagons. The peeling paint on the side of the lead wagon proclaimed this to be the Great Thespian Collective, a troupe of traveling actors, musicians, and other performers. Several of them seemed to have been recently wounded. Indeed, they had recently been run out of Neubrandenburg. The conservative Swedish occupiers have been driving actors, puppeteers, and other “undesirables” from the city. The party sympathized with the troupe and spent the afternoon with them, sharing a meal, trading gossip, and making sure the actors' wounds were attended to. Belinda and Ana spent some time talking to the troupe's resident magician, one Doctor Jupiter, an actual practitioner of real magic. He was able to give Belinda some tips on how to use powdered faerie horn (from the Pale Lady) as a reagent for the Summoning spell.

Eventually the parties split ways, and the PCs headed towards Neubrandenburg. Seeing that the gates were heavily guarded by Swedish soldiers examining every traveler and cart entering the city, they decided the skip the city for now and head west towards where they hoped the Pagan's Well could be found.

After another day of travel, they came upon Kotstadt, the village supposedly near the Well. Kotstadt's main industry was pig and sheep raising, and the village certainly smelled as such. The PCs made their way to the Happy Woodsman inn and tavern, where the patrons were all well into one of the bawdier verses of “She Loves my One-Eyed Monster,” a much beloved drinking song. The hostler Kerney and his cousin-wife Zelda were all happy to tell the party about the old Pagan's Well. It was a well known source of good luck for the village, and young couples often pitch pennies into its depths for luck and large families. Of course, no one would ever dream of climbing into the well to see what was at the bottom. That was bad luck! Why, the last people who tried to do that 50 years ago were never seen again, and it brought plague to the village.

Such dire warnings didn't deter the party, and the next morning found them traipsing through the light woods a mile south of the village, looking for the Pagan's Well. Before they could find the well, however, they ran into a mysterious and creepy man with one eye, dressed all in filthy leathers and collecting hallucinogenic mushrooms. When asked about the Well, the man said “Some things is best not looked into. And bad things happen to those what do. If'n I was you, I'd go pitch my pennies, then leave the well be.” The party assured him that they'd take his advise under consideration. The strange woodsman nodded grimly, then disappeared back into the shadows and underbrush.

With only a slight feeling of foreboding, the party continued their search and eventually found Pagan's Well. It was a large and ancient structure, waist-high, eight feet across, and covered in moss and lichen. About ten feet down, the well shaft was blocked by a rusty iron grate set into the stone walls. Belinda used her Unseen Servant spell to tie ropes around the grate, while the rest of the party lashed the other ends of the rope to their horses. With a few minutes of equine exertion, the rusty grate was wrenched from the shaft walls with a cacophonous shriek of metal, knocking down one side of the surface well in the process.

Well,” I said, you've got a clear path to the bottom now, but anyone in these here woods is certainly aware of what just happened.”

And that's where we stopped!

XP and Rewards
No combat and no treasure found, but 90 XP to each PC for travel, finding new places, and surviving the snowstorm.


  1. Ha! Love the goat scene. Looking forward to seeing them go down the well.

    1. Thanks! I'm excited, too. That will be this weekend's game!

  2. As always, thanks for the re-cap, I enjoy reading them!

    You raise an interesting point regarding the tone and atmosphere of the game.
    "I originally planned this campaign to be a grim-dark trip across Bleak Europe with a backdrop of war, plague, and famine. It’s shaking out to be more of a mixture of folk horror, Roger Corman, and Hammer horror movies--quiet villages full of eccentric weirdos, superstitious peasants, and Ingrid Pitt country girls."
    It's interesting how this second, campier style emerged... Especially given how you are playing in a sandbox setting, so not only your players are deciding what to do, but they also have some influence on the tone of the game.

    " I should probably remember to make life in these villages a little less pleasant, though. Everyone’s far too happy and healthy. There’s a war going on after all."
    So, how do you plan to do this?
    Going all bleak and dark, without at least the morbid Monty Python style black humor would be a very strong break in the tone of the game, and your players might not enjoy it so much (after all, not everybody likes their "escapist fantasy gaming" to bring them into depressing territory).

    I think a good example of a very bleak setup is the first half of Deep Carbon Observatory... Inevitable deaths, darkness, futility. Very dark and evocative - but probably not the direction you want to go into?

    1. A lot of the tone shift comes down to the fact that I just can't help but put humor into any game I run. Usually this is from oddball tertiary NPCs, and comes from my love of Douglas Adams and old radio comedies. The running joke around my table is that I should not be allowed to run horror games (even though I've run a lot.)

      As for how to tone-shift now? I think the first thing is to just have some villages NOT BE THERE any more. The 30 Years war wiped several settlements right off the map. I think finding the abandoned ruins of some villages might raise the stakes a bit without making things too jarring.

    2. I ran a 30-years war era game once, and it featured a desolate village. Some of the encounters were
      - "A single house is still inhabited: a lonely middle-aged woman keeps her home perfectly clean and sets table for four persons each day. Her husband and sons are never coming home. Mistakes the players for her relatives."
      - "Merchant’s house, looted. A crudely executed portrait painting of the merchant’s wife is the only relatively valuable object left behind. Her eyes were cut out by the marauders."
      - "The well is clogged – with the bodies of the six village elders."

      My players... found it overly depressing... :) Despite many good ideas, it was one of my least successful sessions, because I overwhelmed my players with bleakness, and didn't shift the tone even when I understood that they are bummed out by the whole ordeal...

  3. (a) I generally have the same experience with any kind of "horror" gaming. We're less likely to experience "HP Lovecraft's nihilist visions of cosmic terror" and more likely to play "Abbott & Costello meet Chthulhu!"

    (b) Bea Arthur's too good for those crumb-bums!

    (c) The whole scenario with the goat was just wonderful. I was sort of hoping for a Scooby-Doo ending, but oh well. I can only hope that the Cult of the Speaking Goat becomes a recurring presence in the game world!

    1. The players were clearly debating whether or not to call out the farmer and his fraudulent goat. In the end, I they were amused enough by his chutzpah to let it slide. They "respected the hustle."