What Do I Know About My Campaign? Tales of the Old Margreve Campaign Journal #7

I know it’s been a while, but we had a playtest Friday and a convention weekend intervening with our Tales of the Old Margreve game, so it’s been a while since I had time to take a breather and write up our summary of last session, where we played through The Vengeful Heart. I was really interested to see how this session went, given some of the broader connections and implications in the storyline.
If you want to catch up on previous campaign journals for this game, you can find them at these links:

Campaign Journal #1
Campaign Journal #2
Campaign Journal #3
Campaign Journal #4
Campaign Journal #5
Campaign Journal #6

Prep Time

There wasn’t much extra-ordinary to prep time for this session. Most of what I did was to print out some individual pages for my monsters to cut down on page flipping. Most of our NPC cast has been generally stable, although I noted a few changes that will come up in the downtime section. The biggest note I had to myself going into this is that we needed to resolve the issue with the Graymark family since Gahl is related to them.
I also created a list of downtime activities on one sheet and laminated them for each member of the group, so we had less flipping through books to reference them, and I added a few options from the Acquisitions Incorporated book. I really like the Team Building Exercise downtime in that book.

Downtime

We started with the party explaining to Gahl and the representative of the Graymark family that they had neither successfully negotiated for the magical honey, nor returned with the magic ring they were given to offer as payment. The family representative told Gahl that his assets in Zobeck would be frozen if he couldn’t make good on the contract.
Gahl and Scarlett headed to Zobeck and got their contact Hugo to set up some meetings with some Collegium members to find a substitute ring. Scarlett hated the big city, but in the end, they picked up a new ring, and Gahl managed to “negotiate” his way out of trouble with the family.
Gahl also set up a rumor in town about the proper veneration of the bearfolk as “nature spirits,” so the natives started leaving specialized offerings at a new bear-shaped Wood Ward that they constructed outside of where they are staying.
Elsee and Obiah moved to Levoca and were perplexed by the people’s veneration of them as nature spirits. Elsee is a bit more comfortable with humans than the others and is mystified at the relationship that has developed. Gurralt helped to set her up on a new home with his downtime.
Isobel used her herbalism training from the local nature priest to churn out a lot of healing potions to distribute to the group, and Hrothgardt spent time in religious observation (I used a version of the original DMG religious downtime that allowed Hrothgardt to spend downtime to regain Hero Points instead of days of inspiration).

The Vengeful Heart

To start the next adventure, instead of using the prebuilt hooks, I decided to use Baba Migori and Lyla to hook the PCs into the adventure. Since the girl’s dreams had already been introduced as having a supernatural quality, she dreamed of the road to the village of Incot being covered in blood, and Baba Migori wanted to let them know, since the community is relatively close to Levoca.
It didn’t take much to get the party to take that hook, and they set off. They arrived at night in the town and did some investigation. They found lots of dead adults, no children, and people that only had a small puncture wound to indicate why they were dead. They also found the two sets of tracks leading out of town.

Full Speed Ahead

After finding adult and child-sized tracks in both directions, they set off after the children first. I had a LOT of fun playing up that there was something wrong with Chairo, the oldest of the children, and I used Baba Yaga’s dentures to deliver a message to Scarlett–grandmother wants to study this child, bring her with you. Chairo had been possessed with the Heart of the Forest and was attempting to get revenge for an affront committed within its borders.
The group alternated between saying things that were terrifying from the children’s point of view by being too blunt about the situation and the dangers of the forest and trying hard to comfort them. Then when everyone would settle down, I would have the oldest girl say something unsettling again.
The shadow fey that the group did not follow attempted to sneak up on the party and did a horrible job of it. Isobel has a backstory that involves her being from the Shadow Realm, and she has a bad history with the shadow fey, so instead of talking she tackled. It looked like the encounter was going to devolve into lots of blood, but everyone backed down, and the shadow fey let the PCs know that they had lost many of their own against the blood mage, and that the blood mage killed his own companions with magic to heal himself and survive the fight.

Tactical Response

The Shadow Fey delivered the warning of what the blood mage could do, if they didn’t infer it from the discussion with the children and the state of the previous village. For anyone that wants to know details, and doesn’t mind spoilers, the blood mage had put “blood marks” on people in the village and could cause them to drop dead to boost himself. He moved to a new village and started to do the same thing, and he plans to tell anyone that confronts him that he needs them to gather a plant for him, keeping everyone he has a blood mark on hostage.
The group, on the other hand, decided the blood mage was too dangerous to leave alive. When they reached the next town, they found someone that could direct them to the blood mage, and when the blood mage made his offer, they decided to risk trying to “out roll” him for initiative. Their reasoning was that even if he left this village, even if he killed everyone he had marked, if they did this job and let him go, he would do all of this again.
Scarlett got initiative on the blood mage, and cast hold person, which he failed. This enabled the group to rush the blood mage and kill him before he could call in his blood marks. I also determined that his guards were hired mercenaries, not members of the Sanguine Path, so they quietly lost themselves in the crowd when the blood mage went down so quickly. It cut out the whole section of the adventure where they would wander into the forest and try to gather the plant that the blood mage wanted for his research.
Earlier in the adventure, because the PCs have already had multiple owlbear shenanigans happen to them, I allowed them to just see the tracks and avoid that encounter. Now that they avoided the owlbear, and gambled on rushing the blood mage, it caused the adventure to run short, but ultimately, that worked out fine.

Moral Delima

Because of the message from the dentures, Scarlett tried to talk the girl acting as the Heart of the Forest to come back to Levoca with her, so she could eventually introduce her to Baba Yaga. The rest of the party did not like the idea of separating her from her sister, or the family she had in Wheedon, the next down over from Incot, and where the final confrontation took place.
Scarlett was at least partially upfront with the group about wanting to train the girl, and they countered with how potentially dangerous Baba Yaga is. Scarlett pointed out that she had a strange time learning magic from her, but that Baba Yaga also saved her from the undead that killed her family.
In the end, Scarlett convinced the Chairo’s sister and her aunt to move with her to Levoca, and the group decided that the girl should choose her own path regarding any potential magical abilities she has. Isobel, being especially protective of children, is very wary of Baba Yaga’s plans, and Gurralt is interested in seeing if the girl might not be more interested in natural magic rather than arcane magic.

Mistakes Were Made

The explanation for the blood mage’s tactics in the adventure is that he pays people in town for their blood, which is how he initiates the blood marks on them. I decided to make him a bit more overtly predatory by having him pose as a doctor selling false cures to people in town and exploiting them. I was only thinking of casting the blood mage in a negative light. However, one of my players made a very important observation that I wish I would have thought through before making the change that I did.
My player pointed out, rightly, that the scenario could be read as an anti-vax theme, with a doctor selling a “cure” that involved syringes that left people more vulnerable than they were before he visited and did them more harm than good. That really hit me hard, and I wish I would have thought about what I might have been unintentionally saying with this adventure.
To clarify, get your damn vaccines so you don’t end up spreading a disease that will end up killing vulnerable people. Blood mages suck and have nothing to do with vaccines.

Takeaways

·         It’s nice to have an established stable of NPCs to draw from
·         Sometimes if the pacing feels right, it’s fine to let an adventure end early
·         Look for ways to tie the PCs choices into the elements of the published adventure
·         Think through your changes, and be aware of the subtext of your adventures

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