Saturday, March 21, 2015

The North is Burning - Session One


Background and game creation:

Brandon and I have been emailing back and forth for a few weeks trying to hammer out the details of our game world.  We both agreed that we wanted a more sword and sorcery, grimdark type of setting.  We both love the works of Joe Abercrombie as well, so we decided to pretty much rip him off.

The result is a world set up pretty much like his.  In the north, which we call the Freelands, we have a loose alliance of barbarian tribes with an Anglo-Saxon/Viking feel.  The region is known for its warriors and groups of mercenary companies, or "named men".  My character, Grimnar Voss, hails from this region and is a retired mercenary leader.  His group of named men is called Grimnar's Knot.  The Knot also includes his daughter, Toril, and someone who may or may not be his son, Kal Konnig.  Many years ago Grimnar left the Knot, leaving it in the hands of Kal, which angered Toril.  She thought she should lead the Knot after Grimnar's retirement, so she rage-quit the group as well.

Grimnar tried to retire, but came to realize that trouble would never let him rest.  He bears "The Father of Swords" which seems to be a beacon for trouble.  He fled ever north, trying to retire in peace and hide the sword from those who would have it.  He ended up in Hvalurvik, a tiny trading post far, far to the north, on the border of the great tundra, which is home to the Reindeer People.  Grimnar arrived in Hvalurvik just before the long winter, which makes passage by land or ship near impossible to Hvalurvik, so he felt himself safe.  For a year, the length of the great winter, Grimnar has dwelt in peace among the Reindeer People in Hvalurvik.

The Game:

The game begins as the long winter finally breaks.  The ice is beginning to melt which will allow for the arrival of Union ships to the trading village of Hvalurvik.  They will trade the luxuries of the South, like steel, cloth, spices, and spirits.  The Reindeer people will soon converge on Hvalurvik from all across the tundra, bringing whale oil, ivory, seal hides, scrimshaw, and all the bounties of the tundra.  It is a very busy and lucrative time for Hvalurvik and Grimnar is right in the middle of preparations, working side by side with the residents.  He finally is beginning to feel like he fits in, like he's found a home.

Grimnar is awakened one spring morning by a scream from down in the village.  Though it is spring, there is still ice and snow on the ground and the air is frigid.  Grimnar wraps himself in his goat-hair coat and straps the Father securely to his back and goes down into the village to investigate.

He finds that a man has been savagely mauled and left on the muddy ground in the village square.  His guts are torn out and he has been partially eaten.  Everyone fears a man-killing bear, but it's too early in the season yet for the bears to be active.  The immediate area reveals no tracks, so Grimnar searches the outskirts of the village.  He succeeds on a tracking roll (the only roll he'll make for the majority of the game, sadly) and finds a large print left clearly in the icy mud.  It's not a bear, that's for sure.  It looks more like a man's bare footprint, but far too large to be a normal man.  When Grimnar shows the print to the village elder and hunters, they immediately begin to whisper in fear about the Yeti, an old myth of the Reindeer People.

This situation  hits on Grimnar's belief about protecting the village and his instinct to never leave a loose end, so he gathers a group of hunters, armed with whale spears, and begins to track the Yeti.  A few hours outside the village, while travelling through some dense woods, the group is ambushed.  Grimnar fails an observation roll, so is caught off guard.  A successful steel test, however, lets him act quickly as javelins fly from the brush and cuts down some of the hunters.  Javelins?  This was a situation that Grimnar hadn't even considered.  He crashes through the brush to confront a hunter...from his own village!  Grimnar and the hunter attempt to gut each other with their spears, but the contest ends in a tie.  Grimnar drops his spear and moves in to grapple the hunter.  He fails his roll miserably and trips at the hunter's feet, allowing the hunter to scoop up a rock and bash Grimnar's head, knocking him unconscious.  Don't I feel stupid.

Grimnar awakens some hours later in a meadow, the moon is high and bright above him.  He is tied securely and staked to the ground.  He panics and begins to desperately thrash against the ropes when he realizes that the Father is nowhere near him.  After so many years bearing the sword he has developed a psychic connection with the mysterious blade and can feel its presence.  Grimnar fails a power roll, of course, and only partially frees himself when he sees a monstrous figure emerge from the woods.  It's a vaguely man-shaped creature with the arms and head of a great, white bear.  Its snout is smeared with blood and it charges across the meadow to attack Grimnar.  Grimnar fails a steel test and hesitates for 3 actions.
Things look dire for Grimnar, shocked into inaction by the horror of the bear-thing and still partially tied down, so Brandon offers me a hard bargain.  I can attempt to fight off the bear-thing and surely die, or I can activate one of my relationships, which will act like a successful circles test.  This only seems like a hard bargain because I really don't want to bring my relationships into the game this early, but what choice do I have?  I agree to have Grimnar's daughter, Toril, show up and save his bacon.
 So, here's how it played out:  Toril steps from the woods and fires several arrows at the charging bear-thing.  She doesn't hurt it, but surprises it enough to cause it to turn tail and flee back into the woods.  She frees Grimnar from his bonds and he thanks her for her intervention, though he is very surprised and a bit suspicious to see her.  The passage from the South to Hvalurvik is still closed off from ice, so it would have been very difficult for her to get here.  She winks and shrugs and tells Grimnar that they can talk about it later, but for now he should be grateful that she was able find him when she did.  Grimnar thanks her again and they hustle back to the site of the ambush.  The Father is, of course, not there.  The bodies of the hunters are still there, however, except for one.  One hunter in his original party remains unaccounted for.  Grimnar begins to smell a rat so he and Toril return to the village to confront the missing hunter.  They find him at his house, as if nothing happened.  Grimnar can sense the Father, so knows that the bastard has it.  The hunter pulls a knife, but Grimnar grabs his wrist and breaks it, causing him to drop the knife.  A failed intimidation check results in the hunter spitting in Grimnar's face, telling him that he has no idea what he's stumbled into and that it will only get worse for him.  He tells Grimnar that he might as well kill him because he will say no more.  Grimnar takes his advice and breaks the fellow's neck.  Only then does Grimnar realize that the hunter's wife and child are cowering in the corner of the room, watching.  Grimnar attempts to intimidate the wife, but fails again and the wife tells him nothing.  Grimnar threatens the child, but the wife realizes its a bluff and does not budge.  Grimnar and Toril toss the hut and find the Father hidden under a floorboard, but nothing else.  Frustrated, Grimnar stomps to the village square and shouts to wake the village.  Though it's late, the village wakes and gathers.  Grimnar sees several hunters who participated in the ambush and calls them out, accusing them of treachery.  They turn the table on Grimnar and accuse him of turning on the hunting party and butchering them.  Grimnar attempts to circle up some help from among the villagers, someone to have his back and support his argument.  He fails and finds his friends among the crowd refusing to even meet his eyes.  Without support, Grimnar fails an oratory roll and is cast out from the village.  In a fit of anger, he clears out his hut and then burns it down.  He built it with his own hands, he will not let anyone else have it!

Grimnar and Toril head for a cave that he knows about a few hours outside the village.  It's one that hunters use as shelter against the cold nights and he knows it is lightly stocked with supplies and already has a firepit and a store of wood.  Grimnar also fears that anyone in the village will know exactly where he is going and follow him there to finish him off.  He and Toril begin to prepare some traps at the cave mouth, but neither have any experience in this regard and so fail miserably.  As a result, Grimnar is surprised as the bear-thing charges out of the woods and attacks again.  This time a successful steel test allows Grimnar to meet the thing head-on, the Father flashing in the moonlight.

We enter Fight!, the first time for me.  I'm not exactly sure what I'm doing, so I sort of script blindly.  I envision the fight in my mind and script based on that.  One of my moves is Feint, which Brandon tells me is a very dangerous move, but as it turns out he had scripted a move that allows Feint to be very effective.  I win the fight and gut the bear-thing.  Blind luck prevails!

Grimnar gives up on his idea to build traps and so he and Toril set a large fire in the cave and move out into the woods to observe the cave mouth.  The ploy works as Grimnar observes six hunters sneak up on the cave.  Two hang back as four enter the cave, armed with spears.  Grimnar and Toril circle around behind the two stragglers and attempt to cut them down with their bows.  Toril strikes true and kills her target, but Grimnar misses.  The hunter flees into the cave, alerting his companions.  Grimnar attempts to bluff the group by telling them they are surrounded by the Knot, a group of named men and the best archers in the north.  It works and the group of hunters in the cave surrenders and comes out without their spears.  Toril puts an arrow into the cliff wall just above one of the hunter's heads to further convince them and Grimnar moves up to search them.  One of the hunters, however, pulls out a small, black globe and begins to chant something in a tortured language.  Grimnar attempts to cut the man's hand off with the Father, but misses.  The hunter completes his chant and a wave of blackness emerges from the globe.
Grimnar jumps back and is unaffected, but all the hunters fall to the ground and begin to thrash and scream.  Grimnar watches in horror as they begin to transform into animal-things!  He calls to Toril to help him and attempts to kill as many of them as he can before they complete their transformation.  He manages to kill all but one.  A creature with the head of an elk arises and attacks.
 We attempt Fight! again, but this time Grimnar's luck doesn't hold and the creature grabs him and bears him to the ground, choking the life out of him.  Toril stabs desperately at the creature and eventually gets it to release its grip on Grimnar.  Together they drive it away into the woods.  Grimnar thanks Toril for saving his life...yet again, and they attempt to track the creature.  No luck, however, as a failed tracking roll allows the creature to escape.

At this point, Grimnar realizes that they must flee the area.  Whatever is going on in the village is more than he can handle.  He and Toril flee north into the Tundra.  Grimnar successfully circles up a woman by the name of Ulu in one of the roving Reindeer people tribes that he has dealt with in the past.
 He knows that Ulu's tribe will be close because soon they will be heading toward Hvalurvik, so he and Toril travel by snow-shoe over the tundra to find Ulu's tribe.  They arrive after several days of hard travel and find refuge with Ulu's tribe.  They share their tale with the village shaman, who tells them that the black orbs are remnants of the evil spirit, Tarshish, who was supposedly banished from the land in the distant past.  These stones, they learn, can corrupt the heart and spirit of the weak-willed and cause them to do the spirit's bidding.  The shaman does not know how to combat the spirit, but does know that the great Seer in the ancient city of Tikerak can possibly share more information.  Tikerak is an ancient city where the tribes of Reindeer people meet each year to bring all the tribes together.  While the Meet is still several months away, the Seer lives in Tikerak year-round.

Grimnar is able to convince Ulu to take them to Tikerak, but has to trade his Great Bow to the tribe for the use of several sleds, pulled by the furry goats that are common among the tribes.

Together they set out on the long, overland trip to Tikerak....

Thus ends Session One.


The Father of Swords is dangerous.  It is a beacon for evil and greed and I must remain vigilant against those who would use it for their own ends.

I will find the Seer and gather information regarding the evil spirit, Tarshish.

I will see my companions safely to Tikerak and protect them from any harm.