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Krampus Adventure, Part II

Well, I wasn’t thrilled with how this adventure turned out, but I’ll give the rundown anyway.377px-Gruss_vom_Krampus

Between the last session and this one, I drew maps of Baron Tannenbaum’s keep– there were plenty of blank spaces, but they never really got addressed. I made a note about where the vault access was, since it was a detail the PCs already knew. I had detailed a number of cool dungeon details about the keep… which were never used. I had also made notes about what crimes the PCs needed to atone for. Of the three PCs, Alanna was going to be the easiest, since she’d only done two things seriously wrong. Mith was second, though he was the least repentant, in the end. And Clement the thief had 7 murders to atone for, in addition to the ruination of a noble family and at least one broken heart.

We started with the party being given rooms in the kids’ wing of the house, a collection of rooms for the children of noble guests and such. The idea was to have a kind of dormitory-style location they could return to, as well as a cast of kids they might recruit to help them.

They holed up in one of the rooms and discussed plans. Eventually, Alanna and Clement went down to dinner with the other kids– Mith stayed in the room. At dinner, Alanna made her move. She confessed to Clement about having turned him in, and she went up to the baron and asked to see him privately. Clement followed. In the kitchens, she confessed to the theft and returned the Medallion of Peace. The baron was overjoyed to have the medallion back, but took a lot of convincing that she, Clement, and the elf boy they were with had been the perpetrators. But, eventually, he was convinced and said that if they were who they claimed, he could not share bread with them. He banished them to their room.

They discuss and eventually go to bed. At midnight, Krampus visits the boys and plays another round of “tit for tat.” He even makes a few mistakes, asking them meaningless questions, which gives them a few freebies. Krampus hints to the boys that they need to make amends in order to not be taken “away.” It is very clear that “away” is somewhere awful.

Alanna, meanwhile, sleeps lightly and wakes when she feels a weight on her legs. It’s a box! A package wrapped in green paper! Inside is a green cloak, sized for a teenager. In the morning, her roommate, Shirley, is happy for her and says they should go outside to play. Alanna instead stays in her room, as do the boys. Around mid-morning, the governess comes through and is surprised that these children are still inside, when they should be out playing. Alanna says they’re being punished, but the governess doesn’t know anything about it. She accepts Alanna’s offer to help with chores. She’s also surprised to find the boys still in their room, but they eventually leave to go try and figure shit out. Alanna joins them, mainly to keep them out of trouble.

The party goes downstairs to try and talk to Baron Tannenbaum. They get lost on the way (Santa’s elves playing tricks on them), and Alanna catches sight of a diminutive, creepy-eyed elf (similar to Elf on the Shelf). The kids eventually find the baron’s office, but it’s locked. Alanna wanders off, ending up in the great hall, alone. On the Yule tree hangs the Medallion of Peace. As Alanna watches, an Elf steals it and runs away. Alanna runs after it, but stops when it darts outside.

Clement sees the livery of the Head Jaoler and starts to have a breakdown. He picks the office lock, hearing what sounds like a “lock fairy” that may have been holding it shut (this is actually one of Santa’s Elves, trying to keep him on the naughty list… breaking & entering is naughty). Clement and Mith go into the office and leave a not and the magical lantern that Mith stole last year. While there, Mith can’t resist stealing a gold pen. This is why these guys are on the Naughty list, by the way. Not because of what they did, but because they can’t stop doing it!

Through all this, the children periodically run into Johanna, the nice older woman who brought them here (secretly the Snow Witch, who also transformed them into children.) She emphasizes repeatedly that the Baron is probably just upset with them if they have somehow breached his hospitality. I’m trying to instill in them the fact that Johanna considers hospitality to be super-important, but most of the players missed it.

Eventually, Alanna is outside, near the sledding hill, being encouraged by Shirley to come sledding. She has none of it– won’t play, just stands there in the snow. A boy hits her with a snowball. She ignores it. He hits her again. Ignore. He hits Shirley.

He is immediately tackled by Clement, who has circled around. Clement and two boys get into a fistfight, there in the snow. Their fight is broken up by the kennelmaster, who orders them to come work off their energy by cleaning the kennels. Clement defiantly says “NO!” and the kennelmaster cuffs him. Then apologizes, because the kennelmaster isn’t normally a bully who hits children (Clement’s Bracers of Strife, which he is still wearing, have made a move).

Eventually, Clement is resigned and goes to the kennels. Finally someone is going to pick up one of the clues! Clement discovers that the kennels house reindeer– reindeer which have names like Donner and Vixen. He’s a little excited, but also full of dread as he realizes with dawning horror… We stole from Santa Claus!

The Baron is not Santa Claus. The Baron is more like… an aide to Santa Claus.

Another evening passes, and Krampus shows up. At one point, he even says “Even if I could turn you into children, why would I ever turn you back, since I would have no power over you?” I was thinking this would prompt a follow-up of “Wait– did you transform us into kids?” But it never came! I was wracking my brain trying to figure out how to tell them: Krampus didn’t transform them into children! It was the Snow Witch/yeti/Johanna!

Late that night, they catch Baron Tannenbaum as he’s walking around the halls. He takes them to the kitchen for a midnight snack and talks to them honestly. They confess everything. He shares a plate of cookies with Clement. At this point, the Baron has knowingly shared food with Clement. The bonds of hospitality are formed. Clement is free of the Snow Witch’s curse, but he doesn’t transform immediately into an adult. A snowstorm is raging outside, but the baron tells the PCs that they can borrow whatever they need if it will help them make amends for their past crimes. At one point, Clement says that the cookies are like magic, and the baron looks at him frankly and says “no, I’m pretty sure that’s just the fruitcake.”

Clement bundles up some food, including magical fruitcake, and they head out. The reindeer look like regular reindeer, but one of them comes over to Clement and practically knocks him down for the delicious fruitcake. As Clement is bitching about the greedy animal (and also kind of morose because tomorrow night, he’s going to hell), the other two PCs see that the reindeer is floating a few inches off the ground. Alanna tries to speak to them with her druidic knowledge, and I decide these guys need as much help as they can get– she’s able to talk to the animals to a limited degree, and they agree to help. The PCs go back and get more fruitcake, borrow three reindeer, and hurry back to the main city, where they try to make amends.

Mith goes back to the son of the guy he had Clement kill for the lantern and gives him the trophy/locket that the guy was wearing, explains all. He doesn’t apologize, just repeats “I did this thing… have I made amends yet? So… do you forgive me, or what?” The son at first doesn’t believe him, then takes the locket and angrily yells at Mith to get out of there before he calls the guard.

Clement, meanwhile, has been trying to figure out how to get himself arrested and in jail for the past day and a half. The resistance at the kennels was to try to end up in jail, but the keep doesn’t really have one. He turns himself in, has things confiscated, including the Bracers of Strife, and is chilling in a jail cell, hopeful that, at the very least, he will be in jail instead of hell tomorrow night.

Alanna keeps an eye on the reindeer through all this– she wants to make sure they make it home safely. Of all the PCs, Alanna is the only one no longer in jail. If she’d had cookies with the baron, she’d already be an adult.

At this point, out of character, I turn to Brian and ask him whether he wants Clement to wake up as a boy in the keep tomorrow, or as an adult in jail. Either is an option at this point in the story. Clement has shared bread with the baron, so he can now be returned to adult form– but that puts him in jail, after all. Or, I can say that a plate of cookies doesn’t count “enough” and he’ll stay a child until they sit down to a meal. Brian chooses to be a child at the keep. I’m not sure he realized I meant he would still be Clement….

Written into this story, I have the beds the kids sleep in as basically beds of returning. No matter where you are, in the morning you awake safe and snug in your bed. Clement wakes up in his bed at the keep and mutters “I’m in hell. This is hell….” before getting up.

They spend the day playing in the snow. After all, this is Yule, it may be their last day before Krampus takes them away. The future is uncertain, etc. They sled. They throw snowballs. Life is surreal, but good.

The children are all invited to eat at the high table with Baron Tannenbaum. As they do so, they feel their clothes shrinking! They are transformed at the table into their adult forms! There are presents under the tree for each of them– Mith gets a mundane lantern. Clement gets a magical mirror– to everyone else, it functions as normal, but for Clement, it shows him as a 14 year old boy. Alanna gets a magical doll with curly blond hair (similar to Shirley) who comes alive at night.

The party levels up to 3rd and I give them XP for the session to start them towards 4th. They rewrite some bonds– Clement is now beholden to Alanna.

Post-Mortem:

The first half of this adventure is somewhat linear, but the second half was supposed to be more freeform. What I discovered was that the players were so resistant to action after the first half, I needed to pry them out of their rooms with a crowbar. It was odd and frustrating for me as a GM. There was a lot of good inter-party roleplaying, which was great. But in terms of actually solving their problems, I couldn’t get them to move. I’m not sure what would have helped– in Dungeon World, the GM makes moves when the players look to her for what happens next. I tried to make dungeon moves (the elves, the jaoler’s livery– reminds you of something guilty, etc) to engage them, but they mostly wanted to stay in their rooms and not go anywhere. Even when Alanna chased the elf to the door, she wouldn’t go outside! I was frustrated, and I’m sure that played a part in my own poor performance.

This week, we’re playtesting a DW adventure I wrote called I Give You My Heart, which I’m running on Valentine’s Day at Strategicon.  I’m using the Gumshoe structure for crafting the story, and adding a mechanic in DW for using investigation skills to get the core clues.

Goodbyes and Greetings

Journal entry from Lt. Gwenn Jade of the Harriers

I put Firiel in command of the operation to find Gale, luring him out with a supposed grain shipment he and his bandits might strike. We’d figured out that the completely non-violent bandits in the area were probably just feeding themselves. I put the estimate at about a hundred of them, if they’re not mounted, fewer if they are, given how much they’re raiding and how much they take.

The telling clue was that Lord David Numaire’s silos were never hit. Gale is, apparently, not the brightest.

Taking command, Firiel put Ordune to the task of raising grain and Tristram and Emilien to finding a cart and potential buyers. Since Ordune didn’t seem to want my help with the harvesting, I accompanied Firiel.

Later, she told me that her first mistake was rushing into the house. I would say her first mistake was taking me with her. Firiel works best without a gallumping warlord in her wake. We’re lucky the Emilien and Ordune can move with subtlety, but she was doing me, not her mission, a kindness in bringing me with her. She’d learned of a possible contact, Amelia, who might know something of the bandits. This was, absolutely, bad information, but that can’t be faulted. Firiel thought it was reliable.

Had she been alone, I imagine she would have been fine. She would have scouted the house. She might have broken in. She might have set a warning to “Amelia” when the woman returned to the house.

Instead, we approached in full day, knocked on the door, and asked after the woman. A gruff dwarf told us to sod off, that no such person lived there. Very well– we skulked about a bit until Firiel overheard them saying that they just wanted to “get him and get out of here.” We didn’t know who “he” might be, but we thought Amelia might be heading for a trap.

Oh, we are fools. Fools led by fools.

I offered to bust down the door, and Firiel reluctantly agreed. The fight was short and brutal, and I only remember a small portion of it, because I spent a good amount of time shaking the ringing out of my ears and, eventually, staring intently at the backs of my eyelids. Firiel tells me I’m lucky to be alive– she didn’t expect Amelia to return and stabilize me when she did. Apparently, Amelia planned to question me when I woke up.

We were put into a cell in the cellar with a gentleman who, as I dozed in and out of consciousness, I realized was none other than Lord Numaire himself. His reunion with Firiel wasn’t terribly warm– for all she speaks so highly of him, I guess they were not that close. I found him personable enough, though. He reminded me quite a bit of Felicia, and told Firiel that a couple of weeks ago, a supposed grain shipment from the Regency had been hit by the bandits… but that the shipment may have contained contraband magic items instead of food.

Firiel, for her part, made a good run at the door every half hour or so, but wasn’t having much luck. I stayed down. Honestly, it felt good not to have to make decisions or talk to anyone for a while. And I didn’t want to interrupt her reunion with Lord Numaire.

When we heard combat upstairs, I tried to hide my smile. It felt like we’d been down there for several hours. Eventually, we heard the cellar door break as one of Amelia’s men discovered it barred, and broke out. He returned shortly, reporting that someone had attacked the men upstairs.

It was at this point that Firiel summoned all her strength and broke the door down. She and Amelia faced off, but I tried to call her off– whatever was going on, I really didn’t want to lose a second fight. When Amelia revealed she was there from the church of Erathis, I tried to bluff Amelia into believing we were sent by the church Inquisition, but she would have none of it.

Of course, all the chit-chat stopped when Tristram, Ordune, and Emilien came through the cellar door! We moved out from the cell, Firiel fighting an invoker ally of Amelia’s, while Tris, Ordune, Emilien, and I focused on the others. I admit, I was shaky on my feet, but I helped my friends the best I could and skirted around to get my bow from where they’d stashed it.

Thank all the gods they were only interested in disarming us, not thieving our jewelry. I’m not sure which I’d miss more right now– my family’s ring, or Marco’s bracelet.

We defeated Amelia’s allies and took her prisoner, learning that she is no less than a bishop– Bishop Amelia Perren. When we questioned her, she defiantly ordered us to just kill her. Oh, I was sorely tempted to do exactly that. I don’t know even now why I didn’t, except…. we know they can’t all be Zacahary’s puppets, right?

I spared her, to talk, to try to instill some doubt in her about what her church leaders were doing. I showed her my diary pages, written immediately after we met Vecna, in hopes that their words might convince her.

“This doesn’t help your case, you know,” she said, but she sounded doubtful.

I didn’t care, as long as it made her ask questions, made her wonder what exactly her leaders were doing. Unfortunately, she picked up that we care about bandits in this area, and that the Fentons are “involved.” I hate that I implicated Felicia. Hopefully, I can get word to her network quickly so she can move to protect herself.

In the end, Amelia agreed to look into our accusations, and we agreed to tie her up in the cellar and leave her there. The invoker, she said, was one of Zachary’s, and we should kill him. Ordune was about to do it, but I stayed his hand until Amelia was in the cell. Mercy tempers Justice– until five minutes before, he had been her companion and ally. Even if one of them betrayed me, it would break my heart to see one of them murdered before my own eyes.

We left for the Numaire estate, and made arrangements for David to take Fermina and Dorian to Masir before he might go on a mercantile excursion in the southern lands. I said my goodbyes to Fermina and Dorian, but this time, I had no letter to send further south to Sava.

Mechanics Talk: Last week, Gwenn and Firiel did a bust-down-the-door confrontation with 3 halberd-wielding dudes and a dwarven defender and got our asses handed to us, though not before Firiel took 2 of them down. Gwenn was felled by threatening reach, a feature which I personally despise as a player. In 4th edition D&D, an adjacent opponent can make an attack of opportunity when you do something that provokes it, such as making a ranged attack or moving without shifting. With threatening reach, an enemy can make that attack from its reach position. The reason I hate this effect is that it locks down PC movement, and it’s an effect that PCs can never, ever get unless they play a very specific adventure and acquire a specific magic item, which they specifically are trained to use. In other words: never.

We went into a fight where we were overpowered because we literally had less than half our force with us. Had we had 1 more PC in the group, we might have succeeded. Had I rolled better, we might have escaped, but you should never rely on a warlord (especially Gwenn!) to hit. Had we called for a retreat or surrendered after the second round, when it was clear we were outmatched, Gwenn probably wouldn’t have dropped.

As a DM, I’ve used threatening reach specifically to lock down overly-mobile parties (like ours) and ones who rely too heavily on ranged attacks (like ours), to teach the players a lesson in being more tactically flexible. I cannot fault Steve for using threatening reach opponents in this fight. Sure, I don’t like it, but that doesn’t mean it was unfair (except in the sense that threatening reach in 4e is inherently unfair).

The second session was almost entirely role-play from Gwenn’s point of view, so I’m leaving out what Ordune, Emilien, Tristram, and Dorian did while Gwenn and Firiel stewed in the cellar. The guys effected a rescue mission by busting down the door and defeating the halberd-wielders there, questioning them (a bit brutally), then going upstairs to face off against a zealot and an invoker named Hendrick. The fight in the cellar (which had been locked by Ordune using a vine rope druid trick) was quickly handled, in part because we had all 5 Harriers together, and 4 of us focused fire on Amelia while Firiel took out the invoker more or less on her own.

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