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.
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.