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  1. I just finished running my adventurers through "Gloomwillow's Hollow" and some of its supplementary material about the Woods of the Dead, from The Pegasus Plateau. I hope this writeup of how I played the adventure may be useful to other gamemasters. I also hope that some of the ridiculous things my players get up to may be amusing. Keep in mind that this thread will be spoiler-filled for that adventure, and potentially for other content from TPP. It may also contain some spoilers from the meta-plot of the Hero Wars and other Gloranthan miscellany. Be warned! The adventurers are: Tatanka Bloodstain, a Praxian nomad who is famous for his spectacular heroism fighting alongside the Death Lord Grungnak to avenge the Fattened Trollkin Feud against the Leadgut clan, where he earned his epithet. (Read: crit his Battle roll.) Originally a herder from the Witco clan of the Bison tribe, he's almost accidentally a war hero. He's accompanied by Trundle, a bison with a Waha spirit bound within, who talks. Trundle's catchphrase? "Hello!" Hercules the Fifth, a merchant from Sartar who traveled to New Pavis with his uncle Gil Luckstone—a friend of Argrath's who became Chief Priest of Issaries some seasons after the White Bull conquered the city. Hercules descends from a family line which names the firstborn male Hercules, and he almost always dies in pursuit of sex (Herc's dad died to a succubus, if I remember his backstory correctly). Played by @GeminniRed, who co-GMs the campaign with me. Alexander Bernard is a Humakti warrior, at one point indebted to Hercules for saving his life, although they've squared that debt since he still travels with Herc & Co. He's way older than any Humakti has any right to be (over 40!), and relieves stress through "training" new initiates to Humakt. Drops Dice is a very, very special trollkin. Dumb as a rock (or perhaps more dumb), but so magically talented that he's managed to, through adventuring, even change castes from Food to Value. Also helps that no one he hangs out with is trying to eat him (which is obviously the definition of what caste you are, right?). His name comes from the player trying to name himself "Tak" by just dropping the dice on the table, but "Drops Dice" stuck instead. He's unabashedly my favorite adventurer. Kali Stormwalker is my adventurer, a Sartarite shaman-in-training who worships Odayla, with a lil Orlanth on the side. He despises ducks, and is accompanied by an umbroli godling named Appa. Thrizzian is a newer member of the group. A newtling worshiper of the Trickster, he joined the crew when he drugged out on hazia, got snared by a giant spirit-spider-monster, and dragged away to the dungeon the adventurers were exploring (The Spire of Iron & Crystal for Pathfinder from Frog God Games, which I adapted as a God Learner ruin—excellent fun!). He's stuck around since because they're good fun and did save his life, after all. Reginald is also a new member, who they picked up on a recent trip to Esrolia looking for information about the heroquest they're going to attempt this coming Sacred Time. He's a merchant, albeit yet another Eurmal initiate—he acts under the guise of Issaries, and has a sacred pact with the Earth as well. (Why. Why do my players keep wanting to play tricksters.) The group was mostly brought together by their loyalty to Argrath White Bull, although they've grown personally close over the course of travels and adventures. They're used often as his running boys—go do this, go do that, take this letter all the way to flippin' Nochet, and so on. For a long while, Hercules was the unofficial leader of the group, but of late he's had a falling-out with Argrath over the use of draconic powers, and just recently Tatanka was officially declared an emissary of Argrath, and gifted a white bison-pelt cloak to mark this. The adventurers are definitely skilled, but none of them are a Rune Master or shaman yet. Most of them have a good bit of Rune magic, and their full CHA of spirit magic. There's a number of magic items, and everyone except Thrizzie and Reggie have, I believe, optimized armor for the ENC they can carry. So in general, I'd rate them a pretty dangerous bunch. In particular, Hercules & Alexander are a hair's breadth away from becoming Rune Masters of their cults, and Kali's going to appeal to his teacher to take the shaman trials on the route home during this journey (provided the party doesn't mind taking a slight detour). I offered the call to adventure in the context of one of these long journeys. The adventurers were sent, by Argrath, to cross Prax and visit Queen Leika of the Colymar, to ask her to join him on Argrath's march against Alda-Chur in the following spring. They left Pavis at the end of autumn in 1626. I moved most of the non-Woods of the Dead action of the adventure to the town of Herongreen, since it sits right on the Pavis Road. While in a tavern there—acting as travelers, not emissaries, due to the Lunar presence—they were approached by Harasandra and asked to look in the Woods of the Dead for some missing children, since they appeared largely armed and competent. They agreed, and formulated a plan of action. The adventurers traveled to Day's Hope, both for Humakt's holy day at the temple there, and to get more information from the locals about the Woods. They traveled around the woods, and I ran the brief first encounter with the mossbacks ("The Second Probe"). While they did stay at the Highwall Inn midway to Alone, they didn't get into trouble there because, well... heavily armed & dangerous. On each of their visits to the inn I had them roll some Perception skills to see if they heard or saw anything especially suspicious, but they never succeeded. I decided Jafoska & Baran would probably prefer to avoid risking it with these adventurers, seeking easier prey instead. Their visits to Alone and Day's Hope were largely uneventful. They stayed at Geo's Alone Inn, and I explained the concept of Geo's to them, since the players hadn't encountered one before (though I'm sure their adventurers had). At Day's Hope they gathered a bit more information about the missing children, the Woods, and the mossbacks, and prepared themselves at the Humakt temple, leaving spare baggage, supplies, and mounts behind. Trundle came along because he's a person, not a skittish dumb animal, but the rest stayed. Throughout, the players regularly expected the final enemies to be undead, despite the mention of mossbacks taking kids, stories of Gloomwillow, and the fact that they were going to Gloomwillow's Hollow. I told the players that routes within the Woods are weird, and change, and that a map can't really be drawn. I found the map in the book to be nearly useless for actually running this adventure, especially since it doesn't have a scale, and it doesn't even show where the Highwall Inn is on the Dusk Road. I annotated that myself, and gave a section of the map to the adventurers more for the sake of visualization than for information. The players learned from the Humakti of Day's Hope that if they could find a deep, narrow creek (Thin's Creek) and follow it downstream, they'd find a swampy area, and that Gloomwillow's Hollow could usually be found nearby. They also got a repeated, explicit warning not to go anywhere near Black Rock, because otherwise my players would go treasure-hunting like the little gremlins they are. Sometimes you need "Certain Death Lies Here" written in red paint. Next, I ran the "Ambush!" encounter, pretty much as written, somewhere in the Woods. The adventurers handled this easily for the most part. Tatanka took an impale to the abdomen, and a second hit, but overall lived, and the general combat wasn't dangerous except for the python hypnotism. I ruled that the pythons and dragonflies buggered off once hit, since they're basically just animals, but the mossbacks tried to fight to the death. One lived, and was captured by the adventurers. They could barely communicate with it, but figured out that it was named Croak (or something similar), and could get it to lead them to its home. It agreed to do so because it assumed Gloomwillow would capture and kill the adventurers. The adventurers also learned exactly how dangerous Trundle is in melee; they haven't been able to take him with in a lot of combat situations, since the combat-heavy moments have typically been dungeons involving stairs and tight places and, y'know. Bison. One of the challenges I had with running the mossbacks was determining how many javelins they carried. I decided three felt reasonable, one in each hand, and one tied to them. From the image they're clearly primitive creatures, but they aren't fit for melee combat in the slightest, and I tried to run them mostly as skirmishers, moving to melee as a last option. They also lost lots of limbs to the adventurers. Croak led the adventurers to Thin's Creek, and they followed it downstream to the Miasma Marsh, where they found a crucified corpse. The next session I played them traveling through the marsh haunted by the evil ducks (accompanied by very badly punning rhymes), but this didn't end up being as weirdly-creepy as I had hoped it would. I think that playing this over Discord, instead of in person, impacted the experience somewhat. Eventually they got surrounded by the ducks while on a low rise surrounded by water--both shallow & deep--but the ducks were driven away when Drops Dice summoned a veredthi and began drowning them. Veredthi are freaking huge for their Rune point cost. The rest of the ducks fled because Cowardly, and the adventurers made it the rest of the way through the Marsh. I think the cannibal ducks could have been really dangerous--attacking from underwater and dragging the adventurers down, etc.--but they just didn't have the chance to be properly scary. They fired darts several times, but none of them were strong enough to pierce armor. One of the ducks did catch and kill Croak, but this didn't shake the adventurers much, even when his head was tossed at them. I tried using this to highlight potential dangers of the Marsh, but the ducks just never got close enough to really be impactful. The adventurers eventually climbed out of the Marsh, and saw the dead tree towering over the forest. I had the adventurers encounter "Visions Most Foul" but didn't emphasize the struggle to push through, since there wasn't a significant consequence of failure. They approached, and found the hidden entrance into the bottom of the tree. Which they called a "Skyrim entrance", i.e. the back door convenient exit omnipresent in that game's dungeons, and were generally amused/frustrated that it existed. They considered entry from the top, but chose not to because they couldn't blitzkrieg with the whole party. They wanted to fly, and didn't consider climbing up an option. They did notice there might be guards at the broken branch-bridge main entry, which was why they searched the area first. They descended the tunnels, and got into an extended fight with some mossbacks. Alexander pretty much waded through gore, though Hercules took a few hits to his leg when he tried chasing down a mossback which fled to the next room. I found the map and related text a bit difficult to play. The map's biggest difficulty is that I found it hard to determine what rooms connected to where, since it's a 3D map drawn in cutaway style, and isn't very large. I isolated the image with Acrobat and copied it, then blew it up as its own image file, and that helped me see where everything was. Another difficulty I had was that the map is numbered, but the descriptions aren't. I would have found it easier to bounce back and forth if their numbers corresponded. Finally, I found it frustrating that a number of the total mossbacks present, or at Gloomwillow's command through the Woods, wasn't noted. I ended up guesstimating a dozen to twenty in the tree at any given time from the text. The party couldn't avoid letting some mossbacks flee. Hercules summoned a Spell Traded umbroli as a missiles-shield (which also killed a pair of charging mossbacks), but couldn't control it, so the party was stuck behind an indoor tornado for 15 minutes. They climbed most of the tree without incident; all of the mossbacks, except those guarding the kids, went up to guard Gloomwillow. I ended up not using her ability to cast through the mossbacks because it felt immensely unfair given her spells available (which I'll get to later). They avoided side passages, and continued to travel straight upstairs. While plundering Gloomwillow's rooms--particularly the library, which I wish would have a better description of what's in there, and what those works might be worth--they heard a scream up in the top of the tree, and ran up to see Gloomwillow kill the kid. Ten mossbacks stood between them. Alexander cast Flight (Spell Traded from Herc, who had it as an associate spell from Orlanth) and flew over the mossbacks to engage Gloomwillow. Gloomwillow's opening move was to cast Absorption 6, and basically make herself immune to magic. I narrated this with her covering herself in an inky black shadow, which radiated power. I also used narration to emphasize how dangerous Gloomwillow is, in addition to explicitly warning the players out-of-character that the boss of this adventure is nasty. And she is fucking dangerous. At POW 32, with 32 Rune points, and access to Sever Spirit, she can auto-kill pretty much any adventurer, whenever she wants. Even a Rune Lord only has an 05% chance to resist POW v POW. One of my frustrations with Gloomwillow's writeup was also that she doesn't have defensive abilities noted--namely Dodge, so I gave her DEX×3, 60%, but easily could have been higher--and that it doesn't say whether she can discorporate like a normal dryad. I ruled she couldn't, since she has no spirit magic, and her connection to nature is basically gone; but this does make the scripted part of the battle where she "flies" into the branches of the tree feel strange. We never got to that part of the fight because Alexander was up in her grill the entire time. She threw a Sever Spirit at Alexander. He rolled a Devotion (Humakt) Passion to augment his resistance roll, and crit. He still failed his resistance roll, and chose to use a hero point to avoid death. (This is a house rule we've used for years, which ideally gets weaned off as the adventurers grow stronger. For doing big, dangerous things, you can earn hero points, which are basically a "get out of jail free" card to avoid a blow. They're useful for encouraging the players to take on impossible situations, and give them a chance to win beyond lucking a divine intervention.) When he tried proving he was the true wielder of death (as Humakt), though, her Absorption ate Alexander's Sever Spirit. They assumed it was Countermagic, and another adventurer (I believe Drops Dice, but don't remember who) threw a spell to try taking down the effect while Alexander kept swinging his sword at her. He resisted three more Sever Spirits with his Devotion augment (bringing the roll up to 55%). Meanwhile, the rest of the adventurers were engaged with the mossbacks. Tatanka, Hercules, and Kali were engaged three-to-one and broadly successful at this. Each was taking chip damage, especially Tatanka, who's pretty conservative with his Rune magic. Kali's armor plus an Extended Shield 2 left him nigh-invulnerable without a special or crit against the mossbacks, while Hercules wielded a Spell Traded Sword Trance to lethal effect. Thrizzian entered melee as well, and acquitted himself admirably for a new adventurer, with repeated successful dodges, and I believe two kills. Drops Dice repeatedly fired bolgs into the melee with Gloomwillow, and it was actually the trollkin that got the kill on the evil dryad. She withered to dust at Alexander's feet after he lopped off one of her arms. He dealt the most consistent damage against her, because she didn't have a defense against ranged physical damage. She tried Create Shadow to escape, but Drops Dice, well, has Darksense. After her death, the fall of the tree wasn't as climatic as I had anticipated. It was mostly mitigated by the fact that Herc dropped the Sword Trance and flew, Alexander was already flying, and Kali called on Appa to fly himself and Thrizzian (who failed his Rune magic roll to Become Crane) off. Tatanka immediately bolted for the stairs, and took the written damage being tossed around inside as the tree came down, but ultimately wasn't significantly harmed. Reggie's player wasn't there (if I'm remembering right--throughout this adventure lasted ~4 three-hour sessions, I believe, and we only had everyone present for I think one of them, so my memory's a wee bit spotty) but he also had an out in the form of Hallucinate to fly away on a magic carpet—one of that player's favorite tricks since our RQ3+ game a few years before RQG came out. Once the tree was down, I ruled that the remaining mossbacks had either fled or died. Overall the adventurers did kill over half of them in that melee. They were easy opponents for my adventurers. I chose not to have Gloomwillow cast through them because she could just nail a player from a kilometer away, they would have basically no chance of resisting, and no way to actually catch her. The mossbacks as written can hide in trees, run around, and avoid the adventurers, while Gloomwillow uses them to cast and kill everyone. This didn't seem fun to me, so I didn't do it. I did, however, plan to have her cast Berserk on Croak when they got close, and I did consider having her use some of her less dangerous spells to mess with the adventurers. The adventurers searched the tree and found the rest of the children. I explicitly told the players that they survived because of how they were imprisoned in the tight cages, whereas the mossbacks in that room were tossed around and killed. This isn't stated in the text, but seems to me the only reason why the children aren't killed by the tree's fall. It was dusk, and the adventurers stayed the night at the ruin of Gloomwillow's hollow, outside. Their rations and water had gone bad by then, and they and the kids were both hungry and thirsty. They had enough magic points to fix up the children's minor injuries from the treefall & confinement. After most of the crew went to sleep, Drops Dice and Reggie went into the tree. Drops Dice discorporated, and began searching for a Darkness spirit to put in his empty POW Storing crystal, which has been a player goal for some time. He's recently joined the Sunset Society, a shaman cult dedicated to Darkness spirits, in addition to his worship of Zola Fel (where he's also walking a shaman path; we're still figuring out how the two will intersect and interact). He failed his Spirit Travel roll to find a spirit, and was drawn down, down to the roots of the fallen dead tree, which still extended into the earth. There he found a large black pool of energy, quiescent. I told him its POW was massively larger than his, and that he felt a strong malevolent presence connected with the Darkness, Plant, and Death Runes. So he remembers to cast Spirit Block before poking it. I decided while playing this encounter that, if something went wrong, Drops Dice would find Gloomwillow's spirit which isn't dead, but just dormant, returned to the Spirit World. And very upset that he woke her (I'm still not sure if she knows he landed the final blow, or if she just blames Alexander). She grabs him, and they do a round of spirit combat. She clobbers him even through the Spirit Block, and he pleads for mercy. She demands an offering, and he offers up the soul of Beleros (the Lunar spirit in "The Rattling Wind", which the adventurers kept bound), and then also promises to bring her more food. She eats Beleros, and demands a sign of their pact. I tell the player to offer up to four points of POW (which would be the POW necessary to make a pact with a POW 32 spirit--although he's not a shaman, so it'd be more an "appropriate full offering" than a "you now have a pacted spirit"). He offers three, so she lets him go, and I decided he gained a Rune point in the Sunset Society for his offering, and his pluck. Now he has two bindings to fill with ghosts... Later during the night, the Hunt of Wailing Ghosts encountered the adventurers and children. They ignored the children a) because I wasn't sure if I wanted to deal with the children supernaturally aging, and b) because the hunt is made up mostly of Brangbane's slain wives, and I figured it'd be a plausible touch if they overlooked uninitiated youths. The party tried multiple rolls to ward them off, and a majority failed, so ultimately I decided they attacked. I had the adventurers make the described characteristic rolls to resist the aging effect, and then each adventurer was engaged with one of the ghosts in spirit combat. Once one ghost was defeated for each adventurer, they were driven off. I think every adventurer except Reggie aged either one or two three-year increments on that first attack; he was particularly lucky, not particularly high-statted. However, he was defeated in spirit combat. I ruled that the wailing ghost possessed him, and he had to do another round of characteristic tests. I also ruled that he would have to do them once per week so long as he was possessed, as the effect of covert possession (although Kali discorporated and handled it without much trouble--he has a Spirit Armor enchantment which often lets him manhandle ghosts). I rolled randomly for the spells stolen by the adventurers who defeated spirits in spirit combat. Notably, Tatanka and Kali both rolled Sleep, and learned this rare spell (which I'm sure will be relevant in later adventures...). The adventurers used mixed strategies of spirit combat and other tactics to defeat the spirits. Although Alexander got Befuddled, Herc grabbed his enchanted iron sword to fight off the ghosts successfully. (It's a relic he found in a ruin in the Big Rubble, and it makes many ghost combats pretty trivial.) In the morning, the adventurers were pretty beleaguered. They tried going south-west to cut as close to Herongreen as possible, but ended up going northwest (failed Survival roll to determine direction in the Woods). Mysteriously, the Miasma Marsh had disappeared, even though it was nearby and easy to see from the rise of the Hollow yesterday. As the adventurers wandered, they stumbled across "The Corridor", and continued walking down it. There they encountered the Silver Rider, which I ruled was a spirit which can take the form of a Unicorn. It ignored the adventurers, but healed the children of their hunger and thirst, then led the way out of the Woods. This was both because I figured we should be done with the adventure, and continue on the adventurers' journey, and because a final encounter with a benevolent spirit felt right after all the horrors of the Woods. Despite the minimal danger of some of the encounters (like the Wailing Ghosts and the mossbacks), the raw quantity of stuff I ran them through made this a harrowing adventure, I think. I rewarded the adventurers with ~35L of gifts apiece from the townsfolk, which is close to the written amount (and WAY too little for dealing with Gloomwillow!), even though they didn't ask for reward before going into the Woods. In addition, Alexander has become known as Gloomkiller (to Drops Dice's protestations), and all the adventurers have earned a good bit of Reputation from their success. Despite an ongoing famine (due to Kallyr's failed Lightbringer's Quest), the Lunars running the town were willing to gift the adventurers supplies to replace those destroyed in the Wood. The adventurers still weren't forthcoming about their journey's purpose--instead, they claimed they were sent by Gil to check up on his friend Gringle Goodsale in Apple Lane. I tried to frame the Lunars here as good guys. They returned to Alone & Herongreen recently, bringing food, providing support to the northern region of Sartar. They were genuinely grateful to the adventurers, and cheerful around them. One of them was a local youth who signed up to see the world, then got stuck in his home town. Humanizing the enemy (because the party is SUPER anti-Lunar--but they were part of an offensive defeated by the Crimson Bat, after all...). The adventurers left after about two weeks in the area, to continue their journey in Jonstown, where the signs of hunger and fear grow stronger yet...
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