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A Red & Pleasant Land, Part 0: The Story Thus Far...

How it started

My current RPG group was born a couple years back when I invited my fellow DevOps-nerd coworkers to play D&D with me. Most had never played a tabletop RPG before. I hadn't played or run a game since college. I had recently started diving down the rabbit hole of original, 1974 OD&D. Reading through the Little Brown Books, digging through old message board discussions, drawing up dungeon levels, checking out retroclones (Delving Deeper being the one I finally settled on.)

Thus was born our group's first campaign, The Ship on the Grass Sea.

Here's us at that first game. So young, so few props on the table...

But this post will not be about that campaign or about OD&D. This post is about our current campaign. A journey through Voivodja, the Land of Unreason, from A Red & Pleasant Land by Zak S.

Originally, I ran the campaign using Torchbearer rules. We had played a couple Mouse Guard one-shots that the group enjoyed. I was wanting a campaign that emphasized the scarceness of resources, the importance of light, and the impending danger of traveling the dark places of the world. Torchbearer seemed to promise those things. I plan to write more about how well it delivered later. (Spoiler: The campaign now uses Into the Odd as the foundation.)

The player characters

  • Zeera Hargen - Human Magician, master of the stab-them-with-my-knife spell
  • Wazi Ash - Human Warrior, He who has been mysteriously absent since the first session
  • Gor Orben - Human Amazon, "She is Gor"
  • Porphylia Van Vorn - Human Magician, wearer of the shiny pants
  • Korgen Whitewheel - Human Cleric of Tittivilla, Horned Goddess of All Flesh
  • Jazmine Vorvenveist - Human Witch, She who has been mysteriously absent since the second session
  • Orv Gaster - Human Alistair, wearer of the checkered pants
  • Taybull Legg - Human Alistair, keeper of the buzzy boy
  • Wolfram Veta - Human Cleric of Vorn, Grim Gaunt God of Iron, Rust and Rain
  • Jhovan the Wanderer - Human Alistair, seeker of cake recipes
Where's all the demihumans? In the monster manual where they belong. I have opinions -- who doesn't in RPGs?

The story

It all started with their backs literally against the wall. A mysterious client had hired Dita The Clean, Gor's mentor and renowed art thief / artist vandal, to steal a painting from a home in a wealthy neighborhood of Vornheim. The painting was wholly unremarkable -- a bit of controversial art of a naked woman bound in chains in the middle of a lounge -- but the home was anything but. 

Turned out to be the home of Eshrigel, one of the twelve medusa sisters that claims to have created the world. Nobody knows the truth of that, but the Vornheim underground knows that Eshrigel's friendly, cosmopolitan manner hides the heart of a hedonistic schemer and murderer. Dita became incapacitated on the way into the house -- her arm grabbed and held fast by the magic doorknob at the entrance. And her crew (the PCs) found themselves cornered at the end of the upstairs hallway by Eshrigel's "pet".

And there's where we began.

Summary of events since

  • Players escaped to the water closet at the end of the hall, encountered a mysterious white rabbit that proceeded to jump down the toilet hole, the players quickly followed (one of them may have been thrown down).
  • Toilet hole led into a mysterious cave, cave led to stairs, stairs led up to a forest clearing in the middle of Voivodja, the Land of Unreason.
  • In the clearing, the players found the white rabbit and were approached by a Club knight of the House of Hearts, Wolfgang the Shrike. Some brigand has stolen the Queen's shoe and will you help find it?
  • Zeera answered the call with his signature magic spell: stabbing the white rabbit to death with his knife. Players tried to kill Wolfgang as well, but he turned into a shrike and flew away. He accidentally dropped a letter -- an official writ of challenge to duel -- addressed to Lolla Mesmer, a Diamond of the House of Hearts. She had been "revealing their secret plans".
  • PCs wandered around the woods, encountered an old man searching for his hidden village, got captured by more Clubs, delivered to Castle Cachtice and an audience with the Queen of Hearts.
  • Interrogated by the Queen, the PCs claimed they were messengers in the service of Wolfgang, handing over the writ of duel as proof. They were released and invited to play in the following night's croquet match.
  • The old man was served for dinner.
  • During the croquet match, PCs found Lolla Mesmer, negotiated to help her win the duel with Wolfgang if she would help them escape the House of Hearts. But there was a problem: Lolla's next croquet hoop had gone missing. She couldn't help until the game was done -- the Queen would take her head if she abandoned the game. Lolla, the PCs, and an escort set off on a "hoop hunt".
  • The hunting party travelled to the nearby "Watch Towers", rumored to be an excellent place to find things lost and hidden. Party encountered a few troubles: mongoose-headed and snake-headed footmen arguing over what it means to "guard a door", Up and Down having a disagreement that caused the top of the tower to be on the bottom of the tower, blood pool full of little crocodiles on the ceiling, and a knight in search of his lost pocket watch.
  • Players also fought a gallery of art critic birds and recovered scraps of what appeared to be the painting they were originally hired to steal.
  • While helping the knight, the party found an entire closet full of pocket watches. One of the watches had the ability to stop time for any creatures it touches. The party later discovered the price of that power. In a cage in a hidden anti-chapel they found a woman, Svetlana, who was rapidly and painfully aged every time the pocket watch was used.
  • The players used the watch to rewind time for her (turning her back to a 16 year old girl) and freed her and a goat that was also kept in the room.
  • The goat was named Little Reggie and quickly became the mascot of the party -- Reggie's Raiders.
  • PCs got to the Top/Bottom of the tower, found a large golden telescope. The telescope automatically swiveled and zoomed to show nearby lost/hidden things: smoke rising from a forest to the west and the lost croquet hoop in a garden to the south.
  • On the way out of the tower, the PCs encountered a spy from another vampire house, Zeera stabbed him, they found a cooking pot full of mushrooms, ate them, were shrunk to the size of mice, invented hang gliders, and used them to travel to the southern garden. They brought the shrunken Svetlana and Reggie with them, but left their vampire escort behind.
  • Landing masterfully right next to the hoop, the PCs met a duck, Fat Balto. Balto was running for Official Fly Catcher of Spyre, a nearby town of animals. Balto agreed to help the PCs transport the hoop if they would help him win his re-election.
  • Upon arriving in town, the PCs immediately betrayed Fat Balto. They secretly persuaded the crowd to support his opponent, Arvick the hedgehog, and his platform of allowing the Red King to wash over their village in a plague of death, fire, and blood. Balto (and his platform of allowing the Queen of Hearts to wash over their village in a plague of death, fire, blood, and cakes) lost re-election and sunk into a deep depression.
  • PCs picked up some odd jobs around town. Tried to recover a lost egg for a sloth, helped a crybaby peacock murder his rival, and agreed to transport an umbrella to a thornchild in the croquet grounds of Castle Cachtice.
  • Along the way they met a talking horse who told Korgen he was spelling his name incorrectly and a mute vampire selling honey. They traded blood for honey and found that drinking the honey returned them to normal size. Taybull Legg made friends with Velgo the Buzzy Boy, a bee who dreams of meeting a queen.
  • Upon returning to Spyre, the players found that the Queen of Hearts had arrived to complete her final croquet shot. Hanging from her waist was the head of Lolla Mesmer, executed for delay of game. The Queen was furious, word having reached her that one of the PCs was responsible for the death of the White Rabbit, her loyal messenger.
  • The PCs framed Fat Balto for the murder of the White Rabbit. The Queen's knights started a pogrom of Spyre, burning the village to the ground.
  • With few options for escape, the PCs traveled back to Castle Cachtice with the Queen and her escort. They were made official guests of the Queen and invited to a dinner feast to celebrate her croquet victory.
  • While waiting for the start of the feast, the players formulated a plan to put on a dramatic re-enactment of the Queen's croquet victory, hoping to keep themselves in her good graces. Korgen accidentally insulted the Knave of Hearts and was challenged to a duel at the conclusion of dinner.
  • The whole dinner feast got really weird (from a story and gameplay perspective). Result was basically: players learned that Voivodjan Black Puddings are edible, the re-enactment failed to entertain the Queen, Korgen won his duel against the Knave with no fatalities, Jhovan was arrested for cheating in a duel and tied to the Grotesque But Infallible Deer for a couple weeks, Gor delivered the umbrella to the thornchild and was taught the secret wrestling technique "The People's Orchid".

Where we are now

And that's as far as we come in this campaign using the Torchbearer rules. The PCs are now under the patronage of the House of Hearts. The Queen has decided that their ability to travel in daylight and over running water makes them more useful as scouts than as meals. For now. In fact, there is a tower far to the east that she would like them to visit. One of her Diamonds had been using it for arcane experiments with the stars, but no reports have come in quite some time. Has the Red King launched an attack?

A little older, quite a few more props...

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