Monday, February 6, 2012

October Country Playtest

With my “to do” list of projects growing shorter, I had time this weekend to return to the October Country, picking up the game where we last left it some months ago. At that session, the PCs headed out to the Crow Tree Asylum in search of agents of The Silence, a cabal dedicated to keeping knowledge in the hands of those privileged enough to afford it. There, in the crumbling brick hallway of the madhouse’s surviving wing, they encountered a pair of humans and several Gell hired thugs engaging in a thaumaturgical rite around Crow Tree’s surviving shock-treatment chair. Too late to stop the rite, the party found themselves in a desperate battle with a writhing madness. One of the PCs fell victim to a laughter enchantment cast by their opponents, while another went near catatonic by the writhing madness’ touch. A third was incapacitated by his wounds, leaving the party’s magician to flee from the asylum before he too could be wounded or driven mad. That’s where Sunday’s game picked up.

The magician fled back to the rickety dock at the base of the hill upon which the gutted asylum stood. He leaped onto the hired skiff the party employed to take them to the archaic madhouse, yelling at their boatman, Te Mouse, to row the hell out of there. As they departed the dock, the shrill howls of madness echoed down the hill, growing louder by the minute.

Despite his best efforts, it was clear that Te Mouse could not row fast enough to escape the creature of Nightmare coming down the hill. In desperation, the boatman edged the craft into the high weeds and witches’ beard moss that lined the shore. There, with the magician’s help, they camouflaged the skiff as best they could and waited for the inevitable. Gazing over the gunwales of the boat, the two watched as the madness reached the dock and then drifted over the river, making a serpentine journey up the river towards the City of Midnight. The spirit took no notice of the hidden boat and soon disappeared around a bend in the river. With that puissant foe gone, an attempt to rescue the rest of the party was considered, and Te Mouse knew just where they could get some reinforcements…

Back inside the asylum, the three remaining PCs awoke to find themselves hog-tied and placed in the mildewed and dilapidated cells that once held the mad. From the hallway outside, they heard a gruff human voice talking with a rumbling, crude one that spoke an unfamiliar tongue. They deduced that the asylum was being abandoned and that they were being entrusted into the not-so-delicate care of the Gell, possible to be sold into slavery or simply drowned in the backwaters of the swamp. Things looked grim.

Meanwhile, Te Mouse rowed the boat to a small hunting camp located along one of the myriad bayas that threaded their way through the Snakewater. There, he introduced the party’s magician to his “dree brudders: Claude, Maurice, and Skeeter.” The trio, always spoiling for a fight, was willing to assist in the rescue for a bottle of liquor each and happily climbed aboard the skiff. Prior to departing, the party wizard performed a divination of future events and saw an image of his three compatriots bound and helpless in the bow of a flat-bottomed swamp boat poled by a pair of Gell. It looked like his friends were soon going to be transported from the asylum and with this as an impellent, the rescue party labored hard at the oars to take them back the way they came.

Inside the asylum, the three captive were roughly forced to their feet and duck-marched outside and down towards a creek winding its way past the asylum’s western edge. There, the Gell uncovered a secreted swamp boat and herded the captives onto it. Loading the boat with provisions and captured gear, the Gell shoved off into the twilight, they conveyance lit by a pair of burning brands in the stern of the boat.

At the juncture of the creek and the river, the rescue party saw the Gell’s torches heading towards them and scrambled out of the boat to lay an ambuscade. As the hulking brutes’ skiff drew closer, the three swamp hunters and the magician struck, firing crossbow bolts at the Gell’s arbalester and leaping up out of the water to strike with knife and club. A pitched battle erupted, but the Gell’s armor fended off the worst of the blows. In desperation, the party’s magician leaped over the creek and landed behind the Gell poling the boat. Before it could react, it was knocked unconscious by blackjack and tumbled into the tea-colored water. With the odds now greatly against it, the remaining Gell was swiftly dispatched and the captives freed.

The swamp brothers departed, loaded down with the Gell’s arms and armor, as well as a sizeable portion of the coinage found in the boat. They left on good terms with the PCs and may someday again cross their paths should the krewe ever venture into the bayas of the Snakewater. Te Mouse was willing to wait awhile longer before returning back to the City of Midnight, allowing the PCs to explore the asylum. Unfortunately, night had fallen and, lacking any means of illumination, they were only able to discern that the asylum was indeed abandoned and that the shock treatment chair was unnaturally cold to the touch. With one of their number acquainted with Nightmarish Lore, they deduced that this coldness was the result of the seat being used as a conduit into the Nightmare, drawing forth the writhing madness to serve the Silence’s malevolent designs. The party climbed back into Te Mouse’s boat and returned to Midnight some hours later.

Arriving back in the city, they discovered the nocturnal metropolis alive with festivities and commerce. The party decided to spend some of their hard-earned coin, visiting a hardware store, a disreputable outdoorsman’s shop, and a tannery, acquiring equipment, armor, and illicit armaments they expect will come in handy on future expeditions. Aside from being shadowed by a trio of Midnight’s criminal element, who decided against engaging in banditry on the party, their shopping trip was uneventful. After a brief supper bought from one of the city’s roving vendors, the band returned to their erstwhile employer’s book shop in the warehouse district.

They arrived to find the shop a burned ruin, its timbers and ashes still smoking in the cool night. From a pair of homeless lushes, the party learned that the shop was set alight not many hours ago, seemingly by its owner, who howled that the books were stealing his thoughts before committing arson and perishing in the fire. A trip to the local fire station confirmed this and they learned the city militia had confiscated the shop owner’s body for the duration of the investigation. Their efforts to view the body came to naught at the militia post, and so they rented accommodations at a neighborhood flophouse before deciding their next course of action.

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