The Witchfinders – Story arc conclusion

After a few hours of careful planning, the party finally enters the dungeon beneath the Baron’s castle. They explore about a dozen rooms and corridors, come across venom-spitting, snake-men, mind-controlling snake-men, and crablike skittering horrors. Hilariousness ensues when they need to wash some venom out of a blinded party member’s eyes, and after giving their character sheets the once over, they realize no one is carrying a waterskin. Not a drop of fresh water anywhere. Someone asks “Um, so what if I just spit in your eye.”

Everyone cracks up. Other alternatives to fresh water or spitting are proposed, and somehow this degenerates into Jim asking his wife (who came home at around this time) “If someone has snake-venom in their eyes, and we’d need to wash it out by peeing into her eye, would it be possible for her to contract syphilis?”

In hindsight, not a high point of comedy. But it was funny for a few minutes.

After a short break we got back to the business of serious role-playing.

During the previous session I had struggled a bit coming up with meaningful (e.g. not stupid) things for the NPC’s to say. So this time I had actually taken a few minutes to write down a few lines of dialogue, most of which I ripped off from a movie running on the telly at the same time. This dialogue was intended for the main villainess of the piece, and contained a lot of exposition on different unresolved issues in the campaign so far.

I needn’t have worried. About a couple of sentences of diatribe, the party goes “Screw this, lets just kill her and be over with it!”

The party is soon overwhelmed. One goes down, then another. A third party member decides to leg it with his henchman. One more goes down, at which point the main villain’s right hand man gets cocky, tries to take the last remaining player character alive, and gets a mace to the face.

To make a long story short, the PC gets mind controlled, and is sent on an errand. She runs across the party member who ran away earlier, who pretty much immediately notices something’s awry, and knocks the mind controlled PC unconscious. He then loads her up in a wheelbarrow with all of the loot, and makes for the open road. Witchingham be damned!

As it is extremely unlikely, that the party will ever be in the position to ever get to hear the villainess’ complete monologue, here it is reproduced in its entirety.

”Greetings, brave souls. Have you come to receive my blessings? No? Very well, then. What do you seek? Treasure? There is plenty here, free for the taking. Please, you have my permission. I have no need for it. After all, you deserve a reward for all that you have done. You freed me from captivity, and proceeded to systematically rid me of my enemies. I am deeply grateful. That fool of a baron Rupert, his halfwit son Christpher, that blowhard Godfrey, and the rest of those poor, misled wretches. Many thanks to you.”

”Oh, you wouldn’t by any chance know the whereabouts of that whore Genevieve? She and I still have a bone to pick. You wouldn’t be hiding her by any chance? Bring her to me, and I shall see to it that you are rewarded for that as well.”

”Do you know what I am? I am as close to a god as you people will ever witness in the flesh. I have been here since time immemorial. I was here when the Romans held sway. Such a wonderful people, the Romans. They knew how to indulge in the ways of the flesh. So unlike your own god nailed to a wooden cross, who locked up his brides in convents. Did they really enjoy themselves, hm? Poor little virgins masturbating in the dark. Then they repent for their sins indulging in flagellation until they wept tears of blood. Captive virgin whores of an impotent god.”

And yes, that dialogue rips off Ken Russell’s film adaptation of Bram Stoker’s The Lair of the White Worm, a great film, which every fan of campy horror should be familiar with. Not convinced yet? Then have a look at this screenshot from a scene where nuns are raped by Roman soldiers while a blue skinned heathen snake priestess oversees, and a huge, white worm is taking a bite out of the arm of some guy nailed to a cross.

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The Witchfinders – The Story So Far

The Witchfinders campaign has now been running for about five game sessions. Out of the five original players three have lost their original characters, and have since made new ones. Jim’s Witchfinder Killbody got an axe to the head in the first game session, Mattias’ fighting-man Blackjack Davy was killed in a roadside ambush, and Corentin’s French midget was captured by the Baron’s guards, and hung the next day. The replacements are a Witchfinder called Pennycock, a drifter and sell-sword going by the name of Average Dan (and sometimes by the name of Spectacular Dan; a specialist), and Lancelot, a gallant swashbuckler. The scotsman McIre, and the zealot Pearl are the only ones remaining of the original party. We’ve also gotten a new player, a role-playing first-timer, who made a Magic-User. As fitting the tone of the game, the first-timer also got his first taste of character death, when his scholar got a pistol shot to the head near the end of the gaming session.

At this point I think it is safe to say that the campaign has been successful. It has been well received by the players, the rules work like a charm, the setting is intriguing, and some of the house rules, for instance the firearms rules we are using are working out fine, and add to the feel of the game rather than detracting from it.

Among other house rules I’ve employed is a modified (from the LotFP rules, that is) initiative, where every group, instead of every participant in a combat situation rolls for initiative, and the dexterity modifier acts as an individual tie-breaker. This means that if the party wins initiative, all of the party can act before any of the opposing party can act. It also means that Pearl the dexterous Specialist always acts before Pennycock the clumsy Witchfinder. I rather like this system myself, since I always felt that the calling out of numbers from six to one took away from the feel and description of battles. This way everyone knows when their turn is coming, and since they know when the enemy is going, they can actually coordinate the group’s activities, so that it feels more like these people know and trust each other, and can think out combat tactics on the fly.

The campaign started out with the party staying at a roadside, only to discover that the innkeeper, and his friends were murderous, cannibalistic thugs, who worshipped some kind of demon idol. The Witchfinder Killbody met his end at the inn, receiving a skull-cleaving blow to the head from an axe wielded by a homicidal maniac.

Coming to the town Witchingham, the party immediately decided, that the local baron is most likely somehow involved in all this demon-worshiping, witchcraft, cannibalism, and whatnot. Further investigations involved rumours of witches, ghosts, snake-oil salesmen, strange folk in dark robes, flying things with bat-like wings, fallen angels, cursed monks, disappearances, so on and so forth. There were so many rumours to investigate, that for the most part the players couldn’t make heads or tails of how to fit all of the pieces together.

By the third session the party had decided, that there were most likely a cult at work here, and the roots of the cult lay either with the monks worshipping the fallen angel a few decades back, or with the baron’s dusky-skinned West-Indian wife. This all got turned topsy-turvy, when during a brawl with the Baron’s guards, the guard captain Alistair seemingly lost control, flashed snakelike eyes, and spit poison in the eyes of a party member. After a brief scuffle, the majority of the party found themselves behind lock and key in the Baron’s dungeon.

Finding an escape rout from the dungeon in the form of a secret passage, the party came across something monstrous living in the sewer system beneath the Baron’s keep. The barely manage to escape with their lives. The party seeks refuge in the town, only to come across more horror and evidence of depravity. At the end of the game session they decide to retreat into the woods, where the Baron’s son (supposedly a nitwit) has taken refuge with a small group of men loyal to himself.

The next session sees the group make plans on ridding the barony of Witchingham of the evil that has infested both the village, and the keep. The party decides on a two-pronged attack, where the Baron’s son Christopher leads his men into the keep through a secret passage, and occupies the guards, while the player characters go in through the sewer entrance discovered earlier. The two attacking forces will meet up “in the middle”, and go from there.

The plan seems sound, but still almost manages to get derailed, when the player characters come across a third party making byways into the keep. This third party is evidently linked to the men encountered at the inn (game session one), and it seems they also have some kind of grudge against the poor Baron (at this time suspected by the players dead or incarcerated by his own men)

Furious room to room fighting breaks out in several parts of the keep. The fighting culminates in the throne room, where the last of the Baron’s men, and the third attacking force meet grizzly ends at ends of the swords of Christopher’s men and player characters. In the aftermath, Christopher turns coat, and tries to kill the party, almost succeeding in killing off Pearl. Christopher flees into the dungeon beneath the castle, where he hides out while the pursuing player characters come across inhuman robed things, scuttling crablike monstrosities, and devilish traps. Christopher is finally caught trying to sneak out the back way. He fires a shot with his pistol, that ends the life of yet another player character, but is cornered by the Witchfinder Pennycock. Pennycock goes down fighting, and for a moment it looks like Christopher is going to make his escape, when a tentacled monstrosity reaches out of a hidden pool, grabs Christopher and rips him in pieces.

The party decides this beastie is too much to tackle in one go, and retreat to lick their wounds.

Next game this Sunday.

The Witchfinders – First Session notes

Just a few quick notes from today’s game session.

The characters created were:

  • Blackjack Davy (Fighter) – A mercenary sort, just in it for the money (and the free booze, and the occasional wench)
  • Hubert McIre (Specialist) – A Scotsman, and thus the butt of many a joke
  • Pearl (Specialist) – The daughter of a Witch, now a fanatical Witchfinder
  • Judge Killbody (Cleric) – An unscrupulous Witchfinder, whose career proved short
  • Theodule (Halfling) – A homicidal French midget with even fewer scruples
  • Marmaduke Pennycock (Cleric) – Poor Judge Killbody’s replacement

    The players’ notes (what I can make of them anyway):

  • Father Wilfred – The local pastor at Witchingham
  • Vicar Bertte – (I have no idea who this guy is)
  • Rupert, The Baron of Witchingham – The local Baron, a sickly old man, and a re-married widow
  • Christopher – The Baron’s son, a dimwit
  • Genevieve – The Baron’s mulatto wife from the West-Indies
  • Penny – A woman rescued from devil-worshiping cannibals
  • Doctor Godfrey – By all accounts a quack, and most likely linked to the above-mentioned cannibals
  • Captain Alistair – The Baron’s Guard Captain, who is rumored to be in relations with the Baron’s missis
  • Innkeeper R..? – (Another name I made up on the fly, and have now forgotten)
  • Something Wife-Witch – Possibly relates to rumors about the Baron’s wife
  • Theodore the Monk Accursed Something Something – Who’s ghost is rumored to haunt the Castle

    Rumors:

  • People have disappeared mysteriously.
  • Black-cloaked strangers roam the countryside.
  • The Baron’s wife is a witch.
  • A few decades ago, an angel fell down from the heavens at the side of the Baron’s castle.
  • Winged fiends have been spotted at night.
  • A snake-oil salesman was through these parts some time ago.
  • Those who bought the miracle medicine are the same who’ve since disappeared.
  • The Baron’s keep is build on a monastery, that was abandoned when the monks fell into devil-worship and debauchery.
  • The Guard Captain is in secret liaisons with the Baron’s wife.
  • The Baron’s son Christopher is a dimwit.

    Confirmed facts:

  • People have disappeared. They’ve possibly been kidnapped.
  • The Innkeeper of the Black Rooster wayside inn is not the same man, who until recently ran the inn.
  • The men at the Black Rooster were cannibals who murdered travelers staying at the inn. They worshipped a demon idol. One of the men matches the description of the snake-oil salesman.
  • One of the kidnapped women was held at the Black Rooster.
  • There is a secret passage which leads from the Black Rooster to a demon shrine.
  • The shrine at the Baron’s Keep has seen only little use, possibly only one regular visitor.
  • The Baron keeps a local man prisoner at the keep. The man is most likely innocent of witch-craft. He is, however, a drunk, and a blasphemer.
  • The Baron’s son Christopher is a dimwit.

    The game session had swashbuckling action, vile cannibal cultists, secret passages, demon idols, rumors of witches, kidnappings, ghosts, and winged devils (among other things), and the skull of a player character cleft in twain by a heinous villain. More on the actual goings on later. Stay tuned.

  • The Witchfinders – Character Classes

    The demi-human classes have already been discussed in a previous post, so this post will deal with the remaining four classes.

    The Cleric

    The Cleric in this setting is typically, (and not too surprisingly) a Witchfinder, e.g. a man of the cloth who’s purpose in life is to seek out and destroy witches, warlocks, demons, vampires, etc. The Van Helsing type characters of old Hammer movies make for excellent clerics. Of course, a cleric might also be a more traditional priest or monk, if the player so desires.

    The Fighter

    The Fighter is pretty much what it is in other settings, e.g. someone proficient in fighting and warfare. What might be of importance in this setting is a fighter’s allegiance, that is, on who’s side is he or has he been fighting, and does he still hold some allegiances to one of the parties of the civil war.

    The Magic-User

    The big question mark in a campaign seemingly geared towards hunting witches to extinction would obviously be the Magic-User class. The Magic-User taps the raw forces of chaos, harnessing the building blocks of the universe. Thus, as per the LotFP rules, all Magic-Users are of Chaotic alignment. The method of harnessing, however, differs from individual Magic-User to other. There are those who seek out otherwordly beings, and perhaps even worships them. These would be the classical devil-worshiping witches and warlocks. There are those who commune with forces other than the Christian god, and find power in places, objects, and creatures both mundane and otherwordly. There are the scientists and doctors who meddle with alchemy, and sciences most people today would consider ludicrous.

    Any of these types of Magic-Users risk the wrath of superstitious mobs or zealous Witchfinders, and so they are forced to practise their respective crafts in secret, behind closed doors, or far away from population centers.

    Needless to say, a zealous Witchfinder, and a Magic-User who openly flaunts his talent in the same player character party is an ignited powder-keg waiting to explode, and probably best avoided altogether. The same goes for the Elf.

    The Specialist

    The Specialist can be pretty much anything. The class is customizable enough to emulate any kind of, well, specialist, be it a thief, a grave robber, a scout, a spy, an assassin, a scribe, an interpreter, a wilderness guide, or what have you. The Specialist is what the player makes of him.

    The Witchfinders – Setting

    England, the autumn of 1645.

    The country has been at civil war for the past three years. The warring parties are the Parliamentarians (Roundheads), and the Royalists (Cavaliers). The specifics of the battles and the politics involved aren’t that important, but if you want to know more, click here.

    England has also been involved in Continental Europe, where war has raged for the better part of three decades. More about that here. However, since the start of the ongoing conflict between King Charles I and Parliament, England has pretty much withdrawn from the European theatres of war.

    Suffice to say, most English fighting-men are likely to have had their fair share of wars, both against the French, and on domestic soil.

    Religion is a big deal in this era’s England. Even though the root of the civil war is basically political (e.g. about the power of the King versus that of Parliament), one of the underlying themes was religion. The Church of England was still a relatively new institution, and many of Parliamentarians were protestant fundamentalist, who were mightily offended by the King marrying a Catholic foreigner. The rise of the puritan ethos would eventually lead to the establishment of a puritan England, and the nigh total abolishment of Catholicism.

    One of the side-effects of this religious conflict was the renewal of witch-hunts across the country; Warfare, and the resulting poverty, famine, and disease were fertile ground for fundamentalist religious ideas. The Devil and his witches were easy to placate as scape-goats, as were pretty much any who were not of similar, puritan ilk (Catholics, Jews, foreigners, university students and professors, what have you). The Witchfinders of this era ranged from the pious and the devout clergy, to the more profane magistrates and judges. One also needs to bear in mind, that since the existence of Witchcraft, Devil-Worship, Demonology, etc. were a well-known fact, and not just superstition, Witchcraft was a matter of secular, not religious law. And of course (man being man), there were among the Witchfinders those, that had no interest whatsoever in saving the Souls of Men and Battling the Forces of Evil, as much as pure personal gain, money, and power. More on early modern era witch-hunts here.

    It is possible to create a character, who isn’t human. However, the elves, dwarves, and halflings of this setting aren’t your usual fantasy staples. Also, they are much rarer than in most other fantasy settings. Here are some ideas about incorporating demi-humans into the setting:

  • Dwarves are a race of humans. They are degenerate hill-folk, possibly of pictish stock, who live in the northernmost parts of the country. These “dwarves” are shorter than your average anglo-saxon, but not dwarf-short. Rather they average at around 5′, have swarthy skin, heavy brows, sloping heads, thick limbs, bow-legs, and are covered in coarse, black hair. Beard is common, but not universal. These people are commonly referred to as picts, hill-folk, or hill-men.
  • Halflings are also humans, albeit not an ethnicity as much as humans suffering from one of several medical disorders, that cause dwarfism. Halflings in this setting are commonly referred to as midgets.
  • Elves are essentially humans, who have been touched by the wyrd. They might have the blood of something supernatural coursing through their veins, or they might have been raised someplace, where the chaotic energies of the wyld places have been particularly strong. People who might be called “gifted”, or who’d be described as “elfin”, “fey-like”, or “waif-like” are common examples of the elves of this setting. True elves, e.g. the faerie are much too alien to be player characters. Elves are commonly targeted for witch-hunts, so one might be advised not to flaunt their magical knacks or otherwordly nature openly, especially not in the presence of pious witch-finders.
  • I’m planning on setting the starting point of the campaign somewhere in Norfolk. It is a large, and rather sparsely populated county in the east of England, commonly considered a rural backwater populated by simple country bumpkins. Even today, there is a (possibly allegorical) saying among the medical professionals in England: Normal for Norfolk. It is a derogatory term describing someone of low intellect or mental deficiency.

    When reading these posts one needs to bear in mind, that the goal is to create a setting for Weird Fantasy Role-Playing, not 100% historical accuracy. Therefore, some simplifications have and will be done. In other words, I don’t care if the the King really got his arse handed to him at the Battle of Bollocks. The civil war, the religious strife, and all that josh is just the backdrop. What’s of greater importance is what the Players do, and how historical events, places, and persons would make the greatest contribution to telling Weird Fantasy stories set in this era.

    To my players possibly reading this blog: What kind of stuff would you like me to write about next?

    The Witchfinders – The Basics

    Here’s the basic rules and setting outline for the campaign:

  • Unless otherwise noted, the LotFP rules set applies.
  • There is going to be firearms. And chainmail armor is pretty much obsolete because of it. We’re trying out Jim’s upcoming firearms rules set.
  • Since shields have fallen out of style, carrying a light off-hand weapon gives the same bonus to AC in melee as a shield would. A light off-hand weapon might be a dagger, a maine gauche, a hatchet, a sword-breaker, a torch, a stool, a wrapped up cloak, or anything else that might fit the genre.
  • Initiative works like this: Every party involved rolls a die. Usually a die for the party, and a die for the enemy. On a tie, the players’ party are the winners. After determining which party is faster, the loser declares actions. Then the winner declares actions and acts, individual order decided by dexterity modifier. Then the loser acts, again individual order decided by dexterity modifier. Actions go off in this order: Movement, Magic, Ranged Attacks, Melee Attacks. Actions not specifically noted as being within these categories go off last. The order of action types trumps the order determined by dexterity.
  • Taking some time to clean and bandage wounds gives one hit point back instantly. This only works once per after combat phase. NOT bandaging wounds might mean the wounds continue bleeding, get infected, or some other unpleasantness.
  • Being Witchfinders does NOT mean there needs to be a cleric or clerics in the party. Neither does it mean you can go all Spanish Inquisition on Everyone You Meet. Do that, and I guarantee someone WILL slap you down. Don’t believe me? Go check out the ending of that movie where Vincent Price plays Matthew Hopkins, The Witchfinder General. Anyway, holier-than-thou clerics are boring as shit.
  • Regarding the setting: This is not Ye Merry Old England. This is 17th Century Weird Fantasy England. The Owls are not what they Seem.
  • You are NOT allowed to trump the referee with your superior knowledge of real world history.
  • You ARE allowed to do anything and go anywhere in the world. Wanna go fight a war on the continent? How about a expedition to Darkest Africa? How about the New World? You can do any of those things. Witchfinders in Civil War era England is just the starting point. Be advised, however, that you might wanna give the referee the heads up before going off the painted areas of the map, so that there will be something interesting for you to do when you get to where you were going.
  • That’s it off the top of my head. I’ll add to the list if I come up with anything else. I now have three interested players (Jim, Mattias, and Juho). I’m still waiting for a few people to reply, but looks like The Game Is a Go!

    The Witchfinders

    It is the Year of Our Lord 1645. England has been at civil war for the past three years. The land is in turmoil. Scarcely a single village has managed to remain untouched by war, famine, disease, or death, as Royalist, and Parliamentarian troops are roaming the countryside, as are bands of vigilantes called Clubmen, deserters turned to highway robbery, and refugees rendered homeless by the flames of war.

    And then there are the Witchfinders; magistrates, and clergymen devoted to the task of cleansing England of Witchcraft, Deviltry, and Demon-worship.

    Some of them are exactly that; pious men true to their calling, who fight to keep the forces of Darkness at bay. Others… not much more than charlatans motivated by personal gain. Nevertheless, they are given free reign to roam the land, whereas most common folk are bound to their homesteads by happenstance or law.

    Now the question remains: What kind of Witchfinders will you become?

    The Withcfinders is a Lamentations of the Flame Princess English
    language tabletop role-playing campaign, which aims to get started
    sometime in April. I’m looking for 3-5 players available to play on
    Sundays weekly or bi-weekly. The where is still undecided, but will be
    either in Helsinki or Espoo.

    Interested parties may apply.