Wednesday, 19 January 2022

The Beast of Errinsford: Session 1- First Impressions

On-line session played 18 Jan 2022. 

This is a report of the first session of a short campaign that I'm GM-ing using Old School Essentials.  At the end of the year, I had a hankering to do some GM-ing again (looking at my schedule, I see that it's a year since I ran a game), and a group of us got together to play on Discord.

Full Disclosure: This is a heavily-adapted version of the module The Black Wyrm of Brandonsford by Chance Dudinack.  It's a nice little sandbox, and available on DriveThruRPG for less than £3.00.  Anything you find good in what follows is probably from the orignal work; anything silly or inconsistent will be one of my riffs.  

I feel comfortable saying this because a) I trust my players not to cheat (ie, guys, I don't want you to read it), b) I have changed so much that cheating won't do them much good, and, c) if they do cheat, they will meet twelve angry hellhounds. 

The collapse of my last attempt to GM was lack of structure - I was running a sandbox, and although I thought that the journey was the game, the players just wanted to get somewhere and get something done!

I know that this post is very long, but there was a lot of info-dumping in the first session.  And the players were very efficient in squeezing every last drop of info out!

For other summaries of this session, see

Characters and Players

All players started at Level 1. 

  • Reinaldo, Cleric of Clobrek, God of Critical Failure.  (Andreas)
  • Easter, Fighter (Jack)
  • Magical Michael, Illusionist (Jason)
  • Waldengeist, Druid (Kent)
  • Reynard, man of mystery (Seph)
  • Stanley Blackbook, Magic User of unusual interests (Simon)

The setting is a high fantasy one.

The group are an established party of adventurers, moving though the country in search of whatever motivates them: riches, glory, knowledge or escape from something.

They are now in frontier country, bordering on forested wilderness.  The Old Gods are stronger here, local spirits have more power than in other places.  The New Religion and Civilisation has tried to encroach, but neither have been particularly successful and have settled down into an uneasy collaboration with what has gone before.  

In the last couple of one-horse towns they passed through they heard about Errinsford.  Tales of “a Beast”: an old evil returned.  Locals have gone out hunting it, but those few that returned were horribly injured.  Now the authorities are looking for professionals.  There is a large reward on offer. 

The Session

The party were travelling alone the road, discussing the various rumours they have heard and their options.  The consensus appeared to be that they could present themselves as expert monster hunters, and use that as a cover, enabling them to wander the district stealing whatever they could find.  They even considered the possibility of getting another group of adventurers to deal with the Beast, and then either taking credit for their actions or stealing the reward! 

All this talking disturbed something big in the bushes ahead.  Two of the party instinctively sheltered behind Easter, another two found a big tree and hide, and Reynald melted into the woods, going forward, arrow notched.   

Two large black bears burst out of the bushes, some 80 yards ahead of the party.  The group instantly froze, hoping that they bears would pass by, but they had already annoyed them too much, and they proved hostile.  Easter calmly urged their colleagues to retreat and scatter rations on different sides of the road, hoping to delay any pursuit.  This ruse worked.  The bears, seeing the annoying travellers leave, stopped to examine the bounty left behind. 

The party then took a large detour off the road, avoiding the bears completely. 

Errinsford: First Impressions 

Because of this delay, it was almost dusk when they finally arrived at Errinsford. 

It’s a small town, but the largest they’d seen in a couple of weeks of travelling.  The buildings are mostly thatched-roofed stone cottages, with a couple of larger plaster-and-timber buildings.  

What made it stand out was the old wall that surrounds the town, with a town gate.  There are signs that until recently the wall was ramshackle, but some effect has recently been made to fill in any gaps, and a palisade of spiked poles has been added.  There is a barrier on the road in front of the gate, with a lantern hanging on a pole.  

As they approached...  
 “Halt! Who goes there?!”   
It was a gangly youth of about 17.  Too tall for the clothes he was wearing, and with a helmet that was two sizes too big for him.  He had a piece of red cloth tied around his arm.  He was carrying what looked suspiciously like a large kitchen knife lashed to a broom-handle.   

Reinaldo explained that the party were professional monster hunters, here to solve the village’s problems.  This greatly impressed the lad – Frank – who excitedly called for ‘Uncle Ned’. 

Beefy in a previous job

Constable Ned “Beefy” Ward was the real thing.  He’s a grizzled man in his early 50s, with the air of a veteran, wearing chainmail and carrying a mace.  He was less impressed with the party than young Frank had been, suspicious of them and the fact that they were turning up so close to curfew.  His close questioning elicited some short responses (in particular, Ward didn't like the 'attitude he was getting from Reinaldo), and the encounter settled into one of mutual dislike until Raynard stepped in to calm things down.  Ward pointed the party to the inn, but insisted that they should report to the Reeve’s House first thing in the morning (“Or I’ll come and fetch you”). 

The Bearded Axe 

One the way to the inn, the party managed to see pretty much all there was of Errinsford – a few shops (at least one boarded up), a smithy, a church and graveyard (Stanley took particular interest in the latter), and a two-storey building they took to be the Rathaus

The welcome at The Bearded Axe was much warmer than that they’d had at the town gate.  The proprietor was a Halfling called Bentley, who rushed over to greet them, and introduced his wife - “Mrs B”.  Trade had obviously been slow lately, and he was very pleased to have patrons. 

The joy the party felt at this welcome soon evaporated when Bently displayed his tariff: - Bed & Board, 5gp per night; Rooms 3gp per night.  For a party of six, that meant a whopping 30gp per night! 

Bently tried to stress the quality of the food (“This is a Halfling establishment, after all!”) and that the party would have a choice of a dormitory or single rooms, but they were having not of it.  While several tried negotiating with Bently (they got him down to 10gp per night for the party), Easter turned their attentions to Mrs B, pointing out the benefits of having an adventuring party who owned them a favour.  Mrs B considered this, caught Bentley’s eye and gave him a nod. 

Knowing that he’d lost that argument, Bently tried to turn it to his favour.  He told the party that the regular supply wagon was a week late (something that they’d already heard), and that he had a consignment on it.  If the party could go out, find the caravan and bring the consignment back to him, he would let them have free accommodation and board, and give them a 100gp.  “And no need for the Reeve to know exactly what came my way, eh?” 

The party, immediately assuming that they were dealing with someone operating on the fringes of legality, accepted his offer.  They also began wondering how they could exhort or double-cross him, and which other traders in the town would also pay for such a service.  As they tucked into their large meal, they began interrogating Bently about the town and what was going on. 
They even asked him to draw a map

They learned that between 100 and 200 years ago, the district had been terrorised by a terrible Beast.  Eventually, an adventurer called Errin had gathered together a company of heroes, who had gone out to kill it.  A beautiful fairy had given Errin a magical sword, with which he slew the creature.  The adventurers were knighted, given grants of land and, when they eventually died, given an honourable burial in mounds to the North of the district.  The local priest has now sent his assistant to retrieve the sword, but he hasn’t yet returned. 

About a year ago the beast returned!  It had killed many locals and inspired terror.  Most recently, a party of the local youths had spent the day drinking in the inn and then gone out to catch it.  Only one – Riffin – had returned, and he horribly mangled.  Local order had broken down – a gang of goatmen had occupied the old ruined temple and might be operating as bandits.  Trade had suffered terribly: the general store had closed down.  As to who may have consignments on the caravan, Bently has taken on what is left of the General Store’s trade: - other businesses included Fred the Smith, who normally got ore from the Dwarven Mine (“But nobody’s heard from them since the Beast turned up”); the new apothecary (“she’s only been here about six months”): and many townsfolk may have mail or other small goods - as might Vivian, the old woman in the woods.  The Reeve, of course, would be interested in the caravan’s arrival. 

The Party wanted to go out immediately and talk to some of these people, but were dismayed to hear that the curfew was not  only applied at the town gates, but to anyone within the walls.  What kind of place had they come to?  They declared that the Constable was running the place with a group of bully-boys and oppressing the inhabitants!  

Bently gave a hollow laugh.  He assured them that Beefy Ward wasn’t a bully and that his makeshift group of guards were young boys and old men, who couldn’t oppress anybody.  The curfew was all the Reeve’s idea.  

And here he shut up after offering to put the word about that they party were looking for hirelings. 

An Audience with the Reeve 

After a peaceful night’s rest, the party were enjoying Halfling hospitality when Constable Ward turned up.  “What are you lot still doing here?”  he asked.  The inevitable “Eating breakfast!” didn’t amuse him, but he was somewhat mollified when Reinaldo pushed a plate of muffins and a beverage in his direction.  He even apologised for his brusqueness the previous night – old City Guard habits being hard to shift. 

The Reeve kept the party waiting in an anteroom, but eventually called them in to a chamber where he sat at a table eating breakfast.  There were no chairs for them, and he offered them no refreshments.  The party showed their contempt for this arrangement. 

He confirmed that there was a 1,000gp reward for the death of The Beast or proof that it didn’t exist.  He went on at length about how it was probably a hoax put out by his enemies to undermine all his work.  If there was a Beast, it was probably something the Dwarves had dug up (“What do they say?  ‘Always delving too deep’!”) of that the Witch has summoned (“She’s a witch!  What more do you need to know?”). 

When asked about the hunters, he said that they were a load of drunken layabouts who wouldn’t know a Beast if they met one (“Which they probably didn’t!”).  He didn’t care about Riffin's story (“A looser!  Sad!”).  He’d probably lost his arm in a knife-fight with one of his mates.  

He grudgingly agreed that he would pay a 300gp reward for the safe bringing-in of the missing caravan (“But I wouldn’t be surprised if they’ve just used this and the talk of the Goatmen to bypass us!  They’ll have broken the contract and stolen our goods!”).  He wasn’t confident of the party’s fighting abilities though, and offered to loan them Constable Ward for the duration (they weren’t too keen on this idea!). 

The Reeve dismissed them, and turned to more important business. 

Riffin the Huntsman 

Bently had told the party where to find Riffin’s house.  This was a ramshackle place, with an overgrown garden and boarded-up windows.  There were signs of life, however, and eventually someone answered their persistent knocking. 

Riffin was in his mid-20s.  He had wild uncombed red hair and an unkempt beard.  He looked as if he hadn’t slept for a week and, during the conversation, kept drifting off with a stone-faced, 1,000-yard stare. He was missing an arm 

As the only person in the village to have encountered the Beast and lived to tell the tale, the party persisted in hearing his story, despite his obvious reluctance.  

He and his mates had gone out looking for it.  Harry had been the best hunter in the county, and found its spore easily, tracking it to its lair (the party immediately insisted that he showed them on their map).  They’d staked out a goat for it, but instead it had gone for them!  Two of his mates had been disembowelled.  It had breathed a noxious mist over Harry, whose face and exposed skin had burst into burns and boils, and he had screamed...  

Riffin had survived because he had taken a blow that had torn his arm off and knocked him right across the clearing.  By the time he regained consciousness, everything was over. 

Easter was having none of Riffin’s self-pity.  They insisted that he give every detail and a full description of the Beast.  (“Large, like a cross between a bear and a lizard.  Red eyes!  A terrible smell like sulphur and brimstone and vinegar!  And our arrows – they just bounced of its hide!”).  They wanted to know how he’d survived his injuries - “Don’t give me some crap about being a hard dude hunter who survives anything… who saved your life?”  “Well, I’m a hunter….  No, don't! We always carry this salve that Vivian makes, and then when I got back to the town, the Priest did his healing ritual.” 

The last straw came when Reinaldo suggested that Riffin acted as the party’s guide and took them out to the Beast’s lair.  “No!  I’m never going out there again!  If you had any sense, you’d leave this town!  If I had anywhere to go, I would too!”  And with that, he slammed the door. 

And we end on a brilliant coup de theatre provided by Jack... 

“That man!” said Easter, “As if losing an arm was something terrible!  He could still help us!”  And, as they said this, they absent-mindedly scratched their ankle, raising a trouser leg to reveal a prosthetic limb...

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