Gothic Earth Session 8: Curse of the Belalp Witch

It always takes so damned long to get into the game, but once we do we have fun. Normally we play every 4 weeks, but this time it was only 2 weeks. It really didn't change how much we remember the previous game. I will tell you that I love my prep style for these last few sessions, it was a ton of prep work, taking a full four weeks to design, but we are getting a whole lot of bang for our buck!

Everybody was tired as hell, so I cut everyone some slack. There was also some concern on their part that they are getting dazzled again while the witch is getting away. They had decided to go down the mountain and follow a lead, they had heard that a reclusive goat herder who lives at the bottom of the mountain between Naters and Blatten is the custodian of an old medieval church that isn't used anymore because of it's location (out in the middle of no where) called The Church of Saint Laurentius. Due to bad weather, it was a long climb down the mountain, but eventually they reached the herdsman. He told them that the church hasn't been used since his father passed away, but loaned them the keys to help them with their research.

The Church of Saint Laurentius is an isolated structure located well off the beaten path out in the wilderness. Opening the door of this ancient building, they see a very odd sight; instead of a statue of Jesus or crosses, the symbol dictate snails and features a larger than life statue of Saint Laurentius, the patron Saint of Librarians; against his leg rested a wooden rack, in his left hand he held a glacier, and in his right a mountain; an odd curvy crack went from his heart up his face and to a snail perched on his head.

This was definitely a clue; my wife cheated with her smart phone, but it kind of worked; she discovered that Laurentius was also the patron of witch hunters. I think that it got the players more excited when they found out that this was a real Swiss Saint, and they found a picture of him to look at. Eventually they figured out that the caretaker had removed all of the valuables from the church in case looters broke in, among them an old mirror elaborately decorated with the images of St. Sebaldus, when they hung the mirror up behind the statue, an oddly plain window perfectly framed the nearby mountain peak.

Now, the caretaker refused to let them borrow the mirror, as it was priceless; but he did accompany them and since it was too dark to travel back through the forest at night, they stayed in the church. In the morning, as they were preparing to go, and the sun was rising over the Reiderhorn, the diamond set in the pane of glass focused the sun into a beam, which reflected of of the mirror and for just a second, lit up the snail on his head. (Indiana Jones lifted once again!) They found that St. Laurentius Day was just under a week away.

Sam White climbed back up to Blatten and sent a pigeon message up the mountain for Van Helsing to come down, later he messaged back that he couldn't, as there was an uproar in Belalp.

They had a few days, so they did some low mountain investigation. They were able to secure some real meat, hunting a deer that had wandered near by, and found the Blatten Lumber camp that was said to had been torn apart by yeti. The camp was badly damaged, but the mill, that was the scene of something very large and powerful; entire logs looked like they had been broken over one's knee, some logs weighing hundreds of pounds had been thrown high up through the walls and were lodged there. The scene told them of a giant creature who wanted to shut this operation down, probably under the orders of somebody who didn't want the lumberjacks in the area anymore. There was something here, but they wanted to figure out what the church mystery was first.

After a couple of days, they saw the spot on the wall stay longer and longer, finally they went back to the caretaker who had planned on bringing the mirror on St. Laurentius Day, and talked him into letting them borrow the mirror early (we've got some smooth talking characters that know that CHA isn't a drop stat), on the long walk through the woods, they were ambushed by giant men, at least 20 of them! Hiding in the dense forest and hurling rocks; we have a character whose player has a hard time making it to games, while everyone else is at least 7th level, he is only 2nd, and as the giant men had gained a surprise, they tagged him, dropping him down to low hp before the battle could even start! Sam, the gunfighter, gave him the mirror and Charlotte cast Sanctuary on him. I determine targets randomly, and my dice really hated that 2nd level thief and wanted him dead! Luckily for him, the monsters sucked at making their Saving Throws.

On a technical note, I had wished that I had laid down the play mat and used miniatures, but we didn't; however for enemies I had so many to track I just gave them 4 hits and dead, drawing circles for each one and dividing each circle into fourths; instead of rolling damage, the party was shooting wildly into the woods, I had them just tell me when they hit or not, if they rolled 20's then I took off 2 HD but mostly it was just 1 HD per hit. It kept the combat fast and much easier to track considering the number of enemies. A combat scene which normally would had been boring because I took to long, could quickly be played out without losing anything; in fact it was probably easier on the monsters as guns dish out 2d6+1 damage, they were naturally 5HD creatures. For determining the monster targets, I throw a d10, I had 1-6 represent players, 4-10 meant that the creatures missed and targeted the giant man across from them.

It was pretty exciting as I was nailing the players and whittling them down, the 2nd level thief tried to escape, but a giant man caught him, and made his saving throw; he attempted to grab the little man, but failed, and gave a great target for the other players to shoot at. At the end of the combat, the party was badly beaten, Charlotte healed the worst off of the lot; examining the bodies of the enemy, they identified them as giant wild men, they had no money and looked like they have lived rough their whole lives. They deduced that some of these guys had been behind the destruction of the Blatten lumber operation.

They made it back to the church, locked themselves in; fearing that the witch now knew that they were up to something and was trying to stop them, somehow they had managed to save the mirror. They took it easy that day, and in the morning, they had just enough time to draw the cryptic drawings that were projected onto the floor by the sunlit snail, and wrote down a weird written phrase in an unknown language, however the name Belalp was clearly being refereed to.

That task done, they made their way back up into the mountains, to the village of Belalp satisfied that they had made some sort of headway, they planed on showing the drawing to Van Helsing, believing the language to be Latin, which he can read, however once they get into town they see that a large wooden pyre has been constructed in the village green. They find everybody all in an uproar, Van Helsing could care less about their discovery, he is trying to talk sense into a mob who is intent on dragging the old woman being held in the jail to the village green and burning her.

A lot has happened while the party was away, the Belalp Sheriff lay in a coma, the victim of witchcraft, a totem exactly fitting the description of the one that had been used against one of the party members last game had been used on him. The thief was able to talk the mod down, and give them a couple of days to either clear the woman's name or prove that she is in fact the Belalp witch. They immediately start investigating.

Sam and David head up into the mountains to try and find some mountain carrots which David knows can counter the poison and the spell of the totem doll, meanwhile the rest of the party began the investigation. Talking their way into the jailhouse, passed the armed officers who have the old woman in protective custody, the part is allowed access to the evidence and Van Helsing was finally able to get a good look at one of the totem dolls, and was able to determine how it worked, it was some sort of contact poison, the doll contained an article of the sheriff's clothing and he was charmed into touching it. Van Helsing fearing for the safety of the Relic of Sebaldus and quickly returned to their rented cabin.

The rest of the party went to the Sheriff's house to check on him; they startle a woman who instantly tries to escape, but they won't let that happen. Antonia a Prussian officer and master spy has assumed responsibility for this investigation, she orders Bart (the 2nd lvl thief) to see what the woman was doing, and he finds a weird drawing under the sheriff's pillow. Charlotte is able to determine that this is a weak protection from evil spell, and identifies the woman as a faith healer, and a spiritualist. The suspect admits to using magic, but for good; the party warns her against it, especially while the villagers are on a witch hunting kick, and they send her on her way.

Eventually the two fighters come back down the mountain, it was hard finding the herbs that they needed but they got it done. David Marshal brewed up the bitter mountain carrot broth and administered it to the sheriff, the man woke up, and while he would be forced to rest for the next couple of days, he should be fine.

Sheriff Hoffer is in no shape to do his job, he tries to get up instantly verifying that the old woman being held is just a crazy old lady. Hoffer says that there is no such thing as witchcraft, he's just allergic to those damned Alpine skinks, he must had touched one really good for this to happen.

Their investigation has uncovered some unsettling facts:

  • All of the wives take turns helping the bachelor sheriff with his housekeeping, so all the women had access to him.
  • The totem that had been used on the party member Vanessa Smith, required someone who had access to her things, the only suspect being Nela Saner who offered herself to be their housekeeper right away.
  • Ivan Hoffer also had access to Vanessa's property as he was sleeping in the tent with them at the time of the attack.
  • Lynn Tuller, the woman who was caught administering Sheriff Hoffer and practicing folk magic is not above suspicion either. Van Helsing says that she is no doubt a practitioner of spiritualism, a relatively new pseudo-religion that is in vogue right now, and they rarely practice alone.
  • Corinne Meyer, a none-native transplant and author who moved up here for the tranquility. She lives alone in the woods and has written a book on the Belalp witch.
  • Agatha Gammenthaler, the old woman kept in protective custody to protect her from allegations of witchcraft.
  • Van Helsing suggested that Charlotte refrain from using her skill set, else she becomes a prime target of the current local rage, and says that he believes that they aren't looking for a human witch, but fears that they are in fact dealing with the ancient undead. He says that the only way that they will be able to identify it, is by the aura of fear that all powerful undead share.

That is where we left off, and that is where we will begin again in four weeks.

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