Thursday, October 28, 2010

Forgotten Songs

Last December, I wrote:
Professor Pope's D&D3e Forgotten Songs campaign ranks among my top role-playing experiences as a player. 
I would go so far as to say that it was absolutely my best role-playing campaign that I experienced entirely as a player. Like previous games, I put a lot of thought into my character before we even started playing. Unlike other games, the good Professor Pope did a wonderful job of weaving my character's backstory and goals into the ongoing story. I created Katja expressly with the idea that she was a character in transition. Starting as an intentionally sup-optimal Ranger (I gave her an 8 strength even though we assigned our stats), I envisioned her as being called into the service of some as-yet-undefined chthonic deity. Playing through that transition was a powerful play experience that I wish I could relive again. When I discovered the Mythic Game Master Emulator, I leapt at the chance to continue her story. The result was The Moon Goddess Is A Harsh Mistress (which is also the reason I resumed my blog).

I recently discovered that I still have all of my session logs, written in the form of Katja's diary entries. Since other people read the Mood Goddess story and enjoyed it, I decided to begin posting this old logs to give a sense of the events that made Katja into the woman that she would become. I'll post these periodically whenever I don't have the time or energy for new content (and this would be one of those times).  

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An excerpt from the diary of Anna-Katarina von Randstein (“Katja”)…


May 16th

[imagine an image here: sketch of the “Oghma-writing” inscription found in the White Grove]

Dear Diary,
So much has happened. Where do I begin? The last time I wrote, I had just arrived in Harcomb. I was excited at the prospect of beginning a new life, though I was nervous at not knowing anyone or even speaking the local language. The “swarthy half-elf” Morandil told me about, Sunny, was nowhere to be seen. However, the inn that I obtained lodging at, The Last Bastion, was very agreeable and I was thrilled to discover that access to its basement hot springs came with the 2 gold piece price of a single room. The food was wonderful and there was a charming bard named Bix who entertained the locals with bawdy poems and tales of adventure.

I can’t believe how far away that seems. That last entry, on the evening of my arrival in Harcomb, was dated May 11th. It is now the evening of May 16th and this Bix has become a friend of mine, as well as an adventuring companion of sorts. He introduced himself to me on the morning of the 14th. The weather had cleared and he observed me wandering about town, looking lost and enjoying the weather. I remember being thrilled at actually having a conversation with someone other than Morandil. Bix, or Ellios Bitsbury Theofile by his full name, seemed to live up to every expectation I ever had about bards… charismatic, sociable, and slightly full of himself. Not in a bad way… I found him to be most agreeable company… even if he did flirt incessantly. Or maybe that was why I found him to be such agreeable company? Gods know that Morandil never even acknowledged my existence as a member of the opposite sex. We talked about my situation in Harcomb and a little of how I came to be here. Of course, I was deliberately vague on why I left Hess. Herr Bix seems trustworthy, but it never hurts to be too careful about these sorts of things. I suppose it is unlikely that I could be found so far from home but there is always that possibility… and that possibility worries me.

I mentioned that I was looking for Deidre’s relatives and he said he was familiar them. Apparently, Herr O’Finn is a farmer and often frequents the Last Bastion’s tavern. He promised to introduce me that evening, though Herr O’Finn did not show on that night. We also discussed ways that I could keep myself in coin. Staying at the Last Bastion is expensive… or I should say expensive for my current state of poverty.

We discussed my situation in Harcomb. I didn’t exactly pack my valuables before I fled Schloss Randstein and I had to sell all my jewelry just to pay for expenses on the journey here. Herr Bix suggested that I seek employment with the local Lord & Lady as a governess or even riding instructor. I confess that the thought menial employment depresses me greatly. Morandil would chastise me for being a spoiled aristocrat… and he would be right. But though I will do what needs to be done, I still believe I’m destined for something more than minding someone else’s children.

I brought up the rumors I had heard about the ruined temple of Oghma and mused that we might explore it looking for treasure and lost knowledge. Ah, wouldn’t that be grand? To become a hero out of the old stories? To venture into dark places, avoid deadly pitfalls, slay legendary monsters, and return with fame and riches? And maybe I could finally learn about these dreams that I have been having. Old Seamus always said that Oghma was the god of secrets and lore. If anything could teach me about my dreams and the ancient ways, it would be the lost libraries of Oghma.

That night, I enlisted Bix’ aid in having a truly private bath in the hot springs. Apparently, some of the local teens had been sneaking peeks at me when I bathed the previous nights. I found that little bit of knowledge to be incredibly irritating. I used the springs when I did precisely because I thought I’d have some privacy. Anyway, Bix said he would keep the boys away while I enjoyed an after-hours soak. Bix promised he would stay respectfully out of sight on the stairwell, playing some of the new songs he was working on. He sang of an old druid’s shrine in the area, known as the White Grove. As he sang, I must of fallen asleep or slipped into some kind of trance. Because that is when I had the dream.

I’ve been writing of my dreams since I started having them in my childhood. I have all sorts of dreams, but the ones I truly remember are the “hunting dreams” and the “druid dreams”. I don’t know if the “druid dreams” are really dreams of being a druid, but they sure seem that way. Sometimes I am myself; sometimes I am someone else. In either case I am performing some ritual under the standing stones on the outer reaches of my family’s estate. I never remember the details of the rituals, but I remember flashes and images. I still remember that time I woke up from a “druid dream” to find myself lying on a stone slab at the actual stone circle. I must have slept-walked half the night.

The “hunting dreams” are more primal and intense. They are also the dreams that stick with me most after I wake. Sometimes I dream that I am a wolf hunting some prey. Sometimes I dream that I am myself, chasing down prey on my horse. Sometimes it is both. I told Morandil about these dreams and he related them to the totem spirits his people would commune with in their dreams. While that certainly sounds interesting, I don’t think it quite applies to me. In my dreams, I become a fierce hunter. In fact, on at least three separate occasions, I have awakened with the taste of blood in my mouth.

The dream that I had while lying on that shelf in the hot spring took my dreams to a whole new level. It began, as usual, with the hunt. I was chasing my prey through a dense wood. I felt the branches and brambles snag at me as I passed. I was terribly hungry… really hungry… really, really hungry. I had the sense that even if I caught what I was chasing, it wouldn’t even make a dent in my hunger. I became afraid of either something I am, or something I might become. I really cannot describe it. It was just this feeling.

Suddenly, I came out of the thick underbrush into a clear grove of white trees. Overhead, there was an enormous full moon. There was a small pool bubbling in the center of the grove, between two large oaks. My hunger subsided. My fear subsided. I felt a tremendous sense of peace.

Then I heard the voice, deep, masculine, ancient, and seemingly coming from the earth itself:

You have come far
But go further.

Come to this place and let it begin.
It shall go deeper.

A door to the past
A path to the future.

First, take the skin of what you are;
It will be given unto you with blood.

Then, know the words in the wood.
Find them all and keep them with you.

This is but the beginning
The beginning is also a door.

The voice faded and I remember the hairs of my neck standing on end. I became aware of something else. It had red eyes and was staring and growling at me from the edge of the clearing. I heard thunder and knew that a storm was approaching.

I woke with a start and most likely a scream. Bix came running down the stairs to see what was the matter. I quickly covered myself with my nightshirt and told him of my dream. I demanded that he take me to the White Grove tomorrow. He didn’t see the point at first, but I was very insistent. I had a sense that this White Grove is exactly the place of which I had dreamt.

The next day, we set out for the grove on horseback. I was in a strange mood, almost as if under a geas, and didn’t speak much. I just followed Bix as we journeyed the better part of the day. The sun was setting by the time we arrived and a large full moon was rising in the eastern sky. The wood was thick here, and ancient. We had to dismount and lead our horses on foot.

When we entered the grove it was just like in my dreams… except that this grove had not been maintained. The clearing was overgrown with underbrush and the pool was black and stagnant. Still, I walked about intently, trying to pick up some feeling for what I was supposed to do next. I had a vague sense of Bix telling me of a campfire some distance away but I wasn’t paying much attention. The wind was picking up and I knew a storm was coming. Something was going to happen, but I didn’t know what.

We discovered a small stone marker on the edge of the clearing that bore some kind of script [the sketch above]. We had to light a candle to see it in the darkening sky, as clouds were rapidly moving to obscure the moon.

Suddenly, I was mindful of our situation. A storm was coming and we were on a hilltop without shelter. There was a campfire nearby and we would do well to at least ascertain what kind of folk might be using it. I suppose they could have been bandits or other rogues, but I didn’t give it much thought. I was still not entirely myself.

Bix and I led our horses to the fire and found an elf with his bow drawn against us. Bix spoke to him in Cimbrian to try to assure him that we were not a threat. It must have worked, because the elf lowered his bow and called to his companion. But then is companion showed himself… He was a humanoid monster of some sort, possibly an orc! I was terrified. I had heard stories of the cruelty and ruthlessness of orcs when I was a child. But how an orc would be traveling with a handsome elf I could not guess. Perhaps all was not as it seemed.

We didn’t have much time to contemplate the situation as the wind had picked up yet again and we heard the sound of wolves in the distance. My heart went racing. I began to think of the dream and the sense of fear and excitement that I felt. My companions were looking about as if they heard something else. Then I heard it too. It was a monstrous, guttural voice speaking words that sounds like Cimbrian. I heard “Fire” and knew we were in trouble. I had heard stories of orcs and goblin training wolves to do their bidding. They were certainly going to attack our camp.

The others were readying their weapons. The elf and his orcish companion were going to be our allies in this fight. The elf beckoned towards our animals and I understood that he meant for us to herd them away from danger. We did so, and then I armed my crossbow and readied my spear. Then, suddenly, two more figures entered the clearing… but not to attack. The first figure was the largest “person” I had ever seen in my life, with features of both orc and human. He wielded a massive sword that I would have difficulty even lifting. The other figure was cloaked man or woman who looked small next to his or her towering companion.

There was no time for introductions. Wolves burst into the clearing and we were under attack! The enormous half-orc went into a rage and I staggered back in awe and fear. Realizing that I couldn’t get a shot with them in front of me, I leapt upon Drachen for a better vantage point. It was then, from the other direction, that I was beset by wolves! Drachen’s kick sent one flying but another soon attacked me. It leapt up and ripped into my lower leg. The pain was searing but it helped clear my head somewhat. I wheeled Drachen about and we trampled the vicious beast. After that, I became aware that the rest of the wolves had been chased off. The cloaked figure, now revealed to be a dark-skinned half-elf woman, was on the ground in worse shape than I. Before I could consider attending to her wounds, the full orc beat me to it and healed her with what looked like clerical magic. What was more interesting was that he invoked the name of Oghma.

But I didn’t have time to ponder that mystery. We still heard howls in the distance and I became aware of something else. In pain, I rode Drachen about the perimeter of the clearing and saw two glowing read eyes. I think it said something like how it would be back later or something to that effect. Whatever it was, I had the sense that it was the same creature that was in my dream.

With that, the encounter ended in a huge explosion as lightning struck one of the oaks in the White Grove. It seemed to be the last gasp of the storm, for the wind began to subside and rain lessoned to a drizzle. There was no more sound of wolves and the presence that I felt was gone. I rode to join the others as they made their way to White Grove to investigate the explosion. We discovered that one of the trees had been knocked over, revealing a hollow in the hill. We decided that with the weather letting up, it would make sense to camp here for the evening. The big half-orc got bit by some insect attempting to explore the hole, so though we found a bag of ancient coins, we decided it would better to investigate in the light of day.

That evening was a blur of images and has become harder remember who said what and when it was said. At some point during that rush of events, introductions were made.

I already mentioned Herr Bix, the only person I knew in the whole episode. He performed admirably in the fight, coming to my rescue just after I was bit. He surprised us all with a little magical trickery, levitating the half-orc’s dropped dagger from the bottom of the hole.

I shared the first watch with elf we first met in the clearing. He introduced himself as Orion, a wizard from Tempia. I seem to recall that he illuminated our battle with magical light, though the specifics evade me. I wonder if he is a member of that guild of mages who are employed upon Tempian trading ships. I also wonder why he was traveling with the orc, Boaz. We talked during our watch, but now that I think of it, I can’t really remember what we talked about. I must have been the adrenaline of the fight.

Boaz, as it turns out, is not a full orc. He has very human looking eyes. He is, in fact, a cleric of Oghma. He seemed to be put on the defensive when I took interest in this. I can’t imagine why. I think it’s terribly exciting and I can’t wait to talk to him more about his faith. Perhaps he knows about the ruins of the temple? Maybe Orion mentioned that was where they were headed?

The dark-skinned half-elf woman turned out to be none other than Sunny, my Upright Guide contact. We had brief snatches of conversation, but I think she was distracted by the seriousness of her injuries. From what little I could gather, she had performed the same service for the humongous half-orc that Morandil had performed for me. The idea of this graceful woman rescuing such an obviously powerful warrior is puzzling indeed. She must be truly formidable.

The giant half-orc’s name is Kreed. And unfortunately, I was not able to speak to him directly since we don’t share a common language. I’m going to have to work on that. I feel that my Cimbrian vocabulary is growing daily, but I’m still having trouble with conversation.

The next morning I woke up terribly sore. My leg had not recovered much from the previous’ night’s injuries. Boaz was kind enough to give me Oghma’s blessing and the wound stitched itself together before my very eyes. What a truly wondrous deity this Oghma must be to grant such powers to a half-orc.

As we had not anticipated staying the night, I had to use my spare rations to feed Bix and I. There would be no time to hunt, as we had to return the horse that Bix borrowed as soon as possible. And there was also the hole to explore.

We were all excited to see if it held more treasure like the 37 old Leinsterian gold crowns, 43 Leinsterian silver sovereigns, and the even older dwarven and elvish silver. Sunny led the way, followed closely by Kreed. Unfortunately, it was really cramped and we could barely move with all of us down there. After a brief attack by more insects, we determined that it was nothing more than a lair for a giant spider. There was no more treasure but we did find the body of a desiccated goblin.

What was the hollow doing here under the grove? What was the bag of coin doing there? More importantly, why were we attacked last night? Wolves don’t usually attack people unless they are rabid or trained to do so. It would appear that Sunny and Kreed were pursued by them. But why did the thing with eyes seem to be addressing me after the encounter?

With his Oghma knowledge, Boaz determined that the inscription upon the standing stone said “The beginning is also a door” in the Oghma script (also used by ancient druids). Yes, that is the last line of the poem that I heard in my dream. I decided to share this information with my new companions and I think it frightened them a little. It was obvious to me that we were destined to meet on this stormy hilltop, but to what purpose I could not tell. On a whim, I also skinned one of the wolves we killed because of the line from the poem, “First, take the skin of what you are; It will be given unto you with blood.” It worries me, though, that I would so quickly think of it as the skin of what I am.

I tried to persuade everyone to come back to Harcomb with Bix and I to have a warm meal and bed. Being unsure of their reception, Boaz, Kreed, and Sunny refused. Instead, it was agreed that Orion, Bix, and I would return to town, purchase supplies, and meet them at an abandoned farmhouse the next morning… tomorrow morning.

Right now, I’m going have another beer down in the tavern and maybe have a little dip in the hot spring. Hopefully, I can catch Bix or Orion. We have so much to talk about…

3 comments:

Cthulhu's Librarian said...

Ah, Bix... what a lovable guy. :-)

Risus Monkey said...

The most lovable of all... the ultimate bard.

crazybear said...

Your story telling is awesome Risus Monkey, I'm sad that I'm just now finding this, but excited that I have so much to read! I hope you continue to keep this up.