Thursday, May 25, 2017

Chapter 11 – Phantom Pains and Phantoms

Wherein the companions perform several sensitive operations, but then find themselves haunted by an old problem.

The band strategizes its next move, as it wait to see if Dmitri will wake up. A real healer is needed if the ranger’s arm is to receive the proper attention. The obvious answer is to find Plamen, but in light of recent events, it may be difficult to convince him. Lionia, surprisingly, undertakes to speak to him and make things right, and with the discovery of the grain, he thinks he has the leverage to convince Yelizarov to let the healer go. Raskel is willing to stay behind in the underground granary – as good a place as any to keep it safe, while the rest of the group is out dealing with their injured companion. He gives one of the four sacks – his share, as he sees it - to Lionia, to stash at his house in Medunitsa, and the Old Fox takes two sacks, turns into a fox, and runs off.
In a few hours, Dmitri wakes up, alive, but in great pain. As he cannot climb up the chute under his own power, Druvvaldis comes up with a plan to have his conjured deer-spirit drag him out once ropes are tied to his feet. The plan is successful, and, along with Chonkorchuk, he helps guide Dmitri toward the Yelizarov keep. As they get to the frozen river, they see a figure crossing it from the other side. It turns out to be Plamen himself. The healer met with Lionia earlier, who apparently told him that his mother was killed by a skeleton with flaming eyes – a story mooted earlier with Raskel. He then somehow convinced Yelizarov to let the hostage go, though before he left, Plamen had a religious discussion with the boyar, and solicited for himself a small icon of they boyar’s own manufacture in exchange for a promise not to harm it in any way.
Chonkorchuk nixes Lionia’s tale, and relates the story of Lionia killing Plamenka and dismembering her body (though he says he tried to stop it). Plamen is beside himself with grief, though he is undecided about which story is true, because he cannot understand why anyone would carry out such a desecration. Still, he agrees to accompany the trio back to the keep (there being no better option) to see what he can do for Dmitri. Druvvaldis, though, has no wish to stay at the fort; he takes one of the remaining sacks of grain, and uses it to buy himself a rest for the night at the Yelizarovka waystation).
Hopefully, they are getting the right limb
At the keep, Yelizarov undertakes to help, as Dmitri is still technically in his employ. With the assistance of all assembled, Plamen inspects the shoulder and tries to reset it. But he concludes that it is too fragmented, and cannot be salvaged. Yelizarov helps with having the arm removed, and the tough patient survives the ordeal. Along with Chonkorchuk and Plamen, Dmitri rests at Yelizarov’s for the night. Then, he has the arm fed to the dogs, and they all return to the warren the following morning, after collecting Druvvaldis.
As they approach the meadow, the fefila warns Chonkorchuk of great evil ahead. Looking up, they see a ghostly form drift toward the opening in the ground, and disappear down the hole. Getting everyone down the chute is expectedly complicated. Dmitri, now more unmaneuverable than before, gets stuck halfway down, as the dirt has frozen once more. He is freed, not without effort, by the fefila, who is an expert burrower. Then, with Chonkorchuk in the lead in place of the injured Dmitri, they skirt past Plamen’s room, and are assaulted by a floating spirit in the long corridor on route to Plamenka’s chamber.

You, again?
The spirit appears to look like the warren’s old mistress. She utters curses toward the band, though no sound comes out of her mouth, and then swoops down to attack. As she passes through, first Chonkorchuk, then Druvvaldis and Dmitri, they feel a wrenching pain, as if life itself is being yanked from the pit of their stomachs. Resistance is disorganized, and only Chonkorchuk is able to do any kind of harm to the spirit with his magic. Plamen attempts to entreat it, and unexpectedly, after having savaged Dmitri, it flies over him, and back toward the entryway. Feeling drained, even despite Plamen’s ministrations, the band proceeds toward the granary. But on route, Plamen is exposed to a frightening sight in Plamenka’s chamber: his mother’s charred and disembodied corpse, as well as the charred and picked-over carcass of his sheep.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Pravda and Krivda

I've been thinking about introducing an ethical mechanic rooted in Russian folk culture for some time, and this week, I finally wrote one up. The mechanic will invoke the twin concepts of pravda and krivda. As linked traits,  the two would function somewhat analogously to the Inspiration mechanic. Pravda means truth, justice, and the righteous path, where as krivda denotes crookedness, lies, and injustice. The two ideals are sometimes personified in the popular imagination. Aside from the holiest of saints and the wickedest of sinners, most people survive by trying to walk a fine line between the two, though they will lean toward one or the other at different times in their life.

When a character commits a particularly righteous act - defending the weak, telling the truth when it is disadvantageous, or goes without so that another may enjoy an advantage, the GM may grant the character a point of Pravda. Conversely, when a character commits a particularly heinous act - tells a lie that has an especially deleterious impact on someone, backstabs an ally, or forces another to suffer so that he or she can benefit, the GM awards the character a point of Krivda.
As with Inspiration, points of Krivda and Pravda can be used to grant advantage on rolls, but with the following differences:
  •  Points of Pravda can only be used to help other people. They cannot be used toward evil ends, nor when the character is trying to benefit only themselves. They cannot be used in neutral situations, ethic (e.g. if a character is trying to recall a bit of lore or information).
  • Points of Krivda, conversely, can only be used toward evil or selfish ends - deceiving and betraying others, and benefitting at their expense. They cannot be used to give aid, or in neutral situations.
  • Unlike inspiration, points of Krivda and Pravda can be accumulated.
  • However, Pravda and Krivda cancel each other out. For example, if a character with three points of Pravda has accrued one point of Krivda, the point of Krivda cancels a point of Pravda, and the character now has two points of Pravda to use toward righteous ends.
  • It is possible to recoup points of Pravda or Krivda by using them, but not every usage has that result.

Note that accumulating too much Krivda can have significant drawbacks. A character who has more effective points of Krivda than their Charisma modifier will be making all Charisma checks vis-à-vis anyone aware of the character's behavior with disadvantage.
The Pravda-Krivda mechanic may be thought of as a replacement for alignment. Rather than defining themselves by adherence to an ethical or moral dogma, most characters struggle to live up to their higher ideals, and are defined more by what they *do*, not what they believe.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Chapter 10 – Just Rewards

After much time and effort spent on learning their way around a new platform, the Lukomorye Five get down to business.

Having taken a brief rest, the band decides to settle in for a longer stay. Plamenka’s magical tools are in their possession, and too much blood has been spilled to leave the warren empty-handed. The two doors are locked, to keep any other guardians from wandering in. Lionia is feeling peckish, and suggests cooking Plamen’s sheep, now that the bread given by Yelizarov has been eaten. Chonkorchuk ventures that Plamen might get upset when he learns what happened to the animal he was nursing back to health, but Lionia reminds him that he will probably be upset about what happened to his mother anyway. The other two carnivores present agree that a bit of meat might be a good idea.
Fefila - from Vishevetskaia's hand, to a dungeon near you
While the sheep is cooking, Chonkorchuk decides to call upon the Queen for a bit of additional help. He has seen visions that suggest she sends servitors to aid especially loyal followers, and given his efforts, he thinks he is deserving of one now. In his dreams, he has seen a creature called Fefila, created of a divine spark and fallen to earth, as a fine companion – solicitous of its master, adept at protecting him from magical attacks, and able to find salubrious fruit in even the unlikeliest places – particularly useful now, given the healer’s absence. In an hour’s time, a scratching is heard outside Plamenka’s bedchamber, and a curious, red creature with tufted ears, looking a bit like a cross between a squirrel and a beaver, emerges from a small hole in the wall, reassuringly whistling and warbling. Dmitri immediately dubs it a ‘squeaver’. The squeaver fefila presents Chonkorchuk with a large berry, which he breaks up into parts for himself, Dmitri and Lionia. Those who eat it now feel full – but the sheep is already roasting on the fire. The fefila crawls up on Chonkorchuk, and turns invisible, after which it melds minds with its new master, and explains how that is done.
In the meantime, Raskel is busy transcribing some magical formulae from memory using the ink he received from Yelizarov. Having filled three sheets with arcane scribbles (and tossing one of them on the fire), he makes a more thorough search of the room, discovering jars with dried herbs, and several containers of oil. The band requisitions those, and refills the lamp that Plamen picked up on their last visit. Raskel also scrutinizes Plamenka’s special objects, and handles them meditatively. The flute is imbued with some sort of charm, as Chonkorchuk informs him, but the other objects have transmutative effects, and work in tandem. The sickle is used for preparation for gaining entry, the fire from the lantern provides the trigger, and the runes painted on the sash are the agent.
The rest of the band rests and meditates for about half a day, while the sheep roasts. After everyone has eaten and slept, it is time to continue the hunt. From the far door, they continue down a series of mazelike corridors. Raskel remembers the way well, and before long, the band stands before a wall, beyond which Chonkorchuk senses a necromantic presence. Raskel goes to work: he draws an outline of a doorway on the wall with Plamenka’s sickle, and then snips off a section of her sash with one of the mystic symbols on it, and throws it onto the lit lantern. The door glows with an unnatural light, rocks and sand begin to crumble out of the crevice, and the door slowly swings inward.
Inside the room, four more skeleton warriors lie in wait. These comport themselves rather better than the previous four, and moreover, they benefit from the fact that the narrow hallway allows only one person to engage them effectively, at least at the start. Dmitri  gets the worst of it, as he faces off with a swordsman and a spearman poking at him diagonally. He hasn’t managed to recover as well as he might have from the previous encounter. The bony warriors press him, and after Lionia manages to send down one enemy with a well-thrown dagger that shatters a skull, another one sends the wolf down with a spear thrust to the shoulder that seems to come close to going through his throat. Lionia pushes into the room, but has little success. Chonkorchuk follows him in, shooting blasts of magical energy. Druvvaldis summons forth a bear-spirit to aid the collective effort, and thus aspected, tries to blast his way in also, while Raskel, who merely distracts the skeletons with illusory hounds until the very end, brings down the last remaining skeleton with a blast of his own.
The band members turn to their fallen comrade, who lies bleeding out on the floor. The fefila can offer no help, and Raskel and Druvvaldis try to staunch the bleeding by tying a scarf around the shoulder, but the blood flow is too rapid, and the scarf too threadbare. Desperate, Raskel manages to stop the bleeding with his sling, seemingly at the last moment. Dmitri is at death’s door; worse, his arm is hanging by a thread. The resourceful fox has a needle and thread; under direction of Druvvaldis, who has heard a lot about medicine, but has never performed surgery, he tries to sew the arm back on before it’s too late. The arm is now attached, but it looks like it’s merely hanging on by the threads.
The treasure. But is it pure?

Their comrade apparently stabilized for the time being, the rest of the band checks out the chamber. In the back of the room are large stone bins filled with grain. Is this the polevik treasure? Chonkorchuk sees a vision of a bony hand reaching out for silver, and concludes that it probably is. Lionia suggests that the party look around the rest of the warren, as there are areas that have not been explored yet, but Chonkorchuk says this was the only area where Plamen was not allowed to go, so it likely is. Lionia estimates that there are between 50 and 100 poods (several thousand pounds) of grain. He rejects Chonkorchuk’s suggestion to store the grain at his hermitage, branding it “unsafe”, and recommends his own house. The rest of the party decides that aside from the four sacks they have to fill, this is as good a storage place as any for the time being. Druvvaldis does summon forth a deer to help take what they can now. Lionia, however, recommends that the band can gain much more by selling a little at a time, and waiting for the famine to drive grain prices through the roof. He also suggests that the grain may yield influence – more valuable than money if it comes from the right people. Chonkorchuk insists that the treasure should be given to Baba Yaga.
There are apparently no other, obvious or hidden exits in the room, and the band settles in the hallway outside the room to catch its collective breath, and weigh its options.