Solo Skald |||

Undead Without Number - Session 2

After all that work to set things up (seriously, there was a lot of fucking around to get to a game setup I was happy with), I definitely want to play a good bit of this to pay back that investment, as it were.

Rewards from Session 1

I didn’t process experience points and the like last time, so I’m going to think this through now.

Worlds Without Number defaults to awarding characters 3 XP for a successful” gaming session, where that’s defined as a game session in which they tried to do something adventurous or in pursuit of someone’s character goals” involving a challenge or an attempt appropriate to their characters’ capabilities, even if the attempt was a failure”. This encourages adventure without worrying too much about bookkeeping. The book also discusses other systems based on goals, missions, or spending, for other styles of play, but in all cases it mostly comes down to that: do The Thing and get 3 XP.

But to advance, characters need to hit certain thresholds, and the book suggests two paths, fast” and slow” leveling. In the former, characters basically get one level per session for the first four levels, then things slow down, requiring around thirty or so sessions to reach level 10 (assumed to be the maximum). In the latter, though, characters take two sessions to reach level 2, then another three to reach level 3, and it slows down further so that level 10 takes closer to 50 sessions.

Normally, I don’t do much with character advancement in my solo games; I get the first advancement or two, then I move on to something else. So in that spirit, I’ll use the first method.

But the game also suggests that characters get the benefits of the new level as soon as they get a day or two of downtime”, which I don’t think Erlan has yet. With that in mind, I’ll turn back to the adventure.

Context: Waylaid in Oakside

When last session ended, Brother Erlan (a priest and member of the Sacretta Carnifexa, a militant arm of the Church of Saintly Blood) had found himself defeated by Albinus, an undertaker and necromancer. He’d been carried back to the house of Grisselda, a local widow, accompanied by several villagers who saw the confrontation with Albinus and the undead he’d summoned.

A key question is whether Albinus left Oakside after being exposed, or whether he will remain here in an attempt to dominate the town openly rather than by manipulating the reeve, Portia. I decide it’s more interesting if he flees, which extends the tension out rather than simply forcing Erlan to flee immediately. This matters because, in Mythic GME, fate questions should be phrased so that the yes” answer is the more active one, regardless of the odds. I also decide that it’s 50/50, because I’m really just not sure. With a Chaos Factor of 9 (it did get a little out of hand last session), the answer turns out to be yes, he flees”, albeit just barely.

That’s the context as I start the session. The Chaos Factor is at the maximum of 9, as noted. There’s only one thread on the list, although I’ll edit it slightly: Protect Oakside against the necromancer Albinus”. The characters list includes:

  1. Albinus, necromancer
  2. Portia, reeve
  3. Grisselda, widow

Scene 1: The Widow’s House

This scene likely involves the villagers tending to Erlan, believing him to have suffered mortal wounds that will lead to his imminent death. Mythic alters the scene, though; a larger crowd gathers outside her home.

Erlan, while having suffered damage that would doom most people, has the benefit of Heroic Determination. Narratively, this is because he is the hero of the story. Mechanically, this means that he can recover 1d8 plus character level (1) hit points per scene, or as many times as he likes outside of combat. (That occurs within the constraints of a mechanic called System Strain so that he can’t do this endlessly).

For now, he’ll recover the 1d8+1 = 2 hit points, bringing him to 2/21 but, more importantly, removing his Mortally Wounded condition. (His system strain is now 2/14). He lies, bleeding and bruised, on the cot where the villagers have placed him. While he won’t die from this, he’s in no condition to do much of anything, particularly not chase down a necromancer without allies or preparation.

The crowd outside is growing, though, as word spreads about the fact that a prominent citizen turns out to have been responsible for the undead assaults on the town. Albinus fled, and while he certainly hasn’t lost all influence here, for now he has left to plot and scheme elsewhere.

Does the reeve show up (likely)? Yes, she pushes through the crowd and enters the dwelling. I previously noted she’s got an obliging” temperament, which led her to be easily influenced by the crass bully Albinus. She’s made up in expensive cosmetics and puts on a show of relief that the priest is still alive. Do the villagers believe her (50/50)? Yes, but Mythic injects a random event here, a new NPC.

This is likely some other community leader, perhaps one without a formal position but with the respect of the people. He is Tristan, a wealthy merchant known to be both superstitious and vindictive. He confronts Portia, accusing her of being in league with Albinus. Given the events of the day, the crowd likely sides with him as he harangues her from just outside Grisselda’s door: yes, the murmurs start to turn into a rumble.

Erlan, however, doesn’t want the village to tear itself apart and asks a couple of the stouter villagers to help him to the door. Someone has found a walking stick and hands it to him. He does his best to calm things down, reminding the crowd that even he was taken in by Albinus’s deceptions. Portia is the local authority, the secular representative of the Church (as Krevborna is mostly a theocracy, with few remaining nobles), and while he is here on a holy assignment, he would not see the people turn on each other or on the duly appointed reeve. He rolls Charisma/Convince at a DC 8 and succeeds admirably. The people nod and quiet down. Tristan looks questioningly at Erlan, who replies mildly that indeed the voice of the town should be listened to. Perhaps Tristan might have some ideas about how to advise Portia more effectively with a greater connection to the people. This seems to calm the situation down a bit and he steps back for now.

At the end of this scene, I’ll reduce the Chaos Factor to 8 and add Tristan to the Characters list.

Scene 2: Outside Albinus’s Home

Erlan, even in his weakened state, wants to see what the situation is at Albinus’s home. He’ll go accompanied by a dozen or so villagers, including both Tristan and Portia. At the first sign of the undead, they’ll pull back. But he wants to see if there are any indications of whether there is still an imminent threat with Albinus (at least temporarily) gone. Mythic wants to alter the scene a bit; I decide Grisselda comes along as well, because she’s an old woman who was right when everybody else was afraid of the bully.

From outside, there wouldn’t be any blazingly obvious indications of necromancy, because Albinus was hiding his secret. And in fact, during his earlier visit, Erlan already failed to notice anything. Are there any hidden corpses here, however (unlikely)? Yes, just a couple. With Albinus not immediately present, they remain appropriately quiet. Erlan instructs that they be removed for burial.

Inside the home, he looks around again, and he’ll roll Wisdom/Pray again, but at DC 6 since he already knows that there should be something here: he succeeds. He finds funeral shrouds and other items that would be expected in such a place, but also a singularly bizarre object. Is the object magical (likely)? Yes. Is it a device (50/50) or a grimoire? It’s a device in the form of a bundle of incense sticks. He takes it and examines it closely. The sticks are crafted from ashes of the dead and bound with kabavine, the local resource that has made the town wealthy. He’ll roll Int/Pray to try to determine what it does: he fails, however, and will need to take the incense to a more knowledgeable person.

Wait, perhaps Grisselda might know what it is (50/50)? Exceptional No - why would he show that to her? It’s foul and clearly bound up with the worst sort of magic. Leave an old woman alone, she says; she’s no witch! Erlan apologizes and puts the necrotic incense away.

For now, he’ll take a bit of the blood from the vial he wears around his neck on a silver chain as a holy symbol and anoint the front door of the house with it, then pray for saintly protection. This isn’t a spell, as in some clerical magic with mechanical import, but rather a moment to remind the town that the sacred blood of saints is a promise of absolution and healing.

As the scene closes, I’ll reduce the Chaos Factor further to 7.

Interlude: Downtime

Erlan spends the next few days recovering and talking to Portia, Tristan, and others in town to understand the scope of what’s happened nad perhaps get some information about the necromancer who called himself Albinus. This allows him to get the benefits of level 2 for a Heroic Warrior: 2d6 + 4 (Class) + 2 (CON) + 12 (Heroic) = 20 hit points (box cars, really??). However, since characters aways get at least 1 extra HP, so his new maximum is 22. I decide this takes three days, so he recovers 6 hp from natural healing and loses both points of System Strain, bringing him to 8 out of 22 hit points.

Per his class, his attack bonus increases to +2. Critically, his heroic abilities Slayer and Heroic Warrior’s Fray can now affect creatures with 2 HD or less, which would have potentially turned the tide against those zombies in the last session. His saving throws also improve by 1 each. He also gets three skill points, two of which he’ll use to improve Stab to Stab-1 while saving the other point for later.

Scene 3: Determining Albinus’s Whereabouts

If Erlan simply returns to Chancel now, he’ll lose track of the necromancer and potentially leave Oakside in greater danger than before. This scene will involve him trying to determine where Albinus has gone by talking to the locals. Over the course of several days, he’ll roll Charisma/Connect at a DC 6 due to the situation: he succeeds, though perhaps there are those who are secretly working against him.

What does he learn, though? Albinus was recently seen heading to a new location, a recently-constructed dam. Most folks assumed he was doing some fishing, but he went there several times so perhaps there’s something to learn there.

We previously established that he had a number of other associates in town. In particular, one is a carpenter who assembled the coffins, a woman named Sabrina. When he talks to her, she’s wearing a waistcoat and her eyes are darting back and forth, whether out of suspicion or something else. He talks to her about what she knows about Albinus, but I’m uncertain if she’ll actually cooperate. That’s a Charisma/Convince roll, but at DC 10 because of her previous affiliation with the undertaker: he succeeds. She responds in an emotionally charged manner; she too had been taken in, and this has led her to question herself. In factr, after a few comments about the greatness of the man and how he was a boon to the community, she begins to rant about how he would end death and defeat sin. At this point, Erlan believes she’s hopelessly mad and leaves her to her own devices. (In fact, I decide, this will be important later, given the themes of the setting.)

He has three leads now: the necrotic incense, the dam where Albinus was known to frequent lately, and this idea that he was going to end death and defeat sin. The latter is a bit abstract, but it’s something to keep in mind during the rest of the investigation.

The Chaos Factor drops to 6. For now, I’ll add Sabrina to the Characters list, though it’s unclear how long she might stay relevant.

Scene 4: Checking out the Dam

After another night of rest and recovery, Erlan decides to check out the dam. (He’s at full HP but has some system strain.) I expect just finding some indications of activity but no particular action. Mythic alters the scene slightly, so Portia will go with him as part of her duties.

It doesn’t take them long to get there, as it’s just a short walk from the village through the forest. The dam isn’t very large and it forms a small lake. However, there are many brambles and thorns, making it difficult to get around and look for anything. He’ll roll Wisdom/Notice; normally he would be penalized for not having Notice-0 but I’ll assume that is compensated by having Portia with him; regardless, they fail. That’s going to mean success at a cost” here, as they’re ambushed by some of Albinus’s minions. Are these minions undead (likely) or regular human allies? Undead, so I decide they’re going to face d4+2=4 zombies, statted as Shambling Corpses. But while Portia is not a skilled warrior (with only 2 HP and AC 10), she’s also subject to attacks by the ambushers - meaning that Erlan will have to protect her as well as himself.

  • Shambling Corpse: HD 2 (4, 8, 9, 11 HP), AC 10, Atk +2, Dmg d8 (slam), Move 20’, ML 12, Instinct 6, Skill +0, Save 14+

Because it’s an ambush, I’ll have the two groups roll off to see who goes first. Despite catching the humans by surprise, these undead move so slowly that Erlan is able to intercept them. Because of his Slayer ability, he only needs to roll damage. The priest does his best to hold them off with his long pike, and he knocks two of them down before they can reach either of the humans. He’ll also screen his ally with his Move action. The remaining undead will each target one of the humans, based on random rolls, but as noted Erlan will try to intercept the attack against Portia. The first one hits him for 8 damage, but he negates it with Veteran’s Luck. The other one isn’t fast enough to get past Erlan’s guard of Portia, so the attack goes against him and misses.

In the next round, Erlan drops the zombie that has 11 HP, damages the last one down to 5 HP and continues to screen Portia. Not that it matters, as the undead comes for him and slams him for 6 damage. Erlan finishes the creature off without difficulty.

Subsequently he’ll recover 7 of those HP in exchange for 2 points of System Strain, bringing him to 21/22 HP and 3/14 System Strain. Portia is unharmed. Is she shaken by the attack (likely)? Yes, she has previously not had to face the assaults herself, and she’s grateful Erlan was able to keep them off of her, as one swipe could have ended her life.

What did they find in exchange for surviving the ambush? From here, they can see a beautiful structure nobody had noticed before, a blackened tower on a small island in the lake. That’s likely a place where Albinus has holed up, or perhaps occupied for some time before. Erlan has learned better than to try to assault it alone and without preparation, though.

The Chaos Factor drops to 5, and I’ll add the Blackened Tower to the Characters list (as that’s sort of a misleading term within Mythic GME).

Scene 5: Burning the Incense

Erlan and Portia return to the village safely but he’s still trying to understand what this incense is about. He’ll take it to the graveyard and see what effect it has (which I’ve already determined behind the scenes, at least in terms of its mechanical description).

It’s the same day, though perhaps he stops at Grisselda’s home for a meal and to discuss the progress of his investigation. From there, he gathers his pike and the incense, then heads to the graveyard. It’s daytime, so should backup be required, villagers might be within earshot.

Upon arriving, he first prays for guidance and protection from St Nephemias, the Grave Tender, who is invoked to protect graves and to ease the soul’s passage into the next world.” (Krevborna p. 51). Then he kneels and lights the incense before a small shrine of a corpulent man in black robes holding a scythe and an hourglass (the typical representation of St Nephemias).

A skilled Victorian-era illustrator’s rendition of a small shrine within a graveyard, in a less realistic and more stylized manner. The illustration, in black and white, showcases a corpulent saint clad in black robes, holding a scythe and an hourglass, engraved on the shrine. The atmosphere is somber yet peaceful, conveying peace and finality. The style mimics the intricate and stylized illustrations typical of 19th-century books, with a focus on expressive lines and dramatic contrasts. Image generated by ChatGPT

At this, a ghostly mist rises from the incense and fills a small area around the shrine. Erlan must make a Mental saving throw: he fails, and he is haunted by visions of the last moments of the person whose ashes were used to make the incense. He feels the despair as the soul realizes they are not passing into some rewarding (or even punishing) afterlife; the violence of the empty void lies before them.

Does this vision relate to someone who knew Albinus in some way (50/50)? Yes, the person was a man of melancholy disposition, dressed in makeshift clothing - some poor laborer or beggar, perhaps. His bleak life was cut short by this undertaker. The vision provides information, though - does it relate to the third lead about ending death and defeating sin (likely)? Yes, and in Krevborna, the first transgressions of humanity against the gods led to the birth of the first dragons, who are now also known as the Beasts of the First Sin.

Erlan starts to think that perhaps Albinus is gathering power for some confrontation with dragons, unlikely as that might be to succeed. I think there’s a new thread there to chase down: Discover whether there are dragons in Krevborna”. From my perspective, if I were to continue to play this campaign, I’ll want more than one story thread or quest to pursue.

The Chaos Factor drops to 4 and there are now two threads on the list.

Scene 6: Calling forth the town

Erlan meets with Portia and Tristan to discuss the situation. He plans to ask them to help him recruit some of the villagers to go forth and confront Albinus in the Blackened Tower. I think this feels like a social challenge, so maybe the One-Roll Social Challenge Targets” table in WWN p. 253 will help. Since Erlan has met these two before, some parts might not turn out relevant, so I’ll list the ones that are:

  • How does the PC learn about them? They were involved in a problem the PC had (this is obviously valid).
  • Why won’t they cooperate? They think the PC isn’t worth their time.
  • What’s their weakest point? They recently made a grave error in judgment (certainly true in Portia’s case).
  • What’s their current mood? Something bad happened that upset them (again, super valid for Portia; what has upset Tristan?).
  • What do they want accomplished? They want to elevate their social standing (this is true for both of them).

Tristan remains upset because Erlan didn’t immediately side with him. This priest may have been strong enough to defeat a few zombies, but once confronted with the source of the evil, he was unable to succeed. Perhaps in fact the villagers of Oakside will need to face Albinus themselves, or to gather allies from someplace else. Portia, in turn, fears losing her position of control and power, and sees Tristan as a threat to that.

She’s somewhat obliging to Erlan, however, both in terms of her temperament and how he saved her earlier from the zombie ambush. The priest’s plan makes sense, so Erlan offers a compromise to Tristan: He can choose the villagers who will form the support for Erlan’s assault. Will the upstart merchant realize this elevates his standing in the community? That depends on our Charisma/Convince roll at DC 8: he fails, and Tristan insists that a more formal governance structure is required.

Erlan next turns to Portia, trying to broker a compromise. Perhaps she would agree to let both of the men form an ad hoc council with her, positioning this as something she must administer and approve? This roll succeeds, and she agrees to this. Tristan is reluctant, but it’s enough of a win that he’ll take it for now. Surely he intends to try to continue to manipulate the situation to his advantage.

Now that they’re a council, Erlan proposes more formally that they gather a militia under his command to investigate the Blackened Tower and, potentially, confront Albinus. He agrees to let the two of them choose the militia members; perhaps each of them might choose half of the group, and they can make a joint announcement to the town about it? Tristan and Portia fall back to squabbling, and eventually Erlan leaves them to their argument.

At some point, he may decide to deal with the governance here, but that likely means asking someone in the Choristers (the upper echelon and leadership of the Church of Saintly Blood) to deal with it, as it’s clearly outside his capabilities. He’s a holy warrior, not a politician. I’ll add a third thread, Help Oakside unify as a community”.

The Chaos Factor increases once more to 5, as he was never really in control of what was happening.

Scene 7: The Militia

While Tristan and Portia argue about how they should divide power, Erlan decides he’s going to take it directly to the people. Those other two are more focused on their personal positions than on the safety and needs of their community.

Standing out front of the manor (residence of the reeve and the closest thing they have to a town hall), he begins to call out. This is, after all, his original training: to preach to the people and build up their faith. I decide he’s going to roll Charisma/Connect at +1 due to the connections he’s already started building here: success! The villagers begin to gather around him; I imagine Grisselda is prodding those who know her, getting them to come out and listen.

Erlan’s speech is simple and impassioned. They have been subject to ongoing attacks by the foulest of magic, and by someone who had tricked them into believing he was their neighbor and perhaps even their friend. He calls for volunteers to join him in confronting this evil, and while it will involve mortal danger, perhaps the saints will bless them and protect them. Since I already rolled success for him, I’ll now roll 2d6 to see how many villagers will stand forth and offer themselves: nine stout-hearted folks step forward. They’ll leave at dawn.

The Chaos Factor drops back down to 4.

Conclusion

That ends this session. Erlan gains another 3 XP, bringing him to 6 and thus Level 3. I’ll roll his new HP total: 3d6+6+3+12 = 37, quite a significant jump. Additionally, his base attack bonus increases to +3, saving throws each improve by 1, and he gains 3 more skill points (bringing his total to 4). Based on what he’s been doing for the last week or so, he’ll spend 2 points each to add 1 level of Connect and Convince. His heroic abilities now will affect creatures with 3 HD or less, and his damage bonus as a warrior increases by 1 as well (half his level, rounded up, is now +2 rather than +1).

Finally, it turns out I missed that he should have gotten a new Focus level. I’ll increase his Impervious Defense to 2 (the maximum), which will let him shrug off any single weapon attack or physical trauma inflicted by a foe” once per day, as long as its the sort of thing armor could resist in general. A necromancer’s finger of death requires a saving throw, so it does not help against that, but it would help against a zombie’s slam attack or similar.

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