Monday, 15 January 2018

CLII. Monstrous Births : Act I



The Countess is on a night-time outing with her spirit minions. She seeks to gather rare widow cap mushrooms, and lichen known as the devil's down. She knows these grow in a hidden cave in Volovska Weald, a forest near Castle Waywode. She has visited that place several times before.


Creeping through the trees, the Countess spots what she was looking for: a dried-up, abandoned well stands in a small clearing, illuminated by cold, bright moonlight. The hidden cave should be nearby.


However, something is not right this time. The cave is no longer uninhabited: a pack of wolves has made it their den since the Countess' last visit. There seems to be a man with them. He is clad in rags, his beard long and unkempt. He carries carved shepherd's crook and a large hoop made of woven twigs. This all points to the strange man being one of the fabled wolf herdsmen, hermits who live in the woods among wolves, commaniding them and caring for them.

The pack caught the scent of the Countess and her spirit host. As she approaches, the wolves, visibly agitated, block the path to the cave's mouth.

The Countess will have none of that. She bleeds herself, and from her blood and a shard of her spirit an etheric projection forms right in front of the herdsman. However, she will soon regret her overconfidance; instead of cowering from it, the wolves throw themselves at the beast with the Countess' face, and tear it apart.

The Countess decides to advance more cautiously, giving orders to her etherial minions to draw out the pack and try to single them out. To bolster her retinue's numbers, she bleeds herself yet again and summons a second Crimson Sphynx from the spirit world. 

One of the Custodians manages to provoke the pack to attack him. The wolf herdsman himself gets into the fray. As he comes closer, the Countess can observe his eyes are wild and inhuman; they look much like the eyes of his animals. The other spirits circle the woods in an attempt to flank the wolf pack.

The wolf herdsman suddenly throws his strange twig hoop around his own neck, which starts a grotesque transformation into a large, snarling wolf. Aided by his wolf brethren, he viciously attacks the surprised Custodian and sends him back to the underworld. But then a Crimson Sphynx gives him a start, landing behind him from the moonlit sky.

The encounter intensifies, wolves and ancient spirits fight furiously. The first few wolves stain the forest floor wit their blood. From a safe distance, the Countess makes her Beast materialise again. She is beginning to feel weak; the summoning always takes a toll on her physically. Attacking together with a Spynx, the Beast manages to open the throat of the enraged shapeshifter hermit. The big bad wolf falls on the carpet of dry leaves, never to get up again.


Then another strange thing captures the Countess' attention: from the thicket to her left, a large figure emerges.  Even in this weak light she can notice features of a deer, but this animal has got way more legs than a deer should. Only four of them are actually touching the ground; the others are dangling from its sides uselessly. 
The creature's slow-paced movements look painful and unsure. Its head is hanging low under the weight of a mass of antlers, grown wildly asymmetrical and coral-like. Then she notices another head hanging from a crooked second neck. As the tormented beast shambles along, its second head sends out a wail that is bloodcurdling and heart-wrenching at the same time. 

It breaks into a run. It is heading in the direction of the well. 

The deformed creature pays no notice to the fighting going on around the cave. However, a Ravenous Bloodfiend stands in its path. The deer attempts to shove it aside with a prod from the overgrown antlers. Angered, the spirit retaliates; but the deer creature is tough.

In the meantime, the skirmish with the wolves continues. The flanking Sphynx ran into some resistance. It is slain, but the beasts are not without casualties, either.

The misshapen deer manages to tear itself away from the enraged Bloodfiend, and heads straight for the old well. The Contess watches in disbelief as it deliberately hurls itself in, and hears it land with a thud on the well's dry bottom.

By that time, the growls and yelps of the wolves and eerie shrieks of the spirits have died down. The forest floor is littered with beasts' mangled bodies. The last surviving wolf is pinned down by a Sphynx, bleeding and struggling to break free from it grasp. The Countess is victorious.

Custodians are sent into the cave to fetch the fungi their mistress needs. After a narrow hallway sloped downwards, the cave opens into a spacious room of irregular shape. The walls on the farther end are damp and covered in places with amorphous red-coloured mass. Slender and pale toadstools poke out of the ground in clusters. A strong musty fungal scent is permeating the room, fighting for dominance with odours of urine and rotting meat. There are gnawed bones scattered on the floor.
 
Concealed in one of the nooks there lies a litter of five wolf pups, a few weeks old by the looks of it. Three appear to be gone but two are clearly alive. Each of the pups is grotesquely misshapen in a unique way. 

The Custodians report their discovery to the Countess. 'Curious. So this is what the wolves were guarding... Similar to that deer-thing', she mutters to hersef while examining a two-headed pup. 'Can it be a coincidence? What could it be?' 
Intrigued, and mildly concerned, she decides to take the surviving wolf pups back to the castle.


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The game used Malifaux rules, with a few tweaks and with custom stats for my characters. Tomislav Rac played the Countess, and I directed the wolf pack and did the little GM-ing that was necessary. I hadn't playtested the crews beforehand, but it all turned out just perfectly. The wolves were challenging, but not too powerful; and the Countess managed to survive and secure her objective in the end. She even managed to achieve the side-mission and gather some herbs around the cave (represented by the round markers with concentric circles visible in some of the photos), which she will use to craft a useful healing potion for Act II. Thanks to my brother for helping me come up with the stats, I'm sure they would have been far less balanced without his input. There are a few little things that need fixing before game two, but I'm very happy with how this turned out.

To help create atmosphere, a soundtrack I compiled for the games played in the background the whole time. During the game we listened to music from The Witch (2015) official soundtrack, Diablo II 15th Anniversary Soundtrack, and Buried Visions (2017) album by Asath Reon.


 *   *   *

So, that was Act I. Can't wait to play the rest! Act II will see the Countess investigate the causes behind the sudden outbreak of  misshapen wildlife.

I went with very desaturated photos and bluish hue up there because the fight took place at night. I'll sign off with colour versions of some of them:





32 comments:

  1. Those misshapen animals still creep me out, but this is a truly spectacular report with top-notch effects! Cannot wait to see what comes next. <3

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    1. Thanks Rebecca. :) There will only be more of misshapen beasties in further two games, so brace yourself, I guess. :D

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  2. Your style of painting minis and terrain truly reaches the level of art! The aesthetic is wonderful and sinister, truly magnificent!

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  3. Wow that just looked amazing!!

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  4. Fantastic. I very much look forward to further installments.

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  5. This was great! I haven’t tried Malifaux in a few editions, always seemed like a solid rule set

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    1. Thanks. I like the rules, especially the card mechanics. It takes some time to get the hang of it, but it's my favourite rule set so far.

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  6. The desaturation worked wonders! Everything was clear, and it made the white stand out in a very creepy/eerie way! Can't wait for act ii

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    1. Thanks! I'm planning to experiment with different light and weather effects in the future. Things like snow, rain or fog can do wonders for atmosphere of a scene.

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  7. What else to say? The pictures, artistic and real. The battle, energetic. The mystery, intriguing. Fabulous.

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  8. A wonderfully creepy story, made even better by the fantastic pictures, and the fact that even the tellers did not know how it would turn out. I look forward to seeing how the story unfolds further in the future.

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  9. Absolutely compelling. Great work.

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  10. So many of us that are blogging our miniature worlds seem to be working on fairy tales and fables, but you most of all make that evident.
    Congratulations on a beautiful piece, the umbers and ochers in the color version are so rich and evocative.

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  11. Beautiful report and wonderful painting style. As others have said your reduced palette matches the atmosphere perfectly, desaturated colours only broken up by the autumnal leaves of gnarled trees. The scenario you developed is very interesting and out of the ordinary. A great source of inspiration to make our own campaigns and games more interesting, mysterious and atmospheric. I also welcome the use of music to set a scene, which I, too, employ during RPG sessions. I did not havetime to comment on your posts the last months, but I am look forward to each new installment and hope to comment more from now on. Your work is truly unique and outstanding and I do not think I know any other site that puts an emphasis on atmosphere an cohesive art direction as you do.

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  12. This is great - such awesome, atmospheric photos.

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  13. I cannot begin to describe how wonderful this is! So much effort went into this, from all the remarkable warbands, to the terrain, the soundtrack, and the rules. I really love that you used Malifaux rules, I have been considering trying to adapt it for Inq28 type games (Inquisifaux I suppose). It is a really neat system, primarily due to the fate deck (your custom ones are lovely!), which gives you so much more control over what you are doing, removing some of the random elements (the suits also give a nice way to trigger characterful abilities). So glad to hear that it worked well, and cannot wait to see where it goes from here!

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    1. Thanks Eric! Yes, Malifaux is a great system once one gets comfortable with the rules. The deck mechanic is ace.

      Speaking of adapting it for Inq28, I spoke to Rebecca of Greenstuff Gretchin recently, and she has the same idea as you. I myself can't commit to such a project right now with all the other stuff on my plate, but perhaps you two should talk to each other.

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