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Previously On: The Corruption of Saint Barberra & World Building Notes

We played our first session yesterday of Zweihänder Grim & Perilous RPG! I'm so excited to introduce this award-winning system to our Sunday Pen & Paper Guild players. But this post is a bit of a double-whammy with world-building notes and a "previously on." So let's get to it!

The World of Saint Barberra

I've described this game world as Medieval Europe by way of West Virginia, combining where my family is from with some of my favorite RPG games like Diablo and Darkest Dungeon. We're only just getting started, but I wanted to share some basics of the world for players now and players in the future. I don't have a massive world history to work from, leaving space for players to learn, discover, and construct the world themselves. We know of military activity in the recent past as there are men-of-arms and that arcane magick is suspicious; the Church and the Crown have a close connection and that industry and invention are happening, though the pace is unclear.

But for now, let's get to some basics.

The Church of the Shield

While the Church shares some aspects with the Medieval Christian Church, it is its own in many ways. The mythos of the Church revolves around Five Heroes: The Hooded Sage, Master of the Arcane; the White Lady, Minister of Healing; the Gryphon (or Winged Knight), Who Confronts Chaos; the Stone Fist, Calm of Mind (or One with Earth); and the Outsider, the Burning Blade. In the Age of Stars, long before the present, the Five fought the Eight-Headed Mother of Monsters, an apocalyptic being with multitudinous identities bent on returning the world to primordial Chaos. The heads of the Mother of Monsters are generally serpent, goat, lion, vulture, toad, locust, crone, and infant boy, each representing one or many forms of Corruption. Lastly, there is the myth of the Life Breaking Blade, a powerful weapon that gradually corrupts its wielder, turning them against their allies.

(The Five Heroes of the Shield are intentionally modeled after the classic Final Fantasy protagonists, the Light Warriors. The Mother of Monsters is a nod to Earthbound, as well. The Life Breaking Blade is a nod to several sources, including Diablo's soul gem, the sanity-blasting Cthulhu Mythos, and the One Ring of Tolkien. Each of these is intended to be open-ended and archetypal, allowing local interpretation just as the Christian Church's angels, demons, and saints were adapted to the folk traditions of Medieval Europe.)

While the Hooded Sage and the Outsider are cited and even brought up in sermons, they are often ignored or adapted by the in-game institutions as they may not fit with the popular doctrine. For this reason, or maybe a cause for this reason, arcanists and agnostic scholars demonstrate subtle appreciation for the Hooded Sage. And the Outsider can be praised by rogues, thieves, spellswords, foreigners, and berserkers alike, offering a dangerous but potent path to confronting (or even channeling) forces of Chaos.

The holy symbol of the Church is a cross-like circle called the Shield composed of five lines, each representing one of the Heroes: Two lines compose the top-piece that arc away from one another toward the center (The Gryphon and the White Lady), this meets a central median (the Stone Fist), which then is marked by mirroring lines that arc below and meet and descend below (the Burning Blade and the Hooded Sage). When depicting holy figures such as Saint Barberra of Anthem, the Shield is often included in the background in a hue indicating the Five to whom they're associated (white for the White Lady).

Character Connections

Intent on establishing connections between characters, we opened up the session with an exercise drawn from Fiasco (read our previous post here). Here is a summary:

  • Ariel Smythe (Tyler), the human Investigator, has been coordinating with Derrick the Ogre and Okral Ironbane to develop a business in understanding and solving problems for commonfolk. Ariel has an eye for alchemy and a taste for esoteric delights, as well. She and Okral share a passion for inquiry, though their focuses tend to differ.

  • Ellen (Sheree), the Hedge Knight, has a roadborne friendship with Phebe John and has been traveling with the reserved Yrsa Wood.

  • Yrsa Wood (Cindy), the snaggle-toothed Anchorite, has been traveling with Phebe John and Ellen, though is interested in treatment for her familial curse at the Nunnery. She and Phebe share intrigue in magicks, though the depth has yet to be plumbed. In addition, she, Phebe, and Okral have shared the ride of mushrooms at least once before.

  • Okral Ironbane (Ted), the dwarf Engineer, has provided arithmetic skills to business arrangements with Ariel and Derrick. He has also seeks mushrooms with Yrsa and Phebe.

  • Derrick (Catie), the Ogre Laborer, has provided much needed muscle for the business endeavors with Okral and Ariel. He has also sat down at least once with Yrsa, not minding their curmudgeonly demeanor.

  • And we will have Rath Caspian, the Elf Pilgrim, joining the crew in Piran!

Previously On: The Corruption of Saint Barberra

Episode 1, The Moonshine Pass

"The corral of Grantham smells of straw, sweat, and shit. A dozen dray horses chew on morning feed as two are lead to an open wooden cart with walls three boards high. In the cart is a woman, a girl, in a shapeless gray cloak, laying prone on the floor of the cart. A few strands of black hair, dirty and matted, indicate her front. As she shifts, the dull chiming of chains reverberates in the dawn. As the horses are set to their yoke, a sturdy woman in black overcloak and crisp, white frock watches, her wide brim overshadowing her slightly round, faintly freckled face. A young woman in similar attire with a belt of books over her shoulder counts out silver shillings at the front of the corral. Overseeing them both, with arms crossed, is a coarse man, a wide blade and dirk on his belt, with a long scar bordering his face and patchy, uneven salt and pepper hair.

"Sister Henrietta has hired your lot for the Moonshine Pass to Piran. The Girl, it seems, is a witch. At the Nunnery of Saint Barberra the Girl will be treated. The mousy novice sister, Maisie, and Mort Plunk of the Redleaf Brigade will join you. They aim to set out within the hour."

And so we begin. Okral Ironbane, Derrick the Ogre, and Ariel Smythe are known about Grantham for odd inventions and alchemical dabblings; word is that the mines around the Village of Piran, while generally dry of silver, will hold lesser known metals for other experiments. In addition, the traveling band of Phebe John, Ellen, and Yrsa Wood offer blade and keen eye in an effort to get to the Nunnery where Yrsa's generations' old curse may finally be lifted. A few of the band have shared the ride of mushrooms as well, creating a tenuous webwork between the travelers. They've been promised five silver shillings a piece, even if they make it in four days with hard travel.

Ariel, always curious, asks after Sister Initiate Maisie about the Girl as well as the faith of the land. Maisie speaks glowingly of the Shield (represented by the crossed circle hanging from her neck), the sisters of Saint Barberra who gain strength from the White Lady of the Five, and that the Girl will be given opportunities to absolve her sins of witchery over the next two years. Her sins, Maisie explains, came to a head with the brutal slaying and dark signs of two of the Girl's neighbor's goats. Maisie herself spends her time feeding and tending those that come to the local temple and she hopes to aid in spreading the services and ministrations of Saint Barberra elsewhere when she is a full sister.

Okral approaches Mortimer "Mort" Plunk of the local militia, known as the Redleaf Brigade. The Moonshine Pass along which they'll be traveling, was once frequented with carts of silver, minted coins of the realm, and goods from the mines. Now, the roads present threats to those that would travel alone; horse thieves and highwaymen for the most part, though there have been camp fires up on the mountaintops which worry Mort. Piran is a bit outside of his purview, but Grantham has been quiet and he himself could use the coin. The more travellers the better, as long as the Nunnery has coin to pay them.

With the sun sitting on the misty horizon, they set out. Phebe John and Derrick have a way with the horses, making good time along the road off of which mountainous hollows are lined with gardens, farms, and goat herders. The Girl, who travels chained inside the cart, is quiet, looking out from her rough, soiled robes to see the bright middle summer sun and haze over the mountains around them. Okral sets out with a trap for game, first getting ahead of the party and then catching up with three rabbits in hand. The road treats Ariel and Ellen unkindly, as the sun beats down during midday. By the end of the day, they are in the cool shadow of Shamrock Mountain with its clearing of clover and grasses. They set a light camp with a weary Ariel making roast rabbit and herbs sided with the hard bread and roast vegetables from the stocks in the wagon.

The rest and meal recuperates them all and the kindness she shows to the Girl, offering her some of the meal, is met with a suspicious kindness as well. Ariel provides some water and a cloth for the Girl to tidy herself as she can. The Girl recommends Ariel to seek out the feverwort, a white flower that grows in low, damp places in the wood; when dried and made into a tea, it would ease the inflammation of hard travel. She adds that it was common for her to make tinctures for the women's monthlies and so she had a name for herself among them. She had other services, but that sort was the most common.

The next day along the high road toward Lenore's traveler's house went smoothly enough. Yrsa, taking Ariel's description of feverwort, traveled parallel the road in the wood and did, after a time, come across flowers matching the description, which they dried along the path. Lenore's had space enough in the common room for them all to eat and to drink, Ariel taking to the libations with gusto. Phebe took the time to ask more of the sisters in the later hours and they spoke of the Girl's mother, a fortune teller and diviner. Such things invite demons to act, "How could one know the future if one does not have a hand in it?" Sister Nettie added. So the girl would have two years at the nunnery to absolve herself and choose a path of Order, leaving after that time once she had confessed of her sins.

Outside, Ariel began wobbling, heavy with drink. She muttered to herself of the various pieces of the puzzle and she remembered, oddly, that the Girl's fingernails were very small, uniformly so, along her right hand when she'd reached for the meal. Ariel puzzled this over, checked the course of the moon which was waning with it full shortly before their departure from Grantham. In her stupor, she goads Derrick and the rabbit pelts from Okral to attempt to soften the manacles' bite on the Girl's wrists, recruiting Yrsa to treat the scrapes as best as they can. Eventually, the Ariel fell into a snoring slumber, dreaming of moons and nails regrowing quickly. She woke to bitter feverwort flower tea for her and Ellen at the hands of Yrsa, which did its best to take the edge off of the hangover.

The road dipped low here into the Sweet Birch River valley, which was lush and green with older growth trees and the faint smell of algae. Mists and the shadows of clouds cut through the woodlands below, inspiring a beautiful scene. Strangely quiet, though it was. At midday, their rest was marked by the arrival of a man carrying an axe, a faintly burning lantern, and a bundle of branches from the trees into their clearing. Okral was the first to greet the man's hail, though he almost regretted it. The Woodsman spoke in a gruff manner as Ariel stepped in and asked questions as she tended to do, the Woodsman focused on seeking more willow-wood, adding that even in the light of the day the lantern made him feel not so alone in the woods. Noticing the Woodsman's wedding band, Ariel asked after his wife, to which he became jittery and quiet. At this, Phebe roused the horses and the others followed suit, tying up their bundles and shaking hands clean of crumbs. The Woodsman added, "Be wary of Selene's Outlook. The wind over the mountains, it can do strange things." Ariel, realizing that she was suddenly quite alone, ran up after her compatriots. When she looked back, the Woodsman's departure was marked only by the rustling of scrawny new growth trees.

Along the road, Phebe was ill-at-ease and eyed the canopies for trouble. The quiet got to her now after the encounter with the Woodsman. Ellen, walking next to her, eyed the road ahead. Without mention, Phebe began walking toward the woods to the south, the edge of the path cutting down sharply. Ellen notice and grabbed her friend's arm, who came to. Phebe said only thanks, mumbling that she must be weary. Ellen peered into the wood, seeing the thin ribbon of blue of the Sweet Spruce down below in spots.

Selene's Outlook included a half-dozen travel cottages, two of which had collapsed roofs and creepers growing from them. The others seemed sound enough with firm shelves for bedrolls to get off of the ground. After dining early, Ellen and Ariel took watch, uncomfortable with Phebe's behavior earlier and the odd encounter with the Woodsman. Ariel realized that she had not learned the Woodsman's name; or the Girl's for that matter. She rose and checked on the Girl who shared that her name was Beth. She was appreciative of the padding on her manacles, too. Ariel, looked back to Ellen to see that she was walking to the woods! Running up to her, Ariel tries to pull Ellen around, but brawny Ellen shrugs off Ariel. Ariel looks to the woods and then to her sleeping companions and moves to wake Derrick and Okral for aid.

Ellen, though, hears a song in the woods and follows it. In the night an owl hoots and its shadow rushes through the night's indigo. Ellen comes to an oxbow lake and opposite a middle-aged woman holding herself in wintry clothing, her voice radiating out beautifully. Ellen strides into the lake toward her, expecting shallow water, but it is deeper or, perhaps, something pulls her below. Ariel arrives on the scene and rushes into the water, wrestling with Ellen's bulk which seems to have, for the moment, gone limp. Ariel pulls Ellen to the edge, as Derrick and Okral arrive. Ellen sputters and coughs, sodden and heavy and suddenly cold in the summer night. She explains she heard singing and saw a woman that she went to. Okral circles the lake and sees no disturbed earth, no unsettled river stone, but as he looks out, he sees a form in a long cloak with locks of hair in an eerie blue dancing, quietly away from them along the treetops.

The final day starts early, but they are ill-at-ease. Ariel speaks to the Girl Beth, asking about the nails and the monthly cycles, then mentions the moon. The Girl starts and says, "You... you think I am a wolf? You think that I change with the moon?" And her voice, filled with exasperation, explodes into laughter. "A wolf? You think me a wolf?" And as she laughs, just as suddenly, she collapses into moaning tears, hollering once in a while with a sardonic howl and woot with pitiful laughter. Sister Nettie pulls Ariel aside, saying that the Girl must be exhausted herself, but if we trek onward, we'll get her to the Nunnery shortly after nightfall.

Between increasingly hoarse tears and laughter, they continue forward. Clouds darken overhead and rain begins to fall. Phebe pushes that they rest, perhaps at the Sparrow Fork mining camp as they pass. Sister Nettie refuses, that the Nunnery is close, that horses will be sturdy of step. Phebe and Derrick were the ones that pushed the horses so well that they could start early. Damp and frustrated, Phebe urges the horses onward.

"To the left scrappy asses and horses mill about, tails swishing, and smelling robustly behind a wide, narrow house while to the right, raucous shouts call from an inn with a brightly painted green rooster sign flapping in the rain and wind while tankards clink inside. Passed them are several modest lodges with weary window shutters pulled closed, a few with flickering orange light dancing between the slats. Three or four of the houses stand with un-glassed windows open and a portentous darkness sitting within as rain falls on floorboards. A large, smartly maintained mansion sits at the next corner to the left and just after it a narrow field of matted grass and packed dirt along the road, the smell of rotted fruit and bread still lingering in the air. Sister Nettie guides you all along this road and to your right are shops, closed, but the sound of hammer and the woosh of the loom linger like phantoms. More houses, but between them you can see the walls of the Nunnery rise. Just before it, to the left, is a double-doored structure painted white with a belltower jutting from its back. Sister Nettie knocks upon the wooden gate and is met by others in habits. They rush The Girl, half-asleep and sodden from the journey, inside where you can see a gazebo to your left and a massive garden to your right, while before you is the Nunnery, a strong edifice of stone with wooden trim and fine, glass windows. Somewhere inside you hear the sound of soft-shoes on floorboards between the rain, but the windows are dark save one to the far left on the second story where a lantern burns, illuminating the spines of books.

"You have delivered the Girl to the Nunnery of Saint Barberra. Welcome to the Village of Piran."

Image Credit: Wikimedia, Eupatorium perfoliatum;, New River Gorge

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