Last week we played the long anticipated tenth session of our last “season” of Eldritch Sigils called The Season of the Witch. Rather than being (all) about the last session I try once again debate about ending a campaign.
At the start of this campaign we established that the characters were chosen by George Washington to uncover a diabolic cult of witches that had been plaguing the New World since its founding. As with most campaigns it all went to hell but this time with an intended bang.
The TL;DR Session summary of sessions 8-10
The characters might have started out as paragons of justice but it did not take long for them to be tainted by the darkness they were fighting against.
Most times this isn’t something that works in a long run. Either the characters evolve into unplayable monsters quite quickly and/or they are killed by their companions. But since most the players have grown accustomed to this ten session structure we had a good opportunity to use this into our advance.
While getting closer to the inevitable closure of this season the players began to study their Taint (an actual Harm scale in the game) closer. They let it affect their decisions and lead them into darker paths. One of the characters was a lay preacher who tried to resist the lure of chaos to the very end but even his vision about the world was corrupted by the events the party uncovered.
But it wasn’t until the ninth session that we finally opened the gates of madness and decided to have fun with the dark side.
At the end of eight session the group had captured a person accused of witchcraft. The lay preacher was getting ready to go full Malleus Maleficarum on him while on the other characters thought it to be a good time to Lift the Veil and gaze to the Beyond (a vision quest, sort of). The eight session ended with his mind shattered by an otherworldly god.
While thinking about how should I handle the characters insanity I plainly asked guidance from a number of net groups and got a lot of good ideas. Since I knew we only had two sessions left I chose to go with the most outrageous one. I explained Ville (the player of the said character) that he had been visited by a god that drove him insane. And instructed him to go crazy on the character.
I was half expecting the character to be killed on the spot. The group might have been corrupted but they still clung to the perception they were doing good. But when this crazy character didn’t go full berserk on them they just let him go.
It was a truly memorable session. Mikko (who was playing the preacher) explained in great detail the horrible torture his character was going to perform on the accused. He also let it be known that his character wasn’t actually that keen on the truth – only the soul of the accused mattered, or this was what his preacher told himself.
While this torture took place a witch panic engulfed the whole city of Philadelphia. Ville’s character was a key player in this. He fixed on corrupting people and not just brutally sacrificing them a maniac cultist. In the end, when the characters were almost convinced to let the accused go, his character used witchcraft to grow horns on the head of accused. He was brutally murdered in a flash.
What followed was quite likely one of my most favourite moments in my GM years. The preacher lead an angry mob out of the city to burn the body of the witch. Most of the PCs went with the crowd and Ville’s character used the whole trip to turn the whole event into a satanic mass. The preacher was preaching about the wicked ways of the witches and Mikko said that the bloodthirsty spirits of the townsmen turned to debauchery and in the end what started out as a holy mission ended into a decadent orgy in the field.
And the I hit them with full force of the righteousness.
As a GM you usually get to lead bad NPCs against semi-good PCs. But this time mr. Washington was totally convinced that his champions had sold their souls to the Devil. And he lead a full garrison of Philadelphia to catch the characters.
This was the watershed of the campaign. It gave the character a way to understand who far they had fallen. Some of them escaped while others were captured. In the following events those captured were thrown into prison and when their companions came to spring them out they had no problems letting each and every convict go as a diversion.
While fighting at the gates of the prison Petri‘s character, a former slave, managed to pull of yet another memorable action. While fighting with the guard he saw the soldiers at the roof of the prison and had the chance to save himself. But he chose to redeem himself pushing it for the last time. In an epic scene his character overcame the guards and gave his life to open the gates for his comrades.
The party escaped into the streets with the murderers and thieves and vanished from the city into the countryside.
At this point we started the last session. The ninth session had been so grand that it seemed hard make the last session more memorable. So instead we went to my cabin with a few bottles of Jaloviina and whiskey.
This seasons finale happened in a single hill somewhere near the city of Philadelphia. Everyone was dedicated on escalating things as much as possible but as it turned out there wasn’t that much left to do.
Understanding their full corruption the characters where finally ready to “turn the key” ie. to perform a heinous ritualistic human sacrifice they had learned about on Roanoke. If you have seen any Hellraiser movies you pretty much know how it all ended. I had such sights to show them!
The Actual Good Stuff
I cannot underline the greatness of this “seasonal structure” enough. I know it is not for all and it might not even work in most games. But with strong narrative games such as those that run with Apocalypse World engine it really keeps things going on. Once the group gets accustomed to this kind of a structure it is much easier for them to build characters arcs that span through a whole season.
Consider a convention scenario (or any other oneshot): since you know it is the only time you get to play this character you are going to (or at least should) play the hell out of it. With the seasonal structure it is pretty much the same but you have time to get to know your character, learn about the things they do and wreck or save them.
From a GM’s point-of-view it means that you do not have to introduce so many interesting threads since players tend get tangled in their own stuff anyway. It also lets you to build up the suspense with dramatic tools like planting and redemption. With prewritten campaigns you might get this quite easily but with home-cooked campaigns it might not be so easy. Usually (at least that is the case with our campaigns) they just dry up and end when people loose interest with or without any kind of finale.
All-in-all this was quite likely the best campaign of Eldritch Sigils we have played. Maybe even the best campaign that I have ever GMed. The solid involvement of the players and our mutual understanding of the campaign structure worked out perfectly. So perfectly in fact that I’m a bit nervous about starting the next season.
But since it’s going to be a pirate season I’m not going to loose my sleep over it.
As a last note – by some satanic influence this song played at the background during the most horrible scenes of the campaign and thus gained something of an “official season song” status.
The Velvet Underground – Venus in Furs
For those interested the whole season playlist can be found here: Eldritch Sigils – Season of the Witch (Spotify link)