The Setting- Knife River Village, located near what is known today as the Rio Grande. Its population was between 70 and 100.
The Hero- Tonnka, descended from the Wolf Clan and the Knife Clan, second-rank member in the Arrow Society. A renowned hunter who was proud and tended to strike out on his own a lot! (Larry)
The story began as Tonnka and other hunters were about to go out scouting before the Great Hunt. The chief asked Tonnka to bring back samples of any strangeness they encountered. The spirits had been quiet about what was going on; a girl who had been struck blind after seeing something while on forbidden grounds told Tonnka that she’d had troubling dreams.
Tonnka followed a strange set of deer tracks. He brought down the animal which had five legs and a weird tongue. (He decided to cut it out for further examination.) Wolves with strange howls attacked before he could start to prepare the deer to take back. One attacked him while the others went for the deer.
He killed the wolf which spoke to him after and warned of a trap. When he returned to the village he told the chiefs about what had happened. They believed him but with only the tongue as proof it was going to be hard to convince anyone. A good friend of his suggested that it could have been a malicious spirit wanting to make him distrustful.
The next day Tonnka’s group of hunters found a dead but otherwise healthy deer lying in a clearing with a strangely shaped piece of bark from a nearby tree tucked under it. The hunters debated whether or not to take it. While one of the hunters went to ask the chief, there was a terrified cry from nearby.
They found the body of one of the hunters, stripped of clothes and gear, his face frozen in fear. Tonnka got the body back to the village. The death of the hunter greatly disturbed the village. He-Stands-Tall and Tonnka agreed to stay out of each other’s way. An attempt to contact the spirit world ended disastrously. The seer who had been chosen for the ritual had barely begun before she began to scream, clawing at her own face.
Her-Eyes-Are-Red-Like-Blood had injured her leg down by the river. She couldn’t really tell them anything though she recognized the symbol traced on her palm, the shape the bark they’d found by the deer and the hunter’s body had been in. Tonnka went to a local witch for medicine.
The witch was bodily thrown from the village immediately after. Tonnka failed to stop this. Rituals were prepared to petition the Spirit World for guidance. Tonnka felt called to try this on his own. This could only be achieved with the aid of an obsidian spear with magical feathers that was in the hands of He-Stands-Tall who agreed to lend it to Tonnka as long as he got it back if it was possible. The chief showed signs of falling ill, prompting He-Stands-Tall to accuse him of angering the spirits. His offer to help the chief in his duties was not well received. Whatever was happening to the chief was not his fault.
And the corruption was spreading, making the village more desperate. Tonnka sought out the witch and made a spirit journey. In the Spirit World, he met Father Sky who showed him that the corruption was somehow coming from the river and blanketing the village uniformly. Father Sky told him he would need to journey to the caves near the village and make a journey underground to find the source of the evil. Before leaving the Spirit World, there was a lightning strike that he had the choice to channel into the spear (which would have broken it) or take into his own body. He chose the latter.
Things went from bad to worse in the village. The ritual to cleanse it had been unsuccessful. Paranoia spread like wildfire and anyone suspected of being a witch or a sorcerer or having any to-do with the Spirit World were driven out. Tonnka avoided returning to the village in favor of going straight for the caves. He called upon the owl spirit (one of the feathers on the staff) to let him see his way so he didn’t give away his position with a torch.
Eventually he came to a cave where the river had washed up many bones of different kinds. He had to crawl over them, breathing in the dust as they crumbled and getting scratched by sharp edges. The next leg of his journey he had to take the plunge- literally. Into a river, where he managed to snag a corpse that was floating by.
He made it! Part of the skull’s forehead had been cut out, in the same shape of the symbol from earlier. It was unclear how much time passed as he continued his journey. He didn’t seem to be hungry or tired or thirsty. At last he came to the shores of a lake where the crumbling ruins of a forgotten civilization stood.
A mountain appeared to be suspended from the ceiling above an eerily still lake. When Tonnka threw a rock in it, a slender tentacle reached up to catch it and plunge beneath the water! He sound found himself battling for his life when more tentacles shot out from the water and grabbed him. Tonnka channeled the lightning he’d taken into himself through the spear, slaying the creature and causing the mountain from above to plunge into the lake below as it was cleansed. Did he return to life with the power of the crow spirit or had he made the ultimate sacrifice to save his village? We’ll never really know.
I was nervous about doing this because it was my first time facilitating and it’s not the simplest system. But it turned out really well! Alex and Larry were great sports. Note to self- be better organized and elaborate a bit more on the setting prior to starting to build the world next time. I am pleased to say it was a fun night.
The story we told was pretty cool. Tonnka was an interesting character. It was fun to watch him interact with the different NPCs and see how he confronted the various problems that were thrown his way. If I may say, Alex and I made a good team as antagonists. I never felt like we stepped on each other’s toes and we found ways to enhance what the other was doing. Alex’s role sometimes felt more traditionally DMish but it worked for the story we were telling. Having two antagonists and only one protagonist didn’t stop us all from working well together. There were high stakes and challenges to overcome and Tonnka bravely took them all on.
As for the system itself, the setting is really unique. I love the collaborative world-building aspect of it and the Corruption mechanic. However, I am not a fan of the conflict system. Rolling dice and then “spending” them a certain way and the antagonists have a preset pool… I don’t feel it hindered our fun but we were all agreed that for a one-shot this was not the most efficient way to handle it. Maybe something similar to Shooting the Moon and how dice are rolled there?
The game was fun and aside from some minor fumbling on my part and non-game-ruining conflict issues, things went pretty smoothly. I would love to give this another try with two protagonists at some point. I am very satisfied with the overall experience and was glad to hear that the other players were too during post-game discussion.
Thanks to Larry and Alex for being brave enough to try something different with a first-time facilitator!