Forbidden Lands Weatherstone Post-Mortem (Spoilers)

Retreater

Legend
As is my tradition, each time a campaign (or in this case, a trial of a system) ends, I'm trying to learn from it. This will be about my group’s exploration of Free League’s Forbidden Lands system and its “Weatherstone” adventure site.

About the Group and Selection of the Campaign/Adventure Site

The group of players are mostly the same as those featured in the Pathfinder 2 Post-Mortem, including some players I met on ENWorld, their friends, and my wife. However, one player left after we concluded the PF2 game. Another had to part after the next short campaign of Monster of the Week. So we had three remaining players.
We wanted to try out Foundry VTT, so we limited our potential game systems to ones that are available on that VTT. We initially looked at WFRP 4e, but the players balked at the crunchiness of character creation.

Going to the next system on our list, we settled on Forbidden Lands. The Core System module on Foundry included three adventure sites, so I populated the world with two of the three, allowing them the choice to decide which one to visit (the town site The Hollows or the castle site Weatherstone).

One player was very excited about trying the Year Zero engine of Free League. Another player (my wife, actually) was hesitant because we had played a convention game of it a few years earlier at Origins, and the low power/high lethality OSR feel didn’t connect with her.

Preparation

I was pleased to be able to try Forbidden Lands. I had purchased everything for the system (GMs screen, card packs, books, boxed sets, special dice, etc.) for the purposes of playing in-person, but I never had the chance to bring it to the table with my in-person group. I got to work re-reading the rules and the three adventure sites that could be chosen from the Core System. (If the group liked the system, I agreed to later purchase one of the campaigns on Foundry to get even more content - but this was just a test.)

The Foundry implementation was excellent. The maps, tables, rules, etc., were all pre-loaded and ready for adventure. Character creation was easy (especially compared to WFRP). We ended up with a halfling minstrel, elven rogue, and half-elf sorcerer.

Out of My Comfort Zone

Over the years I’ve gotten a lot less improvisational as a GM. I think this is rooted in playing crunchier systems (3.x and onward) as compared to the old school gaming I did when I started playing. To have a system tell me as the GM to not plan sessions, to not create stories, and to turn everything to the players, their sense of discovery, and random charts, that made me very nervous.

I told my wife before the first session that I was more nervous than usual to run a game. Could I trust the dice rolls to fill the empty space?

Hexcrawling

Starting the group in media res being the only survivors of a failed expedition on the outskirts of some dark woods, I expected the group to go back to the village (The Hollows), but they decided to continue the expedition by searching the foreboding forest for their slaughtered team and attempt to recover the map to the ruined castle of a long-dead warlord (and his treasure).

Using the random event/encounter checks and the excellent exploration rules, the group had a harrowing time just finding the map, following where to go, crossing the river, and gathering supplies. Equipment and rations were ruined. Using resource dice to track things like food, water, and torches, were not only better than keeping detailed records of all supplies, but also added importance and stress over things that are usually hand-waved in other systems. It makes the land itself an enemy.

This was frustrating for some of the players, but ultimately it impressed upon them the dangers of the setting, made them hungry to explore the ruins to get treasure just to help them survive.

The Ruins

The adventure site itself had something like ten named locations of interest. I had to fill in the gaps of how everything was connected, something I don’t think I did exceptionally well. I feel like some of the areas didn’t seem logically connected. (“Okay, you’re in the servants’ quarters. This opens into a drawbridge that goes into … I guess it’s an unfinished part of the castle.”) Developing my improvisational skills would be handy here, or maybe getting out some book of random room charts (I have one from Raging Swan Press that could’ve helped a lot).

Also, the way the adventure was laid out on Foundry caused me to miss a few important details. For example, I’d click on the location tab, but it wouldn’t give me the boxed text or full description of the area. I’d make up stuff, but it would be “wrong” when I compared it to the actual book I had.

So far, my fears of not being able to fill a game session had been eased. Just the process of crossing the wilderness, finding the tower, and starting the exploration had filled up the entire first session.

Deadly Combat

The party was being cautious. After the dangers of just crossing the wilderness, they were rightly fearful to fight any of the ruins’ resident monsters. The group’s first fight was with a small swarm of harpies, which they dispatched without much effort. They found a relative load of treasure in the nest, and decided to head further into the tower, trying to find an alternative exit.

That’s when they found the lair of a terrible man/scorpion/lion monster. It had an armored carapace, a poisonous stinger that was too quick to dodge, and was very fast to act (got two sets of actions each round). They put the rogue into position for a devastating sneak attack and the two others planned to distract the beast. However, they were dropped in an instant, falling unconscious to the floor. The rogue faced it on her own, stabbing it ferociously. But a darting stinger hit her with a paralytic poison, which would cause her to seize up in a matter of seconds. She had only a few chances to kill the beast. It attacked again, severing an artery in her leg. She passed out from the injury and bled out on the floor. All three heroes fell in a TPK.

Assessment

Even though the battle didn’t end in their favor, the players realized it was close. A few bad rolls for them and a few excellent rolls for the GM swung the battle. They had fallen to a horrible challenge, but they at least had a fair chance of winning. Moreover, the battle was thrilling. Even my wife, who did not expect to like the system, was eager to make up a new character and try the system again. Other players said it was their current favorite OSR-style game, or their go-to fantasy system in general.

What Did I Learn?

Players can find their own fun if presented with interesting situations. Cautious play means you don’t have to have as much material prepared - it’s going to be slower progress. I loved the exploration mechanics and resource dice - and I intend to port those over to any system that requires travel.

What Comes Next?

The group seems down to try Forbidden Lands again, and I’ll likely be picking up one of the campaigns available on Foundry VTT. I am also excited to try it in person, so I might introduce it at our next in-person Gaming Weekend next month (with the group I played Dragon Heist with). As far as with this particular group, I think the next immediate game will be trying Traveler with another GM. I’m always down to be a player for a bit.
 

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