Witchburner by Luka Rejec.
Each October, I feel a call to run a new set of adventures; Maybe even start a new campaign. As the light fades ever quicker each evening, my gaming eye turns from heroic towards looming lean times.
My gaming group continues to work its way through the Tomb of Annihilation, now a half-dozen rooms into the Tomb of the Nine Gods. The good times continue. They found a massive hoplite shield that behaved as a magnet for all metals within a 50 ft. radius. Any metal touching the shield disintegrated. They wanted to bring this heavy tool along, but couldn’t justify stumbling around with it. Maybe if they were all druids this shield would not be such a problem.
Yet October calls. In its folly. Soon, holiday events will begin wrecking all best laid schedules.
With this hunger for something different, I downloaded the Witchburner: Burner Edition (Preview) by Luka Rejec. The Ultraviolet Grasslands episode for Fear of a Black first drew my attention to Luka Rejec; Though Luka has been active for quite awhile, I must’ve missed it.
I’ll attempt a spoiler free review, and instead speak to the situation and tools. The adventure resolution depends on the actions of the characters.
I read through the preview, and saw the bones of a game that I’d like to run. Within these “burnt” pages, Luka sets up the situation and the clock to advance events to their conclusion. Most of the adventure remains system neutral.
Below is the text of “The Offer”; a framing not quite read aloud text, but one that sets the mood of events.
The Mayor pats down her forehead with a napkin and looks left, then right. The councilors arranged around her in their finery nod assent. She looks down at the motley witchfinders, spoken for by the Lord Rightmaker.
“Our request is simple. Find the witch before All Saints’ Night, before the month ends, and we shall pay you 3,000 cash Some systems adopt a gold piece (eg. Sword & Wizardry, Labyrinth Lord, D&D) standard and others a silver piece (eg. Lamentations of the Flame Princess) standard, so Luka provides a general notation.
The shadow-skinned councilor smiles, “And the council will cover your stay at my inn.”
The bushy-haired priest looks uncomfortable, “Now go, find that witch, before she brings Winterwhite’s hunger on us all!”
From here, Luka provides guidance on how to run Witchburner: bringing a witch to trial, a worksheet for tracking the state of the village, an interesting mechanism for tracking time (more on that later), encounters, stats, and write-ups of the key villagers, timeline, calamities, and rules for social visits and extracting information. Enough to setup a few evenings of play.
As a timed investigation with strong social elements, Luka breaks each day into 4 watches—with consequences to dice rolls if characters fail to sleep at least one watch per day.
Space, distance, and accuracy are secondary to mood so time is abstracted to the basic unit of the watch. A watch is about six hours long and there are four watches: morning, afternoon, evening, and night.
During a watch the heroes can do one thing thoroughly: make a social call, investigate a house, travel to a nearby wilderness location, visit the shops, go carousing, and so on.
This half-page of guidance/rules provides a solid framework for GMs to navigate what in my experience has often been the arbitrary movement of time in towns and social interactions. Character have a finite number of watches before the end of the month.
Write-up of Key Villagers
I appreciate that each key villager has its own page; nice for note taking, printing just what might be needed. Each key villager has a name, job, tags, narrative story, details of their home, their household, and some other notes.
The brief narrative vignette provides insight into the character; Enough to bring this character to life with nuances. Maybe even a bit of history that others in the village can reference as well.
You could run Witchburner for the same group multiple times. Witchburner has some preliminary setup to establish initial rumors on who was doing what late at night. The preparation and randomization is less than Scenic Dunnsmouth, but certainly enough to provide some replayability. I think any GM should take a look at the burner edition (free). Take a look, and if you want more, drop some coins on getting the full version. Or consider joining Luka’s patreon.
In reading Witchburner, I thought of the Bamberg witch trials and how Witchburner would fit in a game set during the Thirty Years War. The 17th century is the now default timeframe for Lamentations of the Flame Princess or Warhammer Fantasy RPG. I also think Burning Wheel would be an excellent ruleset for this adventure
Go download the free burner edition and see if this adventure suits you.
I kept this short and at a high-level. I plan to pitch this adventure to my group, perhaps as the initial situation for a larger campaign.