Tuesday, 28 January 2020

further BUTCHERY

The farmhouse door bursts open, and a young woman steps out, brandishing a pitchfork. She is very thin and pale, tall with fair hair that falls limp about her dirty and stubborn face.

The butchers tell her that they have come for the witch. The girl seems confused, but since they seem to mean her no harm she asks the men for aid. Not knowing that Ivar has just done the same, she offers payment if they’ll find the root of the blight that plagues this valley, and has affected her family worst of all these past months.

Allas shoots a knowing look to Dannoll. Twice the reward.

The two accept the girl’s offer, tie their horses to a fence post and stoop inside the home. Within is a warm hearth, two beds, a crooked table with three stools, and little else. On one of the stools sits an older woman, cradling a baby to her breast and staring into the fire.

She does not look up as the butchers enter, nor does her glassy gaze falter as the younger woman tells her that these men have come to help. The younger woman apologises, telling them that since her father’s passing nearly two months ago, her mother has barely spoken.

Allas and Dannoll inquire further, sensitive to the girl’s troubles but clinical in their pursuit of information, like physicians seeking a diagnosis. They learn that the babe is her baby sister, both the other woman’s children, born around the time her father died - and also that there was another child who did not survive. This is no inherent surprise, and the family like many have lost children before, but seeing a faint picture of the truth begin to form the pair ask where the deceased have been buried. There is a grave, the young woman tells them, on the other side of the wheat field.

The two waste no time in setting out, hopping the low fence into the field. Blackened crop falls apart beneath their strides, the smell of decay filling the air.

Then Allas hears a sound. Something rustles from the tall stalks that now surround them. Dalton draws his spear and Allas his meat hook, just in time for a pair of bloated, dog-sized insects to burst out, round mouths chittering with sharp teeth, yellow-green abdomens bulging and heavy.

These are monsters - unnatural beings brought on by humankind’s meddling in Nature. Nature cannot suffer them to live - and it is a Butcher’s duty to enact her will.

The pair set to work, displaying with grim efficiency the skills that earned them their title. Dannoll pierces the gross abdomen of one of the creatures - to his peril, as the wound spurts acid up his arm, burning him. The stuck fiend squeals, running up the spear’s haft as Dannoll retracts his arm and managing to graze the man’s face with its mandibles before he flings it to the ground again.

Allas, seeing his friend’s plight, aims for the creatures legs, landing a sweeping hit with his hook. Dannoll grabs his net, weighted and threaded with the same silver that is forged into all butchers’ tools, and flings it over the remaining monster, trapping it.

Allas hacks away the rest of the first monster’s legs, rendering it immobile, screeching. Dannoll stabs at the trapped one as it writhes and scrapes its way free of the net - to no avail. Soon, both are dispatched.

The men clean their tools. They discuss theories based on the research of similar monsters - these things feed on pollution. Monsters they may be, but they were attracted to the rot, not its cause.

Taking a vial from his pouch, Allas leans in close to the spear wound his friend left, and collects some acid. Most of the carcasses are too damaged to harvest, but a butcher knows to take samples when they can.

The sun is sinking lower, almost at the horizon, as the pair trudge through more decaying chaff to find a clearing at the field’s far boundary. Three cairns here stand - one, grown with weeds and weathered by age such that it barely resembles a pile of stones, the next far newer, and the third likewise fresh, but smaller.

Dannoll pauses for a second, the grimness of the situation not lost on him. But they are butchers first, and have a job to do. If there was witchcraft afoot here, they theorise together, then the timing of the recent deaths in this family cannot be a coincidence. They don’t know exactly what they expect to find here, but it’s the best lead they have.

They start to dig.

Dannoll moves black soil, thinking that it looks as though it were disturbed more recently than a month ago, while Allas starts a small fire. The first chill of evening settles into the air as the sun turns dark red and sinks lower still.

Six feet down is a small box.

The fire will cleanse any trace of witchcraft, and should break the spell. That’s old, winter magic. Respectfully leaving it closed, Dannoll places the box on the flames. They flicker, lick and char the wood, beginning to take.

The sun sets. The box rattles.


... And that’s your lot. Our tale concludes next week.

Let’s get into the mechanics of what’s happening here, specifically in the fight with the bugs. In some games a lot of that would be pure flavour over a series of to-hit rolls, but with BUTCHERY all the detail in there came organically from the mechanics!

(I like my game, ok? Humour me.)

So combat in BUTCHERY is pretty simple. Players take turns however they’d like. You get one important action on your turn - get to a particular position, use an item, standard fictional positioning stuff. Some of these are gonna be resolved with checks - there’s a basic d10 roll-under thing by way of a “standard resolution” mechanic.

If a butcher is engaging a foe in combat at all, they do a different type of roll, with 1d6 and 1d10. The 1d10 functions a lot like the standard roll-under check, except it does a couple of things:
- if it rolls under (or equal to) the character’s AGI stat, they evade the monster’s retaliation.
- if it rolls under (or equal to) the character’s Skill level in the Tool they’re using, the attack can be a killing blow.

There’s a lot of jargon in that second one so I’ll unpack it a bit in a sec. Firstly, the “retaliation” thing - monsters don’t get turns in combat. They just auto-succeed on a hit if you engage them or if you’re still in range of their attacks from the last round (i.e you didn’t spend this turn defending or moving). The AGI check part of the d10 roll lets you know at a glance if they hit - PCs have 6HP, lose 1 on a hit (and roll a location die if you want to know where you get a cool scar). And the monster action is called a retaliation because obviously they can do more than just attack if they so wish!

The Tool thing: Tools are weapons or anything else a butcher uses in combat. Specially made stuff, like a Witcher’s silver sword. PC attacks always hit - just like the monsters’ attacks - but if your d10 hits the sweet spot of the Tool you’re using it can do more than just damage. There are a bunch of situational rules depending on the monster - more on that next time, don’t worry it’s all v simple - but the main thing is that only a “success” can kill the monster outright. You can wail on it and do damage for free, but important hits need that low d10.

That’s a lot of info packed into the lil d10 roll! But I’ve found it’s super quick to parse, not least because the roll-under system makes it mathless and easy for everyone at the table to work out each little bit of the result at a glance.

As for the d6...

I mentioned it above, but BUTCHERY has hit locations. On PCs they’re mainly just a fun and optional bit of flavour, but for monsters they’re crucial to how the game’s investigative combat style plays out.

And that’s what I’ll cover next time, along with the final part of this session’s play report.

Hope you like what you’ve seen of BUTCHERY so far - stay tuned if so, because I’m looking into getting it into your hands soon so you can have a play for yourselves :)

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