In my initial planning for the Westeros arc, I was thinking of just having them go from King’s Landing to Winterfell, with a few weird encounters along the way. Eventually, though, I decided that I wanted them to encounter a larger breadth of the Song of Ice and Fire world, particularly the Night’s Watch and “Daenerys” (although not really in the latter case).
This was a pretty straightforward travel chapter—I wasn’t sure if they would get all the way through this one or not, and I was anticipating them possibly encountering the secret undead lord of Winterfell in the second half of this episode, but they were really enjoying some character exploration at the beginning and didn’t want to rush it. As a result, the main encounter was with the giant pack of wolves and the episode ended with some foreshadowing of stuff to come.
The mystically-empowered pegasi proved to be an exceptionally fast means of travel, as you have been able to put miles and miles of Westeros behind you. You passed over deep green forests, yellow farmland, and watched as cerulean rivers crisscross the landscape, while all the while the Kingsroad wended its steady way northward. Eventually, the green of the forests and fields slowly began to give way to the white of snow, and as you began to feel the edge of an arctic chill, Nico’s enchantment slowly began to wear off, the pegasi descended to the ground, their wings vanishing as they touched down.
The party has been on the road for a few days now. Ask what they’ve been up to—are they keeping to the Kingsroad and taking advantage of villages and settlements along the way, or are they staying away from prying eyes and camping in the woods?
Invite the PCs to roleplay with each other and the environment. Geralt, if given the opportunity, will seek out the opportunity of a busty companion, but otherwise interact with a less-occupied teammate, possibly asking questions or offering to play at Gwent (cards) or dice.
If they decide to find somewhere to eat and/or rest, they can locate a nearby village/trading post called Whitebark, named for the weirwood that seems to watch over the village from a squat hill. Any NPC that the players interact with will inquire as to where they’re headed; if they say Winterfell, they first ask why they’re heading there when the Starks are all dead (any response will do). The NPC then says, “You’ll be cuttin’ through the wolfswood then. Best you be careful. ‘Tain’t safe these days. They say monsters have awaked and seek the blood of man. An imbalance, it is. Ever since the Red Wedding, nothing’s been right north of the Neck.”
And of course, this is where Dante first began his weird attraction to “Mordana,” as well as the legendary beard growth. Ah, precious memories.
When/if the players stop to sleep, have them make Psyche checks—the highest-rolling members experience a vision of snow, ice, and wind, with a barely-visible dark shape in the mist and blowing snow calling out in a tone that somehow goes beyond mere words, a tuneless song of dread and desire. When they awake, they’re shivering and covered in a thin layer of frost.
The secret of the undead north of the wall is a big deal, and I wanted to make sure that it had plenty of storytelling momentum behind it by the time they got there. Enter foreshadowing.
When the players are ready to move on to Winterfell, they ride their horses into the wolfswood. The ride is rather pleasant, for the most part—the air is crisp and cool, the ground covered in snow which crunches under the hooves of their horses, and trees of brown, black, and gray bark stretch up, extending their branches in a canopy overhead.
As they travel, whoever is holding the DDC (probably Mordin) hears it start beeping. After examining the device, the PC concludes that the DDC has identified some anomalous dimensional energies in the area—similar to extraction points, but less stable and predictable. With a Reason check, the character could conclude that it’s possible something has passed between dimensions here, although whether something left this world or arrived in this world is impossible to tell. With a Yellow or better Reason check, it seems likely that this anomaly is probably not an isolated incident, and there may be more cases of dimensional crossover in this world.
The heroes travel for some time, until the sun begins to dip below the invisible horizon and the sky begins to darken. The shadows of the forest grow long and inky, and the sounds of birdsong die away ominously. It isn’t long before every one of the heroes gets the very distinct sensation of being watched.
Have the PCs make Intuition (Perception) checks—Green or higher notices dark shapes moving silently between the surrounding trees, occasionally turning yellow eyes toward the party. Before too long, it’s clear that these creatures are wolves, and that there is a frankly incredible number of them closing in.
Just as the heroes catch sight of a castle lit by amber torchlight through the trees ahead, the wolves make their move: a number of them break off of the surrounding pack and begin to close in, one heading for each of the League members and one for each horse, while the dozens of other wolves growl and bark excitedly from the perimeter.
If the heroes run, they’ll need to make Psyche checks to control their horses, or they can make use of another strategy. There is a frozen stream up ahead that may be tricky to cross; it will require finesse, clever thinking, or some type of power to do so successfully.
This whole fight/chase scene ended up being the majority of the episode we recorded. I’m a big fan of chase scenes, and when it became clear that we weren’t going to have time for much else, I really tried to milk the individual moments, throwing out momentary distractions or obstacles for them to address on their way to safety. There were some fun moments as they tried—and, in Stitch’s case, failed—to cross the stream.
As the heroes approach the outer wall of the giant castle, they can see forms moving excitedly around on the battlements as someone cries, “Riders! Open the Hunter’s Gate!” Crossbow bolts begin to fly above the heads of the League, providing covering fire and forcing the wolves back. The heroes duck beneath the rising bars of the portcullis as they enter within the walls, though as they turn back to look at the forest behind them, they see that amongst the immense wolfpack is one wolf of tremendous size, perhaps as large as a horse, which regards them with gold eyes.
The League are now standing in a long penned-in area just within the gate. Nearby are a line of narrow kennels—it looks like this is where hunting dogs would be kept, although none are in sight at the moment. In addition to the crossbow-wielding figures atop the battlements above them, there are about a half-dozen ill-dressed men, some wearing fragments of patchwork armor, all carrying weapons which range from poor quality swords to pitchforks. The heroes notice that none of them make a move to put up their weapons as they regard the League suspiciously.
One of them, an older man of broad stature, steps forward. “What in the name of the Seven brought you out into the wolfswood at night?”
This is Andon Lake. He and the others gathered here used to live in the small winter town just outside the gates of Winterfell, but were out of town for one reason or another when the town was sacked. Since the town was essentially reduced to ruins, but the castle stood whole and empty, those who were left decided to squat here for the time being.
Andon isn’t unfriendly, but he and those with him aren’t particularly eager to trust strangers. Still, the appropriate Psyche (Persuasion) rolls can turn their thinking around, and they’ll offer the League a place to sleep for the night, should they wish.
The heroes can have a meal of venison and nuts if they wish. If they inquire about the Stone of Grace, or Winterfell’s treasury in general, Andon sighs and leads them to the Great Keep, where he shows them a reinforced metal door—broken down by a battering ram—leading into a large, empty room. “Just after the Boltons came and went, some of us was hiding in the woods caught sight of some wildlings marked with the sign of the dragon enter the keep. They come out a few hours later carrying gold and jewels and all manner of niceties. Taking it for tribute, most like.”
Andon can explain that, according to rumor, a growing number of wildling tribes have begun to take up arms on behalf of the Mother of Dragons, who has made landfall North of the Wall. These barbarians will make their way past the Wall somehow, where they conduct raids on cities for supplies and tribute—some of them, he says, have even gotten as far south as King’s Landing. If the heroes are looking for the Stone of Grace, it’s probably in the hands of those wildlings.
The heroes ended up doing quite a bit of roleplaying and exploration at this point, much of it was with Andon Lake, pushing my stammering Cockney accent to its limit.
That night, after the League goes to bed, Andon, carrying a torch, leaves the keep and heads for the crypt of Winterfell. He travels through darkened halls lined with the stone forms of kings of ages past, until eventually his torchlight touches the side of one sarcophagus in particular. As he draws closer, however, he sees that the lid of the box has been slid off and now lies propped up on the ground.
Before he can react, a figure directly behind him says, “It is well past sundown, Lake. I was expecting you earlier.”
Andon yelps in surprise, dropping his torch, but quickly whirls around and drops into a quivering kneeling position on the floor. “Forgive me, my lord, but the castle has had visitors.”
“I know,” responds the figure. “I could sense them approach.”
“They intend to leave in the morning, my lord. They plan to head north.”
“Hmmm. No, I don’t think they will be doing that.”
And there we have it. My notes initially included Dracula’s stats, as well as a breakdown of what his strategy would be to attack them, but as I mentioned, the episode was going long at this point and I decided to make the encounter with Dracula its own full-fledged episode instead of a footnote at the end of this one.