A forest with question marks on the trees.

Tox Fantasy Adventure: The Root of Knowledge, 4a – The Cost of Knowledge

Welcome back to Isladja, a forgotten country in the wake of a collapsed empire, where magic is woven into the very identity of spell casters; the ideals they strive to embody and the face they show the world shape the magic players can work. Magics thrust suddenly upon individuals (instead of carefully cultivated over years) can warp personality. In our first adventure post, we introduced a cast of sorcerers who meet seeking a Tree of Knowledge to enlighten them, but finding they’d been duped. In subsequent chapters of the adventure, they research more about merchant who misled them and the tree.

Perhaps at this point, players discover that the Tree of Knowledge has actually become the Iretree. However, there is an ancient ritual requiring them to plant a token of their self-searching at the base of the tree, causing it grow a budding scroll of knowledge. Instead of poring over old lore, perhaps the players have instead followed whispers of a shadowy cult, too-coincidentally named The Tree of Experience. If players catch a hold of a cult member, perhaps they hear that the cult offers mystic insight after an initiation ritual that requires them to bring tragedy upon another person. Perhaps the characters, following every lead have discovered both paths and must choose between them.

At this scene, characters should have a daunting challenge, either braving the angry spirit tree or investigating this cult. The tension in the story should be building as characters discover dangerous forces beyond their power at work. However, the game splits at this point. Either players pursue their self-knowledge and undertake some effort to test or understand their abilities, or they pursue the mystery of the cult. Either way, characters can potentially gain the insight they sought from the tree.

Option 1: Give the Tree of Token of Self-Searching

This option will most likely appeal to players who like to explore and develop characters. Veteran players might take the lead here, and discuss what they want to learn about their characters and how they might test themselves. For less pro-active characters who have stumbled on this path, the GM might take a more directed approach, confronting players with obstacles and difficult decisions. Here are some recommendations for the pre-made characters:

  • Luminitza’s is caught between her ambition to become more than her humble upbringing and the potential ostracism she might face for adopting The Righteous Path if she decides to go home. A good test of who she is would be running into an acquaintance from home. The acquaintance should be someone not too intimately known, but whose opinion back home is important.
    • Does she reveal her powers, or hide them?
    • Does she pretend to be Spirit-Touched instead of Righteous Path? Is she conciliatory or defensive?
    • The outcome of the interaction should provide a clue as to what Luminitza finds most important.
    • The acquaintance should give Luminitza a gift or a momento. If the meeting went well, perhaps a token from her own town. If it went poorly, perhaps the acquaintance returns an old gift, or even goes so far as to rend Luminitza’s traditional scarf.
  • Stanteen is trapped by his own powers. He’s excited to have them, but since they revolve around apathy, he can’t get too excited or involved. A good test for him is a situation in which he can become involved (and lose his powers temporarily by becoming too invested), or in which he can refuse to become involve and maintain his abilities.
    • This could either arise naturally, by one of the players asking him for help. If no such situation presents itself, put Stanteen into a situation where he could use his powers to avert catastrophe, knowing that they would short out. Catastrophes should be common enough, given the Tree of Experience behind the scenes.
    • As appropriate for Stanteens ability, some symbol of his choice fortuitously appears. Perhaps a lucky penny (from good karma and self sacrifice, or as a token that his abilities still work). Perhaps a piece of the wreckage from an accident not averted, or a thank you from a citizen saved.
  • Zihaka struggles with the fact that her powers are based on laughter, but in the wake of tragedy she finds it difficult to laugh. Her test of self-knowledge might involve a figure that is both tragic and comedic (such as the grave digging scene from Hamlet). Zihaka’s player can choose whether the encounter only depresses her more deeply, or whether she develops a sense of gallows humor.
    • Perhaps an important and comedic figure has died in Merchant’s Rest (again, the Tree of Experience might be unknowingly behind the scenes). The individual did some good, made a mess of other things, left a family behind. The hearse cart driver runs into a bump and the casket falls in front of Zihaka, prompting a scene in which the irreverent driver engages Zihaka with off-color jokes and puns.
    • If Zihaka seems worn down by the encounter, perhaps the driver gives her a partially-broken funeral flower to cheer her up. If Zihaka seems to find the humor in the situation, she might acquire something funny or off color (like the dearly-departed’s ruined wig).
  • Istvan struggles with being forced into solitude by his powers. Perhaps Istvan runs into a situation where he can either gain the community or acceptance he craves or slip into a prophetic trance, both helping and frightening those around him.
    • Much like Stanteen, Istvan may have the choice to use his powers to help other players. If so, make sure Istvan knows that he is likely to say something very off-putting or frightening to them as well as given them the answers they seek.
    • If Istvan doesn’t make his choice on behalf of the players, the host can present a scenario. Perhaps a frightened Mom with a lost child is running through the streets. Her boy has been missing under conditions in which he is likely dead. Istvan can choose to eschew his gift and console the mother, or use the gift knowing that he might frighten her and become the bearer of bad news.
    • Again, the person helped should be able to pass on some token. Perhaps dropping something in their distress, or giving a token of thanks.

If you want to create your own situations, or if players attempt to, follow these guidelines. 1) The players should be faced with a difficult choice around one of their key struggles. 2) The choice should have no clear “right” response, either option should involve some kind of sacrifice… highlighting what the character ultimately prioritises when the going gets tough. 3) The situation should leave behind some kind of momento, either given intentionally or left accidentally, that can symbolise the character choice.

Next Week: Inside the Cult

The other option the players have, instead of going directly for the tree is to infiltrate the Tree of Experience cult and explore that connection. The will be confronted with difficult choices there, too. How much do characters want the insight they seek? Enough to join the cult and create a tragedy? Or more challenging, enough to take advantage of a tragedy already made? Will they be able to trace the cults origin and find a way of thwarting both the cult and placating the Iretree?

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