Categories
Actual Play

Castle Xyntillan – Session #33 – Lost in the Woods

The Company:

  • Hendrik (MU5)
  • Jürg (F5)
  • Ezio (F1)
  • Julia, Bettina, Alexandre, Isak & Bern (heavy foot)
  • Gido & Julian (porters)

Loot: None.

Casualties: Julian, molten by green slime. Bettina and Alexandre, killed by poisonous giant spiders. Isak & Bern, fled into the woods.

Report:

After some debate the company decide to have another go at looting the wine cellar. They enter through the grand entrance and make their way downstairs speedily. Upon arrival, Jürg has his porter tie a rope around his waist. The rest of the company stands at a safe distance as he places his unstable portable hole. The hole opens without issue. The company begin to methodically tap barrels. Promising specimens are lowered one by one into the hole.

Suddenly, porter Julian, who was also on wine sampling duty, starts screaming. The barrel he just tapped is spilling green slime, and he has managed to get it all over his hands. They quickly, close the tap on the barrel, and Hendrik opens the one on the last one he was checking, which contained something resembling vinegar. Julian collapses arms outstretched in the stream of sour wine. The slime washes away, and he is left with two stumps ending just below the elbows. His arms continue to transform into slime. Jürg takes his sword and in one blow severs the poor porter’s arms. The transformation is ended, but Julian also expires from the trauma.

With extra caution the company continue their plundering. As they do so, the ghost of a fair lady holding her severe head in her hands enters the circle of their torchlight. She appears to be looking for a ring. The company engage her in conversation and she appears reasonably friendly, although it is clear she has a strong dislike for Jürg. They ask her about where in the caste it might smell like sulphur and perfume. The ghost responds “you mean who rather than where” and continues to describe this demoness who has made her home in the lake tower, by name of Serpentina. Then she asks for directions to the donjon, because that’s where she thinks she may have misplaced her ring. The company send her the wrong way.

They once again return to the further looting of the Malévol’s supply of wine. While hauling barrels, Jürg notices a bricked up doorway in the north wall, and a secret passage beyond the east wall. They finish up lowering one more barrel into the portable hole, pack it up, and then open the secret passage.

It reveals a stairway leading down

Amazed and excited abut the prospects of a second dungeon level, the company cautiously begin to head down the stairs. As they descend, their senses begin to play tricks on them. One moment they are still on those stone steps leading down into darkness, the next they are on a forest path, yellow leaves crunching underfoot. Shocked, they check the way they came, but it leads to a dead end. They have no choice but to continue down the path.

“Where the heck are we?” (George Hodan)

They arrive at a T-junction. Further on they hear the sound of running water. From the right turn they can hear the soft bleating of sheep. They turn right. After about a half hour’s walk they arrive at an opening in the woods with steep green hills. It appears to a bright spring day here, whereas the forest they have been traversing is shrouded in autumnal twilight. They see a flock of sheep, and a shepherd snoring away under a tree. They head up to the shepherd, who appears to be counting sheep in between snores, and wake him. The man is startled by the company’s appearance, and does not appear to know much about the world our heroes have found themselves in. He does appear to be very afraid of Runcius, “the dark man of the woods” whom appears to rule over this domain. The shepherd also mentions the huntsman Hubert, but comments they haven’t seen him for quite some time. The company give each other knowing looks. They ask the shepherd about who might be able to help them find their way back home, and he points them in the direction of a chapel, but does warn them about the nest of giant spiders along the way.

They set out down the path indicated, and after a short walk arrive at an intersection covered with silvery webs. They test the strands with their weapons, and several spiders come out hiding, attracted by the disturbance. The company immediately attack. The spiders, determined to protect their lair and the eggs within, of course respond by fighting back. As the melee develops, more waves of spiders keep appearing. Several mercenaries fall to the creatures’ poisonous bites. Several retainers run away at the sight of the carnage. Ezio makes good use of his gifted discus +1. Hendrik picks off spiders with magic missiles. Jürg’s toy soldiers kill several spiders with poisonous stabs of their own. And Jürg himself cuts down one spider after another with his Blade of Rel and his superior fighting prowess. When the dust settles, they’ve killed nine spiders and a final one flees.

They inspect the nest and its eggs, take one egg, and torch the rest. They continue on, and after some more time arrive at an opening in the woods with a crumbling chapel. A cleric emerges, dressed in obviously chaotic garb, and waves to the company as they approach from the woods.

And we fade to black.

Referee Commentary:

It’s a truism I never know what to expect going into a session of Castle Xyntillan, but this turn of events I certainly did not see coming.

First we spend a ludicrous amount of time playing out the looting of the cellar. I mean, if players want to do that sort of thing, I am there to facilitate. We streamlined things quite a bit, but hey, figuring out what is in those barrels, describing it, and players deciding what to do in response takes time at the table.

And then that secret passage got discovered. This was just sitting there for I don’t know how many sessions of play in that particular room. I had completely forgotten it led to the Indoornesse and so that threw me for a loop.

This is also where I fucked up, basically.

The map only indicates the stairs lead to “R”. I feverishly scanned the Indoornesse map and key to find where the passage from the wine cellar might lead to. On the Indoornesse map it is erroneously listed as “M13” next to “R10 Hermitage”. It is correctly listed in the key for that room, but I did not spot it in my hurry. But most stupidly I did not think to take a moment to check the key for M1 itself, and it is plainly listed there, below the random table for wine barrels. So yeah, my hurry to keep the game moving combined with a few minor errors in the map, and a key that takes a bit of time to parse, conspired to me making a decision on the spot that the transition into the Indoornesse would be dream-like, and that the players would start out in the bottom right of the map at the dead end that actually connects up with L23. (Another key I overlooked.)

The consequences of this is that the players were trapped in this dream land, and that the game was now all of a sudden about escaping back home. This meant for the first time we were forced to stop play in the midst of the action, breaking my “always return to town at the end” rule, and offering further challenges for when we pick up again with regards to absentee players or previously absent players joining.

I guess I will have to roll with the punches now. I will not correct my mistake and we will play through this until players find one of the ways back. I won’t make it any harder on them than necessary of course. And once we wrap up this episode I will probably own up to my mistake and make sure they understand they can now freely move between the Indoornesse and the castle as they like.

It’s been a while since I’ve really regretted a call I’ve had to make because I felt unnecessarily rushed. Time to recommit to allowing myself to take breaks to properly figure something out at the table when it is clear I absolutely have to.

Categories
Actual Play

Castle Xyntillan – Session #32 – Last Dance

The Company:

  • Hendrik (MU5)
  • Niemir (F3)
  • Madlaina, Isak, Bettina, Julia (heavy foot)
  • Frido (porter)
  • Margaret (C1)
  • Agnes (F1)

Loot: incriminating guestbook, glass slipper, a dozen silver cups, magical hookah, a dozen landscape paintings, six golden harp strings, a half-moon shaped discus +1, and a bunch of nasty mold.

Casualties: Niemir, doomed to dance the tarantella for eternity. Frido and Madlaina, fled into the darkness of the castle, missing, presumed dead. Margaret, trampled to death by a vivisected horse.

Report:

The company decide to try and breach a new section of the castle, heretofore unexplored: the part to the north-east. Their aim is to see if they can find a way that leads to the bridge across the lake to the lake tower.

They enter through main entrance, pass through the portrait gallery, and move on to the throne room. Along the way they check a door to the east, which opens onto a hallway that leads off further east into the darkness. They ignore it and move on. When they get to the throne room, it is unoccupied.

They immediately continue towards the ballroom to the north. As they listen at the doors, they hear music and dancing. They open the door and see a group of phantoms dance to music performed by an invisible orchestra. They carefully, and half-dancing, cross the dance floor towards the first door east. However, most of the members of the company are overcome by the irresistible urge to join in with the dancing.

Luckily, a couple of retainers are unaffected, and they come to their companions’ aid. Most snap out of it, except for poor Niemir. The company look on in horror as the music begins to fade along with the phantoms, and Niemir himself as well blinks out of existence.

When all is quiet, a spectral maestro appears on stage at the north end of the room, takes a deep bow, and is then sucked screaming into a crack in the wall. Dejected, they search the room. They find a guest book filled with names of notables from Tours-en-Savoy and beyond, which might come in handy as leverage. They also find a single glass slipper…

May I have this dance? (Hieronymus Janssens)

Moving on, they try the first door to the east. Here, they find a sitting room, with lots of nice landscape paintings, comfortable couches, and a hookah filled with swirling blue mist. Next to it on the table are some nice silver cups. Those are swiped right away. Hendrik can’t resist trying the hookah. He feels magical powers sucked out and pushed back in, and ends up acquiring a new spell: rope trick!

A militant nun named Margaret appears in the doorway and immediately joins the company. They continue to search the room and find a secret door leading to a shooting gallery hidden behind the east end of the throne room. Several loaded crossbows and cases of quarrels lie about. Hendrik notices in time a crack in the floor boards near the secret door with a bear trap hidden inside. A retainer sets off the trap with their spear, and they head inside to search the gallery. They find nothing.

Returning to the sitting room, they next head through the door to the north. This opens onto an empty room with doors leading north and east. They try the east door first, and see a hallway leading north and south. Returning to the empty room, they try the north door next, and find it opens onto a corridor zigzagging north-west.

As they explore it, they come upon ancient signs of a battle fought. At the end of the corridor, they find another door, north. They try it, and find a smallish room littered wuth yellowing sheet music. A decrepit harp and clavichord are played by ghostly shimmering outlines of musicians. The harp appears to have strings of gold. They move into the room, search it, and smash the instruments to pieces in the hopes of bringing back Niemir, to no avail. The musicians’ ghosts impotently toss sheet music at them. They take the golden strings, and leave.

Backtracking, they enter the corridor they found earlier. They head up north, and pass a nook with the statue if a reaper bearing an ominous inscription: “Dost thou desire the burden of thy death?” The nook and statue are carefully studied for secrets, but they avoid messing with the statue itself, remembering the confrontation with the personal reapers some time ago.

Continuing north, they enter a room with a view of the lake. It contains pots with decayed plants, and a pile of rubble covering something large in the middle of the room. The pots turn out to contain chewed-on bones and rotting meat. When they remove the debris they uncover a vivisected horse. Once free from the debris it gets up, but before it can rear on its hind legs and speak, Margaret whacks it in the head with her mace. The horse whinnies “why hast thou forsaken meee?” The rest of the company look on in horror as the horse tramples Margaret to death, and immediately starts tearing off her flesh. Now that the horse is distracted the mercenaries move and attack. Hendrik fires off a magic missile. The horse is quickly destroyed.

A fighter named Agnes appears, and immediately joins the party. They open the double doors to the east and find themselves on the bridge crossing the lake towards the tower. It appears slippery and treacherous, so the company carefully start moving across it. A huge dark shape appears under the lake surface, heading their way. They continue to cross, hoping to get to the other end before whatever it is gets to them. As they reach the double doors to the tower, a massive dinosauric head on a long neck emerges from the water to take a disinterested look at the bridge and the creatures on it. The company stand and wait, hoping not to provoke the thing. To their great relief it takes one more look, and leaves again.

At this end of the bridge they see a winch with a chain leading down into the lake. They pull it up, and a padlocked cage holding a casket emerges. Hendrik does not want to mess with the casket and heads into the tower with his entourage. Agnes can’t resist the temptation, bashes off the padlock and opens the casket. Meanwhile, Hendrik finds himself in a massive arched hall. Mildewed frescoes depict knights and goats. There are goat-shaped candelabras. Nasty lichen hang from the ceiling. Across the hall a statue of a goat-headed demon sits crosslegged on a black slab of granite holding a metal crescent moon, its eyes glinting emerald green.

Back on the bridge, Agnes locks eyes with the corpse in the casket: an old man dressed in an old fashioned surcoat and wooden shoes, covered in weed and kelp. He opens his eyes and gives her a wicked groin. Before he can do anything, Agnes kicks the casket over the edge of the bridge, and the man disappears under the surface crying “would you like some candyyy?” Agnes turns to join the rest of the company inside the hall.

Hendrik and Agnes approach the statue together. Agnes goes for the eyes, and Hendrik grabs the sickle-shaped discus. The statue animates and sneezes green slime at them, its eye-sockets now empty (those weren’t emeralds after all but slime-clogged cavities). Everyone manages to avoid getting smeared with the goo, to their great relief. Hendrik holds the discus and realizes it is magical. They debate exploring the tower further, but ultimately decide to call it there.

They head back the way they came, but do make a stop in the sitting room to pull down those nice paintings. As they do so, several of those awful clouds float inside. They manage to evade the, and run for the exit for the castle and back to safety without further incident.

Referee Commentary:

An action-packed session that moved at a high pace — only two players does make quite a bit of difference there. Niemir’s player went on to loose their next character, Margaret almost immediately as well. I’ve been racking up quite the body count lately. It is a good thing character creation in Hackbut is streamlined as heck, and I make a point of introducing the new character at the earliest possible opportunity, verisimilitude be damned.

The demise of Niemir came as a bit of a shock and a surprise to the players. I think I should have telegraphed the danger of the room more clearly. It also did not help the players had vague recollections of being in the room before and not suffering any adverse effect (because there was no phantom dance going on that time, but that wasn’t entirely clear). Niemir’s player failed his save twice, the second time with a bonus no less, so it is also simply the luck of the dice, but I found the scene somewhat unsatisfactory in the end. Maybe if I hadn’t rushed things as much it would have been more interesting. In this case I was probably trying to stick to the room’s mechanical description a bit too closely. Knowing when to diverge from and when to stick to the letter of the module can be quite the challenge, particularly in the moment.

The players have managed to find a route to the lake tower, which is quite exciting. I also delighted when I rolled for the lake monster to appear and it did, that was quite the “oh fuck” moment. The players lucked out on the monster reaction roll there. I also rolled exactly one random encounter, namely the clouds at the very end. Another lucky break. But I guess they were owed one after all the carnage lately.

Categories
Actual Play

Castle Xyntillan – Session #31 – Many Hands Problem

The Company:

  • Hendrik (MU5)
  • Francesco (F5)
  • Madlaina, Julia, Penelope & Finian (heavy foot)
  • Leon (porter)

Treasure: a flask of acid, a ring +1, a vial of holy tears and an extremely aromatic flower.

Casualties: Finian, Penelope and Francesco, throttled by swarms of severed hands. Leon, zapped by a razzle-dazzle lightning bolt.

Report:

On the morning of Wednesday, April 1, 1527, the company are once again at the gates of Castle Xyntillan. They make their way to where they know a giant jumping beanstalk has breached the wall. But as they approach they see a group of figures come their way. They slide down the slope towards the river and hide at its foot. When they hear the group pass, Hendrik turns invisible and crawls up to the top. He sees a crew of skeleton gardeners remove weeds along the walls. He also sees that the beanstalk has been cut down. The breach, however, still remains. The company carefully crawl back up the slope and sneak to the crack in the castle wall one by one, escaping notice.

They pass through the cleric’s room, into the chapel and from here head into the hallway. Drunken singing swells in volume as they continue west. They arrive in a mess hall, where skeleton soldiers sit at tables drinking and singing and toasting their fallen comrades. They appear uninterested in the company, who carefully but quickly move on to the south.

They try the first door they see on the east. It is a laundry room, with a large tub containing boiling water sitting on a rickety table. Several bodies lie about covered in dirty linnen. Hendrik tosses the staff of the woodlands into the room and commands it to tip over the tub while they remain at a safe distance out in the hallway. The table collapses and the tub spills its scalding hot contents on the floor. Out rolls a thoroughly cooked foppish gentleman along with vegetables and herbs and spices. They search the room but find nothing of value.

The next door to the west opens on a hallway. They go north and try the first door west, which opens onto a room that was apparently once the room of a military officer of some sort. It is plainly furnished but has nice wood paneling with martial themed carvings. They search it and find a flask with a curious liquid amongst personal effects in a chest. They also find, after inspecting the paneling, a secret door to the north. Inside is a corridor with many sacks filled with silver pieces, as well as at its end, a shaft leading down into the castle dungeons. They hammer in an iron spike, tie off a rope, and one by one climb down.

They find themselves in an empty room with doors to the north and east. They try the north door, and find themselves in a larder. Hams and sausages hang from the ceiling, several large barrels stand in a corner. Francesco pops open a barrel and finds a pig’s head staring back at him, surrounded by jellied human hands packed in lard.

Shopping to stock the larder (Lucas van Valckenborch)

Suddenly Francesco is attacked by not one but two hand swarms that were hiding behind the barrels. He is quickly overwhelmed and the hands begin squeezing the life out of him. Mercenaries come to his aid and Hendrik fires off magic missiles. One hand swarm hops across to Finian and almost immediately chokes him to death. Francesco manages to free himself, and the whole group runs for the exit. However, Francesco is the last one to get to the door and the hands catch up with him and once again manage to grab him and begin choking him again. Francesco collapses in the doorway before anyone can do anything. The swarms head for the mercenaries, but Hendrik tells them to get out of the way, and he whips out his wand of cold and blasts both swarms to smithereens. One hand leaves behind a curious-looking ring. They briefly mourn the loss of Francesco, collect the fighter’s valuables, and leave behind the corpse.

The next door, leading east, opens onto a hallway. They head north and after some time find it connects up with a passage they explored earlier, which leads off from the underground lake’s beach.

They backtrack, and continue east. Here they enter a hallway with bloody footprints, and take another door to the east. It leads to an empty room. The next door east again opens onto… a chapel!

Four statues of monks, covered with moss, surround an altar upon which stands the bas-reliëf of a maiden. Around it sprout flowers. The walls are covered with faded frescoes. Upon inspection they find the maiden in the relief cries real tears. The flowers are beautiful and smell delightful. They collect the tears in a vial and pick one flower. They inspect the frescoes and find another secret door.

They are about to open it when another hand swarm emerges from under the door through which they entered. They don’t hesitate for a moment and immediately attack it. Penelope is overwhelmed and choked to death almost immediately. Despite this, they manage to drive the things off before it can do more harm.

They return to the secret door, open it, and are surprised by several floating clusters of light. Before they can shut the door again each attacks with a bolt of lightning. Leon is killed, his lifeless body hits the floor fuming, and transforms into a gross rubbery gray featureless humanoid. Despite this puzzling display the company shut the door on the light cluster things, and run for the exit. Luckily, they make their way out of the castle and back to town without further incident.

Referee’s Commentary:

I’ve been steadily slaughtering retainers throughout our campaign, but I don’t recall the last time I offed a player character. This time it was poor Francesco’s fate, and by the hands of hand swarms no less. These things so far never posed any issues for the players, so when Francesco was jumped by them their initial response was: “we can handle this.” But things quickly spiraled out of control, Francesco failed his death save, and that was that.

Post-game we did have a discussion about how I handled this fight. I used my grappling rules for the hands’ choke attack, which means they need to hit a PC’s unarmored AC. Francesco is usually very hard to hit because he’s wearing plate and all. But with the swarms having a +4 to hit and my grappling rules combined, they made short work of him. They do 3d4 damage per round, which is enough to cut through a fifth level fighter’s HP in a reasonably short amount of time.

Upon further reflection, I think I will no longer use my grappling rules for this monster. Francesco’s player rightly pointed out it should be harder to choke someone wearing plate than it would be someone in no armor at all, and I agree. So from now on hand swarms will simply need a regular attack roll to do their thing.

It’s a matter of interpretation though. I mean, how would you run this stat block:

Hand Swarms: A mass of severed, decaying hands skittering on the ground. They go for the throat, or pull opponents down on the ground.
Hand Swarms (1d2): HD 4; AC 6 [13]; Atk swarm 2d4; Spec choke 3d4/round; ML 6; C.

I ran this by the folks in the Wandering DMs Discord server as well and got a fascinating range of responses. But nobody there runs classic D&D with touch attacks, as far as I can tell. And for grapples and the like most run with some combination of opposed attack rolls or attack rolls and saves. I am still mulling over wether I will axe my grappling rules entirely, but for now I will at least, like I said, run the hand swarm in a way that is a bit more predictable for players. (If Melan is reading this and would like to weigh in, I’d be curious to hear his take as well.)

We operate on a strict no take-backs policy though, so dead is dead and Francesco’s player will be rolling up a new level one character for the next session he joins. So it goes.

Categories
Actual Play

Castle Xyntillan – Session #30 – Another Round

The Company:

  • Hendrik (MU5)
  • Niemir (F3)
  • Penelope, Julia, Madlaina & Sanna (heavy foot)
  • Leon (porter)

Loot: cheap necklace and a box of golden buttons.

Casualties: Sanna, repeatedly stabbed by skeleton guardsmen. Leon, fled down the dark corridors of the castle dungeon, missing, presumed dead.

Report:

In the weeks leading up to the next expedition, Hendrik has his treacherous wife Ronja arrested for forging his will and planning his assassination. She is locked away in the town jail. Meanwhile, Jürg solves the problem of the deranged lumberjack Blérot by tricking him into drinking water from the castle’s magic fountain, which transforms the poor fool into a sizable sum of gold. Finally, they invest some funds into advertising for the company, and manage to recruit a colorful bunch of heavy footsoldiers.

***

Upon arriving at the castle, they decide to further explore the new section of the castle dungeon uncovered during a previous expedition. They enter through the rose garden and head straight for the spiral staircase leading down into the windy corridor. There they head north and east, and find themselves in a short hallway with two more doors.

They try the one furthest back leading south first, and see a room with three goat statues and a statue of a maiden made of salt pointing in their direction. This room they recall from previously recovered papers which tell of the demise of adventurers who messed with the statues in this room. They debate their approach at length. Finally, a plan is hatched, and a rope is tied around the neck of the goat statue closest to the door. They run the rope back under the door which they close, and pull. Sure enough they hear the statue topple, almost immediately followed by angry bleating of several goats, and the sound of nearing hoof steps.

The company quickly spike the door and then create some distance from it. They ready missiles and wait. The goatrices bash down the door after several attempt and rush into the hallway. Hendrik takes aim with his wand of lightning and zaps the creatures before they can do any harm. All three are instantly turned to ash.

The company head back into the room, and debate things some more. Ultimately. Niemir plucks up courage and licks the salt statue of the maiden. He instantly feels his sense of taste improve. Niemir is now able to detect ingested poisons, but he does not know it yet. They then chop of the hand of the statue to bring back with them to town, hoping it will be of some value, and leave the room.

Back in the hallway they try the door to the north. It opens onto a plain room with several beds and basic furnishings. More notably, the ghost of a maiden is seen float through a wall and disappear, giggling all the while. They search the room and find little of note, except for an animated hairbrush floating in front of a mirror. They do notice the cabinets on each side of the room have been moved frequently, and when they do the same, secret doors are unlocked. Each hides a small room. The one to the west contains a pile of bones, a cheap necklace and a box filled with golden buttons. The one to the east is entirely empty. They take the necklace and box, and leave.

Heading further north, the next door they try opens onto, to their surprise, a tavern. A ghostly rotund barkeep is cleaning glasses with a dirty rag and a dozen skeletons and a single headless manservant are living it up in the common room. Before the company can discretely leave, the undead clientele notice them, and angrily make for their arms. Nonplussed, the company head into the room and engage the skeletons. A massive brawl ensues. Poor Sanna is almost instantly stabbed to death. At the sight of this, Leon panics and flees. Hendrik casts Blight to help turn the tide. Niemir is tearing through skeletons like nobody’s business. Madlaina is also almost killed and retreats from the melee, barely avoiding being overcome by her trademark berserker rage. The remaining heavy footwomen hold their ground. More skeletons drop, their morale fails, and they decide they have had enough, and escape through the other door.

Skeletons deserve some after work drinks too (gkbgraphics)

The company lick their wounds, catch their breath, and chat with the barkeep. The drinks list offers quite the colorful selection, with prices ranging from the humble to the astronomical. Niemir ends up buying a Poltergeist Porter, but rather than consume it, he pours it into an empty flask for inspection back in town.

Next, they decide to have a quick look behind the doors across the room. The first they check holds a piles of broken furniture turned firewood. An animated chair is chained to a wall. A table is bleeding profusely from cuts made by an animated hatchet.

The next door they open reveals a storeroom where massive mice are eating from sacks of flour. They gingerly close the door again.

The final door has a sign that says “kitchen, keep out!” which they decide to heed. And with that, they bid the barkeep farewell, and head back up and out of the castle and back to town, without incident.

Referee Commentary:

A quick one. A low player count again, and a late start meant we did not cover a heck of a lot. But we had some memorable scenes regardless.

Players enjoyed running into a room they’d read about previously, and being able to act on that knowledge. I enjoyed it as well because I’d previously generated those hints entirely randomly, running with the suggestion given in the module about papers that describe how adventurers meet their end in the castle.

We ran the fight with the skeletons entirely theatre of the mind and it went pretty fast despite the large amount of characters. These days I default to having monsters target retainers before turning to player characters and that simplifies things as well.

Niemir’s player enjoyed being able to attack three skeletons every round thanks to his fighter class ability. It’s a little tweak that really makes the fighter feel like the best at, well, fighting, which is as it should be.

Categories
Actual Play

Castle Xyntillan – Session #29 – Into the Maze of the Occult

The Company:

  • Hendrik (MU5)
  • Jürg (F5)
  • Bern, Beath & Sarah (heavy foot)
  • Leon & Julian (porters)
  • Jan (T2 retainer)

Loot:

  • Four canopic jars
  • A bag of gemstones
  • An emerald-studded ring

Casualties:

  • Jan, burnt to a crisp by Hendrik’s fireball
  • Beath & Sarah, dropped from large heights by vindictive harpies

Report:

In the lead-up to the next expedition, a man named Jan approaches the company. He claims to know the location of a remarkable magic item known as “the ring of spirits”. He says it is hidden in a laboratory on the upper floor of a part of the castle called The Maze of The Occult. He wants to join the company to go and find it, in exchange for a mere half share of any mundane treasure they find along the way.

Hendrik, for some time suspecting his wife Ronja of harboring ill intents, shadows her while invisible. He follows her to The Tap where he sees her have dealings with this Jan character, as well as other unsavory types.

The company agree to take Jan up on his offer, secretly plotting to make short work of him before he can do any harm. On the way to the castle, Hendrik fiendishly extracts directions to the lab and the ring from the none-too-bright Jan. At night, while camping in the woods, Jürg and Hendrik sneak up on the hapless brigand. Jürg lifts up his mace to cave in Jan’s head, but he wakes just in time to dodge out of the way and run for the brushes. Not missing a beat, Hendrik casts a fireball at the receding figure’s general direction and burns the brushes to a crisp along with Jan in it. Job done.

***

When they arrive at the castle Jürg first climbs down into the dried up moat near the gatehouse in search of the magic sword once left there by the late Buerghedorn, known as The Blade of Rel. With some help from Hendrik he manages to locate it and when he wields it he is able to resist its attempt at domination. Jürg being thoroughly chaotic like the blade itself, he suffers no further harm. He also has an inkling that, beyond being magical and mildly intelligent, the blade also has some other powers yet to be revealed.

They enter through the rose garden, and make their way to the stairs leading up from the storerooms area. Along the way they take a quick detour to the previously visited fountain to fill a skin with water from it.

Before heading up they can’t resist inspecting the room right next to it, which remains unexplored. It turns out to be a storage room holding the man-sized lacquered statue of a dancing girl with six arms, each holding an actual dagger. Behind a curtain they also find a closet holding a sarcophagus and four canonic jars. They take the jars, leave the rest undisturbed, and head up the stairs.

They emerge into a spacious hallway, red carpet on the floor, family portraits on the walls, and an eery female signing filling the air. Large double doors immediately catch their eye. Inspecting it, it is evidently magically locked. Glowing letters across its surface read: “Here be the laboratory of Aristide Malévol the Patrician. If you know this name, you know you have no place here; if you know it not, let this warning suffice.” Stymied, the company turns another way.

The next room reveals a room filled with awful wax figures in the image of obviously dead people. A crate of candles piques their interest and they decide to take it.

The next room holds shelves with glass bottles. Broken glass crunches underfoot. An invisible entity occasionally picks up a bottle and tosses it at a dummy in one corner. When Jürg enters the spirit takes aim at him. Not easily impressed, the company make short work of the thing with a combination of magical weapons and spells. Searching the room, the discover several bottles with high-proof alcohol. Noticing a hole in the dummy, Jürg reaches inside, cuts his fingers on a bunch of razors, and extracts a pouch of gemstones.

Heading further east, they next enter a hallway. To the south they see an ominous door with skulls and mechanical bits and an inscription that reads “THE MASTERPIECE OF DEATH”. They decide not to mess with it.

Continuing east, they bump into a dapper gentleman dressed in a nightgown who introduces himself as Vincent Godefroy-Malévol. He inquires after their purposes in the castle, they exchange some pleasantries, after which Vincent continues on his way.

They open the next door, and see a massive gallery, walls covered in torn canvases, several large nests of rags on the floor, broken windows, and the sound of flapping and eery signing coming from just outside. Having some inkling of what they might be dealing with, the company carefully head back out. They take the box of candles, and plug their ears with wax. They then set the door ever so slightly ajar, and wait…

Yikes… (Gustave Doré)

Not much later, six women with wings for arms and claws for legs flap in through the broken windows and settle in their nests. Harpies! Jürg unboxes his toy soldiers. Hendrik turns himself invisible and sneaks inside. He then throws a fireball, hitting but not killing three. The rest of the fighting force runs inside to protect their prized mobile artillery high-level magic-user. The harpies try their mesmerizing singing, but the wax makes the company impervious to the monsters’ charms. So then the harpies fly at them, and Jürg, the toy soldiers and heavy foot rush forward to engage them in melee. The toy soldiers can’t quite reach the things without standing on each others’ shoulders. At first they appear equally matched. Several harpies are cut down. But then, Beath and Sarah are both grabbed by a harpy and lifted up to great heights before being dropped back down again, instantly killing them. The fight continues, more harpies are slain, but the last remaining one manages to reach Hendrik and tries the same trick. Hendrik is unable to avoid being lifted up, the harpy flies through the broken skylight into the morning air, and lets go. Hendrik plummets to his demise from sixty feet, but somehow, miraculously, survives. The harpy, disgusted, leaves.

They toss the nests and find a torn of arm and hand in an iron gauntlet. Removing the gauntlet, they recover a ring set with an emerald. Frustrated and relieved at once, the company make their way out of the castle, and back to Tours-en-Savoy.

Referee Commentary:

A fun session as usual. Two players only, but each running a fifth level PC as well as a bunch of retainers, so still well-matched with the castle’s many dangers. The whole Jan episode was a fun bit that emerged from an ongoing storyline we mainly handle during downtime related to a wife Hendrik once picked up while carousing (thank you Mr. Rients).

It was also cool to see players circle back and revisit some previously explored sections and things, like with the blade, and the fountain. I finally have a player running a fighter with an intelligent sword in my game! So exciting.

The harpies were excellent as well. I couldn’t believe my luck when the players matter of factly stated that they were going to jump in and fight them. My simple grapple rules served me well again. With flyers it’s a lot of fun to bypass AC and do massive damage by means of falling (c.f. the fight with the pigeons from hell). I did forget about the charm on touch power they also had. In hindsight it would have been awesome to have the final harpy charm Hendrik and turn his powers against his compatriots. But the likelihood of that succeeding are very slim given the high base save and bonuses a MU has in Hackbut.

Categories
Actual Play

Castle Xyntillan – Session #28 – Aborted Boat Ride to the Shores of Death

The Company:

  • Hendrik (MU5)
  • Francesco (F5)
  • Niemir (F2)
  • Sarah & Beath (heavy footwomen)
  • Leon (porter)

Loot: None.

Casualties: None.

Report:

In the week leading up to the next expedition, Hendrik’s wife Ronja is seen in The Tap, speaking to shady characters. In addition, Amaranth has a dream in which she crosses the lake tower’s bridge and enters a great hall. Here, crusader knights are discussing their search for the Grayl of Good and Bad Destiny. The conference is presided over by Médard Malévol the Mighty.

The company rehires the same women-at-arms and porter from last time. They don’t do much of anything else while in town, and as usual make the two-day trek to Castle Xyntillan. When they arrive at they first decide to go around the perimeter and plant more of those jumping beans, because the one they planted earlier has grown to massive proportions, and has cracked open the castle wall.

After planting the beans they go into the castle through the grand entrance and head down into the wine cellar. From there, they go up north through the root cellar all the way up to the grotto with the lake shore and the bell on a pole with the sign saying “three coins for passage”.

They ring the bell. Soon enough, a skiff, with a boatsman emerges from the fog, and they patiently wait for it to arrive. When it does, the boatsman reaches out with a skeletal hand and demands three coins for each passenger headed “to the shores of death”. After a brief debate they pay him, and go into the boat (their retainers do require a bit of convincing).

The boatsman turns this skiff around and starts beaming back into the fog. As they get further away from the shore, they feel the life gradually drain from their bodies. The light in the grotto slowly dims as well. They start to get a little worried and the boatsman appears very pleased about bringing such a large number of souls to the shores of death. They realize that there might not be a return from where they are headed.

Underground lakes are kind of scary (Ernst von Hesse-Wartegg)

Francesco panicks and tries to body-check the boatsman and push him into the lake. He fails and the boatsman makes to grab his scythe. Niemir comes to Francesco’s aid and together they manage to tip the reaper into the lake. Meanwhile, Hendrik was preparing to fire off some magic missiles, but when he sees the boatsman disappear into the drink he changes his mind and cast shield on himself instead.

The boatsman isn’t defeated yet, however. He starts to climb back into the boat. Francesco has grabbed the beam and is turning the boat around. Niemir, meanwhile, raises his zweihander and chops at the reaper. He fails to prevent the thing from climbing back into the skiff. At this point Hendrik fires off his magic missiles and harms but doesn’t kill the creature.

Francesco drops the beam and takes his halberd to swipe at the reaper’s legs. He succeeds at knocking the reaper over and pushies him back into the lake, hurting it in the process, bone chips flying everywhere. A second volley of magic missile finishes the reaper off. Hendrik says “keep the change”.

It is quiet again in the lake grotto. They have this skiff and are of course very relieved to have defeated death, once again, because they did encounter several reapers before during a previous expedition in the library.

They decide to make use of the boat to explore the cave further. They continue to head west and after some time they pass through a narrow passage into a larger grotto. Here there is steam coming from the west, and they decided to hug the side of the cave and head south. Soon enough, they arrive at a shore littered with debris. They drag the boat ashore and spot an entrance to a worked stone hallway. They enter it, ignore a fork south, and go up some stairs heading west. They come across a door in the south wall, check it, and discover a somewhat puzzling small 10 by 10 room. So they continue on and after some time they arrive at a spiral staircase leading up, as well as a hallway heading north.

They decide to go up the stairway and emerge into an area of the castle which they recognize from from previous expeditions. They head down a hallway to the east and note a bricked-up doorway. The next door leads to an extremely tidy room with two more doors decorated with an infernal mural and the text “the doors of good and bad fortune”. As they explore the room reality suddenly lurches sideways and they are up to their knees in fungus and filth. A nauseating smell permeates the room. Quickly and carefully they head back out.

They backtrack, take a door to the south, and inspect a room from which they hear soft humming emerge. It turns out to be full of clean white linen hanging from lines. A strikingly hairy woman of large proportions and with intense eyes asks them what their business is. They head back out again.

Having had their fill of the castle, they exit through the rose garden and gatehouse and make their way back safely to Tours-en-Savoy.

Referee Commentary:

No loot, no casualties, and a shorter session than usual, but still a lot of fun was had. The encounter with the reaper was very cinematic. I adore my players for going “fuck it” and simply ringing that bell. I was a bit worried when they got into the boat that I hadn’t been clear enough about what they were getting themselves into. But as I built up the tension through description the realization sank in and we had a neat fight on the boat.

In general, in these kinds of situations, that’s a good strategy to follow: stretch things out. Use kind of a “three strikes” approach before dropping the hammer.

The rest of the session was simple exploration. I did not roll a single encounter when I think I did perform nearly a dozen checks. Regardless, it was cool for them to discover an entirely different route, and pass through a completely new section of the castle. Even after all these sessions the module has plenty of surprises and novelty left in store.

I wonder if they will choose to explore this part of the castle further, or if they will go for something else entirely. We will see.

Categories
Actual Play

Castle Xyntillan – Session #27 – Baker Woman Banging Heads

After a five-month hiatus, we have returned to Castle Xyntillan for a third and likely final season, which will run until we break for the Christmas holiday.

The Company:

  • Hendrik (MU5)
  • Francesco (F4)
  • Leon (porter)
  • Sarah & Beath (heavy footwomen)

Loot: Silverware (1750 GP) and 75 uncut gems (100 GP each).

Casualties: None.

Report:

We resume the action five in-game months after the last expedition. It is Monday, March 4, 1527. A new adventuring season has begun!

The company sell off some precious loot to fatten their coffers and make up for the lack of income over the past several months. The upkeep, particularly of their high-level magic-user, is nothing to sneeze at. Now that the weather is easing up, they hire a couple of likely women-at-arms named Sarah and Beath, as well as their trusty old porter Leon, and head back to the castle in search of more treasure.

***

Upon arrival they notice the dancing beanstalk they planted near the grand entrance has grown to enormous proportions. It reaches all the way up to the first floor, and its continuous bouncing back and forth has torn a crack in the castle wall large enough for a person to squeeze through. The company make use of the opportunity, seeing as how to affords them with a shortcut to the part of the castle they intend to explore further.

The crack opens onto the cleric’s room, which they plundered in a previous expedition. From here they move into the chapel, and on to a hallway leading west. The sound of drunken singing grows louder as they progress. They check the first door they find to the south, which opens on an empty room. The next door heads north and opens on a spiral staircase, and a door east. They head up the stairs and find themselves in the library, which they had also explored previously. Rather than continuing on, they head back down, and take the door east.

They find themselves in a hallway with two doors heading east again. Opening the southern most one, they see a bakery. They enter, and make to inspect the furnace, when the ghost of a bakerswoman appears, wielding a rolling pin. She is very upset at their presence, and immediately attacks. Francesco is hit and instantly knocked out. The rest run back into the hallway. Hendrik commands Sarah and Beath to go back in to rescue Francesco. They do, and the ghost meanwhile makes to attack the magic-user. He runs after the women-at-arms and takes refuge behind their swords and shields. Beath is also hit and knocked out, but Hendrik manages to eliminate the ghost with a volley of magic missile.

Like this, but dead. And angry. (Jean-François Millet)

They revive Francesco and Beath with a couple of healing potions, and proceed to search the bakery. When Francesco cautiously opens the oven door with his halberd the thing flings open, coughs out a bunch of charred human bones and bricks, and angrily snaps at the polearm. The rest of the room turns out to be empty.

They try a door leading north, which opens onto a kitchen where five ghouls dressed as cooks are carving up a human corpse with huge knives. They gingerly close the door again and manage to remain unseen. Hendrik casts invisibility on himself, slowly opens the door again, and using the element of surprise flings a fireball at the monsters. Three perish, and the remaining two run off before the company can get to them.

They search the kitchen but find nothing except a pot containing the most disgusting stew ever. Hendrik opens the door to a walk-in cupboard and is nearly decapitated by a guillotine trap. Inside they find a lot of spoiled supplies, but also a handsome amount of silverware, which they take with them.

They continue on to the next door north, which opens on a room decorated with simple tapestries with floral motifs. The room is otherwise empty, but they do find that the flagstones in one corner have been disturbed. The women-at-arms are commanded to remove the floor, which they do, uncovering churned-up earth. Somewhat concerned, they poke the soil with their weapons, hitting on wood not far down. Sarah and Beath scrape away the earth with their bare hands, revealing a casket (of course).

They decide they do not want to take the risk of opening it in here, but would rather do so outside in the sunlight. However, carrying a full casket would slow them down significantly. So, Hendrik casts haste, they pick up the casket, and make for the exit.

When they enter the kitchen, Rodento passes them by but to their relief ignores them. (They have encountered the man-sized rat dressed as a musketeer twice already.)

They speed the rest of the way out of the castle by way of the grand entrance with no trouble at all. Outside, some ways from the exit, they set the casket down on the ground and push off the lid. The bloated corpse of a woman sits up, clutching her purse in clawed hands. She tries to bite them, but they make short of her and chop her up into little pieces. The purse contains a small fortune in uncut gems. And with that, they had back to town.

Referee Commentary:

Ah Xyntillan, how delightful it is to be back exploring your shrouded hallways. We were all a little rusty after not having played a classic D&D dungeon crawl for quite some time. For example, I forgot about surprise checks at the top of encounters. But we were soon back in the rhythm of things, and despite several combat encounters, the game kept moving at a fair clip. We only covered a few rooms, but each had quite a bit going on in it, so that’s not too surprising.

The new combat sequence we’re using, which I detailed in the recent posts on our playthrough of The Coming of Sorg, continues to serve us well. As a result, the likelihood of being interrupted as a spellcaster has gone up, and so Hendrik’s player was extra keen on hiring some mercenaries to function as meatshields. Regardless, a high-level magic-user continues to be a thing to behold. Quite a bit of clever use of utility spells in this game as well. Invisibility, haste — really nice.

One trap that I fell back in to though was not communicating the presence of threats clearly enough upfront, leading to two moments that were borderline gotchas: The sudden appearance of the ghost of the bakerwoman, and the guillotine trap in the kitchen cupboard. When in doubt, I should err on the side of being super-obvious. It’s always more interesting when players dig their own hole.

Anyway, again, it’s great to be back running Castle Xyntillan and I look forward to seeing what future sessions will bring.

Categories
Actual Play

The Coming of Sorg – Classic D&D One-Shot – Part 2 of 2

After a break over August, our group is resuming the weekly remote D&D game. Attendance may be lower than over the past year and a half, because in our part of the world society is gradually reopening. For some of us at least, this means a return to something resembling a normal social life. As a result there are more diversions on Friday evenings besides logging on to Zoom and throwing some dice.

Anyway, for our first post-summer game I had nothing prepared and it just so happened we had the exact same group as during the last session, when we ended our play-through of The Coming of Sorg on a cliffhanger. As a result we decided to pick up where we left off. Good thing I had blogged notes, and also took photos of the battle map.

The Party:

  • Hetz Zuril, level 3 thief, carrying a potion of animal mastery, and a ring of regeneration
  • Baiar, level 3 fighter, wearing a girdle of giant’s might
  • Cobrynth, level 3 cleric, carrying a staff of mastery and a ring of telekinesis
  • Ralik & Tovak, heavy foot soldiers
  • Trisdik & Mazian, handgunners

Play Report:

We resumed at the moment when the party had penetrated the high temple had engaged in combat Vnaud the high priest, his acolytes, and the rhino-sized demon maggot known as Sorg. Long story short, Baiar the fighter and his two heavy footmen and two handgunners make short work of most of the acolytes. The thief Hetz Zuril takes out the high priest with a well-aimed crossbow bolt from a concealed position. Meanwhile Cobrynth the cleric uses his staff of mastery to compel a pair of acolytes to throw themselves at Sorg. The acolytes screamed in pain at the bile that spurted from Sorg’s wounds, and melted their daggers. The players concluded simply stabbing away at Sorg would not be the solution. The unfortunate dominated acolytes were then used as human shields against Sorg’s bile spit attack. Baiar closes the distance and aided by his girdle of giant’s might tips the demon from the altar it was draped over, and proceeds to bash it with the altar itself! Cobrynth, having run out of acolytes to control, uses his ring of telekinesis to levitate a piece of crumbled column from outside into the temple to plug up Sorg’s disgusting bile-spitting orifice. Sorg ultimately succumbs under the extreme violence inflicted on it but the party, but not before exploding in a mess of bile that destroys much of the arms and armor of the men standing close to it. At the end of it all, two men-at-arms have perished, and the remaining two have had their fill and ask to be let go, which Baiar graciously does.

Afterwards, the party heads outside and inspects the pool adjacent to the high temple. There they find the rapidly decaying corpse of an enormous fish-like demon. (It has perished with the departure of Sorg.) They then continue to what Cobrynth, who is a cleric of Deel, knows to be a brewery. Here they are surprised by a group of cultists led by a man named Len, who wears an eye-catching medallion.

An uneasy conversation develops. The party asks the cultists why they are holed up in the brewery. They say they are hiding from the emanations produced by the demon in the high temple, whom they believe is not the real Sorg but an imposter. The party say they have destroyed Sorg, which the cultists don’t believe. The party are confused as well, and try to confirm if the cultists are on the side of Sorg, or not. The cultists readily agree they are still fully on board with the idea of summoning the real Sorg. This, paired with the prospect of treasure in the form of the necklace worn by Len, is enough for Hetz to take a surprise shot at the leader. Len is severely wounded but not killed, and immediately disappears between the barrels. The acolytes attack but are made short work of by Baiar and his henchmen. Len retaliates by knocking out Cobrynth with a sneak attack of his own. Baiar digs through the barrels with his giant strength, locates Len, and unceremoniously ends his life.

They pocket the necklace. Cobrynth is revived with the help of Hetz’s ring of regeneration. And here we decide to end the adventure, for real this time. During the customary debrief, I explain what was in the other buildings. We talk a little bit about the different ways they could have approached the adventure.

Referee Commentary:

Some reflections on what happened during the session, in no particular order:

  • A high-level thief as adversary can be quite deadly, if ran correctly. I managed to resist the urge to have Len simply charge the player characters and instead had him hide so he could take pot shots at them. Made for an interesting dynamic.
  • The conversation with Len was the first time I tried to apply my “new” doctrine for running social encounters. After an initial exchange in-character, I ask the players what they hope to get out of the conversation, and I make sure they are clear on what the NPCs’ goals are. We then try to somehow resolve the scene swiftly, either by rolling some dice (typically a reaction roll from my end) and/or simply roleplaying a little more. This made the whole thing drag on much less than it usually did.
  • My players have developed a strong treasure-seeking reflex from many sessions in Castle Xyntillan under a xp-for-gold regime. This on-page adventure is very thin on treasure as written. Running it as a one-shot with pregens this is no big deal. But as part of a proper campaign it would definitely need some work.
  • I again ran combat in my “new” approach. At the top of each round I declare what monsters will be doing, then players declare what they are intending to do, we roll for initiative, and then we resolve each side’s actions in the order of movement, missile, magic, and melee. This makes for a smoother back and forth. Some players expressed that they like the extra gambling element that comes with having to declare before initiative is rolled. I should say though that I do allow players to adjust their course of action if events during the round have radically changed the situation. Within reason, of course. I am also not super strict with the order of actions, but I do think I will change them to the following: missile, movement, melee, and magic. This is roughly in order of how fast each action can occur.
  • This new approach to combat also opens the door to the possibility of interrupting a spell-caster, although I need to think some more about what it would take exactly. Being engaged in melee? Or also being shot at? Only if you take damage? Something to think about.
  • We also had an interesting situation with a character disengaging from melee. I rule that you use up half your movement if you want to get away safely, but then I had an acolyte catch up and get a bonus for attacking from behind. This maybe also happened because we use circular tokens on a battle mat and those don’t have a facing. Obviously, when you safely disengage from melee you should keep facing your opponent and so they might be able to catch up with you but they would not able to stab you in the back.
  • The dominated acolytes being used to block off Sorg’s bile spit attack was an interesting case to adjudicate. I decided they would simply block off one attack and then perish. But looking back I could have also treated them as cover, say for a -4 to-hit. And if the attack failed by that margin rule that the dominated acolyte was hit in stead.
  • Similarly, I had to think on my feet about how much damage a demon larva would take if it was bashed with an altar by a character wearing a girdle of giant’s might. I think I was really generous and went with three or possibly four dice of damage. But I could have also stuck with the general rule that a character using this magic item simply does double the normal damage. We were using the item descriptions from Delving Deeper in this game. Afterwards I cross-compared with Swords & Wizardry and Old School Essentials and it’s kind of interesting to see how they differ.
  • Come to think of it, Sorg should have probably only been harmed by non-mundane weapons. Oh well.

And that’s about it. This one-page adventure was an interesting experience to run. I think to make it really rewarding under a classic D&D framework, it needs more work from the referee, particularly on the front of treasure. I felt a bit dissatisfied when we finished, because after defeating Sorg there isn’t much else to do. In hind sight I should have just ended the game when the demon was slain, and narrated what happened during the mopping-up afterwards. But I did not have the presence of mind to do so. Better luck next time.

Categories
Rules

Hackbut – Encumbrance

Time for another Hackbut rules post. This one is about encumbrance and inventory management.

I considered sticking with the traditional way of tracking encumbrance, but none of the systems in the original editions felt right to me. They were either too abstracted, or too unwieldy. Of course, in contemporary old school D&D circles, slot-based encumbrance tracking has become a house rule many people adopt. We were familiar with this approach from playing The Black Hack, and liked it, so I decided to adopt it for Hackbut as well.

My goal with this particular iteration of slot-based encumbrance was to have a set of rules that would be easy to remember and adjudicate, something that would make inventory management meaningful and enjoyable, but also, to have something that would be compatible with the traditional movement rates, and weight allowances that go along with that.

Let’s get to the rules. Here’s a bullet-wise rundown. I’m sure a lot of this will be familiar to those versed in contemporary old school D&D gaming.

  • A character’s carrying capacity is a number of slots equal to 10 plus their STR mod
  • Most things take up one item slot
  • For on-the-fly adjudication purposes, slots are roughly equal to 1/3 stone, 5 lb, or 2 kg
  • When you exceed your capacity — and once again at every multiple of it — your movement rate drops by 3″, and physical rolls incur a cumulative -1 penalty
  • The first three slots are so-called quick-draw slots, readying an item from any other slots takes a round
  • Small items stack to a slot — most notably, 100 coins take up one slot
  • Items marked in the equipment lists as “oversized” take up two slots
  • Armor takes up a number of slots equal to its AC “bonus” (e.g. light armor, AC 7, takes up two slots)
  • We ignore clothing, worn items, and very small single objects for encumbrance purposes

And that’s it, basically. I will close with some further notes on my thought process here.

  1. I did not use the raw STR score because that’s too swingy. In general in Hackbut I use the ability score bonuses rather than the raw scores to ensure abilities don’t matter too much.
  2. I went with a simple progression between the MV tiers. In particular, the break point for MV 6″ is some times at 1.5 or 1.33 times the base capacity. I dialed in the slots and weights to a slot so that I could simply have breakpoints at each multiple of the base capacity. Again, easy to remember.
  3. The weight a slot is roughly equivalent to I dialed in by analyzing the classic editions, some of the main retroclones, but also OED and Knave.
  4. I played around with the number of coins to a slot to get a sensible single coin weight. I landed on 0.05 lb (0.02 kg). By comparison, Delta’s coins are 0.01 lb, and Knave’s are 0.05 lb.
  5. I believe I mentioned this in my series of posts on the equipment lists, but I determined slots for each item mainly by translating from the weights listed in Delving Deeper, and plugging holes where needed using Labyrinth Lord and Basic Fantasy’s Equipment Emporium (PDF).
  6. Finally, keen-eyed readers may be wondering about the slots for armor. I admit this is a deviation from the classic editions. If I were to follow the weights listed, armor would have to take up roughly twice the slots I am currently using. But that is hard to remember, and also possibly too punitive under a system where a lot more stuff adds to your encumbrance than was the case in the original game. So I have made peace with the fact that my armor slots are on the lenient side.

Besides those already mentioned, I would also point to Necropraxis (a, b), Delta (a, b), and Coins & Scrolls as three other sources of inspiration.

And that’s it for encumbrance. Next time I will likely discuss how I handle retainers.

Categories
Rules

Hackbut – Equipment – Weapons & Armor

Continuing the discussion of Hackbut’s equipment list, after adventuring gear I now turn to melee weapons, missile weapons, and armor.

This, along with the missile weapons, are a part of the game I agonized over way too much. In particular, I fiddled with their damage and properties until each each was distinct from all the others.

The items on the list are basically a merging of the OD&D and B/X weapons lists. I wanted something that would be broadly compatible with the original editions. So I stuck to the original prices or took averages where editions diverged.

I also did not want to offer situational bonuses for specific weapons against particular types or armor, like for example OED does. I think that is adding a level of complexity that does not fit the simple and fast-playing game we want to be playing.

Melee weapons

Melee weapons
Melee weapons
  • I rationalized the damage as follow: 1d4 for small weapons; 1d6 as a baseline; 1d8 for two-handed weapons with reach or versatile weapons wielded in two hands; 1d10 for two-handed weapons with no reach. (I took some inspiration from Skerples for this.)
  • If it wasn’t obvious, “reach” means a weapon can be used to fight from the second rank. “Versatile” means the weapons can be wielded in one or two hands. “Oversized” means the weapon takes up two slots.
  • Pikes, lances, pole-arms and halberds are a bit of a mess in the original editions. I decided to make pikes and lances functionally the same weapon, with certain benefits gained when fighting from horseback. Halberds I used to model large axes that do not quite have reach. Pole-arms I used for the plethora of slashing/stabbing/hooking implements that do have reach.
  • The keen-eyed observer will see that spears are incredibly useful, as they should be. Note, however, that the 1d8 damage die is only rolled when using the weapon with two hands without reach.
  • The flail is the two-handed variant that might have actually seen some use in the late medieval and early modern eras. I designed it to basically be the cleric’s alternative for the fighter’s zweihander.
Two-handed flails (Paul Hector Mair)

Missile weapons

Missile weapons
Ammunition
  • The bows are balanced against each other by trading rate of fire for damage. (My rules don’t have multiple shots for regular bows like some of the classic games do. My combat round lasts 10 seconds. I follow Delta’s reasoning for this.)
  • The eponymous arquebus is the only deviation from “official” classic D&D weapons. I added it to the list because I wanted to add some early modern flavor to my game and guns are a big part of the battlefield in that era. However, I again went for simplicity, so it is basically a souped-up heavy crossbow that has an even worse rate of fire, and a heavier ammo kit. My main reference for this was the firearms appendix of Lamentations of the Flame Princess.
  • Those “Ud” notes are usage dice (taken from The Black Hack) which are rolled after each combat. In my game, no-one enjoys counting individual missiles, except when they are remarkable in some way (magic arrows, silver arrows, etc.)
  • Edit (August 15, 2021): I should add missile weapons all have the same range. All missile attacks are at -1 for every 10 feet beyond the first 30 feet. Thrown weapons can’t go beyond 60 feet. (This, like so much else, was taken from Delta.)

Armor

Armor
  • Armor really is incredibly straightforward. The only deviation from the classic rulesets is the pricing, for which I followed Delta’s intervention to make chain and plate more expensive.

***

I’m sure there are more teeny tiny details that might catch your eye or you might think are odd. Suffice to say that I don’t think I left any aspect of each single item unconsidered.

Edit (August 15, 2021): To help my players get up and running quickly I created this guide to equipping your character. Somewhat inspired by Talysman (a, b) and The Alexandrian.)

That’s all for melee weapons, missile weapons and armor. The next post about Hackbut will most likely be about every OSR blogger’s favorite topic: encumbrance.