Actual Play

Castle Xyntillan – Session #9 – Rats in the Cellar

The Company:

  • Heinz (MU2)
  • Buerghedorn (F2)
  • Jaquet (F2)
  • Bartolomea (C3)
  • Guillemette (T1)
  • Enzo & Benjamin (heavy foot)
  • Lucas, Elin & India (porters)


  • 4 gold-covered copper candelabra
  • Plain duelling sword
  • Duelling dagger +2
  • 3 wine skins filled with various Malévol vintages
  • Gold pocket watch

Casualties: Enzo — pincushioned by bandit arrows


Another week, another expedition. Prior to their departure this time around, the company notices the grumblings about dead retainers continue. Furthermore, Alina, the heavy foot woman who fled the fight with the goatrices during expedition #6, has somehow made her way back to Tours-en-Savoy after being lost for two weeks. She is treating her trauma with copious amounts of alcohol in the town’s watering holes. Bartolomea receives a letter from the bishop of Chamrousse, saying the company will first need to prove they are enemies of the evil Malévols before they will be admitted into the crypt of Boniface. In addition, Bartolomea is visited by an angelic figure in the night, who orders her to quest for the Oils of Cleansing, and shows her a saint-like figure standing in the center of a cross-shaped chapel, anointing a procession of clergy with oil from a vial. The company also sell off the goatrice heads they brought back as a trophy to Jacques Valt, who apparently has a use for them in his alchemical practice.

Two days later, on November 15, 1525, the company find themselves back at the gates of Castle Xyntillan.

They head for the grand entrance once more, and cautiously head back east to the hall where they previously messed with the bat-locked door. Remembering how to disarm it, Guillemette peeks inside and surveys the same well-appointed room. What is more, the same immaculately dressed pale man is sitting behind the desk once again as well. When she closes the door to confer with her companions they hear the noise of many high-heeled footsteps and lady’s voices heading their way. They quickly head out to hide in the occult room and wait to see what happens.

The company hear a large group of ladies enter the hall and knock on the bat-locked door. One lady calls out for “Count Giscard” to join them for a drink. After several unanswered attempts, the ladies leave again, saying the count must be busy making plans again.

Armed with the newly acquired knowledge of the count’s name, Guillemette sneaks back, unlocks the door, and sticks her head in while exclaiming “Count Giscard! Count Giscard! A troll has broken into the wine cellar and is running amok! You must come quick!” Only to be greeted by a deserted room. Not missing a beat, she motions to the rest of the company to come over, and they begin to quickly loot the room.

Suddenly, they hear a single pair of footsteps nearing from behind curtains to the south. Not hesitating for a moment the company piles out of the room again with some sweet loot in tow, and cautiously but quickly heads as far away from the room as possible.

Deciding to press their luck, the company heads to the stairs leading down from the room with thick shadows and fireplace. Guillemette once again takes the lead and sneaks down the stairs. In the weak illumination of the torches all the way back up she can see a large room with casks and wine presses. Confident that the coast is clear, she signals to her companions to join her.

What follows is an extended exploration of this room and an even larger adjacent cellar. The contents of many casks are inspected, and a section of wall is checked for secret doors. Malévol vintages turn out to range from sour swill, through green slime, all the way to wine with an extraordinarily reinvigorating aroma. They also sample one wine with a meaty note to it, which later turns out to be due to the dead rats that have made their way into the cask. Also, exploring the northeast end of the cellar, they find two murderholes through which they spy nine skeletal sentries sitting on benches… They slowly back away from this scene.

Tapping (Tacuinum Sanitatis)

Making ready to leave, the company begins to fill several wine skins with samples taken from casks. Thusly occupied, Heinz is surprised by a swarm of severed hands. Before anyone can intervene, he’s chortled and drops to the ground. The company makes short work of the things, and Bartolomea manages to quickly revive the magic-user with some divine magic. Only moments back from death’s door, Heinz scolds his mercenary retainer Enzo for sleeping on the job.

As they begin to head back, Guillemette scouts ahead once more. When she starts up the stairs she spots a man-sized furry figure at the top, heading towards them. Having only seconds to prepare, the company forms a shield wall at the foot of the stairs and waits. From the darkness emerges a man-sized rat in large leather boots, wearing a feathered cap and armed with a rapier. The thing is surprised by the company’s presence but not immediately hostile. He does however warn the company not to mess with him, or else they will have to contend with his numerous companions. Bartolomea attempts to parley with the man sized rat, who it becomes clear is called Rodento Ratsputin, but when the thing insults her god, she immediately smacks it in the head with her mace. Rodento retaliates with rapid stabs from his rapier, which appears to be poisoned as well. But when the company lays into it, he reaches into a pouch, sprinkles dust over himself, and disappears from sight.

Relieved to have survived the encounter with barely a scratch, but annoyed that their adversary got away, the company once again heads back up the stairs. Thinking the way out is clear, they casually open the next door but are just in time to dodge back at the sight of ten bandits milling about the vestibule. They recognize their leader as Gilbert “the fox” Malévol, the man who some expeditions back relieved them of the carpets they were going to bring back to town.

Stumped about how to proceed, Guillemette is sent ahead once more. Using her thievery skills she blends into the shadows and sneaks about the vestibule. At first sight the space is empty, but soon she notices several doors opening onto the room are slightly ajar, and she also spots a couple of bandits at the ready in the portrait gallery to the north. Thinking to make the way clear for the rest of the company’s rush outside, she moves to the grand entrance and pulls the doors open. On the other side she is surprised to find Gilbert and a bandit. Before she can act, the bandit grapples her, to Gilbert’s obvious amusement.

Without any hesitation the rest of the company streams into the vestibule and runs for the exit. The front lines ram into Gilbert and his companion and they are quickly slain. The remainder of the company stream out of the castle. Bandits kick open doors and fire arrows at the company. Most do not hit home but Enzo is less lucky and killed on the spot. Having freed Guillemette, everyone runs outside and follows the path into the woods and up the mountains, back to Tours-en-Savoy.

Referee Commentary:

This session was quite the nail biter, and also driven almost entirely by random encounters, which I absolutely adore. The final escape scene in particular was a result of me rolling an encounter for the very last turn. I was almost going to fudge it because we were running over time. But I felt obliged not to, because it would rob the players of a memorable challenge. I was also very pleased with my improvising on the spot for the bandits’ tactics.

On the topic of fudging, the sudden disappearance of the count was also the result of a roll. In this case I decided to check for the count’s continued presence when Guillemette returned to confront him. The result indicated he was not present (anymore) and so I narrated accordingly. I think it made for a funny scene. But some players thought I was fudging things to spare them a hazardous encounter or something. I stuck to my guns, but upon reflection, I probably should not have checked for his presence that second time. Perhaps it was also due in part to my insecurity about roleplaying the count, and I was subconsciously looking for a way out of it. Anyway, in future, I will only roll for room encounters once per session and stick to the results, unless explicitly indicated otherwise.

Then there was Ratsputin, who was a lot of fun to roleplay, and was also well received by the players. What made me more confident about playing him is that the key included a note about what he might say (kind of a catch phrase) and that was exactly what I needed to get into character. I wish all NPC write ups included something along those lines. Some are a little less immediately evocative.

The session was light on treasure, but thanks to a small bit of carousing the party now includes a level 3 magic-user and most other characters are level 2. I expect advancement will slow down a little now, and the group will probably have to become a little more daring and resolute to rake in the big scores. I look forward to seeing how long they will manage to continue their streak of not losing any player characters as well.

Actual Play

Castle Xyntillan – Session #8 – Operation Chimney Sweep

The Company:

  • Ynes (T1)
  • Heinz (MU2)
  • Jaquet (F1)
  • Vito & Enzo (heavy foot)
  • Jana (crossbowwoman)
  • Elin (porter)


  • Potion of heroism
  • Bundle of golden buttons
  • Golden box of candied fingers and toes

Casualties: Vito — left foot ripped off and eaten by a zombie


While preparing for the next expedition in Tours-en-Savoy, the company hears rumours about rough out-of-town folks who have been asking around about people who are particularly good at logging. They also hear the locals are grumbling about the frequent deaths of retainers in the company’s employ. Indeed, the availability of non-combatants and heavy footmen in particular appears to be on the decline. Jaquet orders the “special” at The Black Comedian and is told chimneys are something to seek out while in the castle. Finally, Ynes is visited in the dead of night by an angelic appearance who orders her to quest for the Sceptre of the Merovings, and shows her a vision of a haloed king in Carolingian garb, sat on a plain marble throne, holding a rod shaped like an upturned hand…

Two days later, the company arrives at the castle, and heads back to the grand entrance. There they find the decomposing bodies of the previous expedition’s casualties, the heavy footmen Milia and Lionel. Ignoring these, they proceed to push open the double doors. As expected the western statue laughs ominously. This time, however, the eastern statue also animates to snap its fingers, upon which the corpses of the men-at-arms rise to attack the company.

The company makes an ordered retreat, and fires a volley of crossbow bolts at the things from a safe distance. One is downed, but the other manages to make it to the front line. It is hacked to pieces, but not before it manages to pull the unfortunate Vito to the ground with it. The heavy footman expires as blood gushes from his left ankle where his foot has been ripped off.

The remaining retainers are shaken by the spectacle but agree to continue the expedition. The company, aiming to prevent the same thing from happening again, toss all three bodies into the stream running not far from the path. As the corpses wash into the lake, the company once again enters the castle. This time, only the western statue laughs.

Preparing to shoot some zombies? (Hans Holbein)

They return to the large room shrouded in shadows which they know holds a fireplace. Ynes begins a careful inspection. She establishes that she would be able to climb up the chimney without much issue. She also finds a secret door in the rear. Opening it, they find a small room filled with smoked meats hanging from the ceiling. While Ynes begins to investigate, the remaining company hears something approaching from a door to the north. A chorus of whispers grows louder, and mist begins to seep from under the door. Not interested in meeting whatever it is head-on, they quickly pile into the smoke room.

Remaining hidden, the company spies a pale lady shrouded in mists entering the room. She is accompanied by two shadowy outlines of male bodies. Lucky for them, Ynes finds another secret door leading out of the room. Quickly and quietly, they leave the smoked meats behind them.

The next room is large, and holds many shelves filled with esoteric paraphernalia. The smell of dried herbs fills the space. A large stuffed raven sits on a desk, and most notably, walls and floor are covered with eery occult diagrams in white chalk. They toss the room and find nothing of interest. But when Heinz studies the diagram, his head begins to spin and he is nearly driven insane by their geometric implications. Managing to keep it together however, he gains invaluable insights into the nature of reality and emerges from the ordeal an even more intelligent man than he already was.

Heading further east, they enter a hall with doors leading north and east. The eastern door is particularly notable for the large wrought-iron bat-shaped device in place of a lock. Ynes investigates and establishes the bat’s wings can be moved either up or down. She flips a coin and moves the wings up. A piercing wail sounds off by way of an alarm. The company is nailed to the ground and waits for a moment to see what may happen next. Then, they hear a large number of high-heeled footsteps nearing from the west, accompanied by fussy lady’s voices going “what in heavens could that be” and so on. The company makes a dash for door to the north and is relieved to find it unlocked and unstuck. They barely manage to remain out of sight while whatever was heading their way enters the hall.

Getting their bearings, the company see they are in a hallway leading west, with a fork north. Ynes proceeds to investigate, and finds, at the western end of the hallway, a large boulder sat on a pedestal. She gingerly investigates it, being careful not to touch, but can not find anything obviously suspicious.

Ignoring the thing for the moment, the company heads north and takes the first door on their left hand. Here, they emerge underneath a large stairway shrouded in spiderwebs. Beyond, they see floating candles illuminating several portraits. It’s the gallery they also visited a few expeditions past. They briefly investigate the decomposing body of an unfortunate adventurer who is covered in moths. Then, they move on to have another look at the portraits.

Heinz engages in a staring contest with the portrait of Aristide Malévol — an impossibly ancient-looking man dressed in blue robes decorated with stars and wearing a pointy hat, who returns the magic-user’s gaze with disconcerting interest. Meanwhile, Jaquet’s curiosity is piqued by the statue of a griffon. The fighter wedges a spike in the things beak and after much hemming and hawing reaches in and pulls out — a flask! Amazed to still be in possession of both hands, he pockets the item with a satisfied grin. Heinz moves on to the familiar-looking gruesome visage of a huntsman. The portrait bears a plaque with the name “Hubert Malvévol”. Before the magic-user can do anything, Hubert raises a bow and fires an arrow, which barely misses Heinz. Terrified, and with time running out, the company decides they have had enough of the portraits and head back to the hallway with the boulder, desperate to find some treasure.

They continue to retrace their steps back to the bat-locked door. They are relieved to find whatever was following them has left. Ynes pushes the wings of the lock down, and gingerly dodges its presumably poisonous bite. The door unlocks with an audible click. Very carefully, the thief opens the door and uses her mirror to peer inside.

She observes a luxurious suite, the walls covered in red and black drapes. There are three portraits on the walls, a couch with a coffin on it, a table with a decanter holding a red liquid, a pair of duelling swords on the wall, a trunk, a desk and a liquor cabinet. The whole scene is lit by four golden candelabras. Most notably, behind the desk, facing the door, sits a pale, immaculately dressed man, pondering papers and mumbling to himself.

Stumped by the presence of the person, the company debates what to do next. Rather than engage the man in the room, they decide it’s time to end the expedition. They head back to the hallway with the boulder, and bust open another door to the north. Here, they find the room of a young lady, with a large mirror and numerous cosmetics. They toss the room and find a bundle of golden buttons in a trunk filled with decomposing dresses. Finally, some treasure! Somewhat satisfied, they begin to leave the room when a terrible scream rings out and the mirror shatters. Shaken, they spot an alcove where the mirror used to be, holding a golden box. At the same time, they hear heavy footsteps and gruff humming nearing from the north. They swipe the box and once again make a run for it, this time heading for the grand entrance. To their amazement and relief, they make it outside without trouble, and find themselves back in the late morning sun of a pleasant early November day. The trek back to Tours-en-Savoy begins once more.

Referee Commentary:

I was quite satisfied with the run of this session. I managed to keep my cool, and implemented a few changes to my refereeing procedure to prevent myself from getting overwhelmed. Most importantly, I tried to stick to the following exploration turn procedure:

  1. Roll for random encounter
  2. Establish player actions
  3. Resolve player actions
  4. Resolve random encounter (if applicable)
  5. Update time records (including light source depletion)

I’ve been using a time-keeping sheet of my own design for quite a while. It’s nothing special, I can just use it to easily check off turns as the game progresses. The problem I often ran into, however, is that I lost track of where we were in a turn. I tried to fix that by marking a turn at its beginning, and then crossing it off at its end. This actually worked quite well. I also got myself a fun red d6 with a skull in place of the 1 for my encounter roll. I can keep this lying around on the result I rolled for that round as a reminder. That also improved things noticeably.

My time-keeping sheet, designed to be printed off on A5. It allows for tracking by day, 4-hour watch, hour, and 10-minute turn.

The main thing that trips me up is that when I do roll a random encounter I somehow feel rushed to throw it in at just the right moment. This is strange, because ultimately I am in control of the progression of time. And so, by sticking to the turn procedure more faithfully, I relieve myself of this burden. I just resolve what players want to do, and then move on to introduce the encounter. It’s maybe sometimes a bit less elegant, but it does prevent things from spiralling out of my control entirely.

The opening skirmish aside, the players chose to avoid most encounters (and in some cases wisely so, for sure). There were some fun and atmospheric moments.

Afterwards one player did comment he’s still not entirely sure how to approach the game. He feels they are mostly just going around poking things and hoping for the best. Things feel random and out of their control. Some moments in this session — the zombies at the entrance, the arrow fired by Hubert, came across as impossible to avoid gotchas, and they have a point. Hubert’s arrow I should have telegraphed much clearer. Probably by describing him raising a bow and giving them the opportunity to react. The zombies I think are less of a gotcha because they can be easily avoided after they are raised. But I screwed up with a ruling related to range penalties on missile fire, and so the players felt they were punished for trying to be smart and increasing distance between themselves and the monsters. I have resolved to do better in future on that count (and will slightly revise the range penalty rules in Hackbut, which I’ve taken from OED.)

The flip-side is of course that Castle Xyntillan also rewards risk-taking. In this session, Heinz’s player was rewarded for investigating the obviously sinister diagrams with a +1 to Heinz’s intelligence score, bumping his modifier to a +2 in the process, which they were understandably pleased with. Jaquet’s player was certain he would have his hand bit off by the griffon statue but in stead was rewarded for his foolhardiness with a potion of heroism. I love this kind of stuff, but then I have it easy as the referee, sitting on the other end of the screen. For players, I think this type of stuff only works if you remain a little detached from your characters, and can accept they can perish at any moment due to a cruel twist of fate. This can be hard in a roleplaying game, and I think as a group we are still figuring out how best to balance these things.

Actual Play

Castle Xyntillan – Session #7 – Sword Riot

The Company:

  • Jaquet (F1)
  • Buerghedorn (F1)
  • Heinz (MU2)
  • Ynes (T1)
  • Bartolomea (C2)
  • Milia, Lionel & Benjamin (heavy foot)
  • Mena, Mathilde & Lucas (porters)


  • Vial of liquid and small dagger
  • Signet ring
  • Gold-rimmed spectacles
  • Bottle of brandy, champagne & vial of aquavit
  • Mace


  • Milia — choked by a cloaker
  • Lionel — decapitated by a man-eating hat
The company? (Gustave Jean Jacquet)


Following last session’s windfall, this week’s downtime is a relaxed affair where money is no object. Retainers are hired, items are identified, supplies are replenished and Heinz even finds the time to scribe his first honest-to-goodness scroll (magic missile, of course). Subsequently, the company sets out for the castle again.

They decide to once again use the grand entrance. Previous expedition’s members respond with a shrug when the western statue erupts in laughter again. The rest of the company is less indifferent.

Things immediately go south when they enter the vestibule. The cloak, along with hat, cane, and shoes jump from the coatrack and rush to engage the company. Milia is almost immediately enfurled and choked by the cloak, Lionel is soon decapitated by the hat. Mathilde immediately flees at the sight of several retainers biting the dust. The remaining porters hold their ground. Benjamin rushes forward to join Jaquet and Buerghedorn in what is now the front rank, and a fight develops on the doorstep of the castle. Jaquet enters his +2 axe’s battle rage. Heinz makes good use of his wand of lightning, dealing ridiculous amounts of damage to the conjured creatures. Bartolomea tries dousing the things in holy water but finds they are not harmed by it. Jaquet, Buerghedorn and Benjamin hack away, Ynes takes potshots with her crossbow, and at one point, desperate to turn the tide, Heinz even summons the wand of the deep woods’ guardian. Ultimately, the company prevails, but it’s quite the desperate start to the expedition.

Having collected themselves, the company checks a couple of rooms to the west of the vestibule but those turn out to be largely empty. They return to the vestibule and try to first door to the east. It opens on a large room shrouded in unnaturally dense shadows. It contains a grandfather clock, a writing desk piled with papers, a closet, a chest and a fireplace.

Bartolomea and Heinz start rifling through the papers on the desk. Ynes begins to investigate the clock. Jaquet pops open the chest. Buerghedorn pokes around the fireplace. The papers turn out to be ravings of a madman. They do find what appears to be a hit list, which includes the name of the bishop of Chamrousse, as well as (at the very bottom) a certain “Louis”. The chest holds a false compartment with a vial and a small dagger. Buerghedorn pulls the strangled body of a young gentleman from the chimney, who soon after collapses into a cloud of ash and jumble of blackened bones. Ynes spies bones in stead of gears inside the clock, and an owl on a platform in a compartment above the clock-face.

Just when Bartolomea fishes a signet ring from the moth-eaten clothes in the closet, the rear-guard cries out in horror at the sight of blood being sucked from their pores. It’s another group of those damn glitterclouds at the door leading into the room from the vestibule! The company has little appetite for a fight with the things, so Jaquet swiftly moves to slam the door shut before they can enter the room, and it is spiked with a dagger in the jamb. After a moment of pressure from the other side, things turn quiet. Satisfied the clouds are kept at bay for the moment, the company turns their attention to the other doors in the room.

A door south opens onto a stairway leading down into darkness. With a loud “no thank you” the door is shut again.

Meanwhile, the clock is shoved aside to check behind it. Suddenly, the clock begins to strike and the owl pops out, loudly proclaiming “doom, dooom, doooom!” The company braces for what comes next, but is relieved to find nothing else happens.

The first of two doors to the north opens onto a sitting room. A decapitated corpse is slumped in one of several armchairs set around an oak table marked with deep cuts. There is also a wardrobe in a corner. They kick the corpse from the chair and are relieved to see it collapse on the floor. When Bartolomea pulls open the closet, a stream of skulls fall from it. She begins to pick through it, and eventually turns up one bearing a pair of fancy gold-rimmed spectacles.

Heading east, they enter a cosy den with a card table, couches and liquor cabinet. The walls are also covered by a large number of swords on display. The centerpiece is a sinister-looking zweihander with a nameplate beneath it: “The Blade of Rel”.

While some are investigating the card table and others are pillaging the liquor cabinet, Jaquet and Buerghedorn jostle for position at the zweihander. Buerghedorn wins out and before anyone can intervene he grabs the sword from the wall. Instantly, all the edged weapons that the company is carrying spring to life and go for their throats. Ynes and Jaquet are cut down. Acting swiftly, Bartolomea manages to pull Jaquet from death’s door with a cure light wounds. Ynes recovers on her own accord and is further revived with a swig from a bottle of brandy from the liquor cabinet. In the meantime, Buerghedorn struggles for control over his faculties with the chaotic sword and fails. Furthermore, the swords on display also come to life and attack. The complete company flees in terror from the room and barely manages to evade the blades.

Back in the sitting room, they take a moment to debate how best to egress from the castle. They are worried about the clouds in the vestibule, but also dislike the bedroom to the immediate west, which has an oppressive atmosphere and a lantern swinging back and forth under the influence of some unseen force. Before they can resolve their dispute they are interrupted by a bunch of headless manservants entering from said eery room, and halting in confusion at the entrance.

They attempt to get rid of them with some bluffing but the manservants aren’t impressed. Overcome by the blade of Rel, Buerghedorn in stead chops down one of the manservants, and the rest attack in anger. The company makes a run for it, but Buerghedorn is compelled by the blade to stay and hack away. The rest of the company return to the large room, pull the dagger from the jamb and throw open the door. To their relief, the clouds have departed. At that moment, Buerghedorn manages to wrest back control from the sword and turns to run as well. The manservants pursue, but the whole company succeeds in shaking them off and emerge into daylight from the grand entrance. Buerghedorn tosses the blade into the castle moat in disgust. Exhausted, the company begins the two-day journey back to Tours-en-Savoy.

Referee Commentary:

“Regrets, I’ve had a few…”

This was quite the action packed and chaotic session. When we ended I felt like I had made a number of less-than-great calls.

The opening fight did go well, I feel like I am getting an increasingly solid handle on how to run fights purely theatre of the mind and despite the large-ish number of combatants things proceeded at a satisfying clip. The only thing I am still a bit unsure about is how forgiving to be with positioning in melee. Next time I might try to keep a small dry-erase battle mat next to me for keeping track of everyone. I do this now with pen and pencil in my notebook but when a combat takes a while and positions change it resists quick updating.

Where I really stumbled was room E7, the den. As usual, a combination of fatigue and an unreasonable desire to keep things moving conspired to make me misread the room key. My unfamiliarity with the intelligent sword rules also made me unnecessarily cut corners on resolving the situation. As a result, when Buerghedorn’s player grabbed the sword of Rel, I did not have all edged weapons make attack rolls against the PCs. In stead I had each PC who carried edged weapons save, and those who failed I rolled their weapons damage for. I also forgot about their retainers. Furthermore, I botched the control check on the sword by leaving out the wound modifier (I’m using Paul’s reinterpretation of the OD&D control check, which is relatively straightforward, but still more math than I would have liked). So Buerghedorn lost control, but I was then at a loss what the weapon would want. I also overlooked the fact that he should have been taking damage each round, following the B/X rules I am using, because he’s neutral and the sword is chaotic. Only later did I realize my mistake about the weapons in the room and did I read the detail of twenty swords on the walls. I then narrated that they were coming to life to attack as well. We rolled for initiative, they got to go first, and were able to speed out of the room. My final mistake here was that the room entrance is curtained, but I narrated that they slammed the door shut and the swords flew into it. With curtains, it would have been a different story. For some reason I misread the key here too (I have a tendency to confuse left/right, east/west, it’s an annoying flaw) and I also disregarded the key difference in the map, even after a player asked me about it! What the hell was I doing? I know what I was doing, I was rushing. And I shouldn’t have. I’m not kicking myself because the players probably got off easy. I’m bummed because if I’d run this sequence of events as written, it would probably have been even more dramatic than it already was.

So, for the umpteenth time, note to self: do not rush. When you notice yourself feeling overwhelmed, just take five already.

This session also has me reconsider the intelligent sword rules I am using. I am now wondering which rules Lux uses himself. I notice all swords but one only have ego listed, no intelligence, but these ego values tend to be quite high. I suspect Lux uses something similar to the 1e rules. And I might start using those, via OSRIC. The main thing I would like to know is how to interpret the ego-only stat block to understand how intelligent a given sword is, and specifically what (if any) capacity for communication it has with its wielder.

There are more regrets, mainly to do with unfamiliarity with a lot of D&D tropes, such as wands disintegrating when they are depleted (a thing that should have happened when Heinz went HAM using his wand of lightning). I guess I should chalk up some or most of those things to learning. But others are really my own fault, and I hope next session I will manage to take things a little slower.


Hackbut – Alignment

Alignment never really sat right with me. As typically presented, it tends to prescribe player character morality, and imply monolithic, unidimensional world views. Judging by its absence from many contemporary OSR games I’m not alone in that sentiment. But Castle Xyntillan features alignment in its stat blocks, Swords & Wizardry includes it (of course) and the goal of Hackbut was to have full compatibility with the classic editions, so I felt I had to include some statement of what alignment means.

I went trawling through my collection of retroclones and hit the OSR search engine again. This turned up more than a few useful sources of inspiration.

The things that clicked the most for me were those that presented alignment as allegiance to a faction in an ongoing supernatural battle of cosmic proportions. Lamentations of the Flame Princess does this quite well, although the way it conflates arcane magic with chaos and divine magic with law makes it too far removed from classic D&D’s implied setting.

I also like Talysman’s take on alignment. Like him I prefer the simplicity of the chaos/law split. I too prefer alignment not to prescribe morality. In light of this, I likewise interpret spells that relate to “evil” as not targeting alignment but harmful intent.

Finally, I’ll point to the Wandering DMs episode on alignment. In particular, there is a moment when Dan boils alignment down to the following: “When Cthulhu rises, do you run, stay and fight it, or join its side?”

I guess the one thing that makes my take a little out of sync with the original game is that neutrality is not a faction or cosmic force. I realize that in AD&D in particular, this idea is that classes like druids adhere to a belief system that is about balance between chaos and law. I kind of dislike that interpretation, and although it features a little bit in Castle Xyntillan — for example there are intelligent swords that are of neutral alignment — I don’t consider it a huge problem and can easily work around it on the fly.

That’s about all I have to say about alignment at this point. It hasn’t come up much in our game so far. But I expect once we hit higher levels and players begin to acquire intelligent swords for example, it might become more of a thing. I’m pretty happy with where I ended up with this, and it makes me comfortable with having alignment in my game. Perhaps some of these ideas make you reconsider completely ignoring it yourself, too.

Actual Play

Castle Xyntillan – Session #6 – Jackpot

The Company:

  • Bartolomea (C2)
  • Heinz (MU1)
  • Buerghedorn (F1)
  • Lucas (porter)
  • Alina, Benjamin & Milia (heavy foot)
  • Stefanie (bow)


  • Diadem set with opals
  • 16 pearls
  • Two goatrice heads


  • Stefanie — ribcage crushed and thereafter petrified by a goatrice


The company once again scrapes together what remains of their diminishing funds to pay for their upkeep, resupply and hire a significant number of retainers.

The night before their departure for Castle Xyntillan the man called Blérot appears on Heinz’s doorstep. He once again thanks him for freeing him from captivity, and hands over a wooden staff as a token of his gratitude. He says it’s been cut from the fabled talking tree he did indeed go off to chop down. Before Heinz can act, the masked lumberjack turns and leaves, soon disappearing in Tours-en-Savoy’s darkened streets.

When they have the staff identified, it is revealed to have a number of magical properties: it can warp wooden objects, kill wooden creatures, and even turn into a servitor creature. The company is quite impressed with this unexpected gift.

On Wednesday, October 25, 1525, they find themselves at the gates of Castle Xyntillan once again, ready to begin their fifth expedition.

Deciding they’ve had enough of the northwest sector, they follow the path along the south wall of the castle, and arrive at the grand entrance. They listen at the double doors while nervously eying the chimera statues flanking it. From within, they hear quiet sobbing. They push open the doors and are startled by sudden evil laughter emitted by the statue to their left. Quickly they continue on inside to find themselves in a dusty, guano-littered vestibule.

The sobbing turns out to come from a ghostly butler named James who is quite distraught by the state of the room, and profusely apologizes. He also provides them with directions to some particularly charming parts of the castle. The company attempts to extract the location of treasure from him, but their ham-fisted probing is easily deflected. After a while, the butler excuses himself and leaves to find servants to clean the room.

Bartolomea begins to rifle through a cloak hanging from a coatrack and is surprised to be immediately enveloped by it. Retainers rush to her aid and manage to pull it from her. Buerghedorn attempts to smash it, but it emits a horrid moaning sound which forces the majority of the company to flee in terror. Buerghedorn however holds ground and prepares to attack the cloak again when he’s suddenly attacked by a hat. It jumps from the coat rack and tries to bite off the fighter’s head but only ends up chomping on Buerghedorn’s cranium. Still, this is more than he can handle and he drops to the ground.

The remaining company has reconvened at the entrance and has hurried through the double doors outside. When they hear no sounds coming from the vestibule they collect themselves and push open the doors once more. To their relief, the cloak, hat and other items have returned to their resting place on the coatrack and appear not to be hostile for the time being.

Buerghedorn struggles back up from the floor, blood streaming down his forehead from numerous bite marks, but still alive. Bartolomea proceeds to cure the fighter, and somewhat refreshed he is ready once again to continue the expedition.

They proceed north and enter a portrait gallery illuminated by floating candles. Thinking some painting should fetch a decent sum, Bartolomea immediately orders her retainers to rip the first painting from the wall. Before they can do so, however, it begins to speak to them and the retainers back away from it, afraid of what else it may be capable of. Bartolomea approaches the painting and is greeted by a pale, skinny lady by the name of Philoméne who invites her to join her upstairs in her suite for some fun. The cleric tries to ascertain if there would be treasure involved but discovers the painting is only capable of limited conversation. She does, however, notice a silver locket with an aquamarine gem hanging from the lady’s neck.

Meanwhile, Heinz inspects the next painting, named “Girolamo”, which features a severe bureaucrat, who for some reason is holding a wood axe. Through clenched teeth the man insists Heinz hand over a signed affidavit. The magic-user carefully backs away from the painting again.

Somewhat puzzled and frustrated by the paintings, the company decides to shift gears. They return to the vestibule and take a door west, where they enter a comfortable sitting room. From the entrance they spot a lady in a chair, her back to them, vainly inspecting herself in a mirror. Carefully, they approach the person, and quickly move to ram a stake through her heart and chop off her head. It plonks on the floor with a hollow thud, and a diadem set with three opals falls from her crown.

Maybe a little less sophisticated, and a little less alive (Peter de Kempeneer)

They bag the diadem and proceed to toss the room when suddenly from a passage to the south a swarm of severed hands emerges and assaults Alina. Having dealt with this adversary before, they keep their cool and without too much trouble dispatch most of the hands. The remainder of the swarm flee, with Buerghedorn momentarily in pursuit, but when he finds himself all alone at the end of a winding passage, he decides to break off the chase and return to his companions.

The next room is littered by wrecked simple furniture. They proceed to search the rubble and turn up four pearls. When they decide to keep searching, the mercenaries posted at the door are surprised by a pair of grotesque goat-rooster monstrosities. They manage to hold the door and alert the rest of the company, but soon after Stefanie is overrun by one of the things. It bashes into her chest, crushing her ribs and instantly killing her, but before her lifeless body lands on the floor it has turned to stone. At the sight of the bow-woman’s terrible fate, Alina’s already dwindling morale breaks and she makes for the door, narrowly escaping the horns of the monsters. A grim and vicious melee follows. Heinz summons the servant contained in his woodland staff. The company somehow miraculously evades further petrification. The goatrices turn out to be more resilient than the company would prefer, and stubbornly hold their ground, but ultimately perish to the company’s many stabs, strikes and slashes.

When the dust has settled, the company resumes their search of the room’s debris, now coated in goat-rooster blood and entrails. When they have turned up a total of 16 pearls, and are confident they’ve searched the room exhaustively, they decide to quit while they are ahead. They leave the castle posthaste, but not before also severing both goatrice heads and having a grossed-out Lucas carry them back to town.

Referee Commentary:

Finally, the players have completed a lucrative expedition. I’ve been telling them there really is treasure in the castle, but so far, because of their stubborn sticking to the northwest sector, the pickings were slim. Imagine everyone’s satisfaction when, upon return to town, they discover they’ve accumulated sufficient XP to level up two of the three expedition members. (Their inspiration to finally breach another part of the castle may have been partially due to reading some previous installments of this referee commentary, but I don’t begrudge them a little metagaming every so often. This is classic D&D after all.)

Quite a few fights in this, but they move at a fair clip, despite the presence of more than a few mercenaries. Players have gotten accustomed to the target-20 attack roll, and I simply give turns in the order that I see fit. We do roll initiative each round, but it’s one-sided: the players roll a d6 and if it comes up 4+ they act before the opposition. Finally, we play pure theatre of the mind, monsters simply attack those at the front of the marching order, and I am generous with positioning. These things combine to make things fun, dynamic, and fast. I’m also getting better at remembering to roll for morale, although in the case of the goatrices they kept making their checks! I resisted fudging the roll though.

Downtime is becoming more streamlined. I decided I wanted to keep town as boring and abstract as possible. So I boiled down all the downtime possibilities in Tours-en-Savoy to one page of bullets, which I screenshare at the top of every session. That way people can either resolve things by themselves while the group assembles in the zoom call, or ask me to handle a particular thing if needed. Works pretty well.

Not much else of note to report, really. This was a satisfying session and for once I don’t think I have any real referee regrets. Castle Xyntillan continues to be a lot of fun to run. Prep is near nonexistent at this point, aside from pre-rolling retainer availability and random encounters. Such a big difference compared to my previous campaign. Looking forward to the next session.