- 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.
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.
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.