- Niemir (F1)
- Francesco (F3)
- Amaranth (C4)
- Jürg (F5)
- Heintz (F3)
- Hendrik (MU5)
- Jacinto & Leon (porters)
Loot: The Reliquary of Bygone Kings.
Hendrik’s wife Ronja appears with a will she has had drawn up that ensures the magic-user’s property and share of the company’s capital will be transferred to her in the case of his demise. She asks him to please sign it, because she is very worried about his safety and what will happen to her and her family if Hendrik is no longer there to take care of them, heaven forbid. Hendrik responds by ignoring her.
They sell a barrel of Malévol wine to a merchant who is passing through town. They also pull apart the Libram of Heinous Damnation and begin selling off the precious gemstones and metals it yields.
Hendrik buys The Guidebook to Historical Curiosities, Vol. 1 from Ben Mordechai.
Shortly before their departure, they are surprised by the return of heavy footman Bern. He is the only one of the retainers that fled during the previous expedition who has made it back safely. Bern comes to the company with news of a great discovery. While he was making his way out of the castle he came across the statue of a sightless crocodile-ape monstrosity. It came to life and told him a riddle:
“Beyond frolick and dance,
Lies the seeing gem’s rest,
Break its curse asunder,
And in baptism let it be blest.”
Bern has no idea what it means, but he’s sure it’s of interest to his former employers.
The company nominates Jürg as the expedition leader. They decide to revisit the menagerie where they once encountered the huntsman Hubert. Seeing as how they eliminated him a while ago, perhaps the coast is now clear for a leisurely look-see.
They enter the courtyard through the gatehouse and make their way to the parapets shielding the rose garden. They lasso a rope over the wall and one by one climb up and over. Amaranth is one of the last to go and clumsily drops from almost up the top. After dusting herself off she tries again and joins her companions without too much further trouble.
They pick their way through the rose garden, careful not to be tripped by the arms sticking out of the flowerbeds. The heady smell of the roses makes them drowsy, but they manage to enter the castle before succumbing to the vapors.
In the room beyond the entrance they are reminded of the presence of the pair of phantom horses in the hallway beyond. When they open a door to the north they confirm the presence of the things. Jürg decides he will try to use his portable hole to trap them. He waits for the creatures to pass, steps into the hallway and spreads out the hole. But in stead of it opening, the hole begins to strobe a bright white light while a low hum increases in volume. Jürg manages to grab the hole again and step out of the hallway just in time not to be trampled by the horses.
Losing their patience, Hendrik zaps the dark storm cloud horse with a magic missile. Jürg steps into the hallway to face the bright sunlight horse and is nearly run underfoot, but his bacon is saved by another magic missile from Hendrik’s finger tips.
Pleased with the idea that they’ll never be bothered by those nightmare horses again, the company advances northwards through a hallway leading to the menagerie. At its edge they observe an empty marble throne, four eyeless ape stairs holding up pillars, and a motley collection of stuffed animals staring blankly at the various entrances to the room.
Francesco approaches a stuffed centaur and makes to prod it with his halberd. The centaur animates, takes a few steps back, and takes aim with his bow at the fighter. The remaining animals also come to life and angrily approach the company.
A massive battle ensues in which Francesco and Heintz in the vanguard are quickly overwhelmed by the combined forces of a lion, boar, centaur, a giant owl, and several rabid baby deer. Jürg once again deploys his toy soldiers and the things manage to hold off the monsters in time for Heintz to retreat. Francesco however, is not so lucky and falls to tooth, claw and hoof. In the hopes of turning the tide of battle, Hendrik risks lobbing a fireball into the melee, narrowly avoiding Francesco’s body, and incinerates several of the opposition. Jürg then raises the hammer and sickle they acquired several expeditions back, and turns away the diseased bambis. This is enough for the company to press on and stuffed animal after animal falls in a cloud of sawdust and wadding. The lion is the last to be defeated, Jürg’s toy soldiers hopping on its back and gleefully stabbing it repeatedly with their tiny spears.
Francesco is revived just in time, and the company begins to explore the room. They discover the four apes can speak: “see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil, smell no evil.” When four of the companions each stands in front of a statue and take the appropriate pose, they are rewarded with strange disposable spells.
Quite pleased with themselves for solving that riddle, they next check the door leading north-east. It opens onto a display room lit by an eerie brazier fire, and containing a glass-domed pedestal holding a silver reliquary on a red velvet pillow.
When they enter, Hendrik barely manages to avoid being hypnotized by the fire and sticking his hands into the flames. Jürg tries to smack the dome with a weapon, but it does not break. He tries to pull it off, but it won’t budge. Finally, he ties a rope around it, and stands back while Hendrik casts a knock spell from a safe distance.
Jürg easily pulls away the dome, but a poisonous gas immediately fills the room, burning both the fighter’s and magic-user’s lungs. Furthermore, the ghost of a Carolingian retainer appears, who immediately makes to touch the companions standing in the doorway. They manage to avoid it, and retreat from the room.
Amaranth steps forward preaching and brandishing her holy weapon. She turns away the wraith, and backs it into a corner of the display room. Jürg and Heintz run after her into the room, grab the dome, pillow and reliquary, and make their way back out. Meanwhile Niemir takes pot shots at the phantom with his longbow but it appears to be impervious to his arrows.
Everyone begins to move to the far end of the menagerie, and Amaranth slowly backs out of the display room. Francesco shuts the door before the wraith can follow, and Hendrik casts a wizard lock onto it. Then, the whole company turns and runs like bats out of hell.
They make it out of the castle without further issue, and two days later return to Tours-en-Savoy. Here, they have the reliquary inspected and learn several remarkable things about it. Jürg and Amaranth also go carousing. Jürg returns with a tattoo (again). It is Chinese script which Jürg insists is some bad-ass proverb. The Chinese know better…
Our penultimate session of this season saw almost all of the active player-characters join the expedition. As a result, this referee was sweating a little to keep the whole affair from not going entirely off the rails. But the copious practice I’ve been getting is serving me well.
The big fight with the stuffed animals was challenging to run because all the monsters had different abilities and I had to try and get the most out of each while keeping the fight moving in the mean time. It went well enough, but it did once again make me reevaluate how I handle movement and positioning in our pseudo-theatre of the mind setup. I think next time I am going to try and go a little bit looser again, and possibly bring in Fate-style zones.
The hammer and sickle is a magic item the players recovered several sessions back, and have been aching to make use of. Here we had the corner case of stuffed animals: do those count as animated objects? I ended up rolling for it, and the players lucked out. However, Jürg’s player rolled kind of badly on his turn check, and so only the bambis were turned.
Finally, we had the stand-off with the reliquary wraith, which made for a suitably tense final scene. (Players literally told me so when we ended the session. I felt so proud I managed that.) Running turned undead is always challenging. I mainly use the guidelines described by Philotomy for it. But still, it really takes a lot of judgement to decide if an undead can escape from being cornered, for example. I erred in the players’ favor, and I don’t regret doing so.
One more session to go before we end the season and possibly the campaign. Although several players have expressed they are keen to keep exploring the castle. I myself am not tired of running the module either. It would be awesome if at some point the players will crack the castle’s central puzzle. Maybe in season 3? But first, this season’s finale. And then, a short break.