- 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.
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.
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.
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 ; 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.