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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.

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