Categories
Notes

Year In Review – 2021 – Spitting in the Face of the Bat Plague

The second year of blogging has come to a close, time to take stock. Contrary to my hopes and expectations this time last year, 2021 turned out to be the second year of playing in times of a global pandemic. In spite of this, we managed to continue our gaming.

What we played

So what did we play? Most notably, I refereed two seasons of Castle Xyntillan using my homebrew classic D&D rules, Hackbut. Season two ran for 14 sessions, from late January to late April. Season three lasted 10 sessions and ran from mid-September to mid-December. In between these, from early May to mid-July, one of our players stepped up to “warden” a season of Mothership. We played one session of The Haunting of Ypsilon 14 and 10 sessions of Gradient Descent. Over summer I ran a two-shot of The Coming of Sorg, again using Hackbut. When circumstances allowed for it, we managed to resume our monthly face-to-face boardgame night. To celebrate, I acquired Kemet Blood & Sand, which according to many is the pinnacle of Matagot “dudes on a map” games. We managed to play this three times between late July and late October.

With regards to our ongoing Castle Xyntillan campaign I kept pretty extensive records. What follows is some data on attendance, character deaths, and experience points. Just for kicks.

Attendance

Like last year, our play group numbers 7 players, not including me. Most sessions had 2-3 players attending, with average attendance being 3,6. Season 2 had an average attendance of 4,4, season 3’s average attendance was 2,6. This drop in attendance is probably the result of a number of factors, including big life events for at least one of our players, and perhaps also some fatigue with online gaming setting in for a few others.

Attendance

The top 3 players were good for 66% of the attendance. This was 56% in the previous year. This shift can be explained mostly by one of our group not participating at all this year, and another only playing in the beginning of the year.

Number of players

Character deaths

Ah, killing player-characters, the thing every classic D&D referee enjoys doing the most. I am kidding of course, but still, deaths is a good indication of how hazardous my game is. Seeing as how a key distinguishing aspect of classic D&D is that it is a game of challenge for the players, character death serves as a reasonable proxy for it.

Deaths

In total, 10 player-characters died in the dungeon. That’s an average of 1,7 per session. The most PCs killed in one session was four, which happened during session #18 when the company had an ill-fated run-in with a bunch of ghouls.

Retainers were unluckier still, with a total of 27 perishing across this year’s two seasons, for an average of 2,3 per session. The most retainers killed in one session was five, during session #33, when the company got lost in a pocket dimension forest.

Overall, 37 characters were killed by the dungeon, for an average of 1,5 per session. I don’t have a baseline to compare these numbers to, so I really can’t say if I run an extraordinarily deadly game, or if I am soft-pedaling it. I guess over 1 PC killed on average every session is kind of rough, but I don’t go out of my way to try and slaughter them. In fact I often feel bad about not giving the players the challenge they deserve. Maybe this number is an indication I should relax a little on that front.

Experience points

In any case, was all that dying good for anything? I would say so. The players brought back 132.796 XP. This breaks down to 84.754 XP in season 2, and 48.042 XP in season 3. That is an average of 5.533 XP per session (6.054 XP in season 2, 4.804 XP in season 3). I think it is safe to say Castle Xyntillan is a pretty generously stocked dungeon, but not overly so. I think this nicely offsets its lethality. Yes it is easy to die in the dungeon. But it is is also easy for players to get back into the game reasonably quickly, and level up past those first fragile levels.

Experience points

All of this XP is from treasure recovered, at a rate of 1 GP equals 1 XP. I award no XP for killing monsters and in case you are wondering, magic items also do not yield any. Another important thing to note is that players get to divide XP between all player-characters that participated in an expedition as they see fit. I do not enforce shares for player-characters.

The highest single haul was 15.900 XP, in session #21 (in season 3, the biggest score was 11.660 XP during session #34). In general, it is those wine barrels in the cellar that are the real money makers.

The seven currently active player-characters between them have acquired 106.393 XP. The average party level is 4.

The lowest level character is Guillemette, a level 1 thief, with 432 XP collected over 4 sessions. But this character saw no action this year. The next lowest-level character is Robert, a level 2 cleric, at 2.529 XP, all of which was acquired in one session.

The highest level character is Hendrik, a level 6 magic-user, at 36.000 XP, collected over a whopping 24 sessions of careful, diligent play. Level 6 is the highest level in the game and the magic-user is of course the class that requires the highest amount of XP. Getting there was quite an achievement, well-earned.

Closely following Hendrik is Jürg, a level 6 fighter / level 1 thief, at 31.600 XP collected over 14 sessions. Jürg is the only multi-classed character in the game. I wonder if more will follow now that some of them are plateauing and have no use for XP anymore. It’s also worth noting Jürg began life as a retainer (and husband) of this player’s previous PC, Bartolomea.

Blogging

Moving on, what happened with the blog? I mostly wrote play reports, for Castle Xyntillan seasons 2 and 3 (see the index), as well as the Coming of Sorg two-shot (a, b).

I also continued to write up commentaries on my homebrew ruleset, Hackbut. This year I covered the four character classes, equipment, encumbrance and retainers.

WordPress tells me I had 3.519 views and 1.188 visitors over the past year. This is of course very modest, and in truth I pay little attention to this sort of stuff. I do promote my posts on the OSR discord server and my twitter, but not anywhere else really.

The best performing posts this year were the first Castle Xyntillan play report, the thief class, and The Coming of Sorg.

I got quite a bit of traffic through referrals from Beyond Fomalhaut (thanks Melan). Most of my visitors are from the anglosphere (US, UK, CA) and also from The Netherlands of course.

Looking ahead

I hope I will be able to keep our weekly online D&D game going. It is definitely something that keeps me sane, and a welcome outlet for my many creative urges. I think we have one more season of Castle Xyntillan in us. I might try to add a new player or two to our group, so that we push the average attendance back up to the 3-4 mark. We are a close-knit group though, so recruiting will have to rely on our immediate social networks.

After Xyntillan, I think I want to try my hand at running material of my own fabrication. I have come to realize that this is the purest form of D&D, homebrewing everything, and I want to experience it first-hand. I have been quietly chipping away at a mid-size dungeon (about 120 rooms across three levels) and am about half-way through completing it. It is strongly OD&D inspired, but filtered through my personal fantasy canon, which is very much in a science fantasy vein and includes things like Masters of the Universe, Storm, and The Incal.

Of course, once we are able to, I look forward to once again playing games face-to-face, but that will most likely mean more boardgames. I recently acquired both a copy of Tigris & Euphrates, and Quantum and I hope to get those to the table in 2022.

In terms of blogging, I will continue to write up play reports for as long as I referee games. I like keeping a record of what happened and most of all reflecting on what went well and what I can improve on as a referee. Occasionally I get a comment saying others are getting some use out of them as well, which is always nice. I also intend to continue the series on Hackbut, although we have now hit the section on running the game, which may lend itself a little less well to the kind of posts I have been doing so far.

In any case, despite circumstances, 2021 was another good year for me for gaming, and I hope to maintain this in the year to come, bat plague be damned.

Categories
Rules

Hackbut – Retainers

“Retainer” is the catch-all term I use in my game for NPCs that accompany player characters on adventures. I make no distinction between hirelings, henchmen, mercenaries, etc. In some editions, each serves a particular purpose: Some accompany PCs on wilderness treks, others also go with them into dungeons, etc. In our current campaign, town is mostly handled off-screen and we don’t do wilderness treks. It’s all about the dungeon crawl, so different types of retainer don’t add anything.

The reason for having rules for retainers in Hackbut is mainly so players can pad out their expeditionary force with some extra muscle. This way player-character death rate is reduced, without having to dial down the lethality of the campaign. Retainers are usually the first ones to drop, as anyone who has been following my Castle Xyntillan play reports will know. Retainers also add to the party’s carrying capacity, which nicely complements the rather strict encumbrance rules we enforce.

Okay, so how do they work? The short answer is that I lifted the Morale & Men rules module by Istvan Boldog-Bernad and Sandor Gebei published in Castle Xyntillan (as well as Echoes from Fomalhaut #1). These are a coherent, comprehensive, but straightforward set of rules that fit on a single A4 page. They cover:

  • Determining the availability of retainers that takes into account settlement size, and includes light & heavy footmen, bow & crossbowmen, and mounted troops
  • Recruiting retainers
  • Determining their level
  • Loyalty and morale (very close to the rules in B/X, with a few clever tweaks)

I more or less lifted these rules wholesale, so I won’t describe them here. I will note the few small changes and additions I made.

  1. Rather than having all retainers be 1 HD by default, I say that non-combatants are 0 HD, and men-at-arms are 1 HD but have no class.
  2. I add a line to the table for determining availability of classed NPCs. These are the ones for whom a level and class can be determined as the original rules module suggests. The probabilities and amounts for village, town, city and metro are: 10% 1d2, 10% 1d4, 20% 1d6, 30% 1d8.
  3. These classed NPCs don’t take a per-expedition wage as the others do, but instead insist on a half-share of the expedition’s treasure haul (and as a result, because of the way my XP rules work, they also get a half-share of the XP).
  4. I say that unclassed retainers can be promoted into a level 1 class by assigning XP to them. For 0 HD this requires an initial expenditure of 1000 XP. I took this rule, like so often, from Delta.
  5. I added stat blocks for the basic retainer types to my rules booklet, which are largely based off of those created by Nic, with just a few tweaks to bring them in line with my flavor of classic D&D.

And that’s it, really. These rules have served us so well hardly a game has gone by we do not have at least a few retainers join the party. I cannot count the number that have perished in those haunted halls of Castle Xyntillan. At least one of the currently still active player characters, a level 6 fighter now, started out as a lowly porter. In short I can’t imagine playing classic D&D without retainers, and this set of rules make running them a breeze.

That’s it for this Hackbut rules post. With this, we have also come to the end of the equipment section of the rules booklet. The next section is “playing the game”, which is substantial, but also in many cases maybe less interesting to blog about section by section. So I will have to see how I will go about that. In any case, to be continued.

Categories
Actual Play

Castle Xyntillan – Session #36 – Assault on Lake Tower Part II

The Company:

  • Hendrik (MU6)
  • Ezio (T3)
  • Jürg (F5)
  • Liv, Nathalie, Francesca (heavy foot)
  • “Randy” Florin (bowman)
  • “Griping” Göpf & Noel (porters)

Loot:

  • A bunch of soporific flowers
  • A poison dagger with a gemstone pommel
  • The Scepter of the Merovings
  • Bishop’s mitre +1
  • The Oils of Cleansing
  • Ring with inset gem
  • Fancy drinking horn
  • An eviction notice addressed to Aristide Malévol
  • A huge pile of gold
  • A Pegasus brooch
  • Several doses of poison
  • Potions of animal control, clairaudience, speed, levitation, extra-healing, and an oil of ESP
  • A spellbook
  • Two skulls with crystalline brains

Casualties: None!

Report:

The company decide to try their luck once more in the lake tower, hoping to this time finally make their way to wherever Serpentina may be hiding out.

Upon arrival, they spot the skeleton gardening crew again, weeding along the walls. They decide to rush them. One skeleton is blown to dust by Ezio’s discus and the remainder are smashed to bits by Jürg and the heavy foot soldiers. A lone skeleton manages to make its escape.

When they get to the grand entrance they see a pile of adventurers’ corpses. They do the usual trick of dragging them down to the river and dumping them in the water. With that out of the way, they enter the castle, and make their way to the throne room.

When they get to the throne room they find two headless manservants ambling about. They try to bluff their way past them, telling them to get lost. But the manservants appear doubtful. They are attacked and destroyed before they can do any harm.

They move on to the ballroom, and are relieved to find no phantom dance is taking place this time around. They pass through it and make their way to the hallway beyond, and up north to the overlook suite. Here they open the double doors to the bridge that crosses the lake to the tower. They take a moment to scan the waters to make sure the lake monster isn’t anywhere near. Then, they cross the bridge and enter the tower.

They immediately head up the stairs, and enter the drafty hallway. This time they know not to look behind them when they hear footsteps behind them. They go up the next stairs, and the Blade of Rel begins to tremble. Jürg barely avoids stepping on a suspicious-looking step. Across the way they see a cabinet suspended from the wall, ready to be dropped down the stairs towards them. Ezio moves up and inspects the step. He expertly disarms it by wedging several spikes between in. They leave the cabinet, just in case.

The next floor up there are two doors, and stairs going further up. Checking the north door, they hear the sounds of a legal proceeding. They decide not to mess with this one for now. The south door opens on a greenhouse filled with flowers. A heady smell hangs in the air. They quickly harvest a handful, and leave again.

They go up the next set of stairs. As they go, they suspect there might be a secret space behind it. At the top of the stairs they see only one door. They look for secret doors again, and find one to the south. It opens onto a room with wall tapestries depicting underwater forests. One carpet is torn down, revealing an empty niche. They tear down the remainder but find noting. From this room, a door leads west and another north-east. From behind the west door they hear music. They try the north door first.

They find themselves in what must be the room of a lady. A large comfortable bed, with odd colored lights dancing around it. A chamber screen with titillating decorations, and a huge ominously creaking wardrobe. They search the room. In the bed, between the pillows, they find a fancy dagger covered in a nasty-looking substance. They also recover the Scepter of the Merovings, soiled in a manner best left unsaid. Behind the screen is a boudoir littered with all manner of things, including an array of flasks and vials. Among these they recover the Oils of Cleansing!

Next up, they turn their attention to the creaking wardrobe, while Ezio messes with the strange colors floating around the bed. They open it, and find it is full of moth-eaten clothes, mostly gentlemen’s attire. Hendrik’s eye is caught by a bearskin coat. He pulls it out, and it comes to life to attack him. They manage to avoid surprise, and destroy it before it can do any harm. On the top shelf of the wardrobe they recover the bishop’s mitre +1.

Very pleased to have recovered all these lost items, they take the door to the north-west. This leads to a maid’s room, weirdly lit by stained glass windows. A nude woman lies on a couch covered by creased sheets, apparently asleep. A half-finished painting of her stands on an easel. The floor is covered by men’s clothing. A fireplace has two skulls on its mantle. They avoid the woman, and go straight for the skulls.

Meanwhile, Ezio clambers up the chimney to inspect the roof. He determines there must be an attic. He also looks across the lake for signs of the monster but does not see any.

As they approach the skulls the things telepathically warn them not to take them. Hendrik can’t resist the temptation, and takes them anyway. The skulls try to explode his head with their psychic powers, but fail. They are meekly stuffed in a sack.

Skulls. Memento mori and all that. (Philippe de Champaigne)

Next they return to the room with the wall hangings, and take the door west that had music coming from behind it. In this room there are more tapestries with the same underwater scenery. A pair of gloved severed hands play a harpsichord. One hand has a fancy-looking ring on a finger. They smash the hands and take the ring.

They spot a trapdoor in the ceiling. Ezio is boosted up there, and find himself in a messy attic space full of boxes and four chained and locked plain caskets. In the north-west corner, the floor appears to be weakened. Ezio pokes a hole in it, and through it sees a cell. Barred windows, chains hanging from the wall, a shaft in the floor, and four tiny gargoyles sitting in the corners.

All of the company make their way up to the attic. They empty the boxes, finding only trash. Ezio also tries to pick the lock on one of the caskets, fails, and they decide not to open them right now anyway. Instead, they tear open the floor, and drop down into the cell. The small gargoyles animate, and fly around excitedly. The company try to calm the things down but really rub them the wrong way, and are attacked. When the first gargoyle is easily destroyed, the remainder lose their appetite for violence and cower in a corner. The things are mercilessly pounded to dust.

They search the cell, and it turns out the ring in the north wall opens a secret door. It is a small space pulled with personal belongings, and a ledger on a stand. They search the pile and find all kinds of valuables. The book tells them these are items once owned by “visitors” of the castle and deposited here as “evidence”. They also find ancient entries referring to great relics, including the Grayl of Good and Bad Destiny (recovered by Médard Malévol). When they look for it, they also discover an entry referring to the Heart of Roland, recovered by Hubert.

They return to the cell, and peek down the shaft. They see another small space containing a huge chest. They climb down and see the chest is marked “property of Judges Guild, do not open”. The Blade of Rel trembles at the sight of it. It must be trapped. Ezio inspects it and determines it is not the lock, but probably the lid on the chest itself. He tries to pick it, fails, and Hendrik steps in to cast a knock spell. They then attach a rope to the lid’s clasp, climb back up the shaft, and pull the chest open. They hear a cracking sound, and the room below them fills with a gas. They wait for it to dissipate, climb back down, and see the chest is absolutely crammed with more gold than they can carry.

Or can they? Risking disaster in such a cramped space with no ready escape route, Jürg spreads out his portable hole. Lucky for them, nothing happens. They shove the chest into the hole, and decide it is time to leave. They head back the way they came. Along the way, Hendrik takes a moment to smoke his hookah, and loses a fireball spell to it. They exit the castle and make their way to Tours-en-Savoy without further trouble.

Referee Commentary:

A triumphant session for our players. They more or less cleared out the lake tower, and walked away with significant treasure, including several previously lost major items. They also lost zero company members.

A job well done, largely thanks to expert play, and a little luck of the dice. They were really smart about using the map to find secret rooms. The way they handled the trap on the chest was also very smart. The Blade of Rel’s power to detect traps turns out to be a major boon in this castle as well.

I also really enjoyed the encounter with the skulls. They were fun to roleplay, and the moment Hendrik’s player decided to go for it, knowing full well he was taking a big risk, was also quite tense. He does have a ridiculously good saving throw at this point, though.

Not much else to say, really. Next session is the last one of the season. Will they try and put their recovered items to use? Will we continue for another season in the new year? Who’s to say?

Edit (2022-04-07 07:38:45) this turned out to be the last session of season 3 after all.

Categories
Actual Play

Castle Xyntillan – Session #35 – Assault on Lake Tower

The Company:

  • Hendrik (MU6)
  • Jürg (F5)
  • Ezio (T2)
  • Agnes (F1)
  • Robert (C1)
  • Francesco & Nathalie (heavy foot)
  • Liv (light foot)
  • Florin (bowman)
  • Ronja & Noel (porters)

Loot:

  • Crusader’s cloak +1
  • 510 GP from Patrice’s corpse
  • Gemstone eyes from saint’s heads
  • Blackened table silver
  • Large gemstone from a skeleton’s gullet
  • Horned helmet and flail from the same skeleton

Casualties: Agnes, fried by a razzle-dazzle lightning bolt. Ronja, shredded by animated porcelain.

Report:

While recovering from the previous expedition, several mushrooms from the forest pocket dimension are sampled. Hendrik, already feared by many in town, goes “screw it” and consumes one that turns him blue and rubbery and tougher to wound. Poor Agnes is handed a portion from Jürg with the promise it will make her stronger somehow, but instead she just turns red with white polka dots all over.

***

Having assembled a formidable expeditionary force, and knowing where they might find the relics they once lost to the near-TPK at the hands of the ghouls in the castle dungeon, the company decide to head to the lake tower to try and find this Serpentina who this one ghost told them has taken up lodgings in.

They enter through the grand entrance, head up to the throne room without trouble, and when they open the doors to it, they see a pair of hand swarms crawling around seemingly oblivious to their presence. The company do not hesitate and attack right away. The fight turns a bit rough, with Jürg being strangled for some time, but they ultimately defeat te swarms without much trouble. It does, however, deplete some of their resources. A few spells, and the odd healing potion to patch up Jürg.

They continue to the ballroom, but find another phantom dance in progress. Weary about losing any more to the ballroom’s curse, they take the time to seal their ears with wax. They carefully skirt the dance floor while they make their way to the sitting room. They reach safety, but do see the ghost of poor Niemir dance with a look of desperation on his face.

From the sitting room they go on to the empty room adjacent, and there try the door leading to the hallway that runs north to the bridge to the lake tower. When they open the door they are face to face with three razzle-dazzles. Jürg almost gets tripple-zapped, but manages to slam the door shut just in time. The company prepare themselves, fling open the door again, and engage the weird things in melee. Jürg and Agnes fight on the front line. The fierce but inexperienced Agnes is sadly no match for the creatures and soon drops to the castle floor still fuming from a lightning attack. Once again, however, they manage to defeat the things without too much issue.

The company is joined by a young cleric named Robert. They head up to the overlook suite, and open the double doors to the bridge across the lake. They carefully make their way across. Upon reaching the other end they can’t resist once again messing with the winch. It pulls up an empty cage, however. They continue on to the tower.

Having previously explored the main hall, they try the door to the north. It is a room filled with tattered cloaks hanging from hooks. Two specimens appear well-preserved. One turns out to be a dead cloak-like monster like the one they once fought in the vestibule. The other cloak is white with a Red Cross on one side and a red sword on the other. It is obviously a lawful relic of some sort. They take both cloaks with them.

Heading back, they hear someone milling about the hall. This turns out to be the grizzled and paranoid veteran they previously encountered, named Patrice. This time around, he does not have a small army of berserkers with him, though. Hendrik tries to cast charm from a scroll but fails. Robert and Jürg then simply attempt to bullshit him about some treasure which can supposedly be found near the grand entrance and succeed. When Patrice makes to leave, they immediately cut him down, and loot his body, finding little of worth besides a sack of gold.

Next they try the door to the south, which opens onto an empty storage space. A thorough search does not yield any secrets whatsoever.

They head up the stairs. At its head, they find themselves in a draft passage, lined with saint’s heads. As they walk down it, each of them hears a person walking right behind them. Only Hendrik and his two heavy foots do not resist the urge to turn around. They immediately each find themselves eye to eye with a black-clad assassin, who proceeds to choke them. Everyone fights back, of course, and Hendrik even manages to draw his wand of lightning and zap his assailant. The masked murderers are eventually cut down.

The company search the passage and find some of the saint’s heads have gemstone eyes. Those are of course removed, but not before receiving Robert’s blessing. They see stairs leading further up, and pair of doors leading west. They decide to try these first.

They find themselves in a dining room. The severed head of a cook sits on a table, with a bell next to it. The table is set with blackened silverware. A chained cabinet is over in one corner. A strong smell of spices permeates the room. Jürg immediately begins to shovel silverware into a sack. A mummy, the source of the smell, bursts into the room from the west door. Several of the members of the company are paralyzed in terror. The rest attempt to fight it but only magical weapons harm it. Hendrik regains his courage, and tells everyone to back away from the mummy. He flings a fireball at it, and the thing lights up like a torch. Not yet destroyed, it pursues Jürg, but stumbles and falls. The company make short work of it as it tries to get back up.

Mummies, always in a bad mood when woken up (Dave A. Trampier)

They loot the room, and are intrigued by the cabinet. The Blade of Rel trembles at the sight of it. Ezio is asked to disarm whatever trap it might contain, but the thief quickly ascertains it is not mechanical in nature. The next plan is to drill a peep hole to see what is inside. But Jürg loses his patience and simply cleaves open the cabinet with his zweihander. The thing bursts open, and spews porcelain shards all through the room. Most only suffer cuts and bruises, but poor Ronja is not so lucky and expires from her wounds.

They check the door to the west, but it leads to another hallway with more doors. In stead they try the door north, and discover a large kitchen. A massive pot is bubbling away on a stove, an animated spoon stirring away. Various supplies are stacked in the room’s corners. The Blade of Rel trembles again… Jürg pulls out his hammer and sickle and steps into the room spouting gibberish about the means of production in attempt to banish the spoon. He succeeds, and the spoon jumps through a window and into the lake several floors below with a loud splash.

They search the room and fill a flask with bouillon. Ezio is nearly infested with rot grubs when checking on the wheels of cheese. They find a skeleton with a horned helmet and a flail. It is smashed open, and out rolls a massive gem. They take all of it, and decide it is about time to head back. They make their way out of the castle without further issue.

Referee Commentary:

The largest number of players in quite a while. Refereeing for such a large group online is quite the workshop. But this was a very satisfying and fun session. Don’t believe I have any real refereeing regrets this time around, which is good to make note of.

There were lots of random encounters, which slowed the players down on their way to the tower and depleted their resources a little. They also had no luck with doors. Many were stuck, and many open door checks were failed, which I rule means they need to make a lot of ruckus to get it unstuck, and as a result trigger another encounter check.

Agnes’s player can get no luck lately. They lost another level 1 PC. Agnes’s stats were very bad though, so they weren’t too sad about it. Robert, their cleric, has already reached level 2.

I handled the mummy’s terror by requiring a morale check from retainers and a save from PCs before they could act in an offensive manner.

One thing I might do differently going forward is when resolving attacks of the same kind aimed at the same target, only confirm the kill after all rolls have been made. That makes it a little more satisfying for all the players involved, and emphasizes the supposedly simultaneous nature of action.

Another session coming up soon. We are already nearing the end of another season. Will they return to the tower? Will they find Serpentina and confront her? Only one way to find out.

Categories
Actual Play

Castle Xyntillan – Session #34 – Out of the Woods, Into the Maze

The company:

  • Hendrik (MU5)
  • Jurg (F5)
  • Ezio (T1)
  • Julia (heavy foot)
  • Gido (porter)

Loot:

  • 400 GP
  • Mace +2
  • One scroll: protection from undead
  • Three potions: extra healing, animal control, plant control
  • Seven kinds of magic mushroom, one for each color of the rainbow, three samples each
  • Eight pairs of crystal eyes
  • Five barrels of wine of varying quality
  • A golden candlestick
  • Five gems shaped as Platonic solids
  • A pearlescent giant spider egg
  • Mediocre philosophy papers
  • A dagger +1, +2 vs. beasts

Casualties: Gido and Julia, bludgeoned to death by anti-monks.

Report:

We pick up the action where we left off last session. The company has stumbled into what appears to be a magical forest realm. They have no idea how to get back to the castle.

They arrive at a clearing in the woods with a chapel near collapse. A cleric emerges, waving at them. The man is clearly garbed in satanic garb. Similarly dressed monks are milling about the grounds. Jürg steps forward and does the talking. The heartbroken fighter has turned to the dark side ever since his break with the late Bartolomea. The cleric, who introduces himself as Venger, eyes Hendrik’s crusader surcoat suspiciously but is taken in by Jürg’s impressively gnarly arms and armor. They chat for a while, and Venger points them to a park where they might find this castle they are looking for, and a stone circle where the lord of this realm, a man known as Runcius, can usually be found. They make to leave but the anti-cleric stops them, demanding something in return for the help he just gave them. Maybe that nice big evil-looking sword Jürg is carrying? Jürg disagrees and without warning makes to chop Venger’s head off. He misses completely and loses his grip on the sword. It flies across the chapel floor. Monks jump and grab the fighter. The rest of the company runs outside. Hendrik immediately casts levitate to get out of harms way. Ezio hides in the bushes.

Monks stream out of the chapel and engage poor Julia and Gido. Inside, Venger begins to stab away at the helpless Jürg while he struggles to break free. Outside, Gido is immediately slain. Hendrik casts plant control and entangles some of the monks. Julia also falls to the many strikes of the monks. Ezio sneaks back into the chapel and flings his sickle-shaped discus at the anti-cleric. Jürg breaks free and dives for the Blade of Rel. Outside, Hendrik blasts the monks with a fireball from above, instantly killing all of them. Inside, Jürg cuts down the remaining monks and faces off agains Venger. The anti-cleric turns and runs. They chase him for a while but fail to catch him.

After taking a moment to morn the loss of the last remaining retainers, they search the chapel. They find a magical mace, and a scroll. They head back the way they came, having decided to seek out the mushroom garden the shepherd mentioned to them.

Upon arrival they see huge mushrooms of all colors of the rainbow, and an enormous caterpillar sitting on a toadstool, smoking a pipe and reading a spellbook. The caterpillar is very friendly. He also appears to know exactly what they are thinking. The mentions two ways to go if they want to exit this “world”. The caterpillar also tells them it dearly wants to change into something. It asks Hendrik to promise to come back and help him do so. In return he will receive the caterpillar’s spellbook and amulet. Meanwhile, Jürg collects samples of all the varieties of mushrooms present to bring back to town for inspection. They bid the caterpillar farewell, and head back the way they came. Back across the hilly meadow, through the forest, back to where they originally entered. They now see a small trail leading deeper into the woods, which they follow. After some time the trail widens again, they hear the sound of woodland animals, and they emerge… into an indoor garden!

***

They have managed to get back to the castle, but they have arrived somewhere different from where they left. There is a glass roof overhead, and animated trophies on the walls with crystalline eyes. They remove those eyes, while the animals complain loudly. Next they listen at the door south, and hear wheezing and shuffling.

They throw open the door and see four desiccated skeletons with huge claws, moving slowly about the room. The company immediately attacks, and the skeletons are slain without much trouble. They search the room’s writing desk and liquor cabinet and take away some sub-par philosophy and three unidentified potions.

They peek out of the window to orient themselves, and see the courtyard with rose garden, gate house and so on. They then move up to the next door leading east. This opens on a parlor with multiple family portraits, a helm floating over a chair, and a badly damaged closet with an axe still stuck in it. On the floor is a huge carpet with the Malévol crest of arms. They try their hammer and sickle on the helmet but nothing happens. They carefully move to the door north, which opens onto a hallway with red velvet carpet.

They head west and north, and arrive at a dead end with one door east. From behind it, they hear machine-like humming and the sound of static crackles. They decide not to try their luck here, and backtrack.

They head north and west unseated, following the hallway to its end again, passing several doors, one of which a revolving one. They first try the north most one, and find a bedroom. A swine in pajamas is snoring away on a bed. Next to it is a gold candlestick magically emitting light. Weird shadows dance on the walls. A desk is stuffed with papers/. Ezio sneaks in but is mesmerized by the shadows. They come to life and make to attack him. Hendrik whips out his wand of cold and in a moment of brilliance blasts the swine and candlestick, extinguishing the light and disappearing the shadows in the nick of time. They plunder the room, taking the candlestick and pulling a bag of curiously shaped gemstones from the desk.

They check the other door in the room, but it opens onto an empty corridor leading nowhere. So they backtrack to the carpeted hallway and for a moment consider trying their luck with the rotating door. But the Blade of Rel begins to tremble nervously in Jürg’s hands, so they are quite sure it is trapped. In stead, they move on to the one remaining door. Please let this lead to a way out of the castle! The door is locked. From beyond it they hear low feline grumbling…

As Ezio attempts to pick the lock, they suddenly hear several voices shout “boo!” from behind their backs. It’s a bunch of those black-clad assassins. They just stand there for a moment and laugh at them, and then head the other way. Somewhat puzzled, the company decide to let them leave.

Ezio picks the lock, and they carefully move inside. It is a huge throne room lit from numerous glass “eyes” set in the arched ceiling. At the far end, a huge figure sits slumped in a throne, flanked by two suits of armor. The creature is shrouded in hellfire, and has a cat-like face. It holds a single rose which it appears to be gloomily contemplating. The creature appears to not notice or otherwise ignore the company. There is a door to the north and south.

The Beast (Jean Cocteau)

They sneak up to the north door. It opens onto another bedroom, this one clearly furnished for royalty. A portrait of Count Giscard hangs over a canopy bed littered with large pillows, a finely decorated dagger stuck in the headboard. There is also a writing desk. Jürg is foolish enough to inspect the portrait and is mesmerized by the count, who invites him to visit him in his suite. They make to search the bed, but the pillow come to life with huge slobbering toothy maws, making to eat them. They manage to evade the damn things and run from the room, but not before Hendrik pulls the dagger from the headboard. They manage to escape the throne room without the figure reacting.

Back in the hallway, they are now truly desperate about finding a way home. Then, Jürg remembers the indoor garden has a glass roof. And Hendrik can levitate, can’t he? That’s it! They return to the garden, Ezio smashes the roof with his discus, and Hendrik carries the company one by one up to the roof, and down again into the courtyard. With that, they have managed to escape, and relieved, head back to town.

Referee commentary:

Boy oh boy, one of the most dramatic sessions of the campaign so far. Starting in medias res was a nice change of pace. Normally there are always some preparations to take care of, which I consider part of the fun. But this time we could start out right away with an encounter, which of course is also cool.

We had one absentee player (Ezio’s). They agreed we would have the character still be there, but he would be run like we do with retainers, under shared control. I also promised we would not but the character in more risk than absolutely necessary. It was a close call there for a second in the bedroom with the shadows, but they made it out alive.

On the fight with the anti-cleric and monks: the grappling of Jürg we now resolved with an opposed attack roll, which is quick and easy and feels about right. So I think we will keep that. Stabbing a helpless opponent per Hackbut rules auto-hits for max damage. Which on paper looks okay, but in the case of a level 5 fighter being attacked with a dagger means the opponent needs to do a lot of rounds of stabbing before they are actually down. Still seems about right for a character of such heroic stature.

The caterpillar was a lot of fun to roleplay. They got box-cars on their reaction roll, so I decided this was the perfect moment to “fix” my “mistake” from last session, and outright tell them where the ways out of here are. Of course, the caterpillar does not know what is on the other side of those exits, so they ended up emerging in a different part of the castle with no immediately obvious way out. This led to the dramatic second half of the session.

Speaking of reaction rolls. They also lucked out on a reaction roll for those masked murderers. Friendly, so I had them play a prank on the company. Seemed in keeping with the spirit of the module, and I like rolling reactions for all encounters, even dumb stuff like plants, just to add variety to how they play out.

They finally encounter the Beast! They were very scared of this thing, I think, and absolutely did not want to engage. Hopefully they will run into it again…

The moment when Jürg’s player had that light bulb go off about a possible way out through the roof was classic D&D play at its finest. So I decided it should just succeed, no rolls required (except a final encounter check). It was just too good.

They made it back to town with an absolutely massive haul. As a result, Hendrik, the magic-user reached level 6. Quite the achievement, the first player to do so. It took them 21 sessions. And now they have a very powerful PC to continue to play with, or, if they like, they can start leveling a second character. I am curious to see which way they will go.