Actual Play

Castle Xyntillan – Session #38 – Patricide

The Company:

  • Jürg (F6/T1)
  • Claus (T4)
  • Sara, Alyssia & Finnian (heavy foot)
  • Noel (porter)


  • Potions: cure paralysis, extra healing, love
  • A vial of poison
  • Oil of slipperiness
  • Handful of rust dust
  • The Ring of Spirits
  • A staff of command
  • Plate armor +2
  • A mysterious mahogany box


  • Sara, head smashed to a pulp by a frankensteinian monster


The company sit down with the Compendium of Champions, a magic book recovered during the previous expedition, and look up the tale of their lost comrade, Claus. As they recount his many heroic deeds, and come to the fateful moment of his flight into the castle’s dark halls, they turn the page, and suddenly hear a knock at the door. Opening it, they see standing there, alive and well, bucknaked, and very confused — Claus!

Intrigued by the plain gold cup they recovered as well, Jürg begins to experiment with it. He puts it to the lips it to the rotting head of his once-beloved Bartholomea, and revives it. It begins to mindlessly snap and snarl, and roll its eyes. He also pours a cup of deadly poison from it.

Next, Jürg consults the spirit of alchemist Girolamo. It tells him the thing is the dreaded False Grayl, and that it is the phylactery of Aristide “The Patrician” Malévol. Jürg asks around town about what it would take to destroy the thing, and if he should worry about any adverse consequences. As he goes about his preparations it becomes clear to him the forces of Chaos are being channeled through the grayl, and are seeking to control his actions. Jürg might be aligned to Chaos, but he considers himself his own man, so he resolves to risk it.

First, however, he must get rid of the Blade of Rel. He spends a lavish sum on satanic paraphernalia and constructs a shrine and case for the sword. Then, he takes the blade, and using all the willpower he can muster, places it in the case and locks it. The weapons tries to fight it, but Jürg ultimately prevails.

Next, under a clear star-lit night sky, Jürg lights a fire under a cauldron set in their residence’s courtyard. A maelstrom of Chaos energy whirls around him as he, with trembling hands, takes the cup and tosses it in the cauldron. As it begins to melt, phantasmic forces burst from it, and the spirit of Aristide appears, translucent, hovering over the fire. “Jürg, you have foresaken uuuussss!” it cries, and with a bone-chilling scream is then sucked into the darkness between the stars. Jürg faints. The next morning, attendants awaken him. The False Grayl is gone. The liche Aristide has been destroyed. And Jürg is no longer aligned to Chaos, nor to Law for that matter. He is a plain old neutral.

Claus, meanwhile, acquires some new mundane equipment, and then goes on a mean bender to celebrate his return from the dead, if indeed he ever really was dead. As he does so, he manages to insult Othmar, captain of the guard, whom Jürg previously had a feud with. What are the odds?


As they prepare for the next expedition, they manage to hire a new bunch of foolhardy heavy footpeople. (The previous batch was lost in the confrontation with undead crusaders.)

Now that the liche is out of the way, they decide to go straight for the jugular, and finally try and breach Aristide’s laboratory. They enter through the rose garden, and make their way through the north-west section of the ground floor, and up the stairs, to the carpeted hallway. Family portraits leer at them, and an eerie disembodied singing can be heard.

They study the door to the lab, which has an ominous text written on it. Claus tries to pick it, but the door appears to be magically sealed somehow. The signing in the hallway grows louder, and a cold breeze starts blowing. The company decide they have overstayed their welcome, and make for the wax works room which should be adjacent to the lab.

Jürg takes the horn of blasting they acquired in the previous expedition. Sages have told him it may have the equivalent effect of a catapult. So he points it at the wall and blows on it with all his might. A deafening sound erupts and a shock wave smashes through the wall. As the dust settles, they see machines and coils in the next room. The coils resemble the ones they had previously seen downstairs. But these no longer function. They search the room but find nothing noteworthy.

They open a set of double doors to the north, and find themselves in a massive laboratory space. A vast array of alchemical equipment is hissing and bubbling away. In the center of the room stands a huge glass dome covering a table with various intriguing items on it. The dome won’t budge and appears to be impenetrable.

There is a door to the south, and to the west. The south one opens onto circular stairs leading down. The west door opens onto a short hallway that dead-ends.

This not being their first rodeo, they check the end of the corridor and of course find a secret door. Without thinking twice they immediately open it, and find themselves in some sort of control room. Lots of machines, a metal cabinet, an operating table with a coil pointed at it, and in the middle of it all a huge monstrosity composed of disjointed human body parts, busily throwing levers and flipping switches. The thing notices them straight away, and demands to know what they are doing here. The company, flabbergasted, can only stammer some nonsense about Aristide sending them. Offended by the obvious lie, the monster attacks.

“If I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear!” (Mathew Browne)

Claus fires an arrow at the thing, dodges into the room, and melds with the shadows. The monster smashes Sara’s head to a bloody pulp between his two mighty fists. Jürg, taking his news acquired crusader’s two-handed axe, begins to chop away. Witnessing the fate of Sara, the rest of te retainers immediately make a run for the exit. Jürg and the monster continue to trade blows as Claus steps in and out of melee range to occasionally jab the thing in the back. But mundane weapons don’t appear to harm it. Jürg takes a terrible beating, but in the end prevails. The monster is chopped to tiny pieces.

They search the room, and open the metal cabinet. Inside they find three pyramidal coils, weirdly buzzing. Jürg smashes one with his axe, and it is disabled, but not before a bolt of energy shoots into his weapon. They do the same trick with two other weapons, and as the final pyramid is shut down, they hear a heavy whooshing sound from back in the lab.

Returning there, they are very pleased to see the glass dome has disappeared. They grab everything on the table, and leave the castle in a hurry. They make their way back without further issue.

Referee Commentary:

A shorter session than usual due to circumstances, but no less uneventful because of it. Players made good use of the newly acquired major magic items. Claus was brought back, to its player’s great pleasure.

Jürg’s actions during downtime were quite dramatic. I like to keep the action outside the dungeon moving so did not make a huge hassle out of his plans. We handle such things with broad strokes and a few rolls at most. For ditching the Blade of Rel we did one control check. For destroying the grayl I had him do one save. He succeeded at both. Before the session I did some quick reading in early editions of D&D on phylacteries, cross-compared with the magic jar spell, and decided that if they did destroy the cup, that would be it, Aristide would be done for.

As for using the horn of blasting to, well, blast a hole in a wall, that seems to be what the thing was designed to do, so we rolled with it. I love how these kind of items can really function as circuit breakers for what would otherwise be quite challenging sections of the dungeon.

That lawful two-handed axe allows a player to keep rolling attacks so long as they hit. Stupid powerful as well, and we had a bit of a debate how it would work in combination with the fighter’s multi-attack ability in Hackbut. If it wasn’t for this weapon, I think they may have been in real trouble facing that Frankenstein monster.

The players were once again incredibly lucky with their encounter rolls. I rolled none again. This has been the case for several sessions now. The law of averages demands I start rolling an awful lot of 1s anytime soon now.

Actual Play

Castle Xyntillan – Session #37 – Good and Bad Destiny

Welcome, dear reader, to the fourth and likely final “season” of our play-through of Castle Xyntillan.

The Company:

  • Hendrik (MU6)
  • Jürg (F6/T1)
  • Noel & Göpf (porter)
  • Florin (bowmen)
  • Francesca, Nathalie & Liv (F1 retainers)

Loot: Oh boy. No mundane treasure was recovered, but the company did acquire a Horn of Blasting, a blue book titled Castle Xyntillan, a black book titled The Compendium of Champions, a crusader’s two-handed axe +1, and a plain gold cup containing powerful evil magics.

Casualties: Göpf and Florin, struck dead while trying to grab treasure; Nathalie, polymorphed into a snail by the eye beams of a giant snail statue; Francesca & Liv, slaughtered by undead crusaders.


It is Monday, September 2, 1527. Five weeks have passed since the last expedition by our nameless company into Castle Xyntillan. Having recovered the Scepter of the Merovings, the company set their sights on the mysterious stuccoed secret door in the castle dungeons, which they suspect may be opened by it.

Upon arrival, they make for the grand entrance. They keep an eye on the walls to see if any of their beans have sprouted. Most appear to have been weeded out by the skeleton gardening crew. But one sturdy stalk is growing along the south wall of the gatehouse.

They enter through the grand entrance, make their way down into the wine cellar without trouble, and head up to the tomb where once the company had an ill-fated encounter with a pack of ghouls, and lost many of their most powerful members and equipment. They go up the the stuccoed secret door depicting a dark-skinned man leading crusaders up a hill lined with palm trees. They hold the scepter up to it, and lo and behold, it opens!

At that very moment, however, the rear ranks are attacked by a lone ghoul. There is a moment of panic while Jürg pushes through to the melee, and cleaves the thing in two with one mighty strike of his chaotic magic zweihander, the Blade of Rel. With that out of the way, they turn back to the newly opened corridor, and cautiously head inside.

Jürg asks his blade if any traps are nearby, and it trembles with confirmation. They spot a suspicious-looking crack half-way down the corridor, and notice an elevated floor tile just in front. They drag the ghoul corpse from the tomb and toss it on the tile. It presses down, making a loud clicking noise, and the next moment, a huge blade slams down along the crack. Next, it slowly ascends again to the sounds of some hidden ratcheting mechanism. When they test the switch again, it does not trigger anymore. Gingerly, the company step over the tile one by one and make their way into the room beyond.

This room’s walls are decorated with portraits of various warrior saints with stern looks on their faces. Their eyes follow the company as they make their way to a door leading east. They enter a large room with a pool and several doors. They first check the door north-west. It opens onto a corridor that stretches into the darkness beyond their torchlight. They try the next door, leading east.

At this point, the players were joking about how it would be nice to come across a door with a sign reading “treasure” for a change. You won’t believe what happened next.

The center piece of this room is a circle of statues of dwarves in chains holding up a massive plateau. On it is piled a massive amount of treasure. Gold, gems, jewelry, magic items, weapons, scrolls and books. Oh my! The plateau’s edge is inscribed with: “To each hero, one treasure of far lands shall be the prize.”

The company agonize over what to do. Is it wise to grab this treasure? Might it be cursed? Etcetera. Finally, Jürg has had enough, and grabs the horn. The very next instance, they hear a loud bang of stone on stone, reverberating throughout the dungeon. They look at each other worriedly. Swallow, take a deep breath, and then Hendrik steps up and grabs one of the books…

Nothing happens. Puzzled, they next ask one of the retainers to grab something. Some resist, worried that it might be a trap or something. Finally, one of the fighting-women retainers is courageous enough to grab the other book. And nothing happens again. So then they convince bowman Florin to grab something. The moment he lays a hand on the treasure, his breath chokes in his throat, his eyes glaze over, and he drops to the dungeon floor, dead.

The company manage to hold it together, and speculate about why this might be. Hendrik and Jürg pressure porter Göpf into grabbing something despite what happened to Florin, and for some reason, the man is foolish enough to go for it. Alas for poor Göpf, his fate is identical to that of the bowman. Soon enough he lies dead on the floor as well.

They decide they have had enough of this room and will not push their luck any further. They return to the pool room. They next check the south door. They find themselves in another large room containing a massive statue of a monstrous snail. They make their way to the next door north, all the while wearily eyeing the snail.

The next room contains dazzling mosaics. From here they take another door north, and find themselves in a room with an altar on which stands a plain gold cup. Hendrik detects strong evil magical energies emanating from it. Jürg (who is aligned to Chaos) goes “great,” steps up to the pedestal and with one smooth motion tips the cup into a sack. Nothing happens.

They backtrack to the room with the snail statue and search it for secret doors. Sure enough, they find one in the south-east corner. They push it open, but something blocks it. Through a crack they see a massive stone block that was clearly dropped very recently.

That very moment, the snail statue animates and starts to crawl their way. They decide to make a run for the exit as fast as they can. They escape the room before the thing can get to them, but it does manage to zap one of the fighting women in their rear rank with a beam from its eye stalks. The poor retainer is polymorphed into a snail. The door slams shut.

They catch their breath and briefly mourn the loss of yet another companion. They decide they should check the door leading to that dark corridor which they abandoned earlier. As they cautiously move down it they pass gated alcoves holding sarcophagi left and right. At the end, a small circular room holds a glass case containing a huge double-headed axe. Before going for the axe they decide to check the sarcophagi. As they open the first one, a skeletal hand reaches out and an undead crusader knight starts to climb out. Meanwhile, the remaining sarcophagi are pushed open from inside as well, and more crusaders appear.

“God wills it!” (Eloi Firmin Feron)

The company decide to face the undead, but make their way to the door they came from, which should serve as a convenient choke point. When they get there they turn around, and Hendrik flings a lightning bolt from his wand back down the hallway. The crusaders are harmed but still going. The distance is closed, and Jürg and a retainer make a stand in the doorway.

A lot of hacking and slashing ensues. Hendrik uses many spells to increase the company’s powers, and reduce that of the undead. When that seems to be insufficient, he pulls out a scroll of protection from undead, and manages to turn away about half of the crusader fighting force. Still, the remaining fighting women are killed, one by one.

At the very end, Hendrik is standing next to Jürg in the doorway. They blast the crusaders with their wand of cold, Jürg hacks away with his Blade of Rel. And finally, the battle is won.

Very cautiously, they had back down the hallway. They know several undead crusaders have fled down it. When they get to the end they see several have returned to their sarcophagi. A lone crusader has ended up in the room with the axe in the glass case. They manage to flush it out, and turn their attention to the axe.

They smash the glass case, and grab the axe. They decide this is the time to leave. They move back the way they came until they get to a door behind which they know is the cellar of the donjon. A ghost once told them it lost her ring in there somewhere. They hear a lot of rodent noises from behind the door. Hendrik uses clairvoyance to see what is behind the door, and detects magic to see if he can find the ring. He sees a large circular cellar lined with alcoves. A lot of human remains and debris on the floor. But no ring.

They decide to definitively end the expedition there, and head back out of the castle and back to town without further issue.

Referee Commentary:

We’re back in that damn castle after a welcome Christmas break. I polled the players if they had enough, but some were keen on going for one more season. It’s clear we are nearing a climax, now that we have several very powerful characters in the company (recall that level 6 is the highest level in my homebrew version of D&D), and they have acquired many, many powerful items. Not to mention a ludicrous amount of wealth.

I keep urging them to think bigger than simply continuing to clear the dungeon room by room. Let’s see if they catch on. This session at least immediately kick-started things with a more or less complete looting of the crusader tomb. However, readers familiar with the module will know they made a very fateful decision in the treasure room.

Without entirely spoiling what the module states, as written it closes off a particular direction for the players entirely if they do something, but they have no real way of knowing this. (At least, mine did not.) So I decided to make it a little less definitive, but still hugely significant. That was the point of the thing with the secret door and the stone blocking it. Sorry for being so vague about it.

As I continue to tinker with our combat sequence, we are now trying full-on phases. So we revolve actions in the order of missile, movement, melee, and magic for both sides. Initiative decides who goes first within each phase. It worked okay, yielding some interesting dilemmas, and it nicely reinforces this idea that everything more or less happens at the same time during combat.

The fight with the undead turned into a bit of a slog. I guess I should have had them change tactics after the second round of simply exchanging blows in the doorway. But my mental bandwidth was too limited to come up with something, I guess. In hindsight, I think I should have had one crusader try and push their way past the front rank. Maybe using an opposed attack roll to resolve it or something? Would have been more dramatic.

The two books recovered in the treasure room are neat. The Champions book in particular is crazy powerful. As written it allows for summoning living or dead characters listed in the module, that were played by the playtesters. I decided to change this into any character lost by the players in our own campaign. They loved that, and have already decided to bring back good old Claus, who died after failing his roll on the table of terror.

And that plain gold cup. Oh boy. Readers who know about the module, know that it was particularly significant for the one chaotic character in the company to grab it. I am still puzzling over what the effects for Jürg will be. They have had it identified and know about its powers, they also know it contains a powerful malevolent spirit. But they don’t know who or what specifically is in there…