Actual Play

Planet Karus – Session 22

We managed to sit down for a game of D&D just before the end of the month. Notably, the players have breached the third level of the campaign’s tentpole dungeon. They also ‘burned’ a tremendous amount of treasure to level up their characters.

In which a group of adventurers, led by Ploikal, the swift-footed mage, and his daring comrades embark on a treasure-seeking journey into the depths of the eerie Balok dungeon. They encounter giant rats and hostile albino neanderthals, manage to gather a modest haul of gems and silver pieces, and face a terrifying horde of zombies. Tragically, one of their own falls in the undead melee. Despite this loss, they return safely, their spirits lifted by the successful acquisition of treasures, which they celebrate with a legendary bender.

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Actual Play

Planet Karus – Session 21

A short but sweet session on my birthday, in which I got to kill two characters, both run by the same player. My players really really know me so well.

In which adventurers Kaplull, Gita, Xull, and Gorakal set out to explore The Balok, encounter a robot named Sterling, and face fierce bonecrushers. Tragically, Kaplull and Gita fall in battle. Amidst their losses, the group secures enchanted boots and a valuable figurine, returning home with tales of bravery and sorrow.

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Actual Play

Planet Karus – Session 20

The marathon D&D session I have been daydreaming about for a long time finally occurred last weekend. Six players and I spent most Saturday playing, only stopping for the occasional break and pizza. I was completely exhausted by the end, but we had a blast. Felt like old times. Below is the usual machine-generated summary of the play report.

In which an intrepid party of adventurers, comprising Ploikal, Xull, Gorakal, Konn, Kaplull, and Pholgon, embark on a daring journey through the treacherous landscapes of Buraith and beyond. Their quest leads them to the ruins of a crashed spaceboat and the lair of bone crusher dogs. Amidst encounters with ochre jellies, zombified Visitor soldiers, and formidable space crabs, the group skillfully acquires a trove of treasures, including valuable engine parts, ancient surgical tools, magical potions, and exotic weaponry. They skillfully navigate threats and surprises throughout their expedition, emerging unscathed and significantly wealthier. Their adventure concludes with a triumphant return to Batbeng, laden with spoils and eager for future escapades.

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Actual Play

Planet Karus – Session 19

We played another game the other night. Below is a short machine-generated summary. Click through to read the full report. This was a fully improvised affair. Players latched on to a tossed-off rumor about mysterious goings-on in the farmers’ guild hall, and wouldn’t you know it, they wanted to go “investigate.”

Planet Karus session 19, in which the party, comprising Konn and Ploikal, embarks on a stealthy heist at the Farmers’ Guild Hall, uncovering its secret as a base for a cult devoted to the harvest goddess Yiggub. Utilizing magic, invisibility, and summoned creatures, they navigate through guards and a sudden onslaught of skeletons, successfully looting treasure, including gemstone eyes from a statue, before making a narrow escape into the night.

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Actual Play

Planet Karus – Session 18

I figured I could post summaries of our current campaign’s actual play reports here, seeing as how I write full reports on the campaign website anyway. These are generated with a little help from ChatGPT 4.

Session 18 was the first after a 29-week hiatus and the first in-person game since we switched to online play after the first lockdown of March 2020. It was a tremendous joy to do this while sitting around a table, slinging physical dice and all the rest.

Planet Karus session 18, in which the party navigates a series of challenges and encounters, such as dealing with large spiders, disarming traps, and fighting bonecrusher dogs. They find treasures like gold pieces, platinum machine parts, silver idols, and an unusual crossbow. The session concludes without any casualties, and the party successfully avoids detection by bearded pigs in a room they explore.

You can read the full report here for a detailed account of their journey.

Actual Play

Castle Xyntillan – Session #43 – Fearless Vampire Killers

The Company:

  • Jürg (F6/T2)
  • Hendrik (MU6)
  • Claus (T5)
  • Norin, Gaetan & Jonas (light foot)
  • Purlie (bowman)
  • Ivka (porter)


  • Necklace of Deflection
  • Decayed cosmetics
  • Ruby ring +3
  • Worm-eaten volume on rejuvenating magics
  • Brooch of obscenely high value

Casualties: None. All’s well that ends well.


Hendrik spends several weeks in the hospital to recover from the curse bestowed on him by the pendant he picked up in the previous expedition.

Meanwhile, Jürg experiments with his ring of invisibility, to ensure he fully grasps its functioning. He also asks around about The Beast, and learns a number of strange and troubling things about it.

Although the recent demise of several retainers have made hired hands reluctant to join the company, they do manage to find a few foolhardy enough to join them.


And so, on Wednesday, January 1st, 1528, the company find themselves once more at the gates of Castle Xyntillan, for what will turn out to be their very last expedition. They steel themselves, for they have resolved to go after the count and countess, both vampires, and among the most powerful of the remaining family members.

They head towards their suites, along the south wall. While passing by the grand entrance they spot two headless manservants, standing around, waiting. The company draw their missile weapons, take pot shots, and kill one almost immediately. They hit the other, who drops something, and stands around confused. They fire at him again, hit once more, and the servant turns and runs back into the castle. They decide not to pursue, but do go to see what they dropped. It turns out to be an invitation from the count and countess to the company to attend a dinner that night, in the grand dining hall, where they may come to an understanding.

They guffaw, and continue on their way, figuring it is better to confront vampires while the sun is still out.

At the suites, Claus climbs up to the balcony, ties off a rope, and drops it so that the remaining party can climb up easily. Next, Claus picks the lock to the countess’ suite with some trouble. Inside things appear all quiet. They enter, open curtains to let the sun in, and turn to the casket that is sitting on a stone altar underneath the window. It is pushed over, and crashes to the floor, spilling soil all over it. Otherwise, it appears to be empty.

On a hunch, they push against the slab atop the altar, and sure enough, it slides away to reveal a space holding a second casket. They pull it up, and carry it out onto the balcony. Jürg opens it, and a noxious cloud of dust puffs out into his face. He manages to cover his mouth and nose in time to stave off its lethal effects. Inside the casket lies the countess in her satins and silks. She immediately begins to smolder in the sunlight, awakes, and cries out in agony. Jürg chops at her eck with his axe but it bounces off her skin as if it is steel. Claus leaps out and plunges a stake straight into her chest. Hendrik fires off a bunch of magic missiles.

Staking vampires: not as easy as it looks! (Dracula Has Risen From The Grave)

They make to repeat their devastating barrage of attacks, but she transforms into a cloud of gas, and floats back into the castle. They pursue, puzzled about what to do to stop her. Hendrik fires off more magic missiles. Claus fishes out a vial of holy water from his pack. Jürg removes his helmet and readies his horn of blasting. Meanwhile, the countess squeezes through the cracks around a door leading off from her suite, several swarms of vampire bats begin to emerge from the suite’s shadowy corners, and two skeleton guardsmen barge in through the suite entrance.

They manage to bash open the door, revealing a study. Hendrik’s protective magics keeps the conjured bat swarms at bay. Claus tries to spray the cloud with holy water from his flask, but fails. Jürg blows his horn and completely dissipates the cloud. They hear a hair raising scream recede into the distance. Meanwhile, one of the skeletons is cut down. The other flees, and so do the vampire bat swarms.

They search the study and the suite. Hendrik finds a curious worm-eaten tome amidst bookshelves full of decaying volumes. Jürg finds a necklace in the dresser, and also scoops up a bunch of cosmetics. In the casket, they discover a ruby ring.

Next, they head to the count’s suite.

They cross the balcony, and Claus once again picks the lock. Opening the door to a crack, they find all is quiet here as well. They enter, and immediately fling open the casket that sits on a couch. It is empty. They push the casket to the floor, and rip open the couch’s seating, but find nothing.

Continuing the hunt, they enter the count’s study and lab, but remember they more or less picked it clean during their hunt for the gelatinous cube all those expeditions ago. Impatient as ever, Jürg whips out his horn and blasts a horn through a wall of the lab. When the dust has settled, they see on the other side a bedroom with silver crosses on the walls, and yet another casket! They enter, open the casket, but it holds only grave dust. They hear a disembodied sigh, all the crosses blacken and crumble, and then the sounds of a person breathing heavily and dragging chains leave the room through its doorway. They give each other a look, shrug, and tip the casket’s contests on the floor. They find nothing.

Deciding this won’t get them to the count, they backtrack, and make their way to the vestibule, with a plan in mind.

As they leave the count’s suite they are faced with two more skeleton guardsmen who sound the alarm but are destroyed before help can arrive.

As they arrive in the vestibule, they hear the familiar sobbing of the ghost of James, the family butler. Not missing a beat, they immediately begin to tidy up the vestibule. James expresses his gratitude, and the company ask him about the count’s whereabouts. James tells them the count is inspecting the family treasures in the crusader’s tomb. They thank him, and head off to descend into the castle dungeons.

They quickly make their way to the tomb where they were once decimated by ghouls, and found the entrance to the crusader’s tomb behind an ominous fresco.

It just so happens Jürg had the presence of mind to bring the Heart of Roland with him. He holds it up, and the secret door behind the fresco slides open. They enter, gingerly avoiding the slicing blade trap in the entrance. They pass into the pool room, and open the door to the treasury. Sure enough, with his back to them, the count is standing there, inspecting the treasure hoard on the elevation in the center of the room.

The count has heard them enter, looks over his shoulder, and greets them, the company without a name. He tells them he wants to come to some agreement. After all, they have absconded with several of the family’s most valued heirlooms, and have destroyed several of its most powerful members. What would it take for the company to leave the castle and its inhabitants alone? They humor him for a moment, and then close for the attack.

Jürg drops his axe. Claus plunges a stake soaked in holy water and rubbed with garlic into the count’s chest. The vampire shrieks, punctuated with a comment about how he adores garlic. The count claws at Claus but fails to harm him. Jürg picks up his axe. Claus steps back from the count. The vampire howls like a wolf, and dark shapes begin to emerge from the room’s corners. He’s hit by a barrage of magic missiles, and explodes into a cloud of gas. Jürg grabs his horn, and Claus fishes out the sun medaillon.

They chase the cloud, which isn’t very fast, and it is blasted by the horn and hit by a bright ray of sunlight from the medaillon at the same time. They hear the count’s voice scream out “cuuurrrssseee yyyooouuu” and then recede into nothingness. The medaillon turns to slag. Everything is silent.

The company can almost not believe their luck. They book it out of the castle, which has gone even more eerily quiet than it usually is.

On the way out, as they pass the gatehouse, Jürg tells his companions to wait for a moment, and heads back into the garden. A moment later, he returns, holding in his hand a single perfect rose.

We fade to black. The end.

Referee commentary:

Well, that’s it for our play-through of Castle Xyntillan. We had decided this would be our final season, and fittingly, this last session of the run had the company face off against the count and countess, a confrontation that was long in the making.

Sure, we could play on, there is plenty of castle left to explore, but as most characters hav reached level 5 or 6, and have also amassed a frightening array of magic items, very few of the castle’s denizens pose any real threat to them anymore. Case in point: the ease with which Giscard and Maltricia were dispatched.

I rolled very few random encounters, and forgot about monster saves against damaging magics. I also at one point decided to skip actually having reinforcements appear because it would just delay the inevitable.

But they played smart as well. Leveraging James the butler was clever. I rolled for the count’s location randomly and came up with the treasure room in the crusader’s tomb. Just too perfect a place for the final showdown. They were agin lucky that they had brought the Heart of Roland, otherwise they may have been stuck.

The big question I was left with after this session was: vampires, how the hell do they work? How to play them well? There’s this rule about them turning into a gaseous cloud when they reach zero hit points and then returning to their casket to regenerate. But what if the casket is destroyed? And they can also turn into such a cloud at will, but why is that so advantageous? Maybe a lesser party would be stumped, but after a quick glance at the first edition dungeon masters guide I decided things like magic missile, as well as that horn of blasting, would affect the cloud. They also had protection magic to keep conjured creatures at bay. So all of that combined with some lucky initiative rolls made it so that they made quick work of the vampires. And maybe I wasn’t playing as viciously as I should have, but I also felt they had earned it. And honestly I don’t see how those vampires could have come out on top.

So fittingly, with those last small referee ruminations, I end this last session report. I might at some point blog a reflection on running the campaign and the module overall. But for now I will just say I am very happy I came across it at the time I did, just when we were about to hit a strange few years wherein circumstances would make it that I could referee more D&D than I have ever had up to this point. Castle Xyntillan also helped me experience what it is like to run a megadungeon campaign, and it is a revelation. I have never felt more like a player just like the rest of our group than while running this. So my hat’s off to Gabor Lux for creating it.

Ironically, after this I don’t think I will go back to running modules any time soon. We ran this game with homebrew rules, and now I want to push on to have my next campaign be homebrew everything, as Dave and Gary intended it in the beginning days. Castle Xyntillan has given me the confidence and the insight into what I do and don’t need when it comes to prep, and I think it is more doable than I had ever previously thought.

Session reports and other excerpts from that next campaign might appear here at some point. At the moment I am not sure when that might be. I hope these reports have been enjoyable and useful. In any case, writing them has been a great help in sorting out my learnings from our weekly sessions. For now, I will just thank you if you have read this far.

Actual Play

Castle Xyntillan – Session #42 – Loaded

The Company:

  • Hendrik (MU6)
  • Claus (T5)
  • Kjell, Agnes & Jonas (heavy foot)
  • Enie (porter)

Loot: Zilch, unless you count a cursed pendant…

Casualties: Kjell, Agnes & Enie, frozen stiff by a reflected cone of cold); Jonas, sucked dry by a glittercloud.


The company decide to postpone their assault on the count and countess due to the absence of their heaviest hitter, Jürg. Instead, Hendrik wants to have another go at finding a lab that should be somewhere in the north-east part of the castle’s ground floor, the so-called Summer Wing.

They approach the grand entrance, and find yet another pile of dead adventurers, stripped of their belongings. They get rid of these in the usual manner, dumping them in the river, and make their way to the throne room.

As they make their way across the room towards the doors leading to the ballroom, they hear noises from the shooting gallery behind the east wall. They duck for cover and remain still. The noises disappear.

Thinking nothing further of it, they plug their ears with wax, and enter the ballroom. Another spectral dance is underway, and they spot the ghost of their lost comrade Niemir again, dancing away with a hopeless look in his eyes. They skirt the dancefloor and make their way towards the salon without issue.

Once safe from the dance’s influence they decide they do want to check the gallery. They open the secret door leading to it, and see an empty gallery. As they are about to turn around, doors open behind them, and masked murderers fire at them with crossbows. Claus immediately dives behind a couch and disappears. Hendrik hides behind his men, who form a shield wall in front of him. The attackers close for melee, and several go to try and find Claus.

The retainers fend of the murderers’ attacks. Claus is spotted, and the attackers make to stab him. Desperate, the murderers try to grab the heavy foot soldiers and drag them away. The retainers duck out of the way, and Hendrik whips out his wand of lightning. He zaps four of the murderers, killing them instantly. The remaining attackers flee. The company attempts to pursue but quickly lose sight of them.

The continue on their way in north-western direction, and arrive at the overlook suite.

They head west, and enter a room with once comfortable, now gutted seating. The ghost of a mountebank is focused on a floating orb in which several people appear to be trapped. The company cheerfully greet him, the ghost loses focus, and the orb drops to the floor, shattering. Its tiny inhabitants run off and disappear in various directions. The ghost is not pleased, obviously, but they do talk for a while. Then, Claus sneaks up behind him, and backstabs the ghost with his magically electrified sword, instantly destroying it.

They search the room but find nothing. The seating, however, looks very inviting, so they allow several retainers to take a load off and sit for a moments. The men at arms immediately begin to nod off. So, they wake them, and move on.

The room is connected with a passage leading west to the next room.

It’s another large space with a lot going on. Purple bubbles float through the air. Bones are scattered across the floor, and skulls line the mantle of a fireplace. The apparition of a sleeping lady, only dressed in a white nightgown, also floats through the air, apparently sleeping in a reverie. Several glitterclouds accompany her.

As the company observe the room from the hallway, the bones begin to assemble into… something… Meanwhile, the glitterclouds approach, flickering ominously.

Claus ducks into a corner and disappears, as usual. Hendrik and his men retreat, attempting to draw the clouds with them into a chokepoint. The clouds stop at the edge of the room. Hendrik takes his wand of cold and blasts them. The cone that shoots out hits the purple bubbles in the room, and is reflected back at Hendrik and his retainers. Kjell, Agnes and Enie are instantly killed, and Jonas is severely injured. The clouds make to attack. Hendrik and Jonas run away, but the clouds manage to suck the final heavy footman dry regardless.

As this is going on, Claus sneaks into the gallery beyond the room with the bubbles. He decides to study the nameplates on the portraits hanging here, careful not to look at the paintings themselves, and trying to remain hidden. The portraits do spot him, though, and attempt to engage him in various ways, none immediately harmful. Maximilian tries to trip him with chains, Hortensia offers flowers, Jerome asks Claus to hold out his hand, Merton asks about a book he has lost, Reynard offers to bless Claus in return for a little favor, and Eustace wails and moans about his ill fate.

Meanwhile, Hendrik patches himself up, casts invisibility, and goes to find Claus in the portrait gallery. He also makes Claus invisible, and they decide to begin their retreat.

They head back to the parlour where they encountered the ghost, and try a door leading west. This opens on a room with four beds which has been thoroughly ransacked. It smells vaguely of roses and is decorated with lewd frescoes. One image depicts a woman holding a pomegranate, which appears to be real. They pluck it, and it turns into a beating heart, while the frescoes disappear in a wash of blood.

Pomegranate: cardiac anatomy, motherly virtue, or something else entirely? (Sandro Botticelli)

They leave the room, and pass through the doors leading south. In this large empty hall they take the first door east, which leads to a small empty room with one door leading south.

The next room is dark, with a canopy of yellow eyes looking down from above. A blindfolded skeleton wearing a dark cloak sits on a chair, a curious-looking pendant around its neck. Claus stays behind while Hendrik enters to investigate, both still invisible.

The pendant is a shapeless lump of some sort of metal. It radiates magic and evil intent. Regardless, Hendrik can’t resist the temptation to pluck the thing from the skeleton’s neck, using a small sack to scoop it up. Hendrik immediately feels burdened by the heaviest of loads, unable to move. The skeleton’s head detaches, floats up into the air, cries something about “only the blind can see!” and drops to the ground.

A second skeleton enters the room carrying a platter with several pairs of eyes on it, and holding a spoon. The skeleton observes the floating necklace, but nothing else. It looks around confused, in search of someone to relieve of their eyes. Claus sneaks up, still invisible, backstabs the skeleton, instantly destroying it. The thief turns visible again.

Hendrik drops everting he carries, and finds he can move again, except very slowly. However much he likes to, he is unable to let go of the necklace. Claus picks up all of Hendrik’s gear, and they crawl out of the castle without further issue, luckily.

Back in town, Hendrik admits himself in the hospital, hoping the nuns will be able to cure him of the curse of the pendant in good time…

Referee Commentary:

Every time I think we might be growing tired of this module, we have a session like this with a ton of weird and interesting rooms and fun and challenging situations that emerge from players unable to help themselves.

I also enjoy the fact that the players are finally beginning to take an interest in the portraits. They never really had an incentive it seems, and I was a bit heavy handed in the beginning with some of the hazardous ones. So they steered clear of them for the most part. But now they want to get an idea of how many Malévols are actually in the castle and how many they eliminated already.

The moment the cone of cold reflected off of the bubbles was a nice “oh fuck” occurrence. It’s always fun when a tried and true strategy suddenly backfires because of a strange new situation.

I’m also getting better at keeping combats dynamic and interesting, I think. The encounter with the masked murderers being a case in point. It was fun to try and ambush the players, and then once combat was engaged, this rule that I have sort of set for myself where I am not allowed to have monsters do the same thing two rounds in a row, also makes a big difference.

On the other hand, encounters with NPCs kind of drag lately. The ghost in this session being the case in point. I should get back to the approach where we roleplay an opening exchange, and then zoom out and establish stakes for the social encounter and resolve them with a reaction roll or two. Only go back to speaking in first person if it really adds something.

Our pace of sessions has slowed slightly due to various circumstances, but we are still playing, and the players are intent on properly finishing up the module somehow. So stay tuned for more!

Actual Play

Castle Xyntillan – Session #41 – A Whimper Rather Than a Bang

The Company:

  • Jürg (F6/T2)
  • Ezio (T4)
  • Claus (T4)

Loot: None.

Casualties: None.


We pick up where we left off last session. Upon their return to town, the company see Othmar, captain of the guard, along with 25 guardsmen posted outside their residence.

The company duck into an ally, and find a quiet spot to plan their approach. They see a peasant with a wheelbarrow passing by and grab him. They give the man a few coin with the promise of more, in return for going up to Othmar and asking what is going on. The man reluctantly assents, and heads up to the guards. Meanwhile, Jürg downs a potion of ESP, puts on his ring of invisibility, and sneaks up on Othmar and his men, miraculously avoiding making too much noise, despite wearing plate.

The peasant asks Othmar what he’s doing there. He is given a curt response and told to move along. Jürg picks up on some worries Othmar has about his secret identity being found out. Meanwhile, Ezio climbs up on a roof and readies his discus in case things start going south, and Claus makes his way unseen to their residence and climbs inside through a window.

A much fancier civic guard than Tours-en-Savoy’s, I imagine (Frans Hals)

Jürg takes off his ring, and approaches Othmar. The guards clasp their halberds in fear, and Othmar tells him to keep his distance. “You are under arrest for murdering the prefect, and acting as an agent of the evil Malévol. Please come along peacefully.” Jürg refuses, and the men are hesitant to apprehend him with force, knowing his mighty reputation.

Inside the residence, Claus heads to their treasure room, pops open a loose ceiling board, and starts stashing valuables up there, out of sight.

They end up debating things right then and there in the streets. And eventually, Jürg manages to convince the captain that he might be a secret agent just like him. Othmar, confused agrees to speak to Jürg privately in his residence. Jürg unlocks the front door, and leads Othmar into a sitting room, while the guardsmen wait outside, on high alert.

After more discussion, Othmar tells Jürg he will let him and his company off the hook if he agrees to aid the Royal Secret Police in putting the Malévols back in their place. Jürg is all like “what’s in it for me?” And suggest he is given the castle as a reward if he does manage to defeat its current rulers. Othmar responds that if they do manage such a feat, they would be the areas de facto ruler after all.

Othmar is clearly afraid of Jürg and his companions, who have developed a reputation of being ruthless killers capable of incredible feats. Furthermore, they killed the prefect by gifting the man some kind of cursed item (even though Jürg insists it was a misunderstanding). Othmar would prefer to not end up the same way. So they leave it at that. Jürg, surprised at how things have gone, bids Othmar and the guards farewell, and lets the company back into their residence. They are confident the guard won’t give them much trouble anymore.


Claus and Ezio celebrate their safe return to town by spending the week drinking and partying. Ezio emerges from the bender with a tattoo of a rose and a slogan in latin that would be bad-ass if it were’nt for the spelling mistake. But Ezio doesn’t know that.

Jürg has the heart in a box identified by Ben Mordechai. It turns out to be the fabled Heart of Roland, a legendary Malévol heirloom with several remarkable magical properties.

Jürg also spends more than a bit of time in The Tap, buying rounds and picking people’s brains about the Malévol family and who might be in charge of things. He gets a pretty good sense of some of the most powerful family members, most of whom they have met at least once. Clearly, they need to focus their efforts on the count and countess. Although The Beast might also stand in the way of their overtaking the castle.

The company begin planning their attack on the count and countess, debating the most viable strategy against not one but two vampires. Claus visits the church and is provided by Father Bernard with some knowledge related to vampire hunting, and suitable equipment to boot: garlic, mirror, stakes, holy water. He leaves a little more confident that they might be able to pull off this crazy scheme…

Referee Commentary:

We are finally back at it after a spell of no gaming due to various personal circumstances.

This was a bit of a strange session because we ended on a cliffhanger last time, and we started later than normal this time around. By the time the scene with the guard was resolved very little time was left on the clock for proper dungeon delving, so we decided to hold off on that until next time. As a result, we had an atypical session of what the kids these days call “RP” I believe.

Running the confrontation with Othmar was interesting. I relied heavily on reaction checks throughout. I could have perhaps done a bit more explicit stakes setting as things progressed. But Jürg’s ESP ability actually made it easier to be transparent about NPC motivations than it would otherwise be. As the debate proceeded I think both the NPC and the referee realized that they would not be able to do anything about Jürg and his companions because they have become simply too damn powerful. I did not feel like Othmar would make a suicidal attempt at taking them in regardless. So, the whole thing just kind of fizzled out. Maybe a bit anticlimactic, but also true to the situation at hand. Furthermore, leveraging the combination of invisibility and ESP was just smart play, and I like rewarding those sorts of schemes.

Will they indeed go head to head with the count and countess? The endgame continues! If they do manage to take the vampires out, that might a good place to call it. I don’t think we want to play out the company smoking out the Malévols until every single one has been purged from the castle. But maybe we do? Or at least we might also see what happens when the company confront The Beast? I wonder what my players’ expectations are. In any case, the castle might turn out to be a less desirable residence than they expect it to be. It is full-on haunted and has a will of his own. That much should be clear by now.

Actual Play

Castle Xyntillan – Session #40 – “A Heart He Keeps”

The Company:

  • Hendrik (MU6)
  • Jürg (F6/T2)
  • Claus (T4)
  • Jonas, Kjell, Agnes, Finnian (heavy foot)
  • Enie & Flurin (porter)


  • Splendid sapphire ring
  • Bear skull
  • Lead box containing a beating heart

Casualties: None, dratnabbit!


Ten weeks pass as the company wait for poor Hendrik to recover from his feeblemind affliction in the hospital.

People in town say the prefect was struck with some awful sickness and is either dead or dying…

An agent of the Royal Mail delivers a parcel containing a bone flute, care of Judges Guild.

Finnian, the heavy foot in heirloom plate, who previously fled the fight against the Frankenstein monster, presents himself to the company for continued service.

Jürg haggles with Mordechai over an unopened parcel addressed to Vincent-Godefroy Malévol and ends up acquiring it in exchange for 550 GP. When he opens it he finds it contains a high-quality powdered gentleman’s wig.

Jürg also has a run-in with some shady types in The Tap who are looking for a book called Libellus de Alchimia. They explain it was penned by the famed Albertus Magnus, can be used to dispelled summoned creatures, and must be in one of Xyntillan’s numerous laboratory libraries. Having insulted his intelligence, Jürg later waits for them in an alley, puts on his ring of invisibility, and kicks the living daylights out of them.

Hendrik studies one of the tomes he stole from Aristide’s laboratory, titled Conjuration & Invocation, and learns that it holds several extremely powerful spells.


The company decide it is time to take their shot at acquiring that mysterious heart they’ve heard so much about. They burn incense at the reliquary, and Jürg has a vision of passing through the upper library, then a lounge with snarling heads, entering a hallway where it is very cold, and finally arriving in a hunting lodge.

They enter through the grand entrance, swiftly make their way up to the 2nd floor of the gothic wing, and are just about to enter the library when they hear a bone chilling voice from back the way they came saying something about “they went that way”. They stop, turn, form up and wait. A large group of druids led by a man who must be Runcius, wearing crown shaped like thorns, enters their torchlight. Runcius wants the staff of the deep woods, plus a human sacrifice. Before anyone can do anything, Jürg blasts them with his horn. At the same time, Hendrik whips out and lets loose with his wand of cold. All of Runcius’s men are instantly killed. The leader draws a bone dagger and attacks Hendrik, grabbing the staff and stabbing away while growling “I’ll perform that sacrifice right here and now!” Hendrik is hurt but not killed. Claus stabs him in the back. Jürg chops him with his axe. The druid cries out in pain and anger and shimmers out of existence.

The company take a moment to catch their breath, and speculate about the degree to which Runcius has been definitively defeated. Then, they continue on their way.

They make it up to the third floor library, pass through the lounge with those snarling heads, and enter a door to the north-east. In the hallway beyond, they try the first door east, from which they hear faint sounds of music. It opens on a small balcony littered with broken musical instruments, a wardrobe along one side. Jürg steps onto the balcony, which creaks ominously. He opens the wardrobe and the corpse of a conductor comes rolling out, followed by a swarm of rats. Non-plussed, Jürg steps back into the hallway, and dispatches the vicious rodents without breaking a sweat.

They continue on their way.

The door at the end of the hallway, heading north, leads to a bedroom that has been torn to shreds. They hear chittering and occasional flapping. Up in the rafters they see a large sack sitting on a beam. A ladder stands against the beam. Claus shoots at the sack, hits it, but it does not fall from the beam.

Jürg climbs up the ladder and shimmies along the beam towards the sack. It turns out to be the corpse of a matron, crawling with vampire bats. She is wearing a remarkable ring. So Jürg takes his axe and chops off her hand at the wrist. It drops to the ground. The bats, disturbed, fly up from the corpse and attack. Jürg nearly falls from the beam but manages to hold on. He makes it down the ladder while fending off attacks from bats. The things attach themselves to several party members and proceed to suck at the wounds. But eventually most are destroyed and the remainder flee.

They turn their attention to the next door, leading south-west.

Hendrik uses a clairvoyance spell to see behind the door. It is poorly illuminated so he can only make out faint outlines. They open the door, and find a room hung with rotting animal skins, and a large wooden throne. The sounds of metallic clinking come from the rafters. There is also the sound of rattling from behind the northern wood panel wall. Hendrik uses his remote viewing to see what is above them, and sees seven huntsmen swinging by their legs, their swords softly beating against their chainmail vests.

Huntsmen on their way (Pieter Bruegel the Elder)

Jürg discovers a secret door in the wood paneling, opens it, and is showered with bones. A disembodied animal roar emits and dies away. The door reveals a cell with broken chains. Whoever or whatever was held here has clearly escaped…

They take the next door south-west.

It turns out to be the hunting lodge of Jürg’s vision. There’s a long table, rustic chairs, and tankards. The walls are decorated with trophies and tapestries. A large moldy tapestry covers the entirety of the north wall. It depicts seven huntsmen led by a galant figure.

When the company enter, the tankards lift up and slam the table. A loud “huzzah!” rings out. Jürg instantly responds with a “huzzah” of his own. All is quiet again.

Peeking behind the tapestry, Jürg sees a passage scattered with detritus. Vines growing in the passage come alive and attack him. In the ensuing confusion, Finnian attacks Jürg from behind, trying to grab his horn of blasting. Several retainers wrestle him to the ground while Jürg continues to fight the vines. Finnian manages to escape and runs from the room. Claus strikes him with an arrow in the back, but does not kill him. For a moment, Finnian transforms into a disgusting grey rubbery humanoid before disappearing.

The vines are destroyed without too much trouble. They search the passage, and find a lead box, vibrating with something rhythmically beating inside. At the end of the passage is the mural of a doorway, strongly radiating with magic.

The company decide it is time to head back. They manage to escape the castle without further trouble, and travel back to town without issue.

When they arrive at their residences, they see Othmar, captain of the guard along with a sizable detachment posting outside their door, waiting for them…

Referee Commentary:

Our 40th session! A rather momentous occasion I would say. Things continue to hurtle towards a finale of some sort almost of its own accord.

A few quick thoughts. I was probably a little too lenient with the first round of combat with Runcius. I should have allowed for missile fire from the druids before they were blasted by Jürg’s horn and Hendrik’s wand. Or at least, I should have rolled for initiative.

The secret cell in Hubert’s room is mentioned in the key but missing from the map. That there me off for a moment, and I ultimately decided to simply add it by hand to the player’s map on an ad-hoc basis.

We ended on a cliffhanger this time around. I thought I would change it up for once. Players have gotten very used to the fact that town is a safe haven. But when they choose to send a lethal item to the prefect, there has to be consequences. So when we pick up next session, we will do a cold open on the confrontation with Othmar and the guard, and take it from there.

Actual Play

Castle Xyntillan – Session #39 – “Appearances Can Be Deceptive”

The Company:

  • Jürg (F6/T1)
  • Hendrik (MU6)
  • “Fancy” Julia, “Chicken” Kjell & “Prickly” Agnes (heavy footpersons)
  • “Bland” Enie (porter)


  • Ledger listing the provenance of stuffed mimics
  • The Manual of Intelligence (formerly The Tome of Learning)
  • Ring of invisibility
  • Alchemical materials
  • Tomes “Conjuration & Invocation” and “Ephemerality”

Casualties: Julia, sucked dry by a glittercloud.


An agent of the royal mail delivers a set of silk gloves, care of Judges Guild.

Heavy footman Finnian returns to town, eager to rejoin the company for the next expedition. No word of Alyssia though…

Poor porter Noel is found one morning, hanging by his right leg from a tree near the company’s residences. His entrails have been arranged in a circle around the tree. A note is stabbed to his chest with a bone dagger. Written in blood, it reads: “Leave the staff of the deep woods at the indoornesse entrance before the next new moon. This is your final warning”.

A tax agent of the town prefect, Richard Justin Saint-Égréve, visits the company accompanied by Othmar, captain of the guard, and a couple of guardsmen. The tax agent inquires after the treasure the company have been liberating from the castle. Does the company realize the prefect was appointed by the current head of the Malévol family, count Jean-Giscard, who resides in the Chamrousse summer palace? Furthermore, do they realize any treasure recovered remains property of the count, and should therefore be presented to the prefect for safe-keeping?

Jurg hands the prefect a box that holds a cursed silver cross. “Here you go, sir, as a token of our appreciation. Please send that Malévol our best.”

The tax officer takes the box, “it’s a start, we’ll hand it over to the prefect” and leaves. Othmar leaves as well, grumbling all the way.

They also try to open the mysteriously rattling mahogany box they took from Aristide’s upper laboratory. Magic weapons, fire, knock spells, etc. Nothing seems to do the trick.

Hendrik gets the wand of lightning recharged, and scribes another knock scroll.

They do the rounds of the local bars, and find number of new retainers foolhardy enough to accompany them.


The company decide they want to continue their pillaging of the late Aristide’s lab. This time, they will try their hand at the lower level. They enter through the rose garden again, swiftly make their way to the upstairs hallway with the eerie singing, head into the wax works room, through the hole in that was blasted in the wall there, into the room with the defunct coils, and through the large double doors into the upstairs lab which they so expertly stripped of its valuables during the previous expedition.

They head down the spiral staircase. At the bottom they see demijohns with suspicious-looking liquids inside. They head into the lab proper, and see a vast array of alchemical equipment, materials, and huge metal vats wafting acrid vapors. A large book sits on a lecture stand facing a large dark mirror. Shelves hold many books. At the far end there is a hallway that dead ends, and along the south wall are four closet doors.

Aristide in his younger days? (James Nasmyth)

Hendrik collects a pair of magical books from the shelves. Jürg takes a moment to study the Castle Xyntillan guide book, but learns nothing of relevance. Meanwhile, Hendrik, intrigued by the tome near the mirror, can’t resist the temptation to peruse it, and is instantly struck by a feeblemind spell. He is reduced to 1 INT idiocy, and has lost all his magical capabilities.

For a moment, the company do not know what to do next. Then, they decide to press on anyway. Hendrik may be dumb as a rock now, but he can still hit stuff with a stick, and is tougher than one might at first think.

Jürg proceeds to inspect the closets, one by one, working from west to east.

The first contains what turns out to be a crystallized gelatinous cube, lots of detritus floating in mid-air. Jürg blasts it with his horn. The cube turns out not to have held anything of value. The closet is otherwise empty. Suspicious, Jürg inspect the rear wall, and indeed, it turns out to be a secret doorway.

Jürg opens the door a tiny bit and peers inside. He sees a large number of skulls float about. Not one for subtlety, Jürg goes “hello!” and opens the door all the way. He tries to chat up the skulls, and the things are stupid enough to reveal they are guarding a ring of some sort. When he tries to bullshit them into leaving, however, they turn vicious, and attack. Before they can do much harm, Jürg blasts them with his horn, and swats the remainder from the air. Only a single skull manages to escape into the castle’s dark hallways.

Jürg then enters the room and looks for the ring that was mentioned by the skulls, but does not find anything. Maybe it’s invisible, he thinks to himself, so he goes down on hands and knees and feels around and sure enough he comes across what must be a ring, entirely invisible.

The next door they open reveals a huge mouth on the far wall. It licks its lips and whispers things about revealing secrets in exchange for food. Jürg tosses one of the defeated floating skulls at it. The mouth greedily gobbles it up, but demands more. Jürg goes “nah” and shuts the door.

The third door opens on a closet holding variety of furniture covered by sheets. When Jürg enters to search for valuables, four huge corpse birds with oily feathers and long sharp beaks emerge from the shadows. They peck at his chest. Jürg once again whips out his horn and blast the creatures, but they continue to try and attack. One manages to dent Jürg’s breast plate, but he manages to cut them down without too much trouble.

The final door opens on a collection of stuffed mimics, and a pedestal with a ledger on it. The company don’t trust it, and expect the book must be a live mimic. So Jürg enters the closet and makes to tip over the pedestal with his axe. But the pedestal itself comes to life and attacks. Again, Jürg dispatches it without too much trouble.

As they make up their minds about what to do next, they hear footsteps and voices from the top of the spiral stairs coming their way. They pile into the east most closet to hide. They hear a large group enter the room, and begin to search it. Soon enough, an undead lord opens their door. Jürg was ready with his axe, and cuts the thing down right away. However, there are 14 more lords to contend with. They demand the company leave the castle and never return, or else. The company decide to humor them, and begin to head for the exit. The lords follow in a column. Then, Jürg suddenly whips around and blast them with his horn. Many perks outright. Two lords were carrying large flasks containing glitterclouds, and one was holding a sack of hands. The containers burst open and the monsters attack, as do the few remaining lords.

What follows is quite the fight. Jürg is hypnotized by a glitterclouds. Julia is sucked dry by another cloud. The hand swam begins to chortle Jürg. Hendrik tries to get the fighting man to snap out of it. He does, and proceeds to dispatch the hands crawling all over him. Hendrik raises his staff and charges the glitterclouds. Jürg gets rid of the hands and follows Hendrik. The remaining lords follow and begin to stab the fighter and magic-user in the back. The retainers in turn follow, and stab the lords in the back. The tide is turned, and the company prevails.

They catch their breath for a moment. Spooked, they decide to make sure they have a quick way of getting out of the castle. They use the horn to blast a hole in the outer wall. They go back and search that corridor that dead-ends, and find a bricked-up doorway. They decide they’ve done enough blasting for one day. They collect some of the alchemical materials. They also mess with one of the demijohns at a safe distance, and it explodes in an acrid cloud of smoke. With that, they leave, and safely make it back to town in one piece.

Referee Commentary:

An eventful session, even though they have explored just one room. But what a room it was.

The feeblemind at the beginning of the session really caught the players off guard a little. I softened the blow a little bit by suggesting that there might be a way for Hendrik to recover. And so the player leaned into the being dumb bit, and had a fun session anyway. I also commend them for being foolhardy enough to just read the damn book and not play it safe. Safe is boring.

Again, I have some ideas in hindsight about what I could have done differently in the big fight in the end. I could have, for example, had the lords try and grab a character and toss them in those vats of acid. That would have been fun. In general it’s easy to forget what’s in the environment when you get in the rhythm of running a fight.

I continue to find the glitterclouds awkward to run — their blood suck attack is a ranged attack, which doesn’t feel quite right to me. And then there is this hypnotize power they can use once per day, but it’s not clear what that triggers off of. I guess I just lack experience with this kind of monster.

There were more than a few fun interactions with monsters and NPCs. In general, if there is an opportunity for players to chat with monsters, I should always take it. It adds a little spice to the proceedings.

Jürg really is incredibly powerful with the combination of that horn of blasting and his crusader’s two-handed axe. But it’s well-earned, and I do feel like the whole game has started to hit overdrive and we are zipping towards what I hope will be a satisfying finale of the campaign.

And yes, all the way at the top of the session, during downtime, Jürg did indeed hand the prefect’s agents a cross bearing a lethal curse. I’m sure that won’t have any consequences down the line…