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