Actual Play

Castle Xyntillan – Session #0 – A Halberd to the Back

The Company:

  • Heinz (MU1)
  • Robain (C1)
  • Marredorn (F1)
  • Fernando (T1)
  • Guillemette (T1)
  • Iacopo (F1)
  • Luna (light bearer)
  • Isabel, Raul & Michelle (porters)
  • Mattia & Giulia (bowmen)


  • Iacopo — chopped in the back by skeleton guardsmen


  • Bejeweled snuff box
  • Perfume bottle


Our freshly minted company of fortune seekers find themselves at the gates of Castle Xyntillan on the morning of Wednesday, September 27, 1525. Briefly considering their options, they decide against first exploring the castle perimeter and choose to cross a bridge over a muddy moat and barge straight through a ruined gatehouse. A flock of ravens quietly observes them from the parapets.

They find themselves in a destitute garden. To the north an island pavilion in a small lake piques their curiosity. Heinz, Iacopo and Robain wade across and discover the pavilion contains a grave marked with the name “Tristano Malévol” and four hands. Heinz and Iacopo shove the lid aside while Robain stands at the ready brandishing cross and stake. They are greeted by the sight of a four-armed skeleton dressed in ragged courtly attire. It awakens with a cackle and responds with chagrin to the sight of the cleric’s holy symbol. When its request for the adventurers to leave it in peace is met with hesitation, it lashes out at the magic-user with its four claws. Before it can do any damage it completely disintegrates in response to the clerics’s vigorous preaching. A hurrah rings out across the silent pond. The trio searches what remains of the creature for treasure, pockets a snuffbox, a perfume bottle and a dried rose, and wades across the lake to rejoin their companions.

The company continues their search of the courtyard. While Robain pokes around the vegetable patch, Iacopo wanders off towards two brightly painted guardhouses in poor repair. He spots two skeleton guardsmen, both armed with halberds, apparently snoozing on the job. Iacopo turns to return to his companions but is unaware of the skeletons quietly pursuing. Before his companions can intervene one of the halberds strikes home, dropping the fighter to the ground. A flurry of bolts and arrows from the bowmen and Marredorn make short work of the skeletons. But the damage is done: Iacopo has expired.

Welcome to the castle (Christian Degn Petersen)

Referee Commentary:

  • The majority of the session was taken up by character creation, a rules overview and some session zero questions. Some time was also spent on acquiring retainers. So we did not get in as much actual play as we normally would, but it was still an atmospheric and action-packed start to a campaign I have been looking forward to kicking off for some time.
  • The outright destruction of Tristano was due to a very lucky roll by Robain’s player. We are using turning rules by Brendan over at Necropraxis. Succeeding by 5 points or more on a d20 against 10 + the undead’s HD means they are destroyed. Tristano is a 4HD undead. They rolled a natural 20. There you go. Otherwise they could have had a pretty bad time fending off the skeleton.
  • Conversely, Iacopo met his demise due to a combination of careless play and bad rolls. I felt a little bad about this afterwards because the encounter happened when we were already pushing our usual stopping time and we were all a bit tired and prone to mistakes and bad decisions. I made a hidden roll to see if Iacopo would remain unnoticed, and failed the roll. Iacopo then rolled for surprise when he was being stalked by the skeletons and also failed. Because his companions were able to warn him I allowed a roll for initiative anyway, and they failed that roll as well. So the skeletons got to attack first, one hit, and I rolled 8 on the 1d8 for the halberd, enough to fell most level 1 fighters. Finally, they failed their death save, and that was it. My only real regret is that I forgot to make a reaction roll for the skeletons. They may not have attacked immediately. It’s a habit I still have to develop. I also go back and forth on hidden rolls for stealth and such. After this experience I’m inclined to go back to rolling everything in the open, even if that spoils things sometimes. It just doesn’t feel right to spring things on my players in this way. It verges on “gotcha” GM’ing which I strongly dislike. The book also has details on the skeletons, which upon reflection should have made it harder for them to wake up. But because of the hour and my fatigue I forgot all those things. For all these reasons I gave Iacopo’s player the option of making his death save after all. But being the good sport they are, they declined the offer, and the party will be rejoined by a newly rolled up fighter on the next session.


20 Quick Questions: Rules (Hackbut)

Answers to Necropraxis’s 20 questions about the rules of my upcoming Castle Xyntillan campaign. I’ll be using a kit-bash of rules mostly from OD&D and B/X (largely via Swords & Wizardry and Old-School Essentials) which I’ve dubbed “Hackbut”.

  1. Ability scores generation method?
    3d6 down the line, swap two
  2. How are death and dying handled?
    Save vs death at 0 hp, success means you are unconscious and at 1 hp, failure means you’re dead.
  3. What about raising the dead?
    The raise dead spell is in play, and handled as per old-school essentials (OSE) OD&D. It’s a 5th level cleric spell, which means you would need to find a cleric of sufficiently high level to cast it (7th level) which is unlikely anywhere in the immediate area of the campaign. However, the dungeon also contains a very small number of items that can raise someone from the dead…
  4. How are replacement PCs handled?
    It’s recommended to bring a few retainers — these can easily be promoted into a class by assigning 250 gp worth of treasure to them if they are 1HD. 0-level “normal humans” (non-combatants) require an additional 125 gp 1000 gp. Any other replacement PC can be rolled up and can join the party at the earliest possible moment.
  5. Initiative: individual, group, or something else?
    Individually rolled each round, winning initiative means you act before the opposition, losing means you act after.
    Group; roll 1d6 at the top of each round, on a 4-6 the PCs go before the opposition.
  6. Are there critical hits and fumbles? How do they work?
    Crits do max double damage. Fumbles give the opposition a free attack or might cause some other mishap which requires an action to recover from.
  7. Do I get any benefits for wearing a helmet?
    Helmets are assumed to be part of any armour worn. No specific benefits.
  8. Can I hurt my friends if I fire into melee or do something similarly silly?
    Yes, target hit when firing into melee is determined randomly, odds possibly adjusted for relative size.
  9. Will we need to run from some encounters, or will we be able to kill everything?
    Running will more than occasionally be a wise decision.
  10. Level-draining monsters: yes or no?
    No. Undead drain attributes. Hitting 0 in an attribute means you’re lost and become undead yourself.
  11. Are there going to be cases where a failed save results in PC death?
    Yes. Save-or-die is on the table.
  12. How strictly are encumbrance & resources tracked?
    Pretty strictly, but abstracted into a slot-based system.
  13. What’s required when my PC gains a level? Training? Do I get new spells automatically? Can it happen in the middle of an adventure, or do I have to wait for down time?
    No requirements other than returning to a safe haven and spending roughly a week of downtime there. Spells are acquired automatically at level-up.
  14. What do I get experience for?
    XP is gained by recovering treasure, and by spending treasure frivolously carousing.
  15. How are traps located? Description, dice rolling, or some combination?
    Primary means of locating traps and other secrets is through description. Dice rolls are used when outcomes are uncertain or when a player insists they want to expedite things and handle them abstractly.
  16. Are retainers encouraged and how does morale work?
    Retainers are encouraged and probably necessary to be successful, given the somewhat limited carrying capacity of characters. Each retainer has a morale rating which is rolled against when things get dicy. Failure means the retainer would very much like to terminate the expedition. Morale only ever goes down. (For more details see the rules in Castle Xyntillan.)
  17. How do I identify magic items?
    The primary means is to empirically test the item yourself, or convince some hapless retainer to do it for you. NPCs in town are able to identify potions and items for a fee.
  18. Can I buy magic items? Oh, come on: how about just potions?
    Some magic items and potions are for sale in town.
  19. Can I create magic items? When and how?
    Yes, you can. It will cost a significant amount of time and money, and might require specific ingredients or components for which a quest is needed.
  20. What about splitting the party?
    Good luck, have fun.

Updated 15 September 2020.