Categories
Actual Play

Castle Xyntillan – Session #2 – Killer Clouds

The Company:

  • Anna (F1)
  • Fernando (T1)
  • Robain (C1)
  • Michelle & Raul (porters)

Casualties: All of the above. That’s right, the session ended in a TPK. Read on for the sordid details.

Loot: None, obviously.

Report:

Resuming the action immediately after last session’s demise of bowman Mattia, the company takes a moment to debate where to go next. Ultimately Anna decides to try her luck once more with the locked door in the galloping hallway. She rushes across, bashes the lock to bits and tumbles into the room beyond. An armory!

While Anna takes stock of the armaments on display, the remainder of the company gingerly crosses the hallway, taking care to avoid the horses. The armory contains a generous amount of weapons (although, to Robain’s disappointment, none of them blunt). There are also four well-oiled chain hauberks on display, and a badly pierced suit of plate. From behind one of two closet doors something can be heard trying to bash it down.

They search the armory for exceptional weaponry, but none can be found. Anna inspects the plate armour, and although it is badly damaged, she decides to exchange it for her chain mail. Robain boldly opens the closet door from behind which no sounds can be heard, and is confronted with a bizarre monstrosity!

Rust Monster from AD&D 2e
Real D&D heads know

Robain immediately smashes the thing in the head with his mace and is surprised to see a glass eye fly from its head, stuffing protruding from the empty socket. The monster turns out to be a stuffed specimen. Puzzled and somewhat amused the company proceeds to investigate the thing and the closet it inhabits.

While they are thus preoccupied, the door through which they entered opens and six gaseous clouds, each with an iridescent nucleus, enter the room and proceed to suck blood from the company through remote osmosis. Horrified at the sight of blood streaming from their pores and flying off to the monsters, the company hesitates to engage.

Robain makes for the other closet, and flings open the door. An animated suit of armour emerges and immediately flies off to attack the armour that is now being worn by Anna. Fernando ducks into the closet that previously held the armour, followed by the retainers. Anna, meanwhile, barely manages to jump into the closet containing the monster and shuts the door in the proverbial face of the animated armour.

Panicking while blood continues to be sucked from their bodies, Robain attempts to push over a rack of weapons on top of the clouds but the thing won’t budge. Fernando takes aim with his crossbow and obliterates one of the clouds. The porters remain in their closet, terrified and near being exsanguinated. In the other closet, Anna begins to shed her plate armour, as the animated plate continues to hammer away at the door.

Fernando pushes over another weapons rack on top of the clouds and manages to eliminate a few more. Robain swipes at the evil things with his mace and deals some damage as well. But the clouds slowly but surely continue to suck blood from all the company’s members. The porters begin to collapse.

Having removed the plate armour, Anna flings open the door and dexterously sidesteps the animated suit. It flies into the closet and proceeds to assault the discarded plate in the corner. Fernando proceeds to fling daggers at the clouds. Robain succumbs to the clouds’ attacks and collapses.

Anna emerges from the closet and begins to bash away at the clouds as well. The two remaining companions persist for a while longer, eliminating clouds left and right, but ultimately are overwhelmed. Both Anna and Fernando fall to the armory’s floor, as the last of their blood is drawn from their bodies and consumed by the evil, killer clouds. Thus ends the company’s first expedition into Castle Xyntillan.

Referee Commentary:

Well, there you have it, the first honest-to-god TPK of my refereeing career. When I rolled this encounter I did not expect it to be quite so deadly. But a number of factors conspired to produce the regrettable fate of our player characters.

Classic D&D characters are indeed quite squishy. The party was rather limited as well, with only three 1st level PCs and no combatant retainers. Upon reflection this should have been reason enough for the players to terminate the expedition and return to town. Furthermore, the players found themselves in a cul-de-sac, with the only escape route leading past the clouds and through the hallway with the racing phantom horses. Despite this, again in hindsight, they should have probably still risked running for it, because they were squarely outmatched. The fact that the clouds’ attacks can only be averted through a save (effectively circumventing AC) also probably made a bit of a difference, although the players rolled very well on their saves throughout the battle. So it goes, I guess. We finished the session rolling up new characters.

The joke with the stuffed monster was lost on my players because most of them haven’t been playing classic D&D for that long. It still sort of worked as a puzzling oddity.

The moment when the animated suit of armour emerged from the closet and proceeded to attack Anna produced more than a few smiles around the table. It’s this kind of serendipitous mayhem that CX appears to be engineered to produce. I absolutely love those moments and can’t wait for the players to return to the castle to once again try their luck.

Categories
Actual Play

Castle Xyntillan – Session #1 – Off to the Races

The Company:

  • Marredorn (F1)
  • Fernando (T1)
  • Anna (F1)
  • Mattia & Giulia (bowmen)

Casualties:

  • Mattia — fried by a razzle-dazzle’s lightning bolt

Loot:

  • Flask of fortified wine
  • Bag of dancing beans
  • Mysterious metal wand

Report:

We resume last session’s action immediately after the death of Iacopo at the hands of a couple of skeleton guardsmen. Marredorn’s bowman Mattia holds it together, merely raising an eyebrow at the sight of Iacopo’s corpse. Bowman Giulia, who was in the employ of Iacopo, loses her cool and requests she be let go. An argument develops and culminates with Anna hitting the bowman with her mace to make her point, to which Giulia responds by high-tailing it out of there.

The company continues their exploration of the courtyard. They make their way to several buildings attached to the interior of the castle wall. Fernando cautiously peeks through a bunch of murder holes and is surprised to see a hammer work at an anvil of its own accord, in what appears to be a smithy. They sneak through a door in an adjacent structure and find themselves in a stable. A search of the stalls does not uncover anything except debris crawling with gross bugs. Searching through the hayloft does turn up a flask of what appears to be a wine-like substance.

A door leading off from the stables is cautiously opened and peeked through. It opens on what appears to be a barracks where a bunch of skeleton guardsman are using the plate-clad corpse of an adventurer hanging from the rafters for target practice. Managing to remain unseen, the company quietly closes the door again on this grisly spectacle, and makes their way out of the building.

Back in the courtyard the company scale parapets and enter a tangled rose garden. The heady smell of the roses makes them drowsy and they spot decaying limbs writhing in the flower beds. Not wasting any time they quickly force open a door leading into a tower and are somewhat surprised to find it has been converted to a gardener’s shed. A search of the shed turns up nothing noteworthy except for a bag of beans that appear to jump and dance of their own accord. The bag is secured to a cask with some twine and the company continues on through a door into an empty hallway inside the castle wall. The door at the other end leads into one of the gatehouse’s ruined towers. They find nothing of note.

The company makes their way back to the shed, grab the bag of beans on their way out, and nervously cross the rose garden to the door on the other end that appears to lead into the castle. It opens onto an empty room. Fernando cautiously inspects one of the doors leading off from it and hears the sound of galloping horses. Carefully peeking beyond the door he sees a hallway strewn with smashed furniture and a thoroughly trampled corpse. Two ghostly horses speed past, one seemingly made of a bright light, the other of dark clouds.

The company decide to try another approach. They enter another empty room and from there move into a room filled with rotting banners decorated with Malévol heraldry. After a search of the room they move on and open a door onto a hallway where a weird wind continuously pushes and pulls on them as they stand in the doorway. They shut the door and try another one. This leads into the same hallway where they spotted the phantom horses earlier. From this vantage point they can see several doors not too far down the hallway.

Marredorn volunteers to make a run for one of the doors. He waits for the horses to pass and sprints towards it. To his dismay it is locked not once but twice. Barely keeping it together while the horses fast approach he bashes into a door across the hallway and stumbles into another passage, this one strewn with withered leaves.

The remainder of the company take turns rushing across the hallway to rejoin Marredorn. After briefly debating some way of cracking the locks on the mystery door they decide to try their luck elsewhere instead. Turning a corner in the leaf-strewn hallway they bump into two headless manservants. Both parties confusedly observe each other until Anne boldly commands them to go into the phantom horse hallway to clean up the terrible mess it contains. Impressed by the fighting-woman’s show of authority, the manservants pass the company by and exit through the door into the hallway. Not much later, the crunch of manservants trampled by horses can be heard.

The company continues down the leaf-strewn hallway. Three doors lead north, east and south. They take the south door and enter a bedroom in disarray. Beans have collapsed into the room, the statue of a robed man has been knocked from its pedestal, and a large pile of leaves lies in front of an impressive painting of an autumnal park scene. The room is searched. When Marredorn replaces the statue, it comes to life and offers him a metal wand. He accepts the offer and the statue returns to normal. After taking a moment to loudly ask themselves what in the world just happened, they turn their attention to the leaf-pile. It is prodded with several implements and a massive mound made of moss and vines rises from it. They stagger back but the thing does not pursue. The company gingerly backs out of the room, and closes the door.

Losing her patience, Anne decides to make a run for the locked door back in the galloping hall. She smashes a lock with her mace and knocks it clean off. Just when the horses are about to trample her she dodges back into the leaf-strewn hallway. Although successful, it turned out to be a closer call than she liked and so she decides against going for the other lock as well.

The company goes back down the hallway and opens the east door at its end. Beyond is a hallway with curtains of moss hanging from the rafters. Deciding they need less plant matter, not more, they close the door and open the north one in stead. It opens on a small room filled with toadstools, and five clusters of flickering lights floating above it. Before they can close the door on this eery sight both Marredorn and Mattia are assaulted by the entities with lightning bolts. Marredorn barely survives the attack and Mattia collapses. Their companions drag the bowman’s lifeless body back into the hallway and Marredorn slams the door shut.

We leave the company there, standing in a leaf-strewn hallway, with the fuming body of poor Mattia lying at their feet.

Referee Commentary:

Our first full CX session did not disappoint. Play moved at a fair clip and some tense and interesting situations developed. The main pleasure for me as a referee is that I honestly can’t predict which way players will go, can’t really read ahead, and therefore am almost as much surprised as they are by the things that transpire.

We had a significantly smaller party with no spell-casters this time around. Our group consists of seven players and we game once a week. Who can make it to any single session varies from week to week, which I don’t consider an issue so long as we have a minimum of three players.

The only real question is with multi-session expeditions, how to handle absentee player characters, or characters joining mid-expedition. In our previous campaign we tried various approaches to this, but ultimately settled on just hand-waving it and having characters pop in and out depending on if their player is present. It’s a minor knock against verisimilitude, but the overhead introduced by most procedures for mitigating it just isn’t worth it for us.

I’d pre-rolled a bunch of random encounters and diligently checked for them at the top of every exploration turn. I also made reaction rolls for everything except when the encounter description clearly stated what a monster’s disposition would be. I believe this applied only to the phantom horses and the razzle-dazzles. I particular enjoyed the scene with the headless lackeys. Anna’s player intuitively grasped a way to resolve it with some bluffing and I just let them succeed.

They started the game with two retainers and ended with none. One was lost at the start due to a failed loyalty check, the other at the very end expired from a monster’s attack. I wonder if they’ll press on or cut and run. I guess there’s only one way to find out.

Categories
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)

Casualties:

  • Iacopo — chopped in the back by skeleton guardsmen

Loot:

  • Bejeweled snuff box
  • Perfume bottle

Report:

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.

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.