Categories
Actual Play

Castle Xyntillan – Session #34 – Out of the Woods, Into the Maze

The company:

  • Hendrik (MU5)
  • Jurg (F5)
  • Ezio (T1)
  • Julia (heavy foot)
  • Gido (porter)

Loot:

  • 400 GP
  • Mace +2
  • One scroll: protection from undead
  • Three potions: extra healing, animal control, plant control
  • Seven kinds of magic mushroom, one for each color of the rainbow, three samples each
  • Eight pairs of crystal eyes
  • Five barrels of wine of varying quality
  • A golden candlestick
  • Five gems shaped as Platonic solids
  • A pearlescent giant spider egg
  • Mediocre philosophy papers
  • A dagger +1, +2 vs. beasts

Casualties: Gido and Julia, bludgeoned to death by anti-monks.

Report:

We pick up the action where we left off last session. The company has stumbled into what appears to be a magical forest realm. They have no idea how to get back to the castle.

They arrive at a clearing in the woods with a chapel near collapse. A cleric emerges, waving at them. The man is clearly garbed in satanic garb. Similarly dressed monks are milling about the grounds. Jürg steps forward and does the talking. The heartbroken fighter has turned to the dark side ever since his break with the late Bartolomea. The cleric, who introduces himself as Venger, eyes Hendrik’s crusader surcoat suspiciously but is taken in by Jürg’s impressively gnarly arms and armor. They chat for a while, and Venger points them to a park where they might find this castle they are looking for, and a stone circle where the lord of this realm, a man known as Runcius, can usually be found. They make to leave but the anti-cleric stops them, demanding something in return for the help he just gave them. Maybe that nice big evil-looking sword Jürg is carrying? Jürg disagrees and without warning makes to chop Venger’s head off. He misses completely and loses his grip on the sword. It flies across the chapel floor. Monks jump and grab the fighter. The rest of the company runs outside. Hendrik immediately casts levitate to get out of harms way. Ezio hides in the bushes.

Monks stream out of the chapel and engage poor Julia and Gido. Inside, Venger begins to stab away at the helpless Jürg while he struggles to break free. Outside, Gido is immediately slain. Hendrik casts plant control and entangles some of the monks. Julia also falls to the many strikes of the monks. Ezio sneaks back into the chapel and flings his sickle-shaped discus at the anti-cleric. Jürg breaks free and dives for the Blade of Rel. Outside, Hendrik blasts the monks with a fireball from above, instantly killing all of them. Inside, Jürg cuts down the remaining monks and faces off agains Venger. The anti-cleric turns and runs. They chase him for a while but fail to catch him.

After taking a moment to morn the loss of the last remaining retainers, they search the chapel. They find a magical mace, and a scroll. They head back the way they came, having decided to seek out the mushroom garden the shepherd mentioned to them.

Upon arrival they see huge mushrooms of all colors of the rainbow, and an enormous caterpillar sitting on a toadstool, smoking a pipe and reading a spellbook. The caterpillar is very friendly. He also appears to know exactly what they are thinking. The mentions two ways to go if they want to exit this “world”. The caterpillar also tells them it dearly wants to change into something. It asks Hendrik to promise to come back and help him do so. In return he will receive the caterpillar’s spellbook and amulet. Meanwhile, Jürg collects samples of all the varieties of mushrooms present to bring back to town for inspection. They bid the caterpillar farewell, and head back the way they came. Back across the hilly meadow, through the forest, back to where they originally entered. They now see a small trail leading deeper into the woods, which they follow. After some time the trail widens again, they hear the sound of woodland animals, and they emerge… into an indoor garden!

***

They have managed to get back to the castle, but they have arrived somewhere different from where they left. There is a glass roof overhead, and animated trophies on the walls with crystalline eyes. They remove those eyes, while the animals complain loudly. Next they listen at the door south, and hear wheezing and shuffling.

They throw open the door and see four desiccated skeletons with huge claws, moving slowly about the room. The company immediately attacks, and the skeletons are slain without much trouble. They search the room’s writing desk and liquor cabinet and take away some sub-par philosophy and three unidentified potions.

They peek out of the window to orient themselves, and see the courtyard with rose garden, gate house and so on. They then move up to the next door leading east. This opens on a parlor with multiple family portraits, a helm floating over a chair, and a badly damaged closet with an axe still stuck in it. On the floor is a huge carpet with the Malévol crest of arms. They try their hammer and sickle on the helmet but nothing happens. They carefully move to the door north, which opens onto a hallway with red velvet carpet.

They head west and north, and arrive at a dead end with one door east. From behind it, they hear machine-like humming and the sound of static crackles. They decide not to try their luck here, and backtrack.

They head north and west unseated, following the hallway to its end again, passing several doors, one of which a revolving one. They first try the north most one, and find a bedroom. A swine in pajamas is snoring away on a bed. Next to it is a gold candlestick magically emitting light. Weird shadows dance on the walls. A desk is stuffed with papers/. Ezio sneaks in but is mesmerized by the shadows. They come to life and make to attack him. Hendrik whips out his wand of cold and in a moment of brilliance blasts the swine and candlestick, extinguishing the light and disappearing the shadows in the nick of time. They plunder the room, taking the candlestick and pulling a bag of curiously shaped gemstones from the desk.

They check the other door in the room, but it opens onto an empty corridor leading nowhere. So they backtrack to the carpeted hallway and for a moment consider trying their luck with the rotating door. But the Blade of Rel begins to tremble nervously in Jürg’s hands, so they are quite sure it is trapped. In stead, they move on to the one remaining door. Please let this lead to a way out of the castle! The door is locked. From beyond it they hear low feline grumbling…

As Ezio attempts to pick the lock, they suddenly hear several voices shout “boo!” from behind their backs. It’s a bunch of those black-clad assassins. They just stand there for a moment and laugh at them, and then head the other way. Somewhat puzzled, the company decide to let them leave.

Ezio picks the lock, and they carefully move inside. It is a huge throne room lit from numerous glass “eyes” set in the arched ceiling. At the far end, a huge figure sits slumped in a throne, flanked by two suits of armor. The creature is shrouded in hellfire, and has a cat-like face. It holds a single rose which it appears to be gloomily contemplating. The creature appears to not notice or otherwise ignore the company. There is a door to the north and south.

The Beast (Jean Cocteau)

They sneak up to the north door. It opens onto another bedroom, this one clearly furnished for royalty. A portrait of Count Giscard hangs over a canopy bed littered with large pillows, a finely decorated dagger stuck in the headboard. There is also a writing desk. Jürg is foolish enough to inspect the portrait and is mesmerized by the count, who invites him to visit him in his suite. They make to search the bed, but the pillow come to life with huge slobbering toothy maws, making to eat them. They manage to evade the damn things and run from the room, but not before Hendrik pulls the dagger from the headboard. They manage to escape the throne room without the figure reacting.

Back in the hallway, they are now truly desperate about finding a way home. Then, Jürg remembers the indoor garden has a glass roof. And Hendrik can levitate, can’t he? That’s it! They return to the garden, Ezio smashes the roof with his discus, and Hendrik carries the company one by one up to the roof, and down again into the courtyard. With that, they have managed to escape, and relieved, head back to town.

Referee commentary:

Boy oh boy, one of the most dramatic sessions of the campaign so far. Starting in medias res was a nice change of pace. Normally there are always some preparations to take care of, which I consider part of the fun. But this time we could start out right away with an encounter, which of course is also cool.

We had one absentee player (Ezio’s). They agreed we would have the character still be there, but he would be run like we do with retainers, under shared control. I also promised we would not but the character in more risk than absolutely necessary. It was a close call there for a second in the bedroom with the shadows, but they made it out alive.

On the fight with the anti-cleric and monks: the grappling of Jürg we now resolved with an opposed attack roll, which is quick and easy and feels about right. So I think we will keep that. Stabbing a helpless opponent per Hackbut rules auto-hits for max damage. Which on paper looks okay, but in the case of a level 5 fighter being attacked with a dagger means the opponent needs to do a lot of rounds of stabbing before they are actually down. Still seems about right for a character of such heroic stature.

The caterpillar was a lot of fun to roleplay. They got box-cars on their reaction roll, so I decided this was the perfect moment to “fix” my “mistake” from last session, and outright tell them where the ways out of here are. Of course, the caterpillar does not know what is on the other side of those exits, so they ended up emerging in a different part of the castle with no immediately obvious way out. This led to the dramatic second half of the session.

Speaking of reaction rolls. They also lucked out on a reaction roll for those masked murderers. Friendly, so I had them play a prank on the company. Seemed in keeping with the spirit of the module, and I like rolling reactions for all encounters, even dumb stuff like plants, just to add variety to how they play out.

They finally encounter the Beast! They were very scared of this thing, I think, and absolutely did not want to engage. Hopefully they will run into it again…

The moment when Jürg’s player had that light bulb go off about a possible way out through the roof was classic D&D play at its finest. So I decided it should just succeed, no rolls required (except a final encounter check). It was just too good.

They made it back to town with an absolutely massive haul. As a result, Hendrik, the magic-user reached level 6. Quite the achievement, the first player to do so. It took them 21 sessions. And now they have a very powerful PC to continue to play with, or, if they like, they can start leveling a second character. I am curious to see which way they will go.

Categories
Actual Play

Castle Xyntillan – Session #33 – Lost in the Woods

The Company:

  • Hendrik (MU5)
  • Jürg (F5)
  • Ezio (F1)
  • Julia, Bettina, Alexandre, Isak & Bern (heavy foot)
  • Gido & Julian (porters)

Loot: None.

Casualties: Julian, molten by green slime. Bettina and Alexandre, killed by poisonous giant spiders. Isak & Bern, fled into the woods.

Report:

After some debate the company decide to have another go at looting the wine cellar. They enter through the grand entrance and make their way downstairs speedily. Upon arrival, Jürg has his porter tie a rope around his waist. The rest of the company stands at a safe distance as he places his unstable portable hole. The hole opens without issue. The company begin to methodically tap barrels. Promising specimens are lowered one by one into the hole.

Suddenly, porter Julian, who was also on wine sampling duty, starts screaming. The barrel he just tapped is spilling green slime, and he has managed to get it all over his hands. They quickly, close the tap on the barrel, and Hendrik opens the one on the last one he was checking, which contained something resembling vinegar. Julian collapses arms outstretched in the stream of sour wine. The slime washes away, and he is left with two stumps ending just below the elbows. His arms continue to transform into slime. Jürg takes his sword and in one blow severs the poor porter’s arms. The transformation is ended, but Julian also expires from the trauma.

With extra caution the company continue their plundering. As they do so, the ghost of a fair lady holding her severe head in her hands enters the circle of their torchlight. She appears to be looking for a ring. The company engage her in conversation and she appears reasonably friendly, although it is clear she has a strong dislike for Jürg. They ask her about where in the caste it might smell like sulphur and perfume. The ghost responds “you mean who rather than where” and continues to describe this demoness who has made her home in the lake tower, by name of Serpentina. Then she asks for directions to the donjon, because that’s where she thinks she may have misplaced her ring. The company send her the wrong way.

They once again return to the further looting of the Malévol’s supply of wine. While hauling barrels, Jürg notices a bricked up doorway in the north wall, and a secret passage beyond the east wall. They finish up lowering one more barrel into the portable hole, pack it up, and then open the secret passage.

It reveals a stairway leading down

Amazed and excited abut the prospects of a second dungeon level, the company cautiously begin to head down the stairs. As they descend, their senses begin to play tricks on them. One moment they are still on those stone steps leading down into darkness, the next they are on a forest path, yellow leaves crunching underfoot. Shocked, they check the way they came, but it leads to a dead end. They have no choice but to continue down the path.

“Where the heck are we?” (George Hodan)

They arrive at a T-junction. Further on they hear the sound of running water. From the right turn they can hear the soft bleating of sheep. They turn right. After about a half hour’s walk they arrive at an opening in the woods with steep green hills. It appears to a bright spring day here, whereas the forest they have been traversing is shrouded in autumnal twilight. They see a flock of sheep, and a shepherd snoring away under a tree. They head up to the shepherd, who appears to be counting sheep in between snores, and wake him. The man is startled by the company’s appearance, and does not appear to know much about the world our heroes have found themselves in. He does appear to be very afraid of Runcius, “the dark man of the woods” whom appears to rule over this domain. The shepherd also mentions the huntsman Hubert, but comments they haven’t seen him for quite some time. The company give each other knowing looks. They ask the shepherd about who might be able to help them find their way back home, and he points them in the direction of a chapel, but does warn them about the nest of giant spiders along the way.

They set out down the path indicated, and after a short walk arrive at an intersection covered with silvery webs. They test the strands with their weapons, and several spiders come out hiding, attracted by the disturbance. The company immediately attack. The spiders, determined to protect their lair and the eggs within, of course respond by fighting back. As the melee develops, more waves of spiders keep appearing. Several mercenaries fall to the creatures’ poisonous bites. Several retainers run away at the sight of the carnage. Ezio makes good use of his gifted discus +1. Hendrik picks off spiders with magic missiles. Jürg’s toy soldiers kill several spiders with poisonous stabs of their own. And Jürg himself cuts down one spider after another with his Blade of Rel and his superior fighting prowess. When the dust settles, they’ve killed nine spiders and a final one flees.

They inspect the nest and its eggs, take one egg, and torch the rest. They continue on, and after some more time arrive at an opening in the woods with a crumbling chapel. A cleric emerges, dressed in obviously chaotic garb, and waves to the company as they approach from the woods.

And we fade to black.

Referee Commentary:

It’s a truism I never know what to expect going into a session of Castle Xyntillan, but this turn of events I certainly did not see coming.

First we spend a ludicrous amount of time playing out the looting of the cellar. I mean, if players want to do that sort of thing, I am there to facilitate. We streamlined things quite a bit, but hey, figuring out what is in those barrels, describing it, and players deciding what to do in response takes time at the table.

And then that secret passage got discovered. This was just sitting there for I don’t know how many sessions of play in that particular room. I had completely forgotten it led to the Indoornesse and so that threw me for a loop.

This is also where I fucked up, basically.

The map only indicates the stairs lead to “R”. I feverishly scanned the Indoornesse map and key to find where the passage from the wine cellar might lead to. On the Indoornesse map it is erroneously listed as “M13” next to “R10 Hermitage”. It is correctly listed in the key for that room, but I did not spot it in my hurry. But most stupidly I did not think to take a moment to check the key for M1 itself, and it is plainly listed there, below the random table for wine barrels. So yeah, my hurry to keep the game moving combined with a few minor errors in the map, and a key that takes a bit of time to parse, conspired to me making a decision on the spot that the transition into the Indoornesse would be dream-like, and that the players would start out in the bottom right of the map at the dead end that actually connects up with L23. (Another key I overlooked.)

The consequences of this is that the players were trapped in this dream land, and that the game was now all of a sudden about escaping back home. This meant for the first time we were forced to stop play in the midst of the action, breaking my “always return to town at the end” rule, and offering further challenges for when we pick up again with regards to absentee players or previously absent players joining.

I guess I will have to roll with the punches now. I will not correct my mistake and we will play through this until players find one of the ways back. I won’t make it any harder on them than necessary of course. And once we wrap up this episode I will probably own up to my mistake and make sure they understand they can now freely move between the Indoornesse and the castle as they like.

It’s been a while since I’ve really regretted a call I’ve had to make because I felt unnecessarily rushed. Time to recommit to allowing myself to take breaks to properly figure something out at the table when it is clear I absolutely have to.

Categories
Actual Play

Castle Xyntillan – Session #32 – Last Dance

The Company:

  • Hendrik (MU5)
  • Niemir (F3)
  • Madlaina, Isak, Bettina, Julia (heavy foot)
  • Frido (porter)
  • Margaret (C1)
  • Agnes (F1)

Loot: incriminating guestbook, glass slipper, a dozen silver cups, magical hookah, a dozen landscape paintings, six golden harp strings, a half-moon shaped discus +1, and a bunch of nasty mold.

Casualties: Niemir, doomed to dance the tarantella for eternity. Frido and Madlaina, fled into the darkness of the castle, missing, presumed dead. Margaret, trampled to death by a vivisected horse.

Report:

The company decide to try and breach a new section of the castle, heretofore unexplored: the part to the north-east. Their aim is to see if they can find a way that leads to the bridge across the lake to the lake tower.

They enter through main entrance, pass through the portrait gallery, and move on to the throne room. Along the way they check a door to the east, which opens onto a hallway that leads off further east into the darkness. They ignore it and move on. When they get to the throne room, it is unoccupied.

They immediately continue towards the ballroom to the north. As they listen at the doors, they hear music and dancing. They open the door and see a group of phantoms dance to music performed by an invisible orchestra. They carefully, and half-dancing, cross the dance floor towards the first door east. However, most of the members of the company are overcome by the irresistible urge to join in with the dancing.

Luckily, a couple of retainers are unaffected, and they come to their companions’ aid. Most snap out of it, except for poor Niemir. The company look on in horror as the music begins to fade along with the phantoms, and Niemir himself as well blinks out of existence.

When all is quiet, a spectral maestro appears on stage at the north end of the room, takes a deep bow, and is then sucked screaming into a crack in the wall. Dejected, they search the room. They find a guest book filled with names of notables from Tours-en-Savoy and beyond, which might come in handy as leverage. They also find a single glass slipper…

May I have this dance? (Hieronymus Janssens)

Moving on, they try the first door to the east. Here, they find a sitting room, with lots of nice landscape paintings, comfortable couches, and a hookah filled with swirling blue mist. Next to it on the table are some nice silver cups. Those are swiped right away. Hendrik can’t resist trying the hookah. He feels magical powers sucked out and pushed back in, and ends up acquiring a new spell: rope trick!

A militant nun named Margaret appears in the doorway and immediately joins the company. They continue to search the room and find a secret door leading to a shooting gallery hidden behind the east end of the throne room. Several loaded crossbows and cases of quarrels lie about. Hendrik notices in time a crack in the floor boards near the secret door with a bear trap hidden inside. A retainer sets off the trap with their spear, and they head inside to search the gallery. They find nothing.

Returning to the sitting room, they next head through the door to the north. This opens onto an empty room with doors leading north and east. They try the east door first, and see a hallway leading north and south. Returning to the empty room, they try the north door next, and find it opens onto a corridor zigzagging north-west.

As they explore it, they come upon ancient signs of a battle fought. At the end of the corridor, they find another door, north. They try it, and find a smallish room littered wuth yellowing sheet music. A decrepit harp and clavichord are played by ghostly shimmering outlines of musicians. The harp appears to have strings of gold. They move into the room, search it, and smash the instruments to pieces in the hopes of bringing back Niemir, to no avail. The musicians’ ghosts impotently toss sheet music at them. They take the golden strings, and leave.

Backtracking, they enter the corridor they found earlier. They head up north, and pass a nook with the statue if a reaper bearing an ominous inscription: “Dost thou desire the burden of thy death?” The nook and statue are carefully studied for secrets, but they avoid messing with the statue itself, remembering the confrontation with the personal reapers some time ago.

Continuing north, they enter a room with a view of the lake. It contains pots with decayed plants, and a pile of rubble covering something large in the middle of the room. The pots turn out to contain chewed-on bones and rotting meat. When they remove the debris they uncover a vivisected horse. Once free from the debris it gets up, but before it can rear on its hind legs and speak, Margaret whacks it in the head with her mace. The horse whinnies “why hast thou forsaken meee?” The rest of the company look on in horror as the horse tramples Margaret to death, and immediately starts tearing off her flesh. Now that the horse is distracted the mercenaries move and attack. Hendrik fires off a magic missile. The horse is quickly destroyed.

A fighter named Agnes appears, and immediately joins the party. They open the double doors to the east and find themselves on the bridge crossing the lake towards the tower. It appears slippery and treacherous, so the company carefully start moving across it. A huge dark shape appears under the lake surface, heading their way. They continue to cross, hoping to get to the other end before whatever it is gets to them. As they reach the double doors to the tower, a massive dinosauric head on a long neck emerges from the water to take a disinterested look at the bridge and the creatures on it. The company stand and wait, hoping not to provoke the thing. To their great relief it takes one more look, and leaves again.

At this end of the bridge they see a winch with a chain leading down into the lake. They pull it up, and a padlocked cage holding a casket emerges. Hendrik does not want to mess with the casket and heads into the tower with his entourage. Agnes can’t resist the temptation, bashes off the padlock and opens the casket. Meanwhile, Hendrik finds himself in a massive arched hall. Mildewed frescoes depict knights and goats. There are goat-shaped candelabras. Nasty lichen hang from the ceiling. Across the hall a statue of a goat-headed demon sits crosslegged on a black slab of granite holding a metal crescent moon, its eyes glinting emerald green.

Back on the bridge, Agnes locks eyes with the corpse in the casket: an old man dressed in an old fashioned surcoat and wooden shoes, covered in weed and kelp. He opens his eyes and gives her a wicked groin. Before he can do anything, Agnes kicks the casket over the edge of the bridge, and the man disappears under the surface crying “would you like some candyyy?” Agnes turns to join the rest of the company inside the hall.

Hendrik and Agnes approach the statue together. Agnes goes for the eyes, and Hendrik grabs the sickle-shaped discus. The statue animates and sneezes green slime at them, its eye-sockets now empty (those weren’t emeralds after all but slime-clogged cavities). Everyone manages to avoid getting smeared with the goo, to their great relief. Hendrik holds the discus and realizes it is magical. They debate exploring the tower further, but ultimately decide to call it there.

They head back the way they came, but do make a stop in the sitting room to pull down those nice paintings. As they do so, several of those awful clouds float inside. They manage to evade the, and run for the exit for the castle and back to safety without further incident.

Referee Commentary:

An action-packed session that moved at a high pace — only two players does make quite a bit of difference there. Niemir’s player went on to loose their next character, Margaret almost immediately as well. I’ve been racking up quite the body count lately. It is a good thing character creation in Hackbut is streamlined as heck, and I make a point of introducing the new character at the earliest possible opportunity, verisimilitude be damned.

The demise of Niemir came as a bit of a shock and a surprise to the players. I think I should have telegraphed the danger of the room more clearly. It also did not help the players had vague recollections of being in the room before and not suffering any adverse effect (because there was no phantom dance going on that time, but that wasn’t entirely clear). Niemir’s player failed his save twice, the second time with a bonus no less, so it is also simply the luck of the dice, but I found the scene somewhat unsatisfactory in the end. Maybe if I hadn’t rushed things as much it would have been more interesting. In this case I was probably trying to stick to the room’s mechanical description a bit too closely. Knowing when to diverge from and when to stick to the letter of the module can be quite the challenge, particularly in the moment.

The players have managed to find a route to the lake tower, which is quite exciting. I also delighted when I rolled for the lake monster to appear and it did, that was quite the “oh fuck” moment. The players lucked out on the monster reaction roll there. I also rolled exactly one random encounter, namely the clouds at the very end. Another lucky break. But I guess they were owed one after all the carnage lately.

Categories
Actual Play

Castle Xyntillan – Session #31 – Many Hands Problem

The Company:

  • Hendrik (MU5)
  • Francesco (F5)
  • Madlaina, Julia, Penelope & Finian (heavy foot)
  • Leon (porter)

Treasure: a flask of acid, a ring +1, a vial of holy tears and an extremely aromatic flower.

Casualties: Finian, Penelope and Francesco, throttled by swarms of severed hands. Leon, zapped by a razzle-dazzle lightning bolt.

Report:

On the morning of Wednesday, April 1, 1527, the company are once again at the gates of Castle Xyntillan. They make their way to where they know a giant jumping beanstalk has breached the wall. But as they approach they see a group of figures come their way. They slide down the slope towards the river and hide at its foot. When they hear the group pass, Hendrik turns invisible and crawls up to the top. He sees a crew of skeleton gardeners remove weeds along the walls. He also sees that the beanstalk has been cut down. The breach, however, still remains. The company carefully crawl back up the slope and sneak to the crack in the castle wall one by one, escaping notice.

They pass through the cleric’s room, into the chapel and from here head into the hallway. Drunken singing swells in volume as they continue west. They arrive in a mess hall, where skeleton soldiers sit at tables drinking and singing and toasting their fallen comrades. They appear uninterested in the company, who carefully but quickly move on to the south.

They try the first door they see on the east. It is a laundry room, with a large tub containing boiling water sitting on a rickety table. Several bodies lie about covered in dirty linnen. Hendrik tosses the staff of the woodlands into the room and commands it to tip over the tub while they remain at a safe distance out in the hallway. The table collapses and the tub spills its scalding hot contents on the floor. Out rolls a thoroughly cooked foppish gentleman along with vegetables and herbs and spices. They search the room but find nothing of value.

The next door to the west opens on a hallway. They go north and try the first door west, which opens onto a room that was apparently once the room of a military officer of some sort. It is plainly furnished but has nice wood paneling with martial themed carvings. They search it and find a flask with a curious liquid amongst personal effects in a chest. They also find, after inspecting the paneling, a secret door to the north. Inside is a corridor with many sacks filled with silver pieces, as well as at its end, a shaft leading down into the castle dungeons. They hammer in an iron spike, tie off a rope, and one by one climb down.

They find themselves in an empty room with doors to the north and east. They try the north door, and find themselves in a larder. Hams and sausages hang from the ceiling, several large barrels stand in a corner. Francesco pops open a barrel and finds a pig’s head staring back at him, surrounded by jellied human hands packed in lard.

Shopping to stock the larder (Lucas van Valckenborch)

Suddenly Francesco is attacked by not one but two hand swarms that were hiding behind the barrels. He is quickly overwhelmed and the hands begin squeezing the life out of him. Mercenaries come to his aid and Hendrik fires off magic missiles. One hand swarm hops across to Finian and almost immediately chokes him to death. Francesco manages to free himself, and the whole group runs for the exit. However, Francesco is the last one to get to the door and the hands catch up with him and once again manage to grab him and begin choking him again. Francesco collapses in the doorway before anyone can do anything. The swarms head for the mercenaries, but Hendrik tells them to get out of the way, and he whips out his wand of cold and blasts both swarms to smithereens. One hand leaves behind a curious-looking ring. They briefly mourn the loss of Francesco, collect the fighter’s valuables, and leave behind the corpse.

The next door, leading east, opens onto a hallway. They head north and after some time find it connects up with a passage they explored earlier, which leads off from the underground lake’s beach.

They backtrack, and continue east. Here they enter a hallway with bloody footprints, and take another door to the east. It leads to an empty room. The next door east again opens onto… a chapel!

Four statues of monks, covered with moss, surround an altar upon which stands the bas-reliëf of a maiden. Around it sprout flowers. The walls are covered with faded frescoes. Upon inspection they find the maiden in the relief cries real tears. The flowers are beautiful and smell delightful. They collect the tears in a vial and pick one flower. They inspect the frescoes and find another secret door.

They are about to open it when another hand swarm emerges from under the door through which they entered. They don’t hesitate for a moment and immediately attack it. Penelope is overwhelmed and choked to death almost immediately. Despite this, they manage to drive the things off before it can do more harm.

They return to the secret door, open it, and are surprised by several floating clusters of light. Before they can shut the door again each attacks with a bolt of lightning. Leon is killed, his lifeless body hits the floor fuming, and transforms into a gross rubbery gray featureless humanoid. Despite this puzzling display the company shut the door on the light cluster things, and run for the exit. Luckily, they make their way out of the castle and back to town without further incident.

Referee’s Commentary:

I’ve been steadily slaughtering retainers throughout our campaign, but I don’t recall the last time I offed a player character. This time it was poor Francesco’s fate, and by the hands of hand swarms no less. These things so far never posed any issues for the players, so when Francesco was jumped by them their initial response was: “we can handle this.” But things quickly spiraled out of control, Francesco failed his death save, and that was that.

Post-game we did have a discussion about how I handled this fight. I used my grappling rules for the hands’ choke attack, which means they need to hit a PC’s unarmored AC. Francesco is usually very hard to hit because he’s wearing plate and all. But with the swarms having a +4 to hit and my grappling rules combined, they made short work of him. They do 3d4 damage per round, which is enough to cut through a fifth level fighter’s HP in a reasonably short amount of time.

Upon further reflection, I think I will no longer use my grappling rules for this monster. Francesco’s player rightly pointed out it should be harder to choke someone wearing plate than it would be someone in no armor at all, and I agree. So from now on hand swarms will simply need a regular attack roll to do their thing.

It’s a matter of interpretation though. I mean, how would you run this stat block:

Hand Swarms: A mass of severed, decaying hands skittering on the ground. They go for the throat, or pull opponents down on the ground.
Hand Swarms (1d2): HD 4; AC 6 [13]; Atk swarm 2d4; Spec choke 3d4/round; ML 6; C.

I ran this by the folks in the Wandering DMs Discord server as well and got a fascinating range of responses. But nobody there runs classic D&D with touch attacks, as far as I can tell. And for grapples and the like most run with some combination of opposed attack rolls or attack rolls and saves. I am still mulling over wether I will axe my grappling rules entirely, but for now I will at least, like I said, run the hand swarm in a way that is a bit more predictable for players. (If Melan is reading this and would like to weigh in, I’d be curious to hear his take as well.)

We operate on a strict no take-backs policy though, so dead is dead and Francesco’s player will be rolling up a new level one character for the next session he joins. So it goes.

Categories
Actual Play

Castle Xyntillan – Session #30 – Another Round

The Company:

  • Hendrik (MU5)
  • Niemir (F3)
  • Penelope, Julia, Madlaina & Sanna (heavy foot)
  • Leon (porter)

Loot: cheap necklace and a box of golden buttons.

Casualties: Sanna, repeatedly stabbed by skeleton guardsmen. Leon, fled down the dark corridors of the castle dungeon, missing, presumed dead.

Report:

In the weeks leading up to the next expedition, Hendrik has his treacherous wife Ronja arrested for forging his will and planning his assassination. She is locked away in the town jail. Meanwhile, Jürg solves the problem of the deranged lumberjack Blérot by tricking him into drinking water from the castle’s magic fountain, which transforms the poor fool into a sizable sum of gold. Finally, they invest some funds into advertising for the company, and manage to recruit a colorful bunch of heavy footsoldiers.

***

Upon arriving at the castle, they decide to further explore the new section of the castle dungeon uncovered during a previous expedition. They enter through the rose garden and head straight for the spiral staircase leading down into the windy corridor. There they head north and east, and find themselves in a short hallway with two more doors.

They try the one furthest back leading south first, and see a room with three goat statues and a statue of a maiden made of salt pointing in their direction. This room they recall from previously recovered papers which tell of the demise of adventurers who messed with the statues in this room. They debate their approach at length. Finally, a plan is hatched, and a rope is tied around the neck of the goat statue closest to the door. They run the rope back under the door which they close, and pull. Sure enough they hear the statue topple, almost immediately followed by angry bleating of several goats, and the sound of nearing hoof steps.

The company quickly spike the door and then create some distance from it. They ready missiles and wait. The goatrices bash down the door after several attempt and rush into the hallway. Hendrik takes aim with his wand of lightning and zaps the creatures before they can do any harm. All three are instantly turned to ash.

The company head back into the room, and debate things some more. Ultimately. Niemir plucks up courage and licks the salt statue of the maiden. He instantly feels his sense of taste improve. Niemir is now able to detect ingested poisons, but he does not know it yet. They then chop of the hand of the statue to bring back with them to town, hoping it will be of some value, and leave the room.

Back in the hallway they try the door to the north. It opens onto a plain room with several beds and basic furnishings. More notably, the ghost of a maiden is seen float through a wall and disappear, giggling all the while. They search the room and find little of note, except for an animated hairbrush floating in front of a mirror. They do notice the cabinets on each side of the room have been moved frequently, and when they do the same, secret doors are unlocked. Each hides a small room. The one to the west contains a pile of bones, a cheap necklace and a box filled with golden buttons. The one to the east is entirely empty. They take the necklace and box, and leave.

Heading further north, the next door they try opens onto, to their surprise, a tavern. A ghostly rotund barkeep is cleaning glasses with a dirty rag and a dozen skeletons and a single headless manservant are living it up in the common room. Before the company can discretely leave, the undead clientele notice them, and angrily make for their arms. Nonplussed, the company head into the room and engage the skeletons. A massive brawl ensues. Poor Sanna is almost instantly stabbed to death. At the sight of this, Leon panics and flees. Hendrik casts Blight to help turn the tide. Niemir is tearing through skeletons like nobody’s business. Madlaina is also almost killed and retreats from the melee, barely avoiding being overcome by her trademark berserker rage. The remaining heavy footwomen hold their ground. More skeletons drop, their morale fails, and they decide they have had enough, and escape through the other door.

Skeletons deserve some after work drinks too (gkbgraphics)

The company lick their wounds, catch their breath, and chat with the barkeep. The drinks list offers quite the colorful selection, with prices ranging from the humble to the astronomical. Niemir ends up buying a Poltergeist Porter, but rather than consume it, he pours it into an empty flask for inspection back in town.

Next, they decide to have a quick look behind the doors across the room. The first they check holds a piles of broken furniture turned firewood. An animated chair is chained to a wall. A table is bleeding profusely from cuts made by an animated hatchet.

The next door they open reveals a storeroom where massive mice are eating from sacks of flour. They gingerly close the door again.

The final door has a sign that says “kitchen, keep out!” which they decide to heed. And with that, they bid the barkeep farewell, and head back up and out of the castle and back to town, without incident.

Referee Commentary:

A quick one. A low player count again, and a late start meant we did not cover a heck of a lot. But we had some memorable scenes regardless.

Players enjoyed running into a room they’d read about previously, and being able to act on that knowledge. I enjoyed it as well because I’d previously generated those hints entirely randomly, running with the suggestion given in the module about papers that describe how adventurers meet their end in the castle.

We ran the fight with the skeletons entirely theatre of the mind and it went pretty fast despite the large amount of characters. These days I default to having monsters target retainers before turning to player characters and that simplifies things as well.

Niemir’s player enjoyed being able to attack three skeletons every round thanks to his fighter class ability. It’s a little tweak that really makes the fighter feel like the best at, well, fighting, which is as it should be.

Categories
Actual Play

Castle Xyntillan – Session #29 – Into the Maze of the Occult

The Company:

  • Hendrik (MU5)
  • Jürg (F5)
  • Bern, Beath & Sarah (heavy foot)
  • Leon & Julian (porters)
  • Jan (T2 retainer)

Loot:

  • Four canopic jars
  • A bag of gemstones
  • An emerald-studded ring

Casualties:

  • Jan, burnt to a crisp by Hendrik’s fireball
  • Beath & Sarah, dropped from large heights by vindictive harpies

Report:

In the lead-up to the next expedition, a man named Jan approaches the company. He claims to know the location of a remarkable magic item known as “the ring of spirits”. He says it is hidden in a laboratory on the upper floor of a part of the castle called The Maze of The Occult. He wants to join the company to go and find it, in exchange for a mere half share of any mundane treasure they find along the way.

Hendrik, for some time suspecting his wife Ronja of harboring ill intents, shadows her while invisible. He follows her to The Tap where he sees her have dealings with this Jan character, as well as other unsavory types.

The company agree to take Jan up on his offer, secretly plotting to make short work of him before he can do any harm. On the way to the castle, Hendrik fiendishly extracts directions to the lab and the ring from the none-too-bright Jan. At night, while camping in the woods, Jürg and Hendrik sneak up on the hapless brigand. Jürg lifts up his mace to cave in Jan’s head, but he wakes just in time to dodge out of the way and run for the brushes. Not missing a beat, Hendrik casts a fireball at the receding figure’s general direction and burns the brushes to a crisp along with Jan in it. Job done.

***

When they arrive at the castle Jürg first climbs down into the dried up moat near the gatehouse in search of the magic sword once left there by the late Buerghedorn, known as The Blade of Rel. With some help from Hendrik he manages to locate it and when he wields it he is able to resist its attempt at domination. Jürg being thoroughly chaotic like the blade itself, he suffers no further harm. He also has an inkling that, beyond being magical and mildly intelligent, the blade also has some other powers yet to be revealed.

They enter through the rose garden, and make their way to the stairs leading up from the storerooms area. Along the way they take a quick detour to the previously visited fountain to fill a skin with water from it.

Before heading up they can’t resist inspecting the room right next to it, which remains unexplored. It turns out to be a storage room holding the man-sized lacquered statue of a dancing girl with six arms, each holding an actual dagger. Behind a curtain they also find a closet holding a sarcophagus and four canonic jars. They take the jars, leave the rest undisturbed, and head up the stairs.

They emerge into a spacious hallway, red carpet on the floor, family portraits on the walls, and an eery female signing filling the air. Large double doors immediately catch their eye. Inspecting it, it is evidently magically locked. Glowing letters across its surface read: “Here be the laboratory of Aristide Malévol the Patrician. If you know this name, you know you have no place here; if you know it not, let this warning suffice.” Stymied, the company turns another way.

The next room reveals a room filled with awful wax figures in the image of obviously dead people. A crate of candles piques their interest and they decide to take it.

The next room holds shelves with glass bottles. Broken glass crunches underfoot. An invisible entity occasionally picks up a bottle and tosses it at a dummy in one corner. When Jürg enters the spirit takes aim at him. Not easily impressed, the company make short work of the thing with a combination of magical weapons and spells. Searching the room, the discover several bottles with high-proof alcohol. Noticing a hole in the dummy, Jürg reaches inside, cuts his fingers on a bunch of razors, and extracts a pouch of gemstones.

Heading further east, they next enter a hallway. To the south they see an ominous door with skulls and mechanical bits and an inscription that reads “THE MASTERPIECE OF DEATH”. They decide not to mess with it.

Continuing east, they bump into a dapper gentleman dressed in a nightgown who introduces himself as Vincent Godefroy-Malévol. He inquires after their purposes in the castle, they exchange some pleasantries, after which Vincent continues on his way.

They open the next door, and see a massive gallery, walls covered in torn canvases, several large nests of rags on the floor, broken windows, and the sound of flapping and eery signing coming from just outside. Having some inkling of what they might be dealing with, the company carefully head back out. They take the box of candles, and plug their ears with wax. They then set the door ever so slightly ajar, and wait…

Yikes… (Gustave Doré)

Not much later, six women with wings for arms and claws for legs flap in through the broken windows and settle in their nests. Harpies! Jürg unboxes his toy soldiers. Hendrik turns himself invisible and sneaks inside. He then throws a fireball, hitting but not killing three. The rest of the fighting force runs inside to protect their prized mobile artillery high-level magic-user. The harpies try their mesmerizing singing, but the wax makes the company impervious to the monsters’ charms. So then the harpies fly at them, and Jürg, the toy soldiers and heavy foot rush forward to engage them in melee. The toy soldiers can’t quite reach the things without standing on each others’ shoulders. At first they appear equally matched. Several harpies are cut down. But then, Beath and Sarah are both grabbed by a harpy and lifted up to great heights before being dropped back down again, instantly killing them. The fight continues, more harpies are slain, but the last remaining one manages to reach Hendrik and tries the same trick. Hendrik is unable to avoid being lifted up, the harpy flies through the broken skylight into the morning air, and lets go. Hendrik plummets to his demise from sixty feet, but somehow, miraculously, survives. The harpy, disgusted, leaves.

They toss the nests and find a torn of arm and hand in an iron gauntlet. Removing the gauntlet, they recover a ring set with an emerald. Frustrated and relieved at once, the company make their way out of the castle, and back to Tours-en-Savoy.

Referee Commentary:

A fun session as usual. Two players only, but each running a fifth level PC as well as a bunch of retainers, so still well-matched with the castle’s many dangers. The whole Jan episode was a fun bit that emerged from an ongoing storyline we mainly handle during downtime related to a wife Hendrik once picked up while carousing (thank you Mr. Rients).

It was also cool to see players circle back and revisit some previously explored sections and things, like with the blade, and the fountain. I finally have a player running a fighter with an intelligent sword in my game! So exciting.

The harpies were excellent as well. I couldn’t believe my luck when the players matter of factly stated that they were going to jump in and fight them. My simple grapple rules served me well again. With flyers it’s a lot of fun to bypass AC and do massive damage by means of falling (c.f. the fight with the pigeons from hell). I did forget about the charm on touch power they also had. In hindsight it would have been awesome to have the final harpy charm Hendrik and turn his powers against his compatriots. But the likelihood of that succeeding are very slim given the high base save and bonuses a MU has in Hackbut.

Categories
Actual Play

Castle Xyntillan – Session #28 – Aborted Boat Ride to the Shores of Death

The Company:

  • Hendrik (MU5)
  • Francesco (F5)
  • Niemir (F2)
  • Sarah & Beath (heavy footwomen)
  • Leon (porter)

Loot: None.

Casualties: None.

Report:

In the week leading up to the next expedition, Hendrik’s wife Ronja is seen in The Tap, speaking to shady characters. In addition, Amaranth has a dream in which she crosses the lake tower’s bridge and enters a great hall. Here, crusader knights are discussing their search for the Grayl of Good and Bad Destiny. The conference is presided over by Médard Malévol the Mighty.

The company rehires the same women-at-arms and porter from last time. They don’t do much of anything else while in town, and as usual make the two-day trek to Castle Xyntillan. When they arrive at they first decide to go around the perimeter and plant more of those jumping beans, because the one they planted earlier has grown to massive proportions, and has cracked open the castle wall.

After planting the beans they go into the castle through the grand entrance and head down into the wine cellar. From there, they go up north through the root cellar all the way up to the grotto with the lake shore and the bell on a pole with the sign saying “three coins for passage”.

They ring the bell. Soon enough, a skiff, with a boatsman emerges from the fog, and they patiently wait for it to arrive. When it does, the boatsman reaches out with a skeletal hand and demands three coins for each passenger headed “to the shores of death”. After a brief debate they pay him, and go into the boat (their retainers do require a bit of convincing).

The boatsman turns this skiff around and starts beaming back into the fog. As they get further away from the shore, they feel the life gradually drain from their bodies. The light in the grotto slowly dims as well. They start to get a little worried and the boatsman appears very pleased about bringing such a large number of souls to the shores of death. They realize that there might not be a return from where they are headed.

Underground lakes are kind of scary (Ernst von Hesse-Wartegg)

Francesco panicks and tries to body-check the boatsman and push him into the lake. He fails and the boatsman makes to grab his scythe. Niemir comes to Francesco’s aid and together they manage to tip the reaper into the lake. Meanwhile, Hendrik was preparing to fire off some magic missiles, but when he sees the boatsman disappear into the drink he changes his mind and cast shield on himself instead.

The boatsman isn’t defeated yet, however. He starts to climb back into the boat. Francesco has grabbed the beam and is turning the boat around. Niemir, meanwhile, raises his zweihander and chops at the reaper. He fails to prevent the thing from climbing back into the skiff. At this point Hendrik fires off his magic missiles and harms but doesn’t kill the creature.

Francesco drops the beam and takes his halberd to swipe at the reaper’s legs. He succeeds at knocking the reaper over and pushies him back into the lake, hurting it in the process, bone chips flying everywhere. A second volley of magic missile finishes the reaper off. Hendrik says “keep the change”.

It is quiet again in the lake grotto. They have this skiff and are of course very relieved to have defeated death, once again, because they did encounter several reapers before during a previous expedition in the library.

They decide to make use of the boat to explore the cave further. They continue to head west and after some time they pass through a narrow passage into a larger grotto. Here there is steam coming from the west, and they decided to hug the side of the cave and head south. Soon enough, they arrive at a shore littered with debris. They drag the boat ashore and spot an entrance to a worked stone hallway. They enter it, ignore a fork south, and go up some stairs heading west. They come across a door in the south wall, check it, and discover a somewhat puzzling small 10 by 10 room. So they continue on and after some time they arrive at a spiral staircase leading up, as well as a hallway heading north.

They decide to go up the stairway and emerge into an area of the castle which they recognize from from previous expeditions. They head down a hallway to the east and note a bricked-up doorway. The next door leads to an extremely tidy room with two more doors decorated with an infernal mural and the text “the doors of good and bad fortune”. As they explore the room reality suddenly lurches sideways and they are up to their knees in fungus and filth. A nauseating smell permeates the room. Quickly and carefully they head back out.

They backtrack, take a door to the south, and inspect a room from which they hear soft humming emerge. It turns out to be full of clean white linen hanging from lines. A strikingly hairy woman of large proportions and with intense eyes asks them what their business is. They head back out again.

Having had their fill of the castle, they exit through the rose garden and gatehouse and make their way back safely to Tours-en-Savoy.

Referee Commentary:

No loot, no casualties, and a shorter session than usual, but still a lot of fun was had. The encounter with the reaper was very cinematic. I adore my players for going “fuck it” and simply ringing that bell. I was a bit worried when they got into the boat that I hadn’t been clear enough about what they were getting themselves into. But as I built up the tension through description the realization sank in and we had a neat fight on the boat.

In general, in these kinds of situations, that’s a good strategy to follow: stretch things out. Use kind of a “three strikes” approach before dropping the hammer.

The rest of the session was simple exploration. I did not roll a single encounter when I think I did perform nearly a dozen checks. Regardless, it was cool for them to discover an entirely different route, and pass through a completely new section of the castle. Even after all these sessions the module has plenty of surprises and novelty left in store.

I wonder if they will choose to explore this part of the castle further, or if they will go for something else entirely. We will see.

Categories
Actual Play

Castle Xyntillan – Session #27 – Baker Woman Banging Heads

After a five-month hiatus, we have returned to Castle Xyntillan for a third and likely final season, which will run until we break for the Christmas holiday.

The Company:

  • Hendrik (MU5)
  • Francesco (F4)
  • Leon (porter)
  • Sarah & Beath (heavy footwomen)

Loot: Silverware (1750 GP) and 75 uncut gems (100 GP each).

Casualties: None.

Report:

We resume the action five in-game months after the last expedition. It is Monday, March 4, 1527. A new adventuring season has begun!

The company sell off some precious loot to fatten their coffers and make up for the lack of income over the past several months. The upkeep, particularly of their high-level magic-user, is nothing to sneeze at. Now that the weather is easing up, they hire a couple of likely women-at-arms named Sarah and Beath, as well as their trusty old porter Leon, and head back to the castle in search of more treasure.

***

Upon arrival they notice the dancing beanstalk they planted near the grand entrance has grown to enormous proportions. It reaches all the way up to the first floor, and its continuous bouncing back and forth has torn a crack in the castle wall large enough for a person to squeeze through. The company make use of the opportunity, seeing as how to affords them with a shortcut to the part of the castle they intend to explore further.

The crack opens onto the cleric’s room, which they plundered in a previous expedition. From here they move into the chapel, and on to a hallway leading west. The sound of drunken singing grows louder as they progress. They check the first door they find to the south, which opens on an empty room. The next door heads north and opens on a spiral staircase, and a door east. They head up the stairs and find themselves in the library, which they had also explored previously. Rather than continuing on, they head back down, and take the door east.

They find themselves in a hallway with two doors heading east again. Opening the southern most one, they see a bakery. They enter, and make to inspect the furnace, when the ghost of a bakerswoman appears, wielding a rolling pin. She is very upset at their presence, and immediately attacks. Francesco is hit and instantly knocked out. The rest run back into the hallway. Hendrik commands Sarah and Beath to go back in to rescue Francesco. They do, and the ghost meanwhile makes to attack the magic-user. He runs after the women-at-arms and takes refuge behind their swords and shields. Beath is also hit and knocked out, but Hendrik manages to eliminate the ghost with a volley of magic missile.

Like this, but dead. And angry. (Jean-François Millet)

They revive Francesco and Beath with a couple of healing potions, and proceed to search the bakery. When Francesco cautiously opens the oven door with his halberd the thing flings open, coughs out a bunch of charred human bones and bricks, and angrily snaps at the polearm. The rest of the room turns out to be empty.

They try a door leading north, which opens onto a kitchen where five ghouls dressed as cooks are carving up a human corpse with huge knives. They gingerly close the door again and manage to remain unseen. Hendrik casts invisibility on himself, slowly opens the door again, and using the element of surprise flings a fireball at the monsters. Three perish, and the remaining two run off before the company can get to them.

They search the kitchen but find nothing except a pot containing the most disgusting stew ever. Hendrik opens the door to a walk-in cupboard and is nearly decapitated by a guillotine trap. Inside they find a lot of spoiled supplies, but also a handsome amount of silverware, which they take with them.

They continue on to the next door north, which opens on a room decorated with simple tapestries with floral motifs. The room is otherwise empty, but they do find that the flagstones in one corner have been disturbed. The women-at-arms are commanded to remove the floor, which they do, uncovering churned-up earth. Somewhat concerned, they poke the soil with their weapons, hitting on wood not far down. Sarah and Beath scrape away the earth with their bare hands, revealing a casket (of course).

They decide they do not want to take the risk of opening it in here, but would rather do so outside in the sunlight. However, carrying a full casket would slow them down significantly. So, Hendrik casts haste, they pick up the casket, and make for the exit.

When they enter the kitchen, Rodento passes them by but to their relief ignores them. (They have encountered the man-sized rat dressed as a musketeer twice already.)

They speed the rest of the way out of the castle by way of the grand entrance with no trouble at all. Outside, some ways from the exit, they set the casket down on the ground and push off the lid. The bloated corpse of a woman sits up, clutching her purse in clawed hands. She tries to bite them, but they make short of her and chop her up into little pieces. The purse contains a small fortune in uncut gems. And with that, they had back to town.

Referee Commentary:

Ah Xyntillan, how delightful it is to be back exploring your shrouded hallways. We were all a little rusty after not having played a classic D&D dungeon crawl for quite some time. For example, I forgot about surprise checks at the top of encounters. But we were soon back in the rhythm of things, and despite several combat encounters, the game kept moving at a fair clip. We only covered a few rooms, but each had quite a bit going on in it, so that’s not too surprising.

The new combat sequence we’re using, which I detailed in the recent posts on our playthrough of The Coming of Sorg, continues to serve us well. As a result, the likelihood of being interrupted as a spellcaster has gone up, and so Hendrik’s player was extra keen on hiring some mercenaries to function as meatshields. Regardless, a high-level magic-user continues to be a thing to behold. Quite a bit of clever use of utility spells in this game as well. Invisibility, haste — really nice.

One trap that I fell back in to though was not communicating the presence of threats clearly enough upfront, leading to two moments that were borderline gotchas: The sudden appearance of the ghost of the bakerwoman, and the guillotine trap in the kitchen cupboard. When in doubt, I should err on the side of being super-obvious. It’s always more interesting when players dig their own hole.

Anyway, again, it’s great to be back running Castle Xyntillan and I look forward to seeing what future sessions will bring.

Categories
Actual Play

Castle Xyntillan – Session #26 – Peeping Bug

The Company:

  • Francesco (F4)
  • Hendrik (MU5)
  • Amaranth (C5)
  • Leon (porter)

Loot: Sack of magic turnips & seed bag of “Miracle Formula”.

Casualties: None!

Report:

Hendrik talks to Father Brenard about annulling his marriage to Ronja the baker’s daughter. The preacher explains to Hendrik that he will need some grounds for doing so. They’re not heretics after all. For example, if Ronja was found to be unfaithful to her spouse…

Jürg has an artisan fashion the unbreakable glass dome into an impervious helmet.

Blérot, the masked “lumberjack” who has been hiding out with the company for fear of the wrath of mysterious men from the woods, is found one day in the company’s residence amidst the wreckage of furniture. It appears he is having increasing trouble controlling his chopping urges.

When Hendrik returns to his study one morning, he discovers his writing implements and signature seal have been misplaced by someone or something.

Before departure, they read The Guidebook to Historical
Curiosities, vol. 1, which they purchased a while back. They read about “The Oracle of Saint Blakemore” which is a fountain supposedly hidden somewhere in the grottos beneath the castle. It is said that whoever drinks from it may predict the future.

They also burn a small fortune’s worth of incense in front of the reliquary, and receive a vague but truthful omen about the upcoming expedition (which, dear reader, will be revealed in the report below).

***

A small but fairly powerful expeditionary force heads to the castle for once last time before the close of this year’s adventuring season. They only bring one porter with them.

Upon arrival, they pass by the spot where the late magic-user Heinz once planted a jumping bean. It has since grown to a beanstalk of over 10 feet high, and sturdy enough to carry the weight of a man. Its ceaseless dancing has caused the wall it grows against to begin cracking and crumbling…

They continue on to the grand entrance, and drag off the body of a fallen adventurer so that it won’t be resurrected by one of the two statues flanking the door when they enter.

In the vestibule they head immediately west and in the next room they head up the stairs. When they open the door at the top of the stairs they are greeted by the stern gaze of a crusader’s bust labeled “Medard”. Amaranth steps forward and locks eyes with the holy warrior. She is overcome by divine bloodlust, and begins to repeatedly croak something resembling “deus vult!” (Amaranth has no tongue. It’s a long story.) She also instantly recalls the names of three heinous fiends that reside in the castle whom she absolutely must slay: Serpentina, Runcius, and Merlerik. The remainder of the company collectively facepalm, groan “not another quest” and continue the current mission.

They check the room to the east. It is large, contains creepy shadows shifting about, and a large cracked mirror hangs from the wall. They do not like the look of the room at all (they’ve had bad experiences with mirrors in the castle so far) and decide not to enter but in stead head the other way.

They head west into the feasting hall. When they pass the door to the stairs from which they entered, they hear insect sounds coming from behind it. They are unnerved, but decide to continue on their way regardless.

In the feasting hall they take one of the doors leading north, and enter a massive hall decorated with weaponry and a ceiling reaching to the top of the next floor. A number of headless manservants are waiting with jugs of wine on serving platters. Faint sounds of a party can be heard from the balcony on the next floor. They bluff the manservants into serving them wine. Meanwhile they survey the room and identify both a battered suit of armor and a large sword hanging over the massive unlit fireplace as magical. Francesco nervously inspects the armor more closely, and notices it has an arrow lodged in its leg. They decide against pressing on, and leave the way they came.

They head back downstairs, and from there head west. They enter stables, and again from behind them they hear insect-like chittering, which again they choose to ignore. They take their time to search the stables, and Hendrik finds a magical lucky horseshoe. Then, they hear two men in conversation, approaching from the west. They pile into one of the stables and hold their breath. In walks the liche Aristide and the ghost of a bookish fellow whom they have not met before. The ghost is asking the lich about a book he’s looking for, by one “Flamel”. Aristide absentmindedly indulges the ghost, whom he refers to as “Merton”. He suggests they go up to the library and look for the book there. The two undead leave the stables, and the company are just about to breath a sigh of relief, when outside the door they hear Aristide greet someone named Gregor. The response is the sound of chittering. With mounting dread the company hear Gregor tell Aristide about the adventurers he has been following, and Aristide agrees he will return to the stables and kick the rabble out of the castle.

The company decides to make a run for it. They burst from the stable and run for the double doors to the north. However, its hinges turn out to be rusted shut. Meanwhile, Aristide, Merton and Gregor enter the stables at a leisurely pace. Merton approaches, mumbling something about a book. Meanwhile Gregor who to their horror turns out to be an enormous bug, shambling on his hind legs, hangs back. Aristide stands and lambasts the company from a distance. Hendrik pulls out the Staff of the Woodlands, taps the double door, which warp open in response. The company hurries into the courtyard, not daring to look over their shoulders. They run for the first door they see, and are relieved to find it opens without trouble. When it slams shut they are in a nondescript corridor, and take a moment to catch their breath.

”Gregor” eh? Sure, Melan, throw in some Kafka while you’re at it (Rich Johnson)

Relieved to find they are not being followed, they head down the hallway to see where it leads. It ends at a door in front of which the floor is littered with decomposing corpses. They don’t like the looks if that and so want to turn back when from a door to the south they hear a large group of men approach. They form up a line and brace themselves for what is to come.

A large group of undead noblemen enter the hallway and accost the company, demanding to know what they’re up to. Hendrik uses his considerable charm to bullshit his way out of their predicament, and even manages to get the noblemen to point the way to the nearest exit.

They head back into the courtyard but decide to press their luck rather than leave, and head north. They enter the hallway that they know leads into the donjon to the east. In stead, they turn west.

At the next door, Hendrik has a déjà vu. He sees himself enter the next room after this doorway and battle a bunch of ghouls who are guarding a valuable treasure. Bolstered by this vision, the company opens the door and finds themselves in a hallway with three doors. They check all of them for noises, and from behind one they do indeed hear ghouls fighting over what they assume to be their meal. But they also once again hear Gregor’s familiar insectoid chittering back from where they came. They have been followed after all!

They decide Gregor needs to be dealt with, and attempt to surprise him by bashing open the door behind which they presume he is hiding. The massive bug has however anticipated their return and is at some distance from the doorway. It looks at them attentively, clicking its mandibles. Hendrik has no compassion for the thing, whips out his wand of lightning, and zaps the creature with a massive bolt. Somehow it survives, runs at the magic-user, and begins to chomp at him with its mandibles. Francesco bashes at it with his halberd, and Hendrik lets fly several magic missiles. It’s all too much for the bug to take, and it explodes in a mess of gore and chitin.

The company scrape off Gregor’s remains, and return to the room with the ghouls. A simple plan is hatched. Francesco throws open the door while standing to its side, and Hendrik and Amaranth stand at the ready some distance from it. But before they can act, the ghouls are already upon them, clawing and biting and attempting to paralyze them. Miraculously, the company manages to withstand the onslaught. Hendrik kills a number of ghouls with a blast from his wand of cold. Francesco sweeps at the monsters with his halberd. Amaranth successfully turns away the remaining undead. Hendrik lets fly a fireball at the ghouls cowering in the corner of their room, killing several more. And the whole thing is ended with that old standby: magic missile.

The company searches the room, which appears to have been the abode of a gardener. Using Detect Magic they find a sack of remarkable turnips and a large bag of seed that is labeled “Miracle Formula”.

They load the loot into a wheelbarrow and begin to make their way out of the castle. In the hallway leading to the donjon they are barely able to avoid the notice of the ghost of Roberto the judge. The remainder of the way is smooth sailing, however, and several days later they return safely to Tours-en-Savoy.

Referee Commentary:

Thus ends the last session of this second season of Castle Xyntillan. I know this is beginning to sound like a stuck record but never did I think we would get so much mileage out of this module. Every session is a surprise, and plays out different than the last.

In this one, I rolled lots of random encounters (five in total). That drove most of the action. At one point, we had one random encounter following the party (Gregor) and then, when they decided to comb the stables, I ruled it would take them three turns. I roll three d6s and what do you know? Two come up a one. So now I had to improvise at the drop of a hat Aristide and Merton somehow bumping into the party. They managed to avoid their notice but of course it was inevitable that Aristide would bump into Gregor, and Gregor would of course alert him to the presence of the adventurers. All of this emerged completely organically and was an absolute delight at the table.

The “déjà vu” moment is how we decided to handle the omen players can get from spending 200 GP on incense burnt at the reliquary. The book says to provide a vague but truthful omen. However, I don’t see how I as a referee can actually predict the future of a given session without resorting to some degree of railroading, which is anathema to how I am running this thing. So I talked to the players and suggested it would be some kind of meta currency they could spend during the session to get a hint whenever they would like to receive it. Hendrik’s player, towards the end of the session, was desperate for some treasure and it just so happened they weren’t too far removed from a room with some significant loot. So I decided to narrate that premonition. Was a bit awkward but it worked out well enough.

The treasure in question was an interesting case that by the book tries to (I think) introduce a bit of player skill in getting the most out of it, but I decided to hand wave it and simply narrate how they would use the seed to grow money plants, and how the turnips would grow to enormous size. This was the last session of the season after all, and I just wanted to hand them the GP and XP and not have those dangling as loose ends.

By golly, a fifth level magic-user is a force to be reckoned with. Especially now that they have also collected a few devastating wands. A previous encounter with a bunch of ghouls lead to a near-TPK for a much larger party. But this time around they were able to avoid surprise and get off their devastating magic before succumbing to paralysis.

I got rid of my battle mat and simply kept track of combat using dry erase tokens and index cards with Fate-style “zones” scrawled on them. It worked out fine. I’m quite pleased with these new tokens I got — they are simply 1-inch diameter circles laser cut from 3mm thick opaque white PMMA.

We are taking a break from Castle Xyntillan for a while at least. But more than one player has expressed a desire to continue their explorations, so it is unlikely we have seen the last of the abode of the Malévols. It would be interesting to continue, not in the least because of Amaranth’s newly acquired quest!

Categories
Actual Play

Castle Xyntillan – Session #25 – Arrangement of Skin

The Company:

  • Niemir (F1)
  • Francesco (F3)
  • Amaranth (C4)
  • Jürg (F5)
  • Heintz (F3)
  • Hendrik (MU5)
  • Jacinto & Leon (porters)

Loot: The Reliquary of Bygone Kings.

Casualties: None.

Report:

Hendrik’s wife Ronja appears with a will she has had drawn up that ensures the magic-user’s property and share of the company’s capital will be transferred to her in the case of his demise. She asks him to please sign it, because she is very worried about his safety and what will happen to her and her family if Hendrik is no longer there to take care of them, heaven forbid. Hendrik responds by ignoring her.

They sell a barrel of Malévol wine to a merchant who is passing through town. They also pull apart the Libram of Heinous Damnation and begin selling off the precious gemstones and metals it yields.

Hendrik buys The Guidebook to Historical Curiosities, Vol. 1 from Ben Mordechai.

Shortly before their departure, they are surprised by the return of heavy footman Bern. He is the only one of the retainers that fled during the previous expedition who has made it back safely. Bern comes to the company with news of a great discovery. While he was making his way out of the castle he came across the statue of a sightless crocodile-ape monstrosity. It came to life and told him a riddle:

“Beyond frolick and dance,
Lies the seeing gem’s rest,
Break its curse asunder,
And in baptism let it be blest.”

Bern has no idea what it means, but he’s sure it’s of interest to his former employers.

***

The company nominates Jürg as the expedition leader. They decide to revisit the menagerie where they once encountered the huntsman Hubert. Seeing as how they eliminated him a while ago, perhaps the coast is now clear for a leisurely look-see.

They enter the courtyard through the gatehouse and make their way to the parapets shielding the rose garden. They lasso a rope over the wall and one by one climb up and over. Amaranth is one of the last to go and clumsily drops from almost up the top. After dusting herself off she tries again and joins her companions without too much further trouble.

They pick their way through the rose garden, careful not to be tripped by the arms sticking out of the flowerbeds. The heady smell of the roses makes them drowsy, but they manage to enter the castle before succumbing to the vapors.

In the room beyond the entrance they are reminded of the presence of the pair of phantom horses in the hallway beyond. When they open a door to the north they confirm the presence of the things. Jürg decides he will try to use his portable hole to trap them. He waits for the creatures to pass, steps into the hallway and spreads out the hole. But in stead of it opening, the hole begins to strobe a bright white light while a low hum increases in volume. Jürg manages to grab the hole again and step out of the hallway just in time not to be trampled by the horses.

Losing their patience, Hendrik zaps the dark storm cloud horse with a magic missile. Jürg steps into the hallway to face the bright sunlight horse and is nearly run underfoot, but his bacon is saved by another magic missile from Hendrik’s finger tips.

Pleased with the idea that they’ll never be bothered by those nightmare horses again, the company advances northwards through a hallway leading to the menagerie. At its edge they observe an empty marble throne, four eyeless ape stairs holding up pillars, and a motley collection of stuffed animals staring blankly at the various entrances to the room.

Francesco approaches a stuffed centaur and makes to prod it with his halberd. The centaur animates, takes a few steps back, and takes aim with his bow at the fighter. The remaining animals also come to life and angrily approach the company.

A massive battle ensues in which Francesco and Heintz in the vanguard are quickly overwhelmed by the combined forces of a lion, boar, centaur, a giant owl, and several rabid baby deer. Jürg once again deploys his toy soldiers and the things manage to hold off the monsters in time for Heintz to retreat. Francesco however, is not so lucky and falls to tooth, claw and hoof. In the hopes of turning the tide of battle, Hendrik risks lobbing a fireball into the melee, narrowly avoiding Francesco’s body, and incinerates several of the opposition. Jürg then raises the hammer and sickle they acquired several expeditions back, and turns away the diseased bambis. This is enough for the company to press on and stuffed animal after animal falls in a cloud of sawdust and wadding. The lion is the last to be defeated, Jürg’s toy soldiers hopping on its back and gleefully stabbing it repeatedly with their tiny spears.

Oh please god no not taxidermy fawn

Francesco is revived just in time, and the company begins to explore the room. They discover the four apes can speak: “see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil, smell no evil.” When four of the companions each stands in front of a statue and take the appropriate pose, they are rewarded with strange disposable spells.

Quite pleased with themselves for solving that riddle, they next check the door leading north-east. It opens onto a display room lit by an eerie brazier fire, and containing a glass-domed pedestal holding a silver reliquary on a red velvet pillow.

When they enter, Hendrik barely manages to avoid being hypnotized by the fire and sticking his hands into the flames. Jürg tries to smack the dome with a weapon, but it does not break. He tries to pull it off, but it won’t budge. Finally, he ties a rope around it, and stands back while Hendrik casts a knock spell from a safe distance.

Jürg easily pulls away the dome, but a poisonous gas immediately fills the room, burning both the fighter’s and magic-user’s lungs. Furthermore, the ghost of a Carolingian retainer appears, who immediately makes to touch the companions standing in the doorway. They manage to avoid it, and retreat from the room.

Amaranth steps forward preaching and brandishing her holy weapon. She turns away the wraith, and backs it into a corner of the display room. Jürg and Heintz run after her into the room, grab the dome, pillow and reliquary, and make their way back out. Meanwhile Niemir takes pot shots at the phantom with his longbow but it appears to be impervious to his arrows.

Everyone begins to move to the far end of the menagerie, and Amaranth slowly backs out of the display room. Francesco shuts the door before the wraith can follow, and Hendrik casts a wizard lock onto it. Then, the whole company turns and runs like bats out of hell.

They make it out of the castle without further issue, and two days later return to Tours-en-Savoy. Here, they have the reliquary inspected and learn several remarkable things about it. Jürg and Amaranth also go carousing. Jürg returns with a tattoo (again). It is Chinese script which Jürg insists is some bad-ass proverb. The Chinese know better…

Referee Commentary:

Our penultimate session of this season saw almost all of the active player-characters join the expedition. As a result, this referee was sweating a little to keep the whole affair from not going entirely off the rails. But the copious practice I’ve been getting is serving me well.

The big fight with the stuffed animals was challenging to run because all the monsters had different abilities and I had to try and get the most out of each while keeping the fight moving in the mean time. It went well enough, but it did once again make me reevaluate how I handle movement and positioning in our pseudo-theatre of the mind setup. I think next time I am going to try and go a little bit looser again, and possibly bring in Fate-style zones.

The hammer and sickle is a magic item the players recovered several sessions back, and have been aching to make use of. Here we had the corner case of stuffed animals: do those count as animated objects? I ended up rolling for it, and the players lucked out. However, Jürg’s player rolled kind of badly on his turn check, and so only the bambis were turned.

Finally, we had the stand-off with the reliquary wraith, which made for a suitably tense final scene. (Players literally told me so when we ended the session. I felt so proud I managed that.) Running turned undead is always challenging. I mainly use the guidelines described by Philotomy for it. But still, it really takes a lot of judgement to decide if an undead can escape from being cornered, for example. I erred in the players’ favor, and I don’t regret doing so.

One more session to go before we end the season and possibly the campaign. Although several players have expressed they are keen to keep exploring the castle. I myself am not tired of running the module either. It would be awesome if at some point the players will crack the castle’s central puzzle. Maybe in season 3? But first, this season’s finale. And then, a short break.