Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Castle Xyntillan Session 24: The Grimmest Gardens

 In the last session, the party reconvened with their paladin ally, located their ghostly butler friend, cleared several rooms of enemies, and recovered one of the Malevol heirlooms, the Staff of the Merovings. Even better, they have a solid lead on the Grayl Chamber! Will they bug out with what they already have, or risk digging further into the castle? What treasure awaits discovery? All this and more in this week's session of Castle Xyntillan!

The Party

Longo Lightfoot, Halfling Thief, wears a sky-blue headscarf. Played by CaptainSabatini.
Corby the Joyful, Human Cleric of Sucellus, wears a short, conical hat. Played by diregrizzlybear.
Idred the Most Omniscient, Human MU, wears a full-visored greathelm. Played by David Perry.
Boroth Swinney the Joyous, Human Fighter, wears a masked helm depicting a happy human face. Played by Justin Hamilton.
Francois, Light Footman, noticeably dogless. 
Hubert, Heavy Footman.
Gwynefa, Arbalist.
Emil, Lightbearer, strange obsession with some Malevols.
Karo, Arbalist.
Allan, Arbalist, claims to know a great secret, pursues a Malevol for past crimes.
Clovis, Heavy Footman.
Eric, Light Footman and cart driver.
Oscar, Arbalist of unusual strength
LaBeouf, Camp Cook.
Raymond, Mule.

Casualties
None

Loot
Ballroom Guestbook
12 landscape paintings, lightly damaged, 3000gp
'The Nightingale', by Angelo B, 2500gp
Silver horn, 270gp

The Game
  • Concluding their inspection of the throne room, the party pressed their ears to the northern doors, and heard the music and steps of a dance beyond. They opened up, and found a great ballroom filled with the shades of the dead, dancing to an unseen orchestra.
Idred: Ever danced, Boroth?
Boroth: No, I remain resolute.
  • Boroth ran across the dance floor, almost losing himself as the shades of ghostly women reached out to dance with him, but he returned unscathed.
Longo: You can dance if you want to.
Corby: You can leave your friends behind.
Boroth: I don't dance! But you're making me!
Longo: That was peer pressure. You lost.
  • Longo joined him on the floor, similarly resisting. The pair picked a nearby door with smoke curling from below it, and found a comfortable sitting room, bedecked with plush couches, lovely landscape paintings, and a hookah swirling with glowing blue smoke.
JMW Turner. Can you tell where my artistic tastes lie?
  • They called the rest of the party out to join them, but while the other PCs made it across the floor fine, almost all their hirelings were caught up in the manic dancing. Before their hirelings could be lost forever, the PCs shoved candle wax in their ears, blocking out the orchestra. 
  • In the sitting room, the party took a breather, while some of their more adventurous members took a breath of the hookah.
Longo: Old halfling proverb: Yolo.
Idred: This is no mundane herb.
  • The smoke put those who breathed it right to sleep, though they awoke later rested and unharmed. Upon finishing their rest, the party got to plundering the paintings. The option of cutting them out of their frames came up, but to minimize damage, they took the slower route of dismantling the frames.
  • The western door was locked, and instead of trying to unlock it, Boroth tried to knock it off its hinges. And failed, jamming it. The unholy racket attracted another family member, Odile Malevol, who shouted at and harangued the party from the other side of the door, demanding that they leave her castle at once. The party jammed the door even more and fled the scene.
  • Further north, the party found themselves in a music room, the shades of artists past appearing and disappearing before decrepit instruments. Idred picked up the sheet music strewn about the floor, labeled 'The Nightingale', by Angelo B, and organized the manuscripts while the rest of the party poked about the instruments.
  • Returning to the ballroom with wax ready, they located a lounge, replete with more family portraits and a ghostly valet. The party conversed with the paintings, which including getting a bucket of paint thrown on Idred's lovely robes by Bartholomew, almost getting pickpocketed by and receiving the autobiography of Jean-Jacques Malevol, and fielding desperate marriage proposals from the lovely widow Morella Malevol. The valet had to restrain the party from ruining the lounge at several points.
Longo: Hey Corby, how long until you can resurrect Herman? We're overdue for another wedding.
  • Continuing their journey, the party entered a glass-domed greenhouse, part of a larger indoor garden they had previously seen from the tower.

Idred: Maybe I should have a greenhouse in my tower.
  • They explored the gardens, which just seemed to keep on going.
Longo: Wanna do the special?
Idred: Am I missing a reference?
Longo: Yeah, Session 1. Burn it all down.

*discussing Aurora Malevol in the tower*
Longo: (in a Bane voice) If we let her out, it would be very painful... for you.
  • The party located a silver horn, held by a desiccated corpse, which on closer inspection was filled with spiders. Longo held it over a torch and burned the bugs and their webs away. Down a corridor, they found a human skull on a pedestal, overgrown with a pulsating black fungus. Longo approached, and it spoke into his mind. The party incinerated the skull with oil.
Skull: Grow, grow and consume, feed!
Longo: I'm as tall as I'll get!
  •  This finally led them to a gardening shed, and they were attacked by a pair of animated gardening shears. I didn't last long, even without the hammer and sickle. The party located a door which connected back to the boulder alley they had passed through so long ago, but decided against traveling in that direction.
Longo: What's the plan if we find The Beast gardening here?
Idred: Cordially greet him?
Corby: The Beast probably isn't Jason Voorhees to us anymore.
GM: *laughs in knowledge of statblocks*

CHEWIE NO!
  • The session ended there, with the party still doing well on resources. Where will they go next? Will they try to locate the Holy Grayl? What challenge waits around the corner? Find out in next week's session of Castle Xyntillan!
Takeaways

The party has observed that dungeoneering is effectively a 9-5 job for them. They've always entered the castle in the morning and left no later than 5 in the afternoon, and with the early summer weather, they're not running out of sunshine. Still, with so many resources left, this may be the longest expedition yet.

After getting drained two sessions ago, Boroth has already regained his lost level! It's been a whirlwind ride, with some of the densest loot they've found yet. The party is approaching the zenith of their power, with two sixth-level and two fifth-level characters.

The encounter with Odile Malevol was serendipitous: it was the result of a random encounter roll for jamming the door loudly, but the encounter they rolled was a family member which is actually keyed very close by! Fun little coincidence.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Castle Xyntillan Session 23: A Thief Takes the Throne

In the last session, the party plundered the rooms of the vampire Countess Maltricia, encountered and slew her husband, and suffered a level drain! Will they be able to get away from Maltricia? Will they hunt down the remaining vampires? All this and more in this week's session of Castle Xyntillan!

The Party

Longo Lightfoot, Halfling Thief, wears a sky-blue headscarf. Played by CaptainSabatini.
Corby the Joyful, Human Cleric of Sucellus, wears a short, conical hat. Played by diregrizzlybear.
Idred the Most Omniscient, Human MU, wears a full-visored greathelm. Played by David Perry.
Boroth Swinney the Joyous, Human Fighter, wears a masked helm depicting a happy human face. Played by Justin Hamilton.
Francois, Light Footman, noticeably dogless. 
Rodolfo, Heavy Footman, running from a warrant in town.
Hubert, Heavy Footman.
Gwynefa, Arbalist.
Emil, Lightbearer, strange obsession with some Malevols.
Karo, Arbalist.
Allan, Arbalist, claims to know a great secret, pursues a Malevol for past crimes.
Clovis, Heavy Footman.
Eric, Light Footman and cart driver.
Oscar, Arbalist of unusual strength
LaBeouf, Camp Cook.
Raymond, Mule.

Casualties
None

Loot
Solar medallion, 450gp
500gp
Silver snuffbox, 650gp
Staff of the Merovings, 5000gp

The Game
  • While securing the Count's apartments, the party discovered a procession of undead ladies and their servants, watching a skeleton in ragged courtly garb painting a surreal mural on the wall outside. After a brief vote, they approached the group.
  • They were instantly reviled by the fashionable skeleton, who identified himself as Bartholomew Goncourt-Malevol, for their utterly gauche fashion sense.
Idred: *looking down at his regal robes* Even me?
Longo: *looking down at his bondage gear* Even me?
GM: Especially you.

*spooky painting stops*
  • The party got thoroughly cussed out to the tuts of the undead ladies, and slunk away before the manservants got violent. Stuck for the moment in the Count's study, Longo clambered up the shaft of the fireplace to the next floor. The room above was messily done in blacks and reds, and the portrait of a stern executioner bore down on the halfling with a psychic pressure.
  • Longo pulled through, and before inviting the rest of the party up, covered the portrait with his tarp, eliminating the pressure. With no danger immediately visible, the party joined him and explored the room. Idred picked up yet another tome of eldritch magic, The Dancing Plague, and the party discovered a pair of skeletons slumped over a table, tarot cards scattered about.
Longo: Is it a deck that might have many things in it?
Boroth: So it would seem.
  • When they updated their map, the dimension of the room seemed off, so they checked about for secret doors, and found one... leading directly into a corridor filled with corpses. On the other end of the corridor, they saw another hidden door, and heard both snoring and the sharpening of blades beyond. They resolved to see what was on the other side.
Idred: Are you sure you want to check Longo? It means crawling through corpses.
Longo: That's like a Saturday to me.
  • On the other side were several clergy, one taking a rest, and a figure in full plate armor: Brother Michel! And the room was Angela's suite!
Boroth: We might have brought a paladin here.
Corby: I swear we're not responsible for these corpses!
  • Michel's party jumped as the door slid open, and Michel's assistant, Brother Murk, called a spell to his lips with frightful speed, but Michel calmed them down. The two groups spent a time catching up. The party's warning that Angela was likely a succubus turned out to be wholly correct, and though the paladin's expedition drove her out of the castle, they failed to slay her before she returned to the inferno. Michel congratulated the party on their destruction of the vampire, and encouraged them to keep at it.
  • Saying their farewells to Michel, the party decided to investigate the closet from which they had heard humming on a previous expedition. They burst the door open, and inside was James, the ghostly butler. 
  • He was squatting in front of a giant pile of varicolored sand, which was flanked by several smaller piles. He informed the party that, since the wedding, Maltricia had ordered him to sift the sand into various piles, and he was nearly halfway done!
Longo: Wait, you're incorporeal, how are you moving the sand?
James: Slowly.
  • Idred in particular wanted to figure out a way to get James off the job, but they didn't want to try anything too risky, so they left him in the closet with a promise to visit soon.
  • Throughout the whole ordeal, Boroth's vamp-sense had been screaming at him. He sensed one of the castle's remaining three vampires very close, just to the south. It hadn't moved in all that time, so they were confident it wasn't Maltricia, and James said that the apartments south belonged to Philomene Malevol.
Longo: I'm in no rush to stab Fiona... Felicity... Felimine, whatever.
  • Next on the party's to-do list was the grey, aspic-like ooze which they had bypassed by way of the chimney earlier. Knowing that these creatures were often resistant to magic, but not knowing what it was resistant to, Idred popped open the door and blindly fired the Wand of Cold inside.
  • The whole room got covered in frost, but the grey ooze seemed totally unaffected. They shut the door again. Boroth went in next with a polearm to slice a piece of the ooze off for experimentation. Unfortunately, he slipped on a patch of ice, drove the halberd straight into the floorboards and got burned by the ooze's acidic touch as he ran away.
  • Plan C, as it turned out, was to pull out crossbows, slings and darts, and let the ooze out of the room while the party peppered it from afar. Despite some close calls, this one worked, and the grey ooze fell apart under light crossbow fire. Inside the ooze was a golden solar medallion, which Idred made sure to pick up once the acidic remains of the ooze stopped sizzling.
  • But coming up the stairs behind the party came a drunken chorus of WOOOOOOOO! Six men, five of them berserkers and one a grizzled Malevol in campaigning armor with a sack of gold slung over his shoulder.
  • The Malevol fixated on the sun medallion, and offered to not beat up Idred in exchange for it. This did not go over well.
  • The two parties clashed on the open ground, and two of the berserkers fell to the ground before Idred put the remaining enemies to sleep. They recovered a great big sack of gold from the Malevol's body, and went down the stairs to their next objective.
Longo: Dammit! I should have asked him where he gets his veggies!
  • The party's map still left a chunk of the castle in the southeast unexplored, with no obvious way to access it. The party systematically checked the walls in the area for secret passages, but found none. They were interrupted in the course of their search by Medard, appearing before them for the first time in his full, ghostly form, rather than as a talking bust. 
  • He congratulated the party on their achievements thus far, and gave Boroth a hard pat on the back, which healed some of his wounds. Medard told the party that the soldier they had just killed was Patrice Desjardin-Malevol.
  • Going up another chimney, Longo popped his head into a darkened storeroom filled with magician's equipment, and a dozen undead ladies crowded around a glowing crystal ball conducting a seance.
Longo: Corby, can you turn up a chimney? We have undead witches.
Corby: Are they friendly?
  • Not wanting to tangle with witches, the party headed north to clear out the prisons and the skeletons within. Their standard operating procedure for room-clearing was well-practiced by this point: use the door as a chokepoint, move injured fighters into back rows, have the cleric turn the skeletons to dust. 
  • Unfortunately, the skeletons in this room turned out to be better armed than their counterparts outside, and their halberds made for a greater threat. Clovis went down to 0hp, but was dragged from the front row and revived with a potion seconds later.
  • Soon enough, however, the last of the skeletons fell. The party made sure to loot a few more polearms for their hirelings, and took a silver snuff box off the corpse of a young noble. With the security forces gone, the party made a more thorough exploration of the prison, finding no current prisoners and a strange fountain at the end of the hall. Nobody was willing to drink.
Idred: Why did we lose Herman?
Boroth: Some say you can still hear him oinking on the wind, those moonless nights. And by 'some' I mean me. Right now.
  • Beyond the prison, where the party had never ventured before, they found a massive throne room. They felt threatened by the suits of armor flanking the throne, but a scan showed no threat from them. It also revealed a magic source within the throne.
  • They got closer to investigate, but were ambushed by a swarm of animated hands, and Boroth nearly got slammed to the ground, but the party prevailed in the end. They dismantled the throne, and recovered a silver staff, topped with a ball and cross. As soon as Idred picked it up, a pulse of power went through him, and he felt a directional pull like a location spell, down and north-north-west.

Idred: Guys, I think I know where the Grayl is.
  • Longo sat in the dismantled throne, and discovered a hidden button, which lowered the throne into the dungeon below.

Takeaways

The party, through a combination of luck, prudence and not dying, has managed to reach the upper level range of the adventure. Two of the party members are 6th level as of this session! No wonder then that the campaign is narrowing towards the greatest treasure in the castle.

Many of the random encounters are no longer serious threats, assuming they don't catch the party by surprise. They're resource taxes for the most part, and by this point the party still has plenty of supplies to go before they'll have to go on back. In general, the limiting factor on the length of an expedition is how long it takes to discover a treasure horde too heavy to carry around.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Castle Xyntillan Session 22: Lair of the Vampire Countess

In the last session, the party dealt with business in town, foiled Angela's strange plot and returned to castle Xyntillan. There, they took their time clearing out the areas which had given them trouble early on in their careers. Still high on supplies, where will they go next? What challenges still remain, and what treasure do they hold? All this and more in this week's session of Castle Xyntillan!

The Party

Longo Lightfoot, Halfling Thief, wears a sky-blue headscarf. Played by CaptainSabatini.
Corby the Joyful, Human Cleric of Sucellus, wears a short, conical hat. Played by diregrizzlybear.
Idred the Most Omniscient, Human MU, wears a full-visored greathelm. Played by David Perry.
Boroth Swinney the Joyous, Human Fighter, wears a masked helm depicting a happy human face. Played by Justin Hamilton.
Francois, Light Footman, noticeably dogless. 
Rodolfo, Heavy Footman, running from a warrant in town.
Hubert, Heavy Footman.
Gwynefa, Arbalist.
Emil, Lightbearer, strange obsession with some Malevols.
Karo, Arbalist.
Allan, Arbalist, claims to know a great secret, pursues a Malevol for past crimes.
Clovis, Heavy Footman.
Eric, Light Footman and cart driver.
Oscar, Arbalist of unusual strength
LaBeouf, Camp Cook.
Raymond, Mule.

Casualties
None

Loot
Crystalline teeth, 1800gp
Iron-linked heart necklace, unidentified
Various precious stones, 6000gp
Eldritch manual
Billowing cloak
Golden heart-ruby brooch, 6000gp
Diamond spider ring, 4500gp
Fine goblets, 240gp
4 bottles Gran Roulette Reserve brandy, unidentified

The Game
  • Fresh from their earlier successes, the party finally got up the courage to explore one room they were always to scared to try: the lair of Countess Maltricia, the vampiress. This was the same room that Giacomo had gotten captured and drained trying to infiltrate, weeks before the party even arrived on scene. Needless to say, it loomed large in the party's imagination. With Boroth's ability to sense the presence of vampires, however, they were confident in their ability to avoid her.
  • The door to her room was secured with an iron lock shaped like a bat. Instead of trying to pick it, Idred cast Knock, which set the lock going through a series of mechanical motions and triggered a trap, with the party safely out of the way.
This week in punny imitations
  • It opened into an opulent bedroom decked in silks and satin, which the party set about carefully plundering. A rolled up carpet contained a chewed-up body with crystalline teeth, the dresser was full of moldy dresses inlaid with gems, and the cabinet contained a seemingly magical necklace. Corby took the corpse's head for... unclear reasons. Her coffin, however was empty. In a side room filled with crumbling books, Idred located another eldritch manual, which he pocketed.
  • Turning the bust on the fireplace opened a secret door to the outside, overlooking the precipice above the lake.
Idred: Is this her landing strip or something?
  • They already knew about the balcony connecting the vampires' suites, and Boroth's vamp-sense indicated that Count Giscard, Maltricia's husband, was inside. Given how afraid they were of running into the Countess, they wouldn't risk it with another vampire, right?
  • Wrong.
  • The party took a deep breath and burst open the door. Sunlight poured in, revealing a bedroom done in black and red, with a pale, imperious figure at his desk. Count Giscard Malevol. 
  • Who, as it happened, took umbrage with random murder-hobos busting into his room at all hours. He transformed into mist when the party lifted their sunstones, and disappeared under another door. But before the party could congratulate himself, a half-dozen wolves appeared, crawling out from under the bed and desk, from between seams in the walls, and charged. The party retreated back onto the balcony, and while the wolves scratched and barked at the door, they could not open it.
  • Not expecting the vampire to appear in sunlight, they took a breather, during which the wolves quieted down. Their rest was interrupted, however, by a ten-foot-long python dropping from the floor above.
  • This was Meandering Malevol, Serpentina's pet snake, which moaned and complained ceaselessly, about the stones it had eaten, about the decrepitude of the family, and about how the characters were all douchebags. 
GM: It's clear the python could swallow a smaller party member whole.
Boroth: We'll keep that in our back pockets as leverage against Longo.
  • It made no secret of its immense dislike for them, but did not attack, so the party listened patiently. In the end, it expressed gratitude to the party for listening (which depressed it even further) and informed the party about a secret passage by which they might find Adelaide's room. 
  • Meandering disappeared, and the party resolved to return through Maltricia's room and investigate the prison area to the north.
Idred: We want to zeitgeist - no, blitzkrieg, the skeletons.
  • However, the party got outmaneuvered; the wolves had moved around and ambushed the party as they exited! The party retreated to the chokepoint at the door and fended off the wolf attack for several rounds. Giscard was present in mist form, but didn't interfere; he seemed to just be watching, not taking damage from the sunstone in that form. When the party dispatched the last wolf, he took corporeal form again.
Count Giscard: I really cannot stand to fight commoners. I don't suppose there's some arrangement wherein you give yourselves a good stabbing and carry your dead back to your hovels?
Party: No.
  • The party brought everything it had to bear against the creature. It attempted to hypnotize Boroth, but he managed to resist its control. The battle would likely have taken many casualties, if not for one fact. In town, Idred had identified the wand he found in the last expedition. It was a fully charged Greater Wand of Cold. 
That'll do it
  • He bore down on the vampire with a 6d6 Cone of Cold, ripping through its hit points. It was then that the vampire started fighting for real, but the action economy was against it. It was defeated in the second round, when it transformed again into mist and drifted in the direction of its coffin. Idred once again used the wand, freezing the mist in the air into a humanoid shape and arresting the vampire's escape.
  • Thus began a brief debate about how to permanently kill a vampire. The decided method was everything. They sawed through the ice to remove the head, chiseled a stake through its heart, filled the mouth with holy water, and tossed the whole thing into the sunlight. This turned out to be effective.
  • The vampire's body crumbled to dust, and they looted his clothes. Of note was a fashionable black cloak, a very valuable gold-ruby brooch, and a diamond ring with tiny spiders crawling around inside the diamond. Along with Maltricia's jewelry, this was the most valuable haul the party had ever recovered. 
  • They supplemented this with a pillage of his old room, recovering four bottles of fine Gran Roulette Reserve brandy from his liquor cabinet.
  • But they were in for another nasty surprise. Jean-Luc Malevol, the pirate ghost, appeared from the shadows and yelled 'En garde!' as it attacked the party, raving about how they would never find his treasure. They chose not to turn it this time, but instead to stand and fight. They managed to defeat it handily, but not before Boroth got struck by the shade, and got drained!
  • Recovering from that encounter, they explored the Count's study, which featured various pieces of floating furniture. They turned the furniture using the hammer and sickle, and they fell back to the ground. Ghostly energies floated around an alembic, which resolved into the visage of an elderly man. This turned out to be the ghost of the master alchemist Girolamo Bartoldi, who was shocked to learn someone had slain the Count.
  • Before the party could ask any questions of him, however, they heard the sound of a dozen pairs of feet coming down the corridor. Popping out to take a look, they saw a procession of undead ladies, attended by headless manservants, and at their head a skeleton in bohemian clothing painting a mural on the dungeon wall.
  • And that was where the session ended. What will be the repercussions for killing the Count? Who is this auteur skeleton? Will they get even richer this expedition? Find out in next week's session of Castle Xyntillan!
Takeaways

I didn't play Count Giscard very effectively in combat, and I'm pretty sure that's the right way to do it. The Count refused to directly fight the party until his proxies had been overwhelmed, and didn't take them seriously as a threat until they pulled out high-powered magic. By that point, it was too late. One vamp down, three to go! Maltricia will not go down as easily.

Boroth lost a level, going back down to 4th, making him the lowest level member of the party. Luckily, the HUGE loot from this session alone got him more than halfway to 5th level again, and with luck he might regain his former vitality before leaving the dungeon!

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

OSR Animal Retainer Classes: Hunting Dogs and Seer Cats

I love the idea of more parties using animals in the dungeon. One memorable hireling in my Castle Xyntillan campaign started with a hunting dog companion, which served well until its gruesome demise. In that spirit, I've written up a couple new hireling types, Hunting Dogs and Seer Cats. 

Hunting Dog

Hunting Dogs are bred and trained from birth to follow the orders of their handlers and viciously attack their quarries. They are most effective against ordinary humans or small and weak monsters, such as goblins, which they can pin to the ground and immobilize. Hunting Dogs begin with a +1 to Morale in addition to regular Morale scores.

Hunting Dogs may also advance as Thieves up to 3rd level, gaining a HD and a point to AC each time. To do so, they must be granted a half-share of loot and have those funds directed toward their training.

Hunting Dog
HD 1; HP 5; AC 7 [12]; Atk +1 bite 1d6; Spec pin creature of 1HD or below; AL N.


Seer Cat

Seer Cats are rare creatures born to ordinary housecats, distinguished by an auspicious birthmark like a crescent-moon patch of fur or chimeric eyes. They are non-combatants, but may be brought into the dungeon to seek out secret doors and guard against invisible threats. Seer Cats begin with a -1 to Morale in addition to regular Morale scores.

Seer Cats are not hired or bought; they approach adventuring parties of their own accord, and the appearance of one is considered a lucky sign. They require a half-share of loot to join a party.

Seer Cat
HD 0; HP 3; AC 8 [11]; Atk +0 scratch 1; Spec find secret doors 4 in 6, see invisible; AL N. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Castle Xyntillan Session 21: A Walk Down Memory Corridor

In the last session, the party evaded the hunter and his pack, explored the donjon tower, defeated the Pigeons from Hell, ransacked their lair, negotiated with ninja auditors, had a heart-to-heart with Adelaide Malevol, and made it back to town with a massive haul. What was the deal with the weird bird? What will the enemy party do next? All this and more in this week's session of Castle Xyntillan!

The Party

Longo Lightfoot, Halfling Thief, wears a sky-blue headscarf. Played by CaptainSabatini.
Corby the Joyful, Human Cleric of Sucellus, wears a short, conical hat. Played by diregrizzlybear.
Idred the Most Omniscient, Human MU, wears a full-visored greathelm. Played by David Perry.
Boroth Swinney the Joyous, Human Fighter, wears a masked helm depicting a happy human face. Played by Justin Hamilton.
Francois, Light Footman, noticeably dogless. 
Rodolfo, Heavy Footman, running from a warrant in town.
Hubert, Heavy Footman.
Gwynefa, Arbalist.
Emil, Lightbearer, strange obsession with some Malevols.
Karo, Arbalist.
Allan, Arbalist, claims to know a great secret, pursues a Malevol for past crimes.
Clovis, Heavy Footman.
Eric, Light Footman and cart driver.
Oscar, Arbalist of unusual strength
LaBeouf, Camp Cook.
Raymond, Mule.

Casualties
None

Loot
Pearls, 640gp
Executioner's leathers +1

The Game
  • Returning to Tours-en-Savoy laden with loot, the party gets to work offloading it. Most of it is no trouble, except for the golden urns, which scare off potential buyers on account of the whispering voices within. Until a future time when they can safely exorcise the mummies they think are inside, the party wrapped the urns in chains and left them submerged in a river outside town.
Longo: Corby, can you magic up a way for us to find this place again?
Corby: Yeah, I'll take some paper and a magic pen and make a map.
Boroth: I wish I had access to this sorcery called literacy.
  • Over the course of the next week, they partied hard, and got a response from the auditors; the meeting with the enemy party was set a fortnight away. They also got woken up one morning by Murk, the assistant to Brother Michel, who was in quite a frenzy.
  • The inquisitor had just fallen sick, which Murk immediately attributed to the party's meddling in the castle, and demanded that they come and undo the damage they caused. The party obliged, and visited Brother Michel in the cloister, where he seemed to have a terrible flu.
Boroth: Looks like we have to exorcise a flu spirit from a monk.
Longo: I've been doing spirits all week and I'm fine.

BEGONE, THOTH!
  • After messing around and hiring a barber-surgeon, they manage to extract an object stuck in the inquisitor's throat; a small, blue songbird, the same one that crawled from Herman's throat in the castle! 
  • Longo caught the creature in a sack, and Brother Michel begins to improve immediately. They leave his full recovery in the hands of the nuns, and purchase an iron cage from Mordechai to hold the bird. They then began the arduous process of interrogating the bird. Intimidation attempts failed, and it played dumb until Corby cast Speak with Animals, then it dropped the charade. The bird was being controlled by Angela from the castle, who castigated the party for not following her instructions earlier. They come to a mutual understanding, and they let the bird go.
  • Reuniting with Brother Michel before resuming their week of debauchery, they followed Angela's instructions by telling him to visit her in the castle. They gave him a section of the map, and warned him that she might be a succubus. He seemed glad for the information, though the notion of fighting a succubus didn't seem to faze him.
Corby: We need some more potions. Our wizard's been drinking them like they're free.
  • Luckily, Jacques's shop had just gotten a shipment in, and the party picked up both a potion of healing and a potion of giant strength from him.
  • They recruited a new hireling, Oscar, an unusually strong arbalist, before returning promptly to the dungeon. After discussing their next move, and promising to kill Tristano Malevol on their way out, the party got along to clearing out some areas of the castle from their very first expedition.
  • A door with the sound of scuttling behind it, spiked shut since their first expedition, was finally beaten down. The party ended up face to face with a swarm of spiders, which they responded to by throwing flaming oil into the room, closing the door, then returning a few round slater to clean up the remnants. Amidst the rubble, decay and webs, they found a cluster of quite valuable pearls.
  • Next on the chopping block was the room of partying skeletons that gave them a fright once. They went in like professionals, blasting undead to bits with turnings, arbalist volleys and blades. Two dozen skeletons fell within short order.
Like we rehearsed, attack two at a time and make it look real
  • The next order of business was to take down the undead monks in the nearby chapel. It as much as they had left it, decrepit and broken down, but the monks arrived from a side room before their ambush was complete, still, they went down fast. The party kept one of the monks 'alive' and sought to get some information out of him. Asked where he kept the good wine, the last monk nervously pointed them down, to the great underground lake. He gave them a bell from his robe, and insisted that ringing it would cause the guardian of the wine to bring it up to them. The party then let him run off, but Corby dusted him from behind.
  • Subsequently, they explored the side rooms, which were lavishly decorated for the monks' revelries, and concealed a secret passage down to the basement level, behind one of the gargoyles.
  • The next region of the map to shore up was the area near Maltricia's lair. They tracked down the apartments of a butler, which held the instruments of a stranger form of revelry yet.
Longo: Corby, do they use these in your debauchery rituals?
Corby: I think these guys party harder than I do.
  • Among the equipment there was an executioner's leathers, hood and all, which Longo tried on. To his surprise, they fit, and even better than his regular armor.
Corby: Is our halfling in bondage gear now?
GM: Yes.
Boroth: So are we leading you on a leash, or...
  • Whilst trying it on, they were interrupted by a wheezing skeleton with a feather duster, which opened the door, froze, slowly closed it again, and could be heard running away as fast as its calcified legs could carry it.
Takeaways

This session was somewhat less eventful than normal, and a lot of it was the party closing gaps in their knowledge and getting revenge on some early encounters that made them run away. I suppose it was cathartic to bring the smackdown on the enemies which in times past intimidated them.

That last encounter was a random one, just a single skeleton with low hit points. Not a threat, and not something that would reasonably attack the party either, so I used it for a little comedic moment.

I'm not entirely happy with how I handled the town section this time around. I had a few events lined up and preempted some challenges the party might have with selling the urns, though I didn't anticipate their solution. The sick inquisitor part felt a bit forced, as did the interrogation of the bird. Granted, it was the party's idea to do so, but I just felt like the way I set up the situation was too constricting.

Friday, October 2, 2020

An OSR Underwater Setting: Re-Examining Point Nemo

Earlier this year, I made a handful of posts writing rules for an underwater campaign setting, Point Nemo, which Anne of DIYandDragons has helpfully looked over. The last mention of the setting on the blog was over six months ago, when I announced a playtest and a roadmap for the product, and talked about getting the zine out by Q3 2020.

Which given current circumstances is more than a bit embarrassing. That playtest never got off the ground, and looking back on it now I can say that it wasn't very well thought out. I had rules, but barely any content with which to playtest them. In addition, the whole thing was GLOG-based, which limited the possible pool of participants of the playtest, and which would limit the end product as well.

Add to all that the fact that I have never before published a product, or made a competent dungeon. In retrospect, the zine was much further outside my abilities than I had thought. Ignorance is bliss.

Phobia by Flora Silve

Point Nemo is still around, and I fully expect to one day publish it, but it will not be soon. I figure I need to publish a decent product, something simple like a dungeon, before moving on to creating settings and rules. 

I also plan to update the draft rules for use with OSE/S&W rather than GLOG. They're mostly the same, except that GLOG has a big focus on attribute tests, which really don't show up elsewhere.

In the meantime, I want to take a moment to more thoroughly describe what a Point Nemo setting/campaign would look like, which I don't think I ever really pinned down.

The Setting

Point Nemo is set in the ocean of your preferred fantasy world. Earth-similarity is assumed as a starting point, since the ocean is weird enough before involving magic or monsters. 

It's not a setting which requires a long and involved history with a mountain of proper nouns. Rather, it's a collection of assumptions which can be safely made of a great number of fantasy worlds, and into which world-specific material can be readily reflavored or added. It contains mundane elements like pressure sickness, sharks and shipwrecks, but also more fantastic elements, such as zombie submariners, narcospecters and sea-bottom artificial environments. Since the great majority of published fantasy worlds, as well as those played every day at the table, don't prescribe much detail about their oceans, the material in Point Nemo may be quickly adapted by modifying the relevant fantastical elements and adding those implied by the world, such as Triton civilizations or Deep One temples.

This approach has its limits, of course. If you're playing in Arnold K's Centerra, and Arnold has decided that the deep oceans there are coated in sentient enchanted mercury, the zine's material likely won't be of too much use.

But so long as your world doesn't go to those lengths, the level of tolerance should be quite high. Whether you're looking at Age of Sail high piracy, Victorian steam(ship)-punk, Lovecraftian adventures beneath the waves, or something even wackier, Point Nemo should be able to fill in your setting's oceans quite well.

The Campaign

What would an adventure or campaign played using Point Nemo look like?

I intend for the end product to include a decently sized (and playtested) adventure, mixing wilderness and dungeon exploration. Exploration of the unusual features of the sea bottom, whether shared with our world or unique to yours, is the draw. Point- or hexcrawling along the ocean bottom is a unique proposition, with its own considerations for spotting landmarks and locations of interest.

A self-contained adventure would include a wilderness environment, with a dungeon or three hidden among the locations, and a variety of objectives scattered about. Relatively simple, applying a preexisting wilderness structure to the undersea environment.

A full underwater campaign, however, in which the vast majority of game time took place underwater with the expectation of long term play, would involve a different dynamic. Rather than exploring a set area, the campaign dynamic would focus on depth. Going deeper into the ocean requires greatly expanded equipment or abilities, and operating under conditions at deeper and deeper ocean levels is increasingly wearying. The various levels of the sea are analogous to levels of a thickly sliced dungeon, where even accessing the lower levels for more than a few turns is a major proposition. 

Starting from an island or coastal town, and/or a mobile base such as a boat, the progression would involve gradually exploring from the shallows on down, assessing the treasures to be found deeper, and setting up progressively more advanced forward bases underwater. Obtaining magical diving gear to plunge into the midnight zone, reestablishing the air seals on an abandoned dwarven deep-sea geothermal plant, or stealing a sea-lich's submarine are all examples of mid-high level objectives which give the party more security, mobility and options in their deep sea adventures. 

Certain temptations would exist as well, such as seeking out inhuman mutations which allow easier deep-water operation in exchange for becoming a pariah on the surface, or swearing allegiance to the sea-elf queen in exchange for protection from narcospecters. The arc of such a campaign takes the party from new explorers ho haven't figured out how to avoid the bends, to seasoned, equipped and highly knowledgeable deep sea adventurers who can spend weeks or months at a time without breaking the surface.

The final goal of such a campaign, the equivalent of the infernal dungeon level or the holy grail quest in another campaign, would very likely be Point Nemo. What is Point Nemo? It's the singular point on the planet's surface furthest away from land, where the nutrients from coastal runoff do not reach, where hardly any marine life survives, where land is a distant myth, and any mistake leaves you hopeless and alone in one of the most inhospitable locations in the world. In our world, that place is located in the South Pacific, over 1600 miles away from the nearest island. In your world, it may well also be the center of a giant ocean vortex, at the center of which lies a submerged megatemple that has remained untouched since Atlantis fell.

That is what Point Nemo could feasibly deliver on: flexible deep-sea adventuring across a wide range of levels, with custom equipment, monsters, basic and advanced rules for underwater play, and sample adventures ready to go. That product is not complete, nor is it soon to come to market. I remain convinced it is a good idea which deserves as good a treatment as I can give it, and I'm going to gather experience making and publishing good products before I bring it to light.

If you find yourself inspired by this, let me know below, especially if you might one day like to be involved in playtesting. Likewise if you take it upon yourself to make rules or  setting for this very thing, let me know!

Modern Bestiary: Agipen, the Six-Legged Dragon-Dog

As some readers of the blog may know, I have recently moved to Italy for a period. It's been quite the change, but I've been getting along, and there's plenty I've found here to provide me inspiration. Including this:

Eni produces first gas from Zohr
WHAT IN OBLIVION IS THAT!

This, as I quickly learned, was the logo of the Italian AGIP/ENI oil corporation, one of the most ubiquitous symbols of Italian industry. If I had even watched Formula One, I would have been familiar.

This post gives a thorough history of the logo, and I do recommend reading. But I'm more interested in its inspiration, and what I can make with it.

There are a few interpretations of the creature that come up. First, that it's inspired by the Tarantasio, a lake dragon of Italian folk tradition, but there doesn't seem to be too much support for that. Another I'm more partial toward, that the creature is a sort of modern centaur. The four wheels of a car plus the two legs of its driver form the six legs, fire-breath for the combustive nature of the vehicle, the combination of a lion's tail, dog's body and dragon's spiky back signaling power.

All of that is great. I could drop a monster like that into most any fantasy setting, likely best as a unique or local beast, and it would click.

But I think there's more to get out of it. Oil isn't something I associate with any other D&D monster, even though adventurers use oil a lot. Does it eat oil? Spit it out? Sweat it? Milk its young with oil? Does it bathe in the stuff?

And on top of all that, if this creature is meant to represent a car, then your players should absolutely be able to ride it.

I crowd-sourced the name to the OSR Pit forum, which you should absolutely check out if you're not already on there, and went with PapaJoe's suggestion. The creature's name is the Agipen (plural Agipeni).

The Agipen

Agipen: HD 8; AC 4 [15]; Atk 2*claw 1d8, bite 2d10 ; Sav 11; Spec spits flaming oil on 10'x20' area, 1d6+1 damage per round for 3 rounds; ML 10; AL L.

The Agipen is a rare magical beast, originally created by a mad wizard who sold his creation as a curiosity. The Agipen appears to be a great dog, but on closer inspection, possesses six legs, the tail of a lion and a rocky, scaled back. It is larger than any horse, standing over eight feet tall and twelve feet long.

They seek deserts and flat plains, where they sniff out natural deposits of ground oil and make their dens there. They bathe and raise young in oil and tar, which is suffused into their bodies. From this arises their immense body heat, and the constant scent of tar which sticks to them and anybody who spends time near them or their lair.

They are ordinarily peaceable creatures, and though they can easily kill men by accident when trampling upon them, the beasts may be readily tamed with regular feeding and care. Their pack instincts are so strong that they have been known to adopt useful humans into their families, and can grow protective of their masters.

A properly saddled Agipen can hold up to four human-sized riders, one at the base of its neck giving directions, the rest as passengers on its back. They are immensely fast and maneuverable, but tire quickly, and in addition to rations of meat appropriate for a creature weighing nearly three tons, require a full barrel of lamp oil to sustain themselves on days of substantial exertion.