Saturday, December 26, 2020

Planning is for Villains

Sometimes, when my players start to concoct a plan, I think back to sage advice from Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, the third-best fanfiction ever written.*
That was when Father had told Draco about the Rule of Three, which was that any plot which required more than three different things to happen would never work in real life. 

Father had further explained that since only a fool would attempt a plot that was as complicated as possible, the real limit was two. 
-Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, Chapter 24
I strive to keep this standard on the occasion that I join the game as a player. In any plan, don't depend on more than two things happening. 

Of course, more than two things are likely to happen in any game session. But you shouldn't count on them. The plan should be flexible enough to account for other possibilities, except for up to two things which absolutely must happen.

Beyond being generally more effective, it cuts down on long planning sessions. When my play reports say something like 'the players debated amongst themselves,' that's usually glossing over a half-hour of discussion.

On the GM side, of course, there's a lot more tolerance. You can exercise some behind-the-scenes fiat to make sure an event turns out the way you want, so long as the party isn't looking at it. Whether or not you should do that is a different issue.

Which reminds me of another quotation, following soon after the first.
And Father had finished by saying that plays like this were always unrealistic, because if the playwright had known what someone actually as smart as Light would actually do, the playwright would have tried to take over the world himself instead of just writing plays about it.
The GM, in all likelihood, is not as intelligent as the antagonists they will eventually end up playing, and can't really simulate their decision-making process. If you could accurately simulate the decision-making process of a genius, you would yourself be a genius. Luckily, omnipotent reality-bending powers are a valid substitute for intelligence, at least outside the scene.

"You took a convoluted and thoroughly unpredictable course of action? That's exactly what the villain wanted you to do!"

Villainous plans are not subject to the above restriction on their complexity, since they usually aren't expected to work. If I actually wanted my villainous plot to work, I would start by not being an obvious villain.

* First and second place are taken by Dante's The Divine Comedy and Milton's Paradise Lost respectively.

If you enjoyed what you read here, make sure to follow the blog and share the post! Leave your comments down below. Until the next post, have an excellent week!

Thursday, December 24, 2020

State of the Blog Year 2

Welcome to the second anniversary of the Blog Formerly Known as Espharel! You can find last year's reflections here, for comparison and contrast. Here are my reflections from a second year of blogging, plus what the blog looks like from this side of the curtain.

What is A Distant Chime?

One big change from last year. The blog has a new name! Truth be told, I can't remember exactly when I did it. Maybe around summer? I also accompanied that with a spring cleaning of the old place, a new background, a browser symbol, the works. Much nicer on the eyes. It doesn't have the clean-cut, straightforward appeal of some other blogs I could name, but it has its own identity.

The name change was motivated by a feeling that the blog was held back by a weird name. I have no data to back this up, but when these sorts of fits take me over it's best to let them run their course. Thus the makeover.

I mentioned in last year's State of the Blog that the name Espharel was a nonsense word which came to me out of nowhere, which I selected when my first choice for a blog name was taken. The subjective quality of the word recalled to me the chime of a bell; perhaps describing a City of Bells. So when renaming the blog, it didn't take long to settle on a new and improved title.


Last year, I noted the shift in the kind of blog content I posted, from imitating Goblin Punch with bestiaries and locations, to later become a GLOG class creator, and after that transitioning into an adapter of other settings and media, such as Joseph R Lewis' short stories and the Elder Scrolls setting, into GLOG content.

The biggest change this year was that I started running games regularly. I had a GLOG game in my university, but it was slapdash and infrequently attended. People were busy, and a homebrew system which didn't have the elements they wanted didn't build a strong campaign. I also had the ESGLOG game, but it was extremely slow, went via text on Discord, and collapsed when the pandemic hit. 

I floundered for a while, writing blog posts without a game running, then trying and failing to start campaigns. My plot to playtest my underwater OSR rules, Point Nemo, fell apart pretty much immediately (well enough that it did; I had virtually no material to test!) and a brief stint on a 5e West Marches server inoculated me against that sort of environment. 

Then the Castle Xyntillan game began. Since late April, we've had sessions nearly every Friday night, totaling 29 sessions, around three hours each. The lion's share of all the time I've ever spent GMing has been on this campaign. It's pointing towards a conclusion, though it hasn't reached there just yet. The party now knows about the greatest treasure in the castle, and has a solid grasp of where to find it, and the metaplot I've overlaid onto the campaign is reaching an ending. I expect it will continue a good ways into next year before concluding.

Then there's the very brief playtest sessions of Depravities of the Dinosorcerer. I called them off after just a few sessions, since I really didn't have enough material to go further, and the group's small size negated much of the point of playtesting. Ah well. 

And now, I'm even running a 5e game which I expect will continue for some time. The me of even a few months ago would have been surprised by this. It came together much more quickly than I had expected, and regular Saturday sessions (at a much more convenient time than Castle Xyntillan's late-night game) seem to have a lot of enthusiasm behind them.

Now, my content is composed in large part of play reports, short essays and discussion articles, some advice on running certain modules, and only rarely something that could be considered playable content. Depravities of the Dinosorcerer is on the backburner, as running two campaigns and writing regular posts takes up all the bandwidth I'm willing to put in the direction of my hobby, and writing and playtesting a module of my own is just so much work. 

On one hand, I don't wholly like this move away from playable content. On the other hand, it's a lot easier to write, and in many cases more enjoyable. I'm no longer doing quite so many systems, since I don't want to be putting out too much content which isn't playtested. But I also don't have endless opportunities to playtest. So it goes.


My tools tell me that the blog has accumulated 32.5 thousand pageviews, averaging 88-ish a day, and 113 comments in the last year, accounting for the vast majority of blog views (all time views are at 37, 420 as of writing) and comments (113 of a total 128). Granted, a bunch of those comments are my own, responding to others, but that's in the minority.

In the latter months of this year, I committed myself to trying to get a monthly average of 100 page views per day, if not more. I have succeeded in doing this for the months of May, June and August, and am well on track to succeed for the month of December as well.

Posting Rate

My least active month this year was in September, where I posted only four pieces to the blog, of which three were Castle Xyntillan Session reports.

Most of my months hover around 6 or 7 posts. Once per week reliably, plus some more erratic posts. The months of May, June, and last December all hosted 11 posts. Once this post is added this December will break that record, with 12, and several more to come before end of year! 

In the last State of the Blog I wrote about how, during the Christmas season, I was putting out a 'blistering' output of one post every two days. Like last December, I had a lull early in the month where nothing got posted, followed by a flurry of subsequent activity. Except that this year's flurry is nearly daily, as opposed to a more disciplined 48-hour schedule. I attribute some of this difference to the change in content described above.

Once this post is included, posts for this calendar year will number 96 in total, 99 once one includes posts which came last December after the last State of the Blog. (Alas! I fall one short of 100! I didn't even know I was working towards that, but now I have another milestone to beat next year.)

Audience Size

Last year, I noted that most of my blog post got between 30 and 50 page views, with some notable posts, especially my Elder Scrolls GLOG posts, receiving more than that. 

This has, to say the least, changed. The typical range after a week of being online is between 100 and 200. Some posts, such as CX session reports, and other miscellaneous post get notably less, around the range of 80-90 views. It's kind of a trip, knowing that I can post something and reliably get a hundred eyeballs on it.

I didn't record the number of followers I had this time last year, but I seem to recall it was less than ten. We've recently gotten up to 21 followers, plus some others who don't follow directly but nevertheless signal boost the blog via their own platforms (special thanks to Anne of DIY&Dragons!). 


I've experimented with titles for posts a bit especially on some posts which are more commentary than content. Namely, more provocative titles such as 'Stop Antagonizing Your GM with this One Simple Trick' and 'Stop Writing Lazy Quest Intros'. I used to title these sorts of posts 'OSR Discussion: [insert relevant title here]' but felt that they were getting less engagement than otherwise. Changing this seems to have worked. Or maybe it's a different element entirely and I'm misattributing the reason for this shift.

I started crossposting occasionally to reddit (especially to the regular r/osr blogroll), and sometimes to the OSR Pit. However, I've drifted away from the latter platform, since it doesn't seem that shameless self promotion fits the tone there very well.

Notable Posts

The elephant in the room here is the original Shrines and Patron Saints post, which remains by far my most read post. It came out immediately after the first State of the Blog, so I've had to wait until now to really talk about it! It accumulated a truly ridiculous amount of views very quickly, and its position at the top of my popular posts page has allowed it to keep doing so. It has just shy of 1400 views by now. I have no idea how or why this happened. If you were responsible for sharing it widely, please let me know in the comments below.

Besides that, ten posts which I particularly enjoyed writing follow:

The Index

I have one. I have so far failed to put it somewhere obvious, and it has been sadly neglected, as I have not updated it in some time. Put this one up as something to fix.


I've started using intentional endnotes in some of my posts. Standard stuff, a line of dashes ending the post, followed by a request for readers to follow the blog and comment. I think it does increase comments, though I haven't looked at it concretely. So far my use of these is inconsistent, but I will likely make more of a habit of it.

Also, I still have no idea how the 'schedule post' button works. 

Unfinished Drafts

Holy Crap I've got a bunch of these unfinished drafts floating around. I include the premises of a few of these, mostly based on books. Comment below about which of these drafts you'd most like to see completed!

Oaths and Vows: an expansion on the Shrines and Saints systems, retooling it for more flexibility and easy application.

Emperor of All Maladies: a post on vampirism, analogizing it to cancer via Weinberg and Hanahan's six 'rules' of cancer described in Dr Siddhartha Mukherjee's book, The Emperor of All Maladies

The Faecrawl: an approach to hex or point-crawling in a space-bending Fae realm based on the Kingkiller Chronicles.

True Names: a system for determining and using true names for PCs in old-school games, based on the Wizard of Earthsea

The Day of Wrath: an approach to adding to your game the sense of impending apocalypse described in Mark Bloch's Feudal Society, pages 91-93. 

Thus ends another year of blogging! Be sure to follow the blog and comment below. A special thanks to my most frequent commenters, kaeru, Sofinho, Griffin and Spwack! Merry Christmas, Feliz Navidad, Buon Natale, חנוכה שמח, and to all, a good night!

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Castle Xyntillan Session 29: Curse of the Horned Helm

In the last session, the party won a court case, legitimized the Will, and explored the Lake Tower. Where will the party go from here? Will they try to seek out the Beast to gain his support? Will some unbelievable series of events threaten the game's status quo? 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. 
Clovis, Heavy Footman.
Jorg, Lightbearer
Yessica, Arbalist
Kaleb, Arbalist with a nose for booze and a magic pipe
Eric, Light Footman and cart driver.
Oscar, Arbalist of unusual strength
LaBeouf, Camp Cook.
Raymond, Mule.


Black silk gloves
Magical horned helm, unidentified

The Game
  • The court was adjourned, and the skeleton in the pews all filed out. Along with them, three undead women the party had noticed earlier: two young, translucent women, one smiling and one grimacing at them, and a wrinkle-faced old lady who dragged the others along.
  • The party conducted some final business with the judge, and hung around outside the court planning their next move while Idred studied spells. 
  • They were interrupted by a group of headless manservants which approached them cautiously, bearing a sealed letter. The contents were simple and to the point.
My room. Now.
-Serpentina Malevol
  • The party knew her room was on the fourth story of the tower, just above them, and the manservants confirmed this. The party debated amongst themselves, and in the end decided to comply. They still had most of their resources, and felt they could take on a succubus if it came down to it.
  • They climbed the stairs, finding just a single door. Peeking inside showed them a living room, with a half-nude woman, not Serpentina, sleeping on a couch, a half-completed drawing of her head and shoulders nearby. 
  • Longo snuck in to examine the drawing, and determining it was mundane, added thick eyebrows and mustache to it. The woman woke gently, stretching languidly and inquiring who Longo was. He said he was an assistant. She invited him to help her get up, and he insisted he wasn't that kind of assistant. 
  • Relations devolved from there, and she rose from under the sheet, revealing herself to be a skinless horror from the chest down. Longo fled the room, back to the party, which made the mature decision to just show her the letter. This stopped her in her tracks, and she reluctantly told the party to go through an adjoining door to Serpentina's chambers, while staring daggers at Longo.
  • They entered Serpentina's room, luxuriously and provocatively decorated, with Serpentina herself behind a dressing screen. She invited them to sit as she came out in a comically short nightgown, with her pet python Meandering around her shoulders.
  • The party learned a few things from the ensuing conversation. Angela, the other succubus in the castle, which Brother Michel had routed back to Hell, was Serpentina's roommate from Avernus U. Maltricia had orchestrated the perversion of the Will, which Serpentina knew nothing about, stop asking.
  • Finally, they learned that if Maltricia were out of the picture, Serpentina would become one of the new top dogs of the Castle, no longer playing second fiddle or considered the lesser schemer. She cut them a deal; kill Maltricia and don't interfere with her and hers, and she would let them be, even accept the rule of dear little Claude as Count.
  • Idred tried to push the deal, and Serpentina asked if he needed more... incentive to hunt Maltricia down. He answered yes. So Serpentina hit him with a Suggestion spell, which he barely failed the save against.
Kill Maltricia Malevol!
  • Idred led the party out, now very insistent on hunting Maltricia as soon as possible, contrary to the party's earlier plan to seek the Beast's quarters. They saw Serpentina's assistant pretending to sleep on the couch, with the rotting remains of the artist who drew her hidden beneath.
  • They beelined on the way down, not allowing themselves to get distracted by other rooms in the tower. They felt a presence behind them as they headed down the corridor, and Idred turned around to see a ninja, hands already around his neck!
  • Longo turned around as well, and was confronted by the same. He warned the rest of the party not to turn around, lest they also be attacked. Longo held his own, but Idred panicked, and used a magic item: the solar medallion. 3d8 of concentrated, burning sunlight, one of their hidden aces against Maltricia, was used up and reduced to slag to kill the ninja. 
  • They continued on their way, exploring a few rooms in the Summer Wing, and convincing Idred to not immediately seek out Maltricia with the prospect of getting the Beast's help. They passed the rolling boulder, and sought to break into some rooms that had previously been barred to them. They made their way into a room beyond which they heard raucous partying and saw a green glow.
  • Inside, they saw a parade of partying phantoms, which invited the party to join them. The phantoms celebrated life, death and the possibility to have fun on either end. The party just made their way past. 
  • Nearby, they found another painting gallery. Longo took it upon himself to investigate every single painting and see if there were any hidden niches behind them. He found the portrait of the old undead woman they saw in the courtroom, the harridan Odile Malevol, they were offered candy by the creepy Uncle Montfort they met last session, and talked with the portrait of James the butler.
  • But of special interest, Longo found the portrait of Runcius Malevol, the druid of the Indoornesse, who wore the Crown of Thorns, one of the relics thye sought. As soon as he came near, the painting reached out of its frame, making an attack to touch Longo.
  • It rolled a twenty.
  • The portrait touched Longo on the forehead and retreated, cackling, "You're one of mine now!" The characters had no idea what just happened.
  • The players, on the other hand, knew full well.
GM: I have just written on my GM notes, 'Longo has lycanthropy.'
Party: Do halflings turn into were-corgis?
  • They party finally broke into a new section of the castle, the Northwest quarter they had been warned about since the first session. They headed north, and saw a gelatinous cube sitting pretty in it's own room, calmly digesting a few skeletons.
  • The party would have left it alone, if they hadn't spotted a gleaming helm inside the cube. For it to still be intact and shiny, it must be magical.
Corby: I could do with a new helmet.
GM: (to audience) This is be the moment he looks back on and regrets.
  •  They slay the cube with little trouble, and the skeletons it was digesting were so far gone to not be a threat. Corby walked over and picked up the helm, wiping the last of the cube's acidic juices off. It was a shining metal helm with curling ram's horns. 

Corby: I fear no helm! *puts it on*
GM: *sends a private message*
  • Corby's player laughed out loud, and the party immediately began to speculate on what sort of fuckery had just occurred.
Longo: You didn't get a Helm of Opposite Alignment did you?
  • The session ended there, with the party past the threshold of the northwest quarter, seeking out the Beast in his unimpregnable court, with a one of the party members an unsuspecting lycanthrope, another under a Suggestion, and a third under... some... effect.
  • What the hell just happened? Will they continue to seek the Beast? Can they really take on Maltricia? All this and more in the next session of castle Xyntillan!

The Castle Xyntillan game has kept to something of a status quo for most of its runtime. The same player characters have stuck around, and even a couple of hirelings have remained since session 1. There have been a few changes to the status quo: the wedding of Giacomo and Adelaide, the Libram of Heinous Damnation, the learning about the presence of the Grayl, and of course, the Will and the ensuing parade of chaos. But the characters have stuck around, mostly the same.

Until now. Oh dear. A successful Suggestion towards a very dangerous mission is the least of the party's worries. The rogue is a lycanthrope now. I don't even know how to rule this. And then there's the helm. Ahahahahahaha. If Boroth had been in the session, I'm sure the dice would have contrived to do something to him as well!

Unfortunately, the next session won't be this week. It's Christmas! So I'm just going to let the players stew over these events until we convene again.

Next Chapter: In the Beast's Court
If you enjoyed what you read here, be sure to follow the blog and comment below! Until the next post, have an excellent week and a Merry Christmas! Buon Natale!

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Stop Antagonizing Your GM with this One Simple Trick: Action Adjudication

I was fortunate, before beginning my GMing career, to read the advice of the Angry GM, whose writing I have found to be reliably insightful and clear. I know some who dislike his disagreeable faux-swearing schtick, but that's actually a style I'm very attracted to.

One of his rules, which I read years ago but only realized the full importance of recently, was this: When the GM asks, 'What do you do,' players either ask questions or declare actions. None of these involve rolling a die out of the blue or invoking the name of a particular skill. 

That's the action adjudication process. Set the scene, the players decide how their characters act, GM determines the outcomes of those actions, calling for rolls and clarifications as needed.

There are exceptions which prove the rule: in combat, if you know you can attack a certain creature, you can go ahead and roll with the declaration. But in most other scenarios, especially outside combat, you want to follow this.

Here's how things should go:
GM: You come to wooden door at the end of the hallway.
Thief: Is it locked?
GM: It isn't, the handle gives under your hand.
GM: It is, you can't shift the handle.
GM: The handle gives under your grasp, but the door doesn't budge.
The first scenario, the door is just a an opportunity to provide information, say by noises beyond or details on the door itself, and provides a decision point, whether to proceed or not. I find that providing new information and a decision point together moves the game well.

In the middle scenario, the door can still provide information, but now the decision is different. It's not, 'do we proceed or not?' It's, 'do we spend time trying to lockpick this, risk an encounter by breaking it down, or just leave it be?' There are now questions of resource management (time, risk) involved in the decision.

In the latter scenario, this may mean that the door is Held or Wizard Locked, or that it's barricaded from the other side. In either case, the typical options of lockpicking or kicking the door are unavailable. The party would have to rely on greater resource expenditure (Knock, or if that's unavailable, Dispel Magic). 

In all of these, the adjudication process has gone smoothly, and what remains is player choice.

Here's how the process shouldn't go:
GM: You come to wooden door at the end of the hallway.
Thief: *rolls dice* 23! That's under my Open Locks score, it's open.
GM: ...
In this case, the thief got it into his fool head that, first, the door was locked, second, that it could be unlocked, and third, that there was no possible modifier to his Open Locks score. 

If the truth is in the first scenario, then this is all unnecessary, because no roll was needed. If the truth is in the second, then what the Thief says may well be true, but in doing so has gone over the GM's head. In the third scenario, the roll was also unnecessary, and has no effect. 

The correct response from the GM in all the above scenarios is to invalidate the roll, remind the player about the rule, and return to play. If the second scenario turns out to be true, and the reroll does not succeed where the first roll would have, tough shit. No, you can't use the first roll.

That said, I haven't had this trouble in my S&W Castle Xyntillan game. Truth be told, I can't vividly recall any instance of this there, and can't confirm it's occurred at all.

In my 5e game though... whew.

This is how it often goes in 5e:
GM: While traveling through the mountains, you come across a wide gorge in your path.
PC: *rolls dice* 17 Athletics, I jump over the gorge.
GM: FFS not again...
The above example may be a problem in a few ways. Maybe the GM imagined a huge, 50' gorge, while the player imagined a more manageable gap. 'Wide' isn't very particular, and while the player should ask for the distance, the argument could be made that the GM should include that sort of info by default to avoid redundant questions. Or perhaps someone will come into the comments and insist that jumping over the gorge is an Acrobatics roll, not an Athletics roll.

Regardless, the core offense here is the violation of the adjudication process. Perhaps the gorge was small, and it could be jumped without a roll. Or perhaps it's too wide to be jumped, and magic, or a time consuming climb, or a jury-rigged bridge, or a wholesale reroute are necessary. Or maybe the roll would have been appropriate. But because it was done without adequate declaration, it doesn't count for anything.

In 5e, there's a further error; the GM gave no DC (difficulty class) for the roll to beat. In S&W with the Thief's abilities, the thresholds are at least implicit, with modifiers to them being rarer. But in 5e, DCs are part of the core resolution mechanic for everything! There's no excuse for that!

Of course, this can get a lot worse. For example:
GM: While traveling through the mountains, you come across a wide gorge in your path.
PC 1: *rolls dice* 17 Athletics, I jump over the gorge.
GM: Wait, you have to-
PC 2: *rolls dice* Sweet I make it too!
PCs 3-5: *do the same*
GM: *drinks away the sadness*
Sometimes this will all cascade, and a misinterpretation will be accepted by the rest of the party at light speed. And much worse is the player who rolls a die, and then declares his action if the roll was high, but insists there was no reason for the roll otherwise. And legendarily bad is the same player who hides the die as soon as it is rolled, and tells everyone else what was rolled without letting anyone see.

Now, in my own game, I made the rule explicit before the first session, though I have to remind players about it, especially when they use racial or class abilities I don't recall. Still, the explicit rolling without declaration is a rare issue, and the worse varieties haven't shown up.

But one variety of this behavior has made itself known.

It has nothing to do with rolling, or even with the action adjudication system proper. Rather, it's when a player runs with their interpretation of a particular element of the environment, and discusses it with the party without asking questions or declaring an action, so that the GM can't easily correct a misunderstanding.

An actual example from my last game, yet to be written up. The party came across the lodge of a dead frost giant, and the giant's hacked-up corpse entombed in transparent ice.

A few misunderstandings arose here, in part from my lack of description. Some players speculated if the giant would awaken if they broke the ice, if it was really dead, since they didn't realize its body was hacked into pieces. Then, the party got it in their heads that there must be treasure inside.

Now, as the GM, I know there isn't any treasure in there. Maybe there should be; having the entombed body of a frost giant with no treasure to recover may be a missed opportunity; but in any, case here that isn't the case. And I previously described the ice as transparent, so the player characters should be able to definitively see that there is no treasure inside. But the lust for treasure clouded the player's minds, and they got on to a discussion of how, when and who to break open the ice. It took the better part of a minute to get them all to understand that, no, there was no treasure. 

This is exacerbated by the tendency in this group to talk over each other and me. I think this is an issue of voice-based play and a difference in server culture. The times I've run games for people off the OSR server, there's an opposite tendency to leave dead air for others to speak. Also, not being able to see when others are going to speak is another reason in-person play is preferable to online. We make do with what we have. 

I'm collecting all my thoughts on the system and its pros and cons. One definite con is widespread bad habits among the player base. Whether this is because the player base is larger and composed in large part of new and more casual players, while the OSR scene is composed of many more people deep in the weeds of gaming, I don't know. But it does seem that you're more likely to have these difficulties picking up 5e players than OSR players. 

I really liked working with brand new players (so long as they're old enough and the environment works). Beautiful souls uncorrupted by bad habits instilled by other GMs. I heard a former Army sniper instructor express the same sentiment about recruits. Am I saying that TTRPGs are comparable to sharpshooting? Yes.

Still, I can do some good by beating the bad habits out of them and making the rules explicit. So if your GM looks like he's about to blow a gasket, try this one simple trick: ask instead of acting on information you don't have, and don't roll without a GM call first. 

Music recommendation: Todd LaTorre's new single, Darkened Majesty

If you enjoyed what you read here, make sure to follow the blog and share the post! Leave your comments down below. Until the next post, have an excellent week!

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Megadungeon: Catch the Skull-Star!

 I've been inspired by Cigeus' solar system maps, by Rick Stump's legendary Skull Mountain megadungeon, and by DMDavid's posts explaining the 'Grand Campaign' to conceive of a setting for such a campaign. Not to make or run it, as I'm in the middle of a lot of things and now is not the time to go off one wild tangents. But to dream.

And as with any great campaign, it calls out for a tentpole megadungeon. But what sort of megadungeon would work in a solar-system spanning adventure?

Yup, that'll do 

Imagine, if you will, in a solar system set in motion tens of millennia ago by absent gods, celestial bodies set in clockwork orbits, a true Symphony of the Spheres — and then there's this asshole.

A great comet, returning on its errant orbit once every year. Blazing through the skies with furious speed, accessible for just a few days before it speeds back into dark space.

The Skull-Star!

Nobody knows from whence it comes, or why it has such a deathly appearance, but it has appeared every year as long as historical records remain.

It is the site of a huge construction a megadungeon of gargantuan proportions, with many entrances known and unknown across its icy surface. Ambitious explorers prepare all year for an expedition to the comet's surface, stockpiling and calling in favors in order to have as many hands on deck and take as much loot as possible.

Once, this comet must have been the capital of some great power, for the treasures found within are immensely valuable and seemingly without end. But they are defended, not only by vicious traps, but by undead, constructs and space-spirits which roam its cold tunnels.

And the most eerie thing about the comet... it isn't where it's supposed to be. Astronomers can pinpoint the exact location of every celestial body in the solar system at any time in the past or future, but not the Skull-Star. It arrives around the same time of year, but always a few days and a few thousand miles off from where last year's orbit would indicate. 

So either there's something unknown to astronomers which is affecting the comet's orbit in unpredictable ways... or someone changing it on purpose.

Imagine a true adventuring company, composed of many player characters, with an army of supporting NPCs, and likely with rival parties also present, waiting impatiently for the first sighting of the Skull-Star by the Far Array, rushing to compose flight plans and buy as many adventuring supplies as they can get their hands on, gunning their starships past their top speed in order to match the comet's speed, then multiple adventuring parties taking different entrances across the megadungeon to cover as much ground as possible over the few valuable days, then lifting off at the last possible moment in order to be able to get back to a habitable planet before food stores run out... possibly leaving a PC to freeze on the comet. 

It's a damn fun idea. Perhaps one day I will even have the kind of group to run it. Until then, file it under 'cool stuff I can't do yet.'

If you have enjoyed what you read here, please comment below and follow the blog. Until the next post, have an excellent week!

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Rime of the Frostmaiden Sessions 1 & 2: Meet the Goblinoid Giantslayers

It begins! The Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden campaign! This is my first time running more than a one-shot in 5e, and my first time reading a WOTC book. A whole adventure. I've written about many of the changes I've made to the game in this blog over the last couple weeks and on the dedicated subreddit, so now you can see how they turned out at the table. 

Icewind Dale has been under a spell of endless winter for the last two years! Auril the Frostmaiden, goddess of winter's fury, has made her home in the Dale, and all suffer for it. As the land and its people die, a caravan brings a strange group to the Dale. They will change its fate, but to call them heroes may be inaccurate...

The Party
Avar, a Human Enchantment Wizard. Modeled after Rasputin, has a knack with owlbears. 
Elton John, Neutral Goblin Celestial Warlock. Fabulous, with a dark past. (Joined session 2)
Neddie Elyeti, Neutral Bugbear Druid. Raised among the yeti of Icewind Dale. (Absent Session 2)
ORK, Neutral Half-Orc Barbarian raised among the Many-Arrows tribe of Icewind Dale. 
Stughok, Neutral Bugbear Rogue, in Icewind Dale to free an old friend from prison.

It is not until I made this list that I noticed every character who put down an alignment used Neutral. Given their behavior thus far... I genuinely have no idea how to pin the party down. Obviously, it is almost entirely composed of goblinoids, and the token human doesn't conflict with their proclivities much. This is going to be... different from my other campaigns.

Accepted Dzaan's offer to catch a chwinga for him.
Recovered the body of Jericho the Tinker.
Accepted Sheriff Southwell's bounty for the anonymous killer.
Recovered Garm Blackiron's iron shipment, and took several goblins prisoner.
Reached Level 2!
Adopted Fef's fox as a pet and gained the friendship of a chwinga.
Slew the verbeeg and all his allies, recovering two mead casks.
Endorsed Shandar Froth for Good Mead speaker, and stayed for the party. 

The Game
  • The party first met in Luskan, the City of Sails, to the south of Icewind Dale. All were seeking passage there, some returning after an absence, others going for the first time. They fell in together while waiting for the rare caravan to take them over the Spine of the World, all of them outcasts from typical society.
  • They found a wagon and sled team going to the Dale, and had to share space with a wizard, Dzaan, and his bodyguard, Vetala. Dzaan's magic kept the wagon comfortable even as the temperatures dropped precipitously. He also offered the party a mission: track and catch an elemental spirit called a chwinga, bring it back to him alive, and he would pay them. They could even keep the tracking lamp. The party accepted.
  • As they crested the Spine, the sun faded from view. Welcome to Icewind Dale.
  • The whole Dale is in twilight for a few hours around noon, and in the depths of night at all other times. Terrific for our monstrous party, all of whom either have natural darkvision or who can use it through their familiars. 
  • The sled was headed straight for Bryn Shander, the largest and best equipped city left in the Dale. Just a couple hours out, the sled driver called out. The light of a tinker's sled was up ahead. If the party wanted to buy anything before getting to Bryn Shander, best to get their coinpurses ready.
  • As they approached, they say that the tinker's sled dogs were lying dead in the snow, fed on by gaunt arctic wolves. The wolves growled at the sled, and the party took that as their cue to engage in violence.
  • They quickly killed three of the wolves, and the remaining one fled into the tundra. As they examined the scene, they found that the tinker was also dead and frozen, still in his seat.
  • But he hadn't been killed by the wolves. Neither had the sled dogs. Every one of them had a deep stab wound in their head or torso, the actual cause of death. The wolves had only arrived later to feed. 
  • They looted the caravan, skinned the wolves and dogs and took their meat. No sense letting anything go to waste. A letter in the tinker's pocket identified him as 'Jericho', and they wrapped the body in a tarp as they took it with them. 
  • Their investigations by the sled turned up a set of humanoid boot tracks, with huge discontinuities, as if the attacker jumped immense distances. Avar sent his owl to follow the tracks, which turned out to lead to Bryn Shander.
  • They continued on their way, arriving through Bryn Shander's southwest gate. The sled driver pointed them to the Town Hall, where he recommended they report the murder to the sheriff, to the House of the Morninglord where they ought to leave the body to receive its final rites, and to the Northlook tavern, where they could find a room. Dzaan parted ways with them to find his own lodgings, leaving them the tracking lamp and instructions on its use.
  • On their way to the Town Hall, they passed through the market square, where covered outdoor stalls were being closed down. A voice called out 'last call for Torg's Caravan, we've got what you want, so get it now!' Neddie, a follower of the Frostmaiden, took up a position in the marketplace and started preaching about the virtues of Auril and the vicissitudes of the Dale folk.
  • They were approached by a caravanner with bright blue eyes named Sephek Kaltro, who asked them how much the tinker's body was worth. He was a bodyguard on the caravan, and a bounty hunter, who assumed the body was a bounty, and offered to transport it to its destination for a fee. After clearing that misunderstanding up, he left them be, while signaling to Neddie that he too was a follower of the Frostmaiden.
  • They went into Sheriff Southwell's office in the Town Hall, told him about the body, and got the story. Jericho was now the fourth such murder, the second in Bryn Shander. The others had occurred in Targos and Easthaven, the next biggest towns in the Dale. The towns were trying to keep this under wraps, and Southwell offered the party a bounty for the killer. They accepted.
  • They were also informed of the Bryn Shander lottery. Every town in the Dale sacrificed something on the new moon to appease Auril, and Bryn Shander sacrificed lives. Ned, being a good follower of Auril, immediately went and placed his own name and those of his fellow party members in the lottery, and was thanked for being so prompt by the clerk; the last lottery was just a few days ago.
  • From there, they took the body to the House of the Morninglord, the local temple of a solar deity. On arrival, hey heard a huge shouting match inside. 
  • They knocked, and the shouting stopped. They were greeted by a smiling human and gnome, Mishann and Copper, the two attendants of the temple. Based on the argument they heard before, the party pieced together that they were worshipers of Amaunator and Lathander, two solar deities called the 'Morninglord' at various times. Amaunator worshipers insist Lathander is just an aspect of their deity, and vice versa. 
GM: This is a little game I like to call 'Religious Tension.'
Irish player: Oh aye I know a thing or two about this. *Proceeds to tell joke about the Troubles*
  • They handed over the body, and upon mentioning the tinker's name, Copper went nuts. He knew Jericho, and told the party about the last few days. He said that Jericho had been paranoid about the lottery, convinced that he would be chosen, but by the drawing day had gotten over it. Just the night before, he had been seen rushing through the streets, hitching up his dogs and just running, despite clearly not having enough supplies to cross the Spine.
  • The temple was also healing a trio of heavily frostbitten dwarves. One stirred as the party approached, introducing herself as Hruna, and asking the party to deliver a message to a the town blacksmith about a lost shipment. They were carrying it back to town, but they were attacked by a yeti during a blizzard, and had to leave it behind.
  • The party headed over to the Northlook to find lodgings. Outside, they heard people chanting 'Poke the fish' louder and louder, and through a window saw a young soldier walk up to a huge stuffed trout, which turned and bit his finger. Blood sprayed everywhere, the whole place laughed and drinks got passed around.
  • The party entered as the tavern's proprietor, a tough looking soldier names Scramsax, took a small coinpurse in exchange for touching the fish, called Ol' Bitey. They got their lodgings and stayed the night, catching several local rumors along the way. They heard about goblins building a fortress in the mountains under a new, seemingly very intelligent leader, about the town of Dougan's Hole suffering from attacks by horse-sized wolves, and the local smith raising prices on his wares, despite their poor quality.
  • That night, the party put the tracking lantern on the owl familiar, with orders to fly around the city and environs and report if the lantern indicated chwinga activity. It returned later with an all-clear. 
  • The next day, they went to the smith, made a deal with him to get back the shipment, and headed out on the tinker's old sled, pulled by ORK and the bugbears. 
  • They traveled two days through the tundra, braving a blizzard, and reached the site of the lost shipment. The dwarves' igloo had fallen apart, and their dead companion Oobok's body was there... and his arms were over there... and his legs were waaaay over there. 
  • But their sled was missing. A set of fresh sled tracks and small humanoid prints led off south. They followed for a short while and saw a light up ahead, moving slowly. The dwarven sled, being pushed along by a pack of goblins. 
  • The party moved in stealth, successfully ambushing the goblins, killing several and holding a couple more hostage. They cried out for mercy in the name of Yarb-Gnock, a Goblin name meaning 'the Ever-Gnawing.' Their new chief, apparently. When asked where the sled was being taken, they pointed further south. A two-story goblin wagon, pulled by a polar bear team, was just nearby.
  • The party trussed up their captives and moved up. The goblin boss, Izobai, was in the top of the wagon, and the party hatched a plan to draw her out. They tempted the polar bears with dog meat and sliced the tack of one, letting it loose. The goblin boss was drawn out and sniped, but she was tough, and they failed to take her down. She sounded the alarm, and grabbed a torch, threatening to sned the wagon and its contents up in flames.
  • The party jumped into action, slaying the remaining goblins, rushing up to the top and Sparta-kicking Izobai into the snow.
  • They congratulated themselves too soon. She survived the fall, drank a potion, and all of a sudden the remaining polar bear began to defend her. They calmed the bear back down and knocked Izobai unconscious, adding her to the captives. 
  • They recovered what little treasure there was, moved the iron over to their own sled, and interrogated the captives. They were informed that not long ago, their tribe was taken over by a new chief, the cunning and canny Yarb-Gnock, who was leading goblinkind to greatness in building a massive fortress called Karkolohk
  • They returned to Bryn Shander, keeping the polar bear with them by feeding it goblin meat. They planned to keep it as a pet before they realized just how expensive it was to feed.
  • Back in town, they got their reward and much deserved rest, making it to Level 2. They found a message left for them by Dzaan, telling them that he hitched a ride with Torg's caravan to Targos, and would go to Bremen from there, where the party could find him once they located the chwinga. 
  • The next day, Neddie stayed behind, working on his personal igloo outside the walls of Bryn Shander and keeping an eye on the prisoners. The party was joined by Elton John, the goblin warlock, apparently totally unfazed by the murder and enslavement of his people. The party set out to travel to Dougan's Hole, interested in the reports of 'horse-sized wolves.' They figured themselves more than a match for a pack of dire wolves. This would also offer another opportunity to look for chwingas.
  • Along the way, they had to drive through the town of Good Mead. They were approached by a hunter an hour out of Good Mead. His name was Fef, and he informed the party that Good Mead had just been attacked by a giant, which killed their speaker and stole several casks of mead. He offered to sell the party a fox he just caught. It was oddly docile, even though it was hanging from his snare.
  • Avar excitedly paid the hunter a pair of gold pieces, and was delighted when the fox stayed with them instead of running off. They asked Fef where he caught the fox, and he pointed to a copse of evergreens on the outskirts of the forest. 
  • The party investigated, finding a nest much like that of a ground bird. But no such animal lives in the Dale. Inside, they found tiny coats woven from pine needles, as if made for dolls. The fox seemed perfectly comfortable there, and the tracking lantern changed color ever so slightly.
  • They continued towards Good Mead, finding the townsfolk split between getting drunk in the mead hall, and paying their respects to the speaker in the shrine. The eulogy was given by a woman of Chultish descent, Olivessa Untapoor, who afterwards informed the party about the gray-skinned giant which had speared Speaker Rielsbarrow through the chest and made off into the forest with several casks of mead. 
  • That delivery had been meant for Easthaven, and with the giant roaming about they had called off other shipments lest they too be ambushed. A party of five militiamen had already been dispatched, following the tracks, and Olivessa offered the party free room and board for a tenday if they backed the militiamen up in killing the giant. The party deliberated amongst themselves about going after a giant, a risky venture, versus just hunting dire wolves. In the end, they took Olivessa up. 
  • A scan of the forest by the owl familiar told the party that chwingas were nearby. They followed the tracks of the giant and the militiamen, which led them to a scene of bloody carnage. The bodies of the militiamen were crushed into paste in the snowy ground. The goblinoids took a couple bites, reasoning they could blame that on the giants later. 
  • As they continued into the forest, the tracking lamp's flame turned bright green. A little while later, a wee snowball whizzed past Avar's head, and they saw a miniscule figure, dressed in a pine-needle coat, dancing atop the snow. The fox dashed forward, playing with the figure, which jumped atop its back and rode the fox like a horse.
  • Avar was enamored, and used illusions to communicate with the chwinga, which could not speak, but mimed and chirped. It indicated that the giant (the party had determined it was an ogre) was big and scary, and that it was in love. 
Avar: That's why it was getting the booze. Hoping to get some action.
Stughok: Do I have to make a Wisdom save if I see ogre sex?
  • They told the chwinga to stay at a distance once the fighting began, but remained friendly with it to keep it from getting away. They tracked the giant to a cave complex, with a fire burning inside.
  • Stughok took the lead, sneaking around with ease. The cavern with the fire in it was home to a pen filled with sheep and goats in good condition. From one direction, he heard lourd snoring, and from the other, whistling and the sharpening of a knife
  • Investigating the snoring, he found the sleeping ogre, with the mead casks nearby (one had already been drunk) and a system of baskets rigged above him. He brought the party into the cave, removed the ogre's greatclub from its grasp, and using the power of teamwork (and a bugbear rogue's truly busted sneak attack damage) they proceeded to beat it to death before it could so much as cry out.
  • They recovered the mead casks and the pitifully small amount of treasure in the baskets, and investigated the rest of the caverns. There was also a cave bear sleeping in an adjacent cave, which they also succeeded in killing without resistance, and an ancient tribal burial, friezes depicting the arrival of Icewind Dale's tribesmen. 
  • Finally they found the verbeeg, the spear-wielding gray-skinned giant who had attacked Good Mead, whistling to himself and sharpening a knife. The party snuck around into position and ambushed the verbeeg, but without catching him asleep were unable to avoid a combat. ORK took a pounding, but was still standing when the verbeeg was slain. With the caves cleared, they got to work rolling the mead casks out and getting the livestock to come with them. Until a cry came from the east.
  • 'DUHG? I'M HERE!'
  • Another verbeeg. His lady love, carrying a basket filled with metal shards. The party abandoned their herding and hid, except for Avar, who just stood in the animal pen in plain view. The verbeeg came in, alarmed by the lack of a response, and Avar kept her distracted claiming to be a sheepshit merchant that Duhg had invited to make a deal. 
  • She was not convinced, but this was enough for the party to get the drop on her. They fought, and she was even tougher than Duhg, with ORK taking yet another solid beating, but they soon had her on the ropes. When the battle was against her, she inhaled and blew a fog cloud out of her nose, and turned to run. But Stughok dashed after her, and got her in the back with a critical hit, jumping on her and driving his blade into her neck.
Party: Go see your husband in hell!
Gahg: He was... just... a friend [dies]. 
  • The metal shards Gahg had been carrying were strange. They were scorched and twisted, but also beautifully smooth and well forged. Looking upon it, the party saw strange visions... Nautiloids burning through the Phlogiston... lasers glittering in the distance... and as soon as the visions came, they passed, and were forgotten.
  • As the party finished up their herding, and took the heads of all the giants and the bear as evidence, Stughok was himself ambushed... by the chwinga, which launched itself out of the trees onto his back, poking a twig into his neck in the same way he had killed Gahg. Stughok mimed dying, and the chwinga giggled and jumped onto the fox's back, running around swinging the twig like a sword. It then offered the party a magic stone, and stuck with them as they returned to Good Mead.
  • Once back in town, they were hailed as giantslayers. The party decided to call themselves 'The Giantslayers' until they could come up with a proper group name. They sold the goats and sheep for a good sum, as well as the heads of the giants to be stuffed and mounted. They were feted by the townsfolk, and as the night wound down, Olivessa spoke to them about the election. The town speaker was dead, and they needed another one to represent them to the other towns. Her friends were telling her to run, but she didn't altogether want the job, and she floated the idea of one of the party running. They quickly decided that wouldn't work out, and Olivessa admitted she didn't think so either. 
  • Not wholly satisfied with the prospect of a speaker who didn't really want the job, they asked who the other candidates were. The other credible candidate was a dwarf named Shandar Froth a popular logger, who was at that moment dancing drunkenly atop a table across the room. Elton John approached and developed a rapport with Froth and the loggers, offering to trade the endorsement of the now-legendary Giantslayers in exchange for a little quid-pro-quo. 
  • Froth castigated Elton John for being so unsubtle, but agreed. The party put up their feet in Good Mead for another day, watching the election the following night, as news of their endorsement swung the townsfolk solidly towards Froth. They spent another night getting drunk on mead. 
  • The next day was their eighth in the Dale, and that was where the second session ended. 
  • The party plans to track down Dougan's Hole's dire wolf problem, and from there find Dzaan in Bremen. Will they be able to complete their mission? Will they ever give up their cannibalistic ways? And who is the mysterious serial killer they've only gotten hints of? All this and more in the next session of Icewind Dale, Rime of the Frostmaiden!

I opened my Castle Xyntillan campaign with a tavern, and now I've got another cliché opening under my belt, the caravan! I think it all made sense and didn't outstay its welcome.

The adventure contains both dark and violent moments as well as cute and funny ones. The chwingas are solidly in the latter category. This might threaten a wildly inconsistent tone, but it's worked so far, and the players really responded well to having a cute pet and to a little elemental which imitates humanoids. The true test of my GMing will be in how well I can turn cute and fun elements into horrifying ones...

This wasn't how the book wanted the party to complete the chwinga quest, but it's how it worked out. Makes more sense for my money, just because elements of the adventure should actually interact. Not the intended chwinga encounter, but it all worked out. 

Monday, December 14, 2020

Spanish translation of CS Lewis' The Screwtape Letters, Chapter 22

I grew up speaking both English and Spanish at home, but rarely ever reading in Spanish. I read constantly in English, in a variety of genres and subjects, but there was rarely anything worthwhile in Spanish. I recall my parents trying to pawn off a copy of Pantaleon y las Visitadoras (a book whose subject I had no inkling of at the time) and dropping it three pages in. 

And now, I'm feeling somewhat bad about that. My spoken Spanish is tolerable, but compared to my English it's night and day. So I gave myself a little project: translate some of my favorite texts into Spanish, for myself. I can't imagine very many of my blog readers will be interested, but I may as well post. 

Here is Chapter 22 of CS Lewis' The Screwtape Letters, Chapter 22 (a personal favorite). 

Carta XXII

Mi Querido Wormwood

Pues! Tu hombre esta enamorado — y de la peor forma que se pusiera haber puesto — y con un a chica que ni siquiera aparece en el reporte que me mandaste! Tal vez estaras interesado en saber que la equivocacion con la Policia Secreta que intentaste criar sobre unas expresiones malentendidas en una de mis cartas ha sido solucionado. Si creias que ibas a asegurarte mis buenos oficios, te encontraras equivocado. Pagaras por esto y tus otros disparates. Mientras tanto, adjunto un folleto, justo publicado, sobre la nueva Oficina de Correciones para Tentadores Incompetentes. Esta profusamente ilutsrado y no encontraras una pagina aburrida dentro. 

He buscado el dosier de esta chica y estoy horrorizado por lo que encuentro. No solo una Cristiana pero tanta Cristiana — una vil, furtiva, tonta, recatada, monosilabica, timida, insipida, insignificante, virginal, e infantil señorita. La bruta. Me hace vomitar. Hede y escalda por las mismas paginas del dosier. Me enloquece de la forma que nuestro mundo ha empeorado. Hubieramos la mandado a los leones en los viejos tiempos. Su tipo esta hecho por ello. No que nos daria mucho gusto ahi tampoco. Una hipocrita (conozco el tipo) que parece como se desmayaria al ver sangre pero muere con una sonrisa. Un timo de todas formas. Parece como si mantequilla no derritiera en su boca, y aun tiene un ingenio satirico. Una criatura que me encontraria a MI gracioso. Mojigata asquerosa — y preparada a caer en el abrazo de este bobo como cualquier animal reproductor. Por que no la lleva el Enemigo mismo, si le encanta tanto la virginidad — en vez de mirar asi, poniendose sonrisa?

Es un hedonista en el fondo. Todos esos ayunos y vigilias y estacas y cruzes son solo una fachada. O solo espuma en la playa. Sobre el mar, en Su mar, hay placer y mas placer. No hace secreto de ello; a su mano derecha hay 'placeres para siempre.' Agh! No creo que tiene la menor idea del gran y solemne misterio a que acercamos en el Proyecto Miserifico. Es vulgar, Wormwood. Tiene una mente burguesa. Ha llenado su mundo de placeres. Hay cosas que los humanos pueden hacer todo el dia sin darle menor pena — descansar, lavar, comer, beber, hacer el amor, jugar, rezar, trabajar. Todo tiene que ser torcido antes de que sea util para nosotros. Peleamos bajo crueles desventajas. (Tampoco que sea excusa tuya. Me ocupare de ti presentemente. Siempre me has odiado y has sido insolente cuando te atreviste.)

Entonces, claro, se pone a conocer la familia de esta mujer y su circulo entero. No pudiste ver que la misma casa en que vive es una en que el nunca deberia ha entrado? El sitio entero hede del olor letal. El mismo jardinero, aunque solo ha estado cinco años, empieza a adquirirlo. Incluso invitados, despues de estar solo un fin de semana, lo llevan en cuanto salen. Sufusa el perro y el gato. Y la casa esta llena de ese misterio impenetrable. Estamos seguros (desde primeros principios) que cada miembro de esa familia esta ganando provecho de los otros — pero no encontramos como. Lo guardan tan celosamente como el Enemigo Mismo el secreto de lo que verdaderamente hay bajo la pretencion de amor desinteresado. La casa y el jardin entero son una vasta obscenidad. Tiene repugnante parecido a la descripcion que un escritor humano hizo del Cielo: "las regiones donde hay solo vida y por consiguiente todo lo que no es musica es silencio."

Musica y silencio — como detesto a los dos! Tan agredecidos debemos ser desde que nuestro Padre asento en el Infierno — aunque haga mas tiempo que los humanos, calculando con años-luz, podrian expresar — ningun centimetro cuadrado de espacio infernal ni momento de tiempo infernal ha sido entregado a cualquiera de las dos fuerzas abominables, sino ha sido todo ocupado por el Estruendo — Estruendo, el gran dinamismo, la expresion audible de todo que es jubiloso, implacable e viril — Estruendo que por si mismo nos protege de dudas tontas, escrupulos desesperados y deseos imposibles. Haremos Estruendo al universo entero en el fin. Ya hemos echo grandes pasos en esta direccion con respecto a la Tierra. Las melodias y los silencios del Cielo seran abrumados en el fin. Pero confieso que todavia no somos suficientemente estruendosos, ni alguna cosa cerca. Investigaciones estan en camino. Mientras tanto tu, pedazo de mierda — —

[Aqui el manuscrito se interrumpe y continua en una mano distinta.]

En el calor de la composicion encuentro que me permiti, por inadvertencia, a tomar la forma de un gran ciempies. Dicto lo que queda a mi secretaria. Ahora que la tranformacion es completa, reconozco que es un fenomeno periodico. Algun rumor de ella ha alcanzado los humanos y una cuenta distorsionada de ella aparece en el poeta Milton, con la añadidura ridicula que tal cambios de forma son un "castigo" impuesto por el Enemigo. Un autor mas moderno — alguien con un nombre como Pshaw — ha, sin embargo, comprendido le verdad. La transformacion viene desde dentro y es una gloriosa manifestacion de esa Fuerza Vital que Nuestro Padre adoraria si adoraba algo ademas de si mismo. En mi forma actual siento aun mas ansioso de verte, a unirte a mi ser en un abrazo indisoluble,


Para su Sublimidad Abismal Subsecretario 

SCREWTAPE, T.E., B.S., etc.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Castle Xyntillan Session 28: Judgement Day

In the last sessions, the party returned to Tours-en-Savoy, taken over by Rel and his orcish forces, charmed The Auditor, broke Claude and Giacomo out of prison, revealed Claude's true inheritance, recovered the Will and escaped to the county of Wolkmarstal, where they hatch a plot to overthrow the illegitimate Count of Chamrousse and install Claude. How will they legitimate the will? With their newfound love of 10' Invisibility spells, is there anything that can stand in the party's way? 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. 
Clovis, Heavy Footman.
Jorg, Lightbearer
Yessica, Arbalist
Kaleb, Arbalist with a nose for booze and a magic pipe
Eric, Light Footman and cart driver.
Oscar, Arbalist of unusual strength
LaBeouf, Camp Cook.
Raymond, Mule.


Crusader's Cloak +1
Legal standing

The Game
  • Safe in Wolkmarstal, the party sold off the goods from the last expedition... totalling nearly 30,000gp in total. They also identified a pair of items, Maltricia's iron-linked heart necklace which turned out to be a necklace of deflection, and the Gran Roulette brandy, which turned out to function as potions of healing, except for one which was dosed with a deadly poison.
  • They conspired with Claude and the Count of Wolkmarstal, and figured out how to legitimate the Will. Claude cautioned against taking it to the Beast, as his quarters were isolated and difficult to access, even for other family members; his recommendation was to take it to the Judge in the Lake Tower courtroom. 
  • He provided the party a copy of the Will, along with a letter swearing on his soul that it was genuine. Thus, the party returned to Castle Xyntillan, with replacements for their lost hirelings.
  • They entered under cover of invisibility through the gardens, following Claude's directions until they reached the boulder corridor. They moved along it until they reached the door which last time had been blocked by the boulder, and passed through it rather than risk the strange purple bubbles. They were pleasantly surprised by a delightful tea room, and passed through. 
  • Further along, they encountered a black draped room, the ceiling covered in glowing yellow eyes, in which a blindfolded skeleton's headed floated off its body and cried out 'Only the blind shall see! Prepare yourselves!' while another skeleton appeared carrying a platter of plucked-out eyes and rushed at them with a spoon.
  • So, yeah. That happened.
  • They were unnerved enough by the skeletons being able to see through their invisibility, and lost the protection of the magic item as it was dispelled. Still, destroying two skeletons was trivial.
  • Idred put on the blindfold after the combat, and found that while it effectively blocked his sight, he could see clear as day a door in the west wall. He directed the party to open it, and they entered a secret room, where they saw a table spin through the air as a ghostly hand conducted a séance. 
  • They approached closer, but a trio of razzle-dazzles emerged from a rainbow-bright portal and disgorged glassy crystals onto the floor. The party remained in the room long enough to see what the hand was spelling out before fleeing the room very slowly.
  • The hand spelled out, 'Samuel suspects but does not know; the Blind Beast knows but does not see; the crusader knows but does not tell.' Claude had previously informed them that Samuel was the other hunchback in the castle, who ran errands and took care of the prisoners. 
  • They continued apace, until they found the great double doors leading outside onto the bridge, right next to the cadaver of a horse, stripped of organs and crushed under a collapsed roof. 
  • They moved to open the doors, but the cadaver opened its eyes.
  • "Why have you forsaken me? You promised me flesh!"
  • It rose, knocking aside the debris and standing up, on its hind legs like a man. It then charged the party, kicking Corby in the chest in a thoroughly unhorselike way.
Corby: What, like a karate kick?
GM: Yes.
  • Still, the party succeeded in bringing it down, and opened the doors, looking out over the great bridge that spanned the waters of Lake Xyntillan. Dark shapes moved under the water, and the party moved quickly.
  • At the other end, by the door to the tower, they found a winch and chain leading into the water. They pulled it up to find an iron cage which held a coffin. They knocked, and a shrill voice inside asked, 'Hello children. Would you like some candy?'
  • It introduced itself as Uncle Montfort, and after a short discussion, the party dropped the cage back into the lake. They passed into the tower, where they found a huge idol of goat-headed Baphomet with glittering green eyes, and frescoes of knights questing, jousting and doing other, altogether less wholesome, things with goats.
  • Longo climbed the statue to plunder its emerald eyes, but as he got close, he saw that the eyes weren't jewels at all, but slime. A rumble grew inside the statue, and Longo barely swung out of the way as the idol sneezed caustic green slime onto the floor, which began to sizzle and burn.
  • In the tower's cloakroom, the party located two cloaks which weren't disintegrated. One was a dead cloaker, and the other a magical crusader's cloak. Boroth took it, liking the symbol of a sword on it. 
  • They passed carefully upstairs, up to the second and then third floor, where they saw the pegasus-rider symbol of the Judges Guild. They knew they were in the right place.
Judges' Guild, established 776

  • Boroth was first through the door. He saw row on row of skeletons in black robes in the pews, and a podium, flanked by two animate armors, where sat the ghost of Judge Roberto Malevol.
Judge: Boroth Swinney the Joyous, you are on trial for the charge of *looks at papers* TREASON!
  • Boroth was ushered to the stand, and was offered a lawyer for an outrageous fee. He declined, and the rest of the party took the place of his legal counsel. In a gambit to reverse the momentum of the court, the party brought forth as evidence, the Will of Aristide Malevol.
  • Gasps went up from the pews. One skeleton fainted. The Judge looked over the document and questioned the party. He asked them what witnesses should be summoned to the courtroom. The party choose to bring to the stand... Vincent Godefroy-Malevol, lawyer of the bar and witness of the Will.
  • With a strike of the gavel, the Vincent appeared from thin air on the stand... halfway through eating his breakfast.
Vincent: Oh, fuck.
  • He was cross-examined by the party, with the judge asking pointed questions of his own. Boroth read the lawyer's mind, and found that he was desperately trying to figure out how to get out of this. In the end, sweat beading down his face, he took a plea bargain. He admitted to looking the other way while the contents of the Will he witnessed were perverted, but insisted he did not know precisely who did it or how. 
  • Shock! Horror! Cries from the pews! One skeleton refused to be silent, and with a crack of the gavel the Judge telekinetically threw him out through the window and into the lake.
  • In the end, the Judge made three rulings: Boroth Swinney the Joyous, not guilty of treason. Vincent Godefroy-Malevol, guilty of legal malfeasance. And the true Count of Chamrousse, legally speaking, was Claude Malevol. 
  • And so, the game concluded. The contents of the will are revealed to all and legitimized, but the Count won't go down without a fight, and nor will the family members that support him. Where will the party go from here? Will they try to seek out the Beast to gain his support? Find out in the next session of Castle Xyntillan!

The party is back in the dungeon! Very nice to be back on solid ground, where the game runs the smoothest. 

I screwed up in a couple places with the invisibility items, not emphasizing that the party lost it in the fight with the skeletons and invoking it when the Razzle-Dazzles showed up. 

I have no knowledge of how legal trials actually work, let alone in fantasy medieval Switzerland. Neither did any of my players, so we just flailed about with our knowledge of courtroom procedurals. It turned out just fine. 

The horse encounter was one of the creepier things I've read in the book, and the players really seemed to find it engaging.