Thursday, September 24, 2020

Ridiculous and Made Up: Retrospective on Letter from a Dungeon

Earlier today, I was suddenly struck by the fragment of a quote, which I though must have come from one old-school RPG essay I read years ago. Maybe something from The Alexandrian, or from JB Blackrazor?

I got digging, and quickly figured out that it wasn't from a tabletop source at all. It was A Letter from a Dungeon, by Ernest Adams, which concerns not D&D but Diablo and similar hack-n-slash CRPGs.

The article, taking the form of a letter written by a videogame protagonist to their teacher, skewers the design of Diablo and its ilk, and even though it's not what Adams was writing about, some of the lessons from the letter can be fruitfully applied to pen and paper roleplaying.

First, the quote which reminded me of the piece:

In this business I am no hero, no warrior; I am an exterminator, a dog killing rats in a crate. If we fight on enough to get tired, they can eventually get the better of us, but for another thing: we have a magic door which allows us to return instantly back to the town. There we may rest as long as we like. I have no fear that this letter may never find you – will rot away beside my body here in the dungeon, for in ten seconds I can be back in safety ... Courage is the conquering of fear, yet I have no fear; no reason to fear, and therefore no need for courage. The stirring stories I read as a child in school are meaningless here; they provide no example to guide me. Richard the Lionheart did not cast a spell and fly home to England whenever he felt tired! He is no adventurer who returns upon a moment’s whim to sleep in safety every night.

If it is possible to trivially leave the dungeon and return to rest in town, the dungeon ceases to be risky. The videogame example is comical, where one can fast travel to the dungeon entrance or town at will. But in pen and paper RPGs, where all actions take place at the pace and level of detail adjudicated by the DM, it is possible to do the same in effect. If the party may leave the dungeon at will without risk, or even if all they must do is disengage from combat to escape, then the DM's description of the party leaving the dungeon is no different from opening a magic door and returning to town.

This may be remedied just by making exiting the dungeon riskier or otherwise challenging. To use the example of Castle Xyntillan, both of the main entrances have some form of risk associated with them, but that risk mostly manifests when leaving through them, not coming in. There are also plenty of examples, mostly from old school dungeons, of features specifically intended to confuse mapping and make finding the exit more difficult, such as spinning corridors, teleporters and the like.

Finally, distance from town and other resource costs involved with travelling to and from the dungeon are a good way to modulate player behavior. Again, using Castle Xyntillan, the town is two full days away from the castle, through mountain pass, but the road is relatively clear and well developed. If getting to the dungeon requires many more days, or unreliable paths, or straight wilderness exploration, there are no guarantees of making it back to town in good time. 

The opening of the letter is good on its own:

I write to you from the thirteenth level of a dungeon. The dungeon has a name, but I will not disturb you with it, for it sounds ridiculous and made up.

We've all been there. An excess of apostrophes in particular is strangely common. As are nonsense words, and not the delightful kind. If your dungeon can't have a plain name in your own language, if you really want something exotic-sounding, at least outsource to a language your players aren't familiar with. It helps with consistency of sound. Hebrew, Greek, Swahili, Gaelic and Georgian are all good options. Better yet if you learn one of those languages and use it as a consistent ancient/magic tongue.

Am I saying that DMs should learn a new language for the express purpose of using it at the table? Yes.

The rooms themselves are built in a variety of architectural styles. We have seen many types of stone, and arches, pillars, cornices, balustrades, and other interesting elements, but all have one thing in common: they are uniformly rectilinear. Not a single curve have I seen to relieve the stark uniformity of the place. The floors, too, are curiously level and even; laid by master craftsmen no doubt, but without a step or platform anywhere. There are stairs which lead from one level of the dungeon to another, but that is all. And these levels themselves are curious also: the layout of each bears no relation to the one above it, and the style of the stonework changes suddenly without apparent reason; yet level upon level, the place seems to be little more than a vast storehouse, a storehouse with no rhyme or reason, organization or plan.

I can think of some dungeons which share this flaw, but this isn't as big a problem in pen and paper as it is in videogames, especially procedurally generated ones. Making the dungeon look a certain way in a videogame requires making and placing assets, whereas at the table only the DM's say-so is necessary.

The creatures could perhaps be servants of a single overlord who built this place to be their dwelling. Upon rare occasions we do find tables, chairs, and beds, but never enough for all the monsters we encounter. Perhaps they are only for the use of a middle grade of nobility, and the remainder sleep on the floor and eat with their hands. In any case the dungeon is clearly not a barracks or a dormitory; it does not give the impression of a place where someone lives; it is merely a place where things are.

This is a familiar concept, and the solution to it is solved technology. If you really want to avoid this issue, just add a healthy heaping of Gygaxian Naturalism. That being said, the cure may be worse than the disease depending on how much time you're willing to put into planning an ecosystem. I prefer a balanced diet of mythical underworlds and hand-waves.

Nobody said they breathed lightning!

The beings who live here... what shall I say of them? Firstly, that they are uniformly hostile ... And so we kill them. 
Oh, God, how we kill them.

Dozens, hundreds of beasts have I slain, in considerable variety of species; but each individual is identical to all its fellows of the same species. There is none of the variation one expects to find among living things, and I find myself wondering if they are not creatures of machinery or magic, all conjured from some template somewhere. They attack in groups of four or five, seldom more, and although there are obviously hundreds of them in the dungeon, they never mass in overwhelming numbers. They are clearly extremely stupid, possessing neither any organizational skill nor a communications system to summon their fellows. They attack blindly, marching towards us, taking no advantage of cover or tactical opportunities. And so we mow them down. 

Granted, some monsters are produced by magic or machinery, but in general, a little description goes a long way. Describe how the orcs range from short and round to tall and stick-thin, or how one of the skeletons has a dented skull or is wearing a funny hat. 

[See also: The Lost Colors of D&D by Joseph Manola]

Adams' complaints about uniform hostility, lack of organization among even supposedly intelligent enemies, is also well known to us, and unfortunately, seems to be more the rule than the exception when it comes to D&D 5th. The fix for the first part is reaction rolls. The fix for the second part is adversary rosters and some basic tactics among creatures which can feasibly organize. At the very least, kick the habit of suicidal monsters.


If you enjoyed reading this, please follow the blog to see updates as they come up. Until the next post, have a wonderful time.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Castle Xyntillan Session 19: Fear of Heights and Hunters

In the last session, the party explored the upper quarters of Castle Xyntillan, played cards, almost lost their wizard, blew up eldritch horrors, took on another holy quest and got themselves some Van Helsing gear. What remains to be found in the upper floors? Who will they run into? 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.
Herman, Arbalist, escaped convict and former boar.
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.
LaBeouf, Camp Cook.
Raymond, Mule.

Idred, unconscious and resuscitated. Again

Red Raven Wine

The Game
  • After getting their new gear together, the party took a look at the iron key they had looted from the butler in the last session and tried a little experiment. They used it to unlock the door with the slime trail outside of it, expecting to find more acidic slugs on the other side.
  • Instead, they found a skeleton covered in a grey gelatinous material, with a golden medallion inside. Herman poked it with a ten foot pole, and the tip began to corrode. The gelatin rippled and moved, sloughing off the skeleton and moving towards the party.
  • They shut the door and spiked it shut, then ran like hell, hoping it wouldn't move under the door and follow.
  • They left a door in the creepy raven room on their last sweep, so they returned there. Boroth went in alone first to check if the room was safe. He found that the blood had dried, but was interrupted by a voice from nowhere, demanding to know who he was. 
Boroth: It's gotten less creepy here after the blood dried.
GM: I'd like to say truer words were never spoken... but just no.
  • The demand came from a figure formed from the shadows... which took the shape of a guy in a wig and a pirate costume. He introduced himself as Jean-Luc Malevol, scourge of the seven seas, and attacked Boroth!
  • The party burst into the room and fought the shade off, who swore that the party would never find his treasure, before fleeing.
Corby: I'm conflicted about trying to turn it or hit it with my magic hammer.
  • The door they had ignored last time led into an opulent bedroom, full of brocade, nice furniture, and fruit and wine set out. On the canopied bed lay a very comely naked woman. Boroth loudly apologized and averted his eyes.
Boroth: Guys, there's something spooky in there. A lady!
Longo: Was she undulating? We've angered someone who undulates. There's too many Malevols to keep track.
Boroth: There's like, ten. *counts on his fingers*
  • She stirred, and invited the party in once she was decent (for a given value of decent). She introduced herself as Angela, a guest in the castle. They joined her inside for a rest. Boroth tasted the wine and made his save against its intoxicating effects, and recommended the rest of the party stay sober. She claimed a little bird had told her all about the party and their new friend in town, Brother Michel.
Angela: You're treasure hunters! How exciting!
Longo: I call it pillaging.
Boroth: Ever since I took up the sword we're supposed to call it 'Lawful Reclamation.'
  • Outside, the party heard an unearthly moaning. Angela informed them that it was the ghost of Giselle Malevol, one of the many Malevols hunting for the party. She wouldn't enter the room without Angela's invitation, but if the party weren't willing to cooperate, she might kick them out and let them take their chances with the ghost. The party heard her out, and agreed to send her regards to Brother Michel and recommend she visit him in the castle. She offered to teach the party the secret language of birds, which they nervously declined.
  • In exchange, she informed them about Rel, the strange masked warrior who had killed Bruno. She told them that a fighter of their acquaintance, left behind in the castle, had stumbled on the Sword of Rel and that the weapon had corrupted him. They quickly deduced that the fighter in question must be Ysabeau.
Longo: We've been Melniboned!

  • Some time afterwards, they left her room on good terms, with not a bloodthirsty ghost in sight.
Longo: She's over there talking to birds! What do they know? Nothing! They're stupid birds!
  • A door nearby emitted singsong humming, which the party made a note of, but did not open at the moment.
  • They encountered a pack of a dozen rigormortises in the hallway, which were promptly cut to shreds and blasted with turning.
  • They encountered a room which rained blood from the ceiling. The party rigged up a makeshift umbrella from a tent canvas and went inside. The room was filled with ruined weapons and armor, and the portrait of a sad nobleman. In a closet, they found row on row of buckets filled with blood.
Idred: I doubt any of the vampires would bow to drink out a bucket… maybe stock for the sprinkler system in this room?
  • They stumbled into another office, piled high with cabinets, in which a severed hand rapped loudly on a table. It scuttled under the table as the party approached, and as they were trying to get out, a Stygous bird attacked from underneath a sack. The party saw it before it attacked, however, and with no small amount of luck managed to slaughter it.
GM: Seriously? Two attacks for maximum damage in a row? 
  • And in a padded coffer, the party found a black bottle labeled 'Red Raven Wine.'
  • The party pushed through grand exterior doors, and found themselves on a bridge above the castle roof, leading into the Donjon which had towered over them since the first session.
  • They entered the second level of the tower, where chains suspended from the ceiling dropped to a lower floor down a huge shaft. Dozens of rag-clothed skeletons sat against the wall. The party quickly noted that they weren't shackled, and turned them with extreme prejudice. Half of them crumbled to dust, and while the other half charged the party, they were quickly destroyed.
  • The party observed a series of rungs driven into the dungeon could be accessed from the balcony, and led to a higher floor, and there were staircases leading up and down. Idred checked out the chains and the shaft, noting the winch in the ceiling. 
  • Then the wizard was pushed into the shaft by an invisible force. He flailed about to grab the chains, but they slipped through his grasp. He fell, and fell, and fell, through the first floor, and down into the dungeon level, into the same oubliette he had looted in the last expedition. He was bleeding out, just a couple minutes from death, for the second time this expedition.
Idred: A heroic individual could make a controlled descent down a rope.
Longo: Yeah, but what can we do?
  • Boroth immediately jumped onto the chains and tried to climb down them, with a great deal of difficulty. Longo made the more judicious decision to have his henchmen hold a rope while he rappelled down with some bottles of brandy.
  • He arrived in time to save Idred from death, but with bad luck it took two bottles of brandy to do the trick. Longo fashioned the rope into a simple harness, Idred was pulled up to the first floor, made his way up the stairs, then collapsed in front of the party, still banged up and not far from death.
Corby: I was going to make a joke about wizards having noodly arms, but I think Idred is the strongest member of the party.
Longo: He's just lazy!
  • The stairs up led to a scary locked door, iron with a skull-shaped lock. They didn't want to try their luck in that moment. Instead, Longo tried his luck climbing the outside of the tower with the rungs.
Fear of heights? What's that?
  • The ascent was going fine, until Longo realized he was directly over the eastern courtyard, and the statues in it. Including the statue of a crocodile-ape monster. Which the party knew for a fact was animate. And which in this moment left its pedestal and climbed up to Longo's position. Its stone claws dug into the tower and it reached Longo with frightening speed.
  • It then notified Longo that the rung two steps up always gave out when weight was on it. They exchanged pleasantries, and it introduced itself as the Blind Beast of Xyntillan. He was very friendly as it happened, and he exchanged information with Longo about the tower, including the presence of a mummy and 'Pigeons from Hell.'
I was made aware that this is a thing
  • They also exchanged riddles. Longo supplied him two riddles the party had been faced with. The Beast had heard one before, but did not know the answer, and knew the answer to the other, which he had not before heard. 
Blind Beast: The hunter hunts without leaving his castle, on endless forest paths where he is the master.
Longo, deliberating: What's the answer?
Blind Beast: Look down.
  • In the courtyard below, a pack of hunting dogs had gathered, and at their head, a hunter dressed in green, his face leathery and putrid. Longo said a quick farewell to the Blind Beast, and dashed back to the safety of the tower. The hunter launched two arrows with unusual speed, but one only nicked Longo. He reported back quickly, as the party heard the dogs bark, and they saw the hunter lead his pack into the castle towards them.
  • With that little cliffhanger, the session ended. With a hunter on their heels, will the party fight? Will they escape? Will they face the Pigeons from Hell? All that and more in next week's session of Castle Xyntillan!


The campaign has been light on the treasure these last few sessions, besides the vampire-hunting equipment. It looks like the party has emptied out the low-hanging fruit of the dungeon, and all the good treasure remaining is in the places the party has been dreading, like the lake tower and the northwest wing.

Idred's been something of a butt monkey these last two sessions, being reduced to negative hit points once in each. I can say confidently that I gave him a shot at avoiding both these events, and it wasn't just naked targeting.

That ending scene went over very well, and I can say that it was completely unplanned. I didn't know the party would visit the tower, or that Longo would try the rungs, or that the Blind Beast would approach, or that the Beast would roll a perfect Reaction roll. Even moreso, he happened to have a riddle about the hunter, which was the exact encounter I rolled for that time slot! One of the players confided that he loved the scene, which still fills my cold GM heart with a spark of joy.

Next Chapter: Hoard of the Hell-Pigeons

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Castle Xyntillan Session 18: Don't Trust a Malevol

In the last session, the party returned to Tours-en-Savoy, met the inquisitor Brother Michel, got dragged into a magic-item treasure hunt in the Castle, hid the Will of Aristide, began exploring a new section of the castle, and learned of the inquisitor's true quarry: The Holy Grayl! What will they find in the uper floors? How long will their lucky streak continue? 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.
Herman, Arbalist, escaped convict and former boar.
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.
LaBeouf, Camp Cook.
Raymond, Mule.

Idred, unconscious and resuscitated

Silver mirror, 50gp
Golden comb, 180gp
Musical pocket watch, 350gp
Bottle of cognac
Butler's snuff box
Butler's iron key
Coiled wood wand, unidentified
Holy water, stakes mallet
+1 Lucern hammer
+2 Black cape 

The Game
  • At the beginning of the session, the party filled in the details of the last session for Boroth's player, examined their surroundings and discussed plans going forward.
Corby: Are we ever going back to that skeleton who's still alive in his own coffin and wanted us to bring him babes?
  • Their exploration of the nearby rooms led them to a chamber filled with faded frescoes of the crusades. Nearby, they found the ghost of a headless monk prostrated in front of a crude altar. Idred offers it a skull he picked up from the catacombs in a previous session, and the ghost placed the skull on its shoulders. It then threw the skull to the ground and attacked the party in a rage. Corby turned it away and the party distanced themselves.
History Painting: 'The Crusader army attacks Constantinople' by Jacopo  Palma il Giovane, circa 1587. – Rearview Mirror
Longo: Is it evil?
Idred: I have Detect Evil prepared if you really want to know.
Longo: That's an odd spell to prepare. I just assume everything here is evil.
  • Next door was a cozy game parlor, filled with all manner of games of chance, as well as board games. The party fixated on a card table, scattered with a few coins and an old cutlass. 
Corby: Aren't coppers like pennies, we just leave them?
Boroth: We use them to pelt the help.
Longo: I learned my lesson about touching random swords. Buuuuuuuuut-
Corby: I think I have to, my religion commands it.
  • Three of the party sat down and were dealt in by a ghostly hand. The pile of coins grew steadily as they bet over several rounds, until Boroth won the last hand and took his winnings (largely from the pockets of his companions). They then gambled for the cutlass, putting down their magical arrow. They won again, and the ghostly hand disappeared after flipping them the bird. It turned out to just be a worn old blade.
Ghost Dogs Playing Poker (ghosting Any Image in a Scene Is the Same) : 10  Steps (with Pictures) - Instructables
  • The party located an external door, and the balcony it led out onto. They toyed with putting down a rope so they could enter and exit the second floor as heir pleased, but didn't know how long the rope might last there.
  • The next door down had a slimy trail in front of it, but it was solidly locked, and not even Longo could get it open.
Longo: Guys, this is a master lock, there's no use.
  • Down a nearby hallway, they happened across a lone man in ragged clothes, with a sack over his shoulder and a rusty hacksaw in one hand. He introduced himself as Jerome Malevol. He slowly approached, but didn't seem immediately hostile. Boroth read his mind, and determined that he was scared out of his wits by the party.
Party: Is he really subtle or just an idiot?
Longo: Are you an idiot?
Jerome: Me, uh... yes.
Longo: He's really subtle.
  • The party allowed him to pass by, moving to one side of the hallway. But halfway done, he stopped in front of Idred and started asking him some questions. Idred responded, and Jerome stumbled over his words before shouting SNEAK ATTACK!
  • He got surprise, hit with a backstab, and reduced the party wizard to -4 HP, the very brink of death. He then won initiative and ran around the corner, out of the reach of the party's arbalists. Boroth stood his ground to make sure there wasn't another ambush, while Longo took three of his hirelings and pursued Jerome. He attempted to make a fighting retreat, but Longo got him between the ribs, and he bled out on the floor. 
Idred (coughing up blood): Last time we trust a Malevol.
  • Corby immediately healed Idred, bringing him back from the drink, and a pair of swigs from a spiced wine got him back in fighting shape, and in remarkably good spirits. The party looted Jerome's body and moved on.
  • The room which Jerome had been exiting was occupied by a tall mirror that seemed to absorb light and the portrait of the exaggeratedly feminine Priscilla Malevol
Idred: How do we recognize her?
GM: From her bust.
Idred: fucking loses it
GM: That was NOT intentional.
  • As the party investigated an adjacent room, the mirror began to glow with unearthly light, and grasping green tentacles emerged. The party dashed into the next room, a bedroom in shambles. The body of a recently-dead butler was in the wardrobe, and from it they scavenged a snuff box and an odd iron key.
Tentacles from a mirror. | Tentacle, Cthulhu, Kraken
  • They were cornered in the bedroom, with the tentacles just outside. They experimented with throwing pieces of the furniture outside, and found that the tentacles nabbed anything that hit the ground and dragged it back inside the mirror. Longo still had several makeshift bombs from the Mandrake incident. They formed a plan.
  • They threw the bombs and several pieces of furniture into the room, and when the tentacles grabbed them, the party dashed out into the corridor. They were followed shortly by a loud boom, and a shower of glass cut through the mirror room just a few moments later.
  • With the mirror destroyed, the portrait of Priscilla took on a disgusted, disappointed expression. Idred made a guess and removed the portrait from the wall, revealing a niche. Lying inside was a wand made from two coiled branches of a dark wood. He, of course, pocketed it.
  • The next room over appeared to be totally bare. Boroth stepped inside, and the party was momentarily blinded by a burst of golden light.
  • When they recovered, the room was filled with supplies: holy water, hammer and stakes, a magical cape and polearm. And Boroth was grinning like an idiot. He had seen a vision of a saint entrusting him with a holy mission to slay the vampires of Xyntillan. He had accepted, and could now vaguely sense how many vampires existed in the castle, and where they were.
Hugh Jackman's Van Helsing has better lessons for the Dark Universe than  The Mummy
  • With this find, the session concluded. There was a little combat XP, one of their number was almost killed, and they've recovered some potent items. What remains to be found? Will they be able to complete their new holy quest before the vampires slay them? Find out in next week's session of Castle Xyntillan! 


I ran the card game very simply. D6 rolls from each, rerolling ties to a victor each round, purely a game of chance. I worried that ti might be too simplistic, but playing cards was never the main attraction, and it was just a novelty to kill a few rounds and have some fun.

The stars aligned for Idred to very nearly die, what with an NPC with thief levels backstabbing him from surprise. If he had taken any damage earlier, or the party had waited a round to help him, he'd just be dead. As it stands, it was a tax on their (still quite plentiful) healing resources, plus whatever effect the spicy healing potion is going to have on Idred going forward.

Finding the wand behind the portrait was a surprise for me. I didn't give any hints to that one. I was also pleasantly surprised by how they dealt with the tentacles. I thought they might try battling them, or perhaps just running away. I had forgotten entirely about the bombs, and after I established that the tentacles were fairly blind, well.

Next Chapter: Fear of Heights and Hunters

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Castle Xyntillan Session 17: The Groomsmen and the Quest for the ...

In the last session, the party discovered the meaning of the Will of Aristide, and what it could mean for the future of Xyntillan. They faced down an ambush by another Malevol, but their kill and loot were stolen by a masked warrior, and one of their hirelings was killed in cold blood by the same. They made their peace, then returned to town and forged a new magic item! Who is this mysterious enemy? What will the party do with the Will? What is happening in Tours-en-Savoy? 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.
Herman, Arbalist, escaped convict and former boar.
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.
LaBeouf, Camp Cook.
Raymond, Mule.


Crusader's shield +2

The Game
  • Before the game proper began, the party recapped the last session in their own words (Longo's player hadn't been present last time). Semi-out-of-context explanations are always fun.
Corby: Then the Grim Reaper showed up with a boat.
Idred: There's always another Malevol.
  • The party returned to town in a gloom, but soon got back to work. Corby forged the Joyhammer, and along with Longo hired on a pair of new henchmen, Clovis and Eric. Reliable men, if a bit dull. They didn't find their stolen horses in the stable, but were informed that a man matching the description of the masked warrior came through, bought a week's supplies and rode off in the direction of Chamrousse. Also in the stable was a gigantic warhorse. When asked if it was for sale, the stablemaster just laughed.
  • They were concerned by the behavior of the young town priest, Father Brenard, who was unusually rattled. They leaned on him a bit, and learned that there was an inquisitor in town, under orders from the Bishop in Chamrousse.
GM: I like big tithes and I cannot lie, you other friars can't deny.
  • To the priest's dismay, the party insisted on going into the cloister and seeing the inquisitor. He was a tonsured monk, accompanied by a tall, shaven-headed assistant, sitting with Giacomo... who was handcuffed to the table. There was also a thin figure swathed in blankets and sipping porridge in the corner.
  • The inquisitor was Brother Michel, with his assistant Murk. He had been about to send the party a summons anyway. He cross-examined their story with Giacomo's and interrogated the party on their own activities in the Castle.
Brother Michel: Have you discovered any objects of power in the castle?
Longo: I have things that go boom, booze, and money. All things of great power.
Idred: [Insert 'why can't I hold all these magic items' meme here].

Ah Lovely weather for a crusade today Blank Template - Imgflip
Oh goodness would you look at all the magic items I've got
  • He confided to the party that he was actually searching for several items of great power and value to the church: among these, the Crown of the Lost, the Libram of Heinous Damnation, the Book of Valorous Deeds, and the Heart of Roland. The party had already recovered one of these items, which he was very thankful for. But his true goal was greater: he was looking for Aristide's phylactery!
  • While he had no idea where it would be, he had been doing some research. The blanketed figure in the corner was Lisette the Lucky, the party's old lightbearer who had been lost in the dungeon so long ago. She had been recruited into conducting some of the lich's experiments, and had actually seen the creature.
  • The party considered telling him about the Will, but decided against it. They left him on good terms. Their next objective was to figure out what to do about the Will, and to do that they needed to figure out how the hell inheritance law works when people rise from the dead. So they visited their old friends, the Royal Secret Police, Tax Division. They still had Vincent, the Malevols' lawyer, locked in the dungeon under the prefecture. A short conversation told them that undead can't hold lands - it passes to the next living relative. 
  • Armed with this information, they went to visit Claude. He was as friendly as ever, and gave no indication that he knew about the will. He had also been in town all week, so he couldn't be the masked warrior. They spoke with him at length, filling him in on the inquisitor and the artifacts he was looking for. Claude knew about them, but not where to find them, though he suspected Aristide would have his phylactery hidden in some ultra-secret location in the dungeon.
Party: Is it possible that the Heart or the Crown might actually be the phylactery?
Claude: I don't think so. You can't really change the nature of items like those. Also, Runcius just wears the Crown all over the place, that's not very secure.
Party: facepalms
  • They left Claude to his drinking. Next, the question of the Will. They hadn't revealed its existence to anyone, and nobody else seemed to know about it outside the castle. After a long discussion, they settled on sticking the Will in a wizard locked box, then putting that box in Ben Mordechai's super-secure magic chest, along with the Libram. They instructed him to open it on request of themselves, Claude or the Secret Police.
Top 15 Underutilized Features of .NET Part 2 - CodeProject
It's baaaack.
  • With that business done, the party got down to carousing. Longo did his usual gambling, while Idred stuck by Claude and drank, trying to see if he knew more than he let on. Also, he made several stones of continual light as backups for others. 
  • Meanwhile, in the course of just a week, Corby bought a winery, dedicated it to his god, drank it all and burned the place to the ground.
GM: I think this is only your second arson in the entire campaign.
Party: Yeah we really need to step up our game.
  • And with that, they returned to Castle Xyntillan. The first order of business was to visit Medard and see to their reward for his quest. Using the secret passage they knew, it was a quick trip, and they found his bust in an excellent mood.
  • Lying by the bust was his old campaigning shield, bearing a red background and a rearing golden lion.
Party: Well this is all very English.
  • They conversed with Medard briefly, and he grew very interested when they mentioned Brother Michel. They told him about the items he was searching for, and Medard became incredulous when he learned that the inquisitor mentioned the Crown and the Heart by name. Medard told the party that Michel must be a very special fellow, and that they were being deceived by him. The inquisitor's true goal, Medard insisted, wasn't Aristide's phylactery, but something greater.
  • He began to mutter to himself. But it wasn't muttering, it was a poem.
“A king’s staff of old, sought by a hero’s heart; 
Are the only things which allow its sight. 
Another king’s case, or heart’s miraculous blood, 
Shall make the vision firm, and subject to touch! 
Yet cleansing oil or a headpiece of gold, 
Are required to break a shadowy fate of old. 
And what came of them, that is rarely told, 
The Meroving sceptre is seated in marble cold; 
Roland’s heart, yearning for the hunt, 
Has found a rest in a brotherly fold; 
A pretty regal case decorates its home, 
But only where the ragged beasts roam; 
Wherefore art thou, crown of the Indoornesse? 
The oil is captain’s prey, the X you must guess!”
  • The true goal of the quest, he revealed, was the Holy Grayl

Medard: The Hunt begins anew! It was I who hid it last, and I shall not cut the fun short. Now go forth, and quest! 
Longo: Okay, but first can you say 'he chose poorly?'
Medard: He chose... poorly.
  • With this new objective, the party decided to explore a new area of the castle, the living quarters above the east wing. The first floor was a vast central room, with a large number of doors leading in all directions. They messed about with a strange dragon statue, and a dark, dusty room with a bunch of preserved brains that gave the party a headache.
  • They were ambushed by 8 rigormortises coming up the steps, and they simply annihilated the undead. Corby just leveled last session, and with the silver cross helping him, he was able to reduce them to dust with turning.
  • The session ended there, with no loot and only a little combat XP, but also no injuries. They are set to plunder a whole new wing of the castle, and with the revelation of the Grayl quest, the situation around Xyntillan only gets stranger.


This session was almost entirely talking in town, getting caught up and strategizing. Not too much happened, but it's nice to have a session like this in between several of straight dungeoneering.

Brother Michel was polite, but the party seems a bit suspicious of him. Casting Detect Evil on a monk isn't very nice.

Somehow, the party went from running away from combat all the time in the early sessions, to stomping on almost everything in their path. The Libram was probably part of it, but nowadays, they largely explore Xyntillan with impunity. Let's see how long it lasts.

Next Chapter: Don't Trust a Malevol