About two weeks after mailing them, copies of Castle Xyntillan are now arriving at various US destinations. That’s part reassuring and part frustrating. Reassuring because, in spite of what my lizard brain tries to tell me, the postal services of the world are not dumping mailed packages right into a flaming ditch filled with ravenous crocodiles. Well, not wilfully, not while laughing, and not en masse, at least. But let me tell you, oh frustrated customer who is still waiting for your promised copy (you know who you are), that I made foolish time estimates on the basis of previously solid shipping times, and the only thing I forgot was to correctly factor in the effects Christmas season would have on postal traffic. “In the end, they may receive their books a day or two later,” I thought. Well, that was optimistic.
In other words, to all those who have not received Castle Xyntillan yet: I am sorry some of you have had to wait longer than promised – and I hope the book you will soon hold in your hands will make the wait worthwhile. May the Postal Gods be gracious, and may thy packages make their saving throws vs. crushing blow!
Also, if you have received your book, I appreciate a confirmation message – puts my mind at ease, and makes these final days of frantic office work before Christmas go smoother.
In other Xyntillan-related news, we held an official launch event for the book last Sunday. We organised a whole-day OD&D game in a small, private game club, and played two expeditions’ worth of Xyntillan in a group of seven players and one GM. Ironically, the players were friends who had not actually experienced the module before, at least beyond the odd convention one-shot (the original playtesters will get to play something entirely new and different, as is the way with RPGs).
The following report contains spoilers, so proceed at your own risk.
Xyntillan was playtested with the later, post-supplement iteration of the rules (as seen in Dungeons & Companies, a Hungarian OSR ruleset, fairly close to S&W), but this time, to make the occasion special, we went for a three booklets-only OD&D game. We took my booklets, and a copy of the single volume edition, and soon had a ready first-level adventure party:
- Eugene the Cleric (Lawful in appearance, oddly Chaotic in action)
- Darius the Magic-User
- Slink the Hobbit (a poor translation of “Sumák”, a word implying a combination of laziness, and dishonesty)
- John the Cleric (Lawful)
- Grumb the Dwarf (With a suitably low appearance)
- Wolus of the Gloom, gender-ambiguous Elf
- Nubin, also a Dwarf
Arriving in the mountain town of Tours-en-Savoy, this band of miscreants soon purchased extra equipment, and recruited additional NPC flunkies to round out the party. The pickings were fairly slim due to bad rolls, so they ended up with some fairly useless louts:
- Honest Jacques Foltyat [untranslatable pun] the porter
- Jean, light footman (the only competent fighter of the lot)
- Heave, porter (orig. “Hórukk”, trying to earn money for the medicine of his sick mother)
- Dorko the mule driver
- Jean-Jacques, porter (also trying to earn money for the medicine of his sick mother, and increasing the Jean/Jacques confusion within the party to a new level)
Leaving town after gathering some information, they headed for the mountains, arriving near Castle Xyntillan after two days of travel. The adventure was on!
- The company decided to avoid the two obvious entrances, and cross the nearby lake on a makeshift raft (ordering their henchmen to cut down a dry tree, and sacrificing two coils of rope).
- They arrived in an abandoned garden, and in addition to a chapel and two double doors leading inside the castle complex, soon found two secret entrances. Here, they first experimented with what looked like a talking well, and were then ambushed by a group of goatrices lurking in the bushes. Poor Heave was killed and turned to stone, and Honest Jacques was gored to death.
- They decided to investigate the chapel next. Prying two valuable emeralds from a holy water font, Eugene the Cleric and Wolus of the Gloom were marked with letters on their forehead spelling “KNAVE”, and found they could not re-enter the chapel. The rest of the company headed to investigate the structure’s attic, finding a derelict study inhabited by Aristide Malévol the Patrician, the liche of Xyntillan! Aristide was too bored to destroy them then and there, and was satisfied with placing a geas on the nosy Slink to retrieve a magical book “from the eastern laboratory”.
- Entering the castle proper, they investigated a ruined drinking hall with singing poltergeists, a gallery with talking portraits, an adjoining hall with a rolling boulder, and a large trophy room with decaying trophies. The company unwisely split up to investigate these rooms indivisually, abandoning Nubin’s position as the party caller. Eugene was almost flattened by the boulder, and they lost Jean and Jean-Jacques to a group of undead, moss-eaten stuffed deer. However, Wolus also found a dagger +1, and Slink gained a bottle of ectoplasmic brandy from the poltergeists in exchange for a bottle of rum he first got from the talking portrait of a pirate.
- Slink now felt the effects of the gease, so they proceeded eastwards, investigating but avoiding a large steam bath, and looting a humble bedroom, where they found a hidden treasure. To their fortune, they ran into one of the place’s live inhabitants, a strange youth named Claude Malévol. This scion of Xyntillan’s ruling family fell under Wolus’s charm spell, and directed them towards the laboratory.
- Crossing a courtyard beneath the massive donjon, they checked out a great marble-covered throne room, and a nearby ballroom filled with indistinct, ghostly figures dancing to dissonant tunes. They bypassed these rooms to find a nice retreat, resulting in some valuable artwork, and containing a magical hookah which sent Slink into a healing sleep (a lucky occasion, as he was heavily wounded). Investigating a secret passage, Wolus stepped on a hidden bear trap, and died from shock as he had his leg taken clean off. Without Wolus, Claude grew more and more erratic, and soon ran away, sobbing and cursing the party. At last, they could awaken Slink with a quaff of his ectoplasmic brandy.
- A side venture lead to a music room with golden harp strings and a sheet music manuscript they could later sell at a decent prize. Even better, they found the laboratory, inhabited by the hunchbacked Mandrake Malévol the Mixer. Mandrake was taken by surprise as they bashed in his door, and while he managed to throw a heavy flask of acid at his attackers, he went down with little effort. However, Dorko the mule driver (now controlled by Wolus’s player) was dragged into a nearby room as he was exploring the nearby corridor, encountering Lydia Malévol the Luckless, who strangled and devoured him.
- Rewarded with the book they were seeking (Nicholas Flamel’s work on alchemy), and the salamander amulet of detoxication, they headed back to the chapel to complete the geas. Aristide was not present, so they placed the book on his writing desk, while Eugene and Grumb (I think) made away with one of the liche’s unguarded treasures, the gem-bedecked libram of heinous damnation!
Back in Tours-en-Savoy, the company’s success drew much attention, and new companions. The characters could advance to Level 2 with their loot and the monster XP (which is pretty good, if not outstanding on low levels by the pre-Greyhawk LBB rules). A new adventurer rose to replace the late Wolus:
- Tiara Fiery-Eyes, Cleric 1 (Pagan priestess of CHAOS!)
…and, seeing all the gold the newcomers threw around like mere coppers, new henchmen with good fighting skills were also recruited, despite the first expedition’s 100% casualty rate:
- Ubul, heavy footman (been “down there”, and knew some rumours about Xyntillan)
- Rick, heavy footman
- Ali, crossbowman
- Dupré, heavy footman and party animal
- Jean, paranoid heavy footman
- Wilhelm, crossbowman
Thus strengthened, a new expedition was launched to explore the unknown reaches of Xyntillan. (This had to be a shorter delve, as it was already mid-afternoon):
- Choosing to enter through the western gatehouse, the company was cornered by a band of brigands hiding among the ruins. Gilbert Malévol “the Fox” demanded a hefty tithe, but a sleep spell from Darius caught his men, and he beat a hasty retreat as the remaining brigands were cut down, leaving a lone survivor alive in exchange for rumours.
- This time, the company chose to explore the northwestern reaches of the castle, known to be a particularly dangerous area from a random rumour. They found a secret entrance leading inside, and found themselves in a bar inhabited by spirits. The encounter did not turn hostile, and they gained a bottle of ghost gin for their troubles, as well as information leading to a nearby treasure.
- Following the spirits’ directions, they arrived in a section of red carpeted floors. A cluttered storehouse contained the wooden statue of a six-armed dancing girl holding six daggers, standing on a pedestal with a coin slot and a hand crank. They also found a niche with a mummy sarcophagus and canopic jars (which proved to be made of precious gold). The greedy Slink pried open the sarcophagus, but when he tried to burn the mummy inside, it pronounced a curse, and Slink crumbled into 200 gp worth of gold dust!
- Tiara Fiery-Eyes brought the dancing girl back to life, and gained a powerful servant, but this gain was immediately undone by his companions, who looted the statue’s coin box, enraging the wooden killing machine. To save himself, Grumb rushed outside and spiked the door, leaving his companions to fight it out. The statue cut down poor Ubul, Rick and Jean, but was then brought low with a few lucky hits. Valuable silk bales were obtained from the storeroom.
- A mysterious stairway lead upstairs, even deeper into Xyntillan. Braving the route, they found a marble corridor with a pair of magically locked doors, two regular doors, and a side corridor. The cold winds soon coalesced into the ghost of Malvin Malévol the Strangler, eager to strangle the interlopers. They decided to check out one of the doors, leading to a side chapel. A mysterious clue prompted many of the characters to donate some valuables, except Eugene. However, this left him cursed, turning his armour into lead he had to discard to be able to move. They returned to the corridor, Malvin having departed.
- The northern doors lead to a room of half-melted, immobile wax statues, followed by a storeroom with bottles of alcohol. The party split again: Eugene stayed outside, while the others proceeded, finding a massive metal gate flanked by several shelves of skulls, bedecked with complicated-looking gears and gizmos, and marked “THE MASTERPIECE OF DEATH” in large metal letters. This did not seem very attractive, especially as they got attacked by a group of undead ladies. Grumb decided to run and alert Eugene, but was in turn attacked by three of the now animate wax figures. Running from them, he ran into Eugene, who now had his hands full with fending off the returned Malvin Malévol. A large battle developed, involving several combatants against three groups of monsters (including a ghost they could only hit with a single magical dagger). Here, the bottles of alcohol proved useful when lit, but ultimately, they had to flee from Malvin to avoid suffering casualties. Low on Hp and depleted of spells, they looted some of the red carpets on the lower floor, and headed for the outside, and the road back to Tours-en-Savoy!
Although the expedition was on the short side, the treasures were good, and allowed Tiara to get to Level 2, and the others to get up to Level 3. (OD&D is funny that way - the first level gains can go reasonably quickly if the party trikes gold).