[D&D3.0] (Actual Play) X2: Château d’Amberville

colbabe

Rhymer
Perhaps it's just Brisbane's strange weather that sends all us Brisbanites slightly loopy. Goths still manage to eke out an existence here, even when heat and humidity would seem to be able to bake them in their trenchcoats and melt the make-up off their faces. Or perhaps it's that, combined with being Australia's middle-of-the-road state capital city - not nearly as exciting as Sydney or Melbourne, not pastoral enough to be Adelaide.

Strange enough as Brisbane is, it still managed to get stranger on the day we decided to tackle D&D module X2, Château d’Amberville. We were in between seasons on The Night Watch, and while the creative juices of the illustrious TNW GM Steve Darlington (RPG.Net’s SteveD) were set to a slow simmer, we settled on playing a few old and brainless D&D modules just for fun, to while away the sweltering heat of the tropical Australian summer.

Steve ran us through the 3.0 edition of Jackson and Livingstone’s “classic”, Warlock of Firetop Mountain, and if this gives you any idea of what this particular module was like, Steve was so utterly bored with some of the encounters in it, he had certain monsters commit suicide rather than deal with the party of adventurers. WoFM was accurately – actually, far too accurately – converted from its original Fighting Fantasy novel format to D&D3, so our APL 4 group cakewalked through it, much too overqualified for tackling the thing. We wondered exactly what drugs the local townsfolk were on when they told us that “no adventuring party has conquered the mighty Warlock”, even though we managed to kill him with no casualties in two rounds, and this was after we decided to replay the scene and pretended that we didn’t know his Achilles’ Heel (and we wouldn’t be very nice if you told you all what it was now, would we? STAB HIM WITH HIS OWN GEMSTONE FNORD PATER NOSTER PATER NOSTER FNORD). We shouldn’t have expected much when “no adventuring party” could’ve got past the single sleeping goblin guard at the entrance. (Still, I got to scratch a twenty-year-old itch by sapping the goblin over the head and interrogating him, instead of the original book’s two choices of either killing him or sneaking past.)

Jody Macgregor (TNW’s Eirion Lewis) swapped over GMing duties next session, taking us through a Tynes adventure involving a dungeon that turned out to be an alien spacecraft full of Greys and eviscerated bovines. That sesh didn’t last long either, Jody becoming quite bored with it too and finding us the exit within a few hours of us stumbling about, fireballing nearly everything we came across that looked even slightly disturbing. (Hey, we might be characters in medieval fantasy, but even some things give us the wiggins.)

So it was that I decided to have a look through my collection of old modules, looking for adventures ripe for a laugh, and X2 really stood out straight away. I’d bought the 1981 edition – mail-ordered it, actually – from MilSims in Victoria, having seen it a few times at a friend’s place and been fascinated (albeit morbidly) with the contents, even though they didn’t really make a lot of sense to me at the time. I vaguely remember trying to run it once when I was in my early teens, wondering even then how, in the Servants’ Quarters (p7, area 8), a green slime, a black pudding and a grey ooze could peacefully co-exist in the same room. It had collected dust for ages, and now, twenty years later, my AU$13 would be well-spent cash.

Jody and Steve stepped bravely up to the plate, as did Russel Lowe (fellow Six Of The Best gamer ‘legend’, and Toowoomba’s best roleplayer 2001) and Helga Erichsen (Camarilla Australia’s national storyteller, RPG.Net’s thenewgirl). They’d all heard about X2’s vaunted Save Bubble (see below), so were in with bells on. My caveats were simple: provide a level 7 D&D3 character (X2 specifically states that it wants a TPL of between 26 and 34, and I had four interested players), and, even though it still made very little sense, I was going to depict it with the all of the “serious” intent that the author, Tom Moldvay, put into it all of those years ago. I believed that, played seriously, it would turn out to be side-splittingly funny.

I had no idea how right I would be.
 
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colbabe

Rhymer
A week or two before the first session, I dusted the module off and gave it a quick read-through. It didn’t make much sense, but I attributed that to the skim I gave it. I read it again, thoroughly this time. …No, still didn’t make much sense. I shrugged, got out a pile of D&D3.0 books, and went through it with a pencil to see if it would still hold up with the new rules.

Surprisingly, it did, apart from a couple of notable exceptions. Mainly, where a D&D monster didn’t exist in D&D3.0, it was a struggle to try to find an equivalent monster that would be a challenge enough for the group. The frost salamander (p15, area 41) became a young adult white dragon – hell, I thought that if it was reasonable enough that a frost salamander just went and took up residence in the East Wing’s White Room, then surely a white dragon wouldn’t be too out of sorts there either. Especially since there was a neat 6000sp and 8000gp lying under a pile of snow in a corner of the room. The green slime from above had no clean equivalent that I knew of, so I just turned it into an acid pool.

There was a big challenge involved in converting the NPCs over. I settled on just pulling some stats from pp50-96 of the DMG, and modifying them according to taste; Jean-Louis d’Amberville (p5, area 2), for example, became a Fighter specialised in rapier, not the bastard sword. However, deciding on a level for them was a pain. It all came down to a decision about whether or not I wanted the players to defeat them, or whether or not it was likely that the party would pick a fight with them. I believed in the tenets of the NPC level = CR rule, seeing as I hadn’t really tested them out at all in actual play. Jean-Louis is originally printed as a level 12 Fighter, and I was pretty scared that if the party challenged him, then they’d have their asses handed to them. I also took into account the fact that Moldvay wrote the original as an adventure for 6 to 10 characters of 3rd to 6th level each. Then there was considering all of the changes between D&D and D&D3.0 – exactly how much deadlier are PCs anyway? Eventually I scaled back a few of the NPCs (Jean-Louis became 8th level, FYI), and went with it.

After the stats conversions, I set about trying to make a coherent plot out of it. This was, of course, the most unsuccessful part. I felt like I was wading through tar trying to get this thing to make sense. Eventually I threw my hands up and thought, “Screw it. Does it really have to make sense? It’s a goddamn D&D module.” All of my playing plot-heavy games in the past ten years had jaded me to the simple pleasures of just rolling dice and hitting things, the basic catharsis that comes from whittling away at the hit points of a monster. I went with the skeletal plot that the module had and ran the thing as it was, albeit a little spiced up for taste.

At the very last, I thought that perhaps one had to have read Clark Ashton Smith’s (sorry, this ain't Zelanzy’s Amber) books to get an idea of what the metaplot was. Sadly, this isn’t the case. To quote page 3, “Note: The Amber family is not one of Clark Ashton Smith’s creations and does not appear in any Averoigne stories. Their origin has been traced to Averoigne to aid the continuity of the module and to ease transition in and out of Averoigne in the course of the adventure.” So… let me get this straight, Mr Moldvay, these people just have a bizarre sense of humour? That’s all you’re going to give me for a story? Dammit!
 

colbabe

Rhymer
On the morning of the first session, Scott Lette (RPG.Net’s SALette) called me up to say that he was bored, asked if we'd started yet, and could he make a character and come over, to which I said, “Yes… make a Monk.” The reasons for this will become clear later.

The hour arrived, and the party was five strong. The fighting-types were represented by the 7th-level Human Fighter, Rake, spiked-chain specialist powergamed to perfection, played by Russel. In the magical corner, the 7th-level Human Sorceress, Scarlet, the Sorceress of Firetop Mountain (a continuation of the character from the first module played in our break), played by Helga. Performing priestly duties, the 7th-level Human Cleric, Father Marley, deacon of… um… the God of Filth, apparently… played by Jody. Leading the party’s life of crime, the 7th-level Halfling Rogue, Striking Rabbit, played by Steve. Lastly, filling the Miscellaneous Class gap, the 7th-level Halfling Monk, Little Dragon, the Orient’s version of Samwise Gamgee complete with Welsh accent, played by Scott.

A bunch of boxed text describes the adventurers’ trip to the Principalities of Glantri (Mystara’s very own magocracy) for one reason or another, how they couldn’t hire guides (what sort of adventuring group hires guides anyway?), and got lost. After bedding down for the night, they woke up to find themselves in the foyer of a great château, itself surrounded by a mysterious grey mist. When one of the roped pack mules wandered into the mist and was dragged back minutes later DEAD with a look of abject PAIN on its face, the adventurers knew for sure that they’d stumbled upon a real railroad. I mean, mystery. The party gave the grey pall the decidedly un-scary name of The Mysterious Mule-Eating Mist. Probably what it deserved, really.

All that they could do was enter the foreboding structure. Double doors out of the foyer opened automatically to the characters when they looked for a way onward, as if the story wanted them to come along and be involved…

Their first right down a hallway lead them to the Grand Salon (p5, area 2): a richly decorated room, inhabited by a foppish gent, and three… um… flesh golems, sort of. (They were actually a new creature called “magen” – more on that later.) An impromptu boxing ring had been set up, above which floated several arcane eyes. The gent, speaking in an outrageous French accent, offered to wager his boxer (one of the magen) against whomever the party could provide. The players were given some pause here – they didn’t quite expect this. “You’re kidding, right?” they chorused. Eventually, Scott cracked his knuckles and said, “You’re on.” While much confusion reigned about what to put forward for betting, Steve did his best Burgess Meredith impression while vigorously rubbing Scott’s shoulders, and someone started humming Survivor's “Eye of the Tiger”. Scott eventually laid down a cool grand on himself and jumped into the ring. He went into Combat Prediction mode (Sword and Fist, p11) for three rounds for a bit of a lark, failed the roll, and then wiped the floor with the magen in the next two rounds. Which is exactly why I wanted a Monk in the party.

1000gp later, the party decided to question the fop, generally along the lines of “Who the Hell are you, and where the Hell are we?” He introduced himself as Jean-Louis d’Amberville, and grandly gestured to the expanse that he knew as Château d’Amberville, his family home.

“What about this mist? Do you know anything about that?” said Rabbit.

“It ate our mule!” exclaimed Scarlet.

At this point, I consulted the module to see what Jean-Louis knew about the state of things. The description of area 2 includes rules on the magen, how they fight, Jean-Louis’ betting and rewards system, and information about the arcane eyes. And nothing else. I turned back to page three for information on the family. Words and phrases like “eccentric”, “magically-extended lifespans” and “chaotic” (gotta love that old-school D&D alignment system) appeared, but there wasn’t much meat to the prose – I’d love to have known how the family felt about being essentially trapped in a château for gods-only-know how long. Nothing. So… I had to make it up.

“Meest?” Jean-Louis asked curiously, and drew the curtains aside to look out of the window. “Well well. Zat ees curious. I’ll have zat checked eento.”

“Is anyone else around here?”

“Oui. Ze rest of my family is eere.”

“Where are they?”

“Oh… around ze place. We don’t tend to run into each uzer a great deal.”

“Y’know, you’re really boring and uninformative.”

“Oui, je sais. Ze author of ze module did not give me a good write-up.”

After a brief debate on whether or not they should kill Jean-Louis and take his stuff, the party exited via another door on the other side of the room, which led to the Study (p5, area 3). The boxed text, of course, described in loving detail the description of the room first: how the panelling was polished mahogany, how the marble fireplace roared on the south wall, and the presence of the obligatory treasure chest. Next it described the inhabitants – a dozen humanoids with cat-like faces (more new monster madness from Mr. Moldvay, this time they’re rakasta; no, not rakshasa, evidently a bit more pissweak). I mean, really, why wouldn’t an adventurer’s eyes be drawn first to something that might be an immediate threat? No, the environment matters first for some reason. For God’s sake. Mutter grumble.

Anyway, the party were a little puzzled by the rakasta, so, barring any in-depth information on how they might react to the adventurers (I was expecting the text to read something intellectual like “They attack immediately”), I had them be equally curious. (Well, they’re cats.) The party backed off, hands up, no weapons drawn. Rabbit tried growling and pantomiming in order to get through to the door on the other side of the room; I had him roll Diplomacy with the -4 circumstance penalty of Using Mime (should’ve been more of a penalty really, but it was essentially a French location), which he failed, but not so much that they thought that this little creep was mocking them. After a few agonising minutes, the party sidestepped all the way around the room at a respectful distance, then exited.
 
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colbabe

Rhymer
Next came the room that I was admittedly a little scared of, but nonetheless was interested to see played out – the Dining Room (p6, area 4). Initially a “dining room in an advanced state of decay”, the room was soon populated by two dozen ghostly diners who entered through the south wall and sat themselves at the 36-seater table, which then turned into something magnificently set, albeit a little on the illusory side. The diners didn’t interact with the PCs, just each other. And the other twelve seats had placecards set in front of them… spookily, the PCs names were on them! Omigawd!!

The adventuring party started the standard experiments by talking to the diners – Rabbit tried particularly hard to entertain some of the shades (dancing on the table, telling jokes - Rabbit turned out to be a real performer), but he was frustrated by the fact that the ghosties were ignoring him completely. Scarlet tried tapping one on the shoulder, and was surprised by its intangibility. Dragon shrugged and took his seat, which started the debate about whether or not it was a good idea to join in the feast. Eventually however – and under the 10 minute time limit that they had to decide in – the party was all seated.

And out came the courses. Ghostly waiters – hobgoblins, a racial choice which was not explained at all by the module – brought out the entrée, consisting of onion soup with croutons and melted cheese, plus a mellow amber wine (the amber motif, by the way, is one of the more annoying parts of the module – just about everything of note is made of amber, is amber-coloured, or leans in the yellowish direction). Now, the thing about the food was that most of it was magical, and had some wacky effect on the PCs, but only after all of that particular dish had been consumed, and only after all of the PCs had declared that they’d either consumed it or did not intend to do so. How the food knew this once it was gurgling away in a PC’s stomachs was anyone’s guess. Marley ran a detect magic and felt the presence of much in the way of illusion, transmutation and conjuration schools, so already the PCs were a little wary…

...All apart from Little Dragon, who just tucked in to absolutely everything, playing his Halfling’s voracious appetite to the hilt. A few of the others shrugged and got into it as well, but Rake declined, full of suspicion, and soon got up from the table and stood by the window, moodily watching proceedings. Once everyone had declared their intent, I revealed the effects: The onion soup permanently granted an extra d4 hit points to the PC if a Will save (I cooked up a random DC of 25) was failed, and did nothing if the save was passed (which seemed a little arse-about, but that’s what it said), and the amber wine automatically cured the drinker of any lost hit points, plus cured disease, blindness, and neutralised poison (pity this room wasn’t further on down the way, say, after the adventurers had actually encountered anything that would cause said damage, but hey). Any unconsumed stuff was cleared away too quickly for anyone else to get to it.

Next came the second course, a tossed salad, during which Rake muttered bitterly about the “Food of Random Power-ups” as he called it. No save for this one, and the PCs affected had a slight shift in their ability points – one random ability score gained d2 points (maximum of 18), and a different ability lost d2 points. Rabbit wailed and moaned when his beloved Dex of 18 dropped down to 16.

For mains, roast beef served medium rare, wheat bread, mushrooms in wine sauce, green beans, and a red wine. The beef and beans weren’t actually magical at all (what the…?!). The bread made PCs immune to starvation if the Will save (DC 20) was made, but gave them a double-strength appetite (i.e. needed two days of rations to survive one day) if they failed their save (and yeah, like any GM has ever really paid attention to the stock of rations that PCs have on them); Dragon and Scarlet failed these ones, so Dragon, in a gesture of kinship, regaled Scarlet about how Halflings were not only interested in food, but in the brewing of fine ales and the smoking of pipeweed. The mushrooms granted a +4 bonus on all future saves against poison to PCs who made the Fortitude save, but otherwise acted as striped toadstool (DMG, p80); Scarlet failed a lot, and her Wisdom dove down to around the 5 mark. The wine caused magical drunkenness (as opposed to the drunkenness you get from drinking actual wine...) for 2d6x10 minutes, no save – Scarlet and Dragon were again victims here, although Dragon only so for 40 minutes, but Helga had to go into Bimbo-Mode for a staggering (pun unintended) 90 minutes, what with the Wis 5 and all, and no Lesser Restorations memorised on the part of Father Marley earned him the soused abuse of the Sorceress.

Lastly, dessert: apple strudel (Moldvay spelt it “streudal”, which sorta made me think of Freud, which made me think of really awful icky things) and brandy. The strudel granted the ESP ability once per week (I changed it to the second level detect thoughts spell) if the Will save DC 25 was failed (so wacky) and nothing if the save was passed. Rake, lucky him, had finally said, “Fuck it,” and sat in on dessert, gaining the ability.

Then the killer – the brandy. (I set about shouting “The brandy!” at the top of my lungs, à la The Goon Show, but I think only Steve truly got that joke.) I set a Reflex save of DC 15 to avoid the effects of this one. Three players still managed to fail though. The effect: “the character becomes insubstantial and joins the ghostly feast forever as an additional transparent guest”. Ugh. I thought perhaps that I could apply the Ghost template (MM p212) to the character and have them tag along with the party, but with three players on the list to become more see-through, I thought, “Well, bugger that for a lark,” and lowered the DC to 10. Oh look, everyone passed. “Nothing happens,” I said ominously. Oooo.

After the meal, the phantoms got up and left in pretty much the same way that they came in. (This wasn’t in the module. I made it up! Watch me improvise! Wow, is it much of a surprise that Moldvay didn’t think of this?) Scarlet tried to follow them a bit too quickly for anyone to stop her from walking straight into the south wall, liltingly beseeching the see-through diners to “stay behind and paaaaaarty”. The adventurers then took the door that the servants came out of, leading toward, presumably, the kitchen.
 

colbabe

Rhymer
Stairs upward in the north wall led to a door, which opened to reveal a catwalk ten feet above a hallway (p6, area 5). The hallway’s interior looked a bit like a bad 70s porno bedroom: the entire surface of the walls and ceiling were covered in one-inch-square bits of reflective glass – like a bunch of oversized mirror balls had been skinned, and now their pelts covered those very walls. There were doors in the hallway, and even a red carpet that ran the length of it, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that the characters had stepped onto the set of Xanadu. I expected that, any minute, Scarlet would turn into Olivia Newton-John (she was already halfway there in characterisation), and everyone else would grow skate rollers on their boots. Well, shit, stranger things had already happened, and would do so in the future.

But, luckily, the players didn’t pick up on my extreme retro vibe. Dragon was too busy holding desperately onto Rake for stability, and Scarlet was doing the same, but was holding onto Dragon. Marley and Rabbit were just trying to hold onto their own sanity.

Then, when all of the doors in the hallway shut of their own accord, and all of the light sources that they carried were blown out – even Marley’s light spell – everyone held onto each other or the catwalk railing. Rake, suspecting something bad, lowered a rope over the side of the catwalk and started to climb down until Rabbit grabbed a hold of him. Marley cursed under his breath and re-cast light.

Which set off the ‘trap’. All of those mirror ball skins meant that the biggest flare spell in existence went off right in front of the characters. Failing the DC 20 Reflex save meant that the victim was blinded for 3d6x10 minutes, and passing meant blindness for half the time. Much, much profanity was the general result. Rake somehow made it back onto the catwalk and, sensibly, convinced everyone to stay put until it wore off. Oh, Mr Moldvay, darn those intelligent players for avoiding stumbling sightless into random encounters. Darn them straight to Heck.

Forty minutes later, after many attempts at cheery passing-of-time (mainly by Scarlet, trying vainly to encourage everyone to sing campfire songs, although Dragon heartily joined in), the first of the characters recovered and made their way along to the other end of the catwalk, while blind led blind-drunk (only Scarlet now) behind. The door at the other end led, indeed, to the kitchen (p7, area 12). All of the ghostly hobgoblin servants – dressed, did I mention, in amber-colored livery? – and the kitchen items and utensils, were also illusory. Rake, frustrated at the ridiculousness of it all, trashed what little solid items were still there. Eventually, they filed out in a line through a door in the south wall, leading to the 70s Hall.
 

colbabe

Rhymer
In the north wall was a door further west of the kitchen along the hall. Scarlet, still drunk, wanted to stay in the kitchen (for no reason that anyone could fathom, probably not even Helga). The rest of the party went into actual adventuring mode for the door – active listening, checking for traps, the whole thing. Most of the doors in the manse were unlocked, and Steve was justifiably vocal about the amount of Open Lock ranks Rabbit took that were of no use thus far.

Opening the door revealed a bedroom (p7, area 11) filled with costly furniture; boxed text on this room was thankfully minimal, but the presence of the phrase “another bedroom” assumed the party travelled east to get there. The party got their first real taste of action here though, since the two wraiths that were sitting on the bed, to quote the module, “attack on sight”. Being loaded down with magical weapons, the party made short work of the pair, but Dragon was quite incredulous about this encounter for the rest of the adventure. “But… but… Why?!? Why did they attack? What did we do? I don’t get it!” In quiet moments later in the session, and even in subsequent sessions, he’d reflect on the plight of those undead creatures and ask himself about the sorts of motivations that would have lead to their ultimately futile attack.

The next door along to the west, again light on the boxed text, was the other bedroom (p7, area 10), which, because of some confusion about whether or not the party should retrieve Scarlet, Rake entered alone. A humanoid shape – a big one – lay under the covers on the bed, and stirred as he entered. A gravelly voice issued from them. “’Ello? Oo is zere?” And from under the covers, out poked the head of an ogre – wearing a long blonde wig and night make-up. The straps of a nightdress peeked over its shoulder. “Excusé moi, but zis ees my bedroom. Why are you eere?”

Taken slightly aback, Rake apologised politely. “Pardon me, ma’am, I didn’t realise you were sleeping.”

“You should ave knocked first, monsieur. Please allow me to freshen up.” The ogre slipped out of bed, all 300 pounds of her stuffed into a size 10 nightgown which was looking quite the worse for it. She made for the vanity, trying to walk gracefully over, and sat heavily on the stool to apply some foundation to her knobbled face.

“What’s going on in there?” Dragon called from the hallway.

Rake, blanching, came quickly out of the room. “God, it’s hideous. Don’t go in there.”

Just then, it was suddenly wandering monster time. Eleven zombies burst out of the door in the east end of the hall and descended on the crew. Due to distance and bad Initiative and Turning rolls, the combat took a little longer than expected.

Near the end of it, the ogre had heard all of the commotion and poked her head out. She hadn’t managed well with her make-up skills at all – lipstick was smeared on the fangs on her underbite, and half of her massively bushy eyebrows were caked with mascara. “Ees everyone alright? What ees going on?”

A pregnant pause followed, as everyone looked at Rake quizzically. “Um, Rake, if it’s something private…” Dragon offered.

Ignoring them as best he could, Rake strode back toward the ogre’s bedroom. “It’s okay, I’ll handle this. Everyone else stay here.”

“Rake, aren’t you going to introduce us to your new friend?” Scarlet managed to blurt out loudly before the door closed on the rest of the party.

The ogre had somehow managed to pull on a robe by the time Rake entered, but with nearly every move, it ripped itself into almost the same condition as her (ex-)nightgown. She extended a meaty hand toward him and said, “I ave not introduced myself. My name ees Janette d’Amberville.”

Rake took the hand, briefly considered kissing it and thought better of it, and gave it a hearty shake. “Rake,” he replied.

“Forgive me for not preparing a better selection for you,” she growled, moving toward a side table containing a carafe and a number of flute glasses, “but eet was ze best zat I could come up with on such short notice.”

Some small talk followed, with Rake trying to interrogate her on the contents of the château, but eventually things started to turn ugly. (OK, uglier.) As stated in the module, her “command of languages of the social graces is slight and [she] will become more and more frustrated as [she] continues to make mistakes”. I had her accidentally break the glasses in her massive grip as she tried to pour the wine, and her voice was unpalatable to even her own ear, trying to delicately treat words and failing utterly.

And eventually, my vocal cords thanked me for stopping this nonsense of doing a French accent with added gravel when she went berserk and attacked Rake, as per the module’s instructions. Rake had already sensed that Janette was about to go mental, and had hefted his spiked chain early, making exceedingly short work of her.

The rest of the party burst in at the sound of combat. “She went mad and I killed her,” Rake explained economically. Scarlet didn’t believe a word – a pity, because it was the truth – and severely berated Rake for his callousness. If only they’d known, that in the chimney wall outside, the body of the real Janette lay rotting in the brickwork, murdered by the very ogre that now lay dead in her bedroom… Moldvay didn’t bother to offer an explanation of why the murder took place though, or why the ogre suddenly thought it was Janette. That château is just such a durned cooky place, ain’t it?
 

colbabe

Rhymer
At the very western end of the hallway, windows gave a view of the mist outside, and two doors led north and south. The south connected them back to the foyer that they discovered themselves in, but the north wall opened to a short hallway with three doors on the east side. The far door they opened first, led to perhaps the oddest room in the château: a linen closet (p7, area 6). Bath towels, soap, linen and other items lined the walls. Wide-eyed, the adventurers backed out of the room, puzzled beyond belief that this was in a D&D module. They would later find no toilets, only to my own dismay at the realisation.

The middle door revealed a more interesting room – what was once the servants’ quarters (p7, area 7) was now the nest of three aranea. Again, flexing the 35 levels of might between them, the party slaughtered the creatures without the beasts even firing off one spell.

The last door proved to be something of a challenge. Another servants’ ex-quarters (p7, area 8), this oddly-decorated room was described as having a floor “covered with a green slimy goo”, a dull black ceiling, and a stone slab platform set into the east wall, fifteen feet away from the characters, resting upon a stone chest. Aha!, the characters exclaimed. A challenge!

A few of them remembered the old staple of old-school D&D, the green slime, and weren’t fooled for a minute. They also deduced, after a while, that the ceiling was covered in a black pudding. Several of the party took a shot at it, but this thing was CR 7, and it proved itself worthy of the rating with its Split ability and various immunities to damage, not to mention it destroying just about every weapon that came into contact with it. Marley’s morningstar didn’t last long. Rake’s spiked chain survived, but his armor didn’t when the pudding slapped it. Scarlet’s fireballs did little to it either (but destroyed the grey ooze hiding near the chest), and Dragon backed off, realising that his fists being eaten away by acid wasn’t a good thing at all.

Marley came to the rescue in the end, asking, “Is this a water-based creature?” I ruled “Sort of”, and he asked what Dust of Dryness might do to it. I gave it an arbitrary +4 to its Fort save because of its gooeyness, but it still failed.

“How much damage does it take?” I asked.

“All of it,” Jody replied, pointing at the DMG entry for the item. Poof, went the pudding, to the resounding cheers of the party.

The stone slab was shifted easily off, and the booty within was claimed. Many coins, a staff, and a short sword. Rabbit nabbed the sword and unsheathed it, but jumped a mile when it spoke.

“Who art thou?” it exclaimed boldly.

“Er, um, Rabbit,” he stammered.

“What art thou? Art thou worthy to wield me in the fight for law?” the sword boomed as I randomly rolled its alignment of Lawful Neutral.

“Oh crap,” Rabbit said.

“Gimme that,” Rake said, taking the sword.

“Ah! Art thou worthy to– What the–?”

“Shut up,” said Rake as he shoved the sword hastily into a Bag of Holding. “Let’s move on.”
 

colbabe

Rhymer
My drawn map revealed a slight gap between these three rooms and Janette’s bedroom, which sent the party into a secret-door-finding frenzy. After twenty minutes or so – during which time, Scarlet sobered up, much to Helga’s dismay at losing the humour value – they found the secret door in the west wall of the bedroom.

Opening the door revealed another bedroom (p7, area 9), this time with a “longer-than-normal” bed, rich furnishings, and an eight-foot tall armoured guy with the head of a lion standing next to the bed. (What, he was standing here the whole time? What was he waiting for? How bored does he have to be to just stand there day after day?) Nervous greetings came from the party. A basso rumble emanated from the figure, introducing himself as Richard Coeur de Lion d’Amberville; Helga immediately translated “the Lion-Hearted” for the rest of the group who didn’t speak French.

“Sorry for killing your sister, or whatever she was,” Dragon said, gesturing back to Janette’s bedroom.

Generally friendly interrogation revealed that Richard didn’t know much about the mist, but he knew of the rakasta to the south, since he was their leader.

“Really?” Rake said dryly, “’Cos I was gonna say, you look pretty stupid with that lion’s head there.”

“Rake, what are you doing?” Rabbit muttered, panicking. “Ixnay on the upidstay!”

“What?” Rake asked loudly and sarcastically, “If I think he looks a bit stupid, I ain’t gonna hold back.” (“Has everyone forgotten that I don’t have any armor?” Russel said OOC, “I’m gonna get me some more for free.”)

“Do you dare to insult me?” Richard bellowed in challenge.

“Yeah? What are you gonna do about it?” Rake taunted as everyone else silently drew their weapons. “You aren’t gonna cry, are you? Oh damn, I’d hate for you to start crying…

“Roll initiative,” I said.

“’Bout fucking time,” Russel said, grabbing for his d20.

Sadly, Richard won, and let out with an almighty roar. The module describes the effect of his roar as the effect of a wand of fear unless a save vs. Spells was made; somehow, consulting the fear spell escaped Moldvay’s thought processes. I changed it to Frightful Presence (Sword and Fist, p19), and it worked much better: four of the party ran away immediately, leaving Dragon, shaken and alone, to face Richard. While the Python-esque yelling of “Run away! Run away!” echoed in the background, faced off with Richard as this thing that was twice his size drew his equally-lengthy bastard sword.

For a few rounds, Richard slashed ineffectually at Dragon, who had gone into full defense, flipping and cartwheeling around the place until, after he realised that his movement rate more than made up for any other current inadequacy in the match-up, he too ran into the hall to find his comrades. Richard gave chase anyway, not one to back down from a fight.

From here, the view stayed in the mirrored hallway, and proceedings started resembling an English farce. Dragon ran from the bedroom door to the hall doors in the south, followed seconds later by Richard, who closed the doors behind him. Rake opened the dining hall door, yelling “Run away!” at the top of his lungs, and exiting through the north hall doors. Marley came out of the kitchen doors doing the same, and exited through Janette’s bedroom door. Rabbit came out of the wraith bedroom at the same time that Scarlet crossed the catwalk, both yelling with fright. Then Marley came out of the south hall door. Many random entrances and exits followed – lots of screaming, Dragon and Richard still conducting a chase in the meantime. Then time seemed to speed up, and the characters ran around the place yelling, chasing, and bumping comically into each other as Richard wiggled the bastard sword above his head like a mutant Keystone Cop. The whole scene turned sepia and somewhere a banjo started playing at a rapid tempo. Screaming faces turned into melodramatically scared faces. Scarlet came out of the kitchen carrying a tray of cream pies, which was quickly knocked over, at which point she started chasing Richard. Rake came out of the north hall wearing only a towel around his waist and another around his head, and when the chase passed him, he panicked effeminately and ran back toward the linen closet. Then all six characters came out of different exits, crashed together in a pile in the middle, and then exited out of completely different doors.

Eventually however, some semblance of normalcy returned to the adventure. The fear effect wore off, and Richard found himself surrounded by the adventurers. He put up a good fight, but was no match for the party en masse. Rake happily pilfered the armor from the fallen Richard, slipping on the golden full plate even as Dragon protested that “The guy was eight feet tall! How’s it going to fit you?” Someone muttered “resizes itself to fit the wearer, dude,” proving that even old-school players still forget the basics. “I can’t even wear armor, why am I worried?” Scott asked to no one in particular.
 

colbabe

Rhymer
With the west wing done, the adventurers could only head east through the doors that saw the entrance of the random zombies earlier. Opening the door revealed a huge indoor forest in an enormous high-domed octagonal room. A circuitous path led onward through the dense wood.

About 100 feet in, they stepped into the area noted in the module as The Forest Of Doom (p8, area 13). The boxed text described trees that were larger than those already seen… and then the trees came alive and attacked! Wow! I didn’t even bother trying to convert these new creatures to D&D3.0, nor did I risk Tolkien turning in his grave by using treants. Eventually I declared these Killer Trees defeated. “Well, you made it through The Forest Of Doom,” I unenthusiastically told the group, “Congratulations.” “Forest Of Doom?” a few of them asked incredulously.

Another turn bought them to the area enigmatically entitled Shadow Paranoia (p8, area 14). “You hear branches rustling on both sides of the path,” the boxed text read, “At the limit of your sight you see a number of grotesque shadowy forms to both sides of the road apparently following you.” The text was designed to promote paranoia amongst the players, and oddly enough it worked. Perhaps they were tired. Rabbit fired off an arrow or two, and with no discernible effect, the adventurers fled along the path.

At a T-intersection further on (p8, area 15), they found a young lady sleeping, curled up next to a unicorn, also asleep. Really pushing the boundaries of good taste, Moldvay describes the woman’s amber skin, golden hair, daffodil-coloured dress, and the saffron-coloured cloak she was using for a pillow. Oh, and the wooden chest she had an arm draped over. There was a small pause as the adventurers looked at each other in bewilderment, and then they simply sneaked past.

The group headed south briefly, coming out of the château to the wide columnated main entry, but still surrounded by the Mysterious Mule-Eating Mist, and lacking any spare mules to test the Mist’s effectiveness, they went back inside and took the other path.

Next, after the meandering path curled back to head northeast, they came across a fifty-foot-long bridge (p9, area 16) over a river. They spied a humanoid with the head of a goat peering over the bridge, talking with a larger humanoid about how he was a bit too skinny to be eaten, but his brothers would be along any second now, and they were much bigger…

Rake drew his spiked chain immediately. “You guys handle the troll,” he ordered curtly as he ran off in the direction of the goat-headed thing.

“Who’s that clomping over my bri–” managed the troll before it was whaled on by the party.

“Hold it there, you little fucker!” came the slightly odd battlecry from Rake, but rounding the corner that the goat-thing just took, Rake found no one in sight. Cursing mightily, he rejoined the group just as they started roasting the troll.

Further on, the very centre of the forest had a massive feature fountain with a pool fed by the indoor river (p9, area 18). The fountain itself had three gargoyles carved into it, doing what gargoyles were originally designed to do: stay completely still and shoot water out of their mouths. (Thank you Mr Moldvay for the minimal research. Keep up the good work!) At the top of the fountain sat a metallic chest.

A few of the tougher types tried entering the water, but encountered the reason why this area is entitled The Fountain Of Death – a giant amoeba, cleverly disguised as the muck at the bottom of the pool, attacked at once. Another one of those tough conversions meant that I didn’t do any work on this one, so I relied on its old THACO score and rolled to hit, fumbling. The Cave of the Dark Side scene from The Empire Strikes Back hit me in that instant – on his way to the evil place, Luke steps in… something or other… and it farts wetly and angrily at him. I didn’t describe this to my players, but I moved quickly on regardless, eager to have the image gone from my head.

The climb up revealed that the chest was padlocked, and Steve was, to say the least, overjoyed that he was finally able to roll Open Locks. Utilising his Ring of Jumping (3.0, so a much more meaty +30 to Jump checks), Rabbit nimbly leapt up on top of the statues, whipped out his masterwork lockpicks, and deftly opened the chest. Inside, he found a bunch of cash, plus an Ornate Silver Key. “Aha, we’re beginning to find McGuffins,” Russel commented sagely.

“Well, you made it through The Fountain Of Death,” I said.

What?!?” they said in return, “Fountain Of Death, Trees Of Doom… What’s next, the Flowers Of Evil?”

I turned to page 10 of the module. “Hey, who’s been peeking at the adventure while I was in the can?” I asked accusingly.
 

colbabe

Rhymer
Coming closer to the northern end of the forest, the group spotted a handful of amber-coloured squirrels (see, not even relatively harmless rodents were safe from the colour scheme) climbing through the trees (p9, area 19). When one of them touched an acorn and turned it, Midas-like, to gold before carrying it away to the bole of another tree, Rake was off like a light and climbing up toward the furry little moneymakers, much to the protests of his fellow adventurers.

“Must be descended from the Naugahyde boggie clan,” Dragon confided to Rabbit, “They’re well-known fer tryin’ to bugger squirrels.”

“Wha?” Rabbit replied.

I had Russel roll a grapple check to try to grab one, but this was just bait for the next encounter. As instructed by the module, as soon as he made the attempt to attack any of the squirrels, and I quote: “The hillside suddenly cracks open and a number of mounted creatures begin to ride out”, led by a goat-headed guy (not the same one as before) riding a giant elk. Yep, the Wild Hunt had come to town.

The group found themselves outnumbered again, this time by André-David d’Amberville (Monsieur Goat-Headed Guy #2), a couple of rakasta mounted on tigers (originally sabre-toothed, but I changed it regular tigers to save trouble), and two dire wolves being ridden by new creatures calling themselves lupins. Funny, ‘cos after years of listening to the Dennis Moore sketch by Monty Python, I knew that lupins were flowers, and I had a hard time trying to wrap my head around having a bunch of flowers attack the PCs from wolf-back; as it turns out, lupins are just bigger kobolds. Must be a French thing.

Anyhoo, there was a mighty battle in the forest. Marley almost got torn in half though, as the 3.0 version of the tiger is a highly-skilled killing machine (applause to WotC for an accurate assessment of the abilities of the great cat) and used its Pounce and Rake abilities to good effect. It was at this point that Russel finally remembered that his character had Wings of Flying on his equipment list, and started using them to put himself 10 feet into the air above opponents – in his threat range, but not theirs. A cheesy powergame, but Russel built the character on good powergame foundations (specialised in spiked chain, Improved Trip, etc).

After the party wiped out the opposition and healed up, Rake looked around for the squirrels, and was disappointed to find them gone. He scooped up the golden acorns anyway before moving on. The party asked about this hillside that the Wild Hunt apparently “cracked open” out of, and whether or not it was some sort of lair that they could loot. After a good look around in the module, I found nothing on it, so I told them that Tom must have used a bit of wacky creative license with that description. I was equally as puzzled as the players were on that score.
 
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