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Experiences in X2: Chateau d'Ambervilleby Ville Lδhde
I just started DMing X2 again. The first time was in late 80s, early 90s, and one of our present gaming groups is going through it now. I thought it would be nice to write a gaming diary of sorts, just for the highlights, and I am inviting others to offer their experiences.
This is a resolutely old-school campaign: we have been playing a host of classic Basic modules using the Red Box rules "as written", trying to find how the old beloved game works if you really play it as the rulebook suggests. So we have been generating characters with the cruel rules of the Red Box, even rolling 1st level hit points. So quite a few 1 hit point starting PCs, terrible attribute scores etc, but also some great ones. Moving towards Expert levels we have been using mostly only the rules in the Expert Set, even though Cyclopedia is our go-to source. So for example no Weapon Mastery (I never used it).
It has been fun and so bloody that the players named their group "The Rotating Knives" (yes, from the Monty Python sketch). We started with all players having 2 PCs, and it was a good decision, since we started with Keep on the Borderlands, and it is a meatgrinder. During Keep on the Borderlands, Palace of the Silver Princess, Rahasia, Horror on the Hill, Journey to Rock and a homebrewed Basic-Expert transition scenario The Lost Dwarven Mine, they lost at least 26 PCs, not to mention a host of retainers (actually the first session of the Keep was a TPK with the kobolds). Slowly as experience levels have been gained, we have been moving towards 1 PC per player, so at the beginning of X2 we had 9 PCs (for 6 players), mostly on level 5, which is quite a bit more than X2 recommends. Then again, I think hose recommendations are crazy, as the module is potentially TPK-deadly even for this seasoned group.
SESSION 1: The Elf Joins the Banquet
So, "Les couteaux rotatifs" finds themselves magically transported to the Chateau, and during the transportation a force invades their minds and they learn a new language called French (I think this is an important addition), but they do not know many of the things they have names for, and they glean no other new knowledge.
First they met Jean-Louis, and their fighter successfully beat the Demos Magen in the boxing match. So, they won a lot of money and immediately are faced with a problem. Even though they have found two Bags of Holding in previous adventures, they will run out of room fast. (I think this is a good device to limit the exp gain during the adventure, and for us it created funny moments. This positive problem is added by the loot they gain after defeating the rakasta next door.
I was really dreading the ghastly banquet next door, because if you DM it as written (and that is the spirit of our campaign), it can devastate the party. Only three PCs decided to remain out of the banquet, and the rest really went to town with it: they stuffed their faces and drunk a lot. And they had incredible luck. The fighter raised his ST to 18, the thief his DX to 18, without any tough attribute losses. Nobody died of toadstool poisoning, even though 4 ate the dish (so, those guys gained the extraordinary poison save bonus). At the end 4 or 5 of them drank the brandy! Only one of them, a newly recruited elf, joined the ghosts. All his magic items of course went with it, but nothing crucial was lost. This could have ended really badly but as I said, this has been the spirit of the campaign the whole time, and experiment of sorts.
The blinding effect in the hallway was fun, and again the PCs were lucky and did not meet any random encounters.
Later they were surprised by the green slime and the black pudding, and that could have been pretty ugly, but again they were lucky. A charge from a Staff of Power (found in the Lost Dwarven Mine) and a lot of oil flasks took care of it. One of their dwarves became the pet of the intelligent sword. Since it was clearly a thief sword, we named it Arsene Lupin. The aranea were taken care of without any hassle
To be continued.
SESSION 2: "Oh, that was not your sister then?"
Well this was all kinds of fun this time.
First the PCs woke up the ogre who thought it was "Janet". One of the magic-users charmed it instantly and succeeded. The clumsy "Janet" was highly entertaining. The PCs decided to look for a secret door, based on their map, and they managed to find Richard's room instantly. Everything started well, a pretty favourable reaction and all, and the PCs learned a bit about the whole situation (the name Etienne popped up for the first time). Unfortunately as the PCs thought "Janet" had been cursed (and not killed and stuffed into the chimney), they introduced it to Richard, who was of course enraged and let our his Aslan-roar. What luck: only the thief started to flee, in the direction of the foyer and the grey mist, of course. At the same time, Richard was however successfully Held. Two PCs remained to guard him, the others ran to catch the thief. The remaining PCs happenened to be the most morally corrupt ones and they simply killed Richard, making up a flimsy cover-story.
After a breather, the PCs continued on their way. They met Guillaume d'Amberville and had an extremely favourable reaction. Guillaume, who displayed some strange facial ticks, offered a demonstration of his magical talents and hinted about the forest and "a fair maiden at the crossroads". (Guillaume thought it would be fun to direct the PCs to hurry through the killer tree forest and see how they fare.) They parted amicably.
Next the PCs ran into the wraiths but again had great luck: they surprised them. The magic-user, freshly on level 5, used Lightning Bolt for the first time and blasted them both to oblivion. I had the player roll for generic luck (3d6), and the bolt also revealed the safe and triggered the deadly trap harmlessly. Again, gold was found, but the PCs cannot carry it all.
The PCs decided that it would be time to rest, and the amber glow surrounded them. They gained experience, and the other magic-user gained her fifth level! As time around them seemed to have stopped, the PCs decided to wait for a week so the mage could scribe her first 3rd level spell from a scroll. They had enough water in their waterskins (and purify spells) to keep somewhat clean, they ate exceptional French cuisine offered by the amber glow, sparred, drunk and bickered. During this time the dwarf lost the intelligent sword, as the chaotic cleric decided to Remove Curse his old Helm of Alignment Changing (from the Lost Dwarven Mine, the previous aventure). So the sword passed to the thief, the only Neutral left. (The party is fifty-fifty Chaotic-Lawful, but the players have found a good way to make this work and to be entertaining.)
After their week-long rest, the PCs headed for the forest. At the kitchen bridge they were ambushed by four weretigers, and nearly lost two PCs. It was a close call, all in all, but nobody died. Two PCs were infected, but I had already ruled that the Staff of Healing they found in the slime room has spell charges (I highly suggest using this optional version of the staff here, or else the scenario will be even more dealy), so they could cure them I ruled that the staff is equivalent to the 11th level requirement to Cure Disease lycantropy.
In the huge greenhouse, the PCs were heading towards the Killer Tree forest, as they saw Guillaume levitating above the treetop shouting "Allo! Allo!" and waving them forwards. Free of doubt they moved on and were attacked by the trees, but luckily not totally surprised, so only the strong tip of their column can be rached by the trees.
We will continue hopefully next week. (BTW, if the PCs handle the Killer Trees well, Guillaume will applaude them and offer his Potion of Invulnerability as a prize. He is, after all, quite mad.)
SESSION 3: "Nice cave you got here"
"Les couteaux rotatifs" tackled the killer trees in a two-tiered battle. The first one involved only the first four heavily armoured PCs, but it was still brutal. All the four trees remained standing, with tentacles severed, as the PCs did not dare to approeach them in the forest. They ventured on, without sufficent care, so the two remaining trees near the path surprised them, and that was nearly fatal: the cleric and the two mages were instantly snared! However, with some luck in initiative and a Lightning Bolt spell they saved the day. Nobody died, although the halfling nearly re-enacted the classic Olf Man Willow episode.
Upon leaving the small forest, the group met applauding Guillaume. The PCs were furious for being lured into danger, but Guillaume was oblivious and greeted the hero, praising individual accomplishments, having kept score and rewarding "the most valuable player" with a potion. It was fun: the players are so scared that they really did not want to risk a confrontation, although this one would not even have been that dangerous. The learned about Isodore, Richard's wife, who is the matron of the forest, and thus were sufficiently spooked. They after all had just killed Richard. However, even though they made a lot of noise during their trek in the forest, they had incredible luck: they did not meet any wandering monsters! (As I said, I am DMing this pretty much "by the book", so I will not force the encounter.)
Guillaume directed them to meet "the fair maiden" at the crossroads but did not join them, saying "she really does not like Ambervilles". Again, the PCs were tiptoeing around the encounter, extremely wary of the mysterious woman with the unicorn. They learned about Etienne's death and the coinciding curse, and that Etienne had originally bound her to the forest, and that the chateau had been built in "Glantri". They also heard about Averoigne. (NOTE: In this campaign, I placed the early Basic adventures in the far west, beyond Hule, during settlement efforts of the Lawful Brotherhood. Chronologically I placed them in the 500AC's, during the Thyatian and Alphatian colonization drive. So the PCs speak a version of common Thyatian but have very little knowledge about the Known World. As the Mist hijacked them to the chateau, they were travelling with a trade caravan through Hule towards Sind and eventually Darokin and Glantri, so the name is known to them. If they survive this adventure, they will be placed in Wendar for Saga of the Shadowlord, around 800AC just before the plague. I have always wanted to play around with that! It is an interesting period in general.)
They dispatched the troll at the bridge easily, feeding the remains to a Bag of Devouring (and thus avoiding fire and an extra wandering encounter roll). At the pool it was so much fun, as they were so scared of the gargoyle statues that the amoeba attack was a true surprise. The halfling was again in danger, but they are a tough bunch, and Gamling (yes) survived with minor wounds.
The attack of the Wild Hunt was nearly a disaster, as the PCs were surprised. One of their mages was nearly devoured by a tiger, but the beast rolled terribly again, with worse luck this session could have ended the whole adventure. A well-placed Web spell (stopping one of the tigers) and the death of one rider broke the morale of Andre-David, but before he had time to withdraw, he was also Charmed! This created an opportunity for some extra material. Andre-David was not only happy to meet "his best friend" and sorry to have attacked him, but the whole Hunt was mightily impressed by their adversaried (reaction roll 12 after the surrender). They invited the PCs to rest and recuperate in their lair, as the PC were at this stage pretty mangled and without healing powers. Andre-David opened up the magic door into the hill with a chant to Shub-Niggurath, the Black Goat of the Woods (obviously, since Andre-David has the head of a black goat). The cave was decorated with Shub-Niggurathian motifs improvising quickly, I tied the Killer Trees to them. This reeeeeaaaally spooked the players, since they are old hands with Call of Cthulhu.
From Andre-David they learned about the conspiracy to kill Etienne, and about the both libraries they were inquiring about knowledge.
As "evening" approached (there is of course no real day and night among the Mist), the PCs were preparing to rest and the Amber Glow appeared! Again time stopped, wounds were healed, delicious food was served and spells were replenished. As the PCs returned to real-time, Andre-David was amazed, as his guests had been healed and rested during the blink of an eye. The PCs concocted a story about their mystical powers of sleeping, and Andre-David was awestruck: "Are you from Kadath?" (I am a bit proud of this improvised line, as it again made the players jump.)
The PCs left their new friend and headed for the chapel. In the chapel they experimented with the grisly organ and got into a fight with a couple of magical statues. Sadly, the statues did not manage to touch anyone. I am sure that if they had gained a positive effect, that would have created a nice internal conflict about daring to try again. Hearing Magdalene's pleas for help, they had to pick a fight with two other statues, but even in this fight no statue managed to score a "hit".
Magdalene was saved, and she headed straight for Charles and the library, with the PCs in tow. As the PCs sided with Magdalene, Charles was quickly killed. Magdalene grabbed her shield and left, telling the PCs that she wanted to "seek her death". The PCs remained to look around in the library, perusing the stange titles of the books: Libre Honorius, Codex Gigas, Malleus Maleficarum... and Pnakotische Schrifte, Libre Ivonis, Cultes des Goules etc. They also found Charles's spell book, managing to avoid the two poison traps I placed to guard it but unable to use it for now, as the spell book is Magic Locked.
Until next time, sometime next year, as our group is avoiding unnecessary travel before the festive time, for obvious reasons.