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Weird Revisted: Weird Weapons, Weird War

Fri, 03/24/2017 - 13:11
Usually with these revisitations, I go for a most from around the same date, but Jason "Dungeon Dozen" Sholtis aske me a related question yesterday, so I thought it was worth revisiting this one from 2010:
The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other bastard die for his."

- Gen. George S. PattonWhen the crazy-quilt patchwork of nations that was Ealderde erupted in the Great War, a number of new technologies were brought to bear. Thaumaturgical and alchemical weapons and "weaponizable" advances were among these, and were utilized on a scale never seen before--with long-lasting, and terrible consequences.

First among these was the use of alchemical weapons, particularly gas. The forces of Neustria were the first to utilize them with fragmentation shells filled with stinking cloud potions. The Staarkish army soon escalated to lethal chemicals. Their "Magic Corps Men" cast cloudkill which, as a heavier than air gas, was ideal for filling enemy trenches. Since mages are a quirky lot, generally ill-suited to military discipline, their numbers in the Staarkish forces were small, and it proved expedient to replace them with thaumaturgic shells which could be fired from artillery at a greater distance.  The gas could also be pumped out of tubes, if the wind directions were right. Soon these methods were adopted by all the larger nations.

Other, more exotic chemicals were tried. Acid fog was released from sprayers to discourage attackers or soften defenders. Yellow musk, the pollen of the eponymous creeper, cultivated in secure greenhouses, was used to entrance enemies and make them easy targets. Amorphing solutions delivered via artillery shells sowed terror by making flesh malleable, dissolving limbs or even melting soldier's together. The only limits were the imaginations (and funding) of the alchemists and thaumaturgic engineers.

Magical weapons of mass destruction were also employed, and could be delivered to distant targets through the use of artillery and airships. Thaumaturgical explosives and blights laid waste to cities and farmlands. Rays of searing light, or jets of intense cold fired from zeppelins cut swaths of destruction across enemy trenches. Implosive weapons literally collapsed fortifications--or hapless troops--in on themselves.

Then there were the weapons calculated to cause as much terror as direct damage. Teleportation beams were turned upon population centers. Fear rays lead to mass panic. The battlefield fallen were briefly animated to turn on their grieving comrades. This is to say nothing of the even more exotic reality-warping weapons which, though rare, were powerful enough to disrupt the elemental fields to this day.

Another technological change in the Great War was touted as potentially rendering the human soldier obselete. Constructs and automata have been used before, but never in such a scale. "Land ironclads" or "landships"--now colloquially called "tanks"--were an innovation by the army of Grand Ludd on thaumaturgical techniques used to make anthropomorphic golems. Some tanks required human operators, but others were automonous to a degree, like the golems. This proved to be another one of the mistakes of war, as man-hunting kill-machines still roam the blasted former battlefields and depopulated wastes of Ealderde.

Man-shaped golems were still used--largely for their flexibility and, in some cases, greater psychological effect on the enemy--but these were produced with greater mechanical skill, giving them a wider variety of uses. Once again terror was a prime goal, as squads of murderous constructs with the appearance of children's toys were sent into unsuspecting villages in the dead of night. 

It's the hope of many that the most lasting innovation of the conflict will be that man has finally had enough of war. Certainly, the devastation wrought in Ealderde, and the refugees that still pour into the New World to escape the post-war horror, ought to be powerful reinforcers for such a lesson. Still, as the cynics among us would point out, no one has ever lost money betting on the short-memory or long-term foolishness of mankind.

Wednesday Comic: Head Lopper #5

Wed, 03/22/2017 - 11:00

Andrew MacLean's quarterly heroic fantasy comic Head Lopper returned last week with the first part of a new story arc: "And the Crimson Tower." I've discussed Head Lopper before, pimping the collection of the first storyline. In brief, it's the adventures of a burly, bearded warrior with a flair for decapitation and an unusual sidekick--the still-living, severed head of a witch he decapitated.

This new arc starts off with a setup pretty much as D&D as you can get. Head Lopper, his friends, some plucky little humanoids, and some ne'er-do-well adventures, enter the Crimson Tower of Ulrich the Twice Damned. It's pretty much a killer dungeon with puzzles, deadly traps, and a fight with a three-headed dragon automaton.

Check it out!

Midnight on the Prismatic Peak

Mon, 03/20/2017 - 11:00

I've been working on Mortzengersturm, Mad Manticore of the Prismatic Peak all weekend--and Jeff Call has put in some awesome work too. Check out the illustration of the Prismatic Peak above. Jeff does a really good Mary Blair, don't you think?

Weird Revisited: Curse of the Wolf

Sun, 03/19/2017 - 14:23
This post first appeared five years ago today. It a part of the mostly unpublished (except here) planar stuff for Weird Adventures:

Besides the usual sorts of lycanthropes, the City sometimes sees a rarer sort created by an elixir from the Outer Planes. Known as the Potion of Werewolfism, the magical elixir is thought to be brought to the Prime Material Plane by agents unknown from the Land of Beasts. It appears as a shockingly effervescent liquid of shifting color within a somewhat oversized test tube stoppered with a cork.
Imbibing the liquid has the immediate effect of transforming the drinker into an anthropomorphic wolf resembling the inhabitants of the Land of Beasts. Despite the startling change, people encountering the person for the first time in werewolf form will not react as if anything is unusual: such is the extraplanar magic of the potion.  This initial transformation lasts 1d100 minutes, but there is a 50% chance that the potion has given the imbiber the hiccups and each hiccup will bring a shift between forms. After the initial transformation, the imbiber will return to normal, but the wolf form will re-emerge ever night at sundown.

Persons suffering from this werewolfism aren't ravening beast like common lycanthropes but are compulsive carousers and cads. No attractive member of the opposite sex is safe from their crude come-ons. While in werewolf form a individual can be hurt, but quickly shrugs off any damage sustained (regenerating like trolls). They do not have any particular susceptibility to silver.

Victims of this “werewolf curse” often make themselves destitute with their spending and unwelcome in any night-spot in town with their skirt-chasing as they fulfill their wolfish appetites.

Straight from the Prismatic Peak

Fri, 03/17/2017 - 11:00

A Mortzengersturm preview! The Oubliette of Mistakes wher ethe mad manticore wizard keeps the creations that displeased him. The roll call:

Mocka: This attempt to cross a naga with a clown triggered even Mortzengersturm’s coulrophobia in the end. It giggles and mugs and sways and bounces like a jack-in-the-box unboxed, eager to bring laughter and joy.

Gruebird: This spiteful creature hides in total darkness that only a magical light source can penetrate. It will attack anything that comes close enough for it to peck or snatch with its talons.

Chimerical Chimera: A swirling, churning cloud of protoplasm that never looks like the same thing twice. Each round, its abilities and appearance changes.

Jam: A sweet-tasting, edible variant on the deadly slimes or jellies of Subazurth was not to be. It is sweet, but no less deadly. Those entrapped by it may die in a euphoric sugar-sleep.

Moonster: A glowing spherical creature resembling the moon with a face: a bemused smile under half-lidded eyes. The Moonster is a narrator—and an annoying one. It will narrate the actions of anyone that enters the shaft in a somewhat florid diction, but with an ironic distance. It knows the past of the subject of its narration with certainty; its predictions for the future are only speculation, no matter how assured their delivery.

Miszm Throppe’s wizardly capotain, indigo and silver and arrayed with mystical symbol, crouches atop his decaying skull and waits. It was never a particularly virtuous piece of headwear, and somehow it has gained a degree of life and with it an even greater measure of malevolence.

Wednesday Comics: Storm: Pirates of Pandarve

Wed, 03/15/2017 - 11:00
My exploration of the long-running euro-comic Storm, continues with his adventures in the world of Pandarve. Earlier installments can be found here.

Storm: The Pirates of Pandarve (1983) 
(Dutch: De Piraten van Pandarve) (part 5)
Art by Don Lawrence; script by Martin Lodewijk

After recruiting the other slave miners to their side, Storm and Nomad lead them to the elevator out of the mine. Along the way, they defeat more guards and bring ever more slaves to their side.

When Storm reaches the surface, he finds Rann just about to buy back his freedom from the mine owner.  That's all unnecessary now as the battle is joined between the former slaves and the owner:

The slaver breaks out some shuriken:

Before the mine owner can have his monster throw Storm in the pit, Nomad pushes them in. The monster tries to climb out, but Storm shoots the rope.

Storm has trouble keeping his army under control. They run wild in the street, looting and burning, as he attempts to lead them to the harbor. They force the ferryman to carry them into orbit, where they promptly commandeer a ship, sending the crew down to the planet.

Nomad poses a question to Storm:


Silver Keys in House Perilous

Mon, 03/13/2017 - 11:00

Our Land of Azurth game continued last night with the third session of my adaptation of X2: Castle Amber. We had ended on a cliffhanger with the chaplain in gold armor about to attack. He got in a couple of blows, but the party made short work of him and stole his loot.

They also found a chest containing a meteorite, which unfolded into Astra, one of the Shooting Star Folk. She was vague as to how she got here, but just as eager as the party to find a way out, so she joined them.

Astra by Jeff Call
Next was a room full of skeletons in cassocks, a four armed one had a silver key around its neck. The party took heavy damage, but prevailed. Searching for a place to rest, they found more gold and a cockatrice, but no one else got petrified. Our heroes left the chapel feeling they had either killed or allowed to be killed a person with information they needed to get out.

They passed through the garden again, wisely avoiding a field of poppies, and came to the other wing of the house. The bard, Kully, shook off an attempt at possession in a throne room full of skeletons. They chatted with a well-mannered ice salamander, but had nothing they would allow him to freeze to trade for more information.

Finally, they came upon the first generally helpful person they've met in the whole mansion: a mastiff-headed man named Claudas they encountered in the library. He showed Shade a scroll that revealed they needed several magic items to lift the curse and escape the house. These items are on Earth in a place called France. The players realize they have some of the Silver Keys they surmise open to the gates to France, but now they just have to find those gates.

Closer to the Prismatic Peak

Sun, 03/12/2017 - 14:39

The first published adventure in the Land of Azurth, Mortzengersturm the Mad Manticore of the Prismatic Peak, is scheduled to drop in June. We're close now, so barring some unforeseen calamity, I feel fairly confident in that. Ideally (though there is less certainty in this), the physical copies will debut at North Texas RPG Con.

Mortzengersturm features art (like the cover above) and cartography by Jeff Call and layout and design will be by Lester B. Portly who made the Strange Stars series look so good. It's written for 5e, but that means its fairly easily "back adaptable" to older editions.

Planetary Picaresque

Fri, 03/10/2017 - 12:00

We're all familiar with the Planetary Romance or Sword and Planet stories of the Burroughsian ilk, where a stranger (typically a person of earth) has adventures of a lost world or derring-do sort of variety on an alien world. I'd like to suggest that their is a subgenre or closely related genre that could be termed the Planetary Picaresque.

The idea came to me while revisiting the novels in Vance's Planet of Adventure sequence. The first novel, City of the Chasch, is pretty typical of the Planetary Romance form, albeit more science fiction-ish than Burroughs and wittier than most of his imitators. By the second novel, Servant of the Wankh (or Wanek), however, Vance's hero is spending more time getting the better of would be swindlers or out maneuvering his social superiors amid the risible and baroque societies of Tschai than engaging in acts of swordplay or derring-do. One could argue the stalwart Adam Reith is not himself a picaro, but the ways he is forced to get by on Tschai certainly resemble the sort of situations a genuine picaro might get into.

These sort of elements are not wholly absent from Vance's sword and planet progenitors (Burroughs has some of that, probably borrowed from Dumas), but Vance makes it the centerpiece rather than the comedy relief. Some of L. Sprague de Camp's Krishna seem to be in a similar vein.

The roleplaying applications of this ought to be obvious. You get to combine the best parts of Burroughs with the best parts of Leiber. I think that's a pretty appealing combination.

Weird Revisited: Desolation Cabaret

Thu, 03/09/2017 - 12:00
This post appeared in March 20, 2011. I think it was first straight up "rpg fiction" on the blog.

In 5880, writer and Great War veteran, Geoffersen Turck, arrived in the Republic of Staark intending to write a travelogue of post-war Ealderde. What follows is from Turck’s journals...

Like home, the capital of Staark has an old name, which nobody bothers to use. It’s just “the Metropolis” these days.  I have to admit, it outdoes the City in some ways--giant skyscrapers are everywhere, with aircars flitting busily between them like insects, interrupted by the stately passage of the occasional zeppelin. Automata direct traffic in the streets, and there’s the ever-present hum and vibration of the underground factories and power plants. You could almost forget the country was flatten by war, then buried by debt--but of course, glittering towers and airplanes keep you looking up, instead of at the faces of the poor walking the low streets.

Then there’s the dark side--what they call “the half-world.” This is a town so full of prostitutes they actually publish guidebooks so the inquiring libetine can stay up on the shifting codes of clothing and color accessories that signal what sort of perversions a hire is game for! Below the elevated roads and railways, lurid neon decorates cabarets and clubs that offer all that's on the streets and more. These streets are all-night candy store for drug fiends--their narco-alchemists must work in shifts. Maybe they’ve got automata doing that, too. In the shadows on the periphery of this underworld are the poor, discarded veterans of the Great War. Those pressed into service by crime or poverty as Eisenmenschen--men thaumatosurgically reconstructed in the Imperial bodyworks with machine parts to be implements of war. The rising National Purity Party has been scapegoating these unfortunates in their rhetoric--blaming them for Staark’s humiliation and defeat.

The air’s starting to get to me. They say things about Metropolis’ air, like its some sort of intoxicant all its own. To me, it’s just the constant stench of stale cigarettes, diesel fumes, and sweat, poorly covered with cloying perfume.

I think I'll give the country a try.

There are areas of the Staarkish countryside posted with warnings. These are the desolation zones, places still tainted by the strange weapons used in the War. Mostly people heed the warnings--the signs aren’t even needed really, when you can see the sickly vegetation, or the pale glow on moonless nights, or hear the weird cries of things unseen. Locals sit in taverns and swap tales about things like gibbering mouths, dire worms, flabby men, or susurrous shamblers. They talk about the zones, but they stay out.

The fellows I’ve thrown in with have other ideas.

The government’s put a bounty on the malfunctioning constructs and golems from the war still stalking the countryside, still carrying out their orders. Menschenjäger--manhunters--they’re called. From the description of the frightened farmers, the leader of our band calls the one we're after a Betrachter, but when we finally see the thing, it looks like a cyclops to me.  Then it fires that disintegrating ray out of its eye and one of our group is seared to ash in its too-bright glow.

That night, after we’ve wrapped the head for transport, we’re sitting in the cold, and the tomb-stillness with the smell of burnt flesh still lingering unpleasantly, and eating iron rations, and I think--Maybe Metropolis isn’t so bad after all?

Weird Revisited: Mantis + Prey

Fri, 03/03/2017 - 12:00
The this post appeared on the 1st of March 6 years ago. It was one of a series of posts I did doing variations on the Outer Planes.

The Mantid Sisterhood are ascetic warrior-nuns and servants of Law from the outer planar realm sometimes called the Octachoron of the Archons. They appear as full-scale, porcelain, marrionettes (without visible strings), in the form of insectoid centaurs, with feminine upper bodies, like slim ballerinas. They wear sphinx-like expressions on their perfect, identical faces.

They are sent out to the Prime Material to hunt down those guilty of transgressions against the Grand Algorithm of the Archons of Law. Transgressors need not know they have committed error--the judgement of the Archons is final; the punishments of the Sisterhood is precise and always delivered with the utmost serenity.

#Enc.: 1d6
Move: 40’(120’)
AC: 3
HD: 7
Attacks: 2 (strikes)
Damage: 2d8
Save: C7
Mantid sisters have the abilities of the Monk class at 7th level (except for feign death, and resistance to ESP, which are superseded by other abilities). As constructs of a sort, they possess darkvision, immunity ot mind-affecting effects, and immunity to poison, sleep, paralysis, charm, and disease--anything that requires a target be a biologic living being.  They are able to travel via dimensional doorways from plane to plane at will.

Firefight on the Planet of the Apes

Thu, 03/02/2017 - 12:00


Player Characters:
Jeff Call as Brock Irving
Lester B. Portly as Eddy Woodward
Jason Sholtis as Francis La Cava

Nonplayer Characters:
Strother Martin as the Mutant Priest

Synopsis: Irving, Woodward, and La Cava go all Wild Bunch on a group of mutants.

Commentary: After little action last adventure this one was a shootout. For the first time since we started this campaign, though, things got tense as the high Mutant Future hit points got whittled down. The fact that I house-ruled doubling the damage for firearms a few sessions ago also helped.

Though this came up last session and not this one, the mutants venerate "Mendes" as their divinely inspired leader and spokes man for the bomb. The priests seen in this session and the last are slightly more human looking than the Kreeg, but also more unhealthy appearing.

The PCs managed to acquire a couple of submachineguns (an M3 being the most coveted) and a dune buggy.

Wednesday Comics: Storm: Pirates of Pandarve

Wed, 03/01/2017 - 12:00
My exploration of the long-running euro-comic Storm, continues with his adventures in the world of Pandarve. Earlier installments can be found here.

Storm: The Pirates of Pandarve (1983) 
(Dutch: De Piraten van Pandarve) (part 5)
Art by Don Lawrence; script by Martin Lodewijk

Marduk explains to a shocked Ember that he really isn't interested in her; she's just bait for the Anomaly. Why is the Anomaly (Storm) so important? His travel through time has embued him with energies that Marduck thinks he can use to control "the powerlines of space and time."

When Storm comes for Ember, Marduk figures that power will be his. Ember tells him others have gone up against Storm before--and failed.

Meanwhile on the Pirate Planet:

All that ice is turned to Vertiga Bas's drinking water via monstrous worm things called griffs:

Storm is partnered with the red (literally) man Nomad and told they will work together until one of them dies.

Nomad shows Storm the ropes in the mines and the use of the equipment. Storm tells Nomad about Rann and his promise to return with money (though now Storm doesn't plan to wait that long). Nomad surmises that if a tariev hunter like Rann knows where to get that much money, it can only mean one thing:

Rann must know the location of the tariev graveyard. Another slave, eavesdropping seems interested in this information.

Storm and Nomad begin an escape attempt. Storm powers up their work lasers so they can actually hurt a guard and capture him. They force him to lead them to the central lift shafts. On the way, some other guards try to stop them, but Storm blasts a griff in the eye, and the creature's death throes kill them. Unfortinately, it also causes a rockfall!

After digging themselves out, Storm and Nomad ambush a maintenance crew heading in their direction. They overpower the guards, and recruit the slaves:


The Wreck of the Golden Dawn

Mon, 02/27/2017 - 02:11

This is an adventure idea for Strange Stars:
"Look at me honey, I'm using technology!
Ain't got no time to make an apology.
Soul radiation in the dead of night,
Love in the middle of a firefight." 
Seventy-eight megaseconds ago, a hyperspace traffic monitor AI recorded a vessel transponder signal from an unmapped node. The vessel was Golden Dawn, a pleasure yacht registered out of Smaragdoz and belonging to pop star Xeno Stardust.

Stardust, his band, and his entourage disappeared during a short cruise, ostensibly for the recording of their new album. When a search failed to discover their whereabouts Stardust corporate filed an indemnity insurance claim--a claim currently unresolved and under investigation.

The insurance company gave you the job, and it sounded like an easy one: IP salvage. Get to Golden Dawn and recover any new music. Bringing Stardust back alive would be optimal, but a partial brain download, recordings, or even partial recordings are worth something.

It isn't going to be that easy. Golden Dawn is stuck in the event horizon of a malfunctioning hyperspace node. At least some of the passengers are still alive, but drugs, ego, and isolation in warped spacetime have taken their toll. Making it out with a lost album? You'll be lucky it you make it out alive.

Clankers & Darwinists, Illustrated

Sun, 02/26/2017 - 15:00
I first mentioned the Leviathan series by Scott Westerfield a while back. I just stumbled across a companion to the series The Manual of Aeronautics that is essentially a technical manual to the series, lavishly illustrated by Keith Thompson (who also does illustrations in the novels).

Westerfield's divergent World War I where the Entente Powers are Darwinists (utlizing “fabricated” animals as technology) and the Triple Alliance are Clankers utilizing mechanical technology far advanced of our real history, provided a lot of vehicles and devices for Thompson to illustrate. Here's a German war walker in cutaway Osprey books style:

And here's the British leviathan airship where the heroes spend much of the series:

It also has pictures of uniforms of the major armed forces involved:

It's a great companion if you dug the series and interesting even if you haven't read them books. The only faults I can find with it  is that it is only a slim 64 pages long and it's a portable 7x9 instead of something in more of an artbook 10x12 range.

Strange Stars Review Roundout

Fri, 02/24/2017 - 12:00

GusL over at the Dungeon of Signs wrote a thorough review of Strange Stars OSR yesterday that you should read if you haven't. You should also stay to check out Gus's blog because he does good stuff outside the bounds of bog standard Medieval fantasy.

I also ran across a couple of old reviews for Strange Stars that I hadn't seen before. They might be new to you, to:

Andy Slack's review at Halfway Station
A video review from Red Dice Diaries

You Fate guys need to to get the people some Strange Stars Fate reviews!

Weird Revisited: Mushrooms, Pigs and Cold Light

Thu, 02/23/2017 - 12:00
This post originally appeared five years ago today. It was one of a few posts looking at the Old World (Ealderde) in Weird Adventures:

The thaumaturgic forces unleashed by the Great War have left much of Ealderde strange. For an example of just how weird this transformation can be, one need look no farther than Lumière,the former capital of Neustrie and the Gallian Alliance. Once Lumière’s lights were emblematic of a city that never slept, a place of art and culture. Today, Lumière is a bombed out ruin, and the amber luminescence that crawls or flows through its streets and buildings is something of another world.

The thing is alive; almost everyone agrees on that, but little they agree on little else. Is it matter? Some gelatinous substance similar to the strange denizens of the underground? Or is it pure energy, somehow thickened and held? If it’s the latter, it’s light with no heat.

In the day, it seems to hide in the skeletons of buildings, perhaps fearing the sun. At night it pours forth and spreads out over whole blocks. Rats and vermin flee it. Living things it touches develop strange tumors or growths. When it first rose, victims caught in its path were left rooted to the spot, transformed into masses of cancer.

The glowing touch of the thing seems to have created at least one mutant species. The wild swine that moved into the city to root and scavenge after the devastation of the war have been changed. They've grown large, and bloated and pale as grubs, with eyes that glow with a paler yellow that the thing. Though they can’t speak, they seem to have evolved an evil intelligence. They roam the streets in herds, seeming to take pleasure in spoiling what remains of the works of man, and looking (though they're hardly picky eaters) for their primary form of sustenance: fungal spores.

The Mushrooms, the swines' unrelenting foes, resent their progency being consumed by the swine with a displeasure that's more cold practicality than horror. These fungal sapients likely lived beneath the city even in previous times (certain legends hint at their presence) but when the humans fled they saw an opportunity. From their inhuman alchemical laboratories they create structures from fungal stock and weaponize molds to strike at the swine and keep humans away.

Looters and treasure seekers make forays into the ruin of Lumière, but it's a dangerous undertaking. Even if the poured-honey creeping of the luminescent thing can be avoided, there are the packs of hungry swine to be outwitted, and the silent and dispassionate Mushroom scientists to be dealt with.

Wednesday Comics: Storm: Pirates of Pandarve

Wed, 02/22/2017 - 12:00
My exploration of the long-running euro-comic Storm, continues with his adventures in the world of Pandarve. Earlier installments can be found here.

Storm: The Pirates of Pandarve (1983) 
(Dutch: De Piraten van Pandarve) (part 4)
Art by Don Lawrence; script by Martin Lodewijk

Storm's plan to free Rann's daughter involves starting a fight with the slaver, Redeye. The police almost arrest him--for not giving every a chance to wager first. Though Storm is weaponless and the slaver armed with a sword, Storm wins and Redeye lands on his on blade.

Unfortunately, the slaves now become the property of the auctioneer. Rann assures Storm he can get the money to buy back his daughter, but it will take time. Storm another idea: Rann can sell him and use the money to save his daughter, then go get the money to buy Storm back later.

They go through with the plan with Rann promising return in a few weeks. Storm, meanwhile, is sold to the boss of the watermines:

Meanwhile, Ember is getting the beauty-treatment much against her will, courtesy of the servants of Theocrat Marduk. He's pleased with the result:

He orders her image broadcast via newsfax and telepathic transmitter throughout the system. His hope is that "the Anomaly" (Storm) will see it. Storm does on a poster as he's being dragged off to the watermines, now regretting his deal with Rann.

Marduk tells Ember his plan:


Blood & Stone in House Perilous

Mon, 02/20/2017 - 12:00
Our Land of Azurth game continued last night with the second session of my adaptation of X2: Castle Amber. When last we left the party, they had managed to open a chest they found in a fountain, but had been caught in the act by an Elf woman. She looked sort of like this, and she and her hound were riding on the back of a rather large crocodilian with a gold chain and leash:

Art by  Vladislav ErkoShe gave her name as Dismé and demanded the party put back the chest. After some hemming and hawing they did--except for a silver key, which Waylon the thief pocketed. She told them the Sylaire family was cursed and no one could leave the manor. Only perhaps, someone named Ystyvan could help them. She suggested they try the chapel, then rode off.

Next, our heroes encounter bronze-furred squirrels who could turn acorns (or anything they thought of as food) to gold with a bite. Shade the Ranger spoke with animals while Erekose and Waylon gathered gold acorns. All this activity brought the forest's ruler and his wild hunt from beneath a hill:

The party was afraid they were outmatched by this guy and his cat-and-dog-men riders. They tried diplomancy, but Herne (as he called himself) only agreed not to attack his "cousin" Shade. The party concentrated their fire on him and took all their foes out surprisingly swiftly.

The entered the chapel and found it lined with sinner statues in mockery of saints and the  personifications of sins leering from the altar:

They hoped one of the statues might be Ystyvan. Instead one winked and kissed Shade and her intelligence went up. After almost visiting all the statues, one reached out and touched Dagmar and turned her to stone!

The others had no way immediately to save her. They heard a voice calling from under the stones. Prying it open, they found a pit-like grave and released a little girl named Mabdalene:

She wanted to find her brother for revenge. Shade panicked and shot her and the party fought with her a bit, before she scuttled past them and escaped.

Looking desperately for a place of safety to rest, the group found monk cells inhabited by zombies. They cleared three rooms, but the undead fortitude of one zombie allowed him to comically old on to unlife after being reduced to zero on multiple attacks.

After a long rest they explored the rest of the chapel, finding the dead body of a Sylaire family member (presumably Mabdalene's brother) in a library, and a man in golden armor praying in another. After an exchange of pleasantries, he attacked.