Sunday, 8 May 2016
Into the Odd solo - Part VI : ab ovo usque ad malum
A gong resounds throughout the guest wing of the castle; dinner is served. A group of soldiers armed with muskets appear at one end of the long corridor, blocking any possible egress. A footman appears at the other end, flanked by two armoured swordsmen, and comes to fetch the guests.
"We must go to dinner at once," says Aurélius.
The footman leads the party under guard towards the great hall, but stops short of taking them inside. "I see you're an odd number now," says he. "Wait here a moment; she'll kill us if this isn't done properly..."
He disappears into the great hall, for a few moments, then come out again bearing a sort of mannequin in evening dress. Its velvet coat is heavily brocaded and resplendent with glittering medals. "Right," he says, "Master, Colon, you shall escort Mlle Rossignol in to dinner. Gregor, you shall escort Wanda. The Count himself will lead Miss Khartoor." At this he thrusts the mannequin into Randeep's arms, whispering, "please, just play along!"
The "Count" and Randeep go into the hall, followed by the others. The footman scurries in afterwards, and rushes to the back of Randeep's seat so he can manoeuvre the mannequin like a giant doll, making it pull out the chair and seat the lady before standing by own seat at the head of the table.
Behind the party is but one more pair of guests. A woman of indeterminate age is "escorted" in by a priest, now a dessicated corpse. The ends of a pair of crossbow bolts stick out a bit from his chest, though they have been pruned as well as they might. The woman herself is in scarcely better shape than the priest. Her gown is torn and soiled, her hair bedraggled, one of her eyes is swollen shut, and her hands, though concealed by elegant gloves, are misshapen. A fork and spoon have been lashed onto the gloves with bailing wire. A timid, crouching servant runs behind her to perform the politesses of the priest.
When all have been seated, the Count sits himself. Randeep and Aurelius, seated closest to the Count (but not too close) can just make out the figure of the housekeeper who had met them on their arrival crouching down behind the Count's chair. A sort of long, brass ear trumpet appears over his shoulder from behind, and her voice issues from it, in a tinny and inexpert imitation of her liege.
"My friends, I am so glad you could join me. I fear there is serious business we must discuss this evening, but there is no reason that we should not also enjoy ourselves. Please partake in this magnificent feast that I have had prepared for you, as the Cou-- as my hospitality is justifiably legendary. But I see you do not all know one another. Let me introduce my confessor, de Blangis, and Aline, my hos-- my charge."
A servant hiding behind de Blangis' chair shouts out, "pleased to meet you!" Aline makes only a strained mewling sound.
"And here we have our new arrivals," continues the Count, "Miss Khartoor, M. Colon, Mlle Rossignol, and their serv-- NO! FUCK! Must... keep.. AAAGH! their Junior Expeditionary Members Miss Wanda and Master Gregor. I am sure you'll all get on famously. But I see the first course is served! I hope you like pheasant. I said, the first course is SERVED!"
Some servants rush out carrying silver trays, upon which steams a gooey, mushroom-smelling porridge. The servants do their best to serve it using long forks as if it really were game.
"Hunted them on my own lands. Such excellent sport! Such bountiful hunting! Now, before we eat, de Blangis will say grace."
The servant crouching behind the priest's corpse does a shaky imitation of a high church prayer, but the diction is at odds with his words. "O... O D-domine Iesu Christe, dissimulate, hospites, vos me intellexisse, ne ancilla furens vos omnes necet. Auscultate tamen monitum. Milites cum sclopetis ianuam custodiunt. Nolite furentem obsistere. Cenet, qui velit vivere. In nomine Patri, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti, Amen."
Randeep, Aurélius, and Wanda exchange a knowing glance as all those assembled murmur their Amen.
[It's a WIL save to remember one's Latin under duress. The rolls were R8, A2, F19, W14, G15, so only three made it.
In case the reader has missed their own WIL save, the false prayer reads thus: "Lord Jesus Christ -- pretend, guests, that you have not understood me, lest the insane maidservant kill you all. But heed my warning. There are soldiers with rifles guarding the door. Do not oppose the madwoman. You should dine if you wish to live. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, Amen."
To get through the first part of the dinner without incident, those who did not hear the warning will need to each make another WIL save. Failure necessitates rolling a d6 and consulting the table below to see how badly their faux pas is received. Another character -- determined at random -- can try to step in and make a hasty excuse to save the situation before the d6 is rolled, requiring a WIL save of their own. Failure means both characters suffer the same result. No one can step in more than once.
1 breach of etiquette goes unnoticed
2 laughter and derision
3 severely castigated (d8 WIL damage)
4 boiling water cast in face (d8 damage)
5 "dessert" poisoned (d8 damage to STR and DEX)
6 firing squad
Survivors will move on to the business part of the dinner.]
The guests set about eating the unappealing slop as best they are able. Servants dressed in simple black like stagehands rush in to manipulate the arms of the corpse-priest and mannequin-Count, so that they too join in the repast. Every course is made of the same horrid gruel, no matter what name it is given: salmon, foie gras, venison, soup, the cheese plate, sorbet, &c &c. The guests stomach as much as they can, and are relieved to see that the kitchen servants return to clear each course well before anyone has finished a plate. Whilst they are dining, must also endure polite conversation.
"After dinner," says the Count, "and the troublesome business which must follow, perhaps we can retire to the parlour. The gentlemen, of course, must retire for cigars and brandy. But then afterwards perhaps we shall have an entertainment. Do you play, Miss Khartoor?"
"Only middling well," admits Randeep, "not nearly so well as our dear Fridoline."
"In circumstances such as these," says Fridoline, "I can't see playing at all!"
"Circumstances? What circumstances?" asks the Count abruptly.
"What she means," says Randeep hastily, "is that Wanda does so outshine us both on the pianoforte. We should rather sing a duet to Wanda's accompaniment."
[Fridoline failed her WIL save (1d20=15); 1d4=Randeep tries to save the situation. 1d20=9, success]
"And I should very much like M. Colon to grace us with a song," says Wanda. "He has the sweetest tenor. Don't you agree?"
A general murmur of approbation greets her remark. Aurélius almost forgets to deflect the compliment with a self-deprecating witticism, but fortunately he remembers to do so. There is much jocularity as he compares his unstudied warblings to the dying groans of a criminal swinging from the scaffold.
The laughter subsides, and they are at risk of passing the meat course in silence, but the Count remembers another important matter for discussion.
"Quite an autumn we're having," says he.
"Oh, my, yes," says Fridoline. "It is rather quite an autumn. Such weather!"
"Indeed," adds Aurélius, though his soul nearly dies to do so.
"How can one tell," asks Gregor. "This far out in the Deep Country...?"
Randeep kicks him under the table and he swallows his next remark, but Wanda jumps straight in.
"Oh, Gregor, you think everything outside of Bastion is the Deep Country. Just because we're so far outside of Bastion, and away from all proper society..." Wanda's voice trails off as the enormity of her phrasing strikes her ears. Her eyes start to brim over and tears stream silently down her cheeks.
[Gregor's WIL save was 1d20=13, failure. 1d3=Wanda tried to help; 1d20=18, also a failure; 1d6=5...]
Gregor hurriedly cleans his plate, and asks if he could have a second helping of the wonderful veal, and could someone please convey his gratitude to the chef. But in his heart he knows that he cannot recover from his misstep, and he dreads the housekeeper's mad revenge.
The reckoning comes with dessert. As Gregor and Wanda take the first few bites of the delicious sorbet, they begin to choke and sputter. Both fall to the floor, convulsing wildly for a few moments, and then lie still.
A pair of servants examine them cursorily, holding a mirror to their nostrils, before one of them pronounces the verdict. "They're still alive, ma'--...y Lord."
"Take them away to where they belong," says the Count.
[Wanda lost 6 STR and 7 DEX to the poison; Gregor lost 5 STR and 1 DEX. Both failed a STR save and passed out from the damage. Gregor is now 1 STR point away from death.]
Mlle Aline meeps out something which may be goodnight, or pleading a headache, or an entreaty to be put out of her misery. The Count asks the priest if he will see the young lady to her room. The explorers bid their bonnes nuits to the pair, and Aline drags the corpse from the room.
"Well, then," says the Count, "let us get down to business."
[Now the PCs are ready for the business portion of the dinner. There will be three rounds of conversation, using UNE to select the topics. The Conversation Mood starts at Neutral. Each round requires a WIL save from each PC to determine if the mood changes, according to the following table.
3/3 +1 step
2/3 no change
1/3 -1 step
0/3 -2 steps
I'll use the final mood to determine what happens at the end, after the proposition/extortion has been made.]
"What about Severin, my lord?" asks Aurélius. "His note said you would speak to us concerning him."
"All in good time," says the Count. "He is safe -- for the moment. But first there are some things I must know. Why have you come here to my castle? Who should have sent you hither?" [inquisitive - petition - previous scene]
"We are searching, my lord," says Randeep, "for a lost band of explorers. Their disappearance is most untimely." [WIL save=3, success]
"I see. And what were they exploring?"
"We aren't exactly certain, my lord," replies Aurélius, "but we were told they were last seen going into the swamp." [WIL save=6, success]
"The swamp? Why would they chance such a dangerous path?"
"I suppose there just isn't very much to explore on the plains," says Fridoline, "unless you like grass." [WIL save=7, success]
Fridoline freezes for a moment as she realises that she forgot to address the Count with the proper honourifics, but a moment later comes the sound of laughter.
[They all made their saves, so the mood improves one step to Sociable.]
"Well said, my dear," says the Count. "But tell me, who is it that sent you forth? You must have a patron of some kind." [knowing - speech - allies]
"My lord," says Randeep, "It was just a friend in Burthen--" [WIL save=19, failure]
"No one has friends in Burthen! You must be beholden to this person somehow."
"Oh, certainly, my lord," says Aurélius hurriedly. "Quite right. Though, whilst our patron is quite above us in station, and we are most certainly pawns in some game or other, yet is our relationship more amicable than not." [WIL save=2, success]
"I see. and does this intimate have a name?"
"Athanasius Pernath," says Fridoline, plucking the name of an old beau at random from her memory. [WIL save=2, success]
"I don't know the name."
"He's no one, really," says Fridoline with a sigh. "My lord."
[Only two successful saves; no change.]
"Small wonder he lives in Burthen, then! But it is time to discuss business of our own. I am confident that I can offer you much greater remuneration that your erstwhile friend." [insane - façade - rewards]
"Indubitably, my lord," says Randeep. "Why, the hospitality of your court and personal largesse are nigh proverbial!" [WIL save=13, success]
"Dear lady, you are too kind!"
"Of course, the safe return of our servants," says Aurélius, "would be a reward beyond measure." [WIL save=7, success]
"And preferably with all of their limbs intact," adds Fridoline. [WIL save=12, failure]
"We shall see."
The housekeeper's hand reaches up from behind the table and places a silver bell in the mannequin-count's hand. A servant hurries as it sounds, and unfolds a map onto the table.
"Please examine this map, an relic of ages past, when this my magnificent castle was but a simple keep, and the earliest noble of my line -- a mere castellan! -- fought to defend the borderlands from the predations of inhuman hosts. And in these ancient times was forged an item of immense and awesome power: the Brank of the Hovering Sentinal."
"A brank?" asks Fridoline. "What is that?"
"A scold's bridle. Or more anciently, 'a brydle for a curste queane'."
"Oh! Like we saw in that club you took us to that one time in Soho--"
"Yes, dear, like that," says Aurélius quickly. "But where, my lord, can we find this item on your map? For I assume it must be found."
"Very astute," says the Count. "You may find it in the place indicated on the map with an 'X', of course.
"I don't see..."
"There! That must be it," says Randeep. "In the name of the Swamp."
"Indeed," says the Count. "Some time ago -- much closer to our time than to the time of this map -- engineers from Bastion were employed to drain Abrasax Swamp. They built great treatment plants, marvels of engineering and architecture, and in each was concealed an artifact of supreme power. Today, but one of these great edifices remains. To this place must you go, and return to me the Brank of the Hovering Sentinal. I give you a fortnight to return. Should you not, I shall slay one of your servants, and keep the others here as companions for Aline. But bring me the Brank, and they shall all be freed, and I shall award you a further 3 guilders for your troubles."
[Notes and die rolls for the above:
To set up the request I rolled up a random mission on the tables I made in part 3. I rolled 1d3 (instead of 1d6) on the compensation table to represent a generous offer, with the proviso that all parties involved know it's a lie.
Mission: 1d6=4. get me arcanum X from place Y
Compensation: 1d3=2, (1d4=) 3 Guilders
Place Y is in a random hex: broken land hex 40.43
hex contents: 1d12+15=22, ruins. I had decided that the next dungeon uncovered would be an industrial ruin, so here it is.
Arcanum: random picture from my Items folder
I used the magic item tables in Maze Rats (in the Oddpendium) to determine the arcanum's basic properties: effect (Hovering) + form (Sentinal)
Bastion absolutely contains a Soho. It may contain several.
Since the dinner conversation ended with a Sociable mood (but no better), the PCs earn a warning (below), using the d30 Sandbox Companion's Table AG9: Theme (from the adventure creation charts.)]
"This trip just gets better and better," sighs Fridoline.
"I agree," interjects Randeep hastily. "What a golden opportunity for adventure we have been given! When may we set out?"
"You leave tomorrow at first light," says the Count. "But I must warn you to beware! for you are not the first band to seek the Brank. Be very careful in the ruins. For though ruins they be, yet are they a place of enormous [d30=] power!"
[Q: What happens after dinner: Delay / Liberty]
Their business concluded, the explorers are escorted back to their quarters by armed soldiers, and locked firmly inside.