Monday, 30 May 2016

Into the Odd solo - Part VIII : εὐοῖ σαβοῖ !

The chambermaid shows the explorers through the twisting passages of the old castle. Aurélius charges out in front of the band, in an attempt to assuage his conscience -- he shouldn't have given up trying to break out of his room so easily. Perhaps the skeletons were just part of his awful dream, brought on by the dual-edged sword of indigestion and conscience. Yet, he must admit, he's never felt quite such an overpowering longing for a single place before, and try as he might to forget it, the image of the poison shop seems impressed upon his grey matter.

[As I 'm playing without a map, I'm using the Oracle to determine what happens between goals. I'll ask the same question each time, improving the likelihood by one step after a successful encounter (or indeed raising it after a disaster). So, then:

Q: Can they get to their goal without encounters? Unlikely (5+): O2 C6 - No.

Encounters are all determined by random pictures, as it takes less time than writing up encounter charts.]

No sooner has the chambermaid indicated a door but Aurélius has thrown it wide and is charging through. Thus it is that he runs right into a group of four soldiers.

        ST DX WP HP
Paul     7  9  8  2 musket
Jules    6  9 14  5 musket
Arthur   7  7  7  1 sword
Charles 13 10 11  6 sword

[The soldiers' leader is Charles. Aurélius is leading the PCs at the moment, so he makes the WIL save for initiative: 8=success.]

There is a brief moment of panic as the two groups realise who they are facing, and then the explorers fall upon their hapless foes.

Randeep's sword flashes, and the first of the musketeers falls at her feet [Paul takes 5 damage, leaving him with 4 STR; he failed his save against critical damage].

Aurélius swings own blade in an overhead arc, but the second musketeer catches the blade on the barrel of his gun [4 damage puts Jules at 1hp].

Fridoline lunges at the nearest swordsman, and runs him clean through [Arthur takes 6 damage dropping him to 2 STR, and he too fails his save against critical damage].

The officer in charge of the unit barks out an order, « merde alors !», which must be the pre-arranged signal for retreat, for that is just what he does. The other soldier left standing follows his captain, and the two disappear down a side passage at full speed.

[With losses at 50%, Charles needed to make a WIL save for his unit's morale; he failed on a 19. I gave  Charles and Jules each a DEX save to escape the predations of my PCs, who are not at all above attacking a fleeing enemy from behind. The dice gods gave them a 2&3 respectively, so they escape with their lives.

Q: Will the escapees report the encounter? Likely (3+): O2 C1 - No, and... they will keep quiet, fearing punishment for dereliction of duty.

This was essentially a draw, so I won't be adjusting the encounter likelihood either way.]

The two soldiers have disappeared in the labyrinthine corridors before any have a chance to give chase. The explorers don't waste much time looking for them. The chambermaid is given the fallen soldier's sword, though no one really expects her to fight. Fridoline takes the musket.

"Quickly," says Aurélius, "we must hurry!" And they're off again.

[Q: Can they get to the housekeeper without more encounters? Unlikely (5+): O3 C4 - No, but... trap/hazard rather than encounter.]

"This way," says the maid, "there's a short cut through here..."

Her words trail off as they round the bend, to see the passage blocked by a whirling iron gate.

"Some shortcut!" sighs Fridoline.

"But two soldiers got away," says Randeep. "What if they return with reinforcements?"

"She's right," says Aurélius. "We've no choice. Allez-hop !" And with that, he dives into the rapidly revolving iron structure...

[DEX saves are required to get through unharmed. The trap does 1d8 damage otherwise. This means it's also time to roll up the maid (as a 1hp companion; she's even (very coincidentally) got a sword).]

the chambermaid
str 15, dex 10, wil 4, hp1
sword (d6)

... and emerges unscathed on the other side. Randeep follows, leaping gracefully through. Fridoline follows suit, but makes a terrible error in judgement. The whirling iron bars slam into her, knocking her senseless. She get caught in the gate, and ends ups spinning round and round, hanging from it in a tangle of limbs and iron. [She took 5 damage, dropping her to 8 STR; she failed her save to avoid critical damage.]

"Fridoline!" gasp her companions, as they watch her revolving helplessly.

"We've got to pull her free!" says Randeep.

"I'll try to stop the mechanism, if you can disentangle her from it," replies Aurélius.

[He needs to make a STR save to stop it. If he fails, he takes 1d8 damage, but there's a 50-50 chance of it getting stuck with him in it. If he succeeds, Randeep needs to make a STR save to pull Fridoline off before Aurélius can hold it no longer. If she fails they all take 1d8 damage and 1d4-1 of them will remain stuck.

But the dice came up a 2 and a 1.]

The chambermaid cannot bear to watch as the explorers attempt this most desperate manoeuvre. But the ease and finesse with which Aurélius leaps in to halt the whirling mechanism is exceeded only by the deftness and agility that Randeep displays in freeing her trapped comrade. By then Aurélius can strain no more against the terrible machine. He lets go as he falls back into the passage.

"Please," begs the chambermaid, looking across the whirling iron bars, "don't leave me behind." She counts ten and takes a great leap... and comes through the other side in one piece.

Aurélius takes up the unconscious Fridoline in his arms. "We mustn't tarry," says he.

"I agree," says Randeep, taking charge of Fridoline's musket. "Where to next?"

"Hmmm, let's see," says the maid. "I know: this way!"

[It was a successful encounter resolution, so Unlikely drops to 50/50.
Q: Can they get to safety without more problems? 50/50 (4+): O2 C4 - No, but...]

The chambermaid leads them through another maze of corridors. The walls are a uniform series of hardwood panels, which nearly conceal the occasional chamber doors they rush past. Soldiers could appear from almost any direction, but the brave maid waves away the explorers' concerns with a casual gesture. Then finally she stops before a door, indistinguishable from all the rest, and opens it. "We can rest in here a moment!" With no choice but to trust her, the explorers duck inside, and she shuts the door behind.

The room is some sort of forgotten chapel. Heavy velvet curtains conceal the walls, and disappear up to a high ceiling, constraining the room and making it feel somewhat claustrophobic. Scattered here and there are bronze tripods and great drums. The dust of aeons lies thick upon the floor and furnishings. The chapel is in almost perfect blackness, but a dull gleam comes from one corner. The eerie glow waxes before the explorers' astonished eyes, as the light streams down upon the altar, making the shadowy figure of a hand appear upon the holy-of-holies.

"Where are we?" whispers Aurélius.

"The Chapel of the Hand of Sabazius," replies the frightened maid. "No one ever comes here!  we should be safe, if..."

"If what?" asks Randeep.

[Q: If what? Disrupt / Energy]

"If we can stop the energy of the Sacred Hand from destroying us!"

"What?" exclaims Aurélius, "Why the blazes would you bring us to such an awful place?"

"It's not usually like this..."

"Quiet you two!" snarls Randeep. "Listen. Can't you hear it? Can't you hear the singing?"

"Singing?" asks Aurélius. "What singing? Are you sure you didn't hit your head on the revolving gate, my dear?"

But Randeep can no longer hear her companions, nor even see them. For she is not in the room anymore, not in the castle. She is far, far away, in a rugged and mountainous landscape, standing amidst the ruins of an ancient temple. Though the singing is loud in her ears, and the flutes wail, and the drums pound, she sees not a soul about her, save one -- a beauteous youth in a Phrygian cap beckoning her to him. She walks up to the radiant youth slowly, entranced, and he holds out his hand. She presses her palm against his as the music reaches a crescendo, and then the light overcomes her senses...

"Miss? Miss! You've got to wake up now. Miss?"

Randeep Khartoor is not the sort of woman who is in the habit of lying sprawled on dusty altars and being slapped in the face by domestics. And yet that is just where she finds herself, and for a few moments has no recollection of how she got there.

Aurélius is standing near the pair of them, trying desperately not to burn his fingers as he lights a yellowed altar candle. "She's opened her eyes now," he tells the maid. "That's your cue to stop hitting her. If you know what's good for you..."

"Where am I?" says Randeep. "I feel so strange. How did I get inside?"

"Inside?" asks Fridoline. "Did you hit your head when you fell, darling?"

"You walked across to the altar," explains Aurélius, "to the image of the hand on the wall, and put your palm against it. Then the light stopped shining, and we heard you collapse."

Randeep looks round for a few moments, and the remembrance of what had passed slowly comes over her. She looks down at her hand, which she can see glowing very faintly in the gloom.

"Oh!" cries the maid.

Randeep calmly explains her vision to her companions, who are not sure what to make of it. But she feels the power welling within her -- for good or ill, it is hers to command.

[I had decided that she needed to make a WIL save when touching the Hand; a failure would have released the power upon everyone in the room. The nature of the power was determined as if it were a 1-use spell in Maze Rats (from the Oddpendium); it's a Consuming Blight Vortex. I'll roll 1d3+1 for its Circle when used. Thus is the blessing -- or the curse -- of Sabazios.]

Friday, 13 May 2016

Into the Odd solo - Part VII : « Décidément, nous sommes hors du monde »

Having been shut into their chambers, our hero and heroines immediately set about devising means of escape. It will take more than a locked door and a few guards to stop these intrepid explorers! Or will it...?

Aurélius removes his belt and tries to use the buckle's tang to pick the lock on his chamber door. [DEX save required for the improvised tool: 14=fail] It proves a most unwieldy lockpick, and Aurélius soon gives up and decides to go to bed.

Fridoline, meanwhile, has mad an exhaustive search of her room, looking for any item of possible use. She looks through the wardrobe, under the bed, within the pillows, at the backs of the armoire and vanity, beneath the fainting couch... all to no avail. [But her WIL save=5, success; she'll get a random item from the Labyrinth Lord AEC Miscellaneous Room Contents table, but whatever she finds will be in a more usable state than the table describes. 1d100=38: key! Normally I wouldn't allow something so easy, but that is such a lucky roll I kept it.] Finally, at the back of a drawer she finds an empty carton of bon-bons, in which has been hidden a tarnished brass key! But what is that sound at the window...?

Whilst Fridoline was searching and Aurélius was giving up prematurely, Randeep had determined on a more daring course of action. She goes to the window, only to find it locked. The whole is secured with strong iron bars, so breaking the glass is futile, but the locking mechanism doesn't seem terribly solid. Putting her back into it [STR save=2, success], she soon has forced the window open.

She makes a rope from some bedsheets, which she fastens to the iron bars; it's not a long drop, but a fall would put her directly into the seething, acidic moat. Then she's out the window and creeping along the wall. [DEX save to reach next window without incident: 4=success; Whose window is closer? 1-3 A, 4-6 F; 4]

Randeep has soon inched her way over to Fridoline's window. She raps on the glass soundly. The curtain is drawn aside to reveal Fridoline's quizzical face. "Oh, it's you!" she cries. "Thank heavens!"

"Yes, it's me! Let me in!"

Fridoline examines her key and frowns when it proves far too large for the window lock. She gives the frame a mighty shove [STR save succeeds] and it opens with a groan. Randeep clambers inside her chamber.

"La nuit, toutes les chattes ne sont pas grises," sighs Fridoline.

"This isn't our boarding school," scolds Randeep. "We need to escape this madhouse. Maybe together we can force the door..."

"I hardly think that's necessary. Look what I found!"

"A key! Fridoline, I could kiss you... if we live through this."

"I shall hold you to that. But we're going to need some weapons first. Do you think these chair legs would do if we break them off?"

[Q: Can they improvise clubs 50/50 (4+): O5 C5 - Yes
+Event: PC negative - Ambush / Evil
I have plenty of pictures that could illustrate this Event, so I looked through the folder and picked the first one whose victim can pass for Aurélius. The monster stats were built off the picture and the following Oracle result--
Q: Why did they attack? Propose / Dreams
NB: monster stats have been moved to the end of the section as they got verbose]

Aurélius is just starting to drift off into sleep when he has a most alarming presentiment of no longer being alone. The moonlight is streaming in his window, whose iron bars cast strange shadows over the floor and furnishings. Some of the shadows seem even to move. Aurélius peers resolutely into the pools of darkness in the corners, but the sight that appears to him causes his blood nigh to freeze. For out of the darkness step four skeletons, their bones gleaming white in the moonlight, and their skulls grinning with malice. Each is flamboyantly dressed in the costume of a highwayman, and they swagger forth to surround the bed, one standing at each bedpost. Each points a bony digit at Aurélius opens his mouth to scream, but emits only the tiniest squeak. The chill of the grave washes over him as the fiends approach, and as they touch him with their dead hands he is overcome.

[chill touch 1d6, affects Willpower after Hit Points instead of Strength.
damage rolls were crap: 4+1+1+1, but that's still all 5hp and then -2 to WIL. WIL save=18, fail]

Aurélius sinks down in the bed. His soul threatens to fly from his body and never return, whilst his mind is beset with such wild fever-dreams as even the most opium-addled of poets have sought after in vain. With each new vista that Morpheos shews our young hero, there is but one constant: a shop, a shop in an upscale quarter of Bastion -- a real place! -- where he had once bought his Liebchen a most divine Gift.

[I rolled a d4 to see where the shop was: 1 Bastion, 2 Burthen, 3 Morve, 4 random hex; he'll be obsessed with going there after the mission is complete.]

skeletal highwayman
str 9, dex 14, wil 12, 4 hp, weapon or chill touch (see below)
Driven to revenge

A skeleton highwayman will be armed with (1d6): 1 sword (d6), 2-3 rapier (d8), 4-5 rapier (d8) & pistol (d6), 6 rapier (d8) & brace of pistols (d8). Against a defenceless enemy, they find weapons unsporting, so instead attack with their Chill touch. The Chill Touch inflicts 1d6 damage; after hit points have been depleted, excess damage comes off Willpower. The target must them make a WIL save to avoid the effects of Critical Damage (and will die without outside intervention as per the Critical Damage rules). Those roused from the deadly sleep will report wild nightmares, and will acquire some sort of obsession based upon the dream imagery. Those who expire from the Chill Touch will rise as a skeletal highwayman on the following evening.

Fridoline tries the old key in her chamber door. It fits! She pushes it open and peeks quickly out into the corridor: there are [1d6=] three guards...

[Q: Wearing armour? O5 C3 - Yes, but... shield armour (1)]

... clad in old-fashioned armour, and bearing sword and shield. he ducks back in and tells Randeep what she has seen.

"Did they seem particularly vigilant?" asks Randeep.

"They're bored castle guards."

"Good. I have a plan..."

Fridoline takes up position against the wall near the door as Randeep sneaks out into the corridor. [DEX save=13, success] She pads stealthily right up behind the nearest guard, who is utterly disregardful to his surroundings. She brings her club down upon his head with a mighty crash, and hears his neck crack with the impact. [the ambush makes her attack Enhanced: 1d12=7; he has (3d6=) STR 5, and (1d6=) 1HP. Even with the point of armour, he's dead.]

The sound of the blow startles the other two guards from their vacant reveries. They run right at Randeep, swords held high. She wheels about and sprints back into the room, [DEX save to make it back before the first round of combat: 14, success] the guards hard on her heels.

She bursts into the room, and Fridoline hesitates just a moment too long [PCs lose initiative].

      ST DX WP HP
Alfie 13  3  7  2
Beth   9 10 11  4

The swordsman takes a fierce swipe at Randeep, but she ducks under it just in time. The swordswoman spots Fridoline coming up behind, and wheels about with a flourish. The point of her sword catches the skirt of Fridoline's gown, and leaves the barest scratch on her thigh. [Randeep took 3 damage, leaving her with 3hp; Fridoline took 2 damage dropping her hp exactly to 0.]

Both women fight back with the fury of an amazon (if I may mix my classical metaphors). Soon the guards lay senseless and bleeding at their feet. [Randeep did 4-1=3 damage to Alfie, putting him at 12 STR; save=14, critical. Fridoline did 6-1=5 damage to Beth, putting her at 8 STR; save=9, critical -- that was lucky for my PCs!]

They waste no time in trading their clubs for swords, and dispatching the guards with them. They search the bodies quickly.

Q: Do they have keys to more rooms? 50/50 (4+): O5 C6 - Yes.
Q: Anything else useful? 50/50 (4+): O1 C1 - No, and... armour even useless  to PCs.
+Event: Introduce a new NPC - Expose / Lies]

One of the guards has a keyring with about two dozen keys to other rooms in the castle -- unfortunately unlabelled, but they have nothing else of use.

When Randeep and Fridoline go quietly into the hall to retrieve the body of the third guard, they chance upon a chambermaid. The girl is so frightened at their sudden appearance that she nearly drops the tea tray she bears. Randeep drags the corpse and Fridoline ushers the maid into the room.

"Please don't hurt me!" cries the maid.

"We weren't really planning on it," says Fridoline cautiously.

"But we'll need some assurances," adds Randeep.

"I can give you information that might help you escape," says the maid, "but I'm afraid that's all I have. Well, that and this tea tray. Biscuit?"

"Yes, please!" says Fridoline. "I'm famished."

The three make themselves comfortable and the maid serves them tea as they converse [this is a short rest, so the PCs regain all their HP].

"The lord of the manor," begins the maid, "isn't out hunting at all. That's just what they always tell new guests. He's really somewhere in the castle dungeons, and won't come out... or can't. I'm not sure. But the task they have set you -- to recover the arcanum -- that isn't for him. They intend to use its power against him somehow. You're not the first group of explorers who've been sent forth. But none of the others ever return for their friends."

"We're seeking a group of three lost explorers," says Randeep. "Perhaps they have fallen into this same trap. A Captain Thumbscrew, Miss Wolverhaven, and a giant axeman called Murt."

"Sorry, miss. No one like that has been here."

"Then we need to leave here at once," says Fridoline. "We cannot afford to tarry."

"Please take me with you!" pleads the maid. "I know the castle inside and out, and I know where your three friends are held. I want to escape this awful place just as much as you do."

"Here's the deal," says Randeep. "You help get us out of here and we'll bring you along. But betray us and you'll wind up like them!"

"Don't you worry, miss. I just want out. And maybe a good reference."

"Soit," says Fridoline.

[Q: Does the maid know where the PCs' equipment is? Likely (3+): O4 C4 - Yes, but... well guarded.
+Event: Introduce a new NPC - Take / Technology (scientist has taken F's arcanum to the lab)
Q: Does she know where Severin, Wanda, and Gregor are? Likely (3+): O4 C1 - Yes, and... near exit.]

The three hurriedly finish their tea and rush to Aurélius' room. They find him a-bed, thrashing about in the throes of some terrific nightmare. He babbles a few inscrutable words when they wake him.

"Are you alright?" asks Randeep "Can you move? and fight?"

"Here," says the maid, "we saved you a biscuit and some tea." [restores his lost HP.]

"And a sword," adds Fridoline.

"Do we have a plan?" asks Aurélius.

"We need to attack this problem at its source," says Randeep. "We're going to find the housekeeper and make her our prisoner. Then the guards won't dare attack."

"Some will even join you," adds the chambermaid helpfully. "You'll be heroes!"

"I like the sound of that," says Aurélius.

"Excellent," says Fridoline. "Now wipe the crumbs from your mouth and let's get to it."

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.

d6 result
-- ------
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.

saves mood
----- ---------
 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.