Friday, December 20, 2019

OSR: Castle Nowhere Sessions 1, 2, 3 & 4

Because I'm a busy individual pretending to be an adult, there's been no way for me to get detailed play reports for each of the sessions of this campaign, Castle Nowhere. Insights of the reports. Instead, I will do my best to recollect the first major adventure of the campaign, which we spent exploring Ynn.

The rules are a hack of Into the Dungeon (an Into the Odd hack), and GLOG templates smashed together. As this was a request from the players, idea was to tune the system as we go. So far it's been a breeze to run. Let's revise the characters first.

Barry - a Barbarian with a zealot religious background. Interested in kicking ass and getting loot.
Gwynnie - an Orthodox Wizard, whose sister was deceived by a juvenile man of the rivaling party and helped them destroy her faith's sacred temple. Really keen on learning new spells.
Giovgia - an Orthodox Wizard with a stinky horn, that was exiled from her home in the Itean Empire and now exists on the edge of the law. Reason why she fled to Five Towns.
Evalderer Crouser - a second zealot Barbarian, that likes to play bagpipes before going into a rage, and has a poisoned wasp (that can be thrown as a dart). Only joined the group for the last session, as a reinforcement.

Grimewood Beginnings

Our adventure starts in the city of Grimewood, in the North-Eastern region of Five Towns. Currently seeking rumors and adventure, and with several obvious locales to explore, the group decides to pay Caeldrim of the Silver Sages a visit. Local wizard and scholar, he surely will have something worthy for them? Gwynnie and Giovgia want to present themselves to the powerful wizard.

Caeldrim, more jovial than this portrait suggests, by Bearded Devil
Sure enough, the wizard has an impressive library, which attracts G&G. And a quest. For which he pays meager coin (10sp), but grants access to his library and tomes. Putting the carrot in front of Gwynnie and Giovgia for future spell research. The job?  A door appeared in the Grove of Euphoria in Grimewood. The place being a sanctum of sorts, to reflect and pray to the local deities, the Crescent Sisters. Caeldrim's apprentice, Merrick Oakblood, went through the door seeing its appearance as a sacred omen of the Sisters. Go find Merrick, and bring him back alive. If you learn why the door appeared, even better.

With a suspicious amount of discretion (waiting for nighttime), the characters get escorted to the currently open portal, where two city guards stand post. Purple viscous membrane, Caeldrim wishes them good luck, but warns that in 24-48 hours the door will close according to his estimations!

Barry investigates the area, looking for clues as to what caused this door opening.  A faint yellow chalk marking around the portal. Gwynnie decides to cast Hail to Dave. Pompous noble materializes, winks, and serves as scout through the portals, the PCs too suspicious to follow ahead. They wait. Dave comes back, cocky. "There's more forest ahead. Vegetation all around. And the faint noise of a clockwork? No wine though...". Barry stays true to a barbarian's credo, and opens the way, venturing through the portal.

Through the Overgrown Gardens

The magical gardens are ripe for exploration. The group of 3 looking for clues of the missing apprentice, they leave the door behind and start venturing into these alien gardens. First off, they come across an archery shooting range, pristine, with 3 targets and a cleaned-up skeleton, with several arrows pierced on the target and bones. As Barry starts looking into the bones, and savaging some of the arrows: a fight spills into the shooting range! Blue foxes (more the size of a wolf each...) are ferociously going at a trio of Peahawks (which are basically evolved into some sort of winged velociraptors).

At first the battling beasts pay no mind to the PCs, but one of the peahawks gets starts to isolate itself from their group, and sights the wizard ladies and the barbarian. Giovgia quickly casts a Cacophony spell to the group, deafening and confusing most of the beasts, that quickly run away with their feud. The curious peahawk remains, now angry, confused, and goes to attack the group. Gwynnie quickly casts Fire of Judgement on the bird-raptor, giving it a fire crown, and its attacks should backfire. Barry and Giovgia go into melee with the beast, the wizard marches with its stinky horn, hurts the peahawk, that then retaliates, takes 1 point of STR of her, and then has to run away due to the Fire of Judgement spell damage. One momentary victory, the Gwynnie and Barry quickly stabilize Giovgia, they take 2 massive peacock feathers and treasure, and continue their exploration of this overgrown gardens.

Further Exploration Giovgia's player was missing for this session #2

After some wandering around, a neat herb garden with 14 tight rows of overgrown spices appear in front of the PCs. Two of those rows catch Barry's attention, but as he's moving closer to them, a flock of huge parasitic wasps bees come flying from the East! With enough time to hide, the group sneaks behind the nearby bushes, and ultimately flees, leaving the bees working and tending to the herbs behind.

They continue to move carefully, and stumble upon a clearing with a 60ft diameter limestone square of ground. On the center, a fist-sized diamond. Up in a ramp in the ground, 120 or so feet away, a huge log. Half-rotten with the passing of time, and with tiny gems encrusted. A lot of things going on, and more importantly: the promise of treasure!

Of course Barry and Gwynnie decide to investigate separately. Do split the party.
The barbarian runs to the log and starts prying gems out of it. Quickly, the log starts coming to life, a hermit spider the size of a cart looking pissed out of it! In the meantime, Gwynnie decides to prey at that gemstone. Which is of course a trap! She gets imprisoned into a bubble of water that starts slowly floating into the air, like a balloon.

After some struggling, Barry is able to set the log ablaze, pissing the spider off (and more importantly, providing a distraction!). He then runs to aid Gwynnie, and using of the retrieved Peahawk feathers, and with some feat of strength, is able to pull her out of the bubble alive. Gwynnie quickly casts Hail to Dave, creating a distraction for the spider (but also loosing her only magic die).

The trap resets (and the huge diamond resets to where it was at the center of the limestone floor), and the group just makes a run for it, fleeing this bizarre scene.
I should have used the rules for running blindly, where they advance d4-1 layers deeper. They were fleeing the site, and not looking for exact clues and trails to follow. Oh well...

Do check before looting!

After running their lungs out, the PCs arrive at a collection of idealized greek marble statues, right next to a chess lawn. The place is pristine, has a lamp post throwing some light, and sees an ensemble of chess pieces of the White Court arrive. Knights coming on the nighttime, reading themselves for an upcoming game against the statues.

A jovial knight by the name of Sir Ilian turns to the PCs. With a bro-like attitude, he is in a good mood, offers his bottle of rum, and hears what these strangers have to say. Hearing about Merrick, the knight shows understanding, and agrees on giving the PCs general direction if they swear fealty to the White Court, and to bring down the Red Court, a sworn rival chess court. That didn't need much convincing; Barry jumps at this offer promptly. Sir Ilian gifts them with a handy oil lamp to continue their exploration: "Seek the Rose Maidens, not fat to the North. Be careful, they have adopted some odd superstitions".

Merrick Oakblood... seek the Rose Maidens?

As they start traveling North, night fully kicks in, and Barry sets himself in front with the recently acquired oil lamp. The barbarian starts noticing thorns and vines to grow quickly in front of them, a dense forest of razor sharp roses. A rose garden. The PCs will have none of it, and decide to surround the location, sneaking as best they can around it. This might seem counter-intuitive given the recent clues, but the PCs see this as a trap, and decide to avoid it. They are like shadows (all of them excelled at their Dex saves), and even avoid a flock of parasitic bees flying high in the air as they surround the area.
At the time I thought this war an odd choice on their part. Thing is, it wasn't a trap, but the Maidens were meant to have further clues to Merrick's past steps. PCs could have taken a short cut, but at the risk of potential violence. Bypassing this was probably wise.

Continuing North, as instructed, the ensemble travels for a longer time, and they start to cross a dense wood with an enticing and mysterious song in the distance. The deeper they go into the forest, the slower they go (and the easier it is to hide). Eventually they find the source of the singing, a group of 5 molekin that stop on their toes when they see the armored adventurers. "Snot! That's my name goodsir!", offers the boldest of them. "We need to retrieve a key important to us, up there in the tree! It will help us to take over the Myconids and claim their business.". All the molekin look up in unison, towards the top of a wide tree.

Snot, a molekin with a goal, by Manuel Castañón
After the PCs discuss what to do, they decide to help the little rats. Giovgia gets a head start assisted by Barry, and starts to masterfully climb the tree. Her Levitate spell also comes to the rescue. When she's almost on top, the molekin start to grow unrested, sniffing the air. A candle golem is coming! As it's a clearly visible creature, Barry and Gwynnie have enough time to hide in nearby bushes, as do the molekin. The golem behemoth continues scouting the area with heavy steps, in duty and looking for... something? Barry, again with superb skill, is able to sneak around and throw a stone in the direction the molekin hid. They start screaming and screeching, and run away (with the candle golem closely following their steps). The PCs use this opening to flee as fast as they can in the opposite direction, Giovgia taking the stash to herself.

The PCs continue their search, and arrive to a two-story clockwork building. Before venturing any further, they decide to check the retrieved stash: a fan (acts as a regular shield if opened), a letter with clues, and a spell scroll with Obedient Stone.

A pair of knight women leave the building, making their way to the stables behind it, and leave the area on a quick gallop. The dark of night covers most of their features. The PCs avoid them, but are puzzled as to who they are.

After a failed attempt to to sneak into the house, they enter the building escorted by a halfling called Tomek "This is Tomek's Timeless Teahouse, welcome!". Invited by the owner, they enter the property to a welcoming teahouse, with ready pastries, and a banquet. In the far corner, with a group of bookcases, the group finds a limping young man, a bald Merrick Oakblood!

Barry, wanting to investigate the upper floor and with an odd feeling about Tomek, is denied by the proprietor. The whole situation seems too fishy to the barbarian, so he takes his axe out and chops at the halfling! Roll initiative!

How Axe You? Giovgia's player was missing for this session #4, but we had Evalderer join!

Tomek reacts quickly by throwing a boiling teapot to the pastries table in front of the PCs, which summons an Ambulatory Pudding! Now Gwynnie and Giovgia have a pressing distraction. The halfling casts Mirror Image, and now with 4 illusory copies of himself, runs upstairs to the 2nd floor, with Barry at his heels.

Meanwhile, on the 1st floor, the pudding is menacing the three wizards (Gwynnie, Giovgia and Merrick). But lucky for them, a beefy man with bagpipes and a menacing battleaxe enters the building. Reinforcements Caeldrim sent, Evalderer joins the scene.
Over time I've come to waive characters coming/leaving if players join/can't make a session. Sure, sometimes it's not very plausible. But why delay the fun even one bit for "the right moment"?
Evalderer also enters a barbarian rage, but before that the pudding engulfs and severely hurt Gwynnie (dipping into her STR score). It turns into a filthy skirmish, both down and upstairs. But the murderhobos are vicious to no end, and come up victorious and without fatal casualties. They kill Tomek, chop the pudding, and have some time to explore and try to loot the Teahouse before getting the hell out.

Surprisingly cautious, they avoid the most dangerous traps, monsters and hazards in the place. The only encounter results in the PCs petting and feeding the 3 dogs Tomek kept in his lab area (reaction rolls, baby). After snatching 3 potions, some magical ingredients, and a king's ransom worth of gold, it becomes clear that Tomek was associated with the Red Court chess pieces, and that he built candle golems with/for them.

Muffled sound of hooves. The 2 knights return! The party flees in time to avoid being caught.
What follows is a chase back to the entrance door Caeldrim led them to. So we get to see (almost all) locations. The PCs are extremely lucky with their navigation rolls and reaction rolls from the White Court when they break the news of "As instructed, we have brought some combat to your house. Ah, and we killed Tomek.". They even had proof of the deed. Sir Ilian & co are grateful, given them a squire (=pawn) to serve as guide, and stay at the chess lawn ready to kill the knights of the Red (?) Court.
The last encounter happened when the party jumped into 4 Myconid Composters at the herb garden, when the mushroom-people were tending to some soil. They get initially aggressive, but Evalderer has the brilliant idea of just bribing them off with the looted gold by tossing some coins to the ground and fleeing.

With little trouble, the party returns to Grimewood with Merry Oakblood and pockets full of gold.

Referee Commentary / Things I Learned

Orange things above are lessons learnt. Also, ...
  • My review still holds after this mid-length adventure in Ynn. Gardens of Ynn belongs to any referee's toolbox. It's an excellent product to generate interesting locations. The random tables are just brilliant (locations, details, events... everything!). They work very well with extra material, like monsters from Into the Wyrd and Wild, or whatever fae-like material you can find.
  • In my scenario, I dropped the hint that the door to Ynn could close after only a few days, before the PCs went in. This clear direction made them not want to stay and explore further, or get lost in the place. This might have been a mistake, and a missed opportunity to go deeper into the module.
  • Faction play was small (White / Red Court of the chess pieces), but had a profound impact on the final outcome, and the players capitalized on it.
  • My criticism of an overabundance of beasts in the initial levels of the Gardens still holds. I tried to mitigate this by introducing more humanoids the PCs could interact with (the molekin, Tomek), to good effect.
  • Tighter mechanics on how to sprint through locations or do a chase sequence would have been helpful. The finale felt a bit rushed, and I should have put higher stakes on the table.


  1. The players of my own completed Ynn-heavy game called Castle Nowhere (now completed) found your post and had a blast with it.
    'it’s like I’m peering into an alternate timelime'
    "It's Nowhere through a glass darkly"
    Just thought that was hilarious and deserved mentioning.

    I also really felt the lack of 'things to talk to' in the gardens and changed the encounter tables appropriately. One thing I liked was adding the chess pieces appearing in smaller numbers as an extra result for more factional play (and romeo x juliet-esque interactions between the chess pieces)

    I think intended behavior for sprinting through locations quickly but not necessarily 'running blindly after/away from something' is using the d12 for location events instead of the d20, if that helps you at all.

    1. I'd like to think there are infinite Ynns and Stygian libraries, like reality manifolds. Fits the material. The name is truly hilarious!

      In our case we didn't see too much interaction with the chess pieces, and I changed the tables by putting some more humanoids in there. The animals at least could have the potential to talk (foxes, peahawks, wasps, etc.), this being Fae-land and all. But I didn't make that choice.

      The die is something else I didn't change on that sprint. I just rolled the d12 when they were being loud, discussing plans, lit a fire at night, etc. Noted for next time!

      We are going to tackle Night Wolf Inn next as an interplanar hub of sorts. It's very crunchy, but has some interesting ideas within.