Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Entering Castle Gargantua

I recently played a session in Kabuki Kaiser's Castle Gargantua, refereed by The Hapless Henchman.

I played Johanna the Giantslayer, a 3rd level DCC ranger, taken from issue 6 of the Crawl! fanzine.  Johanna was a sort of mashup of Jack and the Beanstalk, Saint George and the Dragon, and Joan of Arc.  She fought with a ranger's paired swords, but also wore chainmail with a red cloak, and carried a holy symbol and several vials of holy water in case she encountered the undead.  I say "was" for reasons that will become apparent at the end of the adventure.

Johanna went to Castle Gargantua as part of a group of three, accompanied by Beadle Bailey, a former church guard turned sneak thief, and Rueng-ne'il, an elven demonologist with a Slavic imp familiar named Janush.  The trio had heard rumors of an Easterling prince gone missing in the castle (and his retinue of 12 horsemen prepared to swear their fealty to anyone who could return his body to them), a magic mirror which would show its viewer their true self, and the Beadle had possession of a treasure map (unfortunately showing the treasure to be guarded by giant-sized wasps).

When the three summited the mount that held the Castle, they saw a storm in progress.  The Castle itself reached almost to the clouds, which had opened up to reveal the spirit of Gargantua looking down on them.  The Castle's grounds swirled with mists that seemed to brim with the souls of the damned.  (The scene may have looked a bit like the Night on Bald Mountain sequence from Fantasia.)

Johanna brandished her holy symbol to try to repel the mist spirits, and the three made their way to the towering front door, only to find it already ajar.  Although only cracked by giant standards, the door was open wide enough to drive an ox-cart through. Rueng-ne'il sent the grumbling Janush through to peek at the other side.  The tiny demon disappeared for a moment, then reported back that there was a sporting event going on inside.

The group entered to see a truly enormous entrance chamber supported by four pillars along each side wall, flanked by four large doors on each side, and at the far end, a truly massive door atop a staircase.  The scene in the center of the room was no game though, but more like a riot or free-for-all battle.  The three friends quickly skirted to a side wall in an attempt to avoid the attention of the orgy of reveling maenads.

The first door they came across was marked with images of gnomes and dwarves holding poses to make the letters of some illegible script, with more writing in the same barbarous tongue below.  Although none of the three could read the writing, the wealth of the wee mining folk was well-known, so the party prepared to enter after Beadle picked the lock and swept the door for traps.  As they opened the oversized portal however, they heard a sound like thunder - footsteps on the enormous stairwell in the great entry hall, and the rioters breaking up their melee and beginning to flee.  The trio quickly entered the doorway and began searching for some way to block the door behind them.

Upon entering the hallway, the group was immediately confronted by the smashed-flat body of an armored man.  Despite the damage, his full-body suit of plate armor still shined with its mirror bright polish.  A quick search revealed that he was not the Easterling prince, but the knave Olaf Gunderson, a generally disliked local official of some sort.  Gunderson had been an enemy of the Easterling prince, so Johanna took his wooden shield, emblazoned with his coat of arms to offer up as proof of his demise.  Rueng-ne'il, perhaps inspired by the symbols on the door, rearranged Gunderson's crushed body to form a warding sigil, then offered the dead man's soul to his demon masters in exchange for blocking the door.  Neither Johanna nor Beadle was entirely comfortable with abusing a man's soul in this way, but tried to tell themselves that Gunderson's soul would have been forfeit for his crimes regardless of Rueng's actions.  Suddenly Gunderson's spirit appeared, mocked Rueng for his decision to trade his eternal damnation for a few hours of guard duty, but vowed that none would be able to pass by while his spirit stood in front of the door.

Safe from attack from behind, Beadle Bailey crept forward down the hallway.  He spotted a glint at the edge of the shadows, and discovered it to be Gunderson's hunting horn.  As he was pocketing the precious object, he heard marching footsteps approaching from further down the hall, let out a quick warning to his colleagues, and then melted into the shadows out of sight.  Johanna and Rueng soon heard the marchers as well, and saw four pinkish giants who appeared to be made of wax.  The giants demanded to know who Johanna and Rueng-ne'il were, and insisted on seeing a permit to gather treasures in this section of the Castle.  Johanna quickly bluffed that they had permission from the King of Elfland, and offered the bureaucratically-minded creatures a few pages of Rueng's ephemera as proof.  (This is the type of deception that Merope often tried, but that never worked for her in Urutsk.)  Fortunately for the pair, the giants were illiterate and rather gullible, so Rueng's shopping list served to convince them of Johanna's ruse.  The waxen giants initially insisted on leading the adventurers to the east wing, but finding the door blocked by an annoying ghost, offered to them via a back route that went further into the west wing.  The trio followed behind, with Beadle remaining in the shadows.

The wax giants led the group into a round room, and apologized for the spikes that had recently grown out of the walls, cautioning them to avert their eyes.  The room appeared to have been a statue gallery, although all the statues now too seemed to be looking away from the center of the room.  Rueng noticed some sort of script written on each spike, and cast a spell to allow himself to read magic.  As a side effect of the spell, the wax giants grew increasingly agitated, but just as he finished reading the script, each spike grew and opened an eyeball at its tip, and the giants turned to stone and shattered.  Johanna and the Beadle were unharmed, and Rueng believed he would be able to cast a new spell a single time, one that would allow him to step across great distances without moving through the intervening space.

Continuing past their shattered escort, Rueng, Johanna, and the Beadle entered an anteroom with three exits leading down a furnished hallway, or up some rough stairs, or through another truly massive door left just ajar.  The three elected to go up the stairs, and soon found themselves overlooking a crowd of fey mechanics hard at work on some large cylindrical metal contraption.  The friends speculated that these workers might be the same ones depicted on the great-room door.  Moments later, Beadle's highly-attuned senses warned him of an impending disaster, but Johanna and Rueng were caught off-guard when the contraption exploded and a torrent of water began pouring out of the top of it.  A tidal wave washed the ranger and the demonologist back down the stairs, while Beadle used a grappling hook thrown to the ceiling to hang on above the crushing waves.  Only a miracle (and a very lucky throw of the dice) prevented Johanna and Rueng from being killed or swept beyond Beadle's reach.  As it was, Beadle soon rejoined his companions in the anteroom, fleeing from the giant octopus that had emerged from the pipe along with the water.

A bitter combat ensued, with the weird mollusk catching Rueng-ne'il with several of its suction-cupped tentacles.  Beadle Bailey used a device lifted from a previous adventure - a treasure chest trapped with a magical rune of sleep, the treasure still un-retrieved inside.  Beadle opened the chest to show the octopus the sigil, but the strange creature was not affected in the way the thief expected.  The trio managed to sever a few of the beast's limbs, but Rueng feared for his life and cast the spell he'd learned in the spiked room, transporting himself and his colleagues to a distant part of Castle Gargantua.

When the three recovered their senses, they found themselves in a room with a towering mirror in a golden frame.  They suspected it must be the mirror Rueng had heard of, the one that would show them their true selves.  Johanna blessed herself with holy water before looking, and saw herself as a giant cyclops.  Johanna screamed and raged in protest, and then accepted the truth that she was descended from giants, from the noble cyclops of ancient Greece.  Rueng looked eagerly and saw himself entirely given over to magical corruption, no longer even remotely elven.  Excited to see his likely future fate, Rueng began to crow and shout in the demonic tongue.  Seeing Johanna dissolve into screams and tears, and Rueng ranging in a guttural alien language, the Beadle wisely decided to turn his back on the mirror without looking into it, unwilling to risk learning the knowledge its magic might offer him.

Later, Beadle helped Johanna to construct a pair of stilts out of scraps of timber from around the room, allowing her to stand head and shoulders above her former puny human height.  She gifted him with Gunderson's shield to thank him, and then, as though in a fugue state, wandered off and up, into one of the highest spires in the Castle.  There she promised herself as devotee to Gargantua, promising to revere him in exchange for his blessing. She burnt her former holy symbol, and offered Gargantua one of her eyes, and an eye from her hex doll, and anointed herself and the doll with holy water to make it her new symbol.  Somewhere high above, the storm raged, but Gargantua smiled, and Johanna was reborn.  No longer a lawful ranger, she became a chaotic priestess in service of Gargantua.  No longer Johanna the Giantslayer, she became Johanna the Giantess.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Adventures in Urutsk

Over the past few weeks, I've been playing an online game that takes place primarily in The Grand Tapestry's world of Urutsk.

Urutsk is a couple of things.  First, it appears to be one of only a handful of examples that I'm aware of, of a person having a particularly well-developed fantasy world as a child that they never abandon, and that they continue growing and expanding and creating for into adulthood.  Other examples of such worlds, and their creators, are the Brontë sisters' shared worlds of Gondal and Angria, Henry Darger's worlds of Glandeco and Angelinia and his Realms of the Unreal, and MAR Barker's world of Tékumel.  Like Barker's Tékumel and JRR Tolkein's Middle Earth, Urutsk also seems to include one or more constructed languages that seem to be more or less linguistically complete.

Second, Urutsk is a post-apocalyptic science fictional game setting.  Information I've learned in-game suggests that the time period my sessions have been taking place in are approximately a millennium after some kind of interstellar cataclysm.  In this way, too, its similar to MAR Barker's Tékumel and to his Empire of the Petal Throne game, to Kevin Crawford's Stars Without Number game, and I'm sure to any number of other stories that take place on an alien planet amidst the post-cataclysmic civilization of human(-ish?) people whose ancestors once built societies on dozens or hundreds of planets across the galaxy.  Luigi Serafini's Codex Seraphinianus, Larry Niven's Integral Trees and Smoke Ring, and Jack Vance's "Miracle Workers" are also all set under similar conditions, and so by a process of convergent evolution or multiple discovery, have noticeable parallels to the world of Urutsk.

I'm creating a bit of a record now, because when I started this online game, I expected it to be a one-off, or to last only two or three sessions.  That's been the general fate of the online games I've played in, where either scheduling problems or the difficulty of arranging and running online sessions has led to something more like tournament-style play than to ongoing campaigns.  We've played ten sessions together so far though, and we seem likely to be able to continue for awhile.  As a result, my memories of the earliest sessions are now a bit sketchy.  I'll probably keep the more recent session reports brief as well, but since this is going so well, I wanted to preserve a small portion of it.


The first session begins with Merope the troglodyte-speaking woodcutter, Fantine the sickly guild beggar, Magdalene the grave digger, and Florence the poison-resistant healer awaking inside a large red box along with a dozen or so other 0th-level commoners.  The box is something like 20' to a side, and its occupants awake lightly dressed and entirely un-equipped.

In this session, Fantine was initially my favorite character, so she led most of my team's actions.  Knocking on the walls of the red box quickly revealed that doors would appear when searched for, and the first door opened into what looked like an alleyway, facing a brick wall.  Fantine was the first of several brave souls to venture outside, revealing a world of great brick buildings, smoke stacks, and plumes of black industrial smoke.  Fantine felt comfortable in this familiar-looking world, but the many of bewildered commoners wondered if the other walls would open into the same world, or even if this door would reliably lead back to the seemingly-Victorian realm, so they all returned into the box and shut the door.

When the door was re-opened, it was not into a Victorian alley, but instead into a strange open roadway.  Several wheeled metal carriages sped past at unbelievable speed, and I believe that at least one peasant was lost when he stepped outside and was struck by one of the horseless carriages.  Other carriages veered out of the way, trying to avoid the box that had suddenly appeared in the middle of their path, and a spectacular collision and explosion resulted.  The peasants noticed that they were surrounded by some kind of coliseum filled with a great audience, and that they were being approached by shouting men in some kind of black uniforms.  If my memory serves, another peasant was lost to a gunshot wound delivered by one of the uniformed men, although he may have been saved by first aid after the door was closed.

The next door that was opened led into a bright and vividly colored jungle, but the first two commoners who stepped out of the cubed were burned by the heat and acidic humidity of the air, and one of two possibly died after being touched by a poisonous leaf that wafted down from one of the many trees.  Once their companions were back inside, the group quickly closed the door on those inhospitable environs.  Florence the healer may have attempted to save one of the injured explorers.

The following door opened only a crack into a world of waist-deep snow.  The peasants feared they were too lightly dressed to survive the frigid cold of that world, as their initial glimpse showed lights only in the far distance.  Unfortunately, the weight of the collapsing snow kept the door from closing properly, and the cube itself began to grow uncomfortably chill.  Another door was opened, revealing some kind of cave.  Fantine and her companions joined an expedition into the cave, while another eight or so peasants stayed behind in the cube to try to re-close the door leading into winter.

The cavern Fantine and her friends entered was poorly lit, but a tunnel that possibly led to the surface was visible across a great crevasse.  The peasants decided to attempt to descend into the canyon, in the hopes of ascending the other side, and then taking the tunnel to the surface.  They located a wooden scaffolding that might have been left over from some kind of mining operation, and began climbing down.  As they did, they were assailed by a dozen or so blue creatures that had bodies like monkeys, but with beaked turtle-like faces.  Merope the wood-cutter acquitted herself admirably in combat, but Fantine the beggar, having only 1 hit point, was felled by one of the weird beasts.  First aid, possibly delivered by Merope or Florence, resuscitated her from her injuries.  Fearing that this cave was too dangerous, the commoners returned to the red cube to check on their friends.

They arrived to find that their fellows who had stayed behind had managed to close the door on the icy realm.  The snow turned out to be only frozen water, fortunately, and not frozen methane or helium, and so the commoners had been able to brave it for a few moments to hand-shovel the snow back out of the doorway and shut the door firmly.

Another door was tried, this one leading into the interior of a building.  When Fantine and some other peasants found a window, they soon realized they were hundreds of feet above the ground inside a tower so tall it scraped the sky itself.  They also soon met a balding man with injured feet who called himself "John McClane" and who appeared to believe that he was hallucinating the peasants.  The peasants followed McClane as he explored the hall and adjoining rooms, but after more gunfire from McClane's enemies, they decided to return once more to the cube.

The final door the peasants tried opened into a fairly featureless white hallway, but quick exploration turned up a locker room.  Each peasant pressed their palm to a door to open a locker, and each found supplies related to their profession, including some white coveralls, a computer tablet, and a gun.

At this point, the session ended and we all leveled up.  Merope became a fighter, Fantine and Magdelane became thieves, and Florence became a cleric.


In this session, and for the rest of the sessions that take place in Urutsk, I was one of only two players.  We each chose one character to advance.  I chose Merope, whose 0th level characteristics reminded me of JK Rowling's depiction of Voldemort's mother, and my fellow player chose Slunk, a wood-elf charlatan and snake-oil salesman.  Merope graduated from being a 0th level Dungeon Crawl Classics woodcutter to being a 1st level 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons fighter.  She also rolled for a random characteristic on the Arduin Grimoire's "Special Abilities" Chart.  She got +1 with all axes and -3 against all dragon's breath, which seemed appropriate for some kind of reptile-loving forest-dwelling recluse.  Slunk became a warlock and swore a pact of allegiance to Lord Worm, a demonic entity aligned with elemental silt.  (I later learned that all magic users and magical creatures in Urutsk are associated with one of a few dozen elemental bloodlines.)  Slunk also acquired a familiar in the form of a holographic projection of a woman from his tablet computer, quickly dubbed "Clippy."

Shortly after deciding his intention to make a pact with a magical entity, Slunk received a vision of Lord Worm, a silt-blooded demon king.  Slunk discovered that he too had an elemental silt bloodline, and soon swore a pact to Lord Worm, gaining various magical abilities in the bargain.

Merope and Slunk exited the locker room and began exploring.  In one room they found some emergency rations and ration cards as well as some med kits.  They also found evidence that the crew might be abusing stimulants, and a quick peek inside a ration revealed twice the safe daily limit of stimulants available alongside one day's worth of food.  In another room they found some humans in similar white coveralls who revealed that they were on a ship, and had been for their entire lives.  Merope and Slunk decided that they were dealing with the degenerate inhabitants of the original crew of a generation ship and decided to look for some form of shuttle craft or escape pod.  Consulting both Merope's tablet and Clippy soon revealed that the crew only controlled a relatively small area of the ship.  They also discovered that Merope's handprint would open any door with palm-reader, while Slunk's elven hand was denied access for some reason. 

A bit more exploring revealed a kind of interstitial space, a kind of scaffolding of walkways the appeared to run behind the walls and between the levels of the ship.  Slunk and Merope tried climbing down a couple of levels, outside of the crew-controlled area, in search of valuables.  I think our reasoning was that anything salvaged from an abandoned portion of the ship would be valuable to the occupants who no longer had access to that particular supply.  Once in the uncontrolled portion of the ship however, they were quickly set upon by a towering centipede-like robot.  Slunk was injured, while Merope was quickly felled and had a near death experience.  She used what she thought was her dying breath to tell Slunk to run.  Slunk decided to stand his ground however, and fired an overloaded blast from his stun pistol, seemingly knocking the robot out of commission.  Slunk's CPR, and a bit of good fortune, brought Merope back from the brink of death. 

Slunk helped Merope into the first room they could find on this lower hallway, where they found a number of crates labeled "Cedar."  With Merope still at death's door, Slunk opened a crate and found a foil packet filled with some kind of glowing liquid, which he poured into Merope's mouth and encouraged her to drink. Merope did, and recovered a bit of her health, she also mutated becoming mildly radioactive.  Her physical stamina permanently increased, and she became mildly resistant to injury.  She also gained a kind of Ren-and-Stimpy-style detail vision that allowed her to inflict more damage with her attacks by striking her enemies' weakest points.  The mutagenic liquid frightened both Slunk and Merope, so they decided to look for treasure in another room.

As they re-entered the hall, they saw that the giant robot was reviving itself.  Merope put her newfound detail vision to work and fired her security gun at the robot.  The super-heated round splashed liquid metal after striking the creature, revealing the source of the strange damage to some of the walls Merope and Slunk had seen earlier.  Slunk called upon his patron and shot malevolent blasts of elemental silt at the centipede.  Between these two attacks, the robot deactivated again, although this time the pair was unwilling to believe that it was permanently disabled.  They continued attacking its prone form for another 20 minutes before rolling it off the walkway and into the bowels of the ship below.  Merope managed to break off a few of the creatures legs to use as a short sword, a long sword, and a pry bar.  Slunk was able to pocket a few of the shinier bits of the machine to try to trade later.

Concerned that the noise of this encounter might bring additional combatants, the pair abandoned their plan to look for valuables and re-ascended to a higher, and safer floor.  They located a security office and used Merope's clearance to enter it.  Inside they found a variety of colored jackets that seemed to reveal one's crew rank, along with a couple of gas masks and tear gas canisters, and a safe place to rest for the night.  Merope settled on a purple command jacket, although a panel of the jacket, located where a name-badge might be placed, turned orange to identify her as security personnel. Slunk discovered when he wore a blue jacket this panel turned green, and in a green jacket it turned blue, so he left the green jacket on.  The pair felt a bit better disguised and protected in their new jackets, and decided to take a long rest to recover from their injuries.