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.