The characters for this session:
Fennec, L2 wizard, playing Sabian (wolf mask)
Cauleigh, L3 warrior, playing Kethe (crow mask) and Ursula (Lion mask)
Jotunn, L5 warrior, playing Jost (horned mask) and Demut (medusa mask)
Crompton, L2 rogue, playing Josef (3-faced mask)
Our four heroes are on the trail of the blackguard Alintar, and lady Marda of Edoras, who has foolishly taken up with the so-called paladin. Hearing that a ruined mansion in the Meadwood lures brides as sacrifices the four trek afoot through the woods in time to fall under the powerful enchantment of the Black Manse, becoming members of House Liis gathering for the bridal festivity. Investigations have garnered a mask each for Josef and Ursula, three curious crystal globes, and one large faceted dark soul-gem. And now at the eleventh hour they struggle to avoid flying heads and grappling headless maids!
And a reminder that the following yarn contains spoilers!
Gain three more masks
The combat revolves around Josef Kethe Sabian Jost and Demut, allowing Ursula to peer about the chamber. It is not, as she first assumed, a bed-chamber. As the pealing of the eleventh hour fades the room’s furbishing becomes brighter and clearer. This must be a withdrawing-room. The ‘bower’ the maids came from is a profusion of rich silk cushions. Dimly aware that only a minute ago she saw tatters and dust, Ursula makes her way to the wardrobe. Through the eye-slits of her lion-mask she can see a concealed door in the back of the wardrobe.
Meanwhile Sabian dextrously sweeps up a long-snouted mask in the coffer its head flew from; Kethe and Demut avoid flying heads: Kethe knocks her maid away and Jost and Josef put paid to the heads. The headless maids, still struggling to gain a hold, are dispatched. Kethe triumphantly dons her crow mask, Demut tucks her Medusa mask away, and Sabian watches to see no ill effect on Kethe then dons his wolf mask.
Brave the guardian spirits in the mezzanine
Jost joins Ursula, explaining that he too spotted something about the wardrobe, and with Josef crowding close behind, examine then ascend stone steps up to the next floor. They reach a ruinous hallway. None of the revelers are present: a relief: but noise through the left wall suggests that revelry is under way.
As Jost curiously investigates the festooned idols, prayer beads, and religious bric-a-crac along the walls the others are puzzled to see him suddenly fight – nothing. He replaces his mighty axe and explains that a pixie-like bug of some kind came out of an idol – don’t touch stuff!
Skirting puddles and cobwebs Josef quickly investigates the hall and meets Kethe as he comes back. The hall leads to one blank wing hall and the part-blocked collapsed mezzanine. Kethe double-checks the blank hall, and rejoins the others as they skirt the rubble that once blocked the mezzanine entry doors.
Glancing down through the ruined gap towards the entry hall as they scramble, Jost and Demut see there are still a few lords, ladies and servants making their way in. But the others… they can see these are all devils!
The mezzanine hall leads to a final wing hall, where a ghostly white-dressed figure stands before a massive door. It is Ilse!
Based on time and Ilse’s earlier departure from the party I had, prior to this session, decided to allow Ilse a LK SR to ‘clear’ the door, and the party to find her here. Otherwise the party would be hopelessly bogged down by this one obstacle.
Rob that bridal tomb
Not pausing to congratulate the old hag on not being dead, Kethe sweeps inside across the luxurious carpet, and plays her lantern over the four-poster bed. Beyond the heavy hangings lies not a bed and mattress, but a stone bier and sarcophagus!
Ilse, still feeling the mixture of dread and longing that brought her here, bends to test one of the four locks that seal the sarcophagus. The stone step turns under her foot and spears slam down from above, impaling her. She shrieks and faints, and acid oozes down the spears and eats away the surrounding flesh.
“Well, now we have a good trap-blocker” says Sabian cold-heartedly and sad to say that is the final service Ilse rends, as the four locks are smashed away.
A black wedding band burns like hellfire
The linen that wraps the dry ancient corpse is wrapped in lead bands, each stamped with holy runes. Casually sundering them, the robbers reveal the mummified corpse of a woman dressed in bridal finery, her left ring finger bearing a black ring. Kethe strips it away and howls in pain as the hoop glows with hellish heat!
[Kethe is getting quite low on CON but Sabian cares not, pointing out that Kethe murdered young Mathias]
After some experimentation during which a valued silver spoon is burned through, Sabian uses a small gust of wind to pop the ring from the floor into a magic clay flask. He can’t recall ever getting the contents identified so it’s no loss. Kethe tucks the flask away.
There are downstream effects prescribed for anyone donning the ring but the sheer scale of damage from just grabbing it makes that a non-option for these players.
The bell tolls midnight
That completes the search of the upper levels so the six lords and ladies of House Liis hurry back through the withdrawing-room along the lower hall and turn left to the unexplored hall. It passes the now merry great feasting hall, where lords (devils) and ladies (more devils) and jesters and servants (incubi and succubi) are already celebrating. At the head of the top table stands one great chair, currently empty. A fine blaze now burns in the fireplace behind that. Jost and Demut are almost swept away by other revelers who insist they must join them – but Kethe snarls:
“They’re with me!”
and by repeating this effort every few seconds [only 1 CHR SR to represent this] they gain the quieter wing that leads to a bell tower. Demut gives in to the inevitable and dons her medusa mask.
Conscious that mere minutes remain they run a hasty gaze across a pentagram, two other doorways – one leading out to the storm-racked garden – and up a thick bellcord where dangles a masked corpse. Leaping mightily and slicing with his axe Jost at last gains his horned mask!
Skeletons rise as the corpse is disturbed but indeed the bell tolls not once but 12 times – it is midnight and the groom has come to collect his bride!
As the last few bone fragments scatter under massive blows all doors open onto the great feasting hall.
Devil takes the bride? To hell with that!
Howling with frenzy devils leap and cavort. Smaller fiends are crushed underfoot and even clumsier incubi and succubi are swept in never to be seen again.
The final bell ceases and the mob parts allowing the six scions a clear view of the great chair, or throne. A great grim black horned figure sits on it now and behind him, where a roaring fire was burning, a weird-colored portal pulses.
The house Seneschal bears the stag’s bloody head and lifting it calls out:
“For the heir of the manor, maid of the ball, who claims the veil?”
The devil on the throne stirs, gestures with his gem-topped sceptre and declares:
“I have done all I was bid. I gave you a ring to rule the world with the wrath of a fallen god; none could usurp your power. Now surrender to me what you promised. Render unto me my winsome bride.”
“I think we have a winner,” Sabian declares, nodding at Josef: who pinions Kethe! Jost does likewise – but he murmurs something to Kethe unheard by the other two men. Ursula looks on approvingly – there is no need for her to manipulate things any further.
Kethe allows her self to be brought forward. Then Jost releases her and she flings both the flask containing the hellish ring and the soul stone into the portal crying:
“Khara Khang! I name you – and begone!”
[I ask for an aggregate L7 CHR SR from Kethe Jost and Josef, which is based on my call that Kethe has not ‘mastered’ the gem – she is just hurling it. And since she is not Ilse’s replacement, hurling the ring means very little. Kethe is wearing the crow mask allowing her to burn LK and much against the player’s inclination that is what happens. The three are 25 short so 5 LK is burnt. All of the characters get the 100ap the roll cleared.]
With a howl the devil hurls himself or is sucked into the portal and then:
- the throne explodes: coins and gems fly out imperiling those with poor footing
- the ground under the throne collapses
- all fiends in the great hall are sucked into the portal
Was it all just a dream? But who is this?
Josef falls and slides into the growing chasm but Kethe pulls him out, Ursula scoops gems and gold as she escapes and the others all scramble out any old how as the mansion collapses around them!
As they hustle across the stone footbridge to the moat-house things seem to fade….
Jotunn rubs his eyes and sits up: the four have spent the night in this long-abandoned moat-house, he recalls.
Then he notices he has been sleeping near two dead men whose features, bearing marks of a rough life, he does not recognise; and near them sleeps a large-chinned powerful man he does recognise; and on the other side of that man is a slender young lady, clothes still of enough quality to show her noble origin.
Fennec also wakes before Alintar [this is just based on CON – Crompton might be last awake though if based on current CON Cauleigh might be] and looks across at Jotunn. Jotunn points at wounded Cauleigh, then at Alintar:
“You fix the dying problem and I’ll fix the living problem.”
Followed by some meaty thwacks and rolling bodies over to hide the axe wounds!
Cauleigh is quite cross. Now he has to pick lady Marda up carefully, carry her away from the corpses, and wake her without greatly startling her. Still, it does give him time to don the Cloak of Plausibility! He also digs out the pink favour that ‘Penny’ gave him for Marda.
[Cauleigh gets a ridiculously good CHR result]
Lady Marda has seen enough of the world to satisfy her craving for adventure. She scoffs over Penny’s concern but blushes as well, secretly flattered. And willingly accompanies the Dwarves home.
Final GM comments on Bride of the Black Manse
I really like this module. Easy to read through and highlight. I’ve commented where I found problems – very few. One remaining problem that I avoided is endless struggling against ‘cascading’ enemies. A couple of areas are set up so that one fight triggers another, or where more and more enemies come join. These are not time-friendly. Given the real-time-based nature of the plot, I can only imagine that the GM hand-waves the combat and declares what happens to the losers.
If you run the adventure for yourself you’ll have to decide how much devil is your devil. Harley Stroh went with one of the classic Deadly Sins. I very lightly altered things so that it fitted (sort of) into the concept of a rift between worlds that let the Death Goddess through. Khara Khang is her consort but I’ve unfairly made him take the role of chief devil here. And the reason for that is that I had to give the devil a name. If I had set it up better I could have gone with the Death Goddess herself. Still, better to have Khara Khang holding a grudge than Lerotra’hh herself!
I also layered over the bounty-killer plot, so that each player played their own character and one other made up from Alintar, lady Marda, and two trusted bandit henchmen. Players were completely unaware of this layer until the ‘awakening’ which I chose to add as a tidy way of letting them decide what happened. I am very fortunate to have players that will just launch into the weird stuff. If you run it, you can decide based on the number of characters going in how many personas are assigned. A party of five need only take one persona apiece.