This actual play report will perhaps be a bit more terse and less detailed than the previous entries. My players went through the Pale Lady adventure from Zzarchov Kowolski, and most of the session was a running action scene. They party decided to take on the Pale Lady and her minions with a direct attack. This seemed like a terrible idea to me, the GM, but by using good OSR combat tactics, including splitting up their enemies and liberal use of fire, they managed to pull off a narrow victory.
In the published adventure, the Pale Lady is a level 10 elf. I wanted to switch things up a little and make the Lady a bit more alien, so I statted her up as a level 10 Fey Elf from Necrotic Gnomes' Demihumans of Dolmenwood. She was still plenty powerful, armed as she was with many elf runes. However—and not to take to anything away from my player's hard-won victory—I did forget how a lot of her powers worked, so the PCs had a bit of an edge. Regardless, is a good weird time.
Here's how it shook out. Spoiler warnings for The Pale Lady and trigger warnings for casual child murder.
Belinda Kage: Serpentblood 1, Midwife.
Madeline: Specialist 1, Grave Robber.
Mortimer: Alice 1, Librarian.
Matthew: Outlander 1, One-armed Iriquois.
Julius Cervantes: Fighter 1, Former witch hunter.
Ana Fischer: Rescued witch.
Girnot: Former deacon of Nonsbeck. Mentally damaged by the Party. Human pack mule.
The party spent the day before the Winter Solstice resting at the Abbey of St. Agnes and making final preparations for their trip to the realm of the Pale Lady to find the Word of God for Mother Ruth. Ana confided to Belinda that she had no desire to go to this unknown faerie realm and didn't think the rewards were worth the risk. Belinda convinced the witch to stay at the abbey and watch over their stuff.
Bright and early the next morning, the PCs headed out to the nearby forest and found an ancient yew tree that had roots and boles big enough for the characters to pass through. Julius recited the magical phrase they learned from Mother Ruth and crawled through a small opening between the tree's roots. The characters moved from the cold mud of winter to a bright and warm spring world. In this virgin forest the colors were a tad too bright and the flowers a bit too fragrant.
Belinda tied one of her fishing lures to the tree's branches so they can find they way back, then the party headed towards an area where the forest growth seemed lighter. They came across a large clearing and an unusual sight. The clearing held a field of white roses and other flowers, all tended by men women and children with haunted eyes and beaten demeanors. These slaves were overseen by lanky, mangy rabbit men with stout wooden cudgels. A house woven from massive thorn branches sat near one end of the clearing, and a collection of crude reed huts sat behind that. The PCs hid in the hedges for a bit, observing the rabbit guards. Eventually they decided to take direct and furious action.
Matthew snuck through the reed huts (I judged that the clearing still counted as wilderness) lighting them on fire. The rest of the party stayed hidden in the brush and started other fires with flaming arrows. Several of the rabbit guards ran off to deal with the fires. The hidden PCs sniped the guards they had left behind. General chaos broke out. Rabbit men ran back and forth trying to fight the rapidly spreading fire while chasing down the invading humans. The PCs split into several groups, further separating the rabbit men and fighting them in smaller skirmishes, while also working to free the human slaves. The rabbit men had the advantage of numbers, but the beasts' low Hit Dice, lack of armor, and morale score of 5 made them fairly easy to take out as long as they couldn't gang up on any one PC. The only hero to take any real damage was Belinda's dog, Ekans, who got clubbed in the head and had an eye knocked out (I felt worse about this than any PC I've ever killed).
Chaos and fire continued to spread, and eventually Mortimer used his Frustration power to find a secret entrance into the thorny house. One-by-one the PCs all piled through the door as the rabbits built a firebreak to keep the flames away from the house.
The party crept through the “house.” Every wall was made of living vines and branches, some as thick as a man's leg, and all covered in thorns and white roses. Glass lanterns full of fireflies cast everything in a weird twilight. As they approached the center of the house, they heard a squealing rabbit voice speaking in unintelligible pleading tones. A sensual, narcotic voice answered the rabbit. “Very well, show me what is happening.” The party quickly ducked into shadows and around corners, trying (and failing) to hide.
A tall woman of weird alien beauty walked into the room, accompanied by several rabbit guards--the Pale Lady herself. She stood well over six-feet tall, completely naked and bone-white, with hair reaching down to her ankles. Two ivory gazelle-like antlers swept back from her forehead, and her white skin was carved with swirling, Guillermo Del Toro-esque whorls and runes. She looked at the poorly-hidden party like one looks at an annoying insect. “You have invaded my home and murdered my children. Tell me why, before I kill you.”
Belinda nervously spoke up. “We were looking for the Word of Creation.”
The Pale Lady looked tired and annoyed. “Oh. That. You could have just asked.”
That idea had clearly never occurred to the party. And while this was going on, several other rabbit men had crept into the room. The party was surrounded and out-numbered, with a faerie queen of unknown power. “You should all leave. Now,” the Pale Lady said. “Except you,” she said to Mortimer. “You stay, to replace my lost servants.” Some of the runes on her skin flared with moonlight, and the Alice was immediately charmed. The Lady was now Mortimer's best friend and dearest love.
GM technique side note: Charm is always a tricky condition to enforce on players. I prefer to use carrots rather than sticks. I told Mortimer's player that every time he put the Pale Lady's well-being above his own safety or desires, I'd give him a poker chip. At the end of the session, he could turn those chips in for 50xp each. Try it. It works!
The PCs weren't the type to go out without a fight. Madeline fired her crossbow point blank at the Pale Lady, and the fight was on! Even at level 10, the Pale Lady didn't have a huge amount of hit points, and she had no armor. Still, she had several spells grafted to her skin, and many henchmen. She cast Mirror Image, and the GM (me) promptly forgot about it's effect in all subsequent rounds. (It was late, and I was a few beers in. This happens.) Matthew focused his attacks on the Pale Lady, while Belinda and Madeline tried to deal with the mob of rabbit men. Julius used a gambit to double-strike and take out both of the Lady's elite guards in one attack. Mortimer just tried to stay out of the way.
Julius and Matthew continued to hack at the Pale Lady from both sides. She tried to charm the outlander, but his powerful saves helped him resist. His luck wouldn't hold, however, as her next spell polymorphed him into a three-legged tree frog. More rabbit men were slaughtered, but the beasts managed to take Belinda and Madeline down to 0hp. Fortunately, Cavegirl's Horrible Wounds tables worked in their favor this time. The rabbits used bludgeoning weapons that only did 1d4 damage, and they were only knocked unconscious instead of being viciously maimed.
Julius continued to desperately slash at the faerie queen, but it still looked like a TPK was imminent. The Pale Lady polymorphed into an albino lion and turned on the fighter. The charmed Mortimer shouted “Ooh! Pretty kitty!” and tried to pet the lion.
“Hmmm,” I thought. “Do you really pet her?” I asked Mortimer.
“Ummm... sure?” he said nervously.
Okay, I thought. She's wounded and furious, and some dumb human just petted her. I had her make a morale check. She failed, and took a swipe at Mortimer in her fury. He was badly wounded, but the charm was broken!
Snapping out of the spell, Mortimer expressed his Frustration and found a loaded pistol in the pocket of his greatcoat. He fired at the Pale Lady just as Julius ran her through with his rapier. The Pale Lady lay dead, bleeding strange white blood. The rabbit men broke and scattered.
The party paused to catch their breath and count their blessings. Madeline and Belinda regained consciousness, and the gravedigger perched the Matthew-frog on her hat brim. After a quick breather, they continued to explore the house.
The first thing they found was a large and fancy mirror containing a smoky entity who called himself Lucifer. It spoke at length, with a smooth Tim Curry voice. The mirror said it could answer any question in exchange for the sacrifice of a first-born son. Belinda and the mirror immediately hit it off, and she said she'd come back to ask him questions later.
They didn't have to wait long, for the very next room contained a pit with three preteen boys from Spain, France, and Germany. Belinda took the German child out of the pit “For just a moment! We'll be right back!” and took him to the mirror room. She quickly slit the kid's throat and asked Lucifer where the Word of Creation was.
“Wow! You didn't hesitate at all.” said Lucifer. “Okie doke, the Word is in a room at the end of the hall.”
A wasted question, perhaps, but at least where know where Belinda (a midwife!) stands on children.
The next two rooms contained the Pale Lady's laboratory and library, with an amulet and scroll that described how to access the Word of Creation. Then, at last, they came to the Word itself. The Word of Creation sat in the center of a large room. The Word was a large, 10-foot cube of white stone, surrounded by a circle of salt. Following the direction on the scroll they found in the lab, Julius stepped into the circle of salt and snapped the amulet. He suddenly found himself inside the cube, inside another circle of salt with an unsnapped amulet. A tall skeleton with long white air sat in the corner. The Word of Creation was carved on all the walls. The holy divine script burned itself into Julius' brain, granting him a brief glimpse of the quicksilver grid of creation beneath the four-dimensional hologram of consensual reality. It seared into his brain, with ideas he'll never be able to relate. But the cosmic epiphany boosted him to level 2! There was nothing left to do but snap the amulet again.
In a flash, Julius reappeared outside the cube with an unbroken amulet. But what's this? There was still another Julius outside, standing in a circle of salt with a broken amulet. Yes, the ritual didn't teleport Julius. It appeared to have duplicated him.
The rest of the party decided to give the whole thing a try. They all (including the frog) piled into the salt circle and snapped the amulet. Inside the cube they all saw the Word of Creation. The human PCs all gained a level. Belinda, the serpentblood, instead added the Word to her own magical repertoire (as a Turn Undead spell). She can also grant this spell to anyone who worships her. She's essentially now a tiny god. The Word awakened Matthew's froggy brain to human consciousness, but it was trapped in a frog's body, so the poor amphibian went insane in a Philip K. Dick crisis of identity. They also discovered a panic-stricken Julius, who had realized he's trapped in the cube, doomed to starve to death. They shoved him away before he could break the salt circle, then snapped the amulet. The third set of PCs appeared outside the cube, having blithely left their other duplicates to die inside the cube.
My players are not the type to dwell on existential quandaries. They all decided to play the duplicate, higher-level PCs.
With no way to move the Word of God, the party decided to pack up whatever valuables they could find and head back to the mortal world. They would tell Mother Ruth what they found and give her the amulet and directions on how to access the Word of Creation.
As they PCs exited the Pale Lady's house, they noticed the empty fields and the bodies of several rabbit men beaten to death. With the end of the Pale Lady, it appeared as though the remaining slaves revolted and escaped. The PCs hoped they were able to find their way home, but didn't dwell too much upon it.
We ended the session with the PCs returning through the yew tree and too the abbey with a small pile of loot, two orphaned boys, an insane three-legged frog, a demonic mirror, and the body of a dead faerie queen (whom Belinda wants to skin, so she can use her runes as a spellbook).
- Ivory comb (300sp)
- Several bundles of silk (750sp)
- Eight golden trinkets of unknown use (50sp each)
- A magic mirror holding "Lucifer"
- The body of a dead faerie covered in usable spell formulas
- Matthew, now an insane three-legged tree frog (Outlander 1)
- Tranquilo (Fighter 1)
- Hector (Alice 1)