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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Colossus of Ylourgne

Long one, this time.
One of the neater things TSR ever published was the old Castle Amber module.

It had nothing to do with the Roger Zelazny novels. It was a rather unique Dungeons and Dragons adventure based on the works and worlds of fantasy author Clark Ashton Smith, and it was a doozy, containing mysteries, puzzles, monsters, planar travel, and at one point required the party to time travel in order to solve a mystery. At this point, this post will take two forms: the black text explaining what the party did, as opposed to the red text quoting from the Smith original story...

Upon successfully obtaining the Potion of Time Travel, the party, in their quest to escape from a parallel universe (medieval France) and return to the Forgotten Realms, set forth to the capital of the province, Vyones, in order to seek out the Viper-Circled Mirror from the wizard Gaspard du Nord.

Unfortunately, en route, they encountered a terrified curate, fleeing from his monastery – the last survivor. The monastery had been destroyed by the necromancer Nathaire, in the body of a hideous horror, the Colossus!

“In the interim, several monks of the Cistercian brotherhood, watching the grey wall of Ylourgne at early dawn with their habitual vigilance, were the first, after Gaspard, to behold the monstrous horror created by the necromancers.”

“Then, with both hands, the colossus tore loose an immense rock that was deeply embedded in the hillside; and lifting this rock, he flung it at the stubborn walls. The tremendous mass broke in an entire side of the chapel; and those who had gathered therein were found later, crushed into bloody pulp amid the splinters of their carven Christ.” ---Clark Ashton Smith, The Colossus of Ylourgne

The party hurried along the King’s Road north, to Vyones, finding the town in an uproar, and the Viceroy hard pressed to maintain order. Caravans of the wealthy and noble were headed south, and they’d commandeered most of the province’s standing military to escort them! The party did what they could to help… until summoned to the chambers of the Viceroy’s chief advisor… the wizard Gaspard du Nord. Du Nord had once been a pupil of Nathaire’s, and had a secret weapon that might help against the hideous horror…

“Working feverishly by the light of the westering moon and a single dim taper, Gaspard assembled various ingredients of familiar alchemic use which he possessed, and compounded from these, through a long and somewhat cabalistic process, a dark-grey powder which he had seen employed by Nathaire on numerous occasions. He had reasoned that the colossus, being formed from the bones and flesh of dead men unlawfully raised up, and energized only by the soul of a dead sorcerer, would be subject to the influence of this powder, which Nathaire had used for the laying of resurrected liches.”

“Gaspard made a considerable quantity of the mixture, arguing that no mere finger-pinch would suffice for the lulling of the gigantic charnel monstrosity. His guttering yellow candle was dimmed by the white dawn as he ended the Latin formula of fearsome verbal invocation from which the compound would derive much of its efficacy. The formula, which called for the cooperation of Alastor and other evil spirits, he used with unwillingness. But he knew that there was no alternative: sorcery could be fought only with sorcery.” ---Clark Ashton Smith, The Colossus of Ylourgne

A bargain was struck: Gaspard would surrender the Viper-Circled Mirror if the group would aid him in laying low his former master. Armed with three pouches of the necromantic powder, and their own spells, the group set out for Ylourgne at all speed, hoping to head the monster off before it could attack the city.

They almost made it.

“A cloud of arrows, visible even at that distance, rose to meet the monster, who apparently did not even pause to pluck them from his hide. Great boulders hurled from mangonels were no more to him than a pelting of gravel; the heavy bolts of arbalests, embedded in his flesh, were mere slivers.”
“Nothing could stay his advance. The tiny figures of a company of pikemen, who opposed him with out-thrust weapons, swept from the wall above the eastern gate by a single sidelong blow of the seventy-foot pine that he bore for a cudgel.” ---- Clark Ashton Smith, The Colossus of Ylourgne

“His head was level with the tower, and his eyes flamed like wells of burning brimstone as he drew near. His lips were parted over stalactitic fangs in a hateful snarl; and he cried out in a voice like the rumbling of articulate thunder: "Ho! Ye puling priests and devotees of a powerless God! Come forth and bow to Nathaire the master, before he sweeps you into limbo!" “ – Clark Ashton Smith, The Colossus of Ylourgne

The group paled before the enormity of the task. One swat of that tree the monster used for a club would squash a man like a tomato! But armed with courage and firepower, they advanced…
They knew that the Colossus’ backpack contained Nathaire’s apprentices… all necromancers themselves, who could heal Nathaire as quickly as he took damage. Plainly, the first step was to destroy them while the Colossus was distracted. Using spells, they severed the straps and blasted the wizards within. Meanwhile, the knight Navarre, using the Hammer of Hermes, launched himself at the monster’s shoulder, hoping to grab hold and cast his pouch of powder into the monster’s nose!

Didn’t quite work that way. Lacking any practice with the Hammer, he successfully thwacked himself into the monster’s back, and got its attention. The horror turned, and found the remainder of the party barbecuing his pupils!
Scott and Nathan narrowly avoided being hammered flat with the mighty pine club (tokens were spent). Meanwhile, Navarre clambered higher on the monster’s back, using tent pegs to crawl onto the monster’s shoulder… (he can be seen, wearing green armor and green shield, in the picture below; the purple caped figure wielding green fire is Nathan.)

"Draw nearer, Nathaire, if indeed it be you, foul robber of tombs and charnels," he taunted. "Come close, for I would hold speech with you." ---Clark Ashton Smith, The Colossus Of Ylourgne

…and it was then that the monster finally realized someone was on his back. He seized Navarre and began to squeeeeeeeze!

Nathan summoned the Hammer of Hermes to his hand! The weapon lay forgotten at the base of the city walls! It leapt to the air, and tore back to its master’s hand…. punching straight through the monster’s thigh! The monster screamed… and began to draw breath…

…and the party flung their pouches of powder into the monster’s face! Scott immediately triggered the spell designed to return the souls of the dead to their stolen bodies – and then, inspired…. Blessed the creature!

The monster stopped. It looked confused. It dropped the near-dead Navarre from a twenty-foot height, doing him no good at all.

“The anger was erased from the mighty, contorted mask, as if from the face of a dead man; the great cudgel fell with a crash to the empty street; and with drowsy, lurching steps, and listless, hanging arms, the giant turned his back to the cathedral and retraced his way through the devastated city."

"He muttered dreamily to himself as he went; and people who heard him swore that the voice was no longer the awful, thunderswollen voice of Nathaire, but the tones and accents of a multitude of men, amid which the voices of certain of the ravished dead were recognizable. And the voice of Nathaire himself, no louder now than in life, was heard at intervals through the manifold mutterings, as if protesting angrily."

"Climbing the eastern wall as it had come, the colossus went to and fro for many hours, no longer wreaking a hellish wrath and rancour, but searching, as people thought, for the various tombs and graves from which the hundreds of bodies that composed it had been so foully reft. From charnel to charnel, from cemetery to cemetery it went, through all the land; but there was no grave anywhere in which the dead colossus could lie down."

"Then, towards evening, men saw it from afar on the red rim of the sky, digging with its hands in the soft, loamy plain beside the river Isoile. There, in a monstrous and self-made grave, the colossus laid itself down, and did not rise again. “ ---- Clark Ashton Smith, The Colossus of Ylourgne

The adventure ended with a crazed three-day party, the payment of a substantial reward from the grateful populace of Ylourgne, and (as the party was leaving), the apparent construction of a statue of the three of them in the town square… the Saviours of Ylourgne!

“Of Gaspard du Nord, who had been the saviour of the province, it was related that he lived in much honour to a ripe age, being the one sorcerer of that region who at no time incurred the disapprobation of the Church.” – Clark Ashton Smith, The Colossus of Ylourgne for the whole text of the original story!

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