I fumbled for my pistol as the horrible winged hound dove at me, teeth bared for the kill. It dodged my first shot, and pain lanced through me as the beast sank its fangs into my leg. A nasty giggling sound made me look up, in time to see a malevolent little man-shaped creature sawing at my rope. A bullet smashed the horrible thing, but even as I watched the rope parted. My fingers clutched uselessly at the slick glass surface of the cliff as I began to fall...
In which the curious history of the Kingdom of Oberstauffen is explained.
The tiny Kingdom of Oberstauffen lies in southern Germany, near the Swiss border. It is a rustic, picturesque little state, with only one feature of interest: the Glass Mountain. The mountain is a strange and beautiful peak of transparent crystal, rising a thousand feet from the rolling countryside. It has existed for nearly five centuries.
In the year 1427, Queen Maria of Oberstauffen gave birth to her first child, a lovely daughter named Rosabelle. All the local notables were invited to the baby's christening - Faerie lords and ladies, Dragons, nobility and wizards. Unfortunately, the King and Queen neglected to invite a very powerful and bad-tempered witch named Maulkind. Everyone knows how badly witches react to that kind of social snub, and Maulkind was particularly touchy about her position. She arrived at the christening anyway, and the entire company were in terror lest the old woman pronounce some dreadful curse on the child.
But Maulkind said nothing during the christening. After the other guests had presented their gifts for the child, she strode forward and said to the Queen, "She is a handsome baby, and will grow up to be a lovely woman. Such a beautiful Princess should have a fitting husband. I predict that only the bravest and cleverest Prince in all the world will marry the Princess Rosabelle." Mounting her broom, Maulkind flew away cackling, while the entire court breathed a sigh of relief.
Everyone thought well of the witch for being so generous after the King and Queen neglected to invite her. It was years before they discovered what Maulkind's words at the christening really meant. On the morning of Rosabelle's seventeenth birthday, the King and Queen were horrified to discover she was missing from her chambers. Outside the capital city, a strange new mountain stood - a peak of sheer glass a thousand feet tall. In a cave atop the mountain the Princess lay in a crystal coffin, fast asleep.
For the past four centuries, brave knights and princes have tried to scale the peak, but it has defeated them all. The mountain is made of smooth, indestructible glass, 947 feet tall. The slopes of the peak are very steep - never less than a 60-degree slope, and in places, perfectly vertical.
Scientific examination of the glass mountain has revealed that it is actually a form of crystal, almost as hard as diamond. Somehow it has been strengthened to resist cannon-shot and blasting powder. Diamond-tipped drills can make an impression in the glass, but only after great difficulty and the loss of dozens of bits. Its melting point is higher than that of steel.
It is possible to fly to the top of the mountain, of course. But the crystal coffin will not open for anyone who has not actually climbed up the side of the mountain. Prince Christian of Denmark flew up on dragon-back in 1743, but the coffin remained closed.
A number of noted savants have examined the Princess as she lies sleeping in her glass coffin. She is perfectly preserved even after all this time. Careful comparisons of photographs taken months apart indicates that she is breathing very slowly, and changes position exactly as if she were asleep. The time dilation seems to be in a ratio of one million to one, so that the Princess has experienced just about four hours of sleep since her imprisonment.
Magicians have tried to break the spell that imprisons Rosabelle, but none have succeeded. It is thought that the maniacally vengeful Maulkind devoted years to gathering power for the spell, and may have employed one or more Artefacts.
The Kings of Oberstauffen have set ground rules for attempts to climb the mountain. To simplify matters, they allow climbs only on Midsummer's Day; nowadays it is a popular festival and tourist attraction. Only princes of royal blood may compete - since Maulkind's curse specified a prince, the authorities see no point in allowing all kinds of riff-raff to attempt the mountain. (There has been some grumbling in conservative circles about whether an upstart Bonaparte should be allowed to compete, but out of deference to France the rulers of Oberstauffen have consented.) The princes must be human, as the crystal coffin will not open for a Faerie or Dragon.
Lately the annual contest has gained political significance as part of the struggle over Prussia's attempt to forcibly unify Germany. Though Oberstauffen is a minor state and has remained neutral during the recent wars, its acquisition by Prussia would further Bismarck's aims without a shot being fired. This year, princes from three of the Great Powers of New Europa have come to seek the hand of the Princess Rosabelle.
In which the player-characters are introduced to a number of young Royal personages, and learn their plans to conquer the Glass Mountain.
There are several ways to involve the player-characters in this affair. The simplest - and most entertaining - is to assign the characters of the princes and their climbing teams to the players, and have them compete against each other to scale the Glass Mountain and win the Princess. If the players are too attached to their regular characters for that, then the Host can have them become part of Prince Pedro's team, as described below. Dramatic Characters with Extraordinary Connections may join the contest in their own right.
The Dramatic Characters have been contacted by the youthful heir to the throne of Brazil, Prince Pedro Braganza. The Prince was educated in New Europa (at Oxford and Heidelberg), where he made the acquaintance of one or more of the player characters. His Highness plans to make an assault on the Glass Mountain of Oberstauffen this year. As he explains to the other Dramatic Characters, Prince Pedro has some special equipment which he hopes will make the difference. His Highness has had sets of climbing pitons made with tips of pure diamond! Any characters with Good or better Athletics are welcome to join him for the climb.
Prince Pedro is a short but athletic young man. He speaks perfect English, French and German. The Prince spends much of his time in Paris and Vienna, and has a reputation as a dandy and a playboy. He is charming and enjoys life thoroughly, for he knows that once he ascends to the throne he will be occupied with matters of state. Pedro's romantic life has been the subject of drawing-room gossip on three continents. He leaves a string of broken hearts wherever he goes. The Prince is under pressure from his family to find a wife, preferably from a Europan royal house. He wants to find a woman who loves him for himself, not because he is going to be Emperor some day.
His Highness has already accepted one volunteer to aid him in climbing the mountain. A wiry young man named Mr. Jones wishes to accompany him. Jones prefers not to discuss his background, but is obviously an American in looks and speech. In fact, Mr. Jones is the American adventuress Isadora Randolph. She is very much in love with Prince Pedro, and has joined his team in order to prevent him from waking the Princess. Isadora is a brave, strong-willed woman whose chief goal is to win Pedro's wayward heart. In the past, Isadora was courted by Archduke Karl Joseph of Austria, and she knows that he is still fond of her.
The Midsummer Ball
Upon arrival in Oberstauffen, the Prince's party will be graciously received by one of the equerries to King Adolphus. The equerry will inform the Dramatic Characters that rooms are at their disposal in the Royal Palace, and will convey the King's invitation to a ball the evening before Midsummer's Day.
The ball is a splendid affair, with all of Oberstauffen's nobility in attendance. Because Oberstauffen is such a small and out-of-the-way kingdom, its upper classes are a bit more friendly and down-to-earth than other New Europan aristocrats.
The player-characters can spend their time at the ball in various ways. Any of the locals can tell the history of Oberstauffen, as given in Chapter One. All the princes who will be making the climb have been invited, and the various Dramatic Characters can meet each other and exchange good wishes, information or threats.
King Adolphus himself is willing to chat with his distinguished visitors. Characters can learn a couple of interesting facts from speaking with him. The first is that his own family, the Othenburgs, was given the throne of Oberstauffen shortly after the Princess Rosabelle's imprisonment. Her parents never produced an heir, so the Stauffenberg line went extinct and the throne passed to the Othenburgs. Though Adolphus will not say so himself, characters who have Good Education or Connections will realize that the girl atop the mountain thus has a much better claim to rule Oberstauffen than the man who currently has the job. If asked, Adolphus will say only that "The succession is far from settled."
The second startling fact is that a substantial portion of Oberstauffen's revenues come from tourists watching the annual efforts to climb the Glass Mountain. The kingdom's only export is cheese, and that is not very profitable. But each year several thousand people come to watch on Midsummer's Day when the princes are allowed to try scaling the mountain. They pump thousands of marks into Oberstauffen's economy. The Princess is a major industry for her country!
Wizard characters who spend much time with the King may make a Good Perception or Sorcery Feat to notice that he himself is a magician. If asked directly, he will not conceal the fact, but Adolphus does not advertise it. King Adolphus is a member of the Druidic Order, and has studied the spells in the Manuscript of Elemental Shaping.
Characters with a Great or better Perception Trait may notice Prince Pedro's teammate "Mr. Jones" slip away from the party early in the evening. Miss Randolph will make her way to the Prince's rooms and sabotage the special diamond pitons kept there. See Chapter Four for more details. Characters who follow Jones/Randolph and try to prevent this may have to fight the beautiful Adventuress. (If Isadora Randolph is a player-character, obviously her actions must be determined by the player. But the Host should suggest the sabotage plan.)
Pedro is not alone in wishing to climb the Glass Mountain this year. Three other princes of royal blood have arrived in Oberstauffen to compete for the hand of the Princess Rosabelle.
The Frenchman. Prince Henri-Claude Bonaparte is making the attempt with a brand-new piece of French technology, the Mechanical Spider. Henri-Claude is not the most prepossessing of princes. Shy and bookish, he is much more at home fiddling with machinery than he is with the social whirl of Court life. He wears thick spectacles and has a large number of pens and pencils in his coat pocket. At the ball he stands shyly by the wall, and leaves early to get a good night's sleep before the big day. Henri-Claude's chief motive in climbing the mountain is to field-test the Mechanical Spider and impress other inventors. By marrying the Princess he will be helping his cousin the Emperor's foreign policy, but his only real love is machinery.
Prince Henri-Claude will be accompanied on the climb by his Dwarfish assistant Cicero, who comes from the Grandaula (Great Hall) Dwarfhold in the Italian Alps. Cicero is much more outgoing than his master, and happily chats with anyone interested in machinery about the workings of the Mechanical Spider. He has the usual Dwarfish short temper, and after a few bottles of wine at the ball, anything could set him off.
The Mechanical Spider is a land vehicle, built of a maze of brass gears and levers powered by compressed air cylinders. It can operate for 24 hours between changes of cylinder. The device is controlled by levers. It walks on eight articulated metal legs, each of which is tipped by a powerful suction cup, allowing it to traverse the slick surface of the Glass Mountain. The Mechanical Spider has room for two passengers. It required 24 weeks to build and cost 2,400c. The machine can absorb 30 wounds before it stops working; 60 to destroy it completely. Because the Mechanical Spider has exposed gears and fragile working parts, it can be damaged by normal gunfire and hand-to-hand attacks.
The Prussian. Prince Friederich Gustav of Hohenzollern is a young nephew of King Wilhelm of Prussia. He plans to climb the mountain by means of a superior form of glue developed by the Farben chemical combine. Friederich Gustav is a dashing, good-looking young nobleman, with a fashionable duelling scar and a tight-fitting uniform. He loves adventure, and the thought of rescuing an enchanted princess captivates him. Friederich doesn't really care much about the political side of things - he's content to have fun and leave that sort of thing to people like Bismarck.
Friederich Gustav is accompanied by two other sprigs of Prussian nobility, Franz von Puttkammer and Hans Romberg. Both are hard-drinking, hard-riding young Junkers, glad to help their old schoolmate Friederich. Franz is the more serious of the two, and realizes the importance of keeping Oberstauffen out of the hands of Prussia's enemies. Hans just wants to have a good time. Because of the recent war, all three are very unfriendly towards anyone associated with Bavaria or the Second Compact, and would relish the chance to fight a duel with one of the other contestants.
The Super-Strong Cement is a Chemical Formulation in liquid form, and lasts forever. A square inch of surface bonded by the glue cannot be broken by anything less than an Extraordinary Physique. It required 160 weeks to develop, and costs 160c. per pint bottle. One pint of glue is enough for a hundred uses. Prince Friederich has three bottles.
The Austrian. Archduke Karl Joseph Hapsburg of Austria is the grandson of Emperor Franz Joseph, but is not in the direct line of succession. The Archduke is a magician, a member of the Templars order. His Highness knows all the spells in the Libram of Mystic Transformation and plans to use Invest with Powers of a Known Form to give himself the climbing ability of an insect. The Archduke is older than the other climbers, but still fit enough for the task. He shares his family's unfortunate looks, but is very well-mannered and charming.
Karl Joseph is not particularly interested in winning the Princess's hand, since he secretly is in love with an American woman, Isadora Randolph. Though she has spurned him, he still loves her deeply and would do anything to get her back. But his grandfather the Emperor commanded the Archduke to win the Princess, and Karl knows his duty. Karl Joseph is not aware that Isadora is masquerading as "Mr. Jones."
To cast the spell Invest with Powers of a Known Form with a duration of 24 hours requires 15 Thaumic Energy points. Since Archduke Karl is a careful spellcaster, he is willing to take the extra time to avoid dangerous harmonics. He begins casting his spell at dawn on the day of the climb. The spell gives Archduke Karl an Exceptional ability to scale sheer glass surfaces (use that instead of Athletics when he is climbing the mountain).
In Which the Noble Mountaineers begin their Assault upon the Glass Mountain.
The other climbers are slower. Prince Friederich and his companions can only manage about three yards a minute, as he must juggle his glue-bottle and bag of hooks. Prince Pedro's team goes at about the same rate.
For everyone except Henri-Claude, climbing the mountain is a test of Athletics ability. Characters making the ascent with Prince Pedro have a pair of diamond-tipped pitons. The procedure is simple but tiring: reach up, drive the piton into the glass, hook one's rope to it, pull oneself up, pull out the lower piton and repeat. In theory, one is never without a securely-attached safety rope. All the climbers are roped together as an extra precaution. The Prussian team follows a similar method, using the Super-Strong Cement to glue hooks to the mountain.
On a failed climbing Feat, the Host draws one card from the Deck. If it is red, the climber slips and dangles from his rope. Men with Poor Courage and ladies with Average or worse Courage will suffer 3 points of Swoon-type damage from the shock. If the Host's card is a Club, the character knocks against a sharp-edged section of glass and suffers a Blow of 1 Wound. If the card is a Spade, then the character's rope comes loose and he falls. All the other characters must perform a Good Athletics Feat to hang on. If anyone fails that Feat, then the first character goes down the mountain and the second character must check to see if he or she follows by repeating the above procedure.
The ascent is broken up into five stages, a mixture of slopes and cliffs. In general the sheer cliffs require a Great feat of Athletics to scale, and the slopes need only a Good feat. The first part of the climb is fairly easy, a smooth sixty-degree slope rising 200 feet. This part requires only an Average feat of Athletics. The first slope is relatively forgiving, as a character who falls simply slides down the slope to land unharmed in the mass of cushions prepared at the base by the local Fire Brigade. After that comes a 100-foot sheer cliff. Falling from the cliff will result in severe injury to the climber (10 Wounds). The third stage of the climb is a steep 75-degree face rising 300 feet. By this point, characters who fall will be killed. The fourth section is a 200-foot cliff, and the final stage is a long unbroken slope to the peak.
In which various hardships are suffered by the climbers.
Prince Pedro or other characters in his group may spot the sabotage attempt by making a Great Feat of Perception while gearing up. They may be able to repair the pitons in time to make the climb, depending on how they try to do so. If nobody spots the sabotage, the gear will fail at a dramatic moment on the mountainside. The Host may choose whose pitons break as they cling to the smooth glass cliff high on the mountainside. An Exceptional Feat of Athletics or Physique will enable the character to avoid falling; otherwise resolve it as described in Chapter Three. Isadora's own pitons are intact, of course. She will not let Prince Pedro fall, but may be less concerned about the other climbers.
During the third stage of the climb, the mountaineers are attacked by creatures of the Unseelie Court, summoned by King Adolphus (though the players are likely to suspect Prince Friederich of being responsible). Two Redcaps will move through the mountainside in Ethereal form and attack Henri-Claude. The little horrors will try to cripple the Mechanical Spider, marooning the Prince on the steep slope of the mountain. The Redcaps will not leave until one is slain and the other is wounded.
A pack of Gabriel Ratchets (winged Faerie hounds) will attack the other climbers. There are six of them, so each of the climbing groups will be attacked by two hounds initially. If one group of hounds defeats a climbing team, they will split up and join their fellows. The hounds will retreat after three have been put out of action.
Gabriel Ratchets are a kind of Faerie Animal. They have the bodies of powerful black hounds, with ragged black feathered wings sprouting from their shoulders. Their heads are evil human visages with glowing red eyes. Gabriel Ratchets are often part of the Wild Hunt. The ratchets have the following Kindred powers: they can predict death or misfortune (like a Kobold or Spectre), and they can track anyone anywhere. Tracking requires a Good Feat of the creature's Kindred Powers. If the trail is fresh, the Feat is only Average. The Ratchets are repelled by iron and the ringing of bells.
In which the intrepid climbers reach the summit of the mountain, and discover that their difficulties are not at an end.
The Air Elemental appears as a small whirlwind in human shape, its outline constantly shifting. The creature is a weak fighter, but is almost completely immune to any attacks the Dramatic Characters can make. It can move at Good Flying Speed, and buffets its opponents with blasts of wind like blows. Gunfire and swords do not affect the Elemental's impalpable body. Magick and dragon Firecast will harm it normally, and explosions or shotgun blasts do half damage. Unlike the Faerie, it is not vulnerable to iron. The Air Elemental will leave as soon as King Adolphus is rendered unconscious.
In which Princess Rosabelle is freed from the crystal coffin, and the Kingdom of Oberstauffen acquires a new industry.
Getting down from the mountain is easier than getting up. The earthquake created by the whistle has exposed a spiral staircase leading down the mountainside. The walk is tiring, but not especially difficult. Once the spell has been broken, the mountain reverts to ordinary glass. Oberstauffen may have lost a tourist attraction, but the kingdom will have a profitable glass industry for generations to come.
Despite Maulkind's prediction, it is not a sure thing that Princess Rosabelle will marry her rescuer. Having slept through the past 400 years, she is terribly confused by the modern world, and will need lots of instruction in the ways of the 19th century. If King Adolphus survives the battle atop the mountain, he will try to be named her guardian, and will try to either marry her himself or get rid of her. Many intrigues and adventures in Oberstauffen may lie ahead.
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