Sunday, July 12, 2009

St Corbus and the Doomed Outpost

The campaign began as a caravan of merchants and traders trundled into the walled village of St. Corbus, which lies in the northeastern marches of Thuringia, in the foothills of the Iron Mountains, one of the geographic barriers that helps protect the Middle Realms from the hordes of evil humanoids that threaten this last enclave of civilization. Among this caravan were six adventurers, who had come to know each other during the long journey and had decided to seek their fortunes together. There were the human fighters Jink (Paul) and Enos (Domenick), the the elven fighter Aramel. There was also Calista the magic-user (Heather, Odolon the dwarven warrior, and Hendrick, a human warrior of the High Church. Aramel, whose chosen weapon was the bow, did not have a sword, so the party visited Clothar, a weaponsmith, and there learned that Lord Childeric was offering a bounty on goblin scalps. Intrigued, the adventurers proceeded to the keep, where they spoke with Carloman, the Captain of the Guard, who verified that Lord Childeric was indeed offering a bounty on goblin scalps. In fact, he was offering a reward of 100 gps for information on what had befallen his son, Gudrick, who had been found slain at an ancient outpost two days' journey into the mountains.

When the adventurers stopped into the local inn, The Broken Lantern, for a drink and some mutton stew, they received even more information from the inkeeper, an attractive, middle-aged woman named Alda. Alda told the adventurers that the murdered Gudrick, though he was an illegitimate son of Lord Childeric and one of his mistresses, was his father's favorite, and so Childeric had given Gudrick money and men to rebuild an ancient guardpost high in the hills and found his own manor. Several weeks after Gudrick and his followers had trekked into the hills, a party of messengers and porters who had been sent to the guardpost returned with grim news: the guardpost had been overrun and everyone was dead, including Gudrick. The party had tried to investigate and inter the bodies, but they were chased off by goblins.

The six adventurers set off that day for the guardpost, and reached it without incident two days later. The guardpost was situated against a high cliff, in an open, stump-filled area that had only recently been cleared. Part of the stone wall had been reconstructed, and two timber buildings had been built recently. There were indeed goblins, but the party managed to trap them inside one of the buildings - a barracks - and slay them. Because Enos had been badly injured in the fight, the party decided to barricade itself in the building for the night. The adventurers removed the bodies of the goblins and, at Hendrik's insistence, interred the corpses of the humans that had fallen there when the guardpost was overrun. The following day the party investigated a second building, which appeared to be a residence of sorts, and found several more bodies, along with a suit of plate mail armor that likely belonged to Gudrick himself. Most interesting were the corpses of orcs intermingled with the human bodies. The adventurers had been dubious that goblins could cause such carnage, particularly among well-armed men. Thus, the presence of dead orcs seemed an important clue.

The party moved on to find a cave entrance within a recess in the cliff wall. Odolon was able to tell that a stone wall had previously blocked the entrance, but had recently been dismantled, probably to fix the crumbling walls of the guardpost. The party went inside, and quickly discovered a goblin lair. The fight was long, but the party prevailed, and, after collecting some meager treasure from the creatures' lair, headed back to town with its bounty of goblin scalps.

Lord Childeric was happy to part with the 120 gps for the scalps, as well as the 100 gps for the information on the cave and the orc corpses. In fact, he offered the party a reward of 1,000 gps if it descended into the caves and eliminated the threat of the orcs and whatever else might be down there. He provided the fighters with plate mail armor, and each of the adventurers with a healing potion. The adventurers then went to the Broken Lantern to enjoy an evening on the town.

Enos awoke the next day with no recollection of the previous evening. That day he noticed that Captain Carloman, of Lord Childeric's guard, would not make eye contact with him. When the party went to the village herbalist to obtain some aditional healing potions, Valda, the herbalist, remarked that Captain Carloman might be jealous if she got too friendly with Enos. The party then headed back into the hills, much to Enos' relief, no doubt.

The party encountered a next of giant rats deeper within the caves, and managed to defeat them after a lengthy battle. The party moved deeper into the caves, and came upon a strangely glowing, barricaded passage, which they chose to ignore. They descended ever deeper, and came upon a room that was crossed by an underground river. Three orcs were camped by a boat, and rose to attack. Tragically, Odolon was felled by one of these orcs before Calista was able to cast a sleep spell and put a quick end to the combat. The party returned to St. Corbus to seek someone who could ressurect Odolon, but found that there was nobody in the small village powerful enough to cast such a spell. It was here, in town, that the evening ended.

Experience points are noted in the post below. Thank you all for a great night of gaming.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Experience Points

I will post a detailed recap as soon as I have a chance, but I do want to post the experience point totals from last night's adventuring. This version of the game awards bonus experience points if a character has a high wisdom or charisma, or has a high score in his/her prime attribute, so I will list those separately.

Base Experience Points: 209
If your character's wisdom score is 13 or higher, add 10 additional XP
If your character's charisma score is 13 or higher, add an additional 10 XP
If your human or dwarven character's prime attribute is 13 or higher, add 10 XP
If your elven character's prime attribute is 15 or higher, add 10 XP.

These bonuses stack, so a character can gain a total of 30 bonus XP.

Friday, July 3, 2009

The Middle Realms

The new Swords & Wizardry campaign will be set in the Middle Realms, an enclave of human kingdoms that struggles to survive against the chaos of the vast continent that surrounds it. The Middle Realms were once home to the Ilian Empire, which controlled vast territories and pushed the evil races of humanoids to the far edges of memory. It is said that in the empire's heyday, the countryside was abundant with grain and meat, and the cities and towns were abundant with art, commerce, and learning. As the centuries passed, however, the empire grew weak and corrupt within, and a slow decline began. The evil races, which had always tested the empire's borders, began to press inward, sacking towns and cities, reconquering large tracts of territory. The empire shrank inexorably, until only the area of the Middle Realms remained in human hands. It is there that humans, along with sizeable populations of elves and dwarves, hold fast against the savage races that never give up hope of overrunning this last bastion of civilization.

The campaign will begin in the northern marches of Thuringia, a kingdom in the northeast corner of the Middle Realms. Here, the land begins to rise into the Iron Mountains, the rugged range that shields the Middle Realms from the tribes of orcs and bugbears that control the lands to the east and north. Though humans nominally control this area, their power is tenuous, and those who venture too far from the safety of one of the few scattered keeps often find themselves in peril. Needless to say, many adventurers seek their fortunes there. Your group is no exception. You met on the road and banded together out of common interest, and have decided to begin your search for adventure in St. Corbus, a small, fortified town situated on a bend in the Merdret River. To the north and east of St. Corbus there is little but wilderness, danger, and hopefully, opportunity.

Good luck, adventurers!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

An Unexpected Turn of Events

The Kharschum Campaign is at an end. It started off well, I thought, as the party defeated the necromancer Ogodei and took up residence in his tower, and it still felt like fun as the characters tangled with the various underworld figures in the city and took over their criminal organizations. As the characters pushed past 10th level, however, the 3.5 rules became unimaginatively complex, and the characters became so powerful that they took on the feel of superheroes or gods, which required me to challenge them with equally potent enemies, which caused the tone of the campaign to shift from something that felt like fantasy to something that felt more and more like an X-Men movie. The party had also lost most of its muscle, and when Alayna died, leaving the party without an arcane spellcaster, it felt like the game had reached a crossroads.

I am going to start a new campaign with the Swords & Wizardry system while Carl continues with his own Swords & Wizardry campaign with Matt and the new group he formed. My hope is that at some point, we can merge the two groups and be fully intact once again. For the moment, however, we have done such a great job of pulling in new players that two groups seems the only practical solution.

The new campaign will take place in a new campaign world, which I will initially sketch out, and then develop as our game progresses. I will follow this up with a post that describes the campaign world so that those of you who will be playing can get a sense of its peoples and cultures. Although the game was heavily influenced by pulp fantasy, it also draws heavily on Medieval history and culture. Therefore, I am going to model this campaign world after the historical world of the Early Middle Ages, specifically on areas of present day France and Germany during the late Merovingian period. During this period, Europe was still heavily forested and sparsely populated; vast tracts of forest dominated the landscape, and the roads that linked the scattered manors and towns were dangerous places where lepers begged for food and bandits assailed unwary travelers. Society was feudal, and was dominated by the Catholic Church. Expect more detail to follow. I will also post house rules in a third post.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Graves' End

May 22-30

After returning from the Isle of the Dead, you decided to take a week to rest and rehabilitate, and enjoy the comforts that your recent adventures and your new sources of income afforded. As the week drew to a close, however, Inaki received a Message from an unknown spellcaster who beckoned you to meet him or her at the Fat Man's Ecstasy for an opportunity that you would not want to refuse. After some debate, you decided to send Inaki with Alayna and Erth, who would be in disguise. The three entered the inn, which was a medieval version of Nick Tahoe's, and waited. Soon, a human with thick, waist-length blond hair entered and sat down. He cast a True Seeing spell on himself, glanced around the room, and asked Alayna, Inakai, and Erth to join him.

The stranger introduced himself as Avaris, a merchant from the Eastern City and the Governor of the Merchants' Guild. He coveted a small, jeweled box, inscribed with an upside down triangle transected by a battle axe, which he said was somewhere within Graves' end, an ancient, abandoned area on the western edge of the city. In return for this box, Avaris promised to cast a Wish spell on each of you. After some discussion, you accepted, and proceeded to the Camel's Rump, a tavern in the Bull's Head section, where Avaris said you could gain further information about Graves' End.

After finding the tavern amid the refuse and stench of the butchery/tannery district, you entered and engaged the barkeep, Dmitry, in conversation. He told you that the safest path to Graves' End was outside the city walls, through the Bone Middens, a maze of heaped bones accumulated from decades of slaughtered animals, and around the western wall to a creek that led directly back into the city. He also told you that Graves' End was the home of the Kipchaks, who ruled Uyghuria for generations, before the country fell into chaos. With that, you thanked him and left.

After passing the bone middens, you came upon a strange cluster of spires to the southwest. these did not appear to be man-made, but instead looked like massive tapers of rock honeycombed with holes and tunnels. An eerie song emanated from the spires, which entranced Inaki and Kier. Fortunately, Erth and Hrolff each cast a Dispel Magic spell, which ended the enchantment and stopped the two from approaching the spires.

You rounded the city wall and entered Graves' End via the creek and breach in the wall that Dmitry had described. You could see that the city bordered the ruined cluster of buildings, but that all the streets and alleys accessing Graves' End had been barricaded. The only intact structures were a church and a three story keep, so you entered the keep via a ramp that led to the second floor.

You found yourselves in what must have once been an impressive great hall, but which was now in ruin. As you entered, you were confronted with three, large-sized Shadow Mastiffs, which immediately attacked. The fight was not difficult, thanks to some well-placed spells and a steady stream of arrows from Inakai's bow. The third story of the keep was almost completely gone, so you proceeded downstairs via an unsteady staircase. On the first level, you found some scattered human bones and the remnants of a massive chandelier that had fallen from the ceiling in the hall above and broken through the rotted floor. An open doorway led down.

You found yourselves in a wide, vaulted burial hall, with sarcophagi lining the walls and a massive iron statue standing guard, flanked by massive stone pillars that formed a hallway of sorts through the center of the room. The floor was littered with human skeletons, which had clearly fallen in some sort of battle centuries earlier. You made your way past the statue carefully, but it did not animate, and you followed a stair down to an identical burial hall with another iron statue and an even heavier concentration of skeletons. Here you found a small-sized Keen Shortsword +1, still in the grip of one of the skeletons. The sword resembled Unferth's Bane in style and design. You again made your way past the Iron statue and descended to the next level.

This hall was similar to the two above, save that there were no human skeletons on the floor, and the iron statue was in ruins. A shrouded figure lay on top of each sarcophagus, save for one in the far corner of the room. As you entered, eight of the figures sat up. They were skeletal, and were clearly dwarven. They moved and fought with a skill that surpassed that of typical skeletons. The fight was a long one, but was not difficult, thanks to some clever strategy on the part of your spellcasters. A wall of stone delayed four of the skeletons, and by the time they finally broke through, the tide of battle had already turned in your favor. You destroyed all eight, and proceeded to open the unoccupied sarcophagus.

You found a shaft leading down to a similar burial hall. Something was different, however. The light from your torches seemed to strain against the darkness, and what little color there should have been was faded to black and gray. It only took a few moments for Hrolff to realize that you had somehow entered the Plane of Shadow. It was there that the evening ended.

Experience Points:
Inakai & Kier: 3,600
Erth, Hrolff, & Alayna: 2,160

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Tomb of Torghil the Demented

May 18-22

The action picked up where it had left off the previous session, with the party and Chuluun in Ophidia's lair beneath the Mask and the Mirror. Three Red Nails soldiers, who had apparently wandered into the brothel and heard the commotion below, stormed down the stairs and called out for Ophidia. Alayna answered that Ophidia was dead, and demanded that the soldiers stand down, but when she asked Amira to reiterate her order, Amira instructed the soldiers to attack, and attempted to escape. This was a mistake, as the three soldiers were so outmatched by Ulee and a brown bear that Erth summoned that none of the characters even needed to swing a weapon. After a failed attempt, Alayna successfully cast Dominate Person on Amira, who had just wriggled out of Hrolff's grasp, and then teleported upstairs to intercept the two surviving soldiers who had left their unfortunate companion to the tender mercies of the bear and dire wolf. Alayna bluffed the soldiers into surrendering, and the party installed Hussain as head of the Red Nails. Alayna ordered Amira to report to Bathcat and offer herself to him as a sex slave for ten days, thus ridding the operation of the cunning bard and making Bathcat very happy, and hopefully a bit more loyal.

Meanwhile, Inakai and Kier, who were resting in the tower, were attacked by two vampire spawn, who seeped through the cracks around the trapdoor in gaseous form and attempted to wrest the mirror from them. The fight was short and harrowing, but the ranger and the rogue easily prevailed. When the rest of the party returned to the tower, you discussed the incident and speculated that Bataar might be behind the attack. He has motive, as his trusted lieutenant, Dochin the Bloody, is apparently imprisoned within the mirror, and because Bataar is clearly hundreds of years old, he could very well be a vampire. Hrolff cast an array of protective spells on the tower to protect it from the undead and living alike, and the party enjoyed a two day hiatus, during which the characters rested and prepared spells.

On May 21st, the party set out for the tomb of Torghil the Demented and followed Chuluun to the secret entrance that he had spoken of, which was a narrow cave that led from the northern shore of the Isle of the Dead into a hidden, subterranean tomb. The tomb was a strange and dangerous place indeed, but thanks to the characters' quick reactions and Kier's trap-finding skills, the party successfully avoided two pit traps, a water-filled-room trap, and a compacting room trap. The characters encountered two stone golems in a room that was filled with petrified trees, but a few well-chosen spells and a Greater Fire Elemental that Erth summoned made short work of them. The party slipped past the golems as they battled the elemental, entered the lower level of the tomb, slipped through the compacting room, and encountered a former party of adventurers that Torghil had reanimated as corpse creatures.

The battle was long and difficult. A corpse creature sorcerer bombarded the party with fireballs and lightning bolts while an archer rained arrows on whatever characters remained visible. Torghil, meanwhile, who appeared to be a mummy, cast a strange assortment of spells, such as Transmute Rock to Mud, from a distance. The brave but hapless Chuluun and the noble Ulee fell to a rain of arrows, and others would likely have died had it not been for the healing spells of Hrolff and Erth. Torghil disappeared shortly before the combat was over, and once the party had vanquished the corpse creatures, it moved into the large room where Torghil had been, and discovered a hidden trap door that led to a treasure room below.

Kier agreed to investigate, and started down the ladder to find Torghil in the room, wreathed in writhing black tentacles. The demented transmuter cast Baleful Polymorph on Kier, which turned him into a frog. Inakai descended into the room while the rest of the party hesitated above, and managed to destroy the mummy with the new luckbow she had obtained from the corpse creature archer. Inakai put the unfortunate Kier into her pocket, and the party searched the treasure room. Chuluun had been right about the tomb containing vast treasures. The loot in the tomb amounted to a stunning 60,000 gps.

Experience Point Totals:
9th Level Characters: 12,825
12th Level Characters: 5,800

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

When Nature Calls

It had been some time since Ulee had returned to nature. Somberness had crept up in Erth’s heart from his wolf companion’s absence, which had been a violent ending in service to Erth. If the truth were told, Erth would have acknowledged his discontent at that outcome, but he was not one to share such ruminations or even to linger on the past. He preferred, rather, to let natural events transpire with one leading to the next so that he was fully aware of his surroundings. So, it was this unsavory feeling that led him to conclude it was high time for another companion.

Events transpired quickly around this cast of characters that numbered eight-ish on any given day. Now that there was a moment’s respite in the almost daily threats faced by this motley crew he had taken on with, he knew he might not have a better opportunity to conclude the necessary rite for any number of days to come. So, it had been in the twilight hours that he settled in with a preparatory prayer for the strength to begin the rite on the following day.

Waking early, Erth knew at once he was ready to conduct the rite of summoning a companion. With little wasted motion, he gathered a few items to assist him during the day and made his way to the top of the tower that had become the group’s point of operation. None of the group had stirred at this early hour, yet, though he knew the dwarf would rise soon and take to the tower roof for his own routine.

Reaching the tower roof, Erth glanced out over the rugged, uncomfortable city terrain. He tolerated the discomfort of the city as a means of satiating his hunger for knowledge and power born only of experience and as an opportunity to demonstrate the raw power of the natural world harnessed at his command. A pang of disgust roiled within his stomach as he glanced over the city around the tower. Even at this height the stench of the city drowned his nostrils in sickening vapors. Longing for the fresh air of the natural lands and concentration for his task at hand wrested control of his thoughts from the rot below. A natural inclination urged him off the tower with a long, lunging step. Had anyone been observing the tower’s skyline at that moment they might have been horrified to see a man suddenly emerge between the crenellation and step off into a freefall. The horror of this image would then be replaced with surprise as the surely doomed figure was somehow replaced with an owl calmly winging its way out over the city.

Erth flew back down the waterway the group had traversed to arrive at the city. His instinctive sense encouraged him to be aware of a suitable location from which to conduct his ritual. The unease of the city had already passed as he flew purposefully onward. His attention was drawn to a tree taller than the rest. He made some wide-ranging circular patterns around the area in scouting for possible disturbances and until he was satisfied he could remain in the area unmolested. Thus, winging down to the ground he transformed back to his human form and drew a branch of holly from his satchel. Erth began slowly waving the branch from side to side as he began an ethereal whistling of the wood wose spell. Glancing toward his left revealed the translucent green nature spirit that arrived to assist in his needs though he bade the spirit to simply tend the area around him in order to give alert to any unwelcome visitors that would disturb his rite.

Satisfied that he was ready, Erth rested upon the solid ground and folded his legs beneath him while beginning the prayer to summon an ally. The words of the prayer sounded loud in his head as his vision gradually blurred. Soon he was dreaming of a run through the woods. The branches brushed against his body and a thorn bush tore at his sleeves though he paid no mind. His focus shifted as he heard a distant howl. Then another howl and another seemed closer. Still he ran onward. A howl sounded nearer still and as felt a presence approaching. Erth leapt over a fallen tree and became aware of presence overtaking his pace with little effort. They ran on over the land together and Erth observed the great tree that he knew he had camped at earlier. He slackened his pace as the starting point was near. Erth slowed further and drew to a halt as he entered the space of his campsite. Turning back as he settled down to rest revealed the figure that had tracked his run was revealed to be a dire wolf. Erth chuckled with a grin as the wolf stepped closer. Now he was well. Now the somber thoughts had withered like a dead vine. Now he could return to the tower. Ulee had arrived.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Campaign Update #7. The Fall of Ophidia

May 16-18

It was another night of surprises in Kharschum. After finishing up your business from the previous session by returning a resurrected Granya to her grateful father and claiming your reward of 28,000 gps, you returned to the tower to find a note wedged into the door of Silks and Sundries. It was from someone named Chuluun, who claimed to be privy to some sort of opportunity, and bade you to meet him in the Roan Stallion, a tavern in Queen Farida's Close. Your curiosity piqued, you went to the tavern and spoke with Chuluun, who turned out to be an accomplished warrior in need of an adventuring party. Chuluun explained that he knew of a hidden entrance to the tomb of an insane transmuter named Torghil the Demented. You haggled a bit over shares of the potential treasure, with Chuluun demanding a rather hefty proportion, but ultimately decided to defer the temple raid until you had dealt with Ophidia and the Red Nails, who had become annoyingly insistent about the Mirror of Life Trapping that you had found in Ogodei's tower.

You went to the Mask and the Mirror, where you seemingly convinced Amira, Ophidia's representative, to agree to meet at the former compound of Shivani's cult to exchange the mirror for 200,000 gold pieces. Perhaps it was your insistence that Ophidia herself appear to close the deal, or perhaps it was simply Amira's keen intuition, but she apparently saw through your ruse, because she sent a disguised whore and two expendable soldiers with 200,000 copper pieces to the compound. This might have been a setback had not Alayna managed to overtake and dominate Hussain, an assassin who had scaled the compound walls and turned himself invisible to observe the encounter.

With the detailed information that Hussain provided about Ophidia's lair beneath the Mask and the Mirror, entered through a hidden entrance, ambushed the guards with the help of Hrolff's Cone of Silence spell, and burst into Ophidia's sitting room. Ulfgar and Chuluun found ophidia in her bedchamber and dealt her a great deal of damege before she was able to Dimension Door to the entry hallway and turn herself invisible. The fight was long, but the party prevailed. The olny survivor was Amira, who agreed, at the point of a sord, to run the Red Nails on behalf of the Eightish.

According to the CR and XP scales, Ophidia is worth over 500,000 experience points. This, totalling experience points is useless. Instead, 9th-level characters should update their totals to 54,999 experience points (one point shy of 11th level) and 10th level characters should update their totals to 65,999 (one point shy of 12th). It is perfectly fine with me if you backstory in order to bump up that extra level. In fact, I'll be surprised if I don't see at least a few new posts these next two weeks.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Campaign Update #6. The Cult of Shivani

May 15-16

As the evening began, you debated about whether you should attempt to rescue Granya and claim the 12,000 gold piece reward or pursue other opportunities. After a lengthy discussion, you decided to seek Granya's father, Jochi, and negotiate a higher reward. This task, not surprisingly, fell to Alayna. You agreed that the party would attract undue attention in the affluent Eastern City if it traveled together, so Ulfgar volunteered to accompany Alayna while the rest of you waited on the western side of the bridge.

Alayna not only easily convinced the two guardsmen on the bridge to allow her and Ulfgar to enter the Eastern city, but she also managed to negotiate a 28,000 gold piece reward from Granya's grieving father. She and Ulfgar returned to the Western City, and you all returned to the cult's compound to do some reconnaissance. Alayna cast invisibility on herself and flew to the roof of the building, only to discover that the roof was open, and the second and third floors were almost completely open to the sky. A tub sat on a dais in the middle of the building. You then adjourned to the Gull and the Limpet, a nearby tavern run by an attractive woman named Valya.

While you sat in the tavern, a party of three humans, a halfling, and a half-orc entered. One of the humans, a lovely, dark-haired woman named Iliana, approached you and attempted to blackmail you. She and her companions knew that Ophidia wanted the Mirror of Life Stealing, and they had discovered that you had been seen coming and going in the vicinity of the tower. You told her that she was free to tell Ophidia whatever she liked, and that you would not give her any money. She returned to her party, and as she spoke with them, the half-orc became very angry and moved to attack you. He seemed to think that killing you and taking the mirror and whatever else was in the tower was a reasonable contingency plan.

The half-orc's attack precipitated what I thought were the two best moments of the night. Alayna had readied an action on the half-orc, and when he moved to attack, she cast Phantasmal Killer on him. He missed both saves and died before the combat had even officially begun, literally scared to death by a vision of what he feared most. Seconds later, Ulfgar decapitated one of the humans with the first blow of his new vorpal greatsword. Iliana's party fought fiercely, but with two of their companions killed in the first seconds of combat, they had little chance to prevail. After Alayna wrested a magical wand from the halfling with a Suggestion spell and Erth summoned a bear which grappled the acrobatic Iliana, the fight ended with all of the enemies dead except for Iliana and the Halfling, Dink. You sent the two survivors to Bathcat, for whom they promised to work for 10 gps per week, and you left the bar with an impressive haul of magic items.

After visiting a half-elven artificer named Galeron, who enhanced some of your weapons, you returned to the cult's lait to do some more reconnaissance, this time by way of Erth using his wild shape ability to become an owl and spy upon Shivani from the wall above her tub. You returned to your tower to spend sleep and prepare, and returned the following night to make your assault. You reached the top of the building with a combination of spells, and after Alayna created an illusion of a mob assaulting the front door, you engaged Shivani, who turned out to be an Erinyes Fiend of Blasphemy, who had a small following of cultists and who apparently enjoyed bathing in the blood of virgins beneath the moon.

Shivani was wily, but turned out to be less fearsome than expected. Alayna used a scroll she had found in Ogodei's tower to block the staircase with an Icewall spell. After the cultists and two bearded devils had figured out that the commotion at the front door was an illusion and ascended the stairs, Alayna dismissed the icewall, which apparently confused the enemies, for they still pressed forward up the left stair, and ignored the undefended stair to the right. They fell quickly, and the fight ended.

You searched the compound, and found two rooms beneath the stairs. One held two girls, who were terrified but otherwise unharmed. The other was empty save for a trapdoor in the floor, which opened into a small chamber piled with the corpses of young women, one of which you identified as Granya. The evening ended there, with your party still in the cultists' compound.

Because none of you fully leveled up to 10th Level before the 2nd encounter, I am calculating the experience as if all characters were 9th Level. If a character was still at 8th level, please let me know, but given the experience points gained from the 1st encounter, I rather doubt it.

Experience Points:

1st Encounter
8th Level characters: 11,133 XP
9th Level Characters: 10, 237

2nd Encounter
9th Level Characters: 2,250 XP

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Campaign Update #5: The Disgrace of Bathcat

May 12-15, 2008

I am not certain whether or not Pangold and Olwe shared their ideas about methodically usurping power in Kharschum and eventually taking over the city, but the rest of the party seems to be of the same mind. Last night, Bathcat, the brutal and much-feared leader of the Severed Hand was overthrown by a gnome, a dwarf, a half-elf ranger, a northman, a druid, and a sorceress, who call themselves "The Eight" spared Bathcat, on the condition that he furnish them with a 5,000 gps upfront payment and half of his earnings, which average 6,000 gps per week. It would be an understatement to say that the campaign has taken a very interesting turn.

The evening began with the party casting about for opportunities. The characters first discovered that a young woman named Granya, daughter of a wealthy merchant and slave trader named Jochi, had ventured into the Eastern City the night before and gone missing. Jochi was offering a 12,000 gps award for his daughter's safe return, and city guardsmen, in their signature chainmail shirts and hooded, brown tunics, were combing the area around the Red Light District for clues. Several other girls had also disappeared, but they were poor girls of the Eastern City, and the guard cared little about them. The characters were only mildly interested in mounting an investigation and rescue, so they went to Garrad's Tavern, which fronts the Rogues' Guild, to see if the guild had heard of any opportunities. Garrad did not let them down. He told Kyr that Bathcat and three of his henchmen had visited the Gossamer Veil, the most exclusive brothel in the city, the night before. Bathcat only visits that brothel after a big score, so it was likely, Garrad explained, that Bathcat was sitting on a substantial sum of money. After some discussion, the party decided to investigate Bathcat's stronghold, which they learned was north of the Shantytown in a place called the Dockyard Slum.

After finding their way through the shanty town's labyrinth of shanties and filthy alleyways, the characters arrived at the Dockyard Slum, a neighborhood comprised of decrepit boats permanently anchored in a stagnant backwater of the river, interconnected by crooked, uneven docks. The party headed toward a source of light and noise, which turned out to be Grick's Place, a tavern improvised from two two boats lashed together, and run by none other than Grick, a surprisingly affable, full-blooded orc. Alayna and Kyr disguised themselves and spent some time at Gricks, where they learned that Grick, along with every other business owner on the northern fringe of the city, pays "protection" to Bathcat each week. The party decided to offer Grick their protection for half price, and Grick tentatively agreed. Bathcat's captain would be at Grick's Place at noon the following day to collect his weekly payment, Grick explained, and helpfully pointed out an abandoned boat in which the party could spend the night.

Bathcat's captain arrived on schedule, accompanied by two thugs. The party easily took the captain and one of the thugs down and captured the third. Kyr Tuttlewynde, with the help of Alayna's Greater Invisibility spell, was especially deadly with his sneak attack, and once again highlighted the effectiveness of pairing stealth with magic. After beating the thug nearly senseless, the characters sent a note to Bathcat, instructing him to meet them in front of Silks and Sundries that evening.

Bathcat arrived on time, with a veritable army of thugs, but the party had chosen its terrain carefully, and the narrow streets and limited access to Silks and Sundries essentially negated Bathcat's advantage in numbers. Erth's Spike Growth spell and Alayna's Ray of Enfeeblement crippled the Severed Hand further, and bathcat soon fell, alive but sorely wounded. The party presented its conditions and he accepted, thus beginning a strange new chapter in the campaign.

After the battle with the severed Hand, the party followed up on the disappearance of Granya. They were given a tip that a rogue named Nizar had been seen near the site of one of the abductions The party found Nizar in his apartment, which he shared with a dozen or so other people, and a Suggestion spell persuaded him to reveal that he had been paid to kidnap girls for Shivani, who led a cult of some kind. Nizar directed the party to the cult's lair, which he said was camouflaged by an illusion. The party went where he directed, but could see only an empty, ruined building. They returned the next day and saw, with the help of Hrolff's True Seeing spell, that the ruined building was instead an intact compound, with bricked up windows and a set of imposing wooden doors. Unsure of how to proceed, the party paused, and the players decided to call it a night.

Thank you for yet another great night of gaming. I loved the curve balls that you threw at me, and enjoyed improvising and adapting as we went along. It was a lot of fun. I apologize for my f*#k up with Bathcat's vorpal sword. Ulfgar's head and neck are intact, and he does not lose a level, because there was no need to resurrect him. I'm sorry my mistake knocked him out of combat.

Experience Points Totals
Inaki, Kyr, Alayna and Erth: 5,420
Ulfgar: 4,600
Hrolff: 4,155


After defeating Bathcat and his crew, Inakai and Kier decided to join forces more diligently with the Rogue's Guild. They will act as scouts for the guild, and will report any possible business ventures to the guild, and their own adventuring party. They will, of course, save the more worthwhile propositions for "The 8", but may not accompany the party on such ventures. "Range on, and we will catch up with you on the distant morrow."

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Gaming on Saturday

I'm sooo looking forward to gaming this Saturday night. I'm not sure if we selected a place, though. Our house is always available, but we may have the kids stay at Matt's mom's, which means we could travel. Does anyone have a preference?

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Morning Service

The sun rises over the eastern horizon, bathing the ramshackle waddle buildings and wooden tenements of eastern Kharschum in a soft golden light. From atop the tower of Ogodie, his new home, Hrolff surveys the scene spread out beneath him. Far below, the city comes to life, and Hrolff’s ears catch the sound of early morning traffic and commerce. The beggars are taking up their stations by favored corners. Merchants and vendors open their stalls and lay out their wares. To the north, a slave ship rides the early tide from the harbor to the delta, its sails shining in the sunrise like the wings of some mighty seabird.

Hrolff has come up here to pray, to make his morning homage to Thor.

As his habit when performing this morning ritual, he completely removes his clothes, neatly folds them, and stands naked in the morning air, still tinged as it is with night’s chill. He flexes his muscles and stretches, wincing a bit. Though it has been several days since he was laid low by Ogodei’s horrid ice magic, he can still feel its lingering after-effects deep in his bones and joints. The cold had been awful, even to one such as him in whose veins thrums the blood of Frost Giants. It was like being seized in a fist of knives that squeezed and squeezed and squeezed. He winces remembering the terror of it, the sickening weakness of his body slumping, the crackling sound as ice rimed across his flesh, the desperation of his lungs filling with hoarfrost, the side of his face striking and freezing to the stone floor. Blackness had rolled over him, a wave of black ice.

The next thing he remembers is waking to see Erth kneeling over him, making gestures of healing magic in the air. His companions told him that he had been unconscious for more than a day. Hrolff knew nothing of what had happened in the empty space, though he woke with vague, half-formed memories, dreams of Thor’s Great Hall, Bilskimir. A great roaring fire blazed, flanked by dozens of warriors clad in bright ring mail and polished byrnies that gleamed in the reddish light. They had turned and hailed him, raising spear, axe, and flagon. Hrolff had grinned, knowing he had fallen in battle, trying to aid his comrades. There is no better way to die.

One enormous warrior stepped apart from the rest. His helm bore rams horns that curved backward in a majestic sweep. His gleaming ring mail coat hung to his knees. In one hand he carried a greatsword of black steel, it edges faintly flickering and warping the air with unseen power. In the other, he held an axe that bore sacred runes of authority. At his feet knelt a blonde serving wench, large breasted, achingly curvaceous, and naked but for a wisp of silk twisted about her hips. The warrior’s face was mostly shadow beneath his helm, but his eyes blazed darkly in the ruddy light. The figure had raised his weapons overhead and spoke in a voice, deep and cold as the roots of mountains:

“Hail Hrolff born in the folk-lands of Northgaard
Hail with dagger, longsword and byrnie long
Hail with ring-decked helmet and sharp hewing sword
Hail with horses well broken in this hallowed land.
Welcome Hrolff. Welcome home.”

Inakai, the daughter of the deep, had pulled him back, or so he had been told. He has no idea what art she used to unthaw him, but Hrolff is grateful. He is glad to be back. To join ranks of the valorous is an honor to be sure, but he feels there is still much to be done in this current reality. Aye, he owes a deep debt of gratitude to the sea elf. She is a good comrade to have at ones side. He knew that for certain the night that the two of them had done battle alone with the renegade Frost Giant in the ruins of the Cathedral on Tigalda Island. She had stood her ground even as their foe had hurled boulders about her skull. The brute had laughed, thinking her an easy foe, but her twanging bow had sung songs of death that night, while the snow fell softly around them.

Hrolff breaths deeply of the morning air, pleasantly fresh at this early hour and, at this height, pleasantly free of the stink of the street. It was a good idea to take possession of this tower and use it as a base. Great evil has been committed here, but Hrolff is not overly superstitious. As long as no witching charms or death magicks remain in effect, they should have little to fear.

He stands naked in the morning sun, the honey colored light flowing across his muscles and the network of scars that lace his body. He spreads his arms wide, closes his eyes, and tilts his head back, savoring the moment. It is not a bad morning to pray, though stormy weather is better. The breeze stirs his hair. Its coolness feels good on his body and genitals, and the sensation turns his thoughts toward carnal matters. Thus Hrolff stands naked at the precipice, high above the street far below, reveling in the deliciousness of his growing tumescence.

His mighty erection stands rampant, rising above the city like a new tower taking its rightful place among the handy-works of man, like the sword of some fierce and avenging angel, like an exclamation point to future deeds yet to be accomplished.

Ah yes, he is glad to still be alive. Perhaps when the sun is higher, he will head into the red light district and buy the services of a whore. Maybe two. But first he has the morning prayers to attend to.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Campaign Update #4. The Wrath of Ogodei

May 9-12

The evening began where we left off last session: on the third level of Ogodei's tower, in the room where you had fought and vanquished two mohrgs. After taking stock of your resources, you ascended to the fourth level of the tower, and found yourself in a room similar to the one below, but with three sets of spiral stairs, one red one black, and one white, each ending at a locked door on the next floor. When the locks did not yield to Kyr's pick, Pangold broke down the door at the top of the white stair, triggering a chain lightning trap which arced down the stairs and wounded most of the characters. The door opened onto a stone wall. Left with little recourse except to risk another trap, Ulfgar broke down the door at the top of the red stairs, which fortunately opened into a library, where you found a create undead scroll and a chalice on a table.

You proceeded to the next level, which was hung with a massive tapestry depicting a gruesome battle scene, and accented with the corpse of a woman who was hung from the ceiling in an angel-like pose. Two suits of full plate armor flanked the stairs to the next level. Each suit of armor was a swordwraith, and as you entered the room, they attacked, initiating what turned out to be one of the most memorable, and easily the most desperate, battle that has ever been fought in the Drowned World.

As the party engaged the swordwraiths, Ogodei, who had cast a Greater Invisibility spell on himself, began to hammer the party with offensive spells from his perch on the stairs. When both Inakai and Hrolff went down, the party decided to retreat to the level below, but Ogodei cast a Wall of Ice spell which trapped Olwe in the room with the two unconscious characters and the one remaining swordwraith. With the help of Erth and Ulfgar, Olwe managed to chop a hole through the wall and flee, but the icy cold that lingered took his few remaining hit points and he fell to the floor, unconscious.

As Ogodei's spells continued to rain down, the party reentered the room, and as Erth healed Hrolff, who in turn healed Inakai and several others, Ulfgar charged up the stairway, in hopes of finding the invisible wizard, but was grievously wounded by two of Ogodei's Scorching Rays seconds after brushing past him. Erth conjured a cloud of fog to provide cover for the party, and Alayna, who had cast Greater Invisibility on herself, managed to wound the necromancer, who had moved down into the room, with her fiery, draconic breath. Ogodei retaliated with a Cone of Cold spell that took down both Erth and Hrolff, who had only just regained consciousness and would have died had Inakai not stabilized him on her first attempt.

With the necromancer somewhere in the room, the party moved up the stairs into what appeared to be a bedchamber. Ogodei pursued, but the party suddenly switched tactics and Alayna, speaking on behalf of the party, offered to stand down and join him. Ogodei seemed to buy the bluff, because he became visible and began questioning the party. Pangold took advantage of this, and mercilessly cut the wizard down, ending what may have been the longest 63 seconds I have ever known.

You rested in the tower until everyone was back to full strength, and then ventured out to seek information on the Mirror of Life Trapping you had found beneath Ogodei's bed. You met with Amira again, and led her to believe that you had not yet procured the mirror in order to get some additional information out of her. Because of her reticence and the DM's somewhat groggy state of mind, you learned little, so you headed to the Magic District, where you hoped to research the mirror at the Library of Oyugun. It turned out that the Magic District is a demi-plane that is reached through a crooked lintel beneath the Coliseum Bridge. You passed through the portal and found yourselves on a narrow, tidy street lined with shops. You easily found the library, and with the help of the librarians, you learned a great deal of technical information about the mirror, as well as some interesting history that I did not disclose last night. The mirror belonged to the Kipchaks, who used it against their enemies. It disappeared when the keep fell, and had not resurfaced at the time the book was written. The book speculates that the mirror may imprison an ancient warrior named Dochin the Bloody, who was a lieutenant of a warlord named Bataar the Heartless, who is best known for the brutal, scorched earth campaigns he carried out against the dwarves in nearby Kha'atia.

I would like to make a minor adjustment to the experience point totals I gave you last evening. because I generated Ogodei using the heroic array for ability scores, he was actually a CR 11 rather than a CR 10. Therefore, 8th level characters should add 300 XP, and 7th level characters should add 263 XP. The new totals, in case you haven't added them yet, are 2,888 XP for 7th level PCs and 2,300 XP for 8th level PCs.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The City of Slaves, Part II

[The following is general information about Kharschum that your characters would be able to glean from casual conversations with NPCs during your first few days in the city.]

Kharschum is, in many ways, two distinct cities, each of which has its own identity and power structure. The Western City, with its tidy shops and elegant villas, is where most of the wealth and power in Kharschum resides. The Eastern City, with its narrow, filthy streets and sprawling shantytowns, is where most of the humanity of Kharschum resides. Though the residents of the Western City sometimes pretend that the Eastern City does not exist, they are nonetheless willing to take advantage of whatever opportunities it might offer. Likewise, though few denizens of the Eastern City can ever hope to afford even the most modest home on the western side of the river, many scheme endlessly to accomplish just that.

Kharschum is ruled by an administrative body known as the Council of Three, which exercises tight control over the Western City and occasionally projects its power into the Eastern City, though for the most part, the Council seems content to leave the Eastern City to its own devices. The Council's three members are known and feared throughout Kharschum: Chiledu, Khan of the fearsome Khatagin Clan, who enriched himself through hundreds of military victories across the war-ravaged countryside; Irina, governess of the Slavers' Guild and scion of one of Kharschum's most prominent families; and Bataar, an elegant, middle-aged man about whom little is known. Chiledu commands the City Guard, many of whom are his clansmen, and most of whom are said to be less concerned with maintaining order than with fattening their purses. The Slavers' Guild maintains its own guard, easily distinguished by its scarlet tunic, which Irina exercises control over. Bataar's power base is unknown, though there is much speculation.

Though the Council of Three holds much of the city's political power, the various guilds enjoy a great deal of economic power, with which they subtly influence the city's affairs. Not surprisingly, the Slavers' Guild is most prominent, though the Merchants' Guild, the Sailors' Guild, and the Mercenaries' Guild have considerable influence, as they play pivotal roles in the city's commerce and defense. The remaining guilds, of which there are dozens, have little political or economic influence, and mainly serve to advance the interests of their members.

The Eastern City is controlled by three gangs which impose a crude, exploitative order on their territories, whenever they are not warring openly with each other. The Severed Hand, named for its favorite method of persuasion, is led by a notorious thug named Bathcat, and controls the shantytowns and dockyard slum on the city's southern fringe. The Red Nails, led by the reclusive Ophidia, controls most of the old city south of the Coliseum District, while Roknar's Fist maintains a precarious balance of power with the Mercenaries' Guild in the Coliseum and Theatre Districts.

Religion plays an important, if secondary, role in the city's affairs. The Church of Wee Jas is ascendant, though recently a rift has opened among the goddess' worshippers. The dominant sect, the Church of the Ruby Goddess, emphasizes law and domination, and claims most of Kharschum's influential citizens as its members. However, a new sect, the Disciples of the Quietus, which emphasizes magic and death, has recently begun to gain influence. Its clerics rail against the politically entrenched Church of the Ruby Goddess, and claim to follow the pure aspect Wee Jas. The Church of the Ruby Goddess ruthlessly suppresses the Disciples of the Quietus, but the new movement has gained so many followers that it threatens to gain dominance and upset the precarious power structure of the city.

Temples to other deities are scattered throughout the city, though none are nearly as influential as the Church of the Ruby Goddess or the Disciples of the Quietus. Of these, the Temple of Olidamarra is famous for its bacchanalian revels, while the Iron Tower of Vecna is infamous for what is rumored to happen within its rusted, monolithic walls. Many of the fighters and mercenaries who frequent the Coliseum District worship at the Temple of Kord, located near the Coliseum Market, while the city's goblinoid residents worship at the Temple of Maglubiyet in the Hobgoblin Ghetto.

There are other organizations in Kharschum which people seem to know little about, or fear to speak of openly. An organization known only as the Unseen Eye operates in the Western City, though few people seem to know whether it is an individual, a criminal organization of some sort, or something far more sinister. There is an Assassins' Guild somewhere in the city, but only those with both money and an unspeakable need ever seek it out. An underground organization called the Shadow of Pelor operates throughout the city, spiriting slaves to freedom.

You will certainly come into contact with some of these figures and organizations as you seek your fortunes in Kharschum. Know these things well, and tread carefully.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Gaming on Friday!

Knowing that we'll be playing on Friday makes this week seem so much brighter than the last few. I almost feel as if I've emerged from the Windswept Depths of Pandemonium onto the Plains of Elysium. Heather and I are happy to host on Friday, unless someone else either needs or wants to do so. We'll get a few pizzas for dinner.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Ill Met in House Silverkin

"I think I would prefer talking to you if you cover yourself and show modesty befitting the matron of the house," said Pangold to the striking, lithe blond figure that sat facing him, her back to a dressing table and mirror.

"In some ways I am sure you would," she replied with a small, ripe smile.  She made no move to cover her skin, bare from the waist.

"I do not have time for this.  I've decided to leave tonight and not wait until morning," he shot back.  "I came up here only for a kerchief with Crest you had promised me," he moved across her dressing room to the large oak armoir he knew sat under the far window.  At this late hour it was bathed in dark shadow.  He tried deliberately not to bring his eye to meet hers.  

Her eyes continued to follow him nonetheless.

"I know that Marshal keeps them in cedar bundles," he continued, trying to move beyond the suggestiveness of her answer to his request that they resume their family roles.  Family roles keep things in their rightful place.  Family roles keep things from getting messy.  Apparently she now desired that things get messy, he thought.

He bent to one knee to open the lowest master drawer.  A small crack and painful snap reminded him of the mace that had glanced the outside of his right kneecap delivered by the large Iberian he contested in the ring just two nights earlier.  Pangold had eventually bested the brute, removing a large chunk from the fleshy spot where the back of the head and spine fuse.  Although he lives, the Iberian strong man will never himself raise a weapon to Pangold to exact revenge for his loss. Nor, even, would he stand again.  This had been winner's intention.  The wound to his knee was Pangold's most serious, and it had been healing nicely to point previous, but as he bent to secure a family heirloom, he became aware of some residual inflammation.  

The tall, lean fighter quickly rummaged through the drawer and deposited a small white cheese cloth bundle reeking of cedar into his belt pouch.  He rose quickly, turning towards the wall opposite his mother, moving in a head's rush back to the door.

She decided this was her last remaining chance.  

"Pan," she said, her voice now innocent and sincere.  "Pan, why do you both desire me and yet hate me so?  How can you both love and hate the same thing in the same way?  Please, please try to make me understand.  If you are leaving to never return, then you must tell me: How can you have lain with me and yet have eyes that seem almost to burn right through me, so hot is your contempt?"

"Does your contempt extend to every inch of me?" She rose to her feet, the folded lengths of silk dressing grown tumbling to the marble floor.  She remained naked from the waist up as she moved to meet him at the door.

Pangold paused, allowing his mother to close the door to her inner salon, blocking his only exit.  In this way, at least, the valet Bronoc couldn't catch glimpse, or, worse, alert the absent Marshal to the queer situation in which his wife and his son now found themselves.  Although father and son had not spoken in over a year, their feud had nothing to do with his wife, at least as far as Marshal was concerned.  If he were to find out about the compromised positions of mother and son, his rage would be even more inflamed.  

They stood nearly silent for several heartbeats.  He refused to cast his gaze directly at her eyes.  She reached her soft, small white hand to stroke his bruised cheek.

"If you must leave us forever, if that really is your begotten intention, then let me share with you the gift of my love one more time.  How can you refuse me?"  She tried to slowly press herself against him.  "Who knows the next time a woman who loves you will care for you?  Do you think the Drowned World is full of women who truly love wanders?"  For a moment he allowed himself to enjoy the wave of warm needles that flowed immediately upward from his groin.  Then he swiftly backed away.

"What I am to your father, I can also be for you, if you will let me once again," she continued, thinking she correctly sensed the source of his reluctance.  She again moved in close, allowing the swell of her breasts to expand against his chest and arms, their skin separated only by his chemise.  But the fighter firmly pushed her small frame back a pace, and for the first time in his life decided to share his deepest feelings with his mother.

"What kind of creature are you?"  He snapped.  "How can you go through life without the respect for self shown even by rats?"

Lucy Silverkin was visibly shaken and shrank in stature at these words.  She turned away from her son and back to her dressing table.  The bounce of a few blond natural ringlets caught Pangold's eye as she pivoted away in haste.  In this light she looked even younger than usual to him.

"Do not do this again," she pleaded, her dramatic shift of voice left her sounding increasingly like a small girl.  "I give myself to you, and you respond with daggers."

"You are nothing but a vehicle for men to leave their deposits.  You disgust me."  His intention was to leave a mark that she would not forget.

"Pangold, please!"

"Please.." he mocked her with his most sardonic tone.  "You are but a little girl whose head is so empty of thought and reflection that you are willing to allow men to come and fill it for you.  You do not even know the depths of the game you have signed on to, and what is worse you have signed on to this game for your life.  

"No," he corrected himself.  "That is wrong.  You are not a little girl.  You know full well what you do.  That is why I hate you."

"As before, I beg you, I do not understand your words?"  She couldn't help but almost whimper.  "What have I ever done to deserve such treatment?  I did not even know of you when your father married me.  Do you really blame me for falling in love with him before I fell in love with you?"  She paused.  Sliding her left arm gently under the large fold of fabric that bunch around her waist, she smoothly pulled a cover up over her bare breasts in obvious effort to regain something approximating composure.

"Is it, perhaps, that you think I do not please your father as his wife should?" She probed further.  "Am I in some way deficient as a wife?"

"You are a proven whore to start."

She sat at her bench retaining a dignity in her posture beyond what comes naturally to girls barely twenty years old.  Pangold noted this as well as noted that such dignity was, too, just an act, the result of the inculcated instinct of her breeding.  She had been raised her entire life under the roof of a high-level administrator in the king's court.  Thus the art of sitting pretty while things all around get messy was clearly a trait she had developed quite young.  Pangold even felt hostility towards the posture the girl adopted.  But at the same time he could appreciate the beauty of a pretty thing on its perch.

"If I am a proven whore, then you are convicting me of a crime in which you are co-conspirator.  But beyond this, tell me, in what single way am I not a good wife to your father?'

Pangold hesitated slightly.  He measured his words carefully.  

"You are precisely the kind of woman my father wants you to be.  You fulfill all his wants.  You dote on his eccentricities and you liven his hours with your charms and devotions.  He found in you precisely what he sought.  And that is why I hate you."

"Because I am not your mother, you mean?"

"See, you are emptied-headed indeed, slut."  The last insult stung, as he proceeded to speak to her for the first time with an honest bluntness that smacked like the open face of a hammer.  "Little girl, how do I say this to you in a way you will best understand...You are exactly like my mother."

Lucy Silverkin vaguely remembered the oldest son of her husband saying something like this before.  And like that prior occasion, she again did not understand the statement.  To her naive ear he sounded nearly deranged.

"If you refuse the gift of my love, then just leave me.  There is no reason to continue this torture session."  She again straighted her back, inadvertently exposing her full side of her right breast.  In the soft light of the many-candled wall sconces, her flawless skin looked like alabaster.

"Come to me on your knees and I will stay," Pangold said flatly.  

His mother slowly rose to her feet and crossed the barely ten feet of room that separated them.  As she approached she dropped dutifully to a single knee.  She let her improvised garment drop again to the floor as she looked up into his wide, tanned and stern face.  The many hours he spent in competition in the district's open-air arena left him with a healthy bronze hue.

Pangold spat fully in his mother's face.

Her figure scrambled away in retreat, unable to get fully to her feet.  As she raced her lithe body no longer looked seductive in the light of the room but ridiculous and pitiable.  A helpless animal both shamed and revolted.

"Out before I call the street guard!" she cried, cowering next to her jewelery chest, the darkest corner of the salon.

"Mother.." Pangold spoke in a soothing voice.

"Do not call me that!  You monster, you scoundrel of the lowest order!"  He could make out her shadowed profile huddling in the sudden chill of the room.

"Little one," continued Pangold in a slow, calming, yet stern and commanding fashion.  "I needed to know you truly cared for me.  Please, come back to me.  I had to test you, you must understand.  Come back to me."

Lucy Silverkin, a young women married only three years to a man nearly three times her age, was surprised to find herself rising once again to her feet, and making the walk to her step-son.  Ignoring the remnants of her own tears from just moments earlier, she again supplicated herself to him.  In turn, Pangold reached forward and took hold of her soft mouth in his hand, and, with a force, put his own onto it.  He kissed her deeply and only slowly and with great reluctance did he pull away.

In a flash of motion, Pangold brought the back of his strong left hand down hard across his mother's face, and produced a large, broad-bladed dagger in the other hand which he held fast at the base of her neck.  Before she had time even to whelp, his left hand closed over her mouth.

"You come back after you've been spat on, degraded and defiled?  That is why I hate you."  He breathed heavily down unto her straining face.  "You are a worm, little girl.  I would as soon destroy you as adjust my path even the slightest."  He slowly removed the threatening blade, and removed his hand from her mouth.  He turned to exit.

"If to be a worm is your destiny, little slug, then at least think on this.  That you are nothing more than a worm is precisely why my father claimed you.  It is the quality that he values most in you.  If nothing else, always remember this:  as you are pleasuring him and feeding his perversions, remember that my father's desire for you only burns as long you exist as an empty vessel to fill when and how he wishes.  What do you think he would do if you ever dared attempt to fill the vessel for yourself?  What do you think that says about the depth of his regard?  What do you think it says about value of a worm?"

He opened the door sharply, the light from the corridor spilled in enough to reveal his mother on her knees, attempting to cover herself and hold her head as she wept, refusing to look up again at her abuser.  

"So my crime is that I am not her?  Not Esmeralda?  That I am not also made of something stern like granite?  Well, look what happens to my kind that prove made of such stuff.  They do not last long in this world." Her words came out in great sobs. 

At the mention of his sister's name and murder, Pangold briefly considered escalating his farewell lesson to his mother to include taking her by force, knowing full well that her screams would yield way to goading moans in short order.  Even degraded, the small, doe-eyed creature stoked a blaze of desire in his heart.

He thought better of it, closed the door firmly, and proceeded to the foyer where the rest of his baggage was stowed.    

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Curious Tale of Puff the Magic Icosahedron

My daughter simply loves her 20-sided pillow...She giggles and squeals whenever we play with it.  And she loves to smother her face into it and laugh and laugh.

I've been meaning to thank Heb and the dm again for such a thoughtful gift, but an episode happened over break that made me resolve to post that thanks and include a couple of "Thank You" pics from Sophie as well.

You see, Sophie soooo loves this pillow that it had to be include in the list of essentials that were packed into our rental car to take on the 6 day trek to Grand Rapids and Port Huron, MI.  So, along with bottles and diapers and suitcases and snacks, we brought this tie-died 20-sided pillow along in the back seat.

As we returned home around 1am last week, Regina sat in the back with the baby while I drove with a basket full of toys in the passenger seat next to me.  As we got off the turnpike near Rochester, a tall, pony-tailed late 30s early 40s male attendant took my ticket and money and proceeded to simply stare at me...

"What have you got in there?" He said.  I was surprised since these robots never chat and I instantly felt like I was being interrogated by the police.

"What?" I said, eyes blurry from the long drive.

"What have you got?  A life-sized d&d set to go with it?"     I instantly remembered that the pillow sat atop the basket of toys in the passenger seat.  What a strange sight I must have been driving so late with a large, stuffed icsoahedron next to me.  He recognized the pillow for what it was instantly.

Of course I told him about what a wonderful present it was from my friends who - like he - appreciate things like this...And we both had a really good laugh, and he shot me a knowing-smile.  He was clearly envious.

Thanks again, from all of us over here at Roslyn Street.


Saturday, February 21, 2009

Olwe Lorearthen's Deep Desire

While drinking at the Sailors' Guild during their first night in Kharschum, Olwe and Pangold hoisted several toasts to the potential spoils and new freedoms that a life of free-lancing adventure was likely to bring.  Both had started their adult lives each as their own man, only contracting with the King of Saxony for the Tigalda expedition given the paucity of work available at the time.  So for both Olwe and Pangold, the thrilling sail into the harbor of Kharschum - however inhospitable a locale - was like a return to an earlier way of life that had been placed on hold some months back.
As he fetched his sixth round of house mead, Pangold overheard Olwe kibbitzing with the bartender Taluee [dm: spelling?] about different exotic sites they have visited or would wish to visit before death.  A prick came up Pangold's ear when he heard Olwe's low grumbling voice mention the name of the famous dwarf enclave called Porshaft.  It wasn't the proper name itself that struck Pangold, but, rather, the ever-so-slight hint of desire in Olwe's voice when the name passed over his lips.
After Olwe had wheeled around and joined Pangold across a long, oak table that sat a dozen patrons, Pangold took control, though not obviously, of the conversation.
"I heard you mention the great underground halls of Porshaft.....I have heard a great many stories that extol its wonder.  Tell me about it and explain why your tongue wags so sloppily when the thought of it enters you mind?  This is a side of you that I confess I have not seen before."
"Tell me Olwe," Pangold persisted as the dwarf attempted to waive off his question in favor of a deep pull from his cup.  "Tell me why such a place is so important to you, you are not related to the Porshaft clans are you?  I have heard you sing at length of your people, of the Mineshadow, the Lorearthens, and the Wilward.  But I did not realize a filial connection existed between you and that wondrous place."   
"It's true that when I think and speak of Porshaft, I do so fondly.  It is indeed a marvellous place.  And although I have share no family blood with its founders or current inhabitants, I have had the honor of laying eyes on its rightly praised Great Staircase as well as several of the first level antechamber rooms and halls."
"But if you must know why I always smile a little when I think of Porshaft it is because it reminds me of the fantasy that keeps me going."  He gulped his drink deeply.
Pangold listened intently to the story that followed of a young Olwe journeying with his father to the trading centers surrounding Porshaft, and of a short day-trip into the mouth of the great city set a mile deep into the granite base of an imperious mountain.  He savoured the care in word choice and imagery that the budding bard of a dwarf demonstrated in his telling.  And he could not help but be desirous of seeing it for himself, so finely did Olwe portray its endless and finely crafted passageways, stairways, intersections, pillared underground boulevards, great solid stone doors, and its miles and miles of expanse.
At the conclusion of his impassioned description of seeing the upper rooms of the great city of Porshaft, Pangold thank him and blankly asked just what moral should be taken from his tale.  Just what is the appetitic fantasy that moves him when he thinks of what he has seen at Porshaft?
"Surely you could take up residence if that is what you want so much?" said Pangold.  "It doesn't have to be just a fantasy, does it?  I've heard often that dwarf clans will adopt those of other family's if the desire to join is sincere.  Surely all you'd have to sacrifice is your bachelorhood at most."
"I think you do not fully understand.  You see,," Olwe replied, almost sheepishly chewing his thick, coarse whiskers.  "I want all of it," his grin widening enough to show his broad front teeth.  His look told his listener that he was well aware of just how outlandish, even childish, his dream must sound.  
"I want my own kingdom under a mountain, with my own endless walkways and soaring rock cathedrals and layers and layers of intersecting stair and passage."
Olwe continued his simple grin as he looked down into the soggy remains of his cup.  "It is not a humble wish, I grant you.  But you seem to be asking for honest truth and not just easy conversation, so there you have it."
"It is a dream fit for a king, I'll give that to you.  But surely there are any number of the great ancient dwarf underground cities that that suit you.  It would take some work, but you could eventually seize and take it up for yourself.  And if such deep places are what you think of most, why do you not reside in one now, if such a thing is your deepest love?" asked Pangold sincerely, although not without purpose.
"I think you still misunderstand.  I want more than to live in such a rock city, I want to build and design it as well," said Olwe after freshening his cup and sopping the foamy collection at its brim through his beard.  "I do want to be its lord and master, and I also want to make the impenetrable rock walls cleft at my easy command and whim.  I want to wander for weeks and months and never see the same room twice.  I want to lose myself in an endlessness of my own design.  
"Now, if you ask me how I plan to obtain my heart's true desire, then I can honestly say that I do not.  I came to terms with that fact when I ceased being a child.  In fact, I fully expect to die of old age without making any substantial progress toward its attainment.  But, somehow, this fact does not seem to matter much.  
"It's funny, isn't it, that sometimes our most abstract ideas seem more real and more important than the hard and smelly, red tooth and claw details of what we usually call 'real life'."  He grew sleepy giving breath to what seemed at the time a profound piece of wisdom.
"But you are among friends here, Olwe of the Clan of Legend," Pangold persisted.  "Be at ease and let your thoughts and tongue run freely.  If you were to obtain it - create your own kingdom vast enough to span the entire base of a great mountain -how would you set about doing it?"
"To obtain it, I would need many other things as well.  I would need men, good, smart, hardy men to hire to begin and continue the labors.  And I would need countless tools and supplies.  Of course, I am currently without claim to a mountain.  The Mineshadow clan digs shaft-mines, straight down into the stone, following the natural cracked veins.  They never thinking of using their mountain kingdom to build horizontally as well as vertically.  Inefficient, they would call it.
"But, thankfully, the Drowned World is full of mountains without a hold laid against them, so perhaps this task is not insurmountable.  But, to secure all the above I would need a mighty fortune."  He finished again with his simple, reflective smile.  This thoughtful and powerful dwarf seemed to Pangold very much like a child who has reached that strange age when reality overtakes fantasy for the first time, and who is left behind only with a pleasant, if melancholic memory of just how big they used to be able to dream.
"And here you sit, with a mighty treasure almost fallen in your lap, my stout fellow," brightly contributed Pangold, pouncing on his companion's last remark.  And here Pangold Silverkin, son of Marshal, son of Francis, brought the conversation to its purpose.
"How do you mean?" sloshed Olwe, his eyes now heavy with drink, but piqued with vague curiosity.  
"I mean just this: You, my friend, are a decent fellow.  A likable fellow.  And you now find yourself in a city of dank inequity, filled with whores and thieves and backstabbers and grifters.  To decent fellows such as you and I, these folks are just ripe for the plucking.  After all, Kord teaches us that it is never evil to out-evil evil itself."  Pangold shot the dwarf a straight, knowing look that spoke to Olwe both of his sincerity as well as his inebriation.
"Like good strong foam," Pangold continued, "let us rise to the top of this gritty and mealy draught of a city."
"You mean we should lighten the purses of this grimy city's unscrupulousss?" The final consonant lingered and reverberated in a drunken, sibilant fashion.  He chuckled to himself at the thought.  Clearly he thought it a good idea.
"No, I mean more than this.  I mean we should set ourselves to taking over."
"Phew!  Ha!" guffawed Olwe, slamming his mug with a clumsy silliness into the thick, knotted wood plank that served as their row table, spilling some contents onto surface now smooth from great use.  "All Hail King Pangold the Bold!  Much good luck to you, my ambitious friend.  But of course you are joking."  Several nearby drinkers, startled by the abrupt noise, slowly turned back to their conversations.  Only once all these gawkers had all resumed their prior engagements did Pangold respond, sotto voce.     
"But I am not joking.  What force can stand against this team we have assembled before us?  We must be smart, no doubt.  But smart we are.  And what is more, we are also strong, and brawny, and blistering and possessed of the blessings and energies of both nature and the gods.  What mere mountebank can stand against that druid that calls forth the spirit of nature in the form of wild and angry beasts that despise the unnatural?  What grifter could resist our fire-breathing dragon woman who controls the sky just as deftly as she does the ground?"
Pangold's voice dropped to a near whisper.  He leaned in close.  "Conceive of it, Olwe.  Set your shoulder to it.  This goal is attainable."
No sooner had Pangold finished speaking when he replied to his own comment.  "Yes, I confess to some ambition.  I do dream big, my friend.  But you dream deep.  Perhaps there is a work together on these things."
Olwe sat motionless.  His eyes, unblinking, slowly looked up and down the face of his ever-so bold companion.  When he replied, he did so almost without thought.
"A final drink, then, to toast all dreams big and deep," he eventually snorted.  Olwe's frozen face warmed into that familiar churlish smile.
"Await and watch for my next move," was Pangold's last word on the subject.  

The Great Betrayal [Repost]

Olwe Lorearthen has never been comfortable talking to strangers and shallow acquaintances. But once he garnered the courage to share the story of his people with his adopted family during the long sea journey to Cold Harbor, he was filled with the comfortable warmth of friendship by their response. And just a few evenings later when he was again asked about his family's lore, he recalled for his new friends an encounter he once had with a small band of bardic elves whom he came upon traveling through the Iron Mountains not far from his home with the Mineshadow clan. After liquor had flowed and family histories had been shared, the elves told Olwe a tragic tale from their ancient folk culture - of a hard-hearted elven prince and of a great guilt born by his kin. And in their tale Olwe believed he had found a clue to the lost history of his own people.

The elven bards sang of the once-noble elven family of Magesblood, who happened upon a lost clan of dwarves, near starvation, mindlessly wandering through the low shoulders of a mountain range of now lost to history, somewhere deep below our Central Sea. Feeling great pity and compassion, the Elves brought the few surviving dwarves into their care. The wretched creatures that they had saved, however, immediately pleaded to be allowed to press on their journey for fear of condemning their charitable hosts to a terrible fate. The dwarves claimed to be a cursed clan, in exile from the ancient land of their creation far beyond even the Northgaard.

These lost and wandering dwarves told the elves a tale of a narrow escape from annihilation at the hands of their creator, Belfire the child-god. In the first days, the child-god loved his creation, who he named the Wilward. He adored watching them grow and thrive in the deep hollows and shadowy mountain passes he made for them anew each day. And they played together in the shadows, Belfire and the Wilwards, and his dwarves entertained him with their many fine creations. The child-god and his creations were inseparable during the early days of the world and they kept each others quiet company during the long nights. Their deep fondness for one another's company was obvious in the ways they sang and they drank together. And the Wilward told their elven saviors how they used to build giant towers of stone that reached high into the clouds with the assistance of Belfire, and how they would all rejoice together when the time came to destroy the towers just for the satisfaction of watching them fall. But as the Wilward grew and explored the world about them, they gradually discovered that their true home was under the mountain.

The depths of the mountains were never more than a playground to the child-god, however, and certainly never a place he would care to consider his home. And soon the Wilward were venturing out only during the daylight hours to play and sing and destroy with Belfire, and doing this increasingly out of a sense of duty and obligation to their creator. Eventually, as the wonders of their dark mountain paradise were just beginning to unfold before them, they stopped coming outside to entertain the child-god at all, and the place in their lives that their creator and playmate once occupied was gradually replaced with an obsession for geological nuance and a fetishistic lust for digging deeper for the sake of deeper.

The Wilward grew to love their home and the life they had with one another, and they came to no longer think of Belfire, and to no longer need him nor desire that he be near them.

The empty, hollow feeling of rejection shook the child-god into great fits of resentment and wrath. He quickly grew to hate his creation, and he stove to crush them in their rocky hideaways, tearing down the highest peaks and crushing vast slopes between his palms, sending exploding cascades of stone and pebble high into the sky, blotting out the sun. Day after day and night after night he unleashed his fury on the mountainside, laying it to waste with a violent force. Belfire killed to the last all those he found there and he destroyed their wondrous mountain halls and castle keeps, as well as their great storehouses and palaces and the libraries containing their histories and genealogies. Those few that survived secretly descended from the mountain one evening, and while the child-god slept they made their escape south, marching in shock and sadness, until they found themselves, after years of exodus, in the custodial care of the Magesblood elves.

The bards' song stirred Olwe's chest when they memorialized the great familial trust that grew between the Magesblood Elves and the Wilward over the five hundred years spent in their care. The many elves of Magesblood, led by their beloved king and father Olokul, agreed to take upon themselves the heavy moral burden of supporting and defending these vulnerable and pitiable creatures from the dangers of wider world. And, above all, the Magesblood Elves swore an oath to the Wilward: that they would forever keep their existence a secret, in order that Belfire would never again hear of them and that his hatred be reignited. 

It was only with the help of the Magesblood that the Wilward were able to dig deeply into a great cliff and hew a new home for themselves, hidden from all above. And it was during the early days with the elves that it was decided that the Wilward would never again show their faces on the surface, excepting when summoned by the great all-clear bell called Gentleharp by the Elves, which was used to call all to common council. Still much trafficking continued to take place between the savoir elves and those they had saved, and as a true bond of friendship grew between them, the elves initiated these lost dwarves into their secret rituals, practices and techniques of armored magic.

Five hundred years did the bond of the Magesblood and the Wilward last. It was during the final years of the reign of the King Petdak the Wise, called "The Weak King" by his own people, that an ambitious prince seized power for himself leaving his father with only nominal control of their small but respected kingdom. The prince, Adokas, coveted the great golden fields and valleys just beyond the Magesblood borders, and he especially desired to control the high and broad plateau that loomed over the fields. For from this high vantage point one could build an unassailable garrison and control all the entrances to the wide valley and, consequently, control the main gateway to each of the Five Kingdoms. 

Adokas was certainly not the first empire-building Elf of the region to recognize the strategic significance of the plateau. In his own day one could easily find on its broad and flat expanse remnants and artifacts all pointing to the existence of several older Elven forts, each designed to serve as a defensive stronghold against any invading armies who attempted to march across the valley below. But Adokas was the first ruler willing to sacrifice the long-established practice of peaceful detente to his own wild ambition.

It was during these years of Adokas' ascendance that the Roman legions began to appear in the south for the first time in the long history of the Magesblood elves. These bloody and ruthless fighters, although small in number in the first years, were quickly recognized by each of the Five Kingdoms to be a force unlike any they had seen before, possessing a power through coordination and sheer force of arms that none could hope to match should they desire land and pitch for battle. But in these early years, the legions were content to collect a small tribute and only the threat of violence was necessary to get them what they wanted.

As Roman power and influence grew steadily in the region, the young prince Adokas seized his moment. He struck a quarrel with a once-friendly neighbor over some insignificant matter, quickly marshaled his unwitting father's support, and mounted a force of arms ready to act at his command to control the plateau should the right occasion present itself. Adokas then parlayed with a nearby Roman garrison, sharing advice and secret testimony of the weaknesses of his newly forged enemy, aiding the Romans in their requests on such matters as troop and defensive positioning. As much as they wanted he tried his utmost to provide. And as the Roman legions moved in to destroy the problem Adokas had purposely created, he was in the Mage's Temple to celebrate the death of his father with his own coronation. And he was supremely satisfied that his deepest ambitions had nearly come to pass.

But his secret sharing proved his great undoing, for the illicit testimony he provided proved worse than useless to the storming legions, and the Romans suffered a tremendous defeat with many loses as they moved on his suggestions. The enraged Roman's threatened the young king and extorted him with the pain of a violent and bloody death. To escape their persecution, Adokas quickly betrayed the oath of his people - their sworn commitment to protect the lost Wilward dwarves. But all Adokas could see in them now was their value as the only of their race possessed of the secret of the duskblade. And on a fateful red morning, Adokas emerged from the Mage's Temple with Gentleharp in hand, and, laying prostrate at the feet of the enraged general, presented it to the insatiable Roman horde, as if delivering unto them great riches.

At the ringing of the trusted bell, all Wilward men, women and children emerged from their cavernous sanctuary and assembled in regular fashion, and it was here that they met the cruelty of the Roman whip and spear for the first time, but most certainly not the last. By day's end the children of Belfire were gone. And as news spread, the Magesblood elves were filled with inconsolable lament for the fate of their dearest friends. But, alas, they did nothing more than lament, for none ever sought the emancipation of their former charges, and none spoke publicly against the great betrayal of Adokas. It was as if the depth of the betrayal was simply too much to stand against, and they chose instead the easier path of collective denial.

Their deep fears were well-founded, or so it seems, for Olwe's bardic companions knew no other story, tale, or song that spoke any more of these cursed dwarves or their plight.

"But what of Adokas?" Olwe asked with great pain at the end of the tale. "For surely that devil received his due for his crimes against such a fine people." But the bards knew only one tale that might ease Olwe's great sorrow and quench his thirst for vengeance. In the end the Magesblood line splintered into a thousand shards well before the Great Flooding, they told Olwe, and today this once-great elven family exists no more except in the song and verse known only to a few. 

They told him all the rest that they knew - that King Adokas lived a great many years until he himself was treacherously overthrown by a combined force of the other four Great Kingdoms, whose trust and goodwill he had squandered. His final moments, the bards recounted, are said to have been spent sealed inside a tomb of smooth rock, somewhere very dark and cold and very very deep within the now-lost Wilward's once-thriving mountain keep. His conquerors, it is said, did this as both a small gesture towards redemption and as warning to all against ambition.