Saturday, January 31, 2009

A New Beginning?

The smell of blood and burning flesh hangs heavily over the deck of The Scarlet Lady. Only moments earlier, the air rang with the screams of the dying, but now, calm has fallen over the scene of carnage. Floating down gracefully through the smoke and haze, Alayna Alberran alights upon the bloodstained boards. Her face is calm. She begins to move down the length of the ship toward the bow, nimbly picking her way through the severed limbs and spilled entrails that cover the deck. With a smirk, she uses the toe of her well crafted doeskin boot to nudge the dismembered hand of an Orc Pirate over the edge of the gunwale and into the sea.

Alayna mounts the fo’c’s’le and proceeds to the bowsprit. In the distance, the great city of Karshum awaits, like a smear of filth on the horizon. She breaths deeply, enjoying and welcoming the temperate weather that she has sorely missed for many long months. It is good to finally have the frigid northern climes and the bleak sunless days behind her. She has discarded her fur lined cloak for the time being and wears only her green velvet bodice and trousers, snug and slung low on her hips. The sun caresses her flesh, pale and flawless as the finest ivory. The breeze, vaguely laced with the tang of spices from the distant port, stirs her lustrous red hair.

The past few weeks have been a torment for her, but now she feels calm and resolute. Ever since she discovered that her mother, Cinna, had been taken as a slave and held within the very ship upon which her daughter now stands, Alayna has wrestled with many conflicting emotions. When not needed on deck, Alayna spent most of the long and stormy voyage from Tigalda brooding below. Now, however, she knows the time for brooding is over.

As she gazes upon the scene before her, Alayna’s fingers inadvertently stray to the scale of brass that hangs about her neck, safe on its leather thong, nestled between her ample breasts. She traces the edge of this cherished item with her finger tip and thinks of her mother.

So much has changed in the last year. Tigalda has taught her so much. Strange as it may sound, that weathered rock on the edge of the world had taught her more than she had ever learned in ghost haunted Zuwarah, the city of her birth. In Zuwarah, she had been a victim, living in fear, hoping for the best. When her magical abilities manifested themselves, she knew that it had been time to leave. On Tigalda, she had finally been forced to admit to herself that her mother and all of the women in her family had been fools. Clinging to miserable and meager lives, hoping for better days to come, refusing to take the initiative and seize control of their own destinies, they deserved what they got in a very real sense. Even her great grandmother Chessa, the one who had coupled with a dragon and given Alayna her sorceress heritage and powers, had ultimately been a mere pawn and plaything for that mighty beast.

It had taken the nightmarish horrors of Tigalda to teach her that one must act upon life before it acts upon you, that one must take what they want and never show remorse about it. On that bleak rocky island, Alayna had vowed to break all ties with the past. She would live for herself and no one else. When she and Kier had robbed that foolish magician in Cold Harbor, she had realized her new path in life. A lust had awoken in her on that day, a lust that she intended to satiate.

Then, in a most incredibly improbable coincidence, her mother appeared. How could it be possible that here, at the almost opposite end of the world from Iberia, Alayna would again cross paths with Cinna Alberran? Such an unlikely coincidence can only be the work of Fate admonishing the young sorceress for her decision to live according to her new found principles of selfishness.

Well, as far as Alayna is concerned, Fate can go to hell and it can bring her mother along.

As much as it pains her, she will not lift a finger to free her mother. It is not that she wishes her ill by any means or that she does not hope for Cinna a speedy release from bondage. But everyone has their troubles in this world and Alayna refuses to be bullied by fate into renouncing her true destiny. Cinna has simply traded one form of slavery for another.

Rask, also enjoying the warmer climate, crawls from his pouch at Alaya’s hip and twists around her arm, slowly climbing until his tiny wedged shaped head is level with her neck. His tongue, dry as ancient parchment, lightly and sensuously caresses her earlobe. Alayna smiles with pleasure, enjoying this small affection from her loyal servant. A long gentle swell slowly lifts the ship beneath her. The timbers creak.

Again, she regards the city of Karshum looming before her, filled with wonder and possibilities. Within that city are thousands of fools willing to be separated their coin. Within that city are thousands of adventures for those bold enough to have them. Within that city are thousands of sensual delights to be enjoyed, slowly and luxuriously. This is surely no place to be with ones mother. Besides, Cinna would not likely understand what her daughter Alayna has become and, to be honest, Alayna does not relish the prospect of explaining it to her. No, that is an explanation that will not be made. The past is dead and will remain so. She is very sorry for her mother, so very sorry. But to follow her new path, she knows she must be hard and unyielding as cold forged iron.

She turns, leans against the weathered and paint peeled railing of the bowsprit, and regards the blood stained decks below her. Her comrades are busy preparing for their imminent arrival in port. Hrolff sits cross legged on an anchor chain windlass, his face and beard spattered with the blood and the brains of Orcs. The brawny Northman carefully sutures a gash in his forearm with a needle and a length of twisted catgut, whistling some strange and haunting melody from his distant and ice rimed homeland. Perhaps sensing her gaze, Hrolff looks up and flashes her a broad and gore-besmeared grin. Alayna laughs, infected by her friend’s good spirits, and turns back to the railing to stare across the greenish, silt filled waters of the Gish Delta. She feels Hrolff’s eyes exploring the shapely terrain of her backside and smiles.

“Ah Rask” she says to the glossy black serpent still nuzzling her ear, “Isn’t it good to be alive?”

Monday, January 26, 2009

Seafaring in the Drowned World

It should be no surprise that in this world fragmented by rising seas, travel by water is an essential means of transportation. Whether it is casks of olives and amphorae of wine from Armorica, timber and wool from Caledonia, or slaves and contraband from Uyghuria, anything that travels anywhere in the Drowned World does so by water. On a clear summer day in one of the busy shipping lanes, a captain can stand atop the sterncastle of his ship and see uneven lines of sails dotting the distances ahead and behind.

Although the level of technology throughout Drowned World is more or less comparable to that of our own late medieval period, shipbuilding and sailing have advanced much further, to a level that far exceeds the apex of sailing technology in our own world. Even the simplest types of craft, such as the open-hulled longships of the Northmen and the sealhide coracles that ply the waters between the Nethyian Isles, ride the winds and waves with surprising grace. The finest examples of sailing vessels - Hibernian schooners and elven wingships - travel with almost supernatural ease. Unlike so many other things in the Drowned World, however, it is not due to magic, but rather to highly evolved technology and skilled craftsmen.

Despite these technological advantages, seafaring in the Drowned World is still a dangerous undertaking. There are, of course, any number of meterological dangers: sudden storms, waterspouts and fierce cyclonic storms are common in the warm, shallow waters that cover much of the Drowned World, and the blue waters of the Northern and Western Oceans are notoriously treacherous. In the heat of summer, some of the shallower waters become so clogged with beds of kelp and sargasso that ships foul their rudders and become trapped. Many fall prey to orc marauders, or to the swarms of sahuagin that boil from the depths to overwhelm ships and slaughter their hapless crews. In the deep waters of the Northern Ocean, storm-battered ships can be split asunder by submerged icebergs, or attacked by raiding parties of Coelegath. Some vessels simply disappear into the foggy vastness.

Established shipping lanes are the safest places to travel, as they are generally patrolled by warships of lawful kingdoms such as Burgundia and Brittania. These safe routes are mostly confined to the Central Sea and the Gulf of Brittania, where the majority of the Drowned World's commerce is found. Other waters are far more dangerous. The Drowned Plains, which border Uyghuria to the north and the Gull's Neck to the east, are generally considered the most dangerous waters in the world, for they encompass the Lost Archipelago, a locus of smuggling and piracy, and also the Gish Delta, home to several powerful orc tribes, as well as a major artery of the Uyghurian slave trade.

If your party is to return to civilization, it must sail through some of these waters. Good luck, and godspeed...

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Next Session

It appears that if we were to play either night next weekend, we would be missing at least one person, so I suggest we play the following weekend, on Saturday, February 7th. Is everyone game?

Friday, January 23, 2009

Campaign Update #1. Epilogue to Tigalda

As the long dark of the polar winter finally began to wane, your party, determined to end its exile on Tigalda Island, set off to find some means of returning to the settled world. You were joined by two new members: Erth, a human druid who had fought with Ord-laf during the dark days of Hengest's reign; and BraveSlayer, an exiled goliath who had made his way to Tigalda over the sea ice. Your party first investigated the marooned ship that had carried your reinforcements, but found that it had been damaged beyond repair by the shifting and heaving of the sea ice. The shattered hull had apparently served as a camp for two ogres who met a tragic end there. Judging from the tracks that you found, those ogres were killed and devoured by a troll, whose tracks led to and from the woods on the shore.

As you returned to the shore from the ship, you were met by what appeared to be a desperate grugach. His son, he explained, had been taken by the troll, and he begged you to follow him to the troll's lair to rescue the boy. Thanks to BraveSlayer's intuition, however, you discovered that the grugach was actually a disguised hag. After a brief battle, the hag fled into the forest. Inakai and Erth tracked the hag up a gorge into an enormous amphitheatre in which there appeared to be a small cabin. The cabin was an illusion, however, and the party suddenly found itself up against a hag warlock and three ogres. A desperate battle ensued, during which BraveSlayer nearly lost his life facing down the three ogres by himself, and Kier Tuttlewynde took down an ogre with quick a feint and crushing blow from his gnome hooked hammer. The battle would have been far more desperate had Hrolff the Houseless not grappled the hag and held her fast, preventing her from raking the party with her eldritch blasts. As hrolff slowly crushed the life from the hag, Inakai and Alayna kept up a steady barrage of arrows and magic missiles, while Pangold Silverkin drew two ogres away with a risky bluff and dispatched one of them with Unferth's Bane. In the end, your party prevailed without loss of life, save for Erth's unlucky wolf companion and a brown bear that the druid summoned.

After camping for the night, you pressed on and soon discovered a small grugach village in one of the island's the northwest bays. You were welcomed warmly, and while you drank and rested, the elves described a ship that they said was marooned on an island some four days to the west. The island was unmistakable, for its peak was a narrow spire of rock that could be seen a day's journey away.. The following morning, you set out across the sea ice, through the ruptured maze of ridges and sudden leads of deep blue water. On the first night, you were attacked by a a dire polar bear who must have caught your scent as it hunted across the sea ice. After a harrowing battle, your party prevailed again, and moved on the following morning.

The following day, you passed a strange encampment on a tiny island, where three northmen were living in a hut that they had improvised from their overturned boat. After Alayna cast an invisibility spell on him, Kier investigated the camp. Inside the hut, he saw three bedraggled northmen sitting around their meager fire, and, at the end of the hut, something piled beneath some moldered furs. When he investigated the northmen's rubbish midden on the island's ridge, he found a number of humanoid bones that had clearly been scored by knives, and a leather-bound booklet, which contained only one partial page. On that torn page the following was written: “And so it was that Bataar the Heartless drove Guyuk and his stout folk across the plains into the River Gish, where it meets with sea. Many drowned. Guyuk and the survivors took refuge in the Keep of Kipchak. Bataar crossed the river, surrounded the keep, and two days later broke down the walls. But Guyuk had made a pact with some sinister darkness…”

Three days later, you found the ship, a two masted schooner named The Scarlet Lady, resting in a shallow bay of the spired island, just as the grugach had described. You are now camped on the ice at the mouth of the bay, readying to explore the ship.

Right now, there are more questions than answers. Who were those northmen? Castaways? Exiles? Does the cryptic passage in that book mean anything? To whom does The Scarlet Lady belong, and how did it get here? What will you find when you board and begin to explore? These are all questions that remain unanswered.

Thank you all for your patience and enthusiasm. I can't wait to play again!

6th Level Characters (including BraveSlayer): 3,675 XP
7th Level Characters: 2888 XP

Campaign Update #24 (by Ironbeard)

Farewell Aeschere

On February 19 in the year 1051 by Hrothgar Reckoning the following notification was posted on the public boards in the Town of Farholme. It appeared in all of the major taverns—Ashodel’s, The River Shark and the Copper Bell—as well as the Market Square:

“Be it known by all good citizens of the Free and Self Governed Township of Farholme that, as of yesterday, February 18 in the year One Thousand and Fifty Two by Hrothgar Reckoning, the most notable Heroes of Gwudd Hill have returned from their mission of Vengeance, Retribution, and Reckoning undertaken against our enemies in the Kingdom of Blixt.

The aforementioned Heroes have slain our foe, Baron Malsvir, wrought great Havoc, and made much mischief for the dragon born foes who live across the Gulf of Orm.
Their mission was not without sorrow and tragedy, however, as only two of their original six members survived their fateful and historic mission.

May the Blessings of Pelor and Heironeous shine forever upon the Heroes of Gwudd Hill.”

In the wake of your return, the following things are happening in Farholme.

1. Lord Mayor Aglivale, spokesman for the High Council of the Farholme has asked if Prince Hoondaarh’s hide can be hung outside of the Town Hall as a testament to your bravery. Few citizens of Farholme have ever seen a dragon.

2. The High Council has also voted to give three modest stone houses to you as gifts in addition to platinum pieces that you earned. The houses, which sit atop Weather Rock Hill, Farholme’s most prestigious neighborhood, are intended to entice you to make Farholme a semi-permanent base of operations.

3. Several local Bards are already busy composing songs and odes documenting your achievements. One Bard, Caronwyn of Baedelwort’s Alley, has already penned a rather moving lament chronicling Aeschere’s fall in battle against Prince Hoondaarh. She plans to debut her lament, entitled “The Broken Bow,” on February 20 at Ashodel’s.

4. Several other adventuring companies have expressed their own interest in traveling to Blixt in search of treasure and dragon hides as soon as the spring thaws arrive. The Green Cloaks, The Red Swords and Farholme Four, are some of the more noteworthy companies that have expressed such plans. The High Council plans to meet on the First of March in order to discuss the possibility of providing full or partial funding for such expeditions. You can expect to be invited to contribute to these discussions.

5. Tranna plans on taking employment as a weaver in the shop of Aaethne of East Way, Farholme’s most well known weaver. She is utterly heartbroken and devastated about Aeschere’s death.

6. Yrryg of Canaladaer Keep, who happened to be in Farholme for your return, offers Tilo 1,000 gold pieces if he will write an account of his adventures in Blixt and beyond, a travelogue of sorts. He believes that such work would be in great demand and would find itself copied numerous times by the scribes of the Hrothgar.

Well done everyone!

4,669 xp per PC

Anya's Story

[It is late. The companions huddle around their small fire as the barren forest around them creaks in the wind. Anya pulls her drab woolen cloak tighter around her, gazes at her companions’ shadow-streaked faces, and begins to speak.]

You have been so kind to me, and have shared your stories with me, yet I have told you nothing of myself. It is not because I don’t trust you. We have faced death together several times since you welcomed me into your group, and already I owe you my life several times over. No, I trust you without reservation. My fear is that you will not trust me once you know of my past.

I was born in Throddenoth, the youngest daughter of a humble baker. Life was never easy, but my parents managed to provide for us by working day and night. I never realized how hard that was for them. There was always someone to pay for the priviledge of staying in business, always some petty noble to lay claim to what little profit my parents saw. But I was a child, and my parents sheltered me from those aspects of life as best they could. I had food to eat, a bed in the small apartment behind the bakery in which we lived, and I had my guardian and my best friend. I had my sister, Afa.

Yes, the cleric you spoke of, the priestess of Demogorgon, was once my older sister. I say was because she is no longer the same person. My sister was very different from the woman whose temple you raided, who sent you on that desperate mission to the Abyss. How she transformed from the loving sister I knew to the person she is now I know not. I was not there to witness it.

My childhood came to an abrupt end one winter night. We were all asleep in our common bedroom when we were startled awake by a loud crash from the front of the building. My father leapt up, grabbed the dagger that he kept by his bed, and ran toward the noise. My mother ordered Afa and me to hide.

There was a loose floorboard between our beds. Afa and I liked to crawl through the hole, and crouch beneath the building and play. We hid little treasures that we found there. I jumped out of bed and pulled up the floorboard. As I wriggled through the opening, I heard my father’s voice in the other room. It was loud, frightened. Then a louder cry, and a dull thud against the floor.

What happened next will be burned into my memory until I die. My mother screamed. Someone replaced the floorboard above me. I groped around for Afa – she had been right behind me – but she was not there. I heard my mother cry out, pleading, and then another thud, this one directly above me. Then I felt something warm and wet. It was my mother’s blood, dripping onto me through the floorboards.

I do not know how long I cowered there. I remember the light of dawn graying the room above me, the silhouette of my mother’s form taking shape above me through the chinks, and cracks of sunlight through the floorboards. When I finally emerged, I found both of my parents dead, their throats cut, their eyes fixed blindly on the ceiling. Afa was gone. Nothing else, save the front door that the intruders had broken to get in, was disturbed. Even the lockbox behind the counter was there, with a handful of silver pieces inside.

I was on my own after that. Because I was so young, I had no rights to the bakery, not that I would have wanted to stay there anyway, or been able to run the business on my own. I became a street waif, stealing my bread and sleeping in the tunnels beneath the city, or in the backs of blind alleyways. I learned how to steal, how to become invisible to the people I took from. I learned how to bluff my way out of the most desperate situations, how to distract a others’ attention while I slipped away or filched a piece of fruit of loaf of bread.

As I grew older and began turning into a young woman, however, it became harder to remain invisible, particularly to men. Many of the girls that I shared the streets with began to sell themselves to these men; the money was easier than filching and pickpocketing, and one didn’t have to worry about about dodging the city guard. I was never interested in making my living that way. Not only did I find the men who frequented the city’s prostitutes repulsive – anybody with any money went to a brothel, and only the dregs of Throddenoth used the street girls - I also saw the hidden price of the easy money. Girls disappeared with alarming frequency, and others got so terribly illI that their young bodies withered into those of old women. Instead, Iearned to take advantage of men in a slightly different way. I would win a man’s trust by pretending to be a prostitute, and then rob him before he even had a chance to unbuckle his trousers. Men, I found, were easy victims when they craved sex; if a man was also drunk, robbing him was ridiculously easy.

It was very lucrative. I was able to eat and dress well, and let a room above a shop. It was also very risky, though I did not realize it at the time, drunk as I was with the money and excitement. It was a dank November night when it happened. I was walking down an empty street with a man toward what I had told him was my room. I had already liberated his purse, and was waiting for my opportunity to flee. When we passed a narrow alley, I made my move.

I pressed myself close to him, smiled up at him flirtatiously, and asked if he would excuse me for just a second while I slipped into the alley to relieve myself. The bluff had worked dozens of times; by the time the unhappy fellow got impatient and went into the alley to find me, I would be blocks away. But not this time. As I turned to go, his hand tightened around my arm. “You’re not going anywhere,” he hissed, “until you earn the coin that you took from my belt.”

I tried to escape, but there was no chance. He was a big man, with huge hands and thick, ropey forearms, and I would be hard-pressed to escape today, let alone then, when I was a fourteen year old waif. He dragged me into the alley and beat me. Then he raped me on the wet cobblestones. When he was finished, he beat me again and left me for dead.

I awoke in a small room, lit by a smoky oil lamp on an upturned barrel. I was in a bed, covered in heavy woolen blankets. My whole body throbbed with pain. From the heaviness of the air , I could tell that I was underground, probably somewhere in the tunnels beneath the city. I don’t know how long I drifted in and out of consciousness, but at some point a woman entered the room through a doorway behind me. She bent over me, smiled, and placed her hand on my forehead. As she whispered what sounded like a prayer of some kind, I felt an intense warmth seeping through my body, filling me with strength, melting the cold pulse of pain.

I later found out that I had been found by a member of Heaven’s Shadow, a group of thieves and clerics who worshipped Olidamarra, the god of rogues and tricksters. The woman who had healed me, Morganna, was the group’s leader. Heaven’s Shadow was a charitable organization of sorts, which accepted unwilling donations from the city’s rich and powerful and redistributed the wealth to the city’s poor. Some members were tricksters and con artists, some were burglars and pickpockets, and others, like Morganna, were clerics of Olidamarra who used the deity’s powers to the same ends as the other members. What struck me as most unusual, however, was that each member of Heaven’s Shadow had sworn a vow of poverty. Their lives were deliberately austere so that they could give as much as possible to the poor.

There was one thing I was never trusted with, and that was knowledge of what everyone called the Dark Item. It was a magical object of some sort that the group guarded, but seldom spoke about. Some members refused to speak of it at all, while others seemed to fear it.

I had nowhere to go, so once I recovered, I stayed with Heaven’s Shadow. I was grateful that they had saved me, and was happy to help with the menial tasks that everyone shared, such as cooking, cleaning, and running errands. As the members’ trust in me grew, and as they realized that I posessed some skills of my own, I was allowed to help distribute the purses of silver and gold to the poor, a task that required no small amount of discretion. Morganna took an interest in me, and began teaching me about Olidamarra and his role among the gods. The more I learned, the more my interest grew, until one day, Morganna told me that the god favored me, and that she would like to initiate me as a priestess of Olidamarra.

The next few years were some of the happiest of my life. The excitement and danger that I had so loved while living on the streets was now infused with purpose, and shared with a group of people who had become my surrogate family. I realized that my past suffering had a purpose, for it had led me to where I now was, and had shaped and hardened me for the trials I would have to endure as I worked to mitigate suffering and undermine the corrupt aristocracy of Throdennoth.

One day, while I was on my way back to the caverns after distributing purses, I stopped to watch some jugglers and acrobats. I was transfixed – I had always loved public performances – and was startled to hear someone speak my name. I turned and froze in disbelief. Though she had changed over the years, I immediately recognized my sister. We embraced, both of us tearful and speechless.

We went to a tavern to talk, but the conversation was strangely uncomfortable. Afa told me that she had indeed been kidnapped from our home that night, and that she had spent the years since as a slave in an aristocratic household, but she seemed unwilling to say anything more, and quickly turned the conversation to me. I noticed a tattoo on her wrist when she took a drink – she was wearing a loose-fitting blouse that covered nearly all of her skin – but when I asked about it, she became very evasive. We parted on good terms, and agreed to meet again.

Two nights later, our home beneath the city was attacked. Most of the attackers were men and women dressed in long robes, but one was a terrifying, shadowy creature that seemed to drain the life from anyone it touched. We fought hard, but our attackers were strong, and they had taken us by surprise. I took one attacker down with my daggers – a foul-looking man with half his nose missing – but someone struck me from behind. As I lost consciousness, I saw my companions, my family, dying around me.

How I survived, I do not know. I somehow regained consciousness long enough to cure myself. Everyone, including Morganna, was dead. The vault where we stored the Dark Item was breached and empty. I was tortured with questions. Was it my fault? Had my meeting with afa caused this? I wandered the streets after that, bereft and hopeless. Had I not met you, I do not know where I would be today. And even more importantly, I would not know what really happened that night.

I must face my sister again. With you by my side, I can find the courage and hope to do that. My only question to you is, do you still trust me?

Campaign Update #23. RIP Ardyth (by Ironbeard)

Campaign Time: January 28 - February 8 1052 HR

And then there were three. Three original members of the Heroes of Gwudd Hill, that is. On January 28 of the year 1052 by Hrothgar Reckoning, Ardyth Lou was slain in the North Hills by “Mother Gray,” a Cave Hag of great infamy. He was felled in the valiant attempt to rescue Tranna, a trusted friend and travelling companion.

Ardyth was killed by a Phantasmal Killer spell, an enchantment that produces an illusory manifestation of one’s worst, most horrific, innermost fears. Interestingly, Ardyth’s worst fear, the nightmare that had haunted more than any other, was the pack of zombies that killed Feng Volen in the ruined village of Kettlemynde. Thus, in a way both Ardyth and Feng, the last original member to die, were killed by the same thing.

Spooky huh.

I for one will miss Ardyth and his flashing scimitars very much.

So when are we playing again?

10th Level PC: 500
9th Level PCs: 675

Campaign Update #22 (by Ironbeard)

After a long and desperate fight, the party killed Lum the Relentless, a bluespawn godslayer bounty hunter.

I'm sorry that I don't have time for a full update, but here's the experience point totals from our last session. I had a great time. Thank you all.

10th level PCs: 2,700
9th level PCs: 3,645
8th level PCs: 4,320

In Defense of Chaos (by Post Festum)

The evening after successfully casting his first two teleportation spells, Tilo Greenbottle permitted himself a minor celebration of imbibery and extended repose. As the crisp evening under the stars passed, now far away from the city skyline of Throdenoth, Tilo felt his head begin to clear. And as it did, a new series of questions began to intrude into the mind of this little halfling.

As he found himself growing in skill as a magic user, the sheer wonder of what he now was able to accomplish was beginning to sink home. If hidden in the potential of the veins of magic that crisscross the universe was the ability to instantly transport matter and energy across time and space with exacting precision, then what wonders could it not possibly create? Learning to fly is no doubt a moment of wonder for all magic users who accomplish it. But it is experienced only as an extension or heightening of one's earlier way of life. Teleportation and telekinesis. These are most fundamentally different experiences. They are not felt as simply being more powerful or more anything than one was before. They truly and deeply alter your sense of what reality is as well as what its ultimate bounds and limits are.

As it so happened, Tilo had also of late been thinking about his moral sense of self. A monological fugue had been replaying in his mind for most of the previous week, with its several competing voices counterbalancing and countervailing one another. While he lay under the stars and forest canopy he began to connect his reinvigorated wonder at the power of arcane art to challenge our old ways of seeing reality to his earlier internal moral dialogue.

For it turns out that although Tilo had long considered himself to be a halfling of a generally chaotic manner or disposition, he had of late begun to question his basic moral stance in light of his growing sense of that behind the dim veil of appearance some essential laws, regularities or purposes exist. Can the chaotic commitment to indeterminacy and context-dependence of moral decision be reconciled with the recognition of such a deep structure and logic to all that is?

In his first full tastes of magic's ability to shudder and destroy preconceptions about what is and is not possible, Tilo Greenbottle believed he had found the beginnings of an answer.

Upon downing his last sip, he turned back toward the Portia Halfling and completed this axiological reverie.

On Burglary

Law? Chaos? Natural philosophers, historians, and scribes of good alignment, as are known to the common peoples of the Hrothgar, have long debated a profound question. If it can be shown that basic lawful assumptions about the formal and fixed nature of moral principles cannot be maintained when the same principles are applied to different possible worlds, then this is the strongest evidence yet the way of chaos and the chaotic way of living is superior to the lawful.

Take the simple burglar. For all those who follow the good, the petty burglar is considered especially or even pardigmatically despicable (often even, it should be noted, by other burglars). This is because, as the wise sages of the lawful good have agreed, the burglar takes what is not his for taking. And what is not ours for the taking is typically said by the lawful to include all things that we don't create with our own hands or energies, that which we did not pay for or did not sponsor the creation of, as well as all we do not secure through voluntary exchanges with others who've acquired their holdings through legitimate means. For example, if a person take the literary or artistic work of another without specific permission or price paid, then they are guilty of burglary.

This, at least, is the devote conviction of the lawful good. But surely this can't be the entirety of the matter. What if it were possible that through arcane accomplishment everyday objects became so essentially transformed from their current state that what it means to "take" an object becomes itself far more complex than typically assumed...?

For imagine that, as if through magic, a common object - for example, the Collected Ravings of Thune the Lesser, Vol. 2 - were to be so transformed as to produce immediate and complete copies of itself whenever one was picked up the table top in the Tower of Lockjat the Arcane Surgeon of Throdenoth. Each new copy picked up is an exact replica of the original, and each new copy is produced through a process that requires no expenditure of raw materials or resources. One could stand in Lockjat's stone tower day and night, year after year, removing copy after copy, until the entire workhouse and open keep overflowed with Thune's petulant rants.

In such a world, passersby of the tower, who happen to be devoted readers and collectors of Thune's works, help themselves to copies. Let us even more assume that each of the copies these passersby collected were themselves possessed of the same power to construct an exact duplicate of itself infinitely. Thus the copies they lift from the grounds immediately duplicate themselves on the spot, so that it is as if they had taken nothing.

These admirers of Thune, seeking to share their new found access to a rare work of this master of causistry, create many copies from their copies, and, in turn, share these copies with others who appreciate or might appreciate its value as a work of dark inspiration rather than as a good for trade or object for profit.

Such a strange world wherein objects can never be extinguished, even though they have been fully consumed and enjoyed by their creators or rightful procurers, is most certainly not our own. But it is not all to unfamiliar. And in this other possible world we find that to help oneself to a copy doesn't seem rightfully or best understood as a kind of "taking" in any traditional sense for nothing that previous existed before the "taking" has been lost or even removed through the "taking". And, therefore, the collectors and sharers and the admirers of Thune are not properly understood as thieves or criminals at all. The lawful, in their attempt to crystallize moral goodness and formalize it into fixed rules, run asunder on the grounds of this new reality. For in it helping oneself uninvited to the product of another's creation without recompense would no longer be a violation of the good, but possibly one new expression of it.

To the thinking of this gentle author, recognizing that what heretofore had been the unquestioned "fact" of a physical object's scarcity and that such a "fact" can change is key. If this basic fact about objects were to somehow change, then so too must the moral insistence that collecting magically reproduced copies of the creation's of others without price being paid is always an act of theft.

The chaotic person understands this. No moral principle, however deeply-rooted in our traditions, is beyond revision in light of the shifting boundaries of the real.

So to insist that price be paid before the moral taint of burglary can be fully discharged, can be shown to be a preposterous exaggeration of what (under a different reality) once might be a perfectly helpful ethical guide. It is this truth that the lawful always fail to comprehend.

Of what sense is it to insist that price be paid for an object of which an infinite and unconsumable supply exists or else one is a burglar? Why, under the altered conditions of reality described above, one can even imagine that great societies of like-minded individuals would grow like weeds in the fertile muck, each collecting, discussing, and sharing these objects freely and without hesitation. These great societies of individuals who are bound together through a common appreciation of the nature of the object and not its value as a tradeable commodity would be completely and utterly misunderstood if looked at through today's eyes as nothing more than organized crime. They would be, in the eyes of the chaotic, glorious new forums through which individuals can grow and change and express themselves in their quest for the good life.

Campaign Update #21 (by Ironbeard)

January 10-20, 1051 HR

The morning of January 10, Her Holiness Lady Ishtuk summoned Aeschere and Whren to the Temple of Tiamat in Throdenoth. She asked them if they were still interested in learning about the whereabouts of Afa, priestess of Demogorgon and leader of a cult cell that the PCs have just recently broken up. It turns out that Afa, finding her position in Throdenoth seriously weakened, has decided to spend the winter in the company of Prince Hoondaarh, son of King Yed.

Prince Hoondaarh is a Dragon Prince, son of King Yed (Monarch of Blixt), brother of Duke Malifop (Duke of Yarag). He recently emerged as the sole male survivor from his clutch in the rites of combat 11 years earlier. Like some landless royalty in Blixt, Hoondaarh has attached himself to the military and has distinguished himself well in fighting on the western marches.

Ishtuk also explained that Hoondaarh has taken possession of an ancient ruined temple complex as his lair. This is an ancient temple that was once devoted to Demogorgon in ancient times (more than a millennium ago) when the land was ruled by a human kingdom that succumbed to the worship of this demon for some time.

Apparently many royals in Hoondaarh’s position often come to resent the political structure of the kingdom that confers elite status upon them while simultaneously excluding them from true power, land and armies. Some of these royals will even go so far as scheming to undermine the government of Blixt. Sadly this is the route taken by Hoondaarh.

Ishtuk has learned from her spies that Hoondaarh has been secretly working with and supporting the Cult of Demogorgon in the hopes of sowing widespread chaos across the land. Apparently, he hopes that in the ensuing political instability, he can seize power somehow or at the very least improve his station.

Ishtuk’s spies have informed her that Afa is spending the winter as a guest in Hoondaarh’s lair where she is plotting strategy. The PCs agreed to go and kill Afa and hopefully kill Hoondaarh in the process, Ishtuk offering to provide access into the lair with the secret password “Starry Night.”

Ishtuk also informed the PCs that a feared and renowned bounty hunter named Lum the Relentless has taken interest in them and knows that they are in Throdenoth. She advised them to leave the city as soon as possible.

On a side note, later that evening Whren returned to the temple for the nightly sermon and ceremony, the highlight of which was the burning of a captive elf.

The following day then, the PCs decided to finally make their assault on Lakjat’s domicile, making contact with Grushchow the Goblin and Zed Rigour, members of the local thieves’ guild, and securing information to allow them entry through the lower cellars. First however, Whren bluffed entry into Lakjat offices by posing as a prospective client who was interested in purchasing some draconic grafts. This provided the party with valuable reconnaissance.

Once inside, the PCs found a true house of horrors defended by fiendish magical traps and horrifying arcane constructs. The final battle, at the foot of Lakjat’s tower, was an epic one indeed. The frosty January night was illuminated by explosive bursts of flame and arcs of lightning as both sides squared off. Things appeared to be lost until Lakjat was finally felled by the crafty Whren, who got off a last minute shot with her wand of magic missiles.

The next day, the party decided to leave town despite Zook’s plea to Whren that she stay with him and join his troupe as a permanent member. And that was that. Tilo teleported the group to a spot about 85 miles north of Throdenoth, somewhere near the Saben Monastery. From there the group journeyed overland for about a week until they reached the southern reaches of the North Hills.

Somewhere in those hills awaits Prince Hoondaarh. Somewhere behind you lies the Lum the Relentless. Who knows what the future may hold.

2,813 for 9th level PCs
3,467 for the 8th level PC (Whren)

Halfling Logic (by Post Festum)

During the first evening of his return to Throdenoth, after the discussion about where to proceed next had run its course, Tilo retired early and could be seen swiftly scribbling into his journal.

On Differing Abilities

It is ancient custom to suppose that all creatures of our world can be compared across six essential traits or attributes - Strength, Intelligence, Dexterity, Wisdom, Constitution, and Charisma. And while there is certainly much that can be criticized in any attempt to wholely reduce the diversity and range of existing creatures to simple categories, there is also, undeniably, a wisdom to this approach.

Our world's diversity expresses itself through each of these characteristics, creating the wide array of differing personalities and skill combinations we call "class" primarily through relative adjustments between these many different abilities. No wonder, then, that differing classes tend to see their particular ability gifts as THE most important ability and their weaknesses as THE least important or valuable. Is there a way to answer this age-old question that gets beyond parochial self-interest and the tendency to think that what you are is the best there is? What ability is really the most valuable? And, by extension, which class is the most able?

Consider as a possible candidate the choice of barbarians and fighters and monks and paladins - pure strength. Of course, more is meant by strength than simple brute force. On the contrary, those who are fleet and skilled at scaling cliffs we properly call "strong climbers" as well, as do we refer to the stoutest of swimmers. "She is a strong swimmer" or a "strong climber" are not an accident of speech - they are references to the key if general ability of muscle and physical frame to produce acts of great power. Such power might strike us as a perfect candidate for the most valuable ability, for countless stories are told of those men both great and small who devote their lives to the pursuit of such power for what seems like no other reason than its mere possession.

If it were possible to value power for its own sake, than the strong would have the right to call themselves best. But, alas, although we can indeed place the words "power valued for its own sake" in order next to each other, this doesn't guarantee that what we are saying has sense and meaning. Try to conceive for yourself of a creature who truly desires power for nothing but its intrinsic qualities...Just of what can you conceive? In all cases strength and power serve some other goal or some other master beyond themselves. Those whom we most often claim to desire strength for its own sake can be more accurately said to desire it for the pleasure it provides them or the satisfaction they enjoy at its enactment. But the power to enjoy or have enjoyable experiences are far from intrinsic to the ability of strength. It seems, then, that just as we cannot truthfully conceive of a circular tower constructed in the shape of a square (because it both a physical as well as a conceptual impossibility), so too our inability to conceive of power and strength being valuable without reference to some other end or object must mean that such a state of affairs cannot exist, the grand poetry of the bards not withstanding.

On close examination it becomes clear that what has been said above about strength equally applies to all other abilities as well. For of what good is charisma or dexterity except in what they can do for the charismatic and the quick? And it is always possible to imagine situations in which each distinct ability can become a weakness or problem for its wielder. So, strengh is valuable when its obejct or goal is valued and strengh is not valuable when its purpose is not. Constitution is valuable when stamina and long-life are desirable and not when they are not.

There is one exception to this infinite regress of purposes and values. The wide scope of abilities we broadly label 'inteliigence'. There is indeed much that intelligence is good or valuable for, but what I have in mind is the more basic point that intelligence alone is a prerequisite for valuing at all. Without intelligence, no purpose, no goal, no master is worth serving, for to have worth at all it must be valuable to a someone - that is, a being who can understand themselves as existing over time and as possessing desires in the first place. And this basic capacity or ability is none other than what we call intelligence. Intelligence makes valuation possible as it is the very source of value itself.

At this point Tilo broke off from his furious scribbling, as he realized that his goal of self-clarification had been accomplished. If intelligence really is the source of all value, then surely it followed that creatures of higher intelligence have a rightful claim to being more valuable than their lessers. Put in another way - Why aren't more intelligent creatures simply worth more than others? Tilo shudders at the next thought that follows inextricably from the first: Under what conditions would it be acceptable and logical to sacrifice creatures of lesser intelligence, including his companions, to save the greater minds of the party?

As Tilo's intelligence grows, a chasm has begun to widen between he and his fellows, and he knows it. He realizes that he is committed to the Heros of Guad Hill, despite the cynical conclusion he just reached. There were many reasons why he was happily willing to continue accepting an equal partnership in the group as opposed to seizing its reigns for his own ends. Most centrally of which, the bond of true friendship that tied him to the surviving original members of the group - Aeschere, Whren and Ardyth - the four remaining planks of a ship that has been rebuilt all about them. But he fears that upon reaching the conclusion that it is only logical that the intelligent have more right to life than the lessers, he has succeeded only in producing an elixir of mind so corrosive that he will never be able to contain it and that, even more, it is bound to dissolve all attempts to constrain it, including all ties that might try to bind it.

Campaign Update #20 (by Ironbeard)

The night’s events opened with the party encamped in the shadow of an ancient iron fortress on the bleached, scorched plains of Pazunia, a perpetual blood red sun hanging overhead in a copper green sky. Heaps of corpses and carrion lay strewn across the battlefield and were heaped at the foot of the fortress’s rusted yet formidable walls.

The PCs were approached by a mysterious demon, wreathed in continual flames with tattered skeletal wings, who emerged from the iron edifice. He suggested that he would allow the party to use the inter-dimensional portal within the fortress if they would assist him by killing another demon, an enemy who had been dispatched by an unnamed adversary to make a final assault on the fortress. Reluctantly, the PCs agreed.

The battle did not go well. The demon, a towering twenty foot tall blue skinned monstrosity shod in iron with cloven hooves and horrific horns, dominated the PCs and would have utterly annihilated them had it not openly disdained fighting such an inferior foe and left the field of battle. The demon forced its way into the fortress and, intent on fulfilling its mission, began to wreak havoc within.

Left with few options, the PCS (Aeschere, Ardyth, and Elizar) rested for a day and then entered the fortress through its now ruined and blasted portal to re-engage their enemy. The second encounter did not go better than the first. In fact, it went worse. The PCs fought a desperate fight, but when all was said and done, Elizar was slain, gored and impaled on the fiend’s wicked horns and then trampled to a bloody pulp beneath its hooves. Ardyth was mortally wounded and would have died as well were it not for the valiant efforts of Aeschere who, still severely weakened from an earlier encounter with a Chasme, managed to drag him at the very last second through the inter-planar portal. Unfortunately, Ardyth beloved and prized weapons, the scimitars Dreamstealer and Nightrazor, were left behind in the fortress.

Nevertheless, it was a dramatic moment—Aeschere and Ardyth barely crossing through the mortal as the towering fiend bore down on them, its glaring red eyes filled with lethal hate, its horns spattered and smeared with gore, its hooves stained red by Elizar’s entrails.

After arriving home, the PCs reunited with Whren the rest of Zook’s troupe. Needless to say, it was a welcome homecoming, though one tinged by sorrow. Everyone, especially Isa, mourned the death of Quarian, the elven ranger who never made it back home.

The next day, after running some errands, Aeschere and Whren went to the temple of Tiamat, having been summoned there by Ishtuk, priestess of the Five Headed Queen. There they learned that the priestess had indeed learned of the party’s identity and that a writ of outlawry had been issued for them in the names of Hennix, Earl of Tun, and Baron Malifop of Charir, the father of Sir Gar the Bloody. Ishtuk, however, gave no indication that she intended to act upon the writ, claiming that your party had been useful for her purposes and that she may yet have further uses for you.

This is where we left off. Whren is still suffering under a terrible curse and is still possessed by the Demon Belphagora. The Chalice of Eluriand is still unsecured. Where do we go next?

392 xp each for Aeschere and Ardyth

The Berserker Rages

Suddenly all the music, raucous laughter and dancing stopped. At the bar was a large, burly, very angry looking Half Orc with a very bad attitude. Strangely he was holding what looked like a pile of lumber in his hands. "Bar Keep, your sign got busted up. Funny how that happened after my fist hit it. I guess they don't make signs like they usta. I wonder if that would happen to yer face" With that the Bugbears guarding the Pikeman's Revenge jumped into action. Krusk felt a sudden snapping of a wooden club over his skull. It did nothing but cause wood shards to fly everywhere. Krusk got that old familiar feeling coursing through his veins again... the feeling that got him through so many battles. Hard to describe what he felt at that moment. A low buzz started somewhere behind his brow, his whole body began to quiver. No thats not it, more like resonate. Then his muscles started to contract, his eyes first became slit like then opened wide. A low guttural roar started somewhere deep inside him then seemed to explode from his chest. He reached a level of pure action. The trap sprang, the tensed muscles erupted and the seven bug bears that seemed to pounce on him just as suddenly were airborne and slammed into the far wall of the bar. They settled into a heap. From out of nowhere more and more Bugbears came. The result was always the same. Yes Krusk was raging again. The Euphoria was building... Krusk lived for the opioid like rush that he felt at these times in battle. A delerium of pure destruction overcame him as furniture, bodies and glass all melded into a most unusual form of projectiles. He was having such a good time that he forgot to draw his greatax. Just as well he didn't even need it at times such as this. Minutes passed and the rage coninued. The Bartender hide his rather portly hide under the bar.

From the corner of the great room a rather strange group consisting of a halfling wizard, a rather seductive gnome and a human warrior of sorts watched the action, taking great care not to get hit by various pieces of shapnel and not to upend their tankards. They appeared to observe the beserker's behavior in a rather approving manner yet they tried to stay out of the fracas. A nod of approval here, a wink to a member of the party there, and the occasional semi hidden smile of knowing that they could use a creature like this in their adventuring party. Especially since the recent lose of their ranger companion. Yes a beserker would add more than little muscle as well as some woodsman skill that they sorely needed if they were to accomplish their mission.

Finally the endless stream of airborne bodies ended, The bar was totally quiet... Except for the booming laughter of the Half Orc. "So bar keep, any thoughts as to what yer new sign is gonna be?? Mebbe "The Flying BugBear". Why don't ya serve me up a tankard of yer finest ale. Then ya can tally up the damages to the furniture and we'll call it even. A good fight always puts me in a good mood". The bartender stared in utter disbelief for he was sure his life would end this evening. Seems that the beast was ready to forget the insult on the sign of the "Pikeman's Revenge."

Out of the corner of his eye Krusk spotted the strange group in the Great Room. He was rather suprised that the group showed no fear, no weapons drawn, nothing. They just sat calmly amidst the turmoil drawing on their tankards. He noticed the looks they were giving each other and swaggered over to their table. What are ya fellas, and ahem lady looking at... Ya want a little of what the bugbears got. I am always looking to oblige. With that the warriorlike fellow said, "Actually my friend we have a proposition for you..."

From the street the laughing sound was at once contagious and fearful in its depth; followed by "Barkeep ale for what is left of the house, tonight all hands drink on Krusk's coin" The music, dancing and raucous laughter began anew.

Campaign Update #19. New Year's in Hell (by Ironbeard)

Campaign Time: December 8 - January 4 1051-52 HR

Last session was literally a journey through hell. The Heroes of Gwudd Hill began the night with a twenty day journey across Thanatos’s Plains of Hunger, a journey ably led by the newcomer to the party, Elizar a half vampire ranger. Along the way, they encountered a Solamith who they dispatched without too much difficulty.
Eventually, they arrived at the City of Straight Curves, a gloomy and haunted metropolis on the banks of the river Styx. They hoped to meet the wizard Beleg, a mortal who Elizar had heard had the power to return the party to the Prime material plane. Unfortunately, the rumor proved to be false. The city was desolate, largely abandoned and inhabited by phantoms,demons, and dispirited mortals.

The party thus decide on a new course of action. They learned from a doomed mortal that they met that if passage down the river Styx could be purchased from a Yugoloth ferryman, it would be possible to travel to Pazunia, the first and topmost layer of the abyss, and find a gateway home. This is precisely what they did. The ferryman provided them with directions to an ancient fortress that supposedly contained just such a portal. According to this outsider, a savage battle had recently been fought at this location and the fortresses defense should be considerably weakened.
After traveling across the parched and withered landscape of Pazunia and fighting a desperate battle with a Chasme, the PCs arrived at the fortress. There, before its ancient iron walls, on a plain littered with the carnage and carrion of recent battle, the party fought a pitched battle with two Arrow Demons who almost killed them. Fortunately, they prevailed and managed to secure entrance into the fell pit of evil.

That is where we left off. Who knows what further evil may lie within? Could you be on the verge of finding your way home or will this hope elude your grasp yet again?

3,166 xp per PC

The Free and Good Life of Milo Greenbottle (by Post Festum)

Not being a dull halfling, Tilo has made note of late of the peculiar predilection of his compatriots to stand stout as oaks in battle, but to sneak off into the night aping little innocent goats whenever the opportunity for sex presented itself. To be sure, he did not begrudge his compatriots their desires which are seemingly induced by the lateness of the day. But still, as one by one his battle-tested friends have succumbed to the presence of even the slightest erotic temptation, Tilo cannot help but frown a very modest disapproval.

But his slight chagrin at his friends behavior is tempered by his recognition of his own prejudice. This sort of self-analysis seems to be happening more and more in recent days as Tilo has found his Intelligence to have increased noticeably of late. He is biased, to be sure, when it comes to the matters of the heart and body, and he knows it. And as he has done many times before, Tilo turns to the Portia Halfling to write down the heart of the matter. What follows is a short excerpt from his entry entitled: "The Free and Good Life of Milo Greenbottle" written late in the evenings during the party's first nights in Thanatos.

Milo Greenbottle was the first-born halfing twin of Guppa and Cora of the Greenbottle clan of Southwaite, formerly of the Bucket Halfing Train. Milo was, by all accounts, a philosopher and lover of life, old well beyond his years. He was also a romantic, who believed that true love would only be known by those who willingly and completely gave themselves over it. Above all, Milo believed in the halfing idea of The Good Life - that there exists an objective answer to the question - How best to live one's life? - that applied universally to all intelligent creatures, no matter the species, as long as they were of good or neutral alignment.

Milo had many friends and a great many more who wanted to be his friend. In light of his naturally persuasive and amiable way, Milo was able to talk openly to his friends about his views on love, life, and real happiness without sounding the least bit silly or sanctimonious (not an easy feat to accomplish, believe me). From the time he was old enough to think clearly, Milo set about finding answers in life and, talking to anyone friendly soul who would care to listen. And while very few were ever persuaded by Milo's own romantic views, almost without exception they liked him even more than they did before, for Milo had an inexplicable way of simply making other people happy with his presence. Consequently he wrote and performed many songs and composed and recited many poems for a growing public following.

According to Milo Greenbottle, being free and happy amount to doing what one wants out of life. To deny yourself an action or accomplishment, a conversation or an adventure, out of fear or concern was to shackle oneself in a most unfortunate way. "Intelligent life forms, and halflings in particular, are each born free. But everywhere they enslave themselves," Milo would often pronounce. "The halfing idea of the splendis dior" -- the good life -- "can only be won by forever overcoming any self-imposed barrier to achievement and the satisfaction of desire. The monks, it is widely known, seek the abolition of desire. But who could ever call any monk both free and happy? No, aching lack and burn of desire is to be overcome, but by following a path of satiety, not abolition which would have us be more dead than alive."

By his writings and humble speaking fees, Milo made a considerable living for himself in Southwaite. By age 21, an incredibly young age for halfings, barely considered older than a child, Milo Greenbottle had his name listed in the town's Registry of the Wise by popular acclaim, earning him a token position on the Southwaite Business Council. As his reputation for insight and wisdom grew, Milo's songs and common-language novels became increasingly must-haves in the wealthy and intelligent circles of Southwaite. And as his fame and fortune expanded, he was publicly questioned to expand his insights about the full satisfaction of desire, freedom, and happiness.

For example, on one occasion, the Natural Philosopher's Guild of Southwaite invited Milo to answer questions put to him by Headmaster Axel of The Marshall School. Milo took the stage alone, in the shiniest of silk pantaloons and blouse colored red and white respectively, and elaborated thusly:

"But surely you cannot be claiming that happiness and caprice are the same thing," asked Axel, "For to conflate freedom with foolishly doing what you want, and happiness with a life lead following freedom of this sort, is to equate the highest of virtues with the lowliest pile of garbage." He continued to stand at his podium from the floor of the auditorium, leaving Milo to sit alone onstage and deliver his answer.

"Freedom is doing what you want, this thesis I will defend," responded Milo slowly and deliberately. He looked over the audience as a whole as he continued. "But those of you who have never sang my songs in a tavern amongst comrades, or who have never read my treatises but who have rather scoffed at them for their 'popularity', will no doubt have missed my repeated explanation that what we truly and most deeply want is love."

"Let me explain with a parable of sorts," continued Milo with a mesmerizing, almost sing-song delivery. "Imagine if the world and our lives in it were one incredibly complex game being played out by player-gods. Imagine further that their is one god above all the others who is responsible for crafting our world and for creating the playground for the other, lesser divinities. Each lesser god is in control of one small piece of our world, but the greater master divinity is left to oversee and to maintain the joviality of the game."

"If you can imagine such a possibility, then imagine one more wrinkle. Imagine that the great master god creates scripts or stories into which our individuals lives and fortunes are fit and our decisions channeled. Our every adventure, down to the most banal detail, handcrafted and set in stone or sluice, whatever metaphor you prefer. Our every choice, chosen for us, excepting all but the smallest detail. Would this...could this be a world of freedom for creatures such as you and me? My answer is an eternally resounding 'No' and I challenge anyone to speak against it. To those who feel that a world in which our lives are games taken out of our control, must assuredly agree with me that being free means being able to do what you want, not what the great master in the sky plans."

Axel approached his podium. "Fine. Freedom is doing what you want. But what of happiness? Why would we think that freedom so conceived will yield the splendis dior - as your folk are want to call it? Whither the link between freedom and real happiness? Do enlighten us, young sir. And, if you would, do not content yourself to simply chide myself and learned colleagues for not having sufficiently digested your writings. But tell us plainly: Why does doing what you want guarantee you will be happy?"

"Because when we are truly free we will always seek to choose that which we love," answered Milo flatly. "You wise men of Southwaite mock me when you call me learned or astute. The only truth I can share with you that has the full confidence of my intellect is that intelligent creatures always knowing choose what they love. No doubt this love can take a variety of forms - from the love of destroying orcs or the unfortunate undead, to the love of a mother for her child, but in all cases when the results of their choices are made clear to them, creatures such as you and me choose love."

Milo stood and held out his arms in an open embrace of the crowd, his philosophical sermon coming to a close. "Freedom to do what you want, as I have taught, emphasizes the wanting over the doing, and rightly so. Imagine once again our world is a game played by divinities. But, whereas before the great master god controlled our fortunes and the twists and turns of our lives, now the lesser gods choose to inhabit our individual lives, getting to truly know us, our quirks, perversions and deep hopes. Now when they act and when they choose, these lesser gods choose only from our point of view. So that when we act their exists a parallel, pre-established harmony between what we would choose if we were in control and what we do in fact choose. Under such a scenario we are just as good as free. And I for one would be happy to embrace this parable if it turned out to be the truth of the universe, for if they truly know us, then the lesser gods would have no choice but to move us closer and closer to that which we love. What we call the good or happy life is just another name for this motion."

The deep irony of Milo's speech that night, unknown at the time to all but his closet of kin, was that Milo had lived this philosophy of freedom-as-satiety and love. And it proved to be his undoing. For Milo's life-long love had been Caistina Housewell who became through marriage the Lady Caistina, wife of the Lord of the Ham. The love story of Caistina and Milo unfolded time and time again from their earliest romantic years. And yet, given the distance that class and family had placed between them from the start, neither could ever find a way to be totally and completely for the other at the same time. And yet, true to his creed, Milo would never let go of Caistina, even after she became the wife of another halfling. Secret indiscretion followed upon secret indiscretion, and the affairs of Milo and Caistina rose to the level of public scandal on more than one occasion, with accusations of false paternity and criminal cuckolding splashed across the town's weekly gossip leaflets. And still Milo would not give up his love for Caistina.

It came as a great shock to Milo's parents, but to hardly anyone else, when his bloated body washed against the docks very early one morning during his 22nd year. And the Lady Caistina stayed out of public view for nearly six months until the failure of the local magistrate to discover the cause of his untimely death was all but forgotten.

Tilo concluded the entry at this point, leaving the moral of his own retelling unstated, but, he hoped, obvious. Freedom and happiness cannot be just about doing what you want when what you want is what you love, Tilo thought. Happiness and freedom are more about learning to love what you have and get. This is a deep wisdom that he made a mental note to explore in more detail later.

But for now he was content in his thought that where Milo had cut his own life short in his failure to recognize that to some love is given, but to others a different destiny awaits, he himself would never make such a mistake. Even if there was the great game in the sky that spun out our world like a long, epic poem or song, wouldn't that be in many ways preferable to the meaningless pain, sorrow, suffering and death that surrounds all those Tilo knows? No amount of making your own choices would remove this stain of meaninglessness. What good is the ability to do anything if no thing more than any other thing is exceptional, curious, begs close exploration or investigation, or is, in short, worth doing? "No, if we must be the playthings of gods, give me a true great master story-teller god," Tilo said to himself as he gently dried the ink of his latest entry. "If their tales be finely crafted enough, filled with opportunities to find excitement, intrigue, and to make yourself a hero and to show your mettle, then I prefer a divine story to infinite choices."

Campaign Update #18 (by Ironbeard)

I think we can all agree that last session saw things go in several unexpected directions.

No sooner had the Heroes of Gwudd Hill been left on the Plane of Thanatos by Afa, Whren Briarwhisper managed a daring and unconventional escape. She did so by summoning a Succubus name Belphagora to her cell and making a fiendish pact. Belphagora agreed to open the door to Whren’s prison, but only on the condition that the gnome rogue allow the demon whore to possess her. While this tactic initially struck me as extremely surprising, especially given Whren’s normally cautious nature, the move proved to be extremely wise.

Meanwhile, the rest of the party moved across the Plains of Hunger on Thanatos with little problem to speak of. For the most part, they managed to evade the planes resident dangers, not the least of which are the enormous hordes of zombies that continually wander across the lifeless landscape.

Things went well until Quarian fell in valiant battle against a Cloud Giant Skeleton at the base of Baragh’s tower. I’m sure that we will all remember Quarian in our own ways. For me, it was always the paradoxical tension between his dark cynicism and his lusty embrace of life that made the character so interesting. I will miss him.

Once within the tower, the PCs made surprisingly quick work of Baragh the Pitiless and successfully recovered that Rubric of Akham. The trip back to the rendezvous point with Afa proved more challenging, however. Without Quarian (a ranger of course) to guide them, our heroes were unable to find the point at which Afa was supposed to meet them to return to the Prime Material Plane and were thus left stranded on Thanatos.

Fortunately, in the course of their travels they made the acquaintance of one Elizar, a half vampire mortal who had traveled to the Abyss in search of a cure for his seemingly unquenchable bloodlust, a quest that he had failed in apparently. Elizar claims that he has heard rumors of a possible way back to the prime material plane however. A mortal wizard is rumored to reside in a place called the City of Straight Curves that lies about one month’s journey to the west of your current position. This wizard supposedly can arrange transport of mortals back to their home planes, for a fee of course.

At this point it should be clear of course that, had not Whren managed to escape from Afa’s clutches, she would have been sacrificed after her comrades failed to meet Afa at the rendezvous point. Thus, while Whren’s strategy is certainly fraught with danger and will certainly have consequences, it did undoubtedly save her life. Ah those clever gnomes. How can you not love them?


Aeschere lay awake in the darkness of Tranna's tent, his rough fingers trailing absent-mindedly over the pale curve of her hip, the steady whisper of her breath the only sound in the leaden silence. The nights in Northwaite, where he had spent many nights, and Farholme, where he had spent only a few, had not been so silent. In those other cities, there had been the incessant yapping of dogs, the occasional slur of voices in the distance, the squawl of feral tomcats, fragments of muffled conversation. Here, in Throdenoth, there was nothing. When darkness fell, the city seemed to draw into itself, to tense, to wait. It was a silence pregnant with menace.

It was Tranna's pain that had drawn him to her, drawn him out of that purgatory of despair and hatred that Bronwyn's death had thrust him into. As the party fled up the stairs to the roof, Aeschere had looked down, and that image of Brownyn's savaged body still confronted him every time he closed his eyes: she was nearly hacked in two, a jagged rib jutting crookedly from her back, a thick trail of blood and viscera splashed across the stone flags. Though he had grown to care for her deeply as a comrade and friend, he had not loved Bronwyn in the same way he had come to love Tranna. To love someone so zealous would have meant giving up too much of himself, and as beautiful as she was, Aeschere had not been willing to do that. Still, he admired her greatly, and found himself striving to please and impress her, despite his efforts to remain aloof. Not only that, but her very ideals became increasingly appealing, and after time, he ceased to question them.

After she died, those ideals seemed utterly meaningless. That a kind and loving god such as Heironeous could allow such widespread evil and such utter misery as that found in the Fallen Lands, Aeschere could accept while Brownyn lived, for her very existence offered some hope of justice and salvation. When she was gone, however, so was that hope. The pervasive evil of Blixt - of all the world save the Hrothgar, so far as Aeschere knew - seemed to roll in on him like a sickening fog and smother him with hopelessness. And so he had fought back with the only thing he had ever been able to trust: his bow. True, his murder of those two mongrelfolk had won him and his comrades entrance to the monastery, but there were certainly other ways. Aeschere had killed them because they were part of this vile land, and he could feel nothing but hatred toward them. He had laughed out loud when they fell so easily.

The other image that Aeschere could not forget, however, was of Tranna huddled by the dying fire in her threadbare cloak, her words dissolving into clouds of breath in the cold autumn night. He had taken little notice of the quiet tatterdemalion who shared his camp until she told her story that night. As he listened to her speak, he was choked him with a rush of emotion that he was still unable to sort out. How could he let her sit there and shiver when he had a purse full of gold? He wanted to not only make her warm, but to assuage her pain, to help her heal. The next day, after he bought her a new cloak and saw the gratitude swell in her eyes, the evil seemed to draw back a breath.

He hadn't intended to bed Tranna that night, not so much because he didn't want to, but because he had little faith in his own meager charms and was deeply afraid of pushing her away with a clumsy attempt at romance. Still, it happened, perhaps because Tranna seemed to quietly encourage his overtures, first by moving closer to him and resting her head on his shoulder, and finally by pressing her finger to his lips and smiling when he began stammering about her beauty and his feelings for her.

He had never experienced anything quite like the passion that he felt as she knelt before him and slowly removed her tattered kirtle and ran her hands across his chest, her small, freckled breasts luminesced in the blue haze of moonlight seeping through the tent fabric. He should have lain there and allowed her to make love to him, but when her long her hair spilled over him as she teased his ears and neck with her lips, when her soft nipples brushed across his belly as she slid between his legs and took him in her mouth, he was siezed with such a violent rush of want that he siezed Tranna by her shoulders, pressed her onto her back, and clumsily mounted her, thrusting and groping until he finally penetrated the fullness of warmth and wet within her.

How long he hunched over her, thrashing and grunting clumsily, he didn't know, but when he looked into her face, he saw not passion or love, but pain and sorrow. Tranna's eyes were wet with tears, her lips drawn, quivering. Aeschere pulled away, muttered an awkward apology. Tranna smiled weakly, turned away and pulled her blanket around her.

A sickening wave of self-hatred rose into Aeschere's throat. For untold years, Tranna had been used by that vile half-dragon, and had suffered abuses that he dared not even imagine. He had wanted to show her tenderness, yet his love had become violence, and he had become merely one more abuser in a life that had already known far too much pain and debasement. How could that have happened? Had the violence and bloodshed that his life as a warrior required turned him savage? He wanted to run from her tent cursing himself, scream into the naked night and never return. Instead, he lay down next to Tranna, wrapped his arms around her, and closed his eyes.

He awoke to her warm breath in his ear, the chill of her fingers running up his thigh and between his legs. This time, he simply looked into her eyes, brushed his fingers across her cheek, and kissed her. He lay there as she straddled him, reached between her thighs and guided him inside her. His fingers roamed her body as she held his face in her hands and kissed him, her tongue twining with his, her long breaths warm on the cockles of his neck. As he cupped her buttocks in his hands and pulled her tighter against him, she arched her back and sighed, a single, liquid syllable stretching itself from her lips. He slid his hands up the curve of her hips, but as his fingers strayed across the small of her back, she seized his hands and twined her fingers in his. She moved atop him effortlessly, her pale skin refulgent in the dim light. Their breaths quickened. She bent over and kissed him, her tongue probing wildly in his mouth, her hips driving against him. Aeschere felt as if he were falling from a dizzying height, spinning and freefalling. Tranna drove her fingers into Aeschere's chest and whispered his name as she tightened and throbbed around him. After a moment, she slid off of him and lay down next to him.

Tranna slept but Aeschere did not. A wind rose out of the west, riffling the tent canvas, driving away the uneasy silence. Tranna turned in her sleep, and as aeschere reached down to pull the blanket back over her, he saw her naked back in the wan light. It was ridged with scars. Had the half-dragon whipped her because he was displeased, Aeschere wondered, or because it pleased him to torment her? Yet she had survived it. Behind her quiet demeanor was a strength unguessed at. He ran his fingers through her hair, and pulled her close to him. "I love you, Tranna," he whispered.

Tranna sighed quietly in her sleep.

Descent into Hell (by Camp 17)

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrghhhhh. Horrible agonizing pain, blood pooled about me. What, what is this?? My wrists, these puncture marks, my eyes. The light hurts. OH OH the agony what has happened? Uggh my neck, so sore so painful, so weak. Let me feel it with my hands… Wait. What is this wound??

“Take it slow brother elf; ye have been on a rather harrowing adventure my friend.” Friend?? The voice sounds familiar, yet distant. "Peace upon thee Quarian, Tis I, Aschere."

With the realization that he is with his compatriot Quarian begins to come back to consciousness. Slowly his thoughts clear, the pain eases. However the weakness is profound. As he begins to remember he tells the tale more to himself than to his party. Trying to make sense of the insanity.

Quarian recalls the sense of hopelessness, the dread, the anger. Bound in a devilish stitching ... like a suckling pig for the roasting. Try as he might he could not free himself from the fiendish bonds. He almost had the gnome free, two more slices and the cursed work would have been undone. Oh why had he not prepared the Wall of Wind spell? The worst of it was the complete loss of sight and hearing. He had a sense of being carried somewhere and being dumped on the ground like a sack of turnips. Until…

The feeling of cold steel against his throat. So this was to be it then. Countless battles fought, moments of terror and moments of euphoria. Years of finely honed swordsmanship. To meet such an ignominious end slaughtered like a goat on the alter. There was a moment of screaming searing pain and then … nothing absolutely nothing. A black void. Darker than the deepest night. No senses at all. Awareness almost completely gone, yet Quarian still had a sense of himself as some entity, exactly what he could not say.

As quickly as the void enveloped him it was gone. Simple gone. To be replaced with a heightened sense of awareness of being. All his senses were overwhelmed. Most unnerving were the sounds. A horrible cacophony of screams moans and tormented insane laughter. Above it all Quarian hears loud snarling sounds, the snapping of jaws and growls. There is also the sound of rushing water. NO worse than rushing. A raging torrent.

Suddenly Quarian is aware of his sense of smell… it nearly overtakes him. A vile rotting sulfurous smell worse than any dung heap. He fights off the urge to wretch.

His vision clears slowly. The sight before him is so horrid he believes it may be an illusion, a leftover from the fugue of his passing over. Yes, Quarian is aware that he is dead. Hmmmmm Simple as that … dead. Somehow he thought it would be more dramatic. More climactic. Other than that moment of absolute nothingness it was as simple as walking thru a doorway. Suddenly the snapping of jaws and a putrid breathe brings Quarian out of his thoughts. Before him is a massive beast, a three headed dog, snarling drooling fangs, long claws and a spiked tail. The beast is about 6 feet tall, thick of chest. Evil emanates from its very soul. It is guarding an impassible violent river. The river Styx; separator of the dead and the living. Yes Quarian had indeed passed over.

Despite his heightened sense of hearing, smell and vision. Quarian was totally at a loss for direction. He found himself unable to discern direction. He could tell up from down but that was it. No East or West, No North or South. Quarian was robbed of his greatest and most cherished skill… His ability to range. This realization is devastating. He has no clue as to where to go, how to travel, how to explore. He may as well have been blind and deaf.

Out of the murk and confusion a woman approaches. She is veiled and cloaked in black. Her voice is haughty, condescending, insulting. Yet somehow familiar.

“Oh great warrior, dosth thou not know thy way??? What hast happened to the mighty Wild Elf?? Oh how the mighty have fallen.” Quarian responds in a booming yet raspy voice that echos in his mind, “Woman, declare thy self. Who arth thou?” She responds only with laughter, insane mirthless laughter. Again out of the murk another figure approaches. A spectral visage of a man, likewise a Wild Elf. The figure embraces the woman as her cloak falls to the floor revealing her nakedness. He kisses her with a devilishly forked and sinuous tongue penetrating her waiting and desirous mouth.

Quarian is beyond understanding and has no time to figure out the scene playing out in front of him for almost at the same instant the two figures appeared flames erupted from the ground around him. The sound of war drums beat around him and hordes upon hordes of Orcs crest the surrounding hills and attack Quarian.

Suddenly Quarian feels a searing pain in his right hand. Quarian senses that the sword he is holding starts to vibrate and emanate a white hot glow. The sword appears to scream for the blood of the Orcs. VengLäk comes to life Quarian’s fog lifts completely. All is made manifest.

Mercilessly murdered by the henchmen of the Demon Bitch. Throat slit while unable to defend himself. Like a pig to the slaughter. Cast into the underdark for the sin of slaying his beloved Vadania Siannodel in a similar fashion. Now forced to witness the treasonous couple for all eternity. Forced to fight the spawn of the darkone beyond the end of time.

Quarian screams in a rage, “then let it be so.” He pushes back the agony of his understanding and wielding VengLäk (or is it wielding him?)throws himself into battle against the Orcs. The blade thrums and chants in his hands. He is awash in the blood of Orcs… a baptism of Hell and Evil. He feels no exhaustion, no hatred, no anger, no exhilaration of battle. Quarian is machinelike in the efficiency of cleaving Orc skulls. Yet the entire time he is fully aware of the unholy copulation of his beloved and her lover in front of him. No matter what direction he turns in battle there she is; her legs spread and wrapped around the bastard in innumerable positions and forms. The guttural sounds of the Orcs, the crushing of bone, the splash of blood, the screams of orgasm all blending into a vile hellish opera. Worst of all is the continued laughter of the traitorous bitch.

The Laughter brings a new level of awareness to Quarian. Punishment?? An eternity of fighting Orcs? An Eternity of guilt over killing a bastard adulterer and a whore betrothed?? Quarian yells out, “Fuck the bitch, she is not worth my soul.”

As Quarian yells out his curse he stops swinging VengLäk. The blade grows cold and in one motion he thrusts it into the ground in front of him and takes to his knee. The throng of Orcs falls on him. Suddenly there is a calm and a peace that descends upon Quarian; he is finally free of his guilt.

Almost at the same instant there is a frigid white light and a wracking pain courses through Quarian’s body, he shudders uncontrollably. The light coruscates from around and within him almost with a life of its own. Again Quarian looses all prospective of direction, of self, all sense of feeling. There is an indescribable combustion of sound and at the same time total quiet. A clashing of light and dark, soft and hard, spirit and material seeming to battle in his body and in his skull. Real and unreal, dimensions twisted…

Then nothing but a cold wet dungeon floor beneath him; and a brother Grugash kneeling in front of him obviously relieved and troubled at the same time.

Campaign Update #17 (by Ironbeard)

Campaign Time: November 12, 1051 HR

Last session was truly a night of surprises. Not long after entering the Temple of Demogorgon via a secret entrance and discovering what appeared to be a den of true sexual perversion your party was beset by a pair of Bar-Lgura. From that point on the evening was a mixture of successes and, at least temporary defeats. While Ardyth, Tilo, and Aeschere pressed onward and managed to penetrate to the inner shrine of the facility, Whren and Quarian were beset by a Broodswarm, stitched up by its horrid black threads and taken prisoner.

When the rest of you finally confronted Afa the evil cleric in charge of the temple, she confronted yowith a grim and difficult decision: either surrender unconditionally or she would execute Whren and Quarian. Perhaps thinking she was bluffing, or perhaps believing you could still save your comrades,you elected to fight. This resulted in the tragic death of Quarian who, lying helplessly bound and stitched, had his throat ripped out by a Wight. At this point, you opted to acquiesce to Afa’s demands.

Once captured though, you were not sacrificed to Demogorgon the self styled Lord of demons, but rather were presented with an intriguing offer from Afa. Though you had done great damage to her temple and had slain several of her minions, she recognized your formidable martial prowess and devised a better use for you. She proposed that she would raise Quarian from the dead and grant you your ultimate release if you agreed to undertake a mission for her on Thanatos, the one hundred and thirteenth layer of the abyss, home of Orcus and domain of the undead. She wished you recover a certain object, a book entitled the Rubric of Akham that was owned by Bahragh the Pitiless, a sorcerer and worshiper of Orcus who lived over a millennium ago and who was granted undead status upon his death as a reward for his service to the evil demon lord. Afa reckons that Bahragh still has the Rubric of Akham in his possession where he resides as a vampire on Thanatos. Afa believes that if she can recover the rare tome and kill a minor servant of a rival demon lord she can increase her own powers and raise her status in the cult of Demogorgon. She believes that you will be the perfect instrument to help her accomplish this purpose.

Reluctanstly you agreed, but Afa, in order to insure your cooperation required that a hostage remain behind. Whren Briarwhisper, our plucky and beloved gnome rogue agreed to fulfill this role.

Thus the evening ended with you standing on the bleak, frostrimmed Plains of Hunger, one of the abyss’s vastest and most inhospitable wastelands. Above you burns an enormous full moon, filling the sky with an unnatural glow. Before you, in the distance and barely perceptible on the horizon lie the Final Hills, your destination. Somewhere in those hills awaits Bahragh, the vampiric sorcerer and key to your salvation.

XP Awarded:

0 for Quarian as he died and had to be resurrected

1,500 for Ardyth, Aeschere and Whren

1,925 for Tilo

Many thanks, dear friends... (by Whren)

I would like to extend my warmest gratitude to my brave comrades, who selflessly partook of this mission to free me from the dreadful curse that has befallen me. To Quarian, who, with tremendous valor, furiously tried to free me from the wretched restraints that bound us, you have my utter respect and deepest thanks. Since it was my misfortune and, perhaps, foolishness, that caused our latest predicament, I have agreed with humbled heart to remain a captive of the Cult of Demogrogan. Dear friends, do not fear for me. I will accept the consequences of my actions, however, your wiley gnome Mistress of Plunder has a few tricks up her sleeve.

So, carry on, warriors. I will keep my eyes turned to the horizon.


Metaphysics, Magiphysics, and the Misologue, or 'Why I Hate Illusionists' by Tilo Greenbottle

Tilo Greenbottle has grown to like the gnome Zook much more than he had expected, and on many occasions over the last month Tilo has almost brought himself to explain his deep antipathy for the school of illusion with this wise old showman. But, on each of these occasions, Tilo eventually convinced himself to say nothing. He has learned over the last several years of his life that, despite his undeniable intelligence, he often seems to be unable to express himself as clearly as he'd like in conversation. Additionally, while Tilo notices the easy way in which many of his compatriots are greeted and treated even by strangers, he is always well aware that something about him tends to bring out suspicion in all those he wishes to persuade. Consequently, not being an idiot halfling, Tilo decided to express his thoughts and confusion over illusionists in a form that has become comfortable over the last several months - an essay in his growing tome Portia Halfling (The Knowing Halfling). What follows are a few excerpts of Tilo's epistemological thoughts on the subject which he would only share with his compatriots if they asked.


People often have the wrong idea about magic users in general, and evokers in particular. The popular view, at least on the Hrothgar, is that of all the schools of arcane arts, evocation and its practitioners are the most mindless and unintellectual of all magic users, deliberately choosing a school of specialization that leads to the atrophy of mind by completely emphasizing brawn over brain.

As is usual, the popular view couldn't be more mistaken. Perhaps it is true that many evoker sorcerers fit this description (hence the old mage adage that while it is not true that all evoker sorcerers are stupid, it is true that all stupid sorcerers are evokers), but such a description utterly fails to accurately characterize any magic user who has made evocation her self-conscious calling.

I, myself, once shared such a popular prejudice against evocation, although I had never once understood it as a prejudice before I met my first evokers in the Academy in Northwaite. To my total surprise, the evokers were often the most erudite and studied of all teachers and colleagues. And while all magic users understand the singular importance of growing their comprehension of the essential magical nature of reality, again and again I found the practitioners of evocation to be more committed than most to, forgive the expression, laying waste to all barriers to the powers of intelligent reason to unlock the arcane secrets locked behind reality's veil. Evokers, with their research that allows them to channel raging sluices of miasmal destruction, are committed to the view that reality had to be completely understood magically.

When you look at reality magically, magically reality looks back at you. This is the first great arcane truth.

And this philosophy, adopted completely by evokers, strives above all to keep the distinction between the magical and the mysterious. To look at reality magically is not to see the basic nature of reality as ineffable or unknowable. No, to look at reality magically means to embrace and embody a point of view as one apprehends that which is; a point of view that pierces the non-magical veil of inert matter and energy. Of course these are just words on parchment. Their full appreciation requires much training and study.

The evokers at Northwaite were insatiable scholars and students of the physics, metaphysics, and magiphysics of our world, always craving more and greater understanding. They were far from the brutish magical thugs I had always envisioned. They were even delicate and thoughtful and, above all, insatiably curious, at least when it came to their scholarship, research, and teaching. And through the course of my studies I discovered that the intellectualism and curiousity of these evokers was no accident, but intimately related to the task of casting an evocation spell from study and memory. I ultimately concluded that the specific channels of magically reality that evokers seek to open, guide and manipulate require a closer attention to the details of their inner workings on the part of the spell caster. A necromancer or diviner might possible get by successfully on some level of intuition, but for their part evokers seem to only succeed and thrive when they develop something far greater than a working knowledge of magical reality. They must strive for complete comprehension and mastery. And as I have grown in experience as a practitioner of this school, I have learned first hand the terrible importance of an evoker curbing and limiting that arcana into which he taps.

To the studied evoker, then, with greater knowlege of the magical nature of reality comes greater control. So greater knowledge is always sought, sometimes even for its own sake. If you spend any time with magic users, you will undoubtedly hear them utter the insult Misologue from time to time. To the studied evoker, Misologue is the greatest insult he can issue. Short for Misologisist, a Misologue is a hater of reason. Those who see only chaos in the cosmos are haters of reason. Those who assume that reality cannot be comprehended are haters of reason. You know a misologist because they often have to perform great feats of mental gymnastics in order to accomplish their denial of reason, and yet they abound and no shortage of examples can be produced. They deny what all magic users (and evokers in particular) know to be true - that the veins of magic that criss-cross the fabric of reality can be grasped and understood entirely, and that there is nothing ultimately mysterious or unknowable in existence.

And this is, ultimately, why I hate illusionsists. In and through their tricks, their deceptions, their slight-of-hand conjuring, they endlessly encourage skepticism toward intelligent powers of comprehension. They encourage the hatred of reason. The distrust they sow bends otherwise clear thinking beings toward panic and fear and induces attempts to flee from comprehension of the order behind what is only apparent disorder. No doubt this is not the chief or explicit aim of illusionists themselves. But of what matter is their self-
understanding when their actions serve only to strengthen the misologue? And, what is worse, illusionists, as brothers and sisters in the arcane arts, can be expected to know better than the common folk what havoc they wreck. They are all too well aware that their cosmic fakeries exist because magical reality is knowable and not shrouded in mystery. And yet they revel in their power to obfuscate and confuse and to shake the epistemic foundations of the subjects of their spells. I have never met an illusionist who I have not since learned has taken deep satisfaction in her power to reduce a being to a confused and whimpering idiot who can no longer tell fiction from reality.


It should be noted that Tilo's wholehearted embrace of the evoker dislike of the illusionist school has put him at odds with his halfling family and community. Illusionists are especially valued in halfling society, many of whom are held in extremely high esteem and are often cared for and provided for in their later years at the expense of the community as a whole.