Monday, December 12, 2016

Oh, THAT Magic Pool!

After their adventures in Renneton, Wolfgang and Gerrilynn rejoined Vulpio, the elves, and the caves below the moathouse.  Among the oddities retrieved from the mold caves, was a peculiar chime which, when struck caused previous locked doors or hidden doors to reveal themselves and open.  It proved to be equally effective on portcullises.

Opening the portcullis gave Wolfgang, Gerrilynn, and Vulpio access to several new strange rooms.  They rescued Johnny, who the prisoner of a fearsome-looking ogre.  They encountered and destroyed a dozen zombies.  And they found a trapdoor leading up to the moathouse garrisoned by Burne’s men.  This encounter could have been a disaster if Gerrilynn had not responded quickly to gently but firmly transfix the soldiers.  The party disappeared back down the trapdoor and prayed that the experience would serve to further discourage dungeon exploration by the Burne and the people of Hommelet.

Reviewing her map, Gerrilynn determined that they should return to the crypt that they had discovered earlier.  It was an expansive place, with rows and rows of vaults, many of them smashed open.  And there were ghouls.  After destroying the ghouls, Wolfbang noticed a trail of gold that led into a small hole in the wall, so small that it could be accessed only be crawling.  Smelling a rat, Wolfbang remembered what his friends had told him about their beautiful home deeper in the dungeon.  And so they crawled into the hole. . .

Gerrilynn could not make a map, but after crawling in circles for what felt like hours, the party came to a nearly vertical tunnel, slanting both up and down.  Based on everything they had heard, down seemed the right way to go.  The tunnel was long and seemed to get even narrower.  Torches were too dangerous, but Wolfgang still carried his magical light stone.  After another hour of crawling, they heard sounds—squeaking sounds.  And suddenly there were rats everywhere—scratching, nipping, squealing, but clearly running from something else.  The party let them pass by and waited for what was coming next—a greasy, stinking badger.  Wolfgang stunned it with a flash of light and then said a few words to soothe and distract it.  The badger told Wolfgang of the fantastic meal that he had just missed, but after persistent but gentle questioning answered that yes the tunnel widened further ahead and yes he would lead the way and yes he would like a treat that was even better than rats once Wolfgang had a chance to get it out of his sack.

At last the human emerged from the twisting rodent warren into a large natural cavern.  A little exploration suggested that they had discovered an entire network of caverns, but they were most intrigued by the well-finished corridor that led about fifty feet to a twelve-sided room with a dodecahedronal-domed ceiling.  There were letters on the ceiling- elvish, but backwards.  And in the middle of the room there was a stone pedestal, over eight-feet high so that no one could see the top of it.  But they found a way up and found a large basin.  When water filled the basin, the water reflected the letters on the ceiling.  (Wolfgang thought that maybehe’d been there before.)  This was the magic pool that the elves (and Burne) were looking for.

Although logic suggested that there was a human-sized passage between these caverns and the dungeons of the moathouse, the leaders of the party felt they would prefer to go back the way they came and crawl through the dark, twisting rodent-infested tunnels.

That’s what they did.  The elves were grateful and entertained them for weeks or months.  When Wolfbang and Gerrilyn returned to the surface world, they found that the leaves had turned.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Review: Wheel of Evil by Faster Monkey

I know this module is over 6 years old and that the old-schoolrenaissance has been superseded by 5e or pokemon go or running for president but that just means Wheel of Evil is now a classic and that you should buy it and run it today.  Here’s why:
The “everyman quest” element.  I love adventure hooks that might realistically appeal to the kind of people I imagine low- to mid-level adventurers to be, not legendary heroes and not murder hoboes, but generally well-meaning rogues who never figured out how to make it normal society.  As prosaic as it sounds, saving the cheese equals saving the village.  And while there’s no extensive backstory or elaborate plot, the hook was extensive enough to affect the player’s choices throughout the adventure— Is doing this what we were hired to do?

The details.  There are many elements that add color and interest and can also make the players’ success much more likely.  Little pots of kobold urine sound like the most useless thing in the world.
Well-developed monsters.  For some time, I’ve been replacing humanoids with human “bad guys.”  But these kobolds are too other-worldly.  And I normally find molds and slimes and oozes kind of an undistinguishable mush.  But here, it’s more like a parfait.

It’s short.  This is so important to me.  I don’t get to play D&D every day lunch and recess (and that’s good, overall) so anything that can’t be played over a couple sessions will be half-forgotten by the players making it impossible for them to put the pieces together.  In general my campaign is more like an episodic TV show in which the most notable feature is the characters rather than plot, but this had the feeling of a good self-contained movie.
Things to think about before running this adventure:

Per the text, boiled urine has special properties.  This struck me as something so impossible to figure out by characters whose players didn’t already have this knowledge (assuming that this is borrowed from real-world chemistry), that I allowed unboiled urine the same effects.  I’m happy with this decision, but it made things easier for the PCs.
Most of the encounters are much easier than the final encounter with the BBEG.  I worried about this before I ran it, but this is a classic structure for a good reason—all the important characters live until the end and so even for those that die it feels dramatic and thrilling.  (He died so we could have cheese.)  The upshot of this is that the suggestion that this adventure is for 4-5 players levels 3-5 is about right.  The early encounters might feel easy, and the final one may kill multiple party members. 

The play report is here.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Wheel of Evil

Play Report: Wheel of Evil by Faster Monkey

It’s not often that I get to run a game for 4 PCs over a couple two-hour sessions so when I do, I like to pull out something special and Wheel of Evil did not disappoint.  Branded as a Dungeon Crawl for 4-6 characters of levels 3-5, I decided that with henchman, it was an appropriate challenge for lower-level characters:

Cinderblock, 1st level thief
                Cinderblock’s NPC henchman Dithaniel, 1st level fighter
Gruber, 2nd level fighter
                Gruber’s NPC henchman Falden, 1st level fighter

Wolfgang, 4th level druid
                Wolfgang’s menagerie (black bear, wolf, fox, hawk, rat)

Gerilynn, 4th level cleric
                Gerilynn’s henchman Ehlark, 1st level fighter/cleric
                Gerilynn’s henchman Caitlynn, 1st level ranger

Wolfgang and Gerrilynn decided they needed a little space from their elvish patrons.  Renneton, a town a few days ride away from Hommelet and famous for its fine cheeses, had advertised for heroes, and was willing to pay them in stock options—shares in the profits of the annual cheese sale.  The assignment, as explained by the local priest, Father Desmond, was straight forward, from a practical if not an ethical point of view.  The town of Renneton used a local cave for aging cheeses and been doing so for centuries.  Now strange little monsters, presumably from deeper in the earth had found their way up and been found to be stealing and destroying cheeses.  These creatures were only about three feet tall and cowardly in battle, but also thoroughly wicked and treacherous, “Kobolds” they were called locally.  And they needed to be dissuaded somehow from stealing the human’s cheeses.  Father Desmond brought the party to the caves and provided them a map, showing the upper caverns where cheese was prepared. He had gone missing in the caves overnight, pursuing the kobolds after a raid.  He also introduced them to Harzar, foreman of the cheese guild.  Before going below, the party to look around the cheese preparation areas and tool to the cheesers.
Cinderblock noticed that the other cheese workers seemed uneasy around Harzar, treating with not only the deference due a superior, but with veiled revulsion.  Although he didn’t like to talk about his experiences, he had become even more thoroughly dedicated to his job.   

The party learned that a few kobold were being held prisoner in a storage room, and asked to meet them.  “Little good it will do you,” the cheesers said, “they can’t talk human or elvish, only their nasty monster talk.”  The kobolds expressions were plain enough—they looked miserable and bitter and glared at their captors and whispered among each other.  The cheesers explained that a week ago, a wandering magician had offered to translate the prisoner’s speech.  No useful information, only the highly dubious claim that the kobolds blamed the humans for ruining their food.  “If they like their food so much, why they stealing ours?”  Gerrilynn asked what the kobold’s ate and the cheesers shuddered and shook their heads.  “Don’t even want to think about it.  That would be a good question for Father Desmond, right Bert?  Why killing these monsters would be any different than killing a prowling wolf, I can’t see.  No offense, your woodiness.”  Gerrilynn shared some of her own food and the kobolds eat it hungrily—except the cheese which they flung back in her face as if it were an insult.
Gruber asked about what weapons of powers the kobolds had.  The men laughed.  “Spears and rocks and these.”  A clay flask.  “Smell it.  Careful, not too close.  We reckon they fill it with their own piss and if they can get a jump on a man they would smash it on his head.  Who knows what it might do?  Bless us, no one here has had to find out.”

Nosing around a little more, Cinderblock learned that some of the cheesers had a sideline business in moonshine.  And that the Cheesers Guild was preparing an extra-large cheese, a five-foot diameter wheel that would be shipped to the King of Alyan.
At last the party was ready to proceed. They lit torches and, as they proceed beyond the makeshift barrier the cheesers had assembled against the kobolds, Cinderblock assumed the job of continuing Father Desomond’s map.  Soon, the party came to a fork in the tunnel, and peered into what must have been a cheese storage room, now a jumble of broken shelving coated with dust.  The party decided to explore the room further and found a deep fissure.  Wolfgang asked his rat Alexis to climb down and report what he found.  As Alexis disappeared beyond the light of the torches, he squeaked that he had found a mass of blue and pink cheese.  Then there was a rat-scream and silence.  A cloud of blue and pink dust exploded from the fissure; Wolfgang, Gerrilynn, and Gruber fell into a deep slumber.  Caitlynn and Cinderblock found that they could barely rouse them enough to mumble a few words before falling back into sleep.  Caitlynn, despairing of how to explain what had happened to the rat when Gerrilynn and Wolfgang woke up, climbed down into the fissure holding a torch.  She saw the blue and pink gelatinous mold that the rat had described as cheese.  She slipped into it up past her knees and felt herself being sucked under.  Cinderblock climbed down and helped pull her out.  The party decided that the rat would fend for himself for now and that the sleeping humans should be carried to safety.

The heroes found their way back out of the caves and by the time they got back down the hill to town and to the inn, everyone was awake and walking under his or her own power.  Talking over their misadventures and laughing down the many jokes at their expense, the heroes supped in their room (“Yes, we’ll all get plenty of sleep tonight!”) and made a plan.  The plan involved urine, seven wineskins full of it, plus seven more wineskins full of raw material in case they needed more.  No one remembers who first suggested it, but everyone agreed the kobolds didn’t have any use for cheese and seemed to know something more about what they were really up against.
Sure enough, the horrible pink and blue mold that had swallowed Alexis the rat had a tougher time digesting urine.  It took four wineskins, plus the bladder contents of five humans and a wolf to the job, but the urine turned the mold into cool, sweet-smelling steam.

The deep dark hole inspired some debate as to whether they were forgetting their charge to eradicate kobolds, but a lit torch that found the bottom about 50 feet down settled it.  Rope and iron spike time.
Dithaniel was the first down and his scream, abruptly cut short brought Cinderblock down immediately after him.  A three-foot tall figure seemingly composed of mold had speared him with its skeletal claws.  In the ensuing battle, this mold man, and three others like it, proved to be skeletons completely grown over with mold.  The other three wineskins were used on these creatures before desperation intervened to prove that they could also be destroyed by normal weapons.  Horrified at what they had just experienced, there was some talk of climbing back up.  But the rope was lying on the ground.  At the top, Wolfgang’s wolf was howling and barking.  “What happened?”

“The stinky one.”  The wolf explained to Wolfgang.  “He cut the rope.”

“The stinky one?”  Harzer. 

“I bite him and he run away.”

                Although Wolfie was encouraged to go get help, no one wanted to wait for it. Dithaniel was dead, but Gerrilynn tended to the others and, after a brief and solemn ritual, Dithaniel’s belonging were distributed among his companions.  The heroes drank their wine, filled all the empty wineskins, and pressed on.
The tunnels through which they walked was spongy, glowing, pulsing mass of mold.  They prodded ahead to avoid walking on anything the horrible mass that had consumed the rat, and breathed a sigh of relief when they came to a large pool of clear water with no sign of mold.  Eschewing the stepping stones, Gerrilynn tested the water with her toe and then waded in.  The others followed.

On the other side they found themselves a cavern of mold so nauseating in its shapes, textures, smells, and sounds that it made everything else they’d experienced look like white stilton.  There were more of the walking mold men.  There was something invisible that paralyzed Wolfgang.  And there was Harzer.
In the ensuing battle, there were several casualties.  The mold men were easy to kill.  Harzer turned out to be the husk of a man—when hit a larger mold man stepped out and was taken out by Caitlynn and Falden.  But the party was endangered by numbers.  And by the globs of black pudding that seemed to be falling from the ceiling.  Falden and Caitllynn were killed by moldmen.  Ehlark was killed by a black pudding.

Someone noticed that an invisible force was pushing the paralyzed Wolfgang toward a particular part of the cavern.  Cinderblock did some reconnaissance and located a particularly complex patch of mold that seemed to be responding to the battle.  Lots of urine and a little moonshine later and that patch had been turned to gray flakes.  The moldmen collapsed. 
The black pudding continued to quiver and slither toward the party.  Cinderblock charged with his short sword.  The blobby thing shrank from blow but then expanded, enveloping the brave and resourceful rogue.

His companions killed the blobs from a safe distance.  There was treasure.  There were stolen cheeses that the heroes decided should remain with their fallen comrades. 
On the way out of the caves, the party encountered a band of kobolds.  Both parties agreed, happily, and in their own languages, that the mold was retreating.  After a mimed non-aggression pact the kobolds went deeper into the caverns and the humans went up to report their success.

The heroes mourned their fallen comrades (“Cinderblock, we hardly knew ye.”) and after the cheese auctions, redeemed their shares.

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Moathouse Grind

When Vulpio’s elven contacts learned that Burne, a human magician, was sending adventurers to explore below the moathouse, they summoned him and his friends Gerrilynn and Wolfgang with their own offer: don’t allow a long-buried evil return to the world.  Without being specific, Arethil, the elven priestess, told the party that she thought she thought there were darker powers involved, plotting and gathering strength deep below the earth.  The elves had a secret entrance to the dungeons beneath the moathouse.  They offered the party a safe base and asked them to explore.  If they could find the source of the power Burne was seeking, the elves would help them address it.  But if the enemy was who they thought it was, the elves didn’t want to alert their ancient foe to their presence; a gang of human explorers were unlikely to raise the same level of alarm. Speaking of humans, the elves warned Wolfgang & co. to avoid contact with Burne’s guards in the moathouse above, or for that matter any other humans.  If they could not be evaded, any humans should be dealt with diplomatically and brought to Arethil.  Gerrilynn thought this sounded ominous, but Arethil assured her, “If I wanted to kill them, I would leave that to you.”

The party came across a number of strange sights. A natural pool inspired curiosity, but bones on the bank warned them away.  The crypt, though quiet, seemed to offer nothing but dread and danger. They explored other tunnels.
Opening a door onto a blind wall seemed to trigger some type of alarm.  They encountered two groups of beast-men who attacked on sight.  These were fierce warriors, but between Gerrilynn’s divine powers, Wolfgang’s animal companions and Vulpio’s war hammer, the monsters were destroyed.  The party took a prisoner-- a hairy, shambling creature with claws and fangs. Gerilynn wanted to turn him over to the elves, while Wolfgang wanted to lead him to the wilderness outside and let him “run free.” Wolfgang won the argument, but Gerilynn won the dispute; on their way to the exit, the elves met them, congratulated them on their success—and took custody of the prisoner, throwing s net over his head and arms.  Wolfgang took this as proof that the elves would do the bugbear harm and that they should have done more to get him out.  But he turned over the prisoner.
The elves were grateful to have a prisoner, but most of all hoped to find the source of Burne’s new power.  So the party continued to explore.  Gerrilynn had made a comprehensive map and found they were confronted with a number of imperfect options.  There was the pool of dark water, in which something was lurking.  There was the crypt, which Wolfgang refused to explore.  And there was a portcullis barring the way down an otherwise safe looking passage.  The party reasoned that they were responsible for the portcullis being down—that the clanging sound they’d heard when opening a door the day before had been the sound of iron crashing down on the stone floor.  But they couldn’t figure out how to open it up again.  Wolfgang made friends with a group of rats who were eager to show him their home and the way down—if he could fit into the six-inch diameter hole in the wall.  They could not.

Friday, September 30, 2016

The Death of Vlad

Vlad was eager to pursue Burne’s quest with or without his associates.  Ed and Kirito, two wanderers who were passing through Hommlet on their way to nonwhere in particular were persuaded to join him.  Chrono the druid, whom he’dknown since Gold Hill agreed to join the party.
Burne escorted the group to the moathouse himself and introduced them to his guards.  These guards, in the interest of full transparency, admitted to the adventurers that while they considered themselves braver and stronger than most men, they absolutely refused to explore the dungeon below them and were only willing to garrison the moathouse itself because Burne paid well.  It wasn’t death that they were afraid of.  Death, they laughed, was not the worst alternative.

Burne explained once more what he was looking for—pools of water.  Not natural cave pools, but artfully constructed.  With writing on the walls.  They would know them when they found them.
The guards dutifully moved aside the assorted debris they had piled on top of the trapdoor that led into the dungeon.  Vlad led the way and the adventurers started down the rough wooden stairs.  About halfway down, a glob of bright green slime fell from ceiling onto Vlad, gliding off his mantle and landing on his leather gauntlet and his sword.  Vlad flung away his sword and.  More slime fell from the ceiling, this time landing on the stairs. Chrono scraped at it with his staff.  To his chagrin, the slime burned away his staff.  The slime was corrosive to both leather and metal and other weapons were lost before Ed scorched it with his torch. The slime smoldered and sparked and then burst into flame, quickly burning to a black smudge.

At the bottom of the stairs was a large room with two locked closets.  Ed picked the locks and found storerooms filled with weapons and other supplies.  Vlad chose a replacement sword, and the urged his companions to explore further.  Charging down a pillared corridor, Vlad was surprised by a shuffling undead man that beat him over the head with its rotting limbs.  Vlad spun on his heel shouting his war cry and destroyed the zombie with two solid strokes of his sword.  As his companions rushed to his aid, more zombies poured out of the row of dungeon cells that lined the corridor.

The zombies seemed drawn to Vlad and Vlad gleefully strode into their midst, swinging his sword in mighty, reckless arcs, cleaving bones and flesh, dropping enemies in a pile around him and  hardly noticing the rain of blows that fell on his head and shoulders.  Kirito could see that Vlad was nearly overwhelmed and fought through the horde of zombies to assist his companion.  But Vlad, in a blind battle rage, did not distinguish friend from foe; Kirito barely dodged what could have been a lethal blow.  Ed and Chrono flanked the zombies but did not dare engage them in melee.  Only when Vlad fell and dropped his sword did Kirito find an opportunity to plunge into the thick of the battle.  He killed two of the zombies and called on Ed and Chrono to help pull Vlad to safety.  Chrono tried to heal Vlad, but it was too late.  Kirito held the zombies at bay while Ed and Chrono carried Vlad’s body toward the stairs.
Kirito suffered a serious wound and retreated.  The zombies pursued, but slowly and without coordination; they were further hampered by arrows from Ed’s bow.  Chrono reached the stairs and called for help from the guards.  Two of them, forgetting their oaths of cowardice, rushed down to help carry Vlad’s body.  Ed tossed his torch at the zombies and was the last one up.
All the guards helped pile stones and firewood and furniture on top of the trapdoors as the zombies came clomping off the stairs.  For hours the zombies pounded mindlessly on the other side of the trapdoor.

Vlad was buried in Hommlet, in his armor, and without his hard-won mantle.  It was gone.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Pasar and the Princes Episode 3 (You are the heroes!)

The journey between Pasar and the Northern Empire of Zhou Dang is never easy. Merchants follow a good highway from East to West and from West to East, there’s a deep water port not far away to the southeast, but nearly impassable mountains shield the peaceful folk of the Kayu Valley from war-mongering Khan. Based on rumors from merchants and hunters as well as her own past experiences, Beatriss recommend to her friends that this time they should hire a guide and follow the over mountain route.

By chance, this was the best time (some said the only time) for traveling in the mountains—the spring melting and flooding had passed and the autumn storms and snow had not yet begun. Experience proved the wisdom of Beatriss’s recommendation. The roads were clear and peaceful. Their guide was knowledgeable and helpful, assisting them in negotiating fair prices for food and accommodation as they made their way from one village to the next, gradually working their way higher into the mountains over a few weeks. Bangqiu had time and energy for studying. Prince Slash and Sir Crowler made new friends. And, thanks to Jasmine, new enemies—but there was no serious conflict.

And then one night something strange happened. They were staying at an inn near the Red Mountain Path Monastery, shuttered against the winds that heralded the coming storm season. There was a loud rapping at the door. The innkeeper, a grumpy old woman, opened the door with a pained smile. A monk in orange robes pushed his way past her and began ranting about the end of the world. The patrons reacted angrily and, in the case of Sir Crowler, violently. For the monk’s protection, Ju May and Beatriss overpowered him and bound him. Then everyone went to sleep.

In the morning, there was a commotion in the streets. And in the inn. No one could understand what anyone else was saying! And the tied monk had someone escaped his bounds in the night. Beatriss and Prince Slash went into the street to figure out what was going on. The village comprised a single street with one lane leading up to the monastery. Down the street, on the edge of the village, things were still peaceful. Beatriss went to talk to those people. They laughed when she spoke, but when they responded, they were horrified at the gibberish coming out of their own mouths.

Based on this experience, Prince Slash deducted that the monastery was the source of the commotion and started walking up the hill. Beatriss and Bangqiu came after him. Sir Crowler looked for someone to play soccer. Those approaching the monastery heard a loud commotion coming from within. Inside an old monk seemed to be leading the others in a bizarre ritual. When Beatriss tried to intervene, the old monk admonished her, commanding her in very clear words to leave them. She refused. For a moment, his face seemed to change to that of a long-fanged demon, but then his whole body changed—expanding to nearly fill the room as a charging elephant. Beatriss dodged it and attacked with her sword. Prince Slash shushed the chanting monks; they seemed relieved by their own temporary silence. Bangqiu blasted the elephant with his magic. But then the elephant turned into an enormous worm and its touch paralyzed Beatriss. Prince Slash ran to get help. Bangqiu attacked the worm and it turned into a flying monster, half-man, half-horse. It flew up through the roof of the monastery and prepared to dive down. Prince Slash saw it, pulled out his bow, and began shooting arrows. The horse-man monster flew toward Prince Slash and he shot more arrows. It turned into fiery mist and flew away. The monks were grateful and offered to shelter their rescuers. With storms approaching, the heroes couldn’t stay longer than a few days, but this was long enough for the monks to tend to Prince Slash’s arm. They eased the pain of the long-term injury he had suffered and taught him the exercises that would allow him to regain full use.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Pasar and the Princes Episode 2 (You are the decoy)

Beatriss and Bangqiu, Sir Crolwer and Prince Slash (and Jasmine!) continued to while awa their time in Pasar. Sir Crowler and Prince Slash being two mysterious wanderers of noble bearing, reportedly related to the king of a faraway land were hoping to buy weapons, something generally difficult to do in Pasar since none were sold openly within the walls.

One day the four friends (and Jasmine!) were enjoying a long leisurely lunch in one of Pasar’s noodle houses when they were approached by a tradesman named An Dohng. An Dohng appeared at the end of their meal as the friends were debating what to do next. An Dohng wanted their help and was prepared to pay for it. As a result of bad luck and a bad brother, An Dohng had lost a delivery of silk and as a result had earned the enmity of a powerful merchant. This merchant, named Badu, was reported to have ties to the Black Flower gang which, despite being banished from Pasar still menaced travelers on the roads. An Dohng was going to meet with Badu at his shop later that day and he believed things would go better for him if he had some powerful friends. The heroes agreed that they would join An Dohng at the meeting place. As they discussed the particulars, two thugs emerged from the shadows of the room and began to threaten An Dohng. Beatriss intervened and no serious violence occurred. An Dohng thanked them profusely. “You’ve helped me already! And now you have to protect me this afternoon!”

The four friends (Jasmine had something else to do) went to the assigned meeting place, a small tavern attached to a warehouse close to one of the gates of the city. They ordered food and drink and surveyed the scene. The two toughs from earlier from earlier and the other patrons of the bar also looked potentially threatening and two openly carried swords, despite the weapon ban. Beatriss of course had her own invisible sword, Bangqiu was very able in defending himself with magic and the princes were always brave, no matter the number or strength of a potential adversity. So the friends chatted happily, seemingly oblivious to any danger.

Before long, An Dohng arrieved. He hesitated for a moment and then heartily greeted the four heroes as his “old, dear friends.” His welcome was loud enough to summon a man from the shop, a man who by the richness of his clothes and portliness of his shape could only be Badu the merchant. He eyed An Dohng’s friends with unveiled coldness and suspicion and then asked to speak to An Dohng alone. The two men sat at a table at the back of the tavern and engaged in tense whispered conversation. Everyone else in the bar fell nearly silent.

After a few minutes, the two men seemed to come to an agreement. An Dohng returned to speak to his protectors. He had come to an agreement, a strange one, ultimately an opportunity for An Dohng to redeem himself by successfully managing another delivery—this one not of silk, but of weapons. “Risky of course, but perhaps with some unexpected advantage. Some of you were hoping to find weapons, no?”

Without agreeing to anything else, the party agreed to at least help An Dohng inspect the shipment. Badu gestured toward the door that led from the tavern to the warehouse. An Dong led the way, followed by Beatriss, Bangqiu, and the princes, with the two toughs they’d encountered at the noodle shop following close behind.

There was a small wagon, already yoked to two horses. An Dohng lifted corner of the tarp, and everyone nodded at the assembled piles of sharp metal. But then there was a shout from the tavern. It was the city watch. “We are here to search the premises for illegal weapons!”

Out in the warehouse, An Dohng jumped into the wagon and grabbed the reins. Beatriss prepared for a fight while Sir Crowler ran into the tavern to alert the watch that the weapons were there. Surprisingly, the tough guys who had threatened An Dohng in the noodle shop assisted him in making a getaway. They opened the door of the warehouse and jumped onto the wagon as An Dohng drove through it. Not knowing what else to do, Beatriss, Bangqiu, and Prince Slash also ran away while Badu and the patrons of the tavern were arrested.

Several hours later, back at the noodle shop, Beatriss, Bangqiu, and Prince Slash came to the reluctant conclusion that something might have happened to Sir Crowler. They went to old village in central Pasar and to the stone house where prisoners were kept. Sure enough, Sir Crowler had been arrested. Prince Slash gave an honest account of everything that had happened, admitting that he and Sir Crowler had been hoping to buy weapons because they wanted to fight members of the Black Flower gang who were roaming the roads outside Pasar. Sir Crowler had made a very similar confession. Appreciating their honesty and their previous service to Pasar, the elders agreed that Sir Crowler should be released with the condition that they should all leave Pasar the next day and not return for one year.