Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The End of Madam Guto

One evening, Beatriss and Tetsukichi were taking a late supper at a noodle shop in their neighborhood, when they were approached by “a scrawny, pocked little man with patchy hair and graying skin” who recognized them from the discussion group meeting that they’d recently attended. He complimented them on their attention during the meeting, while insinuating that, as new-comers, perhaps they would benefit from a review of the matters discussed. The man, who introduced himself as Yen-ch’eng Tzu Yu, offered to accompany them to their house and teach them. Beatriss and Tetsukichi agreed.

Despite his bright-eyed zeal and his students’ honest interest, Yen-ch’eng was not able to make the ideas accessible to Tetsukichi. But he seemed eager to offer additional help. Beatriss told him about the problems she’d been having with Madam Guto and her fears that the woman would use her magic to break into the house and harm her children. He explained that if a malignant being were present he might be of help driving it away, but that he could offer no permanent warding charm or talisman. Beatriss gave Yen-ch’eng a chance to meet her children, and the guest seemed very much taken with the shape-changing toddlers (redundant modifier? Ed.) He expressed his own conviction that the children be protected at all costs and offered to sleep outside their door. Beatriss declined that offer, but negotiated with Sansar Anca (“Uncle”) to allow him to stay in the house for a few days.

Beatriss and Tetsukichi also made contact with Cair and Myrrha, the “very foreign” visitors who listened to the story about Madam Guto and gave an explanation similar to Yen-ch’eng’s: they could help her fight magic with magic, but couldn’t do anything that that would give Beatriss or her children permanent, general protection.

When Golfo went missing for a couple days, Beatriss and Tetsukichi decided it was time to act. Leaving Nardon at the house to guard the children, they coiuld still assemble a strong and varied party of warriors and spell-casters including Yen-ch’eng and Cair & Myrrha.

The group went to the House of Jourdain at dusk, and Beatriss announced that they were there for their friend Golfo. After being made to wait outside the gate for several minutes, they were welcomed into the courtyard. Madam Guto extended a special welcome to Beatriss and the sudden change in Beatriss’s demeanor—from stern and wary to relaxed and friendly—confused her friends.

wicked witch by birdcage
wicked witch, a photo by birdcage on Flickr.

Tetsukichi seemed to guess that something was wrong and he tried to hold her back.

Madam Golfo was accompanied by only a few guards—Young Gamo (son of the recently-arrested Hidenobu Gamo and brother to “Little Gamo”) with three Gamo family retainers plus Golfo. Golfo’s friendliness with Madam Guto increased the party’s suspicion that their friends were under the influence of some kind of spell—Myrrha, Cair, and and Yen-Ch’eng employed their charm-breaking incantations to full effect. One of Madam Guto’s own guards saw this as an opportunity and drew his sword on his employer. The old woman reacted swiftly, deflecting his blade with her cane and then cracking him on the head.

The party charged and and Madam Guto ran for the house. Beatriss grabbed her as she reached the door and through her on the ground, whereupon the others set upon her with swords and magic missiles. Guto drew her own sword from within her cane and slashed at their ankles—despite her uncanny quickness, they killed her. As soon as she died, Young Gamo and his retainers, surprised by a sudden insight, attacked her dead body. Likewise, three women in silken finery emerged from the house to curse and kick her corpse.

And then they began stripping her valuables: a few strings of coins, small jewelry, a strange iron dagger around her neck, the cane-sword . . . Beatriss took her keys and ordered Young Gamo to show where she kept her treasure. He gladly led the party upstairs to her office—the room with the demon in a bamboo cage.

The treasure of course was in a chest inside the cage. Cair negotiated for an extra share and then agreed to be the open to open the cage and grab the chest. The demon threatened and cajoled the party to erase the chalk circle which, the party decided, was its true prison. They declined, and after reading a warding scroll as an additional precaution, Cair, opened the cage and dragged the chest, first out of the room, and then with Golfo’s help, down the stairs and out of the house. They opened the chest and distributed the contents—strings of coins, and silver bars— roughly 700 taels in total value.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Breaking the Slavers' Stockade

Do the rules for invisibility (stay invisible until you attack someone) need a rewrite? My players exploit this so that when they are going into enemy territory, their standard practice is to rinse-and-repeat over a couple days until the entire party is invisible—and then have the magicians memorize it once more before they set out. And this is what they did when it was time to invade the slavers’ fort.

It was a large party that set out from Quitokai—Gwinch & his secretary Saisho; Kishi and her protectors, Deng & Little Gamo; Kreppu-San; Gunjar; and a new a new PC, a wandering priest named Sho-Ji (I think, please correct me Isa-Girl-Monkey, if necessary). And then there were Gwinch’s student-monks and a couple villagers from Quitokai to guide them to the fort, which was situated, like most forts, on a rocky promontory at the confluence of two shallow rivers.

A couple scouted out the way on foot, first, and finding a ramshackle combination of ruined stone work and wooden palisade at the back of a muddy plateau near the top of the promontory, the party decided it was ok for everyone to go up, with their horses.

I said everyone was invisible, but the horses were not, and neither were the student-monks. Sticking to the cover of the rocks and vegetation, the party circled the fort and made a camp above it and hatched a rough plan. They’d wait for nightfall, when the invading party (everyone except little Gamo and the student-monks who’d be “watching” with their bows in case their invisible friends looked like they needed help) would scale the wall at the back of the fort. The fort was surrounded by a muddy ditch that seemed to have something living in it and a few hours observation had suggested the thing in the ditch stayed at the front of the fort.

As they approached the fort, they noticed guards patrolling the walls. They chose an opportune time and place, and used some magic to incapacitate the guards, and then get everyone over the wall. (And yes, casting invisibility again on the briefly visible priest who’d cast hold person.)
Then they began to look around. They found in a tower, the barracks for a large number of off-duty guard. In a recent, generally unsuccessful expedition, they’d encountered a vicious spirit creature which, when wounded by magic (seemingly the only way to harm it) took the form of a spider. Whereupon, Saisho, a collector of spiders, had scooped it up in a little jar. So . . . Kishi picked the lock on the barracks door, Saisho tossed the spider jar inside, Kishi barred the door shut again, and everyone listened to the spider resume its fierce undead monster form and begin tearing up slaver guards. The guards had a nice alarm system, and soon much of the fort was rushing to the aid of their comrades.

The party watched. Icar—a man of seemingly considerable power, both in his person and in his role as sort type of commander, held his ground against the vicious creature, but even his glowing sword seemed useless against it.

Taking advantage of the “distraction,”-- and also by following the ebb and flow of defenders first marching towards and then running away from the spirit creature—the party found a long and dark terraced room prison in which a deep-reverberating moaning provoked a great sense of unease among the party and seemed to hold its occupants in a dread trance. The source of the moaning—something like a very large bat that hovered in the air like a fish does in the water— was brought down by twin volleys of magic missiles from Saisho and Kishi.

Gwinch removed from Icar, the fallen commander, his glowing sword and they keys to the prisoners’ shackles. The party moved quickly—although the sounds of “battle” had moved to the opposite side of the fort, the slavers’ panicked screams were more infrequent suggesting to the party that the creature would eventually circle back toward them—and unlocked the slaves and climbed back over the wall. As they were remounting their horses and beginning their descent from the plateau, they could hear the sound of a woman’s voice rallying the remaining troops. A flash of lightning from inside the fort suggested perhaps she had resources for dispatching the evil spirit.

The party made haste back down the trail to the river.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A quiet week in Khanbaliq

One morning, Beatriss and Tetsukichi received word that they were wanted in the Forbidden city. But when they presented themselves, they found no one was expecting them. An officer of the law (Ke Yi) asked them some questions they couldn’t answer about who had delivered the message and whom they were supposed to meet, and then accompanied them back to their house. The Sansar household guards couldn’t give any more information. But after Ke Yi left, they told Beatriss that an old woman had been there, looking for her, and had had even persuaded one of the guards to let her into Beatriss’s room. Beatriss assumed that this was Madam Guto and although her children were ok, she began seeking out some assistance.

There was little assistance available. She sent a message to Cair, the foreign magician, but received her reply. Buyuk invited her to his apartments in the Forbidden City for tea, but confessed that the official approval for their marriage was still being held up. (His housekeepers, Baki and Ba told Beatriss that their master was, in effect, a prisoner of the Emperor, being held in the palace as an “honored guest” to discourage his father and his family from rebelling.)
Although Beatriss wasn’t absolutely sure of Buyk’s intentions, they saw—and experienced other signs of the Imperial fist tightening. Hidenobu Gamo—a member of the Zipang contingent who had once housed Beatriss and Tetsukichi— was seen being frog-marched through the streets among shouts that he was a spy. Beatriss and Tetsukichi themselves were called in for questioning regarding the murder of Ke Yi, who was killed the day after he questioned Beatriss and Tetsukichi.

One bright spot—Beatriss and Tetsukichi were both invited to and attended a “philosophical lecture and discussion” held in the house of a resident of the green zone. The talk concerns one in a series of brass engravings, this one showing a simple pastoral scene that also provided to hold additional symbolic meanings, which, when properly deciphered conveyed startling insights beyond what could be conveyed in ordinary language or illustration. At least for Beatriss.

Emperor by plasticpumpkin

Tetsukich was somewhat distracted by the fact that the other people attending the meeting appeared did not appear to be scholars. Which was not to say they were dilettantes, but that, like him they bore the marks of having followed lives of adventure.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Crow-Boy and the Opposite of Indifference

Almost 30 years to the day after I received the Moldvay Basic Set as a birthday present and created my first character (Racoop the Red), my long-dedication has paid off in a way that I would never have then imagined: the mass dissemination-- through millions of wirelessly-connected, pocket-, book,- and suitcase- sized electronic computers distributed throughout not only North America and Western Europe, but virtually every country in the world-- of my roughly-two-page, D&D-inspired, fictivicious word-work.

Read it here, in Issue 2 of Fiction Brigade!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Siege of Quitokai aftermath

In the several months since their arrival in Quitokai, the adventurers from Khanbaliq had, by their simple presence, discouraged the slavers from coming anywhere near. In that time Gwinch had instructed his followers, directing them in assisting a wandering monk to build a small shrine near the village. Gwinch and Kishi made peace and even discussed plans for resuming the “Emperor’s mission” to pursue the rogue Governor, based on information about a lost highway provided by the villagers. But he also had information about the location of the slavers’ local stronghold and was considering making an attack. Finally, he was curious to encounter and with some luck, befriend a tiger. Another traveller who stopped in Quitokai said that he’d seen such an animal one night at the shrine.

But all these plans were put aside when Quitokai was attacked by a combined force of the “jungle clans”—groups of people who unlike the agriculturalist of Quitokai, lived deep in the jungle. The attackers included the “Red Clan” and the “Wolf Clan” who employed half-trained wolves in their assault.

IMG_1267 by Brayo
IMG_1267, a photo by Brayo on Flickr.
Although Quitokai’s defenders held the compound, in the morning it was discovered that the raiders had made off with a number of animals, most notably about two dozen water buffaloes. Gwinch, Gunjar and Kishi decided that, on the whole, the villagers had been gone to them, and recovering the water buffalo might gain their permanent favor for future endeavors—whether seeking the lost highway or attacking the slavers’ citadel. One of the wolves had been captured; Gwinch tended the animal's wounds and relying on his past experience with animals, made a friend of him.

Accompanied by a young shaman and two warriors, the adventurers set off in pursuit of the raiders. The tracks of two dozen water buffalo driven through the jungle proved easy to follow and by about noon they would clear confirmation that they were gaining on the raiders—they came upon the aftermath of a large battle between members of two of the clans, plus about half a roasted water buffalo. After dispatching the oversized beetles who were feasting on the carcasses, the party discovered a survivor. The survivor, a member of the viper clan explained that he and his fellows had been grazing their water buffalo when the wolf clan ambushed them and killed many of his friends—and then stole the buffalo! Admitting that the buffalo were newly acquired, the survivor showed an abundance of fear-inspired hatred of the wolf clan and the party took him along with them.

As evening approached, they made a camp for the night, with four people on watch (Gwinch, Gunjar, Deng a priest from Khanbaliq, and Akoi the shaman form Quitokai). About midnight, Gwinch’s wolf began to howl in a way that Gwinch interpreted as a greeting. Gwinch heard some noise in the brush and very soon three men jumped out with knives and attacked Deng. Although the party overwhelmed the attackers by numbers, they found their weapons useless against them. One of the men had brought down Akoi and seemed about to tear out the shaman’s throat with his teeth when the party unleashed its magic. Deng paralyzed one of the three rabid men, Saisho blasted a second with magic missiles, and Kishi dropped a tree branch on the third—not killing him, but pinning him to the ground so that Saisho could finish him off with a blade of lightning. Akoi was saved—though badly wounded. (Gwinch's wolf ran off during or after the battle.)

In the morning, Gunjar put Akoi on his horse and sent him back to Quitokai, escorted by the two village warriors. The rest of the party pressed on. About an hour later, they reached a large clearing that held an old stone guardpost and an animal pen containing the missing water buffalo.

Water buffalo pen by Karissa Darvin
Water buffalo pen, a photo by Karissa Darvin on Flickr.
Three men were there, idly watching the beasts. The bulk of the party fell back into the trees and fanned out around the clearing, Kishi approached invisibly, and Gwinch, Saisho, and Gunjar approached openly, presenting themselves as travelers. The men—who seemed to be neither forest people nor farmers— but rogues from the lands of civilization, seemed to know their own kind and greeted the party with courtesy. When talked turned to the buffaloes and who their owners might be, one of the men went to get “the Lady.”

“The Lady,” explained that she had purchased the buffalo just the day before, and accepted the party’s word that they were stolen—she offered to sell them for the same price she’s paid for them—15 tael each. The party flatly refused to pay anything—although they offered to assist her in tracking down the raiders so that she might collect her costs from them. Violence broke out, and very soon the Lady and her men were dead. The party buried the bodies, looted the house, and decided to make their camp there, even though they still had several hours of daylight still, hoping that maybe the raiders would attack them there and save them the trouble of trying to follow their trail.

Towards evening, they received a surprise visit by a group of villagers from Quitokai. The villagers reported that some of their sister villages had also been attacked—these other settlements were less well-defended and had been completely overrun, and many of their occupants captured. The party decided to return the buffaloes to Quitokai and then to go to the other villages and try to find out what happened.

The trip back to Quitokai was uneventful and the atmosphere was generally joyful, at least for those without relatives in the other villages. While his disciples enjoyed a night of feasting, Gwinch went out to the shrine, hoping to meet the tiger. Happily, Kishi and Saisho accompanied him, both invisible, While Gwinch meditated in the little grove, the other two watched for trouble. And trouble came—eight villagers from Quitokai armed with spears. When the villagers pounced, Kishi blasted three of them with magic and the others fled into the bush.

IMG_0539 by Brayo

The party returned to the compound, ready for more treachery, but found everything as it should be, and they decided not to change their plan to help the people of Quitokai rescue their kidnapped relatives.
The next morning, Gwinch, Saisho, Kishi, Little Gamo, and Deng, together with Gwinch’s student-monks, and 5 villagers set off for Hoko, a village up the river.

by Brayo

They arrived and found it in complete ruins. Gwinch picked up what he though was the trail of the kidnappers, and the party followed it straight east, first through the jungle and then over grasslands and through thickets of bamboo. That night it rained, and the next day, the trail was difficult to find. After another hour spent traveling east without finding any clear signs that they were going in the right direction, the party opted to head toward the mountains to the north and the rough location of the slavers’ stronghold figring that would be the kidnappers’ ultimate destination.

Night brought them to the edge of the jungle, much thicker then what they’d been travelling through closer to Quitokai. Kishi used her magic to ascend into the air on a pair of fiery wings—looking down into the jungle she saw lights or other signs of human activity. The party made their camp. Again, Gwinch and Deng promised the others that they could spend the night in meditation while still keeping their senses alert to danger. Gwinch, for his part, spent the night in a tree on the edge of the jungle. Not long after the darkness was complete, he heard the sound of something man-sized slipping very quickly through it. As he climbed down the tree, he watched a gaunt human-like figure break through the undergrowth and charge down the slight slope toward the party. Gwinch leaped to the ground and cased after it, shouting to awaken his companions. Hearing Gwinch, the creature turned on him and charged.
Some of Gwinch’s student-sohei were among the first awake and one of them placed a well-aimed arrow in the middle of the creature’s back. Gwinch saw it burst out of its chest—bloodlessly. And the creature didn’t even falter. The creature reached Gwinch, parried his sword blade with its forearms and seized Gwinch by the shoulders. At this point, Saisho’s magic missiles hit the creature—it screeched and through itself at Gwinch, assuming the form of a spider that crawled inside Gwinch’s armor.
Using the ring that he’d taken from Omesa, Saisho commanded the spider to crawl out, and then placed it in a jar.

IMG_0080 by Brayo

In the morning, the villagers, shaken by terrible dreams, suggested to Gwinch that if his plan was to investigate the slavers’ stronghold, there were easier ways to get there then passing through or anywhere near that jungle. If they returned to Quitokai and followed the river and brought with them the girl who had escaped, they would get there sooner and safer. He agreed and they returned to Quitokai.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Why do you like playing D&D so much?

Why do you like playing D&D so much?

This was White Bear’s question after a game session that everyone seemed to enjoy but that was, admittedly, not much like D&D. Despite the name, actual Dragons have always been a rarity of course, and the prevalence of Dungeons requires a shift in meaning from “miserable prison cell” to “sprawling underground labyrinth populated by treasure-guarding monsters.”

But there was none of any of that. Instead there was Khanbaliq (my thoroughly fictional, somewhat fantastical version of Beijing under the Mongols), a visiting Khan from the edge of the empire, a feast, a story-telling contest, a townhouse, and a marriage negotiation.

Beatriss (or maybe White Bear) commented that she really doesn’t like Khanbaliq. It’s seedy and weird, and there are lots of people who don’t seem to like her; the series of gates inside of gates, locked wards, and walled compounds ad to the sense that it’s really dangerous. Plus Madam Guto has directly threatened her children. (Yeah, children. Babies actually. Lycanthropes, albeit, but still babies. It happens sometimes, even in D&D).

The visiting Khan is lifted from a TSR product, the module OA6, Ronin Challenge. But transformed from a big guy from “India” on an elephant to a big guy from “one of the stans” with lots of horses and camels. He’s come to stay in Khanbaliq for about a year—on business.

Buyuk, the visiting Khan has made his camp a few hours from the city, where he has space to stretch out and hunt and graze his herds and race his horses and just be a big man with a bunch of followers.
IMG_0294 by Brayo
IMG_0294, a photo by Brayo on Flickr.

To his feast, he invited a couple of the Khans who stay in and around Khanbaliq, including Samsar Anca, (Tetsukichi’s adopted father). Buyuk served his guests a lot of meat and gave nice gifts.

He also proposed a story-telling contest. Buyuk himself told the story of The Lady and Her Five Suitors. Beatriss told the story of her origins in Cynadiceand the reasons for her being expelled from the city and, very obliquely, how she made her way from there to Khanbaliq. The other guests talked about hunting. (And then Buyuk brought out some dice and some pencils and paper and asked his guests whether they have ever wanted to be elves . . . )

Beatriss very much enjoyed the feast and told the Khan so. But back in Khanbaliq, she at last gave in to the nagging of her retainers Golfo and Nardon and agreed to go with them one night to the House of Jourdain. It was a short visit. She was wary to begin with, and when she heard the voice of Madam Guto calling on Nardon to “bring your friend inside and relax” she kind of freaked out. The guard standing in front of the barred gate did not put her at ease, so she used her magic ring to jump over the wall and run back to town. A sullen Golfo and a sheepish Nardon returned the next day. Nardon, finding it difficult to explain why thought he should bring his boss to a brothel, made the sudden realization that Madam Guto wasn’t so nice after all. (This paragraph, obviously, is the only one that really sounds like we’re playing D&D)

About a week later, Beatriss received, via Anca, a proposal of marriage from Khan Buyuk. Anca and Beatriss traveled together to the townhouse in the Imperial City where Buyuk was now staying so that they might discuss the particulars.

IMG_0466 by Brayo
IMG_0466, a photo by Brayo on Flickr.
Beatriss elected to not negotiate on her behalf, but asked Anca to assume the role of her guardian. Khan Buyuk, it turned out, had 9 other wives back home. And Beatriss had five fox-babies for whom she wanted protection. Also Buyuk was proposing a temporary marriage that would last for his one year while he stayed in Khanbaliq. As he explained it, a permanent marriage would require her to leave Khanbaliq with him, something she might not be ready to commit to. Buyuk and Anca agreed on a dowry and then Buyuk sent for a priest. But instead of a priest, a bureaucrat showed up to explain that people couldn’t just get married in the Imperial City whenever they wanted, that an application was necessary and an approval process.

So Beatriss went away with her guardian Anca, promising to return once the arrangements had been made and leaving Buyuk with a painted scroll of the fox-babies.

“What is the purpose of life?” A valid question—that can only be answered in living. So it is with D&D.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

NDT 11: Elves. Ick.

Kaylyth "Crossroads" Farrar, a photo by rosaumbra on Flickr.

This session was kind of a “ride along” for Pavel, in part just because I wasn’t in the mood to do the kind of things that would slow down the main plotline. We made our way back to Sukiskyn, fighting some wolves along the way. Pyotr reacted stoically to the news that we hadn’t yet found his brother, but only the news that he had been taken to “Xitaqa,” a place that no one had heard of. We decided to make our way to Rifllian, sell the horses and other goods we had acquired, and hopefully find someone with specialized knowledge in forgotten places. Although Pavel himself finds large groups of elves even more unsettling than large groups of his own kind, the party as a whole seemed to find their stay in Rifllian very restful. The DM memorably described Rifllian as a kind of tourist trap, a compromise between elven and human sensibilities that leaves both unsatisfied. But we sold those horses and took our share. Pavel now has more money than he’s ever seen and no idea what to do with it. Get a dog? But the best ones are free.

Full story

Street dogs, Udaipur by Dey
Street dogs, Udaipur, a photo by Dey on Flickr.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

NDT 10: ransacking

The bulk of the goblins' treasure was held by their chief and stored under or in his throne, and included an ancient and well-made shield that was claimed by Pavel. And he carried it into melee after failing once more to turn the undead creatures that beset the party, in this case three of the especially horrid re-animations of hobgoblins that Pavel himself had once encountered in the Caves of Chaos. Not only did turning the thouls fail, but so did attempts to lure them into a pit or burn down the roof on top of them. It was Roger who took on this last effort. When Cromartie heard him get dragged down from the roof, the rest of the party rushed into the Thoul's lair and hacked and slashed them Surprisingly satisfying after all the failed attempts to get creative. And then we ransacked their master's chambers. No sign of the map we expected to find to help us find Xitaqa, the place where the goblins had taken Stefan.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Night's Dark Terror Session 9: 5,000 gobbos

There we were . . . gobos shooting us with arrows as we crossed the bridge, and then ambushing us from behind. And when we crossed the bridge and entered their noisome den, it was demon dogs assailing us from all sides, while the cowardly gobbos shot at us from the darkness. Did I despair? No, I called on the Law and our enemies were transfixed. And then a great figure of scourgingsmitning appeared to aid us, driving the demon dogs yelping like puppies before a toddling child with a threshing flail. We rested and Lo! the lawless gobos broke in upon our rest. For this they were thoroughly scourged, smited, smitten, smitened, desmittened, and destroyed. And like the burst of driving rain that sweeps the garbage and shit and dead rats and the little nasty bugs crawling over the whole mess right down the alley into the gutter and then through the town into the river, so we the driving rain of Law swept through the goblin’s hall and killed their disgusting king and shivered his throne into pieces!

goblin by earlywill
goblin, a photo by earlywill on Flickr.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Night's Dark Terror Session Eight: demon fish and attacking the goblin stronghold

Pavel: “Allele did not return because he was DEVOURED by a legion of vicious demon fish!” (raises his left hand to show jagged lump of scar tissue at the base of his thumb; reaches his right hand into his pocket to pull out the dried, crumbling remains of a coldwater piranha) “It could have happened to me, it could happen to you.

“That’s how we decided that the time for sneaking around had passed and that it was time to confront evil head on.”

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Night's Dark Terror, Session 7

The party moved through a forest of stone. More than petrified wood, the trees, most of them still standing, bore branches, leaves, birds and their nests all turned to grain stone. They locaed the lair of the Wolfskull goblins, a rough fortification of stacked stone logs on the other side of a dark river crossed by a narrow river. They moved up river and then sent Allelle down to the river to scout. He hasn’t returned.

york by zoe seed
york, a photo by zoe seed on Flickr.

PM of 13th - Moldain, 14th Thaumont AC1000

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Mayro and the House of Jourdain Part 4 ("What's the pay?")

After Mayro had spent about a week recovering from his wounds, Madam Guto came to him with an offer. The House needed more protection and he had shown that he was a brave and skilful fighter. Would he like to take up residence in the House, guarding her and the women? She offered 30 tael a month plus benefits.

Mayro accepted the offer, and they agreed that he would begin service in a couple more weeks after he fully recovered from his wounds. He asked for his belongings to be brought from his inn and this done. He asked to see Golfo and Nardon; this was attempted, but proved impossible since Beatriss, their patron had been placed under house arrest, and her associate had likewise fallen under official suspicion.

After about a week, and in anticipation of a large party, Mayro was moved from his luxury quarters to the humble room that was intended to be his residence while he stayed in the house. Small, windowless, and obviously not intended for entertaining high-paying guests, the room was clean, private, and located on the upper-floor of the House, otherwise reserved for paying customers.

A few nights later, Mayro’s rest was disturbed by the sound of someone breaking in through the and then running past his door. Grabbing his sword, he followed cautiously. He heard a door being battered down and then screaming. He arrived at one of the bedrooms in time to see a large, fearsome, humanoid creature, green-skinned and covered with sores leaping out the window. There was a woman in the bed, bleeding from cuts caused by the creature’s claws, but not seriously injured. Her companion was completely unharmed, but thoroughly outraged. Madam Guto arrived, told him he has having a bad dream, and convinced him to go to sleep. The injured woman slipped out and another replaced her in the bed.

The next day Madam Guto asked Mayro if he was ready to go to work. She needed him to remain in his room, listening carefully for any outside intruders, and be ready to intercept them. He was ready. Later that same day, one of the women came to him and explained that she was especially afraid of the monster and would he please take up his guard duty in Room Number 4, under the bed? He agreed.

Predictably and yet not so predictably, Madam Guto came to check on Mayro at a time, when Room Number 4 was very much occupied by a customer. He could heard her distinctive walk and he could hear her first lightly rapping on the door and then opening it. Mayro waited for an opportune moment to slip out from under the bed and get out of the room. But the woman beat him to it. He heard a whispered conversation, then the sharp blow of Madam Guto’s cane, then the sound of the woman collapsing on the floor. He got out from under the bed and dashed into the hallway, disturbing the dosing customer.

And the customer was very disturbed. Madam Guto tried to calm him down, but that only outraged him more. Who was this man in his room? Why was his girl lying on the floor here in the hallway? And when Kura, the ostensible of the Little Foxes gang, came upstairs to see what was going on, and then started making insulting threats, the angry customer became outraged. Madam Guto asserted herself once more. She sent Mayro to his room, sent Kura downstairs and tried again to tell the angry customer to calm down. He ignored her, and after putting on his clothes, stomped downstairs, shouting challenges to Kura.

After hearing Madam Guto stride away on her cane, Mayro crept out of his room to check the woman in the hallway. She was dead. Hearing the gang members amassing in the foyer downstairs, Mayro decided not to wait see what was going to happen-- he charged downstairs, and seeing the front door already barred, hurled himself through the window.

No one tried to stop him, and some of gangsters even laughed with surprise. But none of them laughed for long. The angry customer and his bodyguard-- four well-armed fighters were in the courtyard with their swords out demanding that the door be open or that Kura be handed over. There were gangsters in the courtyard, too, and on the roof, but they're defense wa unorganized and feeble. Mayro took out his own bow and assisted the angry customer in fighting his way to the window. Then after, taking a couple blows himself, Mayro ran for the open gate and the open night.

Mayro circled the building, listening to the sounds of fighting, and picked off the gangsters still on the roof. It got quiet, and we waited. After a short time, the angry customer and his men burst out of the gate, singing a song of victory. He watched them go, then set off into the ruins, looking for a safe place to spend the night. He encounter a group of the Emperor-Khan's men, riding on patrol. At once suspicious and deferential, they escorted him to a decent inn in Fun Town. Most of his money and his main spell book had been left behind, but he had enough to pay for his room.

The next day, he went to see Xiao the merchant and ask for a job. "Come back in a few days." He did, only to find that Xiao had left town, called on sudden business. After knocking on a few more doors, he found another merchant he'd served once before, and who, thanks to several profitable seasons, was interested in hiring a well-armored household guard. 6 tael per month, plus upkeep.

Mayro and the House of Jourdain Part 3 ("What's the price?")

Mayro spent a week or so resting, and hanging out in both his secure, comfortable inn and in the common rooms of the seedier inns that he used to call home. He heard rumors that of frequent closings at the House of Jourdain for the purpose of “renovations.” Business was down and they were relaxing their door policy, which as some joked, was likely to bring in more of the guests who create the need for renovations in their wake. Mayro returned to his stakeout point in a half-ruined building.

behind the door by Brayo
behind the door, a photo by Brayo on Flickr.

After a few days and nights, Mayro saw a rowdy customer being ejected by a crowd of gangsters with spears and torches. The ejected customer yelled and cursed, threw stones, and banged on the gate, but was ignored. He tried to apologize. “I didn’t mean to.” “I wasn’t going to eat her.” And was ignored some more. After some more threats and stone-throwing, he finally collapsed on the ground outside and fell asleep. In the morning, after the other customers had awakened, the ejected customer woke up. In the morning light, Mayro saw that he bore a striking resemblance to Lord Jourdain, as represented in the portraits hanging in the music room. And the man’s clothes, still distinctively “foreign” despite their ragged filthiness might be those that belonged to Lord Jourdain some 50 years ago. The man rose, wagged his head and knocked sheepishly on the door. After some 30 minutes, he was admitted inside.

Mayro watched throughout the day. Towards evening, he saw a group of gangsters and servant women leave the compound with a basket of garbage, some shovels, and what Mayro guessed to be a body, wrapped in a shroud. The servants dumped the garbage on a pile maybe 50 yards from the compound and continued on their way toward the bluffs overlooking the river. After about 30 minutes trying to dig a grave in the rubble, the gangsters ordered the women to dump the body into the river.

After the group had returned to the compound, Mayro went to investigate at the river. The body, that of a young woman, had slipped out of its shroud, and lay half-in and half-out of the water. From the top of the bluff, Mayro couldn’t guess how she had died; surely the body had been damaged in being flung down some 30 feet over hard rocks.

Without filling them in on all the details, Mayro made contact with Golfo and Nardon and they made plans to enter the House once more as customers. They agreed. They were received well at the door, their weapons were taken for safe-keeping, and they were ushered to the “Drinking Room,” the other, more expensive common room, where customers linger while choosing which woman to pursue. Madam Guto made an appearance almost immediately, promising Mayro, that there was someone very special that she wanted him to meet. “Perfect for you.” While waiting, some other women had some good fun helping the three warriors out of their armor, and trying on the various pieces. First Golfo and then Nardon went upstairs with a new friend-- but Mayro was not left alone for long.
In due time, Madam Guto presented to him Misty Valley, a beautiful woman, dressed as a bride. Mayro, thinking ahead had only carried with him enough to pay the entry fee and the 10 tael going rate for a “room upstairs.” Roughly two months’ salary for a poor mercenary guard, but clearly not enough.

But it wasn’t his money that they were after, but his prowess as a warrior. Misty Valley was promised to another man who she didn’t want to go to. Maybe Mayro would negotiate with this other man. He agreed and Madam Guto took him through the kitchen and down to the cellar. He waited in one room among half-drunk gangsters and sleeping servants while Madam Guto disappeared down a corridor behind a locked door. While he waited, Misty Valley and some of the other expensive courtesans helped him back into his armor and brought him his sword. Madam Guto returned, and brought Mayro into the corridor, then closed the door and locked him inside. “First door on your right!”

Mayro moved down a corridor lit by a lamp hanging on the wall. The first door on the right was ajar and upon pushing it open, he encountered Lord Jourdain in the cramped squalid room that seem to be his living and sleeping quarters. Not wasting any time, Mayro attacked his rival as the man rose from his bed. “Hey, that’s not what I wanted!” He made two cuts with his sword before the other seemed to understand what was happening. “Hey, you’re not a girl!” He reached for his own weapon—a great spiked club—and begin swinging at Mayro, driving him back into corridor. Having pushed Mayro out of the way, “Lord Jourdain” lumbered toward the locked door, demanding a refund. Mayro stabbed him from behind, and at last Jourdain attacked him back in earnest. Despite Mayro’s armor, the force of the man’s blows was incredible, throwing Mayro first against one wall and then the other. But Mayro’s blade was sharp and quick and he continued to slash his enemy. At last, both men, bruised, battered, and bloodied, fell to the ground. Fighting to stay conscious, Mayro called out to help. And his call was answered. Mayro had the sensation of being carried and opened his eyes long enough to see the dead body of hairy, hulking bestial man in the place where Jourdain had fallen, the gangsters engaged in chopping off its head.

When Mayro next regained consciousness, he was in a large comfortable bed with perfumed linens . . .

Golfo and Nardon came to see him in the morning. Madam Guto was grateful for his help, and promised to help him recover. Golfo and Nardon especially were reluctant to leave their friend, but as Madam Guto pointed out, moving him through the ruins in is current condition could be lethal.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Mayro and the Monastery of the Two-Fold Path

Mayro moved to a new, better inn to get a private room with a lock on the door, and bought a small iron box to store his valuables. While waiting for Golfo to recover from his fight with the giant leech, Mayro did another stake-out of the House of Jourdain. Mainly, he saw more of the same: another servant woman being driven out with a beating, occasional deliveries during the day, 3 or 4 groups of customers at night. Curiously, one day he arrived at his stake-out post to find others already there—also watching the House. He slipped away without being noticed. Also, one night, he saw a group of monks leaving the House near dawn, and taking a couple women with them; he trailed them back to the monastery of the Two-Fold Path.

Golfo had told Mayro a few things about this Monastery, and Mayro now decided that he had seen enough that he was ready to go in. The next day, a little before dawn, the party (Mayro, Golfo, and Nardon, all wearing their new armor) made their move. Golfo was able to point out a formerly secret, now half-concealed, back entrance and they began exploring the ruined former living quarters. Their were a few signs of recent maintenance, but most of what they saw lay in complete disarray. Large sections were returning to a natural state with weeds, sapling, and even mature trees growing amongst the rubble of a collapsed hall. They began picking their way through those rooms, which while burned and scarred still had intact ceilings and internal walls.

Mayro & co. lost a hireling when the floor collapsed beneath them in one room. The seasoned warriors knew how take a fall, but the malnourished laborer did not. But there was little time for mourning as the noise attracted attention of a group men who began shooting arrows at them on sight. The party returned fire and killed the men. After climbing out of the pit, they examined the bodies, and found that they did not look like monks, but nomads or wandering brigands. The party retreated to rest and returned a few days later. Nothing much had changed. The party crossed the pit without incident and in the rooms beyond, found a stable, seemingly unused, and a long flight of stairs descending underground.

The space underneath the monastery was dug roughly out of the hard clay. The tunnels were narrow and twisting, and the party soon saw an explanation as to why, when they stumbled into a room occupied by a group of giant insects, some bipedal and wielding weapons, the others more conventional except for their size, roughly that of large dogs or even ponies. The insects allowed the party to retreat while guarding their own weaker members.

Continuing their exploration of the underground space while avoiding the narrower tunnels, the party came to a tunnel sloping up and ending at a ladder and a trapdoor. Mayro climbed the ladder and with a little effort, busted it open—to find himself surrounded by about 20 monks. Their initial response was surprised relief, but they soon showed signs of suspicion or hostility and Mayro dropped back down.

Fleeing with his companions, Mayro & co. heard at least a couple monks in pursuit and decided to take a chance in the insects’ warren. They fought their way through a small group of giant ants and then found themselves at the center of the hive, in a large chamber housing the overfed, glutinous body of the queen and her many attendant guards. These guards were fierce and did not allow an easy retreat. Likewise their hard exoskeletons repelled most of the warriors’ blows. Fighting within an inch of their lives, just to get back out of the queen’s chamber, the party fled the insects’ den and made a beeline (ow!) for the relatively safe, ruined section of the Monastery. After catching their breath and binding their wounds as best they could, they made all the way out and returned to Khanbaliq. Mayro concluded that the Monastery wasn’t something to tackle with such a small party.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Mayro Below the Jade Temple / Review: Lesserton & Mor (One DM’s perspective)

Although one reviewer noted rightly that “Below the Jade Temple” a 5-page mini-crawl set in the ruins of Mor, is not, the major selling point of a product with over 100 pages, most of them devoted to descriptions of locales, folk, and plots of the base town—it is the focus of this “review.” Reason number one: this post is also an adventure log describing Mayro’s exploits in the Jade Temple. Reason number two: I have way too much unused campaign source material that might provide very interesting reading for DMs, but because of a lack of obvious “plot entry points,” will likely remain unusable. Indeed, often I find that campaign sourcebooks are so well-presented as self-regulating machines that I can’t imagine how autonomous PCs could be introduced without breaking them. Therefore, a fully fleshed out adventure provides an introduction to a setting that DMs and players may begin to see as their own.

The Jade Temple uses an entry-point that’s straight-forward without forcing the players’ hand. By chance they meet an adventurer (Golfo) who had been taken prisoners by a band of orkin living in the ruins. Imprisoned in the base of a small tower, he heard noises below him that made him think that there was a hidden entrance to a ruined temple. Thus there were two motivations for adventure: revenge and exploration/looting. Instead of orkin,
I varied this a little, and added some Khanbaliq-specific details. Golfo had been imprisoned by members of the Dirty Rain gang after he ran up large gambling debts that he was unable to pay. The Dirty Rain had planned to sell him as a mine slave, but instead he was purchased by an agent of the Black Flower gang. The Black Flowers had their own terms—they had wanted Golfo to find some friends to attack the Dirty Rain outpost and secure the tower. Although Golfo had escaped this debt by helping to exterminate the Black Flowers, he was still interested in seeing what was inside and below the tower. And Mayro reasoned that it was ok to kill people who had planned to sell your friend into slavery.

We played this game with one PC (Mayro who is a 3rd level M.U., Fighter) plus Golfo (published as a 2nd level fighter, he has risen to 4th level in adventures with Beatriss) and Nardon (also a 4th level fighter). I expect this adventure was intended for a larger number of lower-level characters. There were a couple places where their small numbers made the adventure much more dangerous.

Although he understood that it meant earning no XP for the adventure, Mayro opted to rely on magic to gain entrance to the tower. Ironically, the adventure includes enough detail about the gang’s daily activities-- including visits to the well to collect water—that had Mayro followed his usual M.O. of a long stakeout, he might have found another way. But his approach was very quick and very safe: sleep on the sentries from a distance, then jump up to the top of the tower. He killed the sleeping sentries, then brought his companions up on a rope.

They broke into the tower from the top and worked their way down, killing the gang members in their barracks rooms. When they found a locked door, the occupant raised the alarm, but the party took a defensive position and knocked off the gangsters in small numbers. Once the attackers stopped coming, the party moved through the ground floor and found the kitchen and then the stairs to the cellar—a succinctly described place of squalid misery well-known to Golfo, with a single pair of manacles hanging on the wall.

There was hole in the floor covered by a grate. In previewing the module, I was a little anxious the total of 3 spots requiring a successful bend bars in order to continue with the adventure. While I appreciate the realism, it can be really anticlimactic. Isn’t it almost better to fail a save and die of poison, then to fail a bend bars check and then have to just go home early? Anyway, this was actually the only instance, where it came down to a straight die roll and one of the three reasonably strong fighters made it and down they went.

Sewers! They’re a cliché I never get tired of and I don’t think anyone else does either. Consider that every urban feature—roads, sidewalks, intersections, even skyscrapers-- has its mirror image underground.

Fantasy blue. by phill.d
Fantasy blue., a photo by phill.d on Flickr.

Really? Anyway, the sewer map here is small, but suggestive of something larger, and more complicated. By simple process of elimination, the party was able to find its way to their intended goal, but there are plenty of blocked passageways that could offer passage to other “fossils” of the old city. Some passages were narrow and some wide, some filled with standing water, and others dry. Finding a nest of oversized worms (carrion crawlers) at the end of one of the blocked passageways gave them a clue that something lay beyond and after slaying the worms, (not difficult, but dangerous with a small party—at one point both NPCs were paralyzed by those nasty tentacles,) and “thawing out” Mayro & co. began trying to dig their way through. The module has some nice rules for exhaustion, that I unfortunately forgot to apply.

And on the other side of the rubble? The thrill of a locked gate! You can’t get beyond, but you know you’re going the right way or there wouldn’t be a gate here. Rather than trying to bend bars (I suppose an open locks check could have also worked if they’d had a thief), Mayro started bashing the lock with a big rock. This shook the gate and the roof above. And it shook up the party a little, but not enough. After killing some worm worms that popped out behind the falling flagstones, Mayro attacked the lock some more and finally broke it off. Behind this lay the third “test of strength” another grate, this one at the end of a small, upward slanting crawl space. Mayro tied a rope to one of the bars and I let all three of them combine their rolls.

So they broke through the grate and continued to the sarcophagi room. What I liked about this room is that the guardians weren’t inside the sarcophagi. After one tough fight and one easy one, the adventurers looted the room—jade monkey statue plus small jewelry on the long-dead priests.

Perhaps the best moment was one the way out when Golfo, in crossing through one of the “wet” tunnels, stepped on a weak point in the floor and fell through, taking the party’s torch with him, and plunging everyone into darkness. They heard him scream for help and jumped in after him. They found themselves about waist deep in water and fighting something big and slimy that had attached its mouth to one of Golfo’s legs and was sucking out his blood. Golfo stabbed at its head while the others attacked its thrashing body, and they killed it in time to save Golfo. After catching their breath, they dug a dry torch out of Golfo’s backpack, lit it and surveyed what seemed, for a few minutes, their likely final resting place.

They were in a 30’ diameter globular cavern, with water about up to their waist and no obvious exits. Water from the corridor above that they’d been sloshing around in was pouring down in a small, but steady stream. They were in no immediate danger of drowning, but neither was the chamber filling fast enough that they could forward to letting it fill the chamber and carry them back up to the exit. It was one of those times when the rules about re-acquisition of spells really matter. Mayro had his spell book, but what else did he need to re-learn jump? My long-standing house rule is spells can be re-acquired at any time through one-half-hour of uninterrupted study per spell level. I’m very diligent about wandering monster checks, and because any serious interruption (e.g. even the howling of a pack of wolves that do not attack, but not one of your friends sneezing) requires the spell-caster to start all over again, higher level spells can be very difficult to learn outside of one’s own locked study. Obviously, this rule worked very much to the party’s favor in this case. Also in mine, since the “standard rule” would have put me in the position of figuring out whether Mayro would be able to get a good night’s sleep on the slopes of an underground pool if his life depended on it.

Mayro spent some his time with his spell book, took a torch from Goldo and the rope from Nardon and jumped out of the hole, then turned around and pulled out his companions. On their way out, they found that the door from the cellar to the tower was barred, giving them some notice that the Dirty Rain may have returned, but broke down the door without any special precautions. They exited the tower made tracks for the city, only to be waylaid by a small group of Dirty Rain on the road. Neither side was eager for combat, and the party was able to pass after surrendering some of the jewelry they’d looted from the temple.

After resting up for a few days, they went to visit Xiao, who helped them find a buyer for the jade monkey statue. Each of them decided to spend about half his share on a suit of full armor—lacquered steel plates, co-ordinated arm-guards and leg-guards, tailored epaulets and lined gauntlets—the works. Mayro also invested in the supplies needed to create a second spell book containing a couple of his favorite spells.

Ancient Iron Armor by rockourworld1
Ancient Iron Armor, a photo by rockourworld1 on Flickr.

In closing, and to state what I hope is obvious, yes, “Under the Jade Temple,” is a solid mini-adventure that provides players a clearly-defined objective even while contributing to a sense of what the ruins are like and who is moving among them. I don’t think it would make much sense to run it as a one-off, but it works as well in any other “ruins” setting (e.g. mine) as it does in Mor. And it’s very useful as a stepping stone to more Mor adventures , or again, getting deeper into the referee’s to consider what parts can be adapted to one’s own setting.

Mayro and the House of Jourdain Part 2 ("What's my alignment?")

Now in possession of a little cash, Mayro, Goldo, and Nardon decided to return to the House of Jourdain as customers, ostensibly just for the purpose of gathering information.

Cheongsam woman-3 by sun art space photo
Cheongsam woman-3, a photo by sun art space photo on Flickr.

They were admitted through the front gate and then through the front door and welcomed to the music room, a comfortable lounging area, richly adorned with a unique collection of local and foreign luxuries, including portraits of the House’s original owner, Lord Jourdain. Among the customers there was a samurai from Zipang, one Gamo Mitsu, who tried to pick a fight with Golfo over one of the women. Madam Guto intervened, sending Gamo and his bodyguards upstairs with various companions. This left Mayro & co. nearly alone in the Music Room. The other occupants—a musician, a drowsy merchant and a woman who were sharing a bottle of wine — were magically eased into slumber. After looking behind the paintings and finding nothing, Mayro stole a handful of tael from the sleeping merchant and the party took their leave.
The problem, Mayro, explained, was that he really hadn’t seen anything to justify taking more decisive action. Madam Guto was creepy, but he wasn’t going to just cut down an old woman. The prostitutes seemed happy enough, and didn’t show any signs of being held against their will. During his days of surveillance he had seen a badly-beaten servant woman being ejected from the House, but she had refused to talk to him, and so he was reluctant to speculate as to how she had been injured, who was responsible, or why he, Mayro, should be involved in the administration of justice. The investigation or plunder of the House of Jourdain was only one of several opportunities for adventure recommended by Golfo, and it now seemed to Mayro that some of the other options promised more clearly-delineated adversaries and more loot.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Mayro and the House of Jourdain Part 1 (“What's our objective?”)

Because he had some familiarity with the House of Jourdain already, Mayro liked the idea of sticking his nose in there, but wasn’t sure whether his approach should be to attack the people who ran the brothel or sneak in and steal things.

So he started with some surveillance, setting up a shelter at the edge of an encampment of nomads that was in the same general vicinity. After a couple days of watching, Mayro learned that customers came in the night and left at morning, and that occasionally merchants made deliveries, but that the gang members didn’t seem to leave except to hang lamps outside as the sun was going down. He tried to gain entrance as a paying customer, but couldn’t even get through the gate due to his lack of funds. So he made the acquaintance of one of the brothel’s suppliers, a dealer in silken garments, and tried to get a job.

And he got a job. Not a permanent one, but a one-day contract that involved him accompanying the merchant (“Xiao”) when he made his monthly delivery to a particular customer that always tried to cheat him, or to offer unseemly and unfavorable barter terms. Day-to-day, Xiao felt secure with a couple men-at-arms, but for dealing with Madam Guto at the House of Jourdain, he would appreciate additional protection. Mayro offered the additional protection of his associates Golfo and Naron, and this was accepted.
Zheng He by aliinjapan
Zheng He, a photo by aliinjapan on Flickr.

When the group arrived at the House of Joudain, they were welcomed inside the music room and told that Madam Guto was running late. Young women brought them tea and made light, flirtatious conversation. When Madam Guto did appear, she told Xiao that she did not have enough money to pay and would we accept a smaller sum. He refused. She said she would look for more money and that while they were waiting Xiao should let one of the girls entertain him in her room. To Mayro’s surprise, Xiao agreed. He even tried to stop him from going, but the merchant shook him off. Not knowing what else to do, Mayro stood outside the room.
After about an hour, Xiao returned and so did Madam Guto. She could pay half, was that enough? Xiao was angry and distraught. He wasn’t going to let her trick him like that and he wasn’t dealing with her again, and he demanded his money. They waited some more. Feeling increasingly compromised, by the surroundings, the old woman’s commanding presence, his own lack of discretion, and the sounds of a group gathering in the courtyard, Xiao at last relented and sold his silks at a steep discount. After being escorted home, Xiao paid Mayro and his friends their promised wages and told them he’d be in touch if he needed their help again.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Mayro in Khanbaliq

One of the consequences of being slightly embarrassed about playing D&D is that you end up playing in small, furtive groups, even one-on-one sometimes. Or oftentimes, since you don’t have to co-ordinate around several people’s schedules and you’re roommates. So here’s what happened in Khanbaliq when I re-connected with an old friend, went to visit him in Florida, and he dug out his old character, Mayro—rolled up close to 20 years ago.

Quick backstory on Mayro: Mayro was a desert nomad, captured by "the empire" and sold as a slave to northern barbarians. Later, he was acquired by a "Persian" merchant, and became the merchant's personal secretary/bodyguard, and spent many years traveling with him until the merchant died in Khanbaliq. Since then, he’s been living hand-to-mouth, as a longtime resident at a poor inn, doing odd jobs and getting occasional jobs as a guard. Meta-game details: Mayro started as a Magic-User, reached 3rd level, then switched to fighter and has reached 3rd level. This is not multi-classing, but dual-classing. Maybe it shouldn’t be allowed, but it’s in the AD&D PHB 1e and 2e.

So then, Mayro became acquainted with other masterless swordsmen who float around the poor inns in the laborers’ district in Khanbaliq. Among these acquaintances is Golfo, who pulled him in on the assault on the Black Flower gang at the House of Joudain.

Following the qualified success of that attack, Golfo shared with Mayro his other schemes for getting rich while making the world a better place.

IMG_8787 by Brayo
IMG_8787, a photo by Brayo on Flickr.

Night's Dark Terror, Session 5

Pavel: "My hopes that Law has a purpose for these people, beyond chasing horses and gold has been encouraged by their decision to attempt the rescue of a good Traldaran who was captured by goblins in one of their raids. As a man of experience, I realize that he already been butchedred, cooked, and eaten, but I keep this to myself, allowing my companions' ambition to encourage their valor and other virtues. Tracking the cowardly goblins has likewise presented hardships-- in the form of cold, rain, darkness, hard beds and hard food-- that stregthens the character of a good man, even while it drives the wicked to increasingly desperate act. Time (and additional hardships!) will surely provide future proof to which camp each of us belongs. (That includes your Pavel. While I may be inured to natural hardships and have faced death in the eyes of embodied evil, I sense temptations and challenges before of forms too terrible to imagine.) Even today, we encountered and slew a terrible wolf that in death showed its true form to be that of a Traldaran man. Today a man in the form of a wolf, tomorrow perhaps we meet a wolf in the form of a man! For any of us, death may come at any time. "

Gromdain, 12 Thaumont AC 1000 (& early AM Tserdain, the 13th)

yellow moon by Brayo
yellow moon, a photo by Brayo on Flickr.

You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this (Night's Dark Terror, Session 4)

I missed session 3, in which the party defended Sukiskyn from goblin raiders. Although they were repelled, the goblins did manage to steal a large number of horses were stolen and in session 4, we went after them, under an agreement that we’d be allowed to keep half(?) of those we recovered. We tracked the goblins to a small, human settlement a few hours away, recovered the horses and brought them back to Sukiskyn. In the morning, a small of group of men approached Sukiskyn, explaining that their own settlement had been attacked and Stefan (brother to Pyotr, our host at Sukiskyn) had been kidnapped. More details can be found here: Soladain, 10 Thaumont AC 1000

This rest of this post is a rambling editorial, looking at why my character Pavel, the cleric, is on this adventure or why any cleric goes on any adventure.

It’s kind of stupid to ask, “Why does my character even want to go on this adventure?” A good answer is, “Why are you even here in my basement?”

But you'll keep reading anyway. Some other answers . . .

Because you’re the strongest, smartest, most generally capable man in the village and if you don’t go kill that Thing, it will come here and kill all of us.

Because you’re too lazy to work, too imprudent to save . . . too shiny to go without and too sexy to care . . . and that Thing is sitting on a big pile of gold.

Because that Thing’s as old as the world and it . . . knows things.

Because you took care of a lot of widows and orphans last week and preached a bang-up sermon yesterday and by golly you deserve your day to recharge like anyone else! And maybe, besides the Thing, there’s a vampire in that cave, and you can kill that, too.

With clerics, it’s hard. Although most members of the priestly caste are insulated from danger, life's random deprivations, even the need to go out and make a living, there are some who exile themselves from the comfort most other adventurers are, at least nominally seeking. In Pavel's case, he was a young acolyte who went into the wilderness for twenty years. That’s long enough to go crazy, and not long enough to get back.

The adventure associated with Night’s Dark Terror is pretty straight-forward: help us get these valuable white horses for a cut of their sale price. That could happen in our world. Goblins and ankhegs take the place of rustlers and injuns. Or to be more narrowly contemporary, speed traps and intestinal worms. (It's just the horses who have worms. Probably).

And the low-fantasy realism of it makes it even harder to explain why the priest-man is there.

He has access to very powerful painkillers and anti-biotics.

In the last game, he was also able to warn Allelle, an Elf Fighter/ Mage about the dangers of consorting with goblins. About an hour after we met a goblin in a tree—whom Allelle communicated with using the disgusting creature’s own perverted language— we met another elf, a woman, who was living in the company of goblins, and whom we shot dead. Slippery slope. Lie down with dogs. (Some of the sharper members of the party think she may have been a hostage, but don’t tell Pavel.)

Pavel is a Traldaran, and has a strong suspicion of not only non-humans, but even non-Traldarans—i.e. Thyatians. At the goblins camp, they found dead prisoners in the huts and almost his first thought was, “Are these Traldarans?” Is it still Xenophobia when those who aren’t your kind want to eat you? (Either literally, with the goblins, or metaphorically, in the case of the Thyatians who are consuming Traldaran resources and obliterating Traldaran culture.)

Pavel rejects the creature comforts of civilization but he hasn't necessarily adapted to the wilderness either. Rather, he endures. And maybe deprivation and fear associated with the wilderness are in some ways easier to grapple with the spirtiual threats presents by city life. Or even outpost-in-the-forest life.

IMG_0230 by Brayo
IMG_0230, a photo by Brayo on Flickr.

One of the great features of D&D is the leveling system and the qualified expectation that a band of impoverished adventures will one day be heroes. And this gives some credence to Pavel’s otherwise baseless “prophecy” that this is not just about horses and getting paid, but at some point we will be called to do something really important in the service of Law. (Never mind that Pavel may be the only Lawful member of the party, that’s all part of the prophecy.)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Siege of Quitokai Finale

The attackers made yet another sortie; under a cloud of giant bats, warriors attacked from both sides. While the defenders rushed out to meet the Wolf Clan, several warriors from the Red Clan crossed the burning logs of the north palisade to enter the compound and began seeking entrance to the stone great house. But while the villagers suffered a couple casualties, the attackers over-extended themselves. The bats proved a momentary nuisance. After driving them away, the defenders inside the great house shot their arrows at the Red Clan leader. Once he was brought down, his followers hesitated, and after losing several more of their numbers, retreated. Meanwhile, the villagers fighting the Wolf Clan went on the offensive, and after repelling those attackers, pursued them into the jungle, likewise seeking the enemy leaders in particular. And again, once the leader was slain, the remaining attackers fled deeper into the jungle, casting aside their shields in panic.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Night's Dark Terror, Part 2

My character, Pavel, missed the first episode, but I'm very glad to play this very well-regarded module. After his sucess in smiting a tribe of hobgoblins into oblivion, Pavel migrated to more civilized lands to the south, committed to protecting his fellow Traldarans and their faith from the corrupting influence of the Thyatians.

And so he found himself on a boat, and that boat attacked by slavers. Pavel prayed and his fellow passengers were victorious. They captured one of the slavers and ordered him to bring him to their camp. The long slog through marsh in a light rain and growing darkness gave Pavel an opportunity to re-affirm his disdain for physical comfort and his dedication to the Law. The slaver's camp was deserted. The slavers, vainly fleeing from the punishment that lives inside them, had abandoned their comrade and left many crude and cowardly devices of the type used for entrapping animals. The captured slaver, confronted by the sudden awareness that he was soon to receive just payment for his career of cruelty, made a desperate attempt to flee-- and perished in one of pits dug by his fellow blackhearts. Sometimes, it seems, the Law has a sense of humor.

Pavel and the others returned to the boat and, the next morning, continued their voyage. They were put ashore at a hut in the forest, from which they would continue on land in the morning. The owner was gone, but having learned that she was a faithful Traldaran, Pavel knew that she would gladly extend hospitality to a man of the Faith and made himself at hom, santicfying her rude home with his prayers. And a few hours later, Pavel would return the favor by preparing her final earthly home, and saying the prayers to send her off to her next one. Roger-- one of the other travelers, discovered her body while fishing off the dock. Strange signs for strange times.

As night fell, the travelers shuttered themselves inside the hut. They refused entry to the bear.

Do Not Stop For Hitchhikers by Brayo
Do Not Stop For Hitchhikers, a photo by Brayo on Flickr.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Birth of the Little Fox Gang

After Tetsukichi, Mayro, and Beatriss-- with temporary allies from the Dirty Rain Gang emerged victorious in their fight against the Black Flowers in the ground floor of the House of Jourdain, a young woman glided down the stairs and said that Madam Guto would like a word with "the new masters." Kura, the Dirty Rain gangster who had led the raid identified himself as such, half repressing a glance at Tetsukichi and Beatriss for confirmation. Beatriss didn't challenge Kura's authority, but she did question his intelligence: "Let's not walk right into an ambush."

When the "new masters" hesitated, a woman identifying herself as Madam Buto also descended the stairs. A handsome woman in her 60s, she wore plain, mannish clothes; her fingers were adorned with many rings, and otherwise wore no jewelry; she walked with a cane and a slight limp, but seemed generally strong and vigourous. She explained that she would like to negotiate for the protection of the new masters.

She went back upstairs and called on them to followe her. at the top of the stairs, hearing her voice from what had been the library, Beatriss remembered that there had been something very strange and terrible in the upstairs, specifically in the library. They entered warily.

And Beatriss remembered. A demon-- behind a secret door in the panelling. But now the panelling had been removed and the demon was clearly visible, sitting in the middle of a large bamboo cage.

Madam Guto needed guards and she would pay them to stay in her house and maintain order, especially when there were guests. Beatriss was not interested in employment, and made known her intention to leave. Madam Guto didn't argue, but suggested that Beatriss and Tetsukichi wait for her downstairs, so that "we can talk about another issue." Beatriss, against her own better judgment, agreed.

They went downstairs, and waited. The other gangsters were curious as to what had happened and Beatriss was eager to share her misgivings. Before long, Kura appeared, all smiles, and asked for his lieutenants to come up. They did. There was a brief argument, and then silence. Soon, Kura and his lieutenants came downstairs. Kura explained to the others that they had signed an agreement with Madam Guto and were breaking away from the main body of the Dirty Rain Gang. They were going to stay in the house, make good money, and run things their own way.

Beatriss and Madam Guto strolled into the courtyard so they could talk, with Tetsukichi and their followers-- um, following.

Madam Guto explained that she had signed an agreement and that she had suggested a name for the new group-- the Little Foxes. She hoped Beatriss liked the name. She hope that future relations between Beatriss and the Little Foxes would not be like the unprofitable relationship with the Black Flowers. "Let's just agree that you leave my Little Foxes alone and I leave your Little Foxes alone. That's all."

Talking was over and so Beatriss attacked. Surprisingly nimble, Madam Guto suffered only a minor wound and fled to the house; Beatriss's friends were caught off guard by their friend's sudden move. But they agreed to support Beatriss, who claimed the woman had threatened her children. The Little Fox gang met Beatriss inside the house and asked her to leave.

Al-Fitar, Tetsukichi, and Golfo were wounded and so the party decided to leave peacefully. They have since made contact with the main body of the Dirty Rain gang to discuss what to do about their new mutual enemy.

(Although Mayro was active in taking the House of Jourdain and destroying the Black Flowers, after the battle, he vanished as suddenly as he'd appeared. PCs do things like that, you know.)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


stare by Mamluke
stare, a photo by Mamluke on Flickr.

Strathbogie & co. continued to explore the maze of glyphs and pits under the wizard’s tower. The overwhelming message was that we were overlooking the obvious. Case in point: There are two “golem halls”, large rooms dominated by a statue that comes to life when needed to clean up victims of the traps. In each of these rooms, about a dozen spells are inscribed on the walls. With the proper resources, Strathbogie and Brigitta could be copying these into first their own spellbooks and then others, and make for themselves a tidy sum. But shouldn't there be something more?

We’ve also recalled coming upon a few notes scribbled on the flyleaf of an old spellbook. It provides cryptic hints that probably apply to this wizard’s tower. The master liked flowers, healing is available and, in case of capture, “break string.” We do have a necklace with different types of beads on it, including the letters TTJINW(or M).

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

New Residents at the Moathouse

The moathouse which is the “adventuring locale” associated with the Village of Hommelet is not generally regarded as a killer. But it can be. Several waves of PCs have made generally successful forays into the moathouse, and have found that when they make their return expeditions, that new, often tougher monsters have replaced those previously displaced.
A couple new PCs joined the party of “permanent-guests” (or “treasure-hunters” in the local parlance) who have taken up residence in the village inn. These included: Le Pierre, a strong farmer from a smaller village downstream that wondered what the people of Hommelet were putting in the water; and Danderion, an elf from Grey Mountain who didn’t explain what had brought him there.

Fernac the card-shark, glad to make another go of it with some new recruits, offered to “lead” them. When the party (Le Pierre, Danderion, Osric, Aurelia, Mapper, and Fernac) arrived at the moathouse, they saw clear general signs of what was causing problems downstream—a large chunk of wall near the front entrance had crumbled into the water, additional debris had collected, and the main flow of water was being diverted into an expanding mudflat. Frogs were there in abundance and the party prepared for their assault. Well-armed with bows and other missile weapons, the party made short work of the giant frogs. During the fight, they saw an enormous lizard head peak out from inside the courtyard and grabbed one of the larger frogs for itself. After the fight, the party retreated some 20 yards, hoping the lizard would round out its meal with more frogs. But after gobbling down or one two more, the lizard showed its preference for large meat and charged. Le Pierre and Aurelia met the charge, while the others shot arrows into its sides. Both Le Pierre and Aurelia were badly wounded, and the lizard pounced on Aurelia to make a meal of her, again trying to retreat to the courtyard to eat. The party killed it with more arrows, but Aurelia could not be saved.

BIGUANA by Brayo
BIGUANA, a photo by Brayo on Flickr.

The party decided to return Hommelet and invite Lili the fighter to accompany them and, to replace Aurelia, invited the “other” cleric—Fezziwig—to come with them and left Mapper the thief at home.

In their second foray, the party mode cautiously but quickly across the debris and into the courtyard and then through the courtyard into the house. They scouted the rooms on the ground level. There were signs of recent structural damage, including a hole in the ceiling of the main hall. After spotting some glowing red orbs that they wanted to avoid, they decided it was time to go down. This proved difficult. The stairs were burned out. And after they threw down some burning brush to illuminate the place below, they began hearing an unearthly wailing sound, from an unseen source. They retreated to the main hall to discuss their next course of action. There they noticed some small rocks falling through a hole in the ceiling. And then the face of a wild looking man with flecks of bloody flesh in his beard. And the claws of lion. And wings. Le Pierre rushed to meet the beast and was knocked to the floor. The rest of the party closed in with melee weapons to rescue the monster and kill the beast. At Lili’s suggestion, they found a way to climb onto the roof and found a bronze statue of a meditating figure, obviously valuable, and not impossible to carry back to Hommelet.

They sold the statue and bought bows and suits of chainmail. They also bought a rope ladder. They brought the ladder back to the moathouse, nailed it into place. Again, the shrieking started. Fernac offered to climb down into the cellar. After a few steps immediately climbed back up. Why? Something undead. Something that Fezziwig couldn’t turn and that wasn’t injured by normal weapons. Fernac let Lili borrow his magic dagger. She stabbed the creature before getting dragged down into the hole.

The survivors returned to Hommelet. They bought silver arrows, silver daggers, and each received a vial of holy water from the church of Saint Bocrates. They recruited Gunthar, a fighter. And back to the moathouse.

This time the undead creature was met with a volley of silver arrows and put to flight. They pursued, Fernac recovering his dagger. They moved into the area where some of them had been held prisoner, and then through a door secreted in a large pillar in the torture chamber. Another volley of arrows followed the creature down the shaft inside the pillar and they killed it. At the bottom of the pillar, they found a crypt—and more undead. Four of them, not as deadly as the half-ghost thing, and vulnerable to regular weapons, but deadly enough to kill Osric and severely injure Fernac. After the four ghouls were destroyed, the party returned to Hommelet for a long rest.