Thursday, April 28, 2011


what have we here? by Brayo
what have we here?, a photo by Brayo on Flickr.

It started as a wake. For the hirelings who died while we were fighting the Gargoyle. And for Thakko, who loved the ocean (from afar). Some other things happened, and when Strathbogie woke up, he found that he had received a secret mark, that of the Red Bull. (Or Winged Bull? The mark is in a place where it's hard for Strathbogie to see.)

Other news . . .

Ysden's friend Hardtack was found dead in the swamp, and he didn't do it.

Mendel the swamp magician found the body, but he didn't do it either, even though it was just punishment for the man's treatment of Mendel's friends the giant centipedes, and even though it's clear that the killing was done by wild beasts.

When Dreyfus went to the myriadrome he got beer dumped on him and attacked by one of the centipedes. That's strange in a way. Strange as in ha ha.

Brigitta has discovered that when wild honey is mixed with wine, it loses its addictive properties!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Hatsu, R.I.P.

The stereotypes about the sentimentality of stuffed animals and those who play with them are largely true. Anyone hoping to correct this “flaw” may get nothing for their troubles but velveteen-textured bruises.
But nonetheless, most long-time players of D&D agree that character death, or more accurately, the prospect of character death is part of the game. How does a referee make a game suspenseful and meaningful without risking injury to his out-of-game person?
The answer, as always, is hirelings and henchmen. Over time my players get attached not only to their PCs, but to their PCs’ henchman. And because henchman are slightly more numerous than PCs, and slightly less cautious, odds are that when someone’s number is up, the name written next to it will be the name of an NPC. Most recently, that name was “Hatsu,” long-time henchman to Tetsukichi. (Isa Girl-Monkey (who plays Tetsukichi) argued that no, Hatsu was not really an NPC, he was Tetsukichi’s alter ego. Before trying to explain why she was wrong, I remembered the name of this blog. Never argue about who is the alter and who is the ego.)

So what happened? Again, my players get attached to their henchman and so Hatsu wasn’t checking for traps or skipping willy-nilly across the rotten floorboards. His death was not a freak accident. (But it was kinda freaky.)

During the first adventure in the monastery, the party had come upon a little cache of forgotten treasure. In the process of divvying up the bracelets and rings, stacks of coins, Hatsu let it be known that, like Tetsukichi, he would like to save up a nest egg for himself so that he might take a title. (As a DM, I generally don’t enforce training costs on poor characters when they level up. Those who don’t pay are of lower social status, and remain beholden to their teachers. When someone levels up and has the money to pay for it, they are allowed to “take a title” appropriate to that level.) Taking a title was very important to Tetsukichi as it allowed him to be adopted into a local clan and thus to marry Su-Laing. But it had put Hatsu in a strange position. Among Tetsukichi’s new cousins, he was a foreign servant. Among the people of Zipang, Hatsu was serving a foreign master. But if he could take a title himself, then Hatsu could claim a new nationality and find a wife.

Thus there was some bitter irony for Hatsu in contributing his treasure in order to purchase freedom for temple servants. “And then just turn them loose to go who knows where?” The women were grateful for having been rescued from the monastery—was Hatsu not entitled to some “display of gratitude”? Beatriss asked whether he was looking for a wife or a concubine. Hatsu wasn’t sure—if he could choose a servant for now, he would treat her well, and then see what happened.

One of the women, Dandan approached Tetsukichi privately and observed that Hatsu had been injured while rescuing them, and that she and the others were grateful, and that perhaps a room could be provided where she and one or two of the others would be allowed to care for him. Beatriss and Tetsukichi agreed and set aside a room for Hatsu, Dandan, and Jiao.

Perhaps two hours later, Tetsukichi was awakened by a terrible groan, followed by a women’s scream cut short, and another woman’s long piercing wail. Hatsu was “very” dead, Jiao was dead enough, and Dandan was in a state of shock pointing at the open window. Tetsukichi went out to investigate, leaving Dandan with Su-Laing . . .

Things could have turned out really ugly if Beatriss hadn’t awakened, and hearing that Su-Laing was alone with the “survivor,” ran in to check on them. She found two Su-Laings, both of whom claimed that other was an impostor who had tried to kill her. When Tetsukichi returned, he suggested that there was some type of strange power at work, something to do with the Two-Fold Path, and the esoteric teachings imparted to its Temple Servants. Something had gone wrong and causing people to do terrible things that they ordinarily wouldn’t do. One of the Su-Laings encouraged this interpretation and said that there was a terrible force beneath the Monastery that had to be destroyed. This was enough for Beatriss to identify the speaker as dangerous for knowing too much. She sent the “other Su-Laing” (whom she considered the “real Su-Laing”) out of the room so she should ask some more questions.

Due to some confusion about Beatriss’s orders, the interview didn’t last long. Everyone else left the room and Su-Laing’s features shifted to match Beatriss’s. Both Beatriss’s called for help, but when they arrived, one Beatriss asked to be allowed to fight her double alone. And this one proved once again to be very a good fighter, and presumably the “real Beatriss.” Once dead, the “other Beatriss” turned into a featureless, hairless, gray, and anthropomorphic but emaciated and sexless being.

Once the immediate danger was removed, a somber mood fell on the household. Those who could, slept, without taking special precautions. The next morning, they sent for Afu, not to plan another sorite into the Monastery, but to lead a funeral. After the funeral, they asked Afu to confirm that there weren’t any other dangerous being hiding among the temple servants.

When the party did return to the Monastery, they found evidence that it had been visited again in their absence—the bridge over the rotten floor room had been removed. After some trial and error, the party resolved to lower themselves into the pit on a rope and then climb out the other side. But while they were in the pit, the Black Flower gang attacked in force.
The party defended strongly, using their most powerful spells, and the Black Flowers were driven away. On the other side of the pit, the party found a passage that led to the stairs descending to the pits below the Monastery. But considering the dangers that the Black Flowers might regroup for another attack, the party decided to return to the safety of the city and make a new plan before venturing further.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Strathbogie's stubborn friends

Gargoyle by Vicki & Chuck Rogers
Gargoyle, a photo by Vicki & Chuck Rogers on Flickr.

An old adventurer named "Gummy" had given the party a lead on a treasure-enrcihed tomb inside of more. Known as the tomb of the four gargoyles, and identified by a curious mark that he drew on paper, the tomb was said to be found "due west of the breach."

In the course of locating the tomb, Strathbogie had several great ideas that were ignored by the rest of the party. First, they were too cowardly and untrusting to introduce themselves properly at the Orkin village located "due west of the breach" and after ingratiating ourselves, inquiring there of the location of the tomb.
Second there were too many other good ideas offered and ignored to even begin to rememer here, excpept that after we found the gargoyle and had him throughly entangled in weeds and vines (this was the doing of Mendel, a swamp man, although Strathbogie has started learning earth magic himself, too), everyone despaired of how to destroy the foul monster, which made from magic could only be harmed by magic, and we boasted only one magic sword among us and no warriors brave enough to wade in among the thrashing vines to engage in hand-to-hand (or even sword-to-back) combat. What is the need for bravery when wit abounds? We had a magic sword and we had a rope-- were there no clever sorts among us who could so afix the rope to the sword, and-- in imitation of those hunters who bestride the waves throwing barbs at leviathans so as to extract that slow-burning vicosity by whose flame the scholar pores over his books long into the night, TO WHIT, WHALERS-- by as many tries as there are rounds in ten turns, hurl the sword at the monster, and then snatch it back by way of the rope to make another strike? So it would seem. Fillory, an agreeable lass, was half-persuaded, but Isden would not release his sword. Strathbogie tried to resolve the dilema and got hit on the head for his trouble. Needless to say, the monster remains at large.

Strathbogie is nearly certain that it was Dreyfus who knocked him out with the back of his axe. He also believes that, in some way beyond mortal understanding, Dreyfus is associated with Thakko's violent death. Sure Dreyfus "seems trustworthy." But why did he just pop out of nowhere, the day after Thakko was killed?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Gang fighting

Belgium Day II by Brayo
Belgium Day II, a photo by Brayo on Flickr.

Once Beatriss and Tetsukichi had Su-Laing safely home, and started seeing fires springing up around the city, they went out to investigate, honing in on a fire among a sting of shops in the outer city. Good people watched from indoors. As B&T predicted, the Black Flowers seemed to be responsible—although they were also taking charge of efforts to extinguish the blaze. One member quizzed Beatriss about what she was doing and where she lived, and in taking his leave, butted Nardon in the stomach with his spear. Beatriss and Tetsukichi decided to get out before they met more, and to save their energy for more important things.
Back to the Monastery. They entered by the now very un-secret door—it had been ripped off its hinges and burned. There was more evidence of fresh destruction throughout the halls they explored several weeks ago, before coming upon the dozing sentry. He offered them a deal—the party leaves quietly and no one’s the wiser. But the party wanted to go the other side. They pushed into the room and found the sentry’s several sleeping cousins. And the door onwards had been half covered with rubble. As the party started digging their way out, the sleepers started to awaken. They were rough men, fresh off the steppes, and they were making good money, some half a tael a day to sit there and not let anyone pass. Not such good money that they’d interfere, but good money. Who was paying them, was it the Black Flowers? Yes, funny you should mention it, here they are now.
As mean and nasty as they were, they gave up the advantage of striking first. The party killed them swiftly and forced the Tuigens’ surrender. Not just surrender, but accompany the party as they pushed further into the monastery under the agreement that they’d fight together and offer mutual protection against any other Black Flowers they met once it was time to leave.
On the other side of the wall they met - - another group of Tuigens! But these were members of a different, rival clan, and what’s more, they were commanded by a Monk of the Two-fold Path. But before they could come to blows, the party suggested that they were customers. And what’s more, showed coin. “I’ll be right back.”
And he was. The party members were good customers and the monk was a good salesman. Explaining that he was about to go on a long pilgrimage the next day and wouldn’t be back for four years, and that the other monks might be too busy to help customers, he accepted a little over 200 tael for the 10 “temple servants” that were available for re-assignment. The monk decided he would start his pilgrimage immediately and they all left together.

The Field of the Moon

Pleased with the valor of Golfo and Nardon, Beatriss postponed a second foray into the monastery and offered both warriors several weeks of training. Their activities attracted the attention of Al-Fitar, an unemployed caravan guard who requested to join Beatriss household and to be allowed the chance to pursue any honorable quest before him.
Full Moon by Brayo Full Moon, a photo by Brayo on Flickr.

Instead, he went with Beatriss, Tetsukichi, and their followers to witness a brawl on The Plain of the Moon. This was Su-Laing’s idea and she accompanied them, lured by the promise that anyone who gazed on the large white dome while illuminated by the light of the full moon who be cured of any curse, evil, or other unexplained affliction. For reasons half-forgotten, the Servants of the Moon have also declared that the white dome under a Full Moon is the perfect time and place for a man to demonstrate his strength and courage by throwing down his armor and weapons to fight a dozen or so of his fellow men, using only his fists and whatever weapons nature had given him. Beatriss agreed to pay Golfo’s entry fee while resisting a 100 tael offer from a member of the Dirty Flower Association for her to ender the ring herself.

(Like the background for the Centipede races, this is all more-or-less lifted from the Referee’s Guide to Lesserton.)

The fight was just getting started when three men rode up on horseback and started killing members of the Dirty Flower Association. The crowd panicked first, and then the pugilists. Neither Beatriss nor Tetsukichi stayed around to ask questions.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Monastery of the Two-Fold Path

By the time the party entered the Monastery, they numbered seven:
Beatriss with Naron and Golfo, inexperienced warriors
Tetsukichi with his long-time henchman from Zipang, Hatsu
Feng Feng, a “mysterious” warrior with some magical abilities
The party located the secret door and entered the monastery. Somewhat surprisingly, the rooms they explored were badly damaged and populated not by monks and their captives, but by a pack of undead, flesh-eating monsters. The party retreated once, to allow Beatriss and Golfo, who had been temporarily incapacitated by the ghouls, a chance to recover outside the monastery. It was only during their second foray-- after once again passing through badly charred halls with rotten floors, crumbling walls, and collapsed ceiling—that they actually met some monks. These were four men dozing in a stable among the horses in a relatively better kept section of the monastery. The monks were unfriendly, but not directly hostile. They denied the party’s request for shelter for the night and pushed them out the stable door into the night.

Monday, April 11, 2011

A conversation with Afu

CHINA by BoazImages CHINA, a photo by BoazImages on Flickr.

Beatriss and Tetsukichi decided to re-dedicate themselves to duty, and to eradicating the slave-trade from Khanbaliq. In planning a investigative mission into the Monastery of the Two-Fold Path, they discussed the need to diversify and expand their group. They went to see Ali, priest of the Sun Temple for help. He knew all about the problems in Khanbaliq and asked B&T to accept the sad truth that their friend Gwinch was most likely behind it. Did they know why Gwinch suddenly left Khanbaliq, reportedly on a expedition to the Southwest provinces? Was he perhaps joining his fellow slavelords secret mountain citadel? Or gathering more slaves from the war-torn villages? Afu agreed that if Beatriss and Tetsukichi were unwilling to take the more obvious approach of tracking down Gwinch, they should investigate the Monastery—and “perhaps uncover some interesting information.” Afu said that he used to know a beggar who knew of a secret entrance into the monastery. “I haven’t seen him for a long time. But I did see his boots—on Gwinch’s feet.” The Wu-Jen who had some information had also disappeared recently—last seen at Gwinch’s house. Alas, Afu could offer the help only of lowly assistant, Eye-Sore-Si-Ling-I-thought-you-were-dead-Ju-May.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Fun Town!

Night Street - Yokohama by cocoip Night Street - Yokohama, a photo by cocoip on Flickr.

Back in Cynadecia, the Warrior Women of Madarua fortify their mycophagic diet with giant centipedes, especially during and for several months after pregnancy. Hence, when Beatriss heard that in certain quarters of Khanbaliq, giant centipede racing was a popular sport, she was intrigued. A little investigation revealed that the best-known place for pede racing was in “Fun Town,” a temporary entertainment district, built especially for the laborers who were building the city walls. On the way to Fun Town, Beatriss, Tetsukichi, and their followers, Naron and Fu Ying, were called in to prevent a potentially serious altercation. A customer at a popular noodle house was drunk and belligerent. He refused to pay for his meal and was scaring away other customers. B & T & co. seemed to effectively intimidate both the drunk and the noodle house owner. The drunk agreed to leave. The owner agreed that he wasn’t going to get paid. The drunk, who introduced himself as Golfo, followed the party to Fun Town, becomingly increasingly less drunk on the way. The party was suspicious of Golfo, but they let him pay their entrance into Fun Town. (Workers get in free on their Fun Day. Others pay on a “sliding scale.”) Beatriss and Tetsukichi did not find much fun in Fun Town. They had to change money before they could buy anything and the exchange rate of 3 Yuans for 2 Funs put them in a suspicious mood from the start. They lost money on pede races and the sticks of meat for sale were goat or sheep or something else not centipede. People gave them cryptic advice such as “Seek the Inn of the White Horse” and “Not all who lie are sleeping” that served no purpose but to annoy them. Finally, one of Tetsukichi’s followers (Fu Ying), informed his employer that he would be leaving his service as he had found a new calling, as a handler of trainer for the hundred-foot racers.