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.