Friday, December 6, 2013

Play Report: Day Trips in the Hommelet Area: The Tower

Thundar, Fighter1
McDowell, Thief 1
Fezziweg Cleric 3
Deah, Fighter 2

Fernac, Thief/Cardsharp/Opportunistic Coward 5
Brother Doobios Cleric 1

One day there arrived in Hommelet McDowell. He was a clever sort, and immediately marked as such by both the people of Hommelet by the long-term residents of the local inn. Indeed, he was looking for adventure and not overly particular about where he found it.

 There were options. Fezziweg, an itinerant priest of the Order of St. Bocrates, had led a years-long campaign against a group of evil men who laired in a nearby ruins. However neither he, nor his friends, Thundar and Deah had been members of the brave and perhaps very lucky company led by Gruber, Cinderblock, and Gerilynn, that had recently reached the hideout of the evil cultists who lurked beneath the ruins and nearly exterminated them. According to these adventurers, only the cult's leader had survived. If reports from neighboring Wildedge were true, the evil high priest had moved his base of operations out of the moathouse to the distant town of Marais. To the elders of Hommelet, this suggested two likely quests for a band of would-be heroes: (1) make a final foray into the moathouse and ensure that no threats remain that would prevent a work crew from completely dismantling the ruins; or (2) track down the evil high priest and destroy him and any of his remaining henchman.

There was a third choice. One of Burne's Badgers, a spearman by the name of Dithaniel had joined on with Cinderblock & co. in their successful attack.  Among the loot he'd personally recovered from the cultists was a peculiar golden key with its levers in the shape of a heart. Dithaniel had lost this key in a card game to Fernac, who had discovered that the key was hollow and concealed a map showing where to find the treasure-filled tower whose door could be opened by the heart-shaped key. Fernac showed this key to Fezziweg, Death, Thundar, and McDowell.

Intrigued as much my the map as by the promise of treasure, the group agreed that they would leave the cultists alone and instead seek the tower and lock for the heart-shaped key. Anyone familiar with James Raggi's "The Tower" first published in Fight On! Number 4 (Winter 2009) and currently available as a bonus track at the end of Death Frost Doom can guess almost exactly how it all went down. The party studied bas-reliefs in the lower levels of the tower depicting a "courtship ritual" which seemed to suggest that by casting aside their weapons and armor in favor of the thornless roses that grew outside the tower, they could open a stone box at the top of the tower and receive a reward. I'll discuss this more in a review of the adventure itself, but in summary, here's what happened: McDowell was very clever to remain alive (and poor), Fezziweg needs to re-study the acolyte's catechism, and Deah and Thundar have passed from this world. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Beatriss and Tetsukichi reach Tempat Larang

Like any truly onerous journey, the hardships of this one served to reduce most distinct memories of this one to a blur.  A blur of light green and dark green, a blur of itches and stings, a blur of rotten fruit trampled by rotting boot leather, a blur of sleepless nights and groggy marches.  In repose, the travelers have found their fevered imaginations agree on a few points:

There was a soldier, a remnant of Goyat's army.  Or Kawabi's?  He had seen the wonders of Tempat Larang.  And knew the terrors that his one-time master hoped to re-awaken.  For every poison there was an antidote, and there was a Library in Tempat Larang that held all questions and all answers.  There was an Observatory on the cliffs above the city from where one could see through time and space and from there the soldier had watched the death of a village whose rice he'd stolen.  What would they see from there? 

bat by BrayoThere were bats, lots of bats.  One bat who asked of them a favor.  Or was that a man?  He slept in a tree during the day and led them on a forced march at night-- he knew all the dry places in the swamp, and brought them to the village of Gigit where, according to him, he was the rightful leader.  Beatriss and Tetsukichi reneged on their promise to fill in the moat surrounding Gigit.  In the ensuing combat, the villagers (whose teeth were filed like the bat-man) seemed unsure of whether to support their old, chief, or their old chief.  Beatriss and Tetsukichi did not tarry long.

They crossed rivers on rafts, hacked their way through jungles, and trekked over mountain passes, spending most of their gold on provisions at the occasional settlement, but at last reached the ruins of Tempat Larang.

The Mothership have landed! by YYZDez
The Mothership have landed!, a photo by YYZDez on Flickr.
The ruins appeared to me the remnants of a city larger than Khanbaliq or any city that Beatriss or Tetsukichi had ever seen.  Roughly two miles wide and a mile deep, the ruins were surrounded by a deep gorge on three sides, and by steep cliffs on the fourth.  While most of the city lay in ruins, those structures that remained-- slender, multi-tiered, towers, massive stupas, metal-sheated domes, and monumental statuary, both figurative and abstract-- suggested a place of splendor otherwise impossible to imagine.  A swinging bridge of wooden planks-- seemingly recent construction supported by the stone pylons that would have once been part of a larger stone bridge-- gave the party access to the ruins.  Armed men, still wearing remnants of imperial armor, excitedly introduced themselves as General Goyat's men and offered (with understated forcefulness) to bring them to the general himself.

The General was a decrepit-looking old man, stooped, shrunken, and half-blind, he hobbled with surprising speed, meeting them in the middle of a large, circular court, tiled with slabs of colored stone.  He gripped Tetsukichi's hand with speed and strength, and cut him with a knife, to squeeze a few drops of blood upon the ground.  "You're not Gwinch," he pronounced, with disappointment and derision.

Blades were drawn, and the original welcoming party were cut down by Beatriss, Tetsukichi, and their companions, while the General acquainted himself with each member of the party.  The old man emerged uninjured, and thoroughly frustrated that none of the party was the Gwinch.

"We know who you're talking about," Beatriss volunteer.

The General softened a little, but deflected further efforts at conversation, and ordered them that they should find Gwinch and bring him to Tempat Larang.

Promising to do as they were bidden, Tetsukichi instead sought out the Library and Observatory they'd heard about from the renegade soldier they'd met in the jungle.  They found the Libray, and in the Library they found information about a Protector of the People, whose simple altar could be found in a glen up on top of the cliffs above the city.

The party searched the long northern perimeter of the city, and found a number of caves at the bottom of the cliffs.  Also in this part of the city, they found statuary depicting strange half-human, half-serpentine creatures. As they continued to explore, they came across nearly intact building adorned with similar reptilian imagery.  And, in time, they met living specimens, whom they attacked on sight.  The snake-people fought back with terrible ferocity, but with divine help, artful tactics,and by force of sheer numbers, the party were victorious.  They ventures into the caves.  Here they found more strange creatures-- plus relief for their half-guilty consciences in the form of wretched human beings enslaved by the snake people.  After a series of combats against the snake-people and their minions, the party found an escape tunnel, and led the human prisoners to the relative safety of the jungle.  The freed prisoners were escorted to their home village.  Their grateful families welcomed the party with humble hospitality.


Sunday, August 11, 2013

What is it about the moathouse?

moat by BrayoWhat is it about the moathouse that attracts rootless ne’er-do-wells and wanna-be heroes to its dungeons like moths to a flame?  Dithaniel, one of Burne’s Badgers, after talking up his exploits for several months, convinced a few of his drinking buddies and passing travelers that the evil cult was on the defensive, and that a brave and cunning party might deal a killing blow to Hommlet’s long-time scourge, or at least deprive them of their ill-gotten riches.  The party numbered six: Gruber Coggins and Falden, vetrans of the Pan-Alyan Army, Gerilynn, foreign proselytizer for a mystery religion who had nevertheless endeared to Hommlet  in defending the village from a surprise assault about a year ago, Cinderblock, the ironically-named thief, and Bandague, a man of undefined talents.

When the party reached the environs of the Moathouse, Gerilynn recalled the stories of other adventurers about the giant frogs that lived in the moat, and that congregated especially around the main entrance.  The party circled the moathouse and found another entrance, crossing by way of stepping stones  to a breach in the wall of the main house.  Dithaniel led the way. The rest of the party hesitated, and before they could enter, the frogs were upon them.  Dithaniel and Bandague were good shots and killed the first frogs that emerged from the water.  The others took flight and the party hurried into the moathouse. 

They found the pit that would take them the lower level where, according to Dithaniel, the cult made their headquarters.  But before venturing below, the party explored the main level.  They encountered and slew a giant lizard in the main hall.  Peering out through an arrow slit, the party observed a small pack of feral dogs in the courtyard—and decided they could be left alone.
The lower levels seemed similarly empty.  The party explored several empty galleries.  Careful observation discovered a trail in the dust leading from a store room and across an empty hall to the middle of a blankwall.  Cinderblock discovered that one of the blocks in the wall could be pushed in such a way to create a narrow passage.  The party squeezed through into a small room in which they found another secret door.  There they found a flight of stairs leading down.  They noticed the glow of torches from the bottom of the stairs.  And heard human voices. 

Cinderblock crept ahead.  Drawing closer, he could distinguish two male voices and the sound of their footfalls as they walked down the corridor.  He followed behind them at a safe distance and beckoned the rest of the party to follow some distance behind them.  He followed the patrol through an intersection of multiple corridors and into another long corridor that ended at a door.  Here the party called out and the men, both wearing black cloaks with a yellow eye design stopped.  The conversation was brief and—for the two men—fatal.  Cinderblock and Dithaniel took their cloaks.

Dark Dungeons
The party opened the door.  A long tunnel extended beyond them, and there was a faint, fresh breeze from that direction.  To their left was another door. Cinderblock held his ear to the door and heard voices.  After a brief discussion, it was decided that Cinderblock and Dithaniel would open the door, wearing the cloaks, pretending to be cultists.

The ruse worked long enough to kill the first guard and wound a second.  The rest of the party poured in and a general melee ensued.  The party had the advantage of surprise and numbers, and Gerilynn used her prayers to heal those who sustained injuries.  Several cultists were killed and the party pressed closer.  They reached a barracks room as they heard a general alarm being sounded.  Dithaniel was badly wounded in the barracks room and the party decided to retreat, gambling that the long corridor that they had just discovered would bring them to open air.

Hearing pursuit, the party decided that Cinderblock should go ahead with Dithaniel while the rest of the party stayed to fight their pursuers.  Many of the cultists were lightly-armed, poorly-trained former peasants and they fell to the party’s arrows.  Their commanders, however, were experienced killers.  A single swordsman injured Gruber and severely wounded Falden, before he himself was killed by a surprise stab in the back from Cinderblock.  Cinderblock told the others that the passage did lead to outside and that he’d helped Dithaniel find a hiding place in a briar patch.

But before the part’s remnant could make their escape, the apparent lead of the cultists—a man with a staff with long black robes appeared, accompanied by another swordsman.  The cult leader commanded Gerilynn to die—and she fell to the ground.  Gruber and Bandague charged the cult leader while Cinderblock fought the swordsman.  The cult leader struck Bandague dead with his staff while also deflecting the flows of Gruber’s battleaxe.  Meanwhile the swordsman drove Cinderblock into a corner.  Gruber broke away from the cult leader to check Gerilynn’s body and while that she was still alive.  He helped her to her feet, and together they killed the second swordsmen.  The cult leader struck Cinderblock with his staff and then fled as a sudden dark fog dropped over the party.  Gruber dragged the swordsmen’s bodies into the light and looted their bodies—both carried a small handful of gems in his purse.  Falden and Cinderblock were severely injured and could only walk with assistance and encouragement from Gerilynn and Gruber.  Bandague’s body was abandoned and the party hurried as fast as the wounded would allow toward the opening at the end of the tunnel.
Passage To Hell (Unedited) by Withered Perception

Safely outside, they found Dithaniel and then climbed together to the top of a hill.  From the top of this hill they could see to the north and west, the moathouse and the surrounding marsh, forest and thicket to the south, and to the east an open plain.  Their discussion was cut short when they saw the cult leader-- with reinforcements—emerging from the tunnel.

They party limped as fast as they could over the plains to the east.  Their pursuers moved with a jerky, unnatural gait, the cult leader urging them onward from some distance behind them.  Slow but relentless, the six zombies followed the party for hours.  As the afternoon wore into evening, things began to look very bleak.  Off to the right, Gerilynn spotted a flash of purple in a copse of trees.  Through the trees, Gruber saw the diagonal outlines of rooftops. They broke to the right, hoping they were nearing a human settlement.  But drawing nearer, the buildings proved to be long-abandoned shells, the flash of purple a dress caught up in tree branches and shredded by the elements.  Nevertheless, the party resolved to make their last stand.

As the zombies approached, the cult leader quickly closed the distance and began waving his arms and speaking in a strange guttural voice.  Gruber fired two arrows at him—both went wild.  Gerilynn was frozen in place.  The other injured party members stumbled toward the ruined buildings.  The cult leader turned and fled.  Gruber fired two more arrows after him—both deflected by the armor under his robes—as the zombies approached.  Gruber fired a last arrow at a zombie, before dropping his bow and readying his battle axe.  He swung the axe ferociously, and killed two of the walking dead as they approach.  The others surrounded him, bludgeoning him with their limbs.  The zombies were slow-moving, but fearless fighters.  Gruber was knocked to the ground, but got up, hacking off one zombie’s leg and another’s head.  The remaining two came at him from both sides pushing him back and forth between them and striking him in face and on the head.  He fell to the ground and rolled away, then jumped to his feet—they came after him and he destroyed one and then the other.  Gruber fell to the ground exhausted.

Soon it was dark.  Gerilynn recovered from the magical paralysis.  The party decided they would press on through the night, leaving the woods from the path along the plains.  The moon was not enough that they had little difficulty staying to the path.  Near midnight, they reached a proper road.  They followed the road into a village.  At the first house they were rebuffed, bt at the second, a farmer told them they might stay in the barn until morning.

The next morning, the party introduced themselves to the people of Wildege.  The people there had, like Hommelet, suffered the deprivations of the cultists.  They were half-gladdened, half-alarmed to hear of the party’s success in depleting the cultist’s forces.  There was not an inn in the Wildege, and they were not used to hosting travelers but—Gerilynn agreed to pay handsomely to stay a week or two in a solid and dry barn and eat warm meals by a fire— they were welcomed.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Tetsukichi in Pasar

Beatriss’s friends were concerned by Beatriss’s sudden departure from the city—and were even more distressed when Neetla returned to Pasar without her. They made careful inquiries around Pasar. Those who offered theories believed that Neetla had caused her disappearance—either that he had killed or that he had placed her in a prison in the jungle or that she had in fact never left the city and was instead held captive in the monastery.

Neetla’s explanation was strange: their guide, a monk, led them astray, and they had been captured by giant spiders. As proof, he pointed to the captive he’d brought back from the jungle—a young woman whom Neetla referred to as “the queen of the spiders.” He explained that he and his companions had escaped the spider and taken their queen prisoner, but that Beatriss had simply disappeared—either she had been devoured by spiders or (and Neetla considered this more likely) she had evaded their capture. Tetsukichi had reasons to agree that the second possibility was more likely—Beatriss did have the magic sword of invisibility.
But as the days turned to weeks, it became stranger and stranger that Beatriss should still be waiting. Search parties explored the jungle. Naron visited all the inns asking travelers if he’d heard any stories about a pale woman armed as a warrior.

At one of these inns, he encountered, Golfo and Phi Phong. They had recently arrived in Pasar after a difficult and dangerous journey from the Sansar grazing lands. They had no information about Beatriss, but they did have news that made Tetsukichi realize he needed to take some kind of action. The lizard people were continuing to harass the Sansar clans, making increasingly bolder raids on the clan’s herds. Meanwhile, the Emperor’s troops were gathering in Menkan. They were charged with finding Governor Goyat—and his many pursuers—General Kawabi, Gwinch, Tetsukichi and Golfo, a monk named Tsao Ho. The Emperor, it was rumored, considered the Sansar clan likely traitors. Golfo and Phi Phong had followed Tetsukichi to Pasar either to ask his help in defeating the lizard people, or to continue the emperor’s—and more than either of these to avoid the Emperor’s agents. He was willing to follow Tetsukichi in pursuing either objective. He was even willing to help him look for Beatriss. But he didn’t want to be in Pasar when the Emperor’s agents arrived. 

Friday, June 14, 2013

Beatriss in the Valley of Spiders

Beatriss bought some cotton cloth from a shop and became acquainted with the shop's owner, named Ó-rě.  Ó-rě was from Northern Zhou and a prominent member of the Silk Merchants' Guild.  Like Beatriss, he felt isolated in Pasar and was glad to meet someone who attempted to speak his language correctly. "Unlike most of my friends who excel at speaking my language incorrectly."  He shared with her, in an oblique way, his dislike of the Black Flowers Gang.  "Until several months ago, if I needed to hire some guards for my caravan, I could go to the tavern and pick out five or six men who I knew and trusted.  Now, I am forced to employ men I do not know, and pay them as if I do."  He did not know what happened to Gwinch, but if anyone did, it would be the Black Flowers.  After Gwinch and many of the other monks from the Two-fold Path were exiled, the remanant invited the Black Flowers into their monastery to provide protection. "And now the monks are servants to the men they employ.  Those few who remain are afraid to leave."

Beatriss decided the Black Flowers were her best lead to Gwinch's whereabouts.  Together with Naron and Afu, she visited the Two-Fold Monastery.  As they approached their destination, they saw evidence of a battle having being fought in the surrounding neighborhood: buildings were burned and otherwise damaged or destroyed.  The still intact buildings seemed to be deserted.

For their part, the monks were happily suprised, even confused, by the arrival of visitors.  The monks introduced the visitors to the resident Black Flowers who received the guests warmly and brusquely dismissed the monks "back to whatever you were doing."

Neetla, who introduced himself as "in practice, the leader of the Black Flowers," was glad to meet Beatriss and to talk about her missing friend, but later that evening, when he wasn't so busy.  She told him the name of the inn where she was staying.

Late that evening, a monk arrived at the inn.  He told Beatriss that he had been sent by Neetla and asked her to accompany him-- alone-- to the monastery.  Wearing her magical kimono of protection and with her invisible sword at her waist, Beatriss agreed to follow the monk. 

The city was very quiet and the streets were empty.  The monk brought her into the monastery through a posten gate and led her to Neetla's apartments.  Neetla showed great hospitality.

  A servant washed Beatriss's feet and she was offered fine food and drink.  He dropped a few hints that he did know of Gwinch's whereabouts, but provided few details.  Beatriss was patient.  She listened to Neetla's stories of his adventures on the high seas, his flirtatious banter, his half-veiled insults with regard to Gwinch.  Beatriss, when she had an opportunity to speak, explained that she was not a close friend of Gwinch's-- rather she was tracking him under orders from the Emperor.

This got Neetla's attention, setting him at ease in one way, though perhaps not in others . . .
In the morning, he promised, they would go to the place outside the city where Gwinch was staying.

There was a monk who was supposed to know the way.  Beatriss wanted to enlist the help of some of her friends, but Neetla refused.  "My men are strong and I don't want any priests around."  Beatriss gave a monk a few coins to take a message back to her friends at the inn.

And so they set off on horseback:  Beatriss, Neetla, the monk guide, and three bodyguards.  Neetla and his men rode through the city openly carrying their weapons.  The townsfolk avoided even looking at them.

They rode through rice paddies for half an hour and then into the jungle.  They followed a narrow path that forced them to ride single file.  After a couple hours, the monk announced he had taken a wrong turn.  Neetla dismounted to berate the monk, striking him, and threatened worse treatment if he made any more mistakes.  Beatriss remonstrated with him, and he became sharp with her, explainin gthat monks were cowards and traitors.  When the monk announced again that he was lost, Neetla beat him more forcefully.  Beatriss argued that if Neetla had a genuine fear of treachery, they should simply return to Pasar.  Neetla refused and commanded her to be silent.  He warned the monk that "this was his last chance to get it right."

There was a sudden loud rustle in the jungle, the sounds coming from all sides.  Neetla laughed sarcastically, cursing the monk, as a band of goblins, each mounted on a giant spider, emerged from the jungle.  They surrounded the party on all sides and even from above them, pointing long sharpened stakes and commanding surrender.  The bodyguards fird their crossbows at one of the riders, killing him, while Neetla drew his sword and charged.  The monk surrendered.  The cries of the goblins and spiders were answered by their comrades and the whole jungle seemed to rise against the party.

Tarantula! by Brayo
Tarantula!, a photo by Brayo on Flickr.
Beatriss drew her magic sword, becoming invisible, and slipped off her horse.  She dove into the jungle, seeking only to get away from the melee.  She broke into a small clearing where a dozen more spiders were charging across it to join the battle.  She found a safe place to avoid being badly trampled.

She heard Neetla calling out for her and then his surrender.  Judging herself safe from being seen by the spiders, she crept closer for a better look.  She observed a parade of giant spiders-- two dozen or more-- most of them ridden by goblins.  Neetla was carried as a bound prisoner as was the monk and one of Neetla's bodyguards.  The bodies of the other two bodyguards were also carried.  Beatriss noticed that the monk was not bound so tightly as the others.

Beatriss followed the spiders through the jungle to their lair, a slit in the earth with a steep tunnel leading down into a huge cavern with a strange green glow.  Hundreds of spiders were gathered there, with a human woman presiding over them.

The woman congratulated the returning spiders for having caught several prisoners.  The entire cavern squeaked and jabbered with excitement.  A disk of obsidian began to glow, and sharp, mettalic voice demanded silence.  The human woman spoke to the prisoners.  She ordered that they be freed from their bonds so that she could inspect their hands.  Having done so, she announced that they would make lieutenants "for their cause" and she announced her plans to interrogate them in private.  The woman led the prisoners away, accompanied by a hanful of spiders.  Beatriss decided it was too risky to follow and clambered back up the tunnel out of the cave and into the late afternoon jungle.

Not knowing from which way she had come or where she would find safety, Beatriss chose a direction and bore of a straight course through the jungle.  Spider webs seemed to be everywhere, and although she only encountered tiny, seemingly harmless spiders, they were so numerous, that she felt propelled to keep moving.  She travelled through dusk, only pausing when night fell completely.  In the dark, she could not see any spiders, but she felt them, and found it impossible to sleep.  The howling of wolves gave her the unusual comfort that at least if some other warm-blooded creatures could survive there, so could she.  She climbed a tree and held tightly onto her sword. 

12-7429-1.jpg by Robert W Gilcrease
12-7429-1.jpg, a photo by Robert W Gilcrease on Flickr.
The brush of spider's legs and the barking of wolves kept her company the whole night.  When morning came, she continued moving, still following a straight course.  It rained frequently and she found water to drink, but she became very hungry.  The day passed without her finding any food.  She spent the night in a tree again, but stopped her journey early enough to make better preparations-- using vines to tie herself into the tree, she dozed fitfully, without the risk of losing her perch of safety.  the night was not restful, especially since this time she not only heard, but also saw the wolves who were tracking her.  They did not see, her however, and were distracted by the scent of other prey.

The next day she moved more slowly, taking time to look for fruit, edible tubers, and insect larvae.  Late in the afternoon, she reached a wide river, more mud than water except for a narrow ribbon in the center.  There she saw the flash and splash of what she reasoned must be fish. 

The mud was soft and her feet sank quickly with each step.  But she still saw what looked like a supply of fish so plentiful that she should be able to scoop them up in her arms.  By the time she got close to the actual water, she was struggling through ooze that rose up to her thigh.  Also, she could see that the "fish" were odd, bipedal creatures with razor-sharp teeth-- all at once they turned their heads toward her and sprayed her face with water.  She held up her arm to shield herself from the spray and the vicious creatures scampered toward her.  She drew her sword.  The invisibility confused them, but she was nearly immobile in the deep mud, and they were soon upon her.  She stabbed with her sword, killing several of them until it flew out of her hand.  The survivors sprayed more water, this time hitting her in the eyes.  She was temporarily blinded and they bit her savagely.  She slapped at them with her hands, and when she could grabbed them and tore them with her own teeth.  By the time her vision had cleared, the vicious creatures were dead or had sampered back to the water.  She retrieved her sword, gathered the dead mud creatures and returned to the banks of the muddy river.  She roasted the mud creatures, ate them, and slept on the ground, clinging to her sword and hoping for the best.

Beatriss rose the next morning in high spirits.  She decided to follow the muddy river upstream, reasoning that eventually she would encounter human beings who relied on it for water.  She had already lost track of the days that she had spent in the wilderness, and saw some things whose reality she questioned or would like to. 
Monk in jungle by ntthanhhang
Monk in jungle, a photo by ntthanhhang on Flickr.
But at last she came upon a number of human footprints in the mud.  Following these, she found a path that led into a patch of half-cultivated jungle in which bananas and other fruit trees were plentiful.  She came upon a group of men returning from their hunt, carrying their prey slung to a pole.  Still invisible, she followed them and saw that they had killed a giant spider.  When the hunting party reached a collection of hunts, they were welcomed with cheering and singing.  Too hungry, fatigued, and desperate for human companionship to spend any more time surveyeing the situation, Beatriss, retreated into the trees, sheathed her sword to make herself visible, and then strolled into the village.

Her appearence inspired even more excitement than the spider-meat.  After everyone had a chance to touch her, they brought her to join them in the circle around the fire pit where the spider was roasting.  Too hungry to wait for the spider, she asked for food and devoured it hungrily.  The spider itself was delicious.

After resting for a few days, Beatriss let it be known that she wanted to go to Pasar.  Or so she thought.  There was a man who wanted to go with her, but he seemed to believe that she was going to lead the way.  So Beatriss spent several days in the village.  She played hide-and-seek with the children so that she could learn how to say "Where is Pasar?" 


By this time, the villagers had brought an old woman to the village, a respected shaman who, when in a deep trance, could speak to Beatriss and be perfectly understood.  She invited Beatriss to stay with them in Muban, their name for an alliance of villages in the area.  They understood that she was a powerful spirit-person and wanted her to bles them and protect them from the spider people.  Beatriss expressed interest, but warned the shaman to understand that she had children and that sometimes her children turned into foxes.  Would they also be welcome in Muban?

The shaman seemed to consider this a bonus.  Beatriss explained that she still needed to go to Pasar and then to the place where her children were hiding.  She was grateful for the inivtation and would consider building a stronghold to settle in Muban.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Play Report: Skull? Skull Mountain!

This is my report on Skull Mountain from the perspective of a player.  I have never read the module so there are elements that have remained a mystery.  And I have forgotten some of what happened.  To the degree that memorable = interesting, this might indicate the best parts of the module.  Or it might indicate when both me and the DM got tired
 My character, Mouse, a 7th level thief, was the only PC.  His NPC henchmen/companions include Bharti (6th level bard—he likes money and it is mutual), Mwangi (4th level druid— he likes hippos, also mutual), Lomi (4th level fighter—beautiful and also virtuous, Mouse is still working on the mutual), and Speedy (1st level thief— he does his level best)
“We took a job to go and see the weird things happening at Skull Mountain, the place where long ago bad men decided they wanted to live in caves that look like a skull and do so many bad thigns to travelers and when there are no travelers bad things to each other.  And now those bad men have come back.  Or some other new bad men pretending to be them and doing the same bad things or other bad things like that.  Probably worse.  And with robbers.  The robbers and the demon worshippers they came together and made a plan to hurt the local big man—so they kidnapped his son and took him to Skull Mountain.”
Bharti cast invisibility on Mouse and Speedy.  The two thieves went ahead to scout the area while Bharti prepared invisibility spells for the other party members.

Skull Mountain by KristaE
Skull Mountain, a photo by KristaE on Flickr.
“And so myself, Mouse, or as people call me today, Big Mouse, myself and Speedy, we observed the site that is called Skull Mountain because it looks exactly like a skull even more than you can imagine would happen naturally, we watched it throughout an afternoon and evening. At dusk, about a dozen of the demon-worshippers, they came out and assembled in an open area in front of the skull to scream and shout in a frightening way like those men like to do when they are worshipping the dark powers.  We circled around the celebrants and climbed up to the cave mouth.  Guards were posted here.  I (Mouse) climbed up the rock face to look into the eyes of the skull.  In each eye hole, a pair of men tended a large hot fire, feeding it with a strange powder that created bright, oddly-colored flames.  I climbed down and with my young student, we ventured inside the cave mouth, going far enough to find the stairs that led up to the eye-caves.  That was enough.  The sound of the drums was starting to really bother us, especially Speedy because he is not used to danger.
“When we returned as a group the next night, we brought wax for our ears to muffle the sound of the drumming.  As expected, the evil worshippers were in the same place, once again conducting one of the rituals they enjoy so much. 
“Myself and Speedy, we led the others along the safe path to the cave mouth.  Since we all could not see one another, there were some times that would be awkward if we were not in the middle of danger.  “We waited for a very very loud part of the drumming and then dashed into the cave in couples.  Or, Mouse and Lomi were a couple.  The other three were a three.  We climbed up the stairs to the eye holes.  We climbed the stairs and found a pot of boiling oil next to a hole for pouring on people who enter the cave uninvited.  (This will be important later.)  We also found the tunnels that lead to the fire-chambers for those eye-hole-caves.

“Mwangi gave me a magical stone to make me dead quiet and then I did what needed to be done—sneak into the eye-hole-caves one by one, and wait for one of the guards to put down his sword and pick up the bag of power and then—stab him and push him into the fire.  Then hide.  The other guard is confused and turns around—now he is worried, where is his friend?  Why can’t he hear his own voice?  Stab, stab all his questions are answered. 
“After a few minutes, the evil people outside realize that something is wrong for them inside their home.  They end their ritual and come inside to see what’s wrong.   Too many things.

bonfire I by Brayo
“With arrows, standing side-by-side Mouse (i.e. myself) and Lomi shot the guards at the cave mouth dead and then replaced then, shooting arrows at the all these robed men trying to climb up the steep rocky steps.  Mwangi with his shaman magic and Bharti with his magic magic.  As the survivors make their way up, we retreat, using their own cave as our fortress.  They charge into their home—Speedy is ready for them—he pours the boiling oil.  (Learned men call this one irony. And draw a sign like this: #.)
“I call it ‘All the demon-worshippers are killed by their own wickedness!’  We take their money and then find our way down into the lower caves where we hope to find the big man’s son.

“It’s very strange down there.  Lots of tunnels leading here-and-there-nowhere.  Maybe the smoke from the fires caused some problems in my brain because this is where I forget so much.  There was someone invisible—not our friend, but an enemy, trying to stab us.  Also there were men with heads like lizards and this is very frightening and ugly and also evil because they are trying to stab us with spears and bite us with their mouths at the same time.
“But we just kill them and we find the big men’s son and we hear more lizrd people so before they can find us we just run away and go back and get our reward.”

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Beatriss, Tetsukichi & co. arrived in Pasar.

Beatriss, Tetsukichi & co. arrived in Pasar. At once a cosmopolitan, lakeside market city and an overgrown fishing village with drainage problems, Pasar provided an easy answer to the travelers most immediate needs—anyone with money can find food and a comfortable place to sleep.
floating market merchants by adiv
floating market merchants, a photo by adiv on Flickr.
All but the simplest communication is difficult. Few of the locals speak Zhou. The foreign merchants who do come from the Southern Empire and they use a pronunciation very different from what Beatriss and Tetsukichi learned in the North. Another set of merchants share Al-Fitar’s religious beliefs (One Law) and can exchange scriptural references, but unlike al-Fitar, few of these merchants know the religious language well enough to use it for general conversation.

Despite this, “Gwinch, the cursed blessing” is a hot topic of conversation. Although there are conflicting rumors, most people seem to believe that Gwinch left town about a month ago after getting involved in a violent clash between rival temples and rival merchant guilds. Some believe that he was killed in the fighting while others believe he gone into hiding, either as a member of a an emergent mercenary gang known as the Black Flowers, or in some other capacity.

Gwinch’s intial appearance in Pasar was not unexpected. There were legends about a foreigner who would revive an ancient empire based in Tempat Larang. Both General Goyat and Governor Kawabi had expressed keen interest in these legends when their rival armies tore through Pasar. During most of his stay in Pasar, Gwinch’s conduct supported the theory that his part in fulfillment of ancient prophecies, if any, was likely to be benign. He presented himself as a monk and attached himself to the monastery of the Two-Fold Path—one of many “second-tier” sects that had representatives in Pasar.

The quiet, respectful presence of Gwinch and his companions raised the status of his sect, with the result that the Two-Fold Path was chosen as the site for conciliatory negotiations between two rival merchant guilds. In the past, this honor had alternated between the Shining Path and One Law Temples. The appearance of bias had always been a problem. Most members of the Silk Guild made their largest offerings to the Shining Path Temple. And most members of the Spice Guild were One Law adherents. So it seemed like a really good idea . . .

By all accounts, things did not go well, and while there are differing opinions on who instigated the violence that disrupted the negotiations at the Two-path monastery, all agree that the leader of the Spice Guild was killed. Every witness had a different explanation of how this happened, and so, rather than punish any one individual, the Elders of Pasar visited collective punishment on the Two-Path monastery for failing to preserve the peace. The abbot and half of the monks were to be banished for one year. The Two-Path monks responded in a way that seemed to confirm their guilt—by attacking and ransacking the Shining Path Temple. Monks from the Shining Path retaliated, and the Two-Fold Path was all but obliterated from Pasar. The remnant was eager for the protection offered by a band of former soldiers that soon began calling itself the Black Flowers. This group has not been good for Pasar.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Overmountain Road to Pasar

Beatriss and Tetsukichi have an unspoken policy of switching from one objective to another with little deliberation.  Is this strategy?  Religion?  Something else?

Regardless, after having discovered bandits' hideout and the palace of Sakatha the lizard king and and after having slain the dragon who guarded the entrance, the heroic pair-- after returning with the dragon's horde to Khan Eor's encampment-- elected NOT to go back and eradicate the bandits completely.  Instead, they decided it was time to resume the Imperial Quest to track down Governor Kawabi, General Goyat,  and Gwinch.  They met with a sage and magician named Mustapha who explained that he had knowledge of a lost highway that led over and through the mountains, connecting Menkan with the ancient ruins of Tempat Larang.

The highway had been built for armies to  traverse the mountains, and featured both miles-long tunnels, and bridges spanning deep canyons.  It had survived for centuries, but some of the connection points had fallen into disrepair.  He could show them the highway and lead them along it to a misty valley-- an apparent dead end.  But, he explained, there was a secret entrance into the mountain there, one not intended fr armies, but for the highway's toll-takers and maintenance crews.  Now a lair for monsters and wicked men, Mustapha suggested that with the parties' help, they could vanquish the monsters and revive the long lost road.  He was sure it would take them at least to Pasar.

For a few weeks they followed the lost highway with little incident.  In some stretched the distintive hexagonal paving stones had disappeared completely, but Mustapha knew the general way well enough that he could help the navigate from one landmark to another until they rediscovered fragments of the ancient road.  It led into the mountains, and at last to the misty valley where they left their horses.  A tunnel, too dark, narrow, and treacherous for their mounts led into the rocky cliff.

Thoughly roughly-hewn, this was not a natural cavern.  The party found fragments of tools and building supplies for maintaing the highway.  Among these supplies they found two sheets of cured leather, both encrusted with looked like salt crystals.  And then Naron, scounting ahead, found the floor open beneath him, dropping him into a dark hole.

The rest of the party followed soon after.  They landed on a tall pile of salt crystals, and rolled down it into in a dimly-lit men where a dozen evil men were waiting to attack them with spears and bows.  Though disoriented by their roll down the salt pile, the party resisted the attack, and through aggressive use of magic, incapcitated or killed most of their enemies and drove the others away.

Finding they could not re-ascend the salt pile, and heeding Mustapha's advice that they had stumbled into one of the hidden citadels for controlling traffic on the highway, they decided to explore further. 

under under by Brayo
under under, a photo by Brayo on Flickr.
Following a series of tunnels, they passed into a large natural cavern, half-lit by glowing fungus and featuring a phalanx of stalactites and stalagmites.  Pausing but a moment to admire the natural wonder, the party began making their way across the cavern.  And as they did, the stalactites began falling from the ceiling. 

They didn't fall at once, but one or two at a time.  But almost every single one of them seemed to land directly on a party member.  Ju-May was severely injured, and would have died without immediate assistance.  As Tetsukichi and Al-Fitar supported their fallen comrade, another stalactite fell on Tetsukichi, splitting his shield and knocking him the floor, terribly bloodied.  He too, was unable to continue without the assitance of others.

Just as they left the cavern, they were set upon by another group of evil men, these ones supported by huge, rabid fighting dogs.  Mustapha used his magic to temporarily blind the attackers, giving Beatriss time to organize a defense.  They created a shield wall to defend Tetsukichi and Ju-May and fought the waves of attackers as they came.  The dogs were savage and fearless, but ultimately ineffective against the cool-headed and well-armored warriors.  The human assailants shot at the party with arrows.  Once the dogs were dead, the warriors charged and killed the archers.

Considering that two of the party members were on the brink of death, and the other five were all wounded, there was talk of going back. But going back would mean going back through the cavern of falling stalactites.  And hey look at that, is it our imagination or have those "fallen" stalactites not moved toward us while we were fighting?  Let's not go back. . . .

So they pressed onwards. Until they came upon something very strange indeed.  The path ended at the edge of finely carved swimming pool with steps leading down into the-- translucent goo.  Helpfully, there was a stone bridge that arched over the goo to a passage on the other side.  Not so helpfully, there was a shimmering blue curtain of cracking energy halfway across the bridge.

Al-Fitar, always brave, always weighing his own suffering lightly against that of his friends, crossed the bridge first.  And yes, walking through the crackling blue energy hurt.  A lot. Enough to kill someone like Ju-May or Tetsukichi who were on the edge of death.

So then (this is my favorite part), Beatriss removed her heavy armor and slipped into the goo.
quiet by Brayo
quiet, a photo by Brayo on Flickr.
She swam through it then ducked her head under the curtain of energy and emerged on the other side. Unharmed, but gooey.  And really tired.  So tired that she realized some members of the party would not be able to do it. 

So the party decided they should regroup.  Let Beatriss swim back and let Al-Fitar, who still wore his heavy plate mail, walk across, and suffer the shock of shimmering blue energy.

Except this time, Al-Fitar got shocked so bad he lost his balance and fell.  He sank like a warrior in plate mail dropped into translucent goo. 

Beatriss dove down to rescue him.  She found that walking along the bottom of the pool was a lot easier than swimming through it.  Once she got to the bottom, she found Al-Fitar walking through the goo, happy as if he was walking through a light breeze (he waved).  She also found a long, heavy, and invisible object. (A sword.)

Lots of great news.  When she drew the sword, Beatrss found that she became invisible.  Even more important in the short term, everyone, even Tetsukichi and Ju-May, found they could walk through the goo unharmed.  Beatriss retrieved her armor and the party continued their progress through the dungeon.

Underground hospitalFor an hour or more they wandered in a maze of tunnels and kept returning to the goo room.  On the one hand, they seemed to have reached an impasse.  On the other hand, they seemed to have found a safe and quiet place to rest and meditate.  Settling in an empty room, they set down their packs and caught their breath for a moment. Afu lightly tapped on his small prayer gong and began to meditate.  But they were soon interrupted.  A section of wall slid open and four half-human monsters stepped into the room.  They had large, horned, bestial heads, but walked on two legs and carried weapons into their long, fur-covered arms.  The able-bodied party members rose to their feet and put their hands on the weapons. Al-Fitar responded first.  He greeted the monsters and explained he had no quarrel with them.  They were looking for the way out and were willing to pay.  Beatriss presented some of the gems she'd taken from the dragon's horde. 

The monsters had things to do and wouldn't serve as guides.  They were willing to accept tribute and pretend they'd never met the intruders.

Beatriss wanted a better deal.  The monsters were impressed by the gems.  "We're not afraid of you," Beatriss said, "but this way would be easier for all of us." Naron pushed in closer.  who else is down here," Beatriss asked, "who's in charge?"

The monsters retorted that they were in charge of themselves, but allowed that they worked for a wizard.  "Take us to him, then, in exchange for the gems.  One for each of you."

A deal was struck. The monsters led them through the secret door and then through a series of additional tunnels.  They moved quickly and quietly and resisted any further attempts at conversations.  They stopped suddenly in the middle of a tunnel and pointed at a light beyond.  "He's in there."

Beatriss objected that they should lead them the entire way, but the monsters refused.  With a shrug, they left the party and went off the way they'd come.  After a couple minutes whispered debate, the party advanced down the tunnel toward the light.

The party entered a large, monumental hall.  Thick columns rose to a ceiling too high and dark to be clearly seen.  At the far end of the hall, a tall emaciated figure with the head of a hyena sat on a throne, surrounded by a crowd of ghouls and monsters.  Most immediately, a huge lizard, with spikes and armored plates on its back lumbered toward them.  Al-Fitar's efforts to converse with the demonic king at the far end of the hall were curtailed by the advance of this terrible lizard . . .

With astonishing quickness, the lizard reached Al-Fitar-- and began to lick him.  The touch of its long tongue turned his well-polished plate mail into rust.   The armor fell off of him in crumbling chunks.  Meanwhile the other warriors attacked the lizard, plunging their blades into its underbelly.  As they attacked the creature-- its own armor, or more correctly, the illusion of its armor likewise fell away revealing a much smaller and less fearsome, but nonetheless disgusting creature that made a last quick meal of Al-Fitar's rusted armor, even as the swords of Naron and Beatriss found and burst its heart.  Blood gushed over Beatriss's long-treasured Sword of Madarua, her last memento of Cynidicea-- and turned it to rust.

In the meantime, Afus cast a spell against the demon king and Ju-May though barely able to stand, began reading from a prayer scroll to ward off the undead.  Arrows flying over their heads from behind the pillars alerted them to more beast-men.  Beatriss brought out her own bow and returned fire.  Al-Fitar, Naron, and Mustapha charged down the hall toward the demon king and his retinue.  Afu remained at the back of the hall to protect Tetsukichi  and Ju-May.

Although outnumber, Beatriss was a much better shot than her enemies.  Whenever one of them emerged, she shot him with one arrow before he could aim properly and with a second to finish him off.  As she fired her arrows, she zig-zagged down the hall, because her companions were not in a strong position.

Although the demon king was frozen in place and his minions at the top of the dais seemed unable to descend tot he floor of the fall, other snipers from behind pillars had isolated Naron and Mustapha.  Both were practically unarmed and could do little but dodge arrows and try to grapple with their enemies.  Al-Fitar ahd discover that the demon king's throne was behind a wall of glass.  He tried to break it by throwing his war hammer and then with his fists.

subterranean highwayAt last someone-- and here the chronicles are uncertain-- broke away from the archers and circled around the glass wall to attack the demon king.  Drawing closer, his bodyguards proved to be spectral forces that were swept into nothing when touched.  And the "demon king" was in fact a decrepit wizard, also shrouded in illusion and now very vulnerable to attack . . .

When the wizard died and his illusions evaporated, the remaining archers lost their courage.  The heroes rallied, coordinated their tactics and destroyed their enemies.

When the battle was over and wounded had been tended, the party surveyed the room, and examined their enemies, and searched for an exit.  They found many things to celebrate:

First, despite their wounds, all were stable and could hope to recover.
Second, a tunnel behind the throne seemed to lead toward light-- daylight.
Third, the wizard wore the signet ring of Governor Kawabi.  And he carried maps and descriptions of incantations associated with the Lost Highway.

The party followed the tunnel and emerged near the top of a high cliff with the highway far below.  From this vantage point they could see not only that the highway continued to lead south, presumably toward Pasar, but also the hidden connection to the green valley where they'd left their horses.   With the help of the documents they'd recovered, Mustapha was able to suggest a safe way down the side of the cliff.  They returned to the green valley to retrieve their horses and rest and their resumed their journey toward Pasar.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Let me tell you about my character . . .

Kerosene, night, Lamu by oledoe
Kerosene, night, Lamu, a photo by oledoe on Flickr.
I rolled up my first character in about 20 years soon after my twin sons were born.  My brother was in town, but for a weird combination of reasons, we couldn't go out and yet didn't anything much that we had to do at home.  We found my old D&;D stuff and after a TPK that took out his very first character ever, I suggested he might like to like to have a go as DM.

Playing one-on-one games doesn't get talked about much.  Because of the "triumph of the geek" it's pretty easy to pretend that even during our years of exile, we were like Duke Senior in the Forest of Arden, reveling in the company of our fellow outcasts.  But for me, it often wasn't like that. It was for me and one other friend.

This post however, is not about the gaming closet, it's about playing D&D with my brother and really about my character Mouse.  My brother explained his plan to base his campaign on the Swahili Coast and the lands surrounding the Indian Ocean.  I rolled my character 3d6 in order and made him thief not because of his above average dexterity but because of his mediocrity in everything else.  His truly outstanding characteristic was his determination to survive.  He combined a complete lack of valor with the courage to recognize his last slim chance and grab it.

Why the past tense.  Because Mouse is now 7th level!  In his first adventure, he was signed on to a small ship carrying a cargo of mangrove poles from his own backwater town to a sizable city.  They were waylaid by pirates. There was a battle of course and Mouse (then known as Little Mouse)  did something smart-stupid like dive off his own ship to board the pirate's ship and, taking advantage of the fog of war, pick up with the captain with arrows.  Or something.  Among their loot, Little Mouse found a string of magic beads.

As a younger player, I had been very conservative in my use of one-shot magic items, always saving them for when I "really needed them."  Little Mouse spent his beads of force very freely.  He general policy was to identify groups of evil and wealthy men, sneak into lair, find an elevated hiding place and then when they assembled, throw down the holy terror.  Often he could accomplish this alone, although he had a number of friends whom he could call on for back-up.  He shared his wealth freely, sought the guidance of holy men, and comforted young widows.

Eventually of course, the bad guys caught up with him.  They burnt his ship to the waterline, looted his apartment, and trashed his friend's blacksmith shop.   He fled to the wilderness and adopted a hermit's lifestyle, living in a cave on a bluff above a small lake full of hippos.  He's trying to fix the place up t make it suitable for feminine company, but his funds are low.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Finding Sakatha's Palace

Beatriss, Tetsukichi & co. arrived in Kumwei without any notable incidents, and found the wayside settlement nearly deserted. Based on the advice of the warrior they'd met on the side of the road, they investigated an unusual rock formation about a quarter mile outside the settlement. They approached during the middle of the day, walking across the wide dry plain that separated the pile of rocks from Kumwei. Drawing close, they saw the dark opening of a cave, and used magic to cover the sound of their approach. They found the cave empty. There were remains of a fire and some debris, but no evidence of permanent habitation. Never victims of over-thinking, Beatriss and Tetskuchi returned to the village and took up residence at the deserted inn. They spent a couple days in Kumwei, resting after their injuries in the battle on the bridge. During this time Beatriss and Tetskuchi discovered that there was one remaining resident, a crazy man named Manis who lived in a hut facing the Sea Sand. They refused his offer of food, but were keen to hear what he knew about Sakatha. He claimed to know the great Lizard King and to have visited his palace. Yes, he agreed to take them there. The next three days were long and arduous. The landscape was generally dry, but they occasionally encountered meandering streams and pools of brackish water.
The Marsh Before the Dunes by stelih
The Marsh Before the Dunes, a photo by stelih on Flickr.
As they progressed, the pools they encountered were larger and more common-- and inhabited. Giant frogs, aggressive lizards, a swimming snake-- the party learned to stay away from the water. Sakatha's palace of course was surrounded by water. There was a rocky island, fronted by a roofless colonnade and a flight of steps leading down to the 30-foot expanse of water separating this edifice from the muddy sand where the party tied their horses and stood surveying the scene. But rather than venture into the water, the party circled the island and found that it was in fact a near-peninsula. The party filed across a narrow spit onto the island, and then picked a path around the side and then onto the top of the island.
don't roll a 1 by Brayodon't roll a 1, a photo by Brayo on Flickr.
They found a place where they could look down onto the colonnade-- they spied a pair of archers, both pointing nocked arrows in the direction of the horses. Judging them to be brigands or otherwise affiliated with Sakatha, Afu used his magic to transfix them in place. The party waited. More brigands emerged from the the building beneath them, charging toward the front of the colonnade to meet their imagined enemy. Most of these were also transfixed. The lone exception turned and saw the real enemy. He- and the half-dozen Brigands who answered his call were cut down by the party's arrows. The party clambered down onto the portico and ventured into Sakatha's palace. They found themselves in large room with a tiled floor and walls painted with lizardmen ravaging the lands of humans. There were three large pools of water-- each of them began bubbling soon after the party entered the chamber. Within moments, a watery form rose from the pools, shaping itself into a vicious snake. Most of the party members retreated to the sides of the chamber while the strongest warriors: Beatriss, Tetskuchi, and Al-Fitar battled the water creatures one at-a-time. When the water creatures were destroyed, Beatriss asked Manis what he knew about the room. He showed her the place in the floor where a trapdoor could be lifted. And he showed her the section of wall behind which the dragon lived. Before Beatriss could ask any more questions, the pools began to bubble again. Also, a section of the wall began to slide open.
Chinese Silk Painting, a photo by Vivek 181088 on Flickr.
Chinese Silk Painting by Vivek 181088The spell casters and other vulnerable party members retreated from the pool chamber, while four of the warriors-- Beatriss, Tetsukichi, Al-Fitar, and Naron, readied their bows and stood in a semi-circle with their arrows pointed at the opening in the wall. They opening grew wider, a massive reptilian head and began to speak in a deep, rasping voice. The warriors loosed a volley of arrows, drew their swords and charged from sides, slashing at the dragon's neck. Hampered by its own massive bulk in the narrow passage, the dragon flailed with its claws and thrashed its head from side to side, snapping at the air. The flashing blades of the warriors slashing at the dragon's neck and torso, spilling its black blood on the tiles and on each other. At last with a mighty heave, the dragon pushed itself through the chamber and toward the open air, battering the warriors with its wings. Al-Fitar was struck by a claw and Naron was sent reeling. Tetsukichi dived out of its way to avoid being trampled. Beatriss feinted and then followed close behind it. As the dragon emerged from the pool chamber and lifted its bulk into the air, Beatriss struck a final terrible blow at the thickest part of its tail. The dragon tumbled to the ground and before it could re-ascend, the warriors attacked it with abandon. It vomited a thick stream of black acid and then dropped its head and died. The party lit torches and entered the dragon's lair. They followed a long dank passage into a large chamber where their torch light caught the gleam of an enormous pile of coins. After emptying their rucksacks and fashioning their cloaks into bags, they began filling every receptacle they could find with loot. Considering the large loads they were carrying, the party did not relish the idea of retracing their steps and they considered again whether they might simply descend the steps from the portico and wade through the murky water to where their horses were waiting. The strongest members of the party dragged the dead dragon to the top of the steps and then rolled it down into the water. Splash! The water proved to be not more then a few feet deep. And the sudden disturbance did not attract the notice of anything living therein. Laden with treasure, the party members waded through the murky water. They explained to Manis that they'd be glad to meet Sakatha on another occasion. They loaded their horses with loot and returned to their Clan to share their news and proof of their success.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Rumors of the Rise of Sakatha

In Quitokai, they reunited with Kreppu-Sen who informed them Imperial guards were in the area, hunting for the traitor General Goyat and the long chain of once trusted servants who had been sent to find him and in their delay or failure, had likewise proven themselves traitors: first General Kawabi, then Gwinch, most recently Tetsukichi and Golfo.  They decided together that they should leave the area and considered their options.  Most obviously, they could resume their quest to find Gwinch, Kawabi, and Goyat.  But both Tetsukichi and Golfo felt also a filial loyalty to Anca and the Sansar claim.  There had been hints from Anca that if they were to deal with the brigand problem, the local Khan, known as Eor Brunis, would reward them with titles and herds.  This seemed like the quickest route to respectability, and perhaps safer, since they might more easily hide from the Emperor’s men in the lands to the west.

So they traveled to the encampment of Eor Brunis and listened to the assembly of herders and merchants who had gathered there.  Eor Brunis boasted great herds in part because he was paid tribute by the many merchants who passed through his herding grounds on their way from one trading center to another.  They were happy to pay because he was fair and because he swiftly punished anyone who harassed them.  But now they were not so happy.  The brigands eluded capture in the Great Sea of Sand near Kumwei, once a very pleasant wayside.  When they attacked, they attacked swiftly, and the merchants’ guards were seized by a strange terror.

The party agreed to seek out the brigands and destroy them.  The next morning, they set off for Kumwei, accompanied by a merchant who had agreed both to pay them and to show them to Kumwei, hoping himself to profit greatly from a trip few of his competitors still dared to make.  They spent the first night at what, according to their guide, would be the last Wayside before they reached Kumwei.  An old seer heard were they were going and explained what was happening.  According to his song, the Earth had once been ruled by great lizards, and their king Sakatha made his court in the middle of the swamp that was now the Great Sea of Sand.  The race of men had replaced the race of lizards, but still the cycle turned and the race of lizards was preparing to rule the earth once more.  The party listened closely to song while their guide did his best to ignore it.
IMG_1955 by Brayo
IMG_1955, a photo by Brayo on Flickr.

The next day, crossing a bridge over a deep canyon, they were best by dozens of lizard-people who emerged from beneath the bridge.  They walked on two feet; in their forelimbs, they carried shields and spiked clubs.

Kreppu-sen took command of the party’s tactics.  The lizard-people were attacking from either end of the bridge.  The party’s spellcasters and archers broke up the line in front of them while the entire group moved forward, those in the lead urging their horses to trample their foes underfoot.  A few strong warriors at the rear held off the flank attack.  Once the party had crossed the bridge safely, they wheeled on their horses and met the surviving lizard-people on a single front.  Thanks to such tactics and the prowess of the individual warriors and, we may hope, the favor of a deity or deities, the humans vanquished the lizard-people without sustaining any serious casualties. 

The party pressed on for a few more hours.  They encountered a man sleeping by the side of the road.  He awakened when they approached and declared that he was a vassal of Khan Eor.  His dress, his name, and his speech all corroborated his claim.  He and his men had been attacked by brigands. The brigands commanded some kind of magic so that they easily overwhelmed his group of strong men.  He had escaped and now wanted to return to make a report to Khan Eor.  He was glad to share what information he knew.  The brigands operated near Kumwei. There was a large open grassy area between the buildings and tents of Kumwei and the shifting dunes of the Sea of Sand.  A cave there, on the edge of the Sea of Sand was used by the brigands as their hideout.  Kreppu-sen agreed to accompany this man—and also the merchant who was having second thoughts about danger-driven arbitrage—back to the encampment of Khan Eor.  Beatriss, Tetsukishi, and their retainers would continue on to Kumwei
Mojave by Brayo
 by Brayo on Flickr.

Beatriss and Tetsukichi learn that different groups of indigenous peoples claim different cultural practices.

Beatriss and Tetsukichi had plans to return with Golfo and their companions to Xitaqa, the place where Golfo had been imprisoned, and loot the wizard’s treasure.  But on their way up the River Lam, a ragged man on the shore waved frantically for their help.  Their sense of duty and fatalism outweighed their paranoia and they approached him.  He explained that he was from one of the sister villages of Quitokai and that he and several and his neighbors had been captured by slavers.  He had escaped, and needed help to rescue the others.  Beatriss and Tetsukichi agreed to help him.

The villager led the party into the jungle for about an hour and then stopped to point ahead at a wisp of smoke.  There was a clearing there, he explained where the prisoners were held.

The party approached until they came upon a path, where they were spotted by one of the slavers’ sentries.  Before they could raise their bows to fire, the sentry ran away down the path, shouting the alarm.  The party pursued him to a clearing and there a battle ensued.  Beatriss and Tetskuich led the charge, but they were knocked to the ground, stunned, by a hidden spell-caster.  Afu and Ju-Mei called on the power of the Sun Goddess to apprehend the slavers’ archers.

The slavers, numbering about half-a-dozen, commanded another 10-15 men from the jungle.  Hunters rather than warriors, several of these men fell quickly under the blows of Golfo, Naron, and Al-Fitar, and the others fled.  Beatriss and Tetsukichi recovered from whatever spell had affected them.  The villager found his captive friends and began freeing them from their bonds.  Immediately, the freed villagers began attacking the other prisoners with sticks and stones.  Beatriss intervened.  “What are you doing and why are you doing this?”  The man they’d met at the river explained that, several of the captives were not village people, but jungle people.  “They are the ones who help the slavers to find us and catch us.  If you free them, they will kill us later.”  Beatriss ordered that the “jungle people” should not be killed and should not be freed either.   The party ordered the “village people” that they should follow them out of the clearing so they could be taken back to Quitokai.  Golfo stayed behind to free the remaining captives, leaving them to find their own safety. 
Kauaʻi by Brayo
, a photo by Brayo on Flickr.
The company returned to Quitokai without further incident.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Do you need a reason to go back to the Moathouse?

A few days after their expedition beneath Burne’s tower, Thimbur and Fezziwig were summoned to the local Church of St. Bocrates where Brother Calmer explained that Panyus had informed him of what had happened and that he had a theory regarding its cause.  Predictably, he believed it had something to do with the lingering evil that resided in the moathouse.  Brother Calmer introduced Fezziwig and Thimbur to Godith, the survivor of another party of adventurers who had recently ventured into moathouse.  Some of her companions (“the brave paladin”) had been killed and others had slunk out of Hommelet under reekish clouds of churlish suspicion, but Godith, somewhat inexplicably, had remained.  Thimbur and Fezziwig agreed that they would be glad for the assistance of someone with current knowledge about the moathouse, especially one who boasted some talent with magic, and welcomed her to the party.  The party shared their plans with other long-time residents of the Inn, and so their numbers swelled to nine, including their long-time associate Fernac the card-shark, Brother Doobius, an acolyte cleric, Clever Riff, and three from among Burne’s Badgers.  Panyus issued to each of the Badgers one of the peculiar items that the party had taken from the blue people under the tower.

Well-outfitted, the party made their way to the Moathouse along the usual path, and tried to enter by the main entrance.  A few of the giant frogs which infest the area attacked Fezziwig as he crossed the swampy moat by way of a pile of rubble and debris.  Although he was pulled from pile of rocks into the mud, he slew his attacker and the rest of the party killed or drove away the other frogs with arrows.
I think I found something! by Brayo
I think I found something!, a photo by Brayo on Flickr.
The party passed through the courtyard into the moathouse itself.  They explored the upper rooms, killed two giant beetles, and harvested their glowing glands for use as a light source.  Godith showed them the way to the lower level, warning them of the many dangers below.  Thimbur threw a beetle gland into the pit, illuminating it enough to satisfy that no undead creatures were lurking immediately nearby and that the floor was cleansed of slime and mold and mushrooms.  They tied a rope to a spke in the floor and descended into the pit.
Doge's Dungeon by ferrisnoxIn the lower level, they did not at first encounter any living thing while exploring dungeon cells, a torture chamber, a store room, and several small, smashed up rooms whose original purpose they could not determine.

Doge's Dungeon, a photo by ferrisnox on Flickr.
  At last they came upon a pile of “fresh” refuse, and heard voices nearby.  They prepared an ambush, and largely because of Godith’s sleep magic, very quickly dispatched of a group of men wearing black cloaks emblazoned with the symbol of a yellow eye.  They allowed one of the sleeping men to rest peacefully, while they killed the others, stripped them of their black cloaks, and hid their bodies.
When this was done, Thimbur and Fezziwig donned the black cloaks themselves and woke the sleeping man.  “It’s okay,” they told him, “we arrived just in time.”
Although suspicious at first because he didn’t recognize them, Thimbur and Fezziwig convinced their captive that they were his friends, and that while some of his companions had been killed, most were resting in their bunks, and the intruders had been driven away.  Yes, they said, they had come from the main temple, and they had come to check up on how things were being managed.  The captive was careful to avoid saying anything bad about “Master” while also emphasizing that he was new and didn’t know much about what was going on.  He did admit that some of the men were frustrated that they weren’t having as much fun as they expected.  “But I tell them, it doesn’t come all at once, you have to work for it.”  He was surprised to learn that they had entered by way of the pit and hadn’t yet checked in with Master.  He suggested that he should take them to check-in with Master, pointing generally to where they would find him.  And then he reached for his dropped sword and, not wanting to take any chances, Fezziwig and Thimbur killed him.
The party retreated to the dungeon cells and hid the informant’s body with the others.  They agreed that Godith’s sleep magic had very useful and that because it seemed quiet in the area of the pit, and because that wasn’t a commonly-used entrance, they should spend a few hours resting, tending to their wounds, praying for continued protection, and give Godith an opportunity to study her magic books and prepare the necessary ingredients for more spell-casting.
Soon, however, they were distracted by a strange grating noise.  After investigating several potential sources, they returned to the place near the refuse pile where they had met the black-cloaked guards.  Here, they met more black-cloaked guards.  Several of the party members were still similarly disguised and so rather than attack, they initiated a conversation.  This group was suspicious and wanted to know about a missing patrol.  When Fezziwig suggested that they had returned to their bunks, the guards attacked, one of them stabbing Fezziwig deeply with his spear.  Their leader sent one of their number to go and sound the alarm.
In the ensuing battle, two of Burne’s Badgers were killed.  Fezziwig’s wound was very severe and the party fully expected reinforcements to pursue them.  Thus, they abandoned their dead, made a swift retreat to the pit room, and climbed up the rope to the upper level.  They cut the rope behind them and, half-carrying Fezziwig, made their way back to Hommelet.