Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Monastery of the Crimson Monks

Beatriss and Tetsukichi had been away from the Happy Valley-- and their families for more than a year.  Beatriss's children, being half-spiritfolk, were causing trouble.  For others.  And maybe themselves.

Damai, a skilled hunter and tracker offered to help the local community find non-harmful way to keep their animals safe from the foxes that were probably the children of their local ruler.  What he found was that at least one of the "foxes" wasn't chickens for food or even sport.  They were gifts.  Gifts for someone that lived up in the unexplored hills on the west side of the valley.  Damai followed the tracks and found a small pile of chicken corpses outside the entrance to what looked like a small cave formed by a rockslide-- but proved to be the entrance to something larger and intentional.  There were stairs carved into the stone, and a door.

Based on Damai's report, Beatriss, Tetsukichi, and their associates went to investigate.  They explored an eerie complex of rooms that was clearly one something and in dissembling might become something else.  There were shrines dedicated to sinister spirits, defaced in a way that made them more sinister.  And there were bakemono and goblins, many of them, in all colors and shapes, their only common feature being that they were dead.  There was a large room with a vaulted ceiling, whose only notable feature-- sockets carved into the stone walls-- hinted at some notable purpose that the explorers could not discern.

And there were people.  People in red robes, who greeted them with grave, menacing civility.  They were members of a religious order, and they were visiting.  Beatriss, hoping for more information, volunteered that some children from her village had been exploring in the hills and stumbled upon the entrance.  The robed visitors wanted to meet these children and offered a reward.
Beatriss agreed to bring them.  And then got out as quick as she could.

Returning home, Beatriss questioned her children and found out that they had been feasting and playing with the bakemono.  Beatriss told them that their playmates were all dead and not to go back to the cave in the hills.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Back to normalish

Bangqiu claimed a large portion of the monetary treasure from the snake lord’s tomb, and he donated it to Gwinch’s monastery, effectively buying the promise that Kafka would be permitted to accompany him on future adventures. In particular, he wanted to hire a sailing ship and return the captives he’d rescued to their far-flung homelands. Kafka agreed to meet him in Quitokai.

Tetsukichi and Beatriss had no plans accept to return home to the Happy Valley via Khanbaliq. They were accompanied by two of the rescued captives. There was Hui, the daughter of a merchant from Khanbaliq. Al-Fitar took her as his wife following a small ceremony in Khanbaliq. The young woman’s family gifted him with an odd gold box. The other new companion was Noi, daughter of a happy family in Quitokai who nevertheless had asked to leave her farm behind and pursue a life of adventure.

Back in Happy Valley, Tetsukich had a new son. Beatriss’s children were running wild. The people of the Valley had learned that they should not kill the foxes that raided their farms, but it was permissible to hurt them. These foxes’ love of stolen meals seemed to far outstrip any trap, punishment, or other tactic the villagers could devise to deter them.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Tomb of the Minor Snake Lord

Some people of Quitokai were willing to guide Tetsukich and Bangqiu during the first stage of their mission to return the lost children of the jungle to their homes. But as the jungle became thicker and the paths more tortuous, these guides pleaded their ignorance and returned to Quitokai. Damai, grateful for the help the outsiders had given to his village agreed to accompany them wherever they wanted to go, but confessed that he too had little experience in this part of the jungle. The children, thereupon, took on the role of leading the way. 

The way through the jungle brought the party to a level clearing that turned out to be the stone floor of an all-but-ruined building. This excited the children, seemingly because it showed that they had nearly reached home. Tetsukichi and Bangqiu agreed that the raised stone platform would provide a dry place to camp for the night, despite some unnerving architectural details. Among the trees surrounding the platform were three stone pillars, carved in the form of twisting snakes. A large round disk in the center of the platform was also carved to represent a coiled snake.

By close inspection of the disk, Tetsukichi noticed a handle in the center. With help from Al-Fitar, he lifted the disk, revealing a dark hole. The children, screaming with excitement and fear, jumped off the platform. The snake pillars emitted clouds of thick purple mist. Those caught in the mist fell into a deep slumber, and a pair of pythons, slither out of the trees to devour the sleeping men. The rest of the party leapt into action to rescue the friends. Soon, the snakes were dead, and the the children had a nice fire going. The children gorged themselves on roasted python, throwing the bones into the dark hole. The next day, Tetsukich and Bangqiu returned the children to their parents.

About a week later, Tetsukichi and Bangqiu, together with Beatriss and their henchmen, found the snake pit again, avoided the purple mist, and dropped underground to explore. They broke the seal on what seemed to be the tomb of one of Sakatha’s vassals. They destroyed the skeletal snake men who guarded the stone coffin of the snake lord. As the snake lord himself, remained at rest, the heroes did not disturb his remains, but only plundered his treasure, consisting of a large number of gold coins stamped with Sakatha’s image.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Joyful Rescue!

While Bangqiu was training, Tetsukichi and Beatriss made plans to return once more to the slavers’ stockade and this time to actually find and free the captive slaves. They met a traveler from Zhou Dang who was interested in accompanying them. He was a Tuigan, introduced himself as Sum-Dank and, by his bearing, showed he was used to the status associated with rank and wealth. He had a personal feud with the Black Flowers and wanted to avenge the death of a family member.

Without Bangqiu’s magical assistance, the party encoutnered new challenges entering the stockade. Damai led them to the secret entrance through a hole in the stone wall. They passed through the open courtyards into the garden where they met and killed the giant worm. The apes were also threatening, but Tetsukichi negotiated safe passage and Sum-Dank thanked them with generous gifts of goat meat.

The descended into the dungeon and passed through familiar corridors until they reached the room where they’d freed the man who was trapped with the rabid wolf. A man was there, tough-looking, and well-armed, but with a desperate look in his eyes. Kei-Ma was his name; he’d fallen in with the Black Flowers, but wasn’t a part of them. In fact they’d killed his friends. He offered the party some useful information, for a small consideration, just 25 tael so he could buy a horse in Quitokai and get away. Beatriss bargained him down to 20 and the party learned that the “best way” to get to where the slaves were held captive was to go through the natural caves accessed by way of a hidden tunnel in the torture chamber.

The passage proved difficult to navigate as it required the party to traverse a steep ravine filled with stalagmites and other sharp rock formations. Several rock pillars rose from the ravine, seeming to offer one way of crossing the ravine for those sure-footed enough to leap from one to another. But slick stone and thick mist rising from a steam vent discouraged this approach from being considered as a general solution. Instead, the party relied on rope, iron spikes, and the superior climbing skills of Damai and Sum-Dank to climb down into the ravine and then stumble across it. Climbing out proved more difficult. Strange creatures lived on the floor of the ravine. An adorable blue thing with bulbous eyes playfully stole Beatriss’s extra sword. Worse, when Sum-Dank free-climbed out of the ravine, he was shot by an arrow. Grimacing through the pain, he completed his ascent and scrambled for cover, then threw a rope down for the others. Tetsukichi climbed up next, under the cover of a thick cloud of mist. When the mist cleared, he could see that they were being attacked by a pair of archers from the other side of the ravine-- and one of them was Kei-Ma, the “helpful guide” who had suggested they come this way. Tetsukichi returned fire as the other party members made the climb. Those who successfully ascended joined Tetsukichi in shooting back at the ambushers across the ravine, finally driving them away.

The party rested briefly, and Ju-Mei assisted Sum-Dank in removing the arrow head from his back. The party pressed deeper into the tunnels, stopped to admire an underground bee-keeping operation (noting that the bees’ hive was in the roots of a hollow tree, which might provide another means of egress from the dungeon, if it weren’t for the bees), and then walked into another ambush: a hwacha, wolves, a score of cannibals, and a Black Flower commander. Mustapha pulled out a magic wand and blasted the villains with a fireball.

In time, the party emerged from the caverns-- into the room where they’d met and killed Marquessa. If there was any doubt before, they were now sure that the caverns had not been “the best way.” Bangqiu noticed that the cages of the owl-bear creatures were empty and warned everyone to be on guard.

Referring to the map that Gwinch had made in their earlier exploration with Toge, Bangqiu led the others’ out of Marquessa’s workroom and into a new part of the dungeon-- where they did find about a hundred captives. Unlike those from the moaning chamber above, these captives were eager to communicate, even if they spoke languages the rest of the party couldn’t understand. There was one toady among them who called out to the guards-- and promptly got those guards killed. Again, Mustapha played an important tactical role, using the illusion of a giant snake to cut off the guards’ attempt to raise the alarm.

The party hurriedly unlocked all of the prison cells and, after a few wrong turns, led them out of the dungeon to safety.

Back in Quitokai, the party was finally called heroes. They were feted and feasted in the weeks that followed. And they promised to stop bothering the baboons and their special fish. As word got out, villagers from the surrounding areas descended on Quitokai to be re-united with their loved ones. There were some other rescued captives who came from far-away places:

There was Bi-Gon-Dang, a monk, a young initiate from the monastery of the Two-Fold Path in Khanbaliq who had made enemies among his fellow monks when he objected to their participation in the slave trade. He and Sum-Dank set off for Khanbaliq, pledging that they would fight together to rid the capital of that evil.

There were several Cynadiceans. Most were, “of the lost,” committed to private hallucinations. The adults were distressed by the bright sunlight and their lack of masks; they sought refuge in darkness and accepted the hospitality of the people of Quitokai with scant gratitude. Bangqiu, even with his magic could barely understand their language as expression of coherent thought. The children, while sensitive to the sun, seemed to accept Quitokai as their new home. They adapted their imagined identities to match the make-believe games of the local children There was one Brother of Gorm. He told Tetsukichi and Bangqiu of the evil Zargon and and of his devotion to the the Order that would return Cynadicea to its former glory. He regarded Beatriss with pity-- a Cynadicean woman without a mask! But then he noticed the sickle scar on her wrist-- the last signifier of her former status as a Warrior Woman of Madura-- and his pity turned to scorn and condescension. Beatriss had no interest in leading him, or any of the Cynadiceans, back to the terrible place that had once been her home.

There were a handful of people who had crossed an ocean as captives. Bangqiu promised them that if they remained would him, he would take them to a port and buy a ship and with their guidance return them to their homes.

But first, there were those whose homes were closer by, but still needed help to reach them. There was Shushi, daughter of a Khanbaliq merchant who offered no reward, but was desperate to return home. Several were children had been kidnapped from hunter tribes that lived deep in the jungle and rarely interacted with the agricultural villages such as Quitokai. Tetsukichi promised that he would help them find their families.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Cannibalism! Xitaqa attacked! New Teacher!

Despite the lack of gratitude, heroes are heroes. A couple days later, the band of rescuers, led by Beatriss, Tetsukichi, and Bangqiu, made additional forays into the stockade and the dungeons beneath. They rescued one villager who was trapped in a box with a rabid wolf. Though traumatized by the experience, he was fully conscious and responsive. Once he was returned safely to Quitokai, showed great happiness to be together with his family. He also shared some disturbing news. There were still scores of prisoners in the dungeons below the stockade. Now that the Black Flowers had been largely been driven away, the dungeon was controlled by a band of cannibals.

The heroes returned the very next day. There was a message waiting for them. Written in black paint on the door leading to the dungeon, the message read, "We have enjoyed hosting you, monkey king! Today we will sample your hospitality in Xitaqa!" Bangqiu read this as a threat to his subjects, the baboons and convinced the others that they must return at once to Xitaqa-- the home of the baboons on the plateau.

Just as Bangqiu had feared, the Black Flowers had attacked. A small group on horseback had appeared from nowhere, ridden into the city, broken into the first house they came to, and killed most of its occupants, fleeing before the baboons could mount a counter-attack.

From this Bangqiu surmised (without evidence, and incorrectly) that the attackers were based in "ghost tower," a 40-foot structure in the middle of Xitaqa, and without visible occupants except birds that nested in its top story. Remembering the Marquessa had a twin sister, Bangqiu reasoned that she must be inside the tower, and had directed the attack. Bangqiu led the offensive against the tower. Although the front door triggered an electrical shock, he endured the pain and pushed the door open. The others followed him, coming to a second door that turned out to not be a door at all, but a sentient, shape-changing, killer, a mimic, if you will. Naron and others sustained minor injuries as his comrades battered the door into arcane goo. The party made their way up the tower, pausing briefly to appreciate dry fountains, and dusty fox-headed statues. At the top, they encountered an odd, but affable old man with a wispy beard, and wearing the plain black uniform common among clerks back in Zipang and also favored by Saisho. Although surprised not to encounter Marquessa's sister, Bangqiu was grateful to meet the wizard he hoped would become his new teacher. Bangqiu presented Sakatha's spell book, and was generally forthcoming about its undesirable effects. The wizard, whose name Kyo, answered that he was familiar with the hazards presented by studying ancient and felt qualified to effectively counter them. He was willing to agree to the bargain proposed earlier-- the book in exchange for tutelage-- but wanted one other thing. After he had educated Bangqiu, he would, from time-to-time, send messages in his dreams. He would teach Bangqiu how to answer these message-- and he would expect timely responses. Bangqiu agreed. Seemingly familiar with Bangqiu's abilities, Kyo asked him to report for lessons the next morning-- by way of the roof. The trapdoor would be open.

The next morning, the trapdoor was, of course, not open. Bangqiu pried open a shuttered window and received a bouquet of magic missiles for his efforts. Bangqiu returned to the ground and sought help from Ju-Mei. The dutiful priest tended to Bangqiu’s wounds and was persuaded to be lifted to the tower’s roof and wait for Bangqiu’s signal. Bangqiu returned to the ground and then climbed the tower by the stairs. As he reached the top, once more interrupting Kyo’s study of the lizard king’s book, he shot a magc misile out the window as a signal to Ju-Mei. Shùlí! the priest commanded-- and Kyo was held fast. Ju-Mei began chanting to break the book’s hold on Kyo; Bangqiu opened the trap door and lifted the old wu-jen a Ju-Mei completed the ceremony and as the effects of the Shùlí spell was wearing off. Only slightly abashed, Kyo locked the book in a trunk and congratulated Bangqiu on completing his first lesson.

Over the next few weeks, he would teach Bangqiu to receive his dream messages and also how to assume the form of a bird or other animal.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Joyless Rescue

After an unsuccessful attempt to track down Saisho, Bangqiu made plans with Beatriss to gather their associates and invade the slavers' stockade once more. Armed with knowledge of where the slaves were kept, and using their tested strategy, they scaled the wall at the back of the stockade and entered the low, windowless stone building in which Bangqiu had seen the captives. The room was unpleasant to be in. Besides the sight of rows of catatonic people, the sound-- a low hum, a deep passionless moan-- made the adventurers uneasy, challenged their courage more than the clang of clashing swords or the snarl of a pouncing monster. Moving their way around the room by torchlight, trying to track flitting shadows, they were surprised by long black robe that slipped off the fall and drifted toward them. Lieu, a high-ranking sohei, charged with his parang drawn. The black cloak enveloped his head and clung to his body like a rain-soaked length of silk. As his friends rushed to assist him, the cloak thing lashed out at them a tail-like appendage. Beatriss slashed at the monster with her sword. She slashed its alien body, but, based on Lieu's gasp of pain, knew that she was hurting Lieu as well. Bangqiu put on his invisibility ring. The others hesitated. They could not free Lieu without hurting him and he was in little position to help him. Beatriss decided that if nothing else, she would give Lieu a quick death rather than let him be suffocated or devoured by the cloak-thing resumed her attack with her sword, encouraging her followers to do the same. Nguyen cut off the thing's tail. Lieu fell to the floor and Beatriss leapt on top of him, doing her best to slash the monster only, but knowing she had little time for precision. At last Lieu burst, free, panting, the black cloak thing a shredded black mass. Ju-Mei tended to Lieu's wounds while the others sought a way to free the prisoners. There was a key, and manacles could be removed, but the prisoners still showed no interest in their own freedom. The humming had stopped. Still the prisoners were unfeeling, uncommunicative.

They did respond to commands. They responded very well, following orders to leave the room and fearlessly climb up a ladder to the top of the stone building and then climb over the sharpened stakes of the palisade. Bangqiu helped break their fall as they landed and led them across the ditch. They remained compliant as Damai led them through the dungeon and back to Quitokai. The celebration was subdued. The awkward question of how to treat Bangqiu the Baboon King-- who had threatened to attack the village with an army if they didn’t stop hunting the sacred fish-- was simply ignored. The people of Quitokai treated Beatriss as the sole leader of the rescue party. And, as they offered no reward, but instead asked why their rescued family members were acting so strangely, Bangqiu did not insert himself.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Intervention

Alarmed for himself and for his friend, Prince Jake first consulted with Sir Crowler (who was busy throwing a ball with the baboons) and then traveled alone, down from the plateau and to Pasar. Asking around, he found out that Bangqiu’s friend Beatriss was encamped somewhere north of the village. He found her and explained his concerns. Bangqiu was starting to have concerns of his own. A black spot seemed to be growing in his mind and that space he forgot things. Copying the new spells became exhausting and practicing old spells, even those he’d known for years became more difficult than he remembered. When Prince Jake returned with Beatriss, Bangqiu was in a near panic, trying to destroy the book, but also afraid to do so. Beatriss’s associate Ju-Mei knew what was happening. With a blinding light, he threw Bangqiu onto the floor. As the young wizard lay transfixed, Ju-Mei prayed over him until he, too was exhausted. When Bangqiu recovered, he seized a knife and stabbed the book three or four times before the blade broke. He closed the cover and then wondered out loud whether Saisho’s teacher would still want it.

The next day, based on information from Prince Jake that he had seen birds flying into the formidable structure known to the baboons as the "ghost tower," Bangqiu decided he would try to find a way inside. His hope was that one of those birds was Saisho's teacher. Eschewing the front door, Bangqiu used his boots to levitate up to the top floor. There were numerous small windows, but they were too narrow for him to enter, and the shutters were closed. Using his short sword, he broke the latch on one of the shutters. It popped open, and Bangqiu found himself frozen in mid-air. A monkey trailing a rope, crawled out and jumped on to Banqiu. As the monkey started to tie the rope around Bangqiu's frozen form, Bangqiu began to levitate higher. The monkey abandoned whatever project it had planned and leaped off of Bangqiu to re-enter the tower. Bangqiu surveyed the roof of the tower and, when the monkey's spell wore off, lowered himself on to it. The roof was flat, made of thick wood and had a trap door in the middle of it. The trap door wouldn't open, no matter much Bangqiu punched it or stabbed it with his sword. Frustrated, but still stubbornly refusing to try the front door, Bangqiu lowered himself to the ground and returned to his royal quarters.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Trials of the Baboon King

As king, Bangqiu learned that his subjects took an interest in the large orange fish of a particular pool, revering the creatures for their mysterious aura of calmness. The children of Quitokai and the surrounding area regarded the fish as easy sport and not-bad eating. The baboons had responded to the outrage with violence. No one had been killed, but the baboons, never friendly with their human neighbors, found that they suddenly had a lot of enemies.

Taking up the concerns of his subjects, Bangqiu, together with Prince Jake and Sir Crowler, addressed the people of Quitokai tried to negotiate an end to the wanton destruction of the sacred fish. It did not go well. The village elder was under house arrest based on his drunkenness and mismanagement. The de facto new ruler was a representative of the Emperor, eager to make a show of strength, especially as the villagers were starting to gumble about his authoritarian style of government.. As Bangqiu was chased from the village, he declared that he was leaving of his own accord so that he could raise an army.

Bangqiu discussed strategy with Prince Jake and Sir Crowler. He’d threatened the Imperial Envoy with an army and he didn’t know where to find one. The baboons numbered less than 100 and while they could be frightening to children, few would survive in an all-out attack against trained soldiers. Plus the villagers, with their own prejudice against the baboons would probably side with the soldiers.

One night, Bangqiu had a vivid dream. Saisho— Gwinch’s assistant, whom Bangqiu suspected was a powerful wu-jen—appeared to Bangqiu in the dream. He was standing in a small, roofless stone house in the middle of the jungle. He told Bangqiu to meet him the next day, that he would find the house if he traveled due west from Quitokai. The next morning Bangqiu, accompanied by Sir Crowler and Prince Jake, did as the dream Saisho had instructed. He had let it be known that he was seeking a new teacher and had been hoping that Saisho could make an introduction. Circumventing the village of Quitokai itself, Bangqiu plunged into the trackless jungle, walking with the rising sun behind him. A strange bird appeared, chirping loudly. “Saisho, is that you?” The bird flew away, but continued chirping and Bangqiu followed the chirping to the stone house he saw in the dream. Saisho was there. As Bangqiu had hoped, Saisho knew a powerful wu jen who wanted a new student. But he also wanted something else, maybe something that Bangqiu found in the tomb of the lizard king.

There was some discussion between Bangqiu and Saisho, interrupted sometimes by insistent chirping from the still unseen bird. Saisho guessed that the master had little use for Sakatha’s trident or crown, but would be interested in the lizard king’s spellbook. Bangqiu had carried it with him. Before forming any agreement, he decided to open the book and, for the first time, peruse its contents. What he found on the weird, stained vellum pages struck him speechless. Half the book contained spells that he couldn’t comprehend, though the illustrations promised powers he had previously barely imagined. And those spells he could understand—to summon fire and lightning, to ensnare his enemies with cryptic inscriptions—once mastered, these would make him more powerful than Beatriss and Gwinch. No deal, he said. He had money, he reasoned to himself, he could simply travel to Pasar and hire a teacher. Both Saisho and the bird were disappointed. Saisho tried to warn him of “what might happen,” but this only drove Bangqiu out of the stone house clutching the book. He returned to Xitaqa—home of the baboons—and to his palace.

For nearly two weeks, Bangqiu forgot about the help he’d promised to slaves or baboons or sacred fish or oppressed villagers. He copied spells from Sakatha’s book into his own. When Prince Jake knocked at his door, Bangqiu threatened to make him the first trial subject for his new powers.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

King of the Baboons

During his stay in Quitokai, Bangqiu ran across his old acquaintances, Prince Jake and Sir Crowler who were visiting the Wulin, a group of speaking baboons who lived on the rocky plateau above Quitokai. The Wulin were feuding with the people of Quitokai because of a certain fishpond. The Wulin treasured the fish and considered them sacred. The children of Quitokai speared the fish for sport. In attempting to negotiate a peaceful resolution, Bangqiu ended up challenging the King
of the Wulin to a wrestling match. He emerged victorious and became the new King of the Wulin. 

This proved handy since his efforts to negotiate peace in Quitokai were also unsuccessful. The Imperial Officer who had claimed authority over the area on behalf of the Emperor refused to entertain a personal challenge from a commoner and instead simply banished Bangqiu from the village. While the villagers did not enforce the General’s ban, the official opprobrium emboldened
them in their pointed questions about when he would rescue their sons and daughters from captivity. 

To escape the guilt, Bangqiu retreated to his “palace”—a larger than average cave carved into the chalk ground on the plateau above Quitokai.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Guest Editor Play Report: A2 Secret of the Slavers Stockade Part I

After killing the lizard king Bangqiu and Kafka went to Pasar. There they met Gwinch who had heard of slavers near the village of Katoke (also spelled Quitokai). Gwinch and Bangqiu assembled a team to put a stop to the operation.

Gwinch the Foreigner, Abbot of the Monastery of the Two-Fold Path accepted responsibility for leading the strike force against the stockade. Years ago, when he was an agent of the Emperor, the people Quitokai had given him shelter for several months. And he had participated in an earlier successful raid against the slavers. He was assisted primarily by Saisho, his chief scribe and sage on arcane matters and “Beast,” a native son of Pasar and faithful bodyguard. Damai, a scout and skilled hunter from Quitokai, had volunteered his services and the benefits of several weeks spying on the stockade. Gwinch’s lieutenant was Kafka, a reserved, self-disciplined warrior monk, one of Gwinch’s first students from his days in Zipang.

The tempestuous Bangqiu was co-leader of the strike force. He had made a name for himself in Pasar, fighting alongside Gwinch and Beatriss to free the town from the domination of the Black Flowers gang. And, in the course of many battles against the Lizard King Sakatha, this unpredictable young magician had formed an unlikely friendship with Kafka the quiet sohei. Bangqiu’s success against Sakatha had also won him the allegiance of Erlo, shaman of the Sanasar clan. Finally, Bangqiu had taken on the services of the lovingly incompetent Shu.

Besides the six members of the lead strike force, six of Gwinch’s experienced sohei made up the rearguard. Their names were Lieu, Nguyen, Hoshina, Oshima, Sang, and Bulan. Finally, Onghai Wen a novice monk who showed much promised had been permitted to join the Company.

The group travelled from Quitokai to the slavers’ stockade by a circuitous route that avoided the main road. They went east to the sacred fishponds and then Bangqiu, based on his special status among monkeys, negotiated passage through the kingdom of baboons, climbing a rocky trail up the escarpment. On the plateau, Damai led the group into the jungle and to one of his many observation posts. Through a gap in the trees, the fortress could be clearly seen. Damai explained that the stockade had been built on the site of an older stone fortress, but only the northern section was even partially intact. A thick copse of trees had grown up in the middle of the older building and the slavers had surrounded this with a wooden palisade and built new buildings on the southern side. Damai relayed to the Gwinch and Bangqiu that he had seen a man sneak in and out of the stockade on the northern side by way of a hole halfway up the crumbling curtain of the old fortress.

Ignoring this information, Gwinch and Bangqiu decided they would enter from the south and selected a strike force of seven experienced explorers, all capable of stealth and climbing with minimal assistance. With the help of magic, this group was made invisible, and in the dead of night, they scaled the palisade to land on the roof of a stone building overlooking a courtyard dominated by a large firepit.        

Banqiu has boots that let him levitate. He used these to look around the stockade. Among the men gathered around the firepit was an obvious leader. He relayed this information to the others and Erlo decided to launch a fireball at them.

Unfortunately the leader was fire resistant.

So they left and the strike force joined the rearguard in their hiding place in the jungle and they returned to Quitokai together. The villagers were not inordinately impressed. None of their relatives had been rescued. The Black Flowers likely numbered more than 100 and their losses would only aggravate them. The villagers confirmed that yes, the dark-skinned man with the helmet covering his face was one of the slavers’ most fearsome leaders. His name was Eikhar (or Icar) and they too had witnesses his invulnerability to fire. Based on this new information, Bangqiu bought several pangas for Gwinch and Kafka to bless against their enemy. The two monks wrote Eikhar’s name on the weapons with dragon’s blood ink.

The heroes came back the next day. Very focused on killing Icar(the leader) they back stabbed him with the dragonblood weapons blessed to be super effective effective against him. After he died they heard a voice that told them of evils that took place under the stockade. “Well done. Most impressive.”

Gwinch looked at Bangqiu, “You’re hearing this, too?”

The voice was deep and sonorous, with a Zipang accent. “And what is your business here?” The voice queried. “You are agents of the Emperor? Or you had a personal feud with Eikhar?” Gwinch was cagey at first, but at last admitted that he and his companions were trying to free the capture villagers before they were sold into slavery. The voice told of evils that involved a witch named Marcessa (or Marquessa)who had an operation table. They were also told to meet a man named Toge who would lead them to marchesa. The voice directed them to drop into the courtyard below and to a door that would lead into the dungeons. “Toge will be expecting you. He will take you to meet Marquessa.”

“Why don’t you tell Marquessa to come up here?” Gwinch demanded. The voice didn’t answer.

So we just acted on our instinct and went to the doors they were raggedy and broken. So BANGQIU assumed it was a trap. He really felt an urge to go down the opposite door. Eventually they decided to go down the door they were told by the voice to use. After passing through the doorway was a vast flight of stairs they went down the stairs and found a magnet that was dragging them towards it. Then the group opened a door which led to some cannibals-- their room smelt of dead people. Then they started to fight and Toge appered down the lengthy stairs. He was a large man with rhinolike skin the creatures did everything he said which the party found to be oh so very perplexing. They followed him and saw some spiders along the way and Saisho made friends with them. Toge instantly picked this up along with the fact that half the party was invisible.

He then lead them to a room which had an operating chamber where someone was being tortured so the party saved him. In this room were many canibils who attacked the group but Toge politely asked to cut it out and said don’t attack the guests. At this point the group relized this toge guy was quite the threat.

He lead them to marcessa’s room and here they Saw a lot many operating taples and long tables and other stuff of that sort they saw many papers which were cut and tattered some where yellowish they also saw at the edge of the room two cages with animals that looked like a cross between a lion and an owl. The party pretended they wanted to be friends with Marquessa. Then they used magic that held her and she stopped being able to move. And the cannibils started cranking a crank that triggered the fence/gate to be opened but then they were killed Banqui So Gwinch and Bangqiu and their followers killed Marquessa’s cannibal friends and then killed her. Then they noticed the door was open and Saisho saw Toge hovering near the ceiling and being invisible to everyone except Saisho who passed the message around.

Using this information they watched him as they made their way back out of the dungeon until they reached the other torture room where they saw he was giving commands to the cannibal leaders. Then Saisho told Erlo where to shoot and Erlo threw a fireball at Toge and it hurt him badly and killed the cannibal leaders. Then Toge released a breath of cold that killed several members of the party: erlo,bulan,ongewen and shu. Then Banqui used a missle and it killed Toge so they escaped but there party was very injured. As they sneaked out of the stockade, they saw Black Flowers also packing up their belongings to flee.  

The people of Quitoka were not super grateful. Because still no rescue, just empty promises that the Black Flowers probably wouldn’t bother them anymore. Gwinch and most of his sohei vanished into the jungle for a meditative retreat.

But Bangqiu, Damai the scout, plus Nguyen and Lieu wnt back to try to free some slaves. This time they entered by way of the hole in the stone wall. Bangiqu surveyed the area while his companions kept look-out in the stone tower. The Black Flowers seemed to be gone, but they met some more people that inhabited it. These guys were both intimidating and friendly and told Bangqiu that he was a bad ass and asked him to help them look for treasure. Banqiu tried to buy all the slaves to set them free. A deal was struck, and Bangqiu tossed them a little bag of gems and the tough guys led him to stone building next to the firepit. But Bangqiu was finessed and the guys only showed him the stone building where the slaves were being kept but would not get them out. So Banqui hit their leader with a magic missle just to prove a point. He was injured but not killed; he and his men cussed out Bangqiu and ran for cover in another building.

Bangqiu and his companions entered the stone building and found about two dozen people. They were chained to the wall and staring into space as if hypnotized. They did not respond to him and Bangqiu decided to go back to Quitokai and seek assistance.     

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Spider Farm (2 of 2)

By the time Wolfgang returned to Hommelet (having parted company with Chrono somewhere along the way), things had gone bad at the spider farm. He learned from Vulpio and Gerrilynn that shadow goblins,

allies to the drow, and devotees of Lloth the spider goddess, had overrun the farm. According to the birds who made regular reports to the elves living under the moathouse, the shadow goblins had made their attack about a week after Wolfgang and Chrono left the farm. It was quickly resolved that Wolfgang, Vulpio and Gerrilynn should return to the spider farm and rescue the farmer and his family and laborers.

Wolfgang knew the best paths. Although his non-druid companions were some liability in trekking through the wilderness, they made good time, taking only a few extra days to complete the journey. Gerrilynn prayed for guidance and determined that because their enemies loved the shadows, they should attack in daylight. No other tactical decisions were made.

They reached the farm, and as they were crossing the yard, were pelted by arrows from the laborer’s dormitory. The party took refuge in Ulayah’s personal abode. It had clearly been ransacked. Gerilynn and Caitlynn, left the house and went to the stables. Gerrilynn was able to communicate with the frightened horses but did not learn any useful information. Inside Ulayah’s house, Wolfgang and Vulpio were threatened by a giant spider that dropped down the chimney and emerged from the fireplace. Wolfbang’s animal companions took no notice of the spider and by this strange fact, he deduced that the spider was an illusion. He further concluded that the noises on the tin roof were not more spiders, but spider goblins. He and Vulpio exited the house by a window. Sure enough, there were several spider goblins on the roof, and Vulpio, after taking cover behind a tree, picking them off with his arrows.. The goblins jumped down from the roof and proved to be no match for the party in hand-to-hand combat—and even worse at hand-to-bear-paw combat.

Gerrilynn and Caitlynn rejoined the party and they charged the dormitory together. They broke down the door and the goblins fled. Rather than pursue the enemy however, the party members were stopped in their tracks by the pitiful sight before them—the farm’s laborer’s, a dozen or so men, had been held captive in their dormitory. Shackled, bruised, famished, miserable, and delirious. They gratefully accepted freedom, food, and comfort, until one of them recognized Wolfbang. “Hey, he’s that one, the one who told all those stories to the boss!” Those who had sufficient strength were eager to fight him, convinced that he was the leader of the spider goblins.

Gerrilynn was sympathetic and acknowledged that Wolfbang might be annoying, but made it clear that she would defend him if necessary. Gerrilyn’s patience and loyalty were further tested as Wolfbang seemed willing to accept the challenge of anyone who wanted to take him on, but finally agreeing to go back outside. Vulpio asked the laborers if Ulayah was still alive. They didn’t know, but said the leaders of the goblins had taken one of the other buildings as their headquarters. Sure enough, Ulayah was there, shackled, but unguarded. He was also unfriendly toward Wolfbang. While not belligerent, he seemed to assume that there was a connection between the strange young man and the goblins who attacked his farm a week later. But none of that really mattered since his daughter had been taken from him the night before. It had been clear to him that the goblins were going to feed her to the spiders. But she had not been the first sacrifice and if the spiders weren’t hungry, they might have saved her for when the new spiders hatched. She might still be alive. Wolfbang and Vulpio volunteered to go into the spider trench and rescue her. Ulayah ordered the angry laborers to open the gate to the spider’s home. “This is my only chance!” He reasoned ot loud that if Wolfbang was risking his life to rescue Heri, then he likely was not the mastermind behind the Shadow Goblin invasion.

The trench was lined with thick, sticky webs. Vulpio led the way, slashing the webs with his sword. Bruno the bear, with his great strength, also helped clear a path. Neverthless, the way forward was narrow and twisting. Even smaller tunnels led off from the main trench. Following directions from Ulayah, who stood on the lattice above them, they made their way to the mother spider’s chamber. Dog-sized spiders emerged from the webbing and attacked from all sides. Wolfbang used his magic to calm the first ones, but more kept coming. The party shielded themselves and forced their way into the mother’s spider’s chamber. Here, there was more space, and the spiders could be fought with swords and spears. Bruno had been severely wounded. While WOlfbang attended to his animal companion, Vulpio advanced on the mother. Because of her enormous size, more than twice that of any of the others, she was nearly immobile. Vulpio stood far from her long, dripping fangs and shot her with arrows, then jumped in with his sword to finish her off.

A smaller chamber behind the spider mother was filled with egg sacs. Hanging from the top of the chamber was a large, quivering bundle, wrapped in silk. Vulpio cut down and unwrapped Heri. She was so disoriented that she couldn’t speak. Vulpio and Wolfbang helped her make her way out of the trench and she was re-united with her father. Some of Ulayah’s laborer’s continued to grumble, but over the next few days, it became clear that the boss had no ear for their suspicion or resentment. Ulayah rewarded the party with gifts, including several hundred feet of lightweight spider-silk rope. Besides being incredibly strong and lightweight, it was also just sticky enough to assist in maintaining a tight grip on it. After a few days, the party was ready to take their leave. Ulayah, with a meaningful and unsubtle nod at Heri told Wolfbang that he was welcome to return any time, “You might find you could have a good life here!”

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Spider Farm (1 of 2)

Jaroo asked Wolfbang and his friend Chrono, another initiate to take a trip to the southlands and to the Buiyab forest. This was a region known for enormous spiders, spiders that discouraged human settlement near the forest and thus allowed the wilderness to remain wild. Unfortunately (from a druidic perspective) there was a man who seemed likely to significantly alter the natural order. This man was attempting to domesticate the giant spiders, and had achieved considerable success in his unnatural endeavor, having quickly established a “farm.” Wolfgang and Chrono were to investigate and find a non-lethal way to encourage the spider farmer to find another way to make a living.

Traveling with their animal companions, Wolfgang and Chrono enjoyed their journey to the southlands and located the spider farm. They instructed the animals to remain in the woods while they approached the farm as labor-seeking travelers.

As they entered the compound, they saw other laborers struggling to drag a goat to what turned out to be the spider pen—a large trench in the ground covered with a thick lattice and with a gate at each end. The laborers were not welcoming to the newcomers, so Wolfbang and Chrono sought out the low building where they found the owner of the farm, a man named Ulayah. He was a confident and enthusiastic man, eager to dispel the arachnophobia he presumed in his visitors. Wolfbang and Chrono surprised him by asserting that they knew spiders to be as intelligent as humans, claiming to have come from another land across the sea where they had learned the spiders’ language. Ulayah was visibly torn by competing desires to dismiss and embrace these outlandish claims, but his daughter Heri, who seemed more enchanted by these men from “across the sea” than anything they knew about spiders, prevailed upon her father that they should be invited to stay for a meal and to demonstrate their abilities.

On their way to Ulayah’s living quarters, they passed the spiders’ trench where the laborers were still struggling with a goat. Wolfbang and Chrono, reluctant to use their druidic powers to befriend an animal they intended to feed to spiders, tried to wrestle the goat to the ground. While unsuccessful, their embarrassment seemed to give the laborers’ new zeal for the task. One seized the goat in both arms while the other flung open the gate. The goat was cast into the pit and the gate closed. The terrified bleating was soon silenced and all except Ulayah shivered at the successive clicking and sucking sounds of the feeding spiders. Wolfbang found that, with his druid magic, he could indeed talk to one of the spiders. It was still hungry and wanted more food. Ulayah looked particularly juicy, though the “fat sweet one” (presumably Heri) would also suit him. Chrono relayed this to Ulayah who shrugged cavalierly. “Of course, that’s why we keep them in the cages.”

Lunch, in a room festooned with all colors of silk, was agreeably bland and consisted mainly of fried vegetables. Ulayah quizzed the newcomers about their knowledge of spiders, and having satisfied himself that he knew more than them, offered them work. Wolfbang was eager to accept, but Chrono answered with cryptic insults that soon became not very cryptic. “Perhaps you’re tired,” Ulayah suggested, offering them his guest room. Wolfbang and Chrono slept until night. Wolfbang, thinking that his associate might forget the “non-lethal” part of Jaroo’s instructions, suggested that they slip away into the forest and return to Hommelet.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Sakatha DEAD! (For real this time)

Bewildered by the undead lizardwoman’s powers and concerned about what it had to tell them about Sakatha’s continued existence, Beatriss and Tetsukichi sought out a quiet place to discuss what they’d experienced, rest, and call on advice from a higher power. On their way back to the upper level of the pyramid, a swarm of bats swooped down on them screeching and scratching. The party followed the bats back to Sakatha’s throne room. Sakatha’s queen was there, but before Ju-Mei could raise his holy symbol, the bats descended on him a special vengeance. The lizardwoman charged at Naron, grabbed him with her claws and sunk her fangs deep into his neck. As Naron started to slip out of consciousness, his companions crowded around with their best weapons. They drove the blood-sucking fiend away from Naron, knocked her down and cut her to pieces. Again, she turned to a gas and the bats dispersed.

With the lizard queen(?) dead, the throne room itself became a seemingly quiet and safe enough place to rest. Ju-Mei and Erlo tended to the wounded. Naron had suffered a strange wound. She had taken something from him that he wouldn’t get back easily. Nevertheless, he was resolved to help Beatriss and the others to destroy Sakatha and his consort.

As Ju-Mei prepared to meditate, Beatriss and Tetsukich discussed what exactly they wanted to know. Was Sakatha gone? Would Sakatha return? Would the Sansar clan now have peace? The answer came from a lower power. A section of the wall slid open and Sakatha himself stepped out. Beatriss ordered the weaker member of the party to the back of the room, but Sakatha summoned a huge billowing cloud of noxious green smoke, cutting off the exits, and forcing the entire party to within striking distance. “Where is my crown?” he demanded, looking them over. Beatriss stepped in front of him, drawing her sword. He seized her and bit her, just as the queen had done to Naron. But even as he began to suck out her blood, Beatriss, drove her sword into his gut, holding him fast. Tetsukichi, Al-Fitar, and Naron surrounded him, stabbing and slashing him on all sides. Raking his claws down Beatriss’s arm, he forced her to drop her sword and turned to face a new opponent. He leapt on Al-Fitar, knocking the powerful warrior to the ground, but didn’t manage to find his way past his sword. Al-Fitar held the blade in front of his neck and forced it lengthwise across the lizard king’s mouth. Betriss and Tetsukichi attacked from the other sides and with a rain of blows, forced the monster back into gaseous form. They entered the secret room and found another coffin. Opening it, they watched Saktha’s wounded body reforming on the fetid mud inside


Suddenly, Ju-Mei knew exactly what to do, and Beatriss followed his instructions. On an ordinary sword, Ju-Mei wrote Sakatha’s name using ink made from dragon’s blood. With this sword, Beatriss cut off the lizard king’s head. Into his mouth she poured holy water and specially-blessed cake. The flesh rotted and shrunk from Sakatha’s skull and then the skull split in two. Likewise, his body disintegrated.

Using a similar procedure, the party went to the queen’s burial chamber and permanently destroyed her. They returned to the throne room once more and discussed whether there was anything else left to do. Bangqiu and Kafka returned to report that, upstairs, water was seeping in under the door. Beatriss wanted to leave, but Bangqiu remember something in a song about Sakatha’s ring and wanted to find it. He asked Naron and Beatriss and some others to take any rings belonging to party members and guard them in another room. With a series of spells, he determined that there was another closer ring behind the throne. Summoning once again the party’s strongest warrirors, Bangqiu asked for the throne to be moved. Still his magic told him that the ring was very close and not in the the throne but in the wall behind. Erlo used his own powers to locate and open the magically-hidden door, and behind it the party found Saktha’s secret treasury: a pile of ancient coins, each much larger and heavier than an imperial tael, and made of gold instead of silver. There was a box filled silk packets containing silvery dust. There was a book of spells. And there was a ring. Bangqiu claimed the book and the ring, while the others filled their backpacks with gold coins.

By the time the party was ready to leave the pyramid, water was flowing down the stairs. Upstairs, the food in the feasting room was rotten and the magical servants were nowhere to be seen. Erlo opened the bronze doors and a small wave of swamp water rushed in , splashing them up to the waist. Outside the pyramid, it was muddy, and the water was ankle-deep. There was a crack in the roof of the cavern; lizardmen were happily cavorting in the water and sunshine. The undead mob were nowhere to be seen. The dry streambed was filling with real water. The acid pools were still there. Ow! The party made their way up the stairs, avoiding the fifth step from the top.

On their way through the former lair of the brigands, there was a surprising and surprisingly cordial reunion between Won Ton and his old friends Shu and Ta-Mi! Visibly relieved about the death of Feng-Bi and sobered by the death of Sick Boy, Won Ton started to apologize about “you know, the silver chi’en” until he noticed the gold bulging from the others’ backpacks. And there is no need to tell anything else about this adventure except that the heroes returned to the main camp of the Sansar clan for feasting and celebration!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Sakatha dead?? NOT CLICKBAIT

The throne room was large and nearly empty, with frescoes in the familiar, violent style and at the far end of the hall, a massive throne and a stone table. On the table was an oblong box of reeds and pitch, about nine feet long. Inside the box was Sakatha, an eight-foot tall, massively-built lizardman with long fangs, wearing a crown and gripping a trident. The heroes took a moment to plan their attack—Beatriss, Tetsukichi, Al-Fitar, Naron, Kafka, and the two sohei all surrounded the box, holding the weapons specially-prepared by Kafka. Ju-Mei said a brief chant and at one moment, all the warriors struck their target. The blessed weapons cut Sakatha’s body and it immediately transformed into a green gas that rose into the gloom of the top of the hall and then vanished. 

Bangqiu discussed with Kafka who should claim the trident and who should claim the crown while Beatriss and Tetsukichi discussed whether Sakatha was really gone. 

Beatriss and Tetsukichi, together with their henchpeople, decided to explore elsewhere, while Bangqiu and co. went to guard against any attack from the temple area or the “feast hall” above.

Immediately off the throne room, Beatriss and Tetsukichi discovered a library filled with sinister-looking books. They were glad that Bangqiu was not with them to be tempted. 

Next, they found a circular burial chamber, smelling of swamp rot and death, containing five of the reed-and-pitch coffins—noticeably smaller than the one in the throne room. As Ju-Mei began to chant a prayer of protection, one of the coffins opened and a lizardwoman sprang out, leaping onto Naron with her fangs bared. Ju-Mei sprang forward with his holy symbol and the foul monster turned into a gas. Beatriss was able to track the cloud as it flowed out of the burial chamber and toward the throne room. By the time the party reached the throne room, they found the lizardwoman again in corporeal form, wailing over Sakatha’s empty coffin. “What have you done to my king?” Ju-Mei answered with his holy symbol and again she turned into gas and vanished.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Tomb of the Lizard King: Inside the Pyramid, Beatriss has another brush with death

The party walked down along the dry riverbed until they reached the wall of the cavern. Now that the illusion of the river had been dispelled, this proved to be only about 100 feet away. The burial mounds were still within sight and as the party passed by, they noticed signs that something was stirring within—cracks appearing in the hard-baked clay, clods of dirt rolling off. As the party reached the bronze doors of the pyramid, they began to see blackened fists breaking through, and red-eyed heads popping out of their graves. Erlo and Ju-Mei called upon their diverse understandings of the divine good to send the wights back into their graves, while the rest of the group studied the doors. They were 20-feet tall, and remarkably well-crafted, and still disturbing in their depictions of Sakatha’s domination over humankind, despite the fact that these hardy adventurers had already seen similar artwork throughout the tomb. The problem of opening them was not immediately solvable. The doors had no visible lock or even handle, and could not be pried open. Beyond the mechanical problem—the double doors had only the narrowest seam between them, too small for any type to tool that might pry them open— Bangqiu surmised that they were magically closed. His associate Erlo knew a spell for opening locked doors, but would need some time to prepare it. Meanwhile, over a dozen wights had broken out of their mounds and although they recoiled from the sight of a boldly-raised holy symbol, it seemed only a matter of time before one Erlo and Ju-Mei let one slip by unnoticed, and that could quickly lead to catastrophe.

The party moved around the pyramid, Erlo and Ju-Mei, bringing up the rear. On the other side of the pyramid, they saw several bonfires on the slopes of the cavern, with figures gathered around. These did not seem to be undead, but-- by their natural movements and long, thick tails-- living, breathing lizardmen.

Tetsukichi suggested they could evade the lizardfolk and find their own safe place on another side of the cavern, far from both the wights and the lizrdfolk. This, they did. A low narrow hole, opened into a sizeable cave-within-the-cave where, with a couple sohei on guard, the rest of the party could rest and plan. There were tree roots hanging down from the ceiling of the cave and the party found it reassuring to know they couldn’t be too far from the surface. These roots also reacted similarly to the party’s presence or at least their light sources—the roots sprouted buds and flowers and murmured deeply and softly. This murmuring reminded everyone of the comforting trees of their camp and also of those tree’s warning that the y must tarry. After an hour or so, the party returned to the pyramid. Erlo recited his spell and the doors opened. The party entered the pyramid and as the wights, now assembled in a semi-organized mob, charged, the doors closed. Howling and gnashing of teeth.

From the entryway, there were three doors.

Beatriss led the way toward the middle door, which seemed to lead toward the heart of pyramid.  As she touched the door, she heard an oddly-familiar voice and felt a sharp pain on her neck.  A spear shot out from the wall and hit her on the neck—at the exact place where O-me-sa had bit her and left his scar. The spear bounced off. “Good bye, Beatriss,” the voice said. Other party members were also struck by spears that had shot out of the walls, but thanks to luck, preparation, or some other unknown protection, these spears were repelled by armor. The spears were coated with a sticky green substance. Beatriss shivered and touched her neck to be sure she hadn’t been wounded. Her skin was whole. Even the scar was gone.

The door opened into a grand hall where a large table offered a sumptuous feast.—all kinds of food and wine, and all apparently fit for human consumption. The walls were painted with uncharacteristically light-hearted frescoes of lizard men frolicking feasting. Within moments, several of these lizardfolk stepped out of the frescoes and invited the visitors to feast. Beatriss was extremely skeptical. The lizardfolk were courteous and dismissed her questions, instead repeating their invitation. Bangqiu and Tetsukichi restrained Shu. Al-Fitar and Naron located a trapdoor, and the party lowered themselves into a tunnel beneath the pyramid. The lizardfolk bid them farewell and asked them to return and feast another time.

Exploring the tunnels beneath the pyramid the party stumbled upon a darker celebration—about a dozen lizardmen and three human priests gathered around a blood-stained altar. Seizing moment, Erlo unleashed a ball of fire on the unholy assembly, incinerating the reptilian worshippers. The human worshippers, on the other hand, responded with their own magic. Beatriss dropped her sword and was put to flight and two of the party’s warriors were transfixed. Tetsukichi identiefied the leader and charged him with sword drawn. Bangqiu blasted the others with his magic. By the time Beatriss returned, shrugging off her sudden bout of cowardice, all the enemies had been killed.

A secret door behind the altar provided access to more tunnels, one of which led to Sakatha’s throne room.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Tomb of the Lizard King: Door you cannot find, stairs you cannot find, and the river of nothingness

The party returned to camp, planning to rest a couple days until Beatriss was strong enough to make the journey out of the swamp. Their plans changed the following night when they were attacked by scores of lizard men.  Those not on guard were awakened by the sounds of the attackers howling as they splashed through the swamp.  Those on watch saw the reptilian eyes approaching from all sides.  But as the scaled fiends charged into the clearing, the surrounding trees came to life, defending the party with branches and vines, beating off their attackers. 

The trees reassured the party, in deep murmuring voices that they were safe, for now, but that Sakatha was still alive and his power getting stronger.  The heroes decided that they would remain in the swamp, nurse Beatriss back to health in the camp and then return to the tomb and find Sakatha. 

Their new acquaintances Tami and Shu showed that they planned to stay, and also to return with the party to the tomb.  “We still need to get Won Ton and the money he took from us.”  The newcomers did little to earn their welcome.  Tami was very proud of his swordsmanship and practiced for hours, but the more experienced warriors saw limited skill behind the flash.  Shu, on the other hand, seemed to go out of his way to demonstrate his incompetence.  After being reminded too many times of the hazards of collecting firewood from living trees, he was ordered to lie in a hammock where he showed his talent for opium smoking.  Neverthless, Bangqiu took a liking to Shu and Beatriss tolerated Ta-Mi.

When the party returned to the temple two weeks later, they were much better prepared.  They encountered one troll in the antechamber.  Erlo ensnared it in a magical web and the rest of the party killed it with slings and arrows.  In the second room behind the shell curtain, they found the second troll still wrestling with the weird water snake. Bangqiu remember the trapdoor in the floor and Naron opened it, permitting the party entrance to the lower level where they’d fought the bandits and evil priests.

The company:

Beatriss, level 9 warrior with her associates:
                 Naron, level 7 warrior
                 Ju-Mei, level 7 cleric 
                Ta-Mi, level 4 bushi
Tetsukichi, level 8 bushi with his associates:
                 Al-Fitar, level 8 warrior
                 Mustapha, level 7 illusionist 
Bangqiu, level 6 Wu-Jen
                 Erlo, level 5 shaman
                 Kafka, level 6 sohei, with his own retinue of 17 sohei initiates, two of whom accompanied the party in the tomb while the others were charged with maintaining the camp. 
                Shu, level 3 bushi

Thanks to Beatriss’s excellent map, the party traveled quickly to the disgusting demonic altar and the passages behind it where they expected to find a secret door.  While they were searching, a fearsome group of undead burst out from under the floor.  They looked like long-dead human bodies, animated by a powerful negative energy, and they moved surprisingly quickly.  Erlo and Ju-Mei raised their holy symbols and forced the wights to retreat back under the floor. Bangqiu followed them and watched their flight down a steep metal staircase.  He noted in particular, that they avoided stepping on a particular step.  All eight of the monsters stepped over it.

After a brief conference, the party decided that all they needed to know was that the “bad step” was probably bad and that no one should step on it.  Beatriss and Tami carried Shu just in case.

At the bottom of the very long flight of stairs, the party found a pit of fire with a ledge around it.  Moving cautiously, they had little trouble moving around it, and emerged on the edge of an expansive and barren underground landscape.  At the edge of their torchlight, they could see a river.  It was wide enough that even when they approached more closely, they couldn’t see the other side.

They walked downstream some distance without seeing an end.  Looking back, they saw a large raft they hadn’t seen before.  It looked large enough to carry the entire party.  Bangqiu was cautious and objected that the raft might take them somewhere they didn’t want to go.  Beatriss allowed that it was magical, but argued that there were powers that understood that they were heroes on a quest and that if the raft delivered them to Sakatha, he was the object of their quest, and she for one, was ready to face him.

About halfway across the river, Beatriss, Naron, and Al-Fitar suddenly stumbled off the raft and disappeared beneath the water.  Suddenly the rest of the party realized this is not a big beautiful raft.  This is not a big beautiful river.  There is no water flowing underground. Instead they were walking across a dry riverbed.  Except for Beatriss, Naron, and Al-Fitar who were struggling to keep their heads up in a pool of acid.  Tetsukichi had a rope that disintegrated in the acid. Bangqiu had magic boots that allowed him to dip into the pool and one-by-one, rescue his friends.  Continuing on their walk across the dry river bed, Beatriss and Al-Fitar “discovered” one more pool of acid, disguised by illusion.  But everyone made it to the far side where they could rest for a minute and pour clean water over their burning skin.  Immediately before them were about a dozen burial mounds, and beyond them a pyramid.  The party decided that they would most likely find Sakatha in the pyramid, but they should try to circumvent the burial mounds.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Tomb of the Lizard King: Beatriss has a brush with death

Tetsukichi and Beatriss-- the champions of the Sansar clan—together with their associates, plus their friend Bangqiu and his associates established a fortified base camp on a dry hillock in the swamp about a mile from the Tomb of the Lizard King and planned their next move. Thanks to their successful campaign, the terrifying raids on the Sansar clan seemed to have ended.  And yet something was still amiss. Besides that swamp that hadn’t existed a few year ago, the creatures of the swamp—snakes, crocodiles, blood-thirsty seven-foot tall lizard creatures that walked on two legs and carried weapons— were venturing far out of the swamp and into the grazing lands.  And despite through exploration of the ruined temple that they believed held Sakatha’s resting place, they had not discovered his actual tomb.  So another expedition to the temple and tomb site seemed appropriate. 

The company: 
Beatriss, level 9 warrior with her associates:
                 Naron, level 7 warrior
                 Ju-Mei, level 7 cleric 
Tetsukichi, level 8 bushi with his associates:
                 Al-Fitar, level 8 warrior
                 Mustapha, level 7 illusionist 
Bangqiu, level 6 Wu-Jen
                 Erlo, level 5 shaman
                 Kafka, level 6 sohei, with his own retinue of 17 sohei initiates who were charged with maintaining the camp.   

The company set out early in the morning and followed a familiar track to the ruined temple.  As Beatriss and Ju-Mei climbed the steps into the temple, they heard the voices of humans arguing.  Taking no chances, Beatriss commanded Ju-Mei to use his non-lethal transfixing magic and of course the priest complied. 

The party charged up the steps into the temple.  Besides the targets of Ju-Mei’s spell, two Zhou men in battered armor, one of them with his hand on his knife, both frozen, there were two other men, not frozen.  These two, caught lounging on their bedrolls, were amazed, rather than belligerent.  One jumped to his feet, while the other slid himself away from the unexpected invaders.  Beatriss demanded—and received— answers. 

The standing man, introduced him as Ta-Mi, and explained that he was not the leader of their band of 20 or 50 or so capable and somewhat unpredictable . . . guys, but he was very well respected by the others, probably the most underrated of the band, who were not bandits or brigands or soldiers, but just guys who had swords and other weapons and were reasonable but not to be trifled with.  He introduced the two frozen ones. 

The one with his hand on his knife had a long drooping mustache.  He was Feng-bi, “the crazy violent one who thinks he knows everything but is actually more of a problem than he’s worth. Wait, can they hear us right now?” 

The other frozen one, whose hair was dyed tea color and whose face was fixed in a sarcastic grin, that was Sick Boy, “The other one who thinks he’s the leader and knows everything when in fact he knows nothing.” 

The fourth was Shu, “the stupid harmless one.”  Shu nodded his agreement. 

Beatriss revealed that they had been there before, but that they didn’t live there, they didn’t claim it or own it.  They were looking for evil monsters to destroy.  Ta-Mi assured Beatriss that she and her friends would find evil monsters.  He (and the band of men who would likely be back any minute now) were also looking for someone.  His name was Won Ton and he was a member of their band until he betrayed them and if anyone saw him, they should . . . well, if they see him and he has anything, it’s not really his and there’s someone else who wants it. . . 

The party wished Ta-Mi and Shu a good day and passed through a shell-bead curtain that divided the front room of the temple from the inner room with three pools.  Formerly three pools, but the ceiling had collapsed on top of the third.  As before, soon after they entered, the pools began bubbling. 
Bangqiu approached the demon bas-relied on the far wall and inserted a coin into the open mouth.  Nothing happened.  So he inserted a black gem. As he expected, the statue swung out from the wall on a hidden door. Not expected, someone was pushing it from the other side.  Bangqiu ran, while Beatriss and Naron drew their swords.  Two hideous green-creatures pushed out of the hidden room.  Despite their emaciated, sickly appearance, these creatures were incredibly strong, swatting away the warriors swords to seize them with their long sharp claws and slash at their faces with sharp fangs.  Beatriss ordered a full retreat.  Mustapha sent a cloud of fog into the trolls faces and Naron broke free.  The entire party, save Ju-mei ran out of the temple completely.  Ta-mi and Shu seeing their terrified expressions, followed. 

Once outside, Bangqiu, noticing that Beatriss and Ju-Mei had not escaped, returned to the temple, bringing Erlo with with him.  They arrived in time to see one troll devouring Sick Boy. Ju-Mei was standing at the curtain, chanting.  Beatriss screamed in pain and Ju-Mei abruptly rushed into the pool room.  Bangqiu and Erlo followed.  Beatriss was lying on the floor unconscious.  The troll was standing over her, blood dripping from its mouth.  Behind it, a snake creature made of water was writhing in the pool and snapping its jaws.  Seeing a new victim, the troll lunged toward Ju-Mei.  The priest dodged, and the troll stumbled.  The water-snake seized its opportunity and dragged the troll into the pool.  Ju-Mei stabilized Beatriss and helped pull her to her feet. She was alive.  Erlo made Beatriss invisible and the four of them moved out of the pool room toward the steps of the temple.  The troll that had killed Sick Boy was not feasting on Feng-Bi.  Ju-Mei summoned a spiritual hammer to keep the monster at bay as he and his companions completed their narrow escape. 

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Gwinch Hunts the Black Flowers

Most all remnants of the Black Flowers gang have left Pasar but from their hideout in the surround hills the wicked men continue to make good people’s lives miserable, by attacking the merchant caravans that are the lifeblood of the town.  Gwinch, Beast, Saisho, and a group of sohei lay in wait at the place where the bandits are known to attack.  When a large caravan comes into view and the bandits do attack, Gwinch & co. put them to flight. The Black Flowers have fast horses but Gwinch is an expert tracker.
Gwinch follows the trail and discovers the remnants of an ancient road into he mountains, following the meanderings of a deep ravine.

Gwnch and his men are ambushed on a crumbling stone bridge by the Black Flowers firing a ballista from the cliff above.
Gwinch scales the cliff with astonishing courage and skill and throws the bandits into the ravine.  He helps his companion find the trail up and together they reach what they believe to be the Black Flowers’ hideout, a mysterious cave, where monumental statues of jackal-headed women stand guard.

After surveying the entrance chamber, Gwinch decides not to pass through the round archway and instead opens a humble wooden door. The heroic explorers follow a passage into a large bright high-ceilinged room, its light coming from a glowing staff that hangs from the ceiling on a thick chain.
Saisho climbs up the wall, across the ceiling, and down the chain.  When he touches the staff, all the metal in the room is pulled to the sides. Saisho’s dagger flies out of his hand. Those wearing armor are held pinned to the wall.

The monks who could not afford metal armor help their brothers (and Gwnch) escape from their prisons.
Giant bugs enter the room.  Their touch turns metal to rust, which the monsters eat greedily.  Wooden axe handles turn one of the monsters to a bloody pulp. The other runs away.

To Gwinch’s surprise, the remaining metal remains stuck to the wall.
Also, that chain remains attached to the glowing staff.

A dead giant rust bug has no effect on the chain.
Gwinch tracks the giant rust bug that ran away.  He finds it cowering in a small room that might have been a tomb or a treasury or both; it is strewn with emeralds.  Also three levers, always intriguing.  But Gwinch isn’t distracted.   Eying the giant rust bug, he gets out a strong rope.

But there is no need for rope.  The giant rust bug seems to understand what Gwnch has in mind.  It follows him happily.
Ok there is need for a rope.  The giant rust bug is hoisted by its tail into the air so that it can touch the chain. Gwinch catches the staff. Beast catches the rust bug. Saisho always lands on his feet.

Now it’s time to experiment with the levers. They control the magnets in the magnet room!
The monks retrieve their armor.  At last,  it’s time for everyone to return to Pasar.

Wolfbang and the Unexpected Prisoner

It was time for Wolfbang to get far away from Hommelet again. Burne’s men reported strange noises from the dungeon beneath the moathouse and stranger dreams when they spent the night there. Finding adventurer willing to explore was a lost cause. And there were reports of a young man traipsing through the woods followed by a menagerie of beasts. Jaroo’s seniority on the council of elders gave him an edge when debating with Burne and Rufuson the merits of calling on the Lords of Drentenbury for military assistance. But no for much longer. If Wolfbang took a little trip, maybe things would quiet down.

And there was something to do. Even without access to the pools, it seems that Burne was disseminating knowledge of elven magic to humans—with what the elves and Jaroo considered predictably unpredictable results. In the area of Gold Hill, the orcs were attacking human settlements, seemingly emboldened by their association with a wizard, seemingly human, who had the power to turn his enemies to stone. Jaroo confided to Wolfbang that he was especially concerned because Valu had not been seen for some time. While solitary contemplation in the forest was an essential part of the boy’s druidic training, the druid college would especially like to know his whereabouts now—to be certain that this malevolent wizard wasn’t searching for their chosen one. (Spoiler alert: Wolfbang immediately suggested that Valu himself was the renegade wizard.)

Following Jaroo’s instructions, Wolfgang travelled to Gold Hill, bypassing the Hill itself, the trding post, and the Sherriff, making his way instead for Trago Hall. Lord Trago would be expecting him.

And yet by the time Wolfbang reached Trago Hall, Lord Trago was already gone. As the steward explained, there was a signal fire at the watch tower three days ago. Lord Trago and three of his knights had gone to investigate. They found the place overrun by orcs and sent one f their number back to report that the others would pursue the orcs and destroy them, wizard or no wizard. They had not returned.

The next morning, Wolfbang and his animal companions set out for the watchtower. /as expected they found evidence of a battle. And they a path of destruction that presumably indicated which way the orcs had travelled—and Lord Trago had followed. Following this path, they found the typical hallmarks of orc activity—smoldering fires, uprooted saplings, dead bunnies.

And they found Valu. They heard him first, muttering to himself, and Wolfbang secreted himself in a thornbush. Valu seemed to be alone. When Wolfbang revealed himself, Valu was only half-surprised. “You need to help me,” he said, “the orcs have got me.”

There was no time to explain. There were voices, a large number of orc voices, drawing closer. “Valu! Valu! What are you doing little shit?”

“I’m over here, I think I found the leaves I need for the chief!” He scooped up a random handful of debris from the forest floor and told Wolfgang were to find them. A ruined temple, due north, easy to find. But don’ go up to he man entrance. There was a secret entrance to he left of the steps, hidden by a mulberry bush.

And then he ran to meet the orcs.

Having no human companions to consult with, Wolfbng pressed forward. Wary that he was being double- or triple- crossed, Wolfbang was relieved to find things as Valu had told him—a clear path to the temple and a secret entrance to the left of the steps.

The secret entrance brought Wolfbang into long, unlit tunnel dug out of the earth under the temple and ending in a small chamber with a rough staircase leading up to the ceiling. With a mixture of skill, strength, and luck he found a stone in the ceiling that could be lifted, permitting him access to the room above. This was a larder. Without inspecting too closely the meats stored there, Wolfbang explored elsewhere and soon found himself in the main hall of temple. The two orcs on guard there were surprised by his sudden and bold appearance and by bestial associates. They shouted a challenge but did not attack. Uncertain of how the druidic of benevolent neutrality covered situations like this one, Wolfbang simply ignored their challenge and advanced. Physical hostility erupted and soon both orcs were dead. Wolfbang surveyed the temple. It’s most striking feature was a trio of very realistic statues of fighting men in armor,

Wolfbang glanced out the main doors of the temple onto the large portico where, as the sun set, drowsy guards were beginning to rouse. Their limited attention was fixed on the surrounding forest, and Wolfbang escaped their notice.  He elected to explore the inside of the temple. Moving from room to room, he came upon a pair of sleeping monsters, both much bigger than the orcs, one exceptionally hirsute, the other most notable for his large yellow teeth. Wolfbang didn’t waver, but gave each monster a quiet death in its sleep.

In another room, Wolfbang found Valu. The boy jumped with a start, and seemed relieved at who had entered. Valu explained that he had found a wand capable of turning people to stone. The orc chief insisted on holding it most of the time and only gave it to Valu when he needed the boh to work its magic.

Valu agreed to take Wolfbang to the chief immediately. The great orc was awake, sitting up in bed and polishing his axe. He was civil, but haughty, dropping unsubtle insuts amidst every sentence he spoke to Wolfbang, like the other orcs, he referred to Valu as “little shit” even when, tired of his conversation with the animal lover, he thrust the wand into Valu’s hands. “Make me another statute for my throne room.”

Value didn’t hesitate for a moment before memorializing the orc chief in stone.

The immediate threat disposed of, Wolfbang and Valu began to argue. Wolfbng would have wanted the chief’s axe, but the impressive weapon was now an integral part of the statue. Wolfbang though that he take possession of the wand but Valu made t clear he had learned his lesson about the futility of trying to appease a bully. Their argument drew the attention of a group of orcs, more intrigud than alarmed by the sound of human consternation in their chief’s bedroom. The sight of their chief in his new state had a profound effect on them as did Bruno and Wolfie’s claws and fangs. They fled, but were pursued and killed.

It dawned on Wolfbang that he had accomplished everything that had been asked of him. He had foun the orcs’ stronghold, neutralized their most threatening features, and rescued the druids’ great hope. It was time to leave. Almost. Valu put on the orc chief’s armor. Nd that reminded Wolfbang, where do the orcs store their weapons?

Valu knew—it was next to the larder. #there was a good selection of weapons, most orc-made, but there were some notable exceptions. Wolfbang lookd over the swords, selected those forged by human smiths and tied them together with rope for easy carrying. Valu meanwhile tried out all the crossbows, testing whether any of them had magical properties.

Another group of orcs arrived and attacked the inruder. With the help of Bro the Badger, most of these orcs were quickly dispatched, but the survivors raised the alarm and ran for the barracks. Wolfbang and his animals eagerly gave chase and Valu followed closely behind.

The orcs were many, but most had just wakened and were not well-prepared for battle. Wolbang chanted as his menagerie brought the forest’s vengeance down on its desecrators. Valu stood a safe distance away and, as Wolfbang commanded, transformed orcs into stone.

And then the party got lame. Valu’s wand fizzled. Several orcs crowded around Wolfbang and he had to end his chanting to keep them at bay. Bro the badge received a grievous wound and Wolfie was yelping. Wolfbang ordered a retreat. Valu ran to the trapdoor with most of the animals behind him while Wolfbang and Bro stood to guard their retreat. Wolfbang tried to pick up the badger and got a viscous bite for his trouble. The orcs pressed their advantage as Wolfbang backed away from them swinging his staff to deflet the worst of their spear thrusts. Valu shouted for Wolfbang to make a break for it. Bro made a last explosive attack and then followed Wolfbang down the hole. The orcs slammed the covering stone down over them.

The party ran down the corridor, out the secret door, and into the forest. The orcs fired arrows arrows from the safety of the temple but did not pursue.