Thursday, April 2, 2020

Dark Armor 013: Strategems

Pallian reined up behind a low hill, then swung himself off of Black and climbed to where he could see over the top. The Edrian army was not far away, strung out and scattered as they made their way around hill and across ravines. The land here was high plains, almost but not quite desert; mostly grasses and scrub brush, divided by stretches of sand and stone. The orders he'd been given were to turn this army away from the border, and send them back to where Pallian would be waiting with their own forces. It would not be easy, and he'd had a full day's riding to wonder whether Ravaj was deliberately sending him to his death.

It wasn't impossible. Their brother Ariston had gotten into a duel with the heir of the Valinost clan, who held the eastern lands of the kingdom and from whom their father's then-wife had come. Ariston had slain the boy honorable, and their father had declined to punish him despite the clan chief's outrage-- but when Tabrithan bandits had begun ravaging the south, the sorcerer-king had sent Aristan to lead the fighting from the front lines, where he died nobly in service to the kingdom.

Pallian knew perfectly well how he felt about dying nobly in service to the kingdom. He didn't dare ever express his feeling aloud, but he knew that if it came to that he'd flee instead. Rank, titles, a place in his father's court: they were power, they were protection, and they could be revoked at any time at his father's whim. Ephemeral, he thought. Unreliable. His own skills and abilities, the initiations he'd been given and the ones he'd undertaken for himself, were better... but there were dangers there, too. Seeking too much power that way could be taken as rebellion, especially for initiations undertaken secretly. Even the ones he already had, which had helped carry him through the assault from the archer. Even those.

The border to Edrias was closer than any of the richer lands of Teregor; destroying their supply wagons would likely just speed them on their way instead of turning them back. Assaults on the outriders and forward-most units could be done, and might turn them aside, but they weren't likely to turn about completely. Even if he wasn't trying to kill him, Ravaj had set him an impossible task.

His best way out would be to assault the front lines as if trying to turn them back or cut them off, and lure the archer out to deal with him. It was risky; she'd already demonstrated that she might very well be able to kill him, and there was always the possibility that the Shadow of Edrias might show up as well -- even in broad daylight. But if he could manage to take her with the silver net, then he could carry her back to Ravaj as ordered, and let the remainder of the army do as it would.

This, he thought, is the stupidest possible plan ever come up with in the entire history of stupid possible plans. But he could not think of anything better, so he scrambled back down to where Black waited, and settled in to wait for nightfall.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Challenge: Favorite Books Series and Why

Okay, look: the world's on fire. It is actually the end of the world as we know it -- whatever comes next, it won't be this. And I was going to throw up several series -- Roger Zelazny's Amber, a favorite from my youth; about a half-dozen Lilith Saintcrow series starting with Bannon and Claire; Steven Brust's Jhereg and related books -- but I'm going to go with one, and it's not the one the author is best known for.

This is part of the weekly Blogging Challenge over at Long and Short Reviews. If you'd like to participate, you can find the prompts here. They also put up a post every Wednesday where you go and link your response -- and see everyone else's. Check out their homepage to find it.

The challenge for this week is Favorite Book Series and Why.

And I'm going to have to go with Martha Wells' Books of the Raksura. Starting with The Cloud Roads, but read at least the core books and if you're at all like me you'll want the whole series.

So... why? Well, they're atypical fantasy: not much in the way of swords, only a little sorcery, not even muskets. It's a fantasy world that owes its shape more to Animal Planet than medieval Europe, and has not a single human in evidence. Despite this, the primary protagonist is immensely sympathetic, possibly the most reluctant hero ever to join a found family. The world-building is superb, but the characterization is top-notch as well: our hero isn't just another orphan with trust issues, he's someone who works at resolving his issues and has to face the fact that his lost family actually looked for him. And he's accompanied by perhaps the most grandfather of all grandfathers, who's a vastly fascinating character in himself.

The core society is a race of matriarchal were-dragons in a world of competing predator arrangements, but it's brought to life with emotional personal ties as well as social and interpersonal obligations, against a competing enemy race that operates in some ways more like a plague. And all this informed by ancient history, high magics, and deep mysteries in need of resolution.

So yes: Start with The Cloud Roads. But follow Moon all the way through his discoveries.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Saltmarsh: A Most Unusual Approach

Note to self: I really need to write these things right after our sessions, instead of trying to remind myself later of what the group did.

So, following their visit to the foppish council-member's party, our group was offered another job by the council. If the haunted house was actually being used by smugglers and the smugglers were receiving shipments of goods, then there must be someone delivering these goods. And unless those people are also removed, they're like to set up shop elsewhere and the smuggling will continue unabated. Would the group be willing to go and abate them?

They would.

The return to the house in time for the dark of the moon, which the council judges as most likely for another delivery, and check the house over to be sure that it remains unoccupied. It does, and they manage not to get themselves into any further trouble by, say, falling through rotten floors or fighting with whatever is in its burrow in the garden out back. They even think to post someone in the upstairs room where the window seems to have been opened, so they have an easy time spotting the blinking light coming from a dark ship far out on the waters. It's a code -- a series of long and short flashes, repeated at intervals.

They attempt to respond by using their bulls-eye lantern to signal back, and of course completely mangle the code since they really don't have a guide for it.

Still, after some discussion they decide that the thing to do is to take the boat from the sea cave and get out to the ship.

...Which they do, but first they set the house on fire. No, no, I don't really know why either.

So they row out of the cave, curving around so as not to be silhouetted by the giant fucking fire rising on the shore behind them, with the paladin doing the actually rowing and the chevalier exhorting him to put his back into it. After a considerable time -- and, I believe, a sharp punch to the chevalier's face, delivered by the paladin -- they reach the boat and manage to talk their way on board by pretending that the chevalier is a prisoner they're planning to ransom; they blame him for the fire in the house, and he helpfully muddies the waters by rushing over to the captain, discreetly casting Charm, and offering to pay him a considerable sum if they'll only turn him loose.

And then the violence begins. I can't remember exactly what sets it off - if the Bosun tried to grab the "little girl", or if someone recognized the paladin as the town gravedigger and realized he couldn't possibly be a smuggler, or if murderchild just got bored and started throwing knives at people. However it went down, the bosun escaped into the ship with like 2 hp left and a couple of knives still sticking out of his back, and the chevalier (actually a human bard) basically tackled the captain to the deck "to protect him" and kept him there while the other took out the rest of the crew. The deck mage managed to tag the paladin with Force Lightning -- erm, it's Witch Bolt in DnD -- but Salty Walt (also a human bard) took him out with an old sea shanty in the form of Dissonant Whispers, then followed him up to the poop deck and finished him off. Murderchild continued doing what she does best -- popping out of cover, throwing knives at people, and hiding again -- while Kane the Undertaker (human paladin) swung his bladed shovel around and took out several of the sailors.

By the time the battle ended, the entire crew of the Sea Ghost was dead, except for:
-The captain, who was unharmed.
-The bosun, who was very badly harmed.
-A group of four sailors including the mate, who were in a rowboat and well on their way to the sea cave below the burning house. Even if they get the cave and immediately turn back -- and they'll probably look around, first -- it's going to take them at least half an hour to get back to the ship.

First order of business tonight will probably be to decide what to do with the captain and to hunt down the bosun. After that, well... I know what I would do, but this is the group that set fire to the haunted house, so who knows? Anything seems possible, as long as there's looting and murder involved.

Monday, March 30, 2020

IMPART One-Shot

IMPART missions are the one-shots we run when the regular Saturday Night campaign takes a break. The idea is that we all play 20th level characters, and go fight the sorts of Big Bads that we wouldn't ordinarily ever see -- in a sort of Monster Of The Week scenario. The organization is a sort of multi-dimensional Avengers or Heroes of Imaginext setup, bringing together powerful individuals as needed. And this week's game was sort of informally organized around the idea of Magical Girls for most of the players.

This week: an IMPART agent has gone missing, and we must find them! Find them, bring them back, and make sure they aren't compromised -- and neither is IMPART. We are given our items and dropped in the field.

We are outside a large city, at the southwest gate. Avrielle, a human teenager, who's a magical girl in the service of an Archfey; her friend Bao (short for Bàofēngyǔ) a skilled martial artist; Dala, a swashbuckling rogue; Violet, a blue-skinned girl carrying a staff and with a flying rainbow seahorse flitting around her head; and Lexx, an agender fallen Aasimar with a pair of scimitars.

The city is walled, and we're just outside the gate; outside the walls it's all rolling plains, a lot of which is farmland. There are woodlots and little bits of forest here and there. The wall is covered in very interesting etchings. The more perceptive among us notice that the etchings seem vaguely familiar; there are abstract shapes and images, and a couple of us notice that the etching serve to disguise the presences of an extensive collection of runes: abjuration runes, meant for protection and warding of some sort.

Violet, the blue girl, pulls out a notebook and starts sketching the runes and taking notes.

There are two guards standing outside the gate, and another person talking to them. Lexx walks over to the guards, and the rest of us follow. The guard who was kind of staring at us steps forward to meet us ont he way. "I'm Leo, your babysitter... guide. It's about time you got here. Ten years on the force, and everyone is too busy with the other disappearances."

"Other disappearances?" Meghan.

Leo: "You didn't think this was a one-time thing?"

Lexx: "I once got into a fight with a gazebo. I don't know what's going on."

Leo: "Tomas Stoneye, Halfling cleric, IMPART member, twentieth person to disappear."

Dala: "So this is more Missing People..."

Leo: "The others reappeared two days after they went missing."

Dala: "How long?"

Leo: This morning, so you have about a day and a half to find him. Then he'll be like the others. They come back lethargic, drained, oddly lifeless. No connection between the victims, no commonalities in age, social status, local or travelers. They don't talk much anymore, and they don't want to talk about if they do; it's like their memories are gone along with everything else. A half-orc tinkerer was the last one to come back; I can give you an address. We've got a sundown curfew going. The halfling's room is untouched, per IMPART's order.

Dala: "Room or half-orc?"

Leo: "Also, I have to come with you."

Avrielle thinks the guy is annoyed by us, but he's not lying. This isn't his usual job, and he's been stuck babysitting VIPs. We talk as we walk.

The wards on the walls are general protections: undead, dragons, nightmares.

Dala: "How close is the guard station?"

He kind of shows us a map, and points to the northern watergate. He takes us through the central square; the building on one side is a massive tavern called the Snapping Perch, overlooking the river. Stoneye's room was on the top floor; there are two guards outside. The door has been set back in place as much as possible, but it was very clearly bashed in. It was very solid door before that happened, too. Apparently the guards did that during a morning check and broke the door down when Stoneye didn't answer. The door had several locks, and they were all locked; breaking it down tore up the frame something fierce.

We go inside. "All we did was bust open the door, check the bedroom, see that he wasn't there, and call you." Most of the disappearances have been people who were asleep in their beds.

The room is fairly large, and nice; couch, armchair. The bedroom is to the north through a pair of doors; There's a linen closet on the north wall, a window in the south wall, and a shrine set against the eastern wall.

The magical girls begin detecting magic, and immediately turn to the shrine. The centerpiece is a golden scale with a skeletal hand holding up the balancing arm. We recognize the scales are part of a holy magic, the symbol of Kallenvor, one of the few good-aligned death gods. The shrine wouldn't be hard to pack up, so presumably there wasn't any sort of robbery involved in this. Violet begins checking for footprints. It's a heavy, plush carpet, though; but the only really notable ones are heavy bootprints from the door to the bedroom and back. Maybe a half-orc? Might have been the guards.

Dala traces the steps to the bedroom. Bao moves to look at the window, which is locked; the locks would have to be opened from the inside. We're on the 4th floor; the roof a little ways above, but she doesn't see anything unusual - except that the next window to our right is ajar. Avrielle goes next door to talk to the neighbors; Leo immediately falls in beside her.

Avrielle knocks, and the door is eventually opened by a half-orc female; she's wrapped herself in a bedsheet and open the door only a crack. "Oh, yes, um, can I help you?"

Avrielle: "Hi! I was just wondering if you had seen or heard anything last night."

"I heard the crunch of wood. I was up *all* night last night talking to my boyfriend, who I haven't seen in six months. We, um, we haven't gone out much." But she does seem to be hiding *something*.

Avrielle: "And you didn't notice anything?"

Half-orc: "I didn't."

Violet notes that the bedroom window is open. The bed does look like it was slept in. There are footprints from the bed to the window. Dala goes to look at the window. Nothing looks disturbed; the window looks as if it were opened deliberately and voluntarily, or at least without any particular force. More detecting magic! There's a footlocker at the foot of the bed, and there are some magic things in there.

Dala inspects the chest for traps; it's trapped. She manages, barely, to disarm the trap and open the lock.

Inside the chest is a set of armor, magical; it's sized for a halfling, and resistant to necrotic. There's also a mace of disruption, functional and deadly. There are some supplies and other adventuring gear, but nothing especially eye-catching. Looking at the trap, well... it would have turned this section of room into a crater.

It's looking like this halfling was a cleric; Dala boes back through the chest, thinking about how well protected it is; she finds a false bottom hiding a lot of gold, gems, and expensive items. There are to vials of holy water, some ridiculously valuable diamonds, and a chalice of hero's feast. Violet thinks the gems might be waiting for a powerful resurrection spell, one only available to clerics and druids.

Dala and Violet look under the bed. There are long, black strands of hair under the bed. Dala grabs one; and one of the tendrils on on Violet's coat takes out magnifying glass. Avrielle: "It must be from the person that broke in!" Violet thinks it's just... hair that fell from someone's head. It's thick, coarse, probably not well cared for.

Per Leo, Tomas was bald. And he didn't keep a horse, or entertain guests. Also per Leo, the walls are warded to prevent people from teleporting into the city or flying over the walls. He steps out to ask one of the other guards for details, and Bao takes that opportunity to race up the wall to the roof - but the roof is steep, and tiled, and not at all navigable for regular people. She slips back into the room and finds Violet measuring the halfling guard's feet. The wards on the walls keep out dragons, portals, and a few other things. Things can fly out of the city, and teleport out (though it gets logged), and it's not possible to teleport from one side of town to another.

The halfling guard heads back out, and Leo comes back in.

Violet: "Were any other disappeared taken from this inn?"

"No."

Violet: "Other crime scenes with open windows?"

Leo: "Yes."

Violet is wondering if the hair came from a horse.

Lexx: "Did you say something about the wall protecting against nightmares?"

Bao: "Are there spells that could tell us where the hair came from?"

Dala: "And what kind of divinations have been done to find this guy?"

Leo: "We... don't have divination wizards."

Violet: "I could scry."

The rest of us go off to check the one remaining room. This one has the tile floor, a bathtub, a sink, a mirror, and a chamberpot.

Avrielle gets a ping while detecting magic. There's a razor on the sink; it's enchanted never to dull. Dala and Avrielle keep looking, and a pebble-or-something falls out and drops into the water basin. It is magic. It's abjuration magic. Avrielle starts casting Identify. It's a disease-curing stone, a heartstone.

The scrying, meanwhile, shows Violet a cave. She rushes to the others: "The hair came from a night hag and why are you sitting on the toilet?"

"I found a magical stone - it's a heartstone." It probably came from the night hag. There are stories about them; they come into people's room and hover over them, inflicting terrible nightmares. They love to turn heroes into villains, turn loving and loyal friends against each other, and like that. But, actually kidnapping isn't their usual behavior.

Leo takes us as far as the city walls, but declines to come hunt Night Hags with us. Violet casts Locate Creature once we reach a sufficiently hilly area full of burial mounds. Following the spell, we continue a little further along the road and then along the side path.

We head on to the first open barrow.

We quickly run into an issue: Of the three of us scouting, only Lexx can actually see in the dark. The monk puts a hand on his shoulder and walks along behind him; the rogue just slips down. Lexx notes prayers on the walls. After a little ways of stairs and passages, stairs and passages, Lexx pauses. "There's an eye looking at us."

Lexx grabs it. It's in his hands, and it's staring at him. It's a hag eye, a magical item that the hags can look through more or less at will. We head back up at Bao's suggestion. The hags don't immediately follow us, and we pocket the eye; this time we light up lamps and head back down together. A little past where we found the eye, we hear voices. It looks like the passager opens out to a room at the very bottom of the stairs...

As we near the room, the bud of Avrielle's rose-shaped mace opens up. Dala slips past the others and into the room, trying to get their attention; Lexx charges in and does 117 damage. One of the hags responds with a horrible demonic scream: "I will never let any of you see eternity!" and throws a lightning bolt. Or she tries, anyway. Violet casts Counterspell as a reaction spell. The expression on the hag's face is *amazing*.

Avrielle races into the room and undergoes her Magical Girl Transformation, and casts Mage Armor on herself. The hag who's engaged with Lexx sidesteps and casts something. ("I'll stop you all in your tracks!") Avrielle counters, and the spell fizzles. Violet casts Mage Armor on herself. Bao charges in and punches the heck out of the rearmost hag. The third hag then tries to cast something, but Dala slaps her across the face with her rapier, because Mage Slayer is a surprisingly useful feat.

Dala then turns and stabs the absolute crap out of her, for 110 damage. Lexx just tears into the hag beside him with his scimitars -- hag sashimi! -- but fails to quite kill it. The rearmost hag screeches: "Prepare to taste your worst fears!" Bao makes her save: "Many apologies, but it seems something has gone wrong with your spell."

Avrielle mutters something and the shield on her back spreads out into faerie wings. Then she announces, "Creatures of darkness, feel the boundless power of my love!" and casts Psychic Scream. Two of them take 49 damage, and their heads explode if they died. If they survive, they're stunned. The one that succeeded takes half damage, only. But if it dies, its head still explodes.

So two of them have explody heads, and the one in the back is just hurt and damaged.

Violet moves up and gestures, and a crown of stars begins to orbit her head, filling the room with light. One of the stars shoots off and slams into the remaining hag's face. The hag shrieks and stumbles.

Bao: "We really need our halfling back, esteemed hag. If you could tell us everything you know about people disappearing from town and the halfling--"

Hag: "Burn in hell!"

Bao: Amazing display of personal violence, culminating with basically drop-kicking the hag.

Dala: "Where's the halfling?"

Hag: "The ones in the next room have him!"

Dala: Stabs her to death.

We continue to the next room, because Rescue Is Important. We take a minute to check the bodies, then head down the corridor; we then reach a mausoleum of sorts, but it's essentially unused anymore and it's all but empty. We reach a very dark room, and we're about to walk in when we see the halfling on a low altar - almost a dais - with spiritual streams flowing off him (esp heart and face). There seems to be a floating skull above him, emitting a purple light. There are some glowing lights, and one of them is hovering above the big skull. They're smaller glowing blue skulls. Cool.

Avrielle walks into the room and drops a wall of light behind her, catching two of the smaller blue skulls. They fail, and are damaged and blinded. She then casts Hex on the purple one, and gives it disadvantage on Dex checks. She suddenly feels cold, with death surrounding her, as if her soul is being pulled towards the purple skull; she's taking damage just from being in the room with it.

Dala comes in and attacks one of the blind skulls, damaging it. Lex moves to the other blind skull, doing 122 damage - 72 slashing, 32 necrotic, and whatever else radiant. It bursts into ice shards. Both of them take Necrotic damage for walking into the room. Violet turns her attention to the Halfling, who looks pained but awake, and has no obvious physical restraints. She blasts the purple skull with one of her stars, then crosses to the halfling and casts Anti-Magic Field.

The streams immediately go back to the cleric, who takes a huge, relieved breath. The lesser skulls wobble and disappear. And Violet does not take the magical necrotic damage that has been affecting everyone in the room. "Make a hole! I'm going to get the hostage out!"

The only lesser skull outside of the anti-magic spell attempts to cast a spell. It's right next to Dala, who smacks it (because Mage Slayer again) but fails her concentration save and takes 40 cold damage. Bao moves in and hits the big purple skull a couple time, setting up Quivering Palm. It then retreats, successfully escaping Bao and Violet, and emits a horrible screech. From outside the field it emits a horrible magical shriek. Only Dala and Lexx are outside of the anti-magic field, but they tremble in fear... because a huge amount of necrotic damage just missed them. They are Frightened. It then uses a legendary action: it curses Lexx.

Avrielle gets out of the anti-magic field and re-casts Crown of Stars, then hurls a star for 29 Radiant damage.

Dala: "Can you walk?"

Halfling: "I feel closer to walking in the footsteps of my god."

Dala: "A simple 'no' would have sufficed!" She attacks the remaining lesser skull, and it falls and shatters into ice shards. "Hey, good news! They can die!" She then moves to the altar.

Lexx doesn't manage any attacks, but shakes off their curse.

Violet checks over the halfling; he's unharmed, but exhausted. "Can you hold onto me so I can move us out of this room?"

Halfling: "I feel the embrace of the noble lord of death. Worry not for me. Kill that demilich!"

Violet: "I speak seven languages, but I do not understand what you just said."

Violet scoops up the halfling and moves towards the door... but only far enough to let one of the skulls pop back into existence. Bao has been waiting for this, and smacks it -- then smacks it again as it tries to flee.

Then Bao ends the Quivering Palm/Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Death Technique, and the jewelry adorning the skull bursts into splinters; the skull falls, cracking, graying, and shattered. The remaining ice skulls flee into holes in the wall. Dala and Lexx go over and finish them. Violet stabilizes the halfling, and Avrinelle throws some healing on the halfling.

The halfling goes over to the demilich skull and picks it up. "I am ready, winged one. Take me into your arms."

Lexx carries him out.

Dala: "Can we fix the others who were taken?"

Tomas the halfling: "I have something in my room that I think will restore them."

So we head back to town, where the halfling goes through to make sure all his stuff is already there. Then he hands us a bunch of money in the form of gems to show his gratitude. The Halfling then sets up to resurrect the demilich, taking it from undead to alive and restoring the stolen energy to the people it was taken from.

The mage's name was Eternity, and restored she's a rather attractive female tiefling. She's... a bit startled to be alive again. We hand her clothing, and she gets dressed. "Can I ask what the hell?"

She doesn't much remember her time as a lich, let alone a demilich. She was a sorceress, originally. Then she made a deal with a coven of night hags and, well... all of this. Violet decides to take her back to IMPART with us, to get her some help. Which we do: a lot of therapy, and then more therapy, and also a decent meal and some new clothes.

So the moral of the story, kids, is this: don't make deals with night hags. You might end up as a demilich.

The End.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Putting the Social in Social Distancing

I got on a Google Hangouts call with some nearby friends last night. They're mostly people I play DnD with, but they also know my wife so I went up to get the boys started on bedtime I put her in front of my computer in my place. It was... therapeutic. She went from vaguely depressed to positively fucking vivacious in about two minutes flat, and was having such a good time that when I was ready to get back on I just rejoined with my phone from another room.

Social contact is important, is what I'm saying here. And the Internet gives us some basically unprecedented ways of doing that. So if you have any way to take advantage of it, do it! Play games with your friends. Get on a video link and chat where you can see each other's faces. Put the Social back in Social Distancing!

Thursday, March 26, 2020

...What day is this?

So yesterday I finally started working from home. (For earlier thoughts on being required to come into my office during an escalating global pandemic, see Uncertainty, Ouch, and Still Concerned.) To be clear, this isn't an ideal arrangement. We've essentially split the department into thirds: 1/3 is Team A, 1/3 is Team B, and the remaining third is the management team. Team A and Team B are trading off weekly, with one team in the office, the other team staying home, and management remaining perpetually in the office. Still, it's better than nothing.

Working from home is only a little chaotic, as the boys are working on their school lessons online in other rooms. Work-wise, yesterday was a little slow (I think because everybody was still adjusting to the new arrangements) but I kept busy enough to discover that I was missing a couple of essential programs on my laptop. We got those added this morning, and the pace of calls and emails has definitely picked up -- enough to make the project I'm currently trying to troubleshoot/finish up look likely to run into tomorrow. (To be fair, it was probably going to do that anyway.) So... I don't know. I think I'm going to get used to this just in time to have to readjust to going back into the office next week.

And I still think that organizationally we're going to keep resisting the need for remote work and shelter in place out of fear of the optics of government employees not being Visibly Present And Working right up until we discover that somebody has been dutifully attending work while infected but asymptomatic.

Also, for anybody who's struggling with the concept (as I was this morning): it's Thursday.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Youth DnD: Now Conducted Via Crystal Ball

Picking up from the last entry...

We've had a lot of new developments since I last stopped to document their game. The big one, of course, is that our school district extended Spring Break and is now trying to implement emergency online teaching so that everybody can maintain a soft quarantine (ahem: "social distancing") during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since I am already feeling unduly exposed by my workplace, I decided to do much the same thing for Dungeons & Dragons, and set up a Discord server. Saturday morning was our first virtual DnD session, and all things considered I think it went really well. (We had a few setup difficulties, but I was expecting that for our first session; and Discord is being hugely buggy and kind of freaking out, probably because the service is wildly overloaded. We coped by cutting out the video chat and proceeding on audio and text chat only, and it worked.)

Events since that last big update:
-The group located the wizard who had taken the book from the Lich's library.
-Her companions didn't know she still had it; they were mourning the death of their bard, who was stabbed in the alley behind the inn.
-When Toruv (dragonborn sorcerer) came out with the fact that they'd been sent to find a missing spellbook, the fighter and the paladin both turned to look at the wizard, who immediately turned invisible and tried to run away.
-The group immediately moved to close off the building, causing no small amount of consternation among the owner and patrons.
-A halfling at a nearby table pulled out a lamp and lit it, making the wizard unexpectedly visible. (This was the introduction for our newest PC, a Ghostwise Halfling Moon Druid of formidable talents.)
-The wizard's companions managed to subdue her, and our swashbuckler and the druid went upstairs to look for the book. The druid found it almost immediately and ignored its whispers; she tossed it to the swashbuckler, who immediately failed her save and decided that the book was her BFF and must be protected; she promptly threw herself out the window and led the rest of the group on a merry chase through the town, with the Druid tracking her as a dire wolf.
-They did eventually manage to locate (barely) and subdue her, and got the book under control - it turns out that its pernicious psychic influence doesn't work when someone is using Mage Hand to hold it thirty feet in the air.
-They then managed to talk their way out of getting arrested by the guards, and carried the book back to the library by wrapping it in cloth and tying it at the end of a stick.

At that point, we were ready to return to the usual dungeon -- but we had a couple of players out, and it was the first weekend of Spring Break. So I made the executive decision that the Druid had wandered out to commune with nature in the woods around the library complex, and the Barbarian was doing a bit of research in the stacks; so it was the sorcerer, the rogue, and the swashbuckler who the lich asked to deal with an infestation of imps (an impfestation, as it were) in his basement. Apparently he keeps a reading room down there, where it can be closed for researchers consulting the Special Tomes; and apparently this particular researcher has a bad habit of reading aloud under his breath when he's concentrating. The result was one dead researcher and a swarm of imps.

The trio ventured down and began exploring the basement, noting a number of rather dangerous items (all meticulously labeled) before entering a room with a wooden crate in one corner, a chest along the middle of each wall, and a torture rack against the far wall. One of them walked over and laid a hand on the torture rack, which emitted an ear-splitting shriek of horrible pain and panicked the sorcerer right out of the room. As he was coming back, the other two went to examine one of the chests... which turned out to be mimics and promptly tried to eat them.

Combat was swift and fairly one-sided; while troublesome, the two mimics really weren't strong enough to face this group. That left the chest in the corner, and of course that might be a mimic too, so... the rogue (arcane trickster) used Mage Hand to lift the crate to the ceiling and then dropped it; it immediately started bleeding, so he put a crossbow bolt through it and the sorcerer blasted it with a firebolt.

...Which was when the puddle of ichor started smoking. The half-elf swashbuckler and the halfling rogue were both caught in the smoke, and immediately developed a rash on the backs of their hands and portions of their faces. The rash turned out to be patches of scales. The dragonborn was unaffected, which was probably for the best. They immediately retreated back upstairs to consult with the lich, and discovered that the crate had been full of rare and expensive magical potions, and there was no telling what they'd been exposed to or what would happen because of it.

So the two affected characters decided to go take a long rest, while the dragonborn sorcerer decided to finish clearing out the impfestation. This proved dramatically more difficult than he expected: not only were the imps capable of turning invisible, but they were accompanied by a pair of spined devils; and not only that, but one of the imps turned out to be a spellcaster. If they'd really been trying to kill him, he probably wouldn't have survived. Instead, they spent a lot of effort trying to grapple and subdue him, and eventually wore him down to the point where he was affected by a Sleep spell and taken prisoner.

That was where today's online session picked up: the druid returned just as the rogue and swashbuckler were waking back up, and they noticed that the sorcerer was still gone. So they went back down to the basement, and found the imps in the sub-basement preparing for some sort of magical ritual. Rather than waste time searching for Toruv, who had been busy trying to escape from the room where he was trapped, they leapt straight to the attack.

Toruv had just managed to escape, and got loose just in time to hear the battle begin. The imps made good use of their invisibility, stingers, and poison; but even with the spined devils for support they were overmatched now that the whole group was there. They did some damage, but the issue was never in doubt. (If they'd managed to sacrifice Toruv and summon a Pit Fiend, on the other hand, well...) So they returned upstairs and reported their success, and the lich decided that their work essentially paid for the loss of his potions and sent them on their way.

Next time, we can pick up back at Roslof Keep and the main dungeon storyline; the group is strong enough now that they ought to be able to clear the next level fairly efficiently, and maybe even hold their own against some of the established adventuring companies. (Some of them.) So check back with us; the adventure continues!