Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Challenge: Fictional Recipes

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 "recipes from fiction books that I want to try". 

Which... by and large, I don't really have. The books I read mostly don't include recipes, and I'm generally pretty happy with the things I cook. 

But while there aren't any particular recipes that I want to try, there are... well... foods. Unearthly foods. Supernatural foods. 

You see, if the seely and unseely Fae are battling through human proxies over control of Minneapolis-St. Paul, and the Vampire Lord of Chicago is concerned with a potential uprising of his subjects, while the local Shifter pack in Nashville helps keep the unknowing citizens safe from harm and Jill Kismet is guarding the city of Santa Luz from the hellbreed, well... 

...Somebody has to cater their get-togethers, right? Somebody has to provide food for beings of unpredictable, varying, and sometimes contradictory tastes. And that's where Sin Du Jour comes in. They're a small catering company, handling all the sorts of food that nobody in their right mind would touch. 

It's a really fun (if sometimes dark) series of books. And I have to admit, I do wonder what sauteed angel flesh would taste like... and why that one chain of fast-food chicken restaurants tastes almost exactly the same...

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Annual Thanksgiving Video Clip

 From Addams Family Values, which is our annual Thanksgiving movie-watching tradition:

Sunday, November 22, 2020

DnD Interlude: White Plume Mountain 12

We're picking back up after the episode I missed last week. This should be the final battle.

Character Recap:
Jhuni Blackfire (she/her) - enthusiastically pyromaniacal Sorcerer/Wizard
Thelmor Irdro (he/him) - Blood Hunter of the Lycan persuasion
Nil (they/them) - badass Knowledge Cleric
Snow (she/her) - Swashbuckler and Gloomstalker Ranger
Sunrise (she/her) - Lore Bard - and Honey (she/her) her homunculus familiar
Perfect (he/him) - Battlemaster fighter
Grey (he/him) - Assassin/Illusionist

Snow has snuck up ahead. The room is dark, and there's a full scale statue of an adult dragon that seems to be falling apart in the center of the cavern. The statue is positioned to look as if it's roaring to the heavens; it also looks... battered. Possibly Keraptis turned to stone at the end of the battle? Or maybe each of the three wounds fits one of the weapons? Snow investigates, and yes: the statue looks as if the weapons could be inserted into those "wounds" like keys into a lock.

It's a pretty big room, large enough that Snow can just barely see the back from the door; about 90' across. Nil asks Whelm if they know what would happen if we insert them into the statue. Nil and Thelmor both receive visions: the three weapons plunge into the body of the dracolich, a painfully loud roar that shakes the cave, and finally the flesh turns to stone. Apparently that was how they sealed Keraptis away.

Thelmor: "Do you think it's worth it to undo the seal and beat him a bit more before we look for the gem?"

Wave: "It will weaken him, and he might even lead us to his soul gem. It is worth a try, but we will need to utterly defeat him if we're to seal him away again." 

Nil: "What if we just smash the statue?"

Perfect: "I don't even think that's possible. We're talking about an undead dragon-wizard; it'll either undo the seal on its own, or it'll be like trying to break a brick with a toothpick."

Nil: "That makes sense."

Grey: "My preference would be to find his gem, smash it, and then... say... drop the ceiling of the cavern on him from a good safe distance."

Sunrise: "My concern is that he clearly isn't powerless even now."

Snow: "I could probably search his stuff unnoticed." The cavern has different levels of terrain, and there was some water in there somewhere, so there are plenty of areas that she didn't search on her first look.

Snow, Thelmor, and Grey sneak back into the room and start searching around. Grey and Snow do the searching, while Thelmor keeps a lookout; Grey happens to come upon something first. It's an old wooden staff, over next to the water on a rock, lying beside a skeleton. The skeleton had an improperly-healed leg; they probably needed the staff to walk. It's decorated with very old leather strips and raven feathers; it's carved with warrior motifs. Thelmor uses a Blood Hunter ability to kind of... pull memories from the area.

As he touches the staff and calls upon the Raven Queen, then opens himself to any knowledge or memory left in the wood. He sees the life of a nordic man -- one who loved the sea and his family and Odin. It's jarring to see that the statue wears no raven amulet around his neck; that's how strong his faith seems. He was an old man, a powerful cleric, but his soul was absorbed into the statue. Something has carried the soul off, while the body was tossed aside. The staff remains, and the staff is far more powerful than it appeared: spells can be drawn from it. Somewhere unimaginably distant, the Raven Queen tastes this memory and rages.

We finish our circuit of the room; there is water here, probably from a spring. It's rich with minerals, and has formed a sort of pool on the western side, and a smaller pool on the eastern side.

Meanwhile back with the others, Fifteen speaks: "I-do-not-mean-to-intrude-but-I-should-tell-you-how-I-can-help. I-did-manage-to-get-ahold-of-some-spell-scrolls-so-I-can-distribute-them-if-needed."

Jhuni: "Okay, we'll keep that in mind."

Shortly after that, the scouts return and bring the rest of the group up to speed, particularly Nil. They're... upset to learn of the old man's fate.

Thelmor: "The rage of the Raven Queen quakes in my soul, and I want to see Keraptis dead. So I brought you his staff."

We wait while she inspects the staff; it's a staff of healing. (Cure wounds, lesser restoration, or mass cure wounds.) It will also serve as a weapon, if needed.

Nil: Did you find the soul gem?"

Thelmor: "No."

Grey: "There were a couple of pools and we didn't really search down in there, but we checked the rest of the room fairly thoroughly."

Nil: "Then... we wake him and kill him again? There's no real advantage to destroying the soul gem first, and it'll be easier to search once it's dead."

Perfect: "I must say, I'm very happy I came with you all. You're quite the group." He goes around the circle complimenting us.

Grey, deadpan: "And apparently we've found the perfect employer."

Perfect: "I knew you'd come around."

We enter the cavern: Nil, Perfect, Jhuni, Thelmor, Fifteen, Grey, Sunrise, Snow. Approaching the statue, we stop to prepare: Sunrise throws a bardic inspiration on Thelmor, Grey drops Haste on Snow, and Perfect gives Thelmor a head-scritch and a bit of Battlemaster bonus (8 temp HP) too. Sunrise reminds us not to get caught in her lightning, then starts her song. With our preparations complete, the three with the weapons step up to the statue.

Perfect gives a countdown, and everybody inserts their weapons into the statue. A little ripple of pressure spreads through the room; the statue trembles and crumbles and explodes -- forcing the three of them back, though nobody loses their footing. In its place is a figure carrying a staff that has a large gem on the top of it. He's wearing a helmet, but it looks like Keraptis.

The air in the room seems to move with him as he sucks in a breath and sighs: "I was wondering when I'd get out of there."

Nil: "Quick question: would you like to make easy for us to kill you?"

Keraptis: "Now why would I want to do that, when I made it hard for my own children?"

Nil: "Right. Lightning!"

Sunrise drops a lightning strike on him. It's amazingly bright in the darkness; a moment later the lich is dragon-shaped, with a glow coming from inside its chest.

Sunrise: "Look, I turned him into a dragon!"

Keraptis: "And I'll turn you into a corpse!"

The ground shakes, and the various bones and skeletons start to rise around us.

Jhuni does her best to look surprised. The fallen cleric's bone remain where they are, at least. We're surrounded by skeletons and flame skulls - floating skulls surrounded by fire.

Perfect opens with an attack on the flame skull in front of him, damaging it but not taking it down. A flame skull pops up in front of Thelmor, cackling, and casts Scorching Ray. Snow opens by adding Zephyr Strike to her Haste, then zips around in a curve to reach the dracolich. Unfortunately, her attacks bounce off its scales -- except for the last one, which catches on bone and almost knocks her rapier out of her hand. She retreats again. The dracolich swishes its tail, but misses Snow. Grey also attacks, also misses, and dashes away to the side; the dracolich takes a swipe at him but misses. Sunrise moves back and hits the dracolich with a lightning strike; her goddess approves of this.

The pool of water surges up and tries to pull Grey in, but he manages to grab a rock and not get swept in. The same thing happens to Snow at the other pool, and she's both worried and wet. Well, and furious.

Thelmor smacks one of the flaming skulls, twice; it's definitely out of sorts, but it doesn't go down. It hisses at him, possibly in Gnomish. An unusually burly zombie comes at Thelmor, but misses him. He dodges and snarls. Another zombie stumbles over to Nine and hits him. Jhuni drops a fireball on Keraptis and two of the flaming skulls; Keraptis soaks some of it, and the fire skulls just laugh.

Keraptis attacks Sunrise and does some damage; she drops a Hellish Rebuke on him in return. Perfect squares up with the skull in front of him, but it attacks Jhuni with Magic Missile instead. (Ouch.) Nil raises Whelm and calls out, "The weapons of your children will defeat you!" They throw a pulse wave to tag two skulls and the dragon, doing some damage and pushing them back.

The dracolich roars, terrifying us with its Frightful Presence; Nil, Sunrise, and Thelmor all resisted and are now immune. The dracolich tries to claw Nil, but misses; Perfect, on the other hand gets both clawed and bitten but doesn't go down. Nine, meanwhile, claws the heck out of the zombie that attacked him earlier; it does not look happy.

Flaming skulls attack Grey and Thelmor, but miss. Perfect passes his attack to Thelmor, who uses it to attack the flaming skull in front of him. The skull retreats, and Thelmor smacks it again on the way out and shatters it. Snow moves around the edge of the room but is still too terrified to do anything else; Grey ducks behind a rock and stabs one of the skulls, but doesn't do a lot of damage. The dracolich uses its tail to attack Thelmor. Sunrise hits the zombie nearest her with Dissonant Whispers and sends it scrambling away. The dracolich drops a sphere of magical darkness over part of the group. Thelmor elects to move forward until he find the dracolich; then he stabs it with Wave. As he rips a chunk out of its ribs, he sees a giant glowing amethyst where its heart should be. Meanwhile, a zombie lumbers up to Grey but punches the rock instead of him.

Jhuni tries to counter the Darkness with Light, but the cantrip fails against the more powerful spell. She drags Fifteen out of the darkness and throws a witch bolt at the zombie that attacked Grey. One of the skulls tries to fry Grey with a scorching ray, but misses. Nil throws out Beacon of Hope, giving us some advantages and improves any healing we get. The dragon decides that it's pretty done with this, and bites Thelmor. It claws at Nil but misses, but the other claw glances off Perfect's armor for a mild scratch. Nine rips into something, presumably the zombie; we can hear it but not see it. Fifteen maneuvers to stay out of danger, and a flame skull fails to tag Sunrise with a fire ray. Perfect directs Thelmort to attack for him, and he takes another chunk out of the dragon.

Snow ducks behind a rock (on the far side of the cavern from Grey) and stabs the absolute crap out of a zombie, then places her Hunter's Mark on the thing; then she hits it again, because Haste is a lovely thing. Snow retreats again and finally shakes off the Frightful Presence. Grey casts Mirror Image, then manages to shake off Frightful Presence; both of us owe Nil thanks for that Beacon of Hope. Sunrise drops a fresh lightning strike between the dracolich and one of the skulls; the dragon roars in pain, and the skull shatters.

The dragon is very irritated by our stubborn refusal to die; he summons a swarm of insects around Grey, which tear into him and the bad guys around him. Thelmor drops an amplified Blood Curse on the dragon, and just lays into the thing with Wave. He hits it so hard its gem falls out. The dragon tries to counterattack, but misses so badly that it smacks the gem away from itself, all the way to the back wall.

A zombie attacks Perfect, but misses; another tries to attack Grey but hits one of his duplicates instead. Jhuni holds another round of Witchbolt on the zombie nearest Grey, then drops a fireball between the dragon and the zombie. The dragon lashes out and smacks more of Grey's mirror images. The zombie and Nine are still going at it in the darkness. Nil uses their new staff to throw Mass Cure Wounds on everybody nearby. The dracolich moves to attack Thelmor, but Sunrise says something insulting and throws him off his bite attack. The claws, unfortunately, connect. Keraptis also shoots a look at the bard.

Fifteen again offers its services. "Let-me-know-if-you-require-my-assistance."

The skull retreats, and Grey tags it as it goes; it spits out a flaming sphere and rolls it into Grey. He dodges, but still takes a bit of fire damage. Perfect turns to the zombie behind him and smacks it.

Snow drops her hunter's mark from the zombie and sets it on Keraptis instead; then she moves in, stabs him twice, and retreats. Grey crosses the room and smacks the gem with the hilt of his dagger, cracking it. The dragon is utterly enraged: "HOW FUCKING DARE YOU!"

Then the dracolich starts beating its wings to try and fly, and the buffeting winds knock Perfect Prone; Thelmor and Nil, however, keep their feet and attack it as it's trying to get away. Nil swings but she's holding both the hammer and the staff, and the hammer goes flying out of her hand and nearly clips Thelmor. Thelmor, on the other hand, spears it through the tail and rips it off; the bones begin to crumble and dark fire bursts out of the decaying body and pours into the gem. Grey barely dodges out of the way in time. 

Keraptis is defeated, but its minions are still trying to kill us.

Sunrise drops more lightning on a zombie and a flame skull. The flame skull asplodes, but the zombie remains upright. The darkness and the bugs both disperse with the dracolich's loss of concentration. Thelmor perforates a zombie with Wave, and it goes down. Another zombie wanders off into the water, apparently deciding that it's had quite enough of this. Jhuni casts Magic Missile and sends some missiles over to the remaining flaming skull, and another to the zombie fighting Nine.

Nil decides that now is the time to Turn Undead, and between that and the rest of us we clear out the remaining zombies and flame skulls. Nil then brings Whelm over, and Grey steps aside. The gem cracks a little more with every hit, until with a final, shattering break a loud, corrupted roar fills the cavern and the souls that were trapped with the dragon fly free. Thelmor feels the relief and pleasure of the Raven Queen, while Sunrise feels her goddess's approval. Nil receives a solemn nod from Odin. The rest of us have the satisfaction of a job well done. The shattered pieces of the gemstone have gone back to normal amethysts; we gather them up and go drop them in the lava (using the tunnel behind Doc Pep's current shop).

We go to inform Bluto that he's free, and Thelmor breaks off to collect the werewolves and recruit them for the order of the lycan. Snarla and her boyfriend elect to remain behind; the werewolf from Bluto's men is all in on this, though. We all troop out of the mountain.  Snow goes to see if she can find Gussalen for a bit of post-adventure romance.

Doc Pep is thrilled to see us, and leads us back to the lava via the cave behind his current "shop". The amethyst pieces shimmer and melt into the lava, taking with them the last possibility of dracolich-related danger.

We stop again to clean up at Stormvale, then return to Pinehost. Perfect runs off to get the other two nobles, and we gather in Perfect's home. We each receive 4,095 GP after selling off all the loot. Perfect finishes exlaining how we got all these weapons back; Derdruda has an expression like "Oh gods, he's still talking..." which pleases Snow.

Selinar nods.

Thelmor: "What do you wish, Wave? Do you prefer to go back to your former owner, or stay by my side?"

Wave: "I feel that I would do far more good and right far more wrongs by your side than by remaining with my family. My family does not need me anymore."

Derdruda slams her hands on the table: "Are you saying that you--"

Selinar waves her to silence: "I and Wave have gotten along very well, but I agree. Wave is far more capable and effective in your hands than mine. If that is what my dear friend wishes, then I will let him go. May he help you as he has helped me."

Derdruda is grumpy, but it's not her decision to make.

Nil is tempted, but she and Sunrise both feel that Whelm should be with her family. Derdruda accepts the hammer's return with a bit of impatience and even more relief. Nil asks for access to Derdruda's library and perhaps lessons in Dwarvish.

Derdruda: "I suppose I'll have to write you out a letter of recommendation."

Grey: "These weapons have gotten me interested in making something of this order for myself."

Derdruda: "That would be my area, I suppose. Very well."

Sunrise pulls out a notebook: "I have thoughts about alliances and trade agreements, but more importantly... I would like a title of nobility."

Selinar nods. "I believe we can find a spot. In fact, I believe you should work with me on that. Agreed."

They start writing down plans.

Jhuni: "I'm in it for the money -- but Nine needs a place to stay."

Perfect: "Don't worry, I'll take care of him."

Jhuni: "And a book for Fifteen."

Perfect: "Easily done." It turns out to be a signed copy of one of Volo's works, very rare indeed.

Snow: "So... as I recall, the terms were any one boon within your power to grant? Is that correct?"

Perfect: "Just so."

Snow: "So, I could ask for almost anything, no matter how much it displeased you, Perfect. But... I want you, Perfect, to owe me." Then she stands up and walks away.

"You know," says Perfect, "I don't believe that Tabaxi likes me. I can't imagine why."

Grey heads off to an artificer to work on creating the magical artifact of his dreams. Thelmor and Wave head off in search of adventure, taking Bluto's former armsman off to be trained in how to deal with lycanthropy. 

I won't say we all live happily ever after, but this adventure ended well.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Anybody else still feeling overwhelmed?

So I was feeling better for about three days right after they finally called the election. (It may have helped that I was camping at the time.) And then, of course, I come back to this steady stream of news about court challenges, most of which are based on more-or-less laughable arguments and quickly get thrown out. 

I ought to find that reassuring, but just at the moment... I don't. Because it only matters that the arguments make sense if the people judging them are acting in good faith. What worries me about this current situation -- what no-shit keeps me up at night -- is that a legal challenge doesn't need to make sense. It just needs to provide enough cover that they can find someone who's willing to wink and nod and play along and "how dare you question our integrity sir" at the rest of us. The entire establishment of institution Republicans has shown a profound unwillingness to slap Trump down for pretending that he somehow won, which means they'll play along and keep him (and themselves) in power if they can. Given the choice between living in a democracy and being in charge, they will choose to put themselves in charge every single time; they will respect and defend people's right to vote as long as they vote Republican. 

I think Biden and Harris are doing the right thing by dismissing Trump as a toddler throwing a temper tantrum, but someone -- someone with clout and charisma -- needs to be out there making the point that the Republican party is currently trying to argue that votes against them shouldn't count and THAT IS BULLSHIT. Somebody on the Democratic side needs to be screaming this to the skies, preferably in the sort cutting, catchy click-bait-able phrasing that the news media is happy to run with. 

Voting rights are still a huge issue here in the United States, and I'd very much like to see a campaign to uphold and restore them.

Anyway, all of this means that the last week/three centuries has been a horror movie sequel of the "just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water/house/basement/public square of civic participation" variety. And my ability to concentrate -- on anything -- is directly tied to my ability to ignore this as much as possible. And it doesn't help that doing that worries me too; those assholes on the Wayne County Certification Board in Michigan (Monica Palmer and William Hartman, may their names be cursed) only backed down because they got so much immediate public pushback. They were going to refuse to certify, and now they've signed affidavits swearing that they wish they hadn't. 

So, I don't know. The world's still on fire. There's some hope that we'll be able to turn this back, but as far as I can see the danger's still here; we're going to be putting out fires for some time.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Music: Snow White and Rose Red

Blackbriar Music gives a lovely bit of eerie fairy tale-themed music for this morning:

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Challenge: The Funniest Thing Happened...

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 "funniest things that have happened to me".

And honestly, I'm not sure how to answer this. My life is pretty boring, and not the least bit funny. 

I mean, okay, there was the time in grad school when I was standing in the registrar's office staring at the empty front desk and waiting for someone in the back room to look up and notice me, and the monitor gave a very final POP before smoke started billowing up from it, prompting me to lean around the counter and say, "Pardon me, your computer appears to be on fire." But that wasn't funny, really. Droll, maybe, but not really funny. 

Or there was the time when, as a new parent out to meet some friends for breakfast, I moved the baby up so he could sit on my shoulders, whereupon he came out with a massive poosplosion that overflowed his diaper and went right down my back. But that one wasn't funny at all. 

Oh! Wait! I know! There was the time when I was sitting in a playground late at night and accidentally scared a couple of young adults. That one was kind of funny.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Youth DnD: Now it's a proper heist

 So the party was sneaking into the manor of Polyphemus Estudian to steal the book he had just finished composing. The theft was commissioned by the Library Lich, who has issues with any books not being in his collection, and apparently hadn't convinced Lord Estudian to sell the book to him. 

Having realized that the pictures on the walls in the Entry Hall were all some species of mimic, the group proceeded upstairs. Their sorcerer, Toruv, was ethereal (because of his magic cloak) and thus ghosted through the rooms, discovering a guest bedroom, the master bedroom, a treasury, a hall for fighting practice, and finally a library. The others were searching separately in the physical realm, and found the guest bedroom and -- across from it -- their first locked door. The Arcane Trickster, Barrith, attempted to pick the lock and discovered that at least one of the twin doors to the treasury was a mimic. He managed not to be caught by it, backed out of range, and apologized (quietly). 

They proceeded on, finding the training hall and the library. (OOC: At this point, the only room on the second floor that they hadn't entered was the master bedroom, and the sorcerer had ghosted his way through that long enough to realize there were people asleep in there.) They entered the library and began checking the shelves, ignoring the table and chairs in the center of the room. After a while, the arcane trickster came to a single, unadorned book sitting on its own lectern. The book is closed. The swashbuckler, meanwhile, has moved across the hallway to peer into the training hall. The druid is currently a spider, and is riding on the arcane trickster's shoulder. 

The sorcerer, meanwhile, has used his ghostly state to drift up through the ceiling and take a look around the attic. The attic is a single, large space. It has a few stray wooden boxes and a couple of wardrobes, but it's mostly empty. He notices something on the south wall/ceiling, and moves to investigate; it's a carved wooden face, much wider than it is tall, stretching across the middle third of the attic. Under the circumstances, he finds this disturbing. 

Meanwhile, the trickster picks up the book and opens it to the faceplate, where he reads: "The Mimic Book of Mimics, by Polyphemus Estudian". Clearly, this is the book they're looking for. Even more clearly, they're now in trouble: the book sprouts teeth around its edges and shouts: "HEY! PUT ME BACK!" 

The arcane trickster casts Rope Trick as the swashbuckler comes charging back into the room. The swashbuckler swarms up the rope and disappears into the magical space beyond; the trickster follows, carrying the druid with him. This would be a great way to hide, except that the table, the chairs around it, and the rug underneath are all part of a single large mimic, and it's stuck out a tendril and grabbed the rope. 

The trickster uses Mage Hand to lower the book back to its lectern, then pulls out his crossbow and threatens to shoot the table if it doesn't quiet down. He gets lucky: the table-and-chairs-mimic is surprised enough that it loosens its grip on the rope long enough for him to yank it loose and haul it up into his spell. 

So that's where they are now: three of the four party members are hiding in a spell, with a large, angry mimic underneath them; Lord Estudian is likely to show up any minute; and the fourth party member is on the top floor, unaware of any of this. 

As their DM/GM, I'm actually quite proud: the Trickster's player got back to me before nightfall with a full, workable plan for how to get out of the situation. We'll pick up next week as he implements it.