Friday, August 7, 2020

RoH: Possible Opening?

Remant trudged up the narrow passage, his one remaining hand trailing against the wall. He was cold, he was tired, he was scared, he was weak. He had no idea what he would find when he reached the stairs, when he climbed them and emerged into sunlight. He only knew that if he remained in the darkness, it would consume him.

So he followed the paths that would take him out of Shadowguard, into the the more ordinary caves that bordered it, and eventually back to the surface. He left the high halls and deeper shadows behind him, along with the site of the final battle and the corpses of his friends. He'd taken Darik's armor-gauntlet to seal over the stump of his left arm, and the last of Elendor's healing potions to reduce the throbbing to something he could ignore.

He should have been blind, and lost several times over; there was no light here. Instead, he could see through the darkness itself. The thought of what that might mean terrified him, so he thought on other things instead: the course he had to follow, the things that might have happened on the surface when he'd driven the nightblade into Huoron's back and dealt a mortal blow to the God of Darkness. 

The stairs were ahead, the dim light of the surface far above still visible to his eyes. Would the light burn him? Now that he saw in the dark, would the light of day strike him blind?

It didn't matter. He couldn't remain here; he had to keep going. He touched the metal sheath that covered the stump of his arm, then the dagger that he had slipped into the empty sheath in his boot. Then he set the soft leather of the boot to the first stair, and began to climb.

The ascent seemed endless, until at last it wasn't.

The brightness was uncomfortable, but it didn't burn him. After a time his eyes adjusted, and his flesh, and he came out of the cave and stepped into it.

There were men waiting in bright outside: armored Vanil,with a handful of Aesil and Moril among them. One of the Vanil approached and saluted. "The siege is ended and the beastmen have scattered," he said. "We were ordered to escort the heroes back to the capital."

Remant couldn't help it: he laughed, his voice harsh and strange. "No heroes left," he said after a moment. "Just me."

The man stared at him, and that only made Remant laugh harder; a moment after that he was sobbing. "Help him," said the man, and stepped forward to put an arm under his shoulder. "Barris! Get a carriage up here, or as close you can." One of the other warriors hurried away; Remant didn't see which one.

"You're all that's left?" asked the man, as he helped Remant forward.

Remant sucked in a deep breath, let it out, and did it again until he had himself under control; it was that or stab the man, and he surely didn't deserve that. "Irlin fell while holding off a giant, when we were seeking a way through the Nirgenau peaks. Doverin fell in battle, but I carried him from the field before the Black Knight could steal his blessings. Winstala, Gairlos, and Toverin fell when the shadow-priest Ulis betrayed us, and the rest of us were captured. I escaped, and freed Darik and Elendor, but they both died in the battle against Huoron."

"But you defeated the dark god?" asked the man, as they staggered forward towards the sounds of an approaching carriage. "Huoron is dead?"

Remant shook his head but said, "As dead as a god can be."

"It is good, then," said the armored man, as he helped Remant to the carriage and up the steps.

Remant was too tired to shake his head. Nothing would never be good again. Not for him. Too many things had been destroyed; too many good people had been killed. It should have been him, not any of the companions; he should have been the one to die. Instead, he'd been the one to drive the nightblade into the back of a god, to feel the god's life pour into him, to feel his own flesh swell and burst, unable to contain that much power.

He'd watched the blade drain the last of its creator's divinity, pouring it out into the stone that formed the throne room of Shadowguard. He'd watched the god wither and fall: weakened, divided, transformed. He'd known then, seeing all this in the absence of light, that some of the dark one had gone into him as well.

He didn't bother with the benches, but simply stretched himself out across the floor. "Take me where you like," he said quietly. "It doesn't matter now."

The man swung the door shut, stepping away before he began shouting orders. After a time, the carriage began moving, but Remant didn't care. Aching, frightened, exhausted, he slept.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Music: Wear Your Mask

An especially 2020 genre of music, this one courtesy of Jennifer Lewis:

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Challenge: Favorite Tropes

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 tropes of X genre".

So, for genre I'm going with horror, and for my favorite trope I'm going with The Character Who Can Fight The Monsters Because They're Somehow Related To Them.

Think about Ellen Ripley in Alien: Resurrection: having been cloned back to life with a bit of xenomorph DNA, she has a sense of where the aliens (and especially the queen) are located, and enhanced physical abilities. It's not enough to let her take on even a single xenomorph directly, but it gives her a distinct advantage in trying to get the survivors off the ship when they get loose.

Or think about Blade (probably best known from the movies, but originally a Marvel Comic): his mother was attacked by a vampire while pregnant, and he was born as a sort of halfbreed, able to match their physical abilities but without many of their weaknesses.

But even more dear to me is a sort of sub-set of this trope: characters who fight monsters by becoming monsters themselves. Probably the most obvious example, the one people might recognize, is Ben Tennyson of the Ben 10 series, who uses a mysterious alien device called the Omnitrix to turn into any of a selection of different alien monsters, and then uses their powers to fight various sorts of alien and mad-science threats.

But my personal favorite is a bit darker: Yuri Hyuga from the video game Shadow Hearts. Yuri is a Harmonixer, possessing the magical ability to transform into supernatural monsters, and to absorb the souls of the monsters he defeats. The ability has a price, however; as those souls add up, they start to drag him down, and eventually a mysterious fox-mask character shows up in a sort of dream graveyard to try to defeat him and take him over.

So there you go: one of my favorite tropes. What are yours?

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Guardians of Sol Povos: The Baron

Last session we'd just finished clearing out the courtyard. Now we're burning through a wand of Cure Light Wounds to get us all back up to health.

The doors and windows on the second floor of the main house are all boarded up. Tavros marches up to the door, and just as he's about to try the handle black tentacles spring up and grab him.

While he's being grappled, the door swings open and a four-armed giant ape - a girallon - tries to smash him, but misses. Alexej moves up and attacks the beast, hanging back from the tentacles. Lyra attempts to dispel the tentacles, but fails. Marshall Mercy casts Enthrall on the girallon. Tavros, meanwhile, is trying to talk to the beast: "I say, good fellow! Just help me out of these tentacles and we'll all get along splendidly."

Marshall makes friends of three of the Girallons, holding their attention despite the arrival of a fourth; they move back and group together, looking in fascination at Marshall. Tavros finally manages to break free of the tentacles, and steps into the house.

Leira charms the fourth Girallon. Marshall sees something on the far side of the room; the charmed Girallon moves to meet Leira and get caught by the tentacles. Marshall's got a whole football chant going with his three.

Tavros surveys the room, seeing no particular danger; that is, naturally, when a bunch of bugbears come pouring out from a couple of doors at the back of the room. A particularly fearsome-looking bugbear comes out behind them. Tavros: "Come, lads! Surrender, and I'll see that you're well-treated." Tavros apparently talks like a combination of Sir Didymus and Professor Elemental. The Bugbears charge forward; the leader starts smacking girallons and trying to get them to attack us.

This could all go terribly wrong... and it does; he shakes them out of their trance.

Leira blows a higher-level spell slot for Fireball, but they way everything is clumped together she hits basically ALL OF IT. Most of the bugbears are now gone; the girallons are damaged, and the bugbear chief less damaged. Tavros, looking around: "You see? You should have surrendered."

Leira's Girallon-buddy comes over and scoops up Leira and cradles her in his arms and starts petting her. The other three move up. One of the bugbears tries to cross in front of Tavros and dies; the other two bugbears attack him and miss. One of the girallons attacks as well, doing a pretty decent amount of damage; another smacks him as well, though not as effectively.

Alexej attacks the nearer Girallon, and kills it; but he doesn't try to move through the tentacles yet. Marshall throws himself in through the window like a fucking cannonball, landing at the feet of a bugbear. Tavros wipes out that bugbear and the one beside him, but the chief bugbear rages and charges and takes him down.

Leira's girallon-buddy carries her through the tentacles and leaps up onto the balcony; she magic missiles the nearer of the girallons.

One of the two remaining girallons slings himself up onto the balcony and tries to take Leira; they struggle, and finally Lenny (the buddy Girallon) yanks her back. The other Girallon moves down and tries to attack Marshall, but misses.

Alexej tries to dive through the other window and succeeds, but like Marshall lands his side on the ground. Marshall reaches over and drops a Cure What Ails Ya (Cure Critical) on Tavros. Tavros attacks the bugbear chief but fails to connect; the bugbear attacks him but likewise fails to hit. Leira throws magic missile at the bugbear that tried to steal her, and it dies and falls from the balcony with an enormous crash.

Lenny is meanwhile petting Leira. Alexej stands, and while the Girallon takes a swing at him it misses. He attacks with his guisarm, damaging the creature. The Girallon attacks Marshall, hitting twice and rending, and Marshall is hurt. Marshall takes a five-foot... roll... and then reaches out to touch the beasty from the ground.

Tavros and the bugbear chieftain exchange blows, damaging each other; they're both still upright, but also both badly damaged. Leira finishes the girallon with magic missile, leaving only her buddy alive. Following Leira's lead, Lenny the girallon leaps back down to the floor.

Tavros attacks and critically hits the hobgoblin barbarian, cutting him off at the knees. Everybody staggers to their feet, and we do more healing; the wand is nearly gone. By the time we finish healing Marshall, the wand is down to two charges.

Leira saw a really creepy ghosty-thing crawling on the ceiling and it was disgusting and then it vanished and she's probably cursed. It was in a noblewoman's dress. It ran away when Leira screamed at it, though.

Lenny takes Leira out of the houe and over to the market-area and gives her flowers.

We proceed to check the lower level; the old barracks has become the bugbear common room, and it is trashed like a frat house. It reeks of body order, they've been marking their territory, there's rotten food and trash on the ground, discarded mugs filled with horrible once-alcoholic liquids...

We check more doors, finding an abandoned room that was probably officers' quarters, then several more of them. The hobgoblin commander had gauntlets of ogre power +2, a +1 mithral chain shirt, and a +1 greataxe; in his drawers we find a bag of gems worth 2000 gp. We continue down the hall, finding another abandoned room.

We exit the hallway and find a training room, but it's also trash; they've been using it for practice fighting, but in the crudest possible fashion. We move to the east wing.

We open the door to find a room full of zombie workers. These were probably the servants. We close them off and head upstairs.

Leira points out the direction that the vampire-thing went, and Alexej leaps over three of the trip wires and trips on the fourth. Alexej, ahead of everyone else, hears a door open and sees the shimmer of something moving.

...We're back in battle. Marshall moves cautiously forward, avoiding the trip wires, and Tavros does likewise; Lenny bounds down to the lower floor and back up, coming up beside Alexej. Leira pets him and tells him how good he is.

Alexej moves cautiously forward, and finds two former noblewomen hanging from the ceiling, Grudge style. He moves forward and attacks, blowing another tripwire. He attacks, doing some damage, and then they look fetchingly into his eyes and smile charmingly, but Alexej -- remarkably -- is not taken in. They have left a door open, and there are two more noblemen inside; one of them provokes an attack of opportunity as he passes.

Alexej trips him... off the ceiling. He hits the ground hard, squirming, and Alexej tries to pin him to the floor. The other nobleman looks deep into Alexej's eyes, but the guy isn't that attractive and Alexej isn't swayed.

Lenny moves forward, and Leira sees a couple of vampire spawn. She hisses back at them. Then she throws a load of magic missiles at the nearest one and kills it.

Alexej trips a vampire, and attacks him; stabbing him as well. He attacks again, pinning him to the floor like a bug until he turns into mist. Marshall is slower than the rest of us; he moves to where he can see down the first passage, but not the side hall where Alexej is now. One of the vampire comes to his feet and hisses at Alexej.

Tavros charges up beside Alexej, then leans back and drops Protection from Evil on Leira. Leira's girallon mount squeezes forward, putting her in view of the lady vampire. Alexej attacks the vampire in front of him and trips him, then runs him through. He explodes into mist.

Marshall moves past Alexej and into the destroyed game room. Mist is fleeing across the room, and Marshall see it trying to escape. The vampire lady charges Leira and swipes at her, but misses.

Tavros hears Leira scream, and runs down the hall and smites the vampire, doing a reasonable amount of damage; Leira throws magic missile at her while her girallon carries her away.

Following the mist, we find a couple of coffins with sleeping vampires in them. We stake 'em, them toss them out on the balcony to die in the sunlight. We check more rooms, finding abandoned guest quarters; Alexej finds two more tripwires the hard way. We check more rooms, and eventually find more coffins; stake 'em and roast 'em. They are... well done.

We continue exploring the second floor and find the Baron's meeting room, avoiding a few more tripwires. We step into another hallway, and Aexej looks one way and sees more vampire spawn; Tavros looks the other way and sees more vampire spawn. The do a quick fist-bump and then set up back to back. The vampire children attempt to charm us.

Alexej: "Oh, no. More suitors!" Neither of us are affected.

Alexej charges, setting off more tripwires and taking a bit of damage, but attacking and hitting. Tavros settle back, waiting patiently for someone to attack him.

Marshall steps up to where Alexej was, and turns undead. Marshall is the main reason Tavros doesn't bother to turn; he's too good at it. His holy aura burns evil away, destroying all four of them. We find the kids' rooms. Lenny takes Leira down to look for the end of the hallway, and sets off a couple of tripwires; the garillon is mildly injured and very sad. They call up Alexej, who comes forward to absorb tripwire damage for them.

Following the hallway, we open more doors and open one... and we're back in battle. Clinging to the ceiling is the baron... and his wife.

Tavros: "My lord! We've come to return you to the capital and see you restored to your proper self! Pray, come down that we may return you intact."

The others move up.

Alexej: "Those... were... words..." He prepares to trip the noble lord should he attack.

Tavros: "Come, noble lord! Let us take yourself and your lady wife back safely." He's not as convincing, but he doesn't alarm them.

He tries again, and the lord protests that he hears voices; but after a bit Tavros convinces them to get in their coffins so we can bring them back to the capital. And thus, we end without the need for further combat.

...Which is a fucking miracle, mark my words, and we'll probably pay for it later.

Monday, August 3, 2020

DnD 5e Interlude: White Plume Mountain 4

We were facing off with, it seems possible, a former owner of the legendary weapon Blackrazor. And he is *not* a friendly guy. Or a living guy, which Thelmor has a major issue with; as a servant of the Raven Queen, he has issues with undeath and immortality.

Character Recap:
Jhuni Blackfire (she/her) (Absent) - our slightly pyromaniacal Sorcerer/Wizard
Thelmor Irdro (he/him) - Blood Hunter of the Lycan persuasion, as we discover this session
Nil (they/them) - badass 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

Swirls of necromantic magic flow out from Thaddeus as he screams, forming four spectre-like creatures around him. It's obvious this is a challenge, and he isn't asking if we're interested. The battle begins! (It's worth noting that this room is actually lit by torches, so we aren't fighting in the dark the way we have been.)

Thelmor shifts from his elven self to a sort hybrid werewolf form and moves in on Thaddeus the Undead Lord, attacking twice. One misses; the other is a critical.

Snow casts Hunter's Mark and steps in, using her combination of Ranger and Swashbuckler to attack rather effectively.

Grey identifies the four wraithy undead as sword wraith commanders, a rather nasty sort of undead. He drops a Phantasmal Force on Thaddeus, convincing him that he's trapped in a spiky cage that is stabbing him. Thaddeus tries to attack his cage, swinging wildly, to no good effect; then he tries to attack Thelmor, who in his current form is resistant to slashing, bludgeoning, and piercing damage. Attacking the cage does nothing, but he crits against Thelmor and does some real damage (though not as much as he could have). Sunrise looks at Snow and inspires her, and then begins a jaunty tune and throws Hideous Laughter on Thaddeus by way of a ridiculously ribald tune. He falls to the floor, helpless with laughter.

Nil invokes Spirit Guardians, filling the immediate area with angelic spiritual figures that attack our enemies and damage all but one of them. The sword wraiths finally move, and as we turn our attention to them we realize they're the ghosts of Tieflings. The first one attacks Nil, slashing her up quite a bit. The next two attack Perfect and does some damage; the last one attacks Thelmor, hitting him for some damage as well.

Thelmor's claws catch fire, and then the flames spiral up to the blade of his axe. He slams it down on Thaddeus twice, hitting both times. Thelmor then drops a Brand of Castigation on his helmet; if attacking him makes us take damage from his armor, then attacking us should hurt him as well.

Snow moves up and tags Thaddeus again, stabbing him with her magical rapier and taking a bit of piercing damage herself. Grey is using the phantasmal force to do psychic damage (it's not much, but it's not nothing) and then makes a minor illusion of himself standing on the far side of the room beside one of the wraiths; there are now two of him in the room.

Thaddeus finally figures out that the cage wasn't real, and attacks Thelmor in a rage. Which, of course, causes him to suffer three points of psychic damage from the brand.

Perfect attacks with his greatsword, and smacks Thaddeus fairly hard.

Sunrise tries Hideous Laughter again, with a limerick, and he falls down laughing over the wizard's wand limerick. She also drops an inspiration on Thelmor. Nil still has their angels around, and they do more damage to the sword wraith commanders; Nil then confuses Thaddeus and one of the wraiths. Finally, they step over Thaddeus and position themselves beside Thelmor.

A wraith attacks Perfect and hits him; the second wraith shakes off the confusion momentarily and attacks the illusion of Grey -- which doesn't touch it, of course. A wraith attacks Thelmor, who's now in serious danger of going into a mindless rage, and Thelmor attacks Wraith 4, damaging it a lot; Snow moves in and follows up with an attack on the same wraith, doing a perfectly ridiculous amount of damage and destroying it. Grey slides up and pours a potion down Thelmor's throat, healing him for seven damage.

Thaddeus, still confused, stands up and promptly attacks one of his own sword wraith commanders, first with his sword and then with a backhand from his spiked gauntlet.

Perfect attacks another commander using a sort of cleave maneuver, striking wraith number 1 and connecting with number 3 as well. Nil puts her hands on Thelmor and restores a big chunk of his health. Sunrise tags Thaddeus with Hideous Laughter again, sending and he goes down; and then the wraiths attack again.

Wraith 2 was still confused and basically just stood there until it shook off the confusion; wraith 1 missed. Wraith 3 did some damage to Perfect, but not enough to really endanger him.

Thelmor moves over to attack Wraith 2, doing some damage to it. Snow drops the Hunter's Mark from Thaddeus and recasts it against Wraith 2, then moves up and attacks, damaging the sword wraith commander before fading back out. Grey moves up and attempts to throw a Green Flame Blade, but misses.

Thaddeus finally shakes off the Hideous Laughter on his turn, and is still prone. Perfect passes his turn to Grey, who attacks again with Green Flame Blade, damaging Wraith 3 and finishing off Wraith 1. Perfect then uses his second attack, doing some damage. Sunrise throws another Hideous Laughter, and drops him again.

Nil decides to try to turn the remaining wraiths, and drives them away completely. Perfect manages to tag Wraith 3 as it flees. Thelmor attacks Thaddeus. Snow recasts Hunter's Mark on Thaddeus, and darts in to attack Thaddeus... who is still helpless with laughter. Grey tries to stab him but misses; but Thaddeus once again fails to snap out of the Hideous Laughter. Perfect attacks with his greatsword, doing some damage but still not snapping Thaddeus out of the laughter.

Sunrise draws a rapier and moves in, then attacks. She hits, and takes damage from armor, and responds with hellish rebuke. Nil decides this is the moment to cast Beacon of Hope, which gives us some saving throw advantages and maximizes any healing effects.

Thelmor strikes with the axe, once and again, and the first blow severs his head; the second blow severs his arm from the blade. The room seems to tremble as the undead spirit howl-scream-roars as it dissolves away, leaving behind the mismatched bones of an incomplete skeleton. The armor dulls and warps, becoming useless. The sword, however, seems to glow as it lays cleanly on the floor. A sense of finality covers the room; there's nothing left of our enemies here.

Nil starts healing people. "Perfect, I know you want to grab the sword, but can you hold off while we make some checks?"

Perfect: "Of course, if it will make you feel better. Perfectly happy to oblige."

Nil tries detecting traps, and finds nothing. She then detects magic, and the sword is wildly magical; there are also some magical items towards the back of the room. We've got the sword back, but we're still missing the war hammer and the trident.

Sunrise tries Locate Object, seeking for the closest trident and the closest warhammer, while the rest of us settle in to search the room. Thelmor shrinks back to his elven self.

Sunrise: "Does that happen often?"

Thelmor: "It's in my control."

Nil: "So how long have you known you were a werewolf?"

Thelmor: "I'm not, exactly. Not entirely. It's something we do in my particular order of blood hunters."

The warhammer is due east; the trident is northeast.

There is a footlocker towards the back of the room; inside is jewelry, some platinum and GP, a potion, a scroll, and a piece of armor and two rings. The two rings are magical, the scroll is magical, and the armor is magical.

Nil: "I have Identify, and several of these objects are magic. If we rest here, I can determine what they do and that the sword is what we believe it is."

The sword is Blackrazor, and Nil says she can see why it was so important to Perfect, but declines to discuss it now. Snow, investigating the room, finds a lot of history and some antiquities that would probably be worth a decent amount to the right buyer. There's a big chunk about Perfect's ancestor, Giant-Slayer, who raged across the battlefield and made it safe to found the city. Sunrise reads through some of this and passes it along to Perfect.

Nil sets the armor aside with a muttered, "Nobody touch that," and starts in on the rings. Grey checks the potion, which is labeled Greater Healing; and a scroll of Protection from Fiends, and 500 GP, 200 PP, and four pieces of jewelry worth 11,000 GP. Perfect looks over the jewelry, and says: "Thaddeus Giant-Bane had four wives, so likely these belonged to them." But since none of them were really part of the bloodline, he doesn't see himself as having a claim on their jewelry.

Nil suggests that Perfect could perhaps purchase them from us, and we could divide the money among the survivors of our party (which is everybody, at least so far). The armor is plate (heavy), but it's cursed. It's resistant to slashing but vulnerable to bludgeoning and piercing. Nobody in this group could use it even if they wanted to.

The first of the rings is a ring of protection. Sunrise turns that over to Snow. The second ring is a ring of spell storing. After a bit of discussion, we turn it over to Nil to serve as a repository of extra heal spells.

As we rest, Thelmor and Perfect discuss Blackrazor, which is -- at least temporarily -- a soul-devouring sword. The sword would prefer to feed regularly, but Perfect has actually never used it in battle. Thelmor is... not really comfortable with this. Snow isn't, either. The soul appears to move on after twenty-four hours, though, so we settle on a sort of "best used sparingly, and only on the worst of the worst" assessment, which Perfect appears to share.

We take another long rest, then head back up through the ziggurat and up to the room with the kayaks and the floating river. Sunrise, trepidatious, sends her familiar into the tunnel to scout; honey is a very good girl who can see in the dark.

Honey attempts to stay out of sight as she follows the river. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and she stops near the edge of it. There are nine humanoids in various sorts of armor in the room beyond; one of them even has a large net and is poised to catch anything that comes through the hole. They do not see honey. They look to be living creatures, humanoid, in another room where the water passes through the same way it does here. One of them is obviously the leader, and there are no obvious exits from the room. There are four on either side of the river, with the leader standing off to one side; the leader's armor has a sort of faded gold polish to it.

Sunrise asks Perfect if any of the people they sent down here match this description; Perfect says no. The guy in armor is distinctive; he was a knight of the realm somewhere... Nil knows exactly who he is. His name is Sir Bluto Sans Pite, and he was a respected knight of the realm until his indictment in the river of blood mass-murder case; there's a reward of 10,000 GP for his capture.  His prison escape baffled the local detective-mages. (Apparently Nil reads a lot of True Crime scrolls.) The moment she says this, Sunrise remembers the case. It was horrifying, grisly and dark. It was a murder and sacrifice of children of wealthy Greyhawk families. When the ritual was performed, a cavern beneath his home caused a stream to run red with the victims' blood. The evidence against him is largely that the ritual was performed beneath his home. The two of them spend some time geeking out over finding him here.(!)

Sunrise calls Honey back and sends her around the other way to confirm that the river is a loop; it is. Deep discussion ensues. The group in the other room is obviously poised for an ambush. And they probably aren't innocent of the original murder. So after a bit we have a sort of plan: Snow, who can climb, will pound in an anchor and tie off a rope; we'll line up a row of boats that are tied off with the rope; Grey will drop an illusion in the lead boat, and the rest of us will load up in the boats behind it. Then we cut loose the lead boat, and after a moment Snow cuts loose the last boat, and we hopefully turn their ambush on them.

Sunrise also has the Message spell, so we could conceivably communicate with them first. That probably wouldn't spoil the first part of the plan.

We end there, approximately 1/3 of the way through the adventure. I have to admit, I'm really enjoying this -- not just for the chance to play Grey again (he was originally conceived as an AD&D character, back when Assassin and Illusionist were their own classes) but also simply because this is one of those Make You Think About What You're Doing sorts of adventures, and this is a great group for that sort of problem-solving.

Friday, July 31, 2020

Ser Ilavna: The Town and the Revenant

Occasionally I write short pieces to help me fill in background for something else I'm working on, or get a feel for a character, or just sort out a sequence of events. This is one of those.

It was a relief to finally reach the town. Ilavna had badly miscalculated the time; if she'd known it would take this long to arrive, she would have stopped and made camp two hours ago. Instead, she'd kept pressing on, thinking that she'd doubtless reach the town in just a few more minutes. For two full hours.

Now it was well after nightfall and most of the houses were closed and dark, though here and there the edges of wooden shutters flickered with hints of candlelight inside. Still, she decided, it wasn't entirely her fault; maps of the hinterlands were unreliable when they could be found at all, and she was navigating on little more than the direction of the road and a handful of carved stone markers.

As towns went, it wasn't bad; shops lined the main road, most with dwellings above them, and they seemed to be in good repair. She picked out the signs hanging in front of them in the moonlight, identifying a blacksmith, a cooper, a thatcher, a cobbler... Ah, thank Abarik, an inn. The inn sat across from a general store, and looked as if it served mainly as a public house; but she didn't doubt they'd have rooms to let.

Something moved in the corner of her vision, and Ilavna turned her head to look. A dark figure had just stepped out from between two buildings: armored, like herself, and holding a drawn sword. It turned towards her, stopped, then lifted its blade and charged.

Its eyes were glowing dimly, red coals in the darkness.

Ilavna hesitated, gaping; Swift, her mount, did not. The warhorse charged, shouldering the sword aside and trampling the armored figure as Ilavna clung desperately to the saddle. She reined up in front of the inn, looked back once, and decided she needed help with this. Help, and witnesses. "Stand," she said quietly, and felt the warhorse go still underneath her.

Then she dismounted and went inside.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Guardians of Sol Povos: Solari

We return to our characters from the second party, and begin the next stage of the campaign...

Leira has servants cleaning her and dressing her and gossiping. They hope she's happy with them. After a while they send her out, where she's collected by the King's chamberlain. The servants let slip that they're supposed to pack, as she's leaving today. Leira: "No."

The hallway is full of suitors, all looking to court her. The first is a bottlemaker; the second is a captain in his Majesty's army.

Leira turns to Hugo the chamberlain: "Why is this happening?"

The Archmage catches her just outside the audience chamber and rescinds his offer for her to come to the Mage's college. He sounds frustrated and regretful, but then she's been refusing magic school in favor of heated baths for months now. His reason? "The king has chosen you something else."

Leira: "Am I being sacrificed?"

Hugo: "Absolutely not."

Alexej is sparring, and being admired by the noble ladies who are trying to get his attention. He is approached by Gaitan Tallier, the King's Constable. They've interacted socially.

"Alexej! I see you have quite the crowd of admirers today! You can't steal all the attention, though. Care to spar?"

Alexej: "Is there dinner afterwards?"

"Of course!"

So Gaitan is using a heavy flail, and attempts to disarm Alexej. The guisarme hits the ground, and Alexej dives after it, grabbing it up and trying to trip him. Gaitan managed to tag Alexej while he was retrieving his weapon, though.

Sitting on his butt, Gaitan curses as Alexej whacks him. Gaitan attacks from the ground, slamming the flail into Alexej's shin. Since his opponent is still prone, Alexej goes to power attack and make use of his combat expertise, but misses.

Gaitan tries again, hitting once. Alexej tries to hit him again, but misses; Gaitan is rolling around a lot. Gaitan tries again, but misses, and this time Alexej tags him. Alexej's starting to feel the strain, but he whacks Gaitan again.

It's looking like a fairly even match. Gaitan misses again, and they continue exchanging attacks until Gaitan finally yields. The noble audience applauds. Gaitan: "Next time I'm going to trip *you*!"

Alexej: "Is good plan."

Gaitan: "Come! This was fun, but I was sent to bring you to the King."

Alexej: "Last time I see king, I get thrown in basement."

Gaitan: "Not that king, our king. The big king."

Alexej: "Ahhh! I come!"

The halls are lined with nobles, all on the look-out for a marital match. Gaitan shoves Alexej in next to Leira.

Marshall is in a room with Viggo the Whisperer, who's doing parlor tricks. He's the King's Chamberlain: "So let me get this right: Lord Provost Luthien, of the Duendewood elves, is a Vecna worshipper and possibly in league with this invading army."

Marshall: "Yes."

Viggo: "And they're all in league against us?"

Marshall: "Definitely."

Viggo: "And they're creating an army of invincible skeletons?"

Marshall: "I know this firsthand."

Viggo: "And the Eye of Vecna had a whole other world inside it?"

Marshall: "Indeed."

Viggo: "You did the right thing coming south." He snaps his fingers and a servant appears with a tray of snacks.

Viggo: "Over there, that military man is Alexej. The young girl next to him is Leira. She may not look like much, but don't underestimate her; she wields powerful magics. Conrad the Seneschal, Charlaine the Master of Ceremonies, the Lord Mage, the King's Champion, and Dante Alighierri, possibly the greatest poet in the world; Father Rafael; and Sir Gosper, the avatar of Helios ("and the only man in this room I am truly scared of").

The king stands: "Faithful servants! Thank you for coming. Today I bestow upon you the title of High Protectors of Sol Povos: Solari."

The Master of Ceremonies goes through the details, and servants bring us broaches of office and capes with the rising sun sigil of the Solari embroidered on them; Gosper comes down to pin them on us. We have minor estates, titles, and Tavros is commanded to take the name Fontaine, and embraces his cousin the King... but carefully, so as not to crush him.

Alexej: "I don't understand why I cannot be Sir Alexej. It is my Sir-name."

Charlaine: "You are being made a lord, not a knight."

We are also given chambers here in the palace. Alexej gets servants and cooks; Mercy receives a recently-vacated chapel with living quarters for himself, acolytes, and servants. Leira gets a heated pool. Tavros gets a small keep with its own staff. We'll need to pay the staff from our own stipends, but it's basically done: we're all Solari, and we celebrate.

About ten minutes later, a tall elf-lady comes in and announces that Springhollow has fallen. Discussion follows, with the revelation that the her followers were trying to create a cubic gate, and the forces of Vecna are using those powers in some dark ritual.

We have our first assignment. We're to be teleported to Springhollow. Alexej selects Lord Rizek (Pork Schnitzel) for his noble surname. Leira has not selected one yet; she wants to give it proper thought. Marshall Mercy is, of course, now Lord (have) Mercy, and Tavros is formally a Fontaine, acknowledged scion of the royal family.

We ask for (and receive) a wand of cure light wounds and a wand of enlarge, and Tavros and Marshall add Masterwork Heavy Flails. We also pick up some silversheen to be able to make our weapons behave like alchemical silver, and some holy wafers.

Our writ is to clear out the undead, capture the duke, and stop whatever dark ritual the Vecna-worshippers are trying to perform.

Alexej: "Sounds easy!"

Tavros: "Dark rituals are never easy, but I feel we can handle this."

Mercy: "Actually, they're not that har-- never mind."

The wizard teleports us to Springhollow, and it's a zombie wasteland. What kind of monster would do this? (Leira: "Wight Supremacists.") The wizard points to the arcane vortex swirling up into the clouds from the tower. "I think I can open the force field enough to let you in. But your first priority should be to clear the town and capture the Baron.

Alexej has his cloak on and his broach is upside down. Tavros has cloak and broach, but nothing more.

We approach the keep. We see no lookouts; Tavros rides his warhorse up to the gates and looks inside. The griffins on the roof and the skeletal T-Rexes spot us and approach. Leira sends a fireball at the Griffins. She moves up takes shelter behind Tavros.

Marshall, meanwhile, moves up and considers spells.

Oh hey, now we've got *everything's* attention! The griffins spread out, and one of the zombie horses comes rushing up. We are about to be on the wrong side of a Zerg Rush.

Alexej moves up, but not far enough to do anything.

Tavros' horse freaks out at the skeleton horse, and kicks and bites it. Leira drops a fireball on a big crowd of skeletons, and wipes out all but one of the thirty-two skeletons. Marshall casts a quickened Divine Favor, then attacks the skeleton horse.

One of the T-Rexes charges Tavros, but misses. The zombie horse tries to attack Quicksilver and misses. Another zombie horse moves in, and the griffins are circling around overhead. Fortunately, we're still standing in the gate and there are only so many things that can reach us. The skeletons are piling in to fill the gaps between them. Another squad of skeletons is moving towards us from beside the house. Alexej attacks the zombie horse, and finishes it. Alexej attacks the other zombie horse, but misses.

Tavros and Silver pound on the second zombie horse; Leira fireballs the rhinos. Marshall casts Dominate Animal on the T-Rex, but it manages to resist. The dinosaurs move in, and the first one attacks Marshall, biting him for a ridiculous amount of damage. It attempts to yank Marshall up into the air, and succeeds. The second one attacks Tavros, biting him and lifting him into the air as well. Odds are good that we're both going to get eaten next round.

One of the griffins has circled over the gate and lands behind Leira. The other griffins have settled in atop the guard towers.

Alexej switches over to his scythe, and attacks the griffin, but misses. Tavros prepare to sell his life dearly, and readies an attack for when the beast tries to swallow him.

Lyra chooses this moment to turn invisible, and the griffin looks very confused. She slips behind the griffin.

The Tyrannousaurs swallow Marshall and Tavros; Tavros attacks on his way down the throat, doing some damage. Alexej adds some damage as well.

Tavros cuts his way out of the T-Rex from the inside, and falls at its feet. Leira backs up and throws another fireball, this time at the griffins on top of the towers. Two of them die; the rest are even more singed than they were.

Marshall tries to cut his way out, but doesn't quite make it; he's sitting in stomach acid and being crushed, which isn't doing him any good. The T-Rex over Tavros attacks and misses; the other one heads off with a belly full of Marshall. A zombie horse move in towards Alexej; and one of the griffins moves over him.

Alexej does his Whirlwind attack, damaging a griffin and finishing the zombie horse.

Tavros attacks the T-Rex above him, doing more damage but still not bringing it down. Leira moves back up and drops another fireball, clearing out a squad of skeletons and damaging the Rex with Marshall in its tummy. Marshall tries to cut his way loose, and succeeds; he drops out, and falls on the ground. He attacks again, and slams his scythe into the Rex's Achilles tendon.

The Rex spins around, reaches down, and bites Marshall again. The second one tries for Tavros, but misses. A griffin attacks Alexej and misses; a second griffin attacks and also misses. A skeleton tries to attack Tavros but misses; more are moving in. Alexej is a bloody storm in the center of griffins and skeletal horses, killing two of the griffins.

Tavros attacks from the ground again, doing a huge amount of damage to toes and ankles, and the Rex staggers.

Leira throws more fire, since nothing here is resistant to it, and Tavros' Rex goes down; the zombie horse falls, a big chunk of skeletons fall, and the rhinos survive, but they're scorched and *very* unhappy.

Marshall got bitten again, but manages to throw Hold Animal on the dinosaur and escapes. Marshall comes back to his feet. More griffins attack Alexej, who's a blur of deadly movement; he takes no damage.

The rhinos charge, and one of them connects with Tavros, who takes A LOT of damage. The skeletons move in on Marshall, who goes down.

Alexej does another whirlwind, but only connects with one of his opponents. Tavros decides to use Lay On Hands, and heals himself for some of the damage; Leira drops a fireball on the Rhinoceri, killing all of them. (Tavros is extremely grateful.)

The Rex is still held, Marshall is still out of action, an Griffin attacks Tavros but misses; and none of them manage to damage Alexej. The skeletons start trying to claw through Marshall's heavy armor, but fail.

Alexei continues spinning and attacking, taking out the zombie horse, then tags a griffin, misses another griffin, hits another one but fails to kill it, and misses the last. Tavros charges the paralyzed Rex, and power attacks it but good.

Leira fires off a magic missile at the remaining Rex, adding to the damage. The Rex shakes off Marshall's spell, and Marshall is still out of the fight. The Rex attempts to bite Tavros but fails. The griffins swarm around Alexej, but they all miss him. One of the skeletons damages Marshall, which is... bad. Alexej takes out another griffin.

Tavros desperately attacks the remaining Rex and misses completely; Leira blasts it with Scorching Ray but misses. Fortunately, the T-Rex misses Tavros as well.

The griffins attack Alexej and one of them manages to damage him finally. The skeletons miss Marshall.

Alexej continues his attacks, and tags the first griffin.

Tavros tags the dinosaur and finishes it, then takes out a skeleton. Leira zaps two of the skeletons with Scorching ray. Alexej kills another griffin.

Tavros moves over and stabilizes Marshall. Leira moves away from the griffin and kills two more skeletons. Marshal awakens beside the body of a dead Rex, and destroys the last two skeletons.

The remaining griffin actually manages to connect with Alexej. The griffin snarls at Alexej, who tries to trip it... and succeeds. Four legs are no barrier to Alexej, who attacks it while it's prone and finishes it off.

Thus is the courtyard of the Baron's keep reclaimed... at least for now.