Friday, August 16, 2019

Dungeons and Dating, Part One

Vervor Alstron stopped on the street and turned to face his friends. "You two, stay here," he said bravely.

Elathrin Vuthiniel smirked at him. She was an elf and a wizard, slight and slender and gracefully delicate, and not given to following orders spoken by mere humans. "Nervous, are we?"

Bardren Softspoke, whose fingers had been entwined with hers for the last half-hour, tugged her back. "Easy, my tiger. Let our warrior face this test alone." Bardren was a half-elf and a rogue, but he and Elathrin had fallen for each other almost as soon as they'd met. At times they seemed less like boyfriend and girlfriend and more like co-conspirators; but then, Elathrin's magic had always run to illusions and mischief.

"Terrified," answered Vervor. He was the warrior of the group, taller and heavier than either of his friends. He was also the one who tended to fling himself recklessly into danger. This time, though... no, thinking about it didn't help. Thinking only made the fear worse. I am Vervor Alstron, he reminded himself, slayer of monsters and protector of the innocent. I have nothing to fear!

He wasn't at all sure he believed that, but he shook out his shoulders and crossed the street to the heavy stone wall and the massive iron-bound door. Feeling as if he was stepping off a high cliff, he took hold of the heavy rope that hung down beside the door and pulled on it. Faintly, he could hear the low tolling of a bell on the far side of the wall.

The door creaked slowly open, revealing a massive figure in spiked armor wrought of some dark metal. It held a sword longer than Vervor was tall, and red sparks flickered all along the blade.

Vervor swallowed and asked: "Is Mara here?"

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Never Break A Deal With A Warlock

The rest of the trip to Phandolin was short, but it still left Abdael with too much time for thinking.

I killed him, he thought. He betrayed us, and I killed him.

They'd made a deal with the would-be goblin leader, Yeemik: they would kill the bugbear Klarg, putting Yeemik in charge of the tribe, and in return Yeemik would release Geira, the gnome woman who had originally hired them, and who had stepped in to take the place of her sister Gondul as hostage. But by the time they returned with the news that Klarg was dead, Geira was gone.

It was the smug expression that did it, Abdael decided. Yeemik clearly hadn't expected them to survive a battle with Klarg; he'd been surprised when they returned successfully, but not smart enough to be worried by the fact that they'd returned entirely unscathed. He'd broken their deal, then taunted them with the gnome's absence...

...And Abdael, who had never before thought of himself as a cold-blooded murderer, had found himself in the grip of a fury so profound that he'd loosed a bolt of shadow without so much as thought, staggering the goblin and nearly killing him. And when they'd learned where Geira had been taken and the goblin Gnash had agreed to guide them there, he'd been the one to finish Yeemik off. Coldly. Remorselessly. Utterly without hesitation.

He was... not the sort of person he'd once believed himself to be.

Except... this was not his first time at killing. His first job for the guild had been clearing the rats out of a pillow-maker's shop. And when the goblins had tried to ambush them, he'd cut one down -- a sentient being, thinking and feeling -- without a second thought. So what made this act different?

Well, the rats weren't sentient, so he could dismiss their deaths easily enough. And the goblins had been set to ambush them, so that death seemed like self-defense. And Klarg had been responsible for the ambush of Gondul's wagon and probably a lot of other mayhem, so killing him and his guards honestly had the feel of a public service. And it had been a battle, after all, even if they'd begun with a surprise attack. Yeemik's death, by contrast, had the feel of an execution.

Maybe that was what it was: not necessarily the killing itself, but that Abdael alone had decided that it needed to be done, and then done it. Yeemik, he was sure, would certainly have killed them if given the chance; he had certainly tried to send them to their deaths. The would-be goblin leader had deserved his fate. It was just...

That sudden moment of fury had frightened Abdael, that was definitely part of it. He'd never known that he was capable of wanting to kill someone so badly. And he had acted without consulting anyone else to see if that desire was just, or if it was just what he wanted in the moment. So the weight of the decision was all on him, and that was frightening too. None of the others seemed to think he'd done anything amiss, but... that was a big decision to make on his own, and to some extent he didn't feel that he should have made it on his own. Then, lastly... Yeemik had still been talking to them; the rest of the party had been threatening and cajoling when Abdael blasted him. It felt like they'd still been in a negotiation -- not a battle -- and that, too, was part of what troubled him.

I think it was the right decision. Abdael was still troubled, but beginning to feel a little better. There were lives at stake, after all: Geira's, Gondul's, and theirs. Possibly even Gnash's, if his tribesfolk thought him a traitor. It hadn't been a battle, but Yeemik had very clearly showed himself to be an enemy -- and a betrayer. Abdael still didn't like to think of himself as the sort of person who would just... decide to kill someone, as he'd done... but in this case it did seem to be justified.

He'd have to be careful, though. He'd become an adventurer to learn more about his shadow and the mysterious patron that had placed it inside him, and in the process he -- and his shadow -- were clearly becoming more powerful. The stronger he grew, the more tempting it would be to make exactly these sorts of judgements on his own, and the easier it would be to become a monster, a villain. He'd have to make sure he stayed with the sort of people who would keep him in check, who would make him want to reach for mercy instead of murder, who would prefer compassion to contempt.

People like the ones around him now, it seemed.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Challenge: Books I Read In School And Didn't Like

Right, so, the usual bit of context: Weekly Blogging Challenge over at Long and Short Reviews. Hit their homepage to see the current week's responses, and add a link to your own if you're so inclined.

This week's challenge is Books I Had To Read In School And Didn't Like.

There really weren't a lot of these, but then I went to an unusual school. Unusual how? Well...

All right, an example: in ninth grade, we were due to read The Scarlet Pimpernel. I'd found a copy of it in my desk the previous year, so I'd read it already. So instead... they gave me The Name of the Rose, with the condition that I had to translate the Latin. (No easy trick in those pre-Google days; I was doing pretty well until I hit a passage that I just could not parse... because, as it turns out, it was in Old High German. But I digress...)

So, yeah: a lot of books, not many I didn't like. But I will note that there is a very distinct genre of Books I Read In School that seemed design less to teach us the joys of reading or the beauties of literature, and more as an exercise in sadism. And for that, I need to send you over to the Secret Cabal's guide to Traumatizing Children With Literature.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Boys DnD: There are TWO!?

So, at the end of the last game the party had fought off a griffin, then gotten distracted by one character's obsession with freeing the Gnome Saboteur and claiming him as a pet.

OOC, I had offered this player the chance to drop his character Kaz, a human monk who was raised by wolves, and create an entirely new one. In character, Kaz would have gone running off into the woods and become a gnome collector, and probably would have resurfaced eventually as the sort of threat that the party had to defeat. As it is, the gnome himself - who was using the name Jou - has vanished into the woods and will probably show up in future games, still working for House Bri'yann.

But Kaz's player had a change of heart during the week, and decided that he'd keep Kaz and make up with the rest of the party, which he pretty much did. So Kaz managed to master this strange madness, made his apologies, and stayed to help the group deal with the griffon issue.

So, the first thing they did was start moving the horses into the dining tent at night. This may not seem like the most sanitary idea ever devised (and it did cause some logistical issues) but it also kept the remaining two horses from being eaten. Meanwhile, the party kept watch outside at night, and once they thought they saw a griffin up in the sky, but nothing approached the camp.

So, after two days, they hiked to the nearby cliffs and went looking for the griffon's nest.

Climbing up was done in stages -- the cliff was not sheer, but it was reasonably steep -- with the Monk and the Halfling Rogue going first and then lowering a rope to help the others climb up behind them. Everybody made it to the top with no issues (three Athletics checks for everybody, with somewhat more difficulty for the monk and rogue).

The top of the cliff turned out to be a narrow but reasonably-flat but narrow ridge, extending the along one side of the valley. Since they do not see any griffons, they start walking along the top of the ridge.

About noon, the monk spots a ledge a little further down the cliff, on the side facing the camp. A moment later a griffin comes flying off the ledge, and everybody sees that. The group opens strong, with a series of missile attacks damaging the already-damaged griffon. Then a second griffon joins the fray, and there's a brief moment of freaking out. The group does finally rally and manages to take the second griffon down as well.

Investigating the nest, they discover a pair of griffon eggs and promptly claim them, with an eye towards eventually raising the griffons and using them as mounts.

The adventure is complete; everybody levels up.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Darvinin: Who Guards The Guardians?

"Are you all right?" asked Mistra. "You look worried."

Darvinin made himself smile, though even with Mistra looking into his eyes he only half-felt it. "Just thinking," he said.

"It must be something serious, then." Mistra was a common elf, but an excellent tracker and a truly amazing archer; and she'd studied enough wizardry to commiserate when Darvinin complained about the vicissitudes of his studies. He wasn't sure exactly when she'd chosen him or how it had happened, but they'd been lovers since his second week in the King's Guard.

"It's my younger brother," Darvinin answered absently, looking her over: the slender athleticism of an elvish warrior, the shirt of polished chainmail, the rapier at her hip, the bow across her back. Her features were angular even for an elf, her eyes wide and dark against pale skin framed by soft, nearly-white hair.

"You have a brother?" Mistra sounded surprised, but then he'd never mentioned Ruin to her. He hadn't much spoken of his family at all.

"My twin," said Darvinin. "He was supposed to be traveling with our mother to seek alliance with the dwarves, but I've just had word that he went to Annun instead, and then to a place called Brindinford just outside the city. He's with some family friends, so he must have a reason... but if he abandoned the embassy to the dwarves, it's because he was asked to do something important and probably dangerous." He paused. "So yes, I suppose I'm worried."

He glanced past Mistra, saw another guard, and waved; Mistra, her attention on him, mimicked the gesture absently. "What do you think he's doing?" she asked.

Darvinin's arm shot out and gripped her by the throat. "Who are you, really?"

Mistra caught his wrist and pried his hand away, showing undamaged flesh where his fingers had been squeezing in. "A bit too sharp for you own good," she said. "That's too bad. I'll have to be you next."

The figure jerked suddenly as an arrow slammed into its lower back. Across the small courtyard, Mistra -- the true Mistra -- drew another arrow and loosed it, sinking it into the impostor's shoulder. "Oh, you are both going to regret that," the impostor said. She reached for Darvinin again, but he had stepped back and drawn the double-bladed scimitar from his back.

"It was a good likeness," he said. "You even had most of the mannerisms. But that thing on your back is not Mistra's bow."

Behind the impostor, Mistra whistled sharply and the courtyard began to fill with the King's Guards.

"I should have known," the impostor said, drawing her rapier and attacking. Darvinin parried and stepped back, parried and stepped back again. "I should have known, but you True Elves are so damnably hard to read!" She sounded aggrieved.

More arrows slammed into its back, and Darvinin spun the double scimitar through a side-to-side windmill motion, opening wounds on her shoulder and chest. She turned then, and darted for the wall of the courtyard; but Darvinin cut her across the back, and more arrows caught her. She tumbled, spasmed...

...And changed.

Elvish flesh gave way to something pale, lanky, and almost featureless. The skin had a grayish tinge, and the eyes were large and completely white -- whether naturally, or from death, Darvinin wasn't sure. The body was long, and looked clumsy where it sprawled on the dirt -- very much at odds with the strength and speed it had displayed. Doppleganger, he realized. Trying to infiltrate the King's Guard. He'd been very, very lucky.

"Are you injured?" Mistra had stopped beside him, bow still in her hand.

Darvinin shook his head. "It didn't touch me."

"Are you you?"

He half-chuckled, half-coughed. "Ye gods, I hope so." He looked around at the half-dozen other guards, all going off shift just as he was, who had joined them in the garden. "We're going to have to check everyone. I just hope these things show up when we look for magic."

Darvinin was originally conceived as a Duskblade: a warrior capable of casting some arcane spells and combining them with his combat abilities. That class comes from the DnD 3.5 Player's Handbook II, though, which we aren't using in this campaign. And unfortunately, there aren't a lot of other good ways to play this basic character concept using a Core-only build. I could recast him as an Eldritch Knight, but that build ends with him being able to cast 9th level spells and also having a solid melee attack bonus -- viable, but overall weaker than other builds at the same level, and more importantly the emphasis is wrong for this character concept: this is a full mage who knows how to use a sword, not a swordsman who knows some arcane spells. Alternatively, you could build him essentially as a bard -- if you swapped out all the songs and bardic knowledge for a full attack bonus progression, better hit points, and access to the sorcerer's spell list instead of the bard's. The other alternative is to play him as a straight fighter/wizard, which gives him some versatility but leaves him underpowered against higher-level enemies. So as much as I like Darvinin, I don't think there's any way to make a playable build for him in the current campaign.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Warlock For Hire

The public room was nearly empty at this time of day, and of the half-dozen people inside only one was a gnome: a young-seeming woman, sitting alone at a table with a book in one hand, a quill in the other, an ink-well beside her on the table, and a large smear of ink across the bridge of her nose. That had to be the one he was looking for.

He crossed the room and took a seat across from her, putting them at roughly the same height. "Geira Rockseeker?"

"Oh? Yes-yes, that's me. I am she. I'm Geira."

She was still studying him as he replied, "Abdael Nightflower, warlock for hire. You were the one who posted the job offer at the guildhouse?"

"Yes!" He wasn't immediately sure if she was excited or surprised or both, but either way she was energetic. "Are you looking for work? As a guard?"

"To be honest, I'm looking for work in general."

"But... you said you were a warlock?"

"I know," replied the half-elf. "It surprised me too."

"It's just... you're wearing a sword. And I'm pretty sure that's a chain shirt under your cloaky-poncho-thing."

"It is."

Geira looked puzzled, but not displeased. "I thought warlocks mostly cast spells in the service of dark forces beyond the comprehension of mere mortals."

"Yes, well..." Abdael hesitated, then grinned. In for a copper, in for a gold... "Of all the dark and incomprehensible forces that control my life, the need to find work so I can continue to eat food and pay for lodging is among the most ominous and demanding."

Geira giggled. "Well, we're paying as much as we can."

"If it helps," Abdael added, "I really can fight with the sword -- at least, once my shadow has embraced it. But I can also cast spells, and if I remember to look I can tell when there's magic around."

"Oh, that'll be useful!" Geira looked excited. "You're hired! Twenty-five gold to escort me and my cart back to Thandalin, and more if you decide stay around and help us with some projects afterwards." She leaned forward conspiratorially, and Abdael found himself leaning in under the sheer force of her enthusiasm. "You were going to be hired anyway," she told him. "We've had a little trouble finding adventurers willing to work a small job with a lot of travel like this." She looked around as if she were about to reveal a big secret, then added: "I've only found two other guards so far. I'm hoping we can find one more before we leave tomorrow."

Three guards seemed like plenty for a gnome with a single cart traveling along established roads in a relatively civilized area of the Sword Coast, but Abdael didn't say so. Perhaps she was just being cautious, or perhaps she had some special reason to worry; either way, it was his good fortune to find paying work.

A pair of dwarves at a nearby table suddenly fell silent, looking towards the entrance, and Abdael twisted around in his seat. A small figure, brilliantly colored, stood just inside the door, looking around the room just as he had. For a moment Abdael thought he was looking at an over-large bird, but no: the figure was a winged humanoid, covered in feathers. It stilled, looking at their table, then cocked its head.

"...I think you may be in luck," said Abdael, then rose and stepped back to make way for the newcomer. Aarakocra, he remembered at last. There was a race of bird-folk called Aarakocra, though his reading had made them sound larger and not so brightly colored; but then, given the variety of colors found in the skin and hair of humans and elves, he supposed he shouldn't be surprised if different groups of Aarakocra had different plumage as well. The city of Neverwinter had proven itself a constant education.

He ordered a drink at the bar, then stood and sipped it as he watched to make sure the newcomer was friendly. He was, after all, Geira's guard now, even if he wasn't officially on duty just yet. It wouldn't take long to gather his adventuring gear -- which was about four-fifths of everything he owned -- from his single room, and close things out with the proprietor. He'd have to store the rest of his things in the guild hall and find another room when he returned, but that was fine; his current room was tiny and seemed to grow dirty every time he left it. Abdael wouldn't miss it at all.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Missing: A Poem

My wife left the house
to get two things
some silicon tape
some toilet paper

The silicon tape-
-it comes from Home Depot

But we get the toilet paper-
-at Target

I do not know
How long
She has been gone

An hour?
A day?
A week?
(I miss her)

I feel certain
That she still lives

But time
Does strange things
Inside Target

Thursday, August 8, 2019

At last, we find the raiders!

At the end of the last game, the two priests of Artemis were dead, and Azrael and the human necromancer Wendy were going at it (enthusiastically) in her house. His sister Martini, of course, is perfectly appalled by this development, and therefore murderous. However, she still has her sense of priorities: with the priests dead, it's definitely time to search the temple and check for any secret passages leading into underground caverns where the human raiders might be hiding.

Unfortunately, Damian the Ranger shows up before we can start on that, demanding to know what the hell just happened here. Ruin explains that he thinks Wendy raised a giant skeleton, and the priests tried to stop her, and things got out of hand... which is true enough that he doesn't have to make a bluff check, fortunately. Martini then bluffs (successfully) that we're here because we're looking for Azrael, and after a bit of discussion the ranger sends his very large wolf with Reverend Mercy to check out Wendy's house while Damian remains here to help us search the temple. (He was one of the ones who told us he thought the priests were up to something.) Meanwhile, Mercy (the snake-worshiper) has spotted the naga skull on the altar, so he no longer has any regrets at all about the death of the priests. Ruin is less sanguine about it, but since he wasn't directly involved he isn't feeling personally guilty and he's withholding judgement on Azrael and Wendy until we see what secrets the temple holds.

Over at Wendy's house, Marshall Mercy casts Dominate Animal on the wolf, and informs the young lovers that they need to wrap it up, and also that perhaps they should have wrapped it up before they started. They are... not easy to convince.

The bodies of the priests yield some treasure: a +1 Cloak of Resistance, which Damian the NPC Ranger promptly claims; +1 plate mail, another +1 cloak of resistance, and a +2 periapt of wisdom, which we will eventually sell off for 1,200 gold. There's another 19 GP on the altar beside the naga skull, but not much else upstairs.

Downstairs, we search the chests in the bedroom but mainly find clothes and personal effects though we do add another 35 GP to our haul. We also grab the illuminated manuscript describing the glories and worship of Artemis, heretical though they might be. Searching the basement reveals no secret doors, no hidden human raiders, and really nothing but a one-room brewery and some kegs of beer. At this point we head out to the graveyard and do some poking around inside its walls, adding another 20 GP and 17 SP, but otherwise finding nothing useful... until we reach the small chamber in the back corner of the graveyard.

Mercy is still trying to get Azrael and Wendy to stop boinking, and it's still not working. As they're finishing their third... inning... he finally threatens to turn the undead in the room, and commands the wolf to rip Azrael's zombie into shreds; it does. That breaks the mood at last. Wendy gets out of bed, and goes to get her stuff because Mercy is insisting that she has to leave town, right now, for her own safety. She asks if she heard right and there really are whole villages full of dead elves nearby, and Mercy allows as how this is so. She heads downstairs, and returns with a pack and a small zombie in an absolutely amazing leather outfit. Leading her undead, she heads out into the woods. Azrael, of course, is asleep on the bed.

Mercy begins roughly searching the house, finding 24 platinum pieces (which he takes for himself) but not much else -- and no secret doors.

Bock to the temple:
There's a rather elaborate coffin in the small chamber at the back of the cemetery. Ruin uses a shovel to pry it open (and here I'll note that none of my characters should ever open coffins in this campaign, with the possible exception of Durest the necromatic cleric). A mummy emerges, ancient and terrifying, and Martini is paralyzed with fear.

Ruin is not, and he immediately attacks it with his sword. Damian manages to shake off the effect as well, and attacks with the elvish double-scimitar. After an initial strike to make sure he can hit it, Ruin begins Power Attacking in the hope of taking it down before anything worse happens. He's doing it some real damage, so naturally it targets him, and before long he's down and infected with mummy rot. Martini has recovered by this point, and manages to pour a potion of healing down his throat while Damian is keeping it distracted and doing some minor damage. Ruin stands up and does more damage, but gets beaten down again; fortunately, Azrael and Reverend Mercy arrive at this point, and shortly afterwards Mercy hits it with Searing Light.

It turns out that mummies really, really hate Searing Light. Or they would, if they survived long enough to appreciate just how much damage it had done to them.

So with the mummy dead, we search the room, and find absolutely no hidden doors leading down to secret caverns. Then we search the coffin, and lo: a bolt of Cloth of Platinum worth 1,900 GP and a type 4 Bag of Holding which we're definitely going to be using.

By now the mummy rot is taking effect, and Ruin staggers down to the basement of the temple, climbs into the top bunk, and collapses. Martini heads over to Wendy's house to check for secret doors (and doesn't find any) and also to kill any Wendies on the premises (ditto). Wendy's basement is a kinky, kinky mess, but she's gone and she wasn't harboring any human raiders.

So, what to do now? Ruin and Mercy commandeer a cart and a horse and head back to Brindinford, intent on buying some wands of Cure Light Wounds and some poison for the remaining beer, and possibly also some disease-curing for Ruin. Damian the ranger heads back to his house with a casual "Let me know when you find the humans" tossed over his shoulder, and Azrael and Martini head back to the bar. The owners are cowering in their quarters upstairs, but Martini talks them out and business resumes.

Once out of hiding, Brairin and Failil insist that it's vital to hold burial rites for the two dead priests. They drag Martini and Azrael back to the graveyard, and hand Azrael a shovel which he uses to predictable effect. They put the two bodies into a single grave (married, after all), and Martini fakes her way through a eulogy with a bit of help from the manuscript we found earlier.

As the funeral is winding to its close, the giant skeleton (Blarg) appears and beckons to Azrael. He tries to slip out unseen, but Martini is having none of that. So the skeleton reaches down, plucks him up and carries him off into the woods. ("Oh! My! Help! Whatever shall I do?")

Martini: "My brother has been kidnapped! We must find this human wizard and end her!"
Also Martini: "Let's just head back to the bar and have a drink to mourn his passing. Or whatever. Idiot."

Later on, at the bar: Orek, one of the leaders of the human raiders, has shown up to buy a keg of beer. Ruin and Mercy are still on the road, so there's nothing to poison it with, so Martini takes careful note of him but does nothing. Brairin, following her cues, says that his supplier is late and that he won't have another keg of the porter until at least tomorrow night. Orek grumbles, but heads back to wherever he came from.

Another new arrival at the bar is Colver, one of the elves who lives in this tiny (and rapidly dwindling) town. Colver's wife Cada disappeared a few weeks ago, and he is both grieving for her and just generally old and cranky about everyone... well, everyone except Martini. She offers to have her companion scry for the missing wife as soon as he returns, and Colver is overjoyed... in a creepy, meanwhile-he-should-hit-on-Martini sort of way. Azrael could have warned him that Martini tends to break up with her boyfriends by assassinating them, and those are boys she actually likes, but Azrael is off making the undead Beast With Two Backs in the woods and so nobody is there to warn the pervy old elf-guy.

So Martini walks him home, lets him pass out on the bed, and thoroughly searches his house -- finding no secret doors, but some evidence that all his wife's stuff has been taken down and stored away, as if he can't bear to look at it any longer. Martini heads back to the temple and sleeps.

The following evening, Colver's back at the bar, being friendly and creepy. This time a different human shows up: still clearly part of Los Muertos, but much better dressed than the last guy. He introduces himself as Peter Tanglebush, takes a looooong look at Martini, and starts talking about how elven maidens just don't know how good it can be with a human. He wants the keg of porter, but we're saving that for the poison; instead, for his twenty gold, he gets a keg of the Amber Ale which Brairin will probably have to explain later as a truly unfortunate mistake. He picks it up, sets it on his shoulder, and strides off into the night.

Martini follows. From the direction, it looks like either he's headed towards Lotharian's house at the top of the hill, or maybe the waterfall... but he notices Martini, and stops. He doesn't want to be followed, and shoos Martini away. Martini starts back towards the bar, but ducks into Wendy's house and watches through the window as he picks the keg back up and walks over... to a secret door in the hillside that none of us had spotted. So now Martini knows where the humans are hiding, and that their base is right under Lotharian's house.

By this time, Ruin and Reverend Mercy have reached Brindinford. Mercy has had a chance to sleep and pray for new spells, and he heals Ruin of the mummy rot; at this point, as far as Ruin is concerned Mercy is a round-eared elf -- a little crazy, maybe, but who isn't? Ruin's big on loyalty, and Mercy for all his quirks has consistently come through for his companions.

The Baron welcomes them back, expresses his gratitude again (not just for killing the mind flayer, but also for, y'know, not just killing the Baron himself and looting his treasury). He helps facilitate our purchases: a pair of Cure Light Wounds wands that Ruin pays for out of the party treasure (costing 1,500 gold for the pair), and another pair of Cure Light Wounds wands and one Cure Moderate Wounds wand which Mercy pays for out of his own funds, mainly the platinum pieces he collected from Wendy's house earlier. Then they ask the Baron about poison...

The Baron has no access to that, but there are certain business that he... doesn't shut down, because as long as they operate he can monitor the things they deal in. So he sends them off to a supplier, with a message: it's half price, or you will be shut down and things will get really unpleasant. We end up buying another 1,500 GP worth of Dark Reaver Powder (good for weakening strength and health and enough to poison a whole cask of ale).

Back in Serpent's Head, the "newcomer" elf Lotharian has shown up at the bar. He's an old man, and pretty quiet, but Martini spots him and strikes up a conversation. It turns out that he used to live in Mellicure and still has family there, though he left many years back. Mellicure, curiously, is the only other nearby settlement that hasn't been sacked. He's a bit suspiciious of Martini, probably just because she's being friendly and asking questions, and because he's old and jaded. He mentions in passing that Martini reminds him of that human girl, Wendy, but Martini masters her temper and manages not to kill him. He also insists that there are no humans hanging around; when Martini points out that she saw one just last night, he coughs and admits that there might be a few out in the forest.

Martini heads back to the temple and trances, and in the morning Reverend Mercy and Ruin return. Azrael shows up too, having apparently hiked back to town following his wild three-day goth sex binge. Martini regards him with disdain.

First up: poisoned porter. Mercy drops the entire supply of Dark Reaver Powder into the barrel, and we carry it over to the tavern. Martini brings everybody up to speed on developments in the village, then brings them along for her brunch with Colver. Mercy fakes casting scrying (which he didn't actually have prepared) but one of his snakes points unmistakably towards the pond in the center of the village. Brunch goes quickly: the food is good, the assassination is fast and quiet, and Martini throws Culver's body in the pond, presumably to rejoin his missing wife.

That evening, Orek shows up to collect a barrel of porter, and Brairin (with many apologies for the previous night's mix-up) hands him the poisoned barrel. Orek carries it back to the hidden door, but since we already know where that is nobody gives themselves away by following him. We just wait...

So next session should pick up when we've given the humans a decent chance to poison themselves, and we can move in to (hopefully) finish them off.

Party Treasure adjustments for Azrael's Player:

We've added:
-1,200 GP worth of stuff from the clerics
-19 GP from the altar
-35 GP from the bedroom in the temple
-20 GP and 17 SP from the graveyard
-Cloth of Platinum worth 1,900 GP
-Type 4 Bag of Holding that probably should go on somebody's inventory.

We spent:
-1,500 GP for Ruin's pair of CLW wands
-1,500 GP for the poison

...So if I can still do maths in my head, we came out of the session 174 gp and 17 SP to the good.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Blogging Challenged: Loved but Unreviewed

Right, so, the usual bit of context: Weekly Blogging Challenge over at Long and Short Reviews. Hit their homepage to see the current week's responses, and add a link to your own if you're so inclined.

This week's challenge is "Books I loved but never wrote reviews for".

Y'all, I have a confession to make.

I don't write reviews. I've made recommendations here on the Blog o' Doom and even on Facebook and Twitter, but I don't write reviews on Amazon or Goodreads or Barnes & Noble. To be honest, I'm not even entirely certain why. It's something about the format, I think. I'm just not comfortable writing there. And I feel somewhat guilty about that, because I know that reviews (even bad ones) are really critical for authors, and especially so for authors without a big promotional push behind them.

So, books that I loved but never wrote reviews for? That's... that's all of them.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Boys DnD: Gnome, Gryphons, and Close Calls

In their last game, the party discovered that the gnome quartermaster Jou was actually a spy and saboteur working for House Bri'yann, the most powerful of the Houses in Roslof. (This also gave them some suspicions about the bandits that attacked them earlier.) The gnome had his hands bound, and was taken to the tent of Bobilis, the fellow in charge of the overall expedition. It was, at this point, half an hour or so shy of midnight.

This was the point at which Kaz, the human monk, decided on a plan and called Shadow, the dark elf rogue, over to help him. His plan was that he would make a distraction, at which point Shadow could sneak into the tent and...

"Kill him!" finished Shadow. "Brilliant!"

"What? NO!" Kaz wanted to scare the gnome into helping them. He wanted Shadow to go in there, hold a knife to the gnome's throat, and explain to him that if he'd help them and be their friend, they'd cut him loose.

Shadow pointed out that there was no way they could believe anything the gnome said, and that he should just kill him.

Kaz agreed that if the gnome betrayed them later, Shadow could kill him, but right now he wanted the gnome set free.

"You know he's going to betray us," Shadow told him. "Save us time if we just kill him now."

The dragonborn sorcerer, who's been listening in on this from the edge of the small meadow and slowly easing closer, chose this moment to slap Kaz in the back of the head with Mage Hand. Kaz spun around but only caught barest glimpse of the fading hand as Toruv released the spell.

"Fine," agreed Shadow. "I'll slip in there and... cut the gnome loose for you... and definitely not just kill him and get it over with."

Kaz was starting to look around for some way to cause a distraction when Toruv used a combination of Fire Bolt and Control Flame to draw a line of fire on the ground between Kaz and Shadow and the tent.

That was when they heard a terrible hunting shriek and something large fell out of the night sky towards the horses. It was a griffon, and it had come in search of food -- and it was only at the last minute that it realized that the horse it had picked at random had an armored mousefolk cleric on its back. It shifted to attack them instead, missing with a beak and one claw but doing some real damage with the other claw.

Kaz immediately charged it and got in a lucky hit, ramming his sword into its flank. The sorcerer moved up and tried his breath weapon, but only scorched the beast's shoulder a bit. Shadow raced to one of the unoccupied horses, leapt onto its back, and slapped its flank hard. Barrith, the halfling rogue, had been sensibly hiding in a tree; he took a shot with his longbow, but missed. Aspen the mousefolk cleric took a swing with their longsword, but also missed. Several members of the logging camp looked out of their tents at the sounds of this new commotion, but nobody actually came out.

The griffon tried again, attacking with claws and beak; the beak missed the cleric, but it managed to sink its claws into the horse preparatory to trying to carry it off.

Kaz attacked again, missing with his sword but landing a lucky punch to the griffon's wing. I ruled that the beast crashed lurched sideways and crashed to the ground; a failed Strength check on the griffon's part indicated that lost its hold on the horse instead of pulling the horse down with it.

The dragonborn sorcerer took advantage of this opportunity, and emptied an Alchemy Jar's worth of acid over the griffon's other wing and shoulder. At this point, the horse that Shadow had jumped on took off at a gallop and lost itself in the woods, taking the rogue with it. The third horse, unmounted, also spooked and took off, but in a different direction. It plowed through the tent of Bobilis, the head of the expedition, collapsing the tent and trapping Bobilis and the gnome saboteur Jou inside. Then it, too, disappeared into the woods. Aspen and Barrith attacked again, but both missed.

At this point the griffon shrugged back up to its feet, extended its wings, and with huge, powerful sweeps propelled itself into the air and away towards safety. The attack was over, and fate of the missing horses was no longer a mystery. The dragonborn sorcerer, after a few moments of thought (while, OOC, we had lunch) suggested that the horses would probably be pretty safe if we kept them in some sort of tent or pavilion at night -- anything that kept them out of sight of the griffon.

However, we still had a minor problem: Kaz, and his full-blown obsession with obtaining a pet gnome. Toruv the sorcerer went to the front of Bobilus' tent and lifted it up, then stuck his quartertaff in to hold the thing top up. Bobilis came spluttering and staggering out, grateful to be free again. Kaz, meanwhile, had gone around to the back of the tent and cut a large hole in it, so he could sneak in and grab the gnome.

Barrith the halfling rogue, realizing what Kaz was up to, raced in the front of the tent and started pulling the gnome out in what looked like a heroic rescue attempt and sort of was. Kaz jumped on Barrith, and Toruv stepped in a moment later -- first to grab the gnome himself, and then to try to restrain the monk after Kaz threw a dart at him.

While the three of them were struggling, the gnome shrugged out of the ropes that had been holding him and sprinted out through the hole in the back of the tent, where he promptly disappeared into the woods. By the time Kaz got loose and tried to chase after him, he was gnomewhere to be found.

I'm not honestly sure how this is going to affect the game. The players for Toruv and Barrith were exasperated but also amused; nobody was actually angry, including the monk's player. However, Jou the Saboteur Gnome, who was meant to be a throw-away villain, is almost certainly going to be a recurring character now. Moreover, Kaz the Monk's player was talking about having Kaz take off into the woods to hunt for the gnomes. So, as DM, I explained that if he really wanted to have Kaz do that, he could put together a new character and Kaz would become an NPC -- and at some point in the future Kaz would probably come bursting out of the bushes yelling things like, "Have you seen that gnome!? He has to be here somewhere!" The player would be welcome to build a new, less crazy character at the same level as the current PCs and equipped with a magic item equivalent to theirs. The player smiled and suggested that he could play a barbarian, which... might not be any less crazy, but it seems likely that we'll see.

So, I mean, it's fair to say that Things Took A Turn, but I'm not as surprised by that a I might be. The player's father runs and plays in various campaigns where things like having a pet gnome (well, a servant, or an adopted orphan, or what-have-you) actually do happen, so I think some of this came from that background. Some of it also, I think, was a perfectly natural eleven-year-old's desire to drive the other players slightly crazy.

In any case, despite the intra-party gnome dispute, everybody seemed to have fun. As long as that remains the case, I do my best to roll with it.

The Goth Poem of Azrael's Sadness and Loss

Some of you may be wondering just what poem Azrael composed that so impressed the human necromancer. Well, he has deigned to share it with us, even knowing that we can't really appreciate it and will never truly understand him. Naturally, it can only be posted at midnight, and is best read by the light of a single, lonely candle flame.

Monday, August 5, 2019

To raid the Raiders!

We cut off kind of abruptly last session, so we'd freed the Baron but not really decided on what we were going to do next. I thought we were going to head back and report to the High Provost, but... Azrael and Martini were of the opinion that it was our job to finish cleaning things up, which meant going after the human raiding force instead. Reverend Mercy was of the opinion that this would be a good way to demonstrate the power of Artem-hiss, and Ruin (being Ruin) was easy to pursuade on this. Human killing elves? Sure, he'll go help kill them.

So they head south, in the direction where they've been told the raiders are. On the way, they encounter a pair of refugees. The woman is vocally of the opinion that Reverend Mercy has no place here, and continues on past us. The man stops and explains that they've just come from a small hamlet called Stalion, and they're fleeing because the place was attacked by humans. A bit of questioning reveals that these were probably human soldiers, more than ten but less than one hundred. Which is more than we knew before, so...

We approach Stalion cautiously, sending the wizard's familiar ahead to scout, and find that the town has been sacked: buildings partly or completely burned, bodies lying in the street, and one dead human just outside of town. We check him first, and it looks like he's been killed by one of the Elvish double-scimitars. He's also been stripped of armor, but there's a masterwork greatsword behind him and a masterwork composite longbow lying nearby... which is not only pretty good loot, it's an ominous indicator that these guys are pretty well equipped. No bandits here; this is an organized professional fighting force.

Mercy decides to ask the dead guy a few questions, so he picks up the body and goes looking for someplace where he can perform his ritual undisturbed. (The actual spell can be cast quite quickly, but that's not how things are done where Mercy is concerned.) So we approach the nearest intact house, and get all the way to the front door before something clunks inside and somebody says, "Uh-oh."

So now we're fighting a quarto of raiders who have either stayed in the hamlet to loot things, or have come back for more looting. We make relatively short work of them, with Azrael the wizard blinding two of them and debuffing the others; he does no actual physical damage, but makes it easy for the rest of us. When we get down to the last one, Ruin calls for his surrender and he replies with, "Los Muertos never surrender!" He then promptly gets killed.

Usually in combat, at least somebody gets taken out without actually dying; they're bleeding out and unable to fight, but not actually dead yet and Marshall Mercy can heal them back up to minimal health and question them. Not this time. We killed these guys a little too thoroughly for that. So, we're back to waiting for Marshall Mercy to perform this elaborate ritual with snakes and candles and speaking in tongues, and finally the dead raider's ghost appears and Mercy asks it the three questions that the spell permits him:
-Who is their master? "King Luc III our master."
-Why were they sent to Duendewood? "To scare the elves and put them in their place."
-How many of you are there? "Six squads and two commanders."

Azrael and Martini are from this area; Azrael knows of two nearby settlements, Shien-lo and Mellicure. Shien-lo isn't too far away, and it looks like the soldiers came from that direction. We decide to sleep in the house (after tossing the corpses outside) and depart for Shien-lo in the morning.

On watch, Martini hears someone moving around outside and cracks open the shutters on the window. The figure she sees looks elvish, so she calls out in that language, and he answers.

The elf's name is Jerro, and he's tremendously relieved when Martini introduces herself as a member of the Duentlethar family since clearly that means we've brought an army to destroy these humans. He gives us a bit more information about the raiders: they've already sacked Shien-lo. They attack and then they disappear; the scouts can't find them. Their tracks lead all the way to the hamlet of Serpent's Head, but they vanish there. Martini sends him off to Brindinford, and in the morning we head for Shien-lo.

It isn't far, and it's just as devastated as Stalion was. But there's another refugee, Trendel, who falls in love with Martini on the spot and tells us that the humans killed nearly everyone here about two days ago. There are six squads of eight guys (missing a few now, Ruin observes) and two boss guys. He thinks they came from Serpent's Head and Thonkra. Martini leaves him unconscious inside a house, with a note thanking him for the amazing sex and advising him to head to Brindinford. So far, nobody has actually managed to send word to the High Provost to send reinforcements, though we've talked about it a lot. We head on.

Thonkra's a ruin, too.

Serpent's Head, on the other hand, is mysteriously untouched... despite the fact that the tracks of these forty-someodd humans lead straight into town. There's a number of houses with paths in between them, a small temple with a priest shaking out a rug in front, and nothing that really looks out of place -- which seems really out of place.

So Reverend Mercy pulls on a uniform that we took from one of the dead raiders, and staggers into town pretending to be badly wounded. He is startled to discover that the temple is devoted to Artemis, in the mistaken view of her as the mistress of the hunt and not her proper role as the goddess of snakes, but he staggers towards the elf cleric... who starts to move to help, then realizes that Mercy isn't actually bleeding. Mercy says he needs to get to the others, and the cleric swears he saw "some of you guys" running through the town late last night. At this news, Mercy suffers and attack of the vapors, collapses dramatically, and goes to sleep on the spot. (He can do that.)

By the time the owl familiar reports back and the rest of us move into town, Reverend Mercy is nowhere to be seen.

Ruin sees somebody in the window of the house nearest the temple, but the moment he tries to speak to her she slams the shutters and disappears. Undiscouraged, Ruin proceeds to the temple and knocks on the door.

The priests of Artemis are Mira and Silver. We explain a bit of what's going on, including our "crazy human companion" and why he showed up in the uniform, and the fact that the humans in that uniform appear to be the ones raiding nearby settlements. They think we should talk to Damian, a ranger who lives nearby. If anybody's hiding something, it's Damian.

Mercy, meanwhile, wakes up on a bed in a room in the basement, and sets out to explore. He immediately discovers that the room next door is a brewery, and begins sampling the beers.

Upstairs, the priestess is showing Azrael the Wizard the naga skull that they keep on the altar, and explaining about how it was slain by the hand of Artemis herself, and how this is where people traditional make offerings -- a hint that Azrael is absolutely oblivious too. She also mentions, in passing, that Azrael reminds them of their neighbor Wendy. She also thinks that Brarima and Falail at the tavern might know about anything odd going on in town.

So this time we send Azrael up to the door of the house nearest the temple, while everybody else hangs back. Wendy opens the slot on her door very slowly, looks Azrael over, and then points out that she lives alone because she dislikes people. Azrael knows exactly what she means.

At this point, Reverend Mercy decided to Turn Undead just to make sure neither of them were vampires. This... didn't go as expected; it caused a lot of crashing and banging further back in the house. He just... turned her servitors. "How could you?" she cries, slams the slot on the door closed, and is gone. From behind the door Azrael can hear her baby-talking her pets. Marshall Mercy has just cock-blocked a fellow party member by turning undead, something I've never heard of in all my years of DnD. Azrael decides that he must... write a poem.

Mercy, meanwhile, is shocked and appalled at having done this to one of his companions, and immediately retreats to the woods to find a quiet place to rest. Ruin, Azrael, and Martini proceed to the ranger's house and find it guarded by a large wolf; Ruin stays to try to talk to the ranger while the brother and sister move on to the tavern and meet Brarin and Falail.

(Azrael, aside, to his sister: "Amber Ale? That sounds like one of your friends, Martini.")

The tavernkeeper Falail admits that they've had some human swordsmen buying booze late at night. She's convinced that Silver and Mira (the clerics) are hiding something. She and Brarin also think Wendy is strange.

Meanwhile, Ruin has managed to get the attention of the ranger Damian, who (probably not coincidentally) wears one of the elvish double-scimitars on his back. Damian is convinced that the human raiders have something to do with Wendy. Asked where they could possibly be hiding, he says that there are caverns all through this area, and plenty of people have basement entrances to the cave system. He and Ruin chat a bit, and make a deal that whoever finds the human raiders will let the other one kill them. Or will kill them himself. Or they'll do it together. So long as the raiders end up dead, it's all good.

Back at the tavern, Brarin mentions that he thinks maybe there's a passageway down to the caverns in the graveyard. Martini, meanwhile, tries to convince him to sell our barrels of poisoned booze to the soldiers, the next time they come by.

Mercy finally wakes up from his nap, while the other three are getting more information at the tavern - mostly about the other inhabitants of the town. Clover lives in the house behind the ranger; Lotharian has a house up on the hill, and is a newcomer and therefore suspicious. Of course, he's an elven "newcomer" who's been here for years, but he didn't grow up here so he can't be trusted.

Mercy returns with a zombie to server as Azrael's companion, and sends him off to mend things with Wendy. So he returns to court Wendy with a zombie of his own and a goth poem that he's been working on all afternoon. Wendy is... gothier than he is. Her zombies are bugbears, and she's named them Pain and Suffering. Still, she's sufficiently impressed to invite him to come along to the graveyard with her ("not that it matters, really.") He casts Fly on them both so she doesn't have to sneak in.

It turns out she worships the Dracolich Asura, the Muse of Life and Death. (Muses, in this setting, are something like gods except that instead of actively cultivating worshippers and providing spells and guidance to mortals, they embody certain primal principles and make them available to the mortal world.) Azrael is down with this. Then she pulls out a pouch of black onyx.

There's a giant buried in the cemetery. Its name was Blarg. Azrael has been in touch with Reverend Mercy using Message, and now bluffs that he knows what the black onyx is for... and she's impressed. Wendy isn't ready to use it, though, because if she raises the giant from the dead those two clerics are just going to come out here and put it down again. Instead, she casts Speak With Dead on a random elf who turns out to have died of a horrible wasting disease, which turns her on. She thinks the priests are hiding the human soldiers. (Everybody in this town thinks everybody else in this town is suspicious.) Azrael suggests raising the giant and allowing it to kill the clerics.

Wendy raises it.


At the point, all hell breaks loose. The rest of the party come rushing over; spells are exchanged; and the skeleton of the dead giant gets its murder on. When the two priests are dead, Azrael flies over to Wendy and compliments her on her skeleton; she promptly takes him back to her house for a night of carnal gymnastics, with the zombies present as witnesses.

I have absolutely no idea, OOC or IC, if this counts as progress. Though I suppose we definitely got somewhere...

Friday, August 2, 2019

Anti-Optimized: A Character Concept

So, I have this idea for a character.

He's fresh out of Hero School, having been schooled in the basics of dungeoneering, party dynamics, roles and tactics, and like that. He just... hasn't chosen a class.

I mean, well, mostly.

He'll start out as something reasonably solid -- Ranger, maybe. But for his next level he'll take something else: Sorcerer, perhaps. And then Druid. And then Rogue. And then Barbarian. And then Cleric. Bard. Wizard. Maybe grab the first level of a prestige class or two, if he meets the prerequisites and we're using the kind of system where that exists.

This is, to be clear, an absolutely horrible idea. In DnD 3.5... well, for one thing, in 3.5 my current DM would never allow it. He gets twitchy about us having more than three classes total. But mainly, what you'd end up with here was a character who was both tremendously versatile and (I think) suicidally underpowered... but also hilarious. I'm still relatively new to Fifth Edition, and the power scaling is very different there, but I think you'd still have basically the same problem, just not quite so much of it.

The thing with D'n'D is that as a general thing, you should pick a general role and stick with it. If you're going to cast spells, focus on casting spells. If you're going to hit things with a polearm, focus on hitting things with a polearm. If you're the one who makes friends with the townsfolk and talks your way past the guards, focus on those skills. It's not that an individual character can't be somewhat versatile, but if you try to do everything you're rapidly going to hit a point where you can't do any of it well enough to be of any use.

DnD generally expects you be versatile by working as part of a group.

And yet... I still love the idea of this hopelessly enthusiastic kid who just wants to try everything, and see everything, and get out there and Do All The Things. And I'd love to see if I could find a way to make him playable.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Music: Crush Story

Too Much Joy:

I'll have more of my own content later; this week has been a beating.