Monday, September 30, 2019

Youth DnD: Back into the Dungeon of the Mad Mage

So we finally managed to get everybody together for the youth DnD game again, and this time it went pretty well.

OOC, we've started enforcing the Don't All Talk At Once rule, and it really does seem to be helping. Unfortunately the crown that I ordered still hasn't come in, so we had the Roman Gladius of Talking instead. I also talked a bit about playing their characters so that they can work together, and told them that Lord Aldenmier gave them a lecture on the need for teamwork the following morning. So, with that hammered out (hopefully) they headed back into the dungeon.

The first thing they wanted to do was finish exploring in the area where they'd encountered the orcs last time. So they headed back there, and the Dragonborn Sorcerer used Mage Hand to open one door from a good, safe distance. Which was an excellent plan, really, since there was a spear-throwing trap behind it. He then did the same with the door on the opposite side of the corridor, which opened onto a room with three zombies in it.

I need to pause here, because this campaign book has one really major weakness: a distinct (and occasionally glaring) lack of proofreading. The monster description says very clearly that there are three zombies. The room description says equally clearly that there are ten zombies. So the group ended up destroying three zombies, but I warned them OOC that next time there would probably be the full ten. Metagame knowledge, but under the circumstances I felt like they deserved the warning.

So they finished the zombies and found a silver coffer on the floor behind them, containing 50 PP (platinum piece, so worth a total of 500 GP), 3 rubies worth 100 GP each, and a bottle of extremely nice perfume which they plan to sell. The coffer itself is worth 200 GP. Overall, it's a very nice hall (and a good argument for the idea that there should have been more zombies).

They then proceeded past the orcs and on to the next room down the hall, opening the door to find... more orcs, and even more evidence that this is some sort of permanent camp, and not something that the Dungeon is generating. One of the orcs was a guard the last time the group encountered them, and he looks up when the door opens. "You change mind? We fight this time?"

The Mousefolk cleric assures him that none of them have changed their minds and promptly closes the door again. The Elf monk opens the door again, and asks if he can buy some food because he's hungry; the orcs, it turns out, are willing to trade for weapons, so the monk passes over the spear from the spear-launching trap. At this point everybody comes inside, and the Dragonborn Sorcerer uses his Alchemy Jug to pour out a full four gallons of beer, and suddenly these orcs are the party's lifelong friends.

So they're eating and chatting when suddenly the door opens again and this really large orc walks in, looks around the suddenly-silent room, and demands: "Who these people? You no guard no more? You kill them--" One of the other orc quickly steps over, whispers something in the big guy's ear, and presses a mug of beer into his hands. The large orc takes a long drink, lowers the mug, and glowers around the room again: "Why you no tell me our friends were here?!"

This is the Orc chieftain Ghazat.

So it turns out that the orcs wandered into the dungeon somehow -- they can't find the passage that brought them in anymore -- and have been stuck here ever since. This sounds remarkably familiar to the Mousefolk cleric, but when they ask about other Mousefolk the Orcs don't know anything.

We stopped at that point (which doesn't sound like a lot, but we spent more than a little bit of the game time ironing out how we were going to play so everybody could enjoy it). I told the players to think about what they wanted to do with the orcs for next time -- and suggested that they might want to consult with Aldenmier before just trying to walk the whole tribe of them out the main entrance. The group seems to agree with trying to help them out, not least because it may give them really helpful information when they try to extract Aspen's people later on.

Treasure they're carrying from this adventure:
-silver coffer (worth 200 gp)
-3 rubies (100 gp each)
-50 PP
-Bottle of perfume

Current Party Treasure:
They sold off everything they didn't need (and I finally did the math) with the following exceptions:
-Everyone received a Ring of Protection +2; the rest of those went to Lord Aldenmier.
-The bronze shortsword also went to Aldenmier because nobody in town is buying non-steel weapons at present.

Current party treasure by my count is 25 PP, 1217 GP, and 31 SP.

There are also two griffin eggs being cared for at the Aldenmier estate; but we'll get back to those.

Friday, September 27, 2019

The Dread Isle of Dragony Dangerousness

When last we left our heroes, High Provost Luthien had sent them off to an obscure island in the inland sea. It was one island among many, but he claimed to have evidence that the followers of Vecna were hiring pirates to seek something in particular among the islands... and a missive that we'd captured earlier gave him enough clues to make a guess at where we should be looking, and what we should look for when we got there. He was also concerned enough to arrange transportation for us: through the forest in a wagon train, to a fishing village where we were picked up by a boat that would take us to Urda Tol, which is now an island sacred to the conclave of dragons or something similarly important.

There's a whole big fiction from our DM which takes place during this portion of the journey, and I might publish it later; it's pretty wild, and alternates between our heroes and Ruin's recently-tortured brother Devonin, who's half out of his mind and determined to figure out what actually happened to him. For the moment, though...

Berg is the captain of the ship, and he gets us to the island and sails once around it at a good, safe distance. (No, we're not sure what "safe" means under these circumstances. It mainly means "whatever keeps the captain from panicking and sailing away".) The island is roughly football shaped, about seven miles across east-to-west and about five miles across north-to-south. The north and east is dominated by high ground, with high cliffs and borderline-mountainous peaks. We spot a small copper dragon flying around over the east end of the island. (Actually it might be as many as three or four, but we're not telling the captain that.) The western end is topical forest, but the trees grow sparser and the ground grows swampier along the south edge of the island. Somewhere in there, a black dragon breaks cover to fly up and then falls on something in the swamp. There's a high peak near the center of the island, probably overlooking a lake; we catch glimpses of the water here and there. A giant silver dragon seems to be perpetually circling the peak.

The stunted, blighted trees and the swamp seem unnatural, possibly the result of the black dragon's influence; but based on the High Provost's gathered clues, that's where we need to go. Captain Berg isn't sailing anywhere near it, but he reluctantly lowers a lifeboat and tasks a handful of his crew with rowing us to shore. They get us to the beach, then row back to the boat as fast as they can.

It's fairly late in the day by this point, and Marshall Mercy (our human cleric) has been violently seasick for most of the voyage. So our wizard, the Gray Elf Azrael (real name: Lelilian Elisbian, or Lily) casts Rope Trick, and we all take shelter in a nice, safe, extradimensional space. When we emerge it is dark and silent and Mercy is still asleep. Then a shadowy shape glides past overhead, Nazg├╗l-style. Azrael, nerd that he is, identifies it as a Nightwing -- a hugely powerful flying undead. So we move off the beach and into the trees, and hide under them until dawn. The Nightwing passes overhead once or twice more; it seems to be patrolling this area, but it doesn't find us. Mercy sleeps right through all of this.

When morning comes, the Nightwing fades out of sight and Mercy finally wakes up. Having taken a few minutes to pray for new spells, he casts Divination and is told to "seek the lowest depression with the four trees". Azrael sends his familiar out to look, and Horatio (the owl) locates a likely-looking clearing about 3/4 of a mile away.

We're slogging through the swamp -- except for Martini, who's used her Slippers of Spider Climbing to keep her dress out of the mud -- when Martini spots a giant spider moving through the trees towards us. The rest of us stop, and Martini remains hidden... until she suddenly bursts out and assassinates the beast, killing it instantly. We proceed forward to the glade, using a Silence spell to avoid further attention.

In the glade are several trees, including a large stone carving of a tree... which is covered in writing. We approach it.

Yes, the other trees are treants. No, they aren't the friendly kind. There's a brief burst of combat, which ends when Azrael casts Fireball and immolates them.

The stone tree is a sort of giant history book, but it's all esoteric & obscure court gossip from a centuries ago. On one side, however, there's a sort of plaque with a brief rhyme (and I'm not really doing it justice) about a feathered serpent in the green jungle beneath the canopy.

Mercy casts Divination again and learns that the beast is a fallen Couatl - once a human priest, until it made a deal with the god of secrets (that would be Vecna) and was trapped on this island, a symbol of purity in the service of evil.

We move on to the jungle. There's an odd, humming chirping sound in the distance. Azrael hears a voice in his head: "You are too late..."

Meanwhile, we're being eaten alive by mosquitos.
We step into the jungle.
The Jurassic Park soundtrack starts playing.
And we roll initiative.

Ruin notes the T-Rex, considers, then attacks and gets bitten. (Ruin has no sense of self-preservation.) Azrael tries Glitterdust, but fails to blind it. Martini whips out her bow and promptly shoots Ruin in the back, as one sometimes does in battle. Marshall charges in and gets hit as well, but manages to hit the beast back. The battle rages on, and the Tyrannosaurus swallows Marshall Mercy... a moment before we kill it and haul him back out.

We collect some of its teeth as souvenirs. This time Marshall hears the voice: "I am the symbol of purity with the soul of blackness." When he looks up, he sees a beautiful human woman, completely naked except for a strategically-arranged snake. He's not compelled, but he is horny; he starts towards her. Ruin tries to talk him out of it, but he's determined to get that snake. So Ruin yells at the woman, and she disappears. Marshall hears the voice again: "I hunger!"

Ruin checks for tracks where the woman seemed to be standing, and finds nothing. We move on, and are soon attacked by a pack of smaller dinosaurs. Azrael drops a Stinking Cloud on them, and Mercy -- who has lately purchased a Necklace of Adaptation which renders him immune to such effects -- wades in to kill them while they're too nauseated to fight back. Only one of them escapes.

This time Ruin hears the voice: "You stand no chance against me." He shouts back, "Then come out and kill us if you can!" (Did I mention that Ruin has no sense of self-preservation?)

Another woman emerges from the woods; this time, it's Azrael and Martini's mom. So, before anyone can do anything too stupid, Ruin takes a shot at it with his bow. He doesn't hit anything, of course, but the illusion disperses.

It turns out -- shockingly -- that this is not their mom. It's the couatl, a feathered serpent with sorcerous powers. Azrael casts Ray of Exhaustion at it, but Mercy chooses to parley instead -- after all, it's a giant flying snake and he's a snake cultist. "I know that you have fallen, but you are not forgotten and you are not lost. It is not too late to return, if that is your desire."

Couatl: "Bring me the sweet mercy of death."

Mercy: "Yeah, sorry guys, we gotta kill this thing."

The couatl hits Azrael with Scorching Ray and takes him down. Ruin manages to hit it, but not nearly hard enough to kill it. Azrael expends his last few offensive spells but we largely fail to do any significant damage; so Azrael casts Rope Trick again and we climb up into extradimensional safety where we can rest and the spellcasters can recover their mojo.

So here's the thing: Azrael's Rope Trick lasts for seven hours. He's an elf, so he only needs four hours of rest to fully recover his spells. Mercy, on the other hand, is human and needs a full eight hours. So just before the Rope Trick ends, Ruin leaps down to the sand.

There's another T-rex not far away. It looks up at him as it finishes munching on the last thing it killed. Ruin (Barbarian/Ranger, though not particularly good at either) attempts to keep it calm and kind of suggest that it just finish its meal and leave everybody alone, and under normal circumstances that might even have worked. Unfortunately, the absolute focus with which it regards him suggests that it's been magically controlled, and naturally the couatl is flying in circles a couple of hundred feet overhead.

So Azrael drops out of the Rope Trick, and casts the spell again while the Tyrannosaurus is still distracted by Ruin. Mercy drops out behind him, crosses over, and climbs up into the new magical shelter. The T-rex fails to grab anyone, and we all make it into the new shelter, where Mercy can finish resting and fully replenish his spells.

As soon as that's done, we make ourselves ready and emerge. This time, we're at full strength:
-Azrael has cast Mirror Image and False Life on himself, making him substantially harder to kill - plus, Mercy has cast Shield Other on him, so half of any damage he takes goes to Mercy instead.
-Mercy has cast Prayer on the entire group, giving us a bonus to hit and do damage; he's also buffed his own attack and damage.
-Martini has the benefit of Mercy's prayer, plus invisibility; she steps out unseen and immediately casts True Strike.
-Ruin has the benefit of the Prayer, and he's raging.

Azrael comes out behind Martini, and the T-Rex attacks one of his images. Mercy leaps down and attacks the T-Rex, while Martini uses her bow to put an arrow in the couatl's eye. Ruin leaps down and slams into the dinosaur with his falchion, also doing a fairly substantial amount of damage.

That forms the pattern for the battle: Ruin and Mercy beat the hell out of the T-Rex while Martini and Azrael trade attacks with the couatl, which keeps flying lower as it uses up its longer-range attacks. The T-rex manages to swallow Mercy, just before Ruin finishes it off; Mercy cuts himself out of the thing like a Xenomorph chest-burster. Azrael takes a very nasty blast from an empowered Scorching Ray, but since the damage is split with Mercy it doesn't take either of them down. Ruin switches to his bow and starts trying to perforate the thing...

...And then Martini, who's been studying the couatl, attacks it from the cover of invisibility to take advantage of sneak attack and assassination. It dies.

As it hits the ground it shrinks and transformed into a dying human. "I have not long. Thank you for giving me mercy."

Reverend Mercy pulls out a snake, "Oh, I'll give you Mercy, all right."

The man continues, oblivious: "I was a priest. I made a deal to become a symbol of purity, but he cursed me to guard... In the center of this island is a golden egg guarded by a silver dragon..." He finally finishes dying.

So, all right: we move on into the mountains. We've been everywhere else on this vexatious rock, let's go do some climbing.

The cliffs are really, really steep, y'all. But we find a pass and start into it -- mind you, we haven't had a rest after fighting the couatl, so we're pretty tapped out in terms of spells and other resources. So it's probably a good thing that we spot the pair of Ettins (two-headed giants) who think we haven't seen them and they're going to ambush us.

Ettins are nearly impossible to understand, but we have enough linguists and enough luck to decipher what they're saying: they're mugging us, basically. Which... no. So there's more fighting, and by the time it's over both Ettins are dead, Mercy is down, and pretty much everybody is completely tapped out. We heal Mercy back to some reasonable degree of health, then take a very long rest.

We wake up the next morning and move through the pass, then start up a path. It's clinging to the side of a mountain, so one one side we have a steep cliff and on the other side we have a sharp drop.

...That's when the chimera tries to ambush us. There's another brief combat, in which it takes Marshall Mercy down and Ruin finishes it, and we move further along the ledge/path to where it turns into a cavern. Martini notices that there's something moving in there and begins to study it. Mercy, oblivious, strolls right past her and into the beasts's cave.

Azrael identifies it: it's a dark naga, which seems vaguely racist. Regardless, they're spellcasting sorcerous snakes, and this one immediately casts Displacement on itself, making it very hard to hit. Ruin charges in anyway (no sense of self-preservation, remember) and miraculously manages to hit it. This thing isn't as bad as the couatl was, but we're in another protracted battle with a spell-casting snake-monster, and by the time we finally beat it down we're once again exhaused. It does, however have some treasure: 30,000 copper pieces (sheesh), plus a scroll of Magic Missile and False Life, and a Folding Boat (which is actually really cool).

We make camp in the cave, knowing that somewhere up ahead there's a silver dragon guarding a golden egg that is almost certainly what the devotees of Vecna are searching for.

Ruin considers the possibility of going ahead, unarmed and alone, to parley with it.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

To Court A Dragon

Ruin picked his way along the top of the ridge, climbing carefully but steadily towards the high peak at the center of the island. He was well aware that this might be a suicide mission; the silver dragon had swept past overhead twice now, and was coming around for a third pass. It could stoop on him like a hawk any time it chose, or blast him off the ridge with its freezing breath.

He continued climbing, and the dragon continued circling. He slowed as he neared the flattened top of the peak, then slowed further when he realized that it wasn't a small plateau but actually a small depression, a shallow bowl that made a crown of the island's central peak. And there, at the center, was the golden egg that the cursed couatl had described before its death.

Is that truly what you came here for? asked his mother's voice, and Ruin stopped at the edge of the bowl. His mother wasn't here, of course. He'd come here with Azrael and Martini and the human cleric Marshall Mercy, while his mother had gone on to treat with the dwarves. This was probably something to do with the amulet she'd given him, though hearing her voice was new and disconcerting. Is this better left a secret? This time, he wasn't sure if the voice was hers or his.

A shadow passed overhead, and wide silver wings stirred a mighty wind as the dragon drew near. Ruin braced himself, standing on the edge of the bowl, and let the air rush past him. It tugged hard at his midnight blue cloak, casting it out behind him in a soft reflection of the wings overhead. Then the massive, gleaming shape of the dragon set claw to stone and gracefully settled its weight on the far side of the egg. It looked down at him for a long moment, then cocked its head.

"A true elf," it said, and its voice was soft and cold like the winter wind. "I did not expect to find one of your kind seeking the egg."

"I didn't come for the egg," Ruin answered, folding his arms and letting his shoulders relax. "I came to look upon you." Was that true? It felt true. Had it been true when he'd begun this ridiculous climb? He wasn't sure. I'm going to have to do something about this death wish of mine, he thought. Preferably something involving a large number of easily-slain humans, and a lot of blood and screaming. He'd grown fascinated with the dragon as he climbed, though how much of that was the creature's sleek, predatory beauty and how much was the prospect of an elegant, irresistible death he wasn't sure.

"Be that as it may," answered the dragon softly, its voice an icy caress, "you may not be here. This is a holy place, and you are..."

"Impure," suggested Ruin. "I know. I only hoped to touch your beauty for one brief moment first."

The dragon fell profoundly still. Then it slid forward, coiling its tail around the egg as it stopped in front of Ruin and lowered its head. "This I will permit, Feyborn child."

Ruin raised a hand and shifted his weight to reach out. His fingers caressed silver scales, finding them harder than any armor but strangely warm. "You are blindingly beautiful," he told the dragon.

It snorted and swept its head around, knocking him off the side of the ridge. For a moment he was sailing outward; then he was merely falling. He wasn't sure what lay below him, and it didn't matter. He would strike rock or water, and die or survive; if he survived, he would be crippled or not. There was nothing he could do to change it. Falling was all that remained to him.

A heartbeat later he glimpsed movement above him; a heartbeat after that the dragon was beside him, its form shrinking and softening into a pale-skinned, silver-haired elf woman. She wrapped arms and legs around him, and their descent slowed. After a moment they were drifting out over the lake. "You meant that? You came to seek me out? You think me beautiful?"

Ruin nodded. "It's a deadly sort of beauty," he said, "but all the more appealing for that."

"It has been," she told him, "six hundred and seventy-two years, three months, and fourteen days since anyone sought me out, and far longer since anyone called me beautiful. I hope you rested before you came here, Feyborn, because I intend to make the most of this."

For a moment, Ruin was troubled by the feel of his clothing falling away into the lake below. After that, he didn't care.

It was three days later when he woke back in the cavern that connected the mountain pass with the path to the peak. Or at least he thought it was. Had he dreamed the whole thing? If so, I'm as bad as Reverend Mercy, with his dreams of snakes. Though since she did turn into a elvish woman before nature took its course, perhaps not quite so bad. His equipment was there beside his bedroll, but then it had been placed there before he left to try the path. There was no point in carrying weapons to meet someone he couldn't possibly defeat.

Were his clothes still at the bottom of the lake? He certainly wasn't wearing much now. Had he gone to sleep in his underclothes? Here in a mountain pass, where anything might happen by and try to eat them? ...He couldn't remember. He might have. He could check his pack, and see if that particular outfit of silver and midnight blue was tucked away inside. Or he could let it be; after the chimera and the dark naga, he'd certainly been tired enough to fall into a full sleep instead of a traditional trance. It might be pleasant to wait, savor these memories, and only learn later if this had all been a dream.

Sitting up in his bedroll, he reached for his pack and pulled out the first outfit that came to hand. Across the small cave, Martini shifted her weight and turned to look at him. "You're back? About time."

He wondered how exactly she meant that, but for now he only nodded and started dressing.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Challenge: Authors I Wish More People Knew About

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 Authors I Wish More People Knew About, and yes, I have thoughts.

First: the absolute top of my list until a few months ago used to be Martha Wells and Lilith Saintcrow. But Martha Wells has finally gained some real attention for her Murderbot Diaries (and deservedly so - seriously, if you haven't read them, go check them out -- but check out her backlist, too). Lilith Saintcrow (unfairly, in my ever-so-humble opinion) remains seriously underrated, or at least under-recognized. (If you want more specific suggestions for where to start in on their work, ask me in the comments; both are authors that, well, if they've published it and I know about it, I've probably read it.)

I'd also add Walter Jon Williams, who's best known for the cyberpunk novel Hardwired (which is excellent) but not so much for the rest of his work (which is also excellent). Again, specific recommendations based on your preferences are available in the comments.

But let me also throw out a couple that... I think they're fairly well recognized, but I don't care: more people should know about them anyway.

Charlie Jane Anders uses The City In The Middle Of The Night to tell the story of a human generation ship that was forced to establish its colony on a tidally-locked world: one side always faces the sun, the other side is dark and frozen, and the thin ribbon around the middle is only barely capable of supporting human life, and it's really well done; but she also has a lot of excellent short fiction, and earlier novel (which I haven't yet read) called All The Birds In The Sky.

Hafsah Faizal charmed me with an excellent first novel, We Hunt The Flame. It's technically YA, but I'm a forty-mumble-mumble year old man and I adored it anyway, so I suspect you will too. And I'll be reading the sequel absolutely the moment it becomes available.

Emily Duncan tells a story of Wicked Saints in another YA debut, and where We Hunt The Flame has a very Arabian Nights Feel, Wicked Saints is firmly rooted in Russian folklore with a few other elements thrown in for good measure. The sequel will be out on April 7, and I've already pre-ordered it.

My last one is actually a double-author recommendation, because it was co-written: This Is How You Lose The Time War, by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone. This is definitely not YA; it's a time-travel story, of course, but it's also a war story and a romance and the whole thing is just bloody and funny and sweet and gorgeous. Does that sound like a good reason to check out literally everything else either of them has ever written? It does to me.

I have a couple of other recommendations, but they kind of fit together thematically and I think I'll address them in a separate post. So... what authors do you wish more people knew about?

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Demigod Therapy

So, I was going to do at least one more Great Conference Adventure but I ran out of time and energy at the conference. Sorry. I'll try to put something together for Monday. Meanwhile, here's something I was doing on Twitter last night after I finally made it home:

Zuul: "There is no Dana, only Zuul."


Therapist: "Now, Zuul, that's no way to talk about-"

Zuul: "THERE IS NO DANA ONLY ZUUL!"

Therapist: "That's not how possession works, and we both know it. On this plane, what happens to you if there is no Dana?"

Zuul: "..."
Zuul: "There is no Zuul."

Therapist: "Much better. Now, Dana, do you want to chime in with anything here?"

Dana: "Why... is there... a horn-headed demon-dog demigod in my body?"

Therapist: "'Why' is always a difficult question, Dana. More importantly..."
Therapist: "How do you *feel* about having a horn-headed demon-dog demigod in your body?"

Zuul: "Silence! Soon I will find the Keymaster, and then I will remake this frail mortal flesh!"

Therapist: "Zuul, what did we discuss about waiting your turn?"

Zuul: "...I await."

Therapist: "Now, Dana? Your feelings about being possessed by a horn-headed demon-dog demigod?"

Dana: "It's... pretty kinky, actually. I think I could get into this." (Pause.) "Or get someone else into this. Deep into this."

Therapist: "Very good. Let's recognize those feelings."

Therapist: "And Zuul, how do you feel about manifesting inside this human woman?"

Dana: "Very deep into this. Over and over, deeper and-"

Therapist: "Not your turn, Dana. Zuul?"

Dana: "Sorry."

Zuul: "This is my divine role. I am the Gatekeeper. I seek the Keymaster."
Zuul: "Once we are joined, we open the way for Gozer the Gozerian, Gozer the Destroyer, Gozer the Traveler. Our union is the end of civilizations."

Therapist: "So you both seem pretty okay with sharing this body."

Dana: "Yes! Yes! Yes!"

Zuul: "It will serve."

Therapist: "Dana, this isn't really the place for..."

Dana: "Yes! Yes!"

Therapist: "...Well, I suppose we can talk about that later. Zuul, how do you feel about ending civilizations?"

Zuul: "..."

Therapist: "It's okay, Zuul. I'm not here to judge. I'm just here to help."

Therapist: "Tell me how you feel about ending civilizations."

Dana: "Yes!"

Zuul: "Well, to be honest, pretty bloody awful, mate. I mean, have you looked around this place? New York is amazing! They have theater! And coffee! And orgasms!"

Dana: "Yes!"

Zuul: "Would you want to destroy all that? I mean, what else does this obscure little half-slice of a minor plane have that I'm never even going to find out about because the boss is going to drown it in lava or something?"

Therapist: "That's a perfectly understandable way to feel, and I want you to know that those are perfectly valid reactions and I don't think any less of you for having them."

Zuul: "Just, um, don't tell the boss, okay?"

Therapist: "I doubt it would ever come up, but I agree."

Zuul: "Thanks."

Dana: "Yes!"

Therapist: "So, it looks like the two of you could use a little alone time. Why don't you go rest now, and we'll talk again in a day or two."

Zuul: "Sure. Sounds good."

Dana: "Yes!"

Therapist: "All right. I'll see you both later, then."

::Exeunt Dana and Zuul::

Therapist: "Martha, who's next on the schedule?"

Receptionist: "We have a Louis Tully next on your schedule, sir."

Therapist: "Oh, god. Okay, we'll deal with him after lunch. Take an hour, Martha."

Receptionist: "Thank you, sir."

Monday, September 16, 2019

2019 Conference Adventure Day 1

We've arrived. The intern wanted some pictures to show that he's actually attending the conference, so:

Here he is enjoying the view:

Here he is getting ready for our first training session. (When I take it notes, it's by typing. For him, it looks more like an extreme version of Dance Revolution.)

There's a funny little area with beehives and a pig behind the conference center; the intern was fascinated:

Then we stopped for lunch. He ate... quite a lot.

"When I ordered a 'tall'," he told me that evening, "I had no idea just how tall it would be..."

Friday, September 13, 2019

The Saga of the Crazy Neighbors Comes to a Close!

So, we've had a few issues with the neighbors across the alley.

Last night, I came home from work to find their driveway full of junk: battered furniture, rolled-up carpets, bags of trash... really just a whole bunch of junk set across and around their driveway. I can think of only three explanations: an eviction, a death, or some really extreme spring cleaning.


So this morning, on my way to work, I drove around the front and... if possible, it's even worse:


That bit of red in front of the tree on the left side of the image is a For Rent sign, so I think we can rule out spring cleaning. I just hope the property owners are planning to get all that junk hauled out of there.

I really have no idea what the story was here and I'm honestly not sure I want to know. Kind of just glad to be done with it, honestly.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Music: Drunken Dwarves

The band is apparently called Wind Rose:


This is pretty much how I picture classical Dwarven thrash metal bands, honestly.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Challenge: Books I Keep Meaning To Read

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 Keep Meaning To Read But Haven't.

Gentle Readers, that is literally my entire TBR Pile.

Still, that answer seems like a bit of a cop-out, so let's see if I can be a bit more specific. Because there are books that I feel like I put off, even though (I also feel like) they're the sort of books I should be reading just to keep my brain processing new information and making new connections. Which is to say, a lot of them are history or reference books. For example:

Capitalism and Slavery by Eric Williams - a study of the way that slavery financed the Industrial Revolution.

The Cooking Gene by Michael Twitty - race, cooking, and the history of southern food in the United States.

Creature of Empire by Virginia DeJohn Anderson - domesticated animals in early America, and their effects on our history.

The Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman - a fantasy series in one of the classic Dungeons and Dragons settings. I started this but never finished it, but all the gamers I know remember it very fondly. I'd like to go back to it at some point.

The Face of Battle: A Study of Agincourt, Waterloo, and the Somme by John Keegan - Another one that I had purchased and started, but meant to come back to. This book attempts to capture the experience of actually being on these historical battlefields - not the grand sweeps of strategy, but the experience of individual soldiers trying to do the job. (Also, a tip of the hat to Patrick M. Prescott, who reminded me about the book.)

Religion and the Decline of Magic: Studies in Popular Beliefs in Sixteenth and Seventeenth-Century England by Keith Thomas - basically looking at the shift away from folk beliefs in the face of organized religion and science.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Youth DnD: Farming the Treasure Room

This week's session... did not go so well.

How it played out:
In character, the group took a long rest in the chamber where they'd defeated the undead and claimed the treasure - including the onyx ring, which turns out to be a ring of protection +3. However, the cleric didn't immediately reveal that to anybody except the sorcerer. Once they were sure what it did, the cleric asked an intriguing question: would this item respawn (along with the gold) if they left the dungeon and came back in?

So they tried it: walked everybody back out to the antechamber, talked Lord Aldenmier into pulling their banner, and then replaced the banner and went back inside.

Turns out that it does. Also, it turns out that it's only stepping on the dais that opens the sarcophagi and looses the undead; so allowing the cleric to borrow the assassin's slippers of spider-climbing meant that they could claim the chest without going into combat, and with the way the dungeon resets they could do so repeatedly. Unfortunately, Firstborn was bored with the lack of combat, and announced that his character was going to step on the dais and release the undead, whereupon the cleric's player announced that she was going to cast Inflict Wounds and use it on him, whereupon I made everybody stop while we sorted this out.

So in character, none of that happened. Out of character, that was ten minutes of argument and very nearly an in-party murderfest with the potential to end friendships. But with that ironed out and a working system in place, the party (mostly the cleric) sets about farming the room. Barrith (halfling rogue) has meanwhile figured out that a light crossbow suits him better than his longbow, and swaps the bow for one of the crossbows that the party has been keeping with the intention of selling; but again, sorting out how that's going to affect the part treasure takes another five minutes.

With that done, the farming begins in earnest. The group manages to raid the treasure chamber eight times before something goes wrong: as they open the door to leave again, they find an orc on the far side. Both they and the orc are equally surprised and spend a moment just staring at each other; then they go into combat, and Kaz promptly kills the orc (much to the disappointment of Toruv -- dragonborn sorcerer -- and Firstborn, his player). As the orc falls, they hear a gasp and a door slams; Kaz identifies it as the door on the far side of the hall, which they haven't explored yet.

Kaz then takes off at a sprint, heading for the entrance to the dungeon. The rest of the group exchanges puzzled glances; then they cross the hall and open the door. Inside are six orcs, who had been sitting around a table but now are standing up with weapons drawn. The cleric, still wearing the assassin's slippers, is standing on the ceiling with the gold and elects not to speak; next up is Firstborn's pyromaniacal dragonborn, who assesses the condition of the room. It looks like some sort of long-term camp, not like a room full of monsters that the Dungeon of the Mad Mage just conjured up. "What are you doing here?" asks the dragonborn.

"We guards! What you doing here?"

"Exploring the dungeon," answers Toruv. "So now what?"

"You open door. We fight! ...That how it usually works."

Toruv considers this for a moment, then says: "I was thinking we could just close the door and go away, and not kill you."

The orc sort of stares at him. "You kill Arg."

Toruv nods. "Sorry. He surprised us."

The orc furrows his brown, then says: "Okay. You go. We not fight. We not even tell big chieftain!"

"Big chieftain?"

"Chieftain Ghazat! Him strong chieftain! Head of Blood Tower Clan!"

"Yeah, let's not bother him." Toruv closes the door.

Kaz, meanwhile, has emerged into the antechamber and is standing in front of Lord Aldenmier, who is staring past him in increasing puzzlement as nobody else emerges. After a moment he asks, "You just left them?"

Kaz looks back: "I thought they would follow."

Aldenmier reaches over to the banner and tries to pull it from its stand; it refuses to move. "They're still alive. You should go back to them."

OOC, Kaz's player considers the relative merits of just continuing to flee, but I point out as DM that lord Aldenmier would consider that a career-ending decision. Reluctantly, Kaz goes back into the dungeon.

Toruv, meanwhile, has started to move down the corridor to the next door that they haven't yet opened. This triggers yet another argument, since they have a good thing going with farming the treasure room and they're carrying a considerable amount of treasure on them; why take unnecessary risks? Firstborn allows himself to be convinced, and at this point we have a bit of an OOC meltdown. (That may be something of an overstatement, but when one of the players suggests that they think they should step out of this session, we definitely have a problem.) We have about fifteen minutes until parents start arriving to pick people up, so I declare by DM fiat that Kaz rejoins the group just in time for everybody to depart the dungeon and head back into town to sell their stuff and return to the Aldenmier estate.

Then we sit down and have an OOC conversation about what we need to do to make this campaign work for everybody.
-Firstborn and Kaz's player really enjoy the combat, and aren't really satisfied if they don't get to fight something. That shouldn't be much of a problem; this is very much a go-in-there-and-fight-things kind of dungeon.
-Aspen's player explains that she really likes the campaign and even the characters, but the OOC stuff makes it almost too frustrating to play; she also points out that Shadow had a distinct personality and motivation when Secondborn was playing him, but with Kaz's player running him he's just sort of turned into an extension of Kaz. Both of these are valid complaints.
-Barrith's player says he really just enjoys the whole thing, and that's kind of been my impression: he's not in it for the combat or the loot or the sneaking around so much as he's there to be a halfling rogue who can cast spells with his friends.

I reiterated that we really need to have characters who can work with each other; it's one thing to do a Guardians of the Galaxy thing where they start out not trusting each other but eventually learn to depend on the group; it's something else to have a Mad Max style character who's so socially damaged that they literally can't work with other characters. (If that's so, why are you playing a game that's designed around a group?)

We also discussed setting up some rules so that everybody isn't trying to talk all at once; I have ordered a Game of Thrones style costume crown to use for this purpose. The person with the crown gets to speak; everybody else has to wait their turn. (We started using Firstborn's dice bag for this to reasonably good effect about halfway through, and I think it will really help. I just want to replace that with something that isn't cloth and hopefully is less like to end in an outbreak of lice.)

I agreed about the issues with Shadow, and we'll be moving him out to work with the Dwarf Barbarian Jax (originally played by the boys' cousin) so that he remains in Lord Aldenmier's employ but isn't part of the banner company anymore. That way if Secondborn does decide to come back in, the character is available; but meanwhile we're not trying to keep him in the party with no player. (We have another kid from the middle school who's expressed interest in playing, but so far neither he nor his parents have contacted me; still, if he does join then that would bring us back up to five characters.)

Mainly, though, it sounds like we need to work on keeping people focused enough IC and OOC that we can pursue the party's goals without a constant stream of interruptions.

Treasure from last session:
-another bronze short sword from room o' spiders where they originally found the cat statue.
-200 GP from the chest
-a ring of protection +3, claimed by the cleric.
-a longsword that they claimed from the defeated wight.

Treasure from this session:
200 x 8 GP
8 more rings of protection +3 - enough to cover everybody in the party, any new arrivals, and still leave a couple that could theoreticaly (though not easily) be sold off.

Treasure from the Griffin mission, which doesn't need to be split with Aldenmier:
-A quarterstaff
-4 shortswords
-3 light crossbows
-12.5 GP from Barrith selling off his longbow.

Current party treasure by my count is 246 GP and 15 SP, which will increase as soon as I sit down and do the math on all this.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Abdael and Milosh: Shadow Shapes

Abdael had just finished tying his bedroll when Milosh wandered over. "Still interested?" asked Abdael.

Milosh was older than Abdael, purely human and perpetually grumpy, but he managed a shrug at the half-elf. "You got me curious," he admitted.

"Well," said Abdael, and strapped his weapons belt in place. "I basically just pick a weapon..." He drew his sword. "...and then my shadow--"

Darkness spilled out of his hand, wrapping around the hilt and coiling around the guard before spilling down the blade. "--sort of feels it out, and then it... I don't know, it seems to help me fight better with it."

The darkness solidified around the blade, losing the smoky edges and turning the entire weapon a flat, un-reflective black. "It doesn't usually do that, though."

Then the darkness uncoiled and retreated back into his hand, leaving nothing in its wake. Abdael exchanged a look with Milosh, confirming from his expression that the older man had seen it too. The paladin looked shocked; he had definitely seen it.

"It... it ate my sword." Abdael shook his head. "That's new. Maybe it wants me to use the..." Darkness was already uncoiling from the side of his hip, pouring over the armsbelt and twining its way around the whip. A moment later it withdrew, and the whip was gone, too.

Milosh opened his mouth, then closed it again.

"Well, this is awkward," said Abdael. "What am I supposed to fight with?" He had spells, still, but he liked melee combat.

Darkness spilled out of his palm again, a thin line of something like black smoke that hardened suddenly into the likeness of a sword. "Oh! Okay, that's..." he tried a few experimental swings. "That's usable." He shook his hand out, and the sword vanished. Then he frowned, concentrating, and the darkness spilled out again, this time long and flexible. "Right." Abdael shook his head. "I think I can work with that, but..." He looked up at Milosh. "You see what I mean about it being unpredictable?"

"Well," said Milosh, absolutely deadpan: "I can safely say that I've never seen anything like it."

Friday, September 6, 2019

The Curse of Fourth Grade

I don't know what it is about the start of Fourth Grade, but it's horrible. Secondborn has had his third major meltdown in three weeks, and it turns out that he's got Pink Eye again/still, this time in the other eye. So he's back on eyedrops, and we've also put him on a dose of antihistamine while we're try to figure out if there's an ADHD medication that might help him be able to focus.

And, of course, every time he has one of these meltdowns either Beautiful Wife or I has to come get him, and that pulls four or five other things off-track, and...

::HEARTFELT SIGH::

I just keep reminding myself that Firstborn spent the first three weeks of Fourth Grade randomly bursting into tears and hiding under a table, so it's not like we have one easy kid and one difficult kid. It's more like Fourth Grade apparently just sucks, or we're under some sort of curse.

Anyway, we're keeping the kid home today for the Pink Eye, and the antihistamine seems to be helping: he slept solidly last night, and went right back to sleep after our family walk this morning, so on top of everything else he may be chronically under-slept, possibly due to allergy issues. At this point, about all we can do is try things out and hope for the best.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Escaping the Dungeon

The plan was to send Damian the elf ranger through the portal where we'd arrived, then have him smash the crystal that used the fire elemental to power it from the other side. This appeared to work, as that portal abruptly stopped working a few minutes after he went through.

So the rest of us go through the other portal into the room with the cryo-hydra, and ruin waits while the rest of the group opens the door ("Penis!") into the next room, then waits longer while Martini opens the lock on the trap door above. Once everybody else is up in the next room, Ruin backs up next to the ladder and shoots the crystal with an arrow. He then sprints straight up the ladder, where he discovers that they haven't actually opened the next door and gotten clear.

The hydra gives chase immediately, but they manage to get the door open and get out with only a little bit of cold damage. (Well... nobody died, at least.) Azrael and Martini move on down the hall, getting out of range of the trapped hydra...

Only Azrael (our mage, somwhat frostbitten) and Martini (largely okay) have encountered another creature up ahead: an eyeless creature with elaborate flaps on the side of its head, and curious tubular mouth that it used to emit sonic attacks. Which it promptly does, knocking Azrael unconscious.

Behind them, Ruin closes the door on the hydra, and he and Mercy move up the corridor. (Ruin's brother Devonin and the mayor of the town of Willowind are presumably with them, but we weren't tracking them for combat purposes and so we're basically assuming that Devonin was protecting the mayor and not doing much of anything else.) The hydra continues trying to blast the door open with its frost breast. Ruin moves twice as fast as Reverend Mercy (because Ruin is a barbarian, and Mercy is wearing plat mail) and gets in the sound-monster's face to distract it. Martini, meanwhile, makes an effort to move silently -- and succeeds, making her effectively invisible while Mercy pauses to get Azrael back on his feet.

So Ruin and Mercy continue pounding on the thing, with Ruin taking the bulk of the damage from it. Somewhere in there, the hydra destroys the door in a burst of frost, but it hasn't actually climbed up; it's just sticking its heads up through the trapdoor, and the rest of us are well out of range down the passageway. But, y'know, that's going to be a problem if it ever gets up to to this level. Hopefully the trapdoor is too small to let it through.

By the time Martini finishes off the sound-beast, the whole group is in pretty bad shape. We really need to take a rest, but the hydra is still back there, scrabbling and clawing and trying to pull itself up. We throw around enough healing spells to get everybody semi-functional (emphasis on "semi") and then move towards the passage that looks most likely to let us out. At last, we enter a large room with what appears to be another ladder leading up on the far end; only it's full of a handful and a half of zombies.

Martini, meanwhile, hears a weird slurping sound from off to one side, but she can't tell what it's coming from and nobody else hears it. The room isn't exactly empty, though; it has two enclosures about halfway across, which probably double as supports for the ceiling. So when Mercy uses the divine power of Artem-hiss to turn the zombies into harmless piles of dust, we take off for the exit. If there's anything else in here, maybe it and the hydra will destroy each other.

Martini and Ruin, making a straight line down the middle of the room, make it almost to the ladder. Azrael, just a hair closer to one of the enclosures, is most of the way to us when a horrible semi-skeletal undead monster steps out from behind the enclosure and tries to lick him with its pulsing purple tongue. Without pausing, Azrael grabs the thing, twirls it around, dips it, and then steps past and continues on his way, arriving beside us. Mercy, passing beside the other enclosure is ambushed by a second one; he isn't affected by its attack, but he moves more slowly than the rest of us and winds up with the two of them between him and us.

Martini is a rogue; her ability to deal damage isn't much against undead. So she continues on to the trap door, and after a moment manages to unlock it. Finding herself in a small stone room above, she attempts to unlock the single door that leads out of that.

Azrael, meanwhile, uses Glitterdust to blind the two undead. Ruin engages one of the blind undead monsters in combat, while Mercy take a couple of rounds to step back and cast spells on himself while evading the second one's attacks. Once he's finished that, he engages with it as well. Between the two of us, we do some decent damage... until the hydra finally manages to get up through the trap door. It's now on the same level we are. Ruin hears it and calls a warning to Mercy; Ruin then get paralyzed by one of his opponent's tongue attacks. (Ruin and Mercy both were highly resistant, but this had to happen sooner or later.)

Azrael, who was starting up the ladder, drops back down, puts a hand on Ruin, and uses Dimension Door to get both of them into the room at the top of the ladder. Mercy manages to extricate himself and get up the ladder as well, and we close the trap door -- killing one of the two undead in the process. Barely. Fortunately.

Martini, meanwhile, has gotten the outer door open, and we've all emerged from a mausoleum into a graveyard. ("Oh, it's the old Windwhisper burial grounds," [or something like that] says the mayor. "We're not far from my house!" Darvinin ushers him further out of danger.) Ruin closes the door behind them, but the second undead monster kicks it open... whereupon Reverend Mercy casts Searing Light and misses it completely.

Uh-oh.

It tries to rush us, but fortunately we're able to finish it off before it can do any more damage.

The mayor offers us tea and gratitude, which Ruin is pretty happy with given that the whole plan was perfectly insane to begin with. (He can say that, it was his plan.) Martini, on the other hand, is pretty angry that there isn't any more tangible reward, but our dude is the mayor of a relatively small town and they don't have tons of money or magic sitting around out here. The hydra apparently finds itself stymied by the final trapdoor, which really is too small for it.

After a bit of discussion, Darvinin heads off to report back to the general. He's still going to need an elvish tonne of therapy, but he's intact enough to make the journey. The mayor stays put, of course, and the rest of us head back to Annun.

The High Provost is thrilled to see us, and hands over a ring of protection +3 (which goes to Martini because A. she's his favorite, and B. it'll do her the most good, we think). As we walk through our discoveries, he gets very distracted about the secret note about the atoll and mentions that they'd captured another, similarly coded note advising someone to "seek the lignite tree". Annun has been dealing with a lot of pirates who seem to have been hired by Kaz and Cassidia (or however you want to spell the plurals of those names) to search the atolls for something. (He also mentions in passing that those names are essentially titles within the worshippers of Vecna.) He knows they're looking for something and he knows they're serious about it, but there is no island of the name given in the... wait a minute, he has an idea. Can we come back tomorrow while he follows up on this?

Of course we can. We take advantage of his willingness to put us up at a very nice inn, and have a hot bath (and in Ruin's case, a full bottle of whiskey; in Mercy's case, a willing elven maid who helps him bathe).

Then we go shopping. For Azrael, a headband of intellect ("Something has to make you smarter, brother.") and some new spells; for Ruin and Martini, new weapons with more powerful enchantments. When we get a bit more money, we need to put Reverend Mercy in highly-enchanted mithril plate armor, so he can keep up with us and not be killed in combat; but for the moment, he instead selected a Necklace of Adaptation, which allows him to breathe underwater and function normally in the middle of several of Azrael's area-effect spells, e.g. Stinking Cloud.) And in the morning, we return to the Provost.

High Provost Luthien, it turns out, is something of a scholar. He's extremely excited by the research he's done and the discovery he thinks he's made: there's a small, diamond-shaped isle that used to go by that name until there was a conclave of dragons and possibly a few other historically-significant events -- after which the island was renamed to something that translates roughly as "the island of the gods". It's empty of humans and other races, but full of beasts and a few dragons. It's also fraught with legends, and is the sort of place where pirates probably wouldn't go. There's a forest on the south end with a circle of dead trees or something, and he thinks the "lignite tree" is there -- and that it's desperately important for us to get to the tree before the Vecna worshippers do. However, he also points out that this is a mythical island, and discretion is definitely the better part of valor.

We agree to this, and Ruin brings the provost up to speed on the rest of their intelligence: the human force beneath serpent's head (RIP); the Duke's dungeons; the army of elves that Devonin was sent to investigate, who wore the colors of Aramar (the same as Devonin does) but killed his companion and turned him over to the duke's torturer before a Solari led them off to the west.

Luthien is very concerned about this, and immediately sets his seneschal to inventory every single bit of weaponry, equipment, and uniform in their stocks -- by hand. Something big is going on, and none of us understand what it is.

Meanwhile, he sets us up with wagons to get us to the coast, and a boat to take us across to the islands. (These are actually inland, on something that appears to be either a great lake or a Mediterranean-equivalent inland sea; probably the latter.) So, once again, we're off.

I wonder what Ruin's parents think of all this?

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Challenge: I Got Nothin', and also a dream and some navel-gazing

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 weeks challenge is Books That Deal Well With Tough Topics.

And, to be honest, I've got absolutely nothing. Like, nothing leapt to mind, and I honestly haven't had time to sit down and think about it, and apparently I'm just not going to come up with anything. But I highly recommend going over and reading everybody else's answers. (Links!) I certainly plan to.

Meanwhile, we are just maybe possibly getting Secondborn settled into a school schedule. We've been able to relax from a No Watching Screens policy to a No YouTube And Limited TV Shows policy (limiting both what he can watch, and how long he can spend watching it) and we're doing the morning Walk Around The Block. As much as he hates both these things, they really do help him. So, basically, we can set him up to behave as long as the rest of the family is willing to suffer to get him there. We're also trying to get Firstborn on track so that he's keeping up with his assignments; he's in Eighth Grade now, his last year of middle school, and the expectations are correspondingly higher; in addition, two of his classes will count for high school credit if he can keep his grades up. And Firstborn has the same sorts of issues that I always did: not only is he not always organized, he doesn't always realize when he isn't organized. (In other words: it isn't just that things don't get finished; it's frequently that he doesn't realize that there are things that need to get finished.)

Meanwhile I entertained Secondborn on his walk this morning by telling him about a dream I had last night, in which I was playing a video game -- very Cosmic Horror, with a lot of strange environments to explore and peculiar bits of lore to find -- oh, and also a fight against Godzilla from the deck of an aircraft carrier. (That part was rough; I remember doing a lot of dodging and jumping, and he kept knocking me back with his tail.) But somewhere in there I became absolutely convinced, even with the sudden intrusion of Godzilla into the plotline, that this was a real game that I'd once owned. I was naturally disappointed when I woke up and realized that no, it wasn't.

So that's what's going on with my personal life. What's going on with yours?

(I'm not really talking about work right now, because work is in a state of transition and has been for several years; as usual, neither the process nor the results are quite as advertised and if anybody knows what the hell is actually going on, well... it isn't me. So I cultivate a cynical fatalism and try to be patient, which isn't all that interesting to talk about.)

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Youth DnD: Battle Against The Undead!

At the end of the the last session, the party had entered a room in the style of the long-fallen empire that once controlled this area. At the far end of the room sat a throne on a dais, flanked by a pair of black onyx jackal statues; behind it was an ornate tapestry. There were two pairs of sarcophagi against the walls on their left and right. The group moved around the room, carefully investigating, until finally the mousefolk cleric set foot on the dais. That was when the sarcophagi finally opened, and four undead figures lurched out. One of them attacked the monk, who had been trying to pry a sarcophagus open, and injured him fairly severely - these were unusually strong zombies, and did more damage than normal.

So today's game opened with the group scattered through the middle of the room, and two opponents on either side. The Arcane Trickster took a moment to cast False Life on himself and make himself a bit harder to kill; then he used Mage Hand to slap one of the zombies across the face. This did absolutely no damage, but did make Barrith feel better. Kaz, the elvish monk, took advantage of the opportunity to withdraw, and then moved back to stand on the dais beside the cleric. Aspen the mousefolk cleric hit one of the zombies with Sacred Flame (I think - something that did radiant damage, anyway) and readied it to use again the moment any of the zombies looked almost dead. Toruv the dragonborn draconic sorcerer used burning hands on the two so-far-undamaged undead, then moved out of melee range from them. Shadow, the drow assassin, meanwhile moved to flank one of the zombies and did it some further damage, which the cleric added to with their prepared action.

At this point, the undead finally made their attacks. The two zombies from the north side of the room attacked Toruv, doing him quite a bit of damage, while the remaining zombie attacked shadow but missed, and the remaining undead attacked Barrith with a longsword but also missed.

That was the point at which Toruv, raised around magic and the products of magic, realized that zombies do not use swords. So this thing could not be a zombie; in fact, it looked like a wight... He shouted a warning to the group.

That changed the whole pattern of the battle, as everybody moved to take down the wight before it could hit anybody with Life Drain. Owing to a combination of luck and effort, they succeeded, and were able to mop up the rest of the zombies shortly afterwards. With that done, they retreated to the grain room and took a long rest. Except... before they left, Toruv set fire to the tapestry, revealing a hidden passage behind it. He then went to go rest, and Aspen went with him. Barrith, Kaz, and Shadow, however, stayed around long enough to scout the passageway and discover a mid-sized chamber at the far end, with a single chest in the middle of it. Barrith checked the thing over, finding no traps on either the chest itself or the surrounding area; but after some (fairly heated) OOC argument, they left the thing untouched and went to rest with the other two.

Upon their return, they were pleased to see that the undead that they'd dispatched were still sprawled defeated on the floor. The dungeon had not reset. (As far as they know right now, the dungeon only resets when they leave, but it's a magical construct and this may not always be the case.) They proceeded to the chest, opened it with Mage Hand (it was unlocked) and discovered 200 GP and a black onyx ring inside, carved with the image of a jackal's head. The cleric immediately claimed that.

Also, in the process of checking it over with Detect Magic, the cleric discovered that the small cat statue (the one the meows and purrs sometimes) is indeed magical, and probably associated with divination of some sort; the ruby that they've been keeping tied to its neck is not magical at all.

So far on this expedition, the group has added:
-another bronze short sword from room o' spiders where they originally found the cat statue.
-200 GP from the chest
-a ring from the chest, its properties known only to the cleric (and only once she gets it attuned).
-a longsword that they claimed from the defeated wight.

In addition, the group has the following items that they still need to sell, mostly left over from their griffon-slaying expedition:
-A quarterstaff
-4 shortswords
-4 light crossbows

Current party treasure by my count is 246 GP and 15 SP, which will increase once they sell that stuff off and split the GP with Lord Aldenmier. I'm also curious to see whether or not they'll mention the ring to him; there's some roleplay potential there.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Sam Finds Her Friends

"We're being followed."

"You just now noticed?"

"I just now remarked on it." Shanna smiled. "They're not as subtle as they think they are."

Sam chuckled and put a hand on her sword. "Humans never are. Oh, they think they're subtle, but when it comes down to it they broadcast their bad intentions so transparently that it becomes a kind of disguise: nobody believes that they would actually be that cruel or that selfish, especially after all but announcing it like that." She paused, then added: "Well, the bad ones do. A lot of them are just trying to get along, like the rest of us."

"This groups seems fairly intent on doing us harm, or at least recapturing us."

"Or both! Could be both."

Shanna looked faintly disgruntled, then admitted: "It's probably both." She looked at Sam: heavily armed but not particularly armored; skilled enough to pick off human patrols, but probably not a match for the four human trackers that were somewhere behind them. This band of humans would have sent their best after any prisoner who dared to escape from the middle of their camp, and by now they had to know that Shanna wasn't alone. "So what do you want to do about it?"

"My friends were supposed to meet me about half a mile further on," Sam answered confidently. "If we can get to them—"

A burly human stepped out from behind a tree in front of them and raised the hood of his lantern to bathe them in its light. "Too late for that, knife-ears."

Shanna had her rapier out before the human finished speaking, and Sam yanked her greatsword from its sheath a heartbeat later.

"Better if you come quietly, little girls." The human's expression was all condescension and feigned sadness. "Be a shame if anything happened to you on the way back to camp." He gestured, and three more figures emerged from the brush behind them, all three pointing crossbows in their direction.

"I could scream for help," Shanna muttered, putting her back to Sam's and trying to watch all of the crossbowmen at once. If they fought, they were going to get skewered.

"No point," answered Sam, completely unfazed. "We don't really have any choice—" at that moment she shifted her sword to one hand, pulled a dagger from her belt, and threw it at the man with the lantern. It was a rare, perfect throw and it caught him in the left eye; he fell before he had time to look surprised.

At that moment, a small figure stepped out of the shadow of a tree not half a pace away from one of the crossbowmen, and put a shortsword into his kidney; the man gasped and dropped his weapon, reach back to try to wrench the blade out of his back. The figure stepped back and vanished again. A strangled cry yanked Shanna's attention to her right, where she saw a massive cat of some sort with long, knife-like fangs sunk into the shoulder of another crossbowman as it dragged him off into the bushes. The last of their pursuers tried to shoot the beast, but in his panic the shot went wide.

Sam swung around so that she was shoulder to shoulder with Shanna, and the two of them started forward. It was the work of a moment for Shanna to finish off the wounded one, and by then Sam had finished off the last. His last words had been, "You can't—"

"...Or we could lure them into a trap using ourselves as bait," finished Sam. She looked around at the fallen. "It might help if we could take a prisoner to the local lords."

A young man stepped out of the bushes on the side of the trail, wiping a smear of blood from his mouth. "I am not," he announced, "healing any of those. They tasted perfectly horrible." He was one of the common elves -- a grey elf, Shanna thought. Also, apparently, a druid.

But it was the final figure that caught her eyes as he finally stepped into the light. He was small, and at first glance she thought he was a child — though he'd been awfully skillful in sinking his blade into the crossbowman for his age...

He wasn't a child. He was small and slim, maybe half her height, but he wasn't a child. "Shanna," said Sam, putting a hand on her shoulder and squeezing just a little tighter than strictly necessary: "This is Leander the Elf."

Shanna blinked twice in rapid succession, because the man in front of her was clearly a halfling; but he'd just helped saved their lives, and this didn't seem the time for questions. "I am very pleased to meet you," she said, and Sam turned her away with a subtle tug on her shoulder. "And this is Evrimon Broadleaf."

"You as well," Shanna said automatically, matching her responses to Sam's unspoken cues. "I'm very grateful to you both."

"It was a pleasure," answered Leander the Elf. "If we'd known you were being hunted by humans, we'd have come sooner."

Evrimon managed an elaborate, almost courtly shrug. "We are indeed happy to help; any friend of Shanna's is our friend as well." He glanced at Leander. "I'm not sure I'd call it a pleasure, though." He worked his mouth, as though trying to get the taste out of it.

"You could have just summoned something," Leander pointed out. "You didn't have to go all BWAR-I'm-a-giant-saber-toothed-tiger on that guy."

"I am not," answered Evrimon stiffly, "leaving the fate of our friends to a bunch of summoned beasts," but a small smile played around his lips and for a moment it was much like being back with Devonin and Werendril and Ruin in one of their bouts of good-natured bickering.

She'd intended to go her own way once they were safe, but now Shanna began to reconsider...