Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Challenge: My Earliest Memory

Some context for anyone coming in late: the topic is from the Weekly Blogging Challenge over at Long and Short Reviews. They have a new prompt each week (see the graphic at the first link) and on Wednesdays you can drop by their homepage to find the post where everybody puts links to their responses. You can even add your own if you like.

This week's challenge is My Earliest Memory.

Memories are strange things; they're more than shadows, less than realities. They're ghosts, and like ghosts they're unstable and prone to fading if ignored. Without something to anchor them, they deform and dissipate and sometimes disappear entirely.

There's a whole field of research related to how memory works, how memories are created (and recreated), and how they alter and are altered over time. Memories are untrustworthy, albeit with certain caveats; they may be more or less so for different people, and/or at different stages of life, and/or in regard to certain kinds of events and how they were processed afterwards, and/or because of certain kinds of trauma, mental illness, substance use/abuse, and processing issues. I'm fascinated by it, but I've barely scratched the surface of the available research on the topic.

My earliest memory isn't a memory. Not really; not anymore. It's a memory of a memory, or possibly further removed than that. There's nothing particularly special about it; it's just a memory of me walking past the corner of a couch in a particular place in a particular house. It's noteworthy only because when I was very young, maybe five or six years old, my father asked me this same question: what was the earliest thing I could remember? And that funny little scene -- was someone saying something to me at the time? I'm no longer certain -- was what came to me clearly as the farthest back my mind could reach. I remember being a five-or-six-year-old remembering a moment from when I was perhaps three.

You shouldn't trust any of this, by the way. I don't. Though the timing does match up with the period of time when we lived in that particular house, and the layout that I recall of the place. Also, some of the details that I remember about that house were later confirmed by my parents. Still... I clearly remember that as my earliest memory, and I remember recalling it clearly when I was younger. Nowadays, I couldn't tell you anything about the couch except that the armrest was about the level of my shoulder; I couldn't tell you much about the space it was in, except that it had a glass door to the back yard. And I may be conflating that with another piece of that house; memories are malleable, too.

So let me give you another memory of that house, from later on, because I'm more comfortable about -- and confident in -- this one. I remember the incident more clearly, partly because my father has told the story also (and in so doing, reinforced my own impressions; did I mention that ghosts need anchors?) and partly because, well, you'll see...

There was a tree in the back yard of that house. How tall, I'm not sure; tall by the nebulous standards of a small child, and in any case tall enough to have a branch that came out at a near-horizontal a good ways above the ground. My father hung a rope swing from the branch, and of course I swung in the swing. Then, one afternoon, I found myself looking at the ropes and decided to climb up them, so of course I did. At the top was the limb, so I climbed up onto that and stretched myself out along it.

My father came out into the yard some time later, saw me up there, and asked me if I knew how to get back down. He was very calm about it, but of course it was an alarmingly good question -- which I think is why this memory is still so clear to me. (When he tells the story, he explains about the nearly-superhuman effort he made to keep his voice calm and not frighten me, and the way he was moving forward to be under me in case I fell. I was aware of none of that.) Anyway, I thought about it for a moment and decided that in fact I did know how to get back down: it was the same way I'd come up, only backwards. So I eased myself off the limb, got my legs around the rope, and shimmied right back down.

...If you met me later in life, that story would probably not surprise you at all. And I think that's another part of why it's still a fairly clear memory: it had some drama to it, so naturally it got retold considerably more often than the one where I was a small child walking around the corner of the couch. In the process, it got reinforced, even rebuilt. My father remembers it too, and his memories of it are consistent with mine.

But you still shouldn't trust it.

Memories are funny like that.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

The Eye Seeks Its Master

Okay, so this is part of the GozarTD Campaign, which I haven't updated in a while... partly because we haven't played in a while. Also, there was an episode before this, which I missed; I'm adding the brief summary below from memory, so it's going to be really, really brief. But since we're playing again this week (YAY!) I'm going to go ahead and put up our notes: otherwise, I don't think any of us are going to remember what happened the last time we managed to play.

A Very Brief Summary Of The Episode Before Last, Which I Missed:
In the wake of our meeting with the High Provost and getting Azrael's eyes regrown, the group decided to swing by Azrael's and Martini's home town and at least check in with their parents, even if we still weren't admitting that we'd collected anything from Vecna's cursed island. We were apparently then lured by their father into some sort of basement, where Daddy turned out to be a doppleganger. I'm told there were also gorgons involved somehow. Doubtless this culminated in bloodshed, but I don't know the details.

Last Session, back at the end of October:
So, not only are we trapped in some sort of basement, we've been trapped in here by a cave-in. Despite Ruin's absolute refusal to believe that the cave-in was real, the rocks are solid and we're definitely trapped. It looks like the only way out is through, so we advance to the next room...

...Which contains four suits of armor: two red, two blue. In addition there are three pedestals, each with one blue medallion and one red medallion sitting on top.

Ruin rushes into the room, attempting to grab both medallions off the furthest pedestal at the same time. Instead, he stumbles and knocks them both into the far corner. Still, we make it to the medallions, and Ruin grabs the red one while Marshall Mercy grabs the blue one. We now have control of two of the shield guardians; the other two are trying to kill us. The pedestals and the other amulets immediately vanish.

Even so, it's a tough fight. We're right on the edge of a Total Party Kill until we finally take down one of the attacking guardians. After that, taking down the other one is a lot easier. With the battle won, another pedestal appears with a ruby on it; it's large and hideously valuable, and looks light it might have been cut to be a spell component.

Afterwards Azrael supplies us with a Rope Trick and we rest.

We proceed to the next room, and encounter a black pudding. Ruin whacks it, Azrael Fireballs it, and Martini shoots it; then it grabs Ruin and fucks him up. We do a bit more damage and Ruin breaks the grapple; Azrael finishes the thing with Magic Missile.

In the next room is an altar. Behind the altar is big statue... which is missing one eye and one hand, so it's clearly a statue of Vecna. There are also two troll skeletons stalking around in here. This would be a great time to turn around and go somewhere else, buuuuut we're trapped, so we beat them down with a combination of Black Tentacles and other attacks. They're tough, but not unbeatable; they both go down.

We enter the room, noting that the altar in front of the statue has a small depression in the middle of it, just about the right size for the ruby. We also note that there are no other exits; if putting the gem in the altar doesn't let us out somehow, we're trapped.

...And that's when the skeletons stand back up.

Martini leaps up onto the nearest skeleton's head and rips the rubies out of its eye sockets in an amazing display of acrobatics; it falls. We beat the second one down, and Ruin rips the rubies out of its eyes as well.

This time, they stay down.

We search the room very carefully, but there are no secret doors and no other exits. We go back and check the cave-in, but the entrance is still completely blocked. About the only thing left to try is to put the ruby into the altar -- risky, but we don't have much choice. So we go back down to the altar room and do so.

At the last possible moment we realize that what we're putting on the altar isn't the ruby; it's the bloody Eye of Vecna, and it's fooled us into returning it. It vanishes from the altar in a burst of light, and Ruin swears he hears it chuckle with a bit of vitreous humor. And at that point the altar room fades around us, and we found ourselves in an inn somewhere completely else.

And that's where we'll be starting next session: figuring out where we are and what the hell just happened.

Monday, December 9, 2019

IMPART: Retrieving the Godhood

This is our second aside as part of the IMPART campaign, where -- when we don't have enough players for our usual campaign -- we do one-shot adventures in which we head off to high-level battles as part of a vaguely-Avengers force that helps protect the Mulitverse. This week's cast included:

Lexx Bloodgood, a Fallen Aasimar Fighter (Champion)
Freek, a Human Warlock (The Fiend)
Sierra, an Aasimar Cleric/Sorcerer
Meghan Bridie Glivet, Human Fighter/Cleric (Grave Domain)

OOC Notes:
We had several absences plus two additional last-minute cancellations, so the challenge balance on this one was a little off; I note with considerable admiration that our DM essentially fixed it on the fly.

Game Notes:
We've been tapped to retrieve the Godhood of a fallen god - one that fell across worlds, and crushed a village when it landed on this material plane. The landscape was once beautiful, but now is scarred by the fall of the god.

We're interrogating a dead bandit who got killed by angels, and they were just here to salvage whatever they could from the destruction - looters, basically. They haven't seen a humanoid misty shape like the one we were told to seek; they did see plenty of winged angelic types that cut them down.

The meteor that crashed into the center of the village is a curled-up humanoid, impossibly large. There are figures around it, but Lexx can't make them out. We move on, racing to get closer.

The closer we get, the more bodies we see -- and they aren't all human. Reaching the village, we find a few Devas still lurking around the god's body. Scythe is among them, wounded but still functional. Scythe immediately approaches, leaning on her scythe. Scythe is going to lead us past the guards, so we follow her. Meghan: What locals could be a problem for Devas? Apparently there was a very powerful bandit camp around here; they had powerful weapons; we've take care of them, and we're cleaning up now.

Moving closer, we can see a few more details: all through the village and around are these red puddles. They're hard to avoid... Meghan steps in a puddle and takes damage (radiant and acid). The substance is ichor -- godsblood -- horrifying powerful and dangerous. Viscous and unnaturally red, with gold specks like stars -- it's also glowing. However, nobody has ever been able to find a way to interact with it safely; containers won't hold it, and spells won't either.

Scythe takes us as close as she can, then asks us to get on with it. We look around for the godhood, but don't see any red mist. Meghan holds the phylactery against the fallen god... but nothing happens. Scythe sort of crumples emotionally at this. "In the attack we had to break ranks so we could get villagers out and... something must have taken it while we weren't looking. Check the village -- maybe whatever took it is still here."

We begin investigating the village: fallen bodies, wrecked buildings. Freek finds a book that's partly destroyed by ichor called The Curse of the Hill Shrine. The book is damaged, but... "Invaders, a shrine was lost, they watch over--, beware the dual gaze." We notice on the east side, just beyond the fallen god's hip, there's a small structure on the top of a hill. Possibly a shrine? We'd have to go around the god, but it's plenty close enough for something to have slipped out, taken the godhead, and gone back in. This is a male war god -- a patron of anger, war, and hate. As he fell, he opened a portal to the nearest convenient parallel dimension because fuck you, that's why.

Songbird's character Sierra sends a message to Scythe, who flies (poorly) over to join us. Songbird uses a healing prayer to restore scythe and partly restore others as we pass. It's not huge, but it's better than nothing.

On the way up the hill, we notice some carved stones -- old, not recent, nothing to do with the ichor -- with worn carvings. They grow larger and more frequent towards the top of the hill, but the ones at the very top are, well, toppled... and at the top is a sort of stone shrine or gazebo. There's a low pillar in the center, with an orb at the top. As we near it, we see something like an ethereal being hovering over the orb and absorbing the red mist.

The thing absorbing the mist seemed fairly... harmless -- but the more of the mist it absorbs, the stronger and angrier it seems. It's an ethereal being roughly our size. Its essence darkens and grows red, soaking into the shrine as well as the being. The ethereal being itself sort of fades into the orb in the center of the gazebo... and the dark, angry aura spreads out through the rest of the shrine. Freek yells for it to stop (Command) but it shrugs his spell off with an epic effort and finishes its meal. And the battle begins.

Lexx has their wings out and opens by attacking the orb, and hits it pretty hard.
Analysis: This thing is a divinty/aberration mix, Neutral (but Neutral Furious) with high Wisdom (20) and Intelligence (18). Sierra drops a massive firestorm on the gazebo and surges up into the air. Lexx, in the center of the storm, is fine -- despite the gazebo's attempt to shove him into another plane of existence with a Devour attack.

Analysis 2: The orb and the shrine are one, so Freek's plan to try to break its power by using Plane Shift to move the orb elsewhere is a no-go. It's solid (AC 20), Str and Dx are both 16, it seems to have fairly normal perceptions; it can do two actions -- try to devour, or try to blast. It definitely has the godhood and presents as agender. And it has legendary actions for Devour, Ray, and Smite (a modified/enhanced Chain Lightning) - very powerfully. Freek drops Darkness on the temple, and effectively blinds it. Godzebo casts Chain Lightning in retaliation - though we're lucky and it doesn't do too much damage.

Then the Gazebo attacks, with a 150' cone that wipes out the magical darkness, the fire, and the holy aura. It's a massive anti-magic field, covering... 1/8 or so of its radius. We need to get out of this field. It can see all of us now. And it's not done yet. It hits Lexx with a magical beam attack - hard. Then it attacks Sierra with something else, inflicting Necrotic damage.

Analysis 3: It has 18 Cha and 20 Con, with 1,000 or so HP. It's resistant to radiant, necrotic, and thunder. It's immune to cold, lightning, fire, and non-magical attacks. It can do a charm ray (wis), paralyzing ray (con), fear ray (wis), slow ray (dex), ennervation ray (con) necrotic dam, telekinetic (str or be moved), sleep (wis), petrification ray (dex), disentegration ray, death ray (dex, necrotic). It's weak again Force damage, but...

It's a demonic Beholder-god in the form of a building, basically. You might call it a Gaze-bo.

Meghan drops Blight on it, and Freek hits it with Eldritch blast and then Hurls it Through Hell, doing a perfectly ridiculous amount of damage to the thing. Sierra Wishes that we were all immune to Charm, Death, Disentigration, Petrification, and Sleep. We are all protected!

The Godzebo then attacks Lexx with Devour, drawing him briefly into another plane and, um, damaging him slightly. And also Lexx is gone. Meghan prays for divine assistance (silently, b/c she's been paralyzed in the meantime) and asks for a gate back out of the Devour-space. Her god, the Harvest Maid: I'll go you one better.

There's now a gate from the Devourspace to the roof of the Gazebo.

Meghan breaks her paralysis.

The Gazebo is not happy about this. It hits Scythe with an enervation ray, for notable but not crippling damage. Scythe responds by attacking and apparently damaging it. Lexx, back on his feet, attacks it four times, and hits with all four to good effect.

The Gazebo is pissed. It does radiant 40 and lightning 25 dmg with, I think, Chain Lightning. Sierra prays, but gets no immediate response. She moves out of the anti-magic cone. Freek moves out of the Anti-magic cone on the other side and tries Eldritch blast again, missing with one ray but hitting with the other three.

The Gazebo attacks Meghan, doing a bit of damage, then attacks Lexx for necrotic damage. Then it attacks Meghan again but fails to paralyze her. Meghan drops a Blade Barrier on top of the orb itself, because magical slashing damage. The Godzebo attacks Scythe, who manages to avoid being devoured but does take a little bit of damage. Irritated, Scythe drops some healing on Lexx.

Sierra swings back down, pulls a blanket out of her pouch, and covers the orb with it. The Orb is blinded, and unable to use its rays. Blanket for the win! It angrily tries to Devour her, but she twists away from it. Freek blasts it again. Meghan: "Gosh, I sure wish this thing had vulnerability to Fire." Scythe smacks the thing for a bunch of damage. So does Lexx.

Lexx gets eaten and immediately comes back out of the portal. (Lexx swears in Abyssal, it turns out.)

Sierra casts Fire Storm again, and does a perfectly obscene amount of damage. Freek follows up with another eldritch blast; and of course the orb's still sitting in the middle of a blade barrier.

Badly damaged, the Godzebo... speaks. It's arguing with itself: this has to be over/it can't be over. It targets Scythe again, more or less by accident sicne it's blinded. Meghan hits it with Blight again, using up the last of its Epic Resistances. Scythe smacks it again.

It's Lexx's turn, and he smacks it again and the glass orb shatters under the blanket. A soundless dual-voice wailing streams out -- one hating and violent, the other remorseful and relieved. Two beings separate, one taking on a physical form and collapsing inside the gazebo, while the red mist rises up beside it. It looks angry.

Meghan waves the phylactery at it, and sucks in the mist. The runes on the phylactery glow a bright yellow even as the red mist struggles to escape. Then phylactery turns dark red, and the runes fade to a lighter glow.

Lexx checks on the fallen being. It's exhausted; it looks like it's struggling to stand. Sierra drops some healing on it. It's hard to tell if it's male or female; it has mismatched eyes, green and yellow, and its voice drops between higher and lower pitches. It claps Lexx on the shoulder, thanks Lexx and Sierra, and apologizes sincerely. I didn't mean to hurt you, I just wanted my power back.

Lexx: Were you a God?

Being: A long time ago. I had followers. They loved me, feared me, sometimes both. I gave them everything I could. And then war came. I had no power after that. The victors built some new shrine for some new god, but it... wasn't for me.

Sierra: Can you help people to the afterlife? There are a lot of dead bodies down there in the village.

Being: I was a god of life and death, male and female, duality.

Sierra: Right, we're bringing you back. We're going to set up a church, restore your worship. Help us bring these people peace.

Being: I... will try. I can't promise, but I'll try.

Being, turning to Lexx: "You dealt the final blow. You helped me at the same time. I know not what I can do, but if there be anything... I am the balance of opposites..."

Lexx: It's taken some time to temper my own self. The best thing you can do for me... is to thrive."

Being: "You seem both sad and happy."

Lexx: True. I've lost things, but found friends... and inspiration. (looking at Scythe)

Being: takes Lexx's hand and clasps it with both theirs, concentrates, and gives Lexx a permanent character inspiration.

Being: Says nice things to Freek.

Freek: Being a warlock was the only way to be able to do the things I felt like I needed to do.

Being: I hope if we meet again you will share your stories with me.

Freek: I would love that.

Being: Sierra, thank you for showing mercy.

Scythe: Whenever you want, IMPART will take you in. There might even be a few followers waiting.

Being: I think I'm better here. I know it seems like a good idea.

Scythe: Gives the being an IMPART amulet anyway.

So basically, we captured the godhood of the fallen (and very much out of place) Angry Volcano-War-Spite God, made nice with the mostly-forgotten local god (who really does have a name, we just misplaced it), and all that's left now is to lay the dead villagers to rest and maybe help their families rebuild. Freek will probably offer the occasional prayer of appreciation to the god of the shrine (since IC he would know their name), and Sierra seems interested in trying to re-establish a local base of worshipers. Also, if I ever decide to run a cleric in one of these episodes, I may have them be one of the survivors of the Volcano God's destructive crash, and a proponent of this new worship.

Also: I forgot to add that Meghan concluded that this is an alternate-world version of her own Harvest Maid, and decided to dedicate herself to wandering the world and spreading its word to all.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

ItB 007: Survivors

"Survivors, Captain." Padma's voice was crisp and efficient through Caden's implant. "Three were supposed to be ship's crew here on the Ascendancy. One claims to have escaped from the station, and keeps saying that we have to go now. He says the Ninety-Fifty is going to sabotage the ship and destroy the station."

Caden pulsed an acknowledgement. "Your plan?"

"Split," answered Padma. "Two of three. I'll leave Ngawa and hers to guard the docking bay, and take O'Bannon and Campbell to look for the Ninety-Fifth."

"Concur," responded Caden. "We'll send support as soon as we can."

"Shuttles inbound to landing bay this time," pulsed Celia. "Updating Majesty of Earth." Both Caden and Padma acknowledged that.

Caden's six had been moving along the corridor, and now they reached an opening.

"Careful," said Tamimi, as Shannon reached across to grab one of the metal rungs. "We lost gravity for about half an hour two hours back. It's been stable since, but... it was hell trying to avoid that thing when everything was floating loose."

Shannon nodded an acknowledgement and started down as Scout raced past him. Walker patted her on the shoulder again, then moved to follow. Velasquez slipped down the shaft almost unseen, and Caden motioned for Tamimi to proceed. She grasped a rung, tested it, then swung out and started down. Watch her.

Shannon pulsed back an acknowledgement.

The gravity remained stable. According to Veranovich, the primary astrophysicist on the Ultima Ratio, the station appeared to be tapping the moon's gravity well, creating limited artificial gravity within the station without pulling itself out of orbit. That was more than just unusual; as far as Caden knew, it was unprecedented. The larger stations simulated gravity through centripetal force, while the smaller ones didn't bother. Caden wasn't aware of any station, no matter how experimental, that could hold a stable orbit and still borrow gravity from a moon like this. It was enough to explain why Hirakawa's Celestial Triumph had been built all the way out here in orbit around Ganymede. Clearly they were experimenting with technologies that hadn't been established elsewhere. And very possibly those technologies, or their origins, had been stolen.

A pulse from Padma reached his implant: "Heading into the Ascendancy, Captain. Ngawa has the bay."

Caden grasped a rung and stepped out into the shaft. "Understood. We are proceeding towards vac-suit for survivor Valenzuela Tamimi."

A few moments later he was on the next deck down, and Basque and Siegel were coming down behind him.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Music: Üks kord veel (One More Time)

It's an Estonian band (and, yes, they're singing in Estonian, I don't care, listen to it anyway) called Traffic:

The lyrics are on the youtube page, you can run them through if you really need to know, but it's exactly what you probably think it is.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Dark Armor 002

"So: the Black Knight, Champion of Teregor. On your way to raze the camp of the enemy?"

It was well past midnight, and Pallian had just come out of the stream on the enemy's side of the valley. He looked around the woods, but saw nothing; his armor, usually sensitive to the presence of enemies, found nothing either. "Just so," he answered softly. "And who are you, unseen to me?"

"I am the Shadow of Edrias," the voice replied, "sent to slay the sorcerer-prince Ravaj and as many of his officers as I can find."

"Well, Shadow?" Pallian kept his voice wry. "I don't see you, so I doubt I can keep you from your mission. Will you contest my passage?"

There was a momentary pause. "No," said the soft, echoing voice. "Will you ride back to give warning to the devil's monstrous son?"

"No," answered Pallian. He had his orders, he had given Ravaj as much warning as his brother should need, and there was no point in issuing a challenge when neither army would consider itself bound by the results.

"Then I bid you safe passage. If you bear slightly to the south as you leave the wood, you'll find a trail that will take you to the top of the ridge. It's steep in places, but I suspect your mount will manage."

Pallian considered that, but only for a moment; fair was fair. "I came down along a similar trail that lies straight back towards the ridge; follow the curve of the rock."

There was no reply, and after a moment he nudged his horse forward. Black carried him along, and a dozen strides later they emerged from the trees. There was movement, finally, behind them: something that had seemed a piece of one of the trees separated itself and slipped away towards the stream. Be damned, he thought, admiring. They must have passed within thirty feet of each other, and he hadn't seen a thing.

Notes: if you missed it earlier, Pallian was originally named Ingloris. Or, if you prefer, Ingloris has had his name changed to Pallian. And it looks like this is going to be a "write it now, clean up later" sort of story. Which... I dunno, I'm just feeling like I should get back into the habit of doing those.