Friday, May 29, 2020

Darvinin: Resurrections 2

The Lonely Ogre was a dockside inn, albeit one of the better ones. He barely noticed as he followed Shanna and the dark elf Sam across the common room to the stairs at the back; he was too busy concentrating on staying upright. Sam stepped aside at the bottom of the staircase and motioned for him to keep following Shanna. "Are you sure you want to be under me if I fall?"

Sam just chuckled. "I could carry you up if you'd prefer, big boy."

Darvinin shook his head and started up the stairs, keeping one hand carefully on the rail.

"Besides," added Sam, "the view is better from back here."

Shanna glanced back and smiled, but Darvinin just shook his head.

They reached the top of the stairs and Darvinin stopped, half-afraid to let go of the railing even on flat ground. Sam took his arm and guided him along, taking his weight easily when he swayed into her. The hallway wasn't too narrow, at least. They followed Shanna to a door, where she knocked in a complicated pattern before lifting the latch. She swung the door open and stepped inside.

The room beyond turned out to be a suite: several bedrooms and a bathing-room set around a central area which contained two long couches and a table. There was a halfling sitting in a wooden chair at the table, and a forest cat curled up on one of the couches.

Another familiar voice said, "Did you have any luck?" and then Mistra stepped out of one of the bedrooms. She looked just as she had when they were guarding the king; she still wore the uniform of the King's Own.

Darvinin stopped cold, forced himself upright, closed his gaping mouth, and said: "Mistra?"

Then he threw up all over the floor.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Darvinin: Resurrections 1

"Darvinin?"

The true elf turned in his seat, keeping his brandy in the glass through reflexes refined by long practice. He knew that voice; he knew this face. "Shanna?"

"Wow. How drunk are you?" asked another voice, deeper but still feminine, and Darvinin tilted his head up to regard the darkest-skinned elf he'd ever seen.

"Well," he said seriously. "To the left, I'm entirely too drunk; I'm fairly sure that a newborn goblin could kill me, if the High Provost commanded it. To the right, I'm not nearly drunk enough; I keep remembering all the things I don't want to be thinking about."

The dark-skinned elf glanced down at Shanna. "He's cute when he's like this."

Shanna shook her head. "No, he's not. Darvinin, what happened to you? You were always the steady one."

Darvinin drained his glass and held it out behind him. Someone took it and handed him another. "Well, I mean, there was the rogue elvish army," he said, "and then there was the part where they murdered Tiatha. And, and the part where the left me to be questioned by the Duke of Janbridge's chief torturer, who was quite talented for a human. Then Ruin rescued me and we all escaped, and then... and then he died."

"Yeah, about that..." said the dark-skinned elf, but Shanna gestured and she stopped.

"I felt it," Darvinin said, so quietly that Shanna had to read it from his lips. "I felt him die." He shook his head. "But I can't shake the feeling that he isn't gone. I keep expecting him to speak to me. Or maybe just to step out of nowhere and start killing. How strange is that?"

"Not that strange, cousin," said Shanna. "Come on, you've had enough for tonight. We have rooms nearby; come back with us and sleep it off. There's somebody you need to see."

Darvinin looked from Shanna to her dark-skinned companion and back. "I... yes?" He set the glass down and tried to stand, discovering in the process that the bar stool was oddly taller than it had been when he'd sat down on it. The floor seemed to be swaying, too. "I'm done," he said, with an unexpected sense of finality. "Tell me what to do next."

They did.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Servants of Vecna: Kill the Solari

We're finally getting back to the GozarTD campaign in the nation of Sol Povos. This game started with one group of characters, flipped to a second (arguably more heroic) group, and then kicked over to a mostly-elvish party to get a bit of their perspective. At that point (just after Christmas), our DM took a break so I started running the Saltmarsh campaign; now we basically have three parties worth of adventurers, and we'll be switching off between them. In order to avoid losing focus (on the one D&D night where everybody can play) we're alternating storyline between the two campaigns. So, tonight we started in on the "bad guy" party; when we reach a stopping point with them, I'll run an adventure in Saltmarsh; and when we finish the adventure he'll run the next segment of Sol Povos with another group of our characters

Cast:
Jenny, a human barbarian who collects men, from the original group of characters.
Chuck, our sorcerer from the original group, now a vampire.
Durest, a cleric with a serious interest in necromancy, also from the original group.
Hatch Firebrand, a halfling arcane trickster, new to the campaign. (This is 3.5, so to get to arcane trickster he's got a level of rogue, several levels of wizard, a level of assassin, and then the Arcane Trickster prestige class.)
Ramekin, Hatch's familiar, an imp.

We begin:
A Cassadia approaches Durest in the woods, where he's being cranky after being tossed out of a rather nice Chateau that the original group kept trying to lay claim to. Cassadia is a title among the worshippers of Vecna, so this one's name is actually Pascalina. She's come to recruit Durest to the Dark Army on behalf of Maodeus. He seeks to conquer Sol Povos and create a new, more accepting nation. She passes over a sack of black onyx, and Durest is in. (He needs lots of black onyx to make his undead.)

This is about the point when Jenny arrives with her harem, having received a letter about the invading army needing an elite strike force. She's brought Chuck in a large burlap sack, because he's a vampire and sunlight is bad for him and also because he got his brains scrambled in a magical duel a while back and is kind of a raving idiot right now. Pascalina (the Cassadia) is the chamberlain of the Baron of Springhollow. "Meet me at the Scarlet Queen tonight, and I will introduce you to the fourth member of your band and tell you of your mission. If you succeed, you will be well rewarded."

The Scarlet Queen is a bar/brothel/gambling den - basically your all-purpose House of Sin, very high class. There are a couple of fairly tough guards just inside the door. They're carrying magical greatswords and wearing mithril chain shirts. There's a counter with a guy behind it. "Can I help you?"

Chuck takes the lead, since he's A) a sorcerer, and charismatic, and B) a vampire and can basically make anybody believe anything. "You're probably expecting us. Chuck Dominguez."

Guy behind the counter, surprised: "We are, actually."

We are led to a private room. Inside is someone we've never met, along with Pacalina, two more of the guards, and a pair of jesters doing a very noisy act to discourage eavesdroppers.

Pascalina welcomes us. "Let me introduce the fourth member of your gang: Hatch Firebrand. He's a specialist."

Chuck: "We're not a gang, we're an organization. It's very important, for tax reasons."

This is not entirely true; Chuck actually does have a sort of criminal gang going.

Pascalina: "We needn't have the guards here for this, but they're expected for a private gambling room such as this one." She's a human woman, looking more than a little like Selma Hayek. "My master just moved a great army into this land -- some fifty thousand troops. But he doesn't have Solari. And the Solari are powerful. So he needs a group that can hunt Solari."

That would be us.

So the pay is good, plus we can collect equipment from them. And Jenny can collect some fine specimens for her harem.

The forces of Vecna have balanced the human army against the elves, then brought in their own army which has now split into two, with the evilized dragon Maodeus leading one, and the Hierophant in charge of Vecna's church leading the other. The human king, meanwhile, has assembled an army of Solari to forestall Maodeus' advance, while the Western Army was sent to deal with the elves.

Pascalina continues, "We're in a stalemate. We're well supplied, but we need someone to take down the Solari so we can proceed. So the first mission my master has for you is to destroy Springhollow. Take the castle, kill the Solari, kill the royals, turn them into undead. We're behind their lines; Let the army at Renfall know that they don't have us trapped. When you take the castle here, kill everyone inside and turn them into undead; we must strike fear into the populace." She produces a large chest loaded with black onyx.

Durest: "Marry me."

Springhollow has a famous enchanting school known as the Crimson Staff, where Chuck qualified but never joined. "The most powerful Solari here is the artificer Ann Varone, one of the prime teachers there. She was serving her month in the capital when the army arrived, so she was taken into the king's army. The two who remain are her apprentices, Violet and Amelia. There's a rogue named Angelique who's almost as strong, and after that a ranger named Florian, an Orc Barbarian named Durax, a monk named Sophie, and another ranger named Joelle. Seven Solari in Springhollow total. And two of them are in the room next door."

Amelia and Violet live in the Crimson Staff, which is nowhere near so powerful as it was now that Ann Varone is busy in the army. "So Amelia, her husband, and Angelique here, then go to the Crimson Staff and kill Violet, and then there's basically nobody left to protect the keep."

"There's a sphynx that guards the front door to the Crimson Staff; if it thinks you're intruders it will roar, and then everyone inside will know. The tower has four level, and your targets are on the fourth. The top is a giant dome, and there are windows.

Pascalina departs, soothing the guards on her way out. We drop some buffs on ourselves and then get ready to tear through the wall to the next room. Chuck casts Protection from Energy on himself, then uses Gaseous Form to slide through the cracks in the wall. Hatch and Durest, meanwhile, walk around to the door -- Hatch in a spectacular display of stealth, and Durst clumping along behind him like a steel elephant.

Angelique hears him yells for Henry to get under the table. She runs to the door and opens it. Durest waves: "Evenin', lassie!"

Her: "Oh! Um... sorry."

Chuck materializes from mist form and drops a fireball at his own feet. The husband is immolated; the rogue (Angelique) is untouched. The wizard is scorched, as are the guards. Ramekin zaps the rogue with shocking grasp, and Hatch blasts her with scorching ray and takes her down.

Jenny rages and smacks into the wall before she reels back, cursing. Durests cast Hold Person on one of the guards, while the other moves over and tries to attack Chuck, but Chuck basically blocks with his bare hand and doesn't take any damage. Hatch moves into the room, not as subtly as he could have. He sneak attacks the mobile guard with a scorching ray. It hurts, but he doesn't go down. Ramekin uses a wand to cast Grease on the wizard, badly upsetting her balance; she manages to keep her feet. Jenny smashes through the wall and charges up to the paralyzed guard, and just slams her chain down on him. Durest steps in and takes down the mobile guard with Inflict Wounds. Chuck jumps up to the roof and sticks there, spider-man style with his face down, and then casts Acid Arrow on the wizard. She's still dealing with the grease spell, so she's not at her best, balance-wise. She's now damaged and coated with acid.

She tries Limited Wish to reproduce Circle of Death. That kills the second guard... and Jenny... and some revelers out in the main room... and maybe a few other people, too. Hatch finishes the wizard and we loot the bodies.

The rogue had 2 +2 daggers, a +1 shortbow, +2 gloves of dex, +2 cloak of resistance, +1 amulet of natural armor, and a +1 ring of protection. (Magic items in 3.5 are fairly easy to come by; all part of the economy.)

Amelia had Bracers of armor +3 Headband of intellect +2 Amulet of Natural Armor +2 Ring of protection +2 Cloak of resistance +3.

The guards had +1 greatsword and +1 Mithril chain shirts, plus 500 GP apiece. (So basically all that, doubled.)

Pascalina is waiting for us in the hallway (having very luckily not died) and unlocks a door to lead us out. She departs, and now it's time to go to the tower.

We leave Bob the Frost Giant Skeleton out front with orders to kill anybody who tries to leave, then Dimension Door up to the top of the tower, where Jenny smashes through the roof and surprises Violette. Well, sort of surprises her; Hatch turns invisible, and Violetta throws Chain Lightning at Jenny, which then spreads out to the rest of us. Also, her prepared defenses kick in and mirror images of her appear around her.

Chuck responds by dropping a fireball on her and all her little images. This does not dispel them, but it helps. Durest casts Fly on himself, and Jenny leaps down into the room. She lands painfully, but crosses the room and attacks, dispelling an image.

Violette dominates Jenny; Chuck attempts to counter-dominate but fails. Durest hits Jenny with Hold Person, because even after raising her from the dead he really doesn't want her trying to carve us up. Hatch steps off the wall and drops to the ground, buoyed by his Ring of Feather Fall.

Hatch manages to hit Violette with a ray of frost.

She tries Bigby's Grasping Hand on Durest. It grabs him; he's grappled. Chuck drops an array of magic missiles, and wipes out the rest of the images. She glares at him.

Durest attempts to teleport free and fails. Hatch does an empowered scorching ray as a sneak attack, doing a hideous amount of damage, then follows it up with a quickened Ray of Frost and takes her down.

We loot her corpse. And honestly? We don't think anybody heard that, at least not enough to be alarmed by it.All the apprentices are still downstairs. Chuck, our vampire sorcerer, drains her. "Remember me?"

Bracers of armor +3, Amulet of Natural Armor +2 Ring of Protection + 2, Cloak of resistance +3, headband of intellect +2.

We start searching this lavishly appointed room: gold cloth, carved wooden statues, ermine tabard inlaid with oricalcum, a decorative silver broadsword; it's about 10,000 GP worth of art, and we take it. Hatch checks the first of two chests for traps, finding one; he disables it. He then unlocks it.

1. Arcane Scroll (Shocking Grasp (25 gp), Command Undead (150 gp), Knock (150 gp)) (total 325 gp)
2. Divine Scroll (Cure Light Wounds (25 gp), Animal Messenger (150 gp), Barkskin (150 gp)) (total 325 gp)
3. Potion of Cure Moderate Wounds (300 gp)

He moves on to the second chest, disables it and unlocks it: 2,750 in gold and gems.

We continue on, looting as we go but staying to the top floor. We find the married couple's bedroom; it's every bit as opulent as the last room, and the art is worth about 10,000 GP. Hatch checks over the armoires.

Fine nobleman's clothes and 410 GP worth of gems; the other has fine women's clothes , 5,000 gp, and an arcane scroll of ice storm which Hatch promptly claims for his spellbook.

The last door is *very* locked, but Hatch and his imp familiar manage to open it. The room beyond is larger and even fancier. Hatch searches the desk: 5,000 GP raven statue, ring of animal friendship 10,800 GP. Hatch takes them, and dragon statue shoots a bolt of lightning at him for considerable damage. The dragon's eyes are glowing, and Hatch heads for the door -- but not fast enough to completely escape the next lightning bolt.

Durest pulls the doors shut, and the dragon annihilates them. A few seconds later it blasts a hole through the wall beyond them. Durest heals him and then follows up with a bit of cure light wands.

Hatch goes back inside to try to disable the dragon. Chuck drops some elemental protection on him and he attempts to disable, but fails and sets the dragon off. It zaps his shield, but he tries again. He fails again, and flees the room.

He attempts to disable the thing at range (arcane trickster) and we cower in the hallway while the dragon blasts things.

Chuck heads into the bedroom in gaseous form. The bed is a levitation field: sort of a medieval magic waterbed.

Deciding that discretion is the better part of valor, we decide to go take the castle and come back for this place. It's going to be our new headquarters sooner or later.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

RoH: Subtlety

Doblim was a hill town, nestled at the nexus of forest and grasslands and mountains; its production was a mix of mining, logging, ranching, and farming, supplemented by a host of local crafters and brewers and artisans. It had survived the war in part due to an active and well-trained militia, but also because it had been small enough to avoid the dark lord's full attention. In the aftermath, with the dark lord dead and its armies defeated, Doblim was well on its way to becoming a city-state, mostly by virtue of having had the luck to come through the Great War intact.

Remant rode in at the back of the caravan, just another guard doing just another job. The wagons split in the merchant's square, with the Mornmith family and the handful of other travelers going their own way, while the four wagons belonging to the merchant Teldis pulled up in front of a large warehouse that bordered the square. Ikara motioned them over, then distributed them around the wagons while Teldis' servants unloaded the wagons. It was tedious, but necessary: the odds of crime were low, but they would increase spectacularly if it looked as if nobody was on guard.

When they were done, Teldis herself emerged. "You're welcome here tonight; there are rooms off the stables, and my cook will have dinner sent down. I have your coins here."

Remant joined the line and collected his pay, adding it to his wallet. It would support him for several days, even if he ignored the offer of food and shelter. He intended to be traveling out on another job well before then.

"You never take those gloves off," Itren observed quietly, sitting beside Remant while he ate the breaded pork and baked vegetables that the cook had sent down.

He shrugged, as if it were merely a quirk of his personality. He had never been a particularly good liar, and that was a problem. Dandris knew his secret, but Dandris was further down the table and didn't seem to have noticed the question. There was no help to be had from them. "I don't want to be caught unprepared."

She chuckled. "It's not the best of table manners," she said, ignoring fork and knife to raise a piece of breaded pork in her bare fingers and bite into it directly.

Remant looked at the fork and knife in his gloved hands, and chuckled. "You mock me."

Itren shrugged. "Not intentionally. I merely think you should know that you aren't as discreet as you hope. Beyond that..." She turned her head, met his eyes with her own piercing pale blue ones. "I'd only wish to thank you. If there's anything I can do to help, let me know."

Remant glanced around the table, but Ikara was absorbed in her food and Javill was asking if she had a line on future jobs.

"I'll keep it in mind," he said. "All of it."

He slept alone, and in the morning he rose and saddled his horse and went out and got arrested.

Monday, May 25, 2020

RoH: Identities

"Two days out," said Dandris, and Remant nodded. They'd come off the high road that crossed above the thress-grass a day earlier, and were following the cruder paved-stone way that led on towards Doblim. The way here was hillier, and the road twisted and curved, rose and fell, while the sky alternated sun and cloud-shade overhead. In addition to the cover of the hills, there was more shelter here: patches of brush and low trees, following the lines of streams and rivers. The grasslands had held their own dangers, but if they were going to be ambushed by bandits it would be here: far enough out from the city to be unnoticed, but near enough that the bandits could sell whatever they took.

Ikara rode up beside them, her domek towering over their horses. "Worried?" she asked, and they both nodded. "I'll take lead. You two scout ahead."

The domek was thick-skinned and heavy, strong and difficult to injure. It couldn't match a horse's speed, but then Ikara's job was to stay steady and call orders, not to charge into battle. Remant checked his weapons, then strung his bow and nodded to Dandris, who had done the same. They nodded back, bow in one hand and reins in the other, ready.

They nudged their horses into a trot, moving up the road and extending their distance from the caravan.

"Ikara expects us to scout and report back," observed Dandris. Their expression was neutral, their voice quiet.

"You have another idea?" asked Remant.

Dandris nodded. "We go forward, draw any trouble to us. We clear the way." Dandris glanced at him. "You may need to do things you don't want the others to see. I may as well."

Remant felt his shoulders tighten. "What is it that you think I'm going to do?"

Dandris raised one shoulder, then let it drop. "When we served under the mage-lord of Kordiva," they said, "we were put into crystals and given new bodies, each with its own crystal. I am Botur, who speaks to you now. When my companions' bodies were slain, I gathered their crystals and added them to my flesh. The mage-lord is dead and her growing-tanks demolished, so here they remain. I am not one; we are many. And we think we recognize you."

Remant said, "Ah." He'd been introduced to Dandris as someone whose gender was fluid; he hadn't realized that it was because they were a collective, their gender varying by which individual had taken the lead in any given situation. He doubted anyone else in the caravan knew either. "One of you is a sensitive."

"Kila was our mage-ensign," Dandris said. "You were... unmistakable."

He would be, to even a half-competent battle-mage, if they were paying attention. And a mage caught in a single body with several other individuals might choose to turn their attentions to the more esoteric aspects of the world around them, rather than trying to assert control over the body or the group inside it. "I'll keep your secret if you'll keep mine," Remant said quietly.

"That," answered Dandris, "was the plan."

They rode in silence for nearly an hour before they came to the place where a tree had been felled across the road. Remant didn't need more than a glance to see that it had been cut; he'd been expecting something of the sort. Stones, perhaps, if the hills had been higher around them. He sighed and raised his bow, picking out targets in the brush. A dozen, two... a handful more than that.

He exchanged a quick glance with Dandris, then lifted his bow and began killing. Dandris was doing the same. Between the two of them, he thought they took down six before the others charged and he had to draw his sword.

Dandris had been right. It was better that they were alone. When the robed figure stood and called forth some horrible shade, Remant was able to throw himself in front of it and let his blade carve into it as if it were ordinary flesh, while Dandris speared the mage with a lance of fire from their hand. When two of the bandits caught him at once, Remant was able to catch a blade in his left hand and wrench it aside so that he could cut its owner in half. Dandris fought behind an odd, blurring effect that made them hard to see and harder to hit. And when the last half-dozen bandits broke and fled, Remant and Dandris were both breathing hard and looking satisfied.

"It's good not to have to hide," Dandris said.

"Dangerous," said Remant.

"But good," said Dandris, and Remant found himself nodding in agreement.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Sol Povos: We Get Our Bodies Back

We had traveled to a world that seems to be trapped in the Eye of Vecna, where we learned that Vecna probably wasn't actually Vecna, but he was an advisor who betrayed the king and brought darkness to the land.

Meanwhile in Duendewood there was an army of elves marching west, which wore Aramar/Annun colors -- official Elvish colors on a very dodgy army. We'd been addressing attacks from human forces coming through gates; they seem to originate in the Bambridge castle basement.

There are an undead T-rex and and an undead cloud giant in their own area. The priests are dead, because we set off some sort of device.

We end up with sixteen phylactery gems (worth about 5,000 gold pieces) and six costume gems. Azrael looks over the gems and declares that they've been treated with a Soul Trap spell, probably augmented by an unknown spell that pulls the souls in to populate them. Marshall hangs on to two of them; Ruin looks around and finds a bag for the rest.

There's a lot of equipment, including gem extractors; everybody gets a gem extractor.

There's a small table with a cystal on it, which seems to be a portal crystal to the world in the eye. (Phanaxia? Or something phonetically similar.)

Marshall: "Should I touch the crystal?"

Martini: "Go ahead."

Marshall takes the crystal. Just for once, nothing horrible happens. The other skeletons are just sort of standing or shuffling around.

The route deeper into the mines is closed off. We take the one open route out. There's a skeletal dragon, and we definitely don't want to go past it; we head south instead. Ruin's medallion shares a vision of his mother and her entourage being ambushed by the dwarves; Ruin shares this with the party.

Continuing along, we reach a door. We hear something crunching around on the far side of the door. Now Ruin get another vision, this time of two dwarves dragging his mother down the hallway. We proceed down a faily long staircase, and arrive on a lower level.

We've found the jail cells. There's also a Greater Shadow here, but it ignores us. We proceed, and Ruin has yet another vision - this time of his mother behind bars, probably for a long time. In one of the southern cells we find Ruin's mother. Ruin: "Hi, mom."

Ruin's mom: "What? How? Wh-???"

Ruin: "Long story, lot of Vecna priests and undead, let's talk later and get out now."

Ruin's mom: "Wha-?" (She appears to be the only survivor.)

We exit, maneuvering Baethira around to avoid the shadows and go back up the stairs, then detour around to the kitchen. Martini casts Invisibility on Baethira, and we slip past the skeletal dragon to to the dining area.

Marshall tries to eat, and it doesn't work. Baethia eats and drinks, for the first time in weeks. The castle is Janbridge, occupied by an anti-elf house ruled by a Duke.

Mom: "So they must have... huh. This is kind of like a Magic Jar spell, so if you're close enough you can probably repossess your body. So right now you're probably just too far away."

Ruin: "Can we find your spellbook?"

Mom: "Maybe. You're in the royal halls here. My rooms were to the west, for honored guests or well-to-do commoners."

We decide to check out the nearby area, since this is where the Vecna priests were located and we might as well loot their stuff.

Nearest door: no locks, no traps. Next door beyond it: there's what looks like a bedroom: bed, armoire, and a keg from the kitchen. The Armoire is trapped. Martini disables it. Inside is a candle of truth and 250 PP.

These were probably the rooms for Igor and Moses, the lieutenants.

Martini tries the next door in the sequence. Nothing much seems to be locked or trapped, but they probably weren't expecting anything.

We head off to the north wing, having looted the heck out of the eastern doors. Martini finds a trap on the door... the hard way. A block of stone falls on her head. These were the king's rooms.

We scrape her out from under the stone block, and few seconds later she reassembles. There are advantages to being a skeleton.

Martini checks for traps again but doesn't find anything else. It's still locked, though, and well beyond Martini's abilities. Ruin chops his way through. It seems to have been recently occupied, possibly by the necromancers.

We check the room; Ruin moves to guard the one door out of here.

Martini finds a trapped sack. It doesn't really work, so she just sets it off. Martini takes no damage; Marshall gets caught in a massive pillar of flame. It also sets the bookshelves on fire. We loot everything we can find.

The armoire has some really exquisite clothes worth 1200 gold. Martini searches and finds a scroll wrapped in a very nice bow. This... this is the missing spell:

Lv 6 spell, combines with animate dead casting & soul-binded gem (lv9 spell) that hasn’t been fully completed. Sucks a soul from somewhere (they are using Fanaxia, the world trapped inside the Eye of Vecna) and puts into the Sun Ruby (material cost 5kgp) to create a regenerating undead.

Ruin opens the door he'd been guarding. It's a storage room. There's an open chest (trapped) and a closed chest. She tries to disarm the trap; fails and sets it off. Fortunately, the poisonous fumes are a completely moot point. It's full of gold: 42,000 gold.

The closed chest is not trapped, but may be made of enchanted wood. Martini tries to unlock it, but it is simply beyond her. However, it's only about 50 pounds; Ruin could easily carry it.

The next door is unlocked. Martini screams anyway, just to freak everybody out. It looks like a waiting room: carpet, desk, couch. She moves through to the next door.

It looks like a meeting room. We loot it and move on to a library, which has a rod on the table which is surrounded by a prismatic sphere.

Ruin cuts the table out from under the sphere, and the rod falls out. It's a control rod for controlling large numbers of undead. It allows you to go up to ten times your level instead of the usual 4. It also allows you to attempt to control undead: 1d20 + level + cha bonus vs 10 + HD of whatever you're trying to control.

The books appear to contain detailed histories of the dwarves; they seem to be very recently written.

The west wing was a museum, but it's essentially been razed at this point. We check in with Baethira, then go to see about collecting a skeletal T-rex.

We go back and Marshall takes control of the T-rex. Then he takes contrl of the cloud giant. Which is utterly insanse, but here we are. (That's 35 HD out of 80 total possible.) We release them, and send the cloud giant to go make friends with the dragon.

The cloud giant keeps it occupied while we slip past with Baethira and the t-rex. The hallway beyond is magically lit, making the dried blood on the floors really obvious. We take a side-passage to the north to get out of sight, and start opening doors.

It's skeleton storage, all with rubies. Martini shoos them out the door and leaves them just wandering around outside. Marshall starts collecting undead troops. We proceed north, collecting more of them. LOTS more of them.

Bloody footprints lead into the last door. Martini checks it for traps.

There's the body of a dwarf inside; he seems to have drug himself. This is Jondur -- he was the lord chamberlain; Baethira recognizes him.

A final room is a pile of bodies. The dwarves were in various outfits; the elves wear the official colors of Aramar.

We head back south and start checking doors in the westbound passage. It opens into a kitchen, and it's exceptionally bloody. Baethira and Ruin both receive visions: this is where they slaughtered the civilians.

Martini checks the far door, and finds it opens to a cross-passage. Martin starts just opening doors. There's a dining area, where prisoners were fed potions under the instruction of an elegant woman. "Almonda!" said Baethira. "That was Almonda!"

Almonda was a very power human Solari, working under Duke Corbin of Janbridge.

Ruin: "Almonda! That was the bitch who had Devonin tortured!"

Baethira: "Wait, WHAT?"

We check a few more rooms, dining areas mostly, and find the one where the Dwarven king and his troop fended off their attackers.

We move on, finding the ultimate dead body storage: bodies, skeletons, and a pit of acid to turn one into the other.

We finally reach the front gates.

Marshall, meanwhile, tosses one of the gems into the vat of acid. Nothin happens, so he steps in for a quick bath to get the soot from the flamestrike off.

We have keys. We exit, and find our way down to the boat. (It's the Black Betty, Bam-ba-lam.) We march up, and then Azrael drops stinking cloud on the living and we start the battle.

The leader charges out of the cloud but trips and falls prone. The rest of us move up, and Azrael zaps him with Enervation. Marshall steps in and hits him with an axe. The leader stands up again, and Marhsall and Ruin both miss him. He attacks Marshall, doing a lot of damage; his lieutenant steps in and attacks, striking Marshall again.

More guys spill out onto the deck, but they're stymied by the Stinking Cloud and decide on archery from the deck. The nauseated guys run into the cabin. Two more run out and shoot at Martini with a ballista.

The skeletal T-rex chomps the heck out of the leader, and the other skeletons move in to surround us and just brutalize the lieutenant. Martini moves up and attacks the leader, and Azrael follows up with Scorching Ray and takes him down. Marshall damages the Lieutenant, who strikes back in return.

Martini and moves in misses. Ruin hits. The dinosaur finishes the job, and Marshall calls on the other living folks to surrender. The four archers jump ship and swim for shore, but the two at the ballista continue firing... until Azrael blasts them right off the boat.

We catch up with the three nauseated crewmen and make them our new crew. We now have a boat. We search but do not find any more control rods. Marshall goes looking for charts to see where they were going. We load all the skeletons on board and head off to go get our bodies back.


250 PP
Candle of Truth
14 gems worth 5,000 apiece or 1,000 apiece
Wand of silence (5 charges) worth 450 GP.
2 potions bear's endurance
1 potion of blur
1 potion of bull's strength
o Arcane Scroll (Ghost Sound (12 gp 5 sp)) (total 12 gp 5 sp)
o Arcane Scroll (Magic Aura (25 gp)) (total 25 gp)
o Arcane Scroll (Mage Armor (25 gp)) (total 25 gp)
o Arcane Scroll (Magic Weapon (25 gp), Shield (25 gp)) (total 50 gp)
o Arcane Scroll (2 x Mount (25 gp), Ventriloquism (25 gp)) (total 50 gp)
Bottle of wine worth 900 gp.
o Wizards’ clothes
o Arcane Scroll (Endure Elements (25 gp), Enlarge Person (25 gp), Magic Missile (25 gp)) (total 75 gp)
o Arcane Scroll (Eagle's Splendor (150 gp)) (total 150 gp)
o Arcane Scroll (Levitate (150 gp)) (total 150 gp)
o Arcane Scroll (Mirror Image (150 gp)) (total 150 gp)
o Arcane Scroll (Animal Messenger (200 gp)) (total 200 gp)
o Arcane Scroll (Identify (125 gp), Mage Armor (25 gp), Owl's Wisdom (150 gp)) (total 300 gp)
Clothes
Silk robe trimmed with leopard fur.
Ring of feather falling
wand of darkness (26 charges) worth 2340gp
2x +2 Amulets of Natural Armor.
2 Adamantine Battle-axes.
Wand of cure critical, 34 charges, 15080gp.
Bunch of burnt scrolls.
really exquisite clothes worth 1200 gold.
Porcelain statue of mastiff, 1,500, traveling clothes,
scroll with a bow tied around it.
Scroll of Create Lesser Phylactery (combines with Animate Dead; it's the soul-sucking component of the process).

o Potion of Lesser Restoration (300 gp)
o Potion of Neutralize Poison (750 gp)
o Potion of Nondetection (750 gp)
o Potion of Remove Paralysis (300 gp)
o Potion of Shield of Faith (+4) (600 gp)
o Potion of Undetectable Alignment (300 gp)
Chest of 42,000 gold
Mystery Chest of magic wood.

Friday, May 22, 2020

DnD Meme

I made it myself! It's based on, well, just about every party I've ever played in, actually.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

RoH: Away, and Away, and Further Away

Remant made a careful circuit around the edge of the wagons, letting Peregrine choose his own footing and watching the warhorse for signs that he might have missed something. The sun was setting in the west, and the late afternoon winds stirred the thress-grass into waves and currents that could hide almost anything, but the caravan had settled at the midpoint of one of the arches, well back from the points where gentle ramps descended from the raised road to the surface of the grasslands. Overhead, a handful of small clouds stood stubbornly in the empty sky, and birds of various sizes circled nearby. Most were too small to threaten humans or draught-animals.

Nothing seemed out of place, and with the four wagons positioned so that two stood at either end of the small camp, they were about as safe as it was possible to get. And despite the one voice at the back of his head, screaming that this was all a trick and they would be attacked at any moment, the night seemed peaceful. Finishing his course, he swung down from Peregrine's back, patted the warhorse on the shoulder, and let him over to one of the carts where he could tie him in place. The supply cart had grain, and a feeding-muzzle, and while Peregrine ate Remant strolled over to the tailgate of the lead cart, where the merchant Teldis was cooking a bowl of stew over a spirit stove.

"Here," said the older woman, and handed Remant a pewter bowl full of the stuff. "There's more if you need it."

"Thank you." He took the bowl and a spoon and walked away, looking for Ikara.

Dark-haired and dark-eyed, Ikara nodded as he approached. She was in charge of the caravan guards, a good fighter and a competent leader. "Anything?"

Remant shook his head. "Nothing."

"Enjoy it while it lasts," said Ikara, and Remant nodded.

"I plan to." He scooped a spoonful of stew into his mouth, found it heavy with grain but also some meat and vegetable, and swallowed. "You want me on early watch, or late?"

"Late," she said. Her eyes narrowed. "Let Lemanth take the early watch."

Remant nodded. Of the six guards who traveled with the caravan, he and Lemanth were the only men. Ikara, Javill, and Itren were women, and Dandris fluid. Lemanth was a war hero, a survivor of the disastrous action at Kol Diurov and -- to hear him tell it -- a leader in the spear-charge that shattered the grey flank at Noribdis. Perhaps not a great hero, he admitted, but a hero still.

That was common, and not; common, because among the living men of fighting age, most had seen battle and survived horrors. Uncommon, because most of those who had seen battle had not survived the horrors. There were women who were war heroes as well, Itren among them, but for the most part they had joined the fighting later and spoke more quietly about it. And those who remained in the world were for the most part the very young and the very old: the one family group in the caravan had a single daughter of marriageable age, and she was sitting with her family while Lemanth regaled them with a tale of his time as a soldier.

Remant looked away, and stepped back out into the darkness at the edge of the raised road.

"You don't look very impressed with the dashing young hero," said a voice, and Remant turned to see Itren standing two paces away. She hadn't turned her head to look at him.

"We're two days into his bragging," said Remant, well aware that neither he nor she was particularly older than Lemanth. "A lot of stories, a lot of details." He shrugged. "Most of the ones who were actually there don't want to talk about it at all."

He hadn't intended to get involved with this at all. Keep the caravan safe until they reached Doblim, then find another job and keep moving: that was all he had signed on for. But Teldris, the merchant, had hired Lemanth as one of her guards, and Remant was increasingly wary of the fellow. Ikara seemed to share his feelings, which was reassuring, but he wished he was more certain that she knew what needed to be done. He wasn't sure he himself did.

"I'll be keeping the early watch," said Itren, and Remant nodded slowly.

"Good," he said.

He wasn't entirely surprised when Lemanth was gone in the morning. They made a search of the camp, then rode out; but his mount was gone, along with his packs and himself. They rode a little ways back along the road, but found no sign. Remant avoided looking down into the thress-grass, and noticed that the other guards did as well.

"Enough," pronounced Ikara at last. "We need to move on." And the caravan broke camp, with Teldis shouting directions and the Mornmith family scurrying to gather their belongings and make sure the smaller children were all accounted for, while the guards patrolled the perimeter and waited for everyone else to be ready.

No, the surprise came in the late morning, when the marriageable daughter Telra hailed him from the back of her family's wagon and beckoned him over. "What do you know about Lemanth?" she asked, when he was close enough that she didn't need to raise her voice.

"Why?" asked Remant, keeping his face expressionless by an act of will.

"Itren says he was a liar." She sounded strained, tired, hurt. "She says she confronted him about his time in the war, and he'd made it all up."

Remant kept his face still. "I didn't know him," he said after a moment. "Itren was there. I would believe her. But more than that... no, I didn't trust him. The ones who lived through those battles don't talk about them -- not willingly, and not like he did, turning them into some grand adventure."

She looked away. "So I was a fool."

Remant shrugged. "You were young, and he told a good story. Did something happen between you?"

Telra shuddered. "I'd come out to give him a kiss. He wanted... more. I wasn't ready." She looked away again. "Itren was. She took care of it."

Remant nodded. "Good."

Telra turned back to study his face. "You were there, for those battles?"

Remant shook his head firmly. "I was elsewhere."

Telra frowned. "But you fought."

Remant felt himself go stiff. "If you can call it that." Then: "Don't pin any ideas on me, child."

"I wasn't," Telra assured him, though he wasn't sure he believed her. "You like her, don't you? Itren, I mean."

Remant tilted his head. "Not the way I think you mean, no. But beyond that, yes." Actually, quite a lot, after all this.

Telra nodded, though she still looked puzzled. "All right. Thank you."

Remant nodded to her and rode on. He had no doubts that Lemanth's corpse was out there feeding the grasses somewhere, but then he hadn't much doubted it before. And he didn't doubt that Itren had made the right decision, either. Keep the caravan safe until we reach Doblim, he reminded himself, then find another job and keep moving. That was what he'd signed on for.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Challenge: Zombie Apocalypse

This is part of the weekly Blogging Challenge over at Long and Short Reviews. If you'd like to participate, you can find the prompts here. They also put up a post every Wednesday where you go and link your response -- and see everyone else's. Check out their homepage to find it.

The challenge for this week is "How I'd fare in a Zombie Apocalypse," and folks, I have thought about this way too much. (Waaaaay too much.)

Also, the question seems remarkably timely, since at this point if the dead started rising up to devour the living I wouldn't EVEN be surprised.

I think I'd do pretty well. I'm not in top athletic trim, but I'm in decent shape; but then, I feel like if you find yourself having to rely on your physical prowess to battle or outrun the undead, you've probably already lost. And I'm cautious. In video games, I usually play a sniper if I can; and I will clear an entire room and wait to see if anything else comes along before I advance. So as far as avoiding physical danger goes, that's exactly what I'd be doing: avoiding the hell out of it.

Also, I own weapons. I mean, guns, yes, we have a couple of pistols, but again: you start shooting guns and you're going to attract every zombie within a quarter mile at least. Save the guns until there are literally no other options. Meanwhile, if you need to take something down from a distance? Archery. It's quiet, it's safer (you almost never hear "my bow fell out of its holster and accidentally went off") and the ammunition is much easier to replace when you hit the point of needing to make your own stuff. But I also have quite a lot of swords, and several spears and polearms -- enough to outfit a small group if needs be. And group tactics would be really helpful against zombies; one person can spear the thing and keep it in place, while their partner moves in to behead it in relative safety.

I did a lot of camping when I was younger and still have the equipment; I know basic first aid, I know how to sew, I know how to start a fire without matches. (It sucks, but it can be done.) So, you know, if the plague has spread through the city and we need to get a dozen or so people out to someplace less fraught, I'm your guy -- or I'm at least a contributing member of the team.

Where it breaks down is over the long term. I don't know how to raise crops (and canned food really doesn't last that long), I have very little experience with hunting and fishing, and the first time I need to replace my glasses is probably the last time I'm going to see the world clearly. But the thing that would take me down? I'm pretty sure I know what it is. And as an online friend of mine observed, it's the lack of cold medicines.

Monday, May 18, 2020

VtM: The End Of The Fight

Willard has thrown the fridge through the door, pinning one guy under the fridge and scaring the crap out of the other two. Mario is still in the kitchen with Jack, and looks for a gun from the dead guy. Lucien is coming back down the stairs with his blade.

Mario fails to find a gun. Jack, looking out the window, watches Charon approach, and tries to mesmerize him; despite his absolute concentration, Charon smiles and says, "Nice try, thinblood." Bianca emerges from the safe room and comes upstairs, notes the destruction of her front door, and immediately goes into a frenzy. Willard: "Hello there, little lady!"

Willard grabs a guy, clenches him, and tries to squish him. He doesn't kill the guy, but somebody's going to need to put his ribs back in place. His victim tries to break free, and fails. The remaining human on the front lawn aims his gun at Willard's head and empties the clip. Willard's head is... bruised. Charon comes right up on Jack, aiming to cut, and takes him down.

Willard continues to try to squeeze the life out of this guy; Mario sees Charon with the machete, and decides try to restrain him and then stab him. Bianca is frenzying.

Mario moves in to stab Charon. Charon dodges, and stabs back at Mario, injuring him. Jack heals a bit, and Bianca - frenzied by the sight of her shattered front door -- is wrestling with Lucien, who's attempting to restrain her. Willard is still squishing his guy, and something crackly happens in his spine. Willard turns to glower at the remaining merc, who reloads his waepon.

Willard prepares to tackle his guy; Mario prepares to stab Charon again; Jack is still healing; Bianca's still frenzied, and Lucien is still... occupied.

There are other people on the lawn, coming up with machetes. Willard: "Sumbitch."

Lucien yells: "Chanteuse, calm yourself!"

Mario tries to cut again, and slices him. Bianca gets herself back under control while Jack heals himself. Willard leaps in for the tackle, but the guy steps out of the way and Willard crashes to the ground but imemdiately pops back up. The merc tries to empty his newly-reloaded pistol into Willard's head again. Charon attacks and hits, but Mario soaks part of it; he is badly damaged.

Willard decides to go for another clench. Bianca decides to kill Willard by breaking Lucien's hold and borrowing his sword. Jack decides to come to his feet and stab Charon from behind. Mario goes for Celerity: slash and dodge.

One of the lawn-machete guys advances on Willard, and tries to slice him. Lucien, looking at Bianca: "Which one do you want me to murder?"

Bianca: "I guess you go for the bad guys, and I go for Willard."

Lucien: "We have but one sword."

Bianca: "Then go get a gun."

Lucien picks up the sword: "You should return to the panic room." He advances onto the lawn.

A woman with a machete advances on Willard. She's less skilled, and Willard, well, kind of parries with his massive abs. He doesn't take any damage.

Jack attempts to attack Charon, but fails to do any damage.

Bianca charges out to jump on one of the guys who was attacking Willard. The guy with the gun on the lawn reloads his gun. Willard clenches him, ignoring the two guys approaching with machetes. He squishes him and injures him.

Bianca decides to jump on somebody's back: the man with the machete. Willard intends to crush the guy he's holding, Jack decides to dodge as well as he can. Mario uses celerity again, for a heal-and-dodge action.

The guy with the machete turns to face Lucien, who salutes him with his sword and then moves in. The guy tries to dodge, but fails; he's not badly damaged, but he's damaged. The woman with the machete moves to attack Bianca, and hits her; but fails to do any actual damage. Bianca: "My dress! You bitch!"

Charon slashes at Mario, who dodges. Jack, finding that Charon hasn't attacked him, dodges behind the island in the kitchen. Bianca, with her dress damaged, changes course and decides to punch the woman instead. She flattens her nose. Willard, meanwhile, is squishing the mortal in his arms and crushing his kidneys into pudding. The guy tries to escape, but fails.

Charon attacks Mario, misses, misses again, hits and cripple Mario, and hits again... and incapacitates Mario.

Willard just keeps squeezing, put all his attention into it -- and plans to charge the guy with the machete afterwards. Jack concludes that he needs to throw a knife at Charon.

Lucien trades blows with Machete guy, and cuts him a couple of times; he's hurt. The woman with the machete misses Bianca.

Mario heals. Charon comes around the island to attack Jack, and downs him.

Bianca, meanwhile, punches the smile off the machete-wielding vampire woman's face. Willard squishes his guy, who goes down. "Don't worry little lady, Ah'm coming!" he charges the machete woman vampire and tackles her, knocking her flat and crippling her. Willard manages to stay on his feet; so does she. Willard tips his hat to Bianca as he passes; she hisses back at him.

Jack dies as Charon cuts his head off. Charon zips around and decapitates Mario as well.

Willard looks around; Lucien has sliced up his opponent, machete-guy; the woman with the machete is crippled. Willard decides to heal. Bianca decides to punch her again.

Machete guy attacks Lucien, who parries and ripostes but misses. Machete girl tries to attack Willard, using a bit of dominate. He was healing anyway, so he stops as she commands. Bianca punches, but the woman with the machete soaks it.

Willard moves in to clench the guy who's fighting with Lucien, mauling him.

Willard continues crushing his victim. Bianca punches some more. Also, Willard has regained two willpower for squeezing people in half with brute strength. Lucien attacks the guy that Willard is holding, and hits; but he cuts Willard on accident. Bianca figures this is just the correct priorities.

Machete Woman attacks Bianca, and cuts her. Bianca is bruised, her dress is damaged, and she is *pissed*. Bianca bitch-slaps her again, loudly but not for any great damage. Willard crushes his guy, who's incapacitated.

Mario: "Lucien, cut this guy's head off." He wants to clench the chick. Bianca intends to punch.

Lucien finishes the guy off. The girl makes a limp for it. Bianca pursues her and punches her again. She goes down. Willard was planning to tackle her again, but she's down... Willard goes running back to help Mario!

A little late, but okay.

Willard runs into the kitchen and finds Mario and Jack's decapitated bodies. He figures out that this was clearly done with a knife.

Lucien: "Madame Grand, she is in danger. I can feel it."

Bianca: "But they're in the panic room!"

Meanwhile, back in the panic room:
Valeria hears gunfire outside. Then the door rips off the panic room, and there's a young guy with a machete. "Walk away," he says.

Valeria circles around him, hands up, then comes up behind him and kicks him in the balls from behind. He whirls around, and at that moment Madam Grand bolts past him. Valeria steps back and holds her hands up. "Kidding!"

Charon takes off after Madam Grand. Willard looks up as she races past; he's looking for whoever killed Mario. Charon comes out right behind her, and Willard steps in and clenches him. Squoosh! "This is for Austin! And Mario! And all the Corona-ers!"

Bianca and Lucien are coming back towards the doorways when Madam Grand comes racing out. "Anarchs!" she cries. "They're in the house as well!"

Bianca: "We will burn it down!"

Madam Grand: "Guard me! I must make a call!"

Lucien: "I must finish off the other attacker."

Charon tries to escape from Willard's grip, but fails. Willard squeezes him. "Mario, this is for you." He squeezes the crap out of Charon, incapacitating him. Willard breaks him. Lucien walks up calmly. "I do not believe that anyone, Prince Cross or otherwise, would sanction you for taking his blood."

Willard: "Wait, what?" Then he diablerizes the FUCK out of Charon. He uses his last willpower; it's almost like the blood's fighting back. He goes all the way down, drinking up all of Charon in the most intimate possible way.

Bianca walks in, looks at this. "Haven't I endured enough?" She walks back out.

Willard completes the claiming of Charon's blood. He even manages not to frenzy as he takes the guy's essence into his own soul.

Valeria finds Jack's body in the kitchen.

Madam Grand: "I'm so sorry. Do you have a place to stay?"

Valeria": "No, it'll be fine, we'll just go back to the apartment and Jack'll be back in the morning..."

Madam Grand, dominating the hell out of her: "Look at me, child. You need to come with me. I'll see to you."

Valeria, dominated: "Okay."

Bianca is having a meltdown. "My dress! My house!"

Madam Grand: "I am so sorry. We'll see to putting things right."

She departs with Valeria in tow; her custom Rolls Royce pulls smoothly and silently out of the estate.

Willard tries to glue Mario's head back on, but it doesn't work. Then he goes out to the truck and looks at Austin. Austin is out completely. He's still alive, but he's really sick.

Willard turns him.

So at about 4:00 a.m. The Chaos' eyes flutter open. "Willard, man, I had this fucked-up dream, I was really sick, but I feel so much better."

Willard: "It's okay, Mario man, you just had this crazy dream where you were Austin, but you're Mario."

Austin/Mario: "Aw, damn. I forgot. I am Mario."

Willard closes the door. The engine roars to life, the music kicks in, and drives back to Mario's home.

(It's very weird playing a game where some of the party is playing Interview with the Vampire, one person is playing The Lost Boys, and one is playing Near Dark.)

Friday, May 15, 2020

Comes the Crash

I woke up yesterday morning and then realized that I just couldn't. Not illness, I don't think -- just exhaustion. It's the end of the semester for both the boys (who I think officially finish next week) and Beautiful Wife, who turned in the last of her grading yesterday. That's always a rough time of year, but of course we've got the soft quarantine and economic collapse coming now; plus I kept trying to work on things after the boys went to bed. And I had a couple of things earlier in the week that made for some longer-than-usual workdays.

I should know better by now.

Anyway I called in, went back to bed for half the day, and then worked the other half from home to keep everything going at work. My timer suggests that I slept for about ten and a half hours, all told. Got a little less sleep last night than I should have, but it was solid and I feel a lot better.

I want to start picking the fictions up again on here -- or at least one of them. (If you've got a preference between Into The Black and Dark Armor, let me know in the comments. No promises, though.)

More than that, though I want to go back to a longer writing project and try to really focus on it -- as in set aside some time each night and forbid interruptions. Unfortunately, that requires getting everybody back on a real schedule, and that isn't going to be easy. (We're close, but it's slipped from 8:30 bedtime to a 9:30 bedtime. It's hard to explain why they have to get up at 6:30 in the morning if they don't have to go anywhere and don't really settle in for their school work until about 8:00.)

So, yeah, sleep: sleep is good. I may still run out of energy after lunch, but I'm feeling so much better this morning. Sleep is good.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Bladecraft

Remant left his horse tied outside the shop and took a moment to survey the street. It was nearly empty and growing dark; a young woman glanced his way but hurried on, while an old woman pushed a small cart down a side-way. An even older man was moving down the street with a long pole, lighting the oil lamps that hung at regular intervals from the sconces where enchanted crystals had once filled the streets with light. Turning, he opened the door and went into the shop.

The woman inside turned. "I'm sorry, ser. We were just clos--"

Remant pushed his hood back and she stopped, studying him. "...Savior," she muttered, and swallowed. "You've come back for it, then."

Remant nodded. The room around them was carefully divided, with counters running around three sides, wide enough to display the blades inside... and to keep the over-curious from reaching for the longer blades on walls behind them. The counters were open in the back, and held heavy glass windows in the front; Westhill was rich in glassworks. Shelves behind the glass held various sorts of blades: scythes, carving knives, fighting knives, throwing knives. There were other things as well; Tamil was a weaponsmith, but he crafted what was needed, and the war was over now. There were clasps for cloaks, utensils for cooking and eating, hooks and even a couple of pulleys.

"Do you... will you come on back?" Hira. Her name is Hira. Hira was stout, and nearly as heavy through the arms and shoulders as her husband. Her hair was a bundle of neat curls, black touched with the first faint streaks of silver, but her face was young. She stood stiffly, uncertain but determined, and Remant shook his head.

"It's the master-crafter's shop," he said, and thought, and your home, "and this is business. I'm imposing already by coming in so late. I'll wait here."

She stood a moment longer, looking at him. Her expression was unreadable, or perhaps he very badly did not want to read it. "Thank you," she said at last. "I'll tell him you're here."

She turned and went out through a door behind the counters, leaving Remant alone with the weapons and the counters and the bright light of the glow-crystals. Those alone would have marked the shop as prosperous, or its owner as connected, or both; most of the newer crystals weren't so bright, and tended to fade and need to be recharged after an hour or two -- where they could be found at all. These were the old style, bright and perpetual; the only way to dim them was to cover them with something thick.

Uncomfortable at being left alone with his thoughts, Remant went to look at the blades. Even on the walls, not all were martial anymore. Some were clearly meant for chopping brush, or pruning trees. Though as the grey had discovered in attacking the farms, the difference between a pruning tool and a polearm was more a matter of attitude than design.

He blinked away that memory as well, and found himself admiring a slim, straight blade designed for use in a single hand: a courtly sword, a scholar's sword. It looked elegant and balanced, a fine example of Tamil's craftsmanship, and he wondered how it would feel in his hand. It wasn't a sword for the battlefield, but a sword for civilian life; likely it would feel delicate and out of place.

He was still staring at it when Hira returned. She was carrying a tray, with bread and cheese and sliced apples laid out on it along with a trio of pewter tankards. She set it on the counter, then stepped through the narrow hinged gate and put the bar across the door. Remant could have moved to help her, but this was her place and she handled the heavy wooden bar easily by herself; offering assistance would have been awkward.

When she had it in place she stopped, holding herself still for a moment; then, decisively, she turned back to him. Remant hadn't expected to find himself eye-to-eye with her, and stayed still himself as she regarded him.

Then she sighed. "He told me he knew you," she said, and looked away. "He told me, and I believed him. And yet somehow I didn't quite believe him until... well."

Remant nodded. He sometimes felt the same way about himself: as if he couldn't be quite real, as if he couldn't truly be here -- wherever here was -- doing this -- whatever this was. Is this really my life? "I'm sure it seems strange to him as well," he said, as Hira crossed the room again. "Some days it seems strange to me."

She stopped and turned, looked back at him, then shook her head. "Come over here," she said, and went back around behind the counter. "I don't trust myself to lift the tray, and you should have some refreshment while you're waiting. Tamil, he said you'd understand why he couldn't drop everything."

Remant sniffed, amused. "He's right. I've watched him work. It's like juggling, once you see it. Everything has to be in its place, and everything has to happen in its time or it all falls down." He tilted his head slightly, studying Hira's expression. "But you know that. Do you help him with it?" Her expression changed slightly, and a shiver of recognition went through him. "Oh. You do some of it yourself."

Hira tensed... then relaxed with a chuckle. "Yes. I mind the forge when my husband's elsewhere. I do my own projects." She pointed to the pulley. "That was mine. So are most of the carving knives, those awls, and a few of the hammers. And those clasps."

Remant nodded. "Tamil was always versatile, but he never had much interest in those things."

Hira tilted her head, studying him. "You knew my husband during the war," she said. "What was he like?"

"Invaluable," Remant said immediately, and she nodded with a small smile of recognition. "It wasn't just that he was supplying the best quality blades to the army, it was..."He hesitated, fishing for the word. "It was his faith. He had this relentless certainty that we'd all make it through somehow, and in some cases he was right... but even when he wasn't, it kept us going." He wasn't sure that made any sense, but that was how it had always felt to him. "And he was open, and friendly, always with a kind word. He made the things people needed, and he was proud of that; but that was the extent of his pride. He never let it slide into arrogance." He paused. "You know about my Santu?"

Hira nodded.

"There was a time, brief but vital, when your husband was more of a father to me than my Santu ever knew how to be."

Hira nodded again, much more slowly. "I have trouble picturing you as a squire," she admitted.

Remant actually chuckled at that. "Some days, so do I," he admitted. "Other days, I can't see myself as anything but."

Tamil emerged as Remant reached for a slice of apple. "Telling tales again?" he asked, salt-and-pepper hair catching the light. He had new lines around his eyes and at the corners of his mouth, but his dark eyes were still calm and reassuring and faintly amused. He carried a bundle in his arms, and set it on the counter to one side of the tray of food. "I'm glad to see you back."

Remant inclined his head. "I'm glad to see you still here." He felt stiff and formal and awkward, and wished he could find some way to just enjoy seeing the weaponsmith again. Likely that would require three or four days, and he didn't have time to stay in one place for so long. Instead of trying, he asked: "Is it ready?"

"It is," Tamil affirmed. He pulled the cloth back, revealing a blade resting in its sheath, and Remant smiled.

It was exactly what he had asked for: a straight-bladed saber with a hand-and-a-half hilt, the guard forming an abbreviated basket around the fingers. He held a hand out, sensing the enchantments.

"Lady Rexor ensorceled it herself," said Tamil proudly. "Came right down and did it as I worked, standing matter-of-fact beside the forge, despite her being Mordil and all. A good one, that."

Remant nodded. Lady Rexor had never stood on ceremony, and would likely have enjoyed Tamil's company and admired his craftsmanship. "You get any new orders out of it?" he asked.

"Well..." Tamil hesitated, then grinned. "Yes, I'm supplying blades for this order she's putting together. Or putting back together. She tried to explain it, but I was concentrating."

Remant reached down and wrapped his hand around the hilt, then slipped the blade loose. It stretched out from his hand, balanced and deadly, ready. It didn't seem right to hold it still -- this was blade whose design was so elegant that it could only be completed by motion -- but after a moment he slid it back into the sheath. "It feels perfect," he said.

"Remant," said Tamil, "I have to ask: why did you want it? With those things you carry, why would you need my poor work?"

This time Remant grinned. "You work is never poor, old friend. And this sword, for all that it can do, is just a sword. With this, I'm just another warrior, not some legend that everyone has to reckon with."

Tamil was silent for a long moment, then nodded. "It still hurts you, then?"

Remant lifted his left hand, regarded the smooth silvery metal where he'd once had flesh and bone. "Sometimes," he said. "And sometimes I just miss it."

"That wasn't..."

Remant ignored him, dropping his hand back under his cloak. "I know the sword was the extent of the commission," he said, "but I find myself in need of a new clasp for my cloak. Would you add those as well, and total the cost?"

Tamil looked at Hira, and Hira looked at Remant. Then Hira looked back at her husband, expectantly. "Of course," he said, and moved to gather the clasps and fold them into a strip of cloth.

Remant unclipped the purse from his belt and set it on the counter. "It was good to see you," he told Tamil, "and it was good to meet you," he told Hira. "If you ever need anything from me, let me know."

"Remant," said Hira. "...We don't... we don't tell people that I work the forge."

Remant nodded. "I don't tell people about what I've done either."

Tamil put an arm around his wife, and Remant buckled his new blade onto his belt. "I wish you both well," he said, and turned for the door.

"Remant," said Tamil, sharply enough to make the younger man pause. "You take care of yourself."

I can't promise that. Remant offered a tired smile. "Don't worry over me," he said, and went back out the door.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Challenge: Redeem a Villain

This is part of the weekly Blogging Challenge over at Long and Short Reviews. If you'd like to participate, you can find the prompts here. They also put up a post every Wednesday where you go and link your response -- and see everyone else's. Check out their homepage to find it.

The challenge for this week is "A villain that I wish could be redeemed and why" and I can't help but wonder just how many answers are going to boil down to "Kylo Ren" because apparently that's seriously A Thing.

It is not, however, my particular thing. (But if it's your particular thing, I strongly recommend that you immediately go and read Emily Duncan's Something Dark and Holy series, beginning with Wicked Saints. Actually, go read it anyway; it's quite good, with a strong flavor of Russian folktales.)

So, what villain would I like to see redeemed? Well, for starters: Tai Lung, from Kung Fu Panda. I like to think that after his defeat at the hands of the Dragon Warrior, he retired to a small village and took up gardening, got to know his neighbors, and was eventually accepted into the community. I like to think that every once in a while a group of bandits comes into the small valley that holds that village and just... vanishes. And nobody in the village has any idea.

The other one, oddly, is Count Dracula. I like to think that if he hadn't been decapitated, he would have come to regret his deal with the devil and devoted his fortune and considerable lifespan to founding charities, improving the state of medical research, and generally trying to atone. Over the years he'd use his powers less and less, and find that he needed less and less blood; until at last he was mortal again, and could finish out his life and die peacefully in bed -- perhaps even surrounded by family.

So those are the two villains that I'd like to see redeemed. Who are yours?


Monday, May 11, 2020

Horoscopes for the week of May 10 - 16

Aries:
Beware of guys in hockey masks carrying machetes. Avoid old summer camps and isolated lakes. In fact, just don't have sex this week.

Taurus:
Beware of guys in ratty old sweaters with blade-fingered gloves haunting your dreams. Probably better not to sleep at all until at least... let's say next Sunday.

Gemini:
Beware of escaped sanitarium patients with supernatural vitality wielding kitchen knives and wearing white masks. Don't be a teenager if you can possibly avoid it until at least next week, and if you can't avoid it make absolutely sure you aren't related to the killer.

Cancer:
Watch out for neighbors acting oddly, especially if they seem to have odd lapses in their memories; beware of pods growing in basements and closets. Whatever you do, don't fall asleep.

Leo:
Beware of clowns in sewers. "We all float down here" my ass.

Virgo:
Beware of punk motorbike gangs. The noodles aren't worms and the rice aren't maggots, but the wine really is blood and you don't need to be drinking that.

Libra:
Opening the geode after you accidentally got a splinter bad enough to spill blood onto the ground may not seem like much, but it'll open a gate to a realm of evil gods and you'll have tiny demons running all over your house in no time. Just bury it and plant another tree, okay?

Scorpio:
Avoid deserts and the larger sorts of drainage pipes. If you hear a high-pitched keening sound, run. Just to be safe, stay away from all sorts of sugar, too. Nobody wants to be devoured by giant ants.

Sagittarius:
Avoid mortuaries and funeral parlors. Yes, they are turning the bodies to sinister and unworldly purposes, but if you just stay out of the Tall Man's way, the floating silver sphere won't come for you. Well... not until it's much later, and by then it's much too late.

Capricorn:
Whatever you do, do not participate in a prank designed to shame the nerdy high-school girl for her interest in the football player on prom night. She has psychic powers, and it will end badly for everyone around.

Aquarius:
Beware of undertaking scientific expeditions to the Amazon to search for "living fossils" showing a direct connection between land-based life and aquatic life. Any such explorations will result in disaster. This is not a metaphor.

Pisces:
The dead are not rising from their graves to devour the living... yet. Take the win.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Youth DnD: Outside the Dungeon

The party continued on, clearing out the room of Hobgoblins and then heading east... where they were attacked by a trio of oddly deformed, zombie-like goblin who seemed to covered in/taken over by some sort of fungus. They defeated them and looked into the room from which they'd emerged, and found it covered in the same violet fungus: walls, floors, and ceiling alike. Unwilling to enter the room, the sorcerer used his alchemy jug to splash as much oil around as he could manage, then set it alight with firebolt and backed far, far away. They waited, and entered again once the room had burned clean, claiming seven cuts of violet topaz.

However, their investigations roused a group of bugbears, who came charging out into the corridor, followed a moment later by their chief; the battle was intense but brief, and the group searched the bugbears' rooms, obtaining some treasure including a ring of feather falling which the arcane trickster claimed.

They then continued on, opening another door and engaging with four Hell Hounds in a battle which left the swashbuckler heavily wounded; rather than continue, they elected to withdraw and rest until later. From this room the swashbuckler collected an obsidian knife with a pearl handle (+2 Dagger) and the group gained 30 PP.

Treasure from this session and the last, which will need to be split with Lord Aldenmier, includes:
30 PP
350 GP
270 GP
200 GP
700 SP
An Amethyst worth 200 GP
A red Spinel (it's a kind of gemstone, so we got to learn something new) worth 175 GP
A nicely tooled belt that the Grimlocks must have taken from somewhere else.
7 cuts of violet topaz, worth 150 GP each.
Round Metal Shield +2

General Party treasure at present is:
25 PP, 3,327 GP, and 331 SP.
A potion of Healing
(Plus an ivory sheath that's currently sitting on a small table until someone can hang it on a wall.)

Friday, May 8, 2020

VtM: Interruptions and Invaders

At the end of last session Bianca had just begun to sing, when we were interrupted by the sound of sirens pulling on to the property. Bianca...

...is PISSED.

"Willard, did you leave that dead guy in your car?"

Willard: "Naw, he's just resting. He'll be in to get some poontang in a little while."

Bianca: "Lucien!"

Lucien looks out the window. "I must go down to see what's going on." He departs, and Mario follows.

"Monsieur Mario, do you intend to do the talking?"

Mario: "Yes."

The cop knocks in that particularly Cop Knock way that they do.

Mario opens the door slowly, and partially. "Hello?"

Officer: "Good evening. Are you the owner of the premises?"

Mario: "She is upstairs."

Officer: "We received an anonymous tip that the health policy was being violated -- there's a gathering of more than five here." Which, of course they did; Bianca had the invitation sent out to the entire Kindred community, and vampires dwell in a community of harmony and mutual support in much the same way that rabid dogs do.

Mario: {counting} "No, I believe we're at four. A gathering of four. There is perhaps a servant somewhere as well."

Officer: "Would it be possible to speak with the owner?"

Mario: "I have her partner here. Lucien?"

Lucien is gone.

Mario: "Curious. I thought he followed me downstairs. One moment."

Lucien appears and Mario coaxes him into talking to the officer. Lucien does, and agrees with everything Mario has said.

Officer: "That seems like an awfully small performance, sir."

Lucien: "There is no problem here officers. I am grateful for your help, and I will be happy to say so to my friend the commissioner when I next speak to him."

Officer, Awed: "There is no problem here. Glad to be of service."

Willard is watching out the window as the cops leave. "They're leaving! Okay, more performance! Go, Miss Bianca! Whooo!"

Bianca: "No, you sit still and listen quietly, and then when I am done you donate money."

Ms. Grand: "Oh, I was not aware this was a charity event."

Bianca: "We are supporting the Opera House!"

Ms. Grand. "Ah, my child! How plebian! You should have come to me."

Jack, casually: "Patronage is a noble tradition."

Bianca: "I do apologize. I planned this in perhaps twenty-four hours." Ms. Grand, mollified, actually smiles.

Ms. Grand asks Jack if perhaps Master Brachetti would prevail upon Prince Cross to lend his haven for such a performance. Jack can only ask. This is... suspicious: Ms. Grand was the prince for nearly a century, until Cross deposed her; mysteriously he did not kill her. She's also the Toreador Primogen in the city. So her asking for access to his haven, even by proxy, is... fraught. The flip side of that is that she is still the Toreador Primogen in the city, and Jack has no desire to cross her.

They settle in and begin the performance. It goes well, though none of the Toreadors become entranced.

Mario, meanwhile, has noticed a number of suspicious unmarked cars down the road; it's one of those odd little flashes of premonition from his Auspex.

Ms. Grand reaches into her Louis Vitton purse and pulls out a flip phone. "A moment, while I take care of this."

Lucien: "Chanteuse, you should retire to the panic room. There are several people approaching, and they are not gendarmes."

Bianca: "If my dearest Sire desires it of me, I will go. But someone should send food with me."

Lucien: "Yasmin is already in there, but..."

Bianca: "Lucien! You said--"

Ms. Grand: "These are not law enforcement. I should very much like to see this panic room of yours."

Bianca offers her arm to Ms. Grand, and Valeria looks after them but decides to stay. Mario explains the concept of a panic room to Willard.

Willard: "So none of you fuckers know why a bunch of people in black cars is coming towards the house?"

The women depart for the panic room -- which turns out to be more of a panic suite -- leaving Mario, Willard, and Jack (who's decided ambivalent about this, as he has absolutely no skill at fighting). The other servants follow their mistress to the panic room. Lucien has faded out, but he was headed in the direction of the panic room when he vanished.

We head down to the kitchen in a group. Willard goes straight to the fridge; Mario grabs a cleaver, and Jack comes up with a trio of steak knives. There are three people outside the kitchen window...

Willard decides that he's going to grab one of them and hold him for Jack to look into his eyes, because Jack is so convincing. Mario tries to get some info about them, but gets nothing. Jack manages to hypnotize one of them through the window: "These guys are not your friends, you should stop them."

The guy -- apparently a human male -- pulls out a pistol and turns to his companion... and promptly shoots him in the head. Willard reaches straight out through the window and grabs the remaining guy, then squishes him a bit...

The guy shoots Willard, to no particularly dangerous effect. Mario, with his remaining Celerity-enhanced movement, reaches out and takes a slice at the guy, injuring him badly. Willard begins to chomp on him, while Willard reaches to disarm him.

Jack's newly-hypnotized friend takes a shot at his former co-worker, the one Willard is draining, and kills him. Bianca hears more gunshots: "I should go out there and kill them myself." She's referring to Willard rather than the intruders.

Willard continues to drain his victim. His Stetson is ruined, though. Mario searches the guy again, finding no ID.

Jack asks the hypnotized guy how many came with him; there were at least three more in his team, and three... others. Jack suggests the other guy come in, while Mario looks outside.

The guy climbs into the kitchen: "I think they're probably around front." Mario notes another figure approaching from the left, carrying something... He can't make it out.

Willard pulls the corpse of his dinner into the room, and drags him across the kitchen and over to one of the hallways, where he can get some cover. Jack fails to catch the figure's eyes, but notes that they're carrying a machete or something similar. Jack ducks back and dodges behind cover. Mario notes the machete as well... and that someone else is inside the house.

Willard has taken three blood points from the dead guy; he's good for maybe one more. Willard finishes him off and pushes that blood point into strength. (Willard, OOC: How many successes would I need to throw a fridge at somebody?)

Jack stands up and tries to hypnotize the guy at the window again; Willard attempts to pick up the built-in fridge, in a massive display of indomitable will. Bianca, donstairs, hears nothing. Jack gets a better look at the guy who's moving in; he's a younger African-American guy. And Mario identifies the new figure in the house: it's Lucien. He's heading upstairs. He also senses some people out on the front lawn.

Jack suggests that his new friend should probably shoot the guy outside the window. Bianca hears this one.

Willard hauls the fridge to the center of the room, and climbs up onto the island, cracking the granite countertop.

Jack sends the hypnotized guy over to suggest to his boss outside the window that this has all been a terrible mistake and he should come inside and talk it over with us. The fellow does, addressing his boss as Charon.

Mario is still watching from afar: Lucien has reached the third floor, and three people have reached the door. Willard hears about this and moves towards the front door. His plan is to throw the fridge through the front door. Jack sets up to try to hypnotize the mercenary boss if he gets into range.

Mario hangs well back from the fridge-throwing event; he takes cover. Willard hauls the fridge to the front hall, and throws it at the front door. (VtM does not appear to have a damage rating for attacking with a fridge. We went with Strength +5.) Bianca flinches as there's a giant crash upstairs. The fridge goes through the double doors at the front of the estate and creams one of the three guys. The other two just piss themselves.

We finish there.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

"Just In Case"

Well, it's here again. Happens every month. It's just an email to notify me that the Online Account Statement is ready. Which means it's time to pay for the service for all the pagers that this company supplies to us.


Yes, you read that right: "pagers".

Pagers.


Do you know how many pagers we have active right now?

None. Zero. Zip. Nada. Not even one.

Haven't used 'em in years.


And yet, every month, I get an email explaining that my bill statement is now available for online viewing. There's a link for it and everything.

For the pagers. Of which we have none.


It's a working link. I mean, it takes me to a webpage, and there's a login and everything.

Of course, we don't have an account anymore, so I can't log in. I can't even reset my password, because the login page doesn't recognize my email address.


That would be the same email address at which, every month, I get an email explaining that my bill statement is now available for online viewing.

For the pagers. Of which we have none.


I could, of course, have myself removed from their Electronic Invoicing Program. All I have to do is log into Account Manager.

Account Manager: that thing for which I have no credentials. That thing that doesn't recognize my email address. The same email address it keeps sending alerts to.

For our bills for our pagers, of which we have none.

I have called the company.

They tell me they cannot remove me from the mailing list, because I'm not in their system. I don't have an account, you see. We haven't had an account with them in years.

They can't even find my email. The one which receives the notices from them.


And yet, every month...

Well.

You know.

Pagers.


Seventeen years ago, when I switched from being the Helpdesk to doing something else, I asked if I should get myself taken off the account.

My former boss told me not to. She wanted me to be able to get into the account, just in case.


And in the seventeen years since then, I have never once needed to log into that account.

But every month, I receive a notice that our billing statement is ready.

For an account that we don't have.

Using credentials that no longer exist.

For the pagers.

...Just in case.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Challenge: Favorite Holiday

This is part of the weekly Blogging Challenge over at Long and Short Reviews. If you'd like to participate, you can find the prompts here. They also put up a post every Wednesday where you go and link your response -- and see everyone else's. Check out their homepage to find it.

The challenge for this week is "favorite holiday of the year and why", and Y'all? It's Halloween.

It's always been Halloween. And if I have to actually explain why, I'm not sure we can still be friends.



I mean, c'mon! One day a year, you get to strip off your skin and reveal your true, monstrous self -- and people give you candy for it! What's not to like? And candy doesn't clutter up you house the way unwanted presents do.

True story: when I started Grad School my roommate and I lucked into an apartment at a really good price. We put up Halloween decorations when the season rolled around, and we didn't take them down for the next two years. It really cut down on the number of solicitors we got. When we finally moved out, management refused to return our deposit on the basis that we'd had Halloween lights up in the central hallway for two years and they'd scorched the paint so they'd have to redo it. (Well, ostensibly -- I think they just figured we'd been paying well below market for two years and they were owed. Which is ironic, because they never said anything about the finger-painting of runes and monsters that my roommate had done in glow-in-the-dark paint in his bathroom. Presumably that just sat there until the next tenant discovered it by accident... it wasn't visible during the day.)

Anyway, yes: Halloween is the best holiday ever. I'd ask what yours is, but obviously it's going to be Halloween, right?

Monday, May 4, 2020

Book Recs: Pandemic Reading

I’ve been reading things that I find cheery and uplifting lately (and recommending them to anyone who seems to need that), because that seems like something that might be surprisingly helpful.

-The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. I re-read this every once in a while, because it’s both really well written with a fascinating world and a lot of courtly intrigue, but most because it’s… well… kindness porn. It’s about a young man who suddenly finds himself in the position of Emperor, and approaches the job with wits and compassion and loyal companions.

-The Guild Codex: Spellbound series (starting with Three Mages and a Margarita) by Annette Marie. Cheery, fun urban fantasy adventures where the protagonist gets by on her wits, courage, and loyalty. It’s about a young woman who takes a bartending job, only to discover that the bar is actually a guild for people with magical powers. Word of warning on this one though: I tore straight through them from book one to book six, and book seven… isn’t out until July.

-A Pale Light In The Black by K.B. Wagers, about a team of… outer-space coastguard is the best way to describe it… working together to solve a mystery. Well-developed, varied characters solving things with skill and teamwork.

-Paladin's Grace, by T. Kingfisher, and in fact pretty much everything she's published under this pseudonym. Paladin's grace is a cozy little romance with berserker paladins and severed heads. Nine Goblins is a fun and funny short, Swordheart is excellent and made me laugh out loud several times, and now I'm neck-deep in Clockwork Boys. So check out any or all of them and see if they're to your taste.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

VtM: The Ascendancy Discipline

I'm taking a moment of random geekery to look at creating a new Discipline for Vampire: The Masquerade (Revised), which was essentially the third edition of the game. I'm not familiar with where the World of Darkness setting is currently, but I don't think the mechanics have changed much; this would probably work there. The concept here is to design a Discipline built around bringing the vampire closer to their fundamentally vampiric nature... which, for me requires looking at the existing disciplines and what they do -- and what that implies about the nature of the vampire in this setting. So...

Physical Disciplines:
-Celerity: supernatural speed in the form of extra actions
-Potence: Supernatural strength in the form of automatic successes
-Fortitude: supernatural damage resistance in the form of extra soak dice that work against aggravated damage

Disciplines that let you deal directly with the Beast:
-Animalism: communicate with animals, summon animals, suppress the Beast in something mortal, possess an animal, or project your beast/frenzy into a mortal.
-Necromancy: the Bone path can be used to pull a vampire's spirit from their body; this turns the vampire into a sort of ghost but does not destroy the body and the victim can eventually return (if the necromancer doesn't destroy it in the meantime).

Disciplines of physical transformation:
-Obtenebration: extend the darkness of your soul to make shadows tangible, transform your body into a mix of shadow and flesh with shadow tentacles, and assume a shadow form.
-Protean: see in the dark, grow claws, meld with the earth, become bat or wolf (or other animals), take the form of mist.
-Quietus: Silence 15' radius (why?), poisonous blood, drown your target in their own blood, acidic blood.
-Serpentis: Hypnotic gaze, extended vampire snake-tongue, turn your skin into scaly armor, turn into a giant snake, remove your heart and hide it somewhere else.
-Thaumaturgy: some of the rituals produce physical effects like secreting acid; Path of blood lets you concentrate your blood to improve your effective generation.
-Vicissitude: reshape flesh and bone, assume a monstrous form, turn your body into sentient, animated blood.

Conclusions:
Vampire anatomy is deeply, deeply weird. The need for blood is (apparently) a physical need and appears absolutely non-negotiable, at least for the vampire Generations active today. (Rumor is, the hunger only gets worse for older and earlier generations...) Alone or through the use of physical Disciplines, blood can be used to increase a vampire's physical abilities. If that were all, it would suggest that the vampire is still a creature of the flesh -- preternatural flesh, but flesh nonetheless. But the need for an intact body is... highly negotiable. While physical damage can still kill a vampire (especially if it comes from a supernatural source), physical transformation (Protean's animal forms, Vicissitude's monstrous form) does not. Nor does voluntary physical dissolution (mist form, blood form, taking out your own heart for safekeeping elsewhere) or even a complete mystical transformation (shadow form).

So something keeps the vampire alive and aware and capable of controlling even a radically transformed body. It can't be the body itself; the vampire doesn't die even when their body is radically transformed. It can't be the vampire's spirit that holds everything together; the body doesn't die if the spirit is necromantically cast out. It can't be the Beast, because the Beast can be sent elsewhere using Animalism without the vampire dying. Perhaps it's nothing more or less than Caine's curse which makes the vampire's body work as it does, while the vampire's spirit and the Beast are essentially passengers carried along by the curse itself.

Other notes:
The Tzimisce clan and in particular the followers of the Path of Metamorphosis seek for a state of existence that is as much beyond vampirism as vampirism is beyond mortality. The Assamites, and in particular the followers of the Path of Blood, seek something similar through diablerie and attempts to become closer to the First Vampire. While this Discipline isn't wholly in line with either, it might very well be of interest to both. It might also be unique to a particular bloodline (in an earlier edition of the game, or if someone were attempting to create a new bloodline as Gehenna approaches)... and I have some ideas about that, too. For me, it would need to be attached to an entirely new character with a very specific background, but that's beyond the scope of tonight's geekery.

So, with all that background out of the way, I present:

Ascendancy

Ascendancy is a discipline of transformation, one which aligns the vampire more closely with their vampiric nature and helps to take charge of it. In some ways similar to Protean and Vicissitude, it allows transformations both temporary and permanent.

* Master the Thirst
As their understanding and mastery of the Thirst grows, the vampire is able to derive more benefits from the blood of mortals. For each blood point taken from a mortal or animal, the vampire receives two blood points. In addition, difficulties for all frenzy checks induced by hunger are reduced by one.

** Blood Adept
Drinking the blood of another vampire allows you to borrow a single point in one or more of their clan disciplines for a single scene. At the Storyteller's discretion, blood taken from other supernatural creatures may provide comparable benefits. (e.g. Blood taken from a werewolf might provide a point of Potence or Fortitude, the blood of a psychic might allow minor telekinesis, etc.) Disciplines which require ritual training such as Thaumaturgy and Necromancy cannot be acquired in this way, even temporarily; neither can rituals. (However, their effects might be duplicated; minor telekinesis in the example above could be equivalent to a single point in Thaumaturgy's Movement of the Mind path.) Use of this ability during a game also allows the vampire to purchase and improve the chosen disciplines as if they were Clan disciplines using earned experience at the end of the chapter, if the blood involved came from another vampire.
System: The character consumes 1-3 Blood Points worth of blood from a vampire or other supernatural creature. These points are immediately expended; they do not add to the character's blood pool. The character then chooses one clan discipline (or equivalent) for each point consumed, and adds a single point in that discipline. If the character already possesses that discipline, then no points are gained and the blood point is added to their blood pool instead. Note that this ability should be exercised cautiously, as it is quite possible to become Blood Bound from drinking another vampire's blood for this purpose.

*** Harness The Beast
The Vampire has now become familiar with their Beast, and can exercise some influence over it. Difficulties for all frenzy checks are reduced by one (this stacks with Master The Thirst), and the character can now enter a state of controlled frenzy -- harnessing the beast to receive the benefits of frenzy (see page 228 in the guide, but they ignore penalties from injuries, are immune to Rotschreck, are much harder to Dominate, and can accomplish Feats without spending willpower) but without losing control. Characters who frenzy involuntarily can make a self-control check (difficulty eight) to direct their frenzy and retain some degree of control (e.g. choosing to flee instead of slaughter, or attack a particular target instead of the nearest victim or the source of the provocation).

**** Vampiric Visage
When this power is activated, the vampire shrugs off the last vestiges of their human appearance and displays their true vampiric nature. All physical traits increase by one as the vampire partially merges with their beast, but all social traits drop by one. The vampire sprouts claws on their hands and feet and their fangs increase in length, inflicting Strength +1 Aggravated damage. Vampires using this power can climb most surfaces at their standard movement rate, and cling to walls or ceilings (at the storyteller's discretion; an office building's false ceiling won't support a vampire's weight, for example). The vampire's appearance is distinctly inhuman, and being seen in this form violates the Masquerade. This ability costs two blood points to activate.

***** Angel of Darkness
At this point the vampire has gained an affinity for the curse itself. By spending two blood points and a willpower point, they can manifest shadowy wings and a dark halo. They can fly at twice their usual walking speed, or wrap the wings around themselves to reduce the difficulty of Stealth checks by two. The dark halo reduces the difficulty of any rolls made to resist Dominate or Presence (or similar powers) by two, and allows the vampire to make a Willpower roll in situations where they would ordinarily need to spend a willpower point to resist such abilities. Angel of Darkness can be invoked in conjunction with Vampiric Visage, or it can be used separately.