Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Challenge: Must-Read Non-fiction

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 "the non-fiction book everyone should read and why." 

Easy answer: Sarah Kendzior's Hiding in Plain Sight: The Invention of Donald Trump and the Erosion of America.

The reason everyone should read this is that it's an accessible, detailed look at the current state of politics here in the United States, in the person of Donald Trump (with references, yet). And it documents in detail the fact that what we have in charge right now isn't so much a political party as a trans-national crime syndicate masquerading as a government. 

It is... not an uplifting or encouraging read, particularly. But it's very, very important.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Tavros: Snares

The trail grew harder to follow as it climbed out of the marshland grasses and into the hills, but Olvern kept them oriented. Judging from the way the grasses had been pressed down into the mud, this wasn't any sort of regular path; it was just the way the raiders had come, walking directly overland. 

After a time they turned into a cut between two hills. There were paths here, spreading out from the cut to follow the edges of the grass or disappear into it. The passage through the cut showed unmistakable signs of use, but it was slow going; the way was scattered with gravel and small stones, and looked as if became a stream at the slightest hint of rain. On the far side, the trail led them through a small copse of trees. Olvern led the way, and the paladins followed. 

They were well into the trees and Tavros was wondering how much further they might have to go when Olvern stopped and said, "Shit." 

Then the ground swept up from beneath them, scattering leaves and tumbling them all together. Tavros tried to draw his sword, but the net closed around them and they were caught. 

"Be still," hissed Olvern. "Be silent." 

They waited. Finally Tarric said: "All my blood is rushing to my head." 

Anica answered: "That is not what I wanted to hear with you pressed up against me like this."

"I just meant I was upside down," said Tarric, but then he chuckled. 

"Oh, good," said Tavros quietly, working at the netting with his claws. "So it's not an awkward sex joke, it's an awkward foreplay joke. Much better." A strand parted. 

"Quiet," Olvern said again.

Tavros was still working at the net, but he didn't answer. He could feel the others moving around, but his back was to them and he couldn't move well enough to change that. Likely they were trying to draw daggers or find some way to get loose.

Something stung his cheek and he looked down. 

Below him, off to one side of the trail, was a goblin. It was holding a stick, or... some sort of tube? It raised the tube to its face, sighted, and then puffed a breath of air. 

A second dart embedded itself in the chainmail coif that separated his helmet from the rest of his armor. It scraped against his scales but didn't penetrate. Behind him, his companions fell still. Damn it. He had no doubt that the darts were poisoned, and the only reason he hadn't succumbed was that between his heavy armor and his scaly skin, the goblins hadn't managed to apply it. 

"Well," said a voice, "surely that one could use a rest as well." 

Tavros heard a brief recitation; then darkness closed over him.

Monday, September 28, 2020

DnD 5e Interlude: White Plume Mountain 9

Character Recap:
Jhuni Blackfire (she/her) - enthusiastically pyromaniacal Sorcerer/Wizard
Thelmor Irdro (he/him) - Blood Hunter of the Lycan persuasion
Nil (they/them) - badass Cleric
Snow (she/her) - Swashbuckler and Gloomstalker Ranger
Sunrise (she/her) - Lore Bard - and Honey (she/her) her homunculus familiar
Perfect (he/him) - Battlemaster fighter
Grey (he/him) - Assassin/Illusionist

Nil has claimed Whelm temporarily; we've taken a long rest; and the next step is to return to Sir Bluto. We've kind of lost track of how long we've been in this dungeon, but we're feeling a bit better. Whelm tugs at Nil's mind: "I see secret!"

Nil: "What's a secret?"

Whelm: "There's a secret in here!"

They play a bit of Hot or Cold, moving away from the door; apparently there's a secret door in here. Once she's been pointed the right way, Nil has no trouble finding the door: there's a slight outline in the stone, and something like handles towards the bottom. Grey tries to listen at the door, but it's very thick stone; there doesn't seem to be anything making noise behind it.

We run a rope through the handles and let Thelmor give it a tug. Perfect leans in to help, but his hand slips and he gets rope burn and yanks his hands back off. Thelmor pulls again, and the door swings open.

We're running entirely on darkvision, so we can see pretty easily. The room beyond is small, a kind of closet; there's writing in several languages on the stone is "Door Operation Lever" and there is, of course, a lever beside it. It's obviously very old.

Whelm doesn't find any secret doors. Also, Whelm thinks the lever could look better; it's got scratches.

Thelmor investigates it; the scratches seem to be in a particular area, mainly on the handle. Probably iron gloves or rings; it would be consistent with the heavy armor the dwarf was wearing, but they're in different places and probably came from a lot of different people. There's no good way to tell how recently it was last used.

Jhuni and Grey coordinate mage hands, and pull it down from a safe distance. Something whirs loudly behind the lever; a lot of little movements, rather than one heavy movement. After a moment the noise stops.

Nothing seems to have changed in this room, so we head back through the geyser room. We had west, now armed with all three weapons. The disks have moved aside; now a shimmering rainbow bridge connects the two platforms. Nil checks it with their staff, but the bridge is absolutely solid. Jhuni starts across. There's a sort of crunch when she steps, and every time her foot comes down little ripples of light flare through the bridge. The footing is firm, and even the eruption of a geyser doesn't touch her.

Nil follows. Perfect steps onto the bridge and holds out a hand to Nil; they cross the bridge together.

Thelmor, to Wave: "You see this shit? Look at this. You see this, right? Can you sing a song that goes along with this?"

Wave starts singing to Thelmor. It's mind to mind, so none of the rest of us can hear it. It's something the Nordic tempest clerics would sing. Thelmor attempts to sing along, and Wave adds feedback; he's surprisingly good at it. The bard and the cleric both recognize the song; they've heard it before, though it's more familiar to Nil.

We cross the bridge, while Nil considers the possibilities of visitation rights for sentient magical artifacts. We make our way back, avoiding the pits and whatnot, and find our way back to the canoe room. Sunrise uses the Message cantrip again to contact Sir Bluto. He's surprised: "You're the tiefling, are you not?"

Sunrise: "How many people do you have whispering sweet nothing into your ear down here?"

Bluto: "Not enough."

Sunrise: "We're coming through."

We climb into the canoes and go through again, they help us out on the far side. Sunrise: "Let me guess, you didn't think we were coming back."

Bluto: "No."

Nil: "Look! Look what we found!"

Bluto regards the three artifacts. "...You have all three."

Nil: "That was the plan."

Bluto: "I didn't think you would do it. But very well, my word is my oath." He still looks surprised.

Nine, by the way, is still with us; we stopped by the ziggurat room and send Nine down a tier or two so Sunrise could put her stormcloud in the middle of the room. Sunrise gave him a firm command to tell us if this hurt him; then she zapped him with lightning. He shivered a little. "FEEL BETTER! DO AGAIN!"

He jolted, and calls for more. We spent the next ten minutes throwing a lightning party for the flesh golem.

Nil noted that all the glass in the room was gone. So were the corpses. The room was empty and clean, except for a couple of puddles at the bottom. "Huh," observered Sunrise. "Housekeeping."

The door on the lowest tier is open; as we watched, a small clockwork beasty came scuttling out. Nine saw it, yelped, and climbed back up to us. "No-no."

It found a chunk of Nine that had fallen off, and disentigrated it. It started trying to scuttle up the wall.

Sunrise: "Lightning!" She blasted it, and it exploded. We left.

Now, Sir Bluto regards the flesh golem and looks nervous. So do his men. Us: "We made a friend!"

Bluto: "What do you mean by 'made'?"

Thelmor: "Found. Found a friend."

They settle, since the thing clearly isn't hostile.

Sunrise: "You said to get the weapons, so we got the weapons."

Bluto: "Usually people die trying to do that."

Sunrise: "That didn't seem like a good idea, so we didn't."

Bluto: "Well, I can take you where you need to go. I can't go past a certain point, and you'll have to defeat some bugbears. If I'm seen where I'm not allowed, I might perish."

Sunrise: "Like, Keraptis would try to kill you? Or like, you'd just magically die."

Bluto: "I might just die; there's a spell, and if I cross its boundaries it damages me."

Sunrise: "Could you do something to lure Keraptis out?"

Grey, Thelmor, and Nil consider this. It's a geas, and the only way we know to remove it would be Greater Restoration or Remove Curse, or Wish. Nil has remove curse, but Bluto suggests we save our spells; he believes we're stronger than him by a substantial margin. We decide to come back and clean up here *after* we've defeated Keraptis.

Still, he can point the way and he can tell us what to expect. He guides us past the doors, where Whelm whispers about all the secret doors as we pass through them. We ask him about any other prisoners; he isn't aware of any. He says most of Keraptis' servitors are goblinoids of some order. Nil asks about the people beyond the spinning tunnel; Burkett and Snarla, it turns out, are known to Bluto and his men. Apparently they drop by to visit sometimes, when Snarla's been cooking. Their situation is complicated, but he thinks they're fairly content working here. Also: don't let Snarla bite you.

One of the men: "I got bit by her, and now I'm a werewolf."

Thelmor: "Well, that's okay then. And if we get you out of here, I can take you back to my order and they can teach you how to control it."

He's totally game for this.

We return to the middle passage of the initial split, and to the point where the water control wheel was. Whelm identifies a secret down in the pit, where Bluto is currently climbing. He seems to grab something that isn't there and pulls it open; there's a an invisible trap door with ladder leading down beneath it.

We go down. Bluto and his men follow. The cave here is dark, but lit by glowing crystals of varying sizes that sprout from the floors and ceiling. This seems like the same general look and feel as the cavern from our vision of the ancient battle. The lighting isn't bright here, but it's no longer dark. Jhuni looks around for loose chunks of crystal, and finds a football-sized crystal that she can slide out of its growth. She puts it in her pack.

Bluto and co extinguish their torches, falling back on the light from the crystals, and we all head down.

As we go forward, we begin to see stonework instead of rough cavern. There's a brick arch, which marks the edge of the area that Bluto can safely travel. We take our leave of him. Bluto: "Be careful. I know that you are facing something terrible. Give it an extra smack for me."

Sunrise: "Bugbears?"

Bluto: "Usually at this arch, but I don't see them. This isn't my usual time, so perhaps they're asleep, or changing shifts, or somesuch."

Nil drops an Arcane Eye. There are more arches ahead as the passage descends. It emerges into a larger chamber, where the crystal clutters are gone and masonry walls have covered the rough stone. There's some sort of weird rainbow light coming through one wall. The room opens into a hallway with a high ceiling, all done in delicate stonework. Not quite high enough for Call Lightning, though. The pillars are carved with dragons wrapping around them. There are three doors on either side, and a passage continuing on ahead. Each of the doors has two suits of armor next to it. There are candelabras shaped vaguely like people in the center of the room. The faint line of light encircles the room here as well, and the doors appear to be swollen shut; none of them have keyholes. Each seems to be carved in its own dragon pattern.

The floor slopes down, and the masonry seems even more ornate; the crystals seem to be growing out of the lines of light taking over the cave again. The hallway starts to widen into a huge chamber (this one definitely high enough for Call Lightning). There seems to be a very ornate statue of a dragon's skeleton, positioned in mid-roar and clutching at the ground around it. There are indentions in the statue which might fit the three weapons. The material is gray, probably stone, but polished. There don't seem to be any exits from the cavern; but the cavern itself is familiar. This is the very like the cave where the three weapons came together to seal away Keraptis' evil power.

We transfer Whelm over to Sunrise, and stop to rest again. Once we're back up to full strength, we continue on and come into the hallway.

It really does look like someone has built these rooms to conceal the fact that they're inside a cavern. The candles really are disturbingly human-shaped, and there are about thirty of them. That doesn't really seem to match the number of former adventurers, despite Grey's rather creepy opinion of them. The suits of armor beside each door are small; halfling-sized, maybe.

Magic is strong here; it's all through the stone of this place. Everything here was built to assist with magic and magic-users; it feels like a magic school, or some similar setting. The residue is so strong that it's hard to tell if the armor is enchanted or not. There's more than one school of magic worked through here; but conjuration is the strongest. Aside from Grey muttering about his findings, it's quiet here.

Jhuni floats one of the candles over to Nil, who looks it over more closely. Thelmor comes over to help them. She uses a knife to shave off a bit; and it seems to be wax all the way through; the candle wick doesn't go down the middle, but follows a line down the back. The fingers and thumbs are distinct. Racking our brains, we come up with the fact that these are some sort of magical artifact which is activated by being lit. Jhuni has them associated with some sort of explodery. Sunrise remembers finally: they're living wicks, which can be brought to life by their enchanted wicks. As they burn down, they lose some of their human appearance. They're generally used to short-term servitors, household servitors, and the like. They're obedient to whoever lights the candle, so they can sold, bartered, or like that. If the master demands it, they can consume their entire wick at once to create an explosion.

Grey lights one, and it relaxes into mobility. He pulls it down from the candelabra. "Walk in a circle around me." It does. "See if you can get into one of those suits of armor." It goes and starts disassembling the armor.

Nil asks the candle if it's capable of speech. It turns out that it can speak telepathically to Grey, but that's it. Its memory extends to the moment it was lit; nothing earlier. How long might it live? "I feel like I could last for a fortnight?"

It is filling the room with candlelight, not bright; but just an ordinary candle. Nil and Sunrise each light a candle of their own. We start sending them over to disassemble the rest of the suits of armor. Grey's puts the pieces laid out in a little row; Nil's just dumps them in piles, and Sunrise's just lets the pieces fall where they may. Sunrise claims a candle to study later, then moves around and starts listening at doors. She hears something behind the southeastern door, the northeast door, and the southwest door. There's something moving behind the southwest door, a slow tapping on the stone. The northeast door might have voices. The southeast there's a faint whirring, and perhaps the sound of paper rustling.

We open the northeast door; the voices are now less muffled, but they aren't close. There seem to be two feminine voices speaking common; they don't sound like they're plotting, they sound like they're reminiscing about home. They sound like captives, not bugbears. Snow sneaks ahead, following the hall; that horizontal light is still here, but as long as she stays clear of it she's fine. There's a room with small stone cells on the far side, closed in by steel bars. Three of the rooms are occupied:
-A very tall orc, leaning against the wall; he looks sad.
-An empty cell
-A woman, dark of skin and hair, dressed in simple clothing. She's pacing and talking, and looks antsy.
-An older woman, short and stout, built like a dwarf; she's lying on her bed, fingers laced behind her head. She's trying to sooth the other woman.

None of them have weapons or armor; they don't even have boots. Snow moves in and inspects the locks on the doors; they're about what you'd expect from a prison cell, heavy and thick. Snow reports back, and we decide to get them out. We ask Perfect about them; do they sound familiar?

Perfect: "There are so many... the Orc sounds familiar. The human could be anyone. But yes, they could be captured adventurers. The older dwarf woman definitely rings a bell."

We proceed into the jail room.

Nil: "Do not be afraid..."

The dark-skinned woman in the middle: "Oh my gosh. Get us out. I'd love it you could get us out."

Nil talks while Grey launches into Detect Magic.

The human woman is Gussalen. She's been here... "Too long." She takes a deep breath, trying to calm down. "A day or two? More?" She gives us a date, and it was about five days before we arrived. A bit over a wekk, then.

The orc is Tulgan. He's been here maybe a fortnight. Got separated from his party; doesn't know where they are. Then the bugbears captured him and put him the cell. He saw a knight, but no wizards. "The canoes, right? Told everyone not to go on those things."

Sunrise: "See, this is why you scout ahead."

Tulgan seems pretty chill.

The dwarf woman has a chain around her neck, with a small hammer sigil on it. She it Turi, a paladin of Thor. She's been here the longest; she's not sure how long it's been. Months, she thinks. Have they seen anyone else? "The people who leave these cells don't come back."

Grey finishes his Detect Magic, but pretty much nothing in the room is magic. The stone itself is still swimming with magic.

Snow and Grey fall to, and Turi and Gussalen emerge. Turi is calm and dignified as she thanks Grey; Gussalen throws herself into her rescuer's arms. Grey moves on and releases Tulgan.

Sunrise asks if Tulgan has any hard feelings about Sir Bluto. He doesn't. Gossalen is stroking Snow's fur in a self-calming sort of way. Snow, unsurprisingly, permits the beautiful woman to stroke her.

Nil: "So... we're about to face off with the wizard who runs this place. Would you like to help? Or just get out of here."

Tulgan: "Gonna go return to my career as a sailor."

Nil: "Be sure to check back with your employers."

Turi: "I'd like to find my stuff; I can watch over the others as they go out the door."

Sunrise: "If you don't want to fight, it might be better for you to stay with Sir Bluto and his friends."

Gussalen: "Our armor has to be pretty close."

Sunrise: "I could maybe locate it, if you can tell me what you're seeking."

Turi had a very distinctive greatsword with a bronze inlay and the symbol of Thor on the hilt. Once Sunrise has a really good idea of what she's looking for, she casts Locate Object; it's off to the west.

The prisoners decide to stay here while we go get their equipment. Tulgan has a sailing pin, basically a club; Snow hands Gossalen a pair of daggers; Grey hands another pair to Turi. Sunrise leaves Honey, her familiar, with Tulgan; Tulgan is very sweet to her. Thelmor offers his greataxe to Turi; she takes it and lays it over one shoulder, and smiles.

We head over to retrieve the armor.

The hall is still empty; we check the door, then pull it open as quietly as we can. Snow moves ahead again, sneaking. There's a large room at the end of the hall, occupying at least as much space as the jail and the cells within. It's piled with captured equipment: a pile of leather armor, a pile of wooden weapons, a pile of metal armor, a pile of swords, and like that. Along the walls, there seems to a lot of clockwork scraps: tiny gears, little levers, and the like. Just before she leaves, Snow sees one of the piles move. It stayed still when she went to investigate it. Snow goes back to report.

Nil suggests giving each of the prisoners a candle, and letting them use the candles to retrieve their stuff. Snow heads back to stand at the door, prepared to retreat immediately if anything moves. Sunrise sends the message, and we equip the prisoners with candles. As the candles approach the room, Snow watches the piles of stuff. Their light makes her briefly visible, but Jhuni is positioned to guard her back.

As the candles work, one of the piles moves. From ten feet away, a mechanical crab-claw shoots out and slams into her by surprise. Snow immediately books it back out of the room. The claw takes the opportunity to attack again as she flees, but it misses. Something like a mechanical hand comes out of another pile as well, but she's gone. Jhuni, who was ready for something like this, responds with a firebolt. There appear to be large constructs hiding in the piles of scrap.

We stop there.

Friday, September 25, 2020

VtM: The Ghost In The Basement

"Mister Lewis! Mister Lewis!" 

Alexander Lewis turned as one of the maids came rushing up to him. "I saw him! I saw him again!"

He took a deep breath and sighed, keeping his expression firm and calm. "There is nothing down there, Yasmin. We have looked and looked." 

Yasmin looked stubborn. "It's a ghost! I told you it was a ghost. That's why you didn't find anything. It has to be a ghost, no child that age would be prowling around in someone else's cellars." 

Alexander looked away. There were no such things as ghosts, but Yasmin had come to them from the theater and appeared impervious to reason. "Very well, Yasmin," he said heavily. "I shall come down with you, and we will look again." 

Yasmin shook her head. "I'm not going back down there. Herself doesn't pay me enough to deal with ghosts." 

Fine, he thought. "Then get on with whatever else you're supposed to be doing," he said, and paused. "What were you doing down there anyway?" 

"Oh, Joel asked me to see if we had any more of the lemon-butter sauce left. It seems he's trying to learn to cook." 

Well, that was something else Alexander would have to deal with. He certainly didn't mind the staff trying to expand their skills, but he should have been consulted about anything that might throw off the stores. Or informed that Joel seemed to be angling for a new position in the household, for that matter.

Frowning, he left Yasmin behind and went into the kitchen. 

The kitchen had been a marvel of modern service space, at least until the night of the Mistress' concert two weeks ago. The refrigerator was still missing, of course; the Master and Mistress had yet to schedule a replacement for it. Without it, they were forced to keep the perishables in the larger walk-in downstairs, in the basement, which was haunted. Or at least Yasmin swore it was, and several of the others were at least half-convinced that she was right. Ever since Mister Grant had fainted down there, and had to be carried back upstairs to recover...

Joel was standing beside one gleaming steel counter, with a cutting board beside him. He appeared to be trying to bread a pair of chicken breasts with panko crumbs, and having some moderate success at it. 

"Mister Jackson," said Alexander. "Practicing your cooking?" 

Joel shrugged, self-deprecating. "Trying, anyway. I wouldn't mind moving over to a position as cook or chef or something, if I can get the hang of this." 

Alexander nodded, satisfied; this was the acknowledgement he'd wanted. Evidently Mister Jackson hadn't felt he was far enough along to broach the topic. "Yasmin claims that she saw the ghost again." 

"Yes, I figured when she came rushing through here. I looked downstairs, but... nothing." 

"Naturally," answered Alexander, though he was actually fairly impressed with Mister Jackson's initiative. "Still, I promised that I would look again." 

Joel abandoned his project and came to stand beside him. "I'll come down with you," he said.

"Very well." Alexander started down the stairs, and Joel followed. 

The room at the bottom was large, and despite its clutter it was clearly empty. Alexander crossed the room, navigating between shelves, and opened the door to the refrigerator; then he closed it again and moved to the freezer. Both were empty of ghosts or other intruders, and nothing seemed out of place. He returned to where Mister Jackson stood waiting at the bottom of the stair. "I fear," he said, "that our Yasmin is perhaps too excitable for her position in our household." He flipped off the lights. "I'll have to bring it up to the Mistress when she awakens this evening." 

He turned to march back up the stairs, but Joel stopped him with a firm hand on his shoulders. Slowly, he turned and looked back. 

There, on the far side of the room, he saw a pair of gleaming red eyes. The room was absolutely dark; he could make out nothing of the face or body that must have been there as well. Hesitantly, he reached out for the lightswitch again; but before his hand could reach it, the eyes blinked out and were gone. 

The room was empty again when the lights came on. 

"I see," said Alexander Lewis, very slowly. "I shall have to speak the Mistress about this, and perhaps the Master as well."

Then he turned and fled, and Joel followed close on his heels.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Whole entire week

I am... 

I am... 

I am not with it right now. I'm not getting enough sleep; I'm not getting enough done on my projects. (I don't even know how much is "enough" at this point, I just know it should be more than "barely anything".) I can't even tell if I'm unwell, or if I'm just exhausted/depressed/burned out by the relentless parade of horrors that is 2020. Maybe that's not even a valid distinction anymore. 

I'm tired of being on lockdown and still having to go to work. I'm tired of my co-workers failing to properly distance and/or wear masks. (They do, but it's... half-assed. Not helpful.) I'm tired of police gratuitously murdering people that they're supposed to protect; I am absolutely sick of the almost complete lack of consequences that inevitably follows. I am tired of watching our federal government studiously ignore climate change and treat our pandemic response as a matter of public relations. I'm tired of seeing people try to normalize the fact that we're galloping further and further into fascism, and I'm desperately tired of the ones who think this is a good thing.

I'm tired of people

I'm... 

I feel like I need to stop, but... Everything just keeps grinding on, you know? The family needs to be fed on  a regular basis. The boys need to be in school, on time, paying attention. Things keep needing to be fixed at work, and if they don't need to be fixed then they probably need to be upgraded. And I don't have the brain cells I need to really work on it, though I keep trying anyway. So everything feels like it's one step forward, two steps back. 

Anybody got an old wardrobe with a passage to another world in the back? At this point, facing off against an evil queen and her armies and magics would at least offer a concrete goal to focus on. A land locked in eternal winter would actually be trading up right now.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Yesterday was a beating...

So, Monday at work. And by 8:07 I knew it was going to be a particularly Monday sort of Monday because somebody called up to drop a major technical problem in my lap while I was in the midst of trying to deal with a completely different major technical problem that's been going on for a week now. (And that's not to mention the three other major technical projects that I'm trying to get back to!) 

So the new issue tied up the morning, and after all that the best solution is to move the whole thing to a new setup -- a project which we'd originally scheduled for March/April of 2019. It's now rescheduled for next week, and we've slapped a bandage on the existing setup to hold us until then. 

The second issue then ate most of the afternoon; it's a system that keeps kicking everybody off when the IIS service crashes, but there's no indication of why it suddenly started crashing a week before last Friday. We've tried a couple of things, but at this point they're more "throwing darts at the wall and hoping something hits" than actual troubleshooting. And, of course, it's erratic -- which makes it even harder to pin down. I'm hoping that the stuff we did yesterday will help, but it's immensely frustrating to have the system start breaking like this when we haven't changed anything. 

And then a particular document that I was supposed to post on the website came in at the very end of the day (not unusual in itself) at 760 MB (a quarter of a gigabyte, and perfectly ridiculous). So I didn't leave work until an hour after my day was supposed to end. 

I went to bed early, obviously. By the time I got the boys down, I had nothing left. Even reading was too much for me. 

But, I've gotten a good night's sleep and a decent breakfast; here's hoping today goes much better.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Youth DnD: The Damaged Dungeon

 I realize that I've been lax about reporting on the youth D'n'D game that I run for Firstborn and his friends, but I'm pleased to say that: 

A) It's still going.
B) It transitioned to online gaming with only a few growing pains when the pandemic hit. 

The characters have been fairly consistent. Firstborn is still playing his dragonborn draconic sorcerer. (Because dragons. And fire. But mostly dragons.) The player of the mousefolk cleric transitioned to a half-elf swashbuckler/bard once they rescued the mousefolk tribe, allowing the cleric to gracefully return to her people. The third of the original players is still playing his halfling arcane trickster. We have two other players who are currently absent, but we're hoping to have them back when circumstances permit. 

The campaign itself is based in Roslof Keep, which is very much an old-school dungeon: you go inside and defeat monsters and get treasure. The primary conceit is that the dungeon is the creation of a Mad Mage, who is supposed to have hidden an immortality potion in the Infernal Machine at the heart of the maze. The dungeon is less of a dwelling than an elaborate test and training ground; the monsters inside are generated (and recreated) by the dungeon itself, though every so often some stray beast or tribe wanders in. 

This is not terribly well explained, since the dungeon is otherwise quite difficult to enter; it is sealed with a magic "membrane" -- essentially an impenetrable force field -- which will open only to groups who have sworn themselves to one of seven magical banners called Mithal Standards. In addition, moving down to each new level beyond the first can only be done when a group has defeated everything on the current level; a similar membrane keeps the levels separated. I've dealt with this by deciding that the membrane becomes more permeable when a banner company is entering or leaving; so long as some of the group is inside and others are outside, it's possible for other creatures to pass through. This was how the Mousefolk (as well as a group of orcs on the first level) made their way into the maze, and it was how the party eventually brought them back out. 

The prepackaged campaign is designed to be used for both AD&D and 5e... mostly. Mainly, that means that there are 5e stat blocks for the monsters along with the AD&D stats. Unfortunately, it looks like nobody thought to do conversions for the treasure, which has created some interesting issues with the magic items; as written, they're really too powerful for 5e characters. I've mostly ignored that, since the dungeon is fairly brutal and I've compensated by letting the characters level up a bit more than recommended and keep the more powerful treasures. I've also given them some sidequests outside of the main campaign; one was a quest to find out what was eating the horses at a logging camp, and another was a quest to return a stolen book to the Library Lich, and then a smaller sub-quest to clear the imps out of his basement. Oh, and they discovered a mysterious tiefling who was apparently spying on their lord's manor and probably on them, and survived a couple of assassination attempts.

As they've progressed, we've filled in more of the keep above the dungeon, local politics and other Houses and banner companies; they've rescued a member of another company and had one of their own members rescued by that same company. The characters are still definitely in the Scrappy Underdog category, but they're starting to make a name for themselves. Meanwhile they've discovered a strange fungus that seems to be infecting both the dungeon and the creatures in it, and one of their "recurring enemy" monsters -- a kobold sorcerer named Gex, who has attacked and been killed by them several times -- has asked for a truce; Gex and another monster are worried about the fungus and the way it seems to be draining the dungeon's magic, which means that if they're killed they might not come back.

...Which brings me to this week. The group has formed a temporary alliance with Gex, and after he helped them clear a couple of rooms on the third level they started talking about whether it was possible to bring him out of the dungeon, or whether -- since he was a creation of the dungeon -- that would destroy him. 

So they tested it by capturing a dungeon-spawned giant rat and carrying it out through the membrane. It survived. (Well, until they killed it immediately afterwards.) So they brought Gex out. This was... an experience. For one thing Gex had never entirely believed that Outside really existed; the adventurers came from somewhere, but for all he knew the dungeon was generating them the same way it did him. For another, he'd never seen sky before; it took them a few minutes to convince him that he wasn't going to fall upwards, and he could let go of the door handle now. He had certainly never seen a street vendor's cart, or a meat pie, so they promptly brought several of them; that was such a revelation that he barely notice the next two blocks as they led him back to the estate. 

Their lord was perfectly appalled by this. How had they brought the kobold out? And even if you can bring one of the dungeon's creatures outside, why would you ever want to? And what would happen to Gex now that he was out? Was he still bound to the dungeon? Was he an ordinary kobold, set for a full natural lifespan, or would he weaken and die outside of his home? The lord, a former adventurer himself, called in a friend of his -- an elvish wizard and former member of his company -- who suggested that Gex was less likely to suffer unpleasant consequence if he was bound to the Mithral Banner; Gex promptly agreed to this. 

So now the group has adopted a kobold sorcerer who was designed by the dungeon of the mad mage to harry them and try to kill them. We'll see how this goes...

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Tavros: Following the Trail

 The path was easy enough to follow, though Tavros would never have been able to pick out details the way Olvern did. That many feet had crushed the dry grasses, churned up the patches of softer soil, and tracked bits of mud across the rockier stretches. The land here wasn't quite marsh, though it would have been if they were closer to the lake; instead, they followed a wide trail between high grasses and bare-limbed trees. 

In another month, Tavros thought, the whole area would be green and blooming; but winter hadn't yet released its grip -- not completely. There was a dusting of frost everywhere the sun had not yet touched. The grasses were still brown and the trees were still bare. 

Olvern held up a hand and they stopped. The older man was frowning, puzzled. "The trail turns north here, but... that doesn't make any sense. If they were angling towards the hills, why not head that way in the first place? And those hills are..." He trailed off, thinking. 

The paladins glanced at each other, but waited. Tavros was patient, trusting Olvern; the man might be a vagabond, but he clearly knew the area and could read things from the land that no amount of training in the temple had taught Tavros to do. Tarric looked impatient, and Anica intrigued. 

Olvern crossed to the line of grasses beside the trail, stopped, and then put a hand out. "Here," he said, and lifted a handful from the ground. They weren't growing there; they'd been cut and then set back in place, and a softer set of tracks lay underneath them. "Trying to throw us off the trail." He paused, looking warily around. "Well, hopefully not us in particular. But trying to throw any pursuers off the trail."

Tarric nodded. "So the apparent trail probably turns north and then disappears." 

"Count on it," said Olvern. 

"Do we want to check?" asked Anica.

"Yes," said Olvern and Tarric at the same time. Tavros nodded. With the village already reduced to ashes, they could afford to take the time to confirm their conclusions. 

Thirty minutes later they were throwing the cut grasses aside and following the true trail. As expected, the obvious trail had run half a mile north and then stopped as it reached a rockier area; but Olvern had looked over the rocks and noted the absence of muddy footprints on them, and pronounced it a false trail. Trekking back was tedious, but Tavros found that the prospect of actually finding these raiders kept him plenty interested.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Challenge: Looking Up Words

 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 "book with the most words you had to look up." 

So, right... let me take you back on a journey of memory, into the dim and distant past where the truth of things is now lost to legends and forgetfulness. Join my fourteen-year-old, athletic-but-nerdy goth self in ninth grade, in English class. Add some sort eighties pop/metal soundtrack, if you like. 

Now, English wasn't my only class, obviously. I was taking geometry, I think, and both Spanish and Latin. (Yes, I know, and you're right: as a matter of fact, I did have to go back and completely redo one page of a Spanish test in tenth grade because I'd been conjugating the verbs after the Latin patterns.) There were other classes, too: Earth Science, the very early stages of computer science... but those aren't as relevant here, and anyway it all sort of runs together anymore. 

 Anyway, there we were in Ninth Grade English, and we started on the reading for the spring semester: The Scarlet Pimpernel. Honestly, this should have been completely my jam: sword fights, escapes, disguises, secret identities, commonalities with Zorro and Batman... But there was a problem.

Someone had left a copy of it in a desk the previous year. I'd already read it, and I said as much. 

Now, my high school was... unusual... and this is a perfect example of how and why. The English teacher did not say, "Too bad, read along anyway." Instead she said, "Huh. Okay." And apparently she went off and consulted with my other teachers, because two days later when I came into the classroom she called me up to the front and handed me The Name of the Rose. "Here," she said, or something to that effect. "While we're reading The Scarlet Pimpernel in class, I expect you to be reading this. And Mister M expects you to translate the Latin. You'll be reporting to him on that part." Mister M was, of course, my Latin teacher. 

So I launched into it, and it was... intriguing. And I made notes as I went along, so I could report to my English teacher about my general progress; and every time the text delivered some classical quotation I hauled out the Latin/English dictionary and gave it a go, and passed those -- original and my translation -- back to Mister M. Until... 

Until... 

Until...

I hit a passage that I absolutely could not decipher. It wasn't that I couldn't parse the grammar or resolve the verb tense or fill in the missing pronouns; I literally could not translate any of the words. The narrator was remembering -- and referring to -- a three-sentence passage from some classical source, and I couldn't make sense of it at all. 

Finally, I gave up and -- book in hand -- caught Mister M between classes. "What am I doing wrong?" I asked, opening the book and showing him that quote. "What does it say?" 

He read it over. Twice. Then he said, "Ah. Take that one to Ms. Mueller." 

I hadn't interacted much with Ms. Mueller; I didn't have any classes under her, but that still gave me some sense of where I'd gone wrong: she taught German. And even then... well, she looked at it, blinked about four times in rapid succession, read it again, and said: "This is in Old High German. I can't really... it's something about..." and she gave me her best guess. 

All of this, obviously, was before you could feign erudition by consulting Google; heck, at this point Telnet was still barely a thing, and the idea of electronic mail (or e-mail) was part of the Brave New World being discussed by science geeks in army labs who frankly didn't get out much. There were BBS systems, but you had to dial into them with your modem and they only had whatever information the person running them (out of their house, usually) had seen fit to include -- which could be anything from a sophisticated explanation of high-order physics to a diatribe about how Dungeons and Dragons Evil Lurks -- Look Out! (I actually had a dot-matrix print-out of that one, and I still regret losing it; it had a sort of hilarious social-historical value...) So basically, references weren't easy to come by and I had to do my translating myself. 

Eventually, of course, I finished the book and then -- a year or two later -- watched the movie. While I regard them both as time well spent, they are also experiences that I will never subject myself to again; the image of the End of the World portrayed as the library burning down was a lot more traumatic than I'm entirely comfortable admitting. 

But that was the book that I had to look up the most words for: The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Tavros: The Village Obliterated

The village had been tiny and isolated, a place of mud walls and thatched roofs occupied mainly by fisherfolk and trappers. Now it was nothing but charred wood, ashes, faint traces of smoke, and the still-hot remains of a couple of larger huts. 

"Did it have a name?" asked Tavros, his voice thick. The silver scales rippled along his arms as he studied the devastation.

Olvern shook his head. He was human, dressed in drab clothing and a brown cloak that hung ragged around the edges; but despite its condition, his boots and belt and blades were clean and polished and neatly arranged. A bow was strapped to his pack, quiver beside it in easy reach. "It's marked on the maps as Lakeside, but that's a convenience. The people who lived here just called it the village."  

"And now it's not even that," said Anica, looking around. "Did you know them?" She was sturdy and red-haired, though without the temper that tradition ascribed to redheads, and she kept her crossbow out as they looked around.

Olvern again shook his head. "Not many, not well. They always offered hospitality when I passed through, and I always did what I could to help out, but... that was seldom more than once a year. It was sheer luck that I happened to be passing close enough to see the smoke."

"Bandits?" mused Tarric. "This seems too brutal for that." 

"And these people were poor," Olvern added. There was a touch of elvish blood visible in his features -- the narrow face, the slightly-golden brown eyes -- but only a touch.  "Bandits might come to steal their food, but they had little else. And why put the whole place to the torch?"

Tavros nodded and extended his senses, but found nothing: no sense of supernatural evil, no immediate threats. The village was empty. "Any tracks?" he asked. 

"I'll see," answered Olvern. "You three stay here. You'll muck up anything that's left if you start moving around." He slipped away, feet soft on the cold ground as he moved slowly, searching. 

The three paladins waited, remaining wary. The woods here were barren with the last traces of winter, and quiet; but then, Tavros, supposed, the birds and animals would have fled from the fire. Olvern had gone directly to the temple, and the three of them had come immediately while some of the priests made ready to follow; but whatever had happened here, they'd missed it. 

After a time, Olvern returned, circling around from the other side of the former village. "Tracks," he said. "Heading east. They're a mix of sizes, from a fairly large group -- maybe thirty individuals, which is more than lived here in the village. A few boots, some bare feet, a lot that look to have been crudely wrapped with cloth or leather. Half a day old, maybe a bit more -- they probably left shortly after I passed by." 

Which means that by the time Olvern reached us, it was already too late. Tavros tamped a sudden surge of anger -- not at Olvern or the temple or even himself, but at the world, the gods, and the injustice of it all. 

Olvern continued: "I didn't see another signs; if anybody escaped into the woods, they left no tracks. And based on the timing, I doubt anybody did. The raiders would have arrived a few hours before dawn, when everyone would have been asleep in their homes." 

"Why didn't you help?" asked Tarric, suddenly. He was human, young as Tavros and Anica, dark-haired and tanned with time spent in the sun. "Why didn't you come down here and help them?" He sounded pained; he sounded angry. 

Olvern drew a deep breath and released it, looking away for a long moment before turning back to the paladins. "I was up there, in the hills." He pointed. "I was nearly as close to the temple as I was to the village. I saw smoke; I didn't realize they'd been attacked. So I went to get help, because that was what I thought they'd need: clergy to mend wounds and perhaps help with repairs. Even paladins could have made a start on that, and if the temple preferred to send you out first I wasn't going to argue." 

He turned away from Tarric, a deliberate gesture, and looked back at the smoldering ruins. "So here we are. And we know which way the attackers went. And it may be too late to help anyone who lived here, but I can lead you to the ones who did this... and we can make jolly damned sure they never do it to anyone else, ever again."

Tarric lowered his head. "Sorry," he said, and then, "Yes. Yes. Let's find these raiders, and finish them." 

Tavros looked at Anica,who nodded. Her hand quivered on the grip of her crossbow.

"Very well," he said. "I'll leave a mark for the priests, when they arrive. Then we give chase."

Monday, September 14, 2020

Saturday, September 12, 2020

DnD 5e Interlude: White Plume Mountain 8

 At the end of last session we'd made it across the Burning Mud Room platforms and were resting in a Tiny Hut spell before pushing into the last room.

Character Recap:
Jhuni Blackfire (she/her) - enthusiastically pyromaniacal Sorcerer/Wizard
Thelmor Irdro (he/him) - Blood Hunter of the Lycan persuasion
Nil (they/them) - badass Cleric
Snow (she/her) - Swashbuckler and Gloomstalker Ranger
Sunrise (she/her) - Lore Bard - and Honey (she/her) her homunculus familiar
Perfect (he/him) - Battlemaster fighter
Grey (he/him) - Assassin/Illusionist

On to the Undead Dwarf!

In the next room we find the dwarf, kneeling in front of the hammer and wearing plate armor; he seems to be undead and mostly, though perhaps not entirely, flesh and bone. With, admittedly, a little bit more of the bone showing than any of us would prefer. There's a helmet on the floor beside him.

Thelmor: "Excuse me, sir?"

He looks up. His eyes are bottomless pits.

Thelmor: "You look to have been a fighter, perhaps a paladin. Is this," he motions, "of your own will, or were your forced into this?"

Dwarf: "This would not have been my choice."

Thelmor: "That's... good, since we'd really like to get to the one who chose to be undead, the one who did this to you. Give us a chance, and perhaps the Raven Queen could send you along on your way."

Dwarf: "You speak of the Raven Queen like I'd go to her. I long to see Moradin's forge, to send my own fires at it -- not your Raven Queen."

Thelmor: "It could happen, if you were released from this."

Dwarf: "Someday. Today?"

Thelmor: holds up Wave. "It's possible; third time could be the charm."

Dwarf: "What do you plan?"

Thelmor: "Take the weapons, kill Keraptis, return the weapons to their proper owners."

Dwarf: "Promise to kill him?"

Thelmor: "That's the plan."

Sunrise, meanwhile, has used Message to address the hammer: "Pssst! Talk to you for a sec?"

Something answers, in an inquisitive female voice. It sounds... upbeat. "Hi! Hi, you want to talk? I like talking."

Sunrise: "I like talking, too. We're actually here to free the one holding you and bring you back home. How do you feel about that?"

Whelm the Hammer: "It would be nice not to be in service to Keraptis. The sooner the better, really."

Sunrise: "I think that's what we all want. Is there anything you can do to make it easier to get you out of here?"

Whelm: "Out of here like out of Dolrig's hands? Or out of the mountain."

Sunrise: "Well, both, eventually."

Whelm: "I can't go against Dolrig."

Sunrise: "Can't turn in his hand? Move aside when a blow's coming?"

Whelm: "I can try. And I can tell you what I can do. Careful when he brings me above his head; he's getting ready to make a shockwave that'll hurt people. Don't get too close, but that'll be hard here. If he throws me, I go back to his hand so just stay out of the way entirely. I can fix stuff... I can fix a lot of stuff. Mending."

Sunrise gasps. "I can do that!"

Whelm: "I like you."

The hammer is good with putting down Keraptis, too.

Sunrise: "Really nice to meet you! See you after the battle! I'm Sunrise!" She goes on to recap for the rest of us by way of more Message cantrips.

The dwarf stands and puts on his helmet. "Well, if you're ready. I think this crowd is a bit too much for me. I'd hate to make it easy for you. I'm sure none of the others did." He bangs his hammer on his shield four times, and four earthen figures flow up out of the ground. The battle begins...

Nine, the flesh golem we acquired last time, made it into the room with us; Grey assigns him to hang back & guard Sunrise.

Snow moves first, dropping Hunter's Mark on an earth elemental and attacking it; she gets extra damage from Sneak Attack and an extra attack from Dread Ambusher. Sunrise and Nine move behind a pillar, taking cover but keeping an eye on things. She begin strumming her lute and throws a Suggestion at the dwarf: "You don't want to be here any more than we do! Why don't you take down these elementals and make it go faster."

Dwarf: "Aye, okay, why not?" He raises Whelm over his head, then slams it against the ground. A massive shockwave ripples out, and most of us are stunned; Jhuni, Sunrise, and Perfect are not. Jhuni fires off Scorching Ray, targeting golems and doing some damage. Thelmor shakes off the stun, but Grey does not; two of the golems were stunned, and one breaks free. One of the golems attacks Snow, who is still stunned; it hits her *hard*. The other active one attacks Thelmor with a downwards slam; he staggers but remains upright, taking a rather large amount of damage as well.

Nil manages to throw off the stun. "Please don't do that again."

Dolrig, pointing at Sunrise: "She asked me to!"

Perfect moves up to interpose himself between Nil and one of the golems. He attacks the golem, then calls a commanding sort of encouragement to Snow: "You can take it, Lady Kitka!" She gets 9 temporary HP.

Snow tries to come back to her senses, but fails. Sunrise decides to wait until Dolrig shakes off the suggestion; Dolrig turns and makes a cone attack that takes in a full quarter of the room; Sunrise, Nil, Thelmor, Perfect, and one of the golems are all caught by it. He has made a pressure wave that does force damage and tried (unsuccessfully) to push everybody back. The golem did get cracked into the wall a bit, but everybody else managed to avoid that. Jhuni steps in front of Grey, then drops a fireball on a pair of earth elementals and uses a sorcery point to sculpt it around her allies. FWAKOOM!

They're holding up, though they've obviously taken some hits.

Nine notices the elemental that got slammed against the wall; it's too close to Sunrise for his taste, so he attacks it... and crits. "NO HURT FRIEND!"

Thelmor moves in with Wave, who's a bit distraught at being on fire but tries to go with it. He stabs Dolrig, and then is attacked by an earth elemental who tries to grapple him; Thelmor slips out, and the golem smacks himself hard enough to do real damage. (So much for "hugging it out"...) The last of the golems has come out of the stun, and attacks Jhuni; she shows up Shield as a reaction, and avoids it. The damaged elemental tries to attack Nine, and hits him once but screws up the follow-through so badly that Nine smacks him back instead. Grey is still stunned, and still hasn't snapped out of it.

Nil throws up a Beacon of Hope preparatory to doing some healing. Perfect attacks the elemental in front of him, then hands an extra attack to Thelmor. Both of them hit, and Snow shakes off being stunned; she can move next round.

Sunrise drops a bardic inspiration on Grey: "SNAP OUT OF IT!" Then she leans around Nine and stabs the earth elemental with her rapier.

Dolrig takes a two-handed grip on his weapon. "You really want me to attack me guys? Fuckin' dumbass got stunned for three rounds!" He attacks the elemental, and also Thelmor. He is, clearly, not the most cooperative of suggestees. He also shield-bashes the elemental: "Get in the feckin' ring!" The elemental staggers back, towards Perfect.

Jhuni lets out another round of scorching rays, doing some damage; Nine attacks the elemental in front of him, backhanding it solidly. "Do not touch friend!" That elemental, and the one in front of snow, are both starting to crumble. The other two are battered, but not that bad.

Thelmor drinks a healing potion, and Grey finally shakes off the stun effect.

An elemental takes a swing at Jhuni, who invokes Shield again; it misses, but the next one manages to hit anyway. Jhuni takes damage but manages to stay upright. Another one attacks Snow, but screws the whole entire pooch on this one. It manages to leave itself so completely open that Snow, freshly recovered, stabs it almost by accident; it essentially runs onto her rapier, and loses a chunk of rock from its body. An elemental tries to attack Nil, but misses. (Nil: "Hey! What the hell did I do?") The last one tags Nine fairly solidly, but he shrugs it off and gives it a thumbs-down.

Nil touches Thelmor and drops a *large* healing spell on him; they're not going to be able to do that too often, but it's a huge help. Perfect attacks the one in front of him -- "How dare you!" -- and crits, and cleaves. His blow goes right through the golem in front of him, and hits the one beside it as well. Both are in poor shape after that.

Snow reapplies Hunter's Mark, then attacks the elemental in front of her with a powerful stabbity. It... collapses away from her rapier, leaving behind a decent set of plate armor as the rock melts back into the floor. Snow transfers the Mark to the next elemental.

Sunrise drops a suggestion on Dolrig, then throws a bardic inspiration on Thelmor. Dolrig retreats so suddenly that Thelmor fails to react; he's been convinced to stand off until we finish the elementals.

Jhuni throws Burning Hands on the two elementals in front of her, doing some more damage though not as much as she'd like. Nine, meanwhile, is still trying to keep the fourth elemental away from Sunrise. He doesn't do any damage this round, but he's still in the way.

Thelmor finally shifts to hybrid form, and attacks the elemental beside him. It's looking pretty ragged at this point.

Grey drops one of his minor illusions between two of the elementals, trying to distract the one fighting Nine.

One of the earth elementals turns to swing at wolf-Thelmor, but misses. It growls something in Terran.

Nil, of course, speaks Terran: "Your mother was a gravel pit???"

The next elemental, hearing that insult, turns and takes a swing at them. It mutters something about, "Its mother was a mountain."

Nil: "Its father was a quarry."

It twists around, so angry it's spitting pebbles.

The last one takes a swing at Nine, and then a swing at Grey's illusion but its fist passes right through.

Nil reaches out to heal Jhuni, and Perfect tries an attack and knocks a chunk off his target's shoulder. Snow finishes her encirclement, passing by the dwarf, who takes a desultory swing at her and sort of slaps her on the back with the hammer. It wasn't an attack, though, more of a comment or possibly a come-on. So: no damage, but it shocks Snow out of her advance. "Nae-nae, ye stay here, ye're fine."

Sunrise throws out more Bardic Inspiration.

Dolrig, to Snow: "Hey lass, d'ye want to see what this hammer can do?"

Snow: "...Um, no?"

Dolrig: "Aye well, tae bad because I'm doin' it anyway!" He swings the hammer around and throws it, attacking the elemental and taking another chunk off it. "Impressive, nae? Bet ye wish ye had a weapon like that. If ye want it, ye'll have to kill me for it."

Jhuni throws more Burning Hands on the two elementals in front of her. The one in front of her manages to soak it up, but the one beside it collapses back into the ground. Jhuni: "About time."

Nine is still trying his best, but he stumbles and looks a bit surprised; he just hit himself in the face by accident.

Thelmor attacks the elemental in front of him; the first blow shatters it. The plate armor goes flying across the room. Thelmor slides past Grey's illusion and attacks the remaining elemental; it doesn't shatter, but it's looking a bit... disconnected. Thelmor: "Your first cousin is a Pet Rock!"

Nil hears the response, which is basically: "I know, please don't bring it up." Nil loses it laughing; none of the rest of us have any idea why. 

 

Elemental: "Don't laugh. He's very good at it."

Grey turns invisible and slides up behind the dwarf, apparently unnoticed.

The remaining elemental moves forward, and Thelmor takes a swing at its back but misses. It hits Nine, who's still okay but definitely damaged.

Nil moves over to Snow and drops some healing on her. Perfect makes another attack and gives somebody another move.

Snow moves her hunter's mark to Dolrig: "You wanted to duel? Let's duel!" She stabs him with her rapier, and slips back out and takes cover behind the pillar.

Sunrise looks over at Nil. "Ready for this?" She hands off a Bardic Inspiration. Then she begins playing again, and the tune becomes much jauntier. She then throws a Hideous Laughter at Dolrig. There's a loooooooong pause, and then he falls over laughing.

He recovers almost immediately, but he's still prone. Jhuni drops a Fireball on him, accidentally catching Grey (who's invisible) in the process. Nine, meanwhile, rips apart the last of the elementals, and then sits down on the ground, panting. "I... protect... you. Nine... Did good."

Thelmor moves up next to Perfect, grins at Dolrig, and says: "Now it's time for the real fight." He stabs him twice with the trident Wave. He then drops Searing Brand on the forehead of Dolrig's helmet. Retributive psychic damage for the win!

Grey pops out of invisibility with a fairly massive stab attack. He's now visible, and smoldering a bit from the fireball, but still doing pretty well; and the dwarf definitely notices the dagger in his kidney.

The dwarf is looking pretty battered; not about to go down, but not at full health either. Nil moves in with her quarterstaff and smacks him, then apologizes. Perfect goes for a straight attack with Blackrazor, doing some damage and then backing off. His expression is pure "Let's Get This Done."

Snow slips back up and attacks again, doing max damage with sneak attack and... actually, apparently everything else. She basically just rams that rapier into his eyesocket.

Dolrig: "Ow. Fuckin' ow!"

Snow slides back out between Nil and Perfect; Perfect holds his fist out for a fist-bump.

Sunrise: "I once knew a bard name Kas; whose bollocks were made out of brass; they tinkled together; it made stormy weather; and lightning shot out of his ass!"

Dolrig chuckles but (OOC: Makes his save and) says, "Ye'll have tae do better, I've heard that one." He stands up and starts swinging: Grey, Thelmor, Snow, Perfect. (OOC: 9 for Grey, 14 for Snow and Thelmor (who's resistant, so 7), and Perfect looks fine.) He then takes another full set of attacks, missing Nil, hitting Snow and Perfect, and crits on Thelmor. Of course, owing to Thelmor's brand, he's taken 21 points of psychic damage and has a massive headache. "The feck'd yer feckin' werewolf do? Feck!"

Jhuni lays into him with scorching rays, which can't be comfortable; he's cursing in Dwarvish.

Nine is sitting the rest of this out.

Thelmor towers, grins, and says: "Well wasn't that cute? But it was wrong." He attacks with wave, several times, doing huge amounts of damage. As Dolrig staggers back, the hammer falls from his hand and he's caught on the tines of the trident. We hear a sigh. "Ye know, it's nice even if it's the second time 'round. Thank'ee." He dissolves, the physical pieces dissolving as the less tangible bits drift into the air. We have defeated him, and taken the hammer.

Thelmor kneels in prayer and Nil picks up the hammer. We get a flash into our minds, a stirring around us. A woman, hard at work at her forge. She's working on an obsidian sword, putting the finishing touches on it. As she works, another person walks in behind her: clearly not part of the forge, dressed in noble robes, with a scar across his face. "Crohn! Tell me! Please tell me you have created these weapons, finally."

Crohn: "I have at least the first one." She adds a bit of polish, then hands it to him. When he grasps it, spectral tendrils reach into his chest and pull something from his heart. The blade goes from obsidian to the empty darkness of the night sky.

Her: "Never had your soul touched before? You said you wanted some of your soul in it."

Him: "You're sure this is enough to take my father down?"

Her: "When all three are complete, yes. But the weapons are just weapons. They'll need heroes to weild them."

Him: "If our father comes around..."

Her: "I doubt he will, in our lifetime. The weapons can be passed to our children. Leave me to my work, and I promise it will all be done soon."

The vision fades, and we're all back in the room.

Sunrise Messages Whelm: "Welcome to the group."

Whelm: "Thank you for setting him free. He was a good one. He deserved a better end. I think he's happy now. I mean, angry, but happy."

So... the choices for who can actually use Whelm seem to be either Nil (cleric) or Snow (ranger), or Sunrise (Bard). Snow is backing out, so it sounds like Nil is currently attuning to it and then we reserve the option to maybe hand it off to Sir Bluto.


Friday, September 11, 2020

Never Forget

I was going to write something here about 9/11, politicized tragedies, and how "never forget" is actually horrible advice, but... I'm tired. Yes, I can still tell you exactly where I was when the towers came down; but no, I don't think that's actually a good thing.

That's not meant as a dismissal of the event itself or the legitimate tragedy involved; it's just that if we're really going to "never forget" then we need to remember, in detail, all the evil we did in response and how that all unfolded. And somehow, none of the sorts of people who keep urging us to "never forget" seem to want to talk about that.

So, yeah: I'm tired. Let it go.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

It's like some sort of hellish plot

You ever have one of those weeks where you're really trying to slow down and just... get enough sleep... and everything conspires against you? Yeah. 

So Monday night I went to bed at a fairly reasonable time -- around 11:00. The boys had a teacher in-service day, but I had a regular workday. Or, well, I was supposed to have a regular workday. I woke up, weirdly, at about 3:30 in the morning instead, and managed to lie still in bed until about 4:00, when I realized that no, I wasn't going back to sleep. 

So I went to the kitchen and discovered that Secondborn was also awake, having apparently had some sort of nightmare; that was probably what woke me up. So I left him in his room, and I sat in the living and read until about 7:00, when it was time to shower and go to work, and... that was pretty much when it hit me. I called it in as a last-minute vacation day, collapsed on the couch, and slept until 3:30 in the afternoon. So much for Tuesday. 

Yesterday was Wednesday. I went to bed fairly early on Tuesday -- again, around 11:00 -- and was awakened at like four in the morning by my wife, whose allergies were acting up. The results of her being stuffy would have put a chainsaw to shame. I was in the middle of a dream where the high-schoolers were asking me to check the upstairs room at my old house to make sure it was ready for voting (I guess because 2020, y'all) and in the dream I'd just flipped on the lights up there when this enormous snoring sound came roaring up from behind me; that was Beautiful Wife, out in the Real World. So... yeah. Not the best sleep I've ever gotten. 

So last night I took a Benadryl and went down just a little after 10:00. Beautiful Wife decides to sleep on the couch in case she starts snoring again. Unfortunately... she left her phone on her desk, which is directly under the bed. And the phone is set to BLEEP if some asshole decides to post a discussion topic on Blackboard at (hypothetically) 1:30 in damned morning. And it BLEEPs quote a lot if that same asshole is posting a week or two's worth of topics. 

So, yeah: wide awake until about 3:00. Read, ate some chips, and eventually just brushed my teeth and crawled in again because I knew when my alarm was going to go off. It was probably about six and half hours of sleep total, which wouldn't be too bad -- except for the part where it was broken up into two three-hour chunks. 

::sigh::

It really does seem like the harder I try to get rested, the more things leap out to trip me up.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Music: Tomorrow, Wendy

Music to suit the morning's mood, by Concrete Blonde:

I've been pushing too hard again. Then Secondborn woke up at about 3:30 in the morning, and apparently woke me up with him. By the time it was time to leave for work I just... crashed, hard, for most of the day. So no blogging challenge this morning -- the prompt is "things I never get tired of talking about," not "I do an awful lot of talking about being tired" -- and no writing. Just a bit of musical nostalgia instead.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Guardians of Sol Povos: The Grand Escape

 We level up; Tavros adds more Natural Armor.

We scramble up onto the line of boulders, and see a cave mouth. We hop down on the far side of the boulders and head for the cave, which seems to be the only way through. Just inside the cave mouth is a large pile of refuse and garbage. Leira uses the wand to Enlarge Alexej, and Marshall starts casting buffs on himself. (OOC: Because of this, we move into Initiative, so we can keep track of buff durations.)

Alexej moves in first, and promptly falls in a pit; his feet smash the spikes at the bottom. The pit is forty feet deep, and goes wall to wall in the cave.

Marshall uses Stone Shape to make foot- and hand-holds for Alexej. Tavros tosses Leira across, and she lands prone on the far side. Alexej starts climbing back up, and gets about a third of the way up. Marshall looks at coming across the pit, but instead warns us that he's spotted a giant bear. Tavros turns and ducks aside just as the first of two giant bears takes a swipe at him.

Leira turns invisible, then stands up. Alexej keeps climbing, and is able to emerge from the pit. Tavros attacks the bear closest to him, hitting twice and cutting it up; Marshall tries to Dominate the one in the back, but fails. The second bear moves up and attacks Alexej, hitting him; The first bear attacks Tavros, but misses.

Leira make Tavros invisible, then moves a bit away. Alexej shoves past the bears, and they try to attack him but miss. Alexej then tries to trip the bear that's focused on Tavros, and it goes down. The bear is prone... and confused. Tavros follows through and stabs it, hurting it fairly badly. Tavros cuts it up again, and it's looking pretty rough; Marshall dominates the other bear, and has him attack the first one. All three attacks hit, and he basically just shreds his buddy.

Leira moves up near Alexej, who fails to notice a pair of giants sneaking up behind him. They smack him in the back, doing quite a bit of damage. Two more giants move up behind them; one has white hair and a beard and is probably the elder.

Tavros moves up invisibly and attacks one of the giants, hitting once; they're wearing some armor, and he misses on the second attack. Marshall sics the bear on the giants. The bear charges, and the giant hits him on the way in. "Bad bear!" except it's in giant, and only Leira understands him. The bear slams into him, and grapples the giant. Marshall casts stone shape and makes himself a bridge, then moves across it.

Leira renders Alexej invisible. Alexej takes a step back and trips the giant. He stabs him a couple of times; then the giant tries to stand back up. Tavros slashes him on the way up; Alexej trips him again and stabs him some more.

The other three giants throw rocks at the only visible target, Marshall. Boulders are extremely painful. Tavros slices the nearest (prone) giant, and takes it down. Marshall orders the bear to pin the giant it's grappling with, which it does. Marshall moves to the side and drops a cure critical on himself.

Leira drops a Fireball in the middle of the giants, and does some fairly serious damage. The mother-giant makes her save; none of the others do. Alexej moves up and tries to trip the mother; she tries to stay upright, but goes down. Alexej follows through again, but misses. She immediately tries to get up again, and Alexej takes her right back down. This time he stabs her after she hits the ground.

She tries to swipe at Alexej, but misses.

The elder moves further back into the cave, and tries to throw another rock at Marshall. It connects, so it's a good thing he healed. Tavros attacks Mother while she's grounded. The bear tries to finish the pinned giant, and gets shoved off. Marshall casts Sanctuary on himself, to avoid being hit with further rocks.

Leira throws Scorching Ray at the big giant, burning him fairly solidly.

The giant tries to throw the Nemean Bear off, but fails. The mother tries to crawl away, and Alexej and Tavros both try to attack her and both succeed; she goes down. Daddy Giant: "Maaargrot!" He drops to his knees and starts pleading for mercy from the Dark Gods and these spirits they have sent.

Tavros doesn't understand the words, but the meaning of the gesture is apparent to him; and Leira, of course, speaks giant. Leira speaks everything.

Marshall has the bear continue attacking the giant; it pins the giant again. Leira explains that the giant seems to think that he's angered the Dark One. Alexej: "Mister Big Man, show us out of cave, we not murder you."  Leira translates that into Giant.

Giant: "Oh! Yes! This way. Please! Spare Gorm, call off bear!"

Marshall sends the bear back to squeeze into the pit.

Gorm gets up, and throws Mother and his brother into the trash pile. Athis, the leader, leads us out of the cave; Marshall throws a cure critical at Alexej.

Tavros is hearing a voice -- Amon? Sasha? He isn't sure -- urging them to move faster. The giants lead us into the next room. It's a sort of living room; the entrance to the cave is small, and blocked with rocks.

Sasha's voice fills the room: "I can't hold him back! He sees you!"

Leira: "If you hurt my Sasha, I'm coming for you!"

Voice: "There is no Sasha!"

Tavros: "Everybody out of the cave!" A rumbling sound fills the cave. He's gesturing for the giants to get up there and shove the boulders out of the way.

That's about the point where a purple worm comes up in the middle of the room, and tries to swallow elder Athis. Athis manages to push the jaws open and fling himself out. It also pops a stinger out and stabs the giant with it.

Leira makes herself invisible again, and moves back. Alexej moves up and attacks, but misses. He attacks again, and does some damage to the giant smegging worm. Marshall moves in under cover of Sanctuary, and tries Slay living; it takes some damage but doesn't die, and Marshall's sanctuary is gone.

Gorm runs for the door; the worm attacks him as he passes, and swallows him. Athis clubs the thing as hard as he can, and Tavros follows his fine example with a pair of *very* solid power attacks (DnD 3.5 Falchion plus Improved Critical, plus the house rules allow for extended criticals; so double and triple damage, respectively, on top of the addition from power attack) and kills the thing. Gorm pops out, and Tavros helps him back to his feet. Gorm looks... stunned.

Leira explains that, yes, Tavros is a god. Athis comes and pledges fealty; Tavros has Leira explain that they must accompany us so that we can deliver them. The bear can come along as well.

Leira: "The bear is coming with us! No dominating. He says he can control it."

Alexej: "Bear-master come with us?"

They go pull Ralph the Bear out of the pit, then come back and move boulders out of the way. There's a path through the mountains and down to the village.

Athis, to Leira: "The village is full of small people." Leira is confused by what "small" means in this context.

Leira: "He says there's a village of small people, our size, called Phanax; there's a lord with a spear on his shield, who kills centaurs. Apparently this lord gets off on killing them. So, what, do you want me to avoid the lord, talk to the lord? Oh, the Chosen One is supposed to make a decision."

Tavros: "Does he know how to get us out of this land?"

Leira asks.

Leira: "He says this is the only land, there's no way out, and small people have searched but found nothing since they are stupid."

Leira comes and grabs Tavros' arm; Athis is impressed by this sign of her worthiness. Tavros: "Marshall, how did you get out the last time?"

What actually happened: "We were immaterial; we met the magiknights at castle Dematin, and went to the cemetery where the dark one and his cohort were buried. We wound up fleeing towards a portal, and when we went through we woke up as skeletons."

What Marshall actually says: "There was a goddam light, and it whisked us up and we wound up in skeleton bodies. We should take a different direction."

The giant would like to be healed, and it sounds like we're going to have to kill the Dark One and clearly (as far as he's concerned) we're going there right now to begin Armaggedon or some giantish equivalent.

Tavros: ::sigh:: "I don't suppose you know where this Dark One is? It wouldn't happen to be a tower in a swamp, would it?"

Leira... "Tower gone? Is the Dark One dead? Great. We need to kill a ghost who's haunting the entire world. The king rules the castle unseen, and the priests run everything."

Leira continues carrying on an oddly one-sided conversation with the giant.

Tavros: "Come, let us go and talk to the humans. What would it take to heal the giants?"

Marshall: "A bit of effort."

He heals Athis up, but Gorm and Alexej and Marshall are still injured. Marshall drops some additional curing, and we head on. It takes us a few hours of walking through the rain to get to the human town. The giants stop us when we get to an area of farms and compounds. The banner from the nearest compound is a soldier impaling a centaur. The giant thinks the lord dwells in this compound.

Tavros: "Come! Let us greet this human lord!"

The giant nods and comes along with us.

As we approach the compound, there's... a barn. And it looks very familiar to Alexej. "Oh, no! Pig lady barn!" (OOC: reference to something way back.) Then: "May be barn with my friend inside! We check."

As we get down next to the compound, there are some soldiers that have been turned to stone. (They... probably shouldn't have looked up at the sky just as Marshall waved the Medusa head at the vision back in the tower.) We come to one of the windows, and see Cristobol chained to the wall.

Alexej: "Eh! Is Cristobol!"

Cris: "The guards will hear you!"

Alexej: "The guards are stone!"

Cris: "The madness has taken me."

We come round the corner to the door, and find ourselves facing two guards; Athis grabs their spears and kills them. Leira flickers, oddly; she herself doesn't notice. Gorm pokes her to make sure she's still there. Leira: "Ow."

Tavros kicks the door in.

The guy inside is wearing an iron collar and is chained to the wall; he's dressed in the colors of some minor lord. It's the same emblem: the centaur being impaled.

Guy: "Who are you?"

Tavros: "I am Tavros, newly-appointed Solari and apparently Chosen One for this realm, though we're none of us too sure about that last part. Alexej, my good man, come and greet your friend."

The giants set up as bodyguards.

Alexej: "My friend!"

Cristobol: "You shouldn't be here!"

Alexej: "Why not? We rescue you!"

Cristobol: "But I am dead!"

Alexej grasps his hand. "I am not dead, you see?"

Cristobol. "You must be, to be here. I am sorry for all the things I've done. You must understand, it was Maldeos!"

Leira: "Likely story."

Cris: "I would never betray my soldiers or my garrison."

Alexej: "You should come with us."

Tavros moves towards the chains, and Athis steps up and rips the chain out of the wall and then hands the chain to Tavros. Tavros sets the chain down and makes the "take the collar off" gesture.

Leira brings the giants up to speed: "Do not question the Chosen One."

Athis drops to the ground in supplication, then rips the collar off Cristobol.

Cris: "I know of one ally in this place, a man called Rygar, who leads an ancient order called Magiknights. The priests here serve the dark one, and the magiknights fight them and live in a magically protected castle."

Marshall flickers, this time.

Alexej: "Cristobol, can you lead us to the castle?"

He starts drawing us a map.

Marshall disappears.

Leira, looking at where Marshall was standing while Alexej looks at her: "I can make him invisible, I can't make him uninvisible."

Athis starts asking Leira questions. Leira: "Not totally sure."

Alexej starts flickering a little bit. He grabs Cristobol's hand.

Cris: "It's a vision!"

Tavros starts flickering a little bit and Leira grabs Tavros' hand. Tavros sticks his hand out towards Athis, who grabs it.

Alexej winks out; he's just gone. Cris: "What's happening??? Alexej???"

Leira starts swearing in Formorian.

Tavros: "Cristobol! Over here! Grab one of us! I've no idea if this will work."

Flickering takes us out of people's hands. Tavros whips Cristobol over his shoulder, but then he flickers out and Cristobol drops.

The stone giants and Cristobol all look at Leira. Leira: "How should I know what to do?"

Cris: "Surely you must have some guidance?"

Leira is pretty sure that whatever sent us here is breaking down or failing. Cris: "I'll go to the castle. Look for me there!"

Leira tells the giants to follow Cristobol to a place where they will make ready to face the dark one, and absolutely do not, in the name of the Chosen One, do not eat Cristobol."

It's a bit awkward for a few minutes after that; then Leira flickers out too.

...And we're back in the tower, and Sasha is there and the cage has been smashed. Sasha: "Leave, you must leave."

Leira tries to hug Sasha. He nods, affirmed. "There is good left in me, I swear it."

Leira: "Remember, when you're feeling better we're getting married."

Sasha {gapes at her}: "I destroyed the apparatus. The eye, I must take to my master. The field is gone."

Leira: "Excellent. I'll see you later."

Sasha intercedes before Tavros can take a swing at the eye. Under the circumstances, Tavros decides to respect that. We leave. 

At this point we've successfully disrupted the soul-harvesting/skeleton creating operation, and we'll pick up with the Elvish party next; but in between, we'll run a couple of weeks of the Saltmarsh campaign.

Friday, September 4, 2020

Yeah, that's gonna be a no

So, obviously: no new fictiony anything for today. Apparently Monday and Tuesday I was busy and productive and then I just... crashed. Hard. I made it a point to go to bed early and slept really deeply and I really am feeling better this morning, but the forecast for today is Busy with a slight chance of Horrible. 

I really do need to be rested in order to do writing; rested and exercised is even better. And I did get a bit done earlier in the week, but I'm not sure it's quite what I want to use. On the other hand, even writing things that I eventually get rid of is better than not writing at all; I'll take it. I'd just like to feel together enough to stick with it. 

Meanwhile, I found this amusing and fun:

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Music: Six Feet Apart

Alec Benjamin:

Pushed too hard early in the week and crashed, so I'm just putting up some music this morning. I might get the next Dark Armor pulled together for tomorrow, but no promises. 2020 is just one ongoing wave of low-level (and sometimes acute) trauma, isn't it?

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Guardians of Sol Povos: Into The Eye Once More

 We'd just taken down the vampire sorceress and the skeletons last session; we start by looting hte vampire.

The Vampire wizard had:
Bracers of Armor +3
Cloak of resistance +3
Headband of Intellect +2
Amulet of Natural Armor +2
Ring of Protection +2

A door has appeared in the south wall of the corridor; Leira passes through first. She looks around. There's a pedestal with a gem off to one side, with a crystal that's radiating an aura of power. It actually appears to be some sort of glass eyeball, and there are little rubies absorbing trickles of power from the Eye. There are two tables; one with some scattered items, and one in front of a very large statue that holds a book. There's also a staff, a heavy steel shield, and a goblet with ten rubies in it.

Leira skims over the open page of the book. "Remember, do not touch the eye directly. Place the ruby into its place, utter the incantation, place the ruby in a skeleton's socket, and finish the incantation." The rest of the book appears to be an inventory of the skeleton's they've created, and they're syphoning souls from Phanaxia to power the gems.

Alexej arrives in the same room, and sees much the same things; but Leira is not there. He takes the goblet full of rubies.

Tavros appears. He doesn't immediately identify the jewel as an eye, but it's obvious magic and he's looking for an evil ritual; now he can make out the impression of an eyeball. "Clearly there is only one way to deal with whatever dark magics are being performed here," he observes to himself, and attempts to shatter the eyeball with his sword.

Leira has located:
+1 bastard sword,
Dust of Illusion,
2x potion undetectable alignment
A secret door to the west.

Her friends are not beyond the secret door; it's a smallish, semi-triangular (tower) bedroom, not recently used. There's a chest, and moves to check that. There are personal items inside, including a magical dildo (every high-level enchantress should have one). At the bottom is a notebook; inside -- "Remember, if the ritual starts going south, break the sun rubies to sever the link and stop the ritual."

 Leira: "All my friends are dead!" The bed is a Tenser's Floating Bed, the magical equivalent of a waterbed; Leira curls up on it and cries.

She decides to start adding sun rubies to the sockets in the pedestal of the eye. When she picks up a sun ruby... something happens that the rest of us can't see.

Marshall, finally, comes into the room. He recognizes the statue from the last time he got his body stolen. The pedestal looks familiar to him, too. He stops to heal himself, seeing as he's still a bit injured (all of us are, actually). Then he goes to look at the gem. He recognizes that, too. He... pulls out the severed Medusa head and shows it to the eyeball. It doesn't have any obvious effect.

Marshall shoves the Eye in his bag of holding. Turns out he's just holding a ruby, but he shoves it in his pouch anyway. He turns back to the table just in time to see the items on it vanish -- sword, dust, etc. He detects magic, starting with the table.

There's a very powerful This Whole Room aura of very high power; the empty table isn't reading as magic anymore. The pedestal is magic; the chalice of rubies has one ruby that's shining far more strongly than the others. Marshall reaches for it. There's a moment of blurring, and he wakes up in another room.

We're now all in another room, very similar to the first; but there's a spherical iron cage with a glass eye in it, and it's looking at us. Those of us who were holding eyes are no longer holding them. On the plus side, we're back together. Leira hugs Tavros, who does the Comforting Paladin Voice to reassure her that we're all okay now.

Leira looks into the eye and sees a tiny little world in there. Alexej and Tavros try to attack through the bars, but there's a barrier as well.

Marshall: "All right, you poor bastards. There's some Eye of Vecna fuckery going on here, and these things tend to screw with your head and make it quite difficult to deal with its presence and end it. Not quite sure how to deal with this, to be honest. We can't break it. We might be able to catch it. Otherwise, I think we should possibly be prepared to stay here forever...?"

Tavros tries to pick up the eyeball's cage; it's too heavy.

Marshall: "Everybody close your eyes."

We do, and he shows the medusa head to the eye, then puts away again. "Okay, you can look, I'm decent again." There might have been the sound of tiny screams, like the Whos down in Whoville, from somewhere deep inside the Eye.

Tavros wraps his Solari cloak around the cage. He's pretty sure the Eye can still see him. The statue looks to Marshall as if it was reshaped from an earlier statue. Tavros looks elsewhere. There's the book, a staff of Defense with 27 charges, a +1 shield, and a goblet with rubies. Tavros pours the rubies out and starts smashing them, so there's 45,000 GP we won't have. (Hey, the books said it would end the ritual! ...Stupid book.)

Leira points out that the main door is now visible. Tavros tries to lift the cage again, fails. The other table is empty, but Leira looks slightly sheepish about that; she still has the items she took from it.

Marshall opens the door and finds a hallway, much like the one we *were* in... but with no stairs going back down.

Leira drops a fireball on the cage and statue. It's a tremendous fwakoom, but doesn't damage any of the things we really would have liked to damage. Marshall tries dropping a Consecrate on the area around the eye. It fails to penetrate the barrier. However, Tavros' cloak is not coming back from that fireball; he's not sure if he minds.

Tavros checks the hallway and confirms that there are no stairs by walking snout-first into the wall at the far end. We decide that maybe a rest is in order.

Leira takes first watch and hears moaning. Tavros has a dream of trudging though an endless swamp; he remembers feeling like he just has to push through this thing to an immense evil in a tower somewhere ahead. He wakes up for his watch and Leira tells him about the moaning sound; she wasn't able to figure out where it was coming from, nor was she in a big hurry to get up and look for it.

During second watch, Leira dreams of Capitan Sasha and his beautiful, chiseled featured and his beautiful hair. In her dream, a door opens in the west wall and Sasha walks out; he comes closer and closer but doesn't quite reach her; then he looks at her with an expression of angry and it's very upsetting. (Note that so far, there has not been a door in the west wall.

Marshall takes third watch and hears absolutely nothing; he's mostly amusing himself with lizard dueling. The lizards are not amused, but Marshall is; it can't be long before they forget they were once dragons.

Alexej dreams that he's back in Old Angolas, looking through the arrow slit as Maldeus' body is carried through and Cristobol -- possessed by Maldeus -- dies. The dragon stirs, but the dream is focused on the death of the Colonel, and Alexej weeps.

We finish our rest. Alexej: "Marshall, give me my eyes back."

Marshall has prayed for Remove Blindness, so Alexej can see again. Finally catching up, he's tremendously upset: "Why are there so many smashed gems!? What is terrible eyeball? We must leave this horrible place! Come!"

We head out to the hall, and through the western door. It's full of incredibly dense fog, and there's an odd... almost a pool, or a mirror on the floor. Maybe a map? It's hard to make out much of anything in there.

Marshall tries to figure out what's going on there, but he's baffled. He could conceivably blow the fog away, but he let Wind Wall go to cure Alexej. Alexej opens the north door... in this room there's a swirling fog thing with a shimmering blue hemisphere around it. There's an image inside, almost like a snow globe.

There are images in the hemisphere. Alexej slips in and takes a look.

Inside, an image coalesces. There's a man in there, strong of stature but malnourished and weak; he appears to be sitting inside a barn. It... looks like Cristobol. Alexej: "I think Cristobol is inside."

Cristobol: "Alexej?" He stands, but he can't move too far from the wall. He's dressed in the colors of a provincial lord: a soldier with a spear on the ground, and a centaur being impaled on the spear. It looks like he's in a barn. "Oh, I have truly lost my mind."

Alexej: "No, you have not, it is me! I am in some tower somewhere, I don't know where."

Leira walks in and speaks to Cristobol as well; she joined the group later and does not share Alexej's happy memories of training under the man. She basically remembers him as the asshole that he was while Maldeus was possessing his body.

Cristobol: "Leira?"

We start to have the impression of a stable on the edge of town, rain coming down, lampposts... He is chained to the wall with an iron collar around his neck.

Tavros: "Who is this?"

Alexej: "He was colonel for Fort Dido. Thought he died."

Tavros pulls out his sword and pokes the sphere; the image disperses briefly. "Marshall, any ideas?"

Marshall: "Well, in lieu of trying to poison him, I could try casting Dispel Magic." 

"I am so going to regret my need to rescue people," says Tavros and walks into the sphere.

He is not transported; he's just standing in this miasma, feeling damp and misty. Marshall tries Dispel Magic, and dispels it.

We move on, and dispel the fog in the next room. The map on the floor is about half illusion, but it shows a tower in a swamp... just like Tavros dreamed of.

As we look, we hear the sound of stone grinding from the first room - the eyeball room, not the Cristobol room. There's another room visible now. It has a freshly dug-up grave, with a coffin beside it; Marshall detects evil, and there's plenty in that coffin. The whole setup is probably illusion, but it's very believable; even the grass around the grave looks real.

The headstone reads "Kroni, servant to the Dark One."

Alexej: "Wait! Is he called Chuck, of the Vampire Latrine?" (OOC: this is one of the characters from the EvilParty piece of the campaign, the PCs in service to the forces of Vecna.)

Marshall: "You've heard of him?"

Alexej lifts the lid with his guisarme. Sasha is inside... but he's wearing jet black armor and shield, and both are engraved with the symbol of Vecna. He's got a longsword, and there are a lot spikes on his armor.

Tavros: "Oh, that looks badass. I want that armor. I'm going to put new symbols on it."

Sasha: "Alexej! I'm glad to see you!" He stands up.

Alexej: "Aren't you evil?"

Sasha: "No, of course not! The cleric is lying to you. He's the one that's evil."

Alexej looks at Marshall, but honestly it's Marshall; he hasn't done anything overtly evil around this group, but still...

Tavros: "I say, sir vampire. I don't suppose you'd care to surrender? We're taking a number of vampires back to the capital to have their humanity restored."

Sasha: "I'm not a vampire! I was captured by these cultists who want to turn me into this Kroni of theirs."

Tavros studies him. "Seems reasonable."

Leira rushes over and throws her arms around him. "Why are you mad at me it's so good to see you?!"

Sasha: "Because you LEFT ME THERE and LET THEM PUT THIS DARK SOUL IN ME."

Marshall turns undead, but... he isn't actually undead. On the other hand, he might have been lying about not being evil...

Alexej trips him just to be sure, and he falls, but when he follows through with the attack Sasha blocks with his shield. His armor class is unreal, whatever it is. (OOC: Over 30, so far.) He rolls away, and then attempts to smite Alexej from the ground... and succeeds, delivering a powerful blow full of evil... evilness.

Alexej's dripping blood goes flowing off across the floor and heads to the eye; Alexej feels a bit faded. Tavros tries to smite but misses; Marshall steps in and tries Slay Living. Leira drops Greater Invisibility on Tavros, which should help. Marshall manages to touch him for Slay Living. Unfortunately, the spell fails to kill him (but does some damage). (OOC: Paladins and saving throws, man.) Alexej steps back at an angle and attacks again at his preferred range.

He hits with the first attack and misses with the second, but the first one does a lot of damage; Sasha is still on the ground, but rolls himself close enough to smite Alexej again. With his blood flowing away, Alexej fades and vanishes. Sasha turns and attacks Marshall, not smiting; but he gets one of those amazing lucky strikes that sometimes happen. Marshall's blood also runs off into the next room and he slowly fades until he's just not there.

Tavros attacks and misses again; Sasha rolls into the doorway and stands up. Tavros tries to grapple, but fails; he's stronger, but Sasha is the more experienced combatant. Leira drops a fireball and damages the guy; Tavros turns and crashes through one of the windows; he's now floating in the void outside this room. "Drat! I was rather hoping for a painful but survivable fall to the ground."

Leira tries another fireball, but Sasha's sword absorbs the energy. Leira steps back, and Sasha moves up and attacks the empty square where she was.

Tavros pulls himself back into the room, and takes a shot with his longbow; he misses badly enough to realize that archery is going to be futile. Leira uses ghost voice (basically ventriloquism to keep her position hidden) to try to convince Sasha to spare her because it was the bard who made him take the soul. There's a brief struggle as Sasha tries to sheath the sword, and a tear rolls down his cheek; but Kroni's will is stronger, and the sword remains out.

Tavros gives up on the bow and moves back in to grab his sword; fortunately, he's still invisible. "Good sir, you used to be a paladin! Come back to the light, we can redeem you!" Sasha is conflicted, but not convinced.

Leira: "I know you can beat Kroni, Sasha! The light will win! Because I love you!"

He steps into the room and casts another healing spell on himself.

Tavros backs off and tries again; talking about the joys of serving the gods is a bit too ambiguous to do the job, though, what with the whole Servant of Vecna thing and all.

Leira tries again too, but also fails.

Sasha/Kroni hears her move and steps up and dispatches her.

Tavros finally manages to convince him! "Sir! That girl loved you! You must break free of this!"

Sasha: "Tavros! You must go in the eye! You must save your friends, or they'll be trapped forever!"

Tavros slices his cheek open and starts walking towards the eye. Blood flows. He reaches the cage, sticks his hand in and the room fades around him.

Sasha calls out as he goes: "I will get you out, but you must get them and you must hurry!"

We're in an abandoned campsite in the mountains. It's storming. There's a certain amount of trash and other rubbish. Most of us are looking around confused; Marshall pats himself, realizes we're corporeal, and says: "So... we're going to get out, right?"

Alexej: "Was going to ask you same."

Tavros: "Sasha says he can bring us back, but I have to gather you and get out."

We search the camp. Marshall collects 32 gold. Alexej find 25 more GP; Tavros moves to check one of the bodies.

Marshall detects evil. There's a very faint sense of evil from the statue at the back of the clearing; this was probably an old statue of the dark one.

The skeleton that Tavros is looking at was clearly mauled to death. And there's a rubbish pile in the northwest corner, some animal's leavings. The pile of corpses is mainly chunks of mountain goat. The fire circle is old, and has not been used in some time.

There's a hole in the ground at the base of the statue, but nothing's there. Alexej moves on to the tent, finds more gold.

There's a chest, but it's locked; Alexej bashes a hole in the side, and silver spills out. There were some art objects in there, but the polished glass statue was shattered. What's left is 2,000 GP in art, 7,000 silver (ditto) and a scroll case that's in good shape. Inside is a map.

It shows a sequence of islands, with a bit of a marking to show a line and an X. The map is marked with centaur icon on the west side. There are some scribbled notes "make sure to sneak by the giants, the treasure is hidden in the glade beyond by the old statue of the dark one." It sounds like there are stone giants and their pet giant bears between us and everything else.

From the diary, it sounds like we've found the treasure from the statue, and also we should go before something wanders by to eat us. We start down the trail, but there's a line of boulders blocking the path ahead of us.

Something is moving off to one side, and Tavros moves to meet it; his god Amon has whispered faintly in his ear. A beast slides down from the side of the cliff and bites him but fails to grapple; Tavros attacks and does some damage. Marshall follows him down the trail and attacks with Slay Living; again, he doesn't kill it outright, but he damages it.

The beast attacks Marshall, hitting him, and does some damage; it tries to grapple, and pulls Marshall down under its belly. Marshall is now being pummeled by claw attacks, and it hurts rather a lot.

Leira throws a Magic Missile at the thing, adding a respectable amount of damage, while Alexej moves in and attacks with Power Attack and Combat Expertise. He takes it down.

We stop there. Hey, at least we aren't going to have to go find our bodies again.