Friday, August 16, 2019

Dungeons and Dating, Part One

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vervor swallowed and asked: "Is Mara here?"

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Never Break A Deal With A Warlock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

People like the ones around him now, it seemed.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Boys DnD: There are TWO!?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The adventure is complete; everybody levels up.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Darvinin: Who Guards The Guardians?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

...And changed.

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

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

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

"Are you you?"

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

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

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Warlock For Hire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"It is."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 9, 2019

Missing: A Poem

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

The silicon tape-
-it comes from Home Depot

But we get the toilet paper-
-at Target

I do not know
How long
She has been gone

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

I feel certain
That she still lives

But time
Does strange things
Inside Target

Thursday, August 8, 2019

At last, we find the raiders!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Party Treasure adjustments for Azrael's Player:

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Blogging Challenged: Loved but Unreviewed

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

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

Y'all, I have a confession to make.

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

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

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Boys DnD: Gnome, Gryphons, and Close Calls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Goth Poem of Azrael's Sadness and Loss

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

Monday, August 5, 2019

To raid the Raiders!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thonkra's a ruin, too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wendy raises it.

Noisily.

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

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

Friday, August 2, 2019

Anti-Optimized: A Character Concept

So, I have this idea for a character.

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

I mean, well, mostly.

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Music: Crush Story

Too Much Joy:


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

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Blogging Challenge: Favorite Food

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

This week's challenge is "Favorite Food and How I Use it (+ Recipe)".

Bacon. And I use it for all sorts of things. And the recipe is, like, set the oven to 350, grab some baking trays and cover them with tin foil, lay out the bacon, and cook it until it's crispy.

Sorry, not my best answer.

Monday, July 29, 2019

The Journey Back

Ruin stretched up and then settled back onto his saddle, trying to find a comfortable position. Ordinarily he hated traveling by horseback; he could move nearly as quickly and steadily on foot, and a horse was just one more thing to keep track of. But the Baron had provided these, and had seen them off personally as part of his efforts to countermand the things he'd been forced to do while under the mind flayer's control. It hadn't seemed right to refuse.

They'd freed Bridinford and its Baron from the pernicious influence of Xarnax the mind flayer, and they now had much better idea of just what sort of sort of efforts the human king was making to disrupt things here in Duendewood... or maybe it was the king's advisor; Reverend Mercy certainly seemed to think so. Ruin himself wasn't sure the distinction mattered; the human king could hardly be innocent in all this...

Unless he was a helpless puppet, as the Baron had been. That was an uncomfortable thought. Surely such a thing should be impossible for a human king, with warriors and mages and clerics to protect him. He could only barely imagine a course of events where this odd little band would end up trying to rescue the human king in order to establish Elvish freedom and sovereignty, but if it came to that... If that's what we needed to do, I would do it.

If you survive that long, said another voice in his head: Darvinin's, unsurprisingly. Ruin's twin brother had always known what he was doing, had always tried to show Ruin what he should be doing. Many times it had been helpful; other times it had been the most irritating thing imaginable. And even this faint reflection, this Darvinin-voice in his undermind, was both correct and irritating: he'd come within a mouse's whisker of dying at least three times in the last day.

The first time had been in the fight with the druid -- a fight which, in retrospect, had been stupid, unnecessary, and evil. They should never have put themselves in a position where they had no choice but to kill the man. But Ruin had charged in to help Martini despite his misgivings, and gotten himself turned into a frog; if Martini hadn't still been attacking the bear, it could have dispatched him with a casual gesture.

Then he'd charged in against the shambling mounds. Admittedly, that had partly been an attempt to lure Gorsack the Magnificent and his flesh golem into fighting on the front lines, but that certainly hadn't been all of it. He could still feel the dark inside of him, twin to the rage, calling him to see how close he could come to death and still survive. It didn't take any great wisdom to see that sooner or later he'd step too close and life's shadow would claim him.

And finally, of course, there'd been the confrontation with Xarnax. That one, at least, had been more a matter of surprise and desperation than unconcern and poor planning. He'd known the thing was going to kill them unless they somehow managed to kill it first. Attacking out of reflex hadn't been a bad thing, and he'd done some real damage. Still... with a little more thought, he could have positioned himself where the mind flayer couldn't have loosed its attack against the whole party at once.

He needed a better reflexive strategy than hitting things as hard as he could and hoping they fell down. It might have been effective before, but they were running into a whole new class of enemies now.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Smilin' Sam

Sherralitha Goldsong twisted around on the blanket at the back of the tent, curling into a ball as she worked her bound hands down her back, past her hips, and over her legs until they were at last in front of her again. It was her own stupid fault that she'd been captured; when she'd seen the half-dozen armed and armored humans riding through the woods, she should have gone for help instead of following them back to see where they were camped. By the time she'd sensed the ward it was too late: their wizard was already aware of her, and the troops had already surrounded her.

I'm lucky I'm still alive, she thought, as she worked at the knots with her teeth. What in the Nine Hells was a band of armed humans this size doing this far into Duendewood? How had they avoided notice? Whatever the answer, it meant that war was on its way... which meant that Ruin, damn him and his insights, was right.

The knots had been tied tightly, and prying at them only made them bite deeper into her wrists. Still, she wouldn't give up...

Someone pushed the tent flap aside. A guard entered, ducking to accommodate the low cloth ceiling. Sherra froze, but there was no way to disguise the fact that her arms were no longer behind her back. The guard approached: a woman, human, but something...

She recognized the illusion as the woman neared, but she couldn't see through it. The ostensible human knelt beside her, turned her head to one side, then turned it back. With a casual gesture, she dropped a knife into Sherra's bound fingers.

"It's not her," said the woman, rising into a crouch and turning back to where a pair of guards stood on either side of the entrance. "Damn it." She moved back out of the tent, straightening as she emerged into sunlight, and walked away. Neither of the guards seemed to notice the illusion, but then there was no reason that they should.

Sherra pulled the knife in close, hiding it against her body, and waited.

* * *

It was well after dark when Sherra sliced open the back of the tent and wormed her way out. It had taken time and patience to cut the ropes that bound her; it had taken far more to wait for the sun to set. She straightened and looked around, wishing she could melt into the darkness and pass through the camp unseen. Instead, she forced herself to stand upright, to look as if she belonged, and started for the edge of the camp.

She had taken all of three steps when someone stood from the shadow of another tent. For a moment she couldn't breathe, but the figure didn't move or call out. It just stood there, looking at her. They regarded each other for a long moment; then the figure shifted forward and said quietly: "I'd like my knife back."

* * *

Saminansa Eldrish was the darkest elf that Sherralitha had ever seen. In the dim light of the camp her skin was black, though it picked up orange and gold highlights from the troopers' campfires now and again. Her hair was darker still, her eyes a curious grey-green that didn't seem to belong on such a face. She walked confidently through the camp, stopping at another tent and stepping inside before emerging with Sherra's swordbelt -- rapier and dagger still in place -- and her citole.

Sherra stepped forward and kissed her. No matter how strange she looked or how unexpected her presence was in a camp of human invaders, Saminansa had freed her and brought back her citole. Sherra couldn't help but love her, at least a little.

The feeling only intensified when Saminansa drew back with a small soft smile, touched her lips with a single finger, then drew the minor illusion of humankind around them both. They walked out of the camp with all their equipment in place, just another pair of scouts on patrol.

* * *

Hours later, in a tent several miles up the road, Sherra could finally ask her questions. "So what the hell were you doing there?"

"Scouting," said Saminansa, rolling over on the blanket. She looked sated and sleepy. "Much like you, only I already knew that the humans were trying to slip squads into Duendewood. They're hoping to surprise us when the invasion comes, to have forces pop up seemingly out of nowhere."

"You're sure it will be war?" Sherra, spent and lethargic herself, couldn't help but ask the question with a strange sense of deja vu.

"I don't see how it could be anything else." Sam rolled back over, put a gentle hand on Sherra's bare shoulder. "...But there's nothing we can do about it now," she added. "It's only a short walk to Brindinford from here, and we can alert the Baron's forces to the presence of armed invaders."

Sherra chuckled. "You sound like my cousin," she said.

"Oh?"

Sherra nodded and looked over at the greatsword that lay along Sam's side of the blankets. "You should meet him. You'd like him. He's sure this will end in bloodshed, too."

Saminansa sighed. "We've already had bloodshed," she said. "You didn't think I was leaving their scouts alone, did you? I'm the reason they were patrolling in groups of six. These are our lands, and humans like them don't belong here."

Sherra considered that. She was too relaxed to think of politics and killing, but... "You're one of the Hierophant's people, aren't you?"

"My parents were. But when the True Elves resurfaced here in Duendewood, my parents came to make contact... and stayed. I was born here; I've lived here all my life. I'm as much a Duendewood Elf as you are."

Sherra stayed silent for a long moment. "I didn't mean to give offense."

"You didn't," answered Sam, then leaned over and kissed her. "Others have, and I suppose I'm answering them."

Sherra considered that, then nodded. "I still think you should meet my cousin."

"After this?" Saminansa smiled. "How could I refuse?"

Smilin' Sam is a Dark Elf (so in this game, a dark-skinned True Elf -- none of the usual business with Lolth and ancient curses and like that) bard-barian with an intriguing family secret dating back to one of her great-grandmothers.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

The Baron's Keep

Picking up from where we ended last session (somewhat abruptly), we searched the druid's body and found a Periapt of Wisdom +2, which our cleric Marshall Mercy immediately claimed. We confirmed that we had an arrangement with the goblin necromancer Gorsack the Magnificent, then took a long rest in the druid's house. About 2/3 of the way through it, Gorsack came back (crossing the moat of sewage by riding on the shoulders of his flesh golem) and knocked on the door.

He wanted to be our party leader. He could use some minions. Reverend Mercy was still asleep and Martini was trancing, so Azrael and Ruin put him off until later. Considering that his initial proposal involved him getting half of whatever loot we collected, I was very proud of us for not killing him.

A few hours later, with Mercy finally waking up and Martini finishing up her trance, Gorsack banged on the door again. This time he'd brought elvish breakfast tacos, and he was all ready to lead us on to glory seeing as how did such a fine job of commanding us in our fight against the druid. When we pointed out that he'd gotten himself very nearly killed and we'd had to revive him, he tried to convince us that necromancers just enjoy pretending to be dead sometimes.

Instead of really considering the prospect of such glorious leadership, the party turned to discussing the two Shambling Mounds in the room beyond the entryway -- the room that held the lever to open the gate to the area we probably needed to get to. Shambling mounds are animated, homicidal monsters made of plants and vines (angry ones) and they're resistant and immune to a lot of different kinds of damage, not to mention being fairly tough in general.

Ruin suggested that what we really needed was to hire the wererats to attack the shambling mounds for us. Gorsack thought this was such a great idea that he immediately appointed Ruin the Assistant Party Leader. But after some discussion, this actually seemed like a good enough idea that we went for it, and sent Martini and Reverend Mercy to talk to "The Boss" of the wererats, Agnorax the weretiger.

Agnorax drove a pretty hard bargain, but eventually agreed to have his group fight in return for three things: a payment in gold for each Shambling Mound slain; half of whatever treasure the monsters had accumulated; and us putting Gorsack The Magnificent on the front lines.

Nobody in this dungeon actually likes each other, it seems.

We got Gorsack out of earshot, agreed to the terms, and lined everybody up in front of the door to the Shambling Mound room. Attack!

The battle was pretty brutal. Ruin charged in early, trying to convince Gorsack and Benny the Flesh Golem to come with him. (They didn't.) The weretiger held back, too, but the wererats did move in and do some damage. Azrael offered support by casting Ray of Enfeeblement and reducing the strength of the closer and more visible shambling mound. Then the first shambling mound fought back, and wiped out 2/3 of the wererats. The others retreated, but Marshall Mercy managed to propel Gorsack into the battle and Agnorax was so pleased that he went to join the battle, just behind Benny the flesh golem, who managed to connect with the shambling mound and smash it up badly.

The weretiger's follow-up attack took out the first shambling mound; he basically leapt in and ripped it apart. The second one hit him pretty hard, though. Gorsack got slapped down, not quite hard enough to kill him. Even though he'd done some damage with his Fire Shield, he decided it was time to fall back and retreated to stand beside Martini. Finally, the Shambling Mound smashed Ruin, but Ruin riposted with the last of his strength and killed it. The moment it fell, Martini put a knife through the back of Gorsack's skull, killing him instantly. Azrael rushed over and immediately claimed the goblin's spellbook.

At that point, the battle is essentially over. The weretiger is bleeding out, his second-in-command has backed off, and the two surviving wererats have retreated to their lair. Benny the flesh golem stumbles over to the corpse of Gorsack, assures us that the dead goblin just needs sleep, and carries him back to his chambers to put him to bed.

We searched the room, finding about 600 gp worth of random crap that the shambling mounds had accumulated, and a magical crystal that was probably animating them. Mercy destroyed this, ensuring that they couldn't respawn. Draz, the weretiger's second-in-command, approached us to ask if we were the boss now. We told him he was the boss, and Ruin went to inform the two remaining wererats of the new arrangement. We gave Draz 50 gp and reminded him that everything that Agnorax had owned was his now, and he went away happy (in a greedy, short-sighted sort of way).

So now we had access to the lever that opens the gate to the next area, which was full of aimlessly wandering undead that Gorsack had created but said he didn't really control; he called the area his garbage pit. He was probably lying about that, since they seemed pretty angry now that he was dead.

Azrael dropped a Grease spell where the things were gathering behind the gate, and Marshall Mercy raised his sacred snake and turned them. He turned them so hard, in fact, that four of the skeletons just exploded on the spot, and a couple of stronger things fled. He raised his holy symbol again, and this time the remaining ones fled as well -- the ones that hadn't fallen because of the grease. The party moved in, systematically finishing them off.

Finally, at the far end of this area, we located the secret door -- only Martini could hear voices beyond it. So we decided to head back to the druid's shack and rest there; we were pretty tapped out, and if we had our sense of time right then that would let us enter the Baron's keep just after dark. (We tried to loot Gorsack's chambers check on Gorsack on the way back there, but Benny wouldn't let us in. So, y'know, later for that.)

After the rest, we headed back to the secret door and opened it, surprising a couple of guard and killing them. We took their uniforms and put them on Azrael and Ruin, since Martini was temporarily invisible and Mercy didn't make a convincing guard. Then we proceeded through a wine cellar and a couple of storage areas, and up the stairs into the kitchen.

Something had gone horribly wrong up here. Two of the serving maids/cooks had been bludgeoned to death, and a third was sobbing in the corridor; we gave her a light and sent her down the stairs and out through the sewers (which were reasonably safe by now). We also checked out the weird scratching sounds coming from a nearby crate, and well... it held a pair of monkeys (presumably to be used as food?) which Marshall Mercy released and brought with us. Following the instructions we'd been given, we proceeded up the stairs to the hall... and encountered a pair of eyeless, gray-skinned creatures armed with giant clubs. They attacked immediately.

These things were tanks, and while we finally managed to take them down we had to use up most cleric Mercy's healing mojo afterwards. This would have been a really good time to fall back and rest again, only we couldn't. Instead, we went on to the next staircase and up, then through a door. The steward that we'd been warned about, Bartholomew, was sitting at the desk here. He said, "The Master is expecting you," and pointed at the door to the next room. He didn't seem inclined to attack us, so we left him alone.

We took a moment for Reverend Mercy to cast some blessings that might help us, then opened the door.

On the other side was a mind flayer.

"We're dead," said Ruin, and immediately went into his barbarian rage, charged the thing, and wounded it badly. It responded by Mind Blasting the party, though only Ruin was stunned by this. Martini the assassin and Mercy the cleric entered the room while Azrael was searching for a spell to use against it; he fell back on his wand of magic missiles, but failed to get through its spell resistance. Martini and Mercy, however, injured it further.

It used that moment to grab Ruin's head with its tentacles, preparatory to extracting his brain for a snack. Fortunately -- very, very fortunately -- the others managed to cut it down before it could complete the assault. It's... over. Barely. Probably.

We still haven't found the Baron, so we kick in the next door. Turns out the Mind Flayer had stuck him in his treasury for safekeeping during the battle. Turns out the Baron is slowly shaking off the Mind Flayer's influence, and is tremendously happy to see us and learn of the creature's death. The Baron and his steward Bartholomew, now restored to free will and almost grovelingly grateful for it, fill us in a bit: how the thing was controlling them, how Xarnax the mind flayer kept its letters in the nightstand.

We found a key on the body and unlocked the nightstand. It holds three letters; one of them is sealed. The first letter is addressed to Xarnax, and says that "as agreed, his Royal Highness awards you the city of [wherever the hell we are right now]" and instructs him to go forth and sow chaos. The second letter agrees that the Lord Provost (who sent us here) is a worthy adversary and not to be underestimated or confronted, but reassures Xarnax that [this burrough] is the ideal spot for the kind of coup that the mind flayer was trying to pull off. The final letter, sealed, is from Xarnax back to his correspondent Vigo -- which would the (human) King's chief advisor, Vigo. It says, roughly, "My Dear Vigo, your payment is enclosed. All is in order here. For too long I have waited to throw open all the gates. Too long." Reverend Mercy, reading this, immediately opens the emphasis on certain capital letters, and starts picking over them to look for a code or message or password. In sequence, they read "ERDATOL".

The Baron and his steward, who are listening to us go over this, suggest that it might be referring to a small group of islands known as Tols -- though they don't know of one known as Erda. Bartholomew the Steward then suddenly remembers that Xarnax has been sending supplies to a military force camped in the forest not far to the south of here - a military force sent by the human king (or perhaps his advisor) well inside Duendewood, one waiting to begin a surprise attack. Bartholomew has a book with the details -- location, supplies sent, and the like.

We need to get the back to the High Provost.

But first, the Baron rewards us: he has a magic item hidden away, a piece of headgear that makes the wearer's words more persuasive, and he thinks we should have it now. Reverend Mercy accepts it. The Baron also expresses his gratitude to the High Provost for sending us here, and his willingness to support the Provost in anything he puts forth.

Ruin is more convinced than ever that war with the humans is inevitable, but he's troubled by the degree of non-human participation in this. If he recalls his history, Mind Flayers are never potential allies; they are dead enemies, or they are conquerors.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Blogging Challenge: Quotes from Books

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

This week's challenge is My Favorite Quotes From Books, so let's get started. Off the top of my head, I get:

"Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; but what the hell, it's home."
This one's Roger Zelazny playing off W.B. Yeats. It's from one of the later Amber novels -- Knight of Shadows or Prince of Chaos, I think -- but I honestly can't remember which one.

"Everything will be fine. Nothing but good times ahead."
Jennifer Crusie, from Welcome to Temptation. This is a quote that I use in conversation myself, sometimes substituting "onwards and upwards" for "everything will be fine".

"Pain shared is diminished; joy shared in increased."
Spider Robinson, from The Callahan Chronicles. It's stated explicitly in several of the stories, but it's really kind of an ongoing theme for all of them.

Then there's the entire opening paragraph of All Systems Red, the first book (well, novella) in the Murderbot Diaries:
"I could have become a mass murderer after I hacked my governor module, but then I realized I could access the combined feed of entertainment channels carried on the company satellites. It had been well over 35,000 hours or so since then, with still not much murdering, but probably, I don’t know, a little under 35,000 hours of movies, serials, books, plays, and music consumed. As a heartless killing machine, I was a terrible failure." I just... I can't help but marvel. It sets up the whole character, and the whole book, so well.

Those are the first three that come to my mind. What are yours?

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Gnomish Sabotage!

So, the Saturday Dungeons and Dragons game has happened again, though we will not be playing next weekend. Secondborn declined to play and went to run errands with his mother; I need to talk to him about whether or not he wants to keep playing, though letting the Monk's player handle his character has actually worked pretty well so far. The rest of them were all very excited to see each other again, and there was a lot of preliminary discussion -- especially since the halfling rogue hadn't chosen a magic item yet. He eventually settled on Boots of Elvenkind, so he's now the quietest halfling around, and after a while I got them to quiet down long enough to let me recap everything from the last two sessions.

The group had arrived at the logging camp in early-midafternoon, and so took time to get a full rest before darkness fell. That way, they could all be awake to stand watch. There were now three horses grazing in the small field in one corner of the camp: the one that the loggers had had left, and the two that had led the carts on the party's way here.

Shadow, the Drow rogue, used his slippers of spider climbing to stroll up into a tree and plant himself there. Barrith, the halfling rogue, chose another tree and climbed up into that one. Kaz, the human monk, positioned himself at the treeline at the edge of camp and waited there, alternating between looking up a small rise towards the horses, and looking at the trees behind him. Toruv, the Dragonborn sorcerer, took a position just inside the tent flap for the large dining tent, and Aspen the Mousfolk cleric climbed up on one of the horses and decided to just stay on its back for the night. (Mousefolk are smaller even than halflings, and even with their armor that seemed feasible if not exactly comfortable.)

The first hour passed without anyone noticing anything significant.

Midway through the second hour, Shadow (the only one in the group with Darkvision) spotted Jou the gnome leaving his tent and strolling casually through the darkness to the wagons. Shadow, being Shadow, did not call out; he just strolled casually down from his spot in the tree and put a crossbow bolt in the side of the cart not far from the gnome's head. The gnome spun around, hesitated, and then asked: "What do you think you're doing?"

The cleric had also seen the gnome, but they stayed on the horse and called out a question: "What are you doing over there?"

Jou insisted that he'd just remembered hearing a squeaky wheel on the cart as it coming into the camp, and he'd come over to have a look at it.

In the dark. With no light source, and no obvious tools. Yeah, the party wasn't having any of that, but Shadow decided to pretend that he completely believed the gnome and wanted to help, except the gnome realized immediately that he was lying and... well... kind of freaked out. "All right, I was going to sabotage the wheel, please don't kill me!"

Jou, it turns out, is a spy for House Bri'yann, the most successful of the Roslof houses and the only one with two banners and two banner companies. Its lord has a noble lineage but rumor has it that he himself is ignoble in the extreme. According to Jou, Lord Bri'yann hired him to slow down the progress of the lumber expedition as much as possible, for as long as possible. Bobilis, the human in charge of this expedition (the one with the pet animated sword), had him taken into custody by the Aldenmier guards, and the party went back to trying to watch the horses... but now with some new suspicions about those bandits who'd been handily waiting for them in the middle of nowhere last session.

And that was where we stopped. Not a huge amount of progress, but there was a lot of cross-talk and questions and it took everybody a while to get focused, and honestly this is kind of what I expect out of a game where the players are mainly middle-schoolers. The kids had a great time, which was I really wanted out of it, and having a chance to hang out and talk Geek was a big part of that.

Currently party treasure by my count is 246 GP and 15 SP, plus some weapons they can probably sell when they get back to town.
-A quarterstaff
-4 shortswords
-4 light crossbows

Monday, July 22, 2019

Call Me Guilty

"It wasn't worth it," Ruin said quietly.

Martini and Azrael exchanged a glance, but neither of them looked at him. Reverend Mercy was walking a bit ahead, staying close to Gorsack the Magnificent.

It wasn't that he minded killing humans. Even the ones who lived here in Duendewood -- and there were quite a number of them, especially in the more populated cities and the centers of trade -- were not to be trusted. The ones outside, well... war was still coming, and a good many of them needed killing. No, the issue was...

The issue was that the druid had been minding his own business. He hadn't been a danger to anyone, at least not until Azrael filled his house with webs and Ruin attacked his bear. And then there'd been that brief, disorienting moment when everything was gone, and he a tiny little thing trapped at the edge of the most horrible water imaginable, staring up at a raging beast that could have ended him with a casual gesture. He pretty sure he'd pissed all over the stone floor at that point, not that anyone including himself had really noticed. He'd had the vertiginous sense that his mind was slipping, that he was about to lose all sense of himself and disappear into being a frog, before he'd suddenly reverted back.

He thought Mercy had been chanting at that point, so he probably owed the human another one. Which was exactly the thing with humans: many of the deserved to die, but it was because of what they did and sometimes what they were, not because they happened to be human. And in helping to murder the druid, he'd made himself no better than them.

Martini wouldn't care. Azrael... it wasn't so much that the boy wouldn't care, it was that he wouldn't think of it at all. Marshall Mercy... Ruin wasn't sure. He still didn't have the full measure of the human cleric, but he thought that under other circumstances the priest might have found some common ground with the druid, given their shared love of their animals. But Ruin...

Guilty. For the first time in his life, Ruin felt guilty over the death of a human.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

In which everything goes pear-shaped

We picked up this session at the Stonygaze Tavern, at the celebration that townsfolk are throwing in our honor. A bard named Nanki is playing music (I think we're supposed to remember him from somewhere, at least OOC, but none of us does). A trio of halflings that our characters met before (and another set of our characters met even earlier) are there; they have a Darkskull, which has utterly fascinated our mage, but it's still waaaay too expensive for us. The dwarven al'cul merchant Skorvil is here, and serving.

(Al'cul, for the record, provides -2 Dex, -2 Int, and +2 Str for a couple of hours. Also, have really bad judgement and end up doing crazy things.)

Shuma the Blacksmith (the dwarf from whom we bought the silvered weapons) is here also, along with her nephew Horkin, and of course Alein the paladin and Torea her apprentice. Then the Baron's sister comes in. Now, bear in mind that the Baron's keep is still locked down - at least as far as we know. So everybody's immediately worried about what she'd doing here, especially since she's accompanied by a small group of guards. But she starts talking to Martini, and gifts her with a lovely (and very expensive) necklace. She then expresses gratitude on behalf of herself and her brother the Baron. Finally, she invites us to attend the Baron's speech, and departs.

Mercy, our cleric, asks Alein about resurrection; but Alein is a paladin, and doesn't know all that much about it. She mentions that there's a druid named Imris wandering around somewhere outside of town, but she has no idea how to find him. The party eventually winds down to an end, and our group discovers that someone has gotten us a pair of rooms here at the Stonygaze Tavern. The elves trance; Reverend Mercy sleeps.

...And naturally we have nightmares again. Azrael, our goth elf wizard has this horrible nightmare of wandering through a fairyland of cheerful talking flowers and beautiful rainbows and cute fluffy bunnies; Ruin dreams of the humans overruning everything, plundering and killing; Martini dreams of having far too many boyfriends and not being able to kill any of them; and Reverend Mercy... I don't remember. Possibly more dead snakes.

By the time morning rolls around, the three elves have exchanged notes on their nightmares and Ruin has slipped out, located another poisonous green snake, slipped it into Mercy's bag of snakes, and disposed of the corpse of his former snake. Mercy thinks it's a miracle from Artem-hiss, and explains to everyone who gets in range about the glories of the goddess.

We have an hour until the speech, so everybody gets ready: breakfast, nice clothes, head for the keep, stand in the courtyard with the rest of the crowd. The Baron steps out on the balcony overlooking the crowd and starts talking about the chaos, lawlessness, and disorder that has overtaken the town. This will not continue. As of now, he decrees, the festival is over and all carts, wagons, and tents must be removed from the main thoroughfare. At nightfall the gates of the city will be closed, and they will remain closed until he's satisfied that order is restored; nobody may enter or leave. The wearing of weapons is prohibited, and anyone caught with them will be arrested and their weapons confiscated. All temples of Helios are closed, and all priests of Helios outlawed. All members of the militia are summoned to the barracks immediately.

There's a vague outline of a figure in the doorway behind the Baron; Martini and Ruin see it, but nobody else appears to.

The Baron continues by ordering the arrest of those horrible outlaws and paladins of Helios, Alein and Torea... and the guards are putting up posters with crude pictures of us. It's... definitely time to go. We head back to the temple of Helios, because Torea and Alein need to be warned...

...Actually, no they don't; several of their near neighbors have dropped by to alert them before the guards can get there. We take them with us, and are discussing where best to hide when the nephew shows up and tells us that we can take shelter in Shuma the Blacksmith's basement. We make our way there and hide.

Before long, the town is locked down completely. Half the citizens have been recruited or called up to serve in the militia, and the other half are huddling in their homes or slipping out to try to do essential business without attracting the attention of the guards. Horkin goes out to see if he can put us in touch with some sort of underground elements: anybody who can help us escape the town, or anybody setting up an insurrection.

Mercy has some scrying spells prepared. There's some discussion of whom we should scry on -- we really need to know what the Baron is doing, but the necklace that the Baron's sister gave to Martini makes it far easier for us to scry on her. Mercy decides to scry on the sister, and sees her alone in a clean, austere room. She's sitting on a mattress on the floor, knees tucked up against her chest, head folded down onto her knees.

Azrael the goth elf wizard decides it's worth burning a bit of invisibilty and flight, and makes a quick run over the keep and then back. There's a bone-white monster on the roof of the Baron's keep; Azrael recognizes it as a Bone Devil (probably because he's got a Bone Devil Action Figure hidden in his room at home). The place is locked down tighter than a Bone Devil's butthole.

Horkin (the smith's nephew) finally comes back and tells us that he's found a guy who can tell us a way into the Baron's keep, but he wants 500 gold in advance for the information. It turns out this is Bingo, from the trio of halflings we keep running into; his brother's nephew's cousin's half-brother's college roommate knows a way in. (To be fair, halfling communities are kind of like that...) Anyway, this halfling Ringo can tell us how to get in through the sewers, and Bingo can put us in touch with him.

There's a bit of arguing amongst our group, and then a bit of negotiating, and finally we send Horkin back with a counter-offer: Martini, who is training as a courtesan as well as an assassin, will pay him in carnal favors for the information instead.

Bingo thinks this is a grand idea, and shows up with his brother's nephew's cousin's half-brother's college roommate in tow. He spends some time with Martini while the rest of all just look around uncomfortably and say things like, "Nice weather, isn't it? Sure do wish I'd brought a deck of cards and some earplugs." Eventually the, um, encounter is over, and Bingo comes out of the bedroom that Martini has borrowed. He hands 10 gp to his brother's nephew's cousin's half-brother's college roommate, and saunters out the door.

Martini emerges from the room as Ringo launches into his explanation: there's a gate in the outer wall that leads into the sewers, only don't alert the guards on the wall above. Inside, there's a secret door leading into the Baron's keep...

He keeps going, reciting what he knows about the route faster than I can process, let alone remember. We'll come up in the kitchen, only don't disturb the cook or servants because they're just trying to work, and don't go out the door because that's the dining room and all the nobles and guards will be there, instead go up the stairs to the next room only don't disturb somebody, the butler I think, because he'll probably be up there, and then go down the long hall to the stair at the end, take the stair directly up to the Baron's chambers.

Or something.

We manage to get out of the city by basically hopping the wall just after nightfall, and make our way around to the gate that leads into the sewers. It helps that Martini, our Gray Elf assassin/courtesan, has kept the slippers of spider climbing that we took from the Blessed One. In fact, that helps with almost everything that happens for the entire rest of this session. Also, at this point it's just the five of us: apparently we've left both the paladin Alein and her apprentice back in Shuma's basement.

That's probably for the better.

The gate's going to be a problem. There are two guards patrolling the wall above it, and the water coming out of it drops straight into what appears to be a fairly pool that eventually leads off into a creek. There seems to be something in the water, too: a couple of submerged statues, maybe. We find that somewhat ominous. There's essentially no cover anywhere near the wall; the best cover available is the angle of the all itself. So Martini slips up to it, walks up, and tracks one guard until she can assassinate him. He dies instantly, neatly, and quietly, and she pulls on him so his corpse falls off the wall and lands on the grass outside. She then tracks the second guard, studying his movements, waiting for her moment...

She fails to kill him instantly, but it doesn't matter. The extra damage from her sneak attack takes him out. This one falls on the wrong side of the wall, inside the city, but nobody notices immediately -- at least, we don't hear anything in the way of alarums and excursions. The one body we can check over doesn't have much of value on it, but we do get a guard house key at least. That doesn't really help us here, but it might later. So it's time to get inside. Martini walks down the face of the wall and opens the gate.

The two gargoyles in the water move, and combat begins.

Meanwhile, other things are coming out of the darkness inside the sewers. Azrael tries to make a jump over the water to the gate, but fails miserably and lands in the water. One of the gargoyles moves towards him, but Ruin manages to distract it by throwing the body of the dead guard in front of it. Martini, standing on the ceiling inside the sewers, throws her brother a rope and manages to haul him to where he can clamber out of the water. He spots a ripple in the sewer water that seems to be something moving, and hits it with Glitterdust. In addition to its disorienting effects, Glitterdusts makes the two invisible plant creatures visible enough to attack. Martini, still on the ceiling, moves to deal with them.

Marshall Mercy, meanwhile, has gone to engage with the second gargoyle, only he's had to step a little ways into the water to do it, so he's attacking at a penalty. so Ruin moves to help him. That leaves Azrael caught between a trio of sewer rats and the remaining gargoyle, but he casts Mirror Image and so escapes immediate damage. Martini continues carving on one of the plant monsters.

Ruin takes a step back to shallower water, and pulls Mercy back after him. The gargoyle moves to follow, but here in the shallower water we can actually hit the curse-worthy thing, and after a bit we kill it. By then, Martini has managed to kill one of the plant creatures as well. Azrael, however, is in trouble: several of his images have been dispersed, and the gargoyle has managed to land a lucky hit on him. Desperate, he drops a Stinking Cloud right on top of himself.

This is enough to immobilize the gargoyle and two of the rats; Azrael begins disposing of them as Ruin and Mercy make their way back to where they can try the jump to the gate. The remaining gargoyle gives up in disgust and retreats back to the deeper water. They make the jump while Martini is still carving up the second plant-creature, but find themselves in the middle of Azrael's spell, and too nauseated to do anything but try to make their way slowly out of it. The remaining rat chooses the better part of valor, and goes to hide in a pile of old bones, half-hidden beneath an overturned coffin.

Proceeding into the sewer, we arbitrarily take a left and discover a wererat standing guard -- well, sitting guard -- behind a partially-broken door. We assure him that we're just looking for a way into the Baron's keep, offer him alcohol. (Martini doesn't drink, and has just been keeping any alcohol that anybody tries to hand her, so by now she's accumulated quite a stash.) Before too long, we're good friends with the wererat (I don't remember his name, so I'm calling him Scuzz) and his six buddies and his pet dire rat Bobby. They tell us to be careful not to disturb the boss, who lives with his friend across the hall: Draz and Agnorax. I'm not sure which is which, but the boss is apparently a weretiger. We ask a bit more, and find out that there's a graverobber on the far side of the room where we entered, and a druid a bit further down this passage, pass the Boss's door. We decide to go visit the graverobber, mostly because our mage excelled in necromancy in high school.

So we start talking to the graverobber through the door, and it turns out he's not just a graverobber; he's a necromancer: a goblin named Gorsack the Magnificent.

And yeah, apparently we're talking our way through the sewers. I have no idea what's come over this party.

Gorsack has a flesh golem named Benny. It's dressed as a zombie, but it definitely isn't one. He tells us he'd be glad to tell us how to get into the Baron's keep, there's just this one thing he wants first...

The druid, it seems, has a chest in his hut. His hut is here in the sewer, just past the wererats, on a little sort of island surrounded by a moat of sewage. The chest must contain the druid's greatest treasure, and Gorsack wants it. Specifically, he wants us to help him get it.

So, all right: we do a little reconnaissance. (Good Lord, is that actually how that word is spelled? No wonder everybody just uses recon...) The druid's hut is just as inaccessible as described, except that Martini walks right up the wall and across the ceiling until she can drop down onto it.

"Hello?" calls a voice from inside the hut. So... the druid is home. There goes any chance of just stealing the chest, along with any element of surprise. So Martini tries to bluff her way into a conversation, but the druid has no interest in talking to her or anyone else, nor does he want any ale. Martini take a ladder from the ground and tries to lay it across the Moat Of Poop, but the druid hears her and throws open the door.

Azrael promptly throws a web spell into his house, pinning the druid and his pet sewer meth alligator bear in place. At this point, Ruin suddenly has a qualm: the druid is human, but while Ruin is all about killing humans, well... apparently he's really only all about killing humans who at least nominally deserve it. He doesn't want to act like one of them. So he says, "Sorry, we're really just looking for a way into the Baron's keep. If you'll tell us how to get there we'll go away immediately."

"I'll tell you," says the Druid, "if you'll kill that goblin necromancer who keeps trying to break into my house. He lives right across the entry hall, and--"

So clearly we've walked into a Hatfields and Capulets situation, here. Ruin gives up on both of them, and takes a swing at the bear while it's still trapped in the webs.

The druid promptly turns Ruin into a toad, and the bear shrugs its way out of the web and emerges to attack Martini. Fortunately, Reverend Mercy manages to reverse the effect -- otherwise we were going to have to get the weretiger to infect Ruin, so he could use lycanthropic shapeshifting to get back to his original form. The druid and the necromancer start exchanging spells, while Ruin and Martini take on the bear. (I believe this was the point in the evening where Martini, who fights with a two-weapon style, managed to score simultaneous critical hits, one with each weapon.) Garlock the Magnificent goes down, but Martini takes down the bear. Ruin and Martini get into the hut and manage to mangle the druid, who's basically just standing there in his bathrobe. Near death, he curses us and then calls forth a pillar of fire inside the house. Fortunately, both of us avoid the worst of the damage; Martini avoids any damage at all.

Mercy brings the goblin back to consciousness and starts to lay a snake on him, but Gorsack the Modestly Impressive begs for his life and promises Reverend Mercy that he can make him a special pet if the cleric will just spare his life. Marshall Mercy agrees.

So after all that, we smash open the chest. Inside, we find... a stuffed beaver. We check the beaver over, but there's nothing inside of it. The 877 silver pieces in the drawer are the only thing of value. But, true to our word, we hand the slightly-damaged beaver over to Gorsack The Almost Back To Magnificent: we have retrieved the contents of the chest for him.

The silver pieces, we keep.