Friday, June 28, 2019

Summer Schedule Implosion and Pushing Too Hard

Well, we're there again: the point in the boys' summer vacation where they're thoroughly off their schedules, and we don't have enough scheduled activities lined up for them, and Beautiful Wife and I are both too busy with work and too tired to really keep them on schedule.


Add to that a lot of trying to keep the house clean and some dental work yesterday morning, and I just... ran out. Headache, mild nausea, exhaustion... I called in to work from the dentist's office, went home, and didn't do much of anything for the rest of the day.


Beautiful Wife has looked up some more camps we can put the boys in, which would be great -- without something like that, they just keep gradually staying up later and later, which makes it harder and harder for us to get anything done in the evening. After the Washington DC trip at the beginning of the summer we can't really afford summer camps, but we really can't afford not to have the boys in something like that. And while having them in the house has been fine so far (they're old enough to take care of themselves, if necessary, which means that Beautiful Wife can make a run to her office when she needs to), we really need to get them out of the house more. And back on schedule -- did I mention back on schedule?


So, the first order of business is get our stuff back under control (including, apparently, my health). Next up after that is figuring out how to handle the boys for the rest of the summer.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Not much here

So, owing to what we're going to call "trying to write something that I can actually publish this year", I really don't have much of anything for today. So instead of the deeper wisdom, timely opinions, or Dungeons and Dragons, y'all just get some of the music that I've been listening to lately. Here's The Republic Of Wolves with The Canyon, because it's hard work having a soul:

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Blogging Challenge: Humorous Book Titles

Right, so, the usual bit of context: Weekly Blogging Challenge over at Long and Short Reviews. (If you're just joining up, swing by their homepage and add your response to the current post each Wednesday.)

This week's prompt is "humorous book titles" and... well..

Ye gods, y'all.

Okay, so: this is an ongoing game in my house. We have a standing contest to come up with the worst book title ever: the one that nobody would ever, ever buy. And it was inspired by my wife reading this article (go ahead and skim it, I'll wait) so frequently we do them in series:
  1. The Dark Maw Of Puberty
  2. Return to the Dark Maw of Puberty
  3. Tae Kwon Do in The Dark Maw of Puberty
It's kind of like the "That would make a great band name!" game, except also kind of horrible.

That first example is actually my wife's. I've come up with some good ones, but because the game is so situational I honestly can't remember any of them off the top of my head. And sometimes they only work if you add a subtitle, e.g. Poosplosion -- an erotic thriller (or possibly a neurotic thriller instead) or I Stupidly Left My Umbrella At Work: A Memoir.

I believe Firstborn (age thirteen) is currently leading the game with his hypothetical upcoming first novel, It Came With A Fury -- And Half Off Your Next Purchase.

But yeah, I'm really looking forward to seeing what everybody does with this prompt. List real books? Make up their own? It's funny because it's bad? It's legitimately funny?

It's going to be fun.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Further explorations, giant scorpions, and poop

This week's game was... unfocused. Still fun, of course, but the players kept getting sidetracked. (Also, we did a system check, and it looks like we will be able to have people play by Skype when they're out of town. How that will work in terms of human interactions, I'm not quite so sure though.)

So they honestly didn't get that much done. They continued down the passage, discovering a pit-trap along the way and finding that the bottom was not only full of spikes, but also seemed to be serving as a combination of cesspool and garbage bin. Beyond the pit, they found a long passage with a number of doors, and decided to explore down it rather than start opening doors. (So far, all the monsters they've encountered have been inside rooms, prompting the monk's player to observe: "I feel like we're exploring a hotel.") Checking the hallway would allow them to confirm the cleric's theory that the corridor would connect back up with an area that they'd already explored, making the central passage through this dungeon level a sort of large rectangle connecting most of the rooms.

In the event, this proved to be true -- but as they neared the end of the corridor, they heard something moving. Just as they were deciding how to respond, an orc came around the corner carrying a large and foul-smelling bucket. The orc won initiative, and flung the bucket at the halfling rogue. It didn't cause much damage, but the contents of the buckets were... three days worth of chamber pots. The rogue got drenched, the sorcerer and the cleric got splashed, and the monk wasn't touched at all.

The monk was the first to react, and of course he attacked; the orc was injured, but not killed. The dark elf rogue followed up immediately and finished him off, leaving the halfling rogue absolutely furious at not being able to take revenge for being drenched. But since the orc was dead and nothing else was visible, they decided to go ahead and complete their circuit of the dungeon - after stripping the hide armor off the orc, and handing its great-axe to the barbarian, who slung it over her back. She's sticking with battle-axe and shield for now.

Since the corridor did indeed connect up, they were able to re-enter the room where they'd fought the kobolds, and the room beyond where they killed the kobold corcerer and found the statue. There was no sign of the other adventuring party, but they experimented with the large statue of the woman, the statue of the cat (still purring) and the gem until they finally concluded that bringing them together really doesn't do anything. So, finally, they moved on through the main corridor.

That brought them back around past the entrance, past the cesspit, and to one of the doors. Disdaining subtlety, they opened it and went inside, and found themselves facing off against three scorpions roughly the size of large dogs. The battle began!

...Unfortunately, the battle also got interrupted before they could really finish the scorpions. We ran out of time.

Still, it's been quite a fight so far. The Monk took a minor hit from a claw, and the cleric got struck by a tail and failed their poison save; fortunately, that particular scorpion went down and the sorcerer was able to pour a healing potion down their throat. (Owing to some OOC confusion around the fact that the cleric is -- or originally was -- a mousefolk boy played by a human girl, the player has decided that Aspen is gender-neutral and uses they/them pronouns.) So the cleric is at 7 HP, the monk is lightly wounded, and the halfling rogue is still slightly injured from being hit by a wooden bucket.

The barbarian, meanwhile, has engaged one of the other scorpions, and Shadow (the drow rogue) has been picking away at the third with some small success. Neither of them has been injured, at least not yet, and the barbarian hasn't bothered to rage.

By my count the party has a shared treasure of 161 GP. They also have:
-Six daggers (from a few games back)
-Two Javelins (ditto)
-A Bronze Shortsword (spider room, claimed by the Barbarian)
-five shortswords (earlier game, the kobolds)
-five more javelins (ditto)
-another 38 GP (kobolds)
-another 45 GP (kobold sorcerer)
-a silver dagger, which they're keeping for equipment - currently held by the Dwarf.
-a small bag of herbs which smell delicious (also kobold sorcerer)
-A ruby worth 150 GP which they have tied around the neck of the cat statue using the sorcerer's handkerchief because they think it's part of some sort of puzzle.
-a Greataxe, currently in use by the barbarian
-hide armor (from the orc)

Monday, June 24, 2019

Themes Across Generations


(Maniac, by Michael Sembello)


(Sweet by Psycho, by Ava Max)

Friday, June 21, 2019

Scuzz Loses His Job

Scuzz arrived at the bell tower just a little past noon. The outer door was open, and the faint smell of smoke drifted out from inside. He stepped inside anyway, then stopped. Strange scents were everywhere, and the door to the ground-floor room was open. Nothing moved inside, but...

Scuzz stepped away and put a foot on the stairs. Somewhere up above, something hit the floor hard. A moment later, someone screamed -- not loudly enough to be heard by the rest of the town, but unmistakable inside the tower. Bad things were happening.

The second floor was empty.

The third floor held bodies. Familiar bodies. They'd fought, but they'd been slaughtered. Silver weapons. The damage was too thorough for anything else. There'd been magic, too: nothing else made sense.

The smell of smoke was stronger up the stairs, and Squim, First of the Nest, was talking desperately. Scuzz couldn't make out the words, but the tone was unmistakable. Which meant that whoever had done this was up there with whatever remained of the Nest, and anyone left alive was in mortal danger.

There was only one thing to do.

Scuzz turned and left, making very sure not to move anything on his way back down the stairs. With any luck nobody would realize he had ever been there. After that, well... It was time to look for another job, and he thought he knew where to look.

There was this bookshop in the West Hills...

Thursday, June 20, 2019

More were-rats, fewer regrets

Our DM essentially decreed that we got a room at an inn after our fight with the were-rats; we started this session by waking up after a variety of nightmares. Since most of us are elves, and therefore trance instead of sleep, these were clearly some sort of magical attack. Clearly, we needed to hunt down the Blessed One that the were-rat leader Squim mentioned when we questioned him after the last battle, and we needed to murder him to death.

Only... we were waking up in an inn. So we went downstairs for breakfast, ate, and tried to gather some information and get our bearings.

Reverend Mercy (our cleric, the apostolic snake handler) approached a couple of elderly elves at a table and began asking them if they knew of the healing love of Artemis. Upon realizing that the older man was staring at his mouth, he began talking louder.

Marshall Mercy doesn't speak Elvish.

So he dragged the wizard over to translate for him, which the kid did... after a fashion. Except that the elderly couple were both deaf. So Martini did the translating instead, albeit not completely accurately. Mercy prepared a blessing for the older couple and managed to apply it before they politely ran off.

The wizard wandered off and talked to a few other people. It seemed the Baron was due to give a speech tomorrow. Also, Captain Merduc Forum was missing, and had been since just before the beginning of the festival.

Azrael (the wizard) came back to Ruin to say that we should find the Baron and make sure he supports our cause. Ruin was more cautious; he'd been assigned to gather information about how the populace regarded the return of the True King and return that intelligence to the True Elves. Still... maybe.

In talking to a few people, Ruin learned of a local smith, Shuma, who was both respected and plugged into the community and might be able to provide some halfway reliable information.

Martini, meanwhile, went to talk to the bartender and heard a fairly solid rumor that there had been a number of murders -- or at least bloody crime scenes lacking bodies -- in Southspur. She did a really good impression of being upset and possibly about to faint at the mention of all that blood.

Keeping with our original mission, we tried to go see the Baron. His keep was locked up tight, and even after passing liquor through the gate all we learned from the guards was that it had been locked down since the attack in the market yesterday -- presumably the same attack that we'd defeated.

With the Baron unavailable, we went to the blacksmith. She was a dwarf and a skilled craftswoman, housed in a quaint smithy that fit the local architecture. (We'd also run into her son in the market last session; he's... prone to taking credit for her work when he's trying to make a sale.)

Ruin stepped up, speaking Dwarvish, and charmed her. (Just charisma, not magic or any sort of domination.) He opened by asking about the Baron. The Baron, it turned out, had never been that popular, but just lately there had been a lot more crime on the streets and the act of locking down the Baron's Keep was unusual to the point of unprecedented. Things were starting to get bad, and they were only going to get worse. Shuma thought that the rise in crime and the appearance of the were-rats might be connected.

There's a belltower in the middle of town, and it's said to be overrun by rats. We didn't go there immediately, of course; instead, we let the cleric wander around asking questions like the missing guard captain apparently had.

A pair of were-rats attacked him. We jumped in, and eventually defeated them: barely, sort of. I will note for the record that damage reduction is a helluva drug. The surviving were-rat (thoroughly intimidated) directed us to the bell tower, but we went back to the smith to re-equip with silvered weapons first.

So when we reached the bell tower, Martini had a silvered rapier and a silvered shortsword, while Ruin was wearing his falchion and a silvered greatsword in an X across his back.

The Keeper of the Belltower didn't want to let us in. We.... broke in anyway. Then we fought our way up the tower, facing were-rats and dire rats. Mercy is supplementing his melee with spells to increase his attacks; Martini is angling for flanking positions where she can add Sneak Attack damage, Ruin is basically beating things down and trying to help with flanking, and Azrael is mainly exercising battlefield control spells -- blinding our enemies, or hitting them with Stinking Cloud, or like that. With silvered weapons, things go much more our way, and we move up the tower clearing out one floor at a time.

Eventually, we reach the fourth floor, where Squim -- the were-rat leader that we released last session -- is lying on the floor being wildly sick, while two other were-rats and the bell keeper are up in the rafters. Azrael hits the ones in the rafters with Stinking Cloud, and Mercy sets fire to the rafters. Ruin and Martini try to question Squim... and succeed.

There is a bookshop in the West Hill district, where Squim meets with the Blessed One in a back room. Identities are secret; Squim only knows the Blessed One as a hooded figure who delivers instructions from the Speaker In His Dreams. Squim is of the opinion that the Speaker is in control, and may be controlling the Baron as well.

Our cleric is running a kind of DC Comics Two-Face vibe, drawing snakes from his pouch at random to express the judgement of Artem-hiss on our enemies. (His snake-pouch holds three snakes; one of them is venomous, the other two harmless.) The bell-keeper (human, as far as I know) didn't survive this test, but one of the were-rats did. Mercy pronounced the goddess satisfied and turned it loose.

At this point, we think the Speaker In Dreams is the real threat, but the Blessed One is the only way we have to find it.

After that? We murder the Speaker to death, of course. At least, that's Ruin's plan right now.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Blogging Challenge: Favorite Things To Do In The Summer

Right, so, the usual: Weekly Blogging Challenge over at Long and Short Reviews. (If you're just joining up, swing by their homepage and add your response to the current post each Wednesday.)

This week's challenge is Favorite Things To Do In The Summer.

...Which is weird.

Okay, maybe not all that weird. But at my age, the things I do in the summer aren't really all that much different from the things I do in the winter -- except that I have to keep the boys occupied so that they stay on some kind of sleep schedule and don't drive us completely insane. (So far? Engineering camp for Firstborn, which I think went really well, and Summer Safety Camp for Secondborn, which is taught by the police department where my brother works and seems to be going splendidly.)

I actually walk around outside less in the summer, in no small part because I work in a server room (a.k.a. the morgue, or the refrigerator) and so anything like summer weather makes me uncomfortably sweaty (and eventually stinky). I try to avoid the heat. But I also try to make sure the boys are getting enough exercise, and do have some new experiences.

Being a parent in the summer is a lot different than being a kid was.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

The Defeat Of The Ogres

So, when last we left my children and their friends, they were fighting a trio of ogres.

In their next episode, they finally killed them. It wasn't as close a fight as it could have been, but the Barbarian and the Monk still took a fair amount of damage. The cleric used the last of his spells to heal them, and the sorcerer was running low as well. So the rogues stood guard while the others took a long rest in that room. While they were waiting for everyone to recover, they heard footsteps outside the door... but the footsteps passed by.

Out of character, this game was a lot less chaotic than the last one. We weren't trying to find a dynamic with a new player, we were back to our original two-hours-with-a-break-for-lunch-in-the-middle schedule, and we were also finishing up an existing combat, so everybody was able to stay pretty focused. (We also weren't just coming back from a month-long break.

One of our players -- the cleric -- will be out of town for a bit, but I think we can manage with Skype.

The only real issue I have now is that the players have turned on me: they're refusing to leave the dungeon until they absolutely have to, because they know that the Dwarf Barbarian (originally played by my niece) will get reassigned to other duties as soon as they emerge. So they're keeping her in there and forcing me to keep playing her as an NPC.

There are worse problems to have.

Monday, June 17, 2019

The Accidental Secretary

So a few days ago Beautiful Wife took Secondborn with her to work. She had to be there for a meeting, and he didn't want to be left alone at the house with his older brother. (Being left alone in her office was apparently fine.) So she set him with his kindle fire and his laptop and went to the meeting.

When she came out, he was having a grand time in the main office with one of the Admins. She explained that she'd left a note on Beautiful Wife's office door, and that Secondborn had left a note on her desk. So, naturally, Beautiful Wife went and looked.

The note from the Admin was exactly what you'd expect: "Secondborn is with me at my desk, come find us there," or words to that general effect.

The note on the desk in the office (hand-written, mind you) said:
mom im in room
4129 Been
ansering your calls When
somwhon call's you
I say: Beautiful Woman
is at a meating so
Please caLL Back in 2
So yeah, he'd been sitting there answering her phone when it rang and telling people she was in a meeting and they'd need to call back later. I assume that's how the admin found him. He's a very helpful kid, Secondborn is. (He doesn't refer to her as Beautiful Woman, either; that's something I do here on the blog because it's easier than using [REDACTED].)

Friday, June 14, 2019


Ruin laid his weapons out on the floor of his room, regarding each of them in turn as he considered what his mother had told him.

The fighting-knife had forward-curved edge that made it capable of delivering powerful blows; it would never be his first choice, but it could be worn in places where larger blades were not acceptable.

"I need you to travel with Fartathren and Lelilian Elisbian to Annun," his mother had said.

"I thought I was coming with you to treat with the Dwarves." Ruin had frowned.

"You were, but Councilor Marigill has asked that you go with them to gather information, and send it to us as you can. The word of the True King, and then his arrival with this... war-leader of his... has thrown everything out balance. We need more information."

"Councilor Marigill fears I'll spoil the negotiations with the Dwarves."

"Councilor Marigill is less worried about having you with us among the Dwarves than she is about sending you unsupervised to Annun. Still, she recognizes that you are the only one among us who can travel to Annun without attracting notice -- and the only one who might be assumed to have left this delegation en route for reasons entirely of your own."

The two-handed scimitar was next, with its heavy-tipped, curved blade and its elegant handle and guard. It was an unusual weapon, not one favored by True Elves but not wholly foreign to them, either. They trained in the one-handed versions of the weapon readily enough. To focus on this weapon was to depart from his heritage without disregarding it entirely.

"So she will make my savagery work for the greater good?"

"She wishes you to use your reputation for willfulness to our advantage. Council Loraan may see your behavior as reckless and savage, but Marigill recognizes that your desire for blood is a desire to fight on behalf of our people." Baethira Anthelorn paused, meeting his gaze directly. "So do I."

The glaive was a polearm, essentially a single-edged shortsword mounted on the end of a staff. Ruin had asked for it when the High Provost offered to provide them with equipment, just in case he needed to strike farther away than the scimitar could reach. Using it, he could attack opponents before they had the chance to close in, and it could do more damage than the two-handed scimitar... though perhaps not as reliably. It was also possible that he'd end up using it as a walking stick more than anything else; travel, and any trouble they got into, would give him a better idea of whether or not it was worth carrying around.

"So what are you expecting me to find?"

"Information. The return of the True King has been affirmed, but it still seems... improbable. As True Elves, we are on the edge of extinction. The appearance of a True King upsets the fragile balance that we've held with the Humans... and upsets all manner of political balances throughout Duendewood."

"Do we work to support him?"

"Do the people support him? Does the High Provost? Does the Senate? As a center of trade, Annun is also a center of power. It is not all of Duendewood and does not reflect all of Duendewood, but what happens there will be important to what happens elsewhere. And our host is a very old friend of the High Provost, who will likely be open and receptive to his children.
That is why I want you to travel with them."

The longbow was the last of the weapons he'd brought. No True Elf, he'd once been told, should be without a bow. And he'd infuriated his would-be instructors with his insistence on charging in to do battle at close quarters. Still, a bow offered stand-off capability, and he would have been a fool to refuse that.

"So we have no idea where all this is going?"

"None," his mother had answered. "Even the mission to Dwarves has changed in character. We sought a defensive pact; now we explore the possibility of a military alliance."

"You don't sound pleased about that."

"I am..." she had sighed. "...uncertain."

"And sending me with these others is also uncertain?" He'd been thinking, especially, of the cleric who had joined them at dinner: a worshipper of Artemis, but also a human.

Baethira Anthelorn had sighed. "Sometimes when you loose an arrow, you know the path of your target and where it will arrive. But sometimes when you loose an arrow, you fling it into the chaos of battle and hope it will find a worthwhile path."

She had stopped then, reaching into one of the small pouches on her belt, and withdrawn an amulet. "Take this," she said. "It belonged to... an old, dear friend. I think she would have liked for you to have it. She said it helped her to understand the worlds..."

Ruin reached out and took the amulet, feeling equal parts puzzled and wary. This seemed a little too orchestrated to be an afterthought, but he couldn't imagine why his mother would
arrange to give him something when she could simply ask him to take it.

With a sigh, he turned and fetched the amulet from his pack. It was a small circle, no larger than a curled finger, with a loop at the top where it hung from a simple silver chain. The design was odd, circles within circles, divisions overlapping divisions, and... it seemed as if it could move. He laid a finger on the surface, pressed and tried to twist...

For a brief moment he was looking over a desert, seeing both the emptiness and the life within it. He felt the dragging heat of the sun, the draining cold of the night, the absolute darkness when the moon set. Then he let go and was back in his own skin, looking at the weapons on the floor of the guest room.

Well, that was interesting. It wasn't a scrying tool, whatever it was. He'd had no control of what he was looking at. It was almost as if the amulet itself was selecting the views to show him. Still... the chance to explore other places, from the relative safety of this guest room or anywhere else he found shelter? He'd have to experiment more with this amulet.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Wererats Everywhere. Everyw(h)ererats.

Ruin nudged the dead wererat with his toe, then shoved the corpse over onto its back. It looked human now, the bestial features fading away in death. No wonder they seemed to come from nowhere.

The guards were finally arriving, now that the fight was over and they were no longer needed. Ruin ignored them, surveying his companions instead. He'd met Azrael -- or Lilly, as his sister insisted on calling him -- on several occasions. The boy was strange, but also one of his mother's more accomplished students; small wonder that he'd acquitted himself well in the fight. He'd met young wizard's sister only once or twice, but she'd not only charmed their way with the High Provost, she could also apparently stab things rather thoroughly to death when she put her mind to it.

The human priest was the real unknown as far as Ruin was concerned. He might have argued against traveling with a human, save that this one worshipped Artemis and appeared to have come to Duendewood because of the goddess' popularity here. He, too, had handled himself well, fighting when he needed to and then healing the last of the wererats so that they could get the answers they needed. He'd even turned the beastman loose afterwards in a rare display of human honor. And it wasn't as if there were no humans in Duendewood; it was just that they tended to live in the larger cities, well away from the area that Ruin called home.

But I do not forget... He never really forgot. The memory, twin to the rage, was always there with him.

"Is that... wererat blood on your hands?" One of the guards was standing beside him. Between his musings and the chaos of the street after the attack, Ruin hadn't realized he was there. This one was a halfblood, what most humans considered an elf: slender and handsome, more graceful than a human but also more easily broken. Bishounen. He thought that was the Dwarvish term.


The guard looked perplexed. "You have to get to one of the temples, and quickly. Have them purge you of diseases, or else you might become one of those things."

"The condition really is infectious?" asked Ruin. He'd heard that before, he just hadn't been sure whether or not to believe it.

"Do you want to take the chance? Even for a True Elf..."

No, he didn't want to take that chance. And he wasn't ready to trust his fate to the human priest, however well the man had carried himself. He'd go to the temples.

"Uh-oh," said the guard. "The Sergeant's coming. Look, just don't forget what I said: get yourself cured, just in case. I'd really hate for you or your friends to go over to their side."

Ruin turned his head to watch the guard's back as he walked gracefully away. Bishounen, he thought again, appreciatively.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

This party rocks...

Okay, so we started our third group of characters for this campaign, and I have two immediate observations:
1. Our poor DM has an awful damned lot to keep up with.
2. This may be my favorite party out of all of them.

To recap:
Our original characters were almost a spoof -- some of them, at least. The intro was a classic Elder Scrolls approach: release the PCs from prison with a mission that they have to accomplish or go back to prison. I came in later, so I was mainly there for the bits where we discovered that centuries ago the Humans of Sol Povos had promised Elvish sovereignity to various areas of traditional human land as part of a peace treaty. Sheriff Joe R. Pious (human paladin who genuinely thinks he's lawful good) sent the documents off with his intern, who promptly sold them off to the Elves instead of the Humans; shortly after that, we found the statue where the last Elvish king (and descendant of the Legendary Heroes) was imprisoned, released him, and saw him off to the Elvish reservation of Duendewood.

Our second batch of characters started in a completely different area, defending Fort Dedo in the southeast corner of the Kingdom. Events... quickly got out of hand, but between retrieving ancient Formorian artifacts and texts, killing off would-be allies of the invading army, and rescuing kidnapped members of our own party, well... What we essentially discovered was that A) worshippers of Vecna were the motivating force behind this strange, multi-headed invasion, and B) we'd been fooled and/or betrayed, and one of the enemy champions had taken over the body of our colonel and had been using us to recover artifacts. We escaped, but that was about the best that could be said for it.

So this week's episode was character creation for a third party to look at events from the Elvish perspective.

The current party consists of:
-Martini Grey (not her real name), Grey Elf (from the 3.5 Monster Manual), presumptive heir to her House, courtesan and assassin.
-Azrael (also not his real name) Neutral Grey Elf Wizard, and seriously emo high school senior (or the Elf equivalent, anyway).
-Waylon Mercy, human cleric of Artemis -- except that he's a Pentacostal snake-handling cleric who pronounces the goddess' name as Artem-hiss; he's come to teach the Elves how to worship the goddess properly. There's a decent chance that he'll be emphasizing the fact that he's 1/72 Elvish on his grandmother's side.
-Ruin (not his real name - he hasn't chosen one), True Elf Barbarian and Fighter, basically an angry revolutionary. True Elves are a homebrew specific to this campaign; basically, I sacrificed 3 levels in exchange for a host of nifty bonuses and abilities. Ruin was meant to be the tank of the group, but because of the level adjustment his hit points aren't all that much better than the wizard or the rogue. (The cleric is by far the highest, having about twice as many HP as I do.) His armor class, on the other hand, is the highest in the group, and he can deliver melee damage like nobody's business.

So we opened the session at the home of the Grey Elves, where Ruin and his mother had stopped to consult (and, well, scheme) and the local evangelical human preacher was making the rounds and happened to drop in. The result of this was that the PCs were sent off to the city of Annon, which is one of the major cities, to see if the populace and the political establishment supported the True King and what they thought of him.

The... essentially the mayor, I think the formal title was High Provost... of the city was delighted to meet with the son and daughter of his old friend, and said that of course everybody supported the True King but without the presence of this one Baron in a particular burrough a little ways outside of the city they couldn't hold a formal vote to say so. The Baron had been absent for some months, and the last people he'd sent down there hadn't returned with any useful information.

Naturally, Martini -- as a favor to her father's old friend -- offered our services to go investigate.

So we traveled to this burrough, which was just beginning its autumn fair, and let the guards put peace-bonds on our weapons so we could enter.

We'd been moving through the fair for a little bit when we heard screams and -- unlike sane people -- charged directly towards them. This put us into combat with four were-rats, who were in turn commanding about six dire rats.

It should be noted that Ruin has no sense of self-preservation. His fighting style is rooted entirely in rage: you kill the thing in front of you because you want it dead more than it wants you dead. So he charged right in and killed a were-rat with his first attack. The rest of the party followed, and the remaining were-rats moved to flank Ruin while the rats moved back to attack the others.

Ruin killed a second were-rat, and our wizard killed a third. Two of the dire rats attacked him, but one missed and the other one got its teeth stuck in his greaves. The head were-rat then fled, but Ruin (being a Barbarian, and therefore awesome) was able to chase him and cut him down, before finishing the dire rat that he'd been dragging along with him as he ran.

The rest of the party was having a ridiculous amount of trouble with the remaining dire rats (bad rolls, mainly). Ruin had moved back to help them when he realized that he wouldn't get any answers out of the were-rat leader if he let him die. He ran back and started trying to stabilize the werebeast.

By the time the rest of the party had finished off the rats (and it was neither quick nor easy) the rogue and the cleric had both been infected with diseases, and Ruin was plugging the were-rat's wounds with his fingers.

The cleric approached, healed the wererat up to a single hit point, then dropped a poisonous snake on its chest and let it bite him. Then, with the threat of death by poison looming, he asked questions: what were you doing? do you realize that most of the people you killed weren't guards? who sent you to do this?

And once we got answers, the cleric cast another spell and sent the wererat on his way. Ruin, assuming the cure had been given as promised, told the werebeast to get out of town. Already feeling better, the beast agreed and left. (At some point, the party will probably figure out that the Cleric is casting Delay Poison instead of actually curing people, but right now only the Wizard knows that and he thinks it's incredibly metal of the Cleric to do that. We... may not actually be the good guys, here.)

And that was where we stopped: we haven't spoken with the Baron, we haven't found the "blessed one" who was commanding the wererats, but we've had our first battle and worked at least moderately well together even if the brother and sister won't stop taunting each other (which is, I admit, possibly my favorite part of the campaign so far). I'll have to scrap something I was putting together with Ruin facing a challenge from he Dwarves, since in the Intro his mother changed course and sent him off with the rest of the PCs instead -- but looking at the overall timeline, that makes sense. The True King has only just returned, and everybody is scrambling for reliable information.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

It just never ends...

So we made it back from the trip to DC with a couple of days to clean up and recover. Except, well... the cousins are in town. Now, this is generally a good thing and a cause for joyous celebration. It is also, however, a huge flurry of additional activities at a time when I was honestly looking forward to just relaxing for a couple of days.

On Monday, Firstborn started a week of summer camp (running half a day for one week), which means that I'm dropping him off on the way to work and Secondborn will be hanging out with Beautiful Wife. Next week it will be the other way around, with Secondborn in camp and Firstborn at home. (Firstborn, fortunately, is old enough to be left at home by himself.)

Unfortunately, given work schedules and some work-related politics (at Beautiful Wife's job, not so much my own) I think that after that we really need to get both boys into summer camps for most of the rest of the summer... but I digress.

I've been looking back at the last few weeks, which were not only the trip to DC but also the end of the school year and the peak of my busy season, and realizing just how much stuff we've had to get through, without really having time to analyze or process any of it. Like, I still haven't properly mourned Astrophe the cat -- and that was weeks ago. And I need to take a closer look at what all I'm actually doing for my job, because I keep being given new responsibilities with no change in title or pay, and nobody to back me up. And while we are finally getting some new people on board, we're still painfully short-staffed and I'm not going to be a bit surprised if we lose another two or three people in the next season.

Realistically, all this could be a whole lot worse. But it still feels like we're leaping from event to event and crisis to crisis like ice floes in a flooded river. Sooner or later I'd like to get to shore and just collapse for a couple of days. And I think there are some long-term considerations that I need to seriously look over -- but just like everything else I've been handed lately, that's a research project and I've got to find time and energy to really look into it.

So, I mean, meh? Meh.

Monday, June 10, 2019

DnD: Clearing the First Level... Maybe... Part One

All right, so:
  1. It's been a full month since the last time we played.
  2. This was not just the resumption of the Midday Saturday D'n'D Games, but also Firstborn's D'n'D Birthday Party.
  3. Some of the cousins (my wife's sister's kids) are in town and the oldest (age 11) joined us for the party/game.
  4. I tried to run it for three hours instead of two, because Birthday party.
...So on the whole, it's really no surprise that this game got off to a bit of a rough start.

At the end of the last game, the group had finished killing some kobolds and collecting their stuff. I ruled that they had then left the dungeon in a surfeit of caution, and that Lord Aldenmier had been pleased enough with their work that he'd called in a favor and provided everyone in the group with a potion of healing. I didn't bother updating the party treasury or giving them a chance to go shopping; there were about four different conversations going at once, and I figured if we didn't get down to business we'd never get finished.

Lord Aldenmier had also added a Dwarf Barbarian -- a woman named Jak -- to the company, on a trial basis. (She would be played by Firstborn's oldest cousin.) We hadn't done much background on her since she won't be a regular part of the campaign, but she's armed with a battleaxe and a shield (no armor - BARBARIAN!!!) and is pretty sure that violence is the solution to every problem.

So, the group returned to the dungeon, and retraced their steps from the last expedition. First they half-opened the door to the room with the webs and spiders, and set them on fire again. Upon investigating, they found that while the bronze shortsword had been replaced, the statue of the cat had not. They then went on and faced the kobolds again, with the monk moving up to kill one and nearly kill another, the dark elf rogue following to finish off the wounded one, and the Dragonborn sorcerer maneuvering to wipe out the remaining three with his breath weapon. (Fwoosh!) They again claimed the weapons and treasure; this time they also went through the next door, where they encountered another kobold who cast some sort of spell and then took shelter behind a statue.

It... really didn't help. The monk moved into melee range, and... well, Kobold sorcerers just don't have enough hit points to survive that. "I... will have... my revenge..." he gasped as he died.

We then spent probably ten minutes of verbal digression on whether or not to try to take the statue, despite the fact that it was
  • not magical
  • a full size statue of a human woman, and therefore rather heavy
  • attached to the floor
They finally decided to leave it, and having discovered nothing else they retraced their steps and took the other passageway, towards two doors they hadn't tried.

The first room held a gem, which was magically suspended in the air at the center of some sort of energy field nearly a large as the room itself. The sorcerer retrieved it with Mage Hand, which caused an enormous flash of light as the energy field disappeared. The characters who had any knowledge of Arcana made some quick checks, and decided that the gem itself probably wasn't magical, the bright flash from the energy field probably would have done some damage to anybody inside the room, and the gem was probably now safe to touch.

At that moment, the small cat statue that they had retrieved from the spider room last session began to purr. The Dragonborn decided that it was because of proximity to the gem, and immediately whipped out a hankerchief and tied the gem around the statue's neck. That was when they heard the footsteps; behind them, another banner company had come down into the dungeon. Ignoring them, the other group turned and walked down the other hall to the room where the kobolds had been.

Discussion immediately ensued as to whether to pursue them with the goal of "teaming up". (I reminded them that the six banner companies with access to the Dungeon of the Mad Mage are incredibly competitive, and that this group had almost certainly been at it longer than they had.) And when I say "discussion immediately ensued" what I mean was that the kids had an enthusiastic verbal argument, with the Dwarf Barbarian arguing in favor of following the other group back to the statue of the woman to see if the cat statue and/or the gem reacted to it. It got, um, "enthusiastic" enough that somebody went and fetched one of Secondborn's plushies, and basically declared it the Stick -- effectively re-inventing Robert's Rules of Order on the fly.

Despite the Dwarf's passionate arguments for following the other group, the party voted to continue exploring other rooms and just stay away from them, reasoning that they could always go check out the statue once the other group had gone. The other group, meanwhile, still hadn't emerged from the rooms with the kobolds, and the cat statue had stopped meowing but continued to purr.

So, following the majority decision, the group decided on their prepared actions, and then opened the next door along the corridor.

This was a single room, with three ogres at the far end. Two of them immediately stood up, pointing their spiked clubs at the monk and the barbarian, and roared.

Unfortunately, everyone had prepared actions (and I need to do more research on that -- I think I'm being a little too lenient in how I'm letting the PCs use those). So the Sorcerer, the cleric, and one of the rogues immediately attacked the ogre who was still lying on his furs. They injured it, but not nearly enough.

...And then we stopped for ice cream and cake, and after that a walk around the block. So when we pick up again, everybody needs to roll initiative as we begin fighting the ogres. (And I should handle the Dwarf until we get them back out of the dungeon.)

Meanwhile, by my count, the party has a shared treasure of 161 GP after the last session. They also have:
-Six daggers (from last game)
-Two Javelins (ditto)
-A Bronze Shortsword (spider room, claimed by the Barbarian)
-five shortswords (this game, the kobolds)
-five more javelins (ditto)
-another 38 GP (kobolds)
-another 45 GP (kobold sorcerer)
-a silver dagger, which they're keeping for equipment - currently held by the Dwarf.
-a small bag of herbs which smell delicious (also kobold sorcerer)
-A ruby worth 150 GP which they have tied around the neck of the cat statue using the sorcerer's handkerchief because they think it's part of some sort of puzzle.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Dwarven Diplomacy

"You truly intend to take him with you on a diplomatic mission to the Dwarves?" Hirethal Moonshadow looked baffled and affronted. "The boy could ruin everything."

Baethira Anthelorn regarded her once-husband with amused patience. "He will not. The dwarves value strength, and our son is strong."

"Our son is damaged," snapped Hirethal, then stopped abruptly as though surprised to have said the words aloud.

Baethira's amusement vanished. "Our sons -- both of them -- are fine."

"Darvinin is fine. He knows what he wants, and he's on the path to get it. His brother, by contrast, lives mostly alone among the trees, chooses his clothes in defiance of all propriety, and accepts no teaching from anyone. For the love of Corellan, he won't even choose an adult name -- and he refuses to answer to the name we gave him in childhood."

"Hirethal Moonshadow," said Baethira, standing up from the elegantly decorated chair where she'd been looking through her spellbook. She paused, taking a deep breath, then continued: "I have no desire to sit in judgement on my own child, and neither should you. I know your work with the council keeps you busy, so permit me to educate you on a few matters that may help lessen this... embarrassment of yours.

"Yes: the younger twin keeps to himself and lives rough among the trees. But I seem to recall someone telling me he once spent three years without speaking to anyone, do I not?"

Hirethal stiffened. "That was different. I was training as a ranger."

Baethira tilted her head. "You were angry at your parents for trying to get you to consort with Caliphira. And our son is close to his brother and the others of the Rebirth, as well as many of the grey elves and thinbloods. It only doesn't seem so because he isolates himself from his elders..." She paused to draw breath, but Hirethal remained silent. "...Including us."

"He has no mentor or trainer; this is true. But Darvinin considers his twin formidable, and given who he studies under I would hesitate to dismiss that. To be self-taught is not always to be poorly taught. And as for names, well: if you wish to know what to call him, you have only to ask. He uses Ruin more often than anything else. This is not so great a burden for us to bear." She paused, then added: "Though I'll grant you that his clothing is flamboyant."

Hirethal sighed. "No, I suppose it is not such a burden. At least we still have him. And I am not embarrassed by him -- I'm worried for him. Though what you've said does reassure me."

"That," said Baethira, "is good to hear. Because there's one other thing you should know about our younger son: he's standing right behind you."

Hirethal spun around as Ruin unfoldered himself from where he'd been leaning against the elegantly-carved door frame. "Father," he said.

"How fare you, my son?"

"You may call me Ruin, if you wish. And I am well, on the whole."

"On the whole?"

"The True King has returned, the humans raise armies to deny us any chance at freedom or self-rule, those of our blood are being murdered or tortured as we speak, and you were not wholly wrong: I am damaged. But I will find my own way back out of that. Meanwhile I am healthy, and intrigued by the task that Mother has asked me to assist with. So: I am well, on the whole."

"That is good to hear," said Hirethal, still looking a little stunned.

"I came to tell you, mother, that I am packed and ready for the journey."

"Thank you. Will we see you at dinner?"

"As you wish." Ruin's mouth quirked just slightly, and Baethira thought, It won't be quite so awkward as you think, my son. She watched as he turned and left the room again.

Hirethal was still staring after him. "He snuck up on me. He snuck up on me."

"Formidable," she reminded him.

"...More than I'd thought, anyway." Hirethal's expression was oddly blank -- Caught between relief and embarrassment, she thought.

"I know you want pass on our traditions, but his cousins can carry that burden. He must find his own way."

For a long moment, Hirethal looked thoughtful. "If he's so set on remaining apart from the elders, how did you convince him to come with you?"

Baethira gave a small shrug. "I went out into the forest and asked him." She set her spellbook on the table, then moved to kiss her once-husband on the cheek. He was slightly shorter than she was, but broader through the shoulders, and his scent was as pleasant as always. "Now, if you'll forgive me, I need to lay out instructions for the apprentices, and give the garden a last looking-over."

"Take care of your apprentices," said Hirethal gruffly. "I'll go and look over the garden." He kissed her twice, once on each cheek. "It will give me some time to think."

Notes: True Elves are immortal, or near enough, so I'm working out a theory about how marriage works for them -- I don't think this campaign really has a canon on the topic, and in any case it could always vary from area to area and relationship to relationship. Hirethal is Baethira's "once-husband" because they have lived out the length of their marriage by raising their children to adulthood. At this point it would be possible for them to renew the marriage (perhaps having other children), consider marriages with other people, or remain solitary for a time. There's an entire etiquette for once-spouses, who -- assuming the marriage ended amicably -- are essentially considered close family members even if their once-spouse has remarried.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Consideration and Travel

"And what should I call you, my twin?"

"Consideration," said the younger of the twins, as he regarded his brother. Darvinin had just entered the clearing, the double-scimitar of a True Elf on his back, his movements graceful and confident. He was not yet a master of either spell or blade, but he used them both -- separately or together.

"As you wish."

Consideration gestured at the assembled pile of wood, and Darvinin chuckled and set it afire with a soft word and a gesture. "Werendril and Sherra have gone," he said, and seated himself beside the fire.

"I know," said Consideration, and sat down across from him. "Sherra was headed deeper into Duendewood to teach. Werendril was headed out to the border again, to help see the refugees in."

"You saw them off, then. I wasn't sure you'd had a chance."

"Because I keep to myself so much? I'm not as isolated as all that."

Darvinin nodded slowly. "Understand me when I say that I'm relieved to hear it."

Consideration looked down at the flames. "And you?"

There was a long pause. "I've been assigned to protect the true king," Darvinin said finally.

Consideration looked back up and met his twin's eyes. "Congratulations. That is quite an honor."

"Well," said Darvinin, "It's not like I'll be in command. I'm one guard among two-score. But it is an honor."

He looked worried, and Consideration chuckled to relieve his concerns. "It is well, O my brother. I know that will take you away from here, but we are all drifting apart. And a position as a King's Guard suits your skills and your temperament."

"What of you?" asked Darvinin. "Will you just wait until it comes to war, if it truly does?"

Consideration shook his head. "Mother has asked me to come with her when she goes to petition the Dwarves for an alliance."

"Oh." Darvinin looked startled, then thoughtful. "That is... a good choice. You can show them that not all elves are frail, that we stand ready to fight. Yes, the more I think about that, the more I like it."

Consideration smiled at his brother. "Well, I doubt I'll be drinking any Dwarves under the table, but I can at least give them a decent contest."

"Fair," said Darvinin. "Still, keep your eyes open. The elders may think you're a savage, but the children of the Rebirth know better. You're sharp. Learn what you can of the Dwarves while you're there; you never know what might prove useful."

"I will." Consideration met his twin brother's eyes calmly. "And I'll keep an eye on Mother, too."

Darvinin chuckled at that. Their mother was a wizard, old and powerful, but curious and easily distracted and not -- in either of their opinions -- nearly cautious enough. He rose to leave, then paused. "And Consideration? What happened to our sister was not your fault."

"I know." Consideration looked away, closing his eyes for a brief moment. "But it changes nothing."

Monday, June 3, 2019

Ruin and Werendril

"How bad is it?" asked the elf who was currently calling himself Ruin.

"It is... I'd like to tell you that it varies, and that is true. But among those who come to us, the lesser elves and even those with obvious human blood, it varies from those who left as a precaution to those who escaped from imprisonment and torture. I have not seen many of those, but if their stories are true then it is not because most don't receive such treatment. It's only that most don't escape it. The word from the capital is... horrific." Werendril looked away, eyes squeezed tight; Ruin thought he might be fighting back tears.

Ruin nodded slowly. He wished he could be surprised by such cruelty, but the cruelty was no accident. Indeed, it seemed to be the goal of much of what the Humans did. "I hoped it would be otherwise."

Werendril shook his head. "No." He looked back at Ruin for a long moment, weighing him.

Then he said: "Killing comes easy to you. I never understood that about you, but I knew it was true."

Ruin considered that. He'd never really thought about it; he'd just done it when he needed to. Easy or hard seemed beside the point, which probably meant that Werendril was right.

His cousin read the answer from Ruin's face; he nodded. "I understand it now," he said miserably. "When I first took my oaths, I just wanted to help people. I wanted to protect; I wanted to heal. Even with practice weapons, they had to drill me over and over to truly strike, to make my blades connect. The trainers despaired of me, said if I ever got into battle a half-trained Orc could finish me off -- because it would actually be trying to kill me."

Ruin nodded. He could almost imagine what that might be like, but then his first combat had been against humans and had happened in a haze of red. It was only later that he'd really begun training, and by then the lesson was deep in his nerves and muscles: power and direction, direction and power. All the power in the world was no good if you couldn't connect with it, and all the technique in the world was wasted if you couldn't deliver damage. "How many?" he asked.

Werendril knew exactly what he meant by the question. "Only three, so far." He offered a bitter grin. "But you would be proud of me, cousin: I struck, and I struck to kill, and each of them fell. And each time, I held to my honor."

"Then I am proud of you, O my cousin." Ruin put a hand on his cousin's shoulder. "I'm no diviner, but I think in the days to come we will need both the will to fight and the strength to hold to our honor."

Werendril was silent for a long moment; then he reached over and placed a hand on Ruin's shoulder. "Thank you, cousin. That... felt more like an absolution than I've received from anyone in the Order so far."