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.


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.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Music: Glory Be

The band is Coyote Grace. This is a bit more laid-back than most of the music I post, but I like it:

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Blogging Challenge: Fictional Worlds I'd Like To Visit

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 "Fictional worlds I'd like to visit," which (under the right circumstances) is most of them.

Several, of course, are worlds that I've created. That's pretty much why I write, in fact: so I can visit all the really cool places in my head. Well, that and because writing is cheaper than therapy. I don't usually name my worlds, since most of my characters just think of their surroundings as "the world", but...

There's a dark-fantasy setting which is characterized by three things:
-Magic actually works, if you speak its language.
-There are naturally-occurring (we think) portals to other worlds from there; magic does not exist in those.
-The sky has its own ecology, with predators and prey and scavengers, just as the land and the sea do.

There's a more classic high-fantasy world which is currently in the process of recovering from the recent defeat of the Dark Lord and his armies of monsters.
-Large sections of the world have reverted to wilderness.
-The war left behind all sorts of ruins, along with stray bits of magic and monsters.
-The monsters who made up the Dark Lord's armies were suddenly freed from his control when he died, and now have to figure out what to do next.
-The last survivor of the group of heroes that killed the Dark Lord is still roaming around the countryside with a bad case of survivor's guilt.

Then, of course, there's a variety of Dungeons and Dragons campaigns that I'm involved in, one way or another.

But there are plenty of worlds from other people's fiction that I'd love to visit, too. I've already talked about some of them, so let's look at a few that I haven't mentioned:

The Land of Pell, setting for the delightful Kill The Farm Boy, No Country For Old Gnomes, and The Princess Beard is a delightful and absurd place in which no classic fantasy trope escapes unscathed, and I'd love to visit it.

Hogwarts, of course, because even as a Muggle that would be pretty awesome -- and also because if you're visiting Hogwarts then you're not actually a Muggle pretty much by definition, and I'd love to be a wizard.

Arawiya, the setting for We Hunt The Flame. Yes, it's a land under a curse, but the various realms within it are fascinating, and there's a decent chance that the heroes might actually manage to lift the curse and restore magic to the land.

Camp Half-Blood, one of the chief settings for Percy Jackson and the Olympians, because who wouldn't like to be a demigod? Intriguing as it is in the Rick Riordan books, though, I think I'd actually prefer my friend Ana Mardoll's version.

Lastly... I'm not sure it has a particular name, but I adore the gothic Russian-folktale quality of Emily Duncan's Something Dark and Holy books. It's a dangerous place, but I'd love to visit it.

So there are my votes for this week's challenge. What are yours?

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

A Crisis on the Logging Road

As usual after an expedition into the dungeons of the mad mage, Lord Aldenmier gave the players some time to relax and recover. They put it to good use, healing wounds and recharging spells, and meeting with the proprietor of the local magic shop. Lord Aldenmier had called in some sort of favor for him, making available a variety of magical items at 100 gp each -- well below their actual value.

The monk arranged to have his sword enchanted. The dark elf rogue acquired Slippers of Spider Climbing. The cleric swapped their plate mail for a set of mithril plate, keeping their protection but substantially improving their ability to move quickly and quietly. The Dragonborn Sorcerer claimed a Jug of Alchemy, which ought to prove useful in a variety of circumstances. The Halfling rogue... we're not sure yet. The cleric's player has made a couple of suggestions, but we haven't been able to connect with the halfling rogue's player to ask him about it.

We did, however, get Skype working for the cleric's player, so we had a quorum this session.

During this time, the Dwarf announced that she'd left home because she was tired of being underground all the time, and Lord Aldenmier decided that he could find other work for her and released her from her banner contract.

A couple of days later, Lord Aldenmier joined them at dinner. He had, he said, a new proposal for them. He had invested in a logging expedition on some lands he had acquired, and currently had a team out there cutting a road into the trees (and hauling out some lumber for sale in the meantime). The team itself seemed to be fine, but they kept losing horses - about one every other day. Since it was not part of their banner contracts, they would keep any loot they found -- but since he didn't expect them to find much out in the wilderness, he would also make it worth their while (depending on what they found and how hard it was to deal with). The group decided that Lord Aldenmier had been honorable so far, and accepted.

Two days later, in the company of a pair of carts (each led by one of Aldenmier's guards) they found themselves approaching a bridge. Just in front of the bridge was a group of four human bandits, led by a half-elf. The bandits attacked immediately.

Firstborn's Dragonborn sorcerer was in front; he stepped up, cast Burning Hands, and took down two of them. Shadow took a shot with his crossbow, but missed; but then, he was at the back of the group, behind the carts, and a pretty good distance off. The monk had slipped under the larger cart when he first saw the bandits, and was hanging on its botttom; he decided to emerge, and annoy them by playing cymbals as he advanced into attack range. The Halfling rogue (who was being played by the Monk's player, since we couldn't get ahold of his actual player) took a longbow shot at another bandit and wounded him.

At this point, the remaining two bandits fired their crossbows at the sorcerer, doing considerable damage. Their leader tried to cast a spell, but instead of a nasty bit of lightning he stumbled back, cursing and shaking out his fingers. (Critical fail on his attack role.) The cleric went last, casting a spell at the wounded bandit - who managed to shake it off.

The dragonborn sorcerer suddenly remembered that he wasn't a front-line fighter, and retreated behind the larger cart. From there, he tagged the spellcaster with a bit of poison damage, but not nearly enough to take him down. Shadow tried again with his crossbow, and this time took out the wounded bandit, leaving only the spellcasting leader and one henchman. The monk decided that the spellcaster had no business being on the bridge, and tried to throw the bandit leader into the stream; unfortunately, he slipped just as he started to grab the guy, and wound up in the water himself instead. (Sometimes critical fails are catastrophic, but sometimes they're just Vaudeville.)

The cleric switched over to her crossbow, and put bolts in both of the remaining bandits, taking them out.

The group continued on, and early the following afternoon arrived in the camp, where they found a fist-fight in progress; a woman and man were squaring off, while a gnome and several other men and women watched them.

The pair stopped at the party's arrival, shook hands, and came strolling over. One of the other men bent down and said something to the gnome, who waved him away with a talk-about-it-later gesture.

At this point, a man in purple robes came strolling out of one of the larger, nicer tents at the back of the camp. A longsword was floating along behind him, bouncing here and there at his heels. He introduced himself as Bobilis, the man in charge of the expedition -- at least, the one in charge of making sure they were following the map and logging the right sorts of trees and like that. The woman who'd been about to get into the fistfight was Katra, who was in charge of the workers -- both making sure they worked, and making sure they were working safely. The gnome turned out be named Jou (Joe); he was responsible for tools and equipment: mending, sharpening, repairing and suchlike.

A single horse was grazing in one corner of the camp; apparently that was all they had left.

The sorcerer immediately asked Bobilis about the sword. He explained that several years ago, on another logging expedition, he'd stumbled across some old ruins and found the sword on some sort of altar inside. Curious, he touched it... and it rose up as if held by invisible hands, then made a slow circle around him, and then just sat there, bobbing in the air. When he left, it went with him, and it's been with him ever since. While he spoke, the sword made a quick circle of the nearest members of the group, then settled back beside Bobilis' feet.

Neither the sorcerer nor the cleric could think of any bit of history that involved floating swords, though the thing was obviously magical and appeared self-willed. The dragonborn sorcerer decided that it was cute little sword-boy, and they moved on. The monk tried to ask the horse about what was going on, but the horse only snorted and went back to grazing. The Mousefolk Cleric can, by virtue of being mousefolk, communicate with small woodland critters -- but she couldn't immediately locate any around the camp.

So, with the logging camp introduced, the group decided that their best plan was to stand guard over the remaining horse tonight and see if they could figure out what was happening and stop it. The loggers began unloading the carts, and the characters settled in to rest and make ready.

The party spent 500 GP on magic items, leaving them with a total of 221 GP and 15 SP.
Searching the bodies of the bandits also yielded:
-A quarterstaff
-4 shortswords
-4 light crossbows
-78 crossbow bolts, which the cleric claimed for future use.
-25 GP

So their total is 246 GP and 15 SP, plus some weapons they can probably sell when they get back to town.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Why did he have to use snakes?

"You're back!" cried Torea, as the paladin Alein staggered back into the temple of Helios. "I was so worried!"

Alein embraced her apprentice, then turned back to her rescuers. "Come in, my friends. Come in and make yourselves at home. You might as well rest here tonight."

Ruin reached out to touch Marshall Mercy on the shoulder as Martini and Azrael stepped into the building. He'd been thinking, and now he had questions. This human priest had been better company than he'd expected: willingly fighting as part of the group; healing the others, including himself; and generally behaving as just another member of their odd little band. He'd even gotten them answers from the wererat. Still...

"The wererat leader, Squim." Ruin looked at Mercy, who nodded. "He was awfully sick when we found him. Almost like he'd been poisoned."

"Indeed he was," agreed the priest in his slow, drawling accent. "Awfully sick."

"You didn't actually cure him of the poison, did you?" Ruin was certain of it now. "You let him walk away thinking that he was cured, while the poison was... what? Delayed?"

"Well, yes," said Mercy in that same slow drawl. "I suppose I did."

He seemed to be looking for a response, but all Ruin could come up with was: "Huh." He motioned for Mercy to go on into the temple, and the priest inclined his head and went inside. After a moment, Ruin chuckled. Then he followed, closing the door behind them. Mercy had stopped a couple of steps into the room; the apprentice paladin Torea had thrown her arms around him and was thanking him volubly for rescuing her mentor.

After a moment Torea released the cleric and turned her delighted smile towards Ruin.

He took a half-step back and held up a hand. "I'm just here to kill things." So, he supposed, was Marshall Mercy... but the cleric seemed to do his killing in the service of his peculiar sort of faith in Artemis, rather than with the goal of subjugating anybody who wasn't human. And if so, I can live with that... He still wasn't sure he entirely trusted the human cleric, but at the very least he didn't need to have his guard up all the time around him.

...And probably not around this human apprentice paladin either, he supposed, as he watched her expression collapse. "I'm sorry," he said. "I am glad we could help. It's just... been a very long day, with a lot of otherworldly horrors."

She brightened, but at least she didn't step forward and try to embrace him. "Oh. I understand completely. Come on, let's get you settled. Do you want food, or rest, or...?"

Unsure of what her vows to Helios permitted, Ruin settled for asking: "Are we allowed to have beer in the temple?"

Friday, July 12, 2019

Post-Apocalyptic Time Travel dreams

I woke in the middle of a dream where I'd met a young woman (who either was, or was played by, Kirsten Dunst). It was set in some sort of post-apocalyptic future where nomadic family groups roamed the plains, so it was always a bit festive when two groups came together. Her father had set up a sort of small shelter by draping a tarp over one side of a bush, creating a little cave-like space underneath.

So we're lying there, enjoying not being out in the open for once, and she's showing me this odd little medallion she wears - basically round and flat, but with a couple of upraised curved bars sweeping across the face of it... and a couple of what look like tiny little cybernetic spiders that apparently live on it. (Ever been flirted with by tiny little cybernetic spiders? It's weird. Especially since they obviously don't talk.)

Anyway, somewhere in the course of looking this thing over, I get a weird flashback scene of decisions made and decisions not made and then a sort of still frame and dissolve -- and by dissolve, I mean "everything turns to dust and blows away" -- and I'm suddenly very sure that if we could just figure how the amulet works, we could put everything back the way it's supposed to be.

That was, unfortunately, the moment that the alarm went off, and while I remember thinking "Holy Hell, that's detailed enough to build a whole movie around," I wasn't able to get back into the dream afterwards. Eh, c'est la guerre...

Thursday, July 11, 2019

The Blessed One must fall

So I came back from the Dungeons and Dragons game at 11:00 p.m. and the entire house was still awake. Beautiful Wife was awake. The thirteen-year-old was awake. The nine-year-old was awake.

I am so, so tired now.


Picking up on our last game, we basically have two leads: a bookstore somewhere in the Westhill district, and the apparent murder scenes in Southspur.

Before that, though, we needed to head off to a nearby temple of Helios to get some cures. In addition to the more ordinary diseases acquired from being attacked by dire rats, our cleric had been bitten by a wererat and potentially infected with lycanthropy. It was just a bit after midday when we emerged from the (smoldering, corpse-filled) bell tower, so getting directions to the temple wasn't hard.

The temple itself, though, was hidden behind a wall of unnatural fog, which Azrael (the wizard) recognized as Obscuring Mist. Also, someone in the mist was screaming. Ruin charged right in (did I mention he has no sense of self-preservation?) and the others followed, though the cleric (Marshall Mercy) stumbled onto the door to the temple and went inside while everyone else followed the screams around one side of the building. Ruin (with his barbarian movement speed) came around the back of the building and practically ran into a pair of robed figures trying to carry off a paralyzed paladin. The abductors were so startled that they dropped the paladin; Ruin was so startled that all he did was demand: "What are you doing???" They hissed at him in reply, which wasn't creepy or ominous at al.

That was where the first bit of fighting started. With Ruin right on top of them and their reckoning completely thrown off, both of the robed figures failed to cast their spells. Azrael arrived behind Ruin, and tagged one of them with scorching ray. Martini, our elegant would-be assassin, moved to position herself, and Ruin finished drawing his sword and promptly beheaded the wounded spellcaster. The remaining caster hit him with an acid arrow, but is startled when Marshall Mercy emerges from the back of the temple practically on top of him. He dies in surprise and bewilderment, stabbed from behind by Martini.

The paladin woke up as we were checking her over. She was a human woman, large and strong, and she was deeply concerned that Alein, her mentor and the head of the temple, had been kidnapped. She's merely an apprentice, and her name is Torea.

Reverend Mercy steps in with Cure Minor Wounds and his bag of snakes: the second kidnapper isn't quite dead yet, so he pulls him back to Just Barely Alive and tries to question him. It... doesn't work: "When the Gates swing wide, the world will fall into the void!" Mercy starts his spiel, holding his poisonous snake, but the cultist keeps ranting: "The bells toll to ring the end of time! The Blessed hears the voice of the Speaker in the Dream! The Blessed leads me in praise of the ones outside, the ones who will come!" In the midst of this, he reaches up and grabs the snake, wrenches it out of the cleric's hand, and manages to bite its head off.

Reverend Mercy is furious. Like, Rambo escaping from the police furious. John Wick regarding his dead dog furious. The Bride waking up in the hospital furious. He kills the cultist, but... Yeah, no, that isn't going to satisfy him.

The apprentice paladin does provide some help, in the form of a bit of wolfsbane which the cleric eats to try to fend off lycanthropy. She also recruits one of the local urchins to fetch us a meal of hand pies from one of the local carts, since the group is worn out and the spellcasters, in particular, need a proper sleep to recharge. Ruin tips the child generously, mostly because, well, food. Ruin is definitely not a big old softy when it comes to children.

By the time everybody is done resting, it's well into the night. (About 10:30.) Reverend Mercy uses some of Alein's possessions to scry for the paladin -- always scry for the paladin before walking into the magical trap -- and gets an image of her bound in the corner of a stone-walled room, guarded by two more robed cultists and an abomination of shifting flesh and sharp-toothed mouths: a gibbering mouther. The group sets out in search of the book store -- a guess, but a reasonably informed one. They leave the apprentice paladin behind, in case Alein somehow escapes and makes her way back to the temple. (And, well, also because she seemed pretty inexperienced.)

The Westhill district is really quiet, eerily so.

Then, as we're walking down the street, everything goes weird: shimmery, off-balance, out of focus. A horrible, otherworldly monster - like a slug with tentacles coming out of its mouth, but huge -- rises up out of the street and moves to attack us.

It's... slow. Embarrassingly slow. We could probably escape just by casually strolling off down the street in the other direction. But Ruin has no sense of self-preservation, and Mercy is out for blood, so of course we attack it instead.

Fortunately, it's not too hard to kill it. Unfortunately, it has very nearly killed and eaten Ruin by the time the others do kill it. (Ruin got a good hit in at the start, but then it got its tentacles on him and... it kind of went downhill from there.) Reverend Mercy delivered the final blow with the Fangs of Artem-hiss (his double-bladed scythe) just in time.

As the beast fell, the world sort of shimmered again and it vanished... but the citizens of Westhill began emerging from their houses, asking what had happened and why Alein hadn't shown up to help. Apparently she has something of a reputation in this area. The rest of us are carefully avoiding mentioning that Alein has been kidnapped when Reverend Mercy burst out with, "We're looking for some robed fellows who might have kidnapped the paladin just a few hours ago."

The robed fellows, it turns out, all hang around a local bookstore called the Reality Wrinkle. There's essentially no chance that this is not the place we're looking for. It's a three-story building with a basement, narrow, with a door at each end. The only windows on the ground floor are the ones in the doors; there are windows on either end of the building higher up. Reverend Mercy, still furious about his snake, sends the brother and sister Grey Elves (Martini, our rogue, and Azrael, our wizard) around to the back of the building. He and Ruin march up to the front door, intent on attracting as much attention as possible.

Mercy opens the (unlocked) door, but an older man quickly shuffles over, explains that they're closed, and shuts and locks it. Mercy pounds on the door until the guy opens a slot in it, then demands the book he ordered weeks ago. (He didn't. We've only been in town for three days, if that.) The old man shuffles off, and comes back with three books, reading off the titles. Mercy cries out at the middle one, and bluffs his way into getting the old man to hand it over. He passes it out through the slot in the door... and Ruin promptly grabs his arm and pulls, slamming him into the door.

Meanwhile, when Mercy first started pounding on the door and shouting, Martini started picking the lock on the back door. She and Azrael found themselves looking at the back of a pair of robed cultists, who were peeking through a doorway to see what was going on in the front of the bookshop. Martini lifts her bow and shoots one of them in the back. Azrael follows up with a magic missile and kills him. The other cultist spins around just as the bookseller is getting slammed into the front door.

The remaining cultist casts Acid Arrow at the rogue, but misses. Martini returns fire with her bow, but also misses. Her brother the wizard follows up with an acid sphere, doing minor damage. Mercy decides it's time to make his entrance, and rams his shoulder into the door without so much as budging it. Ruin promptly raises a foot and kicks it open, and with enemies on either side the final cultist falls.

There's a strange perception-warping effect in the building, but most of us manage to ignore it.

So we descend to the basement, and find an antechamber and a door. The cleric takes a moment to cast Shield of Faith and then to Bless the rest of the party, and then Azrael shoves a Stinking Cloud spell under the door.

The two cultists in the room come staggering out, straight into Ruin (fighter/barbarian) and Mercy (really, really angry priest of Artem-hiss). Martini moves into position behind them. They don't last long.

The Gibbering Mouther is another story. Ruin and Martini are immediately confused by its babbling, but fortunately they only end up babbling for a round themselves. Marshall Mercy and Azrael carry the attack, and the Mouther tries to attack Mercy. None of that has much effect, except that the Mouther keeps screwing up its attack and getting some of its mouths caught in Mercy's armor. It spits a bit of acid and manages to temporarily blind the cleric, but it doesn't make too much difference: by this point Ruin and Martini are back in the fight, and after a while we beat the thing down.

We loot the bodies while Azrael heads upstairs to check out the books. Each of the cultists had +1 bracers of armor, and the bookshop had a couple of books related to arcane knowledge. We untie the paladin, who is physically okay but obviously not all there mentally, and help her walk out of the bookstore.

Once outside, she's better. She doesn't know why she was kidnapped, just that she was hit over the head and woke up in that basement with the strange voices in her head and her captors talking about the Blessed and needing to go upstairs to consult with him. Yeah, that got everyone's attention.

The paladin assured us that she'd be all right if we left her outside the building, so Ruin handed his silvered greatsword off to her and we all trooped back in.

The second floor was empty: a small table where two cultists had been playing cards until they'd gone downstairs and gotten killed, and a couple of small and very plain bedrooms where they probably slept. Martini, however, heard movement further up and alerted the cleric.

He led us up the next set of stairs, to another landing with a door back to a single room. Marshall Mercy opened the door, seeing a single robed cultist waiting for us. Marshall walks up and gets in his personal space. The cultist steps back, and hits the cleric with a magic missile.

Ruin moves in and notices another figure clinging to the ceiling like something out of a Japanese horror movie. He changes directions and tries to stab it, but his blade slides off some sort of magical protection. This cultist, still scrabbling across the ceiling, retreats to the corner and casts a spell. Another of the tentacle-slug abominations appears out on the landing by the stairs.

Marshall Mercy steps in and takes down the obvious cultist (the one standing on the floor) with his scythe). Ruin crits and takes out Ceiling Mage, who falls to the floor in a lump of deadness.

Martini suggests closing the door and waiting until the summoned abomination has dispersed, but... naw. Mercy is homicidally furious, and Ruin has no sense of self-preservation. (Have I mentioned this before?) We beat it down instead.

Looting the bodies yielded a +1 Morning Star (which Ruin promptly claimed, in case we run into anything that required bludgeoning to get past its damage resistance: part of the reason it took us so long to defeat the Gibbering Mouther was that we were beating it down with table legs and the like) a potion of Cure Light Wounds (always useful), a wand of Magic Missile (5th level, with 17 charges), a ring of protection +1 and slippers of spider climb. (I'm thinking the rogue should keep those.)

The paladin Alein staggers in at that point, still holding Ruin's sword, and pronounces: "You did it. You killed the blessed one..."

We hustle her back out of the building, which has lost a lot of its weird shimmeriness, and head back to the temple... but not before a crowd of the townsfolk gather to follow us. Alein puts us up at the temple, and in the morning alerts us to the fact that the townsfolk want to throw us a banquet -- as it happens, this would take place just before the Baron give his speech. So we're not only successful, we're popular... which is going to have some interesting implications.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Weekly Blogging Challenge: Favorite Authors in X Genre

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 Authors in X Genre. Since my fiction reading is a mix of Fantasy, Speculative Fiction, and Horror (along with a smattering of Romance), and since those are all genres that tend to get a little blurry at their borders I'm just going to sort of jump in.

First up, I suppose, are authors I recommend fairly regularly:
-Martha Wells, in particular Murderbot (SF) and Books of the Raksura (Fantasy), but honestly anything she writes is going to be worth reading.
-Lilith Saintcrow, who works mostly in SF and Fantasy and interesting blends thereof, but actually has books in a wide variety of genres and flavors.
-Roger Zelazny, who again worked mostly in SF and Fantasy. ("I'm writing a philosophical romance shot through with elements of horror and morbidity," he says, when one of his characters accidentally stumbles across him in the basement of the castle at the heart of the worlds.)

But since I've recommended them (or at least mentioned them as influences) before, how about some that I don't talk about nearly so much?
-L.E. Modesitt Jr. writes in Fantasy, Science Fiction, and some worlds that partake of both. I'm currently working my way back through his justly-popular Recluse series, which combine elements of social and political commentary, discussion of economics and various crafts (Order-mages generally have to make a living in a trade, so his characters are carpenters and blacksmiths and coopers as often as warriors of great renown) with some good old escapist male power fantasy.
-Neil Gaiman, whom I originally discovered through the Sandman comics; he co-wrote Good Omens (the video version of which is currently -- and rightly -- getting a lot of attention on Amazon Prime), and has a number of fairly well-known books and shows (Neverwhere, American Gods, Stardust).
-Spider Robinson, probably best known for his Callahan's stories, but always a reliable source of thoughtful, hopeful Science Fiction.
-Clive Barker is... I don't think I can overstate the profound effect that Cabal had on me and a number of my friends, and of course he has plenty of other eerie and enchanting works.
-Jennifer Crusie is still my primary romance author - the one whose books I go back to and periodically re-read.
-Emma Bull, while not as prolific as some of the writers on this list, has written some really great stuff; War For The Oaks is probably the genesis of the entire Urban Fantasy genre (and well worth the read, especially if you're fond of eighties music).
-Alan Dean Foster on the other hand is hugely prolific, writing novelizations (Alien, Aliens, The Abyss) as well as projects entirely his own (the Flinx and Pip books, the Spellsinger books, and various stand-alones and short stories).

...That's a full Top Ten List worth of authors, so I really ought to stop there, but I just thought of one more:
-Steven Brust, probably best known for his Jhereg books, but with a number of stand-alone projects as well (including among them one of the most interesting vampire books I've read).

Right, yes, I think that covers it now.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

In Which We Finally Leave The Dungeon

We were a lot shorter on players this week than I expected: Firstborn and Olderfriend (who plays the Monk) were both here, and Secondborn started the game with us before leaving for a playdate with one of his friends. The other two players had hoped to Skype in for the game, but that didn't work out; I'm not sure what happened there, although Microsoft locking my Skype account for "suspicious activity" might have had something do with it. (What activity? I created it two weeks ago, tested it out, and didn't touch it again until today. Microsoft is a pain the ass.)

They finished beating down the scorpions (fairly efficiently, though I'll note that the encounter was still pretty close; victory was by no means assured). They then decided that they'd spent more than enough time in this dungeon for one expedition, and turned and left.

The found Lord Aldenmier waiting for them just outside the dungeon, and deep in conversation with a woman whom he introduced as Lady Narolo of House Narolo, patron of the Shadow Blades company. Aldenmier reclaimed the banner of the Ivory Scimitars, and the group departed to sell off their captured equipment and divide up the treasure. On the way back, Lord Aldenmier explained that Lady Narolo was a relative newcomer to Roslof Keep, having arrived a few month back, established a House, and recruited a company. The Shadow Blades are the newest banner company except for the players.

Back at the manor, the Sheriff returned to tell the group that the nameless assassin who tried to kill the dragonborn sorcerer was still refusing to give a name or say who hired him (or admit that he was hired, even). However, his description tied him to a number of other killings in nearby cities, and there was a reward pooled from the families of several of his victims.

The reward for capturing the assassin was 500 gp, and since it came of what Aldenmier called "extracurricular activities", he has turned the entirety of it over to them.

By my count the party has now accumulated a shared chest of 661 GP. They also have:
-Six daggers (from a few games back), sold for 6gp
-Two Javelins (ditto), sold for 5 SP
-A Bronze Shortsword (spider room, claimed by the Barbarian) sold for 3gp
-five shortswords (earlier game, the kobolds) sold for 25 gp
-five more javelins (ditto) sold for 25 SP
-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) which they haven't figured how or whether to sell.
-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. They have refused to sell this.
-a Greataxe, currently in use by the barbarian, but sold for 10gp.
-hide armor (from the orc) sold for 5gp

That's 132 GP and 30 SP, of which half goes to Aldenmier; so the party adds 66 GP and 15 SP to their total, bringing them to 721 GP and 15 SP.

OOC: the Dwarf Barbarian Jak was created for my niece to play as a one-time event. However, there's always the possibility that she'll come back through town. So, Jak will continue as an NPC in Lord Aldenmier's service, but not as part of the banner company. This brings us back to our original five characters (with me running Secondborn's Drow Rogue when he gets distracted or is busy elsewhere).

I am somewhat relieved by this, but Olderfriend (who plays the monk, and is actually younger than anybody in the group except Secondborn -- the name refers to his presence at another, earlier game) pointed out that he feels like they're reaching the parts of the dungeon where the monsters are tougher and they really need to level up again. Alternatively, with the Dwarf leaving the party, he'd like to draw up a second character -- his monk's long-lost twin brother -- and play both of them at once.

I'm thinking about this. He's not wrong about the challenges getting tougher - the scorpions very nearly finished the cleric last game, and landed some pretty noteworthy hits this game; fortunately, the monk had used his Ki to make himself considerably harder to hit. And there's at least one encounter coming up where I'm pretty sure they're just going to be outmatched, and if they stumble into that one before they've leveled up, well... Total Party Kill is not impossible.

I don't have it in me to keep up with experience points, so I've been doing a Benchmark approach to gaining levels. The first full venture into and out of the dungeon was enough to get them to level 2. There's another encounter here on the first level which will allow them to level up again if they complete it. Figuring out how to get down to the second level of the dungeon would be worth another character-level advancement. Actually clearing this whole level and advancing to the next would be worth another. That said, they really do need level up at least one more time before they hit the boss battle for this level, and at this point there's nothing to stop them from stumbling into it unprepared before that happens.

For the moment, I'm using a stop-gap: Lord Aldenmier has called in a favor from the wizardly owner of the local magical supply store. For 100 GP, each character may apply a +1 bonus to one weapon or set of armor, or may purchase one common or uncommon magic item. (This is rather cheaper than it really should be, which is why I set it up as Aldenmier calling in a favor: the stuff won't be this cheap again, and 5e treats magic items as quite rare and special. But they need some kind of edge, and I think this will help.) So far, the Monk had his shortsword enchanted (eminently sensible) and Firstborn delighted me by selecting an Alchemy Jug for his dragonborn sorcerer. Used creatively, I think it could come in quite handy.

Olderfriend has also mentioned that he looks forward to finishing this dungeon and exploring the larger world. That's not going to happen for a while -- the dungeon is central to this campaign -- but I think I might have Aldenmier send them out into the wilderness on a non-dungeon emergency next game. I'll have to think about how that works, but... House Aldenmier has been in decline for some years now, and while it has a perfectly sound contingent of guards and wards, Lord Aldenmier doesn't have a lot of spare resources to deal with unexpected threats to any trading concerns or other investments that he might have. Offering the PCs a special deal for their help with such a situation would not be out of character.

I wonder if there are any good 5e modules set in, say, a logging camp...?

Monday, July 8, 2019

Bohemian Gravity

Right, so courtesy of a musical physics geek, an A Capella cover of Bohemian Rhapsody on the topic of String Theory:

If you're wondering, I understand less than half of this.

Friday, July 5, 2019

The Prisoners at the Edge of the Forest

Got to thinking about what a True Elf Paladin might be like in this campaign, especially one who worships Corellan Larethian. Paladins in Fifth Edition are actually pretty awesome, but paladins in 3.5 are...lacking in range. They're heavily-armored, mounted melee fighters with a few perks and backup abilities that require medium-to-high scores in a number of different attributes, and probably the most tightly-restricted by DnD's already-problematic Alignment system. Which means that they fit perfectly well as holy warriors in the service of, say, Helios (Lawful good, conquest-oriented sun god, mainly worshipped by humans in this campaign) but not so well for, well, anyone else.

So what would a paladin of Corellan look like? Well...

Werendril reined up atop the hill just above the village. The troop behind him pulled up as well, battle-trained horses stopping without noise or fuss.

Endonis, the senior paladin and his sponsor in the Order, cantered up beside him and then drew rein. "What is it?"

"A feeling," answered Werendril. "A word from my friend, before we parted ways."

"And what do you feel?"

Werendril looked down at the village. "It's too quiet. Even for near-dark, it's... shuttered."

The village was built at a crossroads, not far outside of Duendewood. A handful of Gray Elves had passed through a day earlier, and arrived with the report that other elves had called softly to them for aid. The group had been unarmed, and hadn't felt themselves able to help, but they'd passed word to the Order. Werendril and his master had been there to accept the call.

"And this word from your friend, the savage?"

Do not speak of him so. Werendril kept the thought to himself. "That the humans want a war. That they cannot accept the idea of Elvish rule. That they will betray us at every turn... or try to lure us into betraying ourselves."

According to the report, the prisoners were being kept in the back of the keep at the north end of the town. That was doubly dangerous: not only was the keep fortified and patrolled, it was home to the local governor. A direct attack could be construed as an attack on the King's servant. If the humans were looking for an excuse to start a war -- and Ruin, at least, seemed certain that they were -- then that would be more than enough.

Endonis grunted, sounding surprised. "How will you proceed?"

"Scouts," called Werendril softly, and Bulinn and Adviaris nudged their horses forward. Bulinn was a thinblood, what humans and most others considered an elf, and an experienced warrior at home in the wilderness; Adviaris was part of the Rebirth, a True Elf, with less experience but considerable aptitude. Both wore leather armor shaded in greens and dark grays, and both wore the color-shifting elvish cloaks that would blend with anything. "You heard the briefing. We need confirmation. The Gray Elves that came through yesterday evening said they heard the cries for help from the keep, so if there's anyone in there they shouldn't be hard to find. Don't get too close, and don't get caught."

Adviaris nodded and Bulinn sniffed. "Best if we wait until full dark, ser. The moon's up, and we'll be able to see better than they can."

"Do so," said Werendril, and called softly back to the rest of his troop. "We make camp here behind the hill. Water the horses in turns at the stream, and set them to graze at the break. Leave your saddles in place; we might have to leave in a hurry."

Endonis nodded his approval and dismounted, leading his horse back down behind the hill and towards the stream.

* * *

Werendril was pacing the top of the hill when Bulinn finally returned, his wolf at his side. One moment, Werendril was looking out over the town; the next, the older tracker had melted out of the darkness beside him.

"Well," said Bulinn, "you were right to worry. There are elves in the keep, and something happened to Adviaris as well -- he was supposed to meet me by the keep, but he never came. I don't think he was captured -- there wasn't any sort of disturbance -- but the kid is reliable and now he's missing."

"That's because I was leading a family out," said Adviaris, emerging from the trees a few paces away. "My sincerest apologies, Bulinn. I was passing down an alley when a woman stepped out of her back gate to dump some waste into the gutter. Pure dumb luck, but she came out almost on top of me. And when she saw me she just sort of... stopped, and gestured me forward."

Other figures emerged from the woods behind him, slender and thin-faced, with light hair and pointed ears. "This is Amradil Lethlos and her family. The human family has been hiding them from the garrison for three weeks now, Corellan alone knows how or why."

Werendril nodded slowly. "Take them down to the camp. Bulinn, make sure nobody followed them here."

* * *

"So yes, it's absolutely a trap," said Werendril. He nodded to Adviaris, who stood beside the small, smokeless fire.

"According to the human woman, the king has soldiers hidden in half the houses in town. Officially, they're 'supplementing the garrison', but actually they're waiting until someone tries to free the prisoners. The moment the keep sounds the alarm bell, they all come pouring out and we have a full platoon between us and Duendewood."

Endonis, the senior paladin, nodded slowly and looked at Werendril.

"For tonight, we'll remain here. In the morning we send Amradil and her family on, and move back into the woods. Tomorrow night, we'll try to slip up to the keep and remove the prisoners without being seen." He turned to look at Shondrelle, the druid who had come in their company. "Do you think you can manage to pass them through a stone wall without the humans noticing?"

The druid smiled. "I had wondered why the lady gave me songs for the stones. Yes, I can do what you need."

* * *

They had to wait until well past midnight for the moon to set before they could approach the outer wall of the keep. The humans atop the walls carried lamps, but the light barely illuminated the wall-top. It didn't touch the ground below. Shondrelle spoke and gestured, and the wall melted away.

"Well, this is definitely the prison," Endonis whispered as a dozen elvish faces turned to look at them.

Keeping the prisoners quiet was the hardest part of the escape. Shondrelle restored the wall, shaping the stone back to closely resemble its former configuration, while the troopers guided the prisoners in a wide circle around the town. Werendril only had to intercede once, for a young woman with a broken ankle, and then they were gone. With any luck, it would be dawn before the escape was noticed, and well after that before they mounted any sort of search.

* * *

"They're behind us, ser." Bulinn's voice is certain as he slows his horse and falls in beside Werendril. "Coming fast."

"Are we within Duendewood?"

"Half a mile more, sir. They'll catch us before then."

Werendril considers as Endonis drops back to ride beside him. "We ford a stream not far ahead, don't we?"

Bulinn nods, and a faint smile teases the edge of his lips.

"Drop caltrops in it. Slow them down. And let me know the moment we're back inside our own lands."

* * *

The end comes closer than Werendril would have liked. They have only barely crossed the border when Adviaris comes riding up. "They're not far behind me, and they are pissed."

"The caltrops worked?" asks Werendril.

"The caltrops worked." Adviaris looks pleased. "There were three-score, but they lost nearly a dozen mounts."

"That's still easily three times what we have," Werendril growled. "Guardians! Turn your horses over to the refugees. Send them on to the camp. We'll set up an ambush here. We're outnumbered, so make every shot count."

* * *

The humans rode into Duendewood as if they owned the place, which they probably thought they did. The first wave of arrows slammed into them from nowhere, laming horses and dropping riders, causing the ones behind to bunch up into a crowd of easier targets. Another round of arrows followed, then another. Human warriors wheeled, looking for targets and mostly seeing none. One ducked down beside his mount and tried to race through the trap, but fell with an arrow through his shoulder. Another shrugged free from the mass of his fellows, shouting orders as his heavy steel armor shattered arrows or sent them spinning aside: "By Helios! Shields up! Find these infidels and finish them!"

More troops fell. Werendril dropped from the branch were he'd been lurking, laying his bow aside and drawing the distinctive Elvish double-scimitar from his back. Somewhere along the road Endonis would be doing the same, cutting off the escape of anyone who tried to retreat.

He stepped onto the road, and several of the troops suddenly turned their attention to him. Another wave of arrows cut most of them down, but the armored figured remained untouched atop his horse. "You!" his voice was clear even behind his visor. "I will cut you down, heathen! In the name of Helios!"

He spurred his horse forward, and Werendril waited. The long, straight sword was pointed towards him, the heavy shield raised to guard the human's torso. A faint aura, barely visible, suggested that the man was trying to bring some divine force to bear... another paladin, then. Werendril wasn't certain if he was pleased or disappointed. He only knew that he was watching the horse draw closer, watching the human ready his attack.

When the moment came, he dodged out to the side, kicked off into the air, and cut down behind the human's back as he passed. The horse caught the back end of the double-scimitar and stumbled, throwing its rider headfirst onto the road. Werendril stepped off the back of horse and landed on his feet, sliding briefly over the dirt at the side of the road. He walked calmly forward as the heavily-armored paladin rose to his feet, staggered, and collapsed.

Stepping forward, Werendril spun his double-scimitar between the hastily-upraised blade and the exposed neck. One blade forced the paladin's sword back; the other settled against his jugular. "These lands," Werendril said slowly, "are not yours to conquer." Then he completed the movement, sending the sword into the underbrush and beheading the paladin of Helios.

Ruin, he thought, had been right all along.

So that's what I've got - a Paladin of Corellan should have a Chaotic Good alignment requirement, and should not be proficient with heavy armor - light or medium only. Hide, Move Silently, and Tumble should be class skills.