Friday, August 30, 2019

An Unexpected Rescue

At the begininng of last session, we leveled up. This brought Ruin (finally) to the point where he has enough hit points to be the front-line fighter without nearly dying all the time. (Ruin was built using our DM's True Elf template, which has a -3 Level Adjustment, so while everybody else started with five levels worth of hit points, Ruin started with only two. The True Elf template includes both a Dexterity bonus and a dodge bonus, making him surprisingly hard to hit -- but almost anything that hit him could take him down, early on. And Ruin is... not cautious. So at this point, Ruin has two levels of Barbarian (for rage) and two levels of Ranger (because I'm building towards Horizon Walker, and Ranger adds a feat and access to a knowledge skill that I need for that). Martini is our other Prestige Class build; she started as a Grey Elf Rogue and is now taking levels of Assassin. Azrael is a ninth-level Grey Elf wizard, while Marshall Mercy is a ninth-level Cleric and expert in psychological warfare by way of herpetology.

Once we had that done, we looted the bodies of all the human soldiers we killed last time. That netted us an amazing amount of equipment, mostly in magical chainmail and masterwork greatsword (plus a handful of magical greatswords).

Then we rested.

There was another door down leading off from the bottom of the split-level room where we'd had the battle. We went through it, and this time we spotted the ceiling mantas and drove them off with light. (We're slow; we're not entirely stupid.) Below that level, we found a door — and we could hear voices behind it. Clearly, the time for stealth and subtlety was at hand.

"Hey!" yelled Reverend Mercy. "WE KILLED ALL YOUR MEN!"

Damian, the elf ranger that we brought along from Serpent's Head, threw open the door, giving us a view of a wizard and a single warrior; he immediately moved through and put himself beside the wizard. Ruin saw the wizard and attacked immediately, doing a great deal of damage while she was still flat-footed. (Sometimes his lack of hesitation and any instinct towards self-preservation is a good thing.) The warrior sprang to his feet and cried, "Don't worry, Cassadia! I'll protect you!"

So, okay, baaaaack up. Our characters don't know this — this is their first exposure to this part of the campaign — but waaay back with our first party we kept finding signs of a Cassadia who was moving around and orchestrating Bad Things behind the scenes. Somewhere right around the time we switched over to the second party, we discovered that the reason this Cassadia was so ubiquitous was that she wasn't just one person. Cassidia isn't so much a name as it is a job title: they're always women, they're always arcane spellcasters, they're all called Cassidia... and, as our second party eventually learned, they're all worshippers of Vecna. Male worshippers of Vecna are called Kaz. Which means that whatever is going on here is tied to the scheming and chaos down in the wine and timber country that our first party got caught up in; it's timed to the bizarrely large army of unlikely allies that invaded the country (Sol Povos) from the southeast despite the best efforts of our second party to stop them; and now they're almost certain involved in this plan to seed human forces into the elvish territory/reservation of Duendewood.

But, again, our characters don't know any of this.

Cassadia fires off a spell at Ruin, since he's the only one who's actually hit her so far. Remember back when I said that we'd leveled up and now Ruin had enough hit points to survive combat? Yeah, well, the spell was Phantasmal Killer so he very nearly died anyway.

Damian finished Cassadia off, and the fighter promptly surrendered. We question him about the next door, and he explains that there's a trap, that Kaz and Cassadia do something to a lever inside using their magic in order to pass through without flooding the room. This was all very helpful, so Mercy conjured a giant viper and had it eat him quickly. We looted Cassadia's body and checked over the items in the room, finding a mostly-empty coin chest and a note implicating the king (or at least his advisor) in paying Kaz and Cassidia quite a large sum to get Los Muertos into Serpent's Head.

Azrael used Mage Hand to locate the lever in the next room and pull it; then we got the door open. There were a weapons rack, a couple of treasure chests, and a treasure pile. Martini checked the chests for traps and then got them open, finding a variety of interesting potions and items, while we added a couple of masterwork rapiers to the loot in our Bag of Holding. Among the most interesting of the items found is a +1 Scimitar of Frost.

Then Martini checked the treasure pile, which turned out to be a mimic and promptly tries to eat her. We manage to put down without too much effort. The only thing left in the room at that point was a trap door, which was hot to the touch; however, according to the now-eaten warrior from the last room, Kaz went down that way.

So, all right: the only way to go was down, and "down" led to an area of extreme heat. So we handed the scimitar to Martini, since it would protect her from the heat. The rest of us would just have to tough it out. We descended quickly, opened the next door, and found a fire elemental caged in a magical field and connected somehow to both a crystal on the floor beside it and portal on a dais behind it. Azrael explained that breaking the crystal would both close the portal by taking away its power source and set the fire elemental loose. Ruin, who had his sword raised to smash the crystal, abruptly decided that he needed a different plan. We went through the portal.

The portal took us out into a small, underground room that held both the portal we came through and a second one. Martini immediately started checking the walls, because why would you use a portal to get to a tiny room with another portal when you could just use your portal to go directly to your destination? The only reason for a setup like this was if there was something worth stopping for here. Naturally, she quickly located a secret door.

Before we went through, Damian scouted through the second portal and found a room with a cryo-hydra trapped in the middle of it, keeping the room chilly and powering the second portal just as the fire elemental was powering the first one. He rejoined us as we opened the secret door.

There's a torture chamber on the other side, and this one's been used recently, and yeah: these humans really need to die.

In a cage near the back of the room we found a prisoner, Jax. Jax told us about Gar, the local torturer, and how Gar tortures Jax if Jax does stupid things. Jax sounded a lot like Gollum. Jax told us that he's seen soldiers go through the door — the secret door that we came out of. Then he took a good look at Ruin and, in a tone of wonder and surprise, asked how Ruin could possibly be up and around after being tortured so badly. Ruin must recover amazingly quickly! Ruin, who'd had a bad feeling bordering on a premonition since around the time of the big battle with Los Muertos, asked for more details. Jax explained that he'd seen Ruin brought in as a captive and whipped — badly, and over and over again. He said that only the worst prisoners end up here.

Mercy ensured Jax's loyalty by letting his poisonous snake bite the man, then casting Delay Poison on him. Jax was... already pretty broken. He agreed to stay with us and not alert anybody, and Mercy let him out of the cage. Jax then informed us that there are always a pair of Solari on duty upstairs, and that they have a crystal ball that they can use to see anywhere in the castle — but they don't look down here. So as long as we don't go past the iron gate, we won't be seen.

Bored, Martini asked: "Can we move?"

Azrael: "Yes. I'm getting the creeps."

So Martini scouted ahead, moving past a row of closed and locked cells, and stopping at a door at the far end of a short corridor. She could hear voices through the door, four of them.

Voice 1: "Why all the secrecy? Is it safe?"

Voice 2: "The King is not at war. The Duke cannot be seen killing elves. This will protect you from scrying."

They were plotting. The first voice was apparently an elf (Erwin) from a town called Willowwood. They wanted the elf to get Grusk and his men, the elite Steel Dragons, set up in the caverns under Willowwood and supplied with drink and occasional food. They were paying the elf a large sum for this, but mainly they were offering guarantees that if he did this, Willowwood would not be destroyed. One of the other men in the room was Odin, the Capitan (and sole survivor) of Lose Muertos. The humans then set about getting Erwin to drink and gamble with them, apparently with the idea of winning back at least some of what they were paying him.

Martini came back and reported all this, and Ruin asked Martini to check the cells. He also took this moment to explain that he has a twin brother, and that Jax's insistence that he'd seen Ruin tortured had given Ruin a very bad feeling about his brother's current whereabouts. Martini checked the cells, but reported no sign of Ruin's brother — just some dead guys.

We waited while the group in the next room got good and drunk, then moved up to the door. The idea was to make a Ghost Sound in another area of the room, then open the door and attack by surprise while they were looking the other way. Unfortunately, the door was locked — and even more unfortunately, Martini made enough noise in trying to get it open to make one of them suspicious. She got the lock picked just as she heard the guy approach, so she kicked the door open and caught him in the face with it. While he was cursing about his broken nose, Azrael dropped Evard's Black Tentacles in the middle of the room.

The tentacles grappled everybody in the room, doing minor (but fairly respectable, since it was ongoing) damage. The one by the door was Odin, last of Los Muertos; that put him in striking range, and he went down almost immediately. Martini took advantage of her Slippers of Spider Climbing to move around the walls, staying out of the reach of the tentacles and taking down enemy commanders. Damian the ranger, who has no more sense of self-preservation than Ruin does, goes charging into the room but manages to avoid being grabbed by the tentacles. We switched to ranged weapons and begin killing everyone in the room, but Grusk yells for Gar (in the next room at the top of the stairs, apparently) to go for help.

We cannot defeat Solari, not even down here in close quarters and not even if we outnumber them. (It's not completely impossible; our first party did it once with a mage in very tight quarters, but it is not the way to bet — especially with two of them, and possibly more on call.)

So we finished off the two bad guys in the room: Grusk and Kaz. Erwin the traitorous elf died too, but we weren't actually trying to kill him. He wasn't an adventurer and couldn't take the damage from the tentacles, so he basically died of hentai. By this point, Damian had made it past the tentacles to the stairs, and Marshall Mercy had summoned another giant viper beside the door at the top of the stairs; it managed to bash the door in and take down one of the two guards, giving Damian a way past the other one so he could chase down Gar before the torturer could sound the alarm.

Ruin and Azrael also gave chase, but they were too far back (even with Ruin's barbarian running speed). Fortunately for us all, Damian manages to head Gar off and drive him away from the iron gate. Ruin catches up and positions himself to block the gate, while Azrael blast Gar with a magic missile, taking him down.

Meanwhile, the last remaining guard took a swing at the snake — and, miraculously, not only hit it but killed it. Martini decided that discretion was the better part of valor and retreated across the ceiling, while Marshall was... upset.

There was a certain amount of chasing back and forth to get the last guard, but Mercy finally tagged him with his two-fanged scythe... and rolled a double critical, plus a damage roll where every single one of the four-sided dice came up with either 3 or 4 (mostly 4). The total was 82 points of damage; the guard just sort of exploded into two pieces.

Ruin, coming back to help finish the guy, skidded to a stop at the top of the stairs and just... marveled.

With that resolved and the Solari none the wiser, Ruin returned to Gar tied him up, and healed him. Then Ruin impersonated his brother: "Remember me, human?"

With Gar's panicked attempts to answer question, and Ruin assuring him that the Solari don't look down here and we could do things to him for a very long time, it was little trouble to find where Darvinin was put and retrieve him. Darvinin looked thoroughly battered; he'd been whipped and questioned, and answered pretty much everything. He was also shocked to find Ruin here, and even more shocked to find that Ruin didn't even know where they are.

So Darvinin explains about his scouting mission and the army of elves. They're wearing clothes from Aramar's armory (meaning they look like the troops of the True King) but Darvinin thinks they came in by sea. Apparently a Solari named Almonda ordered the army to go west, and brought Darvinin here to the Duke's castle and Gar's gentle care. Ruin explains about Brindinford, Serpent's Head, and the Portals, until everybody is caught up again.

In another cell, we found Hayduin, the mayor of Willowwood, and fixed him up as well. Both these guys are going to need serious counseling. In addition, we found a sort of money-laundering room — like a coin press in reverse, where they flattened the surface of the coin to remove the king's face. We also found surcoats and history books belonging to the Black Dragons or Steel Dragons or whoever's Capitan we just killed, along with some treasure. (A treasure chest with 1000 PP, and an additionall 500 PP from the money-laundering room. I mention this here because Azrael's player, who normally tracks these things, had left by the time we got to this point.)

So, what next? Well, the plan is to send Damian the ranger back through the portal we came in by. He's supposed to smash the crystal and get the heck out of the caves that Los Muertos were using, thus disabling that portal. That'll free the fire elemental, but that thing was huge and with any luck it won't be able to fit through the doors. Damian is then supposed to alert the Baron in Brindinford and the High Provost in Annun.

The rest of us, meanwhile (including Darvinin and the mayor Hayduin) will go through the other portal to (we gather, based on the various elements of scheming that we've overheard and collected) Willowood. Once we're through that portal, we'll shatter the crystal to disable the portal and release the cryo-hydra; once again, all we have to do is get out of the room and pray it can't fit through the doors behind us. With any luck we can get from Willowwood back to Annun and the High Provost by traveling overland.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Unexpected Armies

A bit of further events in our game world, courtesy of our DM. I'm adding it here because it's directly relevant to the events of this week's game, and also because it saves me from feeling like I need to compose anything of my own.

Darvinin hiked over the last rise and looked down at the forest below him: The Devil’s Orchard.

“Not very inviting, is it?” Tiatha stood to his right and just behind him, looking over his shoulder. She was graceful, quick, lithe, and to be honest quite easy on the eyes. Several of his barracks mates had been jealous of him going on a scouting mission with Tiatha. After all, who wouldn’t want to spend a couple weeks in the wilderness with a beautiful elven lass like Tiatha? Darvinin supposed he should consider himself lucky, but couldn’t help wishing she were Mistra, or that he’d had a choice in anything at all related to this matter.

Perhaps that was the rub. He’d been the hero of the garrison, the quick-witted soldier who’d sniffed out the grand doppelganger conspiracy. For he’d identified the first, and they had subsequently identified half a dozen more, penetrated into numerous positions. The king himself had been in great danger and all were grateful to Darvinin… until they identified the Grand Marshall’s concubine as one of the shapechangers. He was none too pleased when his pretty blonde bedmate transformed into a genderless, bug-eyed freak. “Elf-man, use some of your elf-a-nese gibberish to change her back the way she was. She wasn’t doin’ no harm.” Darvinin of course explained that he could not, in fact, change her back. The Grand Marshall muttered something about him being lazy, and when the next perilous scouting assignment behind enemy lines came up, Darvinin was conveniently chosen.

The injustice was also why he was taking his time. Their intelligence indicated a potential enemy force building in the Devil’s Orchard, the somewhat swampy forest west of Duendewood proper. Instead of approaching directly, they had come from the south, through the Blood Hills. Years ago, when Aldanor, the Elfbane Emperor had declared jihad on elves and ordered Sol Povos to round them up, the Duke of Corwick had happily complied, marching his army east from Janbridge. Countless bloody battles were fought on those ridges, and today it was revered as a sort of holy land with shrines topping many of the small hills. Neither Darvinin nor Tiatha had ever visited them before, so it seemed like a perfect way to both cover their tracks and get in some sight-seeing.

Darvinin was pleasantly surprised at the number of humans he saw at the shrines, and at their relative open-mindedness. They approached him, talked to him, and in some cases even asked forgiveness for sins of ancient family members. Said forgiveness was of course given, and in several cases he and Tiatha found themselves breaking bread with the humans and discussing diverse subjects. It reassured him that not all humans in Sol Povos were hate-mongering racists, and a great many did not support the king’s new policies. The current Duke of Corwick, however, was not one of them. It became clear from his discussions that Duke Corbin not only supported King Luc III in his persecution of elves, but doubled down on the bet. When Darvinin had left Lith’laur he had merely suspected the rogue force in the Devil’s Orchard was the duke’s doing. Now he was sure.

“Well, are you going to just stand there?”

“Sorry, I was thinking about my brother again.”

“You’ve been doing that a lot.”

“Well, a week ago I thought he was right about the humans. Now… I’m not so sure.”

Tiatha nodded, “I know what you mean. Some are good people. War would hurt them. It would hurt good people on both sides.”


“Do you think it will come to war?”

Darvinin sighed, “Why don’t we go find out? I’m afraid the answer may be in that forest down there.”

Tiatha sneered. “That’s not a forest! That’s a bunch of trumped up, over-watered shrubberies!”


Tiatha’s description of the Devil’s Orchard wasn’t exactly correct, but her insinuation that it was inhospitable place was entirely accurate. The Devil’s Orchard was similar in composition to its sister to the northwest, the Blackwoods. Whereas Duendewood was a lush spectrum of oaks, birch, maples, and every other tree imaginable, the Devil’s Orchard was composed almost entirely of gnarled pines with blackened bark. The black was from fires, which these trees had an uncanny knack of surviving thanks to the calcified salt bark. This salt bark was a side effect of the interminable wind that blew through the woods, coating the trees with salt from the cold, moist air off the Copo Deus Bay. The trees were tall enough to block almost all light, which meant the ground never dried and their boots were soaked inside and out with peaty mud that squished with every step. All in all, it was a miserable place.

“Well, I’ve decided,” Tiatha said.

“Decided what?”

“I’m marking this place off my list of potential locations for a summer home.”

Darvinin chuckled, “You can say that again. This place is oppressive.”


Darvinin chuckled again, more loudly, “Yes, both of those.” He smiled to himself. Yes, the boys had reason to be jealous. Tiatha was both beautiful and witty.


“What in the Seven Hells of Baator were those?” Tiatha exclaimed.

Darvinin stopped and leaned on his knees, panting. “Mephits… I think.”


“They’re like… little devils.”

“Well, what the hell are they doing here?”

Darvinin stood up and arched his back, stretching. “I don’t know. This forest is a strange place. There are tons of stories, about strange creatures crawling out of the dark woods and harassing Blackbeach to the north. Hence the name: Devil’s Orchard.”

“Then why station an army here? This seems to be about the last place I’d pick.”

Darvinin grinned, “It’s the first place I’d pick. They would be well hidden because only a complete idiot would venture in here.”

Tiatha stared blankly at him for a moment before she burst out laughing. Darvinin didn’t crack jokes very often, but he liked to think that when he did, he made them count.


Tiatha slid quietly back down the small mound of roots and mud, halting next to Darvinin. “There’s definitely a camp up there. I see movement in the trees in all directions – scouts for sure. And in the distance, I see the glow of fires.”

Darvinin felt naked in this foreign place. If he’d been back in Duendewood, he would have marched right up to the camp, confident in his ability to blend into the surroundings. But here in this place where everything squished and sloshed, he was out of his element. He closed his eyes and recited one of his mother's verses, intended to generate focus. After a moment, he opened his eyes again. “We need to get closer. Or higher. Both will work. If the scouts are on the ground, let’s go above them.”

Tiatha grinned, “Good plan, old man. I saw an exceptionally tall and prickly tree about a hundred and fifty paces ahead. I think we can get there without being noticed, then climb out of this murky darkness.”

They nodded at each other and spun around the tree, loping as quietly as they could over the boggy ground. True to Tiatha’s word, a behemoth loomed in front of them. Two quick steps up the trunk allowed him to catch a low-hanging branch and swing himself up. Tiatha was even quicker, hanging upside down from a branch in the second level. She smiled at him and extended an arm. He leaped, locking wrists with her, and swung to another slightly higher branch, ten feet away. From there, he was able to hop up to the second level where Tiatha was now standing upright. Together they worked their way up another twenty feet before finding a suitable perch on the northern side of the tree’s under-canopy.

“Thought you might throw out your back on that last jump, Darvinin. What are you, like a hundred years old?”

“Something like that.” Darvinin replied. He decided Ruin would have liked Tiatha. Truth be told, Ruin spent far more time climbing trees and testing himself than Darvinin, who’d always fancied a good book, and therefore would have been a far better match for Tiatha’s constant challenges.

Time passed slowly up in the canopy, but finally darkness started to fade and the sun burned off the fog. As it did, the sight before them was revealed slowly, like a puzzle being completed. When at last the image was clear, they both stared dumbfounded for a long moment.

“What… the… hell?” Tiatha muttered under her breath.

Strewn out before them was a large and disorderly camp of some 500, flying the banners of Aramar. As far as they could see were jade and cream colored tents, flags, and surcoats. Before they could discuss this most unexpected sight, a twig snapped not more than fifty yards away. They both instinctively put a hand on the other to indicate the need for silence. The first crack was followed by a second, and a few moments later a man appeared in the clearing below. Not just a man – an elf. Like the others, he wore a pristine surcoat indicating he was part of the standing army of Aramar. He was apparently looking for kindling, and paced around the clearing for a few minutes picking up small branches before returning the way he’d come. When he was out of earshot, Tiatha turned to Darvinin.

“It’s… an elven army. What do we do now?”

Darvinin scratched his chin for a moment before replying, “I guess we go talk to them.”


“Either our Grand Marshall is a complete idiot…”

“Possible. Probable.” Tiatha interjected.

“…or something very fishy is going on. Either way, we won’t know unless we talk to them. I say we throw on our own surcoats and march right in there.”

“Ballsy,” Tiatha nodded, “but also stupid. Perhaps more the latter. But I have to say those fires look fairly inviting after three days trekking through the Devil’s Armpit, so I’m in.”


They had been in the camp for over half an hour before someone finally stopped them. The army was decidedly, without question, elven. Darvinin had even cast detect magic on a few to rule out the unlikely theory that this was a whole army of doppelgangers, but they checked out. However two things stood out to Darvinin about this army. First, discipline was shit. Tents were erected haphazardly rather than in orderly rows, and whereas most military encampments echoed with lieutenants barking orders, this one had more the feel of a tavern the morning after a late night binge. When he did observe lieutenants barking orders, the subordinates rolled their eyes and proceeded to execute the orders in a most leisurely fashion.

The second thing Darvinin noticed was that the uniforms were too clean. In fact, they looked brand new. It was this last part that finally gave him and Tiatha away – they were the only ones in the whole camp with patches and stains on their surcoats. A burly man named Turg stopped them. He was broad-chested for an elf, with a scar running down his cheek. He chewed tobacco, spit frequently, and demanded to know who their superior officer was. When they informed him they were emissaries from the Grand Marshall, he replied that they would need to see Finrod and escorted them there, along with six of his ugliest friends. The whole lot of them smelled like they needed a shower and Tiatha wrinkled her nose.

Finrod’s tent was a legit, standard-issue colonel’s tent. Two guards at the door stood at attention and saluted. Darvinin and Tiatha saluted in return, and the flaps were pulled back for them to enter. Turg and his friends left to pursue other activities.

Inside the tent, the man named Finrod sat behind a rich, mahogany desk. There were four guards stationed inside the room, wearing full platemail armor. Finrod himself was well-armed and looked capable. He appraised them and immediately determined they were not from his company and demanded, “How do I know you are not spies?”

Darvinin shuffled his feet, “Spies? Elven spies?” He had somehow never considered this possibility.

“Yes, elven spies,” Finrod replied, “Our enemy is quite clever. Recite the creed of Aramar to me.”

Both Tiatha and Darvinin capably recited their soldiers’ creed, which seemed to satisfy Finrod. He nodded and Darvinin felt the time was right to ask his own questions. “Begging your pardon, colonel, but couldn’t I ask the same question of you? This is a strange place for one of Aramar’s armies.”

The man raised an eyebrow, “Is it? A whole company of Aramar’s finest, hidden carefully behind enemy lines, ready to surprise our enemy at a command? You think this is a bad idea?”

Darvinin stuttered, “Well, no, but you see the Marshall sent us…”

“Boy, the Grand Marshall is an idiot. A figurehead. He couldn’t lead a horse to water, let alone lead an army! Make no mistake about it, Ar’Pious is not the one calling the shots.” Finrod grinned, and for a moment Darvinin thought he caught something in the man’s facial expression, but he quickly continued, “You are unconvinced. Fine. I was born on the grainway, in the second borough of Aramar. My father was a peddler. I lived my whole life in that city. Nesterin?”

One of the guards behind Darvinin stepped forward, “I was born in Caelidel – wood elves. My dad tried to train me as a ranger, but I was never any good at it, so I came to the city.”

Finrod nodded approvingly. “Idril?”

“Sir?” A female elf stepped forward.

“Where are you from?”

“Sir! Fourth borough, born and raised. My father was a tanner, and often worked with the elves of the forest.”

Finrod nodded again. “Satisfied? We’re good, traditional elven stock from Aramar.”

Darvinin nodded apprehensively.

“Good, then it’s time for me to ask a couple questions, seeing as I report to those who are truly in charge. Speaking of, which of you is in charge?”

Tiatha looked at Darvinin and they nodded at each other. Darvinin spoke up, “That would be me, sir. I lead this expedition.”

Darvinin barely caught the grin on Finrod’s face. Then he heard a swift, wet sound and a small squeak. Horrified, he looked at Tiatha, a sword protruding from her chest. He spun to grab his weapon, but it was too late. The second guard, Nesterin, hit him on the head with something hard. There was a blaze of bright light, and then only darkness.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Well, at least it's not Strep?

So, Secondborn had a bit of a meltdown at school on Monday. It's his second major meltdown, and this is only the third week of school — so it was almost a relief to discover on Monday night that the child had a raging case of Pink Eye. Not too much of a relief, though: it meant keeping him home from school Tuesday, arranging a doctor's visit, picking up his eyedrops from the pharmacy, and then getting him to hold still so I could drip the drops into his eyeballs. He's actually been quite heroic about that last part.

It also meant waking up this morning to find that my left eye was both weirdly itchy and weirdly mucus-y. I have no idea if this is purely psychosomatic or whether he actually managed to pass The Pale Eye Of Doom on to me, but I took the day off work just in case and I've been using his eyedrops on my eye as well. This last part actually makes him feel better about having to get eye-dropped himself; they say misery loves company, and in the case of my wife and younger child it's certainly true. Firstborn and I, on the other hand, want nothing more than to be left completely alone when we're feeling miserable.

Since I was home, I devoted the afternoon to getting all the clean laundry sorted and put away, the rest of the laundry run, and the dirty dishes cleaned and put away. My plan was that once that was done, I could devote the evening to writing. Unfortunately, that afternoon of work — including a break to pick up Secondborn early from his after-school care — seems to have used up the last of my energy. I'm taking this as additional evidence that I am, in fact, not well. (Though honestly, having my child go into Full Metal Meltdown at school twice in two weeks provided enough stress that any amount of emotional exhaustion seems understandable.)

So I haven't done the Blogging Challenge for this week, and probably won't; I haven't done any writing on my own projects (ditto); and in fact the current plan is just to get the boys through their various evening activities (medicinal hot chocolate and a stretch of sitting on the toilet for Secondborn, Bass practice and science and art homework for Firstborn). After that, I can go to bed — which sounds like the best idea imaginable.

Ye gods the beginning of school has been a beating.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Back Into The Dungeon of the Mad Mage!

We had a full group of players again this week, except that Secondborn has largely decided to sit out the game. His character is still technically present, but he's still being played by the monk's character. Meanwhile, the players of the mousefolk cleric and the halfling arcane trickster have apparently been talking to another kid at school who really wants to join the game as an Aarakocra moon druid; I told them to give the kid my cell phone number and have either him or his parents contact me about it. Moon druid would not be a bad addition to the party, and when I spoke to Secondborn he indicated that he'd be willing to have his character join Jax The Dwarf Barbarian (originally played by his cousin) as a secondary, non-banner company team still employed by Lord Aldenmier. (That way they still have a plausible story presence if they want to join up again.)

So, this week two main things happened:

First, since they're now third level, I followed through on the "enhance and balance characters" initiative. In character, several of our adventurers found themselves transformed or enhanced as they entered the dungeon of the mad mage this time. The monk is now an elf instead of a human; the halfling rogue reworked his ability scores to better fit his role as an Arcane Trickster. In addition, an issue I noticed early on -- that the cleric's player had rolled for ability scores, and overall had substantially better abilities than the others (who got standard arrays during creation). The cleric's player and I did some math, and decided that if we gave everybody else 3 more points to add to their ability scores, that would about even it out. So there was some addition as well as some rearranging, and overall the characters are looking a lot more formidable now.

Secondarily, of course, they ventured back into the dungeon. They went past the spider room and paused to set it on fire again, then entered and retrieved the bronze short sword that always seems to be there. (The cat statue that they originally retrieved from this room is still with Firstborn's Dragonborn Draconic Sorcerer, but at the moment it is neither purring nor meowing.)

They then proceeded on, electing to ignore the room with the kobolds, and tried the next door. It was had a dozen or so largish baskets scattered around the walls and apparently full of grain. The cleric (still the best-armored of the party) stepped inside, and immediately noticed that there were some small piles of mid-sized animal pellets on the floor. The monk, behind them in the hallway, had the distinct impression that the room was not empty, though he couldn't have said why. The dragonborn had also spotted the droppings, but unfortunately didn't too well at identifying them. He put a hand on the cleric's shoulder and said: "Careful. I think there're Death Bunnies in here."

The cleric didn't trust his assessment, but didn't do any better herself: "Those aren't death bunny pellets," she replied. "Those are clearly from Doom Hamsters."

The monk advanced into the room, sniffing the air and looking carefully around. "Smells more like rats," he said.

"Rats, is it?" asked the sorcerer, and immediately used fire bolt to set fire to a basket in the far corner of the room. Seven giant rats (about the size of Corgis, say) immediately emerged from behind the baskets. Unfortunately, they rolled really poorly on initiative and didn't get any real chance to attack: the cleric took out one with Toll The Dead before combat even started. Then the monk took out two more, the cleric nearly killed another one, the rogue took out one (I think), and the sorcerer finished off three more with magic missiles.

The mousefolk cleric was really pleased with the discovery of this much grain. For one thing, they're vegetarian; for another, a supply of food here in the dungeon means that they can stay longer.

So they proceeded to the next room, and opened the door. On the walls to their left and right were two pairs of sarcophagi, while ahead of them a large throne sat on a low dais. Two large onyx jackal statues flanked the throne, and a tapestry behind it showed humans and elves lounging on silks and eating exotic fruits. The group began checking the room - looking for traps, and throwing handfuls of grain at various things to see if there was any reaction. The monk tried to open one of the sarcophagi, but found that it was sealed. In fact, nothing much happened until the cleric stepped onto the dais.

That was when all four sarcophagi opened, and a zombie lurched out and slammed into the monk, damaging him fairly severely.

I called the game there, because we were seriously out of time; but we'll open with the Battle Against The Undead next time.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

In Which We Kill All The Humans

...Now they will be "Los Muertos" indeed.

So at the end of the last session we had gotten the main party back together, sent a keg of poisoned ale to the human raiders ("Los Muertos") and rested up in preparation for tonight's battle (or, preferably, murder spree -- depends on how many of the humans got themselves poisoned). Wendy shows up and offers to help, but Azrael sends her back into the woods -- partly to treasure the memories of their forbidden love in solitude, but mostly because Martini is going to murder her if she hangs around.

Ruin, however, goes and alerts the elvish ranger Damian (the one with the giant wolf) that they've found the humans. This is partly because Ruin feels like somebody local should be involved as a witness, but also because they had a deal that if one of them found the humans, the other would kill them. Or the first one would. Or something. There'd be killing. Anyway, Damian and his giant bloody wolf come along.

After some discussion, we bypass the secret door and head up the hill to Lotharian's house. Lotharian (as probably nobody recalls) is an elf; he's also a "newcomer" to the village, having moved here from Mellicure some fifty years ago. Mellicure, by some curious coincidence, is the only nearby settlement that hasn't been attacked; and Lotharian is also the one who was insisting loudly in the bar that there were absolutely no humans in the area, despite the fact that one had shown up to buy a keg of ale not two nights previous. So, y'know, suspicious.

Lotharian is... not happy to see us. He's been drinking, clearly, and he immediately settles on the downstairs bed, answers a couple of questions in the most passive-aggressive way possible, and passes out. Ruin and Reverend Mercy immediately tie him to the bed, while Martini sets out to search the house. There's a chest downstairs; its lock is too complicated to Martini to pick, but Ruin rips it open. (True Elf Barbarian is an awesome thing to be sometimes.) It's basically full of mementos from Lotharian's family in Mellicure. This is the point at which we note:


Inside this one is a note. It says, basically, that the king appreciates Lotharian's help, and so long as he remains cooperative then Mellicure will remain un-razed. But that still doesn't show us how to get to the humans from here, or how they might get up here.

The house is crowded with junk; Lotharian is a hoarder. But... there's a pallet on the floor in the upstairs room, and unlike the bed it looks regularly slept in. So why...? We go back downstairs, and Ruin and Mercy haul the bed out from the wall with the sleeping, drunken elf still tied to it.

There's a trapdoor underneath. Of course there is.

So we pile all the junk in the house on top of that trap door, because we don't want anybody escaping through here. As a final seal, we move the bed with Lotharian tied to it on top of the pile of junk. It's basically wedged to the ceiling; nobody is coming out this way unless they can burrow through the floor.

Then we head out of the house and back down the hill to the secret door, which Damian the ranger opens. ("NPCs are better than Celestial Monkeys because you don't have to use a spell slot.") Marshall Mercy hears somebody talking from somewhere down the corridor beyond, but nobody else does. So we proceed down the hall and around a couple of corners, until we're looking at one door on our right and another a little ways down at the end of the passage.

The door on our right opens, and two fighters attack us - ineffectually. Another emerges from the door at the end of the hall, and we're in our first real fight -- a nasty one, because apparently these are the guys in charge. We take down the two in doorway, and the guy from the end of the hall takes down Damian. Ruin moves in to take Damian's place, once again nearly dying before Azrael's debuffs weaken the guy enough that we can kill him. We loot the bodies, allowing Damian to claim some better armor; among the more interesting items is a wand of Acid Arrows, which we turn over to Azrael the Wizard. There are also a pair of short wooden rods with perpetually-glowing crystals mounted on the end; they don't seem to have anything to do with opening the door to the next area, and we have no idea what they are for.

So we loot the Big Boss's room, finding Marvelous Pigments in his wardrobe (which Martini once again failed to unlock, and Ruin once again busted open) and Ruin uses a healing wand to bring himself and Damian back up to full health. With that taken care of, we go back to the room the two fighters emerged from. There's one door there we haven't opened yet, and it seems to be made of flesh. The rods don't seem to affect it; mercy tries to dispel it but fails. So, Mercy tries to chat up the door, also to no result. The Big Boss had a key, but there's no indication of a keyhole here. (The key probably opened the wardrobe that Ruin broke into.)

So Reverend Mercy revives the remaining half-conscious Lieutenant for one of his famous hiss-cussions. The guy yells, "Penis!" the door opens, and Mercy and Martini kill him.

Behind the door is a torture chamber. Nobody's in it at present, but... these humans really need to die.

Mercy walks in and gets attacked by what I can only describe as a pair of ceiling mantas. They wrap around him and start trying to take chunks out of him at the edges of his plate armor. The rest of us run in and, after trying various ineffectual things, basically slice at the beasties until they die. More healing ensues.

After that we tap on the trapdoor at the center of the room, which is -- of course -- barred from the other side. A muffled voice calls for the password. The password is, once again, "penis" because... well... bloody humans. There's a small room below, two guards inside, another door with a barred window in the middle of it visible on the far wall. So Reverend Mercy (as the only human in the party) climbs down and introduces himself as a cleric. "Good thing," says one of the guards. "We've got some guys in a bad way here. I think the elves might have--"

Martini promptly slides down the ladder and stabs him. The second guards yell an alarum to the two outside the door, and one of them promptly triggers a fire trap, coating the floor in fire. Mercy is lightly singed; Martini avoids it entirely. Azrael leans down through the trap door and blinds the human in the room, as well as the two outside the door. Ruin leaps down and finishes off the human in the guard room; we can see a much larger room outside, with an awful lot of armed humans in it. We get the door open, and the real battle begins.

Azrael casts Web across a huge section of floor, trapping the humans who are there and making it essentially impassible. Humans from the lower area beyond it can make their way around the edge, but Ruin takes a position in the doorway with Damian beside him. Martini, with her Slipper of Spider Climbing, takes a spot on the ceiling, and Cleric Mercy positions himself just outside the door.

"For half an hour I watched him, and they died and they died." That's a quote, but it's not a bad description of this battle, either. Damian went down at one point, and Ruin healed him enough to stand back up; then he got knocked back down again - three times, I think; Ruin spent an awful lot of healing on him. Each time, a couple of Los Muertos got past the door and tried to kill Azrael, who had taken a position behind us; but with Ruin, Martini, and Mercy positioned to attack them as they moved past, nobody managed to take down our wizard. Meanwhile, he was picking people off with the Acid Arrow wand, until a big group managed to come up together and he hit them with Stinking Cloud, effectively disabling the whole lot of them. (It would have been really useful to have Wendy with us -- she throws a mean Fireball -- but Martini actually would have murdered her, so that was a no-go.)

So they kept coming and we kept killing them -- the healthy ones, the partly poisoned ones, the incredibly ill ones -- until finally their squad leaders tried to move in. There was a brief, desperate struggle-- but after we killed them it was just a matter of mopping up.

At that point we stopped the game, because we were completely out of time. There are something like sixty corpses that still need looting, some underground chambers to explore, and possibly some other things to find... but these human raiders have been annihilated, and let their king suck on that.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Not Today...

Well, I'd hoped to do the next installment of Dungeons and Dating and/or put up the notes from the Tuesday Night Game by now, but this week has utterly defeated me for a combination of reasons. So instead, I'm going to offer a book recommendation.

Back on Wednesday I offered my bit for the Weekly Blogging Challenge. Naturally, I then went around and read everyone else's responses (as one does). Well... in Tanith Davenport's response there's a recommendation for a book called To Marry A Prince. In her words: "This was the first romance novel I ever read, and it's perfect. It had a great, strong heroine, an equally great best friend and a central romance you root for all the way."

This, while it clearly would contain a bit less sorcery and a lot fewer swords than my usual fare, sounded like enormous fun and great bit of escapism.

My friends, it is every bit of that. And it is largely responsible for getting me through a week of missed sleep, strange news and odd problems at work, and extra obligations. So if Romance is at all to your taste, give it a look. According to my Kindle I'm 65% of the way through it, and so far it's been fun, funny, and sweet -- and I love it dearly.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Music: Damage I've Done

The Heads, with Johnette Napolitano:

(This was back around 1996. The Heads were an almost-reassembly of The Talking Heads, except without the lead singer David Byrne. Byrne took legal action to prevent them from using The Talking Heads as the name of the incomplete band, so they cut an album as The Heads -- called "No Talking, Just Head" -- which featured a variety of different vocalists. This one is Johnette Napolitano from the band Concrete Blonde.)

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Challenge: What I Read When I'm Not Feeling Well

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: What I Read When I'm Not Feeling Well.

This one, for me, is pretty easy: I go back to books that I've enjoyed before. It's like comfort food, but with reading.

...Which is really too short for this sort of blogging challenge, so let me point to some examples. If I remember, the last time I was really sick -- like, just-lying-around-the-house-for-several-days sick -- I found myself on a Jennifer Crusie kick, and re-read both Welcome to Temptation and Bet Me. (If that sounds like an awesome two-fer, there's a bundle.)

The time before that was a bit atypical, as it was a favorite author but a new book; I wound up reading The Harbors of the Sun by Martha wells why trying to shake off the flu. (It was a very enjoyable way to pass the time, but I had to go back and re-read it a couple of months later, what with the fever and all.)

Other common choices have included Terry Pratchett, Roger Zelazny, and a wide variety of graphic novels.

So yeah: when I'm not feeling well, I go back to the comforting and familiar. Don't we all?

Tuesday, August 20, 2019


At the end of their last adventure, the party had killed the gryphons who were eating the horses at the logging camp. We opened this session with their semi-triumphant return to Lord Aldenmier's estate in Roslof Keep. There they reported their discovery of the griffons, their clever plan to keep the gryphons from eating the horses by keeping them under a tent at night, and their slaying of the griffons. The two guards had returned with them also, and delivered a scroll from Bobilis, the expedition leader for the logging camp.

So, Lord Aldenmier:
-is pleased that the threat has been removed.
-is puzzled and appalled that the gnome Jou was a saboteur, and that the part let him escape.
-is willing to have a carpenter re-purpose one side of the stables for the care of gryphon eggs and the raising of gryphon hatchlings.
-Wants an evening to think about how much reward the party deserves for this decidedly mixed set of results.

So he sends everyone off to have dinner and get some rest, and retreats to his rooms.

Just after midnight, Kaz (the monk) awakens because he's hearing noises outside his window. He looks out and sees a large cart with four men unloading it in the courtyard/garden area behind the main house, with Aldenmier standing nearby and supervising.

Brief OOC Digression: Kaz was originally human; he is now an elf. I have given everybody a chance to tweak their characters upon reaching level 3, and that was the big change the monk's player wanted: more dexterity, darkvision, and a cantrip. The halfling rogue took the opportunity to lower his charisma (since the sorcerer is doing the Party Face role) and bump up his wisdom, making him less persuasive but more perceptive. The other three are pretty optimized already, so no major changes there. In character, these changes will take place the next time the group enters the Dungeons of the Mad Mage.

Also, upon reaching level 3 the monk chose the Way of the Open Hand, the drow rogue chose the path of the Assassin, and the halfling rogue chose the path of the Arcane Trickster and picked out some spells.

So the Monk woke the halfling rogue, and they went to investigate the back courtyard. They tried to be sneaky, but were spotted by Lord Aldenmier, who explained that when restocking a dungeon (even a backyard training dungeon) one needs to bring in the supplies at whatever time they happen arrive. Kaz the Monk is suspicious, but there's no way to get past Aldenmier tonight so he and Barrith the rogue head back to bed.

In the morning, Lord Aldenmier awarded the group 10 GP each, for their personal funds rather than the party treasure.

Discussion then turned to how best to follow up with the two griffon eggs, especially since we have a party of five characters. The mousefolk cleric wants to grab the sorcerer and head down to do some research at the Lich's Library, while the Monk and the two rogues did some asking around and learned about a fairly famous Griffon Ranch that's reasonably nearby.

Lord Aldenmier wanted the group to get back to exploring the Mad Mage's dungeon in the next couple of days, but he was willing to send messengers to both the Griffon Ranch and the Lich Library to ask some questions and make arrangements for a future visit. (Either or both of these may be fertile ground for future adventures, to break up the group's time in the Mad Mage's dungeon. In particular, the Griffon Ranch might be willing to offer the group three more eggs in exchange for their help with an outbreak of cockatrices. But those are thoughts for another day...)

Current party treasure by my count is 246 GP and 15 SP, plus some weapons they can probably sell pretty easily.
-A quarterstaff
-4 shortswords
-4 light crossbows

Monday, August 19, 2019

Friday, August 16, 2019

Dungeons and Dating, Part One

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vervor swallowed and asked: "Is Mara here?"

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Never Break A Deal With A Warlock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

People like the ones around him now, it seemed.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Boys DnD: There are TWO!?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The adventure is complete; everybody levels up.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Darvinin: Who Guards The Guardians?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

...And changed.

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

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

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

"Are you you?"

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

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

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Warlock For Hire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"It is."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 9, 2019

Missing: A Poem

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

The silicon tape-
-it comes from Home Depot

But we get the toilet paper-
-at Target

I do not know
How long
She has been gone

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

I feel certain
That she still lives

But time
Does strange things
Inside Target

Thursday, August 8, 2019

At last, we find the raiders!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Party Treasure adjustments for Azrael's Player:

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Blogging Challenged: Loved but Unreviewed

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

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

Y'all, I have a confession to make.

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

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

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Boys DnD: Gnome, Gryphons, and Close Calls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Goth Poem of Azrael's Sadness and Loss

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