Thursday, April 30, 2020

Uh huh

Observation One: When your announcement about a phased reopening of services opens with a disclaimer that this is all Governor Abbott's fault ("The Governor’s order supersedes all local orders.") that does not exactly instill confidence in the idea that this is a carefully-considered action weighing risks and benefits, and not just a cynical ploy to sacrifice the poor and vulnerable in an attempt to avoid having to provide help and services for them.

Observation Two: Everything is awful and I want to go back to bed.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Challenge: Why I stopped reading a series

This is part of the weekly Blogging Challenge over at Long and Short Reviews. If you'd like to participate, you can find the prompts here. They also put up a post every Wednesday where you go and link your response -- and see everyone else's. Check out their homepage to find it.

The challenge for this week is "reason why I stopped reading a series I loved".

Easy answer: it was the bathtub scene.

The series was Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time. A friend of mine recommended it to me, with the warning that the series was quite long and still unfinished, an observation which would remain true through ten years and five or six more books.

I started with The Eye of the World, found it fascinating, and plowed ahead through the next several books. They really were excellent: the prose was amazing, the world-building was excellent, the characters were... well, perhaps a little too prone to lifting one eyebrow at each other and squabbling when left alone together, but on the whole enjoyable. I finished book five (as I recall) and waited patiently for book six, then purchased and read it immediately when it came out. Book six was excellent. Book seven was a little slower, a little less focused; it expanded to follow developments with a lot of side-characters, among other things. Still, I finished it.

And then somewhere around book eight or nine (I think it was nine), I tried to dive in and realized that absolutely no amount of excellence in an author's prose will disguise the fact the I just spent three pages reading about someone taking a bath. Oh, she was ruminating on what she knew of various situations in various places, but still: three full pages, probably 3,000 words, devoted to someone taking a bath. After that, I just couldn't. I just... set it down and backed away slowly.

And that was why I stopped reading a series I loved.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Weekdays, Revised

My sense of time is only sort of barely hanging on, and it's only managing that because of electronic calendars. (I'd read about people losing track of what year it was during major historical disasters and I always wondered how that was possible; I'm pretty sure I get it now.) So forget days of the week. I'm not using them anymore.

Instead, well, I'm using these:


Our new weekdays are subject to revision at any time and in any order, so if you find yourself having a Swishday when you were expecting a Droopday, well, that's just how it goes.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Youth DnD: The Mage's Tower, the Griffin Ranch, and Back into the Dungeon

Catching up on what Firstborn and his friends have been up to...

After they emerged from the dungeon they took a night off, then went to visit the Mage's Tower to see if they could swap the druid's new magic dagger for something the druid would find more useful. When they got there they found Molo of the Nine Wives not at the front counter, and sounds of struggle from the back. They quickly followed the sounds, and descended...

...into some sort of magical test or training area beneath the tower. On the far side of the room, they could see Molo being dragged off by a pair of figures, down a passageway that promptly vanished. They followed, solving the room's riddle to reopen the passage, then doing the same for two more rooms until they finally caught up with the pair and their prisoner.

The pair were a wizard and warrior; they fought, and the party killed the wizard and badly injured the warrior, who surrendered. Molo, when released, cursed the name of his brother-wizard and had the party carry the body back upstairs and drop it into a sarcophagus in a rather eerie room on the second floor. He offered them 400 gp as a reward, or 800 if they would kill the warrior and place his body in a sarcophagus as well. (Barrith: "So... he's a necromancer?" OH YES, he's a necromancer.) After considerable debate, the party turned the guard loose and accepted the 400 GP, then swapped the +2 dagger for a Staff of the Woodlands. (Molo was still feeling generous.) Molo also offers Toruv membership in the Order of the Towers, and Toruv accepts; this would be more useful to a wizard than a sorcerer, but it's still got some benefits. After a failed attempt to take the druid's hand in marriage,Molo agrees to keep an eye out for some items that they'd like to acquire now that they're rich, and he copies down their lists and says that he'll see what he can do for them. (Molo is... not a good guy, but he is grateful for the rescue.)

The group retires to Aldenmier's estate for a little downtime and a good night's sleep.

The next morning they get up and head down to Lord Aldenmier's new griffin ranch, established with the help of a druid from another, more famous ranch in another county. The druid has been busy; not only have the two eggs from the spotted mountain griffins hatched, but he's been acquiring stock from elsewhere and has a whole batch of cute little chibi flying killing machines that he's starting to raise. He spends some time getting the group up to speed on how to work with the wee beasties (except for Sana, the group's halfling moon druid, who's got an amazing knack for it already) and they spend the late morning and early afternoon on familiarity, bonding, and training. After that, the druid griffin-rancher mentions that one of the farms down the way -- half-elf family, nice people -- had an issue with their hens laying eggs that hatched into cockatrices; he took care of those, but that suggests that a basilisk has been getting into the hen-house and he didn't have time to track that down.

So the group heads over to the farm, borrows a nice silver mirror, and tracks the basilisk into the woods. They find it asleep in a rocky lair, and position the mirror in front of it. Despite some difficulties, the trick works: the basilisk, furious at having a competitor near its lair, meets its own gaze and turns itself to stone. Toruv, the dragonborn sorcerer, then levitates the thing (barely) and a furious discussion ensues on whether to carry it back to Aldenmier's estate as a decoration (Sana the druid), leave it at the farmhouse (Toruv the sorcerer), or try to sell it (Barrith the Arcane Trickster). Toruv's vote is the only one that really counts, as he has the only spell they can use to move that much stone; the statue ends up positioned in front of the farmhouse. They return the mirror and head back, bringing Aldenmier up to speed and then getting another good night's rest.

This morning they headed back into the dungeon, and tried out the secret door they learned about from the dwarves. (It turns out that I had the two passages down to the second level reversed, but that's fine; it's a magical dungeon, apparently they just come out in different places than conventional geometry would require.) The nearest set of rooms were all inhabited by Grimlocks, but it turns out that even ten Grimlocks aren't much of a match for five fifth-level characters. They cleared out three rooms, crossed a pit in the dungeon floor, and are now ready to face the next room...

When they open that door next session, Sana the halfling moon druid will still have her flame blade active, Barrith the halfling Arcane Trickster will have an additional 6 HP from False Life, and Aika the swashbuckling bard will still be slightly injured (-7 hp from a lucky Grimlock).

Treasure from this session, which will need to be split with Lord Aldenmier, includes:
350 GP
200 SP
An Amethyst worth 200 GP
A red Spinel (it's a kind of gemstone, so we got to learn something new) worth 175 GP
A nicely tooled belt that the Grimlocks must have taken from somewhere else.

General Party treasure at present is:
25 PP, 3,327 GP, and 331 SP.
(Plus an ivory sheath that's currently sitting on a small table until someone can hang it on a wall.)

Friday, April 24, 2020

VtM: Delete Your Facebook

As the sun sets on another night in pandemic-ridden Seattle, and the previous night's chaos begins to catch up with people:

We open with Jack, who awakens to his ghoulfriend Valeria handing him her phone: there's an email on it, addressed to him. It's from Nadine, at the Tremere Chantry. Nadine is not somebody that Jack knows well, but she's Tremere and she's influential; this isn't something he should ignore -- Nadine is fairly highly placed, and favored by "the Professor". The email indicates a possible breach of the First Tradition (secrecy) at a local hospital and enlists Jack to go check it out. Which... okay, that's well within his skill set.

Jack heads to the Hospital. He has to go the long way around since the bridge is inexplicably closed, but he manages just fine. Approaching the hospital (in a mask and gloves, because he's rather better prepared than I am) he gets flagged by the cop out front. Leaning a bit on the Dominate discipline, he convinces the man that he's a fellow law enforcement officer (plainclothes) here to investigate an incident from the previous evening. The officer is helpful: two guys got into some kind of scuffle in the ER waiting room last night, go on in.

So Jack proceeds inside, finds the nurse, and gives her much the same story. She was there; she remembers the three Really Big Guys who couldn't behave. One of them's still here, in fact, up on Four. Could she find me a room number? She could. Jack proceeds up to the room, then looks around for the biggest guy in it and finds Austin/The Chaos. "So, what can you tell me about your two friends?"

Austin Watts: "Who wants to know?"

Jack shrugs: "I'm looking for a couple of guys who started some incident last night. I was hoping you could help." He puts some emphasis on the last word, meeting Austin's eyes but limiting himself to that single command instead of mesmerizing him entirely.

Austin Watts, Dominated: "They are the dopest wrestlers. I can tell you some stuff! I watched Willard push a tractor. He's a big guy, but like.. an actual tractor. I had it in Park. And Mario, he's really sensitive about Chinese people, so when you meet him don't call it the China Virus."

Jack: "You have contact info for them?"

Austin: "Sure! I work out with Willard all the time."

Jack takes the info, lets Valeria know that he's fine, and then emails Nadine to say that he got names and an address, and does she want him to continue investigating or are they going to step in?

Bianca, meanwhile, is up and fully costumed when she receives another call from Evan. She's all ready for him to send over some potential staff to interview.

Evan: "I have a couple but they were curious about compensation."

Bianca: "I would pay them fifty dollars an hour. What is the minimum wage in this state?"

Evan: "I think they would find that acceptable." He carefully does not answer the question.

Bianca: "Lucien will take care of the money. You know him. My manager."

Lucien, taking the phone: "Yes, send them over." He hangs up.

Lucien: "Who is coming where, darling?"

Bianca: "Our staff is coming here. We discussed this last night."

Lucien: "I have a concern."

Bianca: "Not at all."

Lucien: "So much of this power of ours requires empathy, and I fear that may be beyond you, darling."

Bianca: "I am very convincing."

Lucien, slightly awestruck: "...When you interview them, you must use your voice the same way you just used it on me."

Bianca: "So we are roleplaying!"

Lucien: "Just so. We must play the parts of caring employers. The moment your forget--" He draws his hand across his throat.

Bianca: "Ah! I am to play Marie Antoinette!"

Lucien: "...Something like that." He begins making a Bloody Marie, which is like a Bloody Mary but made from real blood from a real Marie.

Lucien: "So shall we watch something as we wait?"

Bianca: "You could watch me perform? I can do the entire opera that WE SHOULD BE PERFORMING RIGHT NOW."

Lucien: "Every part?"

Bianca: "Of course! One cannot be an actress without knowing everyone's cues."

Willard, finally awake: "Gotta get my truck."

Mario: "I'll drive us to get your truck."

Willard: "Mario, man, you can use the Uber app to see where you last came from! Just check it and we can go straight to my truck."

Mario puts masks on both of them, and they head out. The Uber guy is... not endeared to them. Mario, meanwhile, calls Austin/the Chaos, who tells them about the "cop" that visited him earlier looking for them. They get a little bit of a description, and Mario announces that he doesn't trust anybody in boots. Gestapo wore boots. No boots, man.

Austin is at least feeling better. Mario encourages him to get an icepack for his head. He's apologetic about telling the fancy cop about them.

Willard, meanwhile is already on the phone with his agent, Wendel: "Man, I went to the hospital last night. I put IVs in everybody and shit and--"

Mario shuts off his phone. "So you remember that I'm the promoter? You need to listen to me. And SHUT UP."

The car pulls over in front of a cartoonishly oversized pickup truck. Uber Driver: "You guys stay safe, okay?"

Mario: "You too. Keep the mask on. And, um, forget everything we said." He drops a very nice tip.

Driver: "You were never here." He deletes the footage from his dashcam at Mario's request.

Willard is already texting people about this award that he's clearly going to receive for being so heroic last night.

They get back in the truck.

Willard finally catches up to the idea that someone looking for them after Mario freaked out in the ER is bad news. Willard: "We need to shelter in place!"

Mario: "I have an idea."

Willard: "That's probably better."

Mario: "You never get in trouble if you rat yourself out first. We should tell the Prince."

Willard: "Yeah! Okay! Let's go find him!"

Mario: "Great! How?"

Willard: "I will try the Facebook!"

Mario watches in horror as Willard botches and deletes his Facebook page... and his whole, carefully nurtured account.

Mario: "The fuck???"

Willard: "I'll drive, you call your mentor."

Mario hits up his mentor for information on how to get in touch with the Prince and/or the court; he calls him instead of texting, because it's been a while and also his mentor isn't so good with the texts.

Mario: "Como estas!"

Mentor: "Where are you? I hear a giant rumbling."

Mario: "Willard's truck."

Guerrero: "So, what is this?"

Mario: "Well, I need to get in touch with the prince or something 'cause something went down last night and I need people to know we had it under control."

Guerrero: "You're in trouble?"

Mario: "No, we got it. But better to head it off."

Guerrero: "I can make some calls, but... maybe you should talk to the Sheriff?"

Mario: "...Might be good."

Guerrero: "Sheriff Bart's a good guy for a Tremere."

Mario: "You doing okay? You're staying safe?"

Guerrero: "I'm fine. Head over to University district. Let me make some calls."

Mario hangs up. "We need to head to University Street."

Willard: Turns the radio back up, doesn't listen. He's got friends in low places...

Meanwhile, Jack is checking his emails:
Nadine: That's good, the Tradition has not been breached. These people are something of an unknown; go and take their measure.

Jack: Understood.

With the address in hand and the low traffic, Jack quickly shows up at Willard's place: a nice house in the suburbs. There's a truck in the driveway; it's older, a beat-up green pickup with the rounded hood and a dent on one side. The lawn hasn't been mowed in months, and there are piles of Amazon packages and notices from the HOA all over the porch. The lights are on, so Jack goes up to ring the doorbell.

There are dogs inside, and they erupt into barking when Jack rings the bell. They're Saint Bernards that have been raised entirely on chili.

Well, okay. Willard doesn't have any of the "someone rang your doorbell" apps, so he's unaware of all this. Jack goes around and checks out the house. Having established that there are two Saint Bernards (Garth and Brooks) and no vampires currently in residence, Jack emails Nadine again and settles back in his car to wait.

Bianca, meanwhile, has had a brilliant idea: "We should have a concert for other vampires! They come over, I sing, they donate money to the theater so that I don't have to!"

Lucien: "Such an event might expose us."

Bianca: "We would not be exposed. Unless you wish to have an orgy. That would mean exposing ourselves. We could have an orgy to raise the money."

Lucien: "But we would have to change the memories of the staff. We do not have that power. Perhaps just a normal performance? Your singing is so much better than an orgy."

Bianca: "Very well, a concert! I shall sing all my favorite Arias! You could accompany me, Lucien."

Lucien: "Alas, I could not." Lucien isn't much of a singer.

The doorbell buzzes. Bianca gets into character as Lucien goes to open the door.

Bianca: "Welcome, PEASANTS!" (Whispering to Lucien:) "I am trying to be empathetic!"

This goes over just exactly as well as you might expect.

Bianca: "I'm sorry, my English not very good." She manages to turn on the charm for this one, and the mortals seem mollified. None of these are particularly familiar to Bianca, but they're... interested in being paid. "We will pay you money. And you can have rooms on the second floor!"

Lucien: "They will be living here?"

Bianca: "It is fine. They will be asleep when we are awake."

Lucien: "But if they are asleep when we are awake, then the reverse is true as well." He makes the throat-slitting gesture again, passably discreetly.

Bianca: "Well of course! I don't think you have thought this through, Lucien!"

Five potential servants have shown up. "You have rooms for all of us?"

Bianca: "Lucien snores, so none of you want to be around that. I need a bartender, and a ladies' maid, and two people to clean things up, and someone to hang out with me and be my companion."

She is very persuasive. A "fantastic employer". So they're asking about the jobs, and she's describing the jobs: the bartender tends bar, the cleaners clean the house, the bartender might also cook for the staff, the lady in waiting will help her dress and do her makeup, and the companion must be able to laugh at the stupid bitches on the TV and listen to her SING.

The only issue is that nobody wants to be the maids - probably shouldn't have mentioned the toilet cleaning. Bianca: "Very well! If nobody wants to do it, it will be an extra chore and everybody will do it and I will assign it." Bianca-splaining.

The peasants understand that they can just go round-robin with this shit. "So when do we start?"

"As soon as you want to, my darling. I could use a cocktail right now. Lucien, darling, would you care to show them how to make my cocktails?"

Lucien: "Um, no."

Bianca: "Well, show them how to make the mocktails. You know, the ones with alcohol instead of..." She winks saucily. "...You know."

Lucien: "She is so funny."

The staff: "ECCENTRIC!"

Bianca returns to planning a concert, to which she intends to invite both princes. Is that going to be a good idea? We'll see.

Meanwhile in the pickup truck, Willard is playing both kinds of music at Mario: Country and Western. Loudly.

Willard manages to park right in front of the stadium. Guerrero's called back; he's putting Mario in touch with Nadine. He isn't sure of how important she is, but she's definitely connected. He sends meeting details, for a bar not too far around the corner.

Mario puts on his gimmick mask, and Willard changes out into his costume: overalls and a mask. This largely involves pulling off his shirt from under the overalls. The meeting point is seven blocks away, so after some debate they decide to drive.

Mario: "Okay, be ready."

Willard: "Like, with the axe?"

Mario: "Sure."

Willard: "But we're apologizing! I don't need my axe to apologize!"

Mario: "Wear the armor, leave the axe."

Willard decides that maybe he should check out the alley before he goes down it. He floods the alley with his headlights. There's a figure about halfway down the alley and he's blind now.

Meanwhile, Jack gets a text from Nadine.

Willard starts down the alley, and then realizes that he needs to cut the lights and does so. "Ho there, partner, my name's Willard! Glad to see you! Come on out!"

The guy moves forward a bit, confused. He looks to be early twenties, east Asian kid. Jogging pants, nice sneakers, yeah... he's Kine.

Willard: "You need to be inside with the social distancing."

Guy: "Some lady told me I had to come here and meet two guys? I guess that's you?"

Mario: "Lady?"

Guy: "Said her name was Nadine." He tugs his mask into place and wanders off.

Willard: "Hold on, partner! I have signed photos right here!" In the pictures, he's doing his patented glare, shirtless.

Guy: "So, are you like a famous cowboy?"

Willard: "I'm wrestler!"

Guy: "Oh! I thought you were like MMA or something real."

Willard: "Oh those little guys in the cage?"

Mario: "Fake! You don't win unless Dana White wants you to win!"

They head over to Elysium at the Seattle center and park again.

Jack and Nadine show up by the glass museum, and Willard spots them immediately and starts shouting for them to come over. Then he pulls two of the photos out of the glove compartment. Nadine is a gold-skinned woman, and wearing a black pantsuit. Willard hands them photos (signed).

Jack: "The wrestler?" He doesn't actually follow wrestling, but he can take a hint.

Willard: "In the flesh! So about this award ceremony..."

Jack: "Can you lay out what went down last night, first?"

Nadine: "Which one of you is Mario?"

Mario: lays out a formal Spanish courtly greeting from a good century earlier, and Nadine relaxes fractionally.

Nadine: "I understand you sought an audience."

Mario: "Yes. We hoped to explain."

Willard: immediately launches into an explanation about Austin Watts not doing so well, and taking him to the hospital, and doing the IVs... Oh, and Mario losing his shit over the "China Virus" phrasing.

Mario: "But I calmed down."

Nadine: "Fortunately, my associate's investigation showed that nothing was breached, but I would like to impress upon you--"

Willard: "I am so sorry!"

Mario: "Wasn't your fault, man."

Nadine: "No censure is forthcoming. Be aware that the Prince has decreed that no Kindred will hunt at hospitals at this time. The risk is too great."

Mario: "So us feeding...?"

Nadine: "The professor says we are safe, but he believes that we can spread the disease."

Willard: "So... we're cool."

Nadine: "So, Mister Grey: what say you? They don't seem to be Anarchs."

Jack: "No. They weren't seeking to cause trouble, they just stepped into a bad situation. But it sounds like they managed to restrain each other, and they got out without further incident."

Nadine: "Agreed."

Willard: "Again I am SO SORRY little lady."

Nadine: does not kill Willard for calling her a little lady, but it's a near thing.

Jack hangs out as Nadine leaves, still following the "check these guys out" order. We agree to meet up at Laurelhurst the following evening for Bianca's concert.

And we get two experience points.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

It Just Gets Harder

I was going to do the weekly blogging challenge this morning -- I really was -- but the topic is "your silliest pet peeves" and at this point I'm not coming up with anything. Like, I could throw out "People who think 3.5 is the better edition when DnD 5e is clearly a superior system" just to annoy one of my friends, but honestly? They appeal to different kinds of play. Who cares? Or I could go with "People who insist that Trump is somehow competent and not stultifyingly corrupt," but at this point that feels less like a pet peeve and more like an existential crisis. So... yeah, no good topics there for me.

We're on, I don't know, maybe 2,547 years of lockdown now -- or at least it feels that way. And it's wearing us down. It seems like every morning it's harder to get my family out of bed (including myself, honestly), harder to get out the door, harder to get the boys down for bed in the evening. Monday night, the dog got ahold of the last little bit of Secondborn's chocolate bar and promptly devoured it; then Beautiful Wife decided to sleep on he couch so she could cuddle with the dog. Somewhere in small hours of the morning, she rolled over and put her foot out, very likely smacking Crotchstomper McSnuggles in his already-sore-from-eating-chocolate stomach, and he bit her foot: not hard enough to draw blood, but hard enough to bruise and really, really hurt. Then she spent the day trying to get Secondborn to do at some work (any work) on his schoolwork, while I spent the day in the office dealing with a chaotic cascade of incoming issues. I really need to go finish the thing I was trying to work on yesterday (and finally got to look at for maybe twenty minutes at four o'clock in the afternoon) but I can't seem to focus and I'm not sure I care.

The boys aren't getting anywhere near enough exercise; neither is the dog. I have eaten more bacon in the past few weeks than is currently legal under the Texas Blue Laws (so please don't tell the authorities). And, of course, I'm watching various elements of our government try to navigate the pandemic using the only tools they seem to have: a combination of denial, dishonesty, and homicidal, kleptomaniacal greed. We've already had a lot of completely avoidable deaths, and we're going to have more; I will not be at all surprised when we see other countries closing their borders to us. (Canada already sort of has.)

And it just goes on. The best case scenario that I'm seeing (in the things I'm reading) is that we loosen the Stay At Home restriction is a couple of weeks, enough to keep the economy from collapsing. (Beautiful Wife: "That ship has sailed.") Then we see a rise in cases, and a few weeks after that we go back to a tighter lockdown. Wash, Rinse, Repeat... at least until we have a workable vaccine, a very effective and widely available treatment, or evidence that we've built up enough herd immunity for the worst of the threat to be past us. And the timeline on that -- assuming we get wildly lucky and develop a vaccine that works brilliantly and gets fast-tracked through testing and can be put into widespread production immediately after -- is another fourteen months.

This. For another fourteen months.

Well, I say that. The actual Best Case scenario is that the government steps up and provides some degree of Universal Basic Income and Universal Healthcare, at least for the duration of the pandemic. But I'm pretty sure that won't happen, because we have too many politicians and too many oligarchs who are absolutely fucking terrified that people will realize that yes, we can absolutely do that. They'd rather let people die. They'd much, much rather let a whole lot of people die. Over in Georgia, Governor Kemp is moving to "reopen" a whole lot of business (and an awful lot are precisely the kinds of businesses where it's not going to be possible to maintain social distancing). He is, at least, getting some pushback, but one of the things I've seen pointed out is that the move probably isn't motivated by a desire to get the economy going again; people are still going to stay home, and a lot of business will actively lose money by trying to have paid staff available when customers aren't coming in the door. No, it's probably an underhanded attempt to cut off unemployment benefits; if people aren't going into work/looking for work just because, y'know, there's a highly contagious and life-threatening plague on, well... that's on them, right? We're not paying unemployment if the jobs are there and available. The Texas Lieutenant Governor is back on his "Some people are just going to have to die to get our economy going," kick and I'm absolutely baffled as to why there isn't a row of guillotines in the street in front of his house. You know damned well he's not going to be the one nobly laying down his life for the greater good. Perfectly happy to sacrifice other people, though.

I had hoped that writing this out would make me feel a little better, but it hasn't. I'm angry, I'm disgusted, and I'm sad. I still think we'll pull through this -- though I think it's going get even more horrible before it gets any better at all -- but if I'm wrong, well... as a species, we'll have brought our extinction on ourselves.

Yeah, I'm not thinking happy thoughts right now.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

VtM: The Visit

Jack stood on the porch looking out into the night, and wondered. Inside, he could hear laughter from the Late Late Show, which Valeria had retired to watch; outside, the city was unnaturally silent. Few cars moved on the streets; nobody walked the sidewalks. He could hear no laughing, no talking.

Why are your kind so obsessed with killing each other? Valeria had asked, and he didn't have an answer; he didn't understand it himself, though he knew it was true. "We are predators," he whispered into the night air, tasting the words as he spoke them. That was also true, but like so many things it could adjusted, altered. He kept his need for blood restricted to those who could and would support him, with the blood of animals on hand for emergencies. It was, he thought, why human beings built societies: so they would have systems in place to provide for basic needs, leaving them free to focus on the things they cared about.

But the pandemic had caused him to withdraw from his usual sources of food for fear of infecting them, or passing an infection from one to another, and the need didn't go away. Even he could see that if this continued, the ones who hunted the streets and bars and clubs would turn on each other out of desperation. There would be unrest, unrest that could eventually explode into chaos. There were some among the elders who would want to take advantage of such chaos, who would encourage it so that they could. Master Brachetti had made an unexpected visit to make sure that they knew that, to remind him that their loyalty lay with the prince, and to inform him that the prince had been called away, leaving his Seneschal Amelia, who was very possibly too kind and too fair, in charge.

It was not the sort of thing that Jack would ordinarily care about. He kept himself busy using stagecraft to disguise the dark gifts and bring in mortal income; he had no personal ambitions when it came to Kindred politics. He would do as his Sire and the Clan demanded, of course, and certainly if he saw signs of sedition among the other vampires he would report it. But what vampire would display such in front of him? He was Tremere, tightly bound to a clan that was utterly loyal to the Camarilla, and he was the untrusted progeny of an untrusted sire to anyone outside of the Prince's council.

But Valeria had asked what message their master had brought, and her point was well-taken: Master Brachetti did not make casual visits unannounced. He had come with a purpose, and Jack needed to know what it was. He'd certainly felt it was important to remind them of his feelings about Prince Frost, Seneschal Amelia, and the court... but those were merely reminders, and so unlikely to merit this sort of urgency. The same was true of his command to pass along information related to any possible opposition against the prince: it had been a reminder, but an of-course-you-remember-this sort of reminder. The master could have sent a letter for that. He knew as well as anyone just how unlikely it was that Jack would get caught up in Kindred political maneuvering, or even be aware of it.

So the primary message had been the one that the master had delivered first: the Prince had been called to a Conclave. The Inner Council of the Camarilla was meeting unexpectedly. And it had to be because of the pandemic. So the obvious concern, the obvious message, was that the Elders were concerned by the pandemic and the troubles it might create for the Kindred and the Masquerade -- and that Jack and Valeria might not have thought beyond the immediate needs of social distancing and the dangers posed by difficulty in feeding. Which, Jack thought, is absolutely fair. He hadn't thought any farther than that.

But there was likely another message buried underneath the obvious one, and it was the one topic that Master Brachetti had conspicuously failed to mention. The Tremere were a strong clan, not because of physical gifts or skill with weapons, but because they had learned to conjure magic from the blood. Jack was well aware that a physical confrontation with another immortal could easily kill him; even a sufficiently determined mortal might manage it, if they got lucky. And that meant returning to the studies that had originally persuaded him to turn from the light, even if his initial talents had shown themselves elsewhere. That meant resuming his study of Thaumaturgy, hopefully in time to be able to defend himself with it if they needed to.

And that was going to be a problem, because blood magic... required blood.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Vampire: The Pandemic

So... the first episode of the Vampire: The Masquerade Chronicle. This was supposed to be a nuanced exploration of how a group of Kindred might manage in the midst of an epidemic. Except that, well, this is this group so... no. It's going to be chaos.

The Cast:
Willard: Brujah, Professional Wrestler/Luchador, ex-soldier.
Mario: Toreador, Professional Wrestler/Luchador, background still unclear.
Jack Grey: Tremere, stage magician, was a stage magician in mortal life too.
Bianca: Opera Singer, very rich, also a Toreador.

The Scene:
We open with Willard, a professional wrestler, in his house in the suburbs with one of his wrestling buddies, Austin "The Chaos" Watts - bright blue dreadlocks, the word Chaos tattooed across his chest. He doesn't look too good tonight. Chaos has a bit of trouble in the middle of a bench press, and says he isn't feeling well. Willard looks him over, flubs a medicine roll, and decides that clearly what he needs for medication is... women. So Willard drags Chaos out to the truck and tries to swing by the service station for some Red Bull; it's closed. He heads to the grocery store instead.

The grocery store is doing distancing and there's a guy in front of the store. "Where's you mask?" Willard returns to the truck and grabs a Luchador mask, which happens to be sufficient to cover his mouth, and gets waved in; he buys red bull and gatorade and gets Austin hydrated and hyped up and heads to the club and-- it's closed.

Willard: "Oh, shit. Whoa." He calls his other, vampiric wrestling buddy: Mario. "We got a real problem. Austin's going to die if he doesn't get laid, and the club's closed!"

Mario: "Hell. Bring him by here."

Austin: "Okay, I'm fine, let's do this."

Willard: "Drink the Red Bull. Drink the whole thing."

Austin is not intimidated into drinking the red bull; he passes out instead. Clearly, he's in desperate need of sex and it's so acute that he's passed out. Willard unzips his pants to administer emergency first aid... while driving the truck towards Mario's place. He manages not to crash, and quickens his companion.

Traffic is awfully light. That, and people get out of the way of that truck. Parking is also super-easy, which is not at all usual. Carlos the doorman opens the door.

Mario: "Send him up."

Carlos: "This man has no pants."

Mario: "I owe you a cerveza, brother."

Carlos passes him through to the elevator, and Willard carries Austin up to Mario's apartment.

Willard: "We have to got to get this guy laid. I had to give him some help on the way over."

Mario (making a rather better medicine roll): "This man is really sick. Look at him: he's running a fever."

Willard: "Pussy fever!"

Mario: "That's not how this works, man."

Willard: "You know, now that you mention it, maybe we should take him to one of those human doctors."

Mario: "You should know this. Let me hit up one of the EMTs that work our shows."

He calls Dr. Josh Fletcher. "Willard just brought me this dude that I think is sick."

Dr. Fletcher: "Well, I'm down at the hospital. How's he look?"

Mario: "Well, he's hot, and he's not responding and shit, man... He does not look good."

Dr. Fletcher. "Oh, God. Bring him down to the hospital. I'll see what I can do to bring him in. You guys know what he has, right? You're wearing masks?"

Mario: "Well, Willard's wearing his show mask. I've been inside watching this Tiger King thing, did I miss something?"

Fletcher: "Watching what? Never mind. How long's he been sick?"

Mario: "Recent, like he was okay when he showed up to work out."

Fletcher. "Good, okay, bring him down. And wash your hands."

Mario gets them both into scarves to cover their faces.

Willard: "Are we gonna rob something, Mario?"

Mario: "No man, I ain't gonna rob no bank, man. But he said to wear masks, so we're gonna wear masks."

Carlos gets out of the way as they pass.

Next up: An apartment in west Seattle. Jack Grey and Valeria are out of supplies so they put on masks and head to the grocery store. We grab staples... but there is no toilet paper. This isn't a problem for Jack, but it's a pretty big deal for Valeria. We head back to our apartment. We return to find Master Brachetti in our apartment. We greet him, and Master B waits on the balcony while we put the groceries away.

Jack: "What brings you here?"

Brachetti: "The prince has been called to an official conclave at the ivory tower itself."

Jack "That sounds serious."

Brachetti: "Cross is the preeminent strength in Seattle, but there are some who might take advantage. Amelia is also essential, but... I think her heart is in the right place. That bodes ill for the use of power."

Amelia is the primogen of the Nosferatu, and also the Prince's Seneschal. Master B reminds us that we are indebted to the Prince, and suggests that the conclave is likely concerned with the pandemic as well. After the master departs, Valeria expresses some concern over such a sudden visit; Jack reassures her that there was no particular warning given, just that the court is apparently reacting to the situation and extra caution should be exercised. It's enough warning to know that Master Brachetti came to check in on them in person. Valeria heads into the living room to watch the Late Late Show.

Bianca, meanwhile, is screaming at her sire about the latest cancellation of her show. Bianca is... a diva from a previous century, so using The Google to hire new staff does not go well for her. Bianca gives up and settles in for The Real Housewives of Seattle.

During a commercial break, the phone rings. (Hers is still rotary.)

Bianca: "Hello?"

Evan: "Miss Cavallieri? This is your handler over at the concert hall. We were just checking in to see how you were doing."

Bianca: "I am doing well, except that THERE IS NOBODY TO PERFORM FOR IN MY HOUSE."

Evan: "Times are difficult for the Hall as well."

Bianca: "Have you perhaps had to lay some people off?"

Evan: "Well, um, all of them."

Bianca: "Excellent! Can you contact them and let them know that I'm looking for some staff for my house?"

Evan: "I, um, sure. Actually, we were hoping you could make a donation?"

Bianca: "Certainly, if you can help me find a staff."

Evan: "So... how much does a Gentleman in Waiting make?"

Bianca: "What do you make now?"

Evan: "...Never mind. I'll wait on that."

Bianca: "You see, this way your people will be gainfully employed and won't be cast out of house and home..."

Evan: "And in return, a donation?"

Bianca: "That can be arranged."

She's very convincing, and Evan agrees to go look. Then she convinces Evan to walk her through using The Google, starting with turning on the computer. The MacBook belongs to Lucien; Bianca selects the Guest account. The troubleshooting... does not go well. Evan gets her as far as Safari, then gets her to Google. Bianca: "I'm going to write a check for $100 dollars right now for your assistance Evan, what is your last name?"

Evan: "Grant, same as yesterday."

Bianca: "Ah."

They finish up and Evan gets off the phone. Once the dial tone comes up, Bianca hangs up the phone.

Lucien: "So, are we done with our little fit now?"

Bianca: "Fit? What fit? If you want to see a fit, I can show you a fit."

Lucien: "So what did the Kine want?"

Bianca: "A donation. And also to get me some STAFF. And he showed me how to use The Google."

Lucien: "So, this staff... you know they are not as we are."

Bianca: "Yes, they are much tastier."

Lucien: "..."

Bianca: "They can have the upstairs rooms."

Lucien: "Very well... can we agree that we must be careful?"

Bianca: "Oh, if we must."

Lucien: "You know I am uncomfortable with the plebian masses being here during the day."

Bianca: "Just because they are peasants does not mean you should fear them."

Lucien: "You recall that peasants beheaded my sire?"

Bianca: "This was two hundred years ago, yes? You will be getting over it sometime?"

Lucien: "...I suppose that might be the beginning of a plan. When does your Mister Tasty intend to put you back to work?"

Bianca: "I assume it's when our food quits dying of natural causes."

Lucien: "I will watch the news, then, and see what there is to know."

Bianca: "It will have to wait until after Real Housewives."

So, back to Mario and Willard. Evergreen on Tenth is a shitshow at the hospital.

Mario: "Why are there so many people here?"

Willard: "Maybe they're all wimps?"

There's this very long but weirdly spaced-out line heading towards the waiting room. Mario approaches the cop who's monitoring the situation and directing people. Mario tries to talk his way inside; Willard practices his patented professional glare. The cop is convinced; he sends them inside."...And get an actual mask from one of the nurses!"

They head inside.

It's organized chaos: very crowded, a lot of coughing, and one charge nurse who's trying to hold everything together. (Mike: "Is she hot?" Dm: "No." Mike: "Does she have soft hands?" DM: "Roll Perception + Investigation.") Willard: "You're like a doctor-lady, and he's like really horny, and I see you have very nice hands. Can you help him out?"

She slaps a clipboard against his chest. "Just fill this out and sit the hell down."

Mario approaches her: "Dr. Fletcher said we should bring this guy in, he's important to some of the checks you must do?"

Her: "I'll let Dr. Josh know."

Mario: "Also: real masks?"

She hands some over. Mario straps one on Willard's dumb ass, *over* his Luchador mask. He puts the other one on The Chaos.

Chaos: "Hey, Mario, what's up-- where are we?"

Willard: "Drink a Red Bull."

Mario: "Hey, good idea man."

Chaos: "Man, I hope I don't have the thing everyone has."

Mario: "Thing?"

Chaos: "The Pandemic? The China virus?"

Mario: "What, like it was made in China?"

Chaos: "No, it just came from there."

Mario: "That's a super racist thing. There was a thing called Spanish Flu and it came from right here in America." (Mario was around when it happened, and it's a bit of a sore spot for him.)

He rolls to maintain self-control and botches, so now he's going into Frenzy in the ER.

Willard notices that Mario is super-pissed. He grabs Mario in his signature hug. "It's okay! It's okay!"

We're! In! Combat!

Mario moves first. Willard is going to try to grab him into a clench, but... Mario grabs and shakes Chaos. Willard grabs him with a hold... successfully! There are now three large, burly men in the middle of this HR who are hugging each other with absolutely no regard for social distancing. Mario tries to break loose, but fails. Willard: "Calm the fuck down, son!"

Mario tries to control himself, and goes back being coherent again. "Man, every time somebody brings that up, I always have to explain that shit."

Austin/Chaos: "Sorry man, I didn't know you were into China."

Willard: "All right, be cool. Where's this fucking doctor?"

Nurse: "Paperwork???"

Willard starts filling out the paperwork, in the equivalent of a toddler scribbling on it in Crayon. The nurse tries to hand it back. He tries to intimidate her. She's... not terrified, but subtly cowed. "Yes sir, I will get his doctor as soon as you get me his paperwork."

Willard hands it back: "It's good enough."

Nurse: "All right, but I'll have to have it later."

Willard: "...Mario will do it."

The fourth floor has been converted to an overflow for the ER. It's over capacity; there are some people in the hallways.

Doc Fletcher arrives and starts looking Austin over. He's... not in good shape. "Willard took my pants off for some reason..."

Willard: "It was battlefield triage!"

They find him a spot, and Josh just lights up a cigarette right there on the ward. "You guys are feeling all right?"

Mario: "I mean, we're good, but shit man, has it been like this for a while man?"

Josh: "Yes."

Mario: "I been watching Tiger King, and I missed like everything."

Willard: "We should get a tiger!"

Josh: "Okay, you guys take care, I've got to get back to work."

Willard: "Back in the army, I was almost a medic."

Josh: "So you have combat training?"

Willard: "Fuck yeah!"

Josh: "Can you help? We are slammed. We need more nurses, dude."

Willard: "I told my handlers: no dresses."

Josh: "We wear scrubs. What the hell is wrong with you?"

Willard: "So you want me to like triage people with like bullet wounds and knife scars and..."

Josh: "I need somebody who can run IVs. You can do that, right?"

Willard: "It's kind of boring. Is it good press?"

Mario: "Yes. It's good press."

Willard: "...Okay."

Josh: "Thanks. You're a lifesaver, man." (Everyone, OOC: "We'll see about that.")

So... Willard gets off to a rough start; it's been a while since he's done this. He's not real fast, but he makes it work. Mario gets spotted by a couple of fans, so he stops to give autographs from as much of a safe distance as they can manage. "Take your vitamins, drink your tequila, take care of your grandma..." His bedside advice could use some work.

Willard, meanwhile, is struggling with his self-control. To other mortals, these are people; to Willard, they're more like... Caprisuns. Willard uses Willpower to resist the urge to nibble on any veins.

Willard: "Mario, man, I think we need to go."

They leave.

Willard is hungry, so they take advantage of Mario's Herd. They're mostly guys looking to get in on the circuit, or roadies who are really into the scene. They pick a particularly chunky guy, and Willard tries to convince him to take one for the team. Guy: "I don't like the way he's looking at me, man. He's making me real nervous. Sorry Mario." He shuts the door.

Mario: "You got any pets, man?" A moment later: "Willard, you got anybody in town?"

Willard comes up with this sad teenager who's one of his fans, but it's a bit of a drive. Mario: "You can drive? You're good?"

Willard: "I'm good!"

Well, he can drive. But navigate? Not so much. So... it's 5:00 a.m. and they're not in Bellvue yet. The sky's looking a little pink.

Willard: "Hey Mario, we gotta shelter in place, man." He's miscalculated and he's over in Southlake Union. They turn back for Mario's apartment. Or at least they try. Annnnd they're still lost.

At 5:30, they're still not there. They park the truck and call an uber. A dude wearing a face mask picks them up in his Prius. Willard is pouting. The make it just in time; sunlight literally chases them into Mario's apartment. Carlos backs up against the wall as they pass, giving them well in excess of the six foot distancing. Mario drags Willard past him, and finds him a blood pack. It's not much and it's not good, but it's enough. They drift off to sleep.

Everybody gets 3 experience points. Once we get to the end of the story, we can use them to buy more dots in things. Or something.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Thursday, April 16, 2020

One More Note on the Soft Apocalypse

I do have to say that Crotchstomper McSnuggles (our half-Doberman, half-who-knows-what) is living his best doggy life since nearly all of his people are home nearly all of the time.

Still trying to find a rhythm

First up: No new scenes for Dark Armor today, no new scenes for Into The Black tomorrow. It's just not going to happen.

So we're... trying to keep everything going, but it's hard. Beautiful Wife and I are both still employed, at least, but that's hard too in its own way. (Though admittedly, a lot less hard than not being employed would be.) The boys are doing their schooling at home, which makes it hard for Beautiful Wife to get her work done -- Firstborn has pretty well organized himself and is getting his work done independently, but Secondborn still needs to be prodded and monitored. I'm not sure what I can do to help with that; I'm still going into work, but having me work from home (even on the limited basis that I'd be allowed to do so) really just makes our house more crowded, which hurts more than it helps. And, of course, it's hard to stay focused what with the sense of impending doom hanging over everything and the federal (and state, to a somewhat lesser extent) government's absolute clusterfuck of botched responses and counterproductive messaging. Even my own workplace (municipal government) which I normally think of as fairly sensible and proactive seems to be making financial and economic decisions when it needs to be making medical and humanitarian decisions instead. And trying to be on a regular schedule at work is all sort of detached and surreal; I would have missed a meeting yesterday if somebody hadn't skyped me a "You're late, are you coming?" reminder... either because I'd lost track of the fact that it was Wednesday, or I'd lost track of the fact that we have this meeting every Wednesday, or maybe just because I'd lost track of the fact that I'm me and therefore supposed to attend.

We're doing what we can to stay sane. I'm running the Firstborn-and-friends DnD game on Saturdays and a Saltmarsh campaign for some of my friends on Tuesdays, and playing in a Curse of Strahd campaign on Saturday nights and (starting tonight) (I hope) an old-school Vampire: The Masquerade campaign. This is good for my emotional health, but it's not helping me be productive on my writing projects since I'm putting those energies into creating new characters and getting a feel for them instead. Beautiful Wife is experimenting with online movie nights and just talking on the phone a lot. But all that requires new arrangements, and a different rhythm for our weeknights.

We're doing all right, I think. I'm sure we're doing a lot better than a lot of people, and I feel a little self-conscious about pointing out that despite that, it still sucks. But I'm going to bring dinner home with me tonight (and I cooked dinner for everyone the last two nights - yay me!) so that Beautiful Wife doesn't have to worry about that; and I'm going to try to put away some laundry; and then I'm going to try to play Vampire: The Masquerade.

We do what we can.

How are the rest of you holding up, gentle readers?

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Challenge: Characters I'd invite to dinner

This is part of the weekly Blogging Challenge over at Long and Short Reviews. If you'd like to participate, you can find the prompts here. They also put up a post every Wednesday where you go and link your response -- and see everyone else's. Check out their homepage to find it.

The challenge for this week is Characters I'd invite to a a dinner party.

Adult-me has no idea, and finds the whole thing a bit surreal in the current environment. I mean, can fictional characters spread a pandemic? What if they're visiting other people's dinner parties? Are they maintaining proper social distancing? What if they come down with COVID19 and then take it back to their book-worlds? Is any of this safe???

But child-me used to spin elaborate, genre-blending fantasies when I was lying in bed at night. I'm not honestly sure I can remember everyone or everything that was involved, or really do this whole thing justice, but...
  • The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew - I read both, and while they were distinct series, I'm obviously not the only one who thought that they could be set in the same world.
  • Tony and Tia from Escape To Witch Mountain - because telekinetics are cool, and musical telekinetics are even cooler. I suspect most people know this one from the Disney movie, but it actually was a book originally.
  • Tom Swift - which I suspect is how I justified us all having a spaceship to fly around in.
  • The kids from the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon - because hey, real magic! Powerful artifacts! ...I want one.
I suspect there were others, but that's what I remember.

Edited to add: Doctor Who! How the hell could I forget the Doctor? (This would be Tom Baker-era Fourth Doctor, for anyone who's keeping track. Jelly babies all around!)

So now, I suppose, you have to picture the bunch of us sitting around a very long table in my castle. (Of course I had a castle. You don't think I'd be satisfied with just having a spaceship, do you?) Each group is seated a good eight feet from the others, and when we aren't eating we're wandering in masks and gloves, maintaining distance, and shout-talking at each other. Since we're all in our forties now, I suspect much of the conversation will be catching up on what people have been doing with their lives for the last thirty years or so.

Until Presto the magician unexpectedly sneezes, and all of sudden everybody is like, "Hey, look at the time! Gotta go..."

This timeline is so, so very weird.

The Golf Course? Really?

I do not understand why we seem to think that keeping the firk ding blast golf course open should be any kind of priority right now.

Normally, sure. We have an award-winning golf course? Good look! Applause! Bragging rights!

We're determined to keep it open during a pandemic? Maybe... and I don't want to go too far out on a limb here... maybe not such a good look.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Music: Anabelle

Music by Ye Banished Privateers - and against my usual advice, watch the video for this one:

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Youth DnD: Two Dungeon Sessions...

Right, so: as planned, we picked up with another session in the dungeon, this time with the Druid accompanying the party. The group stopped to acquire another Ring of Protection for their new companion, then defeated the kobolds and the kobold sorcerer. ("Not... again..." he gasped as he died.) Heading down to the second level, they selected a direction and proceeded east, stopping to disarm a spear-trap along the way. (Their method is just to stand out of the way and set it off, then walk past.) Behind the next door they discovered a pack of white apes, who immediately attacked them (as almost everything in this dungeon does). They defeated the apes, and discovered in their room a bit of treasure and a magical dagger, which they handed over to the druid -- she being the only character who doesn't have any magical weapons at present. At that point they decided to rest, so they dragged the corpses out into the corridor, cleaned the floor as best they could, and settled in for a long rest.

When they awoke, they stepped back out into the corridor and noted that all of the bodies were gone. Had the dungeon reset? It shouldn't be able to, with them inside it. Something else, then? Toruv, the dragonborn sorcerer, suggested the possibility of a gelatinous cube. They continued on, bypassing a side-passage and coming to a door... and noticing another, secret door in the wall beside them. They got it open and walked through. sneaking down a narrow passage to another secret door... and beyond that, they found a naked, bound dwarf either sleeping or unconscious on the floor. The prodded him awake, and quickly got his story before cutting him loose.

His name is Brand Ironspark, and he's a member of the Black Vanguard -- another banner company. He got separated from his group down on level four, and managed to make it up to level two before being ambushed by a bunch of bugbears and dragged back here. That was, he thinks, a couple of days ago; the bugbear cleric seems to be planning to sacrifice him to some pagan god. Can the group help him get back to the surface?

They can do better than that: between the dragonborn and the half-elf barbarian, they're able to outfit him with a tunic and pants (even if they have to cut a bit off the legs). Then, digging around in the Bag of Holding, they come up with a suit of Ring Mail, a shield, a morning star, and a spear. Brand is ecstatic, and asks if they'd be willing to do him one further favor: he wants to kill the whole troop of bugbears before he goes. Is the group willing? Of course they are. They hand him food and water, and he's in the midst of scarfing it down when the non-secret door swings open and a robed bugbear strides into the room, yelling for the prisoner to quiet down until he can be sacrificed.

The half-elf swashbuckler/bard reaches out and swings the door closed behind the cleric. Then the fight begins.

It's a short fight. The bugbear cleric has just stepped into a room full of vengeful adventurers, and... well, Aika (the swashbuckler) stabs her, Sana (halfling druid) poison sprays her, Arch (half-elf barbarian) hits her with his flaming sword, Barrith (halfling Arcane Trickster) stabs her with his frost brand shortsword, Brand Ironspark misses his swing with his morning star (he's still recovering from being tied up for two days), and Toruv (dragonborn sorcerer) steps in, puts his palm against the cleric's face, and finishes her off with a pair of Eldritch Blasts.

The room that the cleric came out of is empty; there's some treasure, and they quickly loot it before setting up in front of the next door. They haven't been discovered yet, so they have time to set up a plan -- and it goes off perfectly.

The barbarian and the fighter set up in front of the door. The arcane trickster opens it (very stealthily) with Mage Hand. Then Toruv steps up with Melf's Minute Meteors ready, and sends two of the meteors into the room. The bugbears are sitting in a circle around a cookpot full of something that smells horrible, and the meteors catch all of them. In addition, Toruv has aimed his attacks to knock over the cookpot, doing additional damage as it spills over three of the bugbears and converting that side of the circle into difficult terrain. He steps aside as the bugbears all look up.
The swashbuckler slides in past her friends, attacks, kills one, and disappears back out the door again. The druid steps up and hits one with poison spray, but it manages not to breathe (possibly out of pure shock) and doesn't take any damage. She, too, steps out of the way. Then the barbarian steps in and kills another one. The Arcane Trickster slips up behind him and casts Sleep, putting four of the remaining five bugbears to sleep. The dwarven former prisoner, Brand Ironspark, steps in and kills the last one, and the group quickly finishes off the four sleepers. With that done, they accompany him back up to first level --

--Or, well, they start to. Along the way, they see a pair of skeletons floating down the side-passage towards them. They manage to spot (and recognize) a sort of shimmering wall in front of the skeletons, and correctly conclude that these aren't magical skeletons; it's the remains of the white apes, and they're being carried along inside a gelatinous cube. Toruv fires off a couple of meteors at the thing, and everybody runs for the stairs. Fortunately, gelatinous cubes are not fast; they're able to get to the statue room and realign the statue before it catches up with them. The closed portcullis won't keep the cube out, but the other portcullis is now up and their way to the stairs is clear. They race up the steps and pass through the magical membrane to the first level. The cube does not follow.

Feeling relatively safe, they continue back to the dungeon entrance; along the way, they think to ask if there's another way down to the second level, and he tells them where to find a second entrance behind a secret door. He also answers Aika's question about whether the Black Vanguard is engaged in a blood feud with the Iron Men: they are. The Iron men aren't really exploring the dungeon, they're just trying to make sure that nobody except the Guilded Lancers (the other Banner Company of their House, Briyann) gets to explore. Brand thanks them again, tells Arch it was good fighting with him, and leaves.

With Brand safely out of the dungeon and on his way, they circle the first level of the dungeon to find the secret entrance, which is exactly where Brand said it would be. They're looking at it when they hear the clump of footsteps, and a group of five dwarves come stomping up the steps. From the devices on their armor, this is obviously the rest of the Black Vanguard.

"Um, hello," says Aika, the swashbuckler. "We found your boy Brand."

"Ah?" asks one of the dwarves. "And where is he, then?"

"We gave him armor and weapons and saw him to the entrance," answers Toruv.

"I told you I felt him leave," says one of the dwarves -- the one who's carrying a staff instead of something edged, though he's every bit as heavily armored as the rest.

The dwarf who spoke first grunts an acknowledgement, and the group starts past. Another dwarf, the other one in the front row, stops and turns. "We're in your debt," he says. And with no more ceremony than that, the whole group marches past and heads towards the entrance.

"Well," says Aika. "That's not the worst thing that could happen."

So at this point the group decides that they've had enough excitement for one expedition; they, too, exit the dungeon. They're due a day of rest, and Sana the druid wants to see if she can exchange the magical dagger for something more useful to her. So after a pause at the manor for breakfast, they divide the treasure with Aldenmier and head off to the local magic shop...

...but that's a story for next time.

At this point, according to my listing, they have:
Current party treasure by my count is 25 PP, 2,602 GP, and 331 SP.

Treasure they've collected over the last few adventures (which we really haven't settled out) includes:
-A silver idol worth 450 gp, which they straight hand over to Lord Aldenmier in exchange for keeping the bracers of archaery, which the barbarian is using.
-A ruby worth 200 gp.
-400 gp.
-an ivory scabbard taken from the bugbear cleric, worth 75 gp.
-a +1 Ring of Protection, which they handed over to Brand Ironspark to help make sure he got home safely.
-500 sp.

Once they finish dividing that up, they should have:
25 PP, 2,927 GP, and 331 SP.
(Aldenmier agrees that they can hang on to the ivory scabbard as a keepsake; they've brought in quite a bit of wealth for his House and several of his business ventures seem to be doing well, so he's feeling generous. Also, an ivory scabbard for the Ivory Scimitars? It's just too appropriate.)

Friday, April 10, 2020

The Witch Hunter

Jack Grey wouldn't have thought a goth club would be a good setting for one of his shows, but the Crux Invertus had been a strip club before being repurchased and repurposed, and it still retained a working main stage -- along with half a dozen mirrored corners, each with its own small stage and pole -- and the audience of clubgoers was more appreciative than he would ever have guessed. He'd chosen the musical accompaniments to match what he understood of their tastes, and he must not have gone too far astray; they were riveted.

With a dramatic lift of his arm that swept his cloak out behind him, he conducted Valeria up the steps and onto the platform, where she sank into a dancer's pose: one leg tucked in front of her, the other crossed over it, with her arms around the upraised leg and her head tilted down towards her knee. With quick, theatrical gestures the Magical Mister Grey raised the golden cloth sides of the pyramid around her, then stepped around to the front of the pyramid and lifted the cloth that covered the base. There was nothing but empty space beneath, with metal legs at each corner to hold it up. Turning, he took hold of the loop at the top of the pyramid and lifted it, one-handed, into the air. It rose lightly, weightless, as if it were completely empty.

He swung it all the way around himself, cape flaring, as the metal legs fell away. Then he set it gently on the ground and tapped the top twice. The cloth sides of the golden pyramid collapsed, revealing Valeria still inside. He extended a hand; she took it and rose effortlessly to her feet, then bowed to the crowd's applause.

Jack bowed as well, then snapped his fingers. A rain of rose petals fell from the ceiling. In a place like this there was no way to conceal the mechanical release, but it covered their exit and made for a lovely signature effect to end the show. There was applause as they slipped off the stage and behind the curtain, and that was all that he wanted, really.

"Did you see him?" asked Valeria.

Jack paused as the applause intensified, half-tempted to offer an encore. "See whom?"

"Haviland. He's in the club, he was watching from the balcony."

Jack's response was immediate: "Do not throw him off it."

Valeria stopped herself, scowled, and turned to him. "What are we going to do about him?"

"We're going to collect our payment and get out of here," he said. "The club has security, and they can handle him. Besides, we're inside Elysium -- if only barely -- and we can't afford to start any trouble here."

Valeria nodded slowly. One of the many things Jack's master had drilled into them was the importance of Elysium, the neutral territory where vampires could gather in peace and safety. Putting on a show here avoided any risk of trespassing on someone else's hunting grounds, but it did limit their options for dealing with the man who was hunting them.

On the other side of the curtain, the music began again. Before long, mortals would be dancing again -- some of them on the stage, likely as not. It was time to go.

"I'm so sorry," said a voice, and suddenly the club owner was visible, melting out of the backstage shadows. "I saw him, too. I have people watching him, but..."

Malachi Omicron -- his legal name, unlikely as it seemed -- was a paradox: early generation, but Caitiff. Word had it that he'd been turned out of guilt and abandoned by his Sire, but he'd made a name for himself in the local communities, both kindred and kine. He cultivated an air of mystery, avoiding sunlight and moonlight alike, but managed the club despite that. Despite being clanless, he was said to have the trust of the Prince.

Valeria heaved a breath and her shoulders relaxed. "I did warn you."

"You did," answered Malachi, as easily and respectfully as he would have answered another vampire. "I have your earnings in cash, or if you'll give me a moment I can write you a check."

"Cash will do fine." Jack said cheerily. It had been a good night, and anyone who treated Valeria well would get the same in return from him. "We just want to go before--"

Malachi nodded. "I understand." He held out an envelope. "It's all there. If you'll follow me, I have a pair of bouncers ready to move in and ask your friend some unpleasant questions about a restraining order. They'll keep him occupied until you're well away."

Jack turned to Valeria and raised an eyebrow. You see? It's best to have the weight of authority behind you. Then you're protected.

She nodded an acknowledgement, then shrugged. Sometimes that's not enough and you have to be ready for violence. She didn't have to say it aloud; she'd been his girlfriend before he was turned and his ghoul ever since, and he knew her well enough to read exactly what she was thinking from her posture and the barest hints of her expression.

"Thank you," said Jack.

Mal shrugged. "My people made the mistake; my people can correct it."

"Nevertheless," said Jack, "Thank you. And my apologies for drawing someone like that into your place."

Malachi didn't answer, but his lips twitched and Jack knew that he was pleased.

Some progress, at least

Credit where it's due: this week my workplace finally closed off our offices from the public and moved all public-facing interactions to a larger meeting room where we could set up sensibly-spaced stations that can handle citizen interactions (bill payments, permits, etc.) while still maintaining social distancing. It means that a lot of us still have to come into work, but it's one hell of a lot better than it was.

Conversations have gotten louder, as we're generally half-shouting at each other from six feet away, but what the hell; when I recommend a good book for reading during the pandemic, I don't care who else hears it. They should read it too, if they want to.

We have had at least one confirmed case among our workforce, and naturally that took away several of their co-workers as well. I haven't heard whether any of the co-workers were actually infected, but they're in self-quarantine -- and this is in a department which generally has a pretty high turnover rate anyway, so they're now notably short-staffed. This has led us to cut back on some services, because we don't really have a lot of choice.

(Citizen response to this has been a mix of "We appreciate what you do" and "if you're cutting service back to half, are you going to cut our bills in half to match?" with a strong emphasis on the latter. There's also been a small contingent of "So if I want to help out by taking care of this one thing myself, is there a facility open to deal with it?" Which, in fact, there is. People never fail to fascinate me.)

I'm beginning to think that the people who did the early hoarding were mostly premature (not to mention that they immediately created the same problem that they were trying to avoid for themselves and/or profit from). I think that as the pandemic progresses, we're going to see it placing more and more strain on systems that seem at first glance as though they should be unaffected. (Maybe not always a bad thing...?) If I had to guess, I'd say it's going to be another week and a half to three weeks before we start seeing genuine issues in our supply chains.

I hope I'm wrong about that -- we've got enough issues with the disease itself, the strain on our already-under-equipped healthcare system, lack of federal leadership, massive unemployment, and having the economy on hold in a way that's going to utterly destroy untold numbers of businesses. But I'd be lying if I told you I wasn't worried.

It seems like the only way forward is through, and the only way through is by pulling together (albeit at a safe distance). Take care of your own, and do what you can for others. That’s my plan, and I’m sticking to it.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Hulk Tired...

I can't remember where I found this -- Twitter, maybe? -- but it's just a perfect encapsulation of today's mood.

Yeah, no

I'm just ridiculously unfocused this morning. (And stuffy! I was walking around outside yesterday, and a stray breeze came through and disturbed the trees, and the next thing I knew I was literally walking through a storm of pollen. Like, stop and brush it off my head level stuff!) So... no Dark Armor this morning. I need to get back to Into The Black, but... I don't know, the pandemic and all its related issues have just really thrown me off. We'll see.

Music: Annoyed Grunt

Neil Cicierega:

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Challenge: Impromptu Speeches

This is part of the weekly Blogging Challenge over at Long and Short Reviews. If you'd like to participate, you can find the prompts here. They also put up a post every Wednesday where you go and link your response -- and see everyone else's. Check out their homepage to find it.

The challenge for this week is "topics I could give an impromptu speech on".

So let's see... what do I have for this? Well, in no particular order:
  1. Roleplaying Games - Dungeons and Dragons is easily the most famous of these, but there are hundreds of them. I could give an impromptu speech with examples with no notice at all.
  2. Documenting Your Work - this is actually a really critical skill, and it's on my mind in part because my department has made things more difficult by failing to document a great many important things.
  3. The Pros and Cons of Parenting - There are good reasons to want to be a parent. There are good reasons not to want to be a parent. I could give an impromptu speech explaining why both approaches are valid at any time.
  4. Choosing A Martial Arts School - I'm no longer a practicing martial artist and I've been out of training for years, but I can still give a good overview of what to look for and how to decide what you want. Just don't ask me to beat up bad guys in the process.
  5. The Vital Importance Of Keeping The Bacon Away From The Dog - I could go on about this one for hours, honestly. But. I'm. Not. Bitter...
So, what are your topics?

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Saltmarsh: Taking the Boat

Okay, so: this went in many ways much better than expected.

At the end of the previous session, the party had taken to boat by virtue of killing off everybody except for the captain (and the bosun, though he was only barely alive). They opened this session with the Chevalier trying -- and failing badly -- to throw the captain overboard, while murderchild did more stabitty-stabs.

(For those who aren't keeping track: murderchild is Raven, an adult halfling masquerading as a human child; the Chevalier is a human bard who came from a life of indolence and luxury despite not having any lands or money himself; Kane is the town undertaker, a human paladin intent on seeing the dead -- and those as need to be dead -- on their way; and Salty Walt is another human bard, a ship's shanty-man who sometimes masquerades as a captain and is haunted by a ghost-fish that only he can see.)

In the course of the fight, the bosun bursts back out of one of the aft cabins and promptly gets stabbed to death; the captain gets badly wounded and finally thrown overboard, where he disappears and presumably drowns; and everybody else is basically okay. There are still four sailors left from the original crew of the Sea Ghost, but they've rowed into the cave and disappeared; even if they turned back immediately, it would be quite a while before they could get to the ship. Still, Kane elects to remain on the deck and keep watch while the others explore the ship.

Almost immediately, they discover a secret compartment holding a shipment of well-made weapons; as they continue, they find a sea-elf who's been held prisoner by the smugglers. Continuing on, they discover... well, everything. The sea elf calls himself Oceanus; he and Salty Walt can converse in Aquan, and he and the chevalier can converse in... something else. Elvish? Probably.

In the main cargo hold they discover more silks and brandy casks, stamped with the royal seal; those are almost certainly stolen, and will need to be sold through the council to avoid the impression of the group being party to smuggling or piracy themselves. Somewhere in here, Kane calls down that the remaining sailors are on their way back to the boat; the group considers ramming their boat with the sea ghost, but realizes that they lack the expertise to do anything more than basic sailing. They can probably get the whole ship back to the docks at Saltmarsh, but maneuvering to hit a small boat in the dark? Not so much that. Instead, they grab oil and rags and use flaming arrows to set the docking boat (and at least one sailor) on fire. The first mate jumps out at the last minute and begins swimming; Oceanus taps the Chevalier on the shoulder and says "Dagger?" in Elvish until somebody hands him one. Then he dives over the side, a lean shape cutting into the water and disappearing; a few moments later, the First Mate abruptly disappears underwater too. Then Oceanus is waving at them from where he's holding the anchor chain, and they haul him up in the process of weighing anchor. ("We should keep him," murderchild decides.)

It turns out that the group isn't entirely alone on the ship: they discover a trio of lizardfolk in one of the forward cabins, engaged in a game of sticks. The Chevalier, an enthusiastic student of games of chance, recognizes this as something the slaves played in his former lover's mansion, and immediately gets himself dealt in; the lizardfolk are speaking a pidgin of common and draconic which the Chevalier can only partly follow, but they're happy to play against him. He tidily wins the first round, and they're impressed.

So while Salty Walt and Kane lower the sails and get the Sea Ghost underway for Saltmarsh, the Chevalier and murderchild have a lovely evening of gambling with the lizardfolk. Oceanus mostly just stands in the door and watches this. It turns out that the lizardfolk had cut a deal with the smugglers, exchanging chunks of electrum for well-crafted weapons and armor; it also turns out that they've recently returned to an abandoned fortress of theirs, only a few miles down the coast from Saltmarsh. Only, they have no plans to attack the town. They were driven out by the "shark-kin", a term which Oceanus identifies as Sahuagin. They're mainly interested in getting the the weapons to their colony, and only mildly concerned that the boat is heading the wrong way for that.

They get close enough to the docks for somebody to row out and tow them ashore, and that's more or less where we ended the game.

Somewhere in the middle of all this, we attempted to play music at each other; this was not the right environment for it, and in any case it turned out that nobody had a suitably metal version of Drunken Sailor on hand, so we wound up substituting Queen's Fat-Bottomed Girls for pirate music instead. Which, y'know, works fairly well.

But in the interest of having these things available:

And hey, as a bonus:

Monday, April 6, 2020

Music: Don't Forget

Secondborn made me go find this. Apparently it's from something Undertale-adjacent called Delta Rune. I think the song itself is only about thirty or forty seconds, but it repeats (at least here):

I'm noticing that I'm blogging less regularly here at the end of civilization, but I feel like that's really just where we all are right now: doing our best in weird, unexpected, stressful, difficult circumstances. I don't know what else to do about it. Every time I start to feel rested, something new comes along and knocks me off my balance, and all I can do is sort of try to ride the wave and hope this all settles at some point.

Hope y'all are having better luck with the This Is Just Stupid parts of this than I am.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Dark Armor 013: Strategems

Pallian reined up behind a low hill, then swung himself off of Black and climbed to where he could see over the top. The Edrian army was not far away, strung out and scattered as they made their way around hill and across ravines. The land here was high plains, almost but not quite desert; mostly grasses and scrub brush, divided by stretches of sand and stone. The orders he'd been given were to turn this army away from the border, and send them back to where Pallian would be waiting with their own forces. It would not be easy, and he'd had a full day's riding to wonder whether Ravaj was deliberately sending him to his death.

It wasn't impossible. Their brother Ariston had gotten into a duel with the heir of the Valinost clan, who held the eastern lands of the kingdom and from whom their father's then-wife had come. Ariston had slain the boy honorably, and their father had declined to punish him despite the clan chief's outrage-- but when Tabrithan bandits had begun ravaging the south, the sorcerer-king had sent Aristan to lead the fighting from the front lines, where he died nobly in service to the kingdom.

Pallian knew perfectly well how he felt about dying nobly in service to the kingdom. He didn't dare ever express his feeling aloud, but he knew that if it came to that he'd flee instead. Rank, titles, a place in his father's court: they were power, they were protection, and they could be revoked at any time at his father's whim. Ephemeral, he thought. Unreliable. His own skills and abilities, the initiations he'd been given and the ones he'd undertaken for himself, were better... but there were dangers there, too. Seeking too much power that way could be taken as rebellion, especially for initiations undertaken secretly. Even the ones he already had, which had helped carry him through the assault from the archer. Even those.

The border to Edrias was closer than any of the richer lands of Teregor; destroying their supply wagons would likely just speed them on their way instead of turning them back. Assaults on the outriders and forward-most units could be done, and might turn them aside, but they weren't likely to turn about completely. Even if he wasn't trying to kill him, Ravaj had set him an impossible task.

His best way out would be to assault the front lines as if trying to turn them back or cut them off, and lure the archer out to deal with him. It was risky; she'd already demonstrated that she might very well be able to kill him, and there was always the possibility that the Shadow of Edrias might show up as well -- even in broad daylight. But if he could manage to take her with the silver net, then he could carry her back to Ravaj as ordered, and let the remainder of the army do as it would.

This, he thought, is the stupidest possible plan ever come up with in the entire history of stupid possible plans. But he could not think of anything better, so he scrambled back down to where Black waited, and settled in to wait for nightfall.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Challenge: Favorite Books Series and Why

Okay, look: the world's on fire. It is actually the end of the world as we know it -- whatever comes next, it won't be this. And I was going to throw up several series -- Roger Zelazny's Amber, a favorite from my youth; about a half-dozen Lilith Saintcrow series starting with Bannon and Claire; Steven Brust's Jhereg and related books -- but I'm going to go with one, and it's not the one the author is best known for.

This is part of the weekly Blogging Challenge over at Long and Short Reviews. If you'd like to participate, you can find the prompts here. They also put up a post every Wednesday where you go and link your response -- and see everyone else's. Check out their homepage to find it.

The challenge for this week is Favorite Book Series and Why.

And I'm going to have to go with Martha Wells' Books of the Raksura. Starting with The Cloud Roads, but read at least the core books and if you're at all like me you'll want the whole series.

So... why? Well, they're atypical fantasy: not much in the way of swords, only a little sorcery, not even muskets. It's a fantasy world that owes its shape more to Animal Planet than medieval Europe, and has not a single human in evidence. Despite this, the primary protagonist is immensely sympathetic, possibly the most reluctant hero ever to join a found family. The world-building is superb, but the characterization is top-notch as well: our hero isn't just another orphan with trust issues, he's someone who works at resolving his issues and has to face the fact that his lost family actually looked for him. And he's accompanied by perhaps the most grandfather of all grandfathers, who's a vastly fascinating character in himself.

The core society is a race of matriarchal were-dragons in a world of competing predator arrangements, but it's brought to life with emotional personal ties as well as social and interpersonal obligations, against a competing enemy race that operates in some ways more like a plague. And all this informed by ancient history, high magics, and deep mysteries in need of resolution.

So yes: Start with The Cloud Roads. But follow Moon all the way through his discoveries.