Saturday, August 29, 2020

DnD 5e Interlude: White Plume Mountain 7

 We had defeated the the sea elf Kerithlan and retrieved the intelligent magical trident named Wave.

Character Recap:
Jhuni Blackfire (she/her) - enthusiastically pyromaniacal Sorcerer/Wizard (absent)
Thelmor Irdro (he/him) - Blood Hunter of the Lycan persuasion
Nil (they/them) - badass Cleric
Snow (she/her) - Swashbuckler and Gloomstalker Ranger
Sunrise (she/her) - Lore Bard - and Honey (she/her) her homunculus familiar
Perfect (he/him) - Battlemaster fighter
Grey (he/him) - Assassin/Illusionist

We settle in to check for treasure.
1000 GP in small sacks

2 big gems worth 2,000 each
7 misc gems worth 3,935 in total.
1 big gem woth 5,000
An odd-looking stone shaped like a cat's head, with one jeweled eye and one non-jewel eye.
There also two more of the Amulets of Turning Resistance.

Nil goes poking around in the sand to see if there's anything else; there are a lot of bones in here that have been picked clean, bits of rusty armor, and other evidence of unfortunate former adventurers. On one bony hand, not quite stripped, is a ring that looks a bit like a shield. It's probably the ring of protection that we discussed back in town.

We detect magic: the goggles, the stone, the trident, and the ring all are magical. The ring is a Ring of Protection, and we turn it over to Sunrise. The goggles are Goggles of Night Vision. The stone is a Stone of Good Luck. The trident, Wave, requires attunement by an elf; +3; on a critical it deals extra necrotic damage; 1d6 piercing, versatile, thrown 30/60. When attuned, you can use it with proficiency. Shape Water and Wall of Water once/day; on command you create a bubble of air around your head so you can breathe underwater. Sentient; Lawful Neutral, with hearing and darkvision, and speaks Aquan; can speak with aquatic animals; when it grows restless it hums tunes, anything from sea shanties to hymns; is not above causing trouble for users who do not stay within its sense of honor.

Thelmor goes to meditate, focusing on the trident, and hears a very somber "My love sailed out to sea..." sort of song. It's not terribly on-key, but at least it does know the tune. As Thelmor tunes in, it stops humming.

Thelmor: "Hello."

Wave: "It has been a long time since someone else has spoken to me. What sort of elf are you?"

Thelmor: "Shadar-Kai. We live in the shadows with the Raven Queen."

Wave: "I do not know your kind. I am not sure that you can work with me, but I look forward to trying."

Thelmor: "So... I'm a blood-hunter, of the Order of the Lycan. Is that going to be a problem?"

Wave: "A blood-hunter?"

Thelmor: "It is a tradition that becomes partly monstrous in order to better battle monsters. And since you are sentient, I wanted to be sure you would not be bothered by that."

Wave: "If you seek to protect, then I do not see a problem."

Thelmor: "I can use lightning."

Wave: "Electric eels dwell within the sea."

Thelmor: "Good."

Wave: "If you hold to your oaths and protect others, especially elves, I will fight with you for as long as you will have me."

Thelmor: "Your former owner was undead; he called us to fight with him, and give him an honorable death."

Wave: "I know. I felt him fall; I felt his spirit leave. I believe he is at peace."

Thelmor: "The Raven Queen will see him to where he needs to go."

Wave: "Then let us fight together."

As the attunement completes, a vision washes over the party: A battlefield, in a dark cave full of glowing crystals. There is a terrible fight between three heroes on one side, and a powerful wizard on the other. The wizard throws terrible spells, while the heroes dodge and attack. At last the wizard falls, and disspates. They talk, afterwards, and put the weapons together: Blackrazor, Wave, and Whelm. We can see what they look like now, and a great power pulses out from them as they touch. It washes over the mountain, making it safe, protecting it. The heroes leave, but the visions linger. One was Thaddeus Giantbane; the other was sea elf Kerithlan; the third is a dwarf, male, less clear... the wizard in the battle appeared to be human.

Thelmor asks Wave about the battle; it remembers. It was the sealing of a dark wizard, a much-needed deed. Every time Wave stabbed the man, it felt a sense of sorrow in landing the blow -- something coming from the man himself. Thelmor consults Perfect to see what Blackrazor remembers, while filling in the rest of us. Perfect focuses, then replies: "Blackrazor says that the weapons were created in part to destroy that wizard. It was Keraptis himself that they fought against."

Nil: "Frustrating that he didn't *stay* destroyed."

Perfect: "Quite. It seems it was only his body that was destroyed."

Thelmor: "That would explain why Keraptis was so eager to steal the weapons and hide them behind these dangers."

Perfect: "Blackrazor is being tediously demanding about us locating the wizard and destroying him."

Nil: "Sounds very high-maintenance."

Sunrise: "Sir Bluto Sans Pite said that the man who framed him had been serving Keraptis, so perhaps he was doing something to wake him up?"

Nil: "The wizard who framed him received instructive dreams, so if we defeat the wizard again perhaps we should seal the mountain against sendings as well."

We take a long rest, and then head back south; that leads us either to the room with the Kelpies, or we can head across through the spinning tunnel. Nil elects to use Arcane Eye to map out the rest of the dungeon before we proceed. Following the third passage (beyond the sphynx), she continues until she finds a door. She passes it through the keyhole, and finds a 30' x 30' square with nine floating spheres inside. They are suspended from the ceiling by wires; they're each about two feet in diameter, and they appear to be silvered glass. She heads back and takes a side-passage, this time finding a door with no keyhole.

The pool in the Kelpie room is about 14 feet deep, and murky. We discuss various ways to get past them; Thelmor decides to ask Wave to talk to them.

Wave: "I will do my best, but these are very strange creatures."

Thelmor: "You can do it. I believe in you."

He walks to the edge of the room, and two gorgeous women pop out from the water. They start in on seductions in lilting tones, inviting him to stay with them forever.

Wave: "We have other jobs to do, other oaths to keep."

The kelpies draw back, nonplussed. Thelmor helps Wave decide how to negotiate with them; Wave says that these adventurers are not worth their time and far too much risk for the kelpies to attack. The kelpies begin to back down; they seem confused, but they agree. "We will stand aside, so long as you do not destroy our home or try to steal our treasure."

Thelmor: "Fair."

They've settled back. Thelmor tells us the deal.

Grey: "Sounds fine."

Snow: "I suppose."

The sphynx, when we return, is looking a lot better; she's clearly been cleaning herself.

Nil: "We drained the water, I hope that's okay."

Spynx: "A novelty; if I miss the water, I can find it."

We start down the east passage. ("Nil takes the lead, with Jhuni following, then Perfect, then Thelmor, then Sunrise, then Grey, then Snow.") Nil is tapping the floor with their staff, because this whole place is full of traps. Like, "Tap-tap-tap-tap-splut."

There's... something... on the ground just ahead. And there's a bit of acid smoking on the end of the quarterstaff. Nil pulls out their alchemist's kit and pours a neutralizer on it. We pull a quick Light cantrip from Jhuni, who is back with the spynx; the floor where the acid is... is green. Nil has found a patch of Green Slime. It usually ambushes by dropping from above, and attacks by secreting acid until removed. Here, it was probably waiting in the muck under the water for some unsuspecting soul to walk into it.

Jhuni steps in momentarily to drop a fire spell on that section of the passage, searing it clean with a bonfire.

Beyond the slime, we find the north-bound side-passage. After some discussion, we decide to ignore the room with the glass balls and take the passage north. The door is swollen against its frame, but Thelmor and Nil are strong enough to open it. We send the Arcane Eye through and pull it closed again. The room beyond is 20' x 30' and there are five kind of horrible, probably undead figures, with rebuilt hands. They're flesh golems, nasty ones.

We drop an illusion of Jhuni in the room... and trigger a riddle:
Five flesh golems are clustered against the north wall. Each has a number on its chest: 5, 7, 9, 11, and 13. Number 5 says, "One of us does not belong with the others. If you can pick it out, it will serve you, and the others will allow you passage. If you pick the wrong one, we will kill you. You have 120 seconds."

Grey steps into the room: "It's nine!"

Nine turns to look at Grey; the other turn back into the corner, just standing there. We come into the room, unmaimed.

Grey: "Would you be so kind as to open that door for us, Nine?"

The golem turns and opens the door. The arcane eye goes through, finding a set of stairs; the passage turns east at the top, and there's a turnstile filling the corridor beyond. It's distinctly a one-way door. The eye passes through, and beyond that the passage turns south again.

Nil: "Apparently we have to go through a turnstile, and there won't be any way back."

Grey sends the flesh golem on ahead; it goes through the turnstile somewhat reluctantly, and then opens the door after a couple of tries. Then it comes back to the turnstile and finds that it can't get back through. It makes little annoyed moaning noises. Grey: "Thank you! Just wait there, please."

Beyond, the arcane eye lets Nil see a room with a floor of boiling mud; the route to the other side is a series of wooden platforms suspended by chains from ceiling. There are two spots where the mud is exceptionally hot, and after a moment the northern one bursts open and sprays a geyser of boiling water beside the platforms. There's a ledge beyond, with a door. It does look like the geysers present a real danger. The disks, chains, and the ceiling are covered with a wet, slippery algal scum; it gives off a feeble phosphorescent glow. The cave floor is fifty feet below the platforms; the ceiling is fifty feet above them.

The geysers appear to be going off on a fairly regular basis.

We move forward and examine the turnstile.

Grey: "Nine, why were you reluctant to go through the turnstile?"

Nine: "It <em>new</em>."

Nil passes through the turnstile and starts looking at how to take it apart. With her tinker kit she starts taking off coverings, exposing mounts, and eventually removes the bit that keeps you from going back through. It's now a rotating door.

We move on to the mud room.

Snow leaps over to the first disk with no difficulty; it begins swinging slightly. Grey begins pounding in a piton to hang a rope down to the mud. Nil goes ahead and throws Water Walking on us.

Snow leaps to the next disk, and the next, and the next; she barely makes it to the fourth disk, but succeeds. The geysers are bubbling, but have not erupted. The fifth disk is harder, but she makes it. She makes it to six with style, then to seven. She leaps for eight... and starts to slip as she makes the leap... and gathers herself and manages to make it anyway. The southern geyser goes off, but she manages to keep her grip and absorbs a bit of the damage with Absorb Elements. She misses the final leap to the ledge, but sinks her claws into the stone below and scrambles up on onto the ledge. She immediately starts hanging the rope from the far ledge.

Grey starts down the rope, planning to use Water Walking to dart across the mud and climb back up the rope on the far side. Twenty feet above the mud, he stops; the heat is painful on his feet, legs, and butt -- and he's not even standing on the mud yet. The plan is not going to work. The mud's too hot; it will burn us too badly as we cross it.

Snow opens the door and we send the Arcane Eye through. There's a dwarf with a warhammer laying in front of him; it's Whelm.

We start trying to run a rope across - through the links of the chains, so it'll be overhead for people trying to cross. Grey moves in from one side, and Snow from the other. We repeat the thread-and-tie off just as the north geyser goes off, scalding Grey fairly badly. The geysers have settled again, now that they've... let off some steam. We move to the next set of platforms and thread through. Snow moves to the centermost disk, catching the rope that Grey throws in the process. She ties it off, and we now have a working safety line.

Thelmor and Nil follow, Nil with some difficulty and Thelmor fairly easily; Wave is singing inspirational sailing songs to Thelmor. Nil also takes some damage from the steam, though she's been watching the timing and manages to avoid being too badly damaged. Thelmor was trying to move quickly, and gets a bit singed as well. Perfect get across fairly quickly, if not easily, and also gets singed a bit. Nine is... not happy with fire, and there are a couple of times where he would have slipped if the rope hadn't been there. Fortunately, the geysers don't go off; our flesh golem is traumatized enough already.

We congratulate our flesh golem. Jhuni and Sunrise take a bit of damage getting across, but they make it.

Burnt, battered, and deeply annoyed, we made it to the other side. We huddle up in Leomund's Tiny Hut, heal and rest.


Friday, August 28, 2020

Urgh. Agh. Ugh.

I actually got a solid day's work done yesterday (some of it after hours, but then it needed to be) and it looks like Secondborn's staying on track pretty well and... Oh, gods, I forgot to give him his meds. Be right back. 

Anyway, I think we've kept Secondborn on schedule and — wait, gotta go wake up Firstborn. Be right back.

Okaaaaay, so like I said I think this is actually coming along just fi— right, yes, that's the tea kettle, better go pour the Stuff Of Life. Be right back. 

Now, where was I? Oh, yes: working from home, keeping everybody on track. I think it's actually going pretty well. Unfortunately, I have a meeting at 11:00 this morning that actually needs to happen at my desk at work, and I may still not be able to do the thing that's the reason for the meeting. (Yeah, I know that's vague. Not sorry.)

Regardless, the plan is to get everybody going and then head in at about 10:30, and just spend the rest of the day in the office. 

It's Friday, so if I can finish the major things I'm trying to get done this week, well...

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Update, plus Music: Smells Like Teen Spirit in classical Latin

We're basically at the two-week mark on the boys being back in school (but remotely, because it's 2020). This is allowing for the fact that the schools opened on a Wednesday, went the full following week, and then had a Monday off for a teacher in-service day. And on the one hand, that kind of lets everyone come back in gradually; on the other hand, we're trying to get everyone back into the rhythm of being in school, and the weird scheduling and interruptions are not helping with that. 

So, I've been working from home for a couple of days so I can check in the boys (particularly Secondborn, who's starting fifth grade and apparently didn't attend any of his "in person" -- Zoom -- classes last Friday). 

I think this will actually be fine; I don't think I'll be working from home over the long term. Secondborn did fine with remote learning back in the spring, so as far as I can tell the virtual classroom setup isn't an issue. (In fact, it may actually be better for him.) No, I think this is just a matter of him being out of the habit of having a school schedule, and thinking about where he needs to be next, and remembering to work on the things he's supposed to be working on. 

But until he gets there, he kind of needs to have someone check on him every twenty minutes or so. We're doing what we can to help -- there's now a large clock above his desk, along with a white board with his schedule and the times he needs to check into things, and he knows how to set an alarm on his computer -- so it's really just a matter of rebuilding those school-days habits.

Meanwhile, well... have a Nirvana song. In classical Latin.

Classical Latin bardcore by The Miracle Aligner:

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Guardians of Sol Povos: Two Dragons and Vampiric Spellcaster

We're on the third floor of the tower, and Alexej is blind. 

We open an empty room, and Tavros finds a pouch with 31 GP and a badly-used picture. 

We proceed to another room; it appears to be a sort of bunkroom, and there's a small brass dragon inside. It's hissing at us. The dragon casts a spell and then flies over to the corner of the room. Someone in the... bathroom? ...on the far side of the wall is also casting a spell. Leira attempts to transform the dragon into a regular lizard, and in the process makes herself visible again. 

We hear the bathroom door open, and Marshall moves himself and Alexej up to where he can see inside; he can see a claw around one corner of the door. (Marshall is guiding Alexej around because Alexej got himself blinded in our last session; he's beasically a seeing eye cleric.) 

Tavros continues pursuing the newly-minted lizard, which is utterly immune to his persuasive words ("Come! Join us, brother! Let us defeat this evil together!"). The second dragon emerges from the bathroom and uses its breath to put Leira and Marshall to sleep. 

Tavros attempts to persuade this second one to join us.

The dragon grins. "You friend is blind and your other friends sleep, enemy of the tower!" Tavros crosses the room and comes up beside him. 

The dragon reaches out and attacks Leira, who is unconscious on the floor; it gets a good chomp in, waking her up; she tries to dodge the claws, and avoids one; then it pummels her with its wings. It fails to kill her, but... barely. 

Alexej swings at it but flubs and loses his guisarme; Tavros attempts to attack and also drops his sword; he quickly scoops it back up. Leira has rolled away and turns invisible; the dragon throws a blast of flame after her, finishing her off. 

Tavros shouts, "Alexej! There's a table behind you! Kick it into Marshall!" He does, and now Marshall is awake. Alexej quickly scoops his guisarme back up. Tavros attacks twice, hitting once and then missing; the dragon hisses at him. 

Marshall stands up and casts Command, but fails to make it stick. Alexej moves forward, following the sounds of the dragon, and runs into the table. Tavros moves over to Leira and finds her invisible form, then heals her enough to get her awake again. 

The dragon crosses the room and casts a spell; Marshall casts dominate animal on the lizard. He orders it to attack its comrade. It does, but misses; the dragon looks very confused. 

Alexej is stumbling around; Marshall moves over and grabs him again. 

Leira, still invisible, moves across the room, and casts Baleful Polymorph on the second dragon. They are now both lizards, and engaged in a lizardy battle to the death. Marshall dominates the second lizard, and we put them Marshall's snake bag. This is one of the weirder battles I've ever taken part in. 




 290 pp, 2500 gp, 12000 sp Gems worth 239gp 

1. Silver Shortsword Scabbard inlaid with Electrum (4000 gp)
1. Arcane Scroll (Detect Magic (12 gp 5 sp), Acid Arrow (150 gp)) (total 162 gp 5 sp)
2. Arcane Scroll (Lesser Confusion (50 gp), Protection from Chaos/Evil/Good/Law (25 gp), Calm Emotions (200 gp)) (total 275 gp)
3. Divine Scroll (Magic Weapon (25 gp)) (total 25 gp)
4. Pearl of Power (1st level) (1000 gp)
5. Potion of Invisibility (300 gp)
6. Wand of Delay Poison (35 of 50 charges) (3150 gp)
7. Wand of Knock (10 of 50 charges) (900 gp)
8. Wand of Summon Monster I (46 of 50 charges) (690 gp) 

Marshall heals Leira back up to full health, using most of a wand in the process. We move on to another small room and find 23 GP under the bed; the chest is empty. Same for the next room, actually. 

Tavros throws open the door of the next room, having heard voices behind it, and takes a barrage of Magic Missiles to the face. Alexej stumbles forward, and Tavros shoves him in front; Alexej switches to heavy flail and bludgeons the guy in front of him to death. Tavros moves past him and cuts another one down, them continues the cut into his companion. Both die. The last one tries to blind Tavros with a spell, but Tavros is a paladin and his ability to save against this stuff is insane; he just shakes his head sadly at the guy. 

Leira uses magic missile to finish the guy off. We add another 31 GP to the total. 

We move around to the next room, and find a crate inside with a sliding eyeslit on it. Tavros: "Is there anyone there?" 

Voice: "Oh please, please save me!" 

Tavros is... suspicious. "We must dispose of our enemies first! Wait here." 

"But sir! I am afrad here! It is dark and I cannot see!" 

Fine. We arrange ourselves around the room, and Tavros uses his paladin abilities to detect evil. There's evil. The crate is full of evil. Alexej opens the crate, and Tavros attacks. 

It's a medusa, but it fails to turn him to stone and he cuts it down. Marshall promptly claims the body; no snake left behind. 

We head up to the fourth floor of the tower. There's a hole in the crystal dome of the ceiling; it's been filled with stone. We head down the hall, and Tavros takes the door to the north. There's a coffin inside... ...and it's full of EVIL too! We move carefully into the room. 

Marshall: "There's a coffin in here!" 

Tavros, stage-whispering: "It's full of EVIL!" 

Marshall doesn't say a word; he just turns undead. (OOC: This is waaaay better than listening to the RNC, which is also tonight.) The coffin starts rattling a moment later. Leira straight-up fireballs the casket. After the smoke clears, where the coffin used to be a vampire stands up, pushing aside burnt, splintered wood. Tavros charges and attacks, but the blade fails to sink into her flesh. 

She casts Mirror Image, which is possibly the most annoying spell ever. 

Marshall tags her with a touch attack for Cure Critical, which -- since she's undead -- damages her rather badly. She charms Marshall and then steps back. Leira attacks with a Scorching Ray, and Tavros drops Protection from Evil on Marshall. 

Marshall guides Alexej up, then drops divine favor on himself and attacks. He misses once, and hits the second time. 

The vampire steps back and drops a fireball on all of us. 

Alexej steps up and attacks (blind) and misses. Leira uses magic missiles to dispel the mirror images; Tavros gets behind her and does a massive amount of damage, though not all of it goes through. 

Marshall drops a cure mass wounds on the room, healing us and hurting her. She steps to Tavros' side and casts Chain Lightning, damaging us (except for Leira); Alexej steps forward and attacks her but misses. Leira throws another set of scorching rays, hitting once, and adds some fire damage to the vampire's total. 

Tavros tries to attack, loses his sword, and picks it up again. (Seems to be something of a theme this evening.) Marshall... consecrates the room. 

The vampire casts on the defensive, and manages to blink out of there. Tavros detects evil to the southwest, the other room, and finds that it's full of evil. Marshall tried to detect evil in the southern half of the tower and immediately passes out; we think he just found the Evil Ritual that we were sent here to stop. 

Alexej wakes him up, and Tavros continues sensing... there are many evils in that room, but there's one that's particularly powerful. 

Tavros: "She's in the next room! But be careful, she isn't alone!" 

Marshall throws open the door and finds a room full of skeletons... the lichy regenerating ones with red rubies in their eyes. And Marshall, after his adventures among the elves, knows exactly what that means. He turns undead, mowing down a good dozen of the skeletons and clearing half the room. "Grab the gems!" 

The vampire is still regenerating; she's not exactly enthused to see us. She drops Bigby's Grasping Hand in the doorway. Leira tries to counter with Dispel Magic, and does. She moves into the room. 

Tavros comes into the room, grabs a skull off the floor, crushes it in one hand, and removes the gems. He tucks them into a pouch. 

Marshall comes into the room and consecrates the ground just inside the door, to keep the fallen skeletons from reanimating. The bones are shaking and trembling, but they don't stand back up. The vampire is still healing, and dismayed; she casts Crushing Despair. 

Tavros shakes it off and charges, power attacking and smiting, and takes the vampire down. 

Marshall drags her body into the consecrated ground. Marshall asks us to smash the mirrors; we do. We take the body back downstairs to the bathtub, bless the water, and finish her by tossing her in. Marshall and Tavros rip the eyes out of the skeletons and reduce them to useless bones. 

We end the game there.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Music: The Fucking Bullshit Song

This one courtesy of Galactic Mermaid, and should not be played in the hearing the the very young, the impressionable, the easily shocked, or (most likely) your boss:

It's also a prominent part of my new 2020 Playlist, because seriously: FUCK 2020.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

DnD 5e Interlude: White Plume Mountain 6

We're looking at the trident and the beast in the burning bubble.

Character Recap:
Jhuni Blackfire (she/her) - enthusiastically pyromaniacal Sorcerer/Wizard
Thelmor Irdro (he/him) - Blood Hunter of the Lycan persuasion
Nil (they/them) - badass Cleric
Snow (she/her) - Swashbuckler and Gloomstalker Ranger
Sunrise (she/her) - Lore Bard - and Honey (she/her) her homunculus familiar
Perfect (he/him) - Battlemaster fighter
Grey (he/him) - Assassin/Illusionist

Sunrise has an interesting plan involving Dimension Door - basically, just bamph out to the trident, grab it, and bamph back. Likely the beast will show up the moment she appears out there, but that's the best of several plans that we've talked through. Sunrise takes a deep breath and teleports out to where the trident is.

She can feel the sweltering heat coming form the walls around her. (This would make amazing sauna.) The trident is sticking points-down in the sand. She steps forward, grabs the trident, and... it's stuck. Not like it's in sand, but like it's in rock. She starts to carefully pull it loose, and something shifts beneath her feet in the sand. She knees and tries to brush the sand away from the base of the trident. The surface beneath the sand is... rocky and bumpy, not smooth, and vaguelly familiar: it's some kind of chitin.

Yeah, there's something under the sand, and the trident is stuck in it.

As Sunrise is wondering what to do about this, she feels everything starts to shift again. She messages Nil: "New development. The trident is stuck in a giant crab. I think he's going to notice me at any minute."

After a brief consultation, Sunrise uses Dimension Door to return. She explains the situation. Options:
-Restore spells by resting, then try it again with someone strong. 

-We could try to sedate it; Nil has brought along an alchemy kit. 

-Grey could put together a poison and dope up the remains of the dead ogre from earlier, and we could just throw that in there. 

Crabs are scavengers, but the creatures here may be trained to prefer living flesh. Still, it might work...

How big is it? Well, big enough to stand on, obviously; Sunrise thinks probably 10x10, maybe as much as 20x20. (OOC: Large or Gargantuan.)

As we're discussing this, something glances off of Grey - like an attack that just barely missed.  Nil gets an impression of something behind him. Apparently, we're back in combat. Grey is not actually surprised by this; he spins in place and comes up with dagger. He stabs, and hits... something. We're suddenly now hearing a sort of whistling wind, but we don't see anything. Sunrise can't really perceive the thing, so she draws her rapier and says: "I don't think you're our enemy; why don't you come out and talk to us. She settles back into a defensive position. We hear the sound of wind without seeing it; Nil makes out some hint of Auran words, something like "found" and "target". Nil casts a spell and reads its thoughts: It feels like they're on to of a mountain; there's wind and air and clouds and it's almost dizzying; it's mulling over impressions of our party members, almost as if it's been given a report about us. "Master's targets. Must kill. Can only go home by killing Master's targets." As a knowledge cleric, Nil can try to influence the thing's thoughts; they attempt Suggestion and suggests that it go home to Master. It's convinced. 

They say, "This is a creature of air; it's been sent to kill us, but I am sending it home to its master." Grey looks impressed.

Jhuni considers this, then decides to hold her action. Thelmor can actually see a faint shimmer in the air, slightly displaced shadows; he knows where it is. He holds action against it attacking any of us.

It sweeps away down the corridor, leaving us behind.

Nil: "It was an invisible stalker; they're summoned monsters, which are given tasks. They don't generally don't have free will; they're basically either fetches or magical assassins. This one was after us specifically. Someone knows we're here and is moving against us directly."

We go back to the where we felled the ogre and grab us a chunk of Ogre meat; it's a bit rat-gnawed, but still there. We mix up a couple of batches of pretty strong poison and inject it into the meat. We use Mage Hand to pile the meat inside the door, and Thelmor throws one last piece of meat and actually managed to hit the trident with it. The trident begins to rise up out of the sand.

The crab is about 15' across; it's easily the biggest crab we've ever seen. This is the great-grandaddy of giant crabs. The trident is sticking out of its back, and on its right claw the crab has a band of shiny bronze or copper metal. Elven runes are etched into the metal: protection, bravery, loyalty... It may be a magical band, or it may just be crustacean friendship bracelet. We're not sure.

Beside being quite large, the crab seems kind of battered; the shell is cracked in various places. A lot of places. The crab should actually be dead. So... we may have wasted a bunch of poison. The eyes at the end of stalks are misty, not the shiny black we were expecting. Nil, using Arcane Eye, also spots another bracelet on the other claw to defend it against turning. Yes, definitely undead.

Nil and Grey are annoyed; Keraptis is probably laughing himself sick. Thelmor, looking at his axe. "Well, there are some things magic won't turn." Nil thinks we could probably take the thing, but it's going to be rough. Nil casts Shield of Faith on Thelmor, and Grey has conjured a semi-illusionary horse and turned it over to Thelmor. The plan is for Thelmor to move in close enough to teleport up onto the crab's back.

As we walk into the room, we notice that the crab is out and wandering around; it hasn't settle back into its burrow. We have a clear target, at least. And the trident isn't the only thing on its back; there's something else up there. Or someone; it's a blue-skinned elf, and he pulls out the trident easily. He points it at us, challenging, and the crab gets ready for an attack.

Grey, thinking to himself :So each of the weapons presumably has some sort of "owner" here in the dungeon.

Grey makes an illusion of himself, but thirty feet ahead of the group. The Elf on the back of the crab is not at all fooled by this.

Thelmor, on horseback, in Elvish: "Are you the one responsible for the condition of this crab?"

With an old-time accent, the elf answers: "This is not my doing, but by my enemy's."

Thelmor: "Then do you wage war against us?"

Elf: "It is not my wish, but I do."

Thelmor slows the horse. "What compels you to attack?"

Elf: "My master compels me to destroy you, one way or another."

Thelmor: "And if we destroy you?"

Elf: "I long for the dark sleep."

Thelmor: "Are you undead? Did this master raise you from the dead?"

Elf: "You speak truth."

Thelmor: "Well... for your sake and the sake of the Raven Queen, we do what we must."

Elf: "I will thank you in the afterlife. For now, I will do my best to kill you." He resumes a battle stance.

Thelmor, to the rest of us: "We must slay him! There is no other way!"

Thelmor advances on the illusionary horse.

Nil and Jhuni are sad that they don't get to seduce him. Thelmor dismounts and readies his axe, but doesn't immediately attack.

Jhuni attempts to persuade him: "Are you sure you wouldn't prefer to destroy me... in bed?"

He looks at her blankly, then looks back at Thelmor. So... Jhuni fireballs him, placing the explosion carefully behind him to avoid immolating Thelmor. Sunrise strolls forward, playing her lute and asking if he understands common. He looks directly at her, but doesn't answer. She plays a wandering melody: "I'm sorry for your situation. We don't want this any more than you do. Drop the trident, and we will make it quick."

He is not persuaded. "My apologies, but no. To battle!" He attacks Thelmor, who has gone werewolfy, and hits him. Thelmor was expecting this, and attacks and does some damage. The crab attacks the illusion, and the claw goes right through it; if they weren't clear on it being unreal before, they are now. Perfect calls encouragement to Thelmor, who gets to attack again. He smacks the elf with his axe again.

Nil throws up Spirit Guardians, and flying angry angels fill the air around us, attacking the elf and the crab. Nil looks troubled. Thelmor motions, and suddenly his axe has little sparks of lightning dancing around it. He smiles, and attacks, and does more damage. Jhuni drops another fireball, but the damage doesn't seem to be as much as it should be; the crab responds flawlessly to his guidance, allowing it to avoid the worst of the damage. Sunrise moves up, still playing a winsome melody. "We have a common enemy. Throw down your weapon, and let us take revenge on the one who did this to you." He shrugs off the magical suggestion, and guides the crab around to a new position; he attacks Thelmor, and hits. The crab attacks also, and slams him with a claw. Thelmor pries himself free before it can pick him up, and snarls at it.

Perfect moves in and attacks the crab, but the Elf intercepts the blow for the crab; we each see a sudden blur of overlapping visions; old memories, perhaps, from the elf. Perfect's second attack slices into the sea elf for quite a lot, and he steps back to pose. "Come now, let's see what two magical weapons can do together!" He seems to have the sea elf's attention.

Nil moves over and drops some healing on Thelmor while their conjured angels do more damage to our opponents. Thelmor wags his tail in appreciation. (OOC: we're not a hundred percent sure that a Lycan Blood Hunter has a tail when he transforms, but... this one does now.)

Grey, meanwhile, slides in and puts a dagger under the latch on the metal bracelet and pries; he bends it a bit, but fails to wrench the bracelet off. Grey uses his Cunning Action to get back out of range.

Thelmor attacks the crab, hoping to damage it while it's distracted; but the Sea Elf again intercepts. Still, Thelmor does a pretty good amount of damage. Jhuni drops another Fireball on the Sea Elf and his crab, doing more fire damage. Sunrise attempts another Suggestion, trying to get the elf to throw down the trident. The Sea Elf says, in Old High Elvish, "I cannot throw down this trident; it is a part of me as I am a part of it. I will hold back until you have defeated my mount." He sits cross-legged on the back of the crab.

The crab moves away, absorbing attacks from Thelmor and Perfect in the process. It moves quite a ways back and assumes a threatening posture. Perfect moves after it and attacks again, and hacks one of its legs most of the way off.

Nil observes the amulet on the sea elf's chest; it's another of the ones designed to make turning undead impossibly difficult. The spirit guardians are still active, but Nil honorably exempts the sea elf from their attacks. The crab, however, is still getting attacked. It takes damage from the angels, and then Nil drops some Necrotic damage on it as well. The elf twitches, but manages to remain still.

Thelmor teleports over beside the crab, putting himself uncomfortably close to the edge of the bubble, and attacks. The crab counter-attacks, but misses. Jhuni moves up and tries to zap the friendship bracelet with Scorching Ray. One ray, two rays, three rays... but the fourth one misses. It's enough: the band gives up and falls away from the claw.

The crab looks confused, and perhaps alarmed, but not especially damaged. And it still looks hostile. Jhuni blasts it with firebolt, and without its band that's enough to hurt it. Sunrise trades her lute for her rapier, and moves in to thrust at the crab. She catches a soft spot, and bubbles and foam begin to come from its mouth; it collapses, and she can feel the powerful necromantic magics disperse. She looks up at the sea elf: "Sorry, friend."

The Sea Elf stands, looks at us, and raises the trident. Then he charges at Sunrise and attacks, hitting twice with the trident, then follows up with a palm strike and then a kick. Perfect is annoyed by this, and steps in to attack; he hits once, and looks at Sunrise: "Just because everything has to be perfect doesn't mean you have to die perfectly." He gives her 6 temporary HP.

Nil re-tasks their guardians, who turn on the Sea Elf again. They also touch Sunrise, and restore some hit points. Nil: "Wait, are you an ancestor of Selanar Qivaris?"

He looks at Nil and nods. "I married a woman who gave me her last name, Quivaris."

Sunrise: "What is your name?"

Elf: "They would probably best know me as the wave-splitter."

Grey slides around everyone, comes into the spot where his illusion has been standing all this time, and stabs the Sea Elf - not for a huge amount of damage, but there's something to be said for suddenly replacing your illusion with yourself. The Wave-Splitter looks startled and displeased; he was not expecting this.

Thelmor follows up with a move-in-and-attack, damaging him further.

Jhuni attacks with Scorching Rays, hitting him twice and burning him more.

Sunrise attacks with her rapier, crits, and does a respectable amount of damage.

Wavesplitter attacks Thelmor, and attempts some extra effect which fails. He manages to slide out from the middle of us, and moves away down the field to put some distance between us and him. Perfect switches to longbow and positions himself beside Grey; he looses two arrows, missing with the first. The Sea Elf catches the second and throws it back at him in a full-on Monk move.

Sunrise: "Now that's just dirty pool." She uses her bardic ability to disrupt the attack, but it still hits and Perfect actually takes damage. Finally.

Nil moves up to bring her angels into range again; she then tags the Elf with Toll The Dead. Grey moves up a little and tries Color Spray, but Wavesplitter is still hale enough to be unaffected. Thelmor: "Why do you run away from that which you seek?" He moves in, brands him with a spell, and attacks.

Elf: "You dare brand me!?"

Thelmor: "The Raven Queen calls. You dare run away from your fate?"

Jhuni moves up and throws another Scorching Ray and then uses sorcery points to add a fireball. Sunrise moves up and casts Detect Thoughts, asking: "Would you like to be remembered? What is your story?"

Quick flashes of memory: a war between the tribes of the land and the peoples of the sea, growing from raids to battles; then a woman enters the picture, a woman who fights fiercely but spares his life. She smiles. She is trying to kill him; she is sparring with him in secret. There's a wedding, that carries with it a peace treaty. He is passing Wave to their child. He is old and dying now, surrounded by their family as he prepares to let go. 

Sunrise is already composing a ballad in her head.

The elf attacks Thelmor: "Do not hold back anymore!" He does a big chunk of damage, sticks the trident in the sand, and tries unarmed attacks; one hits, doing a bit more. Thelmor grins as the brand zaps him. Perfect: "Are you really going to take that?" He gives Thelmor an extra move, and Thelmor slams his axe into Wavesplitter and cuts the elf down. The trident falls, and the elf looks stunned. Then, as he starts to fall, he smiles. As he hits the sand, the body comes apart into small balls of light that float up and away. The necromantic magics dissipate around them as the lights form back together above the trident. His skin is now a vibrant turquoise and he smiles; a tiny ghost-crab circles his shoulder. He smiles at all of us, bows, and says: "Thank you so much for freeing me. You must end the wizard's curse, and defeat him once and for all."

Thelmor lets loose with a mournful howl before he transforms back. We stop for another long rest.

(The band on the crab's claw was a protection spell that prevented charm, fear, and paralysis.) We'll pick up next time with treasure and other follow-up; we're out of time now.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Music: Entertain You

Within Temptation:

Sorry, folks. Kind of AWOL this week; everything just kind of caught up with me yesterday and I had a minor personal collapse. Gonna take it easy today and just... do what I can. I have one real project on the schedule, and if I can get that done — or even just laid out, depending on exactly how much work it's going to require — then I'm going to take the win. I hope the rest of you are taking better care of yourselves; it's just going to get crazier from here.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Challenge: Favorite Quotes

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 or movie quotes and why" and I'm guessing I'm not the only one who uses quotes all the time here. 

I don't really have a coherent list of favorites, though; it's more a matter of what comes into my head under the circumstances. Still, here's what comes to mind first: 

1. "Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; but what the hell, it's home." Roger Zelazny (through his character Merlin) riffing off Yeats. Appropriate to the scene where it appears; also something of a recurring theme in my life. 

2. "Onward and upward. Nothing but good times ahead." Jennifer Crusie, from Welcome To Temptation (and also something she says herself, apparently). Can be said sincerely, but usually is an ironic statement made when things are about to go wrong.

3. "Tyrone, you know how much I love watching you work. But I've got my country's 500th anniversary to plan, my wedding to arrange, my wife to murder, and Guilder to frame for it. I'm swamped!" The Princess Bride, as I'm sure everybody recognizes. Because we've all been exactly that busy at some point. 

4. "It may help to understand human affairs to be clear that most of the great triumphs and tragedies of history are caused, not by people being fundamentally good or fundamentally bad, but by people being fundamentally people." Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, from a footnote in Good Omens. For a book that's fundamentally a spoof, it has some of the best-thought-out theology I've ever run across; plus, it's hilarious. (The TV version was also excellent.)

5. "Oh no, not again." The bowl of petunias from the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Alternatively, from the same source, a thought that has stuck with me for years: "For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much — the wheel, New York, wars and so on — whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man — for precisely the same reasons."

So those are the top, um, five or six that come to mind for me. What are yours?

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Guardians of Sol Povos: Into the Tower

 Having put the Baron and his wife in their coffins and thence into the bag of holding, we prepare to assault the tower.

Springhollow had a population of about 9,000.

Tavros goes off and buys all the Cure Light Wounds Wands available - four of them. Marshall heads out to the woods to call some of the sacred snakes to him. We found Wanda the enchantress, who naturally makes wands. She tries to upsell us on a couple of things, but Tavros isn't interested.

The wizard opens the the protective shield and we edge in and then go into the front door. Inside is a huge pile of corpses. Also inside is a triceratops, probably undead, with some bizarre contraption on its back. It turns towards us, and...

Alexej moves up on it; it lumbers towards us, strange liquids sloshing in its back. It has a nametag that says "Cera" on it. Tavros moves up to flank Alexej. Leira turns invisible, and Marshall steps up: "I'm going to send this thing back t'hell!" He tries to turn the zombie dinosaur.

(OOC: this is the dinosaur that my original character, Grot the half-orc druid, was raising until he got brutally killed by a vampire, brought back as a harpy, and turned into a zombie himself.)

Alexej attacks, and the injury makes all the glass things clank together. (OOC: Oh, this is not going to end well.) It attacks Alexej, doing fairly serious damage. Tavros attacks, also hitting it twice, and in the process shatters the glasswork, which spews acid all around it.

Leira uses Magic Missile, because reliability is a fine quality in a spell, and does a decent amount of damage. Marshall throws a Wind Wall to push the acid smog away from us.

Alexej looks behind him and yells, "Beware! Velocirapture! Behind us!" He continues to attack the triceratops, but misses; Cera gores him again, and the raptors charge. Alexej hits one on its way in, damaging it and causing it to miss him. He smacks at it as well, damaging it also. It manages to bite him, though it misses with its claws.

The acid is still expanding, but the wall is holding it back from us; Tavros attacks again, trying for more damage, and misses once but hits on his second try; he does more damage.

Leira blows another Magic Missile, then moves to a different spot; she's still invisible. Marshall casts Dominate Animal on the velociraptor who's stupidly standing inside the acid cloud; he then moves up to flank the velociraptor. Alexej repositions and attacks the hostile raptor. The triceratops stabs at Alexej again, and Marshall's velociraptor goes for the triceratops.

Tavros steps back and lays a hand on Alexej, using up most of the day's healing ability to keep him on his feet. Marshall Mercy steps around to flank the hostile velociraptor, and smacks it with his scythe; Alexej moves further back and attacks hostileRaptor, who goes down. The whole back half of the room is engulfed in acid fumes, but we're safe on our side of the wind wall. The triceratops attacks Tavros and hits; Tavros steps back in and attacks it in return, hitting it twice. Leira magic missiles the triceratops, who charges forward and lightly tramples Tavros before he goes down. Marshall leaves the other raptor standing in the acid until it dissolves. The wind wall lasts just long enough to contain the acid.

We heal up using our new wands, then open the nearest door. This was the velociraptor room; it has a big chunk of well-gnawed meat on the floor. The next is barred, and Tavros attempts to smash through it, and despite being a very solid wooden door he crashes through into a kitchen.

Servant: "It changed!"

Tavros: "Surrender and I'll see that you're well treated!"

Servant: "It can talk!" Apparently they think he's an evolved velociraptor. "Perhaps Helios has sent it to save us."

Marshall: "Helios had nothing to do with this. This is all Artemhiss."

Tavros sorts out the velociraptor/half-dragon confusion, and Alexej meanwhile has found the meatlocker/freezer. He's busy eating. He convinces the servants that they're there to help.

It turns out we're facing off against a Thought of Vecna, and nine or ten Memories of Vecna. They're in the dining room just upstairs. The nearer stairwell is the servant's stair; it's safe. The other stairwell in the main room goes up to the library, and it's trapped. They said if we went up there it would immolate."

So, after determining that nobody's going to mistake Tavros for a servant, we decide to send Alexej up dressed as a servant while the rest of us follow invisibly.

So we put together a huge tray full of vegetables, because Alexej already ate the chicken. Leira drops Greater Invisibilty on Marshall, and Alexej leads the way with his tray and his polearm. He and Marshall head to the top of the stairs and hold there; there's a swinging door there. Leira makes Tavros invisibility, and he heads up the stairs; Leira follows.

From beyond the door, we can hear the sound of voices. Alexej opens the door and steps inside. "All right, all you thinks and memoirs, I have your tray!" Despite everything, he successfully bluffs his way into the room. They don't even look up; they're so engaged in their conversation. "As soon as we move west, we're going to start taking the baronies one by one."

Alexej: "I have all the best flavors--"

Thought: "Yes, yes, servant, just put it down."

Alexej stops just a little ways back from the table: polearm range. Tavros comes through the door behind him, making a huge loud crack as he comes through, and promptly clunks his way across the stone floor. Marshall, by contrast, casts Silence on himself and walks in. The door... kind of breaks off.

Alexej attempts to bluff: "I am big man! I make door swing back and forth many times. So sorry."

Alexej panics and starts rattling off vocabulary words: "Mango! Avacado!"

Leira takes a moment to make herself invisible, and walks through the now-broken doorway with no issues.

Alexej: "Almond... peanut... cashew... Tomato with the chicken sauce and cooked in oven, with the grill..."

The Thought of Vecna throws a fireball at the door, engulfing everybody except Alexej.

Alexej says, "Holy shit! Why are you killing the servants! They are trying to bring you a z-zu-squash!"

Only one of the memories is fooled; the rest of them all magic missile him. Squash is flying, peas are everywhere... Alexej staggers back towards Leira. Tavros moves away from the door and beheads one of the memories. Marshall moves forward as far as he can. Leira drops greater invisibility on Alexej, then gets the hell away from the door.

The Thought casts a spell, centered on where Tavros did his killing. Tavros falls asleep, invisible. The memories promptly respond by turning themselves invisible. Marshall ignores the guy turning invisible beside him; he wants the Thought.

The double doors on the south wall swing open, giving us a view of some sort of horrible magic circle.

Alexej moves up and does a whirlwind attack, basically sweeping his guisarme in a broad circle around him. He takes out a couple of guys who had just reached the doors, skims off Tavros' armor ("No orizons today, mom...")

Marshall takes that additional step up and uses Slay Living to take out the Thought. Leira drops a fireball of her own and three smoldering figures drop to the floor.

The ring on the floor in the next room starts to glow, and some sort of demon spider bursts into existence.

Alexej shuts the doors and bars them. Marshall moves up to the door and says, "Open it on my command." (They can't see each other, obviously.)

Alexej: "Got it."

Alexej hears a voice in his head. "It's scary," says Alexej, confusing everybody who's still awake.

At that moment, a pair of spikes stab through the door as the spider-demon tries to rend the door. The door comes apart. Leira tries to drop Baleful Polymorph on the spider-demon, but it manages to resist the spell.

Alexej moves to another area of the room and does a whirlwind attack. The demon smells him moving off and tries to attack, but Alexej slips aside. In the course of this, Alexej steps on Tavros and wakes him up; Tavros climbs to his feet, takes in the situation, and waits for the demon to move into the room.

The spider-demon hurls a Web into the room, entangling Leira. He starts to move into the room, realizes Marshall is in the doorway, and stops.

Leira drops a Silent Image right beside Marshall. Tavros moves up, and Marshall successfully Dismisses the spider.

Marshall moves in and finds that this is the library; the hell-circle has collapse, quiescent, its energy expended. It's not charged, but it's still prepared.

Tavros smashes the circle, and then we search the bodies and find 6,000 GP worth of equipment.

-fox's cunning,
-cat's grace,
-eagle's splendor

scrolls: invisibility, see invisibility, darkvision, calm emotions, flame arrow, resist energy, haste, and a bag with 130 PP.

Tavros moves down the hall, and stops beside the first door... but there are strange sounds coming from the hallway just past the door, so he moves and finds another door that appears to be the source of the sounds.

Tavros busts into the room: "Stop! Why are you hurting... wait, what are you doing?"

They immediately leap up in the flimsiest possible outfits and come rushing over to molest him. He is... not overcome. Neither is Alexej: "Tavros! These are not victims, they are vixens!"

Women: "Oh, what a wonderful accent! You should come and rest with us; we have a bed right here."

Tavros: "Nope. Too perilous." He closes the door.

Marshall walks past them, throws open the door, and... also is not overcome. He turns undead.

"Oh! Did you see that! His snake sigil is sooooo big! I've never seen a snake that size before! And look how strong he is, he's sooo big!"

Marshall: "Ladies! Let me comfort you." He walks over to the bed, puts a hand on one of the women... and Slays Living. "Goodbye."

She dies, and her companion is now trying to kill us.

Leira just walks in and starts trying to open the treasure chest; the women have shown no interest in her. The chest was already open and has been emptied.

Marshall: "Give me one good reason why I should not do to you what I did to your harlot sister?"

Girl: "Our mistress, miss Frazzlehair, has been kidnapped! If you could rescue her, we could go back to where we came from."

Marshall: "Not good enough." He attempts to slay her, and she dies. Tavros is... aghast.

Alexej: "Guys! Up hallway, more ladies."

We check over the room, but everything here has been ransacked already.

We head up to the next room, and find two more women. Leira, irritated, drops a fireball into the room. One of them dies; the other survives and looks really pissed. Marshall dismisses the remaining woman and moves up the hallway in case there are more of these wicked temptations ahead.

The woman gives Leira the stink-eye, but Leira blows it off. Her face falls and she starts begging. Alexej walks inside, and is blinded by her beauty. Literally. Alarmed, he swing his guisarme wildly at where the woman was standing, but misses; Tavros strides in after him, realizes that Alexej is blind, and cuts her down.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Leander Confirmed

"So," said Baethira, once they were alone, "You... how to say this... you see yourself as an elf?"

Leander was quiet, expecting some sort of rebuke, but Darvinin's mother merely sat there, studying him with a sort of daft curiosity that was utterly lacking in malice. After a time he said, "Yes. I've always felt that I was supposed to be an elf." 

Baethira nodded. "How so?" 

"This body, my body... It does what I need, but it doesn't feel right. I mean, I'm athletic, I'm healthy, clever; there's nothing wrong with my body. It just isn't mine, if that makes any sense at all. For all the ways that I've learned to use it, it doesn't feel right on me."

"Hm." Baethira's gaze turned evaluative, then thoughtful. "Then I suppose you may be under a curse. I'd like to try a spell on you, if you'll permit it. If you were truly meant to be an elf, it may restore you -- or at least bring you closer to your true self." 

Leander narrowed his eyes. "Is it dangerous?" 

Baethira gave a gentle shrug. "All change is dangerous, dear. But this one carries no physical risks."

Leander considered that, then said: "Ah." He thought a moment longer, then added: "I'll permit it. Whatever I learn... Well, I probably needed to know it." 

Baethira nodded and stood. "Stay in your chair, dear. This may take a little time."

Then she began a spell. Leander had no training in magic and no real sense of it, but even he could feel the forces the elvish wizard was gathering. The room seemed to ripple under their weight, and for a moment Baethira's presence made everything around her feel unreal. Then she finished, and he felt a little ripple move through him; for one brief moment, Leander himself felt unreal. 

Then she nodded sharply and knelt beside him. "Ah, yes. Here it is." She bent down, and touched a ring on the littlest finger of his left hand. 

"...What?" he asked, befuddled. "That... isn't mine. I've never worn a ring there." 

"It was hidden, dear," said Baethira. "Of course you wouldn't have put anything else on that finger; the ring wouldn't have let you." She set her fingers on it. "Now, let's see what happens when we take it off you." 

She motioned for him to stand, and he complied. Then she drew the ring off. Like a wedding ceremony in reverse, he thought, and then reached for the chair to steady himself as the entire room shrunk around him. "Ahhh..." He swayed on his feet, which were suddenly further away than he remembered, but caught his balance with surprising ease. "...What in Corellon's name...?"

His limbs were long and lean, graceful. He stood eye-level with Baethira. His clothes had somehow altered with him, which seemed a minor magic under the circumstances. His shortsword and his daggers seemed too short; when he touched them, their hilts felt too small for his hands. "What have you done?" he asked, far more adrift than aggrieved. 

"Removed the curse, dear," said Baethira. "Regard the mirror, if you will." 

The face in the mirror was his, but... transformed. Made true. He was a true elf, like Sam and Shera and Darvinin, like Ruin and Baethira herself. He reached up awkwardly, touched his chin, and watched his reflection do the same. "Is this... me?" 

"It is," Baethira said. "The... let's call it a curse, though thaumaturgically speaking it's a bit more complicated than that... the curse gives you a halfling's body." She held out the ring. "And the curse is now yours to command. Place the ring back upon your finger, and you will return to a halfling's body. Useful, if you want to keep your true identity a secret."

Leander took the ring and regarded it. It was an odd mix, copper and at least two sorts of gold, wide and traced in pastoral reliefs. Then, with some trepidation, he slid it back onto his finger... and watched in the mirror as his body shrank and transformed, taking his clothes along with it. With considerably more trepidation, he pulled the ring back off... and became himself again. 

The sense of relief that swept through him was overwhelming. "This is... this is... I don't know how to thank you." 

"Unless their spies are considerably better than I think possible," said Baethira, "the cult won't know of your true nature. You can use that to build a second identity, unknown and unsuspected. The ring was hidden from you; it is still hidden from everyone except us. If you wish to thank me, use that in your plans to learn more of them."

I'll use it for a lot more than that... Still, Baethira was right. And if they were to leave the house as a group, it was better as he left it looking the same way that he'd arrived: as a halfling. He and his friends knew better; he'd always known better, and now he could show them. "Consider it done," he said.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Darvinin: Homecoming 5

"So," said Sam, "the war that's about to happen between the humans and us is actually being engineered by the cult of Vecna, and the High Provost is a member of the cult. On a scale from one to human sacrifice, how devout would you say he is?"

"Very," answered Ruin. "Devout enough to send us to a remote island to retrieve a major magical artifact related to the god, devout enough to know when we'd retrieved it, and devout enough to be irritated that we went to someone else to have it removed from the wizard Azrael and wouldn't admit that we had it."

There was a moment where Sam tilted her head, and Darvinin could almost see her flipping through old stories and odd bits of knowledge. 

"Why do we call it human sacrifice, anyway?" grumbled Leander. "It's not like it's any less egregious to sacrifice someone from one of the other sentient races."

Ruin scowled darkly. "I always assumed it was called that because they were the ones who came up with the idea. Like Newacre Pudding. It got the name because that's where it was invented."

"Oh." Leander looked thoughtful. 

"...The Eye of Vecna," Sam said slowly. "That Which Sees All Secrets. You found Vecna's eye."

Ruin nodded, and Baethira said, "Very good, dear. Yes, that's exactly what it was. The High Provost is extremely devout, and he was quite willing to sacrifice my son and his friends to see the Eye restored to his god. He downplays it to the True King and the court, of course, but..."

"...but he rather badly needs to be murdered to death," finished Ruin. 

"As soon as we can, dear," said Baethira, her voice soothing. 

Oh, good, thought Darvinin. Maybe the whole family's broken. Then, after a moment: But maybe that will carry us through. "So what do you want us to do?" 

"Well," said Baethira, "Werendril should return to the border, and be ready to send word if the human forces do attack us... or pass along anything else he hears. Ruin will remain with me until he and the other Twiceborn sail as the King's emissaries. Darvinin and Mistra, I think you should return to the King's Own and do everything you can to protect him -- not just keep him from being killed, but keep him from being compromised. The rest of you... I'd like you to see what you can learn about the cult: what they're doing now, what their goal might be. I've seen a lot of political maneuvering that was designed merely to increase power and influence, but this feels like something else; this feels like a plot with a very specific goal."

Mistra said, "I'm in." 

Darvinin squeezed her hand and nodded slowly. "Very well." 

Shanna and Sam exchanged a glance, but it was Leander the Elf who spoke up: "This," he said, "sounds like a proper heist."

Baethira nodded. "It will be extremely dangerous; the cult will be on their guard, and may very well know of you already. That's part of why I want Darvinin and Mistra back in the King's Own; to the right, it makes them more visible, and to the left they're some of the few who appreciate what sort of attacks the servants of Vecna tend to use. They aren't looking for a bloody assassination -- at least, not if it will be blamed on them. They'll want control, control gained through influence, misdirection, and obfuscation." 

Darvinin nodded at that. 

"...But that's also why I wanted to meet you all here. Yes, it might draw their attention; but it gives us a chance to do some things that they might not see coming. And it was Evrimon who gave me the idea. Leander the Elf, would you step into my study? I'd like to consult with you."

Leander stood, straightened, bowed. "I would be honored."

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Second Day of School

School started for the boys yesterday. 

I'm sorry, let me back up a bit on that: here in the unrelenting hellscape that is the year 2020, school has started for the boys. Donald Trump is still in office, the national (and for that matter local) Republican party is essentially indistinguishable from actual, no-shit Nazis, and the COVID-19 pandemic remains terrifyingly rampant in no small part due the White House's deliberate sabotage of all efforts to contain it. The pandemic has so far claimed a probable 200,000 lives -- and while it hasn't been well or thoroughly reported, it appears to cause long-term or even permanent disabilities in a significant number of cases -- and meanwhile probably a good 27% of the country thinks it's either No Big Deal or an outright hoax.

And in the midst of all this, school has started.

In a striking fit of good sense, I elected to take vacation for the first three days -- Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday -- and to work from home on Monday. This is because Beautiful Wife starts her new semester of teaching on Monday and is just finishing up the grading on her second summer class; I have to be the one to see to it that the boys get into the rhythm of their semester and that they know what they're supposed to be doing and how to do it. 

Apparently I have been amazingly, apocalyptically stressed out about this. I honestly hadn't noticed until yesterday. 

So yesterday morning I woke everybody up and made sure they ate breakfast and took their meds. Then I settled in to get Secondborn into his classroom and... couldn't. For about an hour. We were following the directions, but the page that was supposed to give us the code for his Google Classroom simply wasn't there -- and without access to the classroom, we didn't have the links to get to anything else. 

Fortunately, it was abundantly clear that we weren't the only ones; and fortunately, emailing Secondborn's teacher did eventually yield the code. After that, I was pretty well able to lie back and let him get on with it under other people's direction. (I checked in on Firstborn, but he had the codes he needed and apparently got started on his day with a bare minimum of muss and/or fuss. Things might still have gone wrong and there might still be some things he missed, but it didn't sound like it.) So once I was fairly sure the boys were on their way, I went back and laid down on the bed and slept for about three hours...

...And that was what finally did me in. When I got back up -- because my cell phone kept ringing, thank you so much -- I could barely move. I'd started a load of dishes earlier; now I opened the dishwasher and just stared at them for about half an hour. So... yeah. I'm scheduling a lot of Not Answering My Phone for today and tomorrow, and I'm only glancing at my email to make that nothing has actually caught fire at either work or school. 

The house needs cleaning -- the house seriously needs cleaning -- but I have got to take a moment and get myself back together before I attempt to do anything about that. I was planning to do a lot of reading and maybe even some writing, and depending on how today goes I might even manage that. And somewhere in there, a hot bath is definitely in order. 

And that, as they say, is the news from Lake Woebegone. Or the Castle d'Mock. Whichever.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Dark Armor 010B: The Consequence of Conquest

There was a long, horrible moment as Pallian put that together in his mind. The Heir of Edrias had been taken in battle, or so he'd been told. Ravaj couldn't have kept her as a slave, though; not the way he might have with a commoner. No, she'd been a combatant, a sorceress, and a noble in her own right. 

But he could still have decided that he was owed the right of conquest, before any formal negotiations began. And if the Shadow of Edrias was to be believed, he had taken it... and now he planned to do the same with her. Given the way she was bound, he had absolutely no trouble believing it. 

Given what he knew of Ravaj, he believed it absolutely. 

If he drew his sword and cut her loose, his father might see it. His brother might figure it out. The wizard-king of Teregor might be using his helmet to see everything that Pallian saw, right now, and might already be aware of his disloyalty. Or, with the initial battle done, he might have taken a glass of mulled wine and gone off to bed. 

If Pallian killed her, that would at least be in keeping with the character of the black knight: a mindless killer, utterly loyal to the wizard-king, merciless to his enemies. If he cut her loose, there would be no mistaking the treachery. No mistaking it, unless he set his helmet aside so that it could not see. 

That would be a treachery in itself, and if his father witnessed it Pallian would be stripped of his initiations, tortured, and slain. But his father had said nothing, and Pallian thought that if he were watching he would surely have spoken up by now. Unless all this is a test...

He didn't know. 

So he lifted a single finger and touched it to the front of his helmet, just above where his mouth would be. Then he unfastened the clasp, pulled the helmet off, and set it to face an empty corner of the room. Panic set his heart to racing, but he was committed now; he drew the sword and stepped closer to the woman. 

"Pallian?" asked Ravaj, from behind him.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Darvinin: Homecoming 4

They followed Sonder into the house, and Darvinin could actually feel the magics that brushed across them: spells to dispel illusions, remove enchantments, lift curses, restore memories... Mistra shivered, and he squeezed her hand gently; her training was different from his, but there was enough magic in it that she felt this too. Sam and Shanna and Evrimon followed them slowly, marveling. Only Leander seemed oblivious to it.

"Ignore it," Darvinin said quietly. "It won't hurt us."

Leander did not look reassured. "What won't hurt us?" 

"Don't worry about it," said Sam, in the cheeriest voice that Darvinin had ever heard her use.

Leander sighed. "The worst part is, I know you lot aren't just making things up out of whole cloth to scare me, so clearly there's something going on that I don't know about it." 

"Oh, many things," said a woman's voice, warm and rich and slightly amused. "Welcome to our home." 

"Baethira Anthelorn," breathed Sam, sounding awed, and Darvinin saw his mother smile. 

"Just so," she said. "And you are Saminansa Eldrish, daughter of Tamisira Eldrish. Sherralitha, Darvinin, it is good to see you again. Will you introduce your friends?"

Darvinin stepped forward, drawing Mistra with him. "My mother, this is Alimistra Silverstem, an archer of the King's Own." 

"Welcome, my dear."

Darvinin glanced back at Sherra, who nodded. "This is Evrimon, the druid-- who was also the stray dog who passed you in the street." 

"Yes," said Baethira. "Ruin told me something of that." 

"I'm very sorry for the attempt at deception," Evrimon said. "Thank you for not blasting me on the spot." 

"Oh, it would take considerably more provocation than someone being a dog for me to strike them down on the spot," said Baethira. "Especially now. You are welcome here, Evrimon."

"Thank you." 

"...And this is Leander the Elf," continued Sherra, as the halfling stepped forward and bowed with a flourish. 

"You might be forgiven for thinking me a halfling," said Leander, "but I have always considered myself an elf in my heart." 

"Have you?" asked Baethira, regarding him with an elegant tilt of her head. "Perhaps we should speak of this later. For now, it seems that all of you speak truly, and none of you are compromised." She paused. "You have no idea what a relief that is to me."

Darvinin chuckled. "Some of us might have some inkling, Mother." 

Baethira's chuckle was an echo of his own. "I suppose some of you might, at that." 

"And how do you know we speak true?" asked Sam. 

Baethira turned her head, and Ruin emerged from an open doorway. Werendril followed him into the room, bowing as he turned to face them. "I am Werendril, a paladin of Corellon Larethian. I have heard the truth of your words." 

"My cousin!" said Sherra, and released Sam's hand long enough to come forward and embrace him. "It seems all of us have been busy."

"These are busy times," he replied. "I'm glad to have us all here, and whole." 

"Yes," said Baethira. "We have much to discuss."

Monday, August 10, 2020

DnD 5e Interlude: White Plume Mountain 5

We're currently on the far end of the floating river from Sir Bluto Sans Pite, and Jhuni has rejoined us; we have a plan.

Character Recap:
Jhuni Blackfire (she/her) - modestly pyromaniacal Sorcerer/Wizard
Thelmor Irdro (he/him) - Blood Hunter of the Lycan persuasion
Nil (they/them) - badass Cleric
Snow (she/her) - Swashbuckler and Gloomstalker Ranger
Sunrise (she/her) - Lore Bard - and Honey (she/her) her homunculus familiar
Perfect (he/him) - Battlemaster fighter
Grey (he/him) - Assassin/Illusionist

Sunrise, using the Message spell: "Sir Bluto of Greyhawk, I presume?"

Sir Bluto: "Who is this?"

Sunrise: "A friend, I hope. Tell me, who exactly are you lying in wait for?"

Sir Bluto: "I lie in wait for those who foolishly rush forward. How do you know this?"

Sunrise: "I have eyes everywhere. That's very mysterious, though. What of those who come forward cautiously? And then there's your reputation; we all know the stories."

Sir Bluto: "And how do I know that you're not trying to trap the trappers?"

Sunrise: "Wouldn't I have made a move instead of contacting you?"

Sir Bluto: "Contact me is a move."

Sunrise: "True, but knowing the past is hardly a strategic advantage for the present."

Sir Bluto: "What do you want? The price on my head? Or to join me? Or to join something darker?"

Sunrise: "Curiosity. Are you trapped down here?"

Bluto: "My men and I can be very strong swimmers."

Sunrise: "Is there an easier way to have this conversation -- safely, in person?"

Bluto: "How would we avoid the possibility that one of us might just reach out and attack each other?"

Sunrise: "We would have to trust each other."

Bluto: "Arrive in the boat. We will not harm you. The moment any of you strike, we will end you."

Sunrise: "And why are you poised to attack any who foolishly rush in?"

Bluto: "Those are my orders."

Sunrise: "You would disobey those orders for me? I'm touched."

SB: "You don't know the full extent of my orders, but.... know that I am not willing to harm someone who hasn't tried to harm me."

Snow: "That 'join with something darker' but sounded a bit like a confession."

Nil: "He did confess when he was first arrested; but I don't know exactly what that means."

Sunrise: "I think he was feeling me out."

Nil: "If you want to speak with this man, I will go with you. I am a cleric, and it is sometimes considered bad luck to harm the follower of a god."

Thelmor: "I will go to. If my suspicion is correct, and Bluto is serving this wizard, then he should be dealt with."

We ready the canoes, and set illusions in the first one; Sunrise is recast as a beautiful Elf woman, and Jhuni makes Nil look more formidable and orcish, like a suitable guard for her. Honey, Sunrise's familiar, is around in the other tunnel, watching.

The kayak is stopped, and the knights try to talk to the figures in it. Sir Bluto is the one who turns to look at Honey and give  a little wave. The men release the boat, and it begins the journey back around. (Sort of a Disney Splash Mountain arrival...) So, we go: Sunrise & Nil; Jhuni and Grey; Thelmor and Perfect; and Snow in the final boat. As each boat comes in the men stop it and help people out.

So far, so good. The stream is flowing through empty air in the middle of the room. The room is 50' x 70' with some beds along one side. There are eight knights, armed with various weapons and different types of armor, but Sir Bluto is clearly in charge. Sunrise makes eye contact as she goes through, and Sir Bluto immediately turns to her once we've exited the boat.

Sunrise: "A pleasure to meet you face to face."

Bluto: "I am Sir Bluto; these are my eight companions."

Sunrise: "Do you get many visitors here?"

Bluto shrugs. "Some more hostile than others."

Sunrise: "Perhaps we'll be a pleasant surprise. What happened to you after you vanished from the world? Have you been down here this whole time?"

Bluto: "We have. With the law on my heels, you ask me what brought me here?"

Sunrise: "Inside a mountain ruled by an apparently immortal wizard, in a room with a floating river? Interesting choice."

Bluto: "It's not a choice I am proud of, but it is one that I would make again under the circumstances."

Light in this room comes from a set of makeshift sconces, some Light and Continual Flame spells.

Sunrise: "Coming here seemed like a better option than trying to clear your name?"

Bluto: "My name could not easily be cleared, perhaps not at all. My name is tarnished."

Sunrise: "Does that mean that you are guilty?"

Sir Bluto: "That night was a very complicated sequence of events. There are many things that happened, and I do not know if anyone would believe me if I told--"

Sunrise: "One way to find out."

Sir Bluto: "I woke up covered in blood, with the bodies of the children hanging over me. I held the instruments of their destruction in my hands. Surely I must have been guilty, so I confessed; but information came to me that I was framed, so I fled with those who would follow me."

Sunrise: "You have no memory of committing murder?"

Bluto: "I do not believe in committing murder. To kill in battle is one thing; to harm an innocent is something else entirely."

Thelmor: "So what justice do you serve hiding down here and killing those who wander into your trap?"

Bluto: "My... employer... did not give us much of a choice. We came here seeking the murderer, and we found instead his employer hovering over the murderer's dead body. We could join him, or sustain him. He does not just kill; he feeds on the souls of those he kills."

Sunrise: "So your choice was to serve him, or be served to him."

Thelmor: "Tell us of your employer."

Bluto: "He is a wizard, and uses the name of Keraptis; I have no reason to believe that he lies about that. He is a thin man, tall. I have only seen his face once, and I do not wish to ever see it again. His body is long-since dead, but there is something off about it. It wasn't quite there; like your illusions, it didn't quite seem right. It may have been an image."

Sunrise: "That would explain why he would feel safe enough to steal from those rich enough to hire wave after wave of adventurers."

Bluto: "Blackrazor, Wave, and Whelm. It looks as if you've retrieved one of them, at least. You're one of the most successful groups so far."

Nil: "So what is your job here? To wait with nets by the water?"

Bluto: "We sustain our employer with those who come down the stream. It is... not my choice. But I have not killed anyone who has not raised arms against me."

Nil: "So what do you do with those you net?"

Bluto: "We take them to... James? What's that word?"

James: "He calls it The Indoctrination Center, m'lord."

Sunrise: "So the murderer was in service to this wizard..."

Bluto: "The man had a journal on him. I have it still, but it reads like the ravings of a madman, and I do not believe it would clear my name. Plus, the way I obtained it was... not clean. Not honorable."

Sunrise: "And if you were to leave?"

Bluto: "I would be back on the menu. He has spies everywhere, people you wouldn't expect."

Nil: "So you believe he would know where you went, and his spies would move against you."

Grey: "It sounds as if you can only be safe if we kill your employer. And I am including you in that 'we'."

Bluto: "Thank you. I have tried to study his weaknesses, but I know very little. And I am leery of giving out my secrets without protections in place; I dare not tip my hand."

Sunrise: "If we are able to kill him, I cannot promise that we could clear your name. But I think I know some ways that it would be a lot more possible than you believe. At the very least, though, I could offer a much nicer cave with much less murdering."

Bluto: "Were he gone, I could perhaps retire to the countryside, live out the rest of my life in hiding. I have not given it much thought."

Nil: "Is there anything you can tell us?"

Sunrise: "And are there any assurances you need from us?"

Bluto: "I know that he is desperate to avoid having the weapons that he stole taken back. He does not want them together, in the hands of the same force. If you were to leave now, he would pursue, but not so hard as if you left with two, or even three."

Thelmor: "Does it have to do with the history of the weapons? Were they used together against him?"

Bluto, tapping the side of his nose: "I could not say."

Sunrise: "Would he know if you left your post?"

Bluto: "I do so when I have captives, and some other times. I would attempt to aid you if it were safe to do so, but... I cannot say when that would be."

Nil: "May I see this journal, this diary?"

Bluto: "...I suppose. It was the ravings in the journal that brought me here: go to White Plume Mountain. The deaths of the innocent are needed for sacrifice. It was only happy accident -- for him -- that I fell into his clutches. It seems the sacrifices was meant in some way to feed him."

Nil: "The librarian in town said that the wizard instituted a tax of children on his people, and that was what caused them to turn on him and rise up."

Bluto: "The journal is no better in my hands than anyone else's. Be my guest." He crosses to the living area, pulls out a tattered journal -- almost a spellbook, by the looks of it -- and hands it over to Nil. It is covered with scratched and etched arcane marks. Sunrise recognizes as Infernal, but the writing is gibberish.

Sunrise: "I recognize each of those words on their own, but... where did he learn Infernal from? He was terrible at it."

Bluto shrugs. "The previous owner was a human, though he said he was an elf."

Nil looks for the sigil of Keraptis on the book. Nil learns this is an arcane research book (not a spell book). The infernal (which Nil speaks) is gibberish. There are references to Keraptis and his symbol. A ritual involving children is mentioned, intended to "bring Keraptis back" or "wake him up". The language is unclear.

Bluto doesn't object to her reading it, so Nil settles in to read it.

Sunrise: "Is there anything else you'd like us to do?"

Bluto: "Stay alive."

Sunrise: "We'll do our best."

Bluto: "And... you never saw me."

Sunrise: "Who?"

Nil: "The murderer that you tracked here... you don't happen to know where his body is, do you?"

Bluto: "Disintegrated into dust."

Nil: "Do you mind if I hang onto this? We plan to come back to see you, and I'd like to study it."

Bluto: "You might die, but... keep it. For now. If you must leave the mountain, try to return it first."

Nil: "Is there another exit besides the stream?"

Bluto: "...There might be."

Nil: "--'Cause I really don't want to climb back into a canoe."

Bluto: "Find it, and I'll lead the way."

Nil turns and points. "That corner, the secret door."

Bluto: "...Why did you even ask?"

Nil: "I found a secret door out in the hallway; it made sense that it would connect to this room."

Bluto: "Very well, I'll lead you myself."

The wall folds back as he approaches it, revealing a secret tunnel. We follow him along.

Sunrise: "How do we open the other door?"

Bluto: "Every door has a key." He holds out a plain brass key.

Sunrise: "I don't suppose you have a copy of that? What are the chances that we could borrow that?"

Nil: "We don't need it. We could message him again, and he could come out to us."

Bluto: "It is magical. It is the presence of the key itself that opens the door. Though I hear a Knock spell opens many doors."

The passage leads us back out to the hallway, where he leaves us. He bids us farewell, with the hope that we are the last and most successful of the adventuring groups. Nil: "You stay safe as well." They are reading and walking at the same time.

Sunrise hangs back: "Would it be terribly, horribly inappropriate for me to give you a hug?"

He is hesitant, but he accepts it. Sunrise pulls him into an embrace and whispers: "I believe you. I'm going to fix this."

He squeezes and lets her go and she steps back out into the hallway. "Until later, then." He nods and steps back with a small smile, and the wall folds closed behind him.

We discuss the need to use the three weapons to defeat Keraptis, and the fact that it sounds like he's a powerful undead -- possibly a lich -- so we're going to need all three weapons and people who can use them to defeat him.

We make our way back to the gynosphynx, and Sunrise reminds us that the trident was probably north of us and the hammer to the east. We fall back into our cautious movement, tapping the floor as we advance. The water is deeper in a small circular area to the east.  There's a grate and a valve at the bottom of this ten foot pit. We try to open the valve with mage hand, but that's not enough force. Sunrise moves forward, but sees a water-floored room ahead with steps rising out of the far end; she looks around to see if the water here looks normal, and notices that the water seems deeper and darker towards the center of the room.

Discussion ensues; Nil thinks the valve might be a trap to release something horrible; Grey thinks it would probably be helpful to turn the valve and see what happens. Thelmor points out that the wizard is fond of kind of bullshit design choices and it's probably not helpful to try to second-guess him.

We drop a lit ball-bearing into the well; it doesn't show anything new and nothing particularly happens. We advance to the edge of the room, and toss another lit ball bearing into the center of the room where it's deeper. It's about a thirty foot toss, easily done, and the light fades as it sinks into the water. It also flickers a bit, then it moves toward the east and then vanishes.

Grey makes a particularly talkative minor illusion in the room; given the range on that cantrip, he can only get it about halfway across the room. Two things come out of the water, apparently made of plants, surrounding the "paladin". They try to touch, but their hands go through and they tilt their heads.

Nil casts a spell on the first one, and it fails its save; she can read its surface thoughts. (OOC: And the DM is broken, briefly, by this.) Its thoughts are mixture of Common and Sylvan, and it's thinking roughly *It makes noise but it does not harm us, it's not there but it hears us.* Nil tags Grey, who makes the illusion say: "I say, chaps! Are you... water... plant... people...?"

It makes a sort of wet speech: "What are you?"

Illusion: "I am... Sir Didymus of York! I have come to recover the stolen treasures. Would you care for a spot of tea?"

The second one speaks: "We know not this tea, but would you like to come and drink with us?"

They're kelpies, amphibious plants; they're known mostly for their shifting seaweed shape and their drowning hypnosis. They're probably trying to lure our illusion to his doom.

Nil: "We need to back away from this before they notice us."

Sunrise: "Wait, if we can see them, they can drown us?"

Nil: "Yes."

We decide to back away from the room and try the valve before we face off with the Plant Sirens. Grey is running interference with Sir Didymus ("I say, of course, a drink, underwater where nobody can breathe, who wouldn't desire such a thing?") and we manage to slip away unnoticed.

Nil: "They are above-average in physical strength, and could possibly drag us under the water."

Grey: "I could try to terrify them, too."

Nil: "Let's do this."

Nil shucks off her armor and dives down, then tries to turn the valve, and can feel the rusty metal creaking as she turnes it; then she hears something opening up somewhere nearby, and immediately swims back up to the surface. The water is now slowly moving; it's no longer still, and there's a current that seems to be moving towards the room. Better still, it seems to be lowering. It looks like we opened a drain in the pit that Nil was in.

We settle back to rest and wait, and Nil explains what she found in the journal: Bluto was framed, and the wizard whose research journal this was had been having dreams in which he was pursued by three shadowy figures. We have a lot of questions for the authorities who tried him.

The water has drained, and while there's still a bit of water in the well it's pretty low. The rest of us move up to the edge of the Kelpie room, and Snow tries to sneak in. Where the floor was covered in water earlier, we can now see a sort of ledge around the western edge of the room; the center area is deeper, about a fifteen foot pool. We can now see a path around the water, which potentially gives us a way to avoid the Kelpies.

So... caution is king. We tie ropes to Grey, behind his back where he can't easily get to them, and he hands his daggers over to Nil. He starts out stealthily, then makes a running long jump to get across the gap. He sees one of the creatures rise up and look around. It's looking directly at him.

Grey suddenly sees it as a beautiful woman as in a sea-green dress calling to him, but he doesn't feel the mental tug that should be there; it slips off him. Grey is aware of this, and that so many of these effects  can't affect you again for a while. "No thanks, not looking for a relationship. GUYS, THEY WILL NOTICE US AND WILL TRY TO CHARM US." The thing tries to slam him with vine-y tentacles, but misses. Grey races back to the group.

Nil suggests that we combine Water Walking with Beacon of Hope to up our saving throws; Sunrise points out that she can sing a countercharm. Water Walking and Countercharm are the plan; we rope off and walk across with Perfect, Sunrise, and Thelmor blindfolded.

The kelpies both rise out of the water, trying to charm Sunrise and Snow; Sunrise is blindfolded, and Snow is unaffected.

The kelpies decide to attack as we continue moving. Nil uses Command on one of them, saying "Halt." It stops dead in its tracks and looks *very* confused.

Grey drops a Phantasmal Force on the other one, making it believe it's been netted; it takes a bit of psychic damage and dissolves into a pile of seaweed that's trying to escape the net.

We reach the far side of the room and find a passage leading north and a door to the east; Nil taps the door with her staff, then Snow yanks the door open. It's swollen to fit the frame, but she yanks it open. The corridor immediatly begins spinning in a particularly psychedelic pattern. We settle back while Nil tries detect magic, but it's not magic.

Nil, frustrated, casts Arcane Eye and sends the eye down the passage. It moves into the room on the far side, and it sees an arrow slit at the end of the passage with a guard looking out. She sends the eye through the arrow slit; the guard is a human male, alert and staring down the passageway; he has a flaming arrow knocked but not drawn. There's a door to the north just before the arrow slit, and another door out of the room; there's a second guard, apparently a human female, in the room with him. And the woman is reading a spellbook; she's probably a caster.

Nil shares this with the rest of us. She doesn't recognize either of them; they aren't Bluto sort of people.

The door to our north is metal, and closed; we crack it slightly open and send the eye through. There's another door that's just ten feet beyond it. The door we just pushed open has flanged edges, and can only be opened by pushing them open to the north. We use Mage hand to do the next door, and find a similar arrangement. We magehand the next door, and... as the arcane eye moves forward, there's light beyond. The corridor continues out into a boiling lake. The corridor is semi-circular, and the boiling water is held back by a sort of giant magical bubble underneath the boiling lake. The light is coming from above the lake. So if we continued forward, we'd be standing in this balloon under the water of the lake. There's a very small chest in the bubble. The chest is decorated in sea-elf motifs, and resting in the sand is a trident.

We stop in the midst of discussing how best to approach this, since this is almost certainly going to be the "beast in the burning bubble".

Friday, August 7, 2020

RoH: Possible Opening?

Remant trudged up the narrow passage, his one remaining hand trailing against the wall. He was cold, he was tired, he was scared, he was weak. He had no idea what he would find when he reached the stairs, when he climbed them and emerged into sunlight. He only knew that if he remained in the darkness, it would consume him.

So he followed the paths that would take him out of Shadowguard, into the the more ordinary caves that bordered it, and eventually back to the surface. He left the high halls and deeper shadows behind him, along with the site of the final battle and the corpses of his friends. He'd taken Darik's armor-gauntlet to seal over the stump of his left arm, and the last of Elendor's healing potions to reduce the throbbing to something he could ignore.

He should have been blind, and lost several times over; there was no light here. Instead, he could see through the darkness itself. The thought of what that might mean terrified him, so he thought on other things instead: the course he had to follow, the things that might have happened on the surface when he'd driven the nightblade into Huoron's back and dealt a mortal blow to the God of Darkness. 

The stairs were ahead, the dim light of the surface far above still visible to his eyes. Would the light burn him? Now that he saw in the dark, would the light of day strike him blind?

It didn't matter. He couldn't remain here; he had to keep going. He touched the metal sheath that covered the stump of his arm, then the dagger that he had slipped into the empty sheath in his boot. Then he set the soft leather of the boot to the first stair, and began to climb.

The ascent seemed endless, until at last it wasn't.

The brightness was uncomfortable, but it didn't burn him. After a time his eyes adjusted, and his flesh, and he came out of the cave and stepped into it.

There were men waiting in bright outside: armored Vanil,with a handful of Aesil and Moril among them. One of the Vanil approached and saluted. "The siege is ended and the beastmen have scattered," he said. "We were ordered to escort the heroes back to the capital."

Remant couldn't help it: he laughed, his voice harsh and strange. "No heroes left," he said after a moment. "Just me."

The man stared at him, and that only made Remant laugh harder; a moment after that he was sobbing. "Help him," said the man, and stepped forward to put an arm under his shoulder. "Barris! Get a carriage up here, or as close you can." One of the other warriors hurried away; Remant didn't see which one.

"You're all that's left?" asked the man, as he helped Remant forward.

Remant sucked in a deep breath, let it out, and did it again until he had himself under control; it was that or stab the man, and he surely didn't deserve that. "Irlin fell while holding off a giant, when we were seeking a way through the Nirgenau peaks. Doverin fell in battle, but I carried him from the field before the Black Knight could steal his blessings. Winstala, Gairlos, and Toverin fell when the shadow-priest Ulis betrayed us, and the rest of us were captured. I escaped, and freed Darik and Elendor, but they both died in the battle against Huoron."

"But you defeated the dark god?" asked the man, as they staggered forward towards the sounds of an approaching carriage. "Huoron is dead?"

Remant shook his head but said, "As dead as a god can be."

"It is good, then," said the armored man, as he helped Remant to the carriage and up the steps.

Remant was too tired to shake his head. Nothing would never be good again. Not for him. Too many things had been destroyed; too many good people had been killed. It should have been him, not any of the companions; he should have been the one to die. Instead, he'd been the one to drive the nightblade into the back of a god, to feel the god's life pour into him, to feel his own flesh swell and burst, unable to contain that much power.

He'd watched the blade drain the last of its creator's divinity, pouring it out into the stone that formed the throne room of Shadowguard. He'd watched the god wither and fall: weakened, divided, transformed. He'd known then, seeing all this in the absence of light, that some of the dark one had gone into him as well.

He didn't bother with the benches, but simply stretched himself out across the floor. "Take me where you like," he said quietly. "It doesn't matter now."

The man swung the door shut, stepping away before he began shouting orders. After a time, the carriage began moving, but Remant didn't care. Aching, frightened, exhausted, he slept.