Monday, November 30, 2020

Music: Prisencolinensinainciusol

 No, don't try to pronounce it. I haven't a clue. The song is Prisencolinensinainciusol, composed by Italian musician/songwriter/actor Adriano Celentano and released in 1972. It's a nonsense song, meant to imitate the sounds of spoken English with an American accent, as a sort of joke and experiment. The fact that it became one of his best-selling songs is (to my mind) just another part of the joke.

And on top of everything else, there's a video. The version below is the best I could find on YouTube, but you can see the thing pretty much in its entirety and without the weird sparkly bits around the edges here on Facebook.

Friday, November 27, 2020

Duendewood: Don't Fear the Reaper

 We continue on to the houses on the northern edge of the village; it's... just an empty house. There's 32 GP under the mattress, but nothing else worth noting. The next room has 22 GP, but again - it's basically an abandoned house.

The next house has the table set; the food has been scattered by scavengers, and in the next room is a box with a little wooden toy boat sitting on a desk. There's a half-written note on the desk; it's addressed to a little girl name Leesa, and hopes she enjoys the boat... and then it cuts off abruptly. This would have been a bit over a month earlier. We add another 33 GP, then circled around to the open-fronted building.

Pretty clearly, this was where the fishermen brought their catches; it's full of bones and rotted fish. The enclosed area in the back seems to be a fishery, with quarters for the workers. There's a cold room with preserved fish in it; Azrael thinks there might be a permanent wall of ice built into the ground. There's also a couple of bedroom-cubbies on the far side. More searching yields a coffer with 247 GP, plus a note from Morrell to Reeves explaining how business has been booming since he made his "special deal". The next line offers to intoduce Reeves to lord Malafar. (Remember that Lord Morrell lost a hand "in an accident at the fishery" -- we sure did.)

We head off to the last building and Ruin again opens the door. Someone has rigged a crude trap; a bag of flour swings down. Ruin catches it in his hand and rips it out of the ceiling.

There's a privacy wall, and beyond that we find a common room with a half-eaten fresh meal (carrot and bread) and a glass on the table. We hear a door click shut.

We leave Azrael and Martini to block the way out, and Azrael moves forward and opens a door, and... just barely avoids stepping on a scattering of crude caltrops.

The room is a small kitchen, though it's not currently very well provisioned. In a barrel there are some improvised weapons or torches-- sticks coated in lamp oil and like that.

Ruin moves on the next room. This one does look abandoned; there's a small bed, but everything is musty.

The last room looks lived in, with clothing all over the floor and a slept-in bed. Ruin asks Geddy to watch the trap door and checks the room; then he opens the trap door.

The guy inside is a sailor, who looks very scared. He thinks we're Kaz-es until we set him straight. "Two times a big fog came over the whole town, and the Kazes and Cassadias made us stay indoors." The guy's a half-elf name Huey (it's short for hu). He hid when they came around at the end of their stay and gathered everybody up, and after that he couldn't come back out on account of all the zombies.

Geddy flies him back to the boat.

The graveyard next door appears to have had various zombies raised from it. Otherwise, though, it's untouched. We head south from there to the Mayor's house. Ruin opens the door and steps inside, and immediately gets a lightning strike to the chest. "Hey guys, I detected a trap."

Martini steps in and neatly dodges the next lightning bolt; she immediately rips a panel off the wall and deactivates the mechanism behind it, shutting down the trap.

There's a hallway heading back into the house, and a lot of blood on the floor; the younger noble couple, we recall, didn't like Malafar and wanted him gone... and apparently that didn't work out so well for them.

Geddy follows us in and casts Detect Magic.

The first room is the lord and lady's bedroom. There are still pieces of them scattered on the floor in here. Ruin crosses to the chest, Martini checks it over and we find an amulet of Enlarge Person with 46 charges and Gauntlets of Ogre Power +2. Gems worth 700 GP and a bag of 1,300 GP.

We proceed on, finding a kitchen and then a study. On the desk in the study is a letter demaning that Lord Morrell stop his association with this Hierophant Malafar. The warehouse is not his private property, to lock people out of or turn over to this horrible dark priest. We add a sack 140 GP. Next is kids' room with no kids, and beyond that we find a common room that shows signs of blood and a ritual; it looks like maybe some bodies were drug to the inscription on the floor.

It's not actively magic anymore, but somebody used it to Create Undead, probably more than once.

Ruin tries the north door, and finds the noble family: husband, wife, two kids.

They're all Mohrgs. Mohrgs are horrible, skeletal undead creatures with pulsing viscera in the middle with worms coming out of them.

Azrael isn't fazed; he casts Black Tentacles, grappling everyone except one of the kids. Martini follows up with arrows. Geddy drops Haste on us. Cindy Lou comes out and licks Ruin's face, but Ruin shoves it off. The other three are trying to struggle free, but they're still caught. All three of them take damage from being crushed. Azrael follows up with an empowered Fireball, damaging all of them but also Ruin.

Ruin rages and slices at Cindy-Lou Undead three times, cutting the heck out of her. Cindy again tries to lick Ruin, and again fails to affect her.

The other three Mohrgs remain grappled, and again take damage from it. They are *not* doing well, especially the lady, and Azrael drops a stream of Magic Missiles on Cindy Lou Who falls down dead again. Martini puts another arrow in the lady; Ruin switches to his bow and takes a shot at the lady but misses.

Geddy drops some healing on Ruin, to his considerable relief.

The boy and the lady are still trapped, but daddy breaks loose -- though he's moving at half speed through the tentacles. Boy and lady take more damage, and the lady comes apart in the grip of the tentacles. Azrael uses Scorching Ray on the Lord-Mohrg, and Martini tumbles past him into a flanking position. She sticks a rapier in his back.

Ruin still has his bow out, so he puts three arrows in the boy. Geddy turns and places a hand on the former lord... and hits him with healing, burning his face clean off and taking him down.

Bobby (the little boy Mohrg) finally tears loose and gets close enough to lick Ruin, temporarily paralyzing him and taking him out of the fight. Azrael responds by hitting Bobby with Magic Missile and taking *him* out of the fight. We are victorious. The others search the room while Ruins recovers.

It's a banquet hall, so we don't really get any treasure out of that. Once Ruin can move, we head back to the boat -- and put Huey to sleep.

We sleep on the boat, setting watches, and lady Morrell is standing over him, half-undressed. She starts to climb into his bed.

Azrael: "Excuse me? I sleep only with the Darkness on first dates."

Lady Morell: "I can show you tricks like you've never seen."

Azrael: "Lady Morrell, this is highly inappropriate. I think 'tis best if we just stay Hero and Not-Hero."

She goes back to her own bunk.

Morning comes, and we head back out before Huey can talk at us.

We head back to the town hall, and start in through the barracks. Two officer's chambers net 21 and 30 GP respectively; the next door is the soldier's common barracks. We search it and come up with... nothing of value.

Ruin checks the door to the north and hears something moving around beyond it; then we move back into the hallway and move very-not-subtly towards the other officer's doors. We also hear grumbling from further north along the hall, and Ruin peeks around the corner. He's looking into a little antechamber with a much bigger room beyond it; both the movment and the demonic muttering we heard came from somewhere in the larger room.

We duck into a side-chamber and apply Death Ward to ourselves. Ruin heads along a small hallway, and finds himself looking down a longer hall with a row of cells. Surprisingly, there are two (extremely emaciated, nearly dead) prisoners still alive back here. Also? Sliding into the side chamber gives us a view of the villagers: there's a pile of corpses in the big open room.

Ruin opens a door expecting it to lead onto the back of a stage or something; instead, it opens onto a torture chamber. So, Ruin moves closer to the big main room.

Martini peeks around the corner, sees a big figure with a scythe, and backs away. Ruin strides into the room and takes partial cover behind a pew. There's... something, a skeletal being in a robe and hood holding a horrible magic scythe. Of us all, only Azrael understands him; he's the only one here who speaks Abyssal.

Azrael moves out to the doorway and drops an empowered fireball on him. FWAKOOM! (It overcomes spell resistance, *and* the thing fails its save.) Unfortunately, some of his wounds start healing up.

He moves right up next to Azrael, cursing in Abyssal. Lily tumbles past him and puts a rapier in his back, and Ruin charges in and smacks him solidly -- though he's reisting a fair amount of the damage. Azrael follows up with a batch of magic missiles, and some of them get through his spell resistance and do some damage.

Geddy continues singing, and launches a crossbow bolt at the thing... but misses.

It moves in and cuts at Lily, hitting twice and cutting our wizard badly. He's overcome with searing pain as reality goes funky for him and his body goes out of phase.

Martini distracts the thing, and Ruin cuts into it twice, using all his strength. It's still soaking a lot of the damage, but it definitely felt that. Azrael, meanwhile, is enchaosified (that's a word now) and loses a point of Wisdom to draining. Geddy whips out his Wand of Restoration and brings Azrael back to a stable Azrael-shape.

The guy attacks Azrael again, and misses both times. Ruin manages to finish him off.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Challenge: Fictional Recipes

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 "recipes from fiction books that I want to try". 

Which... by and large, I don't really have. The books I read mostly don't include recipes, and I'm generally pretty happy with the things I cook. 

But while there aren't any particular recipes that I want to try, there are... well... foods. Unearthly foods. Supernatural foods. 

You see, if the seely and unseely Fae are battling through human proxies over control of Minneapolis-St. Paul, and the Vampire Lord of Chicago is concerned with a potential uprising of his subjects, while the local Shifter pack in Nashville helps keep the unknowing citizens safe from harm and Jill Kismet is guarding the city of Santa Luz from the hellbreed, well... 

...Somebody has to cater their get-togethers, right? Somebody has to provide food for beings of unpredictable, varying, and sometimes contradictory tastes. And that's where Sin Du Jour comes in. They're a small catering company, handling all the sorts of food that nobody in their right mind would touch. 

It's a really fun (if sometimes dark) series of books. And I have to admit, I do wonder what sauteed angel flesh would taste like... and why that one chain of fast-food chicken restaurants tastes almost exactly the same...

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Annual Thanksgiving Video Clip

 From Addams Family Values, which is our annual Thanksgiving movie-watching tradition:

Sunday, November 22, 2020

DnD Interlude: White Plume Mountain 12

We're picking back up after the episode I missed last week. This should be the final battle.

Character Recap:
Jhuni Blackfire (she/her) - enthusiastically pyromaniacal Sorcerer/Wizard
Thelmor Irdro (he/him) - Blood Hunter of the Lycan persuasion
Nil (they/them) - badass Knowledge 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

Snow has snuck up ahead. The room is dark, and there's a full scale statue of an adult dragon that seems to be falling apart in the center of the cavern. The statue is positioned to look as if it's roaring to the heavens; it also looks... battered. Possibly Keraptis turned to stone at the end of the battle? Or maybe each of the three wounds fits one of the weapons? Snow investigates, and yes: the statue looks as if the weapons could be inserted into those "wounds" like keys into a lock.

It's a pretty big room, large enough that Snow can just barely see the back from the door; about 90' across. Nil asks Whelm if they know what would happen if we insert them into the statue. Nil and Thelmor both receive visions: the three weapons plunge into the body of the dracolich, a painfully loud roar that shakes the cave, and finally the flesh turns to stone. Apparently that was how they sealed Keraptis away.

Thelmor: "Do you think it's worth it to undo the seal and beat him a bit more before we look for the gem?"

Wave: "It will weaken him, and he might even lead us to his soul gem. It is worth a try, but we will need to utterly defeat him if we're to seal him away again." 

Nil: "What if we just smash the statue?"

Perfect: "I don't even think that's possible. We're talking about an undead dragon-wizard; it'll either undo the seal on its own, or it'll be like trying to break a brick with a toothpick."

Nil: "That makes sense."

Grey: "My preference would be to find his gem, smash it, and then... say... drop the ceiling of the cavern on him from a good safe distance."

Sunrise: "My concern is that he clearly isn't powerless even now."

Snow: "I could probably search his stuff unnoticed." The cavern has different levels of terrain, and there was some water in there somewhere, so there are plenty of areas that she didn't search on her first look.

Snow, Thelmor, and Grey sneak back into the room and start searching around. Grey and Snow do the searching, while Thelmor keeps a lookout; Grey happens to come upon something first. It's an old wooden staff, over next to the water on a rock, lying beside a skeleton. The skeleton had an improperly-healed leg; they probably needed the staff to walk. It's decorated with very old leather strips and raven feathers; it's carved with warrior motifs. Thelmor uses a Blood Hunter ability to kind of... pull memories from the area.

As he touches the staff and calls upon the Raven Queen, then opens himself to any knowledge or memory left in the wood. He sees the life of a nordic man -- one who loved the sea and his family and Odin. It's jarring to see that the statue wears no raven amulet around his neck; that's how strong his faith seems. He was an old man, a powerful cleric, but his soul was absorbed into the statue. Something has carried the soul off, while the body was tossed aside. The staff remains, and the staff is far more powerful than it appeared: spells can be drawn from it. Somewhere unimaginably distant, the Raven Queen tastes this memory and rages.

We finish our circuit of the room; there is water here, probably from a spring. It's rich with minerals, and has formed a sort of pool on the western side, and a smaller pool on the eastern side.

Meanwhile back with the others, Fifteen speaks: "I-do-not-mean-to-intrude-but-I-should-tell-you-how-I-can-help. I-did-manage-to-get-ahold-of-some-spell-scrolls-so-I-can-distribute-them-if-needed."

Jhuni: "Okay, we'll keep that in mind."

Shortly after that, the scouts return and bring the rest of the group up to speed, particularly Nil. They're... upset to learn of the old man's fate.

Thelmor: "The rage of the Raven Queen quakes in my soul, and I want to see Keraptis dead. So I brought you his staff."

We wait while she inspects the staff; it's a staff of healing. (Cure wounds, lesser restoration, or mass cure wounds.) It will also serve as a weapon, if needed.

Nil: Did you find the soul gem?"

Thelmor: "No."

Grey: "There were a couple of pools and we didn't really search down in there, but we checked the rest of the room fairly thoroughly."

Nil: "Then... we wake him and kill him again? There's no real advantage to destroying the soul gem first, and it'll be easier to search once it's dead."

Perfect: "I must say, I'm very happy I came with you all. You're quite the group." He goes around the circle complimenting us.

Grey, deadpan: "And apparently we've found the perfect employer."

Perfect: "I knew you'd come around."

We enter the cavern: Nil, Perfect, Jhuni, Thelmor, Fifteen, Grey, Sunrise, Snow. Approaching the statue, we stop to prepare: Sunrise throws a bardic inspiration on Thelmor, Grey drops Haste on Snow, and Perfect gives Thelmor a head-scritch and a bit of Battlemaster bonus (8 temp HP) too. Sunrise reminds us not to get caught in her lightning, then starts her song. With our preparations complete, the three with the weapons step up to the statue.

Perfect gives a countdown, and everybody inserts their weapons into the statue. A little ripple of pressure spreads through the room; the statue trembles and crumbles and explodes -- forcing the three of them back, though nobody loses their footing. In its place is a figure carrying a staff that has a large gem on the top of it. He's wearing a helmet, but it looks like Keraptis.

The air in the room seems to move with him as he sucks in a breath and sighs: "I was wondering when I'd get out of there."

Nil: "Quick question: would you like to make easy for us to kill you?"

Keraptis: "Now why would I want to do that, when I made it hard for my own children?"

Nil: "Right. Lightning!"

Sunrise drops a lightning strike on him. It's amazingly bright in the darkness; a moment later the lich is dragon-shaped, with a glow coming from inside its chest.

Sunrise: "Look, I turned him into a dragon!"

Keraptis: "And I'll turn you into a corpse!"

The ground shakes, and the various bones and skeletons start to rise around us.

Jhuni does her best to look surprised. The fallen cleric's bone remain where they are, at least. We're surrounded by skeletons and flame skulls - floating skulls surrounded by fire.

Perfect opens with an attack on the flame skull in front of him, damaging it but not taking it down. A flame skull pops up in front of Thelmor, cackling, and casts Scorching Ray. Snow opens by adding Zephyr Strike to her Haste, then zips around in a curve to reach the dracolich. Unfortunately, her attacks bounce off its scales -- except for the last one, which catches on bone and almost knocks her rapier out of her hand. She retreats again. The dracolich swishes its tail, but misses Snow. Grey also attacks, also misses, and dashes away to the side; the dracolich takes a swipe at him but misses. Sunrise moves back and hits the dracolich with a lightning strike; her goddess approves of this.

The pool of water surges up and tries to pull Grey in, but he manages to grab a rock and not get swept in. The same thing happens to Snow at the other pool, and she's both worried and wet. Well, and furious.

Thelmor smacks one of the flaming skulls, twice; it's definitely out of sorts, but it doesn't go down. It hisses at him, possibly in Gnomish. An unusually burly zombie comes at Thelmor, but misses him. He dodges and snarls. Another zombie stumbles over to Nine and hits him. Jhuni drops a fireball on Keraptis and two of the flaming skulls; Keraptis soaks some of it, and the fire skulls just laugh.

Keraptis attacks Sunrise and does some damage; she drops a Hellish Rebuke on him in return. Perfect squares up with the skull in front of him, but it attacks Jhuni with Magic Missile instead. (Ouch.) Nil raises Whelm and calls out, "The weapons of your children will defeat you!" They throw a pulse wave to tag two skulls and the dragon, doing some damage and pushing them back.

The dracolich roars, terrifying us with its Frightful Presence; Nil, Sunrise, and Thelmor all resisted and are now immune. The dracolich tries to claw Nil, but misses; Perfect, on the other hand gets both clawed and bitten but doesn't go down. Nine, meanwhile, claws the heck out of the zombie that attacked him earlier; it does not look happy.

Flaming skulls attack Grey and Thelmor, but miss. Perfect passes his attack to Thelmor, who uses it to attack the flaming skull in front of him. The skull retreats, and Thelmor smacks it again on the way out and shatters it. Snow moves around the edge of the room but is still too terrified to do anything else; Grey ducks behind a rock and stabs one of the skulls, but doesn't do a lot of damage. The dracolich uses its tail to attack Thelmor. Sunrise hits the zombie nearest her with Dissonant Whispers and sends it scrambling away. The dracolich drops a sphere of magical darkness over part of the group. Thelmor elects to move forward until he find the dracolich; then he stabs it with Wave. As he rips a chunk out of its ribs, he sees a giant glowing amethyst where its heart should be. Meanwhile, a zombie lumbers up to Grey but punches the rock instead of him.

Jhuni tries to counter the Darkness with Light, but the cantrip fails against the more powerful spell. She drags Fifteen out of the darkness and throws a witch bolt at the zombie that attacked Grey. One of the skulls tries to fry Grey with a scorching ray, but misses. Nil throws out Beacon of Hope, giving us some advantages and improves any healing we get. The dragon decides that it's pretty done with this, and bites Thelmor. It claws at Nil but misses, but the other claw glances off Perfect's armor for a mild scratch. Nine rips into something, presumably the zombie; we can hear it but not see it. Fifteen maneuvers to stay out of danger, and a flame skull fails to tag Sunrise with a fire ray. Perfect directs Thelmort to attack for him, and he takes another chunk out of the dragon.

Snow ducks behind a rock (on the far side of the cavern from Grey) and stabs the absolute crap out of a zombie, then places her Hunter's Mark on the thing; then she hits it again, because Haste is a lovely thing. Snow retreats again and finally shakes off the Frightful Presence. Grey casts Mirror Image, then manages to shake off Frightful Presence; both of us owe Nil thanks for that Beacon of Hope. Sunrise drops a fresh lightning strike between the dracolich and one of the skulls; the dragon roars in pain, and the skull shatters.

The dragon is very irritated by our stubborn refusal to die; he summons a swarm of insects around Grey, which tear into him and the bad guys around him. Thelmor drops an amplified Blood Curse on the dragon, and just lays into the thing with Wave. He hits it so hard its gem falls out. The dragon tries to counterattack, but misses so badly that it smacks the gem away from itself, all the way to the back wall.

A zombie attacks Perfect, but misses; another tries to attack Grey but hits one of his duplicates instead. Jhuni holds another round of Witchbolt on the zombie nearest Grey, then drops a fireball between the dragon and the zombie. The dragon lashes out and smacks more of Grey's mirror images. The zombie and Nine are still going at it in the darkness. Nil uses their new staff to throw Mass Cure Wounds on everybody nearby. The dracolich moves to attack Thelmor, but Sunrise says something insulting and throws him off his bite attack. The claws, unfortunately, connect. Keraptis also shoots a look at the bard.

Fifteen again offers its services. "Let-me-know-if-you-require-my-assistance."

The skull retreats, and Grey tags it as it goes; it spits out a flaming sphere and rolls it into Grey. He dodges, but still takes a bit of fire damage. Perfect turns to the zombie behind him and smacks it.

Snow drops her hunter's mark from the zombie and sets it on Keraptis instead; then she moves in, stabs him twice, and retreats. Grey crosses the room and smacks the gem with the hilt of his dagger, cracking it. The dragon is utterly enraged: "HOW FUCKING DARE YOU!"

Then the dracolich starts beating its wings to try and fly, and the buffeting winds knock Perfect Prone; Thelmor and Nil, however, keep their feet and attack it as it's trying to get away. Nil swings but she's holding both the hammer and the staff, and the hammer goes flying out of her hand and nearly clips Thelmor. Thelmor, on the other hand, spears it through the tail and rips it off; the bones begin to crumble and dark fire bursts out of the decaying body and pours into the gem. Grey barely dodges out of the way in time. 

Keraptis is defeated, but its minions are still trying to kill us.

Sunrise drops more lightning on a zombie and a flame skull. The flame skull asplodes, but the zombie remains upright. The darkness and the bugs both disperse with the dracolich's loss of concentration. Thelmor perforates a zombie with Wave, and it goes down. Another zombie wanders off into the water, apparently deciding that it's had quite enough of this. Jhuni casts Magic Missile and sends some missiles over to the remaining flaming skull, and another to the zombie fighting Nine.

Nil decides that now is the time to Turn Undead, and between that and the rest of us we clear out the remaining zombies and flame skulls. Nil then brings Whelm over, and Grey steps aside. The gem cracks a little more with every hit, until with a final, shattering break a loud, corrupted roar fills the cavern and the souls that were trapped with the dragon fly free. Thelmor feels the relief and pleasure of the Raven Queen, while Sunrise feels her goddess's approval. Nil receives a solemn nod from Odin. The rest of us have the satisfaction of a job well done. The shattered pieces of the gemstone have gone back to normal amethysts; we gather them up and go drop them in the lava (using the tunnel behind Doc Pep's current shop).

We go to inform Bluto that he's free, and Thelmor breaks off to collect the werewolves and recruit them for the order of the lycan. Snarla and her boyfriend elect to remain behind; the werewolf from Bluto's men is all in on this, though. We all troop out of the mountain.  Snow goes to see if she can find Gussalen for a bit of post-adventure romance.

Doc Pep is thrilled to see us, and leads us back to the lava via the cave behind his current "shop". The amethyst pieces shimmer and melt into the lava, taking with them the last possibility of dracolich-related danger.

We stop again to clean up at Stormvale, then return to Pinehost. Perfect runs off to get the other two nobles, and we gather in Perfect's home. We each receive 4,095 GP after selling off all the loot. Perfect finishes exlaining how we got all these weapons back; Derdruda has an expression like "Oh gods, he's still talking..." which pleases Snow.

Selinar nods.

Thelmor: "What do you wish, Wave? Do you prefer to go back to your former owner, or stay by my side?"

Wave: "I feel that I would do far more good and right far more wrongs by your side than by remaining with my family. My family does not need me anymore."

Derdruda slams her hands on the table: "Are you saying that you--"

Selinar waves her to silence: "I and Wave have gotten along very well, but I agree. Wave is far more capable and effective in your hands than mine. If that is what my dear friend wishes, then I will let him go. May he help you as he has helped me."

Derdruda is grumpy, but it's not her decision to make.

Nil is tempted, but she and Sunrise both feel that Whelm should be with her family. Derdruda accepts the hammer's return with a bit of impatience and even more relief. Nil asks for access to Derdruda's library and perhaps lessons in Dwarvish.

Derdruda: "I suppose I'll have to write you out a letter of recommendation."

Grey: "These weapons have gotten me interested in making something of this order for myself."

Derdruda: "That would be my area, I suppose. Very well."

Sunrise pulls out a notebook: "I have thoughts about alliances and trade agreements, but more importantly... I would like a title of nobility."

Selinar nods. "I believe we can find a spot. In fact, I believe you should work with me on that. Agreed."

They start writing down plans.

Jhuni: "I'm in it for the money -- but Nine needs a place to stay."

Perfect: "Don't worry, I'll take care of him."

Jhuni: "And a book for Fifteen."

Perfect: "Easily done." It turns out to be a signed copy of one of Volo's works, very rare indeed.

Snow: "So... as I recall, the terms were any one boon within your power to grant? Is that correct?"

Perfect: "Just so."

Snow: "So, I could ask for almost anything, no matter how much it displeased you, Perfect. But... I want you, Perfect, to owe me." Then she stands up and walks away.

"You know," says Perfect, "I don't believe that Tabaxi likes me. I can't imagine why."

Grey heads off to an artificer to work on creating the magical artifact of his dreams. Thelmor and Wave head off in search of adventure, taking Bluto's former armsman off to be trained in how to deal with lycanthropy. 

I won't say we all live happily ever after, but this adventure ended well.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Anybody else still feeling overwhelmed?

So I was feeling better for about three days right after they finally called the election. (It may have helped that I was camping at the time.) And then, of course, I come back to this steady stream of news about court challenges, most of which are based on more-or-less laughable arguments and quickly get thrown out. 

I ought to find that reassuring, but just at the moment... I don't. Because it only matters that the arguments make sense if the people judging them are acting in good faith. What worries me about this current situation -- what no-shit keeps me up at night -- is that a legal challenge doesn't need to make sense. It just needs to provide enough cover that they can find someone who's willing to wink and nod and play along and "how dare you question our integrity sir" at the rest of us. The entire establishment of institution Republicans has shown a profound unwillingness to slap Trump down for pretending that he somehow won, which means they'll play along and keep him (and themselves) in power if they can. Given the choice between living in a democracy and being in charge, they will choose to put themselves in charge every single time; they will respect and defend people's right to vote as long as they vote Republican. 

I think Biden and Harris are doing the right thing by dismissing Trump as a toddler throwing a temper tantrum, but someone -- someone with clout and charisma -- needs to be out there making the point that the Republican party is currently trying to argue that votes against them shouldn't count and THAT IS BULLSHIT. Somebody on the Democratic side needs to be screaming this to the skies, preferably in the sort cutting, catchy click-bait-able phrasing that the news media is happy to run with. 

Voting rights are still a huge issue here in the United States, and I'd very much like to see a campaign to uphold and restore them.

Anyway, all of this means that the last week/three centuries has been a horror movie sequel of the "just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water/house/basement/public square of civic participation" variety. And my ability to concentrate -- on anything -- is directly tied to my ability to ignore this as much as possible. And it doesn't help that doing that worries me too; those assholes on the Wayne County Certification Board in Michigan (Monica Palmer and William Hartman, may their names be cursed) only backed down because they got so much immediate public pushback. They were going to refuse to certify, and now they've signed affidavits swearing that they wish they hadn't. 

So, I don't know. The world's still on fire. There's some hope that we'll be able to turn this back, but as far as I can see the danger's still here; we're going to be putting out fires for some time.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Music: Snow White and Rose Red

Blackbriar Music gives a lovely bit of eerie fairy tale-themed music for this morning:

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Challenge: The Funniest Thing Happened...

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 "funniest things that have happened to me".

And honestly, I'm not sure how to answer this. My life is pretty boring, and not the least bit funny. 

I mean, okay, there was the time in grad school when I was standing in the registrar's office staring at the empty front desk and waiting for someone in the back room to look up and notice me, and the monitor gave a very final POP before smoke started billowing up from it, prompting me to lean around the counter and say, "Pardon me, your computer appears to be on fire." But that wasn't funny, really. Droll, maybe, but not really funny. 

Or there was the time when, as a new parent out to meet some friends for breakfast, I moved the baby up so he could sit on my shoulders, whereupon he came out with a massive poosplosion that overflowed his diaper and went right down my back. But that one wasn't funny at all. 

Oh! Wait! I know! There was the time when I was sitting in a playground late at night and accidentally scared a couple of young adults. That one was kind of funny.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Youth DnD: Now it's a proper heist

 So the party was sneaking into the manor of Polyphemus Estudian to steal the book he had just finished composing. The theft was commissioned by the Library Lich, who has issues with any books not being in his collection, and apparently hadn't convinced Lord Estudian to sell the book to him. 

Having realized that the pictures on the walls in the Entry Hall were all some species of mimic, the group proceeded upstairs. Their sorcerer, Toruv, was ethereal (because of his magic cloak) and thus ghosted through the rooms, discovering a guest bedroom, the master bedroom, a treasury, a hall for fighting practice, and finally a library. The others were searching separately in the physical realm, and found the guest bedroom and -- across from it -- their first locked door. The Arcane Trickster, Barrith, attempted to pick the lock and discovered that at least one of the twin doors to the treasury was a mimic. He managed not to be caught by it, backed out of range, and apologized (quietly). 

They proceeded on, finding the training hall and the library. (OOC: At this point, the only room on the second floor that they hadn't entered was the master bedroom, and the sorcerer had ghosted his way through that long enough to realize there were people asleep in there.) They entered the library and began checking the shelves, ignoring the table and chairs in the center of the room. After a while, the arcane trickster came to a single, unadorned book sitting on its own lectern. The book is closed. The swashbuckler, meanwhile, has moved across the hallway to peer into the training hall. The druid is currently a spider, and is riding on the arcane trickster's shoulder. 

The sorcerer, meanwhile, has used his ghostly state to drift up through the ceiling and take a look around the attic. The attic is a single, large space. It has a few stray wooden boxes and a couple of wardrobes, but it's mostly empty. He notices something on the south wall/ceiling, and moves to investigate; it's a carved wooden face, much wider than it is tall, stretching across the middle third of the attic. Under the circumstances, he finds this disturbing. 

Meanwhile, the trickster picks up the book and opens it to the faceplate, where he reads: "The Mimic Book of Mimics, by Polyphemus Estudian". Clearly, this is the book they're looking for. Even more clearly, they're now in trouble: the book sprouts teeth around its edges and shouts: "HEY! PUT ME BACK!" 

The arcane trickster casts Rope Trick as the swashbuckler comes charging back into the room. The swashbuckler swarms up the rope and disappears into the magical space beyond; the trickster follows, carrying the druid with him. This would be a great way to hide, except that the table, the chairs around it, and the rug underneath are all part of a single large mimic, and it's stuck out a tendril and grabbed the rope. 

The trickster uses Mage Hand to lower the book back to its lectern, then pulls out his crossbow and threatens to shoot the table if it doesn't quiet down. He gets lucky: the table-and-chairs-mimic is surprised enough that it loosens its grip on the rope long enough for him to yank it loose and haul it up into his spell. 

So that's where they are now: three of the four party members are hiding in a spell, with a large, angry mimic underneath them; Lord Estudian is likely to show up any minute; and the fourth party member is on the top floor, unaware of any of this. 

As their DM/GM, I'm actually quite proud: the Trickster's player got back to me before nightfall with a full, workable plan for how to get out of the situation. We'll pick up next week as he implements it.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Darvinin: Prisoners 1

Darvinin stood at the top of the ramp, looking from Ruin to Martini to the captain of the ship, and said: "So, that command..." 

Ruin handed over the scroll. "I assume this means something to you?" 

Darvinin grinned and shook his head. "No, it was only ever nonsense. But I learned a new trick, and it served its purpose." He muttered the key phrases and gestured at the scroll, which dissolved into blue-green flames. Simultaneously, blue-green flames flared to life on Ruin's hands, Martini's... and those of the Captain, the First Mate, and three different sailors. 

Ruin cursed in draconic and turned to the Captain. "Okay, so apparently we need to murder you." 

Darvinin shook his head and put a hand on his twin brother's shoulder. "No. Captain, you're relieved. Leave your weapons on the deck and walk down the ramp. Captain Helmar stands ready to take the helm." 

The elf hesitated, then drew his short sword and placed it on the deck. "You'll regret this," he said quietly. 

"Possibly," agreed Darvinin, one hand on the double-scimitar clipped to his back. "But for today, I intend to enjoy it. Please join my friends down on Lighthouse Point, while Helmar's crew takes command of your ship." There was a brief hesitation, and Darvinin saw Ruin shiver with the desire to cut the captain in half. Then Captain Wyland started down the ramp, and Ruin relaxed his hands on the pommel of his sword. 

"Better," said Ruin. "This is better." 

Darvinin just nodded, and watched as the ship's crews traded out. "It won't be clean," he said, "but it's enough to get you going. Good luck, brother." 

Ruin managed a smile. "Good luck with them, O my brother." He raised his voice just slightly. "Just let me know if any of them try to escape. It would be my pleasure to hunt them down, for any small part in assisting our enemies."

Friday, November 13, 2020

Music: Wake Me Up

Selfish Murphy, covering Avicii:

I can't remember if I've posted this one before, but it's a fun take on a fun song.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Music: Happy

 Danny Elfman, though, so it's a very distinctive sort of Happy: 

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Not Like Other Girls

 "Okay, so what's she like?" 

"Well... I mean..." 

"It's okay. I'm your mother, you can tell me anything." 

"I... she's not like other girls?" 

"Really? 'Cause that's usually..." 

"I know, but... Okay, look: her eyes glow in the dark." 

"Unusual, sure. But, I mean, there are quite a few of the Tech caste that have that done, so they can do repairs..." 

"Yeah, it's... a little more than that." 

"Okay, how so?"

"Well, all right... she can cling to walls."

"What, like a spider?"

"Sort of, yeah." 

"I mean... yeah, but that's a common safety feature for Outwalkers who choose cyber-conversion..." 

"Mom. She's made out of shadows. Actual, literal shadows. She's only really tangible when it's dark. Davis tried to get in her face about something yesterday and she walked right through him." 

"...Oh. Not like other girls. Got it."

"Thanks, Mom. I knew you'd understand."

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

DnD Interlude: White Plume Mountain 11

 I was out for this one, but my friend Silvercat was kind enough to take game notes; for the sake of consistency and easy access, I'm adding them to the collection here.

We leave the library with our new friend in tow. We recap - we don't need the soulgem before we fight the dracolich, but we'll need it to destroy it completely. Thelmor points out that he isn't actually a native of the material plane, but we can't figure out if that means he could poof off with the soulgem.

We head for the last room we haven't explored. Nil listens at the door and doesn't hear anything from inside. Snow sneaks in. The room is a large open space, except for five foot platforms. The light strip from the main room cuts off in the hallway, so its completely dark. On each of the platform is a high detailed stone figure of a lying gnome. Each one is different. Snow thinks they might be death memorials on tombs. There's about 20 of them.

In the walls are a bunch of blocks with handles and etched writing that Snow can't read - probably Gnomish. On the back wall there are a couple of the rectangle columns and a small alcove with a statue of a Wizard holding a staff with a dragon twisting around it and a draconic writing on his robe.

Snow comes out to tell us about.

We're thinking it's a catacomb.

Nil is annoyed that knowledge clerics don't have comprehend languages. Jhuni, however, does as well as speaking draconic. Nine and Fifteen stay in the back. Nil and Jhuni go first. Jhuni tosses in a lit ball bearing to see if anything will attack it. The new shadows are creepier than they were. We can now see that the statues are dark stone. The statue on the back glints with gold and its dragon staff is holding a black gem.

We all are immediately suspicious of the gem. On the back wall is inscribed in Draconic: Eternal Rest for Followers of Keraptis.

Jhuni casts Comprehend Languages to read the Gnomish on the other walls. It's a list of Gnome names and epitaphs. Each dais has a fancier epitaph and names with titles. Nil casts Detect Magic. The statue is covered in conjuration magic.

Jhuni asks Fifteen if it knows anything. The statues are past masters - some it knew, some it didn't. The big statue isn't a gnome. We remember we saw him in a vision - it's Keraptis. We decide to go through the drawers.

Snow can tell if there are any undead within a mile. There are. It's not a very precise spell.

Jhuni tells Fifteen to stay outside in case something bad happens. Snow uses her disguise to look like Keraptis. Honey keeps lookout while everyone else starts opening a drawer. A mechanical beetle flies out of each one. Inside are bones and personal items.

The beetles attack us. Snow stabs one and destroys it. The next one is hurt, but not down. Thelmor slashes one with Wave and then stabs it. It dies. Sunrise stabs one with her rapier and gives Snow a bardic inspiration. Perfect hits the one Snow damaged and it falls to pieces. Nil pulls out a jar and commands one of the beetles to go inside. The last one goes after Snow and bites her with poison. Jhuni firebolts it and it explodes in Snows face.

There are 144 drawers. Nil thinks if there are bodies in the drawers they're more vulnerable to looters and so less likely to have the soulgem. We want to switch to destroying the statue. Whelm doesn't want to destroy it because it's pretty, but the other weapons want to fuck it up. Jhuni promises to mend it afterward. Jhuni grabs the stone with Mage Hand. She feels something like a spell powering up and everybody hears something in a strange language (gnomish), which Jhuni can translate: "To those who disturb our eternal rest, May your ears bleed from our screams of rage."

We back out of the room and Jhuni fireballs the statue. Horrible noises start and a pink blob thing appears. Nil figures out it's a Gibbering Mouther. We decide to destroy it from afar, with Nine closing the door between each attack.

Sunrise throws a dagger at it, as she has no other applicable ranged attacks. It doesn't do much. Snow's got nothing. Jhuni, naturally, Fireballs it. Thelmor shoots it with two crossbow shots. The monster tries to run at us, but its slow and we're far away. But we hear something else happen - there's buzzing getting louder and louder from drawers that were blasted open.

Nil reads its thoughts, but isn't happy about it. It's thousands and thousands of voices - it wants to be more. Nil suggests that it not attack us or approach us. Sunrise and Snow can't do anything. Jhuni fireballs the monster and kills it along with a few of the beetles, moves up, and fireballs a swarm. The buzz doesn't lessen - the beetles apparently don't mind fire.

Thelmor moves up and shoots the swarm. One swarm surrounds Jhuni but doesn't do anything. The other attacks Thelmor, biting and poisoning him. Nil moves up and calls a Guardian of Faith. Nine runs forward and attacks the swarm surrounding Jhuni. He squashes a ton of them.

Sunrise comes in, but can't get close enough. Snow runs in, provokes the swarm by Jhuni which misses, and casts Hunter Mark on the swarm by Thelmor, before stabbing it a bunch, and then moves away. Jhuni fires a witch bolt at the swarm around her and takes out some. "Ha! That's how it's supposed to work, you bastards!" Thelmor stabs the swarm around him, then teleports next to Nil. Nil's Guardian smacks the heck out of the swarm. The swarm tries to attack the Guardian, which, naturally, doesn't work.

Perfect tells Nine to get them. Nine misses. Nil puts the heal on Thelmor. Nine smacks the beetles again and misses again. Sunrise moves up, stabs them, and retreats again. Snow stabs them some more. The swarm is starting to thin out. Jhuni shocks the swarm with Witch Bolt again until the last one falls out of the air. Thelmor turns his flames to electricity, cattle prods the swarm, and it drops dead.

We avoid the goo remaining from the mouther. The hands of the statue have fallen off. The crystal in the staff has changed to a translucent gem. Nil detects magic on the gem - it's nonmagical now. Nil heals everyone up before taking apart the statue with Whelm wile the others go through the open drawers. There's nothing in the statue. In the drawers, we find 105 gold. Nine went through the taller drawers and found a circlet made of electrum. Nil checks it and says "the only magic in this circlet is the magic of imagination." Fifteen doesn't finds some parchments and books and stashes them in it.

We net and destroy the beetles in the remaining drawers. Nil commands one into a jar so Perfect can have it. We find a bunch of copper coins totalling 33 gold. We go to rest in the hot springs room - Snow protests at the idea of bathing in water. While they're resting, Jhuni makes necklaces out of the beetle remains for Nine and Fifteen. Nil inspects the beetle they caught. One of them starts ringing like an alarm clock and slowly transforms into a spider similar, but not the same as before. It has metal wire instead of thread and looks like it's made for jumping - a spider thief.

Friday, November 6, 2020

Election Day 4: The Voyage Home

 So, yeah: Election Day is still lumbering onward, like the killer in an 80s slasher flick.It started simply enough back on Tuesday with our screening of Election Day 2020, but then Wednesday rolled around and we had to watch Election Day 2: The Quickening (and they didn't even bring Sean Connery back for this one!) and then yesterday followed up with Election Day 3: Dream Warriors. 

Today? Who knows. 

(I'm hoping for Election Day 4: The Voyage Home, but we're not there until we get there.)

I note, again, that to the apparent shock and surprise of the media and the political establishment, President Trump has done exactly what he said he was going to do: set things up so that the mail-in votes (which weigh heavily Democratic) would get counted after the in-person votes, so that it would look like he was ahead... and then try to get the rigged Supreme Court to invalidate those late results and declare him the winner. So far, at least, the rest of the world doesn't seem to be playing along (to my considerable relief, I might add). I suspect a lot of state officials aren't even remotely willing to let things get that far, especially since the President has to blame their processes in order to make that trick work. As defenses of democracy go this isn't great, but at this point I'll take it. 

It pleases me that every time President Trump tries to declare himself the winner, people keep blowing him off. It pleases me somewhat less that the news media have only now, finally, in the last couple of months of his motherfucking presidency figured out that they can cut away from his lies and correct his misinformation. I'm not even ready to say "but at least it's a start," because evidence suggests that they'll revert to type in a heartbeat. 

If you've been following along with this whole thing in a flurry of stress and anticipation, well... it's probably time to stop. Are your shoulders up around your ears? Relax them. Get some water. Stop for a shower and nap; hell, even if this is all still grinding on this evening, get a good night's sleep. Unless you're actively involved in a vote count, your presence and your attention are not necessary to the process; you're not going to save the world by staying on Twitter. 

(I... might be telling on myself, right there.)

It looks like we're going to have a couple of really critical runoff races in Georgia; get ready to help out with those, because they could make the difference between McConnell being able to block the incoming administration from being able to do anything (including, perhaps especially, appoint judges) and us having a working government again. But otherwise? Sit back. Be patient. Read a book, watch a show, take a bath. Pet a cat. Walk a dog. Get some work done, if you can. (Ha!)

The world will grind relentlessly along without your attention; you might as well let it get on with it.

Besides, we all know the waiter never delivers the food until you finally decide to stand up and go use the restroom, right?

The Void is full. Please stop screaming into it.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

VtM: An Encounter, a Question, a Pair of Crossed Blades

"You must be Edhem," said the woman, and he froze for just a moment, stunned. 

The Crux Invertis was a very different place in the light of day; as different from his first visits as it must have been before the pandemic, with the night wrapped around it and a line of people waiting to get inside. He'd come looking to talk to the kids, picking a time when the owner Malachi seemed likely to be asleep; he hadn't expected to find a woman his own age opening the door, let alone a stunning redhead with amber-brown eyes and a scattering of freckles over the pale skin of her cheeks. He swallowed, and said: "I am." 

"Malachi thought you might be back." The sun was pale on this overcast autumn day, but its touch didn't seem to bother her at all. "He didn't believe you were just a reporter, or a biographer, or whatever it was that you were trying to represent yourself as earlier."

Edhem swallowed, then turned his head just slightly as he studied her. "Forgive my surprise," he said. "Malachi didn't mention you at all." Her mask was flat black, solidly built, with an exhaust vent built into one side: the kind of thing people wore for mountain biking and the like.

"Shannon," she said, and put out a hand. "And while you still haven't really explained yourself, you're clearly not, as the kids say, 'from Social'. So come inside, and ask your questions; perhaps we can trade." 

"I..." He was hesitating, he realized, because there was something in both her looks and the way she carried herself that really threw him off. Edhem was not, as a general thing, immediately attracted to much of anyone... but here he was. Which, based on my history, means there's at least a fifty-fifty chance that she's a lesbian. "All right. What would you like to know?" 

Shannon chuckled. "Courteous," she observed, as she closed the door behind him. "Let's start with the obvious. I'm Malachi's: who do you belong to?"

Edhem stopped, noting that Dark was withdrawing through the far door of the club's antechamber but pretending not to notice. "For the moment, only myself. My master was Saladin El-Mohtar, until my brother killed him." He turned to look at Shannon, and found her studying him. "Does that serve?" 

"I don't know that name," she said slowly, "and that doesn't quite tell me what I wanted to know, but it is an answer. All right: who sent you here?" 

Edhem started to object, then realized that in confirming that he understood the rules of their game he'd asked a question of his own. "A mysterious figure who accosted me when I went to investigate Jack and Valeria's last apartment. Pale, otherworldly; they didn't offer a name." 

"Ah," she said. "Old." She paused then, seeming to realize that she might have said more than she meant in just that single word. She turned towards the inner door, and led him through it, back into the mostly-empty club. 

There were six teenagers scattered around the room: three girls, two boys, and Twilight. Dark was sitting at a table, apparently involved in a game of dominoes with the waifish girl Edhem had seen earlier and a black girl who looked to be a year or two older than either of them. Twilight was sitting with a petite boy, round-faced and slump-shouldered, at a bench along the wall; books and comics were scattered across the table in front of them. Another girl -- Korean, judging by her features -- was asleep on her side on another bench, wrapped in a heavy black duster. 

Shannon nodded, catching Edhem's eye again, and said: "Your turn." 

"Are the kids safe here?" 

"Who are you calling kids?" growled Dark, half under his breath, as he scowled down at the dominoes in front of him. 

Shannon glanced back at him. "Hush, you." She turned back to Edhem. "Safer here than anywhere else in Seattle, I suspect. You're asking if Malachi takes advantage of them? Or me? Or if I take advantage of them?"

Twilight stood up. "No." Their voice was firm. "I... actually appreciate your concern.. but no. Our safety isn't your business, and you should stay out of this." 

Shannon started to say something, but Edhem held up a hand and turned to Twilight instead. "It actually kind of is," he said. "...Though not in the way you probably think. And you may be right that I should stay out of it, but if I do and something bad's going down here... I'm complicit. You understand?"

Twilight looked at Shannon, looked back at Edhem, and then sat down. "You'll forgive me if I have a hard time believing you." 

Edhem kept looking at them. "I'd be surprised if you didn't." He turned back to Shannon. "So you say nobody's taking advantage of these... young adults... and they seem to agree. I think that makes it your turn to ask." 

Shannon nodded slowly. "Are you a hunter?" 

Edhem tilted his head, considering. "I'm not entirely sure I understand the context," he said after a moment, "but if I have to answer, I'd say that I am, when it's called for." 

Shannon seemed to think that over, then nodded. 

"How dangerous is Malachi?" asked Edhem. 

"More dangerous than you," she answered, "though if you'll permit me to answer what I think you're really asking... not to you, or me, or any of these." She nodded to the teenagers around them. 

"That does help," he said. "What else?" 

"Do you fence?" 

Edhem blinked, startled. "Yes." He remembered that it was now his turn to ask a question, and considered for a long moment. "Do you know anything about who sent me here?"

"No," answered Shannon. "But since we don't seem to be enemies, I'll make some guesses: Jack Grey belonged to... a clan of magicians. I'd guess that the one that recruited you was one of their elders, probably in his direct bloodline. I could make better guesses if you told me more, but I don't think that would be safe for either of us. So let it go at that." 

Edhem nodded slowly. "That would make sense," he admitted. "Which makes it very definitely your turn. Ask what you will."

Shannon smiled. "Will you cross blades with me?" She tilted her head towards the stage, and Edhem noted that what he'd taken for speakers and suchlike at the edge of the stage was actually a pair of fencing masks, vests, and blades. 

"...If you like," he said, and turned to cross between Twilight and their friend and an empty table. A short flight of steps led down to the dance floor that encircled the stage. He could feel the eyes of the teenagers on his back, but the weight wasn't hostile; they were unwillingly fascinated.

"Double-wide epees," he said, picking up a blade. 

Shannon nodded. "I prefer them. Much closer to using an actual blade." 

"All right." He set the blade back down, then picked up the vest and pulled it on. Beside him, Shannon did the same. They pulled on helmets, picked up epees, tested them and examined the rubber tips. After a moment, they both stepped out onto the dance floor. 

Pounding drums flooded the space around them. Edhem looked around for a long moment before his eyes found the DJ booth, and he realized that Dark had stepped inside and put on The Eye of the Tiger -- ironically, judging by his expression, but it was still appropriate enough. Thump. Thump-thump-thump. Edhem chuckled behind his mask, and saluted Shannon. She returned the gesture, then settled herself. 

The first pass was cautious: a touch of the blade, a flicker of feint-test-response before they withdrew. Then Edhem came in with a cautious lunge, and Shannon parried and riposted; Edhem withdrew before she could make contact. Shannon cracked her neck, and Edhem rolled his shoulders. 

The exchange was longer this time: attack-parry-riposte-parry-counter-parry, and this time it was Shannon who stepped back and away before Edhem could follow up. He smiled, frustrated but intrigued, and set himself again. 

"Not bad," Shannon said, weaving the tip of her epee through a figure eight. Edhem kept his eyes on her shoulders. "Can you deal with this?" 

She came in suddenly, a lightning storm of probing attacks, and he fell back automatically, parrying as he could, overwhelmed by the inhuman speed of her thrusts. He was reacting by feel rather than sight, but she was still too fast; he lost track of where her blade was and knew he wouldn't be able to block whatever came next. Reflexively, he pulled himself up straight and thrust his blade directly out towards her center... and was rewarded when she lunged straight onto it. The metal flexed painfully, the tip bent to nearly a ninety-degree angle, but it held against the force of her advance.

"Son of a bitch!" she shouted, but she stepped back and saluted, and he returned the courtesy. She pulled her mask off and stepped forward, and he matched the gesture. 

Gripping her hand, Edhem met her eyes. "That was amazing. I've never seen anybody move that fast." He thought he might have come close to it himself once or twice, but only with the help of his arts. Was Shannon doing something similar? Or did she have some other way of accessing that kind of speed?

She smiled behind her mask. "It was a good counter. I could see it coming, but I couldn't change direction."   

"I..." he hesitated, then decided to press ahead. "Would you like to go get coffee somewhere? Maybe take it to a park, and talk about the things that aren't secrets?" 

There was a brief hesitation, and then she grinned. "Are you kidding? If we weren't in the middle of a pandemic, I'd take you to bed right now."

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Challenge: Favorite Songs or Bands

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 songs or musicians". 

Y'all... my musical tastes are all over the place. If there's a consistent pattern to it, it's that I appreciate a well-turned lyric... but I have a huge collection of instrumental stuff that I use when I'm writing, so... yeah. 

So rather than trying to isolate actual favorites, let me give you a sampling: 

Concrete Blonde
Probably best known for their song Bloodletting (the Vampire Song), this 90s Goth band also has a number of less-well-know songs that I'm also quite fond of. One of the ones that I keep coming back to is simply called Probably Will:

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
I'm not sure I can really adequately describe their work, certainly not in a way that a music critic wouldn't pick apart, but the music is dark, the lyrics are poetic (and dark), and the effect is distinctive; Nick Cave isn't quite Leonard Cohen's evil twin, but he's somewhere off in that general direction. Probably best known for Red Right Hand or People Ain't No Good, but I keep coming back to The Ship Song:

Frank Turner
A brighter bit of my collection, Frank Turner is a British artist with an emphasis on optimism and encouragement. Some of his work is very classic Rock and Roll, like If I Ever Stray... but he did a very political album a while back called Be More Kind and lately I find myself coming back to the song Make America Great Again. Give it a listen; it's not what the title makes it sounds like:

Professor Elemental
Since I'm throwing up cheery bits, let me put in this bit of weird science/steampunk music from Professor Elemental. For samples, you might try Fighting Trousers or Everything Stops For Tea but my personal favorite is All In Together:

Truth is, though, I could keep this up for a very long time. So if you want to see more of of what I listen to, check out the Music tag here on the Blog o' Doom; the selections are all over the place, but I stand by every one of them.

Post-Election Assessment

 I'm just going to take a moment to point out that everything is going pretty much the way I expected

  • We don't know who won yet.
  • Trump is of course declaring victory already, and is absolutely not going to concede under any circumstances. 
  • The Republican Party and the stacked Supreme Court will back him on this.
  • The rest of the world is still embroiled in an ongoing series of apocalyptic and near-apocalyptic crises.
  • I really should have taken today off and just built a blanket fort to hide in.

I'm at work, and I will get some things done, but I reserve the right to be kind of useless today.


Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Youth DnD: Art Criticism

 So, the youth DnD group snuck into the house of Count Polyphemus Estudian to steal the book that he had written, which they were commissioned by the Library Lich to retrieve. The house is a largish manor sitting on a (possibly artificial) hilltop about a mile and a half outside of Daern something-or-other. (I don't remember. I made that one up on the fly; it's in my notes, but I'm not where I can look at those right now.) 

After letting the Arcane Trickster scout the outside of the house with the help of his Cloak of the Bat, they decided on the simple and direct approach: they picked the locks on the front doors, and went in that way. 

That let them into a two-story entry hall, with the sweeping staircases flanking an upstairs balcony; there were a pair of stuffed wolves on either side of the doors, and a pair of stuffed bears on either side of the far pair of doors (beneath the balcony). There were paintings along the walls, plenty of windows on the south wall, and it was generally all very dark and quiet. (Even with the windows, it's a bit hazy outside and it's only about 1/3 moon, so... not much in the way of natural light.)

The Arcane Trickster is a halfling, and he's using Goggles of Night Vision. The druid (also a halfling) converted herself to a spider and is riding around on his shoulder. The dragonborn sorcerer has taken advantage of his Ghost Cloak to become ethereal; he can see the group, but the only way they can talk to him is if the druid uses her Ghostwise Halfling telepathy and he happens to be standing in range. The swashbuckler/lore bard, like the arcane trickster, has been relying on her native skills for stealth. 

So far, they have explored the ground-floor level of the entry hall -- where the swashbuckler's Rapier of Warning kept giving them oddly non-specific indications of danger -- and the dining hall, which was on the far side of the wall where the rapier indicated danger was nearby.  The swashbuckler activated Detect Magic and looked over the entry hall but found no magic; she was pushing at the pictures to see if they were covering any empty spaces when her rapier twitched a warning at her. At that point they asked the sorcerer to go check our the room on the other side of that wall, which turned out to be the dining hall. (Of course, the rest of the group has no idea if he even heard them.) They discovered nothing threatening; in fact, so far everything was minimally secured and they saw no signs of life. (Admittedly, it's nearly midnight and anyone living here is likely to be asleep.)

While the sorcerer was checking out the dining room, the swashbuckler went to explore the connecting hallway on the first floor, behind the double doors at the back of the entry hall; she found several closed doors, and a narrower hallway leading towards the back of the house. The arcane trickster, meanwhile, started poking the pictures from a reasonably safe distance using Mage Hand. 

When we ended the game, two major new developments had occurred:
-The swashbuckler's exploration of the narrower hallway had led her to a corridor somewhere near the back of the house, with doors on both sides. She could hear somebody snoring loudly behind one of the doors.
-The paintings in the entry hall were mostly landscapes, but the two northernmost were portraits, one of a man, one of a woman. When the arcane trickster poked the woman's portrait, the woman in the (apparently non-magical) picture turned and frowned at him. 

Considerable discussion of the use and limitations of Detect Magic ensued, with a particular emphasis on how it related to shapechangers, spellcasters, illusions, and invisibility. I've promised to go do some checking up so I can give official in-game rulings on those things.

Monday, November 2, 2020

Year 2020 ADHD

At this point in my life, I'm pretty sure that Beautiful Wife and I both have undiagnosed (now adult) ADHD. And in reading about the various less-recognized versions and symptoms of ADHD, I'm noticing a particular theme: one way that people with ADHD hack their brains into getting things done is to stress themselves out enough to switch over from distraction to hyperfocus. And for a lot of people who use that trick, the generally high stress level of 2020 is making that harder, if not impossible. 

I read that, and I just thought: Ooof. 

I am here to tell you all that I am absolutely freaked out. Election day is in two days, the Republican Party has spent the entire election doing their best to suppress voting, throw out legitimate votes, and rig absolutely everything they can -- all the while screaming about how the Democrats are trying to steal the election. They're also busily trying rat-fuck the opposition; it's worth noting that the push that Giuliani and others are making about the Oh So Scandalous contents of Hunter Biden's laptop is actually in regards to the second of these supposed laptops to mysteriously turn up. (And at this point I feel compelled add: at least the second. I would not be surprised to learn that there were more.) The first one appeared right around the time that the impeachment hearings were starting, in the hands of a former Fox News contributor. Meanwhile the right wing is predicting all the horrible, terroristic things the Democrats are going to do if they win, while their own people are already doing them.

It also seems quite clear that Donald Trump has no intention of conceding the presidency, no matter what the voting results look like on election night. The entire Republican Party is, I expect, going to back his play; they have so far, and I can't imagine why they'd stop now. Plus, they've managed to stack the Supreme Court in such a way that if the question ever gets that far, the results are going to make Bush vs. Gore look like a well-reasoned legal decision. 

Oh, and there's a pandemic. As of last night, we've over a million deaths globally and nearly 231,000 deaths here in the United States -- a set of numbers that I strongly suspect is being undercounted, at least here in the U.S. And looking at the death toll alone is understating the cost regardless, since we already have plenty of evidence of ongoing health effects in over a third of people infected by it.

The medical impact isn't all of it, either: there's also the economic impact. I don't think it's really showing up in the news, and I'm not sure that there's any sort of widespread understanding of the full effects of it, but: a lot of people are out of work. A lot of people are facing eviction. (A lot of people have been evicted.) A lot of people are facing medical bankruptcies. Hotels and restaurants are not going to be operating at full capacity any time in the forseeable future. (I saw an ad the other day for a hotel chain... it wasn't this one, but it gave off a similar feeling of "Please come stay with us, you can social distance just by being the only person in our hotel!") Tourism has pretty much bottomed out. I strongly suspect -- though I don't have a citation for this one, or really any good evidence -- that the only reason "The Economy" hasn't crashed is that "The Economy" is measured in ways that are being artificially propped up until after the election. (Stock Market, I'm looking at you.) I'm expecting (and Dark Gods, but I'd love to be wrong about this) that by January we'll be in freefall regardless of who wins. I'm also expecting that this will be the subject of much shock and surprise on the part of politicians, pundits, and reporters... while the Disaster Capitalists who set it all up rake in the money, and the folks who still haven't recovered from the last recession or two wind up even worse off.

I'm also expecting a rise in hate crimes following the election. If you're a member of a vulnerable group (or even you're not) please have a post-election safety plan. I hope you do already. It's going to get crazier out there.

So... yeah. What was I talking about? Oh, right, stress. Life is just a teeeeeeensy bit stressful right now. And if that's interfering with your ability to operate, you aren't alone. Everybody I know is freaked the fuck out right now. The only ones who aren't seem to be the ones who are looking forward to the violence, or even pushing for some kind of new civil war. Being utterly discombobulated by all this is perfectly natural (in fact, a lot of what's getting passed around as news and rumors right now seems purpose-built to create that effect). Needing way more sleep than usual is also nothing unusual. This is not normal, and there's nothing wrong with you for noticing and reacting to that.

Me? Well, I'm planning to stay off of social media until the election is past; maybe through the end of the week and into next weekend. I may or may not be putting things up here on the Blog o' Doom; if I do, they'll likely be pieces that have nothing to do with the real world. Aside from heavy drinking (which I really can't do right now, owing to some medications I'm taking) and writing all this out (which I've just done) I can't think of any other good way to cope. You can only take so many hot baths.

Take care of yourselves; take care of each other. If you know me and you need help with something, let me know; I'll do what I can. 

If there's any hope to be found in all this, it'll be found in supporting each other. 

And for fuck's sake, VOTE. If you already voted, awesome! But also be aware that it may take more than that to get us through this. Figure out what you can do, what you're willing to do, and be ready to do it. People are -- and have been -- organizing; if you're in a position where you can be part of that, your presence is needed. 

And now that I've written all that out, maybe I can finally go to sleep.