Thursday, January 27, 2022

Fanaxia: The Death of Kroni, and Into The Abyss

So, the last order of business before we depart Fanaxia: Bring back Kroni, thus freeing Sacha, and then kill Kroni, who is effectively a demigod.

We load up on our preparations, making people variously invisible and protected.

Geddy opens by casting Haste on us. Martini kills a chicken and pours its blood into Kroni's mouth. All of sudden, dark and swirling clouds gather overhead. A burst of lightning coats the area, and Kroni is now holding the Sword of Kaz.

Kroni is not wearing armor, but he's wearing a bunch of magic items that have suddenly reappeared with him. Tavros attacks, missing him four times but hitting him once, and does some damage.

Then Kroni moves. He tries to land a Bad Touch on Tavros, but misses. He then tries to smite Tavros, but he's still a little shaken from coming back to life and mostly misses. Unfortunately, "mostly" is not "completely" and he hits Tavros very, very hard. Tavros goes down.

Marshall, in the form of huge serpent, casts Heal on Kroni, but fails to get through his spell resistance. Ruin tries to carve into him, but completely fails to connect. Azrael lets loose with Scorching Ray and Quickened Scorching Ray, and scorches Kroni a bit.

Alexej manages to connect, but then gets his guisarme stuck and drops it. Leira drops Displacement on Alexej, and then fires off two quickened Scorching Rays. Unlike Azrael, most of her attacks get through.

Kroni blinks over next to Leira and tries to smite her while power attacking. Leira goes down. He then attacks Marshall, not smiting but still doing some damage.

Geddy starts singing.

Tavros is still bleeding out. Kroni blinks over next to Alexej and attempts to smite, and takes him down. Ruin attacks but again fails to connect. Azrael tags him with a Scorching Ray, and then again with a quickened Scorching Ray, and does some notable damage. Kroni blinks over to him and smites. Azrael drops out of the air like an elvish rock; Martini grabs him and uses Dimension Door to get them both out of the way.

Geddy uses his guitar to attack with a Power Chord, and takes Kroni down.

...Holy shit.

There's an enormous thunderclap overhead, and Kroni goes down. We heal Azrael and Tavros, and Resurrect Leira and Alexej. We loot the body, stake him, cut his head off, stuff a holy wafer in his mouth, immerse him in running garlic-water.

We retrieve the Sword of Kaz, which is very apologetic. We also gather:
Boots of Striding and Springing
Gloves +6 Dex
Braces of Armor +8
Amulet of natural armor +5
Ring of protection +5
Cloak of resistance +5

Alexej heads off to re-found the Magiknights. We head back to take the motivator out of the flying ship. Aided by spells and Geddy's singing, Martini attempts to disable the motivator so we can remove it...

She succeeds. We're going to have an airship when we get back. We head back to Castle Fanax and hand the artifacts over to Behemoth. He ties the portal off to a single Glaabrezu, who departs through the portal just ahead of us. We hurry through after him, into Behemoth's throne room; there's another portal on the far side that leads back to Povos. There are treasures scattered everywhere.

As we step through the portal, a coldness drops over us, nauseating. We find ourselves in a quarry, wearing nothing but manacles; in the distance we see a pyramid of stone, with a line of souls hauling stones. A demon comes to taunt us about how Behemoth kept his bargain and the portal back to Sol Povos is right there in his throne room, but we'll never see it because we're slaves now.

Azrael bends over and retrieves a wooden stick, the one he found in the treasure room earlier. The spellcasters are blocked from their magics, and pretty much all we have is Azrael and the magus staff. Tavros tries to breath ice on the demon, but fails; Marshall tries to turn into a giant snake, but fails; Ruin can't find any dimensional slips, either.

Toth the demon assures us that the portal is right there in the pyramid waiting for us, but since we're chained here Toth expects us to be slaves. Azrael is playing up the fact that he's leaning on the staff of the magus. Geddy, meanwhile, is... well, there's just an unresponsive body here.

Marshall encourages us to grab stones and start moving them towards the pyramid. Leira starts crying, loudly. There are demons on patrol around the quarry. Without our equipment, we're distinctly outmatched; we're going to have to do something clever. And this is probably the wrong party for that.

Azrael is very bored with all this. He says he can plane shift using the staff. And he won't leave Martini, but he wants her to know that he could, if he wanted to.

We take our blocks up to the drop-off area, and now they expect us to go get more stones. Martini tries to take a break, and Toth whips her; Martini pretends that this is sexy, but doesn't manage to convince the demon.

Marshall starts trying to rally the other random slaves around here to do his work for him. The slaves are not having any of it. Toth whips him again.

Martini tries to seduce Toth, but he isn't attracted. Too human.

We walk back down to the quarry. Azrael says, "Behold, demon. I am Azrael Abyss and I am your master now." He gestures with the staff and our manacles fall off. Leira is still crying loudly enough to drown out other sounds.

Marshall just picks up a rock. Martini, on the other hand, sneak attacks Toth with a rock. In the nads. Toth is... not happy. Ruin smacks him with a rock , and Tavros rips him apart with his claws. Tavros leans down, picks up his whip, and then looks around for Geddy and sees... nobody.

Azrael reminds us yet again that he can plane shift out. Ruin asks if he's offering to create a distraction and then plane shift himself to safety. We take rocks without Toth and pretend we're being good slaves.

"You! Where is your slave master?"

Martini: "He's right here. He definitely did not take a break while we are carrying rocks."

"He's taking a shit?"

"Well, somewhere. I mean, I didn't listen that closely."

"Toth is sleeping on job again. Slaves carry rocks."

We head on to the second checkpoint. "Why are you here without a slave master?"

Martini: "I mean, that guy was scary so we're just carrying rocks even though he went away."

"Toth isn't scary."

"He is, but you're scarier. If I take this rock to the next spot will you promise not to hurt me?"

They whip us a couple of times on general principle, and when we get to the drop-off point we meet Garth, our new slave master.  

"Look," says Ruin. "We brought rocks, like good slaves!" He holds out the rock, and then drops it on Garth's foot.

Azrael, sensing trouble, hits Garth with a lightning bolt. It does a lot of damage, but isn't sufficient to kill him. Ruin grabs Garth in a bear hug... naked... with a demon.

Leira cries very loudly to cover the sound of violence. Martini slams a rock into Garth's nuts, and Tavros knocks him out.

We break there.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Challenge: Best Book, Movie, or TV Show

(This post is part of the Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge. You can find links to other writers' answers over at Long and Short Reviews.)

Prompt: best book, movie, or TV show from 2021

This sort of question is always tricky for me, since I don't really watch TV shows and seldom see movies until they've been out for a while. Books are usually easier, but I don't always keep track of publication dates; my favorite book from 2021 might very well have been published in, say, 2017 and I'm just now getting around to reading it. Add to that the temporal distortion of living through a global pandemic that half the government insists isn't happening (unless it is and it's the other side's fault), and... what is 2021? What even is time? What the hell was my name, anyway?

Anyway... I don't have a strong contender for best book for 2021. I'd have to dig back through what I've read, and really think about it, and I don't have enough brain for that. So instead, I'll just mention a couple of books that I found memorable and enjoyable: 

  • Not Your Average Hot Guy, Gwenda Bond. Fun, apocalyptic paranormal romance. There's a sequel due out in April; I've already pre-ordered it. 
  • House of Salt and Sorrows, Erin A Craig. Very, very much a Gothic, with an accursed family, a sprawling manor, and a sense of dread that builds right up to the end. Some nice touches of romance and intrigue as well. Actually published in 2019, but I read it in 2021 so that counts, right?
  • Little Thieves, Margaret Owen. Theft, intrigue, dark magic, high and low gods, and in the center of it all a human girl whose mothers are Death and Chance -- and the investigator sent to catch her.

I didn't watch a lot of new films in 2021, but I did enjoy the first half of Dune and the Suicide Squad movie.  

TV shows have been an absolute no-go for me; I have absolutely nothing to recommend. Beautiful Wife started watching A Discovery of Witches, and it looked very good but I've only seen maybe ten minutes of it in total. I've caught glimpses of Death in Paradise, again because Beautiful Wife was watching it, and it looks like a lot of fun as well; but Discovery is apparently from 2018 and Death dates all the way back to 2011 or something, so... yeah. Not exactly 2021 material, here.

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

RoH: Thieves in the Night

Remant came awake with his left hand around someone's throat in an unbreakable grip, while his victim flailed and struck at him with one arm. For a moment he considered commanding his hand to release its grip, but the figure above him wore a cloth over the lower half of its face and strange, dark lenses over its eyes. The lenses were held in some sort of wire frame, the design unfamiliar but the purpose obvious. It was night outside, and the intruder was Vanil, so the lenses most likely allowed their wearer to see in the dark. Which meant...

His hand clenched and twisted, and a cracking sound filled the tent. The intruder slumped, completely limp. Remant sighted and shoved it aside, then looked around. Yes, there was a dagger on the ground beside his bedroll. He slipped out of the blankets and rose into a crouch, then reached down and pulled on his black leather gloves. He didn't bother with his boots; those could wait. 

There were other figures moving in the darkness, but none seemed to have noticed him yet. There should have been guards at the edge of the camp, but none of them were visible. Downed, then, he thought. Hopefully not dead. He did not want to see what would happen if the intruders realized that anyone in the camp was awake and mobile. 

So he reached down and clasped his sword, and then he reached into the depths of his mind. The unwelcome remnants of power were still there; he touched them, and called for darkness. 

There were no sounds as the camp went black, but after a moment of stillness the intruders raised their blades; several of them silently called up spells as well. Remant couldn't see them; not exactly. But this darkness was his and he knew the place of everything in it. It was only a small effort to slip up to the nearest intruder and gut them. The darkness drank noise as well as light; the first death was silent.

So were the second and the third. The fourth was trickier; that intruder had given up on seeing, and extended a sort of warning-web of magic around him. He turned to meet Remant's blade, and he fought well, trying to move in past Remant's guard with his shorter blade. It might have worked, too, if Remant's left hand hadn't caught the intruder's wrist and held it for the brief moment necessary for Remant to put his blade through the man's heart. 

And these were men, all of them. That was unusual; most bandit troops had some women among them. Remant puzzled over that as he killed and killed again, dispatching the last two intruders. Then, finally, he let his darkness fade. It was a relief, more than anything else. The darkness was hungry, and his control of it was limited; much longer, and it might have devoured everyone within reach, friend and foe alike. I really need to learn more of sorcery, he told himself again. Everything I know is either trivial, or dangerously extreme. 

The intruder at his feet coughed out a mouthful of blood. "They said... there was power... here." He drew a shuddering breath. "The beast-bound... will come... for--" There came a soft rattling sound, and his whole body relaxed. Remant wiped his blade on the man's dark tunic, then sheathed it. It was time to see who else had survived.

Monday, January 24, 2022

Weekends are restful, and other delusions

 So... I think I might be getting my sleep schedule back on track. And I'm keeping up with Duolingo, which is perhaps more of an amusement than a practicality at this point, but still worthwhile. And I managed to run a (short) D&D game for (most of) the youth D&D group, so we're getting that back on track too. And really, the weekend was calm and restful and... {snicker} restorative and.. {guffaw} relaxing...

So over here in Reality, Secondborn skipped his meds on Saturday, which makes us crazy but also means he has an appetite. He had a hearty breakfast, a good lunch, a solid dinner... and by evening, he threw up a fair amount of everything he'd eaten. Most of ended up in the toilet, at least. We got him down to bed, and he went to sleep. Firstborn, meanwhile, got his COVID booster on Friday and woke up with a 103 degree fever on Saturday morning. The home test was negative for COVID, so it was probably a reaction to the booster, but... Not. Relaxing. Still, a bit of Tylenol brought the fever down and we got him through the day and down to bed for the night as well. I even got a bit of the dishes washed.

On Sunday I woke up a bit after seven -- apparently I've hit the point in my life where I only need about seven or seven and a half hours of sleep. So I got out of bed, feeling somewhat refreshed despite the day's trials, and walked into the bathroom and found that the handle for the shower was sitting on the edge of the sink. 

All right, I thought, in a fit of laughable optimism, we can deal with that if we must. I took my morning meds, and then realized that the strange sound I was hearing was someone whimpering. 

It was Secondborn. He had a stomach ache. He had the kind of stomach ache that was acute enough to lay out him -- which is impressive, since it takes a pretty fair amount of pain for him to even notice. So I tried to get a laxative into him; he promptly threw it back up. I got some probiotic into him, and cleaned out the tub so he could climb into a bath. Beautiful Wife woke up at about that point, and gave him an enema, and he pooped out a solid sphere of poop that I swear to the gods was about the size of a softball, followed by a more poop of more regular consistency. Beautiful Wife cleaned the bathtub after that one. 

At which point he was unmedicated, unfed, and feeling much better: the perfect combination for making us all crazy. We got some more food into him, and then his meds, and finally got him settled in just in time for me to try to pick back up on the D&D game for Firstborn and his friends. 

Y'all... I am so done. I have nothing left. I'm going to drop him off at school, get to work, and try to start sorting things out again... but I'm either going to be dragging, or I'm going to be running on unbroken adrenaline. We're going to have to keep Secondborn on regular laxatives for at least the next two weeks, and we're going to have to make sure he eats. (Part of the reason we hadn't realized he was so constipated was that his ADHD meds kill his appetite, so he doesn't eat enough to have the kind of side effects that make it obvious.) Firstborn made it through Sunday with no noticeable fever, so that was almost certainly a reaction to the vaccine... but that didn't stop it from adding another set of knots to my shoulders. 

The house is a mess and I've done very little about it, if anything else comes up I don't know if I'll be able to cope, and I swear by the dark and forgotten gods that I will stab the first person who suggests that "life never gives you more than you can handle" or any other positive-thinking bullshit. This -- this weekend, the week that preceded it, all of 2022 so far, the last three years of global pandemic and related gaslighting -- has all been a lot and it's a fucking miracle that any of us are still functional. 

So if you're still doing anything, however minor or however haphazardly, just remember that you're doing good. None of us are okay right now, I don't think. And anyone who is, is probably in denial. Take care of yourselves, gentle readers; take care of each other. If the only way out is through, then the best way through is together. Keep the faith; keep staggering forward as best you can.

Friday, January 21, 2022

Povos Dwarves: Arcane Magics

I really hadn't intended to publish any more Dwarf thoughts for a while, but I have nothing else ready for today so here you go:

Elves are the originators and masters of wizardry, Gnomes are renowned for their illusions, and many powerful wielders of arcane magics have risen from the Humans. Dwarves, on the other hand, hit things with axes.

At least, that's the popular conception... and there is some truth to it. Most Dwarves have little time for arcane magics, and many are dismissive of spellcasting as "tricks" -- almost a form of cheating -- used by weaker, more breakable races like Elves and Humans. However, the magic used by Dwarves within Dwarven society is something else altogether. A proper spellcaster is a valuable contributor to Dwarven society, someone to be valued and respected. In times of war, they help defend the gards and delves; in times of peace, they provide items and services that improve the quality of Dwarven life. 

Dwarves have several distinctive arcane spellcasting traditions of their own:

  • Scribes serve as scholars as well as spellcasters: historians, philosophers, mathematicians, and recordkeepers. They are respected for their discipline and study, and expected to be sober, serious, and wise -- though not all are so dignified; absent-minded scholars and over-enthusiastic researchers can be found among their number as well. They are usually wizards, but may be sorcerers or even bards; the Loremaster PrC is common as well. Many scribes go into public service, finding places in the bureaucracy of Dwarven government, but they may also be employed by noble families or prominent merchants. Others are artisans, producing the sorts of minor magical items that are common household goods in the gards and delves, or placing spells as needed. (Continual Light and Continual Flame are very common.) To become a Scribe, one must graduate from one of the Colleges, and the status and reputation of the College is very important to the future Scribe's career. Even after graduation, a Scribe is answerable to the Headmaster of their college for any misconduct that might reflect badly on the institution. (Every gard has at least one College, and a few of the larger Delves do as well.)

  • Battlemages are the heavily armored wizards of the Dwarven military (though they may be assigned to positions at court or in noble houses as well, at the discretion of their superiors). They are specially trained to cast spells in armor, even heavy armor, and accompany Dwarven troops into battle. (I'd suggest that they take a particular Feat to allow this, and then have to gain proficiency with armor through either cross-classing or other feats.) Battlemages may be wizards or sorcerers, but there are eldritch knights and the occasional bard among their number as well. Historians suggest that this tradition arose from the nature of underground battles: in the tunnels and caverns, it is far too easy for a mage to find herself in melee range of an enemy, so learning to wear armor was a necessity.

  • Sorcerers are just as respected as wizards, if for a different reason: they are considered to have more of the blood of Sardion than other Dwarves. Depending on their particular talents, they may find a place among the Scribes or Battlemages -- many do -- but they are far more likely than wizards to choose other options. (More about those later.)

  • Wizards are almost always trained at (and affiliated with) one of the colleges, though Battlemages may have been taught through an apprenticeship under another Battlemage. A wizard with neither master nor college to vouch for her is highly suspect, and would be well advised to find a way to establish her respectability immediately or else make her own way somewhere outside of Dwarven society entirely.

Arcane magics and magic items are surprisingly common among Dwarven dwellings, and serve a variety of very practical purposes. Providing such spells and items is considered part of a mage's duty to society, particularly among the Scribes. Minor items with very specific effects -- often in the form of small, marked stones -- can be found in almost any Dwarven dwelling (and moving house or preparing for some big change is sometimes referred to as "gathering your stones"). 

Some examples include: 

  • Cooking stones are usually small, flat stones the size of a large coin and marked with something to indicate fire on both sides. They're imbued with a limited form of the Heat Metal spell, with the following differences: 
    • The effect only works while the stone is in contact with the metal.
    • The heat comes up gradually. 
    • When the stone is removed, the metal cools as slowly as it normally would.
Cooking stones are most often used for cooking, either by setting them on the metal surface of a stove or placing them directly on a pan. They can also be used to heat metal for smithing if a forge is not available.
  • Bath Stones are found in sets of two, usually enameled (one orange and one teal) and usually with a small hole near one edge to allow them to hang from a bit of cord or chain. They may be coin-shaped or more like teardrops, and they serve to regulate water temperature. Hang the orange one in the bath, and the water will begin to heat. (Don't boil yourself!) Put the blue one in the bath, and the water will cool.

    Do not put them both in at once.

  • Speaking Stones are another paired item, usually placed at the door of a dwelling, one inside and one outside. Anyone touching the outer stone and speaking will be audible through the stone on the inside. This may be a one-way or two-way effect, depending on the specific enchantment. Range is extremely limited, usually to about two feet.

  • Impelling Pipes are available in a variety of sizes, but they're usually decorated on the outside with carvings of waves or sets of wavy lines to indicate their purpose. When placed in water, they pull water in one end and expel it out the other. When connected to systems of pipes, they serve to move water around. The use of impelling pipes is one of the things that makes the larger Dwarven cities livable, as they make it possible to distribute potable water and remove wastewater. (The Dwarven Plumbers Guild is one of the oldest and most influential groups in Dwarven Society, but that's an entire entry unto itself. The Architectural Guild wishes they had even half of the Plumbers' knowledge and expertise.)

  • Golden Anchors are usually metal, and consists of a flat "foot" a couple of inches across, with a loop on one side. Press the foot against a stone surface and speak a command word, and it will anchor itself in place. Another command word will cause it to release. Used for everything from hanging pictures to traversing crevasses (usually done with multiple sets that have different command words).


Thursday, January 20, 2022

Fanaxia: The Battle for Liberation

 We're leveling up, and Ruin has added another level of Barbarian. Tavros is a paladin for RP purposes, but mechanically he's just adding Fighter levels at this point. His natural armor grows stronger. Geddy, meanwhile, is improving his various social skills and his performing arts.

We've also had a chance to go over the things we learned from looking through Vecna's mirror.

So... the bargain is struck. Hecate, Behemoth's Marilith assistant, leads us to a basement and explains that this will lead us to the shadow worm, and that Earthquake in the right spot will force it up. We need to focus on the worm no matter who shows up to assist it. Once it falls, the demons will come to our aid.

Geddy has used one of his Wishes to acquire a baliset; as we pass we find a shrine to Justinius J Justinius, a gnomish deity. The doorway sort of ripples as a man walks out of nowhere into the room; he looks around the room appraisingly, then places an amazing blue baliset in the place of honor.

Geddy immediately zips into the room, disappearing from the rest of us, and reappears with this lute: Richenbacher's Electric Baliset. It can make sonic attacks based on his Perform roll, either at a single target or in a cone. This allows him to attack while still playing.

We rest in the basement; and on our twenty-fourth day in Fanaxia we emerge to do battle. We open with our preparations spells: Shield, Death Ward, Hide from Undead (Leira, Geddy, Azrael, Martini), Displacement (Tavros, Ruin, Alexej). Azrael also Enlarges Alexej. Martini makes herself and Azrael invisible. We've also applied Silversheen to our blades.

Marshall detects evil and we move over to what looks like a giant worm home. Once we've got everything set up, Marshall casts Earthquake. The ground heaves and groans.

The Shadow Worm emerges. It's colossal, bigger than anything we've ever seen. It attacks with a cone of cold (quickened). It's a big chunk, but Tavros is immune and Ruin is resistant. It follows up with Hold Monster, paralyzing Leira and Martini.

Tavros charges in, taking a hit on the way, and smacks it fairly hard; it's heavily armored, though. Martini shakes off the Hold and retreats. Azrael drops Meteor Swarm but doesn't get through his spell resistance much.  The Scorching Rays are equally ineffective.

Ruin charges around the back to set up a flank, and attacks. So does Geddy. Marshall moves in next, surounded by his swirling snake-blades, and tries to cut into the worm. He is himself a giant snake right now. Unfortunately, the magic blades aren't magic enough to get through the spell resistance.

Geddy takes to the air and starts singing; the worm screams, and then casts Quickened Haste on itself. It immediately attacks Tavros twice, and misses; it then tries to sting him and also misses. Tavros riposts, and carves into its scaly hide. Azrael's spells again prove ineffective. Ruin manages to cut it, and Alexej does as well.

We hear the castle door open, and the Nightwalker comes sprinting out to assist his Dreadworm. A Nightwing is following.

Marshall casts Firestorm on the shadow worm, but fails to get through its spell resistance. Neither does the Blade Barrier. Geddy plays a Power Chord, and it hits him but fails to penetrate.

Leira drops Sunburst on the Nightwalker and the Nightwing. She gets past both their spell resistances. The Nightwing is blinded and badly burned; the Nightwalker is just somewhat burned.

Cimaron emerges from castle as well. The worm attacks Tavros again, this time more carefully, and manages to bite him and promptly swallows him. Fortunately, we're all death warded; otherwise Tavros would be losing levels. Instead it's just acid and bludgeoning. Tavros is basically unconscious. It follows up with a Cone of Cold. Leira and Azrael dodge the worst of it, and Martini avoids it entirely. She uses Dimension Door to move herself and Leira out of range of that cone of cold. Azrael attacks with Meteor Swarm (hitting with two) and Empowered Fireball (missing).

Ruin attacks again, hitting it twice. Alexej follows up, hitting some more, and staggering the thing.

The Nightwalkers are moving up, but aren't quite close enough to reach us; ditto the Nightwing. Marshall casts Forbiddance, which will block them from shifting planes but also lays down a consecrated area that will damage them as they pass through.

Geddy tries his Power Chord again, but doesn't get though this time either.

More Nightwalkers come pouring out of the building, and Leira drops Sunburst again. Unfortunately, they've all got spell resistance, and she only tags one of them -- and for limited damage.

Simaron comes charging through and casts Confusion or Ruin, and gets through his spell resistance -- but Ruin shakes it off. Tavros dies in the shadow worm's unholy digestive tract. It tags Ruin with its stinger but doesn't poison him, then bites him twice -- once super-effectively. It swallows Ruin's corpse as well.

Martini pulls her longbow and takes a shot at the worm. Azrael drops a couple of Fireballs, and one of them gets through; Alexej follows up by stabbing the beast some more -- "Kill the beast while it's wounded!" -- drops it.

As soon as the dread worm falls, the west wing of the castle lights up; and then the barrier shatters. Demons pout out of every opening. Behemoth emerges from one of the towers. Squads of demons follow Hecate into combat. Massive retrievers crawl over the hedges.

Before long we are left alone in the eerie silence of the back courtyard. Marshall snakes in and retrieves Ruin and Tavros... or their corpses, anyway. He resurrects Tavros, and Ruin is... sort of just barely even a corpse anymore.

We search the castle, and find Simaron's cache of treasure: 140,000 GP in coins and artworks. 35,000 in other magic items. A Maul of the Titans, worth 25,000. A Rod of Alertness, which Ruin would be very interested in - 85,000. Gem of Seeing, worth 75,000; basically True Seeing for 30 minutes per day. Manuals +1 Health, +4 Health, and +4 Dex. Alexej pulls out something he thinks is a guisarme, but it's just a stick. Azrael leaps on it. The staff is a staff of magus; Azrael says he is now invincible. It can absorb spells, among other things.

Day dawns with light rain and a cloudy but illuminated sky. The demons have retreated to the castle and appear to be sated after their violence. There was a *lot* of collateral damage. The lizardfolk are gone; villages around the swamp are gone as well. The devastation was at least localized. Kroni's corpse and the corpse of a small child are both lying in front of the castle gate.

We go and examine the body. Those are horribly dessicated vampires that haven't eaten in years, and are helpless husks. We could give them blood, or... we could use Speak With Dead.

Problem is, we can't contact his soul. We probably couldn't have brought it back, either; it's either protected, or trapped, or something. We try it on Kroni, and get a very MPD Sacha/Kroni.

Leira is SO EXCITED.

Question for Sacha: "Do you have knowledge of any of Kroni's memories?"

"No, but I can feel two bodies..."

"Where are you right now?"

Sacha tells us, probably in the Wellfort area. We probably need to bring this body back with blood, it would pull Kroni out of Sacha and into this body. That would probably be an issue in itself, since he's probably a demigod level being.

...We're going to have to kill him. Damn it.

The marsh is very different; there is now lush green grass surrounding an enormous tree with the black-singed skin of a great white dragon is laid across its limbs. The clearing is expanding quickly, reclaiming the marsh and swamp. Zilv is gone; another man walks out of the swamp with a pair of lutes strapped across his back.

It's the guy that Geddy saw earlier. He pauses: "Are you by any chance part of the church of Urgroth?"

Us: "No."

Him: "You look kind of like heroes. I am Bryce Lamont, heir to throne of Fanaxia. Is there... anything left?"

He's wearing a duplicate of both Richenbacher's lute and Geddy's old lute.

Us: "Don't go to the castle."

Him: "Magiknights?"

Us: "Um... maybe not?"

Geddy breaks into song and brings him up to speed. He sort of collapses on a tree stump.

Him: "I've been away for so long. The priests... I had to, or they would have found me."

There's definitely some weirdness going on with the timeline and the lutes; Bryce remembers a gnomish mentor who bears a suspicious resemblance to Geddy. He apparently just passed away.

He feels horrible about the loss of the Magiknights. He's apparently been hiding in the swamp and taking advantage of its Vecna-created enchantments. We walk him back towards the castle, and kind of bring him up to speed.

We convince Bryce to talk to Crowe; after a couple of hours, Crowe agrees to assume the mantle of Priest of Amun. The amulet doesn't kill him; he glows briefly, and his biggest ship suddenly turns into a massive oceanborn citadel with a couple of Solars to guard it.

Bryce and Duchess Durand get on well, and she's reassured that he's not particularly militant. After a day or two of this, Alexej comes to us and announces that he has decided to stay in Fanax and re-found the magiknights along with the local bard and lady Merrowin the druid. He also wants to find Braum and Joseph and bring them out to be the official cooks of the magiknights.

Killing Kroni -- here -- is our last bit of unfinished business. We hunt down enough diamond dust to resurrect Ruin as well; we're going to need him to fight Kroni. We sell off the Maul of the Titans, but Ruin claims the Rod of Alertness and Martini holds onto the Gem of Seeing. Azrael keeps the Staff of Magus.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Blogging Challenge: Stay Warm

(This post is part of the Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge. You can find links to other writers' answers over at Long and Short Reviews.)

Prompt: What inventive ways do you have to keep warm?

My immediate reaction is, "Ask me that again this time next month, when the late February cold snap drops on us like an anvil from the sky and the Texas power grid curls up and dies like a slug exposed to salt." Because, yeah: I absolutely guarantee that that's going to happen again if we get anything even remotely like the same sort of weather as we had last year. We've already seen that Governor Abbott and his pet power companies haven't done anything to harden against cold weather. Their strategy seems to consist entirely of hoping that weather won't be so bad this year. And honestly; that may be giving them too much credit. It's entirely possible that the folks in charge are looking forward to profiting off the deaths and desperation. Disaster Capitalism is nothing new. 

A friend of mine (also in Texas) did a Twitter thread a while back that had a lot of helpful suggestions. On our end... I have a decent amount of camping gear. (Though I should probably go buy more propane. Huh.) Problem is, you have to be very careful with that. I can use a propane grill to cook... in the garage, or out on the porch, but if you try it in the house you're pretty much asking for carbon monoxide poisoning. (We do have a detector.) So we're looking at layering up on clothes, using disposable plates and dishes, doing the cooking out in the cold, and like that. We do have a fireplace, but I don't keep any wood around; it's small and smoky at the best of times, and honestly hasn't been used since well before we had kids. Gods know what might have gotten in and blocked up the chimney since then. 

So mainly, it'll be a matter of layers of clothing and warm drinks if we can manage them. And plenty of books and games to pass the time. Sleeping bags within sleeping bags, for night time.

If we do have power -- and we were one of the luck few places who did, last year -- then our only problem is that the power companies are going to try to bankrupt us for their own profit. But, again, Disaster Capitalism isn't anything new. 

But for non-disaster staying warm? I don't really have anything especially creative. I stay indoors and drink a lot of tea.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

The Hell Did January Go?

Right, January just up and buggered off on me, or at least that's the way it feels. It's actually been pretty stressful, though not directly horrible: getting the boys back into school (no boosters yet, plenty of COVID reports, no good alternatives), trying to get through some projects at work, waiting to see if work is going to actually update my job description to describe my fucking job, mostly not getting any writing done because by the time I finish the day I'm pretty wiped, trying to keep up with dishes and laundry and etc. before the house implodes, and trying to figure out how (and if) we can get back to the youth Dungeons and Dragons game in the middle of a massive surge of "milder" COVID that, um, ain't all that fucking mild and may have long-term health effects that the media seems to be essentially ignoring. Yeah. 

I do have a solution for that last one: we'll be playing online next weekend. Now I just need to remember where we were, and prep for it. 

The last of major SQL transfers is coming up this week, but it's A) the one most likely to go horribly wrong, B) the one where I don't have a good way to try it out using the test environment, and C) the one most likely to scream if things stay down too long. (It's also the system that's going to have to get shut down again so I can finally upgrade it so I can finally go back to setting up one of its components, but that can wait.) 

On the plus side, I did finally manage to do a little bit of writing this weekend. More importantly, I got a huge amount of sleep which I was desperately overdue for. I'm not exactly back on schedule, metabolically speaking, but I'm a lot closer than I have been so far this year. I've managed to get back to practicing in DuoLingo -- erratically, but again it's a start. Or a restart. Whatever. And I finally took the CPAP machine down and did a bunch of maintenance on it that I should have done months ago -- and found that they'd sent me the wrong replacement mask, so I'm going to have to do something about that. 

It's always something, isn't it? 

Anyway, it's Tuesday. Time to spread your wings, shake out those lovely sharp-tipped scales, sharpen your claws and fangs, and go out and drown the countryside in fire and slaughter until the humans bring the tributes and sacrifices you demand. Don't feel guilty about it! A being of your ruthless magnificence deserves this sort of treatment!

Friday, January 14, 2022

Fanaxia: A Castle Full of Demons

 We look in on the demons, shut the door, and align weapons for Ruin, Alexej, and Martini. Martini, Leira, and Geddy turn invisible; Geddy's is temporary, but takes in everybody who isn't invisible already. Azrael turns invisible as well. Geddy adds Mirror Image, so there are now a bunch of him around.

Having done all that, Marshall turns into a snake. (He can cast spells as a snake, because he's awesome.)

The room used to be a dining hall, but it's been completely flattened and ceiling has been smashed (but is still enclosed by the energy barrier).

Azrael drops Meteor Swarm in the near area of the room, just shelling the troops from above in overlapping patterns. Tavros charges in behind and attacks the nearest Vrock, missing, and arrives just as Leira drops Sunburst into the room. Fortunately, she's aiming to include the back of the room and he's just outside of the impact zone. For the demons caught in the spell, pain and blindness ensue.

The blind Vrocks group together and start dancing; the other cast Heroism on themselves. Three of the Vrocks screech, stunning most of the party. The Vrock next to Tavros tries to infect him with spores; Tavros is immune. He tries to throw a column at him with telekinesis, but it smashes agsinst Tavros' armor.

Two of the Glabrezou cast Remove Blindness on themselves, as do the Malfetchnee. Ruin throws open the other door, but Marshall is stunned and does not move. The second Malfetchnee does an area Dispel Magic, and several of us become visible; Azrael and Martini lose their False Life effects instead.

The Hezrou, who are all blind, make a strategic retreat towards the dais. Azrael and Leira: "They're asking their masters to make them not blind anymore."

The Merrilith, who is *not* blind, drops a Blade Barrier through the doorway into the main group. Leira, Azrael, and Martini all take damage; Alexej attempts to avoid it but doesn't manage. He charges the nearest circle of dancing Vrocks, power attacking, and slams his guisarme into the thing despite it being a bit harder to hit than it should be.

Geddy is still stunned; Tavros takes down the nearest, undamaged Vrock and moves towards the nearest trio of dancing vrocks. We do not want them to finish that dance; that would be bad.

So naturally another trio of Vrocks starts dancing. Other demons are moving towards us, but several of them are blind. One Vrock moves to intercept Tavros before he can get to the dancers.

The Glabrezou... now able to see... cast Chaos Hammer into the doorway. It totally fails to affect us, as none of us are Lawful in alignment. (Ye gods, alignment is a stupid system.)

Ruin charges into the Blade Barrier, taking full damage from it, and grabs Azrael, Leira, and Martini and Dimension Doors them out.

Marshall slithers forward and casts Holy Aura on himself.

The Malfeshnee attempts to Feeblemind Leira and succeeds; the other calls lightning on Alexej. The the Merrilith casts Unholy Aura on herself.

Martini moves up to the next group of Vrocks and stabs one of them, remaining invisible; her target doesn't die, but it's not looking too good either.

Alexej attacks again, doing a bunch of damage before the Vrock dies and the guisarme is stuck, trapped in some bony cleft or other like the sword in the stone.

Azrael snaps out of his stun and drops Acid Fog over two groups of dancers, and Tavros slips past the Vrock that's blocking him and takes out a dancer from the second trio.

The Vrock grabs Alexej's guisarme and flies away. Alexej: "Hello! You are not supposed to be smart! Come back with that!"

Meanwhile several of the demons feel their way over to Marshall who is a giant snake, and start trying to claw against his scales. Marshall intercepts one as they move in, and out of all those attacks only one claw manages to do some damage. All five of them fart spores on him, but he doesn't care. Alexej, however, is not immune and is now covered in spores.

One of the senior demons removes blindness from a couple of the minions. Ruin attacks one of the blind vrocks, and Marshall drops Mass Heal and removed the feeblemind from Leira while restoring health to everyone who was injured, which... wasn't actually most of us.

The bad guys Call Lightning on Alexej, singing him slightly. One of the Demons drops Unholy Blight on top of Marshall and Alexej, which only really affects Alexej, and even that not very much.

The Merrilith is having trouble seeing around the fog; she steps aside, and spots Alexej and Marshall. She drops another Blade Barrier. Alexej takes a big chunk of damage, as does Marshall.

Martini, meanwhile, takes a step and starts attacking one of the blind demons. Alexej moves out of the Blade Barrier, drawing his masterwork scythe, and attacks one of the newly-dancing demon trio.

Geddy Suggests that all the Vrocks nearby should follow him through the door. This seems entirely reasonable to them. Several of them run through the door to go see Geddy, which takes them through the Blade Barrier (and in one case *two* Blade Barriers). This is... not healthy for them.

Azrael drops Black Tentacles but fails to trap any of them; they've clearly linked Freedom of Movement to their Unholy Blight. Tavros circles the acid fog to distract a Hezrou, and Leira drops a Freezing Sphere on the dancers -- and kills one of them, critically.

The Vrock with the guisarme presents it to the Merrilith. Two more of them screech, and several of us are once again stunned. Ruin once again murders a blind Vrock.

Marshall slithers forward and attacks one of the dancing Vrocks, grappling him to disrupt the dance. The Malfeshnees call lightning on the giant snake, doing some damage but not a whole lot.

Several Hezrou swarm Tavros, attacking, but only one claw attack makes it through even though he's stunned. The Merrilith moves back and drops yet another Blade Barrier. Alexej takes a bit more damage.

Marshall heals himself, then constricts the demon that he's grappling. The Malfeshnee throw more lightning at him, doing a bit of damage. Tavros takes a bit of claw damage.

The Merrilith casts a blade barrier across the center of the room. And Ruin's arrival has triggered two Runes: a symbol of pain which hits Ruin but not Tavros and doesn't get through his spell resistance, and a Symbol of weakness... which fails to affect either of them.

Martini Dimension Doors to the wall above the Merrilith's head. She's invisible, but these guys can see invisible things... but on the other hand, she can hide normally and they aren't looking up at the wall. They don't notice her.

Alexej shifts out of the Blade Barrier, and kills another demon. Geddy tumbles into the room, leading the demons back through the Blade Barrier. They've basically just walked into a meat grinder. Geddy is injured as well, but several of the demons are now defunct. And on that note, we stop.

Azrael drops an empowered fireball and an empowered scorching ray, and takes out a couple of Vrocks and stops their dance; Tavros takes out a Hezrou, damages a second hezrou, and drops his sword. Leira throws a Freezing Sphere and takes out two of the remaining Vrocks. Alexej attacks a Vrock that's moving in on him, and takes it down. Another one moves in and farts spores on him again. It then tries to use Telekinesis on Alexej, but he brushes it off.

The Glabrezou move next; one of them casts Mirror Image on himself. The other one drops Unholy Blight, which doesn't affect Ruin and only does minimal damage to Tavros. Ruin turns to the Hezrou beside him and cuts it apart. Marshall is wrapped around a Vrock, and continues crushing it to death. Marshall also takes a moment to reach out and heal Alexej with a sensual brush of his tail; his spores are also removed.

One of the Nalfeshnee tries to Feeblemind Leira; the other calls lightning on Marshall. Leira is once again stultified, and Marshall is shocked.

The Hezrou charge down towards Ruin. They are incredibly foul; Ruin shrugs off the stench, but Tavros is nauseated. Two attack Tavros, and two attack Ruin; they all miss.

The Marilith throws a Blade Barrier at Alexej.

Martini comes down behind the Marilith and attacks, taking her by surprise. Death attack doesn't kill her, but she still does a big chunk of damage.

Alexej attacks the Vrock in front of him (using his scythe, because his guisarme is elsewhere) and damages it. Azrael tries to disintegrate ne of the Nalfeshness, and damages it a bit; Tavros picks up his sword but is still nauseated; Leira is still febbleminded. Tavros takes two more unholy blights, and is damaged and sickened as well as nauseated.

Ruin cuts down one Hezrou and injures another. Marshall casts Dismissal on the Hezrou, who blinks out and immediately shows back up: we're standing in the place that they get dismissed *to*. Marshall: "Son of a bitch!" He continues squeezing his captured Vrock; it's nearly dead.

One of the Nalfeshnee casts Feeblemind on Azrael; he is now stultified as well. The other one calls lightning on Ruin, who dodges the worst of it. One of the Hezrou bites Ruin.

The Marilith attacks Martini, with her tail and her four arms and... yeah. Martini is not dead, but she's definitely out of the battle. Alexej finishes the Vrock he's fighting and steps out of the Blade Barrier.

Geddy casts Greater Dispel and takes down the Blade Barrier that's blocking the middle of the room. Tavros is still pretty well out of it, but Run carves through two of the Hezrou and nearly kills a third.

Marshall finishes crushing the Vrock, then slithers up and heals Leira. He drops a quickened Flame Strike on a Nalfeshnee and a Glabrezou.

The Marilith crushes Martini, and cackles. Alexej charges across the room and skids to a stop just in front of the glyph. Geddy dispels one of the glyphs, at least for the moment. Tavros stumbles forward, still nauseated, and Leira uses Limited Wish to remove Feeblemind from Azrael.

Ruin moves up with Tavros.

Marilith: "Fools! You should know when you are beaten!"

Marshall: "You know what's awesome about a corpse? I don't have to worry about Firestorming a corpse." He throws Firestorm across the entire back dias.

The two Nalfeshnees call lightning on Marshall. The Marilith teleports right next to Marshall. Alexej charges forward in hopes of retrieving his guisarme, and hits the Rune of Weakness but shakes it off. Geddy activates the ebony fly and heads off to collect Martini's body.

Azrael throws an empowered Ray of Enervation but misses; he follows up with a quickened Ray of enfeeblement and strips away a big chunk of her physical strength. Leira hits her with Freezing Sphere and gets through her spell resistance. It hurts her; we can see it.

The glabrezou try to cast Power Word Stun on Tavros and Ruin. Ruin shrugs it off, but Tavros is stunned. Ruin charges the nearest Glabrezou, but misses it.

Marshall, meanwhile, touches the Marilith and casts Harm; she is almost dead. He follows up with a quickened Poison spell, but she's immune.

The Nalfreshnee try to lightning Ruin, but he shrugs it off.

Marilith: "I am not returning to the Abyss as a failure!" She attacks Marshall. He has a Contingency in place -- Blindness -- but she shrugs it off. She damages him a bit, but not much; and she's barely on her feet. Alexej finishes moving forward.

Geddy swoops past the demons, taking a pincer hit to one of his mirror images as he passes. He resurrects Martini with a scroll. Azrael drops a magic missile and finishes the Marilith; Marshall eats her.

Leira throws a Freezing Sphere at the dias, hitting a Glabrezou and a Nalfeshnee.

The Glabrezou move in to attack Ruin, and one manages to hit him with a pincer. The second one tries to grab Ruin, hits him, and picks him up.

Ruin immediately Dimension Doors over next to the injured Nalfeshnee, scoops up the guisarme, and throws it vaguely in the direction of Alexej. Marshall moves up.

The Nalfeshnee attacks Ruin and misses; its buddy moves in and also misses. Martini steps over and attacks one of it, pricking it slightly. Alexej retrieves his guisarme; Geddy casts Irresistable Dance on the less-damaged Nalfeshnee.

It begins dancing.

Azrael hits the other one with an empowered Scorching Ray and takes it down. Leira moves out and throws another Freezing Sphere. The undamaged Glabrezou charges towards Martini, but tries to grab Geddy and instead gets one of his images. Marshall contines moving up.

Martini finishes the dancing Nalfeshnee.

Alexej finally has his guisarme. He moves up to flank, attacks, and hits. Geddy moves up and shouts at the one remaining Glabrezou. It dies.

We look through the portal, and see a sort of bare, lava-ish setting. It looks like maybe this portal goes to someplace under the castle, and that place has been flooded by a bit of the abyss. We stop to rest.

When we enter the lava room, a Baalor (obviously Behemoth) and a Marilith, who addresses us in Abyssal; Azrael looks at us and says, "He says Hi."

The Baalor wants us to cut a deal; Cimarron is not the leader of the dark forces in this world. He's willing to send us to go defeat the Dread Worm and then, once that lifts the barrier, turn his armies on the shadows and tear down them and all their works. Which would end with the Abyss in control of Fanaxia.

He gives us directions to the Dread Worm. He's willing to accept the hand and the sword instead of Fanaxia. There is another way out for us, if they destroy all of Vecna's servants and portals: through the Abyss. It worked for Vecna, after all.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Thoughts on Povos Dwarves: Gards, Delves, and Nexuses

Each of the (maybe nine? Maybe twelve?) Dwarven kingdoms are divided into gards, delves, and nexuses. 

  • Gards are the capital cities, or other places of similar size and importance. Their names reflect their status, e.g. Sholgard, Durgard, Voldingard, Margard. They are the centers of trade and politics, and often learning as well. The rulers and the bulk of the aristocracy can be found in the gards, as can all sorts of merchants and the more specialized sorts of craftsmen and scholars -- along with all the clerks and workers and menials who support them. Each gard will have its own legion, and each will have a provision district devoted to providing food for the city (both as necessary infrastructure and in case of an unexpected siege). Provision districts are usually twice the size of the gard proper, and only accessible from it. Guilds are an inescapable fact of life in the gards (and to a lesser extent elsewhere), controlling and championing any number of industries. In the mountains, gards are built in large caverns or connected sets of smaller caverns that form distinct districts; in the hills, gards are stone citadels standing watch over the lands that support them. Most kingdoms have two or three gards; the largest has six, and the smallest but one.
    (Note: part of the theological terminology for this world includes Asgard as the home of the Gods and Midgard as the mortal world, which the gods are prevented from entering by the Compact. So this bit of terminology might be confusing, and we might need to come up with something else. Or... maybe there's a Dwarven capital called Midgard, and a long-standing claim that the entire realm is named for that one kingdom.)
  • Delves are the smaller towns and villages, generally self-supporting, built outside the gards but usually still beholden to them. Most delves are built around some particular feature: a vein of ore, an unusual cavern or geological feature, a source of nourishment. (Some, however, are simply the result of a particular group of people who disliked where they were and decided that they preferred to carve out -- literally -- a place of their own. Many of these are monasteries, but some are effectively exiles: communities of political dissidents, homes to disgraced Houses, or artists and artisans seeking some relatively isolated location in which to work.) As with the gards, the names of delves generally reflect their origins: Deepwalldelve, Riverdelve, Goldendelve, Northern Mithrildelve, Stonefistdelve Monastery, Westernmost Sculptordelve, Eldritchdelve, Al'culdelve, Grazingdelve. A delve may have a local mayor, or even a minor aristocrat to coordinate things and resolve disputes. In the hills, they more closely resemble human towns and villages, but are generally built of (and walled with) stone.
  • Nexuses are less than villages but more than crossroads. They are places where well-traveled tunnels intersect, and the goods and services there exist to meet the needs of travelers and traders. A small nexus may have nothing more than an inn that doubles as a general store; a larger one may offer a choice of inns, taverns, and trading outposts, and include woodworkers and blacksmiths who can make repairs to wagons, tack, and other equipment as needed. The primary distinction between a delve and a nexus is that delves are generally self-sufficient (however barely) while a nexus generally relies on travelers and traders for its existence. They are generally too small and/or remote to have anything like a formal local government, but the largest may have a mayor or council to make rulings and moderate disputes. Under the mountains, a nexus will offer a number of well-labeled doorways into the stone around the tunnels; in the hills, they will be a handful of stone buildings where several roads come together.
  • There are a few hermits living in small caves or shrines, some very far off the main roads, but this is very rare and usually temporary. Some monks or clerics take vows that require such a lifestyle, but Dwarves usually don't have "frontier" families venturing out into the unexplored caverns on their own; if a new settlement is to be established, it will be a well-organized and communal endeavor. Isolated families of dwarves are far more common in the hills than they are in the mountains, and even then they usually live in non-Dwarven cities. The Mountain Dwarves find this sort of behavior somewhat horrifying, and "You behave as if you were solitary," is a damning condemnation of someone's manners or conduct.

...Honestly, this is mostly a terminology post. As we develop this, we'll want to flesh out the individual traits of the kingdoms and the distinctive features of the more important gards, delves, and nexuses. 

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Blogging Challenge: Anticipated Reading

(This post is part of the Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge. You can find links to other writers' answers over at Long and Short Reviews.)

Prompt: Books you want to read in 2022... 

Well, all right. I mean, that's not the sort of thing I generally sit around anticipating; I usually just pre-order and then I'm pleasantly surprised when things show up on my reader. Still, there are a couple that I'll definitely jump into as soon as they show up: 

The Kaiju Preservation Society, John Scalzi. Scalzi can always be counted on for a fun and funny story along with some intriguing challenges and adventures, and trying to save an endangered planet full of giant monsters sounds awesome. Comes out March 15th.

The Supervillain's Guide to Being a Fat Kid, Matt Wallace. Middle-school kids, body positivity, and supervillains. What more could you ask? Comes out January 25th.

The Demon's Librarian, Lilith Saintcrow. This is an older book; I own it, I just haven't gotten around to reading it yet. It's next on my list after the book I'm currently reading. Librarian sets out to stop a demonic invasion? I am there.

I Am Not a Wolf, Dan Sheehan. This one came out last year; it seems like important reading, since if there's one thing you very definitely want people to know about you, it's that you, a human person, are not a wolf.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

New Year, New Mess

So, 2022 is off to quite the start. 

Our friends' older son ("Olderfriend", who's just a bit younger than Firstborn) came down with COVID, and while it hasn't been life-threatening apparently he's pretty miserable. They've been keeping him isolated, getting tested themselves, etc. but now their younger son is also testing positive -- but probably not from his brother, probably from an exposure at school. (You may remember these boys from a special D&D episode a couple of years back.) 

On top of that, it's at least possible Beautiful Wife and I were exposed, despite the fact that our last interactions were outdoors. No real symptoms so far (we've both been a bit tired and stuffy, but that's normal for this time of year) and we haven't tested positive. Of course, that doesn't tell us much: this particular variant of COVID doesn't seem to show up on the tests very well. Olderfriend tested negative on the home tests for three days before they got a positive read off one of the slower-response tests from a testing center. Meanwhile, our boys went back to school last week and started their first full week of school yesterday; this isn't stressful at all, obviously. Oh! And I spent a decent portion of the weekend trying to sort out the nightmare farce of refilling Secondborn's meds; ADHD meds and antidepressants are both subject to very strict scrutiny, which means things have to get prescribed in very particular ways and there's lots of opportunities for things to go wrong even before the insurance companies get involved. Whee! Definitely not stressful.

And, weirdly, my sleep schedule is just off. Like, trying to go off the rails. Pretty sure that's not a symptom of anything except that we've been spending a lot of time isolated and stressed out, but I was up pretty much all of Saturday night and then slept until like two o'clock Sunday afternoon. I made myself go back to sleep at ten o'clock that night and work up a bit after four-thirty. So that's something I'm trying to work on.(It's not just me, either: Secondborn was up pretty much all of Sunday night, which made Monday at school kind of interesting.)

No word back from work on either the job reclassification or the application for the new position, which means that it's time to move on to step three: looking elsewhere. That's probably not fair, since we're just coming out of the holidays and pretty much everything is trying to come back online after grinding to a halt; but that's also why this is precisely the moment when I need to be applying for things. And at this point in my work history -- and history in general, for that matter -- fair can basically go fuck itself. Fair would have been reclassifying my job years ago, after they effectively tripled my responsibilities. Fair would have been having that additional income for the last couple of years to put towards college costs and now medical bills. 

All of which means that this week is devoted to getting my shit together. Sleep? Need to get that together. Writing? Get it together. Job applications? Put 'em together. Keeping boys on schedule? That's actually the one thing I haven't let slip, despite Secondborn's issues with falling asleep, but this would be the wrong time to let it fall apart. The mess on my desk at work? Get it together. Studying German and Spanish? Get back to it. Finishing current projects at work? Already in process, so just get it done. All of this is possible, it's just a matter of sitting down and sorting through it. 

...Which is exactly what I usually say just before something completely unexpected blows up in my face and throws my rhythm off completely. We'll see.

Monday, January 10, 2022

Duendewood: Family Matters (Part One)

(FS557August 20, in the Sol Povos timeline.)
(Time in Fanaxia is running faster than it does in Sol Povos, so our few weeks there are going to amount to quite a lot of time passing in the main campaign timeline. This is going to have some... interesting consequences.)

"Werendril!" called Darvinin, stepping forward. "You're back. How did it go?" 

Werendril looked up from where he sat reading, then tightened the scroll and set it aside. "Darvinin, Mistra," he said, standing to acknowledge them. "It's good to see you. It went well, but there were... unexpected developments." 

At the next table over, Aesa and Anica exchanged a glance, then turned their cards face down and stood as well. Darvinin and Mistra stepped forward, pulling out chairs at Werendril's table, and everyone sat down. Darvinin glanced around the room, then muttered something under his breath and gestured; a subtle sort of quiet fell over them. "Best I can do," he said. "It should be safe to talk, but don't go saying anything that's a state secret."

Werendril shrugged. "This'll get around soon enough: the Temple of Amun has made a treaty with the Order of the Golden Bow. We're not allied, but we're not enemies either. And the Abbess of one of the temples has sent a human scholar here to study the Deeds that set all this off." 

Darvinin paused, then glanced over at the other table. "...And this explains your new friends?" 

Werendril nodded. "A paladin and a priest, both from the Temple of Amun. More than that, actually, as they're going to be the mothers of your nephews." 

Darvinin said, "Well then, we should-- what?

Mistra shook her head and looked away, smiling. "You and your brother do have a few things in common." She looked at Werendril. "Has Darvinin told you yet?" 

Werendril met her gaze and said, "No, not yet. But I'll consider myself forewarned." Shalmistra wasn't beginning to show, yet, but apparently that was only a matter of time.

Darvinin stood, bowed to Anica and Aesa, and sat again. "My apologies," he said. "Clearly I should have offered welcome and better introductions."

The full human grinned at him. "Think nothing of it; it was a surprise to us, too. I'm Anica, a paladin of Amun. This is Aesa, the priestess." 

The half-elf nodded and smiled. "Werendril told us a little about you, and for all your differences there's no mistaking that you're Ruin's twin. You've no idea how glad we are to meet you. Do you know where your brother is?" 

Darvinin scowled. "Vanished... again. Not dead, though. I'd know." He hesitated, then plowed forward, etiquette and common sense be damned: "How are you both...?"

"It was a very complicated couple of days," said Aesa, "and I'm not entirely sure that Amun and Corellon didn't both have a hand in it. But here we are." 

"You can see why I sent word of my return," added Werendril. 

"I can," acknowledged Darvinin. It wasn't just because the paladin thought he should know; Werendril was hoping that Darvinin could smooth the way for these two to meet with his mother Baethira. Which... Could it be a trap? He studied the two women, but concluded that he didn't think so. There was nothing off about them, nothing indicating that they might have been sent as assassins by the human king or the High Provost himself. And they couldn't be lying; Werendril would have checked. "Our mother and I believe that Ruin is somewhere outside this world, which is going to complicate things. But in the meantime, there is nothing to prevent us from accepting you and your children into our house, even if Ruin isn't around to vouch for them."

Anica and Aesa exchanged a glance; then Anica said, "We are grateful, but I'd like to remind you that we do have duties here as well." 

Mistra laughed -- softly, but it was enough to break the tension. "As do we all. Hold this knowledge tight, and perhaps in time these cousins will be as close as Darvinin and Ruin are." 

Darvinin frowned darkly. "If the Dark Army doesn't smash us while they're gone. Word is the human armies lost a team of particularly talented up-and-coming Solari as well."

Anica glanced at Aesa, but Aesa didn't wait before asking: "Including Tavros? Was there a half-dragon paladin among them?"

Darvinin nodded, then blinked and said: "You know him. Forgive me, I shouldn't have--" 

Anica waved it away. "Can you tell us what happened?" 

Mistra put a hand on Darvinin's shoulder. "There are far more rumors and speculations than solid reports. Maybe the Provost's spies know the the truth, but that is not a thing that he would share with us and official word has been... vague. The last word we had from Ruin, Fartathren, Lili, and Geddy was that they'd captured an artifact from the dark army and were going to try to use it to retrieve another artifact that the Cult of Secrets was searching for. We think their hunt took them away from this world." She swallowed, as Darvinin reached up and covered her hand with his.

"Our best guess -- and it's a very educated guess, but it's still a guess -- is that the Solari tried something along the same lines." Darvinin swallowed as he took up where Mistra left off. "We think the King, or the Solari, tried to use magic to send their team to the same place."

Anica sat back, frowning. "The attempt failed? Or...?"

"Nobody can tell," said Darvinin. "And believe me, we've had some very good people working on it. Our best report is that the High Wizard sent them there using some spell that required them dying, or nearly dying, here. And even that, we're not sure of. What we are fairly certain of is that they haven't been able to bring them back. One reports says they died, another says the connection was broken and they're probably trapped, and a third one suggests that they went through but were all slain by something on that other world. We don't know." 

Aesa looked at Anica. "It would take a lot to slay Tavros." 

Anica nodded. "And I'd bet whoever they sent with him was equally formidable." 

Darvinin hesitated, then said: "One more thing. Wherever this place is, traveling there isn't like traveling to another mortal world. It's out at the very edge of things, only barely still within the Compact. The first time my brother went there, it was because he died here, and his spirit was taken there through Vecna's Eye." 

Werendril said, "Darvinin..." but Darvinin shook his head. 

"It's not a state secret," he told the paladin. "Honestly, the more people who know what really happened, the better." Turning back to the mothers of Ruin's children, he continued: "They were barely more than ghosts while they were there. They managed to escape as spirits, free themselves, and reclaim their bodies here. So... I don't know if this will be comforting -- I don't know if I even remember how to be comforting anymore -- but if Ruin and his friends could manage that... and your friend is as formidable as you seem to think... I'd guess that the odds are good that he and his group may reappear at some point as well."

Mistra added, "The High Wizard probably did a better job of sending them over intact, too. Better than dying and being sucked into a magical eyeball, I mean." It seemed she, at least, had some idea of how to be comforting. 

Aesa sat back, considering, and something tickled at the back of her mind. "Wouldn't it be strange," she wondered, almost idly, "if the two groups met in that other world?"

Friday, January 7, 2022

Durest: Lineage

"Prisoner! The Solari-Hunter would speak with you! Refuse at your peril!"

The guard's voice rolled through the dungeon, echoing off the stone, and Durest swallowed a rebuke as the girl in the cell stood and approached the metal bars. He didn't manage to keep the look of annoyance off his face, though, and the girl grinned as their eyes met. 

"Hi, Dad," said Vandraka. "Funny meeting you here." 

There was a momentary pause, and Durest resisted the urge to look at the guard's expression... barely. He reached up and rubbed at his forehead, trying to relieve the headache he felt gathering there. "Vandra," he said, and then trailed off because he literally couldn't think of anything to say except: "Did ye seriously just walk up to the lines and present yerself as an up-and-coming necromancer and possible spy for the King or the High Provost?" 

"I mean... yes? It got you here, didn't it?" Her face was older than he remembered, coming into real adulthood, but there was still a childish gleam of mischief somewhere in the back of her eyes. 

"Sure'n me brothers are going to murder me in me sleep," he muttered, but he didn't break eye contact. "Aye, an' it did at that. Am I supposed tae speak fer ye, bid the jailors set ye loose?" 

"No need," said Vandra, dropping something to the floor and crushing it beneath her heel. The cell which had been enchanted to hold mages suddenly lost its magic, and she opened the door with a word and casual gesture and then stepped out. 

Knowing what was coming next, Durest flung an arm out and caught the hobgoblin guard as he moved to attack. "Hold off, will ye?" he said, firmly. "This's me daughter, and perhaps a tad melodramatic. She'll no be tryin' tae murder us all just yet." 

The guard settled back, seeming reassured to have someone else in command. 

Durest eyed his oldest daughter. "Up-and-coming necromancer?" he asked. 

She nodded. "I mean... arcane, not divine. I hope you aren't disappointed with that." 

Durest smiled. "My sweet little girl, already raisin' the dead and defeating hostile magics. And at such a young age." 

Vandraka shrugged. "I thought it through well before I ever got here. If you hadn't come, I had a way out." 

"That's yer mother's blood in ye," admitted Durest. "I've never thought things through in my life." 

"Yeah, well..." Vandra grinned. "Fair warning: Mother says if either you or I become undead, it'll be divorce and repudiation. And Uncle Morthros says he'll either bring you back in chains or behead you. Possibly both."

"My dear, sweet child," said Durest, "ye've come to the wrong place if you don't expect to be--"

Vandraka grinned, looking pleased with herself. "I thought I'd make an excellent vampire, especially now while I'm still young and pretty. I just wanted you to know so you could prepare." 

Durest paused for a long moment, then said: "Ye worry me sometimes, child." Then he gestured for the guard to remove her bonds -- probably unnecessary, but his daughter would remember the gesture and know how he meant it. "Come," he said. "We've people tae see an' int'rduction tae make."

Thursday, January 6, 2022

Preliminary thoughts on Dwarves in Povos: Barbarians, and Hill vs Mountain

So, our DM mentioned that if we finish this campaign (and given 3-6 months of prep time to set things up, preferably while someone else runs a game in which he can play some character who's completely 'round the bend) the next campaign he wants to run is a campaign set in the central continent of his world, and focused on the massive range of mountains that is home to a whole civilization of dwarves.

This intrigues me. 

My very first thought, of course, was to wonder what sort of character I might make for a dwarf-focused campaign -- and, by extension, whether a Battle-Rager can be an effective fighter in a 3.5 core-rulebooks-only D&D campaign. (The general rule for a focused campaign is that everyone should belong to the race we're focused on, but one exception in the party is allowed. In this case, one of my fellow players already claimed that spot with her idea for a halfling who keeps getting mistaken for a dwarf, which sounds way more amusing and awesome than my idea for a half-orc who wandered in and just decided that he was part of the clan no matter what anybody else thought about the matter.)

So there's my first thought: 

  • Dwarven barbarians absolutely do exist, it's just that they're a pair of breeds unto themselves: 
  • The Battleragers wear the heaviest armor they can, covered in spikes, and attack by grappling their opponents and basically stabbing them to death in the process. I'm not sure how well this works in 3.5 mechanically, especially as we level up; we may want to introduce something like a Lantern Shield as a new weapon exclusive(ish) to them, or look at a prestige class, or both. Battleragers are closer to traditional Dwarven troops; they are fierce and disciplined right up until the battle starts, at which point they throw themselves at enemies and use their rage to grab and lock down difficult enemies, disrupt enemy formations, and generally just confuse the hell out of anyone who's expecting the dwarven troops to just stand there and cover themselves with a shield wall, then advance in careful formations.
  • The Warhounds are closer to classic barbarians; they show up in animal skins (even if they have more traditional armor underneath), and do their absolute best to look like werebeasts as they attack with swords, axes, daggers, or whatever they just picked up off the battlefield. Bladed gauntlets are common, and many of them will cross-class with Druid or Ranger levels in order to actually assume beast forms or improve their hunting and stalking skills. Pure druids and rangers are rare among their numbers, but not unheard-of. 
  • There are dwarven barbarians who don't fall into either of these groups, but they're generally viewed as outsiders: disruptive, unwelcome, and dangerous. Being part of the the Battleragers or the Warhounds gives barbarians a place in Dwarven society. This is particularly important among the Mountain Dwarves, but the pattern holds among Hill Dwarves as well.

...Which brings me to my next thought: Hill Dwarves versus Mountain Dwarves.  

There's probably no real mechanical distinction here. They'd both use the template from the PHB. (Or not; that's open for discussion.) Hill Dwarves are the ones who live on the surface, building their homes from quarried stone; Mountain Dwarves are the ones who make their homes in the stone itself, beneath the great mountains. In general: 

  • Hill Dwarves are more comfortable with outsiders, more cosmopolitan and easy-going. In a lot of cases, they're the ones who make the connections for trade between the Mountain Dwarves and other surface kingdoms. Hill Dwarves probably do have at least one kingdom of their own on the surface, and the nobility of the Mountain Dwarves probably hates to acknowledge that. 
  • Mountain Dwarves are more socially regimented; everyone knows their place and what is expected of them. Mountain Dwarf society is tightly structured, with only limited opportunities for advancement, but it does take care of everyone; Hill Dwarf cities might have poverty and homelessness and beggars, but Mountain Dwarves do not. Those who cannot provide for themselves are provided for, albeit by a tightly-structured and not always friendly bureaucracy. For those who can't contribute in other ways, military service is a path to social advancement... or death, of course.
  • Hill Dwarves see their underground kin as stuffy, arrogant, and inflexible, while Mountain Dwarves see this as maintaining their proper traditions; mountain dwarves see the hill dwarf communities as hotbeds of impropriety, probably crime, and possibly outright heresy. "They lack discipline," is possibly the most cuttingly dismissive thing that a mountain dwarf could say about a hill dwarf.

There's a lot more to build out here, obviously. Among other things, I've barely touched on religion, spellcasting, law enforcement, or whether Dwarven monks are even a thing.

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Fanaxia: The Abyssal Palace

 OOC: We’ve lost a player, so we’re rearranging the parties again. We’re also kind of resetting party treasure and possessions. However, a lot of this is going to have to wait until we finish the current narrative arc. 


So, picking up IC after an extended discussion of logistics…


Geddy is missing after drawing from the Deck of Many Things. The northern half of the island is more or less under control, with the enemy troops largely disposed of. The dragon has turned out to be the white dragon reborn, so it’s good we didn’t try to fight it before we knew that. Young Crowe controls the seas, and we combine the remainder of the Kuldas Keep forces and put Lady Merrowin in charge of it. We also still have the airship, and we might be able to remove that, take it back to Sol Povos with us, and maybe install it in another ship. Zilv, the high druid, looks pretty rough; he’s been keeping the sun over the castle for a week now. He thinks the rain is linked to something in the west wing of the castle. 


Marshall asks Zilv what seems to be coming from the west wing of the castle; it’s demons, but other than that he’s not sure. Most curiously, there are dozens of nightwalkers and nightwings on the building and they’ve just… left us a path inside. Zilv thinks we can defeat Richlieu and his friends; he doesn’t think we can defeat Cimarron, even with all the forces we’ve rallied. 


So, Zilv is going to try to deal with the swamp. We need to go into the castle. Does Zilv have any advice on dealing with Demon Lords? Cold iron is key, good-aligned weapons are key, they’ll have a lot of elemental resistances, they probably just communicate telepathically. There are various sorts of demons: babous, babilith spider-demons, and retrievers that are huge demonic constructs and have eye rays. There are succubi, Vrocks - who can work together to create big booms – and the bosses will be Hezrous (large, stinky, spells) and Glabrezou and Malfeshnee (spellcasters), Merrilith and Balors. If we have to fight any of those, be aware that they might have some sort of revenge aspect in death. 


The undead do not look like they’re going to attack us; we make some preparations and walk in. The castle has seen better days, and it’s a good thing we didn’t have to fight our way in; there are enough undead here to wipe out everyone in Fanaxia. There are no humanoids here, until we get to the throne room: a bigger than normal Nightwalker introduces himself as Cimarron. 


“Lieutenant of Vecna and leader of the forces here in Fanaxia. Richlieu disagreed with this meeting and has excused himself.” 


Marshall: “That’s fine, we really didn’t want to see him anyway.”


There’s a sense of oppressive evil here. 


Tavros: “We have come. I assume you want something from us. Would you care to explain?”


Cimarron: “We would be your allies for the salvation for Fanaxia. When Baldur came to the throne, he wished to reign in our Master. Unfortunately, her attempt to unseat him failed. Richelieu believes that this is a secret that I should not share without a trade; but we need you. Our master had already begun the process of turning herself into a lich. She had contingencies when she began her coup. But she was not killed, but banished to the Abyss. So she cut a deal with Asmodeus: he would make her a god, and she would open a portal to the abyss and allow his demons to stream out. But she had already put in place her own religion here in Fanaxia, and we spend a great deal of our power holding them in. So: I will leave Fanaxia and take my shadow army with me, if you will destroy the portal and stay out of the way of Richlieu’s plans to rule Fanaxia.”


Marshall starts talking, but Cimarron ignores him. He pulls out a gem. “Yesterday, we came into possession of this soul gem. I believe it belongs to you.” 


It’s Geddy’s soul. 


Martini tries to bargain for more stuff, but Cimarron isn’t having it. There’s a Balor named Behemoth that we have to kill, which will close the portal. 


Marshall asks how Richlieu being in charge would work out for the centaurs and the Bakunawa. Probably badly. 


Tavros: “Your terms are acceptable.” 


Marshall asks about the Balor’s weaknesses. Also, Cimarron says we should not listen to the demon or believe his lies. Any offer he makes will end with us in the Abyss. 


Cimarron: “Leaving Fanaxia is the last thing we must discuss. Assuming you hold up your end of the bargain, you do have two items that belong to my master. Place the sword in the hand and it will lead you to the tower. The ascent should be made with a partner; that is the key to the puzzle. You will have other choices to make: the body you need to resurrect Kroni and free Sacha is at the top of the tower.” He hands over the soul gem. 


We take it and use True Resurrection to bring Geddy back and a Limited Wish to bring back his equipment. Geddy: “Ho-leee shit, guys.”


The undead lead us to a door and one of the shadows makes an opening in the shimmering field around it. Marshall and Azrael float off to the side of the small ledge we find ourselves stepping onto, and everybody but Geddy and Leira hits the ground. Tavros and Alexej land hard; Ruin does the superhero landing. 


The west wing used to be three stories tall; now it’s been hollowed out all the way down to the basement. There are remains of rooms hanging open on some of the walls. The entire room is filled with webs; the floor is covered with rubble and garbage. There are demons all over the place, clinging to the walls and ceiling. The whole place is Unhallowed; it's basically the antechamber to the Abyss. 


Azrael: “If we dispel the webs, they'll come back in about ten minutes.” 


Katarina, from Kaz’s mansion, walks out onto the ledge of a central structure. “I was wondering when you guys would get here.” 


Four massive robot-spider things stand up out of the rubble. These would be the demonic constructs known as Retrievers.


Katarina starts calling for the other demons; she is not well-disposed towards us. Then she gestures, and swarms of hell-wasps erupt from nests on the webbing of the ceiling. Azrael immediately Fireballs the swarms. Ruin gets ready to take Tavros and start clearing succubi off the central structure. The demonic constructs fire their eye rays at Geddy, Alexej, Tavros, and Leira; Leira takes the worst of the damage, and responds with Sunburst. Burning light fills most of the room. (And, OOC, our DM suddenly has to do a lot of math.) A huge chunk of our enemies are suddenly blinded, and burned. 


The succubi move towards the party, assuming the form of party members; however, a bunch of them are blinded, which makes them very easy to spot. 


Alexej: “Look! Is many Ruins in the ruins.” However, those of us who are in the party still have our backs to him, so it’s pretty easy for him to tell. He starts attacking succubi, and kills one. Martini stabs the two closest to her, hitting them both with her Dagger of Death and killing one. Tavros is confused and attacks Ruin, damaging him and then hits Alexej, damaging him; then he swings at Marshall but misses. 


Marshall casts Earthquake. Rubble comes down on most of the room, and the spellcasters will have difficulty casting; basically, the whole central part of the room collapses. The medium-sized creatures near the central structure are buried in the rubble; the Retrievers aren’t pinned, but they’re still damaged; and five demons that were a bit further out are similarly damaged but not pinned. Ruin takes out a succubus, and the hellwasp swarms descend. They swarm over us. We attack them as they come in, doing some damage, but they fly around in a particularly nauseating fashion. 


Geddy uses Greater Shout on some of the wasp swarms, stunning a bunch of wasps and preventing Martini from being nauseated. Azrael is injured by a wasp, and some of them are trying to crawl into his ears and possess him. Azrael drops Horrid Wilting, wiping out a huge number of wasp swarms; the ones around Azrael and Geddy survive. The Babou around us are also damaged badly; the ones who were already damaged all die. The succubi suddenly turn back into their beautiful female forms and then do the full Indiana Jones dry-out-and-turn-to-dust death scene. Ruin steps under Marshall and cuts down two of the Babou. The constructs are moving in, and they fire their eyebeams at Geddy, missing him but hitting Tavros, Marshall, and Alexej. Tavros, however, is half silver dragon and he’s immune to the cold rays they’re firing. Alexej takes a bunch of damage, and Marshall somewhat less. Leira conjures an animated trident in front of the nearest Retriever construct. It attacks and hits, doing decent damage. 


Alexej turns and attacks the two remaining Babou, killing them both. Martini turns invisible. Tavros charges the same construct that Leira is forking with her conjured trident, and slices into it. Geddy does Greater Shout again, killing the hellwasp swarm around him – which is good, because they were trying to crawl into his brain – and damages one of the Retrievers. Marshall casts Implode, targeting the one in the back. It collapses in on itself and ceases to function. 


The wasps are continuing to crawl into Azrael’s ears; he uses Scorching Ray to clear them off. Ruin charges up next to Tavros and finishes off that construct. The two remaining constructs continue to move up; one of them engages Alexej, who’s starting to feel the wear and tear. It hits him with a claw and an electricity beam, and the other one hits Ruin with an Electricity beam. Leira disintegrates the third construct, and Marshall implodes the last one. 


We make our way carefully across to the back of the room. The room beyond used to be a banquet hall, and is now full of demons who don’t even have the decency to be wearing proper dinner garb. There are Vrocks and Hezrous everywhere, and some more powerful things towards the back near a portal. We've found the bulk of Asmodeus' demonic army.