Friday, May 17, 2024

Music: Thunder Rolls

Okay, so the song was originally by Garth Brooks, and you probably remember it. But when I added it to the Country Music Road Trip mix, it turned out that... it wasn't the whole song. There's a whole verse missing. The dude comes home, she smells strange perfume on her husband and knows that he's having an affair, and... 

...nothing. The song winds down, and that's it. 

This was deeply weird to me, because I distinctly recall her shooting the cheating sonofabitch. So I started pulling up versions of it on YouTube and... nope, it's just not there. I was seriously starting to think I'd imagined it. 

...And then somebody pulled the lyrics for me, and yeah: that really was part of the song. I wasn't hallucinating, and it wasn't some sort of weird Berenstain Bears split-multiverse event. Armed with that knowledge, I went looking again, and found this version, which I rather like:

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Debriefing, part one

"Ah, Chris." Magus Frummelt looked up as Chris entered his office. "Do close the door, if you please."

Chris closed the door, then turned back and waited until the magus motioned for him to take a seat. He was learning. 

"How would you say that your last assignment went?"

Chris settled into the lone chair in front of Magus Frummelt's desk and considered that for a long moment. "Successful, obviously. The young lady Carterhaugh is back with the Hargraves, and no harm appears to have been done. There were things that we could have done better, but for a first outing in dealing with one of the old families and a venture into the Grey..." He hesitated. "Well, it wasn't a disaster."

"No," said magus Frummelt. "It wasn't. Antoinette and Elyssa conducted themselves quite well, and Peter and Morrigan... well, they aren't your concern except perhaps in how they report your actions." He paused, studying Chris for a long moment; Chris, curious, returned his study. "RO Morrigan recommended that we make more use of magus Gillespie and her team, and magus Saldivar largely supports that recommendation. They both think that you're more... assertive than is strictly proper for one of our ROs, but neither of them seemed to think it was a problem."

"Assertive, sir?" Chris thought he had a pretty good idea of what they meant -- that he was stubborn and prone to trying to do what he thought was best -- but this was an area where he didn't trust his own impressions of the situation. 

"Materfamilias Amelie Hargrave made sure to express her concerns that you didn't 'know your place', though she didn't specify any particular events or circumstances. Coming from her, that sort of complaint could mean anything..." Frummelt put on an inquisitive expression and raised his eyes to meet Chris'.

"I'm not sure, Sir," Chris told him, which was honest enough. "She seemed worried that I might be intending to form some sort of attachment with Tammy Carterhaugh; she also said I wasn't afraid of her the way I should be."

Magus Frummelt chuckled. "She would think that, and by her lights she'd be right. Still, you must have done something right, or I'd be looking at a much more specific complaint-- or a demand for action. The old families need to be handled very carefully, even -- or especially -- when they're wrong."

"I do know how to shut up, Sir."

Frummelt's smile widened, so that had been a good answer. "That's an excellent skill, and I recommend you cultivate it around the families. Let your magus do the talking; even if she's uncouth, it'll be more acceptable to them."

"I understand," Chris told him. He really did; it was just that he was still, despite his best efforts, having trouble adjusting from what he'd been to what he was now. "Antoinette and I talked about it too, and she plans to start us training to work as a group. It's her decision, of course, but for whatever it's worth I support it."

"She mentioned that, and I approved it." Magus Frummelt sat back and relaxed. "You'll see it reflected in your training schedule in the coming weeks. I take it you aren't looking for a transfer, or unwilling to continue venturing into the Grey as needed?"

"That's correct, Sir."

"Then that's all for now. If you have any questions or concerns, you know where to find me."

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Lithos: The Rival in Repose

"Um... Lithos?" asked James, stepping aside so he could see. "Why is there a kobold sleeping in your blankets? Is there something you need to tell us?"

"Darkstabber's sacred vulva," Lithos muttered, and Archibald shot him a look. "That little shit."

Lithos wasn't usually so vehement, so he immediately had the others' attention. "You know them?" Whisper signed. 

Lithos sighed and then nodded. "Lissorkalkin. Kalkin for short. He's... His family are tinkers. They come into town in their wagon train maybe once a year, looking for work. Kalkin's different, though. He's got dragon blood. He's a sorcerer." Lithos sighed again. "And he's been trying to prove that he's better at magic than I am ever since we met."

"Okay," said Amergin slowly, "but why's he sleeping in your bed?"

"He was probably trying to steal my grimoire," Lithos admitted. "Like I said, he wants to prove that his way of doing magic is better than mine. That's one of his arguments: he doesn't need a book to do magic."

"Okay," said Archibald, even more slowly, "but why is he sleeping in your bed?"

"Because I trapped it," Lithos admitted. 

"You what?" asked James, looking at him. 

"Magical trap," said Lithos. "I'm a wizard, I can do that. Master Flyleaf showed me how." 

Whisper was scribbling on his slate, and they all waited for him to finish. When he turned it to Lithos, it said: You can set magical traps? 

"Sure," said Lithos. "It's not hard. Kalkin could too, except his magics don't include the right spells. Which is why my way of doing magic is better."

"Should we report him?" asked Archibald. 

"Or kill him?" asked James. She was smiling the sort of calm, imperturbable smile that had always made their classmates take a long, involuntary step back.

Lithos shook his head. "No, we'll do something worse."

Amergin, almost reluctantly, asked: "...Worse?"

Lithos nodded. "Yeah. Muzzle him and tie his hands. Then I'm going to make him listen while I explain how much his sorcery sucks compared to my wizardry. Dumbass thought I'd keep my grimoire hidden in my bed, and that he could sneak in here invisibly and take it. Instead, he gets to listen to me lecture."

"Diabolical," Archibald said, in a tone of soft awe.

Monday, May 13, 2024

Writer's Block

So yeah, writing -- even low-stakes writing for the Blog o' Doom here -- hasn't been going well lately. This is not a huge surprise; I've mentioned before that May is basically the worst month of the year for me. Sometime I cope with that by writing more, but I've been trying to take a sensible, low-stress approach this year and...

...Well, frankly I think I'm just extremely burned-out. I think I have been for some time, and when I finally made a real effort to slow down it all caught up with me. And there's not much to be done about that except keep trying to take things slow and sensible until I get back to feeling like myself. 

Things are going to be a little slow around here, is what I'm saying. They should get better -- I should get better -- once we're done with May, but in the meantime I'm just going to try to get through without burning out completely the way I usually do. 

See you on the other side, friends.

Friday, May 10, 2024

I think I'm broken again

May, as usual, is trying to kill me. 

I'm back to having sinus drainage and a persistent cough/upper-respiratory tickle again, and it's making me kind of crazy. On the plus side, I'm still negative for both covid and flu, so it looks like this is just the worst allergy attack I've had in years. Which ::gestures around at everything the weather has been doing:: I am perfectly willing to believe. I've got some more medications, which should be enough to keep me on my feet through the next two weeks; after that I can afford to collapse. 

Work has also been making me crazy, mainly because I've been trying to work out a schedule for a big event that's coming up at the end of next week, and everybody has decided that they need a piece of my time for something. (Often fairly critical somethings, like the fact that the document attachments don't display correctly in our financial/ERP software, and the tech support for that is... slow to respond. This is not a good combination.) On the plus side, Facilities just replaced a belt that had broken on the air conditioning and fired up the fan motors again, so we're coming down to a reasonable temperature inside the building here. 

The plan for this weekend is to rest up as much as possible, and try to stay sane next week. There may be writing; there may not. There'll be a lot more sanity if we manage to play D&D. There'll be even more if I can shake off this cough. 

Wish me luck, y'all.

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

More Wholesome Children's Songs

Following up from the Weekly Blogging Challenge two weeks ago...

Don Gato: 

And, if you'll indulge me with a couple of... atypical arrangements...

There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly:

The Itsy-Bitsy Spider:

Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Lithos Foundingstone: Mornings

"Wake up, Lithos." One of his siblings was prodding him, but at the moment he wasn't even sure which one. 

"No," he said, and curled up tighter in his blanket. The blanket had been made for dwarves, of course, so there was plenty of it to burrow into. 

"Lithos, come on," the voice repeated. That would be Amergin, which... Still no. Amergin usually knew what was going on and what to do about it, but even mostly unconscious Lithos was completely certain that he wasn't working the inn today. If he wasn't working, then he didn't need to wake up. Q.E.D.

The caves were smooth-walled and comfortable, and he had his own little nook with just room for himself and his blankets, very cozy once he'd warmed it up. Nobody would bother him all the way back here, not even the other goblins...

Someone was tugging on his blanket. Whoever it was wasn't saying anything, just pulling the blanket up and letting gravity do the work of unrolling Lithos. "Hey! Hey! I'm slee--" That was as far as he got before he tumbled loose, unwilling awake. 

Rubbing at his left butt-cheek, where he'd landed on a stone floor, he looked around. Oh. Right. They put us in their jail. It made sense, after a fashion. The Senator was dead, after all. Though the idea that the group of them would just walk in to accept the Senator's dinner invitation, poison the man -- if it even was poison -- and then just stand around afterwards beggared belief. Still, he supposed the Lictor had to be thorough, even if the Senator's idiot son had been inclined to execute them on the spot. 

"Do I really need to be awake for th--?" He finally focused on the door of the cell. "Oh. I guess I do."

Monday, May 6, 2024

Quiet weekend, busy week

Well, it was mostly a quiet weekend. We played D&D for the middle school group on Saturday morning -- we're breaking in a new player -- and then went by the local comic book shop for National Comic Book Day and Star Wars Day (May 4th - so, May the fourth be with you) and out to lunch. So that part was busier than I'd expected, but it all went really well and nobody was taken prisoner by the Inquisitorius. 

I'm still kind of broken -- I swear, the more I try to take care of myself the worse I feel -- but I'm starting to feel like I might someday have the energy for writing again, at least. Monday, meanwhile, has returned with its usual load of Having a Job and needing to Plan All The Things, and also needing to make sure that Secondborn is keeping up with his work so that he can actually finish the year. 

Meanwhile I have tea and food, so I'm going to dive in and see how much I can get done if I stick to a sensible, steady pace... which may or may not happen, since timesheets are due this morning and there's usually some last minute panic. Still, I hold to the hope.

Thursday, May 2, 2024

Terra Povos: Tying Up Loose Ends

So Vinny used to be a dwarf, before he was a floating magic skull with green gem eyes and green gem teeth that glow. He became a wizard and a lich, was living out in the west caverns and then Durest put necromancy on the map. Vinny’s a big fan of this, and then when Durest ascended Vinny decided to shrug off his body.

Turns out the dwarves are still racist against necromancers, so Vinny takes over the crypt of trickery, renames it to Durest’s Funhouse, and it helps spread the word around.

We manage to get back to the dock, and go ashore. We get the stuff for Mom to do spells with, and then Vinny pots  nice fox-fur handbag and he wants it. Well, okay, we buy it for him. He snuggles in; he’s very excited about this. We had back over to the Shattered Golem, bringing Mister Pibbles the carrion crawler into the stable. The Alderman and our goblin contact Max Glimmergab are at a table, and they’re pretty drunk. 

Mom comes out and hustles into the back before the two drunks really focus on us. 

We hand over the spell components and break down who needs help with the restoration. She thrilled that we’ve returned with enough money to get Pythia resurrected. We’re going to have to make the journey to Silverkeep to get it done, though. 

The conversation that ensues is someone awkward, especially after Vinny teleports up to our room and starts offering to reanimate our dead sister. As an undead. Which… NO. Lithos goes upstairs to try to head him off, which cues up a whole Benny Hill scene complete with Yackety Sax for the background music/

The rest of us eventually recount the story… well, most of it. 

Then we get the story of why Alderman Thunderbrew is drunk: the “investigator” talked his way into questioning the prisoners and then killed them. Mom thinks we should go check the jail and release the two guards that Thunderbrew locked up after that. The Senator is pissed and the Quaestor is coming to investigate the crime scene in person. 

The Senator isn’t here yet, and apparently we’re still invited to dine with him. He's also in Silverkeep, so we can do that and resurrect Pythia all at the same time.

We stop and talk to the two drunks. Alderman Thunderbrew has left Grimgor (the head of the Guard) to watch the jail; the Alderman explains how the investigator just came in, and went to talk to the prisoners. Also he had a package for us “from the quaestor” to “thank us for solving the mystery.” He seemed so official, the investigator did, in the colors of Silvergard with the logo on his back. Short-trimmed beard, jet black hair, kind of thin – for dwarf. Looked like a good underhill soldier – chainmail and  a tabard. 

We wait until morning, when we get our Wisdom restored. At some point Amergin comes out to use the restaurant and finds Vinny floating in the air with a spellbook in front of him and a pair of glasses on, reading. 

Elderman Thunderbrew is sleeping on the table, and Max is curled up in his lap. We have breakfast, Mom restores us. 

We head over to the jail. Grimgar looks up from the desk. “Oh thank God! Can you do something about the Alderman?” 

Baldy: “Marduk and Tara are taking care of that.” 

He takes us over to where we can look at the crime scene. Grimgar: “I wasn’t here when the ‘investigator’ came. So the evening this happened I was at home, and one of the guards called me back to the jail, where Alderman Thunderbrew. Scori and Ulfgar were the two guards on duty. They let the investigator see the prisoners, using the standard protocol. So there are keys on a latching ring in the main room. They go in with the visitor with the keys, so once they’re in they can’t get out. There’s a rope inside that the pull that rings a bell in the guard quarters and that guard comes in to bring the prisoner in.”

James: “Has anybody ever hung themselves on the rope?”

Nobody has.

So, the prisoners are in there and manacled to the floor. Which means that their corpses are now in there manacled to the floor. To find out what happened that night we need to talk to Skoli and Ulfgar. There’s also another prisoner who’s been locked in here this whole time. There are bloody footprints going back and forth across the floor because they’ve been feeding the prisoners while trying to not to touch anything. 

We send a note to the captain of our boat and tell him not to talk to ANYBODY until we get back. James and Lithos stay behind, while Amergin casts Pass Without Trace on the other three. Whisper checks the package for traps and finds nothing; there appears to be a cloak of resistance +1 inside. We open it up and look at the nice writing on the expensive paper: from the desk of the Quaestor’s office of Silverkeep. It thanks us and offers the cloak as a reward. Embroidered on the back of the cloak is the Silvergard emblem. We hand that off to Whisper. 

We are not, at this point at all sure whether the “Investigator” maybe was an impostor who killed a legitimate investigator, or whether for some reason the Quaestor actually wanted the deep dwarf and the duergar smugglers killed, or if something even weirder

Amergin goes sniffing around the outer room; Grimgor doesn’t think that anything much has changed in here. We think Grimgor is basically competent. 

We release Scori and Ulfgar. Grimgor has been using a second key ring; the one they were using is still on the floor. Archibald starts questioning Scori and Ulfgar. Scori is a little slow, but after talking to Ulfgar their stories seem to line up: they brought the investigator in on Thuderbrew’s orders. Red hair, long braided beard. Nice noble clothes. Had the Silvergard logo on his cape, just like the one Whisper is now wearing. 

So they unlock the door, then lock themselves into the holding area. Then they bring the prisoners out from the cells, shackle them to the floor, and they stand with the guest to flank him. Then the Investigator turns around to ask a question and then the guards wake up in the cell. Scori dreamed he was a unicorn. The investigator has a mannerism where he strokes his beard, but this is the third physical description we've gotten of him and aside from being a male dwarf, none of them match. 

Scori and Ulfgar leave with effusive gratitude. 

We move to Gondrin, a drunkard who’s been sitting there in his cell smelling the corpses rot. He’ll tell us the same thing he told Grimgor: there he was in the cell, “drying out”, Then there’s this visit, and they bring the prisoners out, and then things got quiet – really eerie quiet. Magically quiet. Then, out of the corner of his eye he sees the investigator walking back to the holding door. He can’t give us a very good description. And a bit after the guy left, Gondrin could make noise again. 

We agree to let Gondrin go. 

Whisper checks over the holding area, with Amergin and Archibald to help him. The key ring is on the floor, the corpses are still manacled to the floor. Amergin looks over the bodies; they’ve been expertly tortured, probably with tools; it was time-consuming and methodical. Based on what Gondrin had to say, it was something like half an hour before the silence ended. 

Lithos says, “I wonder why none of the bones in their right hands were broken?” Apparently they were writing answers while the silence was in place. There isn’t much sign of struggle, despite the blood on the floor. 

Vinny informs us that the corpses don’t have souls. It’s like the fat on the ribs, he says. He has no idea how that might have happened; he says it wasn’t him, though. Also, he’s too much of a soul snob to have eaten these two. Lithos doesn’t come up with much, except that it’s probably a wizard, sorcerer, or cleric of considerably higher level than us. Archie tells Grimgor that we’re going to have to go to the capital to investigate further and ask for additional support. 

Grimgor is actually pretty favorable towards his idiot boss, the Alderman, and hopes we can help him out. He then falls asleep because Vinny wants to come out and talk and Vinny knows the Sleep spell. He’s not worried about the tarrasque; he thinks this is awesome. He learns that it’s a baby and now he really wants to keep it as a pet. “Ohhhhhh,” he says happily. “This is getting good.” He slips back into his bag. 

We decide we need Mom to come Gentle Repose these corpses, but after that we need to lock the place up to make sure nobody else stumbles into this. We bring Mom over. “Huh,” she says. “That’s weird. It’s not working the way it usually does.” We don’t enlighten her about the missing souls, but it doesn’t matter: she’s our mom. “Amergin Gregory Foundingstone, don’t you lie to me!” 

So we tell her about the missing souls.

“Oh,” she says, “like the Caminante.”

Those are the secret police for the Empire; powerful people – like Senators – would be able to use them. They have this rod that they carry that they can use to eat souls – the rod is called the roubama – to silence witnesses. Brinja and Durak had smuggled the tarrasque baby in, and that means that the Inquisitor – um, investigator – almost certainly knows what they had and who took it from them.

It is definitely time to head for Silverkeep. We can take our boat, fortunately, which will only take about half a day – not that we have days, exactly, down here. We find a room, send word to the senator, and find the Temple of Shiva and get Pythia resurrected. She’s definitely not at full strength, so she’s just going to stay here and rest. We catch her up on the less… incriminating… elements of subsequent events. 

We leave Pythia behind and go back to await word from the senator. We head out to the market to get the lay of the land and do some shopping. There’s news of a customs agent who was killed in Deepwatch – which is where the two smugglers came into the kingdom. None of us think that's a coincidence.

We get back to find a scroll from the senator's butler welcoming us to Silverkeep; he's has a small barrel of fine wine sent to the inn, wine which is neither poisoned nor magical. Not that we're paranoid. The senator is honored that we accepted his summons; he's prepared a supper for us this very evening. 

We head over to the senator's house. We get an immediate introduction to the Senator, his older son Throg, and his lictor (a distinguished warrior who serves as a guard to important personages). Senator Goldbeard is a very polished man. He's polite, he's pleasant, he toasts us as the ones who discovered who killed his son. He's pissed that the ones who killed his son will never face justice-- he collapses onto the table, silent and unmoving.

Vinny says, "Uh-oh. Bad place to be." He disappears from the bag. 

Amergin approaches the senator, looking at Throg and the lictor.

The senator's chest is not moving. 

James spits out his wine. Archibald sets down his food and starts reassuring folks that it'll all be okay and nobody needs to panic. Whisper is taking stock of the situation. Lithos starts casting Detect Magic, and the Lictor draws his sword: "Stop!" 

Throg (the son) calls for us to be arrested as assassins. The lictor pulls him back a bit, but we're still going to the dungeon while they sort things out. Amergin yells for them to seal the house, and Lictor Bjorn acknowledges that as a good idea. We're still going to the dungeon, though.

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Music: Come Along

 A catchy little tune from Titiyo: 

I have no brain, so this is pretty much what we get for today. D&D notes will go up tomorrow.

Monday, April 29, 2024

Monday

Spent a big chunk of the weekend on the PS4 and just... trying to catch up on sleep. I'm still just tired way more frequently than I feel like I should be, and I desperately need to catch up on a bunch of things and start on some other things and to do that I have to have some energy. So I'm resting and trying to get myself back together, and that means that I'm not getting writing done. (It doesn't help that we've had a lot of real-life upheavals including people being sick.) Used to be I could just get moving and run on adrenaline, but that's not working right now; I think those reserves are exhausted. I think a few weeks of having a meltdown and stopping to recover would do me a lot of good, but somehow I still have to go to work at the same time. 

Also, how the Hell is it almost May? 

Anyway, I'm still here, I will get back to things, but May is usually the month when all my stuff goes right off the rails -- so if I don't update the blog or I drop off the Internet entirely, it's only to be expected. I'll pick back up when... well, when I pick back up, as it were. 

The one actual activity I undertook (aside from unloading the dishes and starting a new load) was to go see Abigail with some friends. It was fun, included everything I expected and then some, and generally made good on everything the trailer promised for it. I'd recommend it for anybody who enjoys horror movies, and vampire movies in particular. I wouldn't classify it as horror-comedy, but it does have some very funny moments.

Friday, April 26, 2024

Whuf and double-whuf...

So, Secondborn and Beautiful Wife are both sick but apparently recovering, and Monday night my right ankle decided that I wasn't experiencing enough pain in my life, so it lit up with... I don't even know. Sudden onset arthritis? So On Tuesday I took Secondborn to the doctor's office, limping painfully all the way, then came home and took some meds and napped for the afternoon... and woke up with my ankle feeling little twinges of soreness here and there, but basically fine. 

So, I mean, A) What the Hell? and B) Man, I hate getting older. 

Secondborn, meanwhile, got over his fever, and since we're right in the final run of school I went ahead and sent him back in on Thursday; he seems to have most of his energy, though his cough hasn't gone away. Beautiful Wife taught her classes (masked) because Thursday is her long day and we're at that point in the semester where she really can't afford to cancel. 

I got some things done at work (and had yet another exchange with support over our line-of-business application not doing what it's supposed to do) but at this point I'm ridiculously behind and I need to just... stop taking calls and keep working until I'm caught up, basically. Problem is that if I do that, I'm going to have another whole load of stuff to catch up on when I check back in. 

Since I don't seem to be sick, I'll probably go into the office today and get as much done as I can, but I'm here to tell you that this has been a long week.

Nothing new on Dark Armor today, obviously. I'll come back to the various writing projects when I can. Y'all have a good weekend, okay?

Thursday, April 25, 2024

Lithos Foundingstone: Supreme Ultimate Power

"What were you trying to do?" asked Hylos Windborne, drifting easily through the air. 

Lithos shook his head, frustrated. His master was better known by his nickname, Flyleaf, but the young goblin would never call him that. The elf's teaching was delightfully informal by dwarven standards, but calling him anything but "Master" felt like crossing the line into disrespect, and Lithos had nothing but respect for the elf who had taught him magic. 

Well, respect and just a tiny bit of jealousy. "What am I doing wrong, Master?" he asked. 

Master Windborne considered the elaborate design laid out on the stone in chalk and charcoal, the careful arrangement of candles within it, and the twin braziers just outside of it. "At a glance," he observed, "I'd say you're getting ahead of yourself. What is that delightfully visceral human expression? Biting off more than you can chew."

"I was trying to open a gate," Lithos admitted. 

"Why?" asked Master Windborne. "And why ask me to attend to this...?" He trailed off, leaving the word foolishness to hang unspoken in the air.

"So you could stop it if something went wrong," Lithos said, and then added more quietly, "and so that someone would believe me if it actually did work."

Master Windborne sighed. "You're still too eager. I know, I know, you don't have the centuries that an elf could devote to these studies. Still, at this point in your learning you should be practicing basic conjuration, not trying to summon things that could easily devour you. What would you have done if something had come through?"

"Asked it to make me stronger," Lithos said immediately, "but no less intelligent or learned."

"That's still a dangerous request," said Master Windborne thoughtfully. "You might have ended up as an intelligent and well-educated ape, for example. Difficult to cast spells without the power of speech."

"Um." Lithos looked away, abashed. "I just... I'm so different. And if I'm going to be different, I want to be leave-him-alone-he's-dangerous different, not let's-make-fun-of-the-goblin different. I wouldn't mind people staring at me so much if they were wary instead of contemptuous."

Master Windborne sighed and drifted down until he was floating cross-legged just above the stone of the shore. "I would like to tell you that I understand, but in truth I can only imagine. My experiences have been very different from yours. The best advice I can give you is to continue your study of wizardry, and not risk your future on dangerous shortcuts such as this. The respect you crave will come as you grow in skill, power, and reputation."

Lithos sighed back at him. "I know, Master... but I would also like to be larger, stronger, and harder to damage." 

"There are spells for those things as well," Master Windborne pointed out. "They will come to you faster the more you study and practice." He held up a hand, palm up, then turned his other palm up beside it. "I cannot command you in this, but... striking bargains for power with Outsiders is dangerous, and I firmly believe that by the time you are ready to do so you will no longer need to."

Lithos considered that for a long moment. "I still want to make myself better," he said.

"There are other ways," said Master Windborne. "Spells made permanent, magics powerful enough to transform one's essence. You excel at research; see what you can learn. But always, always make certain you know the price."

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Blogging Challenge: Childhood Songs

(This post is part of the Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge. You can find links to other writers' answers over at Long and Short Reviews. I have not been following along as reliably this year as I did in previous years, but I'm still participating! Mostly.)

Prompt: Songs that confused me when I was a kid...

I don't remember being especially confused by songs I heard as a kid. I really don't...

But in the course of talking about this with a friend of mine I got reminded of a couple of childhood songs that... well... have kind of a different flavor from what I hear of kids' songs these days. I wasn't confused about them, but I think they might be a bit confusing to modern children just because the entire genre seems to have gone out of fashion. 

Case in point: 

Or how about this one?

Or there's, well...

Okay, this last one isn't strictly a children's song, but I'm throwing it in here anyway because apparently I'm in a mood:

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

D&D 3.5 Homebrew: The Bladebinder

The Bladebinder

Hit Die: d8

Requirements

To qualify to become a bladebinder, the character must meet the following criteria:

Race
Any.

Skills
Knowledge (Arcana) 8 ranks.

Spellcasting
Must be capable of casting third level arcane spells.

Class Skills
The bladebinder's class skills are Concentration (Con), Craft (Int), Decipher Script (Int) Intimidate (Cha), Knowledge (all skills, taken individually), Ride (Dex), Speak Language (none), Spellcraft (Int), and Swim (Str).

Skill Points at Each Level
4 + Int modifier.

Class Features
The following are class features of the bladebinder prestige class.

Weapon and Armor Proficiency
Bladebinders gain proficiency with one individual weapon of their choice, and with daggers. The chosen weapon and and up to two daggers must be bound to the bladebinder with a secret ritual that takes half an hour to complete and require 50 gp worth of components. The bound weapons may be mundane or magical. If the bladebinder wishes to change to a different set of bound weapons, she must repeat the ritual with the new weapons.

Arcane Blade
When using her bound weapons, the bladebinder calculates attack and damage bonuses based on her spellcasting ability score (Intelligence for wizards, Charisma for sorcerers and bards).

Improved Caster Level

At the first, third, and fifth levels of bladebinder, the character's effective Caster Level improves. This does not add additional spell levels, feats, or other features, so a wizard 9/bladebinder 2 would cast spells as an 11th level caster for purposes of saving throws, penetrating magic resistance, and level-based spell effects -- but would still only have access to the spells, feats, and familiar advancement available to a 9th level wizard. If the character had more than one original arcane caster class, they much choose which class to apply the advancement to. Once assigned, advancement cannot be shifted.

Bonus Spells

Bladebinders gain bonus spells at second and fourth level, as if from having a high ability score, as given on Table: The Bladebinder. A bonus spell can be added to any level of arcane spells the bladebinder already has the ability to cast.

If a character has more than one arcane spellcasting class, he must decide to which class he adds each bonus spell as it is gained. Once a bonus spell has been applied, it cannot be shifted.

Guardian Blades
Beginning at third level, the bladebinder may use their movement action to command their two bound daggers to fight alongside them, as if those weapons bore the Dancing enchantment. At the end of four rounds, the daggers return to their sheaths and may not be commanded to dance again for four rounds.

Arcane Strike
Upon achieving fifth level, the bladebinder may sacrifice one arcane spell per successful attack. For each level of the spell sacrificed, the attack does 1d6 additional damage.

The Bladebinder

LevelAttack
Bonus
Fort
Save
Ref
Save
Will
Save
SpecialBonus
Spells
Improved
Caster
Level
1
 +1+1+1
+1
Arcane Blade
 +1
2
 +2+1+1
+1 +1 
3
 +3+2
+2
+2Guardian Blades
 +1
4
 +4+2
+2+2
 +1
 
5 +5+3
+3
+3
Arcane Strike
 +1


Notes: This one is basically just me indulging my deep, strong love of gish builds. If taken at a relatively low level (say, Wizard 6/Bladebinder 1) then it give a full caster some ability to swing a blade effectively, and once they reach level 5 in bladebinder then continuing to advance as a spellcaster also improves the power of their arcane strike. The tradeoff here (as with any gish build) is that you give up spellcasting levels in order to be able to swing a blade, which means an overall weaker character than a full caster of the same level. This PrC could also be used for epic levels, where the arcane caster has maxed out spellcasting advancement and is looking to add some other options (and a pair of higher-level spell slots). This strikes me as particularly interesting for a bard, since it could potentially bring a higher-level bard back to being an effective melee combatant. I'd also like to run some numbers and see how this compares against the D&D 3.5 eldritch knight, but that's going to have to wait until I have more time and more brain.

Additional Note: This still isn't anything I'm looking to actually play with any of my current characters, though I think it would be fun under other circumstances.

Monday, April 22, 2024

Back at the house

Ye gods, I don't know whether I've talked about this or not -- I think actually not? -- but we've been staying with my Mother-in-Law for the last six or eight weeks.

We have just returned to our own home. MiL is now on her feet, cleared to drive herself around, and capable of tending to the two small dogs who live with her. We are returning home with laundry to clean and everything to put away: clothing, electronics, toys, books, medications, toiletries, D&D figures... all of it. So that's been most of the weekend: moving, and then unpacking, and then cleaning.

On the plus side, I have now had two full nights of essentially-uninterrupted sleep: nine hours worth Friday, and another nine Saturday night. Hopefully by the time this posts I'll have gotten a full night's sleep on Sunday as well. That's one of those things that's, y'know, really good for me but also just a shock to the system: my body doesn't know quite what to do with itself, and would really like to take a couple of weeks off to recover. 

All of that to say that I am tired on an existential level. 2024 has been One Damned Thing After Another, and I don't know how much more of this I can keep up with. I suggested to my work that I really needed a minion -- that was a few weeks back -- and they countered with the proposal that I try training one of my co-workers. This is a difficulty, because with the current run of issues I've needed to have her covering the Financials & Payroll systems so I could try to troubleshoot the stuff that ideally I should be training her on. Still, nobody could have predicted that, right? 

(Bullshit. I predicted it. But I digress.)

But, all right. Work can just keep on as best it can, and if we do get a chance to do some cross-training we'll take advantage of it. Unfortunately, that also means that I don't have two brain cells to rub together for writing or much of anything else this week. So tomorrow you'll get my next D&D 3.5 homebrew (also not intended to actually be used in the campaign). Wednesday will either be the blogging challenge or music, depending on the challenge question and also my brain. Thursday should be the notes from the most recent D&D session, and with any luck by Friday I'll have enough oomph to add the next bit of Dark Armor. I need to add more of A Wolf in the Mundus, but I need more brain than I currently have for that. 

So that's where I am, and that's what I'm looking at for the blog and other writings. I hope you, Gentle Reader, are doing well.

Friday, April 19, 2024

Dark Armor: The Stone Tower

The vision appeared in fragments and flickers, images called from the misty depth of the tall silver scrying mirror in the antechamber to the chapel. It was placed there so that the Black Knight could look over the field of battle before it went to join the fight; but, as with so much else, nobody had ever bothered to inform Pallian that he had access to that resource. 

I should have consulted with the elders earlier, he thought. I should have been talking to them, learning from, this whole time. Only... when I was first sent here all I wanted was to be left alone, and I assumed that was what they wanted too. He pushed the thought aside, kept his attention on the mirror.

It was... he caught a glimpse of a massive statue supporting a section of curved wall, there and gone again with nothing to establish any sense of scale; a shattered remnant of the city wall, partly melted and twisted up to flow into the smooth white wall behind it; a more distant image of a tower, flickering against a distant horizon; a half-dozen stone statues held in a great stone hand; ramps and balconies and parapets...

"Whatever it is, it's replaced the city," said the sturdy older woman, her expression blank with concentration. "It's using a huge amount of magic, enough to warp the shape of this plane. I doubt there's a House out there who isn't aware of it by now."

"How the hell are the rest of the Second not aware of it by now?" asked Pallian. "Has there been any activity at the Tomb of the First?" 

"Some," said Dakrin Eld. "Not what I would have expected. Perhaps the others are waiting to see what happens. It's been centuries since any of them have truly awoken, after all."

"We have to go back there," said the Shadow of Edrias, in that genderless, whispering voice. "We need to know what's going on."

"The carriage won't take us," Pallian said, frustrated. 

"The carriage won't," said Dakrin Eld cheerfully, "but perhaps the horses could be convinced."

Pallian turned his head slowly to look at the ancestor. I like the way you think, old man. "We'll try it."

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Terra Povos: Show us some spine

We are back in the shrine to Durest. Whisper is looking over the urns; there are two large ones, a medium one, and a small one. Whisper searches the medium urn for traps. He finds no traps; it appears to be filled with ale. 


James tries it. It’s old and yucky but appears to be safe to drink. 


Whisper moves on to the small urn. It has a foul-smelling liquid in it, and no apparent traps. Maybe very foul ale? The larger one has rancid, spoiled food; so does the other larger one. Amergin looks at the small, foul-smelling one and identifies it as a manufactured poison. 


Lithos detects magic. The chair has lost its magic, the weapons are gone, but the skull pile still has some kind of magic; the urns and the chest are not magical. Amergin claims the poison jar. 


Whisper prods the skull pile with the ten foot pole. “Eh! What’re ya doin’! Quit pokin’ me!”


Lithos: “Hey, those skulls are magical! I think it might be necromancy.”


We interrupt the skull’s nap, and it floats up out of the pile. “Hey! You’re interruptin’ my nap! Look, you don’t bother me, I don’t bother you.”


It burrows back down into the pile. “Leave me alone or I’ll suck out your souls.”


We give up on trying to talk to the skull. Whisper goes to check the chest, which is of course trapped. It’s a poison needle arrangement, but Whisper is hopped up on antitoxin and goes in to disarm the trap. He succeeds, and makes a point of breaking it; he then spends some time working on the chest. Inside are twenty acid flasks, which can be thrown to deal acid damage. We hand them out to everybody except Lithos. Baldy has the glass sword. We consider whether or not to dip the glass sword in the poison, but Amergin points out that it’s an ingestion poison. 


We start looking at the puzzle. Lithos positions himself in front of the mirror, looking at the reflection. He tries splashing the candles with acid but only dissolves them. We get some more candles and try again; Whisper takes the other clues, scoots Lithos aside, and then traces his away around the room following the clues. He ends up facing a wall with an illusionary center. He tries the ten foot pole, and clanks something. Finally he reaches in and finds a handle. He pulls it, and after a certain amount of clanking a secret door opens. He probes the floor with the pole, and blocks the door with the pole, and then checks the chest. It looks just like the chest in the cage. Whisper opens the chest and finds a +1 mace of undead bane and disruption.


Whisper takes the mace. 


Lithos: “So maybe the pick wasn’t the weapon.” After some discussion – none of us are particular strong or martial – we hand that off to Amergin.


We consider the chest in the cage. It appears to be identical to the one in the secret passage. We try lifting the cage, but it won’t budge for us. Amergin tries doing it backwards and finds another illusionary pocket. He pulls that lever, and the cage goes up. We pull another identical mace out, and pass it off to James. 


We offer the skull a chance to come with us; we can put him a very nice hat box. He’s… interested. His name is Snort. He opens the bottom of the Durest shrine for us, and a little drawer pops out; it has ten black onyx. He then ensconces himself in Lithos’ backpack. “All righ let’s go!” 


Lithos gathers up his scattered stuff, bags it, and hands the bag off to Whisper. We head back around through the broken door and down the narrow passage to the spot on the wall where it says “don’t keep going unless you have the weapon”. Scratched on the wall is a note that says “giving up freedom opens all doors.” Lithos: “You The Adventures of Lady Ariana in the Flesh Pits of Sol Povos? Giving up her freedom sure opened up all her doors.”


An Allip phases through the wall and Lithos spins around and throws acid at it – and actually hits. 


Amergin yanks Baldy out of the way and steps into his place. Amergin is still sickened from the vipers’ venom, so he isn’t at full strength. Whisper continues to the door and checks it for traps; he doesn’t find any, so he opens the door. 


There are some zombies inside.


Baldy fires off a magic missile at the Allip; James moves in and attacks the zombie but doesn’t hit it. Lithos fires off a Magic Missile at the Allip. It steps into the wall, provoking an attack of opportunity from Amergin, who misses. The Allip is now flailing at Lithos from inside the wall, but Amergin clocks it and it explodes. Whisper slips in the door and slices a zombie; another zombie wanders over. One tries to hit Whisper and succeeds. 


Another Allip appears and hits Lithos, draining four Wisdom from him. Amergin slips into the room and positions himself beside the Allip. Snort is giving helpful suggestions to Lithos: “Her! If you go down, I can drive you!” 


Lithos: “No! No! If I go down, you bring me back as an all-powerful djinn or something like that!”


Another zombie comes through a door, but that closes two other doors. Lithos fires off Magic missile and steps back; the Allip whacks him again. Amergin smashes the Allip, and it explodes. 


Whisper slashes the zombie again. James smashes zombie again, but hers doesn’t explode. Lithos throws acid at the zombie James is fighting. Amergin turns and mauls the same zombie. He whacks it, and it collapses. Whisper slashes his zombie again. 


A door opens and a zombie comes shuffling out. James turns and hits Whisper’s opponent (zombie). Archie fires off the Formorian crossbow at the zombie, tagging it with a magic missile. Lithos drops Mage Armor on himself (as he should have done before we marched in here). Amergin turns on the new arrival, smacks it, and does a big chunk of damage to it. It doesn’t explode, though. 


Whisper tries to attack, gets bumped at the wrong moment, and drops his knife. The zombie whacks him again. James smacks that zombie with her spiffy new mace, and damages him. Baldy fires off another magic missile and lithos follows with acid. Amergin swing, hits, and explodes the zombie. Whisper draws his kukri and slices the zombie; the zombie tries to slam Whisper but misses. James swings but misses. Archie shoots the zombie again, and lithos finishes ot off with acid. 


Amergin leads the way around to the open door; Whisper opens the closed door. That closes the door in front of Amergin. 


There are some stocks and a couple of piles of coins in the middle of the next room. There’s also a zombie around the corner. It comes over and attacks, but misses. James slips over and attacks; Baldy brings out his whip and tries to pull the zombie into the stocks. He misses. 


Another Allip comes out and hits James, draining some of his wisdom as well. Fortunately, he won’t miss it. Amergin moves back around and joins the rest of us. Whisper attempt to grab the zombie and wrestle him into the stocks. He fails. The zombie attempts to wrestle Whisper into the stocks. The frame falls closed and the lock clicks shut. 


All the doors open. Archie zaps Whisper with Cure Light Wounds.


James attacks the Allip, but misses.  Lithos throws acid at the Allip but misses. The Allip yanks down Whispers pants and the fazes back out through the wall. Amergin explodes the zombie, but another one comes over and starts caressing Whisper. James smacks the zombie before rigor mortis can set in. 


Baldy sees the dire straits that Whisper is in, and attacks the zombie with his rapier. “Behold my special attack,” cries Archibald. “FILLET!”


He hits, but fails to fillet. Lithos resists the call of the evil voice that seems to be coming from the Allip, and throws acid at the zombie. Amergin tries to smash the lock, and Whisper again tries to shake loose but fails. 


The zombie hits him with a powerful thrust. James hits the zombie, who does not explode. Archibald attacks with his rapier and the zombie keels over on top of Whisper. Lithos comes and tries to push the zombie loose… and knocks it right off. A zombie comes around the wall, and the Allip comes through the wall to attack Whisper. It drains some wisdom. 


Amergin whallops the Allip and it explodes. 


Whisper sheds a single, manly tear. The zombie pushes past Uncle Baldy and lines up behind a Whisper for a backstab. 


James attempts to open the lock, but doesn’t quite make it; Lithos is starting to wonder if James is under some sort of curse. Lithose throws more acid. Amergin explodes the zombie with his magic mace. 


Nothing is currently attacking us. We drop out of combat and Baldy heals Whisper, then does it again. We pause to collect the coins here: 220 gp, We move around and see massive zombies lying on the floor. Ogres? Probably. 


We settle back into an ambush, and Baldy shoots a magic missile at one of them. The ogre zombie wakes up as Archibald heads for the back of the crowd. As it comes around the corner, Lithos hits it with a Scorching Ray, then ducks back towards the hall. Whisper moves back into the hallway and readies a sling bullet. James lines up, and when it comes stomping through the stocks he swings and hits, doing some damage. It attacks with a giant greatclub, hitting James solidly – but James doesn’t quite go down. 


Amergin swings, hits, and fails to make the thing explode. He does some damage. James attacks and does some damage Baldy moves up and does Cure Light Wounds on James with his wand. Lithos moves back up and throws some acid. Amergin hits the ogre zombie and it explodes. 


Uncle Baldy slides up to the next ogre and shoots it, then retreats rapidly. We wait as the thing lumbers towards us, and Baldy takes another shot. It comes around corner, and Amergin hits hit, James misses, and Lithos blasts it with his remaining Scorching Ray; it clobbers Lithos and he goes down, but doesn’t actually die. James and Amergin swing again and miss as Baldy pulls Lithos away from the thing. Archibald cures him back to mobility, and Lithos crawls over and throws acid. Amergin hits him, doing a fair amount of damage. James hits him too, just not as hard. 


The ogre zombie hits Amergin, who goes down. Baldy moves up to heal Amergin, getting him back to consciousness. Lithos throws more acid; Amergin, still prone, attacks again; James smacks him and takes him down. James: “Finally.” He falls over backwards. 


Archie heals us back up. 


We proceed to the ogre room and check out the treasure there. The chest has no apparent traps; Whisper moves on to the bag and finds no traps; ditto the pile of coinage. He opens the chest and finds a bas relief on the inside of the lid; it shows a dwarf riding in the ribcage of a giant skeleton. It’s full of lollipops. Each takes one minute to eat, but heals one hit point; there are 1,000 of them in the chest. 


10,730 Gp, one wand of cure light wounds, and two vials of silversheen. With everything else, we have a total of 15,852 GP -- enough to resurrect Pythia and improve our equipment.

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

D&D 3.5 homebrew: Winged Hunter

Winged Hunter
Hit Die: d8

Requirements
To qualify to become a winged hunter, the character must meet the following criteria:

Race
Any.

Level
Character must be at least level six.

Special
Must have researched and performed a special ritual, or received the blessing of a deity.

Class Skills

The winged hunter's class skills are Concentration (Con), Craft (Int), Decipher Script (Int) Intimidate (Cha), Knowledge (all skills, taken individually), Ride (Dex), Speak Language (none), Spellcraft (Int), Spot (Wis), Survival (Wis), and Swim (Str).

Skill Points at Each Level
4 + Int modifier.

Class Features
The following are class features of the winged hunter prestige class.

Weapon and Armor Proficiency
Winger hunters gain no additional proficiency with weapons, armor, or shields. A winged hunter cannot fly while wearing medium or heavy armor, and most standard armor will not fit them.

Divine Wings
Upon taking their first level of winged hunter, the character grows a pair of wings. If the character already has wings, then their wings are transformed into something stronger and sharper. The winged hunter will use their original flying speed or the speed indicated on Table: Winged Hunter, whichever is greater. Maneuverability becomes perfect. The appearance of the wings varies from one winged hunter to another.

Airborne Adaptation
The winged hunter also becomes uniquely suited to hunting in the sky. She gains a bonus to spot checks equal to twice her winged hunter level while airborne, always knows which way is north, and is aware of her exact altitude at all times. (While underground, that sense of altitude will still provide vague data, e.g. "just below the surface", "pretty far down", "deep in the earth".)

Bladed Wings
At second level, the winged hunter learns to use the cutting edges of her wings and gains the multi-attack feat while using them. (If using a regular weapon in addition, one wing can be used to make off-hand attacks as if it were a light weapon.) Wings are considered natural weapons, have the finesse quality, and deal 2d6 base damage. Because they can also function as shields, bladed wings add a +4 shield bonus to AC.

Flyby Attack
At third level the winged hunter gains the flyby attack feat, allowing her to make a single attack with a wing as she flies past an opponent. Base damage for flyby attacks is 2d6 plus an additional 2d6 for every 30' of flying speed -- though the winged hunter must have room to complete the full movement distance in order to achieve full speed. (A winged hunter who only has room to travel 90' in a straight line will only do 8d6 damage even if their flying speed is more than 90'. This reflects their inability to get up to full speed in enclosed areas.) The winged hunter loses the +4 shield bonus from her wings on any round that she makes a flyby attack.

Puissant Edges
Beginning at fourth level, the winged hunter's wings are treated as magical, adamantine weapons for purposes of penetrating damage reduction.

One With The Sky
Upon achieving fifth level, the winged hunter gains the ability to cast Teleport once per day and Dimension Door three times per day while airborne. This is a spell-like ability which uses the overall character level to determine caster level.

The Winged Hunter

LevelAttack
Bonus
Fort
Save
Ref
Save
Will
Save
SpecialFlying Speed
1+1+1+1;+1Divine Wings, Airborne Adaptation
60'
2+2
+1+1+1Bladed Wings
90'
3+3+2+2+2Flyby Attack
120'
4+4+2+2+2Puissant Edges
150'
5+5+3+3
+3One With The Sky
180'


Notes: This class was intended to add mobility, melee options, and a fairly devastating attack that required a certain amount of open space to use. It was designed with Ranger in mind for the base class, but could also be added to Barbarian, Monk, or even Bard fairly easily. The inability to use medium or heavy armor limits its usefulness for Fighter or Paladin, but there are still possibilities there. A full caster could add this PrC to create a unique sort of gish build, gaining some melee attacks and extra defense at the cost of spellcasting advancement. 

Additional note: This is not intended for use in the Terra Povos campaign; this is just me playing with character class designs for my own amusement.

Monday, April 15, 2024

The Lost Girl, part twenty-three

Breakfast the following morning was a stiff, elegant, and very formal affair. Tammy and Maggie were seated opposite Peter and Antoinette, with Agatha opposite Elyssa and Morri beside her, opposite Chris: an arrangement that put Chris at precisely the opposite corner of the table from Tammy. 

For her part, Tammy had glanced at him once as they entered the elegant dining room with its long, ornate mahogany table and matching chairs, and ignored him afterwards. He wasn't immediately sure if the seating arrangement was her idea, or whether Amelie Hargrave -- sitting comfortably at the head of the table -- had made the arrangements. It didn't really matter; he'd obviously managed to make himself unwelcome. 

I shouldn't have asked for her card, he realized. It would have been a very forward thing to say even if he'd been mage; for an outsider to make the request was probably scandalous -- the sort of thing that could get him into real trouble with House Hargrave and the Ministry both. 

"You look thoughtful," Morri said. 

"Just hoping I didn't screw up too badly," he replied. "This issue with time flowing at different rates... does that come up often?"

Morri half-nodded in a yes-and-no gesture. "It does, but usually not this much. Usually it's a small enough difference that it's easy to ignore."

"That particular place has always been like that," Agatha said. "My people -- my former people -- use it when they want to get away from something." She paused, looking thoughtful. "They visit anyway sometimes, but they've definitely made it a point to go there when they wanted more time away from some place they'd just visited."

"Huh," said Morri, and then sat back. "Do you think--"

She cut off as a small chime sounded, and a side door opened to admit a trio of liveried servants -- two men and a woman, all slender and good-looking, and all carrying plates laden with food. "Crepes with a spicy creme sauce, maple bacon, and melon balls," announced the woman in front. 

They began with Amelie Hargrave, then moved down the table to serve the magi. Then, after a brief return to the kitchen, they served the outsiders as well. Enforcing the social order, Chris thought to himself and shoved his anger down. He didn't need Amelie Hargrave to remind him of his place here; he only needed her to see that he accepted it. What made it difficult was seeing that they treated Agatha the same way; for this morning, at least, she was lumped in with the outsiders rather than the family. 

He waited until Amelie Hargrave had taken a bite, chewed, and swallowed; then, following Antoinette's example, he dug in. The food was good, at least, though he suspected that he was missing some details that the Hargraves would have considered very important. Then again, that was true of his impressions of the furnishings and decorations here in the dining room as well: he could see that they were expensive and tasteful, but he couldn't have identified a specific style for any of it.

They ate and made carefully casual conversation, and Chris did his best to be unobtrusive and inoffensive; he'd crossed enough lines on this assignment already. He kept his attention at his end of the table, talking quietly with Morri, Agatha, and Elyssa while the magi spoke with each other on the other end of the table. 

When the meal was finished, lady Amelie rose from her seat and raised her glass. "A toast," she said, "to the Ministry, its representatives here, and the help you've given us." 

Peter nodded to Antoinette and raised his glass. "To our gracious hostess, for her hospitality and understanding."

They drank, and as far as Chris was concerned that marked the end of the meal. Peter lingered behind to exchange a few last words with the lady Hargrave, while the rest of them went back to their rooms to grab their packs. When they met back in the foyer, lady Hargrave was gone -- as were her daughter, Tammy Carterhaugh, and the shadow-walker Agatha. 

It was Jacques who led them out the door and conducted them to their rented van. Chris had no idea what the man's place in the household was, but evidently he acted with his mistress' full authority. 

Chris didn't care. He climbed in, still thinking back over the assignment and picking apart the details in his mind. There were so many things he could have handled better... Not fighting with Morri, or at least doing a better job of warning Antoinette first... Not asking Tammy for her card... showing proper deference to Amelie Hargrave... 

He started to sit, and realized that there was something in the side pocket of his pants. He reached into his pocket, touched it, and felt the faintest hint of chill through a slender wooden case. There was a card in there, one of the Arcana. It had to be Tammy's, and Agatha must have slipped it into his pocket during breakfast. 

He didn't know whether to be pleased or terrified. He should never have offered to give the girl answers about her cousin, and he'd have to be very careful about how he contacted her. They could both wind up in a very great deal of trouble over this. Still... it was almost a relief. It felt like he'd been granted a chance to pay off a debt. 

"Chris?" asked Elyssa, studying his face. 

"Tell you later," he said.

Friday, April 12, 2024

Dark Armor: Return to the Crypt

So, I tried a scene out the week before last and it didn't work. We're deleting that one and going another direction. Such are the perils of storytelling.

"Ah, there you are, Boy," said Dakrin Eld as Pallian clumped his way into transport room. "I sent the others on ahead." 

The Black Knight nodded. The guards had not yet returned to their posts here, but it was only a matter of small time, and the fewer people who saw the Elders -- let alone Ember and Ashmiren -- the better. If word of their presence got back to Amedin, it would be a disaster. 

"Come," said the elder, and Pallian walked with him to one of the circles. There was that brief moment of darkness, and then they were back in the crypt. This time, Pallian had not the smallest urge to discover what might happen if he moved during that brief moment of darkness. 

A moment later he was back in the antechamber to the crypt, the Black Knight's carriage still sitting where it had arrived. Ember looked up, and the ghostly ancestor beside it said, "You see? He returns intact."

Most of the elders he'd seen earlier were still here, though their presence was louder and cheerier than before: they knew how the battle had gone. Tybben was engaged in conversation with the Shadow of Edrias, but turned and made his way over immediately. "Forgive me, Lord," the hairless, dog-headed man said."I was just speaking to your mercenary." 

Pallian glanced at Ashmiren, though fortunately the armor hid his expression. He would have liked to rest -- he would have liked to give all of them a chance to rest -- but whatever Amedin thought about it he couldn't risk hiding here while his father and brother might still be standing to battle. If his father survived and learned that Pallian had stood aside -- for any reason -- the wizard-king would have him executed. 

So Pallian ignored Tybben and turned to Dakrin Eld, instead. "Any word of the wizard-king and the heir? Or the royalty of Edrias?"

Ashmiren arrived at his side, Ember a half-step behind her. 

"No, Champion," said another of the elders. This one had been a woman in life, sturdy and determined, and it was only the chill grey of her skin and the faint shimmer of mist around her that betrayed her current condition. "Several of us attempted to scry, but... something has happened to the city of Marinul, and we cannot see past it." 

"Doesn't help that this place limits our reach," muttered a short, wizened man beside her. "I swear the Crypt was built to serve as a prison as much as preservation."

Pallian frowned. "What can't you see past?" he asked, before Ashmiren could.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Terra Povos: Vampire Spawn

We’re looking at the room with the shrine of Durest in it. It’s… very full. We decide to go back down and try the side-passages with the skeletons in it. Lithos drops Protection from Arrows on James, who will use his flail. He slides through the door, prepares to fight defensively, and starts singing Jensenian poetry. Whisper opens the door and attempts to hide behind it. 

Lithos drops Mage Armor on himself; the skeletons advance on James but can’t hit him. Amergin tries to tickle a skeleton’s ribs with his spear, but misses. Lithos throws acid and damages one. Baldy fires off a magic missile from the Fomorian weapon at the same skeleton, and it’s nearly dead. Arrows come streaking towards arrows but also fail to connect. 

James swings his flail but misses. Lithos throws more acid and finishes off the first skeleton. Archibald fire off another magic missile. A skeleton tries to spear James, but he’s so bad that James breaks it. James swing his flail again, and takes it out. Lithos throws more acid. Baldy fires off another missile and takes out a skeleton, James attacks the last spear-skeleton and Lithos finishes it off. 

The skeletal archers shoot at James but all miss. James charges the archers. She smacks the first one and wipes it out. Lithos acids the next skeletal archer. James mauls it back out of existence, and Lithos puts acid on the next one. James finishes that one. We continue, and the last skeleton falls. 

Scrawled on the wall on his right is Do not proceed without the weapon. Whisper points out that we should take on the room with the ghasts. We slide up to it, and James waits for Whisper to check the door. He finds no traps, but it is locked. He pops the lock. Amergin casts Guidance on James. 

James charges in and attacks a skeleton, right in front of the altar of Durest. Amergin moves in and hits the ghast with the cure light wounds wand; the holy energy burns it rather badly. The second ghast moves up to attack Amergin. One misses; the other bites him. He is not paralyzed, but he is injured. Lithos moves up and throws acid; Baldy fires a magic missile, and we’re doing our best to take out ghasts. The skeleton tries to attack, and James swings but fails to hit him. Skeletons shoot at Amergin, and one hits. James steps around and flanks a ghast, then whacks it. 

Whisper slings a stone at the skeleton in the corner. Amergin chooses this moment to withdraw, heading out into the corridor and past Lithos. A ghast follows. James swings at it but misses. It only gets as far as the doorway, and attacks Lithos. It misses. 

The skeletons shoot at James; one of the skeletons’ bows snaps and takes its head off; it collapses. Lithos withdraws, leaving Archibald between him and the ghasts. Archibald tags the front ghast with CLW wand, doing minimal damage. James is on archer-smashing duty, though that... really wasn't the plan. He smashes one and moves to the next skeleton. Amergin heals himself a bit, and Whisper gets ready to close the door once a ghast passes through the door. The other ghast turns back, and Sherry Moon Zombie hits him as he goes past; it’s the first damage that ghast has taken. Archie jabs the ghast again; it’s not quite dead yet. Sherry goes to attack the second ghast and trips, it bites her for a bunch of damage. The archer next to James smacks it, then steps over and smacks the next one and takes it out. He is an archer-removing machine. 

Whisper tries to stab the ghast but misses; Amergin hits it with the wand. The ghast bites Archibald, damaging and paralyzing him. The second ghast turns around and rips Sherry Moon apart. Lithos moves up a bit, but can’t get an angle to attack. 

The lone remaining archer shoots an arrow at James; James charges him across the rug in the middle of the room. The rug collapses, and she rolls down the stairs into a room full of snakes. “Ahhh!” thump-thump-thump “At least it’s not ants.”

Whisper steps over Baldy and slashes the ghast, which is barely still on its feet. Amergin tags the ghast with the wand, and it falls back, burning. The second ghast walks over and looks down at the stairs; then it turns to the doorway and licks it lips. 

The snakes are surprised by the sudden arrival of a halfling. There are three large vipers down here, which is… not good. The skeleton moves to the edge of the stairs and fires down, but misses. James comes to his feet and moves up onto the staircase so that hopefully there’s a chokepoint; Whisper comes up behind the ghast but misses. 

Amergin moves in and zaps the ghast with his wand, doing pretty decent damage. The ghast tries to bite him, and crunches down hard. Amergin is badly damaged but not paralyzed. Lithos walks across Baldy and through the doorway, then throws acid at the ghast, which hisses at him. 

The snakes starts slithering up the stairs; one tries to bite James but misses. James attempts to tumble up and past the skeleton, and gets past it; the ghast and the snake both miss her. She swings at the skeleton. She hits it in the arm – very humerus – and it collapses. Whisper slips his blade around using Sleight of Hand, and then slashes him. He hisses. Amergin heals himself a bit. The ghast attacks Amergin but misses; Lithos splats it with acid; and Archibald finally stands up and fires off a magic missile. 

Snakes begin crawling out of the hole. One of them attacks Amergin and hits. He is just barely on his feet, and that only because dwarves are really hard to poison. James swings at a snake with his flail but misses. Whisper tries to deceive the ghast but fails this time. He slashes the thing anyway. Amergin takes a step back and then casts his last Entangle, trying to trap our enemies; what actually happens is that it pins Whisper. The ghast moves up on Amergin. Lithos and Archibald use their magic attack on it, but it’s still up – barely. The snake attacks Amergin again; he goes down, hard, badly poisoned. Two snakes attack James, and one actually hits. He manages not to be poisoned. 

Lithos: “I knew you were a better dwarf than I am.”

Whisper slices but misses; the ghast attacks him, paralyzing him. Lithos finishes the ghast with acid. 

Archibald heals Amergin up to two points, but he’s so badly poisoned that he doesn’t have much health. 

A snake bites Lithos, but fails to poison him. Amergin heals himself with the wand. Lithos steps back from the snake and casts Invisibility on himself. Archibald puts a snake to sleep, and James smacks another one. Lithos stays hidden; Archie uses another Magic Missile on a snake; and James finishes a snake. Lithos starts throwing acid, and Archie fires another magic missile. James crits on the dazzled snake and takes it out. 

We finish off the sleeping snake. 

Next up: we look behind the partial wall on the east side; there’s a cage with a candelabra on one side and a mirror on the other. Downstairs there’s a portcullis with a crank next to it; there’s a sign on the wall that says, “do not open.” 

The torture chair has a sign on it: “Durest will bless one weapon with magic if a friend will sacrifice their blood.” We consider who most needs the help, and grab a light pick from the rack; the other weapons disappear. James sits in the chair and we put the light pick in front of the altar; Lithos pulls the lever for him. James takes some damage, but now has a spiffy magic light pick +1. Amergin heals her. 

The blood has gone through the floors to the coffin on the lower level. 

There is something inside the coffin, and it’s knocking. James’ blood is flowing down some tubes into the coffin. 

We… might be about to fight a vampire. 

James starts picking up treasure: 600 GP worth of platinum. 

Gas comes out of the coffin and starts flowing towards us. Amergin tags it with a CLW wand. Whisper grabs a handful of silver pieces off the floor and slips off a sock. He’s just assembled himself a custom silver club. Lithos throws some acid, but misses. James attacks with a magical pick.

The vampire tries to mesmerize Amergin but misses. Amergin zaps him with the wand again. Whisper comes up behind him and swings… and misses. Baldy zaps it with magic missile; Lithos tags it with acid. It looks at James and dominates him. He drops the pick. 

Amergin tags him with the wand, doing a bit more damage. Whisper attacks him with the sock of silver. Baldy tags him with magic missile. James attacks Whisper with the flail and very nearly takes him out. The vampire attacks Whisper but misses. Amergin tags him with the wand again. Whisper swings but misses; Baldy and Lithos do their things. James attacks Whisper again and loses his flail. The vampire spawn heaves a profound sigh of disappointment. James: “That’s how they feel about me, too.”

Whisper is now dominated as well. Amergin tags the vampire again; Lithos leaps down the stairs, yelling about stakes and beheading and such. James stakes him, and Whisper beheads him and stuffs silver coins in the mouth to finish it off. We add 90 more gp worth of silver and gold, plus two black onyx. 

We check treasure. There’s 300 GP, a sword made out of glass, a genie-looking lamp. The lamp appears to be a potion of cure moderate wounds. The glass sword is a single-use sword; there’s nothing magic in the chest. Whisper checks over the chest and finds a poison needle trap. 

We decide not to open it yet, and retreat to heal up and rest. 

We come back and investigate the coffin; there’s a bottom half of a scroll, probably companion to an earlier one. OOC, we pause there. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Terra Povos: A Minor Mistake

Lithos settled back into his corner of the captain's quarters on the newly-rededicated Pinnace McPinnaceFace, leaning back as Whisper scribbled furiously on his slate. Across from him, James yawned casually... but he was watching Whisper, too. Their brother's expression was exactly the sort of intent that indicated that if they tried to go to sleep right now, he was just going to wake them up again. 

He turned the slate so they could see it. What were you thinking??? it said. 

"Um," answered Lithos. "We were thinking that James needed a magic pickaxe?" 

"The wall said not to go past there without the weapon," James added. "So we got the weapon!"

Whisper's face screwed up into his wide-eyed, lips-clenched, I-am-frustrated-with-you-in-particular expression. He wiped the slate and wrote, And you didn't think anything would happen? HERE? In Durest's Deathtrap Dungeon?

The two siblings exchanged a glance. "Well, we thought we'd get an enchanted pickaxe," James pointed out, "and we did."

More wiping. More writing. Two words: 

Vampire.
Spawn.

"Well, yes, that wasn't my favorite thing," Lithos admitted. "Especially since it wouldn't turn me into a vampire." Not that he especially wanted to be a vampire, as such. But it would be nice to be stronger, tougher, and harder to kill. Maybe he could find a dragon who could turn him into another dragon? No, dragons didn't work that way. Too bad. Lycanthropy would make him tougher... maybe he could...?

Whisper grunted at him, pointedly, and tapped the slate. 

Check for traps first.
Everything else second.

"Oh," said Lithos. "Oh, right, sure. We'll be very careful and strategic from here on out, Brother."

"We will?" asked James, sounding dubious.

"We will," Lithos affirmed, nodding earnestly at Whisper. He really hoped this conversation was over now; he had a spell to copy, and then he needed to rest. 

Whisper rolled his eyes but left them alone, and Lithos promptly forgot all about it as he pulled out his new scroll and focused on its content. It was written with Eldraster's method of annotation, which meant that that the corner-markers indicated the gestures to make with the associated words, and he was going to have to focus if he was going to convert that over to the Harbinmoor method that he used for his own work...