The Chronicling of our D&D Campaign: Tempora – Part 24

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Welcome to the novelization of my current D&D campaign, told through the perspective of the characters. Parts 1-19 charted the first part of the campaign, part 20 began the next phase of the saga: Tempora. For me, it lets me do a little creative writing between more serious projects. Links to the previous posts are at the bottom of this one. Enjoy!

Brandon…

“We don’t know for sure that the trap is disarmed,” Theren said. “Just because it went ‘click’ does not mean that you shut it off.

“I’ll check it out,” I said.  I stepped out ten-heads distance and nothing happened.  I went further, even bouncing up and down slightly, but the floor did not drop, nor did the flames come down.  The stones were still hot from the inferno that had nearly consumed Theren.

When I got to the other side of the hot stones, the band of heroes that I found myself attached to had assembled.

“You know,” Arius said.  “We have not been making a map as we go.”

“It is a straight line – we are on a road,” I offered.

“We might need to know our way out at some point,” the paladin pressed.  I didn’t like the use of the word, “might.” He was hinting what we were all thinking.  If we found the missing paladins, we had to overpower whoever had captured them, and find our way out.  This was not going to be easy.

“It is okay,” I assured my new friends.  “I have some skills in keeping a mental map.”  I tapped my head with my finger but it did not seem to instill the confidence I had hoped for.

Arius cast a twisted grin.  “Great.  Make sure we keep the ranger alive then or we’re trapped here.”  I like to think I was bringing more to the party than that…but I was content with the nods of agreement from the others.

We trudged on downward into the mountain.  Hundreds of feet passed.  Bor, the hulking fighter at the front of our party, his warhammer shimmering blue, stopped after a half-mile or so.  “Hold here.  There are some arrow slits on either side of the roadway with a door to each just past them.”

“They have to be abandoned,” I offered.

“The slits are low, probably for dwarves,” Bor said.

“I wonder if this is a trap of some sort.” Theren said. “They might fire arrows if we walk in front of them.”  That was a thought that was unappealing.  The last trap had almost roasted our druid.  He still smelled of smoke with a hint of bacon.

The druid had us all halt.  “I’ll crawl up under the slit.  You all hold back.”  Oddly we were all quite comfortable with that approach.

On his hands and knees he slithered under the arrow slit on the right side of the tunnel then made his way to the door just beyond it.  The knob turned with a squeal of rusted and protesting metal as he twisted it around.  The creaking of the hinges seemed to echo far too distant for my take.  Bor seemed like he wanted to join Theren, but did not want to further split the party.  Inevitably, he stayed behind with us.

Theren shuffled in the small antechamber for a few minutes, then emerged and returned to us with something in his arms, something black and almost shimmering.  It was a skull, black, almost polished to a reflective glare.  It was shaped like no creature I had ever seen wandering the woods or vales of the land.  In the skull were ebbed three crossbow bolts, silver tipped and stuck deep into the glossy surface.

Althalus, our warlock and resident expert on skulls immediately began to look it over with keen interest.  Whatever it was, it made me nervous.  The silver tipped bolts told me that it had belonged to an unnatural creature, a spawn of the nethervoid.  That usually meant powerful magic and danger to those near it.

“I’m keeping it,” the warlock said greedily. After dusting it off, Althalus put it on top of his quarterstaff.  It looked menacing – possibly even to us. I have to admit, it worried me, but I too carried a skull in my pack.  Mine was white and bleached with age.  His…his was something eerie, like out of a nightmare.

I turned my attention to the other opposing arrow slit.  I went over and duplicated the crawl under it that Theren had made.  The handle on the door past the slit on my side had rusted over and did not turn at first.  It took a surge of strength to get it to pop open.  Unlike Theren’s door, mine suddenly swung open and a Dwarven skeleton lurched out at me, wielding an axe!

The axe hit across my chest, severing my armor and slicing my skin enough to make me recoil.

Theren’s voice called me, “Get out of the way Brandon!” I swung at the skeleton but his rusted plate only rattled from my attack.  The skeletons seemed to grin at me under its helmet.  I stepped to the side.

Bor jumped beside me, swinging down with Skullringer.  The blue-blur of the warhammer hit the stout skeleton, doing no real damage other than scoring his old plate armor.  An arrow whizzed past my ear, missing both me and the skeleton.  A burst of brilliant emerald magic energy, no doubt from Althalus, hit the undead monstrosity.  The force of the hit was so hard that he was knocked back into his tiny alcove.   The hole in his armor glowed where the magic had punched through, but the angry dead-Dwarf only lunged back towards Bor and myself.

Arius lunched past Bor with his sword, hitting the skeleton square and true. There was a sickening metallic grinding sound as the sword punctured the once proud plate mail.  The undead creature staggered a half-step back.

Arius swung again, hitting him, driving him back further into the room.  There was a crash of armor and bone in the room, then his skeletal head came rolling out of the door.  I picked it up.  “The deed is done,” our paladin said proudly, sheathing his blade.

Before the other could join us, I moved in on top of the skeleton to see if there was anything of value on his remains.  I found a sliver necklace around its broken neck, one of exceptional value from what I could tell.  There was an old rather unremarkable battle axe as well.   In a small pouch on his belt, I found a small green glass vial with a tattered piece of paper attached to it.  I scanned the letters but they were gibberish to me.

“What do you make of this?” I held it in front of Arius.

“Chanel perhaps?” he then chuckled.

“I don’t get it.”

“An old joke.  It is a wizard that makes oils and balms that could make a pile of manure smell like roses,” the paladin said, still amused with his comment.

“Why would anyone want to make manure smell like roses?”

“It is just a legend,” was all I got in response.

“Let me look at it,” our warlock said.  He studied the writing for a moment.  “It is written in the old tongue, archaic.  It says, ‘remove curse.’”  As if to make his point, he took out his quill and wrote on it in common tongue, “remove curse.” “Just so we don’t forget.”

As we rested for a few minutes, I was surprised to see Althalus take out the ebony black skull with the arrows.  He fidgeted with the silver tipped crossbow bolts in it, removing the shafts but leaving the silver tips in the skull.  Each time he pried one loose we all gasped a little bit, wondering what would happen if he dislodged it.  I for one did not want to know.

“Why are you doing that?” our paladin asked.

“It makes it easier to carry – less risk,” the warlock replied.

The paladin closed his eyes and held his hand over the skull and concentrated. “This is evil, dark evil.  It is the skull of a devil.  What kind, I cannot say.”

“Excellent!” Althalus squealed. “I’ll bring it with us.  It makes up for that demon skull I was forced to give up.”

“Your obsession with demonic skulls is a bit disturbing,” Arius said, eyeing our comrade carefully as he put the skull in his pack as opposed to the staff he had put it on.  “I am not comfortable at all with that thing coming with us.”

“It’s just as skull,” I said.

“I wasn’t referring to the skull,” Arius said grimly, glaring momentarily at Althalus.

We continued on, downward into the long tunnel.  We walked for many minutes and came across a trench-like pit carved into the floor, crossing the entire tunnel.  Bor leaned over slightly.  “It’s deep, I cannot see the bottom.  There’s a mechanism on the other side.  This must be for drainage or defense of some kind.”

Looking upward as we closed on the pit I could see that the ceiling above it was cracked – thick openings and deep over the trench.  On the far side, some seven heads across, we could see a heavy oak plank.  Someone had used it to make a bridge, and had taken it with them.  From the footsteps I saw in the dust, I knew it must have been where the missing paladins had been taken.

Dimitrious stepped forward and dropped his torch into the pit, it disappeared entirely after a fall of only 20 heads.  I watched it disappear.  “That is odd.  It just disappeared.”

“Perhaps someone should jump across,” Arius said.  Clearly he was not volunteering. “Perhaps we could construct something, perhaps a rudimentary lathe?”  Everyone looked at the paladin and he grinned.

I saw the gap more as a challenge than an obstacle as did Bor.  He took his armor off and with a running start, jumped across, landing on bended knee as the others squabbled over the best way across.  He slid the board across forming a bridge.  I crossed it next with no issue whatsoever.  Theren joined us on the other side.

Althalus did not walk across, but came on all fours, slowly, which proved to be his downfall.  Halfway across I heard a slurping sound from the massive crack over the pit. A massive semi-transparent cube of a creature dropped down on him, taking him and the bridge and engulfing him entirely. The green oozing creature had things in it but it barely fit in the narrow trench. It oozed down slowly, with our warlock in the middle of it, his cheeks puffed out as he held his breath.

Arius was in pain, but his arcane spell made it so that if he took damage, he caused fire damage. There was a flash of flames everywhere, the tiny pockets of air feeding the flames.  The gelatinous creature was apparently flammable and it ignited on its own.  At this point we all move in and looked over at the scene unfolding…our friend, on fire, in a thick oozing mass, sliding into a pit.

The only good news was that the pit was treated with some sort of illusionary spell to make it seem much deeper.  It was only twenty-heads deep and the warlock and his flaming friend were only slowly sliding down.  The smell of the burning gelatinous creature rose, stinging our nostrils with a smell I have never heard before.

We were stunned, but not Bor.  He swung his deadly glowing warhammer at it, gouging a deep furrow in the oozing beast.  Dimitrious did the same with his staff, with a similar affect.  It was hard for us to know if we were doing any real damage…but the flames erupted up the sides as it burned and somewhere in the middle of this was our warlock.

I jabbed my staff into the goo and it sank deep, almost reaching Althalus.  As my staff emerged it caught the flames and came out on fire.  Theren swung his enchanted staff sending a spray of the greenish substance flying into the air.  Flames lapped up along the side of pit.

Althalus started to swim in the green goo, getting close to the edge, but not getting free.  Dimitrious sliced a big piece of the cube out with his staff.  The warlock stopped moving entirely and we realized that he may be near death. I couldn’t help but wonder what might happen to that devil’s skull that he had on him.  This has the potential to become much worse.

Our party, realizing that Althalus was about to die, leaned over the edge and swung wildly as the cube slid down.  Theren kill it finally with his staff.  Suddenly the creature lost all of its form, turning to a green flaming goo twenty heads down, burning.

“I feel so funky,” the warlock said as he gained his senses.

“I’ll jump down,” Arius said.

“Hold it,” Theren said, lowering a rope.  “Let him climb out.”

The ooze covered warlock grabbed the rope and got up about half-way out of the pit, then lost his grip and fell, letting out a low moan. Finally, after several minutes, he climbed out.  We were exhausted and the air still stung from the acidic smell of the burning creature.  I looked over the edge of the pit once the fires died down and saw a shield with a reflective surface of some sort and a suit of chainmail. Arius did as well.  “That shield looks interesting.  Hold the rope, I’m going down,” the paladin said.  He got halfway down the rope but lost his grip on the goo that Althalus had left on the rope, falling down.

“What is it?” I called down.

“This chainmail is light, good quality,” he said, putting it in his pack. The shield that he held was domed with a reflective surface almost like that of a mirror, but this one had a razor-like edge around its rounded edge.  The paladin tried to climb out, but once more slipped and fell back down.  “Damn this accursed pit!” he spat as he slowly made his way to the surface.

We were all winded and watched as our warlock tried to scrape off the bits of goo, charred and otherwise, from him.  “Perhaps,” I suggested, “This would be a good time for us to get some rest.”

The following are the previous installments. I hope you enjoy the campaign so far. Be sure to follow my blog if you do. 

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

Part 8

Part 9

Part 10

Part 11

Part 12

Part 13

Part 14

Part 15

Part 16

Part 17

Part 18

Part 19

Part 20

Part 21

Part 22

Part 23

Character Background Material

My New Campaign

#dungeonsanddragons

#DandD

#DnD

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A Spoiler-Free Review of Solo – A Star Wars Story

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“Look Khaleesi, a dragon!”  

I was hoping this was going to be a good, solid, standalone film – one that would explore a period of the Star Wars universe that we don’t have a lot of information on.  If it was done well, the story would be solid on its own.  I was a little disappointed in this perspective.

Think of it this way, was Black Panther a good movie, even if he was not part of the greater Marvel cinematic universe?  Yes.  All on its own, the film was good.  Even if no other Marvel movies existed, Black Panther (and Ant-Man, and others) would have stood on their own.  The fact they are part of a bigger franchise makes them more awesome, but they are not dependent on that.

This is not the case with Solo.  It is a film that seems to strive to fill a few gaps in young Han Solo’s life with scant details buried in dialogue.  We get the whole Kessel Run parsec thing explained – we see the first meeting between Chewie and Han.  We get the Millennium Falcon and Lando.  Those things were great to have as parts of a much bigger story that could stand on its own.  This does not.  It is hooked on the Star Wars mythos to the point where it is a series of Easter Eggs that are masterfully strung together into a good story…not a great story, but a good one.  If there were no other Star Wars films, would this film have been as good?  No way.

The acting was solid.  There’s a lot of subplots happening in this film, which is great.  Emelia Clarke has ensured that she can live well off of the geek convention circuit – between Star Wars and Game of Thrones.  Her acting was clearly the best of the film followed by Woodie Harellson.

Some good characters were introduced – like Lando’s droid.  I wish we could have gotten more of her, but what we got saved the middle of this movie for me.

The Easter Eggs are there for those of us that have been with the franchise since the beginning, and they are there aplenty.  There’s a surprise cameo in the film too and it was awesome and unexpected.  My grandson loved it too.  The movie ended with plenty of room for a sequel…don’t they all?

There’s a couple of plot holes in this movie, some kludgy writing at times, but nothing horrific.

I give this film a three out of five stars.  It didn’t stand alone and I think would have been a lot better if it had.  I appreciate the candy for the true fans.  Bottom line, if you like Star Wars movies you probably will like this one.  We could have loved it though.  Disney continues to print more money by making these movies.

The Chronicling of our D&D Campaign: Tempora – Part 23

Trap
That’s one way to spring a trap…

Welcome to the novelization of my current D&D campaign, told through the perspective of the characters. Parts 1-19 charted the first part of the campaign, part 20 began the next phase of the saga: Tempora. For me, it lets me do a little creative writing between more serious projects. Links to the previous posts are at the bottom of this one. Enjoy!

Althalus…

We heard and felt the crash of the Bone Dragon against the heavy stone doors, then nothing.  I remember letting out a sigh of relief, only to realize that we were on the underground road to Tempora, with our backs turned to the long darkness. Only the light of Dimitrious’ flickering torch gave us good light.

Turning around I could see that it was essentially a long tunnel, slightly sloping downward into the cliff face and the mountain beyond.  It was wide, at least 50 heads across with a high arched ceiling nearly 25 heads high. The dwarves had done their job well.  This road was wide enough for several wagons to pass each other coming and going to city.  I could even make out the wheel ruts on the worn stone – indicating that the road had been used for centuries. The flutter of distant bat wings, or so I hoped that’s what we heard, was up ahead. Who knows how long this roadway would lead us into the mountain?

The floor was covered with a film of dust. There were piles every so often, most looked like either bones, rotting cloth, or bits of armor.  Through the dust we could make out a disturbance, as if a large party had marched through recently.  No doubt the mission paladins that we were looking for.  Cobwebs, some thick, some thin, filled the open space.  The air was musty, dusty, and dank.  What had we gotten ourselves into?

I turned and saw Brandon checking his pack.  “What are you doing?” I asked.

I picked up one of those skeleton skulls when we went through the Vale.  I wanted to make sure it was okay.”

“Why would you do that?”

“All of your talk about that demon skull you said you had once made me think it might be worth something.”

The mention of the demon skull and its loss to Lexa Lyoncroft was still a sore subject with me, one I intended to rectify at some point in the future. I shot Theren an icy stare since he was the one that had given it up to Lexa in his negotiations.

Theren ignored my glance and looked around.  “We have the door to our back here.  I think we might be best served camping here for the night.  It is better than somewhere further in.  At least we have one direction we cannot be attacked from.”  We were all quick to agree.  The fighting and navigation through the White Vale had left us weary.

Dimitrious set up his bed roll next to me.  We didn’t light a fire, there was no point in attracting any unwanted attention.  We had no idea what was down this tunnel-road or even how long it went.

“You know,” Arius said as he unrolled his blanket. “It just dawned on me that we left our horses at the edge of the White Vale tied up.”

I grinned.  “That’s okay, I hadn’t developed any sort of emotional bond with mine.”  We all knew it, those horses were as good as dead.

We split into three watches for the night.  It was not like sleeping outdoors.  There were strange sounds that echoed in the vast tunnel.  Even small sounds, like mice or bats, seemed to be much louder.  Part of it was our imagination, but the rest was the reality that we did not know what it was we might face.

As I started my watch, I noticed on the wall near the door we had entered, a strange carving.  Dimitrious and I went over to it and saw that it was a three-head wide relief map, apparently of the White Vale.  At the doorway in the canyon on the map was a hole with a crystal of some sort slid into the hole.  At the end of the crystal that jutted out there was a small gold chain that was artfully mounted to the wall.  The crystal fit perfectly in the hole, so it was clearly made to rest there. To me, it looked like a large piece of quartz, but it might have some magic properties, to have been chained up that way.

I looked at it carefully.  There were no cobwebs hanging off of it, so it must have been moved recently.  Dimitrious looked at it and shrugged.  It could wait until everyone had gotten a good night’s rest.

“I found a thing,” I said.

“A thing?”

“And it appears to have been manipulated recently.”

What I got back was puzzled expressions.  “What is it pray tell?” Arius finally asked.  I led my friends over to the strange carved map.

“Stand back. I have a spell that may help.  It detects magic,” Theren said standing in front of the relief.  He closed his eyes and waved his hands and seemed to be concentrating fairly intently on the map.

“Hmm…” he finally said.

“Well?” I asked.

“I’m picking up a magical aura around the map and crystal – and it matches the same aura I see on the other side of the door.  It is like it is connected to the Vale in some manner.”

“So does it open the door?”

The druid seemed unsure.  “We opened the door without the crystal.  This seems more linked to the White Vale itself.  You know, I’m going to pull it out.”

It seemed to me to be a rushed decision, so I backed up.  The others could deal with anything horrible that might emerge as a result.  Theren grabbed the crystal and slid it out of the matching hole.  Nothing happened.

“That’s weird,” he said holding the three inch long crystal on the chain. “The aura on the map and crystal and the aura outside has diminished…it is almost gone.  It is some sort of lever of some sort I think.  I am willing the gamble that it has something to do with those skeletons.”  He let the crystal hang limp on the chain.

It made sense to me.  This was the entrance to a major Dwarven city at one time.  The Vale could have been part of the defense of the city.  This could be the way of turning that on or off.  This could be important when we eventually leave this place.  Besides, if its magic is of value, I can steal it on the way out.

If we ever left this place.

Brandon spoke up.  “I think we should cut the crystal off and take it.”

Theren got a twisted grin.  “If you want to do that, go ahead.”  It was a challenge.  In other words, ‘If you do that, you are on your own.’  “I would leave it.  You never know, we might have to flee – and I don’t want to run back out in the Vale and face Bone Dragons again.”

The ranger seemed to get the message.  “Naa, I’ll leave it.”

We turned our attention to the long underground roadway. I was not a fan of strolling down there without some sort of illumination out in front of our party.  “I have the ability to summon orbs of light.  We can put those out in front of us.  If nothing else, it is can give us some warning of anything coming towards us.  They follow me.”  I received nods of agreement.  Bor took the point for our party and as he stepped down the road, his warhammer, Skullringer, started to glow a light blue, lighting him up. It made sense…it was of Dwarven make.  Perhaps it was forged in Tempora? The glow only made that weapon look more menacing.

Slowly we started down the gently sloping roadway.  We passed small piles of bones, covered in dust.  Some were those of men or Dwarves, others were animal.  I could make out bits of rust, either blades or armor, even an occasional helmet.  Green rotting leather straps remained in some places.

Brandon checked out the trail of disturbed dust that preceded us.  “These are human boot prints – a few days or weeks old – hard to tell here.  From the looks of it, there were a lot of people walking through this area.”

“The missing paladins,” Arius said, echoing what we all thought.

“You mean the dead paladins,” Theren offered. Even I cast him a suspicious eye.  “Hey, it is a safe assumption they are dead by now.  Whoever took them prisoner wouldn’t keep them alive unless there was a reason for it.”  The love-loss between the druids and the church had reared its ugly head.  It was one I understood all too well.  The church had killed hundreds of magic users of all kind in their inquisitions.  It was that common enemy that made Theren and I nearly brothers.

We continued on and a short distance in, we saw a massive iron portcullis/gate that had been dropped from above, blocking off the roadway.  It had a film of rust, but given the thickness of the bars, it was easily still an obstacle except for the hole in it – at floor level, opening to three feet.  The bars there sagged, as if melted, and puddles of rusted iron were covered with a film of dust near the spot.  Something hot, very hot, had burned their way through these defenses of the roadway. Then I noticed, the splatters of melted gate were on our side of the gate.  This had been dropped to keep something in the city.

The trial of footprints led through the hole.  Cobwebs sagged in the one-head-square, iron lattice of the portcullis.  Even with Bor’s strength, there was no way for us to lift it – and there was only one way through.

“Whatever happened here, happened a long time ago,” I offered.

Bor went first, and noticed on either side of the tunnel was a recessed area, probably part of the defenses of the tunnel.  I followed him cautiously as he pointed them out.  Theren came in right behind us.  I had my eyes on them when I heard a fluttered noise all around us.  At first, I assumed they were a swarm of bats.  Then I caught to glimpse of one in front of my face.  They had a long probing snout on the front.  These were not bats!  More than a dozen and a half of them swirled around those of us that had made it through the gate, some darting through the grating towards the rest of our small band.

Arius advanced towards the approaching swarm at the portcullis.  Bor swung Skullringer and connected with one of the creatures, splattering the one to the far wall.  The glowing blue warhammer was a blur of white-blue light against the darkness.

“Drop flat!” Theren yelled.  Bor and I did not need to be told twice, we dove for the dust covered floor.  Theren muttered some word and a thunderclap erupted in the air.  There was a concussion of magical power in the air above us, splattering half of the creatures into a misty spray that painted the walls and the massive iron gate.

Three of the surviving creatures dove on Arius, found a gap in his armor, sticking its snout in, penetrating flesh at his neckline.  The paladin wailed in pain and stepped back, but the creatures hung on him by their beaks.

Brandon killed one and his frantic swinging of his blade kept one at bay, flapping its leathery wings all about his head.  Dimitrious was a blur of action, but the creatures seemed to be only attracted more to him.  They dove on him, hitting the sleeves of his robes but failing to pierce his skin.

I missed the two coming at me – one hit my elbow joint in my armor.  It felt like an arrow hitting me…my arm throbbed.  My spell, however, made it burst into flames – but remained attached to me.  For a moment, I rejoiced, then I realized I had a flaming creature attached to my arm.  I swung it around wildly attempting to shake it off.

I tried to uses my eldritch blasts to attack another one of the creatures but my flaming arm threw off my aim.  My emerald blast of magic power hit the far wall, making the rock there glow.  Arius cleaved one of his assailants in half, hitting me with part of the body of the creature.

Theren was rushing back towards me as Brandon swung at one that hovered and darted in the air in front of him, missing.

Dimitrious struck one of his creatures with a flurry of rapid punches, killing it.  Theren swung his staff, hitting the one near Brandon, splattering him in oozing blackish blood.  Arius killed another one of the creatures.  The air was filled with swords, staffs and fists, making the dust swirl in the air around us, let up by the flaming creature attached to my arm.

Bor’s glowing warhammer was a blue arc in the air, destroying one of the creatures.  Arius was hit from behind by one of the creatures that planted its snout into him.  “Again?” he cursed, turning hard but unable to grasp it. The flames on my arm hurt as the paladin spun.  “Someone get this thing off of me!”  Brandon missed it entirely, though Dimitrious ripped it off of our holy knight.  I finally grabbed the one on my arm and jerked its now crispy body off of me.

Arius killed the last of the creatures with his sword.

We stood there, winded from the fight, sweat stinging in the cool air.  “What were those things?” Arius asked.

“I think they were stirges.  Vile creatures.  Blood drinkers,” I said, rubbing my aching elbow and checking the charred bit of my armor.  “I have never seen one before, but I recall reading about them.” I turned to Theren.  “Good move with that Thunderwave spell.”

As we bantered, our ranger Brandon wandered off towards one of the tunnel walls.  He was poking around the piles of bones and rusted armor that littered the floor.  The indentations were the stirges came from were fairly shallow, only five feet deep, just enough for a pair of archers on either side of the tunnel.  Clearly those archers had long ago left their posts, but the creatures must have taken to the positions to make their nest.

“Should we check them out?”  I had visions of stirge guano that made me cringe.  Please say no.

“Naa,” Theren said, clearly thinking the same way I did on the matter.

“I’ll do it,” Brandon said walking over to the furthest indentation.  He peered in.

“Well?” I called.

“There’s a leather pouch here.”  The ranger brought it back to us. We opened it carefully and found some gold, silver and copper coins – all very old minting. My comrades saw a handful of coins.  What I saw was another clue that something had happened here, many ages past, that was still a possible threat.  Tempora fell…and whatever made it fall may yet be here.

“Perhaps we should have one member of our party carry what we find,” Theren said, eyeing Bor.  “Someone strong.”  The hint hung in the air for a few seconds.

The burley fighter rolled his eyes.  “Fine.  I’ll do it.”  We put the pouch of coins in his pack.  I could tell he wasn’t thrilled with being turned into our mule, but went along with it.

Arius went to the other cubby hole and found a long-dead dwarven skeleton clad in armor.  He picked out an ornate silver-edged dagger. “This is all that was here,” he said sheathing the new artifact in his belt.

We trudged on down the long tunnel.  It was only a few minutes later that we saw something in the distance, piles of some sort.  I sensed that something was amiss, especially as we got closer and saw that these were not merely piles of bones – but ashes and puddles of long-melted metal.  I started to wonder – what kind of heat could melt metal as such other than a forge?  Were these people that had somehow been killed in place, or the victims of dragon fire? These piles were scattered – no pattern other than they ended in forty or fifty heads distance.

Bor moved forward to the first pile.  “It is ash and bone – their armor was melted in place.”

“Do you see anything else?” Theren asked from a distance.

“The stone slabs on the roadway here have some scorch marks along their edges,” Bor replied.  The big fighter was nervous, I could see that.  Theren moved to join Bor.  There was a low grinding noise for a moment as the floor lowered in the middle of the tunnel, with our two party members on it.  Flames roared down, white hot tinged in blue.  Only the far walls of the tunnel were not affected by the lowering.  The air became searing hot in an instant.

Pyrotechnics

Bor reacted quickly, leaping to the side.  Theren collapsed with a shriek of agony.  Brandon reached in to get Theren, and his scale mail seared into his skin as it superheated in the azure blast-flames.  The air we breathed was so hot it made my lungs ache.  The skin on my cheeks was hot just facing the flames from above.  Arius reached in and grabbed Theren and pulled him out.  He was on fire, unconscious, blistered and scars crusted black from the flames.  We patted out the flames of his clothing.

The moment he came off the floor section that had dropped, the floor rose back and the flames from above.  Arius laid hands on him, enough to get his eyes to open.  He was in pain, but still with us.  The paladin looked angry and frustrated.  “We are smarter than this.”

“Apparently not,” I said with a wry grin.  He snapped his head around and looked at me with fury in his face, clearly not amused by my comment.  Looking over to the side wall he spied a small rock that seemed to jut out from the otherwise smooth wall.  He went over to it and pulled the rock down with an audible click.  “We need to be wiser in the future if we are going to survive.  This was not even a creature…but part of the defense of Tempora.”

He was right of course.  But I would not give him the satisfaction of telling him that.

The following are the previous installments. I hope you enjoy the campaign so far. Be sure to follow my blog if you do. 

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

Part 8

Part 9

Part 10

Part 11

Part 12

Part 13

Part 14

Part 15

Part 16

Part 17

Part 18

Part 19

Part 20

Part 21

Part 22

Character Background Material

My New Campaign

#dungeonsanddragons

#DandD

#DnD

After-Action Report on CrimeCon 2018

 

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Like I’ve said before, I’m never off a cold case.  My only regret is Victoria couldn’t join us on the stage to talk about the Colonial Parkway Murders.  

This was CrimeCon’s second year.  I didn’t attend last year because I was unsure just what it was going to be all about.  This year I was on panelist for the Colonial Parkway Murders and, having reviewed the images and reports from last year, I felt pretty sure I was not attending some crazed weirdo cult gathering.

I had a good time.  Incorrect.  I had a GREAT time.  CrimeCon is one of the few places on the planet when you can say, “I write true crime,” and people don’t wince or say things like, “Oh, that’s nice…” while backing away slowly.  I get it, for decades true crime has been a secret pleasure for a lot of people.  The people here were fans – some were die-hard fans.  Others were dipping their toes into the true crime waters.  It was a very friendly group.

A bit about the demographics.  Most of the attendees were female…I don’t know the exact ratio but it seemed like 12 to 1.  Many were younger than me, which is easy because I’m 55.  There were fans of a wide variety of sub-genre’s too – TV crime show fans, author fans, serial killers, cold cases, podcast groupies, you name it.

The night we arrived at the Gaylord Resort in Nashville we were told we couldn’t go out to dinner at the mall because there had been a murder there.  I admit, I thought they were joking at first.  They weren’t.  Talk about mistakes.  We had a large number of FBI, law enforcement, lawyers and 3,500 armchair detectives only a half-a-mile away.

Victoria and I attended the session with Dianne Lake about her time with the Manson Family.  It was an interesting presentation.  It is hard to emotionally bond with Ms. Lake given where she was and who she was with in the summer of 1969.  You get this weird feeling with her of sadness, pity, yet some degree of distaste given that she was a member of the Manson Family.  I have to admit, I was fascinated on how Charlie got his talons into her.  Dang it – I will have to buy her book now.

The next session I attended was by Jim Fitzgerald on cracking the Unabomber case.  That’s right, it was “Fitz” himself.  He explained to us what parts of the show were not based on real life and did it in an amusing way, with actual Facebook and Twitter posts he had received.  Great stuff.  His insights and role in cracking that crime were incredible to listen to.  I want to go on Netflix now and re-watch it over again.

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“Fitz”  True story – Tabby was just a character.  He didn’t get someone’s career trashed – honest.  

I talked to Fitz about a serial murder spree that Victoria and I are working on.  More on this as we move forward…but our discussion was promising!

At the same time my co-author daughter attended the session on the Golden State Killer.  They had a great panel including one of the officers involved with this scumbag’s takedown.  New facts not in the press yet were presented.  I won’t take her thunder, she promised me a blog post on it, but I was intrigued to learn they had recovered some of the souvenirs this bastard had taken from his victims.  Oh, and that wheelchair?  Totally for the press.  I think his lawyer knows he’s going to lose the case but they want to try and mitigate the sentencing with a, “poor old feeble man,” routine.  Well, it’s a routine…and not very convincing.

I met with Gemma from The Keepers.  She was very nice.  We are cold case comrades.

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Giving up on cold cases is never really an option.  

The panel on the Colonial Parkway Murders that I was on was outstanding.  Bill Thomas and Joyce Call were on it; relatives of victims of Cathy Thomas and Keith Call respectively.  Both were outstanding as was expected.  We were moderated by former FBI agent Maureen O’Connell who did an admirable job of keeping us on task (no small feat mind you.)  We had over 520 attendees for the session – which is outstanding.  Get the word out about these crimes!

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Maureen O’Connell – A Class Act
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Bill Thomas – He’s been living this for 30 years.  
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Joyce Call did a great job keeping the family perspective first and foremost.  

We both sat in on the Delphi Murders panel.  Kudos to the family members and the Indiana State Police for coming.  Deeply moving.  I met with the grandfather of one of the victims later and offered him a couple of suggestions that he might consider.  The guy looked like a truck driver for some reason.  I suggested checking with the weigh-stations near the town.  You never know…

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Let’s get these families some closure.  

 

Victoria and I attended the early morning podcast session with Nancy Grace on the Delphi Murders…which we totally enjoyed.

While the rest of my family took in the Country Music Hall of Fame, I sat in on a session by Steven David Lampley on How to Catch a Liar.  Holy crudstunk – that was useful.  Not only is it something I can use as a true crime author when I interview people – it is something I can apply in my day-job as well.  Book purchased!

I attended the Nancy Grace Meet and Greet.  Wow has she got some great fans.  We were in line all talking and chatting about cases etc.  A young woman was there telling us about her cousin and a highly suspicious suicide down in Mississippi.  It was heart wrenching.  We offered her some advice on how to proceed.  I promised to post her information – so here it is.  Spread the word true crime fans!

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Christian Andreacchio – suicide or murder victim?  I want to know.  
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This is a case that demands someone to poke at.  It has a good-old-boy cover-up vibe to it.  

Nancy didn’t just do a meet and greet, we actually had a good conversation…so much so she asked for and got my phone number so we can talk at a later date.  It helped that I had a little gift for her – an autographed copy of A Special Kind of Evil.  It has been so long since an attractive lady has asked for my phone number, I was humbled by that alone.

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Nancy was a class act.  She’s jotting down my number inside our book.  

Later, I attended a fantastic session on Serial Killer profiling by Jim Clemente and John White.  They hit on some cases that I was unfamiliar with which made it interesting.  Their banter was funny, but not disrespectful to the victims (a line some podcasters need to learn from.)  I really enjoyed Dr. White’s perspectives on what make these killers tick.  I need to touch base with him on some work we are doing.

During the time there Victoria and I connected with quite a few podcasters and got approached for autographs – which is always good.  It is nice to meet our “fans.”  True Crime has never been this popular and CrimeCon helps make it more respectable.  Next year is New Orleans!

#crimecon

#ColonialParkwayMurders

#crimecon18

#NancyGrace

Non-Spoiler Review of Avengers – Infinity War

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I took my grandson to see this in IMAX-3D because I have waited almost a decade for this.  That’s right, Ironman released in May of 2008, starting us on this rollercoaster ride of films leading to this moment. My expectations were high.  But like riding a rollercoaster for the first time, nothing can quite compare you for the parts of the ride you can’t see from the line.

Marvel Studios faced a daunting task…how do you bring together the Avengers, the Guardians of the Galaxy, and all of the secondary characters together into something that is big and somehow cohesive?  They pull it off with this film, with style and in ways we never could have anticipated.

Having said that, not every character gets a chance to shine the way you might hope. If they did that this would be six hours long.  The interplay between the egos of Dr. Strange and Tony Stark is brilliantly written.  Thor emerges as one of the true superheroes of the Marvel universe.  I actually cheered out loud when he arrives on the battlefield, announced by Bruce Banner.

Some of our heroes aren’t there.  Ant-Man and Hawkeye are on the sidelines…for now.

There are parts of this film that will tear at you.  Thanos is out after the Infinity Stones.  All roads have led to this confrontation.  They can’t just take him down in a single confrontation; that would have been unfulfilling.  Having said that nothing can prepare you emotionally for the final scenes of this movie.

There are some stunning surprises and character/villain returns.  I won’t ruin it for you, but I have been waiting for this one character to return for years now.

My grandson did not like the end of the movie, which I understand from an eight-year-olds perspective.  I saw measures of brilliance in it.  Marvel is setting up the next phase, and have done so masterfully.  Thanos is the big baddy and to simply make his defeat unfold in 2.5 hours in some straight-up battle would have likely disappointed me.  Yes, I understand the criticisms about the end of the movie, but I saw something in it that made the antagonist even more dangerous and deadly.

There is one post-credit scene that is awesome, because it tells you where this is going.  I cannot say more without ruining this for you.  If you don’t get it, Google the upcoming Marvel films and you will.  The last word spoken in the film was perfectly done.

This is not your typical superhero film – it is much more.  It wipes you out emotionally.  Where you might have been thinking that this the end of the rollercoaster ride, you come to the realization that there are more hills, twists and turns to come.  Bravo Marvel.  Five out of five stars.

Now I need to console my grandson until next year…or until AntMan and Wasp…

The Golden State Killer’s Arrest – The Perspective From the Desk of a True Crime Author

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The faces of evil.  

I was overjoyed with the arrest of Joseph James DeAngelo for several of the Golden State Killer’s brutal crimes.  For the victims, it means that his crime spree of 12 murders, 50 rapes, and over 100 burglaries, was finally over.  He will never call his victims again and threaten them.  He will never cause nightmares with the survivors.  He looks like a pathetic old man who will likely spend the rest of his days behind bars…something I am quite comfortable with.  His reign of fear and torment are done.

We will learn more about this douchebag’s activities over time.  The nuts and bolts of the investigation will be played out the courts.  He may talk, he may clam up.  In the end it doesn’t matter.  It is a rare thing, to beat DNA evidence.

I write true crime books about cold cases.  I was thrilled when the news was announced.  I listened to the press conference live in the background while I worked my day job, hanging on every word.  It gives hope to the thousands of victims and family members out there waiting for resolution on their open cases.  At the same time it sends a ripple of fear into every murderer who believes he or she had gotten away with their crimes.  Justice comes…prodding painfully slow in many cases…but it comes.  Every uncaught serial murderer out there had a restless night of sleep as a result of this arrest.  Once more, they are forced to look over their shoulders and wonder when, if ever, the long arm of the law will apprehend them.  Good. Let these bastards sweat.  Let them worry.  Let them have a healthy dose of fear and mental anguish.

When they held the press conference the first question asked was, “Did Michelle McNamara’s book on the case have any influence?”  Law enforcement said no.  I respectfully disagree.  Her writing of that book, like any book written on a cold case, keeps it in the public’s eye.  Books like I’ll Be Gone in the Dark keep the pressure on law enforcement when it comes to cold cases.  While her book did not necessarily generate a tip that led to DeAngelo’s arrest, it spawned at least three documentaries to be produced in recent months.  It made the phrase, “Golden State Killer,” become embedded as part of our true crime lexicon.  It kept the public’s interest in the case and as such, keep the pressure on law enforcement.  While they offered Ms. McNamara any credit, I will extend it at this time.

There are others that wrote books on the case that deserve equal credit.  Countless podcasters covered the case over the last few years too and they deserve a professional nod from the true crime community.  They were part of a secret army of citizens that were struggling to keep this case fresh in the minds of a generation that did not know this murder/rape spree. They are part of that unspoken True Crime brotherhood that refuses to let cold cases remain frigid.  Hats off to all of them as well.  A job well done!

When I proposed writing my first book on a cold case, Murder in Battle Creek, there were publishers that wouldn’t touch it.  Not because of the writing or the content, but because it was about an unsolved murder.  I remember one telling me, “Who wants to read about a case that never gets closed?  True crime books have to have an arrest, a trial, and a conviction…that’s how they end.” It was such a narrow view…and discouraging.  It was as if they were saying the victim (Daisy Zick) didn’t matter, that because their crime was unsolved that no one cared. I felt differently.  I cared, and I didn’t think I was alone.  I think the public likes to be a part of such an investigation.  They want to know what went wrong and set it right.  It is in the public’s nature to want to help.  They want the facts and want to play armchair detective.  They want the pain and suffering of the families to end too.  I didn’t’ give up on trying to sell the book and was eventually successful.

The result – over two dozen new tips and leads…one just two months ago.

My second cold case book, I wrote with my daughter Victoria Hester.  The Murder of Maggie Hume exposed the flaws in some of the investigatory work in that case, as well as exposed a suspect that the public had never heard of.  The two of us had full cooperation with the prosecutor’s office and police.  We reached out to the public in speaking events and made sure the story got to as many people as possible.  The word got out.

The result – new tips and leads for the authorities to act on.

Our second book together, A Special Kind of Evil, The Colonial Parkway Serial Killings, has generated numerous new tips that have been turned over to the authorities. We have met with numerous people that are pounding the pavement in their own way, looking for resolution.  I know some folks think true crime authors make their money off other people’s misery.  They are wrong.  Most of us, the ones I know, simply want to help.

I feel like we’ve done our small part in shaking the stigma about writing about cold cases in the publishing world.  This recent arrest fills me (and my daughter) with renewed energy on the new cases we are exploring, as well as some of the new avenues we are looking into on the Colonial Parkway murders. The new cases we are looking into are exciting and bitterly cold.  We look forward to thawing them out and bringing them into the light of public debate, investigation, and speculation.

Those of us that write about cold cases never are done with our work; not until the arrest and conviction takes place.  We are on the cases until they are resolved.  That’s part of the commitment on our part. We don’t take that responsibility lightly.

In the meantime, the good guys have racked up a heck of a triumph.  This arrest is a victory for the law enforcement.  It is vindication and resolution (hopefully) for the many victims of this scumbag.  And, despite what was said in the press conference, it is a win for Michelle McNamara and her countless long hours of work and effort to keep this case in the public’s eye.

#truecrime

#GoldenStateKiller

Work De-Motivators – Things That Sap Morale in the Workplace

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I have learned over the years more about de-motivation than actual motivation.  Usually I obtain this knowledge while fulfilling the role of “whipping boy” for less-than-able managers (not at my current employer of course!)  What I have discovered is that when you look at what kills motivation you often can gain the important knowledge – what DOES help spur motivation.  Bear in mind I’m work in Information Technology, so my perspective can be slightly skewed – sometimes more than others.

So, in an effort to expand our knowledge, here are my big de-motivators list – in no particular order:

Seemingly random decisions by leadership.  The word “seemingly” is important here.  It’s actually pretty rare when a leader makes a totally random decision.  There’s almost always some reasoning behind it – some context for the decision.  Often times though, I’ve found, that the decision is communicated and not the reasoning or context of why the decision was made.  Without understanding “why” something is being done, the only conclusion I’m sometimes left with is that the decision was made by pulling it out of their collective asses.

Cutting back training. I worked in the auto industry – so I understand what tough economic times are.  Yes, you do have to cut expenses from time to time – and training is the proverbial victim of this.  Training is one area I am sensitive too.  Training is a pact between the organization and the individual. Training individuals says, “We see you being around here for a while and want to optimize you.”  When training is constricted to the point where it isn’t happening – the effects on many people is that they don’t believe that the organization cares about them as individuals.

Leap before you look leadership.  “Any jackass can burn down a barn,” or so the old saying goes.  Making a decision without all of the pertinent information can sap a team’s motivation.  I have seen current management buzzwords about “fail forward,” where people are willing to make mistakes to learn from them.  This kind of thinking creates the illusion of innovation, when in reality it is frustrating to the staff.

Analysis paralysis.  The opposite of leap before you look – this de-motivator is a lack of decisions making.  Sometimes the decisions are easy to make – but analysis paralysis is a major drain on the energy of an organization.  The quest for absolute perfect knowledge and buy-in is often the same as not taking a stand at all. Managers who constantly look for more data are often fearful of making the right decision.

Promotions that seem…well, crazy.  We’ve all been there when the promotion list comes out and we say, “What the hell?”  When promotions are given out to, well, morons of individuals whose only competency is killing senior leadership’s butt…it can be highly demotivating.

No apparent roadmap of where we are going.  I am most effective when I know what I am working towards.  I don’t need all of the details, but I like knowing a little bit of the end-state vision.  When I understand how my work gets us all further towards a goal – I get a sense of satisfaction.  Pretty simple really.  When I have no idea what the goal is I have no idea whether I am part of the problem or part of the solution.  Managers who say it is not about the destination, but the journey, are just deflecting that they don’t know where they are going.  Have you ever taken a family driving vacation, with the kids, in the summer, with no destination in mind?  In fact, a lack of vision can lead people to not take any steps at all out of fear they might be doing the wrong thing.

The Teflon Factor with leaders.  When presented with an issue or problem, a good leader will take an active role in resolving it.  A de-motivating leader will look to his or her team and say, “You people all have a problem.”  Accountability is a critical element of motivation of teams.   People look to managers/leaders to be in the same boat they are.  Managers that deflect issues down to their team erodes motivation of those teams.

Rewards and recognition applied unequally.  A messed up rewards and recognition system has the exact opposite of its intended purpose.

Conflict avoidance.  Some managers harbor the illusion that all conflict is bad.  That’s not true at all.  Conflict can often be protective.  Yes, it’s uncomfortable, but sometimes it forces people to deal with organizational or people issues that have to be resolved for the team(s) to grow.  Dodging conflict, ignoring conflict – these things drain organizational energy.

An attitude of, “You should be thankful you have a job…”  That’s odd, I thought I had a career?  When under pressure, some managers resort to the attitude of, “you’re lucky we keep you around.”  First off, let me tell you if I feel lucky.  Secondly, nine-times-out-of-ten when someone has told me I’m lucky I have a job – I feel quite the opposite.

Micromanagement.  There are times we all need a little direction…well, all of you…frankly I’m good.  Seriously though, some “leaders” think that leading means telling everyone how to do their job.  Most employees don’t need that.  They need a manager to run interference for them, remove obstacles, not tell them what color to make a Times Roman font in PowerPoint so that it stands out.

My purpose was not the come across negative…snarky, yes, negative, no.  If you look at this list you can see some gems on what provide motivation – the exact opposite of these:

  • Provide teams with concrete decisions and why they were made.
  • Invest in your people (train them).
  • Make informed decisions.
  • Make timely decisions to respond to the business.
  • Lay out a convincing and compelling vision of where the organization is going
  • Leaders need to hold themselves accountable to their teams.
  • Apply rewards and recognition fairly and proportionally to the value of the work being rewarded.
  • Employ constructive conflict techniques to resolve issues.
  • Let employees tell you (and the rest of the organization) that they are glad to be part of the team.
  • Tell your people the results you want and let them amaze you as to how they do it.

Thoughts?  Rebuttals?  Recriminations? Did you like this?  Go read my book, Business Rules, The Cynic’s Guidebook to the Corporate Overlords.  (Catchy title eh?)