The Chronicling of our D&D Campaign: Tempora – Part 20

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Welcome to the novelization of my current D&D campaign, told through the perspective of the characters.  Parts 1-19 (below) charted the first part of the campaign, now we begin the next phase, 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!

Theren…

The decision had been made, the die cast…we would go north in search of the missing paladins of the Order of the Fang. I have to admit, the thought that our small party might somehow tread where the paladins failed was daunting, but there was no turning back at this point.  The irony of our mission was not lost on me – I was doing something that would aid the church, a church that had hunted and slaughtered my druidkin.

We bedded down for a few days, using this opportunity to rest, mend our armor, and hone our skills.  We were no longer the young men that wandered from White Rock months ago. We had battled Amber Elves and had been honored by the Minotaurs, ending their long-standing feud with the realm. The nipple ring I wore was a little hard to get used to, but a small price to pay for the honor it gave me.

The next day Sir Karrick, the acting First Shield, turned to Althalus and told him that had had been approached by one of guards that had come with us.  “I was told that you used magic in your confrontation with the Minotaurs.”  It was no light charge. The church had been hunting the killing non-cleric magic users for years.  Althalus stood mute to the charge at first, then conceded. The lord-paladin was far more gracious than I anticipated.  “Very well.  You have provided us with a service in bringing these men here.  You will not enter our sacred church or desecrate our grounds with your ungodly magic. Violate that, and you will face my justice.”  The warlock knew his place and held his tongue.

A few days passed when we heard the alarm from the battlements.  A rider was approaching.  The guards were not taking any chances with their numbers so low.  Crossbows were made taut and bolts put in place.  A rider approached the gates and we heard the challenges to him.

“It is I, Brandon Windriver a local ranger.  I have a message for the First Shield,” a voice rang up to the guards over the gate. We moved out into the courtyard.  The Gash was not a place given the visitors.

The gate slowly creaked open and we saw this so-called messenger.  He stood almost two elbows tall human, with short dark black hair.  He had sapphire blue eyes, more given to a bard than a ranger. He looked safe enough…for the time being.

“What is all of this commotion?” Sir Karrick asked brusquely as the ranger entered the castle grounds.

“I bring a message to the First Shield from a village to the north west of here,” the ranger said, handing out a sealed scroll.

Sir Karrick broke the wax seal and read the message, growling through his graying beard as he did so.  He tossed the message down on the ground in frustration.  “Damn, damn, damn!” he cursed.

“More good news I see,” Althalus quipped.  The First Shield ignored him, which we all thought was lucky on his part. I side-stepped away from the warlock, just in case it came to blows.  His sniping words would be the death of us someday, I was sure of that.

The ranger, Brandon, picked up the note while Sir Karrick turned to the rest of us.  “We cannot afford to wait for conformation and additional troops from Lord Sklaver.  You and you party are to be ready to ride out tomorrow morn.”

“What does the message say stranger?” Arius asked.

Brandon cleared his throat, ignoring that the message was not for his eyes.  “To the Acting First Shield, Order of the Fang

“I am sure that you can verify my hand on this letter “old friend.”  I am aware of your plight.  While some of it amuses me, even I recognize a threat that must be dealt with.  The former first shield, Sir Theris Bentblade, refused to heed my warnings. As a result, your brothers and sisters have been captured in Tempora.  The doddering old fool refused my offer of advice.  As a result, your men are being sacrificed in an unholy manner.

“Viktor Barristen walks the land once more.  He seeks to slaughter your men in order to escape purgatory and regain his life once more.  It was he that forced the release of demonspawn at the Wail to lure your men into his trap.  If he succeeds, there will be nothing to prevent him from releasing what remains in the Gash. I know he has walked the Blood of the Gods and resides deep in Tempora, where your men may yet live.

“I intercepted your message to Karn because the idiots of the Royal Guards would be nothing but fodder in the hands of an evil such as Barristen. This is a matter that only the bravest of souls can dare undertake.

“There is time to save them.  For reasons that should be obvious, I did not come in person.  You must rescue them or Sir Barristen will return to plunder the souls of mortals for a thousand years.

“Lexa Lyoncroft, Mother Superior and Wielder of Ubanthsblade the Reaver.”  He stammered through the script on the page, but the mention of Lexa Lyoncroft made all of us look at each other.  “We are finally getting answers to what has been happening,” Althalus said.  I agreed.

I turned my attention to the ranger.  “How did you come into possession of this letter fair sir?”

“A lady paid me 75 gold pieces to deliver it here.”

“When – where?” Arius pressed.

“My home village, Walden, north and west from here…some ten days ago.  She was attractive – wore a green cape, big damned sword.” Brandon replied.  I still could picture Lyoncroft.  It had been her.

Sir Karrick interceded.  “We cannot allow Vicktor Barristen to return.  No matter how much Lexa is angered with me, and no matter how much I deserve it, I don’t think she would lie about him.”

“So you think she is telling the truth?” I asked. I wanted to press on who Barristen was, but now was not the time.

“Her version of the truth…yes.  I have no doubt that she believes what she wrote.  That is her handwriting, I know it well.”

“She came fairly close to here to send the message,” I added.  Why risk herself if she was not serious?

“You will need to ride forth in the ‘morrow, try and find their trail to the White Vale.  Somewhere beyond the Vale supposedly lay the entrance to Tempora.”

“It seems we are on the road to Tempora,” Arius added, almost musically.  He then turned to Brandon Windriver, “What are your plans?”

“I have none.  I was paid for my services…paid well I might add.”

“Well,” our paladin continued.  “We are heading north to find these errant knights and try and save them…off to Tempora.”

“Interesting…” the ranger replied. “I would be willing to undertake this journey.  Finding a lost city interests me.”

Althalus leaned in towards Sir Karrick.  “What can you tell us about Tempora Sir Karrick?”

The graying knight grew grim as he spoke.  “What is there to say about Tempora that has not been spoken about in taverns across the lands. It was a great dwarven city centuries ago, one of the first great cities.  Carved along the walls of a hollow mountain, the city was protected because there were only four ways in – the great underground roads.  One, the low road, led from the white vale.  The other, well that was the high road in the pass of Kamon.  That path has been lost for ages, buried in an avalanche.

“It has been said that its most striking features was the statue of King Effidies above the waterfall of the underground river Samath, just over the Tears of Tempora falls – or just the Tears of Tempora.

“Over two centuries ago something happened.  It is said the dwarves dug too deep and awakened a demon that destroyed their city.  Others say that evil found a way in, past the defenses on the roads, and corrupted those inside.  What is known is that the dwarves fled Tempora amidst tales of death, war and destruction.

“Near the end of the last war, before the purges of the magic users of the world, it is said that a party of them and the church entered there and destroyed the evil that controlled the city.  Their tale, the Journey of the Black Tears, is a recited poem, most of which is lost, but offers little more.  They claim that the city was in ruins, a massive mound of rubble and death.  They traveled deep under Tempora and captured what had led to its downfall – bringing it to the Great Gash and casting it down.  There are records of that with the Legion of the Fang, though no details of what it was.  Only that it was bound in iron bands and sackcloth covered with ruins of the church – powerful wards to keep the evil in check.  Tossed from the Wail, it is said that its howls and moans can still be heard there.

“The only fragment of The Journey of the Black Tears that is often quoted:

“It was in the darkness we gathered to face our fears

A dousing walk, where none tread, ‘neath Samath’s tears

To the royal tombs and temples that rested in the dark and dank.

Where the spiders crawl and the rat nests stank.

Through the stairs to the resting place

Of Arron, King of Kings of the dwarven race.

Where now only the blackest of bats sing their seduction tune

In the barrow depths and the grottos dark swoon.

Into the depths below Tempora’s Tears we went…”

“Unfortunately none know how to reach the entrance, it has been long hidden to mortals.  We only know the legend that it at the White Vale.  I will see that your horses are provisioned and we can provide you with five days of rations.”

I had heard the poem before, but had never thought of it as possibly providing clues that might save our lives.  That night I pondered the words.  Everything was hinging on us being able to find the road to the Dwarven city; which seemed to be a stretch.  I was happy we had a ranger with us – the trail we were searching for was destined to be old.

As we prepared the next morning, Althalus offered some words of guidance to our new traveling comrade.  “I have one book, my grimoire.  Don’t look at it, don’t touch it.  That’s it – I’m not kidding here.”  He had never mentioned the grimoire before, so I assumed he had made it in his spare time at the castle during our respite.  That was the thing about our warlock, he did things that made us all a bit uneasy. I had used our rest time to master other spells that might be of use to us, all out of eyeshot of the paladins.

We headed north, Brandon checking for any signs of a road or trail that the wayward band of paladins may have taken.  It took him a while, but he soon found a patchwork of old cobble stones marking what had been a road in ages past.  To most of us it looked like stony ground at first, but once we stared at it, we could see the individual stones with weeds and grass sprouting between them.

We followed the old trail north.  The ground was broken and slowly rose upwards to the hills and mountains in the north.  Pines dotted the ground, along with Thornholly brushes and the occasional boulder.  Clouds rolled in, deep purple, giving us a bit of a chill during our sleep that night.  In the distance, the mountains loomed high. I wondered if we would have to climb them to find this lost city.

We shook off the night cold and set off north, following the old trail that snaked upward in the foothills.  The day was uneventful but a few hours before sundown, Brandon noticed some stirring in the brush ahead off the side of the trail.  He came back and gave us a word of warning.  “There’s some activity up ahead.  I’m going to go up and see if I can see what it is.”  We agreed, after all, it was his hide at risk, not ours.  Arius flanked to the right and Dimitrious followed Althalus.

Brandon came back. “There are two creatures up ahead, hiding.  They are talking but I don’t understand what they are saying.”

“If they are up ahead, they are higher than us, the road slopes upwards,” Althalus said. “It gives them the high ground.”

“They are behind a Thornholly bush,” the ranger added.  “I couldn’t get a good look at them.”

“Let’s see if we can figure out who they are,” I said firmly.  And only kill them if necessary…

We got closer, moving in slowly, then we heard a whiny voice.  “Halt…halt!” came back the small voice. “Drop your weapons.” It was far from intimidating.

Our warlock raised his empty hands, which was far more dangerous than any weapon he might hold. “Come on out.  Perhaps we can talk.  We don’t mean any harm.”  That wasn’t quite true, I saw Arius hunker next to me and whisper, “Do you think I can set that holly bush on fire?”  I shook my head, but appreciated his thinking.

“No talk – give us your money,” another voice said from the bush. I swear I heard the other one chuckle.

Arius frowned.  “No, I don’t think so.”  He was speaking more to me than them, but I was sure they could hear him at this range.  The paladin rose and called to them.  “If you try and take our money, we will have to hurt you.”

“This is our trail – get off of it!” spat back the first voice.

The other voice snickered slightly, this time leaving little doubt in my mind that they were mocking us.  “Leave us your stuff and you can go free.  Otherwise we will kill you.”

The first voice spoke again, deeper, adding, “We are very powerful!”

“Seriously?” Arius said.  “I think they are laughing at us.”  He pulled his sword out as if to emphasize his point.

“They sound cute,” Althalus added.  “Can I keep one?”

Apparently they could hear us.  A spear flew from behind the holly bush, hitting Brandon in the thigh, making the ranger reel in pain.  A pair of goblins emerged, over-armored, as if they had recently looted some bodies. The armor was clearly several sizes larger than the goblins.  “Stop mocking us, we have many spears and will hurt you!”

I laughed, if only for a moment. Goblins.

One of them spoke to other.  “I told them we had many spears,” he whispered loud enough for us to hear.  Both chortled for a moment.  They then sidestepped back behind the bush.

“I really want one for a pet,” Althalus said.

I grew impatient and the thought of the warlock having a pet goblin was disturbing on many planes of thought.  It was bad enough that the mute monk seemed devoted to him.  I had mastered a new spell that seemed perfect for this occasion.  I closed my eyes and focused on a spot of green light only I could see in my eyelids – the power of the soil and forest.  There I saw the thornholly and I tapped it.  Vines!  I stretched them with my mind, outward from the green spot of light I focused on.  Twisting and growing, churning and ensnaring.  I opened my eyes and felt the wet palms of my hands reach out before me.  The ground where the goblins hid erupted in a burst of vines, hoisting them upward, wrapping around them like snakes.

The goblins tried to move, and that was their undoing.  The thorns cut them like a dozen little daggers.  The more the struggled and tried to get free, the more oozing green blood splattered on the new growth. They squealed in agony as the vines grew.  They died before throwing another spear.

I stopped concentrating on the mound of twisting thorns and it dissipated, dropping their armored bodies to the ground of clanking as their armor hit the stones.

“Well, that was easy,” Althalus said sarcastically.

We inspected the bodies, and saw that their armor was clearly not goblin-made.  This was the armor that the paladins wore at the Great Gash.  “They must have gotten it from the paladins that we were following.” I pinched my nose to protect it from their stink.

“We will never know,” I added.  “Maybe they raided the paladins back at the Gash.”

“That armor is relatively new – no rust. I think this is an indication that we are on the right trail.”  The older paladin always sounded so confident.  “I think we need to move forward – follow the road north.”

There was a murmur of agreement, though it came through a veil of foreboding.  I reminded myself that a legion of paladins had marched this way and disappeared.  How could we fare better than a host of armored knights?

We were about to find out…

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

Character Background Material

My New Campaign

#dungeonsanddragons

#DandD

#DnD

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Why the release of Starfinder is important

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At GenCon this year I picked up Starfinder – hot off of the press.  I had no idea why at the time.  It was a pure impulse purchase, driven by something I hadn’t felt for a while in gaming – a sense of excitement. It took me a while to figure out why I was excited, hence this entry in my blog.

I have been soaking in its pages and have been impressed with most of what I have seen so far.  A true space opera RPG with a fairly robust set of rules.  Outstanding artwork and some ingenious thinking about how to handle the timeline between Pathfinder and Starfinder.  I could critique some of the rules, I won’t.  Starfinder is far too important in the industry right now.  I accept it for what it is.  A return to pure open-ended sci-fi gaming. A return to the era of the space opera.

Oh, sure we’ve had sci fi gaming all long (Shadowrun, Eclipse Phase, etc.) but we what the industry has lacked for years is a good generic sci fi RPG in the tradition of old school gaming.

I am a graduate of that old school, white box D&D and black box Traveller and all. Pathfinder harkens back to those days and that was why I was excited about it.

Looking back, Traveller broke new ground when it came out in a lot of respects.  One, your character could die during creation – and two, it was a rules set for a big damn universe of mystery and combat.  Gamemasters had a clean slate in the early years to craft our own universes.

There were other games that came along – Metamorphosis Alpha and Gamma World, for example – but they were targeted sub genres of the sci fi.  They had limits.  Of course, we had Space Opera and Iron Crown’s Spacemaster, which were great at the time, though Spacemaster was hard to run as I recall, but there was a lot of stuff packed into the rules.  FTL 2448 and even Fringeworthy opened up new uncharted gaming universes for us to craft into our own.  Empires were to be forged and fortunes were out there waiting for us to take them.

WEG’s Star Wars and FASA’s original Star Trek RPG’s were great, but those were established universes that had boundaries. We were limited by the IP (intellectual property.)  Space opera role playing let the gamemaster define the universe, and often times there were few limits beyond the rules themselves.

Then TSR released Star Frontiers – and that provided us all with another big open-ended RPG in space.  That was the peak of the space opera era.  We still had Traveller out there, but by then, the Traveller universe was beginning to take form on its own, slowly boxing us in. The rise of the IP-driven sci fi RPG’s pinched us even further.  It was easier to pick up Star Wars then to create a universe from scratch.

Then came the dark times.  Star Frontiers disappeared in 1986 or so, though game product continued on in the back rooms of local game stores.  Traveller became Traveller 2300 which failed to capture our attention.  Space Opera and Spacemaster went out of mainstream print as well. Those games like Eclipse Phase that emerged were defined.

Then this year, Starfinder came out.  Paizo really took a big and successful gamble.  Pathfinder has become, well, a library system on its own.  There isn’t a lot of room for growth. Jumpstarting a new space opera game seemed ridiculous on paper…except for us old school gamers.  We knew that the market would support it.  Hell, there had been a hole in that market that was waiting to be filled with a product of the quality and caliber of Starfinder.

I have read pudits whine about its compatibility with Pathfinder.  I have heard the moans about starship combat (some of which I agree with.)  Forget all of that.  Starfinder has joined the pantheon of open-ended space RPG’s and has earned already a place of distinction.  Paizo seems to be supporting it heavily which will ensure its long-term success.  Once more, we RPG gamemasters can take our players to the stars for big-ass adventures of our own creation.  Starfinder is important because it fills a gap that has been out there for some time in the industry. The universe is a big place…filled with magic, tech, and sudden death.  Saddle up!

Sneak Peek at Tripods and Triplanes – Ares Games New Kickstarter

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The Martians land smack-dab in the Great War!  Awesomeness to follow.

The folks over at Ares Games are currently running a Kickstarter for Tripods and Triplanes and sent me a review copy.  Being a huge fan of their Wings of Glory and Sails of Glory, this was a welcome arrival on my part.  I was one of those folks that bought into All Quiet on the Martian Front when it was a Kickstarter as well.  WWI mixed with Martians is a good game concept and it is clear Ares has another winner here. 

Key proviso here:  I received a prototype copy of the game so my comments are based on that, not the final production copy.  Guys at Ares, you should feel free to send me the final product (wink wink, nod nod).  

The background for this game is simple.  In March of 1918 Martian tripods (ala War of the Worlds) land in Alsace.  The warring powers sign a truce and start going after these heat-ray-toting war machines.  Simplicity is important or you start asking too many questions; like why not go after them with tanks and artillery?  Just stick to the premise – Martian tripod walkers against WWI aircraft. 

One of my initial concerns about the game system was that it would not be fully compatible with Wings of Glory.  Thankfully it is!   So I don’t have to run out and buy new decks or new aircraft.  The systems mesh perfectly.  In other words, you have a whole new reason to buy Wings of Glory airplanes.  Now you can use them against the bloody-damned Martian invaders!

If you are on the human side, you’re essentially playing Wings of Glory.  There are not any substantive changes to the rules here.  You draw three cards for your maneuvers, you move, shoot, move, shoot…you get the idea.  Altitude is not much of a factor here since your targets are ground based.  If you are not familiar with Wings of Glory, it takes upwards of ten minutes or so to master the game system. 

What Ares Games has done though is to introduce a number of new concepts with the Martians that make the gameplay very challenging, for both players.  There are four groupings of these changes.  First, is the movement of the tripods.  The Martian player’s tripods move just like planes in Wings of Glory.  There are cards with the movements on them, you move them based on the patterns/lines on the cards.  Tripods, however, can stand still, pivot in place, and move backwards.  This may not sound that different, but for a seasoned Wings of Glory player, it can change your maneuvers when you get in close to target. 

The second group of changes is that the Martians also have action tokens.  These are things like fire your heat ray,  discharge smoke (in the Standard Game), recharge your batteries, change facing (pivot).  These get played in addition to the maneuvers.  So there is some planning that needs to take place on the part of the Martians.

The third thing is that the Martian player has to manage power with his tripods.  You don’t get to fire or use your shields if you don’t have power tokens.  So you need to use your token to recharge your batteries as you go or your tripod becomes a big moving target.  It’s easy to do, but if you are pressed in a heated battle (pun intended) you may be hard-pressed to keep the power levels up. 

Finally, the fourth new thing is that the tripods can have shields and new weapons.  Shields reduce the damage but often may not cover an entire tripod, often leaving the rear exposed.  The new weapons are nasty.  In the basic game you have the heat ray.  The rules about the firing arcs require some careful reading, but what is most important is that the heat ray is devastating in terms of range and damage to biplanes and triplanes.  While it is a smaller arc of fire than a machinegun on most Wings of Glory aircraft, it has a long reach that gives the tripods some advantage.  Also the heat ray fires through side projectors as well on the tripods I played.  

In the Standard Game, the Martians also get smoke projectors.  Think of these are clouds that dissolve aircraft and pilots.  These clouds remain on the map and make a zone that most pilots will want to avoid.  Of course the humans pick up rockets as weapons, which certainly helps against the tripods. 

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This nasty tripod has discharged smoke onto my rocket armed Nieuport.

Let me say that if these are the miniatures that will be offered, they rock.  The detail on them is fantastic, especially the larger tripods.  Ares Games always does a lot of fine detail work in their aircraft for Wings of Glory, and we see that here with the tripods too. 

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The detail on these prototypes is amazing.
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This bugger fires a lot of smoke.  I can’t wait to give him a try.

The draft rules I received were okay.  You have to read some sections very carefully, such as the Action Tokens and toppling tripods.  In playing, I made a few mistakes in movement that resulted in my tripod toppling.  Where Wings of Glory tends to be forgiving with mistakes, Tripods and Triplanes is not.  If you make a mistake as a Martian (and are caught) you will topple over and take damage. 

The ultimate question everyone has is: “How does it play?”  I tried a few different scenarios on my own.  First, I took up Von Richthofen flying straight in against a Locust tripod.  In other words, no real tactics, just fly in guns a-blazing.  

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Kids – don’t try this at home – I’m a professional

It didn’t end well for the Red Baron.  He went down in flames as he reached close range to the Locust.  That means that tactics are important in the game.

Next I did some maneuvers to see if the outcome was different.  Getting around behind the tripod is trickier than you might think because the tripod player can use a change face token to pivot.  The tripods are more nimble than you might think.  To do real damage, I had to keep the aircraft in close.  That was no problem.  Between the aircraft and tripod movements, ranges closed fast.  The narrow heat ray beam arc helped the Red Baron score a victory, though it was a close match.  My summary – tactics count in this game. 

 

I played one round with a medium tripod with the standard rules.  Those smoke clouds are nasty…the Martians can place them anywhere at the end of the firing arc and the clouds remain on the map.  Flying and Nieuport with rockets really didn’t seem to change the balance of play up as much as I hoped. 

 

The next test run I used a two-seater (an old Wings of Glory plane).  Alright, now we are talking.  Having two firing arcs on the airplane allowed me to do a fly-by of the tripod, shooting as I passed and hitting the non-shield side with the rear gunner.  “Take that Martian scum!”  My take on this is your choice of aircraft is very important in the game. 

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With a two-seater with rear firing machineguns, you can take a flyby, hit the tripod from the front, then from the rear.

My summation.  Ares has another hit on their hands.  They have successfully (and artfully) taken an established historical game system and have repurposed it into a science fiction game.  I struggle to find another company to successfully pull that off.  I recommend you check out their Kickstarter to get in on the fun and carnage. 

The Chronicling of our D&D Campaign: To the Gellesian Fields Part 19

Paladin2

Welcome to the novelization of my current D&D campaign, told through the perspective of the characters.  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!

Arius…

The Splattering… Ritual of Kurasak…left my soul and body weary but joyful.  I had delivered true holy retribution by turning over Captain Wildsong to Prince Wheaton as his slave. My faith calls for maintaining a balance under the eyes of God.  Giving up the Captain was a more honorable justice than I wanted to give that scoundrel.

Images of the fireball that had consumed brave Galinndan were seared into my closed eyelids as I prayed for him.  He fought well, he fought gallantly, and it cost him his life. Worst yet, his death had come at the hands of one of our own.

I wiped the sweat from my brow and Althalus spoke up, shattering my peace, “We did a lot of good things this day. We have lifted their hunt for Blackshear.”

“I will get you for this!” Wildsong managed to yell as the Minotaur’s bound him.

I opened my eyes and look at him.  As we locked gazes, I blew him a kiss and smiled.

The remaining royal guards stared at us in shock and amazement. Althalus stood before them. “You men have a choice.  Stay here, or come with us to the Gash.”

One of the men, a skinny fighter with a blackened beard stepped forward. “I will fulfill the last set of orders we had to go onto the Gash.”  Most of the others were stunned still.  “We have known Wildsong for years…and you sold him into slavery.”

“I didn’t sell him.  And, for the record, he we going to kill my friends and me.”

All but one of the dozen men seemed to begrudgingly agree.  They had all witnessed what had taken place and none were willing to risk out blade and ire to test us.  They were, in that one moment, wise.  The one defiant one glared at us.  “I will not be a party to this betrayal.  I will go back to Karn and tell them what I witnessed here this day.”  I know my comrades wanted to kill him but my piety held my hand. “Let him go.”

“It is dangerous to let him leave,” Althalus muttered.

“You are not going to kill him.”

Wheaton heard our debate and seemed to understand.  “We will take him with us for a few days.”

“Allow me to offer you 25 silver coins for the trouble your highness.”

He waved his hand.  “I would not think of taking money from members of my tribe who have fought so bravely.”

I gave him a nod, acknowledgement between warriors.  We began to march off and saw the Minotaurs bow their heads to us, one by one.  Wheaton came forward a few steps with a small wooden box.  “One more thing.  I offer these tokens to you to honor your fight today and the friend you have lost.”

They were small polished silver rings.  One of his men stepped forward with a piercing iron.  They tugged at my armor and exposed my nipple.  The iron stung like being hit by an arrow.  When I looked down I saw one of the small silver rings hanging there, dripping with my blood.  They were just like those that the other Minotaurs wore.  One by one each of us endured the painful ritual, none making a sound at the piercing.

We headed north along the road for two hours before finding a place suitable for camping.  When we awoke, we discovered that another of our troop had fled during his watch in the night.  A coward that could not hold to his word.  We trudged on, my arms and back aching from the battle still.

By the shadowless hour we saw the border and a tower there.  This one was under construction.  Stone blocks had been hoisted by tackle up to the top and a rickety wooden scaffolding surrounded the structure. They saw us approaching and waved from the tall half-completed battlements.

One of the guards there approached and called, “Hail!”  We responded with far less enthusiasm.

“Who is in command here?”

“I am,” Althalus responded confidently.

“Where is Captain Wildsong?”

The warlock seemed to revel with the question.  “Captain Wildsong was lost the Minotaurs that were roaming in the area.  We have lost two other men since we encountered them.”

“Oh.  They must still be on their quest to look for Blackshear then,” the guard said, shaking his head.

“I suppose,” Althalus said.  “But I get the feeling that their quest may be winding down.”  He smirked.  I saw it, I’m sure of it.

“That can only be good for the realm,” the guard replied.

“We are undertaking the mission that the Captain started,” the warlock replied.

“And that is?”

“Going to the Gash to reinforce the troops there.”

The guardsman seemed nonplussed at the task.  “It is two days ride north of here, you cannot miss it.  You’re welcome to stay here for the night.  We’ll provide you food and shelter before you get on your way.  We donna’ have much room but you are welcome to what space we do have.  We were going to have rabbit stew tonight.  Not much, but a hot meal.”

“We greatly appreciate your hospitality,” Althalus replied.

We began to walk towards the small stone barracks adjacent to the tower.  “So how did, of all people, Wildsong become lost to the Minotaurs?”

I was fully prepared to lay out the case as to how the Captain had betrayed us at the orders of the Vizir, but our warlock cut me off.  “They were on a quest for revenge for Blackshear killing their former ruler.  Their prince, Wheaton, was with them. He decided to exact his revenge on the Captain.”  The twisting of the truth out of my friend’s mouth was a sin that I would never get him to confess to.

“Yet you survived?”

“Not all of us made it out unscathed,” the warlock continued.

The Guard seemed to understand.  “Well, my father fought with Blackshear.  He’s a big man, quite brave.  It is too bad about the Captain.  Was he killed in battle?”

The lie got thicker.  “He seemed gravely wounded it and seemed we would not be able to save him,” Althalus said casting me a glance that sternly told me to not speak up at this moment.  “If he is not dead, I don’t see him coming out this way anytime soon.”  It bothered me that he was enjoying weaving this story to the innocent man…but not enough to stop him.

“Well, he always was a bit of an ass I always felt but I bear him no ill-will.  Make sure you get fodder for your horses.  You know it is a holy order that guards the Gash, so you will need to mind what is said and done there.  They can be prickly.”

I was not concerned.  Fellow paladins would be a nice relief from my comrades.  We dined with the small guard contingent, exchanged pleasantries, and bedded down.  Bor asked me as he lay on his straw, “What should we do to commemorate Galinndan?”

I reflected for a moment.  “We will get a plaque made in his honor…and tell Blackshear what he did.”

Althalus spoke in a low tone.  “We should carve on it, ‘He died for the love of Blackshear’s daughter.’”  I winced slightly at the warlock’s twisted sense of humor, yet oddly, I think the thief would have liked that.  He had rambled on about the girl for miles during our journey.

The next day a light rain fell and we saddled up for the final leg of our journey.  We moved north along the muddy road and spoke little, our wounds from the ritual still mending.  The next day we came up a low rise and below us in the distance was the Gash.  At the end of the vast crack in the earth stood a castle – and jutting out from that some 50 yards was a half-arch of stone with a dais at the end of it, hovering over the vast emptiness of the Great Gash.

I had heard of this place only in stories…of how during the last great war, the Banner of Gold drove the armies of the Black Banner and the evil Serhath Dorn out onto the long flat plains there.  The fighting in the Gellesian Fields drove the enemies of the world to this spot. Then the last king of men, Ansil Albinson the Swift summoned the greatest wizards – the Elder Council of Magics and the Lord Victar to a rocky prominence and they unleashed a powerful incantation.  The ground opened beneath the armies of darkness, devouring them as the great chasm was formed.  It was said that the crack plunged into the soul of the world, but I did not know that.  The fortress had been built there to stand guard over the evil dead – dubbed the Fangs of Kraylor.  Their Legion of paladins were sword to protect the world from anything that might have survived the plunge into the eternal black of the Gash.  Now here I was, looking at this place of legend and wished my father had lived to see such a place.  The stories you told me were true father.  In my mind I can almost see King Albinson there, standing at that dais.

As we approached the fortress, we were hailed from the battlements.  We told them we had been sent to reinforce the Gash…that we had heard there was something that had come out of the Gash and they were in need of assistance.  They opened the massive ironbound oak-stone doors.

Two knights approached us.  One was old, with thinning gray hair and beard, and a look of consternation and pure anger painted his face.  The other was walking three steps apace behind the angry knight.  The elder man stood before us. “Who is in charge here?”

“I am – my name is Althalus,” the warlock responded. He made quick introductions of us as well.

“I am Sir Karrick of the Order of the Silver Blade, Acting First Shield and Commander of this Order.”

Althalus explained how a Gray Rider had come to our village and how we had undertaken the journey to complete his ride. He told him, in very vague terms, how we had recovered the message that had called for aid, and how Lord Sklaver had sent us to honor that request.

“I sent for no Gray Rider…no message for aid was sent,” Karrick replied sternly.

The second knight stepped forward.  “Commander.  I called the Gray Rider and sent the message.”  There was a hint of penance in his voice.

Karrick reeled on him.  “Ferrin, why would you do this? Our order has always dealt with these matters on our own – it is our charge to do so.”

“We had to do something commander.  We needed reinforcements,” the shorter knight named Ferrin replied.

Althalus interceded in their debate.  “I have no idea what is going on here but it is serious enough for someone to have intercepted your message to prevent it from being delivered.  Someone was willing to risk slaying a Gray Rider.”

Sir Karrick glared at the warlock and said nothing for a moment, then ordered the gates closed.  “Very well, come into my office.  We have much to speak of.”

Althalus ordered the other guards to find quarters.  Our original party followed Sir Karrick into the inner keep.  The inside of the Fangs of Kraylor were pristine, with magnificent green grass and the Sept of the Silver Blade, the church of the order, was of ancient design, with vines creeping up along its sides. White marble pavers marked the walkways. It was as if the interior of the fortress was a world of its own, a contrast to the black rip in the soul of the world it protected.

Inside his Spartan office he invited us in and closed the door.  “Ferrin, what have you done?”

“While you were in the north searching, I did what I thought was best.  Lord Sklaver was the closest place for us to get reinforcements.  We are alone here against the night.”

Karrick shook his bowed head in thought, then turned to us.  “Forgive me, these are trying times for us.”

“Lord Sklaver was unwilling to send an army until he confirmed your need,” Althalus replied. “Since the rider had been ambushed and he never got the message directly from the rider’s pouch, he didn’t entirely trust it.”

Or us…

He asked for the message and I produced my copy for him to read.  He put the paper on his desk after reading the words.  Sir Ferrin glanced at it.  “Those are my words commander, yet not my handwriting.”

The older knight seemed to know that already.  “It is difficult to admit our need for aid, we have never called for it before.  First Shield Sir Theris Bentblade had gone to the Wail, an observation post along the Gash.  Something rose out of the Gash…a shadow…yet something more.  The First Shield set out after this shadow with 400 paladins of the legion heading north to the Pass at Sever.  There their trail disappeared.  Our defenses have been stripped.  We cannot let the foes of all that is good know that we are almost defenseless.  There are many that would take advantage of our state.”

For a few moments we said nothing.  Sir Karrick continued, “We accept your men as reinforcements.  Our rules are simple.  Only an ordained paladin may enter the Sept of the Silver Blade or step out onto the Pinnacle of Light.”

“We should send someone back to Lord Sklaver…to get more reinforcements,” Althalus offered and Karrick solemnly agreed.

Then Althalus said something that seemed to escalate the emotions in the room.  “We have reason to believe that the Sisterhood of the Sword may be involved in this somehow.”  He told him that we had encountered one of them, that she had intercepted the message.  The mention of the Sisterhood made Karrick stand erect, taller than even Bor.  His eyes fixed on the warlock.  “Her name was Lexa Lyoncroft.”

Karrick turned to Ferrin, then back to us.  “Lexa Lyoncroft. She is involved with this?”

“Yes,” I answered firmly. “She was the one that attacked the Gray Rider and took Ferrin’s call for aid. She has the original message.  We obtained a copy of it from her.”

“This does not bode well.  It is like a nightmare that has come back from my youth.”

“You know her?” I queried.

“Yes – I do.  I fear I played a part in her plight.  The Sisterhood of the Sword was at one time as powerful a military order as our own.  Lexa was one of their most fearless sisters, a holy warrior beyond repute.  Her skills with the blade were greater than any other. She burned with a holy passion that made her glow in the dark.

“She told me that she discovered a corruption in the church, a plague that devoured all that was good in the church.  She and her mother superior were going to confront the Council of Cardinals about their misdeeds.

“The church turned on them.  My order was one of three sent in to purge them.  It is my fault that she lived.  Our battle was one for the ages.  I cornered her while her temple burned around her, but I could not bring myself to kill her.  There was something about her, something that I cannot describe. I could not bring myself to take her life.  It was wrong then…and wrong now.

“She fled, along with four others of the sisterhood.  The church labeled them the Five Witches…done to prevent them from ever gaining help from locals.  Over the years two of the five have been caught and have faced the church’s justice.

“Lexa wants revenge.  I fear she may ally herself with something dark and soulless to extract that vengeance.”

Althalus spoke up.  “She didn’t seem to be motivated by vengeance when we met her.  She acted as if there was something else in play, some greater evil she wanted to stop.”

Sir Ferrin spoke up.  “Commander, how would she have known what was in my message?  How would she have known to intercept it?  I wonder – is it possible that we have a spy in our midst?”

Sir Karrick’s face shifted from old remorse to a hint of anger.  “This does not bode well for us if that is the case.  Lexa Lyoncroft…she should have been dead a thousand times.  I refused to let myself believe that she was somehow still alive. She will not have her revenge until the corruption in the church is purged.”  It was almost as if the elder knight was speaking to himself, not to us.

Karrick gathered himself and turned to me.  “We are facing other problems as well here.  We keep a man up on the Pinnacle of Light to keep watch over the Gash.  We have always done that.  Just like sending men to the Wail, it is our duty to look over the evil imprisoned below.  Of late, we have found we cannot keep men out there long. Several brother-knights have gone mad staring out into the darkness. They used to stand watch there for ten days as a time.  Now it is no more than three days.  There is something out there, something that is attacking them in their thoughts.

“We had purged the undead from the world except for places like the Gellesian Fields…now I fear that those that refuse to die may once more walk the world.

“That was where we found Lexa,” Althalus said.

“A perfect place for her to hide.”

I could see the pain in his soul every time that Lexa was mentioned.  I came to appreciate that we had been lucky to survive our encounter with her.  There was clearly more to her character than any of us appreciated.  There was more to her story than we understood.

Sir Karrick gathered his emotions and stuffed them down deep into his massive frame.  “What I could use from you is information.  We lost the trail of the men under the First Shield’s command that headed north.  While we await Lord Sklaver’s response, I suggest that you and your small party try and follow the trail north to the Pass at Sever and the Vale of White – the Vale of Bones.  It is said that there an entrance to Tempora there, but no one has found it in years.  We must know the fate of those holy warriors.”

“There is still the matter of the traitor…” I said.  “But that is a matter that you are best suited to solve.  It takes a week to summon a rider…so somehow she must have received word as to your intent.”  I felt bad adding to the burden to Sir Karrick, but I could see that he was a man that could handle it.

 

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

Character Background Material

My New Campaign

#dungeonsanddragons

#DandD

Original Inner Sphere Maps

I have been a BattleTech writer since the first Tech Readout (3025).  I saw the unseen before they were, well, unseen.  Some of my FASA-era background material over the years has just plain been lost or discarded decades ago when I deemed it hopelessly obsolete.

Some, not all.

I have unearthed a treasure trove of old material.  I doubt seriously these are covered under NDA since the material has been published ages ago.  I dug a lot of this out because of some super-top-secret work I am doing in BattleTech right now.

The first release from my archives – the original maps of the Inner Sphere.  These were photocopies provided to me by Ross Babcock back in the day.  FASA was pinching pennies so much that they were copied on the back of copies of Traveller ship deckplans they used to sell.  You can see on the one set of maps where Ross drew with a red ink pen the boundaries in 3025 – which is pretty neat.

I am sure some of you will spend hours looking at these seeking hidden worlds, and hell, who knows, they may be there.  To my knowledge this is the only set of these hand drawn maps from that era still kicking around.  Anyway, I hope you enjoy perusing them.

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The Free World’s League.  You can see the starship blueprint lines bleeding through
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House Steiner
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Unfortunately some of the toner is starting to come off.  I’m glad I took digital images before they fall apart. 
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My favorite.  Ross Babcock drew the lines of this showing the house borders.  I never compared these to the finally published images, so who knows what little quirks may appear.  

 

The Chronicling of our D&D Campaign: To the Gellesian Fields Part 18 – The Death of Galinndan

fireball

Welcome to the novelization of my current D&D campaign, told through the perspective of the characters.  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…

The Minotaur called Damon Korth made his way down the line of royal guardsmen, asking them each if they were related to or friends of Matthias Blackshear.  He started with Galinndan who had been at point, putting him at the front of the row we had formed.  Galinndan seemed befuddled at the question, and I half worried that the Minotaur might cleave him with one of the huge axes that hung off of his thick leather belt.  The weapons looked far too familiar.  Blackshear had a pair, a pair he had taken from the Minotaur prince. Suddenly we were thrust in the middle of the story he had started.

This might not end well for us. 

“Well,” Galinndan stammered, “To put the term ‘friends’ loosely, we were, ah, well…”

Apparently Korth saw the truth in the now pale face of our rogue.  “Stand aside!” he barked.  The rogue complied, sulking out of the line.

The other guards told the truth…most of them even knew who Matthias was.  I saw one of them wet himself, a pool of his own urine formed around his feet as Korth confronted him. It was understandable.  The massive creature towered over us and spoke with a voice that made your ribs throb.

Korth approached Brother Dimitrios.  He said nothing, which was no surprise, but calmly shook his head at the query.

He then came to me. I could smell the raw uncooked meat on his breath, he was so close.  Korth asked me if I knew or was friends of Blackshear.  “I know him but I do not consider us ‘friends.’”

“Did you spill blood in battle with him?”

“No,” I said with complete confidence.  My own performance at the battle (see Part 11) we had fought with him had proven less than stellar, and now I was thankful for it.  It was the first and only time that I was thankful I had been transformed into an animal and had not contributed to the fight.

“I will let you pass then,” Korth said.

I let out a low sigh of relief.  I had fought more against our cause in that battle – hitting our druid – than for the former guardsman. At the time it had been seen as a debauch on my part,  Now it appeared it was a good thing.

Bor was next and he didn’t shirk from the Minotaur looming over him.  “We fought with him, yes.  All to aid in the return of his granddaughter from kidnappers.”

“Stand aside with that one,” he pointed to Galinndan whose color was just returning to his face.  Bor joined him, his hand resting on Skull Ringer’s handle.  Korth asked the same question to Arius who responded much as Bor had. That poor paladin, cursed to never even stretch the truth.  He joined the conga line of doom.

Theren remained.  The druid had a knack for fast thinking and talking and I half expected him to someone worm his way out of the battle that seemed to be coming. Instead he almost proudly said that he was a friend of Blackshear and was ordered to stand with the others.  Fool.

For a moment, I figured I was safe.  I had actually told the truth and had been spared.  Korth seemed pleased with having split our party.  “So Blackshear, the scourge of our people, has friends.” He seemed to spit out the last word. “People that would be willing to fight with him…making you our foes.  Now then, if you tell me where he lives, you go free.  Otherwise you face the Ritual of Kurasak – the Splattering.”  Splattering?  That sounded horrible.

Arius puffed out his chest and said, “I refuse to tell you.” Paladins…they have a way of leading good men to their death with their sense of honor.  Korth seemed impressed.  I was wondering if I would have to carve that on Arius’s gravestone – He impressed a Minotaur.

Theren asked, “What if we tell you?”

“Then we will hunt him down and finish our bit of honor by spilling his blood,” the Minotaur said.  “And you will get to save your paltry lives.”  He snorted out a glob of snot that splattered the druid.

Bor grinned and stepped next to Arius.  “I’m with him.”

Korth nodded and turned back to the others.  “These two showed a modicum of bull balls to stand and fight.  Will you?”

The rest agreed, some more grudgingly than others.  Then, to my surprise, Dimitrios stepped out of line where I was, nice and safe, and joined my comrades.  All eyes, my friends, the guardsmen, the Minotaur’s, all of them turned to me. I had a legitimate claim that I had not spilled blood for Blackshear.  These were my comrades.  I looked at Korth.  “I did try to help Blackshear, but I failed.  If everyone else is going to lay their lives down because they won’t tell you, then I guess I should join them.”  I really hated saying it, but I knew without me, they were probably wouldn’t stand a chance.  That didn’t upset me as much as you might think, but I had grown familiar with them and getting new comrades would be time consuming.

As I stood next to them, Arius said, “good job.”

“I fucking hate all of you,” I muttered turning to Arius. “This is your fault.  Paladins…ugh!”

Damon Korth looked over at one of the younger Minotaur’s.  “Send for Prince Wheaton!  Have him join us at the Cousins.  There he will see his brother’s death avenged.”  The other Minotaur’s joined in a chant in unison, “All hail Prince Wheaton!”  The younger creature set off at a full run/gallop across the rolling hills.

We glanced over and saw Korth lean into talk to Captain Wildsong.  The captain seemed to chuckle.  “I imagine he’s not going to have his troops rescue us,” I cursed.

Korth returned to us.  “You men gather your gear.  I promise you nothing more than a fair fight bound by our rede of law.  It takes brave men to do what you are about to do.”  There was a hint of respect in his voice.

“I appreciate that,” Arius said with bravado.

Oh shut up…

We set up and the rest of the guardsmen followed us.  The Minotaur’s were clearly sizing us up.  “I’m doomed,” I said in a low voice for my comrades.

“Why?” Arius asked.

“I can’t use magic on these guys.”

“Why not?”

“You know – magic is kind of forbidden.”

“Who cares?”  The paladin retorted, surprising me somewhat.  “They are creatures from the plains of hell.  Use your magic – we must be all-in…together.”

He had a good point – and that made me feel better.  I only wish I had more in the way of combat spells in my mental arsenal.  The Minotaur’s led us some ways to a large plateau that rose on the plains.  It was flanked by two tall rocks stand nearly 20 feet tall, listing slightly inward, towards the center.  They are weathered heavily, but there was a faint hint of faces carved on them, one male, one female.  They stood as sentries over a large stone circle over 80 feet in diameter. Defiant weeds were growing up between the cracks.  The wind, normally chilled, blew warm over the grasses there.  There were bits of colored glass broken there, as if they were part of something that stood there or a ritual.  Some of the stones have square holes in them, as if they held some sort of upright posts at one point in time.  Some broken and shattered stones, covered in moss, surround the edges of the circle, most over waist high.  Moss and vines were gripping the surrounding stones.  It is a place that is eerie and filled with dread.

“This is the Wayward Cousins,” Korth said.  “It is a place where the powers of magic are the closest to the earth.”

That triggered a memory with me.  At one point the Cousins was known as Starstone – a place of worship by the druids.  During The Druid Wars the druids were hunted and killed in an inquisition that stings to this day.  A band of druids defied the church, killing a cardinal.  The wrath of the church was furious, sending in the Order of the Black Rose to capture and kill them.  This militant order captured the druids at Starstone.  A great battle of magic and swords was fought here. The surviving druids were tied to the stones and tortured to death by the surviving members of some order, ah yes, I remember, the Black Rose.  They cursed this ground to any members of the church.  It is said that the surviving Black Roses all died within a matter of months, all under mysterious circumstances that are tied to the curse.  I remember reading about this on a scroll years ago.  I never thought to see this place.  I thought that the location of this place had been lost long ago.

We were led into the circle and waited for this prince to arrive.  The other guardsmen hung outside of the circle, as if they were getting good positions to watch what was about to come.  I shared what I knew of this place with my comrades.  Arius was angered.  “Cursed ground that affects me?  Hardly fair.”  Theren seemed depressed given his brethren were killed on these very stones.  I’m sure if he wondered if his blood would join those that died here before.

A small party of Minotaur’s arrived several hours later.  One of them wore a rough iron crown shaped like bones with two additional horns, and a thin goatee that almost looked cheesy on such a creature.  His thick hide was pierced with silver rings, rows of them that seemed to be symbolic of something, probably battles.  As they got nearer, the others chanted “Wheaton!  Wheaton!” The prince waved his hand and the chanting stopped.

“Why have you summoned me here to this infernal accursed place Korth?” Wheaton asked.

“My prince, I bring you declared friends of our most hated foe – the black-hearted Blackshear!”

The prince’s left eyebrow cocked up more than I thought possible at the news.  “You are friends with the man that slew my brother?”  His black eyes bore in on each of us.

We said nothing in response.  In the back of my head I wondered if this could somehow be turned around.  I am a warlock after all, and these are creatures created in hell.  An alliance with them could prove useful – if I managed to survive.  Right now, that was a big if.

Korth snorted, and a thin drizzle of snot oozed from his nostrils.  “The Ritual of Kurasak is one of blood and death.  You fight our prince’s champions to the death, if need be.  We are not the barbarians that are portrayed in your puny Karn. We will battle with honor.

Prince Wheaton then spoke. “I will have Damon Korth and Shiver Krang fight for our pride.  If you tell us where Blackshear is we will call this ritual off.  We will leave to kill him, but you will live. Give us that bit of your honor, and you will breathe the warm air of the plains.”

Arius took one step forward. “Knowing what you would do to him prevents us from breaking his honor and telling you.”

“Very well,” the prince said.  “You have acted honorably and will be treated with such here today.”

Damon Korth was the larger of the two, with darker hide and many more silver rings on his torso and arms.  Nicks on his horns and ears show the signs of previous battles.  Shiver Krang was smaller, but thicker, more muscular.  Both were heavily armed with massive battle axes as I had seen in the possession of Matthias Blackshear.  Krang occasionally tosses his axe, spinning it, catching it perfectly each time.  Arrogant.  That could be useful.

Captain Wildsong leaned in, locking his gaze with Arius.  “This is the price for crossing the Vizir,” he boasted.  “If I were you men, I would watch Shiver Krang.  He may be small, but I saw him gore a man during a pillaging they were leading.”  Wildsong leaned back and began to actually place bets with the other men, against us.

Bor spoke up in response.  “You will pay for your betrayal.”

Wildsong laughed.  “I have a dozen armed men at my command.  Even if you survive, you will be in no condition to come after me.”

I glared at him.  Oh, you will pay for that…if we survive.

Prince Wheaton spoke again, his voice booming.  “Should you win, I will grant you a token of my esteem.  I doubt you will win though.  The ritual of Kurasak is one that almost always sealed with blood on stone.

Wheaton steps to the edge of the circle and claps his hands three times.  The remaining Minotaur’s did the same.  Everyone secured a weapon.  This was it, a battle for our very lives.

The pair of foes did not rush in, but leaned slightly, as if readying for a charge, sizing us up.

Shiver charged forward for a goring attack, rushing at Bor, the largest of our party.  The big fighter managed to sidestep the brunt of the assault, but still caught the left horn with his body – staggering Bor back, furrowing back in the moss on the stones, making little marks where his feet slid.

I turned on Shiver Krang and cast hideous laughter on him.  The spell went as planned, the massive Minotaur fell over with a dull thud on the stones; uncontrollable laughing with an almost frightening roar of chuckles.  It was the kind of laughter that sent chills down your spine.  I actually peed a little in my jerkin at the sound.

There was something about when I cast my spell, something strange.  It had to be this place.  What did Korth say?  This was where magic was closest to the earth?  I wondered what that meant.  At the time, I pushed that thought from my mind.

Arius swung behind Shiver and used searing smite, hitting him and setting him on fire. The hide on his back glowed as hair burned and filled the air with horrid smoke.

Theren switched to his bow and fired at Shiver as well but missed. Galinndan also missed with his arrow as well.  Bor swung Skull Ringer that nasty warhammer of his but missed…oddly throwing sparks in the air…which was disturbing on its own. It had never done that before. Dimitrios leapt like a tiger at the only standing Minotaur – Korth.  His grappling attempt failed but he landed on both feet and one hand, ready to spring again.  I swear I saw a grin on his face. Thank the Old Ones, we needed every bit of help we could muster.

Bor’s blood was up, that was evident.  He swung Skull Ringer again, missing wide again, filling the air with sparks.  It only seemed to have that visual effect here, on this ground.  Galinndan notched one of his obsidian tipped arrows that he had coveted so much. It was true!  The arrow buried itself into the singed hide of the Minotaur.  The massive creature blinked out of existence, vanishing for a moment.  Then we saw him again, landing on top of three of the guardsmen outside of the ring, his flames lighting two of them on fire in the process.  Bor was puzzled as to where the Minotaur had gone but I am sure a bit thankful.

The other Minotaur’s cheered.  They seemed to love it. I wanted to cheer myself, but death was far too close at hand.

Damon Korth sprung over the ring of stones at the perimeter of the Wayward Cousins and came back at us.  He rushed at swinging his great axe, hitting Bor so hard he flew five feet and skidded on the stone surface.  Blood filled the air as the axe stopped and Bor fell unconscious, his warhammer skidding out of his grip.

The Minotaur’s and two of the guards cheered – no doubt those traitorous bastards had bet against Bor.

Theren used his healing word for Bor, enough to make his eyelids flutter as he came back from the black gates of death.  He fired his bow as well, hitting the Minotaur, leaving the arrow stuck in him next to Galinndan’s.

I cast another spell, a blast of arcane power.  The energy was incredible flowing through me, double what I had ever experienced before.  The arcane powers hit the Minotaur, knocking him back nearly a dozen feet in the process.  Whatever it was about the Wayward Sisters, this time it had helped my powers.

Arius swept his longsword at his foe, hitting the Minotaur for no damage at all – it failed to pierce his hide.  It only made Korth grin in response.  A grinning Minotaur is not a thing one easily forgets.

Bor staggered to his feet uneasily, making his way to Damon Korth.  Dimitrios shifted behind the fighter, preparing to leap at his foe one more time.

Korth turned to Arius and swung his great axe, cutting right through his armor and spraying Bor with gore.  Damnation this beast was tough!

I noticed the other Minotaurs throwing stones at Shiver who was still uncontrollably roaring with laughter.  That was not good. Their efforts might allow him to break my spell and facing two of these creatures at once was going to prove challenging. There wasn’t anything I could do at this point.

Arius struck with his sword and searing smite, one more lighting up the hide on Korth.  Then I saw something happen that sent a chill down my spine.  Prince Wheaton entered the circle and started to head for Shiver.  He’s going to shatter my spell!

Theren saw it too and decided to transform himself into a bear.  His man form rippled and a massive black bear replaced him.  The bear lumbered between the roaring Shiver and Prince Wheaton.  Theren rose in front of the prince, but did not attack.  The moment he approached, three more Minotaur’s entered the arena, clearly moving to protect the prince. It was a standoff, one that might cost us all our lives if Theren made the wrong move.

Bor swung Skull Ringer, sparks of red and blue in the air, hitting Korth hard with a thwacking sound.  It had to have hurt, but I didn’t see any sign of it.  Bor was stunned that he had not felled the Minotaur. Korth snorted through gritted teeth in response.

I tried again to unleash a blast of arcane energy but missed.  I was merely thankful I had not hit one of my comrades. Then I saw it, Dimitrios sprung like a praying mantis, landing on the shield arm of the Minotaur, and grappled with his arm.  He hung on tight despite the flinging that Korth did.

Theren rose on his hind legs to block Prince Wheaton from reaching Shiver.  The prince grinned, tossed his axe casually past the bear, landing it on Shiver’s chest.  Crap.

Korth gored at Bor tossing him in the air on his horns, sending his near lifeless body on the stones.  I swear I saw part of his intestines hanging off of Korth’s horns, not a promising sign for our badly injured friend. The specter of death cast its shadow on Bor.

I focused on Korth and channeled my arcane blast.  Something happened though…something I have never experienced before.  The energy seemed to summon a magic energy I had no knowledge of.  Where I should have seen an azure burst of magic, I saw instead orange, yellow, and red death.  A fire ball erupted in front of me, engulfing many of our people along with Shiver and Galinndan.  The roar hit me as if I were thrown in an oven.  The super-hot air seared my throat and lungs.  I stumbled out of the blast zone, my royal guard tunic, or what was left of it, burning on my body, the few remains falling on the stone.  A rising mushroom shaped cloud rolled into the sky, black and twisting.  Pain tore at me and my vision tunneled as I fought to avoid unconsciousness. I smelled bacon in the air, and I knew it was one of us.

I looked over where Galinndan had been standing…but all that remained was a pile of ashes that were roughly in his shape on the blackened stone.  He was gone – dead and charred into nothingness.  I felt a sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach.  What have I done?

The guards along the edge of the ring began to sing, “Burning Ring of Fire,” a popular bardic tune we heard in the taverns of Karn. They would have to be dealt with later.  My eyes closed and my ears roared with approaching darkness.

I remember hearing the sounds of battle around me as I struggled to awaken.  The blackness took forever to shake.  I finally forced my eyes open and saw Theren the bear attacking Shiver, taking him down with a swipe of his claw.

Prince Wheaton clapped his hands three times.  A Minotaur shaman entered the Wayward Cousins and laid hands on his fallen comrades.  Bor was also healed by the shaman, which stunned me.  I was able to make it to my feet, my ears were ringing and I tasted copper of blood in my mouth.  I patted my body to make sure I still had all of my vital parts.

Arius scooped up Galinndan’s ashes and put them in a pouch – there was no saving the rogue at this point. We would mourn him later, assuming we were going to survive.

Prince Wheaton spoke in a thunderous voice.  “The ritual has ended.”  Shiver and Korth bowed their heads in shame.  Wheaton turned to us.  “You have successfully won this trial.  I will grant you one token of respect, honor demands that.  You have fought well, and I consider you honored members of our tribe.  One token of my respect is what I give you for your reward.”

Arius grinned and whispered in my ear.  One word, “Wildsong.”

Good. Make him pay! “Yes!”

Arius stepped forward proudly.  “If you would do us the honor Prince Wheaton.  Would you imprison the guards that are with us?  With this you will get your vengeance on Blackshear and honor will be served. After all they are royal guards which he was a member of. They have threatened us…we know them to be our enemies.  Take them as prisoners and end this.”

“We have not threatened them…” several of the guards protested.

“Be quiet,” Arius barked in response.  “You sat there betting against us.”

Captain Wildsong, caught off guard by the sudden turn of events, stepped forward.  “I…I have done nothing.  Prince Wheaton, you know me.  I am your friend, a friend of your people.  Do not listen to these men.  I have not threatened them.”

Arius tipped his sword at our former captain.  “You told us this was the price of crossing the Vizir.  You set us up to be killed by warning the Minotaur’s we were headed this way.  Your guilt is a forgone conclusion.”

All eyes shifted to Prince Wheaton.  “The honor was offered and must be accepted.  Two things will happen.  We will take Wildsong as our slave for two years.  Also this ends our bane against Blackshear, you have cleared the debt that has been with us like an open wound.  I grow weary of attempting to avenge my brother over the years.”

“You can’t do this – I am a captain of the royal guards,” Wildsong called out.

The Minotaur’s felt differently.  Shackles appeared out of nowhere and were slapped on former Captain Wildsong. He struggled against his new masters, but could not hope to make progress as they quickly disarmed him.

“One more gesture on my part,” the prince said.  A Minotaur appeared with ship piercing clip.  He tore open our armor, one by one, and pierced one nipple, inserting a silver ring there like the other Minotaur’s.  It hurt like hell, but after the fireball, I didn’t even flinch.  “The mark of honorable battle,” he said as Bor took the last piercing.

“You are always welcome with our people as equals,” Wheaton said.  “Justice has been served.”

Captain Wildsong cried out as they led him off of the Wayward Cousins and down the hillside.  “I will get you for this!”

I had no doubt that he would try…in two years’ time.  We turned to the rest of the guardsmen and Arius ordered them to fall in before us.  There was new leadership of this troop now.  If we ever saw Matthias Blackshear again, we would have a hell of a story to tell him as well.

I hope you have been enjoying this saga.  Here are the previous chapters, if you want to follow the adventure thus far.

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

Character Background Material

My New Campaign

#dungeonsanddragons

 

The Chronicling of our D&D Campaign: To the Gellesian Fields Part 17

minotaur2

Welcome to the novelization of my current D&D campaign, told through the perspective of the characters.  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!

Bor Boskin…

I didn’t trust our Captain from the moment I saw him.  His name was Durand Wildsong, a pretty boy as far as fighters go.  That dimple did nothing for me, nor his long blonde hair and goatee.  He wore a polished breast plate – which to me only attracted unwanted attention during a battle.  His shield was a field of green with three intertwined roses.  Lieutenant Rygar had passed on command to the Captain, which seemed a bit odd to me.  I’d spent enough time near military camps when they came near our village to understand how the chain of command works.

Captain Wildsong gave us the usual pep talk, with just a touch of arrogance in his voice.  “I’m your commanding officer. You new recruits, you don’t know our commands yet.  Watch the other soldiers and do what they do, you’ll pick it up.”  Apparently that was the depth of our training.

“As I understand it, you are here to deliver some message to the Gash.  If proven wrong, I will dispatch you.  I run a tight ship here.  We have a long way to go – through the plains.  It is not an easy journey to be sure.  You will be given duties along the way, I expect you to follow my orders without question.”

I nodded.  I didn’t like this guy’s attitude. Recruits?  Ha! We were drafted.  This was clearly a bit of spite on the part of the Vizir Krolf Lorraine for our going behind his back to get to Lord Sklaver.  As if to accentuate my suspicions we saw the Vizir approach the Captain before we departed.  The two spoke but I could not hear them.  I did see that Vizir point to us.  “You see that Theren?” I nodded at the two of them.

“I did,” the druid replied.  With those words all of us, even that mute monk that had joined us looked over at the Vizir and the Captain of the Guard.

“This does not bode well,” Arius added.  I noticed that his hand drifted to the pommel of his sword as he watched the Vizir.  He was my kind of paladin.  He was tolerant of people and the games they played, but when push came to shove, he responded with force.  Paladins are complex people at times, and at others, very simple.

“We’re being set up,” Althalus muttered.

I tended to agree but held my tongue.  The best that I could do is be prepared.

Our trek was slow – we were assigned to the rear of the column.  We passed some farmers along the way, hauling their harvest to the city. A few offered us some apples from their carts, which was kind of them.  The camp was very “military” in how it was set up for the night.  The only advantage I saw to being with a larger party of armed men is that we were safer and we wouldn’t have to be up a good portion of the night on watch.

Our first few days and nights journey were dull, which was something that we all needed.

One farmer asked us where we were headed and Galinndan said we were headed to the Gash.  “I’ve heard some strange things from there recently.  That’s not unusual though.  Strange stories are common around that locale.”

“Have you seen anything out of the ordinary yourself,” Althalus probed.

“There were some hoof prints I came across on the road a few days ago.  We haven’t seen those raiders operating this far south in a while.”

“Raiders?” the warlock pressed.

“Minotaur’s.”

We all looked at each other.  Blackshear had mentioned killing the prince of the Minotaur’s.  That was where he got those incredible battleaxes he carried.  I wondered if it was the same ones he was referring to.

Captain Wildsong huddled with the farmer at the mention of the Minotaur’s then let the man go about his journey.

“Anything we need to be worried about Captain?” Arius asked.

“They have always been a bit of as problem – more in recent years.  They seem to have bit of a hard-on for the Royal Guards. Our peace with them was bought with blood and certain conditions.  Suffice it to say, they do not like the Royal Guards.”

“Great,” Althalus said with a chuckle, picking at the smock of the Royal Guards that we now wore.  “It would have been funny except that’s now us.”  The warlock was right – this did not bode well.  I took a look at Dimitrios, the monk that had been at Althalus’s side since the city.  He made eye contact with me with those penetrating blue eyes and offered only a shrug in response.  I oddly was not creeped out by him.  There are times silence is precious and a man that does not talk does not weigh you down with the burdens of his life.

The Captain continued, “One of our men, some twenty years ago, killed one of their leaders.  Since then, well, they have wanted a bit of revenge.  We have been able to deal with them, but it is always tense.”  He cleared his throat and raised his voice for the rest of the troops to hear.  “They will attempt to provoke us if we come across them.  No one draw weapons or fly off the handle when that happens.  I know what they want and I will handle this.  They will look to you for reaction.  You draw a weapon, they will counter thrice over…by killing us all.”

We huddled for a moment.  “What do we know about Minotaur’s?” I asked.  All eyes drifted to our druid Theren. If anyone would know, the tree-hugging druid would.  He honestly looked a little embarrassed and at the same time, proud.  “Aside from the usual half-bull, half-man, there’s not a lot known.  They are said to be originally spawn of demons.  Not all of them though.  Some break their ties with the hell-spawn and form their own tribes and mate among themselves.”

I glanced over and saw Captain Wildsong pulling over one of the other guardsmen in hushed conversation.  I nudged Theren and he saw it too.  “I wonder what that’s all about.” I asked.  It wasn’t until the next morning I received an answer.  At daybreak the man that had been speaking with the Captain rose early and mounted up, riding out at a trot far off on the road ahead of us.

Arius saw it too and approached the Captain.  “Are you scouting ahead?”

“Yes.  It seemed…prudent,” Wildsong said.  I didn’t think much of it at the time. Only later would I remember the strange way he responded.

Three hours later we came across a white trail of smoke not far off of the road.  It was a cottage, one that has been recently burned.  Wildson stopped the column.  “I need some volunteers to check that out.”

“I’ll go – and so with Galinndan,” Arius offered.  The rogue was a little surprised that he had been volunteered but the two of them went off to inspect the burned out rubble.  They came back after 20 minutes or so.  “No bodies of men or beast – living or dead,” the paladin reported.  “Lots of hoof prints though, all over the area.  Whatever happened here is over with.”

“We ride on then,” Wildsong said.

We camped that night on the plains.  There wasn’t much cover, just the normal briar and bramble.  There were copses of trees that dotted the rolling hills, but they were few and far between.  The Captain agreed with Arius’s suggestion at no fire for the night – not with the threat of the raiding Minotaur’s in the area.  We bedded down.

That night there was a commotion coming from Theren’s and Galinndan’s tent.  I rolled out of my woolen blanket, Skull Ringer at the ready.  As I charged out of my tent I saw a figure stagger back, howling in Orcish. It was hard to make out, but it seemed to be a half-orc, and he was clearly bloodied about the head.

Dimitrios silently emerged almost like a shadow in the night.  Arius popped out of his tent and surprised me that he was using a weapon and not unleashing any of his magic.  The rock he threw hit the attacker in the back as he ran away.  The manlike creature turned and made an obscene gesture at us, then ran off into the dark.  The entire camp erupted.  “To arms, to arms!” barked Captain Wildsong. Confusion and men staggered out with weapons only made matters worse.

Wildsong made a quick headcount.  “We’re short a man!”

“It’s Galinndan!” Theren called out.  “He was hit in the throat with some sort of poison dart.”

I opened the tent flap and saw him.  The rogue was pretty pale, a dark wobbling his his neck as he breathed.  Theren pulled out the healing potion that Galinndan had purchased in the city and poured it into his mouth while Dimitrios pulled the dart out of his neck. I could see the sickly green ooze on the metallic point.

“What was that about?  Why would a half-orc come in and attack us?” Wildsong pressed as he deployed several of the guards to the perimeter.  “Have you crossed this person before?”  Dimitrios simply shrugged at the question.

Galinndan slowly recovered, “Mommy?” he muttered.

“Far from it,” Arius replied.

“I wonder what that was all about.” Theren responded.

Arius paused for a moment.  “Oh crap.  Remember back at the inn, when the Thieves Guild tried to steal Skull Ringer?”

Galinndan tried to sit up but failed but looked over at the captain.  “He was a…associate.”

“An associate?” The captain replied in dismay. “He attacked you in the night.”

“He’s a member of the Thieves Guild,” Galinndan replied half-awake.

“Maybe,” Arius said in a low tone through gritted teeth, “You should be quiet and rest.”

“What did you do to piss off the Guild?” Wildsong demanded.

“We didn’t let them steal from us,” Arius said.  He as not making things better in our explanation.

“He,” Althalus said, gesturing to Galinndan, “forgot to pay them.”  Arius rolled his eyes, stunned that the warlock was telling the Captain so much detail.  Even a paladin knows there are times to keep their mouth shut…less chance to say a lie and commit a sin.  I had learned that well from my comrade.

“You crossed the Thieves Guild?” Wildsong said in dismay.  “You do know that they send out assassins to kill those that cross them?”  It would seem that Galinndan had forgotten to tell us this important detail.

“I know this looks orchestrated,” Althalus said. “We didn’t join the military to avoid the Guild.”

Wildson’s face was rigid with anger.  He glared down at Galinndan. “From now on you sleep alone.  I’m not endangering any more of my men on your account.  Your debt to the Guild, be it in blood or money; that is on you and your own foolishness.”

Galinndan bowed his head in shame.  The rest of the troops seemed to look at us all as if we were bad people.  We weren’t of course, but I understand this from their perspective.  The captain posted more guards, doubling the watch.  Our rogue was still pretty wobbly.  All we managed to get out of this was a used poison dart.

The next morning as we rose and Galinndan looked more hungover than anything.  Wildsong posted him at point, clearly as punishment.  As we were about to set out the captain asked, “Do any of you wish to tell me about anyone else you may have pissed off and have a bloodgrudge against you?”

Arius nodded.  “We did manage to piss off the Vizir.”  There were times that the paladin’s penchant for the truth made my stomach knot.

The captain didn’t flinch.  “I am well aware of your dealing with Vizir Lorraine,” he replied bitterly.  There was something in the way he responding that I did not like, not one bit.  I could sense that the captain was not a man to be trusted.

It rained but we trudged on.  Two days later we came across a gathering down the road. The man sent ahead as a scout returned and approached the column.  He and the captain entered into an animated discussion, one we could not pick up on.  The captain turned and faced all of us, speaking loud for all of us to hear.

“There’s a Minotaur patrol up ahead men.  We have a routine, a bit of a ritual with them.  They will approach us.  You will not draw weapons or make overt actions towards them.  They will ask you some questions.  You will need to answer honestly because they have the means of verifying your answers, none of which you want to experience.”  I could tell by the way he said it, it was ominous.

“You mean all of us?” Arius.

“Yes,” Wildsong said.

“I would have thought that you would have answered for the men in your command,” the paladin pressed.

The captain did not like having his integrity questioned, we could see that on his face.  “This is the way we have done it for nearly two decades.  It is how we maintain a peace with these creatures.”

“I would be honorable and speak for my men,” Arius replied under his breath.

“If you draw a weapon you doom us all,” Wildsong added, ignoring the murmur.  “Understood?”  Everyone nodded.  We all began to move forward.

Nine of the creatures were there.  They were massive, larger than anything we had seen before.  One, clearly the leader strode out before the others.  His thick leather straps that crossed his chest were impressive, studded with brass and silver grommets.  His right horn was nicked, chipped in some previous battle.  The massive creature strode in front of Wildsong and looked at him as he knew him, and respected him little more than one would an insect.  This does not bode well for us.

His voice boomed, shaking my chest as he spoke to all of the guardsmen.  “I am Damon Korth.  I patrol this area for our tribe.  Royal Guardsman – hardly worthy of our time…though I am surprised that you sent your scout to ensure we were here Captain Wildsong.”  He gave Wildsong a glare and when I looked at the captain, he averted his gaze.  It was not a good sign, for sure.   “Usually you go out of your way to avoid us.  You know what we want…we want blood; we want vengeance.

“So I ask you men that follow Wildsong one question you must answer honestly.  In the name of our dead Prince DeSaul, are any of you kin or friends of Mathias Blackshear?”

Aw shit…

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

Character Background Material

My New Campaign

#dungeonsanddragons