The Chronicling of our D&D Campaign Part 35 – Priory at Talismith

Purple Worm

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…

Lexa Lyoncroft as an ally – who would have conceived of this?  Yet there we sat with her, mapping out our strategy.  V’sarin, the dragon’s graveyard, sounded forbidding at best.  Yet there we would find the way to return Viktor Barristen to his grave, permanently.  The only catch was that we did not know where V’sarin was to the south, beyond the realms we knew.  The problem we faced was simple, how do we find this place?

Lyoncroft stirred the coals of the fire as she spoke.  “There’s an old monastery some eight days south of here, long abandoned.  It is said they were great map makers.  You may find some clue as to where you go. It is called Talismith.

“I would not recommend you go to your home town.  Barristen knows who you are, he will have his minions looking and waiting for you.  As it is, we must move on as well.  Hiding in a haunted battlefield may not be the best place to conceal one’s self when facing an undead lord.  We will go north and west exploring what you found on that map.”

“Karn had a mapmaker, but I am not sure we should go there.  This monastery may be our best chance,” Althalus said.

“Where should we rendezvous?” I asked.

“At the Rangersmeet at Villineau,” Brandon offered.  “It is safe and we may need their aid before all of this is done.”

She nodded.  “Now, we need to get messages to each other…”

“I have that covered,” Althalus said.  “I have a spell that lets me communicate.”

“What can you tell us about this library?” I asked.

“The Priory at Talismith was, a century ago, a place of great learning with a large library of tomes and manuscripts.  The monks that lived there were a small order but deeply respected in the church.  Around four decades ago the monastery suffered from a plague that wiped out half of the order.  Then a Gorgon moved into the area and killed the remaining monks.

“The church sent in a party to try and rescue the manuscripts, especially the maps said to be stored there.  The party that went in was never heard from again.  Others were sent but none came back.  The Library and monastery were considered lost after that.”

“Gorgons…” Althalus muttered.  “That is useful information…and possibly deadly.  I like this plan, but less so now.”

“We will need allies along the way,” Lyoncroft offered.  “The coming fight will be vicious and cost many souls.”  I gave her a knowing nod.  This was indeed a quest worthy of one of my order.  I muttered a prayer of protection for us all before bedding down that night.

The next day we set out across the Gallesian Fields, finding the road south that we had taken months earlier.  That evening we saw the statue where Theren enchanted his staff.  It was oddly reassuring to see sights we knew. The next day as we moved through the creepy old battlefield we were approached the Bailey Hills where the hangings after the war had taken place.  The next day, on the road, we were approached by a massive Ogre wearing a wine cask that had been split in half and was worn with half on the front, half on the back, with straps to make it a big wooden piece of armor.

“I am thinking this might be Barrel Chest, who Lexa told us about,” Theren said.

“You think?” Althalus snapped back with a wry grin.

“Hail Barrel Chest!” Theren called as he clunked forward towards us.

“Hi friend,” Althalus called as he approached, his massive tree-like club at the ready.  “We are friends of Lexa Lyoncroft.”  The warlock continued to weave a retelling of our arrangement with Lexa, dumbed down so that the Ogre could understand it.  His persuasive capabilities were good.  Barrel Chest sat down to listen, hanging on every word. We were all thankful he had not mentioned Pot Head, his brother whom we had slain. I joined in on the conversation when it looked like Barrel Chest wasn’t entirely following the story.

We conversed with him for several minutes.  He mentioned his missing brother, and we played stupid about Pot Head’s fate.  He finally asked, “Where Lexa?  Where she go?”

“She went northwest,” I said.

He looked downright sad.  “Aw, Barrel Chest upset. Barrel Chest like Lexa.”

“She will be back,” I offered.

“Me go after her.  Lexa true friend of Barrel Chest.”  With those words, he called us “Friends” and left, lumbering off into the Fields.

Two days later we passed the gate that marked the edge of the Gallesian Fields.  As Althalus put it, “The air feels less un-deady now.”  That didn’t mean that the danger had passed, as evidenced the next night.

Theren heard three horses and riders slowly approaching our camp during his watch.  He doused our fire and eventually woke us.  Althalus moved behind a tree as did I.  They slowly came into view, three humans wearing black plate armor.  Armed with lances, they leveled them in our general direction as they came into view.

“Who goes there?” I asked.

“Who’s over there?” came a voice back.

“I asked you first.”

“We have been asked to look for some people.”

“We are people.”

“We are looking for a paladin and a warlock.”

Althalus spoke up, “Non-church magic is illegal.” The irony was not lost on me.

“Why?” I asked.

“We were hired to find them.”  The menacing lance said they wanted more than to just find us. Their leader added, “And apparently we found them.”

They charged, dropping their lances and switching to maces – heading towards where Althalus and I were. Althalus blasted the horse that was rushing him, knocking it back in a blur of brilliant green magic, knocking the rider off of his steed and sending him rolling along the ground.  Brandon fired his bow, hitting another, his arrow protruding from his target’s thigh.  A magical attack on Althalus lit one of the men on unholy fire.

I faced one rider alone.  I used my thunderous and divine smite, making Skullringer shimmer in the darkness as I swung.  I hit his breastplate squarely, passing through his chest and out of his back – through his spine – killing him instantly.  The magical blast threw the horse sideways, breaking its leg as it sprawled out.  The upper torso of the rider landed at Brandon’s feet.  Mercy demanded my last attack was to finish off the wounded horse.  I missed seeing the death of one of the riders that Brandon was tangling with.

“Meat’s back on the menu boys!” called out Althalus with a twisted grin.

Theren’s thornwhip spell, pulling the one rider off his horse and towards the druid. Althalus opened up some God-awful void of darkness centered on the rider, sucking in the air and life around it.  Pure darkness slurped and whispered from the void as it devoured the rider.

“What in the hell is that?” I asked, never having seen anything like that cast before.  The warlock grinned back at me.

When the sphere of darkness ended, we saw the tormented, charred body of the rider that had been trapped in the spell.  Anguish was locked on his face.  Theren found 350 gold pieces and found a small glass sphere in a leather pouch.  One was broken at the feet of the man, but we did not know what it was for.  Theren determined that it was indeed magical.  Althalus learned that it was some sort of communication device.  “I surmise this is broken and used to communicate with someone else.”

That was ominous. Did that rider tip off Barristen with this sphere? Our warlock suggested just getting rid of it entirely.  “I don’t like the idea of holding onto this.”  I dug a small hole and Althalus put it in, burying it.

We rode on for three days heading south, into lands we had never traveled before.  The area was wooded, with rolling hills, low hollows, and the occasional creek. That night we noticed the glow of a fire of some sort, nearly a mile from our campsite, glowing in the west.

The next day we headed that direction, coming across a statue of a monk or some sort of priest.  It looked as if it were frozen mid-running stride.  A bird nest was built on it, and streaks of white bird shit streaked its torso. Moss and vines clung to it.  That conjured images of the Gorgon that were said to be in the area.

We progressed further and came across a large ruins.  Brandon pretty much confirmed that this where the fire was that night.  Outside the ruins, there are statues, covered in moss and vines.  The ruins are of a building that is 300 heads by 150 heads.  There is a tower that has crumbled, but still stands at two stories tall.  It appears at one time that this was a four story structure, but now only parts of the outer walls and rubble remain. Vines and growth seemed to be blanketing some areas of the jumble of broken stones and roof tiles.  This had to be Priory at Talismith.  In the middle of it, there was a camp site of sorts.  There was a large iron pot suspended over the smoking remains of the fire.

Brandon found a track, giant in size, with nasty claws.  He had no idea what had made it, but it was enough to give me pause.  I stopped and uttered a prayer when he told us that it was recent.

There was no easy way to approach the ruins.  We crept up on the rubble single-file, getting close to the fire-site in the middle of the ruins.

Movement popped up around us…a trap!  The creatures were massive, greenish gray skin, lanky with long arms and hideous claws.  Theren and Althalus called out, “Trolls!” and I knew we were in for a battle worthy of God’s trust in me.  Three of the monstrosities closed in on us.

The battle was a flurry of action, all blurred in my mind. A magical sphere of fire that Theren cast moved in on them and I remembered that Trolls had to be burned or they recovered injuries. The rubble hindered our movement as we tried to shift to cover each other.  Althalus’s green magic blast staggered one back, searing some of its grotesque flesh in the process.

Brandon hit one with an arrow that only seemed to irritate the Troll.  I struggled to land a solid blow with Skullringer but bit more air than Troll with both swings of the warhammer. Theren’s sphere of fire seemed to herd them…in my direction.  A magical whip wrapped around one creature, cutting it and spilling sick-green blood.

One of the creatures lunged at me, missing me with a clamping bite, but a claw dug me deeply in the arm. It was close enough for me to smell its rotting breath.

Brandon’s hail of thorns missed entirely. One Troll hit Althalus and burst into flames as a result of hitting the Warlock.  I hit the Troll on me, furrowing its flesh with Skullringer.  The ball of fire that Theren was moving and the burning Troll were a bit of a distraction that I opted to ignore.  Althalus blasted one Troll back into the rubble but another Troll slashed him up with both of its claws, splattering his blood on the rocks.

Skullringer caught my Troll in an uppercut, shattering its jaw and skull and tossing its limp body near my feet.  Green blood sizzled on Skullringer as I stood triumphant over my fallen foe.  Theren finished one of the fallen Troll in a withering flame that made its flesh hiss.  I was stunned when one of Theren’s blasts missed the Troll and instead slammed into me by mistake.

One Troll rose, regenerated by unholy means, and viciously clawed at me but I managed to take it down.  Theren’s wave of hands set the Troll ablaze, filling the air with the stench of charred rotting flesh stung at my nostrils.

Althalus’s magical blast on the last Troll knocked it back slightly, but it rushed forward and bit and slashed at the warlock.  The hit made the Troll burst into hellish flames as a result of contacting our comrade.  I sprung at that one as well, knocking the smoldering Troll with my warhammer, shattering its ribs in the process with a crackling noise.  Chaos owned the day!

Brandon hit him as well, but the Troll proved highly resistant.  Althalus’s next blast sent the now-dead Troll back into the burning sphere, destroying it.

We were exhausted and fell back to the Troll’s camp and began poking around their belongings. Rotted sacks filled with ill-gotten booty.  We found small bars of gold and silver, a few thousand copper pieces, and some rough-cut gems.  Digging deeper, we found a planking covering some sort of tunnel downward. I doubt the Trolls even knew they were camped on top of some sort of doorway.

Althalus found a sword, wedged in next to the planking that covered the hatch down. The blade near the hilt was twisted around twice, something we had never seen before.  Theren determined it was a Gnomish blade, named Quaker in their tongue.  From what Althalus was able to discern, if the blade struck true, it emits a spell called Thunderous Wave.  Theren took it for himself as the rest of us took a much needed break.

We opened the doorway under the ruins and found a narrow shaft leading down into the darkness.  Theren, in giant spider form, crawled down to a large domed chamber.  There were paintings on the walls, most cracked and covered with a thin sheen of mold.  When I got there, I saw the painted eyes of monks staring down at me from the fading works.  A thin dank pool of water covered the floor and we splashed in it as we moved.

Althalus cast a spell of a humanoid shape of light to provide us illumination.  The image of the monks painted on the dome at least told me that we were likely near the library. Theren-the-spider moved along the ceiling over us as we opened the door and started down a long hallway.  There were doors along the way but we heard nothing there.  There as a pile of rubble near the end as it curved and went down two wide flights of stairs, but the barrier of broken stone was not natural.  Someone had apparently piled up debris and benches against a pair of large bronze doors, as if they were keeping something there at bay.

We went down a hallway off of the main corridor and found a kitchen area, filled with rot, rust and dust. We went into the pantry area and saw an iron chandelier hanging above us with what looked like ravens on it…until they moved.  Stirges!

Three of the creatures dove on me, all missing, swarming around me. Three more went onto Brandon, latching onto the back of his neck, finding a crack in his armor. “Get it off of me!” he cried out, attempting to swat at the one drawing blood from his neck.

A festival of sword and hammer blows splattered the obnoxious creatures, though we were fortunate that we did not hurt each other in the melee.

We explored some of the bedchambers and found little more than signs of sacking and looting many years before.  Brandon found a sealed marble urn and he left it that way.  In one of the bedchambers, I found two vials but the labels had long ago rotted off. Theren found a golden artifact with the name of the priory intricately carved into it.

After all of our searching, we found ourselves facing the barricaded landing. Old iron candle stands and benches were part of the rubble piled up against the bronze doors. The word, Librarium was on a sign above the door. We came for a map, and obviously this would be the place where we might find one.

It took us a few minutes to clear the barricades and bracing.  I stepped forward and forced open the bronze door.  The room was massive – some 250 heads square, some twenty-five heads high. There was finger’s worth of water puddled on the floor.  Many of the book cases had been crushed, knocked over or fallen in time.  There were two points on the walls where rubble had been pushed into the chamber, but some massive force.  Books, tossed or fallen lay everywhere, but the center of the room seemed oddly cleared of shelving and debris.  A stench filled the air, a mix of mold, feces, and long-rotted flesh.  Tapestries clung to some of the walls still, while others lay rotting in the puddle.

“We’re going to be here for a while,” Althalus said as he looked at the library, stepping in and moving to some of the toppled shelves.  Most of the books that I saw were filled with marriage records or histories of places I had never heard of.  Some fell apart in my hands, so bad was their condition.  I wondered if we could, indeed, find a map of the realm still intact here.

Brandon found a book that was readable – The Tale of Sir Kavely.  A brave a virtuous knight who roamed the lands some 400 years ago.  As one of the early paladins, this book has value to any paladin holy order.  That was a story that I looked forward to reading.

Theren found a copy of Abastor – The Chronicle of the War of the Druids.  This details the Church’s war against the druids.  In scanning it, he saw that it documented evidence that the church may have very well falsified the evidence against the druids in order to purge them. It was fortuitous that our druid had found such a book.

Althalus found a black hide-bound book simply marked, “Devils” From what little he could read, the book detailed the nature of devils, how to trap and kill them, and how to control them.  In his possession, along with the Devil’s skull that I still carried, he was destined to get into trouble at some point in the future. He glossed over the warnings of potential madness from reading the tome.

“I fear you having that book,” I said to the warlock.

“What could go wrong?” he replied.

We did not get to that answer.  There was a rumble and bursting into the library chamber was a massive worm-like creature, purple, its mouth a menacing maw of death and devouring.  I drew Skullringer and rushed forward towards the massive creature.  Althalus waved his hands which made me feel better.  Both of his eldritch blasts missed, which seemed impossible given the size of the beast.

Purple Worm

The stinger hit me in the chest, punching through my shoulder armor plate.  The poison made me go cold and I dropped unconscious.  I heard the sounds of battle but was held prisoner by the pain from my wound and the poison oozing in my bloodstream.

I have no idea how long I was out, but came too in a cold sweat and panic.  I staggered to my feet and noticed that Brandon was missing and that Theren and Althalus were doing what they could to stay away from the great beast.  As I got to my feet, I called out, “How are we doing?”

“This is very not-good,” Althalus replied.  A cloud of lightning hovered over the worm, no doubt the work of our druid.

The purple worm spun to go after Theren.  I drew a javelin and planted it in the side of the creature.  I kept looking for Brandon but could not see him.  I feared that the beast had swallowed him.

Theren unleashed a bolt of flame that seared the hide of the beast.  He then transformed into a giant spider and hopped away.  The worm swung on Althalus and narrowly missed with a bite and an attempt to sting him.

The lightning bolts stabbed at the creature, searing black holes on its hide.  Bolts of flames roared down from the ceiling, hitting the purple worm at almost the same instant.  The worm bit Althalus, spraying blood everywhere, then was swallowed whole.  I now knew where Brandon was!  By God this creature was daunting.  I still struggled against the venom in my body.

The worm spun to face me and I braced myself for the rushing assault.  It suddenly paused and spit out the contents of its guts, dropping Althalus and Brandon onto the wet manuscripts of the library floor. The ranger was pale, near death, and the warlock seemed to be trying to help him.

I swung Skullringer twice, hitting once hard on the maw of the worm, knocking the head to the side for a moment.  It tried to bite me but I whirled and it missed.

Theren’s indoor lightning storm brought it down.  We were exhausted, winded, and injured. Brandon’s face was badly scarred from the stomach acid of the beast.  It would take a special kind of girl to love him from this point forward.  Our party paused and recouped, healing those who needed it.  I was still wobbly on my feet and welcomed the rest.

After we rested, we continued our search for a map.  Althalus found a crucifix and a silver edged mace in the debris. There was an elvish blade with the name “Suresh” on it.

It was I who suggested searching behind the tapestries. Brandon found a secret door behind one and we went into the antechamber.  The room was filled with racks and bone tubes sealed.  The map room!  Those we found open crumbled in our hands.  Brandon came across one ivory tube sealed in wax that had potential.  When we opened it, we found a hand-scrawled map of our realms!

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

Part 24

Part 25

Part 26

Part 27

Part 28

Part 29

Part 30

Part 31

Part 32

Part 33

Part 34

Character Background Material

My New Campaign

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#DandD

#DnD

BattleTech Nose Art Project

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I retired a week ago and decided to tackle an arts and crafts project for the game room in our new house we are having built.  There will be a BattleTech theme, because, my wife is awesome.

I have always been intrigued with WWI and WWII aircraft art, or nose art.  The WWII bomber images were often of buxom women and they had a cool vibe to them.  I began to contemplate that we would have the same things in BattleTech as well.  It made sense.  You probably won’t see them at miniature scale, but it would be hard to believe that we wouldn’t have them.  So I decided to create my own and do it for a character from my work – Colonel Rhonda Snord.

I wanted a statement piece (that statement being, “I’m a geek!”) so I opted for three foot by five foot.  I got a ¼ inch sanded piece of plywood for the backing and cut the “ribs” so that there was some curve.  The cutting wasn’t tricky, but I wanted the same angle which took some hand-plaining to get it right.

I wanted a little pattern in the cross-members, so I went with some creative spacing.  These two had to be planed for the eventual curve of the metal.

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The ribs

The metal was from Home Depot, you get it in three-foot-square pieces, so I had trimmed some for experimentation purposes with the paint.

I used a nail gun to nail the ribs and supports to the plywood, along with some glue.  This gave me the frame for the metal.  The key is to make a diagram with accurate measurements of where the ribs are so that when you “rivet” them you know where to drive the brad/rivet.

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That’s right, Endo Steel is really just plywood from Home Depot

 

I laid the metal out and realized (duh) that the curve of the ribs meant my metal wouldn’t cover all of the ribs.  No problem, I decided to leave the exposed part at the top, as you can see.

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Nice eh?

To rivet these, you use an awl and tap a small hole.  I did mine at about one and one-half inches apart.  Using some needle nose plyers, I used some large aluminum thumbtacks and pounded them in.  I learned that at some the ends of the curve the thumbtacks weren’t long enough and popped up, so I sunk in a few screws mixed in with the tacks and glued them in just to be sure.  Next time I am getting longer brads so they will hold better.

Imperfections are okay, remember, this is outer skin for ferro-fibrous armor we are talking about.  Some imperfections are to be expected.  I think the few I have give the piece character.  I liked the aluminum skin so much I was tempted to leave it as-is and put the art on it. But we don’t see too many bare metal ‘Mechs out there, so I went to paint.

It took exactly one can of spay paint to cover this.  For the colors, I referred to my own book, Call of Duty, which described Rhonda Snord’s ‘Mech as a dull green with the Buffalo Nickel, Elvis’s TCB lightning bolt.  Her callsign was Jailhouse Rocker – but I took the liberty of trimming that down.  The nickel, well, it just looked like crap no matter what I did. I assumed this was so big on the ‘Mech that it might not apply with what I was doing. I was going to do the TCB (Taking Care of Business) lightning bolt, but decided against that.  Let’s just assume that was on the other side of her cockpit.  I only bring it up here because I know some fan boy will be convulsing that was not 100% accurate.  Well, bear in mind, ‘Mechs get painted and repainted a LOT.  Deal with it junior.

I was going to hand stencil the letters but my tests on the scrap metal left me worried that, given my lack of artistic ability, I would screw it up.  So I ordered the stencil work, and her artwork logo (Jailhouse Rock) from https://doityourselflettering.com.  The cost was around $50 but was worth it compared to the price of me messing up such a large project.

 

For Rhonda, I went to cover of the scenario set and scanned her.  Three fans jumped in and helped me crop her out perfectly.  I then went to Fat Head’s web site and ordered up Rhonda.  https://www.fathead.com/custom does custom vinyl’s – just upload and rock. The cost was $35.  Strangely enough they sent me two of them.

Total cost of the project, including purchasing of metal cutters, and awl, etc., was around $200.00 total.  I’m not a carpenter or very skilled, but the time involved was around 15 hours or so – with the majority of that being putting the rivets in.

Alright, truth be told, I used my time machine, went to the future, found this replacement cockpit side for her Highlander in a junk pile, grabbed it, and came back.  All of us BattleTech authors have a time machine because all of this stuff is REAL.

You may not like it.  You may think the proportions are off and stuff, but I love it and can’t want for us to get the house built so I can hang it in the game room.

I have a three foot piece of plywood left and am contemplating doing a Black Window one too.

BattleTech Pronunciations

Lyran

This comes up all of the time, what is the right way to say proper names in the BattleTech universe.  Not so much in writing, but when you get gamers together.  Well, if it makes you feel any better, we writers slug it out as a topic as well.

We had a meeting last month in Seattle and we arrived at a few agreements among ourselves on certain ones.  I saw this pop up in the forums as well this last week…so let me offer the ones we aligned on.  Note:  I am not an employee of Catalyst Game Labs, I am a mercenary author – so none of what I say is cast in stone.  It is simply my understanding of the proper way to pronounce certain names.

Lyran

Producers of the Atlas, the Atlas Scout Lance, the Atlas Candy Bar…you name it.  Two three forms are used the most.  Lee-run, Lie-o-run, and Lie-run.  Well, it’s Lie-run.  At least, I’m pretty sure that’s where we landed.

Davion

The Happy Go-Lucky Whackadoodles of the Federated Suns who produce the nicest plate collections for your royal weddings.  It has the Max Liao seal of approval!

Two variants come up all of the time.  Dah-vion and Davey-an.  It’s Davey-an.

Alaric (Ward)

Alaric
He’s dreamy…

The cover of Inner Sphere Sweet 16 Magazine.  True story.  We argued on this one for a while.  Someone suggested we call him “Al” which made me conjure up the image of Al Bundy, hands down his pants, etc.  There were impersonations involved. As it turns out, we were fairly split on the two forms:  Ahl-erick  (with the variant of Al-erick) and Alair-ick.  For the most part, we seemed to settle on Ahl-erick or the variant.

(Stephanie) Chistu

I think we all settled on “Shist-oo” however Randall did produce Cheese-stew, which opened up a number of cheese-based jokes including Cheese-doodle.   We never put in pin in this one, but I favor Shist-oo.

I feel assured this will spark countless hours of nerdgasms…so my work is done for the night.  You are welcome!

Gen Con Survival Tips – Updated for 2019

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Yes, those are Superman and Batman BattleMechs

Yes, it is that time of the year again – time for my unsolicited updated list of Gen Con tips survival.  These are to be treated as tongue and cheek – intended with a hint of a sense of humor.  If you’re offended, well, suck it up…this was intended to be useful and hopefully funny.

So, here’s my annual tips – updated where appropriate.

#1:  Plan in advance.  Go online, figure out what you want to do.  DO NOT try and figure all of this out while you are at the counter buying tickets.  This is like that person standing at line at Starbucks for 15 minutes, getting up there and going, “Hmm…I’m not sure what I want…”  Don’t be that guy.  Everybody hates that guy.

#2  Getting into the city.  Indianapolis is easy to navigate. It is hairiest to drive into the city on Thursday and Friday because of the locals who work there. The good news is that rush hour in Indianapolis is not horrible. The locals think it is, but it isn’t (I live outside of Washington DC.)

#3  Parking.  Okay, this is tricky.  Thursday and Friday, you have to compete with the locals for parking spaces.  Many lots fill up by 10:30am.  In other words, be prepared to walk some distance on those days.  I have a secret place or two for parking – which I won’t reveal.  The key is, get there early before the garages fill up.

#4:  Pack as if you are going to be at the convention center for 16 hours straight…because you are.  Slip in some snacks because let’s face it, convention food is expensive and sucks.  Bring pencils, pack your lucky dice (you know the ones!) graph paper, phone charger, a small tape measure (for miniatures games), aspirin, you know – typical geek gamer survival gear.  Think over seriously if you need to bring all of your rules books and game manuals.  Chances are the guys running the game are going to have a copy there.  Don’t over pack.  You don’t need to bring your PC with you, I’m almost positive.  Keep it simple, keep it light.  Pack what you need but remember, you’re not setting out to climb Mt. Everest (or Mt. Doom, your choice.)

#5:  Be prepared for the rush to the main hall when it opens.  Yes, when the balloon goes up and they open the doors to the sales floor, it is a geek equivalent to the running of the bulls in Spain (albeit a little safer).  Don’t fight the masses, ride it in.  Also – DON’T RUN.  The convention folks really hate people that run.  To answer your question now:  Yes, it’s that crowded every year.  You can’t get in without a badge, have it out and visible.  The Stormtrooper Door Guards will stop you dead in your tracks, meaning you are subject to being trampled by the crowd surge.  Also, nothing sucks more than being in a crowd of 2000 only to find out you have turn around and run back to the hotel room through a sea of angry and exited geeks.

#6:  Get generic tickets. Events are sold out, but people don’t show.  When they don’t, you can use generic tickets to get into anything.  They are wonderful little gems to have tucked away.  Don’t worry about having leftovers, you can go to the BattleTech pods and spend ‘em.

#7:  Cosplay is part of the experience and is encouraged.  If you are going to do it, don’t design a costume that is going to injure passersby.  Think it over.  No one is more of a douche-bag than a guy that has designed a costume that is hard to get around or trips/blinds people when you pass.

#8:  If you’re going to be one of those people who stop in the middle of a crowd to take a picture of the booth-babe wearing a chain mail bikini, do it quickly and don’t clog up the corridor.

#9:  Bathe and use deodorant.  This shouldn’t have to be a tip, it should be common sense.  Based on my own experience moving through the crowd, I had to include it.  Look, you paid for a hotel room right?  Go back at some point and at least use the shower.  Foot powder, toothpaste, and clean clothing (a fresh set for every day) shouldn’t require mentioning – yet here I am doing it.  Why?  Because people don’t do it!

#10:  While you have no adult supervision and can do what you want, be respectful of others.  In other words, bringing your leftover Taco Bell burrito from dinner to that 8am gaming session and eating it during the set-up is just wrong.  You do know that their meat isn’t real meat, right?

#11:  For your meals eat outside of the convention center.  First, convention food sucks and is expensive.  My memory is that a single, room-temperature, piece of convention cardboard pizza runs around $425.  I don’t blame the folks in Indianapolis for this, it sucked when the convention was in Milwaukee too.  I also like the brisk walk to the attached mall.  They have a food court, variety, better prices, and it’s a hoot watching the locals interact with the convention attendees.

Go only five blocks away and there are a LOT of eating places.  Pita Pit is great.  Gamers hate leaving the convention site, even for an hour for food, so if you are willing to walk, downtown has a LOT of eating options and the further you walk, the smaller the crowds.  I recommend taking the stroll.  Ten minutes of walking gives you a few minutes of peace and quiet.

The Food Trucks are your best friends.   I only discovered where these vendors parked four years ago and found their offers to be a much better alternative to eating on-site at the con.  Let’s face it, everything is better than the food in the convention center.  While we’re on it…

#12:  Don’t frighten the locals.  Look, Indianapolis really seems to like having Gen Con in town – well, at least they like our money.  Don’t try and frighten that family on the sidewalk with your Orc costume waving a sword and cursing in Orkish.  A lot of locals come down town to look at the cosplay folks – don’t add to their stereotype images of us.  Not cool dude.

#13:  While I totally appreciate Cosplayers, sometimes the costumes are confusing as all hell.  Don’t be insulted if people ask you, “who are you trying to be?” Obviously show the cosplayers some respect.  While you may think their costumes suck, they put some work into them.

#14:  There is always someone that knows the rules better than you.  He’s arrogant, overweight, and wearing a black tee-shirt (then again, who isn’t?)  Nothing kills a game faster than two guys trying to prove who is smarter about the rules regarding the splatter effect of a Mark IV plasma rifle in zero-G.  We get it, you read and memorized the rule book.  Stop ruining game play for everyone just to demonstrate your incredible powers of memorization…please.   We refer to these individuals as Rules Douches, or the more French- La Rules Douchebag.

#15:  Don’t just sit around.  Go and check out the miniatures games, or some of the big events like the Live Dungeon.  You didn’t shell out all of that money to sit and read a catalog you picked up did you?  The convention won’t come to you – you need to move.

#16:  Do some prep work if you are planning on buying some specific products.  Some companies are bringing limited quantities of games to the con for each day, or a certain day.  If you aren’t in line at the right time, you’re hosed.  The short version of this:  Make up your mind on what you are going to purchase and do it.  If you wait too long that newly released product can/will sell out.  Check the web sites and Twitter feeds of your favorite companies to see if that new product will be available and when.

#17:  Wear comfortable shoes.  Preferably shoes that do not have a predetermined aroma.

#18:  Go back to your hotel at night and get some sleep.  The convention is not designed as an endurance test.  You’ll need the energy.  All night gaming is great, if you’re young, but even then you need some sleep.

#19:  Attend the auction.  You’ll be able to tell your wife/mother/cat/significant other than that shelves and containers of games you have ARE of value.  You’ll be surprised at what games people collect and what they will pay for one.  It’s also kind of fun to see last year’s hot products being sold for a pittance of what people paid for them a year ago.

#20:  Play the demo games.  Look, games cost money – a LOT of money.  I sit in on demos, watch tournaments, etc. to figure out where I’m going to spend my cash.  I recommend you do the same.  Try some things you’ve never played before.  Think of this as a chance to test-drive new games and systems.

#21:  Don’t insult your favorite writer or game designer intentionally.  These guys work hard to produce your fun.  Don’t be “that guy” that shows up to tell someone how horrible a product they wrote in 1992 was, or how they made a mistake in an out-of-print 1989 book.  We get it, you can read.  If you’ve traveled all of this way to show off your knowledge, you’re a decade or two off.  If you meet writers, authors, artists, designers – be cool and respectful.  As a writer in the industry, I welcome comments from fans…but there is a limit to critique that I will endure, and I am not alone.  As a corollary – there is a limit to the number of things you want autographed.

#22:  Go early to the con.  Get out of bed and get to the convention early.  There’s a lot going on and the lines are significantly shorter.  I hit the MechWarrior pods usually at 8-9am when the convention hall is empty-ish.  They are a tradition I am addicted to.

#23:  WIN.  Savor your victories.  Cherish the lament of your foes as they are crushed under the weight of your killer die rolls and strategy!  Don’t rub it in, but enjoy it.  Serious dude, don’t rub it in when you win.  You didn’t travel all of this way to lose did you?  Hell no!  In other words, have fun!

#24:  Don’t wear costumes that are designed to deliberately upset people.  Skip the political stuff.  Someone is going to be upset and that isn’t the intention of going to a convention and having fun.

#25:  Wear something other than a black tee shirt.  At Gen Con, black tee shirts are like camouflaged ghillie suit for snipers.  Everyone is wearing a black tee shirt.  Someone someday will earn a PhD studying why gamers are drawn to black tee shirts.  In the meantime, I recommend wearing something else (something clean), in a color other than black.  Corollary:  Reading the hilarious tee shirts is one of the more phone things about the Con.

#26:  Don’t abuse your demo time in any booth.  Okay, in the main showroom, the vendors often offer short demos on their products.  These are a major part of the experience.  Don’t abuse the privilege.  I saw one guy camped out a table last year for four hours.  There were a lot of people wanting to sit in, but this guy had decided to turn a demo into a full-fledged campaign.

#27:  Remember the Gen Con food groups.  Caffeine, Chocolate, Salty Snacks, Caffeine, Pointless Carbs.  Beef Jerky, while not a formal food group, is also permissible but please be discreet when eating it – no one looks cool tearing into a piece of jerky.  Yes, Caffeine is listed twice because it is that important.

#28:  If you want to do free events plan on a wait or get there early.  A good example of this is the Paint and Take event Reaper puts on.  It’s cool to get a free mini you paint there, but everyone wants to do it and there’s usually a line.

#29:  If you want the Convention giveaways – go to those booths first thing when the doors open.  A lot of these vendors run out in the first 20 minutes.  They often have more of the freebies, but limit the number they give out each day.

#30:  Con-Crud – prepare for it.  Con Crud is not a new module release of Pandemic – it’s the social plague that hits thousands when they return from Gen Con on the following Monday.  Use hand sanitizer (you have to bring your own on this).  Load up on vitamins and other legal medications aimed at reducing colds, flu, or whatever it is that morphs into Con-Crud.

#31:  Patronize the places the support Gen Con.  If they support Gen Con, support them.

#32:  If you have a young one with you, go the Lucas Oil Stadium.  I took my grandson last year and there was a ton of stuff for us to do together.

#33:  Don’t overschedule.  This one came from my compadre Scott.  Leave yourself some time to soak it all in.  Otherwise you miss a lot of the convention just bouncing from one event to another.

#34:  Meet the celebrities.  I’m not just talking about the “name” celebrities.  This is a chance for you to track down that favorite author or artist and shake their hand.  I make a point at every Gen Con to network and meet people (and re-meet people I met years before).  Mingle and be social.

#35:  “Language” I’m noticing more and more kids at the Con which is great.  I bring my grandson.  If you feel the need to curse, make sure only the adults are around.

#36:  Take advantage of the crowds to do things you want to do.  Look, at 10am, everyone is lined up to get into the main hall.  That’s the perfect time to do things that otherwise have long lines.  For me, that is when I hit Paint and Take.  Understand the masses, don’t always be part of the masses.

#37:  If you are in a wheelchair, it is not a weapon to clear the crowds.  I got hit by someone in a wheelchair last year just standing still.  He just plowed into my ankle because he wanted to get through.  I’m understanding, but not that understanding.

#38:  You will get a book of freebie coupons.  If you plan on redeeming them, you need to do it first thing in the main hall.  Some of that stuff disappears in a matter of minutes.

#39:  Some booths have a line.  Paizo, Fantasy Flight Games, CMON, Catalyst…they all have lines.  Lines just to get into the booth to look around.  Lines for the demos.  Don’t get discouraged, it is almost always worth the wait.  If these guys are high on your list, go straight there when the doors open.

#40:  Play some things you never have before.

There you have it guys – GAME ON!

#GenCon

Yes, I Do Play MechWarrior Online

MWarrior

I really started playing MWO about seven months ago.  It all started because of the BattleTech pods at Gen Con.  I LOVE playing in the pods every year – so does my son and my grandson.  I was hoping to recapture some of that experience at home on my PC.

Bear in mind, I’m 56 years old – so I don’t have that energy-drink-fueled set of reflexes that a young kid playing the game does.  I also didn’t do a lot of research into MWO before jumping in – other than it looked like it might be a good way for me to get my BattleTech fix on.

The first few weeks were depressing.  I seemed to be a magnet for long range missile indirect fire.  When I wasn’t being blown apart by LRM’s fired by enemies I couldn’t see, I was having freaking Ravens and Fleas running laps around me, firing at me with pea shooters until my ‘Mech collapsed into a pile of smoking debris.  God I hate Ravens!

Some fellow fans (the 13th Oriente Hussars who I now regularly fight alongside on Friday nights) took me under their wing.  First off, I learned, that the stock ‘Mechs were, “less than freaking effective.”  Customizing a ‘Mech isn’t quite intuitive but I got some help.  Heat is a real issue, but a lot of it was how I configured the target interlock triggers – so I worked on that.  Also, I wasn’t using skills at all.  I was sent by my comrades some great YouTube videos that helped me figure that morass.

I still suck…but not nearly as much.  Moreover, once I got over those hurdles, I found my groove with the game.  Now it is a treat for me.  When I finish writing a chapter or something, I log on and give myself three quick drops.

My callsign is…are you ready…Blaine Lee Pardoe.  Yeah, I know, real creative.  Well it is.  At least once a week I hear somebody threaten me, “Hey man, if the real Blaine Pardoe finds out that you are using his name, he’s going to be pissed.”  Efforts to explain to them the truth often fall on deaf ears.  “Yeah – right, you’re really HIM.”  Also, it can be stupid to have that callsign, because a few folks have killed me and really enjoyed that.  “I killed the guy that wrote some of this stuff!”  “Laugh it up pretty boy – I’m switching to my Atlas Kraken for the next drop.”

I am now using it for research…at least that is my excuse with my wife.  I have picked up some wonderful slang for BattleMech names and such which I am incorporating into my fiction.  Funny how that works isn’t it?
So if you see me online – yes it is me.  Yes it is cool to ask me questions.  No it is not cool to shoot me in the back.  It is most cool if you see a Raven heading my way to kill it.

Forever Faithful Is Available for Pre-Order

forever faithful front cover display 35 1-7a copy

Note:  I will brush with spoiler territory with this post – but not cross that line.  You proceed at your own peril.

Here is the original draft of the back cover text for Forever Faithful…

Presumed Dead…

Clan Smoke Jaguar was targeted by the Star League to be obliterated.  The other warring Clans turned their back on them, leaving them to die.  Everyone presumed they had been completely crushed…and that was their mistake!

Four Warriors are determined to save the remnants of the Jaguars if they don’t kill each other first.  One is the traitor that brought the enemy to their doorstep: one is the Smoke Jaguar who was tasked with rallying them and failed; one is a Nova Cat Warrior with a vision of their true role in history; and the other is from Clan Goliath Scorpion who wants to harvest their remnants as museum exhibits.  These four are on a collision course that stretches from Huntress to the Inner Sphere.  What the Smoke Jaguars become impacts The Republic of the Sphere and far beyond.  When it comes to the vision of Nicholas Kerensky, the Smoke Jaguars are Forever Faithful!

Note:  I can see why my editor, John Helfers, changed it. Still, parts of it ring very true to me.   

I just received word that Forever Faithful is finally available for pre-order. In fairness, this is not a great entry book to the BattleTech universe.  You need to know the events of the Twilight of the Clans series to really appreciate it.

I have to admit, there is a special place in the dark recesses of my mind for this book.

You see, it all began with Surrender Your Dreams.  When I was offered that novel, the parameters were pretty vague.  “Write 2-3 short stories about what was happening in the Republic after Fortress Republic went up.”  I am no fan of analogies and writing three short stories just seemed cheesy.  If you can pick one word to describe me it is, “Doesn’t follow rules well.” Get it? Moving on.  So I altered the format of the book, jumbling the chapters’ ala Pulp Fiction.  I also introduced something cool in the form of a new unit, the Fidelis.

The Fidelis were mysterious. I thought that the Republic needed something unique and enigmatic.  Their unit formations were seemingly un-Clanlike or Inner Sphere.  They were Special Forces, elite to the extreme.  They also made sure when one of them died that they left no usable DNA behind.  Clearly they wanted to hide their origins – but for the reader, it posed the question of “why?”  As it turned out, they had a LOT to hide.

From the get-go, I knew they were going to be the Smoke Jaguars. I had heard some alleged-powers-that-be claim they were dead and never coming back – which made it all the sweeter to try.  Randall said, “Write up how they came to be and let me look at it.”  I did.  A page or so of content.  Randall approved it and I knew I had something ultra-awesome for the book.

Revealing the Fidelis as the Smoke Jaguars was a blast.  It always nagged at me though.  I never told the Fidelis origin story, I simply introduced them with a hint of mystery as to how they got there.

The fans loved the reveal at the end of Surrender, igniting an internet-troll-war of full-bore-hemorrhaging-level six-nerdgasms as to whether they were “really” the Smoke Jaguars.  Some argued they were the Wolverines.  No.  Hell no. Then came the, “Well, they really aren’t Clan…so even if they are were Jags, they aren’t now.”  It amazes me to this day how passionate and ditzy the fan community can be – and how many of them know more about the Jaguars than I do (according to them.)  I bowed out of those online battles, because most trolls are douchebags and we all know it…begging for attention, even negative attention.  Besides, I knew their origins, I knew the truth. Heck, I created it. And the truth was awesome.

You can take the warrior out of a Clan but you can’t take the Clan out of the warrior.  Breeding will always dominate such a people.  Yes, they were the Fidelis, but if you assumed that they had shed (or fled) all of their heritage you would be mistaken. Readers saw the public face of the Fidelis in Surrender Your Dreams, not who they were in their hearts. New Earth holds many dark and twisted secrets…

When John Helfers asked what I wanted to write first as a new novel, I originally proposed an all-encompassing Jihad novel that would explain the entire Jihad from an insider’s point of view.  It was a neat idea, but frankly, I am no fan of the Jihad era.  Too many dead mercs killed in less-than-glorious manners.  John liked the Jihad idea but wanted another option…so I pulled out my original Fidelis document and thought, “Wow, this is a chance to fill in a neat piece of BattleTech history.”  Even after their military defeat on Huntress, I didn’t feel the Jags had really reached the bottom.  To do that, you had to have the Inner Sphere attempt to inflict their morals and values on them.  This book allowed me that opportunity.  Moreover, this book allowed me to set a few things right.

What things am I referring to?  Trent.  I didn’t like his demise in the Twilight of the Clans series; no offense to Mike Stackpole.  It felt out of character for Trent.  I raised the issue back in the day but nothing changed during the edit process. We spent a lot of time and effort to build up Trent and his death was an off-screen event that just felt empty.  I hated that.  Trent was never about revenge on the Smoke Jaguars.  His callsign was honor, which he felt his people had wandered away from.  Trent was what the Smoke Jaguars were meant to be, in my mind anyway.

Additionally, there were some stories that simply had to be told.  What happened on Huntress after the Star League victory?  Bits and pieces made it into sourcebooks, but no one said what happened with the remnants of the Smoke Jaguars after the faux-Star League departed.  What happens to a warrior people that are crushed?  What happens in a rigid caste society where the leading caste has been devastated?  Did the Star League win the war and lose the peace on Huntress? What became of all that was left of the Jaguars?

The novel gave me the opportunity to write about some other Clans as well, one in particular that never really got much air time in fiction – the Goliath Scorpions. There’s some Nova Cat stuff in here too, back when the Nova Cats were all mystical and exotic.  If that wasn’t enough, I also got to write about the Eridani Light Horse, which was special. Anytime you can write about such a storied unit, it is fun.

But in the end, this is the story of powerful characters and the change they have to go through.  It is the story of what Victor Steiner-Davion put into motion with the destruction of the Smoke Jaguars – and how that spiraled out of his control decades later.  I got a chance to introduce new characters and rekindle some fascinating old ones from a bygone BattleTech era.

I was allowed to determine what went on the cover which is a change under the new regime that is welcome.  I knew the battle intimately and the artist did a stunning job of capturing it, right down to the lightning.  I think it pops and sizzles.  Moreover, notice that the Timber Wolf is standing on a crushed Goliath Scorpion ‘Mech? Pretty awesome eh?

img_1895
The full blown art cover…which is awesome! 

This is a book about characters who are suddenly faced with the realization that everything they lived their lives for has changed.  What they thought were their goals has been crushed.  They must redefine themselves and their relationships to each other.

This book does not necessarily stand alone. Wink, wink.  In fact, you may want to dust off other Classic BattleTech novels I have written to help you. If you think this story is over by the end or with the events in Surrender Your Dreams, you are delusional or on drugs.  I was given a broad tapestry to work with and took full advantage of it.  This story does not necessarily end with this novel. Even my evil plans have their own evil plans. Those of you that know me well know all of this stuff is stitched together into a pretty intriguing tapestry.

This was my first novel where I incorporated some fans into the fiction as well.  Seyla y’all!

There are some killer scenes in this novel (pun intended).  Without spoiling them, I will relay this funny story.  During the edits, one editor wrote, “I wish he’s just punch Victor in the face!”  That was when I knew I had written that scene right. Let’s face it, we ALL have thought about punching Victor at one time or another.  The final scene with Trent is a very critical one as well.

Sidebar:  At GenCon last year they inadvertently showed the cover of the novel on another book. I have to admit, I was surprised by that.  Still, they didn’t show ALL of it…so the reveal is still pretty awesome.

To those defiant souls that think the Fidelis are not the Smoke Jaguars at their core – well, you couldn’t be more wrong.  And in a few months’ time, I will prove it to you. Detractors, prepare yourselves for battle and to suffer the agony of defeat.  (Engage Evil Laugh Mode for five seconds)

In the meantime, I encourage you guys to order the novel and get ready for a bumpy ride. This is not your daddy’s Jihad, this is Clan BattleTech action – where honor and pride matter. This is about Jaguars old and new, mystical Nova Cats, driven Goliath Scorpions, (“Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!”)  Dust off your Twilight of the Clans series…because this starts where that ends.

Additionally, if you want more BattleTech fiction to be published, you have to order the books – it really is that simple. Catalyst is watching the novel sales carefully.  Yes, there is a hardcopy of the book that will be available around the release date from Amazon.

Ebook Ordering Link

The Chronicling of our D&D Campaign: Tempora – Part 28

trap2

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!

Arius…

After the debacle at the fountain with that water weird, we found a door heading to the north.  We had little choice, turning back at this point made no sense.  We opened it and entered a room with a pile of rotting skeletons and rags along the far wall.  Theren triggered a trap of some sort, releasing a noxious green cloud that made him gag.  He waved off the effects of the gas as if it were little more than a nuisance.  Personally I was amazed that our members on the point had not triggered it.

The gas, as it turned out, was the least of our problems.  From under the rotting remains along the far wall, a swarm of giant snakes emerged and headed right for us!  Their scales shimmered in the light of Bor’s glowing blue warhammer and the green light from Brandon’s lantern.

Althalus unleashed his eldritch beams of death, hitting one of the snakes and sending it flying back into the wall it had emerged from. Bor swung his mighty warhammer down, hitting one of the snakes hard and flattening part of its body.  The tail of the creature flailed about.  Dimitrious stuck a dart in the snake that had been tossed back to the wall.

I rushed forward, never one to shirk from battle.  One sprang at Brandon, viciously biting him at the neck.  The snake coiled around his legs though.  He drew Nightstalker the sword and stabbed furiously at the creature, splattering the fine blade in fresh blood.  Althalus unleashed another emerald beam of arcane magic and made the head of one of the snakes explode, spraying me in a fine mist that had been the hideous creature.

I lost track of the others for a moment as I swung my blade at one of the snakes, hitting it only enough to anger it more.  It hissed at me.  Bor lost his grip on Skullringer mid-swing, sending the warhammer into the door and embedding it in the ancient wood there.

One snake latched onto Brandon’s upper right arm, flailing on the ranger as it held a tight grip.  Althalus hit that snake, doing enough damage to force it to release the ranger and drop to the floor. I stabbed my trusty blade into one of the giant snakes, cutting it deeply but not killing it.

The wily monk Dimitrious tore at one with his bare fists, killing one of the creatures with a blow to its head.

We were down to the two of the monstrosities.  Theren missed one snake with an arrow, splintering it on the stone.  Brandon stabbed Nightstalker into the snake, but it was still quite alive and angrier than ever.  I stabbed my own sword into the head of one creature, slaying it.  I muttered a prayer of thanks as the party circled on the last snake.  Theren planted another arrow into the creature, killing it.  The dead creature’s tail still twitched, disturbing us all.

Brandon harvested the venom sacs from the snakes only to be put in a quandary as where to put them.  “I guess I could put them in my water skin,” he suggested – but that was seen as a potentially deadly mistake.  Theren was the most vocal.  “One wrong sip, and you’re dead.” It was the warlock that came forth with a solution a bottle we had used to remove a curse on the flameskull. Every little bit helps, perhaps this poison will assist us.

Bor pulled Skullringer from the hole in the door and peer through, seeing a narrow hallway then hanging to the left.  It was a narrow passage and surprisingly, Brandon entered first.  He found a dagger on the ground, some old iron arrowheads, and bits of rusted chainmail.

The narrow hall made me cautious – we would be hard pressed to form a good line of battle.  I closed my eyes and prayed, trying to determine if the undead were present.  I could not sense anything, but the darkness of the hall in the eerie green light of Brandon’s lantern.

At the corner the hallway continued on.  There were a pair of doors on one wall some fifty-heads distant, but the hallway continued past that point. Our ranger told us that beyond the doors was a lever on the far wall.

“Shall we push on?” the ranger asked.

“We are following you,” I said as we moved slowly forward.

Brandon paused.  “Across from the double doors, I make out the faint outline of a secret passage of some sort.”

“Speak friend and enter?” Theren asked jokingly.  None of us chuckled.  Far too many things had already tried to kill us in Tempora to enjoy that old children’s joke.

Brandon stood before the concealed door that none of us could discern, while Bor planted himself in front of the double doors, in case they should open.  I gave Bor an assuring nod.  We were the battlers of our party and I wanted him to know I had his back.  I closed my eyes for a moment and asked God to protect him.

Suddenly I found myself being drawn to the far wall, the one with the doors.  I leaned away from it, but my feet slid.  I hit the wall, my armor and sword firmly planted on the wall. I tried to push away but could not budge.  A trap, no doubt some magical form of lodestone.  Every bit of metal we had pulled hard to the wall with crushing force. Even my nipple ring strained at my flesh to cling to the stone.

The secret door opened and three ghouls emerged.  I craned my neck and saw them.  Each wore a thick leather collar with a pulsating ruby on it.  Brandon’s sword Nightstalker burst into brilliant white light as the ghouls pounced upon him.  One bit at the ranger, tearing at the flesh of his shoulder.  He fell limp on the wall, held in place by his armor.

We were stuck firm. I pushed with all of my might but could only make my body move slightly.  Bor was badly damaged by a bite and was paralyzed and frozen to the wall.  The smell of death and semi-rotting flesh blew down the hall towards me as the creatures groaned.  We were trapped, in my case facing the wall. There was nothing I could do to stop them.  I began to wonder if I could somehow unclasp my armor.  Better to fight naked than die hanging on the wall.

Theren struggled to remove his backpack, but had no success.  Dimitrious though had only a dagger and had let it go and stick the wall.  He was able to move and sprang to attack the ghouls.  In my mind, the lever on the far wall was the key – but he could not pass through to get to it.  Instead he savaged one of the ghouls with a flurry of fist-blows.  He toppled one of the creatures, knocking it prone.  One ghoul continued to ravage the helpless Bor.

It was Theren that surprised us.  He transformed into a large spider, crawling out of his armor and equipment.  It was a hideous form we had never seen the druid undertake.  It clicked audibly and climbed up to the ceiling and scurried to the lever right over the ghouls.  It reached the lever and used four of its limbs to pull it down.  The moment it came down, Bor and Brandon dropped like felled logs to the floor.  I sprang free with my sword.

Althalus unleashed an eldritch blast, knocking of the creatures back in the hidden room they had emerged from.  Spider-Theren jumped on one of the foul beasts, tearing into his flesh.  It hissed at him in response, a sound that came from beyond the grave.  Dimitrious sent one of the beasts back to the hells it had sprang from with a rapid flurry of punches.

I moved near Brandon and muttered a prayer, laying my hands on him and succoring his pain.  One creature remained, its right arm hanging by a bit of muscle tissue, limp and worthless.  Spider-Theren attacked from above again, ripping the head off of the ghoul and sending it rolling near my feet.  Its mouth twitched slightly, making me wonder if it was truly dead.

We offered aid to Bor to bring him back to consciousness the Theren morphed back into his human form and put his armor and gear back on.

Brandon checked the dead ghouls and found the leather collars with the rubies.  The leather was intricately carved with runes and symbols, arcane and dark magic no doubt.  It stopped glowing once he pulled it off one of them.  “What are these?” he asked, holding up one them.  Althalus sprung over at the sight of them.  “What do we have here?”  He took one of them and studied them.  “I know these…I read about them.  These are the Eyes of Rivroast, and are compelling control devices that have not been seen in this world in ages.  They are cut from the same stone and the Mind of Rivroast, a crown that mounts that gem, giving the wearer complete control.  Someone must have had control over these ghouls.”  His words were sobering.  There was more at work here.

In the chamber where the ghouls had been, the room was filled with the stench of rotting flesh.  Bones and bits of clothing and armor lay molding in the chamber.  Small mice and roaches scampered as we entered the room, seeking the darkness.  One human skull seemed to stare at us.

“I want that skull,” Althalus said.

“You and your skulls,” I responded.  “Leave it be.”

“I want it.”

“I will give you a glimpse of that book you are so obsessed with if you leave it alone.”

“Agreed,” he said, rubbing his hands greedily together.  I regretted my words almost instantly.

“I have no desire to poke around in ghoul poop,” Theren said, pinching his nose.

I took my javelin and poked around the debris.  There was some loose coins, copper, silver and electrum, which we gave to Bor to carry.  There was some rope that had not decayed, some fifty-heads worth, which I took.  There were two flasks of oil there which the ranger offered to carry.  There was a small vial of clay sealed in wax that I found as well.  Carved into the clay was the elven word, “Fizkus.” Theren took a look at it.  “That’s high elven, it means flight.”

“That is wicked,” Althalus said.

“It is dangerous,” Theren warned.

I was almost done in the room when I found a small glass vial of clear liquid marked with the cross of the Church.  Holy water.  That was something I took for myself.  I knew this was something that would be of use later.

We moved to the double doors across the hall and forced them open with Skullringer, which took several blows.  Bor missed the doors entirely with one swing, clearly still suffering from the effects of the ghoul bite.  This chamber was filled with rusting metal, chainmail suits, plate and scale armor, shields, etc.  At first glance, it looked as if this was a waste of time – a room filled with dead-men’s armor.  The air stunk of iron dust.

One piece in the room caught my eye.  A round shield bearing an ornate “S” marking on the front.  It was more dirty than rusty and as I wiped it clean I could see how well it was made.  The edges of the shield were razor sharp and silvered.  It is very old and bears the markings on the back as having been made at The Priory of the Blade – home of the Sisterhood of the Sword!  A throwing shield…I had heard of these but have never used one.  This as the order that Lexa Lyoncroft allegedly came from.  The shield was very light in my hands.  I took this as my own, giving my mirrored shield to Bor to take – this new one was to be mine.  The Priory had been of the Church before they were purged.  I only could hope that this was indeed a blessed weapon.

Brandon found a spear that stood out. It had a stone for a tip that was a carved and polished white stone for a point. It was of sturdy build and he took it as has own.

We left the room and moved to where the lever was.  Brandon argued that we should reset the trap.  Theren countered that we might need an escape route.  We continued down the hall and came to a large chamber.  The wooden beams in the room had rotted away and there was some stone that seemed to have collapsed.

Of along the far wall we saw a small raised circular pool, about five inches off of the floor.  The water shimmered when we looked at it, the light from Brandon’s lantern seeming to give it other colors and form on the surface.

The last pool we had come across had a water weird in it, so I was apprehensive.  The ranger checked for tracks and there was signs of someone having crossing the room to the far end where we saw a staircase leading down. “Boot tracks,” Brandon said, squatting over them.  “Weeks old, maybe older.”

My muscles ached.  “We need to rest up,” I suggested.  “Not near that pool, but we need to eat and rest.”

Althalus kept his eyes on that pool.  “That pool intrigues me.”

“Me too,” Brandon said, staring over at it.  “What are the odds that it has another water weird in it?”  I was going to tell him I thought those odds high, but I did not want to diminish his zeal.

After our rest for an hour of so Brandon, Althalus and Dimitrious walked over to the pool. “You first,” the warlock said to the ranger.

Brandon leaned in and even from where we sat, we saw that the pool shimmered with color and shapes.  “It’s like a window…” Althalus said as Brandon leaned further.  I got to my feet.  “What do you see?” I asked, my hand falling to my sword.

“I see myself.  I’m fighting alongside a beautiful woman in red leather armor.  I see Arius and Lexa too, fighting together!  We’re fighting something…I cannot make out what it is, but we are fighting something dark and gray.”

I did not like the thought of fighting with Lexa Lyoncroft.  Perhaps this was a glimpse to a possible future.

Althalus leaned in and the image seemed to charge.  I could see a flicker of orange and yellow on the pool’s surface.  “Well, that’s what I expected,” he said as the image returned to normal.

“What was it?” Theren pressed.

“I saw myself grappling with you Theren on some summit somewhere.  The world around us was in flames.  Then the image disappeared.”

He always managed to disturb me, the way he took carnage and death so casually.  We began to move closer to the pool to see the images for ourselves.  Dimitrious leaned in and I could see the image on the pool’s surface.  He was moving slowly, as if time had been corrupted.  He began to dissolve, slowly turning to dust.  There was a strange look of contentment on his face.  His mouth opens as if he was speaking – then he disappeared.  We could not make out the background of the image but there was no sunshine, perhaps in a building of some sort.

Theren looked next as I closed on the pool.  As he leaned in he saw himself as an old man, with gray hair, struggling with someone dressed in black.  Flames surrounded them and the figure in the black robe wore a large silvered cross around his neck.  Then the image disappeared.

“Mine was better,” Brandon said.  “I had two women fighting with me.  I basically got girls in my vision.”

It was my turn.  I took a long breath and said a silent prayer.  Leaning in I saw Lexa Lyoncroft and myself, back-to-back, our swords in play – mine ablaze with holy fire.  We are surrounded and being rushed by faceless enemies that we are cutting apart.  I saw gray streaks in my hair near my temples – perhaps a glimpse into the future.  Something in the back of my mind told me that these foes were undead.

Bor leaned in and looked.  We all saw the image. In the pool Bor was covered in blood and is being held up by his throat, dropping Skullringer, his body limp in the black shadowy creature’s grip.  He is tossed aside is if he were dead.  I noted he was wearing the clothing and armor he had on now.  It was an ominous and dark image that flickered away.

It took us a few minutes to drink it all in. We turned towards the staircase and we saw a mist arise from the floor and saw the image of the mysterious woman appeared, her massive sword slung across her back.  She was thirty heads distance, at the top of the stairs.

“You still persist despite my warnings?”

“Yes,” Theren replied.  “We are bit slow that way.”

“You need to turn around now…while you can,” she warned.

“Why?” Althalus queried.

“You face your doom,” she replied.

“I can’t escape my doom,” the warlock countered.  When he said things like that he made us wonder about his true intentions.

“Did you look into that pool?” she gestured.

“Yes,” we all replied.

“What did you see?”

“Our futures,” Althalus replied.  “Our end.”

“Wait,” Theren said.  “We saw a future.  Not necessarily the future.  The future is not set.”  The druid waxed in philosophy.

“I give you two options,” she said in an ominous tone.  “Surrender or turn around.  It is a miracle you made it this far.  I am impressed.  This is your final warning.”

“If you could help us,” Althalus said.  “That would be great.”

“Ohh,” she cooed.  “I can help you.  What is it that you are looking for?”

I spoke up in response.  “The lost paladins that were brought here.”  Lying was not in my nature.  God understood.

She smiled, which did not ease our tension.  “I will show one you were those paladins are. You.”  She pointed at me.  Why me?  Was it because I was a paladin as well?

“I will take you to them.”

“We will go as a group,” the ranger said, holding out Nightstalker.  It did not glow, so we knew she was not undead.

“Come here and I can show you,” she gestured.

“I am not coming by myself,” I replied.  I was brave, but not stupid.

“I can take one of you.”

Althalus made a quick gesture with his hands – I had no idea what he was doing, but she did not seem to react to it.

“Why can you only take one?”  Theren asked.

I heard Althalus’ voice in my head – a disturbing experience at best.  “She is telling the truth.  I saw the paladins, about 150 of them, around a fire in the snow.”

“That is all I will take.”

“How far is the journey?” the druid continued to press.

“That is difficult to say in this instance.  Close and far.  It is closer than you think.”

She eyed me more carefully.  “Where did you get that?” she gestured to my new shield.  “That shield is the property of the Sisterhood of the Sword.”

“I will surrender it,” I offered, “If you take us all to the paladins.”

“I am not comfortable with us giving that up,” the warlock offered. “We found it, it’s ours.”

“I could defend that legally,” added Theren, our druid that never backed down from an argument.

“If you all want to go,” she countered.  “I can make that happen.”  There was something in her tone of voice that made me question her sincerity.  As if to add to the tension we were all feeling, she drew her massive sword.  I had seen a blade like that before, in the hands of Lexa Lyoncroft.  I had no doubt that the two of them were once part of the Priory of the Blade.  This one had a large black opal mounted in the hilt of the blade.

She walked to me and touched me on the shoulder.  The floor dropped beneath me and I felt like I was falling.  There was a rush of air around me.  I lost her vision. Arcane magic swirled around me.  Hit the ground in snow, the air stinging at my face and hands.  I raised my head and saw a group of warriors in the distance, huddle around the fire.  Brandon landed near me, his lantern smashed, the oil melting the snow.  The others…they had jumped though the magic portal with me!  I thanked the Almighty and rose to my feet.  She stood near me, facing me squarely.

“Where are we?” I demanded.

She smiled, which made me cringe. “You will find out when I come to take you…one at a time.”  The ground beneath her swirled a blue and white twist of energy and disappeared.

“Well,” Althalus said wryly.  “She’ll be back.”  We all gave him a stern look of frustration.  I looked around.  We stood on a snow-covered plateau, the wind whipping the snow around us.  There were mountains not far distant, in every direction.  I could not see the sun, but the gray skies were glowing as if it was daytime.  I had no idea where we were – perhaps deep in the northern reaches.  The cold penetrated my armor and skin.  The paladins were in the distance, gathered around a fire.

We walked over and I was designated to be the lead because I was a paladin like them.  We started walking toward them.

“Hello!” I called.  None seemed to have weapons.  They motioned for us to join them.  I saw the sigil for the Order of the Fang on their smocks and armor.

“What brings you here?” one asked as we got close to the fire.

“We came looking for you,” I offered.

“And you are trapped like the rest of us,” a gaunt paladin replied.

“We are imprisoned here – in that accursed blade of her sword.  That opal in the hilt – it is her own private plane of existence,” an older gruffer knight responded.  “She comes for us, taking us three or four at a time – takes us away.  None taken have ever returned.”

“I want that sword,” Brandon said.

“How long have you been here?” Theren asked.

Another knight, youngest we had seen, skinny with sagging cheeks replied, “Time works differently here.  It is hard to say.  Do you have any food?”

We opened our packs and shared what rations we had with us.  Theren grinned. “I am ‘gifted,’ I can make food.”

That brought about yellow-toothed grins.  “We need weapons as well.”

We handed out what spare weapons we had.  I was shocked to see the condition of these men.  They were starving to death here, imprisoned in her sword.  They held the weapons with fondness.

“Maybe we have a chance now that we are armed,” one of them said.  Mutters of support for him grew.

Brandon dug out the amulet he had found from the Order of the Fang.  “I have this,” he said holding it up.

“Where did you find it?” one of them asked.

“In Tempora, while we were looking for you.”

“It belongs in our brotherhood,” one said, looking to Brandon for approval to take it. “Take it,” he replied and one of the men draped it over his neck.  Just wearing it seemed to give him renewed energy.

One paladin, a bold man with a thick black beard stepped forward.  “I am B’hard, our captains and lieutenants are dead, or so we assume.  We thank you for the food.  It will go a long ways with my men.”

“Is there any way out of here?” Theren asked.

“No.  If you venture over the mountains in the distance, you come down the slope on the other side.  We have taken shelter in a cavern near here.  It is always daylight here but with the clouds, we never see the sun, and the caves are the only place where we get any sense of darkness.  We have no idea how long we have been here since it is ever-day.  The only way out is when she comes for us.  She takes a few of us at a time…and none ever return.”

“Is there any buildings or anything else here?” I asked.

B’hard nodded.  Off in the distance, in the foothills of that mountain is a keep.  It is the Priory of the Blade.  For years we wondered where their priory was hidden…as it turns out, Cyrilla Drex had it secreted away here, in her sword.  It is no wonder we never found it.  We were charged with razing it, but could never find it. Everyone trying to enter it has been badly injured.”

“I do not want to get hung up on this,” Althalus said. “I have some military experience. I was our leader the last time we served together.  It might make sense for us to have a single leader.”  Those of our party looked at Althalus and I cocked my eyebrow.  Memories of the minotaurs and the loss of one of our comrades was not a fond memory for us.

B’hard offered to take us to the priory. “I think this is folly.  None of us have been able to enter. I would be happy to take you though.  The wind cut through our clothing as we marched along towards the mountain.  “Did you see any sign of our men?”

“No.  We followed your tracks into Tempora,” Theren offered.

“We were blinded and we woke up here. Whatever she is doing is foul and evil.”  On this point, we all agreed.

“Did you have to face the Bone Dragons in the White Vale?” Brandon asked.

“No.  She simply marched us out there.”

“Lucky us,” Althalus muttered.

It took several hours to reach the priory.  It was a large central keep with a stone wall surrounding it.  It looked out of place, as if it had been scooped out from our world and brought here, and dropped.

Theren moved in front of the only gate on the wall and held his hands up as if he were trying to sense something, muttering as he stood.  We watched him for a few moments, then he turned to face us.  “It is protected by necromantic magic?”

B’hard, reacted.  “How can you see magic?”

“The gods have gifted me with this skill,” the druid said.

“’Gods,’ not God?” he asked cautiously.

“It is a long story,” the druid said blowing off the question. Druids and holy men of the Church did not get along.  Inquisitions had a way of generating bad blood.  “That keep is heavily protected.  If we try and force our way in, I suspect we will pay a price.  I sense wards – many layers of them, like rings on a tree.”

“We even tried to tunnel under it,” B’hard said.  “All were met with the same result.”

Theren looked to me.  “Your new shield is magical.  Let me hold it.”  I gave it to him and watched as he approached the gate.  Sparks appeared out of the air between the shield and the gate. He backed away, giving me the shield back.  “Throw a javelin at it.”

Brandon threw a javelin at the gate.  It erupted in an explosion.  The druid studied the air where the javelin had been, the smoke still swirling in the falling snow.  “Well, I think it is safe to say we cannot enter it.”

We trudged back to the cave following B’hard.  Men were huddled along the walls and a low fire burned in a pit near the entrance.  I could see my breath in the air, though being out of the wind and snow helped with my warmth.  “We need to prepare.  We need a plan.  She will come at some point.  When she does, we need a plan now that we have your weapons.  The challenge is we only see her for a second, then she disappears with anyone that near her.”

“She taunts us sometimes,” B’hard said.  “She tells us that we will be giving our souls to her ally.  Other times she merely appears and takes us without notice.”  I could feel the eyes of the men in the cavern stare at us.  They need hope beyond their belief in God.

“I bet it’s that necromancer…what was his name?  Victor Barristen…that fallen paladin,” Theren said.

Paladin 5

“I wonder if Lexa Lyoncroft knows that one of her former sisters is aiding someone like Barristen?” Althalus asked.  It was one more mystery we would have to take to her at some point, if we lived through this magical exile.

B’hard looked to Althalus.  “What would you suggest?  We are unsure if that is really her that appears or an image of her.  We need to be prepared.  We are weary of this slow death.”

Another paladin spoke up.  “The last time we tried to jump her when she appeared, we were thrown back by some sort of magical blast.”

“We are familiar with that,” Althalus replied.  I looked around.  A few of the knights looked almost dazed, rocking in their private space of the cavern.  Others trembled and stared into nothingness.

“Drex needs our blood, that much is clear,” B’hard said.  “Your friend here,” he said pointing at me, “is probably more at risk than any of you.”  Being a holy knight, I faced the same fate as they did.  It hardened my resolve.

Theren stepped forward with a plan.  If we form a circle, interlock our arms with the armed men, when she appears as many of us as possible will rush her with the intent of getting out of this accursed place.”

“For the record,” Althalus said after a moment of consideration.  “This is a horrible idea. I do have an alternate plan.  We do have the devil’s skull and the book.  Perhaps I can unleash the devil on her once we get to the other side.”

“What is this devil’s skull you speak of?” B’hard asked.

“It’s a long story,” Althalus said, cutting him off.

Demon1

There it was, a plan I dreaded more than death.  I was about to lecture the warlock that he was surrounded by 150 paladins, more if you included me.  I also was reluctant to allow me access to that accursed book even on the best of days.

Theren beat me to the punch.  “Let’s consider that a fall-back plan.”  That seemed to satisfy Althalus for the moment – though I wondered if he was still thinking of somehow unleashing that devil.

Outside in the snowstorm we heard the sound of a low and slow rumble of thunder, as if the skies themselves were straining to release the sound.  “That is her!” B’hard said.  “We hear that when she is about to appear.”

“Lock arms,” I called.  The paladins interlocked their arms, many gripping the weapons we had provided them.  Their eyes were red and weary, yet they all looked as if they were ready for a fight.  Everything was preferable to dying in this forsaken land.

A ghost-like vision of her appeared, not quite corporeal.  I was not sure she was really there, or merely projecting an image of herself.  We were not close enough to make the jump through her portal.  The halberd I had given one of the men that disappeared, fell clanging on the cavern floor.  Another paladin picked it up.  Four of the men were gone.

“That was not good,” Althalus.  “We know when she is coming, but it is pure chance as to where she is going to appear.”

“We need to huddle closer, a tighter circle,” Theren said.  So that went she appears, more of us can make the leap through her portal.

We waited what seemed like hours, if not longer. B’hard and the best fighters centered on our party, clamoring for a fight.  I planned to bless our party the moment we heard the rumble – ensuring God would protect us. My legs ached as we stood, waiting for the inevitable.  Some sat, waiting for the crack of thunder.  I chose not to.

The rumble happened, strained and slow as before.  Men rose.  The floor opens beneath us in a swirl of white and blue energy.  I saw her standing before me, semi-transparent.  We lunched into the light, along with two of the paladins.

I landed on stone…hard.  A pentagram surrounded us.  Looming over us, holding that massive sword over our heads.

“So what do we have here?” she asked, moving to a combat stance.

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

Part 24

Part 25

Part 26

Part 27

Character Background Material

My New Campaign

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