The Chronicling of our D&D Campaign: Tempora – Part 26

warlock3

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!

Theren…

Having rested up for several hours, we set out down the dark roadway to the underbelly of the mountains. Less than an hour into our trek, a massive portcullis dropped down, blocking the road and driving through Arius’s body as it slammed into the ground, pinning the paladin to the floor. The wrought iron gate sent up a cloud of rust into the air as it thudded into place.  Bor was on the far side, now appearing trapped.  Despite being a brute of a man, he looked oddly vulnerable there alone.  Blood oozed from Arius’s wounds where the portcullis had pinned his torso, though the paladin did not complain much.

It took all of us to lift the gate, mostly with Bor’s and my brute strength and using a javelin for a lever. Each member of the party slid under the gate.  We moved a few heads down the road and the gate clanged back up.  “We must have stepped off of the trigger,” I said as the gate disappeared into the slot on the ceiling over the road.

Another 200 heads down, we saw a small indentation on the right side of the roadway, a niche really.  There was some wood there, rotting, along with some shards of moldy cloth.  A small hole five heads from the floor trickled water down into the hole.  Under the wood was clearly a hole in the floor.

“I think someone should look into that,” Arius said.

“I think someone else should look into it,” I replied.

The paladin frowned at me then went over, carefully peering down the hole.  “It’s some sort of sewer,” he called over to us. It made sense.  This was a long road into Tempora.  There had to be places like this where travelers could relieve themselves.

“What’s down there?” Brandon called.

“I don’t want to know what is down there,” Arius replied.  “You are welcome to use this if you want.  I have no desire knowing what is down in this old sewer.”  I agreed with the paladin.  While there could be something long lost in that hole, we were not looking for treasure, but for the missing warriors of the Order of the Fang.

We moved on, walking down the roadway for nearly an hour.  Then, to our surprise, she appeared again, the ghastly woman appeared before us again.  Cloaked in green, holding a golden censor oozing smoke, the older woman materialized out of nowhere in the middle of the roadway.

“You still have not heeded my words,” she intoned in a low voice.

“Why does that sound like a threat?” “I mean here’s a old human woman running around on an ancient dwarven highway.  Something isn’t right here.” Althalus said.  I had to agree with the warlock on this matter.

“What do you think she’s up to?” Arius said, stroking his goatee.

“You should turn around now,” she said firmly, clearly listening into our chatter.

This was, at one time, a major roadway.  Something about this female did not make sense.

“What should we be fearing?” Arius asked of her.

“Your doom.”

“Are you going to give us any useful information, or are you simply going to continue to waste our time,” Althalus snapped at her. “If we turn around, the bone dragons will eat us.”

“This is not my concern,” she said impassively.

“What is ahead that should be our concern?” the warlock pressed.

“This road has not been used in centuries.  Turn around and live.”

I puffed out my chest.  “This road has been used recently, and we are following their tracks,” I told her.

“Leave now, and you go with your lives.”  Her words were a firm tone, strangely confident…which made me nervous. “Continue down this road and you will die.”

“Good luck trying,” Brandon said.  I snapped my head over to him.  We did not need an escalation of words at this point.  Whoever this older woman was, she was using magic to teleport.  Who knows what else she might do?  Brandon clearly was misreading my expression.  Rather than stop, he strode up to her.  “We do not fear you.”  You are speaking for yourself ranger…  It was then I noticed two things.  The color of her robe was familiar – it was the same green as Lexa Lyoncroft!  And behind her, at her head, was the hilt of a sword.  It was almost identical to Lyoncroft’s.  Was she a fellow Sister of the Sword?

“You should,” she said far too calmly. Her words were followed with a brilliant flash of light.  Brandon was thrown back ten heads…and she had disappeared.  I was blinded by the white light of the blast and a crack light lightning bolt hitting near us.  I felt the hairs on my head rise for a moment.  There was that circular pattern on the floor again, shimmering just for a moment before it disappeared.

“I am getting tired of her party tricks,” Althalus said as the ranger regathered his wits.

“Brandon is stunned,” I said, helping the ranger back to his feet.  I had hoped he had learned his lesson.

“That does not involve me,” the warlock said.  I motioned for him to join me.  Was there residue where the blast had taken place?  We looked, there was none to be found.  This indeed was, as I had feared, powerful arcane.

“Did you see that sword and her robe?  It’s like Lyoncroft’s” I said.  Bor nodded, he had seen it as well.  “It could be deception on her part,” I added.

“Oh great,” Althalus said. “There’s more than one of them running around.”  Once we were comfortable that she was not going to return we continued on.  Another hour or so passed when we came to three large obstructions in the roadway.  Brandon moved forward.  “The road looks like it ends up here!”  We all came close enough to see that the roadway stopped its gentle slope downward.  Instead it seemed to level off and open up a vast chamber beyond.  Water filled the lowest part of the road, forming a pond that filled the entire roadway.

The end of the road could mean one thing for us, we had finally found the long lost dwarven city of Tempora.  To get there, we would have to navigate these waters though, and it seemed that they were at least waist deep, if not more.

Bor poked at the three piles of debris that seemed to be between us and the water.  “These are wagons, turned over.  Someone tipped these over to make some sort of barricade,” he called back to us.  Arius went to one and found the same thing.  None of us moved around the large oaken wagons.  There could be anything there.  My first thought went to goblins and how they had tried to ambush us earlier, pretending to be a ghost.

Arius picked up a rock and tossed it over the overturned carts to see if that stirred any activity.  The rattle of the stone stirred no activity.

We flanked the wagons and saw nothing but stones that had been piled up to essentially keep them in place.  We saw arrowheads and spear points stuck in the wagons, evidence of some battle long ago.

I motioned to the water and we approached it.  Some seventy-heads distant, in the middle of the small lake was an island rising up, stone and wooden bits.  The air smelled of moisture, musty, dank.  From where we stood, we saw the roadway making a stark right turn before opening up to a large chamber beyond.  Bor spoke up.  “I hear running water in the distance.”

Althalus stepped up to the water’s edge.  “I am not wearing much in the way of metal, I could swim it.”

“I’m not sure…” I said, eyeing the island a short distance away. There was no way around this dank water, but the thought of going in made me nervous.

“Perhaps you could turn yourself into a bear and we could ride you across,” Brandon said to me.

“Or a large otter,” added our warlock.

“Or a wolverine,” Arius chided.

“I’m not transforming into a bear to be a boat or canoe for your travel,” I replied.  Turning into a creature of woods was part of my divination as a druid.  I would not have them mock it thusly.  “Go out there,” I said to Althalus.  Dimintrios, his loyal mute shadow, waded in behind him without a moment’s hesitation.

We stood along the edge of the water as the warlock entered.  Brandon furiously pointed to water.  “There’s something out there!” he called.  I looked.  Yes, two distinct ripples in the pond, as if something large were swimming under the surface.

The figures converged on our comrades, breaking the surface. From the island, another pair rushed down to the water.  They looked like a cross of men and crocodiles.  I had heard of such species, lizardmen!  Armed with sleek halberds, the pair on the island struck at our party in the water.  We stood and watched as horror as a streak of blood sprayed the air from their hits.  The two in the water rose and attacked as well.  I saw Dimitrious drop limp into the cold water and not rise back up.

Brandon hit one with his crossbow and Arius threw his javelin, spiking the weapon deep into the shoulder hide of the creature. He hissed loudly, I’m sure some sort of curse in his foul language.  I fired my bow as well hitting one of the monstrosities in, what I assumed was his rib cage.

Bor dashed into the water like a charging elephant, throwing his hand axe but missing entirely, splashing the water as it sank.

Dimitrious bobbed in the water as Althalus unleashed his eldritch green energy, hitting one of those in the water.  The body of the creature flops in the water then went still…apparently killed.

Brandon fired another bolt into a lizardman.

Lizardmen

One of the creatures on the island hit Althalus, hurting him, but bursting into flames as the warlock’s defenses kicked in.  The lights from the flames reflected off the dark waters, casting odd shadows.

I fired again, hitting the creature on the land, as did Bor, whose axe flew in and hit the one still in the water.  There was a splash in the water, joined by a missed javelin thrown by Arius.  I moved in and cast a healing word on Dimitrious, enough to stir him to consciousness.

A oozing of greenish blood rose from the water as the lizardman broke the surface and hissed.  He sprung on the still dazed monk, once more knocking him unconscious.  The remaining lizardman on the island knocked out Althalus as well.

Bor closed in swinging, hitting one of the creatures.  I closed my eyes slightly and concentrated on healing Althalus, enough to allow him to rise – his face dripping with blood from a nasty gash. Bor swung again, his glowing warhammer clearly missing any victims, adding to the flames on the island.

Our paladin tossed his javelin and missed as well, it was as if the fates were working against us. One of the lizardmen sprung at Bor and missed, the other leapt at our warlock and missed entirely, landing on his opposite side and spinning to face him.

Brandon’s crossbow bolt killed one lizardman, the bolt plunging into his throat and toppling backwards at the water’s edge.  I switched to my short bow and fired, leaving the arrow stuck in his arm and eliciting another sinister hiss from him, his tongue lapping in the air.

Althalus fired his arcane blast at the remaining foe, knocking him back and into Bor.  He rose again, silhouetted by the flames of his dead comrade on the island.

Brandon fired again, hitting him in the eye.  There was a spray of dark green blood, and he collapsed into the pond.  We were all breathing heavily, the crackle of the flames drowning out the distant rush of water in the distance.

I healed Dimitrious again, and he gave me a thankful nod in response.  We moved up toward the island which had been home to them.  There were low mud and wood huts there.  I looked past the island, into the opening beyond.  The road rose slightly out of the water.  There were shadows of rubble in the distance…Tempora perhaps?  I was excited at the premise of reaching the city.

Brandon crawled in a hut and emerged with a small leather pouch.  There were three black marbles and a silver dagger.

Althalus entered the other hut and emerged with a small chest – which he poked with a dagger.  “What are you doing?” Brandon asked.

“Checking for mimics,” the warlock replied.  There was no response from the chest and I suppressed a chuckle.  The warlock pried it open and a puff of gas rose from the open chest and it hits him in the face.  He shook his head, fighting the sleep spell, rubbing the powder from his eyes.  There was a small potion in a glass vial, and a scroll in the chest.

“You know, I can detect traps,” I said after the fact.

“Why didn’t you use it?” Althalus asked.

“You were the one in a hurry to just open the chest,” I replied.  Brandon returned his hut to continue searching as Althalus held up the vial.  “A potion of healing,” he said.

“What of the scroll?” I queried.

“I can only make out the word, ‘fire’ on it,” he said.

The paladin moved to another nesting area poked at it, emerging with a gold broach with a diamond on it.  “It is beautiful,” he said, pocketing it.  We all started looking around the hut/nests.  Brandon emerges with a black leather bound book, thick, with mold on the cover in some spots and on the edges.  Althalus perked up.  “Hello…”

“What is it, how to cook kobolds?” I asked wittily.

“I’ll be taking that,” the warlock said.

“No,” Arius said.  “Hell no.”

“This looks pretty sweet,” Brandon said.

Magic Book

“Open the book,” Althalus said.

“Don’t open the book,” the paladin countered.

“We can study it later,” Brandon offered, clearly not wanting to be in the middle.

“Human skin isn’t generally dark,” Althalus said.  “Open the book.”

“When we get out of here I will attempt to detect magic – we will see if the book is of use.”

I wandered towards the opening while Althalus still mumbled that the book should be his to hold.  No one was excited about our brooding warlock holding a potentially dangerous tome.

We waded out into the water into the vastness of Tempora.  The mountain we were in was hallow.  A massive mound of debris littered the edges of the hollowed shell, where once there had been a great city – now only ruins lay everywhere – making navigation a difficult and arduous climb.  Molds grew on the rubble all around us.  In the distance we could see Tempora’s Falls, the Tears of Tempora, the waterfall that ran under the massive statue of a dwarven king.  Now all that remained there was his tall legs, larger than two men, the rest of the statue had chains wrapped around it and lay broken at the edge of the riverbed.  The falls ran between the legs and downward, the source of the rushing water we heard.  Pottery, furniture, broken walls, fragments of tapestries, all of the flotsam of life lay in mounds everywhere before us.

Above us there was a tiny source of light, enough for us to see an incredible chandelier hanging from the peak of the mountain.  The light at one point must have hit it and reflected off the crystals, probably providing light for the entire city.  Now it hung by one of the five chains, covered in dust and massive spiderwebs, some of which hung down 50 heads or more over the ruins of this once thriving city.

What fate had befallen these people?  What evil had come and destroyed this place?  Is it still here?

“Incredible,” I muttered looking out on the ruins of Tempora.  I suggested we move along the walls of the hollowed out mountain, hoping the walls would provide us some cover.  Althalus seemed to stay close to Brandon and the book.  “You know, I could carry that for you.”

“You are not going to let this go are you?”  I asked the warlock.

“Shouldn’t we open it and find out what it is?

“Fine.  Everyone put their treasure out they have found, I will cast detect magic, and we will see if it is magical.”  The party found a piece of stone and laid them out — a ring, the silver dagger, an amulet, and the black-bound book.  The diamond neckless was magic as was the dagger.  The book, the book gave off an aura, red and black, dark and twisted.  It was of necromantic and warlock magics – powerful, black.  I saw runes on the book as well.  Wards…possibly death.

I told the party that only that the objects were magical.

“Okay,” the paladin Arius said, “I’ll open it.”

“Let Althalus open it,” I said.

The paladin held out the book before the warlock.  He was practically salivating.  “I’m pretty sure it is warded,” I told them.

“We should rest, regain our strength, then open it.  So we found a secluded spot and bound our wounds, trying to rest.  Finally, as soon as we awoke, Althalus was once more contemplating the book.  We all surrounded him and the ominous book.  He set it on a stone and cast several incantations on it, no doubt to see if he could define any more than I had.

He paused.  There is a glyph of warding on the book,’ he said.  We all took several steps back. Brandon drew his bow, unsure of whether to aim at the book, or the warlock.

“That does not sound good,” Arius said, his hand drifting to his sword pommel.

The warlock used his quarterstaff to pry open the ebony leather cover.  There was a booming noise and a dazzling blast of light.  Althalus reeled back, blood ran from a cut on his brow.  He leaned over the book and looked at it.

“Demons and Devils – Summoning and Control,” he said with awe.  “It was written for warlocks and necromancers.  It is priceless!”

“He should not have that book,” Brandon said, stating what most were thinking.  I tended to be more neutral about such things.  Just how much damage could he cause us?

“Look,” the warlock said.  “I don’t think that summoning a demon is probably a good idea.”

I looked at him with an astonished expression on my face that I could not hide.  “You don’t know?”

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

https://blainepardoe.wordpress.com/2018/07/08/the-chronicling-of-our-dd-campaign-tempora-part-25/

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The Chronicling of our D&D Campaign: Tempora – Part 25

HumanPaly_Fin_40
Commissioned artwork, Arius the paladin – player-Kevin Rivenburg

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…

We moved forward some fifty-heads and saw a shimmering light start to come into focus in the middle of the underground roadway.  In the middle of the light, Bor, who had taken point whispered back that it was female – and older woman, bathed an eerie glow.  She carried a golden censor in one hand, wafting smoke slightly.  We moved forward cautiously.

“Hello!” called out Bor.  The mysterious woman did not respond.  I wondered if she was some sort of ghost or an illusion set forth to deceive us.

I stepped forward and called, “Hello,” as well.  She did not seem to respond to my voice any more than Bor’s.

“I think there’s some magic in play here,” Theren said.

I glared back at him.  Really.  Normal people do not appear out of nowhere and glow.

“Let us move closer,” I suggested.  “Not attack, let us appear friendly.”

We noticed two things.  Her head turned to follow us as we fanned out across the roadway.  On her back was the hilt of a sword, a massive sword, slung there.

“Hello,” Althalus called out to her as we got nearer.

“Why are you here?” she asked.  Her voice was not that of an aged women, but someone much younger.

“We are travelers,” Theren said.  I looked over at the druid and cringed.  Yes, he was correct, but we were traveling on a long hidden underground road to a lost Dwarven city in search of dozens of missing paladins.  Saying we were ‘travelers’ seemed like a gross over-simplification.

Theren sensed my doubt and turned to her again.  “We seek to pass.”

“It would be best,” she said in a low tone, “to turn around.  You are treading on dangerous ground.”

“Of that,” the druid replied, “we are aware.”

“We have to proceed,” Althalus added.

The shimmering female bowed her head and shook it slowly.  At her feet, a circle of blueish light appeared, swirling and twisting.  Before we could respond to her further, she sank down into the circle of light, disappearing.

“Well,” our warlock said, “that was a waste of our time.”  Althalus always spoke his mind, be it right or wrong.  We moved up to where she had been and saw the dust had been disturbed.  This was no illusion.  Something, or someone had been there.

We trudged on.  Several hundred feet further we came across a roughly made wall, apparently chiseled from the rock faces.  The wall blocked most of the roadway, and was only two or three heads of height.  As we approached a formless apparition rose from behind the wall, to almost six-heads height. It glowed green and had a human shape but flowing, like a wisp.  Now this, this was a ghost.  My hand fell to my trusted sword.  An eerie moan filled the air from the direction of the figure.

The moan became a wailing and we readied ourselves for a fight.

“Hello,” Theren called.

“Leave now…” the high-pitched moaning voice said.  The image moved back and forth along the wall.  “Drop your weapons and gold and flee…”

I was not afraid of this apparition since it seemed to be staying relatively in place.  “I say we move around the edge of the wall.  I will not be intimidated by a formless figure.”  Bor nodded that he could join me.  I intoned a silent prayer as we moved.

We rounded the end of the wall and saw several goblins on the other side, one holding a stick with a sheet on it, the other holding a lantern behind it, with some green glass lens.  “I told them to flee…” one of them chortled, until he saw us standing there.

One spun, pointing a rod or wand of some sort at us.  There was brilliant burst of light and a crack as the lightning bolt shot forth, hitting Bor squarely in the chest.  “Ouch!” he wailed, smoke drifting from the hole in his armor as he pulled forth Skullringer and rushed the pair of goblins. How he survived the lightning bolt, I cannot say.

A pair of crossbow bolts flew at Bor, one missing and shattering on the wall, the other sinking the bolt into our warrior’s shoulder.  Skullringer, glowing blue, swinging and crushing the skull of one goblin, spraying the air with tiny bits of goblin brain and greenish blood.  The heavy crossbow thudded the stone floor.

A counter-swing of Skullringer hit the other goblin in his torso in his tiny ribs, and continued on through.  His spine exited his body on the end of the magical glowing warhammer, splattering about the floor.  There was a look of astonishment on the goblin’s face as his spine departed his body. Another goblin moved out of the shadows, sword in hand, but Althalus dealt with him with an eldritch blast.  The emerald energy beam hit the creature, tossing him back into the wall as it burned through his body.  The smoking hole, bore clean through, left a streak on the wall as the corpse slid down into a pile of smoldering greenish goo.

Brandon leapt over the wall and landed, ready for battle, but there was nothing left to fight – making me wonder if we should call him, “Brandon the Late.”  We saw the sheet on a stick and the lantern that they used to create the illusion of the ghost.  It must have taken two of them to handle the large crossbow, and from the looks of it, it was not a goblin weapon but one of dwarven-make.  It took the heavy crossbow and bolts while Althalus examined the rod that had fired the lightning bolt.  “What do you make of it?” I asked.

“I appears to be magical,” he said flatly.  “It is polished.  There is a metallic strip on it, about the length of a finger.  Somehow that must be used to trigger it.”  Theren eyed the warlock suspiciously.  “As one practitioner of the arcane to another, be wary of where you point that.”

We found some coins and put those in Bor’s pack – some gold and silver of old mintage.

Brandon looked at the smashed remains of the goblins.  “Why do we keep running into goblins?”

“Because,” Althalus said wryly, “they are adorable and cheap to hire.” He prodded one of the dead bodies with his foot, just to make sure it was dead.  Brandon scooped up the green-lensed lantern and hung it from his staff.

We gathered ourselves and began down the tunnel anew.  Another 200 heads down the roadway, we came across a gallery of sorts, lining one wall.  It was carved deep into the stone and had a low stone abutment in front of it, providing cover for anyone standing there.  There were steps at the far end, but they were crumbled. From that thirty-foot gallery, a small group of bowmen could riddle anyone coming down the tunnel.

Opposite from the gallery was a closed door.  Brandon moved toward the door under the green glow of his new lantern, and pulled at the door.  I stood behind him.  The creak echoed down the hallway as the rusty hinges protested.  From the room beyond, a small group of five goblins rushed out, armed with scimitars, focused on Brandon.

“Fall back!” the ranger called, almost stumbling into me as he attempted to do so.

One dug his sword into Brandon, cutting his deep in his midriff.  “They killed Barry!” one of the goblins howled.  “Kill them!”  They must have heard us dispatch their compatriots.

I swung my sword and missed entirely, hitting the door near its hinge.  I immediately dropped prone.  I knew Theren and Althalus were behind me and needed a shot at the doorway.

Brandon dropped as well, more from the gushing wound in his stomach.  “Stay down!” I barked to him.  The last thing we needed was him rising into the magic blasts from behind us.

As if on cue, the air around the goblins erupted in a cloud of swirling daggers and I heard the mumbling of Althalus.  Blood, brains (few of those) and a mist of red and green goo erupted from the space where the goblins had been concentrated.  Several of them were instantly shredded in the magical assault. I felt the bloody mist of green and heard the churning of the blades devouring the hapless creatures.  Theren unleashed an arrow, hitting one.  The survivors moved to the sides in the room beyond, to avoid any other shots. They closed the door behind them in their retreat.

Althalus ignored the goblins and turned his attention to the gallery.  It was a good move, the last thing we wanted was to be hit from behind, at least I presumed that was what was in the warlock’s dark heart.  Dimintrious joined him.  He leapt over the low wall that provided cover, apparently unafraid of what might be there.  “What do you see?”

“Some heavy crossbows. Bits of armor and bones.  Probably a dozen long-dead dwarves.  Two large beetle carcasses were there, very large – two-to-three heads in size.”  He was clearly rooting around while we faced the goblin threat.

I turned back to the door and switched to my new heavy crossbow, pulling it back and dropping a bolt onto the groove.  Bor moved in near the door as I rose.

“What do you hear?” I asked.

Bor grinned.  “They are arguing about coming out here.”  He chuckled.  “They are upset over what we did to ‘Doug.’”

What a stupid name for a goblin.  Bor dropped a few copper pieces on the floor, hoping they would hear the coins hit the stone.  Theren moved up next to the burly fighter.  “Hold my tankard of ale,” he joked.  “I’ve got this.”  He nodded to Bor who flung open the door.

Theren rushed in and began to waver.  I had seen this before.  His accursed magic…the druid was transforming to some creature of the wood…in this case, a big black bear!  There was a squeal from two of the goblins as he transformed before them and roared.  “Holy crap – who brought the bear!”  “Kill the bear!  Kill the bear!”

Theren-the-bear and swiped one of them with a massive claw, biting at another one of the green-skinned creatures.  One was so badly mauled, green blood flowed onto the stone floor.

Two moved to hit the bear with their swords, one tearing into his flesh.  Brandon fired through the open door, missing everyone in the room.  I took more time with my aim, firing and burying my bolt into the body of one of the goblins that had shifted to the doorway.

Bor’s shimmering warhammer hit the same goblin, throwing him a good ten heads into the wall, killing him.  I reloaded my crossbow as Theren savagely slashed at one in the neck, nearly ripping his head off and tossing his lifeless body across the room.  The last goblin drove his sword into the bear, but that only seemed to serve to piss off the bear.  Theren opened his massive jaws and bit the head of the creature, tossing him about violently, crushing his skull in the process.  I looked about the room and saw green blood mixed in with our own.  It was a scene of carnage and chaos, especially from the magical cloud of daggers that had churned up at least one goblin, splattering him everywhere.

There was another door in the room which we all eyed cautiously.  This room was a barracks of some sort, probably from Tempora’s defenses.  The beds there, eight of them, were dwarven and most were crumbling apart with age and held together with crude hemp ropes.  Stone carvings on the walls of the barracks showed heroic dwarves in battle.  Scrawled in crude paint was the writings of the goblins above and around them.  One had written, “Stubby Dick,” over a dwarf holding a massive axe.  The other was painted with the name, “Wet Willie” The goblins had also painted on exaggerated female body parts on the carvings of the heroes.

The beds had no pattern to them.  I moved to check them. Brandon pointed to the shields, small bucklers.  “Is that some sort of lizard skin on them?”  Theren transformed back to human shape and move in next to him.  “Yes, but what kind of lizard?”

As I poked in the beds with my sword, I found a small silver jewelry box, inset with several stones in it.  There was also a small amulet, this one smeared with blood.  I handed the bloody amulet to Brandon who held it near his lantern.  “This bears the mark of the Order of the Fang, the paladins we are searching for!”

I focused on the silver box.  It was clearly of dwarven make.  I clasped the lid and pried it open.  I felt a prick to my thumb.  Suddenly my eyesight was blurred.  Poison!  Curses.  I healed myself before the toxin could harm me more.  A part of me cursed myself for being so sloppy with my opening.  A dozen pieces of platinum were inside.  I handed those to Bor to carry and kept the jewelry box for myself.

I noticed for a moment that Althalus and Dimitrious were still in gallery, rooting around in the dead bodies there.  I didn’t see what triggered it, but I saw the warlock rise over the half-wall and begin throwing up.  The liquid hit the floor like a bucket of fresh oatmeal.  He moaned horribly, vomiting violently.  I wanted to laugh.  Clearly his poking around was not going very well.

We turned our attention to the other door in the room.  We checked it and felt air flow from the other side under it. Althalus staggered over toward us, his beard riddled with his last meal. “I found this, he held up a gold ring.  It was intricately carved with a dragon and had dwarvish runes on it.

Bor took it as we moved around the door. There was no point in being subtle.  If there was anyone beyond this door, they had to have heard our battle.  “This says, ‘Ulster – Beloved husband and protector of the Faith.’  It must have been a wedding band.”  Althalus took it back, studying it carefully before putting it in his pocket.

Brandon drew his short sword.  “I’ll go through.  Third time is bound to be charm.”  The ranger pulled the door open.  A five head wide hallway was behind and led to a door at the end.  Theren put his hand on the ranger’s shoulder.  “This hallway is narrow.  I suggest you open that far door and pull back so that we can do what we do best.”  The ranger nodded in agreement.

On the other side was a room lit by a few low torches, forty-by-thirty heads in size.  There was a massive hearth, fire still burning in it. The stench of rotting flesh came from a wolf that was hanging from a ceiling hook.  Flies hovered around the body.  There was stew of some sort on the hearth, and a shelf with jars of what we assumed was food.  A half-loaf of moldy bread sat on a hearty table.  Vents were cut into the ceiling, clearly the work of the dwarves that had built this room. The goblins had appropriate the mess for their own twisted diets.

“I wonder if this stew is good,” Brandon said, opening the lid to the pot and smelling it.

Goblins made it,” I said.  “Feel free to eat it.” The ranger returned the lid without taking a taste.

“We should hold up here and rest,” Theren said.  It seemed like a good idea.  Our battles had taken some toll.  We barred the door to the roadway to the mess and set up watches. The goblin beds were short, but more comfortable than sleeping on the floor.  Our quest to find the missing paladins was taking us deeper into the mountains – and as we went, the terrors became more dangerous. I prayed that we would find them soon, lest we become lost in these catacombs and trapped here with them.

Then again, we had no proof that they were even still alive…

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

Character Background Material

My New Campaign

#dungeonsanddragons

#DandD

#DnD

Non-Spoiler Review: Ant Man and the Wasp

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I took my wife and grandson to Ant Man and the Wasp.  I was nervous, given the last superhero movie I took him to was Infinity War and it bothered him for weeks.  I was hoping for something a little lighter than the last Avengers film – and this new movie didn’t fail me.

First off, the title should be Wasp and the Ant Man – because it is all about the Hope van Dyne character.  She has as much, if not more action than Paul Rudd’s Ant Man.  The story picks up in the post-Civil War era with Scott under house arrest and Hank Pym and Hope on the run because he used their tech.

Hank is on the search for his missing wife, trapped in the quantum realm.  They need Scott Lang and in many ways, Scott needs them.  That’s all you really need to know without ruining the film.

There’s a lot of undercurrent here – a decent villain or two with their own sub-plots that add complexities to the main story line.  What makes this movie work is that humor.  I heard my wife and grandson laugh several times in the film, especially at the character Luis who is PERFECT in this role.  Given the gravity of the last Avenger’s film, this movie was fantastic.

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Easily my favorite character in the film.  

The special effects were very good, probably with the exception of the quantum realm.  That wasn’t a big part of the movie really.

Watch for the 1970’s Hot Wheels carrier (which we all had as kids from that era).  There’s a lot of action in this movie, a decent plot, and wonderful characters.  Hope as the Wasp is a solid female that could do a film all on her own.

Yes, there is a post-credits scene.  I won’t ruin it for you, but you need to see Infinity War first for it to make sense.

I’m giving this 4.5 out of 5 stars.  My wife, who often sleeps during movies, was awake and enjoyed the movie – which speaks volumes.

 

My List of Gen Con Survival Tips – Updated for 2018

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Thursday morning, 9:50am, just so you get the idea about the whole crowd thing. 

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.

This year I am bringing my grandson Trenton and my wife.  For my wife, it will be a shock.  She attended Gen Con back in the day in Milwaukee.  I would try and prepare her for the sheer mass of people, but where would the fun be in that?

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, but this year, I-65 (one of the main roads in) will be under construction.  Allow yourself some extra time.  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:  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.

#7:  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.  She’s not going to go back to your hotel room with her because you’re taking her photo and you don’t need a photo to prove to your buddies back at the office that there were indeed females at the convention.  Okay, that last point – I may be wrong.

#8:  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!

#9:  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?

#10:  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.  It is something of a tradition to stand in line at the nearby Steak N Shake for 20 minutes at least once during the con for me, but that’s just me.  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.  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 five 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…

#11:  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.

#12:  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?”  Corollary:  Taking any other costume and tossing on a Deadpool mask is not as innovative as you like to think it is.  (We call these folks “Douce-pools”)  An unspoken rule at Gen Con is that you will see a lot of costumes based on whatever hit movie just released.  Always anticipate a lot of Joker’s and Harley Quinn’s.

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#13:  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.

#14:  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.

#15:  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.

#16:  Wear comfortable shoes.  Preferably shoes that do not have a predetermined aroma (see Tip Six.)

#17:  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.

#18:  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.

#19:  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.

#20:  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.

#21:  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.

#22:  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!

#23:  Don’t wear costumes that are designed to deliberately upset people.

#24:  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.

#25:  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.

#26:  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.

#27:  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.  See #30 below.

#28:  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.

#29:  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.

#30:  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.

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

#32:  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.

#33:  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.

#34:  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.

#35:  Play some things you never have before.

There you have it guys – GAME ON!

#GenCon

The Day the Music Died – When the Classic ‘Mechs Became Unseen

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How in the hell do you “unsee” something this freaking iconic?

In digging through my BattleTech archives I came across this gem – when we were told that ‘Mechs and vehicles were to be Unseen.  The day the music died for us as authors was June 5, 1995 when we got a cryptic letter explaining to us that we were not supposed to use these BattleMechs (and oddly enough the Galleon light tank) as images or in scenes that might appear on the cover of books.

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You have to bear in mind, back then, we had no idea what the artwork was going to be for books until it just showed up one day on a cover flat.  So using these ‘Mechs for key characters simply became a no-no for us.  That didn’t mean we couldn’t use these ‘Mechs, but not where they might end up on the cover.

Personally I thought that was more of FASA’s problem than it was our problem.  I remember calling Donna just to clarify.  She wouldn’t tell me much other than it was the result of a lawsuit and the letter pretty much told me everything.

I was bummed, and a little pissed off. Yes, we wrote about characters to tell our stories – but the BattleMechs were characters in the universe too.  Jamie Wolf piloted an Archer.  It was as iconic as the USS Enterprise was to Star Trek.  Having these classic images simply denied to us for main characters just felt like restrictions we didn’t need or desire.  Freaking censorship…

Believe me, I would have preferred the Archer Christifori pilot a Warhammer – but that was denied.  I knew he would have to be on the cover.

You can see that they also gave us an alternate list of ‘Mechs we could use, most of which I have ignored over the years.  A Flea – seriously?  You can see my notes (scribbled) on the Archer.  Really, an Apollo?  No way, Bombardier was the way to go.  I felt it was best to just follow my gut rather than their recommendations.  Treat this as, “Blaine does not follow orders well.”

I thought you fans out there might like to see this little tid bit.  While it offers nothing new or universe changing, it is interesting.

#BattleTech

Review of Justice League – Spoiler Alert

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I will attempt to keep the spoilers to a minimum but consider this fair warning.

I came into this film with two frames of mind.  First, I have waited my entire life (five decades-plus) to see a good Justice League film.  I am a child of the Silver Age of comics and everyone has wanted to see all of the DC heroes on the screen at once.  It was going to be hard for any film to live up to a lifetime of internal hype and hope.

My second mindset was that I dislike the whole Zack Synder take on the DC universe. I didn’t love Man of Steel and it took a few viewings of Batman vs Superman to fully appreciate it.

So that I had perspective, I viewed the film with my daughter and grandson who also had a lifetime of waiting to see these characters on the screen.  Three generations of us, mentally braced with the acceptance that we may not like it.

We loved it.  We really did.  I know that will make some fanboys whine, but all that matters is that we enjoyed the film.  Heck, I might go again.

The things that made this movie good was a relatively simple plot (one of the many failings in Batman vs Superman).  The story was simple. The heroes were true to form and everyone got good airtime.  I think that Ben Affleck is outstanding as Batman – perhaps one of the best casting decisions ever. Gal Gadot IS Wonder Woman.

Things I enjoyed:

  • They made Aquaman cool.  It’s hard to believe, but true.
  • The movie didn’t dwell on origin stories so that the pacing was good.
  • The interplay between Batman and Wonder Woman was good, very true to their characters.
  • There were moments of humor that were unexpected and good – like Aquaman sitting on the lasso of truth.
  • Nothing beat that moment when the Flash was running past Superman and the Supes turned and tracked him.  Yeah, he’s that fast Barry.
  • The post credit scenes honored us Silver Age/Silver Hair crowd and took us in a new direction other than some grim Darkseid plotline which seemed to be the previous course. The first post-credits scene made the movie for me, the icing on the cake.
  • Superman smiled and even laughed.  Gone was Syderian-era of the grim and brooding Man of Steel.

Things I’m on the fence about:

  • Steppenwolf.  I’ve been reading comics for a long time and I didn’t recognize this villain – which was embarrassing. You would have thought that with the pantheon of characters, they could have come up with someone more recognizable to the masses.
  • This was not the Barry Allen or the Flash I knew or wanted to see in film.  Don’t get me wrong, he worked perfectly as a comic relief in the film, fitting into the ensemble well, but he wasn’t quite the Flash I had been hoping for.  I was torn between my expectations for the character and how well he was portrayed in the film. I didn’t hate this Flash, but I didn’t love him.
  • The producers seem unconcerned with the fact that most of these characters have their secret identities compromised.  Even Lois yelling, “Clark!” to Superman with the police on the ground seemed a little weird. Perhaps that is all intentional…hmm…

So, is it worth seeing?  Yes!  Who would have thought that 2017 would have given us two great DC films?  Perhaps this is a sign of things to come.

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

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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

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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

Gen Con 2017 After-Action Report

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“No running,” was the warning we got Thursday morning.  Not a problem.  It was physically impossible.

It’s time to summarize my Gen Con 2017 experience.  It was the 50th Gen Con and for some reason I expected something special.  Oh, there was some stuff different.  They have a museum of gaming, which is cool.  There was a concert this year.  Honestly though, it seemed like a typical Gen Con, only bigger.  There was a lot of walking this year because things have spread out across the city.

There was a lot of Gen Con 50 merchandise, that was for sure.  I doubt any of it will be collectible – I mean there were well over 60k attendees.

My buddy Kevin picked up the Bob Ross – The Art of Chill game.  Yes, that guy from PBS that painted trees is the subject of a game…a game about painting.  It sounds crazy, but it totally worked.

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What was amazing is that everyone knew who Bob Ross was.

StarFinder was the big “must buy” RPG of the convention.  It’s Pathfinder in space.  Paizo was good at forming a line for purchase, but lousy at processing them.  Two guys that came with me were in line for almost 1.5 hours.  I got in line (and got an autograph – which was nice) and then a guy from Paizo came buy saying if we were paying cash, he could take care of us.  Granted, it could have been some dude with a Paizo shirt, but it got me out of line before the other guys by 45 minutes.  Mental note – next year find out what Paizo is wearing (and Fantasy Flight Games) and run the same scam.  I could have paid for the next three conventions collecting cash that way.   I’ll review the game in an upcoming post.  My initial thoughts were that it looked awesome.

FFG’s big hit was the Legend of the Five Rings game.  Wizkids made an appearance but only brought a few products.  No Star Trek Attack Wing.  What the hell Wizkids?  I came with money – and you managed to just make me get more frustrated deep down inside.

I was geeked about Modiphius’s Star Trek RPG release.  I purchased the book a few weeks ago and I wanted the miniatures and dice.  Dice were on hand – but nothing else. That left me a little frustrated as well.   It was my hope to review them here – well that’s not happening – not yet.  I will review the game system later.  Suffice it to say I like parts of it, dislike other aspects.

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Pickle-Rick is here because he’s Pickle-Rick

Steamforged Games had a big presence.  I had never really taken a look at them before.  I watched a demo of Guild Ball and was actually impressed with the quality of the minutes and the fun of the game play.  I am already regretting not picking it up.  Argh!

Catalyst Game Labs released the other big hit – Dragonfire.  This is a cooperative card game based on their Shadowrun Crossfire system.  Pure D&D carnage with cards.  I have a copy and will be reviewing this later.  I have to admit, it looked great.  They also had some aircraft aluminum dice (I scored some Smoke Jaguars) for BattleTech and they had previews of the new ‘Mechs for the BattleTech boardgame release.

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A balloon dragon.  I was expecting something more I guess.

I got to see the minis from Cool Minis or Not for the Game of Thrones miniatures game.  I did the Kickstarter for it but it was very cool to play the demo.  Those miniatures are awesome and the game play is pretty smooth.  As Jamie Lannister I took out Rob Stark – ending the young wolf’s life.

There was a new game Wild West Exodus that had an impressive line of miniatures.  It looks like cowboys, Confederates, steampunk, aliens and other weirdness.  They had a lot of minis, but no rules or starter sets.

In terms of playing – we did the BattleTech pods (as always).  These never get old.  They had 14 this year and they had been upgraded!  The graphics were crisper.  Nothing says fun like an Alpha Strike to the rear of your enemy.  Seyla!

We signed up for the Gorn game of the Star Trek RPG.  That went okay…we ran out of time to complete it.  What sucked was that we had geared up for the Gorn and got the Romulans instead.  What the hell?  At the end of the game I finally asked, “Where were the Gorn?”  We got an excuse that the Gen Con folks had pressured them to do a tourney so they went with some material they already had.  There were some funny moments despite this being a clear bait and switch.  We beamed down and sent the ship away.  Twenty-five minutes into the game we called them to come back, only to be told they were 12 hours away!  The best was playing the Galaxy Quest theme music during game play.  Well worth the download to my phone before the session.

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The costumes were over-the-top cool this year

We played the D&D tournament as well, at least I think we did.  There was no combat and only one spell used.  We ended up in some dinosaur race and could only use quarterstaffs and no combat spells.  It was two hours of dino racing rather than D&D.  I came away confused as all hell as to what we had just done.  I wanted to swing a sword, go into a dungeon…you know, play D&D.  This was lame.

As one of the BattleTech insiders, I got invited to a super secret BattleTech strategy session.  We used to do these things at Gen Cons. It was great to be back at it.  I cannot share the details of the meeting (for free at least.  I am a complete mercenary otherwise.) I have included these photos simply to whet your appetites as to what is coming and how cool it is going to be…

After this I capped off Gen Con playing in the Master’s and Minion’s tournament.  Colin Duffy got stuck with me as a player on his side (pity his soul).  Colin paints a lot of the minis and did a great job.  True story – I told them I wanted Clan Wolverine paint schemes.  Somewhere along the way they told him “Wolverine.”  Well, in past years I had Captain America, Deadpool, and Iron Man painted ‘Mechs, so he painted my Wolverines as Wolverine from the comic books.  It was funny and oddly they fit my collection perfectly.

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My ‘Mechs and dice.  Wolverines!  No, wait, Wolverine!

My favorite paints (other than mine) were the Suicide Squad (shown at the bottom)

The battle left Colin saddled with a crappy player who refused to follow plans and went after every shiny object that caught his attention (that’s me of course).  I lost, two killer head shots.  Honorably defeated it was a lot of fun…as always.

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This is not going to end well.

So there you have it – another Gen Con under my belt.  I have a ton of booty to go through and material for game reviews for the next six months.

The Chronicling of our D&D Campaign: To the Gellesian Fields Part 15

Diplomacy

Welcome to the novelization of my current D&D campaign, told through the perspective of the characters.  Links to the previous posts are at the bottom of this one.  Enjoy!

Theren…

Just before open court convened, we went back to the keep.  When we arrived at the guard post, we were told to surrender our weapons.  Galinndan made a comment at the table where we lay our weapons along the lines of, “I know, I can use my disguise skills and join you and Bor at court.”  I looked at him – then at the guards only four feet away who had clearly heard everything he said.  “Why don’t you just let Bor and I handle this?”  The city of Karn had not been kind to our rogue.  He had crossed his guild’s wishes, tried to arrange the theft of his own comrades, had been kicked out of court by the Vizir, and now this.  Fate was not favoring him these past few days.

We went to open court and were greeted by an older gentlemen in formal garb, armed with a menacing sword.  The Master of the Court – Uthar Danielson.  “You must be the friends of Matthias.”

“We are.”  I introduced ourselves to him.

“Alright.  I will usher you in.  You must be respectful of Lord Sklaver and wary of his Vizir.”

I nodded and straightened my robes.  I had never spoken to a true lord before.  My palms were sweaty.  Bor looked bored by the formality and that almost made me chuckle.

Danielson opened the doors and announced, “Coming before the court of Lord Andrew Sklaver, Tenth of his Line, Lord of Karn, Master of the Rolling Plains – I present Bor Boskin and Theren Meliamne of WhiteRock.”

The walls of the long vast chamber were adorned with massive banners, most bearing the icon of a snake stabbed with a down thrust sword, bleeding red on a field a green – the Sklaver signet.  Some of the tapestries showed battles, one shows a dragon being slain by a knight standing on the beast’s head, running it through the eye.  The light penetrating the room showed the dust hanging in the air.

Lord Sklaver sat at the far end of the court room, on a gnarled wood throne of twisted tree roots.  Next to him sits Krof Lorraine in a smaller seat who was clearly flush with anger at our arrival.  Off to the right, at a table flanking the stairs before the throne, sit his loyal advisors and son.  Four members of the Royal Guard were present, armed with halberds and swords.  It made me wonder, had there been attempts on his life in the past?

Lord Sklaver himself was at least sixty years old, if not older.  His right eye has a milky cast to it.  The Lord’s wrinkles are long and deep and his skin almost looks like worn leather.  His bony fingers held a silver wine goblet in his hand that had clearly drooped enough to spill on his flowing purple robe.  Against the gnarled throne was propped a massive mace, the symbol of his power.  It is encrusted with jewels, silver, and gold interwoven in the wood – a true piece of beauty. As we stood before the throne, I caught a whiff of urine, old sweat, and wine in the air around the old man.

We both bowed deeply.  Uther Danielson cleared his throat.  “State your business before this court.” Slowly we stood upright.

Before I could speak I saw Krolf Lorraine lean over to Lord Sklaver, speaking just loud enough for us to hear.  “These are some of the farmers I told you about sire, the ones that claim they carry a message for your ears – one stolen from a Gray Rider.”

Sklaver glared at us.  “No one would dare slay a Gray Rider.  I find your presence here suspicious.”

Lorraine had clearly planned on us getting to Sklaver, and had attempted to poison that well.  “He was attacked in the Gellesian Fields my Lord.  We traveled there and recovered his message at great personal risk.  We brought it here for your ears and yours alone.”  I shot my own stern look at Krolf Lorraine who was clearly not moved.”

“Go ahead – relay your message then.”

I pulled out my copy of the message and read it to him.

To Lord Andrew Sklaver of Karn

My lord – two months ago the Order of the Fang marched to the north east in pursuit of a dark force that emerged from the Fangs of Kraylor.  The force numbered most of our garrison, 400 men and horse, almost our entire legion.  They road into the mountain pass at Sever and never emerged.

We have sent parties in search of them but no trace has been found.  The Order is down to a mere 30 noble knights, nowhere near enough to protect the realms of men from what lies at the bottom of the gash.

I beseech you to send us reinforcements – holy warriors that can help us defend this keep or can assist with finding what has become of the missing legion.  I ask you keep this information private.  If word were to get out of our plight, it might cause panic.

This is our most desperate hour.  Any and all assistance is honored at our gates.

Sir Karrick of the Silver Blade

Acting First Shield, Order of the Fang

Lord Sklaver said nothing for a long moment as he took in the words.  It hit me then, that we had fulfilled our quest.  We had completed the ride of The Gray Rider.  Weeks of journey and peril all came down to this moment.  Great satisfaction swelled for a moment in my heart.  It was dashed quickly as Sklaver spoke.

“”How do I know that this is not some sort of ploy – a plot to lure off my Royal Guard to the Gash and leave Karn open to some sort of attack?  One of the other lords of the realm no doubt his eyes on my realm.  Besides, the paladins guarding the Gash have done so for decades and have protected the lands from the blackness imprisoned there.  You men could be instruments of a coup…”

Bor responded.  “We honored the request of the Rider.  We are not tools to overthrow you.  We were simple men from WhiteRock. You are our liege lord and we are loyal to you.”

That answer seemed to satisfy Sklaver, at least for a moment.  “How did you recover this message?”

I replied.  “We went to the Gellesian Fields and found the person that had taken the message – Lexa Lyoncroft.  We fought with her, then struck a bargain to obtain the contents of what she had taken.”

Lord Sklaver winced for a moment.  “Lexa Lyoncroft?  She is a myth, a story to frighten travelers to take safer roads or stay at home.  The Sisterhood of the Sword was absolved years ago.  I have heard her name ever since then, always spoken by questionable men of shady character who claim they have seen her.  I doubt she exists.  The Church has assured me that all but a handful of the Sisterhood have been accounted for.  If she did live, the Church would pursue her to the ends of the world to kill her.  Your mentioning her only makes your story more difficult to believe.”

“That may be, but we have spoken truly.  Lyoncroft is quite real, I have faced her both in battle and parlay. The Church may pursue her, but she lives.  We met her, we prevailed – eventually – not without some loss on our part I might add.  We traveled long and hard to come here to provide you with these words my Lord,” Bor chimed in.

For a half minute, Lord Sklaver said nothing.  “Your story may be true – but these are dangerous times.  Caution is always prudent.  Wouldn’t your agree Krolf?”

The Vizir shot us an icy glance.  “If you believe them my Lord, then I must as well.  Perhaps, Lord Sklaver, the solution is simple.  We will send only a dozen men to the Gash…a gesture of our resolve.  We can impress these messengers to accompany them as guardsmen.  If their message is false, I can order one of our Lieutenants to met out the Lord’s justice and kill them.  If they speak the truth, they would be free to go.  If they are liars, it will send a powerful message to those that would attempt to deceive the throne.”

Sklaver nodded and grinned, his yellowed teeth showed.  “Excellent idea.”  He looked at me squarely.  “You and your comrades are now impressed as members of my guards, troops loyal to me and the realm.  You will go to the Gash.  If your words were a lie – you will die.  If you spoke the truth, you shall be released from duty.  You will depart on the morrow.  You will report to Lieutenant Rygar here at dawn.”

“Thank you my Lord,” I said, bowing and backing towards the door.

We exited and saw Danielson close the massive doors to the throne room behind us.  Bor put his hand on my shoulder.  “What just happened in there?”

“Krolf Lorraine got some revenge for us going around him and appearing in open court.  In short; we were just drafted,” I replied.  “It’s not so bad.  We go to the Gash and we’re free of service.  I mean how hard can that be?”

Bor flashed a wry grin.  “You get to tell the others.

I hope you have enjoyed the saga thus far.  Here are the previous parts if you have missed any installments.  Enjoy!

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

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