Review of Alien – The RPG – Free League Publishing

alien
Yeah, that’s gonna leave a mark…

At Gen Con this year I came across Free League’s booth and they were handing out cards for a pre-purchase of their Alien RPG.  Aliens is one of my favorite movies so I opted in.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, but thought it might be fun to see what they could do with a new Aliens RPG (remember, there was one many years ago.)

What shocked me the most was that they delivered, both digitally and hard copy – pretty much on time.  I was also deeply impressed with the physical quality of the materials. If this book were just the text, it would be easily half this size.  The rules clock in at 393 pages.

The artwork is worth the bulk.  The paintings are spectacular and really capture the feel of the Alien universe.

I have not run a game yet, but like the format.  There are two modes of play, Cinematic and Campaign.  Cinematic play is refighting the events on LV-426.  They provide the maps of the colonist outpost and enough material to play out what happened to those poor people.  It is one of those play modes that reminded me of Zombicide, you are going to die…it’s a question of when.  Campaign play is more along the lines of a traditional RPG campaign.

The rules are well-written.  There’s not a lot of depth here in terms of skills and career paths, it is a system that relies heavily on role-playing. I was expecting more of a military slant to things, with some details about tracking ammo etc.  This game really concentrates on action over technical detail.

It is a d6 based system, though there is an option for cards to cover initiative and gear (sold separately).  The game mechanics are pretty simple to master.  Combat is straight forward.  They have a pretty good critical injuries table which I liked.  With modernistic firepower, death can come quick with a poor die roll, at least in my trial runs.

The panic system is neat.  Stress and panic play a big role in the combat system, letting the terror build to where your character is incapacitated with fear.  I like this because it plays perfectly with the Alien universe.  I won’t bore you with the details, but it was good, innovative, and simple.

The game covers the core films, including Prometheus, which was useful.  You have big bad corporations, sleazy company men/women, and tough hombres in the Colonial Marines, even vehicles and spaceships.  I will admit, the space combat system is a bit abstract for my tastes, but that is a personal preference.

The biggest hurdle this game faces is not in the book but in how you overcome the fact that players already know about the aliens.  Part of what makes the game pop is that unknown variable, but let’s be honest, we’ve all seen the films.  I would have hoped for some more rules for creating new creatures for players to face, but there’s plenty of room for GM’s Game-Mothers, to get creative on their own.

Overall, I found the book to be outstanding.  Free League has resurrected the Alien RPG and has taken it into some new and fascinating directions. I’ve enjoying reading it, which is hard to say with some RPG’s out there.  It runs around $49 US, which is hefty, but worth it since it comes with a scenario ready to play.

I can’t resist…pick this up…otherwise it’s, “Game over man!”

The Chronicling of our D&D Campaign Part 34 – In Search of Lexa Lyoncroft

Badguy

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…

After our defeat of Savitar and his minions we found ourselves in an empty village, weary yet more experienced in fighting the undead. We holed up in the keep to recover.  Each hour more animals started to return to the village – now that the taint of the vampire was gone.  Our second night there we heard a growling outside the keep.  We went up to the battlements of the old structure and looking down, we saw a large, black, two-headed dog stalking around, frothing at the mouth.

I had no idea what it was, but I knew I wasn’t going to go down and confront it.  Arius fired his crossbow and I unleashed my eldritch blast. The green beams hit its black hide and seared smoking holes, knocking it back hard onto the stones.  One head looked up at me and growled, no doubt frustrated it couldn’t reach me.  Brandon unleashed his own magic, a hail of thorns, making the creature wail in pain. Injured, it took off, one head yipping as it fled. “No doubt one of the minions of Savitar,” I muttered.  It made me wonder what else might be lurking around us.

We turned our attention to those mysterious runes we’d found. I used one of my spells to understand them better.  They were enchanted, they attached or bonded to a weapon.  One seemed to have intelligence with it.  One seemed to increase the odds of hitting a foe.  Another summoned some sort of cloud. The final one that intrigued me the most, imparted some sort of intelligence to a weapon. It was the extent that my powers could obtain answers from the nether as to what they were, but it was enough. I was a little disappointed though, none of this was anything I could use.  Ultimately we decided not to attach them to any of our weapons.

Brandon revealed to us that he has been tasked secretly with reporting to the High Council of Rangers. We were not entirely surprised they were keeping track of us, after all, look at all we had been through. His candor in admitting what he had been asked to do was appreciated.

We spent the rest of the week recovering and debating our next steps.  We considered returning to the city of Karn with the map, in hopes that the mapmaker, Chester Grayson, could tell us where it was.  Thoughts of returning to face the Vizir however did not settle well with us. The compelling thought was that we had to find Lexa Lyoncroft. We could wait for her to show up, which we thought she would eventually.  Or we could go back to where we had seen her before – the Gellasian Fields.

I have to admit, it was strange, going back to where we had started those long months before.  Memories of Pot Head the Ogre and the cockatrice that had almost turned my leg to stone were not pleasant.  There was also no way to know if she was still there or would receive us well.

Brandon sent a bird with a message back to the High Council of Rangers, and we set out along a road towards the Fields and a rendezvous with an old adversary.

We set out and found little more than a strange cairn of stones along the roadside, one we gave a wide berth to.  After several days march, we turned to the south east, cross-country.  We did come across a churning of the earth, as far as we could see, as if a giant mole had come through, crossing our path.  Whatever it was, it had furrowed a long tunnel before us. We tried to jump the furrow, and as it turns out, I’m the least athletic of our group. I fell in and the tunnel collapsed, leaving me with only my head sticking out of the ground, my legs dangling beneath.

“I hate this,” I cursed.

Theren spoke up.  “Wait, do you hear that?”

There was a rumbling sound to the east…and me buried up to my neck.  “Get me a rope…now!” It took some effort, but I made it out, covered with dirt thanks to Arius.  As I got my footing we all saw the source of the rumbling – a fin breaking the surface of the ground, moving towards us.

“Landshark!” Theren called out.

“Bulette,” I corrected.  Now we knew what caused the tunnel I had fallen in.

It closed to within 75 heads of us and I unleashed my eldritch blast.  It hit the creature, pushing it back down the tunnel it was carving. “You know, he’s not moving fast.  We could just run away,” I offered.

Everyone looked at me and we began sprinting away.  “Run away!” We ran fast and kept on running until we finally collapsed in a heap of sweat and exhaustion.  The Bulette eventually stopped its pursuit, for which we were all thankful.  I had heard about such creatures and had no desire to tangle with it.  We heard it several times in the night, in the distance, clearly still searching for us.

It took us two days march to reach the edge of the Gellasian Fields.  It was here where the biggest battle of the great war was fought…both haunted and cursed.  Brandon was nervous and I told him about it quickly.  “This place is haunted, there are cockatrices, ogres, lots of undead, and where Lyoncroft had a camp.”

The grass was browning from the late fall air or just because of the proximity to the old battlefield, but we finally could see the edge of the Fields.  The grass was shorter, more weed-filled.  The magic unleashed here during the battle must have been powerful indeed to have corrupted the very soil of this place.  The problem we faced was this was not a part of the ancient battlefield that we had traversed before.

That first night we could smell a hint of sulfur in the air.  It was a restless night, reminding me of why I disliked this place. The dead don’t rest easy in the Fields. This was the closest we had been to our home in months.  I doubt any of them would even recognize us at this stage.

Our morning was cloudy and cold.  There were copses of trees and dead grass gave way to rolling hills.  Brandon spotted several carrion birds circling over a bubbling tar pit in the distance. He slinked back to us and told us that there was an old man with a cane near the edge of the tar pit and that the birds were circling over the large pond-sized pool of tar.  Small little geysers were puffing steam. He told us that there were bones around the perimeter of the tar pool.

My first instinct was that this was dangerous.  Arius, ever the sterling paladin, led the others to talk to him.  Me, I was readying an eldritch blast.  When I saw the area, I knew what it was from histories I had read of the Fields. This was the Hellground.  This was where the centaur armies were driven into during the battle.  They became mired down here and were nearly obliterated by the undead hosts.  Many souls perished here.

Arius called out to the old man, asking why he was there.  “There’s a lot of treasure out here in the tar.  I’m picking through it.  I found some a chest with some gems in it.  I need someone to wade out and take a rope to help me bring it in.”

“Guys,” I whispered.  “This seems suspicious, but he seems like a nice guy.”

“Are you mad?” Brandon asked.

“Do we want to help the old guy?” Arius asked.

“I’m not wading in hot tar,” Theren said.

That sounded right to me.  “I wouldn’t wade into hot tar for anyone, let alone this guy.  I mean he seems honest, but I don’t think we should risk it.  I do have a spell that has the shape of a hand.  Maybe I can reach out and find it, tie it off, and drag it in.”

“It’s out there.  You have to walk out and feel for it,” the old man said.

Theren looked at him with a cocked eyebrow.  “He’s lying.  I am completely convinced this guy is full of shit.”

“That’s enough for me,” Arius said.  “Good luck with your treasure…” the paladin said, waving to him and walking away.

“I don’t risk my life for treasure,” I grumbled, still convinced that he old man was telling the truth.  “Power is a different thing.”

We marched off, leaving him to his fate and trudged on. The next day, mid-afternoon, we saw a long ridge bisected our path.  It was steep, rocky, and was miles long. Brandon, scouting ahead, spotted what looked to be a man sitting alone at the middle of the ridge, unmoving.

“You watch,” I warned.  “It’s the guy from the tar pit.”  I was, for the record, totally wrong.

Our side of the ridge was rocky.  This was going to require us to climb.  As we got closer, the man-figure we saw sitting up there looked more like an old suit of plate armor.

Theren pointed out that we should go around it.  When we got around to the other side, we saw, in the distance, the north-south road…the main road that runs through the Gallesian Fields.  Our side of the ridge was more sloped, easy walking.  Brandon spotted a sign halfway up the ridge and we walked up the side reading it.  “Beware Sir Tristen, the Last Defender of Rastor’s Ridge.”

For a few minutes, we contemplated continuing up.  In the end, we had to know who Sir Tristen was.  Brandon took point and we made our way up the grassy slope – the cool wind whipping at us as we walked.

When we got within one-hundred-heads distance the armor clanged and clattered to a standing position.  Almost instantly, Brandon’s sword Nightstalker, glowed brilliant blue.

“It’s undead,” he said turning his head back.

“No joke,” I replied.

My first reaction was to close and unlashed my eldritch blasts.  The emerald energy missed by five heads length.  Curses!  The haunted armor closed with our party, and my thoughts were back to the sign that warned us about him.  The eyes of the possessed helmet on the abomination glowed red and it drew a massive great sword.

Brandon rushed forward, Nightstalker and Bonebreaker shimmering and flailing at the massive suit of armor.  In a panic, he missed with both weapons.  Arius cast one of his spells, making the monstrous suit to turn and move away from us to near the edge of the cliff.  I unleashed another eldritch blast, knocking him back and down, leaving smoking holes in the armor.

Brandon sprang at him, swinging wildly with Nightstalker – losing his grip on the backward swing, sending it flying in our direction!

The suit rose from my staggering blast, holding its hand out in Theren’s direction.  A hellfire orb of fire from his fingertips.  The ball sped toward Theren as the ball of flames expanded and I realized that it would engulf me as well.  The air became searing as the ball of flames caught me in the open. I smelled burn hair and realized it was my own beard! Smoke stung at my eyes as I saw Theren, charred but still standing.  My own defenses sent some of the fire back at the haunted suit of armor, igniting the hillside around him.  One thing is certain we are telling the countryside we were in the house!

I used vicious mockery at him but it was to no avail. Theren heated his armor to the point where it glowed orange, but it made no sound and only seemed to ignore the ripples of heat.

Arius, in all of his paladin glory, struck him with thunderous smite and the echoing clang of Skullringer! The air roared from the hit, and the hit was so hard he was knocked back ten heads and dropped to his knees from the fury of the attack.

He rose and struck the ground.  A wave rippled out from where his sword stabbed the soil.  It was like the soil was a wave of water, the ripples were massive, churning the rock and turf hitting Brandon, who somehow managed to keep his footing.  Not so with Arius who was tossed hard to the ground and badly injured. Both were injured badly by the attack.

My eldritch blast knocked him back again, pushing him up the ridge.  Arius struck the creature again, smiting him with the power of the church, damaging the visage of Sir Tristen once more.  The unholy knight used his own unholy smite, hitting Arius three times with that great sword – with a white hot intensity, setting Arius on fire in the process – knocking him out.  The flames lapped at the paladin as he lay unconscious.

“I think the right answer here is to kill him,” I muttered, missing with my eldritch blasts.  Smoke rose from his glowing breastplate, the results of Theren’s attack.  Our smoldering druid pointed to the sky above us and purple clouds magically appeared. A wave of lightning bolts stabbed downward at the knight.  It hit him hard, excess energy lashing outward.

Brandon fired his longbow, missing entirely. His second arrow bore in with a hunter’s mark. An ethereal wolf appeared near Sir Tristen, no doubt summoned by the ranger.

Arius managed to awaken enough to heal himself and extinguish the magic-fueled flames lapping at him. Sir Tristen swung twice at Arius and lost the grip on his own great sword, sending it flying down the hillside in my direction.

I hit him again with my eldritch powers, staggering him back once more. The storm clouds rained down again, hitting him once more with a loud crack.  Brandon fired twice.  His first arrow hit, the second one snapped his bow.  Arius sprang at the ghost knight with Skullringer, missing with one swing, but catching him on the back-swing.  The armor flies apart – searing the dead grass it was so hot.  The stench of unholy death rose from the empty suit, stinging at my nostrils.  Sir Tristen was no more.  The storm clouds parted and I was far too aware that we had attracted so much attention.

Suddenly, there was a finger tapping my shoulder. I jumped and turned around.  Standing there, her massive sword in hand, was Lexa Lyoncroft.  I tried to look calm and cool, but I was sure that failed.  “Hello boys, so we meet again,” she said coyly.

lexa (1)
Lexa Lyoncroft

Theren, still smoking from the fireball, pulled it off better than me.  “’Sup,” he said.

“We need your help,” I managed.

She glanced over and Brandon and offered a grin. “Ah, fair ranger.  I see your mission to the gash paid off well for all parties involved.  Of course your friends never learned the true nature of our relationship.”  She gave him a big wink.  What the hell?  Was she messing with us, or was Brandon holding out on us.

“We were trying to find you,” I said.  “Did you know there was a vampire that was hunting you?  We killed him.  And then there’s Viktor Barristen, he’s out for you too.”

“Tell me your tale,” she said.

We relayed the story, as best we could – the trapped paladins in Cyrilla Drex’s sword, Tempora, everything.  At times three of us were talking at once but she seemed to understand.  “Let’s go to my camp.”  It took an hour to reach the tents of her camp.  There were men there, some we had seen and fought before.  There was also several young women there. It was odd seeing Lexa again, after all of this time.  The last time, we faced her in battle.  It was over a half a year ago.  The one Barbarian working in the camp scowled at Arius, then it hit us, the paladin had killed his twin brother and taken Skullringer during our last meeting.

She asked about the death of Cyrilla Drex and we told her about the fight. “Cyrilla and I never quite saw eye-to-eye on things.  She took the sword and concealed our Order’s keep.  Are you telling me that it is intact, inside the plane in her sword?  And Barristen has that weapon?”

“Yes,” Theren said.

“Damn,” she spat.  “The last time he was incarnated, he raised an army of the dead to wage war against the Church.  He was defeated on these very fields. He will raise another army of undead.  If he does that, I will never truly be free of my own curse.”

“What curse?” I pressed.

“I made bargains, an exchange, to fulfill my life.  Until I fulfill my burden, my oath, I am trapped by the curse and continue to live the life eternal.  I’m a lot older than what you boys think.”

“What is your quest?”

“I am to restore the Sisterhood of the Sword both physically and to right the slander that has been spread by the Church.  The Church was misled into purging our priory.  It is my burden to set all of that straight.”

“We tried hard to keep the sword, but he managed to take it from us,” Brandon said.

“The swords we carry are unique.  Each blade is forged by a swordmaiden of the order.  Each member of the order carries one of the blades. In the forging process, with incants of old and a lock of our hair, the blades are quenched.  To us, they are as light as a feather.  Only a member of the order can wield such a massive blade.  Each has a stone with a unique property, crafted by God and the swordmaiden. Cyrilla’s was an alternate plane of existence, where time and magic had no grasp.”

“We saw that,” I said.

“You were there?”  We nodded.  “Did you see the keep?  Were the wards still in place?” Again we nodded.

Lexa shook her head.  “There were five of us that survived the Church’s purge.  Cyrilla wanted more than to survive and rebuild.  She was blinded with revenge against the Church.”

“I understand,” Theren the druid said.

“She left, taking all that was ours with her.  That keep has all of our spellbooks in it, all of our magic reference.  It even has our holy forge.  Everything needed to rebuild the sisterhood once more.”

“What happened to the other survivors?” I asked.

“Scattered.  Some refused to accept the curse I did.  Others have retired, turned their backs on the Church and the world that had wrongly persecuted them.  We may yet have to call on some of them to stop Barristen.”

“What about recruiting?” I queried.

She shook her head.  “We need to bring him to ground first.”

“We do have this map we found.  We don’t know what it means.”

“This spot,” she said pointing at the edge of the map.  “Could be the Gallesian Fields.  There is no way to know if this takes us to Barristen though. I have never been that far west.  There is a symbol showing a lake, but I was unaware of an inland sea in that direction.”

“We have to stop Barristen, on this all depends.  I understand his feelings towards the Church.  I have been accused myself of having a need for revenge.  I do not seek vengeance, only justice.”

A young girl emerged from the camp, wearing a habit, bringing us bowls of warm soup.  “This is Sister Highstall.  She is an adept in my order.”  She bowed her head and backed away from us.

We told her about Bentblade and then remembered we had a pardon for her. Arius presented it to her and she drank it in carefully.  “This is remarkable – especially from Bentblade.  It tells me he knows how grave the situation is.”

All of us talked at once, telling her about our being part of a tribe of Minotaurs, and about Blackshear, who she apparently had heard of.  “Your being a friend of his says a great deal.  He’s friends of no one.”

“We saved his granddaughter,” I said with pride.

“Anyone that can win over that tough old nut is impressive.”

She seemed to focus her gaze on Arius.  “What is that on your back?”

He pulled out the shield.  “We found it in an armory in Tempora.”

“This is from my order…it belongs to the Sisterhood.  I would ask you nicely to give this to me rather than make me take it by force.”  It wasn’t quite a threat, but as a close as anyone could get to it.  It’s a sacred relic. Three of them were forged. This one is the shield of the searing son – it is called Temper.  It is forged of star metal, iron that rained from the sky.  I am surprised Bentblade didn’t try and keep it.  We can get much more use out of this than you can.”

She put it on her arm and the center of it shone like a brilliant sun. I averted my eyes.

“What happened to that skull you got from us?” I asked.

“What is it with you and skulls?” she countered. “I destroyed it of course.  I am not that evil.”

“They are neat, and I like them.”

“I do not have a skull,” Theren pointed out.

“I have one that is a devil’s skull – it has silver arrowheads stuck in it.”

“Is it possible to use this as a weapon?” Arius asked.

“I would urge you to get rid of this,” Lexa warned.

“Sometimes the dark knowledge is the best knowledge,” I replied.

“We need to strategize on how we take down Barristen.”

“We have the map,” Arius said.

“But we don’t know that is where he is.  It is just a document.”

She seemed to pause and think for a moment.  “Viktor was created in the Temple of Durst in V’sarin, the dragon’s graveyard.  He enlisted a great necromancer to create the spell that brought him back to life.  That spell is likely the key to undoing him permanently.  Unfortunately no one has been there in centuries.  The Dragonborn there protect their lands from any that might trespass.”

Lyoncroft continued, “The dragon’s graveyard is a thing of legend.  Hidden in a dense hot forest, it is said that when a dragon knows they are about to die, they go there.  The Dragonborn there tend to them, ease them into the afterlife.  They build burial mounds over the dead and protect those lands.

“There are other rumors.  Some say that within that realm, there are places where the dragons go and lay their eggs – that they are somehow infused with the souls of the dead of their kind when they are born.  Such places are said to be very sacred and well protected.

“There was a legendary city there once, a Dragonborn city.  The vines and forest have consumed most of it.  In there is the Temple of Durst, a ziggurat that had once been devoted the worship of dragons – taken over centuries ago by a cult of necromancers and used as their own base.  Durst was their greatest leader, living, some say, for over five centuries.

“Viktor Barristen went there as a mortal, near death.  He wanted revenge on the church.  It is said that he enlisted the aid of Durst who wove the magic that gave him perpetual life.  Durst was said to have been killed during the last great war, here, in these fields.  His spellbook, if it even still exists, may hold the key to beating Barristen or even undoing him.”

“We should find it,” Theren said.

“We are legendary in finding lost cities,” Brandon added.

Lexa nodded.  “There are different tribes of them there.  They are friendly as long as you do not try and violate their sacred places.  Some tribes, like the Glu-ess, ride dragons into battle.  Some are nomadic, like the Vissseri.  Others, like the ebony Krudak, are hostile to even their own people.”

Her jaw set firmly as she spoke.  “The church likes to think of me as their enemy…it plays well with the ignorant masses.  I am still loyal to God.  I know my order was set up.  I seek redemption.  Once I have that, my geas is done.”

“We need that sword.  To get it, we need the right tools to defeat Barristen. If we rush in blindly, he will take us out.”

“We should go to the ziggurat,” Theren said.

“I will take a party of my adepts and use your map to find out what is out there.  You can head south and east, through the jungles.”

“Did you run into Pot Head’s brother?  His name is Barrel Chest.”

“No,” I said.

“If you do, tell him you are working with me.  For you all, you need to rest up.  I will heal your injuries.”

Brandon stepped forward.  “I recovered this amulet from Cyrilla Drex.  What is it?”

“It turns a person to stone if you use the right power word.  I would be careful of using it.”  Brandon seemed content with the answer and pocketed the amulet.

“We are allies now, united against a common foe,” Lyoncroft said.  “To the bitter end if need be.”

 

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

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

Part 8

Part 9

Part 10

Part 11

Part 12

Part 13

Part 14

Part 15

Part 16

Part 17

Part 18

Part 19

Part 20

Part 21

Part 22

Part 23

Part 24

Part 25

Part 26

Part 27

Part 28

Part 29

Part 30

Part 31

Part 32

Part 33

Character Background Material

My New Campaign

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The Chronicling of our D&D Campaign Part 33 – Bats in the Belfry

Vampire1

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!

Brandon…

Theren returned to the Great Gash and Arius caught him up on the turn of events and our mission to try and find Lexa Lyoncroft.  Theren wisely requested a letter of mark from the church to assure her they would not prosecute her.  I was doubtful that a letter alone would convince her, but it couldn’t hurt to have it. I had a companion wolf that I had adopted and found it oddly comforting to sit and pet it.

The last place Lyoncroft had been seen was my village, Buchola.  I was the last of our party to have seen her.  For me, this was joyous.  I would be returning home, wiser and stronger than before.  No doubt they would view me as a hero. I wasn’t expecting a parade or anything, but possibly someone picking up the first round.

Of course, I had been secretly summoned to the High Council of Rangers.  Somehow I needed to make sure that I honored that request.  Such summons were rare and I was a little concerned about the implications.

We were all shocked when Dimitrious came before us on the morning of our departure and said he would be leaving.  The fact he spoke at all stunned me.  “My part in these is done, for now.  I have set you on your path.  I will see you near the end.”  When Athalus asked, “How will we know where to find you?” the normally mute monk smiled. “Look to the blue light.  When you see it, you will know it is me.”  We all thanked him.  “I owe you my life,” Athalus commented.  “I know,” he replied.

I informed my comrades of my summons to the Rangersmeet at Villineau and we agreed, since it was on the way, we would go there first.  There were a lot of questions as to why I had been summoned, none of which I could answer. With a late fall chill in the air we set out.

The second night out, an old friend of mine, Drake, stumbled into the camp.  Drake was a miller from my home town, though I honestly did not recognize him.  Althalus used his magic to light up the night.  Drake told us that everyone had fled Buchola.  Someone came to town and the locals left. The mysterious man was tall with black hair.  When locals disappeared and “bad things happened,” Drake and the others had started to leave.  He spoke of nightmares and terrors that forced people to leave.  This sounded fairly dire.  What could have invaded my home?  The stranger, we learned, had been asking about Lexa Lyoncroft as well.

Drake bedded in our camp that night and went on his way.  The next day we noticed that there were some bats that were hovering over us. That was disturbing.  Bats in the daylight were a rarity.  I could not help but get the sense that they were following us.  But for who?

Four more days out I came across an unusual number of wolf tracks in our path. Pack wolves usually do not leave this number of tracks.  That night, we were approached by the very pack of wolves we had seen the tracks of.  Theren spoke to them and they only knew one word – “dinner.”  That did not bear well for us.  We could hear them snarling all around our camp.  Althalus cast a ball of fire, just to light the area up.  We were facing a large number of them.

Theren transformed into a dire wolf and pounced on their alpha before the pack could strike – unleashing the fury of the wolves around us.  A melee broke out, both magical and with cold steel.  Magical blasts flashed in the night and the stench of burned fur mingled with the sting of sweat as I sprung into the chaos of the battle.  One clung onto Arius’s throat, splattering blood into the night as he tried to shake it off.  When another leapt at him, Skullringer ripped its head off, hitting Theren with it from behind with a dull thud.  Somehow, on his backswing with the magic weapon, he let go of the warhammer, losing it in the thick grass of the plains.

A swirling cloud of magical daggers began to julienne two of the wolves, throwing fur and blood into the air with wild abandon.  Theren killed the alpha, devouring its flesh in the process.  My own magic sword, Nightstalker, cut two of the beasts deeply.  Arius threw his razor-edged shield, burying it deep in the hide of one of our foes.

My pet wolf tore into one of the wild ones attacking us, making it yip in pain.  From where Arius swung the shield, his thunderous smite blew up one of the wolves – raining blood and a bit of intestines all over Althalus who scowled back at the paladin for the gore he was drenched in. It was Theren that ended the fight, savaging the last wolf in his bloody jaws.

We were exhausted and collapsed for the night.  The next day we came to the edge of the forest with a structure poised at the edge of the growth.  While I had never been to Villineau, I somehow was sure this was it.  The building was three stories tall, smooth, almost polished wood, to the point where it blended in with the surrounding forest.  There were shapes in the wood that you could only see as you got closer, animals and other creatures of the forest preserved in the wood – not carved, almost as if the wood itself had grown in those shapes.

We were approached by the guards from the balcony over the front doors.  “It is I, Brandon Winderford. I was summoned to the Rangersmet.”  After a moment of muttering, the two massive doors opened.

The interior was incredible, almost like a plush inn of some sort.  Other carved shapes seemed to be part of the walls.  I was greeted and my friends were shown rooms while I was ushered before the High Council of Rangers on the second floor.

I was brought into a massive circular room.  I knew the man sitting in the high seat, Sylvester of Bold.  There were six other rangers, men and women, human and elf, seated above me.

“We’ve heard some disturbing reports. Word is that you have found Tempora.  Is that true?”

“It is.”

“Do you have a map of how to reach it?”

“My friend do.”

“Do you have instructions on how to reach the interior?  We have sent parties there before and have never had any luck in finding the city.”

“I do,” I replied in confidence.

“That information is useful to us.  We have heard disturbing reports to the south, that the dead have risen out of the Great Gash.”

“That is true.  And we have encountered Viktor Barristen as well.”

That stirred them.  They asked me about how I ended up there, and I told them about Lexa Lyoncroft.  That got a lot of looks from the other rangers.

“We’ve heard a number of disturbing reports about this Lyoncroft woman.  She is said to be rekindling the Sisterhood of the Swords – training new adepts.  If that is true, it represents a new faction in the realm.”

That of course was news to me, useful news I might add.  “Barristen had another sister with him – Cyrilla Drex.  I killed her in Tempora.”

Sylvester’s eyes narrowed.  “You – a fledgling ranger killed one of the Mother Superiors of the Sisterhood of the Sword?”

“I did,” I said proudly.  “With my friends.”  I told them how I plunged my sword into her heart.  There were nods from the gathered rangers.

“What happened to her sword?”

I told them that Barristen had paladins trapped in the sword and that he had taken it back from us.  That made Sylvester’s brow furrow in deep thought.

“We had heard rumors that he was in the Cloud Lands – perhaps raising an army.  This is most troubling.  You, Brandon, are to be our eyes and ears.  Remember, rangers do not take part in setting the affairs of men.  We are guides, not shapers of our world.  We bring harmony between nature and the footfalls of mortals.”

“With all due respect, we cannot sit by.  We need to call the rangers, assemble, address this matter, assist the realms,” I stated firmly.

“Assist in what?” Sylvester asked. “We do not know where Barristen is.  We don’t know where Lyoncroft is or where her loyalties lie.”

“My companions and I seek her out.”

“Where?”

“My village.  We heard it has been taken over by a man.  It was the last place we saw her.”

“Very well.  It is risky – but we will allow it.  You will need to keep us abreast of your progress.  These men you travel with, some seem, dare I say, shady?  Keep these words secret between us.  You are bound by the Ranger’s Code, remember that.”

I was dismissed to our bed chambers.  I made a copy of our map and filled in my compatriots with what I could.  It was odd sleeping indoors in nice quarters.  As much as I wanted to tell them the truth…I could not.  As much as possible I simply avoided their question.

Althalus moved his hands in front of his eyes, staring at me.  Curse his magic! I felt him probing my thoughts.  That accursed warlock was toying with my mind. I managed to block his attempt to probe me and did not appreciate the attempt.

It took hours to copy the materials and after that I collapsed into a much-needed sleep.  The next day we rose and set off for Buchola, my home town.  We traveled a day and night with nothing out of the ordinary.  The next day, just after midday, we saw dust rising on the trail ahead of us.  We saw a wagon drawn by two horses, laden with goods.  Riding atop the buckboard was an older man and woman.  Arius approached them and they said they were from Buchola.

The old man knew me as I stepped out.  Anger flashed across his face, painting it crimson.  The barkeep of the Winged Pegasus, the tavern in town.  He jabbed his bony finger in my direction.

“This is all your fault Brandon.  He came two fortnights ago, said his name was Savitar.  Of course we invited him in.  He was looking for that woman you spoke to, the one that paid you.

“We told him she had sent you with a message and that she had disappeared.  He wanted to know when you would return.  We told him we didn’t know.

“It all seemed innocent enough.  He was invited in at the keep, said he’d pay gold for a room there.  It made sense.  But Armix and his daughter Vella haven’t been seen since.  Others went missing later.  After that the clouds seemed to blot out the sun.  Then came those dogs, those two-headed beasts.  Some of our friends went missing.  Everything around the keep seemed to die off after he took up residence there.  I closed up the Winged Pegasus and left…as did most of the village. It just didn’t feel safe there any longer.

“This is your fault!  If you had not become friendly with that woman, none of this would have happened. Our entire village has been abandoned.”  His daughter looked as if she were prepared to spit on me.

“This is awesome,” muttered Althalus.  “It’s not me this time.”

I sneered at him.  “I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean for anything bad to happy.”

“If you hadn’t been messing with that witch with a sword, none of this would have happened.”

“I promise you that we will—“

“We don’t want your promises.  You caused this.  The entire town blames you for this.”  So evaporated my thoughts of a parade upon my return.

Arius stepped up, chest puffed up in perfect paladin form.  “We are going to the village and set these matters right.”

Disgusted with us, he slapped the reins on the horses and took off.

“That went well,” Althalus said.  “Bad things happen to people all of the time.”

Theren nodded.  “I’m a druid.  You don’t have to tell me.”

“We need to right this wrong,” I said, trying to get them focused on the problem.  “I’ll go in alone. He wants me.  I will size him up.”

“I think this is a great plan,” Althalus said.

“No, it’s not,” Arius said.  “We all go.”

 

The next morning we arrived at my home town.  It was eerily silent…not even birds were chirping.  It was cloudy, but the center of town seemed even darker.  The trees rustled in the wind, but that was all we heard.  No smokes from hearths rose in the air.

Buchola had a low wall for defense that surrounded the town.  It had not been used for centuries and was moss covered.  The keep, in the center of the town, had always been covered with moss and vines.  Buchola was a town of peace…until now.

We entered town cautiously.  Everything we saw made us nervous…especially me, this was my home. There were some strange tracks, dog-like, but heavier than even a dire wolf.  It did not help ease our fears.

As we got near the keep we could see that this was the epicenter of strangeness.  The vines and moss that covered it were dead and withered.  The trees around it were dead, withered, their dead leaves littering the brown grass.  The cloud cover over the keep was complete, it was almost a twilight appearance. There was a low fog over the dips in the ground, even mid-morning. Everything that had life was dead around the structure.

“This seems uncomfortable,” Althalus said, always the master of understatement.

Arius walked up to the door of the keep opened the door, the paladin rarely showed fear when he should. I was surprised, I thought he might knock.  Arrogance is clearly a paladin’s strength.

A black haired man in nobles clothing stood in the doorway.  “Hello, what are you doing here?” Oddly enough, he seemed friendly.

“We are passing through.  Things seem…out of sorts.  What happened here?  Why are you here?”

The man flashed a grin and ignored one of our queries.  “I am here…waiting for someone.  Why don’t you come in?  We can have some wine and talk.”

I knew this was a bad idea, even my wolf companion seemed to sense it. “Who are you looking for?”

“Lexa Lyoncroft,” he said. “Have you heard of her?”

“Yes,” Arius replied.  “We know she had been here.  Why don’t you come out here?”

“I am not well,” he said.  “It is best I stay here.”

Arius suddenly grappled with him, tossing him on the ground.  “What are you doing?  Why are you showing me such disrespect?”  He rose and returned to the doorway, brushing off his shoulders.

“We seek Lexa Lyoncroft as well,” the paladin said.

The man, unshaken, grinned again.  “If you do not wish to come in, I wish you well out here tonight. Otherwise, come in and talk.  My invitation remained.”  I didn’t like the sound of that either.

Arius led us in.  The keep’s window shutters were closed and the interior was dimly lit by sconces on the walls.  A carpet covered the floor.  We saw a desk, but walls obscured the other rooms.  Althalus surprised us all with his next words, “I would like to apologize for our behavior.  We were wrong to have attacked you.”

“I accept your words,” the man said.

I reached down and pulled my sword out slightly.  It shimmered brilliant blue.  Undead. Arius saw it too and nodded once.

“I am Brandon,” he said.

“I am Savitar.  So you are Brandon,” he took a step closer.  “I understand you worked for Lyoncroft.  Where is she?”  His eyes fell into my own.  I could feel his thoughts.  I found him oddly appealing, friendly.  I was no longer in control of my words.  “These men had met Lyoncroft before.  They never said where they met her.” I felt like I was in a daze, surprised that I was sharing that information with him.

“Some wine perhaps?” the man offered.  I found myself accepting.

“I have an offer for her,” he said as he poured.  “A warrior of her prowess would be of use to the man I work for?”

“Who is that?” Theren asked.

“His name isn’t important – he goes by so many.  What is important is that I find this Lyoncroft woman.  Perhaps if you stay here, she will return.  You could be my guests.”

“What makes you think she will come back here?” the druid pushed.

“A hunch,” he replied, not sipping his own wine.  “You should stay here.  Sooner or later she is bound to show up.”

“Um, no thanks,” Arius said. “We will go to the Winged Pegasus for the night.”

I found myself talking, not controlling my own words.  “I think we should stay here with him.” Why did I say that?

“Very well, Brandon can stay here with us for the night.”

Arius glared at me.  “We changed our minds, we will stay here tonight as well.”

The man clapped his hands and a girl emerged from one of the rooms.  Her skin was waxen, her eyes seemed wide open, unblinking.  “Why don’t you take our guests to the second floor?  They can bed there for the night.”

She led us up the central staircases to the second floor of the keep.  There were barrels there, stores of some sort.  There was a rug on the floor in one spot, some old broken furniture, most of it broken.  Two old rope beds were there as well, covered in dust.

“I don’t like this,” Althalus said.  I felt oddly calm about the situation.  The man didn’t seem at all like a threat, in fact, he seemed to be more like a trusted friend to me.  Theren looked at me and waved his hands in front of me.  It was as if I had awakened and the last few minutes had been a dream, one I had been living. “What happened?”

“You were under a spell, probably a charm,” Althalus said. “Instagramus Influencus…fairly common.”  I hated that feeling.  It made me betray my friends.

We moved about to settle down for the night, knowing that the man on the floor below us was devious.  I went over by the barrels to check and another figure rose, springing at me.  His teeth flashed with fangs and his skin was pale.  I recognized him, Armix. “Armix – it’s me, Brandon.”

He didn’t respond other than springing at me.  I drew Nightstalker and the room lit up blue-white.  I turned the blade to hit him with the flat edge of the sword.  I struck him and he hissed at me in response.

“Oh crap,” Althalus said, “It’s vampire spawn.  I’ve read about them!”  He dropped to a battle stance.

The rest of my friends converged on Armix to help me. The battle broke out around me – I cut him with Nightstalker, but despite the cut, he came at me viciously.  Flames roared around him as Theren cast a spell.  It did not seem to daze Armix as he dropped his blade and lunged me with fangs and clawed hands.  This was not my friend, this was a creature from hell.

Armix shook his head, as if voices were there, and tried to put distance from us for a few moments.

I swung Bonebreaker and Nightstalker at the creature, barely scratching him.  Out of the corner of my eyes the man from the floor below, Savitar, came out of the staircase, now with pointed fangs flashing.  Theren swung his quarterstaff, burying it into the face of Savitar.  It only seemed to make him madder.

The battle became a blur.  Our weapons and spells tore into the pair of undead, yet they seemed to recover from each attack. My wolf sprung at Armix, biting him, tearing at his pale flesh, but it tore into it with its claws and bit it in the throat.  My companion animal was tossed aside like a doll discarded by a mad child, leaving a bloody smear on the floor.

Theren shapeshifted into a bear, savaging one of the spawn.  Althalus blasted away with his eldritch blasts, emerald green energy knocking Savitar back, only to ensnare him in a tangle of thorns that Arius had cast.  The vampire tore through the vines as if they were not there at all. The girl we had seen below came up the stairs, pouncing on Theren.  The bloody bear grappled with Savitar, though it only bought us a few moments.

Althalus produced the wand that fired lightning bolts we had discovered and unleashed it one of the spawn.  The brilliant blast of white energy cracked across the keep, blasting into the spawn, leaving a smoking hole where its clothing had been charred by the assault.

Nightstalker shimmered in my sweaty grip as we pressed our assault, my hunter’s mark guiding every swing I made.  Savitar disappeared into a floating gas cloud while the girl bit Theren’s bear in the shoulder.  Everything was a jumble arms, legs, weapons and blood as our party flailed away at the undead creatures. Althalus unleashed thunderous smite on Armix – rending flesh from him and leaving him as dead…as dead as any vampire can be. Althalus missed with an eldritch blast, hitting Theren instead.  The bear snapped its head around and growled, understandably.

Savitar rematerialized from a gaseous form, seemingly just as strong as ever. I remembered stories that vampires could regenerate, now I was living it!  Arius’ smite threw the girl into Theren, knocking her prone for a few seconds. Bonebreaker and Nightstalker shimmered bright as I tore into Savitar, but no matter how much I hit him, it did not seem to take him down. In the fury of my attack, I hit myself with Bonebreaker in the head. Everything went dark and I barely remember hitting the floor.

I came to with my head throbbing, staggering to my feet as if I had been drinking. We were still in the fight! Theren was in human form, swinging his shillelagh at Savitar, furrowing his chin with a blow. The girl spawn was badly battered – smoke rising from some attack I had not seen. I don’t know what Althalus was doing, but Savitar seemed to struggle with something in his head, snarling, showing his pointy fangs. Arius hit her in the gut with Skullringer. Savitar struggled with the spell that our warlock was unleashing…which we were all thankful for.  He collided with the wall, seeming to injure himself.

Arius hit himself with Skullringer, doing what I had done with Bonebreaker – leaving the paladin sprawled on the wooden floor, moaning into unconsciousness.  The girl spawn dropped under our assault, sprawled dead on the floor.  We all concentrated on Savitar.  I swung Bonebreaker and again hit myself in the head.  I sort of remember hitting the floor with my face before I blacked out…again.

I have no idea how long I was out…but when I rose, Athalus was on the floor, but seeming to still cast magic from there. Sweat stung at my eyes as I lumbered towards the fight.  Arius was up, swinging his magical warhammer again, blood smearing his face and beard. I staggered forward…barely alive, but still in the battle.  Theren’s attack made Savitar hiss loudly, turn into a gas, and seep downward through the cracks in the floor.

“We won!” Theren said joyfully.

Althalus rose to his feet.  “Not so fast.  I have some knowledge of these creatures.  He must have a coffin filled with dirt somewhere nearby.  If he gets into that, he can regenerate.  We might have to face all of this all over again.  Worse yet, we only have about an hour to find it.” Those words were ominous.

Arius used his javelins, spiking the hearts of the two dead spawn – making them explode as he pierced their un-beating hearts. We immediately searched for the coffin and found it in the basement of the keep. His body was there, resting, already regenerating.

“Spike him,” Althalus said. Our paladin did it without remorse.

“Not good enough,” the warlock said.  “Cut off his head and take it out into the daylight. We don’t want him to have any chance of regenerating.”  Theren undertook the decapitation, leaving his head out in the open.

We were weary, but searched the rooms for any other threats. We discovered a map, of lands we had not seen, and three strange metal symbols.  Small, the size of a small horseshoe, they were clearly magical.  “I’ve seen those before,” Althalus said.  “Siva Runes.  You attach them to your weapons and they infuse the weapon with some magical abilities.”

“What kind of magic?”

Althalus shrugged.  “I don’t know that.”

I pocketed them.  For a moment we looked at each other, exhausted from the battle.  “You’re from here, right?” Arius asked.

I nodded in response.

“Where’s that Winged Pegasus tavern…I think we could all use a drink.”  Coming from our paladin, we all knew it was a good idea.

 

 

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

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

Part 8

Part 9

Part 10

Part 11

Part 12

Part 13

Part 14

Part 15

Part 16

Part 17

Part 18

Part 19

Part 20

Part 21

Part 22

Part 23

Part 24

Part 25

Part 26

Part 27

Part 28

Part 29

Part 30

Part 31

Part 32

Character Background Material

My New Campaign

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#DandD

#DnD

Review of the True Crime Podcast – Man in the Window

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I am not a huge podcast follower when it comes to true crime.  When I do listen, I put one on in the background when I write.  There is a lot of people competing in the true crime space for podcast time.  Some don’t resonate with me well.  I don’t like the ones that joke a great deal.  I get it, you want to stand out and lighten the mood.  To me, it feels disrespectful.  Same for the drinking and true crime podcasts.  I never got into the concept you could pair a wine with a crime…but that is a matter of personal preference on my part.

We drove to Michigan this week to visit family and my wife asked me to play some true crime podcasts on the trip.  This was high on my list and I was not let down.

Man in the Window is gripping.  One, it was done by a writer for the LA Times who has dived deep into the Golden State Killer case.  This podcast really grabs you with a mix of interview snippets and a compelling story.  It is professionally produced, top-notch stuff.  At the same time, the most gripping part is not the production – it is that it provides us all with an in-depth view of the Joseph DeAngelo, the accused Golden State Killer.

Accused is a light word here, a formality.  It is hard to dodge multiple DNA hits.  He totally did it.  But what we have never gotten is “why.”  This podcast gets us much closer to that answer, delving into his background.  The interview with his former girlfriend is creepy, and weird, and the kind of stuff you can’t pause.

This is good investigative journalism colliding with social media to produce a wonderful and sufficiently eerie experience.   I highly recommend this podcast to any true crime aficionado.  An easy five out of five stars.

 

 

 

 

 

The Chronicling of our D&D Campaign: Tempora – Part 32 – Judgement of the Church

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

Arius…

With the Battle of the Horns of Essex over, we began our trek to return the paladins to their fortress at the Great Gap the next morning after burying the dead and blessing their graves.  I felt a sense of humiliation at having lost the sword to Viktor Barristen.  The thought of what he might be able to do to the paladins still trapped in the blade was chilling.

We were only a day’s march to the end of the foothills of the mountains when we camped for the night.  It was not a night when we would get much sleep.  I was awakened by Brandon to tell me there were sounds in the brush.  We silently armed ourselves and listened, hearing orkish voices.

Athalus stood proud.  “Orcs. I speak orc.  I can handle this.”

“Are you sure?” I asked.

“I’m quite charming,” he said flashing a wry grin.

Our warlock called out, “Rut Roh Rhaggy!”

“Rubie-Rubie-Roo,” came a voice back from the brush. I can only assume that Athalus was communicating with them.  A party of six orcs emerged from the brush.  Athalus continued to grunt and speak orc to them for several minutes.  He even showed them his nipple ring, then turned to us.  “I told them we were the tribe of the Big Tusk.  It’s all good.  Don’t attack.”

After a long series of grunts, belches, and other guttural sounds, Athalus went to his pack and pulled out the small cask of mead that he had been carrying since we have met with Dimitrious. We passed the potent mead around, barely able to tolerate their stench.  Having consumed our alcohol they told Athalus that they wanted to camp with us.  My instinct was the kill them, they are orcs after all – God only knows what kind of pillaging they had done.  But we did not.  In the morning they moved on.

“I think they liked us,” Athalus told us. “Who knows, we may run into them again.”

Great. These are the kinds of allies we do not need.  We marched out, finally coming out of the forested foothills into the rolling hills.

We marched for a day or so when we heard the sound of hoof-beats thundering on the plains.  I was hopeful that it was a greeting party from the castle, but I was wrong.

They emerged from over the hills and were not like any creatures I have ever seen.  Ungainly bird-like lizards, tall as a man, outfitted with saddles.  I could only catch glimpses of their green hides, for they were wrapped in rotting bandages of some sort, mummified yet alive and quite agile.  They had large horns, yellow with age.  On their backs were skeletons, adorned in black robes, some holding rods, others swords, one holding some sort of ungodly symbol.  There were four of them – and they were flanked by three armored knights, elven I believe, with lances.  They had, on their armor, a black heart symbol – which I did not know what it represented.  We saw them at a distance and realized that they were no escort.  They had come to fight us…to kill us.

It was clear that someone did not want us to reach the safety of the castle.  Barristen…it had to be.

They rushed us and we dug in, using our spears as a phalanx in the sod, forcing the elves to flank.  One of the skeletal riders held out small rod and from it a fireball erupted – boring right in on Brandon.  There was a mighty explosion and we saw him no more, only the black-charred grass where the ranger had once stood.  Athalus emerged from the flames, his robes smoldering slightly from the explosion, only to be hit by a lightning bolt from one of the cloaked skeletons. Smoke from the fireball hung heavy in the air as our paladin comrades moved to the left flank, breaking apart the onslaught, wading into the riding elves.

Skullringer shimmered in my hands as I rushed forward, taking out part of mummified lizard’s body as they charged us.  I caught a glimpse of Dimitrious leaping in front of one, his fists a blur of savage strikes that knocked the mummified lizard mount to the ground, throwing its skeleton rider hard.  Bits of the torn cloth of the mount clung to his bloodied fists.

Theren morphed into the bear we had been so accustomed to.  It savaged two of the attackers, sending bits of bone and rotting lizard hide flying in the process.  Althalus tried to provide the paladins cover with his emerald magic blasts, but missed widely, no doubt stinging from the lightning bolt he had taken.

I saw Sir Bentblade, the paladin commander wade into one of the elves that rushed him, knocking him from his saddle so hard that he was doubled over in agony.  He drove his sword into the rider hard, then seemed to pause in a quick prayer.

Dimitrious finished the last of them, springing at one of the skeletons and grappling with it, twisting him out of the saddle and onto the ground.  He tore the skeleton apart with his furious blows.

Glancing around we saw that only one of our comrades was gone – Brandon.  We began to look for any sign of him where the fireball had hit.  Suddenly he emerged from the woods.

“What happened?” I asked.

“That ring I found — I used the word on it and it teleported me just as the fireball hit.  I was about a mile away.  What did I miss?”

“The entire battle,” Athalus said.

Looking around the dead elves and rotting corpses I waved my hand.  “All of this…”

Suddenly there came more thundering hoof beats on the ground and we saw paladins of the Order of the Fang appear.  When they saw Bentblade they nearly wept.  “Commander – we thought you lost.” They were overjoyed.

The old warrior nodded grimly.  “Let us get to the castle – there is much to discuss.”

We made our way to the castle gates and inside.  Paladins on the ramparts and in the court all surrounded us and those paladins we had saved from Tempora.  For the first time in a long while I felt a sense of relief.  We were safe here, safe for the first time in weeks.

Then Bentblade spoke.  “Arrest those two immediately,” he said pointing to Athalus and Theren.  Theren immediately morphed into a wolf and darted through the gate, but our warlock was quickly grabbed by no less than three armed paladins.

“What is going on here?” I demanded.

“They used magic banned by the church…they must now face charges of heresy.”

“We saved your lives!” I charged, but I saw hands drift to sword hilts, ready to fight.

“Aye, you did,” Bentblade said.  “But they used unholy magic.  You know that matter must be dealt with.  We will hold a trial to determine this one’s fate,” he stabbed a finger at Athalus.

I wanted to fight right then and there, regardless of the odds.  But I was a holy man…I knew church law as well.  “At least let me be his advocate at court.”

“Very well…” Bentblade said.

Althalus was taken off to a cell somewhere and we retired to our rooms.  The trial was two days hence.  I mended my armor, sharpened my sword, and prayed.

 

We came to the inner court for the trial and Brandon suggested trying some ruse and disguise to get in.  The guards heard him and kept him at bay while we disarmed and entered.  With Dimitrious at my side I felt confident.  The monk’s most deadly weapons were his hands…so if it came to a fight, we were well armed.

Athalus was brought to the stand, flanked by two armored paladins as Bentblade read the charges.  “The unholy use of magic, unnatural transformation (leveled only at Theren who was being tried in absentia), and Heresy against the Church.”

“Lord Commander,” I said.  “We saved your life and those of your comrades.  We got you your freedom.  Surely that counts for something?”

Bentblade dipped his head.  “Indeed it does.  I will consider it strongly when judgement is passed.  Is there anyone else that would speak for this man’s soul?”

At my side Dimitrious stepped forward and cleared his throat.  “I am Friar Dimitrious of the Priory of the Sapphire Eye.”  He opened his cloak and showed his chest, but I could not see it from where I stood.  Whatever the Lord Commander saw there, it seemed to impress him.

My jaw hung open.  He can talk!  All of this time!

“I have been to the Priory of Illuminus and have spent time with the Gospel of the Truth.  I have gazed into the Temple of Time, looking forward rather than back.  This sight has cost me dearly.  I have aged nearly a decade as a price for my arrogance.  My oath of silence was self-imposed – I did not wish to share my shame.

“You see sinners and heretics before you.  That is true.  Under church law, there is no defense for their use of magic.  Fighting these charges is pointless.  These men have an important role to play in the future.  The druid in their ranks, he yet has a role to play in a reconciliation with the Church.  The warlock – he will bring and soothe great pain and suffering. Your brother paladin is more than he seems.”  He turned and locked gazes with me.  “Their ranger will sit on-high one day, if he survives the maelstrom that is looming.

“Great evil has risen with Victor Barristen’s return.  He seeks a member of the Sisterhood of the Sword who can give him the paladins souls trapped in his blade.  If he can consume them, he will be fully restored and blackness will fall upon the world again.  That darkness is coming regardless, but stopping him will slow it down.  Even now, he cowers in the Cloudlands in the northwest where the twilight is eternal, planning to wage war on the living and the bring the church to its knees before him.

“I have seen the great battle that is to be waged.  Punishing these men will make matters worse for all of us.”

“What of this battle?” Sir Bentblade asked.

“It was in a haze of war, but I saw paladins fighting with the Sisterhood of the Sword and these men and your own.  I saw the dead rise.  Minotaurs and heroes of old, fighting together.  Old enemies now allies.  The thunder of hooves and a return of the Gray Wind.  I saw a ruined abbey and raining fire.  Walking graveyards of stone and doom.  Bones and blood and fire all mixed.  And these men, they play a role in all of that.

Bentblade frowned, “Impossible.  The sisterhood is dead.”

“Are they?”  The monk’s words hung in the air.

“Do we win?” the Lord Commander asked warily.

“We did – but we will pay a price that cannot be measured – a cost that cannot be repaid.

“If you imprison or kill Athalus, there will be nothing that can stop what is coming.  It would be better to have them in our service…as a means for them to pay their penance for their transgressions.  Send them to find Lexa Lyoncroft and protect her.  Barristen will come for her, he needs her to release those souls.  She needs him because of what else is in that sword…her past and future.

“Do not doctrine cloud your judgement Lord Commander.  The fate of the world may hang in the balance.”  With that the monk returned to his silence.  I could only stare at him in awe.

Bentblade nodded, then went quiet for a long minute.  “There are mitigating circumstances, namely the saving of the head of this order.  And the friars of the Priory of the Sapphire Eye are incapable of lying.  These charges are set aside.”

“We won?” I asked.

“Of course.  We are no barbarians.  Doctrine required a trial, and a trial was had.  But before you can leave – we need to contact the Church. I want them to sanction you as agents of the Church…then you need to go out after Lyoncroft.”

Gray Riders were summoned with the blast of a horn…and a week later we got our response.  Brandon was delivered a note as well, one that he kept to himself.  A rider was sent out to find Theren.  I composed a message to him to return.  I wondered how the riders could find our druid, but I realized they had that power.

One strange thing though…when the Gray Rider showed up, the horse bowed its head to us. I saw that the rider and the other paladins were as surprised as I was. I wonder what that was about?  Moreover, the words that Dimitrious spoke chilled me still.  There was a war coming…and we were going to be in the middle of it!

 

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

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

Part 8

Part 9

Part 10

Part 11

Part 12

Part 13

Part 14

Part 15

Part 16

Part 17

Part 18

Part 19

Part 20

Part 21

Part 22

Part 23

Part 24

Part 25

Part 26

Part 27

Part 28

Part 29

Part 30

Part 31

Character Background Material

My New Campaign

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Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 5 – One To Go

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Elephants simply would have burned brighter…

I call this episode, “Well, that went to shit pretty fast.” Danyrs got up without her makeup and a bit of an attitude.  You had Varys running out to meet Jon Snow on the beach:  “Hi, welcome to Dragonstone.  Have you considered betraying the woman you love for the job you don’t want?  I know I look like a creepy pedophile, but give me a chance…”  There were some brilliant moments in this episode, surrounded by countless WTFs?  Here’s my summary:

  • “If you have a secret way into the Red Keep, why don’t you use it to send in a group to secure Cersei and end this without any significant bloodshed whatsoever?”  Tyrion had a map of all of the ways into Kings Landing, why not use those to get the Unsullied in to take out the scorpions?  The show’s writers needed to play this out as if it were a Dungeons and Dragons session and it would have been a lot more entertaining.
  • Jamie is the dumbest Lannister.  I enjoyed this reversal scene from when Tyrion was in chains.
  • “So the scorpions which were so accurate and deadly become worthless?” Yeah, no one even winged the dragon (pun intended).
  • “Watch for the Hun in the sun!”  This is a WWI aviation reference when the Germans would dive with the sun behind them to strike a blinded enemy.  This was the first and only time in this episode where we saw actual battle tactics, diving in on the Iron Fleet.

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  • My “Holy Shitballs!” moment was when the Golden Company deployed, looked formidable and ready for combat, then the gate exploded behind them and they were all fried in a matter of 22 seconds.  Well, I’m glad they didn’t bring the elephants because the PETA people would be outraged.  It was pretty awesome but hit on one flaw I felt with the entire episode. There was no credible threat.  This was the BIG battle we have been waiting for, and it was a lopsided affair, with Dany flying a weapon of mass destruction that was impossible to stop.  Even against the dead, there was a threat of a loss of a dragon.  No one even fired an arrow or spear in her direction.  I’m sure this was deliberate by the show runners, but it took away from the eventual victories.
  • A total waste of Ser Davos in this episode. Not even a quippy one-liner.
  • The Dothraki riding through the streets of King’s Landing – we have waited long to see it.  Unfortunately with the Dragon Queen’s slaughter, they didn’t matter.  Likewise, the attack by Grey Worm on the surrendering troops was made non sequitur by Daenerys laying waste to the civilian population.  Dany just plain ruined the battle for the rest of us.
  • The explosions of the wildfire caches – Dany has become the mad queen. Incredibly good tie back to the mad king.  Even he didn’t go that far.  He’d be so proud of his little girl…  “Look pumpkin, some fleeing civilians.  Burn them all!”
  • The big map was a nice touch.  The images of debris falling on the map of Westros was brilliant symbolism.
  • Euron just happens to show up where Jamie is, and decides to kill him.  Mortally wounding Jamie didn’t add anything to the story at all.  Euron deserved a much more painful death than what he got.  They blew a chance for Jamie to say, “She’s pregnant with my child!”  So many squandered opportunities.
  • “When you kill the big bad guy/gal, you need to do it right.”  After all we have been through, Cersei’s death was boring.  Crying and in Jamie’s arms?  She got what she wanted, to die with him.  After all of the build-up over the years, we got her weeping in a collapsing tomb?  Boo…hiss!  She needed to be bit in half by a dragon – or at least get in that last verbal taunt with Dany before being roasted alive.
  • “Thank you Sandor.”  I don’t get Arya changing her mind about revenge at the last minute, but the line was perfect.  So you live your whole live for vengence but at the last minute, you flip?

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  • CleganeBowl!  The zombie-Mountain vs the Hound!  Here the episode delivers.  I actually cheered, “Dilly Dilly!” when it started.  This was one part of the episode that was exactly what we all expected.  Consider this though.  If you delete this scene from the episode, there is little really enjoyable that is left.
  • White horse arrives unscathed and calm…really? Yes, I get it, “Death rides a pale horse.”  At this point we all expect Arya to go after Daenerys …but the horse showing up was just poor writing.
  • Everyone whines about Dany being alone, but so is Tyrion at this point.

So where does this leave us? It is clear that Jon and Daenerys are going to have to face off.  He told the secret, and that cost Varys his life – and Jon is a serious threat.  I want her to have the dragon breath on Jon and nothing happen to him because his is a Targaryn, but the writers haven’t showed a lot of creativity this season.  We still have a number of characters at Winterfell, and I think we need to see everywhere together one more time.  Maybe Jon will march home and Dany will go after him because he’s a threat.  I’m split between Tyrion being killed by Daenerys or being the last one alive to take the throne.  “You either win or die,”   and Tyrion didn’t live.  Emotionally, I think we all want Jon to get it at this point.  I just don’t see a way for Dany to recover at this point as a character with the whole “fire and blood” thing.

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Basically its like naming your kid Hannibal at this stage

One thing is for sure – it is Game of Thrones – so it is not going to end the way we thought it should.

George R. R. Martin and the rest of the books for Game of Thrones – My Perspective

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His success eclipses himself.  

You see it on social all of the time now, “When will he be done with the next book for Game of Thrones?”  It is overdue on a cosmic scale from a writer’s perspective…years overdue.  I don’t miss my book deadlines as an author, so the concept of being years late staggers me.

People want the books because they are different than the series, in some less-than-subtle ways, and they have invested long hours in reading the series up to this point.  More importantly, they have watched the stunning HBO series which has gone far past Mr. Martin’s storyline in print thus far.

I’m not anxious about the next book being published.  Why?  Because George R. R. Martin has done something that I have not seen with almost any other writer – he has made his written books obsolete.  His creation has eclipsed anything he might ever write again.  The popularity of the HBO series is so big, so vast, so visually compelling, that whatever he writes it will be compared to the series, which is nearly impossible to top. Whatever he produces as an author will be held up against the TV series based on his books!  The irony here is incredible.  George R. R. Martin has actually created a situation where writing the books is not necessary.

It is hard to comprehend of an instance where an author’s success is so great because of his works, that he cannot surpass it with the written word.  Perhaps Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.  As good as the book is, when the title is mentioned, we all see Gregory Peck in our mind’s eye.  When the sequel to the book two years ago, it was ridiculed and mocked. Her characters and story had eclipsed her own vision.  People were saying that she, as the author, had not been true to the characters that she had created! The readers (and viewers) had seized her work and held onto it so dearly that no matter what was published thereafter was destined to be scorned.

Similarly, Mr. Martin doesn’t have to write the rest of the series because he will be remembered for the HBO series far beyond any words he might write.  He is facing a problem that every writer dreams of, stunning success to the point where his written worlds are obsoleted by another medium – in this case, television.  In fact, producing the books is bound to draw comparisons and raise scorn with fans, because that’s what people do on the internet, they get pissed.  Having seen the series, the haters will whine that the coming novels don’t live up to what they have seen on HBO.  If the books were released now, wrapping up the series, he would draw ire for their tardiness on top of being late, everyone will expect something miraculous.  Writing the rest of the books will only serve to fragment his fan base. I have never quite seen anything like it.

The winning move for Mr. Martin is to not play the game.  As a great fan of his work, I honestly don’t know if I would encourage him to publish any more in this series. His body of work, which encompasses the TV series, is stellar and little more can be done that would improve upon what we have all experienced.