The Chronicling of our D&D Campaign: Tempora – Part 31 – The Battle of the Horns of Essex

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

Brandon…

We were exhausted and victorious and in constant danger.  We awoke, still stinging from the fight. We pulled opened the massive Stoneoak doors of the chamber to begin our journey out of Tempora.  Our new comrades, the paladins we had saved, looked far worse than we did.  I can only imagine the nightmares they had endured as prisoners of Victor Barristen – hellspawn, former paladin, master of the undead.

It was my superior tracking skills that enabled us to survive and escape.  I looked for the tracks of the paladins that had brought into this chamber.  I suspect that my comrades did not fully appreciate the subtleties of tracking and the amount of skill required.  The musty air and the lack of good light made things even more challenging, but I proved up to the task.

We made our way room-by-room, hallway-by-hallway, trying to figure out where we were.  I came across one chamber that tore at my nostrils with the stench of death and rot. Althalus waved a hand and projected a bright light in the room for us to all see what was in there. Stacked like wood, were the shriveled corpses of more than a hundred paladins that had been Barristen’s victims.  Sir Bentblade entered the room and I saw the tears streak into his gray-white beard.  He knelt and prayed and for a few moments, we remained silent.  After the paladins said their prayers we sealed that room shut and moved on.

We trudged onward into the darkness – the musty and moldy smell filled the air.  Beyond a set of tarnished bronze doors we found a spiral staircase up.  We cautiously made our way up, fearing a sudden plummet downward. Climbing nearly 80 heads upward, the staircase ended in a door and a hallway beyond.

We continued on, my tracking skills backtracking the paladin’s footsteps that led them into this place.  Althalus complained, “I am not convinced we are still in Tempora.  She could have transported us anywhere.”  Theren disagreed.  There were twists and turns in the trail we followed, confusing and disorienting us.

In one chamber we found four coffins in a large chamber with some sort of statue in the middle.  My sword began to glow and Arius grabbed his hilt.  “I sense the presence of undead.”  The paladins in our party drew their blades as well.

“I have some oil,” offered Theren.  “We can soak the coffins and set them ablaze.”

“Does fire kill vampires?” asked Arius.

“Vampires?” I asked.

“I don’t know if they are vampires or not, but I do not wish burning undead attacking us as opposed to those not on fire,” he replied.

“Mummies would be worse,” Althalus said, not calming my nerves at all.

We opted to jam the door shut rather than risk their wrath. Returning to the trail, we found another chamber with a raised throne in the middle of it.  There was a thick old carpet laying between the raised seat and where we stood.  The shadows beyond the throne seemed to move, as if something was in there.  As we approached the room a hoard of zombies rushed out at us, their rotting flesh and putrid yellow eyes made me wet myself, if only just a little.

My glowing sword Nightstalker swung through the air, just missing one of the hideous creatures.  Our paladin comrades sprang at the undead as did the rest of our party, surging forward.  Arius blasted the arm off of one zombie, sending it hitting a wall and sliding down with a sickening thump.  I thrust Nightstalker again, driving the blade through the rib cage and its spine, making the undead even deader. Theren jabbed at one of the creatures, knocking out some teeth but doing little more.

Our silent monk, Dimitrious, punched one through the throat, destroying it with a blur of his fists.  Althalus unleashed an eldritch blast, which all but disintegrated one of the zombies. One of the creatures tried to flail at me but missed.  Sir Bentblade killed my attacker with one mighty sweep of his sword, sending rotting body parts spinning on the ancient white marble floor.

I sat on the throne, if nothing more than to see if it was magical in some way.  Behind a threadbare tapestry on the far wall, we found a hidden passageway and continued through it.  We snaked our way through several twisting and musty passages and eventually came to a chamber with a stone sarcophagus in the center of it.  We cleared enough of the dust on top to read that it was the tomb of the Dwarven Queen Silvistar.  The carved images on the lid showed her as she must have been in life, beautiful – no beard (I had always heard that their women had beards…imagine my surprise!)  The image shows her holding a massive war axe with runes carved in it.  One of the paladins in our party read it.  “The word for that is soul-thief or stealer…depending on the dialect.”

The lid showed signs of desecration, it was ajar on the top.  Her image showed chips from a blade hitting it and a crack was found in the dust as well.  I saw browning maroon blood splattered there as well.  I called out, “Althalus, what do you see?”

“From where I am standing, a lot of man-ass,” the warlock responded wryly.  He made his way through the line of paladins to join me.  I wanted it opened.  Along with Dimitrious, we pushed the lid off with a thud on the stone floor.  Inside was her rotting body – with signs that someone had looted her remains.  She must have been holding that axe at one point, but it was gone ages ago.  Out of respect, I put the lid back on, though I could feel the icy stares of Sir Bentblade on me.

We trekked on, finding one room that apparently had been used to prepare bodies for burial which made my skin crawl.  Arius’s mapping was enough to give a sane man a nosebleed, it had so many twists and turns. We came to an iron door that was hard to open.  We came to a large domed room, the murals on the ceiling showed the burial processions of dwarves – many apparently royal by what they wore. In the center of the room, on a wide pillar, were two bat-like statues, massive – eight heads tall with stone carved wings and nasty talons.  Their pointy ears made them look demonic.

There were rune on the pillar which our paladin comrade translated for us. “Hmm,” he muttered.  “Interesting.  Bow thy heads in honor.”

“That’s it?” Theren asked.

“That is all,” the paladin said.

“Those are gargoyles,” Althalus said.  “They may look like statues, but they can move and kill.”

Althalus and Dimitrious stood before the creatures and bowed deeply.

“You’re following random Dwarven instructions?”

“In lieu of anything else,” the warlock replied, “yes.”  Dimitrious silently nodded in agreement.

Arius did not bow as he passed and suddenly both of the gargoyles came to life, moving on our brother the paladin.  I was stunned with the speed they demonstrated.

“I warned you!” Althalus chided as we all drew our weapons.

One savagely bit Arius and tore at him with his razor sharp claws.  Blood sprayed in the air and Arius staggered back a half-step, gore flowing over his armor.  My arrow went wild almost hitting one of the paladins who deflected it with a speed that surprised me. “Sorry…” I said pulling another arrow from my quiver.

Swords rang out on the stoneskin of the gargoyles and their gray blood splattered the floor tiles and on our party.  Bentblade took a savage cut from the creatures, and the older paladin dropped at Arius’s feet.  Our paladin comrade’s blade lit up with magical flames and he jabbed deep into the hide of one of the gargoyles.

I felt a surge of heart and focus – clearly a magical blessing from one of the paladins.  One of the gargoyles tore into Sir Harold the Quick, biting him in the forearm, then ripping his chest with a claw.  One of the paladins swung Skullringer, Bor’s warhammer.  He struck one of gargoyle’s square in its chest and unleashing a thunderous smite in the process.  The creature was thrown backwards to the far end of the chamber, hitting the wall so hard it made a thudding sound.  Bentblade slashed at it mid-flight, cutting it deeply and sending gray blood in the air.

Harold the Quick did not live up to his name, getting bitten again by the other gargoyle.  Dimitrious unleashed a flurry of fist strikes to protect the paladin, each one cracking the stoneskin of the creature.  The monk’s hands were bloodied from the assault, but he had done more damage than he had taken.

Theren swung his shillelagh at the creature thrown against the wall, leaving a furrow in its cheek from the hit.  I dropped my bow and drew Nightstalker and Bonebreaker, spinning the morningstar furiously as I moved into position for an attack.  Dimitrious chopped at the creature and threw it hard to the floor.  Arius jumped and impaled his blade into the closest of the beasts, killing the statue-like creature.  The other gargoyle suddenly sprang at me, biting me on my upper right arm.  I managed to stagger back, blood everywhere around me.  Everything went dark and I collapsed to the floor.  I barely felt the tile slap me in the face as I dropped.  No!  It cannot end like this!

I came to in a cold sweat with my friends hovering over me.  “Did we win?”  Althalus shrugged.  “We did.” They helped me to my feet but I was dizzy from my brush with death.  I looked around and saw we were still, for the most part, alive – battered, but alive. I ached and felt bruises that I did not know I owned, but I was back from the eternal darkness.

“You guys should have bowed,” the warlock said wryly.  Given the blood soaking my jerkin, it was hard to argue that he was right.  If nothing else, Althalus was all about reading and following directions.

We left that chamber and the warlock stumbled into a poison dart trap, one that Arius incapacitated, paralyzed.  The darts came from dozens of little holes on the floor, ceiling, and walls.  We hadn’t noticed the tiny holes until we were deeply into the middle of the trap.

Our solution was for Theren to transform into giant spider and to ferry us over the trap triggers on the floor.  It took long tedious minutes, but worked well – though the paladins with us sneered at the spider.  The church was against the use of magic that they did not govern or mandate, and they had waged an inquisition against the druids.  Necessity forced their compliance with our bypass, but I feared there would be retribution at some point in the future.

Lumbering on, my superior tracking skills led us to a staircase up.  When we reached the top, I took a sigh of relief…this is where we had been attacked by Cyrilla Drex!  When we were here last she had teleported us into the sword.  We knew our way from this point.  At the far end of the room was the Well of Fates that had showed us our futures.  As we passed the pool, I swear I saw Bor’s face there, in agony and torment.  Sir Bentblade glanced at the pool then to us.  “It is okay, we have been here before.  We know our way out from here,” I assured him.

I thought we would have an easy going, but we encountered a mummy several hallways further – coming in behind us.  Theren, still a giant spider, webbed the mummy.  He tore through the web, but it was enough to slow him further.

Dispatching the shambling undead proved easier than I would have thought – though the narrow hallway proved challenging for our rather large party.  My weapons illuminated the passage and I used Bonebreaker to shred off a layer of the mummy’s wrapping.  Another swipe tore off the bandaged arm of the monstrosity and sent it spinning down the hallway – causing it to groan in a voice that chilled me.  The shambling creature did not stand a chance against all of us though.  Dimitrious drove his fist into its chest cavity, permanently killing it.  Its mouth opened and bellowed a foul cloud of death-dust on us, the stench of it hung on my clothing for hours afterwards.

We made our way backtracking our journey into Tempora.  It was strange visiting so many places where we had fought and bled.  I was most nervous in the ruins of Tempora itself, where I could hear those teleporting spiders clicking above us.  They did not attack, no doubt because of the size of our party.

We travelled the long underground roadway back out to the Vale of White. We remembered to disable the bones in the vale, and trudged out into a cold rain.  Sadly, we came across the carcasses of our horses that we had left tied up outside the vale. Oversight on our part, we had left them tied up.

Even the light of a stormy day felt good on my skin.  We had been underground for long and perilous days.  Now we simply had to deliver the paladins back to the Order of the Fang and maybe, just maybe, they could free the paladins trapped in Drex’s massive sword.  We camped that first night, then set off down the old road back to the lowlands.  Our sense of day and night had been lost in Tempora.

The next night stopped at the Horns of Essex to camp and retain our bearing and strength.  Here the massive horns of a long-dead creature jutted upward to the gray skies. I remember it being spoken of as a place of great magic.  The giant stony horns were eerie, but marked our passage downward out of the wilderness.

It was in the middle of the night that Althalus woke me and the others.  Something was amiss – he had heard something in the brush.  He called out to the bushes, “Who goes there?”  Motion stirred in another location.  “We know you are out there, show yourself!”  The warlock was bold, if nothing else.

Dimitrious quickly lit a torch and tossed it into the brush.  Suddenly, three packs of rats burst out at us.  They were a trio of swarms, a mass of vermin, all coming at us.  Behind us, Hell Hounds burst out of the foliage, their glowing jowls lighting up our camp.  They snarled and growled as they closed on us.

Arius waved his hands and chanted – blessing some of our party. I could feel the surge of holy power pulse through my veins.  One of the hounds tore into Biff the Bold, one of the paladins, its fangs clamping onto his arm and tore at his flesh.  Fire burst out from the wounds and the paladin dropped to the ground unconscious.  Another lunged at Theren who was injured by its claws. Another tore into Sir Biff, ripping off a leg and tossing it into the brush.  There would be no healing that could bring this holy warrior back from where his soul went.

Sir Rippen, a rather unremarkable paladin, missed a Hell Hound entirely, planting his blade in the soft ground.  Arius used Skullringer on a rat swarm, sending bits and pieces of dead rats spraying into the air – his thunderous smite splattering many.  Blood dripped from Skullringer as the hoard of rats reeled under the assault.

I notched an arrow and planted it in the hide of a Hell Hound.  It ignored it entirely, which I was satisfied with.  This was not a time to draw a great deal of attention.  Althalus fired an emerald burst of power into the same hound.  The searing smoke hole in its hide only seemed to make it angrier – if that was possible.

Theren stabbed at one of the hellspawn creatures, planting his blade deep.  Black-red blood spurted out and the creature growled in pain and anger.  The paladins joined the fray, their weapons flailing in the night, slashing at the Hell Hounds.  Dimitrious bludgeoned on of the hounds, hitting him hard.

One swarm of rats tore into Sir Harold the Quick, crawling over him, seeking any exposed flesh.

A boiling green cloud emerged in the middle of our ranks near Arius and Viktor Barristen appeared, his skeletal face with horned helmet striking fear in me.  I will not lie, I wet myself just a little at the sight of him rising on a cloud of mist.

“We are doomed!” Althalus called out.  I had to agree.  Arius swung Skullringer at him, capped with his holy smite, hitting the quasi-lich anti-paladin.  The skull grinned in response.  “I have come for that sword…” he hissed.  Arius alone was horribly and hilariously outmatched.

My next arrow planted itself in the black fur hide of the Hell Hound I had hit earlier.

Harold the Quick flailed about with his pack of rats, sending rats scurrying as he snapped the necks of two of them with his hands.

Theren, morphing into bear form, tore into a Hell Hound, clawing and biting viciously at the Hell Hound which responded in kind.  The smell of burning fur filled the air. I kept worrying about Barristen, but the Hell Hounds were more pressing.

One Hell Hound scotched a paladin warrior in evil flames, leaving him screaming, which did not help my calm. Another beast broke off with Theren and jumped him as well, savaging him into unconsciousness.

Barristen was what really worried me.  He swung his staff in front of him, pointing it at Arius.  A brilliant beam of azure energy hit our comrade and he dropped, paralyzed. The evil undead anti-paladin reached down to his backpack and grabbed the sword of Cyrilla Drex.  I swear I saw him grin evilly as he hefted the heavy blade.

The sword!  I cringed.  In his hands those imprisoned paladins faced a fate worse than death.  Before I could fully comprehend the events, Althalus knocked one of the Hell Hounds back with a blast of eldritch power, allowing the paladins to pounce strike him.  Theren’s clawing attack tore off a piece of hide from one Hell Hound, sending it flying into our campsite.

Dimitrious tore into that creature, his fists thrashing the beast until it collapsed, its chest shattered.  The blue robed monk grabbed the fire gland of the beast and ripped it from its chest and tossed the black-bloody organ to the ground as the creature dropped.

I spun on Barristen, just in time to see him turn into a cloud of greenish smoke and disappeared into the night…taking the sword with him.  I spun on one of the Hell Hounds and fired another arrow, hitting it true.  We circled the remaining Hell Hounds and in a flurry of sword blows and magic blasts, we slashed at them.  I proudly delivered the killing blow on the last of the creatures, earning honor and respect of my comrades.

Suddenly things went very quiet, except for my ragged breathing.  We had won the fight, but in losing that sword, we may have lost on a larger scale. As Arius regained his control and rose we all looked at each other in a mix of victory and concern.

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

Character Background Material

My New Campaign

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From My BattleTech Archives – The Planning Documents For Twilight of the Clans (Part II)

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If you haven’t read my first blog post Part I, on this subject, check it out.

In this final part, we see a massive space battle over Huntress and the arrival of Paul Moon’s Smoke Jaguar relief force, though at this stage of development, no one knew it would be Paul Moon.  As you can see, we didn’t map out the details for the fighting for Huntress, only that it was savage and brutal.  I never agreed with the concept that we would kill every warrior, that seemed unrealistic, and ultimately we did not.

On page 8 you can see my original question mark around Katherine seizing control of the Federated Commonwealth via effective public relations.  Talk about fake news!  Again, BattleTech was ahead of the curve by decades.  I always thought that whole explanation needed a lot more meat behind it.  I find it hard to believe that popularity polls would force a ruler to turn over power.  Then again, when you look at the years when this was written, the power of polls was just starting to emerge.

One thing we never fully covered was who killed Morgan.  Of course, as you saw in Part I, it was supposed to have been Focht that was assassinated. We never really bonded with Morgan as a character enough to care that he had died, at least that is my opinion.  It still remains a mystery as to who killed the Davion Lion.

In the list of units you will see Team Banzai…which was a treat.  I don’t recall us actually using them though.  It was around then that we stopped referecing them in material.

There were a lot of plotlines left open, including Thomas Marik’s fate/identity.  Boy did that get some legs and run over the years!

For me, this was great to dig out and post.  One, it shows you the behind the scenes structuring we went through.  We have been living with the results of this document and the novels that came out of it for decades.  Each author had discretion to interpret the document.  We didn’t have a clean canvas, but it was not a paint-by-numbers print either.

Two, we have been going through a similar exercise for the last year and a half to plan/plot/machinate the next new era of BattleTech.  For old farts like me, it is a real treat to still be doing this after all of this time.  With the Twilight of the Clans we set in motion a series of events that will start to come to closure in the coming few months.  Talk about a long journey!  If I am fortunate, in another 10 years, I will be posting the documents of what we have just completed planning.  Who knows?

In the meantime – here’s a glimpse into the history of BattleTech!

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The Chronicling of our D&D Campaign: Tempora – Part 30

 

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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!

Theren…

As Barristen turned into a green gas and slid through a crack in the ceiling, the possessed paladins that had been trying to kill us suddenly stopped, looking around the room dazed and confused.  The air stung of our sweat and the same aroma as when lightning strikes.  It was easy to understand the confusion of the men we had just saved – I was still in the form of a bear and there was blood everywhere.

“The battle is over,” Althalus managed in amazement.  “We won!”

I transformed back into my human form and we began to try and reassure the stunned paladins we had just rescued.  “It is okay – we are friends.”  It took some convincing since we were covered mostly in their blood.  The image of the dead Cyrilla Drex helped more than our mere words.  We told them to take the magical collars off that possessed them, which they did.

“Where are we?”

We tried to explain to them in ragged breaths as our tempers eased…they were prisoners of Victor Barristen and Cyrilla Drex, and that we had come to try and rescue them. As I and Arius spoke, Brandon went over to Drex and began to check her body.  He produced an amulet from around her withered neck.  Her large wormwood staff was there and taken as well as golden ring from her gnarled finger.  “I like this staff,” the ranger said.

“I can possibly use its magical capabilities,” I countered.  “For you it would be nothing more than a walking stick.”  He handed it over as Arius wrestled with the sword.  “This weighs far more than it should,” the paladin said with a grunt.  “I cannot wield this,” he said.  “There is clearly some magic at play here.”

The oldest of the paladins we freed bent his knee and began to pray.  The others knelt as well around him, all praying.  Althalus backed up at their holy gesture…no doubt it was the devil’s skull in his backpack guiding his actions…that and the warlock did not want to be exposed to holy warriors.  The church took a grim, neigh deadly view of those of us that used magic outside of their control.

The elder paladin of the group rose to his feet and stood before us.  “Who is in charge here?  I am Sir Theris Bentblade of the Order of the Fang.  Who are you?”

Arius stepped forward.  “I am Sir Arius the Seeker,” he said proudly.  “I am from the Priory of St. Julius.”

“You saved our lives,” he said making eye contact with each of us.  “Thank you for what you did.”

“It is what we came to do.” our paladin asked.

“The rest of your men are in that sword,” Althalus said, nodding to the massive blade now strapped onto Arius’s back.

The paladins stepped forward and shook our hands.  “We were held by them, with magic we cannot comprehend.  It is blurry in my mind.  She would come for us, and Barristen would drain our life force from my men,” Bentblade said, stroking his long gray beard.  “One by one I watched them die, turned into the husks you see there,” he gestured to the pile of shriveled corpses.

Bentblade continued.  “We could not resist him.  He made us watch them die.  Each one made him more corporeal, more real.  I do not know how much time as passed.  He kept me alive to torment me, to make me watch the men in my command die horribly – one at a time.  Where are the others?”

“Trapped in this sword,” Arius replied.

“They are trapped inside the gem of that sword,” Althalus added.

“In the gem?” Bentblade asked.

“It contains a plane of existence,” Althalus responded.

“There is more,” I added.  “There is a Priory there – the one from the Sisterhood of the Sword.  It is there as well.”

“Do you know how to get them out?” Sir Bentblade asked.

“We’re working on it,” I replied.  “We just got the sword from Drex.  We don’t want to rush through this and possibly injure or kill those imprisoned there.”

Althalus spoke up.  “I regrettably must admit that the church may have more knowledge of this than we do.”

Bentblade shook his head. “I disagree.  The church may not know of these events. I led my men to track down the Sisterhood of the Sword and the Priory of the Blade.  We killed many of their order that day on orders of the church, but we never found the priory itself.  It was gone, vanished.  Only they know how their swords work and how to wield them.”

“How does Victor Barristen figure into all of this?” Arius asked.

“Drex summoned him from beyond the grave.  She seeks revenge for what the church did to her once-holy order.

“We set their plans back by killing her,” Althalus said.

Bentblade eyed the warlock carefully.  “Indeed you have, but Barristen is now on our plane of existence again and walking the lands.  That is a grave thing indeed.  He has his own designs against the church and will not rest until he has his revenge.  The souls of my men gave him power…he will want more.”

“He’s a coward,” Brandon added.  “He fled rather than fight us to the end.”

“He is no slacker,” Bentblade countered.  “Barristen is cunning and dangerous.  He will not rest until he takes the church down, stone-by-stone, soul-by-soul.  It would be unwise to underestimate him.”

“We won’t,” I said.  “But there is a bit of a challenge.  We do not know where we are.  We teleported here.  I assume we are somewhere in Tempora still, but that may not be the case.  Do you know for sure where we are or how to get out?”

Sir Bentblade shook his head.  “My mind…the memories are like those of a drunk, confused and blurred.  They led us here, I remember that.  Details…they elude me.”  The other paladins nodded in agreement. “I too believe we are in Tempora.”

“Camp with us,” I offered.  “I can produce food for us.  Together we can find our way out of this place.”

Althalus gestured to the mound of the dead.  “I am not entirely comfortable with us camping near a pile of desecrated husks that could rise up and attack us.”

Bentblade raised his hand.  “My men and I will say a prayer over them and bless them.  They will not pose a threat to us.  Let the dead rest.”

Brandon produced the letter that had Lexa Lyoncroft had written that had brought him to us.  “This is from Lexa Lyoncroft.  She mentions you in it.”

Bentblade read the page.  “Doddering old fool?  She calls me that?”  He then tossed the letter back to the ranger.  “So you are working for Lexa Lyoncroft?”

“I was just paid to deliver a message,” he offered.  “I did that job but joined them to try and rescue you.”

Bentblade was clearly shaken by the letter.  For a long moment he said nothing.  When he did spoke it was not in anger but almost a sadness.  “I hate to admit it, but the only person that might be able to tell us about that sword and how to free my men is Lyoncroft.”

“We don’t know where she is?” Brandon said.  “Only where I saw her last.  She came to my home town and paid me to deliver this message.  That was weeks ago.”

“How did you get here?”

“Through the White Vale,” I said.

“We battled the bone dragons there,” Brandon said with a hint of pride.  “We crossed the White Vale, found the hidden gate, and journeyed far underground to reach Tempora.  We were sent by the men still with the Order of the Fang.  They kept watch and asked us to come and find you.”

“And you traveled into the mountains heart and saved us?”

“Of course,” I said.

The older Bentblade waved his hands over us and murmured as he closed his eyes.  “I offer you men our blessings then.”  When he finished he spied the round shield that Arius had.  “That shield, where did you get that?”

“We found it in one of the many rooms of this abandoned city,” our brother-paladin offered.

“That belongs to the same order as Lexa Lyoncroft and Cyrilla Drex – the Sisterhood of the Sword.  It is a holy artifact – that much I am sure.”

Arius looked proud that he had it.  “I will take care of it then.”

Brandon held out the silvered weapons now in his possession.  “What of these?”

Bentblade looked the pair of silvered weapons.  “I have seen etchings of these – they were owned by a Dwarven Lord of some merit if I remember.  Yes – Shevrus Salamar, that is his name.  The sword and flail go together – never to be separated.  Bonebreaker!  That is it.”

I bent over and pretending the pray, but cast detect magic in the room.  The last thing I needed was the paladins recognizing that I was using forbidden magic in their presence.  While we had saved them, they were still men of the church, bound by their laws rather than the laws of nature which guided me.  What I found was four voids of magic in the room, where the rugs were on the floor.  The rugs were magical, but not in the way I expected.  They were null magic, voids where arcane powers were nonexistent.  If I had run across these in bear form, I would have transformed back to my human shape.  Magic weapons would have been impotent when standing on these large rugs.  A cleaver ploy, one we had fortunately avoided.

I also sensed an aura of magic on Cyrilla Drex’s armor and the ring and amulet that had been recovered, along with her staff.  I whispered it to Brandon so as to not draw attention. He barely concealed his joy and took the time to remove the charred armor from her withered corpse.  He wanted to put the ring on but Althalus and I warned him against it. The warlock found a word on it that would trigger the ring, but warned against speaking it.  “I have no idea where you will go if you say that word when wearing it.”  Dejected, the ranger pocketed the ring making us all fell much safer.

Arius carefully checked the double doors out of the room to make sure there was nothing waiting to pounce on us from the other side.  We did not opt to leave, not without resting up.  The battle had taken a great deal out of us.

I was concerned. None of us, including our new party members, knew where we were exactly nor how to get out.  We presumed we were in Tempora, but there was a chance we were not.  Victor Barristen was still out there, somewhere.  And those slowly starving paladins that were trapped in the sword we now possessed had no way out.

I knew one thing, we could not remain here to solve any of these problems.

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

Character Background Material

My New Campaign

#dungeonsanddragons

#DandD

#DnD

Game Review – Kids on Bikes RPG

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This display got my attention

I was at GenCon this year with my nine year old grandson.  It was his first convention and we both were drawn in to Kids on Bikes, but Renegade Games.  He liked their display at the convention – I liked the very basic premise.  This is a RPG about kids exploring mysteries and strange happenings.  I thought this might be a good RPG to get my grandson going.

I wasn’t disappointed.

Right off the bat, this has the look, feel, and vibe of Stranger Things from Netflix. There are a lot of other potential sources of material though.  Any episode of Scooby-Doo could be the basis for an adventure.  “I would have gotten away from it if it wasn’t for those meddling kids!”  You can also tap films like ET, Goonies, Lost Boys, Stand By Me, Small Soldiers, Adventures in Babysitting, Home Alone, Gremlins, Silver Bullet, and others for some ideas.   This is about kids snooping around and getting into trouble – BIG trouble.  It is a brilliant niche in role playing games.  I recommend you play this in the 1970’s or 80’s. Picture an era before cell phones, before the internet – and you have a basis for gaming Kids on Bikes.

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This is not a hack-and-slash RPG.  This is about role playing, pure and simple.  If you are looking for how many hit points a chainsaw does, this is not the RPG for you.  Character stats are RPG die, 1D4 to 1D20.  There are two incredibly simple concepts to master – Stat Checks and Conflict. Stat checks are simple.  Conflicts are a little different, where the narrative of how the conflict is resolved flips between players based on the results.  It is simple and oddly enough, eloquent.

A big piece of this game system is character building. I am not talking number-crunching skills, but who your character is and how they relate or interact with the other players.  You start with a troupe – like “Laid back slacker,” or “Reclusive eccentric.”  Yes, you can even be “The brutish jock.”  The folks at Renegade Games have done a LOT to make this work.  They even have guidelines for characters with handicaps.  You can have powered characters too.

Honestly, you can learn this game system in a matter of minutes.  There are only 80 pages (5×7) in the rules book.  While the $25 price might make some people flinch, I have to say I felt like I got my money’s worth with this game.  The artwork captures the vibe of the era and the general kinds of situations you might find the game.

The folks are Renegade Games make some additional stuff for the game and were kind enough to send me some.  First up, the dice.  The dice set is not needed for the game.  I like them though.  They are weirdly sized and have a skull for the high number.  These almost seem to harken back to the horrible dice we had to use back in the 1970’s.

KoB+-+Orange+Dice+V3

They have produced a character folder.  Wow did this bring back some memories.  The printing on this took me back to 1976.  It is not of a lot of use (there are two tables in it) but I have to admit, if you want to get into character – this helps.  If you weren’t alive in the 1980’s, it might be lost on you.  Trust me, Renegade nailed it.

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The most important thing you need is the Powered Character Deck.  Pick this up.  It has one deck that is about fleshing out your character’s traits.  Examples include things like “Lacks an internal monologue;” “Thinks they are pursued by a cult;” “Frequently bursts into song;” and “Loves animals.”  Yes, this could have been a table – but the cards really can put some net spins on your character.  The powers deck are for powered characters – with things such as telekinesis, Palpalgia (the ability to harm others by touch), invisibility, shapeshifting, etc. I think the trait card decks could and should be used in other RPG’s.  For $15 – it is worth adding to your game shelf.

Kids on Bikes2

The rules come in two formats.  One is the $35 big hardcover book that comes with a campaign setting.  Or you can get the $25 paperback that has the basic rules, sans the campaign.

I have set up a campaign setting for the game I am looking to run…and I’m going to share it with you in a separate blog post.  In other words, I am going to encourage you to go out and get this game and play it.

Will I play it with my grandson?  Probably.  This is about kids, and who better to relate to that than another kid?  I will simply not make it too gory or scary for him.

Kids on Bikes was one of my best purchases at Gen Con this last year.  Yes, it is pricy to get started – but worth it.

The Chronicling of our D&D Campaign: Tempora – Part 29 (Bor’s Song)

Hopes

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

Althalus…

We materialized at the feet of Victor Barristen who loomed over us on the floor.  He was rising out of a rolling cloud of green mist.  His face was a skull, yet in the flicker of torches on the walls, we saw an eerie shimmer of a human face, almost like a flesh covered shadow over the bones.  His helmet was huge, with a glowing crimson ruby in the center and two massive horns jutting out.  A lich – or something of the same ilk – I was sure of it.  He had a twisted staff in his bony hands, clearly magical, clearly deadly.

Cyrilla Drex stood next to him, member of the Sisterhood of the Sword, our enemy that had been plaguing us for weeks.  She held that God-awful sword of hers, almost as tall as I am, its blade reflecting the light. She wore her robe and under it her plate armor, similar to what we had seen on Lexa Lyoncroft.   Her hair was worn back, trimmed short, almost a manly cut to it.

I glanced off to my right and saw a pile of corpses, or what remained of them.  They looked as if every bit of life had been sucked from the men.  Their skin was shrunken and shriveled and many jaws were open, mute in their dying screams.  Seventy of them, at least, were piled like chord word.  The stench of death stung my nostrils.

The chamber was massive, over a hundred heads long.  Thick old rugs covered four spots on the intricately mosaicked floor.  Torches hung in six places and their light reflected off of the massive domed ceiling that was either painted bright gold, or covered with gold flake.  Brandon’s magical blade shimmered so brightly that it was like a burst of daylight.

I glanced at Arius.  He took his sword and licked it, as if tasting the blood of his enemies. I was pleased that one of us was confident.  The fact that we were laying on a pentagram on the floor, surrounded with candles didn’t give me that much confidence.

“I want that sword,” muttered Brandon as he got his senses.  Something told me he might just get it, just not the way he hoped for.  Five of the other paladins had leapt through the portal with us and had spilled out with us on the floor.  We were far from an impressive threat at that point.

A number of other paladins were in the room, their eyes sunken and dark, their faces pale and gaunt.  They wore neck collars of thick leather with a ruby mounted on them.  One of them was an older man, his beard had knots in it.  I remember Arius telling me that was a sign of authority in some holy orders.  It had to be Theris Bentblade – the First Shield of the Order of the Fang!  He stood there with a sword in hand but was not attacking Cyrilla or Victor – which was not a good sign.

Cyrilla Drex pointed her massive sword down at Arius.  “You’ve come to rescue them?  How quaint.  As you can see, you are quite late.” She gestured with the blade over to the pile of rotting carcasses.

“Who sent you here?  Who pulls the strings of these so-called rescuers?”

“We pull our own strings,” Theren said, pointing over at me.

Why are you pointing at me? “No one tells us what to do,” I said defiantly, wondering of those were going to be my last words.

“You fools think you stand a chance against us?”  None of us responded.  Slowly we were preparing to jump to our feet.

“Very well.  I offer you this one last chance.  Join my force against the Church or feed your souls to Barristen the Black.”

I cleared my throat.  “Um, define, ‘The Church.’  And ‘join.’”  I will admit, I’m not much of a joiner – but I also had no love of the Church.

Her eyes narrowed at my words.  “The Church of God – the one that betrayed my Order.”

Barristen seemed to hover in the cloud of green smoke.  In a low raspy voice his skeletal head spoke.  “The Church will pay for what it has done.  Your lives will serve our purpose.  Bow before me and I will offer you quick death.”

“Well, this has taken a turn.  I mean with all of this ‘death’ talk,” I said, still hoping to diffuse the situation. My sense of humor was lost on the lich.  I really had nothing against going after the Church, but the dying part had me a little concerned.

Our paladin Arius took it far more seriously.  “I cannot be a party to what you have done.  That pile is of my dead brethren.”  I could tell by the way he clutched his sword that the battle was soon to commence.

Barristen responded with a sweeping blow of his staff at our comrade while between us and Cyrilla, a magical barrier came into being. Brandon charged – away from the pending melee the moment it erupted.  Typical ranger…

Arius unleashed thunderous smite but it did not hit Barristen, the magical energies swirling in the air unformed, crackling slightly in the air.  I opted to protect from evil on Bor and faded off to the rear.  A warlock must always know his place in a battle.

Barristen’s staff struck at Arius but failed to make contact.  Bor rushed with Skullringer, the brilliant blue warhammer slammed into the quasi-lich, hitting it hard on its armored chest.  Our paladin allies rushed in, weapons drawn, swinging behind Cyrilla and striking at her from behind. A thin stream of blood sprayed out towards me, proof they had hit her.  We had her surrounded, but I was not necessarily convinced that was going to be a good thing for us.

The sullen paladins led by Bentblade charged – but not at their torturers, but at us!  They came at our flank, where I was, so I braced for their onslaught.

Theren waved his hands in the air and I saw her sword start to glow – not from magic – but orange from heat.  He readied his staff as Dimitrious moved to protect me from the rushing possessed paladins.  The blue robed monk stabbed his fists in a furious thrust and hit one of them several times like a tornado of fists bludgeoning the rushing paladin.

Cyrilla tossed some brimstone in the air as she attempted to cast a spell but the surrounding attackers disrupted her spell.  More of her blood splattered in the air.  Dropping her sword, she reached for an amulet that hung around her neck.  I stared at that sword…that was a prize.

Bor was hit with whatever spell was triggered by her amulet – though we could not tell what it was doing.  Theren cast a spell to heat her armor, and it worked, wisps of smoke rose from her skin that seared against the hot metal. The fact that she kept it on said something of how powerful she was.

The attacks on Barristen continued as Bor moved forward in hopes of delivering a killing blow with Skullringer.  The warhammer shimmered brightly in the air and drew back as Barristen pointed the gnarled tip of his staff at the burly warrior.  The warhammer came at the head of the skeletal creature, hitting hard, twisting Barristen’s head hard to the side.

Bor smiled.

A thin blue ray shot out from the tip of the staff hitting Bor in his chest. The smile dropped from his face instantly.  He looked over at Theren, then to me, then he turned to large flakes in the air which crumbled to dust, which then faced away to nothingness.  Skullringer dropped with a thud on the stone floor, knocking over one of the candles.  Disintegration…utter and complete.  His shield and flail remained next to the magical warhammer.

I know we were all stunned for a moment – but all I could feel in that moment was the loss of our treasure that Bor had been carrying.

Brandon charged in with the fall of Bor, emboldened by the changing odds.  I unleashed an eldritch blast attack on Bentblade, searing an emerald beam into him and knocking him back.  Dimitrious rushed back to my aid, hitting the paladin as he got his footing.  The monk was a blizzard of fist blows that ravaged the older paladin.

In the midst of the battle – I noticed those collars that the attacking paladins wore were identical to those we had found before – the Eyes of Rivroast.  They were being controlled!  It made sense now…the ruby on the helmet of Barristen gave him complete domination over their will.  I used my powers to send the message to the members as to the source of that quasi-lich’s control.

Cyrilla was in the process of casting a spell, a mist rose up around her, her glowing hot armor shimmering through it.  One of the paladins hit with divine smite, another with thunderous smite, but she seemed to shrug it off.

She disappeared in the mist and for a moment, I was relieved.  That faded as all eyes turned to me.  Oh shit, she’s behind me!

Dimitrious sprung from the paladins he was engaged with and rushed right at me.  He hit me, knocking me out of the way – taking the blow that was intended for me.  Cyrilla’s staff came down hard, right at the monk, but missed entirely, hitting the floor and sending sparks into the air.

Barristen’s staff came down on Arius, hitting him.  The paladin wailed and staggered back from the blow.  He rarely showed pain, which told me that he was in true agony.

Brandon hit Cyrilla from behind, courtesy of her misty-teleportation.  She hit the sword-mistress hard from the rear as Theren fired his bow at her from the front.  Cyrilla dropped to the ground, unconscious, but not dead.

One of the paladins tried to lift her sword but seemed to struggle with it, as if the blade weighed more than it appeared to.  Arius slid along the floor, grabbing Skullringer, and swinging at Barristen.  The lich-like figure shook off the blow as another pair of paladins stabbed at him.

The paladins collided with their brothers –

Brandon started to reach for Cyrilla’s staff but I cut him off.  “Finish this fight before you begin to loot the bodies!”  Rangers!

One of the possessed paladins struck me, stabbing me in my stomach hard and deep.  My magic triggered defenses instantly and blasted him with fire, wrapping his upper body with orange and yellow flames.

Brandon heeded my words, delivering the coup de’grace on Cyrilla Drex with his magic blade, planting it in her upper chest between her breasts.  There was a blast of ice-cold air blowing out from her body and hitting me and the others around her.  Her body aged centuries in two seconds. Her skin withered, crackled, and turned to dust with large bits clinging to her skeletal remains.

Arius swung and hit Barristen with Skullringer and the paladin that had tried to use Cyrilla’s sword, dropped it in favor of his short sword.  I winced in agony from the cut I had taken to the stomach.  I have worried my intestines would spill out on the floor.  Theren turned himself into a massive bear and charged at the lich-man colliding with him hard.  Barristen struck the bear with the staff, making it growl in pain.

I staggered to my feet and I fired a brilliant green eldritch blast at one of the paladins, while Dimitrious grappled with another one.  The wiry monk was all over his foe, moving like a clinging spider, trying to reach the leather band with the ruby.  Dimitrious got the collar off and the struggle stopped instantly as he shook his head, trying to get his bearing.

Another paladin slashed at me with its sword, hitting me.  I felt my body sag under the hit. I staggered back a half-step.

The other paladins were engaged with each other, hacking and slashing with furious blows at each other.  I wondered in that moment if we even could win.  Suddenly, the rolling green cloud of mists under him rose up and enveloped him.  Victor Barristen turned into a gaseous form himself, drifting up the ceiling and disappearing. Suddenly the battle stopped – the paladins that had been trying to kill one another seemed to come to their senses.  Theren the bear paused, looking around for a foe to fight but there was none.  Barristen had fled!  The fight was over – we had been victorious.

Our jubilation was momentary as we glanced over to where Bor had been disintegrated.  He had been a valiant comrade and we would miss his wall of muscle in the battles to come.

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

Character Background Material

My New Campaign

#dungeonsanddragons

#DandD

#DnD

From My BattleTech Archives – The Planning Documents For Twilight of the Clans (Part I)

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Am I dropping a hint or just using a photo from Gen Con?  You never know what secrets this might reveal!  Then again, I could just be an ass trying to mislead you.

I dug these out of my files recently because we (the creative team at Catalyst plus a few of us honored to join) are undertaking a similar Herculean task – mapping out the next big thing for BattleTech. I thought it might help to see what we did back for Twilight of the Clans.
When you map out something this complex, things DO change over time. Take a look at page 5 and you will see it was not Morgan that died en-route to Huntress…but another major character. Authors get a little bit of discretion in tweaking things. Not a lot, but if they can make a case that it is cooler, they will be heard.
I have been undertaking the role that Bryan did for Twilight – capturing our ideas into a cohesive format. I am proud to have worked with Bryan, and I learned a lot from him. I also know the incredible burden that rested on his shoulders with a project like this. I am looking at some of the stuff that is coming and saying to myself, “Holy shit, this looks awesome to me. I wonder how it will play with the majority of our fans?” I say majority because there are always some trolls that will take shots at whatever we do, even if we did everything they asked for.
This all came out of our summit meeting at Gen Con that year. It is a pretty cool peek under the covers at the creative process that goes on when you get some top-notch (not me, the other guys) talent in the room to map out something huge.

I remember when the document arrived.  It was so much fun to read, despite having been there when we brainstormed it.  A few times I almost tossed it…but didn’t because so much BTech history had already been lost.

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I think I’m safe in posting this to the net at this point

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With BattleTech we don’t talk about endings, we talk about what is coming.  Brace yourselves boys and girls, this one is going to be a hell of a ride.  More to come on this document.  I recommend you follow my blog, just to make sure you don’t miss out on the next installment.

BattleTech – Why don’t you write another Clan Wolverine book?

Betray
“So you’re saying Nicholas Kerensky was insane?”  “Aff – VERY Aff.”

I get this question every two weeks or so:  “Why don’t you write another book on Clan Wolverine?”  Believe me, no one loves Betrayal of Ideals more than me.  Amid the wails of loud mostly unimportant and misguided people of “retcon!” I think the story of Clan Wolverine stands the test of time.  The people who say it is retcon are morons.  People bonded with the Wolverines in Betrayal, even though we all knew it was not going to end well.

In fairness, I had a plan for them that was pretty cool.  The proposal was written and submitted.  Then I got the call from Brent Evans, “Hey, super-neat idea you put together, let’s not go there right now.  Let’s talk about the end of the Dark Ages era.”  Well, when you get a call like that, you jump.  The reality is that there are only so many hours in the day to dedicate to writing, so I shifted to address the hottest topic and I like to think advancing the storyline out of the Dark Ages is a priority.

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t hate the Dark Ages, just some of the execution of the Dark Ages.  God knows there are enough Dark Ages haters out there, I’m not on that bandwagon.  Wizkids made a decision early on to deliberately NOT use the established BattleTech authors to advance the story.   I was told, “We are going to bring in some good professional writers to do the stories going forward.”  Ouch.  This is not paraphrasing, this was what I was told.  Douchebags.  Kind of a kick to the balls to get that kind of message after a number of quite successful novels.  How’d that work out for you Wizkids?  In two years they were asking us to come back…with no apology either.  By the time we got product out, the damage had already been done with the fan community…on multiple levels.   Just as we started to right the ship, fictionally speaking, the plug was pulled on published fiction altogether.

I digress.  Back to the Wolverines.  As a BattleTech author, you have to recognize that you are working in a shared universe.  That means you can’t just write what you want when you want it…no matter how cool the idea is.  That isn’t entirely true – but pretty close.  You don’t own these factions or characters, they are part of the IP (Intellectual Property).  There are some courtesies that you get affronted about the characters you create, but not always.  I don’t own Clan Wolverine, I simply was given the chance to tell their story.  Kudos to Randall who said, “This works!”

I also believe that if the Wolverines do reappear, in whatever guise or form, it needs to be something pretty monumental and should be done in a way to catch the fan base off guard.   Like the Mandarin said in Iron Man 3, “You’ll never see me coming…”  They can’t just show up as some footnotes or sidebar in a sourcebook. I left some of them very much alive but few in number.  Nice warships too.  In the final book release, I also gave a lot of clues as to their disposition. Remarkably, I’ve seen few comments about the Easter Eggs.  Anyone thinking they went somewhere to die off is on drugs.

People hit me all of the time about the Jihad conspiracy sourcebooks that speculated on the Wolverines as if that was gospel.  “So are the Wolverineeies (their word) really the Word of Blake?”  Everything in that whole book around the Wolverines was and remains speculation as far as I am concerned. Some of that material is funny, other bits are sheer brilliance.  I had no input on that stuff and support it for what it is, cool concepts that may or may not be true. I will say that none of my ideas are based on that material.

There have been some pretty fanciful fan theories about the Wolverines as of late on Sarna.net.  I won’t comment or critique them beyond saying, “Damn, that’s a cool idea!”  Even if some of them were spot on, I wouldn’t confirm or deny it. In recent months I have come up with a radically new idea for them, but nothing I’ve documented just yet.  Just a few notes scribbled on paper.

Until I finish writing the current novel, XXXX XX XXX XXXX XXXXXX it is really hard for me to flesh out Wolverine ideas anew. Even then, I have some ideas for newer stuff, tied to the currently unfolding timeline that might prove fun. For now, I know where Clan Wolverine are, and what they are doing, and what their ultimate goals are.  In my draft of XXXX XX XXX XXXX XXXXXX I even have a reference to the Clan there.  I think it will give the editor a seizure and may never see print, but it is there.  In the upcoming Forever Faithful, there is a mention of Clan Wolverine that even makes me chuckle when I wrote it.

I have not forgotten the Wolverine survivors in the least, but there is a lot in motion right now, including a new true crime book project.  I am 33k words into work on XXXX XX XXX XXXX XXXXXX  which has a lot of challenges and some epic moments that have to be done just right.  After all, we’ve been building up to this 1989.  If I don’t get this right, fans will be pissed.  Well, to be frank, there’s always some bitchy whiny trolls out there that complain.   Then there’s the looming edits for the Wolf’s Dragoons novella, XXX XXXXXX XXXXXXXX…and I’m sure another read through of Forever Faithful before its release…which I keep thinking is happening soon John Helfers!

And the final reason I haven’t written another novel for the Wolverines…I don’t do requests.

The greater good of BattleTech gets priority on writing projects.  Right now, that’s not the Wolverines.  Or is it?  (Evil grin)

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

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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…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Shall we push on?” the ranger asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I want that skull,” Althalus said.

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

“I want it.”

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

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

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

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

“That is wicked,” Althalus said.

“It is dangerous,” Theren warned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What was it?” Theren pressed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You still persist despite my warnings?”

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

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

“Why?” Althalus queried.

“You face your doom,” she replied.

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

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

“Yes,” we all replied.

“What did you see?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I will take you to them.”

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

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

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

“I can take one of you.”

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

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

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

“That is all I will take.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where are we?” I demanded.

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

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

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

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

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

“We came looking for you,” I offered.

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

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

“I want that sword,” Brandon said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No.  She simply marched us out there.”

“Lucky us,” Althalus muttered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

Part 8

Part 9

Part 10

Part 11

Part 12

Part 13

Part 14

Part 15

Part 16

Part 17

Part 18

Part 19

Part 20

Part 21

Part 22

Part 23

Part 24

Part 25

Part 26

Part 27

Character Background Material

My New Campaign

#dungeonsanddragons

#DandD

#DnD

Review: Star Wars Legion – The Miniatures

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Apologies in advance – I’m not a great photographer

When I saw a new Star Wars miniatures skirmish game I have to admit, I was a little giddy.  Adding to that, my grandson/gaming buddy, loves Star Wars.  I remember playing the old miniatures game and while fun, it was a pain to manage all of those cards with the minis if you did a larger battle.  I hoped this one would be better and, on the surface, it appears so.

For this review – I am going to focus on the miniatures.  My first proviso, I am not a great miniatures painter.  I am average, at best.

When I purchased the set, I noted that these were 35mm figures…as opposed to the 25mm figures from the old game.  Was this merely a ploy to make sure I couldn’t use the old minis in the new system?  Probably.  At the same time I wondered how the larger size would impact details.  As it turns out, it makes the details pop.  Even better, the larger size seems much more forgiving when you paint them.  Little mistakes (the ones only you notice) disappear on a larger miniature.

Assembly was great, well almost great.  For the Stormtroopers and Rebels, you can almost get by without gluing some of the arms to the miniature, some are that good of a fit. The figures are great to work with, with good facial distinctions and details.  I have to admit it, Fantasy Flight Games did a great job with these.

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These guys are looking for trouble

The only miniature I struggled with putting together was the speeder bikes.  The guide in the rules set simply didn’t help at all with putting on the parts.  I went to two videos to finally figure it out.  On one bike, I got the control vanes on backwards.  I’m refusing to correct it at this stage.  Even more frustrating, unlike other parts in the boxed set that fit together well, the vanes don’t.  One wobbly finger and you end up with a hot mess…trust me.  I hate those speeder bikes for that reason.  I’m sure better modelers fared much better than me.

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These minis are not quite model kits in complexity, but are pretty fast and easy to assemble (other than those blasted bikes.)

In terms of painting, be prepared.  There are a lot of videos on how to paint these minis.  In terms of color guides, I found no less than a dozen.  It makes sense with the Rebels, after all, these are ad hoc units so there is some variance.  Well brace yourself, there are a lot of options here which make it great for you as a painter/player.

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The large bases have groves for identifying firing angles.  You need these in game play.  It can make basing those figures tricky.  You can see how I did it.  I wasn’t overly pleased with the result, but it worked.

Stormtroopers are easier.  You have white and black, and a touch of dark gray.  I color coded the bases with the leaders so I can distinguish them on the field of battle.

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I used an airbrush for base coats, which saved time.  It allowed me to do some light camouflage on the RT walker that I liked too.  You will have to judge for yourself.

I purchased Strong Tone wash from Army Painter and this was my first experience with it.  You can judge for yourself.  I have come to love it.  With the Stormtroopers, I put it on and gently wiped the white surfaces so they popped a little more.  I am not a Strong Tone kind of guy when I paint.  It can make a dull mini pop, and isn’t that what you want?

You can see my results as an average painter.

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One of these days I will play the game and do a full-blown review of these minis in action.  Stay tuned!

The Chronicling of our D&D Campaign: Tempora – Part 27

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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!

Bor…(A Song of Fire and Water)

That book was going to be trouble.  Of course Althalus wanted it.  In the Gallesian Fields he had found a demon’s skull and lost it in a barter with Lexa Lyoncroft.  Now he possessed a polished ebony devil’s skull with silver tipped arrowheads stuck in it.  A weathered tome called, “Demons and Devils – Summoning and Control,” in his hands was going to be a problem, for all of us. I kept my thoughts to myself though.  If push came to shove, shoving was the thing I did best. He would not have it. Arius finally stuffed it in his backpack, ending the debate.

We stood at the edge of the ruins of Tempora.  The mountain was hollowed out.  A massive iron chandelier hung by chains and a tiny hole to the outside let in light.  There were thick spiderwebs far up at the very peak of the mountain, above the broken chandelier.  At one time the lighting device must have hit the mirrored crystals and illuminated the entire city.  Now we stood in the darkness and debris.  What city had been built on the inner walls of the mountain was now crumbled and rubble.  The city at the base was a jumble of broken stones and the flotsam of everyday life. Navigating such ground was going to be difficult.

We knew from the poem that the river flowing between the feet of the statue was where we had to go, but such a vast space of ruin demanded exploration.  We opted to go around the long way, along the perimeter of the floor of the hollowed mountain, just to make sure there was nothing that would show up behind us at some point.  It was hard going.  Each pile of wreckage required exertion, coordination, and left your ankles sore from the task.  We had to backtrack a half dozen times, finding our path blocked with walls and rubble.  For hours we climbed and crawled.  We did find a set of rooms in the wall of the mountain, but all that was there was smashed furniture, musty tapestries that were more rotted fragments than something of interest.  Whatever had destroyed Tempora had done so with a viciousness than I could imagine.  We found a rotted leather pouch with a handful of silver coins…hardly worth the effort.

“At least there is no sign of anyone being here,” Theren said.

My eyes went upward to the chandelier hundreds of heads over us.  It had hung on five massive iron chains, now it hung on one.  It must have been beautiful to see at one time, but now it was something that could fall on us at any moment.

We trudged on.  What we found were shattered bones, dwarven in origin.  Several hours later we found a small flat area in the rubble, perhaps a wall at one point, now laid flat. As we moved I started to get a sense of foreboding…as if something was about to happen to us.  I took point, crawling up over a rise in the rubble, only to see a giant spider, white and gray hair and a shimmering blue mark on its chest.  I was caught unprepared by the creature.  It sprung at me with a stunning bite, ripping into my forearm, punctuating the armor.  My arm felt limp and blood splattered the white hair on the creature as well as my neck and face.  The pain followed a moment later – hot, searing.

Suddenly, there was a whooshing sound, like a wind blowing.  My eyesight blurred.  I had a moment of disorientation. Then my vision cleared and I was in a massive hammock-like spider nest, swaying in the air.  I caught a glimpse down through a small hole and saw that I was 500 heads above the rubble where I had been standing.  Somehow the creature had teleported me to its nest, a hammock-like creation, presumably to kill and eat me.  The pain was even more searing in my arm, no doubt from its poison.

You won’t be eating me, not today… 

I swung Skullringer and hit it hard in the confined space, sending the beast flying.  On the backswing, I missed, but it was enough to make the creature scurry a few steps back.  The massive spider coiled and sprung at me.  I pivoted slightly and the creature leapt through a hole in the webbed nest that I stood on.  It plummeted downward, past the rusted iron chandelier to the rocks far below.

spider-taken-meme

My breath was ragged and I could smell the rot of long-dead flesh in the nest mixed with a stink I had never smelled before.  How was I going to get down from here?  The shimmering blue light of Skullringer showed me that there were many stripped bones of the victims of these creatures.  From the size of the nest, I could tell there were more than the one creature I had seen.  I found a small cache of rubies and diamonds in the webbing, no doubt lost by some explorer that had become prey.  I tucked them in my backpack.

I found a ring as well, silver, with ornate carving. Pulling it from the sticky webbing, I saw two dwarven words:  “Stalker” and “Bentormon.” I put it on and spoke the word I did not know, “Bentormon.”  For a moment there was a ripple, like summer heat rising off of a stone.  Something was different, but I could not tell for sure what it was.  I jumped up and down, hoping it was a ring of flight, but all that did was make the unsteady nest sway slightly.  Whatever the effect of the ring, I couldn’t discern it.  I turned my attention to my predicament and the possible plummet I could be facing.  Below, I could see the green glow of the ranger’s lantern as they moved out into the center of the mountain directly under me.

There was a commotion near the party, that much I could make out.  Suddenly next to me another spider winked into existence, clamped onto Althalus.  I swung Skullringer at it, hitting it hard, and the hulking spider hissed at me. It tossed aside the unconscious warlock and its many eyes seemed to drift over me.  I swung again, crushing its face and splattering the warlock with bits of it.  I wiped Skullringer off on the nest and Althalus stirred to a stunned expression.  “Where am I?”

“In a worse place than you were,” I replied.

“Oh shit,” he replied, moving pulling his hands from the sticky nest we were in.  The slight sway of the nest made us both feel uneasy.

“I could use my eldritch blasts…” he offered.

“That…” I said slowly, “would be a horrible idea.”

“I have that wand with me, the one that shoots lightning,” he offered wryly.

“Not funny.   That isn’t helping.”  I asked him to watch me as I uttered, “bentormmon.”  This time nothing happened to me, I did not see the ripple effect.  “Do you notice anything different?”

“Should I?”  Getting a straight answer out of this warlock was difficult at best.  I was about to beret him when suddenly another spider blinked in next to us, bringing with it, Dimitrious.  The nest seemed to sag under the weight of the two appearing.

I didn’t hesitate, I attacked!  Skullringer was an azure blur as I struck it hard, throwing it back to the far end of the nest.  The warlock unleashed an eldritch blast on the spider, tossing it hard back, causing the nest to rock harder than ever before.  That warlock was going to kill us both if he was not careful.  The spider blinked out of existence, leaving me to glare at Althalus.  “Be careful.  This nest is likely flammable.”

“I was careful,” he countered.

“These blink spiders are dangerous,” I said, surveying the nest as it swayed.

Suddenly, a bear appeared grappled with one of the spiders.  “Grab me!” he commanded in a low growl. I recognize that bear….Theren!  I lunged for it, as did Dimitrious and Althalus.  There was flash around us and a whistle of air, and we landed on the debris on the floor far below the nest. Before it could teleport us again, the bear crushed the spider’s skull in its massive claws.

I looked up at the nest.  I thanked God we blinked down, otherwise the way down could have left us dead.  I then turned to the druid.  “Thank you Theren,” I told him.  The bear dipped its head.  The rest of our party came over and joined us.  Brandon cut the poison sac out of the creature and drained it into an empty glass vial that Althalus offered him.  For a few minutes, we rested.  I cleaned my trusty warhammer off.  This quest was exhausting, and we seemed no closer to finding the missing paladins. I suppressed the thought that we might never find them.

We set off for the interior wall of the hollowed mountain.  I led us through the debris.  Near the wall I spotted some bleached bones poking up out of the rubble.  I found a necklace there with a sapphire. I found a morning star as well, silvered, well-balanced – a true warrior’s weapon.  There was a short sword in a battered scabbard in the rubble too.  There was a fine silvered edge to the weapon.  Brandon looked at it but said he could not make out the words.  “Let me,” I offered.

As I suspected, it was dwarven.  “Nightstalker,” I said out loud.  “Never heard of it,” I said handing it back to the ranger.  “It is a fine blade, that much I can say.”

“Nightstalker…” Althalus said.  “I’ve actually heard of that blade.”  We all looked at him.  “Don’t be surprised, I do a lot of studying.  “It was a magical blade owned by Shevrus Salamar, a dwarven lord who served with some distinction in the battle of the Gallesian Fields.  It was said that he was the great killer of the shambling dead, wielding Nightstalker and his holy morning star, Bonebreaker.  He killed the last Wight-King Ishmark and was one of the men that laid the cornerstone of the sept at the Great Gash.  No one knows of his fate.  I wonder how his weapons ended up here?”  It was a question none of us would likely ever know.

“I did not care for a short sword – I prefer to keep my foes at a distance.  That morning star, Bonebreaker, that was something I might need.  “I will take this Bonebreaker,” I offered.  “Do what you will with that blade.”  The ranger took it, proudly strapping the scabbard at his side.

Sword

We made our way to the waterfall…the tears of Tempora.  We saw along the waterfall, a series of carved handholds, like a ladder of some sort, ending to a ledge some 30 heads down.  The roar of the water churning below as the river flowed through a carved hole leading out of the city.

I went first.  Only two steps down my feet slipped and I lost my grip.  I fell backwards, watching my comrades above me.  I hit the water hard and went deep under, the weight of my armor and the treasure I carried took me straight to the black bottom under the falls.  I could see nothing and I tried to push off, only to sink right back down. My ears filled with a rushing gurgling and the cold water made me quake.

I struggled to get my pack off and I lost my footing.  The force of the water from the falls made me feel like I was battling some creature.  It was nearly impossible to see.  I felt hands on me and saw Dimitrious grapple me and start to pull me up.  I kicked hard and felt a gulp of the cold water in my throat.  I reached the surface and spat out the water and got a gulp of air.  Theren was there – in bear form.  As I started to bob down, I grabbed his fur and held on tight, pulling myself up.  Theren paddled to the ledge and helped me out of the water.

Looking over to the silent monk, I offered my thanks.  He only nodded in response. The others climbed down and joined us.  The ledge allowed us to move behind the waterfall, There was a chamber jutting into the underbelly of the ruins of Tempora.  I wrung out my personal goods, which did little to lighten my backpack, and I led us into the depths.

We moved down a long and wide hallway.  The octagonal-shaped room beyond was clearly some sort royal receiving room in centuries past.  It had a mosaic floor with three large rugs in it.  The ceiling, carved into the stone itself, was nearly twenty-heads high.  There mosaics, now cracked and missing pieces, that showed what Tempora may have looked like in its prime.  It was odd to see it has it had been.  Now it was nothing but carnage, blinking spiders, and gloom.

A raised dais of stone sat in the middle of the room, with a throne-like seat on it. The back of the throne was broken off, blasted back and shattered to pieces beyond where it had once stood.  On the seat was a haphazardly tossed piece of purple cloth which was a dusty lump.

I poked at the rugs with my wet boot.  The rugs seemed to cover scorch marks on the floor, burned through the mosaic.  This was not natural, but powerful magic.

“We need to proceed carefully,” Theren said. Usually it was Althalus that old us the obvious.  I wondered if Theren was taken a verbal jab at the warlock.

As Brandon started moving into the room, we saw the hilt of his new sword, Nightstalker, started glowing white.  We spotted it before he did.  He pulled it out and the blade shimmered brilliantly.

“That cannot be good,” Althalus said.

“I think it’s cool,” the ranger replied.

I moved forward near Brandon who was approaching the battered throne.  “Hold,” said Arius.  He closed his eyes for a moment and waved his hands in the air before his face.  I felt warm for the first time since my plunge into the waterfall.  “It is shield of faith,” the paladin said.  “It will protect us.”

I checked Bonebreaker at my belt, but it did not show any signs of glowing.  Brandon, against my better thinking, flipped up the purple cloth on the seat.  What emerged was a glowing green skull that floated into the air.  Magical greenish orange flames shimmered around it and its jaw opened with a sinister grin.  The eye sockets glowed a deep red.  It felt as if it were staring into my soul.

“Holy shit,” the ranger said, staggering back.

Flames shot forth from the eyes of the skull, concentrated on Brandon.  They missed, passing his shoulders. He tried to swing Nightstalker at the floating skull but missed.  I sprang at it with Skullringer, hitting it hard.  The emerald flames lapped around the head of my warhammer and I moved it back a head or two, but it was far from stopped.

Suddenly the air around us erupted in flames.  My beard was burned singed by the magical blast.  Brandon was caught in the center of the sphere of flames.  He fled the chamber, setting fire to one of the rugs in the process, heading off towards the waterfall, flames lapping up his sides and back as he wailed in agony.

I hit the skull hard again with Skullringer, but it kept moving forward. Athalus hit it with his own magical blast, knocking it back nearly ten heads, but only seeming to infuriate it.  Theren, still in bear form, rushed forward, clawing at it.  It fractured into pieces, rattling across the mosaic floor.  The eerie green flames extinguished, making us shift to the other source of light – Brandon.

Bear meme
Freaking druids…

He rushed for the waterfall, arms flailing about madly.  He jumped into the water to extinguish the flames and disappeared from sight.

“Did he just jump into the waterfall wearing his armor?” Theren asked.

“Yes,” Althalus replied.  “Yes he did.”

We rushed to the waterfall’s edge and saw him under the water attempting to dog-paddle up to the surface – to no avail.  I alone knew that feeling, having just gotten out of that predicament myself.  Theren (the bear) jumped in with Dimitrious and helped fish him out.  The ranger was coughing up water, his hair badly burned, but thankful to be alive.

We returned to the receiving chamber.  Brandon checked the throne and found a small compartment in the seat.  There was a small strange stone object, the length of a finger, with box-like shapes.  It proved to be a key of some sort, ornate, clearly dwarven.  There was an amethyst broch in the compartment as well. I let him carry it. I was starting to feel like a mule, carrying all of our wealth.

Arius checked the room for any sort of a door or way out.  It seemed odd that we had come this far to arrive at a dead-end.  He and Dimitrious found a small hole that seemed to fit the key.  Theren shifted back to his human form and looked at the hole.   “We should hold up here, get some rest, recover if we can.”  It seemed like a good idea.  We went to one of the corners far from the throne and huddled together.  At least we were flanked by stone on two side.

We laid down for some sleep.  I was on my first watch.  As everyone drifted off an hour or two later I heard a clicking sound over by the throne.  At first, I thought that it was little more than a rat or some bug.  I rose and moved towards the throne.  To my disbelief, the shattered bits of the flaming skull were twitching, moving towards each other, and reassembling!

I let loose a whistle of warning followed by, “Get up, that thing is regenerating!”  I moved towards it quickly, unhooking Skullringer.  We killed you once, we will do it again!

It turned from me and towards the rest of our group, all huddled close together, and opened its mouth.  A ball of fire emerged from the mouth, growing, expanding.  As it passed me I could feel the searing heat and the gust of wind that slowed my run.

I didn’t hear the fireball hit, but I heard the wails of pain and agony from my comrades as a result and the room lit up brilliant yellow and orange behind me as I charged the green flaming monstrosity that floated in the air before me.

Skullringer swung true, knocking the creature back into one of the corners of the room, chipping off a bit of its lower skull.  I pursued the heinous demon-spawn, drawing the warhammer back. Someone behind me cast some sort of magic, and it seemed to make the skull quake in the air, as if it could feel pain.  Dimitrious joined me, his arms a blur of attacks on the green fiery skull.  The monk seemed to ignore the flames, hitting it hard on either side.  His last blow, shattered the skull into a dozen or so pieces.  The emerald flames disappeared and the room plunged back into near darkness.

I looked over at the monk in disbelief.  He looked at me, offered a thin smile, and a wink.  I nodded to him.  Why the silent monk joined us, I do not know.  His aide had proved invaluable though.  The singed party rushed forward to join us.  Althalus stood over the bits of skull, then squatted. “I seem to remember reading something about these things – flameskulls.  They regenerate.  We can dowse it in holy water or use a remove curse spell or portion on it”

“That would have been useful information a few hours ago,” Arius said.

The warlock turned to him.  “Sorry, I just remembered it.”  With our warlock, one could never be sure.  One day he will lead us all to our ruin…

“I have a remove curse portion we found on the road to Tempora,” Brandon said.

“Gather the pieces and soak it good,” Arius said.  “We don’t want this thing regenerating and coming up behind us at some point.”  Satisfied that we had dispensed the abomination to the planes of hell, we went back to sleep.

Day and night underground is more of a feeling, with no frames of reference.  I do know we all felt much more replenished as we got up and nibbled at our rations.  Arius was listening at the secret door we had found, using his hands to feel it out, as if he could sense what was on the other side.  “I think it is safe for us to open this,” Arius said after a few minutes.

He inserted the strange key and it made a loud clicking sound.  The stone door swung towards us and we saw a long narrow hallway leading to a room with a cistern in it.  Moving cautiously, we closed on the water source.

“We should fill our water skins,” I offered as we entered the room.

“I wouldn’t,” warned Theren.  “Water in such places may be cursed, or worse.”

“Look down,” Arius said.  “The dust has been disturbed.  Someone has brought a large party through here recently.”  He was right…perhaps the missing paladins.

The cistern was a raised stone circle several feet across and two feet off of the floor.  A lone tarnished brass pillar rose from the center, providing a thin trickle of water into the pool.  Mold grew along the stonework of the cistern and onto the floor, indeed there was a hint of green mold on the high domed ceiling as well.  Thin cracks showed in the ceiling as well.

Brandon seemed anxious to check the cistern out.  Given the dangers we had faced thus far, I was less inclined.  Memories of him uncovering the flameskull came to mind.  “I do not sense any traps,” Theren said.  That doesn’t mean there isn’t any risk here.

Brandon leaned over.  “There’s some stuff in the bottom of the pool.  Some coins and stuff.”

I reached into my backpack and tossed a copper piece into the pool.  Nothing happened.  “I think it is a mistake to take anything from such a pool.”

“We should move on,” Theren offered. We all started to walk away, or so I thought.  Brandon apparently was too tempted by the offerings at the bottom.  I didn’t see him reach in, but I heard a loud splashing sound.  As I turned, I saw the water rise up as if it were alive, snaking around his neck, and pulling him head first into the pool.  His feet went up in the air and his arms flailed about madly.

“Water weird,” muttered Althalus.  “This is bad.” Always the master of the obvious…

“Aw crap,” Arius said.  “He reached in.”

Brandon tried to brace against the edge of the cistern and get free, but failed miserably.  Arius grabbed his legs and pulled hard.  I pulled out Bonebraker and swung it at the rising pillar of water.  The flail went through the water, splashing some of it against the wall.

“Duck,” came the voice of Theren from behind me.

“Did you see a duck?” Arius asked.

“Where’s the duck?” Althalus queried.

“No you fools…duck!” Theren snapped.  There was a low rumble and the air quaked as he unleashed a magic spell.  It barely seemed to shake the water weird.

Dimitrious lashed out at the creature with his fists, splattering more of the water onto the stone floor.  Althalus hit with a green beam of his eldritch power, spraying right through him, wisps of steam rising from where the beam hit it.

Arius swung, his sword shimmering as if charged with some sort of holy magic.  The water splashed the rest of the party and the form of the water weird disappeared, the water splashing down into the cistern.

Brandon moved up carefully and reach in, pulling out a tarnished brass bit of jewelry.  “Look,” he said holding it up.

“That was not worth nearly dying,” Althalus said.  Dejected, the ranger put the wet jewelry in his pack.

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

Character Background Material

My New Campaign

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