Review of Alien – The RPG – Free League Publishing

alien
Yeah, that’s gonna leave a mark…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vampire1

Welcome to the novelization of my current D&D campaign, told through the perspective of the characters. For me, it lets me do a little creative writing between more serious projects. Links to the previous posts are at the bottom of this one. Enjoy!

Brandon…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It is.”

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

“My friend do.”

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

“I do,” I replied in confidence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What happened to her sword?”

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

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

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

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

“My companions and I seek her out.”

“Where?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I promise you that we will—“

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I accept your words,” the man said.

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

“I am Brandon,” he said.

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

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

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

“Who is that?” Theren asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We won!” Theren said joyfully.

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

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

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

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

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

“What kind of magic?”

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

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

I nodded in response.

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

 

 

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

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

Part 8

Part 9

Part 10

Part 11

Part 12

Part 13

Part 14

Part 15

Part 16

Part 17

Part 18

Part 19

Part 20

Part 21

Part 22

Part 23

Part 24

Part 25

Part 26

Part 27

Part 28

Part 29

Part 30

Part 31

Part 32

Character Background Material

My New Campaign

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

im-a-paladin-i-can-smite

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

Arius…

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

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

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

“Are you sure?” I asked.

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

Our warlock called out, “Rut Roh Rhaggy!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What happened?” I asked.

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

“The entire battle,” Athalus said.

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

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

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

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

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

“What is going on here?” I demanded.

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

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

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

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

“Very well…” Bentblade said.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What of this battle?” Sir Bentblade asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We won?” I asked.

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

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

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

 

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

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

Part 8

Part 9

Part 10

Part 11

Part 12

Part 13

Part 14

Part 15

Part 16

Part 17

Part 18

Part 19

Part 20

Part 21

Part 22

Part 23

Part 24

Part 25

Part 26

Part 27

Part 28

Part 29

Part 30

Part 31

Character Background Material

My New Campaign

#dungeonsanddragons

#DandD

#DnD

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

 

Druid2

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

Review – Star Trek Adventures Beta Quadrant Sourcebook

Star-Trek-Beta-Quadrant-Cover

I am slowly warming up to Star Trek Adventures.  At Gen Con I purchased a copy of the new Beta Quadrant Sourcebook and thought it was worthy of a review.

This book is written from a Federation perspective – i.e., primarily if you are playing a Federation character.

Like the original rules book, this one is chock-full of sidebar material designed to fill in gaps in the Star Trek universe or provide adventure hooks.  While I like the concept, the sidebars in this book are not as good as those in the original.  Example:  One titled – “Friday Night Knitting Circle Yarn and Fiber Swap” It explores, “Vulcan spinning” techniques.  Shame on the editors for putting this in.  We all get it, the Star Trek universe is multicultural. I would have gladly traded pages of this fluff material for more information on the Beta Quadrant.

This sourcebook is good, but does not go into the kind of depth you might be looking for.  With FASA’s Star Trek (which I wrote books for) their Klingon boxed set went into immense detail on creating Klingon characters and all of the nuances of the Klingons.  This book gives you fifteen pages on Klingon culture et. al.  It is good stuff, well written, but not as deep as you might be looking for.  Personally, I was looking for some more on the Houses and their impact on character development.  It wasn’t there.

The material is pretty broad – including Enterprise’s Xindi – though for the life of me I still can’t find their worlds on the maps in the end-flaps of the book.  There are new lifepaths for the Benzite, Bolians, Efrosians, Klingons, even the Zakdorn (and others).  While not a lot of material, it is pretty useful.

I enjoyed the chapter on the Orions – which opens up some wonderful RPG options for players.  Likewise you get some additional starships with this book which is nice.  I would have liked some drawings/artwork of the ships themselves.

The Romulan chapter is solid as well, but again, lacks the kind of depth that I think a lot of characters may be looking for.  The Gorn material does not seem like a retread of known history of the Gorn, which makes it quite enjoyable.

We do get more information on the Shackleton Expanse, where a lot of Modiphius’s material on the game seems to be set – which was highly welcome as a reader/player.

So how would I sum this up?  The Beta Quadrant Sourcebook is worth picking up – it significantly adds to the material in the rules book for the RPG. It is laid out in a high quality manner with good artwork. It could have been better, but is a good launching point for any campaign you may be planning outside of the Alpha Quadrant.

Mystique – a game setting for Kids on Bikes RPG

Mystiquie (1)
It isn’t often I publish a campaign setting – so use it! 

I really enjoyed Kids on Bikes when I picked it up at Gen Con.  I knew that I needed a small town for the players to be based in.  It needed to be simple – but relatively complete, with lots of stories and legends for players to latch onto for possible adventures.

Welcome to Mystique.

This town can be plopped down in the Midwest, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio – you make the call.  It is generic in nature.  I’ve tried to provide enough color and characters to feed a lot of different adventures.

Enjoy and use!

  1. McGreggor’s IGA. Ozzie McGreggor’s IGA is the grocery store for the town.  It’s small but is almost always well stocked.
  2. The Barber Shop. For men in the town, this is the social network.  On Saturdays the town’s leading citizens sit for hours talking about the football games The barber, Drake Coy, is a wealth of information.
  3. Jacobson’s 5 and 10. This department store is on three floors (two and a basement).  Toys and household items are in the basement.  The old oak floors creak in this place and it still has a lunch counter and a large candy selection.
  4. Trimble’s Hardware. Musty, dusty and everything you might ever need – Trimble’s is where you go for everything from a handful of nails to tools.  You can buy anything here from guns to dynamite.  Old Man Trimble is a drinker and is often found asleep in the afternoons if there are no customers.  He hates kids “There’s no toys in here boy!”
  5. Sugar’s Rexall Drug Store. This is the town pharmacy and is well known for its gift card selection.  There are big leather chairs in the back of the store near the pharmacy counter, almost always filled with an elderly person.
  6. The Hole In the Wall Liquor Store. This store is renowned for its alcohol in the back and magazines and comics in the front.  The magazine rack has wooden covers over the girlie magazines or the more risqué subjects (like Saga).  The comics rack is a favorite place for kids to congregate (no reading more than a minute).
  7. The Mystique Public Library. Miss Harper, an elderly woman, runs the library with an iron fist.  She does not tolerate talking children or anyone digging into the seedier past of her hometown, which she loves.  Her husband died of a stomach ailment and rumors still circulate that she poisoned him.
  8. The GAR Hall. Long ago converted into a local history museum, the GAR (Grand Army of the Republic) hall has a Civil War cannon out front.  The curator, Robbie Biggs, is a creepy old man but knows many of the town’s secrets and is a great source of historical information. On Halloween, the kids like toilet papering the cannon and pyramid of cannonballs…it is something of a local ritual.  The hall is creepy and there are rumors of people seeing ghost soldiers outside of the hall.
  9. Mystique High School. There is a persistent rumor that a student in the 1940’s killed himself jumping off of the roof holding onto a large umbrella.  His ghost is said to haunt the third floor of the building.  This rumor of the death is true!  Timmy Jenkins jumped off the roof in April of 1958.  Some accounts say he was pushed by older boys, but most claim he jumped all on his own.  He lingered in the hospital in Pottsdale where he eventually died.  The boy accused of pushing him is Fred Axman, a bit of a local bully even to this date.  He is constantly being arrested for something and is said to have a vicious streak for anyone that crosses him.  He is the adult Biff Tannen of Mystique – “What are you looking at butt-head?”
  10. Mystique Middle School and Elementary
  11. Blake’s Marathon Station.    
  12. Burger Chef – the town’s only fast food restaurant.  The parking lot is THE hangout for kids on Friday and Saturday nights, especially the older kids.  Cars and bikes are parked there, music comes from open car windows.
  13. Mystique Court House, Sheriff’s Office, and Jail. Sheriff “Digger” Roberts is a Korean War vet..  He was a top-notch law enforcement officer when he was younger. After a high-speed chase one night that resulted in a carload of kids being killed, he turned dark and bitter.  No one blames him, except Madeline Ferguson, whose son Ray was one of the victims.  If she sees Digger, she makes a point of walking up to him and spitting in his face.  He just wipes it off.  He’s abrupt with kids and will not tolerate underage driving.  The sheriff has his own personal demons from his wartime experiences.  Rumor has it his wife left him because of his “night screams.”
  14. Brigg’s Café. This tiny little diner has a juke box in the corner and is a favorite spot for kids to hang out after school. It is a greasy spoon that closes at 7pm every night.  Brigg’s also serves ice cream and on a hot summer night, when everyone is cruising the gut or hanging out downtown, there can be a line into and out of the café.
  15. The Post Office.  There are three postal employees in Mystique.  Mildred Turner runs the post office with an iron fist.  Her two route carriers, Ben Waters and Barton Stain are good men – though Waters is a bit quirky.  Rumor has it he has been seen off-route, sometimes in people’s back yards, sneaking in alleyways.  He is rumored to be trying to sell some short stories, horror stories, based on events in the town to big time magazine.  Most people think of him as strange.
  16. Harper’s Paint and Wallpaper. 
  17. Luigi’s Bakery. Open at 6am and closing at 2pm, the aroma from this bakery fills the streets in the morning hours.
  18. The Cobbler Shoe Store. This is the shoe store in town.  Men’s shoes on the right, women’s on the left.
  19. The Brass Rail Bar. This is the local watering hole.  This is a dive bar at its best, with a haze of cigarette smoke always hanging in the air.  A pair of moose testacies, stuffed by a taxidermist, hang over the front door.  The floors are always sticky and the walls have old beer posters plastered one on top of the other as a bizarre wallpaper.  One regular, almost always drunk, Fester Fishkill.  He will often be found at the end of the bar or staggering home.  He warns kids – “stay away from that Mill Pond!”  Word is his son drowned there years ago.
  20. WZZK AM Radio. This small station has a window facing Main Street so you can see the DJ’s and news men at work.  Kids hang out after school to watch through the window as the latest hits are played.  The afternoon DJ, “Doctor Benny” is pretty popular locally, though he has had some run ins with the law in recent years.  He’s a hippie of sorts, known for his non-medicinal use of marijuana.
  21. Rank’s Pizzeria. A small mom and pop pizza place.  This is the kind of place you can go and play D&D if you want, as long as you order drinks and something to eat.  Four tables – most of their business is carrry-out.  Mrs. Ranks is a rotund lady who loves having kids in her place.  Her daughter Margaret is a cheerleader.
  22. Episcopal Church. 
  23. Elm Hill Cemetery. With a black painted wrought iron fence, this graveyard has two remarkable tombstones.  One is a Confederate grave marker (which is odd given this is in the North).  The other is a small stone marking “16 Bodies from the Reilly Circus Train Accident, September 10, 1938”
  24. Drapes Dress Shop.  A large dress and fabric store.
  25. Dingle’s TV and Radio Repair. 
  26. Forrest’s Dental Office. Dr. Dan Forrest is a third generation dentist.  His father, Francis, still works with him – and favors using whiskey to numb his patients over novacaine.
  27. Mike’s Bikes. This bicycle shop also has a back room where Mike Flannigan also works on motorcycles.  He always has projects going and welcomes local kids who want to sit and watch him work.  Mike is seen as “cool” by most kids.
  28. Mystique Mills Power Company. This vine covered brick building uses the dam to generate electrical power for the town.   Jake Cooper runs the power company – always decked out in bib overalls covered in oil.
  29. The train station. Back in the day, the train stopped daily in Mystique, but now it only comes twice a week.  Trains roar on past this old wooden station.  The loading docks are mostly empty now.
  30. Riker’s Lanes. This six lane bowling alley has a room that has been recently added called “Quarters” which serves as an arcade.  The whole place smells of beer and cigarette smoke, but they do have six different arcade games.  League night is Mondays.
  31. Mortimer’s Roller-Rink. Open Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights – Mortimer’s has a mirrored ball and is often the site for dates or for kids to just hang around.  The older kids like to pester the younger skaters – which sometimes gets them kicked out by Old Man Mortimer who owns the establishment.  The parking lot on a Saturday night is a popular hangout.
  32. Walt’s Welding. The smell of ozone fills the air.  If it is metal and you need it fixed – this is the place to come.
  33. K-Mart. Built five years ago, most of the local businesses hate the K-Mart – but almost everyone does shop there.
  34. The statue of Ira Gray. Mystique’s founder, Ira Gray, in his militia uniform, is at the center of the small roundabout.  Gray is best known for leading early settlers in the driving the local Chippewa tribe from what is now the city.  The original site of the Indian village is where the football field is now.  Old timers say that if you go out on the right night in late May, you can see the spirits of those that died there…but that is mostly a story aimed at scaring children.
  35. The mill pond and dam. A small dam generates power for the town.  The mill pond and adjacent park are popular with kids.  People like to canoe in the pond during the summer.  Sawback Creek feeds the millpond.  Many years ago the pond feed a saw mill and a grist mill at the site.  The foundations of those structures are still visible near the dam site.
  36. The Bellevue Drive In. Located five miles west of town, the Bellevue is open from May to September annually.  In recent years they have been showing some “strong R” movies and a lot of parents are up-in-arms about the changes.
  37. The Daily Chronicle Newspaper.  Published twice a week, the Chronicle is headed by a grizzled old editor, “Major” Preston Drew.  War vet, head of the Republican Party in town and sees his quest for truth in the press as some sort of holy mission.  His little two person operation, in his mind, is the heart and soul of Mystique.
  38. VFW Hall. Reserved for weddings, parties, and anniversaries – this hall has a small bar that is opened three evenings a week for veterans.  While the stonework building has seen better days, it is a hotspot for large family reunions or wedding receptions.
  39. Boxler’s Jewelry.
  40. Rainbow Furniture Store. The finest in late 1970’s furnishings.
  41. Hall’s Men’s Fine Clothing and Apparel. Suits and sweaters are common in the window of this store.
  42. This store has odds and ends from a lot of different families
  43. Nevelle’s Antiques. This dusty old store is filled with antiques and collectables and is run by Nevelle Ferd.  He doesn’t like kids being in his store at all.  His favorite line for anyone coming in with children, “Please keep your children on a leash!  I cannot be held responsible for anything they break – but you will be.”
  44. Andrew’s Billiards. This billiards hall has been boarded up for years yet it still has the stink of spilled beer. Rumors persist that there had been a fight that had resulted in someone getting killed that closed the old hall.

Other Places of Interest: 

The Alabaster.  Situated two miles north of town in a wooded and hilly area rests rotting remains of The Alabaster.  In 1870 the Alabaster was a state mental hospital until 1948 when it was closed due to a fire in the west wing that took the lives of 80 patients.  While the damage was repaired to the facility, it lost funding and was closed.  For a while it was used as a hospital, but that ended in 1952 and since then the old hospital has been boarded up.  The hospital was a center where shell-shock victims from the Great War and WWIII were treated.  Surrounded by a chain link fence, the facility is rumored to be haunted.  Kids challenge each other to spend the night in the old facility which has suffered from vandalism.  Teenagers have parties from time to time.  The facility was rumored to use a lot of experimental treatments including shock therapy on patients.  The equipment left in some rooms certainly validates that.  The west wing is said to be exceptionally creepy.  More than one person has claimed to hear the screams of spirits there or even smells like burning meat in the halls there.   A nearby farmer, Gregory Hanson, rumored to be a former patient, is known to show up and chase off any trespassers.

Avon Labs.  Three miles south of town, screened behind three rings of chain link fence, is Avon Labs.  During WWII the government opened the labs, allegedly as part of the Manhattan Project.  Strangely, it never appears in any history of the atomic bomb though.  Five years after the war the facility closed down rather abruptly.  The small brick two story building with a large attached metallic liquid storage tank is rumored to have deep underground tunnels and chambers.  Locals alive at the time saw a lot of heavy earth moving equipment and a stream of dump trucks taking away rocks and dirt during the construction of the labs.  The barbed wire on the top of the fence seems to be to keep people out, or perhaps, keep them in.

The secret facility rarely appears in the local papers – the people that worked there kept to themselves about their work. When the labs were shut down, a local sheep farmer, Jacob Abernathy, adjacent to the property, claims to have seen a strange green light envelop the entire structure and surrounding area.  Two weeks later the government purchased his farm and Abernathy moved on to Postemville, some 15 miles away.  Was it hush money?  Another local farmer reported that six of his cows died along the fence facing the facility – but it has been attributed to some sort of illness.

Some local kids have tried to work their way into the facility, only to have black suited men show up and escort them away.  Clearly the site is monitored for some reason, but the locals sure have no idea.

The Hanging Oak.  On a lone hill a quarter mile south of town off of Fisher Street is a massive 100 year old oak known as The Hanging Oak.  This is where criminals in early town history faced justice.  The high school kids have as tradition.  On prom night they hold a secret ballot, not for king and queen, but for the “Treeing Ceremony.”  The pair that are voted in are abducted, tied to the Hanging Oak, soaked in garbage and cow pies, ice water, and otherwise humiliated.  It is hazing at its worst.  Rumors persist that one young woman, many years ago, died as a result of this “tradition.” It is not a true story.  Loretta Muir was the subject and she was mentally scarred for life by the incident and has been sent to the state hospital, only visiting her family on Thanksgiving.  Her brother, even to this day (ten years later) is said to be tracking down those involved and extracting his own form of justice on them — or their kids.  So far he’s stayed one step ahead of the sheriff.

Mystique’s Historical Events:

The Reilly Circus Train Accident.  On September 10, 1938, a circus train derailed coming into the town, killing 16 performers, two elephants, and a hippo.  The train wreck resulting in a huge fire.  The locals buried the victims without an effort to identify them, in a mass grave along with the animals.  The Reilly Circus went bankrupt as a result.  Family members searching for their loved ones from the wreck were shunned by locals who wanted nothing to do with digging up the circus performers.  Some loud voices in the community stated publically that, “these tramps and hobos and circus people were simply not the kind of people that should be associated with our fine community.”  Some lawsuits resulted but ultimately the mass grave remains.  In the past, some of the family members of the victims have shown up to cause public stirs, one of them dumping a bucket of paint on Ira Gray’s statue in protest over how Mystique has treated them.  Several times someone has tried to dig up the mass grave – evidenced by the hole – but has not completed the task before daybreak.

Gray’s Massacre.  Major Ira Gray of the state militia led an unprovoked attack on the Chippewa village on the site of the town in 1822.  The official version is that the tribe had been raiding Gray’s camp, but his response certainly was overkill, leading to the slaughter of 22 men, women, and children.  Gray was called Iron Beard by the survivors who cursed him and those that he lived with.  It must have worked, because Gray dropped dead two days after the founding of the village of Mystique.  The Gray family is wealthy and powerful in town, living in one of the three mansions in the town.

It has long been rumored that those that were killed were burned in the village where they died – which would have been the football field for the high school.  That fits in with stories of strange happenings in that area.  People claim to have been attacked by an invisible force – or that they have heard the cries of agony of the victims of the slaughter.

The Murder Spree of Victor Morse.  Every family has a crime in its past and the Morse Madness is Mystique’s.  Victor Morse made his money off selling trusses in the mid-1800’s and amassed a great deal of wealth.  As a young man, he was known to be odd – out of sorts, downright quirky.  In 1868, at the age of 18, something snapped in Victor.  He killed his mother with a kitchen knife.  He went after his younger sister Ruth with a fireplace poker.  Ruth tried to get away, running upstairs after he hit her, but passed out at the top and fell back down.  His baby sister Agnes was found on the front porch in a basket when the police showed up, alive and well, and clearly put there by her brother.  Victor’s father, Anthony, has never been found but he has long been presumed dead.  Rumors of where his body surface from time-to-time.

Victor himself was seen in the community for the better part of a week but never apprehended.  He killed his girlfriend, Becky Jackson, with strangulation – and hung himself in the backyard of her family home in East Towne.

No one knows what drove Victor Morse to his murderous rampage.  The Morse mansion still exists in town but during the home tour, no one is showed the staircase.  It is believed that Ruth’s bloodstains on the oak stairs still remain and are visible.  Another rumor is that there was another Morse child who was born deformed and kept in the attic – and that finding her is what drove Victor over the edge.  The Morse family does not talk about the crimes and remains reclusive even to this day.

The Ferris Wheel Accident of 1955.  When the county fair came to town in 1955 no one anticipated that it would end in tragedy.  There was a structural failure of the ferris wheel ride that killed four children.  The carnival ride operator hung himself in the police cell where he had been taken for his own protection after the incident.  Most troubling was that the investigation showed that someone had deliberately loosened a number of key bolts on the ride, most likely the night before.  Why someone would do this and who is to blame is still unknown.  Rides did not return to the fair for two years after the horrific accident.

The Neighborhoods:

The Bottoms.  Every town has an area known as the wrong side of the tracks – and the Bottoms is it.  Most of the homes here are small, with tiny yards, broken fences, with the buildings themselves being run down, many lacking paint in the last decade.  Many were Sears kit homes that have long been neglected.  It’s not uncommon to see a car on blocks in the front yard.  This is the area where crime is more prevalent in Mystique.

Rumbletown.  Built on some higher ground than the Bottoms and separated by a thick copse of woods, Rumbletown is pure middle  class.  Nice homes, well kept -a handful dating back to the 1800’s, they have larger yards and there is a sense of prosperity.  It is also the kind of neighborhood where everyone knows what everyone else is doing.  Neighbors watch out for each other’s kids.

Oak Hills.  This neighborhood, along with East Towne, are older homes.  Oak Hills is pristine and well kept.  There are not a lot of kids in this part of town…it is mostly older families with long-term ties to the community.  There is money in Oak Hills, though a few younger families have moved in, lured by the charm of Victorian era homes.

East Towne.  The words, “old money” best describe this part of town.  Older homes with large yards, fenced or protected from the street by low brick decorative walls or hedges – this is where the wealth of Mystique has settled.  Here is the Gray Mansion as well as the Morse Estate and Warton Hill – the three mansions in town.  This neighborhood is elite and shuns outsiders.  Snooty blue-haired old ladies are the mainstay in this community – and many will tell any kids lingering around to, “get out before we call the police.”  Who you are in this part of town is determined by your family name and who you are related to.  It is very much a closed community.

Rackton.  Rackton is a mix of old and new homes – some in bad shape, some pristine.  There is not a lot of continuity in this community.  It is a hodge-podge of people – a mixing bowl of wealth and poor alike.  Rackton has a personality.  It is often a place where people buy their first home and there is a strong sense of community there.  Rackton tends to be the best of all of the other communities combined.  Parents watch out for each other’s kids here.

The Fair Grounds.  There are four pavilion buildings on the fair grounds, as well as a harness racing track and a barn.  The rest of the flat grassy meadow where the fair is held is mowed and maintained as an open town park.  The big elms and oaks that dot the area provide great shade and there are picnic tables scattered about to make it a great place to relax.  The parking lot is a well-known make-out spot for the older kids and a target for the sheriff on his nightly patrols.

Life in Mystique

Cruising the Gut.  Summer on Saturday nights is spent on main street.  Cars park on both sides of the street and kids hang out.  Older kids with cars cruise back and forth on Main.  The police try and curtail “cruising the gut,” as it is called, but it is token enforcement at best.  Everyone hangs out.

The Historical Society Home Tour.  The first week of October every year is the historical society home tour.  This is a chance for the historical homes in the town to open up for visitors to see them.  Preparations take weeks and often food is offered in homes for those on the tour.  The historical society sells tickets to the events and people come from over 100 miles away to see the stately older homes in the community.

The County Harvest Fair.  The county fair takes place the last week of August every year for seven days.  People come from all over the county to show off their fruits, vegetables, and prize livestock.  The big event is the demolition derby and the harness races each night.  The kids enjoy the carnival rides and food the most.

The Christmas Parade.  Two weeks before Christmas is the Christmas parade.  All of the stores are open and people fill the windows and sidewalks to see the floats, the marching band from the high school and the arrival of Santa Clause.

The 4th of July Town Picnic.  Held at the fairgrounds, this is a town-wide picnic.  There are several local bands that play and fireworks in the evening.  Rumors are under the grandstands the older men bring in moonshine – but that’s not the real focus of the festivities.

So there you have it – a complete little town awaiting some meddling kids on bikes…  Of course I realize now I could have sold this to Renegade Games.  Stupid, stupid, stupid!

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.

KidsonBikes

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.

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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.