The Chronicling of our D&D Campaign: Tempora – Part 21

Paladin4

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…

I took my holy vows at the Sept of the Silver Blade before our departure. I had wanted my friends to join me, but bringing a druid and a warlock into such a sacred place would have somehow tainted the sacred ritual. The interior of the sept was magnificent, with low hanging brass lanterns intricately decorated, and the stonework some of the best I have ever seen.  How could such a place of pristine goodness and sanctity be poised at the edge of a chasm where we had cast the darkest of our enemies?  That was a dichotomy for greater minds to ponder.

Our journey north in search of the missing legion of brother paladins had been ponderous.  The slow rising road brought a chill and thinning of the air. There were many pieces to this puzzle that we didn’t know including how to find the entrance to Tempora…if indeed that was where the wayward legion had been lured.

The goblins that Theren’s spell had just slain wore the armor (albeit poorly) of the very knights we were seeking.  That did not bode well.  Paladins would have never surrendered their armor to such loathsome creatures.

“I wish we hadn’t killed them both.  One would have made a good pet…like a puppy,” Althalus said wryly.

“You are welcome to keep one now,” I replied.

“They are quite dead,” the warlock retorted.

“I know,” was all I said in response offering him a thin smile.  That ended our banter on the matter.

We went a little ways further up the road and encamped in a small copse of pines which sheltered us from the night winds.  The morn brought a low mist which clung to our clothing.  We marched on and my eyes were drawn to a small three-fingers length of chainmail along the cobblestones. It was not rusted so it was an indication that we were possibly on the trail of the missing paladins from the Gash.  “We are on the right trail,” I said as we passed it around.

As we marched uphill the woods alongside the long abandoned road grew thicker.  The climb was steeper and the mountains crew closer with each clop of the horse’s hooves hitting the stone.  It was after sunpeak that our new comrade, the ranger known as Brandon, motioned for us to halt. He fell back to the rest of our party.  “I saw something run across the trail up ahead, hiding in the bushes.”

“How far up?” I queried.

“Around 80 or 90 feet from where I was at point,” the ranger replied.

I drew my sword without even thinking about it.  “I say we move forward.  Let us see what it was that the ranger saw.”

It wasn’t long before Brandon saw a man scurry back from his cover, diving behind another bush that took it even further from us.  “Do you think we should check this out?”

“I am not in favor of pursuing things that take us off this trail,” I countered.  There had been stories of such diversions aimed at luring good-hearted into ambushes.

Theren disagreed.  “I don’t want whoever it is to shadow us and show up later, when we least expect it.”

We advanced slowly, stopping to see the footprints of whoever the man was.  They were boot prints, the ranger assured us of that, though even I could see that much from my saddle.

“I say we ride on.  Whoever this is, they are striving to steer clear of us.  I will watch over my shoulder should he double-back on us,” I said.  Clearly Althalus felt differently, I could see that in the furrows on his brow.

A few hours passed and we saw no immediate sign of pursuit.  We set up our camp off of the road as we had on the night previously.  A light drizzle began to fall and with the chill in the air, made for a stiff sleep. I had just gotten off to sleep when Theren called, “Halt,” which was enough to stir me to my feet.  I saw Dimitrious spring to his feet, staff at the ready along with Brandon. Bor and Althalus apparently were still slumbering.

“Something is moving over there,” Theren said, pointing to the south of our camp.  We all looked at each other, then back to Theren.

“Who goes there?” the druid called into the darkness.

A voice rose from behind a bush.  “I mean no harm.  I am just hungry.”

“Who goes there?” the druid repeated.

“My name is Icabod,” the voice said feebly.

Althalus, apparently just awakened moved to my side and chuckled.  “Ichabod?”  Apparently he saw something funny in the name of the man.

“Step out where we can see you,” Theren called.  “We won’t harm you.”  That was yet to be seen, but I appreciated the hint of honor in the druid.

The man stepped out, his plate armor caked with mud but still bearing the marks of the paladins from the Gash.  “I—I am hungry,” he said.  There was a look of fear in his face.  “I just want some food, then I need to head back…away from this place.”

“Back?” Theren asked.

“Wherever you are going you are heading the wrong direction,” Ichabod replied.

“What are you doing out here?” I challenged, eyeing the longsword hanging in the scabbard at his side.

“I was part of a doomed expedition,” he said with a cough. “You have got to turn around.”

“Are you with the First Shield?” Brandon asked.

“You don’t want to go north.  If you go north you will die.”

“You didn’t answer him,” I countered.  “Were you with the First Shield?”

“I was,” he said with a low sign, his voice trailing off.  To me, it sounded ominous. He lifted his head.  “Who are you to be marching to your deaths?”

We didn’t respond quickly and Ichabod continued.  “The advice I give you will save your lives.  Turn around and head to the lowlands.”

I cleared my throat.  “We are on a mission to go north to find the rest of the missing legion who have become captured.  We are going to liberate them.”

Althalus stepped forward.  “What happened to the others?”

Ichabod bowed his head slightly.  “They were slaughtered. And you will be too.”  He was clearly exhausted, I could see that in my fellow paladin’s face.

Althalus did a quick gesture with his hands, no doubt summoning some of his magic against the man. “What happened to the men you were with?”

“They were slaughtered.  Those that weren’t killed…they were taken away.” Ichabod paused for a moment then pleaded with us.  “You have got to turn around.”  At the same time he began to walk towards us, no doubt under the influence of Althalus’s magic.  As he reached us, he continued his plea, “You have got to go back to the south.  You’ll all be dead soon – all of you.”

“So what happened?” the warlock pressed impatiently.
“Give the man some food,” Brandon said. Ichabod scarfed down the rations ravenously, thanking us between bites. The smell that rose from him spoke of a man that reeked of sweat and despair.

“You are most gracious,” he said with the last bite of jerky.  “The way north is filled with black death, shame, and horror.”

“Where did you come from?” I pressed.  “Was it Tempora?” our ranger added his questions as well.

“The Vale of White.  That was where I was attacked. I alone was the one that escaped.”

“We need more detail than that,” Althalus said firmly.

Ichabod nodded.  “We found what had escaped the Gash in the White Vale.  I have always been told that it was a graveyard of goblins and dwarves that had been lost for many years.  Then we saw a giant black rider, almost skeletal, on a black warhorse.  We followed it into the vale at a full charge, our banner flying, swords shimmering.  It was trapped there, surrounded by the mountains.  We had them.  In that moment…we had them.”  His voice rose for a moment in memory.

“But it was a trap!  The dead rose up around us like a sea. Brave knights who could turn the undead were not able to, it was as if god was no longer hearing our prayers or cries for help.  I was hit on the head and stumbled…I…I do not know what happened for many minutes as my ears rang with the cries of my comrades.  I came too with one of those abominations astride my chest, ready to impale me.  I cut it in half and somehow got to my feet.  Sir Kendrick called to me, said to go.  I should not have listened to him, that is not the way of a paladin.  I was afraid, as if I were a child, and in that fear I fell back, out of the bloodbath of the vale.

“I saw First Shield take his men and our standard to a narrow defile at the west end of the vale, but that was the last I saw of him.  There was a bright light, like a bonfire, rising out of that pass.  Whatever he saw there, it…it had to have killed them.  If it didn’t – he certainly never emerged.  It was all a trap – and we fell for it.  Only then did I see it.  The others that did–they did not survive.  My brothers…they fought, as did I, but to no avail.  I hear their screams now at night even now.

“I am not sure why I was spared.  It was as if the dead wanted me to live, to tell others what happened.  I ran…that I am not proud of.  For three days and nights I ran south, my head still filled with their lamentations and cries.  I passed out during a thunderstorm – I slept for I don’t know how many days.

“My cowardice saved me.  My shame was all I had left.  I had failed my order.  I should have charged in and died with the others.  I can no longer pray.  I was there – god stopped answering us in that Vale.  There is no way he would respond to me, a fallen holy knight.  I am not worth to bend the knee in his name.

“I keep asking myself why they went there…how did they know of that place?  Whatever came out of the Gash knew of the location of the Vale and possibly the way into Tempora.  We saw no sign of the citadel, but it is said to have been hidden for centuries.  It knew somehow, where it was going and planned our deaths.

“I should be killed for what I did…fleeing like a common coward.  Better I face death than the shame of my brothers at the Fang.  It would have been different if I had our standard, if that had survived.  We lost our legion and the banner that held us together and blessed our order.”  For a moment, the broken paladin cried, tears soaking his brown beard.

Brandon spoke up.  “Would you not seize the opportunity to redeem yourself?”

Ichabod shook his bowed head as the tears continued to fall.  “There’s no redemption for me.”

I alone understood him, I too was a holy knight in the service of God.  For him to have run was not just breaking his bond with his men, but with his vows as a knight as well.  His soul was lost in his eyes, but I saw something more.  Such a man need not wallow in his failure.  The church forgave those that confessed, and while the sin of cowardice was a taint on any man’s soul, there was a chance for him still.  He may yet have a role to play in the affairs of this world.  “You can redeem yourself.  We need to go to the White Vale.  You can lead us there.”

“Go back there?”

“Yes!” I said.  “That act can redeem you.”

“I am a coward.”

“This is you rising above your cowardice.  It is the first step to redemption. You come with us, lead us to the Vale so we can vanquish the enemy that defeated you.”

Althalus added, “You were following the orders you were given.  Nothing more or less in our eyes.  You were told the leave.”

Ichabod kept his head bowed.  “I am not even worthy to look into your eyes.”

“Is it more shameful to go back to the Gash a coward that did not face his fears…or as a man that led us to fight that evil?” I asked.

Ichabod rose and we saw the red in his eyes.  I thought for a moment that Althalus might actually hug him, but he did not.  “I will not enter that place with you.”

“We are not asking that,” I replied.

“I will lead you there then,” he said with more resolve than I anticipated.

We took the rest of the slumber that night, uneasy.  We ate while Theren and Brandon foraged for food. We kept a low fire, just enough to ward off the night chill.

Ichabod shared with us how they had come to the White Vale.  “First Shield Sir Ferrin saw something stirring in the Gash.  We went down there, along the winding stair of The Wail – with 15 other holy knights of the order.  When we arrived at the landing we were confronted by…I cannot say what it was.  Faceless – formless, it was an apparition and as solid as steel and just as cold.  It blew past us, along with other ilk that had climbed out of the dark, leaving only four of us alive.  We lost it when it headed north, into the foothills of The Horns of Essex towards the Sever Pass – the name of the Vale in the old tongue.

“The First Shield, a righteous man was he, summoned the whole of the legion to pursue.  It took us days marching north.  There was no trail, the dead do not leave their mark on the land.  Even our best rangers struggled to find their course in the rocks.  For days we marched, day and some of the night.

“Then we found them at the edge of the Vale.  And that is where everything fell asunder…”

Brandon spoke up, “We were told that this was all tied to Sir Viktor Barristen.”

“Does the name Barristen mean anything to you?” Althalus asked.

The mention of his name seemed to make Ichabod’s brow furrow.  “Absolutely.  He is one of the most heinous men to walk the land – even before the Great War. A fallen paladin with a soul as black a coal.”

“What can you tell us of him?” I asked.

“Once the greatest paladin of the Order of the Holy Scepter, Barristen was considered at one point to be one of the most renowned paladins ever.  He fell from grace however when he broke his vows and took a wife.  His Order excommunicated him, erasing his name from the holy rolls.  Barristen then lost his young bride to a terrible plague, one that he claimed had been set upon her by the Church as retribution.

“He turned to be a fallen knight and black paladin.  It is said that he poisoned the members of his own former order, killing them all.  Some say he was experimenting to become a Lich or worse.”

“Knowing what I do of the church,” Brandon said, “I cannot say I blame him.” Clearly our new ally had some foul encounters with the church. Althalus gave the ranger a nod.

“The church hunted him down and imprisoned his body in an iron and lead coffin, sealed and hidden.  Not dead, his soul was trapped in purgatory for all eternity.  He swore he would escape and wreak havoc on the peoples of the world, payment or the sins he perceived against him.  He fell a full century prior to the last war and no one knew where his mortal remains were hidden. He is now merely a story to scare children, a story of a knight that fell and became evil. Most paladin orders will not even allow his name to be spoken, other claim he is only a legend, a myth, which may explain why you have not heard of him.  Why do you think he is involved in what happened to the legion?”

“Rumor has it that he might be trying to return,” Althalus said.

“He may very well have been part of whatever it was you saw coming out of the Gash,” I added. Bit by bit the story was coming together, though our role in the tale was still not known.

“Where did you get word of this?” the fallen paladin asked.

“A letter that was sent to the Gash,” Althalus said.  Brandon pulled out the letter he had delivered and saved passed it to Ichabod to read.

“You are in consort with Lexa Lyoncroft?” he said as he finished, dismayed at the words he head read.

“Well, I am,” Brandon said proudly. Clearly the ranger did not have our experience with her.

“Your acting First Shield sent us out here because of that letter,” the warlock added, cutting off the ranger’s boast.

“There is only death in that Vale,” Ichabod said firmly. “It is a while field.  There is the blood of the gods there, the old gods, stones that stand out. It is a sea of bleached bones.”

“The letter mentions that,” Brandon said, taking back the parchment.  “I know he has walked the Blood of the Gods and resides deep in Tempora,” he said reading the note he had preserved.

“Of that I cannot speak.  But I do know this, to enter the Vale is to invite death.”

Theren rose to his feet standing over the campfire.  “You said that you can take us back there to the Vale.  That is where we must go.”

Ichabod nodded, bound by his words from the night before.  “We are about a day’s walk from the Horns of Essex.  Two days north of there is the White Vale.”  The druid put out the fire with several kicks of dirt and we packed up.  Ichabod and Brandon shared the ranger’s horse and we set out north.

At night fall we came to a flattened hilltop in a foothill of the looming mountains.  On either side of the old road was a massive white-gray horn, that rose and arched over the trail ominously.  They stood nearly 30 heads in height, looming upward and over the road.  They looked as if they were stone, but there were no markings on them to indicate they had been carved.  It was hard to fathom what kind of massive monster might have grown them, if they were indeed real horns.  Who put them there – for what purpose? Clearly they were important.  Perhaps it was the dwarves, marking the entrance to their territory.  If so, what had been the origins of these now petrified remains?

We stopped just short of the Horns of Essex and made our camp for the night.  That night was the coldest we experienced.  For two days we tread towards the north.  In the evening of the second day Ichabod raised his hand to motion for us to stop.  He turned towards us, a grim expression masking his gaze.  “Just over the next rise is the White Vale.  I have fulfilled my word to you.  The time has come for me to depart.”

“Thank you for your service,” Brandon offered politely.

“I am going to go and accept the penance and justice of my order for my deeds.”

I know how holy orders treat paladins that have fallen from grace.  Ichabod faced a grim future. I borrowed a pen and parchment from Althalus.  “I will write you a letter to the acting First Shield telling them that you have redeemed yourself.”

“Thank you.  I beseech you to turn around while you can.  You face death,” he said taking the letter.

“Live long and prosper,” I told him.

Brandon offered him his horse Siegfried and five gold pieces.  “Donate it to your church.”  With that, Ichabod left.

We advanced carefully forward, the fallen-paladin’s words still ringing in our ears…

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

Character Background Material

My New Campaign

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#DandD

#DnD

Why the release of Starfinder is important

starfinder

At GenCon this year I picked up Starfinder – hot off of the press.  I had no idea why at the time.  It was a pure impulse purchase, driven by something I hadn’t felt for a while in gaming – a sense of excitement. It took me a while to figure out why I was excited, hence this entry in my blog.

I have been soaking in its pages and have been impressed with most of what I have seen so far.  A true space opera RPG with a fairly robust set of rules.  Outstanding artwork and some ingenious thinking about how to handle the timeline between Pathfinder and Starfinder.  I could critique some of the rules, I won’t.  Starfinder is far too important in the industry right now.  I accept it for what it is.  A return to pure open-ended sci-fi gaming. A return to the era of the space opera.

Oh, sure we’ve had sci fi gaming all long (Shadowrun, Eclipse Phase, etc.) but we what the industry has lacked for years is a good generic sci fi RPG in the tradition of old school gaming.

I am a graduate of that old school, white box D&D and black box Traveller and all. Pathfinder harkens back to those days and that was why I was excited about it.

Looking back, Traveller broke new ground when it came out in a lot of respects.  One, your character could die during creation – and two, it was a rules set for a big damn universe of mystery and combat.  Gamemasters had a clean slate in the early years to craft our own universes.

There were other games that came along – Metamorphosis Alpha and Gamma World, for example – but they were targeted sub genres of the sci fi.  They had limits.  Of course, we had Space Opera and Iron Crown’s Spacemaster, which were great at the time, though Spacemaster was hard to run as I recall, but there was a lot of stuff packed into the rules.  FTL 2448 and even Fringeworthy opened up new uncharted gaming universes for us to craft into our own.  Empires were to be forged and fortunes were out there waiting for us to take them.

WEG’s Star Wars and FASA’s original Star Trek RPG’s were great, but those were established universes that had boundaries. We were limited by the IP (intellectual property.)  Space opera role playing let the gamemaster define the universe, and often times there were few limits beyond the rules themselves.

Then TSR released Star Frontiers – and that provided us all with another big open-ended RPG in space.  That was the peak of the space opera era.  We still had Traveller out there, but by then, the Traveller universe was beginning to take form on its own, slowly boxing us in. The rise of the IP-driven sci fi RPG’s pinched us even further.  It was easier to pick up Star Wars then to create a universe from scratch.

Then came the dark times.  Star Frontiers disappeared in 1986 or so, though game product continued on in the back rooms of local game stores.  Traveller became Traveller 2300 which failed to capture our attention.  Space Opera and Spacemaster went out of mainstream print as well. Those games like Eclipse Phase that emerged were defined.

Then this year, Starfinder came out.  Paizo really took a big and successful gamble.  Pathfinder has become, well, a library system on its own.  There isn’t a lot of room for growth. Jumpstarting a new space opera game seemed ridiculous on paper…except for us old school gamers.  We knew that the market would support it.  Hell, there had been a hole in that market that was waiting to be filled with a product of the quality and caliber of Starfinder.

I have read pudits whine about its compatibility with Pathfinder.  I have heard the moans about starship combat (some of which I agree with.)  Forget all of that.  Starfinder has joined the pantheon of open-ended space RPG’s and has earned already a place of distinction.  Paizo seems to be supporting it heavily which will ensure its long-term success.  Once more, we RPG gamemasters can take our players to the stars for big-ass adventures of our own creation.  Starfinder is important because it fills a gap that has been out there for some time in the industry. The universe is a big place…filled with magic, tech, and sudden death.  Saddle up!

The Chronicling of our D&D Campaign: To the Gellesian Fields Part 19

Paladin2

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

Arius…

The Splattering… Ritual of Kurasak…left my soul and body weary but joyful.  I had delivered true holy retribution by turning over Captain Wildsong to Prince Wheaton as his slave. My faith calls for maintaining a balance under the eyes of God.  Giving up the Captain was a more honorable justice than I wanted to give that scoundrel.

Images of the fireball that had consumed brave Galinndan were seared into my closed eyelids as I prayed for him.  He fought well, he fought gallantly, and it cost him his life. Worst yet, his death had come at the hands of one of our own.

I wiped the sweat from my brow and Althalus spoke up, shattering my peace, “We did a lot of good things this day. We have lifted their hunt for Blackshear.”

“I will get you for this!” Wildsong managed to yell as the Minotaur’s bound him.

I opened my eyes and look at him.  As we locked gazes, I blew him a kiss and smiled.

The remaining royal guards stared at us in shock and amazement. Althalus stood before them. “You men have a choice.  Stay here, or come with us to the Gash.”

One of the men, a skinny fighter with a blackened beard stepped forward. “I will fulfill the last set of orders we had to go onto the Gash.”  Most of the others were stunned still.  “We have known Wildsong for years…and you sold him into slavery.”

“I didn’t sell him.  And, for the record, he we going to kill my friends and me.”

All but one of the dozen men seemed to begrudgingly agree.  They had all witnessed what had taken place and none were willing to risk out blade and ire to test us.  They were, in that one moment, wise.  The one defiant one glared at us.  “I will not be a party to this betrayal.  I will go back to Karn and tell them what I witnessed here this day.”  I know my comrades wanted to kill him but my piety held my hand. “Let him go.”

“It is dangerous to let him leave,” Althalus muttered.

“You are not going to kill him.”

Wheaton heard our debate and seemed to understand.  “We will take him with us for a few days.”

“Allow me to offer you 25 silver coins for the trouble your highness.”

He waved his hand.  “I would not think of taking money from members of my tribe who have fought so bravely.”

I gave him a nod, acknowledgement between warriors.  We began to march off and saw the Minotaurs bow their heads to us, one by one.  Wheaton came forward a few steps with a small wooden box.  “One more thing.  I offer these tokens to you to honor your fight today and the friend you have lost.”

They were small polished silver rings.  One of his men stepped forward with a piercing iron.  They tugged at my armor and exposed my nipple.  The iron stung like being hit by an arrow.  When I looked down I saw one of the small silver rings hanging there, dripping with my blood.  They were just like those that the other Minotaurs wore.  One by one each of us endured the painful ritual, none making a sound at the piercing.

We headed north along the road for two hours before finding a place suitable for camping.  When we awoke, we discovered that another of our troop had fled during his watch in the night.  A coward that could not hold to his word.  We trudged on, my arms and back aching from the battle still.

By the shadowless hour we saw the border and a tower there.  This one was under construction.  Stone blocks had been hoisted by tackle up to the top and a rickety wooden scaffolding surrounded the structure. They saw us approaching and waved from the tall half-completed battlements.

One of the guards there approached and called, “Hail!”  We responded with far less enthusiasm.

“Who is in command here?”

“I am,” Althalus responded confidently.

“Where is Captain Wildsong?”

The warlock seemed to revel with the question.  “Captain Wildsong was lost the Minotaurs that were roaming in the area.  We have lost two other men since we encountered them.”

“Oh.  They must still be on their quest to look for Blackshear then,” the guard said, shaking his head.

“I suppose,” Althalus said.  “But I get the feeling that their quest may be winding down.”  He smirked.  I saw it, I’m sure of it.

“That can only be good for the realm,” the guard replied.

“We are undertaking the mission that the Captain started,” the warlock replied.

“And that is?”

“Going to the Gash to reinforce the troops there.”

The guardsman seemed nonplussed at the task.  “It is two days ride north of here, you cannot miss it.  You’re welcome to stay here for the night.  We’ll provide you food and shelter before you get on your way.  We donna’ have much room but you are welcome to what space we do have.  We were going to have rabbit stew tonight.  Not much, but a hot meal.”

“We greatly appreciate your hospitality,” Althalus replied.

We began to walk towards the small stone barracks adjacent to the tower.  “So how did, of all people, Wildsong become lost to the Minotaurs?”

I was fully prepared to lay out the case as to how the Captain had betrayed us at the orders of the Vizir, but our warlock cut me off.  “They were on a quest for revenge for Blackshear killing their former ruler.  Their prince, Wheaton, was with them. He decided to exact his revenge on the Captain.”  The twisting of the truth out of my friend’s mouth was a sin that I would never get him to confess to.

“Yet you survived?”

“Not all of us made it out unscathed,” the warlock continued.

The Guard seemed to understand.  “Well, my father fought with Blackshear.  He’s a big man, quite brave.  It is too bad about the Captain.  Was he killed in battle?”

The lie got thicker.  “He seemed gravely wounded it and seemed we would not be able to save him,” Althalus said casting me a glance that sternly told me to not speak up at this moment.  “If he is not dead, I don’t see him coming out this way anytime soon.”  It bothered me that he was enjoying weaving this story to the innocent man…but not enough to stop him.

“Well, he always was a bit of an ass I always felt but I bear him no ill-will.  Make sure you get fodder for your horses.  You know it is a holy order that guards the Gash, so you will need to mind what is said and done there.  They can be prickly.”

I was not concerned.  Fellow paladins would be a nice relief from my comrades.  We dined with the small guard contingent, exchanged pleasantries, and bedded down.  Bor asked me as he lay on his straw, “What should we do to commemorate Galinndan?”

I reflected for a moment.  “We will get a plaque made in his honor…and tell Blackshear what he did.”

Althalus spoke in a low tone.  “We should carve on it, ‘He died for the love of Blackshear’s daughter.’”  I winced slightly at the warlock’s twisted sense of humor, yet oddly, I think the thief would have liked that.  He had rambled on about the girl for miles during our journey.

The next day a light rain fell and we saddled up for the final leg of our journey.  We moved north along the muddy road and spoke little, our wounds from the ritual still mending.  The next day we came up a low rise and below us in the distance was the Gash.  At the end of the vast crack in the earth stood a castle – and jutting out from that some 50 yards was a half-arch of stone with a dais at the end of it, hovering over the vast emptiness of the Great Gash.

I had heard of this place only in stories…of how during the last great war, the Banner of Gold drove the armies of the Black Banner and the evil Serhath Dorn out onto the long flat plains there.  The fighting in the Gellesian Fields drove the enemies of the world to this spot. Then the last king of men, Ansil Albinson the Swift summoned the greatest wizards – the Elder Council of Magics and the Lord Victar to a rocky prominence and they unleashed a powerful incantation.  The ground opened beneath the armies of darkness, devouring them as the great chasm was formed.  It was said that the crack plunged into the soul of the world, but I did not know that.  The fortress had been built there to stand guard over the evil dead – dubbed the Fangs of Kraylor.  Their Legion of paladins were sword to protect the world from anything that might have survived the plunge into the eternal black of the Gash.  Now here I was, looking at this place of legend and wished my father had lived to see such a place.  The stories you told me were true father.  In my mind I can almost see King Albinson there, standing at that dais.

As we approached the fortress, we were hailed from the battlements.  We told them we had been sent to reinforce the Gash…that we had heard there was something that had come out of the Gash and they were in need of assistance.  They opened the massive ironbound oak-stone doors.

Two knights approached us.  One was old, with thinning gray hair and beard, and a look of consternation and pure anger painted his face.  The other was walking three steps apace behind the angry knight.  The elder man stood before us. “Who is in charge here?”

“I am – my name is Althalus,” the warlock responded. He made quick introductions of us as well.

“I am Sir Karrick of the Order of the Silver Blade, Acting First Shield and Commander of this Order.”

Althalus explained how a Gray Rider had come to our village and how we had undertaken the journey to complete his ride. He told him, in very vague terms, how we had recovered the message that had called for aid, and how Lord Sklaver had sent us to honor that request.

“I sent for no Gray Rider…no message for aid was sent,” Karrick replied sternly.

The second knight stepped forward.  “Commander.  I called the Gray Rider and sent the message.”  There was a hint of penance in his voice.

Karrick reeled on him.  “Ferrin, why would you do this? Our order has always dealt with these matters on our own – it is our charge to do so.”

“We had to do something commander.  We needed reinforcements,” the shorter knight named Ferrin replied.

Althalus interceded in their debate.  “I have no idea what is going on here but it is serious enough for someone to have intercepted your message to prevent it from being delivered.  Someone was willing to risk slaying a Gray Rider.”

Sir Karrick glared at the warlock and said nothing for a moment, then ordered the gates closed.  “Very well, come into my office.  We have much to speak of.”

Althalus ordered the other guards to find quarters.  Our original party followed Sir Karrick into the inner keep.  The inside of the Fangs of Kraylor were pristine, with magnificent green grass and the Sept of the Silver Blade, the church of the order, was of ancient design, with vines creeping up along its sides. White marble pavers marked the walkways. It was as if the interior of the fortress was a world of its own, a contrast to the black rip in the soul of the world it protected.

Inside his Spartan office he invited us in and closed the door.  “Ferrin, what have you done?”

“While you were in the north searching, I did what I thought was best.  Lord Sklaver was the closest place for us to get reinforcements.  We are alone here against the night.”

Karrick shook his bowed head in thought, then turned to us.  “Forgive me, these are trying times for us.”

“Lord Sklaver was unwilling to send an army until he confirmed your need,” Althalus replied. “Since the rider had been ambushed and he never got the message directly from the rider’s pouch, he didn’t entirely trust it.”

Or us…

He asked for the message and I produced my copy for him to read.  He put the paper on his desk after reading the words.  Sir Ferrin glanced at it.  “Those are my words commander, yet not my handwriting.”

The older knight seemed to know that already.  “It is difficult to admit our need for aid, we have never called for it before.  First Shield Sir Theris Bentblade had gone to the Wail, an observation post along the Gash.  Something rose out of the Gash…a shadow…yet something more.  The First Shield set out after this shadow with 400 paladins of the legion heading north to the Pass at Sever.  There their trail disappeared.  Our defenses have been stripped.  We cannot let the foes of all that is good know that we are almost defenseless.  There are many that would take advantage of our state.”

For a few moments we said nothing.  Sir Karrick continued, “We accept your men as reinforcements.  Our rules are simple.  Only an ordained paladin may enter the Sept of the Silver Blade or step out onto the Pinnacle of Light.”

“We should send someone back to Lord Sklaver…to get more reinforcements,” Althalus offered and Karrick solemnly agreed.

Then Althalus said something that seemed to escalate the emotions in the room.  “We have reason to believe that the Sisterhood of the Sword may be involved in this somehow.”  He told him that we had encountered one of them, that she had intercepted the message.  The mention of the Sisterhood made Karrick stand erect, taller than even Bor.  His eyes fixed on the warlock.  “Her name was Lexa Lyoncroft.”

Karrick turned to Ferrin, then back to us.  “Lexa Lyoncroft. She is involved with this?”

“Yes,” I answered firmly. “She was the one that attacked the Gray Rider and took Ferrin’s call for aid. She has the original message.  We obtained a copy of it from her.”

“This does not bode well.  It is like a nightmare that has come back from my youth.”

“You know her?” I queried.

“Yes – I do.  I fear I played a part in her plight.  The Sisterhood of the Sword was at one time as powerful a military order as our own.  Lexa was one of their most fearless sisters, a holy warrior beyond repute.  Her skills with the blade were greater than any other. She burned with a holy passion that made her glow in the dark.

“She told me that she discovered a corruption in the church, a plague that devoured all that was good in the church.  She and her mother superior were going to confront the Council of Cardinals about their misdeeds.

“The church turned on them.  My order was one of three sent in to purge them.  It is my fault that she lived.  Our battle was one for the ages.  I cornered her while her temple burned around her, but I could not bring myself to kill her.  There was something about her, something that I cannot describe. I could not bring myself to take her life.  It was wrong then…and wrong now.

“She fled, along with four others of the sisterhood.  The church labeled them the Five Witches…done to prevent them from ever gaining help from locals.  Over the years two of the five have been caught and have faced the church’s justice.

“Lexa wants revenge.  I fear she may ally herself with something dark and soulless to extract that vengeance.”

Althalus spoke up.  “She didn’t seem to be motivated by vengeance when we met her.  She acted as if there was something else in play, some greater evil she wanted to stop.”

Sir Ferrin spoke up.  “Commander, how would she have known what was in my message?  How would she have known to intercept it?  I wonder – is it possible that we have a spy in our midst?”

Sir Karrick’s face shifted from old remorse to a hint of anger.  “This does not bode well for us if that is the case.  Lexa Lyoncroft…she should have been dead a thousand times.  I refused to let myself believe that she was somehow still alive. She will not have her revenge until the corruption in the church is purged.”  It was almost as if the elder knight was speaking to himself, not to us.

Karrick gathered himself and turned to me.  “We are facing other problems as well here.  We keep a man up on the Pinnacle of Light to keep watch over the Gash.  We have always done that.  Just like sending men to the Wail, it is our duty to look over the evil imprisoned below.  Of late, we have found we cannot keep men out there long. Several brother-knights have gone mad staring out into the darkness. They used to stand watch there for ten days as a time.  Now it is no more than three days.  There is something out there, something that is attacking them in their thoughts.

“We had purged the undead from the world except for places like the Gellesian Fields…now I fear that those that refuse to die may once more walk the world.

“That was where we found Lexa,” Althalus said.

“A perfect place for her to hide.”

I could see the pain in his soul every time that Lexa was mentioned.  I came to appreciate that we had been lucky to survive our encounter with her.  There was clearly more to her character than any of us appreciated.  There was more to her story than we understood.

Sir Karrick gathered his emotions and stuffed them down deep into his massive frame.  “What I could use from you is information.  We lost the trail of the men under the First Shield’s command that headed north.  While we await Lord Sklaver’s response, I suggest that you and your small party try and follow the trail north to the Pass at Sever and the Vale of White – the Vale of Bones.  It is said that there an entrance to Tempora there, but no one has found it in years.  We must know the fate of those holy warriors.”

“There is still the matter of the traitor…” I said.  “But that is a matter that you are best suited to solve.  It takes a week to summon a rider…so somehow she must have received word as to your intent.”  I felt bad adding to the burden to Sir Karrick, but I could see that he was a man that could handle it.

 

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

Character Background Material

My New Campaign

#dungeonsanddragons

#DandD

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

fireball

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

Althalus…

The Minotaur called Damon Korth made his way down the line of royal guardsmen, asking them each if they were related to or friends of Matthias Blackshear.  He started with Galinndan who had been at point, putting him at the front of the row we had formed.  Galinndan seemed befuddled at the question, and I half worried that the Minotaur might cleave him with one of the huge axes that hung off of his thick leather belt.  The weapons looked far too familiar.  Blackshear had a pair, a pair he had taken from the Minotaur prince. Suddenly we were thrust in the middle of the story he had started.

This might not end well for us. 

“Well,” Galinndan stammered, “To put the term ‘friends’ loosely, we were, ah, well…”

Apparently Korth saw the truth in the now pale face of our rogue.  “Stand aside!” he barked.  The rogue complied, sulking out of the line.

The other guards told the truth…most of them even knew who Matthias was.  I saw one of them wet himself, a pool of his own urine formed around his feet as Korth confronted him. It was understandable.  The massive creature towered over us and spoke with a voice that made your ribs throb.

Korth approached Brother Dimitrios.  He said nothing, which was no surprise, but calmly shook his head at the query.

He then came to me. I could smell the raw uncooked meat on his breath, he was so close.  Korth asked me if I knew or was friends of Blackshear.  “I know him but I do not consider us ‘friends.’”

“Did you spill blood in battle with him?”

“No,” I said with complete confidence.  My own performance at the battle (see Part 11) we had fought with him had proven less than stellar, and now I was thankful for it.  It was the first and only time that I was thankful I had been transformed into an animal and had not contributed to the fight.

“I will let you pass then,” Korth said.

I let out a low sigh of relief.  I had fought more against our cause in that battle – hitting our druid – than for the former guardsman. At the time it had been seen as a debauch on my part,  Now it appeared it was a good thing.

Bor was next and he didn’t shirk from the Minotaur looming over him.  “We fought with him, yes.  All to aid in the return of his granddaughter from kidnappers.”

“Stand aside with that one,” he pointed to Galinndan whose color was just returning to his face.  Bor joined him, his hand resting on Skull Ringer’s handle.  Korth asked the same question to Arius who responded much as Bor had. That poor paladin, cursed to never even stretch the truth.  He joined the conga line of doom.

Theren remained.  The druid had a knack for fast thinking and talking and I half expected him to someone worm his way out of the battle that seemed to be coming. Instead he almost proudly said that he was a friend of Blackshear and was ordered to stand with the others.  Fool.

For a moment, I figured I was safe.  I had actually told the truth and had been spared.  Korth seemed pleased with having split our party.  “So Blackshear, the scourge of our people, has friends.” He seemed to spit out the last word. “People that would be willing to fight with him…making you our foes.  Now then, if you tell me where he lives, you go free.  Otherwise you face the Ritual of Kurasak – the Splattering.”  Splattering?  That sounded horrible.

Arius puffed out his chest and said, “I refuse to tell you.” Paladins…they have a way of leading good men to their death with their sense of honor.  Korth seemed impressed.  I was wondering if I would have to carve that on Arius’s gravestone – He impressed a Minotaur.

Theren asked, “What if we tell you?”

“Then we will hunt him down and finish our bit of honor by spilling his blood,” the Minotaur said.  “And you will get to save your paltry lives.”  He snorted out a glob of snot that splattered the druid.

Bor grinned and stepped next to Arius.  “I’m with him.”

Korth nodded and turned back to the others.  “These two showed a modicum of bull balls to stand and fight.  Will you?”

The rest agreed, some more grudgingly than others.  Then, to my surprise, Dimitrios stepped out of line where I was, nice and safe, and joined my comrades.  All eyes, my friends, the guardsmen, the Minotaur’s, all of them turned to me. I had a legitimate claim that I had not spilled blood for Blackshear.  These were my comrades.  I looked at Korth.  “I did try to help Blackshear, but I failed.  If everyone else is going to lay their lives down because they won’t tell you, then I guess I should join them.”  I really hated saying it, but I knew without me, they were probably wouldn’t stand a chance.  That didn’t upset me as much as you might think, but I had grown familiar with them and getting new comrades would be time consuming.

As I stood next to them, Arius said, “good job.”

“I fucking hate all of you,” I muttered turning to Arius. “This is your fault.  Paladins…ugh!”

Damon Korth looked over at one of the younger Minotaur’s.  “Send for Prince Wheaton!  Have him join us at the Cousins.  There he will see his brother’s death avenged.”  The other Minotaur’s joined in a chant in unison, “All hail Prince Wheaton!”  The younger creature set off at a full run/gallop across the rolling hills.

We glanced over and saw Korth lean into talk to Captain Wildsong.  The captain seemed to chuckle.  “I imagine he’s not going to have his troops rescue us,” I cursed.

Korth returned to us.  “You men gather your gear.  I promise you nothing more than a fair fight bound by our rede of law.  It takes brave men to do what you are about to do.”  There was a hint of respect in his voice.

“I appreciate that,” Arius said with bravado.

Oh shut up…

We set up and the rest of the guardsmen followed us.  The Minotaur’s were clearly sizing us up.  “I’m doomed,” I said in a low voice for my comrades.

“Why?” Arius asked.

“I can’t use magic on these guys.”

“Why not?”

“You know – magic is kind of forbidden.”

“Who cares?”  The paladin retorted, surprising me somewhat.  “They are creatures from the plains of hell.  Use your magic – we must be all-in…together.”

He had a good point – and that made me feel better.  I only wish I had more in the way of combat spells in my mental arsenal.  The Minotaur’s led us some ways to a large plateau that rose on the plains.  It was flanked by two tall rocks stand nearly 20 feet tall, listing slightly inward, towards the center.  They are weathered heavily, but there was a faint hint of faces carved on them, one male, one female.  They stood as sentries over a large stone circle over 80 feet in diameter. Defiant weeds were growing up between the cracks.  The wind, normally chilled, blew warm over the grasses there.  There were bits of colored glass broken there, as if they were part of something that stood there or a ritual.  Some of the stones have square holes in them, as if they held some sort of upright posts at one point in time.  Some broken and shattered stones, covered in moss, surround the edges of the circle, most over waist high.  Moss and vines were gripping the surrounding stones.  It is a place that is eerie and filled with dread.

“This is the Wayward Cousins,” Korth said.  “It is a place where the powers of magic are the closest to the earth.”

That triggered a memory with me.  At one point the Cousins was known as Starstone – a place of worship by the druids.  During The Druid Wars the druids were hunted and killed in an inquisition that stings to this day.  A band of druids defied the church, killing a cardinal.  The wrath of the church was furious, sending in the Order of the Black Rose to capture and kill them.  This militant order captured the druids at Starstone.  A great battle of magic and swords was fought here. The surviving druids were tied to the stones and tortured to death by the surviving members of some order, ah yes, I remember, the Black Rose.  They cursed this ground to any members of the church.  It is said that the surviving Black Roses all died within a matter of months, all under mysterious circumstances that are tied to the curse.  I remember reading about this on a scroll years ago.  I never thought to see this place.  I thought that the location of this place had been lost long ago.

We were led into the circle and waited for this prince to arrive.  The other guardsmen hung outside of the circle, as if they were getting good positions to watch what was about to come.  I shared what I knew of this place with my comrades.  Arius was angered.  “Cursed ground that affects me?  Hardly fair.”  Theren seemed depressed given his brethren were killed on these very stones.  I’m sure if he wondered if his blood would join those that died here before.

A small party of Minotaur’s arrived several hours later.  One of them wore a rough iron crown shaped like bones with two additional horns, and a thin goatee that almost looked cheesy on such a creature.  His thick hide was pierced with silver rings, rows of them that seemed to be symbolic of something, probably battles.  As they got nearer, the others chanted “Wheaton!  Wheaton!” The prince waved his hand and the chanting stopped.

“Why have you summoned me here to this infernal accursed place Korth?” Wheaton asked.

“My prince, I bring you declared friends of our most hated foe – the black-hearted Blackshear!”

The prince’s left eyebrow cocked up more than I thought possible at the news.  “You are friends with the man that slew my brother?”  His black eyes bore in on each of us.

We said nothing in response.  In the back of my head I wondered if this could somehow be turned around.  I am a warlock after all, and these are creatures created in hell.  An alliance with them could prove useful – if I managed to survive.  Right now, that was a big if.

Korth snorted, and a thin drizzle of snot oozed from his nostrils.  “The Ritual of Kurasak is one of blood and death.  You fight our prince’s champions to the death, if need be.  We are not the barbarians that are portrayed in your puny Karn. We will battle with honor.

Prince Wheaton then spoke. “I will have Damon Korth and Shiver Krang fight for our pride.  If you tell us where Blackshear is we will call this ritual off.  We will leave to kill him, but you will live. Give us that bit of your honor, and you will breathe the warm air of the plains.”

Arius took one step forward. “Knowing what you would do to him prevents us from breaking his honor and telling you.”

“Very well,” the prince said.  “You have acted honorably and will be treated with such here today.”

Damon Korth was the larger of the two, with darker hide and many more silver rings on his torso and arms.  Nicks on his horns and ears show the signs of previous battles.  Shiver Krang was smaller, but thicker, more muscular.  Both were heavily armed with massive battle axes as I had seen in the possession of Matthias Blackshear.  Krang occasionally tosses his axe, spinning it, catching it perfectly each time.  Arrogant.  That could be useful.

Captain Wildsong leaned in, locking his gaze with Arius.  “This is the price for crossing the Vizir,” he boasted.  “If I were you men, I would watch Shiver Krang.  He may be small, but I saw him gore a man during a pillaging they were leading.”  Wildsong leaned back and began to actually place bets with the other men, against us.

Bor spoke up in response.  “You will pay for your betrayal.”

Wildsong laughed.  “I have a dozen armed men at my command.  Even if you survive, you will be in no condition to come after me.”

I glared at him.  Oh, you will pay for that…if we survive.

Prince Wheaton spoke again, his voice booming.  “Should you win, I will grant you a token of my esteem.  I doubt you will win though.  The ritual of Kurasak is one that almost always sealed with blood on stone.

Wheaton steps to the edge of the circle and claps his hands three times.  The remaining Minotaur’s did the same.  Everyone secured a weapon.  This was it, a battle for our very lives.

The pair of foes did not rush in, but leaned slightly, as if readying for a charge, sizing us up.

Shiver charged forward for a goring attack, rushing at Bor, the largest of our party.  The big fighter managed to sidestep the brunt of the assault, but still caught the left horn with his body – staggering Bor back, furrowing back in the moss on the stones, making little marks where his feet slid.

I turned on Shiver Krang and cast hideous laughter on him.  The spell went as planned, the massive Minotaur fell over with a dull thud on the stones; uncontrollable laughing with an almost frightening roar of chuckles.  It was the kind of laughter that sent chills down your spine.  I actually peed a little in my jerkin at the sound.

There was something about when I cast my spell, something strange.  It had to be this place.  What did Korth say?  This was where magic was closest to the earth?  I wondered what that meant.  At the time, I pushed that thought from my mind.

Arius swung behind Shiver and used searing smite, hitting him and setting him on fire. The hide on his back glowed as hair burned and filled the air with horrid smoke.

Theren switched to his bow and fired at Shiver as well but missed. Galinndan also missed with his arrow as well.  Bor swung Skull Ringer that nasty warhammer of his but missed…oddly throwing sparks in the air…which was disturbing on its own. It had never done that before. Dimitrios leapt like a tiger at the only standing Minotaur – Korth.  His grappling attempt failed but he landed on both feet and one hand, ready to spring again.  I swear I saw a grin on his face. Thank the Old Ones, we needed every bit of help we could muster.

Bor’s blood was up, that was evident.  He swung Skull Ringer again, missing wide again, filling the air with sparks.  It only seemed to have that visual effect here, on this ground.  Galinndan notched one of his obsidian tipped arrows that he had coveted so much. It was true!  The arrow buried itself into the singed hide of the Minotaur.  The massive creature blinked out of existence, vanishing for a moment.  Then we saw him again, landing on top of three of the guardsmen outside of the ring, his flames lighting two of them on fire in the process.  Bor was puzzled as to where the Minotaur had gone but I am sure a bit thankful.

The other Minotaur’s cheered.  They seemed to love it. I wanted to cheer myself, but death was far too close at hand.

Damon Korth sprung over the ring of stones at the perimeter of the Wayward Cousins and came back at us.  He rushed at swinging his great axe, hitting Bor so hard he flew five feet and skidded on the stone surface.  Blood filled the air as the axe stopped and Bor fell unconscious, his warhammer skidding out of his grip.

The Minotaur’s and two of the guards cheered – no doubt those traitorous bastards had bet against Bor.

Theren used his healing word for Bor, enough to make his eyelids flutter as he came back from the black gates of death.  He fired his bow as well, hitting the Minotaur, leaving the arrow stuck in him next to Galinndan’s.

I cast another spell, a blast of arcane power.  The energy was incredible flowing through me, double what I had ever experienced before.  The arcane powers hit the Minotaur, knocking him back nearly a dozen feet in the process.  Whatever it was about the Wayward Sisters, this time it had helped my powers.

Arius swept his longsword at his foe, hitting the Minotaur for no damage at all – it failed to pierce his hide.  It only made Korth grin in response.  A grinning Minotaur is not a thing one easily forgets.

Bor staggered to his feet uneasily, making his way to Damon Korth.  Dimitrios shifted behind the fighter, preparing to leap at his foe one more time.

Korth turned to Arius and swung his great axe, cutting right through his armor and spraying Bor with gore.  Damnation this beast was tough!

I noticed the other Minotaurs throwing stones at Shiver who was still uncontrollably roaring with laughter.  That was not good. Their efforts might allow him to break my spell and facing two of these creatures at once was going to prove challenging. There wasn’t anything I could do at this point.

Arius struck with his sword and searing smite, one more lighting up the hide on Korth.  Then I saw something happen that sent a chill down my spine.  Prince Wheaton entered the circle and started to head for Shiver.  He’s going to shatter my spell!

Theren saw it too and decided to transform himself into a bear.  His man form rippled and a massive black bear replaced him.  The bear lumbered between the roaring Shiver and Prince Wheaton.  Theren rose in front of the prince, but did not attack.  The moment he approached, three more Minotaur’s entered the arena, clearly moving to protect the prince. It was a standoff, one that might cost us all our lives if Theren made the wrong move.

Bor swung Skull Ringer, sparks of red and blue in the air, hitting Korth hard with a thwacking sound.  It had to have hurt, but I didn’t see any sign of it.  Bor was stunned that he had not felled the Minotaur. Korth snorted through gritted teeth in response.

I tried again to unleash a blast of arcane energy but missed.  I was merely thankful I had not hit one of my comrades. Then I saw it, Dimitrios sprung like a praying mantis, landing on the shield arm of the Minotaur, and grappled with his arm.  He hung on tight despite the flinging that Korth did.

Theren rose on his hind legs to block Prince Wheaton from reaching Shiver.  The prince grinned, tossed his axe casually past the bear, landing it on Shiver’s chest.  Crap.

Korth gored at Bor tossing him in the air on his horns, sending his near lifeless body on the stones.  I swear I saw part of his intestines hanging off of Korth’s horns, not a promising sign for our badly injured friend. The specter of death cast its shadow on Bor.

I focused on Korth and channeled my arcane blast.  Something happened though…something I have never experienced before.  The energy seemed to summon a magic energy I had no knowledge of.  Where I should have seen an azure burst of magic, I saw instead orange, yellow, and red death.  A fire ball erupted in front of me, engulfing many of our people along with Shiver and Galinndan.  The roar hit me as if I were thrown in an oven.  The super-hot air seared my throat and lungs.  I stumbled out of the blast zone, my royal guard tunic, or what was left of it, burning on my body, the few remains falling on the stone.  A rising mushroom shaped cloud rolled into the sky, black and twisting.  Pain tore at me and my vision tunneled as I fought to avoid unconsciousness. I smelled bacon in the air, and I knew it was one of us.

I looked over where Galinndan had been standing…but all that remained was a pile of ashes that were roughly in his shape on the blackened stone.  He was gone – dead and charred into nothingness.  I felt a sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach.  What have I done?

The guards along the edge of the ring began to sing, “Burning Ring of Fire,” a popular bardic tune we heard in the taverns of Karn. They would have to be dealt with later.  My eyes closed and my ears roared with approaching darkness.

I remember hearing the sounds of battle around me as I struggled to awaken.  The blackness took forever to shake.  I finally forced my eyes open and saw Theren the bear attacking Shiver, taking him down with a swipe of his claw.

Prince Wheaton clapped his hands three times.  A Minotaur shaman entered the Wayward Cousins and laid hands on his fallen comrades.  Bor was also healed by the shaman, which stunned me.  I was able to make it to my feet, my ears were ringing and I tasted copper of blood in my mouth.  I patted my body to make sure I still had all of my vital parts.

Arius scooped up Galinndan’s ashes and put them in a pouch – there was no saving the rogue at this point. We would mourn him later, assuming we were going to survive.

Prince Wheaton spoke in a thunderous voice.  “The ritual has ended.”  Shiver and Korth bowed their heads in shame.  Wheaton turned to us.  “You have successfully won this trial.  I will grant you one token of respect, honor demands that.  You have fought well, and I consider you honored members of our tribe.  One token of my respect is what I give you for your reward.”

Arius grinned and whispered in my ear.  One word, “Wildsong.”

Good. Make him pay! “Yes!”

Arius stepped forward proudly.  “If you would do us the honor Prince Wheaton.  Would you imprison the guards that are with us?  With this you will get your vengeance on Blackshear and honor will be served. After all they are royal guards which he was a member of. They have threatened us…we know them to be our enemies.  Take them as prisoners and end this.”

“We have not threatened them…” several of the guards protested.

“Be quiet,” Arius barked in response.  “You sat there betting against us.”

Captain Wildsong, caught off guard by the sudden turn of events, stepped forward.  “I…I have done nothing.  Prince Wheaton, you know me.  I am your friend, a friend of your people.  Do not listen to these men.  I have not threatened them.”

Arius tipped his sword at our former captain.  “You told us this was the price of crossing the Vizir.  You set us up to be killed by warning the Minotaur’s we were headed this way.  Your guilt is a forgone conclusion.”

All eyes shifted to Prince Wheaton.  “The honor was offered and must be accepted.  Two things will happen.  We will take Wildsong as our slave for two years.  Also this ends our bane against Blackshear, you have cleared the debt that has been with us like an open wound.  I grow weary of attempting to avenge my brother over the years.”

“You can’t do this – I am a captain of the royal guards,” Wildsong called out.

The Minotaur’s felt differently.  Shackles appeared out of nowhere and were slapped on former Captain Wildsong. He struggled against his new masters, but could not hope to make progress as they quickly disarmed him.

“One more gesture on my part,” the prince said.  A Minotaur appeared with ship piercing clip.  He tore open our armor, one by one, and pierced one nipple, inserting a silver ring there like the other Minotaur’s.  It hurt like hell, but after the fireball, I didn’t even flinch.  “The mark of honorable battle,” he said as Bor took the last piercing.

“You are always welcome with our people as equals,” Wheaton said.  “Justice has been served.”

Captain Wildsong cried out as they led him off of the Wayward Cousins and down the hillside.  “I will get you for this!”

I had no doubt that he would try…in two years’ time.  We turned to the rest of the guardsmen and Arius ordered them to fall in before us.  There was new leadership of this troop now.  If we ever saw Matthias Blackshear again, we would have a hell of a story to tell him as well.

I hope you have been enjoying this saga.  Here are the previous chapters, if you want to follow the adventure thus far.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

Part 8

Part 9

Part 10

Part 11

Part 12

Part 13

Part 14

Part 15

Part 16

Part 17

Character Background Material

My New Campaign

#dungeonsanddragons

 

The Chronicling of our D&D Campaign: To the Gellesian Fields Part 17

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

Bor Boskin…

I didn’t trust our Captain from the moment I saw him.  His name was Durand Wildsong, a pretty boy as far as fighters go.  That dimple did nothing for me, nor his long blonde hair and goatee.  He wore a polished breast plate – which to me only attracted unwanted attention during a battle.  His shield was a field of green with three intertwined roses.  Lieutenant Rygar had passed on command to the Captain, which seemed a bit odd to me.  I’d spent enough time near military camps when they came near our village to understand how the chain of command works.

Captain Wildsong gave us the usual pep talk, with just a touch of arrogance in his voice.  “I’m your commanding officer. You new recruits, you don’t know our commands yet.  Watch the other soldiers and do what they do, you’ll pick it up.”  Apparently that was the depth of our training.

“As I understand it, you are here to deliver some message to the Gash.  If proven wrong, I will dispatch you.  I run a tight ship here.  We have a long way to go – through the plains.  It is not an easy journey to be sure.  You will be given duties along the way, I expect you to follow my orders without question.”

I nodded.  I didn’t like this guy’s attitude. Recruits?  Ha! We were drafted.  This was clearly a bit of spite on the part of the Vizir Krolf Lorraine for our going behind his back to get to Lord Sklaver.  As if to accentuate my suspicions we saw the Vizir approach the Captain before we departed.  The two spoke but I could not hear them.  I did see that Vizir point to us.  “You see that Theren?” I nodded at the two of them.

“I did,” the druid replied.  With those words all of us, even that mute monk that had joined us looked over at the Vizir and the Captain of the Guard.

“This does not bode well,” Arius added.  I noticed that his hand drifted to the pommel of his sword as he watched the Vizir.  He was my kind of paladin.  He was tolerant of people and the games they played, but when push came to shove, he responded with force.  Paladins are complex people at times, and at others, very simple.

“We’re being set up,” Althalus muttered.

I tended to agree but held my tongue.  The best that I could do is be prepared.

Our trek was slow – we were assigned to the rear of the column.  We passed some farmers along the way, hauling their harvest to the city. A few offered us some apples from their carts, which was kind of them.  The camp was very “military” in how it was set up for the night.  The only advantage I saw to being with a larger party of armed men is that we were safer and we wouldn’t have to be up a good portion of the night on watch.

Our first few days and nights journey were dull, which was something that we all needed.

One farmer asked us where we were headed and Galinndan said we were headed to the Gash.  “I’ve heard some strange things from there recently.  That’s not unusual though.  Strange stories are common around that locale.”

“Have you seen anything out of the ordinary yourself,” Althalus probed.

“There were some hoof prints I came across on the road a few days ago.  We haven’t seen those raiders operating this far south in a while.”

“Raiders?” the warlock pressed.

“Minotaur’s.”

We all looked at each other.  Blackshear had mentioned killing the prince of the Minotaur’s.  That was where he got those incredible battleaxes he carried.  I wondered if it was the same ones he was referring to.

Captain Wildsong huddled with the farmer at the mention of the Minotaur’s then let the man go about his journey.

“Anything we need to be worried about Captain?” Arius asked.

“They have always been a bit of as problem – more in recent years.  They seem to have bit of a hard-on for the Royal Guards. Our peace with them was bought with blood and certain conditions.  Suffice it to say, they do not like the Royal Guards.”

“Great,” Althalus said with a chuckle, picking at the smock of the Royal Guards that we now wore.  “It would have been funny except that’s now us.”  The warlock was right – this did not bode well.  I took a look at Dimitrios, the monk that had been at Althalus’s side since the city.  He made eye contact with me with those penetrating blue eyes and offered only a shrug in response.  I oddly was not creeped out by him.  There are times silence is precious and a man that does not talk does not weigh you down with the burdens of his life.

The Captain continued, “One of our men, some twenty years ago, killed one of their leaders.  Since then, well, they have wanted a bit of revenge.  We have been able to deal with them, but it is always tense.”  He cleared his throat and raised his voice for the rest of the troops to hear.  “They will attempt to provoke us if we come across them.  No one draw weapons or fly off the handle when that happens.  I know what they want and I will handle this.  They will look to you for reaction.  You draw a weapon, they will counter thrice over…by killing us all.”

We huddled for a moment.  “What do we know about Minotaur’s?” I asked.  All eyes drifted to our druid Theren. If anyone would know, the tree-hugging druid would.  He honestly looked a little embarrassed and at the same time, proud.  “Aside from the usual half-bull, half-man, there’s not a lot known.  They are said to be originally spawn of demons.  Not all of them though.  Some break their ties with the hell-spawn and form their own tribes and mate among themselves.”

I glanced over and saw Captain Wildsong pulling over one of the other guardsmen in hushed conversation.  I nudged Theren and he saw it too.  “I wonder what that’s all about.” I asked.  It wasn’t until the next morning I received an answer.  At daybreak the man that had been speaking with the Captain rose early and mounted up, riding out at a trot far off on the road ahead of us.

Arius saw it too and approached the Captain.  “Are you scouting ahead?”

“Yes.  It seemed…prudent,” Wildsong said.  I didn’t think much of it at the time. Only later would I remember the strange way he responded.

Three hours later we came across a white trail of smoke not far off of the road.  It was a cottage, one that has been recently burned.  Wildson stopped the column.  “I need some volunteers to check that out.”

“I’ll go – and so with Galinndan,” Arius offered.  The rogue was a little surprised that he had been volunteered but the two of them went off to inspect the burned out rubble.  They came back after 20 minutes or so.  “No bodies of men or beast – living or dead,” the paladin reported.  “Lots of hoof prints though, all over the area.  Whatever happened here is over with.”

“We ride on then,” Wildsong said.

We camped that night on the plains.  There wasn’t much cover, just the normal briar and bramble.  There were copses of trees that dotted the rolling hills, but they were few and far between.  The Captain agreed with Arius’s suggestion at no fire for the night – not with the threat of the raiding Minotaur’s in the area.  We bedded down.

That night there was a commotion coming from Theren’s and Galinndan’s tent.  I rolled out of my woolen blanket, Skull Ringer at the ready.  As I charged out of my tent I saw a figure stagger back, howling in Orcish. It was hard to make out, but it seemed to be a half-orc, and he was clearly bloodied about the head.

Dimitrios silently emerged almost like a shadow in the night.  Arius popped out of his tent and surprised me that he was using a weapon and not unleashing any of his magic.  The rock he threw hit the attacker in the back as he ran away.  The manlike creature turned and made an obscene gesture at us, then ran off into the dark.  The entire camp erupted.  “To arms, to arms!” barked Captain Wildsong. Confusion and men staggered out with weapons only made matters worse.

Wildsong made a quick headcount.  “We’re short a man!”

“It’s Galinndan!” Theren called out.  “He was hit in the throat with some sort of poison dart.”

I opened the tent flap and saw him.  The rogue was pretty pale, a dark wobbling his his neck as he breathed.  Theren pulled out the healing potion that Galinndan had purchased in the city and poured it into his mouth while Dimitrios pulled the dart out of his neck. I could see the sickly green ooze on the metallic point.

“What was that about?  Why would a half-orc come in and attack us?” Wildsong pressed as he deployed several of the guards to the perimeter.  “Have you crossed this person before?”  Dimitrios simply shrugged at the question.

Galinndan slowly recovered, “Mommy?” he muttered.

“Far from it,” Arius replied.

“I wonder what that was all about.” Theren responded.

Arius paused for a moment.  “Oh crap.  Remember back at the inn, when the Thieves Guild tried to steal Skull Ringer?”

Galinndan tried to sit up but failed but looked over at the captain.  “He was a…associate.”

“An associate?” The captain replied in dismay. “He attacked you in the night.”

“He’s a member of the Thieves Guild,” Galinndan replied half-awake.

“Maybe,” Arius said in a low tone through gritted teeth, “You should be quiet and rest.”

“What did you do to piss off the Guild?” Wildsong demanded.

“We didn’t let them steal from us,” Arius said.  He as not making things better in our explanation.

“He,” Althalus said, gesturing to Galinndan, “forgot to pay them.”  Arius rolled his eyes, stunned that the warlock was telling the Captain so much detail.  Even a paladin knows there are times to keep their mouth shut…less chance to say a lie and commit a sin.  I had learned that well from my comrade.

“You crossed the Thieves Guild?” Wildsong said in dismay.  “You do know that they send out assassins to kill those that cross them?”  It would seem that Galinndan had forgotten to tell us this important detail.

“I know this looks orchestrated,” Althalus said. “We didn’t join the military to avoid the Guild.”

Wildson’s face was rigid with anger.  He glared down at Galinndan. “From now on you sleep alone.  I’m not endangering any more of my men on your account.  Your debt to the Guild, be it in blood or money; that is on you and your own foolishness.”

Galinndan bowed his head in shame.  The rest of the troops seemed to look at us all as if we were bad people.  We weren’t of course, but I understand this from their perspective.  The captain posted more guards, doubling the watch.  Our rogue was still pretty wobbly.  All we managed to get out of this was a used poison dart.

The next morning as we rose and Galinndan looked more hungover than anything.  Wildsong posted him at point, clearly as punishment.  As we were about to set out the captain asked, “Do any of you wish to tell me about anyone else you may have pissed off and have a bloodgrudge against you?”

Arius nodded.  “We did manage to piss off the Vizir.”  There were times that the paladin’s penchant for the truth made my stomach knot.

The captain didn’t flinch.  “I am well aware of your dealing with Vizir Lorraine,” he replied bitterly.  There was something in the way he responding that I did not like, not one bit.  I could sense that the captain was not a man to be trusted.

It rained but we trudged on.  Two days later we came across a gathering down the road. The man sent ahead as a scout returned and approached the column.  He and the captain entered into an animated discussion, one we could not pick up on.  The captain turned and faced all of us, speaking loud for all of us to hear.

“There’s a Minotaur patrol up ahead men.  We have a routine, a bit of a ritual with them.  They will approach us.  You will not draw weapons or make overt actions towards them.  They will ask you some questions.  You will need to answer honestly because they have the means of verifying your answers, none of which you want to experience.”  I could tell by the way he said it, it was ominous.

“You mean all of us?” Arius.

“Yes,” Wildsong said.

“I would have thought that you would have answered for the men in your command,” the paladin pressed.

The captain did not like having his integrity questioned, we could see that on his face.  “This is the way we have done it for nearly two decades.  It is how we maintain a peace with these creatures.”

“I would be honorable and speak for my men,” Arius replied under his breath.

“If you draw a weapon you doom us all,” Wildsong added, ignoring the murmur.  “Understood?”  Everyone nodded.  We all began to move forward.

Nine of the creatures were there.  They were massive, larger than anything we had seen before.  One, clearly the leader strode out before the others.  His thick leather straps that crossed his chest were impressive, studded with brass and silver grommets.  His right horn was nicked, chipped in some previous battle.  The massive creature strode in front of Wildsong and looked at him as he knew him, and respected him little more than one would an insect.  This does not bode well for us.

His voice boomed, shaking my chest as he spoke to all of the guardsmen.  “I am Damon Korth.  I patrol this area for our tribe.  Royal Guardsman – hardly worthy of our time…though I am surprised that you sent your scout to ensure we were here Captain Wildsong.”  He gave Wildsong a glare and when I looked at the captain, he averted his gaze.  It was not a good sign, for sure.   “Usually you go out of your way to avoid us.  You know what we want…we want blood; we want vengeance.

“So I ask you men that follow Wildsong one question you must answer honestly.  In the name of our dead Prince DeSaul, are any of you kin or friends of Mathias Blackshear?”

Aw shit…

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

Part 8

Part 9

Part 10

Part 11

Part 12

Part 13

Part 14

Part 15

Part 16

Character Background Material

My New Campaign

#dungeonsanddragons

Unboxing – Star Trek the original series miniatures from Modiphius Entertainment

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I pre-ordered the Modiphius Entertainment new Star Trek RPG and figured if I was going to get it, I might as well go hip deep and order some miniatures as well.  They arrived this week and I thought you might like to see what you get for around $50 US.

My initial reaction when I opened the box was, “what a lot of wasted packaging space!” You can see for yourself

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At first I wondered if something was missing.  

The miniatures are packaged two to a tiny ziplock.

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The box creates the illusion you are getting a lot more.

The mini’s themselves have minor flash on them, which is no big deal.  Obviously some assembly is required.

Actually the detail is pretty crisp, but since you can’t really pose them, I’m not sure (beyond the casting process itself) why I have to assemble them.

So what are my initial thoughts?  First, are they worth the price?  Well, unless Heritage miniatures returns and starts making minis again (yes I am dating myself) I think these are the best Star Trek character miniatures out there.  Of course, they are the only Star Trek miniatures out there.  They are worth it if you want them for your game – which I did.  People may gripe about the price, but it is no more gouging than what Games Workshop has been doing for years.  I am not disappointed.  We shall see after assembly and painting.

I think they are good – but I am curious why they are 32mm in scale when everything in the industry is 15mm or 28mm.  These will work with 28mm scale buildings, but come on Modiphius…get a clue.

I’m pleased.  I could be more pleased if Modiphius would release the crew in the Star Trek II uniforms – but I’m still happy.  Yes, they are pricey, but you don’t have a lot of options out there.

Now to assemble, prime, and paint…  Damn it Jim, I’m a writer, not of modeler…

Review of Star Trek Adventures RPG

Star Trek RPG
Put on your red shirt and prepare to beam down

I have to admit, I was excited that Modiphius Entertainment was putting out a new Star Trek RPG.  This stems from a few places.  First, I have been a Trek fan since the original series (yes, I’m that old.)  Second, one of my first writing projects in the gaming business was for FASA’s Star Trek RPG back in the 1980’s (yes, I’m that old part II.)  I wrote support books, rules, and scenario packs back in the day. I’ve even gotten to write game walk-thru books for several of the computer games for Star Trek. Third, we’ve been in a weird glut of Star Trek RPG’s.  There have been some good attempts in the past to rekindle this franchise into a game – but they all more or less fizzled.

So I pre-ordered the game and slotted some time to play at Gen Con. I lightly read the rules before Gen Con and I’m glad I played the game to clear up some of the ambiguity in the book.  That brings me to one point, some of the rules and examples are not entirely clear.  I struggled a bit with some of the core concepts until I played.

The rules can be a little confusing.  So if I made any mistakes, those are on me (and the gamemaster that led us on our adventure).  Once I got into the game there were some bits of brilliance here along with some, “what the hell?” moments reading/playing this as well.

Something brilliant – the use of momentum and threats poold.  This is a pool of points that you build by over-succeeding on tasks.  They are a group pool you can leverage to roll extra dice to try and succeed, or to up the ante (so to speak) on a certain situation.

The counter to that is the threat pool which his owned by the gamemaster.  This is the ying to the momentum pool’s yang.  The gamemaster can leverage this pool to his advantage, allowing him to toss in complications such as NPC’s recovering faster from damage.  The two pools interact with each other but are critical to the play of the game.  It does open up some questions from time to time as to whether a character should leverage the pool or not – but this forces good teaming with the players.

The game system itself is very simple.  But there are some strange things embedded in here.  For example:  The damage your phaser does is not just the weapons listing, but factors in your Security Discipline.  So if you are a red shirt using a phaser, you might do more damage than someone who has a low Security Discipline. This makes sense on a “to hit” roll, but not on damage.  Weird eh?

Star Trek
Starfleet needs a new crew because these guys are dying

There were other things that seemed a little lopsided in play.  I had an Advisor Talent with my character, which meant I could lean over your shoulder and help your character perform a task. The thing was, there’s no real limit to it.  So I helped a pilot navigate an asteroid field, helped coach a fellow officer in disarming a bomb, and even acted as an Advisor when someone was shooting.  It allowed players to re-roll a die for a task but this simple Talent feels like it needs some boundaries.  There were only so many times I could say, “Atta Boy!” while being an Advisor.

The game isn’t about killing but incapacitating.  I am changing that with my players.  Red shirts die – look it up.  It’s an easy hop to turn the damage into hit points.

The rules have a lot of fluff text (easily 1/3 of the book).  It safely presumes you know the Star Trek universe.  While the system is set up to play in all but the new films eras, there’s not a lot of guidance about what is different from a gameplay perspective.  The fluff text is great stuff, wonderful little nuggets for Trekkers, but these nuggets take you all over the place.  There’s no comprehensive timeline to help players only familiar with one era to jump in.

The rules for starship combat work but are pretty abstract. Your skills apply to combat situations, so it does work.  I still long for the old FASA system and may revert to that for my players.  The needs of the many outweigh the needs of Modiphius Entertainment – or the one.

Some rules seem missing – or at least I haven’t been able to track them down.  When they talk about Reputation for characters, they have a table listing the number of Responsibilities that a character has.  They never really explain this and the table seems contrary to Star Trek, “I have the lives of 430 crewmen I’m responsible for!” According to the table Captain Kirk, you’re only responsible for 17-20…17 to 20 what, I have no idea.

Go to the index you say?  Yeah, good luck with that.  The index is one of the biggest weaknesses in this rulesbook.  It is only four pages-ish long and far from complete.  I hope Modiphius releases a comprehensive one online soon. As it is, this index is worthless and frustrating.

The book is graphically laid out with good artwork and a LCARs Star Trek interface.  That’s nice.  With a black background the white lettering can be a little hard to read at times.

One minor nit – there’s no ship blueprints here.  I don’t need a Constitution Class ship – I’d setting for a Danube Runabout.  Yes, you can score these things online with no problem, but it seems lacking. As a sidebar, the Danube Class ships are shown as a graphic image, but no game stats for them appear in the book – another minor nit.

Star Trek Adventures is destined to be hard to run.  Players that know Star Trek can go down a lot of rabbit holes and whip out a lot of technical stuff that can imbalance play (I know, I’m one of those people!)  It’s a big universe so things can get out of hand quickly.  This is one of the few games where your inside knowledge of hundreds of hours of TV and films can force your gamemaster to pull out his/her few remaining hairs.  This means you have to craft your adventures very carefully.

So is it worth $58 dollars US for the book.  I think so.  I heard a lot of people griping online that the game is too pricy.  It is no more than any other high end RPG.  There’s 384 pages of stuff here, so there is a bulk value.  I love the star maps in the end pages, which is very useful and kind of fun to read. You will pay this much for almost any game system out there these days and this is on-par with the Star Wars RPG, though I found that system more technical than Star Trek – which favors true role playing.

The manufacturer is releasing miniatures for the game – but seems to be skipping the Star Trek II Wrath of Khan figures, which easily had the best uniforms we saw in Star Trek.

I have already prepped two adventures for my player group to go through.  So I like the system enough to continue to play it.  I hope they (Modiphius Entertainment) are planning some good sourcebooks to refine the rules for the eras.

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Out of five stars, I would give this 3.9.  I love the momentum/threat pool system and there’s a lot of simplicity here that makes it relatively easy to learn.  I am hopeful they will supplement this system to fix some of the rough edges.