Golden Scorpion Chronicles

29 June, 2010

Sad news, comrades: Aryenn has fallen. We were not able to retrieve his body – indeed, we were lucky to escape at all. Here is how it transpired:

I last wrote while we were having a short rest in some structures or caves underneath the excavation site, in the process of clearing the archaeological site of undead.

The final (as it proved) room was inhabited by a creature who addressed itself to Vandigan, saying “I have been expecting you, priest – your god has sent you”. It joined combat, focussing its attacks on him. This creature proved most difficult to dispatch, as at the slightest opportunity it would restore itself by sucking the blood of its foes. It summoned some lesser undead which were easily dealt with, and then the second ghostly priest from the previous room (who had fled the combat by the simple device of passing trough the wall) entered the fray.

This made the combat difficult indeed. The ghost priests have an odd attack – a burst of power that knocks its foes down. A great nuisance, but deadly in combination with this other creature as it would pounce on anyone knocked down and restore itself by draining their blood. By focusing our efforts on the lesser combatant – the priest, we prevailed. I thank the platinum one that we had dealt with both wraiths, for its dazing effect in combination with these other two would have been catastrophic.

A search of the creature’s lair uncovered a painting which matched exactly Vandigan’s vision at the shrine. It proved the case that the curator of the local museum recognised the man in it – a researcher who was working on objects such as this odd sphere that we recovered. He perished in an old battlefield to the north in search of the sphere’s key. Our patron being agreeable, we proceeded there to find what could be found.

The battle site gave every indication of being a place of great and old evil. The blasted ground. The sinister background music. The carpet of old bones. We had brought the metal orb with us, which was perhaps a mistake. We saw something glint on the ground ahead – the key we were looking for? As soon as one of us approached to find out, the bones roused and animated not as separate skeletons, but as a single shapeless assemblage. An animated graveyard.

It proved terribly dangerous, and we were not going to be able to defeat it. But our goal was the key – we thought us that if we could with the key activate the sphere, its magic could deal with the undead. And so we commenced a game of hide and seek, for the animate bones had taken the key amongst them as they attacked. We ran about it, we climbed it, we snatched an amulet off it which proved to not be the key at all. It directed its attacks against whomever held the orb, and so we played catch-ball, all the while being attacked and blasted with the energies of death.

At one point, the bones managed to grab both the key and the orb – we could see it attempt to unite the two, passing each from hand to hand, bone to bone along its length. Strange, for we had thought the orb would destroy it. At long last, our party managed to grab both items. We were about to put key in lock, when a terrible realisation struck. According to the museum curator, the researcher had been trying to reverse engineer the item. Did that mean “find out how it worked, so he could make more”? Or did it mean “find out how it worked, so that he could undo its effects”?

At the last moment, we decided not to use the orb. At the cry “Victory! Rise and flee! Flee for your life!” those of us who had fallen roused themselves, but the battle had taken us away from Aryenn who yet lay unconscious. I judge that we could not have saved him, and better one should remain fallen than that all should do for the sake of a futile gesture. But even when it is the correct thing to do it is always a bitter thing to lose a comrade, and more bitter still to have to abandon him.

Perhaps more of us might have been lost, but for a curious event. Our changeling, in a moment of inspiration, altered his form to that of an Orc and roared defiance at the undead mass of bones. A pointless move, and yet … did those bones hesitate for just a moment, before continuing their assault? I am sure of it. But how? We know only that they who were those bones  died in battle on that very field. Could it be that the victors that ancient day were an army of orcs? And could that memory remain, somehow, almost-lost echoes in those bones? We will never know. All we know is that we gained a few precious seconds as we fled.

I do not know how matters stand between Vandigan and the platinum one. I hope that Vandigan finds a way to make penance soon for whatever his wrong may be, for we all are in dire need of his priestly powers. We must return to our main quest with aclarity, for we are supposed to have our client back to Fairhaven within the month and I like not our chances of having the term of the contract extended on terms favourable to us, should we fail to fulfil the letter of it.

I shall write again at next opportunity.

Guild of the Gold Scorpion – Week 2

21 June, 2010

As we take a short rest in these underground chambers, it seems like a fine time to jot down a few notes here.

This morning we assembled bright and early for our foray into the ruins. Vandigan told us of his vision at the shrine – he means to quest to some sort of cave in the northeast. Much as we would like to address this, we are rather in the middle of a job. Druss was willing to speak to our employer of the hour [“Of the hour, yes!” – Ming the Merciless], but without more to go on than “A cave, somewhere that way” there is little we can do right now. We cannot simply commence to traipse across the northeast quadrant of Khorvaire looking for a cave.

We approached the “dig” site and spotted what appeared to be an unauthorised tomb-robber. The more fleet-of-foot gave chase (our bladeling monk has an astonishing turn of speed), while those of us weighed down by armour remained to guard our employer in case this was a diversion. This thief turned out to be some sort of ghost – although we did not exactly know that at the time – and vanished in a puff of vapour leaving behind some sort of odd spherical device.

(I wonder why a ghost would be stealing its own artifacts, and where it might have thought to fence them. Perhaps it was the ghost of one who in life was a thief, and who even in death continues to steal. Unlikely. A mystery, then.)

A scout of the area for more bandits revealed that the ground toward which the ghost was fleeing was “blighted” by some sort of unholiness. Our clerics informed us that it was likely that we were dealing with some sort of undead infestation. At this our charge turned quite queer, and his face went an interesting shade of pale green (I did not know that soft-skins did that). News of fantastic and deadly machinery would have sent him to investigate, but house Cannith does not truck with undeath. He ordered us to escort him back to the safety of the monastery, and then to clean out the area.

A difficult ask, with one of our clerics under some sort of ban, but we proceeded. At the epicentre of the blighted area was some sort of collapsed cave into which we descended. The floor of the area was strewn with bones. Some of us went to investigate a disturbance, and provoked – something. At this, the bones knitted together into skeletons, which became animate and attacked.

The battle was short and not difficult. As there was no rush, we rested and then pressed further into the underground area. There we faced dead with rather more flesh than simple skeletons – zombies rather like the cursed corpses of those silver flame guards. Easily dealt with if you concentrate on their weakness, which is that they are slow. Again we rested. There was a door leading to an inner set of chambers. One of us listened at them, and was overcome with a strange compulsion to attack his companions. I tackled him and after a moment he regained his senses – although not before taking a beating from Druss.

DND4 has no rules for grappling. You can make a grab attack, which immobilises a target, but there are no rules for converting that into a pin or anything like it. The best you can do, mechanically, is “immobilised”. Really useless.

With this little warning, we opened the door and faced what was within. There were a pair of undead in priestly regalia, a pair of “wraiths” – insubstantial spirit things, and a half-dozen or so zombies.

It proved a difficult and dangerous fight, and we were lucky to prevail. The wraiths drained away our life by their mere presence, their cold and deadly aura leaving us stumbling and confused – prey to the zombies. We keenly felt our lack of ranged attack specialists who could have dealt with them better – we have only Verdant Mossytoes. We also do not really fight together as a group. The priestly undead faded away into the walls, emerging at intervals to blast us with their power which repeatedly knocked us to the floor, forcing us to waste valuable seconds simply standing up in the debilitating aura of the wraiths.

I remember nothing especially notable. At least three of us were knocked unconscious at one stage or another – roused from near-death by our clerics and other healers. We dealt with one wraith, then another, all the while fighting the zombies, and eventually took down one of the priests. One remains, but it seems to have learned the better part of valour and is content to remain beyond our reach – insubstantially haunting the very walls.

And so it stands. I think it would be reasonable to retire for the day, lick our wounds, and return. On the other hand, the battles beyond are not going to get easier. It depends on how badly beaten up everybody is. We have not yet decided.

Guild of the Gold Scorpion – Week 1

6 June, 2010

I have missed a week of play owing to an IRL wedding, and the week I missed was the week the shit hit the fan with respect to the guild split. We are now playing as two smaller groups. The group that Baharash is in is mainly evil-aligned. Baharash is hilariously unaware of this: mechanically, he is a Cha-based warlord with a wis and int of 10 and no training in insight, and so has an insight of 2. As far as he knows, he has remained with the president of the guild. He has not seen any of the really bad stuff, so that’s enough of an in-game justification for him to be hanging around with the bad guys – although pretty much everyone in both guilds is a bad guy at this point. I’ll let him describe things as best he can.

Forgive that I have not written for the past several days. The events surrounding the division of our guild are still not clear to me. Half of our number have left to for their own guild, which they had a perfect right to do. What they had not a right to do was to spread baseless rumours about our guild, baseless slanders so shocking and vile that I will not stain this page with their repetition. All our work to create a noble reputation for the name and sign of the Green Crane wasted. If that were not enough, after we had sold our guild-house for an orphanage, these villains – it seems – did foul arson. A worse crime than murder, for it recklessly endangers the lives of hundreds.

At least – as far as I know. I have not first-hand knowledge. Perhaps we have misconstrued things. But then again, perhaps not. We remain in possession of certain funds which in part rightly belong to the members who have left. I mislike immensely this fact and am not sure what path is right. I would be all for sending half the funds to the other group, were it not the case that we have lost contact with them, and we are reasonably sure that they are arsonists. And I must beware of taking myself a little too seriously – money is far from the most important thing.

In any case, we have found ourselves a new home – an old keep built into a mountain, eminently defensible. We acquired it cheaply as it was infested with vermin, which we dealt with. At it’s gates is a scorpion of g0ld, and it seems that that is our new device.

Our immediate need is for provisioning and repair of our new home. Immediately after that, for work. There was some treasure to be had inside the old keep, and so we have adequate funds for now. Nevertheless, we should not be idle – what is life for, if not to fight for a good cause? And so we went into town after securing the keep, and leaving one of our number to guard it. (The keep has it’s own magical guards, but they required rest after our own incursion.) [IRL: one of our players was not there, so his character stayed behind to guard the keep. Good enough.]

Our president, a dwarf, went to deal with the engineers. Our estimate for essential repairs was about 800 gold, which we can manage. He negotiated a price of 850, which is fair. We will have a sturdy roof, a repaired front door, adequate bunks, and sundry other repairs, not least a decent cellar door.

My group went to see the local lord, a certain Lord Arnold Schwarzenegger of house Cannith. The meeting went well enough. It seems that the device of the golden scorpion was once used by a house or military group of decent reputation, but has been unused for many years. His Lordship was agreeable to us taking it as our sign, and so it is. He was also content to allow our croup to operate in his demense, on condition that we accept yet another free job. Does no-one actually want to pay for services rendered? Of course they don’t. I accepted on behalf of our guild, which perhaps I ought not to have done, but it seemed best.

(as a side note – the status of warforged seems problematic in this town. His Lordship was visibly relieved that the sole warforged in our group was not present, and all the warforged I saw were servants of some description. It seems that they are not welcome as freemen around these parts. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.)

We were to accompany his nephew to a certain ancient ruin and back again. All found treasure was to be ours, saving for a certain item which the nephew would claim. When house Cannith goes ferreting about in ancient ruins looking for particular items, it’s not difficult to work out what is underway. It seems we are artifact hunting. Good enough. A few days in town (I traded my handaxe for a simple magical sword and armour), and we assembled to accompany the nephew. A short caravan was assembled – a large wagon for us, and a … vehicle for the nephew.

With thanks to VIZ magazine and apologies to anyone who is, in fact, gay:

The nephew, it seems, is somewhat flamboyant. By which I mean, good with colours, nicely poised, light on his feet – indeed – first on the dancefloor, although possessed of a poor sense of direction.  A man devoted to his mum and not the marrying kind. No doubt a canny shopper (and not in a dwarvish way) and yet, paradoxically inclined to drop the soap. A happy camper, he seemed to be the type to jump over a puddle with a girlish squeal, or to skip gaily around it, rather than walk manfully through it. Perhaps he packs fudge of an evening, or engages in a gay spot of arse-burgling, or simply sips pearl-grey tea straight from the spout. I don’t know – it’s all speculation. As for myself, being descended from dragons I have a cloacca and none of this insane gonads-hanging-outside-my-body-in-a-fragile-sack nonsense. The issue is, however, that the conveyance was garish in the extreme, and this nephew would not hear of any attempt at muting it somewhat.

Sigh. Some battles cannot be won. I briefly considered suggesting that we all simply paint targets on our backs, but thought better of it.

And so we got underway. Our first day’s journey was uneventful, although at camp that night we saw another group on the road behind us. Next day, we were attacked from the rear by a band of goblins. The battle was a shambles. The driver of our wagon – a veteran of many such engagements, I judge – pulled over to the side and began to fire some sort of Cannith crossbow at the enemy. The driver of the nephew’s gaudy caravan, who we all suspect serves the nephew in a manner best left unthought about, panicked and drove his team forward and away. Luckily, there was no ambush ahead on the road.

It was – as the humans say – a clusterfuck. One or two of our number had purchased mounts in town – mere riding horses, which of course also panicked and bolted. Aryenn decided to pursue his horse rather than do the job we were being paid for. A disgraceful display, and the only think I can think of to say in mitigation is that at least he did not run from battle for cowardice’s sake. I expected on leaving the army that a group of adventurers would not exhibit quite the same discipline as an organised force, but still I was shocked. But worse was to come.

We dealt with the goblins, and took a moment to discuss tactics with the other driver. After explaining to him that running away from the warriors who were there to protect him and his lord was foolish, he seemed to understand well enough. He is, at least, no fool, for which small mercy I thank the platinum one. Our own driver stated that his response to any attack would be to pull to the side of the road and then fire his strange cannith “gonne” , or “ryfill” at the enemy. He would also permit more of us to ride on top of the wagon.  The nephew’s man agreed that were we attacked again, he would draw the nephew’s carriage up next to our wagon to present a smaller and more defensible group, and then he would – I suppose – leap off the carriage and cower underneath or inside it. He would not countenance any other to share his perch on the carriage but (?) mossytoes, but (?) mossytoes is a formidable sorcerer and in truth exactly whom I would have chosen for such a post in any event. Well enough.

In all this, the nephew himself comported himself as a noble should – with utter indifference to his own safety and a gratifying assurance that he would be taken care of by his underlings. Oddly, this eased my mind – it’s best on an escort job when your charge is not going to behave unpredictably.

The next day, we encountered a small group of a half-dozen stirges – nasty bloodsucking nuisances, of course they went straight for the horses. The battle was never in doubt, but at one point one of the things had attached itself to Aryenn, and Furion bungled his shot and hit Aryenn rather than the stirge. Aryen – unbeliveably – responded by targetting Furion with an attack that left him disabled for a moment, although luckily by that time most of the stirges had been dealt with. The veteran caravan driver responded by killing the stirge with a well-placed shot, and then shooting Aryenn. Frankly, one cannot fault him, for by all appearances Aryenn had turned traitor and was a danger to his lord.

Druss placated the driver for a moment, explaining that as guild president, he would deal with it. Furion and Aryenn resolved their misunderstanding but still – in any military unit deliberately targeting your allies will earn you a court-martial and a flogging. Druss was livid, as far as I can tell, and the rest of us not too pleased, especially in view of his performance the previous day. He is on notice.

Blokes who act like a dick at the table always say “Oh, but I was being a dick in character“. To which the reply has always been the same: “Yeah, cool – no worries. We gakked your character in character, too.” D&D is actually a fine way to teach sportsmanship to the young-uns.

Thankfully, there were no further incidents, and we made the ruins – and the monastery and small supply village located there – the next day.

Baharash is also blissfully unaware that Vandigan has lost is clerical powers as a consequence of – shall we say – alignment difficulties.

At the monastery, we each went our different ways. I was keen to visit a shrine to the Platinum One, for there is no temple to him at Fairhaven. Wonder of wonders, Vandigan – a human – is a cleric to Him, and so we two went to find this shrine. It seems that there are a few shrines to various deities in the monastery grounds, and the shrine to Him was disused and overgrown. A simple thing to fix – with mop and bucket and scrubbing-brush borrowed from the monastery we set to work. A strange and humbling thing, for I am not especially devout, and yet here this soft-skin (and I mean no disrespect in that) has been inspired to devote his life to Him, to upholding always the highest ideals of honour and valour, to commit to being an example – so far as our fragile mortal flesh permits – of courage and decency and fairness to all. To know and serve Him directly with an immediacy that I shall never share, and to be a conduit for his power.

A lesson to all scalykind, I say, who suppose that it is the form of our bodies that grant us His favour. Nay, never: it is the intent in our hearts. We spoke a little of religious matters, of course, and I described a little of my childhood and was so bold as to correct his pronunciation a little. The clean-up was heavy going, and so Vandigan went and purchased a little masonry cleaner at Honest Abdul’s. The compound was effective, but accomplished its work by way of exploding, and other of our companions came running. At this point (the ways of the gods are sometimes strange), Vandigan was vouchsafed some sort of vision. We finished the clean-up of the shrine, and I gave thanks for our safe journey. I left Vandigan to his prayers, for his path is not mine and I have duties of my own – mainly involving polishing the nicks out of my sword and armour.

Tomorrow we take our noble fool artifact hunting. But tonight, after I am done with seeing to my arms, I might have a beer.