Rebirth

29 September, 2019

I don’t know how long I was chained to a wall in hell.

All I know is that at some point I swam back to conciousness, my mind drowning under a lake of indistinct memories and urges, with one last gasp of air frantically making for the surface and then I breached it and I was fully awake.

Where had I been? The red waste? We – my companions, my company – we were travelling west to Axis. There was a promise, an obligation, a duty … the image of a dwarf came to me. And a name. Mal. Mal Shieldglider. I remembered – I had promised to take him to his father’s funeral, debts of shed blood and friendship. Other things twined around that purpose like vines strengthening the tie: the war, the rift between Dwarves and Men, the Empire – how could I forget the Empire? My family, grandfather Lancet. The names and faces of my company came to me: Tarry, Nacelle, Baisek. Odd that I should remember the halfling first. Newer faces too, but still indisinct to my recall. The God of Song … no, he was dead, or gone. There was another in his place now. A necromancer? A sorceress who had gone her own way.

I numbered my obligations, their weight settling onto me like a comfortable and familiar cloak – my cloak! Gone. My wand, my books, all gone, all but one – The Book of the Stars, which the demons would not touch. I was chained to a wall in hell in prisoner’s rags, even my secret pouch was gone. All I had was the necromancer’s stone in my empty eyesocket, its power giving me sight in this lightless place.

The necromancer, Aeg, Edmund the Marked, the council of four. I wonder who the other two might be? I recalled Edmund’s betrayal, and the preposterous excuse he gave for it. The nodes had been taken down, the Empire stood defended by nothing but steel. Which would not be enough. My own foolish hubris was to blame.

For a time I indulged, my psyche reassembling the layers of itself. Of myself. Then I shook out of reverie. Time to act. First, the manacles. I touched my mana. The forms of the spells I had last prepared mercifully were still there. The manacles did not yield to a Knock, but I wondered: perhaps starlight? The power of the overworld? I cast Nova and gathered its power for a minute or more: no sense hurrying. Then I used a simple cantrip as a conduit. The manacles cracked along the weld. I pulled myself off the red, fleshy wall – losing a little skin in the process. The wall I had been chained to seemed to be absorbing me, consuming me, but very slowly. It mattered not. I was free.

For the moment, at least. From one direction, I heard a chanting, an infernal chorus of dozens or hundreds. My common sense had not deserted me – I went the other way.

The passage seemed deserted. The path I travelled was perhaps not entirely real, some amalgam of reality and nightmare, a place on the border, a membrane separating the two. Perhaps this was justice. Perhaps I travelled now the route that I had carelessly sent those imps and pixies to carry my little messages. Perhaps now I too trod the Low Way.

Perhaps.

Before long I came to a set of alcoves set into the walls. Two of my companions! I attempted to free them, but as I reached to them they slipped away, further back into … somewhere. I could do nothing. I prayed that they be only illusions, or figments of my own memories.

Further along, I was overjoyed to meet Tarry! Lost also in this place. He could guide me out to the surface, he said, but he would need my book. I gave him the book, and he changed – grew fangs and claws, and ate the book, shredding it. He left, I think. I was alone.

Game was two weeks ago. I kinda forget the precise sequence of events, but you know, I think that contributes to the dreamlike atmosphere of this piece.

After … some time … I spied another being in the distance. He – he was a knight! Of the golden order, no less. And he seemed real, realer than the other things I had encountered down here. He questioned me, I answered. My rank meant nothing to him, of course, but he was rescuing people trapped in this place. We headed towards the surface.

But this place had its dangers. We fled from a … some sort of abominable hybrid of Chuul and Demon. I used Dispel Magic in an attempt to sever or disrupt the bond between the two halves of its nature. It was surprisingly sucessful, and seemed to stagger the thing. We fled though a door, or perhaps sphincter, and I used Hold Portal to secure it – burning through what magic I had. But there’s no point not using your magic if you are about to be killed. My psyche was still not whole, but it seems I am a pragmatic sort.

The hellhole lay ahead, but it was the scene of a battle between the Knights of the Golden order and demons. The dead knights lay in windrows – I began to understand that the legend of the Great Gold Wyrm, how the Wyrm himself keeps the demons at bay, may be something of a metaphor for the reality. I gave what help I could, with my little Colour Spray, but really there was little I could do to turn the tide. Three of the knights took it as their mission to complete my rescue. In the end, it came down to a simple rope climb.

Two of them made it out, and then it was my turn. The climb was too much for me, so I made recourse to a Levitate spell.

For those who have been counting, that’s three utility spells out of two that James can cast out of his utility spell slot (Knock, Hold Portal, Levitate). Ooops. But, rule of cool, I suppose.

As the demons below overwhelmed the knights, the knight on the rope faltered. I assumed command voice and ordered him up. It seemed to do the trick.

We were up out of the hell hole. I and three knights. Somewhere in the red waste. We had escaped.


In the distance lay a city of brass. But the knights would not go there. I supposed that the city was a mirage, or inhabited by demons, but that was not the reason. I later found out why. Instead, we spied a caravan in the distance and made for it.

The caravanner proved to be hospitable. I traded news of the war to the north for passage, and the knights guard duty. The caravanners gave me desert sheets and a turban for my prison rags, instructing me on how to secure them. They gave us food and water. We journeyed northwest to Santa Cora under the bright, bright desert stars and made camp as dawn broke. It seemed, for a moment, that even after I closed my eyes the stars were still there – the constellations plain to me. But within seconds I was sleeping the dreamless sleep of the truly exhausted.

The journey was uneventful. I learned a thing or two about desert travel and campcraft that would have come in handy on our ill-fated trek west. We made Santa Cora in good time, and the caravanners became a little less hospitable, a little less communicative. These free folk did not highly regard the empire, it seemed, and I kept my opinions to myself. I made my farewells and we four headed into the city.

I decided that the thing to do would be to call on the Count and Countess Lorraine, who had received me kindly last we met and who at least knew me. But their townhouse was deserted. I forced entry with a Knock. Inside was a little dust, the stench of death, and a curious handbill. The bill proved to be a call to arms by none other than Nacelle! The Great Gold Wyrm, it seems, was recruiting. I recalled the battle at the base of the hellhole. And just outside the window, a parade of marching paladins of the order. The knights with me drew away from the window, explaining to me that they were now deserters. This made little sense to me, but I had other things to do. I found the source of the stench of death – a slaughtered and uncooked pig in the kitchen. When I returned to the reception room, the knights were gone.

So what now? Well, I should report. I began to make my way to the barracks, but on the way met a stranger who spoke to me in elliptical non-answers and suggested I follow him to a library. After a minute or two of frustrating evasions, I realised that I was talking to Aeg Ilsa, the necromancer – the frustrating evasions and non-answers being a bit of a giveaway. I was not at all happy to be so soon again enmeshed in the toils of these wizard’s intrigues. I thanked him for my replacement eye, and told him that I was duty-bound to report to the nearest commander, and the library could wait.

Aeg ground his teeth in frustration, which I confess cheered my mood by a considerable margin, and we proceeded to the barracks. The commander was the same as I remembered from our defence of the city, but he was distracted. The town was overrun by Golden Order recruiters, who do not answer to the Emperor except at their convenience. He gave me no orders, and I sensed that there was no place for me here.

Aeg took me to his own tower, leading me forward with the promise of a library. We proceeded through a catacombs (of course), to a low arch. He then attempted to get me to promise to hunt down and slay Edmund, but I’ll be dammned if I do anything these people say. Happily, an officer of the Empire has prior loyalties to appeal to. I told him that I intended to capture Edmund if possible and bring him to court to answer for his crimes, from whence he would duly and legally be hanged.

Aeg again ground his teeth, clenched his fists, and I must confess I felt a little fear – there is no question about his power. At last he agreed, “Fine!”, and bid me place my hands against the span of the arch, which I did.

Magic built and swirled, and I saw a vision of my home – the Chateu du Mallard. But it was a ruin! Burned and broken by siege. Before I could order my thoughts to ask, it was a vision no more. I was here. I was home.


The Chateu is a ruin. Inside are a few unidentifiable bodies, I pray that my family are not among them, but I fear they may be. I ceased my search – there would be nothing to find, although I did find a mostly whole fragment of a letter sent by Nacelle, it seemed, informing my family of my probable death.

Not quite exactly how it went down, there was something involving the Black Oak at the heart of the swamp. Lake, dammit, lake!

Instead, I made for the tower. The tower is old, and defensible, but here too the marks of siege and spell are unmistakable. I descended down the stairs, marking the damage to the old, familar mosaics. And then realised. A tower. Mosaics. Blackwatch. The astronomer’s tower in Santa Cora. This place is a node – it was always a node. Has been for centuries.

Now it was easy to see, obvious to my senses. A node, very old, almost natural – resonating with magics of wood and water. A faint tickle of memory – didn’t SIr Geoffrey have dealings with the Elf Queen?

I wrote this four years ago. Holy shit. Four years.

Regardless, I left the node alone. No more careless hubris from me. There’s no telling how deeply Edmund might have worked his way into the magics.

Instead, I noted something on the floor, now uncovered by the damage. A handle. I shrugged and turned it. A secret room. And inside … scrolls. Hundreds. Maybe just tax records. Maybe secret and ancient magics of my ancestor, the witch Elise. There’s no telling.

And here I stand. I feel the weight and folds of the invisible cloak of my duties and obligations, which seems to grow heavier every day.

In no particular order:

  • I must find food and lodging.
  • I must see if their are survivors of the villages of the county. I am possibly the last Mallard.
  • If there are enemies of the empire and my people still on these lands, I must deal with them. However, running alone into battle is probably not the best approach.
  • I must make contact with someone able to find my family, if they live. My pouch would have been ideal, but it is lost.
  • I must inform grandfather Lancet about the pouch.
  • I must investigate and secure this library. Even if they are just tax records, they are still precious.
  • I must secure this node away from Edmund’s tampering. The sensible thing to do might be to simply bury it.
  • I must do what I can to redress the damage I have done to the Empire’s defences, if possible. It is probably beyond my power or skill. This node is oe of the few not destroyed, and may be pivotal, so I probably oughtn’t bury it then.
  • I must drag Edmund before a magistrate. Not that it will be anything like that simple. I dislike it, but Aeg is probably right.
  • I must fulfil my promise to Mal. There are complexities there, as he is a sworn bodyguard of the dwarf King. Perhaps the right between the emperor and the king might be mended.
  • I need to find what remains of Griffinsheart’s merry heroes. I simply don’t trust anyone else.

And I must see to the bodies of the dead.

There is nothing much here. The next step is to lock up and make for the village and see what remains, if anything. I’ll skim though this library first. Perhaps there will be something useful.


The Chateau du Mallard

21 August, 2019

Pierce’s Guide to the Great Estates

The Chateau du Mallard

For the keen traveller and history buff, the Estate du Mallard is a must-visit.

The estate is located on Whitewater, a tributary of the Bronze River, north of the Dire Wood, about 100miles SSE of Axis. Roads are excellent and well traveled, and your journey should be about four days without incident.

But it was not always so. Ages ago, the lands west of the tributary were home to tribes of orcs and savage monsters. To the south. the river descends from rough hills and is mostly uncrossable. To the north lay miles of boggy wetlands, the Marais du Mallard, although these days it is “Lac” rather than “Marais”. For a few miles the river was fordable, and so Geoffrey – the first Baron Mallard – built a tower and defences, from which knights of the fledgling Dragon Empire might sally forth in defence of civilisation.

The site is no longer frontier, the barony long since extinguished, and the river bridged. But the original tower and some fortifications still stand, a testament to centuries of careful stewardship by the Mallards.

The estate now comprises most of county Whitewater, about one hundred and fifty square miles of farming district. The wines are excellent, and every inn will supply the local delicacies – sweetreed, which grows only in the boggy wetlands, turtle soup, and – of course – the duck. The adventurous might also care to sample the liquor distilled from the reed, but be warned! A little goes a long way.

Visitors will likely stay in any of the excellent inns in one of the surrounding villages. During the growing season the manor house is open to the public at the usual times. You will want to see the museum with its reconstruction of the ancient battlefields and its archaeological finds, and read the charming tale of Baron Geoffrey and the swamp-witch Elise, founders of their line. One can also take a tour of the old tower, but booking is essential – address your enquiry to the head groundskeeper, Chateau du Mallard. Parties may also wish to apply for license to hunt duck and other waterfowl. Bag limits are strictly enforced.


What Pierce does not mention is that the bridges are built to collapse, and the tower and its defences are still an entirely serviceable military emplacement. There are illusions placed on it to make it look just a little more ruined than it actually is. Tours are conducted, but very much circumscribed – the Mallards cite fears of falling masonry. Pierce also does not mention the tunnels connecting the manor to the tower, although anyone would be able to guess that they are there. They are kept in good repair and are patrolled. They are not terribly deep and are prone to being damp.

Although it’s all pretty civilised, we are in a fantasy setting, here. The black swamp oaks still grow in the further reaches of the “lake”, and they are not entirely friendly. Still the occasional thing coming down from the hills, too – bears, sometimes some old orc skeletons. The small imperial garrison earns its pay.

Might be worth noting that 40 or so years ago, the Mallards and the estate weren’t doing so well. Things have been brought back up to code mainly thanks to Ducalis, who is an amazing guy. Quite a bit of the manor is actually pretty new, although the relics and whatnot are genuine.


Br Warming’s Philosphy

22 October, 2017

Our DM is asking us to kinda distil down the essence of what our characters are about. As in: if your character was a D&D god, what would he or she be the god of?

Brother Warming-Light-Of-Saranrae has a couple of things going on, character-development-wise. We have the “half drow who has repudiated his drow-ness” thing. We have the “dude who was very keen to keep out character who was a vampire from going full-on bad” thing.

But really, the thing he does more than anything else is charge into battle. However, we have a priest of Iomedae, goddess of valour, and a paladin of Gorrum, god of getting into bar fights. Aren’t we just doubling up?

Iomedae’s code is here. There are a couple of points in it that aren’t really Br Warming’s thing:

  • I will learn the weight of my sword. Without my heart to guide it, it is worthless-my strength is not is my sword, but in my heart. If I lose my sword, I have lost a tool. If I betray my heart, I have died.
  • I will guard the honor of my fellows, both thought and deed, and I will have faith in them
  • I will never refuse a challenge from an equal
  • I will give honor to worthy enemies, and contempt to the rest
  • I will suffer death before dishonor
  • I will be temperate in my actions and moderate in my behavior

Br Warming is maybe about valour, but he isn’t really about honour. He certainly isn’t about “I will never refuse a challenge from an equal”. His attitude to that is “Meh”. There’s a diffidence about him. Shame isn’t a big motivator for him, which isn’t to say he’s immune from it. He was rebuked, once, by Iomedae herself for lack of clarity of purpose, and he accepted and learned from it.

Gorum’s described here and . here.

The Lord in Iron is considered brash and impulsive; he takes what he wants, by force if necessary, and answers any direct opposition to his will with violence. His priests and followers tend to follow the god’s example, which means that there are more ruthless and exploitative members of his faith than those who espouse altruism.

(This passage would be better if the weasel-words “is considered brash and impulsive” was just made “is brash and impulsive”).

Br Warming is not really about fighting for the sake of it. He isn’t trying to prove something, he’s trying to accomplish something. Furthermore, he is good. Gorum isn’t. He isn’t going to get all offended by stuff and respond with violence – that is a part of the drow character that he has refused.

So, what is he about?


Choose your purpose. Choose your destiny. Choose your cause. Choose right. Choose redemption and rescue. Choose to stand against evil, great and small. Choose to protect the good. Choose to make a difference.

Do not fight for a cause for which you would not die. Do not hazard your life or the lives of others in mean, or ephemeral, or selfish causes; do not hazard your life for no gain. Act wisely as you may.

But then, fight! Fight extravagantly; fight without fear. Strike, and disdain to count the cost. Then strike again. If your life will win your purpose, spend it.

Have faith, and remember your reward in paradise. But first and last, remember the your goal here on earth. It must be worthy of you, so strive to be worthy of it.

“Fight extravagantly. Fight without fear.”

St Warming’s worshippers number a various orders of fanatical suicide monks. Humble as all get out, and prone to directly attacking the command tent or the heavily defended siege equipment. Whatever is going to win the day. It’s also quite common for battlefield medics and unarmoured sappers to venerate him.

They also number some people you wouldn’t expect – Andorran rogue/bards running the underground rail out of Cheliax. Spies infiltrating Red Mantis cults – sure to get caught sooner or later. Even some engineers building bridges in mountain passes find comfort in his teachings. Firemen, or the fantasy equivalent.

Anyone doing something they see as good, that’s probably going to get them killed doing it, whether or not it directly involves fighting, whether or not anyone ever knows about it.


Well, you got trouble!

18 August, 2017

We spent the first half of the game trying to get our vehicle back on track. Then, the vehicle fixed, we decided to go head to some snowy hummocks off on the horizon. The hummocks proved to be igloos, inhabited by penguin people.

Most of the rest of the party went down to the proverbial D&D tavern. All kinds of stuff going on down there: strange herbs, stranger sauerkraut. My guy, being strictly teetotal found a soapbox and stared preaching.


Well, my friends, you sure do have a beautiful town here – beautiful town, igloos spotless as an igloo can be, clean streets, public order. You are people with pride, people with dignity. I see people looking build a nest, looking to start a family, looking to build your community just like any clean-living decent folk of any peaceful, law-abiding town in the world will do.

But I’ll tell you, good people: you got trouble. Oh yes! Trouble, right here! Why, just down in that tavern there, right under your very beaks, bold as brass, sitting right out on the main street – not an ounce of shame, not a thought for the decent folk walking by.

Now sure, I know one or two of you might stop by once in a while, and no harm come of of it. But I tell you, they sell alcohol in there! Booze! Hooch! Sauce! By any name the demon drink and I tell you, friends, once that liquor gets its hands on a man he’ll spend all day down at the bar. Never mind the fish needing to be caught! Never mind the eggs sitting on the ice! Oh no, he’ll be in there drinking just one more for the road and that’s trouble, my friends, no doubt about it.

And if they ain’t drinking they’re playing cards, they’re playing pick two, nickel spin, ball in the hole, gambling away the family food to any cheap jack hustler in a shiny suit with an eye for a mark. Before you know it you’re out on the street of a night – nary a crevice to hide from the wind in and that’s trouble, friends, standig out in the night with the storms coming in.

And I tell you, friends, the drink is the least of it. Seedy, disreputable places like that place there, that place right on your main street, why they have their back rooms, and what goes on in those back rooms I don’t want to talk about. They have the lichen in there, friends! Black lichen, and sure enough the red toadstools, too, growing it under the floorboards. Robbing a man of reason! Oh, it starts small, a sniff here or there, a little in your tea, but soon enough a man is taking an ounce a day and licking the walls for more.

And what’s worse is they’ll sell it to children – that’s right! Chicks, still haven’t lost they baby feathers, innocent chicks, and they’ll hook ’em when they’re young, and how will you feel when the chick you reared to be an honest hard-working son or daughter taking care of you in your old age is down at the tavern – right there, I tell you! – down at the tavern spending his or her hard earned fish on low entertainment, frittering away the family inheritance.

Friends, I won’t even talk about the shameless hens in there – scarlet women! Why, that kind of talk will scorch a young man’s ears! Those hens will exchange favours for pebbles to line their own nests, when you see a married man slipping through town with a pebble in his beak, headed for the tavern why you know what he’s going to be doing with it. And where do you suppose he got that pebble? Why from his own family nest! Robbing their own, for a few minutes dance – head bobbing, flippers flapping, drunk as sin and they call it a good night out.

And it all comes around onto your community, onto your homes, because wherever you see vice you’ll find crime, and corruption, and violence right here on the streets, because that’s trouble, and you got trouble right here in this town. Right there in the barrels of drink, right there under the floorboards, right there lounging around in the chairs, a blight on your community, a stain on your fine main street, an insult to every clean-living citizen walking past – yes sir I can tell you’re angry, you have a right to be angry and its long past time that the good, decent, clean living people of this fine, fine town took matters into hand, I say – is that a pitchfork I see? Well, we’ll need more pitchforks, friends, more axes and more crowbars because by the time we are done I promise you every barrel of liquor and baggie of lichen will be out the door and on the fire and every drunken hustler and bum will get the flipper-slapping of his life and we will clean up this town, right here on this street, right here, right now!


“Make a charisma check.”
Nat 20.

The good Reverend Josiah Ezekiel, sole remaining worshipper of the volcano-god Jehovah is as we speak striding toward the town tavern, surrounded by a pitchfork-wielding angry mob.


Doing what’s right

8 August, 2017

I’m running a 13th-Age druid in Maddie’s post-apocalyptic sci-fi mashup, an elemental adept specialising in fire. His name is Josiah Ezekiel – a stern, old-west preacher-man. His one unique thing is that he is the only true worshipper of Jehovah left on earth. Unknown to him, Jehovah is not exactly who he supposes him to be.

It can be hard to know what’s right, to be sure about the will of God. The devil lies: lies within lies, truth dressed up as falsehood, falsehood dressed up as truth. Sin must be fought where you find it. It was the sin of pride that brought down the old world; the sin of the builders of Babel. Oh, and that of Sodom, too, and all the rest. But the greatest sin is pride.

Josiah travelled with these companions through a portal to a … place. A wasteland with a sunless, cloudless, neutral grey sky – for all the world like being indoors. The tower was all that remained standing and whole. They entered. When Josiah saw the library in the base, stacked with books of the beforetime full of pride and lies, the word of the Lord came to him. His companions climbed the stairs in search of loot: avarice was strong in them. But Josiah stayed below and commenced to burn, calling on the cleansing fire of his god. There was little water on this plane – the books caught easily.

Demonic things assailed the tower, come to quench the fires of the Lord. But Josiah’s companions fought for their lives, and Josiah with them for a better reason. Fed by the papery blasphemies below, the tower caught. They fled upstairs, past rooms filled with devices mechanical and alchemical, alembics purifying ichors. Womblike pods in which gestated strange, misshapen creatures. All would burn. But Josiah’s time was not yet. They found a window near the crown of the tower, and made their escape.

They reassembled below. A man – perhaps – approached them. The word of the lord came to Josiah:

When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none. Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation.

Who would live in this strange place, but a demon? But Josiah kept his peace. The stranger began telling his mix of truth and falsehood: that the men of the beforetime had made portals for transport, unaware that these portals passed through this void, and that demons had passed through. That they had sealed their portals against demonkind, but the seals were weakening. And that these portals must be closed.

True and false, no doubt. Closed? The portals should be destroyed, and the knowledge of them erased.

The party exited the strange between-place, arriving back in the portal room of the node they had just yesterday departed from. An old man tended the room. When the party emerged, he ran to the control panel and began working it. One of the party shot him: a mercenary, his heart black with murder. They left the portal room to find the node empty, it’s inhabitants gone, traces of violence left in the halls. But Josiah stayed behind, to carry out the will of his god. It must burn, it must all burn, burn and be cleansed. The fire of the Lord took little purchase on the control panel, but on the ring around the portal it caught, its net of arcane runes scribed with demon-blood lighting with green fire as good battled evil.

Josiah heard battle where his party had gone. Security bots, come to quench the fires. Josiah left the portal room to join the fight. Behind him, the containing ring around the portal burned and cracked, its wards weakening and failing, soon to expose a bare portal to the grey void.

And somewhere on some other plane, Imix – prince of elemental fire – laughed and capered with delight.


Not exactly Cinderella

7 June, 2017

“Captain Mallard! What a delight to see you here! I hardly hoped you would come, so pleased you could make it.”

But let’s rewind a few hours.


The Dairy King had been something of a shock for poor James. I mean – one hears of that kind of thing. But being thrown into the thick of it with Uncle Ben – the Black Duck of the family – took a little coping with. James had managed to foist him off onto Tarry, and had also managed to find a relatively quiet and up-market casino. The word being “relatively”. Decent gin in the martinis, and the hookers were almost fully clothed – although the practised eye might have noticed the lack of fussy buttons, catches, and laces on the dresses.

The Dairy King hosts a non-stop Mardi-Gras with laser lighting and pumping EDM. Andrew described various milk and dairy-product-related shenanigans which … you had to be there.

The Diary King is a big, proud, magic and steam-powered vessel, and utterly unsinkable.

As for the hookers … I assure you that the main thing a hooker looks for in a working dress is something easy to get out of. Bra, but no panties.

James decided that grandfather Lancet had put him here for some reason or other, and that he probably ought to make some sort of a showing. A little drinking, a little gambling (he even won – a pleasant surprise), and someone still with all her teeth to take back to the cabin for some afternoon delight.

James isn’t me. James is from good family, is a junior officer in the Imperial Army, and has a Charisma of 16 – which easily puts him in the top 10% of attractive people. He’s tall, slim, good-looking, clear headed and clean shaven, and has no difficulty in social situations. Sure, sometimes that makes role-playing him difficult. I have to guess what his life would be like, lucky bastard.

After they were done, the girl left, and Uncle Benjamin stepped in – hearty, backslapping, and more than a little drunk. Let’s say “moderately”.

“James! James! Trust you to find the good ones, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, I see.”
“Uncle. Our credit is good?”
“Of course! Of course! Porsche is one of the good ones, lad – smart and discrete. She works for the Dairy King, you know. Now, if you can take a little advice from your uncle, then take this to heart: never fuck the same girl twice in a row. Not until you are married.” Benjamin Lancet’s face flickered for a moment – the bluff, red-faced, careless sot replaced by that of a shrewd and serious man who had seen a little of the world, a genuinely concerned relative. James answered with a look and a small nod, and the mask slipped back in place.

I got the impression that Benjamin is actually a Lancet and kinda sorta got some sort of Mallard family title as part of the same deal in which Ducalis married Frances. The Mallards are book-smart wizards and courtiers – politically savvy public servants. The Lancets are shrewd bankers and businessmen. I am informed that Uncle Ben is the “Black Duck” of the family. I suspect that someone is a Game of Thrones fan.

“Well! We should invite your friends aboard! All Griffinsheart’s merry heroes together again. It’d be a shame to break up the group.”

And so they wrote a note inviting the party to travel westward on the Dairy King. The “King” would embark midday tomorrow. Eight berths were booked. Left unsaid was that at least one of those berths would be unoccupied, Cannis Lashley having perished in the defense of Santa Cora. Benjamin watched, a little bemused as James summoned sprites to make copies of the notes and Arcane Marked each one.

Out of game – eight berths because Dref has a new character. In game, however … how did whoever booked this know we needed eight? They would have to have done it before Cannis died. Oh – of course. I think this was all set up by granddad Lancet.

In the end, James decided that for his one night remaining in Santa Cora he should accept at least one of the dozens of invitations he had been sent. “A ball? You are going to a ball?”, asked uncle Benjamin. “Well, somebody should”, replied James, “and nobody else really can. Nacelle, perhaps, but she may make certain people uncomfortable and that’s not really the point of the evening. Mal is dwarvish nobility, which really wouldn’t do at all right at present.”

Nacelle is a female drow paladin of the Great Gold Wyrm. She has a strength of 16 and is not to be trifled with. What can I say? Peeps be raycis.

James had sorted through the various invitations he had been given. One or two caught his eye, and one of those was being held tonight. Isabella, the Countess Lorraine, was holding a charity ball in aid of the displaced and homeless of Santa Cora. Countess Isabella packed rather more clout than one might suppose. The count was also a colonel commanding the Regiment Lorraine, one of the older and better-respected units, and the countess herself was quite the society matron. That she was here in Santa Cora at all was interesting in itself. There would most certainly be news from the west.

Attending a ball is actually a rather expensive business. One is expected to arrive and to dress in style. James would be attending in his dress reds, of course, and the whole point of a uniform is that it be uniform. But details matter. James flew about the city. A little help from Uncle Ben and a visit to the Mallard unit turned up a family brooch to be pinned to a sash – the three mallards, of course – a tastefully expensive swordbelt, and James outright rented a jeweled dagger for the evening. For his sword, however, James decided that his plain working shortsword would perhaps send the right message. Likewise, rather than arrive in a carriage he would arrive on horseback – a splendid glossy-coated chestnut courser borrowed from the Mallard unit. With some misgiving, his cloak and wand remained behind. Last but by no means least, he organized an eyepatch to conceal his necromantic stone eye. Then, with his dress uniform crisp and immaculate, his boots polished to a mirror shine, and with invitation in pocket, and he was ready.

He arrived and made his way along the receiving line. “How d’you do”, “Enchanted”, as appropriate. He was relived to see that his rig had hit the right notes. In particular, his was not the only uniform in attendance, and he not the only one who had brought his working sword along. A plain sword, he guessed, would be something of a badge of honour for the next few months.

And finally, the countess herself. A brightly intelligent midddle-aged woman. James felt instantly at home.

“I could hardly miss the entire season”, he replied, “and such a good cause.” The countess smiled and nodded, and James moved on. He had reluctantly financed the evening from the Lancet treasury via his magic pouch, but that was small beer compared to what faced him now. Oh – did you think that these things were free? Before James was the guest book, and against each name was an amount in support of the Countess’ charity. James wrote his family name “Mallard”, and a number that made him wince a little. Not extravagant by any means, quite correct really, and father would understand. But still.

That done with, he made his way into the ball.

This charity ball will raise – in our money – hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions. It’s a major city, after all, and there are quite a few very wealthy people knocking about. Charity and noblesse oblige is how the nobility tax themselves. A million bucks isn’t actually a lot of money these days … but it isn’t nothing.

Peeps, I am going to stop this here, because I have Dwarven Forge castle pieces that need painting, and really I just wanted to talk about the idea of attending a ball.

James got a little intel: seems the Emperor himself has sailed with the fleet. Maybe we will have some sort of party meeting next week on the Dairy King. I don’t know what else may have happened at the ball. Some dancing, some canapes, perhaps some brandy and cigars and good advice later on. James is a little young to hang out with the true veterans, but “hero of Santa Cora” and all that. Perhaps there will be retcon 🙂 . Presumably James scored various other info as well, but that’s all part of maintaining his “Minor Nobility” background.


Phoenix rising

4 June, 2017

Ra, climbing the horizon!
Rising up the mountain, lighting up the valley below
Ra, giver without measure!
Beacon of compassion, shining through the spectrum of life

Day is born, night is gone
One in all, all is one
Communion with the sun

Ra, ruler of all nature!
Burning on forever, melting all together in one
Ra, holy synthesizer!
Inspiration showers green and growing gardens of love

Voices rise to the song
One in all, all is one
Communion with the sun, with the sun!

What a great game night! What a fine end to a plot arc!

Our investigator/alchemist had frozen the fallen Phoenix in place, locked in time. And, in a fit of impatience, our DM brought out the BBEG – the maralith general of the armies of Deskari, architect of the worldwound. Fight, fight, fight. Her extremely nasty friend was killed, and with his ability to redirect spells neutralized our Arcanist could deploy the big gun on the Maralith herself: Suffocation – save or die. The spell dropped her unconscious, and we cut her head off. (coup-de-gras).

Then another BBEG game through the portal, briefly foiled by a Wall of Force. Another Suffocation rendered him staggered – without his spring attack (a full-round action), his main trick was cancelled and he, too, was killed. We had recovered the Sword of Valor.

But finally, the corrupted phoenix began to flicker with flame, began to re-enter normal time. She dropped a Wall of Flame but our magics were more than enough to permit us to deal with the damage. She directed a Meteor Storm at our cleric. But we had been discussing – surely, with the general dead, this phoenix’s corruption might be undone?

We each in our own way attempted to reach it. Our investigator, by reason; our paladin, by charisma; our cleric, by an offer of Atonement; and Brother Warming, by the morning prayer to Saranrae – and a little Inexplicable Luck.

Our tactician decided to reach the phoenix another way – positioning himself to attack, should that be the way of it.

However if might be, whether by dice or by fiat (perhaps your chronicler’s age has made him cynical), the phoenix heard us. She offered her neck to our tactician – who had been made a vampire months ago, and who had lived struggling against his undead urges. The rest of us recoiled in horror – and then realised: phoenix! Gavren drained the life from the Phoenix, but did not grant it undeath – simply death. And, as they do, the Phoenix crumbled to ash and we watched it reborn. A rare sight, witnessed only by a few.

We spoke. We repaired to the scrying chamber of the general and, by its magics, our paladin exhibited the head of the general to the battle outside Drezzen. The demons, in accord with their chaotic nature, broke and fled; and the troops of the righteous, reinvigorated with courage, slew the few that remained to fight.

We looted the general’s armoury and recovering a quantity of magic weapons for Her Majesty’s armies … and one or two which we retained for ourselves. We found also a Rod of Lordly Might, and not just any such (not that there are “just any” of these), but one bearing the crest of house Hawthorne.

We returned thought the portal to the world. We joined what was left of the battle on the other side. When all was done, Gavren Hawthorne – tactician, vampire, last lord of his house – told us: “I am done with this undeath. Iomedae herself refused me, to restore me to a human – offering me only permanent destruction. But now, I am full of the blood of the phoenix. I will shed my cloak of shadows and see the sun – perhaps I may be reborn.”

We remonstrated, pointing out the risk, which was a bit out of character for Br Warming. But Gavren’s mind was set. We returned to the altar to Sarenrae (?) where Brother Warming-Light-Of-Saranrae – who had kind of taken on Gavren’s vampirism as a bit of a pet project – laid him and stood vigil the night he changed months ago, a lifetime ago, several levels ago.

But the sun was blocked by cloud, part of Deskari’s war: many of his troops preferring darkness. There on the altar, Gavren called: “Iomedae! Remember your promise! Part these clouds, and grant me to stand beneath the sun!”

In the flat grey from horizon to horizon, a grey set in place by the will of the demon lord, above the altar a rift appeared and the full light of the sun shone down on the vampire. He blistered, he smoked, he burned – screaming in pain – to charcoal, to a small pile of ash.

But the blood of the great phoenix was in him. And in that ash, a lick of flame appeared, then a circle, then a hot flame too bright to look at, and then lord Gavren himself, human reborn from flame, naked on the altar.

A miracle. We covered him, and Father Cleophethus performed the ritual of atonement. Our investigator simply said “Lord Hawthorne”, and offered him his rod of office. We were greatly joyed, but subdued – perhaps numbed by the great events of the day, and daunted by the task ahead of us.

As we walked back down the hill, Br Warming quietly reached into his handy haversack and retrieved a small sack containing a mallet and a half-dozen wooden stakes. He discarded it by the side of the road. He would not be needing it now.