28 October, 2015

I’m sure this is completely wrong and anachronistic with respect to the actual 13th age history. And I’m taking liberties with other people’s characters again. But whatever. 🙂

A battlefield. The victorious army makes pyres for its dead, and buries the bodies of its enemy – thus do their comrades ascend to the overworld, and their enemies are consigned to hell.

The vanquished are the usual – goblins, hobgoblins, a smattering of orcs. The victors humans and elves. The humans wear the devices of their clans – the dragon of the overking, the lion rampant, the chevron argent, the three mallards. The elves wear no insignias. Excepting those few – human and elf alike, who bear no weapons, and wear a simple robe bearing the sign of the lotus. Between the three camps is the careful politeness of allies by force of circumstance.

The leaders are conferring in a muddy pavilion, examining a map. “The bulk of the remainder of the orcs are here, to the north. The scouts can make it in a day, but it will be at least three days to move the army. Four would be wiser.”

“Agreed”, replies Sir Grace. “And Geoffrey, will you bring your troops, or will you stay and take your new barony in hand?” The man with the mallards replies “Of course I will bring my men as agreed. We will all extend the overking’s lands and drive these orcs out once and for all.”

An elf quietly interjects, “to the border of the forest”. “To the line between the peak of CloudHome and New Falls, yes.” replies the man in the dragon surcoat, somewhat carefully. “Your Queen was wise to lend us aid – we will not forget that what we hold we hold because the the Queen helped us take it.”

The moment – passed.

But there was another source of tension in the pavilion. The monks of the grandmaster had been even more silent than usual. “And to the grandmaster, too, we must extend thanks”, he said, inclining his head to the elf of indeterminate age at their head.

“We welcome this effort,” said Mis’than’ar, “your course is a course of honour.” There was a curious stress on the word ‘honour’. It was not lost on the men at the table – fighters and politicians to a man. “Mis’thanar”, said Sir Grace – stumbling a little over the name – “If there is a difficulty among us, then we must resolve it before proceeding. “There is no difficulty.”, said Mis’than’ar, at which one of the younger monks, a human, spoke up. “The men with the birds on their chests have named the adept ‘bloodstone'”.

Sir Geoffrey Mallard shot a look a his sergeant. “Is this true, Wilks?” “Aye milord,” he replied, “for his fists – like stones, you see, and covered with orc blood.”

Sir Geoffrey considered for a moment. “You understand, Mis’than’ar”, he said, taking care to pronounce the name correctly, “that the men mean to do you honour.” The elf nodded, but said “Is an ill-aspected name. We do not eat blood, nor use weapons that draw it.”

Sir Geoffrey declined to mention the gushing compound fractures that Misthanar’s fists tended to inflict. “Nicknames among fighting men are earned, not chosen. If the men have named you Jasper,” he said – shooting a no nonsense look at the sergeant, “then Japser is how they will call you.”

Mis’than’ar considered for a moment. “Jasper is acceptable.” A small sigh of relief escaped everyone, and Wilkes nodded his understanding. “I will see to it, my lord”.

“Well, that’s sorted out then!” said Sir Gravel. “We’ll clean out the rest of these orcs, and then a christening at Geoffrey’s castle.”

There’s more to tell about Sir Geoffrey du marais des colverts, later Baron Geoffrey (he had the ‘marais’ changed to ‘lac’), first of his line. Despite the careful formality in that pavilion, he was rough around the edges and a notably dirty fighter. Oh, and he married a young witch. They were very happy – four kids.

He was a pretty good baron, as these things go. Well-liked, charismatic, and his lady had a knack for bookkeeping. It worked out well. Times were rough, and there was always plenty of fighting to do.

The barony was extinguished long ago, but his family line lives on.

Arena fight!

20 May, 2014

One of the things which I think we all recognise and appreciate is how much work Andrew puts into the game. He does story for all of the characters. We each have two characters, which is a lot, and yet he’s given Rapha my hobgoblin more work than I have.

Tonight we started off with a bit of story, a bit of a cutscene, but then Andrew dropped us into an arena fight. And it was just great. Three waves of enemies. First, we fought team B. Then, Durian the size L dwarf/goliath champion decided that we were worthy and crashed the party. We dropped him in one round 🙂 . Then OMG! Zombies! Shit just got real.

It was great to have a long combat. Most of our fights have been a few rounds then win or run away, and they have mainly been there to drive plot. Not that that’s a bad thing – nothing duller than a “here are some monsters, fight them” campaign. But goddamn it – you build these characters, you want to try them out! It was cool to do that, and everyone got a feel for what their own characters and all the other characters could do.

And this is not to say there was no plot. Alix’s warlock and Durian are due a rematch, for starters.

For me, Blackfen is a bad guy, which really I personally can’t play forever. He’s definitely an alter-ego. Blackfen is a bit of an a-hole, so new people who have only played with me as Blackfen can’t help but see me in those terms. Him becoming a revenant gives me scope to edit his personality a bit, but he’ll still be pretty dark. Playing my other dude – who has a couple of heals and buffs – it was good to take a break. Support caster (“controller”, in 4th ed parlance) is where I am most comfortable.

And I continued my usual “screw up the DM’s encounter” modus operandi. Everyone was already beaten up when the zombies came out. Rapha had one heal, which he dropped into – Durian! “Durian! Durian! Wake up! Zombies!” Andrew is like “Didn’t think of that…”, but handled it with aplomb, as always. Durian took care of the minions, but Andrew made us do the BBEG.

We are all looking forward to meeting Handsome Hank, whatever his incarnation in this campaign. God, he’s a dick.

So, this is death.

2 May, 2014

When the sun, and the light, and the moon, and the stars, be darkened,
    neither the clouds return after the rain:
In the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble,
    and the strong men shall bow themselves,
And the doors shall be shut in the streets,
    and all the daughters of music shall be brought low;
When the silver cord is loosed, and the golden bowl is broken,
    and the pitcher is broken at the fountain, and the wheel broken at the cistern.
Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was:
    and the spirit shall return unto the god who gave it.
Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity.

I took a calculated risk, it did not go well. Bolts to the chest and the eye. I am dead.

I lie on a mound of bodies, just another corpse given to the maze. In the place between life and death the demon whose tooth I stole came to me, reclaimed his tooth and took his price, but it was little more than a beast – no bargains to be made there. In truth, I have little left to bargain with.

I watch my silver cord fray – a metaphor come to life (A metaphor? Or simply plain description of the reality?). Soon my spirit will detach from my body, and fly to face an uncertain future. I see it now – so obvious: the spirit to the immortals, the body back to the primordials. The ancient compact that made sentient life possible. I wonder for what gain they each bargained?

Around me … strange. The power in the corpses around me does not return below, as it should. The flesh remains … capable. Ready to be occupied. Animated. The spirits – I am no priest – but they do not fly as they should. Their path – they travel inward.

Into the maze.

What in the natural world appears to be an ever-changing, interlocking puzzle of shifting stone is here in the between-place a great vortex, a maelstrom. Slow at the edges, breezes merely tugging at the spirit, but a great roaring windstorm at its heart. The ground tremors and hums with the power of it – how could I not have noticed it before?

I watch the spirits around me rise, float away towards the astral sea and the immortals, but they become trapped, snared, slowly but inevitably drifting inwards to the maze. Their bodies rise and follow, like a dog its master, but the spirit drifts away faster as it is caught by the winds. I divine the purpose (or one purpose, at any rate) of the maze: to keep both body and spirit trapped together and yet lost, separated from one another. The paradox of the labyrinth – you know where you are, yet you don’t. So you wander. So close to its spirit, the body does not return to the primordials as it should. But separated from its rightful master, the body is left to its own devices – to walk, to kill and eat – and is ready to fall thrall to a spirit not its own.

It is manifestly a work, an artifact of magic. Its power is immense. Here, here is what I came to the underdark to find. Here is what I schemed and planned for. Are there even greater powers deeper below? Perhaps. But this maze lies before me. It calls me, as it calls all the rest. A snare, a trap – the naked spirit cannot walk it safely. Only armour of flesh can shield the spirit from its reality.

I will not go. I must go. I will not go. Not like this. Not like all the others – an uncomprehending spirit, while my flesh serves the will of another. I will not wander lost and forlorn without my body. Torn and ruined as it lies, yet I need it.

I have chosen my purpose, and my fate.

I will enter the maze. I will puzzle its riddle. I will decode its power.
I will gather what is mine, I will take back my flesh,
I will endure the pain of living once more,
I will seize the silver cord,
I will bind the broken bowl,
I will gather together the shards of clay,
I will enter the maze in my body,
I will tread its paths on my feet,
I will unlock it,
I will solve it,
I will know it,
I will,
I will …

A roar of shock and pain. Harrowing, as only the sounds of the undead can harrow. Among the pile of bodies at the base of the great cliff, one more rises. But this one does not shuffle dumbly towards the maze. It inspects itself, cursing its left arm hanging almost useless from a shoulder shattered to bits by crossbow bolts, which it pulls out of the wounds. One eye a gaping hole, and a great diagonal slash from shoulder to hip – ragged edged exactly like a wound ripped open by demon claw. Within, more horrifying than viscera spilling out – nothing. Nothing at all.

Shadow congeals around the corpse’s stump of a right wrist – it seeming unaware that it has called the shadows together for the purpose. It inspects a somewhat gaudy amulet, marked with a symbol of an eye. After briefly tinkering, it puts the amulet on, concentrates for a moment, and suddenly is clothed in a simple but clean dark grey robe – its eye still missing, but most of the worst of its scars effaced. It looks more or less as it remembers itself looking. It tucks the amulet away, out of sight.

It speaks. “I will also need some help, or at least some shields.” It looks up the cliff down which it so recently was thrown. “Damn them all.”

It clambers off the mound of bodies, kicking aside the occasional grasping hand, its movements becoming smoother by the second. It pauses, its attention caught by something invisible to mundane sight. It picks something up, then something else. It heads towards a pinprick of light in the distance, a flickering torch.

The guards stand their post, communicator close at hand. Cold comfort, that. If they are attacked, there are no spare troops. Did something move out there? No – all was still.

Wait – there was something moving. Shit. A single figure walking towards them, striding, not shuffling.

A hand on the communicator.
“Base! Base! We got incoming.”
A pause.
“What you got?”
“We got – looks like fast zombies.”
“How many?”
“Just the one visible.”
“Deal with it.”

So much for back-up.

The zombie, or ghoul, or vampire, or god-only-knows-what, approaches. Spears are leveled. “Halt and be recognised.” Standard procedure. Stupid, but you have to do it.

The figure halts. Raises its right hand. What the …?
Both hands!”
“I apologise, gentlemen, but my left arm seems to be injured.”
“All right. Approach slowly.”

The figure steps forward. Slowly. Its grey face, its mangled eye-socket: unmistakable.

“Shit! Zombie!”
“Stand down! I assure you I am not a zombie. As you see, I am in my right mind.”
“Well, what are you then?”

“I honestly do not know.”
“Blackfen. Blackfen Undergallows, I think. It has a nice ring to it.”

“Wait a moment – the one that was tried for treason?”
“And completely exonerated, I remind you. I was killed in the attack by the traitors in Justice division, along with all the others.”
“Wait, what? So you are walking dead?”
“Yes, I never said I wasn’t. Look, you are clearly incapable of dealing with this. Take me to the oracles – they will wish to inspect me at the very least.”
“And don’t call me sargeant. Do you see a badge? I stopped being a member of the underguard when I caught a crossbow bolt to the eye, and I’m not inclined to volunteer again. Find someone to tell you what to do. I’ll just wait here. I assure you – the oracles will want to see me.”