Seeing is believing

11 February, 2017

I haven’t been blogging RotW, but tonight’s little bit of ingenuity deserves a mention.

So, we are in the Ivory Labyrinth  – part of The Abyss. The Ivory Labyrinth has several … places. Connected in strange ways. All are mazelike – a simple maze of bones, a swamp of mazelike streams, a lightless maze of caverns. You get the idea.

We were in the slums of Blackburg – a maze of twisy, winding alleyways. A sprawling favella. We needed to get to The Breathless Mountains – a maze of treacherous mountain passes (avalanches, rope bridges, gales – you get the idea). But how?

We dealt with an inhabitant of the Labyrinth. After speaking to it, it descended into a pit. We determined that the pit led to The Lightless Maze. We put some light down there, but on doing so discovered that as soon as we did, the pit no longer connected to that place. Why?

Because we had lit it. Affinity – that was the key. To get to the Breathless Mountains, all we had to do was to create a little piece of those mountains here in the favella. A big ask – the mountains are cold, snowy, mountainous, and uninhabited.

We hatched a plan, and it was awesome. I don’t know if the module permitted it specifically, or if the DM invoked the Rule of Cool.

First, we needed an open area without so many buildings. Our cleric refused to earthquake the slums, but we located a battle in progress – the slums were on fire. We wandered over and earthquaked that whole area. The demons that could fly, scattered. The ones that couldn’t died in the rubble.

While one of us put the nearby fires out with Create Water, our cleric proceeded to use Wall of Stone and Stoneshape to make a mini-mountain, maybe 20 ft high. Craggy. Treacherous.

We then used Obscuring Mist and Sleet Storm to turn it into a cold, sleety, foggy mountainside.

And then – this is the cool bit – we used a Limited Wish to reproduce the effect of an epic Mass Reduce Person. A Limited Wish is more than enough to reduce a party of six by two size categories for a few minutes or so, which is all we needed.

We then proceeded to climb our sleety, foggy, dangerous mountainside. Roped together, hands and feet crawling up the slope. We didn’t know whether it would work or not. We crested a ridge, and found a twisty, dangerous track on the mountainside. The fog cleared a little, and it seemed the maze had obliged us. The air was thin, our breting laboured, and we saw a range of peaks, separated by impossibly deep ravines.

The Breathless Mountains. We are not going to be able to survive for long here. We must find or create a portal to somewhere even worse.


19 December, 2016

Like a boss. The code for this is mainly on thingiverse.


Reporting In

6 October, 2016

As we have just arrived in Santa Cora, I write to “report in”.

Our group has taken lodging in Xavier’s home for wayward dwarves. The city is full, and so I have prevailed on cousin Buffy to take us in. She seems less than pleased, and it would be best if we found other lodging before long.

Some of us have business here, especially Misthanar, who seeks treatment for his petrified arm. I myself will be seeking some sage to consult about the reactivation of the Ebony Watch node, the change in the Chancer’s Hope node, and my part in it.

Hopefully, we will spend only a few days here before proceeding on.

(Initials J.M.)

Out-of-character, granddad has contacts, granddad knows people, but James is being round-about about asking for help. Perhaps he’s in a “Lancet” frame of mind, not wanting to create a debt. Meta-game, of course, it’s just a way for the DM to pass info to the party in-game. Although James isn’t happy about the drama, ut seems Andy is perfectly happy for us to stay at cousin Buffy’s 🙂 .

James did get some help from granddad, though – it seems the expert on nodes is Aeg Ilsa. The necromancer. I suspect he might be a Professor Snape character – everyone thinks he’s bad, but he’s was secretly good all along.

James doesn’t like necromancy. None of my good characters do, even though it is one of the best schools of magic for sheer hit-point damage 🙂 (the others being transmutation and evocation). Then again, I have always preferred utility casters.

Back to it – James has been a little rude to Aeg in the past, a little cool and distant. But, Aeg had previously said something about the nodes (“Do you think re-igniting the node was a good idea?”) and now granddad is saying that he’s the man to talk to. James is going to suck it up and be civil.

Oh – a fun moment in-game. Speaking of utility casters. Bad guy magically locked a door and split the party. Misthanar belted the thing but not enbough to break it. The DM permitted me to use the Hold Portal utility spell to undo the bad guy’s Hold Portal. Rolled a 20. In game, “The magic was the only thing holding the door together after Mist hit it, so with the magic gone it just [hand gesture]”.

Now that I have level 3 spells, I pack the wizard Utility Spell at third level, giving me access to Levitate, Speak With Item as well as the first-level effects. I even took the feat, so that I get two castings from one slot. James has High Arcana talent, which among other things grants you access to Dispel Maqic, so putting it all together its reasonable he might be able to undo an enemny Hold Portal on a 20.

Nice to see the utility spell come in handy straight away, although the main reason I took it was for Levitate, which will get you out of a number of jams (being thrown in a pit, drowning). At fifth level you can cast it on an ally. Still, seeing how the bad guy so effectively split the party with it was a nice lesson. And Message also has its uses.

We are mid-combat. Andy has permitted us a sort of semi-short-rest, recharging encounter powers, and carrying over over my command points and Nova quick actions. I have plans for the lichlings’s book, which doesn’t seem to be a phylactery but which is nevertheless so, so evil.

Brother Warming

14 September, 2016

But as the demons companions began to materialize, its summoning was interrupted, and Drodja stepped forward again and slew the monster in a single blow. Brother Warming ground out in frustration: “Dammit, I just dropped my two best buffs!”. Reverend Cleophothus looked at him quizzically, asking “Would you have preferred to fight three vrocks?” Brother Warming – honest in the heat of battle – exclaimed “Yes!”, and headed up around the corridor looking for more demons to fight.

“Yes!”, he would rather find more demons to fight. “Yes”, he craved honest battle with a simple foe. It is not for nothing that a man abandons his name and his past, and takes a name “Warming-light-of-Sarenrae”. Long ago he had fled an enemy not simple, but devious and subtle. A lifetime ago he had fled into the arms of the goddess of sunlight and health, of purity and cleansing, of simple green and growing things. The first prayer he had practiced until he perfected it was “light” – Sarenrae’s light, yellow-white and warm, with all the promise of summer. It was his talisman, his promise that his goddess was with him always.

Yes, he sought combat. It occupied the mind. He greatly feared that something of the enemy that he had long ago fled might be ahead of them. Waiting.

The Purge

20 July, 2016

The dreams again. Destruction. Fire. Judgement. Most of all, judgement. Oh it was hard, hard doing the righteous work, rooting out the evil. The wickedness.

Most recent had been the west quarter of the town of Esterven. A sink of depravity. Corruption. There, was the house of the demon alcohol. There, was the place of opium and sweetleaf. There, were there brothels of every orientation, even miscgenation – humans mating with non-humans. There, were the gambling houses, the fighting pits. There, were there rich and poor, male and female, human and halfling, elf and dwarf, their souls black, their spirits bowed low under the weight of their many, many sins.

There, there had been fire. Fire and judgement, and the screams of burning sinners. He had readied himself with the armour of God, he had strode up to the Welcome Arms – worst of the worst, he had kicked in the swinging doors. “Woe unto thee!”, he had cried. “Woe unto thee Apollyon – father of harlots!”

Before the bouncers had made more than a step, he had called down the fire of his god, the fire of cleansing, of purification. The fire of Jehovah. The whiskey exploded, setting light to the bar, filling the whole sink of depravity with the sweet smell of malt and alcohol. The fire had spread. It had been a dry, hot summer, and the west quarter was in disrepair, buildings leaning against one another, the wood dry with rot, alleys choked with tumbleweed. By morning, it had almost all been cleansed.

In his sleep, Reverend Josiah murmured, his hand clutching his hip flask, the whiskey in it untouched since the day of his first vision, the day of his own salvation. His talisman. His temptation. The fine engraving on it, “To Josiah, with love” was overwritten with the symbol of his God, the all-seeing eye inexpertly gouged into the silver with a horseshoe nail.

“Woe unto thee”, he murmured, and turned in his sleep. His faith was strong, his purpose unfaltering. In two days time, he would make Crystalwood. His god urged him along, eager and uncompromising, avid for justice and for kindling.

I’m thinking of building Rev. Josiah as a Hybrid cleric/druid (fire and mountain). I see him as a lanky old western preacher-man – string tie, spurs. The cleric/druid hybrid requires wisdom and strengh, and the mechanics of it just don’t work. Maybe I should just go with druid alone. I had intended him to have a little healing, but meh – less complicated. Or maybe we can just go “screw it – lets make it Wis and Con instead of Str”. Other possibility might be a druid/ranger, but we’d make his ranged weapons guns with the same stats as a crossbow.

Perhaps I should bring some extracts from the more bloodthirsty parts of the bible to go with him – there’s plenty to choose from.

If we are short of characters, someone else could play Badger and I could play the good reverend. Or swap around. Or whatever.

His one unique thing, of course, is that he personally and directly works for the volcano-god Jehovah. I believe that in other worlds, this entity is named Imix – prince of elemental fire.

Messages II

12 July, 2016

I actually wrote this post before I wrote part I. The scene at Lancet House suggested itself, and it seemed a shame to not write it down.

The old man (no name yet) is James’ maternal grandfather. His paternal grandfather is deceased. The marriage between Ducalis and Frances is a fairly typical one: his name, her money. Both the Mallards and the Lancets get a fair bit of advantage. The Lancets get access to some of the more usually inaccessible halls of government; and the Mallards get – well – nobody really respects a coat of arms not backed by at least a little money. The more money, the better.

This is what the scene where grandfather pledges his aid to Ducalis’ faction is about: grandfather understands the nature of the deal that he has made with the Mallards. And in any case, his sympathies rather align with theirs. They are all good people, because this is a happy and positive campaign. As to what the big picture is, the war: heck, I don’t know. All I know is something big is going down and our characters will be in the center of it all. 🙂

I see Frances as being quite a bit younger than Ducalis – ten years or so. Again, quite usual for this sort of arrangement. Nevertheless they are – maybe ‘devoted’ is a little strong, but certainly very happy. I had intended for Frances to be a bit more quiet and shrewd, sort of counterbalancing Andy’s idea of what Ducalis is like. Maybe she is, usually. We saw her in an unusual state last post.

A lancet is a medical tool for drawing blood – if you’ve ever had a finger prick to get a blood sample, that’s what the tool that does it is called. The name sounded suitably posh and very appropriate for a family of moneylenders.

The three golden balls I believe originally came from the arms of House Medici. In the real world, it signifies a pawnbrokers.

James wrote for hours. He attended a banquet held in honour of the merry heroes of Griffinsheart, then he returned to his room and resumed writing. It had been only a few months, but he wrote it all. When he ran out of ink and parchment, he called a palace flunky and got some more. His transfer to Griffinsheart. Salty Bob, the Devil of the Sea. Smedley’s taxes and probable land scams. Mal Sheildglider’s ancient mace, that glows underground. Edmund the Marked, the necromancer Aeg Ilsa, the white dragon. The detonation of the Griffinsheart estate, and the uncovering of the ruins beneath it, and their settlement by the dwarves.

He wrote about their strange journey through the Wildwood, which had seemed like days but was probably weeks. The underground cavern in the woods, the phoenix. The grandmother’s cabin. He described Aeg’s gift at his camp in the woods, and his strange words: “The Archmage will be most … displeased”. The re-igniting of the Ebony Watch node and the sad fate of its captain, along with the problematic news that at least one node had been in the process of being claimed by a hostile magic user. He write about the stirring of the Eld, the baby giant, the closing of the southern hellmouth and the strange bleeding stone. (Did we see a Behemoth? He’ll put that down as well.)

He described their return to Chancer’s hope, and the orcish and giantish assault. His re-ignition of the dwarf node, the fight between Aeg and Edmund. Then the second attack, and his inadvertent turning of the node and the political fallout of that, including his own suspension from duty.

He wrote about the complete criminality of Newport, the obliviousness of the duke, the monk festival, the cage of people held to be food of the Chuul, strange portal to the plane of Darakuul – who waited for the end. The plane of ash, remnant of one of The Crusader’s wars. Finally, he described yesterday’s events: the great chuul and the portal.

He concluded:

In the end, I am not really sure what to make of all this. I see I have rambled more than I intended, but it’s probably best to tell you all I could.

Most of all, I am worried that matters between the empire and the dwarves may be turning sour. The empire cannot afford to lose an ally when giants and orcs are attacking cities, nor can we afford to acquire an enemy that can tunnel under our feet from one end of the continent to the other.

We continue west overland, as the ports are blockaded (I have no idea by whom, or why, or even how for that matter). From Santa Cora we should make quicker time. I will be able to head home, and Mal and the rest of my companions will head north to Forge, to whatever awaits them there.

The thick sheaf of parchment was dispatched by skymail next day – the skies over Newport not being blockaded quite yet.

I think we’ll have to agree that Ducalis’ appearance at Newport was some kind of quasi-real sending, or else it makes no sense why he would have left James there.

The duke held a grand ceremony for their departure, throwing open his vault of useful magics. James chose nothing, feeling it would be inappropriate. However, he did refresh his usual complement of three healing potions in case they should run into Edmund again.

Then the party hit the road to Santa Cora with provisions, horses, even a carriage. They made a formidable party and for the first part of their trip, at least, were unmolested. A week into their journey they came to an unnamed roadhouse – an imperial outpost along the trail. There was a package waiting for James.

From his father, two books and a letter. One book was the standard third-circle text with a few useful additions; and the other was a short history of Sir Draper’s disastrous Bitterwood campaign, with commentary. The letter mentioned that aside from anything else, it was clear that James’s studies had progressed to the point where it was safe for him to begin working with these new magics. His father also wrote that Mal Shieldglider’s safety was of great concern, as he held a hereditary position of considerable importance, and that above all James should make every effort to come home to the family estate as quickly as he may.

From his mother, another letter and a small pouch. The pouch’s long drawstring bore a small seal with the Lancet family mark of three golden balls and had a heavy scoreline across the center.

The letter read:


Your father is more worried than he will admit about your letter. We are both greatly concerned about your safety on the road; but the political situation and the state of the empire is more dire than you or your companions know. Your father tells me little of his work, of course, but it is plain that magic is roiling from one end of the empire to the other and beyond. As dearly as we wish you to be here at home, in many ways a road out in the middle of nowhere might be the safest place for you at present, especially considering your current company.

One thing, however, I must deal with. A Lancet does not borrow money – we lend it, and a Lancet most certainly does not haggle with regional nobility for travel expenses! I have had a chat with your grandfather, and he has agreed that one of us should not wander about the wilds on some nag, starving, in rags, and incommunicado. And so I have sent you this pouch. It is a small one, but more easily concealed for that and more than large enough for the purpose. It will manage a few coins, small letters. As you are on the road, grandfather might ask you to act as something of an agent for the family concerns. Discrete, of course. There are not many that will connect you with the Lancet name, and that’s all to the good.

Do be responsible with it dear. Avoid using it regularly or at predictable intervals. Hide it well, and be sure to snap the seal should it look like it might be taken. As to how to operate it, I must leave that as a puzzle for you.

Though you travel as far as Julian, stay safe. Return to us as soon as you may.


“Dire”. Like the rest of her family, James’ mother was inclined to be shrewd and cautious. It wasn’t a word that she would use lightly. But there was nothing for it for now but to continue on to Santa Cora.

Which first? The books or the pouch? Well, the books would take hours just to get started with them. He was going to be spending the next few weeks on the road reading and practising, drawing circles, cajoling sprites, and doing new tongue-twisters. So: the pouch.

Examining it with his magical senses, he could clearly see how the interior was not quite present in this reality, or not entirely, and how the seal was some sort of keystone for the whole. It was activated by some sort of very elaborate ritual, probably, but there was no clue as to what it might be.

So he scanned the letter for clues. And it was obvious: Julian Lancet – his ancestor on the distaff side. Not nearly so ancient as Baron Geofrrey, but still a fair way back. It’s said he went out onto the endless sea to find spices, and then within 8 years parlayed the profits into a fleet and a counting house.

And then he recalled the childhood guessing-game. His mother played it with his brothers, and with him in his turn. You had to say a rhyme and them guess what was in a treasure-box. The game was mainly about getting the rhyme exactly right: it’s rhythm and patterns of emphasis, the secret knock on the box. On getting it exactly, exactly right, his mother would open the box, revealing a sweet, or a toy.

James looked about to confirm that he was in private, and recited the child’s rhyme:

“Julian Lancet sailed on the ocean
Julian Lancet crossed the sea
Julian Lancet rapped on the lock
And lifted the lid to see:

“Ten silver pieces!”, finished James. After a moment the pouch … did something, and inside were ten silver pieces. James left them there. The pouch’s magic was depleted, of course. He put the long drawstring over his head and patted the pouch into place under his shirt. He then broke out his new textbooks and started reading.

That evening, at about the end of first watch, the pouch – well – “ping!”ed in James’ mind. James lit his magelight and wandered off away from camp for a private moment. In the pouch, the ten silver coins had been replaced by several coins of various denomination – even a couple of platinum – and an unsigned note in a neat masculine hand on onionskin paper. It read:

Well done James. You needn’t be quite so cautious in future when drawing minor expenses against the vault. Significant drafts are another matter. It’s best to clear the pouch after use. Now that you are bonded you can send items to other pouches by nominating the recipient, but for now you should communicate only with me or your mother and not mention your bond with the item to the rest of the family. Or indeed, to anyone.

Stay in touch, but do not over-use the item. Inform me when reaching Santa Cora.

Without needing to be told, James burned both letters with a Spark.

As for James’ hopefully cheesy new item, subject to DM approval of course, I’m thinking that the Lancets have several of these connected portals. Thing is, the way they actually work is that sprites carry whatever it is via the Low Way. This means that if you use them too much or too regularly, especially if you are using them to convey valuables, then something will eventually notice and you will find that the transport becomes a little unreliable. Your sprites will get eaten and your stuff stolen, basically. It’s better to send a cheque than coin, but not a lot of inns take cheques.

As for in-game effect, as well as being a handy plot hook and general Deus Ex Sacculum, I’ll ask for an in-game effect of the pouch giving in effect two background points in “Being from a banking family”. It’s the equivalent of a feat. Haggling, appraisal, that sort of thing but large-scale. Tarry might be better at telling you how much, say, a silver cup might be worth (ie: can be fenced for); but with the pouch around his neck James is the person to ask how much a ship might be worth, or a business. And either of them can probably make a decent stab at the gp equivalent of a gem. And of course, he can always ask granddad. Up to a point. Not that we’ll be actually working out the money in detail, because that’s dull. We’ll hand-wave it.

Quirk might be “keeps careful track of money”. James won’t tip out his money and count it obsessively. Well, at least not every day. But he will start tracking purchases and expenses.

I have no idea what work granddad might want James to do in Santa Cora, or elsewhere. If any.

Dammit, I nearly forgot – thanks to John for his notes on dropbox. I had forgotten some cool stuff.

James Mallard -needs to snap out of it

29 April, 2016

I mentioned my blog on another website, and just spent a little time re-reading it. In particular, the events at the node in Ebony Watch.

Deep down in a layer of James’ mind he was not fully aware of, the cloak posed him a question: “would you die for the empire”? And in that same layer, his training and its cameraderie, the histories he had studied – stories of valour and sacrifice, his commitment to make the best of his father’s decision to place him in the army, and perhaps even his childhood storybook lessons that the noble must protect the common people, together formed a wordless reply: “I am a soldier of The Empire.”

Sort of reminded me what James is about. He’s been in a bit of a funk since being suspended from duty. The whole “screw it, let’s go to Anvil” is a bit of a sulk, and he needs to snap out of it. Seeing the politics has disillusioned him a bit, but ultimately there are illusions we all have to grow out of.

My goal for the character, of course, has always been that one day he would be archmage. It’s pretty obvious – that’s why I gave him the “One Unique Thing” that I did. Hidden, locked-away arcane talent. Duh. But he doesn’t plan to be archmage one day – that’s my idea. He will do what’s best. He will serve if he is called.

Which is why I refused the shortsword that the DM offered him (obviously it was for James – no-one else uses a shortsword). James actually is good, and loyal, and responsible and all that. Heroic, even. He’s not going to take some proffered shortcut to a goal that he doesn’t even have, and he’s intelligent enough to know that you are cautious with magic items. After playing a string of bad guys (I re-read Korgul’s stories: funny as hell, and I wrote them), I want James to really be the kind of person you would want in the job.

Having said that – this is not something that could possibly happen in the game. The way I see it, 10th level is when you start being a serious wizard. A bit like a black belt – all it means is that you have learned all the forms of your school. It’s after that that a martial artist starts getting serious.

So, there’s been politics, and he’s been relived of duty. He’s beginning to see what a tangled mess life mostly is. Nevertheless it remains the case that there being an empire is better than there not being one, it remains the case that the emperor is warden and guardian of civilisation and all the people in it. It remains the case that, as Hobbes suggested,

During the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that conditions called war; and such a war, as if of every man, against every man.

“To this war of every man against every man, this also in consequent; that nothing can be unjust. The notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice have there no place. Where there is no common power, there is no law, where no law, no injustice. Force, and fraud, are in war the cardinal virtues.

“No arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death: and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”

Snap out of it, man. Being a soldier of The Empire is still the worthwhile thing that it always was.