The intrigues of wizards

11 May, 2017

Days of travel, south along the Owl barrens. And Griffinshart’s merry heroes faced days more, north again to Santa Cora. They had retrieved the Spear of Hoar, an artifact of unthinkable power, and a trove of other items besides. It had been four days, and was liable to be a few more days yet before they returned to the city. James had not bonded with the strange wand yet, and the foreboding-looking book remained tightly shut. No time – they travelled hard, with all possible haste.

James had written to his grandfather, the patriarch of house Lancet, via his secret message pouch. The messages were carried via the Low Way. A mostly secure method of secret communication. That day, the pouch had alerted James that he has received – something. At camp, James found some privacy and performed the ritual that unsealed it. Within was a tightly folded letter on onionskin paper.

I have received your message. I have not received the mineral sample. The transport we use is not entirely reliable. If you are correct about the nature of the sample, then it is likely that some property of the stone itself may have come into play. It might be best not to entrust objects that are likely to have odd properties to this communications channel in future.

On to the substance of your message:

Thank you for keeping us informed. Without your messages, disaster would have been certain and swift. With them, disaster is – I am afraid to say – still a strong possibility. But now there is some hope.

Many are unconvinced that matters are as grim as the information from you and a few others indicates. They prefer to whistle past the graveyard, I fear. The great defenses of the Empire have suffered a critical blow, and they insist that it is merely temporary. We entirely lose contact with an important city, and they claim it is merely a few raiding orcs.

Not everyone is a fool. But it takes time to mobilize a military which in the south has for centuries faced very little action, and against the objections of a small but important cadre of idiots.

What I am trying, rather poorly, to say is that help is on the way, but it may not arrive in time or be enough to win the day. You will not have the armies of the Empire, I fear, but only that of a faction within it.

Neither can I help you with information on the item you carry. Its history is somewhat obscure, and there is really no way to divine fact from fancy among the legends.

Thus, my reply is really no reply at all. I wish that I had better news for you. Nevertheless, you and your people must assay this. Be resolute. All who are within beck of the city must come to its defense, you not least. Plan as best you can, then act. For both of your families, and for The Empire.

Regards,

No salutation, no signature, and all the details carefully worded around. “Mineral sample”. “An important city” – quite the understatement.

And there it was. No guarantee of the Imperial Cavalry, no long-forgotten ritual to unlock the power of the spear, nothing. And yet, grandfather was right: James and his companions were scarcely alone. The city was defended by – well – an entire city. All they could ever have hoped for, even with the Spear of Hoar, was perhaps to tip the balance.

“Be resolute. Plan and act.” And if you cannot plan, then act as best you may. Very well. The patterns in James’ cloak shifted slightly as its magics echoed and amplified his resolve.

But the pouch was not empty. Within, the dragonstone fragment that James had sent two days earlier. He drew it out. It was cracked now, the cracks catching the fading light. Cracks forming patterns, structure that James recognised – wards, glyphs. He tossed it away from him and began to prepare for defense.

But the stone did not explode, or summon a foe. Instead, it spoke – its message broken and disjointed, it’s voice the voice of Edmund the Marked:

Beware … lies of Aeg Ils … false mission … seeks the great … the Grimoire of Nod, the Book of Cain … do not …

As soon as the message was spoken, the dragonstone crumbled to dust.

The “Grimoire of Nod”, whoever that might have been; the “Book of Cain”, a name James did recognise – the first and progenitor of the vampires, greatest of the undead; and no doubt the volume was also known as “The Book of Vile Darkness” and sundry other epithets.

It didn’t take a lot of guessing, really. According to Edmund, the necromancer had sent them off on a false mission, and had hoped to find something else. James was not inclined to credit Edmund’s words, but it was likely that they had indeed found this book and that it was currently sitting in James’ backpack.

Maybe Aeg had played them false – no, the Spear certainly seemed to be real. Maybe Aeg was playing both sides. Maybe Edmund was merely guessing, or had information about the book, and was attempting to pin it on Aeg. No, not terribly likely. One might reasonably suppose that “The Book of Cain” was exactly the kind of thing that a man looking to usurp the Lich King might think could come in handy. Then again, who knew what Edmund’s plans were? Or maybe the book wasn’t really … no, James could eliminate that one. Whatever the book was, along with the Spear it seemed pretty damned real.

The pestilent question was: what to do about it?

Obviously: nothing. Nothing yet. All who stand within beck of Santa Cora must do their duty. There would be battle. After that?

And who was Nod?

As we learn in Genesis 1-4, the Elohim – the gods – created the earth and the races of men, each “in his own image and likeness”. This explains why there are different races that look different. Brown people are brown for exactly the same reason that any child looks like its father – because that’s where they came from, that’s their origin. Remember that this was all written by people who hadn’t discovered cells, yet.

Anyway. One of the gods, named Jehovah, planted a garden and put some people in it. Blah blah blah and then Cain killed his brother Abel so Jehovah banished him. Cain travelled to “the land of Nod”, who obviously was the local god of the tribe who lived over at the other end of the valley. Cain got married there and no doubt lived happily ever after.


Summary for Maddie

6 April, 2017

Just a summary of my character’s story for a player who has returned to the game recently.

James’ story arc has been a classic greek tragedy – a rise and rise and rise and then bought low in one catastrophic stroke bought about by his own hubris.

We have a couple of mysterious wizards knocking about the world: Edmund the Marked, ex Council of Four, and Aeg Ilsa, Necromancer.

Edmund helped out the party on a couple of occasions and gave James a cloak. The cloak had a connection to the magical “nodes” of the empire – defenses set up ages ago to protect the empire from … stuff. Giants. Orcs. Probably elves and dwarves, too. The cloak also has a quirk, that whoever wears it becomes (fantically?) dedicated to the empire.

At Ebony Watch, James managed to re-ignite one of these ancient nodes. A pretty major deal. Later, in Chancer’s Hope he managed to re-ignite a second one. This one was a bit unusual in that it was in dwarven ruins underground and may have been property of the dwarf king, kinda sorta. Compounding this is that there is political tension between the dwarves and the empire at the moment. Mal Shieldglider was implicated in this, and has been exiled.

While reigniting the node, Aeg asked James if awakening the node was really such a good idea. It seemed to James that it totally was, because the city was being attacked by the orc horde. And indeed, the node once activated put this defense around the city. James got the idea that reigniting the empire nodes was basically the right thing to do.

In Santa Cora, it turned out that there were two nodes – one in the cathedral, and one in the astronomers tower, which no-one had entered for centuries. Edmund was present as James reactivated that node, a bit of a pinnacle moment. But as James did so, Edmund seized control of the magic and through this connection with this activated node brought down the entire freaking network. The immediate effect of this was that all of the storms that this node had been protecting Santa Cora from (this node was why Santa Cora always had nice weather) hit the city all at once. But the wider effect of the entire network going down is obviously more dire. Especially with an orc and giant army attacking from the south.

Edmund’s rationale was that life would be better if common people would rise up and be heroic, rather than relying on the empire or on heroes. I can’t work out if he’s a commie and wants the proletariat to rise up; or if he’s a libertarian and wants to reduce the state to a size where it can be drowned in a bathtub.

Turns out Aeg was the good guy all along. There were clues all along, of course, but James’ distaste of necromancy and his getting all wrapped up in this wonderful cloak he received and the power it gave made him ignore them.

James at the moment is at the “Luke, I am your father and Yoda has been lying to you all along” stage of his character arc. He’s extremely bummed out, which perhaps is why he’s stepped back from trying to tell people what to do and handed off the job to this paladin of the GGW that’s recently joined the party.

Luke somehow managed to stay good. Don’t know about James. He has just gotten this big book ‘o bad necromancy, and it has turned out that he was wrong about at least one necromancer all along. Maybe its time to find out if the dark side has the power to save the empire. Because at the end of the day, a soldier knows that the only way to deal with an army of orcs and giants inevitably involves killing a whole bunch of them.


Alarum!

16 December, 2016

Mother and Grandfather,

I write to you of a most urgent matter, as it appears that Santa Cora has been blockaded – I am told that there is no way to get a message out of the city. I hope that the way by which I send this message may yet be open.

Edmund of the Council of Four informs us that a massive orc army is some few days away. It seems that our little company for the past few weeks has unknowingly has traveled scant days ahead of it.

To out best information, the orc incursion is based at Proudfort. The army approaching Santa Cora appears to comprise at this point, James puts in the details that he got from Edmund and the commander about the composition of the army – numbers, naval, siege..

Although this information was initially not strongly credited, I was able to confirm to the city commander that Chancer’s Hope was indeed assaulted by a large orc naval fleet and land army, backed by giants. (Reassuring that the names “Mallard” and “Griffinsheart” carry at least some weight). The city now prepares for battle and siege, but I fear that Santa Cora is woefully unsuited to such, having always relied on its magics.

The magics of the city appear to be – well – not working properly, and it’s impossible to be more precise than that at this stage. I fear that the Lich King may be involved in all this, as there have been liches in the city and other phenomena relating to the undead.

It is something of a puzzle to me as to how this very considerable army – if these orcs come from their usual lands to the northwest – was moved to Proudfort. The logistics are challenging. The only feasible route, I suspect, would be along the behemoth path, to the ruins around the Grey Towers, down the coast and through the Koru Straits. This means that Drakenhall must also be involved – Drakenhall controls the straits, and in any case orcs simply don’t have ships as a rule.

Thus the most terrible enemies of the empire – the orcs, the dragons, and the undead – would seem to be in some sort of alliance, one of at least several years standing, which is now moving into open action.

James debated mentioning the very secret fact that the city has a second node, and that it is deactivated, and that activating it would worsen relations with the dwarves and elves. It seems that the nodes used to be more active in the past, and played a role in the old wars.

He is not mentioning it because it’s a military secret, and because it doesn’t directly relate to what the recipients of this letter need to know. If he included it, then grandad Lancet and Ducalis could not show this letter to anyone else, which is something they might need to do.

Irrespective of my speculations about history, obviously major action cannot be taken on my word alone. However, I hope that if indeed no communications are getting into or out of Santa Cora, at least someone has noticed and wondered why that might be the case. The situation is extremely grave.

Oh, mother – in happier news, it appears I am now a Captain.


On Empire

12 December, 2016

This is not a letter to anyone in particular. Maybe James just writes things down to organise his thoughts

The Lich King asked me an important question earlier today.

Yes, truly. I rather foolishly decided to attempt to wear a certain ring, judging that better me than someone else. In the end, perhaps I was right. I seem to have emerged mostly unscathed and un-ringed. (How on earth was Cannis simply able to remove it?)

Neverthleless he asked me: why should it matter who in particular is emperor? Is not the empire its people?

The answer struck me immediately as “no”, although I was at something of a loss to defend it. I answered that my loyalty is given to The Emperor, but the Lich-King’s question was a fair one. There have been other Emperors before the man we have now, and there will be others subsequently. If another man were Emperor, I would serve him as willingly and completely as I do this one. So to what, then, is my loyalty given?

Although, obviously, the possibility of having an empress doesn’t cross his mind. Can I just say, at this point, that Her Maj Elizabeth the Second by Grace of God Queen of Australia does a wonderful job, God blessah?

The notion that The Empire is its people belies itself the moment you start to examine the notion. Let us start with the obvious: there is nothing special about we the inhabitants of the empire. The people are simply people, the same as in other times and places, and nothing more. Nothing less, either: people are quite remarkable. But there is nothing inherently different between a work-gang of farmers and a pack of bandits. They eat and drink, they bleed, they have hopes and virtues and vices. It’s possible for a sailor to be punctual, diligent, and obedient and yet crew a pirate ship.

The difference between bandits and farmers is law. Framers obey the law because they are confident that the law – the emperor – protects them. That is, the substance of empire is its laws, its governance, its traditions. Why do people obey the law? Well, for some it is purely a pragmatic affair. But hopefully, most people obey the law because it is right that they do so.

In a word: the substance of empire is its legitimacy. A nebulous idea, to be sure. And so the need for strong symbols – flags and parades, a crown and a man to wear it. To give one’s loyalty to those symbols is not in itself wrong, even if that loyalty might be understood more deeply.

Nevertheless, we are in danger of a solipsism here, that the empire is legitimate because it is legitimate. As the Lich King points out – if he were Emperor, I would serve him. He may be right about that, but it does not follow from that that I should therefore support his efforts to overturn the current Emperor. To put it another way – it may not matter all that much who the emperor is, but it matters a great deal how he came to become the emperor.

If I travelled to another part of the world, with different laws and a different emperor, should I be obliged to follow the laws there?

I say yes. No – I say maybe. Laws can be unjust and oppressive. If the laws in this hypothetical kingdom were worth honouring, then they would be substantially the same as the laws here. They would outlaw murder and theft and sedition, they would oblige the strong to protect the weak, they would make it possible for a common man to pursue a trade and raise a family in security.

Perhaps I have just changed my mind. No – perhaps I have found a way out of the quandry of legitimacy. The emperor and his laws are right because they do right for the people that they are protected by. So it does come back to the people, but not in the manner the Lich King argues.

What a load of nonsense I have written! Necromancy disgusts me – I shall not serve a fleshless head under any circumstances, it’s as simple as that. Likewise, I shall not forswear my oaths – how could I have forgotten? I will oppose the Lich King, all who serve him, and any other enemy of the Dragon Empire to the limit of my power to do so, now and always.


Suicide bombers (Oooh! Controversial!)

17 October, 2016

Now that James has someone to report to (in-character) and a way to do it, it makes writing these things a bit easier. I’ll see how much I can recall of the last two sesssions.

James will make two copies, I think – one for dad via mum, and one for granddad. James is thinking that Ducalis would be more interested in magical happenings, and grandfather more interested in staying abreast of current events. He may be wrong about that 🙂 .


Events relating to attacks on dwarves in Santa Cora, (insert-date-here)

  1. Information

    1. Yesterday, our unit undertook a mission to kill a lichling in the dwarven tombs of Santa Cora.
      1. The lichling was present, and we sucessfully dealt with her.
      2. The lichling mentioned, I belive, something about “court”, which I take to mean the court of the lich-king.
      3. After the creature was dealt with, we recovered a heavily magical ring. I have it for safekeeping, but I have not worn it and doubt it is safe to do so.
    2. Yesterday evening, Xavier’s Home for Wayward Dwarves was approached by a person wearing a vest of
      explosives.

      1. Our unit intervened
      2. I rendered the explosive inert with a Dispel Magic abjuration.
      3. The attacker was This was game two weeks ago – I forget most of what happened, except what my character did. A don’t know what became of the dude, or if he was human.
    3. Today, the dwarven embassy here in Santa Cora was attacked
      1. The attacks took the from of large missiles, apparently from a heavy siege weapon.
      2. The embassy caught fire. I was not near enough to see if the source of the fire was the missiles themselves, or some other cause.
      3. We identified the source of the fire as being a particular tower at (insert address here).
      4. As there was already a bucket-chain forming to deal with the fire at the embassy, we chose to investigate the tower.
      5. We entered the tower – the door was warded, I believe the cloak I wear disarmed the wards.
      6. We found no-one and nothing at the top of the tower, from which the fire had been coming.
      7. We found a drag-mark on the roof, near the edge and in the direction of the embassy, consistent with something having been pushed off the roof.
      8. After a brief interval, Edmund of the Circle of Four arrived. He stated that:
        1. Nobody had entered this tower for centuries, and that he himself had made failed attempts to do so; and
        2. That a certain magical effect about 15′ above the roof of the tower was the source of the protection from adverse weather which covers Santa Cora.
    4. We have moved into this unoccupied tower and taken it for our base of operations.
  2. Evaluation

    Two attacks on dwarven establishments is most certainly not a coincidence. Quite obviously, some party in the city with considerable resources is attacking dwarves. They are not likely to cease. As it is unlikely that we just happened to be present for the only two attacks this party has made, there have probably been others.

    Whatever party organised these attacks has access to considerable magics. The missiles being fired at the embassy may have been conjurations, and it may be possible that the weather enchantment may have been used to enable or amplify the effect. I am reminded of the Ebony Watch node, where also an attempt was made to “hijack” an existing magical emplacement.

    Likewise, the explosives in the explosive vest was magical rather than alchemical – hence why the abjuration was able to disable it.

    Another odd parallel with the Ebony Watch incident is the presence of undead. There is no direct link, however, it is very suggestive that this lichling should have been active, in the dwarven tombs, immediately before at least two attacks on dwarves. The involvement of some kind of undead nobility would certainly account for the the presence of a mage skilled enough to enter a tower that has withstood every attempt by Edmund do do so.

    Unless, of course, that party had a cloak like mine. The possibility that a party loyal to the empire (the cloaks magics require this) might be responsible for these attacks is gravely disturbing.

    Our unit numbers two dwarves. Mal Shieldglider will most certainly insist on taking some action. He is, after all, a Shieldglider – rank does come with responsibilities. The sympathies of the entire unit, myself included, are rather on his side in this.

  3. Action

    At this stage, the goal of any action would be to keep more dwarves from being killed, both as a goal in itself and to stabilize relations.

    1. Mal will wish to consult with the dwarf temple and community. I am concerned that they are not likely to know who is doing this, why, and may fall back on blaming the usual suspects, whoever they may be.
    2. In general: our unit comprises individuals of diverse skills and backgrounds. Most likely, what will happen next is that people will split up and each investigate in their own way. We will rendezvous here to compare notes.
    3. It might be wise, today at least, to prepare multiple castings of Message.
    4. I intend to investigate the magics of this tower further. I have not yet investigated as to how far (and in what sense) the structure goes underground.

      Examining this tower further will probably not advance our goals.

      Perhaps rather than this I should simply hit the books. There is no shortage of them here in Santa Cora. Why should these attacks be happening now?

      Perhaps I should simply systematically visit each graveyard and look for suspicious activity.

      I should just accompany one of my allies who does have a plan of action and would like a little back-up.

    In summary: at this stage we lack a clear plan of action. Which is to say: I do. My allies will seek information in their own ways.


We will have a talky, role-playing game tonight at the bar. I need to examine the books for some cheese that will permit James to craft some walky-talkies. Not as good as Edmund’s, obviously, but


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.


Baisek

13 September, 2016

Damn I hope my message pouch still works. Baisek Toasten is “The Occultist”, from “13 True Ways”.

Dearest Mother,

I write in hope that this message finds you in continued good health, as is mine thanks be to all the gods. (or something like that). This letter concerns certain peculiarities about the magics of one of my companions; which has been something of a mystery to me for some time; and, having become more acquainted with it earlier today, I am at something of a loss as to what might be the import of it. Which is to say, perhaps Father should know.

I travel with a dwarf, one Baisek Toasten. He is a user of magic, but not a wizard, or sorcerer, or necromancer, or divine caster, or – in short – any form of magic that I am familiar with or have ever heard of. He is certainly self-trained, but his magics are not driven by passion in the same way that those of a sorcerer are. On occasion, he would mention “threads” – moving them, manipulating them. It seemed to me that this was as good a metaphor for what we do as any other, and I thought not much more of it.

A recent incident that I was not privy to had put him into some sort of induced insensibility for about two days. Last night, I resolved to take action. Baisek is bonded to a magical item, a stone orb (originally some sort of geode I believe), and so it seemed I might be able to reach him though a Speak With Item ritual thought that orb.

The ritual I believe was a success, although Elsbeth did interfere and credits Baisek’s awakening to her intervention. I suppose we will never know if Baisek awoke from his magical coma because I had managed to make some sort of contact with his soul through an item bonded to him; or if it was because Elsbeth stabbed him to wake him up. It is an enigma, and shall remain forever a mystery.

In any case, Baisek and I “got to talking” as they say. As near as I can make out, the threads that he speaks of are threads of time, or perhaps ‘fate’ is a better word. He assists we his allies in battle by somehow altering the outcome of what would have otherwise happened, or by augmenting a blow by adding to it the blow from another possible reality, so doubling it. I am persuaded that he is being truthful – I have several times noticed the effects of his magics which, while not especially showy or obvious, are indeed visible to the eye.

Recently, I was entrusted by Edmund of the Circle of Four with a certain book; which describes certain aspects of astrology and the overworld; and from which I have been supplementing my studies. “As above, So below”, but that simple formula unpacks into – well – hundreds of pages, and really this book merely scratches the surface. The Gods decide our fates, or orchestrate it, or perhaps argue over it; but nevertheless certainly have something to do with it; and we see this in the motions of the stars above us. There is a resonance between the courses of the stars in the sky and human affairs, and the stars are manifestations of the gods – their thoughts, perhaps, their will.

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

Now, it’s all very well to credit the gods with great grand designs, but all plans however grand must come down to action, to events “on the ground”. All strategy must be implemented through logistics and tactics. If the gods influence human affairs, then that influence must in the end come down to the outcome of a sword blow, a rogue wave on the sea. “And all for the want of a horseshoe nail”, as the saying goes.

The question then is: what do we make of a dwarf who more-or-less directly – as he puts it – pulls on the strings of fate? Oh, only in a very limited way, of course, in a limited scope. For now. As far as I have seen. But nevertheless, fate – the province of the gods. Is he a servant of the gods? A messenger, a pawn, a priest? Is he an an offence to them, a blasphemy, an abberation? A mere mortal interference to their plans? Does he wrest these “strings” from their hands? Does he merely tug a little on the strings that are already in place?

All I really know is that Baisek himself does not know.

Perhaps I make too much of this. Perhaps there are places where “fate magic’ is quite common. It’s simply that the things that Baisek tries to describe and the things I am reading in this book seem to be – seem to be two different ways of saying the same thing, if that makes sense. It may not be a coincidence that we travel to Santa Cora. If someone is pulling us by the string, I hope they mean well.

I should be grateful for any insight into the matter.

Your most obedient son,
James.