Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Light Posting For the Next Week

I've got a huge work deadline, so posting may be lighter than normal until Dec 9th. I should have time to post more Forgotten Songs updates since they are largely ready to go. But all those post-apocalyptic ideas that have been bouncing around in my brain on the long Thanksgiving holiday... not so much. I'll need more down-time to create something workable. Same goes for resuming my Mythic GME stories (or gods forbid, starting a new one). Hopefully, I'll post some new geomorphs this weekend (not to mention those PDF collections that I promised). And I really hope to put up more Risus material in December, but that will also be on hold until the deadline passes.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Bastard Thomas Dunn (Forgotten Songs #10)

In this, the tenth session of Forgotten Songs, Katja finally comes into her own. While there was still plenty of awesome remaining in the campaign, it is pretty much unanimous that this was Professor Pope's finest session.

June 10, 2000
It is done. The Bastard Thomas Dunn is dead for good and the Outsiders' Aegis have completed their first epic quest. Now this is what being a hero is all about! It was so exciting...and frightening... and dangerous. But we have all survived (if only just) and we have rid the world of a great evil. We have also come into a bit of coin, which I am not ashamed to say is a welcome relief.

When last I wrote, we were all in the midst of preparations for our assault. We were in the process of fashioning a makeshift raft to carry us and our gear across the lake. Some of us also needed to prepare the right magic to counter the expected undead threat. And for the first time, I would be preparing magic of my own.

Like I said before, I had a sense that the Silver Huntress would grant my request for magical power. However, I had no clear idea of how to go about asking. I only had my observations of Boaz, my study of mythology, and the intuitive notion that Deidre's and my rituals in that stone circle weren't entirely off the mark. So, at sunset I made my way into the woods with the makeshift silver crescent that I had fashioned from a coin and the skin of the wolf Drachen and I killed when the Outsiders' Aegis first assembled. It was a beautiful night under the waxing gibbous moon. There was an evil mist coming off the Dunn's lake, but it seemed only to add to the mystical nature of what I was trying to do.

Looking around to make sure I wasn't being observed, I removed my soiled clothes and began the ritual. I could not risk a full fire so I made my offering by burning hair from the wolf's skin over my oil lamp. I drew from the old druidic stories to improvise a prayer to the Silver Huntress, tailoring specific passages to fit my improved (but still limited) understanding of her nature. I then humbly asked that she bless me with the power to face down our enemies.

And suddenly, it happened.

While it wasn't a vision like I had experienced the previous night, it was still a transcendent experience. It's so hard to describe in the mundane light of day, but there was this palpable sense of energy flowing through me. And I had these flashes of insight - incantations, ritual movements. I knew how to cast spells to detect magic auras, gain limited divine guidance, create silvery light, imbue stones with divine power, double my running speed, and erect a protective ward against evil. Furthermore, I had the sense that in a pinch, I could channel this power to heal my companions .

Flush from my first magical rite, I dressed and returned to camp with what remained of the wolf pelt. The rest of the Outsiders were readying for bed. I shared the first watch with Boaz and tried to share my feelings with him. On this night, I was no longer intimidated by the gruff orcish cleric. I peppered him with questions about his faith and how he experienced it. And I think my inquisitiveness was well received because his patron god puts great value in such behavior.

On the 8th of June, we continued preparations. Our raft was taking longer than we expected and none of us wanted to attempt the lake without some means of floating our equipment. Since I was of very little help in such matters, I took Drachen and went hunting and prepared meals for the day.

On the morning of June 9th, our raft was complete and we were ready to make the crossing. We gathered our things into the remains of Boaz's tent (which he thoughtfully sacrificed to our mission). I bundled up by crossbow, bolts, spear, lantern, waterskin, and clothes. I would be swimming across wearing my undergarments, armed only with a dagger and my makeshift holy symbol. The others were doing likewise. Once our gear was stowed, we advanced into the lake. It was cold, but curiously shallow. It never got deeper than my chest, and I am the shortest of the party.

We made our toward the eastern shore of the island, to better take advantage of the tree cover. It was very slow going. Then, after an hour of wading, we were beset upon by 4 skeletons that burst from the murky waters. In a panic, I went immediately for the silver crescent that I wore around my neck and commanded the foul things to be gone. I heard the howl of a wolf and felt silver fire travel down my arm, through the former coin, and out towards the skeletons. The monsters recoiled from the power of the Silver Huntress and left us unmolested.

We finally made shore in mid-afternoon amidst a swampy grove of half rotted birch trees. There was an unmistakable feeling of evil in the air as we hurriedly re-equiped ourselves. Sunny and Kreed went ahead to scout and encountered a gang of zombies. Deciding that mutual protection was more important that reconnaissance, we decided to remain together after that.

From a distance, we observed the palisade that surrounded the Dunn's fortress. It looked uncomfortably similar to giant bones, though we later learned that they were only the remains of more birch trees. We tentatively made our way through an opening and found a door to the castle proper.

Bix was gracious enough to light and carry my lantern, since we both needed light to see and I needed both hands to wield my crossbow. We advanced into the keep in two columns: Sunny and Kreed, followed by Boaz and Orion, followed by Bix and I. We found ourselves in a large entry chamber with many doors. Listening at some of the doors, we thought we heard noises of footsteps or rattling bones. And there was a disturbing smell of death in the air.

We chose not to open any of the secondary doors and made straight for a set of double doors at the end of the room. Boaz reminded us that our target was the Dunn. If we could get to him first, then perhaps the evil power that animated his undead servants could be vanquished. He was also our most dangerous foe and we could not afford to waste resources on his minions.

Kreed opened the doors and we were greeted by a scream and a horrible stench. Shouting "Thomas Dunn, Death has come for you," Kreed charged into the room beyond. Terribly frightened, but anxious to move into the room myself, I cast magic stone on three small rocks I had picked up near our camp. They were for the Dunn, should I happen to get a shot at him.

I heard Boaz invoke the power of Oghma and there was another scream. I entered the room and saw Kreed taking cover behind an old table. It was the Dunn's Great Hall, and the Dunn was obviously here. He was a rotten, twisted man with deathly pale countenance. He wore tattered regal clothes and wielded no weapons other than his life-draining claws. I was now terrified. But I still raced forward to cast my protective ward around Kreed, the likeliest of us to face the Dunn in single combat.

But the Dunn chose to flee up a stair. Dumbfounded, I looked to Boaz. "We must pursue!" I shouted. But Boaz roared, "Yes, but we must stay together!" Bix and Orion were struggling with the doors to the room. There was shouting! And then I understood... the Dunn's minions were behind us and trying to get into the room!

Boaz commanded us to block the door with a table. Kreed and I helped push (though I doubt I contributed much to the effort) and then Kreed was off like a shot up the stairs. He was followed by Bix and Sunny in quick succession. The hunt was on! Orion ran up, followed by me and Boaz to guard the rear.

At the top of the stairs, I discovered that my companions had already destroyed two of the Dunn's servants and were working on opening another door. I heard footsteps from behind... there were zombies and skeletons chasing up the stairs. And they were led by an an undead bear and stag!

Boaz was quick with his holy symbol and forced the zombie animals to retreat. Then I came up behind him and commanded the rest to flee as well. The power that came through me was amazing and I saw the skeletons crumble to dust before my eyes. The Goddess was certainly with us on this day!

Boaz and I raced to catch up with our companions, who gathered behind yet another door. Kreed threw it open and we immediately came face-to-face with the Dunn and his evil minions.

But Kreed was blocking the entry and we couldn't get through. I saw over his shoulder that he fought skeletons, zombies, and some hideous undead hag. I couldn't see the Dunn.

Boaz forced his way through and joined Kreed in the battle. But then he was raked by the claws of the hag and froze where he stood! How could we possibly win this fight without Boaz? But Kreed was battling valiantly, destroying zombie and skeleton alike with his mighty sword. And Bix surprised us all by squeezing into the room to face the Dunn all by himself. What was he doing? Bix was hardly a warrior! But this was perhaps the bravest deed I have ever seen anyone perform.

But I still couldn't get into the room. Sunny had found her way in and was fighting skeletons. Orion had slipped in but was also rendered motionless by the hag.

Finally, Kreed slew the awful hag creature and I could get into the room. I immediately threw one of my magic stones. It missed. Bix was looking deathly pale and wounded. I threw another stone and this one hit. That got his attention! Bix cast some sort of spell and the Dunn was blinded. He tried to move past, but the Dunn lashed out and hit him again! "Bix!" But he still stood... barely. He would have been dead had not Kreed finally joined the battle himself with a powerful blow that staggered the Dunn. It was his turn to scream. Sunny smashed the remaining skeleton and he was out of minions now! Whispering a silent prayer to the Silver Huntress, I let loose another stone with more force than I thought myself capable of mustering. It smashed the Dunn's head and his body fell in a heap.

The day was won! The Dunn was dead!

There was a rumble under foot and the feeling of evil abated somewhat. But we were still in a dangerous spot. We quickly secured the doors and waited for Orion and Boaz to recover. Kreed looted the Dunn's body and I used my newfound magic to perceive that his bracers and boots were magical (as well as Bix's own rusty sword).

Bix... he looked like he was on death's door. Had anybody ever suffered such wounds and still lived? We had to get him out of here and back across the lake!

But we couldn't leave just yet. We had to make sure the evil was fully vanquished. Upon further exploration, we discovered that his servants had all turned to dust. We also discovered his legendary blood money. Boaz argued that we should leave it, that it was cursed. But is was just too much money and we were too poor to make such a decision. The money would go with us, along with whatever spoils we could uncover.

In the process of our search, we found one remaining servant of the Dunn, a ghost named Garym Ultaugh. He explained that he had opposed the Dunn's treachery and was imprisoned for his belief. But he too fell victim to the Dunn's curse. He was genuinely impressed that we had defeated the Dunn on our own, for he would have offered us assistance. Now, he just wanted to be put to rest. For this to happen, however, we needed to remove the binding necklace from around his neck. But doing so would expose us to his undead nature. To prove his intent, he gave us the location of several magical items in the desecrated Pelorian chapel. When Orion retrieved these items, we agreed to help.

Sunny would be the one to remove the necklace, due to her interest in the Pelorian faith. Boaz and I would stand ready with the power of our own deities. The others would wait outside. When Sunny removed the necklace, our faith was necessary and it seemed like all we could do to keep the monster at bay. And then the ghost of Garym Ultaugh spoke:
"Thank you, indeed, Outsider's Aegis.  I will not forget you, never in all my days."  
But the way he looked at us when he said it that made me feel sick to my stomach. I fear that we have not seen the last of Garym Ultaugh.

But I would not let that evil omen dampen our triumph. We had won the day, and after a long walk back through the now receding lake, we earned a well-deserved rest. However, Bix is still in a terrible state and Boaz is looking after him with all his priestly powers. I'm watching carefully and making every attempt to soothe his spirit with conversation. Bix was a hero's hero, and he deserves all the respect and attention that we can show him.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Treat

Happy Thanksgiving to all my American readers! Of course I'm thankful for my wonderful family, my close friends, and the good fortune that I've enjoyed throughout my life. I'm also thankful for the fantastic gaming that I've been doing in the past year and the amazing sense of community that the RPG blogosphere engenders. I'll be away from the computer for a few days, but I'll leave you with this parting gift as a show of my appreciation: 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Geomorph #100

Well, I finally made it to one hundred. Whew! I think I've come a long way since my first tiles. Once I actually decide on the map, it now takes me very little time to whip up one of these suckers on my tablet. And while my tiles don't have that Dyson polish, I do think the geomorphs have a worthy feel of their own. And most importantly, people are actually using them! That is unbelievably cool! Look for one or more PDF collections in the coming weeks, as it feels like it's time to collect these things into a package that's easier to handle. In the mean time, the Monkey Mapper will be updated to include all 100 shortly (it may already be updated by the time you read this).

Continuing a trend that started with Geomorph #87, I once again draw inspiration from a classic D&D (or related) illustration. This tile draws from two awesome Russ Nicholson illustrations in the original Fiend Folio. The first is an image of the diminutive snyads:

These pesky buggers are prowling the rubble-strewn east-west hallway in the north. A grand chamber can be found to the east, where an unwary party of adventurers investigate something in the torchlight. I added a couple of concealed passages that could serve as lairs for the tiny creatures, most likely too small for regular-sized adventurers to explore comfortably.

The second illustration is that of the horrid grell. I imagined it pouncing from an inaccessible ledge/lair. The spot on the geomorph represented by this scene would be just to the west of the south-westernmost column. And if you'll look carefully at the illustration, you can see a snyad lurking below.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Requiem for Captain Crabbe (Knights of the Astral Sea Log #10)

Last Saturday's Knights of the Astral Sea session was very exciting. Perhaps a bit too exciting, as the party suffered its first casualty. Lord Mortimer Crabbe, captain of the Fair Leonore and purveyor of fine cheese, was most cruelly slain on a dangerous mission to restore the rightful queen to the throne of Britannia. I'll let Genevieve [James DiBenedetto] tell the story:

6 January 1939

Capt. Alastair Hawkesworth
HMAS Richard Lemon Lander

My Dearest Alastair,

I do not wish to write this letter to you, but I must; I cannot hide from the truth, nor can I deny the fruit of my decisions and actions.  It would be a dishonor to the memory of Lord Crabbe were I to even contemplate such.

And that is the simple truth: Lord Crabbe is dead, by my hand, as a direct result of decisions I made.  To say I regret my choices, and curse myself is to understate my feelings.  I shall tell you in full of the events that led to Lord Crabbe’s end; I did not imagine ever that I would share with you the awful responsibility of issuing commands that led men to their deaths, and I do not know how you bear it. It is a terrible, crushing burden. 

You are aware of my role in our strategy to roust out the pretender and restore Artoria to the throne.  Once it was decided to attempt a large-scale radio broadcast, I set to work constructing the apparatus that would enable the transmission.  In order that the broadcast would reach every corner of the British Isles, and also so that it would be impervious to jamming or interference of any kind, the broadcast apparatus required an even dozen airships, with significant modifications to their Tesla drives.  In addition, onboard the flagship of this armada, the Royal Fortune, I constructed a large radium battery to supply the immense power requirements.  Smaller batteries were installed on the other eleven ships, and although I issued very clear instructions regarding safety and protective clothing to be worn, there were regrettable instances of radiation sickness amongst the various ships.

My companions Dr. Oceana, Colonel Rasmussen, and Jude Averill, were placed on other ships to assist in the work.  The construction was completed with minimal difficulty, and at the appointed hour, our Queen stepped up to the podium that had been constructed for this occasion and began her address to her people.  

My equipment worked exactly as designed; every radio in the British Isles – whether turned on or not – received and played our signal, and every other radio (including, unfortunately, our own ship-to-ship radios) were drowned out by the signal.  In fact, that interference continued for several hours after our transmission.

During the speech, several vessels in our armada came under attack.  I was able to remove two of them – the Deluge, with Dr. Oceana aboard, and the Duke Leonard, with Colonel Rasmussen onboard – from the array without compromising the broadcast.  Communications were maintained, barely, using semaphore between our airships.  

The Deluge was severely damaged by an enemy airship and crashed; while the Duke Leonard also crashed, but in her case it was a result of what you would know as “friendly fire”.  Colonel Rasmussen attempted to use his powerful battle magic, hurling lightning at an enemy airship; but his attack went awry, and he was blasted nearly to death by his own attack; the pilot of his ship was instantly killed as well, leading to the crash of the ship.  

By this time, the broadcast was completed, and a decision was required as to our next move.  The remaining members of my company – Lord Crabbe, Marcus and Elspeth, were on the ground, making their way to London.  Unfortunately, without radio there was no way to contact them, to verify their position, provide assistance to them, or coordinate with them.

My first task was to shut down the array, so that the other ships could defend themselves as necessary, and to begin the process of getting the Royal Fortune underway to proceed to London and Whitehall.

Queen Artoria turned to me, asking my counsel on how to proceed.  My instinct was to proceed immediately to London, and to attack Whitehall and the pretender directly.  I realized that, with the tremendous power of the radium battery I had installed, combined with the modifications already made to the Tesla drive, I could generate and, to some degree, control, violent weather patterns.  This we did, in order to hide our ship from the enemy, and to make approach by any enemies difficult or impossible.  Thus hidden and protected by savage winds, lightning, rain and hail, the Royal Fortune could, I believed, reach Whitehall with little or no opposition.  Once there, the full power of the radium-enhanced Tesla drive could be unleashed on Whitehall, distracting, stunning or possibly killing those who defend the pretender, allowing us to approach him.  Once there, wielding Excalibur, our Queen could dispatch the man who had usurped her throne, take her rightful place, and end this civil war.

The Queen was hesitant; without any ground support from my companions, or any magical protection, my plan was risky almost to the point of madness.  And so instead, I chose to use the one resource we possessed which could locate my companions and allow us to coordinate our efforts.  This, of course, was Jude and his magical abilities.  Jude was aboard the airship Dumb Luck, which had, thus far, escaped enemy attention.  Via semaphore, I made my needs known to Jude, and he acted, shortly communicating back the status and location of my companions. 

As Jude’s ship was closest to Dr. Oceana, I dispatched him to rescue her and then make his way to the rensezvous point – which was a farmhouse just outside London, where Elspeth, Lord Crabbe and Marcus had recently arrived.  After collecting Dr. Oceana, and en route to the farmhouse, they intercepted Colonel Rasmussen, who had been rescued by a small group of locals.  Dr. Ocrana brought the Colonel aboard the Dumb Luck and turned her healing arts to his aid, bringing him back from the verge of death.
However, in the midst of retrieving the Colonel, there was an attack by a small group of vicious, possibly demonic wolves.  At approximately the same time, the Royal Fortune arrived at the farmhouse.  I announced our presence by firing my weapon (at its lowest setting), so that my companions would know that we were friendly.

The storm my equipment had generated was raging, and I continued to feed it more power, so that it grew and raged, which unfortunately made the mooring operation difficult for the crewmen of the ship.  As they lowered ladders and my companions made their way to the ship, more of the wolves – definitely demonic, as it turned out – attacked.  Several assaulted Marcus, and while the ship’s gunners hurried to get into position, I aided him by shooting several of them with my weapon at the Toten und zerstoren ("Kill and destroy”) setting.  Three wolves were annihilated, giving Marcus some brief breathing room.  Lord Crabbe and Elspeth made for the ladders, shooting at wolves as they ran.  Elspeth had great success, killing several wolves and escaping without harm.

Lord Crabbe did not have such success.  His pistol did not have the same effect as Elspeth’s weapon, and though he hit the wolf that attacked him, the gunshot seemed only to enrage it.  The wolf leapt at him, mauling his leg and causing him to fall to the ground.  I immediately fired at the evil creature, lowering the setting to Toten (“Kill”), as I did not wish to harm Lord Crabbe, who was at close quarters with the wolf.  I hit the wolf, setting it ablaze, but not killing it, and in fact further enraging it.  It tore apart Lord Crabbe’s other leg as he, perhaps mercifully, fell unconscious, and set itself to deliver the death blow.  No one else was in position to act; only I had any opportunity to kill the wolf.  I raised the setting of my weapon to Toten grundlich (“Kill thoroughly”), and fired.  I hit the wolf, and it exploded in a fiery blast.  But the discharge of the weapon was so large that it further injured Lord Crabbe, who was already at the brink of death.  

At this point, the Dumb Luck arrived, and Dr. Oceana immediately attended to Lord Crabbe.  But all her efforts were for naught; he had died before she was close enough to lay hands on him.  

It is no consolation that there was no other action I could have taken in that moment.  I had to use my weapon, and I judged the more powerful setting was necessary to ensure the immediate death of the wolf.  Presented with the same circumstances, I would do nothing differently.  I believe any of my companions in my place would have made the same decision in that instant.

Truly, it is not the fateful discharge of my weapon that I blame myself for, but instead for the decisions that let us to that moment, and which ultimately sealed Lord Crabbe’s fate.  We learned, after the wolves were all killed or driven off, the reason for their attack.  It seems that, in his efforts to locate my scattered companions via the use of his magical arts, Jude broadcast their locations to our enemies, allowing them to dispatch their demonic creatures to assault us.  Ultimately, the blame falls to me; it was my choice and my order that resulted in the enemy discovering our location. It was my choice and my order that led to a wolf finding and mauling Lord Crabbe.  

We brought Lord Crabbe aboard, and the Queen knelt over him, praying.  My companions, and all the airship crew who knew him, honored him as well, each in their own way.  As for myself, I left with him something which is priceless to me, in recognition of the fallen soul of a friend and comrade who was himself without price.  You know, Alastair, that I carry on a chain at all times my wedding ring; just as you know that my dear lost Michel is in my heart always, and always shall be.  The ring Michel gave me, I gave to Lord Crabbe, and a piece of my heart shall go with him to his rest and reward.

Now you know the truth, of my mistakes, and my failures, and the consequences.  But there remains a war to be won, and our Queen to be restored, and now we have still more cause, if such be needed, to fight on, and to deliver justice and vengeance upon the pretender and his allies.  

As I conclude this letter, we approach Whitehall.  The storm surrounding our ship extends for miles; no aid shall reach the pretender or his forces, and soon the matter will be decided.  It will be only a matter of hours.  When it is done, and Artoria sits on the throne, I shall hand this letter to you, and you will read it, and I pray that you will have wisdom to share with me.

I remain your most devoted and grateful friend, 

Genevieve Chantal Therese de Lisieux Lamballe

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Supernatural Awakenings (Forgotten Songs #9)

Here's the next exciting excerpt from Katja's diary (documenting the moment when she officially becomes a cleric of the Silver Huntress).

June 7, 2000
I am reading my last entry and I can hardly believe that I wrote those words. I was so depressed and frustrated. But I feel so very different now. Everything has changed. Yes, I know I've said that before. But this time I really mean it. I've had some miraculous events happen to me in the last few days and I can never go back to being the person I was. I know my destiny now. All those visions... they have all led up to this moment.

It began on that night when we were ambushed by those goblins. Almost immediately after I set down to my diary, there was a volley of javelins. By the Goddess, they all missed their mark and gave us at least a chance to respond. I screamed. Then, I was hit twice and I screamed louder still.

We all had misgivings about camping so close to a known threat and we should have gone with our instincts. The Outsider's Aegis almost ceased to exist that night. Kreed, Boaz, and Bix were all sleeping off wounds from the battle earlier in the day. Orion was meditating in his usual fashion and Sunny was resting in preparation for her watch. The responsibility for guarding our little band fell on my shoulders. I fear that I let them down. I didn't hear the enemy come until they were upon us.

Only minutes before, I had been writing of my lack of confidence in battle. Well, with all of our lives on the line I somehow found the strength to fight through the fear and the pain. You see, I still had the Whacking Wand. I could do some good.

I saw Kreed take a spear in the gut. I ran to his aid, dodging a flurry of blows, and healed him with the wand. But then Orion went down and Kreed got hit again. I healed Orion and he was soon felled yet again. Six more figures emerged from the darkness and we were surrounded. Three of them rushed me and I felt the pain of another blow.

The rest of the combat was a blur. All three of us kept getting hit and I did my best to keep us standing. Another blow drove me to my knees and I saw Boaz take one that was meant to finish me off. Orion went down for the duration. As my last action, I used the wand on myself and whistled for Drachen. Then everything went black.

That's when I had the vision...

I felt myself lying on something hard, covered by something soft. It smelled of old stone and wholesome moss. The metallic smell of blood also lingered in the air. I could not get up, nor could I open my eyes. But I did hear voices. One sounded young and feminine, strong and clear -- the Voice of the Huntress, perhaps? The other was older, gruff, and masculine. It was much lower and hard to make out.
His Voice: "She has failed again. Look at her. She is no hunter. She is prey -- Meat for the wolf." 
Her Voice: "No! Did you not see? She is brave, selfless. She risked herself to save others, her friends, her pack. Her trials have been severe and she has had so little training, so little preparation. We ask too much of her without giving her what she needs." 
His Voice: "Bah! If she is weak, she is dead. That is The Hunt! Hunters are born, not made. She has twice fallen since you set your eyes upon her. And we are to trust her with what is to come?" 
Her Voice: "She has fallen because she has been unprepared and unaided. With our help, she will grow into a hunter. Do we expect the pup to hunt as well as the mother?" 
His Voice: "You may have the right of that. But she must be ready, when the time comes, or the Hunt will fail." 
Her Voice: "She will be, with my help."
I came to some time later. It was dark and I was in tremendous pain. But I remembered the vision. It was as if I had overheard a private conversation. Who was the male voice? What Hunt where they talking about? What is coming that is of such great concern to ancient deities?

Sunny had the wand and was busy tending the wounded. I think she must of have told me how the rest of the battle played out, but I can't remember. All I know is that Drachen charged into the fray and may have actually saved us all. My father would have been so proud of him.

Sunny then went off to scout for additional goblin patrols. Thanks to our Whacking Wand, we were able to heal the party to a state where we could all move. And when Sunny returned with information that only two goblins remained, we even decided launch an attack of our own. Well, it was really Sunny and Kreed's attack. The rest of us stayed back and hoped that we wouldn't be needed. The goblins were killed, potential treasure was identified, and we agreed that it was safe to rest for the remainder of the night.

Still aching from my wounds, I slept and contemplated my vision. So... I had been singled-out by the Silver Huntress! And she still had faith in me! This was important and I could not let her down. Either she had been giving me my visions since I was a child, or she had taken an interest in me because of them.

On the morning of June 5th, we woke to find Bix's eyes glowing. It was one of the strangest things I had ever seen. Apparently, Bix was being called to some familial destiny and was giving himself a terrible headache as he denied it. I was thrilled. I mean I had seen Bix perform tricks before and magic was a common occurrence for Orion and Boaz. But there was real power radiating from Bix, power of otherworldly forces. As I followed Bix as he ran from our campsite, I think I recognized our shared destiny. Up until now, Bix and I were the most normal members of our band of outsiders. Now we were both experiencing supernatural awakenings.

But Bix wasn’t having any of it. He kept raving about how “it” wasn’t supposed to happen to him. He was refusing my pleas to return to the campsite until his smoking hands left imprints on an unsuspecting tree. Then I told him of how we all saw sparks come from his fiddle on the night of that boy’s funeral. Then he just slumped and allowed me to lead hum back to the camp.

The rest of the party was busy packing our things. We then crossed back over the river to inspect the remains of the goblin camp-site. We found sacks of coins (later counted to be 127gp, 325sp, 621cp). We also found some empty potion bottles. One of them had a curious ring around the neck that seemed to fascinate Orion to no end. He is a strange one. He’s nothing like the elves I read about in stories. He’s usually very cool and businesslike… but the moment something magical happens, he gets this kind of fiery glimmer in his eye.

While searching the camp, we discussed our plan of action. Boaz and I were for returning to Harcomb but Orion seemed intent on looking for pseudodragons. I’m still not entirely clear on the significance of these creatures, but I think Orion wants one as a pet or a familiar. But he had that determination in his eyes and the rest of us had no desire to stand in his way. Besides, I wanted to see this Thoralin forest. It was supposed to be magnificent and there was a chance that the Warden of the Wood might know something of the Silver Huntress.

The next morning Bix’s hair was standing straight on its ends. He was also in a terrible mood because of his worsening headache. On a hunch, I ask if he was feeling any urges. As usual, he completely misconstrued my inquiry as a romantic advance. Fine. If he wasn’t going to listen to me then he could come to terms with his affliction all by himself.

Boaz, however, was taking this in a completely different way. He thought Bix was cursed and tried to invoke the power of Oghma to exorcise his demons.Having had enough of this, Bix shot back with raw magical energy that seemed to put Boaz into a bit of a daze. Almost immediately, Bix’s headache abated, his hair fell down, and his eyes stopped glowing. I knew it! He was suffering because he was denying his calling.

So, we were finally under way. It was a gorgeous day and I was in fine spirits for the ride. The forest was also starting to thicken around us and I was impressed and the size and age of the trees. Then, in the late afternoon, we heard wonderful music coming from ahead.

Well, I would later learn that the music wasn’t quite that wonderful. In actuality, we had encountered the Grayleaf’s herald Vincelus, a horny old satyr who tried to have sport with us before he took us to see his master. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I easily fell for his charms. But so did Kreed, and the two of us starting taking his side as he challenged the rest of the party. He challenged Boaz to a wrestling match but I don’t think he quite understood what he was getting himself into. Boaz’s patron deity, Oghma, is known amongst gods for his skill in wrestling and his humble half-orc servant has often used the tactic in our battles. Vincelus was quickly dumped into a stream and forced to allow Boaz to pass.

The others were not quite so successful. Bix tried to challenge him to a contest of music. Well, it just wasn’t one of Bix’s better days on his fiddle. And then Orion and Sunny embarrassed themselves by failing to answer Vincelus’ riddle (something about a saw, I think). While Vincelus amused himself with laughter at my companions’ sake, he suddenly grew serious and told us that we were wanted in the forest.

After about an hour’s walk we emerged in a beautiful clearing surround the mightiest oak tree I have ever seen. Vincelus intoned, “Behold, the father of the forest -- This is the Grayleaf Warden!”. Then the leaves would rustle as if blown by wind (even though there was no wind) and Vincelus would talk back. Then Vincelus looked to us (me in particular), sighed, and I felt myself awaken as if from a drunken stupor. I suppose I should have felt more violated, but the Grayleaf never let it come to that. And by the Goddess, he or she or it was so amazing. I was beside myself with awe.

It was starting to get dark and Vincelus called a feast. A wide assortment of faeries emerged from the forest bearing nuts, berries, grilled venison, and fruits. The trees were lit by thousands of fireflies. I was getting goosebumps from the sheer bliss that I was feeling. All the bad times of the last weeks, months actually, seemed to vanish. Disregarding tales about the danger of accepting faerie food & drink, I willfully indulged with the rest of companions. And for a moment, I wonder what it would have been like had Vincelus…

...I do not want to go there. It must have been the apricot brandy.

Through Vincelus, the Grayleaf asked our assistance in fighting an undead betrayer who haunted their land. How could we not agree to help? He promised to help Orion find his pseudodragons and would answer the rest of our many questions if we could perform this heroic deed. He even hinted that he knew something of the Silver Huntress when I asked! But we would have agreed for no reward because it would have been the right thing to do. We were heroes, after all. Drunk heroes, but heroes nonetheless.
Some brownies brought out instruments and sang the tale of our foe (I’m having Bix help me with the words)
This here's the tale of Thomas Dunn
A bastard! If there ever was one
If ye see his face, turn and run
The bastard! Thomas Dunn 
'Twas once a man, proud and tall
Who ruled from here to Lugath's Fall
A friend, to faun, man, and all
The bastard! Thomas Dunn 
There came the orcs, one winter cold
With steel, and fire, and warrior's bold
He sold us out for three hunnert gold
The bastard! Thomas Dunn 
He took the gold, he stayed his hand
So the orcs could march across our land
They burned! They cut! Killed tree and man!
(cause of) The bastard! Thomas Dunn 
The Dunn cared not, he had his gold
And men, women, and warriors bold
A king! He thought, though his limbs grew cold
The bastard! Thomas Dunn 
His home, his lands, his men were cursed
Not with death, or pox, but far, far worse
Undying, but filled with hate and thirst
The bastard! Thomas Dunn 
He sits, even now, in his old stone keep
Mumbling, groaning, never to sleep
His touch can make the strongest weep
The bastard! Thomas Dunn 
His grip -- the power of icy steel
He drains from yea, power and will,
He needs no blade, nor spear to kill
The bastard! Thomas Dunn 
He slams you with fists so cold
They drink your life, they rend your soul
Destruction is his only goal
The bastard! Thomas Dunn 
Rid us of this undying foe
That traitor, the fiend, he's got to go!
What heroes will save us, we don't know!
From The bastard! Thomas Dunn
Then I drifted to sleep.

I'm not sure how to describe what happened next. I've been having visions since childhood and have thrice heard the voice of the Silver Huntress. But last night I was officially called to her service.
I was sitting cross legged, facing a lake.  The waters reflected the bright light of a full silvery moon.  It seemed to hang just above the water, almost close enough to touch.  I was dressed in a soft robe, also of silver.  Then I heard that beautiful, feminine voice:
"Dearest Katja, you are now ready.  You will be the first, so it is your responsibility to build a pack.  I will grant you power.  All I ask is your faith.  Do you give it?"
Of course I said yes. What else could I possibly say? She's been the light that has kept me going since I fled Schloss Randstein, since my father died.
"Will you serve me, body, mind, and soul?"
"I will," I replied. It was my duty and destiny.
"Will you follow the Hunt, and lead it when your time comes?"
I said I would again, though I don't think I fully grasped what she meant by The Hunt. And as for leading it, well I would certainly do my best.
"Will you take my enemies as your enemies and my followers as your kin?"
I would, though I knew not who these enemies or kin might be.
"Will you revel beneath the moon, remembering its joys and promises?"
That was an easy one, and I'm sure she noticed my enormous grin of happiness.
"Will you gather others unto you, teach them the ways of the silver hunt, and lead them in my name?"
Yes, of course. I immediately thought of Deidre, though I knew not whether she lived. I thought of my companions. No, most of them were sword to the service of Oghma. I wonder what would the Silver Huntress think of Oghma? Is he an ally in her Hunt?
"It is well.  You are now a rider in the Hunt of the World.  Freedom, power, and promise are all yours as you grow in faith. As a demonstration of your faith, hunt and offer the kill to me on the night of every full moon.  This and your prayers are all that I ask of you now.
"This is as close as I have been to this world in a long time, dear Katja, and it has taxed me.  You may not hear my voice again for some time, but know that I am with you.  Go forth, be the hunter, protect the defenseless against savagery, revel in my light.  We shall talk again . . ."
And with that, I woke on the shores of the Dunn's misty lake. The Grayleaf's people had transported us while we slept and made sure we were fully healed for the coming struggle. Even Boaz had his hearing restored. I didn't feel any tangible power, but I did feel a new sense of purpose and faith.

Sunny was ther first to speak. She rallied us for the coming fight. Then General Boaz began his meticulous planning. Sunny and I would scout on horseback, looking for a bridge or causeway. Since we found nothing, Kreed suggested using a few felled trees as a makeshift raft. We discussed tactics for fighting the undead, though only Boaz had any reliable information about such creatures. Well, I've heard lots of stories in Hess, but I can't really speak with authority on the subject. We agreed that we'd make our assualt in the morning after the next, since our preparations would take time. Orion needed to prepare his spells and Boaz would be praying to Oghma for special assistance.

This evening, at dusk, I will also try to ask the Silver Huntress for divine magic. While she didn't mention it specifically, I kind of have the sense that my prayers will be answered. I'm not exactly clear on the rituals I need to perform but I suspect that something akin to what Deidre and I practiced back in our secret place should suffice for the time being. This afternoon, I was able to fashion a makeshift crescent moon symbol out of the largest silver coin I could find. I will hang this about my neck and use it as a focus of my faith.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Geomorph #99

I love this drawing from the original Fiend Folio. To me, it captures that classic bare-chested sword and sorcery feel more than almost any other old school D&D illustration. Making this into a geomorph was tough because it takes place under the open sky. The hint of a battlement and the toppled column added additional complications.

After several discarded attempts, I decided to place the temple complex on a raised section of a large cavern (or possibly a very cramped valley/ravine). There are access points over a rope bridge in the west and down from higher passage in the north. The rest of the entrances connect to the bottom of the cavern (or valley).

The structure that the warrior is defending in the illustration is represented by a raised platform accessed by steps in all four corners. A door in the center-west leads to group of interior rooms. As the inspirational drawing would indicate, there are several stone columns (though I opted leave them all in the upright position).

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Goblins & Blood Birds (Forgotten Songs #8)

As mentioned in Katja's previous diary entry, I had to miss session #7. Here we resume with an action-packed session #8. 

June 4, 2000
What am I doing here? Was this what I had in mind when I fled Schloss Randstein? I had hoped to become an adventurer, a heroine out of the old tales. But this adventuring is nothing like those old stories. It's hard. And it hurts. And it involves so much fighting.

Perhaps I am just in a bad mood. Boaz decided to take his frustrations out on me and Kreed. It was horrible. He's big and intimidating to begin with, but he's worse when he's yelling at me, accusing me of of things, and jotting notes as if he's keeping score. Of course I probably don't measure up to his standard, but I thought tonight's battle at the bridge went better than expected. Kreed was rash and suffered for it, but I think he learned his lesson. And if we had followed Boaz's plan, how would that have helped us with the goblins?

I think he's mad that I wasn't present at the group's big fight against the stinking fish creature in the well. From what Bix tells me, it was terrible ordeal. I can't blame them for resenting me for missing it. And truth be told, I feel guilty myself. But I was feeling so frustrated at not being able to help the group that I just had to get out and do something that I was good at. I had such a wonderful time hunting and shooting and just taking in the sights & smells of the forest.

Well, when I returned the next morning it was to find the rest of the group beaten and battered. I felt like an outsider for not having shared their trial. But I occupied my time by caring for Drachen and attempting to converse with Herr Farstrider when he wasn't tending to the others. Fortunately, I was also able to ride out looking for herbs to mend Boaz' hearing loss.

Eventually, it was time for us to complete our task. Boaz assumed responsibility for the tactics of fighting the blood birds. It seemed like a reasonable plan. We were to set some greed wood aflame to create a smoke field to keep them at bay while we shot at then. Some of us would also carry padded bludgeons to beat off any that managed to bite anyway. It would have been a good plan had things turned out differently...

We had more than a full day of pleasant travel under the early summer sun. After an uneventful night, we traveled a few more hours to find the bridge. From a distance, it didn't seem out of the ordinary. We dismounted (to protect our steeds from the blood birds) and approached on foot. Initially, there was no sign of danger. Then, I noticed a goblin on the other side of the river. He spotted us as well and blew a horn before running off. Sunny and I quickly shot at him. Sunny had the bad luck to break her bowstring while I merely winged him. We then saw 4 other goblins emerge from the foliage.

Kreed charged ahead and we followed. I shot again, missed, shot again, and missed again. Bix however hit the runner with an excellent shot. We now just had to deal with the 4 other goblins...

..until the stirges came out. The goblins must have known about the blood birds because they stayed off the bridge and taunted us as we fended off the creatures. Four of the little beasts immediately attached themselves to Kreed. Focussing on our new threat, Orion and I both shot and killed one of them. Bix readied his whip and tried to use it to painfully get the birds off Kreed (ouch!). Sunny and Orion then shot another, followed by my best shot of the day that hit one between its eyes.

The goblins must have seen that we were dealing with the stirges and began throwing javelins at us. Their first volley missed. Bix then managed to whip a bloodbird off of Kreed... only to have the creature bite him. Cursing that we weren't following the plan, Boaz retreated with 3 of the stirges sucking his blood. Kreed went into a rage and Orion killed some with his magic missile.

Eventually, we killed the remaining blood birds and Orion was able to daze the goblins with his new Glitterdust spell (which was really impressive to look at). We killed them and then withdrew out of javelin range because we had detected additional goblins deeper in the woods. 

Down in the well, the party had come across a kobold wand of healing. Bix discovered that you had to utter a word [which I won't even attempt to spell] and hit the subject in the forehead. I was eager to try it out and thought that I might be best person to carry it (since I can't cast magic on my own and I am not much good in a fight otherwise). Bix reluctantly agreed and I immediately practiced it on some of our wounded party members.

It was still early morning and we still had not crossed all the way over the bridge. Sunny suspected that there might be more stirges and she was right. We killed those and prepared to make camp in a defensible location. It's probably not very smart to stay here with goblins on the loose, but I can't imagine limping all the way back to Herr Farstrider's cabin.

So that is where we are now. Bix, Kreed, and Boaz are all sleeping off their injuries in their tents. Sunny, Orion, and I are taking turns on watch. Everyone's on edge. Besides Boaz's tongue lashing, the threat of additional fighting is weighing me down. I performed well in the last battle, but I still fear what is coming. I am not a soldier. I never wanted to be a soldier. Yet, I feel like I've joined a mercenary company rather than a party of adventurers. I would suggest to the group that we just return to Harcomb but I'm afraid and what they'll say... ...but we should finish what we have started. There is danger in these woods and the bridge is unsafe. If we don't take care of this problem, who will? 

When this is all over, I'm going to purchase a night in the Last Bastion's hot spring. Damn those stupid boys, I need a bath. And I really need some fresh, comfortable clothes. Perhaps something along the lines of what Sunny wears?

Is it my imagination or did I just hear something...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Forgotten Songs: Liner Notes

For those of you who are enjoying the diary entries of Katja and the glimpse that they provide on one of my formative play experiences, I now direct your attention to Professor Pope's most excellent blog. It seems that my old reports have induced a state of bittersweet nostalgia in the good Professor. Seeing as how he was the man in charge of that game, he has decided to add his own commentary track to my ongoing posts. It's all very "meta" but it's a great chance to peek behind the screen of a highly accomplished GM.

A New Cartographer On The Block

Dyson already scooped me on this but it is noteworthy enough to repeat here: there's a great new source of geomorphs available over at Stonewerks's Blog. Stonewerks perfectly captures that classic Dyson style for both dungeon maps and geomorphs. And like myself, he's made his geomorphs compatible with the 10x10 / 2-exit on a side format that both Dyson and myself use for our tiles. That's a huge heapin' helping of geomorphs for all your old school dungeon crawling needs!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Risus Monkey Levels Up

Thanks to The Happy Whisk, LoneIslander, Josh, Zanazaz, and Jesse Moore for bringing me up to 80 followers! According to Trey's Old School RPG Blogger Advancement Table, I have now made it to level 6 (Maven).

When I resumed this blog almost a year ago I had no idea that I'd still be keeping it up a year later. And I certainly never expected to acquire a following of readers. Looking back, it has been a tremendously rewarding experience. I've met so many amazingly creative people that it makes my head spin. Thank you all for your kind words and excellent feedback. If I could take this show on the road I'd love to game with all of you.

Crisis of Self Confidence (Forgotten Songs #6)

Even in the most involved campaigns, circumstances occasionally force you to miss a game. This entry in Katja's diary set up my expected absence in the following session. It also continued the theme of self-doubt in the face on overly romantic and unrealistic notions of what an adventuring life was all about. Despite the tone of Katja's entry, I was still having a great time as a player. Failures now would make success later all that much sweeter.

May 31, 2000
I feel useless. The rest of The Outsiders have just gone back down into the hole to finish off the remaining kobolds and restore Herr Farstrider’s well. I'm staying on the surface because I don't feel like I can be of much help down there. I can't see in the dark, my crossbow isn't meant for close quarters, and I can't see how I could get past the quick-mud. At least they're only kobolds. Kreed could probably kill them all single-handedly.

We arrived at Herr Roth Farstrider's dwelling after deciding to delay our Oghma temple explorations for some more good deeds and exploration of the area. While wrapping up our search of the old Tempian outpost, I happened upon three wounded men heading in the direction of the Western Way. They were herbalists returning from an unsuccessful expedition to Thoralin forest and were attacked by stirges while crossing an important bridge. After quite a bit of discussion and no small amount of argument, we offered to help deal with the bloodbird threat and clear the road.

I was not terribly happy with the delay in our mission. We needed to get back to Harcomb to report on our success and I was anxious to get on exploring the old temple, looking for information about the Silver Huntress. But Sunny was insistent that we help these poor travelers and I had to admit that she had a point. Lord  Richard would benefit from increased trade along the blocked road and would appreciate our efforts. The herbalists also sparked my curiosity with tales of the mysterious Thoralin forest. Orion especially seemed excited at the rumors of pseudodragon nests. In the end, we decided to let the herbalists carry a message to Lord Richard bearing news of our success and current activities.
The herbalist's names were Berek, Siggi, and Gombil. Gombil was extremely wounded and required medical attention. As Boaz was out of spells, we gave him mundane care and waited until the morning to grace him with the healing powers of Oghma.

We set out after eating a pleasant breakfast at the Western Way, leaving much of our recently acquired treasure there with Nob. Bode's daughters (now proprietors of the Western Way) were kind enough to give me one of their shirts to replace my blood-stained, pierced, and severely worn one. They had also given us the name of an old ranger named Roth Farstrider [who we are now helping] and hinted that he might know some things about the forest. His house would be on the way to the site of the stirge attacks.
After four days of uneventful travel, we arrived at the location of Roth's dwelling. Sunny noticed chimney smoke coming over a hill. We also came upon a rather large black bear near the side of the road. I rode ahead and told the party to give it a wide birth, but Kreed amused us all by attempting to have a conversation with it. His instincts were correct, though, as the bear turned out to be the animal companion of Herr Farstrider.

The old ranger mistook us for his grandson, Eammon, who is a member of the Riders of Callas (a name unfamiliar to us). As an old man, Herr Farstrider needed help with a problem he was having with his well. It had recently gone dry and he was in no condition to try to fix it himself. He was hoping that his grandson could do it with his band of adventurers, but seemed more then willing to have us do it instead. He was very helpful about providing supplies (torches, thunderstones, a grapple) but he was unwilling to discuss the matter of the Thoralin forest until we dealt with the problem.

We lowered a rope into the well and Sunny, Kreed, and Orion descended first. Once they had explored the landing, Boaz went down to to watch the bottom of the rope. As they moved deeper, Bix descended as well. I heard shouting and saw a shape pass under the well. Thinking my comrades were in danger, I climbed down the rope to see them already engaged in combat with a giant bat. Kreed signaled that he was going to use a thunderstone and we covered our ears. The noise was terribly loud, even with my ears covered. The bat was rendered helpless and easily dispatched, but Boaz suffered what I hope is only temporary hearing loss as a result of failing to cover his ears.

There was a patch of quick-mud blocking the cave. Kreed, Orion, and Sunny had climbed past it and were already advancing into the cave system. Bix attempted to follow but fell into the mud and started sinking. It was all Boaz and I could do to keep pull him to safety while we heard the sounds of melee coming from deeper in the passageway. Bix attempted another crossing but once again fell in. As a result, the Kreed, Orion, and Sunny were left to fight a kobold hoard all by themselves.

After the dealing with this wave of kobolds (there are certainly more), we all retreated to the surface to catch our breath. Most of the group wanted to go back immediately, while the kobolds are still off guard. Feeling weary and ineffective, I declined. My arms ached from pulling Bix out of the mud and from hauling myself up and down the knotted rope.

I'm starting to question my value to the group. The rest of them seem such competant fighters ... well, maybe except for Bix. I'd like to think I bring useful social and wilderness skills to the group but on days like today, I can't help but think that I get in the way more than anything else. I think I need to take a day away from the group and sort things out. Tomorrow, I'm going to go hunting and reassure myself that I can be of future use to the party. Perhaps I'll practice some archery as well... it would be nice to be able to fire into melee without hitting my friends.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Gaming with Kids: In Search of the Unknown

In spite of the beautiful weather, me and the boys were forced inside today due my youngest sustaining another playground injury (that boy is almost on a first name basis with the ER staff). Instead of being a bummer, I looked at it as an opportunity to introduce them to a little more roleplaying.

My boys are 5 and 3 and still definitely pre-literate, so full-on D&D was out of the question. My oldest is starting to get a handle on simple math, so rolling dice and comparing results was totally feasible (and my youngest was fine with just rolling). The two have no shortage of imagination and they leapt at the chance to "create characters" and "have an adventure".

First question to the boys: do you want an adventure with knights and dragons and wizards? Or one with Indiana Jones-style tomb exploration? Without a second thought, they chose tomb raiding.

Next we created characters. Given their age, they had a strong preference for visually identifying with their character. So both boys chose Lego figures (with assorted accessories). Last time we played, we didn't bother with any kind of game statistics. This time, I wanted to gradually lead them in that direction. Not too surprising, but I settled on a sort of rudimentary Risus. I asked each boy some questions about what their character was like and we came up with the following thumb-nail character sheets (I handled number assignments for my youngest and I translated his wish for a magic horse into rules):
Alfred the Archaeologist
Archaeologist (4), Swordsman (3), Ostrich Racer (2), Wielder of a Mystic Power Gem (1)

Sir Jacktune
Knight (4), Soldier (3), Horseman (2)
Sidekick: Magical Horse that can become pocket-sized (3)

To this group, we added:

Elf Wizard (3), GM Mouthpiece (2)

George the Porter
Porter (2)
As you can see, we quickly veered from the straight-up pulp adventure that they seemed to have chosen. Also, my boys unfailingly select the same names for any imaginary character they create: "Alfred" for my oldest and "Jacktune" for my youngest (no idea where this comes from).

We we sat down on the floor with a stack of tact-tiles, some dice, and a box of plastic minis. In need of a dungeon crawl, I pulled out B1: In Search of the Unknown since it has been on my mind of late. I slipped into character and had Endil with Wizard tell his friends, Alfred and Jacktune, that he discovered rumors of and underground complex that may have belonged to the legendary heroes, Roghan the Fearless and Zelligar the Unknown. It was pretty much right from the module at this point and we role-played getting ready for the adventure and the hiring of a porter (they wanted at least one more Lego figure on the board).

So we arrived at the entrance to the dungeon and we talked about things like lighting and marching order and such. My boys seemed to have a pretty good grasp of dungeoneering practices (as far as it goes) and their first steps into the dungeon were precious. They really got a kick out of daddy using his "big voice" for the magic mouths in the first encounter area and they were eager to suggest encounters by pulling minis out of the box.

Unfortunately, we couldn't keep up the game for more than about 40 minutes or so (with interruptions). My younger son's attention was slipping and we had to start getting ready for a friend's birthday party. But we did have some great encounters with a rival party of adventurers, some skeletons, some shadows, a panther, and a tiger (the last suggested my my boys). All-in-all, I'd consider it a success and our next attempt should build off of this one nicely.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Call of the Silver Huntress (Forgotten Songs #5)

In which Katja has a near death experience, hears the first call of the Silver Huntress, and suffers another blow to her self-confidence: 

May 27, 2000
Anna-Katarina von Randstein: You have fallen victim. It should not have been so. The Hunt, under my light, is glorious and sacred. You have been the Hunter, taking the deer, fox, and boar from the forests of you ancestors. But I hunted there before the land knew your kind. Now, you have been Hunted. And you have sustained the wound that has brought you to my door. I have hidden too long. Evil is about to rise again. Will you hunt the evil under my light? Will you pursue it until the end? Will you find freedom in the night? Will you ride with the wind? I offer you a choice, a chance, to Hunt the Hunt of the gods. To become my maiden under the moon. To serve me until I call you to the Great Hunt of Ages. I shall send you forth. But to prove your worth You must hunt him who felled you And bring him low before I depart the sky in the morn. Do this, and I shall make you my servant. You will be blessed by the Silver Huntress.
I had to write that down. That voice, both masculine and feminine, has been going through my head since last night when I nearly died from that crossbow bolt. Of course, it was a vision. I was miraculously healed. But I am already starting to forget that transcendent feeling of the Silver Huntress’ blessing. I need to document that experience because I fear that it may have all been a mistake and that I will never again earn the Goddess’ favor.

I suppose I should start at the beginning. I was supposed to meet Bode Dirslap to discuss our “deal” to sell his gimlet in foreign lands. Of course, it had to be a trap. This was the moment we were waiting for. Yet, Orion and I were grossly unprepared. I walked right into it and saw three armed men lurking in the shadows of the warehouse. I tried to blow Bix’s whistle for help, but one shot me through the chest with his crossbow before I could get out a sound.

Things went dark immediately. Then… I was having the dream again. I was a wolf, the Wolf actually, and I was running through a forest of alder, birch, and fir. I was hot on the trail of some new game. Its strange scent filled my nostrils, awakening a hunger deeper that I have ever known. I remember the huge full moon that bathed the forest in silvery light. It was closer and larger than would seem possible. I could almost leap upon it.

I was closing in on my prey. It’s sad, but I can’t remember what that prey was now. I remember leaping after it and then there was this weird dream-time effect. I was slowly flying through the air, anticipating that my jaws would strike hot flesh in but a moment. But a cloud passed over the moon and I lost sight of my target. Then I felt enormous pain as I first took a black-fletched arrow into my chest then felt the force of my body slamming into the ground.

Time returned to its normal course. I was lying on the ground, my life’s blood draining from the wound in my chest. I had a hard time breathing and I could taste my own blood welling up in my throat. I thought I was dying.

But then the cloud passed from the moon and a silvery light shined down upon me. I heard that ancient androgynous voice utter those words. Then I woke up.

I was still feeling very strange. I was sitting some distance from the site of the attack, and the sun was much lower in the western sky. There was a huge commotion and it looked like all the patrons of the Western Way were out and about making a fuss. I looked down and saw the crossbow bolt in my chest, which I no longer felt, turn to silver and fall to ground.

People were looking at me. Sunny came over and started asking me things but she ran off as if distracted. I wasn’t really listening. I could still hear the voice of the Goddess, telling me to hunt down the one who had shot me. I breathed in deeply. It was almost as though I could smell the trail I had to follow. But I lingered for a moment, marveling at the miracle of my recovery. I touched my chest where my wound had been and found only a small scar on my left breast.

I started to hear bits and pieces of conversation. I look around to see Kreed and Bix being tended…they must have been hurt coming to my aid. I said something, but I forgot what exactly. Then I got to my feet, unsteadily at first, and made for the site of the ambush. Yes, there was a trail of blood. I imagined I could smell it. I spoke up, clearly this time, and said we had to follow the trail while it was warm.

I started to pick up more of the situation. The merchants were going to loan us horses and one of their bodyguards. We had already been given healing balms and Kreed and Bix were recovering. And one of our attackers, a boy named Nob, decided to help us find his former comrades.

After gathering our things and mounting our horses, we were off. Much to my annoyance, Nob would be riding with me. I wanted to race ahead to take advantage of our fading daylight, but Boaz and Sunny were having trouble with their horses. I was torn. I had this voice inside my head spurring me on, yet I reigned Drachen in and waited for my companions. Reason told me that I would need them in the coming fight and that I was unlikely to be able to fight them all, especially after how they almost killed three of us. But I was losing that otherworldly feeling and I fear I shall never experience its like again.

After a short ride that seemed to take hours, I finally spotted the largest of the villains. He was lying in wait up ahead, hoping to ambush us. I readied my crossbow, fired, and missed. Damn! It was a foolish, hurried shot. I ordered Nob off Drachen and attempted a flanking maneuver while the others charged from the front. Kreed was almost immediately brought down again and I felt my confidence waning. I tried to line up another shot, but the rest of the party had surrounded him. He was a ferocious fighter and I wanted desperately to help. I dropped my crossbow, drew my scimitar, and tried to close in for an attack. I couldn’t land a blow but Boaz finally brought him down with an Oghma wrestling maneuver. As Sunny stood on his neck, he surrendered.

I felt terribly anxious. That encounter did not feel right. I imagined riding down the man and putting bolt between is shoulder blades. Instead, I circled the battlefield ineffectually. Memories of my vision were all but gone.

Bix was able to revive Kreed with one of the ointments that was given to us. We then bound the prisoner to a tree and made to pursue the remaining villains. Kreed, however, wanted to stay back for a moment. Most of us thought it foolish, but we had little time to argue. And I had a sense of what Kreed might be thinking… he had unresolved business with the prisoner as well.

With Nob back with me, we rode for another distance. The sun was now below the horizon and the night was getting darker. The moon was but a crescent and offered little light for us humans to see. Sunny, Orion, and Boaz, however, found the light to be more than adequate. In fact, Sunny took over the lead in our pursuit. I stole a few glances at the waning moon and tried to guess what the Silver Huntress had in mind for me on this hunt. I could barely see. And by lighting a torch, I made us all easier targets.

Shot were fired! Sunny and Orion had made contact with our enemy. I heard someone shout, “He’s over hear!”. Where? Holding a torch, I realized that I was a sitting duck. And the light did not go far enough into the woods to help me see the rogue. I had to do something so I gave Nob the torch, dismounted, and felt my way into the wood, using my ears rather than my eyes. Sunny yelled. People started running. I couldn’t hope to run after them without light, so I went back to retrieve the torch from Nob. Ignoring the risk of carrying the light, I ran into the woods after the sounds. I climbed a slight hill and found Sunny and Orion outside what looked to be an old Tempian fort built into the hillside. Nob had mentioned this hideout as we rode, so it was obvious that was where our prey and retreated to. We then decided to gather the others and organize a more effective assault.

We tied up our horses and all of us (including Kreed now) gathered at the door to the fortress. Nob assured us that it was the only door that he was aware of so we at least didn’t have to worry about losing our prey. We just had to worry about the inevitable ambush and traps.

As usually, Kreed was on point. Sunny and Boaz came next. Bix, Orion, and I readied our missile weapons and followed closely behind. Unfortunately, we were losing our torchlight. Fortunately, we saw light coming from another corridor ahead. We moved in, past an obvious floor trap and into a large chamber with a post bearing a plaque that was the standard of Legion XVII, commanded by a Cassius Coriolanus. Below the plaque was a carved message "Following in the footsteps of cruelty, I sing a song of lament" signed with the initials "ISS".

In the left corridor, Kreed found a lit torch. He removed it from its bracket and gave it to me. I then gave it to Nob since my weapon of choice requires two hands. We heard some doors opening and closing, causing some initial confusion. But Orion soon deduced that they were using a simple illusionist’s trick. That was, however, after Kreed and Sunny were lured into a sleep gas trap.

Eventually, after what seemed a very long time, we determined what room our prey was hiding in. Kreed and Boaz kicked in the door and a brief, but confusing melee ensued. Once again, I was denied the satisfaction of hunting down my prey and was relegated to hovering near the back of the melee waiting for a shot. Frustrated and angry, I spit into the captured rogue’s face as he told us of the supposed secret organization he belonged to. Likely story. It was all I could do to keep from killing him right there.

The others wanted to search out the complex immediately. I needed fresh air so I volunteered to return to the Inn to retrieve the cart and labor to help us move the booty. Sensing that I might need someone to talk to, I think, Sunny offered to come with me.

I related to Sunny everything that I written above. I was terribly sad and afraid that I failed some kind of test. Sunny seemed to think I was receiving a call to become a cleric of this Silver Huntress. I couldn’t imagine how she’d want me after failing to follow her first request.

As we rode back, we discovered that Kreed had murdered the big robber that we had first captured. Sunny was quite upset about this and insisted we dig the man a grave. I was indifferent to his fate and could understand why Kreed did what he did. But it was distressing that Kreed appeared to go behind our back in this matter.

Sunny and I returned to the inn and gathered a cart and some strong men and returned to the old fort. It was late and it would be much later before we returned to inn with our treasure. And when we arrived at the fort, we learned that the rogues had almost escaped once again. I could have kicked myself for not being there.

We slept very little that night and I did not dream again. We woke in the morning to settle up with the merchants and collect our spoils. This was our cut:

4 gems of unknown value
a pair of diamond earings
a silver ship statue
3 unknown potions
the wizard’s books and lab equipment
50’ silk rope
over 150 crossbow bolts
the shield, sword, and split mail of the murdered thug

It was at this time that Sunny introduced us as The Outsider’s Aegis. Quite a heroic name for us, really. It brought a smile to my face. But I hardly felt like much of an Aegis. And I noticed the poor daughter’s of Bode Dirslap and how they were now fatherless. We all agreed to give them a share of our earnings, reducing our individual take to be 30gp,50sp per person. Not a lot of money, but enough to feed (and hopefully clothe) me for a little while at least. I also returned the money that Sunny had loaned me, as I had not spent it yet. There was still some of Lord Harcomb’s coin left, but we agreed it should be used for party expenses.

Going over our treasure, Bix also revelaed that he had found an interesting map and a note. It seemed to imply that our captured robbers might actually be involved with some kind of criminal organization. Fortunately, Oulwin and Valesti (their names, we discovered) would be given to the merchants to sell to the arenas. I doubt this criminal organization would ever learn about us unless we came to them (though there is some talk of doing just that given the nature of Bix’s note).

We’re spending the day exploring the rest of the Tempian fort. Sunny even found a loose slate hiding 150sp and 60gp. But my heart is not really in it. I spent some time reading legionnaire graffiti but most of it was dull and pointless. What I really want to do it get back to Harcomb and start investigating the old Oghma temple. I need to learn more about the Silver Huntress and it is possible that old libraries have lore that might be of help.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Geomorph #98

Once more Down into the Dungeon, today's geomorph is based on the following image:

Specifically, it's based on a subsection in the center-left. There is a stair coming down into a hall of arches (some of them featuring sinister eyes lurking in the shadows). In the west, there is an exit that eventually leads down a curving stair to a pit trap splitting an east-west passage. Below the pit trap is water lair of some kind of creature that demands a virgin sacrifice at the pillar in the southeast.

Additional images that represent the same area:


Thursday, November 11, 2010


As a gamer of a certain generation, it was inevitable that the dreaded "40" would hit me sooner or later. Well, today's' the day. Funny thing is, I don't feel much older. I actually feel pretty darn young. I'm in good shape right now and I'm still enjoying the hell out of my boyish hobby (though I never seem to get enough time to pursue it as much as I  really would like).

A few gaming related birthday wishes:
  • More time for gaming. Right now, I'm managing a game every two or three weeks. I would love a weekly game, but I'm afraid that won't be happening any time soon.
  • More time for Mythic GME gaming. Even when I can't game with other people, I really get a kick out of playing solo with the Mythic GME. My solo gaming has stalled out recently due to a busy schedule, but I'd like to pick it up once I meet my work deadlines.
  • More chances to play different games. The Gurps and Buffy games will continue for the foreseeable future, but it's really nice to try out new (or old systems). Last Saturday's Old School Hack game was a blast, as was last August's Risus game. I still want to break out some old school D&D or Gamma World with my current group and I still have yet to run FATE or PDQ.
  • Play with different people. One of the best ways to get better as a game master is to actually run games for people outside of your regular gaming group. One of my resolutions for '11 will be to participate in one or more conventions or game days. If I can travel outside the DC area to do it, so much the better.
  • Start a new campaign. The most exciting time in any given campaign usually seems to be when it is just starting out. It's when my own world-building enthusiasm is at it's height and everything thing as this wonderfully undefined potential. Not that I have time right now, but I'm really looking forward to the moment when I can launch a brand new campaign. Current genres of interest: post-apocalyptic, golden age supers, and 80's-style cyberpunk. Of course, those interests are guaranteed to change before I can actually start a new game.
And now for a little birthday music from a band that defined a certain period of my youth:

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Night of the Gimlet (Forgotten Songs #4)

Well, shoot. I wanted to do a geomorph tonight but I don't even have time for that. Thus, another installment of Katja's diary...

May 26, 2000
It’s been a few days since I last wrote. I suppose I should have written sooner. Gods’ know that I had the time. But after my last entry, I told Sunny of my flight from Randstein. Since then I haven’t much cared to work out any more of my feelings through writing.

Well, I now find myself stalling for time until my arranged meeting with Herr Dirslap. Orion is writing in his own journal at the moment so it is as good a time as any to detail the events of the last few days.

As I mentioned, I spilled my heart to Sunny while we waited for the others to wake on the morning of the 23rd. It was painful but, truth be told, also liberating. I’ve been living with the hurt of those events for some time now. Even with Morandil, I had been unable to really open up about it. Yes, I told him enough of my brother to guard against pursuit… but I never felt like I could really share my feelings with him. He seemed so worldly and I felt so young and inadequate. I desperately wanted to seem brave and composed for him.

It was different with Sunny. She has this warmth about her that makes you feel safe. And she is so very kind. She seemed genuinely concerned about my problems and even offered me 20 gold pieces to help buy clothes to protect my identity. It doesn’t seem right for me to be living on the charity of others, but I accepted her gift because I really needed the money. I also felt that she wasn’t offering it out of pity. I will always remember this kindness. If I ever come into money again, I swear by my father’s grave that I’ll return her generosity many times over. And it wouldn’t be something as base as giving her gold. No, one should not keep a running total of who owes whom what. One should always just be naturally generous and remember to be there for those that you love. My father would say as much if he were still here.

On a lighter note, I learned that Bix sleeps in the nude. It shouldn’t surprise me. But I find the thought to be rather lewd and titillating. And to think that he sometimes makes use of my tent while I take watch…

The remainder of our journey to the Inn of the Western Way was supremely uneventful. The path eventually grew wider and more like a road, while the wilderness about us grew progressively wilder. We occupied our time by endlessly discussing our plan to expose the robbers. It was finally agreed that Orion and I would act as bait. The two of us would pose as rich Tempian travelers en route from Leinster. I was to be Belladonna Valentino, the daughter of a rich shipping magnate. The others seemed amused by my choice of name. I can’t imagine why. Belladonna’s the name of a beautiful actress I met when my father took me backstage at a performance of The Duke of Malfoy. In hind-site, I realize now why they might have been amused. They might know of the actress and inevitably draw unfavorable comparisons between my pale, slight frame and her voluptuous dark beauty. No matter now. What’s done is done.

Orion would pose as my tutor. This was not much of a stretch since he’s been my primary Cimbrian instructor since we met up. He enjoys speaking Tempian and will thus take time out of his regular magical studies to help me master what seems to be the group’s language of choice. He asked and received permission to ride Boaz’ donkey, Hoté, to maintain appearances. The two of us would try to purchase new clothing if possible, but even if it were not, we were still to act like inviting targets.
Bix would come to the inn as himself and pretend to have never met us. He would sleep in the common room and try to gather as much information about the plot as he could. He would also spread rumors about my supposed wealth and try to provoke an attack.

Now that I think about it, this plan did seem rather foolhardy. It must have been the confidence that I acquired after we slew the Displacer Beast that allowed me to agree to it. The rest of the group would not really be in much of a position to help if Orion or I were to get into trouble. Sunny, Boaz, and Kreed were going to keep watch from a hilltop near the Inn. I would use the sound of Bix’s whistle to summon help. If discrete assistance was needed, I would signal with my lantern and lower a rope out of my window.

On the day of the 24th, we split up to set our plan in motion. Orion and I rode ahead and marked the site of our morning rendezvous. We then rode over a hill and into the valley where the Inn was found with several other associated buildings. It was getting late as we arrived and were barely we able to tie up our mounts before the sun fell below the horizon. We entered the inn to find it packed with travelers. Most of them seemed a little shocked at the presence of an elf in the company of a small woman of fine but extremely worn clothes.

I seized the moment and did my best to emulate the way my mother behaved whenever we traveled. I pretended to be above everyone else in the room and looked down my nose as I spoke. I took advantage of my excellent Tempian by pretending to speak very little Cimbrian. I rattled off demands quickly and left it to Orion to translate. I could tell my act was working. The Innkeeper, Herr Bode Dirslap, looked highly annoyed with my little antics. But he also went out of his way to please us, which meant that he believed we had money.

There was no stable hand and Orion and I were forced to attend to our mounts ourselves. I was actually glad of it. Drachen and Hoté would have to share a stall and I wanted to spent time with my horse to make it up to him. Afterwards, Herr Dirslapp showed us to a passable room with a window looking out towards our friends’ position.

We then had dinner in the common room. Dinner was actually quite delicious. We kept to ourselves, mostly, and tried to act as if we were above it all. Then Bix created quite a spectacle when he magically conjured applause to herald his arrival through the front door. Orion and I let Bix work the crowd and watched as he went from table to table trying to gather information. He never came out and asked about the attacks or any strange circumstances. He was definitely taking a passive approach to information gathering.

I overheard bits and pieces of his conversations. One group of travelers were cloth merchants from Kingsport. Uh oh, that could be trouble. I started to mentally tighten up our cover story. Also, he met some hunters who were exploring a local forest. That did sound interesting. They also spoke in Pembroke, which meant I could follow most of what they were saying. Bix frustrated me by failing to pursue that conversation and instead decided to come over and introduce himself to us. Playing my part, I insinuated that he was begging for money. He then felt compelled to give us a somewhat uneven show of three stories.

It was at about this time that Herr Dirslap brought out his “gimlet”. We didn’t know it at the time, but it would later prove to be the most promising clue in our investigation. It was a curious green liquor that smelled vaguely of juniper berries. Orion said that it tasted of the finest elvish wines while I swore it tasted likely my father’s best brandy. That we should differ so wildly seemed strange. Bix, however, would not taste to see if we could get a third opinion.

We later learned that Herr Dirslap would be receiving another shipment of the gimlet tomorrow and everyone in the inn waited with great anticipation. Apparently, this gimlet has made the Inn of the Western quite famous. Some of the visitors came specifically to sample this marvelous drink.
Nothing happened that night. Orion and I shared watch duties and we signaled Sunny and the others to let them know we were safe. But we suspected that if anything were to happen, it would be on the night of the gimlet.

We woke early on the morning of the 25th and had quick breakfast of oatmeal before riding out to meet with the others. Feeling restless, I thought I’d take Drachen for a ride around the valley and attempt to look for suspicious tracks. Instead, all I managed to do was stir up a giant wasp’s nest. I have never seen a bug so big and I had to ride at full gallop for several minutes before it gave up pursuing me.

That evening, the gimlet arrived. I purchased mugs for Orion, Bix, and myself since Bix had purchased ours on the previous night. Before we could partake, Bix cast a spell to detect enchantments. Lo and behold, the brew turned our to be magical! I knew it was too good to be true. And now it seemed we had an almost conclusive sign that things were amiss at the inn. Surely, the thieves would strike while everyone was under the spell of the gimlet. The three of us made a great show of pretending to drink while keeping our eyes peeled for potential robbers.

Nothing happened. It was really quite frustrating. We did everything we could have done to play at being easy targets. I even summoned Sunny to cover me while I went outside to pee. Nothing.
This morning we awoke feeling tired and frustrated. We had remained awake for most of the night looking for signs of criminal activity. I rode out to confer with our companions and we all decided that we would only stay one more night here. And for the remainder of the day, we agreed that we had to be more aggressive in pursuing leads.

I returned to the inn and concocted a ruse whereby I would pretend to be interested in purchasing the gimlet for sale in Tempia. I was quite insistent and Herr Dirslap seemed to be rather put out. Something seemed weird though and, as it turns out, he was just making a show of putting me off to fool the visiting the merchants…

…or so he said. I can’t be sure. There seemed to be something going on with Herr Dirslap. He left us a note that he would meet us later in the day to discuss the details of a deal. It could be nothing. At the very least, however, it may lead us to the producers of the strange gimlet. They must be questioned as to their intent. At the worst, Orion and I could be walking in to a trap. Come to think about it, it does sound fishy. I think I’ll ride out to the others and have them back us up.