Sunday, July 21, 2013

Reins of Darkness: Session 16

To The High Council of Stewards and the Paragnostic Assembly,
From Fa-Kseen, High Quartermaster of the Council,
Concerning the continued exploits of Anansi Corps.

As Ulfen, Zeruch, and I sat partaking in Arithon’s memory, a group of wolves came upon us. Have I mentioned how delicious wolf smells? Anyways, we smelled them coming and I made greeting. The wolves clearly had great respect for Arithon, for they ate what remained down to the marrow. The wolves claimed that they served “The King” (more on him later), and gave us directions to his camp.

As we made our way to visit “The King”, the father of the three lovely ladies we had met at the castle earlier in the day, we asked the wolves about “The Devourer”. For things so ready and willing to devour, they had little nice to say about this kindred spirit, even being so rude as to suggest that the Devourer of Worlds may be less than sentient—as if any being with such a discerning palette could be anything less than brilliant.

On the way we suddenly saw a snake-like head breach the ground ahead of us, like a great, delicious fish or whale breaching the surface of the ocean. It looked very much like the dragon which I had seen Master Strasby Nash turn into just a few days prior, save that it bore upon its back a pair of men. The first was a human, tall and broad of shoulders, very much like misters Smash and Zeruch, and introduced himself as Raule. The second was black of skin and white of teeth, dressed all in black, and called himself Shard (or Shatter or some other such moniker). While his name was obviously false, I found him to be a most level-headed and well-spoken individual, with many insights to share concerning furnishings—a master architect or carpenter he must have been, for he went on at length about how various dressers and wardrobes were "out to get him". He was able to shed much light on the nature of the Chi-Julud induced hallucination I was experiencing, though I did find it odd that he seemed to be able to hear the doorknobs speaking as well.

The six of us (Ulfen, Zeruch, Nash, Raule, Shard, and my esteemed self) proceeded through the forest, plagued all the way by pesky pixies—not even a mouthful those things. The wolves rushed ahead to a clearing where we met yet more of the talking trees from earlier. We passed them without consequence. These were not even nice enough to share a single of their berries, let alone a kind word.

Shortly thereafter we encountered a band of legates, five of them, mounted on their great mammoths. Have I ever mentioned how delicious mastodon is, boiled in a sauce of orc cheese and elderberries?

The mammoths ran over us, clearly possessed by spirits the magic-sniffing dogs of the Dark Lord, but did little damage, despite their impressive meatiness. A few fireballs from myself and Master Nash, some creative application of electricity by Ulfen, and some assistance by the wolves, and the beasts and their riders were soon nicely braised and added to our larders. Here I must mention Mr. Shard again, for he seemed to know quite a bit about the legates, even going so far as to repeat some of their prayers of healing, but I suppose that only goes to show how fine, knowledgeable, and sensible a fellow he is—more so, in that he clearly appreciates a good gazpacho. Oh, and he also had a sword which seemed able to disintegrate Legates with minimal effort on his part. A most agreeable and outstanding fellow…I think frying may be the best use for him…perhaps with a sauce of basil and plums.

Nash was most overjoyed by some scrolls we found on the bodies of the legates. These were the first extant examples of post-umbral writing we had found, a transcription of the Black Speech, using the characters of Ancient Gressil. We took a few minutes to copy the contents—spells to heal significant wounds, disrupt magic, and give communion with the Dark Lord—into our notebooks before proceeding.

The hunger then came upon me greatly, and I was determined to cook up the mastodons (preferring mammoth meat well-done, rather than lightly grazed with fire such as these were), right there. But my companions convinced me of our haste, despite the time taken to indulge Nash’s bibliophilia, so I was forced to put them on ice to collect later. A waste really, as mastodon is always better served as fresh as possible, and fresh, warm, legate brains make a wonderfully delectable paste when spread over toast.

We pressed ahead and came upon the great yellow tents of “The King”. His retinue were a ghastly lot: slim-wasted wastrels of women with satiny wings, great clawed things with overly-small mouths, and emaciated snake-like women with more arms than hips. The King himself was not-at-all jolly, dressed all in yellow, and similarly thin, multi-armed, and snakelike. A manifestation of my Chi-Julud addled mind obviously, for nothing so ill-fed could truly be called a king, and he showed none of the royal appreciation for fine cuisine. The king bade us slay the Devourer on pain of death.

While I feared little at his hands, I saw the Devourer from afar as we approached and the hunger came upon me fiercely. A great winged turtle it was, and my mind, addled with dreams of Devourer soup, forwent all thoughts of speaking to the thing and could do nothing but hurl the Lance of the Giants at the thing, cleaving its head from its body in one blow. On closer inspection, we found the teeth of the great thing to be black, hard, and mirror-polished, as if its mouth were a gate to the Dark Lord's abode. We smashed its teeth, obviously. Then Ulfen shoved a door bearing Conway, the talking doorknob, down its throat. Nash and I leaped to the rescue, hurling ourselves down the headless beast's esophagus, dreading the thought of so much meat being transformed into a dragon as small and gamy as Nash now was (oh yes, did I mention that we had discovered that the talking doorknobs were responsible for Nash's state). Nash struggled mightily to wrest the door from its throat without the knob contacting it, but to no avail. The knob grazed the Devourer’s flesh and it began to shrink.

I quickly brought forth a lovely carving knife which had been gifted to me by Mr. Shard, and cut free the beasts larynx—a tough bit of tendon, but still quite delicious—then cut a hole through which Nash and I could exit the beast’s stomach. It shrank, and shrank, and shrank, and died (though Nash claims he could heal it)…quite the waste of a perfectly good, immensely huge, turtle. Also, did I mention that the head which I had previously removed with my spear grew back? Let it be hereby put to the record that I request Ulfen be reviewed before the Courts Martial for his severe negligence in allowing a potentially infinite supply of turtle meat to be transformed into a small, lean, and terribly finite chunk of dragon flesh…and also for his clear lack of the refined taste buds expected of a soldier of his rank, though I’m not sure if that is really a punishable offense…it should be.

Anyways, the Devourer was slain, its mirror-teeth smashed, and no one was eaten. Which I guess is a good thing.

Next…a recipe for larynx bortsch.

Oh! And I forgot to tell Nash about my wonderful discovery and the ship you have waiting for us! Next time I guess…

Friday, July 19, 2013

Reins of Darkness, Session 15

Rather than bore you with every adventure the party embarked on over the last six months, we will skip ahead to the present, now that you've got the idea.

Imps are delicious!

To The High Council of Stewards and the Paragnostic Assembly,
From Fa-Kseen, High Quartermaster of the Council,
Concerning the continued exploits of Anansi Corps.

I will keep this brief, as the Chi-Julud is upon me and I cannot guarantee the veracity of any longer account that I might make.

First, let me offer my sincerest thanks to the council for honoring my requisition of the ship. Once my companions and I have dealt with The Devourer (more on that later in this missive) and discovered why that dragon tasted like Nash (more on this as well), we will be proceeding with our new mission.

Having completed the first course of my studies in the High Tower of Magery, all that now remains of Ancient Gresilia (I may speak more on this in a alternate missive, but I defer to Master Nash to fill you in on the relevant details), I went in search of my companions. As usual, they were not hard to find—I could taste their fearful sweating a mile away.

I discovered them holed up in an ancient dwarven cairn, the doors held tight, presumably against the onrushing army of orcs which arrived at roughly the same time as myself, though from a different vector. As you may see from the following account, I think they may have been better off dealing with the orcs head-on, but I digress…have I ever mentioned how delicious orc is, boiled in a sauce of mastodon cheese and elderberries?

As I said, I found my companions, or rather a small sub-set there-of, namely the sword-master Arithon, the thing that was once called Smash, and the new recruit, Zeruch, just inside the cairn. Smash was, as usual, sleeping on that very fine mat of his and unable to be awakened. I had no time to debrief as, shortly on entering the cairn, I heard a scream, not unlike that so often made by Master Nash, from down the nearest corridor. I rushed to investigate, certain that Nash must have discovered some wonderful new flavor, as is so often evidenced by his screaming.

Down the corridor I discovered a large dragon of strange mien, a species I was not familiar with, but, sadly, when I went to get a taste so that I might identify it, it vanished. Though its residues on the ground tasted quite a bit like Master Nash himself. Beside where the dragon was I found a door. A golden gate with three knobs.

The knobs spoke. Or at least, in my Chi-Julud addled state, I believed they spoke, and given that belief so often parallels reality in this land, I was forced to verify. For the record, the door-knobs did not taste of cotton candy, so I must assume that they were real, and did, in fact, speak.

They, the knobs, introduced themselves as Connor, Conway, and Conrad. They were most reluctant to open or to provide any useful information, so I was forced to interrogate them forcefully.

As I was gnawing upon Conrad, Arithon and his squire arrived. Their timing was quite convenient, for I seemed to have provoked Connor by my licking and the knob summoned forth a Marilith to do battle with us. We prevailed, I think. I must admit that I was rendered unconscious by the beast, unthinkable as such a thing is for one of our kind. When I awoke the demon was gone, so I must assume that Arithon’s valor availed us once again. Again, sad, for I did not get a single taste of the thing, and I can only assume that a six-armed snake-woman would be exactly as delicious as that stew I made on this Xa-Grolman’s Eve past, you know, the one with the six ladies arms and the snake…

The marilith gone, the doors opened with little further objection, though I gnawed on them a bit more just to be sure. Beyond the gate we encountered a strange blue mist and a man, old and gray, of indeterminate race, and calling himself November. Addressing him by my name of December, I took a taste and found him to be quite delicious, tasting of liquidambar and tannins, with the subtle aroma of a late-autumn forest. He gave us some keys and bid us follow…but I could not. It was here that I learned another great word of the True Speech of this land, a word of entering of great power. As you know the True Speech is hard to transcribe, but, best as I can attempt, the word sounds as “P-l-ee-s”. I was surprised that Arithon and Zeruch both knew the word well. I must inquire later how they learned of this magic.

The word being spoken, we proceeded up a new corridor. At the end we found an arch, exiting upon a forest, guarded by a door-knocker. The knocker itself was no challenge, but the small red monkey that held it bit off my tongue when I sought to taste it. Feeling a kindred spirit, I proceeded to reciprocate the imp’s gesture, taking it into my mouth and chewing until the friendly little creature gripped onto the bloodied stump of my tongue and would not let go. A great many doses of extract-of-mushroom, that most delicious of all seasonings, encouraged the imp to take up permanent residence in my mouth, where it now serves me in place of my tongue.

Past the arch we found a small cottage. My friends rushed to open the doors, compelled by some strange curiosity, or perhaps by the key-shaped amulets they now wore. Oh yes, did I mention they key-shaped amulets given us by November? I cannot remove mine, neither by tooth nor force. They bear some subtle magic related to the binding of spirits, and speak with the voice of Otiax, he who opens the way, but have no function that I can surmise. Useless junk I imagine. Still, Arithon and Zeruch rushed to open the doors.

Within I found a fabulous banquet, though I cannot for the life of me remember how it tastes, and another red monkey demanding that he was hungry. I crafted for him a feast greater than the banquet which was before him and we were well rewarded for our troubles. The small creature gifted me with a moat, a great trench of water that might be folded up so as to fit in one’s pocket. Oh, and I believe that there were other demons in the cottage, awakened by Arithon’s obsessive loosing of portals, though I also cannot recall what they tasted like, so I must assume that Arithon and Zeruch dispatched them by their own prowess without the need of my superior gustatory skills. Arithon is becoming quite good with a knife, I must see that he is assigned more KP duty…he would be quite good at peeling turnips I imagine.

We took our rest and I awoke to find that the Chi-Julud had progressed almost to its utmost and that I was barely able to hold the solidity of my form. I quickly made pact with the Dog-God and recomposed myself before the others awakened. Shortly thereafter Ulfen arrived, another new recruit, calling himself The-Lord-hath-made-unto-us-a-good-point Goldfinger (we called him simply Goodpoint, for his appellation seemed much too long for such a small creature), wearing the ceremonial feathered headdress of the Sarcosan pilgrims, and carrying a great eye, nearly a yard across and quite delicious looking, in tow.

Ulfen quickly drew our attention to the cottage’s well. A very large well, some 15 feet across, for such a small cottage. I quickly went down to investigate and found it to be quite cold. A perfect cold-storage facility for perishables I surmise, and I have duly noted its location for future use. It was inhabited by some strange icy creatures, though they yielded quickly to a few well-placed castings of Arcimander’s Magnificent All-encompassing Radial Inferno, which my allies insist on calling simply a “fireball”…clearly they have no respect for the intricacies of of the mystical culinary arts of the Ancient Gresilians. Of greater interest was the ice in the well. It had a strange flavor, tasting at once of both lime and salt, and made for some most delectable post-prandial refreshments, and was even better blended with mushroom juice for a post-post-prandial snack.

I emerged from the well to rejoin my companions as they entered the woods. The woods opened before us, reminding me of the infamous Quivering Forest near our fair city, though it was clearly something else. A few minutes into the forest I realized that our possessions were being preyed upon by some pixies. They were quickly dispatched using Fa’Kseen’s Most Excellent Prismatic Spray, a spell of my own devising.

We then came to a clearing, filled with great talking trees…clearly another manifestation of the Chi-Julud. The trees were decidedly unhelpful. They gave us some not-quite-ripe berries, but insisted that they be eaten raw, as if we were some kind of savages incapable of cooking our food…almost as bad as elves these trees. They (the trees, not the berries) were, however, quite delicious, somewhat chewy in texture with the faint bitterness of elm and a sweet, minty aftertaste. They, however, took umbrage to the small taste I took, insisting that I should ASK them for a taste, as if they were somehow our equals. They even had the gall to attack me.

While I dealt with the rude shrubberies, my companions took their leave. I caught up with them just as they finished off a similarly offensive topiary. They spoke with a strange woman who showed no gratitude for their burning down the tree to save her. The woman was nice enough to direct us to a magnificent castle, of a size typical of our own people, but scaled for the smaller humans. The castle was surrounded by a moat, which we summarily drained using the imp’s gift, allowing us to cross and making for a fantastic catch of many large bass, pike, and gar.

The keeper of the drawbridge politely allowed us entry and directed me to the castle’s very fine kitchens. My companions, delinquents that they are, wandered off to the explore the coronal chambers. I quickly set to work making my masterpiece—rotissierie broiled moat-bass ala vorp├ál! The beautiful princess to whom the castle belonged came in as I was completing my art, and we had a delightful meal together. She was able to tell me much of use, most specifically that the Devourer of Worlds, the great beast freed from beneath the city of Karse by the other members of Anansi Squad, was nearby, just beyond the castle. I had long hoped to trade recipes with that most excellent of eaters, so I called my companions together and we set off to meet the thing.

Oh! I almost forgot to mention that the princess’s ghastly younger sister had a HORSE! An actual, non-flying, non-horned, non-speaking, HORSE! Sadly I did not get to try any, but Arithon promissed me that once we had treated with the Devourer for the princesses, they would gladly give us the meat of the beast as reward for our diplomatic endeavors on their behalf.

Unfortunately, in the next clearing we encountered several large, rotting hands of an animate nature. Ulfen and Arithon devised a brilliant stratagem involving holding a stroke of lightning between the two of them to destroy the things, but Arithon fell in the battle. He could not be revived, so I performed the last rights for him, preparing him with a delicious mushroom and herb sauce. Sadly, Ulfen and the others refused to honor Arithon’s memory with me…I will never understand the rudeness of humans…even with the Chi-Julud, I at least can still show proper respect for the dead. Maybe another dose or two of the spark will improve their attitudes…

Hmmm…the hunger comes again…I must end this missive and break my fast. Perhaps I can convince the others to memorialize Arithon with me in this second round…

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Reins of Darkness, Session 3

Legate? Is that like a big spider?

A snippet of conversation between Fa-Kseen and Anansi, regarding the party's adventures in the dwarven city...

Master Anansi, where was I—Oh yes. The legate in the dwarven treasure vault.

The legate and her—yes, on closer inspection it was a she—orcish servants fled out the back of the room and we gave chase. Knocking down a few statues and bashing a few holes in the walls, we managed to navigate our way across the room, stopping to reclaim the hammer—which we learned from our dwarven friends was named “Augdoom”, a relic of their god Aym, and namesake of their city. Beyond we found a room with five exits, and, rather than a horde of fleeing orcs, an in-rushing troop of dwarves, accompanied by our friend Ulfen.

Alpha and Arithon went back with the dwarves to salvage what they could of the treasure chamber before it was consumed by lava, while Hornvoid, Ulfen, and I attempted to track where the orcs had fled to. Ulfen mentioned seeing something amiss near the cook-fires on his way in, and, searching there, we found a set of stairs leading to a higher-level of the city, slick with orc blood.

Up the stairs we found a pair of orcs, their throats ritually slashed and bled. Rushing past them we burst into an abandoned warehouse, piled high with bales of some fibrous stuff which Hornvoid said was “riftwool”—apparently woven from the hairs of some giant insect. It tasted somewhat like coconut, if a bit rough on the tongue. I stuffed some of the riftwool in my bags for future examination—perhaps a pie crust…

…and rushed on. Down a long corridor and out onto a landing where we came to a long bridge, or rather a catwalk, across the rift, with a gondola for transporting mine carts suspended below it. Hornvoid heard some sobbing and we found a pair of dwarven children hiding beneath the start of the bridge. The children told us of a great horde of orcs that had just come running by, apparently heading for their father’s bakery. Yes! A Bakery! Did you know that dwarves bake?!

I had heard enough and charged across the bridge, which was surprisingly sturdy, trying not to look at the precipitous two-hundred foot drop into a pit of molten rock on either side. At the end of the bridge we came to a long tunnel with obvious orcish boot-prints leading into it. Rushing along, the tunnel opened into a bustling dwarven marketplace.

[Bill interjects] “We were there…There were many steps and columns. It was most tranquil.” 
[Kseen turns to slap Bill and Ted, then continues]

Seeing no signs of the orcs, we back-tracked a bit and found another set of stairs leading up into the bakery. The smell of bread was delicious, and did a good job of masking the smell of the dwarf blood which covered these steps, which I promptly slipped on.

Bursting heroically into the bakery, we found the bodies of the dwarven bakers stuffed into their own ovens. We helped ourselves to their belongings—vials of delicious, delicious Allspice and flasks of Absinthe—and began searching for the orcs. Hornvoid spotted the creatures through a grate in the floor, a half-level below us, exhausted from running and barricading themselves in so that they might rest. Looking around at the industrial baking supplies, I began wondering how many orcs I could fit in a single pie…

As Hornvoid and I pondered how to cook fourty-odd orcs, Ulfen spotted some orcish Fell making their way across the bridge and began trying to pick them off with his bow. Combining my knowledge of culinary arts with Hornvoid’s skill at engineering, we constructed a massive flour-blower from a giant sifter and a bellows, which we used to spray flour into the chamber in which the orcs had locked themselves. We heard a shout of triumph from behind and turned to see Ulfen celebrating a masterful shot at one of the zombies…

A truly impressive shot indeed! We saw the arrow sail over the zombie’s heads, strike the far wall of the chasm, and cause a tremendous explosion, bringing an entire section of the dwarven city collapsing down into the chasm. The orc zombies, the bridge, and several blocks of the dwarven city were destroyed in mere moments. I could only smile thinking of the conflagration to follow…and of pie. I had, you see, laced the flour with Absinthe, which, strangely, tends to enhance all damaging effects on those under its influence.

Sadly the collapse of the city woke the orcs from their slumber before we were quite finished dispersing the flour. Great billowing clouds of blackness came up from the orc chamber, followed by the orcs themselves. Ulfen held the orcs off as another explosion rocked the area just beneath our feat. Hurting me quite badly, but finishing the dispersal of the flour.

Hornvoid and Ulfen ran, thinking me dead, and hid inside the great ovens. Ulfen pulled the doors shut behind them just as Hornvoid ignited the flour. The heat was unbelievable! The flames were so intense that the orcs didn’t even have time to scream. When the fireball dissipated, I found myself, amazingly, still breathing, lying on the floor, holding the hammer Augdoom aloft above me. The smell of char-broiled, breaded orc made my mouth water.

Hornvoid and Ulfen came out, ready to leave immediately, but I insisted that we sift through the rubble—rubble because the entire roof of the bakery had collapsed—for the body of the legate. We found her, or what was left of her, along with several of her possessions. Let me say, female svartalf, breaded, blackened, with a hint of absinthe and spark is the most delicious dish I have ever prepared. Sadly, I did not bring any to share, friend Anansi, so you’ll have to take my word, expert opinion that it is, on it. Oh, and her name was Arda…

So, after claiming the bounty on some orc heads and returning Augdoom to the Stalmer dwarves, we have returned here to report to you. I have many delicious new dishes to offer our troops, as well as this scroll-case, taken from the treasure vaults of the dwarven queen, which I can only hope has some piece of information that you may find useful. We should, however, at some point, return to help the dwarves rebuild…and perhaps smash that horribly shiny floor for them.

Now it is off to the kitchens for me and, I hope, a long rest for my friends.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Reins of Darkness, Session 2

Starting with the second session, another player picked up GMing and I introduced my PC, a giant by the name of Fa-Kseen, who is primarily concerned with finding ways to feed the giant army. Most of the remaining play reports will be from his perspective.

To Anansi, Seneschal of the Council,
From Fa-Kseen, High Quartermaster of the Council,
Concerning the dwarven enclave beneath our great city of Xa-Charad.

To date, my quest has proven more fruitful than I might have believed. While nothing we plant may sprout in this dark land, I have found much that is edible, much of which seems to grow readily and is easily harvested. Including one of the most remarkably delightful of culinary reactions that I have ever witnessed.

Let me back up a bit. This day I left our fair city disguised, traveling in the company of three of the caretaken: Alpha and Erethon, two humans who served us well in the taking of Thorn Island, and Horn Void, a self-proclaimed “Dildicorn” (for the prosthesis which the poor pony used to replace his amputated horn). We descended the stairs beneath the great council-chamber into the library which was recently excavated, and thence to the dwarven caverns.

First, let me say, the centuries-old ashes of the texts from ancient library make the most remarkable spice. They may be a bit dry, but sing on the tip of the tongue, the taste being only describable as an embodiment of torrid desire. I was able to collect a sizable sample, and there is much to be harvested. The sea-stew which we have to date been limited to being rather bland, I think this will be a great resource, and it has shown other more remarkable properties which I shall detail later on.

In the guise of a dwarf and in the company of these brave folk, I descended into the hot, magma-lit dwarven mines. I was pleased to find that my elf-crafted apron stood up well against the extreme temperatures of the down-below; the pointy-eared caretaken have their uses.

We met first with the “Stalmers”, the short-folk in charge, and feasted with them before going on to meet their queen. The tube-worms which the dwarves feed on, “crusties” they call them, are remarkable. Smelling of sulfer, oily in texture, but with a rich, buttery flavor, they were exceptionally filling and made us all feel much fortified. Alpha and I both took substantial samples of the odd meat to supplement our provisions of seaweed and plankton.

The feast done, we went before the queen. A fine lady, very refined, and well-guarded. She lay amidst great mounds of wealth. We laid before her our gifts—200 pieces of hacksilver, my own silver whistle, and an adamantine couter provided by Erethon (which somehow ended up back in his possession later, a trick for which I dare not ask the means). The queen ensured her close friendship with the Stewards and laid the services of her guard, 150 strong, at the Council’s beck and call. I somewhat question her motives, for the floor of her royal chamber was laid of obsidian and polished to such a sheen that I was sure the Dark Lord watched over all the proceedings. I did my best to occlude the negotiations, pouring flour out onto the floor and prevaricating to the best of my abilities. Either the dwarves are unaware of the Dark Lord’s power, which I strongly doubt given how common the knowledge is, or else they are in direct league with him. The latter seems all the more likely considering that which we saw later.

She did ask that we investigate some issues—it seems that their miners have been getting lazy of late and output has slowed, possibly due to the use of a substance known as “spark”. Alpha was able to obtain a sample of the “spark”, which turned out to be a wonderful garnish. The “spark” is a fine, dark, rusty powder which tastes of iron, chlorine, and mustard—a wonderfully sharp pungeance which would be good on any variety of meets, but goes especially well with the “crusties”. As an added aside, a small taste of the spark was enough to grant myself and Erethon the ability to see in the dark, so it may have some strategic value, in addition to its culinary uses.

We agreed to speak with the miners and descended into the mines, trusting in the fine side-effects of the spark and leaving our light behind so as to not create a more dangerous variety of spark in the coal-dust choked pits. In the mines we met with the Dullkins, the mine-folk, and dull kin they were indeed—barely aware of their surroundings and allowing their mining apparatus to fall into great disrepair.

The food they prepared was equally dull. The “sponge-soup” as they called it was dark, thick, slimy, and barely palatable by itself. But I do love a challenge. I mentioned before of the remarkable properties of the tome-ash and some interesting reactions. Here you have it. Faced with the bland soup, I proceeded to add a heaping portion of the tube-worm meat, a dash of torrid desire, and a pinch of the spark. The results were amazing. Not only did it taste wonderful, but the chopped and roasted tube-worms began to animate and grow at an alarming rate. At first taste the creature came alive and burrowed its way into my stomach, an amusing, somewhat pleasant, and extremely delicious sensation. The Dullkins heated the newly created stew to boiling to kill the worms and the end result was nigh-perfect (and very meaty). Imagine! Food that grows while you cook it! What better way to provision an army.

Here I must digress further. The madness, the Chi-Julud seems to have taken me. It is an odd feeling. Such rage. Our pact with the native-power Serberus has helped keep the rage in check, but I find myself craving battle more and more. And battle we did…

Leaving the Dullkins, Erethon used his gift of scent to seek out further stores of the spark which we might use to recreate our culinary success. He tracked the smell to an outhouse, and, beneath a line of toilet stalls, we found a ladder leading to the water sluices beneath the mine. We descended and soon encountered a large number of goblins, which can best be described as short, hairy orcs, sinewy and long of limb. The battle was furious and very confusing, due in part to a cloud of mist conjured by Horn Void. I can say however, that goblin meat, fresh, is a wonderful thing. The blood is warm and sweet, and the flesh tastes like rage and joy all at once.

We smashed all but one, whom I caught up in my jaws and took prisoner. Alpha questioned the thing extensively in their black tongue, even going so far as to torture and maim the creature, cutting off its ears, fingers, and feet, but apparently obtained no useful information.

The water disappeared into a grate, and shortly beyond that, we came to a precipice. Below us we could see a great torrent of copper pouring out of a sluice in the side of the cliff and into the magma below, where it hissed and steamed forth great plumes of green, nutrient-rich smoke, in which great masses of the green sponge from which the dwarves derived their sustenance grew.

Backtracking to the grate, we forced it open and dropped down, seeking the source of these copper-flows. Near the outflow, we found a great steel plate set into the wall, almost door-like, and mounted above it a hammer, so massive that only one of our kind could hope to wield it. An odd thing for a dwarf-hold to be sure. Feeling overcome by the Chi-Julud, I pulled the hammer free and proceeded to pound the door in, raining blow after blow upon it. Here, I think, the rage may end up being my undoing, for behind the door lay a full four-score orcs in battle array, and, at their head, a dark legate making his foul sacrifices to the Dark Lord, pouring the blood of the orcs onto his black mirror.

Apparently overcome by the Chi-Julud themselves, my companions rushed in. Alpha used his magic to animate several axes we had taken from the goblins and turn them on the orcs. Horn Void summoned another cloud of mist, this time over the mirror to cloak our actions from the Dark Lord’s sight. Erethon and I charged headlong, not into the orc horde, but past them to where we saw a large pin of copper chits being melted by a flow of magma. Channeling some unknown power, perhaps a greater manifestation of the madness, we smashed open the side of the bin in only two blows, and sent a river of molten copper and rock rushing down over the orcs, slaying fully half their number in a matter of seconds. The other orcs, faced with a rushing torrent of fiery doom, fled through a door opposite where we entered. I must say, seared orc-flesh with a hint of copper is something you definitely must try.

Not wanting to lead my companions across a sea of magma to pursue the orcs, but also overcome by the Chi-Julud, I did the only thing left to me, I climbed atop the bin which held the copper chits and hurled the great hammer with all my rage-fueled strength at the bloody mirror, shattering the foul artifact and sending the blood of many orcs splashing to mix with the sea of molten metal.

Sadly the legate escaped and I am sure that our next course of action must be to pursue him, or else to confront the queen about the dwarves’ treachery in having such servants of the dark in their midst…

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Reins of Darkness: Session 1

This being the first of a few play session reports written for the Reins of Darkness campaign, originally posted on the Obsidian Portal account used for the game. This first session was run by me, and tried to highlight as many of the underlying elements and weird rules of the campaign as possible for the other players. Enjoy.

The Conquest of Thorn Island

Whether long-time members of the resistance or new recruits, you are all bound together in your opposition of the Dark Lord. For 1000 years, the Dark Lord has ruled supreme in the land, his armies unmatched and his will unquestioned. All that changed a year ago, however, when the Giants, the Hu-Charad, “stewards” in their own tongue, landed on the dark shores, sailing across the Eastern Sea. Soon the ancient cities of men were rebuilt as strongholds of these invaders and the armies of the Dark Lord broke upon their walls like the waves before their ships. At last their was a glimmer of hope…

Ulfen the wildlander, Alex the truespeaker, Alpha the witch, and Erithon the swordsage were called by Anansi, the sibeccai steward of the giant enclave.

“We have a problem,” he said. “Recently several of our inbound ships have been attacked by forces of the Dark Lord. While they are not great shipbuilders, these orcs and dwarves have proved surprisingly effective at harrowing our ships from their skiffs and war-canoes. Thorn Island in the center of the bay holds an old keep and lighthouse, if we could add the keep to the Enclave, we would have an excellent position from which to control the bay and defend incoming reinforcements. Unfortunately, a scouting party has informed us that the keep is overrun with the Fell—enough that we suspect a Necromantic Conflux to be present on the island. If we are to take the island, you must find the source of the conflux and destroy it. We’ve arranged for some gnomes to take you across the bay, so as to draw less attention from the Dark Lord’s raiders. Be warned though, any who die on Thorn Island will rise to haunt us further.”

So informed, the four would-be heroes gathered the provisions they thought necessary and set out from the north gate of the enclave, making their way a mile up the shore to a copse of pine trees where they met Merlkir, the gnome smuggler who had been hired to take them across the bay. They shipped the gnome’s small boat and he took them far out into the bay, landing them on the seaward side of the Thorn Island…and promptly hid himself and the boat under a carefully camouflaged tarp.

The party made their way around to the front gate of the old keep, where Alpha found a fairly recent elf corpse, which he promptly urinated on, then looted—obtaining a small scrap of parchment with several symbols on it. Alex shoved on the gates, which collapsed in a heap, and stepped inside out of the wind to light a torch, discovering that the symbols were words of the True Tongue which could grant power over the undead.

…and just in time, as the torch-light drew the attention of nearly a dozen shambling maegral. Ulfen spotted the creatures at a considerably distance and the party peppered the slow-moving corpses with arrows before they finally came within the torch-light, where Alex invoked the word “Lux” to force them to parley—suggesting that they go out and feast on the elf corpse.

With the maegral thus distracted, the party headed strait for the central tower of the lighthouse. As they reached the door they heard terrible howls, grunts, and splashing noises as nearly three-score orcs landed their war-canoes on the shore of the island and were immediately met by the zombies that the party had sent outside.

The party ducked into the building and barricaded the door behind them. They then began opening—and promptly slamming doors. Behind the first they found a horrible horned beast standing before a fire-blackened altar (shut that door). Behind the second they found a pair of grotesque dog-like creatures which spit globules of sticky, corrosive goo at Ulfen. Erithon cut Ulfen loose and slammed that door too. Behind door number three they found an ancient armory, thankfully free of disgusting monsters, rushed in and closed the door behind them.

As Alex piled broken weapon racks in front of the door and Alpha healed Ulfen, Erithon searched the room and found that one wall was illusory. The party piled into the hidden chamber behind it and waited for several minutes until the sounds of battle and the screams of dying orcs had ceased. They finally emerged to find the door of the tower smashed open from the inside, apparently by a pair of salt-crusted orc corpses that they had ignored earlier, and the courtyard littered with the smashed and hacked-up remains of 45 dead orcs, 20 maelgral, and a pair of salt-mummies.

They looted the orcs and headed back to the chapel, prepared to face the horned thing before the altar. When they walked into the chapel, the thing did not move other than to watch them. After attempting to address it in several languages, it responded in fluent Truespeak, informing Alex that it was the remnants of the spirit of Amon, the god of the sun, and the first deity to fall before the onslaught of the Dark Lord a millenia ago. His holy light house was overrun and he manifested to personally challenge the Dark Lord’s armies and was cast down. Alex asked how he might be freed and he responded simply “Light”.

The party looked up at the collapsed remains of the light house and tentatively considered scaling the tower to light the lamp…only to think better of that idea when the horned thing belched fire at them. Retreating outside, they decided to check the smaller buildings surrounding the lighthouse tower.

The first they checked was an old barracks where Alpha was greeted by a hungry, ghostly apparition that sent him running, screaming for the gate. Erithon intercepted him and the party cautiously entered, Alex again invoking the words of parley and warding. Hundreds of spirits poured from the walls, surrounding the party, but were held at bay by the words of creation. Ulfen entreated them in the Black Speech and they responded with a cacophony of wails and lamentations, revealing that they were the spirits of the Dark Lord’s armies that had assailed the keep. When Alex introduced himself as “the bringer of light”, he was greeted by more wailing and was directed to a single floorboard which seemed somehow untouched by the ages.

Beneath the floorboard the party found a dragon-leather bag containing a single pearl which glowed with a brilliance so penetrating that it could light even the largest of castles. The glowing pearl blinded Ulfen, caused the spirits to evaporate like so much fog, and seemed unimpeded by any barrier, even the heroes' own bodies.

So armed they marched back into the chapel, Alpha leading with the pearl in one hand and an orcish shield in the other. On seeing the pearl’s brilliance, the horned beast charged strait at Alpha, slamming into his shield with such force that he was driven several inches into the ground, but somehow unharmed. Ulfen moved around to flank the beast, but saw that, in the light of the pearl, the altar’s surface seemed polished and…mirror-like…and knew at once that the Dark Lord was aware of their presence.

He rushed to smash the black mirror that was the altar, hammering on it with his waraxe, while Alpha and Erithon kept the beast busy.

Alpha tossed the pearl to Ulfen, who, blinded by its light, missed, causing it to spill onto the altar before rolling away. As the pearl hit the altar, Ulfen saw that altar’s surface ripple, like a stone thrown into a pond. He grabbed the pearl and slammed it on the altar as Alex invoked a word of empowerment.

The altar exploded as if struck by a boulder, a wave of reflective black liquid-glass washing over the room. Followed, strangely, by the sudden appearance of a charging horde of heavily armed and armored giants…

Within minutes the keep was cleared and secured, and the giants set to repairing the walls and tower. The pearl was set into a sconce at the top of the light-house, bathing the entire island, the bay, the city on the shore, and the sea for miles around in its brilliant white radiance.

…suck that Lord of Darkness!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Reins of Darkness

Yes, that is what we ended up calling the campaign. Everyone takes 1d8 pun damage.

To elaborate a little more on the crazy amalgam d20-system game described in the last post. Here are some notes from the initial "bring your books and brainstorm" session.

  • A “Dark Lord” rules everything.
  • The Dark Lord killed the other gods and all that remains of them are Vestiges (see Tome of Magic).
  • The Dark Lord froze the moon in lockstep with the sun. The world is in a permanent state of solar eclipse.
    • Actually, its probably just one continent in that state.
    • Also there are no tides, so sea-travel will be a bit awkward.
    • We should discuss later (or explore in the game) how anyone grows food here.
  • The souls of the dead gods were shattered and reincarnated in mortal form, granting mortals the ability to cast spells or access the memories of the dead gods.
  • Language has power. Literacy is outlawed. Those that can read can alter the world around them.
  • Characters are illiterate by default (unless their class is specifically language-oriented.
  • The Giants (Hu-Charad) have recently landed and established enclaves on the shores of the Dark Lords lands. They are nigh-undefeatable within their enclaves, but lose most of their powers outside of them. They are attempting to “civilize” the dark lands, using the native humans and ponies (and whatever) as soldiers and proxies…
  • The giant Enclaves have been established on the ruins of ancient cities in the Dark Lands.
  • The proxies of the giants are sent to reclaim the ruins of the cities and regions block by block, smashing the Black Mirrors that represent the Dark Lord’s power in the world.
  • Any reflective surface might be or become a Black Mirror, so the common folk do not keep any reflective surfaces. Armor is lacquerred in dark colors, water is deliberately fouled, glass is never used, bowls and plates are always wood. Everypony has horrible coiffures…
  • Shadow Casters all carry mirrors, siphoning power from the Dark Lord. They tend to be feared and hated by both sides of the conflict…
  • Humans, Halflings, and Ponies are slaves of the Dark Lord. Fey creatures (Elves, Gnomes, Faen) have gone into hiding, but have come out under the protection of the Giants. Litorians and Sibeccai are servitors of the giants brought with them across the sea. Orcs, Dwarves, and Mojh (and pretty much anything else with darkvision) enforce the will of the Dark Lord.
  • The giants are all insane. They get Chi-Julud (Arcana Unearthed, short answer: lose wisdom and charisma, gain strength and constitution) as a bonus feat and must use it any time they are outside of an enclave. They generally do not leave home...hence the need for PCs. PC giants are exceptions to the insularness, but still have to find a way to deal with being absofrigganlutelynuts whenever they steop outside their walls.
Not a lot that is original there, but a lot to work with. And having a lot to work with is a big plus because of the other rule we established for this game--sharing GM responsibilities.

I've had too many games dissolve and not be reincarnated because the GM had to leave for a few week for some reason (busy work schedule, sabbatical, birth of a child, injury, whatever). To avoid that, and since we had so many veteran players involved, we decided that we would rotate GMs and own the world collaboratively--no one should have to commit to running more than two or three sessions consecutively. Likewise, with so many players, as long as 5 people show up on a given day (1 to GM and 4 to play), we waiting for stragglers.

Since a few of the players, while veterans of the game, had never GMd before, we also established fairly simple guidelines for designing a session (keep it modular stupid):

  1. PCs head out to expand the territory encompassed by the Giant Enclaves. Each region (which may be as large as a county to as small as a city block) they attempt to expand into should be thematically keyed to one of the Vestiges (Tome of Magic) and will usually include one or more settlements enslaved to the Dark Lord.
  2. PCs are looking for 2 things:
    1. The Black Mirror that anchors the Dark Lord’s power for the given region.
    2. The remains (Vestiges) of the Spirit or Deity who once presided over that region. Which may take the form of a shrine, relic, monster, human incarnation, or whatever.
  3. PCs use whatever means necessary (stealth, diplomacy, magic, force of arms) to find the Black Mirror. When found, they must destroy it (means of destruction may very).
  4. As soon as they find it/attempt to destroy it, the Dark Lord becomes aware of their presence and all hell breaks loose (i.e. PCs must destroy it while fending over overwhelming and CR inappropriate numbers of monsters and evil henchman).
  5. As soon as the mirror is destroyed the land changes hands and a whole Legion of Giants teleport in and clean up the remaining beasties (so the PCs should focus on staying alive and destroying the mirror, not attempt a nearly-impossible killing spree).
  6. Once the monsters are dead, the giants immediately go into builder mode and the city literally “comes to the PCs” (so they have immediate access to training facilities, shops to re-equip, infirmaries, etc.)
  7. Destroying the mirror increases the amount of magic available in the world (i.e. destroying a mirror is the thing that lets you level up to the next level).
    • We do not track XP. Leveling is strictly goal-oriented. Achieve the goal and all PCs level up. If you can do that while avoiding every encounter--you win.
  8. If the Vestige is found and restored (means may vary), then the PCs gain access to a Heroic Path (see Midnight Campaign Setting) (GMs choice but should be at least somewhat appropriate to the Vestige). They may take that path (if they don’t have one already), or change to the new path if they had already acquired one.
  9. And most importantly, Fuck balance. Don't waste time on numbers. Make it exciting.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The latest experiment

Six players walk into a bar...throw down some books...and try to make a game out of it...

Except its actually 10 players...

So, I started a new game back in early January/late February, and I'm just now getting around to writing about it. Sorry (to the one person out there reading this).

The initial premise was simple: get some players together, leave the tech at home (books in hard copy only, no laptops), and most importantly run what the players want to play.

The last bit has always been a fundamental rule of mine--if the players don't want to play the game, then I, as a GM, won't have fun, so I always let them pick (doesn't mean that I won't make the marketing pitch and try to sell them on the games that I want to play). This time however, we put a spin on it...

We established the following guidelines:

Everyone is allowed to bring 2 physical game books.

  • ANY d20-based materials are fair.
    • Pick something you would like to play.
    • If you don’t have books of your own, you are free to pull something off of my shelves.
  • Whatever you bring will be the official list of allowed materials for the game…so if no one brings a PHB or equivalent, no one plays a fighter.
    • If you want to play something specific, bring the book.
  • We will work together to build characters (and figure out what exists in the world) based on whatever you bring (so bring something fun).
  • The onus of the world-building effort rests with the GM. Your level of involvement in world-building is entirely up to you…You are free to just throw in the book and say “I want to play this as written” or “I just brought this because I like X class or race or feat” and we’ll find a way to make it work. The point is to have fun with some reasonable constraints, not to make any over-think things.
    • That said, we will try to make an interesting world out of whatever anyone brings.
  • If new players show up later, they will each be allowed to introduce 1 new book to the list of allowed materials…

So, this seemed reasonable at the time...2 random, weird d20 books per player should mean roughly 10 books for me to internalize and try to build a game out of. 

Of course, I always invite a rather large bank of people, not expecting everyone to be able to commit. This time however...we had 10 players commit. Yeah...not 8-10 books, but 20. 20 books, carefully selected by the players to give them lots of broken options and combinations (or not so carefully selected to cause a chaotic mix of overlapping rules).

Obviously, not all book are equal for providing world-building material. But here are a few of the materials that really stood out that showed up on our table: Ponyfinder (originally an April Fool's joke--My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic translated to the Pathfinder system), the Midnight Campaign Setting (most commonly summed up as "Middle Earth if Sauron won"), Monte Cook's Arcana Unearthed (which introduces some interesting races and PC-centric rules with some interesting implications), Tome of Magic (a class splat-book with some weird kabbalistic/Lovecraftian thematics), Encyclopedia Magica (a 4 volume set containing every magic item published for AD&D, with some nice d1000 tables in the back), and Fire and Brimstone (just in case there was any question on whether you get a saving throw when you come into contact with lava--spoiler, you don't).

What we can take from these sources (in short): (A) It's a fantasy game. (B) Magic items should be readily available, and interesting (no +1 swords here). (C) None of the sources have priests, except the legate in Midnight, so healing is hard to come by. (D) Lava kills you...and a player wanted to make sure of make sure there is LOTS OF LAVA. (E) There are a lot of conflicting magic systems (more so since the books also included Ultimate Magic and the Spell Compendium), this is definitely the opposite of a "low magic" game.

Suffice to say, in the intervening 6 months we've had a lot of fun.

I'll try to post more on this in the near future.