Friday, October 31, 2014

This Week in Gaming

It's been a full month since I posted one of these, but little or no actual gaming happened in October until this past week, so we'll call it a week. 

Because it's All Hallows Eve:
Some things to listen to...
Horror is not a genre I am into most of the time. While I certainly include elements that may be considered "horrific" in my games, those tend from a desire for a slightly realistic world--thus violence may be graphic, rape and torture are used as tools of war, and psychological damage occurs--than from any enjoyment of frightening people or being frightened. In fact, I can not be frightened, as my amygdala has been seriously damaged since I was a small child (my brain-damage assisted fearlessness puts paladins to shame).
All of that said, certain classic horror writers are just good writers, and I can certainly appreciate good poetry and prose. Given that I'm tied to a desk for long hours every day, good writing that is read aloud and piped through my headphones is even better. So, I was quite pleased to find a giant pile of H.P. Lovecraft and the complete works of Edgar Allen Poe as free audio-downloads. The latter especially pleases me, as I have many fond memories of reading the complete works of Poe to my younger siblings (5 and 7 years younger than me) as bed-time stories back when I was in late elementary/middle school.
I take no responsibility for lasting psychological damage caused by dramatic bed-time readings of The Pit and the Pendulum and The Fall of the House of Usher to kindergarteners...
Regarding Video Games:
Finished: Kingdom Hearts
As stated previously, I like cute and silly in my video games, and this delivered. My son is really Disney obsessed right now and I very much look forward to sharing the game with him as soon as he can read enough to follow it. Unsurprisingly from a game intentionally designed to ride on the coattails of multiple pre-existing franchises, the game was basically devoid of new ideas. The "Keyblade" however, does give me a fun idea for a magic item to drop in my current game at some point.
Started: Kingdom Hearts re: Chain of Memories
Started this last night. It's a sequel to the above, so I don't expect much other than some light-hearted downtime activity. Only 1 hour in though, I am already pleasantly surprised by the card-based exploration mechanic...
The short version is that the player collects cards throughout the game. Every time the player opens a door, he gets to play one of those cards--which determines what he'll find behind that door. Similar to random dungeon generation, but put into the hands of the player--so (s)he gets to pick whether the next area is teeming with monsters, packing rare treasure, gives hen some terrain or combat advantage, or is a blank room with no threats and a save-point (place to rest). I'm really tempted to try something like this the next time I run a random dungeon--give the players control, not necessarily of the actual rooms or encounters, but of the order in which they tackle those rooms and their geographic relationship to each other (maybe hand everyone at the table a pile of geomorphs and make them take turns laying them down whenever they reach an edge). Could be a fun change of pace...
Recommended Reading:
Wrathofzombie
Another new one in my feed. Wrathofzombie is doing a lot of cool DIY hacks on top of 5th edition D&D (something I am surprised to have not found that much of yet). Much of it is a little on the gonzo side, ranging from new races to new class archetypes, Usability is variable, but it's all a fun read, and his non-5e materials have a nice leaning towards the bizarre and macabre which is typical of OSR-style games.

Samwise7RPG
Samwise7 is another one doing some cool 5e stuff. The blog is not particularly prolific (only a dozen posts so far), but has done a great series on new cleric domains for 5th edition. They are of dubious balance (but who really cares about such things), but help bring some of the great diversity from 3rd edition cleric domains to 5e. He even provides a handy random pantheon generation tool to go along with them. I hope to see a lot more from this one in the future.

A rebuttal...
Josh over at Death Isn't an Ending argues that " specialists tend to have more story potential than generalists do" by virtue of having to be creative in problem solving. As a definite generalist in the real-world, and a person who has always played generalists, I have to disagree. 
First off, specialists tend to play to their strengths. People who are highly specialized generally do not engage in activity outside of their specialization. They may have one or two additional hobbies, but will lean on other specialists to solve their problems.
Example: I have a colleague with a PhD in Computer Science. When a faucet burst in his house, he didn't evey try to fix it himself. Instead he got a panicked look on his face and called a professional ("specialist") plumber. If it takes the plumber two or three days to get there, he will just grab a bucket and let the problem sit until the other specialist can deal with it. He is not willing to take on the problem creatively.
I work in the same field/office/area-of-expertise as said CS PhD...but came to it by a very roundabout route without the 10+ years of specialized schooling. When a computer needs hacked, we are both equal to the task (though his results will be slightly faster and cleaner). When I have a plumbing problem, I break out my tool box, grab the duck tape, and even take an axe to it if necessary. As a generalist ALL of my solutions have to be creative, as I do not have the specialized knowledge necessary to do it "the right way". The plumbing might shoot water in my face, it might shut off all the water to my house for a day, it might result in having to redo all the plumbing in the entire room, but I'll be damned if I call on anyone else for help until it is absolutely, positively, proven to be beyond my ability to hack. I am not as good at either computers or plumbing as the specialists, but the defining characteristic of a Generalist is the desire and willingness to try anything.
The same is true in RPGs.
If you have a party with four specialists (Wizard, Fighter, Cleric, Thief), they will each work within their niche. When they encounter a trap, everyone will shove the Thief to the front so he can use his specialized skills to easily bypass it. If they encounter an ogre, everyone will shove the Fighter to the front so he can use his specialized skills to defend the party. The Cleric will not even try to disarm a trap, and if separated from the party in a trapped corridor is likely to just sit their and wait for the Thief to rescue him. Likewise, the Fighter if faced with arcane writing will just sit there and wait for the wizard.
If you are playing a generalist though...you try everything. Generalists are, by default, not as good at any given thing as a specialist in that area. They have a lot of tools, but only up to a moderate level of competence. They are forced to think of alternative solutions--and will keep trying all of their tools until one works. They will almost definitely do it wrong at least once. They will break things. They will make new problems, and then...eventually...they will solve it.
In mechanical terms: a 20th-level Rogue (in 3e based games) may have +25 or more on his Find Traps skill (or equivalent). A 20th-level generalist (multi-class punk) might only have +10 on that skill, but at least he has it. He has to rely on luck (roll a 20 where the specialist only needs a 5) or might have to find another way around (what if I stand waaaay back here and just shoot the trapped door with fireball), but he at least will not be stymied by a circumstance that is outside his area of expertise.
As Josh puts it "Specializing means you have a spoon for most of your problems. Looking at it one way, you can only use a spoon to do one thing.  But looking at it another way, a spoon can break through locks, torture people or kill a man."
Yes, a spoon can deal with a wide range of problems, but the vast majority of people do not think of the spoon that way. A generalist with a spoon will grab his spoon and start picking the lock...a specialist with a spoon will wait for their friend with the key to come do it for them, and then reward their friend with a well-served scoop of icecream.
In real life, the generalists always have more and better stories to tell--stories of trying new things, of failure, resilience, and resourcefulness--and in my experience, that holds true in RPGs as well.
As the saying goes, "Anything worth doing, is worth doing poorly."
What I've Been Playing:

Synchronized...kindof...
Despite the slowness of October, some interesting things have been happening in the Ruins of Adventure multi-campaign...with two of the parties at least. First, an update on the less interesting ones...

  • The PBeM group got tired of waiting for the impending kobold invasion of Gildenglade and decided to take the fight to the kobolds instead. This one is still tracking pretty slow--one player had to drop out due to the school-year starting, and the others have fall conference/travel schedule that are similarly busy as mine. Should be some new posts from them in the next week or two, and they should be considerably more "adventurey" than the last couple.
  • The Inquisitor Faustus game has been on temporary hiatus (probably down-graded to once a month at most). His player has hooked up with the face-to-face Wednesday game.

Then the actually interesting stuff:

As mentioned previously, the G+ "Bitter Blades" party got TPK'd in their last session. The following week, they rebooted as agents of the bandit-leader Noriss the Grey. The action became more interesting when the IRL party operating out of Kryptgarten Keep decided to launch a raid on a hobgoblin compound in Noriss's gang's territory and hired Noriss's Boys to provide a distraction to help them get in. Thus, we had two non-co-located PC parties running different sides of the same adventure. Which was followed by Noriss's Boys being hired to lead an attack on Kryptgarten (for some PC vs. PC action)...
The G+ group then decided to write a letter warning the IRL party of the impending attack, then abandon the bandit PCs over to be NPCs for the attack, with the expectation that the other party would kill them off...
They then spun up a new party based on this post from Rejected Princesses. So The Amazons (I encourage you to look at the character sheets, as its amusing what they did with the source material), as their first mission, have assembled a small army of mercenaries to go to the rescue of the other PCs at Kryptgarten...and likely kill off their own prior characters.
Meanwhile, as part of all of this intertwined, synchronized action. The Kryptgarten party got jumped by the, now-NPC, Noriss's Boys party. They won the battle and spared the lives of the former PCs...taking them on as retainers.
Next week...the big battle goes down...twice... 





The Third Party: Session 6 (GM's notes)

18 Marpenoth

The day after receiving this note from the mysterious Tamn the Thrice-Betrayer, warning of an imminent attack on Kryptgarten Keep, Melastasya and Traith, went into Phlan with four large wagons to purchase weapons and supplies to last-out a siege. Their first stop was to try to convince Vasyl, the beekeeper, to move out to Kryptgarten. Sadly, the taciturn old Melittologist was even less inclined to talk than usual.

The next stop was Jerome of Melvaunt’s, the leading fence and pawnbroker in Phlan’s slums. Mel walked in to find Jerome being interrogated by a haughty-looking elf about hobgoblin religion, and where he might find a hobgoblin priest in Phlan. Mel stepped right up and interrupted the elf, laying a solid-gold candelabra, weighing more than three pounds, on Jerome’s counter. The black-bearded dwarf’s eyes went wide behind his thick horn-rimmed glasses. Mel explained that she needed “metal”, “preferably pointy things”, but that “pig iron would be fine too”.

Jerome opened the door behind his cage, asking his half-orc assistant, to bring out “the special wares”. Ce Pavuz came out with four large crates filled with bladed weapons of all kinds—axes, swords, daggers, spearheads—obviously hot and not all in the best of condition. Traith came in and examined the goods as Mel and Jerome haggled, eventually settling on two full crates, filled to Traith’s liking. Traith selected the best spear-heads, and blades which could be easily converted to such, and loaded them in the train of wagons that Mel had brought from Kryptgarten. Along with all the caltrops that Jerome had available as well.

Mel chatted with Ash a bit, learning about his vague, but pressing, interest in the hobgoblin clergy. Jerome suggested that Ash should seek out Grishnak, the hobgoblin high-priestess, but Mel dismissed her as a charlatan (or genius, as apparently the two words are interchangeable in the boat-people’s tongue). Mel explained that she was acquainted with the incarnation of the Hobgoblin’s “demon-dragon-god-thing”, and that there was a much more accessible hobgoblin priest at Kryptgarten whom Ash could possibly speak with.

Mel sent the wagon full of weapons back to Kryptgarten and she, Traith, and Ash took the other two wagons into the city-proper. They stopped at Councilman Urslingen’s home to find him drilling a number of very exhausted looking guardsmen. Mel introduced him to Ash and “Traith” and intimated that they had some pressing news for the old captain. Werner dismissed the soldiers and listened as Mel told him of the impending attack they’d been warned of, asking if he’d like the opportunity to “see the Kryptgarten troops he’d been training in action” and other such side-ways suggestions that they’d like him there. He agreed, since he was heading out to the keep that afternoon to oversee the training anyways, and said he’d invite his son Francis to come along as well.

The party excused themselves and stopped by Ian Cockburn’s Grocery, where they learned that Martha had been found dead in the slums after being missing for several weeks. They purchased a wagon-full of provisions, and another wagon-load of dried straw. They then made their way down to the docks, where they purchased two large tuns of tar from the ship-builders.

They then headed back to the keep with the three wagons. On their way out of town, they spotted another caravan assembling outside the Training Hall, only two wagons, but with more than twenty guards—all apparently pulled from the student-adventurers of the Training Hall, judging by their miss-matched accouterments. They were stopped at the gates by a pair of gnomes from the Temple of Gond, who presented them with a crate full of plush crocodile monstrosities.

The journey back to Kryptgarten was uneventful, until about a mile from the keep, when Melastasya noticed that they “had a tail”. Specifically, she noticed a very large arm peaking out from behind a tree. She sent the wagons on ahead, and the party back-tracked to intercept the follower. Traith disappeared into the trees while Ash and Melastasya took the more direct route.

The man, who looked very much like a fellow gypsy, aside from his right arm which was nearly as large as he was, stepped out to greet Melastasya, speaking as if he had known her all his life and had come to settle at Kryptgarten. The familiarity immediately set Mel on edge, and Ash’s questions regarding whether the man was a Yagnoloth pushed it over the edge.

Mel lashed out and kicked the man in the groin, so hard that his testicles ended up somewhere about the vicinity of his ears. The giant-armed man reeled backwards and passed out. At the same time, there was a deep bellowing cry of pain from the trees. Ash turned and saw a very-large, blue-scaled lizard man with one of Traith’s arrows sticking out of him. A trio of the giant-armed man’s companions—the lizardman, a kobold, and a halfling—had been sneaking around to flank the party at the same time that Traith was circling them.

Ash attempted to put the assailants to sleep, to no avail.

Three more kobolds, or three more of the kobold, appeared, and the four of them begin dancing around with hands joined, summoning a “dust devil”, a minor air elemental which they sent after Ash. The halfling drank a potion of some kind, then not-too-menacingly, moved towards Traith wielding nothing more than a broken oar-handle.

The lizardman rushed at Traith, dealing a wicked blow with its axe, only to be dropped in its tracks by two swift strokes of Traith’s scimitar.

Mel shot at a kobold with her crossbow, hitting it cleanly in the head and dropping it with one hit. Ash then fired a barrage of magic missiles at the other kobolds, dropping two and leaving one looking very surprised. The remaining kobold dropped a silence spell on Ash, who drew his longsword and charged in response, leaving the kobold even more surprised that the wizard would engage her in melee.

Traith snapped his fingers, summoning his very-large, enchanted, two-handed sword and moved to engage the halfling, but the blade passed right through the small fellow as if he didn’t exist. Traith threw aside the blade and lashed out with his shield, taking the halfling by surprise and knocking him on his ass.

A small rat leapt off the kobold’s shoulder, biting at Ash’s face, as the dust-devil came up from behind, kicking up a cloud of debris and rendering the combatants deaf, dumb, and blind. Mel leapt into the fray and helped Ash knock out the kobold, dispelling both the silence and the summoned elemental. On seeing this, the barely injured halfling threw down his stick and offered his surrender.

Mel moved to stabilize the three incapacitated attackers, despite Ash’s protestations that they should just kill them all, while Traith tied up the halfling and began depriving them of their weapons. After some questioning, they learned that the halfling was the same Tamn who had written the letter of warning to them, and that he and his companions represented the advanced scouts of the incoming army—with orders to sneak in the secret entrance and neutralize the keep’s leaders before the main force arrived, and that the main force of 250 kobolds and hobgoblins was coming that night.

Ash, again, argued for their death. Mel and Traith decided otherwise, offering the halfling a job defending the keep, and taking the others prisoner—except the lizardman, who the halfling suggested was likely to rip their faces off without talking. They let Ash kill that one.

They arrived back at the keep with the three prisoners in tow late in the afternoon to find that Urslingen and his son had already arrived. Melastasya ordered a feast for the visiting Councilman, and ordered all of the citizens of Kryptgarten to withdraw into the keep and close the drawbridge.

They sought out Grinkle and had he and the cultists haul all of the cauldrons they had up to the battlements over the gate, where they began boiling honey (because its sticky and has a high boiling point) to be poured onto attackers. They passed out spears and pikes to the less trained settlers, set the Urslingen-trained soldiers on the walls with bows and swords, spread tar and straw covering the courtyard and the secret passage (to be set on fire if either filled with enemies), and stationed another group of archers behind a barricade by the pit at the opening of the secret entrance.

Next time…the Battle of Kryptgarten!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Justification for Your Paranoia

This week is dedicated to some Splunk training...nothing like week-long webinars to wake you up...

On the plus side, I kindof love this secondary company motto for Splunk that I found buried in their website. This should not be construed as a plug for the product. If you have enough data that you need something like splunk to navigate it, you'll know.

Now for things...

1) So-called tamper resistant voting booths are so hard to use that most votes don't get cast...
Researchers at Rice Univerity conducted a study of three different end-to-end voting machines: one web-based, one which scans paper forms, and one that uses ye-olde scantron bubble-sheets (as any elementary student from the last 30 years will be painfully familiar with). While these things are supposed to solve problems with security, ballot stuffing, or 'voter fraud', the end result of the study was that only 58% of the ballots run through the machines were successfully cast.
Put another way, that means that 42% of voters using the machines were effectively disenfranchised. I'll just let you people mull over that number for a while.
42%.
Is it worth knowing that you have a 42% chance of your vote not being cast at all to have the peace of mind from knowing that no one altered that vote after it was cast?

 2) You really can track anything with a smart phone...
In this case, by "anything" we're talking about cosmic radiation. With a simple app addition, Android phones can be turned into detectors to capture the light particles created when cosmic rays crash into Earth's atmosphere.
To turn your phone into a cosmic ray detector you need to download the app and cover the phone's camera lens with duct tape. The phone can then be placed screen up just about anywhere, even in a desk drawer as muons can penetrate matter much like X-rays.
I don't care what other data they might be collecting...this is just cool. On par with SETI@home. Sometimes, but rarely, awesomeness supersedes security concerns.
You can get more details and download the DECO (Distributed Electronic Cosmic-Ray Observatory) app HERE.

3) A new way to keep web-sites from leaking sensitive information?
The system, 'Confinement with Origin Web Labels,' or COWL, works with Mozilla's Firefox and the open-source version of Google's Chrome web browsers and prevents malicious code in a web site from leaking sensitive information to unauthorised parties, whilst allowing code in a web site to display content drawn from multiple web sites -- an essential function for modern, feature-rich web applications.
Testing of COWL prototypes for the Chrome and Firefox web browsers shows the system provides strong security without perceptibly slowing the loading speed of web pages. COWL is freely available for download and use as a DOM-level API (ye web-developers can get it here). 
Currently, web users' privacy can be compromised by malicious JavaScript code hidden in seemingly legitimate web sites. The web site's operator may have incorporated code obtained elsewhere into his or her web site without realising that the code contains bugs or is malicious. Such code can access sensitive data within the same or other browser tabs, allowing unauthorised parties to obtain or modify data without the user's knowledge.
The research team describe COWL in a paper that appears in the Proceedings of the 11th USENIX Symposium on Operating Systems Design and Implementation. There is also a video presentation.

4) Now there is a mobile App to unlock the doors of your house...
The August Smart Lock can make it so you never have to carry your keys again as long as you carry a smartphone when you leave the house. And for iPhone owners, you never even have to take your phone out of your pocket. You can also use the August app to grant access to people who’d you would normally give a spare key to and they can get in as well. The lock connects to your phone via Bluetooth. Thus, you can use your phone to unlock your door. If your phone is dead or not on you, you can use your key, since the you only replace the inside portion of the deadbolt with the August lock. The outside remains the same.
This is a lock, so let's skip the usability/convenience piece and get strait to security: the firm which makes August hired a security firm to try to hack the lock, although it hasn’t disclosed which firm it used. The registration process requires many-factor authentication to set up the lock, although anyone who steals your phone could get access to your home if you use the NFC auto-unlock feature or don't put a passcode on your handset. However, you can also go to the August website and revoke your stolen device’s authentication. Given how easy it is to open any traditional key-lock these measures seem pretty reasonable. 
This is a lock that provides the same illusion of security as most installed locks while adding more convenience, plus additional features that actually enhance your security. Not bad!

5) Lastly...
A Google Street-view Camel...
The Google Camel carries the camera on top of its hump to capture panoramic views through the desert around Liwa Oasis. The use of the animal was meant to avoid having any kind of impact on the surrounding environment.
...Even the CAMELS are watching you now... 

Friday, October 24, 2014

A Few of Things

As I mentioned previously, October is a busy and crazy month for me, with very little actual gaming happening, but that doesn't mean I stop thinking about it. Here are a few random pieces of strange inspiration that I've stumbled upon in the last week...


1) When planning your next Dragon hoard, remember...
Not only does gold melt, but...
DIAMONDS ARE FLAMMABLE!


2) People have been speaking ill of the Bard class for decades, but...
Maybe if you have an adamantine-reinforced violin bow you'll suck less...
Or maybe you just have to be Lindsey Stirling. 

 3) Just a reminder that, when torturing someone...
have the character with the highest Charisma leave the room.
Am I the only GM who regularly has PCs resort to this kind of intense interrogation? 

4) It has been scientifically proven that the bad guys operate at night.
With thanks to the winners of the 2014 Ig Nobel Prizes.

5) The southwest US has such a thing as the "Superstition Mountains".
Complete with stories about a legendarily rich Lost Gold Mine...
Just Look around...this place is begging to have an adventure written about it.
Of course, if you visit it in real life, there are also the requisite tourist-traps, like the Goldfield Ghost Town and mine...which also have possibilities.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Justification for Your Paranoia

October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security in cooperation with the National Cyber Security Alliance and the Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center, so my work-life is full of memes right now, trying to get people in my company to not leave their pants down security-wise. Posters, videos, social media posts, surveys...all the nonsense that marketing people get to put up with every day. It's...surprisingly fun, with the caveat that I know its only for a limited time.


Some of them are even a little clever or funny...

Not many though.

Unrelated, most of my gaming this month is on hold due to family health issues, weddings, travel, and other such issues, so, you should expect to see a lot more security-related posts and a lot fewer gaming-related posts this month. If you are only here for the gaming, you should probably just ignore your feed until November.

And now for your regularly scheduled paranoia:

1) If you shop at any store, your credit card data has probably been stolen...
I've recently written about data breaches at Home DepotUPS and SuperValu. Well, there have been a ton of similar breaches lately, such that it seems safe to assume that every POS credit card reader everywhere has been compromised. There have been more recent hacks at Dairy QueenKmartJimmy Johns, and many more (including many small local establishments that use common, potentially infected payment card readers).
The Consumerist agrees with me and has put together this nice summary for you.
2) Yet another reason that Cops are not to be trusted...
Local law enforcement agencies in more than 35 US states have been distributing spyware to families, ostensibly so that parents can protect their children from online predators. According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the software, known as ComputerCOP, "is neither safe nor secure...[and] isn't particularly effective either." The product is a “keylogger,” (captures keystroke data) that could place a family’s personal information at extreme risk by transmitting what a user types over the Internet to third-party servers without encryption.
If you've been scammed by a Cop into installing this malware on your machine, here is how to get rid of it.
3) Adobe is spying on what you are reading...
The Digital Reader reported that the latest version of Adobe's e-reader, Digital Editions 4, was tracking users and uploading information to Adobe servers without encrypting it. Adobe is collecting data on the books that users add to their library, including the pages that were read, title, publisher, and other metadata. This has been independently confirmed by Ars Technica, and others, confirming that the data was transmitted even for epub documents without DRM and for ebooks stored elsewhere on the computer ("not just ebooks I opened in DE4, but also ebooks I store in calibre and every epub ebook I happen to have sitting on my hard disk").
Adobe has acknowledged that its Digital Editions ebook reader gathers information about users' reading histories and sends the data back to the company unencrypted. Adobe maintains that the feature is designed to prevent piracy. The company says the information it collects, which includes user, device and app IDs; IP addresses; duration of reading; and percentage of book read is data that could be demanded by publishers. Adobe now says it plans to issue an update to the software to address the cleartext data transmission. 
How's this for a connection: Adobe was building in spyware capabilities into its ebook reader software at the same time it has been unable to prevent its Acrobat PDF software from being compromised by attackers. Adobe needs to change its business values to focus on privacy and security of the users of their software. Just adding encryption when the spyware capabilities in their ebook software talks to the Adobe Command and Control server does not do that.  
4) Sometimes, when you spend all your life staring at command lines you just need to have some fun. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Justification for Your Paranoia

First, let's talk about SQUIRRELS!

Yes, squirrels are responsible for more data outages than any other cause short of human error on the part of the people in charge of operating said datacenter. This helpful tidbit courtesy of the VirtualHosting.com blog.

Now, don't get me wrong, squirrels are awesome, and I would in no way condone violence against these adorable furry creatures as a way of improving you uptime. In fact, here are some awesome photographs of squirrels by one of my favorite local photographers cum web-developers. Still, if squirrels can cause that much damage, you should be worried about your data when these adorable furry critters come calling. You never know what else they might be up to...

And now for our usual list of things...

1. A snippet of a discussion with my boss and my boss's boss:
"The way I see it US companies fall into two categories, those that know they've been hacked by the Chinese, and those that have been hacked by the Chinese and don't know it."
"To be honest, I'm not really worried about Chinese hackers. They at least want to be quiet about it and are not out to cause damage."
"Yeah, the Chinese are only after trade secrets, and we don't have any IP to be concerned about."
That pretty much sums it up--If you only use Open Sourced technology, or don't care about having a technological edge on your competition, Chinese hackers are no threat. It's so easy...

2. I just spent an hour making a 'password security awareness' survey and all I can think of is:
If only it was as easy as 'Don't be like these guys'.
3. This seems like a great idea on the surface...

Until you stop and think and realize that this one app is intercepting all of your calls, e-mail, text messages, social-media posts, and calendar information...potentially on every device you own. 
Way to just hand over everything with a nice pretty bow on it.
If you want a more privacy-friendly way to go offline for a while, you could just stick your phone in a privacy pouch (a pocket Faraday cage). Just make sure to turn the device off as well, so your phone doesn't die looking for a network.
...or you could just turn it off and get on with your life.
4. My favorite online streaming music site is dead, or soon will be.
Up until last week, for those that wanted to stream music, without creating accounts, or listening to adds, or having to listen to randomized 'you might like this' pseudo-radio-station nonsense, there is (or was, or will-have-been) no better site than Grooveshark.com. Grooveshark is simple to use and gets directly to the point of what music-streaming should be: search for an album or a song, immediately play that album or song.
Unfortunately, Grooveshark, since it began in 2007, has always been outside of the recording-industry authorized channels. It started with a seed of all the music the companies employees could download, with a "stream now, license later" kind of mentality. They never got around to the 'license' part of that idea...
Nor will they get the opportunity it seems. A US District Court just handed down a brutal (if apt) ruling against Grooveshark in a case filed by nine record labels. The chances that Grooveshark will make it out of this without being shuttered is practically nil.
Time for me to go find a new source from which to stream that music that I want, when I want it, without paying for it (shouldn't take too long)... 
5.  Even spies need their coffee...
There is, at least, one place in the US where even the baristas are barred from asking for your name and no one will ever ask you to sign up for a 'customer rewards card'. 


Monday, October 6, 2014

Chapter 3: An Old Lady in Melvaunt: Part 3

In which the party takes a few days to build defenses and Bo takes his leave...

Donovan/Winona
Donovan goes to the back of the wagon and begins rummaging through the extra weapons they acquired from the kobolds. “We have bows and ammunition for roughly thirty archers, and can arm another thirty for melee—assuming we don’t break into our own stores of weapons.” He looks around, “And there are enough trees that we should be able to construct a good number of spears fairly quickly, or, you know, pointed sticks. They probably won’t fly perfectly strait, but if we make them nice and long they can help keep kobolds from charging up the hill at us…”

Winona nods, “That sounds doable. I know a few prayers that should fortify the courage of the villagers…keep them from breaking and running, and perhaps do the opposite to the kobolds.” Ryesha makes a frightened squeak and instinctively reverts to her rabbit form.

Rant shakes his head at Hrud’s question, “Ora I. Tyr bisa ngawèhaké kaelokan kuwi marang Suci Uskup, nanging kuwi Para Rasul saka iman sing ngluwihi kabisan samubarang kita grup.”

Lyra
Lyra helps Donovan collect and sort the weapons, whispering to him in Elven as they work. «If I can actually get some sleep tonight I’ll be of significantly more use. Do you mind if I borrow Finnot’s spellbook? His knowledge of creating stable dimensional pathways may be flawed, but there were some principles of enhancing the incendiary properties of an existing fire source that might be more immediately applicable against a large force.»

Frantiska/Yamtwit
Around sunset, Frantiska and Yamtwit, and their very tired mounts, ride into the small village, followed by five heavily armored soldier-priests of Helm from the garrison at Iniarv’s Tower. Frantiska scans the area, and, like the others, is considerably disappointed by the indefensibility of the village and the lack of able-bodied defenders. She guides the small group of reinforcements over to where the others are gathered by the pond. “Good evening Lyra, Mr. Leitch, Sisters,” she says as she dismounts. “What are you thoughts on…this?” she asks, sweeping a hand towards the village and nearby battlefield.

Yamtwit keeps close to Frantiska and the soldiers as they ride in, but stops suddenly when he sees the fields. “Cabbages!” he shouts excitedly. He dismounts Rast and runs towards the fields, “Marvelous!” The villager who was just closing up the gate to her gardens lets out a scream on seeing a short creature running in her direction. “Shit!” Yamtwit says, stopping in his tracks, “I have to learn to stop doing that around humans…” He glumly walks back to the others. “So…lots of kobolds on the way. Do we have a plan?”

Hrud
“«The old man has been to these dog-faces’ camp. Ask him if there are trolls, like Dawn-of-Man says.»” Hrud says to the newly returned goblin.

Yamtwit
Yamtwit turns to the old peddler, “Hey, you’ve delivered tribute to these kobs before, right? Were their trolls there? And, while we’re at it… How big is their home? Where is it at? Do they have mounts? Livestock? Piles of gold…”

Lyra
Lyra looks up from the two books, balanced one on each knee, and finishes jotting down a note in her own book. “Following through with paying the tribute was rather quickly disregarded. As you can see, the village is nigh indefensible with the resources at hand, so we plan to evacuate the village and place ourselves on the high ground. Mr. Donovan and Mr. Yamtwit have already shown to be quite adept at dealing with large forces, and I think this bit here…” Lyra taps the margin next to a passage in the spellbook with her index finger. “…would let us further combust a flaming arrow sent into the enemy ranks. We’ve bows and ammunition enough for thirty archers, and no time for training volunteers.”

Lyra carefully closes the books and places them safely aside, before rising and coming over to look at the warrior-priests. “And your appraisal of the matter, sirs? You’ve far more experience in dealing with them, I presume.” Her tone and bearing give her more than a little resemblance to her mother, but her hands are shaking as she smooths her skirt.

GM
The apparent leader of the soldiers, as indicated by the very tall blue plume on his helm, nudges his warhorse forward. “Since the fiend Greshlyrr took command of them, the kobolds have been quite the menace,” he says in a deep voice, with the calm demeanor of a soldier giving a report. “Several small villages like this one have been set upon of late. We have not managed an accurate census of their full strength, but, should all the tribes muster, Greshlyrr could easily field a force ten thousand strong. Luckily, they still operate mostly as individual tribes when it comes to matters of raiding the highways or pillaging villages.” He looks up at the battlefield, taking in the graves and the damaged houses. "I would estimate the force that caused the initial damage there as not more than a few hundred, and I doubt they did so without losses. If the band that attacked you on the road is the same tribe, which is not improbable given the proximity, then they would be at a significant disadvantage from having taken such damage earlier in the day, and I would not expect them to attack in force. Of course, the talk of “tribute” is probably the tribes collecting for their king. Were these orcs and not kobolds, I would expect the tribes to go to great lengths to procure the tribute on their own, in order to save face and not look week. With kobolds it is less sure…they have no such sense of pride, and thus are more likely to call to other tribes or even the king for reinforcements. They prefer to attack with overwhelming numbers, as that is their only way of overcoming larger foes, and thus we should expect them to come with assistance."

“They were sorely hurt in their raid on you, so I would not expect retribution for some days, but even in that time, we have little hope of further reinforcements arriving, unless we were to rally other nearby villages and farmsteads.” He points to the northern hill where the previous battle took place, “If we take that time to fortify that hilltop with wooden main-lines with trenches in front, and control the ridge, we could potentially hold a much larger force—particularly with a good-sized group of archers, backed by spears in case of a full-out charge from the attackers.”

As he discusses fortifications, you can’t help but notice that each of the five soldiers has, in addition to his own sword and crossbow, a collection of steel-tipped spears, shovel and pick, wooden stakes, and a bundle of wire mesh strapped to the back of his horse—exactly the tools for forming the kind of defensive lines he is describing.

Donovan/Winona
Donovan nods along with the soldier’s assessment. “So, we can count on having a few days to prepare, and on the kobolds coming in large numbers. If we get the other settlements involved it might be better for everyone. I can’t imagine that the kobolds would content themselves to extorting only one small village…” He looks at the heavily armored soldiers on their mail-clad horses. “If the kobolds are as cowardly as all that, and we really want to leave the village in a better state than we arrived, we should probably try for a large, decisive victory over the kobolds that come. Maybe half-fortify the hilltop, position mostly spears and slings in defensive positions there, do whatever damage we can and give the illusion of only limited resistance. When they come up the hill, that force withdraws, leading them down to where the kobolds will have their back to the pond. We place our main force on this ridge behind us—archers, casters, and our small cavalry. We draw them into this valley, incapacitate or immobilize as many as we can with spells, rain down hell with the archers…” He looks at the horses again, then at the wagon, the oxen, and the chariot, “Then crush them with an unexpected heavy charge perhaps?”

Winona raises an eyebrow, “How many other villages are around here? How many more people can we get?”

Hrud
Hrud sees Dawn-of-Man looking at the wagon. A few moments after the conversation has progressed, he asks, “«Can we armor the wagon? I can drive it.»”

Frantiska
Frantiska nods along with Donovan’s comments, “Seems like a reasonable plan. I suggest that we all get some rest…with guards posted. Tomorrow we can send out riders to recruit the other settlements, and the rest can work on fortifying the valley.” She turns to Hrud, apparently unaware of any awkwardness of the past few days, and addresses him in her approximation of his language. “Hrud, seperti apa baju besi yang ada dalam pikiran untuk gerobak? Juga, Anda memiliki kuda, Anda ingin bergabung dengan saya dalam mengumpulkan desa? Atau apakah Anda ingin tinggal di sini dan membuat persiapan sendiri?”

Hrud
Hrud puzzles over the elven woman’s words for a minute, eventually determining that she has asked if he plans to help bring others to the village. “Ora akeh wong nganggo Eraka ing wilayah iki. Aku bakal tetep lan nyiapake.” he replies, eyeing the wagon and team of oxen.

To Rant, he asks, “Bisa wong ing desa iki wis pepe kewan kulit? Aku kudu kayu, banget.”

Yamtwit
Yamtwit approaches the old man, trying to look at once menacing and business-like, “Okay gray-beard, I’ve got a few questions, seriously, and if we’re going to save your skins, we need some answers. First, you should tell us everything you know about the kobs and their demands for tribute. Second, my big friend,” he gestures towards Hrud, “wants to know if you have any tanned hides or leather that could be spared, preferably a lot of it. Lastly, if we’re going to be guarding you from ravening hordes of deadly kobolds,” he adds a bit of overly dramatic emphasis, “it would be nice if there was a bit of quid-pro-quo…at least a warm place to sleep and a bite to eat for now. We can settle on more appropriate compensation if we live…”

GM
The old man sighs. “Aye goblin,” he says in a much kinder, but still strained, voice, clearly impressed by the lengths you have already gone to to help him. “I’ll talk to the women-folk and see if we can find a place to put you all up for the night, and we should have some skins your Eraka friend can use.” He leans wearily against the side of the wagon, still favoring his damaged leg. “I’m afraid I don’t really know much about the kobolds. They have us deliver the tribute to a big rock shaped like a dragon half-way into the swamp, a good two days walk. They don’t exactly invite us in…just have us leave the goods in the rock’s ‘mouth’. There’s always some of them guarding the rock, but I’ve never seen more than five or six of them there, and no beasties either…though there are plenty of those in the swamp if you don’t watch yourself. That rock’s quite the piece of work too—spooky realistic looking carving, right down to the wear on the teeth. Scares the bejeezes out of me when I have to put the stuff in its mouth.”

Lyra
Lyra sits down on the edge of the wagon and opens the books back up. “It should be less of an imposition, since that you’ll get to keep your tribute this way.” She runs her thumb down the margin of one page, then beckons Amara over, whispering something about Susalia and pretty fireworks.

Lyra rubs the bridge of her nose, thinking. “Mr. Donovan? How much do you know about gen? Can they borrow spells from someone on this plane? I doubt Mother would appreciate having her magic borrowed, regardless. But she does know how to bring forth reasonably defensible buildings of magical construction, as well as warding spells.”

Donovan
Donovan, looking very tired at this point, sits down beside Lyra. “From what I’ve heard of the magic used by genie-binders, I believe that their spells are always fetched from extra-planar entities. More specifically, I think they are drawn most commonly from the various genie lords and nobles of the elemental planes, and not without some negotiation I believe. There are some tales of gen even fetching spells from the gods themselves, though most of those reports do not end well…”

“We could, however, attempt contact with your mother and see if she would be amenable to providing some magical assistance,” Donovan yawns, stretches, and rises, “but that seems an things best left until morning.” He lends the old peddler a shoulder, “Come on old chap, why don’t you show us to a bed…” He pauses and raises an eyebrow, "Say what is your name, Sir?

Lyra
Lyra exhales sharply, not quite a derisive snort. “Amenable to providing assistance? She’ll call it foolish nonsense and try to convince me to stay out of it. For my own good, of course.”

Frantiska
Frantiska takes her rest in the village stables alongside Thistledown. She rises early in the morning, and again re-saddles the filly for a journey, announcing that she intends to warn the surrounding villages about possible kobold reprisals and the desire to mount a concerted defense. She spends an hour rounding up others who may be interested in the ride—specifically looking for a shepherd boy or other local that might know the surrounding terrain and the location of other settlements. Once any others accompanying her are assembled, she mounts up and turns to leave. “Lyra, Mr. Donovan, I believe we’ll head west first—in order to warn any settlements that are between the swamp and here to evacuate. And also to look for signs of approaching kobolds. We’ll hopefully reach all the western farmsteads today, then either circle north, or return here for the night before heading to the east—where I hope to find villages less severely weakened than this one which might be able to provide additional troops. Do not hesitate to contact me by whatever means are at your disposal,” she looks meaningfully at Lyra, “should the kobolds appear before I have returned.”

With that said she rides off over the hills to the west.

Winona/Donovan
Winona borrows Hrud’s steppe-pony, quite without asking, citing some complicated Erakic laws of communal ownership when Rye gives her ‘that look’, and rides off with Frantiska to gather the villagers, not trusting the elven woman’s tact from their previous encounters.

Donovan stays up late into the night, studying the party’s collective spellbooks in search of something that might give them an advantage in the coming battle, and sleeps in an equally long time the next morning. When he finally wakes, he walks up to the western ridge with his notebook and pens and spends several hours sketching the surrounding terrain—making notes on contours, ditches, clusters of vegetation, placement of the buildings in the village, and other features that might be exploited to some advantage. He then takes these back to the group to begin drawing up plans.

Ryesha, after seeing Winona off, seeks out the village weavers and their stores of cloth and wool, and begins manufacturing thick padded vests with which to armor those that will be put to use as archers, as well as weaving nets and reinforced cords which could be used to lay basic traps to slow the kobold’s advance.

Lyra
Lyra stays up with Donovan discussing tactics until she starts nodding off (and waking abruptly shortly after) and asks Donovan if he thinks a sleep spell might allow her to remain asleep for the evening.

In the morning, she talks to Amara about getting some birds to scout for kobolds around the town, then Lyra goes over the notes she made the previous evening, annotating and rewriting portions about magical armors, and digs through the pile of treasure from the tower looking for any mithral while waiting for Whiskers to return.

GM
It is only a couple of miles between the village and the eastern edge of the swamp. On horseback and guided by the crossbow-toting shepherd boy you saw the day before, you manage to cover a large swath of that strip, striking several miles north and south of the main road. During the days patrols you see no sign of the kobolds themselves, but the extent of their depredations in the area is obvious—empty farmsteads, burned villages, and fields stripped clean. The boy leads you to five other settlements, all smaller, and in worse repair, than the village. The settlers require very little convincing, and, by the end of the day, another hundred people trickle into the village, driving their livestock before them and hauling carts and wagons filled with everything they could carry.

Yamtwit
Yamtwit gathers up his supplies, spends some time talking to the shepherds to convince them to round up all the nursing ewes, and begins mass-manufacturing and stockpiling sanctified ghee as a curative. He makes some complaints about sheeps milk being greatly inferior to donkey and wolf milk, but makes do.

Before resting each day, he will also unload the rest of his spell arsenal casting Ripen twice each day to increase the village’s food stores and Favor of the Goddess four times per day. He’ll direct the villagers to start transplanting ivy and creeping vines to cover their homes, which he will then use Favor of the Goddess to grow to supersize to cover all but the doors of the houses.

Lyra
After the first good night’s sleep she’s had in days, Lyra sits down with her spellbook. Despite the lingering throbbing at her temples, the disparate theories and notes coalesce into something usably meaningful for the first time since she was old enough to sit on her mother’s lap and turn pages. She confers with Donovan and Amara, and asks Amara to call forth animals to scout for Kobolds around the village, and then begin casting protective spells on the villagers, starting with Sir Loin and Mr. Brisket, then the archers. Just before dinner, she asks Amara if she can try to call forth a powerful spell to hide all of the villagers.

Hrud
As Lyra prepares to start casting magical armor, Rant approaches her, nodding back at Hrud who continues working on his modifications to the wagon. “Hrud asks if you could save an armor spell for him. He was also wondering if you’d be able to use your ‘magic door’ to pull him out of trouble should he get overwhelmed. I … think he means to go after their king, if he can.”

Frantiska
After leading in the line of refugees and resting, Frantiska, Winona, and their guide ride off towards the east the next morning, targeting as many settlements their guide knows of within half a day’s ride, camping in the field if necessary. They both remind Lyra to make contact with them should Amara’s little birds bring word of incoming kobolds.

Lyra
Lyra smiles. “The line starts in front of Amara, if he wants to cut in front of the archers. If not, I think I can prepare and cast one myself in the morning…. And yes, I should be able to open up an escape route if he becomes surrounded, although I was hoping to once again make use of it to redirect their volleys. I doubt they will bring fewer archers than they ambushed us with.”

Bo
Bo doesn’t think a large battle is the best place for a simple locksmith. He has a feeling these well-meaning humans (and elves) may be doomed. Bo inconspicuously gathers his belongings and sneaks off while everyone is attentively working defenses.

Donovan
With the plans drawn up and fairly clear, Donovan spends the next day talking to the villagers and the refugees—trying to find places for everyone to stay, giving pep talks and telling stories to keep morale up, and organizing them into teams to set up fences and dig trenches according to the Helmites’ instructions, and transplant plants according to Yamtwit’s instructions. With the aid of the Helmites’ expertise and the villagers’ strong backs, they begin laying out fences and dikes along the north-western ridge, where the main kobold force is expected to come from, 10-foot deep moats blocking ingress to the village along the road to the north and south (filling them with the decanter of endless water), and blinds along the south-eastern ridge for archers to hide behind. They transplant viney things to cover the houses as Yamtwit suggests, transplant gorse, thistles, and additional ivy plants into the north-western valley (to be enhanced with entangle during the battle), and begin collecting large, rounded stones on the ridge-lines, both throwing sized, and larger boulders that could be rolled down the hill to break lines. Donovan pitches in with setting up the fortifications as best he can, but is rather muscularly impaired relative even to the village woman and shepherd boys.

Early in the morning, he also pulls Rant and Hrud aside and asks Hrud to demonstrate basic archery skills for villagers, since Frantiska is out on patrol. If time allows later in the day, he will take an inventory of all the weapons that are available in the village (including farm implements that could be converted if necessary).

Throughout the day, Donovan will also intentionally attempt to establish psionic Contact with Hrud, Yamtwit, Winona, Ryesha, and Rant, while testing and practicing his abilities.

Lyra
To prevent yet another sleepless night and crippling migraines from interfering with defensive preparations, as well as not wanting to waste sleep spells with an offense potentially forthcoming, Lyra will attempt to browbeat Donovan into using the rod on her before she goes to bed at the end of the first full day in the village.

Donovan
“Oh! Right!” Donovan says, seeing the haggard look of someone suffering from insomnia and migraines on Lyra’s face. He quickly breaks out the rod and touches it to Lyra, feeling the familiar heat and vibration, but finding it much easier to control this time.

Frantiska
When Winona suddenly starts getting headaches on the second day, Frantiska breaks out her scroll of Improved Whispering Wind…

Back in the village, a warm breeze blows over Lyra, pushing back her hair and bringing Frantiska’s voice to her ears. “Winona seems to have the psionic sickness. Is everyone else okay? Would you like us to return?”

Lyra
Lyra sighs and rubs her temples, looking around to make sure her portion of the conversation will be unobserved. “The most alarming development is that Donovan tried using the rod on me, and my abilities seem to be growing unabated, as are my headaches. At least I am sleeping again. My own ability to intuit the use of psionics nearby is somewhat imprecise; I can’t tell who it’s coming from.”

Frantiska
Frantiska nods, though no one can see, and her reply is carried by the wind. “I’m glad some of your woes have abated. There are a few more villages nearby that we would like to visit. If you believe things are relatively stable, we’ll do that and then return early tomorrow.”

Winona
During their three-day ride, Winona, only mildly bothered by the headaches, her new tendency to always land on her feet, and the fact that her skin begins instinctively changing colors to match her surroundings, questions their young guide. “So kiddo, you any good with that bow?”

“The name’s Serhiy.”

“Alright, Sergi, you any good with that bow?”

“I’m pretty good.”

“Thanks for leading us around. You know we’re going to be fighting a whole horde of kobolds, right?”

“…”

“You might want to practice while you can…”

GM
The farms and villages east of Gildenglade are in progressively better shape and closer together, and, as such, take considerably more persuasion than those to the west. Between the three of you, though, you are able to get a sizable number to commit to aiding Gildenglade. By the time you ride back, another hundred people, mostly able-bodied men with all the weapons, armor, ammunition, and mounts they can scrounge trickle into the village behind you. All of them have seen their share of conflict, defending their homes from raiding orcs and goblins, and a few even have some experience as soldiers or caravan guards. On top of these troops you have managed to muster, two, while not agreeing to fight with you, did ride off to Melvaunt to plead for assistance on your behalf.

Image courtesy of Donovan's player...
Frantiska
Frantiska and company come riding into the village early on the third day after their initial arrival in Gildenglade. Frantiska doesn’t even bother to bring Thistledown to a full stop before swinging down off the horse and running to find Lyra. «How are you feeling?» she asks in Elvish, then mutters, «nevermind», and, ignoring anyone else that might be around to see, kisses Lyra full on the lips, a brilliant blue glow rising around them.

GM
As the kiss breaks off, Lyra’s headache, and the accompanying powers, fade as if they never were.

Lyra
Lyra blushes and stammers, not really expecting that was how her first kiss would go.

Frantiska
“So,” Frantiska says, finally stopping to catch her breath, “where are we in terms of preparing for a war?”

Hrud
Rounding the corner as he’s working on the wagon nearby, Hrud happens to catch the exchange. It takes a moment to realize that he’s staring, his jaw hanging open like a simpleton. Hoping that no one noticed, the barbarian awkwardly works back around the way he come.

Donovan/Winona
Donovan watches, simultaneously jealous and extremely turned on, as Frantiska kisses Lyra, then realizes what the non-conversation and the blue glow probably mean. Shaking his head, he turns and waves at Winona, then walks over to the priestess and the line of volunteers trickling into town behind her. “We might actually survive this…” he says, quietly once he is near the priestess.

“Not to worry Donny,” Winona smirks at Lyra and Fran’s little encounter, “a bunch of these fellows actually know which end of a sword is which, and a few can even cast a spell or two.” She pats the shoulder of the shepherd boy who was serving as their guide, “Sergi here isn’t a bad shot either….Oh,” she adds, her skin suddenly changing to the same pale green as the grassy hillside behind her, “and I have apparently become some kind of chameleon, which, judging by the headaches, is probably your guys’ fault…”

“My fault to be precise,” Donovan admits sheepishly. “I was trying to test the range on my ability to contact other minds.”

“Not to worry Donny,” Winona pats him on the back.

Donovan gestures towards the bulwarks on the hilltop and the moats to the north and south of town. “I think we’re just about done with the fortifications—though we could always use a few more days. We’ll need to get your new friends organized. I was thinking Frantiska and Lyra should take command of the ridge, with as many archers and crossbows as we can put together. Hrud and that wagon he’s putting together seems like a good thing to have at the head of a vanguard of cavalry—though I suspect we should give command of that to the Helmites. I think you’re the right person to lead whatever infantry we have left…or, with your interesting skin condition, might be well placed to lead some sort of ambush group positioned to take the enemy from behind after they come into town….”

“Sounds good…”

Once Winona is set to work organizing the militia, Donovan runs off and is not seen again for some hours…

GM
Late in the evening of the third day, a little bird returns to Amara, informing her that a band of kobolds have been spotted about five miles west of town.

Hrud
As the message arrives, Hrud is circling the wagon, pulling on the various planks, doors, and other bits of wood cobbled together around the driver’s bench and extending up the sides. Making sure the primitive leather blankets are securely fastened to the oxen, he climbs into the wagon and begins to move it into position, making sure to allow just enough space to build up a good head of steam before he crashes into the kobold force.

The barbarian tries to keep a stoic facade – it is likely that good men and women will fall to the filthy dog-faces this day – but he cannot deny the anticipation he feels. Truly, this will be a battle they will tell stories about for generations to come.

Donovan
Donovan, having reappeared after slinking off to write in his journal, begins issuing orders to the villagers with the booming voice of a professional orator. He directs them to grab their weapons and form up into units—archers and crossbowmen with Frantiska and Lyra, the Helmites and cavalry with Hrud, infantry with Winona, and the casters with him.

Lyra
As she helps herd archers into position, Lyra is going to Mindlink with her mother.

“I apologize for not getting word to you sooner, Mother. We were in the midst of fortifying the village of Gildenglade against a kobold incursion. I knew you would insist I remain uninvolved, so I have opted not to inform you until no option remained but to be involved. For that I apologize, but for what must be done to defend these people, I have no such regrets.”

Yamtwit
On receiving the word, Yamtwit runs around, casting Firebreak on the houses. “Can’t they wait until morning?!” he laments, realizing that aside from the one, he has expended his arsenal of spells for the day. “Do we have any way to slow them down significantly enough for me to catch a few hours of sleep and beg the Great Mother for an extension?”

Yamtwit quickly passes out flasks of clarified butter, whistles for Rast, mounts up, and rides over to join Hrud and the Cavalry.

GM
Your party and the villagers wait…and wait. The evening air is chilly, but the sky is clear, and you can see quite far. After several busy days of preparation, many of the villagers are showing signs of fatigue, or boredom, nodding off at their posts, leaning on bows or spears. Some four hours after the first word from the birds, as a bright gibbous moon climbs towards midnight, scouts on the north-west ridge spot the first kobolds cresting the opposite hill. A small band, only six or seven. They stop at the top of the far ridge, their incomprehensible chattering carried across the valley by the west wind. One lights a torch and another sounds a crude horn before they proceed down into the valley below.

Lyra
Lyra scans the valley and surrounding hills nervously, on guard against whomever that signal horn was meant for.

Frantiska
Frantiska looks over at Lyra. “Torches?” she whispers. “I thought kobolds could see better in the dark…and preferred to attack with surprise. Perhaps they have something else in mind.”

GM
You wait several more long minutes as the small band of kobolds traverse down into the valley, with still no sign of others. They stop, suddenly, near the bottom, staring up at the hill, as if just noticing the fences and bulwarks lining the ridge. The one drops the torch it is holding and they all turn and begin fleeing back up the hill from whence they came.

Lyra
Lyra’s eyes go wide as the kobolds turn to go warn their brethren of the village’s defenses. She takes a step away from the others, the air next to her wavering slightly from the wafting smoke of the kobold’s torch. The wash of heat on Lyra’s side of the portal feels almost pleasant against the evening chill, as the flames expand suddenly to engulf the fleeing kobolds. The valley is filled with a brief light and surprised yelps, then left with the smell of charred meat and lingering silence.

GM
Still more hours of waiting pass before one of the nervous villagers near the front line asks, “Where are the rest of them?”

Hrud
Hrud seeks out Yamtwit to ask “«How many normally attack the village?»”

Yamtwit
As the kobolds burst into flame, Yamtwit turns to Hrud, “Aku bakal luwih migunani sawise turu. Tangi kula yen gelut diwiwiti.” He then curls up on the ground next to Rast and is quickly stacking z’s.

Winona
Winona orders the villagers under her command to remain at their posts, tired as they are, and wanders over to where the archers and casters are waiting. “Lyra dearie,” she says as she approaches, “did Amara’s little birds say how many kobolds were coming? Birds can’t count can they?” She looks around for their cavalry, then realizes that is a useless proposition, which she imagines is a good thing. “Since the riders are invisible anyways would it make sense to send some of them out to scout and see whether there is a more substantial force lagging behind these ones?”

Lyra
“Say? It’s a bird.” Lyra shakes her head, then considers the question further. “In theory even a single kobold would trigger the warning, though. We should ask the villagers how the attacks typically proceeded, with the torch and the horn. We might be able to send out scouts and let people rest in shifts if there is usually a significant delay between the scouts and the main force.”

GM
The old man, Finchus, hauls himself to his feet, not without much complaining, and hobbles over. “There ain’t so much of ‘typical’. They attacked us once en masse, killed all our young men, then demanded that we give them tribute. The last five years things have been bad, but not too bad, so long as we pay-up. If we don’t pay on time, they usually come just like that, maybe ten, in the night. They blow a horn to wake us up, then torch a house at random, then leave with everything they can carry…usually our sheep. We only tried to fight back the one time after their first attack. Wasn’t too hard to kill a handful of kobos. But two days later the whole swarm of them showed up again, beat us senseless, and made off with half our girls and more than half our sheep. I figured, given what you did back on the road, and that it’s tribute time, that the army would be coming sooner rather than later. I guess they didn’t put two and two together on their failed raid on the road, so I’d guess we’ve got about two days before their boss gets angry with this lot and sends the horde for us…”

Frantiska
Frantiska shakes her head. “That, Sir, is the kind of thing it would have been useful to know some days ago…”

Donovan
Donovan sits up all night, staring at the stars and wondering where the enemy might be. When he sees Lyra and Frantiska accosting the old peddler again, he wanders over. “So, either they are not coming, or we’ve got a couple more days.” He gestures at the reinforced, fireproofed houses, moats, defensive lines, magical traps, and thong of armed and organized villagers—some unseen but implied. “We still have pressing business of our and they are only kobolds. I think we’ve done what we need to do here, and the Helmites should be more than capable of commanding the town’s defense. All in favor of getting back on the road?”

Yamtwit/Frantiska
Yamtwit, waking up with a yawn, hears the others talking and wanders over. “That was it?” He shrugs, “If it’s going to be a couple more days at least, I’m with Donovan, those statues aren’t going to sell themselves.” He turns and yells over his shoulder to the barbarian, “Hrud, Pak putih-rambute ngandika kita ngirim dhuit jaminan ing kobold perang bab, lan njaluk bali menyang kita asli misi. Sembarang pikirane?”

Frantiska looks around, her brows knit in consternation, “We’ve done a lot to prepare these people to defend themselves, but our efforts are no guarantee of their success should the entire kobold army descend on them. However, Lyra and Donovan did promise Amara’s uncle that they would convey her safely to her grandmother’s home in Melvaunt. However I may question the sincerity of the girl’s story, a promise was made, and keeping the child here is definitely at odds with the spirit of that agreement for safe conduct.” She turns to Lyra, “Lyrathwen, I would suggest that you, Mr. Donovan, and Brother Rant, at least, go on ahead to Melvaunt with the girl, in order to complete the objectives of this outing. I can remain behind with the Helmites to make sure the village remain safe…”

Lyra
Lyra is clearly unhappy at the thought of abandoning the villagers to their fate. “I … might be able to manage both. Get Amara to Melvaunt and be back in time to help defend the village, I mean. Dream travel there in the evening, and back the next, if it’s just people going. The wagon, livestock and … artwork … complicate matters.”

Donovan/Winona
“We also agreed to fetch components for Professor Aumry’s classes,” Donovan reminds them. “While he did not specify that any of the components were perishable, such is often the case, and the professor was kind enough to pay us up front and provide this wagon for our use. Reneging on our very first contract, with a pre-established financial obligation, seems like a good way to ensure that we never find work in Phlan again…”

The two Tyrran sisters are drawn by Donovan’s raised voice. “We’re not obligated, Donnie,” Winona interjects. “If Frannie wants to stay behind, we can watch over the village with her and catch up on your way back through.”

Ryesha raises an eyebrow, “You’re just don’t want to miss the fight…” she mutters quietly.

“What’s that Bunny? Oh, of course I wouldn’t want to miss the fight. But, Tyr willing,” she says half-heartedly, “it won’t come to that.”

Lyra
Lyra nods. “We did agree to such. We also did specifically inquire if Professor Aumry’s reagents were perishable, and he said that they all should be properly preserved, but may be fragile. So it may be in his best interest to rout the kobolds before attempting to bring a shipment of fragile goods back through their territory.”

Hrud
Hrud just stares at the goblin, not believing what he has just heard.

“We nyebabake alangan kanggo desa iki, saiki arep ninggalake iku?”

He looks around at the village, the meager fortifications, the rag-tag group of peasants and farmers huddled around each other uncertainly. Hrud then hears his companions talking. The words are unknown, but to his mind the intent conveyed in the tone of their voices is clear. The barbarian’s heart starts to burn in his chest. He walks over to the wagon and grabs his gear, then makes his way back to his pony.

“Yen asu-pasuryan ora teka kene, aku bakal pindhah menyang asu-pasuryan.”

Riding down from their position, he make his way over to where the kobolds crested the hill and begins to look for a trail that will lead him to their lair.

Noriss's Boy's: Session 2

Another guest post submitted by: Alan Knightly (aka. Tamn Footstooler)


Dear Squire of Kryptgarten,

My name is Tamn, and, apparently I am now part of a massive conspiracy to raze and lay waste to the city of New Phlan, kill all its citizens, rape all its women (because, you know, orcs), and set up some mysterious, giant, flaming guy who scares the fuck out of Lord Noriss as the king of the northern Moonsea. So…yeah…need to find a new line of work soon…

Let me back up.

After collecting the loot from my friends—I use the term loosely here, they were just some guys I met after washing up on shore on Thorn Island, and I really only knew them for a few days, but they did cut me in on their reward for killing the undead on the island—Lord Noriss informed us that we had been hired to kidnap a local heiress. The next day though, as we were sneaking into New Phlan to do the job, we learned that said heiress had agreed to marry her would-be kidnapper and was no longer on the hit list. Fucking politics.

If I’m sounding a little cynical, its only because I find myself in completely ridiculous circumstances.

So, that job fell through, not that I really mind…kidnapping seldom turns out well, and capturing or imprisoning anyone doesn’t really sit well with me. We return to Lord Noriss and are informed that he got a new deal, from the local Thieves’ Guild, the very boringly named “Thieves of Phlan”. We don’t usually get along with the “Thieves’”, as they tend to operate pretty openly and also tend to be less racially inclusive. But, apparently they needed a huge distraction in a hurry, and knew Noriss was the only one who could provide.

So, late in the day, we lieutenants, and a handful of carefully picked orc grunts, snuck out with two goals…rouse some of the pro-Xvimlar orc gangs, make them think the hobgoblins from the old textile mill were out to kill them, then kill a hobgoblin and plant evidence to make it look like the orc gangs did it, to make the belief true.

Our first stop was a hobgoblin watch-post, near the old wizard’s tower, which they used for keeping tabs on the humans poking about the Slums—a bit of early warning in case the counctil tried to send troops to root them out of the old Textile factory where they lived. Hobos are pretty organized it seems, which was a good thing for making out plan work, no one would expect a small pack of hobos to act on their own without orders from the tribe.

We did that old-school, kicked in the door and killed the five of them. Lost a couple of orcs, but that’s how it goes. We left our dead (and a couple of spare Xvim symbols), then grabbed the hobos’ bodies, still armed and armored, and hauled them out with us. Had to make sure the bodies were in the right place, eh?

Our second stop was the small Xvimlar shrine in the Slums, where the orcs tended to do their sacrificing and what passes for planning on their part. One of our orc grunts went in and scouted, informing us that, as expected a pair of gang leaders were there finishing off some beggar-girl. Thing about orcs, they mean it when they threaten to fuck people to death, and don’t mind continuing well after the ‘to death’ part. There were quite a few guards in the atrium, he said—apparently the grunts don’t get to join in the “serious worship”.

We climbed up to the roof and dropped into the sanctuary through a hole right above the altar (for letting out the smoke when the burn sacrifices). We caught them by surprise, dropped on their heads and killed them, quietly, mid-necro-coitus. We snagged their swords, strange green-bladed things that marked them as Xvim-approved gang-leaders, then lowered in the hobgoblin corpses and Yuri artfully arranged them in a scene of carnage and temple desecration.

We then started making a racket, two of our orcs shouting in their language, and the rest of us yelling some choice epithets and insults in Hobgoblin that Isti taught us. Coffex and an orc upended the altar to block the door and slow the arrival of reinforcements, while we pantomimed the killing, clanking blades together and yelling. Isti then blew a hole in the back wall using some toy she had concocted and we booked it out of there, just ahead of the door and altar lurching aside to let the angered orc guards in.

We ran through the twisting alleys for close to a half-hour, set a few small hovels on fire for good measure, then snuck over to the old textile mill, the ruckus of anti-hobgoblin hysteria rising in the slums behind us. We dismissed all but two of our orc entourage, handed them the green Xvim-blades, and Isti used her magic to instill them with a recklessly-insane level of courage. We then bet them five-hundred crowns (he had seen the cash we got off my dead ‘friends’) that they could not kill the hobgoblin sentries by the gates and get away with it. Man are orcs stupid…

Coffex gave the orcs each one of his special ravager potions. The two orcs snuck, quite expertly for orcs, up to the gates, scaled the walls, and were quickly in a pitched and not at all quiet battle with the sentries. Yuri set off an alarm spell, made to sound like the hobgoblin warning gongs, and then we high-tailed it down the nearest well and back to the hideout.

The next morning agents from the Thieves’ Guild delivered a bag with one-hundred pounds of solid gold plates, cups, and similar objects to Lord Noriss. Huzzah!

We took a couple of weeks to relax and enjoy the spoils of that last job, Noriss even sent a couple of the boys up to the market to order two tuns of wine to celebrate. I was starting to get used to this bandit thing.

After a few days of R&R, Lord Noriss again called us into his private chambers. We learned that he had received a letter from the would-be kidnapper inviting him to a meeting organized by the would-be kidnappee. Yeah, that’s right, apparently the newly married couple were holding some kind of open-forum for criminals and violent gangs in the city who want more say in politics. In a week, Noriss said. Nice of him to invite us lieutenants.

We showed up in Podol Plaza, just north of the well where we had out hide-out (between the Textile Mill and the old noble’s district), to find a horde of nasties—ogres, gnolls, kobolds, bugbears, hobgoblins, even a few giants—plus representatives from the Kovel Mansion Thieves’ Guild (not the one that paid us to stage the orc-hobo fight—they were conspicuously missing), representatives from the temple of Xvim, and our benefactor and his didn’t-need-to-be-kidnapped wife.

There was much airing of grievances: Xvimlar accusing hobgoblins, hobgoblins accusing Xvimlar, hobgoblins complaining about some adventurers taking over one of their keeps, the kobold king complaining about tribute shipments from the east being cut-off…all that sort of thing. They all wanted to know why ‘The Boss’ hadn’t ordered an attack on the city in so long. I was curious about this ‘boss’, since it was clear that everyone was talking to and not about the two, surprisingly young, humans who were leading the meeting.

Yuri quietly asked Noriss if he knew anything about ‘the boss’, and the tough half-orc informed us that he had only seen the boss once, at a similar meeting just after the humans took over the docks a couple years ago and started their campaign to ‘civilize’ Phlan. He described ‘the boss’ as some kind of flame-shrouded giant or demon who was trying to build an army to once-and-for-all put the humans in their place.

The boy informed everyone that “Lord Maram”, who I can only assume is this boss, was disappointed by the infighting between the various tribes and gangs in Phlan, and was unlikely to order any significant action until the tribes could show a significant success in working together to put a stop to the encroachment of the human adventurers and settlers.

The girl then informed them that the council had raised some racist Hillsfarran jokers as “Squires of Kryptgarten”, naming them the first nobles of New Phlan and giving them the recently liberated hobgoblin keep north of town. The keep was, she said, poorly garrisoned and isolated, and, because of the nature of the trust the council had placed in these outsider, would make an excellent example.

The boy called out the kobold king, Greshlyrr, and the newly raised hobgoblin Chieftainess-cum-High-Priestess, Grishnak, and informed them that ‘The Boss’ wanted them, as the most organized tribes, to coordinate a full-scale assault on the keep. He then called our Lord Noriss, praising his success in evading the council’s agents, and gave him, and therefor us, command of the joint kobold-hobgoblin operation. He was even nice enough to point out a convenient secret entrance to the keep by means of a nearby crypt.

There was some arguing on the part of the kobold king and hobgoblin priestess, and some guy named Mace, who was apparently the high-priest of Xvim and angry that they were left out, but they eventually all agreed to follow Lord Noriss’s commands…just this once.

So…

My name if Tamn. Until recently I was a slave. Then a hero. Then a bandit. Now lieutenant to an evil warlord, working for some even bigger-and-badder warlord, preparing to lead a legion of kobolds and hobogoblins to assault some gods-forsaken-keep in the wilderness as a precursor to the extermination of all humans north of the Moonsea.

I hope this letter finds you soon, so that you may prepare for our inevitable arrival.

~Tamn Footstooler, The Thrice-Betrayor

Friday, October 3, 2014

The Third Party: Session 5 (GMs notes)

This Wednesday's game had a lot of threads going, a lot of players talking over each other and changing topics, and a lot of fussy toddlers in the background. This is an attempt to put everything that occurred--diseases, political maneuvering, and door-kicking--in some semblance of chronological order.

30 Eleint

Professor Aiderns, managing the affairs of Kryptgarten and its new settlers while the rest of the party are out playing politics, notices signs of fever progressing again among the population of Ex-Hillsfarans. Everyone who came over on the ship from Hillsfar, excluding the cultists of the Chaos Messiah, appear to be infected. Grinkle and those settlers scoured from the slums appear fine. Aiderns immediately asks Professor Drummons to come out to Kryptgarten and the two of them take over most of the lower level of the keep as a laboratory.

Squire Grimnir, learning of the outbreak when he returns in the evening, immediately orders the settlers to begin construction of a large Roman-style bathhouse, and has Grinkle and his cultists begin enforcing strict daily hygiene requirements on the entire population.

4 Marpenoth

Grimnir, Traithe, Melastasya, and Tvoja complete their training regimes, advancing to level 2.

Melastasya, on her daily trip back to Phlan, stops by the Council Hall to read the official [[Rumors and Proclamations: Week 3 | Proclamations]] and posted want-ads in search of work. She becomes greatly interested in one promising “free fish for life”. While reading though, she is accosted by Councilman Porphyrys, who explains that his agents have discovered that the Lostafinga hobgoblins, the same tribe the party fought at Kryptgarten, were based in the ruins of his family’s old textile mill, and that clearing the place of the hobgoblins might be mutually beneficial to them.

As Melastasya was about to start haggling over the price, Grimnir and Tvoja spotted them and stepped in, asking the impoverished councilman for his unquestioning vote on a Bill of Attainder granting Elissa the ability to sit on the council in exchange for their help in clearing the textile mill. Porphyrys quickly agreed and offered to put the bill before the council himself.

Meanwhile, back in Kryptgarten, Aidern and Drummons observed new swelling in the lymph nodes of their patience, and a disturbing smell of…pine. Melastasya suggested that they should just scalp and boil a hobgoblin to cure the people, but no one listened.

5 Marpenoth

Suspecting that this new disease was somehow the result of angering the fey by lumbering the Quivering Forest for building materials, Grimnir wrote to the temple of Gond in Phlan, ordering large, black, cold-iron church bells to drive off the fey influence. Tvoja set their peasants to work constructing a large church to their Triad (Mask-Chauntea-Grimnir).

The party discussed plans for assaulting the hobgoblins in the textile mill with Grinkle, specifically asking for ways that they might be turned or possible political or religious schisms. Grinkle was able to inform them about the basics of the Lostafinga tribe, the layout of the factory, and the fact that there were some 500 hobgoblins, with at least 200 soldiers there. Grimnir decided that a surgical strike to kill or kidnap the hobgoblin high priestess was their best bet for destabilizing the hobgoblin forces.

Tvoja informed them that the wells and catacombs that led under the old textile mill included a safe-house of the Church of Mask and the Thieves’ Guild. She led them down into the wells where they met with Professor Swipe, who agreed to provide some kind of distraction to get the majority of the hobgoblin forces out of the compound in exchange for the party agreeing to locate and deliver an ancient treasure which the Cadornas had supposedly hidden somewhere in the mill.

After dark, the party snuck up the well in the center of the mill. They waited until they heard the sound of trumpets and rushing boots, as three-quarters of the hobgoblin garrison streamed out of the compound to confront some unseen threat.

Aidern’s familiar scouted ahead, locating the make-shift temple, though it was repelled by a magic circle. Traith summoned a cloud of fog to obscure their movements and they rushed the temple. Melastasya threw open the door to see the old crone Grishnak sacrificing an orcish child, before an assembly of two score lesser priestesses. Grimnir borrowed Traith’s scroll of Misty Step and teleported to appear on the altar just as Grishnak finished her sacrifice. He appeared with flaming eyes and mouth, and, in draconic, which the hobgoblins apparently understood, pronounced jihad, claiming that the priestesses should be at the top of the hobgoblin order. Grishnak, not wanting to lose face in front of her underlings, backed Grimnir’s play, crying victory and sending the fourty axe-wielding lady-hobos streaming out into the courtyard, where they began to slaughter any male soldier that refused to bow the knee to Grishnak.

Grimnir quickly evacuated the temple using a gaseous form scroll and the party started searching for the treasure. In a nearby building, an old stone structure converted to a barracks, Grimnir, still gaseous, found a hidden room with a large chest. The problem being, that, of course, it was behind a wall of the room which had been claimed as the sub-chief’s bedchambers. The massive hobgoblin lay asleep on a large bed, three hobgoblin women draped over him—apparently to exhausted from mating to care about the muster and ensuing religious coup-d’-etat going on outside.

Traith disguised him/her self as a hobgoblin harem girl. Traith slinked into the bed-chamber, hoping to sneak into the secret room, only to find that the door was directly behind the bed. Shrugging, Traith climbed up onto the bed and began to tease the sub-chief, running his/her hands over the hobo’s naked skin. The other hobgoblin women seemed very confused by Traith’s actions and the chief seemed unresponsive (apparently not used to the concept of fore-play). Triath finally resorted to slapping him awake, only to narrowly avoid getting hit in the face by the axe the chief had already in his hand.

Traithe hopped up and sashayed out of the room, again narrowly avoiding a thrown axe. She taunted the chief again, this time provoking him to leap out of bed, snatch an over-sized sword from the wall, and charge at Traith. The rest of the party, laying in wait, leaped on the sub-chief, kicking the door closed once he was in the hallway. Traith paralyzed him using the wand, cyllibrym, and the rest turned the huge hobgoblin into a pin-cushion.

They piled into the room, Grimnir chasing the harem-girls out with his demonic visage, overturned the bed and set at the hidden door with crowbars. The small room beyond was filled with a gigantic chest, nearly six feet in width and a little more than half that in height and depth, as well as a very sudden and unhealthy looking beam of silver-white light. Melastasya and Aidern pulled the rails of the bed and used them to hook the chest, which took all four of them (Grimnir being still gaseous) to scooch out of the small room.

Tvoja sprung the lock on the giant chest, narrowly avoiding a cloud of spinning, whirling, jagged-edged blades of glass. They shrugged and began shoving the whole chest, all nine-hundred pounds of it, cloud of blades and all, out into the hallway. Five minutes later, just as they were about to lever the chest out into the courtyard, the blades dissipated to reveal close to sixty cubic feet of gold—cups, plates, jewelry, pieces of armor, bars of bullion, and more, but no coins or other liquid cash.

Traith called up another cloud of fog and Melastasya rushed to the well. She dived in and swam down, hoping to gauge the depth of the well, only to find that the associated aquifer went deeper than she could safely swim. Swimming back to the water’s surface, she ran a rope from the top of the well to the catacombs’ opening where a dozen members of the thieves’ guild waited. The party began sending a steady stream of bags filled with gold down the rope. There are a few near misses from the hobgoblins still fighting a civil war in the square, but the party manages to get out in once piece.

Professor Swipe, meeting them in the catacombs, is so pleased by their success that he gives the party one-sixth of the liberated treasure ( one hundred pounds of gold).

Melastasya, still awake and in pretty good shape, encourages the party to head into the civilized part of town and find “Delbar” to inquire about killing bugbears in exchange for free fish. This late at night, they are forced to sneak into town using the thieves’ tunnels, only to find the fish market closed and that Delbar lives outside of the walled portion of town. Mel does succeed in waking a fishmonger who lives closer to the market, arranging for a large supply of Halibut (most of it without extra heads, eyes, or other weirdness) to be shipped out to Kryptgarten.

They sneak back out of town and return home with their gold.

6 Marpenoth

Grimnir rises early and heads into town to attend the closed council session. Councilman Porphyrys puts forward the Bill of Attainder, which passes four to one, with only Chief Councilman Eberhard voting against. Markos immediately puts forward the homosexual agenda, and Grimnir rushes off to make sure Elissa is present to exercise her rights to vote. The latter bill comes to a tie vote—with Eberhard, Cadorna, and Bivant voting against—pushing Bishop Braccio to make the tie-braking vote…in favor.

Grimnir returns to Kryptgarten triumphantly to begin planning a wedding.

Back in Cryptgarten, the settlers continue to get worse. The swollen lymph nodes begin to harden, turn white, and mound in the center. Their skin becomes pale, almost translucent, and pulls away from the bones. And the ligaments in their jaws weaken, causing them all to walk about with their mouths open and slack. The smell of pine in the keep becomes overwhelming, like a forest that has just been cut down—even the middens reek of pine.

The Professors rush about trying various remedies and interviewing the patients to try to find some probable cause of this new malady. They find that the blood of the patients has become thick, like tree sap. Melastasya once again suggests that they try scalping and boiling someone, but is ignored.

7 Marpenoth

Grimnir unloads several hundred gold on preparations for the wedding, pushing the sick peasantry to build the church as fast as possible. The peasants begin to look even worse—their skin hanging off their frames and sharp, boney spurs protruding from their lymph nodes.

Desperate to avoid spreading the plague to the honored wedding guests, Grimnir dispatched Melastasya to capture a hobgoblin alive. When she returned, hobo in tow, Grimnir and Melastasya descend into the depths of the keep, late at night, accompanied by candle-bearing ex-Chaos-Cultists. The hobgoblin was summarily scalped and boiled, slowly, accompanied by much screaming.

When the hobgoblin died, its head ripped open and a…thing—a massive, six-clawed crocodile, twice the size of the hobgoblin, with ghostly-pale flesh hanging in loose folds about its body and long, boney spears protruding from its back and the undersides of its limbs—clawed its way into the world. The thing lumbered its way over to Grimnir and Melastasya and prostrated itself before them—speaking into their minds that it was their loyal vassal and desired only that it be given the opportunity to pursue “true happiness”…and have another person boiled for its pleasure once a week.

8 Marpenoth

Everyone awoke to find that the entire population of Kryptgarten had been cured of their malady—the thing which had been trying to birth itself into the world since Grimnir had first started practicing boiling dead orcs having finally found an outlet.

Grimnir commissioned some new mosaics depicting his pet for the bathhouses and sent to Phlan for “plush crocodile monsters” and toy windup versions to be given out to his peasantry to “get them used to the idea” that the horrible beast from beyond was their new mascot. The “thing” was dispatched to patrol the nearby forests, killing any hobgoblins it found—leaving their hands to be sent (sans pinkies) back as a warning, and mounting their skulls on its spines.

16 Marpenoth

Construction of the church at Kryptgarten is completed, the black-iron bells hung, and the wedding of Markos Mondaviak and Elissa Bivant is held in the new building, presided over by Tvoja of the church of Mask. It is a simple ceremony, a marriage of convenience and negotiation, but joyous nonetheless, with a feast of fresh Halibut.