Friday, January 30, 2015

PBeM: Chapter 3.5: The Squatters in Onyx: Part 3


Hrud leads the way through the portal with weapons drawn, expecting an ambush, but keeping his eyes mostly on the ground. Despite the hardness of the stone floor, he can easily make out a few muddy footprints, mostly kobold, but a few larger reptilian clawmarks and some bootprints, all old and all heading, more or less, from the curtained passage ahead to the door behind him. He also spots a few dried bloodstains on the floor near the center of the room, beneath where the ropes are hanging.

Even through the dimension door, Donovan and Winona's psionically heightened hearing picks up the sounds of numerous kobolds coming from above Hrud.


Donovan grabs his largest crossbow off his back and rushes through the portal, scanning the ceiling for possible murder-holes. «Frantiska,» he calls back in elvish, «please inform our barbarous friend that there are numerous kobolds above him and he should expect unpleasant things to start falling on his head soon.»

Winona, apparently noticing the same thing but not understanding what Donovan is saying, turns to Lyra and the others. "Kobolds in the ceiling," she says plainly.

Ryesha lets out a plaintive squeak, then tugs on Winona's sleeve and whispers, "Up those ropes maybe?"


Frantiska steps through the dimension door behind Donovan, "Hrud, anjing wajah di langit-langit." She turns her bow upwards and gestures with her eyes towards the three holes from which the ropes are descending and a visible gap in a large boulder that appears to have been laid across a larger hole. «Lyra, Donovan,» she says switching to elvish, «I can see their heat signatures through the holes, can we get a light up there?»


As it becomes obvious, from the upward staring and crossbow-pointing, to the kobolds observing you from above that their concealment has been blown, they respond with a barrage of arrows from the half-dozen murder-holes concealed in the spongy lung-tissue of the ceiling. Dozens of small arrows rain down around Donovan, Frantiska, and Hrud. Three find gaps in Frantiska's armor, but none manage to hit Hrud or Donovan.


Not having anything that could reach the kobolds above, Hrud takes a risk and ducks though the curtain looking for cover.


I can't possibly hit them through those tiny holes, Donovan thinks, knowing that he's far from a crack shot with the bulky crossbows. But! he thinks smiling. He releases his grip on the crossbow, allowing it to dangle from his shoulder, grabs the sheaf of scrolls from its case, and rifles through them until he finds the right one. This should do the trick! He points a finger at the large stone to which Frantiska is pointing, mutters a few incomprehensible syllables, then, says loudly, "UP!"

Winona, suspecting that Hrud must have seen some more accessible targets, pulls the larger flail off her back and rushes through the dimension door, across the room, and through the curtain after him.

Ryesha, tries to ignore the voice whispering in the back of her head about glory and the images of her gleefully slashing at kobolds with her knives. She shakes her head, but looks down and notices that she already has a pair of blades in her hands. She shuts her eyes tight, thinking no, kobolds are mean, we shouldn't get that close. When she opens her eyes, however, she is standing right beside them...


Lyra concentrates on keeping the doorway open, wincing at the hail of arrows.  "If we can prop up the tapestry or some of those furs, they won't know who's standing where for the next volly."


Frantiska winces as the first arrow strikes her in the thigh, exposing her to the second which catches her in the side, just below the ribs. She stumbles to the ground and tries to crawl back to the cover of Lyra's dimension door, but the third shot strikes her in the back, right through her heart. She lays still, blood pooling on the floor around her.


Yamtwit watches the hail of arrows and curses. He hitches his backpack up over his head, runs the few feet through the portal to where Frantiska is laying, and drags her bleeding body out of the kill zone on the off chance that she can be repaired.

Once safely through the dimension door, Yamtwit works furiously--breaking off and removing the small, barbed arrow heads, and wadding bundles of gauze and shoving them into the holes to staunch the bleeding. I can apply proper bandages later, he thinks. Once the wounds are at least cursorily plugged, he rolls her onto her back and checks her breathing and pulse, only to find that the shot through her back pierced her heart. [In proper Hollywood fashion] He beats furiously on her chest for a while, pumping in a futile attempt to restart the damaged organ.


Teldicia pushes herself away from the wall against which she has been leaning heavily, takes a deep breath, and sprints into the room, leaping strait up to grab the lip of the hole made by Donovan's levitation spell, twelve feet above, then hauls herself up into the passage with the startled kobolds.

Beyond the curtain, Hrud and Winona find an empty den. Two dozen piles of sleeping furs are scattered on the ground and a burned-out cookfire sits in the center of the room. The walls and ceiling are the same pock-marked, petrified lung-tissue as the room before, with a similar guarantee of murder-holes linked to the passage above. A few bats clinging to the ceiling, seemingly oblivious to the commotion from the other room, are startled by the light of Hrud's hammer and begin flying about, swarming out the exit at the far end of the room.


Hrud continues moving through the room, peaking into the next - ready to dash into it should any arrows come down from above.


Hrud runs to the far exit, swatting the occasional bat away from his face, and looks out into a long corridor running to the left and right. The passage is rounded, with smooth walls, apparently an extension of the esophagus through which you had been traveling earlier, and slopes downward to the left and sharply upward to the right.


Hoping that the passage to the right will lead him to the shifty dog-faces above, Hrud presses forward, eager to dish out some pain.


The kobolds are startled by the rise of the rock and the sudden appearance of Teldicia and Ryesha in their midst. There are a dozen in all, huddled two a piece around six murder-holes, four leading into the first room, and two more over the room into which Hrud and Winona have run. Each has a bow in hand and buckets, filled with their short, barbed arrows sit beside each hole. They let out a series of alarmed, high-pitched, barking noises and then resume firing--three groups firing into the rooms below at Donovan, Hrud, and Winona, and the others turning to the more immediate threats.

Arrows rain down around those in the room below, one striking a grazing hit against Donovan. Ryesha snags one arrow out of the air, but takes a second in the wrist. Teldicia, just cresting the hole, takes two arrows directly in the chest. She slips from her perch and slams back down to the floor right by Donovan's feet with a sickening thud.


Yamtwit on seeing Teldicia fall bolts up cursing in his native tongue, "Youn lòt pèdiSe mwen menm woutpa gen okenn. Hay mèrdik!" He runs back through the portal, yelling to Lyra, "You just keep the door open missy!", and quickly lays hands on Teldicia, praying fervently to his goddess.


Lyra pulls a board out of the stack and throws it though the doorway towards Donovan.  "Get that up there and fall back!"


Donovan, now that he has a clear shot, reaches into his pouch and pulls out a handful of sand, throwing it in the direction of the hole in the ceiling and pronouncing the words to yet another sleep spell.

Winona pulls a brazier from her pack and holds it up as a makeshift shield, calling over her shoulder to the others, "Nothing in here but more snipers, but it sounds like the far passage is clear. Run for it!"

Ryesha's face goes white when she realizes she is stuck up the hole, alone, and outnumbered twelve-to-one. She tosses the knives she is holding at the faces of the nearest kobolds, then runs towards the far room and dives headfirst through one of the holes, "Sister! Catch!" she yells as she falls.

Winona drops her flail and sticks out her arms to catch the falling Ryesha.


Ryesha's knives both strike home, one plunges into a kobold's neck, sending it reeling backwards, clutching at its throat and drowning in its own blood. The second takes a kobold in the eye, blinding the thing and causing it to drop its bow. She tumbles through the hole into Winona's arms just as Donovan's spell goes off, causing eight of the remaining kobolds to slump to the ground, suddenly too drowsy to stand up. The two remaining kobolds, farthest from the spell's origin, continue firing down at Ryesha and Winona, striking both of them as Rye lands.

Hrud rushes up the passage to the right, running uphill for a dozen yards before he is stopped by a deep pit. The light from his hammer illuminates a number of giant weasels at the bottom of the pit, quiet and peaceful in death.

Teldicia groans, open her eyes, and grabs the wooden plank that Lyra threw from where it had fallen next to her and tosses it up into the hole above.


Winona puts down Rye, yanks the arrow out of her thigh, and grabs her flail from the floor. "Run!" she says, and does just that, heading for the far exit.

Donovan, slips an arm under Teldicia's armpit, pulling her the rest of the way upright and runs after Winona and Rye. «Lyra, we're going this way! Blow it when we're clear...»


Yamtwit runs after Donovan and Teldicia, staying close on their heals, eager to ensure that at least one patient survives this skirmish. As he peels out into the hallway, Yamtwit yells, "Hruď, ngendi sira lunga?"


"Punika cara metu. Kudu pindhah mudhun." Hrud says, as he comes stalking back down the corridor, frustration on his face. "Apa asu-pasuryan isih urip? Bisa aku tekan wong-wong mau?"


As you all run out of the room, you hear the high-pitched yapping voices of the two kobolds shouting something, along with some muffled, equally high-pitched grunts, as of someone being kicked awake.


As everyone's attention is focused on the other room, Frantiska's heart suddenly resumes beating. She coughs, flecks of blood spraying from her mouth, and raises an arm weakly. She manages to whisper «Lyrathwen...» and briefly clutches the hem of Lyra's dress before her arm falls limp again.


Lyra sinks to her knees next to Frantiska, hands shaking as she pulls wax stoppered sheep's bladders from her backpack.

She remembers Frantiska lying in the road, leg twisted unnaturally, blood everywhere.  No, Donovan's memory, she reminded herself.  But more importantly, his memory of the goblin handing Rant a flask, the buttery smell as Donovan turned around, and the healed, whole flesh when he turned back.

When it sounds like the awake kobolds have run over to their friends, Lyra speaks the command word for that board, then returns to fussing over Frantiska, letting the gateway close.


There is a muffled BOOM from the small charge detonating. The kobold's chattering speech trails off into screams, then silenced, leaving only the sound of small bits of stone and debris clattering onto the floor.


Donovan runs out of the room and, seeing Hrud coming from the opposite direction, down to the left. "This way!" he says, then stops in his tracks. "I don't suppose anyone has a way of getting in touch with Lyra to tell her which way we went?"

Winona and Ryesha both shake their heads. "Sounds like the bomb blew," Winona adds, "We should go back and clean up the mess."

"Hmmm," Donovan's brow furrows. "It's clear that they know we are here. With this many murder-holes, they probably have some living quarters or something in the upper half of the body, closer to the spine." He points down the esophagus, "We know that way should lead to the stomach..."

"Okay," he finally says, "let's go clean up any kobos that may be left and then see if there are any passages off of that upper chamber." Donovan unslings his crossbow again and turns back into the room. "Rye, can you get up in there again and lower one of those ropes for the rest of us?"

"Maybe..." Ryesha's nose and forehead wrinkle adorably in concentration. She vanishes.


Yamtwit explains the plan to Hrud, "Terwelu cah wadon sethitik wis arep uncalan tali mudhun supaya kita bisa njaluk bantuan kanggo asu pasuryan." He then turns to Teldicia, "You look sick lady. No more jumping in front of things with arrows, okay?" He draws a club and carefully skuttles into the room, taking pains to keep Teldicia behind him.


Ryesha appears back in the upper chamber of the dragon's lung, surrounded by kobolds, or rather, surrounded by the limbs, body parts, and blood splatters of exploded kobolds. A wide, smooth-walled passage, just large enough for her to stand upright, exits at the far end of the chamber, then splits to run parallel with the esophagus below. A ladder in the intersection leads up into the spinal column.


Below, everyone hears a high-pitched shriek, followed by an "Ewwwwwwwwwww!" Ryesha walks over and looks down the hole, cautious of the still-levitating rock. "They're dead..." she says with a mixture of disgust and relief. "There are two more passages up here, but they're my size, so maybe a bit small for the rest of you." She examines the three ropes, noticing that they are apparently meant for hauling the rock up, and have a good bit of slack. She runs the slack out through the already-provided holes, down to where a kobold could reach them from the ground, then ties off the ends to keep the rock from falling when Donovan's spell inevitably wears off.

Donovan goes over to the door which was recently blocked by Lyra's dimension door, opens it and yells down the stairs. "Lyra, we're all clear up here." He then turns back to the others, "So...Esophagus, Trachea, or Spine? I'd prefer not to be crawling, but it makes sense that they would put the important stuff in the passages where they would have a greater advantage. But, given that everything is carved from organs, the stomach is probably the biggest room, which might give us the advantage if we can lure them into a mass confrontation there..."

Winona just shrugs, "Whatever dearie..."


A minute after the butter has done its work, Frantiska groans and opens her eyes again. She sits up slowly and notices a trickle of blood still issuing from the arrow-wounds. She presses her hands over the injuries, a blue glow surrounding them, and looks up at Lyra. «Thank you Lyrathwen. Remind me not to walk into obvious traps in the future...» She stands up slowly, replacing her bow on her shoulder and pulling out her shield and shortsword.


Lyra stands and smooths her skirt.  «I ... had intended to take you back to the village to recover from your injuries under the care of the healer there once you were stable.  But if you would prefer to continue, the area above should be safe now.»


Yamtwit looks up at the hole, sighs, then starts climbing. "Donovan, the trachea stops here, right? If we're in the lungs?" He pulls himself up into the messy higher chamber then calls down through the hole. "We know the spine was linked to the murder-holes over those pits. If you're heading for the stomach, it probably makes sense for a couple of us to go this way, run parallel, and make sure you don't get shot at from above again..." A scowl crosses his face, "Of course, we're not really the best ones for dealing with that. Can we get a couple of Lyra's bomb-boards?"

Meanwhile down below, Frantiska stretches a bit and takes a test swing of her sword. «I'm fine, Lyra, and, much as I may dislike many of them, I could not live with myself if I abandoned our companions when they were in danger.» She looks around. «Do you have sufficient strength for us to rejoin the others, or will we have to backtrack and find another route up?»


Lyra nods, reopening the portal into the room in the same location it was previously.


Donovan looks up at the goblin, trying to suppress his instinctual thought to never split the party. "Alright Sir Cheeseater. Just don't stick your necks out more than necessary. Remember that in those close confines we won't be able to get to you in a hurry if you get into trouble." Seeing the Dimension Door open, he turns and looks through it at Frantiska. "FRAN! I thought you were dead...again..."

Winona looks up at Ryesha, "Stay out of trouble Bunny. We'll meet you in the guts. Don't be afraid to scamper if you need to."

Ryesha looks down and shrugs. "You always said I needed more field practice..." she whispers, barely audible to anyone save Yamtwit. "Come on Mr. Yamtwit, I guess we're going this way." She pulls her knives out of the pair of kobolds she killed, kicks a stray leg out of the way, and heads for the passage.

"Oh!" Donovan says, "Lyra, do you have some boards that our little friends could take with them?"


Lyra steps into the portal, and allows it to close after she and Frantiska are both through.  "If we use more, we won't be able to fully collapse the hill, but being able to deal with the kobolds should take precedence."  She holds up one of the boards.  "Glowing arcane symbol on one side, triggering words written on the other.  Please make sure to note it before throwing it, and as I mentioned earlier, several places are not structurally sound, so please take care where you are detonating it."


"Just a sec Bunny-girl! Be right behind you." Yamtwit reaches down and grabs the board. "Thanks!" He stops and thinks for a moment, "Can I get two?"


Lyra passes a second board up to Yamtwit.


Yamtwit grabs the board, says another enthusiastic "Thanks!" and runs after Ryesha. "So, Bunny-girl, are we doing this the team-sneaky way?" He tucks the two enchanted boards in his pack and grabs one of his clubs.


Hrud begins making his way down into the lower regions of the lair, straining his ears for any sign of a kobold response to the explosion that occurred.


Hrud turns into the left-hand passage, which continued to slope steadily downward. Hearing the skuttling of numerous feet and the high-pitched barking voices of kobolds up ahead.

After about ten yards, the smooth, rounded walls begin to widen steadily for another ten feet, before ballooning out in all directions, opening into the vast gallery of the dragon's stomach. The ground slopes even more sharply here, but steps have been carved into the side of the stomach wall, leading down to the "floor" below, where a deep pool of acrid-smelling water has collected. At the far end of the pool, another set of stairs leads up towards a similar opening, presumably to the dragon's bowels. About half-way up the stomach wall to Hrud's left is another, smaller opening, covered by a tight-fitting, hinged door, apparently made from a large, ceramic pot lid. A pair of ropes attached to the lid-door string back through holes drilled in the wall just above it.

A wood and metal walkway with flimsy-looking, rope railing has been constructed around the circumference of the upper portion of the stomach, about twenty feet over Hrud's head. Numerous side passages lead off from this walkway, carved into the walls. Hrud can easily hear kobolds moving about up above, but none are visible from this angle.

The stairs lead directly down into the pool, and back out of it on the far side. The walkway looks like it might support Hrud's weight, if he was careful, but it also looks like if he grabbed on and shook it hard he could bring the majority of the thing down.


Frantiska hurries through the room and into the passage behind Hrud. She looks around the stomach, somewhat impressed by the kobolds' ingenuity in renovating the dragon corpse. Seeing the walkway and hearing the kobolds, she carefully holds her shield over her head, before examining anything else more closely. She points at the ceramic-capped hole on the left-hand wall and taps Hrud's shoulder. "Hrud, saya pikir itu adalah 'Fundamentum'. Itu yang akan membuat napas asam naga," she says, trying to explain dragon anatomy in her imperfect Erakic.


Ryesha turns on Yamtwit, her eyes blazing and her nose scrunched up in a way that is simultaneously frightening and adorable, "DO. NOT. CALL. ME. BUNNY-GIRL!" Her momentary outrage turns to a sullen whimper, "It's bad enough that Sister Winona calls me that. She's my superior, so I can't stop her. But as for you and the rest of them, my name is Ryesha. Sister Ryesha if you want to be formal, or even Rye is fine, but don't call me Bunny." She spins on her heel and turns down the left-hand passage, her eyes giving off the faint, tell-tale glow of infravision, but somehow more pink than red. "Let's just see where this goes before everyone gets too far ahead..."

Below, the others fall into step behind Hrud and Frantiska. Donovan walks slowly, crossbow in one hand the his other arm around Teldicia for support, under her armpits and tantalizingly close to her breasts. Come on Don, focus, a kobold shooting gallery is no place to be thinking about the ladies... he tries really hard to keep his unwholesome thoughts to himself, hoping that telepathy was not one of the gifts that Teldicia got from the virus.

Winona clanks up behind Hrud and Frantiska in her armor and looks down at the pool of water. "There is no way I'm going in something that smells that bad," she says, adjusting her glasses. "Can we get up to that catwalk? It'll probably intersect with where Bunny and Yammy will come out..."


Lyra follows, brow furrowed in consternation as she looks around.  "Ah.  Does anyone else find that ceramic aperture covering alarming?"


Frantiska turns to Lyra, "I think that leads to the dragon's fundamentum...the source of it's breath attack. I suspect that the odd choice of doors and the smell of that water means that the kobolds may have found some way of harvesting its secretions. Going up seems the best course of action..." Frantiska takes out her bow and a wood-biting arrow, stringing a strong, but lightweight thread through the eye of the arrow. "Does anyone have rope?" she asks. "Hrud, tali?"


Hrud shrugs off the loop of rope off his shoulder he'd been carrying prior to walking through Lyra's magic door into the kobold ambush and hands it to the elf.


Frantiska ties one end of the rope to the string, loops the string back so that she has about 30 feet of slack on either side of the loop, and fires the arrow into the catwalk above. She then pulls on one end of the string, hauling the heavier rope up and through the eyelet of the arrow, ties the two ends of the rope together to form a dangling loop, then pulls the loop until the large knot is tight against the eyelet to keep the rope from shifting. "Apakah anda ingin pergi dulu?"


Hrud climbs the rope, trying to move as smoothly and evenly as he is able, afraid that his weight might bring the walkway down.

Once on the walkway, he moves to the edge of the room, wanting to be off the rickety structure sooner rather than later.


Hrud hauls himself up onto the walkway and finds himself face-to-face with a trio of spear-wielding kobolds standing in one of the many side-passages. The nearest kobold yells the time-honored signal, "Bree Yark!" and dozens of the tiny creatures come rushing out onto the walkway from the other holes bristling with bows and spears. The three spear-wielding kobolds rush Hrud as he stands on the edge...


Despite the odds, Hrud finds himself elated at the opportunity to smash more skulls - the dog-faces repeated ambushes serving only to annoy the barbarian. Drawing his broadsword, he rushes to meet them.


Seeing the swarm of kobolds coming pouring out of the many upper passages, Donovan rifles through his collection of scrolls, and, aiming for the largest pack of them he can see, casts ice knife.

Winona suddenly feels deep regret over her religion's prohibition on the use of projectile weapons. She briefly considers grabbing the rope and trying to pull down the catwalk, then remembers her inability to discuss tactics with Hrud, Suddenly she has a mental image of Ryesha squaring off against five kobolds. "Bunny's in trouble," she says. "I can't do much here...I'm going to check on the little ones..." She turns and runs back to the last chamber and begins climbing up the ropes. Fighting while crawling has got to be better than getting shot at by things I can't reach, right? she thinks.


Meanwhile in the upper passage...


Rye and Yamtwit turn the corner into the passage and immediately run up against a small pack of kobolds who have been standing there quietly. So quiet, in fact, that the two smallest party members realize they can hear no sounds at all, neither the talking of their companions below, nor even their own footsteps and breath. Five kobolds stand glaring at them in the silence. The first four carry spears and are arrayed for battle--two kneeling abreast in the narrow corridor, with two more behind them, creating a miniature version of a pike hedge. The fifth, behind them, is rather terrifying for a kobold--old and withered, with scores of bone piercings in his ears and eyebrow ridges, his arms are painted blood-red up to the elbows and a big red 'X' is painted on his bare chest.

The four guard-kobolds hold their ground while the fifth stands very still, locking eyes with Yamtwit and staring at him intently.


Yamtwit opens his mouth to yell for reinforcements, but no sounds comes. "Mèrdik grenpe kobo trankil," he mutters soundlessly to himself, somehow unable to look away from the creepy old kobold with the red hands. He walks slowly backwards towards the corner, keeping up a steady string of curses, and maintaining eye contact with the creepy kobold. As soon as he can hear himself again, he quickly incants the words of a shillelagh spell.


Rye screams at the sight of the kobolds, then freaks out even more when she cannot hear herself scream. She whips the two knives she is holding at the nearest kobold guards. She really wants to run, but images flash through her mind of her standing triumphantly atop a pile of dead kobolds and Sister Winona praising her and calling her by her proper name and not some lame pejorative. She knows the thoughts are not her own, but decides she doesn't really care. She takes a half step back to have more room to throw and draws another pair of knives.


Rye's blades strike home on the kneeling kobolds, one burrying itself in the chest of the kobold on the right, who collapses to the ground bleeding profusely, the other hitting the left-hand one in the causing it to drop its spear. The two kobolds behind them leap over their wounded friends and charge at Ryesha, spears lowered. Rye easily sidesteps one spear, but, in the narrow passage, has no way of avoiding the second, the point of which ends up buried deep in her side.

Behind them, the old kobold crosses his arms over his chest, along the lines of the red 'X' tattoo and continues to stare intently at Yamtwit.


As the old kobold continues to stare at Yamtwit, the goblin suddenly feels very dizzy and unsteady on his feet. His hands begin to shake, his joints ache, and his body feels as if it is responding a good bit slower than his thoughts.

Yamtwit stumbles backwards from the intense gaze, tripping over his own feet, and tumbling the shillelagh out of his hands. Growling he clumsily hauls himself to his feet and charges the kobolds assaulting Rye, swinging for the benches with the magical club, but the blow goes whistling harmlessly over the kobolds' heads.


Winona hauls herself, heavy armor and all, slowly up the rope and into the passage above. Her face wrinkles in distaste at the splattered kobold parts and she strains to hear where Bunny is--disconcerted that her psionically enhanced hearing cannot pinpoint them. I need to practice that more, she thinks. Grunting she crawls on hands and knees towards the only obvious exit, her helmet scraping on the low ceiling. I'm not going to be able to swing a damned thing in these tunnels, she thinks, but at least I can be around to heal Bunny if she needs it. She rounds the corner and stares in amazement at the silent play of combat being enacted ahead.

Ryesha, flinches away from Yamtwit's wild swing, a little unsteady on her feet herself from bloodloss. Seeing the kobolds ducking, her hands, seemingly of their own volition, driven by Kisakhavar's bloodlust, interpose themselves directly in line with the kobold's necks, causing the kobolds to impale themselves, the short blades burrying themselves up to the hilts in their dog-like chins. Winona's eyes widen at the sight of timid 'little sister's' brutal tactics.


The old kobold with the tattoos grins maniacally when he sees Winona and waves a hand. Winona, Ryesha, and Yamtwit's ears are suddenly assaulted by the screams of the wounded and dying kobolds, as sound returns to the space. The old kobold chants a few words in his own harsh language and stretches both hands skyward, "Yangın ve ağrı ve bıçak ve ölüm, elimi gel! Kötü küçük yarı-kız üzerine tıp ve o cehennemde çürümeye olabilir!" A long blade-like tendril of flame appears in his left hand, and the right jabs a finger at Ryesha, causing a sudden feeling of disorientation to come over her.

The last kobold guard standing, or, more specifically, kneeling, yanks the knife out of his arm, then picks his spear up with his good hand and hurls it towards Yamtwit. The throw is wobbly and weak, but still sufficient to hit the staggering, unbalanced goblin. He pulls a club from his crude belt and backs slowly away, still keeping himself between you and the old kobold.


Ryesha's shudders as the fell magic grips her along with the crushing knowledge that she cannot possibly harm the scary old kobold sorcerer. Hearing the scrape of metal on stone behind, she turns to see Winona crawling around the corner. "Sister! Help!" Her hand reaches involuntarily to her bandoleer for another brace of knives. No, that's not going to work! she thinks, more to her cloak than herself, and instead yanks a flask of sleep gas out of her pouch and throws it at the kobolds.

Winona's thoughts on watching the fight are more along the lines of, why can't it be hell hounds or Tanar'ri or something else easy to deal with? She crawls forward and does what she can to at least keep her smaller companions alive while they fight the witch doctor, placing a mail-clad hand reassuringly on Rye's back and casting cure light wounds.


Yamtwit glares angrily at the old kobold, sure that his sudden clumsiness must be his doing. He hefts the shillelagh in both hands over his head and charges, knowing that in his current state caution is basically pointless.




Frantiska almost grins at the sudden appearance of exposed targets at good range. She shoves her shield back towards Lyra with her foot as she drops to a kneeling position, "Lyra, do you mind being my shield-bearer?" Her elven-made bow comes up, four arrows on the string at once, and sends all four streaking towards the kobolds on the far end of the walkway.


Lyra checks for murder holes overhead that will need to be avoided as she scoops up the shield, as much hiding under it as wielding it.  "The tunnel will give us some cover from the walkway overhead, and I don't see any murder holes in the tunnel itself."


Despite their "ambush", the kobolds are surprisingly slow to react. Donovan's ice knife slams into the chest of one kobold with exceptional force, leaving a large gaping wound, then explodes, freezing another three in their tracks. Nearby, four more go down with arrows protruding from their chests or between their eyes. Hrud easily brushes aside the flimsy spear-thrusts of the kobolds charging at him with his hammer, then takes off two of their heads with one swipe of his green-bladed sword. Teldicia, apparently having not needed Donovan's support as she led him to believe gives him a wink as she leaps into the air, grabs the edge of the walkway, and swings her legs over, kicking the third kobold menacing Hrud solidly in the chest and sending it sprawling back into the passage from whence it came.

Three more spear-wielding kobolds, apparently undeterred by the death of their companions, charge along the catwalk towards the big barbarian. Two lunge for his middle, but Hrud easily backsteps, only to have the third shove the spear between his feet, sending Hrud toppling from the walkway. He hits the sloped floor of the stomach below then slides down the side into the acrid smelling, but harmless, pool of water at the bottom.

The other kobolds still on the walkway begin firing at Lyra, Donovan, and Fran below, but most of the small, barbed arrows clatter harmlessly off of the large shield that Lyra holds over them.


Angry (and a bit disoriented) at being removed from the fray, Hrud splashes to his feet and grabs one of the small spears dropped by the kobolds. In a huff, he flings it towards the walkway, very nearly hitting Teldicia due to his wrecklessness.


Donovan grins stupidly at the wink from Teldicia, stares slack-jawed at her panties disappearing over the lip of the walkway, then, not taking his eyes off her, casually tosses a handful of rose petals in the direction of the kobolds shooting gallery and mutters a few words.


Lyra continues to use the shield to protect Donovan, Frantiska, and herself from arrow fire.


Frantiska's catches Donovan's upturned face and lewd grin out of the corner of her eye. Someone has to do something about that lecher, she thinks. She dips the limb of her bow behind his knee and sweeps his legs out from under him, toppling him into the pool with Hrud. She quickly swings her bow up and knocks an arrow, but the tripping maneuver leaves her balance off and sends the shot flying wide.


Donovan manages to get his spell off before he is dumped in the drink. All of the remaining kobolds on the walkway, as well as Teldicia, suddenly slump and fall where they stand.


Donovan rises of out the pool, spitting and spluttering with soaked pantaloons and water dripping from his hair. He spares only a brief glance back at Frantiska, sure that the beautiful elf woman must have been saving him from some terrible attack, and tears his broadsword and stiletto from their sheaths.clumsily, ready to defend himself against whatever horrors must be lurking in the pool. He looks around the gallery, noting that none of the kobolds are moving, then lowers his weapons a little. "Did we get them all?" He walks up a few steps, shaking water off of his soft boots. "Judging by their reaction, I'm guessing the living quarters, and probably any treasure are up there..." he gestures towards the catwalk with his stiletto, then sheaths it.


Hrud moves back over to the rope and returns to the walkway, dispatching the remaining kobolds - and giving the dead ones an extra poke for good measure. He nudges the snoring green-haired elf with his toe as he passes her.




As Yamtwit charges by to get at the old kobold, the kobold guard smacks him in the back of the head with a side-handed swing of his club. Yamtwit stumbles forward, but still manages to land a solid blow on the old witchdoctor, knocking the ancient kobold backwards onto his rear. There is a sudden cracking and hissing noise as Ryesha's flask of sleeping gas breaks on the ground near their feet, then sublimates into the air. The kobold cough and splutter a bit, but seem fine. Yamtwit, however, feels suddenly very lightheaded. He yawns widely and faints, unconscious to the ground.

The two kobolds let out exultant cries, loud enough to be heard echoing through the upper tunnels to the stomach gallery below. The injured kobold makes a small jump into the air, bringing his club down on Yamtwit with the force of his body weight behind it. The witchdoctor then stabs down into Yamtwit's back with his flaming sword, searing a hole right through the poor goblin.


Yamtwit snores peacefully, oblivious to the beating he's taking. He snorts a little when the flaming blade pierces him, but then just rolls over, still breathing contentedly, hugging and cuddling his shillelagh like a plush doll.




Lyra looks around wildly at the kobold cries echoing around the chamber.  "That doesn't sound good.  Can anyone tell where it's coming from?"


Teldicia emits a very unladylike grunt as Hrud kicks her, then slowly opens her eyes. She jerks instinctively when she notices how close to the edge of the walkway she is lying, causing the whole thing to sway slightly, then rolls closer to the wall before standing up. "I guess we won?" she says looking around.


Frantiska returns her bow, shield, and sword to their proper stowage and hauls herself arm over arm up the rope to the catwalk. She 'tsks' with distaste on seeing Hrud riffling through the kobolds belongings then looks around at the seven or so passages leading off the walkway. She points at three that run generally back towards the head-end of the dragon. "One of these..." she says, "but they are all too short to walk upright in..."


Having left his nic(er) shortbow outside with his pony, Hrud decides to take a shortbow and as many arrows and small spears as he can carry. The barbarian reasoning - albeit begrudgingly - that he'd better recover from his fall before charging into battle again. If he can't kill the dog-faces up close, at least he'll be ready to get at them from a distance.


Donovan sheathes his blades and stares at the passages Frantiska indicated, watching the reverberations of the kobold voices, like spikey balls of red sound bouncing off the walls. Finally he points at the left-most of the three passages. "The one on the left!" he says, running up the stairs to the rope and hauling his soaked paunch up to the catwalk.




Ryesha's eyes go wide when she realizes her mistake. She reaches down and grabs one of the kobold spears then charges, holding it not point first, but crossways across her body at arms length so as to take up the whole width of the corridor.


The kobolds seem caught quite off guard by Ryesha's unusual tactics. They look up from pummeling Yamtwit just in time to get closelined by the spear shaft. The old kobold raises his hands to try to fend off the attack, releasing his grip on the blade-like flame and causing it to sputter out and vanish. Rye's momentum carries her and the kobolds a good two yards past Yamtwit's body before the three of them go down in a tangle of limbs, spears, and clubs.


Winona crawls behind Rye as fast as she can, grabs Yamtwit's ankles and drags him a few more feet away from the fracas before she starts trying to patch up the worst of his injuries.




With the weight of three people already moving around on it, along with the weight of the unconcious kobolds, Donovan's shaking on the rope as he climbs up proves too much for the flimsy walkway. There is a shudder through the whole thing, followed by a harsh creaking noise as the bolts driven into the stone walls start to bend and pull free...


Hrud dashes & dives for the nearest side, not wanting to take yet another spill of the walkway.


Lyra ducks back into the tunnel, clear of the soon to be falling walkway.


Frantiska grabs Teldicia's arm and leaps into the passage Donovan had indicated.


Donovan, being in the worse possible position, mutters a brief "Oh shit!" and lets go of the rope, tucking into a ball and throwing his arms over his head. Instinctively, his virus-addled brain begins using soften on the section of walkway directly over him.

To be continued...

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Third Party: Session 17 (GMs notes)

7 Ches

While Traithe and Ash were busy in Phlan helping La Bouche to take repossession of Kryptgarten, and the undead legions began their march across the sea, Melastasya, Dame, and Kevorkian set out to check out Thorn Island and wait for the boat to pick up them up.

Kevorkian dove in and walked along the bottom of the bay, which was still polluted enough for his bracers to function.  The sea-floor between the mainland the thorn island was cut by a trench, nearly a thousand feet deep, with a fairly steep and steady decline. Below two-hundred feet, Kevorkian encountered the bay's anoxic zone, with a deep layer of warmer, hyper-salinated water below, almost completely devoid of life. Due to the ever-present pollutants, he was able to breath with difficulty, and was finally forced to kick off from the bottom and swim the rest of the way to the island.

The girls, meanwhile, took a slightly faster route, Dame changing into a shark and swimming across while Mel ran across on the surface of the sea using her ring of water walking. When Mel arrived, she saw that the island had been fully re-garrisoned and repaired in the half a year since the party had last passed that way. The lighthouse was beaming, guards patrolled the walls of Sokal Keep, a large dock capable of holding a dozen ships had been built off of the westward shore of the island, and a large hospital had been staffed within the keep to support a more organized version of the quarantine the party had previously enforced. Mel scouted the island and keep, finding, among other things that wanted posters had been hung right inside the gate with Mel's, Traithe's, Grimnir's, Tvoja's, and Professor Aidern's pictures.

Mel snuck back to the shore and told Dame to ask Valkur's Wake to meet them at the Xvart caves west of Phlan, rather than on the island. Dame swam back to the docks and informed Traithe and Ash of the change of plans, while Mel caught Kevorkian on his way up and the two of them hightailed it to the Xvart village.

8 Ches

Valkur's Wake picked up Grimnir, Kevorkian, Mel, and the Blessed Afflictor at the Xvart caves just before dawn, having been convinced to cast off a day early by the amount of cash Traithe was rather obviously carrying.

The ride over was slow, with the ship coasting to keep pace with the slow-marching leading edge of the undead horde as they marched a rather circuitous route around the western end of the Moonsea in order to avoid going strait through the Bell in the Depths and other less well known deep-water hazards in the center of the sea.

As they sailed, Melastasya posited that after they overthrew the Maalthir (which they somehow took as a given and clear "this is what we are going to do" kindof thing), that they might set up the Blessed Afflictor in their place. Ash asked if the Blessed Afflictor would rule justly and fairly, which the undead general assured them he would. When Ash asked about punishment for a poor man stealing a loaf of bread, the Blessed Afflictor first answered with cutting off the thief's hands. When it was clear that Ash did not like this idea of "justice", the undead general suggested perhaps that they could grind the thief's bones to make a new loaf of bread as recompense to the offended party. When that also did not please his masters, the Blessed Afflictor downstepped to indenturing the defendent to his accusers.

Needless to say, the long trip involved a lot of give and take discussions as Ash tried, with some help from Traithe and Mel (who seemed disinclined to have a strict enforcer of the law on the throne of Hillsfar) to educate the Blessed Afflictor on what "just and fair" meant to them. Which the Blessed Afflictor was quick to point out was often neither just, nor fair.

18 Ches

Valkur's Wake dropped the party off in a small cove ten miles west of the city of Hillsfar, not desiring to go any closer to the plague-ridden town than that. Captain Stormhammer promised to remain anchored there for one week to collect any refugees from Hillsfar that the party was able to round up to be taken back to Phlan. He informed them that they could carry a maximum of 200 passengers at a time, but were more than willing to make multiple trips if they could round up more than that.

The party approached the gates by land, noting that the town seemed locked up tighter than a drum, with every gate, even the massive portcullis across the river to the south, sealed, chains across the harbor, and the yellow plague flag flying from every watchtower. The walls were backlit by the red glow of bonfires and plume-helmed soldiers could be seen patrolling the walls en masse.

The Blessed Afflictor commanded the bulk of the undead force to march in under the chains and wait in the harbor. Meanwhile, the party walked right up to the western gate and demanded entrance. The guards on the gate informed them that plague regulations allowed anyone to enter, but forbade anyone from leaving, or, as Traithe translated "you can checkout any time you like, but you can never leave."

They accepted the city's hospitality and Mel made a bee-line through the near-ghost-town for the river. There they found the barge of her Uncle Jas, who was bed-ridden with plague, along with four of his family. Six more of his family-members were already dead, though Jas and company were too weak to dispose of the bodies.

Kevorkian healed Jas and Mel called in the undead to start chucking the dead into the river. The party rounded up all the living gypsies, including Mel's sister Sezarina and her boyfriend Rudolfo Mondaviak, and loaded them onto the barges. They then cast off the barges and had the underwater undead, walking on the riverbottom, drag them to the southern water-gate.

Ash cast knock on the giant portcullis and the rising of the gate raised the alarm from the watchers on the wall. As the barges began to sail out, upstream, under the gate, a dozen guards began raining fireballs down on the barges, destroying the third in line. Ash quickly opened a dimension door to the top of the wall and Traithe targeted the guard's wands with a shatter spell.

There was a concussive blast of sound, followed by a series of ever-larger explosions as the fireball wands detonated. A gout of flame back-blasted out of the dimension door and the upper third of the wall melted--completely slagged by a dozen high-powered fireballs in rapid succession. The portcullis broke loose and fell into the river with a giant splash, then the barges calmly floated out of the city over top of it, no longer molested.

Once the barges with "Melastasya's people" were safely out of town, Ash commanded the undead legions to collect the corpses of the plague-victims that they had thrown in the river and attempt to wear their skins in the way that the Blessed Afflictor did. The result was a grisly mess of petrified skeletons wearing the loose, bloodied, water-logged carcasses of skinned plague victims (just as one might expect), as the doppleganger-like ability to wear another creature's skin as a disguise seemed to be unique to the Blessed Afflictor.

19 Ches -- The Spring Equinox

Night crept towards the dawn of the Spring Equinox, an auspicious day for regime change. Ash pulled the trigger on the Blessed Afflictor, handing him the emerald crown and proclaiming it was time to deal with the Maalthir. As the general dawned the crown his Kevorkian-skin suit dissolved, restoring him to his original skeletal appearance, and the undead began to pour out of the harbor by the thousands, those wearing the plague-skins in the lead, and march slowly and steadily towards the Citadel of the Maalthir.

The Citadel of the Maalthir was ringed about with giant bonfires, forming an unbroken circle at a distance of about a hundred yards from the castle to keep away the rats, fleas, and commoners that may be carrying the plague. Red Plume soldiers stood just behind the fires, keeping them steadily fed with faggots of wood, straw, and other materials.

Melastasya ran ahead of the army, using the darkness and shadows to teleport throughout the city faster than the eye could follow. She teleported behind the line of the fires and made her way up to the battlements of the Citadel. There she took command of a catapult, planting a stone directly into the fire in the center of the main avenue leading up to the citadel, creating a gap just large enough for the undead to get through.

Seeing the tattered corpses of plague victims marching on them en-masse, the Red Plumes manning the fires broke and ran, scattered like so much chaff before the wind. The first wave of undead marched up to the walls and knelt, one on the back of the other, making a stair of bodies by which those that followed could easily walk up onto the battlements. Again they met no resistance from the already terrified and demoralized mercenary army.

Mel shadow-stepped inside the Citadel through a window, barely startling a fat, wealthy (and clearly healthy) nobleman who was in the middle of finishing a fine dinner. Mel raced past him and down to open the front gates for the rest of the party.

They all walked inside past the military facade of the Citadel into an opulently appointed gallery. The floor was covered by lush, red carpets. The walls were paneled in white marble. Two great stairways curved up to an upper floor and wide hallways ran off to the north and south. No guards were to be seen, but black-liveried servants stood at ready attention.

An elf bowed them through the door and welcomed them. Ash pulled back his hood and tried to convince the elf that the Maalthir was about to be overthrown and that he was free, but the elf seemed completely unable to understand him, instead saying that he would "inform the Maalthir of their request".

Kevorkian commented about needing a drink and a dwarf rushed up and offered him a tray with three flutes of sparking white wine on it. Kevorkian cast protection from good and evil on the dwarf who immediately smashed the wine goblets, uttered several curses, tore off his fancy livery (with many a "whathefuck ami wearin"), and ran out the door (with a "fuckit imouta here").

Having a better idea of what was going on, the party rushed after the elf before he could disappear through a servant's door. They followed him up a narrow winding stair, concealed in one of the walls, and came out into a giant ballroom, nearly three hundred yards from one end to the other. The arched and buttressed ceiling rose eighty feet over their heads and sported at least a dozen massive chandeliers, each blazing with light of hundreds of continual flame spells. Hundreds of more liveried non-human slaves stood at attention along the walls, armed with trays of wine, hors d'oeuvres, and sweetmeats.

The elf walked sedately down the center of the room, making a direct line for the far end, where three ladies sat upon three gilded thrones, each wearing heavy brocade gowns in shades of red and gold and matching crowns of crimson metal. The center woman was a solid, stocky woman, with an extra layer of fat on the top, making her look truly immense, and short-bobbed, dark brown hair. To her left was a similarly large, but beautiful, blonde woman, and the woman to her right was gaunt and raven-haired. The elf knelt before them, bowing so low that his nose touched the ground and informed them that some people had come with the intent of overthrowing them.

The Maalthir addressed the party in unison, all three speaking at once and using the royal "we" rather  heavily, but it very quickly became clear that the desires of the party and the three ladies were entirely incompatible. The center woman rose angrily and Ash, Kevorkian, and Zorch immediately unleashed a trifecta of lightning bolts and witch bolts into the ladies. The electricity crackled, but seemed drawn to their red crowns like a lightning rod, and were harmlessly absorbed.

A second later, three identical lightning bolts flashed out from the crowns. Ash was able to counter the one targeting Kevorkian and himself, but the rest of the party were left seriously hurt.

The Blessed Afflictor snatched the crown from the raven-haired woman, teleporting it to his hand, which Ash immediately took and placed on his head. Ash's eyes blazed briefly red and he began speaking in that annoying "we" and making proclamations about killing the party. Meanwhile the raven-haired woman stared around the room, looking very confused.

Dame snatched the crown from Ash's head using a thorn whip and stashed it in her bag for safekeeping. Kevorkian, still invisible to most beings thanks to his mask and glove walked up and grabbed the crown from the head of the central Maalthir.  Mel charged the third woman, hoping to gain her crown, but was charmed and ended up, strangely (for anyone except Mel) diverting to go climb a rope up to one of the chandeliers.

Ash tried to steal the third crown using a mage hand, but the spell was absorbed by the crown. Zorch unleashed a string of vicious mockery at the blonde woman, but the magic contained in his words were similarly negated. There was a flash from the crowns and Kevorkian, Zorch, and Dame full felt the weight of Zorch's belittling statements, feeling suddenly very weak.

With her sisters still standing around looking very confused, the blonde woman then retaliated for the outrage, releasing a flare of brilliant white light. Everyone was scorched, Zorch so much that he discorporated again, and everyone save Kevorkian was blinded.

The Blessed Afflictor teleport-snatched the last of the crowns and threw it to the ground. Dame and Kevorkian added theirs, and everyone began to blindly attempt to smash the things. Dame considered using her dagger of rust against the crowns but was dissuaded by her friends. Mel gave a cry from above and slashed the rope holding the chandelier, sending it crashing down on the party and the crowns. Kevorkian cast a silence spell at the crowns, hoping to stop their spellcasting, but that was also absorbed and reflected in triplicate, plunging the party into the soundless void.

Just outside the range of the silence, the raven-haired woman had recovered her senses, and, seeing several well-armed people tearing apart her ballroom, unleashed a prismatic spray at the group.

Dame turned into a bear and everyone continued to blindly attempt to destroy the crowns, resorting to mundane means--axes, claws, stomping, pounding with shovels, and even having the Blessed Afflictor drop the chandelier on it a few more times with his telekinesis, to little avail. They were able to contort the strangely malleable red metal, but not break it, nor mar it.

Kevorkian rushed the raven-haired woman and ran her through with his rapier, killing her in a single blow. Traithe, Mel, and the Blessed Afflictor slowly recovered from their blindness and continued their barrage against the crowns, but Ash was left unable to see. He ran, trying to get out of the silence, and bumped directly into the corpulent brown-haired Maalthir, who came to her senses and attempted to incapacitate him with a power word stun spell, which Ash just managed to counter unseen.

Kevorkian impaled the fat woman on his sword, who proved to be similarly fragile to her emaciated sister. Seeing her sister's slain, the blonde Maalthir trapped Kevorkian in a force cage and ran for the exit. Ash blasted her with several magic missiles and Mel dove and slashed at her legs with the wicked sisters as she ran through the area of silence. Traithe stepped out of the silence and placed a grease in her path, sending her sprawling and sliding to the ground.

As the large woman's momentum carried her sliding along the length of the ballroom, she rolled over on her back and hurled an otiluke's freezing sphere at the party. Mel, Ash, Traithe, and the bear-formed Dame were all frozen solid, encased in ice. Kevorkian was protected by the solid walls of his force cage, but was similarly trapped.

To be continued...

Saturday, January 24, 2015

My Recent Gaming Life

Here you go, it's been a solid two months since my last round-up post of gaming-related activities, so there should be a lot to throw down here, despite the interference of events such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, and all those other holidays that need scheduling around.

Recent Additions to the Collection:
I'm something of a minimalist, I don't buy a lot of things (games or otherwise) and generally ask that people don't buy things for me. One of the reasons I play RPGs is that they represent a truly infinite amount of entertainment for a small one-time outlay of capital. I do invest in the occasional kickstarter or indiegogo campaign, and do get some presents at the holidays (though my favorite Christmas present was a pair of pants from my mother-in-law). Here are the relevant ones: e.g. games acquired in the last month.
Six books: D&D 5e core rulebooks, plus three Lamentations of the Flame Princess adventures--Death, Frost, Doom (James Raggi and Zak S.), A Red and Pleasant Land (Zak S.),  and NSFW (Rafael Chandler). These pretty much sum up what I'm playing now (D&D 5 with a LotFP twist). All six have gotten extensive use already, and should be enough new material to last a year (with the existing collection, and my tendency to not use much in the way of written adventures). See Let's Break It for some extra twists to use with DFD.
From my Grandmother-in-Law and Wife respectively.
One of my goals for this year is to build up a solid arsenal of board games for when I have non-D&D players over to my house. These are the most recent additions. I've played Arkham Horror before, and am very happy to have a copy. My wife and I have played a few games so far (though it's sufficiently slow that games started after putting the toddlers to bed are unlikely to be completed before we both pass out). Revolution is a good bit faster, but less fun as a two-player game--if you manage to make significant gains in the first round it starts a groove that is pretty-much unbreakable.
These are not the only things on the board-game shelf, but overall its pretty slim. I'm hoping to add at least one new game a month to join them this year, and also threw down for a couple of Kickstarters for board/card games: Exploding Kittens and Conan. Both (a) Look awesome, (b) are already fully funded by a factor of 10 or more, and (c) have several weeks left. You should get in on this action.
Feel free to leave suggestions for good board or card games that I should pick up (especially cooperative ones) in the comments...
This last one was a gift from my sister, which I quickly added to (partly because you cannot play with just one deck), and got copies for my local regular gaming party. Historical Conquest is a CCG/deck-building game with mechanics very similar to Magic the Gathering (or pretty much any other CCG) but with all of the cards representing characters or events from real-world history which is the result of a barely-funded kickstarter. Not sure if you can make it out from the crappy blue-shifted photo, but I got the Boudica and Nicola Tesla starter decks, plus booster packs for WWII, the American Civil War, the Revolutionary War, Roman Expansion, and the Old West. 
I've played a few times and it is looooong, but fun (mostly from the opportunity for anachronistic combos -- like Tesla working with Timur the Lame), and can handle any number of players (2-4 works best though). There are some clear misprints in one or two of the cards (picture of the Eiffel Tower but text about China for instance), but overall it is well designed, well implemented, and decently manufactured.
Regarding Video Games:
Lots of time off from work for holidays combined with difficulty getting games scheduled due to other gamers being out means that I had a lot of time for solo electronic gaming over the holidays.Unsurprisingly, text-based RPGs got most of my time...
Corruption of Champions
For those who have not played it, Corruption of Champions is a text-based, hentai RPG written in Flash. The story is pretty basic, your PC is a human villager selected as a "champion" by their village to go through a portal to the "demon realm" and guard it against demonic intrusion. The problem is that the demons are all sex-obsessed and the nature of the food (and everything else) in the world is to corrupt and mutate the PC Champion (hence the name). Game-play is pretty basic, click, read, click some more. If you lose a fight, you WILL be raped (it's just that kind of world), but at least you won't die (not that that is any relief). In addition to demons, the world is populated by the usuals you would expect from a hentai-themed fantasy game: tentacle monsters, kitsune, naga, centaurs, cat-girls, etc.). 
The game is extremely graphic in its depictions of sex, violence, and violent sex, and I would not recommend it for anyone who is turned off by such things (and hopefully not for people who are turned on by such things either). There are also some significant gross-out factor from other story-elements as well (and some cute redeeming moments and the ability to form fairly benign relationships with many NPCs). That said, you can download it from github and play it locally if you so desire (remember this is seriously NSFW and very graphic despite having no graphics).
The most interesting take-away from the game is the inevitability of physical corruption/mutation. If you manage to survive even 10 frames of the game without growing cat ears, or a tail, or an extra penis you've done something truly remarkable. My own main character is described thusly (after 130 days in-game time):
  • "Your face is human in shape and structure, with ashen, dark skin. A set of razor-sharp, retractable shark-teeth fill your mouth and gives your visage a slightly angular appearance. It has a tiny touch of femininity to it, with gentle curves. The shaggy, silver transparent hair atop your head is parted by a pair of rounded protrusions with small holes on the sides of your head serve as your ears. Bony fins sprout behind them. Your mouth contains a thick, fleshy tongue that, if you so desire, can telescope to a distance of about four feet. It has sufficient manual dexterity that you can use it almost like a third arm. A pair of four inch horns grow from the sides of your head, sweeping backwards and adding to your imposing visage."
While I would not necessarily take anything as-written from this game, the underlying inevitability of change is something that I wholly embrace in my D&D games. Really I need to throw more and weirder physical changes into the game...
Or, as Rush puts it, "changes aren't permanent / but change is."
Syrth is very similar to CoC, in that it is a text-based, flash RPG. Luckily, it is much more "traditional" fantasy, having none of the enforced physical changes or sexual content of CoC. That said, it is still a lot of fun, having a very well developed world, hundreds of adventures, long campaign arcs that can take you all over the world, and a fairly robust skill/magic system and a lot of different options for bypassing various encounters. The writing is not stellar, but it is solid. I highly recommend...
...AND you can play a good chunk of it without paying a cent -- though, as with all freemium models, some of the best and most in-depth adventures are only available to "Adventurer's Guild Members" ($20 per year) and you can pay extra $$ to get fancy items (which are not at all necessary, since the item drops in AG scenarios should be more than sufficient).

From the Blog-roll:

A Look at Old-school Magic-Item Pricing
I don't like or use magic item shops in my games. I will occasionally let players from one party of another put an item up for sale (to other PCs), but the idea of generic commoditized magic annoys the hell out of me. Talysman, over on The Nine and Thirty Kingdoms seems to share my dislike for the sale of magic items and did some excellent analysis of the economics of magic-item creation based on the LBBs and Holmes rulesets.
 Some Suggestions for Indie-Adventurer Writers
Jez, who gets a lot of links from me it seems, did a survey of what types of modules (system, format, length, et. al.) the people on various old-school gaming forums are interested in and the results are in. As he states, respondents are self-selecting and not-at-all scientific, but if you are thinking of making something to sell to the OSR/DIY gaming community, his data is a good place to start. Some examples: 
  • Labyrinth Lord / BX / LotFP / DCC are all good choices for system. 
  • Should be playable in 1-2 sessions.
  • Should feature about 4(ish) encounters per session (so only 7-8 combats).
  • Should have things like: "Non-linearity", "Atmospheric design", "Intriguing concept/hook"
  • Should include full monster stats (or at least abridgments, not ex-refs to core books)
  • Should cost between 45 and 50 cents per page.
Anyways, if you're planning to do something like this, go check it out, there are a lot of good suggestions.
A Couple of Things For you Tolkien Fanatics
First for the serious part, Black Gate posted this great analysis just before Christmas of why Galadriel is bloody scary (and possibly how all of The Lord of the Rings is her fault) and why Frodo actually really knew what he was doing when he offered her the ring. It's a really interesting perspective and gives a good intro to the rest of Tolkien lore, like Unfinished Tales and The Silmarillion (for those of you who haven't read them). Go check it out (if you're into that sort of thing).
For an even weirder take on Tolkieniana, check out this post, in which Zak S. proposes a world in which Tolkien is asked to produce a sequel to the Hobbit, but instead gives you some early notes to LotR and asks you to write it. He got some really great (and gonzo) responses from the G+ community, many of which are imminently gameable.
What I've Been Playing:

Players Hunting Players
Just before Thanksgiving, my Sunday evening party finally tipped the scales of public opinion against them. Their response to a complaint from their serfs was a bit too extreme (murdering people in their sleep and rendering their bodies into soap extreme) so the local government issued a writ of outlawry against them and stripped them of their lands and titles.
The official announcement of a bounty on the heads of another group of PCs was so intriguing to my Saturday G+ group, that they specially requested to drop their previous lines of adventurous inquiry and instead The Amazons went hunting for the bounty on the other party. This is not the first time that I've run this kind of multi-party, proxied, asynchronous PvP, and maybe if I get some time I'll write up a post about the general idea/practice/theory (see Way of the Wicked and A Week in the Life of a Witch Hunter for the last time this happened).
It all came to a head for both parties in the last week or two, with the Sunday group raising a huge army of undead and the Amazons catching up with them just in time to watch said undead army march out
Multi-Format Time Lag
One problem of running games in the same setting with different parties using different formats is keeping track of time. Weekly games are faster than bi-weekly games and face-to-face or G+ games are orders of magnitude faster than PbM or PbP games. 
To keep track of it all, I ended up having to make a complicated timeline, almost like the swimlane charts I use for IT project management stuff, to keep track of where each of the parties are relative to each other in the story (and also to keep track of major events triggered by Party A that I need to make sure appear in the stories of Party B for them to react to). Note to myself to include this as part of the asynchronous PvP discussion if I ever write it up. Here is the short version:
Forgotten Realms calendar included for reference

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Justification for Your Paranoia

So, if December is the busiest month of the year for cyber-security, January may be the quietest. Yes, there are new exploits being discovered daily and the usual regulatory nightmares (like the U.S. Congress trying to block the FCC from reclassifying broadband under Title II), but all the big breaches are assumed to have happened during peak shopping time and all the post-Christmas pranks on gaming networks have died off.

So, it's been a few weeks, but here is your first dose of security and technology ranting for 2015.

1) Games that play themselves...and games that hack their own hardware...
Despite being a child of the 80's and early 90's, I never owned any of the early nintendo game consoles, but, of course, everyone else did. So I always went over to my friends' houses to play Super Mario Brothers. Everyone who grew up with these games are now adults, and nostalgic adults + advanced education = new AI for old games.
At the recent competition for the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence, some researchers developed a Mario that can answer questions, be fed information, learn from his environment, and make plans based on artificial emotional states (and that uses hilarious voice synthesis). The most amusing bits is Mario's expression of learning the results of certain actions. For instance "If I jump on Goomba, then it certainly dies". Check out the video:
This is a pretty neat take, using voice commands to "teach" Mario, but letting the AI handle all of the actual playing of the classic 2D platformer. It is, however, far from the first attempt to make Mario smarter. In fact, the Mario AI Championship is a thing that exists--a competition dedicated entirely to giving Mario artificial intelligence.
And if classic Mario having feelings doesn't strike you as weird enough, at last year's Awesome Games Done Quick, a team of developers not only scripted a bot that could not only play Pokemon Red super-fast, but also hijacked the hardware it was playing on (a Super Game Boy and then, from there, a Super NES) and started streaming IRC chat directly from the console. That's right, they got an IRC channel, running inside a copy of Pokemon Red, running inside a Super Game Boy, running on a SNES. 
Arstechnica has a great article which goes into the technical details regarding the buffer overflow exploits they used to gain control of the various pieces of hardware, and the bot they wrote to write directly to the system memory using only standard controller inputs (but at a super-fast rate of 30 to 60 inputs per second).
2) Google vs. Microsoft
Some of the biggest news this month has centered around a showdown between Google and Microsoft over Google's "Project Zero" and it's policy of making details of vulnerabilities public after 90 days. This policy normally is not a problem, and has not been a problem for every other company for whom they have discovered bugs, but Microsoft...


a little...


to patch things. So Google publicly disclosed a privilege escalation vulnerability in Windows 8.1 in late December.
And another one on January 13th.
And ANOTHER on January 16th.
Microsoft says "they're working on it" and asked for extensions, and published a lengthy complaint, but  really...with the staff Microsoft has, 90 days to turn-around a bug-fix should not be that hard. Nobody should be in the business of providing ‘secure’ software that can't turn around bugs quickly. That's the entire reason "Agile Methodologies" for software development exist.
Of course, it doesn't help that Windows' patching process is flaky, if not down-right disruptive.
 3) Cheap, Easy, Wireless Keylogger...
One of the classic ways to steal people's passwords and other credentials via malware is keystroke logging. Once you can detect and log every key that is pressed on a keyboard you can pretty much do what you want. Normally, this requires some malicious software to be installed on the machine. Unless, of course, your keyboard has to broadcast all your keystrokes anyways, like Microsoft wireless keyboard, having something installed is not really necessary.
Enter Keysweeper. Which is basically just a mini arduino and a radio frequency chip disguised to look like a wall-plugin USB charger, but is capable of sniffing all communication from Microsoft wireless keyboards. This also works on keyboards from other manufacturers.
Now, the communication between your keyboard and your machine are encrypted, but this is not really a problem for any moderately determined hacker. Keystrokes are encoded with the XOR algorithm using the keyboard MAC address as the key. Since the chip can read the MAC address, it automatically has the key, and more security for you. And it's all nicely packaged in a cheap, stealthy, always-on device that you can easily and surreptitiously plant within range of your target, making it a nice companion for similar tools like CreepyDOL.
How to protect yourself against devices like this? Easy. Use a wired keyboard or a wireless keyboard that uses Bluetooth.
4) Siri might be helping the hackers...
I'll dispense with the obligatory Apple-bashing and just jump into this one. A new paper has come out describing how to use the iOS voice-controlled personal assistant "Siri" to stealthily exfiltrate data from your device. Based on the idea of steganography (the practice of hiding information), the attack method has been dubbed iStegSiri. This covert channel could be used to send credit card numbers, Apple IDs, passwords, and other sensitive information from the phone to the attacker.
An iStegSiri attack takes place in three phases. In the first phase, the secret message is converted into an audio sequence based on voice and silence alternation. Then, the sound pattern is provided to Siri as input through the internal microphone. Finally, the recipient of the secret message inspects the traffic going to Apple’s servers and extracts the information based on a decoding scheme. Secret messages are highlighted by a specific set of features.
The iStegSiri attack can be effective because it doesn’t require the installation of additional software components and it doesn’t need the device’s alteration. On the other hand attackers somehow need to be able to intercept the modified Siri traffic...
5) For the tech-savvy only...
So, back in December, I talked about how recent Snowden leaks showed that the NSA had no problem breaking common encryption including SSH, SSL, and IPSec, but that certain other open-sourced protocols gave them headaches.
For those of you using OpenSSH, it supports a variety of different algorithms and authentication methods, not just the easily-breachable default. For those of you who are a little paranoid and a lot technically competent, here are instructions for setting up SSH on your systems to use more secure options. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Amazons: Session 6

19 Hammer

The ladies were awakened in the middle of the night by a sudden, violent tremor in the ground. The floor beneath them lurched and deep rumbling sounds could be heard in the distance. They all rushed out into the common room to see the few other guests sleeping in the inn (lots of locals, but not a lot of travelers using the place in the winter) gathering in a similar state of panic. They ran outside just in time to hear what sounded like a massive explosion echoing through the valley, clearly coming from the north, but could see nothing in the overcast night.

They waited, shivering, for several minutes but the ground did not stop quaking, and still there was no sign of the cause. The tremors continued, but grew weaker, and finally they returned indoors. Hira stoked the fires in the common room up and tried to calm the panicked patrons, as well as the villagers who were similarly awakened and had begun congregating in the caravansary to learn what had happened.

By dawn the tremors had still not stopped. Going back outside, they could see now that the entire peak of the second mountain, which Hira had called Duvan'ku, looked like it had been blown away. The mountain was clearly several hundred feet shorter than it had been, and still the grown quaked.

After several wide-eyed appellations of "Holy Shit!" and "What the fuck!?" and similar blasphemies from the Amazons, Hira spoke up.

"If you still desire to go up the mountain, I am coming with you...I have to learn what caused this."

Had Enough looked at Battle Cry, her face white, "You don't think the squire actually had anything to do with that do you?"

"My vision was interrupted by the Earthquake, but from what I could gather, he is still up there and was at least alive right before it happened..." Battle Cry responded.

There was more astonished and exasperated cursing from the girls.

"Vengeance is hard..." Princess sighed.

"Let's go then," said Worthy of Armor in her usual matter-of-fact manner.

Hot Flanks turned to Hira, "So which would be the faster way up there, going around to Verdegris or climbing strait up the side?"

"Climbing would probably be most efficient. Even in the summer it is four days ride to Verdigris." Hira admitted, "The village of Rhund lies at the foot of the near peak. If the weather holds we should be able to reach it before dark. Finding a path up to the ridge will be a challenge though, and there is the giant to be concerned with..."

"Sounds like we'll have to do some climbing and kill a giant then," Battle Cry said, almost gleefully.

The other girls assented and quickly packed up their gear for the rushed journey. The villagers were more than happy to lend the girls ropes, pitons, climbing axes, snowshoes, furs, and other gear to aid in their travels. They left Mfara and the mule at the caravansary for safekeeping and headed out with laden packs.

They strapped on their snowshoes and practically ran up the pass, following a semi-worn trail between the two villages. About an hour on, they ran into a group of travelers heading south who informed them that the village of Rhund had been flattened by the earthquakes, the lake at the Stojanow's headwaters further dammed by rockslides, and the giant out, about, and angry. They thanked the refugees and rushed on.

"Anyone every fought a giant before?" Princess asked. "They're more or less human, right? So stabbing with the Handsome Prince should work?"

"If you can reach their vitals, sure," said Hot Flanks. "But given that it's a FROST giant, a few fireballs should deal with it pretty handily. I suggest we keep our distance and just blast the thing..."

"How about we ignore the thing and focus on our mission," Don't Fail said. "As dangerous as the giant may be, an exploding mountain and six hour long earthquakes with a known psychopath involved seems like a more existential threat to the region..."

They ran on.

A few hours later, their muscles aching but at least warm from the exertion, they came to the base of the mountain. The mountainside was strewn with rubble and the river was reduced to a trickle from the blockage. They scrambled up the side of a rock pile and looked down on the village of Rhund, almost entirely collapsed. Sitting on the edge of the lake that formed the headwaters of the river, was a massive blue-skinned man, easily thirty feet tall, with a sparse white beard, dangling his feet in the icy waters and wearing nothing save for a tartan kilt.

As Hot Flanks leveled her club at him, he turned and smiled. "Ah," he said, "you look like the right girls." Hot Flanks hesitated and he stood, rising to his full height. "I have a letter for you. I'm sorry it took so long to deliver, but I didn't not have your names to forward it along."

They all looked confused, but Don't Fail was the first to speak, "You...have a letter for us?"

"Just a short missive really." The giant knelt down and placed a folded and sealed piece of paper on a nearby rock, then stepped away. "From a mutual friend."

"We don't have many friends in this place," Battle Cry spoke up. "and fewer still who would leave a message with your like. What kind of trick are you pulling?"

"No trick little ladies. A friend sent this to me with the request that it be delivered to a band of six female adventurers of a southern persuasion. She did not give names, so I must assume it is you, since I do not know your names."

"Lady Bivant?" Don't Fail asked quietly, gesturing with one hand to indicate that Princess should attempt to flank the giant. Princess disappeared into the shadows of a nearby boulder and Don't Fail cautiously approached the giant and his letter.

"Would it make you more comfortable if I were farther afield?" The giant asked, taking a gigantic step back and kneeling down with his hands palm-down on the ground. "This way I will be in less of a position to cause you harm."

"Thank you," Don't Fail said, and she picked up the letter and walked back to the others, stepping backwards and keeping her eyes on the giant.

"The seal is not Lady Bivant's," Worthy of Armor stated. "I do not know it."

"Let's just read it then," said Hot Flanks impatiently, her club still pointed at the giant.

Don't Fail scanned the letter with spells to detect and read magic, in case it may be a trap, and, finding nothing, broke the seal. It read:

bq). Let us know if we can help,
— Former people in charge of Kryptgarten.

"The Squire?!" Don't Fail exclamed. The girls eyes went wide and they turned, just in time to see Princess, perched on a rock just behind the kneeling giant leap, blade drawn, at the towering man's exposed back. Princess slammed into something in mid-air, feet from the giant's skin, and slid down to the ground.

"That was not very polite," said the giant, rising to his feet, a gigantic maul suddenly in one hand and a tiny metal rod balanced on the tip of the opposite finger. "If you do not like the message, killing the messenger is not the answer." He tilted his head, stretching his neck muscles with the sound of a collapsing glacier, and looked down at Princess. "How can we fight if we still haven't even been properly introduced? My name, for instance, is Sorrassar."

"What, can't even spell Sorcerer right?" Princess quipped.

"Alright," Hot Flanks said, stalking forward with her club, "I'm Hot Flanks. She's Princess. Our sisters are Battle Cry, Don't Fail, Worthy of Armor, and Had Enough...and you're dead!" She pointed the club and shouted "May you burn in the fires of Flandal’s forge!" A fireball streaked from the end of the club, then burst against the unseen barrier, leaving the giant unharmed.

The giant sighed, a deep, mournful noise, like cold wind through a graveyard. "Those are NOT your names," he said. "Very well, if that is how you're going to be." He pointed the finger with the tiny rod balanced on it at Princess. A beam of coruscating, rainbow colored light engulfed her and she vanished.

Princess reappeared sitting on her big, plush, four-poster bed, in her chambers in the palace of the Crown Duke of Threskel, a thousand miles to the south and east. "Noooooooooo!" Princess screamed, stabbing Handsome Prince into one of the pillows, just to make sure it was solid. The door opened and her father smiled, "I was wondering when you'd get home..."


Meanwhile, back in the north, after seeing Princess be "disintegrated", the other six girls burst into action. Hot Flanks dropped the club and charged with her sword, Mantooth, the blade struck the magical barrier protecting the giant and shattered it with a flash of light and the sound of tinkling glass.

As the barrier collapsed, Worthy of Armor drew her scimitar and hurled it at the Sorrassar, the whirling blade cutting a deep gouge in the giant's leg before returning to her hand. Hira raised a hand to the sky and a brilliant ray slanted down from the dim winter sun, right into the giant's eyes, blinding him and burning his face.

Had Enough charged in through the gap, her claymore held high, but was caught by a mighty, underhanded blow from the giant's hammer which sent her sailing into the air. Don't Fail pointed a finger at her,  and she froze, suspended, fifty feet off the ground.

Battle Cry was only a step behind Had Enough, singing an old Hlondathan battle hymn and running flat out. She jumped, kicking the giant in the knee, then scrambling up to lock on to his arm holding the hammer, wrapping her arms around his elbow, straitening her back, and bracing her feet into his arm pit to immobilize the limb.

From her position hanging in mid-air, Had Enough dropped her sword, leveled a crossbow, and planted a bolt in the giant's side. Then Don't Fail's spell wore off and she tumbled back to the ground, only to have her movement arrested again, only a few feet off the ground by a second application of the spell.

The giant tried to shake Battle Cry free, but was unable to, despite his greater strength. Finally he was forced to drop his tiny wand and grab Battle Cry with his free hand. She kicked him, hard under the chin as he swung her away from his arm and began to crush the life out of her.

Hot Flanks, meanwhile grabbed the dropped wand and pointed it at Sorrassar, grinning maniacally. "Hey Battle Cry," she yelled, "what do we want?!"

"VENGEANCE!" came the gasping response, as Hot Flanks read the runes written on the side of the wand out loud. The blast of light shot at the startled giant who dropped both Battle Cry and the hammer as he raised his hands in a futile attempt to ward off the magic of his own wand.

The light engulfed Sorrassar and he vanished.

Once everyone had picked themselves up, Hira informed, thanks to a locate creature spell, them that Princess was still alive, just in a palace thousands of miles to the south.

"Holy shit!" Battle Cry said, "That wand sent her HOME!?"

"She's going to be pissed..." Hot Flanks added, tucking the wand into her belt. "I wonder where the giant ended up?"

"Who cares," Had Enough said. "At least he's out of our way."

"Yes," said Don't Fail point at the quarter-mile-high, sheer cliff-face of the mountain. "We still need to get up there..."

Worthy of Armor began unpacking the climbing gear they had borrowed from the villagers and tying ropes together. "Let's get started then..."

As the others got ropes ready and switched out their snowshoes for climbing harness, Hot Flanks sat down and painted a trio of strange symbols on her cloak. Once everyone was ready, she splashed a handful of water from the lake on the first symbol and put on the cloak, which turned into a large pair of wings. "Okay," she said, tying one end of the rope to her belt and picking up an armful of pitons and the giant's hammer, which was much smaller than when he held it. "I'll fly up and set the spikes, then you guys can just clip and scamper up the rope..."

They did just that. She flew up, hammering pitons and feeding the rope through them, trying to pick a path up the cliff with additional handholds. The others followed, climbing slowly. Occasionally Hot Flanks stopped and grabbed the rope as her wings started to revert to cloak, spitting on the next symbol to renew the effect. After three hours, the exhausted girls reached the top off the cliff and rested in a large cave with a large depression, like an empty pond, in the middle of it.

The tremors had, but this point stopped. Tired as they were, the girls only rested an hour, eating a light meal of week-old horse meat, before continuing.

Outside the cave, they found a narrow path leading around the side of the mountain and up, winding towards the peak. They walked single file, keeping a rope tied around their wastes, linking them together with about six feet of slack between each of them. The wind howled, threatening to send them tumbling to their deaths, but eventually they made the top intact. They walked over the ridge of the peak and stopped, dumb-founded by what they saw below.

On the mountain ridge between the peak they had climbed and the second peak, called Duvan'ku, was a large, ancient city, but this was not what amazed them. What amazed them was the huge army of walking corpses, hundreds of thousands of them, snaking their way down the north side of the mountain, and with them, resting on palanquins born by their undead slaves, was the Squire of Kryptgarten and his companions...

"We have to warn Phlan..." someone whispered.

To be continued...