Saturday, February 28, 2015

Justification for Your Paranoia

Your latest dose of security-related nonsense...

1) I Hate March Madness...
...but this is fun.

Ars Technica is doing college basketball style brackets for Hacker Movies.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, I am rooting for Sneakers to go all the way.

2) Haters Gonna Make Me Rich!
A common topic of discussion in our house, now that my wife works for UpWorthy is the idea that hate makes just as much money for content creators on the internet as "likes". Any time you share something to say to your friends "hey look how dumb this is" you are generating clicks and upranking links for the person you are disliking. Any time you link to a page, share it, like, or otherwise draw attention to it, you are just driving more traffic to that site and therefore more money into the pockets of the creator of the content you purport to dislike.
That's right: Trolling just makes the people you oppose have more visibility and more money! 
Of course, there are a few ways around that. One simple way is to just not share your hate, keep it to yourself. Another is to do a screen-cap of the content you so dislike and share it that way (just remind your fellow haters not to go post comments on the original blog entry, forum, or facebook post, since that's just driving traffic and giving them more money).
Another trick is to use services like doNOTlink. This site is a URL shortener (similar to and many other), but it adds a nofollow attribute to the link, and also blocks search engine robots from crawling the link. Short version, it lets you share things without increasing their search ranking.
You could also add the nofollow attribute to your embedded links manually. If you are on WordPress (I very strongly recommend against using WordPress for anything), there is also nofollow a plugin to simplify doing this.

3) Samba Dropped the Beat...
If you've ever tried to make a Linux system talk to a Windows one, then you are probably familiar with Samba. If you haven't had to attempt this, then good for you. For those of you not so blessed, be warned that a serious vulnerability has been found in the Samba daemon (smbd) that can be exploited for arbitrary code execution. For once no blame can be placed on Microsoft, this is strictly a Samba problem.
A malicious Samba client can exploit the security hole by sending specially crafted packets to a vulnerable Samba server. This allows an unauthenticated attacker to execute arbitrary code with root privileges. 
The vulnerability has been addressed with the Samba 4.2.0rc5, 4.1.17, 4.0.25 and 3.6.25 security releases. Patches for older versions of the software have also been made available by Samba. Security updates have been released for Red Hat, Fedora, Ubuntu, Debian, and SUSE.
If you want to know more, Red Hat's  security team did a detailed analysis.

4) Why you should not piss off the internet...
Last time I mentioned the kerfuffle involving Lenovo pre-packaging an HTTPS bypassing adware on their laptops. Well, Lenovo has been subject to the standard recompense for being jerks to users in the internet age: their website was hacked.
The attack was carried out by the now infamous Lizard Squad, who are often not really on the side of the average consumer, but I have to give them props for this one. The attackers modified DNS records in Lenovo domain registrar accounts in an effort to redirect users to defacement pages. The hackers replaced the regular nameservers with CloudFlare IP addresses. Experts believe this was done in order to obfuscate the IP address of the destination server and to balance the traffic load to the website. CloudFlare acted quickly to restore services.
The attackers also changed mail server records allowing them to intercept messages sent to Lenovo email addresses. Lizard Squad has published screenshots of two intercepted emails on Twitter. The hackers said they might publish other “interesting” emails later.
The attack targeted at Lenovo shows that malicious actors don’t necessarily need to gain access to an organization’s corporate servers to cause damage. OpenDNS advises website owners to change their passwords frequently and, when possible, enable domain locking to avoid such redirections.

Friday, February 27, 2015

This Month in Gaming

Yes, it has actually only been one month (+/- a couple of days) since I did one of these posts. Success!

Ideas Worth Exploring:

Fermi's Paradox:
In recent weeks, my Sunday gaming group, while hanging out waiting for everyone to show up have invented a new card game. The basic premise/story (because everything we do has to have a story attached) is that the players are great old ones (or gods if you prefer) founding civilizations throughout the galaxy. The players attempt to advance those civilizations as high as possible before, then destroy them before they are able to make contact with other sentient civilizations. The more advanced the civilization at the point you destroy it, the more points you get. We're calling it "Fermi's Paradox".
We've had enough fun playing and have enough ideas that we think we might be able to turn this into a viable product. As such, I'm not going to go into great detail on the rules or how its played at the moment. We're still prototyping, looking into manufacturing costs, and lining up artists right now. If it works out, you might be seeing a KickStarter campaign from us in the near future...
Multi-Factor Counterspelling?
In a recent discussion with Kingworks about one of our regular games, the topic of wizard vs. wizard combat was broached. Let's be up front, wizards are and always have been cool, and form the core of much of the fantasy genre. Stories abound where wizards duke it out with each other in one form or another--pokemon-style summoning competitions, shape-change fighting in The Sword and the Stone, etc. The image of wizards repeatedly trading spells, countering spells, catching spells, deflecting spells, and then eventually getting the final decisive blow is certainly fun.
So why then, do most versions of D&D have only a simple "dispel magic" spell and possibly a "counterspell" rule? In most editions, you have to sacrifice your action to counter the opponent's spell, and then all it does it nullify the spell completely. In a game that is often very tactical, wizard vs. wizard has no tactics at all, nullify the spell, then hope you have more spell slots than the other guy.
5th edition corrected the action-loss problem, allowing "Counterspell" to be cast as a reaction, but that still just ends up being two high level wizards casting and countering each round, nullifying each other spells so that they are effective just standing there staring at each other until one of them runs out of slots.
So...what if, instead of a Counterspell that nullified spells, it instead deflected/altered/warped the incoming spell? Either changing where the spell is targeted, reducing the incoming spell's power, or even completely altering it into a form that is beneficial to the target?
And what about the interaction between various schools of magic? Would a Necromantic counter do something weird when used to block an Illusion? Maybe when an Evoker counters a spell it just gets shaped around them, leaving the rest of the spell intact (like the Evoker's shape spells archetype ability). 
Anyways, that's the current weird game design challenge I am mulling over. Hopefully I'll be able to come up with something cool (with sufficiently random/weird outcomes included) and put up a proper blog post about it in the near future.
From the Blog-roll:
Bubble Economics in D&D:
Perhaps the best thing I have seen all month is an article about the Murder Hobo Investment Bubble over on First, the tone is great, but, more importantly, it is a pretty reasonable assessment. This actually fits right in line with what is going on in my Ruins of Adventure campaign -- with a few wealthy patrons bankrolling several parties of adventurers to basically beat up a bunch of humanoids as part of a massive land-grab.
This is paralleled by another critical-hits post on the Supply Curve of Evil (because economists are wonderful people to game with). Especially considering the example of the PCs taking on slavers, only to send the economy into complete chaos and increase the economic power of potentially worse slavers elsewhere (which is also a thing currently going on in my games).
Excellent ideas that are immediately applicable? Sold! We are definitely adding this to the daily list and reading their backlogs as well.

Ten Foot Polemic:
Another new addition to the blogroll is James Young's Ten Foot Polemic. The blog name alone is worth the price of entry. The post that sold me on the blog though, was Cast this spell and then kill your family. I love magic that is complex, ritualistic, and has troublesome side effects, so the idea of a simple 1st-level spell that could render any wizard Immortal, but that takes years to cast, requires murdering your own offspring, and creates a (very) long-term situation that can only add to your paranoia is brilliant.
The fact that this spell would also help explain hundreds of fantasy tropes (wizards being very old loners, the dangers of true names, birthday parties, the existence of cursed magic items and evil artifacts, why none of the research notes looted from the old wizard's desk are useful, etc.) only makes this spell that much more awesome.
Needless to say, this is going to find its way into the hands of all of my PCs very soon. In a long-running campaign, covering long time spans, with morally ambiguous player characters, this is something that just HAS TO HAPPEN. 

What I've Been Playing:
Conquest, Death, and Those Left Behind:
The three main games in the Ruins of Adventure setting have all taken unusual turns.
The Sunday-night face-to-face party took their army of undead and headed across the sea to Hillsfar, overthrew the government there, and then got lost in the dungeon beneath the former ruler's citadel while looking for his treasure, ending with a fight against aquatic vampires in a sharknado.
The G+ group who had been playing the Amazons pursuing them, took a hiatus to spin up a new party formed of the NPCs and older PCs who had been left behind at Kryptgarten Keep after the Sunday group abandoned it. The party included Tamn (originally of the Bitter Blades), Grinkle (the Sunday group's hobgoblin cohort), Isti and Yury (from Noriss's Boys), and Zander (one of the chaos cultists brought over from Hillsfar) -- in a wonderful example of the players being willing to go out of their way to fill/retcon gaps in the campaign's story.
In the two sessions so far, things have not gone well for this new party. First they were nearly killed by rats on returning to Phlan from Kryptgarten. Then they attempted a burglary only to find that the only portable loot was books. 
The PbM group got briefly split while fighting kobolds, which ended with Donovan, the nominal leader, getting killed by a collapsing bridge, and recruited a couple of replacements in the form of a halfling and a dwarf who had been prisoners of the kobolds.
In all, a lot of character turnover and significant re-directs to the various segments of the campaign.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Those Left Behind: Session 2

18 Hammer

The party emerged from the well just before dusk, loaded down with all the tools of their nefarious trade. Heavy snow was falling and the streets of the Slums were largely empty. They crept to the edge of the square around Kuto's Well, then İstediğimi summoned a dust devil to blow the snow back over their tracks, obscuring signs of their having exited the well. With that done, they hurried towards the walls of New Phlan.

They reached Ivanovich Poppof's house to find a half-dozen orcs standing about it, shivering in the snow, and talking rather loudly, presumably complaining about guard duty, but none of the party spoke 'orc' so it was hard to be sure.

Yury cast a sound bubble over the group and the silently slipped around to the rear of the house. Or rather, that was their plan, but one of the orcs looked in their direction just in time to see Grinkle and Tamn bringing up the rear and raised the alarm, which the party failed to hear due to their protective bubble of silence. Moments later six orcs were charging at their backs.

Grinkle did not fare well in the initial orc onslaught, taking a spiked club to the side, then getting hamstrung by an orc with a long, curved sword. Sending him sprawling to the ground, his screams of pain muffled by Yury's magic. Tamn took a grazing hit from a spear, but managed to deflect the remaining attacks directed at him.

Yury reacted first, spinning and unleashing a mass of thick, sticky webbing from his hands. One orc managed to leap forward, away from the spell, managing a half-hearted swing at Tamn as he did so, the rest were trapped in the webbing. Zander stepped up and downed the free orc with two swift blows of his flail.

Grinkle scrambed backwards from the webs and said a prayer to repair his injured leg and staunch the bleeding. Tamn suggested that Yury "encourage them to be quiet" and began lighting a torch. Yury threw another sound bubble over the web-entrapped orcs and Tamn tossed in the torch, burning them alive...quietly. Grinkle laid a cloud of gloom over the area to keep the flames from being seen by observers outside of the alleyway.

Once the webs and the orcs had burned away, Isti and Tamn put on their climbing harnesses and scrambled up onto the snow-covered roof. They tied a rope around the northern-most chimney, then threw the end down. Tamn climbed down first, followed by Isti, coming out into the house's kitchen. Tamn unlocked the deadbolt and removed the bar from the back door, as Isti examined the cabinets and drawers stuffed with dried foods, plates, bowls, and eating utensils. A trap door, presumably leading into a basement or cellar, was in the south-east corner, and a wooden door led south into the rest of the house.

As the others came in, there was some discussion as to whether they should get a wagon or wheelbarrow to haul all the food and furniture back to their hideout. Tabling the conversation, Yury suggested that they check the cellar first, then work their way upstairs. Everyone agreed and Zander cast a find traps spell and led the way.

The trap door opened to a set of rickety wooden steps, leading down into a plain, dark cellar. Five figures, crouched near a door on the far side of the cellar, immediately began barking as Zander started down into the hole, the sound oddly muffled by Yury's spell. "I hate dogs," Zander grumbled. The chorus from his infravision-equipped friends was unanimous, "Those are not dogs." Though as they lunged at Zander it was clear that the cold, skeletal creatures had been dogs at some point in the past.

Tamn reacted first, jumping down the stairs and clipping one of the skeletal hounds with his iron-studded club. The dog recovered quickly and clamped its jaws onto Tamn's arm. Isti dropped down beside Tamn and knocked the undead canine away with the flat of her sword.

Two more of the hounds lunged at Isti, but she managed to dodge aside. Grinkle, still at the top of the stairs, castigated the undead hounds, raining down a string of blistering invective about how they were "vile, unclean, putrescent," and the like. The skeletal hounds were literally blown away by the harshness of Grinkle's words, hurling them back against the far wall where they shattered.

The cellar had nothing of interest other than the door, which Yury quickly unlocked. Beyond the door was a passage into the old sewers and catacombs that ran under most of the old city. Isti pointed out that the sewers were all connected one way or another, so there was sure to be a way to get from here to their hideout. They all agreed that they should finish casing the house and taking anything that could be carried, but that maybe they could use this passage to secretly return and transport furniture and other harder to stash items back to the well.

They made their way back up into the kitchen and through the south door into what was clearly the living room of the house. Two large, stuffed chairs stood in front of the second fireplace. Next to them was a small bookcase packed with leather-bound volumes. A well-built, mahogany table surrounded by six hardwood chairs stood next to the far wall, near the stairs going up. On a small table by the front door was a 12-inch tall gold statuette of an illithid.

The party immediately began discussing how they would get the table, chairs, and bookshelf back to their lair, when something small darted out from under one of the table and slashed at Grinkle, tearing into his leg with tiny, razor-sharp talons. A hairsbreadth later, three more came bursting from cover, one from each of the stuffed chairs and another from the bookshelf.

"Fucking undead cats now?!" said someone, as the things hissed and tore into the party. Zander took a minor scratch. Isti cut one in half laterally with her sword. Yury telekinetically hurled the one on Grinkle against the ceiling, shattering it. Then Zander swept away the last two with his flail.

"Of course the only joker willing to build a nice house out here in the slums would have to be a necromancer!" groaned Tamn.

They grabbed and bagged the gold statue and headed up the stairs with Tamn in the lead, into a small, unfurnished hall. Six humanoid skeletons waited, one on either side of the two windows, and another in front of each of the two doors leading off the hall. There was an audible, collective sigh as the party prepared to confront them.

One of the skeletons lunged at Tamn, but he met it with a club to the midsection, toppling it over the railing of the stairs to clatter on the floor below, then rolled towards the far door to clear the landing. Yury came up behind Tamn, deftly dodging the claws of the next two skeletons and then cast a spell to blur his form, making him even harder to hit. Grinkle was a step behind, beating back the nearest skeleton with a sword to the head, with Zander right beside him crushing another skeleton with his flail. The skeletons closed on them, one getting its bony claws into Zander. Then, Isti dispelled the magic animating the remaining four.

Expecting more skeletons, the party crowded around the next door, weapons at the ready, as Zander, still magically scanning for traps, nudged it open. Within was a small bed with fine linens beside a fireplace in the opposite wall, with a plain wooden desk and chair closer to the door. They cautiously stepped inside, looking under the bed, desk, and in the fireplace, then relaxed when they found no undead guardians. On the desk was a candlestick, several letters written in a language none of them understood, a half dozen quill pens, two large bottles of ink, and several blank sheets of parchment.

Isti claimed dibs on the bed if they could get it out of the place, but they otherwise passed over the room and headed for the next. As they stepped back into the hall, Grinkle pointed out a trap door in the ceiling, presumably leading to the attic, which they agreed to check after the next room.

They were equally cautious opening the next door, which led into a room smelling of sulfur, rotting meat, and other unidentifiable stenches. A large table covered with glassware and other alchemical paraphernalia dominated the center of the room. A bookshelf leaned against the far wall, near the one round, unshuttered window that Tamn and Isti had noticed the night before, and a plush, high-backed chair stood next to the fireplace. In the corner opposite the chair was a small podium, completely covered by a book at least three feet wide.

Isti scanned the room with detect magic. When both Isti and Zander gave the all clear that there were neither mundane nor magical traps, other than the ones they both detected on the large book, Tamn pushed the door the rest of the way open and Yury led the way inside. As soon as Yury cleared the door, a creature looking very much like an oversized, skeletal bat leaped on his back.

The bat thing clawed and bit at Yury, tearing into his flesh. Then the large-armed tiefling went rigid, his muscles seizing and freezing him in place. Tamn stepped up and swatted the thing with his club, knocking it off of his paralyzed friend, and Isti hacked at it with "her sword":

The bonebat hurled itself at Isti, biting her and stinging with its tail, digging a great, bleeding gash in her stomach, and paralyzing her as well. Grinkle dealt the thing a glancing blow with his sword, then Zander sent it flying halfway across the room with his flail.

The bat, apparently more intelligent than the other skeletons, picked itself off the ground and flew up and out of the nearby chimney. Zander wanted to give pursuit, but only Tamn would fit up the chimney, and he was on his knees trying to revive Isti.

Zander and Grinkle used their magic to patch up the worst of Isti and Yury's injuries. Five minutes later the two of them started moving again.

Once everyone was mobile, they gathered up the laboratory gear, figuring it was probably the easiest thing to fence of anything they had found in the house so far, packing it as carefully as they could in the sacks they'd brought. These they left on the landing, and then climbed up into the attic.

The attic was a single, large room, with a low, sloped ceiling, and completely empty, save for one small, colorful wooden box, nailed shut and tucked into a corner. A faint scratching sound could be heard coming from within the box. They approached cautiously, scanning for magic, traps, and curses, before Tamn laid to with his crowbar and pried the thing open.

Within they found a cheerfully painted wooden puppet, a marionette, which immediately sat up and gestured to its mouth, which had apparently been glued shut. Zander took one look at the thing, groaned, and destroyed it with a warp wood spell.

They worked their way back through the house, using detect metals and minerals and treasure scent spells to look for any more loose valuables. They found nothing else, so they grabbed the bags of alchemical equipment, gathered up the books, and made ready to leave. Before stepping out, Isti went back down to the cellar, cut off a lock of her hair, and hid it in a corner with the intent of a spell to track the path through the sewers from their lair later.

After everyone else slipped out the back door. Tamn bolted and barred the door again, then climbed up and out the chimney to join them. There was no sign of the bonebat outside. Grinkle cast a mass pass without trace over the party and they made their way back to their hideout through the snow, unmolested.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

PBeM: Chapter 3.5: The Squatters in Onyx: Part 4


As everyone leaps out of the way, the walkway gives one final shudder and comes down, making a terrible racket. The mass of metal and wood crashes down on Donovan, but seems oddly 'springy'. Boards bend and chunks of metal bounce off of him, but the weight is still enough to give Donovan some severe bruising.


There is a scream from Donovan, followed by a number of muffled grunts as the pieces of walkway fall on him, each quieter than the one before. Despite the supernatural softness of the pieces, Donovan's flesh is softer. As the last pieces clatter to the ground, sliding down into the pool, all sounds from Donovan cease.


Frantiska rises shakily to her knees and looks at the passage she is now stuck in. She can just make out the sounds of yelling and combat down the corridor. She turns back out of the hole and looks at the carnage -- she is unable to see Lyra at this angle, and there is no sign of Donovan, but she manages to catch Hrud's eye and pantomimes climbing down and then back up. She turns to her one companion in the tunnel, "Teldicia, I'm going to go see what those cries were. Please stay here and help the others get up." She draws her blunted shortsword, doubting that she has the room to pull a bow in these cramped tunnels, and begins crawling forward on her knees and her other hand, letting her eyes shift into the infrared to accommodate the darkness and looking for the telltale heat signatures of the kobolds' passing.


Frustrated at being left behind, but aware that one of his companions is in dire need, the barbarian lowers himself from the lip of the opening in the stomach and slides down to the pile of rubble where Donovan lies.


Lyra looks around frantically, grabbing a twisted length of metal as she picks her way through the debris over to Donovan, and uses it as a lever to move some of the debris off of him.


Lyra shoves a few more chunks of debris off of Donovan and looks him over. None of his injuries look serious at first, but he does not appear to be breathing. When she turns him over, she finds that she has a good view of his brain through a deep crack in the left-rear of his skull and the orbit of his left eye has been flattened.


Lyra staggers back a step, then another, and abruptly turns and empties the contents of her stomach into the acrid water, retching and sobbing.


Hrud sighs heavily upon seeing the fatal wound. He bends down and gently - for him - hauls the older man's limp form out of the debris and foul water, carrying it over to the stairs leading up out of the water. But the time for mourning is interrupted by distant battle. There are other companions still alive and quite possibly in danger.

Walking back down into the water, he grabs the largest piece of the walkway and props it against the wall where, until a moment ago, Frantiska had been, checking to see if it will allow the two of them to reach the ledge above.

Having finished stacking the remnants of the walkway to the best of his ability, Hrud returns to Donovan's corpse and begins stripping it of items - though not of clothes. After setting everything aside, he selects the fine bracers and the extra Fang of Mace to carry. Glancing up, he notices Lyra staring at him, but the girl is already so pale, he can't tell if she's still feeling ill or angry at what must appear to her as his attempts at merely looting a corpse.

"Iku cara saka seng numpaki kanggo njupuk karo wong item saka kanca menyang perang, utamané nalika avenging pati. Kene, njupuk iki." he says, pushing Donvan's backpack and beltpouch into her hands.

"Padha kudu kita." he says to Lyra. Then, nodding at the silent form on the steps beside them, adds, "Kita bakal bali kanggo Dawn-of-Man."

Hrud move to his makeshift scaffold and pauses long enough to administer a couple doses of Yamtwit's Sacred Ghi, taking it up the rope and climbing into the passage above. When he reaches the top, he lowers the end of the rope to Lyra, nodding at her to follow.


Lyra sobs and hugs the pack to her chest at Hrud's habitual mispronunciation of Donovan's name.

After taking a few moments to compose herself and rearranging things to free her hands, she carefully makes her way up to the ledge


Practically yanking Lyra into the tunnel, Hrud quickly takes in the rope and starts crawling after Frantiska - determined not to let the party get any more separated than it already is.


Lyra briefly considers which is more improper -- crawling in front of someone while wearing a dress, or crawling behind a barbarian that favors loincloths as a fashion statement before following Hrud while trying to avoid looking at him, instead keeping an eye out for side passages and murder holes above them.


Meanwhile, in the upper passage...


The kobold with the injured arm tries desperately to club Ryesha with his good arm, but keeps getting tangled with her spear and her, slightly, greater mass pressing down on him.

The old kobold, meanwhile, uses the distraction created by his remaining guard to wiggle out of the melee and begin crawling away, making it as far as the next intersection of the passage and disappearing around a corner to the left.


Winona, determined to get Yamtwit back on his feet, grabs the entire stock of clarified butter that he had given her and pours it over him, bathing all of his wounds and force-feeding several flasks down his throat.

Ryesha, still pinning the kobold, lets go of the spear, leaning in on the thing with her forearm across its neck. With her other hand, she pulls one more knife and stabs the thing in the gut.


Yamtwit gets unsteadily to his feet, using the shillelagh as a crutch. "Where'd the scary one go?" he asks Winona.


Frantiska crawls for some ways, with the passage curving away to the left and slightly downward before hooking back to the right. About thirty feet ahead of her is a four-way intersection from which she can hear sounds of scuffling and voices. She sees a kobold come racing from the left-hand of the intersection and turn to his left and disappear behind a curtain directly across from her without even a glance in her direction. About halfway between Frantiska and the intersection there is a wooden door on the left, from which she can hear the faint sounds of something moving around.


Seeing the blur of the small figure running across the passage, Frantiska reaches for her bow, then remembers that she really does not have room to fire in these tight passages. Grumbling she considers her options--through the curtain, ahead left, or the nearby door--and decides to deal with things systematically. She crawls as quietly up to the small door as she can, checking to see if it is locked, and looking for any obvious mechanisms that might indicate a trap of some kind.

Yamtwit, meanwhile, hefts his club and stalks up to the corner where he assumes the witchdoctor ran, gesturing for the Tyrran sisters to follow. He stops just before the intersection and peaks his head out slowly, looking in every direction for possible ambushes before proceeding.


Hrud, Lyra, and Teldicia crawl only a short ways before they round a bend and spot Frantiska a short ways ahead of them poking at a small wooden door. Just past Frantiska, the light from the hammer illuminates Yamtwit's head peeking out of a side passage. Just past Yamtwit, the passage ahead is obscured by curtains made of weasel fur covered with large, irregular splashes of blood or red paint.

Frantiska fiddles with the door and finds that it is designed to swing inward and 'locked' from the outside with a simple hook and eye latch. The hinges are on the inside, just visible through the crack around the frame. She can see no other movable pieces or devices connected to it.


Frantiska gives a small start when the blue glow from Hrud's hammer lights up the passage, then breathes a small sigh of relief when she looks up to see friends coming from either direction. She holds a finger up to her lips to indicate that they should be quiet. She shoves against the door, just to make sure the latch holds, figuring that whatever is on the other side can wait, then points towards the weasel-hide curtains.

Yamtwit grins broadly and turns, lifting one side of the curtains out of the way with his shillelagh to peer inside.


Seeing the door flex a little and hearing something outside, Skæggede reaches out with a foot to nudge her companion and strains feebly again at her restraints, hoping to break free before the kobolds come calling again. "Psst!" she whispers, "Wake up! They're coming back..." Blessed Ao, she thinks, please don't let them have brought the weasels again. I hate weasels...


Frantiska's keen elven hearing pick up on the faint, whispering voices on the other side of the door. While she cannot make out the words at this distance, the voice is a good deal deeper than kobold voices and tinged with a faint hint of panic.


Frantiska gestures Yamtwit and Hrud over near the door. "Ada sesuatu di balik pintu. Tidak anjing wajah. Kedengarannya takut," she explains in a harsh whisper.


As Yamtwit lifts the curtain, the light falls on a slight bump of upturned earth right behind the curtain which appears to be growing slowly. By the time Frantiska tries to call him back, the lump has grown to about the height of a kobold. With a cracking sound, two arm-like protuberances burst from its sides and it tears free of the floor.


Yamtwit curses, "Put bon mache paseke trik nouvèl plis gen Kobold san!", and swings for what passes for a head on the little earth elemental with his shillelagh.


Sick of playing games with the kobolds, Hrud slides up beside Frantiska, swinging his legs forward. Rolling back and drawing his knees to his chest, the barbarian kicks the door inward as hard as he can.


The door bursts off its hinges and flies a good five feet before landing with a thud. Inside you see a fully-bearded, blue-eyed dwarven woman and a halfling man with long dark hair tied to opposite walls by heavy ropes. They are restrained in a very uncomfortable-looking position, with their arms bent under and behind their backs, and slightly above the line of their shoulder-blades, so that they hang leaning far forward. When the door bursts inward, the halfling is drowsing where he stands, while the dwarf woman is stretching to kick him awake.


Rye gathers up her knives, wiping them on the kobolds' fur, then jogs up behind Yamtwit with Winona crawling along behind her. When the small rock-monster appears, she lets out a frightened squeak and tosses a knife at it, or rather, over its head to clatter against a wall.

Winona's eyes light up with what can only be described as joy on seeing a creature of, presumably extraplanar origin. She casts extradimensional detection, just to be sure, then tries to strike up a conversation, her voice sounding like the rumbling of stones cascading down a hill. «Hey! Are you really an earth elemental?! I've always wanted to meet one of your kind! You're shorter than I imagined. Anyways, what is life on your plane like? What do you eat? Have you ever run into one of the Baatezu on your plane?...Ooh! Sorry about the goblin and his stick!»


The halfing jerks awake at the sound of the door crashing. "Oi!" His head jerks up, nearly wrenching his shoulders out of their sockets. "Hey!" he calls through gritted teeth on seeing something other than a kobold on the other side of the door. "Help a fellow out, eh?!"


Keeping an eye out for kobolds approaching from the rear as Hrud kicks the door in, Lyra tests out if she has enough range of movement to make use of Donovan's crossbow.


The dwarf-woman lets out an audible sigh of relief. "Ao være lovet! Yo, det er en dværg hammeren. Hvor har du det?" She looks at the barbarian, realizing that he probably didn't understand her and switches to common. "Hey, big guy. Nice hammer, good dwarven work. Do you, mind cutting us free?"


"Oi! You're not going to bore him talking about your Ao bullshit again?" The halfling allows himself to droop to a more comfortable position. "Besides, he's clearly Eraka, dumb fuck probably doesn't understand a word you're saying Skaeg." He looks at the barbarian, and puts on his best begging puppy face, making his eyes look big in the way that only a halfling can, "Jaran-pacangan. Pitulung kita njaluk tangan kita bebas, eh? Banjur ngutangi kula agul-agul supaya aku bisa nggawe karo snicker-cemilan ing sawetara kobo necks."


It takes Hrud a moment to size up the two strangers."Hvorfor har du gentager dig selv?" he says, walking over to the dwarf woman. With a slash of his broadsword, he severs her bonds. Looking at the halfling, he asks, "Kan denne ene have tillid?"


"Oi! Big horse-lover talks like a dwarf?" The halfling shakes his head, "Looks like I'm the one left out." He flinches when the man starts swinging his sword in the tight confines of the cell. "Hey! Nonton ngendi sampeyan lagi ngayunke bab sing!" He twists his head around to look out the door, at the trio of elven women crouching behind the barbarian. "Can one of you ladies tell your big lug of a friend to mind his pig-sticker?"


"Without any hint of an accent in fact..." Skaegedde rolls her shoulders to get the kinks out and bows to the big man. "Thank you. Sorry for repeating myself, I was not aware that you spoke my language. I suggest we stick with the common tongue though, out of politeness to my cell-mate. As for whether he can be trusted? The kobolds took him prisoner, which is enough of a sign that he is on the right side for my tastes." She pops her neck loudly, then begins smoothing her thick, luxurious beard. "How many kobolds are left? Did you already off them all?"


"Sing tengen, sampeyan krungu dheweke, aku minangka dipercoyo minangka Tyrran getih. Irung minangka resik minangka bayi kang. Cukup kula njaluk bantuan jancok sing metu saka tali iki!"


Lyra peers past Hrud at the kobolds' prisoners, trying to ignore the disparaging remarks regarding Hrud's intellect.  "Are either of you injured?  We don't know how many kobolds there were to begin with, but we've killed ... a rather large number on the road led by a caster with snake spine earrings, four kobolds inside the skull, six in the spine, three or four weasels, and I'm not sure how many in the group over the murderhole near the esophagus and on the walkway around the stomach...."


"Good times!" The halfling smiles despite his obvious pain, "Sounds like you'all've been busy. NOW CAN SOMEONE PLEASE CUT ME FREE SO I CAN FINISH THE JOB?!"


Frantiska looks carefully at the two prisoners, trying to let her mind relax, listening for The Moon Maiden's insights. After a moment, despite the difficulty of concentrating with Yamtwit fighting an elemental in one corner and the halfling yelling in the other she speaks, "They're fine, Lyra. Any mischief they may be plotting is clearly directed at the kobolds. Hrud, biarkan mereka bebas dan memberi mereka senjata. Kita membutuhkan semua bantuan yang bisa kita dapatkan."

She pivots as best she can in the narrow confines, and crawls, sword in hand to go aid the goblin and the halfling.


The small elemental looks very confused as Winona starts talking to it. It just manages to begin a response, saying «Uuummmm . . . Yes?», when Yamtwit's shillelagh comes down on the top of what passes for it's head. The enchanted club pounds into the creature, sending shards of rock flying in all directions and reducing it to not but a pile of rubble.


Yamtwit does a little victory dance and trips over his own feet, landing on his bum. He hops to his feet and brushes the curtain aside again, looking in to see where the witchdoctor ran to.


A short passage extends past the curtain, then opens up into a much larger space, stretching a good distance ahead and bending out to the left. The light from Hrud's hammer leaks out just enough to hamper Yamtwit's infravision, leaving most of the room beyond in shadowy darkness. What light does penetrate the passage glints tantalizingly off of a pile of dark, rounded, glass objects stacked against the right-hand wall, and Yamtwit's poorly focused infravision makes out the deep glow of a bed of smoldering coals in the center of the room. As Yamtwit looks on, the room is suddenly bathed in a solid, uniform blanket of heat, completely obscuring his infravision. A wall of that heat seems to be moving outwards, towards him, until, lit by the wan light of Hrud's hammer coming from the other room, he sees it to be a thick wall of choking, black smoke.


Lyra carefully scoots to where she can lean past Hrud, retrieves Donovan's stiletto and boot sheath, as well as her own from her left boot, and hands them to the dwarf.  "Pick one, he can use the other after you cut him down.  I also have a heavy crossbow, a hand crossbow, and a sling, or we can backtrack to scrounge something up from the kobolds back in the stomach after we deal with the immediate threat."


The dwarf woman takes the knives gingerly, holding them as if they were some kind of strange-smelling fish, "Thanks," she says, not too enthusiastically. She passes the shinier one to the halfling, who, judging by the murderous gleam in his eye, knows just what to do with the stiletto, then stalks out the door, pausing to look back at Hrud, "Fik en anden hammeren store-fyr?" Seeing the smoke seeping into the corridor, her eyes narrow. "Ved lort-gennemblødt mindre guder, kan det ikke være godt!" she mutters. Then she sees the goblin standing in the opening to the passage, "De dørstoppere er i ledtog med nisser! Skynd dig, dræbe det, før det angriber!" She draws the knife from its sheath and holds it out in front of her as one might a tiny spear or perhaps a toothpick.


Hrud follows the dwarf's gaze to Yamtwit. "At man? Han er på vores side. Pas på, selv om han gerne malke ting." Seeing how she is clearly uneasy about using a dagger, the barbarian extends the Yargrund to her, "Her kan du bruge denne til nu. Men bo tæt, jeg har brug for lyset. Giv den anden til den lille med den store mund."


She takes the hammer and grins broadly, "Tak! Jeg vil gøre god brug af det!" She tosses the other stiletto to the halfling. "Let's go smash some kobolds!"


The halfling rubs where the ropes have been chaffing his wrists, then takes the stilettos and smiles at Lyra. "Thanks miss, these'll be perfect." He tucks the sheathe into his belt and twirls the two blades through his fingers, one in either hand. "The name's Miero," he says as he heads for the door. Stepping into the hall he sees the smoke and casually pulls the neck of his tunic up over his mouth and nose. "I'm guessing the kobos are that way, eh?" Without waiting for an answer, he charges blindly into the thickening smoke with the two blades held low before him.


Winona finally crawls around the corner and looks immensely relieved to see Lyra, Frantiska, and the others. She coughs on the smoke and crawls towards the rest of the party, keeping as low as she can.

Rye, meanwhile, looks very surprised when the halfling man comes prancing out of the cell and charges into the smoke. She turns to follow Winona to go talk to the others, but something in the back of her mind pushes her in the other direction. With a sounds that is half frightened squeak and half war cry, and all adorable, she pulls a pair of her own knives and runs into the smoke with him.


The halflings go careening through the smoke and come out on the far end of the room. The bed of coals appears completely cold now, with all the smoke coming off of it propelled out into the corridor, as if by some unfelt breeze, leaving this half of the room free of obscurement. Lying on the ground next to the coals is the body of the old kobold, lying curled on on his side with his head "downwind" of the burned-out fire and obscured by the smoke.

The room is filled with curiosities: One wall is piled high with blue, glass jars of varying sizes, most of them are empty, but three appeared to be filled with eyeballs, and another, large one holds a thriving ant colony. One lidless, empty jar near the top of the stack has a label pasted onto it which reads in very clear common, "Do not open. World-destroying angel inside." A crude desk made from a wooden plank laid across a couple of rotten crates sits opposite the wall with the jars. Laid out on the desk are a large collection of loose needles, both bone and metal, an amputation saw, 4 blue-glass jars filled with live leeches, several other jars filled with various bubbling liquids, sparkling dusts, or thick black tar, and several vaguely kobold-shaped dolls made of mud and hemp. A one foot tall wooden lawn gnome sits in the center of the desk, looking like it has been repeatedly burned, hit, cut, scratched, and otherwise defaced, with a pair of metal needles sticking out of each eye. Seven small turtles (or perhaps tortoises) wander about the room, passing in and out of the smoke slowly and shedding a wan light from black-candles stuck to their shells by melted wax, each candle flame a different color: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, white. In the corner is a haphazard pile of treasures: a small wooden chest, an ivory handled cane, 2 gold candlesticks, a silver stein, and a silver astrolabe. The far corner of the room, past the kobold's body, is still heavily obscured by smoke.


Ryesha coughs and rubs the smoke out of her eyes as she looks around at the scary, old kobold's unusual belongings. Seeing the body lying half in the smoke, she cautiously walks over to the kobold and nudges him with her foot, keeping her knives at the ready. When he does not respond, she sheaths one knife and grabs his ankle to slide him out of the smoke. When he still does not respond, she creeps up to the head end and checks his vitals, keeping her knife against his throat in case he moves.

The halfling man watches as the wary, knife-wielding, girl with considerable interest--more so than the room itself. When she starts examining the kobold, he steps up behind her, making not a sound, and startles her by speaking, "Sveiki glīts, kādi ir jūsu vārds?"

Ryesha jumps, then hazards a glance back at the man who had run past her earlier. "Es esmu Ryesha, māsa Ryesha no Tyr, ja jūs vēlaties, lai būtu precīzi, un tas puisis ir miris kā durvju naga."

Miero mutters under his breath, "Tirāns eh? Ja ir izpētījuši." Then, louder, "Atdzist, es esmu Miero." He walks over to the pile of treasure and checks out the chest.

Rye stands up from the kobold's body, "Nice to meet you Miero. I'm going to go get the others..." She sheathes her remaining knife, covers her mouth, and heads back through the smoke. Once clear, she waves the rest of the party over, "Looks like old kobo had an aneurysm or something...he's stone dead. You all should come in here, there's a lot of weird things, and a pile of shinies that might be part of that tribute we were looking for."


Skæggede smiles and hefts the glowing hammer she'd been lent by the barbarian, "Aha! My stuff!" She heads into the smoke, holding the hammer high to try to penetrate the choking blackness with it's glow.


Yamtwit coughs and backs away from the smoke. Squinting against the irritating vapors, he begins to chant, low and rhythmically. At about the same time that Ryesha comes running out to a small, swirling wind blows up out of nowhere, coalescing into a two-foot-tall tornado with a pair of glowing blue eyes in the center. Yamtwit points and the dust devil whirls into the room, sucking the particulates out of the air, suspended in its body. It then rushes past Frantiska and Teldicia, out into the stomach chamber where it deposits the remains of the smoke in the semi-acidic pool before returning to its home plane.


As the smoke dissipates, you can see that the corner of the room, back and left from the passage where you entered, is hung with well-made, frilly, white-lace curtains, cordoning off a small sleeping area piled with blankets, a patchwork quilted down comforter, and a pure white fleece. Two books, one large and crudely-bound with wooden planks, and the other small and bound in black leather, rest on the pile of bedding, along with a bundle of charcoal and several loose sheets of rolled parchment. A large bronze brazier sits on a low tripod next to the bedding. On a small shelf carved into the wall over the bed is a small wooden whistle with a childlike carving of a bird hewn into its foot and a wooden rattle carved into the shape of a gnomish skull and painted a bright, cherry red.

Miero, satisfied that the small chest is not trapped, opens it to find an iron ring hung with ten keys and a copper brooch resembling a stylized spider resting on a mound of silver coins.


Once the smoke has cleared, Rye strides back into the witchdoctor's room, with Winona crawling at her heels. Winona casts a quick detect magic and looks around the room.


Hurd sees the books and papers lying around and briefly contemplates replenishing his supply of wipes. Noticing Frantiska nearby, he reconsiders.


Lyra tries to get a better angle of observation of the turtles meandering around the room.  "Something seems to be keeping the turtles from leaving.  See how they turn away from the doorway as if they bumped into something?"  Lyra shakes her head.  "I'm not sure what to make of the candles though."

After another minute in thought, Lyra looks rather startled.  "Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, white?  Certain kinds of priests craft magical candles.  If they are what I suspect, I would consider dousing the red, yellow, and purple."


Despite having no clue what the young woman just said, Hrud could tell that she was thinking of messing with the dog-faces' magic. Hefting the twin broadswords, he casually drifts next to the side of the room's entrance, where he can put his back to a wall. No good will come of this, he thinks.


Winona turns to Lyra and the others and begins pointing things out, "The intruments, the brooch and keys in the chest, that goat hide, those three jars, the candles on the turtles, and all the written stuff are magical." She crawls over to the books and begins rummaging through the papers with considerable interest.

Miero takes the brooch and pins it on his shirt, then turns and looks around at the other things Winona indicated. Seeing the books he fast-walks over to Winona and snatches the smaller, black-bound book out of her hands just as she's starting to open it. "That one is mine," he says simply, tucking it into his pants.

Winona looks crestfallen as Miero snatches the smaller spellbook from her, but she gathers up the rest and stashes them in her pack. She then turns back to Lyra, "Don't magical candles trigger when you snuff them? If they are anything potentially harmful, I would suggest we grab everything we can drag and get out of here before they go out..."

"I'm definitely down with that," the halfling interjects. "Anyone of you folks got a spare bag I can start shoving swag into?"

Ryesha wanders over to stare at the piled blue jars. "Sister?! Do you think this is real?" she asks, pointing to the one with the 'Do not open, world-destroying angel inside' label.


"The kind mystics create are more potent the longer they burn, if I recall correctly.  Charm, mind reading, and truth telling are the ones I'm concerned about.  I think the other colors are actually beneficial.  Green for luck, white for purity, blue for ... oh, I never had a good mnemonic for that one."  Lyra stops abruptly.  "It actually takes a fairly powerful caster to even make magic candles.  What did he die from?"


Winona walks over and looks at the body, "Good question. I don't see any wounds," she kneels down and checks him more thoroughly, "but he's not breathing and his heart has stopped. Judging from the grimace on his face, he died painfully. A heart-attack? Maybe the stress of the fight and the chase were just too much for someone so old?"


Skæggede walks over and grabs the ring of keys from the chest. "Været på udkig efter dem," she mutters. She then goes and grabs a blanket from the pile of bedding, lays it out on the floor and starts piling the ivory cane and the various gold and silver ornaments on it. "Who needs a bag?" she says to the halfling. She then turns to the makeshift desk. "Aha! Min også!" she says, grabbing to vials and stuffing them into her sash. "Ros Ao! Nu er alt jeg har brug for er mine våben og rustninger."


Yamtwit saunters in and looks around, "Wow! What a lot of junk!" Overhearing Lyra and Winona talking, he walks over to where they are crawling beside the body. "You really think the old creeper just bought it from natural causes? Did you check for poison? Maybe he killed himself when he saw Fran coming from the other passage and realized he was trapped."

He walks over to the desk and looks at it almost admiringly. "Lots of good stuff here," he says to no one in particular, grabbing the jars of leeches and making sure the lids are on tight before putting them in his bag. "Not as good as butter, but sometimes they're can help with maladies of the blood." He uses his club to carefully slide the pile of needles in on top of them, then throws in the amputation saw, "Never know when you might need these either..."

Frantiska crawls in last. "I would have expected more from the way the villagers were talking about their tribute," she says. She crawls over beside Lyra, "We should be right above the fundamentum here." She looks around to get her bearings, then points at the wall of jars, "I would expect those ropes connected to the ceramic door in the stomach to run in here, or there to be another room on the other side of that wall..."


The dwarf casts a disapproving look at the goblin, "Leeches and saws and needles and butter? What do you expect to be doing with those? Not trying to heal I hope...Ao redde os, goblinen er som primitiv som dørstoppere!" She grabs the other bottles and flasks that have stoppers, looking in briefly to make sure she is not grabbing some foul-smelling kobold poultice or the like.


With a frustrated groan, Lyra nudges a lid out of the bed of coals with Donovan's staff before scooting back to give the jar and candles as much distance as possible.  "Does opening a bottle labeled DO NOT OPEN seem like a reasonable cause of death?"

Lyra gives the lid another nudge.  "I think Yamtwit is probably right.  Destroying angel is also a type of deadly white mushroom related to the death cap.  I don't suppose anyone knows what the poisoning symptoms are?  Besides, if it were an actual angel ... shouldn't the container be a magical flask or something rather than a glass jar?"


Yamtwit nods vigorously along with Lyra's assessment, "That's right, when my tribe was trying to find things that we could eat back when we were Scabeaters instead of Cheeseaters, we tried lots of mushrooms. The destroying angel was a little white one that looked like a penis. I remember my second cousin on my father's side, Carrotwit, ate one and he basically exploded. There was blood and shit everywhere!"

Frantiska's face turns a little green and she asks, "How long did that take?"

"Oh, about an hour..."


Hearing this, Ryesha grabs the whistle, rattle, fleece, and the lace curtain (because she's sure she can make something cute out of those) and tosses them onto the blanket that the dwarf lady has been filling. She helps the dwarf fold it closed and starts dragging it towards the passage, "In that case," she says, "let's get out of here before the old guy makes a mess all over the place..."

Winona nods and crawls after her. "There was another passage strait ahead, now our left, out there..."

Miero shuts the chest full of coins, easily hoists it up onto his shoulder, and follows them.


Yamtwit turns to look at Hrud, who has been quietly hanging out by the wall, realizing that he doesn't understand a thing anyone is saying. "Jaran-kanca, aku pracaya lawas asu-pasuryan poisoned piyambak karo roh jamur, kang bakal nggawe wong njeblug. Kita kudu kanggo njaluk metu cepet. Pemanah-nyonyah ngandika sing ana sing arep kamar liyane kanggo njupuk asam menyang weteng. Milanipun dalem panjenengan badhe sing cara." He hefts his shillelagh onto his shoulder and turns to the door, then turns back and looks at the desk one more time. "Apa kita njupuk iki boneka ora nyenengake karo kita?"

"Oh, lan njeblugake sarana sing wong bakal duwe diare tenan ala sawise sampun seda..."


Miero speeds up to fall into step beside Rhyesha. "Tātad, tas, kas noved gudrs plašs, piemēram, sevi, lai kļūtu Tirāns?" he says, grinning.

Ryesha doesn't so much as look in his direction, but just keeps pulling the blanket full of loot as she says, "Tas Tyrran, nav Tirāns, un es pievienojos, jo bez likumiem mēs nebūtu labāk, nekā šie kobolds."


As everyone makes ready to leave, Lyra looks back at the tortoises.  "Do we have something we can leave the tortoises to eat and drink?  I don't know how long they're going to be trapped in there, and it seems cruel to just leave them...."


Yamtwit stops and looks at Lyra curiously, then shrugs. He reaches into his backpack and pulls out a wheel of cheese, which he crumbles and scatters on the floor before leaving.


Beating feet from the curiously dead, old kobold, the party rounds the corner to the left. The passage continues to slope downward and bend to the left, ever so slightly, before opening up into a honeycombed warren of dens and sleeping chambers. You pass through numerous oddly shaped burrows, carved into the dragon's ribs, spleen, and liver. Each has one or two piles of bedding (a mixture of sheep skins, weasel furs, and appropriated blankets), the remains of a cookfire (mostly dead coals but a few with embers still flickering, and the various trappings of kobold tribal life--pots of war paint, bows and spears in various states of repair, cooking implements, childrens toys (mostly small percussive instruments and hempen dolls), and the like. You crawl through dozens of such rooms, winding your way through the dragon's major arteries, passing two more outlets into the upper portion of the stomach, then find a much less natural passage going strait back towards the neck and sloping upwards.


Skaegedde hauls the blanket-bag along behind them, wondering if it wouldn't be a better idea to find a relatively safe place to leave their loot rather than dragging it all over the cave complex. As they go, Skaegedde pokes around the dens and warrens looking for something else she can use to beat kobolds with, so as to not monopolize the barbarian's beautiful hammer. Eventually she comes up with a couple of stiff goat-hide tunics that can pass for armor and a sturdy, spiked morningstar. "Tak," she says, handing the hammer back to Hrud.

When they reach the passages overlooking the stomach she stops and sets down the loot sack for a bit. "Wow? What happened here?" she asks, waving a hand at the wreckage of the collapsed walkway and all of the kobold corpses scattered about.


Lyra tries not to cry.  "There ... there was an ambush.  After that was dealt with, too much weight on the walkway collapsed it."  Her voice cracks halfway through.  "Mr. Donovan di ... didn't make it.  We should come back for the body once we're finished."


Frantiska maneuvers around to pat Lyra's shoulder, trying to ignore the ache in her back and knees from being on all fours for so long. "We'll do just that, Lyrathwen," she says, trying to keep her own dislike of the lecherous old charlatan out of her voice. "But for now..." she glances in the nearest den, "we've killed a lot of kobolds in here and on the road, and all of these rooms look recently abandoned. Either we've killed them all, or they fled, or they have another ambush point nearby." She pauses, "There is also the fact that there are plenty of signs of children about--toys at least--and we have seen none of the like. So perhaps some of them fled with their young when it became clear that they were being invaded. If that is not the case, and they are hiding nearby, we may have to temper our actions to avoid harming the innocent. Either way, now is the time for vigilance..."


Skaegedde grunts and nods, "Nice work! I will pray to the Hidden One for you friend." She walks back and grabs the other side of the bag that she and the halfling girl had been dragging, then points at the passage going back up, "That way then?"


Winona looks out into the stomach, "Either we go up, or we try to find a way to those holes up on the sides, or we head into the intestines...which seems like a good place for a never-ending winding maze of traps and ambushes, don't you think?" She lays down flat on the floor, rolls onto her back, and stretches as best she can. "Bunny, why don't you grab the goblin and our two new friends and scout ahead. Crawling in armor isn't any fun..."

Miero steps up and sets the chest of coins down on Winona's chest, eliciting an angry, grunting, gasp. "Alright then," he says drawing the stilettos, "you watch the loot and we'll go hunting." He looks at Skaegedde, Yamtwit, and Ryesha and makes a 'follow me' gesture with his head before heading up the passage at a slow jog.

Ryesha sighs, drops the blanket and pulls out her own knives, "I guess I don't really have a choice". She spares a look down at Winona with the thought that maybe she is getting a little too much experience in the field, then heads after the other halfling.


The passage slopes gently up for about fifty paces of a halfling, then opens into a large chamber, a mirror of the lungs where you were previously ambushed. Left-hand wall has been carved away to reveal a knot of corded, petrified muscle tissue with a massive opal, larger than an adult kobold (and that is only the exposed portion), lodged in it. A crude altar has been built into the back wall, made from piled skulls--mostly a mix of human and lizardmen--and topped with a clean, black altar cloth, trimmed with cloth of gold. Dozens of skeletons are stacked against the right-hand wall, their bones scored and pitted, as if they had been cleaned by immersion in acid. Some of them have a faint metallic sheen--likely the result of residues from dissolved metals fusing with the bone. A capstan has been set into the middle of the room, set with four handles, with two ropes running down into holes in the floor.


Seeing the spectacle of the altar, Ryesha mutters, "Wait here," and back down the corridor a few feet before turning and sprinting back to where Winona and the others are waiting. "Sister, Lyra, Frantiska. You guys are going to want to see this..." she says, panting.


Frantiska crawls after the halfling girl, really wishing she could smoke right now.

Yamtwit, meanwhile, looks around the small shrine, considerably less excited than Ryesha. "What a mess..." he says, walking around the pile of corpses. He then steps back over to the capstan and gives one of the bars a little jiggle. "Any guesses what this does?" he asks his new companions.


Following the others into the room, Hrud is entranced by the large gemstone. The barbarian walks up to it and run a hand along the smooth exposed portion.


Miero walks up beside Hrud to look at the massive gem, "Wis sampeyan entuk linggis, wong amba?"

Winona crawls after Ryesha and comes into the room. "What horrible blasphemy is this?" she says, sounding exactly the wrong kind of excited one would expect in such situations. "Are these some kind of sacrifices to the dead dragon?" She crawls over to the bodies and looks at them, then back at the capstan, "Do you think that is what they used to let the acid into the stomach? Clean off the corpses with the dragon's acid, then pile them here near the heart as a kind of payment?"

Ryesha just shudders. "What do we do about it?" she squeaks.

"Ooh, Bunny, desecrating evil shrines is fun!" She crawls over to the altar and sits up, her helmed head just scraping the ceiling, even seated. She adjusts her glasses and pulls out her holy symbol, field brazier, several sticks of incense, and a couple flasks of holy water. "First we'll want to burn this altar cloth..." she says, opening the brazier and blowing the hot coals back into life...


Frantiska and Yamtwit both move closer to Winona, equally fascinated by what she is doing.


Hrud shakes his head, then stops, his semi-permanent expression of confusion lifting for a moment, and says, "Dawn-of-Man." The barbarian then turns and heads out of the room, back to the stomach where Donovan's body still lay on the steps - along with the old adventurer's remaining gear. Making sure he has the crowbar, Hrud grabs as much as he can carry and hauls it back to the room. Setting the pile of possessions down, he walks back over to the massive gemstone with a smile, hefting the crowbar. Carefully trying to avoid damaging the smooth surface of the stone, he slides the end of the crowbar into the section of fossilized tissue, trying to chip away at the opal's stony prison.


Once the coals in the field brazier are glowing nicely, Winona takes a fork from her mess kit and uses it to carefully lift the black and gold altar cloth and place it in the brazier. As the cloth begins to smolder, she raises her hands into the smoke and intones, "Gone. Gone. Gone even farther is perfect justice." As the cloth catches, she parts the smoke with her hands and deftly drops a pair of incense cubes into the flame, santalwood for the dispelling of evil vapors and junniper and rose hips for sight. "May the presider over courts be my vanguard. May all evils flee me and the essential procedure present no troubles." She gestures broadly, gathering the smoke towards her and inhales deeply. The lifts her holy symbol, holding it in the column of smoke directly above the fire. She nods to Ryesha and they begin to chant a common mantra in tandem:

"Mighty Tyr. Cleanse this place. May all beings be free from enmity and danger. May all beings be free from mental suffering. May all beings be free from physical suffering. May all beings be free from suffering. May all beings protect themselves joyfully. I have been blinded by the net of injustice. Tyr, judge and minister, come near and treat me with mercy. Your discernment, like the fire at the end of an age clears away the mere appearance of injustice in the mind; please bestow it upon me.”

She stands, lifting a flask of holy water and splashes it over the bone altar chanting again, "Gone. Gone. Gone even farther is perfect justice." Ryesha takes the other flask, doing and saying likewise.

Winona places her holy symbol back around her neck and takes her massive, silver-headed flail in two hands. "Tyr. Even-handed One. May your single all-seeing eye look down on the evils of this place and judge them. As we judge the physical, may you judge the spiritual. As we cleanse the stone, may you cleanse hearts. As we crush the face of evil, may you crush the spirit of evil. Whatever foulness resides in this place, may this simple act see it destroyed and your justice done..."

Ryesha nearly yells the final mantra, "Come perfect justice!", her voice coming out as a frightened squeak, then takes a quick step back and ducks as Winona swings the two-handed bludgeon sideways in a wide arc, putting as much of her weight behind the blow as she can from her seated position, and snapping her shoulders to add extra whip to the chain as the head smashes into the side of the bone altar.


The pile of skulls practically explodes from the force of the blow. Bone fragments fly in all directions, bouncing of walls and pelting the party with shrapnel. The ground gives a brief heave and a sudden wind knocks you all off of your feet and nearly sucks you out of the room as you hear the unmistakable sound of a dragon's roar echoing all around you. As the sound and the tremor fade, you see that the massive gem lodged in the wall has crumbled into a fine powder that gives off a faint golden glow.


Miero picks himself up off the floor, eyes wide with surprise, and starts looking through the wreckage of the bone altar and the pile of bodies for anything valuable. "Beshaba's blackened teets, Tyrant! What the fuck did you just do?"


Hrud is chipping away slowly and carefully (for him) around the large opal when the sudden tremor and ghostly roar engulfs him. Part of a flying skull hits him in the back of the head, causing him to lurch forward, accidentally bringing the crowbar into contact with the stone. When the stars have cleared from his eyes, he looks down to see the opal has crumbled into dust. The barbarian looks around awkwardly, hoping no one noticed him break it.


Lyra brushes the bone dust and shrapnel from her cloak and hair, coughing a bit from the rich incense.  "Was the heart gem used to bind the dragon's spirit here?"

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Third Party: Session 20 (GMs notes)

13 Kythorn

Melastasya was treading water in a giant pool of blood, surrounded by seventeen sharks and one, quite-dangerous, vampiric merperson. Doing the only sensible thing, she beat feet and vanished--teleporting to the farthest corner of the room and hiding with great aplomb.

At that same time, Ash waxed heroic again and stepped back through the ethereal gate into the pool of blood. He tried to use control water to whip the blood into a whirlpool, but found his efforts blocked by similar control be exerted by the mervamp. Just then, Traithe bombarded the mervamp with a barrage of magic missiles, disrupting its concentration. Ash finally established control, churning the pool into a swirling mass of blood and sharks.

Fortunately the force of the whirlpool swept up all of the sharks. Unfortunately, Ash himself was also swept up into the sharknado. Ash was battered, bitten, and abraded by the rapidly swirling sharks that whipped past and into him. Kevorkian stepped through the ethereal gate and healed Ash, barely avoiding getting swept into the vortex himself, and managing to petrify one passing shark with his basilisk's gaze. Grimnir, still safely in the ethereal, blasted the mervamp back against a wall of the pool then bludgeoned him with the petrified shark using his eldritch blasts.

More sharks converged on Ash, swimming with the flow of the whirlpool, intent more on devouring him than escaping the pummeling tide. Near death, Ash teleported himself out of the pool and through the ethereal gate. His control of the liquid ended when he crossed the planar boundary, causing the whirlpool to collapse and sending a number of very disoriented sharks tumbling through the portal after him as they were ejected from the vortex. Moments later the rest of the pack swam through after him, under direction from the mervamp.

Ash, Traithe, and Kevorkian engaged the sharks, Traithe wailing away with his sword and Ash scooping them up with the soul-sucking urn. Grimnir continued to fire at the banished vampire. Mel, wisely, remained hidden the whole time.

Ash took several more shark bites, eventually collapsing only to be brought back by Kevorkian moments later. Finally the sharks were eliminated and the mervamp, unable to reach his prey and heavily injured by Grimnir's assault, fled to the wall and opened the stone archway, vanishing into it and slamming the door closed behind him. Perhaps most disturbing about this occurrence, was that the mervamp completely vanished from the perceptions of the party members still in the ethereal, as if the space on the other side of the arch was somehow not coterminous with that plane.

Grimnir leaped through the gate, blasting sharks away as he went and met Mel, who had finally broken cover, by the gate. Traithe and Kevorkian mopped up the last of the sharks and the rest of the party were not far behind them.

Mel opened the archway and they went up to find the domed chamber cloaked in fog. Mel reached the top of the stairs first to be met by two thrusts of the vampire's trident, which she easily dodged. Ash dispelled the fog to reveal the vampiric merman coiled near the top of the stairs, much healed. His lower body flopped like the beached fish that he was, but his torso still had sufficient control to stab Traithe twice, though nowhere near as hard as when in the water.

One round of concentrated fire from the entire party put an end to their aquatic aggressor, and they took the extra step of cutting off its head and burning the body. Their resources spent, the party closed up the archway and slept the night in the chamber, under the false stars, amidst the torn tapestries and the smell of burned, rotting fish.

14 Kythorn

After waking, they headed back down the stairs and back out into the blood pool with the intent of searching the ethereal. Of course, eight hours is plenty of time to set up an ambush...

As soon as they stepped out into the pool, they were attacked by a mass of writhing snakes. Ash, Traithe, and Melastasya were grabbed immediately. Grimnir swam for the ethereal gate and stepped through, only to come face to face with a very pale-looking woman with snakes for hair. He fired at her ineffectively, then she suddenly disappeared, reappearing behind him and stabbing him in the back with a poisoned dagger.

Melastasya tore free of the snake squeezing her, punching it in the head until it hang limp, then turned to see where Grimnir had gone. Kevorkian did likewise, and they both, with their heightened perceptions, saw the Medusa waiting in the ethereal, and they both began to turn to stone. Ash teleported free of the snake constricting him and stepped through the ethereal gate only to be petrified himself. Mel shook off the effect and charged through the portal, where she and Grimnir proceeded to beat the vampiric medusa to a pulp, then cut off her head and shoved it in a bag where it could do no more harm. Traithe finally killed the snake he was engaged with, as well as a few others, then the rest, free of the vampire's control, lost interest and swam away.

Of course, by this point, Ash and Kevorkian were statues. Grimnir used the soap of abrasion to scour Kevorkian clean and cure him of the petrification. The act of holy cleansing in turn gave Kevorkian sufficient magical power (by virtue of his unusual faith) to return Ash to his normal state.

Once everyone was fully mobile again, they regrouped and looked around their ethereal environs. They could see the faint outlines of a vast complex in the material realm, of which they had only been able to access a single room. It was clear that there had once been a door to the rest of the complex leading off of the stone pier, but it had been sealed on the pool side to resemble an unbroken stone wall. Numerous creatures milled about the material rooms. Within the ethereal they saw only the vast, empty plains of multi-hued mist, save for three landmarks within visible range: a gargantuan head carved of greenish-brown stone, a twenty-foot tall pile of burning coals, and a giant mass of webbing that seemed to exist in both the physical and ethereal realms simultaneously.

Curious, they headed to the giant head first. The head was nearly eight feet in diameter, with blank fashioned of shiny, silvery metal. Ash pointed out that it looked like the head of one of the colossi that once flanked the gates of Myth Drannor and also of its vassal-city, Hillsfar. Kevorkian examined it and decided that it must be hollow, and pointed out that the eye covers, which were made of mithril, had been added later and were obviously hinged, like doors. Mel floated up and pried one of the eye covers open to find a hollow, filled almost entirely with dirt, with a space behind the eyes just large enough for a man to lie down. She climbed in and dug through the dirt (Kevorkian of course tasted a bit of it as well) but found nothing save for a few flaked off scales similar to those on the recently slain medusa.

As they examined the head, Grimnir noticed three large spiders coming from the direction of the web. Given the distance though, he was able to dispatch all three before they got close enough to pose any kind of threat.

They moved on to the pile of coals, but could find nothing unusual about it (other than its existence). The smoldering pile was more than twenty feet high and burning unusually slowly, though they detected no magic. Ash used his magic to dig into the center of the pile, where some coals were still glowing white-hot, but could still find nothing of value, nor anything dangerous save for the glowing coals themselves.

The last stop then, was the webs. The gargantuan mass was shaped roughly like a sloping triangle in the corner of a rectangular room, extending into the “solid” region of the adjacent plane. Amidst the web were four cocoons, each roughly the size and shape of a man, as well as seven ornate chests and coffers. Suspended in the center of the web was a black marble sarcophagus, unmarked save for the sunken relief of two cross-hilted longswords joined at the pommels.

Grimnir was quick to suggest that they take care in removing the webbing, saving as much as possible to be hauled away (figuring that silk able to coexist on multiple planes simultaneously had to have some practical magical applications). Once the webs were cleared, they dug into the chests and the cocoons. The cocoons each held the dried husk of a human corpse, their bellies filled and writhing with phase spider eggs nearly ready to hatch. The chests themselves were works of art, carved of weirwood, teak, ebony, or sandalwood, with fittings of silver, platinum, or even mithril. Within they found a trove of gold bullion, collected numismatics, rare books, and magical items.

The sarcophagus, on closer inspection, appeared to have no lid, with only a single finger-sized hole at the point where the two sword hollows met as an opening. Stranger still, Melastasya's enlightened senses allowed her to see that the sarcohpagus somehow existed on all planes simultaneously in this exact, coterminous point. Sufficiently creeped out, the party looked around for a way to stopper the hole or otherwise seal or destroy whatever was inside.

It was then then that Kevorkian noticed something leaking out of Dame's bag. He realized that it was bits of the ashes they had collected from the pedestal on which the soul-devouring urn had rested. He opened the bag and reached in to extract the rest of the ashes, only to have the ashes swirl away from him as if blown by a strong wind and pour into the sarcophagus through the small hole.

Having dealt with enough vampires, Ash drew a magical circle around the sarcophagus to trap whatever was inside. They then piled the cocoons on top of the sarcophagus, and then heaped the burning coals from the pile on top of that, hoping the heat would at least deter, and hopefully destroy, whatever was inside. Then they did the logical thing...

They grabbed all the loot they could carry and ran.

They ran back to the ethereal gate, through it, and up the stairs on which they had first appeared, hoping that "up" would also mean "out". They climbed stairs for almost an hour, only to find a solid brick wall at the top.

To be continued...

Friday, February 20, 2015

Justification for Your Paranoia

Thursday, February 26th is "Internet Slowdown Day" to demand Net Neutrality. It's also when the FCC is scheduled to vote. Hurry up and e-mail or call your legislators and tell them to support reclassifying broadband under Title II of the Communications Act.

A few more things of interest from my professional life...

1) Black Hats vs. Black Phones
In my very first post in this series, I mentioned the BlackPhone, in passing, as a thing that had a lot of promise. There is a lot to be said for designing phones with privacy and security in mind. Of course, such plans don't always pan out. The BlackPhone has gotten a lot of good press over the last year for its end-to-end encryption on all voice and text messaging, and has become a leader in the budding secure phone industry. Of course someone was going to find something wrong with that eventually...
In late January, a memory corruption vulnerability in the BlackPhone was discovered, or, more specifically, in Silent Circle Instant Message Protocol. SCIMP is used for sending text messages and files securely, but this vulnerability would cause the exact opposite. Using the flaw would allow an attacker to execute arbitrary code with the privileges of the messaging application. The flaw could be leveraged by a hacker to decrypt messages, take over Silent Circle accounts, access contacts, collect location information, and write data to external storage. An attacker could have also executed a privilege escalation exploit that would enable him to take complete control of the targeted handset.
The BlackPhone attack utilizes type confusion and could be triggered by sending targets a specially designed payload that allowed an attacker to overwrite a pointer in memory, paving the way to replacing normal contents with malicious ones. 
But don't go discounting the product yet. BlackPhone worked fast to fix the vulnerability, and the company announced a new bug bounty program to encourage researchers to find any other such problems. Despite the embarrassment this bug caused, if they can maintain such a quick turnaround on fixes, BlackPhone is still worth the $$.
 Or, if you cannot afford an actual BlackPhone, the SCIMP text app, Silent Text, is available for free on google play for your android. If you want to take it a step further, this tutorial shows how to remove or disable your android phone's excess sensors and use SnoopSnitch to reduce your chances of your communications being intercepted by third parties. SnoopSnitch will run on any rooted phone running Android 4.1 or higher, and constantly monitors communications on your phone to alert you to mobile network security issues, fake cellular base stations and more.
2) Want to hack a Gas Station?
In late January, HD Moore from Rapid7 disclosed that over 5800 Automated Tank Gauges at gas stations around the world were publicly accessible. Of those 5800, 5300 of them were in the US. In addition to the US, vulnerable ATGs were also discovered in Spain, Puerto Rico, Canada, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, Uruguay, France and Slovenia. Now 5300 is only a small fraction of the more than 115,000 refueling stations in the US.
Anyone connected to the internet can now view the in-tank inventories of the gas stations and manage the gas tanks. There are over 600 commands that can be executed, some of which include setting alarm thresholds, editing sensor configurations, running tank tests, or causing the tank to report as full or empty when it is not. Or, if you really wanted to cause some headaches, have the ATG report a leak which will shut down the tank and pump completely. 
To make things more fun Kyle Whilhoit at Trend Micro reports that more than 1500 devices used to monitor gas pumps were also vulnerable. These vulnerable devices have been actively exploited, including one pump that had its identifier changed from "DIESEL" to "WE_ARE_LEGION". 
Most of the things you can do after compromising either of these kind of devices are not really consumer-beneficial (read as 'you won't get free gas out of the deal'). If you were simply interested in a little mayhem though, you could cause all kinds of supply-chain problems--dispatching trucks to fill tanks that falsely report as empty, having tanks always report full so that they never get filled, etc.
3) Don't expect your car to be smarter than yourself...
So, you went and bought an expensive new car with all the fancy connected whistles: blue tooth, wi-fi, GPS navigation systems, the ability to start your engine with an app, or open your doors when you get close using NFC. Well, all those open communication ports just makes them easier targets. Don't really count on you being the only one able to open your doors or start your engine remotely.
report released by Sen. Ed Markey, a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, makes it clear that even the political establishment is catching on to how vulnerable internet connected machines are. The report included participation by just about every automaker except Aston Martin and Tesla. Of those reporting, nearly 100% of vehicles on the market have wireless communication capabilities and only two automakers had any capability to diagnose or meaningfully respond to an electronic intrusion. Close to two years ago white hats showed that you could control a vehicles breaking and acceleration remotely by taking over the vehicles controller area network (CAN), making the need for intrusion protection a serious safety concern.
The report also showed that vehicles from twelve manufacturers are collecting data about your driving habits and history, and 50% of those transmit that stored data back to the manufacturer, much of it without encryption, and without the driver's consent. 
Then, stacked on top of all of the previous research and the Senate report, around the same time that the report came out, a security researched showed how you can spoof the ConnectedDrive in BMW vehicles to not only intercept all the driving data that is being sent back to the manufacturer, but also unlock the car by simulating a fake phone network  (a wonderful new toy for anyone interested in committing some grand theft auto). BMW was quick enough to release a patch and push it out to the connected vehicles, but that patch basically boils down to just having the car use HTTPS...
Which we hope would be the first step in building such a system...not a patch released after the fact...
4) Your Lenovo was compromised when you got it...
Last week it was revealed that Lenovo computers come pre-installed with adware that hijacks encrypted web sessions and makes user vulnerable to HTTPS man-in-the-middle attacks. According to Lenovo this affects all consumer laptops shipped between October and December of last year (which may include some sitting on shelves in Best Buys or other retailers left over from Christmas inventories).
The software called "Superfish" installs a self-signed root HTTPS certificate than can intercept all encrypted traffic for every website you visit, no matter what browser you use, and inject advertisements into all of those . Even worse, the Superfish TLS certificate is the same for every Lenovo machine, which might allow attackers to create impostor HTTPS sites (like a bank for instance) with the same cert which your computer would then not flag as a forgery. Then, of course, all of those keys are protected by the same password,  "komodia".
Lenovo has published instructions for removing the malware, but you may be better off just doing a clean install of your OS.
The underlying SSL hijack software, Komodia Redirector and Komodia SSL Digester, developed by an Israeli company called Komodia (who's website is, understandably, DDOS'd), has been found on 14 pieces of software so far, including at least one trojan, and a privacy/security tool called PrivDog.
This website will test if your machine is infected with any of the Komodia-based apps. 
5) Some places are so insecure even a 7-year-old can hack them...
It is always good when you find a free Wi-Fi connection at a coffee shop. But all of this changed for all those present the day when a seven year old girl hacked one such WAP and accessed a stranger’s laptop within minutes.
An experiment was conducted by Hide My Ass!, a VPN provider, to alert the public about the risks involved when using free, public Wi-Fi. To prove how easy and vulnerable you may be, the team at HMA gave this task to a seven year old girl.
Primary school student Betsy Davies from Dulwich in South London was able to hack into a public Wi-Fi hotspot after she searched and watched a video tutorial online which explained how to hack a network. It took 7-year old Betsy just 10 minutes and 54 seconds to hack into a Wi-Fi hotspot. She then set up a Rogue Access Point which is often used by cybercriminals to trigger a ‘man in the middle’ attack allowing her to ‘sniff’ traffic.
Professional pen-tester Marcus Dempsey watched Betsy as she made her way through by Googling everything. Of the things she Googled, there were eleven million results returned and about fourteen thousand video tutorials linked via YouTube.
Cain McKenna Charley, a member of HMA, said that the image of cyber criminals hiding away in some far flung part of the world is antiquated. They are just as likely to be sitting next to you in a coffee shop or a public library. And if a child can perform a basic hack on a Wi-Fi network in minutes, imagine the damage a professional blackhat can do.
As for the title here, by "some places" I really mean "most places". Hacking is literally child's play and we need to make sure we teach our children the ethics to go along with their computer skills.