Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Challenge Ratings for AD&D 2nd Edition

I previously mentioned a discussion I had with +Roger Brasslett, regarding the appropriateness of using Hit Dice as a gauge of whether a monster was an appropriate challenge for a group of PCs of an given level in 2nd-edition AD&D. He compiled a list of 1HD monsters that could be used to challenge low-level parties, but Hit Dice does not tell you much about the creature's actual capabilities.

My classic example of this is the Quickling. Technically a Quickling only has 1 HD, but with natural invisibility, super high AC, multiple attacks per round, poison, and at-will spell-like abilities like shatter, dig, and forget, it could easily destroy a 1st-level party. Which is why it's worth 2000xp despite having only 1HD (enough for your fighter to immediately jump to level 2). Conversely, Planescape's Dabus has 4HD, but has poor AC (only 7), a single attack with mundane weapons, and no outstanding defensive capabilities or special attacks, and is thus worth only 75 experience points.

Obviously the XP value of a creature is a much better gauge of the creature's actual threat level. The various Monstrous Compendium volumes even included a detailed chart show how various special abilities, high armor class, and high damage output add to raw Hit Dice to generate the Experience Point Value of the creature.

Unfortunately, the numbers can be quite large and do not follow a linear progression (7 to multiple thousands), which makes quick eyeball comparison much harder than with Hit Dice (1 to 20). On the plus side, the chart does make it clear how the numbers line up.

The 3rd edition of Dungeons and Dragons introduced the concept of "Challenge Ratings" (CR), which directly tied amount of threat to amount of experience, while reflecting it in a simple 1 to 20 integer format (or 1/2, 1/4, or 1/8 for very weak monsters meant to be confronted in large groups). Using the chart provided in the Monstrous Manuals we can easily assign "Challenge Ratings" to monsters based on their XP Values.

Let's start at the bottom with one of the classic foes. 3rd-edition lists the Orc as "CR 1/2", meaning that 2 standard orcs should make a relatively fair fight for a 1st-level Fighter, which has been reasonably shown throughout most editions of the game. 2nd Edition gives the standard, no frills, baseline Orc and XP Value of "15". The chart shows that "XP 15" equates to "1-1 HD", which seems like a reasonable point to set our CR 1/2 at.

Obviously we cannot do a direct 1-for-1 comparison between 3e and 2e CRs for all creatures, as there are significant changes to the capabilities of many of them. Let's look at the next step up in generic humanoids. The next step up in the 2e Chart is "35 xp" for which the Gnoll is a good example, conveniently the Gnoll is also a CR 1 by 3e standards, so our chart maintains a close parallel. Thus CR 1 = 1 step up on the chart, and just slightly over 2x the experience of our CR 1/2 (15 x 2 != 35, but close enough).

So far so good, we can almost make a linear match, but what about the next step or two up? Let's look at the Azer. The 2nd and 3rd edition, Azers are practically identical (2+1 HD humanoid, immune to fire, slight magic resistance, +1 bonus to attack and damage from high Strength, heat attack that adds +1 fire damage to weapon strikes), and, in all, just slightly more powerful than a Gnoll. The 3rd-edition Azer is listed as a CR 2 (an appropriate challenge for a 2nd-level party), but the 2nd-edition Azer has an XP value of 420, 5 steps higher than our Gnoll, and yet, the two versions of the Azer have absolutely identical capabilities.

Let's try another 3rd-edition CR 2 monster. The hippogriff is also pretty much identical between editions, it has 3+3 hit dice, a good fly speed, an AC of 5/15, and 3 attacks for moderate damage. The 3rd-edition version is a CR 2, the same as the Azer, but the 2nd-edition version is only worth 175xp, less than half what the Azer is worth and 2 steps down on the chart. A quick look at other monsters listed as CR 2 in 3rd-edition shows a relatively tight range of XP values: 175xp for the 2+2 HD Sahuagin, 175xp for the 3HD Cheetah, 270xp for the 3HD Triton, and 270xp for the 3HD Wererat. Even the Bugbear which is the classic next-step-up in humanoids, comes in at 120xp, two steps up the chart from our 35xp CR 1.

From this we may have to assume a range of XP Values for each CR, rather than a 1-for-1 correlation with the chart above. This may be a good thing though, since there are published monsters that have XP Values that do not even appear on the chart, like Dark Sun's Bloodvine (50xp), Planescape/Chronomancer's Temporal Dog (375xp), and Dragonlance's Ursoi (775xp). Assigning a range for each CR will let us encompass creatures such as these that do not match the standard charts. So, looking at our sample CR 2 critters, it looks like most of them fall in the 120xp to 270xp range (we'll ignore the Azer as an outlier).

We can extrapolate ranges moving up, but where will the top-end be? 2nd-edition has some XP Values in excess of 100,000, but these are mostly for unique creatures like the Tarrasque, which should probably be ignored. Let's look at some classic apex monsters. The Pit Fiend and Balor are the top badasses of the Nine Hells and Abyss, respectively. They are both CR 20 in 3rd-edition and come in at 21000xp and 26000xp (respectively). Few other monsters fall into that power-level, but include Very Old red and gold dragons, at 21000xp and 22000xp respectively. The Great Wyrm gold dragon (the strongest of the standard D&D dragons) comes in at 25000xp. A Great Wyrm is a significantly greater threat than a dragon 2 ages lower, so we probably need to narrow the Pit Fiend/Balor gap and admit that the Balor is just stronger than his Hell-dwelling counterpart.

Let's set our CR 20 at a range of 24,000xp (Great Wyrm Red Dragon) to 26,000xp (Balors and Ultraloths), with catching the Great Gold Wyrm in the middle at 25,000xp. If we slot in the Pit Fiend as only one step below a Balor, then we can make CR 19 equal to 21,000xp to 23,000xp, catching the infamous Froghemoth, most of the rest of the Great Wyrm dragons, and the Balor's classic sidekick, the Marilith.

So here is our final break-down of 2nd-edition Challenge Ratings.

CR XP Value Sample Creatures
1/4 10 or less Cat, Kobold, Piranha, Weasel
1/2 11 to 30 Addazahr, Alchemy Plant, Goblin, Orc
1 31 to 99 Huge Centipede, Gnoll, Axebeak, Dabus
2 100 to 300 Bugbear, Centaur, Aballin, Ogre
3 301 to 500 Azer, Mephits, Giant Eagle, Shadow
4 501 to 750 Aranea, Cockatrice, Ghast, Eyewing
5 751 to 1000 Ursoi, Derro, Flail Snail, Venger
6 1001 to 1500 Nymph, Ravid, Son of Kyuss, Yak Man
7 1501 to 2000 Sylph, Doom Guard, Hydra, Grell
8 2001 to 3500 Spinagon, Cryo-Hydra, Xill, Great Wyrm Faerie Dragon
9 3501 to 5000 Dimensional Warper, Banshee, Bulette, Remorhaz
10 5001 to 6500 Kyton, Couatl, Death Knight, Fomorian
11 6501 to 8000 Sporebat, Behir, Frost Giant, Lich
12 8001 to 9500 Warden Beast, Aurumvorax, Blue Slaad, Mind Flayer
13 9501 to 11000 Roper, Noble Salamander, Roc, Juvenile Green Dragon
14 11001 to 12500 Night Hag, Glabrezu, Razhak, Dracosphinx
15 12501 to 14000 Beholder, Sword Archon, Storm Giant, Kraken
16 14001 to 15500 Nature Elemental, Retriever, Adult Copper Dragon, Astral Deva
17 15501 to 17999 Marid, Brass Minotaur, Marut, Psionic Lich
18 18000 to 20000 Phoenix, Animal Lords, Elder Orb Beholder, Nightwalker
19 21000 to 23000 Pit Fiend, Froghemoth, Titan, Death Slaad
20 24000 to 26000 Balor, Ultraloth, Great Wyrm Red Dragon, Great Wyrm Gold Dragon
21 27000 to 30000 Colossus, Dregoth, Hephaeston, Wight King
22 31000 to 35000 Ghost Dragon, Solar, Corpse Tearer Linnorm
HFS! 36000+ Graz’zt, The Dragon of Tyr, The Tarrasque

You can get a spread-sheet of all of the monsters in AD&D 2nd edition, filterable by hit dice, XP value, and our new Challenge Ratings at this link and can look at stats for all published 2nd edition monsters on the Lomion Monster Index.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Exodus: Session 5

Time to write, I have not, nor can I find a voice, so these Exodus posts shall henceforth just be my notes for each session, hard to read as they may be. Perhaps it will give the reader some insight into how my mind organizes information before it is turned into my broken prose, or perhaps not. Perhaps you may even find some of it possible to follow.

Session 5: Bright Colors Means its Poisonous

Altan is raging, Ganbaataar is taking all the beasts
Vadim hooks up with some maggotfolk merchants
they make some nails/bolts to fix the wagons
Breaks Like Wind calls some unseen servants to lash the wagons together
Khut and another of the maggotfolk go hunting
Bring down a wild hornbeast
Notice strange weather -- heat waves in the air
Find Semek's wife in the bushes...
Follow her...staring happens...
She runs for me...I panic...
She vaults over me and runs for camp...
We get back to camp, things are chaotic...
Breaks Like Wind summons "Decoy 9" a thoroughly disreputable bird
Ithunn "handles" Decoy and gets seriously cussed out,
until she chokes him
Breaks sends Decoy to scout out the Black Crow tribe
and tell them "with only 1 insult"
that firebirds are coming at the head of an army of beastmen
Breaks includes a note to be given to the Shaman
telling them drowned river is pulling up and moving out

Decoy flies off narrowly missing a "flying hornbeast"
part of the herd that is forming up outside the camp
floating 30 feet over the ground
everyone runs like crazy to catch it
Ithunn (a maggotfolk girl) runs really-really fast
Khut decides that Semek's wife has nothing on her
Breaks like wind stares at the floating hornbeast through shard of a mirror
reflects himself and the world around him
but over his shoulder in the distance, things grow very very dim,
his reflection mouths the words "They are coming", he shouts it
Khut chases the flying hornbeast on a warbeast  and lassos it, snags a leg
Ithunn leaps, grabs the rope, and climbs up
Khut goes up the rope after her
Up close we can see that it looks lacerated along its sides
with "ropes" wrapped around it suckling at the wounds
Vadim ties the rope off to the horn of his saddle
tries to drag the flying hornbeast down,
gets dragged along instead
Squee climbs up (or rides her imaginary pink dragon)
she gets up and screams something about
Breaks casts grease on the Flying Hornbeast
The hornbeast swings dangerously loose in the air
Then we see 3 massive, bloated, floating spore-like things
with nests of tentacles and horned beaks like flying man-o-wars
They have wrapped all of their tentacles around the beast,
desperately trying to keep it from slipping away

Ithunn gets snagged by a sharp-spined tentacle
It bites Khut, who just laughs it off
Breaks tags it with a firebolt, lightning it up
and it is covered in grease, so its on FIRE
Ithunn whips out a three-section staff, wraps
it through the tentacles, and then kicks
the thing -- grabbing it and kicking the crap
out of it, rather like a warbler
Khut wraps his legs around the rope, swings down
and shoots it, blowing it sideways away
Vadim blows a horn to alert Ganbaatar and co.
Squee whispers "you are not my friend" to one of the
tentacle-things holding the hornbeast, which releases its prey
and runs like hell
The other begins to sink under the weight of the hornbeast
It drifts closer to Squee who, pointing at her pink hair, informs it
"You know bright colors means its poisonous!"
The one holding Ithunn clenches with its tentacles,
then gets a beakful of staff
Breaks burns it again, and it finally begins to drift downward...
Ithunn wriggles free, leaps for the rope, misses
her ankle snagged in its tentacle again
Khut kicks the rope swinging, still upside down,
swings over, severs the tentacle with a knife
and grabs Ithunn trapeze-style
Vadim does a sperm-whale call with the horn,
spooking the other two and turning them bright pink
Chinua barks orders and nohai arrows are buried in one of them
Squee viciously mocks the one she'd previously whispered
it rushes her and bites
gets stabbed, and bites some more
Khut slides down and deposits Ithunn on the ground
The nohai continue to hammer them with arrows
Ithunn tosses a torch at the one eating Squee
Khut has no sympathy for the small pink thing that
insists on calling him "cutie" and shoots the one not biting her
The Nohai bring the one eating Squee down with arrows anyways
The other one comes down like a jelly-fish in a barrel
Khut finally runs over and bandages up the gnome
Vadim saves the hornbeast, with a healing potion,
which apparently belonged to Hulagu
who is incredibly greatful
250gp worth of supplies release to our use
Contract for 1000 warbler-fletched arrows
4 Healing Potions
Vadim extracts the venom and puts it in a sheath for Ithunn
Breaks makes a couple of whips from the tentacles

Ma'Chek and Ganbaatar congratulate us, ask where to go
We aim for Tradestone, but discuss the best way to get them to move...
Squee goes to talk to Altan,
proposes that Ganbaatar might give him back the herd
and that if they can get to Tradestone they will be rich
beyond the dreams of avarice thanks to the Panic
"4-legs are assets, 2-legs are liabilities"
We book it at nightfall heading west by southwest
100 steppefolk and 40 Krokodil warblers

Outriding, Khut spots campfires due west
We flow like the night over the steppes
find a Nohai camp, proper nohai, minimal teepees
tribe at least as big as the drowned-river clan
...it's the Dust
Khut lays a false nohai scent trail as they come in
then circles and lays a herdbeast scent trail due west
Vadim and Breaks ride back to convince Ganbaatar to avoid them
Ganbaatar decides that we should strike Dust
when they are otherwise engaged with the Black Crows...

We travel through the night and sleep
Khut sleeps in the saddle
Ithunn rides with the young Warblers,
talk about coming from the Akilabator nest,
who live down near the jungle and nest in the trees (what's that?)
there is much insulting of steppefolk speech
they discuss potentially heading South for safety instead of West
but wanting to stay ahead of the "badly hatched" or "rehatched"
(warblers who do not sing and attack single-mindedly like crows)
Vadim sleeps in his delapidated yurt, and snores LOUDLY
which is stuffed with straw, tunneled out, and filled with warblers,
Squee sleeps curled up on a warbeast's nose like a cat
Breaks is one of the few mortals able to withstand Vadim's snoring,
finds that Vadim is smuggling someone who also snores
and farts a lot in their sleep

We get some sleep and head into tradestone
"Raggar One-eye" -- beast-trader in tradestone,
primary contact with the great trade road caravans, cosmopolitan
Tradestone has a well-armed, armored, and drilled militia
We talk about what to steal, who to make friends with

An elf and a pink-haired gnome walk into an Orc bar...
Gormak -- bartender, a hefty, jowly orc with horns
refers to the drowned river clan as "thieving bastards"
Squee slaps Gormak and hugs him, for no reason
Rumors of war to the east, a shattered caravan in town
Road closed, Yaghuth confiscating everything,
The bar gathers around as Breaks casts some illusions
and tells the tale of the army, the beast-man,
the walking dead nohai

Thin, scarred steppefolk slides in across from Ithunn
asks about "demon hunters", Squee appears in his lap (for no reason),
"Guun" -- hunter, saw some things in the Yaghuth Remembrance
doesn't know what a demon is,
but the thing he saw "comes pretty close" --
gets real dark, screams from far away,
things reaching for you from out of the ground...
yaghuth are scared...
down south yaghuth not trading, closed the gates,
land is shuddering,

We find the maggotfolk outside of town to the west,
just north of the great trade road,
set up bazaar offloading exotic goods
Khut spots an old lady who is clearly the caravan master,
Ithunn passes her a bag of shiny things
Squee had previously lifted from her possession
"Gray Lady"
We chat -- they've seen a lot,
Khut tells the truth, trades stories,
they agree to travel "close to us" but
will not trust the safety of her 12 remaining kinfolk to "scruffy horsethieves"
Breaks asks if they have books...
She leads them to a fancy wagon, all the dirt falls off of them,
Breaks touches the book
finds it to be an advanced medical treatise written in cuneiform
Breaks offers to trade "the book that matters"
she says he can "come visit" but she can't trade the books

Breaks seizes, passes out, and when he wakes up suggests that we light a back-fire

One Character, Nine Systems: Part 1

Obviously the rules for D&D have gone through many changes over the years, and I've had to put up with (read as enjoy) most of them. I've played characters in every edition, even converting across editions in a few cases (especially 2nd to 3rd). I have a lot of ideas about what I like and do not like about the various editions, and even enumerated several of them in one of the very first posts on this blog, but have never done a true side-by-side comparison of the various rule-sets or of what a character would like throughout all of them (though I played around with this a bit as part of a thing for work many years ago).

So, here is the plan:

  1. I will take one of my old characters who was played in a couple of different editions.
  2. Using him as a basis, I will try to re-create that character in each of the following versions of D&D: OD&D, AD&D, Basic D&D (Moldvay), AD&D 2nd edition, D&D Rules Cyclopedia, D&D 3rd edition, D&D 4th edition, Pathfinder, D&D 5th edition, 
  3. I will generate a single set of stats for the character, using 3d6-in-order and apply it to every version.
  4. I will try to faithfully capture the spirit of the character using all nine versions of the D&D mechanics.
  5. I will try to post a new version of the stats every Monday until I've done them all...

For now, let's establish the base-line:

The Character:

Junco Eliade is a scholarly dwarven priest dedicated to the philosophical study of Cosmogony (that is theories concerning the creation or origin of the universe), Hierophany (that is manifestations of the sacred or supernatural into the world), and Ontology (the nature of being, existence, and reality in general). Eliade was one of a number of archaeologists, adventurers, and researchers who have braved the Misty Blue Mountains to study the ruins of Shalast some time ago and is recognized as one of the founders of New Shalast.

At the end of the sixteenth century, Eliade stopped to spend the night near the spring that would become New Shalast‘s main water source and planted his staff in the ground. The next morning when he went to resume his journey, he found that it had taken root and that buds had sprouted on it. He considered this a sign of the gods’ will and settled in that place, forming the town that would come to be known as Madain Sari.

Eliade has long studied the Malimë Imadh from the reports of various adventurers who have attempted to assail it, and wishes to compile the definitive work on the Mountain that he believes lies at the “Center of the World”. According to various accounts of the creation of the world he has compiled, Eliade believes that at the heart of the mountain is a copper pole (the “axis mundi”), passing through the three cosmic levels (underworld, earth, and sky), and that the point at which it enters the sky is the “door to the world above”. Eliade believes that anyone ascending Malimë Imadh all the way to its highest peak will be able to enter the heavens or, delving deep the opposite direction, plunge into the realms of the dead.

Despite his deep fascination with the Mountain, Eliade has never set foot on it yet for to him “every existential decision to situate oneself in space constitutes a religious decision.” Eliade believes that exploring and claiming new territory is akin to reproducing the gods’ paradigmatic work of creating the cosmos out of the primordial chaos: in effect each time man builds a house, founds a new village, or discovers and settles new territory, he is creating a new world (on his own micro-scale) and vanquishing the forces of chaos anew.

Likewise all enemies that attack this “world” are assimilated to the enemies of the “gods”, the demons and the primordial archdragon conquered at the beginning of time. An attack on this “world” is equivalent to an act revenge by the primordial forces of chaos attempting to annihilate the cosmos which the gods created. Any destruction of a city is equivalent to a retrogression towards chaos. The victory of the gods over the forces of darkness, death, and chaos is repeated with every victory of the city over its invaders. Unknown, foreign, and unoccupied territory (i.e. “unoccupied by Eliade’s people”) still shares the fluid and larval modality of primordial chaos, by occupying and settling it, Eliade insists that one symbolically transforms it into a cosmos through ritual repetition of the cosmogony.

Eliade’s religion is highly ritualistic and stylized, believing more in ritually reenacting the works of the gods than in actively offering prayers or worship to any god directly. The formality of practice and sense of closeness to the act of divine creation in Eliade’s teachings has appealed to many in New Shalast, developing a fairly populous and active church over the years that has little need of Eliade’s presence to operate. However, many in the town find his practices strange: whether it is using divination and astrology to find the exact spot where the first stone of a new house must be laid, or his insistence on reciting (at length) the history of a sickness, the demons that provoke it, the saints that first conquered the malady, the birth of the first healer, and the appearance of medicines before offering a patient the herbs to treat it. Eliade is often cited as saying “life cannot be repaired, it can only be recreated through symbolic repetition of the cosmogony”.

Eliade, like most dwarves is broad and stocky in build, with a strong jaw and high forehead. Due to his long time spent living among humans in Madain Sari, he has taken to shaving his wiskers and dressing in human clothing (typically sporting a tie and thick black-framed glasses, which he thinks make him look more erudite). Eliade always carries a cedar staff, his own replica of the “axis mundi”. This serves as both weapon, holy symbol, and directional guide, choosing the direction he will take by the direction towards which this sacred pole bends.

The Baseline:
This is what we will use to try to create the character in each system...

Race: Dwarf
Class: Cleric/Fighter Multi-class
Level: 3rd

  • Str: 9
  • Dex: 16
  • Con: 15
  • Int: 16
  • Wis: 11
  • Cha: 8

Because demihuman multi-classing is one of the things that changes significantly between editions, we'll make him a multi-class Fighter / Cleric in order to better show off those changes. Likewise, knowing that 3rd and 5th edition multi-classing are based on taking levels of a new class as one gains levels, we will build him at 3rd level (max level for Moldvay Basic) in order to be able to reflect that. Obviously some of the rolls are not ideal for a Cleric, nor for a Fighter, nor necessarily for a Dwarf, but that is what makes this fun (and may better reflect the constraints of character creation in some of the systems).

Friday, July 24, 2015

This Month in Gaming

June and July have  been nicely heavy gaming months, but low time-to-write months. Today is no different on the time-to-write side of things, so I'll try to cover the "what I've been up to" as concisely as possible...which anyone who ever reads these knows is not very concise...

Video Gaming:
Final Fantasy XIII
I've always been a big fan of the Final Fantasy series of games, but this is one that I could not bring myself to finish for quite a long time. I bought a copy and started playing but was quickly turned off by the Sci-Fi-ness of the visuals, the linearness of the storyline and maps, and the inability to level, or really make any decisions at all for the first couple chapters of the game. After finishing The Last of Us in May, which was also fairly linear, I thought I'd go back and give it another try. Luckily it does get better. Much of the game was your fairly standard Final Fantasy fare, but there are a few gems in the plot which are well worth stealing, and one which would lend itself very well to the kind of games that involve old friends who are only able to get together to play once a year or so.
Not to spoil too much (though the game has been out for 6 years and has 2 direct sequels so I shouldn't really care about spoilers), the game centers around the conflict between two worlds, one a semi-utopia where godlike machines provide the humans with all of their needs, the other a Darwinian wilderness referred to by the "civilized" utopian dwellers as "the underworld". The utopian human world is high-tech, low-magic. The tech-utopians have a witch-hunt level fear of anything from the Darwinian world, and conduct "purges" of anyone who comes in contact with anything from the other world, either shipping them off to live in the underworld, or killing them outright. The game opens during the largest of these purges, when a whole city became "contaminated" by finding a relic from an ancient war between the two worlds which contained one of the machine-gods from the lower realm.
It's here where we get the really D&D-able stuff. Anyone who comes into direct contact with one of the "gods" is "blessed" with the ability to use magic (Clerics in an otherwise zero-magic world). The upper-world gods do this only very rarely, the lower-world gods apparently do it much more commonly. Whenever a mortal is given such power, they are also given a quest (logically enough). If they fail to complete the quest within a given (but unspecified) timeframe, they turn into undead monsters (ghouls, ghasts, vampires, and wights all make an appearance as those that failed their quests). Basically like a Gaes or Quest spell on steroids. Simple enough.
However, if these "blessed" individuals succeed in their quest, they are instantly petrified. They are transformed into statues of nearly-indestructible crystal, effectively hibernating, only to be awakened when the god has a new job for them (which may be centuries later). So the ability to use magic and perform amazing adventurous feats (i.e. be a PC) is a lose-lose proposition for the character. To make matters worse, when touched by a god in this way, you are visibly branded making you instantly recognizable to all normal people, who, as previously mentioned, have a tendency to purge anyone and anything that may have come in contact with one of the underworld gods -- so the torches and pitchforks are guaranteed to come out. TL;DR the gods are dicks.
Why is this good for a D&D game. Because it has instantly built in retirement/post-adventure downtime. PCs who succeed in their great save-the-world quest are rewarded by being put on ice until they are needed again. "In case of Ragnarok, break glass". It's a very convenient mythology for the kind of games that are played in very infrequent marathon-session style. Finish an adventure, freeze PCs, wake them back up the next time you can get together.
The other interesting part here, and one I rather like, is the idea that the gods pick you, you don't pick the gods. You are cursed, but get super-powers that no other mortals have out of the deal. This could be done in an amusingly random way also -- PCs go on a fairly mundane adventure, then encounter a shrine to an ancient pantheon, and each PC gets branded (and granted appropriate powers) by a different deity not of their choosing. After which you go on crazy adventures that involve being chased by witch-hunters and inevitably ends with you either undead or a statue. 
Really this would drop into a Lamentations of the Flame Princess game very well. 
The other really dick-ish thing about the FFXIII premise is that the gods don't bother to tell you what your Quest actually is. You get a single vague vision and then have to figure the rest out for yourself. And the dominant religion (of the people guaranteed to hate you) assumes that your mission is always "cause Ragnarok"...which, when combined with the army, witch-hunters, and angry mobs chasing you everywhere, pretty much turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy. You might actually be there to save the world and stop a cataclysm, but no one really knows and no one really cares, they all want to kill you anyways. "Hey everyone hates us, and we're doomed to death or petrification anyways, so we might as well try to bring down the government and kill everyone." 

Darkest Dungeon
My other electronic diversion lately (and one that has seriously impeded my work productivity since I installed it on my laptop) is Darkest Dungeon. This is classic 4-person-party dungeon crawling at its best, with an added dose of everyone going insane from the stress of adventuring and have to spend all their money praying/drinking/gambling/whoring/etc after every adventure to wind down (which feels exactly like the carousing rules so popular throughout the OSR community). This feels more like D&D in spirit than any computer game I've ever played, mostly because every character is flawed (like my "Faithless" "Nymphomaniac" Nun who insists on stopping by the brothels after every quest, and makes comments about paying extra to "don't tell anyone I was here").
 It's cheap and available on steam pre-release. Go download it now.

From the Blogroll:
Dear Prudentia
I am an unabashed feminist, but I also have a huge soft spot for satire and a love of classic, trope-laden fantasy literature and artwork. So when a female fantasy author decided to make a fake advice column for would-be female adventurers suggesting such things as wearing chainmail bikinis and letting your male companions save you, I was hooked. Marie Bilodea's ability to turn a trope on its head by embracing the absurd extremes of it are unbelievably amusing. "Dear Prudentia" has been featured in several articles on Black Gate and I strongly recommend reading all of them:
 General Amusement
It's been a good month for comedy. A recent addition to my RSS feed has been Your D&D Stories Illustrated, a tumbler that takes short, out-of-context, stories told by various D&D players and turns them into comics. In addition to the simple humor of them all, these are all vignettes that belong in your game somewhere.
Low-level Threats
Roger over at A Life Full of Adventure recently posted a list of 1HD monsters from the AD&D 2nd-edition monster manual, proposing that it represented a list of appropriate alternatives to the stereotypical goblins and giant rats for a 1st-level AD&D party to face. Hit Dice, however, does not tell you much about the actual power level of monsters in AD&D. Technically a Quickling only has 1 HD, but with natural invisibility, super high AC, multiple attacks per round, poison, and at-will spell-like abilities like shatter, dig, and forget, it could easily destroy a 1st-level party. Which is why it's worth 2000xp despite having only 1HD (enough for your fighter to immediately jump to level 2). 
This got me thinking, and discussing with Roger, about what would make an appropriate gauge of "Challenge Rating" (if we can borrow a term from later editions) for AD&D. XP value seems the obvious answer, since the table in the Monster Manual take all of HD, armor class, damage output, and special abilities into account when calculating the XP reward that a given creature should give out.
Setting the bar for reasonable 1st-level challenges at less than 100xp rather than at 1HD gives a wide range of creatures from Planescape's 4HD but still mostly harmless Dabus, most of your common animals like wolves, camels, ostriches, and hyenas, down to creatures with only 1hp that can still be dangerous such as the memory-draining Obliviax moss or the disease-carrying Addazahr. Because, let's face it, an ostrich may have 3HD, but, baring unlucky rolls, it is hardly a threat for even a single 1st-level fighter.

What I've Been Playing:
Boardgame Night:
Last month, and again this week, I got together with some old D&D-friends, with whom our schedules have not lined up to get a campaign going for a couple of years, to play some board games. We had, for a long time, been trying to make it monthly thing, or at least quarterly, but twice a year has been about as close as we could get. Hopefully two in a row will make this a thing we might actually keep going. We're trying to play a new game each time we meet, both to grow our collections, and also to try out things that we may not have had the opportunity to previously.
June's game was Sentinels of the Multiverse which is a collaborative card game, with a superhero motiff. July's was Small World which is a competitive conquest-based game. I won't go into long descriptions or reviews (you can find plenty on the web already), other than to say that both games were very fun and present a lot of unique options and combinations which should make for lots of replayability. Sadly neither had anything that seemed particularly stealable for D&D games (I've got a one-track mind).
The End of Two Games:
Somehow, my Sunday and Saturday Ruins of Adventure games both chose to break up at the same time. The latter because of Summer scheduling issues, the former because it reached something resembling a stopping point and had another GM really biting at the bit to start a new game (after a nearly 4-year hiatus from that side of the table).
The End of both games involved PVP between the Amazons and the Good Intentions party, followed by a series of truly improbable events (thanks to some reality-warping magic items the latter party had acquired a long time ago). While there is much more that could have been done with these parties and this story-line, both parties worked pretty hard to make sure they were leaving a good pile of plot hooks and new adventure locations for the other parties operating in the world.
The E-mail Games:
June and July saw a long quiet period for the first play-by-email game (not an unusual thing as it moves in fits and starts). The party finally got out of their extended forray into the Squatters in Onyx kobold warrens and have been trying to figure out where and how to move next. Updates will be forthcoming once the players get their footing again.
Conversely, the new play-by-post game has finally achieved some momentum. We lost three of the eight originally signed-up players do to life circumstances, but have found a functional base-line group with a reasonably well-rounded party (Fighter, Paladin, Cleric, Enchanter/Druid, and Bard). They are currently involved in investigating a mystery involving grotesque bird-man hybrids in a small village north and west of Phlan. The story is pushing along, so you can likely expect more updates from them in the near future.
The Exodus:
I'm happy to have some time on the player's side of the screen again, which has not been the case for close to a year and a half. In the wake of the Good Intentions game, one of my favorite GMs, Joahua Fairfield has spun up a new campaign that he has been working on for several years. Dubbed "The Exodus", the game draws its inspiration from the many stories of human migration through the ages. Here it is described in his words:
"The Israelites wandering in the desert for forty years. The Trail of Tears. The Mongol Invasions. The wagon trains to the American West. History is marked by mass human migration, villages uprooted, families packing everything they have and setting out on a desperate, years-long journey to find a better place. Migration is one of the great human stories, and one that has not yet been the subject of a campaign."
The world is based on the Mongolian steppes, populated with Eocene era wildlife, with classic medieval-fantasy era magic and technology. We're using 5e D&D, but with the "What would Gandalf do" caveat:
"This story is about a journey, and the perils of journeying. Many effects in D&D remove the journey, or take important parts of the tension of adventure away. Fly or Feather Fall remove the fear of falling. Water-breathing removes the fear of drowning. Teleport removes the entire journey. So, as a guiding point, we ask: what would Gandalf do? If the effect removes the adventure, it will be Rule-0’ed. This currently means that any flying magical effect is straight out. (Flying mounts are another question entirely. Gandalf rode eagles.)
and, as always "Shields Shall be Splintered".
We are playing every Sunday, and have had four sessions so far, but my schedule will not allow perfect attendance for the next few months, so expect updates on it to include some gaps. I will try to keep the prose flowing though. For now, you can enjoy reading about Session 1Session 3, and Session 4 (I missed the second game for family reasons).

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Exodus: Session 4

Having devastated the Empty Circle camp, we backed off and got some rest while waiting for the gorgons to get bored and either leave, or go to sleep. After about eight hours, we crept back to the camp with the hope of catching the malik necromancer alone, or at least with fewer troops to back him up.

Vadim went in first, making himself very tiny, Inside the camp he found piles of corpses--nohai, zombie, and gorgon--but nothing moving. He crept in, heading for the malik's tent, but had to climb over a one of the corpse piles to get to it. While climbing he stepped on a dead gorgon, which exploded, shrouding the area in a mix of petrifying gorgon breath and swamp gas from the decomposition.

The rest of us followed, at which point another of the big gorgon corpses stood up, because zombie nohai were not bad enough. I quickly shot the thing, and the rapid expulsion of noxious gasses blew it backwards nearly three paces. The familiar boiled-cabbage smell of the calcifying gorgon breath hung in the air, and I determined to keep my distance.

The zomborgon charged Khadagan, but somehow managed to encircle the hermit with its great horns, rather than goring him. What followed can be boiled down to lots and lots of bashing, every hack of an axe or poke of an arrow creating another expulsion of the poisonous gas. I climbed to the top of a tent pole to get above the vapors, everyone else just coughed and pressed on.

The undead bull kept trying, and failing, to gore Khadagan. Eventually, after much hacking, Barruk took the things right, front leg clean off. As his skin started to harden from the gasses, Khadagan went berserk, grabbed the thing's horns, and twisted it's head free from its neck, nearly decapitating it with his bare hands. Barruk, with a swing of his axe, finished the job of taking it's head off, cauterizing the wound in a flash of power... then froze, his victory forever captured in stone.

We looked around to make sure there were no more undead surprises, then looted the camp. I found LOTS of rope.

The malik was long gone, but his tent was there to be looted, complete with the frozen corpse of the zombie-nohai that had terrorized Sorqutani the day before. Vadim smelled fresh dirt, and found a strongbox buried in one corner. It had a surprisingly sophisticated lock, but nothing that a little prodding with an arrowhead couldn't fix. Inside we found a stash of gold, silver, and copper horn rings, commonly worn as a status symbol (and occasionally used in trade) by malik, a pair of gems, a delicately-woven and strangely-scented silk scarf, a trio of small containers made of clear blown glass, a gold spider-web head covering, like those worn by the Yaghüth, and a blank book with the first quire torn out.

Ado dove into the collected oddities, took one whiff of the scarf, and passed out. Vadim carefully stashed the cursed piece of silk in one of the bottles (the other two being full -- one with a strange, viscous liquid, the other with something that smelled like cut grass). I took the horn rings and went out and used them to decorate our statue of Barruk.

Sorq, meanwhile, looked at the book. While the first third or so of the pages had been ripped out, the first remaining page showed indentation from the author writing very heavily on the previous page. A little charcoal revealed the following (so much as I can remember from Sorq reading it aloud to us), "As with certain reptiles, external heat on the unhatched eggs of the thunderbird can produce dramatic changes ... hard-boiled warbler eggs are delicious".

Chinua pointed out to us that the Malik had shown considerable interest in the thunderbird and finding it's nest, even going so far as to order the nohai to search for recently dead and eaten gorgons. It then became clear as mud what the malik's plan was...something vaguely involving finding the thunderbird eggs and setting them on fire. And we had just given him a whole bunch of gorgons to use as thunderbird bait.

I did a scan of the perimeter of the camp and, sure enough, found the tracks of the malik and a quintet of nohai leading a gorgon cow and calf away in the general direction of the thunderbird nesting spire. We quickly built a travois to haul Barruk's stoned ass with us, and let the nohai give their slain fellows in the camp a "proper burial" (they apparently like that I remembered the necessary niceties, but really it saved us from having to feed them for now).

The malik and his group had several hours on us, and we were under-supplied. We pushed as fast as we could. Along the way Sorq and I rustled up a covey of Lickens (sort of your bog-standard chicken-lizard things, kindof like warblers but less smart) for lunch. We force-marching late into the night, past the point of exhaustion, then kept going another four hours. It didn't help that we were also hauling our petrified friend.

As dawn was breaking, the tracks split. The malik making a bee-line for the nest, with the nohai and the gorgons peeling off to the right, presumably to draw away the mama-bird. Figuring that stopping the malik from getting the eggs was the bigger concern, we rushed after him, running as fast as we could.

Vadim ran like a wolf (as a wolf?) and booked it to the nest. The nest itself was a huge bowl made of gorgon scales, sitting at the top of a plinth made of five white-marble megaliths leaning together to form a menhir. Our malik antagonist could be seen climbing up the side of one of the pillars, his hands splayed strangely, sticking to the side of the rock with only his fingertips.

With the rest of us still a ways off, Vadim lit up the malik with faerie fire, making him glow with a greenish miasma very similar to gorgon's breath, and painting a nice target. I drew my bow and pegged him from nearly a hundred paces away, hitting him in the arm and causing him to loose his grip on the wall. Unfortunately, the jerk called forth some dark arts to grab back onto the cliff-face with a lash of dark energy.

Vadim followed up by plastering the malik with some cabbage-smelling gorgon goop. Clearly the fake miasma and the smell had gotten mama's attention, because then, there was lightning. Lots of it. Coming our way.

The Malik vanished in a roiling cloud of darkness that hurled up the pillar to the nest. Vadim followed, hauling himself up the side and finding that what we thought were weathered hand-holds were, in fact, bas-reliefs of some kind of winged humanoid creatures, carved into and projecting from the rock, as if this were once some kind of structure.

The rest of us ran. Trying to get there to help Vadim and stop the Malik from getting the egg as quickly as possible. And we kept running.

Using the carvings' predictability, Vadim was able to rocket up the wall to the nest. Vadim crested the lip of the nest, with a lightning storm brewing overhead, to find the roiling black cloud in the center of the nest, a stream of smoke rising from the center of it.

Vadim rushed in, following the scent of the smoke, and tried to tackle the malik full-speed, almost running headlong into the fire. He missed the malik and jumped at the last minute, hurtling over the unseen flames. He landed hard, knocked a scale loose, and went right through the nest, just barely catching himself to hang beneath it.

The storm picked up in intensity. Then we heard, from the center of the cloud of darkness, the sound of a flute. The flute somehow mimicked what Ado informed us was a mating call--the sound of a male thunderbird threatening to smash the eggs in the nest to make room for his own brood. The bloody malik was full of all kinds of tricks.

Barruk reached the base of the menhir and struck it a thunderous blow, opening a wide crack in the pillar, while shouting disparaging epithets at the malik. Vadim, meanwhile continued to hang precariously beneath the nest, lashing at the enemy with his thorn whip while dodging the sorcerer's blasts of eldritch power, which tore even more holes in the nest.

And then, the lightning struck. A deafening clap of thunder. A crackling vibration through the metallic nest. The smell of frying feathers and smoking fur. When our eyes re-focused after the flash, we could see the angry, mother thunderbird hovering over the nest, electricity sparkling over her wings as she recharged for another strike.

Headless of the risks, I ran up the nearest pillar following Vadim's path up the carvings and tying off a rope for the others. Khadagan followed me up and charged into the darkness, body-checking the malik into the bonfire. Ado, riding on Khad's shoulder, unleashed a thunder-wave, knocking over something unseen in the darkness with a metallic ringing sound, pushing the malik towards the edge of the nest, and blowing out even more of the scales.

With the malik near the edge, Vadim anchored a rope to himself, and jumped. As he cleared the edge of the nest, he thorn-whipped the malik, pulling him off the lip, and sending the necromancer plummeting a hundred chǐ to his death.

The darkness dissipated, revealing six eggs, and a roaring bonfire. One egg lay apart from the others, apparently having fallen out of a heavily carved ceremonial iron pot which was suspended over the fire by a tripod. Most of the eggs were a mottled, metallic green, but the heated egg was a perfect azure-blue in color. The mother bird landed, snuffing out the fire with her bulk, and gathered the eggs under her wings.

Barruk quickly bowed and did some amazing pantomime, clearly trying to convey that we were not the ones who made the fire and that we meant no harm to the thunderbird or her eggs. Apparently understanding his interpretive dance, the thunderbird pulled a single, shield-sized, super-bright (but non-reflective) scale from over her heart and gave it to Vadim. She then gathered up the eggs in her claws and flew off to the west.

With the bird gone, we swapped places a bit. I swung down to make sure the malik was dead, while Sorq climbed up and snagged the carved iron pot, which was obviously witchy, and its tripod.

The malik was, in fact, very dead, but Khad came down and took his head off just in case. Then Barruk cut off his intricately carved horns as a keepsake. The rest of his heavily pierced body was dismembered and fed to our nohai. On his body we found a silver bracelet, silver pitcher, and several pages that were clearly torn from the book we'd found earlier.

Vadim, who had by this time climbed back up on the top of the nest, pointed to the east and shouted something. We scrambled up to see what the fuss was about and saw fire in the distance. Fire ... in the sky. Not on the ground. Not the grasslands burning. No, the motherfucking sky was on fire. Beneath them the ground seemed to move and shimmer, like heat rising off a hot rock. After a while, we realized that this was an army, more men than one could ever hope to count, wearing METAL armor. Then, breaking the clouds over the army, came one, two, three massive birds, like thunderbirds, but blazing with fire. Fire-birds. They lit up the plains, burning a path in advance of the army.

We scurried down, then noticed through the crack that Barruk had made in the pillar that it was at least partially hollow. Not wanting to leave anything unknown behind us, we widened the crack and crawled inside. From the inside it was clear that the pillars really had been structures in the past. A staircase ran up the center of the pillar, at a slant now. I went up, but was blocked by rubble after traveling about forty-feet on the slant.

Everyone else went down. At the bottom, they found a large room, filled with maggot-folk bones stacked to the ceiling. The bones were clearly ancient, moldering away into dust at the slightest breeze or touch (though that did not stop Ado from collecting the ancient dust for use as bone-meal). The bones showed no sign of intentional wounds, no cuts, gouges, or scratches, nor any signs of the corpses having been diseased. They were, however, stacked haphazardly and, in some-cases, irregularly broken, as if they had been thrown down into the room from above.

The walls showed the remains of ancient murals, faded to nothing more than outlines and vague suggestion of color. Exits leading off from the room suggested that the other four towers might connect to this one, as part of a larger structure, but were choked with rubble. Everywhere was the same winged-humanoid iconography, clearly some kind of ancient theistic witchery--the kind of things the shamans would probably smash on sight.

Unable to proceed further, we crawled out of the crack, and piled rubble around it, attempting to hide it from the prying eyes of any who might come here later. Then, completely exhausted, we slept -- some on the ground, some in the hollow under the menhir, and I hanging in a hammock from the underside of the nest.

I woke near dusk to see the light of the fires in the east to be much closer. We quickly broke camp, gathering up as many loose gorgon scales as we could manage for their metal in the process. As we did this, Ado's warbler scouts reported in, saying that they'd encountered probing parties of some kind of strange, four-legged, half-man/half-warbeast monsters, about a day's run to the east.

Obviously, we ran west.

We booked it for the Drowned River camp. As usual I took point, picking our trail through the hills and ravines of the steppes, and picking off whatever game I could find. And find game I did. I left a bloodbath in our wake, finding food for our whole party, nohai, warblers, and all, and then some. Finally, I spotted a nice, fat pteranadon, and brought it down with a single well-placed shot.

Unfortunately, a Spikebeak saw the pteranadon as it fell and dived, hoping to steal my kill. Ado, quick to the punch as usual, did some kind of warbler mating dance, and Vadim made some calming gestures, which at least served to make the bird more interested in eating the prey than us. The vicious bird tore the heart out of the pteranadon with its long, pointed beak, then turned, bloody heart still in its mouth, and purred at Vadim. I at once named the beast "Cid".

Ado, not wanting to lose our food to the spikebeak, cocked his head, puffed up, and darted in circles around the bird bird, demanding that it could have the organs but must give us the rest of the meat. It just took off, clutching the pteranadon in its talons. I didn't hesitate to shoot it.

Everyone else followed suit, hurling arrows, fire, and vicious mockery the bird's way. It dropped the carcass and dove at me. I sidestepped, then, as it passed over, shot a warbler curse arrow strait up in front of its face. It's eyes, then head, turned upwards, tracing the path of the warbler death-cry, then overbalanced, turning it into an unintentional back-flip and nose-diving into the ground, breaking its neck.

What's tastier than a really big bird? An even bigger bird! We grabbed the spikebeak carcass, and what was left of the pteranadon, and booked it back to camp with our piles of fresh meat.

Well stocked, and moving as fast as we could, we gained a solid day on the following army of man-beast-things. We reached Drowned River and tried to persuade the Caravan that they needed to run like hell. We split up. Vadim easily convinced Ma'Chek of the seriousness of the situation. I managed to piss of Semek (again). Ado got price-gouged on supplies by Altan. Sorq bought a non-conductive bone hilt to affix to a steel thunderbird feather from Hulagu to turn it into a dagger. Barruk made friends with Ganbaatar. Khadagan just walked into the middle of the square and roared, spouting crazy hermetic prophecies about "A tide of iron and fire" while holding aloft the thunderbird-scale shield and the head of a decapitated gorgon.

Between Khadagan's theatrics, and Ma'Chek's and Ganbaatar's leadership, we soon had everyone packed up and ready to leave...more or less.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Exodus: Session 3

As told by a boy named Khut

Pack Tactics:

The Nohai
Vadim was out rustling more cattle, presumably, the rest of us were the Tengri knows where, climbing an escarpment. At the top, of course, was a pack of Nohai, five of them, with bows trained on us. More specifically, they had their bows trained on Barruk's left eye (he being the most obvious threat, since I was hiding in a ditch, sneaking around them, as usual, and Khadagan was...well he was there, but somehow looks less menacing than the massive malik champion).

As we approached, carefully, one of the nohai snuck up behind the one that was obviously the leader, only to get his throat grabbed in the leader's jaws. There was some whimpering and some baring of the neck as he backed down.

Sorqutani, the only one of us who spoke nohai, lead the approach and bowed to them. The chief (pack-leader, whatever) bowed back, perfectly mimicing her stance and motions, clearly trying to be polite despite not understanding the greeting, and introduced himself as Chinua, formerly of Dust...

Now, that last part matters, so let me explain a few things about Nohai. First off, pack membership is super important to them. Secondly, there is no such thing as a "former pack". The pack is the pack. You belong to the pack you are in. Claiming identity with a previous pack is sacrilege, blasphemy.

So, Chinua introduces himself in a way that makes his packmates cringe, then Sorq introduced herself as "Sorqutani of No Pack" (which of course, was just as blasphemous as the chief's statement). Sorq then asked about his 'current pack' (as opposed to the former, Dust), and he was of "not no pack", "nothing", "the empty circle", the "void fillers" -- all of which sounded disturbingly like some kind of theism. Now, the fact that these two statements didn't cause them to throw down immediately is something of a miracle and an oddity, but nothing like what followed next.

You see, Chinua then challenged Barruk to a one-on-one match for "leadership of the pack" (the pack being us). Now, let me reiterate, it was pretty clear, even if I was only hearing things at a distance and translated second-hand by Sorq, that something really screwy was going. As Chin pulled out his spear and made his challenge, it was pretty clear that he was putting on some kind of show for his pack as much as for us. And, of course, funny thing about Malik champions...they live for single combat.

Barruk accepted, of course. He rose up from behind a big rock where he had been trying, quite unsuccessfully, to take cover. His eyes were blazing with light, his horns shone like gold, and the ground shook with every step of his big hooves. Clearly Chin thought this was just as creepy as I did, for he nearly peed himself. But, he kept a kind of fanatical gleam in his eye, snarled and charged.

Chin slammed into Barruk, but the malik held his ground, his hooves digging deep into the shale of the escarpment. The two wrestled, spear to axe, for a while, horns stabbing and jaws snapping. Finally Chin cast his spear aside, lunged, and caught Barruk's axe handle in his jaws. The two of them went down, with Barruk hanging half-way off the cliff.

Meanwhile up on the hill-top, the surly nohai lieutenant tried to make his move, drawing a knife and indicating to the others that they should attack us. Ado, who had been rocking out on an odd little flute, tossed his instrument across the nose of the rogue nohai, producing a shrill and weird whistling noise. The lieutenant apparently thought that this was the most hilarious thing ever, as he immediately fell to the ground laughing like the cackle-beast that he so resembled.

Khadagan then stepped in and tore out the lieutenant's throat with his tusks. The lieutenant just kept laughing and laughing through the whole thing, and, having somehow survived to bare his throat apologetically to Khadagan, shall forever after be known as "Giggles".

I pulled out a rope, maneuvered around closer to them, and tied it off, ready to jump and grab Barruk should he fall. Instead. Chinua released the axe and snapped at Barruk again, his jaws crushing the chainlink shirt that Barruk wore and 'accidentally' flipped Barruk over, away from the cliff. I say 'accidentally' because it was a very well conceived bluff. From my close vantage it was clear that Chinua had deliberately saved the life of our curly-horned friend. Barruk then repaid the nohai's kindness by slamming the flat of his axe-blade into his opponent's face, dislocating Chin's jaw with a horrendous cracking sound and knocking the nohai out.

Barruk hauled the unconscious Chinua up the hill, where the other nohai immediately recognized him as their new pack leader (with Khadagan as the obvious lieutenant pack leader, having taken out their lieutenant's throat). So, after applying some healing, we new had five nohai in our "pack".

While everyone else was making nice with our new pack-mates, I spotted a couple of rustles in the grass in the ravine below. Two "somethings" were coming from the general direction of the fire-starters encampment. I fired off one of the black-fletched warbler arrows, which let out a hideous death-shriek as it flew through the air, bringing everyone else running down to look. I pointed out the waves in the grass and Sorq lit it up, setting the grass on fire and revealing a quartet of nohai, looking far too wounded to be coming at us so fast (almost to the point of being dead).

Well, dead, or undead, or whatever, we had the high ground, and bows. It was like shooting fish in a barrel. Fish that got back up and kept walking whenever you shot them that is. Still, I'm a fairly good shot sometimes: nailed three of them to the ground, and nailed the hand of the last one to its forehead. This last one charged Barruk, only to lose that last hand, and its head, in the offing.

With the nohai zombies dealt with, we decided to make a strategic withdrawal, putting a few more miles of distance between ourselves and the fire camp. So we hoofed it, and I doubled back a few times to cover our tracks and spread some false ones, a right merry chase should any more zomb-nohai try to follow.

Once we were a safe distance, we pitched camp and settled in. Our new nohai packmates had taken the dead nohai with them, and, once settled, made a great feast of their slain fellows. They had some tradition about eating the dead as a show of respect and to take on their strength and speed. As a show of solidarity with our "pack", I helped myself to some rotten nohai spleen, and suffered some horrible cramps as my reward.

The nohai were still in a pretty bad state. Ado used his magic to wake Chinua up. Then Khad made a paste from poppy pods, which he rubbed on the ex-chief's gums to dull the pain as I popped his jawbone back into its socket. Barruk then finished by laying on hands to make the jaw set, leaving Chin's chin looking much better. (Ha!) Sorq then took one of the beads out of her hair and wove it into Chin's mane (which is apparently some kind of sign of victory or strength or the like among nohai...or maybe a courtship ritual, it's hard to say).

Once we had settled in, the nohai told us about the "Void Fillers" -- the mix-matched clan of nohai, zombies, and nohai zombies down in the valley. Apparently the fires were part of some grand scheme on the part of the Void Fillers, which basically amounted to 'KILL EVERYTHING'. They start fires, then go around collecting the various refugees who may have survived the fire but were separated from their own clans. These refugees got conscripted into 'fire camps', like the one nearby, given the choice to either join up willingly, or get killed and turned into a zombie (and thus forced to join that way). Most of the nohai in the camp were formerly from the "Blades of Earth" pack, but Chinua and his crew were a small hunting party that got separated from their larger pack (Dust) by the fires are recruited in the manner described.

After a bit of a chat, Chinua implied that he had other things to share with his "pack leader", Taking the hint, Khad, Ado, and I took the remaining nohai (Giggles, Fletcher, Kitty, and Hooch) and went out to see if any game had survived the fires. Barruk (as leader) and Sorq (as translator) stayed behind and discussed with Chin how we might go about divesting the nearby fire-camp of some of the other broken and conscripted packs to add to our own.

First point of business for the hunting party was to get me back on my feet, as I was still feeling very ill from eating uncooked, rotten nohai meat (note to self for the future -- fuck pack solidarity). Khad found a weird-looking root that he called "badberry" (because it is what you should eat when you've had a bad berry). He cut it into small strips and said I should chew and swallow them. Which I did. After which it felt like I was dying. My throat burned, my stomach heaved, and everything I had eaten for the last three days came spewing out with the force of a geyser. Afterwards, though, I felt much better.

While I might have hoped for something easier to kill, the only meat we found was a herd of gorgons, maybe thirteen of them, including a pair of bulls. Now, hunting gorgons just because you are hungry might seem like a bad idea, but I was still a little light-headed from puking my guts out, and I there was one cow who was partly burned and half-lame who looked like she might be easy enough to pick off. That is, of course, if Khad hadn't stumbled around making as much noise as a drunken hornbeast, and I hadn't, in trying to coax the wounded cow away from the herd, gotten the attention of the largest of the two bulls.

Ado used his magic to mimic the cry of a thunderbird, which are known to prey on gorgons, hoping to scare the bull off. Instead of becoming frightened, though, the bull took the cry as a challenge and came running towards the sound (which is probably why there are as few gorgons as there are). Well, as I learned from cattle-rustling with Vadim, if a plan goes sour, just make up a new one. Oh, and run, definitely also run.

So, we ran, but, seeing the light of the fire-camp not more than a mile away, we decided we'd run for the camp, figuring that an angry gorgon bull would work wonders for disorienting, demoralizing, destabilizing, and decimating the camp of our enemies. Ado, Khad, and I booked it for the camp, heading down the steep shale slopes into the ravine, shouting, waving torches, and firing arrows all the way to the cliff to urge the gorgon to keep after us.

Meanwhile, Ado sent up the alarm through his warbler buddies, alerting Barruk and Sorq to the situation. Quick thinkers that they were, they figured that a herd of gorgons was better than one, and immediately ran out to where we'd been hunting and started lighting fires to frighten the rest of the herd towards the fire-camp. If there is one thing that a band of rustlers knows how to do, it is start a stampede.

So, with much running and screaming, we hit the scree. Khad went sliding down first, hitting the grasslands below running flat-out. Ado did less well with it, losing his perch on the cackle he was riding and tumbling down the slope. With the bull just on my heels, I ran out wide, tied a knot in the end of my last rope, hooked it on a jagged outcropping, and leaped. I swung across the gorgon's path and, sure enough, he got his feet tangled on the rope and went barreling head-first down the slope (that out to make him mad). To add insult to injury, when he landed, Ado hit him with some vicious mockery.

Even the best plans have their consequences, and tripping a gorgon down a cliff was not one of my best plans. Short version, I got a good whiff of its breath on the way down. On the plus side, my hands half-froze holding onto the rope, so I didn't follow it down.

Of course, then Sorq and Barruk came running, just ahead of a wall of fire and a herd of stampeding gorgons. Despite the limited mobility provided by my calcifying limbs, I managed to avoid getting trampled as the beasts came down the slope. The same cannot be said of Ado, still dismounted at the bottom of the slope, who was beaten to a fine bloody pulp by the gorgons' hooves.

But, I didn't really have time to worry about Ado, as my limbs started returning to normal just in time for the fire to hit the crest of the scree ... and set fire to the rope I was hanging from. I let go the rope, pulled out my knives, and jammed them into cracks in the slate, holding on for dear life. There was fire above, and more fire and a herd crazed iron-hided cattle below. So I clung to the cliff and waited for the fires to burn out.

While I clung to the hillside, everyone else ran headlong towards the camp, gorgons on their heels. Khad, who had been in the lead the whole time, screamed and leaped, hitting the wooden fence around the camp at a full run and launching himself over the heads of the defenders, just moments before near two dozen tons of iron-scaled oxen smashed into the camp.

The gorgons raged through the camp, statues spreading like wildfire from their breath, and the actual wildfire spreading in an identical manner behind them. Khad raced through the camp, not even pausing as he passed the malik sorcerer who was standing in the center of the camp with blood-soaked horns, a bloody snout, an evil altar, and the rest of the whole evil necromancer schtik. Nor did Khad stop when that same malik nailed him with a clearly quite painful curse. He took the blast and kept running, hurling himself out the far side of the encampment, then circling around to meet up with our nohai, who were laughing uproariously as they fired arrows at stragglers trying to escape the gorgon-wrought carnage within.

Sorq, meanwhile, spotting the malik sorcerer, decided that it was a good idea to sneak into the camp, apparently with the goal of robbing his tent in the chaos. She somehow managed to make it to the tent without getting stabbed, trampled, or petrified, only to find the tent occupied by an undead nohai. She dodged the zombie's strike, letting it knock out the tent poles instead, grabbed the nearest loose object, cut a hole in the collapsed tent, and ran for it holding ... an iron teakettle (a tremendous waste of metal if ever I'd seen one).

With the fires finally moved on, I dislodged my knives and surfed down the slope, landing on my feet, and ran flat out to where I'd last seen Ado go down under the gorgon stampede. Barruk was already there, trying, unsuccessfully, to bandage the warbler's wounds. Rather than waste any more time, I bundled Ado up tight in a sheet to at least staunch the bleeding a little, and Barruk and I ran to meet up with Khad, Chinua, and the rest of our pack.

Sorq caught up to us shortly thereafter and we all booked it. Behind us, the grass was a smoking black wasteland and the camp was a full of statues, burned and trampled tents, greenish fog, and the gorgons grazing on their food stores. Undercutting the noises of lowing gorgons and crackling fires were the enraged screams of the malik necromancer who's day we had just ruined.

A Cold Spring for Crows: Part 1

Recently I booted up yet another AD&D 2nd edition play-by-post game. We had a 8 players initially sign up, of which 4 have stuck around and 1 has promised to return. You can expect to see more of their adventures in the future. The format for these logs will follow those of our other PbM game, keeping the words and order of the original posts.

Dramatis Personae: representing the members of the party that are sticking around...

Supporting Characters: being those that put in an appearance and then left...
  • Yobob: Gnome Fighter/Tinker
  • Blixa: Gnome Clockwork Mage
  • HyunA: Elven Bladesinger

1st of Ches, 1362 D.R.


Rain. It seems as though it will never stop. The road has become a river of mud, making it almost useless as a path, but the rough rugged hills around you offer you even worse footing. Visibility is very poor, with cold, early spring winds tearing sheets of rain across your field of vision. The sound of the storm is tremendous, making it hard for you to hear your companions unless they shout.

It was the first of Ches. Nearly four months ago you accepted an invitation to visit the Mount Launt holdfast of Clan Griff, the childhood home of Hektor and Korë, in the far western reaches of the Dragonspine Mountains. What was supposed to be a brief visit, to attend some special dwarven ceremony honoring Hektor, had turned into a winter-long stay thanks to early and heavy snows.

The dwarven caves were particularly confining for your larger friends, and their irritability was only amplified by the preponderance of lead in the walls, water, and even food of the dwarf clan. Worse still, the special ceremony you had expected to bear witness to turned out to be a private, family affair behind closed doors, with not even the larger clan allowed to be present. While Hektor and Korë muttered something about the firbolg "coming of age", they were unusually tight-lipped about the details afterwords.

So it was, with the coming spring, that you were all eager to get back on the road and back to Phlan, where most of you had first met and where there was the ever-present promise of glory and riches.

Of course, it turns out that spring in the mountains was little better than winter. The ground, already saturated with melting snow, was now bombarded by weeks of steady rainfall. While the dwarves of Clan Griff left your packs well filled with provisions, the going has been incredibly slow. Ten days out, you have covered perhaps half the distance to Phlan, or so you estimate.

Just when it seems that you can go no further, and the wetness and fatigue have driven you to distraction (and nearly to blows), and night begins to fall, bringing with it even colder winds off the mountains and no respite from the rain, you see a wan light ahead. Hurrying your steps you draw closer until you can make out a structure through the rain.

The building, the first you've seen in nearly a week, is two stories of mud-chinked stone, with a wooden roof and two chimneys leaning precariously out away from the structure. A welcoming light comes from two windows on the western side, the shutters left open in mockery of the cold, wet evening.


HyunA, the slim elven bladesinger, is having a difficult time, her normally sure footsteps being fouled by the mud and miserable conditions. "May I make a suggestion?" she says, her voice nearly swallowed by the wind. "I say we quickly make for yon house." She gathers her cloak closer to her, which does precious little to remedy her frozen, sodden limbs.


The homecoming, and sequential ceremony was very special to Hektor. Though he had been accepted into Clan Griff, and, not without some odd moments, got along with his smaller, but no less fearsome, adopted kin, it was the last few days of celebration and sharing stories that truly made him feel like part of the Clan.

A sharp crack of distant thunder, brought the giant-kin back to the present.

He, his sister and fellow companions, were struggling to trod on this miserable day. Because of his size and strength, Hektor wasn't as burdened as the rest, though his weight drove his huge, booted feet deeper into the muck, causing him to walk abroad of the group, less they fall into the sucking holes left by his prints.

His thumb still ached from the time he tried to hoist his sister onto his broad back, and was rewarded with a bite to his thumb and scolded for thinking her weak and needy.

He wasn't hurt by the berating. Hek loved his older sister and she him. She was just so nit picky about such things.

Wiping away the small waterfall cascading down in front of his one, good eye, Hektor gave his sis a fond smile before coming to a halt.

Before them, shadowed by the deluge, was a two story building. Light coming through the windows and door frame, suggested it was occupied.

He looked down at his sister, waiting for her summarization.


Korë pushes her sodden hair back from her eyes and idly flicks at the small yellow stone that is orbiting her head setting it to spinning wildly. She says a silent prayer of thanks, for perhaps the millionth time this week, that the Patient One had seen fit to bestow her with the gift of not sinking into mud...and that she had let that merchant in the Slums Market talk her into paying extra to have her boots waterproofed, if only I had let him talk me into buying that parasol, she thinks. Seeing the light ahead, she stops in her tracks and takes a moment to shift the weight of her large, frame-pack.

"I'm not going to argue with you Hun," she says sniffling. "Even if its bandits waiting to slit our throats, I'll take a violent death in a warm house over a slow, cold, wet one." Just to be safe though, she pulls out a wooden bowl and tips a vial of goblin blood into, chanting a quiet prayer as she plods closer to the house.

Feeling no immediate threat or hostility, Korë allows herself to speed up a bit more, as much as her short legs would allow, eager for a dry place to sleep. "Come on," she says to the others, raising her voice to be heard over the wind, "Looks perfectly safe to me..."


Fionn, like his compatriots, was slogging through the mud in the harsh spring rains.  Slogging through the mud was somewhat of a new experience for Fionn as he’d lost both his destrier  and this plate mail in the particularly unfortunate altercation with the hobgoblins last fall, they weren’t that big, but there were a lot of them.  Unfortunately, none of the horses of this part of the world were particularly suited to his massive frame and weight.   So, he was forced, to slog through the mud, his boots sinking deeply in the mud of what seemed to pass for a road.  Yep, walking was not something he enjoyed, and the mud just confirmed it. “Give me a horse any day of the week and I’d be set” he thought to himself.

Fionn brought up the rear of the party, just to ensure that if something came upon them from the rear, some of the smaller members of the group would have some additional protection.  Whether marching at the rear made any difference for the ground, or for the protection, he wasn’t sure.  The nice thing about the leather armor he was wearing as opposed to the plate mail he was used to, was it wouldn’t rust.  His least favorite thing about metal armor especially with all this rain, was the rust.

The sword he kept was hard enough to keep sharp and rust free as it was.

A new mount would present itself at an appropriate time.  In the interim, there was mud. Fionn wondered if it would ever end.  But, hark, what light through yonder window breaks?  Somewhat suspicious by nature, he watches while his companions try to assess what might be ahead of them.  While somewhat inferior to the minotaur people, they were competent enough as he had come to find out over the last year and more.

Open windows and pouring rain.  It smelled like a trap to him.  “Go cautiously, my friends.”  Fionn looses his sword in its sheath…


Bixby has been lost in thought, for quite some time, contemplating ways to create and imbue a "Chromatic Orb" as a thrown weapon and muttering under her breath...
"...Huh, are we slowing down? Maybe there's somewhere we can stay for the...oooo! Oooo! I've got it! ...wait,no, that won't work...."


Yobob tugged on the mule's lead as he tried his best to keep ahead of Fionn. The mule's saddlebags were loaded with hundreds of lead bullets, and strapped to its back were a pair of strange looking contraptions, also made primarily of lead. Yobob hadn't intended to be so loaded down for the return trip to Phlan, but he just couldn't pass up the opportunity to experiment with the resources of Clan Griff.

While the beginning of the journey had been spent mulling over ways to outfit the mule for battle (The armor plating would be easy enough, but where would I mount the turret?), Yobob's thoughts now turned to ways to stay dry. An umbrella might work, but only if I could figure out a way to get it to hover over my head as I walk.

The house was indeed a welcome sight. As he and his companions began moving toward it, Yobob nudged Bixby and, with a laugh, shouted above the sound of the rain, "Nothing like knocking on someone's door and asking them to house a party of seven including a minotaur and a firbolg. These poor folks aren't even going to notice the two of us!"


Hek gave Kore a wide grin. He wanted to wink at her, like she playfully did so with him, but having only one serviceable eye, it always remained a blink.

After his sister finished with her casting, a site Hektor would never grow tired of, he helped everyone when needed and stood above the doorway, giving just enough room for Kore to knock, yet, block much of the downpour.

He was always very mindful of his surroundings, lest he step on one of his smaller companions. Save all but the minotaur, Fionn. Hek enjoyed the minotaur's company and admired his stature.

Picking up on the Paladin's thoughts,  Hektor grinned and nodded his way, saying in his customary, low, gravelly tone...

"Betcha glad you ain't got that tin can on huh Fionn?"

Like most, if not all of his species, Hek didn't wear armor. And wasted no opportunity to tease his horned friend about it.


As you approach the door, two signs catch your eye. The first, affixed to a post a few yards in front of the building, declares in Common the "Towne of Deþwillon, Population: Tire", though you see no other structures, nor even the remains of structures anywhere around. The second, painted on the door in white lettering, next to a wooden cup that has been nailed in place, declares the place to be "Blahom Mandrivnyka" (The Traveler's Boon). Through the open windows you can see a large room with a few tables, bracketed at either end by two large fireplaces. The place looks empty save for a pair of bored-looking teenage boys, the younger nervously drumming on a table as the second feeds a couple of logs into the fire. Anything they might be saying is completely drowned out by the sounds of the rain.


Korë pays no attention to the signs, she can't read silly human letters anyways, as the steps past her brother to knock on the door, pounding had to make sure she is heard over the rain. A chorus sudden plaintive growls from behind them causes her to pivot quickly away from the door, her attention called to the three hungry, sopping bears trailing after the party. "Oh Mo̱ró, Mi̱téra, Bampás, I'm sorry!" she runs back and gives each of the bears a loving scratch behind the ears, her own voice modulating to a series of ursine growls as she explains that they had probably better wait outside, and that she would ask if there were any nearby caves or other shelter they might use.


Hektor gave a throaty chuckle as he watched Kore tend to her grumpy trio.

For a reward, his own black bear, Hooch, nipped his backside, causing the big fellow to blurt out a yelp, before catching himself.

Looking back, while discreetly massaging his "love bite" as he had fondly named them, he gave Hooch his best 'mock' intimidating grimace.

Hooch, who like Hektor, was missing one eye from an attack by wolves, early in his life, not impressed, only snorted and moved closer to the building, hoping to get out of the rain.


Once the bears are settled, as much as they are going to be in the dark and the rain, knowing that their two-legged friends would be getting to go inside the nice, warm inn, Korë turns back to the door and knocks again, more loudly in case the two boys are too distracted to have heard the first time.

As she waits for the door to be answered, she looks around at her friends, making sure everyone has kept up through the storm. She notes Blixa and Yobob with their strange contraptions and cantankerous mule, Fionn, looking just as awkward as ever on his own hooves rather than a horse's, Hun, looking downright miserable, her dear brother, keeping the rain off, but where was the bard? Normally she would expect him to be doing the knocking and the introductions. Ever since they had met in the market at Phlan, Frolik had been the party's mouthpiece when dealing with locals who might be less open-minded about their unusually large friends. Of course, he was by far the most illness-prone of their party. She hoped his latest cold hadn't gotten to the point where he'd had fallen into a ditch and drowned without anyone noticing...

She turned back to the others, "Anyone seen Frolik in the last mile or two?"


With the second round of banging on the door you can see the two boys startle through the window. They look in the direction of the door then one disappears from view, though you can clearly hear him yelling, "Dyadya! Hosti!" Less than a minute later, the door swings open and a slight, willowy looking man with a hairlip squints out into the rain and darkness at you. Taking in the massive shadow of Hektor standing by the door, he stumbles back a step and says shakily, "Welcome," standing aside to let you in.

The lintel of the door is painfully low for Hektor and Fionn, forcing them both to crawl to get through, and the wooden ceiling within is not much better.

The inside is rustic, yet cozy. The bare-earth floor can be seen through well-packed straw, the last of the winter stores likely having been used up a month ago, the walls are well-chinked with mud, and the fires burn merrily in the open hearths. A single wooden staircase rises along the back wall of the single, large room that is the first floor, up to a hole in the ceiling, down which an equally scrawny-looking woman in a dark-coloured dress is descending, pulling on a bonnet as she does.

The man, woman, and boys all stare dumbfounded as your strange party troops into the small inn.


"Rhaich!" spits HyunA as she enters.

It was the closest thing the elves of Faerûn had to an expletive, though the bulk of that race considered such utterances unseemly.

"You'll have to excuse them. They're not from around her," says HyunA, enjoying the obvious irony. She shakes her long, dark, locks to shed them of the excess rain, and removes her wet cloak. She moves closer to the fire to dry off. Her mood visibly improves now that she's out of the miserable weather, and a small smile crosses her face. "We're largely weatherproof, but there is a limit." she explains.


Waiting until the others made their way inside, Hektor gave a dubious look at the lintels dimensions as Fionn, although large in his own right, was still having a rough time squeezing through.

Before Hektor could think of an excuse to remain outside, Kore coaxed him in. He had to remove his huge backpack and halbred, before he could squeeze through.

Still, the height of the room caused him to remain crouched, until HyunA let loose an elven equivalent of a curse word,  which Hektor had heard on other stressful occasions, which made him hit his head on the ceiling and uttering a dwarven curse word of his own.

Being absorbed in his own hardships, Hektor blushed when he finally realized that he and his companions were being scrutinized by the wide-eyed staff.

Uncomfortable and embarrassed, the gentle giant could only muster a nervous, toothy grin.


As much as Yobob wanted to get out of the rain, he couldn't help but glance around for the tire mentioned on the first sign as he tied up his mule. A good steel-belted radial is so hard to come by these days.

Giving up, he joined the party just in time to see Hektor bang his head on the ceiling, a site Yobob never tired of. Fighting the temptation to taunt his larger companions for their inability to safely complete such a simple task as entering a room, he instead turned his attention to the structure surrounding him. Yobob liked to fix things, and if there was a leaky roof, a creaky staircase, or a rusty hinge he wanted to find it. 


Korë wipes her hands on the, relatively, dry inside of her bear-hide cloak before offering it to the hairlipped innkeep, greeting him in the local tongue. "Blahoslovennya na vashomu budynku, tovarysh. Ya Kori Arkouda klanu Griff, tse moyi braty: Hektor i Finn, vony velyki, ale vony ne mayutʹ na uvazi niyakoyi shkody," she says gestures to the two largest members of the party, and bowing.

"Thank you for your hospitality," she continues, switching to the Common tongue. Something in her voice implies that the seven companions would be imposing on that hospitality whether it was actually offered or not. "Our other companions of HyunA," she gestures to the elf who has already made her way to the fire, "Blixa, and Yobob," she points a thumb over her shoulder at the gnomes, and "Frolik," she looks around for the human one more time, then shrugs figuring she can look for him when she goes to take care of the bears.

Think of that, she presses on, "Do you have stables? Or, better yet, is there a cave nearby? We have animals outside, some of which might be startling to livestock..."


The little man seems to regain his composure as the dwarf addresses him. "I'm afraid we don't have any beds, but you're all welcome to the fire and you can sleep in the common room of you need a place to rest."

The woman turns to the boys, «Thumor, Ommis, go upstairs and fetch the big pot.» The two slowly make their way up the stairs, craning their necks to look alternately at the elven woman, the giant, and the minotaur, before disappearing upstairs. She scurried over to one of the hearths, using a log to swing the spit-hook out of the flames before tossing the wood in. "You all look chilled to the bone, we'll put some soup on..."

"There's a stable out back, and nothing in there to bother but the milk cow," the man says, trying very not to look at the minotaur as he mentions the cow. "There's also the old Number Two mine on the other side of Durham's Hill, about a quarter mile that-a-way." He points. "'Course, there've been strange folk poking around the mine lately, so it's maybe not the best place to spend the night."


"A quarter mile that way?" Korë looks out the window to confirm the direction the innkeep had indicated. "That's not too far. What kind of 'strange folk'?" Not that I care, she thinks, the bears and I can handle ourselves. But these village types always love an opportunity to gossip, and a little chit-chat might make them more comfortable with us. She smiles unconsciously as she thinks of the tall tales the boys will have to tell their friends when her little party has left.


Frolik has had the worst week ever. Period. Of course he caught a cold. No, he caught THE COLD. Surely, nothing short of a deity could cure him of it. It was catastrophic. First, the rain made it impossible to play the lute. It would be soaked in a minute! Then...he lost his voice. It was divine punishment. It was a good thing that he didn't pay much attention to gods or else he would feel cursed. Without his voice he was nobody. He needed to speak more than breathing (it was basically the same for him) and right now only some coarse whispers was all he could manage. Thankfully they found a place with a roof and what looks like fire! Just to think of the possibility of being warm and dry lifted his spirit. But he was too weak yet to call attention to himself. It would be wiser to wait a little until he felt better and then make a nice introduction. For now his friends are making a great job at being the center of attention. He accepts the food, two servings actually, and some mulled wine.


When the wet, sniffling, hoarse-voiced man starts asking for mulled wine, your hostess looks mortified. "Oh, you poor dear. We haven't had a proper spice merchant up here in years, and Old Draeb's vines were like nothing last year. I can't even offer you wine, let alone properly spiced." She seems close to tears at her social faux-pas, "but I can warm you a mug of milk with honey, which should fix you right up..."

The innkeep, does, in fact look relieved by Korë's politely inquisitive manner. "A bunch of brothers," he replies. "You know, the religious kind, showed up here the day before yesterday. They've been nosing around a lot. They don't talk at all--can't get 'em to say a word. And Thumor saw 'em squatting in the old mine, which would be a proper place for a beast to sleep, but no right place for a man."

"Up to no good no doubt!" the lady chimes in.

"No doubt. But then, what do I know of such things," the innkeep finishes.


As everyone was getting comfortable, not an easy task, this room and it's assortment of beings. The one thing they were like-minded about, is that they were wet, road weary and hungry.

As if on cue, Hektors stomach reminds EVERYONE that a good meal is past due.

At this rate, Hek's cheeks would stay rosey-red for a fortnight.

"Pardon me." He offers up to anyone paying attention.

Hek listened to the Inn keep's tale about the road ahead with ernest. It had been a while since he got to let loose upon vile villains and monsters.

Tired of bumping his head and other appendages, Hektor uses his innate ability, diminution, which in a slight, blur to the eye, he now stands just under 8ft, weight and body are adjusted as well.

Much better, he thought to himself as he stretched his sore limbs and back.


Coming downstairs holding either side of the large pot, the two boys laugh as the much-smaller giant stretches and still manages to bump his head on the ceiling.

Your hostess hangs the large pot  over the fire, sends the boys to fetch water, and, roughly an hour later serves up a thick, starchy, sour-tasting green broth, topping each bowl with soured cream and slices of boiled egg.


Frolik says to the hostess "Thank you my lady. You remind me of my granny. She would fix me up with warm honeyed milk and some cake. I'll be delighted to have some."

After drinking it and getting some food he stretches and flexes his body, warms his hands in the fire and thinks: I can't sing yet, but I sure feel like playing the lute.

He opens the case carefully and retrieves his instrument. It will take a while to tune it and warm it up, so he keeps his ears and eyes open, checking on the boys to see if they are curious about the lute.


As the lady of the house puts the soup on, Korë, heads for the door, stopping just long enough to whisper to her brother, "Hektor, jeg har tænkt mig at tage vores små søskende ud til hulen og få dem bosatte sig i. Jeg skulle være tilbage i tiden til suppe. Se mine ting?" She then throws her bear-hide cloak about her shoulders and heads out into the rain, leaving her heavy backpack propped against the wall in a corner.

Once outside, she takes her bearings, then goes and playfully hugs each of the bears. With a roll of her shoulders, she stretches her arms wide and begins to grow. As her body grows, her bear-hide garments fuse with her skin and expand as well, until she is covered in fur from snout to paws. Her body triples in size in every dimension, her fingers shrink, to be replaced by opposable claws, the stub of a tail appears. As the transformation completes, a conveniently timed flash of lightning illuminates the form of a fully grown kodiak sow, easily a hundred stone in weight and nearly as tall as her full-grown giant of a brother.

With a low growl she greets her brothers and sister. Then the troupe of bears pound off over the hill, towards the old, abandoned mine that the innkeep told them about.


Fionn, after smacking his head and horns on the low door lintel and the ceiling inside, finds a nice corner to try to dry out and extract the mud from his hooves. At least from where he is sitting he isn't getting any feelings of evil intent from anyone.  That determined, clearing the mud continues.  When the soup is ready, Fionn carefully takes the offered bowl from the innkeeper's wife and thanks here politely.


The innkeeper’s mention of a mine piqued Yobob’s interest enough to pull him away from his structural analysis. He partook of the offered victuals and enjoyed the music for a bit, but he just wasn’t satisfied with the innkeeper’s story. He’s left out all the important stuff!

Yobob decided to probe a little further about the details that mattered most to him. “Excuse me, sir,” he gestured to the innkeeper. “Can you tell us a little more about the Number Two mine? What kind of ore did it produce? Has it been shut down for long? Was it just a human operation, or were there some dwarves or gnomes involved?” If we’re dealing with a human mine, the best I can hope for is a mine cart with some rusted wheels, but if there were dwarves or gnomes involved, there’s no limit to what kind of equipment might be laying down there just waiting to be recycled.


The boys don't seem particularly interested in the bard's lute, though, once he begins to play, one does start drumming on a table, and is only slightly off-beat.

As the music plays and food is distributed, the innkeep sits down at one of the tables, all too happy to enlighten the gnome about the local mining. "Not much to tell about the old number two. It was the second mine that was opened when we first moved into Deþwillon." He pronounces the name of the place such that it sounds like 'Death Villain'. "We mostly mine argentite and galena. Number Two wasn't a particularly good producer, especially compared to the Number Three, so it got abandoned after only a couple of years and never went particularly deep. Hasn't been touched in a good thirty years. The Number One mine was here when we moved in, leftover from the dwarves, and goes the deepest. The Two and Three we carved out ourselves..."

He goes on for some time, talking about problems they had with properly shoring up the hillsides and tunnels, slippages and mudslides from the high rainfall, lost time from the mines flooding after the spring thaws, and other complaints. Even with their problems, it sounds like the mines pull out just enough silver and lead for the twenty or so families in Deþwillon (mostly on the far side of the hill, closer to the mines but away from the main trails) to make a living, with most of their ore being sold in Zhentil Keep or Teshwave.


Growing up with dwarves was in itself, a trial of one's wits. Everyday life was a challenge , but rewarding.

Even the dwarven language was, at first, an obstacle. Hektor's alien mouth and tongue made even his best dwarf speak rough.

Korë had left him instructions in dwarvish, a fact that Hek did not miss. His big sister was much wiser when it came to dealing with the outside world.

Hek managed to keep any suspicious looks well hidden, but remained vigilant.

At first he wasn't pleased about his sis going out on her own. But those uneasy thoughts soon faded and even brought a smirk to the giants lips.

Woe be on any who intend ill-will on that dwarf. Not to mention her trio of companions.

Hektor welcomed the hot meal as he listened to the story about the mines. Hek did not miss out on the point why he was not invited to inspect the mines either. The close quarters and low, unstable confines of a mine were no place for one of his stature.

Still, he could not help but worry. His free hand unconsciously inside his beard, lightly moving over his sister's gift.


As the bears lope towards the cave, Korë thinks of how this shape feels so much more right than the one she'd been born with.

Since turning to the service of Lord Meriadar she had heard much about how hate was not a natural reaction. Humans could get along with anything. Even goblins, evil as they were, could get along with their cousins--orcs, hobgoblins, even ogres. Dwarves were different. 'Children must be taught to hate' was the common adage of the faith, but she knew that, for her people, that was absolutely wrong. The natural tendency of all dwarves, even those as kind-hearted and cosmopolitan as her father, was to hate that which was different. Even dwarves separated at birth from their clans learned at a very young age to hate and kill goblins, giants, and their ilk. Put a dwarven infant in a crib with a baby goblin and one of them would die. It was just the way of things.

Learning to love her brother had been hard. Learning to love her allies not of her clan had been harder. Learning to love even those that were possibly enemies had been an almost impossible task. After her brother, though, her first love had been the bears. Her clanmates had been terrified when Hektor brought the first one home, but she saw them for what they were. Stout, strong, and gruff, they might as well have been dwarves. She loved their thick, warm fur and the feel of their muscles beneath it. When she had learned to become one, she was ecstatic.

The more time she spent in this form, the more she knew that she was not trapped by her heritage. If she did not have to  look like a dwarf, she did not have to think like a dwarf...did not have to hate like a dwarf. Not that she disliked her heritage, but her gut told her to lead with a crossbow bolt and never stop to ask questions. Since she had learned to be a bear, she had learned that, just as she could change her exterior, she could look past the exteriors of others. It had taken decades, but she had learned to embrace other races--even the minotaur and the elf that traveled with her--as brothers and sisters just as her father had made her embrace Hektor when he first brought the giant baby home.

Despite the cold, and the damp, and the dark, Korë let out a happy roar to be back in her proper skin. The cry was echoed by her furry siblings. Not long after, she spotted the darker patch of night marking the opening of a hole in the hillside. She veered slightly to head towards it and slowed her pace to approach with some semblance of caution...


As the bears near the old mine, Korë can just make out the flickering light of a small campfire inside. Watching for a moment, she sees a figure stand up and cross in front of the fire, briefly obscuring it, then return to a seated position beside the light. Between the rain and her ursine nearsightedness, she cannot make out any details.


Korë growls, telling the other bears to spread out behind her and wait while she goes forward to check out the creatures in the cave. She pads forward slowly, trying to avoid making unnecessary noises and using the darkness and rain to cover her approach, her goal being to get close enough to see and smell the creatures (her vision as a bear being comparable to a human's at close range). 


Korë creeps up to the opening of the old mine and looks in to see a pair of creatures sitting by the fire, clearly humanoid in nature but wearing long voluminous brown robes that mask their features. The two creatures sit in complete silence, making no conversation or other noises. The cave smells strongly of guano and wet feathers, like a poorly ventilated chicken coop.


Korë briefly considers resuming her dwarven form so that she can use magic to assess the threat posed by these creatures, then decides that all she really cares about is if they will be a threat to her ursine siblings. Taking a deep breath, she slowly plods into the cave, acting as if the creatures and their fire aren't even there. She stops right inside the opening, shakes vigorously to dry off, then walks towards the back of the cave, keep your distance, but don't look like you're trying to keep your distance, she thinks.


The two creatures jump a little when the large bear comes in, they make no noise, but one turns its head fast enough that its cowl slips, revealing a misshapen human-like face with a parrot-like beak in place of its nose and mouth. Its left eye is large and bulging, and a smattering of drab brown feathers wreathes its chin like a beard. It quickly reaches up to pull the cowl back into place, revealing a twisted five-fingered hand with bird-like talons.

When the bear begins to shake off, they turn and cover themselves. The fire crackles and hisses from the shower of droplets, and one ducks to interpose himself between the bear and the fire. When the barrage of rain stops the two creatures eye the bear warily but make no further move, though the smell of fear from them is strong. They seem to relax slightly when the bear starts to walk around them without any show of aggression. They move slowly around to keep the fire between them and the bear...


Seeing that the poor, twisted creatures are not overtly hostile, Korë makes a slow circuit of the fire, walking all the way around it, but slow enough that they can keep their distance from the bear. As she does, she sniffs the ground and looks at the creatures in a way intended to convey simple animal wariness and curiosity, trying not to let on that she is probably smarter than they are.

As her circuit brings her back to the opening, she lets out a growl, telling the other bears that it is safe to come inside, but that they should head to the back of the cave, leaving the men by the fire alone. She then finishes on the far side of the fire from the door and walks towards the back, stopping just at the edge of the fire's light, and lays down.

The other bears shuffle in, one at a time, shaking off then walking strait to the back, staying near the left wall, away from the bird-things. They each lay down next to Korë, curling up in a giant ball of fur and close their eyes.

Korë stays for several minutes watching the bears go to sleep and watching the birds to make sure they are not showing any aggression towards the sleeping bears. She then growls, telling Mo̱ró, Mi̱téra, Bampás that she will be back for them at first light, and that they should leave the poor bird-monks alone as long as they did likewise. She rises and heads for the exit.

Once out of the light of the fire, she reverts to her dwarven form and sneaks back to where she can see the bird things, casting know alignment, know faction, and detect magic just to be sure before leaving her siblings sleeping near these things.


The creatures are clearly frightened by the family of bears taking up residence in the old mine with them. They give the animals wide berth and continue to try to keep the fire between them and the bears. They watch curiously as Korë leaves, but still make no threatening moves towards her or the bears. Still in complete silence.

By the time Korë circles back to divine their intent, the creatures have settled back to quietly sitting by the fire, apparently convinced that the sleeping animals are no immediate threat. Her spells do not tell her much. The creatures have a faint aura of transmutation magic lingering over them, but nothing currently active. They appear to be completely neutral in alignment, they are clearly sapient and not without alignment in the way that animals are, but have no strong leanings. Her attempt to read their affiliations reveals nothing. An absence. Either the spell failed, or these creatures have no social ties of any kind.


Antisocial but mostly harmless, she thinks. The bears will be fine.

Korë shivers a little, wishing that she had not relinquished the warm bulk of her bear form and slips back into the rain and darkness, focusing her infravision to pick out the tell-tale warm spot of the inn's chimneys through the otherwise uniformly cold background. She hasn't gone more than a dozen steps when she also regets the loss of her longer bear legs. She pulls out her yellow ioun stone and sets it to spinning around her head. Stupid dwarf-body, she thinks as she plods slowly through the rain, at least my feet will stay dry.

She walks back into the inn a little more than an hour after she'd left and helps herself to a bowl of soup.


Once the bard begins playing and everyone else starts eating, Korë wanders over to the corner and sits down by the minotaur. For the year that they'd known each other, Fionn had been the party's moral compass, at least for those situations that might call for an application of force. "Fionn, fandt jeg nogle af de "brødre", at innkeep talte om. De var mærkeligt. De lignede mænd med tilfældige fugl bits limet på - fjer, næb, kløer. Som en slags vanvittige guiden eksperiment. Tror du, det er værd os kigge ind på?"


Hektor was grateful and relieved when Korë walked back into the Inn.

He had prepared a meal for her. Taking that and one of his blankets, he sat near Korë and Fionn.

Hek offered the meal and blanket to his sister as he listened to what she had found out. 


fter playing some tunes and feeling much better for it, Frolik sees Korë rerturning. He packs his lute thinking that maybe in a day or two he might be singing again, and grabbing some honeyed milk he walks towards Korë, Fionn, and Hektor.

"Anything interesting?" He says clearing his throat and with a coarse voice.


As everyone starts assembling around her, Korë tucks into her bowl of soup and tries to act as inconspicuous as possible, trying not to alarm the locals with what she found. "Thank you, this is delicious," she says to the lady of the house, then reverts to dwarvish to commune with her companions. "Da jeg fortalte Fionn, fandt jeg nogle af de "brødre", der innkeep talt om. De lignede mænd med tilfældig fugl bits limet på - fjer, næb, kløer - og ønskede ikke oprette en enkelt lyd. De syntes harmløs og gider ikke mig eller bjørne, som vi gik ind i hulen, men jeg kan se, hvorfor de lokale ville blive paagaeldende. Da vi er her, måske skulle vi tjekke det ud i morgen, og måske se, om der er en butik, hvor vi kan genpåfyldning til turen tilbage til Phlan."


As the last of the pot of soup empties, the man of the house yawns. "Well folks, I need to get some sleep, you're welcome to sleep here tonight. Spread out wherever you like. We can settle accounts in the morning." He walks over and drops a bar across the front door, then shoos the lady and boys up the stairs. They hurry up, taking the large pot and a few other loose items up with them, leaving nothing but the tables, stools, and dying fire behind. As they vanish you hear the thump of trap being closed and a screech as something heavy is dragged across the floor and set on top of it.


Once the proprietor and his family disappear upstairs and lock themselves in, Korë relaxes and explains again in the common traders tongue,  despite its limited ability to convey complex ideas, for any of her party who have yet to master dethek. "As I told Fionn. I found some of "brothers" who hospitality worker talked about. They looked like men with bird bits glued on - feathers, hard mouth parts, claws - and did not create single sound. They seemed not dangerous and did not bother me or bears, as we went in cave. I can see why locals would be afraid. Since we're here, we should check it out tomorrow. See if there is shop where we can restock for trip back to Phlan."

What a useless language, she thinks, it doesn't even have articles. She shoves  a stool out of the way to make room to spread out her bedroll.


2nd of Ches


The next morning, Korë wakes up early, when the Inn is still quiet. Shivering against the chill morning air, she crawls over and begins building up the fire in the hearth, adding wood and stirring up the coals until she has a small blaze going.

She unbars the door and steps outside, filling her own small cauldron at the rain barrel, then returns to hang it over the fire. As the water comes to a boil, she tosses a cube of incense into the fire, filling the room with a lovely (if slightly narcotic) scent, and then tosses a number of rune-carved stones into the water. She then sits, staring the ripples in the water from the stones and the steam wafting out of the cauldron, meditating over whether it would be advisable for the party to investigate these bird-monks further.


The runestones slowly float to the surface of the water, one by one, only to submerge again to be replaced by others. The message goes on far longer than any Korë has previously witnessed. Hurriedly, her mind reeling from the psychotropic haze of her incense, Korë translates the surfacing stones:

Vigils. Full moon at apex.
Copse of trees on stony hilltop.
Singing. Shadows flicker before flames.
Matins. No moon upon the sky.
Feathers clutter beneath canopy.
Breathing. Silver bound by murder.
Sext. Clouds gather to plead their case.
Groaning. Wind and branches joins cause.
None. To purify herald rings.
Wailing. Heaven sheds starry tears.
Vespers. Waiting without Waning.
It Comes.


Kore's reverie is broken by the sound of the trap door to the upper floor being opened. The elder of the two boys slips down, closing it as quietly as he can behind him and walks over to where the dwarf woman is sitting by the fire. "Jeg taler Dethek du kender."

He pulls one of the stools over and sits down. "Du er en klog kvinde?" he asks, looking at the cauldron and the stones. "I heard what you were saying...about the bird men. If you and your friends are going to be investigating I'd like to help. I doubt many of the people around here would be willing to open up to your friends..." he casts a glance at the snoring giant and minotaur, "no offense."

He sticks out his hand, "I'm Ommos."


Korë gives the boy an arm cross, "Du laver en god pointe, velkommen ombord." She walks over the nudges Hektor with her foot, "Wake up, time to go check on the boys and make sure they didn't maul any monks in their sleep..."

She turns back to the boy, "Så Ommos er Dethek almindeligt kendt her omkring?"


"Nej, ikke som sådan, men at arbejde her jeg har haft lejlighed til at tale med et par af dine folk. Bare rolig, jeg er sikker mine onkler taler ikke din tunge."

Ommos looks around, "Your friends are sound sleepers, eh?" He walks to the second hearth and starts stoking the fire up, putting a great over it once its going. "Oh, Uncle Tal usually charges four coppers a head for dinner and room to spread out...he'll probably forget to mention it and then mam will get angry with him again, so make sure to settle up before we leave."


Korë does a quick head count as she is drying and re-packing her divinatory tools. "Thanks for the heads up," she says, neatly piling four stacks of ten copper coins each on one of the tables. Never hurts to tip, she thinks, especially with big appetites in the party.

She kicks the sleeping Hektor and Fionn one more time, then heads out the door. "Come on guys, get the lead out..."


Frolik wakes up feeling much better and with renewed strength.
"Well, shall we wake the others and get a head start on our trip? Those bird-men sound like fun."
He adds a couple of coppers to one table and packs his stuff.
While he is at it, he sings a song to warm up his voice.

"Rise and shine, rise and shine
there are things to be done
so wake up and get ready
and lets just be far gone
but first wash and clean yourselves
because my hellish cold is over
and i can smell you from beyond"


Ommos laughs loudly at the song, "That was some nice playing last night. I'm glad that you are feeling better." He ducks out the door after the dwarf. "So where did you want to look first?"


"That way," Korë points in the direction of the cave. "I have some friends I need to check in on before we do much else, and they were, insterestingly, sharing a cave with a couple of your visitors last night..." She sets off at her fastest speed, which is barely a walk for all of her larger companions. She sighs again at the limitations of her dwarven body, at least it's always easy for the lazy-heads to catch up, she thinks.


Outside, the rain from the past several days continues unabated, a steady, cold drizzle giving a deep green luster to the grasses covering the hill. With the morning light you can now make out a small village, perhaps a score of buildings including two or three large enough to be a store or meeting house, on the far side as you cross over the ridge. The rain obscures your vision, but you can make out the motion of a few people out and about. As you near the abandoned there is an ominous rumble of thunder and you see a pair of humanoid figures, presumably the bird-monks from the night before, skulking away down the hill and into the light woods that border the town.


Hektor, as large and strong as he was, was pooped. The last few days journey through the foul weather not only sapped his strength but dampened his usually unshakable spirit. He longed for the sun and chorus of so many types of birds singing different songs, yet somehow still stayed miraculously in harmony. He loved birds almost as much as he loved bears. Truthfully, and already well known, Hek loved all the natural animals of the lands. His dwarven father often joked that the gentle-giant should've been a
"flippin ranger" or even "like 'is big sis."

Suffice to say, Hektor slept like a baby...mammoth. If anyone else did, due to his rusty saw-blade snoring, it was nothing short of a miracle.

He was having the most delightful dream about a symphony of multi-typed birds, that oddly all sounded like a lute, when a gigantic, dwarven boot stomped the lot of them and kicked Hektor in the rump as well.

With a snort that shook the rafters, Hek's saucer-sized eye popped wide open.

"Huh... whu....my birdies!?" he exclaimed loudly, still in the fog of the evaporating dream.

Blinking the sleep away, his single, huge orb stopped on Köre.

In a mumbled, half-hoarse voice he said...
"Geez sis...maybe try a gentle touch next time." rubbing an imaginary hurt on his bottom.

He received in turn, the usual "hrrmuph!" and eye-roll.

In the end it was Köre's incense that finally woke up the grumpy bear... so-to-speak.

Although his belly rumbled in protest, the thought of going to see his "baby-boy", Hooch, got the big guy rolling.

As he started for the doorway, he looked back and chided Fionn about the mud left from the minotaur's hooves...

Awake, yet still not alert, Hek totally forgot that his enchantment he cast the previous night had worn off, restoring him to his full 12 foot height. The end result was a lump on his forehead and an irregular half-globed hole above the door.

Red-faced, Hektor made quick apologies and promises of repair to the mistress before squeezing out into the drizzle.

Easily catching up to his sister, Hektor once again offered a ride, having notice several choice dwarvish curses. 


Korë spares only a moment to glance angrily at her brother, then stops and points into the gloom. "There," she says quietly, "heading towards the woods." She turns to the elf trailing them, "Hun, you've got the best eyes. Try to keep them in sight. We'll check on the bears quickly, then go see what our dark-robed skulkers are up to..."


Frolik prepares his crossbow just in case. "Maybe they are running from something or someone?" Then he enters into the woods in the opposite direction the bird-people are going.


Ommos stops and gives Korë a look that is simultaneously quizzical and terrified. "Did you say bears?!"

He steps away from the cave and turns towards the woods, trying to make out the two figures ducking into the trees. "It doesn't look like they are moving fast enough to be running from anything Mr..." he stops when he sees Frolik heading in the opposite direction. "Hey!" he calls in a coarse whisper-shout, "Where are you going?" He jogs to catch up with the bard, "Shouldn't we be following them?"


As if aware that you are talking about them, the three sleepy-looking bears come plodding out of the cave. Hooch, the biggest of the three, stops by Hektor and shakes vigorously to shed water-droplets from his fur, then looks up at the giant grumpily, clearly objecting to the weather, but otherwise hale and hearty.

The two bird-men, meanwhile vanish into the woods at the bottom of the hill, the trees and rain covering their passage.


Korë rubs the bears heads affectionately, then looks down the hill. "Should we chase them? Or go explore elsewhere?" Then, to Ommos, "Hey, your uncle didn't say how many of the 'brothers' he saw in town, but it sounded like several. Was it just the two of them, or are there likely more skulking around?"


Hektor took his big sister's scowl as if it were affection. He grinned.

He did however give her a flat look at the "best eyeS" comment.
Nevertheless he kept a serious vigil.

The robed "bird-men" looked throughly spooked.

Without looking down, Hek reached out and gave Hooch an affectionate, reassuring squeeze on the great bean's back of the neck.

Still watching the rapidly departing duo, he spoke with authority.
"Someone should double check the cave.."

Bending to Hooch's ear, the Hound Master whispered for a moment, the bear's ears going alert.

With a low acknowledging growl, Hooch set off towards the fleeing people.


Korë nods approval of her brother's statement, "Yeah, I've lost sight of them anyways..."

She motions the bears over to her and makes a deep growling noise, asking if they can pick up the birds scent, since it was so recent.

As her furry friends start tracking down the bird-men, Korë turns back to the cave and motions for the others to follow, "Let's check out the mine and see if there is anything of significance. It could be that they were just looking for a dry place to sleep, but maybe they left behind something that would explain what they are doing here."


The cave, only slightly easier to see in the gloomy daylight, is just tall enough for a man to stand upright and just wide enough for four men to walk abreast, and runs strait back into the hillside for quite a ways, well past the range of Korë's infravision. The walls are fairly smooth, clearly worked rather than natural, and faint grooves running down the middle of the floor show where a track may have once been.

About five yards into the mine, just enough to be out of range for wind-blown raindrops, you find the still smoldering remains of the bird-men's fire. Two bundles of fire-blackened leaves, filled with small bones sit nearby, but there are no other obvious signs of their presence.


Hek begins to follow Hooch as the great bear tracks the bird-men.

He feels secure with the knowledge that Köre has her two bears and party members nearby.

Hektor's long stride brings him to the forests edge in short order. Using his advantage of height, he takes a good look in the direction of the two odd fellows before entering the thick. 


The bird-men's trail takes you down the hill, towards the village, then over a small mill-stream and into the woods bordering the town. The rain and the stream make following the scent-trail more difficult, but you saw where they entered the woods so Hooch is eventually able to pick it back up. Their path sticks close to the edge of the woods, cutting around the north and west of the village.

While the creatures were not running from anything to start with, a giant and a grizzly bear following along the exact same path that they took are not easy things to conceal. Spotting the hulking shapes coming behind them, the two bird-men break the cover of the trees, sprinting towards the sanctuary of an old church in the south-west corner of the village. Somehow, even in a state of panicked flight, the creatures make no sound.


Hektor followed Hooch who was tracking the bird-men. Over a few of the smaller trees he could make out the village and the path that his quarry were taking.
Whistling for Hooch to return, he gave the commands necessary for the bear to understand and relay to his sister and the other party members.
Hooch was to go back and find Köre (his symbol to indicate his sister was touching the totem attached to his beard that she had made and given to him)
and bring all of them back to where Hektor's scent followed.

Once Hooch was away, moving swiftly for a creature of his size, Hektor set out for the church. Once in the open, all pretence of cover was gone and he used his long strides to move quickly to the perimeter of the building. Although the two bird-men had yet to show any aggression, Hek's, movement was patient and cautious as was taught by his father and Köre. He chose to go to the rear of the church to make certain that the two had not gone out the back door if one was present. 


Korë makes a circuit of the campsite, pushing aside the ashes of the fire with a stick, examining the bones in the leaves, and looking for any other signs left behind by the bird-creatures. After a few minutes she is confident that there is nothing else of interest and slightly disappointed in their choice of baked rats for their evening meal. She cinches up her pack and heads out of the mine. She stops by the exit, looking around for any signs of where her friends might have gone, then easily spots Hektor's massive footprints heading down the hill. Guess I'd better catch up.

She runs down the hill as fast as her short legs and the slippery, muddy terrain will allow.


Frolik takes a look in the cave, walks a little bit into it and after seeing nothing of interest, heads back outside and follows Korë and Hek.


Ommos falls in behind Korë and Frolik, slowing his pace to match the dwarf. As they break the cover of the woods and he spots Hektor near the church, the young man's eyebrows knit into a glower. "That's my church," he growls. "What would the strangers want in there?" He draws a red-bladed sickle from his belt and hurries up beside the giant...


The old church is small, stone building, only slightly larger than the houses that comprise the village of Deþwillon, with a steeply pitched roof to protect against the harsh winter snows. As Hektor nears the building, he sees the two bird-creatures duck into a small postern on the corner closest to the woods. A quick survey reveals no windows on the building, but three possible entrances: the nearby postern door, another small door on the eastern side leading out into a small graveyard, and a set of large double doors facing due north towards the village proper. With his greater height, Hektor can also see what appears to be a large hatch on the south-face of the roof, presently closed. Two old maple trees grow up near the north-eastern corner of the church, close enough that even small children could likely climb onto the roof from them.


With his one good eye, Hek spared a quick glance over his shoulder. Köre, Flolik and to his surprise, one of the human younglings from the inn. Although puzzled by the boys presence, he pushed the thought aside for the time being. Still, the protective part of him couldn't help but keep the boy from harms way should things get...complicated.

Using a warbling whistle, Hek gave Hooch the command to watch the back of the church. The quarry might try to escape unnoticed.

Knowing that his long time companions would understand his use of the great bear, he had no doubt that they would automatically find their part in this hunt. Nevertheless, Hektor waited until they caught up in case they might have information.
He kept a strong vigil on his surroundings and tried to listen to tell-tale noises within the church. 


Korë tells the two bears to wait in the woods and jogs to catch up with the boy and her brother. Reaching the old church, she pats Hooch on the head, then turns to the others, whispering. "Three doors? Plus the roof? Shall we try all four at once and attempt to surround them?" Hardly waiting for an answer, she begins slipping around towards the trees on the far side, gesturing to Hektor to indicate that she'll take the roof-hatch.

As she slips along the side of the church, she also looks around for other nearby buildings, in case the strange, furtive bird-men may have allies hidden nearby.

Looking up at the angle of the roof and thinking about her strange augury from earlier in the morning, Korë suddenly stops and creeps back. "Ommos," she says in a harsh whisper, "does your church have any special celebrations for the Full Moon? There is supposed to be one soon, tonight? Tomorrow maybe? That hatch looks like it's at just the right angle for a good viewing, if the rain would ever let up..."


As Korë takes the roof Frolik goes to the eastern entrance, the one with the graveyard. He has his crossbow ready but since he doesn't want to appear dangerous, he keeps it behind him. Just in case, he also keeps a spell (grease) in the tip of his tongue.

Watching the church he tries to remember if he knows anything about it or the bird-men.


Comforted by the fact his companions were nearby, Hek slowly moves around the building, alert for any movement or sound.

As per his races innate ability, Hektor enacts detect magic, hoping that the spell like ability will give aid in the search. 


Ommos nods warily, "Yes...we do celebrate the full moon...why?"


Listening at the doors, Hektor hears...nothing. The same eerie silence that surrounded the bird-men as he was chasing them appears to have been maintained. Aside from the rain pattering on roofs, and leaves, and gravestones, the surrounding area is quiet as well. Hektor does detect a lingering aura of magic over the entire structure, old but strong.

The north side of the church is separated from the rest of the town by a wide, muddy dirt track, but one building flanks the church to the east, just the other side of the two maples. It is a large thatch-roofed building with a weather-worn sign on the front bearing a crude flour-sack logo, possibly what passes for a general store for the small village. As Korë heads for the trees to get up onto the roof, she notices that waxed parchment over one of the windows of the store has been ripped open, letting the rain in and a faint moaning sound out.

Examining the church, Frolik recognizes the tell-tale trappings of the local folk religion: the south-facing roof-hatch in particular, but also small, crescent moon shapes lightly etched into each stone of the walls, and the sharp, metallic smell of blood near the main doors, from monthly offerings poured out on the threshold. The locals in this section of the Dragonspine Mountains are often referred to as 'Mooneyes' by southerners, and are known for being unusually chummy with the goblins and kobolds, almost to the point of considering their villages to be part of the goblin tribes. The religion is a primitive form of matriarchal moon worship and sympathetic magic, considered 'witchcraft' by the establishment back in Phlan. On the plus side, the churches up here are famous for the distillation of excellent spirits (which sometimes make their way south with the autumn caravans), with a particular flair for creativity in their brewing.


The rain splatter dashed any hope of hearing their quarry, though even so, it was a bit too quiet despite the rain. It sent a visible shudder down Hektor's spine.

While he could not discern the sphere of magic that encompassed the old church, he could at least relay his findings.

Not bothering to attempt being quiet, something the big guy wasn't very successful at anyway, Hek spoke in dwarvish...

"Jeg hører ikke fra vores stenbrud. Være det kendt denne struktur har en gammel magi over det."

Hektor remained vigilant, though had he noticed the moon etchings that adorned the church, he would be seeing red.


"I think something is going down tonight, at moon-rise...can't say exactly what though, and will culminate around sundown tomorrow, probably involving these bird-men and probably ending with someone being killed...and maybe a meteor shower." Korë shakes her head, "Sorry, even with all the right tools, divination is not a precise science."

She turns and heads back towards the trees, planning to get up on the roof, then stops when she notices the busted-out window. "Ligner nogen brød ind her, og jeg kan høre nogle stønnen. Jeg har tænkt mig i at tjekke det ud. Hold mig dækket, hva lillebror?" She breaks away from the church and circles the shop, looking for other signs of forced entry before heading to check the front door.


"Just as I like it. Goblins and spirits!" Frolik reaches the eastern door and tries to listen inside.


Ommos watches the dwarf, the giant, and the bard, impressed by their professionalism with their careful investigations and covering all the exits and wonders where he can really help. Finally he shrugs, not going down until tonight, huh?, and heads for the front doors, figuring that this is his church and there really is nothing unusual in him just walking in on the morning before a major ceremony. He knocks loudly, so as to not surprise anyone, then shoves one of the two large doors open and peers inside, trying to be as casual about it as possible. "Lady Azrael? Father Dosol?" he calls into the silence, checking to see if either of the leading priests were present. Only then does he realize that he is still clutching his ceremonial sickle tightly in his hand, and quickly fumbles it into his belt strap.


Hektor nods and positions himself in an optimal place to go where he was needed.

He gave a series of whistles and clicks that sent Hooch around to the front of the church where he would stand guard over the boy. 


Korë circles the shop, but finds no other busted windows, nor other signs of damage to the building, though the sounds of quiet moaning remain readily audible. She tries the front door, but finds it locked, nothing elaborate, just a single slide bolt at about eye-level to a man, judging by the tension.

Ommos opens the door into the nave of the old church. Having no windows, and the moon-door closed, the room is almost completely black, save for the faint gray, rainy-day light leaking in through the door. The room is completely silent, save for the sounds of rain pattering against the roof and the steady plink of water dripping down from the imperfectly sealed moon-door. Even after letting his eyes adjust to the dimness, Ommos can see very little. He notes the shapes of the tall candelabras lining the walls, the slickness of the damp cobbled floor, and, perhaps, something moving in the darkness of the south end of the building.


Korë lets out a low, ursine growl and puts her shoulder to the door. The force, applied a couple feet lower than the bolt, easily pops the nails holding the bolt to the door's frame. She grumbles a low, "Sorry," in the local dialect, then steps into the shop, scanning the room for possible assailants before proceeding towards the source of the moaning.


Though a little spooked by the dark, the quiet, and the vague sensation of motion, Ommos was at least comfortable with the old church. He made a low "pssssst" sound, trying to get the attention of the dwarf or one of her other dark-acclimated allies. When it becomes clear that she is otherwise distracted, he heads over to the nearest candelabra, takes a candle (being careful to take the central one, so as to not upset its symmetry and thus offend the gods), and strikes a light with his flint before proceeding carefully towards the southern apse of the church. Knowing that surprise is not on his side, he hazards another call, "Father Dosol? Are you here?"


Korë enters the shop to find clear signs of a struggle and looting -- a broken stool, several wall pegs and shelves emptied, and one shelf knocked sideways, leaning against a second and much of its contents spilled on the floor. Behind the fallen shelf she finds the source of the moaning -- a man well past his prime, still dressed in his night robe lying on the ground. There is a large cut and several bruises on his balding head, and his hands and feet are bound. The mans eyes are still heavily lidded, but he appears to be regaining consciousness.

Meanwhile, in the church, the sudden sparking of Ommos's light startles the other inhabitants. At the far end of the church, two robed shapes, still vague in the dimness of the single candle, rise jerkily, but without so much as a sharp intake of breath, let alone any cry, from kneeling positions and rush for the south-eastern door (the one that would lead out into the graveyard). The lead one lowers his shoulder the plows into the door, knocking it open right into Frolik...


Ommos is startled by the sudden movement and the continued strange silence. Seeing Frolik in danger, Ommos quickly incants the words to a spell, "Dayte volyu prominʹ Ondovir!" and points a finger at the lead runner. A thin beam of brilliant yellow-white light leaps from his finger, arcing toward the bird-man who opened the door, briefly shattering the dimness of the church and leaving spots dancing before Ommos' eyes.


Frolik tries to stop the bird-man, but without hurting it.


The door slams hard into Frolik's cheek, sending him sprawling sideways away from the door. There is a brief wash of light and the runner then suddenly stops, drops to his knees and folds his hands as if in prayer, causing the second runner to tumble headfirst over him, then stands, stumbles over his friend and barrels shoulder-first into the nearest headstone in the small cemetery. There is an unpleasant cracking sound as he makes contact, but again, no sound from the robed man, though a twisted hand emerges from a sleeve to cradle his injured shoulder.


"Ouch!"Says Frolik caressing his bruised cheek and picking himself up from the floor. Then he walks towards the bird-men while casually dusting off his clothes and says "Hi, I reckon we had a tough introduction, but could you please stay calm so we can all avoid further injuries?"


Korë kneels down by the man, saws through his bonds with the pewter knife from her mess kit, then lays a hand on his injured head and bows her head in a silent prayer for healing.


As Korë touches the man's head, his eyes snap open suddenly. "Thieves!" he shouts. His eyes look right at Korë, but seem unfocused, as if he is looking right through her. "They took my tools! They were sneaky, but I heard them in here. Oh, but there were too many of them. Horrible, ugly men--bashed me across the head! It was terrible...uh...who're..." His tirade comes to a spluttering stop as his eyes focus and he finally recognizes the person kneeling over him to be a stranger.

Outside, as Frolik walks towards the stunned bird-man, he notices a small scrap of paper floating in nearby puddle, apparently having fallen from the man's robe when he collided with the headstone, and quickly becoming soaked through.


Frolik quickly snatches the paper from the puddle and tries to read it. He uses his handkerchief to absorb some of the muddy water.

"And what about you two?" He says to the bird-men. "Are you sneaky thieves then?"
Frolik bends down to check on the bird-man that crashed headlong into the gravestone. Then in a whisper "Did you find any good spirits?"


The paper scrap reads, in the local tongue, "Плетені вікарій. Духи дистильована. Наступна Повний місяць. Велика Вечірка. наш Блискучий. Віконт теж два."

«Wicker vicar. Spirits distilled. Next full moon. Great party. Our shiny. Viscount Too Two.»


Hearing the commotion and cry of "Ouch!", Hektor arrives on the scene quickly with his long strides.

He didn't like the idea that the group was now split, Köre being inside the nearby store, but he had faith in his older sister and he could be at her aid in no time.

Looking down at the sight before him, Hek let some of the tension he was experiencing fade. The two bird-men looked less of a threat and more like they needed saving.

Hektor moved his only good eye over to Frolik who was in possession of a sodden piece of parchment. He looked a tad rattled, but otherwise ok.

Kneeling to one knee which sank into the mud, Hektor gently reaches out to assist the injured man up as he addresses Frolik.

"You been roughin' these fellows up my friend?" he says with a grin. 


"On the contrary my friend! They seem to be able to rough themselves up without any help from me!" Says Frolik to Hektor in a fake wounded tone. "I think they could use a hand...or two. Why don't we take them inside and out of this rain?" 


Realizing how terrifying it could be to wake up from a head injury to find your house broken into and a strange bear-skin clad dwarf leaning over you, Korë decides to expedite calming the man down by casting charm person or mammal on him. "Calm down," she says gently, "it's me Korë, you remember...everything will be fine..."


As the giant reaches for the man, he jerks away and leaps to his feet, turning to run but getting tangled in his robes and falling in the mud again. The second, still near the door, gathers himself up, revealing one booted foot and one eagle-like talon, and sprints back toward the woods.

Meanwhile, inside the shop, the man blinks confusedly. "A Ko-ree! Blessed Moon am I glad to see you!" He sits up, perhaps a little too quickly, judging by the look of nausea that comes over him, then looks a the door. "Gah, the bastards! That bolt cost me five silver staters. Bad enough that they tore the windows coming in, why'd they have to break my door going out!" He shakes a fist angrily before looking back at the dwarf, "I'll be fine Ko-ree. You'd best go tell Mayor Granforth that there're thieves about..."


Ommos makes his way through the church, lighting a few more candles as he goes to brighten the place up, then stops by the open door. Guess we'll have to catch that one, he thinks. He clicks together the heels of his boots of jogging and takes off after the bird-man at a dead sprint, sure that his magic boots will let him overtake the thing by endurance, if not by actual speed.


"Hey, what kind of manners are those? Are you just leaving your friend like that???" Says Frolik to the running man as he casts a spell aimed in front of his running path, creating a pool of slippery grease.


The defensive motion by the robed man was expected. The bird-like claw on the fleeing fellow was entirely not.

With a shrill whistle that knifes thru the rain and commotion, Hektor gives Hooch the signal to "fetch".

There were quite a few different signals learned and shared between he and his beloved companion Hooch. The great bear, although now in full pursuit, would not harm the running man...if said prey remained civil.

Calmly, gently but very firmly, Hek places a huge, wet hand on the injured man's shoulders and back.

"You jus sit back and relax good sir. Aid will arrive'n short order."

Outwardly stoic, the big guy was inwardly worried sick about his big sister. 

He did find a fond chuckle for his small friend Frolik who had just made Hooch's job a bit easier. 


The fleeing man hits the grease, but instead of falling, slides across and keeps running, his one talon-like foot digging into the mud for traction. However, even running flat-out, his gate is awkward with the one bird-like foot, and Ommos and the bear overtake him before he can even reach the tree-line.

The remaining man, clearly overmatched with the huge hand resting on his shoulder, pulls his hands back into his sleeves and bows his head as if in meditation, making no sound.


As he nears the fleeing bird-footed man, Ommos sees the bear running up behind him. Ommos lets out a panicked yell and dives to the side, forgetting his quarry in his eagerness to get out of the way of a fourty-stone pile of teeth and claws barreling after him at thirty miles an hour.


Hooch loves fetch. He also loves Hektor's friends in a terrifying kind of way.

Smelling the grease far before he sees it, Hooch moves to the side of it right after Ommos did the same and leaps over the freaked out fellow, landing heavily, leaving great gouges of earth in the wake of the great bear's claws.

Swinging around in front of the running man, Hooch rears up on his back legs, towering over the smaller prey and ROARS!

Hektor smirks, knowing the growl for what it was. Had Hooch meant harm to his prey, this little song would pale by comparison.

However, Hek did not take his eye off the man before him and did not like the man putting his hands out of sight.

Nothing visibly changes on the half-giant, but the tone of his voice leaves no doubt of his words.

"Slowly show me yer hands, palms down.... Now."


Korë helps the man to his feet, then goes about setting the shelving upright again. "Do you know what was taken?" she asks. "Perhaps the items stolen might give 'the mayor' a clue to what these thieves are about..." She continues to scurry about the shop, putting things back on the shelves and also taking a mental inventory of the sort of items the place carries.

She then heads over to the torn window, looking for the muddy footprints that must be there in such weather if anyone came in, particularly looking for any telltale talon marks that might indicate whether the perpetrators of the robbery were the same bird-men she had seen in the cave.


With the bear suddenly in front of him, the talon-footed man tries to pivot, but skids out, landing in the mud. He remains there, remaining as silent as before, and lying as still as he can, as if trying to 'play dead' to avoid attracting the bear's ire.

His companion, meanwhile, remains sitting beside the gravestones with his hands folded in his sleeves. He makes no motion in response to Hektor's words. No reaction at all in fact, as if he were deaf as well as mute.

Inside the shop, the owner thanks Korë for helping him up and righting the shelves, then looks around the place, busily putting things in the right places (including re-shelving some things that Korë misplaced). "Rope." he finally says. "All the rope is gone, and all the parchment, and the candles, even the vigils I stock for the church, and the extra wicking..." He finishes putting the last of the items on their proper shelves and hooks, "Also took my biggest mirror, a couple shovels, bunch of gunny sacks..."

As the man finishes his inventory, Korë notices several muddy footprints trailing all over the dirt floor of the shop, mostly wet boot prints, but also a pair of large, webbed, three-toed markings in the muddy patch where the rain had been coming in the window, almost like giant duck footprints. The wall immediately below the window is also streaked with mud from where something climbed out.


"Rope and candles? Odd choices of things to steal, unless they were going spelunking," Korë muses. She looks at the tracks then heads for the door, stopping to hand a gold coin to the shopkeeper, "This should cover getting your door and window fixed. I'll see what I can do about finding the men who robbed you." With that she heads back out into the rain.

Seeing Hektor and Frolik standing over the downed, robed man, she heads over to her brother. "What have we here?" she asks, leaning ever-so-slightly down to look under the man's hood.

"Someone broke into the shop next door, clubbed the proprietor, and made off with a bunch of rope, candles, sacks, paper, mirrors, and other mundane stuff." She casually nudges the edge of the man's robe aside to get a good look at his feet. "Someone with duck feet," she explains to her friends.


"Well, this one hasn't "quacked" yet." Says Frolik to Korë and then to the bird-man "Do you mind if I take a look at your stuff?" and without waiting for an answer he starts picking among his stuff and robes.


Ommos flinches and curls into a ball at the bear's mighty roar. When, after a moment, it becomes clear that the bear is somehow deliberately acting with the intent to frighten, rather than hurt anyone, he crawls over to the prone bird-man. "Hey!" he croaks harshly, unable to overcome the primal fear invoked by the massive bear, "If we stay low and crawl slowly, I don't think it will attack..." Even though he is confident that the idea that the bear would attack was a bluff, he could not keep the fear from his voice. He tugs hard on the bird-man's robe and begins inching back towards the church, hoping to get him to where the giant and the dwarf can deal with him. "COME ON!" he urges, "We'll be safe in the church..."


Plopping back down to all fours, Hooch sniffs the air as he begins 'urging' the man, and subsequently, Ommos who had suggested the very same idea, towards the church.

Ommos, although uncomfortable and untrained with the subtleties of body language with the great bear, does remember (should terror not interfere) that unless Hooch's hackles are up, he is in a 'passive-aggressive' state of mind.

Hektor, noticing the man's non-compliance, hesitated to reaffirm his commands as memories of his youthful days training with his adopted, bearded kin, that 'rashness is oft foolish'. Becoming somewhat uncomfortable in his temporary position of a guard, Hek was very relieved when Köre finally emerged from the nearby shop.

Both her and Flolik's input, presence and observations were most welcome.

In Dwarvish, he spoke to his sister...
"Denne ene er skadet og har endnu til at tale eller anerkende os."

Chancing a glimpse up, he noted with pride, Hooch ushering the other man back with poor Ommos doing his best to not run screaming away.

Again to Köre in Dwarvish...
" Hvad vil du gøre med disse to?"


Seeing Hooch urging the bird-man back in their direction, Köre makes a series of growling and snorting noises. Moments later, two, much smaller, black bears come trotting out of the woods to flank Hooch's prisoner on either side, snarling menacingly and making sure he cannot flee anywhere but back towards the church.

Seeing that the man with them has two strange, X-shaped, parrot-like feet, she relaxes a bit. She snaps her fingers near where she would expect his ears to be. Getting no reaction, she leans back in close and does so again, right in front of his eyes. When he flinches, she nods. "Han kan ikke høre bror," she says, then switches back to trade speech to make it easier for Frolik, who she knew was only familiar with dwarven from chants, which had rather different grammar from spoken dwarvish.

"I don't think these two are thieves from shop. Their feet do not match tracks I saw, and they shared cave with our furry friends last night. Their garments and posture make me think they are priests or pilgrims of some kind. I think they were just scared when they saw you and Hooch coming and ran to where they expected to find sanctuary... But," she continues, "there are definitely other bird-man-strosities around, and definitely up to no good."