Friday, September 2, 2016

Poké-finder: Part 2

As previously mentioned, I started a Pokémon-based campaign for my kids this past week. Given their youth and enthusiasm our sessions are short and frequent (one hour, right before dinner every night). We're six sessions in and their loving it. I'll try to present these "session logs" weekly, as a digest of their adventures. Given the shortness of the sessions, not a lot happens each time we play, but the frequency keeps the progress moving.

First though, lets talk about mechanics. While the Pathfinder class I alluded to in the first post forms the core of the idea for this campaign, it was built with the intent of plugging it into existing Pathfinder games, and thus not quite as Pokémon-y as I'm trying to capture with this one. Also the short amount of time I gave myself for kicking this game off did not allow a lot of refinement. To the end of giving the game a stronger Pokémon feel, here are some quick ground rules I've laid. Most of this is reskinning, but some are new rules that I'll need to better document and clarify in the future.
  • Pokémon gain experience separately from their trainers. The PCs gain experience from encounters, gaining abilities as per the Eldritch Tamer class, but this has no real effect on their Pokémon (mostly relevant for increasing their hit points, skill points, and attack rolls for throwing poké-balls). Each Pokémon has its own separate experience total, and, because the PCs are likely to have large numbers of them in rotation, and combat in the game is almost exclusively focused on the Pokémon, they need considerably less experience than their trainers to gain levels.
  • Since Pokémon level is not tied to PC level, the "spells" known by the Pokémon are not dependent on the PC. The more Pathfinder-focused version of the Eldritch Tamer has a finite number of spells per day which are drawn from a list of abilities known by the beast they have deployed. For Poké-finder, each spell ("move") known by the Pokémon is usable once per encounter (to help encourage rotation and discourage over-reliance on a single uber-Pokémon), excluding basic attacks like claws and bites. All moves known by the Pokémon are based on Pathfinder spells but re-skinned to Pokémon moves (i.e. the Rain Dance move is the Cloud Burst Pathfinder spell).
  • All Pokémon have defenses and weaknesses as per their Type, with Double, Half, or No damage as appropriate. Moves/Spells with obvious types (such as spells that deal Fire or Lightning damage) match up in the obvious way. Types that are less obvious have some guidelines (i.e. spells with the Evil descriptor are "Dark" type, all other spells from the Necromancy school are "Ghost" type, moves based on Psionic Powers are "Psychic" type, etc.), but no hard, documented rule yet. [working on this one]
    • All standard attacks (Claw, Bite, Slam, etc.) possessed by the Pokémon are of the same type as the Pokémon (choose one for multi-type Pokémon). For example a Steel-type with a claw attack would count as using a Steel-type attack when using its claws ("Metal Claw" if you will) or an Electric-type using a bite attack would count as using an Electric move ("Thunder Fang").
    • Standard Pathfinder resistances such as Fire Resistance or Damage Reduction are removed or ignored in favor of Pokémon type-based defenses.
  • Eldritch Tamers do not have a Charisma-based limit on the number of creatures they can catch. Instead they use Poké Balls, and may have no more than six with them at any given time, and manage them through use of a Pokédex.
  • All combat encounters in the adventures are replaced with either wild Pokémon (to be fought and caught) or enemy Trainers with their own Pokémon to fight.
  • All treasure dropped is converted to Pokémon-themed items. Weapons are Poké Balls, Wands and Scrolls of spells are TMs that can be used to teach different spells to the PC's Pokémon, Potions are Potions (hey that's easy), etc.

Whew, that was longer than I thought...I had planned on including session logs with this, but we'll start those next post...

Beyond the Shore: Session 36

The demons were in the dice...

I wonder how it all got started, this business
about seeing your life flash before your eyes
while you drown, as if panic, or the act of submergence,
could startle time into such compression, crushing
decades in the vice of your desperate, final seconds.

After falling off a steamship or being swept away
in a rush of floodwaters, wouldn’t you hope
for a more leisurely review, an invisible hand
turning the pages of an album of photographs-
you up on a pony or blowing out candles in a conic hat.

How about a short animated film, a slide presentation?
Your life expressed in an essay, or in one model photograph?
Wouldn’t any form be better than this sudden flash?
Your whole existence going off in your face
in an eyebrow-singeing explosion of biography-
nothing like the three large volumes you envisioned.

Survivors would have us believe in a brilliance
here, some bolt of truth forking across the water,
an ultimate Light before all the lights go out,
dawning on you with all its megalithic tonnage.
But if something does flash before your eyes
as you go under, it will probably be a fish,

a quick blur of curved silver darting away,
having nothing to do with your life or your death.
The tide will take you, or the lake will accept it all
as you sink toward the weedy disarray of the bottom,
leaving behind what you have already forgotten,
the surface, now overrun with the high travel of clouds.

Billy Collins

On the water were four ships, one winged and purple, one red and iron clad, one fat and slow, and one crippled with decks awash in blood. Below the water swam the hordes of the drowned, nearly three hundred Imperial sailors who had escaped death by fires and fangs above, only to embrace the cold sleep below. In the middle of it all, a mermaid thrashed in a net.

“Up and away!” came the command, and with a mighty downbeat of wings, one ship was airborne. The ship hovered, quite the feat, and the mermaid, still in her net, dangled below, some two-hundred feet above the water. Ropes were thrown down to the fat ship and a small handful of men scrambled up to the flying hulk.

“Nuke it!” came the second cry. A pearl, black as night, was anointed with blood and tipped over the rail. It fell with a hiss and landed on the deck of the fat ship with a deafening explosion. A shockwave of bile and blood billowed out, and screams followed.

Moments later a horde of crazed, misshapen beasts wearing the remains of sailor’s uniforms came pouring up out of the hold of the fat ship and turned their blood-hungry eyes on the crew of the iron-clad. At the same time, the ovine crew of the iron-clad, bleating and frothing, dove, four-hundred strong into the water. The demonic sailors were soon over the rail as well, and the waters churned, frothed, and ran red.

Demon sailors fought demon sheep. The living dead under the water, who had so recently been intent on scuttling the four ships, were no more, crushed in the press between the two demon crews. Demons died and were drowned and died again. Within minutes the nearly one thousand lost souls in the water were no more, save a tenth of the vicious sheep, who paddled back to their ship as if nothing were amiss.

On the ship in the air, a debate raged. Crossbows were called for. Men lined the rails. “Shoot the mermaid now,” said the sly half-orc. “She’s a Knight of the Bath,” said the dwarven peer. “Drag her up and question her,” said the bard. The great black unicorn smiled, a frightening thing, and everyone relaxed. The bard won out.

“You sank my ship,” said the mermaid. “We were scouts, hunting pirates. The main fleet, fourty ships and two thousand marines, waits at Port Montague under Rear Admiral Richard Kempenfelt. The Intelligencers were watching us, they know you’re out here…”

The enraged pirates lashed out with blades, hooves, and pseudopods. A stray slash cut the mermaid free. A missed hoof sent the unicorn plummeting into the water. The sweep of a trident sent the sly half-orc and the bard after him. Two hundred feet down there was the sickening smack as the three of them hit the water. The mermaid dived after with barely a ripple of entry.

The unicorn sniffed. To its nostrils came the scent of a horse in heat. Forsaking the fight with the mermaid, the unicorn swam down, down into the darkness. The bard waved a hand and the unicorn bobbed helplessly to the surface, unable to fight its own buoyancy.

The mermaid stabbed the half-orc, and stabbed again. He tried to retaliate, but was out of his element. A mare with the tail of a fish swam up out of the darkness below. “Ah,” thought the bard, “a kelpie.” It swam past the mermaid, who grabbed at the saddle and seemed primed to escape.

“Bonzai!” came the yell, and a ton of cubic, gelatinous demon came crashing down from the flying boat. It missed the mermaid, but hit the bard.

The mermaid and her horse turned. The trident was couched like a lance. The horse-fish charged and the sly half-orc was impaled through the chest and killed. His lungs began filling with water from the outside. The sea isn’t the worst place to die…

On the ship the first mate shook her head. Nets were called for again, and the skilled fishermen brought up. The nets were lowered and the mermaid and her horse were caught again. Another downbeat of the ship’s wings and they dangled helplessly.

Ropes were thrown down, again. The bard grabbed the half-orcs body and hauled him onto the ship. The unicorn became a man, and climbed up as well, stopping only to punch the netted mermaid, knocking her out. Tumbling over the rail, he passed out as well.

The cleric was sent for. “Sacrifice the mermaid,” said the bard.

“No time,” said the cleric. She consulted the half-orc’s book and called for an old man and the unicorn. “It’ll have to be a quicky,” she said, taking the gnomish carpenter in her hands and mouth and the unicorn between her legs and working at a maddening pace. They didn’t even stop to ask the unicorn if it wanted to.

With a ear-splitting wail and the smell of decay, a misshapen bird with a distended belly clawed its way out of the half-orc’s corpse. It had too many wings, and too many beaks, and all of them feeble looking. It demanded that the cleric force others to worship mothers who had lost their children.
The demon looked at its form. It looked at the bard. Drowning might have been better, it thought. Rage filled its eyes as it charged the bard and dove overboard. It clung to the bard, holding him tight as it swam deeper and deeper into the watery abyss.

“Fuck,” said the cleric, who had been doing just that only moments before. She called for a knife, and called for the unconcious mermaid, and started stabbing, and stabbing, and stabbing some more, reading incantations from the black book.

For the second time in only a few minutes, there was a rending and tearing. Vines sprouted from the mermaid’s mouth, nostrils, ears, and every one of the stab wounds. Thorns sprouted from the vines. Seed-pods sprouted from the thorns. Monstrous hooved legs sprouted from the seed pods. The vines twisted together and with one final gush of blood, a four-legged plant-like monstrosity tore its way into the world of men and began to sing.

The plant-demon demanded that the cleric consume the flesh of those she fornicates with at least once a week. The cleric crawled away to pass out somewhere.

The unicorn, aroused (in more ways than one) by the cleric’s ministrations, lumbered over to the still-netted water-horse, which now looked like an attractive young woman. “I break all the bones in your body if you don’t sleep with me,” he said.

“And if I do?” she asked.

“You get another bone in your body.”

“Right here, right now?”

“Yeah.” And it was so.

To be continued...

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Rule Zero Rules Lawyering

So, there always exist those people who insist that D&D be played "by the book", to those, let me just point out...

2nd Edition DMG page 2, paragaph 6: "Take the time to have fun with the AD&D rules. Add, create, expand, and extrapolate. Don't just let the game sit there, and don't become a rules lawyer worrying about each piddly little detail. If you can't figure out the answer, MAKE IT UP! And whatever you do, don't fall into the trap of believing these rules are complete. They are not. You cannot sit back and let the rule book do everything for you."

3rd Edition DMG page 6, paragraph 2: "You get to decide how the rules work, which rules to use, and how strictly to adhere to them."

5th Edition DMG page 4, paragraph 8: "[This book] helps you adjudicate the rules of the game and modify them to suit the style of your campaign."

4th Edition DMG, page 7, paragraph 13: "Remember that the “right way” to play D&D is the way that you and your players agree on and enjoy."

Wednesday, August 31, 2016


I count Pokémon among my many gaming obsessions. I've played the games since they first came out in the 90s (starting with Pokémon Yellow), and was even accused of "tricking" my youngest sister into buying Pokémon Stadium for her N64 so that I could play the gameboy games on a bigger screen. I've played the entire core series, as well as many of the larger console spinoffs, and see no irony in referring to it as the most popular RPG franchise ever.

The recent release of Pokémon Go has started an entirely new Pokémon craze in my house. Within a week of the game's release, my son (who turns 6 in a week) was completely obsessed. Then he learned that the cartoon existed, as was on Netflix. Then his cousin introduced him to the card game. And, of course, it did not take him long to realize that the little games I played in the GameBoy emulator on my phone were also Pokémon (currently playing through Pokemon Sienna while I wait for Sun & Moon to come out).

Two months out from that release my wife is being bombarded with non-stop 24/7 Pokémon references from the younglings. My response:
"This is a monster of my own creation and I make no apologies for it."
My loyal readers (all two of you) will of course note that I haven't posted a damned thing on this blog since Pokémon Go released...

Back in 2012 I created a class for the Pathfinder RPG based on the concepts of Pokémon, the Eldritch Tamer -- which basically mixes elements of the Witch and Summoner classes with a healthy dose of clubbing baby seals. The class has appeared in most Pathfinder games I have run since, and had a few play-throughs by curious players.

A week ago, on a whim, I started playing around with the idea of running a campaign based entirely on the Eldritch Tamer class and quickly stood up an Obsidian Portal Page for it. Of course my ever-curious offspring quickly noticed the page I was on.
"Dad! That looks like one of your D&D games. Why is there a Charmander?! I want to play Pokémon D&D!!!"
So, the game went from "Hey wouldn't this be amusing" to an actual game in about 24 hours. With limited planning time, I grabbed the nearest adventure I had on the shelf and started re-skinning like crazy to make it more Poké-friendly. It turns out, that nearest adventure was a copy of Paizo's Rise of the Runelords Adventure Path -- an campaign that, at the time, was noted for its emphasis on human frailty and coming with a whole lot of trigger warnings, which matter a lot more when playing with a 6-year-old and a 4-year-old (like, literal monsters under kids beds killing their beloved pets)...

Re-skinning Rise of the Runelords was surprisingly easy. The first adventure opens up with the PCs attending "Swallowtail Festival" in the village of Sandpoint, which gets disrupted by rampaging goblins, which are in turn serving as a distraction for some criminals stealing a corpse the local graveyard. A little tweak and we get the Swellow-Tail Festival (which involves releasing a bunch of nursed-back-to-health bird pokémon back into the wild), which gets disrupted by packs of wild pokémon there to eat all the birds (with some house-threatening fire types in place of the torch-wielding goblins), which in turn are serving as a distraction for Team Rocket who are stealing an Odd Keystone from the local graveyard...

Since the whole thing was based off of a single class idea, I ran with that. All characters are human. All characters are Eldritch Tamers. For character creation, I let the kids peruse the various Trainer Classes that exist in the Pokémon games and choose one, I then lined their choices up with a playbook from Beyond the Wall (or rather, my Pathfinder Adaptations thereof) for calculating stats and giving them a sense of backstory. A little on-the-fly re-skinning of their rolls/choices and we got a couple of fairly interesting young Pokémon trainers.

Silas chose to be a Cooltrainer, for which we used the Village Hero playbook. Petra chose the Lass trainer class, for which we used the Nobleman's Wild Daughter playbook. They chose to use their real names for their characters (which saves confusion) and also chose, after the fact, to have their characters be siblings. I also let them choose their starters from the first stages of any three-stage Pokémon. A few rolls later and we had a pair of backstories (using familiar names and elements from the first season of the Anime where possible to help the kids grok it)...
Silas and his sister Petra grew up in the town of Sandpoint. Their mother, Nurse Joy, ran the local Pokemon Center and their father, Nicholai, designs and sews costumes for both humans and Pokemon (especially knit pikachu hats).*
As a child, Silas was an extremely empathetic young man and a good listener, making him well-liked and a sought-after confidant by his peers. When not playing with Petra, he spent a lot of time with the older kids and grown ups playing games.
Growing up, Silas was a favorite student of Professor Oak, a famous pokemon researcher who lives in Sandpoint. Silas would often hang out with the Professor, learning everything he could about Pokemon and Pokemon battling.
Last year, shortly after receiving his first pokemon, Machop, a drought struck the village. Silas saved the day by having Machop perform a Rain Dance to restore the drought-stricken crops*. The local farmers were so pleased that they awarded Silas with a special jacket — dark blue with long tails like a Swellow (the town’s mascot pokemon) — and a Flag to show that he has the town’s support during pokemon competitions.
Silas’s childhood friend, James, recently disappeared, leaving Silas a note that he had run off to join the infamous criminal gang, “Team Rocket”! Silas has not told anyone yet, worried that if they find out his friend is a member of Team Rocket, everyone might think that he’s a criminal too…
* To increase their initial survivability, I let Silas roll twice on the initial "who were your parents" question (which has the largest ability score boosts). The rolls came out "Your parents ran the local inn. You grew up playing tricks on the many travellers" and "You worked the loom, cutting and twisting as the Fates". By equating "Inn" with "Poké Center" we came up with the first hilarious conceit of the game -- the kids are the offspring of one of the Nurse Joys.
Petra and her big-brother Silas grew up in the town of Sandpoint. Their mother, Nurse Joy, ran the local Pokemon Center and their father, Nicholai, is designs and sews costumes for both humans and Pokemon (especially knit pikachu hats).
Even as a small child, Petra never met anyone who didn’t like her. She was a great help to her mother, Joy, always assisting with chores that needed to be done around the Pokemon Center while her brother was off listening to Professor Oak. A month ago, while tidying up for the upcoming Swellowtail Festival, she found an unclaimed egg someone had left at the Pokemon Center. When no one came to claim it, her mother said she could keep it to raise on her own…it is close to hatching.
While not the Ace that her brother is, Petra has learned quite a lot about pokemon herself. She and her Squirtle trained in the more practical aspects of pokemon battling under Lieutenant Surge, who mastered electric-type pokemon during the last war. Several months ago a group of thieves from Team Rocket snuck into Sandpoint, intent on mischief. Petra was the first to notice and shouted an alarm, rousing the other townsfolk to drive off the miscreants.
One year ago today, during the last Swellowtail Festival, Petra entered her Squirtle in a pokemon tournament. Eager to show off what they’d learned from Lieutenant Surge, Squirtle accidentally killed her opponent’s pokemon in the first round, disqualifying her. Since then she has been working with Silas to learn restraint.*
* Among my many rules for myself when running games for my kids is to not pull punches in terms of story. When Petra rolled the option "You accidentally killed your first foe and then withdrew. The friend to your right helped you practice so you would not make the same mistake again" in the Nobleman's Wild Daughter playbook, I was not immediately sure how to handle it. Given that tournaments are a regular thing in Pokémon, which basically boils down to supernatural cock-fighting, I decided to just roll with it. Combined with "You learned how to fight grom a gruff sergeant at arms who teased you too often" it quickly made sense that Petra's starter pokémon would have a bit of a vicious streak. Her squirtle has an upgraded bite attack, which does significant damage for their level, and has accidentally killed at least two other pokémon since we started playing.

Petra's reaction to this last bit throughout the game has been great. Both kids are well versed in what it means for an animal to die and think quite a lot about the ramifications. In-game, she clearly loves the squirtle, and when an encounter starts almost instinctively yells "Squirtle go!" Which, after the second accident or so, has been followed by a pensive look and a sighed "Squirtle return." She has more than the requisite six pokémon now, but always keeps squirtle in her active party, but keeps him at arm's length refraining from using him in battles -- clearly putting some thought into the fact that her beloved pet is a vicious killing-machine that needs to be restrained.

Anyways, this is yet another game that is happening now. You can look forward (or not) to some play reports from this in the near future, as well as updates on the other campaigns which are still rolling despite the Poké-distraction now that I'm writing again.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Beyond the Shore: Session 28

Horses and cliffs don't mix...

AWFULLY beautiful art thou, O sea!
Viewed from the vantage of these giant rocks
That vast in air lift their primeval blocks,
Screening the sandy cove of lone Kilkee.
Cautious, with outstretched arm and bended knee,
I scan the dread abyss, till the depth mocks
My straining eyeballs, and the eternal shocks
Of billows rolling from infinity
Disturb my brain. Hark! the shrill sea-bird’s scream!
Cloud-like they sweep the long wave’s sapphire gleam,
Ere the poised osprey stoop in wrath from high.
Here man, alone, is naught; Nature supreme,
Where all is simply great that meets the eye,—
The precipice, the ocean, and the sky.

Sir Aubrey de Vere

At the top of the steep, rocky slope is a relatively wide level area. The palanquins are set down and tents and sleeping rolls laid out. Theresa came up to them, “The bearers will need to rest. It will take about a week to traverse the cliffs to the temple. The journey to the temple takes about six days by palanquin.”

Guoliang-feature.jpgIn the dim light of evening, they could see a winding path, heading to the south and west, snaking its way along the sides of the rocky cliffs, nearly a thousand feet above sea level, and facing a precipitous hundred-foot drop to the mountainside below. The path was relatively smooth and level, chiseled out of the rocky cliff-face by unknown hands hundreds of years earlier, in some places actually cutting through the side of the mountain. Time and erosion had taken their toll on the once-majestic byway, in places eroding it to less than ten feet in width.

Not wanting to wait for the palanquins, Caddis, Rummy, and Thaduk told the Doña that they would go on ahead on foot. She told them to just follow the road for 24 leagues, and they would come to a cleft in the mountains, leading down to the other side, where they would find the temple, in a forest by the side of a lake.

They struck out into the night, following the path. After about four miles, they came to an area with traces of recent settlement. A washed out section of the walkway had been repaired and reinforced with wooden supports. Uphill from the road the ground sloped gently upwards, to a trio of beehive-shaped huts of stacked, tucked into the grassy slope. To their left, the road ended with a precipitous drop of about eighty-feet, down to a steep rock-strewn mountainside.

Beehive_Stone_Hut.jpgCurious about the huts, Thaduk and Rummy scrambled up the slope to investigate. All three had empty doors facing down-slope. Rummy poked inside the first, looking around with the aid of his darkvision, but it was empty. A single hole was left in the top, for smoke judging from the smudges on the ceiling, and the floor was bare stone. The only indication that it had ever been inhabited was the faint smells of urine and creosote.

After a few minutes, Caddis made it up the slope and joined them in poking around the huts. He shifted his form to that of a bugbear in order to better trace the smells Rummy had detected. Under the other scents, he detected something different, a faint musty odor, like wet sandstone, though the rocks of the slope were nothing of the sort and it had not rained in days. Pondering, he remembered a tale from his study of the arcane, about wild gargoyles that enjoyed bathing in the sea. Scanning the surrounding rocks carefully he spotted them, a trio of gargoyles each lying flat against the roofs of their huts, almost invisible. He quietly pointed out their locations to Thaduk and Rummy, then, laying a hand on his friend’s shoulders, rendered the three of them invisible.

The sudden disappearance of the pirates brought the gargoyles to alert. One raised its head to look around, bringing it directly into line with Rummy’s dagger, which bit deep into its stony-skull, killing it instantly. Caddis clambered up the second hut and drained another gargoyle with his vampiric touch. Thaduk raged and reared up behind Caddis, pounding the gargoyle to dust with his hooves.

Of course, the weight of the demonic horse destroyed more than just the gargoyle. The entire hut collapsed under the pounding hooves. Caddis dove to one side, but Thaduk found himself being carried down the slope in an ever growing landslide of rubble from the crushed hut and gargoyle. He scrambled for purchase, but his hooves would not catch on the loose stone, and the rolling tumble of unicorn and rocks went cascading over cliff-side of the road, falling the full eighty feet and rolling and sliding another hundred before coming to a stop on the lower slope.

Rummy jumped after Thaduk, surfing a wave of gravel and scree and just barely stopping himself at the edge of the precipice. He looked down, pulling out a healing potion to throw to Thaduk, but realized he could not possibly throw far enough and started free-climbing down the cliff. Thaduk, for his part, stood shakily, resumed his orcish form, and stared climbing up to meet him.

The remaining gargoyle, seeing his friends destroyed so readily, sprang from the roof of the third hut and flew away at top speed, but was drawn back by Caddis’ fey allure. The gargoyle pulled a u-turn and flew back to Caddis, stopping to hover placidly right in front of him. It continued to hang there in the air, unresponsive while Caddis blasted away at with shatter spells until it exploded in to a pile of rubble.

Climbing down to meet Thaduk, Rummy slipped, plummeting fourty feet to catch himself, jarringly on a small ledge only ten feet above the bottom of the cliff. Thaduk, by this time had made it up the slope and managed to reach-climb up to take the potion from Rummy. Then the two of them climbed up to the top together, where Thaduk calmed down and promptly passed out.

Caddis worked a little psychosomatic healing to get Thaduk back on his feet, and the three of them limped back to where the sheeple were camped. They kicked Leo awake and made him heal Thaduk, then commandeered a tent and curled up to sleep out the rest of the night.

In the morning they convinced Theresa that it would be best to leave the palanquins behind. The sheeple shoved them up against the uphill side of the landing where they had come up the mountain and unloaded the trunks of provisions and camping supplies, forming a long baggage train. Caddis, Rummy, and the Doña took point, leading the long winding train of sheeple, while Thaduk brought up the rear.

Even with fifty-five people in tow, the road was easily navigable by daylight, with no further signs of gargoyles. In fact, the only wildlife they saw along the route were birds — terns, and pettrels, and shearwaters flying overhead or nesting on the cliffs below them. Several times throughout the morning, those in the back heard sounds of tumbling and clattering rocks, causing more than a little anxiety in Thaduk after his tumble of the night before, and causing him to trot up to the front with the others.

By midday Rummy and Caddis, unused to walking after so many months at sea, started to flag. Caddis shrank the two of them down so they would fit between Thaduk’s spines and they rode him for the remainder of the afternoon.

Late the afternoon, and roughly twenty-four miles from where they’d begun that morning, they entered a narrow, and winding section of the road. The path had sloped downward for many miles, and here the cliffs abutted the sea, the twisting and turning along the rock-face, facing a two-hundred foot drop strait into the water in many places.

It was in this narrow and treacherous place that they were next attacked. A quartet of gargoyles swooped down from above, pulling away from the upper cliffs among which they hid and dropping like the stones they were. They fell on the back of the line, shoving five of the sheeple off the cliff to die on the rocks below.

Thaduk shouted for the sheeple to get away from the edge. They readily complied, plastering themselves against the cliff-wall, while Theresa drew her sword and stepped up in line with Thaduk and Caddis. Rummy leaped at the nearest gargoyle, slashing it with his dagger. Then Caddis fixed his gaze on them, drawing them all to him with his faerie charms.

Once again the gargoyles crowded around Caddis, hovering impassively, and once again, Thaduk reared up over Caddis, silvery-hooves flashing. Caddis hit the deck as the big horse plowed into all, four gargoyles battering them and taking them all, demonic horse included, over the edge of the cliff to smash onto a narrow outcropping a hundred and fifty feet below. Groaning, Thaduk stood up, severely injured, but less so than his last nose-dive off the cliff and much less so than the large pile of rubble that had only recently been four gargoyles. The sheeple tossed ropes down to him and he was soon back at the top of the cliff being tended by Leo.

The path from there wound back upwards and away from the coast. Then, as dusk neared, the path ahead came to an abrupt end, long crumbled away into oblivion. Just beyond the end of the path, waist high and at arms-reach, a large log thrust out of the cliff-face, perpendicular to the wall of the mountain and cut-round with strange grooves. Far below them, they could see a small village of perhaps a dozen of the beehive-like stone huts.

Caddis, seeing the huts, looked up, scanning the sky for more gargoyles that might attack them. While he saw no gargoyles, he did see what looked like another road, roughly sixty feet above their heads and continuing on to the south. A second large log protruded from the cliff by this ledge, and from it dangled a wooden platform or pallet, suspended by vines. Smaller, rotting boards protruding from the mountainside between them indicated that the logs might long ago have supported some sort of stairs. Rummy suggested that, with all the rope the sheeple had brought, they might be able to use the logs to construct a rudimentary pulley system and lift using the pallet. If, of course, someone could get to the upper path to do so.

Thaduk volunteered, and, shifting back to his orcish form, carefully climbed the sheer cliff to the upper path. Of course, strong as he was, even simple mechanics were beyond his limited intellect, and he soon had the ropes hopelessly tangled. He managed to work a strand free and tossed it down and hauled up Caddis, who through his sailing experience managed to get them sorted out.

Rather than bothering with anything complicated, Caddis simply tied off the corners of the pallet and lowered over the upper log, handing the end of the rope to Thaduk. The big orc hauled the sheeple and their luggage up three or four at a time, with only a few harrowing instances of the platform tipping and threatening to pitch someone off into the abyss.

An hour later everyone was safely on the upper path and night had fallen. They marched a few hundred yards from the makeshift lift to where the path widened again and pitched camp. Fearing the possibility of gargoyles living in the village below, the pirates took turn keeping watch through the night, rather than trusting such duties to the sheeple.

During the first watch, things suddenly went dark, completely black, even to Rummy’s darkvision. Suspecting magic, Rummy quickly woke Caddis, who shifted to bugbear form and nosed about in the dark, sniffing for signs of intrusion. Blinded as he was, Caddis only narrowly avoided stepping off the cliff, his nose warning him at the last minute thanks to a warm updraft from below.

Only a few minutes after it started, the darkness faded and there, at the edge of the camp along the path in either direction were a dozen dead and rotting bird carcasses, staked upside down and wings outstretched to X-shaped frames — as if crucified. Although the birds appeared to have been dead for days, they were certainly not there before. Sufficiently spooked by this, Caddis sent Rummy off to sleep, vowing to remain up the rest of the night.

Sure enough, later that night it happened again, with the entire camp becoming shrouded in magical darkness. This time, Caddis detected a strange odor, like a pungent blending of wet fur and sulfur. Around the same time, Rummy and Thaduk were awakened by a chill and a sudden draft on their nethers. Just as Caddis was creeping around to investigate, the darkness abated, the strange scent disappearing with it, along with all of their tents. The latter having simply vanished into thin air right over the heads of the sleeping sheeple, nowhere to be seen.

Rummy and Thaduk returned to sleep and Caddis sat up, watching, until the break of day. In the early morning light, Caddis spotted a man, brown of skin and covered with intricate facial tattoos like the natives of these islands, standing on the edge of the cliff a hundred yards south of their camp. Without waking anyone, Caddis approached, walking slowly and waving to show his peacable intent. On seeing Caddis approaching, the man raised a knife, then quickly plunged it into his own chest, before pitching forward off the cliff to end as a bloody smear three hundred feet below.

To be continued…

Beyond the Shore: Session 27

What’s the best life for a man?
Never to have been born, sings the choros,
and the next best is to die young.
I saw the Sybil at Cumae
Hung in her cage over the public street—
What do you want, Sybil? I want to die.
You have got your wish.
But I meant life, not death.

I will have shepherds for my philosophers,
Tall dreary men lying on the hills all night
Watching the stars, let their dogs watch the sheep.
And I’ll have lunatics for my poets,
strolling from farm to farm, wild liars distorting
The country news into supernaturalism—
For all men to such minds are devils or gods—and that increases
Man’s dignity, man’s importance, necessary lies
Best told by fools.

I will have no lawyers nor constables
Each man guard his own goods:
There will be manslaughter,
But no more wars, no more mass-sacrifice.
Nor I’ll have no doctors,
Except old women gathering herbs on the mountain,
Let each have her sack of opium to ease the death-pains.
That would be a good world, free and out-doors.

But the vast hungry spirit of the time
Cries to his chosen that there is nothing good
Except discovery, experiment and experience and discovery:
To look truth in the eyes,
To strip truth naked,
let our dogs do our living for us
But man discover.

They never touch it: consider what an explosion
Would rock the bones of men into little white fragments and unsky
the world If any mind for a moment touch truth.

-- Robinson Jeffers

The crews of the Damned Jewel and the Doomplum were partying with the locals on the shores of Tauranga. Sheep were roasted and eaten, music was played, ale flowed freely. The large pile of spars that was meant to be their payment for the hundreds of sheep they had brought with them was burning. Seemingly oblivious to the importance of the large pile of wood, the revelers migrated their debauched dancing to encompass the new and conveniently large bonfire.

Dona-Teresa.jpgSeemingly decided that they had sufficiently foiled any plans to turn them into legitimate merchants, Rummy and Caddis slunk off into the dark to find a place to sleep, leaving the crew to their partying. As they rounded the corner of a house, they ran headlong into a ghost — or what seemed like such. A woman, clothed in white, with pale skin, white hair, and colourless eyes. The person, or apparition, immediately began crying and apologizing to them profusely in Portuguese.

Rummy, the only one of them able to speak Portuguese, managed to calm her down and learned that she, at least, was aware that the spars were burning. She continued to apologize that the colony had nothing to pay them for the sheep now. They went back and forth for a while, ranging from requests for coin to admiring her jewelry, all of which ended with the simple statement that even the entire wealth of the village simply was insufficient to compensate the Doomplum for the sheep they’d brought.

“How much are sheep worth in this colony?” was the general response.

Caddis, with Rummy translating, shifted the conversation to less concrete methods of payment, explaining that they were ‘traders of fortune’ and more interested in adventure and additional crewmen for their ships than monetary recompense. At the fairly obvious pirate discursives, the party stopped, instantly, and the eyes of every single villager turned as one to stare at the Doomplum officers. Their crew, mixed up in the party, simply looked confused by the sudden, synchronized glaring. From out of the crowd, a lone villager made a mad dash for the largest house in the village.

Leopold, meanwhile, had been winding his way through the festivities, trying to learn if there were any interesting sources of threats or potential wealth that the villagers were aware of on the island. He learned little other than a handful of rumors alluding to an ancient Maori temple, some twenty five to thirty leagues inland. As the brief standoff built to a head, Adriana and Leopold joined Caddis and Rummy.

Leo cast share language to enable them all to speak freely and Caddis quickly explained that they meant to harm to the colony, and really were only looking to trade. Finally the villagers stood down, returning to their partying just as suddenly as they’d stopped, as if nothing at all had happened. The Pale Lady invited them into the large house to discuss how they might settle the debt that the sheep delivery had caused them.

Right inside the door, they found the runaway villager standing stock-still and impassive, holding a polished silvery shield and sword reverently in outstretched arms. The Pale Lady introduced herself as Doña Teresa Pàmies de Cameros, the Lord (or Lady rather) of the colony. Curious, Caddis cast detect magic over the villager and the lady, finding no magic on them directly, but a large number of magical items — including the weapons held by the villager and most of the lady’s garments.

They pivoted the conversation regarding payment for the sheep to a trade of her magical trinkets. These, she insisted, would also be insufficient to cover the value of the sheep. Rummy then suggested a situation of vassalage. Tauranga would agree to serve as a safe port-of-call for the Doomplum and its fleet, a place where they could offload, store, and trade goods without either Imperial or Hapsburg officials being notified, and in exchange, the Doomplum would agree to provide the colony with a steady supply of sheep whenever they could acquire them.

“And your jewelry…and the weapons…” Caddis added.

They tried to sweeten the pot, offering unicorns (which had to be as good or better than sheep, right?) which Doña Teresa clearly had no interest in. They also grilled her on how the whole collective consciousness thing the village clearly had going on worked. To which she pleaded the fifth, acting like she had no idea what they were talking about (though she was a horrible liar).

Finally they agreed—her finery, safe harbor, and the village’s discretion in exchange for the sheep. Again, without a word, a villager came in bearing a tray with ink, quills, and parchment. Doña Teresa drew up a basic contract and bill of sale, detailing what had been agreed upon, and signed. She seemed very determined that the sale and official transfer of ownership of the sheep be finalized. Caddis hesitated signing himself, but finally did, signing only as ‘Henry’.

As soon as his mark was on the paper, there came screaming from outside. They looked, and, as was expected by this point, saw that every last one of the sheep they had unloaded had turned into what appeared to be humans, all wearing white tweed suits. There crew seemed thoroughly disturbed by the sudden change, particularly given the number of dead sheep they had unloaded from the overly stuffed hold of the ship, and the fact that everyone had been eating roast mutton made from those same sheep.

Again, they detected no magic. The party’s internal debate turned to whether they had polymorphed people into sheep for easier transport (or sheep into people), though they could find no real evidence for either, and whether their recent actions amounted to slave-trading or cannibalism or both. The Doña seemed genuinely confused that they were even debating the nature of these ‘Sheeple. "Aren’t all people like this?"

Business finally dealt with, Leo brought up the stories of the Maori temple. The Doña explained that her people avoided it. They had poked around when they’d first established the colony, but several of the colonists had been killed by crazed monkeys, so they’d avoided it since. Nothing ever really came from the temple to bother them, and they never bothered it.

As they talked, Doña Teresa stripped off her finery, handing over the weapons, her jewelry, her gown, and even her corset, leaving only her drawers and chemise. She explained the magic that each item held, and Caddis and Rummy both promptly switched out the ladies’ clothing they were already wearing for choice pieces of her garments.

Caddis and company insisted that, since they were on the island anyways, they’d like to explore the temple, in order to give their crew a little more downtime. The Doña offered guides from the village to show them how to reach the temple, and also implied that she herself was a bit bored. At this they tried to convince her to join the crew, sure that whatever strange hive-mind-like control she exercised on her people would be useful. She promptly declined, explaining that she didn’t know the first thing about sailing, and that the colony could not possibly function without her.

They retired, claiming that they would set out to explore the temple in the morning. As soon as they murmured to that effect, three villagers appeared in the doorway, offering their homes for the night. Caddis and company declined, retiring to the ship to sleep.

The next morning, they called the Doomplum in, allowing both crews to rest in the village while they went exploring, and calling Fishguts over to accompany them to the temple. On shore, the villagers, now doubled in number, were busy building. Three new houses had already been raised, and two more were in progress, being constructed with the perfectly synchronized precision of an Amish barn-raising, yet without a word said between them. In the distance more of the forest was being clear-cut and converted to lumber with similarly astounding coordination.

BRITISHOFFICERINPALANQUINWITHINDIAN.jpgDoña Teresa met them at the shore, with five palanquins, all looking freshly built, bore by teams of ten sheeple each. After a little coaxing, they all climbed in, with Rummy joining Teresa, uninvited, in hers, and the caravan set off. Fishguts trailed after them, downwind and about fifty feet behind to keep the sheeple from being overcome by his stench.

The palanquins moved slowly, much more slowly than if they’d simply walked, but were at least comfortable. They passed the area cultivated by the village and into the woods. As they went Rummy continued to grill Teresa on how she coordinated the sheeple.

“I just shout and they obey,” she explained.

“I haven’t heard you so much as raise your voice the entire time we’ve been here.”

“But I’m shouting right now.”

“Maybe I need my ears checked.”

She proceeded to paw through the hair on the top of his head. “You don’t have any? Where are your ears?” she gasped. He pointed to the things sticking out of the sides of his head. “No, those are for detecting sound. How do you hear?” Thus confused, the conversation continued to a variety of other topics on which they clearly had no shared vocabulary. She had never heard of a unicorn, even as folklore. She appeared completely blind to race or species among humanoids, having never heard of an orc, and not recognizing that he had green skin. “You look just like everyone else, only slightly darker in complexion.”

chocobo.JPGFinally their conversation was interrupted by the sound of things crashing through the underbrush. Three large birds, easily nine-feet tall and covered entirely with yellow-brown feathers leaped from the bushes and charged the rear-most palanquin, which Leo was riding in. The palanquin bucked as the bearers dodged at the last second, sending two of the birds rushing past harmlessly, but the third caught one of the front bearers, knocking him to the ground and sending Leo tumbling out of his ride.

Adriana rolled out of the next-nearest palanquin and charged the two birds that had rushed by, striking one a terrible blow. Leo stumbled to his feet behind her and unleashed a chord of shards at them. Caddis hit the one attacking Leo’s palanquin bearers with Ballkönigin, putting it to sleep. Rummy hopped out and called Fishguts forward, where he promptly engulfed the two facing Adriana and Leo, ending them.

Throughout it all, the Doña remained daintily reclined in her palanquin, seemingly unconcerned. Adriana sauntered over the decapitated the sleeping one with a single stroke, and then they were back on their way. Leaving one dead bearer in their wake.

The palanquins plodded along for hours. Near lunchtime, they passed into a defile, a broad stretch of forest nearly a mile wide where the trees had been cleared and the ground plowed up in a long, deep furrow. Here they heard more crashing through the trees, and felt some impact tremors. Doña Teresa explained that these were from the ‘great lizards’ that roamed the island, herbivores, and no threat unless they stepped on you. The pressed on, veering away from the crashing sounds.
Near nightfall they finally broke free of the forest, a little under five leagues from the village, where they now faced towering, rocking, snow-capped mountains. Doña Teresa told them that the way to the temple was to climb the nearest peak, then follow a path along the cliffs south and east towards the coast.

Caddis, climbing out of his palanquin, noticed some impressive-looking stone ruins not far off to the west. A small, abandoned village of beehive-like stone huts surrounded by tall, wooden idols of humanoid figures, and large stones carved with intricate swirling patterns. As he gaped, the palanquin parade kept marching, the sheeple heading strait up the mountain, easily picking their way over the steep slopes, while carefully adjusting the palanquins to keep them level.

Caddis rushed after them, clambering up the slope over the sharp rocks to pile back into his ride.

To be continued…

Beyond the Shore: Session 26

Dragons, Whales, and the Curse of Narrative Symmetry

On a faraway, faraway island
Lies a treasure of infinite worth.
But guarding it closely forever
Looms a being as old as the earth.

Its body’s as big as a boulder,
And armored with shimmering scales.
Even the mountain tops tremble when
It thrashes it’s seven great tails.

Its eyes tell a story of terror,
They gleam with an angry red flame
As it timelessly watches its riches.
And the Dragon of Death is it’s name.

Its teeth are far sharper than daggers.
It can tear hardest metal to shreds.
It has seven mouths filled with these weapons,
For it’s neck swells to seven great heads.

Each head is as fierce as the other,
Each head breathes a fiery breath.
And any it touches must perish,
Set ablaze by the Dragon of Death.

All who have foolishly stumbled
On the Dragon of Death’s golden cache
Remain evermore on that island,
Nothing left of their bodies but ash.

Jack Prelutsky

The Dümplom sailed towards the Forbidden Island, trailed by the Thresher, Thunderer, and Sea Lash. After two days of sailing along this route, the Sea Lash hailed them and pulled alongside. The captain, Deathshead Ellie, came aboard to voice her concerns.

“You know we’re sailing strait into an Imperial blockade, right?” she said. “The whole South-Pacific Armada lies this way. They’ve even got a bloody Carrier!”

“Carrier?” Caddis asked.

“What’s it carrying?” Thaduk added.

“Dragons! It’s the bloody-friggan HMS Potentate hauling a detachment of the bloody Aerial Corps! Four-hundred feet long, five decks, five-hundred guns, and a pod of dragons…and that’s just one ship!”

The officers of the Dümplom seemed confused, and Leo, their great font of knowledge and information on all manner of random topics, was nowhere to be found — belowdecks with some ladyfriend or another presumably. Caddis messaged Rummy and Thaduk to conference without letting Ellie know how little they knew. None of them, for instance, actually knew why the Forbidden Island was forbidden, though it was clear that is what the blockade was enforcing. Thaduk recalled a bit, from his father’s days as a soldier, about the Aerial Corps. He informed them that the Empire, like most major world powers, employed dragons as air-support for both ground and naval forces, typically with a formation of multiple dragons, each with teams of riflemen and bombers aboard.

Caddis had heard enough it seemed. “Right, on to Moonplum then…” he said, not wanting to risk one flying-ship and three small junks against an entire Imperial fleet and who-knows-how-many dragons. Zarina layed in a new heading, north-west by west, away from the island and on towards their home.

Around mid-day the following day, Rummy spotted several dark specks in the air south of them. They took turns passing the spyglass back and forth to observe the dragons, seven of them, flying in formation, including two white-scaled heavyweights, each nearly as large as one of the Junks. The dragons remained in sight for close to an hour, flying on a course parallel with theirs before veering back to the south and out of sight.

Two weeks passed with nothing to see save for the occasional breaching whale, and some late-spring storms. The small fleet stayed close together, living off the Dümplom’s stores, as the others had not been provisioned for a long voyage. Finally, Ekene came to Rummy, bearing news that, with feeding all four crews, they were down to about 10 days of rations, and still about four-thousand miles from Moonplum.

Rummy ordered half-rations for everyone. Caddis asked the shark-people swimming in their wake to fish for themselves, rather than continue throwing pigs overboard for them. Thaduk suggested that perhaps they could get the sharks to scout for larger game — another giant turtle or whale that they could use the replenish their stores.

The next day, the shark-folk reported a pod of orcas to the south. Some aggressive grumbling from Rummy about not wanting to fight multiple giant creatures with “Killer” in their name quickly nixed that idea. Two more days passed before they had their next siting — a massive, adult, bull blue-whale.

Caddis ordered harpoons loaded on all ballistae and all four ships spread out around the creature. The next time it breached, a flurry of harpoons were shot at it. Only two of the ten shots connected — one each from the Dümplom and the Sea Lash. Of course, no one on the crews were actually experienced whalers. The whale jerked away from the impacts, rising half out of the water and twisting, reeling both ships closer and landing with a massive wave that threatened to swamp the boats. As the whale tried to submerge, the cables pulled the Dümplom, causing it to lean far to starboard. Rummy shouted to the gunnery squads, and a full broadside was unleashed into the water, shredding through the colossal animal.

It wasn’t the cleanest kill in the world, but they were hungry. They sailed on, slowly, with Dümplom and Sea Lash dragging the carcass as the inexperienced butchers spent five days hacking up the whale and loading the ships with meat and blubber and the shark-men feasted from below. Finally, the whale, largely reduced to bare skeleton on the topside, rode lower and lower in the water, producing too much drag on the ships.

Before cutting the carcass free, Thaduk suggested that they should collect the whale’s penis and testes, as these were supposed to be aphrodisiacs. Since it seemed like it would make the demonic unicorn happy, everyone obliged. Sandara cast water breathing on several of the crew and Captain Caddis lead them down to collect the ten-foot-long phallus and each of the one-hundred-fifty pound testes.

While whale meat might not be a favorite choice, it was significantly better than living on half-rations for the rest of the voyage. Back on board, whale-penis in towe, Captain Caddis called all the ships to a celebration of their success. The ships were lashed together with boarding planks, allowing easy congress back and forth between them, cases of plum wine were brought out, and Caddis cooked an amazing stew from the whale’s genitals.

The party went on well into the night, and it soon became clear that Thaduk’s assessment of the penis’ aphrodisiac qualities were correct. The party soon devolved into a raging cross-ship orgy. Everyone, even those few crewmen who had refrained from eating the stew, was soon involved, consumed by an overwhelming, near-mystical need to couple with the nearest available partner. By morning most of the crew were passed out from their exertions, with only a few still fucking away until they too passed out.

It was…quite the bonding experience, topped off by a wave of transcendental bliss from Thaduk. Once everyone slept off their orgiastic exhaustion and hangovers, morale aboard all four ships was at an all-time high, with miraculously few awkward moments or recriminations.

A full week had passed since bagging the whale before they were fully underway at speed again. They continued on towards Moonplum, driven by magically consistent wind from the small fleets many spellcasters. Five days later they came upon another prize, a fat, Portuguese merchant caravel named the Jóia Maldito. The ship was roughly eighty-feet long, lateen-rigged, and armed defensively, with four cannons and a reinforced hull, clearly hoping to fend off lesser pirates with a show of strength, but no real threat to a force of their strength.

Caddis ordered the three junks to hang back. The Dümplom sailed forward, raising a flag of parley, hoping to make an easy catch of it with minimal violence. Flag of parley or no, the Jóia Maldito ran at the sight of the heavily armed, dark-sailed, bone-festooned warship. It was a fast ship, but the Dümplom could fly. It was no contest.

The Dümplom took to the air. Seeing the flying ship, sparkling with faerie-dust, flying the jolly rodger, and fronted by the skull of a gigantic bull, the crew of the Jóia Maldito abandoned ship. They cut their long-boats loose and dove overboard to a man, hoping to save their lives by leaving the prize behind. Soon, however, the water was red and frothing as the shark-people following the pirate fleet made a feast of the terrified sailors.

Caddis, Thaduk, and Rummy leaped down to the now empty caravel and were greeted by the sound of bleating. The hold was packed, wall to wall, with sheep. The captain’s cabin had a few valuables, but nothing overly impressive. The Dümplom put down and they called over one of the convicts they’d taken from Puerto Soledad, a self-proclaimed master forger named Anton Cardoso, to translate the ships logs. The logs informed them that the Jóia Maldito (which Cardoso translated as ‘the Damned Jewel’) was bound for the colony of Tauranga on northern New Zealand, there to trade sheep for spars and other goods to be sold at the port of Jakarta in the Dutch East Indies.

After some lengthy discussion, the officers of the Dümplom decided to take the Dümplom and the Jewel south to Tauranga to unload the sheep. They sent the Thresher, Thunderer, and Sea Lash on to Rickety’s Squibs, under Adriana’s command, and said they would meet up there after they had liquidated the otherwise useless, bleating cargo.

Again, in an effort to do things the easy way, they transferred all of their Portuguese-speaking crew to the Jewel, with Tilly as captain, with the intent of masquerading as merchants and simply selling off the sheep. They turned the ships south, with the Jewel in the lead and Dümplom trailing just within sight behind her. Six days later they arrived at the so-called ‘Bay of Plenty’.

While they had been hoping for a proper city or town, where they might pick up more sailors and supplies, Tauranga was a colony roughly the same size as Moonplum — maybe five-hundred souls. The village was perched on the shore, with docks for several fishing vessels, but no proper harbor able to support a ship. The area around the village was clear-cut forest, and the village itself was a cluster of Spanish-style houses around a central green in which sheep and horses were grazing, as well as fields of flax and potatoes, and several pig-sties.

Seeing the Jewel approach, the people of Tauranga all came out. Fishing boats were scrambled and the Jewel soon found itself surrounded by excited villagers asking for news from home and eagerly helping unload the hundreds of sheep. The crew they’d picked up in Puerto Soledad, while poor sailors and fighters, all turned out to be excellent liars. By nightfall the sheep were unloaded and the crew ashore, the people happily chatting with them. Fire pits were dug, sheep spitted and roasted, and a party was thrown to welcome the visiting ‘merchants’.

This all felt disturbingly familiar to Caddis, Rummy, and Thaduk.

As the party went on well into the night, Thaduk slipped off, returned to his unicorn form, and proceeded to mount all of the mares in the village. Caddis and Rummy, meanwhile, snuck over to where a great pile of wooden spars were stacked. After a brief discussion, they decided that they were more interested in obtaining food and recruits than joining in the never-ending Fed-ex quest that is merchantdom.

A few flasks of alchemists’ fire turned the pile of spars that was supposed to be their payment for the sheep into a bonfire…

To be continued…

Monday, May 16, 2016

A Large and Terrible Frog

There is a general consensus in my house that A Year With Frog and Toad is one of the best children's plays ever, mostly because of the "Shivers" song, which goes something like this...

There is a frog
A large and terrible frog
He is terribly large and largely terrible
Large and terrible frog!

He’s mean! And awful!
And he’s awful mean!
And his wrinkly skin is pasty green!
He eats little bunnies dipped in dirt,
And he likes frog children for dessert!

He is a frog
A large and terrible frog!
He is terribly large
And largely terrible!
Large and terrible frog!

So, in honor of this thing which gets sung in my house ridiculously often, here are Pathfinder stats for a very large and very terrible frog-like beast.

The Large and Terrible Frog CR 9
XP 6,400
CN Gargantuan Aberration (aquatic)
Init +3; Senses low-light vision, darkvision 60 ft., Scent; Perception +11


AC 23, touch 5, flat-footed 23 (-1 Dex, +18 natural, -4 size)
hp 233 (15d8+165); fast healing 10
Fort +15, Ref +4, Will +12
Immunities confusion, fear, paralysis, slow, mind-affecting effects
Spell Resistance 20



Speed 70 ft., Swim 110 ft.
Melee bite +16 (3d6+27, plus poison)
Space 20 ft.; Reach 15 ft.
Special Attacks trample (2d6+18, DC 29), rage, frightful presence


Str 34, Dex 8, Con 31, Int5, Wis 17, Cha 18
Base Atk +11; CMB +27; CMD 36 (40 vs. trip)
Feats Blood Drinker, Power Attack (included above), Rampage, Shockwave, Toughness
Skills Acrobatics +11 (+25 to jump), Perception +11, Stealth -1, Swim +28;
Languages: Giant
SQ massive, amphibious, leaping

Injury; save Fort DC 27; frequency 1/round for 6 rounds; effect 1d8 Con damage; cure 1 save

Rage (Ex)

In the presence of bright light (a daylight spell, continual flame, but not actual sunlight), the Large and Terrible Frog flies into a berserk rage, attacking until either it or its opponent is dead. It gains +4 Strength and –4 AC while enraged. It cannot end its rage voluntarily. If the source of light is removed, the creature’s rage ends 1d4 rounds later. The beast is fatigued (–2 to Strength and Dexterity) for the remainder of the encounter.

Environment The Forbidden Isle (coast)
Organization unique
Treasure incidental

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Beyond the Shore: Session 25

•atop the mast billows
my wind-tossed rag•grinning skull embla-
zoned proud•the starkness of black upon my flag
•piercing the encroaching sea mist and shroud•her-
ald the sight of the jolly roger • instilling trepidation
in all who sail through my turf • fuelled by the thirst
to pillage and plunder•others before, have sunk into
graves beneath the surf•my salt encrusted timber
creaks           a frightening low           growl•
my hull               would pum-               mel thro-
ugh the opposing waves•    my sails bloat full trapping
winds that howl•my      deck bears the screams
of a thousan-           d slaves•know
me, seafarers… i am no legend but
truth•avast! seafarers, i am the tale
that looms•believe me, seafarers for i
am ca-     pable     of all     things

uncouth                      •fear me,
seafarers for            i am your
doom•you could      sail the seas with
the world’s most     skillful of crew•
you cannot deny the
heavy hand of fate•
because once my vessel comes
within view       •you would
know for certain           that it’s already
•••••••                      •••••••

too late•

by Ryn

The Dümplom was two weeks out from the Falklands. The new members of the crew were settling in, Riaris ran the Spaniards through daily drills with loading and aiming the cannons, Chumlet was starting to beat some basic sailing knowledge into the new swabs, and, other than issues with the language-barrier from the now two-thirds Spanish-speaking crew, things were going smoothly.

As morning dawned, Leo once again called the other officers together to discuss their route. The old map they’d taken off the body of of the Puritan, Praise-God Barebones, pointed to a location less than a week’s sail south and west of them, and not too far out of their way. There seemed to be collective interest, so Leo made the slight course correction.

Given the generally poor job Henrye had been doing on watch over the last several weeks, Caddis ordered Tilly and Marina to join him. Around noon, the shout came from the three of them, three ships had been spotted to the north, heading in their direction. Leo pointed out that, no matter how intimidating their decorations or heavily armed they might be, the Dümplom was loaded to capacity and riding low in the water, a tempting target for anyone. Caddis ordered all cannons loaded and the entire crew to be roused on standby, but told Leo to hold their course.

Two hours later, the three ships had converged and were now closing on them, sailing in formation, black flag flying. Leo recognized the flag as belonging to the Thresher, under the command of the notoriously cruel Captain Inkskin Locke. The ships closing on them were Chinese-style Junks, each much smaller than the Dümplom, but less laden and fitted out for increased speed. Caddis ordered all hands on deck, but left the gun-ports closed and the sails set, drawing the enemy in.

Late in the afternoon, the ships were drawing within firing range and spreading out to cut them off fore and aft. Rummy pulled out a glass and noted two more smaller longships which had been hiding in the junks’ wake. As the four other ships spread out to surround them, the central junk, mounted with a single, massive. 48-pounder cannon and a ram, was accelerating to ramming speed.

Caddis suggested he could swim under the ship and incapacitate its crew with his fey magic. He called on Besmara’s Blessings to allow Thaduk to breathe water as well and the two dove in. Once under the water, they could see that the small pirate fleet was being trailed by a squadron of twenty four-armed shark-like creatures.

Caddis and Thaduk quickly grabbed a rope and climbed back aboard the Dümplom, just as Leo was ordering it to take off. They narrowly avoided a shot from the cannon, then flew over the charging ship. They tagged the sails with some flasks of alchemist’s fire to slow it down, then veered towards the western-most flanking ship.

As they closed with this one, they could see that it had banks of ballistae, manned by animate skeletons. The ballista bolts fell short of their mark, but a bolt of lightning from the deck raked their hull as they flew by. The Dümplom banked and strafed the ship with a full broadside, damaging it significantly.

Below, they spotted a tattoo-covered woman apparently controlling the skeletons like puppets. Caddis ordered the crew to concentrate musket fire on her. There was another bolt of lightning, this time aimed for the deck. Leo narrowly dodged, leaving him very slightly scorched, then blinking and dazzled by the flash, they saw the tattooed woman standing on the deck. Before she could do anything else, though, Thaduk reared and pounded her into a fine pulp under his hooves. As the woman died, the skeletons on the deck below collapsed into piles of unmoving bones.

The Dümplom made one more pass unleashing a second broadside into the ship’s rigging, then turned towards the third junk, which had already turned to flee. As the Dümplom passed over it, Thaduk roared out in Infernal, “Would you like to join us for some plum wine?!”

Clearly already understanding that she was outmatched, a dark-skinned woman yelled up, also in the Infernal tongue, “Of course!” She quickly ordered her crew to stand down and strike the sails, then climbed up into the crows nest and accepted a couple bottles of wine which they lowered down.

They saw that the ship with the cannon had the fires put out and was starting to move again. The Dümplom swung about again and bore down on the ship for a second time. They avoided another shot from the massive cannon, then, as they passed over, Caddis attempted to swing down to the deck. He misjudged the distance and landed hard, flat on his back, and was quickly knocked out by a boot-to-the-head from the ship’s captain. Fiona and Rummy swung down, more successfully, and quickly dispatched the captain with a one-two club/backstab combo. Sandara and Thaduk followed, bringing Caddis up and frightening the rest of the crew into submission.

Zarina brought the Dümplom back down to the water, right between the two smaller boats. Riaris ordered all of the hidden gun-ports opened, and, presented with the threat of a full 150 pound broadside each, the two smaller boats quickly raised the white flag. Caddis and company explained to the other pirate ships that the Dümplom was now in charge of their little fleet, and passed out two cases of plum wine to each of the other ships to celebrate the new ‘arrangement’. The crews of the three junks readily agreed to their new leadership, and the wine-fueled celebration went on for a couple of hours.

Thaduk, meanwhile, snatched Amphitrite’s Shawl from Leo and sent the nereid down with orders to negotiate with the shark-people. After a rather lengthy discussion, she returned to inform them that the sharks would like to speak with Captain Caddis directly. Caddis and Thaduk dived in and the shark-people quickly snatched the shawl away from Thaduk, returning it to the angry nereid.

Amphitrite explained that, given the results of their last encounter, she had no desire to fight them again, and only desired to go home. Caddis suggested a trade. They would give her one of the longboats so that she could sail back to the storm-gate, if she would convince the sharks to aid them in their piracy. After a brief discussion with the shark-people, Amphitrite explained that they would follow in the ships wake and deal with any underwater threats so long as they were given free reign to do what they want with anyone that fell overboard. Caddis agreed and ordered one of the longships cleared. Soon, the small ship was floating away, manned only by the nereid, floating on its own private current.

Once Thaduk and Caddis were back aboard the ship, the officers set about organizing the new fleet. Two of the junks, the Thunderer and the Thresher had lost their captains. The first-mate of the Thunderer was promoted to captain, and the first-mates of the Sea Lash (the first ship to surrender) were moved over to become co-captains of the Thresher. In order to ensure that they had a loyal man on each ship, Caddis sent over Henrye, Ratline, and Chumlet to serve as first-mates of the Thunderer, Thresher, and Sea Lash, respectively.

It was dark by the time everything was sorted out. Leo put them back on a course south and west, towards the Forbidden Island, with orders to the other ships to simply follow them.

To be continued…

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Beyond the Shore: Session 24

I, the albatross that awaits
for you at the end of the

I, the forgotten soul of the
sailors lost that crossed
Cape Horn from all the seas
of the world.

But die they did not
in the fierce waves,
for today towards eternity
in my wings they soar
in the last crevice
of the Antarctic winds

Sara Vial

Following the battle with the Deathknell and the ‘resurrection’ of Thaduk, the crew of the Dümplom stood around in a state near shock. The deck was slick with sparkling faerie-blood and littered with the corpses of the drowned. The massive, demonic unicorn that had been Thaduk tried to say something, but it came out as a terrifying growl that left their ears bleeding.

Leo cast share language on the stallion and a voice that was readily recognizable as Thaduk’s rang out. “Back to work ye swabs! Clean this up!” The crew breathed a collective sigh of relief on learning that the fair-minded and generally well-liked bosun was, in fact, alive inside of the horse-like monstrosity. They immediately went to work tossing corpses over the rail and righting lines that had become tangled in the fighting.

Thaduk, meanwhile, suggested that when they reached port he needed to find a blacksmith to make flaming horseshoes for him. “Would that make you happy?” Sandara asked. Only then did the officers remember their shared vision of a world drowning in blood.

“Right,” they all concurred, “whatever will make you happy…”

As dawn approached, Henrye called down from the crow’s nest, “Land ho!” Captain Caddis called a meeting of the officers to discuss where to land. If they were intent on heading to Moonplum, they needed men and they needed supplies for the voyage across the Pacific.

Leo consulted his charts and informed them that there were four settlements of note on the heavily disputed islands. The main Imperial port was Port Egmont on Saunders Island, which served as a way-stop for Imperial Navy ships heading for the Pacific, and served as home port for a few of the war ships patrolling the South Atlantic trade routes. West Falkland housed Puerto Soledad, a small Spanish Hapsburg penal colony. The island of East Falkland was home to Port Louis, a medium-sized settlement of French settlers from the Empire, not associated with either military. And last was the Tidewater Rock, a small military fortress on the easternmost and uncreatively named “New Island”, strategically positioned for controlling the shipping lanes and currently under “independent” (read as pirate) control. Wanting to avoid the imperials, and figuring that a colony of convicts would be a ready source of recruits, Caddis gave the order to head for Puerto Soledad. Leo guided the ship into Falkland Sound and headed for the port.

Just after noon, they reached Fox Bay. A quick scan of the bay with a spyglass informed them that the small colony was guarded by three batteries of cannon, two arrayed on the elevated headlands, flanking the bay, and a third on ramparts built up by the wharf. A pair of Spanish frigates, much smaller than the Dümplom, but well armed, were anchored in the bay as well.

Leo ordered the sails slacked and Jessica dispelled the wind she’d been conjuring, slowing them, and ordered Henrye to hoist a Spanish merchant’s ensign and a white flag of peace. Signals were raised from both forward batteries in response, ‘stop where you are and drop anchor’. The Dümplom complied, despite the fact that they were in direct line of fire for both batteries, but Caddis ordered Zarina and Oppenheimer to be ready to fly at a moment’s notice.

As the officers discussed what tale to spin for the Spaniards, a contingent of soldiers loaded into one of the frigates, the Esmerelda by name, and the ship put out to meet them. The Esmerelda stopped at a distance of about two-hundred yards, a difficult range for most ship-board cannon, and a voice came carried to them on the wind. “Ho Slaver! What business do you have here?”

Rummy, one of the only Spanish-speakers among them, replied. “We’re not slavers…we’re um…on official business from the Governor of Buenos Aires. We heard your prison was at capacity and are here to transfer prisoners to the penal colony at Tierra del Fuego…”

There was a long pause with no response from the Spaniards, then Caddis pointed out that their ship still had purple sails, and a clearly non-Spanish name painted on the side, and was covered with bones. “We were…um…attacked…” Rummy continued. “Our ship was destroyed in the fighting and we were forced to take possession of this one.”

The wind carried back the response, “Raise sail and prepare to be boarded!” Again they complied, and the Esmerelda sailed abreast of them. Twenty uniformed Spanish soldiers, army rather than navy by the look of them, armed with muskets stood arrayed on the deck, surrounding a well-dressed, jowly, middle-aged man in a powdered wig. As the ships came alongside, a boarding plank was lowered and the man came across, flanked by two of the soldiers. He looked around in apparent shock at the mismatched crew consisting mostly of Dutchmen, blackamoors, and women, all well armed. “I am the Comte Louis Antoine de Bougainville, governor of this colony, and you sirs," he said to no one in particular, “are horrible liars…”

At a gesture from Caddis, Oppenheimer yanked the lever to unfurl the Dümplom’s wings and put them in the air. The wind from the first downbeat almost overturned the smaller ship beside them, sending the land-lubber musketeers reeling. Sandara quickly shrouded the Dümplom in a bank of mist. Rummy leaned out over the rail and dropped a couple flasks of alchemist’s fire on the floundering Esmerelda. One landing a direct hit on the mast, setting its rigging alight and sending the sailing crew scrambling about in a panic.

The crew drew weapons, and, faced with 30-to-1 odds, the two soldiers accompanying the governor leaped overboard before they were too high up. Caddis quickly explained to the swooning, white-wigged gentleman that they had come to collect his prisoners. The governor fell to his knees, cowering, begging, and blubbering and mentioning what a large ransom they could expect for his life.

From the air, it became clear that the two forward batteries of cannons were manned only by lookouts, and did not have sufficient crews to fire even one, let alone all twenty of the cannons pointed at them. Sails were unfurled and Leo turned the Dümplom towards the wharf. The third battery of cannons was manned, though insufficiently so. A single barrage rang out, but, trained as they were for targets on the water, could not adjust fast enough for even a single shot to hit a flying target.

As the Dümplom bore down on the battery, the soldiers stationed there broke and ran. Leo gave Zarina the wheel, grabbed a rope, and dove over the side. He misjudged the length of the rope, however, and rather than rappelling, ended up belly-flopping into the bay. Still, it was sufficiently dramatic for the debtors and white-collar criminals held in Puerto Soledad. He rose and struck up a song, and was soon accompanied by the small army of adorable technical kittens falling from the sky around him.

Soon everyone in the colony, from the lowliest prisoner to the officers were fleeing for the hills. Caddis ordered the Dümplom to fly ahead of the fleeing men and swing about. The horse that had been Thaduk leaped from the ship in front of the runners, and unleashed a torrent of black lightning from his horn, striking everyone present. Rather than harm them, the bolts placed them all into a state of euphoric bliss, halting their flight with what amounted to a magically-induced drug trip.

With the locals thus subdued, Zarina set the Dümplom down in the harbor next to the second friggate, the Liebre, and Caddis released the crew to loot and pillage to their hearts content. A mile out in the harbor, the Esmerelda continued to burn while the soldiers drowned. The settlement was small—just some 20 buildings including dwellings, barracks for officers, seamen, convicts and troops, a chapel, hospital, kiln, and smithy. Coffers and weapon lockers were raided. Cannon and food stores were salvaged. By the next morning the Dümplom was fully restocked with sufficient food to feed two hundred men, enough guns for a full company of soldiers, and enough cannon to keep even Riaris Krine giggling with glee.

Thaduk found the smithy, and a couple of convicts who could swing a hammer, though none capable of making enchanted horseshoes for him. He also found a large herd of wild horses, and, after chasing off the stallions with his horn, proceeded to mount the mares, all one-hundred and three of them, in a two-day-long horsey love-fest, fueled by Leo’s fatigue-dispelling songs.

Once the magically-induced bliss wore off, Caddis, Leo, Rummy, and Thaduk went among the colony’s survivors and offered them all jobs. Between the promises of fortune and glory for all and freedom for the convicts, and the implied, though never overtly stated, threat of violence, everyone present agreed to work aboard their ship. The governor, Louis, and his officers and officials were put into the brig to be ransomed off later, and the soldiers, guards, sailors, convicts, and support staff were quickly put to work.

Once all of the loot, weapons, and provisions were loaded, and their new crew sorted out, the Dümplom got underway. Leo set a heading west by south-west and Jessica ensured that they had a good tail wind. Two days out they rounded Cape Horn, battling ice and rocks and wind, and had their last glimpse of land before heading out into the Pacific. From there they turned west by north-west, hoping to lose some latitude and have warmer weather for the rest of the nearly nine-thousand mile voyage.

Other than the occasional albatross, breaching whale, and one or two small ships in the distance to the north, they saw nothing for the next four days. Late in the night on their sixth day out from Puerto Soledad, Caddis was awakened by the sound of claws scrabbling at the outside of the hull. He disentangled himself from Fiona and created some light. In the sudden flash, he saw a large, cat-like creature climbing through the window of his cabin.

The thing sprang at him, but stuck an illusory image. Fiona sprang out of bed, snatched up her greatclub, and batted it across the room. The cat-creature caught the wall with its feat and sprang right back at Caddis, this time hitting. It dug its claws into his midsection, shredded his pants with its raking back paws, and then bit him, its razor-sharp teeth severing his manhood.

Caddis screamed and raised the alarm as the cat went shooting out the door of the cabin onto the deck. Leo, half-asleep at the wheel, jolted awake at the scream and chased after it. “It’s a Koro! Get some fish!” he shouted, waking the crew and sending the Manekineko Parade to surround it. Seeing Leo’s horde of pastel kittens, the Koro rolled onto its back and affixed Caddis’ private parts to its own body.

Rummy, running up on deck, saw the thing and promptly sent it flying over the rail and into the water with a single sharp kick. Caddis, meanwhile, hid in the cabin and cast a spell to regenerate his man-parts.

Once healed he headed out on deck where Leo was rounding up the crew and ordering them to break out the stores of not-yet-salted fish. Koro, he explained, were a kind of water-cat known for stealing a man’s phallus to aid in their own reproduction, but, he said, absolutely hated the smell of rotting fish. By morning, every man on the ship was wearing a dead fish on his belt, and more fish were hung from the gunwhales all around the Dümplom’s perimeter.

The smell was horrible, but not nearly as bad as the alternative.

To be continued…