Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Legacy of the Golden Horseshoe: Session 9

August 14, 1720
After returning to the trading post and getting a good night’s rest, Tess pulled out Bokken’s map and broached the important question to the others: “Do we trust this guy?” They had plenty of meat, and a promise of food for the winter, but that did nothing for their need to shelter 50-plus people against the elements. Did they trust Bokken enough to trek another 50-miles west on his word that it would be a good place to make a home?

The discussion ensued. Rhodri pointed out that, even if they did pack up the wagon and their people, they had practically no tools, just a pair of axes, and none of the emancipated persons had any experience with winter or snow. They might know how to build huts, but not ones that would be sufficiently insulated. Nor were any of the rest of them particularly skilled or equipped to be pioneers.

Zibbler mentioned that two axes and a lot of man-power would be sufficient to construct a log cabin or three, given the plentifulness of trees in the area. But that did nothing for the trust issues. Siclare countered that Bokken, if he truly valued his privacy as much as he said, had every reason to be forthcoming with them, since they could easily tell their host where he lived.

Tess, re-reading Bokken’s hastily jotted map key, pointed out that the things he noted as reasons for building in that spot — farmland, open spaces to build, etc. — were actually not relevant to surviving the winter. They couldn’t plant this late in the season, and they needed protection from the wind and elements, not open terrain. They’d be better off in a small valley or cave than open farmland, she argued. Laying on the charm, Tess turned to their host and asked how he would feel about them building a small village in and around his fort for mutual protection.

“Vell,” Oleg said, “you’ve been a help so far. You drove off sat Mad Bear, your folk helped plant my fields, and we’re smoking more jerky zan I could sell in a year. I know you’ve got problems back in ze colony, but I came out here to get away from ze same sheeit. Sure…”

That settled, the problem of how to construct homes for fifty people before winter came back up. Tess, mad scientist that she is, queried as to whether Rhodri could simply raise and shape the stone from the ground into some kind of structure — perhaps dugouts like Bokken lived in. Rhodri explained that he could only displace a relatively small volume of rock per day, and not nearly enough to carve large living spaces.

Siclare spoke up and suggested something more like a stone tent. If Rhodri could cause the stone to life itself out of the ground to form walls, then they could create a much larger sized shelter while still displacing the same small volume of rock. Tess jumped in and suggest as A-frame design, basically stone lean-tos. Siclare suggested something domed more like the wigwams her people lived in. Zibbler pointed out that if Rhodri could force a conical shape up from the ground, it could be grown over several days, just by adding more material to the bottom of the structure. Rhodri agreed to try, and he and ZIbbler put their heads together to start working out how such a structure might best be made.

Given that it would take Rhodri days of shaping stone to construct even a prototype, the others left the gnome and the mage to it, and turned to other matters.

Tess pointed out that Bokken, isolationist though he was, had said he would make some medicine for them if they could collect certain berries that were known to grow along the route to the place he had marked out for their colony. She suggested that while the construction was going on, a small group of them might trek to where the berries grew and collect what Bokken needed, both for the medicine and also as a kind of good-will act for having barged in on his life.

Leaving Rhodri and the others to their work, Siclare, Tess, borrowing Siclare’s horse, and Thond, borrowing Vicious to keep up, set out in search of the berries. Consulting the map, Tess suggested that they should skirt north around Hawksbill Peak, then due west to either cross, or closely skirt the nest ridge they could see — that way staying well clear of the Indian encampments and giant angry boars marked on the map.

With Siclare running ahead of them picking out the trail westward they made good time. They followed the swift run down out of the mountains to where it emptied into the Shenandoah’s southern fork. The river here was wide, but shallow, barely waist deep on Tess and Siclare. They waded across, then continued due west towards the high ridge of Potato Field Mountains (or "Massanutten as Siclare called it). By nightfall they had reached the foothills of the towering syncline, where they pitched camp.

During the second watch, a tired Tess wandered out of camp to relieve herself. Stubbing her toe on a rock she tripped. Cursing exasperatedly, she looked down to see that a pair of tough leather riding gloves and one of Dr. Leibowitz’s patent-pending foldable sacks, which she had forgotten that she even had, had fallen out of her pocket.

She picked herself up and finished her business. As she was pulling up her trousers, she caught a whiff of something on the wind, like the smell of wet dog fur. She rushed back to camp and woke up Siclare, who quickly dispatched Zerda to investigate. Only moments after being sent out, the small fox came rushing back, terrifiedly yipping about hungry wolf spirits.

Still thankfully downwind, Tess woke Thond and the two of them slipped into the shadows of the undergrowth. Siclare settled herself down by the fire and waited.

Soon a tall, lean humanoid figure stepped warily into the camp. Judging by the pallor of his skin he was from one of the northern tribes, but was covered from his toes, to his tail, to his lupine head with short, gray fur, and nothing else. He looked around as if expecting to see more than just the fox-headed girl, then growled something unintelligible and began circling the fire.

Siclare offered him some bison-jerky and bade him sit with her. While he clearly did not understand her words, either in English or her southern dialect, the offer of food was clear enough. As he tore into the jerky, she, by gestures and crude drawings in the dirt, asked where he was going. He responded by quickly sketching a wolf-shape chasing a herd of elk shapes in the dirt with a stick. To which she responded by drawing a fox-like shape running alongside the wolf.

While she had intended this last to ask if he wanted help in his hunting, the werewolf (for so he was), clearly, judging by his perked ears and growing erection, took it to mean that she wanted him for her mate or her pack. He raised his tail suggestively and inched closer to her around the fire. Siclare quickly called to the others. When Tess moved in first, Siclare grabbed her and pulled her close, trying to indicate to the wolf that she already had a mate — and hoping that his was one of those tribes that consider such pairings acceptable.

Of course, the wolf merely took this for a challenge and lunged at Tess, biting her and knocking her to the ground. Tess grabbed a brand from the fire and swung it awkwardly at the wolf-man before rolling away. As Siclare tried to think of something appropriately wolfy to do to distract the thing, Thond rushed in and thumped it with his hammer, only to get bitten and knocked aside in his own right.

Moving again downwind of the wolf, Tess dropped a cloud of darkness over his head, blinding him. Thond used the darkness to stand and move away, as the wolf began pacing around the fire, looking for an enemy. When the wolf completed its circuit, Thond charged in again, hitting it squarely but not leaving so much as a bruise.

The situation soon became a standoff. The wolf could not see his prey, nor could he see anything else past the very near periphery of the flames, but neither could Thond or Tess harm the wolf. Tess, Thond, and Siclare all took turns throwing extra bits of jerky at the wolf’s feet, hoping to distract him ans assuage his hunger. Of course, hunger was no longer his motivation.

Finally, wanting to break the stalemate, Siclare rushed into the darkness, and, groping about hit him with a, gentle, touch of fatigue. She then exited the darkness upwind of him and “tried to smell sexy”, which, in wolf terms, means only one thing. She peed.

The tired, blind, and confused wolf-man’s ears immediately perked back up and he rushed in Siclare’s direction and, spinning a surprisingly graceful pirouette, smacked her in the face with his tail. Thinking she was under attack, Tess and Thond both rushed in, swinging with hammer and flaming brand alike, but both missing. Siclare, committed to her course, grabbed the wolf-man by the wrist and ran off into the woods at top speed, heedless of the fact that neither of them could see with the globe of darkness clinging to his head.

Fox and wolf ran together, full tilt into the trees. Then the wolf ran full-tilt, head-first into a tree. A silver maple in fact. While running face-first into a tree was no more effective at actually damaging the wolf than Thond’s hammer had been, the force was still enough to knock the wind out of him and knock him prone.

Leaving him, still fatigued, still blinded, and dazed from the blow, Siclare circled back. The three quickly broke camp, throwing their gear haphazardly over the backs of their steeds, and ran off into the night as fast as they could.

To be continued…

Friday, March 17, 2017

Legacy of the Golden Horseshoe: Session 8

August 13 1720

Waking up early the next day, Rhodri suggested that they try again to find the old hermit their host had told them about. Tess, Liadan, Siclare, and Sara agreed to accompany him — the men being total wimps as usual. Then Tess reminded them that they had seriously pissed off a large group of natives the night before, so Zibbler and the musketeers were included, and thus five became twelve.

Then Liadan pointed out that the man they were seeking was a hermit by choice, and that he might not be pleased by a dozen armed people walking into his home. With typical fey logic, Rhodri decided that the best solution would be to take him a pie.

“Hey, what’s this guy’s favorite food?” Rhodri asked their host.

“How should I know?”

“Well, what does he eat when he comes here?”

“Vell, he eats the raddish stew my vife makes…”

raddish-pie.jpgRhodri promptly borrowed some surplus radishes from Siclare, took over Svetlana’s kitchen, and baked up a radish pie. Despite his utter lack of cooking skills, and the protestations of everyone present that a radish pie would be completely disgusting, he persisted.

After a few hours of impromptu baking, they finally got underway. Based on the directions their host had given them, Siclare suggested that they follow the well-worn bison-bath along the southern ridge, as it seemed the best track by which one might bring in a cart laden with vegetables.

Liadan pointed out that, if he was selling vegetables, he would need ready access to water. Siclare suggested that there were three rivers along their current path which could serve and which would all be roughly half-a-day’s travel by mule-cart (though only a few hours on foot) — the Roach River on the east side of the mountains, the Hawksbill on the west, and Ivy Creek almost due south. Lacking any more detailed information, they decided to make for the Ivy.

Making good time with the trail, they reached the headwaters of the Ivy a little after noon. The river was small, here, narrow enough for even Rhodri to step across but still flowing in spite of the hot, dry weather, bubbling up out of a spring in the hillside. The area around the small stream was still quite lush, with a thick growth of ferns along the bank.

Rhodri stooped down and took a drink from the river, then gagged. The water burned his throat and tasted of sulfur. Pausing, Siclare heard a faint ringing sound in the distance, like metal on stone.

Following the sound, in case their quarry might also be a miner or smith, they found, just a bit further east and uphill, a large exposed rocky face of the hillside. A large cleft rent the rock — perhaps five-feet wide, twenty-feet deep, and tapering towards the end, as if a gargantuan axe had stuck the hillside. Water flowed freely out of the cleft, smelling strongly of sulfur, then bubbled into a depression just a few yards beyond the opening and disappeared, likely to reemerge as the river further down the slope.

The sound was quite louder here, and clearly coming from the depths of the cleft. Rhodri waded into the ankle-deep water, ignoring the distinct tingly sensation on his wet feet, and headed in. At the very back of the wedge-shaped cleft, he found a cleanly cut rectangular opening, two feet wide and four feet high, running at least another sixty feet back into the mountainside. The passage was squared, and judging by the lack of channels carved by the stream still running over the limestone floor, had to have been made in the last year or two. Funky fairy that he is, Rhodri did what faeries do and asked the wall about who had carved it.

“You,” it replied simply.

Some further interrogation led to the conclusion that it was in fact, a number of short, wrinkled fey who had carved the shaft. Judging by the clearly visible yellow-green and purple chloroargyrite crystals in the wall, and the high sulfur content of the stream, Rhodri guessed that the creatures were there to mine silver, coal, or perhaps both (as both were definitely present).

Interesting as this was, Rhodri could not convince his friends to go wading through the acidic stream into the mine, nor did he have any interest in tangling with the miners. They made a mental note of the mines location, and set back out in search of “Old Bokken”.

Heading back to the north-west, they crossed over the ridge at Simmons Gap and down towards the headwaters of Hawksbill Creek. They descended into a gently sloped valley, with numerous hollows branching off, carved by the runoff of the many small streams and rills feeding the Hawksbill. The creek itself was mostly dry, with only a thin muddy trickle running through the wide bed under the late-summer heat.

A cardinal sat on a near-by tree branch whistling some Hendrix. Liadan struck up a conversation and learned that an old and very hairy human lived within the bounds of the cardinal’s small territory, and had lived there for all of the birds life apparently, and also grew lots of delicious grains. The discussion made the bird hungry, and it promptly flew off in search of some of the aforementioned grain.

Following the bird, they came over a rise into a deep holler. The floor of the holler was laid out in rows of neatly plowed fields, the the slopes on either side had been terraced into vineyards, orchards, and even what appeared to be a rice paddy. At the far end of the holler was what appeared to be a simple dugout — a rough-cut wooden door set into the hillside, flanked by a pair of wood-shuttered windows.

092611.pngNumerous animals were also seen about — chickens, turkeys, hogs, donkeys, two horses, and several dogs. In one of the fields, a stout old mule was pulling a plough, followed by a rail-thin old man with a wild, dark beard reaching down to his waist. He wore a battered, old leather hat, and his black-gray hair stuck out in untended dreadlocks, clearly the result of years of unwashed neglect and nothing intentional, from beneath it.

Rhodri yelled and waved at the man, who began cursing and tugging on the mule’s reigns. After a few minutes he finally got the beast to stop, though not before it had dug a very crooked ten-yard furrow, and unhooked from the plough. Finally, after shooing the animal off to go graze, he turned and raised a hand as if to wave back. The wave quickly turned into a raised middle finger and an entreatment to “Get the fuck off my land!”

After a brief shouted exchange, during which Rhodri grew ever more angered at his comparison to a small wrinkled dog and the man’s refusal of the proffered pie, Rhodri began to walk down the hill, intent on talking to the man face to face. The old man, seeing Rhodri coming closer, turned and bolted for the dugout, running at full speed. He raced inside, slammed the door, and soon a breach-loading rifle was sticking out one of the window shutters, pointed at Rhodri.

When Rhodri did not desist, a warning bullet whizzed over his shoulder. The others cautiously joined him, making a variety of diplomatic overtures towards the man. At this, the man burst out of the house, tearing off his shirt and danced around brandishing a pair of knives and letting forth piteous, sighing wails. Sara pointed out that the man’s eyes betrayed his sanity, and that this was clearly just another show to attempt to scare them off.

Finally Rhodri, quite sick of racist old men pointing guns at him, announced that he had brought nearly fifty settlers over the mountains with him, and threatened to settle in this very same valley if the man did not let them in and talk to them. Finally the man relented, lowered the gun, opened the door, and invited them in.

The inside of the dugout was a simple one-roomed affair, its walls and ceiling of bare dirt, save for a single curtained alcove. It had a single pot-bellied iron stove, the smoke billowing out the top to rest among the wooden beams holding up the roof, venting out only through a small hole above the door. For furnishings there was a single bed, spread with a thick, bright quilt, and, in the alcove a wooden bookcase packed with several neatly arranged volumes. Beyond that there was nothing, not a single table or chair. The old man sat down on the bed, propping the rifle against the headboard, and waved at the bare floor as if inviting his “visitors” to sit.

They conversed for some time. The man continued to harangue them with insults and encouragements to leave. Liadan, Siclare, Sara, and Rhodri tried to explain to the man their situation, trying to find a place to settle fifty-odd people, away from the reach of the empire, and also looking for assistance against Mad Bear and his raiding band of Hemp Wearers.

Eventually, Liadan was able to get the point across that they were seeking to establish a colony and settlement for the Unseelie Court of the Fey, and not the Empire. Unwilling to anger an official emissary from the courts (though he clearly had no problem insulting Rhodri only moments before), the man accepted a bite of Rhodri’s radish pie and offered them a jug of moonshine by way of establishing the protection of a guest pact. When the threat of them settling near-by was settled, he agreed to draw up a Map of any “threats to be avoided” (by which it was clearly meant anyone able to speak).

As dusk drew near, he, now more congenially, urged them to leave, offering that, “If you go away and promise not to tell any of your folks where I live, I’ll make sure your little passel of settlers doesn’t die of starvation in the coming winter…”

To be continued…

Monday, March 13, 2017

Blitzball Class Creation: First Draft

Here is the first pass on the proposed Blitzball Player Class from my last post. The class is intended to be compatible with the Pathfinder role-playing game. This version has not yet undergone any play-testing. Feedback is appreciated as always...

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Blitzball: Thoughts on Making/Adapting a Class

When my son turned 6 last year, he started begging me to let him play console games. Specifically the Final Fantasy series, which he has watched me play rather a lot. While I would have liked to have him play through the entire series in order (a challenge I once presented my wife when she asked about my obsession with it), the only console I had fully functional (without requiring complicated cartridge jiggling or frustrating glitches) was my PS3. Since I did not want to shell out money to download the "PSOne Classic" series games (and didn't really have the HD space for them), he started playing with the HD remaster of Final Fantasy X.

It, of course, did not take him long to become obsessed with the "Blitzball" mini-game, around which the first third or so of the story's plotline is centered. While this acrobatic, underwater game of Calvinball* has been much maligned on various internet forums, it is really quite addicting, and needlessly, amusingly complex. Then, of course, there is the character of Wakka, who takes Blitzball out of the mini-game and directly into your combats with his signature ball-as-a-weapon and status-attacks reminiscent of those used in Blitzball.

As a D&D kid, my son has been bombarding me with mechanical questions as he's played -- especially trying to mentally compartmentalize the classless/levelless,  grid-based advancement mechanism into D&D terms. Some (Lulu is a wizard, Yuna is a cleric/summoner, Auron is a samurai) are pretty intuitive, but, of course, throwing a ball at your enemies is not something you see in a lot of D&D. "What's Wakka's job?!" has been a repeated refrain. Obviously, as a player of a lot of different games, Wakka's key role in the party as a Controller/Debilitator is pretty obvious, but D&D doesn't really have a class that fits Wakka's unique milieu as a stat-damaging sports junky (Tidus also has a good amount of this flavor, but thankfully pulls a sword when combat actually starts).

So...a challenge from my kid: Make a Pathfinder class based on a Blitzball player.

First, let's consider what such a class might entail.

Wakka is a ranged attacker (using his thrown ball). He gains a very large number of hit points, and also has very high attack accuracy. His default build includes a number of special attacks that inflict status ailments (blindness, muteness, sleep), spells that drain hit points or magical energy from enemies, and an ability that increases the accuracy of his allies attacks.

Characters in the Blitzball mini-game also learn a variety of status-inflicting maneuvers. Performed as either a tackle, a shot with a ball, or passing the ball to an ally, these can inflict poison, sleep, statistic reduction, or drain hit points to be granted to the user. In all, very similar to Wakka's build in the main game. They also gain abilities that allow them to resist status ailments and escalate status ailments by using them multiple times on a single target.

In both cases, there is an emphasis on debilitating status attacks. So that is obviously what we should build the class around. In Wakka's case they have limited use, drawing on the same pool of magical energy from which he would cast any spells he learns.

One way to convert this would be to give the class spells (such as sleepsilence, etc.), and allow him to deliver these spells as part of a ranged attack, which could be accomplished with the Arcane Hurler magus archetype, with a slightly modified spell list. Going with a strait Magus archetype doesn't quite feel right, because of Wakka's secondary emphasis on high hit points (the best in the game by the default path) and accuracy, which does not mesh with the Magus' average attack bonus and d8 hit die.

A second would be to give the class a number of special attacks which draw on a limited pool of uses (such as the Skirmisher ranger archetypes Hunter's Tricks). A more dedicated warrior build, with a Ranger's hit points and attack progression solves the Magus' problems, though he would need to learn his special attacks earlier and more often than the Skirmisher. And, of course, we don't want any of the standard Ranger friendly-with-animals, tracking, favored enemies, favored terrains shtick. So we'll definitely want to go with a unique class, rather than an Archetype.

Beyond the base-line combat abilities, there are a few other considerations when putting this thing together.

First is the underwater nature of the game. Blitzball players are described as being able (indeed required) to hold their breath for five minutes or more, while also engaging in strenuous activity. There are in-game comments that much of their training focuses on holding their breath, and that Wakka (specifically) is so adept at it that he can sleep underwater. In Final Fantasy X-2, prior to participating in a Blitzball game, Yuna mentions that "I've been practicing. I've learned how to hold my breath for more than two minutes now". Also they are capable of performing most of their attacks with the same efficacy underwater as on land (Tidus is shown performing the very complex "Jecht Shot" on the deck of a ship while on the way to a tournament, and then using the same maneuver, with the same sequence of actions underwater).

Next is the lack of a broad skill set. Three highly-talented blitzers are playable characters in the series: Wakka and Tidus in Final Fantasy X, and Brother in Final Fantasy X-2. All three come off in dialogue as largely idiots. Even "skills" (other than combat and blitzball) that they use often, such as Tidus's repeated falsehoods, are done poorly. Quothe Yuna "You're a bad liar, you know." Wakka reflects some basic knowledge of how magic/physics in his world works and of the Yevon religion in his in-game conversations, but is not a deep thinker, simply regurgitating answers, and practically shuts down when his assumptions and prejudices are questioned later in the game. Brother, who has a bit role in X (primarily as the best recruitable blitzball player), and a much much larger role in X-2 is openly insulted by all of his co-workers (Yuna, Rikku, Buddy, et. al) for his lack of intelligence. Quothe Rikku (his sister), "What does he even do on this ship anyways?"  Obviously the class does not need a whole lot of skill points.

Then there are the various sport-ball-ish roles on a general blitz team and the multiple ways that characters in the blitzball mini-game deliver their status attacks. You have the Wakka-style shots (throw a ball at the target), close-range tackles, and passes that bounce off of multiple adjacent targets. Most blitzball characters focus on one of the three -- shots, tackles, or passes. And, of course, you have the goalies who benefit the most from the various anti-status moves, as well as skill in deflecting/catching balls (missiles). This can easily be translated into Ranger-style combat styles for our new class: a ranged attacker with thrown weapons, an unarmed melee brawler, a close-range crowd controller, and a defensive specialist.

Lastly, of course, there is the weapon and armor selections. Wakka of course, only uses his ball. Despite being a blitzball player by trade, Tidus doesn't so much as blink at the beginning of of FFX when Auron hands him a Longsword and says "I hope you know how to use it," implying a reasonably broader familiarity with weapons (a martial weapon in this case). Likewise, both characters use shields for defense (described as armguards in Wakka's case), but wear fairly impractical-for-combat clothing otherwise. Against later bosses in the game, Evasion of attacks by luck and speed is much more important than any defensive stats, which fits well for a high-Dex ranged attacker build. Thus proficiency with simple and martial weapons (typical of other warrior-type classes) seems reasonable, along with shields and (if we're being nice) light armor.

Which, of course, brings us to the signature ranged weapon -- an apparently heavy ball used for a game played under-water (at least solid enough to have fairly neutral buoyancy), often affixed with spikes, blades, nodules, or other protuberances which would make holding or catching it fairly impractical*. Luckily the game designers at WOTC already created a completely ridiculous ball-like thrown weapon for D&D 3.0, the Orcish Shotput (from Sword and Fist). Which works well for this class. Adding spikes and blades would just change the damage type from Bludgeoning to Piercing or Slashing (as appropriate).

So, there are my initial thoughts on my son's crazy request. I'll post the full class once I've worked out the details.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Legacy of the Golden Horseshoe: Session 7

August 12, 1720
After the incident with the Tuscarora trying to burn down the gate, the night passed uneventfully. With the morning came the difficult decision of what to do next. Tess and Rhodri, independently and almost simultaneously, came up with the idea that they should seek out the hermit, Elisha Bokken. Their host informed them that, “Old Bokken ain’t ze nicest fellow. Likes his privacy.”

“Less nice than you?!” Rhodri asked incredulously.

Their gruff patron went on to explain that he knew Bokken’s dugout was somewhere to the south-west, as he always saw Bokken arriving along the ridge-line from that direction, and, from things Bokken had said, about a half-day’s journey away and somewhere on the western slope of the mountains. But, of course, he had never been there himself and couldn’t give better directions than that.

Figuring that, given the vagueness of the directions, finding Bokken’s home would involve some exploration, Tess asked if they could leave the bulk of their group at the Trading Post for a few days. “So long as ze make zemselves useful, and zey’ve got zeir own food,” came the reply. When they asked if they could buy food, he explained that his wife had had to largely empty their larders to make the massive meal the night before and that he barely had enough to get the two of them through the month, let alone feed a small army. Their little caravan had barely enough food to feed everyone for a day, so the party’s plans once again turned to hunting and gathering, rather than finding Mr. Bokken.

On the topic of “making zemselves useful”, they learned that their host was apparently a very poor farmer, and had failed to get a field planted earlier in the season due to all the work he had been doing building and maintaining their “very fine accommodations”. With Líadan translating, they convinced the emancipated persons to take over getting the fields planted, even though it was late in the season. They had been farmers back in Sierra Leone, and had the basic skills, though they lacked any familiarity with the climate or local plants. Zibbler was able to step in with the requisite knowledge of local farming techniques, and Siclare provided some wild greens and ramps to augment the potatoes and turnips that their host had for planting.

With Zibbler and the emancipated persons dealing with the the long-game of food production, Tess, Líadan, Sara, Rhodri, and Siclare turned to the more immediate need. Heading out of the gate, Siclare quickly spotted a distinctive browse-line at the edge of the forest, and a deep-rutted north-south trail following the ridge. Bison, she explained. Judging by the churned, muddy hoofprints, a large number of them had passed by the Trading Post heading north early in the morning.

An hour of following the quite obvious trail soon found them creeping downwind of a large herd of Eastern Wood Bison. Nineteen mature cows and eight calves were clustered around a single large bull, casually munching on the surrounding rhododendrons. A second, smaller bull stood several yards off from the main herd. Having learned somewhat from their deer-hunting misadventures, Rhodri suggested that they use the terrain and try to chase the herd back towards the Trading Post and over the western cliff.

They circled upwind, catching the big bull’s attention, then Rhodri and Sara charged, Rhodri putting an arrow into each of the bulls and Sara flailing her hair at the larger one. Tess followed with a quartet of glowing torch-lights moving rapidly towards the herd out of the woods. Finally Líadan conjured the sounds of a roaring mountain lion, while Siclare foxed-out and ran in snapping at the cows rears.

All this of course amounted to an instant stampede.

When the herd started moving, Sara was the first casualty. Close enough to grab at the big bull with her hair was close enough to get that hair stepped on, and she was soon plowed under by the trampling hooves and left bleeding. The others managed to duck aside, though Siclare narrowly avoided getting rammed when she darted in to nip at another’s heels.

With magical roars and dancing flames chasing them, and the occasional fox-bite or arrow pricking the stragglers, the herd ran strait back towards the flattened clearing around the trading post, then strait at the low stone wall marking the western edge of the ridge. The calves, unable to clear the wall, were crushed against the stone by their parents in their panicked flight. The adults that cleared the wall were no better off, encountering a nearly two-hundred foot, uncontrolled tumble down a steep hillside.

Having watched the spectacle of the stampede from the safety of the fort, the rest of their crew came out as soon as it was over. The ‘musketeers’ were sent off to retrieve Sara’s body, and she was soon nursed back to health with the aid of some of the mothers’ magic. The rest went to work dressing out and hauling the twenty-odd bison back up the hill — sped by the fact that their host seemed able to lift and carry a full-grown cow all on his own.

By noon they had all the meat they could want. Some of the mothers went to work dressing the bodies and magically purifying the meat. Other teams were dispatched to dig pits just inside the wall, and cut down trees to start smoking the meat under Thond’s direction. While still others began cutting away chunks of the fat to be rendered and used for poaching. Even with such a large labor force, with nearly ten tons of usable meat, Thond suggested that it would take nearly two weeks to fully process it all.

As the day lengthened towards evening, their host reminded them of the Tuscarora threat — and the likelihood that the Mad Bear would be back again that night. They hurriedly finished moving the last of the carcasses and operations inside the walls, and their host dropped the massive bar across the gate. Tess, Líadan, Sara, Rhodri, Siclare, and the musketeers took turns standing watch on the walls while the others took it in shifts to continue the massive undertaking of preserving nearly 22,000 pounds of meat.

About an hour after nightfall, Rhodri’s sharp night-eyes spotted a dozen of the hemp-wearers making their way slowly down the trail from the south-west, with the jowly, wild-haired Mad Bear at their lead. When they got close to the walls, it became clear that they were hauling a large, felled pine tree, with most of the branches stripped away, save for a few on either side that could be used as handles, and the wide, cut end tapered to a battering point.

Rhodri put an arrow into one of the lead one’s bearing the ram, then shouted a warning to the others below.

The Mad Bear trotted forward and yelled up, “We smell your food. Open up or we’ll smash your gate down!” Líadan’s response was to light them all up with a blast of glitterdust. Thus provoked, the tree-bearer’s charged, full-tilt towards the gate. Their make-shift ram struck with a resounding crash, and the sound of splintering wood, but the massive bar held.

As the ramming squad backed up for another rush at the gate, Sara tagged one of the bearers with a ray of enfeeblement, causing him to stagger under his portion of the tree’s weight. Siclare then set the tree on fire with a produce flame spell, and Tess snatched up an oil lamp and tossed it to smash against the tree as well.

The Mad Bear grabbed one of the limbs and joined the next rush, slamming the burning pine into the gate with tremendous force, but still not enough to break the heavy bar. They then tossed the burning wreckage up against the gate, hoping for better success than the previous night’s attempt to burn it. They, of course, had no such luck. Líadan’s faerie magic transformed the burning oil coating the ram to quite non-flamable water, then Sara and the mothers drenched the old tree with another hundred gallons or so of magically conjured liquids.

Siclare shouted down to the men, in English this time, suggesting that they should stop raiding, make peace, and try to do something productive with their lives. Tess in exasperation, quietly pointed out that these people had just lost a devastating war with the white settlers to the south, and were probably not in a mood to make friends half-way through a raid on a white-man’s fort. Rhodri and Líadan, meanwhile continued to rain arrows and eldritch blasts down on the attackers.

The Mad Bear’s response to all this was simple — he summoned an enraged spirit-wolf inside the walls of the Trading Post. Siclare leaped down at the thing, but missed. Líadan then whistled for the three owlbear cubs, who quickly bumbled up and tore the thing to shreds. She made a mental note that the smell of owlbear might be a pretty effective way to start their next bison stampede without risking getting themselves trampled.

Thus foiled in his latest scheme to get into the fort, the Mad Bear and his braves began another fairly-orderly withdraw. One last toxin-laced eldritch blast from Líadan dropped the portly Mad Bear, turning the withdraw into a proper route — his braves scooping up their leader as they retreated over the wall and down the hill to the west.

To be continued…

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Buffalo Soldiers

Given that my campaign world is a fantasy Earth, I often riff on real-world religions and concepts. One world religion the "Jahans" is a tongue-in-cheek fantasy take on Rastafari, or, more specifically, Rastafari if your only exposure to it was the songs of Bob Marley. Their god is Razh Jah, simultaneously a play on the song "Jah Live" and other intentional religious reference in Marley's music and also the sanscrit "Raja" (because the deity is also an earthly monarch).

In keeping with the Marley theme, I made up this prestige class -- a cleric/cavalier mix with some awesome bison-centric powers, from the obvious inspiration, and some very literal reading...

Buffalo Soldier

Buffalo Soldiers are members of the personal guard and army of Razh Jah, the king of Pulau-Razh and the god of the Jahan faith. Combining expertise in mounted combat with unwavering faith and divine power from Jah, these warriors are a terror on the battlefield and helped ensure Razh Jah’s rise to power. Unlike the rest of the Jahan religion, the Buffalo Soldiers follow a strict hierarchy, with their chief officers reporting directly to Jah himself.

Alignment: Buffalo Soldiers can be of any Good alignment, though Neutral Good is most common.
Hit Die: d10.
To qualify to become a buffalo soldier, a character must fulfill all the following criteria.
  • Religion: Must worship Jah.
  • Base Attack Bonus: +5.
  • Special: Challenge class ability.
  • Skills: Knowledge (religion) 5 ranks.
  • Feats: Mounted Combat, Trample
  • Spells: Able to cast 1st-level divine spells.
Class Skills
The buffalo soldier’s class skills are Diplomacy (Cha), Handle Animal (Cha), Intimidate (Cha), Knowledge (history) (Int), Knowledge (nobility) (Int), Knowledge (religion) (Int), Ride (Dex) and Sense Motive (Wis).
  • Skill Ranks per Level: 2 + Int modifier.
Level BAB Fort Ref Will Special Spells
1 +1 +1 +0 +0 Mount, Challenge, Revolution Domain
2 +2 +1 +1 +1 Divine Mount +1 level to divine spellcasting class
3 +3 +2 +1 +1 Bonus Feat +1 level to divine spellcasting class
4 +4 +2 +1 +1 Divine Stampede 1/day +1 level to divine spellcasting class
5 +5 +3 +2 +2 Devastating Stampede
6 +6 +3 +2 +2 Bonus Feat +1 level to divine spellcasting class
7 +7 +4 +2 +2 Divine Stampede 2/day +1 level to divine spellcasting class
8 +8 +4 +3 +3 Join the Stampede +1 level to divine spellcasting class
9 +9 +5 +3 +3 Bonus Feat
10 +10 +5 +3 +3 Divine Stampede 3/day, Greater Stampede +1 level to divine spellcasting class

Weapon and Armor Proficiency: Buffalo Soldier’s gain no additional proficiency in weapons or armor.

Challenge: A buffalo soldier’s class levels stack with Cavalier levels for determining the damage dealt by his Challenge class ability.

Mount (Ex): A Buffalo Soldier gains the service of a loyal and trusty buffalo to carry him into battle. This mount functions as a druid’s animal companion, using the buffalo soldier’s level as his effective druid level. The buffalo uses the base stats gained as a 7th level druid, regardless of the buffalo soldier’s actual level. If he already has an animal companion from another class, it is immediately replaced by a buffalo, and his levels in all classes that grant an animal companion stack for determining the mount’s abilities.

A buffalo soldier does not take an armor check penalty on Ride checks while riding his mount. The mount is always considered combat trained and begins play with Light Armor Proficiency as a bonus feat. A buffalo soldier’s bond with his mount is strong, with the pair learning to anticipate each other’s moods and moves. Should a buffalo soldier’s mount die, the buffalo soldier may find another mount to serve him after 1 week of mourning. This new mount does not gain the link, evasion, devotion, or improved evasion special abilities until the next time the buffalo soldier gains a level.

Revolution Domain: At 1st level, the Buffalo Soldier gains the Revolution Domain as a bonus domain. When determining the powers and bonus spells granted by this domain, the buffalo soldier’s effective cleric level is equal to his class level plus any divine spellcaster levels. He also receives additional domain spell slots, just like a cleric.

If the buffalo soldier already has the Revolution Domain (as a Cleric or Inquisitor), he may select any one domain granted by his deity. The buffalo soldier’s levels stack with any cleric levels for determining the powers of all domains he has access to.

Divine Mount: Starting at 2nd level, while the buffalo soldier is in contact with his mount, the mount gains DR/magic equal to the buffalo soldier’s level. The mount’s natural weapons count as magical for the purpose of overcoming damage reduction.

Bonus Feats: At 3rd level, and again at 6th level and 9th level, the buffalo soldier gains a bonus feat in addition to those gained from normal advancement. The buffalo soldier must meet the prerequisites of these bonus feats. This feat must be selected from the following list: Bull Rush Strike, Charge Through, Combat Casting, Greater Bull-Rush, Greater Overrun, Improved Bull-Rush, Improved Overrun, Indomitable Mount, Mounted Shield, Ride-by Attack, Spirited Charge, Unseat, Warrior Priest, or Weapon Focus.

Divine Stampede: At 4th level, the buffalo soldier can summon 1d4+2 Celestial Bison, as the summon monster spell. This ability can be used once per day, increasing to 2/day at 7th level, and 3/day at 10th level.

At 10th level, he summons 3d6 Celestial Bison with each use of this ability.

Devastating Stampede: At 5th level, the base trample damage dealt by the buffalo soldier’s mount, as well as any creatures summoned using divine stampede increases by one size category to 2d8. In addition, his mount and any summoned creatures gain a +2 sacred bonus to the save DC of their trample attack.

Join the Stampede: At 8th level, whenever the buffalo soldier is mounted and attempts an Overrun combat maneuver or charges, he may use his divine stampede ability as a swift action. The summoned bison appear running adjacent to the buffalo soldier and immediately perform a stampede attack.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Legalese worthy of Lovecraft

Someone needs to hire Amitava Roy (Justice of the Supreme Court of India) to write a D&D module. Just read this opinion he penned (full text here, courtesy of Lowering the Bar)...

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Legacy of the Golden Horseshoe: Session 6

August 11, 1720 — Night
Oleg_Leveton.jpgAfter being let into the Trading Post, our heroes finally got a good look at their host. The man certainly did not look like the sort of fellow who could heft a four-hundred-pound log — middle-aged, slightly portly, and weathered, plain clothed, with a thick donegal beard. Other than his freakish strength, harmless enough. No sooner had he barred the door, than he excused himself to go “Tell ze vife zot she’s got to make zirty peoples vorz of dinner…”

While their host was inside, Rhodri, Siclare, and Tess explored the grounds inside the palisade. Everything was quite well constructed — carefully flattened and packed ground with neatly mowed grass, sturdy wooden buildings with steep rooves. Even the middens, filled with rotting vegetables and human feces as they were, were cleanly dug, with square sides and latticed covers. The stable was empty, save for one old nag, and there were no signs of other visitors. For all that the place was built like a fort, it was unmanned save for the old man and his wife.

Finally the man stuck his head out of the main building and invited them in for supper. The house was a palace compared to what Tess was used to in Germanna — slatted wood floors, rather than dirt, and carefully chinked walls dividing it into six separate rooms, complete with finely hand-crafted furniture and cabinetry.

A long table was set out in the central room, with chairs instead of benches, set with two large iron pots of stew and a large platter with loaves of brown bread. They sat down to eat. The stew was filling but bland — a mixture of potatoes, turnips, and radishes — and the bread was warm, but had the stale taste of food that had been laid up for storage.

As they ate, the man leaned in towards Rhodri conspiratorially. “Whot’s an ugly wrinkled zing like you doing viz zree fine looking ladies like zis? And a red-skin and a negroe no less? You a slaver? Oh! You have zem under a faerie charm don’t you?!” The man went on at some length about how he knew Rhodri was a faerie, and that all faeries were liars, and how he wasn’t going to be fooled by any of his faerie tricks.

Rhodri in return grilled him for a very long time about what he thought of escaped slaves, and slavers, and the practice of slavery, and how he got on with the constabulary, and how often people from the colonies came to the trading post. The short of it all was that the man himself did not believe in slavery, nor did he have much use for “civilization”, having moved out and started the trading post specifically to get away from the colonies.

After they had finished eating — not nearly thirty people’s worth of food — they walked outside discussing how to smuggle the rest out to their followers. Rhodri, clearly not meant to be the face of the party, tried to slyly ask the man to re-open the gates. “I’m not an idiot,” was the reply, “go out and bring your escaped slaves in. Just be quick about it…”

The man seemed extremely nervous about opening the gates after dark. With a little prodding, they learned that a group of “zem Hemp-vearers from down Carolina vay” had recently moved in to the valley, south of the Trading Post, led by a “Chief Graceful Cock”, and that “zeir Mad Bear has been coming around every night asking for hand-outs at arrow-point”. He claimed that he had tried to run them off with a gun, but that the weapon had crumbled to dust in his hands when he tried to fire it. Luckily, they “are no good at ze siege” and the high walls and heavily barred gate had kept them out so far.

Armed with this knowledge, Líadan was put in charge of encouraging everyone to get inside the fort as quickly as possible. As this was going on, Rhodri noticed a dry-laid stone wall marking the western edge of the ridge. Looking for some impartial confirmation of facts, he cast stone tell on the wall. The wall, it seemed, was built entirely by their host, one large stone at a time. The stones also confirmed that five days ago, and every day since, a “man who is also a bear” had come to the fort late at night, first with eleven braves in tow, and later with progressively smaller numbers.

As he chatted with the wall, he looked down and spotted torches winding their way up the mountain. Rhodri asked the wall for advice on how to deal with the hostile natives. “Be firm. Be unmoving. Wait.” The rocks in this world, it seemed, were not very knowledgeable regarding action.
He rushed back and joined Tess and Siclare in shoving the last of their people through the gates. As Zibbler was guiding the wagon in at the end, Tess spotted the top of a torch coming up behind the stone wall. Then an arm. Then a hand. Which Rhodri promptly put an arrow through. There was a cry of pain. The torch fell atop the wall, sputtering.

With everyone inside, their host slammed the massive bar back across the gate. Líadan ordered the musket crews up onto the catwalk around the top of the palisade, where Rhodri, Tess, and Siclare joined them.

Mad_Bear.jpgPeering into the darkness, Rhodri and Tess spotted five natives creeping through the trees at the edge of the cleared area. The five men didn’t really fit his preconceptions of native warriors — they were broad and stocky, rather than lean and muscular, and dressed in thick, long-sleeved coats and pants of woven fiber, with tall bows, almost comparable to the long-bows of the English, slung stringed across their backs. The central figure, and clearly the leader, was short and jowly, with a wild shock of hair held in place by a decorative headband. Tess lit up the leader and the two flanking him with faerie fire, and Rhodri promptly fired at one of the two flankers. The arrow hit dead-center of mess, but slowed and tangled by his thick fibrous shirt, and barely penetrated to flesh.

The natives responded with high, arcing shots, badly wounding Rhodri and Tess. The leader strode forward and raised one hand towards the muskets trained on him. There was a click as the boy pulled the trigger, followup by an oddly muffled bang as the gun exploded from the inside out, crumbling into metallic ash and blowing away on the wind. Rhodri fired on the leader, but the arrow stopped inches from his flesh, hanging in mid-air. The flickering green faerie-fire also shifted, pushed away from his body, until it made the shape of a large semi-transparent bear superimposed over his frame.

Up on the wall, Siclare foxed out, literally, growing fox-like ears and a tail, and tried to parley with the bear-man, first in her native Apalachee, and then in Sylvan. Either the man did not understand, or he did not care. He shouted something she could not understand, though she pegged the language as Tuscarora, an Iroquoian language, and his braves let fly another volley of arrows, injuring her and dropping Tess. Rhodri narrowly avoided being hit again by dropping to the deck.

Tess, bleeding badly, rolled over and fell right off the narrow platform, dropping twenty feet to the ground below. Sarah and a few of the slave-mothers rushed up and began patching her up with bandages and spells. Groaning and sitting up, Tess expressed her exasperation and rummaged through her pack, finding a Powhatan war flute — played by war bands when they go on the offensive.

Rhodri, his arrows unable to get through their strange hempen armor, and worried about losing more of the guns, ordered everyone down off the walls. With the counter-fire stopped, the five men rushed towards the gate, and the bear shouted in broken English. “Old man! You bring weak defenders. Open gate now or we burn your fort down!”

Their host glared at Rhodri, “You just had to provoke zem!” he said. Then yelled out the chink in the gate, “Fuck off!”

The men outside pulled bundles of pine-tar soaked kindling off their backs and piled them against the gate. Then their leader splashed a jug of something that smelled very strongly alcoholic over the wood of the gate and set the whole thing alight.

“Fire!” went up the general call.

“I need a hole over there!” Siclare told their host. Obliging, he grabbed a knot-hole on one of the posts making up the back wall of the palisade and heaved, lifting the heavy log three feet strait out of the ground. “Vat are you doink?” he asked as she slipped under the gap he’d made.

“I’m running away…” And ran she did.

Líadan, who had already been working with the ex-slave women at coordinating their limited spellcasting abilities, gave the order and twenty-four create water spells splashed down over the gate. Nearly a hundred gallons of rapidly conjured water did the trick, and the hastily made blaze was just as promptly doused.

At the same time, Tess struck up her best war-tune on the flute she had found. This, combined with a mixture of her own dancing lights and illusions from Líadan, and the abject failure of their fire plan, sent the five attackers retreating back into the woods. Siclare, outside the walls, followed them for some ways south along the ridge, then circled back to the fort when they started headed downhill to the west.

With the immediate danger dealt with, their host asked if some of their very large group could keep watch on the walls. The rest found the nearest bedding they could and passed out exhausted.

To be continued…

Just for fun: