Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Why I hate Wizards and How to Fix Them.



I hate Wizards. I hate that nerds love Wizards. I hate that they're a nerd power fantasy.  I hate that they're always caster de rigueur, and all casters are compared to them. I hate the tedious smarter-than-thou, arrogant stereotypical Wizard. I hate the 'be a God, use the big dumb fighter' tone implicit in Wizarding and Wizarding-related discourse. Most of all, I hate the fact that Wizards do magic better than people who sold their souls or whose granddad was a fucking dragon. People empowered by Gods are standing alongside someone who studied really, really hard (off-screen, before the campaign...) at some never again mentioned budget Hogwarts.

It's a prejudice, but I'm not ashamed. 
 
You see, almost every other Caster has a built-in DM hook, or connection to the world. A Druid has his forest, or nature. A Warlock has his patron. A Cleric has his god. A Sorcerer has his ancestry. You owe your magic to someone or something, and the significance and nature of that relationship can power your roleplay. You could easily be a reluctant Cleric who doesn't want or value his followers or faith. You could be a Sorcerer obsessed with your Fey ancestry and claiming status in the court of the Fairy King of Woe and Winter. You could be a Warlock who lost his soul to Old Scratch in a game of chance, and be obsessed with luck in such games because if you master that you might reclaim your soul. 






These bonds to the world give your DM a bone to throw your character, and something for your backstory to explain. A Wizard just is. Boring. You level up and you get a new pile of spells and everything is hunky-dory.

I have two fixes.

First, let's give Wizards a Bond. No, not the 5e bond that you wrote down on your character sheet and forgot about. A relationship. Something your Poundland Gandalf gives a shit about.

Roll a D10.

1. You were trained in magic by a mysterious, Odinic wanderer who also imparted to you their cut-throat Machiavellian, magic-makes-right philosophy and expects you to follow it.
2. You trained at a for-profit College of Magic and the fees are exorbitant. You're adventuring to pay off your student loan.
3. You learned at a Monastery where discipline was strict and frugal. You fled halfway through your training. You are scarred by the experience and dread other alumni.
4. You were trained by a Master Mage, who considers you a minion of theirs and will ask for favours. Their morality is flexible.
5. You trained at a state-sponsored Magic Academy, with the expectation your magic would be at the disposal of the government when asked.
6. A local criminal family put you through Magic School in return for a later favour.
7. You were trained by an illiterate hedge-witch. As you could read, you surpassed her mastery and earned her resentment.
8. You learned from a Coven or Magic Circle who are being oppressed by the authorities for illegal magic.
9. You 'borrowed' a spellbook from your Master when you were a servant.
10. You learnt magic from an important campaign villain. 



The second fix is simple: spell-books and spell-scrolls are hard to get. A Wizard has the potential to master almost all magic, if they can get their hands on spellbooks. The easiest way to do this is to appropriate them for other Wizards. As a result, life as a Wizard is incredibly cut-throat, and many people will murder a Wizard just to try and sell his spellbooks on to interested parties. Meetings of wizards are rare and have palpable tension: the arcane equivalent of two bar-fighters sizing each other up. This inculcates enormous paranoia and social darwinist attitudes among most Wizards.

To achieve this, just rule that a Wizard can only acquire new spells by finding them in treasure (for 5e, I'd give them the spells from their School for free). Correspondingly, they can eventually master every spell on the Wizard list (spells prepared remains constant.). This gives them a constant pressure to, through cooperation, coercion or incineration, acquire their magic, and gives them in-game incentives ad roelplay ideas just as the Warlock, Wizard or Cleric have.





Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Let's Read the 5e Monster Manual - The Dragon Turtle



The Dragon Turtle


The Dragon Turtle is one of those peculiar creatures that has been in the game since the days of THACO and 1d4 hit points, yet I have never heard of anyone using one. This is probably primarily because aquatic campaigns, and therefore aquatic baddies, are fairly rare in most people’s gaming. Additionally, our terrible testudines is packing a pretty hefty (and potentially undeserved – more on that later) CR17, meaning it will only show up to hassle high-level parties. 


I personally adore the sea-monster trope, and the Dragon Turtle is competing with some stiff competition in the Kraken or Sea Serpent. Here be monsters…






Art

Allow me to share a fairly pointless niggle or pet-hate. That ship is quite clearly from the later days of the Age of Sail and resembles something from around the time of the Spanish Armada. It clearly has areas for cannon – and fairly advanced, slim cannon at that - in a game that assumes gunpowder is yet to be discovered. This is stupid and inconsistent.

The actual artwork is a nice effort at imbuing the Dragon Turtle with some menace: its attacking an unaware ship, about to snap the rudder, and the art is designed to give the whole piece a sense of scale. There’s a shark helpfully drifting past to show you that the Dragon Turtle is bigger than a shark and nonplussed by a shark.

My problem is that this all seems a little staid; a little formulaic. I like my seas brooding and romantic; my monstrosities thrashing and terrible. It’s a boring composition.  I much prefer the original execution.

It’s also not really giving me much ‘Dragon’ to work with. It’s just a really big turtle, and turtles hardly inspire terror.

Purpose and Tactics




It’s a big monster, with enough intelligence to communicate and be a tool. In your campaign, you could make it a controllable minion of a maritime big bad (essentially the plot of that Pirates of the Caribbean film with the Scottish Mind Flayer) or a major part of a naval attacking force. In this case, finding a method of destroying the Dragon Turtle (avoid fireballs, jump repeatedly on its head) could form part of your quest chain.

It could also just turn up as you cross an ocean to attack the player’s ship. In battle, it seems more Michelangelo than monster, though. It has a big pile of hit-points and fairly high AC, and a multi-attack ability to nail your players. As mentioned with the Red Dragon, simply damage and toughness generally aren’t enough to make a fight, and the Dragon Turtle looks easy to vanquish for any vaguely prepared level 17 party. This is a party with epic spells – multiattack physical and fire damage aren’t going to cut it.

It’s also weirdly slow. (40feet swim? What?)

So it falls to the DM to jazz up this turtle and make it worthy of CR 17. The first way to do this is make the fight occur in water – not at sea, in the water – a Dragon Turtle should make short work with an initial multiattack of most ships, and ensure they’re taking on water. As the fight progresses, the players should be clinging to driftwood, lost barrels, ship fragments – and focussing as much on avoiding the depths as they are the Turtle. This also makes the Tail Attack’s knockback and prone abilities far more meaningful.  I’d add an ability to grab party members in his jaws and subsequently drag them into the depths, so party members will be constantly struggling to combat this force of nature. As with the Red Dragon, use the Reach ability to ensure your Dragon Turtle is attacking from within the water and is outside of melee range and arguably obscured from view. Additionally, it has 120 feet of Darkvision and we’re angling for every advantage we can get, so make sure it’s a nocturnal turtle (nocturtle?).

If you have a little more CR pennies in the bank, pairing it with a Marid or spellcaster of some kind will help enormously.

Despite my complaints about Legendary Resistance, this creature needs it. Otherwise a single successful casting of say, Dominate Monster or Ottiluke’s Irresistible Dance ends the combat.

Fluff

There’s some interesting information on motivations: it covets treasure as much as a typical Dragon, and thus will drag wealthy ships beneath the waves. Additionally, they’re mercenaries or even mounts of intelligent aquatic creatures, giving you a plethora of potential plot hooks beyond the simple “We need a random encounter at sea” impulse. Some of the language here is quite beautiful, and would make for excellent in game description – especially the idea that sailors might mistake a turtle for the reflection of the moon, until….

Plot Hooks
The Most Serene Republic of Firtenzia has been closed out by its mightier rivals, and now its merchants are assaulted, boarded, blockaded and abused by its powerful maritime rivals.  But there is rumour of a way to win back control of the seas…

Your players, after weeks at sea, find a small island jutting from the water. After wandering on the island to search for food, they notice the movement of gentle breathing, and how far they are from land….

Sultan Aquisul, The Most Magnificent Marid-King of the Hundred-Thousand Seas of the Plane of Water, needs a steed to pull his coral palanquin. Could your players tame Tetsuferrax, the legendary scourge of the seas?

Verdict: I think this has the nucleus of a good idea but is one of the most poorly executed monsters in the entire book. Use a Kraken instead. 

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Let's Read the 5e Monster Manual - The Red Dragon

Red Dragon
A foe so bone-deep in the game's lore it is in the name. When we say 'dragon'; these are the dragons we mean. Imperious, furious: a crocodile's savagery carried with the regality of a tyrant. The literary bedrock we can mine is extensive: Smaug and F√°fnir exemplify this trope. Where there are heroes, there must also be The Dragon. I have some strong, unbendable principles (or prejudices) about dragons that may need to be born in mind whilst reading this review.*

It is almost challenging to review a monster which is so integral to our conceptions of monsterdom. Here be dragons.... 



Artwork:

An excellent piece; dynamic and furious. The red-gold colouring captures every sense of the vainglory and conceit which typify the beast. There's some excellent, loving attention to detail: the beady, vehement, cruel little eyes, the glowing inferno of the mouth, the grasping claws. Its stance manages to emphasise that peculiar junction of frenzy and poise. 

Behind the stat-blocks, obscured is a hint of a reddened, sweltering lair. Another great piece which I wish gained more exposure. 

Purpose and Tactics. 

You gnobbled goblins, assaulted orcs, mangled Mind Flayers, battered a Behir - all to climb to this zenith, and there do battle with a monstrosity incarnate. This is it: Act Three. The final boss.
I'll review the Ancient Red Dragon, as I rather imagine the developers brewed that up first then doled out the dragon-juice into smaller and smaller containers like Russian dolls in order to give us our other necessary stat-blocks (Toddler Dragon, Prepubescent Dragon, Tween Dragon, Mid-Life Crisis Dragon etc). 

As a final fight, this is largely about throwing the Action Economy rules out of the window. It is for lesser mortals to wait for their turn, and you have a pile of legendary and lair actions to keep you scrapping. An initial Frightful Presence will probably not disrupt the players too much (the save is difficult, but a high-level party have a a number of spells, magic items and buffs to make it trivial), but then follow up with your multi-attack. Other methods of disruption include the Volcanic Gasses Lair Action, which is potentially huge even though it is an easy save. A huge portion of this fight rests on grouping and ungrouping the players - isolating them to eat your multiattack and then targeting them with your Fire Breath to rack up damage. 

You should be conscious that your attacks have pretty huge reach (20ft for the tail - and you can do that as a Legendary as well!) so there's no reason for you to land and scrabble in the dirt when you can fight from the air and preserve your draconic dignity. More importantly, it will stop you eating a barrage of readied actions and opportunity attacks when you make your majestic sweep. 

The Red Dragons' saves and senses are brilliant, so the biggest threat posed by spellcasters will be non-save debuff spells such as Forcecage** or Ottiluke's Irresistible Dance. In terms of support, some kind of spell-caster to disrupt this: a crazed dragon-worshipping Cleric, for example. Without this, the Red Dragon will suffer from only really being able to deal direct hit-point damage with a lack of utility, and the fact that most of the damage is easily resisted. 

Much of this fight will depend on the window-dressing. Noone with any self-respect fights a Dragon in a field. People fight Dragons whilst flying through a thunderstorm, deep in the caldera of a volcano, in a firestorm in the centre of the capital city or in an ocean of blood and magma on some plane of the Abyss. Make sure the terrain is a persistent hazard and adds to the drama of the conflict. 

In terms of a campaign role, the Red Dragon is clearly a major villain. However, I don't feel it works as schemer or plotter. Your Red Dragon is a warlord, a conqueror; you have fought his armies since you were a level one Fighter with less hit-points than sense and you've built to this since the beginning. 

Fluff
Firstly, did they need to include any? This scene tells you everything you need to know, and the archetypical dragon is so huge in the collective imagination that anyone could write some fluff for it.

The fluff focuses on their vanity, vainglory and endless hunt for prestige: I personally love the idea that for a Dragon this toxic insecurity is almost biological, and it really cements their motivation without humanising too much. 

The author makes a strong effort to describe the Desolation around a Red Dragon's lair, which I love: populated by rogue fire-creatures, sulphurous wastes, monuments to the dragons' hubris, and miserable minions and slaves. Somewhere between Mordor and Bosch's Hell sits our Red Dragon upon its mountain-throne. 

There's some excellent detail in the physical description which really captures the imagination, and they're the kind of small detail you could definitely drop into your description of the scene to dazzle your players. 


Plot Hooks


Aurumvorax rules all the territory west of the Titanheart Mountains; an endless expanse of magma and poisonous mists where his chattel skitter beneath his baleful eye. Unseat the tyrant of the west, take his treasure-hoard and all will know your name.

Fraguth plundered the territories of the North for a generation, and his hoard grew immeasurable. Then he returned to the Plane of Fire to slumber on his ill-gotten riches. We would forget The Burning Wyrm were it not that he took the eight Sealing Jewels that are needed to prevent the rise of the Lich-King...

Draguragoth grows fat and ancient in his stolen mountain, wrapped in a hoard of such tremendous enormity as to defy imagination. As he ages, he sends to the vassal kings and subjects of all lands: now, not demanding tribute, but something else. A conversation. Draguragoth believes himself to have produced in his long tyranny the perfect philosophy of rule and society, and he wishes the philosphers come hear the Dragon discourse. 

Verdict: The concept is so strong I don't see how anyone could mess this up, but the execution is strong and overcomes the weaknesses of a solo monster in 5e. The fluff and artwork are still engaging even though we've all seen a panoply of Dragons. An excellent effort. 




* Dragons are primal terror. You do not ride them and joke with them. Noone knows dragons intimately enough to differentiate between blue and green: dragons simply are.

Noone fights an Ancient White Dragon. They fight Kauldrvist; Shield-Taker; God-Breaker - the White Death, The Bleeding Ice, Sovereign of the White Sea, the Terror of the Aurora, The Cold Hunger, who has ruled the ice-floes since time immemorial. Your dragon needs a rep. 
I am dead-against letting players feel like big boys because they offed a Dragon that was still in nappies. You don't get to fight Dragons with training wheels. For me, the stat-blocks start at Adult. 

Dragons don't get comedy roles in my campaign. There is no relief. Their mythic status largely comes from the fact that dragons don't make jokes. 

**Well actually no, you're too big to fit in. Back to the arcane drawing board.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Magic Weapons! (5e Homebrew)

If you play in my campaign, please don't read this. You're only cheating yourself.


I really dig magic weapons, I like them an absurd amount and make them endlessly, and have to keep myself form Monty Hall-ing my Player Characters.

One reason I dig them is they're a great segway into the world's history and can form the basis of an adventure themselves.  If you tell your players about the ancient wars between the Giants and the Elves, they won't listen to you. If you give them an enchanted longsword inhabited by the spirit of an Elf-supremacist aristocrat which can grow in strength by slaying giants, they may stop deleting those emails you send full of setting details. Ditto doling out exposition through Speak With Dead or any other player-originated tool.

In short, never tell your players any exposition. Make them work for it or listen to dead Elf racists.


These magic weapons, being from my game-world, have a tonne of lore which you can file off and replace, which I have left in for flavour reasons.

Heedless
Short Sword * Finesse Weapon
1d8

Heedless is a sentient silver short-sword with a brass hilt. The blade is engraved to resemble a feather. On the hilt is carved I AM HEEDLESS; BREAKER OF BONDS, SOVEREIGN OF DUST.

Bonuses:
There is nowhere I fear to tread.: Once per day, you may choose to deal Radiant damage with any attack using Heedless. Additionally, Heedless may make an attack action without your consent once per day. This need not occur on your turn.
Thousand-Lifetimes-of-Duelling: Whilst wielding Heedless, your proficiency bonus with the Short Sword is doubled.
No Man Can Tame Me: Only female characters – or those characters who have no gender – may carry or wield Heedless.

Heedless can only be wielded by a hero of its choice and it will reject heroes who it feels do not mesh with its interests.
Heedless adores liberty, the wind, women, violence, water, flight, vengeance, honour and speed.
Heedless detests tyranny, the earth, peace, patriarchy, age, masculinity, lycanthropes and the undead.

Secret: Heedless contains a part of the fallen angel Heedless. If placed in water, Heedless will point to the nearest other part. Revealed on a 22 Religion or History check.  Assembling all parts will allow you to resurrect Heedless


Voidwalker

Greatsword * 2d6
The sword is a single hilt of bone. The blade is not visible. When held aloft in darkness, a series of glowing runes are visible on the blade. In Infernal, they read: THE GREATEST WARRIOR FIGHTS AS THOUGH ALREADY DEAD.
Voidwalker.
Powers:
Stillness: Once per day, the wielder of Voidwalker may use his move action to make an additional attack with Voidwalker.
Brightest Candle, Longest Shadow:  If the wielder of Voidwalker hits 0 hit-points, they may instead choose to stay standing at 1hp and gain a random curse.

Secrets:
Arcana (22) Voidwalker is cursed and will compel the owner to accept any offer of a duel as though under the Geas spell.

A History (25) will reveal Voidwalker to have been the sword of Musashi, who founded the Dameshti Swordfighting college that offers the swan-pendant for excellence in combat. Musashi was gifted Voidwalker by a representative of Dispater after triumphing in 66 duels to the death. A great reward would be offered if it was returned to the College.

A History (28) check will reveal Voidwalker to have been recently in the ownership of Sejuren. Aware of a curse on the artefact, he gave it as a gift to Tyruk. Not trusting Sejuren, Tyruk gave it as a gift to Lomorit.

Religion (28) will reveal that Voidwalker is supposed to be wielded by a Herald (The Dancer in the Darkness) of the end of the world according to Order orthodoxy. To that end, they want the sword to destroy it.


Whisper
Rapier * Finesse Weapon
d8
Whisper is an enchanted sword cane. As such, it can be concealed as a walking stick. The pommel and hand-guard resemble the mouth of a serpent.
Bonuses: Even if drawn - and pressed against the throat of a foe – opponents will not recognise Whisper as a weapon unless actually attacked.
Once per day, Whisper can inflict the Paralysis condition on an opponent (DC 15 CON save. Save ends.)


Dunorbrandr
Greatsword. * 2d6
I SPIT THUNDER WITH A TONGUE LIKE MYTH is written up the blade in Giantish.

Bonus: 
Dunorbrandr may cast Thunderclap on a successful attack once per day. Instead of the usual sound of thunder, the weapon will simply roar DUNORBRANDR. Dunorbrandr deals lighting damage and stuns on a critical.

Secret: History 16 to reveal that Dunorbrandr once belonged to DRANG-WHO-ROARS, a Giant king who fought the first Elven Emperor of Damesht. If DUNORBRANDR is used to kill an Elf, it will reawaken, and speak to its owner.

Secret: History 22 to reveal that the Giant Chiefs in Zunia greatly desire the sword and will come for whoever wields it.  

Yilidrim
Longbow * 1d8
This bow is made of springy ash-white wood, and is intricately carved with an Aarakocra creation story, featuring the first male Aarakocra being born from a thunderbolt striking a man. The second image features him wearing a crown of thunderbolts and roaring. The third shows him prostrating before an unseen figure.

It grants the ability to fire an arrow once per day which functions as the Thunderbolt spell, as an attack action.

A History (22) will reveal that this bow has a sister, Firtina, which features the other half of the creation story. Both are important relics of Aarakocra culture and their return would be highly sought. 

Ghost-Tamer Staff
This staff is wooden, and along it, totem-like, are carved faces snarling and roaring.

A Religion (18) check will reveal that this is an Exorcist’s Staff, and will grant +2 to any roll pertaining to an exorcism or binding of an extraplanar spirit.

A Religion (26) check will reveal that the staff itself contains the spirits of minor celestials. They are the ancestors of the original wielder and can be communicated with by the wielder but are under no obligation to be truthful, helpful or polite. 

Lizardfolk Race (5e homebrew)

I see those presumptuous coastal wizards have finally got round to releasing playable Lizardfolk. Some of us have had playable Lizardfolk for ages, here's my take:

Lizardfolk are the scaled denizens of the swamps, mires and lowlands of Damesht. These creatures rarely leave their homes to adventure, and are thus considered oddities in most civilised regions, especially as their civilization lacks the refinement of other races: a contempt for luxury and a Stoic outlook have made them content to fish, hunt and praise their gods as they have for millennia. Most Lizardfolk are Rangers, Clerics or Druids.



Lizardfolk Traits
Ability Score Increase:
Your Constitution Score increases by 2 and your Wisdom Score increase by 1.
Age: Lizardfok reach maturity around the age of ten, and generally live to thirty or forty. This may be due to the stresses of their prelapsarian lifestyle, however.
Alignment: Lizardfolk communities revere tradition, custom and individuals, and do not have formal laws or government, and thus tend to be Chaotic. Lizardfolk fall fairly evenly on the Good-Evil axis.
Size: Lizardfolk are roughly human in size, and are thus Medium.
Speed: Your base walking and swimming speed are both 30ft.
Scaled Skin: Any damage you take from nonmagical bludgeoning, piercing or slashing is reduced by 3.
Languages: Lizardfolk do not have their own tongue, and may speak one of Draconic, Common, Goblinoid or Elvish.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Loquista Session Six - "Reaping the Whirlwind".

Reaping the Whirlwind

Dramatis Personae
Callie, Halfling Demon-hunter (Ranger)
Shousa, Lizardfolk Elder (Ranger)
Vaina Moiynen, Half Orc Thug (Barbarian)
Kavarus, Tiefling Cloak-and-Dagger man (Bard)
Landar Farsheild, Half-Elven Assassin (Rogue/Fighter/Warlock)

The Heroes of North Corner set about ehir next plan: they would rely on Three Times Jack to fabricate an order implicating Grand Marshall Tyruk in an assassination of Dean Cerelesta – hoping this would result in further fighting between the Tyruk and Sejuren-supporting factions in the Despotate, and ideally weaken Sejuren’s dominance in the Council of Nine.

After a brief fight in the arena where they made short work of a rival adventuring party from Zunia, they began to plan their attack on the University tower. Reconnaissance came in two forms – Kavarus using his Disguise Self to uncover a series of trapped steps in the tower as a failsafe, and Shousa inhabiting the sense of minor insects to see that an aerial support on the tower faced a powerful static cloud. They knew Cerelesta was a mage of considerable power as well as a Cambion with the ability to fly or beguile mortals.

The plan: Callie, Vaina and Shousa would enter under false pretences and position themselves as best they could, signalling for Kavarus in Giant Eagle form to strike Cerelesta whilst carrying Landar to prevent an airborne escape.

After an unconvincing bird cry, Kavarus flew through a window, magically resisting the static cloud. Landar’s deadly swords flashed, dropping a flurry of deadly sneak attacks on the frail Cambion. Cerelesta unleashed her Dimension Door, positioning herself at a  distance to gain her vengeance, not realising her current guests were in league with her assassilants. Vaina Moiynen convinced her of her mistake, viciously cutting her with Voidwalker as he flew into a rage.  The swarm of imps that accompanied the fiendish witch covered him, ant-like, and stung relentless, and Vaina roared in pain at the sheer number of stings, breaking through even his iron constitution with infernal poison.

With the force of a hurricane, winds flooded out of the portal and assailed our heroes and imp alike, and Cerelesta’s ally, Hazik, Knight of the Nine Winds, a mighty air elemental, strode forth to do battle. Cerelesta quickly conquered Landar’s mind with Dominate Person, and set his knives-for-hire at Vaina’s back. Shousa and her undead servant Zathras set to cutting down the imps as tornado winds flung the party around the room, growing ever stronger.

As the battle wore on, Cerelesta leapt the window, choosing instead to assail the party from the open air as the Elemental Plane of Air disgorged its fury in the tower. Landar, freed of his mental dominion, attempted to leap the window and cut her down. A leap of faith.

Faith misplaced – Landar plummeted downwards and was only saved by Kavarus’s quick wits and quicker wings. Shousa’s deadly scythe eviscerated Hazik, and imps fell like corn before the thresher as the party rallied. It was Callie’s well-placed arrow that ended Cerelesta as she flew to the window to strike once again with a Fireball. A single arrow through the eye, and Loquista was ruled by a Council of Eight.

Cerelesta’s once composed self rocketed to the roof off the university, her bones shattering like glass. Landar and Kavarus scaled the tower’s exterior to loot her magical treasures – and the party loaded up on fine opiates before fleeing the scene of their second high-profile Loquistan assassination. In his haste to claim the accoutrements of Loquista’s premiere sorceress, Kavarus slipped, and got an impressive scar to show the more daring ladies of the Mucky Duck Tavern.

“I never let going to school interfere with my education.” Mark Twain.

Villains Vanquished: 16.
Pensioners Mugged: 1.
Dramatic Rescues: 1.
Treasures:
 - A ring of the Cult of Ourboros.
- A glass earring.
- A collection of hallucinogenic opiates.
- A pendant.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Monster Worldviews





It’s funny how much what you read can affect how your thinking. I finished John Gardner’s Grendel this week, and like a Twilight reading teenage girl, I feel a slavish devotion to our anti-hero – #TeamGrendel! Grendel’s nihilistic, solipsistic, misanthropic asides - his utter contempt for the hubris of Hrothgar, the braggadocio of Beowulf - make him a charming poster-boy for any of my fellow English graduates who secretly knew Beowulf was a Mary Sue twat.

Returning to D&D, though, it is a novel rich in poetry (although Grendel might hate the term) and the worldview of a creature that is inimical to civilization and kings and heroism and narrative and almost everything else that could be characterised as ‘Lawful’ or ‘Good’ in the masturbatory cosmology Westerners thought of for their elf games.



Here’s some snippets:

“I understood the world was nothing: a mechanical chaos of brute enmity on which we stupidly impose our hopes and fears.”

And a conquered meadhall:

“None had been eaten. The watchdogs lay like dark wet stones, with their heads cut off, teeth bared. The fallen hall was a square of flames and acrid smoke and the people inside (none of them had been eaten either)) were burned black, small, like dwarfs turned dark and crisp.”

And at nationalism and narratives:

“..to the howling and clapping and stomping of men gone mad on art. They would seize the oceans, the furthest stars, the deepest secret rivers in Hrothgar’s name! Men wept like children, children sat stunned. It went on and on, a fire more dread than any visible fire.”

Religion:



“Theology does not thrive in the world of action and reaction, change: it grows on calm, like the scum on a stagnant pool..”

Your traditional D&D foe, even those Orcs who have their first literary mention in Beowulf, aren’t truly chaotic or inimical to civilization. Orc culture is normally based on raiding and pillage and combat – nothing separates an Orc from an Anglo-Saxon but perspective (“…that those wild Saxons, of accursed name, hated by God and men, should be admitted into the island, like wolves into folds…” – Gildas). Grendel thinks everything: from law, to poetry, to kingship, is a sort of enormous lie painted on a world that is truly about opposition (to each other, to the world). Grendel even takes a dim view of heroism as an act, a performance.

This is the perspective of a monster – Camus with teeth.  A monster that actively wants to oppose heroes and everything that stand for. This is chaotic – Grendel lurking at the rim of the world.

As I metaphorically closed the book on my Kindle, I immediately added to a mountain range of my game world a fecundity of Grendelvolk, waiting for heroes to oppose.



In contrast, I watched American Horror Story: Hotel around the same time. In the world of AHS, there is a persistent post-modern drive to humanise perspectives. In the initial few episodes, Countess Gaga is an immortal, ineffable monstrosity who rules the Hotel Cortez with the unthinking feline cruelty of a tigress. By the end of the season, she’s a sympathetic, lovestruck teenage, and has been metaphorically defanged. She ceases to be a monster and becomes another person to identify with.

Whilst most of my players enemies, rivals and allies are human-like beings with recognisable, relatable motivations…..I think a capital-‘M’ monster should be a monster. It is what you are not. It exists to oppose you. “Poor Grendel’s had an accident. I whisper. “So may you all.”


Thursday, 3 November 2016

"Who is Black Annis?"

In the latest session recap, the party vanquished Black Annis. Here's her backstory:

The Tragedy of Black Annis

The Elves had come from across the sea. That was all anyone had known : an empire of splendour and magic across a thousand miles of salt and spray  - if you sailed to the very horizon before God’s baleful eye rose, they said, you’d see the Elven  homeland where people lived forever and every man ate his fill. Beasts could speak, and even paupers lived for a thousand years.

It was a second son who came to this island with glory in his heart and a sword in his hand – and they called this land Damesht  - High-Elven for ‘across the sea’. The Kingdoms of Man were small, and divided, and one-by-by the Elves conquered them with sorcerous might and utter ruthlessness. Their thunder-loud voices had sounded across the farmland, and announced that they were as gods, and we as ants, and that the men of what now was Damesht should be rapturous to lie at their feet rather than be exterminated.

But the Second Son and First King, who took the name Idrlyn, knew his numbers were few. As the North and West of Damesht were subjugated, he knew that every Elven life lost was like a hundred men, and that war was not the only way to bring the human ants to heel.

As he pursued his war against the Giant-Chiefs of Zunia, he offered his fourth daughter: gentle Annis, to the king of Loquista. Should he take the Swan-Emperor’s daughter to wife, he would accept vassalage and rule as a chosen king. His line would grow strong with Elven blood, and sorcery would run in the veins of his descendants until the end of time. King Bedergeid eagerly accepted, and the wedding was planned outside the city walls, in full view of a the marshalled might of Idrlyn and the assembled forces of Loquista – Bedergeid’s army preparing to join the Swan-Emperor’s crusade against the Ordning of the Giants – titan-worshippers and bringers of chaos – as soon as the marriage was consummated.

Bedergeid had made his agreement for his city and his line – but as he wandered the swamps the night before his weeding, he came across his betrothed. Whilst there were miles of fen and mire and covered in pavilions where the finest Elven wine and Loquistan rum could be drank, and raucous parties occurred – Annis had chosen to come here, a glade, and there tend to the wildlife. Even though she had a mastery of terrible magicks, she spent her sorcery on the wounds of sparrows, the distress of newts and the palsies of murk-fish.

Bedergeid fell in love then, and they lay together in the swamp, and Annis exhalted, for her husband was kind, and she was with child.

As they wandered to the pavilions, Bedergeid noted he a group of men silhouetted against the festivities. These were all warriors and knights of his army, standing still with dreadful purpose.

“Never shall Elf rule over man in Loquista. We will not bow to your foreign whore.”

Bedergeid realised too late that he faced true steel, and he was cut down before he could reach for his sword. Annis was thrown to the ground and beaten and raped, and left to the mercies of the swamp.

When morning rolled around, the Swan-Emperor awoke to a declaration of war from the Eternally Free City of Loquista. First, his army rampaged through wedding party, cutting down the flower of Loquistan nobility as they awoke from sleep. His army surged over the city, which now bristled with the traitor’s forces, and crushed Loquista. As he watched the city burn, and saw the inhabitants slaughtered in the street, he spoke a baleful curse on the city:

Let them know only tyranny. Let them always feel the agony of their children’s death. Let them fill the seas with their blood.

Deep in the mud, a distended eyeball floated on an oracular stalk – a satellite to a broken face. A quiver of consciousness, and a single thought:

“Yes, father.”


Loquista Session 5 - "Something Wicked This Way Comes."

Something Wicked This Way Comes

Dramatis Personae:

Callie Tealeaf, Halfling Ranger and demon-hunter.
Kavarus, Tiefling Bard and social butterfly.
Eoighan, Order Fanatic and Dwarven Druid.
Landar Farshield, Half-Elven Rogue/Fighter, spook and unknowing pawn of The Morrigan.

Out of character: Thanks to a blown fuse, an enormous chunk of this session occurred in pitch darkness. This was atmospheric but also bloody inconvenient.

With a drastically reduced party strength, the Heroes of North Corner had bedded down and made camp in the swamps of Loquista to face off against Black Annis – luring the monster with Sessassurak, son of the Lizardfolk Chief, as bait. Their base was a ruined watch tower suspended on an outcropping in the mire – traversing the mire was a struggle so they wanted dry land in which to do battle (the mire is difficult terrain, and if you end your turn in it you need to sacrifice your standard to move again).

As night descended, silence fell over the camp, and the scattered Heroes of North Corner glimpsed, standing atop the tower, the ethereal figure of Black Annis stood, grave-quiet and presiding over the scene with the predatory splendour of a hawk.

The party readied their actions for violence, and Annis jaunted – moving as a ghost through any solid object in her path, to the very centre of the party, where she unleashed her Banshee’s Scream. A noise as solid as granite burst the skulls of our Heroes, and Kavarus and Landar succumbed, falling unconscious instantly. It was at this point the party realised two other threats – that the murk and ire around them was growing and overtaking dry land, and that in the dark a horde of undead shapes were making their inexorable march towards the party.

Finding their mortal arms barely affected Annis’ spiritual form, they looked on in horror as she grasped Sessassurak and moved, incorporeal, past the party to the tower. Desperation set in as the party scrambled to rouse their downed allies and rescue Sessassurak from the clutches of the hag-queen of the Loquista mire. With the party ranged on one side of her, Annis unleashed her foulest power – turning the very air into a choking miasma of death with a Cloudkill spell which enveloped most of the party.

Landar sprung to action duelling Annis with his serpent-quick blades – they had cut an Arch-Fey after all! Whilst his blades did little but inconvenience Annis, they allowed Sessassurak time to escape. At this point the party realised that Annis has set her heart ultimately on claiming the young reptile as she had countless other children, and quickly put themselves between the mire witch and her prey. Noting that Annis would not harm Sessassurak, they also endeavoured to prevent the dreaded Cloudkill rolling over the party by keeping Sessassurak tactically nearby. Sessassurak himself, eager to show his mettle before the envoys of the gods, and buoyed by his friendship with Kavarus, struck mightily with his spear. Meanwhile, Callie rode her panther across the mire, keeping Anni’s resurrected Dameshti wights at bay before the swamp embroiled her precarious footing.

As the rising swamp waters devoured the camp, the party held strong in the ruined tower in the midst of the swamp, and there defied Annis’ might and magicks. Kavarus fell in the retreat, his unconscious body almost overwhelmed by the Cloudkill before Eoighan cured his wounds. With just twenty feet of dry land remaining, the party traded blows with Annis, eager to bring the fight to a conclusion before they disappeared beneath the murk.

 There, eager to stomp the life from her as resources were stretched thin, Kavarus and Eoighan both Polymorphed into Triceratops form, eager to trample Annis into the mire before the swamp consumed them all. In a final act, Annis became ethereal with Eoighan, and surged upwards, dropping the phantom dinosaur down in the midst of the party – only Landar’s quick reflexes saved him from death. Callie fired Yilidrim’s legendary lightning arrow which illuminated the whole scene before thudding uselessly into the tower’s wall as she missed. Fear rose like bile in the party’s throat as they looked upon the inexorable swamp waters closing in. In a last moment of desperation, Landar vanquished Annis with his sword, and the waters began to recede. As her hag-like, bestial features sloughed away, the ghost of an Elven maiden remained, who wandered sullenly through the swamp.

The party pursued, to find her weeping over a grave half a mile away. They quickly set about excavating the grave, to find Bedergeid, the last King of Loquista, lying in the murk. On his corpse were two objects: an enchanted ring and the hour-glass Cerelesta had bade them find.

The party identified both objects – Bedergeid’s wedding ring, which was also a ring of Spell-Storage, and that the hour-glass could take life-force from one being into another, making them young or older or extending life-spans at will – a gift from the Dameshti overlords to human servants to tie them to Elvish largesse.

Judging that Cerelesta could not be trusted with an object of such power, they returned to the city intending to deceive her.  Upon returning to her room, choked in opium-smoke, to speak with her imp emissary whilst she reclined, Kavarus lied: the hourglass was destroyed in the fighting and could not be recovered. Imperceptibly, Cerelesta’s right eyebrow arched cynically.

The imp grinned, and offered to make good on the bargain anyway. The Planar Orrery creaked and whirred, as the imp asked clarifying questions: “The man you seek’s destiny is entwined with your own. He fought monsters? He wields a two-handed sword? He is bold? He is lost on another plane? He is a warrior of the light?” Throughout, the party answered in the affirmative, as a shape formed in the smoky depths of the summoning circle. The imp giggled and finally said “Is he a righteous man?”
At the moment the party saw the shape that had been summoned into the circle: that of Righteous-Fire-Scours-Clean-The-World, once tyrant of North Corner and knight of the Order of the Resplendent Star, whom the party had banished to the Abyss after he tried to bring them to justice as North Corner burned around them.

The path to paradise begins in hell.” Dante Alighieri

Villains Vanquished: 11
Treasure: 0gp
Mighty Magi mugged off: 1

Magic Items claimed: 2

Making Languages Make Sense

This is not a set of rules I would use in my game, because I love simplicity, but something that has always baffled me is how D&D uses languages as it is so divorced from how languages function. Now, people in most of the medieval milieu that we draw D&D’s inspiration from are broadly mutli-lingual, with a degree of competency necessary for basic bartering or diplomacy, although this varies massively by region (Central Asia has a high degree of linguistic variety, Tang China does not). I’d only use them in a game-world languages are highly relevant and politicised as they are in reality (chiefly, one in which the lingua franca of Common does not exist). I consider myself to ‘speak Spanish’ – what this means if I can broadly (often with major mistakes) get my point across and be understood in most day-to-day situations, and can get by in a conversation. I can’t read Lorca or discuss anything complex or with specialist jargon or speak an obscure dialect.

At a stroke, of a fleet of fancy, my Gnomish Sorcerer knows Elvish. This entitles him to be able to speak to anyone who speaks Elvish in the universe; to understand Elvish texts that are millennia old, to joke in Elvish, to speak Elvish with exactly the same fluency as a native speaker.

In the real world, let’s say my Gnomish Sorcerer learns English. If we used D&D logic, he’d be able to have a conversation about the legality of Brexit without a Parliamentary vote, he’d be able to read Beowulf in the original text, he’d be able to chat up a barmaid or discuss Quantum Physics or order a drink – these are all represented as equal feats of proficiency represented as having ‘English’ on your character sheet. They can speak English to a speaker in Delhi as easily as in Edmonton. They can speak to a swaggering Brummie rude-boy and an Old Etonian without batting an eyelid.

This gets even more bizarre when the language can be Celestial, or Draconic. Who the fuck learns conversational Abyssal? These languages clearly have niche utility beyond the needs of esoteric scholars or cultists or some such. Clearly they needed to be handed differently.

Here’s how I’d fix it.

You have three levels of proficiency in any giving language.

Basic: You can discuss the weather and order a drink or ask for directions in this language. Anything else is beyond you, and Charisma checks are made with disadvantage if using this language. (1 point)
Fluent: You can make alliances, chat someone up and get by in almost all day-to-day situations. (2 points)
Scholarly: You can read ancient, academic or highly specialist texts in this language and understand them. Think reading Foucault in the original French. Only ‘scholarly’ classes (Wizard, Cleric, Warlock, Bard) or those with a relevant background (Scholar, Sage etc) may choose this option. (3 points)

Each class gets a number of points – let’s say ten – modified by double their intelligence modifier.  You’re automatically fluent in your mother-tongue. You can spend them as you wish  - be able to ask for directions in any region or be an expert in Elvish and Dwarven?

To fix the absurdity of street-rats gibbering away in conversational Draconic, exotic languages (Abyssal, Infernal etc) costs double points. 

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Introducing Aya (and another contributor)!

Dear readers of The Last Day Dawned; those of you with eagle-eyes may have noticed a secondary contributor recently joining the illustrious Mr Soper.  I am that secondary contributor; I play with Corey in his North Corner campaign as first Tazzak Redscale and then Karvarus Tobias and I run a campaign in which Corey plays as his favourite (anti?)Hero; Righteous Fire Cleans and Scours the World.  My campaign is set roughly 15-20 years before the North Corner campaign (which has its own set of challenges that I’m sure will be discussed in another article) and is called; Aya.  I would like to bring you up to speed with the Aya campaign and perhaps relieve Corey of his topic posting duties, if only temporarily.

Characters;
Arkus – A mysterious and contemptuous Tiefling Sorceror.
Dorjan – An Air Genasi Monk and worshipper of the Iron Tyrant.
Enid – A shy, reclusive human Warlock.
Ikki – An Aarakocra Ranger struggling to make his way in an alien world.
Righteous Fire Cleans and Scours the World – Devout human Paladin of the Iron Tyrant.
Theresa Levasseur (Tess) – Roguish scallywag half-elf pirate, eager to find her lost ship.

Aya is the name of the World and plane that our characters inhabit.  Our adventurers (I am loathe to call them heroes) were called to the mining town of Whetstone in the country of Teres to help rescue a number of civilians who were seemingly lost within the Chiara Mine by the town Duke; Jon Milner.  After a brief sojourn into the mine our characters discovered a strange Artifact that was spirited away by Dark Ones as they battled Gibbering Mouthers that the Artifact had created.  They returned to the town with two rescued civilians in tow to find that Jon Milner had been taken ill and his son, Jacob (who was possessed by an unknown, evil entity) had taken control of Whetstone.

Jacob asked for the characters to retrieve the Artifact with the premise that it would heal his father.  Jacob’s sister, Sephina, requested that the characters somehow heal Jacob of his supernatural affliction during a night-time encounter.  The leader of the Merchant’s Guild, a large, opulent man by the name of Mardouk Vabadou also asked for the Artifact as a collector and purveyor of such relics, while bribing one of the party members with a particularly powerful item that had unknown (and sinister) properties.  The party were missing a few members, so decided to help the local brothel; Annabelles, locate a number of missing ladies.  This led them to an Alchemist by the name of Alkarist who told them that an experimental creature of his had been released into the sewers below and this may be the cause of the missing women.

Arkus, Dorjan, Enid and Tess progressed into the sewers where they fought a many- tentacled and foul creature that seemed to heal as it consumed the various prisoners of its lair with its gigantic maw.  The tenuous party managed to kill the beast, almost losing a member in the process and saving a young girl and a young woman.  Here the party split; Arkus and Dorjan went to Annabelles to collect their reward and to return the young woman while Enid and Tess took the young girl back to her “mother” - a Dragonborn priestess who was responsible for a temple dedicated to Bahamut which doubled as a makeshift Orphanage.  Arkus and Dorjan received their pay from Annabelle and left to head to Alkarists’.  Enid and Tess received a blessing from Zenrish the Dragonborn priestess before also leaving for Alkarists’.

Here I will break from the narrative for a moment to offer a few things I learnt as a new DM during these 3 or 4 sessions (the first session was about 8 hours long during a weekend);
The first thing I would mention is that my sessions during this period (and probably a few afterward) were planned to the most minute detail.  There are many characters, hooks and combat encounters that never happened and likely never will.  This is no bad thing, characters can be rehashed into new ones or simply reused in another setting, combat encounters and hooks with appropriate quests can be transferred to other locales.  Slowly I “let go” and realised that I would have to improvise much of the time anyway, so I might as well plan less and “go with the flow”.   I don’t think this is something that can be taught or learnt, it is something that grows and comes with experience.  That is not to say that I stopped preparing sessions, but my session preparation would focus not on what “the players might do” and more “what the NPCs in this environment might do”.  One of the most important things for me is to make the NPCs feel real, so they have drivers, they have aims, they have ambitions and they will move towards them, regardless of whether the characters choose to do anything or not.

The second thing I would state is that during this period and as time went on I slowly learnt to read the players better.  Some players are more confident than others at role-playing, some players are tacticians and love to focus on combat while others like to charge in without thinking too much, some players want to focus on the story while others want to get to the next combat as quickly as possible.  Reading these different players, getting a feel for their play styles and most of all realising when they were getting bored or losing interest was key for me as a new DM.  It helped me manage the sessions much better and introduce various ideas to help alleviate some potential “boredom traps”.  I will talk about this in much more detail at another time, but if you are a new DM, don’t be offended if your players give you the signs of impending boredom – use them to identify what is boring the player and try to manage it during your sessions.

The final thing I would like to say is that I learnt probably the most important lesson (for me at least) during this period – I learnt to read myself.  After a particularly bad session I looked not at the players to see what I could’ve done differently for them, instead I looked inward.  I think the reason I did so is because before the session I just knew it was going to be a bad one.  I wasn’t in the mood for it, work had been particularly stressful and I didn’t really want to be there – all these things added up to make the session quite poor, as one might expect.  Needless to say before the next session I ran I made sure as best I could that I was in a good mood and it made a massive difference.  As daft as it sounds I now listen to my favourite music, drink a bit of coffee and do anything else I can the few hours before the start of a session to make my mood as positive as possible.

What follows is the first session recap that was put online in our secret group on Facebook, for posterity’s sake.  It immediately follows the events of the sessions above. This session was interesting to manage, as two players rejoined the group at different times, one at the start of the session and another (who happened to be Mr Soper!) during the middle of the session.  You will notice the session recaps slowly get longer and more elaborate as I get used to their production.

Aya Session 5 – Digging to Deepmire

Characters;
Arkus – A Tiefling Sorceror with a penchant for acquiring items of considerable power.
Dorjan – An Air Genasi Monk and who falls but always gets up, worshipper of the Iron Tyrant.
Enid – A morally dubious human Warlock.
Ikki – An Aarakocra Ranger struggling to make his way in a strange world with strange colleagues (joined at the start of the session).
Righteous Fire – Devout and pious human Paladin of the Iron Tyrant (joined mid-session).
Theresa Levasseur (Tess) – Roguish scallywag half-elf pirate and slayer of experimental creatures.

After defeating Alkarist the Alchemists' experimental creature, Tess, Enid, Arkus and Dorjan all went to meet Alkarist to collect their reward. Choosing a leisurely stroll over a sprint, by the time our adventurer's arrived at Alkarists' they found it to be under the guardship of two of Jacob's loyal and most powerful enhanced foot-soldiers.

After a brief discourse Jacob revealed himself, he explained that Alkarist was unavailable and was unhappy at the lack of any attempt to retrieve the Artifact. After some particularly clumsly discourse from Ikki, the heroes were told to go to bed or to be imprisoned. The adventurers chose the latter and stayed at the Azure Ankheg Inn for the evening.

The following day Tess, Enid, Arkus, Dorjan and Ikki enjoyed a brief and varied breakfast before being bothered again by one of Jacob's goons, who suggested that his "master" was not happy that they had attempted to go back into the mines and that they should make haste before Jacob decided to employ another band of adventurers. A large sack of gold was provided for the party with the promise of more to follow. Ikki realised that the Artifact was the same shiny object he was *so close* to retrieving in the mines and flew as quickly as possible to the site where the Dark Ones were first encountered. The rest of the party followed, at the appropriate leisurely pace.

When the party eventually grouped up they progressed through the same tunnel the mysterious Dark Ones had apparently fled through some days before. During a close encounter with some Ankhegs, Righteous appeared using his blessed travel stone and the group ploughed on. It was ironic they ploughed, as the claustrophobic tunnel opened onto a farm area where Undercabbages were seemingly grown in vast quantities. The party here encountered unusual psychic vegetables which after much fire, confusion and headache (quite literally) were dispatched.

Travelling further still down into the depths of the cavernous Chiara mine system the adventures next stumbled upon Deepmire, a Dwarven town in a state of ruin, disrepair, death and abandonment. Here all members apart from Tess travelled straight to the lab, unwittingly setting off an archaic alarm system that awoke golems created from the very walls of the lab only for them to be destroyed and re-purposed (enter Chester –a Golem literally made of a chest and under the control of Righteous Fire). A number of ‘Boomsticks’ or ‘Exploserous Carneleans’ (read – Dynamite) were also discovered by Dorjan.

Tess disappeared from the party during the battle with the golems and returned later with a smile on her face, a new sword at her side and a sprightly gait to her walk.

Artist's Depiction of Chester the Chest Golem


Explosives discovered – 8
Golems destroyed – 2
Golems (Chester) created – 1
Legendary swords discovered – 1
Psychic vegetables slain - 3

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Loquista Session 4 - "Chooser of the Slain."

Characters:
Callie Tealeaf, Halfling Ranger and demon-hunter.
Vaina Moynen, Half-Orc Barbarian-Fighter and thug.
Kavarus, Tiefling Bard and social butterfly.
Pheobus Arouk, the Radiant Light, Goliath Warlock.
Eoighan, Order Fanatic and Dwarven Druid.
Landar Farshield, Half-Elven Rogue/Fighter and spook.



The Heroes of North Corner, recuperating in the Broken Fang Inn wafter their high-profile murder of Radoslig, gathered at breakfast after five days to find a member of the party, Durlin, has fled in the night. A brief respite for the cabin-fever of the Inn afforded them a view of the Loquista public: tense, twitchy, on the verge of protest -as the grain shortages hit. Their own ship, The Sea Spider, was nowhere to be seen at the docks, as was the vast wealth their grain speculation had accrued and most of the pirates. The insectile wizard Durlin had taken to the seas on a quest of his own.
The party decided to devote their time to the return of another misplaced party member – Pheobus Arouk, the Radiant Light, who had swan-dived into the endless chaos of the Positive Plane to escape the fury of the Clockwork Wyrm the week before. To that end, they explored the vast libraries of the Loquista Collegiate, climbing the great sky-piercing tower that menaces the Loquista skyline.

Upon entry, our heroes were stopped in their track by Cerelesta’s doorman: a grotesquely overweight imp, hanging from the door, vestigial wings utterly incapable of propulsion. Kavarus tried and failed to bargain with the creature, yet it met every verbal thrust with a speedy riposte – demonstrating an intellectual alacrity not matched by physical presence.

Vaina, every the pragmatist, grabbed the imp by the throat and held him over the edge of the tower. Thus they were granted an audience with Cerelesta, the Dean of the Collegiate and member of the Council of Nine.

This precise, angular woman sat on a throne carved from manticore-bone, surrounded by circular beds with a harem-canopies on which frolicked a rotund panoply of imps writhing in sexual excitement, yawning in deep repose, smoking opiates or grinning behind transparent cerise.  She ignored the heroes and continued to breathe deep of her opium-pipe.

Kavarus spoke up first, asking if Cerelestra could find a means of travelling between planes. She responded by activating her Planar Orrery above their heads, clockwork clicking into life. Kavurus then intoned that they were looking for a certain Arouk. The Magi exhaled, the smoke forming a representation of Arouk. 

Kavurus then asked what the Dean could possibly want by way of recompense. Cerelestra exhaled, the smoke forming a representation of a singular object: a hourglass-shape filled with motes of dust; belonging to a certain hag in the swamps of Loquista known as Black Annis.

The Heroes of North Corner soon strode out to the city gate and whilst being processed by the Loquistan Guards they came across Landar Farshield. A terse conversation revealed that the grizzled Half-Elf also desired Teshei’s overthrow for reason of his own, and he agreed to help them in their current endeavour in return for being inducted into the Resistance.

In the swamps, past where Arouk had once meditated to create a lasting connection to the Positive Energy Plane they first witnessed the silvery, transparent form of Arouk. Deep in the brilliant abyss of the Positive Energy Plane, Arouk had meditated and found a way to project a simulacrum of his spirit into the Prime Material to aide his friends. Incapable of touching any object or individual, he could only imbue others with his light. To demonstrate his mastery, he briefly possessed and humiliated Kavurus*.

Trawling through the swamps, trying to triangulate Cerelestra’s prize with judicious use of Find Object, they come across a party of Lizardfolk performing some kind of ceremonial dance beside a tree. Arouk, deciding that it was completely within his programming to impersonate a deity, emerged from the tree in order to beguile the Lizardfolk into the party’s service.

Using his newfound religious calling, Arouk quickly learnt that Black Annis was not the only supernatural terror haunting the endless mire outside Loquista – there was also the Crow Queen, a wandering spirit who constantly harried the Lizardfolk for their peaceable ways and tried to drive them towards viciousness, vendetta and violence. Black Annis largely left them to their devices, but occasionally would snatch an errant child who wandered too far from protection.

The Heroes of North Corner pledged to combat the Crow Queen, and staged an elaborate duel at twilight to attract her attention. Vaina and Eoighan agreed to stage a duel, forming a circle. As Eoighan began by taking the form of a bear and swatting at Vaina – sure that they were simply sparring – Vaina assaulted him with utter violence, testing to the phenomenal power of his new blade, Voidwalker. Within minutes, Eoighan was at the point of death, and it became apparent that Vaina was fighting to the very knife. For Voidwalker, veteran of a thousand duels, was cursed to drive its master to accept any duel offered, and ensure that it was combat to the end. As Eoighan shifted form to form, mirroring his opponent’s bloodlust in animal shape, it became clear he was outmatched by the swallow-swift lacerations of the unseen blade. He fell, and Vaina, quivering with rage, anticipation and bloodlust, managed to hold himself back from slaying his friend, giving the Druid a disfiguring scar instead.

Seeing this contest, The Morrigan came: a towering, leather-skinned, knife-sharp crone astride a horse fit for a Storm Giant: with raven-black hair and eyes cold as polar skies she observed Vaina’s prowess. Unseen, Landar crept nearer The Morrigan, crawling through mire and fen until he could see the fog of her breath and smell the sweat of her steed.

Then, he leapt, slicing her with cold steel. The brutal sneak attack would have easily ended a mortal, but the Morrigan survived it easily. Kavarus and Callie followed suit with a flurry of arrows and damaging magic, which the Morrigan ignored, surrounding Kavarus and Landar in a Blade Barrier with casual disdain. Kavarus gave Landar a leg-up to scale the Barrier, feet missing the whirring storm of death by inches, dropping to one knee and rolling, eager to cross steel with a goddess again. Seeing himself outmatched, Landar offered his sword -and claimed he was simply showing his courage to the Chooser of the Slain. Amused by such vainglory, The Morrigan demanded Landar pass a singular test. She focussed her power on him for a second – his skin cracked and decayed, his flesh shrank and drooped and his heart quaked, humming-bird fast, as he resisted the deathly power.

Having survived, The Morrigan named Landar one of her champions – a Knight of the Crow. The party directed her to seek death and battlefields in the streets and arenas of Loquista, rather than the swamps, earning the affection of the Lizardfolk clans.

Returning to their camp, Arouk delivered a divine proclamation. Knowing that Black Annis would only be tempted to feed by a youth, Arouk demanded that the Lizardfolk give up a child from among their number to be trained in the warrior-ways of the Gods – the same arts that allowed them to drive away The Morrigan. The Chief’s precocious son, Sessassurak was volunteered in an instant – the Clan Mothers in rapt adulation that such a warrior come be from the ruling line.

Camp was made as twilight fell at a spot known to be a prowling ground for Annis. Against the crackle of the campfire and the endless buzz of swamp-life, Sessassurak babbled with question – was Loquista, the great shadow on his swamp home, as splendid as they said? Was it sinful, avaricious; a shark-sharp place of subterfuge and salt, as the Clan Mothers said? Would he be mightier than Quizitsutsch? Mighty enough to hew an oak? What tribe was Kavarus from?

Against the fusillade of questions, there was a sudden silence in the swamp.

In the distance, a keening wail.

Night falls.

"The raven himself is hoarse
That croaks the fatal entrance..." Hamlet

Religions Founded: 1
Faustian Bargains: 3
Villains Vanquished: 0.
Treasure: 0gp
Sacrificial Lambs acquired: 1



Saturday, 1 October 2016

Loquista Session 3 - “Brightest Candle, Longest Shadow.”

Session Recap – “Brightest Candle, Longest Shadow.”



Characters:
Vaina Moyen, Orcish mercenary.
Kavorous, Tiefling cloak-and-dagger man.
Noone, Gnome Revolutionary.
Aruk, Goliath Crusader.
Callie, Halfing Ranger and irresponsible pet-owner.
Rear Admiral Durlin, Gnomish Wizard and Pirate-King.
Eoighan, Dwarven Druid and Order fanatic.

At the start of this session, the players announced their intention to accept Lomorit’ offer to assassinate Radoslig, the corrupt, boorish Chancellor of Loquista. Lomorit had dangled a cache of magical weapons as renumeration, and there was the chance of destabilising the regime by assassinating a key figure.

Using the intimate knowledge of the city’s waterways supplied by Lomorit, the Heroes of North Corner covertly entered Radoslig’s pile through the sewers, quickly emerging into the grandiose dining hall that Radoslig’s corruption had won him. All around the players sensed a powerful aura of magic, especially in the darkness above them. Pawing through Radoslig’s silent house with the benefit of Pass Without Trace, they came across some minor treasures: an extravagant cape-and-tabard named The Sovereign’s Raiment and a magical dress-dagger. Hearing the moaning of a female figure, they further devlved into Radoslig’s Kunstkammer. There, they uncovered a living mosaic who strove to communicate with the party wordlessly, tempting them to walk across her surface despite the gaping mouth and nebulous intent. The party decided discretion was the greater part of valour, despite Noone’s attempts to use illusion magic to lure Kavorous into the Mosaic Mistress’ maw. Frustrated with his comrades’ inability to focus, Vaina surged upstairs, eager to slay Radoslig in his bed. The party followed suit.

On the upper floor were yet more baubles purchased by Radoslig in his long years of excess: suspended from the ceiling of the Grand Hall below was the enormous skeleton of a dragon, radiating a powerful aura of magic; covered in brass and clockwork. Understandably wary, the Heroes of North Corner continued their search for Radoslig’s bed, coming across an enchanted mirror that allowed a practioner of magick to contact another plane. Aruk, feeling this was a sign from his Patron and eager to light a candle in this darkest of places, contacted the Positive Energy plane.

An incandescence like the sun itself issued forth from the Mirror, and all the players were blinded. Fumbling in a pearl-white haze of purest Positive Energy, they heard the roar of a dragon and the whirring of titanic clockwork. It had awakened.

As the light dimmed, the players marshalled their resources to defy the dragon, which breathed burning steam and struck with jaws of bone and bronze, clawing its way through the home to devour the intruders. Vaina, mind ever set on the mission, strode into the bedroom, axe in hand, and saw Radoslig lying in bed with a quadruple amputee. With his honed reflexes, he brought the axe down on Chancellor and bedmate both, belonging only to his rage and his singular purpose. There could be no witnesses. Meanwhile, the Heroes of North Corner weathered the might of the clockwork dragon as guards streamed up the stairs. Masterful use of magic kept the guards at bay with Callie’s arrows slaying many. Eoighan cast Speak with Dead on the mechanical monstrosity: all then bore witness to its scream, with the force of a hurricane: W H A T    H A V E    Y O U    D O N E    T O   M E
Eoighan desperately tried to talk down the dragon’s spirit despite its roars of defiance and its rending of the mansion, but soon ascertained that the spirit was no longer guiding the bone: artifice, not animus, ruled this horror.

One by one, they fled. Vaina leapt from the window, impaling himself in the fence in his escape attempt, carrying with him the head or Radoslig. Kavorous polymorphed into a hawk and whisked the head away into the saturnine night for reasons unknown. Callie and Noone fled through the crowd, seeing a growing assembly of Loquistan soldiers, guards and marines assembling outside this glowing house as the skeletal dragon bellowed its fury across the night. Eoighan in the guise of a mouse, stole across the city to the docks. Across the city, Loquistans quaked in their beds at the scream and roars and strange lights.

In Radoslig’s  crumbling mansion, Aruk returned a bellow of pure defiance, trading blow-for-blow in the luminosity that poured forth from the Mirror. Durlin unloaded an inferno on bronze-scales and gears and smouldering bone to be found wanting; Aruk’s mighty hews glanced from unfeeling metal and long-dead bone.  Durlin fled first – skittish and spider-like he danced across the rooftops without a backwards glance.

Aruk stood alone before all the might of artifice and the arcane, arms shaking as he held his sword aloft. Aruk stood alone.

He traded blow for blow – steam reddening his skin, claws rending his flesh, spraying scarlet life-blood on the pure-white light that still poured forth from the window. He fell once, and rose again: a gift from his glimmering patron. Still, the engine and gears turned, willing dead bone against Aruk, who fell back to the mirror. At the last moment, facing thankless death crushed by insensate jaws, he swan-dived through the mirror, utterly serene, into the Positive Energy Plane.

The Clockwork Dragon screamed defiance that shook windows and pierced ear-drums, and smashed the mirror to a thousand pieces.

Days later, our players regroup at the Broken Fang Inn and compare scars. The Loquistan army had vanquished the bone-dragon as it rampaged through the city that night, and confusion and discord reigned supreme in the Council of Nine.

Kavorous enquired at the Loquistan Collegiate about Interplanar Travel, to be told that a great Magi can manage it – perhaps one of the Deans, the Council of Ten, a Zunian Shaman or one of the Court-Magi of the Eternal Throne of Damesht. There were artefacts that could grant interplanar travel, but their location was unknown.

Lomorit, true to his word, granted the party three weapons of considerable power.  These were Voidwalker, Whisper and Yilidrim.

Callie claimed Yilidrim, due to her mastery of the bow.
Kavorous claimed Whisper, due to his mastery of subterfuge.
Vaina Moyen claimed Voidwalker, due to the machinations of terrible intelligences beyond mortal comprehension.  
To bond with the sword, Vaina asked Durlin’s help with the ritual. As Durlin chanted, Vaina dreamt he was in a world of perfect and complete darkness. He wandered for a time, sensing shapes prowling at the proximity of his vision and flashes of sudden vision: a dragon coiled around a Titan’s Heart with thousands bowing before him, a shaven-haired human child crying in her hands, a tall Elf fall to his knees in despair, burying Voidwalker in the dirt; a dark-skinned man caged and whipped bloody above a teeming throng of fiends, and always: a dark figure, so dark as to be visible in the darkness all around who mirrored Vaina’s every move. He eventually came across the sword, reached out to touch it, and finally met hands with the figure. He was The Wielder now.

Miles across the city, in a rose-scented chamber within his harem, Teshei meditates before a strange device: seven orbs over around him. Five lifeless as bone; one an incandescent gold, a second a baleful red. As one orb is suddenly wreathed in cold, jet-black flames – Teshei’s eyes open, glinting with the faintest suggestion of panic.


“Subtlety may deceive you; integrity never will.“ - Oliver Cromwell.

Villains Vanquished: 13
Players Lost In The Positive Energy plane: 1
Dragons Definitely Not Humbled: 1.
Sex Worker Death Toll: 1.
Magic Items claimed: 5
Ancient Dread Prophecies Unknowingly Fulfilled: 1.

Items:


Voidwalker
Greatsword * 2d6
The sword is a single hilt of bone. The blade is not visible. When held aloft in darkness, a series of glowing runes are visible on the blade. In Infernal, they read: THE GREATEST WARRIOR FIGHTS AS THOUGH ALREADY DEAD.

Powers:
Stillness: Once per day, the wielder of Voidwalker may use his move action to make an additional attack with Voidwalker.
Brightest Candle, Longest Shadow:  If the wielder of Voidwalker hits 0 hit-points, they may instead choose to stay standing at 1hp and gain a random curse.

Secrets:
An Arcana check could reveal…

A History (25) will reveal Voidwalker to have been the sword of Musashi, who founded the Dameshti Swordfighting college that offers the swan-pendant for excellence in combat. Musashi was gifted Voidwalker by Dispater after triumphing in 66 duels to the death. A great reward would be offered if it was returned to the College.

A History check will reveal Voidwalker….

A Religion check could reveal…


Yilidrim
This bow is made of springy ash-white wood, and is intricately carved with an Aarakocra creation story, featuring the first male Aarakocra being born from a thunderbolt striking a man. The second image features him wearing a crown of thunderbolts and roaring. The third shows him prostrating before an unseen figure.

It grants the ability to fire an arrow once per day which functions as the Thunderbolt spell, as an attack action.

A History (22) will reveal that this bow…..


Whisper
Rapier * Finesse Weapon
d8
Whisper is an enchanted sword cane. As such, it can be concealed as a walking stick. The pommel and hand-guard resemble the mouth of a serpent.
Bonuses: Even if drawn - and pressed against the throat of a foe – opponents will not recognise Whisper as a weapon unless actually attacked.
Once per day, Whisper can inflict the Paralysis condition on an opponent (DC 15 CON save. Save ends.)

Sovereign’s Raiment
This is an enormously pompous cloak and tabard. It cannot be worn with armour. You may cast Suggestion and Command once per day. You have advantage on any attempts to deceive others of your authority.