The Sage Welcomes You

So, here you find a blog about life in general, but with a focus on family, games, books and creativity. Other "stuff" will creep in from timt to time.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Better actual play blogs than mine and other inspiration

I labor away here, and I put up records of the 13th Age games we have been playing.  If people enjoy them, that's great, but really they become my notes and records for my campaign.  They are in no way polished.

If I had more time (and perhaps more talent), I would do something sophisticated, because I admire the heck out of people who elevate write-ups through multiple character perspectives, add illustrations, and generally do way better than me.

A couple that I have really enjoyed include:

Brooklyn Encounters: Murder in Baldur's Gate
This blog captures the 13 sessions it took to play through this adventure.  It is beautiful to look at and a pleasure to read.

Eberron: The Winter Coalition
This is the chronicle of an epic ongoing campaign.  I think it has been going about three years.  The write-ups are sometimes from a third person narrator (presumably the Dungeon Master), but most entries are character entries, narrating what happened from a particular character's perspective.  I love reading the write-ups.  I never knew much about Eberron (it came into being during a long interregnum when I was not playing or paying much attention to D&D), but man, I would love to play in Eberron in this campaign.  There are hundreds of ideas to steal from the write-ups, and it is inspiring from a player/character develpment point of view, as well as from a Dungeon Master/campaign creation point of view.  There is quite a back catalogue of entries, but it is well worth reading!

Other Stuff

So, I think I have sung the praises of Hunter Black before as a source of inspiration.  I continue to be a big fan.  If you are not reading this web comic, why not!?  The team that writes, draws and letters the comic is outstanding, and the writer draws from his long experience with Dungeons & Dragons to inform his Fantasy Noir setting and characters (in the best way). 

This too has an extensive back catalogue of panels to read, but every one is worth it.

Finally, yesterday I somehow managed to stumble onto Skullkickers.  I may be the last guy to know about this low fantasy web comic, but it is gorgeous, action packed and funny.  So far (because, again, huge back catalogue) two no-name, amoral mercenaries, a big human with knives and six shooters, and a stocky red-bearded dward with twin hand-axes generally kick butt, take names, and win and lose fortunes as monster killers.  Their (mis)adventures have been very entertaining.  Apparently, later in the series there is a bit more gender balance in the storylines, but I can't eveluate that yet.

What I can say is that Skullkickers is very entertaining, and again full of interesting ideas to plunder.  If I am not the last person to hear of this comic, go and do yourself a favor and take a look!

That's all for now.  Go play games and have fun!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Heroes of the 13th Age: Part 11: Shadows and Light from the Past

On Sunday, February 2, we were able to resume our game.  We had one last minute change, in that one of the teenagers decided he no longer wanted to play his old character, Legolis the High Elven Ranger, and so we retired him, in favor of a new character, Froodo, the Halfling Monk (Legolis’ old roommate).

I’d say that you can’t make this stuff up, except that clearly we did.

The adventure is one I adapted from an old Dungeon Magazine #83 (“Iriandel”).  Much like my first foray, where I adapted a module published in Dragon Magazine, I am taking the broad parts of the adventure, and the support framework (maps, etc.) and improvising with the great tools that 13th Age equips me with.

The characters then were

Cerise, the Spirit-Touched Cleric
Indigo the Gnome Cleric
Zeva (as always, the name changes), the Half-Elf Rogue
Froodo, the Halfling Monk
Hey Watchit, the Half-Orc Fighter
Lief, the Human Bard
Delthen Eversoar, the Human Paladin, and
Rolen Stillwind, the Wood Elf Sorcerer

The party found itself trudging through the frontier lands of the Empire, West of Hammer Falls.  They had vague Imperial orders to find a magic spear of light.

As day turned into twilight, and rain fell on them, they approached a high wooden palisade which surrounded a rustic town.

Two Halfling watchmen hailed them from atop the wall and asked them to state their business.  By and by, the Halflings welcomed them to Pebbleton and admitted them to the town.  The watchers also directed the party down the street to the Mayor’s home to register their visit (mainly because the Mayor likes meeting new people).  The town was heavily populated by Halflings, but Humans and some Half-elves were also in evidence.

The heroes led their mounts through town to the humble abode of the mayor, Jimi Jimepro.  The Halfling invited the heroes in out of the rain and gave them some tea.  He then asked them about their business in the this out of the way outpost.  They recounted their vague instructions about finding a magic spear of light.  Jimi noted that they were a simple town, dependent on woodcutting and the lumber and charcoal trade.  He noted that the Wood Elves of the Cairnwood, though not friendly, did keep the lands buffered from the horrors of the Hellmarsh.  He also told them that they had friendly relations with a Gnomish settlement nearby (to the degree that anything is near Pebbleton).

As to the spear, well, he thought that the wandering minstrel who had taken up residence in the Common Hall in Pebbleton, might have some insight into the history and legends of the area.  In the meantime, before the adjourned to the Hall, he suggested that they stable their animals in the town stables, and that they come with him to meet someone else.

At the stables, he showed them a large, grey-maned horse with a white spot on its forehead.  Jimi introduced the horse as “Treetrot” and he told how the horse came to be a guest of the town.  Jimi had been caught in a terrible storm near the Cairnwood, and miraculously, the horse had found and led him home to safety.  Thereafter, Jimi had made sure that the horse was provided for in the town, and “Treetrot” has aided in pulling and carrying heavy loads and generally being useful around town.

Delthen and Rolen shared a meaningful glance after this story, which seemed to say “well, the horse could be an enchanted being, or possibly a unicorn who lost its horn . . . “

From the stables, the group moved to the Common Hall, a combination of a meeting hall, common kitchens, and modest Inn and Tavern for the residents.  There they met the Half-elf Bard, Ruallin.  She and Lief eyed each other warily, as possible performing rivals.  Lief’s dark look seemed to say “I will burn this place to the ground,” and it was not entirely clear if he meant with his musical performance or just with actual fire.  The party Bard seemed to be in a strange mood.

Nonetheless, Ruallin, at Jimi’s prompting told her story of the happenings in the area near Pebbleton many years before its founding.  Some 300 years before, a human tribe had settled the lands.  They were building settlements and becoming firmly established.  They called themselves the Lorai.  They had respectful relations with the Wood Elves, and they looked likely to flourish here on the outer edges of the Dragon Empire (during the Eleventh Age).  However, a demon worshipping human barbarian tribe, the Sya-Negan,  came from the North, wiping out everything and everyone as they travelled.  The Lorai realized that they must try to turn this tide of evil back.  Their chief, under the codes of the north, seemingly subscribed to even by the Sya-Negan, challenged the invaders’ chief, Tamaich, to a single combat to determine whether the Lorai would submit or whether the Sya-Negan, would withdraw.  Tamaich accepted the challenge.

To aid the Lorai, the Wood Elves enlisted the aid of one of the protectors of the forest, Iriandel, the Unicorn.  Iriandel agreed to temporarily give up his horn, so that its powerful magic could be fashioned into a weapon for the Lorai’s chief.  The Elves and Iriandel knew that the Sya-Negan would seek to destroy the Cairnwood and replace it with the spread of the Hellmarsh through their demon worship.  However, the Elves, when they called upon their sorcerers and spirit talkers to cast the ritual to create the spear from Iriandel’s horn, failed to account for the influence of the Trickster deity Pillizoro when they invoked their moon goddess Sendowa.  While not revered by the Elves, the trickster is often paired with the moon, and as the ritual ended, Pillizoro pronounced that should Iriandel not be rejoined with his horn after three days, it would be three hundred years before there would be a chance to reunite horn and beast.

The spear nonetheless was magnificent and proved to be a powerful weapon in the hands of the Lorai chief.  Unfortunately, although he dealt the death blow to Tamaich, the Sya-Negan chief also mortally wounded him.  Tamaich ordered his followers to wipe out the Lorai, although he had been defeated.  The Sya-Negan obliterated the Lorai settlements.  They also were rumored to have raised a huge burial mound and tomb where they laid Tamaich’s remains along with treasures from the Lorai and the spear made from Iriandel’s horn as a trophy.

Ruallin finished by saying that she believed absolutely that “Treetrot” was in fact the now hornless unicorn, Iriandel.  Jimi shook his head ruefully, saying it was a beautiful fairy tale, but hard to believe that right about 300 years since the Sya-Negan battle, that you could believe that a stray horse was really a unicorn severed from its horn.  Ruallin was firm in her belief.

Delthen and Rowen exchanged a knowing “told you so” glance.

After Ruallin finished her tale, Hey went to the kitchens to help and to pick up gossip and stories from the townspeople.  Zeva and the others asked Jimi and Ruallin some questions about where the tomb might be located.  Ruallin and Jimi agreed that the tomb of Tamaich was likely in the local foothills known as “The Knuckles”.  Zeva asked if anyone knew more about the location.  Ruallin told them that likely the Wood Elves knew more, but that they were prickly to deal with and suspicious of strangers.

Meanwhile, Hey’s help was appreciated in the kitchen, after initial apprehension of the Half-Orc was overcome.  He had a great evening cooking and preparing his signature croissant’s to rise and be baked in the morning.  He also learned from the gossipy Halfling cooks that not too long ago some people from the village had found a strange mystical mark on a tree, some half a day walk from the village.  They did not know exactly where it was, but it seemed infused with old and powerful nature magic.  They thought it seemed relevant to the search for Iriandel’s horn.

In the morning the party discussed whether to try to find and question the Wood Elves or whether to try to find the glyph as a clue.  The decided to search for the glyph, and turned to Rolen the Sorcerer to see if he could sense the glyph with his magically attuned spirit.  His Icon roll of 6 with the Archmage proved invaluable, as he got a clear sign of where to go.  He was soon leading the party directly to the tree marked with the mystic glyph.  About half a day’s easy travel, the arrived at an ancient oak, on the outskirts of the forest, and there in a magic script, Rolen could see what he knew to be the mark of Iriandel the unicorn.  As he touched the glyph, a voice from the tree said “You are perceptive, and I sense no evil intent in you.  Who are you who seeks the mark of Iriandel?” 

The party looked up astonished to find the words came from an ancient, but proud of bearing, owl, perched high in the tree.

“I am Tashek.  I have lately returned to this area after long travels.  Who are you?”

The party explained their mission and the stories about Iriandel they had heard.  Tashek was scandalized that no mention had been made of him in Ruallin’s account.  He muttered something about “no wingless bard is to be trusted.”  When asked what else Ruallin might have left out, Tashek confirmed that most of the details were correct.  He complemented Ruallin for at least ignoring the silly romantic subplot some had placed on the interaction of the ruler of the Wood Elves and the chief of the Lorai.  Though they had become allies when threatened with the Sya-Negan, it had not been based on infatuation.  However, after the loss of Iriandel’s horn, and the power of the Unicorn to protect the Cairnwood, the leader did go into exile tragically, and may have passed beyond this mortal realm.  In any case, the most important fact that Ruallin had not known, was known to Tashek: the location of Tamaich’s tomb.  It would take four days, but he could lead them into the Knuckles directly to the mound.  He did state, however, that he would not go underground.  Someone might have coughed and said “chicken” under their breath at that, but no culprit could be determined.

After the second day of travel, deep into the wasted lands that once were inhabited by the Lorai, the party made an uneasy camp.  The land was exposed and forbidding.  At the third watch, Cerise, the Spirit-Touched Cleric, essentially felt a distant disturbance in the force (Critical Roll on her perception check) and roused everyone to arm and prepare for battle.

Down out of the sky came a demonic flock of six bat things that some call “Squishies” due to their particular tactics of trying to crush opponents one by one under a “bat pile.”

Round (R) 1 Escalation (E) 0

The bat things proved fastest in the initiative and all descended upon Delthen, Dark Paladin Inquisitor of the Crusader.  The “murder pile” of demonic bats resulted in two hits and four misses with a total of 32 points of damage.  Delthen managed to use a recovery and then retaliated with a smite evil, which unfortunately missed and merely wounded one of them. 

Lief the Bard then unleashed a soundburst, Hey struck with his tree (after using Lethal to reroll), Indigo summoned the Spirits of the Righteous (but to little effect) and Rolen belched forth the Breath of the White.  Cerise then fired her Javelin of Faith, Froodo missed with his Greeting Fist, and Zeva shifted her tactical position and lashed out with her Evasive Strike.

At the end of all that, only two Bat Demons remained.

R2 E1

The two Bat Demons surged to attack Rolen, but Delthen killed one with his opportunity attack.  The last Bat missed Rolen.  Delthen wound up another Smite with his mace, but it was a swing and a miss with minimal damage.

Lief failed with his Battle Chant attack.  Rolen failed to invoke his Elven Grace, and then missed with his Scorching Ray.  Hey took a swing and a miss with his tree.  Indigo hit for minimal damage with his Javelin of Faith.  Cerise fired and missed with her Javelin of Faith. 

Froodo finally leaped forward and struck the demon down with his Basic Attack, after spending a point of Ki to make his miss a hit.

End of Combat.

After that night attack, the journey to the tomb was relatively uneventful.  At one point, Tashek and Rolen’s familiar, affectionately known as “GPS”, guided the party away from what looked like an organized and uniformed patrol of goblinoids (Hobgoblins, Goblins and Bugbears) that all seemed to where the uniforms of the Drakkenhall security forces.

Once at the Tomb of Tamaich, the adventurers took a quick look around.  It was a large rounded mound, surrounded by standing stones marked in demonic script. 

The party formed up and broke through the doors at the entrance of the mound.  Zeva almost immediately detected a trap just beyond the entrance that blocked their way into the passages within the burial mound.  The trap consisted of a pivoting floor, which would dump the unsuspecting into some kind of pit.  The back of the plate would go so far as to hit the ceiling, as the front part dropped people into the pit, and the ceiling would then drop heavy debris down into the pit to strike the trapped victims.

Everyone agreed it would be a bad thing to set off the trap.

Zeva determined that Froodo could walk across without triggering the trap on his own.  They also determined that they could jam the pivoting plate to allow everyone to cross if they used some poles against the ground and the ceiling.  After a little jury rigging, they managed to get even the heavily armored across.  However, it seemed like the pivoting plate might, in the near future, just crack at the pivot point and drop whoever was on it into the pit.  A reckless retreat over it seemed inadvisable, which they tucked away into their minds for the future.

Once across the trap, the passageway split at right angles.  The party turned right, and they soon found that the passage was marked by a line of capstones to dozens of pit burials.  Each capstone engraved with a strange glyph, each glyph different.  Indigo proposed casting a ritual to make sure that the dead within the pit graves stay sleeping.  Each party member made a small contribution to the ritual, and Indigo empowered it with his Turn Undead spell.  He found that each of the forty occupied graves’ inhabitants would stay resting, but he also detected that one pit tomb was unoccupied.

The adventurers made their way over the graves where the ancient Sya-Negan warriors rested until they came to the empty grave.  Zeva detected it as a trap immediately and the party carefully made its way around another pit trap.  They then continued along the passage into a circular room, with a passage out the other side.  In the middle of the room was an open passage down, with hand and footholds forming a ladder down carved into one wall of the downward passage.

As they entered, a chilling moaning began to issue from below.  Suddenly, they heard weapons being readied, and from the passage on the other side of the room, flying, animated swords appeared and began to slash and stab at the party. 

R1 E0

Lief sang forth his Soundburst at one of the swords. 

The swords hacked and slashed at the party, missing Delthen, but two wounded Zeva, and one slashed Hey, but the others failed to connect with Lief and Cerise.

Delthen took a swing and missed.  Rolen blasted one with a Chaos Bolt.  Froodo attacked, missed, used a power to take a reroll, and missed worse.  Cerise fired her Javelin of Faith, but missed.  Zeva fumbled and fell down the hole, taking minor damage (“Just as I planned!”).  Indigo swung his war hammer and connected.  Hey thought he missed at first, but ended up taking one out due to his Lethal talent.

R2 E 1

Lief destroyed one with his Battle Chant.

The swords attacked, one wounding Delthen.

Delthen destroyed a sword with his mace.

Rolen destroyed another with his Chaos Bolt.

Froodo almost missed again, but scored a hit with a reroll, smashing a sword with his staff.

Hey struck with his tree, to destroy the last of the animated swords.

End of Combat

So, after the combat, Zeva climbed up out of the lower level.  She counseled a full exploration of the upper level first.  The moaning from below continued.

What lies in the next chamber and any other crypts, caches or rooms beyond?  Will they find the spear made from Iriandel’s horn?  Will they live to see daylight and fresh air again?  Will anyone else get to cash in an Icon Roll.

Tune in next time a manage to get around to updating the blog after we play.


Until then, play games and have fun!

Monday, February 9, 2015

13th Age & D&D: Brilliant Podcasts and YouTube Actual Plays

Heyo everyone, just a short post while I am putting together the actual play report from my last 13th Age game.

I don't get to play as much as I would like.  Scheduling as an adult parent of two teenagers when the other players in your game are also adult parents or the actual teenagers, is rough.

So, in the meantime, I like to see what other people and doing and thinking about relavent to 13th Age and other classic tabletop RPGs.

So, first, I want to highlight Whit Mattson of A Game of Whit's.  He has a bunch of videos of his new adventure/sandbox for 13th Age with his play group.  The sandbox is Balan's Gorge.  Just watch the first episode, and if you don't think that the setup for his mining boomtown with a twist is brilliant, there is no talking to you.  See it here.  I love the idea of mixing the classic dungeon crawl environment with the boomtown atmospher of Deadwood.  Just check out the setup Whit does.  I think it is brilliant.

Second, I have to give a big shoutout to J-M, Mark and Nick of the ICONIC Podcast.  Their latest episode is on DRAGONS and it is epic.  Also, they come up with a campaign idea (and offer it to all of us for free) that makes an amazing framework for a challenging 13th Age campaign involving dragons and the struggle between two of the Icons (specifically the Great Gold Wrym and the Diabolist).  As an exercise for your imagination, as well as for some very informative discussion, I highly recommend this episode and everything else they put out.  You may recall from this post I also was fortunate to be picked by those kind gentlmen as the winner of their contest about giving a backstory to the White Dragon for 13th Age.  As a bonus, I recently participated in recording another episode with them.  Hopefully I helped add to the already considerable information and entertainment that they deliver.  In any case, Episode 16 on dragons is really worth your time and an introduction to the very best that ICONIC turns out!

Finally, last year another  tabletop RPG had a bit of a release, my old love Dungeons & Dragons.  I have to say, I am falling in love all over again.  I still will be running 13th Age, but I am really happy to see 5th Edition D&D do so well and be such a great game.

To keep me in touch with that reality, I have started to listen to bigAl (@bravenewdungeon) with his actual play podcasts and D&D talks here.  Listening to Al manage his actual plays really gives me great respect for all those Dungeon Masters willing not only to virtually DM through the internet, but also to go out and just open a game to a bunch of people (or even just some people) he has never met before, and make it all work.

Brave New Dungeon has been a lot of fun to listen to, and there is a huge back catalogue of Big Al's main campaing, The Pearl, which I have yet to tackle.

In any case, he definitely deserves a wide audience, so check it out!

Until later, keep playing games and having fun!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Heroes of the 13th Age 10.5 - Montage Wrap Up and Preparation for a New Adventure

We last played our game almost a year ago.  Life got complicated, but we have a game set for this weekend.

We had begun a large "sandbox" adventure, but continuing there was not a real option after so much time passed, and given that we can't expect to get that many games in.

So, I was asked to narratively wrap up the last adventure and set the stage for some more episodic one/two-shot games for the same characters.

So, with that in mind, here is what has happened as a set up for this weekend's game:

The characters will remain:

Cerise, the Spirit-Touched Cleric
Indigo the Gnome Cleric
They [Never] Call me "Z" (as always, the name changes), the Half-Elf Rogue
Legolis, the High Elf Ranger
Hey Watchit, the Half-Orc Fighter
Lief, the Human Bard
Delthen Eversoar, the Human Paladin, and
Rolen Stillwind, the Wood Elf Sorcerer

Previously on “Heroes of the 13th Age”

At the behests of The Priestess and The High Druid, the characters set forth to a remote crossroads known as Tampu Tinku.  The village had a history of dark magic and banditry, but more immediately was having religious conflict between the nature worshippers of the Old Faith Druidic tradition and the newly fervent followers of the Temple of the Dawn Gods.

On the way to the town the characters encountered some of the town residents, a Halfling named Hull and a Half-Elf named Quill, as well as a Paladin Knight, Kalari, and his Squires who were followers of the Great Gold Wyrm.  Some kind of demonic force possessed the Paladin and there was some fighting.  The characters helped bring the Knight to the town and he was lodged in the Temple of Dawn in hopes of the demonic force being exorcised.

Meantime, the characters met Quill’s grandmother, “Gran gran,” and started to find out about some happenings in the town, the religious divide, the mayor’s race, and the mysterious murders that shut down the most important local inn, the Serene Empress. 

Out of all the many issues facing Tampu Tinku, the characters felt compelled to go break into the crime scene that was the abandoned Serene Empress and start to check it out.  It was a very nice inn, with, as Hey noted, great baking facilities.  However, there had been some kind of terrible fight that had killed everyone at the inn, and now who owned it was unclear.

In the basement, the party began to find answers, and the answers were ninja Kobolds.  After some nasty traps and a big fight, the dead Kobolds’ gear revealed them to be part of an ancient serpent cult.  With more exploration, the characters discovered a hidden entrance to a tunnel that ran under the inn and led into a network under the town. 

This, of course, led to more fighting.

Each of the characters, Cerise, Indigo, Z, Legolis, Hey, Lief, Delthen and Rolen, all look back on this time fondly. 

Not the grubbing around in the tunnels fighting Kobolds and Lizardmen and big snakes and the secret serpent cultists of the town, but what all that grubbing around led to.

After exposing the owners of the Golden Pear Inn as serpent cultists who had instituted the massacre of the staff and patrons of the Serene Empress, the party was able to destroy a malevolent power source that had opened up a nearby “living dungeon,” which had birthed the demonic possession spirit which had taking over the Paladin Knight.  The dungeon, known from the lore of the town as “The Hellcaves” sank deep beneath the earth, and the Paladin was free of the possession.

He and Delthen then had an argument, and they knocked each other down a bit.  Then a whole squadron of Great Gold Wyrm Knights showed up hoping to fight demonspawn from the Hellcaves.  They settled for wiping out the local bandits.  The characters helped out by discovering that the local Imperial Constable had been on the bandits’ payroll.  They helped the Constable “retire” and a new Imperial representative was later dispatched from Axis, the Imperial Capital.

Everyone had a celebration, which Hey helped to cater.

This gave the town an idea.  Why not keep the characters around to be protectors and guardians of the town.  They offered the party the Serene Empress Inn as a base and an income generator.  With Hey providing the food and supervising a local staff, and with the day to day operations under the watchful eye of Z, it was a tremendous success!  The rest of the party helped out (Lief’s performances drew clientele from far and wide), and often went on little expeditions, given the diversity of threats that came across the passes along the Migration Route of the Koru Behemoths from the Red Wastes.

Ah, those were the days.

They had to give it all up.  As the Imperial decree seemed to say, it can’t all be baking croissants and ambushing unsuspecting Goblins.

Because . . . demons.

Now, you all are far to the north, not far from where Indigo was raised by Frost Giants.  You have been hunting demons, and Orcs, and demonic Orcs, and other “things” which have further demonstrated that the Diabolist has entered into some unholy pact with the Orc Lord to destroy the Empire.

As you trudge on, you are at least relieved that the latest dreams from the Icons have indicated that your next mission will not be just entering a smelly demonic labyrinth to chop up oozy Orcs and vanquish brimstone reeking monstrosities.  Instead, you will probably be doing that to recover a glowing spear.  Some kind of weapon against the darkness, perhaps something related to that first spear (the cursed spear of the Orc Warlord Mondru, Fourth of His Name) that started it all, the one the Orc Lord wanted, but which The Priestess could not yet destroy because The Prince of Shadows stole the instructions.

Oh, and now it’s raining.  Is that a light ahead?  There had better be hot food and warm beds up there . . .
Stay tuned for what happens next.  There will probably be monster killing and stuff.

PS We still miss Yoshi.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

This blog is not dead. Also I am a winner, so there

One could be forgiven for thinking that this blog and my 13th Age game had died.

However, neither is true.  The hiatus has lasted much longer that I would have liked, but it turns out teenagers are really busy, which makes me, as their father, also really busy.

Nonetheless, we will play again, and you will read about it here.

In the meantime, I wrote a little something and the kind people over at the Iconic Podcast recognized my entry about how the Wizard King (before he became the Lich King in 13th Age's Dragon Empire) came to kill and enthrall the lich of the White Dragon Icon as the First Place winner.

I have already spent the money, so they can't take it back.

I read the other entries that placed (and I look forward to making time to read the other entries as well), and I have to say that there are so many creative minds out there, and I would have just been glad to compete.  But I am glad to have been selected this time around as the winner, and you can read my entry here.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Heroes of the 13th Age: Part 10: Politics are hard; killing monsters less so . . .

Well, back on February 22, 2014, we managed to squeeze in a few hours of play.

Our cast continues as follows:

Cerise, the Spirit-Touched Cleric
Indigo the Gnome Cleric
Silent "Z" (as always, the name changes), the Half-Elf Rogue
Legolis, the High Elf Ranger
Hey Watchit, the Half-Orc Fighter
Lief, the Human Bard
Delthen Eversoar, the Human Paladin, and
Rolen Stillwind, the Wood Elf Sorcerer

Unfortunately, neither Indigo nor Z's players were available for the last game, so those characters stayed in the background and otherwise were checking out things around town which kept them out of the main action.
When we left the intrepid adventurers at the end of our previous game, there had been an unfortunate incident with a High Elven paladin who had become possessed by some demonic spirit. The party had been able to defeat him and free his squires from demonic influence, but he remained mostly in its thrall, with moments of lucidity. He asked to be taken to the Temple of Dawn in the town of Tampu Tinku to see if he could be freed of the demonic possession.
The group continued with the local teamster boss, a Hafling named Hull, and a Half-Elf named Quill who was returning to live with and take care of his "gran gran." They intended to meet at the Temple with Canoness Shar Patali, whose report to the Cathedral had helped spur their commission as auditors and whose request for help had reached the Order of the Great Gold Wyrm which had sent Sir Kalarai, the now possessed Elf, to the aid of the town.
They departed Stone Bridge Creek and not long thereafter arrived in the town of Tampu Tinku. They immediately headed to the rather grand Temple of the Dawn and met a Priestess named Mara at the temple gates.
There, she informed them that the Canoness had recently left on a mysterious pilgrimage to seek for aid for the town, she took with her two of the temple acolytes, Mari and Rob. Mara had been left in charge of the temple and the brother and sisters of the order who kept the holy shrines. Priestess Mara had no idea when Shar Patali would return.
The adventurers asked what her thoughts were on what was happening in town. She launched into a fairly detailed discussion of local politics, including the rivalries between the Baba brothers, Wari and Lenari. Wari and Lenari were once close (Lenari owns the dairy and Wari is a prominent farmer), but several years back, Wari had a religious conversion and began to heavily patronize the Temple of Dawn. His example helped many see the light of the way of the House of Dawn, and gradually many households began to turn from the druidic Old Faith to the Dawn Temple. Lenari is a staunch member of the Old Faith followers, and Wari is a zealous convert of the Temple. Their feuding has had the town in an uproar for some time.
Added to this, Wari is running for mayor, the first member of the Dawn congregation to do so, as the mayorship has, in the past, always been held by someone of the druidic faith. Also, to complicate things, the Old Faith candidate, Pitch, the Miller, recently dropped out of the electoral race. Rumors have circulated through town that members of the Dawn congregation intimidated Pitch into quitting.
Priestess Mara assured them that such rumors were nonsense. If anything, it was the Old Faith followers who were involved in their dark and emotional nature spirit practice who were scary and intimidating. If Pitch quit for any thought out reason, it was probably because he knew he was going to loose.
Also, the town is in turmoil because the old Druid who used to keep the Old Faith Grove decided to move on to a new territory (who knows why those people do anything?) and a new Druid of the Grove has yet to be appointed. Additionally, Lord Bari, the Emperor's representative and local military administrator (resident at the local fortress keep) recently also converted to the worship of the Dawn Gods, which drove a wedge between him and the local Archmage representative, Lady Kinara, who subsequently left on a mission of her own. Lord Bari's soldiers have been concerned with incursions that seem to coming in from the Red Wastes and have not been concerned with the local bandit problem, which is the concern of the local civil authorities, represented by Constable Kwan.
The bandits have been troubling, but in general, Priestess Mara opined that it was mostly just overblown town politics and family matters that really were not worth the Cathedral's time to investigate.
Delthen decided he would try to assess whether he thought she was lying, but he could not get a clear read on her. She seemed earnest enough.
Hull spoke up that he still thought the bandits were the worst of the town's problems.
Quill noted that he really needed to get to his Gran Gran's.
Priestess Mara promised that she and her brothers and sisters would confine Sir Kalari and take care of him until the return of the Canoness, when they would be able to perform an exorcism. The Squires Valerie, Rupert and Jock helped the Priestess move Sir Kalari into the Temple, but stated that they would go to seek aid from their Order for Sir Kalari.
Indigo decided to go a pray at the temple, and Z mysteriously disappeared to snoop around unencumbered by the other party members.
The adventurer's accompanied Hull as far as his depot, and then, they proceeded through town with Quill to his grandmother, Vamil's, home. While on their way through the town, they noticed that the largest and nicest building (after the Temple) a large inn complex, announced as the Serene Empress Inn, was shuttered and boarded up. Quill expressed surprise, as the Serene Empress had always been the heart of the town, at least it was when he was here 10 or 15 years ago.. He has no idea what happened to it.

Once arriving at Vamil's ("Vamy's") cottage, the old woman hobbled out to greet her grandson and embrace him. Hey Watchit decided to get in on some group hug action and gave a gently crushing embrace to the two of them.

Quill explained who these strangers were and what they were doing, and how they had saved his life. Vamy dispensed tea, wine and ribbon candy to each of the visitors and offered to allow some to sleep in her loft free of charge (she does not have quite room enough for everyone, but Hull's wife would probably put up the rest if they don't mind not staying at an inn).

They asked Vamy what had happened to the Serene Empress Inn, and she allowed that it was a big mystery. About a month back, there was a huge commotion at the inn: fighting and screaming. When the Constable and his deputies finally came, they found the inside of the inn laid to waste and every living person, the owners, their family and employees, the townspeople and the travelers who were guests, all dead in some kind of huge melee. The fight apparently raged throughout the Inn, leaving no survivors. No one understands what kind of madness must have happened, and no one was able to figure it out. The bodies were taken out and the families buried their dead. The travelers were buried in the hallowed ground of the old Druid Grove, and people were afraid, but just did not know what to think.

The adventurers wanted to talk to Pitch Miller about pulling out of the mayor's race, but they thought they would just have a look at the Serene Empress first.

They began their investigation by forcing open the door into the kitchen. They carefully toured first the main floor and then the upstairs. They found every chair in the inn to have been broken, and much of the other furniture damaged or destroyed. There were areas of blood staining and spilled drink and food that was not cleaned.

Hey did notice that the kitchen, if cleaned up, would be a great place in which to cook.

As they looked through the main floor, Delthen in a careful search found a broken blade with strange script on it. The blade itself looked ornate, as if it had been forged for ritual use.

Lief examined the script and found that it seemed to be of the ancient Serpent Script, and that the characters probably translated as "[of]fering."

Upstairs was less disturbed, but still it looked like the fighting had happened up here as well, and everything was broken into. Nothing of real value seemed to remain.

They finally proceeded down into the cellar.

The cellar looked strangely cleared out, with only a few decrepit ale or sour wine barrels still left as far as provisions. Otherwise, there was just trash and debris left around.

Something else surprising they found was that the basement had been left trapped.  Rolen managed to fall down into a relatively freshly dug pit, though he avoided the spikes at the bottom.

Then, shadowy and chameleon-like Kobolds struck, from surprise.

The “ninja” Kobolds hit each of the characters not in the pit, and they hit the cleric Cerise for critical damage.

Then we rolled initiative.

Round 1 (no escalation)

The Kobolds handily won initiative (n.b. I was using the playtest Kobold Shadow-Warriors, who turned out to be much more pumped up than the final published versions in the Bestiary).

Three disappeared into the shadows. 

The other three all attacked with eggshell bombs filled with stinging dust, damaging Delthen and Lief (both in one shot) and Legolis.  The last shadow warrior successfully disengaged on Hey and three a metal star at Hey, but missed.  Hey invoked his “reach tricks” and took a surprise opportunity attack, but missed.

Legolis missed with his axe.

Delthen invoked Smite Evil and missed for half damage [which maybe should have just missed because of the Kobolds’ “evasive” ability, but I let it count].

Lief dealt some damage with Battle Chant, dropping one shadow warrior.
Hey swung his trusty enchanted tree and struck with a critical hit, not only smashing  the Kobold before him, but flinging it into the Kobold attacking Legolis, killing both shadow warriors.  It seemed they had taken out the opposition.

Rolen was unable to get out of the pit.

Cerise stepped up and did some healing for herself and others.

Round 2 Escalation 1

The three shadow warriors who had slipped to the shadows came back with a vengeance.  Delthen, Hey and Legolis were all hit for 30 points of damage each.  Delthen staggered, but stayed up.  Hey invoked “Heavy Warrior” to take only 15 points of damage.  Legolis went down.

Legolis rolled a death save on his initiative and failed.

Delthen attacked with Smite Evil and killed one of the warriors.

Lief attacked with his Battle Chant, damaging another of the Kobolds.

Hey invoked “Tough as Iron” and rallied, and then struck with a “Power Attack.”  Hey missed [n.b. I should have invoked “evasive” but forgot again], doing 12 damage because of his Power Attack feat.

Rolen continued to be stuck down in the pit.

Cerise then cast Spirits of the Righteous which blasted the last two warriors into oblivion.

End of Combat.

Delthen was disappointed that he was not able to retrieve any of the stinging powder bombs unbroken. 
Cerise healed Rolen.
Everyone helped Rolen get out of the pit.

Otherwise, in searching they Kobolds, they found that each bore the ritual tattoo of an ancient Snake Cult, which generally was something at odds with the Kobolds’ draconic nature.

They carefully searched the rest of the cellar floor and found two more recent pits.  Both of Kobold make.

They then began to search for some secret way into the cellar.  Neither Hey nor Delthen could discover anything, but Cerise found a secret door into a hidden store room.  In the room, Cerise, Legolis and Lief all discovered an exit from the room, a trap door.

Beyond the trap door was a passage, similar to a mine tunnel.  They proceeded down the tunnel until they came to an underground stream, which they would have to ford.  There was a handy guide rope across the stream.  Delthen waded in first.

This drew immediate attack from a group of Lizard Men.

Round 1

The leader propelled himself out of the water with a stroke of his tail, and he charged Hey, striking him.

Delthen took out his mace and started Smiting at the two Lizardman Hunters attacking him.

Cerise hit the leader with Spirits of the Righteous.

Lief then lifted his voice and unleashed Soundburst, damaging two of the enemy and killing one outright.

Legolis then killed another firing his bow, using one of his last Twin Arrows, and hit the leader with his magical second arrow.

Hey launched his Power Attack, which missed, but still dealt 11 points of damage.

Round 2 Escalation 1

The leader launched his attack, but missed.  Delthen then stepped up and brought his mace down in a crushing blow, killing the leader.

Cerise flung her Javelin of Faith at one of the last two Lizardman Savages, but did only miss damage.

Lief sang his Battle Chant, which did little damage, but with his Stay Strong! Battle Cry he aided Hey.

Legolis launched another arrow, striking one of the Savages for 10 points.

One of the Savages hit Hey.
Rolen did not manage his Elven Grace roll, but he summoned his Chaos Bolt of Thunder Energy and blasted one of the Savages.

Hey then struck out with his tree, killing one of the Lizardman Savages, after using Heavy Blows to reroll damage.

Round 3 Escalation 2

Delthen whirled his mace and struck another crushing blow (16 points!) but could not take down the last Lizardman.

Cerise invoked her Halo and then threw her Javelin of Faith, striking down the Lizardman.

The party then decided to rest a moment by the underground stream and decide what to do in exploring further.
One thing was sure, however, this was much easier than figuring out the Mayoral race in town.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

A whole lot of Tolkien!

This past holiday break has allowed me to delve deep into my love of Tolkien, and in particular to benefit from some terrific available resources in Tolkien scholarship. 

Now, it may not sound like "studying" Tolkien would be as much fun as just reading (or going to the movies), but it is actually a lot of fun, as well as giving me a deeper appreciation of Tolkien's writings and imagination and teaching me a great deal about writing and scholarship.

Before I touch on my actual activities over my holiday break, I need to go back to how I started delving into this.

A few years ago, on a trip to South Carolina, my son picked as our audio entertainment Rings, Swords, and Monsters: Exploring Fantasy Literature by Professor Michael DroutIt was a brilliant set of lectures which first focused on Tolkien and his process and creations, and then explored the genre of modern fantasy literature which Tolkien somewhat unwittingly helped to create. This was really my first exposure to deep and thoughtful Tolkien scholarship, and it opened me to all sorts of new ideas and understanding about what Tolkien did, what he was interested in and how his academic life as a Medievalist and Philologist informed his imagination.

Hungry for more, I began to look into what else was available and found The Tolkien Professor.  Professor Corey Olsen, like Professor Drout, is by profession a Medievalist (though he has far less focus on Philology than Drout does), but by avocation he is a lover of Tolkien and fantasy literature.  He is also, even more than Drout, highly focused on making Tolkien and Tolkien scholarship accessible to the public.  He has dozens of chats, lectures and seminar episodes available on his website and also available through iTunes.  He writes, lectures and appears for the public in many venues, and has generally done a ton for promoting the understanding and enjoyment of Tolkien's works.

He also wrote the book on The Hobbit: Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit".

So, over break, I finished reading Professor Olsen's book, and I listened to a ton of stuff.

Particularly, I listened to about a dozen episodes of his Silmarillion Seminar through which I have learned a great deal.

I also listened to his discussion of the latest Hobbit movie, The Desolation of Smaug (here & here) which I found to be really interesting and helpful.  

There are tons of other materials accessible through the Tolkien Professor site, and it is definitely a gateway to lots of wonderful and imaginative worlds and thoughts.

I really highly recommend it, and it helped me have a great vacation, even while I was busy and sick.