Monday, June 25, 2012

Hell Frozen Over: Chapter Four (Part 1) [Buffy]


Dawn pulled the sheet over her head. Outside, the sun rose higher and higher, casting more and more light
into her bedroom. She tried to steal a few more minutes of sleep and then gave up and pulled the sheet down. She stretched lazily and looked around. Her room was that of a normal teenage girl—or at least that of a normal teenage girl who was actually a cosmic entity and whose sister was the Chosen One. But Dawn had dealt with those issues, and after Willow almost took over the world, Buffy promised that she and Dawn would have a whole new relationship.

At the moment, however, Dawn was content to lie back and relax. The beginning of summer vacation only came once a year, and it was something to be cherished. No classes, no homework, no teachers, and best of all, no tests. She contemplated the day ahead of her: some television, maybe a walk to the swimming pool, bumming around the mall for a few hours. But all in good time, she thought, stretching again. And maybe I should go see Willow too. She and Tara were always there when things went nuts with Buffy and the Key and everything. She also idly considered looking for a part-time job to help out Buffy, who was dipping french fries at the Double Meat Palace to help make ends meet. But Buffy had wanted to give Dawn the same life she would have had if their mother had lived. And besides, since she couldn’t drive, getting to work would be hard for Dawn and probably cause more stress than a minimum-wage job was worth.

She lay on the bed and let her mind wander for a few more minutes and then got up and went about her morning routine. Just as she stepped out of the shower, she heard the phone in her bedroom ring. Hastily wrapping a towel about herself, she dashed across the hall and caught the receiver on its third ring. On the other end she heard the voice of her friend, Jamie Swinson. Dawn had had a hard time making friends, what with her own insecurity and her sister’s reputation as a violent weirdo. Jamie had been kind to her, however, and towards the end of this last school year they had begun to hang out from time to time.

“Rewind that and hit play again,” Dawn said into the phone. Jamie had the somewhat annoying habit of spontaneously launching into veritable monologues where all the words started to run together because she spoke too fast.

“I said Brian Carmichael’s going to be there,” Jamie repeated, summarizing the last thirty seconds.


“At the rally,” Jamie said again, slightly exasperated. “So he’s only like the cutest guy in the whole class. And he likes me. I think. So are you gonna go with me or what?”

Dawn didn’t have to think for long. That was the beauty of summer vacation—you didn’t have to make plans, things just sort of popped up and you went along with the flow.

“I guess,” she answered. “But if Tommy Huston is there I’m leaving.”


“’Cause he’s a jerk.”

“You only say that ‘cause you like him. Anyway, I’ll see you at the park.”

After breakfast, Dawn watched MTV for a few minutes and then got ready to leave. She locked the door securely behind her—Buffy wasn’t home, and because she seemed to work a different shift every day, Dawn could never remember when she’d get back. When she reached the sidewalk, Dawn noticed a large moving truck slowly backing into the driveway of a residence a couple of houses down the street. The park lay in that direction, and Dawn walked towards it.

She saw a middle-aged couple and their little daughter standing on the front lawn, looking at the moving truck with expectant looks. They had light brown skin and dark hair. The woman wore a headscarf, but otherwise they were all dressed in typical clothing for Sunnydale. Dawn gave a half-wave and said “Hi” as she walked past. She tried to be friendly with her neighbors, but she wasn’t the sort to spend time chatting with them. The man nodded and smiled in reply. Dawn looked up at the house after she had passed them and noticed a young man, her own age, staring at her from a second-story window. He seemed somewhat sad. Must be their son. Maybe he didn’t want to come here, Dawn thought as she walked away. Considering it’s the Hellmouth, I can’t blame him.

When she reached the park, she saw that ten or fifteen people were milling around near where a microphone and some speakers had been set up. Most of the people were college age, but some were her high schoolers and there was also a scattering of people from older generations. Dawn didn’t see Jamie or anyone else she knew, so she walked over and sat on the grass near the others.

A hand was suddenly thrust in her face. Dawn looked up to see a petite blond with a wide smile. Dawn stood up and shook her hand tenuously.

“Michelle O’Rory,” the woman said. “Are you here for First Principles too? Great!” she continued, without waiting for Dawn to reply. Chipper was the only word Dawn could think of too describe her. And annoying. “Here’s your name-tag—so glad you could join us!” she finished excitedly after Dawn had written her name on it and, as per directions, attached it to her shirt. The blonde college student then rushed off to accost another newcomer.

Dawn sat back down. When she saw Timothy Huston entering the park from the other side, she knew she had a good excuse to leave. She stood up and started walking in the opposite direction. He is a jerk and I don’t like him. Jamie’s just psycho. Even if he is does have long dark hair and looks a bit like Gavin Ross from Bush and smiles at me whenever I walk by. I still don’t like him. Not one bit.

She stopped when she heard her name being called. Jamie. She sighed and turned around to see her friend rushing towards her. Jamie was short and slightly overweight, but she had more energy than most of the athletic girls Dawn knew from high school. Dawn waited with her arms crossed over her chest as Jamie jogged towards her.

“Did you see Brian?” Jamie said as soon as she was in range. “I haven’t seen him yet but if I do I’m just gonna die. Do you know I talked to Laura last night and she said he told Kyle he liked me?”

“This is so seventh-grade,” Dawn replied, rolling her eyes. “Get a grip!” She would have been even more dismissive of Jamie’s immaturity, except she knew even Buffy and her college-age friends often acted downright silly when they were in love, or at least thought they were. Sometimes Dawn wondered if she were the only sane person in all of Sunnydale.

“I don’t care!” Jamie said with a pout and then a smile. “And you know who else is here?”

“Timothy Huston.”

“Exactly!” Jamie said, grabbing Dawn by the arm and pulling her towards the group of people, which had gotten larger. Now there must have been about thirty people milling around. “Don’t forget you promised,” Jamie reminded her.

“I promised to leave if I saw him,” Dawn shot back.

“Close enough. Now c’mon!”

Dawn couldn’t help but giggle. Jamie just had a way about her that made it hard to say no.

“What is this thing anyway? They gave me a stupid name-tag.”

“It’s called First Principles. It’s like a civic group or something. Helping clean up litter and entertaining old nursing home people and stuff like that. Every day they do something for a couple of hours and then meet here for a rally. It doesn’t really matter though—we’re not here for it.” Suddenly she stopped and shrieked “There’s Brian! Do you see him? I think he’s looking at me. How do I look?”

“Like a dork,” Dawn replied. “Calm down. He’s not even looking over here. He’s busy talking to that guy in the suit.”

Dawn grimaced as Jamie pretended to talk with her but spent the whole time glancing over and watching Brian. He was a high school senior and wore the preppy clothes and attitude that marked him as a future fraternity pledge. Dawn couldn’t see what Jamie saw in him.

“Who’s he talking to?” Dawn asked, more to bring Jamie back to the real world than out of any curiosity.

“That’s Mr. Wittingstone. He’s like the leader or whatever. He gives the speeches everyday. I think he’s getting ready.”

“Is he any good?”

“I don’t know—I don’t really pay attention. I only started coming because I heard Brian was coming. He must be okay though—more people show up every time I’m here.”

Michelle, the blonde woman who had given Dawn the name-tag, walked over near the microphone and clapped her hands in the air a few times. She gave the crowd a big smile and yelled for everyone to gather around. Her perkiness was getting on Dawn’s nerves.

“I don’t like her,” Dawn said as she and Jamie edged closer to the crowd.

“Neither do I. Have you seen the way she’s been looking at Brian?”

The man Jamie called Wittingstone walked up to the microphone holding a small slip of paper. He wore a conservative dark suit and his short black hair was carefully combed to the side. He was one of those austere looking men whose age was hard to place—he could have been anywhere from his early thirties to his late forties.

He tapped the microphone twice and then spoke into it hesitantly. “Thank you for coming to First Principles. This morning, due to your hard work, we collected . . .” he looked down at the piece of paper, and then back up “. . . eighteen boxes of food for the needy and the unfortunate right here in Sunnydale.” There was a scattering of applause in the audience. Wittingstone waited stoically until it was over before speaking again.

“When our people are well-fed, they are healthy. And when our citizens are healthy, America is strong. Through working together, we can make this great nation of ours a better place. All it takes is some hard work and attention to what we like to call the First Principles: courage, determination, strength, vigilance, and most importantly, a sense of community.” Dawn agreed with Jamie that he wasn’t much of a speaker. He spoke in a virtual monotone, and seemed uncomfortable in front of the microphone. Still, he makes sense, Dawn thought.

She tuned out the rest of what he was saying as Jamie grabbed her by the wrist and maneuvered her through the crowd. Within moments, they were standing right behind Brian. Jamie’s grip on Dawn’s wrist tightened with excitement.

“Let’s get this over with,” Dawn whispered. “Tap him on the shoulder and say hello.”

“I can’t. I don’t know what to say!”

“I just told you! Say hello.” Dawn put a hand to her forehead as if to say “why me?”

She tuned back in as Wittingstone was finishing his speech. “This country has been through a lot over the past few years,” he was saying. “You all know what I mean.” Several people in the audience nodded their heads vigorously. “And it’s going to get worse before it gets better. We need each and every one of you to come back tomorrow and every day after that. And bring a friend with you. Together, if we work hard and pay attention to the First Principles, we can make America great again.”

The crowd applauded loudly as Wittingstone left the microphone. Michelle shouted that refreshments had been set up on the nearby picnic tables. Dawn watched as the crowd slowly dissipated, including Brian. She was relieved that she didn’t see any sign of Timothy, but this didn’t hide her irritation at her friend’s behavior.

“Why didn’t you talk to Brian?”

“I was about to. I will next time. I’m gathering up my courage,” Jamie said. “He is hot though, isn’t he?”

“He’s okay.”

“So what are you doing tomorrow?”

Dawn shrugged.

“Good. Then you can meet me here again tomorrow.”


Saturday, June 23, 2012

Castle Ravenloft Adventure # 11 "Rampaging Golem"

This one frankly looked to be a cakewalk, as the Flesh  Golem's stats aren't really very impressive (low AC, only 10 hp, attacks only one adjacent hero a turn, etc. ) The Wife's and my strategy was just to have our heroes stock up on their most powerful Daily & Utility powers in order to take it down quickly, and not fuss with the items.  Through some bad luck, our heroes took quite a beating from monsters and encounters before we even found the Flesh Golem, and for a few minutes there it looked like our plan would be a complete failure.  But then our Fighter hit with the power that does 4 damage to the Golem, and that, combined with Fireball, Flamestrike, and a couple of miscellaneous hits was enough to win us a victory in our first try with one healing surge in reserve.

Next time:  Hunting Strahd!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Hell Frozen Over: Chapter Three (Part Two) [BUFFY]

Hell Frozen Over

Chapter Three (Part Two)

It seemed as if Friday would never come. Tuesday and Wednesday had crawled along, Thursday went even slower, but Friday morning was worst of all—Buffy was sure this must be what it was like when the vampires in Interview With the Vampire were punished by being buried alive in a small crypt for all eternity. If only all vampires looked like Brad Pitt, she thought to herself, they wouldn’t be so creepy. Angel excluded, of course—he already looked better than Brad Pitt.

But after a morning spent furtively looking at her watch, up at the classroom clock, and back again, the noon bell finally rang and students started filing out to start a long weekend. Buffy swept her unopened textbook into her backpack and rushed out into the hallway. The night before, she had spent almost two hours trying to decide what to pack. It wasn’t as if she had much in the way of winter clothes—living in California ensured that—but she did want to look good while cruising the slopes. The hard part was that she had no idea what people actually wore while skiing—apart from an occasional scene on TV or a movie, she’d never seen skiers in action. Her father hated cold weather, and always balked at any suggestion of skiing when her parents were still together.

After a quick stop home to pick up her bags, she arrived at Cordelia’s house, where everyone was supposed to meet. Cordelia lived in one of Sunnydale’s nicest neighborhoods—it wasn’t an ultra-rich gated community, but it was certainly out of Buffy’s league, at least since the divorce. Although Joyce Summers made good money at the gallery, it was nowhere near what Cordelia’s parents brought home.

Xander and Willow were there already, sitting at the curb alongside their suitcases. They looked glum.

“Hi guys, “ said Buffy as she walked up. “Why the long faces?”

Simultaneously, Xander and Willow waved a thumb towards a brand-new, dark green SUV which was parked nearby. Although designed to carry heavy loads, it sat low on its wheels. Through the back window, Buffy could see it was already packed to the roof with luggage.

Xander stood up. “Cordelia said she’d be out in just a minute. She just had to get a few more things,” he said sarcastically.

“Ah,” said Buffy. “Well maybe I can talk with her. It’s just a short trip, not a stay on Gilligan’s Island.”

“That’s what they thought too,” cracked Xander.

A few minutes later, Cordelia came striding across the immaculate lawn, carrying a large cosmetics case in one hand, and a garment bag in the other. By her own estimate, and those of most other students, she was easily the most attractive and best-dressed student at Sunnydale High. She and Buffy began talking, while Xander walked off a little way down the street. Willow got up and joined him.

“I knew this place looked familiar,” Xander said, pointing to a small brown house across the street. “That’s where Bobby Stuckey used to live. In junior high, we used to play football in his front yard like everyday after school.”

“I remember him,” said Willow. She brushed a dangling strand of red hair out of her eyes. “He got braces one year and everyone started calling him Steeltrap Stuckey.” She remembered especially well, because the fact that he had braces deflected plenty of teasing she would have received when she got them herself. “And you know who else we used to play with?”



“Jesse? Like ‘The-dust-formerly-a-vampire-formerly-known-as-our-friend-Jesse’?”

“Right,” Xander continued without pause. “I mean really, Will, he was one of our best friends. And he's been dead what—just a year now? And have you noticed how no one ever talks about him?”

“Including us,” she offered, unsure where Xander was headed with this.

“It’s just weird is all—how quickly everything changes. I wonder where Bobby Stuckey is now,” said Xander, reflectively.

“Why Xander,” said Willow, impressed. “I didn’t know you could be so . . . philosophical. It’s very sweet.”

“Nah. I was just remembering how he swiped my mint condition Bo Jackson rookie card and never gave it back. If I ever run into him again . . .” He waved a fist in the air, threateningly.

Willow grinned, but she knew that as much as he tried to hide it, there really was more to Xander than slacking and joking. At least most of the time. If only other people—and he himself—would realize it.

They rejoined Buffy and Cordelia, who after long negotiation had reached a mutually agreeable compromise regarding luggage: Xander’s gear would simply have to be strapped to the roof.

As they piled into the car, Buffy noticed a man staring at her from behind the wheel of a sedan parked down the street. He wore a dark suit and sunglasses and looked away as soon as she glanced in his direction.

“I think someone’s watching us,” said Buffy.

“Whatever. Probably just another one of those perv weirdos you’re always attracting,” said Cordelia.

“Hey, I resent that,” said Xander from the back seat.

“This is going to be a long trip,” muttered Cordelia under her breath. She shook her head and put the car in gear.

As they passed the sedan, Buffy saw that the man was simply chatting away on a cell phone. This trip away from Sunnydale will do me good, she thought to herself. I’m becoming even more ultra-paranoid than usual.


Several hundred miles away, another man dressed in a dark, yet elegant suit picked up a telephone and listened. He hated this American, who had the annoying habit of pronouncing each individual letter of his name so that it sounded like Cast-Till-Oh. Still, Wittingstone did his job reasonably well and it was hard to find reliable living help these days.

“Good,” Castillo said calmly into the receiver. “Signal for the others. They’re waiting nearby.”

He listened for another moment.

“No, I’ll supervise that part personally.”

He hung up the receiver and smiled cordially at his visitor who sat across the desk from him.

“Now, as I was saying Colonel, I understand there are some problems with continued development of the Sunrise Project?”

“No, not anymore there aren’t,” answered a slightly overweight man dressed in an olive army dress uniform. He puffed slowly on a cigar before speaking again. “We had to place the project on hold, pending further review. But those . . . obstacles have been removed. The project is back on track. Assuming a successful field test next week, final implementation should be concluded by this time next year. If the Sunrise Project does everything you say it can, I can assure you Electrotech Incorporated will be first in line for additional contracts.”

“Excellent,” said Castillo. He asked a few more questions about the project before standing up and offering his hand. “Always a pleasure, Colonel. The Board will be happy to hear that we can continue cooperating in this little venture.” He smiled as the officer shook his hand, and maintained the expression until the man had left the room—then he dropped it instantly and resumed his normal, guarded features: intense eyes, a hawk like nose, and sunken cheeks. Castillo was not the sort to lower himself to get what he wanted; but at the same time, he saw no need to arouse the military’s suspicions by looking hostile.

He sat back down at the desk and tapped a small button, sitting perfectly still while waiting. Moments later, another man entered the windowless room. It was now nearly pitch black, but the man seemed to be able to see the expensive, oak-panelled walls and the large desk perfectly.

“Yes Mr. Castillo?”

“Get the boys ready. We ride at dusk.”

“You’re coming too, sir?” said the man, seemingly surprised. He looked at Mr. Castillo carefully. Always immaculately dressed, Castillo’s wavy black hair was cut in a professional, yet fashionable manner. A small black mustache followed the line of his upper lip, while his dark eyes and stern chin could be intimidating.

“Yes,” Castillo replied. “It’s been quite a while since I’ve had a vacation.”


A shout ripped through the run-down motel on the outskirts of Los Angeles.

“Keep it down in there or I’m callin’ the cops!” shouted a booming voice from the next room, followed by the sound of banging on the nearly paper-thin walls. Plaster and pieces of dirty wallpaper fell to the ground, and the single naked lightbulb in the room flickered with each shudder.

“I warned you not to try that,” a cold, dead voice whispered. Its owner pulled out a grungy handkerchief and stuffed it into the mouth of the man strapped to the bed. The figure looming over him walked over to the lone table in the room and opened a large case. He removed a gleaming knife almost eight inches long. He walked back to the foot of the bed and brought it down swiftly twice. Blood splattered on the bare mattress as a muffled scream erupted from the gagged man.

“Now we will try this again,” intoned the figure. “Where is the vampire Angel?” he said, removing the gag.

The man on the bed sweated profusely and was literally shaking with fear and pain. Combined with the sweat, his greasy hair and filthy clothes caused a rank stench to circulate throughout the small room.

“I . . . I don’t know no Angel. I swear!” he said.

“I’ve come a long way, and that’s not good enough,” said the man looming over him, as he picked up the gag and held the knife aloft. The knife started shaking in his hand, and his voice was no longer impassive now it had an edge to it. “Tell me!” he shouted through clenched teeth, as he raised the knife far over his head and thrust it down savagely. The man on the bed screamed again and tried to roll up in a fetal position—but his hands and what was left of his feet were bound too securely. Sirens wailed in the distance, as the pounding on the wall started up again.

“Wait! Wait! I’ve heard of a guy called Ange—Angle--Angelus. Real bad sort.”

“I’m sure he has many names,” said the figure. “Where is he?”

“I—I’m not sure.” The greasy-haired vampire groaned again and—for the first time since his transformation—prayed. Prayed that his torture would soon end.

“Well you better remember. Living forever is not quite as much fun without any limbs.”

Several minutes later, the figure left the room, carrying the large case. After months of searching, he had the information he needed, finally.

In the room behind him, more than one body part littered the floor as a thick pool of blood, mixed with ashes, stained the once-tan carpet a deep crimson.


Jenny Calendar watched as Giles wrapped the pasta around his fork, released it, and then did the same thing again. He had been staring off into space and toying with his food like this for the last few minutes and it was starting to irk her.

“Rupert, is there something on your plate that you find more interesting than me?” she said. Around them, waiters and waitresses in white shirts and black vests were carefully carrying large trays of food. This wasn’t Sunnydale’s finest restaurant, but Vincenzo’s was still one of its nicer ones, and Jenny had been excited about coming here with Giles on a Friday night—at least until he started acting like a space-case.

Giles looked up at the sound of her voice. “Ah—I’m sorry Jenny. I’ve just been a bit . . . distracted tonight, haven’t I?”

“Like talking to a brick wall. Rupert, what is it? Maybe I can help.” She sipped from her glass of wine and then set it down, ready for conversation. It wasn’t often that the pair had a chance to simply be alone together and talk—during the school day, things were always so hectic, and it always seemed that some crisis or another was popping up to keep them apart.

Giles looked around reluctantly and then lowered his voice so that only he and Jenny could hear. “It’s about Buffy leaving. I’m still worried about what might happen. I mean Angel may help but—“

“Angel?” Jenny said, interrupting him.

“Yes. As I was saying, he will be filling in for Buffy this weekend.”

Jenny considered this carefully, but her face showed no particular emotion. She knew what Giles and the others did not—that she was a Gypsy, descendant of the band that had placed a curse on Angel to make him have a soul, thus ensuring that he suffered eternally for what he had done to her people. And more, the entire reason she had come to Sunnydale was to make sure that Angel continued to suffer—and his romance with Buffy was getting in the way of that. It wasn’t that she hated either Angel or Buffy—they had even saved her life before—but she couldn’t simply abandon a solemn duty given to her by her elders either.

“You know, Rupert, it may actually be a good thing that Buffy is getting some time away from things here. She faces an awful lot of pressure. And to tell you the truth, I’ve always been a bit . . . uneasy about her relationship with Angel. I mean, Buffy is only sixteen and I remember when I was her age . . . . Dating a vampire may not be the best her for at this time in her life—or ever, really.”

Giles nodded and rubbed the back of his neck. “I’ve actually thought the same thing on many occasions, but it is her life and—“

“But Rupert, you’re supposed to be looking out for her. And with everything that’s happened, you’re somewhat of a father figure to her. Maybe you should have a talk with her about it,” she said, her face showing evident concern for Buffy’s well-being.

“Well . . . I suppose I could . . . think about it,” Giles said, still indecisive. As her Watcher, I am responsible for Buffy’s emotional as well as physical safety. He was forced to change the subject when a waiter arrived with dessert, but he continued pondering it all through dinner. Jenny didn’t seem to mind his distracted state nearly as much as before.


Buffy drove along the highway, humming to herself. It was a beautiful fall day, and she even saw a deer nibbling grass on the shoulder. The air was cool and crisp, and carried with it maybe just a hint of rain. This is the way it should always be, she thought to herself.

Suddenly a fist shattered through the windshield and grabbed Buffy by the throat. A head peered over from the roof, its features contorted into a vampire’s face. Buffy struggled to free herself, and then realized that the car was headed straight for a tree--she screamed!

“Will someone please shut her up?” shouted Cordelia, from the driver’s seat. “Major freak-out. I’m trying to drive here, okay!”

Buffy woke up with a start, panicked. Willow leaned over from the backseat and put a hand on her shoulder.

“It’s okay, Buffy. You just had a bit of a bad dream,” she said.

Buffy looked around, shamefaced. “Sorry, guys. The baggage of being a Slayer, I guess.” She hadn’t even realized she had dozed off. Can’t I ever relax—even on vacation? I’m becoming such a mental-case.

“Did you dream that Cordelia had set you up for a double-date again?” joked Xander.

“I can’t drive under this pressure, with her freaking out all the time,” Cordelia announced loudly. She took the next Interstate exit and pulled into a fast food restaurant.

“Well, I was getting hungry anyway,” said Xander. Other than Buffy’s dream, the drive had been uneventful and even somewhat boring. He had been crowded with Willow in the backseat, which was partially taken up by luggage. She had spent the drive so far paging through a heavy book, while he had traded barbs with Cordelia. The Interstate wasn’t very busy--they had only passed a few cars, though there were a surprising number of motorcyclists headed towards them from the east.

Once seated inside the restaurant, Buffy stared distractedly out the window, oblivious to the conversation. The others worked their way through typical teenage fare—french fries and hamburgers. Cordelia swore that such “garbage” was bad for her figure, and ordered a salad instead—but she kept picking at Xander’s fries until he gave up and dumped half of them on the table in front of her.

“Let’s promise,” said Buffy suddenly, interrupting one of Xander’s (in)famous anecdotes.

“What?” the others said, almost unanimously.

“We’ve finally made it,” she replied. “Out of the Hellmouth, I mean. Let’s promise not to talk about vampires, werewolves, demons, or any thing else creepy, and not to bring up the Hellmouth at all. For the rest of the trip,” she said, decisively.

“It’s not the Hellmouth,” said Cordelia, as if she were addressing someone who didn’t realize orange pants and a plaid blazer didn’t go together. “It’s you. You’re the reason everything happens. Sunnydale was fine for like 500 years, and then you show up, and guess what happens? You’re like a weirdness magnet or something.”

Buffy glared at her. She wanted to argue, but deep down she suspected that Cordelia was actually right for once.

“I don’t care,” she said, looking at everyone. “Promise me.”

“Well, okay,” said Willow. “Is there a problem Buffy? We can talk about it.”

“Nope, no problem,” she said, and added a smile. “Let’s just do it, okay?”

“What, like a solemn vow?” said Xander.

“Or whatever,” replied Buffy.

“Well, in that case there’s only one thing to do,” he stated, and held his hand over the table, pinky extended. “Pinky swear.”

“Xander!” interjected Willow. “Nobody’s done that since, like, the third grade.”

“Exactly,” said Xander. “And look what’s happened as a result—Human Hyenas, Praying Mantis Teacher, Evil Aztec Princess, etcetera, etcetera.”

Willow shrugged and held out her pinky, gripping Xander’s. Buffy looked at each of them. They were her buds, and she couldn’t leave them hanging. She reached out and awkwardly encircled the others’ pinkies with her own.

“Cordelia?” said Buffy.

Cordelia looked up from her salad and rolled her eyes when she saw what they were doing. She sighed. “Fine. I don’t want to talk about Sunnydale either. But if you tell anyone I did this, I swear!”

She reached out and tentatively touched the others’ pinkies with her own.


Thursday, June 21, 2012

Les fiancées de l’enfer [FRENCH]

Les fiancées de l’enfer (The Fiancées of Hell) by Christine Brouillet was a decent though unmemorable police thriller.  The main character, a Quebec police detective named Maud Graham, is reasonably interesting and is in some respects similar to Elizabeth George's Barbara Havers.  Graham quickly gets set on the trail of the Cross Rapist, a violent offender who initials his victims with a cryptic series of letters.  The book is properly classified as a thriller rather than a mystery, because we learn very early on through POV scenes who the Cross Rapist actually is.  There are some interesting supporting characters, but the plot takes a long time to come together and all of the exciting scenes at the end happen "off-camera" for a very unsatisfying conclusion.  All in all, not a book worth seeking out.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Torchwood: "Adrift" (S2, E11)

"If we can prove you were right, we can start looking for the people who were taken and maybe try to even stop it from happening."


Season Two, Episode Eleven ("When Gwen investigates the disappearance of a local teenager, she discovers a side of Torchwood that shocks her to the core.")


* A solid premise that has mystery, surprises, and a nice mature, moody feel that I think fits Torchwood really well as "thinking man's" science fiction.  There are no aliens or energy weapons, but the story is interesting and engaging.

*  PC Andy.  He's really charming in an affable, slightly goofy way, but his humanity is very appealing.  It was good to see his explanation for why he wasn't at Gwen's wedding.

* The theme: compassion.  This episode ties in very well to the very beginning of the series which portrayed Gwen as bringing in something that the others lacked because they had become jaded and hard.  Here, we seen Gwen starting to display those same traits until PC Andy calls her on it.

* Rhys chewing Gwen out; nice acting!

* The idea of Jonah screaming like that for 20 hours a day; yep, that's pretty creepy.


* No complaints here.


* Why Jack doesn't trust Gwen or Tosh with knowledge of the facility; after all, presumably dozens of nurses must know about it, so why not them?

*  Nikki's conclusion that she would rather never had known her son's fate, and that Gwen should not tell any of the other parents of missing children what happened to them.  I'm just not sure if the conclusion is that obvious.


*  Jack watching Gwen with the missing persons' reports

*  Gwen outside the meeting seeing PC Andy and Nikki walking out.

*  Nikki entering the facility with Gwen and saying "Is this what going mad feels like?"


*  The theme of missing children.

*  Gwen's character arc.

*  The value of PC Andy.

*  Portraying the adult Jonah.

Return to Torchwood Main Page

Monday, June 18, 2012

Castle Ravenloft: Adventure # 10 "Blood and Fog"

"Blood and Fog" requires the heroes to escape by finding the Secret Stairway tile before they get devoured by the Zombie Dragon.  This one took us two attempts to get through.

On our first try, we played four heroes and stayed close together.  Through a combination of bad luck (traps!) and bad strategy (monsters & traps hitting everyone on the same tile), our heroes got worn down on hit points pretty quickly.  One of our heroes had a Wand of Teleportation which we hoped could be used to zap everybody away from the Zombie Dragon when it appeared, but due to the creature's ability to push a hero it hits a tile away, we could only get three of the four heroes to the far side of the layout.  Our poor cleric, stuck behind, wasn't able to physically run away before he got killed with no healing surges left.  The hard part with the end of the game is that the Zombie Dragon activates on every Villain Phase, not just that of the hero who discovers him.

So on our second try, we decided on a very different strategy: instead of staying close together so our heroes could help each other out, we had them go in different directions in the hopes of turning over tiles quickly.  This proved to work much better, as we had no difficulty in finding the Secret Stairway and having everyone escape without even needing to use a single healing surge (though it came close).

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Lowknobbin Goldstock, Oil Merchant [RPG]

Lowknobbin Goldstock was my PC in a fun D&D 3.0 campaign set in the world of The Way of Thorn and Thunder (and directed by the author).  Along with the druid Malcolm, the bard Laurel, and the sorceror Seketh, Lowknobbin adventured and encountered many enemies along the way, such as the evil Thrall, the witchhunter Vergis Thane, and more.  Although I kept notes of what happened plot-wise, they are (from a vantage point a decade later) quite incomprehensible.  My two main recollections are:  (1) a huge fight at the end of the campaign in a swamp that involved a dramatic airship assault; and (2) the hilarious "beating a dead horse" incident, which still brings a smile to my face today.

The concept behind Lowknobbin was: what would it be like to be a normal merchant thrust into a life of adventure?  He was an enjoyable character to play, though probably one that would have worked better in a fantasy game with an urban setting rather than a wilderness one.

Lowknobbin Goldstock

Lowknobbin Goldstock Drawn by Daniel Justice
Lawful Good Goblin Rogue4/Fighter1  (XP: 13,070)

Size: Small (Height: 4'5, Weight: 50 Lbs.)

Languages:  Goblin, Common, Kyn, Gnomish

Abilities:  Strength 6(-2), Dexterity 17 (+3), Constitution 10, Intelligence 15 (+2), Wisdom 11, Charisma 11

Hit Points:  25

Initiative:  +7, Speed: 15 feet

Armor Class:  17  (+3 armor, +3 dexterity, + 1 size)

Base Attack:  +4

Attacks:  Fastdraw (magical crossbow):  +9 (+10 PB), d. 1d4+1(1d4+2 PB), Crit. 19-20 (x2)
Shortsword +8, d. 1d6-2, Crit. 1-20(x2) (+2d6 Sneak attack)

Saves:  Fortitude +3, Reflex +7, Will +1

Skills:  Appraise +5 (+7 using scale), Craft: Locksmith +4, Craft: Gearwork +4, Diplomacy +3, Disable Device +8, Gather Info +3, Hide +10, Listen +4, Move Silently +7, Open Lock +9, Profession: Merchant +3, Search +6, Sense Motive +3, Use Magic Item +2, Decipher Script +3, Spot +1, Knowledge: Goblin History +4, Knowledge: Engineering +4, Ride: Mule +8, Handle Animal +5, Knowledge: Oils +4

Feats/Traits:  Point Blank Shot, Improved Initiative, Precise Shot, Weapon Finesse: Short Sword, Darkvision, Evasion, Uncanny Dodge

Equipment (on person):  Backpack, Goblin Mail Armor, Leather Helm of Levitation, Sunrod, 10 sp, 4 gp, 35 pp, 3 diamonds, 2 rubies, smokestick, mechanic's tools, Fastdraw, 16 bolts, thunderstone (x2), shortsword, Oils to sell (crossbow, firearm, bow, gear, leather preservative)

Equipment (on mule):  Saddlebags, artisan's tools, rations, merchant's scale, ledger, light crossbow bolts (x70), light crossbow, smokesticks (x2), thunderstones (x3), sunrod, tanglefoot bags (x2), healing supplies, coldweather gear, 75 pp


Lowknobbin Goldstock is a young goblin, just barely pass the age of majority (55 years).  He's the son of Highknobbin Goldstock (nee Woodbrick) and Wilhemina Goldstock.  Lowknobbin has led a rather sheltered life, and has been greatly influenced by his parents' vocation.

Until very recently, Highknobbin Goldstock was the nominal head of a goblin trading coaster which operated along the Great Way Road from Harondin Holt to the west and Chalimor to the east, as well as several small villages slightly off the Road to the north and south.  Before meeting Wilhemina, Highknobbin operated his own little merchant stand in Northern Morvag, selling firewood to fuel-hungry settlers.  When he met Wilhemina, the two fell in love at first sight (according to his version of the story), and she helped him expand his pick-up-and-go street business into the twelfth largest goblin merchant coaster in all of Peridir.

Wilhemina is the only remaining descendant of the proud Goldstock name (the others having disappeared during ill-timed visits through the old Everlands and Pei-Tai-Pesh).  Wilhemina's mother was a goblin matron of real renown: she was not only head of a successful trading coaster, but also one of then-Chancellor Silverpike's closest advisors.  Accordingly, Wilhemina grew up in a wealthy and aristocratic home.  She moved up the social ladder quickly, and rumors circulated throughout the Swarm that she would be named to the First Pillar someday (and possibly even be a future Chancellor).  Howeer, Wilhemina's place in the First Pillar was stolen (in her view) by a member of one of the Goldstock family's longest and most-hated rivals: Tregaron Darksreak, of the Darksreak family.  Feeling humiliated, Wilhemina left her comfortable trappings and wandered much of northern Peridir.  It was on these travels she met Highknobbin and either fell in love (his view) or found a malleable partner (others' view).

Determined to rebuilt what she lost, Wilhemina has enabled a goblin of non-so-great talent into becoming head of a merchant coaster.  Calling upon her old contacts, she has recently arranged for Highknobbin to be named to a minor diplomatic post as Second Ancillary Ambassador to Sarvannadad.  She's largely remained outside public perception, and rumors circulate that she's either planning her long-awaited revenge against the Darksreak family or writing a tell-all memoir about her life.

Lowknobbin grew up on the Goldstock family estate on the southern coast of Artoran (the estate consisted of a small house, two factories, and four warehouses).  He worked as a gearsmith and springloader in one of the factories on all different kinds of devices: water clocks, mechanical door-bells, crossbows, children's toys, and more.  He loves his father dearly, and is terribly proud of his appointment to the diplomatic post.  Lowknobbin rarely sees his mother, and she is somewhat of a recluse, even to her own family.  He has no brothers, but he had companionship as a youth from his seven cousins who visited the estate frequently.

When his father heard about his diplomatic appointment, he wanted to instantly name his son as head of the Goldstock Trading Coaster, Ltd.  However, Wilhemina thought the boy was not ready, and instructed Highknobbin to slowly groom the boy to take over.  Accordingly, Highknobbin named his associate, Loomkor, as head of the coaster and has named Lowknobbin as District Manager for Fine Oils and Liquids.  Highknobbin thought the best way to get Lowknobbin familiar with this aspect of the business was to have him travel the sales route for a few months to get him acquainted with the customers and their demands.  After placing the ceremonial goldcap on Lowknobbin during an elaborate ritual, Highknobbin had his son and some merchandise transported by airship to a tiny village along the sales route named Verdant Grange.

And thus the story begins . . .

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Clone Wars Campaign: Tarn Tamarand, Jedi Idealist

Tarn Tamarand was one of the most important characters in the entire campaign, which is an interesting statement when you think of the fact that he was absent for most of it.  Tarn was one of the initial four PCs when the campaign started, and was a memorable character from the moment he leapt into an air-transport of B-1 battledroids and almost single-handedly destroyed them all.  Tarn was portrayed as a young, clean-cut Jedi Padawan who was very much an idealist and perhaps even slightly naive.  He was prone to dramatic, arguably foolhardy risks, but always ended up successful when it came to swordplay.  An ironic (for a Jedi) quirk quickly developed that would become a crucial part of the character's development: he was terrible with the Force!  Oft-told tales involve the character being asked by a bystander to prove he was a Jedi by levitating a pebble, and rolling so low on a Use the Force check that it failed!  Similarly, while undercover  in a Separatist embassy, Tarn tried to simulate the sound of blaster fire outside a control room in order to gain access to the computers; his roll was again infamously poor, and the mission failed.  Examples could easily multiply.

The campaign took a direction I had never anticipated when two of the PCs, Tarn and Arresta, began to role-play a mutual attraction leading to a love affair.  Romance had never been a plot or even subplot in any game I had ever directed or played in before, and I was surprised at how quickly it became a major story element in the campaign.  The player running Tarn had to drop out of the campaign soon after the romance was consumated, and for a while the character was completely off-screen.

Several months later, it became apparent to me that I needed to bring the character back as an NPC in order to move the story forward (both in terms of the romance and in terms of the overall campaign plot of the Anomaly).  Continuing on the concept expressed in-game and in short stories that Tarn had continued his tutelage under Master Creen, I worked in the idea that Creen recognized early on that Tarn would never be a great master of the Force.  Instead, Creen saw that Tarn's innate courage and persistence could be bent in another direction, and focussed Tarn's training on streetfighting and lightsaber combat.  It felt a little bit weird to be running a character formerly played by someone else, but it was crucial that I make Tarn seem . . . cool.  An image of Tarn as a goofy Jedi who always had to be rescued had started to develop in the minds of some of the players, and I wanted to rehabilitate Tarn's image while simultaneously providing an example of a "Lawful Good" character who could do some impressive things.

In the end, I was really happy how the character turned out.  He provided, at least to my mind, an example of everything that was good about the Jedi but with weaknesses and character traits that kept him from being a generic "good guy".  He provided a great counterpoint to Stefan's ruthlessness, and a heroic, epic quality that served as a nice counterpoint to the rest of the PCs sometimes selfish, mercenary tendencies.

To my mind, Tarn was one of the best characters in the campaign, and when it was over, I still wanted to know more about him: how would he integrate having a daughter into his good samaritan ways? Would he ever be able to win Arresta over?  What would happen to him and his quest to stop Jocasta in the Anomaly?  Some of these stories I've now told, and others I want to tell someday.  A character you don't quite want to let go of is a good character indeed.
Tarn Tamarand, Jedi Knight

Jedi3/Soldier7/Elite Trooper 7

Strength +4, Constitution +2, Dexterity +3, Intelligence +1

Defences:  (add 10 if not using house rules)  Reflex +22, Fortitude +20, Will +14

Hit Points:  144 (Threshold: 30); DR: 3

Attacks:  Double Punch (as standard action): +14/+14, d. 2d10+13;  Single Attack +19 d. 2d10+13;  Lightsaber +16, d. 2d8+12

Special:  Ignores Damage Reduction; Targets goes 2 steps down condition track if over threshold; +5 against Dark Side;  Delay Damage (1 round)

Force Powers:  Move Object, Mind Trick, Surge

Skills:  Use the Force +15, Acrobatics +15, Swim +17, Endurance +14, Perception +12

Return to Clone Wars Campaign Main Page