I checked out Emmanuel Carrere's La classe de neige ("Ski Camp") from the library because I needed another French book and it was short. Luck was on my side as it was an excellent novel. The story follow a boy on the cusp of adolescence named Nicolas and his time at a school-sponsored ski camp. Nicolas is an introspective kid, very imaginative and prone to flights of fancy, but also not particularly popular with the others. When a little boy goes missing in a nearby village, Nicolas decides it would be a fun game to investigate. The result is very tragic and very dark. As is often the case with reviews, my plot summary does not do the book justice. The author has a beautiful understanding of tone and inner dialogue, and the subtle use of memory and daydreams lends the book the feel of mystery and impending revelation. It's a short book, but a very good one, and absolutely successful in evoking pity for the protagonist.
A quick look at Wikipedia reveals that the book has been made into a movie . . .
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
[21 Mirtul 1372]
That evening, in Nesme, Mellia stays inside her room at the boarding house working on spells. Meanwhile, Fargrim, Cain, and Markus walk to a local tavern named the Six Flames Foundry, a dimly lit, crowded, and subdued establishment. There, they hear gossip about missing prospectors, "blight blades", lizardmen,
and a group of "foolish" Tyran pilgrims planning to make the dangerous journey to the tomb of Arden Brightheart. Fargrim asks some more questions about this last topic, and the trio connect this information which the request to investigate made by Sword-Captain Gyrax in Grunwald almost a tenday ago. The tomb of the legendary paladin lays about fifteen miles southeast of Nesme, but in recent months few pilgrims who venture towards it ever return.
[22 Mirtul 1372]
The next day, Mellia has the proprietor of the boarding house deliver a message stating that the sorceress is not to be disturbed. The others decide to pay a visit to Brightheart's tomb, and leave word of their intentions with the proprietor. The half day's journey over the largely barren, rocky moor is uneventful, and soon the trio catches sight of Bright Hill. The path leading up the hill is deceptively treacherous, and Cain falls off his horse before leaving it at the base of the hill in frustration.
The entrance to the tomb is a large white marble archway carved into the side of the hill. Inside, several statues of Brightheart occupy alcoves built into the walls, with placards testifying to the hero's exploits: leading campaigns against orcs, impaling the legendary necromancer Dread Watcher with his holy sword, and carving room for civilization out of the savage area now know as the Silver Marches.
While examining one of the statues, Markus unknowingly activates an insidious trap: the statue itself topples on him and shatters! Seconds after being knocked to the ground, Markus is set upon by a flock of Darkmantles, large, black, flying squid-like creatures that try to envelop their prey. Before his allies can react, Markus is at death's door! Clutching a coin and uttering words to Tymora, the dashing swordsman is miraculously filled with new life and strength. Still, the battle continues as other Darkmantles swoop down toward Fargrim and instinctively create an area of utter darkness around the entry to the tomb. Meanwhile, Cain, who had left to check on his horse, returns to a scene of confusion. Invoking his divinely-granted gifts, he melds into the marble wall of the chamber and steps out just in time to aid Markus by invoking fire and terrible sonic magicks. The battle is a difficult one, but the trio emerge alive.
As they recover from the battle, Mellia arrives and hastens to tell the group of her breakthroughs in magickal research. Partially aided by the strange runes on the hillside west of Nesme, Mellia has discovered means to hasten movement, create massive incendiary effects, and even craft wands. Markus expresses his desire for a Wand of Magic Missiles.
The group continues on to an adjoining chamber carved out of natural rock and containing a large pool at the far end, with a statue of a kneeling Arden Brightheart on a small island in the center. At the statue's base is engraved the words: "When strength of steel in trouble fails, Silent reverence knows the way/Arden's arm was strong and true/But `twas his faith that won the day."
Markus' familiar senses an undercurrent of rot and decay coming from the pool. Wary of traps, Fargrim carefully inches close to the pool and his caution is rewarded when he notices a narrow underwater ledge running around its circumference and a pair of ghastly, unliving abominations slowly emerging towards him! Their waterlogged flesh is wrinkled and sagging, but sharp claws and teeth speak to their predatory nature. A mere scratch from one of the creatures renders Fargrim temporarily unable to move before it is destroyed,
while Cain forces the other to flee back into the depths of the pool by displaying Kossuth's divine might.
With the battle over, at least for now, Markus speaks an incantation to determine if there are any magickal auras in the chamber. He senses several radiating objects at the bottom of the pool. Moving closer, he speaks another incantation to lift the objects into the air: 11 crossbow bolts and a light mace featuring the symbol of Tyr on its hilt. The mace gently shocks Markus' hand when he touches it, and he therefore decides to wrap it in cloth.
Meanwhile, Mellia asks the group why they have come to this tomb and is dismayed to discover it was simply for a lark rather than a considered purpose. She strides away, frustrated, and begins the journey back to Nesme. Cain hurries to catch up with her.
In the cavern, Fargrim decides to check the remnants of the undead creature for treasure. He finds nothing, and the delay has injurious consequences as the other abomination emerges again from the pool! Markus and Fargrim have a difficult running battle with the creature, as its paralyzing blows make it difficult to defend against. At last, with some concentrated teamwork, the pair manage to outrun the monstrosity and escape the tomb. They hurry and catch up to the others at the base of the hill, and Markus and Mellia exchange words.
Director's Commentary (Feb. 7, 2014)
If recollection serves, The Wife (who runs Mellia) was running late this session so it was left to the three guys to decide what to do. They picked dungeon-crawling, and I don't blame them one bit! As I've mentioned in a previous post, the tomb of Arden Brightheart comes from Dungeon Crawl Classics # 14: Interludes, though of course it'd been modified a little to fit into the overall story. I also gave Arden a role as the founder of Startop Castle. The bit where the party is climbing the hill to the tomb was quite funny, as Cain's horse's quirk (suddenly stopping) proved quite a hindrance. Over time, as the party grew larger and switched mounts frequently, I wasn't able to have as much fun with horse quirks but it was enjoyable while it lasted.
The initial encounter in the tomb was almost fatal for Markus. The dice I rolled for damage from the trapped statue came up quite high, and then the swarming darkmantles would have finished the character off if he hadn't used his Red Chip. I may have talked about before that every year, at Christmas, I give each of my players a single red poker chip they can use once during any game I run in the following year to do things like score an automatic critical hit, find a last second escape route, or instantly heal all their hit points. Markus' player had to use his in order to survive that encounter. I don't remember Cain ever using the meld into stone spell since this session.
The battle against the lacedons (aquatic ghouls) was quite tough, even though there were only a couple of them. Any creature with multiple attacks, each of which can paralyze a foe, is dangerous. I think Markus and Fargrim forgot that one of the lacedons had only been turned, not destroyed, when they returned to the pool to look for more loot, and it was almost a comedy of errors as they really wanted to run but had difficulty finding a route that wouldn't provoke attacks of opportunity and get one or the other paralyzed.
After having set up this entire dungeon and hoping the PCs would get a chance to earn some XP and treasure, plus get a chance to get further into the story of what's happening in the Evermoors, I was a bit bummed when Mellia chastised them into leaving. I can only assume many more pilgrims died as a result of this decision!
Not sure if I've mentioned this before, but you'll have noticed no Nakor for the past several sessions. Oddest thing: after having made every single session and having been quite into the game, the player e-mailed me to say he was going to miss the next session because his sister was coming to town. And then, he missed every single session after that while maintaining complete silence via e-mail. Just never showed up again, and never explained why. Weird.