Sunday, September 29, 2013

Realms Toowoomba Session # 31 [RPG]

[4 Kythorn 1372]

After Markus' departure, Mellia and Cain read the letters he left for them. As everyone is badly hurt and Ellywick has relapsed into unconsciousness, the group decides the wisest course of action is to stay where they are and simply run if any danger presents itself.

[5 Kythorn 1372]

In the morning, Mellia asks Cain what he knows about orcs, hoping to discover leverage that might be useful in interrogating their prisoner. Cain is able to provide some general information, but nothing on point. The adventurers then decide deception might be the best way to intimidate the stubborn orc into speaking: after laboriously explaining to Fargrim what a "pantomime" is, the plan is for Mellia and Cain to interrogate the orc while Fargrim takes Ralkin behind a boulder and pretends to verbally abuse and beat him. Before the adventurers can put their plan into action, however, they realize they're being watched!

An elf wearing forest camouflage and accompanied by a strange hound stands about fifty feet away from the group. He announces himself as Sha'dar, Warden of the High Forest, and explains he and his companion Nisria had tracked the scent of orcs to the party's campsite. A suspicious Mellia immediately starts to recite the eldritch words of an incantation to detect the newcomer's thoughts, an action that causes Sha'dar to raise his bow. The tense standoff is resolved when Mellia explains the purpose of her spell, with Sha'dar warning her that "if any harm comes to me, you will be the first to die." Still, lingering hostility remains between the two. Mellia then turns her spell on Ralkin and discovers his intent to kill the orc when an opportune moment presents itself. Mellia persuades him to agree to leave the orc alone for now.

The adventurers begin their interrogation of the prisoner. The orc keeps trying to get Fargrim to fight him ("fairly" this time), but the exasperated dwarf does manage to extract a rough idea of the layout of the caverns of the White Talon tribe, the name of its king ("Kaernga"), the fact that a gnome is being held to polish gems (potentially Katanya's brother, Flindle), and that a splinter faction of the tribe led by an orc named Drugila is apparently looking for a powerful magic artifact. When it seems like the orc has probably said all he is going to, Sha'dar orders his hound to kill him. Ralkin reacts quickly and tries to slash the orc's throat himself, but Fargrim manages to grab him and stop the attempt. Cain tries to stop the hound, but the beast is too quick and in moments has torn out the prisoner's throat!

Mellia berates Sha'dar for his actions, telling him that he has no honour and cannot be trusted. Sha'dar replies that his actions were not murder, and that Wardens kill only when necessary. Mellia angrily replies that she won't turn her back on the elf and that if he does it again, she'll kill him. Later, Mellia and Ralkin talk at a distance from the others, and Ralkin persuades her that it is safer to keep Sha'dar at their side where they can keep an eye on him.

That evening, Mellia places a ward around the camp and Sha'dar and his hound camp far outside of it. In the middle of the night, an explosion and flash of light occurs within sight of the camp, and a mysterious red-robed figure steps out of it. The figure hovers in mid-air and in a loud voice that echoes through the moor demands that Cain come before him. The cleric at first pretends to be sleeping, but eventually gives in and reluctantly goes to speak to the figure. He seems shaken when he returns, and immediately goes back to bed.

[6 Kythorn 1372]

In the morning, the others ask Cain about what had transpired the night previously. He says that it is "his past coming back to me" and that he is "running out of time" but is committed to seeing the group's current quest through.

Healed by rest and Cain's spells, the adventurers tie the still unconscious Ellywick to a horse and head for Startop Mountain. When they reach the keep at its summit, Ellywick is left on top of the guardhouse with a canvas over her to help keep out the rain and periodic hail. Cain ties up his horse to the ladder next to the guardhouse, while the others leave their mounts in the main keep. The adventurers then gird themselves for another battle with the White Talon orcs. Passing through now-visible secret doors behind the keep and into passages carved into the mountain, they approach the set of stairs leading downward into the orc caverns. They hear a low growl at the bottom of the stairs, a sharp command in orcish, and then the slamming of a door. When the adventurers descend into the guardroom where a battle was previously held, they find it empty. Cain, however, draws upon necromantic energies to discern multiple souls on the far side of the door.

Director's Commentary (August 28, 2014)

This session sees the introduction of Sha'dar, the new PC for the player who ran Markus.  I always appreciate it with players are able to role-play different personalities, alignments, and classes, and Sha'dar was definitely very different than Markus.  The other PCs did a good job of not treating Sha'dar as an automatic best buddy just because he was another PC, and the stand-off over how to deal with the orc was pretty exciting.

One of the hard parts sometimes in introducing a new PC is giving them a reason to join the group, and the group a reason to let the new PC join.  Sha'dar's "adventure hook" was that he was charged with investigating and stopping the rise of undead in the Evermoors that was leaking into the nearby High Forest.  This worked perfectly fine while the PCs were intent on investigating Startop Mountain, but of course didn't work at all when they later decided to wander around to various places on various errands, leaving Sha'dar to eventually depart the group.

Who was the mysterious red-robed figure that yelled at Cain?  All is soon revealed.  For now, I'll say that I always appreciate it when players write up some good allies and enemies from their backstories, as it allows me to introduce some NPCs into the game in a more organic way that has some immediate resonance with them.  Of course, I'm sure I don't always role-play those NPCs in the way that the players imagined them, but that's inevitable.

Next Recap

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Clone Wars Campaign: "A Brief Stint in the Great Beyond"

Once or twice a year, The Wife tries to talk me into writing her a short story featuring the characters from the Clone Wars Campaign.  Once or twice a year, I tell her I am finished and she needs to move on.  Once or twice a year, I give in and, after much waffling and delays, produce a belated birthday or Mother's Day gift.  Every family has its own traditions, and this is ours.

The story below, "A Brief Stint in the Great Beyond", is one of my favourites.  The flashback material is set not long after the end of the campaign and features the Cassadines' new home after their decision to leave Republic/Imperial space after the events of Order 66.  Because in-game the characters were unable to secure passage to the Hapes Consortium, their chosen alternative was the Centrality.  I wasn't able to find a lot of canon material on the Centrality, so I imagined the planet Rafa III as very much a galactic backwater.  Basically, a Firefly-type place hidden away in a Star Wars universe.  This allowed me to tell a fun "fish out of water" story; how would the urbane Stefan Cassadine, not to mention his princess wife, fare in such a rustic place, far from their usual comforts?

One of the not uncommmon situations I was trying to reflect with this story is how someone can become very anxious about the potential for disappointment of high hopes; not their own, but that of someone they love.  Thus, the drama in the story is about Arresta, Xam, and the others hoping against hope that Stefan won't be too disheartened by the inevitable debacle that will be made of the theatrical production he's been looking forward to for weeks.  A second theme I was trying to draw out is the family bonding that comes from shared experiences under adversity, such as moving to a new place away from the familiar faces of home.  I don't remember when this story was written, but I'm pretty sure it was well before The Wife, Boomer, and I moved to Australia and underwent a similar experience ourselves.

Finally, one of the things I really like about this story is that it's very different than most of the ones I've written.  There's no danger, combat, heartbreak, or tragedy.  But at the same time, I don't think it's boring: because we can identify with the characters and what they are going through, we're invested in their happiness and even seemingly mundane events can be really interesting to see.  Sometimes I feel the same about t.v. shows with characters I love; I would be perfectly content to watch an episode of Buffy, Willow, and Xander hanging out and talking--who needs vampires?  Well, maybe once in a while . . .

A Brief Stint in the Great Beyond

            Arresta sat down with a tired sigh on a plastisteel box labelled “Bespoke Greatcoats--Handle With Care” and stretched.  Moving was always exhausting, no matter how many droids and laborers had been hired to help out.  Even merely supervising could be stressful, but you could never let your guard down: twice she’d found packer-droids trying to cram her delicate Oreon crystal goblets in a box with common dinnerware, and just an hour ago a mover too greedy for his own good found out that Diethyl Plonium (an exotic variant of glitterspice nicknamed “Plon”) was not the same thing as Triethyl Plonium (a potent and lethal poison).  Still, her husband had been rather patient with the entire moving process.  When the would-be spicehead fell to the ground convulsing, Stefan calmly observed that the incident would serve as a valuable object lesson to others of a pilfering bent.  He was now off overseeing disposal of the body, leaving her and Xam to continue supervising.

            Arresta pushed herself off the box and got to her feet.  Allegra was safely ensconced in her room with the nanny droid.  It wouldn’t be long before Allegra was running circles around that droid, and Arresta knew she should go check.  But she was tired.  Had her first pregnancy been like this so early on?  She stretched her back muscles and turned for the staircase, taking each step one-by-one, clutching onto the banister carefully.  She reached the second floor landing and had started down the hallway when she heard a strange creaking sound coming from above.  The attic?  Or the roof?  The creaking sound grew louder, and then, right before her astonished eyes, a two-meter wide section of the hallway’s ceiling collapsed.  Arresta managed to leap back in time to avoid injury.  After the choking cloud of dust had settled, she couldn’t help but laugh.  This was the Centrality, and nothing ever seemed to go smoothly.

            Shards of broken duraplast and rotten synthwood beams lay on the floor of the hallway, partially concealing two mover droids who still grasped what must have been a heavy crate.  Their combined weight had simply been too much for the attic floor to hold them.     The droids were now on their sides and seemed incapable of processing what had occurred or the fact that they needed to let go of the crate if they were ever going to right themselves.  The crate itself had broken open in the fall, spilling out a mismatched assortment of objects.  Arresta kneeled down in front of the crate and picked up a datapad:  “Property of the Rafa III Cultural Improvement Council” was permanently etched on the back.  Arresta giggled, thinking back, and then she began to tear up.  She knew sudden onsets of emotion were common during pregnancy, but she couldn’t help but feel a little sad they were leaving.  As ridiculous as their time in the Centrality had been, she was taking with her memories she wouldn’t trade for all the worlds in the galaxy.


            Their first few weeks on Rafa III in the Centrality had not been . . . ideal.  Tension over Tarn and their quick departure from Republic space still lingered.  The manor house they had bought, the former home of the settlement’s founder, had been in a state of well-hidden disrepair.  Laborers hired from the settlement to remedy the problem showed up inebriated as often as sober, if they showed up at all.  And the constant, unrelenting dry heat (more information cleverly excised from official tourist information) made daytime excursions impractical.  Arresta could tell that Stefan was agitated, and once or twice they had even talked about pulling up stakes and returning to the Republic--but the turmoil of Order 66, Allegra’s connection to Tarn, and the possibility that they were still sought on those ridiculous “war crimes” charges made it seem too dangerous.  Still, Arresta knew that Stefan considered being hunted by the new Empire as only a marginally worse fate than raising Allegra in this “uncultured backwater of a planet”, a phrase that came to his lips more and more often as the days went on.

            So it was with a great deal of excitement that she stumbled upon the advert.  She had taken Allegra (and a heavily armed retinue) on a walk down the long path to the settlement to see if the local produce was any better than the dwindling supplies they had brought with them on the Knife’s Edge.  Officially the place was named “Rafa III Tertiary Inhabited Zone # 7” but the locals simply called it “here” or, when feeling expansive, “The Seven”.  The settlement was a loose collection of hastily-assembled buildings, most unchanged and all unimproved since the original colonists arrived on Rafa III decades before.  Dirt roads, limping speeders, two cantinas, and no garbage collection was the first impression tourists would take away from the place.  The only good thing is that anyone who knows us would never look for us here, Arresta thought ruefully.

            She had stopped to pick through the wretched contents of a “fresh fruit” stand when the small black and white notice caught her eye.  It was nailed (with old-fashioned metal nails!) to a wooden post that the locals sometimes tied beasts of burdens to:




TO BE PERFORMED AT T.I.Z. # 7       ON the third evening after the half moon



            Arresta grinned broadly.  “Allie, I just found something that is going to make your Papa very happy!” she said to the infant in the stroller at her side.  Allegra smiled and wriggled  at the mention of her father, and Arresta knew already that she was going to be “Papa’s Little Girl.” 

            “What’d you find, Mrs. C?” Xam asked eagerly.  Everyone knew when Stefan was unhappy, and his employees would do whatever it took to bring him out of a foul mood.

            “A production of his favorite play,” she responded, committing the sparse details on the poster to memory before continuing.  “‘Tyrus Rex’ is the story of the so-called ‘Tyrant King’ of Brezni-Gari.  He was a legendary despot, who, along with his concubine-queen Ezrelea,  had already achieved near mythical status when Eluysius-Memnon wrote his famous fictionalized account of Tyrus’ life.”

            “Elu . . . who?” Xam asked.

            Only the most famous playwright in the known worlds, Arresta thought.  Xam was good with dealing with problems right in front of his eyes, but nobody could claim he was much of a theater-goer.  “A writer, Xam.  A very good one, in fact.  Anyway, what matters is that Stefan will be thrilled.”

            Allegra laughed at nothing in particular, Arresta laughed with her, and the whole company made their way back up the path in higher spirits than when they had come down.


            Stefan had, indeed, reacted as Arresta expected.  Not that he showed it openly--her husband was not a man prone to public displays of emotion.  But even the staff noticed an extra spring in his step, a jocular tone that almost approached bantering, and a little extra in their paychecks in the days leading up to the opening night of the play.  He had Xam search through their crates for evening wear that Arresta knew would have been suitable to attend a Coruscanti opera, much less a traveling production in a remote settlement on Rafa III.  She even once or twice heard Stefan telling baby Allegra about the plot of the play--she was too young to understand, but only Stefan’s long-held belief that children should not attend theatrical productions until they were old enough to sit patiently and quietly kept him from bringing her along.  In other words, his enthusiasm, to Arresta’s trained eye, was such that she felt it necessary to subtly remind him that this particular production of “Tyrus Rex” might not be up to his usual standards.

            “A spirited amateur production,” he replied, “although perhaps neither polished nor perfected, carries with it a certain zest and charm that can be found absent in the over-rehearsed, disciplined execution of professional companies.”  It was a point to which Arresta could not disagree, even if she felt a kernel of anxiety that Stefan would be disappointed and the remainder of their time in the Centrality would seem even more oppressive.

            On the evening of the opening, Stefan and Arresta enjoyed an elegant meal in the private dining room of the Knife’s Edge.  Xam catered, and although the meal was the last they could expect from the gourmet selection in the ship’s stores, it was as if all the tensions of the past months--over Tarn, the move to the Centrality, the debacle of a house--faded away under the warm glow of muted lighting and the mild effects of the last bottle of Necr’ygor Omic wine.  It was a chance to reconnect, a chance to remember just how much they loved each other.  Staring into Stefan’s eyes, Arresta knew her decisions in the past, however difficult, had been right--because they led her to this place, with this man.  They could make a home anywhere they were together, even on Rafa III.  Allegra would miss her biological father from time to time, but she was lucky to have Stefan in her life--a man who could be a parent, who would always put her  first.

            “What are you smiling about, Pet?”

            “I was just thinking we should have a toast,” she replied.  “To family.”

            “To family,” Stefan agreed, and their glasses clinked.


            Xam drove them in an armored groundcar to the edge of the settlement, where a large duracrete landing pad had been turned into a makeshift outdoor theatre.  Floodlights  normally used to guide in ships had been slightly dimmed and pointed at a stage constructed out of overturned storage units lined up tightly together.  Dozens of smaller boxes and a few rows of seats scavenged from wrecked starships had been placed in front of the stage for the audience to sit on.  A long, rugged-looking plains-crawler was parked near the stage with the letters “R. III C.I.C.” stenciled on the side.

            Stefan and Arresta arrived the customary twenty-five minutes early, and the place seemed deserted.  Even the uncultured Xam was surprised as he dropped them off, but Stefan was determined to make the best of it as he led Arresta to a pair of comfortable-looking front row seats clearly ripped out of the cockpit of a lunar shuttle.  “We should anticipate a certain degree of unconventionality this far from the Core Worlds,” he said, as if she were the one who might need placating if things didn’t go well.  Arresta could only nod and bite her lip.  They made small talk as the minutes passed, and she noticed Stefan surreptitiously looking as his chronometer several times.  They shifted in their seats, feeling alone and uncomfortably exposed.  Finally, five minutes after the show was supposed to begin, as if by some secret signal, villagers began streaming out of their homes and the cantinas and headed for the landing pad.  They laughed and talked loudly as they took their seats, many having carried their half-full ales with them. 

            Several minutes later, the floodlights pointed at the stage turned off.  An expectant hush fell over the crowd, and although it was dark, the distinctive sound of the  lowering of the plains-crawler’s entry ramp made it clear that the actors were taking their positions.  Suddenly one of the floodlights activated, spotlighting a middle-aged man wearing a historically inaccurate but rough approximation of the distinctive togas of the Brezni-Gari Middle Period.  The actor raised his hands into the air, focussing everyone’s attention on him, and then he began the play’s crucial opening monologue.

            He was, in a word, terrible.

            Not only was the actor portraying Tyrus Rex obviously “in his cups” as the artistic crowd put it, slurring his words and swaying back and forth to an invisible tune, but he so mangled the words of the soliloquy as to make it incomprehensible.  The crowd, even this far out in the fringe, felt insulted and began to stir.  A low murmuring could be heard as the audience traded disbelieving looks with each other, and then brave hecklers from the back began mocking the performer.  The man dropped more and more lines, and began looking around confused.  Almost without thinking, Stefan whispered the missed lines from his front row seat loud enough for the actor to hear.  It helped, but not enough, and when the first rotten core struck him in the torso, the actor grew surly and obstinate.  He began shouting back at the crowd and making obscene gestures. 

            Arresta slid her comlink out of her belt punch, ready to summon Xam the moment a full-on riot looked likely.  She was startled when the woman sitting next to her leapt out of her seat and pointed at Stefan with a knobby forefinger.  “Let him do it!”  the woman shouted.  “The new gentry, knows it he does!”  An audience member sitting just behind Stefan stood up and shouted “It’s true, I heard him, I did--every word straight from E.M.’s stylus!”  The drunken actor, still on stage, looked aghast.  He pulled out a wine-stained datapad that had been tucked in his belt and almost threw it at Stefan.  “Fine!”, the man shouted.  “You’ll get what you deserve, you uncultured louts!”  The man had to flee the stage under a chorus of boos and thrown rocks.

            Stefan picked up the thrown datapad and handed it to Arresta with a raised eyebrow.  She nodded, and he stepped up on the stage to furious applause.

            “Enemies, Brezni-Garians, men-at-arms, lend me your ears!” he shouted, beginning the famous soliloquy from the beginning.  The crowd quieted.  “For I am Tyrus Rex, he who stands amongst you warrior-born, battle-hardened, and now--victorious!  The blood of your pretender-kings washes against my feet.  Who now stands to oppose me?  Who now would bar my rightful place?  For I am Tyrus Rex, submit or perish!”  Caught up in the moment, the audience began to chant “Tyrus Rex! Tyrus Rex!” and Stefan had to pause before continuing with his lines.  He drew the soliloquy to a perfect close, and another spotlight appeared stage left, where Queen Ezrelea was to appear.

            Nothing happened.

            Stefan repeated the last line of the soliloquy again, and still . . . nothing happened.  A few seconds later a massive rumbling could be heard as the plains-crawler’s engine turned over.  The cast was fleeing the settlement before the first act was even completed.  A disheartened moan emanated from the crowd--many had waited months for this night, and everyone knew that once the Cultural Improvement Council heard whatever lies the performers told about the settlement, it might strike The Seven from the visiting list altogether.  Shoulders shrugged resignedly, eyes fell to the ground downcast, feet began to shuffle.

            But then a voice called out.

            “Tyrus Rex in name, you do be.  But Tyrant King falls from my lips just as quickly.  Think us easy prey?  Test my mettle, would-be despot.  Test Queen Ezrelea, and see if names give rise to truth.”

            On cue, Stefan turned to face stage left.  Arresta was standing there in the second spotlight, a firm glower on her face for the audience and a mischievous twinkle in her eye for Stefan alone.

            The crowd roared its approval.


            Things were different after that.  Not entirely--the house was still something of a pitfall, gourmet food was still hard to come by, and The Seven would never be more than a fringe settlement.  But suddenly Stefan and Arresta had become heroes, and more, some kind of feudal lords.  Every morning villagers arrived with a basket of their best produce, selectmen eagerly sought Stefan’s advice on municipal projects, and conversations were soon littered with phrases like “My personal friend Lord Cassadine thinks . . .” or “I just have to have what Lady Cassadine wore last week.”  Villagers even brought their problems to the manor to be resolved, heeding Stefan’s judgment on which one of them was responsible for damaged crops, a boundary dispute, or the like.  The Rafa III Cultural Improvement Council never did send another performance troupe, but it didn’t matter: with Lord and Lady Cassadine as honorary judges, the villagers threw their own arts festival as soon as the weather improved.


            Arresta sat on the floor of the hallway with a broken crate at her side, as laborers finally arrived to investigate the crash.   Arresta handed one of them the wine-stained datapad and smiled.  “Pack this someplace we can find it again,” she said.

            It was time to move on, time to raise Allegra and her imminent sibling in a sophisticated, urbane place.  But this time on Rafa III had certainly not been wasted--it had given them safety, a place for their marriage to heal and strengthen, and, perhaps most of all, proof that they could go anywhere in the galaxy together and still be a family.

Return to Clone Wars Campaign Main Page

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Realms Toowoomba Session # 30 [RPG]

[2 Kythorn 1372]

After narrowly avoiding being overwhelmed during an attack of orcs, Mellia, Fargrim, and Cain drag their unconscious allies and a captured orc away from the scene of battle. The decision is quickly made that a full retreat from Startop Castle is necessary on the grounds that no place is safe if the orcs return.  The recently rescued gnome, Katanya, is amazed at Mellia's spellcasting ability and says that she herself is only an initiate. As she's talking about her lost spellbook, a badger of all things emerges from a nearby pile of rubble. Katanya bends down and begins conversing with it! Katanya tells the others that the badger has told her that someone is trapped in the remnants of a tower that fell over long ago in the courtyard. Fargrim suggests the group should leave as quickly as it can, but Mellia persuades him to investigate.

Inside the darkened fallen tower, Fargrim can make out a shape moving at the far end. He moves closer and quickly discovers it is his former adventuring companion Ellywick! Apparently, Ellywick was captured by the slavers and taken to Startop Mountain. During the party's attack, she managed to flee and tried to hide in the fallen tower, but rocks shifted under her feet and left her trapped. Before Fargrim can come to her rescue, however, he realizes a second too late that something else is in the fallen tower with them--a monstrous, 10'
foot long creature that resembles a praying mantis. The creature's sharp, barbed claws leave several deep gouges in Fargrim's arms and torso before the dwarf dismembers it with his greataxe. With Cain's help, Fargrim is able to lift the fallen rock off of Ellywick just enough that she can wriggle free.

The adventurers have found the last of the straggling horses they had previously set free and decide to ride down the mountain. Katanya is quite reluctant to go as she's concerned about her brother who is still a slave for the orcs, but the others promise her that they will soon return to liberate him. She explains that her brother and herself were originally planning a foray to Startop Mountain while in Mirabar in the hopes of discovering the legendary Artificer's Vault, but that after persuading Lord Feldspar to sponsor the expedition, she and her brother were kidnapped by the slavers.

A few hours later, when the adventurers reach the base of the mountain, they spot campfires nearby. Two large wagons are in the center of a campsite occupied by lizardmen. The reptilian humanoids do not seem particularly vigilant or concerned about attack, and the adventurers decide their best course of action is to simply thunder past at full gallop. The plan works to perfection, and soon the adventurers are some distance from Startop Mountain.  As the group charged past, they noticed that a kobold and a huge ogre were among
those camping at the base of the mountain. The group makes it to the well-hidden shelter they had established earlier and rests for the night.

[3 Kythorn 1372]

Upon regaining consciousness, Markus blurts out in Draconic "I can fly!" He seems confused by what he said. Ralkin awakens as well, and both are healed by Cain. Ralkin tells Mellia that the party should have stayed in Startop Castle, as he knows of several safe hiding spots there. Mellia counters that she didn't
know anywhere the group could hide that the orcs couldn't reach. The group fills Ellywick in on Grim's defeat, but Fargrim adds he is still concerned about his missing friend Bearos. Ralkin learns of Katanya's interest in the Artificer's Vault, and recounts his hopes that it is filled with all manner of cunning gnomish traps.

The group discusses two important topics. The first is what to do with their unconscious orc prisoner. Fargrim and Ellywick suggest simply killing him, while Mellia argues for setting it free. The group decides to keep the orc alive for now so that he can be interrogated when he awakens. The second issue
is whether the group should immediately head back up Startop Mountain or journey to Silvermoon or some other place to recruit mercenaries to aid the group. The consensus seems to be for the former. During the day, Mellia works on scribing a scroll, Ralkin scrawls a map of how he thinks the orc caverns must be
arranged, and Ellywick ventures to Startop Mountain and back, having discovered only that the lizardmen and others have disappeared but are probably headed up the mountain trail. As night falls, an argument ensues about watches, as Markus states he would prefer to keep watch on his own, but the others are dubious about his ability after the orc attack. In the end, Ellywick is chosen to keep watch with him.

The group's decision to have two individuals on watch at all times proves to be a wise one. During the night, Ellywick thinks she hears something approaching from the other side of a small rock formation. She tries to approach stealthily to investigate, but before she gets very far huge damp vine-like tentacles shoot
forth from the darkness and smash her against the rock. She slides to the ground unconscious and badly hurt. Fortunately, Markus heard the brief struggle and rouses his allies to fight the attackers: two misshapen plant-like creatures that look like heaps of rotting vegetation. The resulting combat is brief but brutal. Markus leaps aboard his mount and tries to pummel the creatures with his mace, Ralkin slashes them with his claws, Fargrim attacks with his axe, Cain tries to set the creatures aflame but is stymied by their moist skin, and Mellia prepares various enchantments. In seconds, however, Markus, Ralkin, and Mellia have fallen to the creature's attacks and only Fargrim and the cowering Katanya are still standing. Fortunately, with one last surge of strength, Fargrim manages to drop the last aberration. The unconscious adventurers are lucky to
be alive, as only a mysterious burst of healing flame from Cain succeeded in stabilizing their wounds. In the aftermath of the battle, Fargrim maintains watch while Katanya tends to the wounded and examines Mellia's spellbook.

[4 Kythorn 1372]

The fallen members of the party begin to awaken, as does the orc prisoner.  Fargrim is determined to interrogate the orc about Bearos' whereabouts, and after failing to detect the orc's thoughts, Mellia magickally empowers the dwarf with the ability to speak and understand Orcish. The orc is quite mouthy and
obstreperous, however, and Fargrim learns little before punching the orc out besides the fact that Bearos was seen passing through the orc caverns on the way to the mysterious Bleak Theatre.

Markus, meanwhile, has made up his mind to depart for Silverymoon immediately, with a commitment to return in the near future. The swordsman indicates that he has been having strange visions lately, and long-ago advice from his father was that, should such a thing happen, he should head north. Apart from Cain, who
says farewell, the others show little interest in the decision.


Director's Commentary (July 10, 2014)

This session was the closest the party has yet come to a full TPK.  Those shambling mounds, a random encounter, really did a number on the group because they closed quickly, could grab and constrict, were resistant to fire, and made the group's spellcasters provoke attack of opportunities because of reach.  Even Fargrim's victory was a near thing, and one of the players had to use their once-a-year red chip to keep some PCs from bleeding to death.

A reintroduction of Ellywick, who had been absent for some time.  Ellywick's player was female, and it was great to have another woman at the table.  Unfortunately, she missed sessions frequently, often with no warning, and whenever she did appear, I had to make a last-minute scramble to figure out how to bring her PC back into the picture.  I finally had to say, nicely, "Dude, you don't have to attend every session, but you need to attend more-or-less regularly, and give me a heads-up if you know you're not going to be able to make it."  I got the sense that she was used to a much more casual style of gaming (I think I mentioned in a previous post that she didn't even pick a name for her PC until after a few sessions of play when I made her), and that an on-going, regular campaign just didn't fit her lifestyle.

I still tease the players about how they handled Markus' announcement that he was leaving the group to trudge through the Evermoors by himself.  I'm not sure if they were distracted, or didn't think it was real, or what, but their reaction to the last character who had been around since the very first session leaving was essentially a shrug and "bye."  Markus' player wanted to introduce a new PC, who we'll see next session.  But don't worry--Markus eventually returns, and the player did a good job of foreshadowing a major character development with the dreams and Draconic speech.

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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Fantasy Football 2013 Draft & Week 1

Too busy this season to set up a league with friends and family, but I managed to jump into a league with total strangers at the last minute.  Coming off of last year's championship, I couldn't let a good thing go to waste!  Here's my starting team after the draft:

QB Cam Newton  I always like a QB who can get some rushing yards to make up for down passing days, and Cam has done great for me in the past.

RB LeSean McCoy  Theory: Chip Kelly's new fast-paced offence is going to result in a lot of touches and a lot of yards for McCoy.

RB Reggie Bush  Going to be a major rushing and receiving threat for the Lions

WR Randall Cobb  Picked him because I really need a WR and he was the highest ranked one left on the board.

WR DeSean Jackson  Same theory as for LeSean McCoy

TE Jared Cook  Picked him solely because of Peter King's recommendation . . .

FLEX Bilal Powell  I liked what I saw in preseason

D/ST Bears  They were the # 1 ranked defence, so I went against my instincts and took them.

K Sebastian Janikowski  I always draft Janikowski because he has the strongest leg in the league . . .

I also got some great back-ups:

TE Rob Gronkowski  Amazing in past years; I didn't start him since he's been banged up

RB Montee Ball  Not sure about this one; could be big, but Broncos seem to want a committee-style approach

WR Josh Gordon  Suspended for the first two games of the season, but he's the Browns best WR

QB Michael Vick  Same theory as for LeSean McCoy; I'm all in on Chip Kelly!

D/ST Browns  Solid last year, hoping they'll be great with Ray Horton coaching

K Phil Dawson  Really wish the Browns wouldn't have let him go . . .

QB Terrell Pryor  Predicting big things from this guy's legs (and he can throw too!)

Before the draft, The Wife told me I should pick one of her favourite players:  Peyton Manning or Darren McFadden.  Well, after Week 1, I really should of listened about Manning--it's hard to beat 7 TD passes in one game!

Still, I did quite well in my first outing, winning 133-102 and scoring the highest total in the league.  Reggie Bush, LeSean McCoy, and Jared Cook each scored 24 points or more, and everybody else scored in double-digits except for Janikowski, the Bears D/ST, and Bilal Powell (who I've since cut and replaced with Brian Hartline).

Repeating is hard, but the Champion SunRunners are on their way . . .

Monday, September 2, 2013

Realms Toowoomba Session # 29 [RPG]

[2 Kythorn 1372]

In the aftermath of the battle against the orcs and minotaurs, a badly-wounded Markus seeks healing from Cain. Mellia investigates the room that the minotaur charged from and sees several lanterns hanging from the ceiling, massive weapons on the wall, a large pile of hay serving as a bed, and another door on the west
wall with a pair of levers next to it. Through a small peephole in the door, Fargrim's darkvision shows a huge chamber on the other side with several pits in the floor and very narrow pathways between them.

Surmising that they might be slave pits, part of the group moves to investigate. Cain's experiments with the levers shows that they raise and lower a pair of portcullises that bar the only wide walkway traversing the slave pits to the chambers and doors on the far side. However, the loud raising and dropping of
the portcullises at an unexpected time leads over a dozen irritated orcs to stream out of the barracks to see what has interrupted their slumber. In seconds, a battle begins as the orcs fire heavy crossbow bolts across the pits and Ralkin and Markus return fire. Ralkin is forced to retreat after taking multiple hits, while Fargrim prepares to charge through the portcullises once Cain raises them, and Mellia (invisible) starts trying to rescue the slaves.  Some of the orcs grab long, wide planks from a storeroom to try to traverse the
pits and engage the adventurers hand-to-hand, but Cain sets fire to the planks and forces them back. After several volleys back and forth, the orcs are eventually defeated by missile fire and an effective Shatter spell cast by Cain.

The rescued slaves report having been taken from all over the North--some were townsfolk in Nesme, others were travellers from Silverymoon, some were even captured at sea. Three of the slaves in particular stand out. A silver haired elf named Sapphira is quite insistent on gathering her possessions from the
storeroom and departing immediately to inform her "superiors" about what has happened. A caravan mercenary named Hugin offers to help the PCs hunt down the rest of the orcs in the caves, but decides the other rescued slaves are unlikely to survive the journey out of Startop Mountain and through the Evermoors unless he escorts them. Before leaving, he answers Fargrim's query about Bearos by stating that he knows the man was considered a "special delivery" for the Bleak Theater as he was otherwise useless as a slave given his crippled legs. Only one of the slaves is willing to stay: the nervous and frightened gnome Katanya
Glimer says the orcs have also captured her brother, and that she won't leave without him. The rescued slaves indicate that there are many more slaves in the caverns, as they do shifts in the mines. However, the constant darkness makes it impossible for them to relate the layout of the area.

In one of the slave pits, Mellia spots a corpse clutching a book. The corpse animates and slays two of the rescued slaves who are sent in to retrieve it before Cain channels Kossuth's might to destroy it. The book turns out to be a small journal written by a man named Tragon Wainscottle. Wainscottle writes of
spending years under the tutelage of a Silverymoon blademaster named Isobe Noboru (wielder of the legendary Ninefangs) before deciding to leave and seek out adventure in the Evermoors. A later entry, dated less than a month ago, describes how Wainscottle travelled to where the Laughingflow disappears in the middle of the Evermoors and discovered a walled settlement of lizardmen, kobolds, and other humanoids. The creatures were using a foul-smelling substance that bubbled up from a rift in the ground to smelt strange looking blades. Wainscottle speculates that the forging operation must be designed to
outfit an army, and that a small band would have better luck reaching the place through the treacherous swampland surrounding it than a larger group would. In his last entries, Wainscottle describes being nicked by an arrow made out of the strange substance during his escape from the settlement. He travelled to
Startop Mountain for aid as the wound continued to throb and even rot his flesh, only to be captured by the slavers and sold to the orcs below. However, Wainscottle realizes in the last entry that his condition is hopeless: even the orcs are afraid and disgusted by what he is becoming.

Returning to the main hall of Startop Castle, the adventurers discuss the diary. A connection is drawn between the weapons forge described and some imagery in Fargrim's dreams. Markus states his intention to leave for Silverymoon, perhaps catching up to the already-departed slaves on his way. Mellia is angered at
this idea, stating that it will do nothing to help the group achieve its goals: finding Fargrim's lost friend or the Crown of Horns. While the debate on what the group should do continues, Ralkin slips below and investigates the other door leading off of the guardroom where the adventurers fought the orcs and
minotaur. The kenku hears shouting somewhere on the other side, and, summoning Mellia, the two hear growling somewhere in the distance.

Somewhat injured and low on magical energies, the group seeks to avoid another immediate confrontation. Ralkin rigs a trap that will drop several pieces of armor if the door is opened to serve as an alarm. Leaving Markus in an adjacent chamber to stand guard, the others rest in the keep's main hall. A couple of
hours later, however, the swordsman is lost in thought and fails to hear the door open and the armor fall. In seconds, he is set upon by a host of enemies streaming into the small circle of light cast by his torch: several orcs and foul, mastiff-like hounds with thick, greenish-gray fur. Markus screams as he is surrounded and dragged to the ground. In seconds, he is unconscious and bleeding. In the main hall, Mellia hears Markus' screams and wakes the others.  Ralkin moves quickly to investigate, but he too is quickly overwhelmed by the swiftly moving deluge of aggressive orcs and their hounds. The adventurers' prospects look bleak indeed: two of their number have already fallen, and the enemy shows no sign of stopping. Summoning all of her eldritch might, Mellia channels a once-in-a-lifetime burst of power to charm the attackers into thinking they've received orders to return to the orc caverns. With the way now clear, Cain rushes to the fallen Ralkin and Markus, and manages to staunch their wounds just seconds before their injuries could prove fatal.
Director's Commentary (July 1, 2014)

Continuation of some quality dungeon-crawling.  The encounter with the PCs arrayed on one side of a large room full of treacherous walkways and pits, with a crowd of orcs on the others, was pretty fun and definitely something different--it really made skill with ranged combat come into the fore.  Cain was clever in incinerating the planks the orcs were planning to use in order to charge the PCs.

The rescued prisoners helped advance the plot in several ways.  The PCs received further confirmation that Bearos was headed directly for the Bleak Theatre, learned that there were other slaves somewhere nearby working in mines, received directions to the mysterious Forge, and (placed specifically for Markus) got a hook about a blademaster academy in Silverymoon.

I've mentioned in the past that the PCs were much higher level than this area of Startop Mountain/Castle Whiterock was designed for.  Still, they came damn close to suffering a full TPK when they set camp and allowed the orcs to go on the offensive.  If it wasn't for The Wife's once-a-year red chip, things would have been totally disastrous.  Even then, Markus and Ralkin were saved with only a round or two left before they would have bled to death.  An exciting way to end the session and put some fear into the PCs, though fortunately they would soon regroup and venture into the caverns again.

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