Sunday, March 30, 2014

Firestar (Ltd. 1985) [Comics]

I have only vague memories of the 1981-1983 Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends cartoon, which featured the new character of Firestar in place of the Human Torch due to licensing issues.  Firestar, whose real name was Angelica Jones, got her first canon appearance in the Marvel Universe in an issue of X-Men a few years later, immediately followed by a four-issue limited series to explain her origin.

My notes on Issue # 1 say "very good, despite DeFalco!"  I've always thought of Tom DeFalco as a bog-standard comics writer with mostly forgettable stories and villains, but this story worked really well.  We're introduced to thirteen year old Angelica Jones as she starts a new school because she, her father, and her grandmother just moved.  Angelica's first day goes well, until she meets a trio of fellow students who could be the inspiration for "Mean Girls."  There's some sort of weird ice-block carving competition that Angelica is extremely excited about.  Ice is limited (?), and the Mean Girls are so mean that Angelica has a true Carrie moment and starts releasing microwave radiation which damages the ice sculptures.  She runs home, terrified at the first release of her powers, and finds that her grandmother has had a heart attack and died!  The incidents are completely unrelated, but Angelica and her Dad are so despondent that they're easy prey for Emma Frost, who detected the mutant energies and offers Angelica a place at the Massachusetts Academy.  Xavier, monitoring Cerebro, arrives as well, but is minutes too late.  Angelica has already signed with Frost.

Issue # 2 fast-forwards four months, as Angelica undergoes training in the secret basement complex underneath Frost's Massachusetts Academy.  She has some run-ins with the Hellions, but Frost keeps her mostly away from that established team.  Frost gradually puts Angelica through various tests to gauge the extent of her power, while simultaneously subtly training her to fear the X-Men.  Frost's ultimate goal is revealed: she wants to craft Angelica into a super-assassin!  Meanwhile, Angelica is lonely and sad to be away from her father.  She finds solace in long rides on her favourite horse.  During a big dance, in which the kids (New Mutants) from Xavier's school are invited to attend as well, Frost manipulates things so that Angelica panics, sets fires to the stables, and kills her beloved horse.  It's all a bid to drive Angelica further and further into Frost's grasp by making her afraid to use her powers without further training.

Issue # 3 jumps forward again; Angelica is now 15.  Frost continues training sessions in her version of the Danger Room, but has the robotic enemies that pop up take the form of the X-Men.  Moreso, she gifts Angelica with a bracelet that causes fearful hallucinations.  One of Frost's guards charged with escorting Angelica and keeping watch over her, Randall Chase, starts to feel very protective of his charge.  Later, after a brief visit home doesn't go well because Angelica's dad is fearful of her new powers, Frost stages an attack at the airport to force Angelica to use her mutant powers and lash out.  Frost's ultimate plan is revealed: she intends to use Angelica as a weapon to kill the Black Queen!

Issue # 4 is set a year later.  Frost stages a purported assassination attempt by the Black Queen, in order to get Angelica to defend her and swear vengeance, which the girl does.  Frost and Sebastian Shaw, the Black King, finalize plans for their weapon to attack the Black Queen during a formal dance.  Randall Chase, however, figures out that his boss is manipulating Angelica and rushes to tell her the truth.  He's caught though (hard to betray a mind-reader!) and Frost tells Angelica that he's been murdered by the Black Queen.  In fact, Chase is alive but imprisoned.  On the night of the formal, he escapes, though badly wounded, and manages to tell Angelica, before dying, that Frost is her real enemy.  Enraged, Angelica attacks Frost and barely refrains from killing her; instead, she destroys the entire complex underneath the Massachusetts Academy and returns home to her father.

"Good stuff, well written!" my notes say.  I like the main character, I like the supporting cast, and as an origin story, it works quite well.  Frost is a great manipulator and someone you don't want for an enemy, and you could imagine Firestar getting involved with the New Mutants or X-Men for years of good stories.  From Wikipedia, it doesn't sound like she really appeared all that often after this, but for once I can honestly say something wasn't Tom DeFalco's fault.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Realms Toowoomba Session # 43 [RPG]

[18 Kythorn 1372 Continued]

At the campsite on the southern side of the River Rauvin, Tunak sees several barges navigating the fast flowing waters. When he heads off into the trees to dig a new latrine, he notices the skeletal remains of a body laying on a branch almost thirty feet in the air. The body's clothing has decayed into tatters, but one of its bony hands clutches a narrow metal tube, open on one end. Tunak is intrigued by the sight, but an obstacle lies in his path: a nest of unusual-looking wasps. Undeterred, he swings a rope over his head in a wide arc and tries to build up enough speed to loop it over the branch. He misses completely with his first attempt, but his second try fares even worse as he hits the wasps' nest!

The wasps immediately swarm over Tunak, stinging indiscriminately. Nauseated and burning with a strange poison that accompanied their stings, Tunak manages to stagger back towards the campsite and jump into the Rauvin. He swims safely under the chilly waters for several seconds and emerges some yards away. The swarm hovers for some time and then gradually returns to its nest. Tunak is safe, but the wasps have left a reminder of his narrow escape: a burning, swelling pustule on his face that will surely leave a scar.

Bettina prepares a herbal poultice for Tunak's cheek and proceeds to ask him several questions about Markus phrased in sailing metaphors. Tunak is completely stymied by the questions. The rest of his day and night pass uneventfully as he ponders how to bypass the wasps.

On her journey east towards Silverymoon, Cammy soon encounters a patrol of the Argent Legion, the Confederacy of the Silver Marches' joint military force. Cammy explains hir presence in the area, stating that zhe was on her way to rescue a woman named Sapphira Silverhue from orcs in Startop Mountain before learning that she had already been rescued! The commander of the patrol tasks four of his soldiers to escort Cammy the rest of the way, citing the dangers in the area. Later, the group encounter a fifth soldier whose horse had fallen lame. Cammy agrees to share hir mount with the soldier, whom zhe nicknames Lucky. As they continue their journey, Cammy sings a humorous song about a dragon and then the travellers rest for the night.

In Mirabar, the rock-coloured gnome caught eavesdropping by Mellia manages to wriggle free of her grasp. The gnome says he'll meet with her again at sunset and then disappears in broad daylight! Dolcetto continues speaking with Mellia and Fargrim. She says she hails from a desert land and that her pursuit of lost knowledge borders on obsession; thus, her fascination with the story of Myrkul and the legendary Crown of Horns. Mellia says she needs to talk to her companions before agreeing to share information and resources with Dolcetto, and arranges to meet with her later that day at the Sign of the Forgehammer.

Elsewhere in Mirabar, Markus and Cain journey towards the city's shrine to Tymora. Markus fails to persuade Cain that the cleric should wear a large floppy hat, but the swordsman does succeed in fitting a peacock helmet in the cleric's helm. The two pedestrians are forced to the side of the street for some moments by the passage of Lord Feldspar's carriage. The noble is said to be a hero for his recent successful return from slaying the Orc King Gorgosh despite the death of all but one of his retainers in the battle. At the shrine, the two travelers witness members of The Axe receiving blessings of good fortune for upcoming battles. Markus donates some coins and praises Tymora for the great luck that has come his way since taking up adventuring.

When Markus and Cain return to the spot where they had arranged to meet Mellia and Fargrim, their friends are nowhere to be seen as they've gone to the wrong place! Their friends' mistake proves costly for Markus and Cain, as they're questioned by a patrol after being seen loitering. When a promise that the adventurers' names can be found in the passage-books of those entering through the gates yesterday proves false, the two are detained and taken to the Hall of Sparkling Stones for interrogation. After a tedious round of questioning, they are released with a warning that teleporting in and out of Mirabar during a time of heightened tension with Luskan could be seen as a hostile act.

Mellia and Fargrim, thinking that Cain and Markus were the ones to have erred, return to the inn and find a somewhat cryptic note addressed to Mellia from the gnome they encountered earlier. Mellia decides to tell Fargrim about the strange phenomena she experienced while everyone slept during the night. Mellia says she felt a powerful force literally drag her spirit away from her body and hurl it through the night sky, across vast tracts of forest and mountain, until it came to rest in a large glass sphere on a pedestal. Mellia could see four other, similar spheres on nearby pedestals, each with a ghostly face inside. One of the faces seemed somewhat familiar, but she couldn't tell from where. The room was dimly lit, with stone floors and walls. At one end of the room were what Mellia at first took to be cleverly carved statues made of glass and set in life-like poses. One of the figures, however, was that of a young girl sleeping peacefully on a real bed: with horror, Mellia realized it was her daughter! When a mysterious cloaked sorcerer entered the room, he berated Mellia and the other spectral faces in the spheres for dithering and dawdling, and said that time was running out: if the sorcerer's enemies obtained the Crown of Horns before his agents did, all of their loved ones would be destroyed! To drive his point home, the sorcerer violently knocked over the glass-transformed wife of one of the spectral faces who, he said, had turned his attention away from finding the Horn and towards finding the sorcerer. The living statue shattered into thousands of pieces when it hit the ground, and the sorcerer threatened to do the same to any others who failed to bring him the Crown. When Mellia and the others' spirits were banished back to their bodies, she explains to Fargrim that she remembers seeing the spirit of a gnome flying alongside her--and that it looked just like the one she caught eavesdropping near the the fountain!

By the time her story has finished, Dolcetto has arrived at the inn as requested. When she pulls back her hood, it is clear her heritage includes extraplanar blood, as she has small horns. Fargrim asks Dolcetto if she can handle herself in a fight. Dolcetto says she primarily relies on magic, but when she does fight she relies on conjured allies. She goes on to say she has skill in crafting magical arms and armor, and arranges to work on a magic greataxe for Fargrim while the adventurers finish their errands in the city and elsewhere. Mellia and Fargrim agree that Dolcetto's presence could be useful in their journeys, and later arrange to meet her at sunset in two days' time.

When Mellia and Fargrim travel to the Hall of Sparkling Stones to inquire about their missing friends, they see Markus and Cain emerging from interrogation. Markus is quite angry at having been detained, and says he will never return to Mirabar again. The adventurers realize that they are being closely watched during the remainder of their time in the city. That night, Mellia meets with the mysterious gnome. Introducing himself as Wrex, the gnome says he knows that he and Mellia are looking for the same thing and they each have loved ones at stake. He says that he wanted to make contact with her so that they can share information, even though he suspects the cloaked sorcerer will only reward the first of his agents to bring him the Crown. The two agree that if they need to leave messages for each other, to do so at the North Gate with the codeword "Three-spotted Eastern Dragon."

After an evening spent making complicated travel plans, those in Mirabar rest for the night.

[19 Kythorn 1372]

Tunak enjoys a peaceful day attempting to fish with his quarterstaff.

Cammy, however, meets with great misfortune. As zhe and hir escorts prepare to break camp in the morning, an uncanny red fog inexplicably rolls through the area. In its wake, remains that had laid under the ground for unknown centuries animate and claw their way to the surface. The skeletal remnants of soldiers in battles long forgotten being to move again, as does the huge frame of a giant slain some ages ago while trying to cross the nearby river. Caught by surprise, Cammy and the soldiers are slow to respond. They decide to flee the area, but their escape is thwarted by the quickly advancing legion of undead. Miscommunication proves fatal: one of the soldiers mounts his steed and waits for Cammy to run over and climb up behind him, but Cammy is waiting for the soldier to ride past hir so zhe can leap on. The delay is only seconds, but it's enough time for the skeletal giant to smash the skulls of both Cammy and her beau "Lucky" with his ancient, rusted morningstar. Only a couple of the soldiers manage to escape the onslaught to carry word of the attack back to Silverymoon.

In Mirabar, Dolcetto spends the day beginning the process of laying enchantments on Fargrim's greataxe. The other adventurers journey a short distance south of the city to an isolated grove. From there, Mellia draws upon an extraordinary amount of magical energy and teleports the group hundreds of miles to a tower in the great forest of Cormanthor, thirty miles northeast of Essembra. This is the Oracle's Circle, a large round spire that serves as a school for divination and was Mellia's refuge before undertaking her current quest. Upon entering, Mellia is greeted warmly and enthusiastically by the school's cook. She exchanges barbed insults with a fellow student named Procul before leading her adventuring companions up to her room to drop off their gear. The room is full of children's toys, and the purpose of Mellia's visit is apparent: she seeks insight into the best way to recover the Crown of Horns and thus secure the release of her kidnapped daughter.

She begins by visiting Liliath the Spell-Wracked, a disfigured, somewhat-mad sorceress in a tower basement. Liliath tries to goad Mellia into serving as the conduit for a spell to reach extra-planar entities to ask about the Crown, but Mellia thinks the spell is too risky considering the limited information that can be gained. She decides to start researching in the tower's archives for another solution. Meanwhile, Markus has no difficulty persuading a student to identify the nature of some magical bolts he carries, and then he and Cain explore the area around the tower. Some children are unimpressed by Markus' aptitude in magic, but are quite excited by his display of swordplay.

Night begins to fall for the adventurers, now scattered around Faerun.
Director's Commentary (July 16, 2016)

A lot to talk about in this one!  So I'll just proceed in some sort of random order . . .

So the deal with Tunak and the fire wasps? I actually had a nice little side trek planned if he had managed to get that scroll tube, as inside was a riddle-filled treasure map.  Riddles were a big part of many original D&D campaigns, so I thought it would be fun to try to do a little more with them.  If recollection serves, Tunak never got very far in that direction, however.

What was going on with Lord Feldspar?  Well, the campaign has been over for a long time now, so I can go ahead and fill in some gaps.  Grim really was Lord Feldspar as some character suspected.  When he was killed at the top of Startop Mountain, everyone in Mirabar wondered at Lord Feldspar's prolonged disappearance.  So why was Lord Feldspar still running around at this point?  Well, into the void stepped an opportunistic master of disguise with some knowledge of what had gone on:  Nakor!  I think some of this got fleshed out in a latter session; it all made sense at the time (to me, anyways).

A good example of a session where everyone is split up and there's a half-dozen storylines with me juggling and trying to switch quickly between them to keep everyone involved and not bored.  It's not easy!

The idea with Mellia's astral self getting pulled into the lair of the mysterious wizard who had kidnapped her child was to really up the urgency of finding the Crown of Horns.  The idea being, if they don't hurry, there's a good chance the wizard will shatter the glass statute that is Mellia's daughter.  Mechanically, each month of game time I started rolling a small but cumulatively higher percentage chance that another group of adventurers would find the Crown of Horns before the PCs, return it to the wizard, and he would shatter all of the remaining glass statues out of spite.  That would probably have meant the end of the campaign, so I made the % chance low while still setting consequences for the PCs endless dithering.

Wrex was the back-up PC for the player who normally ran Fargrim.  Wrex was given a bit of a Brooklyn 1930s accent and vibe, and I liked the character.  He spent very little time with the party, but later on has a whole subplot of being trapped behind the lines in Nesme.

Alas, poor Cammy!  It really was a case of terrible miscommunication, and perfect illustration of the dangers of venturing across the Evermoors without the rest of the party.  Did any of the players learn the lesson?  No.

The Oracle's Circle became a major location in the campaign, and I think I did a reasonably good job with it on relatively short notice.

Next Recap

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Hell Frozen Over: Chapter Eleven [BUFFY]


“You had best come up with a right good reason why I shouldn’t have you killed now,” Spike growled. He pushed the wheelchair closer to the intruder. “You see, we expected your arrival after what happened to poor dear Cleo over there.” Spike nodded at the female vampire, who was nursing her arm.

His band of vampire underlings tensed in anticipation of a kill as they slowly encircled the man in the nowdirty trench coat. They were still wary after hearing Cleo’s story of what happened to Tomas and Albert, but knew that with their numbers, nothing, not even a Slayer, could hope to stand against them for long.

“I knew you would be here,” said the human, with a glance at Cleo, “and I have a proposition to make.” He looked around and realized that his plan had better work, or he really would end up dead. Like Maggie and Katie, he thought grimly. It was Saturday night, and he had followed one of the vampires into the tunnels, one of which emerged right into this “Spike’s” lair—an abandoned factory. It had grown progressively darker as he had delved into the catacombs, and now he doubted he could find his way out unaided.

“I know you hate Angel as much as I do,” Tintsman continued. “If you tell me where to find him, I will . . . end him.”

“Kill Angel?” Spike exclaimed, as if the human in front of him had made a great joke. “What a lovely thought. Unfortunately, better than you have tried. I should know—I’m one of them.” He looked down at his own crippled legs, injured in the collapse of the church when he had kidnapped Angel to revive his beloved Drusilla. His eyes rose and he carefully looked over the man standing in front of him. Spike was surprised to see that he didn’t show fear—or really much of any emotion at all. Spike knew that the man carried a surprising array of weaponry and was as physically strong as any vampire, but beyond that he was a mystery. Still, he reflected, if this fellow wants to kill Angel, who am I to stand in the way? Angel and his precious Slayer had been a thorn in Spike’s backside ever since coming to Sunnydale.

“What makes you think you can?” Spike said finally.

“I wounded him at his resting place. He ran from me there.”

“Well,” Spike said, impressed. “Perhaps we can come to an arrangement.”

Later, after the man had been escorted out of the factory, Spike wheeled himself into Dru’s bedroom. The bed was scarlet and canopied, while along the walls were hundreds of dolls, each with a black gag tied around its mouth. His lover sat at the edge of the bed, carefully drawing an ivory-handled comb through her long, dark hair with one hand while gazing intently at the small hand-mirror she held in her other hand. Dru got up as he entered and gave him a deep kiss—she was almost completely cured from the mystical disease she had been afflicted with.

“Please tell me it’s not true lovey,” she said. “Please don’t tell me he’s going to kill Angel. I was so hoping we would get to.” She pouted and spoke in an odd, lilting, almost childlike manner while fluttering her eyelashes.

“Don’t worry, my little bird,” Spike replied, stroking her arm “It will never happen. But until I’m better, anything that will keep Angel occupied can’t be all bad, now can it? And pet,” he said, gently taking the mirror from her hand, “your hair looks lovely—but I’ve told you about the mirror—you can’t see anything in them, remember?”

“Silly silly silly,” Dru recited, swaying back and forth to nonexistent music. “Of course I can’t see what’s in the mirror. But what’s in the mirror can see me—and I want everything to be just perfect.” She sat back on the bed and continued brushing her hair.

“Right,” Spike said hesitantly.

When he left her bedroom, he beckoned several of his followers forward.

“Follow him,” he instructed. “Discretely, mind you. Help him finish off Angel if he finds him, and then finish him. If he doesn’t find Angel, finish him off anyway. Either way, I don’t want him alive come sunrise.”


Hot tea sloshed out of the cup and onto the counter as Giles was startled by the tapping on his kitchen window. He looked up and saw Angel wearing a serious expression on the other side. Giles had not expected company, but in any event he assumed company would use the front door should they arrive. He leaned over and unlatched the window and pulled it up.

“Can I come in?” said Angel.

“Ah, sure. Of course,” said Giles, hesitating slightly. Once invited in, Angel could enter his home at any time. But Giles knew that if Angel had wanted to kill him, the vampire would have had hundreds of opportunities in the past several months. “I was just brewing a pot of tea. Would you care for some?” he asked as Angel climbed smoothly through the window.

“No thank you. I thought I had better try coming through here instead of the door,” he explained. “I think I’m being followed.”

“Come and let’s sit down,” said Giles, moving into the living room and pulling small piles of books with titles like Death Rituals of the Ancient Orient and Ten Simple Mistakes Every Summoner Makes off of the chairs and onto the floor. Small stacks of note cards and various file folders covered a table in the room. Saturday night was one of Giles’ favorites. Not because he enjoyed parties or barhopping like the younger inhabitants of Sunnydale, but because it allowed him an entire uninterrupted day to spend on his studies.

Angel quickly recounted what he had found in the cemetery and the subsequent attack at his apartment. “I’m not sure what to think,” he concluded. “My attacker was something like a hi-tech Slayer—but even stronger than Buffy or me. What I don’t understand is that it seemed to have some kind of personal grudge against me. He was human, though. I could tell from his scent.”

“And you’re sure you’ve never heard of this ‘Maggie and Katie’? Something dating from the time before your, ah, change, perhaps?”

“I . . . I don’t think so,” Angel’s faced looked pained as he tried to recall. “No, it couldn’t be. This man was only in his forties or fifties, and it’s been almost a century since I . . . changed.”

“Well, the weaponry and the outfit you describe are clearly his most distinctive characteristics. I’ll do some research and see what I can uncover—only this is more in Willow’s field than my own. Still, she showed me a few things on how to use the ah . . .” he fumbled for the word.


“Precisely. I’ll head to the library and see if I can find anything.”

“There is something else,” warned Angel. “I’ve heard rumors that there’s a new presence in town—the vampiric kind. I’ll check into it and meet you back at the library.”

“Right. Be careful then. If something happens, Buffy will not be there to save you.”

“Yes. But at least she’s somewhere safe.”


Angel made his way cautiously along the wide streets of the warehouse district, where Willie the Snitch had told him the newcomers could be found. Unlike most places in Sunnydale on a Saturday night, the warehouse district was largely deserted. A thick San Francisco-like fog had rolled in, making it difficult to see very far in the distance. Occasionally a street light illuminated a small puddle of the darkness, but with so many large buildings any light was quickly obscured. Unlike light, however, sound carried easily and Angel quickly discerned voices nearby.

“He’ll be either at the house or at the school,” one of the voices said.

“How do we know?” another answered.

“Because he’s never anywhere else. At least that’s what the file says. Even on a Saturday night.” Angel edged along a building wall in a crouch and peeked around the corner. On the opposite side of the street was a long, low warehouse with its main loading doors pulled open. A black sedan sat in front of it, and a man in a business suit was conversing with a handful of other fellows in jumpsuits. Angel could tell that some of them, at least, were vampires just from the smell and the way they carried themselves. Giles will be at the school, he realized. If they’re going there for some reason, he may be in danger.

“What do we have here? A lurker, it looks like,” said a voice directly behind Angel.

He spun and saw two figures in blue jumpsuits standing just a few feet away. He silently cursed himself for being careless just as their faces contorted. His did the same, causing them to hesitate—but not for long. Angel’s opponents looked at each other and then simultaneously leapt for him with claws and fangs extended.

He ducked out of the way just in time, causing one of the vampires to smash into the wall with a loud thud. Angel stayed in a crouch as his leg lashed out, striking the other vampire in the back of the knees and sweeping it off of its feet. Angel stood up and spun around to meet the charge of the other vampire, who had already recovered. He managed to catch the vampire's wrists but the sheer force of the charge knocked them both to the ground. Angel landed on his back, still holding his attacker’s wrists, but that left his neck vulnerable to the vampire’s fangs—the pain was immense as the vampire tore a large chunk of flesh out of Angel’s neck. It wouldn’t kill him of course—few things could kill a vampire—but it still hurt like hell!

Just as the vampire was going in for another bite, Angel swung his head around hard and hit the vampire right in the nose with his forehead, stunning him. Angel took advantage of the opportunity to roll the vampire over, so he was now on top.

The forearm suddenly around his neck told him that the vampire he had swept off its feet earlier was back in the game. Angel knew he had to end this quickly before he was simply worn out. Still straddling one of the vampires, he grabbed the other’s arm and tugged forward, flipping the vampire over his shoulder. It landed hard on the concrete.

The other vampire, still bleeding from the nose and dazed, was helpless as Angel formed his fingers into a point and plunged it into its chest and grabbed its heart. He pulled it out, disgusted by what he had been forced to do, as both the heart and the vampire turned to ash.

All of this had transpired in just a few seconds, but it was enough time for the vampires and man he had watched earlier to be alerted. He saw the vampires heading in his direction, and decided that fighting four or five at the same time would not be a good idea.

When the other vampires reached the scene, they found only one of their companions and a pile of ash. Their mysterious attacker was nowhere to be found. Had they but looked up, they would have seen him about fifteen feet above the street, pressed against the wall and hanging onto a window ledge.

When they had returned safely to the warehouse, Wittingstone listened with displeasure as one of the vampires explained how he had been attacked by another vampire. Wittingstone sighed and shook his head. It was bound to happen sooner or later, he thought to himself. We’ll simply have to engage in some early practice runs. Hopefully, there will be still some targets left when the Brass arrive for the field demonstration next week. Wittingstone walked over to one of the crates and lifted its lid. He began handing out small rifles with drum magazines, pistols with small hose attachments, and silver, layered suits of body armor.

“You’ve all been trained in these,” he said as the vampires began donned the equipment. “The rifles fire wooden ‘bullets,’” he continued. “Holy water,” he said, holding up the small pistol and hose. “Watch out for overspray. And of course, the exoskeletons will increase your strength even beyond its current level.”

“Now I want these back in mint condition,” he said sternly. “Mr. Castillo will be displeased to find we’ve damaged his prototypes before the actual demonstration.”


Joyce pressed the doorbell one last time, before turning away disappointed. She held a small tin of homemade brownies in her hands, and had hoped to interest Mr. Giles in a quick snack and some  conversation. She was surprised he wasn’t home—according to Buffy, he was something of a homebody. It’s not that I’m attracted to him, she reflected, he’s far too bookish for that. But ever since Ted I’ve been spending far too many Saturday nights home alone. And it must be lonely to move from a whole different country to someplace like Sunnydale where you don’t know anybody.

She decided to try again tomorrow night and started walking down the path back to the street. She hoped he might tell her more about how Buffy had been doing in school. The girl was always reticent to talk about it. Still, Joyce was pleased that the girl had found something of a mentor in the librarian—any friends had to be better than those troublemakers she had been involved with at her last school, and having an ally on the faculty might help her stay in school longer if the Board of Education ever decided to expel her again.

Just as she reached the sidewalk, a black sedan pulled up and parked in front of the house. Joyce could see that a man in a dark suit was behind the wheel. He quickly opened the door and walked around the front of the car to stand a few feet in front of her.

“Good evening, ma’am,” he said. Joyce was past the point where it stung to be called “ma’m” as if she were middle-aged, but had not yet reached the point where she expected it as a sign of respect.

“Hello,” she nodded, and pointed back towards the house. “If you’re here to see Mr. Giles, I fear we’ve both missed him.” She was curious what sort of involvement Mr. Giles would have with someone like this on a Saturday night.

“Well that is disappointing,” Wittingstone said politely. “But I can always call again. I have very important business with him. Pleasant evening, then,” he finished, walking back to the car.

“The library,” he said to himself as soon as the door was shut. The sedan started up and rolled down the street.

Joyce headed home for another evening with the television as company. But at least I have fresh brownies to console myself with, she thought.


Giles tapped the “Delete” button with frustration. He wasn’t sure how it had happened, but slowly his screened had become filled with various windows advertising everything from home mortgage assistance and instant college degrees, to pictures that made him blush. The worst part was that he had no idea how to make them go away and return to his search screen. Infernal thing, he thought to himself. No one ever has to wonder how to close a book if its rubbish.

He pushed the keyboard away in frustration and walked over to the phone on the counter. He tried calling Jenny Calendar, but only got an answering machine. Pulling a small slip of paper out of his pocket, he dialed a different number. He hated to bother Willow on her and Buffy’s vacation, but if anyone could make sense of these dreadful computer problems, she could. The phone just started to ring when Giles heard the library doors open. He covered the speaker with one hand and turned towards them to say “I’ll be with you in just a moment, Angel” when he realized he wasn’t looking at Angel. Vampires, yes. Angel, no. Spike’s bunch, Giles realized, as the two advanced towards him.

“Arctic Ridge. This is Chad,” said a groggy voice from the receiver. Giles dropped the phone and backed up around the counter, placing it between him and the vampires. He knew that his friends were too far away to help him with this problem.

The vampires advanced slowly, and then leaped right on top of the counter. They had grown bored of following the other human around and decided to stop for a quick snack when they saw the library light on. Besides, this one looked like much easier prey than the other.

Giles continued to back away and then turned and sprinted for the doorway to a small room behind the counter. I wish I had participated in Buffy’s calisthenics instead of simply supervising them, he thought to himself, panting. He reached the doorway and shut it behind him, locking it just as his attackers reached the door. He knew it wouldn’t hold them for long. He ran to the shelves and began fumbling through the boxes. I know it has to be here somewhere.

A hand punched through the door, right above the handle and then fumbled to release the lock. It turned with a click and Giles turned around, his back against the wall. He aimed carefully and the crossbow bolt embedded itself in the vampire’s heart, causing the creature to disintegrate. Giles fumbled with another bolt, realizing he would never have it loaded in time. The vampire’s companion advanced with a smile, knowing it was going to enjoy this.

The sensation of his skin burning made him think otherwise. He growled out in anger and turned, catching the blast of water full in the chest. In just a few seconds, both he and his vampiric companion had disintegrated.

Giles, too, was covered by this spray of water. His tweed jacket was drenched, his glasses were knocked off his face, and his hair was in soggy disarray. He kneeled down and fumbled in the pooling water for his glasses, shaking water off of them as he put them back into place.

“You!” he exclaimed, seeing the figure that Angel had described so well.

“I . . . thought you might be one of them,” the figure said plainly, without apologizing.

“Ah, of course,” said Giles, squeezing water out of his jacket.

“You should be careful. I am told that another one will be here tonight. He is called Angel.”

“Angel?” Giles said, then decided to play along. “Yes. I’ve ah . . . heard of him. How exactly do you two know each other?” If he could find out what this fellow wanted with Angel, Giles hoped, he might be able to persuade him that he had the wrong man—or vampire.

“I am . . .” the figure hesitated, as if he could barely remember the answer to the question. “My name is Michael Tintsman. My wife and daughter were . . . killed on the orders of Angel. I’ve tracked him across the country. It’s taken me six months to find out where he is, but now I am close. He will be here tonight.”

“Ah, are you sure you have the right one?” Giles said. He knew it couldn’t be Angel, as Angel was with him and Buffy last year. And if he ever decided to start feasting on living prey again, he wouldn’t travel across the country to do it.

“Yes. His killers said so before they . . .” Michael closed his eyes in pain. It was clear to Giles that this man had never come to grips with his wife’s and daughter’s deaths. Instead, he had turned to revenge to keep from dealing with the real pain.

“And your ah, equipment?” Giles asked, more out of curiosity than anything.

“I . . .took them . . . from a project I used to work on for the government.” Michael knew, but did not say, that the Sunrise Project had been developed to track and hunt vampires, proof of whose existence they had finally been provided with by the project’s private contractor, Electrotech, Inc. The only problem was that the exoskeleton required the constant injection of adrenaline and other drugs into the wearer’s system in order to function. When studies consistently showed that the injections had negative effects on memory and emotional states, Michael had written the report recommending that it be canceled.

Giles sympathized with the man’s plight, but knew that Angel could not be to blame. He was attempting to come up with a believable story that would convince the man to leave Sunnydale and not return, when the subject of their conversation burst through the library doors, intending to warn Giles of an impending attack.

Michael could hardly believe what he saw, but he regained his composure quickly. “I won’t let you kill another innocent,” he whispered, placing himself between Giles and Angel.

Angel stopped short when he saw Michael there, but crashed back through the door when dozens of wooden darts flew at him. One of the darts struck him in the leg, while another broke the small pane of glass in one of the doors.

“Wait!” Giles shouted at Michael’s back. But it was to no avail. The hunter planned to follow the wounded Angel out into the hallway, and finish him off for good.

Next Chapter

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Pandemic [GAMES]

After having owned the game for a few years, The Wife and I finally got around to a serious attempt to master the board game Pandemic.  There's a few features of the game that really stand out to me.  First, it's cooperative--this means that instead of the loser resenting the other person for winning, each person gets to resent the other person for contributing to losing (joke!).  Second, it's fast to play--especially if you suck at it, which we did for a while.  But even when you get pretty good, a game doesn't take more than 45 minutes or so and can be set up in around 5.  For old married couples with kids, this is a big advantage as we rarely have the time or energy to invest a few hours in some of the other cool games we have.  Third, I really like the theme of the game: travelling the world and curing diseases to save lives.  For one reason or another, too much of the fiction I read, shows I watch, and games I play have to do with killing monsters.

The game itself definitely requires a degree of coordination and strategy, as it's easy for diseases to spread and a chain-reaction of outbreaks to start before cures for each of the four diseases in the game can be found (the victory condition).  There's an element of randomness, but just enough to make it fun and unpredictable and not so much that winning or losing doesn't feel deserved.  To aid in replayability, the game comes with three difficulty levels and a selection of 5 roles (characters with different special abilities), which the players are to choose randomly each time.  All in all, a really solid game and a good purchase.  I understand that a revised edition was released last year, and that there are a couple of expansions, so I'll have to see what I can track down sometime . . .

January 27, 2014 (Difficulty: Easy)
Me:  Dispatcher
The Wife:  Medic
Result:  WIN! (discovered all cures with only 4 outbreaks)

February 1, 2014 (Difficulty: Normal)
Me: Scientist
The Wife: Operations Expert
Result:  LOSS! (got only 1 cure before 8 outbreaks)

February 12, 2014 (Difficulty: Normal)
Me: Operations Expert
The Wife: Dispatcher
Result:  WIN! (got all cures with only 3 outbreaks)

February 22, 2014 (Difficulty: Heroic)
Me: Dispatcher
The Wife: Scientist
Result: LOSS! (got no cures, did terrible)

March 1, 2014 (Difficulty: Heroic)
Me: Operations Expert
The Wife: Researcher
Result: LOSS! (did great at first with 2 cures, then cascade of outbreaks and ran out of black cubes)

March 9, 2014 (Difficulty: Heroic)
Me: Scientist
The Wife: Medic
Result: LOSS! (got 2 cures, but not quite well enough)

March 10, 2014  (Difficulty: Heroic)
Me: Operations Expert
The Wife: Medic
Result: LOSS! (realized we could not win with # of cards of particular colour in discard pile; much better, with 3 cures and only 4 outbreaks)

March 10, 2014 (Difficulty: Heroic)
Me: Operations Expert
The Wife: Scientist
Result: LOSS! (So close! one more turn . . .)

March 14, 2014 (Difficulty: Heroic)
Me: Researcher
The Wife: Scientist
Result: WIN! (finally, Scientist & Researcher was enough firepower; won with 5 outbreaks)

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Vegan Police: February 2014

If nothing else, this exercise has been useful in helping me see where my major non-vegan temptation is: chocolate!  Alas, despite their creators' best efforts, good vegan chocolate sweets are still hard to come by . . .

Feb. 2: Peanut M&Ms, chocolate/banana muffins

Feb. 4: Mars bar

Feb. 12:  M&Ms & Chocolate Frogs

Feb. 15: Chocolate Sundae

Feb. 16: Cheese Pizza

Feb. 20.  Croissant

Feb 21: Peanut M&Ms, cheese pizza

Feb. 23: Chocolate frogs

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Worlds of Ultima: The Savage Empire [GAMES]

I keep plugging Good Old Games, but if they keep giving away some classic games for free, it's the least I can do.  This past weekend I finished Worlds of Ultima: The Savage Empire.  Ultima: Exodus (on the NES!) was my first exposure to a role-playing game in any format, predating my introduction to D&D by several years.  I completed Ultima III through VII as a teenager and loved them all, but never had a chance to play the spin-off game The Savage Empire.  It uses the engine developed for Ultima VI but is far more than a "re-skin": the developers clearly spent a lot of time on the game to give it a unique story and setting, and the results are a pretty fun and memorable adventure.

The setting for The Savage Empire is the other-dimensional Valley of Eodon, a land where dinosaurs and several different tribes of technology-primitive humans coexist.  Much of the land is covered with lush vegetation, with high mesas, waterfalls, caves, navigable rivers, and other features adding to the richness of the terrain.  The player, as the Avatar, has been accidentally (or on purpose?) pulled into Eodon during an accident involving experiments on a Moonstone in the "real world."  Once the Avatar arrives, he saves a young princess named Aiela from a pterodactyl attack but is then knocked unconscious by Darden, a jerk from the mysterious Urali tribe who kidnaps Aiela.  Fortunately, although there is a cliched "save the princesss" plot thread, there's several other plot threads as well that are a bit better.  The Avatar realizes that not only must he rescue Aiela, he needs to find the friends who came with him to Eodon: a reporter named Jimmy Malone and a scientist named Rafkin.  More, he soon learns that the various tribes are threatened by a race of giant ants called Myrmidex, and that the only way to defeat them is to unite the tribes.  This is the part of the game that I thought could have been handled more subtly, as basically the Avatar has to chat with each tribe leader and ask them what they want in order to agree to unity.  It actually ended up being a nice feature, however, as it offered a non-linear way to progress through the game because the various chieftan-quests (I think there's 8 or 10 tribes?) can be done in any order and require different skills.

One of the features that makes The Savage Empire stand apart from many other CRPGs is both the technology available (spears and stone-axes instead of metal swords and crossbows) but also the ability to craft a surprising amount of things by cleverly combining natural resources and tools.  Thus, the player can create (with help from Professor Rafkin) bamboo rifles, primitive grenades, cloth, clay pots, and more.  Although really good for its time, the controls can be a bit clunky and non-intuitive here, as is inventory management in general.  One aspect of this era of the Ultima games I did like was being able to pick and choose, throughout the game, a variety of NPCs to ask to join your group.  One major difference between this and other Ultima games is that there's no focus on virtue or morality; there's no such thing as theft in Eodon, for example, so feel free to take what you see, even from people's houses while they're watching!

A last word before moving into spoiler-territory is that although the plot isn't the more original in places, and the graphics are not the most impressive, it's still a quite satisfying game to play--especially for free!  After a bit of a break, I'm looking forward to trying the next (and last) game in the Worlds of Ultima series: Martian Dreams.


The Valley of Eodon has a well-developed backstory that is integral to the Avatar's role in the story.  Ages ago, the Valley was created by a race of highly evolved lizard-people named the Koti who developed futuristic technology and built a massive underground city.  They decided to create a race of servants by evolving ants into the Myrmidex, but they revolted.  The Koti then used portals to bring over various tribes of humans, but they too proved unsuitable and were allowed to escape to the surface.  Later, the Myrmidex returned and slew most of the Koti.  To succeed in the game, the Avatar must find the underground city of the Koti, unite the tribes, and then lead an expedition into the vast Myrmidex caves to slay their queen.

I progressed through the game fairly well, but as is often the case, I must confess to having to refer to a walkthrough at a few specific points (sometimes justified, others not):  (1) There's one point where a living statue won't move unless exposed to a great deal of light; I tried every combination of torches, spells, etc. to get it to move, but no luck. A walkthrough revealed that what I needed to use was the camera brought over by the reporter, Jimmy Malone.  The problem was that I had ditched Jimmy due to his general uselessness long ago and on the exact opposite side of the world.  It was a long trek to go and get that camera!  (2) One of the ways to make gunpowder is to use some raw ingredients found in jars in Professor Rafkin's lab; I kept trying to open the jars using controls like "Use" or "Move", etc.; but it turns out, the game wants you to drop the jars on the ground and (if they don't break) then smash them with a weapon!  Odd--who uses jars that are sealed that tightly?  (3)  I feel stupid about this one: at one point in the game, you put a crystal into a ancient koti device left on the surface and a cut-scene says that a hidden staircase has been revealed somewhere to the north.  I looked all over the north for that stupid thing, and I swear I did almost a grid-like sweep of the area where, eventually, a walkthrough showed me it was--hidden in plain sight, apparently.  (4) The final search for the Queen of the Myrmidex was frustrating because she's hidden in a truly massive cave network that contains no distinguishing features to tell one tunnel or junction apart from any other.  I wandered around in there for hours, slowly getting worn down by enemies, hoping to stumble upon the Queen or even an exit!  I tried to leave "bread crumbs" (by dropping objects), but they quickly disappeared, as did the bodies of the drones I slew.  It turns out, via walkthrough, that there was a locator device in the underground Koti city, but if you didn't grab it while there, it's too late to go back.  I ended up having to use a map found online, and then the Queen died anticlimactically with one shot from my rifle.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Hell Frozen Over Chapter Ten [BUFFY]


Buffy let it ring for must have been the hundredth time before switching the hand-held phone to off and dropping it on the couch next to her. She shook her head, thinking the worst. She’s spent 24/7 in that tiny dorm room and now that we’re worried—she’s gone. Great timing, Will. Buffy stood up, a determined look on her face. She walked over to the phone book and began flipping through it vigorously.

“Who are you calling?” Dawn said anxiously.

“What’s the name of that guy, the leader? Wittgenst-“

“Wittingstone. Mr. Wittingstone.”

She flipped a few more pages and then ran her finger down the page. She closed it angrily and began pulling her shoes on.

“You know where he is?” Dawn asked.

“No, he’s not listed. Not surprising though. Evil cult leaders never seem to be around when you need them.” She grabbed her duffel bag full of Slayer’s gear. Just in case.

“Where are you going then?”

“Weatherly Park. Some of your First Principles ex-buddies might still be there and maybe they know where he is.”

“Good. Sounds like a plan,” Dawn said, standing up and grabbing her jean jacket. Her face was dry and determined.

“Whoa,” Buffy exclaimed. “I didn’t say anything about us going. This is Slayer territory now. It may be dangerous. You’ll stay here.” How many times have I said that in my life?

“Remember Buffy? About how you weren’t going to protect me anymore, how you were going to ‘show me the world?’” Dawn was getting upset again. “Well you can start by showing me Weatherly Park at night. Besides. I got this thing started . . . and I want to see it through. After all, it’s just a geezer in a suit—not Dracula.”

And in the stories, Dracula only looked like a geezer in a suit until the fangs came out. The real thing was even worse. Still, Buffy knew Dawn well enough to be certain that she would either have to let her come along or tie her up securely to keep her from sneaking out of the house. And me without my manacles, she thought bitterly.

“Fine. You come. But you follow my lead, got it?”

“Got it.”


Weatherly Park was an easy place to get lost in at night, dark and full of winding trails. Buffy wasn’t worried, however. She had been patrolling the place for years and could draw a decent map of the place with her eyes closed. She and Dawn walked quickly, criss-crossing the park. They were disappointed to find no First Principles members and no Mr. Wittingstone, either.

“It’s a bust, Buffy. They’ve all gone home. I know there’s supposed to be a big meeting tomorrow though.”

Buffy held up her hand for Dawn to be quiet and continued listening. Something wasn’t right—they weren’t alone. Her left hand slipped expertly into one of many places she secreted stakes on her body. She gripped the comforting weapon and focused her senses. All of a sudden, with a deft spin and a quick flip of her wrist, the stake was flying through the air, only to embed itself a moment later in the chest of an oncoming vampire. The vampire disintegrated into dust spectacularly, a phenomenon Buffy could never tire of watching.

She jogged over to where it had been destroyed and looked around. “One vampire,” she said, throwing her hands up in the air. “One vampire? They have got to be kidding me. That’s so T-ball and I’m in the majors now.”

A muffled scream spun her around to see three other vampires had surrounded Dawn and were dragging her off towards a large copse of trees. Damn. They always do that and I always fall for it. Hold on, sis! With a short kick into the dirt, she launched the fallen stake into the air and caught it as it spun, and then ran after Dawn and the other vampires.

Before she even reached the trees, however, one of the vampires came flying out, its limbs spinning wildly in the air, and landed hard on the grass. It was soon followed by another one that had a cracked skull, and a third that screamed before disintegrating into dust in mid-air, a branch lodged in its chest. Buffy quickly staked the two who were lying motionless on the ground. “Dawn!” she called as she ran forward again.

“Over here!”

Buffy followed the shout to a small clearing where she saw her sister standing with her arms crossed. She was facing someone Buffy hadn’t expected to see.

“Spike,” Buffy said, readying the stake.

Dawn put a hand on her arm, but continued glaring at him. I know what you tried to do, was all she could think.

“What are you doing here, Spike?” Buffy asked indignantly.

Spike shrugged nonchalantly. “A little of this, a little of that. Saving Little Red here from the Big Bad Wolves.”

Buffy looked over at Dawn. She nodded.

“So you’ve been following us?” Buffy asked.

He snorted. “Following you? Hardly. But I heard what these fellows were planning and happened to be in the neighborhood.” More like I talked some new arrivals into a little job, but close enough.

“I don’t buy it, Spike.”

“And I don’t care.” He bent down and picked up a briefcase that had been sitting next to him. He threw it through the air, and it opened upon landing, causing several bundles of cash to spill onto the ground next to Buffy and Dawn. “It’s so you don’t have to wear that bloody ridiculous uniform anymore,” he explained.

Buffy didn’t move towards it. “I don’t want your money, Spike. I can’t be bought. And I don’t want you stalking us. So as you Brits are so fond of saying, sod off!” She took Dawn by the hand and led her out of the trees and back into the park.

“Better get ready, Slayer!” he called after them. “Big things are happening!” He chuckled to himself and then walked away with a bemused smile on his face, leaving almost two hundred thousand dollars in unmarked bills sitting on the ground.


Xander parked his car in front of the Magic Box, a worried look on his face. Willow hadn’t been in her room at the college, she wasn’t at her parents’ house, and she wasn’t even at the Bronze—not that he had expected her to be there, but he had checked it out just in case. As he unlocked the front door, he invented several new methods of torture he would gleefully try out if he found out those little thugs had hurt her.

He saw a flash of hair disappearing behind the front counter and hurried over, relief swelling in his heart. “Will?” he cried out.

Xander almost tripped over Anya, who was ducking behind the counter, hoping he hadn’t seen her.



“What are you doing down there?”

“Would you believe, tying my shoe?”

Xander shook his head. “No, but that doesn’t matter now. Have you seen Willow?”

“Not since the funeral.”

“She’s in danger—I need to find her fast. Can you do something, like magic or—“

“Well, a simple locator spell should work but—“

“Do it!”

Anya’s eyes narrowed and she set her jaw. “But perhaps if she’s hiding from you Xander she doesn’t want to see you. That happens you know.”

“She’s not hiding—she’s just consciously avoiding every place I would normally look for her. Now are you going to help me or not?”

She considered for a moment and then silently assembled the components for the spell. They were basic items, but it took her several minutes of sorting through the store’s debris to find them. She recited a short incantation and then threw a large ball of twine and a small red button into the air. The items floated there for a moment, and then the ball of twine unwound into a pattern, criss-crossing back and forth over the lines it created. Within moments Xander and Anya were looking at a rough street map of Sunnydale. With a final incantation, the button glided over to a point on the map and hovered there.

“Okay, I know where that is. There’s a bunch of condos in that area, near where Giles used to live.”

“I hope she’s okay,” Anya offered with a slight shrug as she dissipated the casting and let the twine and button fall to the floor.

“Thanks,” Xander muttered as he turned and headed for the door. “Say hi to Spike for me.”

Anya was not amused.


Tintsman rested his elbows on the bar and ordered another drink—his third. He had been sitting in this seedy, windowless dive in Sunnydale’s warehouse district for almost an hour now, scoping the place out, listening in on his fellow patrons’ conversations, and occasionally asking a judicious question or two of certain individuals. He had come dressed to fit in—long, greasy hair, grungy jeans, leather jacket—but he could tell the others knew he didn’t belong from the way they kept muttering and glancing over at him from the corners of their eyes. He wasn’t nervous, however, although he kept a foot squarely on the duffel bag that sat on the floor next to him. He considered himself a professional now, and being a professional meant having a plan for every contingency.

“I think maybe you’ve had enough,” intoned a voice from behind as Tintsman grasped the glass mug.

He calmly laid a couple of dollars on the bar for the drink before turning to see that three men, dressed much like he was, had stood up and were staring at him with menacing looks. He casually pressed a button on a beeper strapped to his belt. “Enough?” Tintsman asked rhetorically, looking down at the foaming mug of beer. He walked over to the man who had spoken, a veritable giant at almost seven feet tall. “Yes,” Tintsman said flatly. “I have had enough.”

Before the other man could react, Tintsman slammed the mug into the aggressor’s face, sending drops of beer and shards of broken glass everywhere. The man staggered back in pain as Tintsman turned, grabbed his duffel bag, and jumped over the counter, knocking over several bottles of cheap liquor in the process.

The customers looked at each other, not knowing quite what to think. Almost in unison, however, they stood up, each hoping he would be the first to show this outsider whose bar it really was. Their press towards the counter stopped suddenly when both the front door and the rear exit burst open in a spray of broken wood to reveal figures in green armor holding projectile weapons. Instantly, the armored figures opened fire, spraying a thick stream of liquid followed by a hail of wooden bullets. The customers, caught in the crossfire, screamed in agony from the holy water, only to burst into flame and ashes from the wooden bullets a second later.

Three of the customers, more quick-witted than the rest, avoided the deadly hail by leaping behind the counter. Unfortunately for them, they found Tintsman waiting, duffel bag open and weapons at the ready. None of the three would ever drink—or do anything else—again.

The largest of the vampires—the one Tintsman had shattered his beer on—grabbed hold of one of his drinking-buddies by the back of the shirt and sent him flying into the air to smash into Joshua, the armored figure guarding the front door. He then rushed the door, shrugging off an incredible amount of holy water fired at him from Otis on the opposite side, stepped over his now-prone attacker, and breathed in the cool night air.

An armored figure, much shorter and slimmer than the others, stepped out of the shadows in front of him. She drew a long, slim blade that glimmered slightly in the moonlight. The sound of gunfire echoed from the bar onto the deserted street where the two combatants circled. The vampire suddenly rushed in and swatted his attacker away with a backhand. She crashed against a wall and was slow getting to her feet.

The giant vampire knew he should probably run for it, but he was greedy—a solid kill would help make up for losing his favorite drinking spot. He spied a length of chain rusting away in a nearby gutter and grabbed it. He swung it over his head a few times, and then with a chuckle swung it at his attacker’s legs.

She watched him and was ready for it. With careful timing she leapt into the air, towards him, as high and far as she could. When she had reached the highest point of her jump, the blade lashed out and connected. She crashed into the vampire’s body, but its head was no longer attached. Before it even hit the ground, the body
disintegrated into dust. She tucked her body in and landed in a sommersault. Rita pulled off her helmet as Joshua came trotting outside.

“Are you nuts?” he asked, having seen the tail-end of the battle. “A guy that big--why didn’t you use the guns?”

“He was the one,” she replied simply.

“You mean . . .?”

“Yes. I have no idea why he was here. But now it’s done.”

Back inside the bar, Tintsman surveyed the scene. He was pleased—not a single vampire had escaped. He stepped through thick piles of dust, ash, and broken glass over to where Otis was standing. On the ground in front of him, two men were moaning—their legs and lower abdomens were bleeding profusely from the dozens of puncture wounds the wooden bullets had caused.

“I checked with the holy water. These guys aren’t vampires,” Otis observed.

“Obviously,” Tintsman replied. “Finish them off.”

“Michael? Are you sure? I mean—“

“Vampires or those that help them. That’s what you swore to me.”

“I know, but--”

“Do it!”

Tintsman turned towards the door to see Rita and Joshua enter as a short burst of automatic fire followed by screams told him that Otis had followed orders.

“Did you find out what you were hoping to?” Joshua asked.

“Yes,” Tintsman replied. “Much as I expected. Angel’s gone—some say Los Angeles, some say San Diego. The librarian—Giles—either died in the explosion of the high school a few years back or is in England.”

“So Los Angeles then?”

“Not yet. Like I said, we won’t leave until Sunnydale is clean. This is a good start, though. They’ll know we’ve arrived now.”

Fueled by spilled liquor and strategically-placed pools of gasoline, flames quickly enveloped the bar as the four figures walked away into the night.


Xander was agitated when he left the Magic Box and got back into his car. That was a stupid thing to sa — and mean—but she deserves it. Though maybe I deserved what she did. Never mind now. It’s done. I won’t think about her anymore. Still, no matter how many times he promised himself, the image of Anya and Spike rolling around on a bed was one he couldn’t get out of his head—and it was one that enflamed him with jealousy. Let’s see. Angel-Buffy. Spike-Buffy. Angel-Cordelia. Spike-Harmony. Spike-Anya. Dead guys really do get all the action.

He was knocked out of his reverie and literally jumped in his seat when he went to adjust the rear-view mirror and saw a woman in it, staring at him. Eyes wide open, he swung his head around to verify that she was really there, and then quickly got out and yanked the backseat door open.

“Okay, who are you and what the hell are you doing in my car?”

“You don’t remember, do you Xander?” the woman asked, stepping onto the pavement. She was short, slim, and had shoulder-length blonde-hair. Combined with her jeans and white blouse, she looked no different than half of the girls in California.

Xander shook his head but kept looking at her. Maybe there was something . . . familiar about her.


Xander’s eyes flew open even wider than before. The girl from the ski lodge. God that was a long time ago—but I thought she was a . . . He stepped back, covered his eyes with his hands, and then looked again. She was still standing there, so he walked up to her and jabbed a finger into her shoulder.

“What was that for?” she asked, slightly offended.

“Listen, this is going to sound stupid, but I really have to be going so I’ll say it and swallow the humiliation later. I always thought you were a ghost. Okay? Gotta go now, bye!”

“A ghost? That’s rich. You mean like Casper the Friendly?” She gave a disbelieving laugh but stopped when she saw Xander had gotten back in the car. “Wait!” she said. “I’ve been trying to track you down for days now. There’s something you have to understand—you’re in danger!”

“Great. As if you hadn’t noticed, this is Sunnydale—the Hellmouth. I am always in danger. Right now my best friend is in danger. So I’m glad you’re really alive—if you are—and everything, but I have to go.”


Her words were cut off when Xander slammed the car door and pulled away, leaving Amara to bite her lip in frustration.

Xander raced through the streets of Sunnydale, now more confused than ever. More than once he ran a red light, but he hardly noticed. Eventually he reached the area Anya had indicated on the map. He slowed the car down now, circling the blocks and keeping a close eye on the sidewalks to either side. He circled several times with increasing frustration and no sign of Willow until on one of the side streets he noticed the front door of a condo open and a figure step out.

He slammed on the brakes and the car screeched to a halt. He jumped out and ran up to her. “Willow! Listen, are you okay? I don’t want to freak you out, but Dawn said there’s some punks after you and—“

“It’s okay, Xander,” she replied calmly. “I just had a talk with Mr. Wittingstone about First Principles. He helped me to understand. I’m part of a community now, and a community sticks up for its own.”

Xander’s mouth dropped open in shock.

Next Chapter

Monday, March 3, 2014

Realms Toowoomba Session # 42 [RPG]

[17 Kythorn 1372]

After a night spent in frivolity with the Carnivale Intrepid, the adventurers wake tired and (in Fargrim's case) somewhat hungover. While Bettina puts together an excellent breakfast for Markus (and his friends), Ulugu the Far-Seeing offers a potentially entertaining (and lucrative) diversion: pulling out an old, battered chest full of coins, he says that the spirits are encouraging those assembled to test their wisdom by solving mankind's greatest riddles, and that if they succeed, the chest shall be theirs. After being encouraged by "the spirits" to "sacrifice" a few gold pieces, Tunak is posed with the riddle "The more of me there is, the less you see" and is stumped. Mellia and Cain are quite skeptical of Ulugu, and decide to pose him a riddle; but the challenge unravels when Mellia realizes Ulugu keeps talking about "the chest" as a reward rather than "the chest and its contents."

While Cammy goes on a walk with Daisy and her menagerie, Mellia gives Tunak a note to read later. She then takes Fargrim, Markus, and Cain to one side. She asks if their intent is still to go to Mirabar, and when they assent, she suddenly grabs their hands, utters occult syllables, and transports them instantly across hundreds of miles! The foursome find themselves standing right in front of the Sign of the Forgehammer Inn in Mirabar. After explaining to her startled allies that she had finally reached a breakthrough in learning to teleport from place to place, Mellia says that she didn't want to waste time debating what to do. The others are impressed, and the group decides to head straight towards the massive domed fortress known as The Hall of Sparkling Stones to receive their reward for Grim's capture.

As they travel through the streets of Mirabar, they notice several heavily-armed patrols of the city's standing army, The Axe. When they question a guard about it at the Hall of Sparkling Stones, they learn that the "cold war" between Luskan and Mirabar has intensified to open conflict, with several skirmishes being reported to the west. The recently-returned Lord Feldspar is said to have taken a major role in organizing the city's defences. When the group bring up the topic of a reward for the capture or death of Grim, the guard summons a dwarven priest who asks for proof. Fargrim turns over Grim's mask and shows the priest Grim's longsword. The priest channels his divinely-granted gifts to see that the adventurers are telling the truth, but he is still unsure whether they may have been fooled by one of Grim's duplicates. The priest tells the adventurers he'll need to cast some further spells on the mask and that he'll deliver his verdict the following morning.

Meanwhile, back at the campsite, the winds are beginning to pick up and it looks like another poor day for travel. The remaining adventurers are mystified by their companions' sudden disappearance, until Tunak remembers the note Mellia had given him. When Cammy and Daisy return from their walk, the former reads the note which says that they will be gone for three days but upon their return, the group can head straight for Startop Mountain. Cammy, however, says that it is urgent she reach Silverymoon and speak to a certain contact there. With a bit of logic and a bit of fast-talk, zhe persuades Temeris that the others meant to leave their mounts for the remaining members' use. Zhe thus saddles Mellia's horse and prepares to head off east. Tunak, however, sees this as a straightforward case of theft and tries to stop Cammy. The half-elf is determined, however, and spurs hir mount on; although Tunak manages to deliver a blow with his quarterstaff as zhe rides past, Cammy soon disappears into the lightly forested area to the east.

Back in Mirabar, the four adventurers decide to take rooms at the Sign of the Forgehammer. Mellia opens up the spellbook she took from Aloysius' corpse and notices that the inside front cover reads "Property of Beagin Tenfingers" and that a torn piece of parchment, written in a strange runic code, has been buried in the book's pages. She posts a notice on the inn's message board that states: "Beagin Tenfingers is dead. For details, contact me." and signs her name. She then gets to work learning a spell related to lightning.

Markus, Cain, and Fargrim, on the other hand, have foregone scholarly pursuits to go shopping. At the famous House of the Bright Blade, Fargrim trades in Grim's longsword for a greataxe, the blade of which is composed of a strange red metal said to have come from a massive glowing rock hurtling from the sky that crashed into the Sword Mountains. The adventurers then spend some hours asking locals for the location of Protius the Potion Purveyor. When they find the infamous gnome, they see his former alleyway operation has blossomed into a proper store. Protius is disappointed to learn that Ellywick is not with them and is further befuddled by Markus' request for a pearl. He does sell the young swordsman what he calls a "Potion of Extreme Bravery." A somewhat abashed Markus later purchases an expensive pearl at a jeweler's, planning to ask Mellia to use it to discern the property of some magical crossbow bolts he has been carrying for some time.

At the campsite in Mirabar, Tunak waits patiently for his new allies to return. He asks Temeris for a map of the area, and the young cartographer obliges.

While finishing her day's study in the common room of the Sign of the Forgehammer, Mellia is approached by a handsome man in his mid-30s with a languid, overly-familiar manner. The stranger introduces himself as Jak, and said he saw the note Mellia posted on the noticeboard. Mellia is surprised that someone responded so quickly, and notices a huge, burly figure (probably a half-orc) leaning against the fireplace watching them closely. After some introductory remarks, Jak gets to the point: he's interested in the torn parchment he says he knows was in Beagin's spellbook. He says Beagin and he were part of the same adventuring company, one that had to split up after becoming the target of mysterious dark forces. The parchment, he says, contains the coded directions to the group's new meeting place. Mellia is skeptical of this story, but not particularly interested in the parchment as long as she has the spellbook. After excusing herself to retrieve it, she goes to her room and makes a quick copy of it. When she returns to the common room, she bargains with Jak and gives it to him for 200 gold pieces. Jak's genial manner quickly turns threatening when Fargrim arrives and questions his presence. Still, he and his companion depart without further incident.

That night, a suspicious Mellia decides that, to be safe, she should temporarily vacate her room and that the four adventurers should sleep in shifts in one large room. To further enhance the group's security, she casts another recently-learned spell that summons a dozen apple-sized orbs. The orbs are actually mystical flying eyes that follow Mellia's instructions to keep a close watch on her original room and the hallway adjacent to the group's current room. However, the eyes are unable to function in darkness, and sometime during the night, someone or something manages to slip into the dimly-lit hallway, squeeze open the door to the group's room, stealthily remove Aloysius' spellbook, and slip out, all under Fargrim's nose!

[18 Kythorn 1372]

After an uneventful night, the new day dawns warmly and with a more manageable wind. Temeris announces his intent for the Carnivale Intrepid to head south. Tunak tries to talk him out of it, but Temeris is eager to begin exploring Startop Mountain and find Daisy's brother. He implies it was somewhat rude for the other adventurers to disappear suddenly, but says he hopes to see everyone again if they journey to Startop Mountain too. Bettina, however, decides to stay behind with Tunak, as she's eager to see Markus again.

Back in Mirabar, Mellia wakens with a gasp, which the others assume is simply the result of a nightmare. When she begins her morning's study, she realizes Aloysius' book is missing. When the group move to the common room for breakfast, they see that a new note has been posted on the notice board: "Scholar seeking dead god Myrkul at the Fountain of the King." The group eat quickly and then head off to the Hall of Sparkling Stones, where the same warrior-priest who spoke to them the previous morning returns Grim's mask, gruffly praises them on their success, and duly provides the 5,000 gold piece reward. The four adventurers split the bounty, and then Mellia and Fargrim travel to the Fountain of the King in the city's market square to meet the poster of the mysterious note.

A young woman is waiting for them there, and says her name is Dolcetto. She says she's a scholar who has realized that Myrkul may be becoming active once more and that she is seeking a legendary artifact named the Crown of Horns because it will prevent the dead god's resurrection. Mellia is somewhat skeptical, and suspicious that so many strange coincidences (the visit from Jak, the theft of Aloysius' spellbook, and this approach) are occurring so quickly together. As Mellia is starting to reply, she notices the silhouette of an eavesdropper hiding underneath the fountain. The figure is yanked out and revealed to be a dark, rock-coloured gnome. "Oh, crap!" it says.
Director's Commentary (June 24, 2016)

So, teleport: the bane of my existence in this campaign.  This spell might not seem like a big deal, or even seem like a handy convenience, but it actually creates several indirect effects that make directing a sandbox campaign very difficult.  I'm surely not the first nor the last director to complain about it.  The problems it creates for a game-runner are numerous, and the problem gets even worse when combined with scrying or when Greater Teleport comes on line.

First, and obviously, the spell eliminates the need for characters to travel overland from place to place.  This means that there are no random encounters for travel, which are a good source of XP and excitement in an otherwise RP-heavy session.  More importantly, it means that there's no time for a director to prepare for wherever the PCs may decide to go, which results in settings that are less fleshed-out, and definitely less distinct, flavourful, and immersive.  As a director, I can be ready for Silverymoon, Nesme, and Mirabar.  Now, thanks to teleport, I need to also be ready, on a moment's notice, to handle Waterdeep (a major part of Realms lore that has entire boxed sets devoted to it) and dozens of other cities in the North on a moment's notice.  A related problem is that PCs can jump deep into areas where I need to have encounters planned in seconds--very difficult to do in such a crunchy system like D&D 3.5.  For something like Startop Mountain, the spell could have allowed them to bypass several dungeon levels worth of encounters if they did some good scrying or got accurate information.

Second, it means that the PC with the spell has an easy escape option from almost any combat (5' step and teleport).

Third, and often less realised, is it encourages the players to split the party because there are limits on how many PCs, animal companions, cohorts, etc. can be taken along which can result in a "we'll be right back" situation that doesn't take long in terms of in-game time but can last sessions in real time.  And because it's so easy and tempting to use, it can result in a less-focussed group that flits about doing all sorts of stuff without really ever delving deeply into any one thing.

There's a load of other problems created by teleport, but I don't want to rant about the spell the entire post.  There are various ways to deal with some of these problems with enough practice, foresight, and preparation, but it's certainly not an easy problem to deal with even for a fairly experienced directly like myself.

Cammy's theft of the horse was fun and exciting, but zhe would have been much better off if Tunak had knocked her out with his quarterstaff.  We'll see very soon that hir ride would not come to a happy result.  I tried, again and again, to make it clear that the Evermoors were an incredibly dangerous place and shouldn't be traversed alone!  A word should be said about how well the player ran a gender-queer character, and this was great to see in a game.  The gaming world needs more inclusion and diversity, and I need to do a better job in this direction as well.

An awesome  picture for Dolcetto.
The player who ran Cammy introduced an alternate PC in order to have something to do in the Mirabar scenes (an example of the complications of teleport!).  This new PC, Dolcetto, would become a major character in the campaign.  She was portrayed as an incredibly smart, gifted, and detail-oriented caster.  She became a good example of the true power of a Tier 1 character in the hands of a optimizer.

In the very last bit, another new back-up PC is introduced--but more on that next time.

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