Thursday, October 23, 2014

Hell Frozen Over: Chapter Fifteen [BUFFY]


Giles saw Michael run out of the room after Angel, but knew he wasn’t fast enough to catch up to the techno-slayer before he reached the hallway—he just had to hope that Angel had managed to escape and hide somewhere. Giles quickly stuffed his pockets with stakes and a cross, just in case more vampires happened to show up, and rushed towards the riddled door. As long as this Michael thinks I’m on his side, Angel and I have an advantage, he thought.

Just as he reached the double doors and pushed them open, everything went dark. The power is out an accident or? A generator somewhere distant kicked in, and the hallway was lit by the eerie glow of “Exit” signs and emergency lights. He heard muddled voices and a door slam somewhere in the distance. He thought about running for the exit, but decided against it. If Angel is still alive, he might need me.

Giles walked slowly along a hallway in the direction of the gymnasium. He cautiously stepped across an open area where two hallways intersected, when suddenly his face was illuminated by flashlights.

“There he is!” he heard a voice shout, and then the rumble of automatic weapons. Wooden projectiles began bouncing off the floor and walls all around him—it looked like the rifles lost much of their accuracy and power when fired at anything more than twenty or thirty feet away. Giles caught just a glimpse of his attackers and sprinted down the corridor—they were dressed exactly like Michael. He panicked and choose hallways at random.

Again, the darkness and silence pooled around him. Have I lost them—or are they still after me? And why are they firing at me anyway? Maybe they thought I was Angel. He realized that he must be near the cafeteria as he edged along carefully, his back to a row of lockers. He heard another door slam in the distance, and then a slow creaking noise quite nearby. One of the lockers! Giles realized, just before a hand covered his mouth from behind.

Giles, although a Watcher and not a Slayer, was still trained to defend himself. He thrust his elbow straight back, catching his attacker in the stomach, doubling him over. Giles turned and was about to bring his fists down on his assailant’s head when he realized who it was.

“Angel!” he whispered, perhaps too loudly. “Oh dear. I’m dreadfully sorry. I thought you were—“

“Never mind,” Angel croaked, still holding his stomach. “We can’t talk here. Follow me.” Angel limped along as he led Giles to a small closet he had found earlier in one of the classrooms, screened from the hallway by a bookshelf. It was dusty inside, obviously unused for quite some time.

“He’s still out there?” Angel whispered.

“Not just him—I think he’s part of a group. They’re all after you Angel, each equipped with those weapons.” Why doesn’t the Council equip a Slayer with such equipment? Giles wondered idly to himself. “But I think if we reach the cafeteria, which should be just around the corner, we can use the doors there to escape.”

“No,” Angel said. “I don’t think we can run. They’ll keep hounding me until they’ve caught me, and who knows how many people will be hurt along the way. I don’t know why they’re after me, and I don’t want to kill them, but I will if I have to.”

“The one in the library told me his name is Michael Tintsman. He thinks you killed his family several
months ago.”

“That’s absurd,” Angel said. “Listen.”

They heard a door slam, and then a few moments later another door slammed. The slamming was moving closer to them.

“He’s going from room to room, checking each one. He’s headed our way,” Angel said grimly. His neck was still sore from where the vampire had bitten him earlier, and his leg ached from where the dart had embedded itself in his calf. His body would heal these wounds faster than a human’s could, but they still hurt.

“We have to think of something. He and the others won’t stop until you’re dead,” Giles whispered. “But maybe . . . do you know where the science lab is?” he said, his face lit with inspiration.

* * *

Angel opened the door to the high school’s basement as quietly as he could. He remembered that it wasn’t that many months ago he had rescued Giles, Xander, and Willow from the boiler room when it was filling with toxic gases. He felt sorry for the kids attending Sunnydale High. Centered right on top of the Hellmouth itself, it seemed that pretty much anything that could go wrong did go wrong, and Sunnydale High students usually suffered the brunt of it.

Tonight, of course, he was entering the basement for a rather different purpose. Giles had told him that there were two main doors to the basement, one on the west side of the school and one on the east side. By entering the basement through the west door, and coming out the east door, he could traverse almost the entire length of the high school without setting foot on the floor above, and thus, presumably, avoid the vampire-hunters that were after him.

The plan seemed to be working out well. Angel crossed almost half of the basement without hearing the slightest thing. Even in the complete darkness, his eyes allowed him to make out shapes nearby, and so far he was the only thing moving.

As he drew closer to the far side, he could see the other door sitting at the top of a set of stairs. A very faint light shone through cracks in the door-frame. He reached the bottom stair just when the east door started to open. He rolled out of the way, and pressed his back against the side of the stairs. Looking up, he could see that two of the vampire-hunters were coming down the stairs, both armed like Giles had said. Something about one of them seemed familiar however. He certainly wasn’t Michael, but . . . then something clicked, and Angel realized it was one of the vampires he had fought just a few hours ago at the warehouse district.

Vampires teamed up with humans to hunt other vampires? It sounded strange to his ears, but then he realized that was exactly what he and Buffy did together on occasion. Still, he knew that these vampires were soulless creatures bent on murdering him. He wondered how it all fit together as bootsteps echoed through the small basement and the pair of hunters descended to the basement floor.

Angel considered trying to sneak up the stairs and out the door, but if they heard him, he would be cut down with nothing to shield him. Instead, he followed softly behind the pair as they advanced across the room in the direction of the west door, the one he had come in through.

He waited until one of the vampires stood directly in front of the other. Carefully edging himself to a position just a few feet from the rear vampire, he leapt on top of him, his left arm wrapping around the vampire’s neck while his right hand reached for the vampire’s hand holding the rifle. Angel squeezed the vampire’s neck and hand simultaneously, causing the vampire to jerk around and fire his rifle in a wide arc all across the room.

The other vampire, although lucky enough to avoid being shot in the heart by his companion’s rifle, was burned horribly when the impact from one of the projectiles shattered the small container holding his tank of holy water. He began writhed on the floor in agony, oblivious to what was happening around him.

Angel held on for dear life as the vampire bucked like a bronco, spinning around wildly in every direction trying to shake him off. He’s incredibly strong—stronger than I am! Angel realized. There weren’t many vampires that had been alive as long as he had been, or could match his strength. What Angel didn’t know was that the exoskeleton the vampire wore increased his already-formidable strength to even greater levels.

The rifle clattered to the floor when the vampire let go of it and reached up with both hands to grasp Angel’s shoulders. With a herculean tug, he flipped Angel over his back and sent him flying into the air, only to crash into and through the east door, which shattered like a pane of glass from the force of the impact. The vampire picked up his dropped weapon and advanced up the stairs, ignoring the moans of his companion. He reached the doorway and thrust the rifle out quickly to the left and then back to the right, but it was no use— Angel was gone.

* * *

Agony jolted through Angel’s bones with every step he took. He looked like a hunchback in the corridor, bent over and using the walls for support. He had heard something “pop” in his back when the vampire had thrown him through the door--combined with the wounds he had already suffered, he knew he couldn’t take much more punishment like that. I’m close to the lab though, he thought, just a little further. I have to get the timing just perfect though.

The door to the science lab was at the end of the hall, and Angel reached it just as Michael Tintsman emerged from another doorway nearby. Angel hesitated just a moment to make sure he had been seen, and then plunged through the doorway and into the lab. This better work, he thought.

Michael yanked the door open. He raised the rifle just as he saw Angel leap at Giles. Angel’s claws and fangs were out, his face contorted into the visage only vampires wore. Giles screamed out in fright and backpedaled behind a desk as Angel rushed towards him, saliva dripping from his fangs. Michael wanted to take a shot, but he couldn’t risk hitting the librarian—the wooden bullets would kill a human just as easy as they would a vampire. Even worse, he only had a few shots left and his supply of holy water was already exhausted. If the vampire caught him weaponless . . .

Giles screamed again as Angel grabbed him roughly by the shoulders and sunk his fangs into his neck. The librarian’s hands scrabbled for any weapon he could find on the desk, knocking beakers and containers off it in his panic. Finally his hands found a wooden ruler some student had left there. Giles adroitly snapped the end off on the edge of the desk and plunged it into Angel’s chest.

From the angle, it was difficult for Michael to see exactly what happened, but he knew the result when Angel gave out a bloodcurdling scream and then fell behind the desk as a thick burst of ash and dust flew up, covering Giles and the desk top.

Michael ran over and joined Giles behind the desk. The floor left a faint ash outline of a human figure. Giles was holding a hand to his neck as blood trickled through his fingers.

“You . . . you killed him!” Michael said shocked that a librarian could destroy the creature he had been hunting for months and which had escaped him twice.

“Yes. I ah, guess I did. What a vicious creature that Angel was. It was close, wasn’t it?” Giles said, his eyelids fluttering slightly from the loss of blood. “I suppose we should be leaving then, now that it’s finally all over. And I guess you can tell your ah, friends, that Angel is finally dead,” Giles said helpfully, as he and Michael walked towards the door.

“Friends?” Michael said when they emerged into the hallway.

Giles dropped to the ground instinctively and pulled Michael down with them, as more projectiles flew right over their heads. Giles had seen a band of the vampire-hunters out of the corner of his eyes coming from the left. He glanced quickly to the right, intending to run in that direction, before realizing it was blocked as well— several of Spike’s bunch of vampires were rushing towards them.

They were trapped between two armies. And Angel’s not around to help us anymore, Giles realized.

Next Chapter

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Realms Toowoomba Session # 50 [RPG]

[26 Kythorn 1372 continued]

After descending the shaft, the adventurers find themselves in a large room brightly lit by magical lanterns. The walls are lined with metal desks covered by gleaming tools and blades. Three large steel pedestals are in the room as well, each connected through strange, segmented tubes to large vats filled with liquid. Grooves in the floor lead from each pedestal to a metal grate in the center. Moving into the room, the adventurers can see that on one of the pedestals is a humanoid shape covered in a white sheet. Ralkin and Dolcetto carefully examine the vats and tubes, and Dolcetto surmises it may be part of a process to preserve corpses in a life-like state after death. Daisy volunteers to lift the sheet, and finds the corpse of a strange elf with black skin and white hair. Dolcetto laments the fact that no one in the group possesses a spell to speak with the dead.

Daisy moves closer to the grate, and notices something shiny in the dark red pool below. She removes the grate and reaches in to grab the sparkling item, but her hand burns from contact with the liquid. Suddenly, the pool seems to ripple and rise up, spreading out of the drain. A tentacle of the viscous liquid forms and tries to wrap itself around Daisy, but she leaps away just in time. Daisy slashes at the pool with her greataxe, only to discover she's caused the pool to split into separate masses! Further attacks split it even further, until there are four puddles, each lashing out with pseudopods! Syd channels divine energy and manifests a huge column of fire in the middle of the room, destroying three of the masses instantly! Seconds later, Dolcetto summons a monstrous centipede, and the creature is able to destroy the remaining threat. Undeterred, Daisy peers into the pool under the grate and, with Dolcetto's telekinetic ability, retrieves five small garnets and 2 small, incredibly sharp single-edged blades.

The adventurers continue into a corridor lined with intricate tapestries and tanned leather hides of various animals and humanoids. Dolcetto and Ralkin decide to search for secret rooms, and together unearth a hidden chamber. While Ralkin sets about figuring out how to open it, Dolcetto advances to the end of the corridor, where a wide aperture, barred by a portcullis, leads to another room. Here, T'Klack stands ready for battle. He invites Dolcetto to enter the arena, and says that she honours him by her presence. He wishes her a long and glorious death and moves towards the lever to raise the portcullis.

Before he can act, however, Dolcetto opens a conduit to another plane of existence and brings forth a fiendish centipede to fight in the arena on her behalf! Soon, more monsters appear to do her bidding, and T'Klack struggles to escape their attacks. He does kick the lever to open the portcullis and moves to engage Dolcetto in hand-to-hand combat, but before he can reach the archway, he finds one of the centipedes has wrapped itself around him! T'Klack seeks escape the only way he can, and starts to slowly fade from the Material Plane. Trying to press her advantage, Dolcetto enters the arena and taunts T'Klack for fleeing. He promises to return as soon as possible, but after he leaves, a strange bout of insanity comes over Dolcetto, and she begins to attack her own summoned creatures! Seeing Fargrim watching this in the adjacent corridor, she even challenges the dwarf to enter and fight, to which Fargrim replies "I will strike you down!"

Once T'Klack appears again, Dolcetto once again orders her creatures to fight him. The four-armed foe grabs hold of the loremaster and bites her, but she manages to fight off the effects of the burning venom that runs through her body. Finally, the other adventurers decide to intervene. Realizing that Dolcetto must be affected by a powerful magickal field, Syd succeeds in dispelling it and then transforms into a massive lion to rush into the fray along with Daisy and Fargrim. With swipes from his massive paws, Syd easily decapitates T'Klack. Dolcetto keeps fighting, however, even charging Syd with the rapier she took from Markus. The others manage to knock her unconscious without further injury.

Meanwhile, Ralkin and Myst survey the contents of the secret room. Dusty shelves hold various pieces of armor and weapons, all jet black. Myst takes these. A chest, almost the size of a footlocker, lays on the ground next to the shelves, and appears to be made out of a heavy black stone. When Ralkin opens the chest, he spots a spider-shaped amulet inside but palms it and declares that the chest is empty. He then walks back and hides it under the corpse of the dark-skinned elf in the previous room! The kenku is then forced to hide, however, as Garry enters the room and seems hungry.

When the adventurers have assembled, Ralkin pulls the amulet from under the corpse and says it must have been hidden there all along. He and Myst decide to search T'Klack's body for useful weapons and equipment. Fargrim and Daisy decide to make sure Dolcetto has no weapons on her in case she is still crazed when she awakens. Daisy innocently tells Myst that Dolcetto has equipment belonging to Gelkar, and an annoyed Myst removes all of Dolcetto's gear.

Director's Commentary

This session had the big boss fight of the module, and as written it would have been pretty cool: T'Klack's chamber had some cool traps he would activate periodically through the fight to harass and disrupt his foes' tactics.  As played out, however, it was almost anti-climactic.  Once again, summoning and wild shaping are to blame, two of the most over-powered and annoying aspects of D&D 3.5 (a problem only slightly ameliorated in Pathfinder).  If it hadn't been for T'Klack's ability to shift to the ethereal plane, the encounter would have been a complete cakewalk for the PCs.  At least landing the confusion effect on Dolcetto added an element of fun.

Still, despite the lackluster ending, I really enjoyed incorporating the module into the campaign: it was nice to see some good, classic dungeon-crawling in a campaign that had turned into a sprawling RP and random encounter-heavy sandbox.

Next Recap

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Diary of Jizana M'rell: Entry # 6 [RPG]



RUN TIME 250/12765 14:47


Sian is here now, and to use a crusty old analogy, the past weeks have lost their substance like a dream (or nightmare?) loses its reality upon awakening.  I can hardly be around her without smiling like a little girl.  The Jedi Masters and the Rules and the Dark Side Spirits and the Intrigue all seem stuffy and somewhat silly when we're together.  I had forgotten how much I missed her.  Now she really is all I have left and I'm not going to lose her too.

Of course, what happened before is all-too-real and very serious.  The other day I was almost choked to death by Fremad.  I suppose you could say "we had a falling out."  I must give Carn credit, Fremad was as powerful as he said.  Yet I knew I could handle him, and I was right.  I can do anything when I put my mind to it, the Jedi will see that someday and ask me back.  The experience was not one I wish to repeat, of course--drawing him inside me felt--I don't know . . . dirty.  Still, I wish Fremad had not been a spirit so I could have seen his face when he realized I knew his weakness.  The others think he's destroyed, but I know he is not.  This is not over, but I am ready.

The others laugh because Bes has kicked me out of the Academy.  Will they still laugh when they find out I am now an Instructor?  I'll be researching and teaching philosophy and history.  Though I'm really only staying because Sian is here.  I mean, I like philosophy and history but I'm not passionate enough about it to do it for the rest of my life.  But it's not like I have many options here.

Bes said something about me and the Darkside and that's why I couldn't continue training.  What a joke!  Have I ever lied, stolen, killed, or intentionally harmed anyone for any reason?  And how quickly they forget!  I was the one who stopped the Sarama from sending a message from the Holoterminal.  When Orowisp was hurt and the others were standing around mumbling, I was the one who did what was necessary to get to the library and find out what the hell was going on.  When Carn was hurt, who did he call for help?  Me.  When Fremad was sending lightning bolts and hurling trees, who had the guts to do whatever it took to stop him?  I did.  Darkside indeed.  Trust me, if I had wanted to go over to their "darkside" they would know it.  (and who has ever heard of an evil pacifist?)  They'll see though--anything a Jedi can do, I will do better.  And when Master Bes begs me to take the Trials and become a Knight, I may just say "yes."


RUN TIME 250/12765 15:03


Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Diary of Jizana M'rell: Entry # 5 [RPG]



RUN TIME 248/12765 18:08


Still in the West woods.  Donab told us that Carn had been captured by the Nosh Sarama.  The other initiates decided to go mount a "rescue."  I made the rather obvious point that anything able to capture a Jedi Master would take care of them rather quickly, but as usual, they didn't listen to me.  I decided to head back to the Academy, tell Master Bes everything, and be done with it.  I'm tired of keeping secrets.

On the way back though, the "Unseen," Fremad, spoke to me again.  I think he wanted me to keep going back to the Academy, but he reminded me that if I did, they would just rush into the Nosh Sarana lightsabers-a-blazing and soon there would be piles of skewered Sarama-steak all over the forest.  I realized that when it came down to it, the Nosh Sarama and I both had the same point of view: the Republic had screwed them over, and it was about time something should be done about it.

So I turned around and headed back to the Nosh Sarama village.  I figured the others would have charged in and been captured or killed by then, but I knew I could talk to the Nosh and see what was going on.

Lo & behold of course, as soon as I try to make contact with the Nosh to talk things over peacefully, I see the other initiates running and jumping around with ignited lightsabers as if this was a holo-vid of "Jedi Knight IV: The Unleashing."  To their credit, they had found Carn.  Of course, I could have gotten everyone out without sliced-and-diced Sarama.  But the others don't worry about things like that, and any chance of talking to the Nosh is over now that they think I was helping the others.

Carn finally told the others about Ishtar, which was good--cleared the air of a lot of things, and I can at least see a bit better now why he did some of the things he did.  Even as bad of shape as he was in though, I almost strangled him when he started spouting off about some stuff he should have known better about and that I won't go into here.  And in his grand style, as I turn to walk back to the Sarama village, he cries out in his most sincere: "Jizana, if you leave us now, you'll die.  Fremad is too powerful to face alone!"

Well, I kept walking, and here I am, safe and sound.  Once the Sarama awaken, I'll have a guide show me back to the Academy.  Fremad may like to talk, but I can handle him.

Actually, I think I hear the others approaching.  I'm sure this will be interesting.


RUN TIME 248/12765 18:27


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Adam-17 is a Learned Jack who Commands Mental Powers [RPG]

Several weeks ago, one of the players in our regular D&D campaign ran a one-shot using a relatively new RPG called Numenera.  The concept is that the game takes place on Earth millions of years in the future during a time where most technological know-how has been lost.  It's not post-apocalyptic like Gamma World, but an age of rediscovery and exploration.  The world is permeated with nanobots, and every PC has some sort of innate ability to control them to do certain things.  I'm not explaining it well, but suffice it to say it's an interesting and unique angle for a RPG.  Having downloaded the core rules, there's a lot I really like about the mechanics and approach of the game, including a few extremely clever concepts, and I could definitely imagine running something with it in the future.

The one-shot we played turned out to be the adventure "Seedship" from the back of the core book.  Our PCs started in the small village of Druissi and were asked to explore a strange structure in the ground that used to provide heat to the village but now was cold and leaking an orange ooze.  The players, not the PCs, know that the structure is really a half-buried starship.  After some fun exploration and dangerous shenanigans inside, everything went to hell and we had to run for it--but not before my character extracted several strange power-supply eggs for sell, not realizing that inside each egg was an alien consciousness that would eventually take control of anyone who possessed them!  Here's my PC:

Adam-17 is a Learned Jack who Commands Mental Powers

Tier: 1
Effort: 1
XP: 3

Might: 10 (edge: 0)
Speed: 10 (edge: 0)
Intellect: 19 (edge: 1)

Trained Skills: Genetics, Defense (Speed), Geography, History, Identification

Special Abilities:  Can use light & medium weapons, Trained in one skill of choice, Flex skill, Pierce, Skill with defense, Trained in 3 knowledge areas, Few Social Graces, Connection, Crystal, Mental Esoteries, Minor Effect Suggestions, Major Effect Suggestions, Telepathic

Cypers (Limit: 2):  Intellect Enhancement (adhesive patch applied on back of neck adds 1 to intellect Edge for 1 hour)

Oddity: Metallic hoop that sharpens any blade

Equipment: Explorer's Pack, Light Tools, Bedroll, Crystal embedded in forehead, Buzzer  (w/ 4 mags), Dagger, First Aid Kit, Book on Genetics, 41 Shins, Book on Repairing

Other: strange disk from ship; 6 power eggs from ship

Armor: none

Attacks:  Buzzer: reduced difficulty by 1, DMG: 2
Dagger: reduced difficulty by 1, DMG: 2

Discovered after a landtremor in a secret vault with 21 other infants in strange pods.  Locals adopted and sold the seemingly-perfect infants.  Adam-17 went to a rich family in an urban centre who flaunted his extreme intelligence despite not loving him.  Not an adult, Adam-17 has set out to find his only true kin: the 20 other pod children.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Buffy Comic Project: "The Death of Buffy, Part 3"

Buffy the Vampire Slayer # 45

(Dark Horse Volume 1, 1998-2003)

Creators:  Tom Fassbender & Jim Pascoe (story), Cliff Richards (pencils), Joe Pimentel & Will Conrad (inks)

Setting:  Between Seasons Five & Six

T.V. Character Appearances:  Spike, Xander, Willow, Giles, Buffybot, Tara, Anya, Buffy, Dawn

Major Original Characters:  Trio of Demon Brothers, Coma (seller of magical items), Mr. Richardson (high school principal)

Summary:  The three demonic brothers of Doc talk with Willow about destroying a mysterious scroll in exchange for providing her with a resurrection spell.  They explain that they were sent to retrieve the scroll but when they read it, they realized it was too dangerous to exist.  Willow incinerates the scroll with her magic and walks away with a book containing a resurrection spell that is supposed to be reliable in the hands of a great practitioner who wields an urn of Osiris.  In the sewers below the city, however, a giant egg cracks once the scroll is destroyed and a massive elephant-sized bird of prey emerges.  Guardians flee and tell Coma that the bird, called the Luper, has hatched.  The Luper's first stop is the house of the three demonic brothers, and it kills them easily.  The next day, the Scoobies escort the Buffybot to a local mall to try to improve its social interaction.  There, they run into Principal Richardson who is suspicious.  That night, at the Bronze, Willow shares with her friends her view that it's time to bring Buffy back.  They react with dismay and anger, but decide to think about it.  Afterwards, Coma finds Willow on the street and tells her that the scroll she destroyed had a protection spell on it to unleash the Luper (the natural enemy of the demonic brothers) and that the Luper must be killed before it starts killing innocents in Sunnydale.  Willow tracks down and destroys the Luper.  Spike provides Coma with a rare ingredient (Malian twigs) that she can combine with Ezekiel's Bane to travel to Africa to complete her surgery.  Willow persuades Xander, Anya, and Tara to join with her in the ritual to resurrect Buffy, and it works.


I love the concept of showing what happened in between Seasons Five and Six, and this story arc did help fill in some unexplained gaps.  This issue in particular, however, feels very rushed and I wonder if it was intended to be longer (there's a mention on the letters page that the creative team would be leaving after next issue).  The characterization and artwork are still pretty good, but the plot is rather shaky.  I still have no idea what was in the scroll that the demonic brothers were after, who sent them for it, why Coma was protecting it, etc.  Nor do I know what sort of surgery Coma plans to have (or why).  So all in all, a bit of a let down to an otherwise excellent idea.


* Willow's fight against the Luper is really oddly intercut with her talking to the Scoobies about bringing Buffy back, making for a confusing read--we don't even actually see her defeat the creature.

*I have to assume the writers were planning on building something with Principal Richardson, because his one-page scene is pretty weird.

*  The letters page contains a funny missive from a fan about Season Six's dalliance between Buffy and Spike, referring to the Slayer as a "necrowhore."

Next Issue