Saturday, January 30, 2016

Mynock Squadron Recap # 6 [RPG]

[4.6.8 ABY]

After safely returning planetside after their final exercise in space, the recruits are told they have a few hours to relax and get changed into dress uniforms before a commencement ceremony will begin. Stavros compliments his wingman Szo-Dano on her performance, and even manages to appease the clearly seething Torgo. Kero spends a few minutes chatting with Gatara, and hears how the female Ewok couldn't wait to join the New Republic after witnessing the clash of starfighters over Endor. Kero inquires as to whether Gatara had faced any discrimination for being female and then makes a point of getting a group holopic of the female recruits. Meanwhile, Waric seeks out the base's maintenance droid, UR-90, and asks it whether it likes doing maintenance and whether it wants to be free. The droid is unable to process the questions.

The commencement ceremony begins with a brief speech by Major Dei, thanking the recruits for their effort and promising that, even if they don't make it into Mynock Squadron, they have bright futures in the New Republic military. He then reads the final leaderboard scores:

Stavros: 87
Kero & Waric: 75
Tazo-Rhi: 57
Keth: 55
Torga: 54
--------------------cut-off
Torgo & Szo-Dano: 46
Slaprat: 45
Gatara: 43
Dosh'Tu: 42
Stahlog: 33

The Cerean Tazo-Rhi seems stunned that she made the cut, and Torga looks sympathetic, but not surprised, that her brother did not. Major Dei then proceeds to award Torgo, Torga, Stavros, Waric, Kero, and the mysteriously absent Keth with the Superior Service Medal for "excellent performance while on duty in helping to uncover and capture the spy and saboteur Moldva Vanir." Stavros and Waric are promoted to Ensign, while Kero is promoted to Warrant Officer.

After the ceremony, Stavros teases Kero on her new, higher rank. The recruits discuss what could have happened to Keth, and learn that search parties are being formed to look for him. Stavros, Kero, and Waric receive authorization to take a landspeeder and return to Vanir's hidden cave on the theory that Keth may have returned there for some reason. Waric expertly pilots the landspeeder at high speeds through some very treacherous terrain, but a search of the cave turns up little of interest. 

But on the return trip, despite darkness having fallen, Waric's prosthetic eye spots a small bundle laying against a boulder: it's Keth! The Zabrak recruit is clearly dehydrated and moans incoherently about the need to stop Vanir and warn the base. Kero is forced to sedate him as he struggles violently when they try to help him. Her analysis of his injuries and symptoms leads her to believe that Keth may have suffered a serious concussion from the explosion of the charge he hurled away during the fight with Vanir, and that that concussion left him increasingly confused about reality. The recruits hurry Keth back to base for treatment.

[4.6.9 ABY]

The next day, the recruits who successfully auditioned for Mynock Squadron, including the unconscious Keth, are taken via shuttle to a recently commissioned Mon Calamari cruiser named the New Dawn. They are told that while the other members of the Squadron are on maneuvers, they'll have a few days to orient themselves aboard ship. During this time, Kero keeps a close eye on Keth's condition and checks in on Torga, Waric offers Tazo-Rhi some additional instruction in the sims to help ameliorate her anxiety, and Stavros makes a nice haul gambling with crew who will be far more guarded in the future.

[4.6.11 ABY]

Two days into their stay on the New Dawn, the new members of Mynock Squadron are suddenly summoned to Deck 5, Corridor C. There, they see the ship's captain approach with an entourage of staff. The captain is giving a host of orders as he strides quickly through the corridor, and it's clear the ship is being readied for hyperspace and a potential battle. When he spots the pilots, he tells them that the New Dawn is headed to protect Kuat from an Imperial splinter fleet, but that the New Republic Intelligence Service is demanding action on a trivial matter. He says that Mynock Squadron will have to handle it and he delegates a new officer to brief them.

The officer, a ginger-haired Lt. Bruddles, offers a confusing and scattershot mission briefing. On the planet Nishr in the Outer Rim, a New Republic agent has infiltrated a pirate group known as the Nishian Independent Force. The NIF is allied with the former Imperial Governor of Nishr who has declared the planet independent and under his control. The agent, known only by his current alias as "Kors Tanzent", has sent a coded short-burst transmission requesting immediate extraction. Bruddles says that he quickly scoured the relevant field reports and intelligence data to come up with the following plan: Mynock Squadron must force down an NIF freighter that makes periodic supply runs from the pirate group's asteroid base to the city Drushar and back. If the group can intercept the freighter while in the atmosphere, the Squad can then board the freighter and rescue Tanzent. Because of the limited time and lack of EVA boarding equipment, the freighter can not be taken once it reaches space. Bruddles says that intel reports the supply freighter is escorted by a few TYE-Wing "uglies", but that they should pose little challenge to elite pilots like those in Mynock Squadron.

After the hurried briefing, Mynock leads the group to the armoury so that they can requisition the equipment they need, and then to the hangar where they see a trio of old Y-Wings. "It's all we had available," shrugs Bruddles. Kero takes command and leads the three Y-Wings out of the hangar, with Waric taking a moment to make a flashy maneuver. "Great kid," says Stavros, "but don't get cocky!"
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Director's Commentary (January 30, 2016)

The big thing this session, and the culmination of the first big story-arc, was the release of the final Leaderboard tallies.  I was serious that only the top six scores would make the cut, and I played it straight with no special bias for PCs over NPCs.  Still, apart from Keth (who squeaked in), all of the PCs made it in handedly.  It was fun for me to see which of the NPC recruits would make it into the squadron and assume a much bigger role in the game.  Tazo-Rhi was a big surprise, but I liked the character and developed her along a Vulcan sort-of personality.  Torga was a bit harder, but we'll see in a few sessions that something ends up taking her off screen.

We also got to see the first use of the Rank & Privilege rules put into place, another one of the rules subsets that I was looking forward to using and perfect for a military campaign.  Kero's player was quite focussed on being an outstanding soldier by formal measures, and ended up getting command of the Squadron.  She'd keep this role throughout the campaign, though occasionally giving way to Waric on some missions where his Imperial background gave him an edge.  Keth always languished near the bottom, and barely rose above Private the whole campaign.  The interesting thing about the Rank & Privilege system is that higher ranks gave characters special abilities they could use (like calling in an air strike or giving a subordinate an extra move action once an encounter).  The system also tied in nicely to the Requisitions rules subset which saw its first appearance in this session.  This system worked really well for the campaign as well, because the group had to work together to decide what sort of weapons, gear, and vehicles they needed for each story arc within a limited budget.  This meant that, unlike a traditional adventuring party, the group didn't end up relying on a single set of gear but could better prep to different types of missions and take advantage of some tactical planning.  Just like good soldiers ought!

The whole bit with Keth being AWOL and then suffering from concussion symptoms was one of those off-the-cuff improvs that directors sometimes have to make, as the player was late to the session.
Stavros tops the Leaderboard

In retrospect, I should have done a lot more prep on the gambling rules and did a better job with a gambling encounter for Stavros, as that was a major theme of his character.  Unfortunately, the player only stayed in the campaign a few more sessions.  His last line at the end of the session was a good one, as I had made a House Rule that PCs who naturally integrate a well-known line from the movies into role-playing would get a Force Point (but each line could only be used once).

The idea with having the PCs start off with Y-Wings was part of the traditional notion that they'll start off at the bottom with the clunky, outmoded vehicles and then slowly work their way up to the good stuff during the course of the campaign.  The idea for the TIE-Uglies comes from some of the Rogue Squadron novels, and they represent vehicles that are even easier to shoot down then standard TIEs.


All in all, I was pretty happy with the first story arc and looking forward (though nervous) about getting the group on to actual missions.


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Sunday, January 24, 2016

Realms Toowoomba Recap # 57 [RPG]

[3 Flamerule 1372 continued]

After barely an hour's ride on the incredibly fast phantom steeds, the adventurers reach the west bank of the River Til.  The river looks to be at least a mile wide and poses a clear obstacle.  Syd considers summoning a water elemental to carry everyone across, but decides that it will fade from existence before its task is complete.  The adventurers decide to ride north along the river in the hopes of finding a shallow ford.  After a few miles' journey, they see a small band of lizardmen fishing along the bank but are able to ride past before the lizardmen can even react.

Near mid-day, the group approach the southern edge of the Yuirwood without having found a convenient spot to cross the Til.  The adventurers' discussion on what to do next is interrupted by the appearance of a solitary half-elf bowman emerging from the forest.  The newcomer bluntly asks the adventurers to explain their purpose, and warns them not to enter the Yuirwood.  When the travelers explain that they are headed to Thay to rescue a kidnapped companion, the half-elf, who gives his name as Theyler, says that few who are taken by the Red Wizards ever return.  He tells the adventurers that they may continue their journey as long as they do not enter the Yuirwood, and warns them that they will be watched.  Before departing, he advises the group to avoid entering Phynys Muir, "The City of Lost Hope."  The name clearly means something to Fargrim, still trapped in Dolcetto's body.

Although it means leaving the phantom mounts behind, the decision is made that Syd should once again transform into a giant eagle to ferry the adventurers across the river.  As Fargrim and Mellia are being carried across, Mellia shares that she has been in occasional magickal conversation with Cain, but that the cleric of Kossuth has been terse and unhelpful.  She says that once they've rescued him, she still plans to return to Startop Mountain and look for the Crown of Horns.  When they join Dolcetto on the far side, Fargrim says he is coping fairly well with the body shift, while Dolcetto (in Fargrim's body) says she misses the magickal arts and has no desire to remain a dwarf.  Meanwhile, back on the west bank, Myst (in Ralkin's body) tells Ralkin (in Myst's body) that he feels some of his connection to arcane energies starting to return.

When everyone has been ferried across, Fargrim tells the group what he's remembered about Phynys Muir.  He says that many centuries ago it was a beacon of learning and wizardry in this part of Faerun.  However, its most skilled explorers of the mystical realms delved too far, and unleashed a force that doomed the city.  Those who survived the initial cataclysm erected a massive, four-sided gold statue of a figure with a hand held up in warning in each cardinal direction, so that none would seek to enter the city.  Nonetheless, Fargrim says, the city is known to disappear and reappear all over the Wizard's Reach, and many foolish treasure-seekers have disappeared inside.  A few, however, have returned with tales of great riches.

The adventurers find a defensible spot for a campsite and decide to continue their journey in the morning.  Ralkin focuses on learning the best ways to manipulate the magickal energies coursing through his present body, while Dolcetto fishes and Mellia expertly starts a fire.    The afternoon wanes, and as it begins to get dark a small hawk lands near Syd and hops around as if it wants the halfling to follow it.  Syd, able to communicate telepathically, discovers that the hawk is actually the shapechanged form of a protector of the Yuirwood.  The newcomer explains that a band of gnolls have penetrated the forest and reached a sacred site, which they are pillaging.  Syd agrees to a request for help, and persuades his companions to go along with him.

The adventurers move carefully, though not particularly stealthily, into the darkening fringes of the Yuirwood.  They soon reach the overgrown remnants of a ring of standing stones, many of which have fallen over.  The stones are laced with a strange, silver-colored inlay, some of which has been clearly chipped away.  No one is present, but Ralkin spots a doused torch on the ground that is still glowing with heat.  Arrows suddenly whistle through the dark towards Mellia and Fargrim, while a pair of gnolls wielding massive swords emerge from hiding and charge Dolcetto.  Syd reacts quickly, but perhaps rashly, by calling down a pillar of fire on both the gnolls and Dolcetto!  Even worse, several nearby trees are set ablaze.  The heavy fighting continues.  Fargrim, in Dolcetto's body, transforms into a winged humanoid body and flees.  Myst, in Ralkin's body, expertly shoots one of the gnolls in the eye with a bone bow.  Syd transforms into a large lion and charges into battle, while Mellia fires rays of flame.  The gnolls are quickly dispatched, including one that almost escaped but was incinerated by one of Fargrim's spells.

Syd conjures water to put out fire before it spreads, and Myst searches the bodies for treasure.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Dr. Strange vs. Dracula (Marvel) (one-shot, 1994) [COMICS]

I'm no art critic, but that's an ugly cover.  And the blurb is stupid, as I've seen far uncannier battles than this.  Anyway.   Dr. Strange vs. Dracula was a 1994 one-shot that reprinted the Sorcerer Supreme's battle against the Lord of Vampires from Tomb of Dracula # 44 (1976) and Dr. Strange # 14.  The indicia doesn't even note that it's a reprint, but Gene Colan's moody interior artwork is iconic 1970s material.  The reader is thrust directly into the story, as Strange realises that his man-servant and friend, Wong, is missing.  Firing up a crystal ball, Strange realizes that Wong has been attacked by Dracula.  There's some subplots that don't make much sense in this context (involving Blade and a guy named Harold whom I've only ever seen in the Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe Book of the Dead), but in any event Strange quickly tracks down Dracula at his HQ and attacks!  The plot's a bit fuzzy here, but it sounds like if Strange kills Dracula, then Wong's life will be saved.  Anyway, there's an exciting battle and a bit of an origin for Dracula (as Strange forces him to relive his past), but in a scant few pages Dracula gains the advantage and sinks his teeth into Strange until he dies.  Doctor Strange is never seen in the pages of a Marvel Comic again.  Until later that month.  Doc's body might be dead, but his astral spirit is free to float around and do stuff.  Strange forces Dracula to experience hallucinations to weaken him, and when Strange's body animates as a vampire three days after death, his astral body re-enters the form.  Now it's vampire vs. vampire!  Doctor Strange calls upon a mystical power he acknowledges he rarely invokes (Jehovah) and burns Dracula and cleanses Wong's and his own body of the taint of vampirism.  It's not exactly clear what happens to Dracula, but he un-lives to fight another day.  I think the reprint holds up well, as Marv Wolfman's writing and Gene Colan's artwork are some of the best things from the era--at least if the reader's in the right mood.

A text page by comics horror maven Mort Todd explains that this was one in a series of four vs. Dracula one-shots, and provides some brief bios of contributors.  There's also a short, but clever story reprinted from Vampire Tales # 9.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Mynock Squadron Recap # 5 [RPG]

[4.6.7 ABY]

Immediately after returning to base from their successful mission to capture spy & saboteur Moldva Vanir, the recruits seek medical attention. A Gran named Setum-Setum is summoned from his post at the rec center to help provide first aid and arrange beds for the badly hurt Torgo and Torga, while Stavros receives masterful aid from Kero. Mysteriously, Keth slips away from the others and is not seen the rest of the night.

Upon hearing that Major Dei is interrogating Vanir, three of the recruits (Kero, Waric, and Stavros) decide to get drinks at the cantine. They speculate about whether Imperials are still going to attack, and Kero asks Waric about where he learned the fancy maneuvers he demonstrated in the sims. Waric replies that some things are just in your blood. Other recruits appear and praise the trio as heroes for capturing Vanir. While Waric and Kero head off for bed, Stavros talks the other recruits into playing cards while he feeds into their thirst for details on the "exciting adventure" he was just on. The young gambler walks away with a nice sum of credits for his effort.

[4.6.8 ABY]

Major Dei summons Kero, Waric, and Stavros to his office and seems surprised that Keth is nowhere to be found. He commends the three recruits on their actions in saving the base and promises that commendations will be forthcoming.

After the meeting, Kero checks on the fighters that will be used in the final exercise. She notices that Torgo and Torga are ambulatory, though moving slowly and in pain. Kero also runs into the Kel-Dor Szo-Dano, who is disheartened by her current position at the bottom of the leaderboard. Kero tries to brighten her spirits with a pep talk, and it seems to have some effect.

When the time for the final exercise has begun, Tuvolo instructs the recruits to follow him into orbit around Enoch IV while he explains the rules. Each recruit has been given a wingman, with the top recruit on the leaderboard matched with the bottom, and so on. Stavros thus ends up with Szo-Dano, while Waric is paired with the Cerean Tazo-Rhi and Kero with the always optimistic Slaprat. Tuvolo explains that the goal of the competition is to stay alive as long as possible, because if one half of the team is "destroyed" (through targeting lasers), the entire team is considered eliminated. As an added element of uncertainty, the hulk of an ancient Clone Wars destroyer has been towed into the area and outfitted with targeting lasers to simulate point defence turrets. Any team that delivers the killing blow to the destroyer automatically receives first place for the exercise.

When the contest begins, an extremely aggressive Torgo persuades his wingman, Dosh'Tu, to accelerate at top speed towards Stavros and Szo-Dano, firing lasers with wanton abandonment. However, Stavros and Szo-Dano evade the attack, and respond with a brace of missiles that (holographically) shred Torgo's A-Wing, knocking his team out of the competition just seconds after it began. 

While Waric and Tazo-Rhi focus on launching missile after missile at the hulk, Stavros and Szo-Dano engage Kero and Slaprat. Slaprat is ordered to stay out of harm's way by Kero, but this leaves her without a wingman and a missile fired by Szo-Dano knocks her A-Wing to the brink of destruction. However, Stavros takes pity on Kero and offers her a deal to team up against the others. The alliance succeeds in eliminating Gatara and Torga, and also in knocking out Stahlog, whose planned teammate, Keth, never showed up! 

Soon, only Kero, Waric, Stavros, and their respective teammates are still in the competition. Attention turns to finishing off the hulk for first place; the lucky missiles are fired by Stavros and Szo-Dano, guaranteeing the duo the stop spot. Waric and Tazo-Rhi have little difficulty "destroying" the "badly-damaged" A-Wing flown by Kero to earn second place.

With the exercise complete, the grueling series of competitions to determine the final six members of Mynock Squadron is complete. Who will make the cut?
--------------------------------------------------
Director's Commentary (January 15, 2016)

There wasn't a lot going on with this session, and I honestly don't remember it well.  The idea with the final training competition being a starfighter mission was designed to help everyone learn/refresh recollections on the starship combat rules (after all, they were fighter pilots and hadn't really done any in the campaign) in a context where PC death wouldn't be the result of a mistake or misunderstanding.  I think it was a good idea, but perhaps fell a little flat.

One of the things I liked about doing a military campaign was incorporating several optional rules sub-sets from my complete collection of Saga Edition books.  One of those was the "Organizational Score" rules from the Galaxy at War book, which basically measures how well-regarded a character is within an organization (in this case, how well the PCs are fitting into the New Republic's Starfighter Command).  Here were the scores after this first story arc:

KETH: 0

KERO: +5

STAVROS: -1

WARIC: +4

A lot is factored into these scores, including class, feat, background details, and more.  You can see right away that Kero is a model soldier, while Keth and Stavros are barely scraping by.

Below is the image I used for Major Dei (swiped from Sarigar in the Alien Legion comics).

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Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Buffy Comic Project: "Note From the Underground, Part 3"


Buffy the Vampire Slayer # 49

(Dark Horse, Volume 1, 1998-2003)

Creators:  Scott Lobdell & Fabian Nicieza (story); Cliff Richards (pencils); Will Conrad (inks)

Setting:  After Season Six

T.V. Character Appearances:  Pike, Buffy, Xander, Dawn, Anya, Faith, Angel, Adam

Major Original Characters:  N/A

Summary:  Outside of Sunnydale, Buffy and Pike set up a camp in the wilderness.  Buffy is stunned by recent events and finds herself having visions of dozens of past Slayers, as well as her own journey from being a high school cheerleader in Los Angeles to her return from the dead and beyond.  Buffy has a vision of the First Slayer, and then sees hundreds and hundreds of happy people--at first she thinks she's in heaven, but then realises they are visions of all the people she has saved during her time as Slayer.  She emerges from her vision filled with joy, confident that she's ready to return to Sunnydale and find out why she was pushed to lose control.  Meanwhile, Xander, Dawn, and Anya (who has been caught by the Scourge) are taken to the edge of a mystical pit where people are being murdered and turned into demonic drugs.  Faith and Angel arrive and catch the three before they fall in, and together the group tries to escape the Scourge's demon prison--but they're wrapped up in mystical bonds, and realize the figure behind it all:  a demonic Adam!

Review

I quite liked Buffy's mystical vision of all the people she's saved in her life--it echoed the prom episode in Season Three and served as a reminder of why she does what she does.  The flashback material probably isn't a bad idea just in case there are readers who aren't as familiar with Buffy's origin, and it was interesting to see the insertion of material revealed in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Origin mini-series (based off of Joss Whedon's original script for the movie).  The reveal of the Scourge worked well, though I'm not sure what to think yet about Adam being behind it all.  Sometimes it's good for villains to just . . . stay . . . dead!  Although, I was disappointed by the Faith-Angel dialogue in this issue--it went so well at the beginning of this story-arc, but was just off-kilter here.  All in all though, an excellent lead up to the big 50th issue.

Notes

*  There's a full text page about the new direction the comic is going to take starting in Issue # 51: we'll be seeing pre-Sunnydale Buffy stories.

*  The artwork, especially facial features in this one, seemed a bit rushed.

*  A mean but funny "Fat Xander" joke made by Faith.  No body shaming around here, but it makes sense that someone on the show noticed the difference between Xander in Season Two and Xander in Season Six, and Faith's not one to hold her tongue.


*  There's mention of a Buffy story in a one-shot Dark Horse anthology called Reveal.  I'll have to track it down.  Here's what the story is supposed to be about:   "In a landmark Buffy story, Scott Lobdell and Jeff Matsuda reveal the first meeting between Angel and Dawn, set before Buffy ever came to Sunnydale, before she and Angel ever met."

Next Issue

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Realms Toowoomba Recap # 56 [RPG]

[3 Flamerule 1372 continued]

In Silverymoon, Markus talks Multivar into giving him some diamonds, claiming the old wizard promised additional payment for services rendered.  The sly swordsman then proceeds to Blademaster Noboru's Academy and challenges the school's fourth ranked duelist, a Yuan-Ti named Yazzan.  The Academy's Duelmaster informs the two that for this challenge, the school will provide them with blades and that the contestants may not harm one another except with the blades provided.  When Markus and Yazzan enter the arena, it magickally takes the form of a dank, underground cavern with several chambers.  Each contestant is given a scabbard with a sword inside of it and told that they cannot draw until the match begins.

Once the duel begins in earnest, it is clear that the contestants are being tested on their ability to wield any blade: when they draw from their respective scabbards, the swords that appear vary dramatically; and moreso, every time they land a strike, the blade disappears until the hilt is plunged back into the scabbard and drawn again!  All sorts of blades appear, including rapiers, falchions, longswords, and even magickal blades of frost and flame.  Although Yazzan lands a couple of good strikes, he is clearly outmatched in both skill and stamina and transforms into snake-form to try to hide and recover.  Markus uses his feeble magic skills to lessen the darkness around them and spots Yazzan, and the Yuan-Ti decides to concede the duel.  Outside the arena, El Capitan watches on, knowing that he will be next to face the upstart challenger.

Meanwhile, in the city-state of Laothkund on the Aglarondan Peninsula, the adventurers find themselves in the middle of an uprising, as the locals try to throw off the increasing influence exerted by Thay.  The adventurers navigate through dark, unfamiliar streets, hearing shouts and sounds of battle all around them.  Mellia argues with Dolcetto about why the latter stopped to search the bodies of the slain gnolls when they are clearly in a crisis situation.  When the adventurers reach the end of a winding laneway, they see a wide plaza before them.  The city's eastern gates are closed, and several Red Wizards, murdered in their sleep or caught by surprise, are hanging from the city walls.  A standoff appears to have developed, as the Laothkundians are holding some Red Wizards hostage, staring down a hastily assembled army of undead, gnolls, and the surviving Thayans.  Suddenly, an explosion rocks the rebels, and an all out battle ensues.

The adventurers decide to steer clear of the decisive battle for the future of Laothkund and instead find an area of the wall that is unguarded.  Using the magickal spool of rope taken from Gelkar's corpse, Dolcetto (still in Fargrim's body) commands it to snake upwards and attach itself to a parapet.  The adventurers then succeed in climbing over and find themselves on a wide stone road that vanishes into the darkness heading east.  Moving quickly in the night, they follow the road for a few miles until it reaches its end at the mouth of a wide river.  A series of wooden docks have been built there to handle cargo from both the river and the sea, but no ships are present.  The adventurers retreat a short distance to the west and decide to camp for the night.  Syd summons unicorns to heal his injured friends, while Ralkin draws forth the arcane energies in Myst's body to conjure a sturdy cottage complete with bunks, fireplace, and a table.  Mellia weaves a spell to send Cain a message, asking him to update her on his status.  His reply is terse, stating that she shouldn't waste time on pleasantries.  Meanwhile, Fargrim, in Dolcetto's body, has trouble comprehending how magic works.  Before sleep, there is some general conversation about how the mirror-portal could have effectuated such a dramatic change and some speculation that perhaps repeated use is the reason for Terrigo Multivar's memory troubles.

During the night, Fargrim, in Dolcetto's body, wakes up feeling refreshed after just a couple of hours of sleep.  Soon, he hears a voice inside his head.  It seems to be taunting him and says that if those inside come out one at a time, their deaths will be quick and painless.  Fargrim wakes Dolcetto, and soon she hears the teasing, confident voice as well.  Dolcetto thinks/shouts that if the presence thinks it is so powerful, it should come inside the hut and fight.  And suddenly, it appears in the center of the cottage, smashing the trestle table with its bulk!

The intruder is a massive horned creature, 15' tall, that looks something like a cross between a rhinoceros and a spiny beetle.  Fortunately for those adventurers who are slumbering, it's somewhat off-balance when it appears.  Mellia, Ralkin (in Myst's body), Fargrim (in Dolcetto's body), and Syd leap out through the nearest door or window to give themselves some space.  Myst, in Ralkin's kenku body, claws at the creature with talons, but the thick hide of the intruder blunts the attack.  The creature lashes out with a powerful psychic assault, and both Dolcetto (in Fargrim's body) and Myst (in Ralkin's) are stunned and unable to move, easy prey for the creature's greatclub and horns.

Their allies come to the rescue, however, as Mellia fires spell after spell through the open window, blinding the creature.  Syd transforms into a massive lion and charges through the doorway, pouncing and raking it.  Fargrim, in Dolcetto's body, even summons a bison to aid in the attack!  Struck from multiple quarters and unable to find its attackers, the creature has clearly bitten off more than it can chew.  It drops to the ground dead, burnt and steaming from Mellia's fire and lightning spells.  Myst, in Ralkin's body, identifies it as a creature he has heard of but never seen: a Braxat.  With great difficulty, the adventurers drag the corpse outside and resume their slumber.

When they awake late in the morning, they see that a cargo ship flying the Thayan flag has anchored at the docks.  A contingent of gnoll heavy infantry files out and begins trotting west, obviously requested to help put down the uprising in Laothkund.  Dolcetto checks to see if the ship is guarded, and spots a sentry.  The adventurers then pour over the map of the peninsula that Dolcetto obtained from the Vault of Sages.  They decide to head north for ten minutes along the River Yuir and then, to cross, Syd takes the shape of a large eagle and flies everyone across.  On the far side, Mellia and Myst carry out the frequently discussed plan to summon phantom mounts for the entire party, and the adventurers begin moving east at great speeds across the wilderness.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Wrath of Ashardalon Adventure # 9: Sneaky Endeavour

Whew!  This adventure was the closest we've come in a long time to losing terribly.  But a miraculous stroke of luck came our way, and we won a nailbiter.

The premise of this adventure is that the heroes are trying to sneak into Ashardalon's lair to steal an item of power from his treasure horde.  In mechanical terms, this means you turn over tiles until you reveal the Horrid Chamber entrance.  After placing the accompanying Horrid Chamber tiles, you place a Rage Drake and several monsters in it along with four treasure tokens face down (only one will be the item you're looking for).  Ashardalon then appears at the entrance stairway, and the heroes have to find the right treasure token and have someone escape with it by either getting back to that starting stairway or turning over another tunnel exit tile.  It's a cleverly designed adventure (one of the best so far), in that the heroes are likely to get stuck between a rock (the Rage Drake and several monsters) and a hard place (Ashardalon).

We played with five heroes and adopted our usual strategy of turning over tiles as quickly as possible while killing monsters along the way to avoid too much of a build-up.  Things went swimmingly, but our heroes were spread out all over the place when the cleric turned up the Horrid Chamber tile.  The real challenge for us was that it seemingly took ages to get back to the cleric's turn in order to see which treasure token was which, and meanwhile each hero's turn involved the activation of two villains.  The Rage Drake and Ashardalon don't deal out much damage, but they have very high attack bonuses and quickly wear heroes down.  The cleric was knocked out and had to use a hero surge.  Then the paladin was knocked out and had to use a hero surge, which meant the next KO would be the end of the game for us.  But when the cleric was back on his feet, he did a sweep of the treasure tokens and when he found the treasure and got to draw a card, it was the Astral Refuge card which allowed him to disappear off the board and return on his next turn anywhere he wanted!  That meant the heroes just had to survive one full round and he could appear on the stairways and we would win.  Still, there were some anxious moments as a couple of heroes got down to 1 hit point before the cleric's next turn and victory.

So, an exciting game and it'll be interesting to try the next one involving a mystical gate to a demon dimension . . .

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Hell Frozen Over: Second Epilogue [BUFFY]


SECOND EPILOGUE: THE PRESENT

Xander walked along the boardwalk, relieved that Buffy was going to be okay. She had been hurt badly in yesterday’s battle, but as with so many injuries before, she would recover quickly. What was harder to understand was why Castillo hated her so much to begin with, and who that guy was who had jumped Castillo at the last moment and saved her life, only to die himself. Xander figured he would probably never find out, but he was okay with that.

He walked past a couple of tourists and heard them talking loudly about yesterday’s freaky weather being caused by global warming and how it was weird that both it and the rioting had stopped all of a sudden. He couldn’t help but smile a little smugly. If only they knew, he thought.

A cool breeze blew in from the ocean, and as soon as he passed the couple, the only sounds were his own footsteps and the lapping of the waves against the wooden supports. It was a peaceful day, and although still perhaps a bit warm, a good day to be outside.

He saw her a few minutes later, near the end of the boardwalk. She sat up on the wide railing, a few feet over the boardwalk itself. Her legs were curled under her as her light jacket fluttered in the breeze. She was staring out over the water, and didn’t move when he walked closer.

“Hey Will,” he said.

“How’d you know I was here?” she asked, without looking at him.

“I just sorta knew,” he said. He knew that Willow and Tara had come here frequently. The couple would hold hands, and laugh, and be alive. “So . . . I just wanted to tell you that Buffy’s okay and everything, and stuff is pretty much back to normal. The Abominable Frost Demon is gone for good, and Dawn buried the chest where no one will find it.”

“Okay,” she said.

“Yeah. It figures, huh? The only chance we’ve ever had to get a snow day off school happens after we graduate.” He knew it wasn’t very funny, but it was all he could come up with. He desperately hoped she would smile anyway, like the old Willow. He knew that if she smiled, even a little, she was going to be okay. He looked at her closely.

She didn’t.

He stood there and waited, looking out at the water with her as the sun set.

Finally he spoke again.

“There’s some other news too. Giles got back into town this morning. He finally took care of all those loose ends back in England. He also called some people. Do you see him down there?”

She looked with him and they could see a tweed-jacketed figure standing patiently at the end of the
boardwalk.

“Uh huh,” she said.

“Well, Giles has this idea. I told him it was stupid, but he made me promise to ask you about it anyway, so here it is. He wants you to go back with him. To England. I guess there’s a coven of witches there or something.”

She didn’t say anything. He waited, and then spoke again.

“Yeah, I didn’t think it was a good idea either. Well, listen, I’ll go let him know and—“

“I’ll go,” she said, turning and looking at him for the first time.

Her eyes scared him. They weren’t angry, insane, sad, or happy. They were just empty.

“Are you sure, Will?” he said anxiously. “I mean . . . well. We care about you. We all loved Tara, but I know that we can get through this. It’ll just take a while is all.”

She didn’t respond and he could tell she was thinking of someone other than him.

He tried again. “And really . . .what am I going to do with my best friend across the ocean? I don’t think we’ve ever been that far apart.”

She continued staring out over the water and didn’t trouble herself to wipe away the tears that flowed down her cheeks. Xander felt like crying himself from seeing her like this.

“I have to go away from here. To England,” she said finally. It was the most words she had said to him in one sentence since Tara’s death—but it wasn’t what he wanted to hear.

“You don’t have to go away, Will. We’re here for you. Buffy, and Dawn, and Anya. And me.”

“It doesn’t matter anymore,” she murmured, more to herself than to him. “I’m not much of a friend right now, Xander. I’m not much of anything, really.” She climbed down from the railing and started walking towards Giles.

Xander stood motionless, trembling as Willow walked down the boardwalk. When she reached the end, Giles put an arm around her and with a nod towards Xander, led her towards his waiting car. A moment later the car’s engine started and they were gone.

Willow was gone.

Hell Frozen Over: First Epilogue [BUFFY]


FIRST EPILOGUE: FOUR YEARS AGO

The shrill ring of his cell phone jolted Castillo out of the stupor he was in. He couldn't believe the damn thing still worked. The pain of the fall had been so terrible he had had trouble focusing at all and had largely blacked out. He knew he had suffered many broken bones and massive internal injuries. But he was alive . . .

The phone rang again. Castillo could barely move at all as he lay at the bottom of the cliff side, a jagged piece of rock tearing through his abdomen. Although he had managed to roll far enough under a jutting rock that the rays of the sun could not reach him, he was in so much agony that he almost regretted the fact that only a stake through the heart or other special methods could kill a vampire. Still, he managed to twitch a finger just enough to switch the phone on.

“Mr. Castillo,” a voice said, again pronouncing every letter of his name. Wittingstone. When I get out of here, I’m going to teach him how to say my name if I have to pull his fingernails out to do it. “Sir, there’s been problems,” the voice continued. “The Watcher is still alive, and the men you sent are either dead or have fled. I think we’ll have to put the project on hold as the prototype equipment has been largely . . .uh . . . destroyed, and I can’t get replacements in time for the military demonstration. I hope you don’t think this was my fault, of course.”

“Sir?” said the voice again. “Sir?” The query echoed a few more times before the caller hung up.

The Slayer alive, the project in shambles. It may take me weeks, or months, or even years, but eventually my body will heal. And when it does, I will find her and then . . . I’ll have something sufficiently “dramatic” in store for her.

Next Chapter

Saturday, January 2, 2016

What I Read (2015)

Jan. 2015  Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Comedy by Scott McMillin (ed.)  "Norton collection of stage plays and several contemporary & modern criticism.  Not exactly a page-turner."

Jan. 2015  Origins of the American Revolution by John C. Miller  "Really interesting overview.  Learned a lot about British views of colonialism, divisions amongst colonies, & more.  Will have to read more on military aspects."

Jan. 27, 2015  Candide ou l'Optimisme by Voltaire  "Conclusive rebuttal."

Feb. 22, 2015  A Place of Hiding by Elizabeth George  "Great setting for a mystery: the channel island of Guernsey.  Usual great characters let down by mystery that doesn't hold together upon revelation"

Mar. 17, 2015  Portal Through Time by Alice Henderson  "Buffy novel with original plot: time-travelling demons trying to wipe out Slayers in past.  Pretty good, with a couple of nice twists."

Mar. 2015  The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman  "Second in the trilogy, introducing Will and the many worlds concept.  Really good, and I'm looking forward to # 3.  Full cast audio book is fantastic."

Mar. 29, 2015  The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger  "I enjoyed this much more the 2nd time around.  Holden has a voice that is so unique yet so representative of youth at the same time.  You can see how it would be a breath of fresh air for many at the time."

Apr. 13, 2015  The Stand by Stephen King  "Epic, apocalyptic tale.  My criticism, and this will sound odd, is that it's not long enough!  The last act is hurried and needs to play out.  Good but not great."

Apr. 14, 2015  The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas & Jennifer Graham  "First Veronica Mars novel.  Fantastic.  Real continuity, perfect characterisation, real ramifications."

Apr. 15, 2015 Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James  "A pseudo-sequel to Pride and Prejudice with a mystery plot.  Well-written, but not my cup of tea."

Apr. 16, 2015  Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins  "Last of The Hunger Games trilogy.  Page-turning but thought-provoking.  It sticks with you.

Apr. 26, 2015  Killing Adonis by J.M. Donellan  "Breezily engaging hipster mystery, well worth reading."

May 2015  Club Dead by Charlaine Harris  "Third Sookie Stackhouse book, as Bill cheats and gets kidnapped.  Still very readable."

May 9, 2015 The Long Walk by Stephen King  "Interesting 'Bachman' book, a little like The Hunger Games but with walking!  Needs better alt-history and motivations."

May 2015  Dead to the World by Charlaine Harris  "Fourth Sookie Stackhouse book, as Eric loses his memory and witches try to take his territory.  Still entertaining, if increasingly cheesy."

May 29, 2015 Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson  "Wow, fantastic!  Exciting and clever fantasy novel with great characters and setting.  Described to me as "What if the Dragon Reborn saves teh world but doesn't give up power?"

June 21, 2015 L’Éstrange cas de l’assasinat de Katie la Fêlée by Peter Abrahams "First of the Echo Falls mysteries for young readers.  Really engaging protagonist and good mystery."

June 29, 2015 First Born by James Goss  "Rhys & Gwyn take the baby to hide in a remote Welsh village, where no babies have been born in generations.  Fairly standard alien plot, very choppy and annoying story structure."

July 16, 2015 The Secret Books of Paradyse III & IV by Tanith Lee  "Beautiful and riveting.  Dark and evocative, with a singular feel."

July 26, 2015  The Dead Zone by Stephen King  "Having already known the basic plot, this was a bit of a let-down--but that's not King's fault, as the concept is original and compelling."

Aug. 6, 2015  Dead as a Doornail by Charlaine Harris  "Forgettable Sookie Stackhouse book, as she gets mixed up in Were politics."

Aug. 14, 2015  Firestarter by Stephen King  "Strong effort about pyro kinetic little girl on the run from the government.  A sequel would be welcome."

Aug. 15, 2015 The Dead Kid Detective Agency by Evan Munday "Fantastically fun and likeable novel, set up well for future books"

Aug. 17, 2015:  Why Does the World Exist? by Jim Holt "Readable overview of various theories for why there's something rather than nothing."

Aug. 17, 2015  An Ice Cold Grave by Charlaine Harris "Third of the Harper Connelly series.  Good, but with a plot development that should have played out a bit longer and more sophisticatedly."

Aug. 18, 2015  Superdad: A Memoir of Rebellion, Drugs and Fatherhood by Christopher Shulgan "Adventures in parenting and crack cocaine.  Has a happy ending and Toronto focus.  Not deeply moving, but likeable."

Aug. 20, 2015 Definitely Dead by Charlaine Harris. "Sookie goes to New Orleans with new beau Quinn and gets wrapped up in vampire royalty problems.  Solid."

Aug. 21, 2015  Who Fears the Devil?  The Complete Tales of Silver John by Manly Wade Wellman. "Short story collection about guitar-playing wanderer who travels Appalachia and dispenses with supernatural threats via a pure heart and silver strings.  Varied plots and interesting."

Aug. 24, 2015  With No One as Witness by Elizabeth George. "Serial killer plot works well alongside character development.  One of the best of the Lynley/Havers series."

Aug. 28, 2015  A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft (Norton Critical Edition). "Turgid and repetitive prose, but an important historical argument premised on equal rationality and universal virtue."

Sep. 4, 2015  Children of the Mind by Orson Scott Card. "Last of the Ender quartet.  Agonisingly slow plot progression, and I'm glad it's over."

Sep. 12, 2015 Kitty and the Silver Bullet by Carrie Vaughn. "Kitty has to resolve things with her old pack once and for all.  Good supporting characters, interesting direction."

Sep. 16, 2015  Ghost Town by Will Sutton.  "Western about dying mining town and an easterner who ends up helping them.  Enjoyable for the genre."

Sep. 18, 2015 Go Fer Yer Gun! by Simon Washbourne. "Western RPG."

Sep. 27, 2015  Roadwork by Stephen King "Man about to lose his house to eminent domain gets desperate.  Well-written and page turning."

Oct. 16, 2015  All Together Dead by Charlaine Harris. "Sookie attends a major vampire summit.  Exciting and explosive ending."

Oct. 16, 2015 Hour of the Black Wolf by Mark P. Lynch. "Western involving ID artist trying to get to victim through criminal gang."

Oct. 20, 2015  A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson. "It's surreal that I have now finished this series that I started reading when I was 13 or 14.  It's been such a part of my life, and my indispensable books.  All I can say is this:  What was, what will be, and what is, will never fall under the Shadow."

Nov.28, 2015 From Dead to Worse by Charlaine Harris. "Sookie Stackhouse novel that is more a loose series of events than a single major plot.  Still interesting, and I really liked the ending."

Nov. 30, 2015  Danse Macabre by Stephen King. "Discussion of horror in movies, TV, and novels.  Although dated, still interesting."

Dec. 6, 2015  Mr. Kiss and Tell by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham. "Second Veronica Mars novel.  Fantastic--perfect characterisation and continues developing long-term plots.  I really hope they write another one!"

Dec. 16, 2015 The Cleric Quintet by R.A. Salvatore. "Five novels telling the life's work of Cadderly, a cleric of Deneir.  Nice progression of character from book to book, and a real sense that a meaningful story has been told.  Bittersweet but moving ending."

Dec.22, 2015 The Nightingale Before Christmas by Donna Andrews. "My annual Christmas mystery.  This one involved murder at a decorators's show house and was enjoyable, with a solid plot and likable characters."

Dec. 23, 2015 Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Craner. "Okay.  I think maybe the premise works best in smaller chunks, but I appreciate the humanism of the writing."

Dec. 25, 2015 Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan "Fun, light, clever book about a mysterious secret society devoted to books."

Dec. 27, 2015 Koko Takes a Holiday by Kieran Shea. "Good but not great over the top SF about ex-merc."

Dec. 30, 2015 Kitty and the Dead Man's Hand by Carrie Vaughn. "Kitty the werewolf ends up in Las Vegas to get married, and gets caught up in cult problems.  Still likable and readable."


Dec. 30, 2015  Murder on the Ballarat Train by Kerry Greenwood "Third in the Miss Fisher series.  Less dense plot, perhaps need more depth to main character."