game reports


I am the harlequin – diamonded costume dripping shades of green
I am the harlequin – sense strangers violate my sanctuary
Prowl my dreams
Plundering your diaries, I’ll steal your thoughts innocence
Ravaging your letters, unearth your plots innocence
To don the robes of Torquemada, resurrect the inquisition
In that tortured subtle manner inflict questions within questions
Looking in shades of green through shades of blue
I trust you trust in me to mistrust you

Our heroes have defeated King Grol, captured Yeermik, the goblin who betrayed them, and a Drow called Vyerlith that they somehow managed to put to sleep magically. They cast both into the pit trap they had dug, to lie bound amongst the bodies of the fallen goblins. Next to the pit lay the body of King Grol, torn and shattered and still faintly flickering with the light of Tyge’s wrathful gods. Beyond his huge steaming corpse the road was littered with dead goblins and bugbears, some with arrows in their backs, some burnt, some dismembered. The battle was done and the victory complete, and the time had come to learn who and why they fought.

They waited for the Drow to wake up and Mostly Smithson cast a Zone of Truth spell into the pit. Under this compulsion they slowly drew the truth out of the Drow. First they discovered that she was not a Drow at all, but a Doppelganger. As she explained to them what this meant, a slow and growing horror overwhelmed Mostly Smithson, who began advocating for her immediate execution. Who can trust a creature that can change its form to perfectly mimic any humanoid, read minds, and that works for the highest bidder? Though not evil, no one can trust a Doppelganger. Fortunately for the Doppelganger, she was able to reveal to them a secret of her kind: that if they knew her true name, they could force her to reveal her true form, thus ensuring that they could always reveal her disguise. They tested it under the Zone of Truth, revealing the truth of the Doppelganger called Horza: a hideous grey-skinned monster, sexless and expressionless, clawed and vicious-looking. In her true guise Horza offered them a promise: for this group in exchange for her life she would perform three missions as a spy, starting with a mission to destroy her current employer, the Black Spider.

They dug further. She told them that the Black Spider had found Wave Echo Cave, and wanted to explore it, but while he was beginning to explore it two of the Rockseeker brothers had arrived and he had been forced to kill one and take one captive. Concerned that more dwarves might be coming, he had withdrawn and organized for his agents in the area to look for people coming to Wave Echo Cave or Phandalin, and in particular for dwarves. Having heard that the third Rockseeker brother had been caught he decided to begin exploring Wave Echo Cave, and had sent Horza to collect the dwarf and bring him to the cave, in case he knew anything. The Black Spider’s real name was Nezznar, and he was a male Drow. He had only just begun exploring the cave, and Horza assured them that she could lead them safely to him, whereupon they could set a simple trap to destroy him when he least expected it. They would disguise themselves as Redcoats, and she would tell Nezznar that a group of adventurers had destroyed their gang, but she had brought the survivors to the cave to help defend it in case the adventurers came to the cave. While she told him this she would come close to him and ambush him, and then they could kill him.

They agreed to this plan and turned their attention to Yeermik. He was exactly the sniveling liar they expected, and after he told them that he had betrayed them because he thought King Grol was stronger and his best interests lay with Grol, they killed him.

Cragmaw Castle

Enough talk! They had killed creatures, and now they must steal their stuff! They returned to Cragmaw castle and stalked its abandoned halls, killing the last few goblins they found and searching through treasuries and grubby bedding looking for stray coins. They found a woeful, half-starved owlbear locked in one of the ruined towers of the castle, and took an hour to kill it and pluck its feathers to make magical arrows. In King Grol’s bedchamber they found Gundren Rockseeker, tied up and beaten and half-starved and alive, and freed him from his long captivity. He was shocked and amazed to find the adventurers he had paid to guard his caravan rescuing him here, in an abandoned castle, long hard days after he had given up hope, and urged them to finish their search and go to Wave Echo Cave to find his brothers. They agreed, scooped up King Grol’s paltry treasures, and set off for Phandalin.

Ambushing Nezznar

Their next target was the Black Spider. They spent a day resting in Phandalin and then headed east into the Sword Mountains. Wave Echo Cave was hidden in a narrow valley in one of the first jagged uprisings of the mountains themselves, just a day’s travel from Phandalin. They arrived at its entrance in the late afternoon, finding the narrow valley already cloaked in shadow and silent as the grave. Horza told them that Nezznar was based in a ruined temple on the far side of the caves from the entrance, in a location that was easily reached by safe paths from the entrance. Between the entrance and the temple two teams of bugbears who served him were camped out and trying to explore the cave, but had run into trouble with undead and monsters in the cave. The PCs could likely move past them without much trouble, kill Nezznar and then turn their attention to the rest of the cave. They agreed, though they still did not fully trust her – what if the Zone of Truth does not work on these slippery beasts – and decided to enter the cave. At the entrance they found a dwarven camp, with a single dead dwarf – Gundren’s younger brother – and a lot of supplies. Horza told them that two dwarves had come to the caves and camped here, and Nezznar’s soldiers had ambushed them at night, killing one and taking the other prisoner. They searched the supplies, and moved into the caves.

Horza led them through dark tunnels to a large cave where the path led past a limpid pool. Here stairs led down into the cave, and they estimated that this would be a good spot to set a trap – they could run down the stairs and leap over the trap, and whoever followed them would hit the trap. They chose to set a grease trap, because at the dwarven camp they had found a large tiffin full of Dwarven Cooking Grease, a concoction of goose bile and beef fat that was very viscous and completely non-reflective, so that when smeared on the ground it would be invisible in any light. Anyone rushing down the stairs would slip on the fat and slide straight into the pond, where they would be struggling to find their feet as whatever monster dwelt in the pond ate them.

Mouser was crouching by the pond waving a light stone over it, trying to find whatever monster lived in it, when in the pond’s reflection he saw a strange shape moving on the ceiling of the cave. Turning around, he realized that the entire cave roof above them was covered in a strange brownish-yellow mass that moved as if by some collective musculature and was slowly positioning itself above them. He warned the others and they stood ready as the mass began to ooze down in a column-like structure towards the ground, obviously intending to form up as a huge lump and begin attacking them. DeCantrus acted quickly, casting Levitate on the ooze so that as it flowed towards the ground it formed into a perfect blob hanging in the air, unable to move or attack. Slowly the mass gathered, forming a massive droplet, 3 metres in diameter, pulsating and hanging in the air and occasionally lashing out with ugly pseudopods of thick ochrish snot that failed to hit anyone. They stood back and rained crossbow bolts and firebolts onto it until it finally died, after which DeCantrus released his spell and allowed it to fall. The lifeless mess hit the ground with a wet slopping thud and began to ooze slowly into the pool.

They moved on. Smithson cast a silence spell at a junction near the cave and they crept in darkness past a cave full of Bugbears, moving down a tunnel to the cave where Nezznar hid. Here they put on their red cloaks, Horza took her Drow form, and they entered.

They passed through double doors into a large, carefully cut stone chamber, perhaps 20m long and 15m wide with 10m high ceilings. Stone columns supported the ceiling, but now they were wreathed in spider’s webs. A large fire burnt in a pit at the far end of the room, throwing flickering orange light over a statue of an ancient dwarven god that had clearly been defaced by the temple’s more recent occupants. Nezznar stood near the fire, a dark elf in black leather carrying a staff with a carved spider on top. In the shadows, amongst the webs covering the columns, four huge spiders lurked, moving slowly through the webs. Multiple flickering eyes followed the PCs as they entered the stuffy temple.

Horza called out to Nezznar, telling him her story, and he bid her approach. Gesturing the characters to stay back, she walked up to Nezznar, explaining that they were the surviving red cloaks from Phandalin and she had brought them here to help in the defense of the cave. Nezznar yelled something to the characters about failure and service, leaned in to Horza to whisper some conspiratorial thing to her …

… and she stabbed him in the guts. At the last moment he realized what had befallen him, and tried to throw up a shield spell to protect himself, but he was too late – the glistening cowl of the shield wrapped around her wrist as the dagger sank to its hilt in his belly. Moments later Mouser emerged from the shadows of the door and fired a crossbow bolt into the Drow’s face, killing him instantly.

The Black Spider was dead, but his spiders were not. Enraged by his attack, they stormed forward, hurling the quills on their hairy thoraces and trying to web the party. One bit Mostly Smithson and flooded him with crippling poison, but he survived the attack and hit back with lightning and vicious stabbing madness. Within seconds the spiders were dead, burnt or stabbed into oblivion. They had won – Nezznar was dead!

Time for the looting to begin!

Did I dream you dreamed about me?
Were you here when I was forced out
Now my foolish boat is leaning
Broken lovelorn on your rocks
For you sing, “Touch me not, touch me not, come back tomorrow
Oh my heart, Oh my heart shies from the sorrow”
The cast for this session:
  • Gunner Adam (Soldier)
  • Oliver Greenstar (Colonist)
  • Engineer Reiko Ando (Deckhand)
  • Pilot Saqr Geroushi (Pilot)
  • Sensor Operator Siladan Hatshepsut (Archaeologist)
  • Ship’s Doctor Banu Delecta (Medicurg)

The PCs are on Rockhome 3, where they have made a significant profit selling spare parts to the desperate colonists, but they have been asked to stay and investigate the reason the mining colony was sabotaged. Ingrid Silverstern, the Consortium representative on the mining colony, asked them to find out who sabotaged the colony’s reactor, gravitron drives and life support systems, afraid that a full-blown miners’ mutiny was in the offing. The PCs are confident that the colony is not under threat from a mutiny, but they suspect that a rich and arrogant young man, Aslam, child of one of the colony’s rich founding families, sabotaged the colony and has some kind of plan to take over complete control of the colonists. The PCs were just marching across the lush gardens of the luxury quarters to challenge him when they heard word of the arrival of a new ship, the Algebraic Escalation. Because Adam and Oliver Greenstar were staying on their ship, the Beast of Burden, the group decided to split along convenient lines: Reiko, Saqr, Siladan and Banu would interrogate Aslam in his luxury apartment while Adam and Oliver waited in their ship.

Aslam’s Redoubt

Reiko’s group pursued Aslam to his luxury apartment, using tools to open the front door. Siladan was carrying a proximity sensor, which they jury rigged to give them a precise assessment of the location of anything moving or alive in the apartment, so they were able to quickly pursue Aslam down two levels to a kind of basement tunnel. Here they found themselves confounded by a security door that they could not penetrate. They first tried electronic tools to break through, to no avail, and then attempted to break it with force, but this too failed. Banu called up schematics for the building and they concluded that this was not just a blast door, but a secure airlock door leading down to a private dock. They made some desultory attempts to communicate with Aslam, to no avail, and so gave up and searched his house as best they could.

The Algebraic Escalation

While they were attempting to hack the door, Oliver and Adam were lounging around in the bridge of the Beast of Burden, failing to make small talk as Adam stared obstinately into space and grunted monosyllabic replies to all of Oliver’s cheerful attempts at communication. Bored, they stared out of the window at the hangar, and so were easily able to see three men, obvious miners, come running into the hangar and begin frantically open a shuttered and locked storage area on the hangar’s far wall. Moments later the men were dragging out carbines, loading them and pointing in rapid, angry gestures back towards the main entrance. Intrigued, Adam and Oliver decided to grab their guns and head outside to see what was going on.

Outside the ship was chaos, the sound of gunfire and the faint smell of burning. The three men ran ahead of them to the hangar entrance, one being shot down as soon as they entered the hallway outside and the other two disappearing from view, firing wildly down the hallway. Oliver and Adam approached the doorway more cautiously, and peering outside found a scene of devastation and pitched battle. The two men who had run into the hallway were already dying, gunned down before they could reach cover further down the hall. There were other dead and injured Rockhome residents in the hallway, which stank of smoke and explosives. At the far end of the hallway a group of soldiers of some kind had taken cover at the entrance to hangar 2, and were professionally and carefully opening fire on anyone who came down or into the hallway. People in the main residential area of the colony were firing back, but it was obvious that the intruders at hangar 2 were better armed and better trained, and they appeared to already have established a bridgehead on the far side of the hallway, from where they could begin to invade the colony proper. The doors to hangar 2 were not closing, and all the emergency doors that should have sealed the colony off from the hangar section were still open.

Hangar 2 was the hangar that had received the Algebraic Escalation. The station was under attack!

Panic and chaos in the hallways

Oliver and Adam made contact with the rest of the group and they quickly joined the dots. His involvement in the sabotage discovered, Aslam had called in his collaborators and they had approached the station in the guise of merchants, then attacked as soon as they landed. It was likely that with Aslam’s help they knew the layout of the station and had secured access to the security station above the hangar. Their motives were not clear but everyone guessed their goal was to take over the station or to rob it of some valuable artifact or relic. They decided to help the station. Their plan was rough and uncertain, because they had no time to make decisions. Saqr would travel back to the Beast of Burden to prepare it for escape, running along the viewing corridor above the entrance hallway. While Saqr did this Banu, Siladan and Reiko would go to the security station and secure it, and try to use it to close the doors on hangar 2. Oliver and Adam would go into battle in the hallway, to try and buy time and even up the odds for the station’s defenders. Oliver and Adam were not wearing their battle armour, but they had no time to go back and change. Battle was joined!

The next few minutes were a storm of chaos and blood. Adam and Oliver fought valiantly in the hallway but were overwhelmed by the superior force of the intruders, and would have died in the hallway along with the miners if Banu had not come to them in time. As the battle raged in the hangar zone the rest of the party were able to invade the security station, kill the intruders who had taken it, and return it to the control of the colony. They tried to interrogate an intruder but had no time, and were forced to leave him tied in the hallway so that they could rush to the aid of Oliver and Adam, who were being cut down in the lower level. With Banu’s medical help and Reiko and Saqr providing melee support they were able to push back some of the intruders, giving the colony enough time to seal the doors on the hangar. As the doors sealed shut and the miners mopped up one or two remaining intruders the party were able to breathe a sigh of relief, reload, and take a moment to rest.

It was then that the Algebraic Escalation fired her railgun through the hangar doors.

And then fired again.

Capitulation

The railgun wrought enormous damage on the colony’s ancient structure. It smashed a massive hole in the hangar door and carved a 100m long track of ruin through the centre of the residence district, caving in a part of a wall and leaving a steaming, smoking path of ruin in its wake. The second shot punched the hole wider and careered off through the residential section, tearing down a piece of wall and exploding in a cloud of dust and shards of rock on the far side of the asteroid. The PCs had to recoil from splatters of molten metal from the door, and crouched on the far side of the hallway watching the ragged fringes of the railgun’s hole fade from white hot to red to purple, dripping chunks of molten metal onto the steel floor. The whole hallway filled with the rank stench of burning insulation and singed steel, and people panicked and ran away in horror.

Everyone waited as the smoke cleared, and then the colony leader, Abraham, contacted them. The captain of the Algebraic Escalation had contacted him and told him he would lay waste to the colony using the railgun if they did not surrender. He had perhaps 10 minutes to make a decision. The captain of the ship and his soldiers were waiting inside the hangar for Abraham to step through the doors and surrender. What would the PCs do?

Their plan was suicidal but fast. Saqr and Reiko put on their exo suits and flew to a small airlock on the outside of Hangar 2, where they let themselves into the hangar. Then, when they were in place, Abraham opened the hangar doors enough for the rest of the group to enter, and they attacked.

With the benefit of the flank attack their operation was brutally effective. There were only five remaining soldiers waiting on the inside of the door, wearing exo suits and carrying carbines, but they were not expecting a rear attack. The PCs managed to kill most of the captain’s guard, and cut him down before he could retreat inside his ship. With the captain down the rest of the ship’s crew surrendered, and the battle was over.

Execution

The PCs realized that in order to find out what had happened they would need to offer at least one crew member mercy, but Abraham was not feeling magnanimous. He made clear that there was no circumstance under which the ship’s gunners would be allowed to live, and neither Aslam nor the captain were getting away safely. They narrowed the surviving crew down to three people who did not have to be executed, and offered the three of them a deal, prisoner’s dilemma style: the first one to reveal everything would be spared. Fortunately they identified that two of the three were a mother-daughter pair, and they offered the mother an easy death and freedom for her daughter if she would tell them everything. She immediately agreed, so they spaced the third crew member and took her story. Everyone else from the crew was spaced once the mother offered up her testimony.

The ship and the crew were from Samina’s Corsairs, a pirate outfit in the Hamura system. They had made contact with Aslam and used his greed to take over the colony. Aslam would sabotage it and they would arrive with the supplies the colony needed, offering the colony a simple deal: survival in exchange for becoming servants of Samina’s Corsairs. Their life would continue as before, though now they would be ruled by Aslam, but in exchange for their continued survival they would become agents of the Corsairs, with pirates based in the colony and using it to spy on activity in the Kua system, and as an outpost of their smuggling enterprise. By seizing Rockhome 3 the corsairs would gain a foothold in Kua, with all the intelligence and smuggling benefits such an outpost offered. Obviously a few people would have to be killed to send a message, and some of Aslam’s baser instincts would have to be tolerated, but the corsairs would ensure that life continued on the colony. A simple plan! Unfortunately the Beast of Burden had destroyed the picket ships that the corsairs had set in place to prevent anyone interfering with their plan, and had ruined the entire scheme.

Denouement

As they had promised, they gave the mother a quick death, and locked the daughter in their ship, to return her penniless to Coriolis station. They looted the Algebraic Escalation but left the ship itself to the colony, who had lost so much to the corsairs, though Abraham allowed them to take its encrypted data core with them. Abraham promised them safe harbour in the colony if ever they would need it, and after a few days spent recovering from battle they returned to Coriolis, releasing the daughter to find her own way in the Cellar. With the spoils of their victory they had enough money to pay off the first month of the debt for their ship, and to replenish their supplies.

Their exercise in disaster capitalism had been both more profitable and more ethical than they had expected. They had secured both a safe house and a contact in the Consortium. They had an encrypted data core from a corsair ship, which if they could hack it might provide them the location of the corsairs’ base, a very valuable piece of information. Their first excursion on the Beast of Burden had proved a huge success.

Now their gaze turned to the planet of Kua and the ancient secrets hidden in its fertile jungles. Could they be as successful delving into the secrets of the ancients as they had been in uncovering the fatal lies of the pirates? Let us see …

 

rockhopping

No Satisfaction prowling the asteroid belt

Holy water cannot help you now
See I’ve had to burn your kingdom down
And no rivers and no lakes can put the fire out
I’m gonna raise the stakes, I’m gonna smoke you out
Seven devils all around you
Seven devils in my house
See they were there when I woke up this morning
I’ll be dead before the day is done

The cast for this session[1]:

  • Captain Al Hamra (Mystic)
  • Engineer Reiko Ando (Deckhand)
  • Pilot Saqr Geroushi (Pilot)
  • Sensor Operator Siladan Hatshepsut (Archaeologist)
  • Ship’s Doctor Banu Delecta (Medicurg)

Having fought off the unidentified pirate ships on their way to Rockhome 3, the PCs came to a halt in the dusty darkness of the asteroid belt, and spent a few hours repairing the hull of their heavily-damaged ship. Their repairs were barely enough to make the ship safe for travel, though, so they hurried forward to Rockhome 3, in hopes of finding safe harbour and repairs for their damaged ship. They arrived a few hours later and drifted into one of the space station’s four hangars, finally finding some safety on the 6th day of their journey.

The hangar they landed in was large enough to dwarf their ship, perhaps 400m square, big enough for a small class V vessel. Their ship was the only ship in the hangar, which was a battered and filthy affair, low-tech in all its components and rundown. When they emerged from their ship they noticed the air was freezing cold, so their breath misted in front of them, and had a rank smell. A group of about 15 locals were walking towards their ship, led by a thing, greying, tall man in a dirty flight suit. As he approached Al Hamra to shake hands Al Hamra noticed that he stank of body odour. Everyone in the group looked worried, and they were all wearing flight suits, coats and scarves or mufflers. The place was unusually silent for a working dock.

The man introduced himself as Abraham, colony spokesperson, and immediately cut to business: did they have spare parts? They assured him they did, and moved to the conference room of their yacht to negotiate prices. They managed to cut an excellent deal, selling the goods for more than twice the price they had bought them and selling him more than he immediately needed, leaving them with just a small stock of advanced and ordinary parts. He also agreed to have his dock workers repair their ship, and as final icing on the cake offered them accomodation in the luxury section of Rockhome 3, adding, “I hope the gravity will be stabilized by the end of the day.”

He did not, however, offer to let them investigate the sabotage that had nearly brought his community to its knees. Al Hamra attempted to read his mind, but found only a vision of the community as a vulnerable and wounded animal surrounded by predators, that would be torn apart the moment it showed weakness. Abraham intended to find the saboteur himself.

Al Hamra did not care who the saboteur was. But the group thought back to those two fighters in the debris of the asteroid belt, and wondered what else would be coming for the colony, and if they would be gone before it came. They retired to the luxury quarters to think and to plan, leaving Adam and Oliver Greenstar on the ship to guard it.

Rockhome3

Rockhome 3

Rockhome 3 was actually a spacious and pleasant living space, though so primitive that even the PCs with a station background were uncomfortable living there. It had been built out of five asteroids, four smaller rocks connected to a larger central living space by strong tunnels. The whole thing was held together by gravitron projectors and connected to a large dock and mining complex, large enough to hold five large spaceships and about 12 small mining ships. The centre living space was a nearly spherical asteroid about 3km long by 2km wide, hollowed out and divided into two large residential sections and a central business section. The centre of all three of these spaces and the luxury sector were graced with wide, pleasant parks, and the walls of all the sectors were covered in creepers, ivy, and hanging plants. Large windows on one side of all the asteroids gave a view of the distant sun, and the slow rotation of the entire structure allowed this weak sunlight to shine into all the sectors for about 10 hours every day. Living spaces were primitive but spacious, and about 400 people lived there. No one was registered and no one could say exactly how many people lived there, but everyone knew everyone else’s comings and goings. By the time the PCs reached their luxury apartments they were already known to the entire colony.

Before the day was done they had received their first invitation to intrigue: an invitation to dinner from Ingrid Silwerstern. Ingrid was a representative for the Consortium, who had also sent a doctor called Dr. Angbat. It was only natural that she should invite them to dinner to give her the latest updates on news from Coriolis, and all the intrigues of that distant and splendid metropolis. They agreed, and soon found themselves in the company of an agreeable and charming middle-aged ambassador and the willowy young Dr. Angbat, eating Green Ahi[2] and discussing fashion trends in the Spring Plaza. However, before the night was over Ingrid made them a clear offer: find out who the saboteur was and she would give them 5000 birr (which they managed to negotiate down to 4000 birr). Ingrid’s fear was that the sabotage had been caused by the miners themselves and that they were planning an uprising – something that was always fatal for a large portion of a station, and something she wanted to avoid. Of course the PCs agreed, and went home to plan their moves.

They decided to make themselves useful, and in doing so to begin to find out what had happened in the colony. Reiko set off to help the colony’s workers repair the facilities that had been damaged by sabotage, while Al Hamra oversaw the unloading of the cargo and Siladan attempted to use the ship’s equipment to monitor outgoing broadcasts. Unfortunately Siladan’s personal problem distracted him, and instead of looking for signs of sabotage he found himself examining mining colony culture and trying to understand their life cycle. By evening he had learnt nothing. Banu offered her services as a doctor in the local medicenter, but after her first consultation – with a young domestic violence victim called Ilthid, who told her he could not leave his abuser because he was “rich and powerful offers me so much when he achieves his full potential here”[3] – was sent home for her terrible bedside manner, having learnt nothing about the local community[4].

They regathered in the luxury apartments in the evening, and Reiko was able to confirm that the sabotage had been caused by explosives, though she had not been given time to find out exactly what explosives had been used. They decided that next day Banu and Reiko would investigate the explosives in detail, while Saqr went outside in the No Satisfaction and searched the vicinity, and spent some hours eavesdropping on the communications between the miners as they worked on remote asteroids.

They set out the next day to these tasks. Reiko and Banu were able to determine that the explosives used were low-yield shaped explosives of the type used by miners, and Reiko – by chatting with the friends she made while doing repair work – learned that the mining ship docks were equipped with a kind of vending machine system for dispensing exactly the kind of explosives they suspected had been used. Only one mining ship was out at present, so they guessed that it would be easy to trace who took the explosives. All they needed to do was get into the security control centre and download footage of security cameras watching the docks. Meanwhile Saqr, listening in on miners’ talk, was able to confirm that the miners had not planned any sabotage, and showed no signs of rebelliousness. Whatever motivated their saboteur was much more sinister than mere plebeian discontent!

In the afternoon they gathered and decided to get into the security center. Reiko, Banu and Al Hamra approached the guards at the centre and, using Reiko’s newfound camaraderie with the locals, struck up a conversation about a place to get a decent bath. The guards let them in on the secret of Edith’s Repose, a Courtesan’s establishment in the centre of the business area, and with a few snide insinuations and offers of payment they managed to lure the guards away for an evening of drinking and relaxation. While they were gone Saqr and Siladan crept in and downloaded the camera footage they needed.

Algebraic Escalation

That night, looking at the footage, they found a picture of the likely perpetrator, a young man who accessed the vending machine after the last mining ship left, and showed no signs of going out mining. They thought of asking Ingrid Silwerstern to identify the man but there was no need: Banu recognized his picture as the picture on the file of the boyfriend of Ilthid, the abused man whose case she had handled so badly the day before.

They visited Ilthid immediately, finding him at his home in the first residence. After some pressure he revealed that his lover, Aslam, was a rich man, the youngest child of the Founders, a rich family descended from the original Founders of the colony. The Founders were rich from their historical possessions but had little power on the station, and most of them were now distributed around the colony’s diaspora, on Coriolis or Lubau. Aslam had stayed on Rockhome 3 and was not happy about it, but had recently started talking about how great his future would be. He assured Ilthid that he would soon be a powerful and great figure, and Ilthid tolerated violence and unspeakable acts in hopes of having great favour in the future. The PCs realized that Aslam had some plan, and decided to confront him. They left Ilthid crying softly in his rooms, and returned to their accomodation to send Aslam an invitation to a breakfast meeting to discuss investments.

Their breakfast meeting with Aslam did not go well. He was arrogant and insufferable, but gave them no evidence of his plans. Eventually when he realized they were confronting him about the sabotage he told them they would be well-served leaving the colony immediately, and then walked out. After a few minutes’ discussion the PCs decided to follow him to his residence, and were halfway across the gardens of the luxury quarter when a large screen over the entryway to the quarter came to life and provided them with a simple announcement:

Incoming ship

Docking: Hangar 2

Name: Algebraic Escalation

They were no longer alone on these distant rocks. Something had emerged from the Dark.


fn1: for this campaign we have 7 players but usually we don’t have a full group, so we get different players attending every session. So I think I will give a cast at the beginning of each report so we can see what is happening and who is present.

fn2: A kind of large grasshopper, grilled alive.

fn3: All the players missed this opportunity to find out things about Ilthid’s lover, and promptly forgot Ilthid’s name, because they are – like all players everywhere – completely useless.

fn4: Banu is a rich girl slumming it, so you can see where things went wrong when she tried to provide medical care to a belter victim of domestic violence during her gap year …

And down there somewhere among the noise
The magazine dolls and the big money boys
Move silently on their easy heels
They move silently on their greasy wheels
This town has turned me into what I have become
This town dresses you up like a stranger
This town hangs around in the doorway and tells me I’m late
This town takes us down, takes us down
I feel like I’m losing you to this town

The PCs are trying to find Lavim Tamm, a young man who is in possession of a valuable statue that their employer, Merez, hopes to buy. They visited the White Tugur and the owner told them that they could find Lavim at a boarding house called the Quiet Eunuch. So they set off along the promenade to find his flophouse.

The promenade is a broad and beautiful thoroughfare, but as one climbs higher up its walls the beauty fades, first to functional and practical walkways lined with lawyers and computer businesses and recruiters and other practical, sensible but unromantic businesses; and then to a narrow, shabby and cramped line of dubious cut-rate opportunists. Up near where the arc of the promenade reaches its apex the shops are small, grubby and sometimes indecent: barber shops, cheap masseurs, cyber doctors, flophouses, the occasional capsule apartment, brothels and pawnshops. Up near the arc the two sides of the promenade are close enough to almost touch, or to jump across if one is desperate, criss-crossed frequently with bridges and festooned with cables and conduits. Outside the shops shifty-looking men lounged and argued, chewing kat and smoking cheap tabak to pass the time. In between these sections of bustling but despairing business the promenade would fall into disrepair, and the walkways would pass into dimly-lit and unpopulated stretches through which people hurried, looking around carefully as they stepped through the shadows.

At the edge of one of these patches of blank steel wall the PCs found the Quiet Eunuch, a boarding house with a narrow door and a single reception room looking out over the promenade through a grubby window. They ventured inside to find a small reception at the foot of stairs leading up to two floors of narrow rooms. The receptionist was unhelpful until they flashed some birr, then gestured them up to a room on the third floor. They took the stairs carefully, listening at doors and checking for trouble. Finally they found Lavim Tamm’s room, and knocked on its flimsy door.

Lavim Tamm’s Story

Lavim Tamm was suspicious, and refused to let them in at first, arguing with them through a viewing slot in the door. After they spent a little time convincing him of their good intentions – and flashed him a bottle of Fire Kohol – he let them in, and they found themselves facing off with him in a narrow room with a bed, a screen and a tiny shower booth. It stank of Kohol, and Lavim was drunk. He stood swaying in the middle of the room, wearing the dirty hotel gown and looking worn and tired. Adam noticed that he was obviously sick, his hair shaved to hide the possibility that it was falling out and his skin sallow and almost jaundiced. As he dragged out some plastic cups for them to pour Fire Kohol into, the pilot Saqr noticed that he had bundled up a worker’s uniform of some kind and thrown it onto the floor of the shower room, but from the door Saqr could see it had been burnt in places and was bloodstained.

Over Fire Kohol they slowly put Lavim Tamm at his ease, and learnt his story. He had been part of an archaeological dig on the surface of Kua, a simple worker lifting and digging, when something happened and they were attacked by creatures from the Dark Between the Stars. He could not explain the beasts he saw in any other way – they attacked with fire that was made of shadow and cold, and tore his comrades apart with contemptuous ease. Lavim hid and somehow escaped the battle, carrying a single artifact from the dig, the weird black statuette he had been dusting off when the attack started. Now he was back on the station and wanted to forget the whole experience, but he was convinced someone was watching him, and that people were after the statuette. He was terrified, but had no idea about how to escape his situation. The overalls in the bathroom were the only clothing he owned, and it was covered in his comrades’ dried blood. He was in trouble.

The PCs offered to escort him to their ship, and told him they had a potential buyer for the statuette. If he would trust them they could give him medical care on the Beast of Burden, and then he could negotiate the sale of the statuette, and be free of all his worries. Lavim Tamm agreed, telling them he had hidden the statue in a bridge over the promenade, along with a tag that contained the coordinates of the dig location, and if they agreed to take him to the ship he would collect the statuette on the way. They set off.

Merez intercedes on his own behalf

The bridge where Lavim Tamm had hidden the statuette was a level down from the flophouse and some distance away. Looking over the bridge the PCs could see down the dizzying heights to the base of the promenade, busy and cheerful far below, but the view was obscured by layers of conduits, cables, wires and nets. They accompanied Lavim onto the bridge and stood patiently while he dug around in a loose panel of the bridge and pulled out a small sack and a tag. Adam took the tag, while Saqr and Siladan Hatshepset investigated the statuette. Neither of them saw anything worthwhile in it, and in fact Siladan – who had some training as an archaeologist – was convinced it was a fake, of no value at all. Still, somebody valued it, so they figured they could sell it for Lavim Tamm anyway, so they turned to leave the bridge …

… and found themselves facing Merez, the man who had employed them to find Lavim, accompanied by three goons. The goons were armed, wearing light combat armour, and quite obviously hired Syndicate muscle. This situation did not look quite the way they had envisaged their reunion with their employer.

“Well done boys,” Merez congratulated them. “Now, I want to take possession of that statuette, and I don’t want to pay market price, so I’m going to cut a deal with you. You hand me the statuette, I pay you the 3,000 birr for finding it, and nobody gets hurt.” He waved a tag at them. “This is all the money you’re going to make today, my friends, so I suggest you make the most of my good mood and do as I ask.”

Behind him the Syndicate thugs flicked aside their coats to reveal Vulcan pistols and knives. They appeared to be ready to commit serious violence if things went awry. With most of the PCs back on the ship and only three on the bridge[1] they did not feel they were in a position to argue. With a resigned shrug Adam handed over the statuette and took the tag, quickly transferring its contents to his own.

“Good, very wise,” Merez crooned as he pocketed the statuette. Then he turned, waved his hands to the thugs, and ordered them to kill the entire group in an airy voice. They drew weapons and moved in for the kill as he walked away into the darkness.

The fight was brutal and over quickly, ending with two of the goons bleeding on the bridge, and Adam choking the third into unconsciousness and banging his head on the rails. They waited for him to come around and asked him a few pointed questions, from which they received little joy. He and his mates were hired guards, with no interest in whatever Merez wanted the statuette for. They had been paid and as far as he was concerned their job was done. He happily told the group where Merez was based in exchange for being allowed to drag his friends away for medical care, and they agreed to let him go.

They returned to their ship to recover and fix the teeth that Saqr had lost in the fight, and then decided to pay Merez a visit and ask for the statuette back, or for proper payment. Before they left Siladan spent a little time investigating the area where Merez was based. Saqr, the ship pilot, also had a mystical power, and he decided to use this to locate the statuette. To everyone’s surprise, it was not in Merez’s office – it had somehow been moved in just a few hours to a location near the docks under the Spring Plaza.

Confused, they decided to see if they could steal the statuette from wherever Merez was storing it.

The Draconites intercede on their own behalf

Unfortunately the statuette was not in any warehouse belonging to Merez. When they arrived at the location that Saqr’s mystical powers identified, they found themselves staring at the locked gate of a Draconite compound, guarded by two heavily-armed soldiers. Was Merez working with the Draconites, or had he already sold it on to the Draconites? They decided that if he had sold it on already they would force him to pay them the money for it. They had promised to keep Lavim Tamm safe, and now he had basically been robbed while they were trying to help him.

Angry and determined, they headed to the small Souk near the Spice Plaza where Merez had his office. His office was a small demountable building in the centre of the Souk, reached through winding paths through mercenary brokers, Syndicate fronts and gambling dens. It was a nondescript affair, a building with no sign, a simple door flanked by large tinted windows, and no guards. The door was open, the view inside blocked only by a beaded curtain. From inside they could hear Merez on his phone, yelling at an underlying:

“What do you mean they’re not at the ship? They have to be!”

“… I don’t fucking care! They stole my statue! Get in there and find it!”

“How can I fucking know?! I know the fucking things big, you’ll just have to search it you useless fucking mook! And make it snappy, I pay you no good shits by the hour!”

“… Yes! And if they come back I want you to fuck them up! Those fuckers stole my statue!”

He was still yelling on the phone when they entered his office, but their entrance stopped him dead. After a moment he said, in a desultory voice, “Forget it. They’re here now,” and put the phone down. Adam noticed he probably tripped an alarm of some kind as he stood to meet them.

“Where’s my fucking statue!?” He demanded. From there the conversation did not improve. Merez was certain that they had stolen the statuette, and they would have been sure he was bluffing if they had not overheard his instructions on the phone. Someone had stolen his statuette almost as soon as he returned it to his office – and that thief was either a Draconite, or a friend of the Draconites. Not a pleasant prospect.

After about a minute of pointless low-grade gangster dialogue the PCs noticed Merez looking over their shoulders, as if someone was standing outside. They dropped to the floor in the nick of time, as two guards outside opened fire on full automatic. The PCs rolled in to cover near the door, covering themselves as the windows fell all around them in shattered piles, and watched and winced as Merez’s guards turned the room into a killing zone. Merez himself had ducked behind his desk, which was obviously bullet proof, and was laughing maniacally as his guards shredded the room.

None of the bullets touched the PCs, and when the guards had exhausted their magazines the PCs returned fire. A short battle followed, in which Saqr leapt over the desk and destroyed Merez’s knee before he could run, one of the guards shot Siladan’s foot into a bloody mess, and Adam fought with ruthless efficiency from the cover of the window. In just a few moments both guards were dead, and their relationship with Merez was finally and irrevocably finished. They took what they could from his belongings and left him bleeding and squealing behind his desk.

To the asteroid belt

The PCs decided that discretion was the better part of valour, and that it would be better not to enter the lair of the Draconites for a statuette that their archaeologist was convinced was worthless. They had the tag with the coordinates of the dig, and the promise of further Firstcome artifacts if they were willing to brave it, so they decided to cut their losses with Merez and find a way to make money.

Before they met Merez they had been told a rumour about a mining colony in the asteroid belt that had been sabotaged and was about to become desperate for spare parts. They had also heard about a shipment of spare parts on the Divine Grace, that was so large it had pushed down prices in the station. They decided to buy a large supply and head for the asteroid colony, to profiteer from the misery of belters. What could possibly go wrong with that plan?

They bought the spare parts at a good price and organized their delivery over the next two days. By the time the parts were safely in their cargo hold the Beast of Burden had been fully refit, and was ready to leave Coriolis station. They set off that same day, heading to the mining colony Rockhome 3, six days’ travel through the Dark Between the Stars.

Their journey was uneventful until the last day. As they neared Rockhome 3 they were ambushed by two small fighters, which refused to identify themselves but fired torpedos at their ship and threatened to blow them away unless they jettisoned their cargo and left the area. They refused to do so and instead turned to join battle, trusting to their larger size to win out over two class I fighters. This almost proved to be a grave misjudgment, and their ship was heavily damaged by repeated attacks with an Accelerator cannon before they could finally destroy their attackers. In the frozen darkness of the belt, flying through clouds of dust and ice, lines of hyper-velocity metal shards glittered like stars in the dark, their torpedo counter-measures spread like squid ink in a starry sea, and torpedos streaked past their ship like vengeful demons. Finally they closed on the torpedo ship and rammed it, tearing it apart so thoroughly that the pilot’s ejector pod exploded in its mount, and the ship tumbled away in shattered chunks. The second ship would not relent and closed for the kill, damaging their weapon systems and tearing holes in their reactor, before they managed to score a lucky hit that blew away its engines and sent it spiralling off into the darkness. The pilot ejected and disappeared amongst the detritus of the belt, leaving their ship limping and bleeding oxygen in the cold and merciless Dark.

They had survived their first space battle – just. Ahead of them lay the sanctuary of Rockhome 3, and the mystery of its sabotage. Ignorant of its politics and uncaring of its politics, they headed to the asteroid to profit from whatever petty feud had brought it to ruin.


fn1: A bunch of players had to cancel …

We join our PCs for the beginning of the Coriolis campaign in the third observation deck on their ship the Beast of Burden, in the docks beneath the Ozone Plaza on Coriolis station. The Beast of Burden was undergoing her final refit, so below decks, in the hangar and in the crew cabins deckhands and engineers were coming and going, repairing and fixing and installing the final components of their reconfigured yacht. The PCs had arrived at Coriolis station to take possession of their ship a few days ago, from separate parts of the Horizon, and still being new to each other were taking the time while their ship was reconfigured to lounge around in its more luxurious upper decks, talking and learning about each other very much in the way of new housemates.

They also had a guest, in the stasis hold. When they first met on the 14th day of the Merchant, CC 79, they realized that between them they had very little money and they would need to find work quickly if they were to pay off their large monthly debt and find money for their own living expenses. In their quest for quick paying work they soon found themselves at Wahib’s Cantina, and very quickly a woman called Arkial Lima had found them and begged them for help. She was a gambler on the run from a contract taken out on her by one of her debtors, and needed somewhere to lie low for a few days until a man she knew could organize to bail her out. She could not pay them in birr, but she had a solid rumour to share with them if they would help her. Finding other offers thin on the ground they agreed, on the condition that she spend the time in one of their stasis chambers, where no one would find her and she would cost them nothing. She agreed, and in return told them her rumour: a small mining colony in the asteroid belt, called Rockholme 3, was about to run out of essential spare parts due to sabotage by a disaffected member of the colony. She had learned this from a drunk merchant a few days earlier, and he had also told her that he knew of a large shipment of spare parts that was due to arrive any day soon on a salvage ship called the Divine Grace. Once its captain, Solomon Hulam, dumped his parts on the market in Coriolis the price would plummet, and anyone with a couple of thousand birr to spend could clean up easily, then take the parts to Rockholme 3 and arrive just at the right moment, to make a huge profit selling the spare parts to the desperate station. It just needed timing! The PCs checked a few basic details of Arkial’s rumour, confirmed at least the names and ships, and decided to take Arkial in, keep her in stasis, wake her on the evening of the 18th and escort her to Wahib’s Cantina to meet the shady man who was going to help her out of her bounty hunter problems. An easy job – what could possibly go wrong?

And so they found themselves in bloody combat in their own stasis hold on the afternoon of their first day of rest in Coriolis station.

The nameless enforcer

They were lounging around in the third observation deck, watching screen and taking tea, when an alarm chime sounded and the ship computer informed them that Arkial’s stasis bed had been set to open. They sprang to life, with Reiko Ando and Siladan Hatshepsut rushing down to the stasis hold while Oliver Greenstar and Al Hiram went belowdecks to grab their weapons. The Beast of Burden’s stasis hold held 64 stasis chambers in three rooms, with Arkial resting in the innermost room. At the door to the outer room Siladan activated a screen and they turned on the security camera to the stasis hold, to see a team of six men standing around Arkial’s casket. The chamber was slowly opening, and the leader of the team was pointing a nasty-looking accelerator pistol at the seal, waiting for it to fully unfold and for Arkial to groggily come round. They had perhaps a minute to act.

Siladan acted quickly, setting up a radiation release alarm that began to wail ominously throughout the ship, informing everyone there had been a major radiation leak and everyone had to abandon the vessel within a minute. On the screen the gangsters reacted suddenly, looking around in horror and then dragging Arkial from her pod, still barely conscious as she woke from stasis. As they began to drag her from the room Siladan and Reiko ran into the outer room to take positions under cover by the sliding doors, and Oliver and Al Hiram took places by the exit doors, pistol and carbine out and ready.

They sprung their trap well, hitting the gangsters hard as they fled. Their leader was first through the door, looking lethal in protective clothing and carrying a pistol. Behind him came three goons carrying Arkial, backed up by two more goons. These last two were late to the action and unsurprised, but everyone else was caught flat-footed. Reiko and Siladan stepped from the shadows to strike at the goons carrying Arkial while Oliver and Al Hiram shot the leader. One bullet hit but the other missed and no one went down in the ambush; battle was joined. Almost immediately Oliver took a shot to the leg and fell to the ground, where he rolled around in pain as he attempted to reload his carbine.

The group were outnumbered and in trouble, so Al Hiram decided to try something reckless and desperate. He charged forward to where Arkial lay stunned in her pod-vest on the floor of the stasis hold, and pointing his gun at her head yelled “Stop this madness or your hostage dies!” Everyone halted and turned to stare at him in awe.

Except the leader, who shot Al Hiram in the face.

The rest of the gangsters were about to rejoin the fray when, in response to this bold negotiating tactic, Oliver Greenstar unleashed his carbine’s full automatic fire. Two of the goons went down and a third staggered, and Al Hiram – who somehow was not dead despite the leader’s vicious shot, returned fire from point blank range and cut him down. Siladan stabbed an injured goon and brought him down too, and one of the remaining goons threw his knife down and started yelling for his surrender.

After a short negotiation – during which the goons recognized Al Hiram as a mystic on the run from bounty hunters, and became even more terrified – they allowed the surviving goons to leave, dragging one of their friends with them, but leaving all their gear. They profited to the tune of 2,000 birr and a brace of guns and armour, and Arkial was fine.

cantina

Wahib’s Cantina

Work in the Spice Plaza

Once Arkial had woken they took her to Wahib’s Cantina, skirting the promenade and traveling by narrow alleys. They arrived safely and delivered her to an oily-looking man with dubious intentions, and she thanked them and wished them luck on their travels to the asteroid belt.

They decided to spend a little time at Wahib’s looking for leads for work. This plan soon fell apart when Siladan managed to insult a grieving pilgrim by suggesting that his home system’s mourning pilgrimage was a manufactured culture that was “not even 30 years old, and how could you possibly subject your family’s memory to such a travesty? I’m fascinated by your culture’s plasticity!” After Al Hiram had dragged them out of that brewing fight they retired to a booth, where they sat nursing kohol and bruised ego until a man came up to offer them work. His name was Merez Alcan, and he was looking for an artifact that he had reason to believe was on Coriolis station. It was a Firstcome statue of the Dancer, worth a lot of money, and he was interested in buying it from its current owner, a young man called Lavim Tamm. He simply needed the PCs to find Lavim Tamm and negotiate for him to meet Merez to sell the statuette. Unfortunately Lavim had gone to ground, and some effort would be needed to find him. For that effort Merez was willing to pay 2000 birr. He described Lavim and told them he was known to be addicted to Miran Fire Kohol, and was known to hang around the spice plaza. With this information the PCs agreed to look for Lavim Tamm. They set off immediately to search the plaza.

The spice plaza was bustling chaos when they arrived, with merchants from all over the Horizon bragging of the quality of their wares, and a million different sweets and coffees and kohol being thrust under their noses wherever they walked. In the mayhem they could not find Lavim Tamm, but they did discover that there was a specialist Miran Fire Kohol cafe called the White Tugur, run by a woman called Jasina. A tugur is a kind of six-legged feline-like hunter found in the wastes of a planet in the Algol system, famous for its size and ferocity. The White Tugur was built in the shape of a Tugur, with the bar in the head and comfortable reclining seats arranged around the inside walls of the Tugur shape. It was high above the spice plaza, where the spice dust rose slowly on gentle currents of warm air from the shops below, to hang in lazy spirals and slow dancing clouds of multi-coloured fragrant haze in the air outside the windows of the bar. Lights from above and below pierced the haze, casting a million rainbow streaks of light across the air in the plaza outside the windows. They sat on a bench looking out over the distant riot of the plaza, breathing in all the smells of the Horizon and nursing their Miran Fire Kohol, and in that moment they all, surely, fell in love with Coriolis station. Baklava, Miran Fire Kohol in a delicate rose-water mix, incense, the distant sound of the bustle of the greatest space station in the Horizon, the spice haze … a perfect way to spend an early afternoon in space.

But they had work to do. They broke their reverie to ask Jasina questions. She was unwilling to answer them at first, expressing fear of the mystic[1], but ultimately they convinced her to tell them what they needed to know. Lavim Tamm was lying low, terrified of something, and could be found at the Quiet Eunuch, a guesthouse in a seedy sector of the promenade. Perhaps they could visit him there and see what he is so terrified of?

They thanked her, finished their Kohol, and gathered their things. Somehow this mission had turned sour, and something was in the air. They would need to have their wits about them now. They stepped out of the White Tugur, and turned their attention to the promenade …


fn1: Al Hiram’s personal problem is that he is being hunted. It’s fun to have everyone in Coriolis recognize him from wanted posters, and refuse to help him.

leaving old owl well

Leaving Old Owl Well towards Conyberry

When last we saw our characters they had pacified the lands east of the Triboar trail, and were ready to begin seeking their main goal, Cragmaw Castle. To do this though they needed to find the castle, which was lost somewhere in the Neverwinter Wood, and before they could do that they needed to rest and restock. So, they headed over the hills north of Old Owl Well for the town of Conyberry, where they had been asked to ask a question of a banshee, and where they thought to take some time to recuperate and perhaps have a hot bath. To their consternation, however, Conyberry was a partial ruin, a town long-ago laid waste by barbarians and now only beginning to recuperate. Aside from a mercenary brigade with grandiose titles, a merchant, an inn and a few trapper’s homes the town was a mess of ruined buildings and crumbling walls, not quite the respite they had hoped for and definitely no place to discharge their ill-gotten gains.

They settled in the inn, which to their surprise was a comfortable and welcoming place, and eventually made contact with a wizard who needed to be escorted to the tin town of Caernarvvn, in the mountains to the east of Conyberry. He offered to pay them a Find Familiar scroll in exchange for their support and they agreed, so the next day they set off east, traveling into the sword mountains for three days accompanied by the constant chatter of Raymond d’Cantrus and Verwell the Vertiginous in deep argument.

dawn caernarvvn

Dawn at Caernarrvn

Caernarvvn proved to be an excellent resting place. After three days of uneventful travel they reached the new gateway to the eastern planes, the tin city of Caernarrvn. A collection of narrow and crowded buildings clambering over the steep sides of one of the valleys of the sword mountains, the city looked out over a deep ravine that fell away to a spectacular view of the eastern planes and the distant High Forest. Caernarvvn was a mixed city of dwarves and humans, much of it built underground or in winding alleys and cramped tenements perched precariously on the side of crevasses splitting the ancient mountains, and it was a joy for the PCs to explore the small towns, craftman’s shops, and mixed dwarven/human establishments of this frontier town. Down the steep-sided ravine and along the rushing river lay the larger town of Triboar, fat and settled in its position on the lowlands and the High Road; but here was the first frontier town on a new road from the plains to Neverwinter, the only civilized pathway through the Sword Mountains, and it reveled in both its uniqueness and its newfound riches. For a week the PCs stayed here, while Raymond d’Cantrus learned the Find Familiar spell they had been gifted and taught the same to Mouse. While they dallied in meaningless scholarship Mostly Smithson prowled the alleys of the town, seeking out weaponsmiths and artists (Tyge stood on the hillsides, staring at the sun); eventually he found a Dwarven tattoo artist, a famous flesh-etcher by the name of Grim Gariful. He attempted to convince Gariful to fashion a tattoo with an ink made from the eye of the Nothic they had killed, and to carve it into Tyge’s skin. The dwarf baulked at fashioning an ink out of the vitreous fluids of a dead monster’s eye, but was willing to consider it for his art; but he refused point blank to sully his needles on the skin of “one of those stinking fascist upstarts”. So it was that Mostly returned to their quarters dejected; they would need to find a better, less bigoted tattoo artist in Neverwinter next time they visited.

They returned to Conyberry, now accompanied by an owl called Nimh and a spider called Fuck Where Is It Now!? But before they left the wizard granted them one more payment for their escort: he told them the location of Cragmaw Castle. At Conyberry they prepared their assault on the castle.

agatha

Before they did though they had one more task to perform. The morning after their return to the ruined town they ventured out northwest into the forest, until they came to a small hovel enfolded in branches, the location of the Banshee Agatha. They pushed aside the thick hides covering the door and into a small, dusty living space, obviously long since abandoned. After a moment a chill filled the air and on the far side of the room, over an old book, the air began to coalesce into the ghostly form of an old, haggard-looking woman.: Agatha the banshee. They had come here to ask her a favour and offer her a gift, and she had come to collect.

The gift they offered was a small silver comb, and in exchange Agatha told them the story of an ancient spellbook, which they had been asked to investigate by Sister Garaele in Phandalin. When Agatha reached out to the comb from Mouse he could feel a terrifying paralysis stretching down his spine and along the base of his skull, but somehow he emerged unscathed and with only a few more grey hairs. After she was done Agatha asked him to drop it in a chest, which contained a viper and a huge haul of silver that he was too scared to even try and steal; hundreds of years of offerings to the banshee lay there unclaimed. Mouse opted not to take any, and the rest of the party chose not to offer any other sacrifices to Agatha in exchange for answers to more questions; instead they withdrew, and as Tyge, last out of the door, withdrew into the sunlight, she saw a strangely wistful look on the ghost’s face as she faded away into her strange undead silence.

cragmaw

From now they were ready to approach Cragmaw castle. They headed south along the Triboar trail, and after a night on the trail headed west into the forest. Tyge and Mostly Smithson helped them find a base of operations, which they built as a treehouse in an old abandoned giant spider nest perhaps an hour’s walk northeast of the castle. As they did this Mouse and Raymond d’Cantrus approached the castle, staying in the cover of the forest and using their familiars to explore the outskirts of the castle. They confirmed it was infested with goblins and other goblinoids but could not establish numbers or power. The group gathered to the southwest of the castle and decided to wait and watch.

As they waited and watched they remembered Yeermik, the goblin chef they had spared at Cragmaw Hideout. He would be inside the castle, toiling away over the stove, and perhaps at some point would emerge from the castle to search for herbs. They settled down to wait.

Sure enough, after several hours as the sun began to set he emerged from the castle, accompanied by two goblin guards, on some kind of food gathering mission. They laid a trap, and after a short battle during which Mostly Smithson was attacked by bees they subdued the guards and reacquainted themselves with Yeermik. He was indeed now the assistant cook at Cragmaw Castle, and had been sent out to collect crickets for dinner by his abusive boss Yegg, even though everyone knows that at this time of year Mantises are best, since they’re fat and mature and you can extract the parasites and eat them fresh and wriggling! Yeermik was obviously very angry at his gang master, and happily offered to help the PCs to lure Yegg and his gangmates out of the castle and kill them. Then Yeermik would be head chef!

Without mentioning to Yeermik the delicate fact that they aimed to kill everyone in the castle, so that he would be the head chef of a gang of 1, they hatched a plan. Mouse would disguise himself as Yeermik and slip into the castle, presenting himself to Yegg and telling him that the two goblin guards who had accompanied him out of the castle had caught a delicious beast and were holding it down, but they needed the rest of the gang to come and help with the kill. Mouse would lead them back along the path to a pit trap, and after they fell into it the PCs would slaughter them with all the honour they deserved. Yeermik instructed Mouse that the most appetizing beast to hold down was a Veermek, and after they had prepared the trap Mouse ran off to the castle. Behind him Yeermik and the rest of the group slipped into the shadows – but nobody thought to tie Yeermik up, and he slipped away once they were hidden.

Mouse entered through a locked gate in the southern wall, using a key given to him by Yeermik. The kitchen was the first door on the left after the gate, and he soon entered into a scene of ruddy warmth, stinking goblin cooking smells, yelling and cowering. Putting on his best impression of Yeermik, Mouse spilled the story about the Veermek. Unfortunately Yegg had questions: was it a striped or spotted Veermek? And were the guards holding it by its wings or its horns or its antennae? Having not thought to ask what a Veermek was, Mouse was forced to guess the answer – and got it wrong! Yegg declared him an impostor, and he and his four guards charged. Mouse fled, but as he left the room running to that southern entrance he realized the entrance was closed, not ajar as he had left it! He managed to get the key in the lock and push himself out the door just in time, and opted to run slowly and tantalizingly close enough to lure Yegg and his guards to the trap.

Glass cannon

This worked beautifully, and Yegg and two of his guards fell into the trap while two more came to a teetering halt just on the edge of the pit. The slaughter that followed was quick and brutal, but the PCs had forgotten that Yeermik was gone, and by the time they had dispatched the last goblin they faced a new challenge: a huge wolf, a drow, an enormous Bugbear and a squad of Hobgoblins came charging down the path to attack them. Hopping along behind the bugbear was Yeermik, yelling “Kill!! Krush krush!! Grol smash!!” He had told King Grol about them, and King Grol had brought all his bodyguards out to kill them!

The battle would have been long and brutal but for the fast action of Tyge. She charged forward, Helmsmasher out, calling wrathful smite down on her sword, and struck King Grol a vicious blow to the heart, channeling the divine wrath of her god as she did so. With a single blow she struck Grol dead in his tracks, before he could even swing his morning star[1]. Moments later Mostly Smithson struck down Grol’s wolf in a fury of lightning and steel, and from hiding Mouse shot the Drow with a crossbow bolt. Shocked and dismayed, she turned and ran, but within moments was pulled down by a sleep spell cast by d’Cantrus – a sleep spell that somehow worked even though Drow are supposed to be immune to sleep! Energized by the extreme power of his magic, d’Cantrus declared himself superior to all that had come before, and stepped forward to cast another spell on the remaining Hobgoblin archers. Before they could flee they were all dead and Yeermik captured. The entire leadership of Cragmaw castle, slain in seconds.

They turned their gaze to Yeermik, who whimpered and cried as they dragged him and the sleeping Drow and tossed them into the pit with the dead goblins. It was time to have a forceful conversation with their treacherous little goblin …


fn1: A critical hit with wrathful smite and divine wrath, with a magic weapon, so 4d6+4 for the sword +2d6 for wrathful smite +4d8 for divine wrath, yielding 46 hp damage. Pretty good for a 3rd level character! And unfortunate for Grol, who had 45 hit points …

A shining future awaits!

The year comes to an end, and as I do every year I turn my mind to the year’s successes, its excessive slaughters and magical high points: a review of my year in gaming.

Unfortunately 2018 was something of a year of false starts. I began the year by ending my Mutant: Year Zero campaign, which finished with a war for the Ark and the revelation of the cause of the Apocalypse. I did not tell the players this, but my idea for the cause of the apocalypse in this campaign tied in with an old post-apocalyptic campaign I ran many years ago, in which the world had been brought to an end by the Catholic church, who unleashed magic and demons on the world in order to reduce it to a dark-ages level of technology in which religion would again be ascendant. The Mutant: Year Zero apocalypse was a variant of this, and so the PCs were playing in an immediate post-apocalypse world that would ultimately evolve into the world of the post-apocalypse campaign. It would be nice to return to that post-apocalypse world, perhaps using the Genesys system, which I bought this year. Mutant: Year Zero was an extremely enjoyable campaign and opened my eyes to the joys of Fria Ligan’s work. They are a genuinely excellent gaming company who make great games based around a simple and flexible and fun system, which I used a variant of later in the year and will be returning to in 2019.

Aside from the successful completion of the Mutant: Year Zero campaign, though, 2018 was a year of false starts. Our Shadowrun campaign, set in the post-awakening city of New Horizon that followed on from the awesome Cyberpunk campaign of 2016/2017, ended without resolution because our GM got permanent residency in Canada and moved there. This member of my group leaving, and two other members running into major real life hurdles, meant that the regular group I had been gaming with for several years fell apart and a bunch of campaigns that could have got started fell into ruin after just one session. We had a go at The One Ring, and also some D&D, but nothing got up and running. Our Degenesis campaign had a session in 2018 but floundered for the same reason, which is a shame because that world is very powerful and engaging.

The main campaign that has been running successfully in 2018 is my skype D&D campaign, which has had about 8 sessions that I have written up as 5, and which has been a lot of fun. This campaign has players based in Japan, Australia and the UK, and is generally run over roll20 for about 3 hours on Sunday evenings every two weeks (when we aren’t too busy). We have been running the Lost Mine of Phandalver campaign, which seems to be a really well-written and organized campaign and has been a lot of fun to run. The gaming atmosphere is a mixture of horror, comedy and serious fantasy, so that for example one of the PCs is a middle-aged wizard who is only adventuring because he has lost his grant funding, and Goblins speak with a French accent (mon dieu!) but it also has serious moments in which brutal battles end horribly, rogues speak with ancient stones about lost secrets, and horrible evils are thwarted. Much more than my previous attempt to experience original D&D with this skype group, this campaign has really allowed me to enjoy D&D again, to the extent that I even recently ran a session in Japanese for some newbie friends. D&D remains a bit too crunchy and capricious for my tastes, but the 5th edition has made it a lot more fun and a lot easier to GM or play without needing a PhD (perhaps it has been reduced to Master’s level). D&D 5 also shows what an execrable mess Pathfinder is, and how shallow 13th Age is.

Besides the Japanese one-off, I also ran a one-off adventure set in Neolithic England, inspired by my recent trip to Stonehenge, in which the PCs were stone-age adventurers who had to get the sun to rise after the desecration of a holy spot by Bronze Age invaders. This went really well, although I based the system on the Coriolis system and did some tweaks that made it extremely difficult for the players to use all their powers as much as they wanted.

This brings me to my plans for 2019. In my review of 2017 I wrote that I intend to set up a Coriolis campaign in 2018, and run it for a long time with a core group of players, but this did not happen because my regular group fell apart and my work became a lot busier and more demanding than I expected. I also experienced an extremely unpleasant disease in mid-2018, Ramsay Hunt Syndrome, which completely wrecked my schedule for a few months. Things have stabilized now, however, and I have identified a new group of players and rounded them up, so beginning in early 2019 I will start the Coriolis campaign I have been waiting a year to begin. Aside from a few one-offs, this and the Skype D&D campaign will be my main gaming in 2019. I will run a long, excellent campaign of intrigue and dark magic in an Arabian-themed space opera setting, alongside continuing violence and comedy in the Forgotten Realms. A nice mixture!

So, here’s to a healthier 2019 and a more successful year of gaming. Let’s enjoy the Dark Between the Stars together!

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