game reports


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!

ある夜、ある海

ある夜、3隻の船がカシマネ島へ行った。数時間離れたが同じ船団だった。

  • 「怪しい目撃者」:船団の重要船、乗客が乗っている船
  • 「突然の道徳的クライシス」:数時間後ろに追って、宝物や金を持っていた
  • 「倫理的な分離」:船団の尾、小麦を持っていた

波を突く「怪しい目撃者」に乗る乗客の中、4人のPCがいた:

  • 烏龍:銀龍血派のエルフソーサラー。昔々、銀龍がカシマネ島にいたから、龍の骨を探しに行った
  • フノートラップ:ドワーフ光領域のクレリック。ある夜、「光」領域の仲間が輝いていた流れ星を見て、落ちた場所はカシマネ島だと推測したからフノートラップハ流れ星の欠片を探しに行った
  • トバル:ハーフエルフパラディン。トバルのパラディン軍のリーダーは夢を見て、カシマネ島で古代の悪が起きると分かった。トバルはその悪を調べに行った
  • ブッキ:ハーフリング戦領域のクレリック。自分の親戚がカシマネ島に住んでいるから、警鐘をもらいに行った

全員、お互いまだ知らない。全員、レベル3だ。

この世の3つの月が重い雲の裏に隠されて、海が真っ暗だった。嵐の影響で海が不安定だから乗客の全員が甲板で時間を過ごしていた。一週間の旅の最後の夜で、明日到着期待していた。甲板でゆっくりしながら、船員の活動を見ていて、キャラクター全員は船長は心配していたことに気がついた。心配している顔を見せながら、船員に激しい声で指示をしていた。

キャラクターが心配の理由を聞く前に、数人の船員が急に仕事を止めて、静かになってゾンビーみたいに船の側までに歩いていた。人りが側に着いたら直接飛んで、海に潜った。キャルクター達が船の前まで走りに行って、キレイな曲を聞いた。ハーピー!3人が曲の魔法を抵抗したがトバルが曲の影響で船の側を向かった。そして、ハーピーが戦った!

船員がパニックをしたがキャラクター達が怯えずに反撃した。呪文と武器で戦って、ハーピーの一匹をすぐ倒したが、残り一匹が逃げられた。戦闘の後の状態を調べたら、船員の5人くらいが亡くなって、どうかブッキが失敗してクロスボウで船長のお尻に大怪我しちゃった。船員の数が足りないため、船のコントロールが難しくなった上、船長によるとこの区域の灯台は消えちゃったそうから海湾の状態がわからなかった。強風が吹いて、船が容赦なくビーチまで押された。数時間たつと「怪しい目撃者」が座礁し、壊した。キャラクター達が生存したが船が消失しちゃった。

キャラクター達がビーチで休憩したときに船長が現れて、お願いした。灯台の光を再火しないと後追う「突然の道徳的クライシス」もここでもがき進んで、宝物が失われるから、キャラクターが崖を登って灯台をさ再火して欲しいと願った。船長は自分でしたかったがトバルのせいでお尻の大怪我されちゃったから無理そうで、代わりにキャラクター達がしてほしいということを表した。

威圧を使用して、再火の代わりに「突然の道徳的クライシス」が持っている宝物の中から1個の魔法アイテムを貰ったらするという交渉をした。その約束を確保して、崖を登り始めた。

針ネズミの仲間?

崖の上に着いたら灯台が見えた。林を通ったらすぐ着く状態だったから進んだ。灯台の門が鍵しめたからフノートラップがピッキングをしようとしたが無理だった。全員が一緒に筋力を使ってドアを押して開けたが大きい音が聞かれて、林から変なものが現れた。「ニードルブライト」という植物系のクリーチャー五匹が戦った。戦闘がすぐ終わったが、また怪我されて全員が少し疲れた。

再火!

灯台の1階に入って、小さい部屋を調べた。誰もいなかったから階段を登って光所まで進んだ。光所も鍵しめて、ここもフノートラップがピッキングしないといけなかった。しに行ったら、あのキレイな曲をまた聞こえて、ハーピーの魔法に掛かられた!光所の後ろまで向けて、ハーピーの豪食になる!

その状態でブッキが「小奇跡」を唱えて、大きい拍手の音が響き、フノートラップにかかった魔法を邪魔してフノートラップが起きた。その瞬間に2匹の起こっているハーピーが光所の上を飛んで戦ったが、フノートラップが神性伝導を呼び出して、光所の真ん中に「曙光」を唱えた。輝く瞬間に量匹のハーピーが大怪我を受け、全員に戦われたら一匹がすぐ死んだ。残りの一匹が逃げちゃったがトバルの上手なジャヴリンで死んで海まで落ちた。

そういうことで灯台が安全になって再火されたが一体、なぜハーピーがここにいたし、なぜ灯台の面倒員がいなかったのか?全員が階段に下がって、調べに行った。。。

Our heroes have captured a goblin, Droop, who was some kind of dogsbody in a room full of Bugbears. Having killed the bugbears and slaughtered a large number of the redbrands at the tavern where they gather, our heroes were fairly sure that there was little left to kill down here in the dark, but just in case they gave this goblin a stern interrogation, and he immediately spilled all the beans. Glasstaff lived in a room north of this room, which should be protected by guards but the four off-duty guards had gone to the tavern to watch the town, and the men they were replacing hadn’t returned yet – probably carousing with the others, Droop surmised, and the PCs did not bother correcting his error. They let him go, and picked their way northward. First they passed through an empty guard room, where the guards they had slain at the inn would have returned had they been able. From there they crept across a narrow corridor into a wizard’s workroom, a typical assortment of rough-hewn furniture, badly pickled animal parts and pungent herbs. They set about carefully searching the room but stopped after Mouse heard a noise in the next room. They burst through a door into an empty bedroom, just in time to see a secret door swinging closed in one corner. With reckless disregard for his own safety Mouse leapt through the door, and was hit by a fusillade of magic darts from the far end of the corridor. The wizard was trying to flee! They chased him and cut him down in a small store room, his life’s blood ebbing away amongst a pile of cooking implements. They searched his body and found his glass staff and some notes to the Black Spider, which confirmed their suspicion that the redbrands had been working for whichever foul creature lived in the mysterious Cragmaw Castle. For now they left his body and moved on.

Droop had told them about the last few rooms in the complex, where a group of skeletons lay waiting for passing adventurers, but would let through anyone who wore red cloaks. They walked through this room to a door on its east side, where they knew the remaining guards stood watch over some kidnapped villagers. Their plan was simple. Mouse placed an illusion on himself to look like Glasstaff, through open the door and demanded that the three of them follow him to deal with intruders. The guards fell for his deception and walked out with him. When they entered the room Mostly Smithson slammed the door shut and d’Cantrus used his prestidigitation spell to make the guards’ cloaks fall off. They stood back and watched as the skeletons attacked the unready redbrands, beating down the last one after he managed to slay the last skeleton for them. It was harsh, but they had triumphed at both adventuring and irony.

They freed the prisoners and dragged Glasstaff’s body into town. Here Sildar Hallwinter told them, in shocked disgust, that Glasstaff was actually Iarno Albrek, the wizard he had been sent to Phandalin to find. The townmaster signed over the rights to the old ruined manor, and they repaired to the tavern for a much-needed bath. Over the next few days they caroused with the locals, toasted their newfound freedom, muttered ominous warnings about taxation, and picked up tidbits of information about possible adventures they could undertake once they became bored of the adulation.

Although d’Cantrus could have run for months on the vague plaudits of a couple of drunk old men the rest of the party grew bored after a few days, and they headed North. They had picked up two adventures and one treasure mission:

  • The townmaster had heard tell of Orcs in Wyvern Tor, and wanted the PCs to hunt them down and kill them
  • The local elven priestess, Sister Gaerele, wanted the PCs to find a banshee called Agatha and ask her a question about a spellbook
  • Mirna Dendrar, one of the captives they freed, told them of an ancient heirloom in a ruined town called Thundertree, which they were welcome to keep as their own if they were willing to risk the journey there to take it.

They decided first to kill the Orcs in Wyvern Tor, and then consider the banshee. They left the next day.

On the road to the Triboar trail they were attacked by an Owlbear, which they made short work of. Mostly Smithson and Tyge Trip spent some hours plucking out its feathers, which can be used to produce +1 arrows, and Mouser prepared a couple as they worked. The rest of the feathers they stored for future use when they met a fletcher.

He speaks three languages!

Wyvern Tor

They traveled north on the Triboar trail for two days, until they reached a point where a large valley opened to their east. This valley would lead them to Wyvern Tor. Here the weather was grim and grey, with chill sheets of fine rain drifting off the mountains and rolling over them towards a broad, shadowed line of forest to the west. That forest did not look inviting, and at night strange sounds came out of it. They did not want to spend another night in the open, with that menacing forest on their western flank, but fortunately ahead they saw the ruins of an old inn. As they approached they were confronted by mercenaries, but after assuring them they were no threat they were welcomed into a small compound where a wagon train had taken refuge. Here they found a fletcher who made them a few more arrows, and the mercenaries told them of rumours of evil happenings at Old Owl Well, an old well and ruined town on the northern side of the valley from Wyvern Tor. They were also given some information about Coneytown, a town a day’s travel to the north where they could maybe base themselves while they searched for Agatha.

The next morning they set out for Wyvern Tor. They entered the valley to the east of the ruined tavern and traveled east for the whole day, stopping for an uneventful but cold and unpleasant night in the lee of a moss-covered outcrop of boulders. The next day they began to search the Tor, a large and sprawling hill that rose above the surrounding hillocks to a commanding height, atop which the fragmented ruins of an ancient tower could just be seen. By midday they had found what they were looking for: over a ridge and in a shallow incline was a large cave mouth, guarded by a single bored-looking Orc.

Bored-looking Orcs are Mouse’s stock-in-trade. While the rest of the party moved away to take up ambush positions in a tree-clogged ravine Mouse threw on a quick goblin disguise and ran out to the cave. The Orc approached him with the typical bullying menace that the green-skinned thugs hold over their weaker cousins, and in a short but brutal conversation Mouse managed to convince it that he and a few of his mates had captured a human treasure, but that his mates had driven him away and now he wanted to join the Orc tribe if they would help him get back his treasure (and share it, of course). This plan appealed to the Orc’s humanitarian instincts – who doesn’t want to help out a weaker cousin in their hour of need – and, grabbing Mouse by his goblin collar, the Orc dragged him into the cave to meet his warboss. Mouse’s heart sank as he was dragged into a large cave, where five filthy Orcs lounged around their savage and nasty-looking warboss, Brughor Axe-biter. Six orcs and a warboss did not disturb Mouse overmuch – but the huge ogre lurking in the shadows behind the warboss’s loathsome sleeping furs did. Ogres are trouble. But it was too late to go back on the plan now, so Mouse put a little more squeak in his voice, and after a convincing display of cowardly bloodlust the entire gang decided to roll out and smash his goblin mates.

Their surprise when they were ambushed by Mouse’s friends was almost comical in its completeness. Sadly the comedy was washed away in a sea of orc blood, and even the Ogre did not last more than a couple of swings of his oversized club before he was brought smashing down, struck so hard in the end by Tyge’s greatsword that his enraged charge was stopped dead, and he was thrown back with the force of the blow. Beside him Brughor, with his last breath, shamed himself and his clan by speaking to Mouse in goblin rather than Orc: “C’est un piège!”

Indeed.

They returned to the Orc cave and searched it thoroughly, uncovering a little treasure and some disgusting Orc food and trash. They found no evidence that the Orcs were connected to Cragmaw castle or the Black Spider. Finally as night settled in they cleaned out the cave as best they could and slept by the Orcs’ dying fire.

The stones find their voice

Secrets of the stones

Before they slept Mouse took them up to the top of Wyvern Tor, to the ruined fragment of tower at the top. He had a feeling that there were secrets buried here, and he had heard the stories of its destruction. Many years ago the Tor had been the home of some dark wizard, who had surrounded himself with wyverns and ruled the area around him with an iron fist. But some obscure texts suggested it was dragons, not wyverns, that roosted here, and the wizard was their slave. Eventually a force of elves and humans had attacked the tower and put down its power at great cost, destroying all but a few shards of the innermost tower and killing the wyverns that defended it. Battles leave treasure, and heroes when they fall sometimes lose their magic items in the blood and mud and shit of the mundane world. Perhaps the stones had a story to tell.

Mouse had recently discovered that stones could talk to him. Perhaps it was too long in d’Cantrus’s lab, stirring strange reagents and sampling new potions; perhaps it was his parents’ legacy – after all he had never known them, so perhaps they were more special than the whispers in the alleys of his childhood had suggested; perhaps it was some wilder power, handed to him by fate or some capricious god. In any case Mouse believed in it, and so at sunset he trudged with his friends up the long, tussocked path to the flat top of the Tor, picking his way through ancient lightning-shattered stones to the broken and crumbling fragments of wall standing in the centre of the open hilltop. To the southwest the sharp, awe-inspiring Icespire peak stood out of the jumbled grey teeth of the sword mountains, glowing pink in the setting sun. Somewhere on its slopes a flash of blue lightning rippled, perhaps a frost giant’s anger or maybe just some strange natural phenomenon of its constantly storm-tossed stone ligaments. To the west and the north, as they watched Mouse approach the shell of the tower, the PCs could see the last red light of sunset fading across a wide vista of forests, plains and river. Tyge even fancied her half-elven sight could pick out the distant line of the sea, luminous in the magic hour, calling to her even from this distance with that strange mystical voice that it reserves only for the fickle souls of elves and their kin. They drank it all in and then turned to watch Mouse as he leaned his face against the chill stones.

Mouse laid his young brow against the stone, and for a moment all he felt was the tug of lichen on skin, and all he could smell was the musty talc of the stone. But then his vision faded, into a maelstrom of war and violence, dark shapes rushing and huge shadows, fire and sudden tugging violence. Vast forces flowed past him, huge shapes surged over the stones, and magic lashed and rippled in the air. He smelled blood, lots of blood, and the acrid smell of damp air in the wake of lightning and storms. Somewhere voices cried in unison and he felt the earth plunge. With the stones he fell down a huge distance into darkness and emptiness, the light closing above him. A flash of purest scarlet, a sudden pure, clear view of the sun rising over high mountains, and the vision was gone. Mouse came to, sweating against the cold stone, the last comforting rays of the setting sun gone and the night’s wind chill upon him. In the aftermath of the vision he knew – knew, with the certainty that only magic can make you feel – that there was a treasure down there. Beneath the Tor there had been a complex of tunnels, and it had been sealed in. Perhaps the denizens of the tunnels were still sealed in there. And somewhere on the east side of the Tor there was a way in.

He retreated from the stones, shaken by the power of his vision, and returned to his friends. Showing uncharacteristic grace and kindness, d’Cantrus wrapped a filthy Orc fur around his shoulders, and Mostly Smithson offered him a sip of the hot rice brew that he carried with him. They picked their way down the hillside, their footsteps lit by deCantrus’s chill magic light, the night slowly closing in around them, and returned to the Orc cave to rest. Somewhere beneath them treasures undisturbed by time lay silently waiting for them.

But what guarded those treasures? For now, they put that task aside, and turned their gaze north…

A flash of red …

Old Owl Well

Old Owl Well was across the valley from the Tor, and took them half a day to travel to. This day was warmer than the last few and bright, so they found themselves easily able to make out the well as they approached. The story of this well was that it was once a small but thriving settlement that provided fresh water and rest to the trappers of the region, but at some point the trapping business declined and the well fell into disrepair, or was destroyed by raiding orcs. Now it was abandoned, but until recently trappers had continued to use it as a place to stop and rest and gather fresh water. Recently, however, something had been making them stay clear of the place. Trappers being a taciturn lot, no one was quite sure what. But now the characters had a chance to find out, so their first action was to turn away from the ruined walls of the well and head up to a hillside to watch the compound.

The well was little more than a square of crumbling walls around a central tower, a squat little thing with its upper levels crumbling. To the north of the tower was the well itself, surrounded now with low bushes and tangled with ivy. Beyond the walls on all sides but the south were rough, scrub-covered hills with steep sides, from which it was easy for spies like our heroes to watch the well. From their vantage point they could see, on the eastern side of the tower, a large red tent, its canopy daubed with black symbols of some kind. Bemused, they sat on the hill for a few hours watching, but nobody emerged and nothing moved. Sensing daylight fading, they decided to return to the well and investigate.

They waited outside the main gates and sent Mouse in. He passed through the gate, moving as stealthily as he could, and first avoiding the tent moved to the broken tower. As he approached he smelled something foul and unusual, a smell he had never experienced before. Disgusted and uncertain, he crept up to the gaping entry of the tower and peered in, only to recoil in shock. A pile of bodies lay in the centre of the old tower, rotting and silent. No wonder he had never experienced the smell before – he had never experienced a charnel house before. Nor, now, would he ever forget. Disgusted, he turned and crept back towards his friends, to warn them that there was murder done here.

Halfway across the open ground to the gateway though something in his senses tingled. He looked around uncomfortably, and there behind him he saw all those dead bodies walking silently towards him, their mouths open in unmistakable blood lust. Shocked, he stumbled, and they were on him. He slipped between the legs of a particularly large and unruly one, and fled to his friends, yelling in terror.

Battle was joined. The PCs formed a line just back from the gate outside the well and prepared to fight 12 – 12! – of the most pitiful zombies the world has ever seen. Mostly Smithson’s divine grace drove 5 of them away but they still had to fight 7. As they fought a red-robed figure appeared at the doorway and threw a spell at one of them, freezing Mostly Smithson in place, but disappeared from view when Mouse fired a crossbow bolt at him and disrupted the spell. Tyge’s greatsword, Helmsmasher, hummed and sang its holy joy, and she hacked great glowing swathes through the undead, sending rotten flesh flying across the hillside. Finally they defeated the zombies, though not after taking some injuries, and pursued the red-robed wizard. He succumbed easily to their combined might, and soon they were able to interrogate him.

Mostly Smithson, with his unique skill and experience in tattoos, was soon able to recognize the man as a Red Wizard of Thay, a necromancer to whit, and with that knowledge all kindness left the crew. They forced him to tell him what he would, and soon discovered he had been raising this army from local villagers and tin miners, to support him while he researched at Owl Well. Satisfied he had nothing useful to tell him, they finally decided to make the world a better place, and Tyge killed him with a single strike of her sword.

They had pacified the lands east of the Triboar trail. Where next? A chill wind drew their attention to the distant Tor, and they thought about their next steps …

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