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The Cabal of Eight Pt.22: Cloak and Blather

Excor (played by Cris) cut Jirek’s bindings. The young scribe was visibly in shock. He stared blankly as his rescuers fell icon on blue robeupon the gory remains of Haxat’s corpse looting anything that appeared valuable or that they recognized as magic. Afterwards, the young mages decided to take their loot back to the cabal room and properly identify and divvy it up. Jirek, traumatized, decided to stay behind in order to “clean up” and assess the damage to his warehouse.

Later in the cabal room in the upper floor of the Red Helm tavern, the young mages commence to inspect and identify their booty. What they had was: a polished red agate necklace (level 1, Shield, 1/day), a silver ring (Level 2, close wounds 3 x day), a gold ring with turquoise (Level 4, circle of protection I), and a gold ring with a large ruby (Level 8, scry, 3/day; scry image appears in the ruby).  They also had a set of purple robes (Level 6, grants a Damage Reduction of 12), a High Quality light silver longsword, and a high quality alchemical-gold dagger with a curved-blade and black enameling with an emerald pommel stone. They also came away with 2 potions of healing: a potion of Dispel Curse, and a potion of Impervious to Energy (Frost).

Gornix (played by Gil) took possession of the robes. Fauna (played by Jenn) took the necklace. Szoosha (played by Isis) took the silver ring. Excor claimed the gold & turquoise ring. As the characters had some left over items after the even split the players decided to have a roll-off for the remainders between those who wanted them. Cris and Isis rolled-off for the Dagger, which Isis won. Cris and Gil had a roll-off for the sword; Gil won but let Excor have it. The gold & ruby ring went to the group hoard hidden behind the false brick in the fireplace (see The Cabal of Eight Pt.16: Fight for Sleep).

After this acquirement phase concluded, their attentions turned towards Haxat’s spell book. They were careful not to directly touch the book itself as its leather cover bore a magic ward and it had an iron latch with a small key lock as well. Excor identified the mark as the Burning Symbol. If anyone besides Haxat touches the book, the ward and book would burst into flames burning the hands of the interloper. Gornix just decided to “go for it”. Therefore, Excor handed him a small key he had fished from the purple robes when he had first “salvaged” them. Gornix positioned the book on the table using the sack to cover his hand, inserted and twisted the key, and then opened it. The ward flared as he touched the book but his new robes granted him full protection against the flames.

Within Haxat’s spell-book, they discovered 12 spells and 2 potion formulae. The spells were, in no particular order: Inferior Fireball, Cone of Fire, Imp Summoning Circle, Pain, Bolt of Stunning, Blur, Burning Symbol, Mass Pain, Shield, Slow, Close Wounds, and Ring of Blades. The potion formulae were for Blur and See All.

After the group decided that Szoo should take the Impervious to Frost potion and Fauna the Dispel Curse potion Szoo got up to go grab a round of celebratory ales. Excor tossed him some silver. While the naga was downstairs the remaining three stashed the papers (Haxat’s notes on the Gold & Amber Bee; seemed he was looking for a hive and wanted the queen) and the Amber Bee with their other treasure behind the false brick.

Suddenly Szoo rushed back into the clubroom frantic.

Gornix: “Hey! Where’s the ale!”

Szoo: “That guy in the BLUE ROBES was watching ME! He’s downstairs RIGHT NOW!”

Excor (bluffing humorously): “Well Naga, sounds like the sapphire guild is after you because you’re a Black Scale! Ha …”

Szoo believing him immediately ran away home in a state of utter panic. After that incident, the others checked downstairs for the “blue-robed guy” before calling it a day and going their separate ways.

Fauna was retreating to her spot in the grove (essentially Ezmer’s Central Park) when, while passing through the Old Market District, she spied a woman she recognized as her cult leader entering a high-end dress shop. Of course, Fauna decided to follow ducking into the very same shop just behind her quarry. The woman tried to deny that they knew each other but eventually relented when it became apparent Fauna was not backing down and willing to make a scene.

After some extended awkwardness, she learned the woman’s true name, Virtra Wefa, and eventually spilled the beans about “her friends dealing some justice to a demon summoner”. As a result, Virtra invited Fauna and her friends to a dinner at her residence in the Western Cliffs District the following night (the 24th of Early Summer). After the invite, Virtra had an accompanying footman boot the young druid from the store. Fauna continued on to the park with a big smile on her face.

Later that evening Excor dropped by Gornix’s apartment. It took very little convincing to get the salt-lotus wizard to take a break from his spell research to accompany the other to the meeting with Doubab at the Red Helm.

Meanwhile Szoosha was slowly learning to read going through dozens of old water-damaged ships’ logs and manifests piled in the corner of his flat by his roommate Paej. Most likely a resource kept by the Ferenoi to sell for the paper when in need of some scratch.

Later on in the evening at the Red Helm, Gornix and Excor met up with Doubab. They sat in a curtained booth against the wall that separated the theater from the rest of the tavern. They began with small talk, Excor asked where the “goods” were, and Doubab punched the squirming sack he had set on the seat. Gornix however was getting bored so he offered to fetch a bottle of “something good” from the bar.

On his way to the bar, Gornix spotted the mage in powder blue robes. For the moment, Gornix feigned disinterest. However from the corner of his eye he noticed that the blue-robe was eye-balling him. He bought a bottle of Hill-Lander whiskey from the bartender. Then told him to send a barmaid to the booth to serve them. He tossed a silver piece on the ale-soaked board and returned to the booth.

A few minutes later, the server hobbled up to their table and introduced herself as Stranez. She was a half-faun southern nomad woman with messy coarse grey hair over most of her body. Excor butted in. He paid to send a bottle of “decent quality but not too expensive” wine to the blue robe’s table. He offered a gold bit should she return with his name. They soon learned their stalker was one Crochi Aengham. He was a seeker for the Star Sapphire Confraternity (the sapphire mage guild).

Excor also paid her to go back to the seeker and “keep him busy while they talked business”. She tried, half-heartedly, but the seeker wasn’t having it, old Stranez had seen better days (see The Dragonslayers II Pt. 9). She had done so mostly for her own entertainment. Besides she managed to lift the man’s purse before she limped back to her job.

Meanwhile Excor and Gornix paid Doubab for the bag of rats. The ratter was their “rat hookup” and a possible ringer when it came to betting on the rat fights. He was also well informed as to when and where the fights were held. After a few minutes, Gornix got antsy and decided to approach the seeker. So, Excor and Doubab retreated to the theater. There they drank and listened to the performer, a young minstrel fresh from the bardic college. He was singing a rendition of the Dragon-Wars epic poem, very badly.

Gornix sat down at the table with Crochi the blue robed mage and introduced himself. The sapphire guild seeker was not amused especially when Gornix went on about “a good business opportunity”. The salt-lotus wizard began talking about how he and his comrades were looking for investors for their soon to be operational rat-fighting outfit.

Crochi (in disbelief): “Wait. Are you telling me that you guys are rat-fighters?”

Gornix (shrugging as if it were obvious): “Well, yeah! And we need money… investors.”

Crochi (he finished off a small glass of fine red wine): “You and your companions are nothing more than rat fighters. Bunch a’ gutter-mages. Well-then…”

Crochi (getting up to leave): “Well, what a waste of mine and the guild’s time. We’ve been watching you and your friends for nothing.”

He motioned to a city guard posted at the entrance that they were to leave.

Inexplicably Gornix kept following him on his way to the door then shouted something to the effect that he and his friends are more than ratters “we defeated a demon summoner named Haxat”. That made the seeker turn around.

Cris: “WHAT! What’re you DOING! We had him and the guild off of our @$$es!”

The next hour was spent at the bar conversing with Crochi. Of course, Gornix told him everything about the confrontation with Haxat that very afternoon. A messenger that Crochi had sent off just after his talk with Gornix had started returned and handed him a sealed scroll. With a grin, Crochi handed it to Gornix telling him that he and his companions were summoned to the Star Sapphire Confraternity’s guild house in Guildsman’s square for an “initial appearance before the guild court for a fact-finding session”. The scroll was a court summons for the following high noon.

Cris: “He thought we were just rat-fighters! He wasn’t going to pay any attention to us! That guild doesn’t care about the rat fights! We were FREE and CLEAR!”

After some justified belly aching from Excor, both Excor and Gornix took the sack of rats back to their respective apartments to transfer the rats from the bag to the cages. They lost quite a few rodents in the process. Soon they realized that their apartments and buildings would soon have a severe rat problem.

To Be Continued…

The Cabal of Eight Pt.21: Blood Red

As splinters of wood sprayed into the dim, fire lit chamber the semi-transparent form of the red imp was thrown from Spell summoned Impthe remains of the shattered door.  Its diminishing screams continued to echo as it fell back down into hell. Gornix’s new spell, Force Ram, had smashed down the imp-possessed door and laid open the basement of the small warehouse to the cabal of young mages.

Open flame torches and a pulsing venomous red light sparsely lit the dark basement. It was a rectangular chamber studded with many wood studs supporting the plank floor above. The cabal mages were at the entrance in a far corner and their target, Haxat the demon-summoner, was at the opposite corner next to a desk. Their ally, Young Jirek, tied to the chair next to him. Around them four small winged imps whom immediately went invisible.

Dressed in fine purple robes, rings aglitter on his fingers, and a gold and red agate necklace around his neck Haxat the demon-summoner had shiny blood red skin. His long oiled hair and beard were coal-black.

Suddenly the evil red light grew in brightness then disappeared with a bloody flash leaving behind a tall wingless imp its eyes burning in its sockets like orange embers burning in bleeding flesh. In its twisted clawed hands it wielded a long-handled battle-ax.

Excor and Fauna readied to charge into the fray spells blazing. Gornix moved inside and to the side casting Illuminate fully revealing the big imp and the rest of the room. Excor moved in after shooting a bolt of electricity at a suddenly visible imp as it made a flying kick at Gornix’s face wounding it. Fauna moved in but the wrack on her nerves caused her to flub her Lightning Bolt. Another imp appeared also kicking at Gornix’s head but missed. Haxat grabbed his red agate necklace activating Shield. Suddenly from the dark of the ceiling, two vipers dropped onto Excor, one striking but hitting his Shield dispersing it immediately. The second missed and hit the floor. Both reverted to their imp forms. The big imp missed Gornix with its ax. Szoo produced his fire naginata and struck the axe-wielding imp etching a neat rut in its vile hide.

Excor shot another electrical bolt at an imp but the imp jerked out of the way at the last instant. Gornix cast Chrono-Missile at the big imp injuring it. The first imp kicked again at Gornix but he parried its hoof easily with his staff. The second imp missed Szoo’s head as it too kicked. Fauna threw a Lightning Bolt at the first imp gravely wounding it. Haxat cast Mass Pain but all of the young mages were able to resist his evil magic. Imp number three sank its pointed teeth into Excor’s shoulder. The fourth exhaled his fiery breath catching all of the mages in the area of effect but Szoo was able to divert the flames around them blackening the wooden support beams surrounding them. The floor above groaned painfully.

Gornix cast Chrono-Missile on imp number one blasting it to screaming bits. Haxat hurled an Inferior Fireball at Gornix dealing very little damage to the young salt-lotus mage.

Excor cast Spook on the third imp who backed off and began to retreat towards the feet of its master, Haxat. The second imp made another kick to Gornix’s head nailing him. A trickle of blood ran down his forehead. Haxat hurled another small fire ball this time aimed at Szoo whom easily diverted it harmlessly away to crash into and scorch a brick wall. Gornix cast Ghost Form on himself as a precautionary measure. Fauna tried to lob a Lightning Bolt at imp number two but failed to get the spell off in the turmoil of battle. The fourth imp, who was still on the ground at Excor’s feet, went to kick the young mage in the shin but was parried. The big imp raised its axe over its head for the second time and hacked into Szoo’s flesh.

Excor stepped back from imp four and summoned three medium-sized earth elementals but was unable to control them. The first of the elementals slammed Excor significantly wounding him. The second stomped imp three horribly injuring it as it fled and the third punted the imp that was at Excor’s feet nearly killing it. Imp number two kicked at Gornix yet again its evil hoof passing harmlessly through his ghostly form. Haxat readied himself should a raging elemental approach, otherwise he was somewhat amused by the chaos. Gornix used his Dark Secret class ability on the Big Imp granting his companions a bonus to attack it. Szoo stabbed imp two drawing some blood with his fire naginata. Fauna tried to cast another Lightning Bolt at imp two and again failed. Imp number three ran under its master’s purple robes. The fourth imp’s kick had no effect on the third elemental.

As the earth-elementals were a greater danger to him and his allies, Gornix attempted to reverse the summoning spell but failed. Haxat’s mocking laughter rang from the basements stone walls. This bumbling bunch of wannabes only threatened him by way of their stupidity.

The big imp swung his axe at Szoo who easily parried the blow. Haxat crossed his arms and waited for the fools to do themselves in. Excor tried to reverse his summoning spell as he moved towards Haxat. He was unable to undo his own summoning. Szoo struck at the big imp. The naginata blade deflected by the axe. Gornix tried to cast an inverse summoning spell to undo Excor’s summoning but the magic got away from him going wild resulting in a blinding magical explosion. Szoo and Fauna tried to dodge the blast, failed, and were nearly killed. Both forced to make recovery checks to stay conscious. Gornix being at the epicenter was unharmed as was Excor, Haxat and his imp.

Shocked by the explosion and seeing that the earth elementals were following Excor towards him, Haxat began sweeping his papers and notes from the desk into a sack. Fauna cast Wizard’s Trick on Haxat in an attempt to reduce him to a “chicken” but the spell was stopped by the Shield spell protecting the evil mage. Gornix was finally able to reverse Excor’s summoning and the elementals instantly melted into the dirt floor of the chamber. Excor moved closer to where Jirek was tied. Imp number three lurched from his position near his master and spewed fire at Excor who was miraculously able to avoid the sulfurous flames completely. The flames had completely missed Jirek.

Haxat swept the last of his notes into his bag. Fauna tried the same trick but again it met another Shield spell. Gornix charged up towards Haxat and cast Chrono-Missile. The missiles of which dissipated harmlessly as they hit the purple robes one after the other. Excor slipped behind Jirek and pulled his dagger ready to cut his comrade’s bonds. After collecting his wits, Szoo slithered closer to the blood-skinned wizard.

As a result, Haxat let loose a cone of fire from his hands catching only Fauna in the flames. It stopped her dead in her tracks and forcing her to make a recovery check in order to “not die”. Gornix within range of his new spell cast Force Ram crushing Haxat against the brick cellar wall. Caught completely by surprise (Natural 1 dodge) and all of his Shield spells spent he had been helpless. A shocked silence followed the sickening crunch of bones and squishing of organs. Finally the third imp disappeared in a reeking puff of flame and brimstone.

All that was left of Haxat the Greater self-proclaimed menace of Skullhead was a puddle of squashed meat and blood, lots of blood.

Cris: “What about those robes?”

His robes were apparently intact but soaked in gore with large chunks of mutilated flesh ground into the enchanted fabric.

Cris: “Ughk. I pick ‘em up … Carefully! And cast Prestidigitation to clean ‘em and put ‘em in my pack. Oh and I uh, cut Jirek’s bonds.”

To Be Continued…

The Dark Lord: Building Better Lords of Evil

Another hubpages article from Robert A. Neri Jr. about constructing an effective Dark Lord in tabletop RPGs.Example Dark Lord - a Lich

The article examines the ever ubiquitous Dark Lord and how a Game-Master can set them up to be more emotionally impactful to players. It gives pointers on what strategies to use in the meta-game as well as which they use in-game.

The archetypal Dark Lord is a cliché for a reason but Game Masters can improve on them bringing an emotional weight to every battle binding the Players to their foe using certain techniques.

Read it Here.

Other Hubpages articles by Robert A. Neri Jr.:

Game Mastery: Establishing Atmosphere

Building Tabletop Myths

Handling Game Flow in Tabletop RPGs

Game Mastery: War as Set Piece

The regular weekly gameplay blog, The Cabal of Eight, will continue next week.

 

The Cabal of Eight Pt.20: Rats, Rowdies, and Imps

Gornix (played by Gil) the salt-lotus wizard was huddled over his makeshift lab and deep in study over a length of scroll Imp Doorcut for scratch as he continued his formulations. Jirek who had been acting as lab assistant through the night excused himself come dawn and left for his job at the Bardic College library.

With sunrise, the streets of Ezmer were beginning to awaken with street traffic, wagons, vendor carts, and all kinds of pedestrians. Among the teeming crowds and busy-bodies weaving through the tangle Excor (played by Cris) headed to the Red Helm tavern for breakfast. After a simple breakfast of eggs, salt fish, and honey-drizzled bittles he left to the Bazaar on a mission.

He was looking for small cages, grain/feed, and 2 gunny sacks. He bought 10 cages (3 sp ea.), two 5 lb. bags of feed (1cp/lb.), 10 clay finger bowls (2 cp ea.), and hired a porter at one silver piece for the day. Then the young mage and his hireling went to the lumber mill in the harbor and filled the two gunny sacks with saw dust for 1 copper piece per sack. After that, Excor and his porter dropped 5 of the cages, a water bottle, 1 sack of sawdust, and feed at Gornix’s apartment, the Salt-Lotus wizard barely paid heed to them as he worked at his makeshift spell-lab. After dropping the remaining 5 cages, 5 bowls, and 1 sack of sawdust at his own apartment he released the porter from his duty.

Meanwhile across town in the Harbor District, Szoo (played by Isis) left his attic room with his roommate Paej Hagída (“Paeng”) leaning on the naga using him as a veritable walking stick. Peaj was still “pacin’ the deck” from the previous night. Paej, a consummate saloon bum and an experienced Ferenoi sailor. She was a nearly seven-foot tall woman with a face as sunbaked and salt-cracked as any of the oldest of the salty dogs but also possessed of an exquisite Amazonian physique. These hardened and statuesque features cut an impressive visage and coupled with fists like barnacled mallets she was downright intimidating. One of her finer points was that she knew every watering hole in the city very well. Szoo had invited his under-the-weather roomy to Ahsh Khhas’ Coil for some hair-o-the-dog, his treat in the hopes the Ferenoi might have access to some info.

The pair limped their way across town hoofing it all the way to the hookah bar. Unsurprisingly, Paej was already well known there. The bartender without a word prepared and slid her ‘usual’ over to her as soon as she plopped down. It took several rounds for Szoo to start getting some valuable intel courtesy of Paej’s charisma massaged straight from the Scael bartender.

Isis: “Good! I’m almost out of money!”

The black-scale naga found out that Haxat the magnificent hung out at a place called The Rum Palace in the Eastern District. In addition, there’s a “black market” behind the place in a hidden courtyard which can be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Also the Bronzeheads were currently protecting the wanted Naga assassin-sorcerer Ssthriss somewhere in the old broken wall.

The 23rd of Early Summer, Gornix being finally finished researching his spell (Force Ram) headed to the tavern to join Excor, Szoo, and Fauna (played by Jenn) for breakfast. During the meal, Excor noticed that Fauna had burns on her palms and a fresh rope burn ringing her throat. He decided to keep that information to himself as the others didn’t seem to notice. After the meal they, as a group, decided to head over to and check out the Rum Palace.

First however, they decided to stop at the Pester’s Guild and find Doubab at Excor’s urging. They were seeking the rat-catcher in order to purchase some rats offering 1 gp each up to a max of 6 rats. So Doubab said to meet him that evening back at the Helm and he’ll have their rats “alive and bitey”. From there they doubled back west to the Rum Palace, which was not far from the Pesters’ guild house.

The Rum Palace as it turns out is an open front building in the small dirt courtyard before the broken wall where they had attended the rat fights more than a week ago. The split logs scattered in front were a place for its patrons to sit and drink. The Rum Palace consisted of a rundown single-floor building where open shudders revealed a bar from which the bar-back served the drinks. There was a gaggle of ruffians sitting on the split logs drinking and laughing spasmodically over crude jokes.

The young mages felt out of place and more than a little uncomfortable save for Gornix. He walked right up to the drunken ruffians and asked if any of them had seen a mage named Haxat. He was very nearly assaulted and just to avoid a fight he endured numerous mean-spirited insults thrown his way.

Fauna: “Maybe we should just get out of here.”

Isis: “I’m with her, we don’t belong here!”

Gornix: “No way! Let’s get one round of drinks and then go.”

Surprisingly they all agreed and elected Gornix to approach the bar. The bar-back was an obese human of Westlander extraction with an eye-patch, long, stringy, grey hair, and a rotten-toothed sneer. It seemed every time the mage asked for something the bar-back laughed at him and hurled “we don’t got that either” with an attached insult or joke at the mage’s expense. Eventually, Gornix found out that the place only served grog. Therefore, he tried to buy a ‘jack of grog’ for ‘two bits’ but he also found that he didn’t have a jack so he had to rent ‘the loaner’ for a silver piece, an obviously deliberate overpricing, from behind the bar. It turned out that it had a leak. The uproarious laughter of the ruffians and the bar-back answered the frustrated look on Gornix’s face.

Gil: “Aw man! I’m just a joke to these guys!”

Cris: “Yeah because they can probably kick our @$$es!”

As a result Szoo dropped some coin on the bartender. In turn the codger said, “Okay you can sit here at the board”.

Isis: “Um I was trying to bribe him for some info!”

The young mages rightly decided to not stay much longer. Just before they rose to leave Gornix suggested that they should find Wensaer the alchemist and see about joining the Obsidian Guild but the others declined. Instead, they decided as a group to go find Jirek to see if he didn’t find any more out about the golden bee. So they footed it to the Bardic College library. At the front desk, the clerk passed them a sealed note, an unfamiliar sigil stamped into the red wax. Gornix cracked the seal and began to read the note aloud.

So, there are those who would seek to keep me from my rightful property and interrupt my important work. I know of your pitiful little cabal and know each member’s name. I will seek each one of you out and destroy you. The first to face my wrath would be the betrayer Jirek Scribe of Arebas. If you would seek to seize your fates in your own two hands and value your comrade’s life meet me at the warehouse, I’m sure you know what I mean. Signed, Haxat the Magnificent the Menace of Skullhead.

Of course they knew which warehouse Haxat had meant and thus with great haste made their way to Jirek’s warehouse. On the way, Excor heard wings flapping overhead tracking their progress. When they reached their destination, they could hear wings flap over and behind the warehouse.

Gornix immediately tried to cast his new spell in order to knock in the front door. It seemed barred from the inside. He failed to correctly work the magic and the spell failed. In the meantime, Excor prophylactically activated his magic amulet of Shield. Gornix tried to cast his new spell again this time the magic got away from him (Natural 1 casting check). The spell was somehow inversed. As a result he was thrown back 50 ft. and suffered some mild bludgeoning damage to the chest. They all could hear the snickering of invisible imps on the roof.

Fauna: “Well, we’re in the right place.”

Fauna in turn cast Gaseous Form and slipped under the door. In the dark, dusty, and mostly empty warehouse she spied a stair down before lifting the bar opening the door. Gornix, last in line, was still dusting his cloak and pride off as he walked in. They decided the best course of action was to sneak down the stairs while being careful for traps.

That plan went mostly belly-up as Szoosha proved to be somewhat incapable of being quiet at all when he moved. Though, Gornix still kept his eyes out for any traps while they descended the short winding wooden steps. They stopped at an iron-bound wood door at the bottom of the stair. On the door was the red twisted face of an imp its mocking features twisting into a perverted grimace.

Door Imp: “Ah! Guests! The master said that I should greet you!”

Szoo was barely able to divert the flames of the creature’s breath weapon harmlessly away.

To Be Continued…