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The Cabal of Eight Pt.36: Serpent Haunted Ruins

The group circled around the corpse of a large serpent. Fauna (played by Jenn), Szoosha (played Serpent haunted ruins indeedby Isis), Excor (played by Cris), Gornix (played by Gil), Belrae the cabal leader, Riahm his right hand man, Ilna aka Bumble, and Jirek the scribe all stood around it. Xanto the Wasp poked his head from the carriage then uninterested, went back to his book. Just outside their perimeter stood and squatted two statues their faces frozen in petrified horror. They were the last remaining crossbowman and the last driver, victims of the serpent-monster’s supernatural glare.

The serpentine corpse’s scales were a dull magenta. It had an evilly curving beak and a pair of bat-like wings on its back. Gornix the Salt-Lotus Wizard leaned in and studied the corpse a little while longer than the others did.

Gil (to the GM): “Man! What is this thing called!?”

The GM (me): “A cockatrice, it’s in the new Monster Magnus.” I was referring to the as of yet unpublished Volume 2.

Finally, after a brief description the players had a laugh, as fundamentally the creature was a snake with a rooster’s head. It had been killed on first watch when it appeared and petrified the unfortunate hirelings.

Gornix (leaning towards the carriage): “Hey WASP! You talk a big game. Let’s see what you can do for these two!” He gestured towards the two statues.

Of course, Xanto couldn’t resist so he blithely stepped from the carriage. Gornix went further and tried, mostly in vain, to humiliate the elder mage by snidely inviting him to “de-petrify” the hirelings. Therefore, the Wasp pulled out a Flesh to Stone potion and did just that with a twist of the wrist pouring the arcane libation over the driver statue. Unfortunately, he had only the one bottle.

Xanto: “But! The crossbowman will be fine as long as he doesn’t tip over. But by all means be MY guest mageling.” He motioned towards the last statue. Embarrassed, Gornix just gave a shrug.

Come morning as the red and pink horizon began to burn ever-brighter gold, Arcan cooked up the last of the remaining food for breakfast, salt pork and hard tack in lard. They also split Szoo’s 45 days’ worth of rations amongst themselves to make sure nobody starved.

The sun was directly overhead beating down upon the barren red mars-scape of the Red Waste as the cabal’s carriage rolled towards the ruins that jutted up from the red plane like bleached ribs. Just behind the pillars of the ruins, they could see a steep rise, a low hill with the remains of black columns atop it. Around the area, they saw large thickets of dense pale green broad-leafed woody bushes. Also they noticed that surrounding the ruins was a deep gorge, at least 20 ft. deep with a mostly bush-concealed bottom. Below they could smell the brackish scent of moisture and hear the trickling of water.

Eager to get adventuring the party disembarked en masse leaving Arcan and the revived driver to find a concealed location to park and set camp. The rest of the adventuring party searched around the area finding another wagon laden with supplies but deserted. Marked with the arms of the Bardic College of Ezmer, it had been hidden in the bushes in a small clearing to the northwest. Excor grilled Belrae and Riahm whom told him it was indeed a college wagon but not one left behind on their previous expedition.

Excor: “Uhg. We have company. The college seekers came back lookin’ for somethin’.”

As a matter of caution, the cabal decided to circle the rim of the gap as a group. After circumnavigating the place, they determined that the best way across the chasm was most likely in the front (south on the map). However, Riahm and the other NPCs disagreed and wanted to try to find another way across that they had pointed at during the circumnavigation. The nearly hidden path they had used during the college adventure.

So the PCs and NPCs (led by the Wasp) split with the NPC party heading west from the wagons as Belrae and Riahm said they had the sure way. The reason the PCs did not follow them or argue the point was to put some distance between themselves and the Wasp.

The player group stood at the precipice at the southernmost point of the ruins. The sides of the cliff were shear on both sides and seemed a little “crumbly” in many places with most of the face composed of compacted dirt and clay with gravel and the occasional large rock. Simply put, climbing would’ve been suicide for most of them, maybe not for Fauna though.

Cris: “Well, yeah! We’re a bunch of damn wizards!”

While the others planned and argued about how to cross the gorge Fauna found a small depression on the cliff that allowed egress down onto a very narrow ledge in the face. It was a fissure carved by ages of rare rainfall. Of course, she began to climb down without alerting the others. So unnoticed she moved carefully and somewhat clumsily down. Without a rope.

Jenn: “Druid-style!”

She slipped and fell all the way to the bottom landing in knee-deep mud with about a foot of water on top. Completely hidden from those on cliffs edge by a canopy of leaves she got to her feet. Gornix noticed that the druid was suddenly gone. Szoo had heard the tumbling gravel and the splash. The next thing that the three mages atop the cliff could see was Fauna backing out into an area where they could see her in deeper water surrounded by four giant frogs.

Though the unnaturally sized animals were unexpected Gornix, Excor, and Szoo managed to collectively kill two of them. Fauna put the other two under her mystical control. The druidess then used her new giant frog mount to take her to the top of the other side. Gornix cast Mass Nature’s Ability: Winged Flight allowing him and the other two to get across.

They all landed on a paved area covered with several inches of dirt and debris. What they were standing on was an elevated solid stone foundation that set about 10 ft. above the actual cliff. Those that had flown had barely made the miscalculated journey before the spell expired. Before them was a depressed area that sank about 5 ft. via steps and had a dry fountain at its center. On a hunch, Excor pulled out the Amber Bee, Bumble’s paperweight, and noticed that it was vibrating in pulses. They proceeded.

The fountain was certainly dry but the thick layer of dirt and stone debris had been carefully cleaned from its basin revealing a tiled mosaic. The fountain mosaic portrayed gold lotuses and beehives in gold, brown, white, turquoise, and dark blue tiles.

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

Excor: “Too bad we can’t ask Belrae if they didn’t clean this out when they were out here.”

Szoo: “We have the medallions.”

Fauna: “Oh yeah.”

Cris: “Okay. You use the once a day charge on yours then.”

Isis: “Um. No?”

Gornix began to work his way carefully up the steps at the far north side of the fountain courtyard when he suddenly stopped. He had spotted something, as did Fauna.

Fauna: “Guys watch it we have company!”

Gornix: “They’re Nagas!”

Excor moved towards Gornix and activated his Shield. Fauna cast a Lightning Bolt at a warrior Naga crouching behind the other side of a nearby column. The warrior wore a peaked bronze helm, a bronze pectoral plate, and was armed with an Eagle Rake polearm. The lightning bolt had injured him. Gornix made it to the top of the steps and spotted a shaman just about 20 feet from him to the west. He cast Cloud Memory but the Shield from the shaman’s fetish that hung around his neck absorbed it. Another naga wearing only a bronze pectoral plate stepped out from behind a pillar and whipped his bullwhip at the second of Fauna’s frogs scoring its soft hide. A serpent creature slithered from out of nowhere towards Excor.

Excor: “STOP that Shaman!”

The shaman tried to cast a spell but failed (it was Mass Animal Form). Staying on the higher ground the warrior moved to where Szoo would be in his reach. Szoo hit the Shaman with a fire ray again hitting his Shield.

Excor cast Energy Tentacle at the long-snouted dull earth-colored serpent. It dodged easily moving closer to him. It struck suddenly wiping out his Shield. Fauna cast Wizard’s Trick at the Shaman; the fetish around his neck stopped her spell via the Shield spell. However, it fell apart and dropped from his neck. Gornix again tried to cast Cloud Memory on the Shaman who barely was able to resist its magic. The whip baring naga snapped at Fauna’s second frog again laying more of its soft skin wide open. The Shaman again tried to cast Animal Form Mass the players held their collective breath but he failed. The warrior used his rake to slaughter Fauna’s second frog. Szoo summoned his flaming naginata but stayed put.

Gornix turned and seeing that the warrior was bearing down on Szoo cast Paralyze I at him but the naga warrior was able to resist. The serpent reared and struck at Fauna. She parried its needle fangs with her dagger. Gornix slung Chrono-Missiles at the Shaman wounding him.

Gornix cast Chrono-Missiles at the serpent blasting a large section of its dull brown scales away exposing raw bleeding muscle. The warrior slithered down into the courtyard and swung his Eagle Rake at Fauna who parried his blow with her dagger. Szoosha used his polearm to strike at the Shaman’s throat but stopped short holding the burning blade to his throat.

Szoo: “Don’t you move!”

The serpent reared again and struck at Excor sinking its fangs into his arm. He took the full dose of its venom. It significantly weakened and horribly injured him. Excor took a step back and was able to cast Slow on the creature. The naga with the whip slithered down towards Fauna and tried to entangle her with his bullwhip but missed. Fauna tried to cast Lightning Bolt at the warrior but he took an attack of opportunity narrowly missing her. She failed the casting still distracted by the crack of the whip.

Gornix moved to a pillar for some cover. Szoo singed the shaman’s neck with his weapon holding him hostage. Excor pulled his copper spike and shot a bolt of electricity at the serpent killing it. The naga with the whip cried out in sorrow as he watched his pet die and seeing his shaman at the enemy’s mercy threw down his whip and surrendered. Fauna shouted threats to the warrior but was not at all intimidating in the delivery. However, seeing his shaman with a flaming blade to his throat, he too surrendered.

The mages grilled the nagas, they appeared to be Scael naga though of the lower classes. Their scales were a pale green scattered with black, brown, and pale yellow. A pair of corrupt college officials, a high-ranking curator and a seeker, had hired them as mercenaries. They were paid to protect them and guard the ruins while they were within. The mercs pointed to the northeast and said that a newly unburied passageway lies not more than 50 ft. away. The mages let the nagas slink away with their lives but not their weaponry.

The cabal mages moved into the large courtyard further north. It was dirt floored but they were positive paving lay under a thick layer of the earth. They all touched down from the 15 ft. height of the previous foundation; Fauna on her frog and the others using their wings from another Nature’s Ability spell from Gornix. By a large copse of dense bushes, they spotted a number of white rabbits tied to a stone near a pile of iron shackles. Fauna stooped down to talk to them.

They had been slaves brought to dig out the passage to the east transformed by the shaman after they completed their work. All Fauna could do for them was to free them.

Fauna: “I knew we should’ve killed those guys when we had the chance!”

Cris: “Says you! They would’ve killed me!” Excor cast Close Wounds on himself.

Fauna investigated the marble statue entangled half-hidden in the copse. The head recently hacked from the shoulders.

Over this courtyard towered a stony conical knoll with a black foundation and broken black pillars crowning it. The steep wide white steps that led up from the courtyard to the top were badly damaged ceasing to exist halfway up. The mages discounted going up the hill, as they’d have to climb or fly. They didn’t want to waste any more spells or risk the climb. They found some steps going up from the courtyard between two foundations headed east.

Gornix cast Alter Self to give himself winged flight and on a hunch flew up the hill to “check out” the black pillars. However, he didn’t see anything special. He had failed to spot the egg-shaped hollow in the black stone altar up there. He flew back down to rejoin his fellows as they moved up the steps to the east and onto another detritus strewn foundation. This one however had an open passage and steps leading down at its center. Freshly unburied piles of dirt and stones surrounded it along with the discarded tools. Gornix elected Szoo to take lead.

Szoo: “Fine! I’ll LEAD then!”

Excor used his medallion to communicate with Belrae. The other party had found another entrance and was heading down also. Gornix cast Magic Globe and Illuminate in tandem a glowing globe of light appeared before him under his mental control. With Szoo in the lead, they began their descent below the ruins and the broken black pillars.

To Be Continued…

 

Sick Day – No Post This Week

Unfortunately, the Cabal of Eight actual play blog will have to wait another week. I’ve come down with a nasty cold. I really hate being sick.

However, that gives me an idea for another Tabletop Meditations entry. Actually I have another as well. The Cabal of Eight will continue next week. That campaign blog is reaching its terminus soon btw.

More bad news it looks like there will be no new books for this year. The Dwarven project has fallen through and the company coffers are at an all time low. Life also became very busy this year swallowing up all of my time.

Next year the aim is to release 3 new books. Among those is the Ezmer Gazetteer for the Arvan campaign setting. The Dwarven project is on hold until late next year or until I can muster some resources.

Sincerely,

Robert A. Neri Jr.

The Cabal of Eight Pt.35: The Black Pillars

The group had traveled with no incident from the city of Ezmer. The train of two wagons and Helpful map for a wagon tripcarriage rolled along the Trade Road West out of the Ezmerian Headland. Under the experienced guide of Arcan the Wanderer, they were seeking the Black Pillars. All the while Excor (played by Cris) kept his eyes peeled for any shenanigans coming from the Wasp.

Cris (to the other players): “All of us, each of us, need to make spot checks constantly on the Wasp.”

Their first stop was within a few miles of the Necropolis. A driver was killed during the night, torn apart by some animal. The footprints into camp and around the corpse resembled a lion. However, Fauna (played by Jenn) couldn’t identify the creature though it seemed similar to a lion it had walked two feet as much as four. Unlike a lion it had not killed to eat, it seemed to have just killed the man then left the campsite. They buried the mutilated body after breakfast. Arcan took some time to get his bearings in guiding the adventuring party to the pass into the Mezrin Valley.

Around noon, they stopped the caravan to allow the horses to rest. As they munched on their rations, Xanto the Wasp regaled Belrae and Riahm with tales of his adventures. The thin villain claimed that he had slain a dragon rescuing his companions, a gaggle of sloppy, blundering dragonslayers in the process. Excor and Fauna shot him suspicious narrow-eyed glances. Soon enough the caravan moved on along the narrow path south.

Mountains rose to the immediate west and dense clumps of trees and thickets began to multiply in the distance. A few miles northeast snaked the Dragon’s Tail River. The road was a mix of yellow and white with large patches of mundane earth brown. The wagons came to a stop at Arcan’s signal. It was again time to camp.

On first watch, a scorpion stung a footman and on the second, a thunderstorm moved in dumping hot rain onto the brave adventurers. At first, the rain released the sweet scent of the prairie from the arid soil. It was fresh, a mix of rich clay and the mild reek of straw and yellowed grass. However, shortly after their departure, the desert freshness was gone and the atmosphere in the carriage cab was stifling. Thunder rumbled in the distance.

Trees, yellow and scrub pine, approached the road in clumps and patches. After a few hours, they began to encroach upon the road itself and soon the travelers were rolling through a thin wood. Shortly after they spaces between trees again began to increase and sun drenched glades started to break the wood apart more and more frequently. Another day passed as they traveled on. When they broke through the last clump of trees The mountains and low hills were close poised on either side of the road .  It was the pass into the valley.

Arcan guided the wagons slowly and carefully off the bend of the trade road as it turned west. The terrain flattened out though high purple mountains could be seen to the north and west with a distant ridge of hills rising in the south. The ground became lush with long pale green grass. Soon they surrounded on all sides by the tall grass. When they stood to see over the tops of the blades, they saw a seemingly endless shimmering sea of pale green. Arcan found a small clearing approved by Fauna for their campsite.

During the night, a pack of four dragonsauri attacked the camp during Gornix’s (played by Gil) and Szoo’s (played by Isis) watch. The mages managed to kill two while the other two were spooked away. They only lost a single footman who was dragged away by an unseen fifth during the fray. The only trace left of him, a long ragged red trail of blood leading deep into the tall grasses. Belrae had been wounded but healed himself after.

Morning. Arcan said he estimated about a day or two through the tall grasses when asked by Excor how much further the Red Waste was. The billabongs and hidden mires aside from the dragonsauri would be the worst risks now.

By around 3 pm they broke the grass and a light hot rain started as they rode out onto the Red Waste. The drizzle awakened an alien scent, a bitter smell with only the scant metallic hint of dead soil underneath it. Before them sprawled the Red Lowlands in every direction.  It seemed lusher with the harsh and fibrous flora of the desert than would be hinted at by the name the Red Waste. The sand was not even that red being more of a rocky reddish brown. Arcan assured them that the red waste was closer to the center of the Red Lowlands.

Arcan the Wanderer: “You’ll know when we’re within it. It’s unmistakable.”

The great purple moon appeared on the horizon as the sun slowly melted into an orange and red sea in the West. The ever-diminishing Wuhzigvir Mountains were sinking into the eastern horizon. Excor and Arcan were on the lead wagon along with a crossbowman and a footman. The carriage following the lead contained the cabal along with a driver and a crossbowman. Bringing up the rear the last heavily laden supply wagon had a crossbowman, driver, and the last of the footmen. The adventurers were shouting back and forth while the wagons slowed about where to set camp when a giant winged silhouette swooped out of the purpling blue of evening. It was a dragon.

The creature swooped down and blasted the last wagon with its fiery breath killing the horses and all aboard. The remaining drivers and Arcan spurred their horses on hoping in vain to try to outrun the dragon.The dragon had bronze colored scales and glowing jewel-like eyes, it was a Wher.

Fauna readied a spell in case the dragon should target the carriage. Excor pulled his Lightning Spike and activated his Jet Amulet of Shield. Gornix cast Amplify Magic on the dragon successfully enchanting the creature despite its resistance. The carriage driver spurred his horses on and turned away from the lead wagon. The wher swooped in again with its gnarled claws at the lead horse on the last supply wagon. Arcan tried to drive the animal to avoid the dragon’s talons but failed. It got the horse. He was able to maintain control of the wagon. Szoo cast Elemental Half-Plate Armor (Fire) on himself.

Fauna cast Wind Rush at the dragon to try to push it to the ground but it had no effect. Excor shot a bolt of electricity from his spike also without effect. Gornix cast Force Ram nailing the dragon badly injuring it. The Wher unleashed its breath at eh carriage but Szoo was able to divert the draconic flames harmlessly away. Arcan tried to turn the supply wagon in a directin directly opposite the carriage but instead flipped the wagon and crashed throwing him and Excor to the ground. The footman and crossbowman were killed.

The rough ride as the driver tried to outrun the dragon caused Gornix to fail in casting another spell. The wher with a mighty flap of its wings landed with a crash onto the roof of the carriage. Its claws pierced the ceiling visible from the inside of the cab. Gornix cast Force Ram through his wizard’s staff. He tapped the creature’s side as he leaned form a window crushing its ribs. They heard a sickening sound like a water-filled drum hit with a sledgehammer.

The dragon used its tail to batter at the carriage door causing splinters to fly but the wood held.

Excor stood up and dusted himself off. He survived the crash without injury due to his shield amulet. The carriage was a few hundred feet away. Gornix again channeled the same spell through his wizard’s staff but the dragon was able to resist his magic this time around. Distracted by the chaos of the fight Fauna found it impossible to cast Lightning Bolt. However, Szoo summoned his flaming naginata and dealt the deathblow causing the creature to unlatch its claws from the roof of the carriage and lurch into the air before it came crashing back down.

The carriage came to a stop and Gornix immediately jumped out. Fauna followed and they both raced to “harvest” the dragon’s corpse. Szoo saw that the Wasp had been gripping a medallion under his robes and had one of Bumble’s hands clasped tight. When he let go of the medallion Szoo could see that its gem seemed to be amber that contained a piece of what looked like mushroom.

Bumble ordered the driver to circle around and scoop up any crash survivors. Meanwhile Excor and Arcan inspected the wreck. One horse was fine. They gathered some essential supplies and waited for the carriage. Arcan was dirty and bloody but his wounds were mostly superficial. After an hour, the group left in search of a safe campsite far enough away from the dragon-corpse to avoid monstrous scavengers. Szoo bummed a jar of Hill-lander whiskey from Gornix so he could preserve the Wher eye he had cut out.

Come morning they left their campsite and a few more of their number behind after breakfast. They were now short of supplies, especially water, but were close to their goal. Arcan had wedged himself between the driver and the crossbowman.

The land had become increasingly desolate as they traveled on at an alarming rate. Any vegetation seemed to recede and shrivel away to nothing. Before they knew it, the land was flat and mostly barren save for the numerous rocks and gravel of varying size. The earth here was as red as blood. At the advice of Arcan they made a wide berth around a large and dense area of woody bushes that were very out of place against the barren prairieland. By evening, they could see the Black Pillars in the distance. Fauna cast Commune with Nature. In the direction of the Black Pillars, her spell was blocked.

With one more day of travel to go they set camp and settled in for the night.

To Be Continued…

The Cabal of Eight Pt.34: Expeditious Retreat

In one of the clubrooms on the second floor of the Red Helm Tavern Bumble regaled the Cabal of Eight with her news. Her father had conducted a dinner with the Black Knight/White Swan Sir Illin. She liked him; he was very nice and charming. The players all shrugged they actually liked him too.

Her father also had a closed door meeting with her master, the Wasp for some reason. She wasn’t able to listen in and her master has been tight lipped about it. She didn’t dare ask her father about it.

Her father, Baerox, also had a strange and tense meeting with another fellow just a day ago as well. The man was a half-naga in disguise. He appeared as a generic Ezmerian merchant or shopkeep. However, she was able to discern that he was cloaked in illusion. So, using a special hand lens she had lifted from her master’s desk when he wasn’t paying attention.

The stranger was a half-naga with black and red scales over his face. He had a pair of curved daggers with bejeweled pommels on his hips and a black cloak over his shoulders. Around his neck, he had a pet cobra! She was sure money exchanged hands from her father to the stranger’s purse.

Riahm, the bard, cut in and began to relay the information he was barely able to keep in as Bumble stumbled about. The seeker and curator that had led the expedition that he and Belrae had joined went missing about three days ago. The scout that had led the expedition was long gone and even then, he didn’t speak the Westlander tongue. This intriguing bit of information convinced the group that they have to move as quickly as possible.

The group began planning their trip and assigning roles to each. Gornix (played by Gil), the Salt Lotus Wizard, turned to Ilna.

Gornix: “You know you need to keep everything in these cabal meetings secret, right?”

Bumble: “Oh yeah. Of course everything in the Cabal is secret. Uhm. But I did tell my master about how you guys killed that devil summoner. He was very impressed.”

She smiled at Gornix, the players face-palmed.

Excor (played by Cris) extracted a diamond and a sapphire from the group stash hidden in the room to Bumble for her to procure a carriage, wagon, and supplies. She told him that she was sure her father would cut her a good deal.

Just before Belrae adjourned the meeting, the Cabal agreed to gather at the city gates on the 25th of High Summer, four days hence. The group rose from their seats. Riahm decided it was a good idea to accompany Bumble on her mission to get supplies and transpo. The mages filtered down in tote h tavern save Excor and Gornix. The pair had decided to plan which spells to exchange and study over the next four days before they left.

Szoosha (played by Isis), the black-scale naga fire elementalist, decided to just go back home. Fauna (played by Jenn) the druid decided to stay behind and sling a few down. It wasn’t long circulating amongst the rabble that Fauna spotted an interesting character loping into the taproom.

The man was wrapped in badly worn robes and shedding red dust as his leather boots, stained yellow form the road, plodded along the floorboards. A leather thong served as a belt with a simple dagger in a wooden scabbard tucked under it. His skin was burnt dark by the sun and his features cracked and chiseled by experience. She was able to make out a symbol on his robe that she didn’t recognize. Therefore, she decided to memorize it for later. He reminded her of some sort of shabby cleric or priest.

The stranger went up to the bar and Fauna immediately strolled up and paid for his drink. She found out that he was a “wanderer of the waste and deserts”. When he spoke, she could hear a slight Southland accent. Of course, she asked after the Red Waste and found to her delight that he indeed “knew it well”. It wasn’t long after getting his name, Arcan the Wanderer, that she had hired him for 8 gp a day to guide the Cabal to the Black Pillars in the Red Waste. She looked forward to seeing him at the city gates in four days.

The next day, while Gornix and Excor copied spells into their books, Fauna went back to the Black Barrel Tavern in the harbor district. There she found her “connect” and purchased 5 doses of Yellow Lotus for 2 sapphires and 500 gp.

Cris: “Sheesh! That’s expensive! You can just go to my contact, Babia.”

Jenn: “I thought she was out!”

Cris: “Oh yeah, I bought the last of her stuff this last time.”

As she left, one of the Bronzehead bodyguards seemed to recognize her but didn’t bother to say or do anything. Meanwhile Szoo went to the city bazaar and picked up some rope, a month’s rations, and at Gornix’s request, a cask of ale.

Later that afternoon Fauna met up with Szoo at Wensaer’s Alchemy Shop. They purchased 10 smoke bombs for 100 gp. Szoo bought 3 healing potions for 2 sapphires and 100 gp. Finally, Fauna bought 1 potion of Disguise. The druid went back to the bazaar to pick up some insect netting.

By evening, the pair were back at the house in the North Quarter. Szoo and the druid decided to smoke some Yellow Lotus in the courtyard, which Fauna referred to as “the garden”. Consequently Szoo was knocked out by the drug and suffered a strange vision. She dreamt of an old wizard with weird eyes that cast a spell trapping a golden bee in a piece of amber. Not long after Szoo went unconscious, Gornix and Excor took a “lotus break” as well.

The following day Excor purchased an arming doublet for himself and Gornix decided to hunt down his contact in the Pesters’ Guild, Doubab. Eventually he caught up with Doubab at the Rum Palace (see The Cabal of Eight Pt. 20: Rats, Rowdies, & Imps). After having a “talk” with the rat-catcher in “a very quiet place” that accomplished nothing, the Salt-Lotus Wizard left. He wanted to look for a fighters’ guild so he could hire more bodyguards.

While on his way along the main drag heading south to the South Market District, he spotted a group of checkered knights and leading them? The White Swan accompanied by a Hyvalian paladin. He immediately ducked behind a corner and went invisible. He waited where he was as they passed and overheard something about Creschan Fire. Just as they passed, he also heard Sir Illin, the Black Knight/White Swan, mentioned that the White Knight/Black Swan was hunting down some mage-assassins in the city.

The morning of the 24th of High Summer – Excor decided to hire a courier to deliver a message, written the night before, to Sir Illin. It read: The people you seek work for Virtra. – Signed a Friend.

Cris: “There. Now they’ll be looking for her. Hopefully it’ll buy us some time while we get out of here.”

On their way to the main gate, the mages stopped by the cabal room to retrieve the amber bee. They had hidden it there for safekeeping. Eventually they got close enough to catch a view of their expedition’s caravan. There were two supply wagons and a carriage. All marked with the Nezorik family arms.

There were a few footmen, a driver and a crossbowman on each wagon and among them a familiar warhorse. They ducked as soon as they saw the Black Knight mount it. The mages held up behind the corner of a building for many tense minutes. They had no idea what to do. Suddenly, a messenger jogged by, a sealed letter in his teeth.

Hence Excor peeked around the corner and watched the runner make a beeline right to Sir Illin. Suddenly the Knight tore off at full gallop as a result of reading the note. The young mages mashed themselves against the wall trying to stay as hidden as possible as he charged by.

Cris: “Damn. I guess he knows who she is.”

Isis: “So much for time!”

The group ran to the carriage. There they met up with the other members of the Cabal. Ilna told them how her father gave them a full load of provisions and plenty of water and ale as well as a few troops and drivers. The mages finally let out a breath of relief. Almost as a result of their ease the carriage door opened and out popped Xanto the Wasp in his yellow and black stripped glory.

Xanto (his arms stretched open above his head): “Ah! My friends, dear friends! Are you ready for adventure this will be such an adventure! But never fear I am here!”

Bumble: “My father said he had to come to keep watch over me. But you guys said it was okay already right?”

The players rolled their eyes and let out a collective groan.

To Be Continued…

 

The Cabal of Eight Pt.33: Night of the Moon Rat

The corpses of a sailor and hill-giant blocked the narrow alleyway that led to Fauna’s rental. A few Map of Fauna's rental with each character's respective roomof Gornix’s bodyguards were starting to drag the corpses to the street. In the brief but brutal fight two bodyguards had been injured. Fauna found a note on the sailor along with 1,000 gold pieces. Finally, the mages were upset with Excor. During the fight he had simply walked away.

Cris: “What!? I knew you guys could handle it. None of you are even hurt!”

Gornix: “Oh yeah what about my bodyguards? Those guys are not cheap!”

Excor (sarcastically): “PFFT! Body guards.”

The mages went into their separate rooms. Fauna settled in the main room at a small table. She studied Haxat’s notes by candlelight late into the night.

The following afternoon Szoosha accompanied by two of his guards walked to the tailor shop that had sold him his cloak. The black scale naga was clothes shopping. He spent almost an hour in the shop but couldn’t find anything to his liking even considering a pair of breeches or even silk slippers.

Jenn: “Um aren’t you a snake person? Half snake?”

Isis: “Oh yeah I forgot I don’t have legs!”

After he was finished looking around, he was hoping that by chance he might run into Virtra Wefa, he walked out the door. Both guards were gone. A little miffed and with paranoia stroking his scaly neck, Szoo turned to a vagrant in a dirty robe face covered in long yellowed white hair.

Vagrant (pointing at a nearby alley): “They went into that alley.”

Szoo dropped 10 silver pieces into his begging bowl.

Vagrant: “A little guy in black stole something from one and they both chased him into the alley.”

With that, Szoo rushed up to the entrance into the alleyway. However being of a slightly nervous disposition he flattened himself suddenly against an adjacent wall and peeked around the corner. Lying in the alley on the ground were the two guards, dead, with their throats cut.

Isis: “Oh BOY! Oh NO!”

Szoo jerked his head to the beggar but saw only a fake white beard lying on the ground right next to where he was. Because of that, the naga beat it back to the house. He was in such a panic that he did not take into account that the potential assassin was following.

Gil: “Aw man!”

Cris: “Now he knows where we live!”

The group secured the house the best they could. Gornix posted two guards inside at the entrance, two in the main room, and one at the inside back door. The back door led to a small-enclosed courtyard that Fauna used as her room. They had to drag her into the house. She remained in the main room lying on an old couch that had come with the place.

Gornix locked himself in his room to do some spell research. He had built a makeshift laboratory within. Excor had locked himself in his room. He had built a lab in his room as well. Szoo locked himself in his room and hid under his bed sheets.

The day passed into evening and then into late night. Fatigued the guards carried on with their duties. The mages continued their research, Fauna was growing bored, and Szoo was asleep, his window shutters firmly jammed shut with a dagger.

Fauna yawning turned to strike up a conversation with the guard at the back door. However, he wasn’t there. Instinctively she looked down. There was his body lying in a pool of blood, a shuriken lodged in his neck.

Fauna (frantically motioning to the guards): “HEY! HEY!”

The lead guard immediately knocked on Gornix’s door asking for him by name. The Lotus Wizard opened it and the guard apprised him of the situation. The guards had gathered in the main room and were searching the rafters and the darkness beyond with their eyes. Their agitated spears were ready to thrust at the slightest movement. After the Westlander style, the rafters were exposed with a walkway above the bedrooms.

Gornix joined his men. Excor remained in his room but was prepared to “blast the f@c#in’ door” if anyone should try to get in. He had also jammed his bedroom shutters with a dagger. Fauna was standing at the ready next to Gornix and his guards. Szoo readied himself should anyone or anything try to break his door in.

Fauna spotted a small black shadow darting about above them.

Fauna: “THERE! He’s THERE!”

The guards blindly jabbed with their spears but hit nothing. A blade whistled through the air and hit a guard in the throat. Arterial blood sprayed over the floorboards as he fell dead.

Gornix: “$#&t! He’s picking us off!”

Gornix cast Illuminate through his staff creating a makeshift arcane spotlight. For only a moment they all spotted a small black clad ratling caught in the light.

Gil: “Whhat!? A ninja ratling!?”

Jenn: “Aww! How CUTE!”

The GM (me): “HEY! He’s not cute he’s freakin’ DEADLY!”

Cris (beginning with a sound of disgust): “A moon rat! Great.” A Moon Rat is a ninja variant for ratlings in the Arvan setting.

The mage led the demoralized guards up a stepladder to the walkway above the rafters. The ratling assassin engaged one guard and wounded him badly with its razor sharp sword. It quickly retreated out onto the rafters as the guards tried to stick it with their spears. Gornix bided his time hoping to cast the fight-ending spell but he was also having a hard time keeping an eye on the quick and elusive creature.

The ratling soon realized that it had been a mistake to retreat to the rafters as the guards’ spears had the reach to make his position a disadvantage. As a guard began to shakily step onto a narrow rafter against Excor’s advice, he somersaulted over their heads towards the hayloft door at the front of the house at the end of the guard-populated walkway.

The assassin immediately ducked through the door and into the hayloft above the stable. The guards immediately followed as did Gornix. As soon as he got a clear-shot Gornix cast Inferior Fireball at the moon rat but it easily avoided any damage. The guards leapt down to the stables floor from the hayloft and pursued the ratling into the alley, out into the street, and out of view.

Gornix just shrugged and went back to his room to continue his research. Fauna went to check on Szoo who eventually let her into his room.

After almost half an hour there was a knocking on Gornix’s door. He immediately stopped what he was doing. Whoever it was hadn’t called for him by name as the guards had. Gornix then asked “who’s there” but was met with silence. Therefore, he readied a spell and opened the lock.

The door burst open and the ratling charged over the threshold. Gornix cast his spell just in time. Black ribbons of shadow energy snagged and entangled the little killer. Its sword on the floor, the curved blade oiled with a strange substance, poison.

Gil: “I’m going to lose another guard.”

Cris: “Another guard! They’re all dead.”

It chittered angrily at the Lotus Wizard. Gornix tried to interrogate the creature but got nowhere fast. So he cast Spook to try to loosen the ratling’s lips a little. In response, it had turned its ring that concealed a poisoned needle into its palm and squeezed. It was dead in seconds.

The mages gathered in the main room and tried to “strategize”. After several minutes of bickering Gornix got fed up and asked Fauna for the note she took off the sailor’s body the night before. She handed him the scrap of paper. On it was descriptions and names, their names and their descriptions. He cast Clairvoyance on the note and knew immediately who wrote it.

Gornix: “Virtra Wefa sent the two thugs. She probably sent the rat.”

Isis: “So what’re we gonna do?”

Excor just shrugged and started walking back to his room. Just before he shut and locked his door to continue his arcane research he said, “We’ll get our throats cut when we sleep”.

Isis: “What!? I’m not coming out of my room until morning!”

Undaunted Fauna went out to the stables, cast Communicate with Animals, and told the horse and then her chickens in the courtyard, to let her know when “anyone’s around”. The rest of the night passed quietly enough however.

Over the next five days the group brewed potions, researched, and Excor tended the fighting rats. Eventually the time for the next cabal meeting arrived.

To Be Continued…

 

The Cabal of Eight Pt.32: The Gold Lotus

The 14th of High Summer – The cabal of eight once again found itself convened in the close Gold Lotus Illustrationquarters of the dingy clubroom on the second floor of the Red Helm Tavern. At the head of the table the dusky Belrae Crokosa his purple robes emblazoned with a green frog. To his left sat Riahm Iziani in patterned blue silk and his half-brown half-green cloak thrown from one shoulder, his yellow silk neck sash exchanged for a white lace one.

Continuing to the right around the table sat Ilna of Nezorik aka Bumble in her yellow and black stripes, next to her was Jirek the Scribe of Arebas in his plain brown robes diligently scrawling down the minutes. Next to him sat Gornix in white robes and grey cloak with the salt-water lotus and starfish emblem on the back. Further right sat Excor dressed in fine patterned burgundy robes with a purple waist sash and a blue cloak around his shoulders with a silver clasp at his throat. Fauna sat quiet wrapped in a dirty but stylish green cloak with gold trim. Szoosha sat coiled next to the south window his copper bracers gleaming in the white beams of sunlight, his red cloak and cowl with gold trim draped over his black scaled shoulders.

A round robin began at the table with Jirek whom recounted his rescue from Haxat the Greater menace of Skullhead [see The Cabal of Eight Pt. 21: Blood Red] mostly for Belrae’s and Riahm’s benefit. Bumble didn’t have much to report other than her mage training and attending a few functions with her father. When it came to Belrae and Riahm they revealed that their nearly four week adventure had led nowhere.

The Bardic College had hoped to find the remains of an ancient library in the Red Waste in some newly discovered ruins. However, all they found was a hard to access overgrown mess where a few black pillars on a hill were the most interesting thing about it. The others asked about who led their little expedition but the names were not familiar. Jirek had gasped at the part with the black pillars but nobody noticed.

It came to Gornix; his companions were eyeballing him hoping that he’d keep some of their secrets. He spilled his guts about almost everything though he still had sense enough to keep the political assassination thing close to the breast.

Gil: “I can’t really lie. I feel like I have to tell them.”

Gornix went on about the rescuing of Jirek and the trouble with the Sapphire Guild [see The Cabal of Eight Pt.23: The Trial of the Cabal]. He spilled the skinny on the rat-fight scheme, Jirek kicked him under the table. Then he started to talk about his bodyguards.

Belrae (acknowledging the men in the hallway outside the clubroom door): “I was about to ask you about that.”

Gornix then began waffling as Belrae then asked about how were they able to afford guards from the Yellow Spears Company. Szoo cut the stammering Lotus Wizard off and told Belrae that they managed to slay a dragon on an “herb hunt” outside of the city. It was apparent on the faces of Belrae and Riahm that they knew their compatriots were leaving something out but had already decided to drop it.

Gil (with genuine concern on his face): “Ya know I feel we’re distancing ourselves from the cabal, keeping secrets and stuff from them.”

Szoosha and Fauna proved to be tight-lipped and nobody expected Excor to be forthcoming about much anyway. Therefore, the conversation inevitably turned towards politics. It happened that the Oaks nominated a favored candidate, not Virtra Wefa [see The Cabal of Eight Pt.24: Plate of Scorpions], and the Gold Sashes nominated one Anat the Gold-Lipped. The Gold Sashes man had promised to “bring the South-West District to order and to cancel the franchise of the Bronzeheads so all of Ezmer’s citizens can share in its good fortunes.” All present agreed that that was generally a bad idea.

Then as the conversation wound down Belrae mentioned the gossip of the day: The hit on the swans. The guilty four plucked at their collars.

Belrae: “Can you believe it!? Somebody actually thought to get away with almost killing the White Swan?” He chuckled, as did the rest.

The players all laughed along with the rest though as more of a nervous reflex than anything else. Jirek had something to say and by appearances was barely able to contain himself though he politely waited until Belrae finished.

Meanwhile Belrae cleared his throat and announced that the medallions they had all chipped in for at the very beginning (I forgot to blog it) were finished. To each cabal member he passed out a Copper Medallion of Whisper. Engraved on the smooth faces of the medallions were the eight representations of its members, they had no guild symbol. Belrae’s frog, a flute for Riahm, a bumble-bee for Ilna, for Jirek a compound Hyvalian glyph for “Scribe of Arebas”, a lotus and starfish for Gornix, a druidic symbol for Fauna, and Excor’s Sigil. Each medallion could send a whispered message to one or all medallions once a day.

Jirek put his medallion on and impatiently snatched a partial scroll from a leather scroll case. He turned to Gornix and presented him the scroll. He found it while doing research. The group had him doing research for them concerning golden bees and lotus in the college library since he had access. On the partial parchment was the picture of a black columned gazebo surrounded by golden honeycombs. A single golden lotus grew from the black floor. The scene was set in a barren red landscape though flowering greenery surrounded the gazebo and honeycombs.

Jirek gave the White Lotus Wizard the scroll in exchange for his life debt. It was a very old parchment. It also seemed that the picture had long ago been cut from whatever text it had been a part of. The scroll probably had been sold as an art piece somehow finding its way into the college library.

Voices raised and began to speed into excited chatter and the entire cabal gathered around the scroll as Gornix kept it flattened on the table. As Belrae and the others surmised that, the black pillars from his and Riahm’s expedition were the same as those pictured on the scroll Gornix cast Clairvoyance. The White Lotus Wizard realized through his psychic vision that the black gazebo indeed lay somewhere in the farthest region of the Red Lowlands, in the Red Waste.

Gil (shrugging): “I needed confirmation.”

Suddenly, our heroes became paranoid barraging Riahm and Belrae with questions. They did find out that the pair were never told exactly what they were looking for. That is aside from the ancient library line which they had suspected was a put on.

Our four heroes decided to embark on a new adventure, a quest to find the golden lotus and golden bees, with the help of the full cabal. Jirek accompanied by Belrae and Riahm would do more research in the college library and present their findings next meeting. Fauna would continue to dig through Haxat’s notes (she had been perusing them here and there even during the meeting).

It turned out that Haxat had been after the royal jelly of the gold bees. In his quest that had spanned years, he had trekked the vastness of the Skullhead Forest. There he had discovered the artifact, Bumble’s “paperweight”. He had also murdered his adventuring companions in the process.

Bumble mentioned that her master could help. After all, the “paperweight” was his. The players let out an audible groan. Then Cris had second thoughts and the arguments began. Eventually they agreed that Bumble’s master might be helpful. So they allowed her to go tell her master, Xanto the Wasp. With that, Belrae adjourned the 6th meeting of the Cabal of Eight. Belrae, Riahm, and Jirek broke for the college.

Bumble stood up as if she was on some sort of official mission and turned to go fetch her master. As she hit the door Fauna suddenly jumped up and ran after. The druid grabbed the pudgy girl by the elbow. Fauna turned to her companions and said, “Getting the Wasp involved is a BAD move guys!”

Fauna: “Let’s keep this in the cabal. If I can find out more info about the bees and the red lands that would be better.”

The others grudgingly agreed and Bumble seemed defeated as she agreed to keep the cabal’s adventure from her master. After that, they retreated to the bar. Draega immediately fluttered up to Fauna just as she stepped into the taproom.

Draega Skullshine: “So where were fearless leader and his groupies off to in such a rush?”

Fauna: “They had to take a s#*t!”

Laughing he put his hands to her dirty cheeks “Oh my charming lovely girl, Come let’s get you a free drink!”

Gornix slapped down 10 gold pieces for a bottle of Hill-lander whiskey and left with Szoo following. Behind them Fauna and Excor followed shortly thereafter.

Gornix and Szoo approached the alley entrance as they returned home. They kept an eye on a suspicious character leaning against the wall. He was a bare-chested human in a brown leather vest, probably a scurvy ridden seaman. On his bare chest was the black tattoo of a coiled serpent. He was cleaning his dirty fingernails with his dirk. The mages watched him as they moved past him into the dark alley. Suddenly as if from nowhere, there stood a hill giant with a two-handed mace and a similar tat on his bare chest. When they looked back the suspicious sailor and stepped into the alley behind them.

Isis: “We’re TRAPPED!”

Suspicious Sailor (drawing a cutlass with his free hand): “Well, well, a pair of soft young mages eh? This’ll be easy money.”

To Be Continued…

 

Off-Brand Adventurers

Here’s a little ramble about the traditional character class breakdown of the typified RPG Hands of Designadventuring group. This includes how this tried and true combination of classes helped to shape the core of the Dice & Glory game system. It’s not a history lesson or based in anything more than experience and opinion; just my two-cents.

The Standard Party

The bedrock of most fantasy RPG sessions is the Standard Party. This Standard Party consists of the Fighter, Mage, Thief, Healer class combo. That is four members of the group are playing characters of one of the aforementioned character classes. This combination of classes was born along with roleplaying games, consisting of primarily the Fighter and Mage classes. These shortly followed by the latter two.

This formula for group formation evolved out of necessity. It was shaped by the type of game that was dominant at the time of their creation. The Mage and Fighter evolved from the transition from war-game to the first tabletop roleplaying games. They serve as the group’s main firepower with the mage in the rear ranks and the fighter in the front.

The Thief came to be when games moved further from pure strategy and warfare into adventuring and dungeoneering. The thief’s place is either firing a crossbow bolt from the shadows or trying to sneak around for some good ole backstabbin’. They also often have the skills to try to carry out another task while the others hold off threats.

The Healer on the other hand is a support type character. They may have a certain level of combat ability but nowhere close to the Fighter. They may also have some interesting skills akin to the thief or even a few spells up their sleeves like the mage. However their primary purpose is healing the fighter and the others when necessary. The Healer commonly takes the shape of a priest/priestess or other holy type person, traditionally a Cleric.

Four Corners of the Square

These four (Fighter, Mage, Thief, Healer) are the core of the traditional RPG Player Character adventuring group. This type of group is equipped to deal with most challenges that have been formulated within the roleplaying hobby. They can meet most monsters or guardians or a challenge on par with their character levels blow for blow. These adventurers can tackle most barriers to their progress like traps and locked doors because of the thief. They have an extended endurance granted by the healer, and a few surprises in the form of the mage’s magic.

The Advantages of the Well-Balanced Group

This type of party is the easiest for Game Masters from the most experienced to the least to handle. There is an overabundance of material for GM’s (of all skill levels) where these types of groups are concerned. Often the Standard Party is referred to in the materials as “a well-balanced group”.

This allows the Game-Master to be able to make minor predictions of the outcomes of certain encounters with a reasonable amount of accuracy. The only factor in this foresight would be the randomness of the dice (to me the fun part). Certain game systems make attempts to regulate the randomness of dice in various ways. But I’m not concerned with those at the moment.

This basic type of foresight allows the GM to construct a story-like session, work from lists and such specifically crafted for their players, and to improvise when necessary. All of this with a fair amount of certainty. In a basic sense, the game is easier to run. You can even add in extra less specialized or more specialized characters to the core group.

Of course, this grants the Johnny-come-lately’s a more diverse choice concerning character class. Therefore, it has a disadvantage for the players if they desire a more variegated choice. Moreover, sometimes players that are the core group don’t want to play the traditional types of adventurers. Or they may be unwilling to serve their stereotypical group role leaving one or others wide open (often the mage). This may necessitate the selection of an unconventional mage type character to compensate.

Shaping the D&G System

The Core Group helped to shape the range of base character classes (or class types) in the Dice & Glory game system. First, I tackled the range of choice of course keeping the core classes: Fighter, Mage, and Thief, which I generalized into the Rogue but the Healer was split by more generalization into a number of possible different class types.

These other class types were add-ons but could also be a part of the “core” in certain types of campaigns. The new class types I added being: Adventurer, Brick, Clergy, and the Psychic (a classic add-on class in other fantasy games and an alternative to a mage in sci-fi settings). Potentially any of these could be included as a core member or substitution. For example the Brick was designed to be tougher than the fighter but with a focus on enduring damage rather than dealing it. A Brick was intended to be the defense for such rear guard character classes as the trad Mage.

The range of variations on each of these basic classes for Dice & Glory is potentially endless and can be used to assemble an Off-Brand adventuring group more often than not. This allows maximum player choice but may put more stress on the GM. The GM gains a steeper learning curve and needs time to acquaint themselves with the individual characters and their abilities. This typically by testing them with minor situations and simple mooks, glass-canons, and what-have-you.

The XP Patch

This difficulty for the GM and expansion of choice to near infinity necessitated that the experience point system (I chose to go with a point and spend system) give difficulty ranks to creatures, situations, and barriers as well as give specific challenge values to certain Player actions. It gives the players options to increase their Experience Points (XP) gains to adjust for any challenges that may slightly exceed their character capabilities in the potential future.

In summation, an Off-Brand Group is more difficult for a GM to handle than a Standard Party. However, players have more class options and the potential for off-kilter and non-standard adventures are greater. This necessitates an adjustment period, which can have its own advantages.

The Adjustment Sessions

A Game-Master when dealing with a non-standard party needs to delve into exploration sessions during an extended adjustment period. During this time, the PCs find and settle into their roles and the GM tests, prods, and poke the characters and group. This so as to find their strengths as well as their weaknesses. Personally I have found this adds a certain richness to the game. An ability that a core group ready to launch from session-one lacks.

These sessions can also have a trial-by-fire effect on the group. Uniting the players and hardening their resolve to play their characters through hardship. This odd group can be pretty far from the standard model altering the paths of adventure onto new avenues. The GM will find their alteration of standard adventures to fit the group as they get to know the characters and the overall group dynamic can take them far from the beaten track.

The Final Blathering

The Standard Core Group found throughout the history and the present of fantasy RPGs is a tried and true model for assembling adventuring groups. Nevertheless, it can be a little restricting and maybe a little boring as well. However, the class choice of a PC group influences the shape of the adventure that they can handle and concerning GM prognostication. The character composition of the group alters everything about the game and in certain instances can unbalance a ruleset not designed or capable of handling them. Although an Off-Brand group that is wholly off model is a challenge to the GM it can also take the game to strange and interesting new places. So GM’s select your medium (ruleset) carefully and don’t shy away from unconventional groups.

Afterword

Note that Race in RPGs is very similar in effect to Character Class and though it can have an effect on the game similar to class, it is often not as severe. The same issues can arise: game balance, player choice, and GM difficulty but if they are well designed these are mitigated by the setting and the GM themselves.

The Cabal of Eight will return next week.

 

The Cabal of Eight Pt.30: Black Day

The impact of the magical force tore off the black swan’s/white knight’s great helm and sent himBlack, White, & Bloodied and a few splinters of carriage flying. A blast of ice spears hit Szoosha (played by Isis) through a window from inside the carriage. The naga attempted to dodge but failed. Gornix (played by Gil) cast mass Ghost Form again. The white knight pulled out a potion of maximized Heal and drank it. His wounds miraculously closed restoring him to full health. In the distance, the black knight, in full control of his mount now, was charging back towards the fray. Fauna (played by Jenn) tried to command the black knight’s horse once again to turn tail but failed as the animal was too far away.

Hufom peaked out of the window and ghostly white flames erupted from his palms in a cone at Gornix. The flames only slightly singed his phantom form. Gornix responded with an Elemental Blast (frost) which the ratling easily dodged landing near Fauna. The white knight stood up and pulled his weapon, his war-hammer. The black spurred his charging mount forward. Fauna attempted to cast Wizard’s Trick on Hufom but couldn’t get the spell off. Szoo threw flames on Hufom but the fire didn’t even singe his whiskers.

Gornix summoned two large-sized earth elementals next to the white knight. He was forced to dodge their stony grip. The black knight was near and very soon would charge right into the fray. His light lance lowered and aimed at Szoosha. Gornix slung chrono-missiles at the white knight injuring him even through his armor. The black knight came roaring into battle trying to skewer Szoo though the naga was still able to dodge away.

The GM (me): “Um. You know you’re still under his Ghost Form spell right?”

Meanwhile 10-miles north of the battle on the trade road Excor was trudging along the dusty road having finally reached it from where he had teleported. From behind him, a small caravan of Southern Nomads came trundling along. They asked if he wanted a ride but he refused.

Cris: “Hell no I’m not taking a ride with gypsies! They’ll rob me blind and leave me naked and tied up out in middle of the desert!”

The nomad caravan trundled away into the distance, a gaggle of young women (each an exotic mix of human, faun, and naga) waved and winked to him from the back of a covered wagon as it disappeared into the distance. The bitter mage just kept walking north along the road.

To the south however, the battle raged on. The white knight gripped his war-hammer with both hands and said a prayer but nothing else seemed to happen. The black knight shouted out what also seemed to be a prayer as he reared about on his horse. Szoosha suddenly became solid losing all bonuses and abilities from the active mass Ghost Form spell. Fauna once again attempted Wizard’s Trick this time aimed at the White Knight but again she failed the casting. Hufom cast Ghost Fire at the druid. Her shield spell caught the damage. The earth elementals slammed their fists into the white knight injuring him badly. Gornix attempted to cast Force Ram on him again but failed.

The white knight’s hammer did little to the stone behemoths assaulting him. The black knight circled around and decided to try to stick Fauna but his lance passed harmlessly through her as he rode by. Fauna tried to use Wizard’s Trick yet again, on the black knight this time but again her spell failed. Hufom tried to cast Ghost Fire but the spell went wild resulting in a sudden explosion of magical energy. Fauna dodged away from the blast as it would have injured her even in ghost form. Szoo was caught and needed to do a recovery check or be instantly killed. The white knight also dodged. The elementals were chipped and pitted but were still almost at full strength. Gornix cast Force Ram at the black knight knocking him from his horse and horribly injuring him.

The black knight threw his helmet to the side and drank a potion as he sat up. Hufom cast Ghost Fire again catching Fauna and Gornix in the silvery flames but causing only a little actual damage. Gornix cast Force Ram again at the white knight but he dodged.

Gornix’s elementals attacked the white knight. He dodged the first blow but the second smashed into him. Blood spewed from his mouth and nose. Gornix cast Force Ram once again at the white knight forcing him to dodge yet again.  The black knight got to his feet and drew his black mace. Szoosha still on the ground from the magic explosion simply stayed down and “played dead”. Hufom cast Ghost Fire again at Fauna, who bumbled right into the blast in her effort to dodge it. She was in bad shape.

Gornix cast Force Ram again on the white knight forcing him to dodge again but this time the spell still smashed into him pushing him into the carriage. Luckily, he wasn’t pinched in between the wagon and the magic force avoiding crushing damage (he got a successful luck roll to avoid the crush). The wagon overturned with a crash. He was barely staying on his feet.  The black Knight screamed at Gornix and attacked but his mace passed harmlessly through the mage’s ghostly form. However, Gornix felt as if the strange weapon had stirred his ghostly vapors. Hufom cast Ghost Fire at Fauna again forcing her into a recovery check to avoid death.

Gornix tried to cast another spell but the spell failed. The black knight swung again and this time his mace connected dealing minor damage to the salt-lotus mage. Hufom again cast Ghost Fire at Fauna catching her again. With a shriek, she collapsed to the ground.

Meanwhile in the north, a group of farmers drove by Excor but completely ignored the lone and dirty mage. He sighed and kept walking. A sudden gust of wind blew a small cloud of yellow dust across the road.

The first elemental smashed a fist into the white knight flinging his body like a ragdoll into the air. His limp form fell into a clump of high yellow grass off road. The second tried to grapple the black knight but he was able to stave it off. Gornix tried to cast Cloud Memory on Hufom but the ratling wizard fought off the magic, barely (he rolled within 1 pt. of the save). Hufom moved up towards Gornix and cast Ghost Fire at the salt-lotus mage dealing a little damage to him. The black knight swung on Gornix again but his weapon passed harmlessly through. Szoosha meanwhile crawled to Fauna and pulled out a potion uncorking it with his teeth.

Again Gornix tried to cast Cloud Memory on Hufom and again the ratling was able to fight off the magic (again he saved successfully by 1 pt.). From the corner of his eye, Hufom spotted Szoosha pulling out a potion and shot Ice Spears from the tip of his staff at the naga injuring him badly. The black knight furiously swung at Gornix but his weapon again passed harmlessly through. Szoosha poured a healing potion down Fauna’s throat.

Gornix cast Slow on the black knight but a Shield spell saved the white swan. Hufom moved further away from Szoo and Fauna’s position. The black knight swung impotently at Gornix again working himself into a frothing rage. Gornix again cast Cloud Memory at Hufom which took this time causing the ratling wizard to take pause as he forgot what he was about to do.

The first earth elemental tried to stomp on Hufom whom easily dodged. The second elemental grappled the black knight. Gornix then moved towards Szoo and cast Close Wounds on him. Fauna came to and prepared to cast a spell at Hufom. Meanwhile the black knight struggled valiantly to free himself from the stony grip of the elemental, in vain. Szoo cast Elemental Half-Plate Armor (fire) on himself.

Gornix cast Chrono-Missile on Hufom but to no effect his robes protecting him. The black knight broke the elemental’s grip. Fauna successfully cast Wizard’s Trick on Hufom turning him into a harmless snail. Szoosha coiled and then whipped his tail crushing it. The black knight wailed in rage. Gornix cast Slow on the white swan.

Fauna took control of the black knight’s warhorse and her and the naga leapt onto it and rode away. Gornix commanded his elementals to grapple the black knight, which they did. Sir Illin was helpless within their crushing grip. He was shouting “I’ll KILL YOU ALL!” at the top of his lungs repeatedly. Gornix cast Nature’s Ability on himself, grew wings and flew away.

Meanwhile to the north Excor continued his slow progress towards the city. He was covered in road dust and sweating profusely. Occasionally he grumbled to himself.

To Be Continued…

The Cabal of Eight Pt.29: Knight Crash

The dense musk of damp earth crowded the desert air. The light rains had just subsided and the dark grey clouds were in the distance, only bare bright blue sky was above. It was nearing the tail end of early afternoon and the sun was high and blazing. Already the temporary mire that the storm had created hardened and the vaporized rain hit the air thickening it to the point of making every breath a sluggish chore.

It was second watch and the cabal mages and their three draft horses had gotten approximately 4 hours of shut-eye. Excor was keeping lookout and noticed in the distance about a thousand feet or so away a small group breaking camp and packing their horses. He could also make out the presence of a carriage or wagon. He immediately jumped down from the carriage and woke everyone inside.

Gornix got out and used his magic ring of Call Nature’s Ally (Eagle). He had the eagle fly in towards the knights at a low altitude and circle a few times to catch their attention. The eagle then flew back over the mages and flew in a low circle over them a few times.

Gornix (to his companions): “It’s them alright!”

The knights were easily able to pick out the cabal mages in the distance. They waved in response although they still packed up and rode out at high speed on three horses leaving the wagon behind.

Fauna: “Well, I guess the chase is back on.”

Szoosha: “Aww. I didn’t get enough sleep!”

Excor: “None of us did!”

Wearily Fauna took the driver’s seat and spurred the horses into a full run. The elegant blue carriage was off with a jolt and a spray of pebbles and moist clods. They passed the former campsite of the knights and could see the ironclad wagon and what were they assumed the driver and the crossbowman tending to a broken wheel. Hufom’s wagon had sustained damage in the battle with the blue dragon after all.

Excor turned his head and happened to glance out of the open window in the opposite direction. He caught a sudden glimpse of an abandoned wagon in an open field. In that field, he could clearly see three headless corpses and the distance a pair of oxen grazing on the sparse, rain freshened grasses.

Excor (leaning out of the window): “Fauna! Stop! I think I see Corje!”

Fauna: “Does he look alive!?”

Excor: “No!”

Fauna: “Then we don’t stop!”

Thus inside Excor and Gornix decided to inspect the blue dragon’s/blue-stranger’s gear. The curved dagger and scimitar with silver wire wrapped grips and large sapphire pommel stones were superior quality weapons with a +3 magic modifier each. The purple velvet shoes with gold tracery granted their wearer a +3 bonus to Dodge and a +5 ft. bonus to Speed. The blue robes with black and silver embroidery granted the spell Elemental Alter Self (Water) twice a day and Conjure Water once a day to the wearer. The blue cloak with the silver clasp was a level 10 item with the ability to cast Teleportation I once a day. The two mages gathered the gear together and left it in a neat bundle on the floor of the carriage when they finished identifying the loot.

It was late afternoon as the blue carriage was rumbling up behind the twin knights on their warhorses, a third horse in tow. On the third steed was a small hunched shape in a powder blue wizard’s robe with silver fringing, a small lacquered staff on his back, and a long wormy tail trailing behind from under his robes.

Jenn: “Guys we got ‘em!”

Cris: “Ugh. It’s a ratling isn’t it?”

Gil: “Can’t you like put his horse to sleep!”

The black knight, Sir Illin, turned towards and glared at the mages as they drew in closer.

Fauna: “Um guys? I think they know.”

Cris: “Of Course they KNOW!”

As the black knight was looking away from his charge, he didn’t notice when Hufom’s horse fell out from under him. However, the small ratling wizard leapt easily from his horse as it collapsed into the road dirt onto the back of the white knight’s horse.

Jenn: “Damn!”

Hufom turned and taking his staff in hand began waving it around obviously targeting the carriage horses. However, he was unable to cast the spell due to the rough ride of the chase.

Gornix: “Fauna! Get me in closer. I got this guys!”

Jenn (to Gil): “Hey! Aren’t you still high!”

Gil: “Oh yeah.”

Excor cast Neutralize Poison on Gornix. The salt-lotus mage instantly regained his wits and climbed out an open window.

Excor (to Gornix): “What are you doing!?”

Szoo (to Excor): “You know I think we should cut our losses and get out of here! This is a disaster!”

The wind whipped through Gornix’s hair and gouts of dust blasted into his eyes and mouth as he strained to make his way to the seat next to Fauna. Eventually he made it. Both knights were on guard with light lances couched. The knights on their steeds tried in desperation to outrun the carriage spurring their mounts on but Fauna was somehow able to keep on their tails and even ride up even closer on their tails. Gornix took his chance and cast Force Ram at the white knight’s warhorse.

The column of force smashed into the unfortunate animal crushing its ribs and throwing it and its riders into the speeding dirt road. The white knight flew head over heels into the air and crashed into the ground with the crunching of metal. Fauna yanked the carriage to a screeching halt nearly turning it over in the process.

A cloud of yellow-red dust enveloped all save one. The black knight, quite a ways ahead, was turning his horse around. None of the mages could see where Hufom, their target, had been thrown by the crash.  Excor cast Shield on himself and stepped out of and away from the carriage. Gornix used his acrobatics skill to roll with the impact of the crash when he was thrown from the carriage landing on his feet. Fauna smashed hard into the dirt road headfirst but the shield ability on her magic necklace saved her from damage.  The white knight/black swan achingly got to his feet on shaking legs. Szoosha slithered out of the opposite side of the carriage to try to remain hidden from the knights and Hufom.

As the dust cleared, the Black Knight lowered his lance and began to charge, targeting Fauna as she slowly got to her feet. A Bolt of Stunning shot from an unseen position striking Gornix. Fortunately, he was not stunned. Excor cast Invisibility I on himself and disappeared from sight. Gornix successfully cast Mass Ghost Form. Three of the cabal mages faded into incorporeal phantoms, Excor had resisted it for some reason. Fauna took control of the Black Knight’s warhorse causing it to turn and flee from battle. The White Knight suddenly had a silvery war-hammer in his gauntleted hand and struck at Gornix but the weapon passed harmlessly through him.

Suddenly and unexpectedly, the mages just surrendered.

Cris: “WHAT THE HELL!?”

Excor rushed around back into the carriage and picked up the blue cloak of teleportation. The White Knight shouted at him and charged swinging his hammer in a devastating arc. The weapon hit its target but only served to dispel the active shield spell on the mage. Excor took the opportunity to use the cloak and disappear from the carriage reappearing about one mile north on the road.

Jenn: “I don’t believe you just deserted us!”

Isis: “YOU RAN AWAY! What the HELL!?”

The White Knight (pointing his hammer at Gornix): “I command YOU to return to flesh you COWARD! You are ALL under ARREST!”

Ultimately, Szoo was able to convince the white knight to take to the carriage and Hufom and leave them alone as they were proof against his weapon and were out of “tricks” so to speak. Therefore, the white knight convinced that they were more concerned about their own skins than fulfilling their mission climbed into the driver’s seat. Hufom’s tiny frame leapt from seemingly nowhere straight into the carriage. The white knight readied to leave.

Gornix (to the White Knight): “This isn’t personal. We weren’t trying to kill you. Just business. … Oh hey! Let us get our equipment first before you go!”

The White Knight ignored him and was about to spur the horses. Gil was twitching.

Isis: “Bro! What are you doing?”

Jenn: “Guillermo I’m pretty wounded here and out of magic!”

However it was apparent that he was not about to just let it go.

Isis: “Okay then, I start getting ready to cast something!”

Jenn: “NO! Don’t encourage HIM!”

Gornix got the drop on the white knight and cast Force Ram.

To Be Continued…

The Cabal of Eight Pt.28: Wagons & Dragon

The motley caravan began to slow and the dust clouds that the wagons had sent billowing as they tried to maintain top speed for the past few hours inevitably shrank as they slowed. The lead wagon was iron plated and assumed to be carrying one Firstborn Hufom, target of the cabal mages. Leading that were the twin swans, a pair of twin black and white knights. Two horsed lancers were riding alongside either side of the lead wagon.

Behind the lead wagon was a blue lacquered coach being driven by a hunchback and pulled by a team of six horses. Aboard was the Blue Stranger, dragon in disguise, and three of the cabal mages: Gornix (played by Gil), Fauna (played by Jenn), and Szoosha (played by Isis). A ways behind them was a rickety farm wagon driven by the cloaked and mysterious Corje. Aboard it: a pair of cloaked associates of the driver and an unconscious Excor (played by Cris).

It was late in the day though evening was still a few hours off. The horses were tired and the black and white knights relented allowing the caravan to slow. They figured they had left behind the enemies that had attempted a hit on their charge back at Farmers’ Cross Lodge. Meanwhile on the boards of the rear wagon Excor was tossing and turning in the grips of a fitful nightmare. He was mumbling something unintelligible over and over again.

Fauna, Szoo, and Gornix were stiff as boards as they sat with what they knew to be a dragon in the fancy blue carriage. Its interior furnished in black leather and the seats padded. The rear bench had small table that projected out from one side and stretched about halfway across the width of the cabin. To the left on the bench was a built-in cabinet/bar tinkling with bottles of all kinds of liquors. Only Gornix had indulged in some of the wine offered by his host. The others just stared wide-eyed at the Blue Stranger.

Meanwhile Excor continued to toss but ever more violently. The cloaked pair beside him noticed his eyes had almost opened. His words were becoming ever clearer.

Excor: “Lightning…..dead horses…”

In the blue coach the stranger seemed bored of the terror he inspired and of drink as did Gornix, both were visibly agitated.

Isis: “Oh boy…”

Jenn: “Uhm. Bro. Be careful…”

Gornix: “So you’re a dragon huh, the blue one that killed our oxen.” Szoo and Fauna face-palmed.

The Blue Stranger turned slowly to the lotus wizard and suddenly a wide toothy grin broke across his mirthless face.

The Blue Stranger: “Well. Let’s stir things up and see how luck favors the bold shall we?”

With that, the Blue Stranger opened a window shutter and began screaming at the top of his lungs: “No! Watch out that mage is casting a spell at YOU!” He lunged forward sticking his head out the window, suddenly his jaw dropped absurdly extended his gaping maw, and his teeth lengthened into fangs.

Excor (leaping to his feet wide-awake): “The DRAGON IS ATTACKING!”

A blinding blue-white bolt of lightning shot from the dragon’s throat at the two horsemen on that side of the caravan blasting them and their horses to bits. In response the twin swans reared their war-horses. The other horsemen began to circle around the carriage.

Szoosha leapt from the carriage out the opposite side from which the dragon blew its breath weapon and cast Elemental Half-Plate Armor (Fire) on himself. The dragon leapt out of his finery leaving it a heap on the carriage floor as he took his true form that sprung from the carriage in time to blast away the last two horsemen with another bolt of its breath. Excor leapt from the farm wagon and activated the Shield spell on his amulet. Fauna exited the carriage and cast Throw Flames at the dragon but to no effect. Ice Spears flew from the general direction of the lead wagon striking the dragon only slightly scratching it. Gornix cast Mass Nature’s Ability (Flying and Thermal Vision). Unfortunately, as it caused everyone besides the dragon to sprout wings the twin swans fell from their horses in excruciating pain as their wings sprouted under their armor.

Gil: “Um. Whoops?”

Szoosha immediately flew next the lead horse on the ironclad wagon. The dragon had snapped its jaws at him but missed by a hair as the winged naga flew past. Excor cast Slow on the dragon breaking through its magic resistance. The players cheered. Stepping from the carriage Gornix cast Cone of Energy (frost) at the dragon but to no effect. Fauna cast Air Flurry at the dragon successfully knocking it from its feet (it rolled a Natural 1 to maintain balance). More Ice Spears struck the dragon from a slightly different angle from the last time hurting it a little.

Cris: “That’s Hufom!”

With a little luck, Szoo unhitched the lead horse from the ironclad wagon. The dragon flung its tail at Excor smashing down his Shield spell. Gornix failed in an attempt to cast a spell but quickened a Force Ram at the dragon but could not break through its resistance. Three more Ice Spears flew from a random direction nailing the blue dragon.

Gornix cast another Force Ram striking the dragon and dealing some damage this time.

Gil: “Yeah! When in doubt cast Force Ram!”

However, as the spell failed to push the dragon’s mass the white lotus wizard was flung to the ground instead.

Szoosha cast Elemental Alter Self and grew a pair of fire tentacles. Fauna again cast Air Flurry at the dragon successfully keeping it down with another bout of winds. More ice spears flew from an unseen location dealing some damage to the dragon. Excor cast Mass Shield erecting protective fields over all of his companions as well as himself. Excor cast another Force Ram at the dragon dealing it a serious blow. The twin swans, the Nature’s Ability spell having expired, shook off the lingering effects of extreme pain. The dragon regained its footing.

Szoo cast Elemental Half-Plate Armor (Fire) on Fauna. Fauna again attempted an Air Flurry against the dragon but to no effect. Some ice spears flew at the dragon but shattered harmlessly on its blue hide. Excor tried to cast Force Ram but failed. Gornix got to his feet. The swans got to their feet and drew their weapons. The Black Swan/White Knight drew a war-hammer from nowhere and the White Swan/Black Knight pulled his black mace. The dragon inhaled and blew a lightning bolt at Fauna. Luckily, she was able to dodge the earth-shattering bolt.

Gornix tried to cast Blinding Flash on the dragon but somehow the magic got away from him and went wild. He nearly blinded himself. Three ice spears stuck into the dragon dealing some damage.

The angry young blue dragon got to its feet and unleashed a blast of lightning from its mouth blasting Fauna. Fortunately, it only managed to blast away her magical protections. Excor dodged because he was in a direct line with Fauna. The White Knight attacked the dragon with his war hammer but missed. The Black Knight missed with his mace. Szoo for some reason leapt onto the back of the horse he had unhitched and as a result was promptly bucked off as he was covered in flaming half-plate armor. Gornix using his staff to channel the spell cast Force Ram yet again at the dragon. The force of the spell smashed into its side dealing significant damage.

The chromatic blue dragon beat its mighty wings flinging itself 15 feet into the air and blasting its attackers with a wave of dirt. As a result the twin swans were blinded as was Excor. Fauna cast Air Flurry again in a desperate attempt to keep it from flying away but it had no affect other to clear the lingering dust cloud. From somewhere out of sight there was a burst of blue light and an alarmed shout. Hence, the cabal mages knew that the invisible Hufom had fumbled a spell. Excor tried to clear the dirt from his eyes and Szoosha got up off the ground. Gornix again channeled Force Ram through his staff and the spell smashed into the hovering dragon crushing its ribs and throwing it to the ground in a flurry of gushing blood.

Immediately Szoo and Excor fell upon the dragon’s corpse like hungry hyenas hoping to dismantle it for components. Gornix rushed to the carriage and began eagerly searching it picking up the dragon’s finery in the meantime. Fauna decided to Commune with Nature in order to try to find the dragon’s lair but she failed. That was when she noticed that the hunchback was gone.

Excor broke a dagger trying to cut off a claw. Szoo managed to “pop” out an eyeball. Fauna and Gornix joined them but like Excor were unsuccessful as they were not dragonslayers. After a long while, Excor remembered that they had a job to do and looked around for the other members of the hasty caravan. All were gone.

He could see a slight dust cloud far north of them on the road assuming it was the ironclad and the knights riding for Ezmer. He could only assume Corje and his pals were following because they were nowhere to be seen either.

Eventually the cabal mages gathered their wits and prepared the blue carriage to ride. Fauna tried to cast Control Animals on the draft horses but the magic went wild and she turned three of the six animals into mummified corpses. She instead cast Communicate with Animals and got the remaining horses to agree to pull them along the road at a reasonable speed.

The clouds moved in as they took off and it began to rain. Szoo noticed Gornix counting a handful of gems. He had taken 100 sapphires and 2 large diamonds from a purse that he had found among the dragon’s things. Of course, they split the take getting 25 sapphires apiece. While Gornix retained the diamonds for safekeeping.

The white lotus wizard leaned back and presented the gear he had picked up that the dragon had dropped when he had shed his human guise. Gornix then picked up a crystal decanter filled with what appeared to be a very dark wine. Of course he took a big swig of it and fell back very high and barely functional. Fauna snatched it up and identified it as Assassin Berry Wine.

Szoo: “What the HELL are you doing here!?”

Fauna: “What?”

Excor: “Aren’t you DRIVING!”

Fauna: “It’s okay I talked to them. It’s fine. Besides it’s raining I don’t want to be out there.”

Finally, after some protest, Fauna with a sigh climbed back out of a window and took her seat as carriage driver. The storm grew quickly in ferocity. The road became a yellow quagmire hot wind howled, lightning cracked. Fauna drew the carriage to a slow stop and cast Calm Storm I creating an eye in nature’s fury. She drove until they reentered the storm from sunlight through a wall of humid gloom.

All night long, she pushed the hapless horses. The storm subsided near dawn and as soon as the great-ringed purple moon made its appearance, she spotted for a suitable turnoff and campsite. They eventually turned off the muddy road and stopped for rest.

To Be Continued…