tag
TwitterFacebookGooglePinterestLinkedInEmailRSS

Bizarre Beasties #10 – The Crow Sloth

The Crow Sloth, a pregenerated monster for Dice & Glory that can add a little surprise to any GM’s campaign. These creatures are massive brutes that will attack and kill any targets smaller than themselves. They leave the corpses of their victims to “ripen” for a few days before returning and devouring the corpse.

Inspired by the classic Owl Bear. However, combining instead the best abilities of a Crow/Raven with those of the Giant Ground Sloth (Megatherium). They are a giant brute type creature that will fight to the death and highly aggressive.

Bizarre Beasties can be used at the discretion of Game-Masters to add variety to their game worlds easily and quickly. So that GM’s can drop the fully fleshed Crow Sloth into game sessions immediately without any prep-work beyond reading the document. Finally, the Crow Sloth is a great addition to any GM’s bestiary.

Bizarre Beasties #10 – 624k

A giant crow-headed sloth-beast that kills with its massive claws and dagger-like beak!

Tabletop Meditations #15: The Golem

The creature comes barreling down a narrow web-choked hallway in the enemy wizard’s fortress. The ground shakes as the large humanoid stomps towards our hapless adventurers. Its fists like cudgels and its door-shattering shoulders wide and powerful. Its feet and legs like dreadful stumps ready to stomp our heroes into pulp. Snickering behind the monster is the wizard who created it and ordered it to slay his enemies. This is a golem; an artificial creature shaped from clay, chiseled from stone, or hammered from iron by a powerful wizard. It unwaveringly obeys every order that its maker gives it.

The golem is another staple of the fantasy roleplaying game used mostly by mages in game as a minion to account for their own physical weakness or set as a powerful guardian against adventurers and the like. Similar to other entities and beings considered classic archetypes of the RPG genre, the golem has roots just as deep if not deeper. The adaptation of the golem into RPG’s was probably inspired by the pop-image of the creature, which first hit the popular imagination with the silent film Der Golem (1914), a partially lost classic of the horror genre. Of course, the filmmakers were themselves inspired by a medieval Jewish folktale. This folktale, known as the Golem of Prague, has its clay feet planted firmly in biblical and Jewish lore.

“In the Talmud, the word ‘golem’ has come to mean lifeless, shapeless matter, something unformed and imperfect, a body without a soul.” [Patterson, Jose. 1991. “Angels, Prophets, Rabbis, and Kings from the Stories of the Jewish People” New York. Peter Bedrick Books. p.98]

First, what exactly is a golem? Of all the differences in systems found across the RPG-scape the few points about golems that are commonly accepted are that  it takes a mage or wizard of sufficient power to create and that “Golems are magically created automatons of great power. Constructing one involves the employment of mighty magic and elemental forces”. [Cook, Monte. Jonathan Tweet, Skip Williams. 2000. “Dungeons & Dragons: Monster Manual”. Renton, WA. Wizards of the Coast, Inc. p.109]

All the sources that I’ve encountered also concede that a golem is not technically living although it may be semi-autonomous able to carry out simple commands it is still not technically living. Therefore, most things that affect living beings such as death effects, poison gas, as well as most non-magical attacks (this last one does vary although a semblance of it is retained in most instances), do not affect them. It is also a mindless object in the most basic sense and thus cannot feel fear or fall victim to psychic attack and psychological warfare. Therefore, a golem is a magical construct given animation by a powerful spell-caster through a ritual that binds a spiritual force to an artificial body making it strong, durable, and immune to certain attacks and special modes of combat typically effective against living intelligent beings.

A golem is a “construct”, a powerful, enchanted monster created and animated by a high level magic-user or cleric. Golems can be made of almost any material. [Allston, Aaron comp. 1991. “Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia”. TSR, Inc. p.180]

Essentially, a golem is the most basic example of a magical construct. The term magical construct can also apply to animated objects like statues and armor although this effect can be achieved in many games with simple spells with lesser power than for a golem. These would come about in a fashion more akin to standard magical items.  However, a measure of power is still required similar to a golem.

A living statue is an enchanted animated creature made by a powerful wizard. [Allston. P.208]

Now what is a construct since a golem is also defined as a magical construct?

Constructs […] are created much as magical treasures are. [Allston. P.253]

Essentially a magical construct is a magical device that mimics the most basic features of a living being barring reproduction. However, how does a magical item pull this trick off? A wizard cannot just conjure a soul out of nowhere and infuse it into the artificial body (the construct) so a readily available substitute is required. This substitute for the soul came in the ancient lore from the secret name of God and the creative power of the Hebrew Alphabet. In RPG’s which draw on a very rich and deep reservoir of world (though still mostly Western European but expanding) mythology and ancient lore another source is found in the form of errant elemental spirits.

“The animating force for a golem is a spirit from the Elemental Plane of Earth. The process of creating the golem binds the unwilling spirit to the artificial body and subjects it to the will of the golem’s creator.“ [Cook. p.109]

Therefore, a golem so far is a magical construct that lacking a soul to grant it authentic life mocks the semblance of life using a trapped elemental spirit instead. The materials of the constructed body can be just about anything but tend to have a relationship to the earth in most versions but is probably not a necessity. This maybe stemming from the creatures originally being sculpted from clay. The magical process to create such a constructed creature lies within not only Jewish lore but primarily seems related more to the old silent films.

The golem as a creature has beginnings in certain biblical and mystical passages and works. The idea of a powerful artificial person was a common one in ancient times and became more widespread with the middle age folktales that draw on these sources especially when the European Jews suffered brutal oppression at the hands of their fellow countrymen.

There are commentaries to the Sefer Yetzirah, the Book of Creation the most influential book of the Ma’asei-Bereshit mystical tradition written sometime between the 3rd and 6th centuries, which claims that biblical figures made golems.

The commentators believe Abraham used Sefer Yetzirah’s power, noting the wording, “the people they made in Haran” (Gen. 12:5); the prophet Jeremiah also made a golem. […] The idea was a theme in the Talmud (Sanh. 38a). Two anonymous Talmudic Sages were able to create a “one-third” size calf for Sabbath meals 9Ber. 55a; Mid. The. 3). More cryptic is the report that Rava “created a man”, who he then sent to Rabbi Zeira, who caused the creature to return to dust[.] [Dennis, Geoffrey W. 2016. “The Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, & Mysticism Second Edition”. Woodbury, Minnesota. Llewellyn Publications. p.181]

Up to the middle ages, there were multiple tales of Jewish figures attempting to or creating golems for various reasons. The Spanish philosopher and poet Solomon ibn Gabirol (ca. 11th century) is credited by Jewish occult tradition with creating either a female golem or a mechanical automaton. [Dennis. P.164] It seemed that creating a golem was a common ability in occult accounts and especially in certain medieval stories.

The famous Rabbi Elijah of Chelm is reputed to have created a golem by writing God’s Holy Name on a piece of parchment and sticking it on the forehead of a clay model of a man. Not for one moment did it occur to the rabbi that he might be creating a monster that would run amok destroying everything in its path. When the golem proved uncontrollable Rabbi Elijah had no choice but to remove the parchment from its forehead, whereupon it immediately turned to dust. [Patterson. P.98]

Jewish folklore gives many accounts of rabbis who not only created golems but returned them to dust when they were no longer required. Most of them were used as attendants or bodyguards, and whereas they were supposed to have been able to understand and follow commands, they lacked the power of speech – a gift which God alone could grant. [Patterson, p.98]

This brings us to the most common use for golems, guardianship and protection especially emphasized in the middle age folktales. The middle ages for European Jews were sometimes exceedingly bleak. This is the time that the most well-known and popularized myth of the golem originated when scattered throughout Europe Jews became victims of severe religious and economic oppression. Some brief examples of the ultimate results of this oppression being the Rhineland Massacres of 1096, the 1190 York Massacre, and the Black Death Persecutions from 1348 to 1350 to name just a few.

They were forced to live in walled ghettoes which were built in the poorest sections of towns. […}[L]ife in the ghetto was governed by religious devotion and a strict code of morality. The poor overcrowded conditions were compensated, to a certain extent, by a growth of folk tales and stories many of which attempted to portray a happier life than the one the Jews were actually experiencing. […] The stories told in those days were peopled with a rich variety of figures who defended Jewish life – God, the rabbis, and the Golem[.] [Patterson. P.86-87]

With its great physical strength, its supernatural power to unearth the evil plots of their enemies, the golem became a kind of imagined redeemer to the Jews, helping them to cope with the daily problem of survival. By far the most popular of all golem stories are those told about the Golem of Prague. [Patterson. P.99]

The story of the Golem of Prague concerned the famed rabbi Yehuda Loew of Prague (1512-1609) who was a renowned scholar of the Torah and the Talmud, a gifted storyteller, an eminent scholar, and could speak several languages fluently. One night he had a vivid dream.

In this dream, he found himself in the Christian quarter of the city and there to his horror he witnessed the murder of a child. Then the shadowy form of the killer took the little corpse, placed it in a sack, and left it in a cellar in the Jewish ghetto. As the shadowy murderer passed by him, the rabbi recognized it as the priest Thaddeus, an evil clergyman determined to destroy the Jews of Prague. With the festival of Passover fast approaching, it would be the Jews that would be blamed. Understanding the hideous implications of this horrible action, the rabbi prayed for help.

The answer was immediate. In his dream, he saw the sacred name of God and a formula of mystic words that would help him create a golem out of clay who would destroy the enemies of Israel. He awoke suddenly covered in sweat.

Taking the message of his dream as prophecy, the rabbi went to the banks of the River Moldau. There he shaped a man of immense size and when all was completed to his satisfaction, Rabbi Loew took from his pocket a piece of parchment. On this parchment, he had written the secret name of God and placed it in the mouth of the cold gray figure. He began chanting a mystical incantation while walking around it seven times one way and then seven times the opposite.

Immediately the figure began to glow like fire and then as soon as the glow had dimmed, its eyes opened. The rabbi gave it some clothes that he had brought and named the creature Joseph. As an artificial creature, the golem had no understanding of good and evil, could not speak, and could not reproduce. “He could not speak, having no soul, but he could obey.” [Constable, George ed. 1985. “The Enchanted World: Spells and Bindings”. Alexandria, VA. Time-Life Books. p.56] This creature, Joseph, was also very powerful knew the rabbi “because the longer Joseph lived the larger and more powerful he grew, he was an effective deterrent to violence”. [Constable. p.56]

With Joseph at his side, Rabbi Loew found the murdered child hidden in an abandoned basement in the house of a pious Jew. He had Joseph transfer the body to the basement of Thaddeus’ house. When the authorities came to the old man’s house, the rabbi directed them to the priest’s home where they discovered the body to the priest’s surprise thereby sparing the Jews of Prague.

Later, Joseph would also protect the rabbi’s people against a pogrom imposed by Rudolf II the Hapsburg Emperor (1552-1612). His work done the rabbi allowed the golem to rest on the bench in front of his house where the rabbi’s wife, Perele set him to hauling water. The rabbi had warned her previously that Joseph should not do household chores. Like a holy vessel, he was meant only for God’s work.

Regardless, she set him to his task, hauling water buckets from the well to fill the barrels in the pantry while she went to the market. A few hours later she returned with her shopping and was surprised by a crowd of her neighbors gathered about her home shouting, “it’s a flood!”. The pantry barrels were filled to overflowing yet Joseph did not stop. He kept running to the well and filling his buckets and then ran back to the pantry to continue to fill the overflowing barrels. It was at that moment, by good fortune, that Rabbi Loew returned from synagogue and ordered Joseph to stop. Then the rabbi turned and told the crowd that the floods had been sent to punish mankind but this had only been a reprimand to his wife.

However, as Joseph’s size and strength increased “like many other golem tales, over time the Prague golem grew in power and in unpredictable behavior”. [Dennis. p.182]

Like other creatures of magic, however, golems had a willful streak, and their ever-increasing size made them a threat to the very folk they were summoned to serve. So it was with Joseph, who ran amuck on a Sabbath eve for reasons no one could determine, leveling the ghetto walls with his massive shoulders and leaving buildings ablaze in his wake. [Constable. P.56]

Of course, his creator caught him and “pulled the parchment from his lips, and recited backward the scripture that had started him into motion. All that was left when the man had finished was a lifeless mound of clay.” [Constable. p.56]

Hence, “the creator was forced to destroy his creation, thus curbing his own hubris and teaching him humility.”  [Dennis. P.182]

This story however, is more modern than one would think though its roots lay deep in the myths of the past. “Though golem tales were published through the 13th century, the story of the Golem of Prague as known today is the [sic] largely creation of an early 20th-century rabbi and writer, Yudel Rosenberg, and his book, Miflaot Maharal, “The Wonders of Rabbi Judah Loew”. [Dennis. P.181]

It is probably this story that inspired the filmmakers to make the movie Der Golem, which no doubt played a critical role in popularizing the myth.

While filming A Bargain with Satan (1913) on location in Prague its lauded star Herr Paul Wegener was taken by the ancient ghetto. One legend told by the Jews there so intrigued him that he used it as a basis for his next picture. This picture Der Golem (1914) was more a sequel to the actual 16th century legend. In the film, an elderly antique dealer purchases an excavated statue after recognizing it as the legendary clay-man. A magic charm brings the creature to life and later goes on a rampage through the streets of Prague in a love-crazed pursuit of the antique dealer’s daughter. It reverts to stone when the girl snatches the charm from its chest and falling from a tower smashes to pieces on the cobblestones below. [Gifford, Dennis. 1973. “A Pictorial History of Horror Movies”. Middlesex, England. The Hamlyn Publishing Group Limited. The Clay Man Cometh – And Cometh Back]

With any successful film, of course there was a sequel, which was in effect was a prequel that followed the actual myth closer than its predecessor had. Most importantly however, this sequel reveals the process of the golem’s creation. In the prequel to Der Golem, subtitled How He Came into the World (1920):

High Rabbi Loew sees in the stars that danger impends for the Jews of Prague. Instantly a flower-sniffing Junker arrives with a decree from Emperor Ludwig: leave before the end of the month. Loew consults his ancient archives.

‘This figure called Golem was made long ago by a magician of Thessaly. If you place the magic word in the amulet on his breast he will live and breathe as long as he wears it. Astaroth guards the magic word which can endow even clay with life.’

Loew moulds a mighty giant of clay, then creates a magic circle of fire and summons forth the spirit. Astaroth, a floating head, speaks in smoke the word ‘Aemaer’. Loew writes it down and puts it in the amulet: instantly the Golem’s eyes light into life. [Gifford. The Clay Man Cometh – And Cometh Back]

This is important not just from the establishment of a process of creation that can be adapted for RPG play, there are many different ways in Jewish occult lore to create a golem however all revolve around God, but it also establishes the power of the magic-user.

As the sequel/prequel to Der Golem demonstrates the ritual activation of the golem, it also demonstrates the golem master’s power. In the second story strand of the 1920 film, Lowe travels to the court of the Emperor, gives a powerful demonstration of MAGIC […], and saves the lives of the Emperor and his throng – for which service the Emperor cancels his edict against the Jews. [Clute, John. John Grant. 1997. “The Encyclopedia of Fantasy”. New York, NY. St Martin’s Press. p.422]

Seemingly related to the methods found in the surviving Der Golem film most roleplaying games have similar procedures and rituals to animate and control golems. A good example taken from Palladium Games’ Rifts is this spell called, appropriately, Create Golem:

The sorcerer first draws a pentagram of animal blood. Second, he sculpts a Golem (humanoid shape) from clay. Third, he places two onyx gems […] for eyes. Fourth, he places a heart, molded out of iron, into the clay body. Lastly, the mage recites the ritual ceremony. At the end of the ritual, the mystic places a single drop of his blood on the behemoth’s forehead to bring it to life. [Coffin, Bill comp. 2001. “Rifts Book of Magic”. Taylor, MI. Palladium Books, Inc. p.147-148]

This spell is a Level 13 spell in the Palladium system, which as legend would indicate a powerful spell requiring a skilled and powerful mage to create a single golem.

From the moment it entered the popular imagination through film, the concept begged infusion into the fantasy RPG realm. This concept being of an unquestioning minion with a physical might that more than compensates for its master’s physical weakness as well as a simple guardian type monster. This idea retains a little of the golem’s purpose of protection and the idea that a powerful magic-user can create an artificial life. In a sense, the mage through the creation of a golem is trying to attain the elevation of a god.

An RPG golem is an animate, semi-autonomous magical construct created for the purpose of guardianship or protection through its shear might. These creatures are created by powerful wizards or those privy to powerful magical knowledge. The ritual and method that is used to create them is varied almost as much as those found throughout their history in story and myth. They often lack the ability to speak and to think for themselves though they can understand, follow, and execute their master’s orders.

However, it seems that most RPG’s don’t take advantage of the dangers posed by a golem found in lore where they can grow dangerously independent of their masters and increase in power and size the longer they live. They may still be very physically powerful and difficult to procure but they seem to lack the unpredictability of legend.

RPG Golems began as a demonstration of faith and power in Jewish occult tradition, became figures in folktales in the middle ages which spawned the seminal tale the Golem of Prague, which was adapted into a silent film in the early 20th-century. This film helped to popularize the idea of the golem as a magical servant/protector that then in turn was adapted into the world of RPGs.

On a final note since RPG golems can be made of many different materials not just clay, stone, or iron but also flesh. These flesh golems should they retain the rebelliousness of the legendary golems have more than a passing resemblance to the monster in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

 

The Cabal of Eight Pt.44: Betrayed at Last!

Nighttime – the four mages stumbled into camp, beat-up and dirty. Gornix (played by Gil) was nursing a gut wound. On their way out from the treasure vault, they had backtracked to a few rooms that they had missed. Gornix had been gored by an animated obsidian rhino statue. Szoosha (played by Isis) and Fauna (played by Jenn) had been trampled but their shield items had saved them from everything but a dirty floor. Excor (played by Cris) emerged relatively unscathed from that encounter.

The porter and Arcan the wanderer were waiting for them with a hot dinner. Behind them, there was the carriage and three other wagons painted with the college arms with draft animals. They had found two more wagons hidden around the area.  In answer to an innocent “how long have we been here” he answered that “tomorrow will be the first of Late Summer”. The four mages also found that the pair hadn’t heard from the others since their departure days ago. Soon after eating, they settled in to sleep and the night passed peacefully.

Come morning the four mages began to patrol the perimeter hoping to get a bead on their lost companions. Fauna used her cabal medallion to try to contact the others but she got nothing. As they rounded the eastern portion of their clockwise run, Gornix tried his medallion. He got a static obscured reply with a faint voice that seemed to sound from a great distance. They continued south and as they came to the southeast corner, Szoo spotted a large red dune and a young swordtail dragon slithering over the crest towards them.

Excor got the drop on the beast and snared it with his Shadow Ribbons spell. From there on the fight was a slaughter until Gornix knocked it out of the ribbons with his Force Ram fortunately in the process killing the dragon. It had even managed to resist about half of the spells they had slung at it but the mages had attained a plateau of power that was beyond the unfortunate creature.

They wandered west then north, Szoo used his medallion and got a stronger signal. The words, “Yeeeargh! We’re comin’ through! WATCH OUT!” blasted into his head. At that moment, Gornix found a half-buried stone door and wanted desperately to get it open. Excor used his medallion to try to contact them. He was able to find out that they were fleeing a cave-in down a long hall that slanted steeply upward towards a stone door. However, they were all out of spells.

They backed off from the door and Gornix smashed the stone doors in with a well-placed Force Ram spell. Suddenly, through the door, their companions ran up and out one after the other. Belrae in dirty purple robes a green frog on his torn breast, Riahm his tattered half-brown half-green cloak flying behind him, Jirek in his shabby robes nursing a broken arm,  and Xanto the Wasp and his apprentice Bumble followed by two large wasps each hauling a large sack of booty.

Out of breath Belrae turned a finger towards the Wasp and shouted “we were almost KILLED because of THAT GUY!”.

The Wasp: “What me? No. I was looking out for all of our welfare, what would this little venture of yours be without the wealth I collected? We are all now very rich, celebrate my friends, we have all survived!”

Just then, a blast of sand, pebbles, and dust engulfed them from the open passageway. Later the four adventurers led their companions back to camp. They later prepared for dinner and were ready to ship out come dawn.

As they ate they talked excitedly amongst themselves with the Wasp being mildly ostracized, his apprentice next to him. She was somewhat reticent to talk to Fauna when the druidess tried to strike up a conversation. Gornix left the group for a quiet rock a ways outside of camp, a place where he could “see the stars”.

He sat lotus style on the pale stone in an area of hardened red waste and gazed at the endless Elysian field above. Studying the stars he used his astrological knowledge trying to divine whether their passage home would be a safe one. He also gathered some mana points and stored them in the crystal that topped his staff, just in case.

Seeming about to make an announcement the Wasp stood up, the two bags of loot just behind him and Bumble.

The Wasp: “Well, my friends though I regret to leave this little party despite the undue treatment, Adieu!” He waived his hand and both bags and Bumble all teleported away.

Cris: “F@#k’in Wasp! I should ‘a grabbed Bumble!”

Excor had tried to beat the Wasp to the punch and made a snatch for his arm. Unfortunately, he had been just a hair too slow. Cris was right though. With his roll, he could have easily grabbed Bumble leaving the Wasp in a precarious position when he arrived back in town sans pupil. Her father would have killed him. However, Excor went right for Xanto and thus missed, not by much, but missed all the same. The mages were disappointed the villain had flown. The missing loot just added insult to injury.

Paradoxically the players actually seemed quite relieved that Xanto the Wasp had finally betrayed them even as they griped about it.

About one week later, the mages arrived back in Ezmer sans Arcan. He had parted company just before they hit the headland. As they pulled the wagons to the city gates, they saw the city bulwarks singed and blackened. In places, they were nearly completely demolished. Dozens possibly more Wher dragons laid in several rows and clumps, most dead some still twitching and being speared by the legion of guardsmen cleaning up the battlefield.

Fauna: “What the hell happened here!?”

Isis: “Yeah, geesh!”

Cris: “Oh yeah, it’s a Dragon Summer. They converge on the Ezmerian Headlands to mate.”

The crowded corner of Silver Circle street and Western Avenue was bustling with wagons, carriages, pedestrians, and horse riders. A group of agile street urchins weaved through them all before disappearing. Szoosha ineffectually watched the scene coursing around the street level of the Red Helm tavern from the window above in the cabal clubroom.

Fauna, Gornix, and Excor were sitting around the table dividing the loot that they had won. Each of the four had received a gold ring and necklace with a bee motif as well as a gold dagger as their share. Fauna claimed the gold skullcap that granted a +4 bonus to I.Q. when worn. Gornix took the bracers that granted +2 STR. Szoo claimed a gold ring that granted the Fearsome Form I spell and a constant +5 bonus to resist poisons. Excor took the ring that granted the Verminous Might (Winged Flight) spell and a necklace that granted the Sting spell 3 times per day (after a roll-off between the players).

Excor pulled the small silver chest from the portable hole and found it empty; it had a felt lining that had an indentation in it that fit the Amber Bee. They left the lotus mirror, an intelligent item, hidden in the cabal room, as none of them wanted it. They hung the lotus maces that they had captured on the walls of the tiny chamber as trophies.

After that had been accomplished, Excor pulled forth the first large chest that Gornix had holed up from the lotus vaults. The chest was oak banded with black iron. In place of a lock, there was a polished gold skull with a large ruby, citrine, and emerald in the eye sockets and nasal cavity. The jaw was jointed. Showing restraint Gornix “clairvoyanced” the lock finding out that the gems were buttons and to unlock it, the correct two must be pressed. However, the wrong combo would unleash a blast of toxic Grey Lotus spore.

Suddenly the mechanism unlocked and the top popped open as Fauna pushed the yellow then green gems without prompting. They admonished her lightly and then turned their attentions to the contents.

Within were a high quality nega-steel bottle with an aquamarine stopper carved into a flower that contained three doses of water charged with anti-magic energy. There was also a phoenix feather cape (Level 7 item, fire proof, Charm Against Evil (constant), Temporal Jump (1 x day), Seal of Health (10 charges)), a copper armlet with a large emerald carved into a lotus (level 8 item, grants a +1 I.Q. to wearer), 10 platinum talons, an alligator hide sack filled with gold bee husks (approximately 10 lbs. of gold), and a Drake hide sack filled with 100 pieces of tiger’s eye.

They each took 2 platinum talons leaving 2 for the cabal coffers. Finding that the locking mechanism could reset itself they closed it intending to leave it in the cabal room. Excor then withdrew the second chest.

It was another large iron-banded oak chest. Its locking mechanism was a solid gold faceplate inscribed with a honeycomb pattern where four of the cells had holes and three were buttons. Each button was inscribed with a black wasp, a gold bee, and a gold lotus. They argued a little back and forth about which two buttons to push after Gornix used his clairvoyance to confirm that was what they had to do.

Isis: “I got this! Um, the people there had a religion centered around gold bees and lotuses so…”

Szoo pushed the gold bee and then the gold lotus buttons. The chest popped open. The naga released a held breath.

Within the chest were a pair of highest quality leather gloves with amber buttons (level 7, +8 to sleight of hand, Quickness (constant), Counterspell: Curse: Affliction by touch 1 x day), a highest quality mirror-polished mithral priestess figurine (level 8, a command word grants a +9 to diplomacy and Owl’s Wisdom (1D4 + 3) 2 x day), and a highest quality stiletto with a clear quartz pommel stone, a blue-dragon-hide grip and decorative runes along the starmetal blade (level 14, +1D6 acid damage, keen weapon (18-20 critical)). There were also 10 talons of ice-steel, a silk sack filled with 100 pieces of obsidian, and a superior quality silk sack filled with 100 emeralds.

From that hoard, each mage got as their share 25 emeralds, 25 pieces of obsidian, 2 ice steel talons, and 25 pieces of tiger’s eye. Szoosha took the phoenix feather cape (after a player roll-off), Excor the armlet (after a roll-off between Cris and Gil), Fauna the gloves (after a roll-off between Jenn and Gil), and Gornix took the stiletto. They left the cabal coffers with 2 ice steel talons and the priestess figurine.

The following day the mages decided to finish off their reading of Vordan’s Tome. They picked up at the fourth section. The section began with a brilliant full-page illuminated gold lotus illustration. The section goes on to discuss the gold lotus giving a location where it could be found describing the location as “southern ruins alongside a billabong overseen by a warlord’s red edifice by a river at the foot of a bloody spire far southeast of the old black temple”.

Cris: “Well, there it is. Guess that’s next?”

They read on. Several gold gilded pages made up the meat of the section. They described the spell of legend Alchemical Gold but it was incomplete. The pages following those were from an old accounting ledger with pictures of various types of gold coins.

The fifth section was composed entirely of more entries from Vordan’s diary. All lamented or cursed something. The most interesting parts were of Vordan lamenting the loss of his ladylove to a lying, handsome, & corrupt official followed by several bad poems, revenge fantasies, and laughable schemata to win her back. There was a potion formula however of Allure and the spell Eatables to Maggots.

The sixth section consisted of several pages of reproductions of familial heraldry, only some of which were recognizable as those still in use. Vordan’s personal arms occupied a page. A black, white, grey, green-eyed Karkadann head on an orange lozenge like a longshield with an open book at helm and crossed green-leaved branches at bottom composed the wizard’s arms. Following were some more accounting pages with an address in the Market District. They also found the Luminescent Sigil and Harmless Beam spells. A large illustration of a key was on the page with the latter.

The seventh section was a beautifully illustrated catalog of mystic lotus types. Its final page was about the gold lotus and mentioning, “The royal jelly of that certain bee is required to grow them”. The section ended abruptly however cutting off the text. A few almost incoherent poems in a loose and sloppy hand occupied the margins. The section also talked about the refinement and use of the mystic lotus in alchemy. When using this section to identify lotus flowers the reader would get a +3 to identify and a +2 skill bonus when using alchemy.

The eighth and final section was simply a fusion of three sections taken from Vordan the Magnificent’s autobiography. The three sections concerned a torrid love story, a wizard’s duel in which Vordan lost, and the laments of an aged shop-keep. There were also three amateurish sketches of an alley shop front, an old man, and a small room with a chair in front of a strange circular window. There they found the spells Alarm, Amulet of Power, and Tele-Location.

They had heard that the twin swans had left on a ship with their brothers in arms in pursuit of a Creschan vessel, something to do with Creschan Fire. They had also heard that their former benefactor Virtra Wefa had poisoned herself along with her grim servant when faced with arrest by the black and white swan knights.

Later that week they tried to track down the Wasp at his house behind the Nezorik family mansion. He wasn’t home. So Szoo and Excor deposited the animated armor in the portable hole in his living room and left.

The mages found that Bumble became scarce at the next few meetings. Also the two ‘leaders’ were becoming ever more secretive as they seemed to get closer to Draega Skullshine the publican. However, Jirek was still chummy with them.

As the Dragon Summer ended, the mages prepared for fall. Fauna readied to make certain necessary political maneuvers involving the Brothers of the Rope. The other three were gearing up their operation for the rat fights, which would go into high swing come winter.

End of the Campaign (played between June 2016 and June 2017).

The Cabal of Eight Pt.43: The Final Room

The sound of stone grinding against stone filled the mages’ ears as the solid black-stone door slid the monster in the final chamberdown into the floor stopping with the finality of a thud. That door would never close again. A large central fire lighted the oblong octagonal chamber before them. The walls were of the same dull black stone as the rest of the place and floors were polished white marble tile. The ceiling was flat and very high.

Directly to the south was an elevated platform with white stone steps leading up to its top where sat a small silver box with wood panels. Supporting the western and eastern walls were a pair of thick but plain black pillars. Against the southerly diagonal walls, one to the east and the other to the west sat large iron-banded oak chests.

Gornix (played by Gil) immediately prepared to run in to one of the large chests and Excor (played by Cris) was eyeballing the small silver box.

The GM (me): *Exasperated Sigh* “Make a spot check.”

Gil: *Roll*Roll* “Nope. I go to the first chest.”

Fauna (played by Jenn) and Szoosha (played by Isis) stopped the Salt-Lotus Wizard from blindly charging into the newly opened chamber. They pointed out the giant lion-like creature lying at the center of the room, the firelight being at the tip of its tail. Its three heads were rousing but still groggy. In a rumbling voice that they felt more than heard, the central head spoke. However, the mages did not speak its language nor did they want to “waste” any spells trying to understand what it had said.

Cris: “It has three heads!? And it can TALK!?”

Fauna immediately charged in casting Lightning Bolt. The bolt struck the beast with no effect. Gornix on the other hand, moved in cautiously to the side and using his Dark Secret wizard ability was able to let the others know that it was immune to electricity. He also gave them a pointer on how to take it out which was mostly an educated guess. Meanwhile, Excor cast Shadow Ribbons and amazingly bound the monster. The creature struggled against the shadows. All three of its heads roaring a horrific bone quaking roar of rage and confusion but the mages were unshaken. Szoo cast Elemental Half-Plate Armor (fire) on himself.

While the players all yelled at Jenn that the monster was immune to electricity, Fauna cast Lightning Bolt on it yet again. Gornix cast Amplify Magic his spell easily penetrating the monster’s resistance. Excor cast Slow on it, his magic also penetrating its resistance easily. The beast spat a fireball from its central head catching Fauna, Excor, and Gornix in the ensuing blast of swirling flames. Fauna stumbled but was saved by her Mage Armor, which was dispersed. Gornix took half damage having forgotten to engage his Shield and Excor’s Mage Armor absorbed the damage but was greatly weakened (not many Hit Points left). He had used an item to don it just before Gornix had opened the vault door. Szoo summoned his flaming naginata and charged in.

Gornix cast Force Ram at the creature crunching in some of its ribs wounding it horribly. Excor cast Paralyze II at it, his magic again easily penetrating its resistance to magic. Szoo put all his strength behind his blow as he rammed his weapon into its battered and bleeding side. However, the flame born weapon couldn’t penetrate its hide.

Gornix slung another Force Ram at the creature dealing it a crushing deathblow. The beast’s massive corpse slowly faded into nothingness. The battle was over. The mages assessed the damage, only Gornix had been wounded in that fight but he dismissed it as “nothing”. They spread out inspecting but not touching the chests and box.

Fauna checked the stairs leading to the top of the platform for traps, seeing none she ascended to the box.

Fauna (eagerly): “Should I open this chest guys?”

In response, Excor stepped out of the room and prepared to duck behind the stone jamb. Fauna took her time inspecting the box and the platform upon which it was resting. She found that the box had already been opened a long time ago and it was definitely trapped. She figured that it sat on a pressurized crevice that if it were removed would unleash poisonous gas from a hidden reservoir. Gornix tried to sense magic on it but was unable to get anything so instead he got a little frustrated.

Consequently, he cast Breath without Air on himself. Fauna backed off to the bottom of the stairs. Szoo left the room and ducked behind the doorjamb opposite Excor. He tried to identify the box but it was just a box. Therefore, he attempted to disarm the trap. Fauna retreated to the others. He failed to disarm it. Suddenly, a large several inches thick blue-steel door started to slide down over the lone entrance. Thinking quick, Excor tossed Gornix the Portable Hole. A second later, the door slammed down sealing the room airtight. A vast amount of gas billowed from the square hole the box had formerly concealed.

Gornix was now at the center of the room with the hole in his hands. He tossed the silver box in as the billowing gas snuffed out the last vestiges of his vision. The gas was sickly green and very thick. It blotted out all light blinding all normal vision. He was in pitch black even though he tried to light his way with his staff.

Cris: “Man! You’re totally blind in there! Be careful!”

Gornix carefully felt his way slowly around the room to the first chest. He holed it up suddenly feeling and hearing a huge torrent of gas blasting into the room causing his ears to pop with the pressure.

Gil: “Aw man, I’m glad I got breath, breathe without air on me!”

He slowly moved across the room to the other chest. Almost tripping at about the center of the room, he was able to maintain his balance. He edged ever closer but had a little bit of a struggle to feel out the second chest. The gas chilled his skin. He could feel it billowing through his hair and between his fingers. Eventually he found the second chest and holed it up as well. Once again, he triggered the trap concealed by the chest and again a huge ice-cold gust of gas hissed into the room. Consequently, Gornix felt the building pressure in his lungs now and the gas was leaving a sticky residue over his skin, in his hair, and on his clothes.

So, he moved quickly towards the metal door keeping his hand on the wall after he felt past the pillars. He made it easily to the now freezing blue-steel and used Ghost Step to exit the gas-filled chamber.

Fauna: “I wonder if there were any concealed doors in there?”

Szoo: “Oh yeah, we never checked!”

Gornix: “Well I don’t think anybody is going to be able to go back in there ever again.”

He “prestidigitized” himself clean. Fortunately, the toxin did not seem to be a contact poison.

Excor (shrugging): “Whatever let’s get outta here! And give me back my hole.”

Jenn and Isis burst out into hysterical fits of maniacal laughter. Gil just clinched his eyes shut and put his hand over his face. Cris flipped the two women the bird.

To Be Concluded…

The Cabal of Eight Pt.42: The Lotus Vaults Pt.2

The shattered remains of the door lay before Gornix (played by Gil) revealing a long hallway to the The Lotus Vaults and all its doorssouth. As the others, Fauna (played by Jenn), Szoosha (played by Isis), and Excor (played by Cris) moved slowly and carefully down the newly opened passage, Gornix peeked back through the eastern archway. He found another passage going southward. He sneered with doubt and followed the rest of the group catching up to take over lead position.

The group approached the dimly lit chamber at the end of the hallway (9 on the map). The small room flickered with firefly light from its southeast corner. Against the northwest corner and occupying all of that 5 ft.-square space was a large piece of semi-transparent yellow-orange amber. Caught within they could see an ancient warrior in scale mail, a horned open helm on his head , his axe raised, his sharpened teeth bared in an eternally frozen bestial rage.

This feature made them wary of the room and Gornix took a little time to search the floor. He found a small, hastily scrawled magic circle. It was still carrying a charge and he was sure that it summoned something when crossed. He just did not know what. Excor heedless, portable-holed the amber encased barbarian.

Excor: “What? It’ll go great in my tower! … When I have it built.”

Gornix was determined to move on and with the barrier of the amber husk gone; he began to lead the group. Of course, he accidentally stepped directly over the magic circle activating it.

Three Lightning Bugs sprang into existence with a magic flash identical to the one that they had faced not long before. The fight was brief. Gornix turned the tide early with a cone of fire that killed two and Szoo and Excor pummeled the last to death with a fire ray and Chrono-Missile. That taken care of they proceeded to the end of the short passage.

There they found a rusty iron door with a magic rune carefully inscribed upon its face to the north (D8). Its key lock mechanism was jammed and badly rusted. Gornix used his knowledge of Magical Script to identify the rune and its purpose. He knew that if the door was attacked in any way that it would summon a giant inferior water elemental.

Cris: “aw man! If we activate that thing we’re all dead! DEAD! Look at where we’re at! A giant water elemental will fill this place up, engulf us, we’ll all drown!”

They stood there puzzled for a little while and very wary of the door. The players even checked their sheets to see who could swim. Only Fauna had the skill.

Gil: “There is definitely something worth it behind that door.”

They searched the old iron door for the depression that would allow the Amber Bee to open it as it had others previously. However, they found that it did not have this. Gornix and Excor decided to do a synergized check for traps. They scoured the surface of the door and its edges for any sign at all.

They found nothing aside from the rune. So Excor tried using the Knock spell from his platinum key. However, the door was firmly jammed shut and simply couldn’t be opened without the use of force. In response, Gornix had the bright idea to just “ghost step through”.

Gil: “Wait, wait, wait! Mini-portal spell to see what’s happening first.”

Through the small portal, they could see nothing but darkness. Therefore, Szoo shoved his flaming naginata through it allowing them to see inside via the flame light. The chamber beyond was another octagonal chamber and very plain with a flat ceiling each of its walls lined with dark and very dusty wooden shelves (10). They could see several jars of what appeared to be seeds and maybe some preserved honey.

Excited by this sudden treasure trove Excor and Gornix ghost stepped into the chamber. Excor cast illuminate. They proceeded to loot the place shoving everything into the portable hole. The group managed to snatch a single jar of grey lotus honey, 2 jars of golden lotus honey, 1 jar of yellow lotus honey, and 1 of purple. They also found 3 jars of lotus seeds with grey, blue, and black respectively. With that they also found 4 jars of pure lotus pollen; purple, red, blue, and yellow. The pair also found an ancient rotting scroll case hidden amongst the shelves and holed that up without opening it. They exited via ghost step.

They backtracked with Gornix in the lead. He slowly moved towards the next chamber at the end of the hall just above the amber warrior room the passage opening to the east. This chamber (11 on the map) was lit by several firefly ambers in the wall niches and seemed very plain save for the white tiled floor. Other than that, the room was completely empty. He was sure that there were no traps in here so he lead them through noticing however that there were weapon nicks everywhere along the walls and even on the floor.

The group moved through into the next connecting chamber through a tall deep archway. There may have been a door ages ago but there was no trace left. The room before them was enormous and very brightly lit as if by the sun itself. All four of the mages were gazing in wonder from the archway.

Within the room had a domed ceiling its apex at 35 ft. tiled with a mosaic of a sparsely clouded blue sky. The floor tiled with polished white marble, the thick black pillars were lotus themed, and gold leafed with chevron patterns. They could see what looked like a miniature sun orbiting around the inside of the dome cascading the room with pure daylight. At the center of the room was a barren planter sunk into the floor. However growing in that was a 20 ft. tall woody lotus flower of a kind unknown to any of them. Its large brown petals were shriveled and leather like, and its woody bole was wart covered and twisted.

In the south wall were a recess and a door cut from the same black stone. Standing in the north where the room opened into a natural cavern was a golden statue of a bee about the half the height of a man. Within that portion of the area, there was a small waterfall to the east pouring down a wall of uncut natural stone into a large curbed basin or cistern. They could smell the strong scent of fresh, clean moisture and the musk of old damp wood.

What concerned them and impeded their progress was the giant brown lotus. They were hesitant to trespass on its territory. Therefore, Fauna used her wilderness lore to surmise that the plant was indeed dead, she thought. Gornix however knew through his monster lore that the Lotus was not dead but dormant and was some sort of mutation caused by the nexus. He guessed that they must have been near the nexus that fueled this place. Gornix cast Breath without Air on himself and made sure his shield item was activated. They stood at the archway looking in. None of them wanted to be the first.

Gornix: “I have Breath without Air and Shield so f@#k it!”

Fauna: “Wait! Let me Commune with Nature first!”

Before the brash Gornix moved in towards the giant lotus, the druidess was able to discern that the plant was indeed an unnatural monster and was very much alive. She also was able to locate the rest of the cabal whom were still alive and close. In addition, the monstrous plant was growing directly on top of the nexus point. Gornix stepped in. With the painful creaking of wood, the monster plant turned and opened its petals like jaws.

Fauna cast Lightning Bolt from the arch dealing little damage. Excor cast Mage Armor on himself. Szoo hurled fire at the creature singing it a little bit. The mouth of the giant lotus turned towards Excor and Gornix unleashing a blast of woody seeds as projectiles. Excor dodged while Gornix attempted but failed losing his Shield.

Fauna lobbed another Lightning Bolt again dealing a little damage. Szoo again hurled fire at the creature barely singing it. Suddenly the soil in the planter erupted and a root like a tentacle whipped at Gornix. The White Lotus Wizard used his battle magic to intercept its attack with Force Ram. His spell smashed into the bole shattering bark and splitting the tentacle.

Excor cast Lightning Bolt at the creature dealing a little damage. Szoo hurled more fire dealing some damage this time but the plant had still not caught fire. Another root-tentacle erupted from the soil and snapped Excor wrapping around his waist and grappling him in a crushing noose. Gornix successfully cast Amplify Magic at it.

Another root exploded from the dark soil narrowly missing Szoo.

Fauna cast another Lightning Bolt this time the magic amplified she shattered bark and split wood nearly killing the creature. Gornix followed up with Force Ram smashing the monster into splinters. After they were sure it was dead, they spread out to explore the gigantic day lit chamber.

Excor wandered over to the gold bee statue. Formed by pressing and welding hundreds maybe thousands of dead gold bee husks together it was impressive. After searching it, he found an old note rolled and stuffed into a small crevice. He read it after casting Comprehend Languages. It read:

I have faith that you have found my note be that only you, my love, would in our little place. I am confident that we will soon be together as you have the bee to guide you. Though I still fear for you as the barbarians near the temple after trampling the capital. But I still pray that my yearning will be ended and we will be together finally at the glorious spire.

The signature had long since disintegrated and just after finishing the note the ancient parchment crumbled to dust in his hands.

Gornix: “Hey, what was that?”

Excor: “Aw nuthin’”

Excor bagged the gold bee statue. Meanwhile Gornix turned his attentions to the dead lotus. Inspecting the stump, he found the control obelisk within as the plant had grown over and around it encapsulating it. After all were satisfied that they couldn’t and probably shouldn’t bag the miniature sun, mostly Excor objected, they turned their collective attentions southward towards the black door.

This recessed door was of the same solid black stone from which most of this place had been chiseled (D9). It was 5 ft. wide and close to 12 ft. tall. Carved on the dull surface a couchant lion with a flame burring over its head. There was a small niche in the shape of the Amber Bee just below that.

Excor unwilling to open the door himself tossed the Amber Bee to Gornix who unhesitatingly opened it.

Gornix: “All right! This is it!”

To Be Continued…