Excor (played by Cris) and Szoosha (played by Isis) found themselves escorted by the Grey Serpent pirate crew to the Western Cliffs District. The pair had surprisingly talked the pirates out of murdering Jirek right there, by selling out the Wasp. As they neared the gates to the northern half of that section of the city, they both could see Fauna (played by Jenn) waiting in a rickshaw across from the gate under the shade of an aqueduct arch. Excor had managed a Whisper spell to her during the long walk.
Essentially, the plan was to get the pirate captain to meet with Bumble who would hopefully turn on her master. It was a longshot but the mages had nothing else. Jirek and the captain walked to the gate while Excor, Szoo, and the other five pirates including the half-giant, waited a short distance away.
The two mages and the ill-tempered pirates waited in awkward silence. Fauna kept her eyes locked on the group. Suddenly, the Ferenoi cleric turned her head and locked eyes with the druid.
Ferenoi Cleric (pointing at Fauna): “YOU!
Isis: “Aw, crap.”
Jenn: “C’mon! We can take ‘em!”
Immediately, and as she approached, Fauna cast Wizard’s Trick on the Ferenoi Cleric. The cleric shrunk into a snail. Szoosha tossed an Alchemist’s Fire at the second Ferenoi, the swashbuckler, singeing her armor. The swashbuckler replied by throwing her javelin at Szoo whom parried the projectile. Excor cast Invisibility I on himself. The half-giant surged forward swinging his heavy claymore at Fauna barely missing her. The mage with the wolf-skin mantle cast Elemental Blast (water) at Szoo but the Naga’s shield protected him. The Feren pirate unslung his steel shield and ran up next to the Ferenoi swashbuckler.
Fauna stomped on the snail.
Jenn (addressing the shocked look on her sister’s face and Cris’ laughter): “Hey I was gonna let her go but she just had to keep it going!”
Szoo tossed another alchemist’s fire at the swashbuckler but the Feren pirate immediately blocked the flask with his shield. The swashbuckler pulled her falcata and slashed at the Naga but the blade was stopped by the Naga’s shield. Excor twisted his Ring of Verminous Might and grew large insect-like wings. The half-giant swung again at Fauna striking her shield. The mage waved his hands and a small ball of ice formed before him that suddenly shot at Szoo who dodged it. The shieldman readied to defend the swashbuckler with his steel shield.
Fauna cast Wind Rush forcing the Half-Giant to dodge as well as knocking down, and blowing away the mage. The swashbuckler drew her dirk, slashed with her sword, and stabbed at the same time with her dirk. Szoo parried both weapons with his flaming naginata that instantly appeared in his scaly hands. Excor cast Amber Husk on the Half-Giant instantly trapping him in a large iceberg of solid glistening amber. The shieldman continued to ready to defend the swashbuckler.
Fauna tried to cast a spell but it fizzled. Szoo used his magic bracers to use Armor Bane via touch on the shieldman’s shield. The shield immediately crumbled to dust. Excor activated his Jet Amulet of Shielding. The swashbuckler again took a double strike with dirk and sword against the Naga striking and dispelling his shield. The mage, on the ground almost 100 ft. away, melted into a flow of water that quickly disappeared down a gutter. The shieldman got a javelin from his back.
Fauna cast Wizard’s Trick on the swashbuckler transforming her into a snail. Szoo touched the swashbuckler’s leather armor, which rotted away and fell off.
Isis: “I LOVE THESE BRACERS!”
Excor used his Copper Spike and shot a bolt of electricity at the shieldless shieldman wounding him slightly. The shieldman in turn, tossed his javelin at Fauna missing badly. Fauna stomped on the snail and the shieldman cried out in grief. Szoo swung at the shieldman with his naginata but tripped over his own tail. Excor caught the grieving shieldman in an amber husk ending the skirmish.
The three mages were unable to savor their easy victory however as the alarm bell began ringing above the gates. Guards began streaming from the guardhouse surrounding the great monoliths of amber. The mages quickly realized that the guards were focused on carrying away the two large pieces of semi-precious amber. Excor, still invisible, flew over the gate and headed towards Bumble’s house. Fauna and Szoo slunk away and through the gates while the guards were distracted.
Excor made it to Bumble’s family property and dropped himself in front of the Wasp’s hovel. It was wide open and he could see both Jirek and the pirate captain tossing the place. Suddenly, Jirek shouted, “I found it!” The captain immediately ran over to him and they both pulled the iron sea chest into Excor’s view. The captain yelled, “No, no, no!” He flipped open the chest lid. “Someone opened it!?” It appeared to Excor that the chest had contained a case according to the lining, one that was narrow and long.
Excor (mumbling to disappointedly himself): “Of course the Wasp already opened it.”
Excor flew back to the front of the property in time to intercept his companions. He canceled his spells and filled them in on the news. They decided to go back to the White Prong for some food and ale and wait to see if Thorn the beggar would make an appearance.
Later that afternoon around a table in the bustling White Prong, the trio of mages sat around a table after finishing their meal and ordering a second round of dark ale.
Excor (to Fauna): “You did find Thorn right?”
Fauna: “Well, I was asking around for him.”
Excor: “Good enough. He’ll hear us.”
As if on cue, a young street urchin wandered into the tavern and walked up to the mages’ table. He introduced himself as Xete and told the mages that Thorn’s coin has been bought but he could help them granted they could buy his coin for the day. Excor promised him a platinum piece if he could locate Xanto the Wasp who was probably in disguise and traveling with his protégé Ilna of Nezorik aka “Bumble”. It was test to see if his coin was worth purchasing of course. The boy bowed and jaunted off.
For a few hours the mages sat and drank, Excor smoked his pipe. It was nearing evening when the street urchin seemingly appeared at their table. The Wasp and his apprentice were sitting in the barroom of the Red Helm. Excor flipped the boy the promised platinum piece with the promise to buy his coin tomorrow morning.
The three mages virtually ran to the Red Helm and as soon as they were inside of the door, Szoo spotted an old man sitting at a table nearest the bar and a young girl pacing back and forth next to a black leather case that leaned against the table. The pair looked nothing like the Wasp or his apprentice but the three mages surmised they were under a Disguise spell. Excor took up a position at table exactly opposite them. Szoo slithered up to a position next to the front window in case they made for the door. Fauna sauntered up to the bar; she caught the young girl eyeballing her from the corner of her eye.
The three mages were just starting to decide a plan of action when the Black Eagle pirates with Direnda in the lead filtered into the place. They crowded the space just in front of the bar their hands on their weapons.
Isis: “Oh no.”
Three warriors in blue followed by the blue dragon in her noblewoman form strode in. The warriors immediately took fighting stances at the sight of the pirates.
Jenn: “aw man.”
A few seconds later, Jirek, the Grey Serpent Captain and his Mage jogged in through the door and spotted Excor but as the captain’s hand met his weapon, he noticed the crowded room as did his companions.
At that moment, Draega fluttered in from behind the bar on his way towards the blue lady but then noticed the full and very tense room.
The wheels of the rickshaw were clattering on the wet cobblestones as it zoomed through the dark streets. Intermittent drizzles had glazed the city deepening the shadows and causing even the smallest candlelight to glare off the wet stone and plaster. Great clouds of steam rose all around from sewer grates helping the mages’ rickshaw to stay hidden in their pursuit of the dragon’s coach. Szoo (played by Isis) slithered at top speed next to his companions ridding in said rickshaw. The rickshaw-puller was pumping his legs furiously and panting heavily.
Eventually, the carriage slowed after arriving at the far northeast sector of the city. The rickshaw in turn kept at a two-block distance. The coach turned onto Slavers’ Circle and into the Slavers’ Quarter. It stopped in front of a slave mart flying the flag of the Golden Devil Company the gravel of the auction yard crunching under the iron-shod wheels as it pulled alongside a colonnade.
The rickshaw stopped around the corner from the coach on North Avenue, a drift of sewer-fog helped to hide the three mages from the coachman’s view. As Fauna (played by Jenn) and Excor (played by Cris) leaped from the rickshaw, Excor dropped another 2 silver pieces into the puller’s sweaty palm who then immediately took off in the opposite direction.
Excor and Fauna cast Invisible to Sight on themselves and Szoo with little trouble. They waited and watched. The carriage departed shortly after a footman from the mart appeared and guided the lady dragon inside the yard. As far as the mages could tell the mercenaries in blue left with the carriage.
Isis: “What’s she doing here!? Looking for slaves?”
Cris: “Maybe, we did put her guys on ice er, in amber. Ha, ha, ha!”
Jenn: “She’s in league with the slavers?”
Cris: “Naw! Yes she is! We know who made those collars!”
The mages hurried, invisible, to the iron gates. The lock was built into the gate and very solid. The gates themselves were set in a whitewashed adobe wall, twelve feet high, behind a gallery its roof supported by a colonnade. The gallery roof was tiled in copper rather than the typical red terracotta or blue slate so common in the city. Szoo easily slithered over the wall next to the gallery and helped Fauna over. They kept hold of each other’s hands in order to stay together. Excor used his gold Ring of Verminous Might (The Cabal of Eight Pt.44: Betrayed At Last!) growing insect wings and flying over the fence.
They were now in the gravel yard within the bleach-white walls of the slave mart. The yard, bounded by the 12 ft. tall adobe wall, was large and of packed gravel. To their immediate right was the locked iron-gate and to the left was a longhouse, with whitewashed plaster walls and terracotta roof. It had small barred square windows and a large barn door on the front and back. From it oozed the hideous stench of rotting corpses. Further away at the center of the yard, was a large round stone-lined pit surrounded by a collapsed wooden structure, probably a fighting pit and collapsed bleachers.
Immediately to the right of the pit sat another longhouse that boasted three smokestacks, a kitchen the mages surmised. Further north of that was a smaller longhouse, yellow firelight shone from the two square windows that the mages could see. The footman and the blue lady were just entering this building. Fauna and Szoo hustled towards it. At around 100 ft. above them, hovered Excor.
He saw that a larger building took up the rear of the yard built right up against the rear wall. Its tiny windows were barred and the arched front entrance appeared as the caged face of a prison. From this building, the reek of human misery drifted. This was the slave barracks. Excor sneered and realized that the rear wall abutted against the crenulated wall of the Slavers’ Castle. He gazed up at the massive stone structure only a few windows lit in the pitch black of night. Then he saw the thing that froze his blood solid in his veins.
Resting atop the large keep was the shadowy outline of a full-grown dragon. It was the resident brown-fang dragon paid by the slavers to guard their castle and service the city when required. This dragon’s name was Gristle-Talon. Its great shadow limned head swung, the eyes gleamed white for a second reflecting the scant light of the city. Excor froze in mid-air and waited to make sure that that great beast had not detected him. The pair of white pinpoints passed over him without reaction. When he was satisfied that he was indeed safe, he floated gently down to the gravel.
Meanwhile, Szoo and Fauna were peeking through one of the small square windows of the only lit longhouse in the yard. The pair realized that this building housed the guards, footmen, and a few servants. The footman who had guided the dragon into the house pointed to a guard sitting at a table, his dice game apparently cut short. Szoo could overhear the dragon demanding her “dinner” as she was “hungry”. The guard looked reticent as he rose and fumbled with a key ring on his belt. He gestured her to follow as he led her from that building. They were heading southeast at a rapid pace.
Szoo and Fauna maneuvered around taking shelter behind the corners of the few buildings trying to follow their quarry at a distance. In their excitement, they had let go of each other’s hands and thus had no idea where the other was. Excor immediately flew back up into the air trying to keep out of the dragon’s sensory range.
Jenn: “Okay, so she’s headed to the kitchen right?”
Isis (looking at the crude ad-hoc map): “I don’t think so, that would be here, so…”
Cris: “Kitchen yeah, pfft, that kitchen doesn’t have enough food for that dragon!”
The blue lady slowed her pace and in the blink of an eye, her humanoid form rolled out and elongated into that of a very large adult blue dragon. The tiara, necklace, and rings all still adorned her true form; they had changed as well to fit the creature. All three mages felt a twinge of fear but were able to maintain their wits. Meanwhile, the guard had jaunted to the building that sat at the far southern corner and left of the gate. He unlocked and threw open the barn door and ran away back to the guardhouse at full speed not once looking in the blue dragon’s direction.
The dragon stuck its head into the open door and began pulling out the corpses of dozens of humanoids, most were Meren frog and lizard men but others were human. The mages were meanwhile trying to maneuver as close as they dared. Then bones began to crunch. Fauna could barely contain herself.
Jenn: “Ugh! That’s DISGUSTING! I wanna kill this b!#%h right now!”
Isis: “YES! Let’s do THIS!”
Cris: “Whoa! What about that other dragon, the brown-fang!”
Isis: “Oh yeah, I forgot about him.”
The mages maneuvered themselves to the iron-gate and decided against attacking the dragon outright, especially since the current circumstances were against them. They did argue for a little about if they should just “get her now” but ultimately they decided to flee and look for a better chance to face her down.
Fauna cast Gaseous Form on Szoo and herself and they floated away towards the street. Excor flew to the copper roof of the gallery, carefully looked around for any watchers, and then flew straight home.
By the time they had arrived home, the door and the floor were fixed. The first to arrive was Excor, one of the carpenter’s apprentices was there waiting to hand him the key. He sat down after taking the key and dismissing the boy then lit his pipe. The other two walked in a short time later. A few minutes after that, they had formulated their plans for the next day. Fauna would scour the streets for and hire Thorn. Excor and Szoo would show up at Jirek’s warehouse to “check up on the rats”. Actually, they were using that as an excuse to see what he was up to and if that had anything to do with the dragon.
The next day – the 25th of Monsoon, the shouts and ringing bell of a town crier woke the three mages at the crack of dawn.
The Crier: “Marshaling in the South Market District Plaza! Rebels must be quelled in the far west at Serpent’s Back Ridge! All healers, men-at-arms, warriors, and mercenaries welcome, good pay!”
After breakfast, the trio split up to carry out their plans and investigate some leads. Excor and Szoo headed towards the harbor and Fauna decided to head back to the Slave Mart. After paying for a rickshaw ride, she soon found herself standing before the gallery of the mart she had burglarized the previous night. The slavers were hanging up colorful strings of pennants and installing chains to iron loops between the columns. She approached a fancy looking gentleman who seemed to be in charge. He immediately swung around and yelled, “get lost wh@!e, I’m not interested!”
She balled her fists and started walking away but spotted Vor Jetl in a trademark green silk jacket with gold dragonfly clasps. He was filing towards the gravel auction yard with a small group of other merchants. The chubby merchant was there to purchase some more servants. He would speak to her later, over lunch at the White Prong.
Vor Jetl (to Fauna): “Frankly, I cannot be seen with you little sister, er, priestess.”
He whispered the last word so only she could hear. With that, he wandered away from her and she similarly began to walk away. She had no idea how she was going to find Thorn.
Meanwhile, Szoo and Excor had spotted the pair of ratlings trailing them. Szoo spotted some sort of insignia on them but did not recognize it. It was a pair of black daggers crossing over a red scorpion. Excor cast spook and frightened one away. His companion followed, unwilling to confront the pair of mages alone. Not long after that mild inconvenience, the pair arrived at the warehouse. It was locked tight. Szoo used his cabal medallion to Whisper to Jirek. They consigned themselves to waiting.
Meanwhile, Fauna was at the bank depositing 5 emeralds and 5 sapphires. She also cashed out 3 emeralds (with a 10% surcharge). She figured she would use that to pay Thorn if she could find him. However, she was still unsure of how she would find him or where.
At the warehouse, after about an hour of waiting, the cabal scribe finally arrived. Jirek apologized to Excor and Szoo but as he had a working warehouse now it had to be secured when he was not there. The pair shrugged and followed him inside after he unlocked the door. The place was only about a quarter full stacked with several crates and barrels in one corner. A large sea trunk made of iron sat by the stairs to the basement.
The place was well lit the light beaming in from the small glazed windows above. When they were last here, the windows had been filthy and muddied the scant light they did let in. The crates and barrels had several different marks on them including a few with a big black eagle painted on them. What really caught their eyes though was the trunk by the stairs. It not only had a large black eagle painted on it but also had several runes on it, it was magically sealed.
Isis: “Aw man! He’s got Direnda’s stuff!”
Cris: “Relax, play it cool. I’ll talk to him while we’re checking the rats.”
The two adventurers began checking their rats in their cages they were in great shape. There was also a makeshift bed in the corner that had been slept in recently. Excor surmised that Gornix might have been hiding out here. Excor then turned to Jirek and began to ask him about his pirate friends when the crash of breaking glass from the floor above interrupted. The three dashed upstairs in time to see the large iron trunk whisked out of a broken window by four giant wasps.
Excor: “The WASP! Dammit! I knew it! I knew he was gonna show up!”
Isis: “Oh gawd, the Wasp! Of course he would show up!”
The warehouse door flew open. Standing there were Jirek’s pirate friends, the Grey Serpents. Their captain in the lead they shuffled into the warehouse. Following the captain were the Ferenoi swashbuckler, the mage in soft leather, and a man in full scale-mail and horsetail-tasseled helmet. Following him was another tall amazon Ferenoi. She appeared to be a priestess or maybe cleric of some type her grey cape adorned with a large white lightning bolt billowing behind her. Outside was yet another member of their crew, a Hill-Lander Half-Giant in scale-mail and leather gauntlets armed with a heavy claymore.
Grey Serpent Captain: “A-Ha! Jirek my friend! We have found our buyer and we are here to pick up the *ahem* cargo. We have your coin! Congratulations! We are out of your hair ha ha!”
The evening of the 24th of Monsoon – The wet tops of hardtop carriages passed rapidly by, the clatter of hooves, and the patter of uncountable hordes of boot heels as endless flows of pedestrians moved on either side of traffic through a street ripe with a layer of horse manure accented by a foreseeable but occasional splash in a filthy puddle. Sometimes, a rickshaw would glide over the muddy paving stones of Silver Circle Street. Szoosha sighed as he continued to gaze out through the window at the traffic roughly 20 ft. below in the dimming light. It was the black-scale naga’s habit to wait by the window for the boring cabal meetings to finish. The others sat around the old mahogany table in the cluttered, dirty, little clubroom.
The only thing that had been exciting so far had been just before the meeting. As Szoo followed, Excor had passed the bar into the rear hallway looking for Draega, the publican. There the pair saw Draega finishing a screed aimed at three rough looking customers over some “rowdiness”. All three were definitely pirates. The leader was a tall, very heavily muscled human; his skin was fair as was his hair, likely a Fuglotian from the far north. A rapier slung from his thick belt. He was wearing bear hide armor with a wolf skin mantle about his shoulders, over his breast hung a leather bib with the image of a grey serpent sown into it.
The second was another fair-skinned human, another Fuglotian, however this man was much more slight with soft leather armor, a grey serpent sown on the breast, and a wolf skin mantle on his shoulders. He appeared to be some sort of mage possibly a specialist. The last was a Feren swashbuckler. She possessed a beauty like a polished piece of obsidian, attractive and cold with a hard, sharp, and perfect symmetry. Again, a wolf skin mantle hung from her broad shoulders and a pale serpent adorned the leather bib that hung over her chain mail shirt. The horsetail tassel that hung from her polished helmet was bright white even in the candlelit murkiness of the tavern. A dirk and a falcata hung at her round hips.
Consequently, the pirates walked away snarling under their breaths at the chubby publican. Of course, Excor and Szoo were welcomed with open arms. Apparently, Excor was cutting a deal with Draega to sell him a hogshead of fine mead for a very good price. As a gesture of goodwill, Excor passed him a jug of the stuff as a free sample. Soon after, the pair of mages joined their company upstairs in the clubroom. As they took their seats, Szoo noted that Jirek had a fine new cloak and a pair of very shiny gem-adorned rings. Szoo awoke from his reverie with a snort as Excor piped up at the table.
Excor: “So! I guess I should warn everyone here that a group of pirates, the… the Black Eagles, are looking for someone at this very table!” He leaned back with his pipe, “Just a warning.”
Subsequently, Excor, Fauna, and Szoo all noticed that Jirek nearly choked on the smoke newly drawn from a shiny new carved bone long-stem pipe. He then took a hearty gulp of the good complimentary red wine that Draega Skullshine habitually sent up to keep from coughing up a lung.
Isis: “Aw, no Jirek, what have you gotten yourself into now?”
Cris: “Yeah, well, we’ll have to talk to him about it when we get a chance after the meeting.”
After all the standard motions of the meeting were concluded, the adventurers related the story of the mushroom king (see The Cabal of Eight II Pt.9: Fungus Force Five) to the rest of the cabal. Subsequently, Jirek spoke up saying that he recognized the necklace. He had seen an illustration of it somewhere in the library. It had belonged to an ancient wizard that came with the Westlanders when the city fell the first time 600 years ago. There was something else about it, but he just could not remember what it was at the moment.
When Excor and Fauna questioned Jirek about his new “bling”, the scribe responded that his warehouse business was doing “quite well”. He even has had to “lock it up”. Soon after, Belrae, the apparent self-appointed leader of the cabal, dismissed the meeting. Rhiam sat quietly by his friend the entire meeting, unusual for a bard. Bumble likewise, remained tight-lipped, never making eye contact with Fauna even as the druid tried to get her to talk. The others quickly left the room, the trio of adventurers lagged behind.
After deciding to grab some dinner in the tavern below, the trio walked down the stairs. They noticed Jirek was still in the place and sitting at a table by himself. So, they decided to join him. Bumble was also still in the tavern though the three mages were unaware as to why. Shortly, after the food was laid on the table, a steaming platter of heavily spiced sliced beef and small bowls of a thick broth with small pieces of chopped vegetables in it, the three Grey Serpent Pirates walked by, the leader tweaking his head to the scribe motioning him to follow. Jirek jumped up from the table and joined them at a table in a dark corner of the theater. Suddenly, Bumble swished by following Jirek and the pirates.
Szoo: “I don’t like this.”
Excor: “She’s doing her master’s bidding probably keeping an eye on Jirek… for some reason.”
Fauna: “Aw man! Maybe we should rescue her.”
Isis: “Geez sis! Why don’t you marry HER!”
Cris: “Pfft! The Wasp is her master, that’s how she’s learning her magic! Rescue her, right. Pff!”
The three adventurers were considering their options while trying to keep the pirates, Jirek, and Bumble in view. Suddenly, a small group of warriors draped in powder blue Actons, stomped into the tavern. Following them, a fair noble woman with pitch-black hair and stern of expression glided in. Black fragrant oiled curls dangled on the sides of her delicately featured but stone hard face as her bright blue eyes scanned the barroom.
She had on a long blue and silver silk dress cut in the Hyvalian style. Also she had a diamond-studded silver tiara in her hair with a large central blue-sapphire and a diamond necklace that hung over her upper breast from which five silver acorn charms dangled. On her right wrist, she had a silver bracelet and on her left a gold one.
Excor (after taking a deep breath): “Just take it easy, let’s just sit here and see what’s going on.”
Cris (to me, the GM): “I prepare to activate my ring of invisibility; I want an initiative roll against her if she spots us to go invisible.”
Immediately, Draega fluttered up to her, did a courtly half-bow, and kissed her hand. He motioned, probably to guide to her to the back or basement to converse in privacy but she was not having it. Her face was stone, her stance was solid with confidence but her hands were fumbling with the expensive lace and bone fan she was holding. The trio did their best to read lips in the chaos and noise of the bustling tavern but all they got was that she was upset about a delivery. Apparently, whatever it was it was late. They also recognized a couple of words on Draega’s lips as “Black Eagles”. The blue dragon’s entourage turned and began to leave without noticing the three mages.
Fauna: *Gasp* “Draega’s involved with her!?”
Excor: “Of course he is! He’s a scumbag, criminal connect!”
The blue-clad warriors, probably mercenaries, filtered out into the street, meanwhile Jirek and the Grey Serpent Pirates rushed passed the mages’ table and out the door. Bumble rushed past shortly thereafter.
Excor: “Okay let’s go.”
Szoo: “Wait, who’re we following?”
Excor (in an unsure tone): “All of ‘em right now.”
As soon as they were out the door, the three mages caught a glimpse of Bumble twisting a gold ring on her finger instantly transforming into a small bumblebee that buzzed off after Jirek and the pirates. That group was already disappearing from sight conceivably heading towards the harbor and Jirek’s warehouse. Alternately, the trio spotted the blue company who were mounting a carriage that appeared to be preparing to leave in the opposite direction.
The three mages were completely unsure of which party to follow as both began to disappear from view in the distance.
Isis: “Crap, crap, crap…”
Jenn: “Um, hmmm, jeesh, I dunno, I kinda wanna follow Bumble even though she’s kind of a b!#ch to me now.”
The vista of human-drama and blood-spectacle of a battle-scene enthrall audiences with fury and fire. War operates as a high point of action and emotion in many a heroic epic and countless works of fiction. Battles and war in general often function as the scissor ending character-threads. These of Player Characters (PCs) and Non-Player Characters (NPCs) alike. Sometimes also putting a cap on or violent ending to certain ongoing conflicts. This is war as Set-Piece.
Large-scale battles and war are beyond the scope of most roleplaying games (RPGs), the small more personally focused heroic adventures. In these adventures, battles occur between small groups of adventurers and villains. The typical scope that most RPGs are designed to handle is intimate duels between heroes and monsters. Anything larger in scope is Mass Combat.
When it comes to roleplaying games, the Game-Master (GM) can employ Mass Combat rules. This as a means to create a Set-Piece, which can add action, drama, and structure to a campaign. Set-piece battles can widen the scope of the campaign, especially as a grand finale. A battle is an action and dramatic high point that should come between two lulls in the action. All the while adding to player immersion especially those with inclinations towards strategy. Such set pieces can lend structure to a portion of the campaign as a battle set-piece has a basic structure.
Mass Combat as a term describes a large-scale battle between military units. Military Units being warriors or soldiers gathered into formations and part of a command structure. Whereas a Set-Piece is essentially a spectacle that is also an escalation in danger which serves as an exclamation point in the timeline of a campaign. In common parlance, a Set-Piece describes a “big” scene in a movie. This big scene meant to incur awe in the audience and to escalate and carry along the narrative.
Time Dilation & Contraction
In tabletop roleplaying games (ttRPGs), however, a Set-Piece Battle does not have to inspire awe so much as emphasize danger and define the stakes to the players. Concerning tabletop RPGs, the mechanics of battle are of high importance. For simplicity, I will use the general terms Melee Round and Time Scale in reference to this. Melee Round refers to a slice of time or gameplay where the players’ turns are taken and actions occur. These are typically limited per character and define a discrete slice of in-game time.
Time Scale is a little more general than that. It refers to the scope of time and its dilation between a Melee Round and a round of Mass Combat or its contraction in the other direction. As the scope of Mass Combat is larger as opposed to an individual character’s turn in a melee round. The amount of time a military unit/hero unit takes in a turn is of greater scope. Note that Hero Units refer to units comprised of the PCs and followers if any.
Of course, PCs and other individuals can act quicker than a full unit that is acting in unison. Therefore, PCs’ turns and actions would move more in individual or human scope within the larger action of the battle. This provides more opportunities for the players and the GM to conduct a more exciting game.
The purpose of this article is not to suss out the cause of war or to philosophize about its nature. I will not expound upon its real-life consequences or the immorality of it all. The purpose is to describe how story-tellers and thus Game-Masters can use a battle-scene to improve their game. This increasing enjoyment for all while playing the game. War in the context of this article is not to be construed to be anything more than what is represented in fantasy fiction and miniature wargames.
A Battle shifts perspectives from the epic scale of the full battle using Mass Combat rules to the PCs. PCs are “hero units” on a personal/human scale where normal melee combat rules take over. This allowing the PCs to act in hero mode. An example of this is where a round of mass combat represents 1-minute in time as opposed to 15 seconds per melee round. It is between these two perspectives that the GM must shift to make the most of a battle set-piece.
Shifting back and forth is simple enough. Start with a Mass Combat Round and then move to a single normal Melee Round. Then just alternate until the larger scope is finished and then go back to the normal heroic type game. This works perfectly when the Mass Combat and Melee Round mechanics you use can essentially fit into one another. Like Russian nesting dolls based on their time measurements.
Player characters can act on the mass-combat scale as a military unit moving with it referred to as Hero Units. The GM can allow the hero unit to move as a combat unit during the Mass Combat phase. After that, during the standard melee round then the GM may allow the PCs their full movements on the field as individual heroes. This depending on the mechanics of the game system being used of course.
The reason for this is that even though at the heroic level time moves quicker they get only 1 melee round in between the larger units of game time. Note also whenever the GM deems it fit they can shift focus. Often choosing to focus on the smaller scale of the player characters.
The Influence of “Heroes”
The GM should have a good idea as to how the PCs can alter or otherwise influence the battle. PCs should be able to influence the outcome. The only questions about the battle that matter becomes how much the PCs will influence the battle and how tied to the PC’s personal victories is the outcome of the battle? The GM should already know the answer to that last one; the players are responsible for the first. More questions that definitely matter to the GM are: What are the consequences of victory, of loss?
A GM should come up either with opposing authorities that will attract the ire of the players. This can be done by creating easily identifiable enemy commanders. Or by inserting recurring villains that the players are already familiar with into the upper ranks of the enemy forces. These act as beacons or rather targets for the PCs. This giving them a direction almost immediately or at least as soon as they suss out the enemy commanders.
The GM needs to already have the personal foes of the PCs in places of power. This is even if it is only an honorary or champion position. But it is where the foe holds a strategic position or their loss will cause a fault in opposing morale. Essentially the NPC commanders and champions (and possibly shock troops) are the true main foils to the PCs. Previously introduced foils are valuable in battle set-pieces. As the PCs have some animosity already built towards them they become prominent targets within the enemy force.
The PCs need to not only be able to change the course of history but should be willing to do so in the course of the battle. Perhaps the course of a wider conflict. War, in the context of this article, refers to a series of battles fought strategically. The outcome of each battle has some sort of political, economic, cultural, or raw power value. Any lesser confrontations within this wider war that lacks any of these things are skirmishes. Or are maneuvering for advantage prior to the actual strategic strike. Note that each can be a set-piece unto itself if large and complex enough.
With a full-on war, the GM needs to have an idea of what the impact will be. Whether on the history of the setting/world or the resultant mythology spun around those events later on. Hopefully, this mythology includes tales of the PCs exploits and conduct on the field of battle as well as victories. Much less the mundane spoils of their ventures, however.
Immersive Action Sequences
Battles are in RPGs as they are in novels and movies. That is a major action sequence that can help to focus the attention of the audience. In this case, players, but they are nothing without some buildup and anticipation on the part of the PCs. The GM needs to build up to such set-piece battles and keep the attention of the players focused. The players should have a clear idea as to where their character stands on the field of battle. Not just regarding loyalties (political, cultural, etc.) but also their personal goals and wherein the command hierarchy they’ll fall.
There should be some “downtime” before the action of the battle. This including some preparation or travel as needed to build some tension using the players’ anticipation to add suspense. They should not be too confident of winning especially when they finally lay eyes on the enemy force. This goes for the reputation, rumors, and personal experiences with the enemy commanders and champions as well.
Using the technique of perspective-shifting as discussed previously the GM can immerse the players in the fight. Especially if they’re responsible for a military unit as commanders. Do not be afraid to throw in an extraneous NPC. This NPC having some backstory and a personality but otherwise the same as the rest of the nameless troop. However, one that the players can interact with and possibly to which assign some emotional value.
The structure of the battle set piece itself allows the battle to rage around the PCs. The melee scope allowing personal level fights on the battlefield. Hopefully against those targets that will make a difference to the outcome using Perspective Dilation. The description given by the GM after a Mass-Combat round is finished should be brief and clear as to the result before going into the Melee Round. This being essentially a PC-eye-level survey of the battlefield around them. Fixing in the mind’s eye the idea that the battle is raging around them as they fight.
The Structure of a Battle
Each battle as a set-piece has a certain simple structure that easily translates to game events in a tabletop campaign. As a result, set-piece battles lend their structure to the portion of the game where they occur. This structure consists of three major parts.
The Lead-Up – The part leading up to the battle but before the forces are fielded.
The Action – Starts as the opponents take the field and the battle proper occurring almost entirely on the battlefield. The GM should give a clear description of the battlefield around the PCs when moving from a Mass Combat round into a Melee Round.
The Aftermath – This occurs after the fighting has stopped or with sieges when the siege ends. Clear winners and losers are not required just a definite end to the current struggle and its action.
The Lead-Up consists of the time when the battle is known to be imminent but has yet to take place. It involves the preparations for the battle, the time used to travel to the battlefield. Also, the time spent trying to track down or corner the enemy. Or even when avoiding them depending on the tactics at play.
This is also the phase where the stakes are made clear if they are not already. To clarify the stakes the GM should ask themselves what will happen if the PCs’ side loses. What will they gain if they win or even does victory or defeat hinge entirely on the PCs’ actions? Is the purpose to win or stall for time or other such goals. The players need to be clued into the answers to these questions.
The Action phase is the battle proper. Conduct this phase as previously described allowing time to dilate and constrict alternatingly for the length of the incident. During this phase, the players have the most influence beside any preparations during the lead-up. All of the major action of and the battle itself occur in this phase. This is the phase that plays most heavily into the mechanics of the system. The end of this phase of a set-piece battle is harder to judge than the end of the lead-up phase though.
The end of the action phase generally happens when the military units are no longer engaged in combat. However, this does not count the lulls in the combat. During lulls in the fighting, GMs may want to revert to the standard Melee Round to better engage the players. Note that a major lull occurs when both sides withdraw to set up camp. Thus allowing them to start up again the next day. This does count as a lull in the action rather than an end of the action phase.
These sorts of actions are counted as extended lulls in the action of the overall set-piece. Not the end of the battle. This even though certain throwbacks to the previous phase can occur here. Especially the pouring over of maps, scouting/spying, and planning for the next day. Though this is all of a smaller scale. It is on the scale of the battlefield. When the action does reach its end the game enters the aftermath stage.
The Aftermath is the result of the battle including all of the dramatic elements. These elements being the loss of friends (remember the extraneous NPC with a backstory?) or companions if a PC should fall. Hardcore roleplaying elements such as questions of morality versus emotion and practicality can arrive into the game narrative. Examples being what to do about the prisoners, what about the wounded both theirs and ours. Are there any refugees to deal with?
How many fighters were routed and from what sides/units? Did they flee into the countryside to become another albeit smaller but more dispersed threat later on? Did the PC’s side win or lose and if either where are the PCs and what actions do they take? Is this just the start of a larger war or the finale of a campaign? What about the families of the dead and wounded? How are the PCs treated after their victory or failure, after a costly victory or an awful slaughter? How terrible was the cost to both or either side and will it lead to diplomatic talks or intricacies as a result?
Whatever the results, both long term and short, the immediate scene should sear itself onto the minds of the players. The scene would be that of the war dead spread across the field and the destruction of the landscape. This vital piece of narrative description can be used as a capper to the action immediately after the fighting. Among this rack and ruin is where the PCs have some breathing room to survey their surroundings. The GM should give players time to react afterward before the storm of questions and logistics fall on their heads.
Some Miscellaneous Fodder
A battle or for that matter, war, tends to expose the politics at work and/or those that have failed. It also allows all sides to display their military pageantry, their colors, and heraldry. How the generals and commanders conduct battle. Even how the armies are structured exposes a lot about the cultures engaged in the fighting. Particularly when compared/contrasted with each other. War can reveal the true cultural values of a people through raw violent action. This action often contrary to what its representatives may tout. Here the GM can tailor each battle to their campaign world and put more of their imagined cultures on display.
Along with the pomp and politics of war as well as its reflection of the true inner workings of a culture engaged in it war can also have far-reaching consequences. Even a small battle will have some far-reaching and long-lasting effects. The most common of these are stray soldiers including mercenaries. Those who have decided to stick around and survive by pillaging the countryside. Perhaps after deserting their respective outfits or fleeing battle.
Another major and the most visible consequence is the displacement of the locals. Especially true of battles fought in or around a settlement, town, or city. The PCs can be caught up in these peoples’ struggles to just survive. While trying to find another place to settle or just picking up the pieces of their former lives.
Most if not all, would also bear the burden of war forced upon them. This by powers that they have no part or parcel in as well. They would also suffer the loss of material wealth regardless of how meager and some severe permanent physical injury. Refugees and survivors would also bear the mental scars of the war that they had suffered through. Perhaps along with some of the combatants.
The trauma of war can cause a permanent mark on the minds of NPCs and PCs. However, it can also allow them to evolve dramatically such as a rethinking of their alignment (if such a thing exists in the system used). Possibly even causing symptoms of mental illness. Again, if included in the rule-set or even used within the play of the group.
War trauma can be used as a catalyst allowing the player to make sudden modifications to their character. These represent their involvement letting the in-game events dramatically shape the character. Note that small or singular battles often should not go this far. Although characters are free to rethink their stances on fighting on larger scales. Also possibly suffering personal trauma such as the loss of a friend in smaller battles.
A set-piece battle in its very structure involves tension, action, and aftermath providing plenty of roleplaying and roll-playing opportunities. It creates an incident with strategic, dramatic, and consequential levels. It is also a great value to immersion dragging the players along by their characters from anticipation to high-action to realizations or character awakenings in the aftermath.
Battles are also incredibly flexible not only acting as a finale to a campaign but also kick-off a wider conflict. This wider conflict composed of many more such set-pieces. Battles and war will have long-lasting results and consequences that can be explored in an ongoing campaign. This is especially true in a Living Campaign.
Making use of a Mass Combat system within a campaign allows GMs to add spectacle, drama, and exhibit a larger conflict that can work out to an epic scale. Essentially create a big and valuable set-piece. However, a single battle can serve as the finale of an adventure-filled campaign in PC Group centric campaigns. Hopefully resolving most if not all active storylines, snipping loose threads, and ending character arcs in one explosive action sequence.
Battles allow the PCs to accrue reputations and trauma letting the players’ actions to actively sculpt and scar their characters. Using battles as set-pieces is a valuable tool for the well-rounded Gamesmaster. It can help to spice up the game for their group engaging their players on multiple levels at once.
The deadly Bane Rose, a pre-generated magic plant for Dice & Glory. It adds a different type of monstrous danger to a campaign. This large rose-like bush is envenomed with a nasty magic toxin but produces a beautiful red-orange and gold rose. The plant also shelters swarms of scorpions, spiders, and vipers that protect it. The plant itself may not be that physically formidable but it has its tricks. Its venom, magic, and dangerous swarms combine to make it a deadly challenge. Likewise, its magical properties may intrigue the adventurous mage.
Brilliant Botanics can be used at the discretion of Game-Masters to add variety to their game worlds easily and quickly. This “rosebush” is fleshed out enough for GM’s to drop it into game-sessions with little prep-work beyond reading the document. Finally, the Bane Rose and its fruit are a great addition to any GM’s bag of tricks & treasure. Well, a treasure for those with an alchemical edge and a desire for spell components.
Brilliant Botanics also includes a brief Magic Abstract. This describes how mages may use these supernal vegetables in their spells and potions as components.
24th of Monsoon – The dawn was just a pink-gold band starting on the horizon and the great purple moon was fading into existence via the growing light yet the three mages had already risen. Soon the auction for Thorn’s coin would start and their opposition might be the blue dragon in disguise. As a result, the mages prepared for battle tossing on potion bandoliers and carefully selecting magic items and wands from their personal armories. Very soon, they were out on the streets with an energetic gait towards the southernmost part of the West Cliffs District and the White Prong Tavern.
The wet cobblestone streets were empty and the cool, moist scent of the city, not entirely unpleasant, a combination of the wet stone and the brackish run-off congealed with the smell of all the city’s kitchens and bakeries merged with the spicy desert scents of the headland as it drifted lazily away over the sea. The only traffic at this early hour was the scant presence of the rag pickers, muckrakers, and street-sweepers finishing their labors. Just as the golden light of dawn began to bathe the gleaming streets, the trio of mages arrived at the White Prong.
They entered the whitewashed establishment finding its many round tables and chairs empty save for in one corner. Those tables crowded with buccaneers. One was casually flipping a coin, slapping it to the table, and staring as they entered. Sitting at a table near the counter was the beggar Thorn, sipping a steaming cup of tea. Sitting up from the three tables worth of pirates was their leader, a young woman the mages had pegged for the blue dragon.
She was a dark-skinned beauty, darkened not just from the scouring by the sun at sea but by a detectable Creschan descent, her black hair was thick and hung heavily to her muscle rounded shoulders. She was wearing a suit of sleeveless brigandine armor with the chest buckled open exposing the black eagle tattoo covering her bared chest. A high-quality silver saber hung at her side its pale sapphire pommel stone glittered like a serpent’s eye. A silk blue sash girded her thighs with a knotted gold fringe that dangled over her loose fitting pantaloons and knee-high sealskin boots.
Her second mate also stood abandoning a hot cup of mead. He was a tall baldheaded Ezmerian with an eye patch over his right eye. At his hip dangled a heavy cutlass. His costume was much the same as his presumed captain. In addition, there were six other crewmembers at the tables wearing open-breasted black leather jerkins.
Isis (Szoo’s player): “Y’know I don’t think she’s the dragon.”
Cris (Excor’s player): “Well I already figured that!”
Jenn (Fauna’s player): “Oh yeah, I guess not.”
As the mages stood and stared at the pirate crew and the pirates glared back in perfect silence, the tension in the room might have been plucked like the string of a lyre. The woman’s deep green eyes narrowed on the three mages shooting daggers in their direction.
Thorn (abruptly breaking the awkward silence): “Okay! Everyone’s here! Let’s begin the bidding on me services shall we! Heh-heh. My coin will not be cheap!”
Cris (shaking his head in disbelief): “That b@st@rd Thorn.”
After a brief but intense bidding war and a full breakfast the trio of mages found themselves outside of the White Prong as the breakfast regulars began to filter in. They had won the beggar’s coin and already sent Thorn on his way with a mission to find more information on the blue dragon otherwise known as the “Ocean of the Desert”. The buccaneers had left in a huff just moments after losing the bid-war.
The mages decided to head home after all they had a cabal meeting come evening. So they walked for some time making their way onto Arena Circle headed into the Shop District going north towards the Tourney Grounds. The streets now teemed with people and the group’s progress became more difficult as they walked around knots of folk and had to wait for the occasional carriage, horse, or ox-wagon.
After a while, Szoo turned to his two companions and insisted that two of the Black Eagle pirates were following them. Fauna and Excor simply did not believe him thinking he was a victim of his own paranoia. Partly to ease his own nerves as well as throw it in the faces of his companions, Szoo angrily slithered over to the two sailors. They were leaning against a wall acting as if they were just nonchalantly smoking their ivory pipes. The pair just turned and started walking away all the while keeping their eyes on the group of mages in a not so subtle manner.
This finally bringing Excor’s and Fauna’s attentions to the matter. Because of this minor confrontation the group picked up their pace and in an attempt to be clever they ducked into an alley. However, the path was much longer and circuitous than they had anticipated yet they tried to keep up a rapid pace. They had been moving along the narrow alley for some time with little hope of seeing an exit into the streets anytime soon when Excor stopped the other two.
Szoosha cast Elemental Half-Plate Armor (Fire) on himself. Fauna tried to duck behind a rain barrel and hide. But she only succeeded in knocking it over and drawing attention to herself. Moreover, the second-mate, the one with the eye-patch, drew his heavy cutlass, which now the mages could observe had a serrated blade. Then Excor activated his Jet Amulet of Shielding. Three of the foremost crewmembers drew their cutlasses. Lastly, the pirate leader drew her silver saber, which shone with a strange, ghostly light in the dimness of the alleyway.
Isis: “Oh great! A magic sword!”
Pirate Leader: “You all wouldn’t happen to know a mage named ‘Jirek’ would ya?”
Excor (putting on the air of a prototypical tough guy): “Never heard of the guy! Who the hell are YOU!?”
Pirate Leader: “Direnda, newly captain of the Black Flyer, the three-masted Vhalica in the harbor. Weeks back we were attacked by pirates bearing the image of a Grey Serpent. They have some of our client’s property and we were told that one-named Jirek is their main man in Ezmeria. We’ve also heard he’s a member of some cabal of mages.”
At the mere mention of Jirek, Szoo freaked out. Immediately he slithered away in the opposite direction of the pirates at full speed.
Cris: *Sigh* “Dammit Szoo. How am I supposed to bluff her now?”
Excor: “We have no quarrel with you, there’s lots of mages in this city!”
Consequently, Direnda stood like a stone pillar studying the wand-wielding mage through narrowed lids for several minutes. Finally, she relented and her crew followed suit. Without a single word or an apology, the sailors turned and returned from where they came from. Fauna and Excor let out a pair of loud sighs.
Excor: “Now where did Szoo go!”
A little while later, regrouped the three mages emerged from the end of the long alley onto the street. They were just in time to observe a large Ferenoi holding a dirty street urchin by his scrawny neck. Her grey cape billowing as she seemed intent on strangling the kid. All the while he held a coin purse in a death grip. Subsequently, the three mages could see the big white lightning bolt embroidered on it. Around her neck dangled a crystal-encrusted silver lightning bolt pendant. She wore a suit of black soft leather armor with a grey serpent coiling sown to the chest. These in addition to polished bronze bracers and greaves as well as a polished steel open helm with a red horsetail tassel attached to the peak.
Fauna: “Hey you! Leave that child ALONE!”
Consequently (Natural 1 reaction check), the tall amazon dropped the ragamuffin in a filthy puddle, turned to face the druidess, and pulled her falcata from its sheath. Fauna readied for a fight.
Szoo slunk to a fair distance to keep a lookout for any city guards. Excor cast Slow on the Ferenoi. However, the amazon grabbed her pendant and seemed to pray, instantly Excor’s spell was undone. Fauna cast Wizard’s Trick instantly turning the amazon into a snail.
The crowd that had begun to gather to watch the street fight began booing. They also began calling for the guards, “there’s rogue wizards!” Fauna picked up and chucked the snail before looking for the boy. The kid was long gone. Therefore, the trio too decided to run away.
Eventually, after ducking through a few different alleys, the three mages arrived home. The carpenters were measuring and sawing planks of wood out front. The head journeyman thumbed at the broken door setting against the outside wall next to the front entryway. “That’ll be 1 copper coin more for the door”. Excor tossed him the coin. The carpenter began to test the metal with his teeth when a large burp came from the stables causing him to jump out of his skin. The horse whinnied in his stall.
Excor (dismissively): “Don’t worry it’s just the druid’s giant frog.”
Jenn: “Oh yeah, I almost forgot all about him. I wonder if I can ride him around? Oh yeah, I also forgot about that horse.”
The GM (me): “Wait. You have been feeding them I hope.”
Isis: “Oh yeah, my guy and Fauna have an understanding, I feed her animals when she forgets or is gone.”
Later come evening, the trio was leaving to go to the Red Helm Tavern for their customary cabal meeting. Thorn appeared in the alleyway leading out into the street. He reported on the location of the “Ocean of the Desert” to the mages giving Excor the address. In return, Excor flipped him back his coin.
Thorn (as he walks away): “If ya ever need my services again, jes’ mention my name to any beggar on the street and I’ll hear ye!”
Water came rushing at least six inches deep across the floor planks. Szoo (played by Isis) rushed up a slanted plank meant to substitute for the cellar steps into the main room just in time to see the barbarian in blue waving his massive tulwar as he roared charging Excor (played by Cris).
Jenn (Fauna’s Player; to the GM): “Wait! Wait. Didn’t I take that from him when he dropped it?”
Me (the GM): “Yes you did. But when Fauna looks for the sword, it’s not where she left it.”
The broad blade of the barbarian’s sword whooshed past Excor’s face. Excor took a 5-foot step back, drew his sword, and cast Mage Armor to protect himself. A human shaman with scaly skin moved in through the shattered doorframe bearing a polished black quarterstaff in quilted blue robes. He also wore a horned helmet on his head. Immediately he pointed his finger at Excor and a Lightning Bolt exploded on Excor’s mage armor. Following him was a mage in the same quilted blue robes but with a flowing blue-silk cape around his narrow shoulders. On his left hand, he wore a copper ring and on his right, a gold-ring with an inset ruby. Two more humans in blue came in behind the mage. These were twins, each armed with a high-quality silver cutlass. Fauna opened her bedroom door and the bleariness in her eyes instantly burned away.
Szoo began to slither onto the floor of the main room. The heavily muscled barbarian wheeled towards Fauna as he was within arm’s reach of her and slashed at her. Fortunately, the blade bounced from her automatic shield. Excor unleashed a Cone of Fire singeing the shaman, twins, and barbarian but burning the mage was badly. The shaman’s throat suddenly swelled to the size of a grapefruit and he spat a bolt of electricity at Excor blasting away some of his mage armor. The blue mage touched his gold ring encasing himself in mage armor. The twins continued to move into the room soon able to join the fight. Fauna tried to cast Wizard’s Trick on the barbarian but the spell fizzled.
Szoo finally got into a position to join the fray. Excor cast Shadow Ribbons on the barbarian but he easily overpowered the black tentacles of the spell. The barbarian swung at Fauna again but hit another shield. The dragon-shaman tried to cast a spell but it failed and only sparks flew in his face. The first twin cast a spell and a scintillating ray from his finger shot at Excor chipping away at his mage armor. The other twin was maneuvering closer trying to come at Excor form the opposite vector from his brother. Fauna successfully cast Wizard’s Trick but the magic went wild and after a multi-colored burst of light, the barbarian was squatting on the ground, hopping here and there with a rabbit’s head on his wide muscly shoulders.
Fauna moved out of her room’s doorframe into the main room. Szoo moved to meet the advancing front of blue-clad invaders pointing his finger at the first twin. A Ray of Fire blasted a big black scorch mark onto his robes. The dragon-shaman shot a ray at Excor blasting away his mage armor. The blue mage pulled an onyx necklace from under the collar of his robes. Suddenly he popped from where he was to 10 ft. from the left of Excor. The first twin moved towards Fauna, she still just out of reach of his cutlass. The second twin slashed at Excor who parried causing their blades to clinch. Excor dropped his weapon and risked a spell in close quarters. The risk paid off. The second twin’s blade froze inches from his throat as the Paralyze II spell took effect just in time. The rabbit-headed barbarian continued hopping around.
Fauna cast Wizard’s Trick again, this time on the first twin turning him into a rabbit. Szoosha shot a Ray of Fire at the dragon-shaman wounding him. The dragon-shaman responded with a shock ray wounding Szoo badly after the naga failed to dodge. The blue mage waved his hands and water formed from the air encasing the naga in a floating bubble of water. The swirling waters caused his Elemental Half-Plate to boil away and disappear. Excor went to the rabbit-headed barbarian, lifted the collar off, and tossed it to the side.
In turn, Fauna stooped and lifted the silver slave collar from the rabbit that had been the first twin. The dragon-shaman spat more electricity at Fauna exhausting her magic shields. Excor stepped back from the direction of the blue mage and activated his jade amulet of shielding. Szoo was drowning.
The dragon-shaman moved towards the blasted front entrance shouting at the blue mage directing him to, “run we’ve got to retreat!” Fauna quickened another Wizard’s Trick aimed at the dragon-shaman but he easily resisted. Alternately, Excor quickened Shadow Ribbons at the same target but found it too difficult to cast.
The dragon-shaman steeled himself at the threshold. Fauna sent a rush of wind at him but he dodged out the door. Szoo concentrated harder than he had ever before in his life and his flesh became fire, the bubble of water exploded into a rush of steam. The blue mage once again grabbed his polished obsidian necklace and suddenly appeared near the threshold ready to flee. Excor cast Shadow Ribbons on the blue mage but the spell turned on him. Before he could act, he was entangled in his own spell. Fauna readied to cast Wizard’s Trick on the blue mage when she noticed he was glancing from a silver collar on the floor back to her and mouthing the words “do it”. Therefore, she obliged him. After Excor dismissed the shadow tentacles, the trio ran out of the front entrance and into the alleyway but the dragon-shaman was gone.
The group discussed quickly what to do. They had figured since the collars came off with ease after the dragon’s slaves were transformed into rabbits. Fauna, remembering the signal from the blue mage, convinced the other two to let her release the magic. After all, they could use some allies against the dragon. A few moments later, all four of the blue gang members were themselves sans the silver collars.
The former slaves were overjoyed at their newly realized freedom. Apparently, the collars prevented all disobedience to the dragon and her lieutenants. They were all adventurers; the twins were native Ezmerians, captured just south of the coast off the Pale Highlands by naga slavers who sold them to a vessel of the Golden Devil Company. They were purchased a handful of years ago by the dragon here at the slave markets. She calls herself the “Ocean of the Desert” and rules a small kingdom and fortress at the base of the Snaketeeth Mountains across the river and beyond the Wirgold Forest. Meanwhile, the mages took the time to inspect the collars. Excor could not directly identify the powers of the collars but all could clearly see the maker’s mark on all of the collars was the sign of the Golden Devil Company.
Excor: “Damn slavers working with the dragon.”
Fauna: “Really!? Why would they work with a dragon?”
Excor (shrugging): “Pfft, they’re all evil!”
Excor (to the barbarian): “Hey! Where is she staying?”
The Barbarian: “A fine house in the Western Cliffs District. She kept us in the basement.”
The Blue Mage: “There’s also a cave underneath that leads to some sea caves under the city. She acts as royalty, she’s a real admirer of Hyval. And beware the dragon shaman, he worships her. He draws his power from the spirit of a blue dragon. He doesn’t wear a collar.”
Unexpectedly there was a flash of blinding white light. After it faded, all could see the collars were returned to every one of their unfortunate necks. All four collapsed to their knees and cried in anguish.
Isis: “Aw, this isn’t going to be easy is it?”
Cris: “Of course not! It’s gonna be hard because it has to be! Of course it’s gonna be hard!”
Excor: *sigh* “Okay, I have a solution, for now.”
The Barbarian (through gritted teeth): “Hurry! We cannot resist the collars for long!”
The cabal mages pledged to the slaves to kill the blue dragon. Around the table, the players then mulled over their options even, at Szoo’s suggestion, considering killing them all. After checking their own characters’ alignments, the players made a decision. A short while later there were four new pillars of amber in the rear courtyard alongside the one containing the blue thief (see The Cabal of Eight II Pt.10: The Blue Thief). After the dragon was dead, they would free them including the thief.
They set the front door to the side and generally cleaned up the best they could. The group had decided to go to the White Prong come dawn not to purchase Thorn’s coin but to meet the dragon whom they believe to be Thorn’s employer. Fauna went to formulate four healing potions. Szoo slathered himself with healing salve and went to rest; the naga was in especially bad shape after absorbing some much of the dragon-shaman’s Shock Ray. Once the house was straightened up and Fauna had finished brewing her potions, the three mages went to their respective rooms to rest and heal.
Morning, 23rd of Monsoon – Fauna (played by Jenn) stumbled into the house from the street looking even more haggard than usual. Wordlessly she felt her way along the walls to her room and shut the door softly behind her. Szoosha (played by Isis) who just finished feeding Fauna’s animals had noticed the polished stones around the druid’s neck glistening in the strong early light. Mesmerized by the sparkle the black scale naga stared at them, his serpent-eyes tracking them until Fauna was behind her bedroom door. Excor (played by Cris) was reclining in quiet contemplation.
Szoo: “Oooh, shiny! I like shiny things!”
Cris (studying his character sheet and mumbling under his breath): “Hmm, huh, mmmr, okay, no, what, pffp, er, okay, alright. That’s it, that’s what I need.” Cris flipped his well-worn character sheet on the table in front of him.
Excor (giving the naga the c’mon hand signal): “I’m going to the bazaar to pick up some supplies, we better go together.”
They left the house headed towards the bazaar. The sky was a dull even gray and the air was heavy and moist and smelled strongly of brine. Taking a sudden detour they decided to stop at the Carpenters’ Union to hire some carpenters to repair the floor and trapdoor into the root cellar. Excor hired a local carpenter that served their row. He would send an apprentice for 1 copper to assess the job. A short while later, they arrived at the bustling indoor bazaar where Excor was looking for three one-gallon jugs (5 sp ea.), one copper funnel (2 sp), and a jar of glue paste for 1 silver piece. Szoo purchased 5 glass potion bottles at 1 gp each.
After finding what he needed, and stuffing the items in his bag of holding, Excor left for Wensaer’s Alchemy Shop (The Cabal of Eight Pt.7: A Red Rat), Szoo followed. At Wensaer’s however, Szoo purchased two bottles of Alchemist’s Fire at 100 gold pieces each. As the pair left, Wensaer inquired after Gornix, the old man seemed worried. The others simply said they had not seen him in a while now. The old wizard twirled a pinch of his white beard between his fingers.
Later, the pair of adventuring mages browsed Baba’s Apothecary, the air spiced with a pleasant mélange of exotic flavors and tobacco. Excor picked up 4 ounces of the mid-grade smoking herb mix and 1-ounce of Lotus Wort for 4 silver pieces. Lotus Wort is a hairy moss harvested from along the Serpent Coast that can reduce the duration of the effects of lotus pollen and in the case of the Black Lotus, change the death-effect to sleep if consumed before. Baba was not much for conversation but she was fretting about the next shipment of lotus and deep forest medical herbs, it was late. They left the shop, Excor packing his pipe with fresh herbs, and turned out onto the crowded street.
The pair of adventuring mages was walking at a leisurely pace finally on their way home. Unexpectedly, Thorn the beggar tripped directly into their path from behind a rain barrel. Szoosha jumped behind Excor and wondered aloud if they should do something, after all, it was obvious that he was following them. Excor, however, took this opportunity to engage him in conversation.
Excor (instantly putting on a false air of friendly joy): “Ah! My friend Thorn! So glad to see you!”
Thorn (a little leery): “Uh, yeah. Hey, uh you got any o’ those herbs to spare?” He pulled out a charred corncob pipe.
Excor (tossing his smoke pouch to him): “Of course my friend. Here. You, uh, wouldn’t happen to have any info for me would you? Anyone we should know about maybe following us around?”
Thorn: “Hehe, naw there’s nobody like that!” He tossed the bag back to Excor, lit, and then took a tug on his old pipe.
Excor: “So, what is your price anyway? We can beat whoever’s employing you right now.”
Thorn (suddenly stepping back and putting his hands up): “Whoa there! Whoa there. The guild would my head, there’s rules, ironclad, cannot be broken.”
Excor: “Well, we are interested in getting some eyes and ears on the streets if ya know what I mean!”
Thorn: “Well, my coin is up fer the bidding. She holds my coin currently but if ya outbid h…my employer tomorrow at dawn in the White Prong. I’m all yers!”
Isis (gasping): “Oh no! She’s got him too!”
Excor: “Well, my friend we need to be on our way. How about we walk and talk.”
Thorn (between puffs): “Okay.”
Cris: “He slipped up. The probably has his coin. Well, we know where she’s going to be at dawn.”
Isis: “Alright, we’re gonna fight a DRAGON!”
Cris: “We need to prepare! We can’t just fight her in the White Prong we’ll wind in guild court again!”
Isis: “Oh yeah, I forgot about that.”
Consequently, the pair of mages and Thorn the beggar were walking at a rapid pace in the direction of the alley through which Fauna’s rental sat. They were maybe two rows from their destination when without warning Thorn wheeled around.
Thorn (starting into a light jog): “Bye! Looks like I gotta go!”
Instantly, both Excor and Szoo spotted them. Walking directly towards them were 2 scrawny humans each wielding a high-quality silver cutlass followed by a large barbarian, probably Fuglotian by appearance, in a horned helmet with bronze bracers, a black leather war belt girding his waist and a very large superior quality Tulwar in his hands. To their left was another human, probably a mage of some type, with a quarter staff in his hands and bronze bracers on his wrists. All four were in quilted blue robes.
Szoo: “Crap! It’s them.”
So Excor swept up the Naga in his blue cape (The Cabal of Eight Pt.31: The Welfare of Rats) and teleported them both home into the center of the main room. Someone began pounding on the door. Excor approached cautiously telling Szoo to “get ready” before yanking the door wide open. A carpenter’s apprentice stood there a little surprised. He was here to take measurements and assess the damage. His work took little time, soon enough he presented Excor with a contract.
The price would be 1 gold piece and 5 silvers, Excor quickly signed it. In short, tomorrow the apprentice and two journeymen would arrive after breakfast. The young boy left as soon as he finished reading out the terms. Some time had passed since the pair of mages had spotted the dragon’s men, they were certain that the Blue Dragon Gang had not been able to track them back to the house.
Excor walked into the makeshift alchemy lab and began filling the jugs with the mead from his magical golden chalice (Cabal of Eight Pt.38: The Black Tombs Pt.2). Meanwhile, Szoo went down into the cellar and into the secret passage to bottle some naphtha. A very quiet hour passed then suddenly without warning with a thunderous rush of water the front door is blasted from its hinges.
The Boar-Wolf, a nasty wolf and wild boar conglomeration. A new pregenerated monster for Dice & Glory that has a wicked surprise on occasion. Especially a challenge when confronted as war-beasts these large beasts rip, gore, and trample all foes!
I’ve been experimenting with mixing various mundane animals together and adding some strange abilities. I did find an identical creature already created for a crappy television special decades ago. I had already had this as a concept so, I let that influence me a little. Though the creature is a simple brute with a few surprises should the GM see fit to make use of those.
Bizarre Beasties can be used at the discretion of Game-Masters to add variety to their game worlds easily and quickly. GM’s can drop the fully fleshed Boar-Wolf into game sessions immediately without any prep-work beyond reading the document. Finally, the Boar-Wolf is a great addition to any GM’s bestiary.
The paths and twisted walls of the labyrinth disappeared in all directions into a hazy blue-green horizon. Clouds of blue-green mists rolled over the impossible landscape and the fabric of reality itself seemed to seethe and roll, as do the deeps of the ocean. The dense, moist air was cool and made her head swim. It smelled overwhelmingly of fresh-cut greenery carrying the spice of moldering wood. The walls of the labyrinth also seemed to shift with the tide rearranging in the wake of each swell. She could see no center, no goal towards which to strive.
Again, she began drifting towards the black iron spikes atop the wall. Fauna (played by Jenn) canceled the power of her ring of levitation. She had snagged the ring from the group treasury, the hiding place in the clubroom back at the Red Helm Tavern. The druidess had made a quick stop there before heading out to the secret meeting in the secret caverns beneath the Old Amphitheater.
Her feet landed softly onto the cold stone. She found herself back in a narrow lane of the maze. The floor was of damp flagstones and the walls were a chaotic patchwork of adobe, fired bricks, natural stone, and mortar. From every crack, uneven surface, and fissure grew twisted woody branches, clumps, and patches of hairy and bright green mosses, as well as flows of yellow slime molds. The great flagstones were also uneven causing the floor of the lane to undulate up and down, so deep in places that one could hide in the dip easily from others approaching from either end of the seeming infinite lane.
Fauna exhaled and began moving forward turning with every corner into identical lanes, some short, some dead-ends, and some choked with woody vines and dead branches. Occasionally, she happened upon the corpse of a fellow competitor for head priest/priestess of the Brotherhood of the Rope. She turned a corner and saw a giant pale mushroom blocking the way with the terrified face of an initiate sinking and disappearing into it. She turned the corner.
Not long after that, she found a huge clump of limp black roots blocking her way lying across the way. The druid was going to climb over it until she saw a pale human arm hanging out of the clump banded by purple bruises as if squeezed by ropes or tentacles. She quickly changed direction. Along the way, she managed to avoid a tripwire, a trapdoor, and a spring-loaded scythe blade as she progressed. Eventually she came upon a high narrow red-lit opening in the wall that glowed yellow with firelight.
She slipped into the lit and comfortably warm chamber. The walls and low ceiling were of finely masoned but large blocks of stone that shone red-orange in the firelight that blazed from the two large golden braziers. Before her was a throne carved of the same stone as the wall blocks with an imprint of the reclining human form in the stone with a golden and jeweled crown where you would expect, over the crown of the human-shaped crevice.
She noticed a young girl with long black hair standing against one of the walls, another initiate. The girl had sneered at her in the lineup.
Jenn: “I hope that b***h dies.”
Jenn: “Well, she was mean to me!”
Stepping in front of the throne was yet another blue-robed petitioner, Fauna also recognized him from the lineup. Certainly, she and this pair seemed to be the only surviving pledges to have reached the center of the labyrinth. The man contemplated the throne, at its foot was a high step carved with druidic script. It said, “A good druid is humble.”
He strode over to the step bowed his head, said what sounded like a brief prayer and sat in the broad stone seat. Immediately the golden crown dropped to his shoulders around his neck, he screamed, then the seat and back of the throne opened like a trap door and his body and severed head dropped into an unseen sepulcher. Consequently, the stones swung back and the blood that covered it slowly faded and disappeared. Fauna grabbed her neck.
Jenn & Isis (in unison): “Oh boy!”
The young girl chewed her upper lip then stepped forward violently. Then she yelled at Fauna to “step back you heifer!” She strode forward full of class-born bravado. The girl stopped on the step of the throne suddenly aware she had no solution to this puzzle. She turned to Fauna and the expression on her face turned from terror into an arrogant reserve.
Young Girl (solemnly): “If I am fated to die then I am reserved to my fate.” She lowered herself lightly into the cold, hard seat. The crown slid down and she let out a “gack” at the same time as Fauna heard a mechanical spring sound. Blood burst from her mouth. Her severed head and the decapitated corpse fell into the depths beneath the throne. The spots and spatters of dark blood disappeared. The throne was solemn again and even more threatening.
Jenn: “Crap it’s my turn right?”
Isis (to Jenn): “Oh my gawd! You’re gonna die!”
Isis (to me): “Can’t we help her solve this riddle!?”
The GM (me): “Nope.”
Cris: “Naw we can’t help her! We’re not there! Sorry but we’re not there!”
Jenn: “Maybe I should just sit down on the throne.”
Isis & Cris (in unison): “NOOO!”
Finally, Fauna sat with her legs crossed, she contemplated the throne and the inscription at its foot. She took a small dose of Yellow Lotus powder from her robes and snorted it. Shockingly, she was able to maintain consciousness. What played repeatedly in her fevered brain afterwards were Anishi’s words just as he pushed her into the labyrinth’s aperture, “Tread with care my child and be humble”.
Fauna: “Ah-Ha! I got it!”
Immediately she walked over to the step before the throne and kneeled upon it as if in prayer. The stone gave the slightest bit and she could hear a click somewhere inside of the throne. She then rose and sat down in the seat. The gold crown dropped onto her head then she saw a section of wall to her right suddenly slide down and reveal a recognizable chamber in the cave beneath the amphitheater. The crown rose back from her head and she rose as if in a trance towards the exit.
In unison both Jenn and Isis let out a loud sigh.
The next thing Fauna could remember was that Anishi put a necklace of polished raw gems around her neck. After that, she only remembered slogging home through the streets and the hammering light of dawn in her normal dirty robes. She was starving and every muscle screamed along with her lotus-soaked brain. It felt as if she had been in that place for several days rather than a few hours. Her feet really hurt.
Jenn (a sudden realization shooting through her eyes at me): “Oh my gawd, I could have really died.”