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The Cabal of Eight II Pt.17: Finding the MacGuffin

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.

Cris: “Sheesh!”

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.

Draega: “Aw crap.”

To Be Continued…

The Cabal of Eight II Pt.16: Dragon Chase

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!”

Jenn: “Damn.”

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!”

Cris & Isis (simultaneously): “Aw crap.”

Jirek was at a loss for words.

To Be Continued…

The Cabal of Eight II Pt.15: Something On the Table

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.

Grey Serpent Sign on the table

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!”

Jenn: “Shut-up!”

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.

Fauna: “Holy crap! That’s the dragon. Aw, man! I ran into her in a jewelry store!” (see The Cabal of Eight II Pt.3 Blue Cloaks & Bankers)

Szoo: “Oh no, Oh no, Oh no…”

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.”

Cris: “No.” *sigh* “Let’s flip a coin.”

To Be Continued…

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The Cabal of Eight II Pt.13: Silver Collars

The blue dragon slave collars were stamped by the Golden Devil Company

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.”

Cris: “Yeah, that’s right, alright. It’s dragon treasure.” *shrugs*

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.

Isis: “Ahahaha!”

Jenn: “Ewww!”

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.

To Be Continued…

The Cabal of Eight II Pt.12: Peek-a-Blue

Blue deluge at the door

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.

Excor shouted out, “Assassins!”

To Be Continued…

The Cabal of Eight II Pt.10: The Blue Thief

20th of Monsoon – Dawn was breaking but the sun’s rays were stifled behind cloud-darkened skies and drowned in the heavy, humid air. Stray raindrops randomly pelted the roofs, and cobblestones of the city as well as the heads of retreating rag pickers and soot-brushes. The fitful sleep of two of the cabal members was disturbed by the approaching ringing bell of one of the many city criers.

The Crier: “Hear ye! Hear ye! The city marshal has declared that all those found to commit the crimes of theft, murder, and assault within the city limits that are not citizens of our great city and are found to be the crew of known freebooter and privateer ships will receive the penalty of death! Ships whose crews comprise of more than a handful of such criminals will be banished from harbor come hell or high water!”

Excor (played by Cris) and Szoo (played by Isis) stumbled and slithered from their rooms, slowly due to their bruised and aching bodies roused by the crier’s bell and spiel. Already, Fauna (played by Jenn) was grinding the remainder of her herbs into two doses of healing salve for her wounded companions. As both Szoo’s and Excor’s wounds were still grievous. Fauna, on the other hand, was in perfect health. After finishing the salve and having applied it, Fauna cleaned out the stable and left for the market district. The other two went back to their beds to heal.

Later, in the afternoon, the sun had peaked between the clouds and Fauna was returning from the market with her horse attached to a new wagon loaded with a few months’ supply of oats and hay. As she led the wagon back home she entered the alleyway and only then noticed a tail, someone was stealthily following her. Calmly, she unhitched her horse and put him back into the stall next to her giant frog, tossed that thing a bag of mice. She left the wagon just off the stables. Suddenly, she rushed through the door and shouted.

Fauna: “I’m being followed!”

Immediately, both of her companions leaped from their beds and met her at the door against which she was leaning.  All she could relate about her pursuer was that he was wearing blue with a short, matching cape.

Isis: “*Sigh* Is this the dragon again?”

Cris: “Who else would it be!? Of course it is! Blue cape, sheesh, of course it’s the dragon! Or her slaves.”

Excor rushed to the door and carefully, quietly, cracked it and peeked through. He scanned the scene outside the door from the alley wall to the stable. By a split second, he missed the fleeting glimpse of a blue cape disappearing into the hayloft above the stalls. Because of his spotting nothing, Szoosha cast Heat Vision on himself. In turn, Excor cast See the Invisible on himself.

Excor peeked back out the door and spotted Thorn the beggar ducking behind a rain barrel. He yelled at Thorn to leave while Szoo, head above Excor’s, spotted a heat trail moving from the ground and up into the loft. Thorn waved as he jaunted off after a shrug.

Szoo: “Guys! I got something! I think he’s inside already!”

Excor immediately slammed shut the door and turned. Almost by accident, he caught sight of a cape trailing behind its wearer as it flapped from above down behind a piece of furniture.

Excor (pointing the blue thief out): “Assassin!”

Fauna readied herself to cast Sleep as soon as she could see her target. Szoo moved around to get a better line of sight and was able to spot the blue thief. The short, brawny man was dressed in a powder blue padded/quilted robe with a bright blue silver-trimmed cape and cowl and a broad black belt. He was armed with paired superior quality silver daggers each with a large quartz crystal in the pommel. Excor cast shadow ribbons but the magic went wild. The black ribbons of shadow suddenly expanded into a cone of blazing red light and the thief shrieked in terror, he stood and turned to run through the back door. Fauna let loose her sleep spell but it had no effect.

The druidess let loose a lightning bolt; the thief dodged the bolt easily and tumbled through the back door into the rear courtyard. Szoosha charged towards the back door and made it outside into the small courtyard amongst Fauna’s chickens and goat. Excor moved up to where he could see the thief readying to scale the wall and cast paralyze I. The thief froze in his tracks.

Cris (to the GM): “That was some sort of crazy fear spell huh? Hey! Can I try to remember what I did with that spell with my spellcraft?”

The GM (me): “Yup, um DC uh 20, it was wild magic. Totally randomly rolled spell too.”

Cris: *roll*roll* “Damn, naw, I didn’t get it.”

Szoo had the paralyzed thief tied up with a rope he took from the thief’s belt. Fauna sensed some very strong magic from the silver manacle around his neck and the medallion with dragon-scratch runes that dangled from it. She simply tried to pull it off as it did not appear to be even locked or clasped but it did not budge. It even seemed bonded to the thief’s skin. Fauna then double-checked the ropes making sure they were tight. Szoo then inspected the collar and found the maker’s mark. It was the mark of the Golden Devil Company (The Cabal of Eight Pt.6: Gold Devil).

Szoo (panicking): “Oh no! We made some BIG enemies guys!”

Cris: “Whatever, we’re adventurers, it’s what we DO!”

The three mages stood around while the chickens clucked and gathered around their feet expecting to feed. They did not know what to do with the man. The magic slave collar without a doubt would lead the blue dragon straight to them. They quibbled back and forth for some time before they finally decided on what was to be done with him. They did not want to kill him; after all, he had no choice whether or not to obey the dragon. They also did not want to take him to the guards. The trio did not know how deep the dragon’s connections went. They decided to freeze the thief in amber.

Excor cast Amber Husk, an ancient spell obtained from a scroll they had found in the Lotus Vaults. Excor looked at his handiwork. The thief in blue could be seen at the center bottom of an iceberg of glistening semi-transparent amber.

Excor: “That’ll do it.”

That situation dealt with, for the time being anyway, the trio decided to try to rest until their next cabal meeting on the 24th. However, Fauna had a meeting with the Brotherhood of the Rope on the next full moon, the 22nd.

The next day, Szoo and Excor were sleeping the day away, Fauna, alternately, had hitched her horse up to her wagon and was going shopping around the Old Market District and the Bazaar. Soon her wagon was packed with a 1 lb. bag of healing herbs, another 1 lb. bag of yellow & pink lotus soaked smoking herb (of which she was currently partaking), a wood cage with four chickens in it, a sack of feed enough for a month, an empty 1-gallon ceramic jug, and 5 potion bottles for Szoo’s naphtha. She had watched Thorn while he had followed her the entire time as well.

She signaled the grey-cloaked beggar to jog up next to her she was riding in the saddle.

Fauna: “So…you old beggar… still spying on us?”

Thorn: “Yup! Just business y’know!”

Fauna (flipping Thorn a silver piece): “No info?”

Thorn: “Well, I’d be amiss in my duty if I didn’t ask about certain Pirate friends, ahem, certain friends of certain people maybe?”

He eyeballed Fauna for a reaction, there was none so he continued.

Thorn (pulling out his pipe; Fauna offered to light it): *ffwwwp* *exhaling* “Certain pirate friends of a certain party stealing from certain other people and yet other people, friends of certain people maybe? No. Well, those people hiding the treasure and those people’s friends maybe knowing something about it?”

Thorn glanced over at Fauna with a squint in his eye. Again, she did not react so he shrugged and took another tug from his corncob pipe.

Fauna (exhaling, her eyes sparkling with lotus): “Maybe we can hire you as…..our… houseboy? We could pay you a lot of money.”

Thorn suddenly tore off after shooting Fauna a polite smile. Someone was evidently waiting for him near the corner the pair quickly disappearing into an alley. However, Fauna could not focus enough to see who had been waiting for the old beggar. She lazily trotted her way home through the crowded streets as she toked on her pipe.

The following afternoon, Excor had spotted Thorn hanging out in full view around the house and he decided to see what he wanted. Excor tried to interrogate the beggar but found the old man was far too clever to get any useful information out of him. Even so, they conversed for quite some time. Eventually, Excor gave up and tossed him a silver to move off. As the grey-cloaked beggar walked down the alleyway towards the street he unexpectedly asked, “Hey! You know anything about a Cabal of Eight?” Excor was shocked but hid his surprise well enough that he was sure the old beggar did not read it.

Excor (waving bye): “No, no. Never heard of it! If I find anything out I’ll tell ya!”

Thorn (walking away): “I’m all ears!”

Cris hissed, “Dammit!”

Isis: “Whhat!?”

Cris: “They’re getting close! Too close! Dammit.”

Jenn: “Meh. We can handle it.”

Late that night when the full moon was high, Fauna found herself standing amongst a lineup of certain other characters, all drawn from the anonymous ranks of the cult, the Brotherhood of the Rope. Those in the lineup and her were all stark naked slick with sweat; the caverns under the old Amphitheater were sweltering. Those not participating in the “trial for high priest” were still in their dark blue ropes and hoods with a golden noose around their necks. Anishi, the caretaker of the grove, was presiding.

The cult had gathered in a deep chamber next to a very narrow entryway carved into the rusty, living rock. Vor Jetl “the dragonfly” had told Fauna that the trial would be a lethal one it would be the labyrinth. “Avoid the traps and you will make it to a final test, fail and no one will ever see you again.” Good advice as far as she could gather, after all, he was “on her side”. Apparently, the narrow opening was the entrance to this labyrinth.

Anishi gave the word and one-by-one the candidates walked up to him and he spat lotus powder into their faces, kissed them on the forehead, and pushed them through the aperture, “Tread with care my child and be humble”.

To Be Continued…

The Cabal of Eight II Pt.3: Blue Robes & Bankers

Blue Dragon Banner

There was a break in the incessant Dragon-Summer rain, the street and alley mouth choked with a thick roiling blue fog. If there had been onlookers at this time of night, they would see the triumphant outline of Szoo (played by Isis) erect in the middle of the street. The fog was in actuality steam resulting from two blasts of fire from his Fire-Fang. The stooped form of Fauna (played by Jenn) was feeling about on the ground. The dozen or so pirates that had tried to waylay the trio of mages had since fled with no casualties on either side.

Szoo: “Alright let’s go home.”

Fauna: “No! I’m not going anywhere without my knife!”

During the brief skirmish with the pirates, the druidess had thrown her dagger and missed her target. Meanwhile, both Szoo and Fauna could see Excor (played by Cris) casually puffing on his pipe as he continued down the alleyway towards home.

Szoo [after a quick detection check]: “Found it! NOW let’s GO!”

                The morning of the 18th of Monsoon – Excor, Szoo, and Fauna all decided to go to the bazaar for some shopping however, their first stop was Babia’s Apothecary [Cabal of Eight Pt.6: Gold Devil], Excor and Fauna needed some smoking herbs.

In the fragrant shop, bundles of various herbs hung from the rafters to dry, Excor bought the usual but Fauna purchased “the good stuff” paying a gold piece for an ounce and some high quality healing herbs. Szoo bought some of the “house mix” which cost him 1 copper. Fauna inquired about a pipe and Babia directed her to a peddler named “Vez”; he likely had his cart around the bazaar.

A little while later, all three were cruising the bazaar, Fauna remained outside after immediately finding the pipe vendor. The plaza around the bazaar and the bazaar itself was crowded and bustling with people. The constant chatter of a million conversations and the occasional yell or shout from a merchant trying to attract customers mixed with the smell of food, herbs, exotic oils, fresh fish, and the butcher stands all merged into a thick atmosphere familiar to all residents of Ezmer.

Eventually, Fauna settled on a pipe akin to the vendor’s masterwork. It was a carved ironwood pipe. The stem was long and flat with a dragon holding the bowl. Afterwards, realizing she had spent all of the coin in her purse she decided to exchange the gems in her pockets for gold. She headed for the central market district to find a jeweler to cash her gems.

At the same time, Excor was seeking an “ivory-handled horsetail flyswatter” preferably with jewels set into the handle. However, he could not find what he was looking for. Although he had found several gold-leafed wooden handled swatters with a few bearing “jewels” which turned out to be polished beads of glass. Nevertheless, he did purchase five scrolls of paper at 5 coppers per and 1 blank dragonskin scroll though it looked somewhat aged. Szoo purchased a gold chain because “it was shiny” and then headed home.

A short time later, Fauna wandered into a jewelry store the doorbell ringing as she entered. Just inside the store waiting impatiently, was a regal looking woman in a blue silk gown with a diamond tiara in her long black hair. The druid immediately received a rude remark about her “stench” from the woman. Fauna pushed past the exasperated blue clad noble and dropped a handful of gems on the counter in response to the jeweler’s snotty attitude. However, he tried to rip her off by under-valuing her haul so rightfully taking offense, she grabbed her gems and left.

She started home but ran into Szoosha along the way.

Isis [to me, the GM]: “Wait, how likely is it that we run into each other?”

The GM: “Pretty likely if you’re taking the main streets and going directly home.”

Isis: “Hmm, I don’t think Szoo likes that, what if he gets ambushed or somebody’s waiting to get him?”

*Roll* *Roll*

After Fauna spent some time calming down the naga, who kept mumbling something about “changing up the routes”, they both decided to go to the bank. Fauna needed to convert her gems and Szoo needed to stash some cash. They caught a rickshaw to the bank, which was located among the city administration buildings.

The building was large and constructed of marble blocks with a large dome on top. The bank doors were a solid bronze double-door and to each side was a guard in half-plate. At first, Fauna thought that they were city guards but noticed their equipment was of a much higher quality and the men appeared better trained and far more experienced. Inside the massive white stone interior, inlaid tile floor, and its painted walls depicting unicorns of all colors and bright fields of stylized crops of grain, vegetables, and fruit blew the minds of both mages.

Szoo: “Wooow!”

All of the light was bright, natural sunlight shining down from the multiple openings in the grand white dome above them. There were massive white columns along the walls and several heavy wood tables where scribes and presumably bankers were weighing coin, shuffling, signing, and reading through paperwork. Against each column there stood guards in polished black full-plate armor each bearing a short-spear. At the rear of the building, there were vertical slits in the wall akin to arrow loops. A skinny old man with oiled hair  wearing a purple and green silk gown with a gold-colored shoulder sash with a gold and crystal clasp immediately walked up to them and blocked their path.

The Banker: “Ahem. This is a place of business…”

                The druid whipped out a handful of gems.

The Banker: “Oh! Well, right this way, I’ll be helping you today, my name is Xander.”

Fauna opened an account and deposited 10 sapphires, 10 emeralds, and cashed out a single emerald getting 900 gp as the bank took 10% for the exchange. Her account would also be charged 1 copper piece per gem per month as long as she kept her gems there. Szoo also opened an account and deposited 10 sapphires and 16 emeralds. He also cashed 25 obsidian pieces and 25 pieces of tiger’s eye for 450 gp. Both left the bank at the same time but split up, Szoo was headed home but was going to take a different route than usual and Fauna wanted to go to the harbor for some reason.

A while after, Szoosha was pushing through a throng of people in the North Quarter determined to cut through guildsman’s Square (for some reason) when he spotted a pair of blue-cloaked men each armed with a high quality cutlass.

Isis: “Aw jeeeesh! Two!?”

Szoo took off in an attempt to flee and evade his pursuers. However, they eventually caught up to him a few blocks south of the square. Therefore, Szoo decided to turn and fight. As the pair approached, the naga could see that they were twins. They appeared skilled in arms and may have had magical talents though these were probably minor in compared to his own. Steeling himself, the naga elementalist cast Elemental Half-Plate Armor (fire) on himself. As red flames swirled around his black-scaled body and hardened into plate, the blue-cloaked twins lost their reserve, turned, and ran.

City Guard [from behind Szoo]: “Hey YOU!”

                The guardsman warned Szoo about casting magic without a special license and the guard, along with two other partners (who were pointing halberds), recorded the naga’s name and address with a stylus on a wax tablet. After that, Szoo was free to go, hopefully the Sapphire Star Guild, who had authority in such matters, would ignore the write up.

                Elsewhere, Fauna had just finished strolling near the cliff at the far north of the North Quarter and enjoying the sea air and the sound of seagulls despite the gray sky. She was walking back southwest on her way home. Suddenly, a large muscular warrior with a horned helmet charged her his light blue robes flying backward held only in place by his thick black belt. Above his head raised with both hands was a tulwar aimed for her head.

                His weapon smashed into her Mage Armor instead of splitting her skull in two which if she had not been wearing her gold-threaded robes of Mage Armor she absolutely would have been killed in a single stroke. She threw a Lightning Bolt his way hitting him but to little effect. He drew back and swung his massive weapon again but missing badly he lost his grip and the big sword went flying clattering onto the cobblestones of the street. She struck at him with her dagger, which he easily parried with his bronze bracer. The guards began shouting and Fauna turned to see six guards running towards her wading through the crowd, when she turned back the barbarian was gone.

                Fauna spent some time getting smart with the guards whom recorded her name. They let her go when she claimed that the barbarian was simply trying to mug her especially after she slipped them a gold piece each.

Fauna (pointing at the tulwar cradled in a young guard’s arms): “Oh yeah, that’s mine too, hand it over.”

Jenn [to the GM]: “Hey what was I doing here anyway?”

The GM [me]: “What!? *sputter* Why’re you askin’ ME!?”

After packing up his haul, Excor made his way back towards Fauna’s house. However, he had not gotten far when he noticed that someone in a blue cloak was following him. As a result, Excor dodged into a nearby alley and cast Invisible to Sight on himself. He waited as the blue cloak followed stealthily. As the man walked past quiet as a cat, by the looks of him a professional thief. Excor spotted a silver neck manacle on him a silver medallion dangled as his throat with black enameled dragon-scratch runes on it. It was not long before the blue-cloaked thief realized that he had lost his prey and fled the area.

Cris: “Damn! Poor guy’s a slave!”

Isis: “What?”

Cris: “That thing on his neck, it has dragon writing and I sensed magic on it. He’s a slave to a dragon!”

As usual, Fauna was the last to get home. She entered while Excor and Szoo were already huddled in conference.

Fauna [throwing the tulwar onto the edge of the hearth]: “Guys! I think we have a problem!”

                The other two stared at the superior quality tulwar with a blue crystal pommel stone and a dragon-scratch marking enameled onto the blade.

To Be Continued…

The Cabal of Eight II Pt.2: A Letter and a Map

Draega's wrist tats and the letter seal

It was the 17th of Monsoon and the Cabal of Eight was in mid-meeting in their clubroom at the Red Helm Tavern. The city for the past couple of days had been very quiet probably due to the incessant rain and swampy air that could choke a horse. Around the table sat Excor (played by Cris), Fauna (played by Jenn), Szoosha (played by Isis), Bumble, Jirek acting as secretary, Riahm, and finally Belrae acting as the arbiter. Gornix was conspicuously absent. Bumble was visibly uncomfortable and very quiet.

Cris: “Yeah, she SHOULD be! Her and her master stole our stuff!” [Cabal of Eight Pt.44: Betrayed at Last!]

Jenn: “Awww, but I still like her.”

Isis: “Jeez! Why don’t ya MARRY her already Jenny!?”

A servant knocked on the door and Bumble let him in. On the wine tray with two fresh bottles of wine Excor and Fauna spied a wax-sealed letter. Fauna noticed the wax-seal bore the image of a scorpion and two crossed daggers. As soon as the tray was set upon the table, Belrae snatched up the letter and tucked it away. The servant exited with the empty tray.

Cris: “So they’re dealing with Draega huh?”

Jenn: “Well that is his symbol.”

She had spotted the tattoos of a red scorpion and crossed black daggers on the publican’s wrists ages ago.

Isis: “Hey! He’s never given us a LETTER, right?”

Excor [after lighting his pipe and taking a drag] : “So, anyone else notice all the dragons running around town in human guise? All these filthy beasts in the streets make me nervous.”

Both Belrae and Riahm turn from conferring with each other presumably about the letter.

Riahm [directly to Excor]: “Not all are beasts!”

Excor: “You talk like you’re dealing with one of them my friend.”

Riahm: “Well for your information the potential of working with them…”

Belrae shushed his friend.

Excor [waggling his pipe stem at the pair] : “You and Belrae better watch it or you’ll end up a couple of slaves, dragon thralls, er whatever. But since we’re all part of this Cabal, if you guys ever need help don’t hesitate to ask, we…”

Excor motioned to include Fauna and Szoo in his statement.

Excor: “…have experience with dragons and will help you if you ever need it. Just ask.”

Belrae [smugly] : “Well, there’s a blue dragon, a queen of some territory in the mountains that we hear is after four mages who killed her brother.” [Cabal of Eight Pt.28: Wagons and Dragons]

That brought a sudden silence to the room, which lasted until after the meeting officially adjourned.

The mages filtered out and down the stairs at the back of the tavern. As they hit the bottom of the staircase, Fauna jaunted after Bumble who seemed to try to outrun the druid. Excor noticed Belrae and Riahm just inside of the kitchen doorway speaking quietly with Draega. However, just as the rotund bald publican noticed the mage watching them he waved a hand dismissing the pair of cabal of members. Perhaps it involved the letter.

Draega [gliding over to Excor and Szoo] : “Ah my fine friends how are we this evening?”

Excor [gesturing] : “They have business with you…?”

Draega: “Ah! No need to worry yourself just business, it’s just business my friend. Don’t worry the job is beneath you. Nevertheless, um, I do have some news for you. Word has it that the White Swan is after your compatriot Gornix and his *ahem* accomplices, there’s a warrant and everything.”

Meanwhile, Fauna continued to chase after Bumble pursuing her out into the city streets and around several blind turns. Suddenly, Bumble stopped.

Bumble [turning] : “Stop following ME!”

Fauna: “Hey I just wanna be friends, I’m concerned about you …”

Bumble: “No! Leave me alone!”

Fauna: “But Ilna that master of yours…!”

Bumble: “No! Don’t follow me!”

Bumble stumbled her way down the wet street her shoes clattering loudly on the cobblestones. Fauna just stood there and then realized she was several blocks southeast of the tavern. As the druidess began to walk back to rejoin her friends, the rain fell in a sudden downpour. She put her hood up and continued walking.

Excor and Szoo relaxed with some food and ale in the theater of the Red Helm, on the stage a young mediocre bard was plying his trade. Excor had just finished cutting a business deal with Draega. The mage pledged to deliver a hogshead of high quality mead for a cut-rate price, the first delivery would seal an ongoing business arrangement. Where Excor was going to get the expensive spirit was the information that he had left out of the conversation. He planned to fill one of those massive barrels with his Bottomless Chalice of Fine Mead [Cabal of Eight Pt.38: The Black Tombs Pt.2].

Excor [as he sat down next to Szoo] : “Damn. Wouldn’t know where I could get a hogshead would ya?”

Szoo [his mouth stuffed with boiled meat and vegetables] : “Mmm, naw.” *munch* *munch*

Several minutes later, Fauna, drenched from the rain and a little down, walked up to the table and sat down with the pair. The night passed as usual as did several rounds of cheap ale. They caught each other up on any tidbits of information they had gleaned over the course of the evening. After an hour or so, they observed an old guy with shoddy adventurer-type gear on moving around the room from patron to patron trying to sell something. Eventually it was their turn. The little old man bellied up to their table, his craggy sun-browned face a crisscross of scars and deeply cracked by age.

The Old Man: “Hi there friends! I am so thirsty, and now don’t worry! I don’t need any charity, I do have something of value! Here’s an old map I dug up from the desert…”

All three mages wide-eyed leaned in to listen.

The Old Man: “I know it’s worth a few gold pieces since it is a map o’ the region, it’s only a little out a’ date. I’ll part with it for the low, low price of 100 gold.”

Szoo [shrugging] : “Meh. I can’t read it.”

Cris: “It’s a map; you don’t need literacy to read it.”

Isis: “Nah, it’s paper, the temptation for my guy to burn it would be too much. Then you guy’s would get mad at me.”

Cris: *roll* *roll* “This guy seems shady and the map paper is old but the ink looks newer – too new.”

However, the gold bee illustration on the map gave all three of them pause when the old man unrolled it to give them a glimpse of “it’s quality”.

Jenn: “Heh heh, I’m gonna talk this guy into selling it to me for waaay cheap!” *roll* *roll*

Fauna handed over a large emerald (worth 2,000 gold pieces) to the old man and he cheerfully handed over the map. Excor and Szoo exchanged a roll of the eye and finished their drinks. Soon after finishing the ale all three were walking the streets on their way home. The rain continued to drench them.

Szoo: “Yecch! I hate water!”

Excor: “Ha ha! At least it’s warm!”

Isis: “Hey, what do you think was in that letter anyway?”

Cris: “Draega’s letter? What do you care? Your character can’t READ! Ha ha ha!”

They were in the general area of their rented home when Fauna and Excor noticed a large group of beggars following them. As precaution Excor cast Mage Armor on himself, Fauna activated her robes of Mage Armor, and Szoo cast Elemental Half-Plate Armor (fire) on himself. Not long after, the three mages realized that the group was not of beggars but of pirates. The ringing of blades echoed in the mages’ ears over the hard rain as the twelve pirates pulled their blades.

Szoo [his glowing armor hissing and steaming in the rain] : “ALL RIGHT! It’s time to try out my FIRE FANG!”

To Be Continued…

RPG War Mastery #4: Virtues of the Dragonrider

dragonrider chess piece

Two armies face off across open grassland. The sun is high and the spearheads and polished helms of both sides glitter and glare brilliantly in the intense sunlight. The air taught with anticipation, every sweating man is on edge and a combination of fear and anxiousness causes the soldiers in their formations to sway out of sync slightly. Regardless the colorful and varied war banners of both sides writhe in the slight breeze.

The shouts of the sergeants beat the nervous air like a drum skin thrumming into the soldiers’ ears. Feet begin to march in step thumping along the ground, stomping grasses, sending a continuing pulse through the earth. The front ranks of skirmishers move towards a similar oncoming line under the fire of slingers and the arrows of archers. As both lines reach a certain distance from one another, they charge screaming their battle cry at each other tearing sod until they crash together. Suddenly a mind-shattering roar blasts the air drowning out the battle cries and death moans of hundreds of men. Bloodied faces turn to the sky in terror.

The few sergeants still able to keep themselves together on one side call for archers to take formation and the ballistae to ready. Soldiers in the rear ranks raise their scuta in a semi-Tortuga formation for the archers to take shelter between. Then the shadows of the roaring beasts become visible as they make their attack descending from their typical flight pattern parallel to the sun. Dragons and on their backs their riders wielding the beasts themselves as both war-mount and weapon. Immediately they strafe the front lines of the enemy unleashing gouts of flesh and steel melting flames.

Fusillades of arrows and bolts fly but most are flung away by the massive beats of the monsters’ wings. A few lucky shots bring one beast down and another loses its rider as he flew too far into the center of the enemy force risking snatching up a general. However, in the end, the side without the dragons eventually breaks formation and a majority of its men flees for their lives. The veteran core surrenders, as they stood too long to run away. The enemy’s counter-measures had made the victory expensive but the victor’s massive investment in a handful of dragonriders ultimately won them the battle and perhaps the war.

What fantasy battlefield is complete without a dragon or two? In particular, what fantasy army would not try to take advantage of such a powerful and fearsome animal in the form of trained beast or better yet, as the mount of a rider? A dragonrider is the ultimate weapon when talking medieval fantasy battles. It is the equivalent of an air force and its fiery breath the equal of hellfire missiles against armored men, horses, and wooden engines of war. These beasts of legend could be the ultimate advantage on the field against any enemy that lacks aerial capability even rendering the defensive value of fortresses and even castles ineffective.

Dragons on the Field

The dragon is a creature that is very common to fantasy RPGs and which has deep mythological roots but for the purposes of war, we need only know of its offensive potential. The intelligence and trainability of dragons may vary radically depending on the world or setting of your game. In fact, in certain settings dragons may be the powers behind the fielded armies in the first place. However, we are concerned with the general definition of the dragon around which we will build the tactics, logistics, and counter-strategies required for operation on the battlefield. This definition will also allow the dragon to be ridden by a single rider or a crew either as a beast or as companion.

Dragons are physically powerful reptile-like creatures with claws and teeth and the ability to fly. They possess a breath weapon of some kind but it is typically fire. They can range in size from horse-size to the size of elephants or even whales. This definition answers the standard fantasy trope and will assume that the dragon can be used as a mount as mentioned previously. The only things left to answer are the famous penchant of dragons for hoarding treasure and their level of intelligence.

The dragon hoarding behavior may be retained and even manipulated by its crew or rider by rewarding or awarding medals for battlefield performance (this behavior more directly addressed and thoroughly discussed in Tabletop Meditations #6: Dragons) as positive reinforcement. If they are actual recruits instead of just battle beasts then pay in gold coin or gems is also a motivator as well as providing satisfaction for an ingrained behavior of the dragon. However, this behavior can get out of control such as when spotting a gleaming object on the ground or dropping to the ground in mid-flight to snatch up a shiny but useless piece of trash. A knowledgeable enemy could use this quirk to bait the dragon into a trap while en route to the field. The dragon regardless of how intelligent it is might remain a slave to its animal instincts.

Conceivably training a dragon is similar to that of a mundane animal though using somewhat different methods.  If they are close in intelligence to humans then training requires other tricks and modes of training to coerce or lull them into servitude. However, if more than or just as intelligent as humans then dragons could head armies as elite troops, officers, or perhaps even its overlord. It is safe to say that if a dragon is a mount with a rider or aerial platform with a crew then dragons, at least of that type, are of one of the first two orders of intelligence. This is not to say that there is not a variety of different dragon species in the given setting however.

Advantages of an Air Force

Though the advantages of a battle dragon are numerous, the primary one and the one that is most obvious is the use of dragons as a sort of air force, which could easily dominate a medieval battlefield even over other non-draconic flying creatures. They have the supreme advantages of pure intimidation factor, the choice of taking a single action that could turn the tide of battle, and the option of making targeted attacks from the air.

The pure intimidation factor of these types of creatures would definitely have a negative effect on the morale of the enemy. This is especially true if the other side lacks a dragon-force of any type. This may lead to some weaker enemies and just competent enough generals into surrendering immediately. However, the rider may need their dragon to encourage the enemy retreat by roaring, blowing flame into the air, or sending a windblast via a wing beat towards the enemy’s front lines.

Wing Beats from such a large and powerful animal would have the potential to blow over light wagons (especially covered wagons, they would catch the wind), knock back a few troops, or raise a blast of obscuring dust. Such a tactic might also halt the advance of a small unit either to buy time or to set them up for an offensive action.

Of course, this action will probably not deal any damage but is a delay tactic coupled with the intimidation factor of the dragon. However, the main reason to recruit dragons to your side in the first place is to win and dragons are capable of making battle-turning actions. A battle-turning/winning action is a single action that can alter the tide of battle. These types of actions can tilt the favor to the dragonriders’ side. In the very least, these types of actions can devastate the enemy opening a chance for the opposition to take up a winning position or enact a victorious strategy. Of course, all of these winning strategies involve strafing the slower grounded targets.

Dragons can strafe using their breath weapon or their natural weapons such as claws, tail, or bite. If the dragon has horns then those as well. A flyby using those natural weapons can devastate individual soldiers, wagons, smaller war-engines, and even small squads of warriors while allowing the dragon to get out of harm’s way simultaneously. Using the breath weapon in a strafing attack is always effective and especially deadly to naval vessels due to the rigging, sails, and tarring.

War dragons can also use targeted attacks in order to contribute or enact specific strategies. Targeted attacks are those strategically aimed at specific goals. This includes attacking such high value targets as supply wagons, war machines, and disrupting individual units especially command units or even commanders. This type of attack often has the dragon fly in and snatch up an individual or group of individuals then fly straight up and drop them.

Now, if the point of the attack is to take out a specific individual or group then all the beast has to do is let them go. However, if it is to disrupt a unit then using those in the dragon’s grip as a drop-projectile is the main strategy by swooping around and then diving in at full speed just before releasing the unfortunates at top speed. Another targeted attack is to go after wagons and war engines which can be as simple as overturning them damaging them and causing the enemy crew to occupy themselves righting/repairing the engines or wagons as well as picking up the spillage. The dragon’s natural powers are the ‘A’ strategies but the tactical ability of the rider and dragon mount can always be enhanced.

Riders and Weapons

A smart commander would of course want to try to enhance the offensive capabilities of their war dragons and their riders, conventionally achieved by arming and armoring them. However, which weapons are the most effective from the back of a dragon and what are best suited to the dragon itself? The most obvious possibilities are the archery skills of the rider, lances and spears, and flechettes or weighted darts. The previous are also probably the best options unless alchemical grenades are available.

Archery is no good if the dragon has strong instincts to snatch or snap at arrows flying around their faces or within reach (used to snatch birds from the air as food on the go). However, this instinct may help with defense against incoming arrows and other small projectiles. Another question to answer is about stability. Is the dragon a stable enough platform for average skilled archers to fire from, if not, then archery is not a good option. This is true even if it is no problem for elite archers, those are expensive and take time to train and/or gain experience.

In any case, the dragon can still be a bombardier. The rider can drop weapons and/or explosives on the enemy from above, hopefully from heights too high for them to retaliate with arrows. Also, do not forget that baskets of rocks, iron balls, or sling bullets can be used in a similar fashion. When it comes to forged weaponry, it is probably best to rely on the dragon’s natural assets for direct attack and then use the rider’s ability to drop things as a precision attack unless the situation calls for a bombing run.

Dragons and Weapons

Dragon Barding (armor) and blade spurs (like a fighting-cock); tail blades/weights are all possibilities to arm the creature. However, the dragon’s natural weapons are probably more effective than any manufactured device of the medieval level. Barding may increase the creature’s defenses but may be more of a burden as it stands to slow the dragon down and interfere with its flight ability. A chest plate to protect the creature from heart shots is conceivable but its slight defense value might still be outweighed by the weight burden or any restrictions to dexterity.

Where lances and similar weapons would be most useful is in Dragon-to-Dragon duels. However, lances and spears may not be very practical in that the forces involved may overwhelm the lancer. A large dragon hauling a crew on its back may employ long spears to fend off attacking dragons as well as possibly using crossbows all in defense of their dragon instead of for use on grounded enemy. However, in these fights the dragon’s own fighting ability and its natural weapons would play the most vital part in the confrontation.

Logistics & Dragons

With beasts as mighty and as large as dragons, the logistics are a nightmare. Dragons as war beasts require control, they demand vast resources, and of course, they need to eat. The most pressing concern is a constant food supply. Foraging or farm pillage may not satisfy this. Overstretched supply lines and scorched earth can make it an impossibility.

Assuming that like a Red-Tailed Hawk a dragon must eat 1/20th of its own body weight in food per day with maybe a day or two of fasting each week, a single 1,000lb dragon would require 50lbs of food per day; 250lbs per seven-day minimum. Note that this amount is not just to stave off starvation but also to prevent succumbing to their predatory instincts. They require enough food to prevent them from preying on the beasts of burden on whose backs the army supply train moves or cavalry mounts thus reducing the army’s military might. They might even snatch up their own troops as a meal if they are starving. This is where control over the mighty winged beasts comes in.

By training the beast as in training a war mount or soldier, the latter if the creature is intelligent, can achieve the control an army can make use of although the dragons’ instincts might still be an issue. However, training can make them a bit more predictable and safety assured as long as personnel practice respect for the creatures.  In certain cases, mystical bonding might be an avenue of control. Nevertheless, this narrow avenue is reserved for specific individuals like the bonding of a hatchling bird with the first creature it sees upon hatching. This would limit this avenue by setting and to specific individuals who could have any motive in serving.

Commanders would probably prefer this type of control on the battlefield but it depends highly on the rider.  The last option is drugs if possible, most settings set up dragons to be immune to most drugs or toxins though. This does not discount a very special type of narcotic that dragons may be vulnerable to at least to render them passive enough for training. The type or species of the dragon may limit this.

The flight speed of dragons is an awesome advantage but also contributes to the logistical nightmare that they pose. Riders need to be careful as to not out run their main forces and careful not to stretch the supply lines too thin too quickly. However, it is a strategic advantage to use dragonriders as an advance scouting/assault party. Of course, dragon combat-units require some sort of lodging at rest in fact any encampment especially in inclement weather would require some sort of cover for the dragons. Dragon units when following an army would have to have some space between them and the main force in order to keep an element of surprise and to allow far ranging forage. The range of the dragonrider units in an army would have to have constant reliable communication lines and would have to vary their distance and speed based on immediate needs.

Sheer cost is the last concern when dealing with dragonriders when not only to acquire, train, and maybe drug them but also to equip and feed them along with the infrastructure needed. A good commander might also want to invest in a good Draco-veterinarian and several dragon-grooms as waste management would be an issue though alchemists might make use of the draconic excretions.

The Weak Spot

For all of their strengths dragons do have a few exploitable weaknesses on the battlefield. Their obvious weaknesses, which are few, rest with their willfulness and greedy nature, their vulnerability to projectiles as flying creatures, but their primary weakness lay with their riders. The ability to take out singular riders could be enough to neutralize a dragon-unit. This is especially true if bonded with their rider and/or of an animalistic nature. The rider or captain of the crew will always have a target on their back for enemy sharpshooters.

Infiltrators could exploit the dragon units’ willfulness particularly in mating season if a female in heat could be wrangled and flown into the middle of a battle formation on the move. Setting up an obvious food source in places like box canyons and similar obvious ambush sites could also have the effect of forcing the rider and their dragon to have a struggle of wills. Likewise, their greed leaves them open to baiting with shiny and/or valuable objects. Rumors of treasure if they are intelligent may also be an effective exploit of both their greed and natural steadfastness.

Although dragons may be vulnerable to projectiles in flight, they still have some natural defenses. If they have the bird-snatch instinct, they will swat at all projectiles coming towards them. In addition, their wings can interfere due to sheer size causing air turbulence deflecting most arrows. The threat level of projectile weapons is reliant on the speed and height in the air of the dragon. This is especially true if a combatant is targeting the rider instead of the dragon.

This lack of any single great weakness leads many a mediocre commander to rest their entire war strategy on their dragons. For the most part these commanders are justified in doing so especially if they have a few dragon-born victories under their belts. However, this means that if the opposition can find a way to disable or otherwise neutralize the enemy dragons they can win the day on the field.

Countering the Dragon

There are countermeasures a clever opposition commander might take to defend or disable enemy dragonriders. The most practical would be units bearing long spears, lances, or arranged in phalanxes bristling with sarissas. They could take the Tortuga formation and use their spears to present spines to an attacking dragon. Of course, this only counters a dragon’s strafe with claws, horns, teeth, and tail. Archer regiments are another countermeasure letting vast volleys of arrows fly when a dragon comes into range mostly hoping to hit the rider/crew. Among them may be sharpshooters that aim for the rider or a vital point on the dragon like eyes or nostrils. War engines such as Ballistae, Scorpions, and/or Mangonels are essentially anti-aircraft artillery though ammunition might need modification.

Just as well, catapults can launch the dragon’s favorite food either to divert them or to poison them if possible. It is possible to stuff a large animal carcass with gunpowder as well hoping the dragon will explode when it swallows. In a similar vein, the use of poisoned bait and fouling or poisoning water holes in the path of the traveling dragon units could also work at least to delay them.

Note that if dragons are immune to the poison then this tactic is still useful as the riders may still fall victim. In the case of fortresses, outposts, and castles, roofs tiled with metal sheets and/or studded with spikes and nails as well as chain curtains/canopies with barbs and hooks could keep dragons from settling on top and blasting the inhabitants through windows and from the tops of walls and towers. Similarly, sharp iron spikes jutting from the tops and edges of walls and fortifications could do the same.

Value to the Game Master

In game terms, dragonriders on the battlefield are of great value to the Game-Master. They can pose an immediate danger and superior threat to any battle plans the Player Characters (PCs) may have in action. Dragonriders also act as a spectacular Set Piece. Moreover, they can become a new and sudden goal for the PCs to shoot for. As a set piece, a dragon attack can put some punctuation in the course of a battle as well turning the focus.

Maybe the PCs have to take out a dragon or two before the big battle if they are on the side without dragonriders or help in the countermeasures to combat them. If the PCs allies have dragonriders then perhaps the dragons require protection from enemy hit squads and countermeasures such as going behind lines to eliminate a war engine capable of downing their beasts or eliminating enemy saboteurs.

The Final Word

Of course, allied dragon riders will be an elite and highly valued force on the battlefield and in sieges and assaults against fortified positions and enemy fortresses. Dragon riders on the opposing side are a terror and it will be the responsibility of the commanders to have the proper countermeasures in place and hope for the greatest of luck on the bloody fields of war against the enemy’s dragon fire. Dragons on the battlefield are a combined Set Piece, ultimate threat/weapon, and the root of any number of potential plot points. The PCs can protect, combat, or master them and Game Masters can up the ante of any fantasy battle between the Player Characters, their allies, and their enemies. In any fantasy world where dragons exist, why wouldn’t they participate?

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).