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RPG War Mastery #4: Virtues of the Dragonrider

Two armies face off across open grassland. The sun is high and the spearheads and polished helms of both dragonrider chess piecesides 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?

 

#ttrpg, #warmastery, #battle, #wargame, #dragon, #dragonrider

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fauna: “What the hell happened here!?”

Isis: “Yeah, geesh!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Cabal of Eight Pt.38: The Black Tombs Pt.2

The group of mages walked slowly down the steps with the black-scale Naga Szoosha (played by the path of the group through the tombsIsis) in the lead. The chamber before them was vacuous and pitch-dark. Szoosha slithered down onto the flags and proceeded five feet into the dark chamber. Suddenly magical torch light burst into existence from both of the torch sconces mounted on the large round pillars to either side of him.

Isis: “Well that’s not GOOD!”

The large chamber (#3 on the map) was octagonal in shape and its walls were of the now familiar dull black stone. Above the ceiling was a deep dome with a blue sky and white clouds painted on it. The small niches in this chamber housed the decaying remnants of several skulls stacked in each. Polished bronze doors glittered dully recessed in the west and east walls. Each of these bore a gold bee and honeycomb motif (D3 & D4 on the map). Directly to the south was a 5 ft. tall dais with an ivory throne atop it.

The throne was carved into the semblance of naga skeletons twisting and intertwining creating the form of the chair. Sitting on that white throne was a skeletal corpse with some shreds of dry yellow skin still clinging to its bones. Its deep purple priestly robes were still intact, appeared free of dust, and not faded by time. An amulet wrought in gold dangled on its hollow chest and clutched in a skeletal claw was a gold chalice with a wide shallow bowl. It had a gold bee motif and was bejeweled with tiger-eye and emeralds.

The rest of the group consisting of Fauna (played by Jenn), Excor (played by Cris), and Gornix (played by Gil) approached Szoo’s position. Excor immediately began eyeballing the chalice.

Cris: “Pff! Hell yeah I’m checkin’ out that chalice!” He turned to Isis, “Well Naga! Lead the group. C’mon!”

Isis (indicating the skeleton in purple robes): “That guy is FREAKING me OUT!”

After a little more prodding Szoosha slid past the pillars and immediately the skeleton sprang to life. Its head darted up and glared at the black-scale with red pinpoints of fire floating in its hollow sockets.

The Crypt Thing: “What!? More!? After all this time!? More trespassers for the grave, haw haw!”

It lifted the chalice to its mandible and gulped though no liquid came from the vessel. The undead creature wiped its desiccated jaws on its sleeve.

Gornix using his Dark Secret ability identified the creature as a Crypt Thing (Monster Magnus Vol.I) and shouted a few pointers to the group. He also noted that normally they cannot speak. Excor pulled his copper spike and shot a bolt at the monster but his spell hit the Mage Armor spell emanating from its robes. Szoo cast a ray of fire at the creature again hitting its Mage Armor. The creature stood and raised its arms shouting, “Be gone!” but all of the mages were able to resist its power. It seemed at a loss for words when Fauna lobbed a Lightning Bolt at it. The bolt struck the armor as well.

Gornix unleashed a barrage of Chrono-Missiles on the Crypt Thing’s Mage Armor. Excor tried to cast Slow on it but the creature resisted his magic easily. Szoo charged forward and summoning his flaming naginata struck a lucky blow nearly bringing down the creature’s magic armor. The monster shot a Bolt of Energy (Frost) at Szoo. Fortunately, the naga took very little damage due to swift reflexes and hard scales. Fauna lobbed another Lightning Bolt at it finally blasting away its Mage Armor.

Not losing anytime, Gornix unleashed a Life Blast spell on the creature completely blasting its bones to dust. The robes, chalice, and amulet fell into a neat pile on the dais.

Pooling their resources, the group immediately identified the items at hand. The amulet was a level 5 item that granted Levitation & Propulsion at a 20 ft Spd/20 ft max Height at will. The purple robes were a level 5 item that granted constant Mage Armor to the wearer once per day. The gold chalice was a level 18 item and was a Bottomless Chalice of Strong Mead. A single drink could grant Close Wounds (max 3/day), or Neutralize Poisons after two (max 2/day), or Inspiration (Spellcraft) after three drinks (max 1/day). Of course even after the spells were used it could still give endless mead but to only living lips.

Gornix searched around the throne and found several ancient discarded booze bottles of various types. The players joked that the Crypt Thing had been an alcoholic priest in its previous life and tricked into taking up its position as tomb guardian with the chalice. They were not totally off base in their assumptions.

Excor on a hunch decided to recheck the Lotus Mirror they had taken a few rooms back (from 16). Using his last Identify spell, he found that they had misidentified it earlier. The mirror was actually a level 11 intelligent item that granted Demonic Resiliency and Vision of the Slayer to its wielder.

Finally, the group realized that they were all exhausted and both Excor and Gornix were out of spells. Szoo and Fauna were nearing zero spells per day as well. So they decided to rest determined to spend the night in the entrance vestibule (1 on the map). They agreed on the watches and Szoo stayed up for the first.

For some reason about half way through his watch, Szoosha decided to walk back up the spiral staircase and take a gander outside. It was the wee hours and all was dark but seemingly peaceful under the moonlight. The fresh air was a badly needed relief. However, just as Szoo was beginning to enjoy the open air again he heard several roars echoing in the distance. The mating calls of Wher dragons. He beat it back down below and warned Excor when he woke him for second watch.

Excor decided to go into meditation for his watch gaining his rest while still being able to keep an ear out. The strange sound of crying stirred him from his deep thought. It seemed at first to come from a great distance then it gradually came closer and closer until he could see it creeping into the room from the shadows. The ghostly creature appeared as a priestly youth in fine silk robes until it wandered into his lamplight. Then Excor saw its features shrivel into a hideous corpse.

Excor: “WRAITH!”

Gornix, Fauna, and Szoo leapt up shocked from a badly needed deep sleep. The wraith moaned as it hovered before them. However, the intense waves of sad hopelessness it emitted did not overwhelm them. Gornix cast Life Blast at it but the magic went wild blasting outward in all directions damaging the wraith and restoring some vitality to the others. Excor took a defensive position should the thing try to touch him. Szoo did the same. Fauna cast Lightning Bolt on it to no effect.

The wraith floated towards Fauna trying to touch her with its shriveled claw-like hand. The druidess dodged its boney grip. Gornix cast Life Blast again this time blasting the thing wholly from existence. The remainder of the night was quiet.

Come morn the group set out to open the eastern door (D4) in the large chamber. They found easy access as Excor used the Amber Bee to open it. Behind the door, they found a smaller octagonal chamber (4 on the map) again with smooth black lusterless walls with a domed ceiling covered in gold leaf. Dominating the room was a man-size statue of a cobra in finely wrought iron. The group gawked in awe for a few seconds until they got suspicious. Szoo was able to sense strong magic on the statue.

The mages proceeded with caution but as soon as the last one was inside the room, the iron cobra animated and attacked. Fauna tried to cast Sleep on the creature but it had no effect. Excor cast Shadow Ribbons on it in an effort to immobilize it but it easily dodged. Szoosha hit it with a fire ray in an effort to “melt it”. Gornix cast Portable Hole and used the hole to hole it up. He then dispelled the hole. The fight was over.

Szoo took the lead and the group moved rapidly into the next room (5 on the map). This chamber was a small octagonal chamber with unadorned walls and flat ceiling. At its center was a masterly crafted ivory font with a series of horned women with four arms and insect-wings cavorting around the base in gold relief. It had long been dry. They searched the font for a little while and finding nothing they continued.

They found themselves in a room dominated by a raised slab fit for a body (6). All around were shards or pottery and rotten wood. From that room Szoo led them south into a larger room crowded with sealed terra cotta amphorae (7).

Cris (to Isis): “Slow down!”

Excor moved ahead with his oil lamp held high. As soon as he raised it as he turned, its light revealed three mummies shuffling in through the western entrance to the room. The four mages battled the mummies for a full round finally gaining the upper hand by the 2nd. By this time two more warrior-type mummies and a priest-type appeared. The priest and a summoned swarm of scarab beetles lasted until the 4th round having nearly pushed the cabal mages back into room 6.

After the battle Fauna revealed that she was badly injured in the fight so the group let her drink from the chalice. Meanwhile, Szoo pried open an amphora discovering what looked like fresh wet innards that shriveled and dried before his eyes and crumbled into dust. He swore he had seen a heart among the tripe and it had been beating before it disintegrated.

Undaunted Szoo turned and made sure everyone was ready to get on the move again and so immediately led the group into the next chamber. This they found was another mausoleum with body niches in the walls from floor to ceiling (8 on the map). Szoo immediately guided the group along the southern route through the dirt-floored mausoleum into yet another small octagonal room (10).

This small chamber had glowing firefly amber pieces glowing in its niches and a gold leafed dome ceiling that glittered ominously in the strange light. Embedded in the floor at rooms center was a solid gold plate depicting lotus blossoms each set with a different colored gem. After careful inspection, Gornix declared this a trap. He was positive that if pried the gems would unleash a spray of poisonous gas or acid. He was certain of it. Regardless Szoosha pushed on into the hallway.

Cris (to Isis): “Hey! You’re moving too fast!

As soon as Szoo turned the corner in the hallway, he ran face to face with two mummies standing abreast blocking the passage. Behind them was another strange looking mummy. That one had thick black ooze dripping from its mouth and nose. It had a gold necklace with the image of a black enamel lotus dangling from its neck and on its right hand, a gold ring set with an obsidian stone.

Gornix cast Life Blast at the first mummy somewhat damaging it. He then quickened Breathe Without Air on himself. Szoo summoned his flaming polearm and chopped at the first mummy smashing it down. Excor cast Life Blast at the second mummy damaging it. Fauna, being at the rear, readied should she be able to do anything. The third black lotus mummy exhaled a blast of black gas right into Szoo’s face. In a single violent convulsion, the naga flopped to the floor apparently dead. The second mummy tried to slam its fists into Gornix so he used his Battle Magic feat to simul the creature with the Life Blast spell blasting it into oblivion.

Gornix again cast Life Blast finishing off the black lotus mummy. Excor cast Neutralize Poison on Szoo fortunately being in time to save the black-scale’s life. At least, in time to prevent the poison from killing him. Fauna grabbed one of Szoosha’s healing potions and dumped it down the naga’s throat. After a brief fit of gasping for air Szoosha half rose and then quickly drank down his last remaining healing potion to regain full health.

Gornix: “Maybe I should lead for now.”

Szoo (out of breath): “Yeah, yeah, You lead for a little while.”

To Be Continued…

 

The Cabal of Eight Pt.35: The Black Pillars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Be Continued…

The Cabal of Eight Pt.28: Wagons & Dragon

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

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

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

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

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

Excor: “Lightning…..dead horses…”

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

Isis: “Oh boy…”

Jenn: “Uhm. Bro. Be careful…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gil: “Um. Whoops?”

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

Cris: “That’s Hufom!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fauna: “What?”

Excor: “Aren’t you DRIVING!”

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

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

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

To Be Continued…

 

The Cabal of Eight Pt.27: Farmers Cross Fiasco

The great purple moon and its ring gave way in the gloaming to the gold-red then orange-white of dawn. The sun rose over the far off farmhouses and laborers’ hovels as the sky went blue then shone on the banners of Farmers’ Cross Lodge as they unfurled over the front gates. The four mages of the cabal walked into the tavern side of the lodge from the reception area after coming down from their rooms on the upper floors.

They saw the Blue Stranger sitting at the first table beyond the door and spread out before him was a feast of roasted ribs, steaming vegetables and heaps of fresh flatbread. It smelled sweet, savory, exquisite. He motioned for the mages to join him addressing Gornix (played by Gil) by name. Excor (played by Cris), Fauna (played by Jenn), and Szoosha (played by Isis) shot him dirty looks. They joined the stranger regardless that they already knew to be the blue dragon in disguise.

After Fauna and Szoo started eating the Blue Stranger asked, “How’s the food” he had not touched any of it.

Gil (horrified): “It’s POISONED! I didn’t eat anything! Wait. Would he…”

Isis: “WHAT!? NO! WHY DIDN’T SOMEONE Tell ME!?”

Jenn (shrugging): “My girl doesn’t eat meat so…”

Cris: “No. He’s a dragon, hell it is a blue dragon…No. We’re eating our oxen.” He shrugged. Excor dug into the ribs, they were as good as they smelled.

The Blue Stranger smirked in entertainment at Gornix’s and Szoo’s wave of initial horror. Hence the mages and the dragon finished their meal under a cloud of weird tension. The Blue Stranger was the first to take his leave and then the mages left after and tried to refocus on their mission.

By late morning, the mages were circulating amongst the flood of wagons, merchants, and farmers that were making their way through the crossroads with destinations in all eight directions, some close by others as far away as Ezmer. Szoosha kept a vigil at the front gates, namely due to his ability to remain in direct summer sun for extended periods of time and keen eyesight, for the arrival of their target.

Suddenly, Szoo caught glimpse of a cloud of dust riding up from the south cross. He thought its size indicating the caravan that they were waiting for. It wasn’t long before the Black-scaled Naga’s sharp vision picked out a caravan of a covered supply wagon, 3 armored wagons, all protected by a small force of horsemen led by a knight bearing a white longshield with a black swan upon it.

Isis: “Guys! I think he’s here, I think Hufom’s here…”

Cris: “You have to come get and tell us.”

Isis: “Well. Where are ya at?”

Excor was wending his way through a dusty crowd to a large covered area on the east side of the lodge building where most were parking their wagons and tending their animals. He was trying to find Corje and the wagon. It wasn’t long before he bumped into him, the cloaked driver had two others with him.

Corje introduced them as “reinforcements” for the mission. Excor was less than thrilled and quickly made an excuse to get away from the wagon-driver-probably-assassin-in-disguise and his similarly dressed two pals. They were looking for Fauna. The only positive as far as he saw it was that Corje had managed to replace the oxen on the wagon.

Utterly paranoid and a little exhausted already, Excor quickly retreated to his tiny corner room on the third floor. To try to gain a little “insight” into his and his companions’ situation he decided to take a dose of some yellow lotus that he had lifted from Fauna without her knowledge. Its quality was a little higher than expected. As a result he fell into a drug-induced coma. As he collapsed onto the sleeping mat, an intense vision ripped through his brain, a chaos of shattering wood, smashing stones, a blue dragon and roaring lightning, and a black mace whistling through the air.

Fauna was wandering aimlessly around the lodge-enclosure talking to the occasional stranger that might peak her interest. Eventually Corje and his two allies found her.

Corje: “There you are little sister! I’ve made contact with our two allies!” He introduced them but Fauna did not pay attention to their names.

He went on about how they were ready to deal a blow for “our good lady” and if need be do it here if the chance should present itself “even at the cost of all our lives”. Fauna humored them and mentioned it would be a good idea for her to track down her friends and formulate a plan before Corje and his compatriots should do anything. Meanwhile it would be best if they would get the wagon ready to leave at a moment’s notice. She parted ways with them and disappeared into the road-weary press of the yard.

At the same time, Gornix joined Szoo as the caravan the naga was spotting rumbled through the gates, a blast of yellow dust preceding them. The three armored wagons had shutters over the windows and thus any passengers hidden from view. On each wagon were a driver and a crossbowman. The wagons also bore the pennants of the Iron Wheels of Ezmer. The emblem of the Iron Wheels being an iron grey wagon wheel against a crimson field. The horsemen on the other hand bore the arms of the Yellow Spears on their wooden longshields, wore chainmail shirts with steel open helms and were armed with light lances. Their heraldry being a yellow diamond-headed spear against a field of orange and azure bent sinister. Leading the whole lot was a white knight in a checkered surcoat, atop his white great helm was a carved wooden black swan.

The Black Swan/White Knight was as a towering and intimidating figure as his brother in full regalia. However, when he removed his helmet he was the spitting image though his brow was more prominent and his chin stronger. He also had a wide scar across his face and another across his lips to his chin. He was very systematic in habit, the stripping down of his equipment even his dismount. At his hip was a great sword with a gleaming golden grip and pommel.

The pair of mages tried to approach the White Knight but he kept them at a distance while he stowed his equipment. Even when he was finished, he arrogantly brushed off any attempt to engage him. Therefore, Gornix and Szoo were trying to gather as much info as they could just hanging around and keeping an eye out on the whole scene. Gornix spotted out someone moving between the armored carriages but he could only catch a glimpse of a long wormy tail.

Szoo: “Is that our guy?”

Gornix: “I don’t know.”

Eventually Fauna met up with the pair and without waiting for Excor, who was still unconscious, they tried to formulate a plan. They would wait for the horsemen and most of the guards to go into the tavern and then Szoo would set the wheels of the carriages on fire so they couldn’t get away and then Gornix would use his Summon Elemental IV spell to summon a giant earth elemental to cause a diversion. After that, Excor could keep guard with his magic and Fauna and her crew could move in with their daggers to finish off the job. They hoped they could escape in the ensuing chaos.

The mages held and waited while the carriages were parked. After they had been parked near the front wall in their own special cordoned off area, Fauna went to scoop up her people and Excor. She soon found Excor completely knocked out and realized he would be out for quite some time. However with Corje’s help she dragged him to the wagon.

Not long after the carriages had been parked Sir Illin, the White Swan/Black Knight, met his twin brother with a roar of a greeting and they started to the tavern. The dismounted mercenaries and crossbowmen followed. Left behind the drivers tended the carriages and draft animals. The passengers within had failed to disembark. It was still early in the afternoon.

Isis: “Can I BURN things now?”

Gil: “Do it.”

Szoosha kept his distance and using the minimal somatic components to remain unseen set the first two carriages wheels ablaze. Unfortunately when he targeted the third carriages wheels, the magic got away from him and nearby piles of hay and the supply wagon burst into flames letting loose a massive fireball into the sky.

Isis: “Hee-hee, YES!”

The Lodge guards were panicking and ran to the well attempting to establish a bucket line. Meanwhile, Gornix cast his spell at the rear of the lodge. As a result, a giant semi-humanoid earth elemental rose from the ground.

Gil (*roll*roll*): “Uhm. Oops.”

Isis: “What’ya mean OOPS!?”

Gil: “I can’t control it.”

The elemental giant immediately smashed its massive fists into the corner of the lodge building tearing out an entire corner. It had completely taken out what had been Excor’s room. Then the creature swept its arm across some nearby guards killing them all.

Isis: “This is not going well.”

Fauna: “Corje! Get the WAGON!”

The Black and White Swans ran from the tavern weapons drawn. They gathered up their mounts and ushered the last remaining armored wagon to the gates. So Gornix approached as close as he dared and shouted to the White Swan/Black Knight. The knight shouted back that if he wanted to caravan with them they were pulling out NOW. Four of the horsed lancers were already galloping through the gates. The cabal’s wagon pulled up with the unconscious Excor in back along with the pair of cloaked men he had met earlier that day.

Isis: “Wait. This might be perfect!”

Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere a very fancy blue coach with a train of six horses rode up to the gates from the yard driven by a very familiar hunchback. The Blue Stranger opened the door into the vehicle and shouted to Gornix to get in. He would also be joining their little wagon train.

Isis: “Oh gawd NO!”

Gornix of course leapt right into the Blue Stranger’s coach followed by Fauna and a reluctant Szoo. In a storm of chaos and fire, the makeshift caravan fled north from Farmers’ Cross.

To Be Continued…

The Cabal of Eight Pt.26: The Stranger

Leaving Corje with their wagon the mages of the cabal of eight stumbled into the tavern half of Farmers’ Farmers' Cross Lodge emblemCross Lodge through the saloon doors from under the covered porch outside. The place was busy but not overcrowded mostly farmers, grain traders, and produce sellers. The ceiling was high; the entire log and timber structure of the lodge was three stories, the tavern ceiling reached all the way up past a long balcony on the second. The blue smoke that clouded there from the mass of pipes below concealed the timber ceiling. Scattered beams of light shone from various small square windows. Along the walls, the dusty preserved heads of pronghorn, wild bulls, and a few lions hung. Between those trophies dangled the hunting horns of lost hunters.

The bar was at the rear of the place behind it were massive hogshead-barrels half-built into the rear wall. Therefore the gang of adventurers/would-be assassins took an empty table nearest the east wall. Excor (played by Cris) led because he wanted to keep his back to a wall. A waitress approached the table. She was a well-fed country girl and awesomely attractive (very high BEA and CHA). So Gornix (played by Gil) made multiple attempts at seduction and failed every single one to the amusement of Szoo (played by Isis) and Fauna (played by Jenn).

The mages ordered an entire roast pig, a cask worth of ale, and a bottle of Breadbasket whiskey. A virtual feast was laid bare before them and they partook of it vigorously, especially Szoo. Not long after did a stranger of note stride heavily into the tavern.

Those heavy steps belonged to an Ivoran Knight shaking off the dust of the road. At his right hip was a straight bladed longsword, a black mace dangling on the other. He wore a full chainmail suit covered by a checkered surcoat. The knight removed his steel great helm and a gush of dirty sweat dumped onto the floor. Atop the black helm was a carved wood swan painted white. His face was perfect, unmarked by blade or talon, and beautiful framed by long blonde hair. If he was Hyvalian then he was from its farthest northern borders.

Cris (Excor’s player): “Lemme guess. So that guy’s with Hufom.”

Gil (completely lacking sarcasm): “You think so?”

Cris: “Pfft! Jes’ look at ‘em! C’mon! I pass the barmaid a gold coin for some info on tha’ stranger.”

The barmaid tells Excor that the Ivoran knight’s a foreign knight, probably Hyvalian, of some renown. He’s the White Swan of the Twin Swans, his brother being the black. They have quite a reputation as marshals of the prairies and guardians of travelers in the Breadbasket and Ezmeria. They’re also serving as the personal bodyguards of the Landsmen’s Representative headed to Ezmer city.

Meanwhile the knight approached the bar; the trembling bartender passed him a mug of ale free of charge.

Isis: “Yup. That’s one of them alright!”

Gornix immediately stood up and invited the weary knight to eat with him and his companions. The White Swan graciously accepted introducing himself as Sir Illin. After the player jeers and chants of “Sir Illin be chillin’ at the bar” subsided, he took a seat at their table and immediately began stuffing his face and gulping down lakes of ale.

Sir Illin turned out to be an amicable guy. He cracked a couple of jokes, charmed Fauna, and even got on the good side of Szoosha. At first, the black-scale naga was more than a little wary of their guest-soon-to-be-enemy. Apparently, Illin was sent ahead of the caravan which consisted of his brother, 3 armored wagons, and 10-horsed guards from the Yellow Spear security outfit.

At that, Excor told the knight about their encounter with a blue dragon on the road not far from this very place using his best manners. Sir Illin waved away his concerns and did not seem to care a lick about social protocol. Regardless he thanked Excor for the skinny on the dragon and as long as they had their own wagon anyway, invited the mages to travel with the caravan. They seemed all right to him (he couldn’t sense any evil from them anyway). Besides he and his brother had faced dragons before and come out unscathed. Granted they have always been Whers, not a particularly strong sort of dragon but not weak either.

Excor: “So. Tell me my friend, what’s the purpose of your caravan?”

Sir Illin: “Just escortin’ a politician but don’t worry about that. There’s drinkin’ to be done!”

After quaffing a full mug of ale, Sir Illin bragged about the speed and power of his warhorse. But the mages did not catch its name. However, the heroic amounts of booze and food began to loosen his tongue and he regaled them with his past adventures. This and as he took a liking to Gornix so he let them in on a little secret. His brother was the stickler for the law of the pair but he, the white swan, was the truncheon of justice.

One time his brother let a known criminal go just because he was “starving “. His excuse as to why he stole that loaf of bread in the first place. So after his brother rode off he circled back around and laid the man’s head open with his mace just like that scum deserved. He burst into uproarious laughter. The mages shrank into their seats.

After an hour or so, the White Swan excused himself and went to procure room and board. The night was almost upon the four mages before they knew it. Hence Excor and Szoo went to procure rooms, a wide doorway opened up in the west wall to allow entry from the tavern into the reception area. Excor got a room for the night for himself, a tiny room in the northeast corner of the second floor. Szoo paid for a room for both himself and Fauna on the second floor as well. Gornix and Fauna meanwhile were pounding down whiskey and ale in the tavern. Szoo had rejoined them only long enough to give them the room number and then retired for the night.

Later the place was beginning to empty save for a few armed guards in studded leather taking a break from the ramparts. As a result of the late hour the servers had all been dismissed and a new younger bar-back was slinging drinks. Suddenly the saloon doors burst open and in stepped a stranger dressed in vibrant blue.

Jenn: “Aw crap.”

This stranger wore blue robes with black and silver embroidery, a billowing blue cloak with a silver clasp, and a scimitar and curved dagger at his hips. Silver-wire wrapped the grips of each weapon and large sapphire pommel-stones glittered. On his feet were purple velvet shoes with gold tracery. Behind him hobbled into the tavern a bent and hideously pathetic creature.

The unfortunate man was a disagreeable mix of naga, human, and faun. Patches of alternating scaly skin, hairy hide, and bare human flesh covered the visible portions of his twisted body. His fingernails twisted into mostly useless talons, one of his feet was a hoof, a tail protruded from his rear, and his misshapen head appeared as if horns would burst any moment from that clammy forehead. Over one shoulder swelled a large hump.

The hunchback led his master to the bar, tossed a heavy red leather sack of coins onto the board, and ordered a meal.

The Blue Stranger (smacking the hunchback about the head): “No Onions you fool!”

After he was served and as the hunchback looked hungrily on, the Blue Stranger gorged himself.

The Hunchback: “Master! I’m sooo hungry!”

The Blue Stranger: “Shut up. You will eat when I say. Besides, do you want to make these good people sick should they see you stuffing that thing you call a face!”

Jenn: “I really hope he’s the dragon in disguise. I really hate that guy!”

Gornix, very drunk, stumbled up to the Blue Stranger and sat next to him. The hunchback hissed and put his claw on the handle of his dagger. The lotus mage engaged the stranger in small talk and then began to try to glean some information from him. However, the tables quickly turned and Gornix gave away that he and his companions, he named each, were going to travel to Ezmer with a caravan that was to arrive probably tomorrow with the Twin Swans. Realizing what he had done Gornix immediately walked away at as a fast as pace as he could manage with Fauna following shortly thereafter.

The Blue Stranger (after Gornix): “I hope you and your friends will join me for breakfast!”

Cris (scowling at Gil): “What did you do!?”

To Be Continued…

The Cabal of Eight Pt.25: Wagon East!

The group of young mages found themselves being beaten down on by the sun while breathing the dust Helpful map for a wagon tripof the road once again as they traveled south along the Trade Road East. Fauna (played by Jenn) in an effort to relieve her companions of the blistering rays used her pup tent as a covering for the rear of the wagon. Excor (played by Cris) sat shotgun next the driver, Corje whom he engaged in conversation. Corje believed that their goal laid 3 or possibly 4 days ahead if all went well.

The wagon wheeled along at a somewhat frantic pace. The crew had decided they should push the oxen to the limit to reduce their time on the road. They also feared overlapping by their mark and that they should somehow miss them. However the mages wanted to be prepared before they ran into Hufom and his guards.

It was late afternoon, the unforgiving sun continued to blast the land with its shriveling rays. The sky was smeared with a few clouds here and there. The air grew heavy and increasingly humid as they continued south. They had made great time although the pair of oxen was losing speed and strength. They needed water. Therefore, the wagon stopped for a break near a low scrub thicket that partially leaned over onto the road.

Suddenly a lion leapt from the underbrush onto the back of one of the oxen tearing open its back with a great gush of blood and pulling it to the ground. Gornix (played by Gil), having spotted the lion the second before its leap, cast Spook. This causing it to turn tail and run away disappearing into the thicket. Gornix and Excor cast Close Wounds on the oxen as the lion’s attack had nearly killed it. It took Corje an hour to calm the animals and tend the still open though not bleeding wounds. They continued as soon as the animals were ready.

The landscape changed gradually from barren desert slopes with small tufts of woody tangled thickets and clumps of pale thread grass to flat spans of weedy fields of tall grasses and increasingly large thickets of yellow pine. It was early evening by the time they crossed the bridge over the River Wuhar stopping at the small hamlet there. The pennant that hung limp over the open-air tavern there bore a gold sun on a green field.

The hamlet, they failed to get the name of the place, was surrounded by a water filled moat carved directly from the river and instead of walls to protect it on the other side of the moat it had porcupine hedges, large shaved logs bristling with sharpened wooden stakes. They pulled into the wagon-park area just beyond the bridge and a gate and went to the tavern for food and drink.

Fauna commented on the amazing speed and endurance of the oxen having covered such a great distance in such short a time. Excor and Gornix innocently acknowledged as much and then exchanged a knowing glance as they took their seats at a table.

The group ate grilled fish and drank a couple of pitchers of ale. Gornix talked to the waiter as he delivered their food. More than likely the guards around Hufom would be guilded spearmen of the Yellow Spears outfit operating out of the city and not the Iron Wheels, which Gornix had surmised. Fauna asked the waiter about the safety of the road and the waiter replied that there have been plenty of dragon sightings lately, Wher mostly. Fauna turned to her companions and explained that Whers were nocturnal so they should be fine. Szoo (played by Isis), still chewing a fish, asked if there was another nearby settlement. The waiter said that the closest were back northwest and into the interior, mostly small ranches. Further south following the trade road, at least 3 days, there was Farmers’ Cross Lodge just before the territory of the Breadbasket.

Tempting fate the group decided to head out and try to close more distance in the few hours of daylight they had left. As soon as they finished eating and interrogating the waiter, they headed out at full speed. Only a few hours out a giant constrictor came alongside the moving wagon probably aiming for the oxen. Gornix easily spooked it away.

As night fell Fauna guided them to a well-hid campsite where they bivouacked. The night passed uneventfully.

The 2nd of High Summer – they had been on the road for some hours when suddenly just before noon Fauna shouted at Corje to stop. When he brought the oxen to a halt, she leapt out of the wagon and ran to a large blue-green bush specked with white blossoms growing a ways from the side of the road. Her companions looked on as she simply stood in front of the bush for some minutes before they realized something was wrong.

Cris: “Ha ha! I thought she was just taking a piss break!”

Fauna tried to back away as her mind reeled from a sudden psychic surge but found that some invisible force grappled her. Szoo leapt from the wagon and slithered close enough to conjure flame on the bush but to no effect. The strange flowery bush didn’t seem to do anything at all. Gornix jumped down and moved in as close as he could. He was unable to identify the plant. Excor jumped from the wagon and moved 15 ft. from the road towards the plant. He pulled his copper spike and shot a lightning bolt at the bush dealing a little damage.

Fauna again struggled in vain to free herself. Szoo summoned his fire naginata and slashed at the bush hacking free a few thick limbs. The strange flowery bush didn’t seem to do anything at all. Gornix pulled his sword and cast Brighten Blade upon it. Excor once again shot the bush with a lightning bolt dealing some damage.

Gornix slashed at the monster plant with his brightened blade chopping away a few blue-green leaves. The strange flowery bush didn’t seem to do anything at all.

Then Fauna winced as if in pain and the wounded bush seemed to heal a little.

Fauna again struggled redoubling her effort, as she knew the thing was now draining away her life but again failed. As all of the mages were close enough to be sensed by the plant’s tremor-sense it unleashed another surge of psychic energy stunning all of them. As a reflex Szoo struck with his flaming naginata but it simply glanced harmlessly from the plant. Gornix slashed with his sword and again only managed to hack free a couple of round leaves. The salt-lotus mage then quickened a Cone of Frost dealing some damage but nowhere near expected. Excor again shot a bolt from his copper spike but this time it had no effect. So he quickened a lightning bolt which upon striking its target blasted the bush to smoking bits.

Wounds were tended, the battle was over. Fauna was finally able to identify the plant as a Mind Trap Flower bush. She collected a few of the white flower petals veined with red and peach patterns akin to the striations of the mammalian brain. After this, they hopped back onto the wagon and Corje drove the wagon on.

Come evening however Coje suddenly stopped the wagon dead and pointed out a bright green bush growing at the side of the road ahead, its umbrage hanging over their path. Excor identified it as a Spring Jaw Plant. He quickly spotted for more as “they tend to grow in patches”. He saw no others. So Fauna cast Call Lightning on the plant from a safe distance successfully 3 times (out of an overall total of 6 attempts).

The bush was a smoldering wreck but not yet completely “neutralized” so she went to cast her spell for a fourth (technically 7th) time. However, the magic got away from her and went wild (Natural 1 casting check) with the spell detonating in a magical explosion. Gornix was able to dodge, barely. Szoo and Excor taking the brunt had to make recovery checks to stay alive. Both managed to remain standing but they were still badly injured. Fortunately, the plant had been completely obliterated.

Gornix cast Close Wounds on Excor. Fortunately, Szoo was able to use his Silver Ring of Close Wounds and using up its uses-per-day was able to fully heal himself. After the healing had been dealt with, Gornix sifted through the ashes and found two of the Spring Jaw’s poisonous red speckled fruits. He stashed them in his robes.

They moved further down the road from where the Spring Jaw had been and pulled off the road to set up camp. Fauna handed Excor a healing salve as they settled down in a reasonably concealed area that the druidess had already scouted out.

The night was relatively quiet, almost too quiet as the natural sounds of insects, distant night birds seemed to be absent, and if present, could only be heard with some strain. They set the watches as usual with Fauna on the first watch, Corje on the second, and both Gornix and Szoo on the third. Excor needed to rest and heal and so was exempt this night from a watch assignment.

The night had been quiet for the first and second watches. When it came to third watch Gornix had his nose buried in a spellbook with his staff providing the light. Szoo on the other hand, was jumping at every sound real or imagined. Suddenly Szoo froze with terror as he saw a massive blue-scaled dragon sitting right across from him just staring with a mocking and somewhat amused expression on its beastly visage.

From somewhere deep inside, Szoosha was able to pull some strength and resist the need to flee from the utter horror that he felt. He demanded what the beast wanted.

Young Blue Dragon (in an ultra-deep rumbling voice): “Maybe I’ll pull your arms and legs off and leave you to die if you’re lucky.”

The hideous voice alerted Gornix to the intruder and trying to think his way out of the situation started with some light flattery. Excor had awakened and was feigning sleep with one eye open. Fauna was dead asleep and still snoring.

Gornix: “Oh bright blue beautiful scaly one! Oh mighty dragon we are but lowly mages! We could um help you maybe uh sir, lord, dragon? Blue mighty, uh, giant, scaled one?”

Cris: “You should’ve asked for its name first. C’mon!”

Isis: “Yeah, geez!”

Gil: “Sorry guys I was too busy s#!ting my pants.”

In response, it lunged lightning fast and leapt into the air. Before any of the mages realized what had happened the dragon had absconded with their last ox.

Cris was notably upset.

By morning (the 3rd of High Summer) the mages and their driver headed out trying to maintain their highest rate of speed (without any experimental potion meant for a rat). However, the landscape was working against them. It began to undulate as the road passed over a series of low hills and into oblong depressions. The morning was utterly quiet as was the afternoon. Around evening, they spotted the young blue dragon flying above them. It was intentionally letting itself be seen circling like a vulture above.

By sundown, the dragon had disappeared again and Fauna spent some extra time seeking out a well-hidden campsite. They packed into a small hollow in the side of a high hill a ways off the trade route surrounded by high, dense, and pungently fragrant bushes. The night passed uneventfully but it was still just too quiet.

Come morning (the 4th of High Summer), Corje prepared breakfast. Meanwhile Fauna scouted the wider area around their camp. She found that the dragon had indeed been prowling the area last night. By the circular paths it took, she surmised it had been looking for them. They decided to move as fast as possible even if it meant driving the ox to death.

Breaking camp they sent clouds of yellow dust up as they fled tearing the sod from the road. The day passed quickly without a sighting of the dragon.

Cris: “The dragon won’t show up near civilization and we should be close by now.”

They then came to an especially high hill that the ox struggled to surmount. From its summit, they could see what they assumed to be the lodge just a few miles away. They cheered. The players cheered.

Suddenly a lightning bolt shot from the sky and blew their last ox apart. They looked up in time to see the young blue dragon turning flying away laughing. Cris cursed.

The group of mages and Corje pulled the wagon the rest of the way themselves. A few hours later at sundown just before the gates of the wooden ramparts shut, they dragged their wagon in. The filthy, sweaty mages collapsed into the dust before collecting their wits enough to look for the saloon. They ponderously dragged their road-weary hides from the lodge courtyard into the lodge proper.

To Be Continued…

 

Arvan: Land of Dragons RELEASED!

Arvan: The Land of Dragons, the new campaign setting for Dice & Glory. It centers on the Age of Adventure and a burgeoning international trade and era of conquest. As well as the reclamation of territory from the supernatural forces that have dominated it for so long. This resulting from an extended Dark Age of Mad Mage-Lords and Dark Warlords. In addition, in the East an ancient empire struggles to slow its disintegration into smaller feudal princedoms. While its central theocracy seizes power for itself by focusing the chaos on the empires’ former Western colonies. Power is up for grabs for those willing to seize it.

The world’s technology level hovers between the late Iron Age and the High Middle Ages. No “Tolkienesque” classical player races exist with Arboreans (tree-men), Amazons, Fauns, Ratlings, Naga, unicorns, and Hill-Giants instead. Of course, there are still human beings. The world of Eu, the planet on which the setting of Arvan exists, has a healthy dose of dark mystery along with a patina of medieval grit. It has realistic underpinnings established for the fantasy of the world to exist on. Inspirations include ancient Rome, Greece, the ancient Americas, as well as Warring States Era China, with some influence from ancient Africa and the Celtic lore and history of Europe not to mention Ancient Greece.

The setting focuses on an “Age of Adventure” wherein the players and their characters can explore and engage the world. Players have a chance of making a mark on the world of Eu. The focus of the setting is adventure be it raiding and pillage, thievery, monster hunting, dragon-slaying, establishing trade routes, exploration, or conquest.

This setting was nearly 10 years in the writing and evolved after several years of role-play. The history of Eu and its cultures were constructed to provide a deep background for fantasy games that may stay as standard and shallow as they please or take a deep dive into the people and places of the fantasy world.

The PDF is available right now at DriveThruRPG.com and RPGNow.com!

The print edition will be available sooner than expected from Lulu.com but more on that later.

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The Cabal of Eight Pt.5: Thug Life

It was nearly two hours before the trio of mages was able to make it to the necropolis gates. All the way Where the thug led them.the air seemed to become increasingly still and just before the gates the wind itself seemed to fear making any sound at all. They stopped just outside of the gates at the ragged edge of an old irrigation ditch just before the old road.

Accordingly, they surveyed the pitch dark for the evident light of a campfire but all was black. Suddenly, a shape rose from the shadow gesticulating wildly. All three of the young mages recognized the senior thug. He was signaling them as silently as he could to DUCK!

As a result and almost as a reflex, their heads turned in unison past the overturned wagon and the body of one of the thugs to where the Wher dragon was butchering the dead horses with its teeth and claws. Immediately the mages jumped into the ditch and pressed themselves hard against its slanted overgrown sides.

After an hour, every thug and mage present had kept a keen eye locked onto the dragon as they waited the situation out, the Wher flew off back into the necropolis bearing the better part of a horse carcass. Consequently, Excor decided to stay where he was for the rest of the night and sleep in the ditch.

Gornix dashed over to the thugs who were held up by the overturned wagon. The older thug was somewhat upset. Apparently he owned the wagon and was a bit angry that it had been broken up and both draft-horses eaten by the dragon. Fauna simply stayed in the pit with Excor following his example as well as being more comfortable in the thick tangled grasses.

Finally, morning came, the great purple moon and its rings darkened a large portion of the blazing orange dawn. The young mages and the thugs quickly wolfed down their iron rations and used what of the grog they could salvage to wet down the hard tack. After breakfast they assessed the damage to the wagon, it was determined a total loss. As a result, the old thug went on a tirade about “that double-dealin’ dishonest soft-skinned shiesty fop! Easy money my @$$! It weren’t enough! Not by a long toss! Owe’s me a pair o’ good horse an a WAGON!”

The angry old man roughly wiped the spit from his beard and flung his arm clean. He walked over to the other two thugs.

Jenn (Fauna’s Player): “So. What do we do now?”

Cris (Excor’s Player): “We walk.”

Gil (Gornix’s Player): “What!? Anybody have a flight spell or something!? Nothing? My CON’s not good.”

Cris: “You got anything?”

Gil: “No?”

Excor marched off by himself and looking back at his companions shouted, “C’mon! Let’s Go!”

The three thugs grumbled, “Who the hell does that guy think he is?” between themselves. After a few seconds, they shrugged their shoulders and followed. Fauna and Gornix searched the broken wagon for rations for some unknown reason. However, they found nothing. Therefore, the pair had to run to catch up to their party.

Come noon the sun was high and blazing like molten platinum down onto the backs of the young mages and the surviving thugs. Accordingly, all were drenched in sweat and partially stripped of excess clothing. Road dirt smeared their faces and collected in dark patches to their sweat-soaked clothes. Fauna and Gornix were exhausted. A young thug, the youngest of the remaining three, dropped passing out from heat exhaustion face first into the pale rocky jaundiced dust of the road.

Barely even winded the elder thug and his pal continued on at a brisk pace ignoring their fallen compatriot as well as the mages they had hardly tolerated. Excor decided to wait after some thought and squirt some water from his waterskin onto his dirty sunburnt face. While the crunching trudge of the deserters faded into the heat-shimmering distance.

Regardless Gornix struggled over to the unconscious thug and splashed his face with some water. The young ruffian twitched showing that he was alive but he did not wake up. The remaining group decided to rest where they were. Fauna set up her pup-tent and slept. Gornix tried to help the sun-struck thug but was too weak and so stripped down rest under the arid shadow of a nearby rock.

Cris (to me, the GM): “Hey! Am I carrying that dagger? I sure I am I got it wrote down!”

Gornix as he waited for his companions to recover enough to continue to foot it to the city walls identified the dagger they had taken from the sarcophagus of Dag-Athar. All he could get from the obviously magic item was its mystical connection to a demon. Some runes blazed into view like fire along the curved golden blade.

Cris: “That’s it. I stop touching the thing and wrap it in a rag and stash it away!”

Cris (to Gil): “Hey man you want to carry the dagger!”

Gil: “No. No. I’m passed out right now.”

The day progressed and by late afternoon (approx. 3 pm) Gornix was fully recovered however Fauna and the thug were still out of commission. Gornix summoned a pair of earth elementals (again barely hitting the control roll DC) and had them carry the druid and thug. After an hour when the creatures melted back into the yellow road Fauna had recovered but the thug was still out.

They paused long enough for Gornix to render first aid and when the thug finally was able to stand, barely, the mage lent him his staff to walk with. They soldiered on towards Ezmer. It was not for several more hours (till about 9 pm) that they reached their goal, the city gates of Ezmer. The gates were shut tight.

This was because the gates shut every day at sundown only to open again at the first light of dawn. So, to one side of the gates was a wayfarer camp and to the other a gypsy camp filled with music and Southern Nomads dancing wildly around their roaring bonfires.

Fauna decided to “check out” the gypsy camp. As soon as a pair of nomads approached her showing signs of the mixed blood of humans, faun, and Naga she freaked and left to rejoin Excor who leaning against the city-gate.

Gornix, on the other hand, was trying to follow the thug that had his staff and lost him somewhere in the wayfarers’ camp. For this reason, Gornix rejoined his companions at the gate where they had set up to sleep in a corner against the great wood and iron gates. He cast clairvoyance focusing on his staff and on the strength of his vision, he urged his companions to the western aqueducts.

Finally, they stumbled to one of the gargantuan aqueducts that fed the city water from rivers miles away to the south. They observed the white stone arches as they stretched over the wide and deep stone-lined dry moat. Constructed behind the moat were the battle towers and city bulwarks. The three mages heard a slight chirping from above.

Gornix caught his staff, tossed to him by the thug he had doctored. The young man was above them on a ledge of the aqueduct. He signaled them up. The only words he spoke were in a raspy whisper, “Shh. Keep quiet and follow my lead.”

Therefore, they carefully edged their way across the aqueducting along the narrow bird-dropping encrusted edge. Occasionally they suffered the nip of a beak on a finger misplaced in a pecked out burrow. About midway across the span and only halfway from their goal the leading thug signaled them to stop and lean in against the stone. At this point if any of their grips failed the height of the fall and the impact on the stone lining of the moat would’ve killed any one of the four sneaks.

The young thug sent a twittering bird-call across the moat to the other side. Consequently from the top of one of the battle towers they could all see the yellow-white flash of a signal lantern. The young thug looked back and signaled them to follow. Finally, they continued to the other side where a watchman armed with a crossbow helped them down into the battlements of the bulwarks and from there the thug led them into the streets after sharing a special handshake with the man. Only Fauna noticed this but was unable to memorize the handshake.

Soon after, they were somewhere in the Southwest District of Ezmer navigating a narrow alley among the small crowded multi-story buildings. At this point, the young thug turned to Gornix as he started to duck into a dark and narrow side-alley. “You’re a good man. I would’ve left you.” Gornix began to try to say something back.

The GM (Me): “Dude he’s already gone.”

After getting their bearings, the group headed out to the Red Helm hoping that Draiga had their pay in hand.

To Be Continued…