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…

The Cabal of Eight Pt.4: The Tomb of Dag-Athar

The trio of young mages (Excor the Ivoran schemer played by Cris, Fauna the Southlander druid playedThe map of the titular tomb by Jenn, and Gornix the Ivoran Wizard played by Gil) slowly progressed down the dank ancient passage their lights pushing back against the smothering darkness of the tomb. Gornix led the group tapping each flagstone in turn before he stepped upon it with Fauna just a step behind him. Excor was 10 ft. behind her however.

Fauna (Played by Jenn): “Hey you! Get up here!”

Excor: “Hell no!”

Cris (Excor’s Player): “Hey ya never know! Am I wrong? Am I wrong?”

Gornix paused due to an unexpected floor feature. He carefully inspected it. Laid before him was a large flagstone with the graven image of the grinning horned demon. After contemplating how to proceed and after some needling by Fauna he decided to just jamb it with the butt of his staff. All three of them froze in place as the strained squealing of some hidden machine echoed from behind the walls presumably triggered by Gornix’s hasty action.

A stone slab slid and crashed down suddenly just in front of Excor sealing him off from his two companions. Gornix and Fauna inspected the other side of the stone drop-door.

Fauna: “Awww. It’s too heavy for us to lift huh?”

Gornix: “Do. You.  Have your crowbar?”

They searched for a reset or switch or anything to retract the door. They even checked for magic but nothing. The door was too heavy to lift, left no purchase for a crowbar, and was airtight. About the time Fauna and Gornix were shrugging in frustration, the grinning demon’s visage mocking them from the door’s face, Excor Ghost Step-ped through to join them.

Gornix: “There’s gotta be a way to get through that door around here.”

Excor: “No. It was probably meant to trap whoever comes down here. AND it’s airtight huh? Damn. We might die down here even if we get the dagger.”

They continued in a single group this time just behind each other proceeding just as slowly, if not slower, than they had been before. As the end of the tunnel was starting to become visible by their lights, they noticed the flags abruptly ended with the floor continuing as moist bare black earth.

Gornix: “I’m not touching that.”

They conferred for a few minutes ultimately deciding to use various spells to “ghost over” the patch of bare ground deeming it to be an obvious trap (it was, just your average 20 ft. deep concealed spiked pit). Excor cast Ghost Form and floated over. Fauna cast Gaseous Form over both her and Gornix. Their mist-forms drifted to the terminus of the tomb throat.

They all found themselves in a chamber identical to the entrance vestibule save that there were three narrow openings into passages that snaked so that they couldn’t look too far into them from the thresholds. A pair of thick stone supports and a stone lintel formed each of the three openings. Carved into one of the supports to the center opening was spiral design.

Excor (as he’s staring at the inscribed spiral): “I bet this one is where have to go. Hmmm. Not sure though.”

Fauna and Gornix solidified reverting to their normal mortal forms. Immediately, Fauna used her divination skill to determine that their goal was indeed through the center opening. As Excor’s Ghost Form spell was still active, he elected himself the first to proceed down the central snaking passage. At the end of the narrow passage was a small rounded chamber with a stone sarcophagus at its center.

Gornix’s spell expired then setting him down near the stone coffin. Suddenly a large golden scaled serpent struck him with its venomous dagger-like fangs. The creature appeared as an unnatural cross between a viper and a constrictor. Dropping his torch he reeled back away from the monster its venom searing along his veins to the other side of the sarcophagus. The torch continued to burn casting long shadows along the chamber walls and leaving the entire portion behind the sarcophagus black. This creature was doubtlessly the tomb’s guardian.

Cris (to me, the GM): “Damn! I’m almost dead. I do a recovery. I need to or I’m dead!”

To save his own skin Excor cast Blinding Flash but to no effect. Dropping her lamp behind the threshold, Fauna charged in and cast Arcane Bolt at the creature but the spell seemed to have no effect. Immediately behind her, Gornix jumped into the small chamber and cast Chrono-Missile but the creature dodged the missiles easily. Gornix again cast Chrono-Missile and again the guardian serpent dodged. So, the young wizard tried to summon some earth elementals (of all the spells to pick for his starting spells he picked Summon Elemental IV, hope he knows what he’s doin’ with that) but failed.

Three medium-sized earth elementals in humanoid form rose from the ground and walls, their bodies of clay and stone. Gornix had successfully cast his spell and lucked out with the control roll to keep the creatures under his spell. The elementals immediately fell upon the golden serpent but it dodged all three of their attacks. Fauna tried to cast Lightning Bolt but the spell failed.

Excor as well cast Lightning Bolt the electrical bolts erupting from his hands as the magic went wild but dealing some damage to the creature as it struck its target. Gornix also cast Lightning Bolt, twice, in quick succession each bolt finding the serpent but dealing very little damage.

The guardian serpent struck at one of the elementals retracting with nothing but a mouthful of dirt. Gornix readied as his elementals attacked. Two missed with clumsy but powerful swings of their rocky fists. The third trapped the monster within its stony grasp and held the squirming beast against the flagstones. Gornix saw his opportunity for a coup de grace striking its head sending the butt of his staff crunching through its skull and into its brain killing it instantly. The tomb-snake’s corpse melted away to nothing as a result.

Without missing a beat, the trio turned their attention towards the sarcophagus and hoped that it contained their quarry. All three left the room and stood behind the threshold. From behind the burial chambers threshold, Gornix commanded his elementals to throw off the lid of the stone sarcophagus. A sparkling cloud of poison dust burst into the air hovering in a dense cloud about the radius of the room. They waited for around 10 minutes while the cloud dissipated.

After the remaining dust settled, our trio carefully moved one after the other into the burial chamber of Dag-Athar. They peered over the chest high sides of the sarcophagus and within they saw a shriveled skeletal corpse with only shreds of pale blue material left clinging to its bones and grey bits of petrified flesh. Moreover, across its sternum under the mummy’s crossed arms rested a gleaming gold dagger.

The dagger was of mirror-polished solid gold with a curved and wickedly sharp blade. In its pommel was set a smooth polished emerald that sparkled venomously even in the scant light of the tomb. The three mages debated on whether or not they should just grab for the blade and hope for the best. They also argued about who would be the one to make the grab.

When the corpse sprung unexpectedly to a sitting posture, the group leapt back from the coffin and prepared for battle. The corpse began saying something in a voice that at first sounded faint and hollow as if echoing from an immeasurable distance. Slowly the eerie voice moved into the burial chamber with them. It was full and deep carrying with it unbendable authority. However, the voice was speaking in a language alien to any of them.

The GM (me)(to Jenn): “Um, don’t you have the Druid Secret Tongue as a language?”

Jenn (referring to her character sheet): “Nope.”

The GM: “Crap. That’s right you’re a rogue druid.”

Gil (sonsulting his character sheet): “Wait. I think. I have something.”

Gornix cast Comprehend Languages and began to translate for the benefit of the other two.

Dag-Athar (the corpse): “…a boon I grant to you tomb robbers though your fate will be that of any common thief to lie with me forever in this tomb. For now, you have 3 questions to ask of Dag-Athar the Golden.”

Gornix: “Where’s the dagger?”

The mummy of Dag-Athar the Golden presented the dagger to Gornix so he snatched it from the corpse’s claws.

Fauna: “Is the dagger magic?”

Dag-Athar: “Yes.”

Gornix (before Excor could say anything): “How do we defeat you?”

Dag-Athar: “By asking the last question.” With that the corpse fell back and completely disintegrated.

Jenn (turning to look at me): “We could have asked it anything huh? DERP!”

Cris just shook his head and gave a disgusted sigh.

Excor searched the remaining dust in the bottom of the coffin and came up with a wood bracelet with a small carved non-precious stone. He tossed it back into the dust of Dag-Athar. There was nothing of apparent value in the detritus. He was still terribly wounded from the snakebite.

The trio was trying to figure out how they were going to escape the sealed tomb. They decided on using Gornix’s elementals to search the remaining two branches of the tomb. The group remained 10 ft. behind the earth-creatures as they led the way into the West chamber. As soon as all three of the elementals were inside of the threshold, a stone door fell sealing them in.

Gil: “Aw man. I lose control of them?”

Cris: “Yeah man, they probably f*@#n’ melt into the floor and walls.”

GM: “Yup.”

After a little bit of in-game arguing Fauna charmed Gornix into leading the group into the last remaining burial chamber. They all pause as halfway to the room through the narrow bend of the passage a boulder that composed most of the ceiling and part of a wall moved and dirt fell (trap mechanical failure). Nevertheless, as it did not fall he continued on stopping at the threshold and visually inspected the chamber. He determined the whole thing was a trap. Possibly, the low ceiling which appeared to be a single massive stone would fall in if they were to make it to the sarcophagus at room center.

They backed out and sat in the antechamber. With the entire tomb explored, they were trying to come up with something, anything to get themselves out of this. They finally decided upon simply getting back to the drop-door near the entrance and “ghosting through” again though Excor was the only one that could actually do that. The air was already heavy. There was no proper ventilation to the tomb. They would soon suffocate. There wasn’t time for Gornix to learn Excor’s spell. Fauna channeled her powers from nature and so couldn’t learn any other spells aside from those she already knew.

When they reached the stone door that prevented their escape, Excor cast Ghost Step on himself and stepped through. In a sudden burst of inspiration, Gornix cast Mini-Portal and almost at the same time, Fauna cast Gaseous Form on herself and Gornix. Using the short-lived mini-portal they drifted through to the other side. They were reward immediately with a fresh gust of cool, breathable air.

Cautiously they wended their way up the stone steps to the surface and into the moonlit night. The cool air lightly tinged by ocean salt was such a great relief that they each spent a few seconds just taking deep breaths. However, they noticed something that left them somewhat uneasy. The graveyard was dead quiet. There were neither sounds of night birds nor the chirping of crickets or the tympani of cicada.

They stood crowded on the last few step with their heads sticking up from the subterranean tomb searching in vain for the whereabouts of the Wher. When they were confident that the dragon was nowhere in sight, they were definitely suspicious though, they made a break for it.

To Be Continued…

The Cabal of Eight – Pt.3: Navigating the Necropolis

A light cool, breeze drifted over the irregular crowns of the tombstones, monoliths, and various stone Similar to the one on the tomb at the Necropolis.memorials. The air was strangely fresh having blown from over the ocean, up the Ezmerian cliffs, and onto the foot of the headland. The horizon was dull red with a brilliant yellow white slash in the west.

Excor (Played by Cris): “Man. We don’t wanna be in no graveyard past sundown! Sheesh.”

Excor, Gornix (Played by Gil), and Fauna (Played by Jenn) were making their way across the impressive Ezmerian Necropolis proceeding in a north-easterly direction in search of their quarry: a tomb marked with a golden, grinning demon. They kept their bearing easily using a combination of Clairvoyance (courtesy of Gornix and Excor) and Fauna’s divination skill.

It had taken them almost 2 hours to get to where they were at and they knew they were real close. The strange place posed little hindrance to them in daylight though Fauna had almost stepped on a viper unknowingly. Fortunately Gornix had spotted the creature and warned her in time. He had taken the lead and led the group at a breakneck impatient and nervous pace. Suddenly, they found that they were lost.

Eeriness assailed the minds of the young mages brought to a ringing clamor in their brains now that they had stopped to catch their bearings. The groupings of the graves, the locations of the tumuli, the narrow paths, and wide avenues all bred a vague familiarity within the trio. It was only that they had a brief moment apart from their all-consuming goal that the realization hit them like an icy wave. The layout of the ages old Ezmerian Necropolis was identical to the current layout of the fair bustling metropolis of Ezmer.

Fauna took charge and pulled out a dowsing rod, and easily led them straight to the titular tomb, which was literally just around the bend of a large barrow. The tall age-worn monolithic stone stood among a small tight group of similar albeit shorter stones and was nestled in a sort of alleyway created by the surrounding above-ground sarcophagi and small mausoleums. All covered with heavy tufts of yellow grasses and weeds as well as a thick layer and clumps of stony earth. On the face of the tall stone was a deep carving of a grinning demon with a crown floating above it head inlaid with gold.

The group duly noted that the carven image in the stone resembled, greatly and probably not by coincidence (tee-hee), the banner of the Golden Devil West Company. The Hyvalian trading company, which specialized in slavery and spices, oversaw the Slavers’ Castle in the Slavers’ Quarter of Ezmer.

Excor cast Danger Sense and kept his concentration acting as the group sensor. The great purple moon was quickly fading into a faint shadow as the first stars of the evening began to shine. Fauna inspected the tomb.

At the base of the monolith was a pale coffin-shaped slab of slanted stone. She could see several fresh pry marks all around the presumed edge of the lid but the seal appeared to be intact. Fauna tested the capstone but it seemed immovable. She tapped at the weatherworn stone and contemplated trying to smash her way in but quickly abandoned that idea. They hadn’t the means. All the while the image of the grinning demon seemed to mock her.

Gornix searched around the perimeter of the tomb and found that the lid was a false one. It only appeared that there was a lid; it was a single piece of cleverly carved stone. There was no prying it open.

Gil (Gornix’s Player): “Why didn’t they take hammers to this?”

Cris: “They would assume it was magic if they thought the lid was real. Besides we don’t know what kind of protections this thing has on it.”

None of the mages was able to sense any magic over the tomb but they were picking up some ambient magic about the place.

Stumbling to the east side of the tomb Gornix located a large weed choked sinkhole. He climbed down and found a secret door down into the tomb half covered by the earthen wall of the pit. Recklessly he opened it and peering within found spiral stone steps winding down into the black earth.

Cris (to Gil): “Man! Watch it! You’re gonna get us KILLED!”

A loud groan emitted from a large dugout opening in the tumulus a mere 20 ft. across from them. Fauna immediately cast Invisible to Sight on herself blinking from view. Gornix fell to clearing the remaining debris in the way of the passage into the tomb. The sun fell into the sea and as the last rays of daylight extinguished Excor’s Danger Sense triggered.

The groan turned into a low rumbling growl. The young mages turned to see a pair of jewel-like eyes glaring with a multitude of angry colors as the creature emerged from its lair. It had bronze scales and gnarled claws on its four feet. Excor using his dragon-lore skill was able to discern it as a dragon, specifically a Wher.

Cris (Excor’s Player): “A DRAGON! Man, we’re only first LEVEL! You tryin’ to KILL US! How’re we supposed to fight this THING!?”

The GM (me):  “Who said ya had to fight it?”

Cris: “Yeah, well! Pfft! Whatever. We’re all gonna die.”

The Wher fully emerged from the burrow in which it was squatting and readied to pounce on any one of the three mages. Fauna’s invisibility didn’t seem to hide her from the dragon’s keen senses. Gornix ducked into the tomb entrance and made his way down the first few steps.

Gil (Gornix’s Player): “I stop after the first few to let the others in. Just in case! The steps are trapped. And I wait for those two.”

Excor cast Lightning Bolt at the dragon but dispirited as the bolt of white hot electricity harmlessly skipped off of its glistening hide. The foolish young mage stepped back towards the sinkhole stopping right next to an unseen Fauna. Thinking quickly Fauna snatched hold of Excor’s collar and leapt down into the ditch.

Just as the thing came bounding towards the pit, the druidess and the mage rushed into the stairway. Fortunately, the opening was too narrow for the beast to follow. It stayed for a few seconds testing the stone and earth with its claws. They could here its mighty lungs sniffing the air as it vainly plunged its maw at the opening.

Fauna (Played by Jenn)(to Gornix): “Okay lead the way.”

Gornix stepped carefully down onto each step and in turn tapped the next with the butt of his staff. After several agonizing minutes, they were deep underground having reached the bottom of the spiral steps. Fauna faded back into view her spell expired. The tomb air was stale, musty, and surprisingly dry. Gornix illuminated the crystal at the top of his staff.

Excor pulled out some steel and flint and lit one of his torches. Fauna extracted an oil lamp from her pack and lit it. Before them lay a long stone tunnel its other end shrouded in darkness. The tunnels walls were of chopped stone with monolithic supports. Large flat flagstones made its floor and its ceiling was of large flat stone sat against each other forming an angle creating a peaked ceiling. They were in some sort of vestibule or antechamber with a domed ceiling formed of stacked stone, the only other way to go besides back up into the maw of a hungry dragon was down the throat of the tomb of Dag-Athar.

Excor: “Well I’m not going first! I’m stayin’ back here at the rear. Go on, you go ahead.”

Gornix took the lead and slowly moved forward over the dusty flagstones tapping at them a little bit before stepping gingerly onto them. Fauna followed closely behind.

Cris (to me): “Oh yeah. I stay about 10 ft. behind her. Just in case.”

To Be Continued…

The Cabal of Eight Pt.2: Wagon Ho!

The monotonous grinding of the wagon wheels going round and round against the yellow dirt had aEzmer City Seal from which the wagon traveled. hypnotic effect on all those riding in the back of the high-sided wagon. Gornix the Ivoran wizard sat silent his body wobbling occasionally with the movement of the wagon over the terrain. Excor, the Ivoran mage in Westlander clothing, lit his pipe and after taking a deep tug at it, tried to start up a conversation with one of the rough looking men they had met outside of the Red Helm at dawn that morning.

The young mages were accompanied and being driven by four toughs presumably hired by Draiga Skullshine. They were all Ezmerian but undoubtedly thugs drawn from the city’s underbelly. They were hulking brutes with deeply scratched and heavily lined features. All were in some sort of dirty and haphazard sort of studded leather armor.

The leader of the four thugs was the eldest, with wintry white hair and beard and a crevasse of a scar diagonal across his face that etched a notch into his punch-flattened nose. He sat next to the second in command the next eldest with peppered black hair and a bristly dagger-hacked beard. They were driving. The young mages and the last two younger thugs were all sitting uncomfortably in the bed of the wagon.

Excor (Played by Cris)(at the thug directly across from him): “So. This necropolis we’re heading to … ya got any info on it … er.”

In response, the ill-tempered bigger man spat a gob of snot at Excor’s feet then looked away towards the sky. The hired ruffians had been hostile to the 3 mages since the start of the trip; they hadn’t even given their names to the trio. Of course, the trip was miserable. All were soaked in greasy sweat. They had left the relief of the fresh gusts of the salty sea breeze far behind as they traveled south away from the cliffs and sea on the western trade road out of Ezmer.

Fauna the rogue-druid was gazing blankly out the back of the wagon at the road behind and the choking cloud of yellow dust thrown up by the wheels. She drifted back to the night before.

After Draiga had met with the trio in the basement of the Red Helm and essentially hired them to retrieve a certain item for him, Fauna took her bindle and left for her regular campsite, the central grove.

The Grove is a large open park consisting of a remnant and very ancient druidic grove with a central great oak. At its head in the north is an open well-manicured field with a central menhir circle. To the west of this circle of standing stones is a permanent executioner’s scaffolding. At the south end of the Grove are the remains of an ancient amphitheater sunk deep into the earth. All this situated as the city center. A dense cluster of shops, taverns, and residences surround this marking the circular border of the Old Market District. The Grove has its resident tender hired to maintain it via the City Council.

Fauna was familiar with the resident tender, he was also a rogue druid and in the habit of calling her “little sister”. His name was Anishi. He was tall, in his mid-thirties, and dark of skin, probably with some Creschan blood, with black hair burned short.

Fauna had just reached an isolated spot in the Grove and just settled down in the grass. She was letting the sounds of the crickets and wind rustled leaves take her into dream when suddenly she heard a noise. It was a small group stealthily creeping towards her position.

Jenn (Fauna’s Player): “I ready my staff! Nobody’s going to touch my stuff.”

Just then, she saw Anishi emerge from the bushes. He was wearing a bright blue robe with a yellow silk noose around his neck. Being especially eagle-eyed for the moment (she Natural 20’d the Spot check) Fauna noticed a line of similarly attired individuals save that they had full hoods over their faces with only the perforations of eyeholes to be seen in lieu of faces.

Fauna (pointing at the other figures): “Who’re they?”

With that Anishi stumbled back quickly to the others and it appeared to Fauna that a brief but excited conversation ensued. He stumbled back and asked Fauna a series of strange questions. She answered each in turn. He smiled and cordially invited to join their druids’ group. She would come again to the Grove, to the amphitheater, on the next full of the White Moon.

Fauna: “Um. What if I don’t. Agree.”

Anishi: “Oh then we’ll have to kill you. Track you down no matter where you are in the city or beyond its walls. And kill you.”

She agreed to their terms and the mysterious group shuffled on towards the old amphitheater.

Of course, she followed, stealthily enough to remain inconspicuous, all the way to the old amphitheater and down the parodos into the orchestra. She saw the lead figure walk to the lichen-spotted stone altar at the center of the orchestra ground. The figure chanted some arcane words and gestured over the elderly stone. Miraculously the altar moved to one side revealing a secret stair down into the earth under the old amphitheater. It was down this that all of the members of this strange group, Anishi included, disappeared.

Fauna had briefly contemplated chasing after them but the altar-stone immediately slid back into place as soon as the last blue-hooded head dipped below ground level. She spent a few minutes inspecting the stone and found some very faint inscriptions around it though weatherworn to near invisibility.

Several hours later at dawn, she found herself in the back of an old rickety wagon driven by the city’s worst crossing through the metropolitan bulwarks headed south. The wagon trundled through the titanic stone gatehouse that served as the city-gates onto the exceedingly long drawbridge that spanned the moat.

Land-side a network of stone-faced adobe and packed-earth bulwarks armed with state-of-art repeating torsion ballistae defend the city. In front of the stone-faced defense wall and at the foot of its crenelated palisades is a spiked trench that runs the length of the defenses. In front of that, is a packed earth berm and in front of that a deep and wide stone-lined dry moat open to the sea cliffs in the west and connected to the drain-works of the Tanners & Dyers Complex in the east to prevent flooding.

A sudden bump in the road shocked her back to the present in the sun beaten wagon and flying yellow road dust. The wagon had left the trade road behind and was now passing under the towering arch of one of the several aqueducts that fed the city. It was already mid-day and in view of this Excor was getting restless. The wagon continued west towards the river Wira. It wasn’t long before the wagon had turned completely around north to follow the river back towards the sea.

Cris (Excor’s Player): “C’mon! How far away is this Necropolis? They still use it right!? C’mon! It’s gotta be closer than this! It can’t be more than half a day from the @#$%*^& city! C’mon! People need to get back before dark after a funeral!”

The wagon began to slow to a stop and all could again smell the cool sea breeze flavoring the hot, dry overland air. Without warning, a massive shadow passed over them sending Excor into a panic. He had spotted the full-grown Brown-Fang dragon just before its shadow fell over the wagon.

The Elder Thug: “Oh. That. Don’t worry your pretty little heads. That’s just Gristle-Talon.”

Excor: “What! Who?”

The Elder Thug (champing down on his pipe): “Gristle-Talon, he guards the Slavers’ Quarter, the castle back in the city. He’s a mercenary. Paid really well from what I hear.”

The dragon’s mirror polished breast-plate blasted the on-lookers with reflected sunlight. As the flew the glare dimmed so that they could see the city emblem, an acorn and oak leaves, emblazoned on the chest as it passed swiftly over. The mages watched in awe as the dragon disappeared into the endless blue distance.

The thugs began unpacking some supplies. They were passing out wooden bowls, pouring a ration of ale, and a wad of bread-mash to each member of the expedition. Thus the thugs began to soften the mash into an oatmeal-like consistency with the ale and slurping it down. So, the three mages followed suit.

After taking a brief break for lunch the wagon continued a little farther finally reaching their destination sometime after mid-day. The mages and the thugs disembarked. The trio could see a massive tombstone crowded cemetery across the well-rutted wheel-ground dirt road.

The Elder Thug (pointing to the north-east of the massive cemetery): “Over there. The far side, err, second rung.”

Excor: “Where? Do ya know …”

The Elder Thug: “That’s all I was supposed to tell ya.”

The other three toughs were setting up a makeshift camp by the wagon. The elder thug turned and walked away towards them leaving the mages to their own devices.

Cris: “They better not leave us all the way the @*#$ out here.”

The young mages already knew what to look for in the Necropolis. The entrance to the tomb would be marked with a 10 ft. tall monolith on which was carved the gold inlaid countenance of a laughing demon with a crown floating above its horned visage.

To Be Continued…

Necromancing Xuun Pt.10: Funny Little Death Games Pt.1

Late morning in the Whiskey Troll Tavern, Dravor the blackguard and Jíen the necromancer were eating a breakfast of stewed stringy gray meat, probably rat, tough coin bread, and whiskey Dagger and snake assassin guild markfortified ale. Trantox the assassin swooped in and sat at the table joining his compatriots. The Poisonwood assassin turned to the young necromancer.

Trantox (Played by Jenn): “Hey! Could you I.D. this for me? But don’t let anybody see.”

Jíen did as he was bid but as a favor. The weapon had a razor sharp serpentine starmetal blade with decorative runes winding up the cheek and a finely wrought gold guard and gold-wire wrapped grip with a strange purplish-black stone as pommel. The Deadlands necromancer visibly tensed as he touched the weapon and after summoning up the best of his arcane knowledge, almost spasmodically he slid the thing back to the assassin.

The assassin snatched it up and tucked it under his cloak quickly surveying the half empty tavern to make sure nobody saw the item. Jíen told Trantox that the weapon was intelligent and evil to boot (also a +2 weapon). The assassin was affected by a strange and disturbing (in Jíen’s opinion anyway) sort of glee. Trantox immediately slunk away softly giggling. The necromancer was suspicious that the weapon’s ego was already taking root in the assassin’s mind.

A little while after the assassin left the tavern for destination unknown the blackguard casually pointed out a corpse slumped against a pillar to the necromancer. Upon investigation the corpse appeared to be a murder victim with a gaping wound in the back, its feet bare, and the tethers to its missing coin purse cut. So, naturally the necromancer dragged it back to his tomb under the pretext of delivering it to the charnel house.

It took until evening to animate the corpse, programmed with a mission of vengeance against the one(s) responsible for its death whoever they may have been. Frankly, it was just something for the necromancer to occupy his time. A short while after the thing stumbled off into the streets Jíen made a beeline back to the tavern.

The Troll was packed it was again a familiar but reeking, as if it ever smelled anything but bad, sea of yellow light. After wading through the congested haze the necromancer quickly found a seat near the wall where hung the giant spiked club and near the always vacant and bone dry carven table. The place was noisy with agitated conversation and excited argument. The atmosphere as taught as knotted troll-gut, everyone was anticipating the games. There were Westlanders, Ivorans, and various others of all stripes most wearing cheaply dyed sashes painted with the heraldry of their favorite fighters marking them as games fanatics.

Then a fight broke out between the members of what appeared to be an adventuring group. Jíen spotted an unrolled parchment upon their table, the apparent source of ire. The young necromancer tried to keep an eye on it to see if anyone snatched it up. Eventually a few of the adventurers ended up dead and the others fled. Somewhere in this Jíen had lost track of the parchment and only realized too late that it was gone.

It wasn’t long after that before a duel between two pirate swordsmen broke out. Weary with boredom the necromancer took his leave of the place and retreated to his tomb. He spent the night preparing his fighter, making sure its makeshift stomach, a wineskin, was secure and filled with red wine.

Come morning the necromancer found himself breakfasting alone. Just as he finished eating Trantox stumbled to the table. He was covered in blood with a serious gut wound. A fat sack of swag tucked under his left arm.

Trantox (to Jíen): “You sense any magic?”

Jíen (Played by me): “I can only sense death and undeath.”

Trantox: *Blank Stare*

Jíen: “I have to inspect the item (using my Spellcraft skill). And it takes a little while.”

Trantox (disappointed in a sinister sort of way): “Oh.”

With his usual uncanny sense of perfect timing the bard, Rantcor wandered in and sat down with the necromancer and Poisonwood assassin. He passed Trantox a small vial of healing potion. He told the assassin to meet back up with him at the Broken String at midnight. To maintain appearances the bard signaled for a round of whiskey fortified ale for the table.

Jíen engaged the bard in some small talk about a few odds and ends eventually turning the subject towards the upcoming games.

Rantcor: “Putting my money on Zarcor, last year’s pit champ. 3 to 1 odds; can’t lose.”

The necromancer also found out that the underdog was one Blood-Axe with 12 to 1 odds. He was a half-faun from a place called Rockhollow or somewhere thereabouts. The bard took his leave soon after that. A few minutes later, a few of the city guard chased some “scumbag” thieves into the tavern from the street and thought that they had cornered the rogues who still were able to slip away.

Come midnight, Jíen found himself accompanying the assassin to the Broken String. The place was low key and quiet as usual with the same drunk passed out at the bar and the same faun bartender on duty. Exotic incense still perfumed the air that the necromancer found repulsive in its sweetness and for the first time he noticed that, the plastered walls were lavender in color. Quite the expensive pigment, he thought.

Already there, Rantcor waved them into a private booth. Trantox placed his sack on the table and slid it across the table over to the shady bard. He peeked into the bag shifting it a little here and there, inspecting its contents. After a few seconds, he produced a leather sack of his own and poured out a measure of gold coins. Nothing could make the necromancer’s eyes gleam more but a beautiful corpse or a pile of newly struck gold.

In total, the bard insisted that Trantox count them over a bottle of wine, the assassin had netted 3,600 gp. Trantox bagged the money and placed the purse inside of his shirt next to his heart. Rantcor then took it upon himself to give the hapless assassin a “head’s up”.

Rantcor (almost casually): “The Shakai are after you.”

The assassin shrugged it off meanwhile Jíen shot the assassin a wide-eyed WTF glare. The Shakai were the premier assassin’s guild of Xuun. Their emblem, a dagger with a red serpent coiled about the cold blade. The necromancer sat stunned while the bard took his leave. Trantox unconcerned went to haggle with the faunic bartender for some healing potions. After he was able to recover his senses, Jíen quietly slipped away back to his tomb.

To Be Continued…

 

 

Necromancing Xuun PT.7: Golden Wind, Silver Gauntlet

It was night, the white moon was full and bright its light dancing on the black waters of theHoping for a Templar blood-moon lagoon-bay. Rows stirred by the blackguard Dravor sloshed in the water as the dark trio made their way towards the three-mast lugsail Templar ship, the Golden Wind. The trio was about to take action for Korvo-Doom against the Hyvalian Theocracy having just barely avoided some town guards on the night-watch.

Dravor had been extremely nervous at their appearance as if the authorities may want him. For what exactly was unknown to Jíen. As the guards neared them the young necromancer threw a Gnat Swarm their way and thus distracted, the trio beat it to the harbor. For the meantime, Dravor found himself rowing a rented boat which cost an additional silver-piece to keep its owner’s lips sealed. As he rowed he wondered why he hadn’t just murdered the man.

As the Ivoran-style flat-bottom row boat clunked lightly to the planks of the Golden Wind’s stern the team decided to go over the plan one more time. Jíen had failed in his part as they simply couldn’t track down a sailor from the ship. So, it was the assassin, Trantox that would have to silently scale the ship’s side and slip onboard killing the man on watch and then lowering a rope for the other two.

Jenn (Trantox’s Player): “Wait. I have to climb?”

Me & Gil (Jíen’s & Dravor’s Players respectively): “YES.”

Jenn: “Uhm. My Climb skill sucks. So…”

Me: “Let me see that, um, WHAT!? It’s at negative TWO!”

Jenn: “Well yeah. My strength sucks. But my DEX ROCKS!”

So, Trantox pulled out his trusty grappling-hook and promptly tossed it into the water unintentionally with a profound splash. The trio froze and listened, they could hear the muttering of at least a handful of sailors. Suddenly, a head popped over the edge of the railing and before the sailor could yell Jíen cast Gnat Swarm on him. While the sailor swatted at the flies sputtering Dravor rowed the skiff to the opposite side of the boat.

Sailor: “Hey! They’re over here! I see ‘em!”

Another Hyvalian thrust the business end of a crossbow over the railing and shot at Trantox. The assassin barely dodged the bolt. The deck bell began furiously ringing and the trio thought it best to abort their mission especially since none of them could swim.

Cris (the GM): “What? Really? None of you can swim? Huh.” He jotted something down in his notes.

Fortunately the trio had a wide lead over the other two boats which were in pursuit that first had to be lowered from the ship into the water. The trio was already dissolving into the filthy alleys of Xuun before the theocrats were halfway to shore.

Next morning the dark trio met back up at the Whiskey Troll Tavern. Dravor came to the table with some info on a couple of Templars whose morning routine was to head from the Golden Feather Inn to the Silver Gauntlet, a tavern that catered primarily to Hyvalians and a favorite of those theocrats that hadn’t given up the vice of drink.

On his way to the troll one Zarkar had approached Jíen as the man required the services of someone that could deal with “spirits”. Apparently the man was a landlord of an adobe villa which was haunted and he wanted the ghosts gone when his current tenants, a trio of adventurers, got back. It paid 25 gp and the necromancer had already promised to do the job but on the morrow. The other two weren’t particularly thrilled with that idea when Jíen  had brought it to the table and declined as “backup”.

Trantox however, was determined to seek out and eliminate his target, the Scael gladiator. His companions once again declined his plan. So in a huff the assassin got up from the table and headed for the Silver Scale. After a couple of whiskey fortified ales, Jíen and the blackguard took their leave and headed into the north-side of the city seeking the Silver Gauntlet. It would be an even two-way split on Korvo’s bounty.

It wasn’t long before the pair of miscreants with zombie-girl in tow, were skulking in the shadows of an alley that looked out onto the “good-guy” tavern. After some time the duo saw a group of four Hyvalian Templars approaching the mouth of the place.

The Templars were decked out in full chainmail suits with gold-trimmed white surcoats bearing the golden sun and rays on their chests and open helms. A golden chalice medallion hung around each of their thick necks. Each armed with a straight one-handed great sword and dagger. One of them was also carrying a light crossbow.

The group of churchmen immediately took notice of the scrawny one-armed necromancer near the mouth of a nearby alley especially when he shouted at his partner in crime: “Yeah! Get her Dranor! She’s a follower of Boahng! Let’s do her right in this alley!” They could see the large blackguard apparently dragging a struggling girl into the dark recesses of the alley. So of course they immediately pulled their weapons and jaunted heroically into the shadows.

In the alley the blackguard took a high guard stance with his zanbato as he and the necromancer waited to waylay the Hyvalians. As the first Templar charged in Dravor took an attack of opportunity. The blackguard smote the Templar on the helmeted head wounding him badly. The brained churchman responded with his great sword carving a nasty gash into Dravor’s side.

The second Templar into the alley grabbed the zombie in a mistaken attempt to rescue her. The third stopped about 10 ft. from Jíen and shot him. The zombie smashed her tiny fists into the second Templars face in a completely unexpected attack. He reacted instinctively by chopping her down in a single stroke, sudden horror smeared over his rugged but still boyish features.

Jíen cast Dread Invigoration and stepped in towards the first Templar touching him. The energy drain nearly stunned the man. The Templar then lost grip of his great sword which he flung deeper into the dark alley when he clumsily struck at Dravor. The zombie slowly rose back up.

The second Templar even more horrified chopped her back down again. The third Templar reloaded his crossbow. The first deflected a blow from Dravor’s horse-cutter with his dagger. The fourth who was lagging behind the group, charged at Dravor his sword narrowly missing the blackguard’s chest. The zombie rose for a second time.

Jíen tried to cast Animate Necrosis on the first Templar’s wounds but the church-warrior easily resisted. The second Templar shouted, “Undead!” and hacked into Jíen’s zombie, the sound of steel breaking through bone echoed down the filthy alley. The zombie however was still on her feet though she was now wearing her entrails as an apron.

Jíen hit the first Templar with another Dread Invigoration and Dravor followed up with a sword blow finally dropping him. The blackguard tried to cast a spell but failed distracted by the heat of the battle. The crossbowman nailed the necromancer with a bolt but dealt little damage through his magic amulet of armor. The second Templar chopped Jíen’s zombie down for the third time.

The zombie painfully lurched back up. Jíen hit the fourth Templar, the only one currently facing off with Dravor, with his Exsanguination spell wounding the churchman badly and healing his own wounds in the process as he gulped down the blood forced from the Hyvalian’s body.

The zombie slammed her mutilated body into the second Templar dealing no damage. His horror now turned wholly to disgust. Dravor struck the fourth Templar hacking a gory wound into his side. The Templar retorted wounding Dravor severely. The second Templar cleaved the zombie in two finally destroying it. The third reloaded his crossbow.

Dravor clinched with the fourth Templar on a parry and the second zombie-gore encrusted Templar hacked into him while he was helpless.

Cris (the GM): “Man, you could always just drop your weapon.”

Gil (Dravor’s Player): “No way! I need my weapon! My Zanbato.”

The blackguard was able to break the clinch and swung his massive blade around opening the fourth Templar’s chest dropping him. In a panic the crossbowman shot Dravor. The second Templar then hacked into the blackguard with a vicious strike and then easily parried the Dravor’s retort. The third Templar dropped his crossbow which clattered to the cobblestones and drew his sword.

All the while Jíen cast spell after spell but the Templars were either able to withstand the damage or resist the crippling magic of his spells altogether. In desperation Dravor power attacked the fourth Templar splitting his mail wide open and cleaving him into two gory halves. The last Templar charged and parried Dravor’s attack. The Templar responded with his sword and Dravor barely parried the desperate blow.

Again the Templar resisted the necromancer’s magic and Dravor eager to finish the fight put all his might behind another power attack hacking off the Hyvalian’s head in a single stroke. The trash strewn alley an abattoir soaked in blood, still warm guts squirmed over the filth.

Of course, before collecting their heads the duo looted the bodies for a grand total of 18 gp, 75 sp, and 70 cp. The pair split the take evenly and headed off to see Korvo-Doom with 4 bagged heads, after Jíen harvested a couple more long-bones, that is.

To Be Continued…

Necromancing Xuun – Pt. 5: Five of Swords

The paladin had charged straight at Dravor his golden single-handed great sword Paladin's Emblemslamming into the blackguard. Jíen the necromancer cast Crippling Touch but failed to touch, luckily not tripping over his own feet. A Templar missed his strike on Jíen’s skeletal minion and vice versa.

Another Templar lunged at the young necromancer ready to land a hideous sword-blow until Jíen nailed the touch on a simultaneous attack. The Templar’s limbs shriveled and curled into what resembled gnarled tree branches and just as useless. The attack stopped, the churchman dropped to the filthy floor moaning.

Dravor the blackguard his charged weapon crackling with negative energy smashed the zanbato into the paladin gravely wounding the holy warrior. Trantox the assassin stabbed the second Templar, the Templar fumbling his great sword on the retort.

The paladin fumbled his attack against Dravor and a third Templar fumbled his attack against Trantox. A fourth Templar hacked through a rack of the minion’s ribs. Dravor turned on the fourth man with the horse-cutter killing him instantly in a spray of gore & brains cleaving his helm in two. Then the blackguard took the attack of opportunity to try to stop the paladin from snatching up his great sword. Although he struck the Hyvalian he couldn’t prevent him from rearming himself.

Dravor took yet another swipe at the paladin but missed. Jíen used his serrated dagger to slit the throat of the crippled Templar. Blood gushed and the third Templar smashed down the skeletal minion with his sword. The Paladin smote at Dravor grievously wounding him and Dravor smote back at him with a simultaneous power attack. The Hyvalian warrior though wounded horrifically was still on his feet.

The third Templar fell down dead revealing the formerly concealed Trantox with his blood-steeped blade in hand. In the midst of the bloody battle Jíen failed to cast a spell as blades zipped and whistled too close to his person for comfort.

The paladin landed a massive blow with his great sword hurting the blackguard badly. Trantox buried his blade in the last Templar’s back dropping him. The paladin hacked into Trantox and then the assassin stabbed the churchman back. Jíen cast Exsanguination on the paladin gruesomely wounding him but the holy warrior endured.

The paladin again turned on the Poisonwood assassin but the righteous blow deflected by the criminal’s silver blade. Dranor moved in and dealt the deathblow to the last churchman standing. After looting what they could from the corpses, the trio retired to a table on the other side of the Whiskey Troll Tavern and commenced to drinking while the bodies were disappeared. Jíen’s cut turned out to be 3 gold pieces, 55 coppers, and 30 silver pieces.

They had left the paladin’s sword where it lay for the troll-wife barmaids to haul away along with the corpses. It was an alchemical gold great sword with black enameled Hyvalian characters etched along its broad blade. It was too identifiable. The Templars on the other hand had steel great-swords so utterly devoid of decoration as to identify them more simply as tools rather than noble weapons.

The minion’s bones went with the rest of the detritus but its skull found a perch on the bar-board with a few others, a candle placed atop the cranium. Jíen wouldn’t have minded the loss much save for the fact that it cost 100 gp to create another and he was a broke at the moment.

Dranor had “donated” one of the Templars’ plain-steel great swords to Jíen’s fighter Bludbaer. Note that Jíen had left his gladiator-creature at the table the whole time. The secretly-undead fighter had sat mechanically guzzling wine while the fight raged around him. Onlookers were impressed.

Later, as the regulars rolled in so did a gaggle of Southland nomads, gypsies. Jíen decided to toss them his remaining gold bits in exchange for some random information. They pointed out a man-shaped ice-block frozen to a pillar near where the trio had faced down the Hyvalian Theocrats. A bit annoyed, the young necro-mage went to check it out, Bludbaer in tow.

He recognized it as a mage frozen solid, who probably fumbled his spell and its magic went wild on him; which side had he been on, if either, the necromancer could not tell. A half-faun Hill-lander buccaneer nonchalantly hacked off some ice from the block for his whiskey. Jíen left the place with Bludbaer heading for the tomb in which he currently made his home.

Not far from the tavern he saw Dravor in the street in a state of supreme agitation. There were puddles of boiling acid eating ruts in the street near the blackguard. As the angry evil-warrior gave each of the alleyways near him a cursory spastic inspection Jíen tried to rush past without being recognized.

But Dravor spotted him. “Hey! Where’re you going with my fighter!?”

Annoyed Jíen tried to play it off as if he couldn’t understand the heavily Poisonwood accented Westlanderish Dravor was speaking. Unfortunately the blackguard saw through the ruse. Unnoticed, Trantox had already caught up with them.

Jíen (in perfect Westlander): “I made him, He’s MINE!”

Dranor and Trantox were taken aback as they realized that the necromancer could speak and understand the Westlander tongue. He had in fact only just fully learned the language.

Dranor (Played by Gil): “So. Um. You could understand everything this whole time?”

Jenn (Trantox’s Player): “Oh! See! I told you don’t trust this guy! Maybe we should kill him just to be safe?” (My wife ladies and gentlemen)

Trantox: “Sooo. I need a place to crash, where do you live?”

Jíen: “I sleep in a tomb. There’s no room.”

Trantox: “Oh.”

Dranor: “Aha! So we know where you are now. The graveyard!”

Me (Jíen’s Player): “Duh dude! I’m a Necromancer!”

The dark trio stood there a while arguing back and forth until Jíen spotted the dark priest, Exvorum, approaching them. Seeing an exit to his current predicament Jíen quickly walked over to greet him.

Exvorum: “Ah there you are my friends. I have come to fetch you for the master. You are invited to a feast in his honor.” With a sweep of his black cloaked arm, “Come. Follow me.”

The dark trio followed the Southlander priest with the shaved head and black robes into the Slavers’ Quarter, through the mart, and then into the Slave Pits of Korvo-Doom.

To Be Continued…

Necromancing Xuun Pt.4: Gold Bit Gambit

It was time to put his plan into action. After his morning meditation on the deeperWhat gold bits buy mysteries of the Black Faith he took out his serrated knife and began to carefully cut a single gold piece into pieces of eight. Jíen then left his tomb and walked to the bazaar. It wasn’t long before after harassing a few ragamuffins that he found a group of street-rats eager for his gold bits. He told his new contact, the eldest of the group complete with a tattoo of rat’s silhouette on the side of his hand (a mark of the Ratters’ Guild), that he would pay in gold bits for a black gem, no questions asked. The necromancer told them he frequents the Troll and to find him there to get paid.

A little while later, the young necromancer walked into the Whiskey Troll Tavern and noticed that even without the oppressive atmosphere of smoke it stunk quite a bit of piss and rotten ale. He also noticed that his companions had indeed survived their little mission from last night. He walked over and the other two had some harsh words for him, he tried to explain himself and kept a friendly tone. Trantox the assassin and Dravor the blackguard didn’t understand a word from the necromancer’s mouth and vice versa.

Somehow, all thought that everything had been smoothed over or that they had won at an argument or got the other party to agree to something. Regardless, they were a trio again. They sat and ate a breakfast of hot ale-mash with bits of fried meat (probably rat), ale and some whiskey. The necromancer however went light on the booze preferring to drink the cheapest grog he could get.

It wasn’t long before the first of two street kids walked in delivering for 1 gold bit, a rounded onyx obviously pried from some larger treasure. Trantox and Dravor left sometime just before midday. A little while later outside the day turned gray, humid, and dark without warning and then a sudden thunderstorm dumped warm rain turning the uncobbled streets to mud.

Shortly after the second pickpocket had walked out with his gold bit, the blackguard and the assassin came back wetted by the downpour. They again sat and ordered food and drink; they appeared to have quite a bit of money on their persons. It wasn’t long after that that a tall sun-darkened southlander with a shaved pate wrapped in a black robe walked in from the rain and directly to the dark trio’s table.

The tall man smiling made eye contact with Dravor and referred to him a few times as ‘brother’. Four others similarly dressed and lightly armed were behind him. Jíen couldn’t understand much but when the man introduced himself to the rest of the group he caught the name Exvorum. Exvorum and his men joined the trio for a few hours of friendly chatter and some whiskies.

By evening the tavern was crowded, loud with brusque voices, and fogged with smoke. Fauns, some half-giants, Scaels, and gypsies had flooded into the place all arriving in town as fans of the annual gladiatorial games. Jíen took his leave after purchasing a bottle of whiskey and made his way back to the charnel house.

It wasn’t long before he found himself chatting up the attendant of the astudan, Exandor. Of course, their conversation turned towards past champion level gladiators who’d died and were buried in the graveyard.

Exandor: “Baercor the skull-breaker. I think he died about 2 seasons ago, big funeral. Lotsa flowers, the mourners certainly earned their pay that day. A fine funeral indeed.” His bottom lip bulged with pride with that final phrase.

A few minutes after that Jíen left the half-drunk bottle with the inebriated Exandor and used his skeletal minion to excavate the grave of the gladiator Baercor. The corpse was in surprisingly good condition having mostly dried-up rather than rotted. Even his equipment was more-or-less intact. He had been buried with the implements of his profession, a dire-mace, a short-sword, a chain shirt bearing the damage of the fatal wound, an open helm, and a Westlander war-belt.

The Deadlands necromancer took most of the remaining night to ply his trade and convert the corpse into something useful, a variation of a Dread-Guard using the black gems he had obtained from the street urchins. Surprisingly both gems were genuine. The creature when finished was a mindless automaton for the most part but its shriveled bluish flesh was hardened like leather and its strength slightly greater than it had been in life.

Jíen had also carved, with his serrated dagger, a magic rune into the creature’s forehead during its creation, a Disguise Undead spell. The creature would appear as a living man of a somewhat generic appearance but appropriate to his size and massive build. Jíen wouldn’t have been too surprised to learn that the gladiator had giant’s blood in his veins.

There was enough time left before dawn for the young mage to catch some sleep before he had to go to the arena to register his fighter as Bludbaer the Dire and himself as Bludbaer’s manager. He would use the tiger-eye gem snatched from one of the hooded thief’s corpses (see Necromancing Xuun Pt.2: Squatters’ Rights). The proper games would begin in a week’s time. He thought, “ha! This’ll be easy money!”

It was near noontime when Jíen had finished putting the last few steps of his plan into action having registered his fighter for the games and was headed back to the Whiskey Troll Tavern to meet up with his compatriots with his minion and new gladiator in tow. It wasn’t long after his arrival at the Troll before fight-fans were offering drinks to his undead-fighter so Jíen had them give the creature red wine as it was “his favorite”.

Cris (the GM): “Ha-ha, like blood!”

Me (Jíen’s Player): “Well, yeah, can’t have him get wounded in the games and have no blood. Someone might get suspicious!”

The GM made a note after that crack.

After a while, Dravor wanted in on the swindle and offered to “sponsor” the young necromancer’s fighter. Of course, the necromancer would have to help the blackguard in taking out a “competitor” first. They had just finished shaking hands on it when a gaggle of armored Hyvalians clattered in. Jíen’s shadowed eyes nearly bulged from their sockets when he saw them.

There was a mutual amount of hate between most, if not all, Hyvalians and Deadlanders caused by the Necromancer Rebellion that had occurred over 500 years past. It had resulted in the loss of a significant portion of the Hyval landmass to the Solkang Ocean splitting the Deadlands from the mainland. It was still a sore spot between cultures.

The Hyvalians’ white surcoats bore the golden chalice and sunrays against azure of the Hyvalian Theocracy. The leader was in full plate armor and great helm apparently a paladin and the other four were Templars in full-suits of chainmail with steel open helms on their heads. The paladins armor squeaked with his raised arm as did his gauntlet when his finger thrust in Jíen’s direction.

Paladin: “We are here to purge this community of the evil that has infected it! We start with you!”

What Jíen had failed to note was that the paladin’s golden scabbard had a single gem of obsidian set into it. The gold mounting damaged from a failed attempt at prying it off. There were also two other empty settings from which the gems had been pried.

Trantox the assassin had already slunk away unseen.

To Be Continued…

Necromancing Xuun Pt.3: Back Alley Rumble

Early evening in the taproom of the Whiskey Troll Tavern and it was jumping. There were crowds of heavily salted and slightly pickled pirates, small groups of cloaked figures plotting who knows what, and large huddles of fight fans. These gladiator groupies had faces smeared with paint the colors of their favorite fighter. Jíen sat at a small table near the ever gaping entrance of the place, his cloaked and cowled skeletal minion behind him posed as a servant.

Through the pungent haze of pipe-smoke the young necromancer observed a hemp merchant a gold necklace dangling on his leather-clad chest and a porter hauling a small locked chest on his shoulder following. Following them attempting to be inconspicuous were Jíen’s companions, Trantox the assassin (played by Jenn), and Dravor the blackguard (played by Gil). The dark pair ducked over to and sat down at the necromancer’s table. The conspicuous pair kept an eye on the porter and merchant whom disappeared into the backroom of the place guided by one whom Jíen assumed to be the owner.

Trantox and Dravor were babbling something about the merchant to Jíen but he was unable to understand the Westlander tongue especially through their thick Poisonwood accents. It was about a half an hour before the merchant and his porter came from the back and sat for a few jacks of ale & whiskey. After about another half an hour the porter and merchant took their leave of the tavern. Jíen’s companions patted the necromancer on the shoulder to follow as they crept up from their seats to follow the seemingly clueless merchant.

Outside the purple moon and its ring were already beginning to appear in the golden horizon as the hemp merchant rejoined his men, 6 porters in total and 3 armed bodyguards. This group proceeded to a caravan of wagons gathered near a wide pavement at the end of the street. Each wagon on their sides had a green hemp leaf painted on a brown field bounded by a loop of twisted yellow rope. The Ivoran caravan had a group of 8 armed guards in chain mail, steel caps on their heads, armed with short spears. The caravan master was a broad fellow with a long peppered mustache and a longsword and bowie knife as sidearms.

As Jíen and his companions observed from afar the merchant paid his porters and they left the company no doubt heading towards less notorious taverns than the Troll. The merchant proceeded to talk to the heavyset caravan master for several minutes then the merchant and his 3 bodyguards walked away back down a wide and busy side avenue as the sky darkened. The hemp merchant and his men were heading to the north end of town. Dravor told the necromancer that they were going to the Golden Feather Inn.

By this time Jíen had learned that the hemp merchant’s name was Ranor. In addition, blackguard Dravor had wordlessly communicated to the necromancer that they were to kill the merchant by dragging his finger across his own throat then rubbing his thumb and forefinger together.

As the dark trio followed them through the bustling crowd the merchant and his guards suddenly turned into an alley as if by some strange fortune two large overturned wagons completely blocked the street. The merchant kept rapidly rounding the turns through the maze of narrowing filth choked alleyways of Ezmer until the only people that could be seen traversing the back-ways were the dark trio and the merchant and his men.

So of course caught at this impasse the merchant, who unfortunately was no fool, turned his men shuffled around him and the blackguard immediately threw a spell at the largest and foremost bodyguard.

The large man was engulfed in blood red flames which burst from his body scorching the other 2 guards. Trantox the assassin dipped his dagger into a vial marked with the Hyvalian characters for black-lotus. So, Jíen cast a Wound spell quickly at their target just a second before Ranor and his guards pulled their weapons. Unfortunately the merchant was able to shake off most of the spell-effect.

The Deadlands necromancer with his minion at his left side stood behind the assassin with his golden poison-dipped dagger and the bronze-armored blackguard. The merchant and his scorched guard were equipped with copper studded soft leather cuirasses with chain mail patches about the shoulders and over their bellies as well as bronze studded leather bracers and bronze leg guards over their knee-high blacked leather boots. The big burnt guard pulled his great axe from his back after having smashed himself into a full gutter-barrel extinguishing the evil flames in the filthy blackwater. The second guard pulled his great sword, and the third aimed his crossbow. Merchant Ranor pulled a shortsword and stepped over to the guard with the crossbow.

The guard armed with the great sword charged Dravor the blackguard whom failed to parry in time with his own massive weapon, a horse-cutter zanbato, and felt the bite of the more standard heavy bladed weapon. A crossbow bolt flew at Trantox putting a nick into the assassin’s ear. The Poisonwood assassin immediately dashed further into the alley towards the guard armed with the crossbow and his intended prey.

Jíen took a step forward to touch the great sword wielding guard with a Crippling Touch spell but missed. Dravor swung his zanbato at the same guard hacking into his cuirass and drawing some blood. The still smoking head guard with his great axe moved back 10 ft. towards his master. The guard with the crossbow moved up and readied to load his weapon. The guard dueling with Dravor took a swing with his massive weapon and getting through the blackguard’s defenses wounded him horribly.

Me (Jíen’s Player): “Trantox WTF! Get in there and stab the dude with yer dagger so we can get outta here!”

Jenn (Trantox’s Player)(having just seen the damage dealt to Dravor): “No way I’m getting close to those guys! I’m out numbered!”

Trantox deftly switched up his weapons and used his already loaded crossbow to fire a bolt into the back of the great sword wielding guard. Jíen tried to grasp the same guard again but again was too slow to land his spell. Dravor in a desperate move tried to disarm the guard of his great sword but failed miserably. Trantox using his unequaled skills with his weapon put another bolt into the back of the same guard. As the guard winced when the arrow nailed his flesh, Dravor swung with all his might opening a hideous wound in the man’s chest but the guard was still standing.

Dravor clumsily struck again at the guard, both men equally wounded and both very near death, but the guard knocked it aside easily. The guard with the great axe and Ranor the hemp merchant both moved in the opposite direction of their attackers out of the alley and into the street.  A crossbow bolt flew and imbedded itself in a graffiti decorated adobe wall near Jíen. The shooter-guard then proceeded to reload. Seeing that the battle was a bit too evenly matched for his comfort the necromancer decided to flee.

Jíen and his minion flew through the twists and turns of the dreary maze of alleys and streets until the young Deadlander was positive of no pursuit. If his companions survived, he was certain they wouldn’t, he was pretty sure he could smooth over any ill-feelings brought about by his strategic withdrawal.

In the meantime he tried to hook up with a contact, one Korvo-Doom, in the slavers’ quarter but found the slaver’s place locked up tight, it was night after all. So the disappointed mage slunk back to his crypt and before settling in to sleep he spent the last of his spells by infusing them into some of the thieves’ bones he had acquired. After he added 3 bone-wands to his gear, 2 charged with the Wound spell and 1 with Exsanguination he reclined to enjoy a well-earned rest.

As he lay down however, he thought that he might want to start formulating a plan.

To Be Continued…

Tabletop Meditations #8: Magic

Magic in RPG’s can be approached in one of two primary fashions by the game system itself. These tworpg theory - magic ways are essentially defined as Magic as Technology and Technology as Magic. The latter, Technology as Magic, starts in the known, the audience already has a fair idea of how it works, and works to create mystery by obscuring the knowledge of the audience of said technology with the ignorance of its characters often substituting mystical names for technological terms. Magic as Technology on the other hand, begins with the unknown and has to strain to quantify magic as technology using its own mystical terms. Basically one simply obscures known machinery and the other tries to construct said machinery from a fuzzy set of its own rules. It is from these core ideas that each builds its atmosphere and all other aspects of its magic.

In the context of TRPGs (Tabletop Role-Playing Games) this means that the way the rules that govern the magic system and the flavor of that system will be dependent on which core idea it’s using. Fantasy TRPGs need a rule-system whether this system integrates certain aspects of the game such as magic into the core system or uses a separate more modular approach the system will have to deal with magic using rules. Essentially in fantasy-gaming the ill-logic of magic is logically structured.

“Fantasy was accompanied by strict rationality: players followed complex rules laid out in dauntingly thick rulebooks. […] This combination of logic fancy was pursued in the name of modern enchantment, as players imagined themselves as heroic warriors, clever thieves, or subtle mages exploring a mysterious world teeming with adventure and danger.” [Saler, Michael. 2012. As If: Modern Enchantment and the Literary Prehistory of Virtual Reality. Oxford University Press.101]

Rules are a necessary logical component, the ‘hard’ bits of a rule system as opposed to the soft, which places RPG fantasies and thus RPG magic into an awkward place where it is required to maintain a careful balancing act between mystery and being ‘workable’ (in game terms). This of course affects play in a fundamental way as well as how the Game-Master (GM) and players may portray magic in character within the confines of the game world. When using magic that works from principles already well-known to the participants out-of-game, or at least has that feeling of mundanity to it, magical abilities and spells are less a subject of wonder and taken more for granted with certain types of players using their meta-knowledge to quantify every bit of magic they come across sometimes to the detriment of the game.

These types will attempt to pierce the veil and remove any unknowns they stumble upon especially when confronting opposing magic-users ferreting out potential weaknesses and gaps in their mystical abilities which they or their companions can take unfair advantage of. If done from within the game with characters that are supposed to be knowledgeable in such situations this is in fact a good thing though a clever GM may be able to counter such meta-gaming if they know their players well enough.

I am of the opinion that using the Magic as Technology approach is the better choice regarding TRPG magic systems. Science as magic drains magic of all of its, well, MAGIC. As science provides technological explanations built right in, it does provide a suspension of disbelief but it reduces, greatly, the air of mystery that magic should have hovering all about it. What I mean by that is when working a game from the Technology as Magic angle you start at a well-defined and completely known place with little or no pall of mystery hanging over magic lacking an element of the unknown to it.

When you start in the reverse position, Magic as Technology, you start in the void and have to work on ways to quantify it or give it shape allowing for a system designer to leave it ‘workable’ but also allowing them to leave gaps in non-game areas creating sometimes as a side effect (and with little added effort) the ‘fluffy’ bits.

When referring to ‘magic’, I am referring to the supernatural ability to make things happen whether they are seemingly scientifically impossible or not with ‘technology’ being the machinery developed from the practical application of science/knowledge; both in the context of tabletop role-playing games. Both technology and magic seem to want to arrive at the same basic end, make something that would’ve otherwise been without them impossible to happen.

However, each starts at a very different place. As I stated before technology starts within the known with results that will be repeatable with little variation and its effects with a definite cause distinguishing it from magic. Magic will have results that will be mostly repeatable (to make it usable within a gaming context) but with unpredictable variation and the cause of its effects might be no more definable than “it’s magic”. Magic as Technology and Technology as Magic are very different in concept and in execution.

Technology as Magic is the mistaking of highly advanced technology as magic basically best described by the famous quote: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” It being the third of science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke’s Three Laws. Clarke’s Three Laws have everything to do with the ability to have vision beyond the limits of contemporaneous science and not using those current limits as the measure to gauge what is impossible. Proceeding from Clarke’s 3 laws magic, though it may be able to perform the impossible may still only be misunderstood technology.

The only thing left to distinguish it from technology, after disengaging it from sci-fi tropes, is the mystery of it, the apprehension of its dangers, and to wrap it in plenty of atmosphere. However, when dealing with technology even misidentified tech it is easy to predict that those studying it using scientific principles will eventually figure it out especially if those investigators are following the spirit of Clarke’s Three Laws, unless the investigators are prevented from probing its mysteries by certain social aspects such as superstition and religion especially when it comes to things forbidden or sacred. The discovering of the mysterious tech’s principles and mechanisms will push the boundaries of the current scientific knowledge throwing a big wrench into any ongoing campaign. Technology has predefined boundaries which must be pushed outward by investigation and experimentation.

“However, the unexpressed converse of Clarke’s “Law” has proved even more attractive: if technology looks like magic, could magic not have been misunderstood as technology?” [Clute & Nicholls. 1995. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. New York, St. Martin’s Press. 765]

A perfect example of Technology as Magic can be drawn from the fiction of Henry Kuttner and his 1965 novel The Dark World:

“And such minds, with their new powers, would develop tools for those powers. The wands. Though no technician, I could understand their principle. Science tends toward simpler mechanisms; the klystron and the magnetron are little more than metal bars. Yet, under the right conditions, given energy and direction, they are powerful machines. […] Well, the wands tapped the tremendous electromagnetic energy of the planet, which is, afterall, simply a gargantuan magnet. As for the directive impulse, trained minds could easily supply that.” [Kuttner, Henry. 2008 ed. The Dark World. Paizo Publishing. Bellevue, WA.  84-85]

Functionally within TRPGs this idea is very ‘easy’, the rules governing this false magic are the same as those dealing with technology only the terminology would need be altered to transform technological functions into pseudo-mystical terms which may carry some shallow sense of mystery with them. Within the game the characters may regard the tech as magic and may treat it with reverence and fear but eventually through simple in-game experience eventually they will begin to move from ignorance towards knowledge at least in the use of it and maybe even gaining basic repair skills when dealing with it.

Probably, sooner than the character the players will begin to recognize, if they hadn’t already, that the game’s ‘magic’ is just technology wrapped up in pseudo-mysticism. The game will inevitably move towards discovery as the players and thus their characters figure out what works, what doesn’t, and the how and why of it all. Technology as Magic will always move towards just technology throwing off the thin veil of fantasy revealing the game to be within the realm of sci-fi. Granted, this could come off as pretty cool the first time but inevitably players will feel the lack of mystery in that aspect of the game unless they are primarily interested in that genre.

The immediate advantages to this approach especially within the context of RPG’s are that the terms are easy to communicate, the game rules which deal with in-game tech will be doing double-duty needing only a quick reworking of terminology when dealing with tech-magic, and the idea has a potential ‘twist’ to it. As stated before this type of ‘magic’ is starting at a common and well-known place and so it follows that its terms are typically explicit right off the bat making it easy to communicate its ideas. This allows the ease of expressing descriptions and leaving a lot not said as it doesn’t need description.

This also leads to the ease of imagination; those involved can more easily picture techno-magic with less descriptive text. The game rules will be trim as there does not need to be a whole subsystem for magic only the system of rules meant for technology with some modification when it comes to the names for things and their functions translated into mystical sounding terms. It helps also to grant magic itself a little more believability up until the magic is revealed to be technology (the twist). Of course, this reveals the potential ‘twist’ of this approach to be somewhat hollow.

The ‘twist’ is a one-shot, after it’s been utilized that’s it, it’s done, the players (more likely just their characters) have discovered the mind-blowing secret to the game world and that’s it. So this strength is somewhat lacking and exists more as a bonus than a solid advantage of the tech-magic concept. Another major weakness, probably the most obvious in starting with technology and moving into mysticism is that any air of mystery is essentially shallow and the nature of any inherent dangers will already be known.

Magic as Technology is trying to treat something that cannot be decidedly defined within mundane scientific terms but can still be accessed and used with at least a fair amount of reliability to achieve desired ends. It only requires that parts of its system be known in order to be of use. This allows the impossible to be made possible and which works fairly reliably but it is not entirely clear how it works and any explanations will ultimately refer back to some ambiguous ‘source’ or power. It may provide obvious violations of scientific laws though it may also go along somewhat with them on occasion wherever it may lend credence to the magic in doing so that is.

Of course, a sharp Game-Master will know that if you introduce too many predictable scientific laws into the magic system then players will be quick to take advantage as those principles may be very familiar to them providing open and clear avenues for them to essentially ‘break’ the current incarnation of the game.

A perfect example of Magic as Technology in fiction can be drawn from The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud: “Adelbrand’s Pentacle … its extra lines and incantations double locked the door and forced you to remain for further orders. It was a complex magical formula that required adult stamina and concentration [.]” [Stroud, Jonathan. 2003. The Bartimaeus Trilogy Book One: The Amulet of Samarkand. Miramax Books, New York. Pg.80] In the Bartimaeus trilogy magic is treated as a science but there is always more to know and there is a long history and legacy of magic penetrating society.

Magic is definitely defined as supernatural (i.e. summoning demons to do your bidding much as in the Sorcerer Rpg by Ron Edwards) but magicians are specially trained through tomes and incantations to summon the demons who are the root of their power and a source of unpredictability and great danger (mostly due to their potential in being characters themselves and not just a mindless ‘source’; essentially NPC potential). The magic is given its own internal logic not logic based on science essentially being a technology of pure magic.

Functionally within TRPGs Magic as Technology is quantifying the functional parts of magic in terms that allow it to be manipulated in-game by the participants without revealing it in toto. It provides a mystery to be explored by the players’ characters in-game, it brings with it a sense of the mysterious which can be exploited by the GM, and requires only portions at any one-time to be known to be used.

This approach can have a certain risk-factor attached to its use that technology often does not have and even if it does that risk is still within known parameters whereas magic can have very random results when it gets loose. Just as well the GM can characterize the vagaries of magic as well as perhaps the universal force of magic itself sometimes almost as a character in and of itself though fairly vague on most, and hopefully the most strategic, points of its existence leading to more of a ‘sense’ and feel rather than anything that can be easily pinned down (i.e. the fluffy bits). Its boundaries unlike those of techno-magic are not well defined and most certainly lack the comfort of the familiar.

It will defeat the meta-knowledge that players can bring with them unless they’re already familiar with that specific system of magic though if it is well-designed there will still be blind-spots and risks that they may have still only a vague idea of. It not only allows but demands exploration not just in-game by the characters but also within the meta-game by the players and the GM. They will need to experiment, probe, quest, and explore discovering its advantages and sometimes suffering its strange consequences.

All of these are great advantages in the realms of game and the fun found therein. The malleability of Magic as Technology prevents those characters in command of its power of having too much power in that their knowledge can’t be all-encompassing, they simply can’t know all there is to know about magic. It allows more flexibility for the GM to work their ‘magic’ on the game. This great fluidity is also a part of this idea’s inherent weaknesses.

The weaknesses found with starting in the unknown is that one has to struggle to quantify the ‘workable’ bits without revealing/defining too much and that an entire mystical system may have to be constructed in order to lend more functionality and believability to the magic which may move towards Technology as Magic if it is over-defined. Examples of this can be found in the various strains of Vancian Magic systems with some lacking in arcane flavor others taking care to sprinkle in the proper measure of spice and mystery. Another potential weakness is the built-in mystery of this approach which is also the primary strength.

The mystery can be a disadvantage as it makes it more difficult to quantify it logically as a rule-set. In kind, in-game effects and other aspects may be hard to describe or the GM has to give more thought as to how to communicate it as there may be a lot of possible nuance putting more of a strain on the GM especially when firing off of the cuff. Also rules cannot do double-duty as magic requires its own separate rule system adding a whole other branch to the game system rule set. In fact, the magic system itself may branch out into different subsets of itself. This is also a part of its strength in that a branching magic system provides open terrain for the participants to explore possibly serving as its own adventure within an adventure in the hands of a good RPG writer and a skilled Game-Master.

Both approaches, Technology as Magic and Magic as Technology, strive to achieve desired results using means that are potentially ‘workable’ in-game. Also, both attempt to add believability to magic either grounding it in a realistic setting and/or defining it using mundane terminology (both being methods of Rationalized Fantasy). Both approaches hinge on certain questions of coherence and believability. Coherence in terms of RPG’s is definitely crucial in terms of codifying the logic into rules that can be utilized by the participants to help build their fantasy game world and being able to frame it within a certain rhetoric.

“Coherency is crucial to creating the ironic mimesis of the immersive fantasy. It is possible to create a world in which anything can and does happen. But if one does this, then it is impossible to make the characters questioning and extrapolating beings. In a fully immersive fantasy, the actors must be able to engage with their world; they must be able to scrape its surface and discover something deeper than a stage set. An ongoing example that can arise is in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. Because there is no system of magic, no sense of what each kind of magic can achieve, the choice of potions versus wand spells versus magic objects is frequently arbitrary and prevents planning- Hermione’s use of a transformation potion requiring the risky business of securing genetic material is one such occasion. One cannot but wonder why there is no safer, wand-based spell. There may be a reason, but as there are no rules, Hermione cannot make choices or argue her choice.” [Mendlesohn, Farah. 2008. Rhetorics of Fantasy. Wesleyan University Press, Middletown, CT. 63-64]

Believability is required by both works of fiction and RPG’s in order to assist reader/participant immersion. If something strikes the players as completely absurd or unbelievable it can throw them straight out of the game and anyone who’s ever played a TRPG can understand how hard it may be to submerge yourself within the fantasy in the first place when you’re surrounded by interesting people. Basically, suspension of disbelief is as important to roleplaying as to fiction.

However, Technology as Magic has limited but ‘push-able’ borders, the other, Magic as Technology, seems boundless. Technology as Magic has to have the veneer of mystery applied to it, the other must be pulled out from the shadows and with some effort but which reveals only that there is more to discover. One works from well-defined and known principles and the other comes from the swirling ether of the unknown.

Magic as Technology has the advantage when referring to player exploration and mutability, and makes it easy to establish mystery even dread for the consequences (either known or completely unforeseen) which outweighs the disadvantage of the difficulty when converting it into a codified magic rules system. TRPG magic systems should have a set system which can be converted to rules and have the ‘workable’ hard-bits for the benefit of the participants but there should be enough grey areas or ‘mess’ allowing the GM some nuance and leave a sufficient level of discovery to the players. The rules themselves shouldn’t be too-complex nor be overly-defined trying to sharply define every aspect of magic though well-defined rules for magic do not necessarily stand to demystify magic either.

“It doesn’t stop being magic just because you know how it works.” [Pratchett, Terry. 2004. The Wee Free Men. Harper Trophy]