Saturday, June 25, 2022

The beginning of the End of Days

The importance of what has just happened in the USA cannot be overstated. The Supreme Court struck down separation of church and state, made gun control impossible, and restored slavery. Over the course of a week.

Historians look back and pick out the inflection points of history. Sometimes this is difficult. Sometimes it is not. Like the Riechstag fire or crossing the Rubicon, this will be identified as the termination point of American democracy.

As I tell Australians, my short lecture on American politics is this: no matter how bad you think it is, it's worse. The idea that the state can seize a woman's body for the use of a random citizen is obviously, blatantly bad; but the truth is worse.


Update: my brother pointed out the case of McFall v. Shimp, where a man sued his cousin for a bone marrow transplant to save his life. Judge Flaherty ruled against the dying man, stating that forcing a person to submit to an intrusion of his body in order to donate bone marrow "would defeat the sanctity of the individual and would impose a rule which would know no limits, and one could not imagine where the line would be drawn."

 Apparently the line is drawn at "woman."

 


Monday, June 13, 2022

World of Prime: Campaign Journal #35

A Noh Play in One Act

The party decides to go with their traveling merchant disguise again, purchasing a thousand gold pieces of silk (the Ranger tries to write it off as an expense but the Queen’s accountants deny him). They sail into Isiequerr and are immediately discomfited… by the orderliness and cleanliness of the realm.

Isiequerr is a place where everyone knows their place. Peasants rush out of the way of lords; civil servants without rank wear placards and wield authority without meeting the gaze of nobles. The absence of hunger and violence makes the party begin to question their allegiance to the wily and wild beauty of Queen Rian.

Checking into an inn, they once again inquire as to how best to approach the royal castle with their rare goods. Market day is only a few days out, so the party prepares to run the same play they had success with in Arkoommeamn. But the locals have a different idea.

After a day of sight-seeing, weapon-shopping, and watching the local theater (and being discreetly tailed by commoners), they retire to the inn for dinner. The waitress brings them a message as she clears the table: they should check on their horses in the stable. This is an intriguing message because they don’t have horses. After a mercifully brief discussion of the possible dangers, the party finally decides to go out to the barn. There they find the waitress waiting for them.

“Not everyone is of the same mind,” she explains. There are those who would like to see a change of rule in the realm. The Bard is of course suspicious but the waitress knows enough catch-phrases to sound convincingly like a member of the shadowy network that the party has encountered in both other kingdoms (the rogue Esyllt in Flef and the bard Gizela in Arko). For 5,000 gp she offers them the same deal Gizela did: to turn aside the low ranked knights and let the party contest against the king’s retinue directly. Again the Ranger tries to haggle, but the waitress just rolls her eyes. The Druid pays her fee in tael; she instructs them to be return to the barn the same time tomorrow night.

The next day they wander the town attempting to purchase healing potions, but the temple is closed for a local holiday. That evening they gather in the barn and ready themselves for battle.

The waitress appears and calmly leads them through the dark, silent streets. She pauses at a street corner and informs them that battle is but a minute away; they should cast whatever long-term spells they desire. The party is only 7th level; at this stage they only have one or two preparations to make. The waitress then leads them directly to the castle gates.

The guards at the gate stare out into the street, apparently unaware of the party’s existence. When someone inquires, the waitress explains they have been blinded by the oldest spell in the book: gold. The Bard observes that is actually the second oldest spell, but his wit is not appreciated.

The party walks unopposed through the gates and into the courtyard. As they approach the steps up to the central palace a troop of men form a line behind them: knights armed with a long sword, a short sword, and a bow. The waitress calms the party and explains. “They will allow you to leave uncontested if you provide them with proof of the king’s defeat.” Then she pushes open the heavy door and steps inside.

They follow, eager to get to the heart of the matter without having to slaughter dozens or hundreds of men of little account. Inside they are greeted by an unexpected sight: King Tsuneuji and his Minister of Divinity, Vicar Masamori, sit alone at the far end of a long table in a dark hall. The only light in the hall is the lantern on table in front of the two men. The King has obviously been expecting them; he uses the initiative to stand up and monologue.

First, a single candle is lit in the balcony that surrounds the room. A man sits behind the candle and begins to strum a lyre, casting Bardic Inspiration. The observant members of the party realize there are a number of people around him, armed with musical instruments.

Second, the king stands up and places an ivory mask on his face. He declaims a ritual piece of dialogue from a classic play: “A noble ruler contemplates the vicissitudes of fate.”

Third, Vicar Masamori stands up beside the king, also placing an ivory mask over his face, and reciting “The favor of the gods stand with him.” The Cleric identifies this as the Prayer spell, though the party is too far away to suffer the negative effects.

Fourth, stagehands in the balcony then turn spotlights onto six knights kneeling on either side of the table, between the party and the king. These men are in a staggered line, so that there are four in front with dual swords ready and two behind them with bows ready. They recite in unison, “His loyal retainers stand with him,” and stand up. All of them are clearly wearing ivory masks.

Finally, spotlights illuminate each member of the part. The king fires two arrows, one at the Ranger and one at the Barbarian, clearly testing their defenses. And then initiative passes to the party.

This is clearly a set-up; on the other hand, it’s a set-up the party wanted. The party is higher-rank than the defenders, and only out-numbered by the addition of a half-dozen 3rd rank fighters. This is a fairer fight than they could have hoped for, and they leap into battle.

The Barbarian charges up the left side of the room, engaging the knights. They are hardy enough to slow him down, though clearly outmatched. The Ranger engages shoots an arrow into the bard in the balcony; the entire room hisses in disapproval. Fortunately the arrow is not enough to kill a man of rank; the bard ignores it and continues the show. The rest of the party begins casting their short-term combat spells: mirror images, magic hammers, and the like.

And things immediately go south. A spotlight illuminates an elaborately dressed man on the left side of the room as he recites a terrible joke. "A barbarian walks into a tavern. Ouch! says the tavern; why don't you use the door like normal people?" A drum roll from the orchestra accompanies the punch line. The Barbarian chuckles, then laughs, then collapses to the ground under a gale of guffaws. The king begins shooting spell-casters, and his arrows hit like guided missiles.

The Bard tries to advance on the right side. These knights are only 3rd rank but they are still dangerous. The Cleric tries to cast a spell, and suddenly spotlights illuminate a woman on the right side of the room. She cries out, “Denied!” punctuated by a crash of cymbals, and the Cleric’s spell is countered.

The next round sees the Ranger targeted with a joke. "Two rangers are walking in the woods when they discover a set of tracks. One says it is bear tracks; the other says it is wolf tracks. They are still arguing when the wagon train runs over them." He also collapses in helpless amusement. This is cruel pay-back for when the party crippled the master spy of Varsoulou with Tasha’s Hideous Laughter.

Faced with a line of advancing knights, the Druid decides its bear time. He easily takes out the remaining knights on the left side, saving the Barbarian from being stabbed to death while helpless, but is in turn devastated by the waitress back-stabbing him with dual daggers. They notice the waitress is now wearing an ivory mask. No one saw her put it on; in fact, no one saw her since the battle started.

Unfortunately Lady Senko, like all rogues, is a one-hit wonder: the ursine druid smashes her into the wall, killing her in a single brutal attack.

Somehow the party remains fighting until the Barbarian’s spell wears off. Each turn Baron Kane the jokester targets another party member, but these jokes all fail and hence are too lame to repeat. (Ironically, the only failed saving throws accompanied the only jokes the table laughed at. Obviously I needed to work on the jokes more.) The king does great work with arrows, but mostly succeeds in stripping the Bard of images and reducing the Cleric to single digits.

Once the Barbarian is back on his feet things start looking up. He charges the joking sorcerer… only to run face-first into both an invisible set of iron bars and a Glyph of Warding. The explosion knocks him down again. The bear charges forward and uses its reach to reach inside the invisible cage, taking Baron Kane out of the battle in an instant. The Ranger stands up, finally recovered, and the Cleric runs up to heal the Barbarian.

Meanwhile the Cleric’s hammer has been beating on Lady Tome, forcing her to leave off counter-spelling to drink a healing potion. More importantly, Vicar Masamori has to run to her side and heal her as well. The Bard is still duelling a line of knights and slowly winning, but not without cost.

The king turns his arrows to the bear. Already wounded from the backstab, the bear falls to negative. The Cleric, having just healed the Barbarian, quickly turns to healing the Druid.

The Barbarian knows it is time to end this. He puts one foot on the table, prepared to charge over it to get to the king, but then his innate sense of decorum convinces him to run around the table instead (ha! What actually happened is the DM told him to make a reflex save, and he changed his mind. The DM wrote this off to the barbarian class’s innate trap sense ability). This results in more sonic glyphs, leaving him on the ground unconscious a second time.

Meanwhile, the Cleric’s Spiritual Hammer does more good than it ever has, knocking Lady Tome out. The Ranger has finished off the last of the knights, and the Bard, seeing that the fight is now moving to the king, decides to evade the Vicar and charge up the table.

He fails his reflex save; the table collapses under his weight, dropping him forty feet into a spiked pit. (No do-overs for the Bard – he should have been paying attention!). Much wailing ensues, but the Ranger has a rope, of course. He wraps it around his leg and tosses one end down, leaving his hands free to continue the archery battle.

Which is good, because the next round sees the king put the Ranger on the floor. Those arrows really hurt!

The Bard climbs out of the pit, anchored by the unconscious Ranger’s body. He uses his magic to heal the Ranger, while the Cleric is healing the Druid. Then the Bard heroically charges Vicar Masomori. The Glyphs of Warding are not enough to stop him (on account of his hardly taking any damage so far, thanks to the Mirror Images). The Druid crawls forward to heal the Barbarian before throwing fire around heedless of the risk of arson, and the Cleric leaps the table to double-team Masomori.

The party is in dire straights. Half of them have been knocked out, one of them twice; they are almost out of spells, and all of them are low on vitality. But the king is only 7th rank, and his retinue are lower. To the extent they have focused on offense, they have sacrificed defense.

Masomori goes down to the combined assault. The Barbarian lays into the king, reducing him to single hit points. However, the Barbarian is equally low and the king draws his two swords, preparing to deal out a fatal response. The Ranger dramatically ends the encounter with a single arrow, killing the king just in time to save the Barbarian’s life.

The orchestra wails once in deafening grief and then goes silent. The spotlights wink out, replaced by the gentle illumination of house lights. A brief pause while the party deals out mercy to the not yet dead, rather than waiting for them to bleed out (though it must be said the Druid was not inclined to mercy). The party finds a small box with 10,000 tael on the table next to the king;s lantern. A search of the bodies reveals a bunch of minor magic items and the most precious gift of all: a scroll of Raise Dead!

Then servants file into the room with mops and brooms. Two junior clerics offer to heal the party, and a servant shows them to the guest rooms, explaining that the master suites will not be safe for the party until they clear out the many glyphs surrounding every part of the castle that should never be entered by mere visitors.

The party has passed the test. They are both powerful enough to rule (as demonstrated by their destruction of the king’s retinue) and civilized enough to be tolerated (shown by their adherence to the rules of the battle designed to minimize the collateral damage). In the morning they find themselves addressed as Lords. A temporary position, as they make it clear that they intend to turn the realm over to Queen Rian. Yet the staff are eager to change their minds; the barons and counts will soon make their journey to the capital to swear to their new lieges, and the life of the realm can continue much as before but with different rulers. After all, better the devil you have than a mad sorceress who they already know can never be tamed to their idea of civilization. 

 (This was their closest battle yet, despite the clear imbalance of levels, and the players were genuinely concerned at several points. I think their sense of danger was also fueled by the fact that I had a plan for if they lost that would not result in a TPK. Due to that, I probably seemed far more sanguine about their difficulties than they are used to.)

Monday, April 25, 2022

World of Prime: Campaign Journal #33 & #34

(Lazy DM forgot to write up the last two adventures. I can't recall all the details of the battles - rest assured they were glorious - but I do want to record the plot advancement.)

Second Invasion of Drield 

The bard has risen to the ranks of the silver-tongued; he is positively glib these days. He talks Queen Rian into a diversion: an assault on the goblins to demonstrate the power of the helm is Rian's to command. In truth the party is afraid of confronting King Sylwester and seeks more rank before taking on a mission of such magnitude.

Malgorzata objects, but Vicar Neve sides with the bard, perhaps eager for the glory that has so long eluded her as the lesser power of the sister's triumvirate. Half the Royal army marchers out, accompanied only those peers whose stature and prior attendance entitle them to a place in the expedition: Vicar Irwen, Count Gareth, and the Order of the Hound. And, of course, the party's troops of Yeoman and Marksmen. The queen also sends her personal guard of cataphracti to protect Neve. While these men are unranked, they are well-equipped and as fanatically loyal as gold and magic can make them.

The week-long approach (remember that on Prime, a week is ten days) is unmarred by incident or dragon. The assault on the keep of Eichouboomnea is a foregone conclusion, though the surprise deployment of ballistae discomfort the cleric to a considerable degree. More concerning is the liberal use of poison and the horde of bugbear knights. Nonetheless, the battle is won and the ranked nobles force their way into the throne room... only to find it deserted. The Flefliequelpians are well-versed in goblin trickery and sweep the keep for traps before establishing a temporary headquarters for the army.

Over the next few days the army leaves at morning's light to harvest hobgoblins while the noble leaders plot their next move. This is the second goblin keep to fall, and the tally of the dead implies the remaining goblin districts have been seriously bled as well. A final thrust on the capital should break the organized resistance of the nation. However, time is an issue, as the goblin lands are too depleted to provide game for the human army, and absolutely no one is prepared to live off of goblin food. The ten days of supplies the army carries is the limit of their stay. The question is whether that time should be spent profiting off of the hobgoblin hunt or marching on the capital.

Before a decision can be reached, the goblins force the issue. On the second day reports come of significant goblin forces engaging the army in the field. Vicar Neve rushes off to the front, where her magic will render fatal wounds into mere inconveniences for her soldiers. Malgorzata, whose participation so far has been a few fireballs on the battlefield, is not worth risking for a minor engagement. When the party decides to stay at the keep to guard Mal, Vicar Irwen and Count Gareth accompany Neve to battle.

As evening falls, the party sits down to a meal in the heart of the keep. Malgorzata's ceaseless complaints that all of this is a waste of time while her family remains in danger are suddenly cut off when she turns white and falls to the floor, dropping the glass of wine she had just been poured. The servant drops the wine bottle and its disguise at the same time, producing a pair of daggers and stabbing at the nearest party member. Meanwhile, the rest of the goblin assassins break their invisibility spell with a collection of ranged attacks.

The goblin nobles of this nation are high level rogues, and in past encounters they have seriously under-performed. This time, working in a large group inside a building against high-value targets, they finally show their worth. Both the barbarian and the ranger are left bleeding on the floor before the battle finishes. Absent the wizard's spells, this might have gone quite badly; as it is, the druid only barely prevents the last goblin from escaping with the incapacitated Mal. No one is quite certain why the goblins wanted to capture Mal rather than simply murder her, but everyone agrees that outcome would have been disastrous. The cleric's spells manage to keep Mal alive, but absent an antidote the woman will soon perish.

When Neve returns in the morning from the diversionary attack on the army, her magic restores the party and Mal back to health. Now it is agreed that the capital is the next and immediate target, as the rank of the slain goblin assassins indicate there might not be any nobles left at all. However, once again fate intervenes: a message from the Queen arrives.

Rescuing Witches

King Sylwester has descended to the basest level; he has hung a witch from his castle battlement and promised to hang one a week until Malgorzata returns. The rest of her female kin are interred in his dungeon, robbed of their spells and denied the ability to regenerate them. For good measure, Mal's husband - formerly the King's Master of Foot - is in chains with them.

Mal goes ballistic. There is no longer any possibility of delay; the witch will turn the Helm on the party if they so much as suggest it. Reluctantly they saddle up for a solitary journey into danger. None of the other nobility can accompany them without a formal declaration of war, and while Mal is eager to ride to her kin's rescue, the queen's soldiers will not allow the witch to return to her homeland where, after all, she could easily have a change of heart and return to Sylwester's service to save her family.

Nor could any common men keep pace with our heroes, who no longer require sleep or food due to the magic they wield. At least they have brought everyone up to sixth rank. Thanks to their number they are now as pussiant as most royal courts. Which is well, as they are about to single-handedly assault a royal court in its own castle.

They ride directly to Arkoommeamn, as it is closer from their current position than returning to Flef and sailing out. The queen's messenger assures them their boat has already been dispatched with instructions to meet them at the same location as before, ready to transport the rescued women back to the safety of Rian's court.

No one challenges them in the wilderness, the fields, or even the city gates. They stop by Gizela's inn to quench their thirst before the big battle. She is slightly apoplectic to see them so brazenly implicate her in their coup, but now that they are here, she takes advantage of the situation, extracting a very large sack of gold from the party in exchange for a promise to turn the king's lancers.

Only at the castle do they encounter resistance, and it is everything the king has. A square of pikemen guard the gate, backed by companies of crossbowmen on the walls, and troops of lancers waiting to charge the party from either side.

As promised, the lancers suddenly turn and flee. The remaining common soldiers are almost useless; the druid and bard's swarms of toxic vermin drive off the square of pikemen, who are keenly aware that the barbarian would likely slaughter them all if they did try to stand. The crossbowmen are more effective than they should be, raining down hordes of bolts and trusting to luck (i.e. crit-fishing) to score a hit. The ranger and barbarian engage in an archery duel that numbers ensure they cannot win, until the cleric shuts it down with a wall of mist.

This gets them into the gatehouse. In the courtyard beyond they face two squares of pikes and more crossbowmen on the roof of the keep itself. The bard attempts to open the keep door while the barbarian tries to force it; both fail until the druid warps the wood in the door to weaken it. He is, after all, the one with the record of building kills. More swarms dispense with the pikemen, and the party escapes the hail of bolts by entering the keep.

In the great hall on the first floor they are met by fifty first-rank knights. These men would be far more dangerous on horseback, but the battle is here, inside, and they are true to their oaths. The barbarian is humbled by the immense amount of damage these men manage to inflict on him before magic and his whirling greatsword demolishes the knights.

On the second floor they face the officers of the realm. A score of captains and a squad of baronets fight with more dispatch and hardiness than the first-ranks, but the barbarian is slightly more circumspect and the battle eventually concludes without any crippling damage.

On the third floor Slywester and his court await them. This is a true battle, and the party is already seriously depleted from the previous engagements. The king's wizard summons a fire-breathing hound from hell and disappears, his contribution to the battle already concluded in the preparatory spells he as cast on the rest of the retinue. The King is indeed formidable, dealing out terrible damage and surprisingly hard to hurt. Only the Master of Horse and the hell hound are easy prey; the others acquit themselves well. The Minister of Coin/Royal Assassin springs out of hiding from a corner and inflicts terrible damage on the bear (the druid, having run out of spells, resorted to melee combat in the last battle). The king manages to reduce half the party to negative hit-points, while the cleric desperately patches them up and sends them back into battle. Finally he falls, leaving only his paladin standing; she spends her last action trying to heal her liege before the ranger strikes her down.

At this point any more serious resistance would probably be fatal, but there is no one left to resist. The wizard is gone, the soldiers are dead, and the witches are quickly freed. No one opposes their departure from the castle or the city or the realm; they reach their boat without difficulty, and return by sea to the court of Queen Rian once again.

If they thought to find respite from their labors, they are mistaken. The queen can see her new throne as Empress of the Human Realm in the Gold Coast just waiting for her. Only one obstacle stands in her way; the royal court of Iesiequerr. A formal war of succession is not in her interests; she wants to amalgamate three kingdoms into one, not annex a devastated nation into her own war-torn country. The queen asks the party to resolve the issue, though like all royal requests it is not conceivable to refuse. In exchange she pays them 12,000 gp of magic... in advance.

The cleric is dubious about this murder-for-hire arrangement, but the queen's personal guard of cataphracti - all mercenaries from Iesiequerr - testify to the corruption and degradation of their former royal court. In their unbiased opinion their home country would be liberated to serve under the wise and powerful Queen Rian, who, it must be said, is the only force in the domain the party is still afraid of save for the dragon itself.

The iron law of landrule is that the ruler who cannot defend their land is not entitled to it. The party will now put that strength to the test, as it is done again and again across the face of Prime. The blade of the thresher spins, separating the common from the noble.

Saturday, December 18, 2021

World of Prime: Campaign Journal #32

The Heist: part II

Malgorzata puts her feelings into action and launches a fireball against the Bard, incidentally catching the Barbarian in the blast. The Bard, given the option of hiding the behind the stolen box (for a +2 to his save), does so; the box takes the brunt of the blast and is destroyed, spilling molten gold and cracked glass at his feet. The helm in the box was clearly fake!

The Druid decides that’s enough of that and drops a fog cloud over the witch. The Barbarian turns to deal with the three charging knights, taking a defensive stance as they charge. It mostly works; he only gets hit by one lance, and then dashes behind them and cleaves two from the saddles.

The Baronet has realized he cannot outrun the Ranger, so he turns to fight, lowering his lance and charging back up the road. The Ranger draws his bow, doing serious damage as the Baronet closes.

The Wizard mysteriously appears, having been practicing his Invisibility spell for the last week (i.e. he missed the last session), and summons a swarm of bats against the entangled knights. But these men are ranked and do not fall easily to such attacks. Then the swarm dies, caught in a burst of flame: the fire-witch is burning a path through the entangling grass. Her men and horses suffer from the flames but their rank keeps them in the battle.

Soon men, horses, and an angry fire-witch are pouring out of the entangle. The Bard then turns the tide of the entire battle with a single spell; he blinds the witch with a well-turned curse. The lady cannot see to target her foes with her deadly fire magic now. The Bard and Cleric move into capture her while the Barbarian battles more knights, the Druid transforms into a great bear, and the Wizard summons another swarm.

But Malgorzata is not out of tricks yet. Sensing the approach of her enemies she targets the only thing she can with her next fireball – herself! The blast knocks the Cleric and Bard to the ground, unconscious and close to death, and kills Malgorzata’s horse. It does her no harm, though, as she has already cast a defensive spell.

The Ranger engages in a protracted duel with his Baronet, slowly losing to the man’s inferior swordsmanship despite needing only one more solid blow to end the fight. The Barbarian finds himself surrounded by knights and the Captain raining down blows on his head. One knight makes it to the Wizard and stabs him badly. The Wizard risks a spell, getting stabbed again for his efforts, and manages to put the knight into a magical slumber just in time, as the next blow would have seen his death.

The battle seems to be going in the knight’s favour, until the dire bear joins in. The great beast tears through the knights like paper. Even two lance charges are not enough to stop the monster. A knight breaks free and scoops up his mistress to carry her to safety, but the bear gets him too. The Wizard is trying to revive his companions with healing potions when the Barbarian goes down to the combined assault of the Captain, a knight, and their warhorses. The bear turns its attention to the witch, grappling her to stop a repeat explosion. He smothers her but the woman is surprisingly sturdy, stabbing at him with her dagger. The Wizard shoots her with a magic missile, ending her resistance. The bear immediately turns to engage another pair of knights.

The Ranger has finally dispatched his foe and gallops back to the main battle. Half the party is on the ground and even the bear is looking the worse for wear when the Captain gallops through the battle, snatching the unconscious witch from the ground in an epic feat of horsemanship. For a moment his way is clear, and then more magic missiles bring him to the ground.

The fight is over but not without cost. Over a dozen knights and two Baronets are dead; the lady’s maids are long gone, fleeing back the way they came; and the party is almost out of spells and badly injured. Once everyone is at least restored to consciousness they search the bodies carefully, but the only items of value are on the witch: a few magic trinkets (including a Cloak of Charisma that the Bard greedily appropriates) and an iron key. But no helm.

The party is at a loss. They bind the witch and toss her in the cart, heading back towards the city. Eventually Malgorzata wakes up. Blind, stripped of armour and finery, with hands bound behind her back, she still retains her spirit.

“You are all dead men,” she tells them. “King Sylwester will see to that.”

The Bard earnestly explains that they mean her no harm; indeed, they are here to rescue her and offer her refuge in far-away Flefiquielp.

“All that will gain me is the assassin’s blade,” she spits. “Sylwester will see me a corpse before the season’s end and give the helm to one of my cousins.”

When the Bard argues that they intend to get the helm as well, she scoffs at them. “You have done it in rather the wrong order, don’t you think?”

Nonetheless, realizing the precariousness of her situation, she grudgingly concedes that if they can gain the helm, she will still be of value. To that end she gives them the bare minimum necessary: the location of a secret gate into the castle. If they succeed, she will be a valuable prize to deliver to Queen Rian; if they fail, then she will be free to return to Sylwester.

The Bard easily bluffs their way back into the city and the Golden Wing Inn, with no one the wiser about the witch hidden in their cart. Shortly after midnight they sneak out of their rooms, fully healed and spelled, and are off to the castle.

The first obstacle is a simple moat. The Ranger leaps it easily, opens the secret door, and slides out a handy beam obviously meant for crossing it. Uncertain of their ability, most of the party consumes Spider Climb potions and thus traverse the beam easily. The Barbarian trusts to his own skill and fails badly, falling into the moat with a splash. He crawls up the other side, soaking wet but otherwise unharmed.

Now the party strolls through a castle in the middle of the night, looking for passage to the dungeons. They encounter a pair of washerwomen who step aside to let them pass without comment… until the Barbarian squelches past. Immediately they open their mouths to scream, stopped only by a timely sleep spell from the Wizard.

Deeper they go, encountering a pair of guards that are also alerted by the Barbarian’s bedraggled state. This time the Bard sleeps them, forestalling the Barbarian’s murderous impulse. They evade several other encounters, until finally they reach their destination.

Four knights stand guard in front of an iron portcullis. The Wizard casts sleep; two fall to the ground. The Bard casts as well, and a third falls. The fourth, however, draws breath to raise the alarm. The Barbarian charges forward and cuts the man down.

A careful inspection reveals that the gate is magically trapped. The Cleric tries to dispel the magic but fails; the Bard, in an astounding feat of intuition, guesses the magical password and puts key to lock to open the gate.

Now they face a small room with eight iron-bound chests and one silver-lidded pedestal. A small metal panel labelled “Emergency Procedure” hangs on the back wall.

The Druid begins dismantling the chests via magic, and gold coins spill across the floor. The Barbarian, realizing that time is running out, steps forward and snatches up the silver lid, shrugging off the effect of its cursed defence. Underneath is a golden pillow with the indent where a helm used to rest… but no helm.

He turns to the metal panel and opens it, but cannot read the instructions held within. The Bard steps forward and reads, “In case of emergency… explode.” This triggers the Explosive Runes spell, almost killing the Bard and injuring the Barbarian. As they stagger back the Ranger enters and makes a careful search of the room, discovering a false panel in the wall which opens to reveal, finally, the Helm of Brilliance. He snatches it, only to involuntarily yelp out, “I am a thief!” But the fit passes, and he strides from the room with the prize in his hands.

The rest of the party stops scooping loose gold coins into bags and they all head back upstairs. They almost reach the postern gate without incident, but then encounter another pair of guards. These men pass the now-dried off Barbarian without comment, but when they come abreast of the Ranger, he suddenly shouts, “I am a thief!” It appears the Confessional Curse has stuck.

A brief round of fist-fighting ensues before the party can flee out of the gate and back across the moat. Realizing they have at most minutes before the sleeping guards awake and raise the alarm, they find a deserted stretch of city wall. The Ranger and Barbarian now put their own Spider Climb potions to good use, scaling the wall and tossing down a rope to haul the others over.

Walking back to their boat, Malgorzata finally surrenders. “Put me down,” she says, as the Barbarian has been carrying her over his shoulder, “and show me the helm.” They let her touch it, and she sighs. “Very well, then.”

A patrol of knights catches up to them shortly after sunrise, galloping down on them before they can react. The Barbarian takes up a defensive stance and invites their charge. He appears to have learned from the previous encounter, as this time every single lance is turned aside by his shield and armor. Now the party has a crowd of horsemen upon them, but the Wizard simply drops a fireball on the knot of horsemen with the Barbarian at the center. The spell only singes him, but it means death for the low-ranked knights, and the two remaining knights are easily dispatched. This time the party is merciful; they loot the dead, but leave the merely injured to recover on their own. Then it’s on the boat and out to the safety of the sea, where the Cleric restores Malgorzata's sight and frees the Ranger from the Confessional Curse. The Barbarian passes the time by intimidating the fire-witch, assuming she won’t blast him on a wooden boat in the middle of the ocean.

At Queen Rian’s court they receive a royal welcome. The Queen is honey and sugar to Countess Malgorzata, explaining that it is time for the three human kingdoms to unite under a single ruler, and that ruler is Queen Rian. With the aid of Malgorzata’s helm, none can stand against them; and then once united, the full force of the human realms can be hurled against the splintered goblin kingdoms.

Malgorzata is dubious… until Vicar Neve assures her that yes, she can in fact repel the dragon. This confirms the new international order. When Rian asks for a final time what Malgorzata wants to become a willing ally, she answers.

“First, I want this man“– she points at the Barbarian – “whipped until he cannot walk. Then I want my daughter, my sister, my cousins, and my husband brought out.”

As a crowd of knights springs on the Barbarian to carry out the punishment, Rian turns to the rest of the party. “You have fairly earned your reward, though perhaps not as cleanly as could be hoped. But now I have another favour to ask. Return to Arkoommeamn and bring out the Countess’s kin. This time, however, feel no need to spare your swords. Should you slay King Slywester himself I would count it a boon.”