Saturday, December 8, 2018

Dave Duncan

I just found out Dave Duncan passed away in October.

There are three authors I collect: Jack Vance, Ursula Le Guin, and Dave Duncan. He read my first novel and provided a very nice quote for my first published novel. I almost gave up writing after reading his "Hunter's Haunt," which was such a tour de force of authorial voice that I was afraid I would never measure up.

If you have never read Duncan, I recommend starting with Reaver Road and Hunter's Haunt for fantasy, or Hero for science fiction. I also strongly recommend the series The Seventh Sword and A  Man of His Word.

Thank you, Dave, for all you did for us.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

World of Prime: Campaign Journal #9

I had to improvise the adventure last time; while my Sandbox World Generator told me what was in the square it didn't provide all the details. Between sessions I fleshed out the cult and discovered that it had a name, in addition to a signature calling card in the form of golden crossbow quarrels. Eventually I'll publish this adventure on DriveThruRPG like all the rest. The only reason The Lake of Ill Repute isn't up there is that they haven't finished going through it yet.

The Brotherhood of the Golden Arrow

The party (retroactively) marveled over all the golden crossbow quarrels they looted off of the bandits that had attacked their camp, until the Wizard made his Appraise check and realized they were just well-polished bronze.

The party sent in Sir Rattles, again to no effect. Now that they had two independent reports that the tunnel was empty it only took them twenty minutes to raise the courage necessary to actually enter the tunnel, and even then they only went in because the Barbarian got tired of "strategizing."

Once inside they were greeted by ten skeletons. The toad had not noticed them because they don't move, breathe, emit heat, or otherwise appear differently than dead bones, and they hadn't attacked Sir Rattles out of professional courtesy. Undead make excellent ambushers.

The Barbarian smashed one while the Cleric looked up the rules on Turn Undead. A few dice rolls later and all of the skeletons collapsed, utterly destroyed by the puissance of the Cleric's holy words. Sadly this cleansing of the unnatural also included Sir Rattles (a tip o' the hat to the Bard for pointing that out!). It turns (haha) out that the Cleric had missed the latest dungeon runs, so no one was aware of just how potent he was against low-level undead.

After that they briefly examined a closed door but decided to push further into the cavern. They didn't get very far before being greeted by a company of guards with a spell-casting senior office. Twenty cultists, fighting in formation: the ones in front knelt defensively behind their shields while the back row fired over their heads with crossbows. The Ranger cleverly pocketed his light-stone and started sniping from the Dark while the Barbarian charged; the Wizard and Druid summoned acid-spitting beetles; and the Bard and Cleric went down a side tunnel hoping flank the attacking group but instead ran into a smaller group which included an junior officer of the cult.

The absence of treacherous vegetation and the presence of spell-casters turned the battle around. Expecting the relentless slaughter of the previous engagement, the party found they had a fight on their hands. Fear spells were particularly useful, sending the the Ranger, the Bard, and the Barbarian (twice!) in and out of combat like yo-yos. The Barbarian made it all the way to the front line and slew three foes in a single great blow before eating half-a-dozen quarrels and being sent running by magic. Healing also paid off as the two cult spell-casters put men who had been incapacitated but not outright killed back into the fight; when the Barbarian came back half the men he had killed were alive again.

Finally the Druid decided to unleash the swarm. Thousands of spiders crawled up out of the sandy cavern floor, biting and stinging. Fortunately their poison weakened before it killed, so the men's shrieks of horror as they were devoured alive were slightly muted. The senior officer, revealing a sophisticated understanding spellcraft, got the swarm's attention and led it away from his men. This took him out of the fight but not out of the battle as he succeeded in healing himself several times even in the midst of the swarm. It was a fair trade, as concentrating on the swarm kept the Druid busy.

The advance party came back to the main battle, having been chased off by Fear after killing all but the junior officer in the side passageway. The Wizard called up another acid beetle after the first one exploded and dissolved several men's faces in acid. Fortunately this horrific sight was only poorly illuminated by torch-light so likely the party won't have too many nightmares. The Barbarian, operating off of courage rather than intellect, charged the line once again, and this time they broke and fled. Just in time, as the side passage was once again active after the officer had healed several casualties. The Wizard, Cleric, and Bard ran to deal with that while the Ranger followed the fleeing remnants of the main group. The Druid sat in a corner and concentrated fiercely on his swarm of vicious insects, no doubt struggling with remorse over the horrible deaths he had caused.

The junior officer in the side-passage turned out to be wearing decent armor (note to self: more bronze breastplates!). Half the party beat on him while the Wizard kept him dazed and yet he remained standing. The side passage did indeed join up with the other one, as both passages opened into a vast cavern. Which contained another entire company of troops, all bearing torches and charging the swarm.

The Ranger picked off a few men while they dealt with the spiders by beating their torches against the ground and occasionally the officer in the middle of the swarm. This bought the rest of the party enough time to finally finish off the junior officer. They looked up just in time to see the retreat stemmed by demonic authority. Which is to say, a nine-foot-tall demon bit the head off of one of the retreating men, and the other two decided to go back into battle. Not the typically recommended courage-inducing rally cry but it worked. Beside the demon stood the cult's leader, a wild-haired shaggy man in bronze armor and wearing a golden crossbow quarrel around his neck.

Everything froze in that movie-style magic where the really dramatic bits seem to take forever. (Meaning we broke for pizza.) After a surprisingly lengthy discussion which included checking the side-door for a defensible position (spoiler alert: it wasn't) the party decided to retreat, having run out of spells and hit-points. The cultists, for their part, were not about to take lightly an enemy who had caused so much slaughter, and advanced with caution, allowing our heroes to escape.

Outside, under the open sky, the party set their own ambush, hoping to bottle their pursuers up in the narrow tunnel. While the Wizard was asking if there likely to be any other entrances to the lair he noticed a company of men coming out of the ground about a quarter-mile away. Again the party chose retreat, heading west (back the way they had come). The cult pursued them, but not aggressively, as the party was walking into wilderness rather than towards the nearest city. At the banks of a river the cult stopped and watched them go.

But it was not retreat, merely a strategic advance to the rear. The party camped, healed their wounds, refreshed their spells, and came creeping back under the cover of darkness.

Now they found the entrances guarded by cultists armed with gongs. The Ranger tried some diversions (oddly including throwing a desert tortoise) and sniper fire, but only succeeded in setting off the alarm. Discouraged, the party began retreating again.

The cult did not let them go so easily this time. The Druid's hawk stared nervously at the sky as they fled. This time the Druid paid attention and realized they were being followed. Trapped on the open plain under a star-lit sky (the world of Prime does not have a moon, but it does have so many stars that clear nights are as illuminated as a full moon), stalked by a flying demon, they had few options. They stood in a circle, back to back, like heroes facing the horde. Soon enough a black cloud swelled up from the ground, resolving into the fearsome visage of the demon.

The party responded quickly, with spells and arrows. The monster continued to advance and the Barbarian bravely leapt forward to strike with his temporarily magic-blessed sword. The blow passed through the creature without harm; the Barbarian realized it was merely illusion.

The party lowered their arms but the damage was done. Those spells were wasted. Tense minutes passed as the demon's allies came into position. Again, crossbow quarrels flew through the night. In the darkness accuracy was difficult and it wasn't clear whom the battle of attrition would favor. Until the demon struck from behind.

The Cleric was its chosen target. He proved hardy enough to survive the claws and fangs, but the poisoned stinger in its tail left him as weak as a baby. The fighting men turned bows and swords on the creature and it immediately fled. But as they resumed their archery contest with the cultists, the demon returned, having been fully healed by unknown powers.

This time the Bard went down in a spray of blood, and only a timely spell from the Cleric kept him from bleeding to death in the grass. Once again the warriors drove it off. The Wizard luckily caught a hint of chanting. He quickly called up some illusionary lights and sent them forth, discovering the hiding cult leader (the only time I have ever seen Dancing Lights actually used). As the demon left his side to fly back to the battle, the Wizard starting summoning apes (apparently impressed by the 1d6+5 damage roll) and sent them to attack the leader.

Now the cult leader was well-prepared, having certain spells of devastating effect against human foes. Which unfortunately expressly did not include animals. He sound found himself wrestling in a most undignified manner with two apes and the Druid's wolf as the spell-casters charged him (the warriors were still occupied with the demon). The cult leader called his demon back to save him; it broke off and flew threw the air, snatching up the leader on its way.

Until the mess of animals pounced on him, sinking claws and fangs into flesh and holding on for dear life. It proved too much weight; as the warriors charged, the demon shrugged its shoulders and let go. It flew off into the night while its erstwhile master screamed for mercy. "I'll let you in!" he cried, hoping to buy them off; the Wizard and Druid, unmoved, did not call off their beasts. Consequently by the time they got to the man he had been torn limb from limb.

The remains of the cultists fled after seeing (well, hearing) their leader so savagely destroyed. The party tallied up the enemy's losses and grimly resolved to end the threat of the demon once and for all. In the morning they marched east, covering the familiar ground they had already twice retreated over, until they stood at the mouth of the entrance, with vengeance on their minds and blood on their hands.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Campaign Journal: World of Prime #6-8

So we missed several sessions of recap as Bad DM was busy meeting a book deadline. The good news is Black Harvest is with my editor; the bad news is I don't have a release date yet.

The Wet Wedding

We last left our intrepid band after they had defeated the Shadow in the orcish beer hall. Many, many days were spent crawling through the increasingly sophisticated and dangerous layers of orcish tombs. There was the eight-armed water troll that was supposed to be a fearsome foe; the party chased it into the water and mercilessly beat it to death. On the other hand a kobold skeleton in a bird-cage shooting Magic Missiles almost did for them all.

It was while they were exploring the koboldic era of the dungeon (built when the orcs had dealings with a kobold tribe) that they met Asha the water naga. She told them her tale of woe: falling for a silver-tongued bard who stole her Pearl of the Sirens. In human hands this artifact makes breathing and moving underwater easy (though you still can't smoke a pipe); in her hands it did the same for living above the surface. She was the source of the innkeeper's broken window; it was not a young couple being carried off, but rather a broken-hearted sea creature pursing her thieving paramour. Being chaotic she is unwilling to make deals or bargains, but she does give them the ability to breathe water for a few hours and accepts a present in return. The Bard got a bit of a workout coming up with a succession of interesting but different presents as they re-visited Asha several times over the next few weeks. And the Wizard discovered the joys of Command Undead; now one of the barrow's best skeletal temple guardians carries his laundry around when it's not dicing his enemies.

Eventually they passed into the clerical era, built when the orcs had adopted religion for a while. The curses and undead guardians were not much of a challenge to our intrepid band, though a well full of octopi (regular old octopi, not magical or anything) almost claimed the life of several of them. Then they discovered four locathah smoking weeds in one of the tombs. Restraining their immediate murderous impulses, they managed to get themselves invited to a party. They went home, freshened up, got more water-breathing from Asha, and went to town... well, went to the underwater village.

As they had suspected, Lars, erstwhile paramour of Asha the water naga, made an appearance. He stood on a stage and warbled incomprehensibly, which is what passes for entertainment at the bottom of a dirty lake. Apparently he had fallen for the charms of a nixie and had spent the last ten years playing house with her in an underwater graveyard of orcs. At this point he was clearly deranged but the party was more interested in the unnatural bulge in his throat. They started trying to get closer to the stage when the chieftain announced the bad news. The celebration was supposed to be a wedding between one of the locathah girls and a handsome villager from the surface. Unfortunately the human had succumbed to the horrible curse that just randomly kills people in the village. He had turned blue, waved his hands frantically, blown some bubbles, and then stopped moving. This curse, the chieftain noted, had struck the last five surface dwellers who had moved into the village over the years: two other suitors and a young family, all suddenly struck down by evil magic.

Not one to waste an opportunity, the chieftain put the poor deceased fellow on the dinner menu (literally, he was served in tiny bits as hors d'oeuvres) and continued with the gala. Then he offered the handsomest of the visitors the chance to marry into the village without going through the normal time-consuming background checks.

This, of course, meant the Bard. Much to everyone's surprise the young Bard was willing to give it a try. However, once the rather quick ceremony was concluded and events moved to the nuptial chamber, everything fell apart. It turned out the two newlywed's conceptual ideas of what occurred in said chamber were horrifically incompatible.

The Bard came swimming out in a hurry, pursued by a shrieking jilted bride. Hell hath no fury like a locathah scorned! This commotion interrupted the rest of the party, who had finally gotten into Lars' presence. Thinking quickly the Ranger performed a tracheotomy, freeing the pearl from where it had lodged in Lars' throat, and amazingly not killing him in the process. The party then beat a hasty retreat, aided by summoned dolphins. Lars, unfortunately, was suddenly struck by the village's curse despite being immune to it for all these years, and soon blew a few final bubbles and stopped moving.

The locathah were unwilling to chase the party through the barrows, so they made their way back to Asha and returned her property. She rewarded them with sacks of gold she had collected from the barrows over the years and promptly fled, returning to her distant sea-borne kingdom. Our heroes trudged back to the inn, loaded down with gold and the pleasure of doing a good deed - which was, despite their alleged alignments, a surprisingly rare occurrence.

That night the locathah struck back. The entire village swarmed up from the lake, armed with spears and supported by the nixie's magic, and attacked the inn. Unfortunately locathah are as handicapped out of the water as humans are in it, and all of them died ingloriously. The Barbarian did get a nasty scratch on his ankle while stomping the fish-men into paste but otherwise the fight was anti-clamatic.

A Business Proposition (or two)

While the party rested up and dried out, Old Bob wandered in. They had last seen him the Wild Lord's broken down keep, where he chose to stay rather than submit to civilization. He had been driven out, he said, by all the singing. The keep had new occupants, a bandit gang of some kind, and they sang all the damn time.

Before the party could respond to this appropriation of property they had abandoned, a sly fellow also appeared at the inn. He had heard of a new adventuring party and wanted to offer them a job. He purported to represent the merchants of House Tempest, who allegedly wanted to find a land route to Varsoulou. This was a dangerous proposition because technically Edersarr and Varsoulou are still at war, though active hostilities had ended twenty years ago when King Rogonar the Ambitious had gotten himself killed on one of his many invasions. His son and heir, Cardinal Ragnar, was not nearly so keen on the exhausting and impoverishing continual war, and hence peace had reigned, especially since the invasions only ever went one way, from Edersarr to Varsoulou. Now some people, such as the Cardinal, were happy with this state of affairs; and some people, notably the Earl Theodorick, were not.

The party seemed to be leaning towards the peace faction, but mostly they were so sick of crawling around in dead orcs that they decided to take the job. But first, the most exciting awesome adventure ever conceived of in any epic ballad of heroism (or D&D campaign): they made a trip up north to Pay Their Taxes.

The King, you see, gets a quarter of whatever tael you take out of the Wild. This is the price you pay for having somewhere safe to rest up and heal after your adventures. You don't have to pay the tax, but then, you don't have to come home again either. (As a DM I am obviously tickled pink to have successfully imposed taxation on my players. I am sure all the other DMs out there know exactly how I feel.) The cost left them bankrupt, though they had gotten everyone but the barbarian and ranger to third level first.

They also blew some gold on stuff like better armor and weapons but that's just boring.

So a few days later they set off to the east, with two donkeys, supplies, and a full load of adventuring gear (the seasoned players revealed themselves when they spent fifteen minutes discussing how to carry their gold so it wouldn't all get stolen at once). Quite a step up from their poverty-stricken origins only a few seasons ago. (Seriously, it's been like three or four months of game-time.)

Along the way they had a few adventures. (This is where my Sandbox World Generator app really came into its own: they picked a map direction and marched, and I just looked up what was in the way.) At first the two undead dinosaurs looked like it could be a dramatic fight, but then the Druid discovered the power of Entangle (the spell that defines OP, and at 1st level!). The Ranger destroyed one immobilized dinosaur through archery with his new strength bow; the other one successfully resisted the wizard's attempts to Command it (thus sparing the DM a heart-attack) and was destroyed by arrows and Barbarian axery.

Next they encountered a mysterious wheeled machine that drove around in circles. Dissuaded by its thick iron armor (and a few hints from the DM who hadn't finished writing up the adventure that creature leads to), they avoided it and moved on. Just when they were thinking this whole exploring thing was a piece of cake they met a couple of other people leading donkeys.

Their practiced eye recognized them as bandits, or perhaps it was just the dirty clothes and heavy weaponry. These bandits, however, were incredibly welcoming. Recognizing the party as heroes by the simple expedient of noting that they came from the west and thus had passed through un-tracked, monster-infested wilderness, the bandits invited them to a free dinner. All they would have to do is attend a short lecture on an exciting multi-level marketing business opportunity.

For some inexplicable reason the party politely declined. The bandits shook their head in dismay, but offered helpful traveler's advice, pointing out a good camping spot just a short way ahead. Again, the party behaved unreasonably, setting camp in the suggested spot but stuffing their bedrolls with hay and hiding on the hill above while wearing their armor. In the middle of the night the Druid's hawk started staring at the sky while emitting small, terrified sounds; but the Druid was preoccupied with the company of bandits sneaking up on their campfire.

Once again Entangle struck, trapping half the bandits in its grasp. They fired their crossbows but in the dark it was completely ineffective. The Wizard sent his killing machine Sir Rattles to intercept one of the two remaining squads; the Ranger started exchanging fire with the other and winning handily. Then the Druid decided to summon a swarm of bats and sent them after the helplessly immobilized bandits, an act that will go down in the annals of unnecessary force and over-kill. Swarms are one of the more dangerous foes as they require area-effect damage to destroy them, and this is not easily come by in a medieval world. The bandits, unarmored and defenseless, were stripped to the bones in a bloody cloud of screaming horror. The Druid was thinking about maybe feeling bad when he was distracted by his own screaming horror.

A skeletal, winged demon with a scorpion's tail dropped out of the sky. It bellowed a magically terrifying sonic attack and lashed into the Ranger with claws, fangs, and poisoned tail. Well... it was supposed to. What actually happened is that the party uniformly shrugged off the fear, dodged most of the attacks, cast Magic Weapon on their swords and axes, and chopped the thing into bits.

Two of the cultists managed to slip away in the dark. The party moved its camp to a different location and tried to sleep, the sounds of men being flayed alive by tiny sharp bat teeth still ringing in their ears. In the morning they tracked the bandits back to their cleverly concealed cavern complex (cursed Ranger!).

The Wizard bravely sent his toad in to scout. It reported nothing of interest, save for a brief sound that let them know the cave was in fact occupied. Now they stand on the precipice of danger, preparing to march yet again under the earth.

Friday, May 18, 2018

The New Aristocracy

The new aristocracy is the 9.9%. They have convinced themselves that they deserve to be at the top because of their superior intelligence, talent, and work ethic. And yet, somehow, those traits get passed on to their kids... but not through genetics. More through legacy college admissions and other mechanisms of privilege.

Here in Australia college really is meritocratic. You need good scores to get into good schools, and all the schools are free (you have to pay them back after you graduate, but only if you earn enough money. The point is if you are accepted to a good school you can afford to go). So what's a wealthy family to do? Private high school. Many of which charge over $12,000 a year.

Elite colleges don't have better instruction, they have better research projects. Go to an elite college and your Teaching Assistant is doing Nobel prize work as his day job. That has obvious advantages, but the point is that the advantage isn't so much from teaching skill as other factors. Factors that don't apply to high schools. The education isn't that much better at a private high school than at a public one.

What does apply, though, is sending your children to school with the children of the rich. Not just because all of the kids there are studying all of the time (so your kid does it through peer pressure) but because the connections they make will keep them in the aristocratic class more than any education they get.

Our new multiracial, gender-neutral meritocracy has figured out a way to make itself hereditary.” - The Birth of the New American Aristocracy

And in one of the enduring absurdities that always makes me crazy:
You see, when educated people with excellent credentials band together to advance their collective interest, it’s all part of serving the public good by ensuring a high quality of service, establishing fair working conditions, and giving merit its due. That’s why we do it through “associations,” and with the assistance of fellow professionals wearing white shoes. When working-class people do it—through unions—it’s a violation of the sacred principles of the free market. It’s thuggish and anti-modern. Imagine if workers hired consultants and “compensation committees,” consisting of their peers at other companies, to recommend how much they should be paid. The result would be—well, we know what it would be, because that’s what CEOs do.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

In Memoriam: Dennis Creasy

My father-in-law passed away today, after a lengthy battle with cancer. He was at home and at peace. Dennis was a good man and I was privileged to know him. He welcomed me to his home and his family. We made gunpowder together, and he shot my author photo. We played cards every Friday, and my house is full of things he fixed.

I will be lucky to live as full of a life as his.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Verdict on Crimson Fields published

Apparently in-between running D&D games I had time to write a book, and it's out now. Verdict on Crimson Fields is for sale!

I am two chapters into the 5th and final book, Black Harvest. Time to get cracking!

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Campaign Journal: World of Prime #5

The Lake of Ill Repute

(The lazy, bad DM didn't get around to posting the last recap until the day of the next session, so now you get two in one day.)

The Cleric and the Druid are heavily involved in religious observances, or perhaps just having a religious argument (their players missed this session). The rest of the party sneaks out the back of the inn and heads off for some real adventure. The Wizard, who was still recovering from his many illnesses last time (i.e. he missed the last session), is keen to revisit the site of the infection - the mysterious hole in the ground.

The Ranger sensibly loads up on adventuring gear: tools, rope, and torches. He makes sure everyone has food and water, since you never know how long you'll be trapped underground surrounded by ravenous undead monsters. And off they go, singing hi-ho, hi-ho.

They quickly pass through the rooms they had already explored and immediately come to a fork. Now they have a choice: carefully and methodically empty every room, or charge heedlessly into the lair, taking turns at random. Obviously, they choose caution. Just kidding! Headlong rush into danger it is.

Passing through a half-collapsed meeting hall, they loot the corpse of some previous hapless adventurer. The Shadow hanging around in the rubble at the back of the room avoids their lights, but otherwise gives them no trouble. They let it be and press on. But not before picking up a brass jug with three ounces of mysterious liquid.

Another room with a pair of skeletons wearing silver crowns gives them little trouble, mostly inflicting Fatigue on the Barbarian. They wander through a large natural cavern with a pool of water that appears to connect to the lake through some underground channel. A dozen dead fish are laid out neatly on the bank; the party considers this unappetizing treasure and leaves them undisturbed.

Continuing on they finally encounter some trouble. In the hall of a larger and more elaborate barrow, a skeletal huntsman summons a Fiendish Wolf with a magic whistle. The wolf knocks the Bard to the ground (yay Improved Trip!) and the huntsman is heavily armored in bronze. It looks to be a good fight... until Wizard happens. Color Spray shuts down the wolf while the melee team stalls the huntsman. The Ranger continues to be nigh-worthless at melee, while the Wizard deploys his staff to surprisingly good effect. The wolf actually survives through the first few phases of the spell, but the Bard and Wizard beat it down before it recovers enough to act again. Then they all surround the skeletal huntsman and bash it. It never even lands a blow.

The Wizard turns out to be the only one who can pick locks; he opens a large wooden chest to find three ancient scrolls. Those will go straight into his spell-book.

(A nice find, as I had just finished explaining how wizards get their spells to the Wizard's player.)

The Barbarian, always willing to take a risk, tries the magic whistle but nothing happens. The Bard realizes it needs to recharge and drops it in his pocket for another day.

Next up is a room shrouded in magical darkness and a floor covered in spikes. The Wizard tears up the wooden biers and gets the team to lay planks over the spikes, building a bridge through the room. Halfway through they are jumped by skeletal wolves lunging out of the dark, which have a nice scare factor but get crushed without too much effort.

A bit of a change of scenery; the tunnel connecting the next barrow is lower than the rest and infested with vines, mold, and fleshy pink flowers. The party notices its one torch guttering (their other light is a magical lightstone, a torch that never goes out) but presses on. Another pair of skeletal wolves is even less trouble, as their room has no magical or mundane defenses. 

(This room inflicts a secret status condition which goes completely unnoticed in this particular game - though, if they had done different actions, it would have mattered! This the nature of sandbox worlds vs narrative worlds. Narrative games are perfectly efficient: nothing is wasted or lost, everything affects the story. In sandbox games the players can walk past a door and leave it unopened. The DM's preparation for that door then ceases to matter. While this is expensive, in terms of DM effort, it is also rewarding, in that the DM doesn't know what's going to happen either. The game is truly driven by the player's choices, even when they don't know they are making them.)

The next room gives them some difficulty. A skeletal Adept stands at the back of the hall, casting Fear spells. It is flanked by a pair of skeletons with suspicious silver claws. The Barbarian shrugs off the Fear effect - he's nothing if not brave - and then lobs a javelin across the room. The Ranger joins him in this game of darts. Needless to say, these attacks have no impact, and the next round the Barbarian fails his Will save. He turns and flees in utter terror back through the room of vines and flowers.

The party takes this very calmly - apparently they consider the Barbarian to be nigh-indestructible. They let him go and continue chucking odd bits of stone at the skeletons. The Bard fails next, running off in terror, and finally the remaining two (Ranger and Wizard) decide to retreat. They catch the Bard just in time; he's trying to open a new door in his panicked flight. The Wizard wrestles him to the ground until he recovers, and then they go in search of the Barbarian, who sensibly (i.e. randomly) retraced their old path. Fortunately they left nothing dangerous behind them, so the Barbarian is also safe and sound once the Fear wears off, though not exactly thrilled with his companion's lack of concern for his well-being.

Back to the room they go. The Ranger has come up with a plan. Their Cleric had cast a blessing on three vials of water (an ad hoc ruling that allows the party to use his Turn Undead ability even though he isn't present for the adventure, as it's a bit much to send them into a dungeon of undead without it). The Bard, famous for his throwing ability, steps into the room and lobs a vial at the enemy. It's a simple attack, so naturally he completely muffs it, dropping the vial at his feet and immediately falling victim to the Adept's magic. Off the Bard runs in utter terror with the Wizard in hot pursuit.

The Ranger realizes that if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. He tosses a second vial; the skeletons shudder and go inert. The two warriors wait, but when the Wizard and Bard don't return after a few rounds, they enter the room, take careful aim, and obliterate the skeletal adept in a single murderous round.

They know the skeletons will only be inactive for a few more rounds, so they quickly move on to the next one. This turns out to be a different proposition. The creature is not nearly so easily defeated, and a general melee ensues.

The Wizard had caught the Bard opening the same door, and this time had failed to stop him, his grappling attack simply shrugged off by the panicked Bard. The Bard thus charges into a new and uncleared room. Fortunately it's a court full of dead bodies; the Wizard keeps tackling the Bard and succeeds this time as he's struggling with the next door. This one would lead to a new Hall, almost certainly containing some deadly new foe, so it's good that the Wizard holds the Bard down until the spell lapses. Together they race back to the sounds of combat just in time to see the Turn Undead wearing off and the other skeleton moving to join the fight.

The Wizard takes a blow from the silver-tipped skeletons, but easily makes his saving throw - he's developing some resistance to various diseases and poisons, it seems. However, the damage is enough to knock him out. The skeletons fall to the rest of the party quickly, and they spend all the rest of their magic healing the Wizard back up to disabled (0 HPs).

Robbed of their pretend rogue - the Wizard is too injured to concentrate on lock-picking - the Barbarian simply smashes down the door to the court. The roof shakes alarmingly, but nothing worse than a temporary trickle of water occurs. Searching this room yields a pair of potions in clay vials. Wounded, tired, and out of spells, they decide to rest, in a room full of corpses, stealing their shrouds for pillows. Now that's chutzpah. If there were a roll for "bad dreams," surely they would fail it; but these are heroes now, and sleeping the sleep of the dead literally with the dead doesn't bother them.

This is a classic D&D trope: out of spells and low on health, the party simply camps in the middle of the dungeon. I'm actually proud of this, because it means I've recreated the classic D&D experience even while I've adhered to World of Prime rules.

In the morning they have enough minor magic to get the Wizard up to 1 HP. He can cast and fight now (though with a house-ruled -2 for his lingering injuries). They press on, drawn by the lure of treasure - so far they've filled their pockets with silver, gold, and tael, without ever once feeling like they were all going to die.

A curious sight greets them in the next room: a large iron bird-cage hanging from the ceiling, containing a small kobold skeleton. The kobold emits a thin green ray which the Barbarian easily dodges. The party charges into the room and begins battering the bird cage and the kobold inside. The Wizard ignores the fight and starts trying to pick the lock on the next door.

The kobold is hard to hit, protected as it is by the iron cage. The Barbarian breaks out his pick and starts trying to batter open the bird cage; the Ranger and Bard attack through the bars with sword and halberd. (This means piercing damage only, which is reduced by the skeleton's DR, but this is no new handicap to the Ranger - he has simply refused to acknowledge this unpleasant fact and used his sword throughout. Everyone else switched to hammers or halberds, but apparently Rangers are very traditional and make up for Damage Resistance by just hitting harder). The Ranger gets in a glancing blow, knocking a few chips off the skeleton. It responds by finally scoring a hit with its Enfeebling Ray, and the Ranger loses a point of strength .

The Bard finally stops his ineffective attacks and switches to Inspire Courage, boosting the rest of the party's efforts. The Wizard almost picks the lock; the Barbarian inflicts minor damage on the bird cage; the Ranger misses; and the kobold lands a good roll, knocking the Ranger's strength down to 7 - roughly equivalent to a strong child.

At the other end of the room, a delayed trap goes off, dropping a heavy iron portcullis over the entrance. They're trapped!

Now the party is concerned. Fortunately the Wizard gets the next door open; they all dash through and slam it shut behind them. Wisely, they are on their guard and prepared for a new attack, but this room is merely storage for bodies. A careful search turns up a locked iron chest, two gold bracelets, and some unharvested tael - but for the first time, no hidden exit. During the search the Ranger recovers his strength. Realizing the damage is only temporary, they charge out, surround the bird-cage, and prepare to administer a savage beat-down. Instead the Ranger destroys the kobold on his first attack.

The Barbarian vents his rage by smashing open the cage and then demonstrates his wisdom by searching it. He turns up a gold key, which opens the iron chest, which yields three more potions in clay vials. The party then attempts to open the portcullis, as it is the only way out. The Ranger heaves to, but it's too heavy, even with help from all the rest of the party; the Barbarian tries and fails. Now things are bit worrying; they take a second try (with an increasing penalty) and the Barbarian just barely forces it open. The Wizard cleverly props it open with the Ranger's crowbar, and the entire party slips out to safety.

Oddly, this final challenge is the last straw, despite inflicting no damage. The party decides to retreat and collect the rest of their team. The Wizard claims to remember the way out, but the issue is moot as the Ranger can easily track their own footsteps in the undisturbed dust of the ancient tunnels.

As they are re-entering the collapsed meeting hall, the Shadow attacks them. Apparently it was fine with them entering the barrow complex, but has a problem with them leaving.

The Ranger wants to ignore its clumsy, incorporeal lunges, and simply rush on through the tunnels, but the Wizard is curious about this strange yet hostile unlife-form. He enchants the Ranger's sword and convinces him to give battle. The Barbarian needs no encouragement, of course, and the Bard is equally willing.

The enchantment turns out to be necessary. Mundane attacks pass through the Shadow with no effect. The Bard tries a basic energy attack (i.e. a burning torch) to no avail; only the Ranger's enchanted sword has a chance of hurting the Shadow, and even it fails half the time. The party's fate hangs on the Ranger's swordsmanship, sheer luck, and the durability of the Wizard's enchantment.

Since one of those is a proven non-starter (i.e. the Ranger's combat skills), the Bard pulls out the magic whistle, reasoning that a summoned creature might count as a magical attack. It's not bad logic, just poor judgment, because the magically summoned Fiendish Wolf immediately attacks every non-Orc in the room, starting with the Bard.

The wolf hits hard, dropping the Bard in a single bite. Now the Barbarian has something useful to do - wolf-fighting! The Ranger is actually doing surprisingly well, landing a serious blow on the Shadow, but it's a CR 3 Undead creature, which means a lot of HPs. The Wizard has finally worked through his spell list and discovered the cantrip Disrupt Undead - that's 1d6 damage to an undead creature with no chance of failure, three times a day. Nice to discover this on the way out!

The Shadow strikes, weakening the Ranger. He lands another solid hit, inflicting plenty of damage, and the Wizard's cantrips add up. The Shadow is looking ragged but it strikes again. The danger here is not the slow loss of strength, but the expiration of the enchantment. Without it, the Shadow can pick them off at its leisure.

The Ranger is finally rolling well, but his third hit is negated by the Shadow's incorporeality. The Barbarian gets a face-full of Fiendish Wolf, dropping him to a single hit-point. The Bard heroically rolls to stabilize, stopping his own bleeding by sheer force of will despite being unconscious.

On the last round of enchantment, the Ranger lands another hit and sticks it. The Shadow evaporates in a shower of purple dust, releasing all of the tael it has gathered for its next spawn. This is a fortune - half again of everything they've won so far! A comical battle of misses ensues with the Fiendish Wolf, until suddenly everyone hits at once, obliterating it. The Barbarian shoulders the incapacitated Bard and they trudge back to the inn, bleeding, battered, and spell-less - and this all from merely trying to leave the dungeon.

"Anything I should be worried about?" the innkeeper asks as they stumble in.

"Just... bandits," they reply. Dungeons are precious resources, and they don't want to share this one with any other Free Companies (like the ones they saw hanging around in the city). Of course, that also means that if they fail to come home next time, no one will know where to send the rescue party to, or even that they should send a rescue.

But that's an adventurer's life. Thankless toiling in dark tunnels fighting undead monsters, and nothing to show for it but fistfuls of bright purple tael. And silver. And gold. And magic items. But mostly tael - surely by now they have enough to purchase the most valuable prize in the world - another rank!